Thursday, December 22, 2011

Metta Sutta....a Blessing for 2012

Blessing for 2012

May everyone be happy and safe, and may their
hearts be filled with Joy.

May all living beings live in Security and in Peace –
beings who are frail or strong, tall or short, big or small,
visible or not visible, near or far away,
already born or yet to be born.
May all of them dwell in perfect tranquility.

Let no one do harm to anyone. Let no one put the
life of anyone in danger. Let no one, out of anger or ill will,
wish anyone any harm.
                                                ~ Metta Sutta (Suttanipata)
                                                          Translated by Thich Nhat Hahn

Before things get too busy around here, I wanted to take a moment to send out a blessing to all of us. Although it seems quite appropriate with the fast approaching New Year, it is a blessing for all the days we share on this beautiful planet.

It does not seem to matter how much wealth we have…or even how much health we have…if there resides no peace within us - then even the greatest of treasures fall short. May you find, in the quiet moments of this day, a place of perfect tranquility.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Taking A Shower

I think of you often
Every other day, mostly. These are shower days - cleansing rituals
I think of you
Mothers, daughters, grandmothers
Stepping into the steam with me
I wonder
About your
Are you tired?
I never imagined so many things 
So many things 
At 40 I imagined 45 to look so different.  I had just found the love of my life
The love of my second chance at life. I imagined so many new and wonderful things
Running the back roads of Wisconsin, canoeing the endless water ways that make up the BWCA
Coffee shops, art, travel
Making love
I never imagined getting sick. No one does, really. We give it patronage like a Hallmark greeting card
Understanding it on a poetic level. Giving gratuitous sentiments like we’ve walked even one mile  
We don’t know. We don’t imagine, really
I didn’t
Something as simple as taking a shower. Rationing out the days. This is what I do. As if it all stops if I just don’t think about it
Or maybe it really is just too hard. It takes too long
Taking a shower
When you’re losing your hair
I just never
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities
All is vanity
Why can’t I be bigger than this?
This thing that insists on
I stand face up
Hot water flowing down my body
I watch the drain
As if this baptism
Slides down my shins and slips between my toes
Soap alludes
Some sort of
A ritual of sorts.  Lather makes things slippery. I brush my fingers through my hair. The first few strokes are the worst
Hair winds around my palms, wraps around my fingers like spun wool on spindles
I tell myself
Not yet
As the hair falls freely. Letting go of me.  I hold my hands up to the water, fingers down
As the fragrant spume
Carries dresses and patent leather shoes, pony tails and sparkly earrings, lipstick and sexy lingerie
Breathe in the steam. I calm myself, let the water pour over my face
Even though each breath feels as though ten thousand were gasping to get out 
Breathe as I turn and spin and maneuver
Shifting here and there so that the water can wash the hair off my shoulders
And arms
And back
And belly
And buttocks
And thighs
And calves
Stopping to tangle around ankles and toes as if to say
I have lingered not long enough, not long enough to
Prorogue the pain of letting go, to delay this grief
It’s sticky business, picking and pulling
Shifting and rinsing, it never ends
Not until I pile what’s left atop my head inside my white cotton turban
Do I feel the satisfaction of
Moving on
Can I say
Can I feel as though this soap
Somehow makes me
Can I step out onto this rug
And dry what’s left of
This disease doesn’t take anything from me that 90 years does not take from you  
I've  watched you grow old gracefully. I’ve admired your gray hair and your soft wrinkled skin 
And I’ve been empowered by your inner beauty.  Your radiance. The soft wisdom that passes your lips and finger tips 
It comforts me
It makes a path in the deepest forest of my being. A place of gentle knowing. A field for rest  
A settling
I never imagined getting sick
I never imagined
I never imagined
Letting go
And yet
I never imagined
In all your
Grace and loveliness
I think of you
You mothers, daughters, grandmothers
Who have come to the last chapters of your story
By age
By disease
By death
By letting not what lacks define you
Not by any letting go
By accepting
What is already

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Diagnosis...A Matter of Perspective

Life's A Comic Strip

You know, sometimes that's just the way it is! We've all been there. I remember when I totaled the very first new car I had ever owned. Long story, but in the midst of a July move, I inadvertently left a deep freezer worth of poultry and beef in the back seat of my new Saturn...for a week. Needless to say, there was nothing that could be done. The insurance company said, and I quote, "We have to handle this just like a dead body." Gross.
But what I remember most is how many people said to me, gosh, you got another new car out of the deal! Yes, I guess I did. But in the end it added about $5000 onto my loan since the previous car depreciated the minute I drove it off the lot. Not really what I had originally  intended! I would have much rather kept my old new car.

It is a matter of perspective, I guess. In the end, everything is. How I choose to look at something, the story I choose to tell myself, is exactly that. A story.

The week of Thanksgiving I finally met up with my rheumatologist. It's been a tough couple of months and I was pretty eager to find out what was/IS going on with my crazy overactive immune system. I managed to get down to about 2mg on the prednisone taper regimen when all autoimmune hell broke loose. Basically, what that means for me is this. Think about when you get sick. Your body has a response to that illness - be it virus or bacteria. It is that response that actually makes you feel sick. For example, if the membranes of your nose or throat become inflamed by toxins, your immune response is to sneeze. If  your lungs become infected, there is a stimulation of sensory nerves in the lining of the respiratory passages that create the reflex to cough, thereby expelling and clearing the lungs of those toxins. When viruses or bacteria find there way into your body, your body may respond by initiating a fever. This complex process (which can be quite painful and dangerous if out of control) raises your bodies temperature in order to create an environment in which the virus or bacteria cannot survive. Without the fever, the body would not be able to overcome these toxins. And the same is true for vomiting and diarrhea. Both responses eventually rid either the upper or lower GI tract of toxins that have taken up unwanted residence there. The immune system is an amazingly elaborate and complicated system, recognizing invaders, putting up barriers to prevent those invaders from attacking  vital organs and eventually destroying the ones that do manage to "get through"! It's wonderful...when it works.

In autoimmunity, the immune system's ability to recognize what's foreign and what's part of your own body breaks down in some way. Thinking that cells or tissues or organs are foreign invaders, the immune system moves into action to be rid the body of these invaders. So in a very small nutshell, what this means is that the body of someone with autoimmune disease is constantly in response to what it thinks is toxic. For someone like me, with multiple autoimmune diseases, my body is attacking multiple systems and organs thinking that they are foreign. That's why, quite often my response to the question, "How do you feel?" is answered with, "I feel like I have the flu...all the time." My body is in constant attack mode. If left unchecked (this is where all those nasty drugs come in) then eventually my body would succeed at wiping out things like my pancreas, my liver, my kidneys, my nervous system, my skin, my hair.... the list goes on.  Up until two weeks ago, my primary diagnosis were Lupus, Sjogren's and RA. I have now added Ankylosing Spondylitis to my list, which accounts for the increased pain and stiffness in my spine.

So, why tell you all of this? A couple of reasons. One, the more sick I am, the more people want to know what exactly is wrong with me. It's a hard question to answer sometimes. Quite often I just don't have the energy to explain. Or, as is sometimes the case, people don't really want to know the answer. Not because of a lack of care or concern, but more just because the simple asking is out of politeness and not so much out of a want to least right then and there. I get that. And seriously, I have no problem with it. In most situations, the lack of really wanting to know pretty much matches my lack of wanting to explain! (I hope that makes sense). I'm totally cool with being polite!

Two, I want you to know how I'm managing with this new diagnosis. And this is it...
I'm good.
I really am good.

This is the deal. Am I sick of being sick sometimes? You bet!! But That's where the story stops. This illness, this disease is not me. I do not wonder what evil force is out there working desperately against me. I do not wonder what causes pain and suffering in this body or in this world, nor do I sit and wonder why things happen to me or if I  will eventually find the end of my coping rope! It just is what it is. Period. Attaching "good" or "bad" to a situation is my doing, and has nothing to do with the actual situation. I thought having to pay $5000 for a second new car was a "bad" situation. But what if that first new car had a malfunctioning wire that would have eventually led to it spontaneously exploding while I was driving. Would I then tell myself, "Wow, good thing I had to get rid of that car!" Well, was it a good thing or a bad thing? Neither!

The Venerable Ajan Chah says this,
If your house is flooded or burnt to the ground, whatever the threat to it, let it concern only the house. If there's a flood, don't let it flood your mind. If there's a fire, don't let it burn your heart. Let it be merely the house, that which is outside of you, that is flooded or burned. Now is the time to allow the mind to let go of attachments.
So when you ask me, "How are you?", if I don't tell you I feel like I have the flu, most likely you will hear me say something like this, "I'm good!" I'm good despite my diseases, not because of them. I'm good because when I look out my window I see the most beautiful row of pine trees covered in new fallen snow. I'm good because when I sit out on my deck I feel the healing warmth of the winter sun on my face. I'm good because I am surrounded by a loving family, an amazing husband and the caring hands and hearts of so many friends. I'm good because every single thing I need, I have within me, this very moment. And no fire, no flood, no disease can ever take that away.

I have so much to be thankful for.


Friday, December 2, 2011

From This Place

This picture hangs above our fireplace right now. I say "right now" because when your husband is a photographer, things like this change from time to time. For the most part, I am pleased with the transitions. But this one, the one he calls Snowy Oak, is different. I may just keep this one up for a very long time.

BWCA 2007
Nature heals me. More specifically...the woods. I am never so close to the divine as I am when I am laying stretched out on some huge stone or back side up with my head to the clouds, capturing pieces of sky beyond tree tops and quivering leaves or laying face down in the moist mossy earth.

I remember feeling this way as a child in the arms of my father. Safe, warm, connected to something so much bigger than me. I can smell his fresh t-shirt as I pressed my cheek to his chest. I can hear his heart beating as if it somehow were my own, carrying me within the gentle cadence of his strength.  

I don't get out into the woods much any more. Conditions have to be just right - for me and for the woods. But I try not to grieve any longer for what I don't have. It's a pretty useless way to expend energy. What I do try to do, is to draw from within, those many experiences I HAVE had. That's what Snowy Oak does for me. I can stand in front of our fireplace and become completely lost in the twisted, gnarled, snow covered branches that fill my wall. My breathing slows as I am drawn into the motion of each flake, to the wrenched rhythm of each brittle twig. I can smell the frozen air. I can feel the cragged meandering bark as I run my bare hand down her trunk. Wrinkled crows-feet worn like the badges of an old women. If I were a fortune teller of oak...Oh, the stories I could tell!

This is most holy.

When I sat down to write to you today, I was filled with a sort of melancholy. I'm not really "feeling" the whole Christmas thing this year - at least, not in the traditional sense of things. Which, I am finding, is actually a good thing. At first the temptation was to wonder what's wrong with me. But as I look inward, what I am realizing is that I am filled with a deep sense of longing. Longing not for the brightly covered busy-ness of the perfectly decorated Fraser Fir or Scotch Pine. Longing not for the hubbub of city streets or the thrill of finding just the right deal or even the display of  holiday lights. What I'm longing for this holiday season is this...


This kind of Quiet...

It is from this place, from the quiet dead of winter, that I want to venture out from.

It is from this place, from the barren fields of snow, that I want to adorn my home for the gatherings.
It is from this place, from the lifeless empty branches, that I want to give the gifts of my heart.

It is from this place, from seemingly endless nights of December, that I want to discover my joy.

It is from this place, this quiet, very still place, that I find home.

May we all come home for the holidays.