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I don’t know if this is more of a review or a testimonial. Let me just say that I find Belleruth Naparstek’s healthjourneys guided meditation CDs an amazingly helpful coping tool.

I typically practice mindfulness meditation, which involves concentration and focusing on particular sensations in the body without an attempt to control or influence those sensations. This allows me to stay in the present moment, develop concentration, and change my relationship with my pain. I’ve written a lot about it in previous blog posts.

Guided meditation involves, well, following a guide’s mental imagery. This could include a mental journey to a sacred or safe space, visualizing something that you want to happen, a guide to letting go of anger, and much more. I can’t speak to it as much, because most of my experience with guided meditation has been at the end of a yoga class.

Each of the healthjourneys meditations focus on a particular issue, including relaxation, sleep, PTSD, and even fibromyalgia. I bought the mp3 of the fibromyalgia CD, and I’ve been listening to it at night. One of the things mentioned in the CD is that it works even if you’re sleeping, because your unconscious brain will absorb what is said. I’m not sure how much scientific research has gone into that claim, but I will say that I’ve slept better than I have in years.

My favorite imagery on the fibromyalgia meditation involves listening to your body like it’s an old friend, as it’s your oldest companion. Belleruth takes you through a body scan. There’s also a lot of focus on the breath, and on breathing out negativity and taking in healing. It’s a really nice CD, and listening to it has definitely helped me fall asleep.

Meditation CDs are somewhat idiosyncratic, as what one person finds soothing another person may find annoying. Belleruth’s voice is deep, almost husky. At first it kind of made me giggle, but now I’m glad that it’s slow and steady. It makes her voice easier to sleep to. You can listen to an audio sample of the fibromyalgia meditation on this page, underneath where the checkout information is.

Each CD also has a series of affirmations, which you can apparently listen to in the car as well. I like the affirmations, so I mostly just listen to them when I’m sleeping.

Ever tried a guided meditation CDs? Feel free to comment with some of your experiences.

The Diane Rehm show had an interesting segment on the power of meditation yesterday (June 22). There isn’t a transcript available at the moment, but you can listen to the podcast on her website.

I should mention first that Jonathan Foust – one of the guests on the show – is a meditation instructor of mine. So I’m rather partial to him anyway. I also emailed a question during the show about chronic pain, mainly asking what medical research there is about meditation’s effect on chronic pain. This was kind of a softball question, but I mainly wanted to see what they had to say about chronic pain.

I was familiar with the guests’ responses. Josephine Briggs (director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) didn’t cite any particular studies, but said that there are a number which have shown that meditation helps with chronic pain. Jonathan mentioned that meditation can help people change their relationships with pain. This is something I’ve written about before, so I won’t go into it in too much detail here.

Overall, the show seems like a good introduction to meditation and medical research related to it. One thing I did find very interesting were some comments from people who had tried meditation and had trouble with it. In particular, one caller said that he has serious concentration issues. How can he then sit down and meditate?

The general consensus of both guests to the show and those who called in are that there are a lot of different kinds of meditation. Some suggested that this gentleman try walking meditation, yoga (kundalini yoga in particular), martial arts, or some other meditation that moves his body. The trick is to find something that works for you.

I’ll be following up with a poll about your own meditation techniques.

I’m having one of those days filled with phone calls and waiting for test results, people wanting to know things right now, and waking up later than intended.

Honestly, it’s one of those days that could drive a person insane.

So I’m taking time for a moment of mindfulness. It doesn’t have to be a 30 minute meditation, or full-on yoga session. As one of my meditation instructors once told me, just take a moment to ask, “What is happening for me right now?”

I’m noticing my hands are swollen today…noticing myself getting swept up in thought…aware of my fingers on the keys and my feet on the floor. I’m aware of taking a deep breath, and my stomach being tense.

The world is a little less chaotic now than it was a few moments ago. Nothing has been miraculously “cured,” but I don’t feel like I’m being sucked up in some interdimensional vortex of rushing.

Part of the key to this exercise is to focus on sensations of the here and now – not thinking about the 50 things you have to do before dinner, instead examining the texture of the floor, or the nature of your breath. If you have a thought or a worry, notice that you’re having a thought or a worry.

So I’d like to invite you, if you want, to ask yourself, “What is happening for me right now?

People always talk about finding positive coping mechanisms, and I always find they’re hardest to remember when you’re not feeling well. It’s helpful to have some sort of plan, as discussed in one of Health Skills’ blog entries on coping strategies.

Perhaps you could say this post is more for my own reference, but here are a few “healthy” coping mechnanisms that I try to keep in my knapsack:

  • Going for a walk
  • Go swimming
  • Creating something – a physical craft, a work of writing, a batch of vegan cookies…you name it
  • Petting my dog. He can always use more belly rubs.
  • Sitting in the garden or some other place outside
  • Light gardening
  • Reading one of my “comfort books” (Pride and Prejudice springs to mind)
  • Meditating
  • Stretching/doing yoga
  • Making a point of eating breakfast and other healthy foods
  • Buying a bouquet of cut flowers, especially if it’s winter and there are none in the garden
  • Planning potential vacations for when I feel better (even if I never actually go, the thought of going to the Caribbean always perks up my mood)
  • Bird-watching
  • Listening to music or a stand-up comedy tape
  • Lighting a candle
  • Talking to friends and others in my support system

Recently life was difficult because life circumstances made it very difficult to utilize a lot of my coping mechanisms. (It’s hard to go for a walk when your foot hurts if you put any weight on it.) That’s when it’s hardest to use those healthy skills, rather than fall back on things like eating lots and lots of chocolate. It’s still a work in progress for me. I’m hoping having a record of this will help with future flare-ups.

I feel like their is a war waging on the battlefront of my body. I’m not talking about the pain or fatigue I feel from fibromyalgia. I’m not talking about migraines, or mood disorders, or any of that.

I’m talking about the way medical providers (“Western”, alternative, and complementary), the media, drug companies, and even sometimes people from my everyday life try to co-opt decisions about what the best treatments are for my body. Often, they don’t agree with one another. Then I’m left stranded, trying to figure out what the best course of action is. It is not therapeutic, and it doesn’t help.

Some (not all) “Western”/modern medical providers are all about science by the books. I think fibromyalgia threatens them, because the diagnostic tools basically involve ruling out other things and then poking the patient in 18 places. If 11 out of the 18 hurt (divided in certain sectors of the body), then it’s fibromyalgia. Even though fibromyalgia has been documented as a real condition in countless places – and new clinical data shows that fMRI’s can pick up signs of fibromyalgia in the brain – many doctors are only now accepting that fibromyalgia is a real condition in the way that arthritis or diabetes is.

“This is the crux of it, the reason more than a handful of physicians have such disdain for FM and its sufferers: they don’t know how to see it, how to measure it or how to effectively treat it.  In short, FM is a mystery many physicians would rather not contemplate…. ‘As treatments have been developed that work fibromyalgia is being more widely accepted as a legitimate, scientifically credible disease.’ In other words, FM might become increasingly viewed as legitimate because physicians are becoming better able to do something definitive to attenuate the suffering.”

These are the words of medical doctors (MDs) who practice/research at Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan. Wait, wait – the people who diagnosed me with this syndrome might not believe that it’s real? When I was first diagnosed, my rheumatologist basically gave me the following prognosis: you may never be able to work full time. We don’t really have any medications for this. Physical therapy might help. Have a nice day, see you in six months. (Note: I do not see that doctor anymore, and have found much better ones.) I did end up going on some medications that seem to help, which I’ve added to my cocktail of mood disorder medications.

Physical therapy most definitely helps, as do other more “alternative” or “complementary” medical practices. Reiki, light touch massage, integrative manual therapy, meditation, healing drumming…all of these things have helped enrich and improve my quality of life. They also help alleviate mental and physical suffering.

The problem is that there are skeptics in both sides. Western practitioners often don’t “believe” in reiki, because of lack of clinical trials. The same goes for a lot of other alternative/complementary techniques. And a lot of people I know from the alternative community have their own prejudices against Western medicine. There are too many side effects, it’s too intrusive, the drugs often do more harm than good. I am not saying that alternative medical practitioners urge me to go against the advice of my doctor. But when I tell people the medications I’m on – it’s quite a cocktail – there is sometimes a general pursing of the lips. A certain look in the eye that says, “I wouldn’t take all those chemicals.”

Ah yes, the Great Medication Debate. Western doctors often don’t like to prescribe pain medications, as they can be addictive. Emergency room doctors sometimes treat fibromyalgia patients as though they’re drug addicts. As already mentioned, alternative medical practitioners have their own skepticisms about the effectiveness of prescription medications. Meanwhile, I run across the occasional friend who says something glib like, “I really don’t like taking medications.” Guess what. I don’t like taking them either. I take them because they help, even though there are sometimes really terrible side effects.

So what’s a girl to do? I’ve received positive help from medical practitioners from all practices. I’ve also received some care that just hasn’t helped. My social support network is, for the most part, very supportive.

You know what would be really helpful? If I didn’t have to defend one set of medical practitioners or traditions to practitioners of another tradition. If they worked together, and I received holistic advice that integrated healing modalities from a range of traditions.

This is my body. MY body. If you are going to be my medical provider, treat it with respect. Please leave your personal baggage at the door.

(Note: I’m not targeting this at a specific person. So if you’re someone I know, and you’re wondering if this is about you, it’s not. ^_^)

I have been feeling pretty down lately. I suppose when body, mind, and spirit are out of whack at the same time, it affects a person deeply. For me, it felt like it was creating some sort of multi-dimensional vortex that sucked all will from my body. Or maybe that was just the medications I’ve been taking.

The weather was gorgeous today. Spending multiple days snow-bound due to blizzards helps one cultivate a deep appreciation for 60-degree weather. (That’s 60 Fahrenheit for those of you overseas, or roughly 15.5 Celsius.) I did a morning meditation outside in the garden. I was planning on doing a “body scan,” but was overwhelmed by the depth of sound surrounding me. Planes, construction, my dog, people, cars, and lots and lots of BIRDS. It was a nice 15 minutes of connectedness to the world.

My mood started dipping mid-day. No need to go into the how’s and why’s. I think all of the pain – physical, emotional, spiritual – that’s been happening lately just walloped me. Seriously walloped me into deep gloom. So deep that someone I know asked me why I was being so pessimistic lately. Not necessarily the thing to ask someone who’s already not feeling well.

Anyway, I went to meditation tonight and had an amazing experience. I’ve been dealing with a lot of anger, so I decided to mainly focus on a “loving kindness” meditation rather than a body scan. (I did do some body scanning, but that wasn’t my main focus.)

Then came the post-meditation dharma talk. I got a good chance to laugh at/with myself in a very compassionate way. It’s really hard to put into words.

My main realization echoed one of the teacher’s. That when things are going well, I think that it must be because I’m doing something “right” or “good.” And that when things are going down the toilet, I think that it must be because I’m doing something “wrong.” So I drive myself crazy trying to figure out where I went wrong, and what I can do to make it better.

Secret of the evening: sometimes pain just happens. There is no rhyme or reason, or perhaps there’s a reason that’s out of your control. Once I let go of feeling personally responsible for creating my pain, this huge weight lifted from my chest. Don’t get me wrong, my foot still hurts like hell. I just don’t feel like I’m in my personal penal colony anymore.

When I got home, I started thinking about tomorrow morning’s 10 am dental appointment. And lo and behold, my wonderful golden mood went away, to be replaced by something utterly mundane. Which will later be replaced by some other thing. That’s just the way it goes.

Ajahn Chah

For the visually impaired: the above image shows a series of four pictures of Ajahn Chah, a Thai monk.He is sitting on the floor, probably preparing for a talk. He is wearing orange robes and has a shaved head. In the first three pictures, he appears to be stretching his hands. He does not appear to be looking anywhere in particular. He has a contemplative look. In the last picture, he smiles to someone behind the camera.

Every time I look at these pictures, I smile. The monk in the photos, Ajahn Chah, just seems to be radiating loving kindness, or metta.

This post is mainly about giving you a picture to smile about. It’s amazing how some people, animals, events, moons, scenery, can just make you smile. For me, it feels like my heart just opens up. Like I’m suddenly somehow connected to the world in a new way.

It’s a great feeling.

In case you want some extra bonus cool information, Ajahn Chah was a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition of Buddhism. There’s a website about the Thai Forest tradition, including some free teaching materials, here.

I’m not sure I’d have wanted Ajahn Chah as my teacher. He certainly did the whole “confront-your-suffering-head-on” approach when teaching monks. I do that intermittently, mainly when I’m having a pain flare up. I haven’t chosen to follow some of his more stringent teachings on Buddhist practice.

There’s a really interesting story (followed by stringent teachings on Buddhist practice) written by Ajahn Chah on the Forest Sangha website. It’s about some time he spent meditating in a graveyard, alone, at night. He describes feeling as though there is a being sniffing around him at night, which he fears is the spirit of the dead corpse that had been cremated that night.

I sat as if I wasn’t even touching the ground and simply noted what was going on. The fear was so great that it filled me, like a jar completely filled with water. If you pour water until the jar is completely full, and then pour some more, the jar will overflow. Likewise, the fear built up so much within me that it reached its peak and began to overflow.

”What am I so afraid of anyway?” a voice inside me asked.

”I’m afraid of death,” another voice answered.

It’s a really good read, I don’t want to spoil it any further. If you like ghost stories, insight, Buddhism, or experience a fear of death yourself, you should check it out.

I am snowed into my house. There is a blizzard warning in effect outside, and I believe it. Blowing snow makes it difficult to see anything except for the two foot icicle hanging outside my dining room window. Occasionally, I can get a glimpse of desperate starlings trying to eat from the bird feeder, hanging on for dear life. Some of our trees are touching the ground, bent completely over.

This isn’t new. We had a snowstorm (much bigger) this past weekend, and another one around Christmas. Our orange plastic snow shovel is cracked from use, and all the stores were sold out of new ones. These have been interspersed with smaller snows, which would typically be large snows for my area (six inches, anyone?).

The first snowstorm was very exciting. White Christmas, oh boy! Children out of school, adults out of work! Sure, there was a lot of shoveling, but we had plenty of people to do it. The mountains of plowed snow that blocked crosswalks and parking spots were a bit of a nuisance, but we had plenty of 50 degree weather a week or so later that helped melt things down.

It is getting old.I am tired of the snow.

I try to keep a pretty positive attitude. This snow…ugh. The issues are so multi-faceted, I think it deserves a bulleted list:

  • While it is snowing, I am stuck inside the house. Everyone’s nerves get frayed. (We’ve made jokes about the Donner Party.)
  • There is a risk of power outage (we’ve had two so far), which raises the specter of a cold house, food going rotten, no cooking, no light, no computer, no internet to connect me to people outside my house.
  • The snow restricts my movement, where I can and cannot go. I sometimes find myself feeling trapped, shackled, caught, caged…you get the idea.
  • After it stops snowing, we have to extricate ourselves from the house. After injuring myself once trying to help, I’m leery of going out in what will probably be waist-deep snow and ice.
  • It will be a long time before all the snow melts, and I find those gray, chemical-covered piles of ice chunks by the side of the road really depressing.

Perhaps most importantly: Snow brings out interesting things in people. There was the very nice man with a bobcat who helped dig out cars out (for free!), and there are people who buy five snow shovels at the hardware store (leaving none for the rest of us). There’s graciousness and there’s pushing and shoving. I’m slightly afraid of what all this snow will reveal of my personality.

It’s interesting. People pay good money to go on meditation retreats, live a more ascetic lifestyle for awhile, go silently for a week or a month, eat simply, and take a break from the technology and hubbub of 21st century life in a Western country. Yet when offered an opportunity for a free retreat with snow-covered vistas, I feel myself clawing at the door. Who knows, perhaps that is how I would feel if I chose to go on one of those month-long retreats.

So, I’m trying to reframe my outlook on the snow. I’ve mainly been catching up on video games, guilt-free (no “I should be doing something productive” fears echoing through my head.) I want to take advantage of the opportunity to take some deep breaths and ask, “What is happening for me right now?” To slow down. To breathe, and let go of expectations.

I might as well enjoy the view of two foot icicles, too. They really are amazing.

We had the mother of all snowstorms this weekend, with 29″ dumped on every surface. It’s beautiful, and it also presents many practical challenges. (These include power outages, being housebound, snow-weighted trees, and making a space for the terrier to go outside and use the bathroom.)

Saturday night I was keeping my friend company while she started clearing off one of our cars. The power was out all around the neighborhood. The storm clouds had passed. The sky was a deep purple, reflecting the light of the snow and city lights in the distance. All of our street lights were out, giving a much better view of constellations punctuated by the occasional whispy cirrus clouds. Partway through shoveling, the power came back on. Some of the constellations disappeared, but my disappointment was tempered by the promise of having heat for the night.

That was the wonder of the snowstorm.

We also probably lost at least two trees, which succumbed to the weight of the snow and ended up almost touching the ground. I spent a good bit of the day of the storm wading through the ever-accumulating snow (it ended up reaching almost to my hips) and shaking trees off to prevent further tree death. My friends did a lot of the work, but just “walking” through the snow proved difficult.

Then came my body’s reaction to the experience.

I won’t bore you with an entire catalog of the pain. Suffice it to say that every joint in my legs was sore and burning. Other parts of my body would periodically pipe up, as though saying, “Me too! Pay attention to me too! I hurt too!”

I knew what would help: very light exercise (stretching or walking), meditation, medication, a hot shower, taking it easy by staying out of the snow…

Knowing is easier than doing. It was as though the pain had taken over my brain, and all I could focus on was how much I hurt. Add to it the increasing dismay at being housebound AND in pain, and I was not a happy camper.

I recruited my friends to help me out. Sometimes I just need encouragement to take steps in the right direction. I unhesitatingly took my pain medication, and got to verbally express some of the pain I was feeling. My friend helped me pick out some nice shampoo, and I took full advantage of my shower chair and hot water. I just let it wash over me.

Then I took my big step. I decided I would get situated for a meditation. I got out my mp3 player (which has several guided meditations on it). I decided I would see how meditation went – I wouldn’t force myself to do it for a certain period of time. I just let my meditation be what it was – a way to get in touch with what was going on in my body.

It was painful, at first. But because I have some experience with doing mindfulness meditation while I’m in pain, it was not unexpected.

There was this remarkable feeling of openness that happened during my meditation. I realized how much of my body actually feels pretty good.

This next part may sound crazy, but bear with me. (Having a familiarity with the Buddhist idea of equanimity might help.) I realized that when I found a part of my body that was not in pain, I thought, “Oh good, it feels great!” When I found a part of my body that was in pain, I thought, “Drat, that hurts. Maybe if I focus on it, it’ll stop hurting.”

Then I tried something different – letting go of the idea that pain is good or bad. However terrible the experience of pain is, it is a million times worse if I dedicate my conscious mind to thinking about how terrible it is. I also have a tendency to dedicating my conscious mind to how I want to feel good all the time when I’m enjoying myself. If I do that, I’m not actually enjoying myself anymore – I’m just dwelling in the desire to feel good more often.

So I just let go. I allowed myself to be in pain without judgement. The pain was still there. It still hurt. But it wasn’t in control of my consciousness anymore.

Now I can just be.

My Etsy Store

A fibro-friendly item from my Etsy store

I've been working on making fibro-friendly jewelry. I'd love it if you checked them out by clicking the image above, or going to www.etsy.com/people/RogueCrafter

About Me

This blog is intended as a place for me to reflect on my own healing journey, in the hopes that others may also gain insight from my experiences. I've "borrowed" a line from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken:

'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.'

I think the most important thing for me now is that I feel empowered to be a force for positive change in my life. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.

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