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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?

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.

Drugs and medication have an interesting way of interfering with my mindfulness practice.

I spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday drugged on Tramadol, which I’d taken to deal with the pain/fear spiral that was going on this weekend. The Tramadol made me groggy, sleepy, and ill-coordinated. My brain felt like someone had shoved cotton balls into it, and I couldn’t get to all the important bits.

I suppose the Tramadol did its job in other respects: I wasn’t in as much pain, I could walk (or hobble) when needed, and I wasn’t having panic attacks from fear about how long the pain would last. The pain was not out of control.

I decided to try some mindfulness meditation to cope with my relationship to the pain.

When I started doing some breathing and focusing inwards, I really felt as though my brain was on some bad carnival ride. When I closed my eyes, I saw a pink trapezoid that kept moving and rolling as though it was in a fun house. There were pink elephants and other objects that kept shifting in and out of view.

When I tried to focus on my body instead of on the happy-fun-trip going on inside my mind, it was like wading upriver through sludge. I could kind of feel myself through a dim haze, but it was a lot of effort. The pink elephant kept calling me back.

Eventually, I fell asleep.

I suppose the mindfulness didn’t work in the way I intended or expected, but it did give me insight into the workings of my brain when I’m taking “heavy duty” painkillers. (Tramadol is a “mild narcotic.”) It feels like the medication is closing a door on the parts of my mind which might experience pain. Clobbering them over the head and sticking them in a closet, if you will. Then it distracts the rest of my mind with smoke and mirrors.

This doesn’t usually happen – as much – when I take Tramadol. I think it was because I took a larger dose than usual. However, the feeling of “wading upriver” when trying to practice mindfulness while on Tramadol has happened before.

Fortunately for me,  I managed to see a podiatrist yesterday. I’m narcotic-free today, and I feel like I have my mind back.

Note: This is another early post (Thursday instead of Friday), because it again relates to how I’m doing right now. We’ll see what the weekend holds, and if I do a “weekend extra” or not. It probably depends on how much pain I’m in, or what medication I’m on.

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.

NPR had a wonderful series on the mind-body connection awhile back. If you haven’t already listened to it, there is a great podcast on science and meditation.

The podcast is available for download, and there are some “web extras.”

People who meditate say it induces well-being and emotional balance. In recent years, a group of neuroscientists has begun investigating the practice, dubbed “mindfulness.” As NPR’s Allison Aubrey reports, they are exploring the hypothesis that meditation can actually change the way the brain works.

That seems pretty obvious to me, but I have some first-hand experience with the effects of meditation on my body. It’s interesting to see a clinically-proven take on what many people have known for millenia.

The Wisconsin scientists have demonstrated that meditators do have increased activity in one part of the brain, the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with emotional well-being. The response is strongest with long-time adept meditators, but the researchers see the same pattern of brain activity in people who are just being taught to meditate.

For more on science and meditation, Health Skills has an interesting blog post on a clinical study about the effect of deep breathing on pain and affect (attitude) among people with fibromyalgia and those without. The findings refer specifically to deep breathing, and not mindfulness meditation, positive visualization, guided meditation, or other meditation techniques.

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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