Posts Tagged ‘Pain’

walking it off

January 7th, 2021    -    8 Comments

Where do we go from here?

I went for a walk today. I was going to type, “I went for a long walk today.” That was what I announced before I went: I’m going for a long walk today, the way I would have said it the day before yesterday or last week or last month. In the days before yesterday if I went for a walk it was to accomplish something, get my steps in, the 10,000 that would set off the Fitbit buzz on my left arm, so I could feel good about what I’d done.

But today I went for a walk just to walk, because at this point I don’t have a scheme or a fix, a goal or a get. After long-pondering which way is forward, I know that the only way forward is forward. It always leads somewhere new.

It’s really that simple, but it’s sad, too, because the world is so very fucked up right now. Who can even picture what comes after?

In the old days when I had a dog and wrote books, I’d be muddling over a metaphor in the middle of the day when my pup would put her lovely head on my lap and wiggle her butt, the sign that it was time for a walk, which always seemed like the worst possible time to go for a walk, but I would give in and take the walk around the block that took all of 15 minutes and come back and realize that the muddle in my mind was gone. I was freed from the word trap that paralyzes a writer trying too hard, which I usually was. Trying too hard to say something.

And so I set out today and the air was cool but the sun was warm, and I saw that Christmas decorations are still up, poinsettias on porches, icicle lights along the eaves, and then I remembered that it is still just the first week of January although the weeks are years and the years are eternities, and I am so very tired.

The other day someone who sits with our Zoom group said that I look like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. In the truest sense I do have the world on my shoulders—we all do—and as for the weight, I wondered aloud, I did have my very unhappy daughter home for half the year, because COVID came and her life collapsed, and the relentless fires, my husband’s surgery and its setbacks, the sickness upon sickness that is American life and politics, the panic, the fear, the dread, the death. Yeah that. And now this.

I hadn’t walked too far across town when I came to the middle school, the site of so much preteen pain. I crossed the street for a closer look when I saw an art display fastened to the fence at the front of the school. They’d had a themed art contest, perhaps for Thanksgiving, with students making posters illustrating gratitude for someone or something in this desolate year.

Thank you, Dodgers! said one, because let’s not forget the first World Series win in 32 years, although two months later that seems oddly quaint and woefully irrelevant.

Thank you, Essential Workers! Those are words we won’t soon be able to forget, even though I’m not completely sure what they mean. I have a friend who works at a plant where herbicide is made and she is considered an essential worker, putting in 80-hour weeks with no time off, risking her health for the urgent purpose of killing weeds till kingdom come. But, yes, we can hardly express enough gratitude for doctors and nurses and teachers, grocery clerks, transit workers, the postal service and delivery drivers. On the last leg of my walk I passed a driver picking up waste from a portable toilet, and the stink radiating from his vehicle made me realize how very unsung his essential work must be.

Thank you, First Responders! Thank you, Firefighters! California was incinerated this year, despite Trump’s imbecilic advice to rake the forests. No thank you, Sir.

There were tributes to Black Lives Matter and Greta Thunberg, lifting my hopes that middle-schoolers could well save the world or at least never stop trying.

There was one poster among all of them that stood out and stayed with me on the walk home, because this is what I’m most depending on for the survival of my soul and sanity. Thank you, Joe and Kamala! For taking the lead on what will be a very long walk to a very distant day when we can once again sit back and feel good about what we’ve done. And while I’m at it, thank you Raphael and Jon! Merrick, Xavier, Miguel, Pete, Janet, Deb, Alejandro, Marcia, Antony, Jennifer, Lloyd, Tom, Denis, Gina, Marty, Isabel and Don. With you good people at work and in charge, I can walk off the weight of a world nearly destroyed by a vulgar and traitorous despot. I’m not counting the steps or the days or the years. I have complete faith in the direction we’re heading, because the only way forward is forward.

May it be so.

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

with exceeding great joy

December 23rd, 2020    -    13 Comments

The other night I lay sleepless for hours after midnight and thought about how my sisters and I slept in the back of our station wagon on long trips, because even short trips were long to us then, squished together on a hard pallet of blankets and pillows—and I wondered how it is that these days I can toss and turn the night away in my own comfortable bed.

These are terrible times, more terrible than last year’s terrible, and terrible beyond the terrible twice removed, just a terrible terrible, even though there is less terrible on the way.

When I talk to people these days we usually mention the good that has been shown to us in this harrowing trip over rough country. For one thing, we now know how much we can do without.

And I’ve also noticed how this Christmas reminds me so much more of the original Christmas, or at least the original Christmas story, the one with no room at the inn. And although they don’t tell us how Mary and Joseph traveled in those days, she was great with child, and it couldn’t have been comfortable in a cart or on a donkey, even less on foot, which they likely were, over dusty plains and hills, for ninety miles. Ninety! And even when they got to their ancestral home, there was no rest to find, no place to stay, no one to take them in, and so like us they had to scrabble together under a rotting roof in their own humble way.

There were animals with them, animals being more hospitable than people and altogether a finer sort of company. Eventually some shepherds showed up, and they were raggedy too, living out in the open as they do, grubby but good-natured and kind.

It was night, it was dark, and there was solace in that, not fear. It was the dark that made the station wagon peaceful. It was the night that made the shepherd’s sky so bright. It is the deep shadow of uncertainty that has taught us to wait for the light. It is humility that makes us great, and terrible things that bring us to wisdom.

And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. — Matthew 2:10

Photo by Blair Fraser on Unsplash

the urgent work of crying in the night

June 1st, 2020    -    2 Comments

The Urgent Work of Crying in the Night dharma talk

to keep our children safe

February 15th, 2018    -    9 Comments

Across the fields a cry heaves up as young bodies bleed out on native soil
What can we do
ten thousand echoes pound the sky
to keep our children safe?

I watched the news this week, and this is what I saw.

On Monday, a short black man stood on a stage in Washington DC and spoke words that were hard to hear. The microphone was positioned for a person much taller than him, and because he was either too nervous or polite, he did not draw the neck of the mic down to his own mouth. He gave a speech barely heard and returned to his seat, but then stood up again with unseemly insistence to interrupt the next speaker so he could say the one thing that had to be said.

“My mother,” he began. His chin quivered and mouth broke.

This was Kehinde Wiley, the painter of Obama’s portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, the son of a single mother with six children who ran a junk shop in South Central LA, the survivor of a notoriously dangerous neighborhood who had become one of the most successful portrait painters in the world.

“My mother . . . she bought me paints,” and now he is crying as he looks at her, knowing that the pigments were his sole power and privilege.

“She bought me brushes,” the word itself fluttering with impracticality, the whisper of impossibility. His face shines with tears. He doesn’t have to say more. The portrait is already drawn, and we’ve seen the invisible mother, we know her heart and the dire hope it held, the hope that her children would be safe.

Two days later, in one of the safest neighborhoods, one with good lawns and great schools, home of the lucky and best, came the terrifying report that repeats each week, of children killed in the hour they should be most alive and free, followed by the cynical insult unique to this country, the blatant lie that nothing can be done to stop the mass executions of the innocent except what is too early or too late or not enough or must be pried-from-my-cold-dead-hands. This familiar drone, so dull to the senses, subdued by the next day’s disaster, is forgotten, until the child among us stands up and says the one thing that must be said. “You are the adults. Do something.”

###

As it turns out, the famous portrait artist went to the same high school my daughter attends, a public arts school that by its very creed welcomes the free and shelters the brave. There, as a self-described “chubby 16-year-old,” he painted himself into the portraits he practiced on, painted himself as a nobleman, a conqueror and a hero. True, each of us creates the world we inhabit with whatever tools are in our hands.

What power have we handed to our children, I ask you, the power of goodness or villainy? The color pours out from our schools, streets and homes, and beauty lives or dies.

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

Stillness-1

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

lista

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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