Posts Tagged ‘Pain’

a little rain must fall

January 9th, 2017    -    12 Comments

I tell people that we’ve had a little rain lately. We’ve had a little rain. December was the wettest month in Los Angeles in six years, and around here people look at the sky, and then at each other, afraid to jinx it, afraid to even whisper that the drought might be ending. What it depends on, we all know, is not the rain soaking our backyards, but the snow falling on the Sierras, because our water supply depends on the depth of the snowpack. So far the snow is looking good. And this week, with the promise of big storms piling up in the forecast, a little more rain could tip the scales.

For those folks who don’t want to face the truth, climate change like what we’ve experienced could look like it’s just a liberal bellyache. I visited Connecticut in October and spent a night in a bed and breakfast near Hartford. It was a lovely place, old and elegant, and Connecticut looked like what you’d expect after the first snowfall of the season. At breakfast the innkeeper started up a conversation about the weather, and I told her that it had been 97 degrees or so when I’d boarded the plane the day before in LA. No kidding. Last week of October. That kind of heat has been scaring the shit out of us for six years. She threw her head back and laughed, saying something like “But the drought isn’t real. Isn’t it caused by the environmentalists trying to save a fish?” And I was dumbfounded that this seemingly well-bred woman could be so willfully ill-informed, swallowing and then spreading the fake news spewed by you-know-who, ridiculing a guest at her dining room table. Serves those Californians right! I know a few people who satisfy themselves making fun like that, denying pain, denying truth, denying responsibility.

A couple of years ago I invited an arborist into the backyard to give me an assessment. I was hoping that there was some mystery to the dying trees, something other than the obvious. He told me what I already knew and then some. Trees were stressed and dead all over, and even the ones that looked alive were probably ghosts. He pointed to the three redwoods and explained that they don’t just take water from the ground, but through the air, and fifty or so years ago the air was different. There wasn’t much more to say or do, and so we stood together in prayerful silence, pallbearers in the middle of a sad forest, lifeguards in front of a dead ocean.

Sometimes when people ask me how they can be more compassionate, because they are ripping themselves apart over not being compassionate enough, I say, well, why don’t you just talk to people about the weather? What I mean by that is let’s not be strangers. Let’s be human beings. Let’s talk about something we have in common, you know, something like rain or snow or wind or heat, summer, winter, spring and fall. We all know hot; we all know cold. There didn’t used to be two ways about the weather. But I guess today there are two ways about everything, and no way in-between.

A hard rain’s gonna fall.

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the rules are broken

December 12th, 2016    -    6 Comments

Last night I saw my neighbor at the gas station in town. We didn’t recognize one another at first even though we’ve lived next door for 17 years. A sad sign of the times. We immediately fell into each other’s arms, saying what needn’t be said, that every day it gets unbelievably, horrifyingly worse and that our country is dead. I told her it feels like the flags should be flying at half-mast. She said she feels sorry for our teenage daughters, a year apart. There was a contract we thought we had, a contract with the future that depended on our effort, intelligence, honesty and decency. Did you ever feel that? It was fragile, to be sure, but it’s what we grew up believing.

The rules are broken, I said.

A night or two after the election my daughter came into my room as I was sitting. “Mom, if you let me get a tattoo . . . ” she launched into a proposition that she knew was absurd, “would you get one with me?” She explained that since she was under 18, she could only get a tattoo with a parent’s consent.

Every institution in our country is collapsing and what comes up in the middle of the fall is the tiny matter of a tattoo.

I did not straight away say no, because of the realization that has taken hold in me: the rules are broken. We’re going to have to depend on something else, you see, than what we thought was allowed. How we thought things worked.

I said yes.

I told her about a certain phrase in of one of my books that has inspired quite a few people, words that I wrote with only her in mind. I suggested that if we got identical tattoos based on that message, even though people all over the world have shared it on the internet, we would be the only two people in the world who shared it in real life and knew what it really meant.

And that dialogue has since caused piercing pain for me, but total amusement and pride for her, and considering the way the world is going, it has made us both very happy to have each other, two blossoms blooming on a branch that will never break.

healing the fall

December 9th, 2016    -    5 Comments

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Empty-handed, the masters say, we attain the Way. This is the healing power of your peaceful presence, resisting nothing, adding nothing, thinking nothing. Sit quietly and enter the fullness of time, where the seasons advance in one viewing. Know that leaves bud and break. Flowers bloom and burst. Fruit softens and drops. Earth is our mother. She heals even the last fall.— Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden

Please remember to purchase this book for holiday giving. It is perfect for making peace with mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, and conveying love to gardeners, caregivers, teachers, neighbors, friends and enemies. Thank you for supporting my life and practice.

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stronger together

December 6th, 2016    -    17 Comments

 

The Clinton-Kaine sign is still in the front yard, worse for wear what with the rain and wind but I don’t yet feel inclined to toss it. It’s like a gall bladder scar, and here’s me, lifting my shirt to show it to the cameras.

In the four weeks that have passed since election night, I’ve heard from a lot of you. The basic sentiment is how in the #&%## world are we going to get through this. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this. I don’t know how to get through anything. The basic sentiment governing my life is not knowing how to get through.

Last week I sat a retreat, which helped. It helped because when you’re sitting in stillness for eight hours a day you don’t have time to creep back onto your carefully curated news sources to seize on the glimmer that affirms your fear or hope or rage. And avoiding that kind of misery is good for the moment. It’s good to be quiet right now as we recover from trauma. Until we’re back on our feet and storming the streets.

The first day home I woke with a headache and within an hour was throwing up my morning coffee, then yesterday’s, and then a lifetime of yesterdays, in spasms so violent that it occurred to me that I was finally achieving my yoga teacher’s instruction to inhale your navel to your spine.

By evening I was a shivering husk writhing in bed and wailing to my husband in the next room who tiptoed in from time to time to ask if he could do anything. It struck me then how completely helpful he was being, although there was nothing he could do to help. He was so totally kind and present to my pain, unafraid to walk into the door and stand beside my contaminated self.

I am afraid, I said. I don’t want to be alone.

And he stayed.

That’s how we’re going to get through this, friends—together. I’ve seen the writing on the wall.

Los Angeles – Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m.- Feb. 19 at noon
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after the accident

January 6th, 2016    -    8 Comments

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Last year about this time I told my husband our new azaleas were dying. The leaves looked like rust, and I thought I knew why. Not enough water, too much sun, the wrong plants in the wrong place, the money for nothing, the work wasted. Before pulling the dead ones out, he snipped some leaves and took them to the nursery. That’s when I learned something new.

The leaves of some evergreen azaleas turn red in winter.

Even good drivers in the morning rain

don’t see the other car coming.

Paint nicks. Glass cracks.

One world ends before another.

You are not safe.

So remember what your mother has told you:

Effect is the noun. Affect is the verb.

When in doubt, leave out the comma.

Add salt. Use butter.

Never serve food you haven’t tasted first.

Rinse stains in cold water.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow

but soon and for the rest of your life.

You’ll see.

In springtime, flowers bloom.

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what I could have said

December 3rd, 2015    -    5 Comments

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Though I think not
To think about it,
I do think about it
And shed tears
Thinking about it.

—Ryokan

I could have said good morning.
Are you hungry?
Did you sleep okay?
Are you warm enough?
They say it might rain today.
You look happy.
Sounds like fun.
Sounds perfect.
Have a good time.
Enjoy yourself.
Love your shoes.
Love your hair.
Sure.
Relax.
Not a problem.
It will work out.
I wouldn’t worry if I were you.
You’re a hard worker.
You’re a good person.
You’ll figure it out.
You’ll do the right thing.
You can always change your mind.
I think you’ll do just fine.
It will be OK.
Take your time.
There’s no hurry.
I understand.
I trust you.
I love you.
I’m proud of you.
I’ll be here when you get home.

Because bad things really do happen to people we love, and we might wonder if we could have said something different.

 

not the story you wrote

September 27th, 2015    -    61 Comments

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A couple of weeks ago I saw one of those charity appeals scroll past on my Facebook feed. Someone was sick and needed help. I let it pass at first, and then it came back again. So I clicked on the link. It was for this fellow I’d never met, who lived across town, a Facebook friend who was always kind and—get this—encouraging. He’d been hit with a triple whammy on the health front: lymphoma, kidney disease and congestive heart failure. I hesitated before I signed up. My choices were to give money, make a meal, or ignore it altogether. His location wasn’t exactly convenient, so maybe money would suffice. Or I could drive a meal over. In the end, I decided that if I couldn’t do that little, my friendship wasn’t worth that much. So I put my name next to a date, cooked that morning, and showed up on his doorstep.

I apologized when I got there, because the food I brought didn’t even taste good. There were dietary restrictions to follow, and anything cooked without salt ends up tasting like wet cardboard. But it turned out we had a lot in common and had a nice visit. The meal I brought, and the meal he needed, wasn’t my tasteless stuff in the plastic containers. The meal was the company we shared. I told him I could drop by and hang out anytime, and I meant it.

The next day he learned that his lymphoma had progressed even further throughout his body. He was devastated.

This isn’t the ending you’d like for this story, is it? And yet, it’s the ending we all share.

There’s a New Age mantra that tells us if we own our story and reframe the story we can rewrite the story. We can turn down into up, failure to success, pain into promise, and fear into courage just by changing the way we talk to ourselves. It’s true up to a point, and it’s not a bad way to spend a few days if you find yourself in a career or lifestyle funk. But the suffering I see all around me is too real for that.

The other night I flipped open a Buddhist magazine and saw what are called the Buddha’s Five Remembrances. These are the remembrances that we spend our whole life trying to forget.

  1. I am sure to become old; I cannot avoid aging.
  2. I am sure to become ill; I cannot avoid illness.
  3. I am sure to die; I cannot avoid death.
  4. I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
  5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

With every true thing staring me in the face, I stopped flipping through the pages.

***

The response American crowds gave to Pope Francis last week was not surprising. We are drawn to his being because we suffer deep ills that cannot be fixed by ego’s clever devices, wounds that cannot be healed by the shallow salve of American self-help. We need a real priest for real times. The times we’re in.

So here’s the purpose of this post: I’ve been handed two beautiful books that I’m going to give away to folks who are ready to read them. If you’re interested in winning either one or both, leave a comment on this post by this Saturday, Oct. 3. Let me tell you what you’re in for.

410mchq-dOL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The Taste of Silence: How I Came To Be at Home With Myself  by Bieke Vandekerckhove. This is the most profoundly brilliant book I’ve read in a long time, and it took me completely by surprise. When she was 19 and in college, the Belgian author was diagnosed with ALS and quickly became paralyzed from the pelvis up. Facing the certainty of approaching death, she took refuge in the silence of a Benedictine monastery and Zen practice. Remarkably, she experienced an unheard-of remission, and from her extreme forbearance came this small book of shining teachings. A week after I read this long-awaited English translation, I learned that Bieke had died after 27 years with the disease.

41HyRSSg4xL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness by Toni Bernhard. Fourteen years ago, Toni was traveling in Paris when she fell ill with an acute virus. She never got better. She is still sick. Toni is no longer a law professor or college dean. She is instead a tireless author of books about the unavoidable presence of pain and the power of sickness. Her work is wonderfully honest, practical and wise, proof that living ill can be living well. From the midst of suffering, Toni is generous and clear. This book is a bountiful gift to caregivers too, so they can keep giving when they’ve given just about everything.

A taste of hard wisdom offered with love and delivered to your doorstep. If you could use the company, just tell me so.

half the parent, half the child

May 7th, 2015    -    16 Comments

Beautiful branch buds in spring HD wallpapers 1440x1280 (01)I had a bad morning the other day. Something unexpected happened, and in the span of five minutes, my future unraveled, my schemes died, and the only way forward seemed straight off a cliff. In other words, I had to change my plans. On the drive to school, I told my daughter what was going on and how it could affect her. I said this while I was driving in circles, making wrong turns and getting lost. She was quiet and let me be. At midday I got a text from her.

What are you going to do?

I don’t know, I replied.

Just do what you need to do. I will support you.

This is where I might congratulate myself for raising such a wise and compassionate child, with the emotional intelligence and resilience instilled by conscious parenting, who returns the unconditional love and acceptance I’ve given her.

Only she isn’t, because I don’t.

She doesn’t speak to me as I have spoken to her; she speaks to me as she wishes I would speak to her. She doesn’t mirror who I am, she shows me a person I can become. And if I am the slightest bit charitable in my recollections, I must concede that she has been doing this all along with clear-eyed consolations.

It’s not always going to be easy.

I am thankful for my life.

Everyone makes mistakes.

I never get mad when you don’t do your best.

It takes more practice.

Everything happens when you don’t expect it.

By fair assessment, I am only half the parent she is, and she is only half the child I perceive her to be. I can’t parcel the roles out one way or the other. I only know that in the midst of a dark and lonely trial, my pain is shattered by an innocent utterance, and life is born anew.

The life of a mother is the life of a child: you are two blossoms on a single branch. One more thing someone said to me once.

To my dear mother and all mothers before, to my daughter and all daughters to come, I leave this promise and conviction: Your babies will be okay. Together we find the way.

***

Just in time, there are copies of Momma Zen on giveaway here.

wonderful life

December 17th, 2013    -    12 Comments

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There is a meme going around the teen social media sites (something you will only learn in a dark and fearful hour). If you had to live the rest of your life in a movie which one would you pick? It’s one of the least troubling things you’ll see your kids talking about, although the movies they mention might scare the beejesus out of you.

Someone answered It’s a Wonderful Life.

What a great movie. But it’s not a movie about a wonderful life. George Bailey has a terrible life, remember? And it keeps getting worse. First off, he is not the favored son. He’s denied his dreams, stuck in a dead-end job in a no-count town, left behind to take care of his needy neighbors and crazy relatives. He’s mortgaged up to his eyeballs living in a drafty old house with a passel of noisy kids. He’s dead broke, out of his mind with fear and rage, and probably going to jail if he doesn’t jump off a bridge first. And he’s not exactly father of the year.

Janie, will you stop playing that lousy piano?!$#@&%

Yesterday afternoon after I dropped my daughter off at the tutoring place I stepped into the Starbucks next door for a cup of tea and noticed the guy standing in line behind me. It was the tutor, grabbing a quick cup before the start of the session. Telling you the second story in a week about math tutoring might lead you to conclude that my daughter is either less fortunate or more fortunate than you thought. Either way, this year at school hasn’t been easy. There is a passage that befalls young people: the journey to discover who they are reveals by process of elimination who they aren’t.

I’m not the smartest girl in the class, Mom. I’m not that girl anymore.
I’m not a nerd, I’m not a geek, I’m not a math whiz.
I’m not like that. I don’t want that. I don’t care.
I hate my life. Get out of my room.

It’s not what you would call wonderful.

The tutor didn’t recognize me until I told him who my daughter was, and then the first thing he said was this:

Your daughter is wonderful.

The worry that lifted from me at that moment—the fear, doubt, brittle aching raging pain that departed my heart at the Starbucks on Rosemead at Del Mar on Monday at 4:21 p.m. was so divinely lifesaving that I have to repeat it.

Your child is wonderful. Yes, yours.

We all have to repeat it, every day, over and over, because it’s probably true and we’ve probably forgotten.

It’s not until the last six minutes of the movie that George Bailey’s life turns into any kind of wonderful, because that’s when he wakes up and realizes that it was wonderful all along.

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love letter to a teenage girl

March 12th, 2013    -    24 Comments

valentine-note-foldYou’ll just have to get used to this, Mom, because every teenage girl is like this.

My mother said, in one of her last long sighs in the short last year of her life, that all the problems I thought were so big when my daughter was one year old were really small problems, although they seemed so monumental at the time. The problems of eating and sleeping and teething and talking and knowing and growing and the like.

She offered the flimsy consolation a young mother can’t yet receive, from her own mother long past, that “When they are little they have little problems and when they are big they have big problems.”

Last night my daughter relaxed over dinner out, just the two of us, and showed me a view of her problems, which sounded like this: no one likes me and I’m not pretty and no one likes me and I can’t help it and I don’t know and its hopeless and I’m ugly and stupid and no one likes me I’m not pretty and no one likes me and I’m not pretty and you can’t help me and you’ll have to get used to this because every teenage girl is like this!

I sat there dumb and numb and having no idea how to repair a heart I’d never known was broken and stanch the pain that poured out of her mouth and across the table and up my spine and into the hollows of my breathless chest as I hoped against hope that we could just once be handed a small problem to fret over and fix.

And then I granted the absence she asked for and wrote this instead. In between every word is the sobbing heaving ocean of a mother’s silent love that does not fix a thing.

 

 

the last fall

March 5th, 2013    -    12 Comments

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I want to tell you that the baby won’t fall
the tooth won’t break
the skin won’t scrape
no row of stitches at the hairline
you never saw it coming
I want to tell you that the teasing won’t hurt
the teacher won’t frown
the kids won’t laugh
her name won’t be the last one called
because I suck at kickball that’s why
I want to tell you that your heart won’t rip
your eyes won’t mist your breath won’t catch
when she disappears into her lonely self
beneath a sweatshirt two sizes too big
a widow
to her babyhood
I’m not that girl anymore
I want to tell you that the flowers won’t bloom
the leaves won’t bud
the fruit won’t dangle and drop
that nothing fades and nothing dies
nothing hurts and nothing leaves
you’ll never see it going
but it will go
it will go home
the way a period ends a sentence
the earth is our mother
she heals even the last fall.

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lanced

January 20th, 2013    -    42 Comments

011513-Oprah-Armstrong-Interview-600I will confess to having an unhealthy fascination for the Lance Armstrong saga. I watched his interview on Oprah last week.

I am not a fan. I do not follow cycling. I have no stake in his guilt or innocence, punishment or redemption. But I have a stake in the human story and what we can learn about ourselves by opening our eyes to one another. I don’t share the views of those who say, “Cheating doesn’t matter” or “Everyone does it” or “He is a demon” or “He was persecuted” or “He should rot in hell.” I have an interest in pain and suffering. That’s all his story is about. His story is about how we suffer and cause others to suffer. Pain should interest us all.

What I saw on TV last week was not what some saw. I did not see dispassion or denial, not the face of evil or greed. I saw a man stupefied by his own deep terror, his unmet fear. A man who has broken his own heart. And by seeing it, my heart breaks too. Our hearts are lanced—how can they not be?—when we finally face the savagery of our self-deceptions.

He talked about all of the events, all of the doping and dodging, as part of his life strategy to “control the outcome.” And not just in competition. Not just after cancer. He is a small man, actually, and you can see in his slightness the shadow of a small boy. A boy without a father, without a family, without the birthright or build that gives men swagger in Texas. Even then he was mortally afraid. And so he fought, he stole, and he bullied. Audacity can take you far, it just can’t take you to the finish before the cracks open up and the road crumbles beneath you.

His delusion is our own delusion. We all live as if we can control the outcome.

Some were unsatisfied with his stiffness, terseness, and the apparent stinginess of empathy and emotion. But I saw a feeling so big it swallowed him whole. I saw it in the way he turned his head or covered his mouth. In his choking, wordless paralysis. He cannot run. He cannot ride. He cannot even move.

A friend who knows all about the side effects of cancer observed that Armstrong rarely called cancer by name but rather as “the disease.” It’s not really his cancer that goes nameless, because that is not the disease that has killed Lance Armstrong. The disease that felled him—that destroys us in the prime of our lives no matter what the prognosis—is fear.

I am sorry for Lance Armstrong and collaterally, for everyone hurt, down, sad and overcome, like me, by the poison pierce of rampant fear. Let each of us, in our own way, face our fear before we cause more harm. Before our time is up. Then maybe we can live strong.

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breath is fearless

October 23rd, 2012    -    3 Comments

Just this one little thing, the breath, delivers all the wisdom in the world. Each inhalation powers your strength, endurance, and concentration; each exhalation releases your resistance and fears. Life gives continuous testament to the miracle of the breath, and yet, do we really know what the breath is?

 

When we bring our agitated minds into focus by following the movement of the breath in and out of the body, we experience the reality of the present moment, clear from confusion and anxiety. The breath is fearlessness personified. That can matter a great deal to you in times of pain and panic. How wonderful that all the sages and wise ones, the birth educators and coaches, the doulas and midwives, tell you to breathe! Focusing on the breath is the safest, surest way to overcome fear and let the immediacy of any experience move forward.

When all other schemes and devices fall away, the breath is all we have to use. It never fails us. Now is a good time to get to know your breath, through simple awareness practices such as meditation and yoga. While sitting, lying down, walking, or moving, bringing your attention to your belly and the natural movement of the breath will strengthen your connection to your own life force, the awareness that is everpresent and unafraid. The breath will not only transport you beyond fear, it will deliver you to joy. In the flow of the breath, mother and child come into being, and joy springs to life.

Excerpted from my essay, “Preparing for Childbirth,” in the book, The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy.

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