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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.

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Periodically, I go through phases of wondering what life would be like if I didn’t have a mental illness, if I didn’t have fibromyalgia, if I fit into some preconceived box of “normal” and “able.” These trains of thought are usually exercises in futility. There is no good answer. At best, thinking this way leads my mind in fruitless circles. At worst, these thoughts torture me with images of what “might have been.”

I am a big fan of speculative fiction (also known as sci-fi/fantasy), which is essentially the genre of “all that might be.” It’s entertaining, creative, and often has a useful perspective on “real life” that might be hard to write about in other genres. One of my favorite authors is Terry Pratchett (although he’s recently been knighted for services to literature, so I guess I should call him “Sir Terry Pratchett”). His books are usually set in “Discworld,” but he recently wrote one set in something very much like the South Pacific. (He is emphatic that it is not the South Pacific, though – perhaps more like an alternate universe version of it.)

The book is called Nation. One of the main characters is a boy named Mau, who was canoeing back from an initiation on the Boys’ Island when a tidal wave sweeps through the entire region. When he returns home, he finds his entire home altered. His family and community have been killed by the tidal wave, and the only other living person on the island is a “ghost girl” (read: white girl) who was shipwrecked on the island. Gradually, other survivors begin to trickle into the island. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but Mau does a lot of growing up. There’s a really excellent section of the book that addresses some of my own questions regarding what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten a disability. In Mau’s case, someone asks Mau if he would rather go back to the way things were before the tidal wave.

“How can I answer you? There is no language. There was a boy called Mau. I see him in my memory, so proud of himself because he was going to be a man. He cried for his family and turned the tears into rage. And if he could, he would say, ‘Did not happen!’ and the wave would roll backward and never have been. But there is another boy, and he is called Mau, too, and his head is on fire with new things. What does he say? He was born in the wave, and he knows the world is round, and he met a ghost girl who is sorry she shot at him. He also called himself the little blue hermit crab, scuttling about the sand in search of a new shell, but now he looks at the sky and knows that no shell will ever be big enough, ever. Will you ask him not to be? Any answer will be the wrong one. All I can be is who I am. But sometimes I hear the boy inside crying for his family.”

If I hadn’t been diagnosed with any disabilities, I would probably have graduated “on time,” have gone to graduate school already, have some sort of career. And yeah, having a disability sucks sometimes. Pain, fatigue, times when I’ve been so down I thought I could never get up again. But those are the kinds of experiences that make you grow. In my general experience, life lessons can be excruciating when you’re learning them – and amazing once you begin to learn from them. I feel more empowered to take my own path in my life, not following the dictates of what other people expect.

And there are times when another tidal wave comes, and knocks you off that course, and destroys things that you hold dear. Those things are unavoidable. If it had not been a disability, something else would have happened to shake my world and my preconceptions apart. And I know that there will be more tidal waves, because that’s part of life.

I am who I am because of the events of my life: the way they have shaped me and the way I shape them. I cannot take them back without taking back parts of myself – and I like myself.

So perhaps asking “what if’s” is the wrong type of question. Though I think that the asking provides an opportunity for compassion to myself. A time to grieve for what I have lost, and to be thankful for what I’ve gained.

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.

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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