Tag Archives: Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

Z is for Zero Hour

Zero hour: the scheduled or planned time for the start of an operation or action, the moment at which it is set to begin, the exact time something will start.

It’s a very real possibility that yesterday I stumbled on the first line of the book I’m writing. When it arose in my mind, as I was falling back asleep after Eric and the dogs left for an early morning hike, that may have been the zero hour.

Or maybe it was later, when I wrote it down in my notebook, let myself follow that beginning for the length of a whole page.

Or maybe it was eleven years ago when the moment I was writing about actually happened.

Or was it that night almost 25 years ago when I stood over my first husband in the dark of the bedroom that had been ours, the night before our apartment was supposed to be vacated, when I’d already been gone for a month and I’d come back to do a final cleaning only to find him still living there, asleep in what had been our bed, and he told me he didn’t want a divorce, “please don’t leave me,” and I felt such compassion for him, knew I’d promised, made that exact vow, but also knew that by leaving I was saving my own life, so answered “it’s too late, I’m already gone.”

Or was it when I married Eric, my true partner, my only real husband? Was it when I went back to school, or when I finished my graduate degree? Was it when I first saw Obi, or was it when he was diagnosed with a treatable but incurable cancer, or was it when he died? Was it the moment Kelly passed, or was it later, in the moment I knew she was gone? Was it when I started Warrior training? Was it when I started this blog? Was it the moment when I made my first Mondo Beyondo list and I added this book to it? Was it on my meditation cushion or writing morning pages in the Rigden Shrine Room at the Shambhala Mountain Center during the Fearless Creativity retreat with Susan Piver?

Or maybe it was earlier still, in the second grade, when I first made the wish to be a writer when I grew up, the year Mrs. Heilbronner took to calling me “my little author.” Or maybe it was when I first learned to talk, to use language and words to communicate my experience, to name what I needed, what I loved.

Or maybe the true zero hour for this book was the day I was born.

It’s so strange to me still, how you can just start, simply begin, not even realizing until later, and even then not be entirely sure which exact moment was your zero hour.

Y is for Yoga

image by lululemon athletica

I am embarrassed to say it happened again. I didn’t know what word I was going to use today, even though yoga is one of my four primary, regular, spiritual practices. I started brainstorming a list: yawn, yesterday, yes. I got as far as opening my dictionary to “y” and as soon as I saw that first page of words, I thought “yogi” and immediately after came the next thought: yoga. D’oh!

So again, I suppose it’s that thing about fish and water, it’s such a part of your world, your life, your environment that it becomes oddly invisible.

Yoga grounds me in my body, centers me there. As in other practices, the act of doing it regularly teaches me a lot about myself. I learn how I spend too much time comparing myself to others, judging and evaluating, and I realize that the practice, the experience isn’t about competition at all, with anyone. It’s about the reality of what is happening on my own mat, about cultivating compassion.

Some days, I move fluidly, am flexible and strong, can balance in tree for a full five minutes, can hover in crow or hold a headstand with confidence. Other days, I come to the mat shaky and raw, irritable, stiff and weak, one side works but the other needs extra understanding and gentleness.

image by lululemon athletica

And other times, I can trust my body, but my mind is a mess, a wreck, a wild animal. It won’t stay with me on the mat. It keeps wanting to rush off or draw me in to long conversations or even arguments. I stay with it, stay on the mat, and hope it will settle, be still. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t and instead spends the whole practice in another room, another moment, another universe.

For me, yoga is meditation in movement. I expand the breath focus of sitting meditation to include my whole body, moving my awareness as my body moves from pose to pose. It expands the practice of training my mind (as in sitting meditation) to training my body and mind to be in the same space at the same time, moving together.

I’ve been struggling a bit with my yoga practice lately, feel a bit stuck and bored, but more importantly I have been struggling with my body. As it ages, I have entered a new phase of being that is utterly confusing. I haven’t quite learned how to care for my 44 year old body. It’s needs are so starkly different. It feels fatigue in a way I have never experienced. I work to be gentle with my Happy Buddha belly, trying to see it’s roundness as lucky, rather than stubborn and ugly. I try to be compassionate towards this body’s need for rest. I really want to understand what it needs from me, I want to not just love it, but to care for it in a way that allows it to thrive.

I contemplate impermanence, cultivate gratitude for the chance to get older, a chance so many others will never have. I also remember that this “old” body will be the “young” one I remember later, maybe even mourn, and that my sense of age is relative.

image by lululemon athletica

And I practice, strong in warrior pose one day, needing to rest in child’s pose the next, accepting whatever my current reality might be, and when I am done, I dedicate the merit of my practice, offering it so that suffering might be dispelled.

Namaste, kind and gentle reader. The divine nature within me perceives and adores the divine nature within you. I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, light, peace and joy. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.

X is for X-Ray

The last three “Blogging from A to Z in April” posts will be the hardest. There just aren’t that many words that start with x, y, and z. It’s like they put them at the end of the alphabet on purpose, or because they were at the end, by the time they got to them, there were no words left.

As for “x,” there’s only a single page, half the front and half the back of a single page in my dictionary, and most of the words listed are ones I don’t recognize, don’t understand, and certainly don’t ever use.

image by arztsamui / freedigitalphotos.net

X-ray has a technical definition (boring, or rather “I don’t really understand how it works or what it is, so I’m bored by it”). What’s more interesting about the concept is that there is such a technology, one that can see inside our bodies, under the skin, revealing the mystery of a broken bone, the surprise of a cavity, the shock of a tumor–the profound, precious, hidden mess and magic of the body.

As a kid, I totally believed in the possibility, eventual reality, of x-ray glasses. Although, at that time, the only use I could imagine for it was spying on people in the next room or seeing someone in their underwear.

image by chris willis

If someone looked inside of me, took an x-ray, they’d see a malformed and damaged right hip, leg bones that aren’t the same length, an old break in the right pinky finger, lungs that are clear, weakness in the right shoulder, a mind that might be smaller than normal but is healthy, a spine that is slightly bent and sometimes weak but mostly strong, and a heart that’s simultaneously whole and broken.

image by arztsamui / freedigitalphotos.net (with a slight modification by jill)

W is for Writing

Okay, come on, really–who are we kidding? Was there even a question about what word I’d pick for “w”?

Wings

Well, (I’m almost embarrassed to admit this) actually, there was a question, and it even lingered. Yesterday, when I realized “w” was the next letter, I tried thinking of a word, and I couldn’t. I thought this would be another a-z post where I’d have to get out my dictionary and start flipping through the “w” entries, waiting for the magic word to shimmer and float off the page. Late yesterday, that was the plan, and that was as far as I went.

Then, on our walk this morning, I thought I had a brilliant moment of insight: Walk! Of course, I’ll write about walking. I say that dog is one of my primary spiritual practices, and walking is an essential…wait…what?…my practices? What are they again? Oh, yeah: yoga, meditation, dog, and WRITING. D’oh!

Here’s my explanation, my story for why “writing” wasn’t immediately obvious to me: if you ask a fish “how’s the water?”, it will answer “what’s water?” Writing is so essential to me that it’s become automatic and invisible in that way breathing or my heartbeat are things I don’t “do,” they just are.

Scribble

And when thinking about my practices (writing, yoga, meditation, and dog), writing is the one that won’t leave the others alone, won’t keep to itself. It imbeds itself in the others, is tangled in a way that it can’t be separated. It tries to interrupt the others, asserting its need, its desire. And yet, it needs the others to function, to continue to do what it does. It would be nothing, empty without them.

Sitting on my cushion, phrases form, ideas and answers arise. Even though it’s not recommended, goes against what you are training your mind to do, (you should label it “thinking” and return to the breath), sometimes I can’t help it, I have to get my notebook and write something down, and that something might lead to something else, and a half hour later, I still haven’t returned to my breath.

My writing is embodied, my body a partner in my writing practice, in the process, and there is a merging of movement and manuscript. In this way, writing is also happening when I practice yoga or when I walk my dogs. Things I’ve been struggling with become clear and new ideas form. I notice things, see patterns and make connections, relax and soften to what is, allow it to touch me, to catch up.

On our walk this morning, when I was trying to think of that line I just used, “merging of movement and manuscript,” I couldn’t think of a “m” word that meant writing to pair with “movement.” As we neared the small wooden bridge at the back of Wood Duck Pond, it came to me–“manuscript!” I celebrated, but I was alone in it. The birds were too busy singing, the clouds too busy floating and shifting color, and the dogs think writing is the dumbest thing ever. For starters, they can’t read. They also think it’s a waste of time to write, to standing in front of a box, push buttons and click keys, or to sit and scratch a pen on the paper–dumb. Especially when you could be playing or patrolling territory, or even napping.

Last night, Eric and I were watching the most recent episode of Glee (well, I was watching it, Eric just happened to be in the room with me), and when Finn was talking about not knowing what his dream was, Eric said “I never had a dream.” I smiled, because we’ve talked about this before. I leaned in and whispered “I’ve had the same dream since I was in the second grade.”

And as I have told you before, kind and gentle reader, I also had writer’s block, on and off and to varying degrees, for at least the past 25 years. I’ve told you before that this yearning to be a writer was something that I kept secret, locked in a box in the very, very center of my heart. It was a tiny bird that I fed lovingly, kept it warm holding it close, tight in my hands, whispering all my secrets to it, but utterly unable to let it fly.

But I finally released it. My heart cracked open with grief, my love was unbound by form, and I let it go. Now my mission is to write wildly and poorly, all the time. The magic is that somehow, out of all that, something beautiful sometimes happens. It must be like fertilizer is to a garden. There is only my tender, open heart, raw and brave, desiring to stay awake. On my writing desk, the tulips my dear friend gave me the other day are as beautiful almost dead as they were in those first moments. They remind me that there is enough time, but time is short.

Writing this blog, knowing that you are sometimes there listening, has been such a blessing to my writing practice, such magic, such medicine. Each post is the beginning of an essay or the whisper of a book chapter. I take part in a larger conversation, with this space acting like my kitchen table. I cultivate connection, community, and compassion. I make a record, a map of the landscape of my experience, the territory of my heart. I feel a deep knowing, a confidence as I string the words together.

Like everything else, we learn by doing. You can only talk about riding a bike for so long, study it as an object only so much before you have to start. And you do so knowing that there’s a risk you will crash, fall over, break bones and draw blood, get hurt–but that feeling you get when it works, when it happens, like you are flying, is so worth it.

V is for Vertigo

Vertigo

A sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated particularly with looking down from a great height, or caused by disease affecting the inner ear or the vestibular nerve; giddiness, dizziness, a reeling sensation, a feeling that you are about to fall, a feeling of motion when one is stationary.

I have Ménière’s disease, an inner ear disorder that affects balance and hearing. One of the main symptoms is vertigo. There are four symptoms altogether: varying degrees of hearing loss, pressure in the ear, ringing or roaring in the affected ear, and vertigo.

The vertigo symptom of Ménière’s feels as though you are spinning or moving, or that the world is spinning around you. You also can have:

  • Severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and sweating.
  • Worsening symptoms with sudden movement.
  • The need to lie down–NOW and for a long time.
  • A feeling of dizziness and being off-balance that lasts from about 20 minutes to a few hours, (or in my case, at its worst, it can last for days).

In my case, this disease is hereditary. My maternal grandmother had it, my mother has it too. It’s thought to be primarily inner ear issue, but it, at least for me, is also closely tied to visual information, (or as my brain interprets it, misinformation).

image by jacopo

Heights trigger it, can put me in this strange state of frozen shock where I can’t move or breathe. My eyes see how far down, how impossible the situation, and cannot process why I am where I am, sees it as incongruous and gets stuck.

It happened once on the steep side of a hill at Eight Lakes Basin in Oregon, a talus slope that you could hike, but only as it continually shifted under your feet. Half way through, I had to stop and sit down. I couldn’t move, was having trouble breathing. Eric stayed with me like that for almost a half an hour. This was before we were married, and before I knew I had Ménière’s, before I understood I wasn’t simply afraid of heights, but was afraid that the dizziness I felt in that moment would make me fall, possibly to my death.

It happened again on a tour of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon. On the spiral staircase leading to the second floor, I turned to look out the window, down a cliff and into the ocean, and I froze. It was too much information at once–2nd floor; spiraling, steep, tight stairway; cliff with an ocean at the bottom of it all. I felt like I was going to pass out, kept my sweaty hand on Eric’s shoulder as he walked a few steps ahead of me, tried not to panic, to keep breathing.

image by jojo nicdao

It’s not just heights that trigger it. Movement, especially the kind where my body is clearly in a different state than the environment, can wreak havoc on my system. I get car sick very easily. It took me months to learn to walk on a treadmill. I had to walk really close to the front so that the movement of the track would be hidden by the control panel.

The vertigo was triggered on a day when the temperature was 100+ and I was driving a windy road from Colorado to Oregon in a car stuffed with half of everything I owned but no air-conditioning. Eric was in the car behind me, with the other half of everything we owned, and a river was raging in a shallow canyon to our right. I had to pull over, get out of the car and stand with it between me and the water. I told Eric I didn’t know if I could keep going. The vertigo was raging like the river, my stomach felt as windy as the route, and my mind was convinced the act of staying on the road, out of the water, was impossible. I was dizzy and nauseous. I drank lots of water and took deep breaths, waiting for the feeling to pass. With Eric’s loving encouragement, time, and pure guts, I was able to get back in the car.

poudre river, image by charles willgren

I also can’t watch more than a few minutes of movies made with handheld cameras. The shaking of the scene in contrast to the stillness of the viewer triggers the vertigo almost immediately. After going to see Blair Witch Project, I had to lie on my mother-in-law’s couch for two hours before the spinning and stomach ache stopped enough for me to stand.

I found out a few summers ago that even dosed with Dramamine, I can no longer go on amusement park rides, even the tamer roller coasters. I went to Six Flags and rode the Mind Eraser, where your torso is locked in but your feet dangle, and the name was pretty close to the outcome for me, an accurate description of my experience. For those few minutes, I was utterly convinced I was going to die, and angry it was going to happen that way. Even on the old wooden roller coaster, when it went through a dark tunnel, giving my brain the input that there was simultaneously nothing while my body was clearly hurtling through space–it was just too much.

mind eraser in winter, by chris bartle

The Ménière’s is also triggered by physical weakness, such as exhaustion or hunger, or ill health. A cold, the congestion specifically, always gives me fits of it. Something as simple as not getting enough sleep, and I have to be especially careful how fast I move the whole next day. There are also certain poses in yoga that practically make me pass out and various twirling or spinning movements my trainer has suggested that while I’ve tried, I’ve had to ultimately refuse to perform.

I am already a person who is emotionally highly sensitive, easily and deeply affected by other people’s energy and moods, overwhelmed by loud noises and bright lights or too many people in a small space. It feels cosmically unfair that I would be cursed with this, yet another sensitivity. I feel everything, acutely and sometimes painfully–but I suppose I’m also lucky because I am tender, soft, and open to joy and love, feeling them just as acutely and sometimes painfully.

You have a soft spot. Contrary to popular belief, it is not where you are weak, it is the gateway to indestructible power. ~Susan Piver

U is for Un-

un- : indicates not or contrary to, deprivation

I used to be: unable, unanswerable, unapproachable, unassisted, unaware, unbalanced, unbearable, uncertain, uncivil, unclean, unclear, uncomfortable, uncommitted, unconscious, undecided, uneasy, unformed, ungrateful, unhealthy, unhappy, unheard, uninspired, unloved, unmindful, unproductive, unsettled, unsound, and unworthy.

un- : reversal of an action, release or removal from intensified action

Now I am, I aspire to be: unabashed, unabated, unadorned, unadulterated, unaffected, unarmed, unassailable, unassuming, unattached, unbelievable, unbound, unbeaten, unbridled, unbroken, uncoiled, uncommon, uncompromising, unconventional, uncovered, undaunted, undeniable, undone, unhinged, unerring, unexpected, unfailing, unflappable, unflinching, unfolded, unforgettable, unfurled, unglued, unguarded, unleashed, unmasked, unmistakeable, unmoored, unraveled (or better yet, unravelling), unreal, unrelenting, unrestrained, unstoppable, untangled, unwrapped, unwound.

T is for Tattoo

Lots of people either don’t like tattoos or don’t understand them. I agree that some of them are pretty awful or dumb or poorly done. There are plenty of websites where you can see some of the worst, like on Ugliest Tattoos and Bad Tattoos, even Ellen Degeneres has a gallery on her show website, Bad Paid-For Tattoos. If you don’t like them, you shouldn’t get one. And, it hurts to get a tattoo. Depending on where you get it, it might hurt a lot.

But when thoughtfully chosen, beautifully designed and inked, and well cared for, they can be amazing works of art, of the heart, pleasing to look at and significant to the inked. As a writer, I appreciate the permanence of the ink, the art, understand the importance of writing something down, making a record of experience that other people can see, having a story visibly written on my body. I like the idea of being illustrated, marked with symbols, pictures, and words. I like the embodiment, the manifestation of meaning a tattoo can be.

You might not know this about me, but I have two tattoos, and plans for a few more. My first is on my lower back. I got it about twelve years ago.

And the second is on the inside of my right wrist. It’s about six years old.

The where of my tattoos matters. I got one on my lower back because I have always had trouble with my back, weakness and pain. I have Scoliosis, one leg is slightly longer than the other so my hips will never rest evenly, and I fell off a horse when I was 18 and did more damage. There is a chakra at the base of your spine that represents survival, the right to exist, and is thought to manage your ability to stand up for yourself. I felt a strong need to have a symbol of power and enlightenment in that spot. As for the one on my wrist, I am a writer and right-handed. I wanted to have the same symbol, a similar reminder, near the spot physically responsible for manifesting my heart’s work.

The same person did both. Her name is Tara and she owns Enchanted Ink in Boulder, Colorado. I picked her specifically, drove all the way to Boulder when there are plenty of tattoo shops in Fort Collins, because she’s an artist (whose work I liked), a nurse, and a woman.

Both of my tattoos are lotus flowers. I’m glad I waited until I was older to get a tattoo, because if I’d gotten one in my 20s, it most likely would have been a dolphin or a whale. Getting a tattoo when I was older helped me to make better choices, grounded and clear, intentional.

Besides lilacs, a lotus is my favorite flower. I love to look at them. They are exotic and rare, (at least considering where I live), ancient and mysterious. “Under favorable circumstances its seeds may remain viable for many years, with the oldest recorded lotus germination being from that of seeds 1,300 years old,” (yes, that quote is from the Wikipedia entry, but isn’t it amazing?). They represent an Asian sensibility that I admire, brilliant and precious but simple, potent while remaining calm.

image by inoc

The lotus flower is thought to represent the full cycle of life, including reincarnation–the flower closes and sinks underwater at night, and then at dawn it rises again and the bloom opens. “The roots of a lotus are in the mud, the stem grows up through the water, and the heavily scented flower lies pristinely above the water, basking in the sunlight. This pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment,” (Jendhamuni).

Lotus flowers have a connection to my spiritual life and practice, and have significant meaning in the Buddhist tradition. They symbolize beauty and purity, growing as they do from the muck. They stand in stark contrast to the dirty water in which they sprout. They also symbolize spiritual awakenment, enlightenment, faithfulness, purity of the heart and mind.

This is why both of my tattoos are lotus flowers, and even my mala (Buddhist prayer beads that are used to count while meditating using mantras) is made from polished lotus seeds.