Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bulbs and Blank Slates

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there within me lay an invincible summer."    
~ Albert Camus

These bulbs were given to my husband in a small paper sack this Christmas by a co-worker. In the bag was also a small note giving instructions as to how to get the bulbs to grow. It simply said to place them in water, support with sand or stones, water and wait. In four to six weeks we should get a preview of Spring. So I did exactly that. I found some of my favorite rocks (I collect rocks) and placed them in a bowl, tucked the bulbs in, filled it with water and put it up on the window sill in our bathroom. 

Life amazes me. 

I've been a bit absent from the on-line world as of late. I apologize for those of you waiting to hear how Oliver is or how Anna is or even how I am, for that matter. I forget sometimes, that the words I write are actually read by others and not just some sort of therapy for me. You remind me with your comments, honest and real. Sometimes painfully so. I am always surprised and humbled by your truth. But the fact of this matter of this absence is that it's been quite deliberate. Per the instruction of my neuro-psychiatrist, I am to live life a bit more experiential and not so much "up in my head". As someone who thrives on knowledge and strives daily toward self awareness and enlightenment, I have to admit, I can get caught up in the "idea" of it all. The bookshelf full of unread books on philosophy and mindfulness, or "books in waiting" as I like to call them, is a reminder of this "issue" of mine! I have always felt a great desire to "know". But as I am learning, to know something is quite different than what it means to feel something. And in order for our bodies to have the ability to go somewhere, it must have in it somewhere the capacity to feel that place. To have memory of it. I can know what it means to be at peace. I can know what it means to be relaxed. I can know what it means to meditate. I can know what it means to let go. But actually moving from that knowing to the experience of feeling is something that takes time and effort - and stillness. 

The problem for me arises when my brain does not work. Which, with lupus, happens quite often. When I am unable to rely on coping mechanisms that have helped me in the past - thought process that help me when I am in pain, or sad, or depressed - I find it difficult to arrive at a place of comfort (peace, relaxation,calm) physically. So the idea here is to get there more often, without so much thought, so that when crisis arises it is not such a difficult place to find. As my wonderful neuro-psychiatrist Shep says, to find it in two breaths - this is my goal. SO....not so much reading and writing and a little bit more living. 

Bedside table with iPad and headphones. My sanctuary!
The first and most important thing I have been doing in my day is to listen to the most recent recording of my hypnosis session with Shep. This was a difficult thing for me to remember to do, until he actually put it in the recording for me to remember to listen to the recording! It's been a life changer for me. I am so very fortunate to have a skilled team at the U of M pain clinic on my side. I just don't know what I would do without them. I also have a wonderful collection of mindfulness based healing talks and music - all helpful with the every day of chronic illness. To experience what it means to feel relaxed. 

Homemade gluten-free pizza...YUM!

I have also been trying to eat more healthy, especially in light of the issues I have with gluten and other food ingredients that cause havoc in my system. Paying more attention to ingredients both when eating out as well as when in the grocery story creates not only a healthier diet, but a more pleasant eating experience. To experience what it means to feel comfortably full.  

A beautiful red infant cap in the making. 
Recently I had to co-create my treatment plan with my team. One of the goals I had for myself was to work on not defining myself as a sick person. I thought I was doing pretty good at this, but the more I looked at myself, my actions were speaking louder than my words. In fact, my oldest daughter recently called me on this when I was throwing out one of my, "Oh, I'm sick and old" comments and she said that no matter how many times I said that, I was not "sick and old". Ouch. But she's right. I am. Period. I simply am. And it's about time I start experiencing what I so often talk about on these very pages. Every time my doctor asks me  how my painting is going, I come back with some excuse about my hands not working and my eyes being bad and my mind not focusing. Who IS this person? Well, this person has now learned how to crochet infant caps and if I can get one or two done, I plan on donating them to charity. Do my fingers and eyes always work? Nope. Do I care? Nope. To experience what it means to feel creative.

Tabula rasa...

It's funny how things happen in life. The day that I created that treatment plan was a good day for me, in many regards. For starters, I was able to drive myself to my appointment. Not only does it take a good day for that to happen, it takes a number of consecutive good days for me to feel confident enough to venture behind the wheel of a car. This day I had the confidence and so I set out alone. The appointment went well. I knew we would be working on the plan so I had put some thought into it ahead of time. The effort paid off and I felt really good about where I was headed.

On my drive home I realized that I would be passing by my favorite art supply store. I can't remember the last time I went to this store alone. It's been a long time. Plus, moving off the beaten path meant possibly getting confused and losing my way. The exit approached and I took it. I just took it. I had no idea why, I had no plan for any projects and definitely nothing in the works, but it just felt right. I walked up to the door and read, "ALL CANVASES 50% OFF"!  I walked in, randomly selected seven canvases, paid for them, and walked back out to my car. As I drove home on that sunny day I had the most wonderful feeling of anticipation, of potential, of possibility. 

Oh, I would be remiss if I didn't end up in my head at some point in this note to you. I promise not to stay there long. But as I sat looking at the above photo, trying to think of how to caption it, I just kept hearing the words "blank slate". Drawing from the education recesses of my mind, I tried to remember the theory behind the words. "Blank slate" or "Tabula rasa" is one of those phrases you never forget. Now, almost thirty years later, I wonder a little deeper. Tabula rasa is the epistemological theory (theory about how we attain knowledge) that maintains that people are born without any mental "content" and that their knowledge comes from the perception of their experience. So, in essence, at birth our minds are a blank slate and our sensory experiences become our rules for processing data, or our knowledge. Hum....

I think that bulbs and canvases and I have a little bit in common. That's what I believe this part of the journey is about. Allowing myself permission to be that blank slate in order to experience that which I so long to know - the emptiness of letting go. The release of not holding on. The experience of peace on a sensory level that can only be known by having been there before, physically. And this can only happen by repeatedly putting myself in a place where this is possible. Not somewhere up in my head. Not in a book. Not in words on a computer screen, but in experience. 

I can't help but wonder what will end up on those canvases. Just like I wondered about those two small bulbs in that small brown paper bag. Just like I wonder about me. I think that Camus was right, as I find him in most cases to be.

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer."   


Oh, and Anna is doing fantastic! A few bumps in the road, a little more pain than any of us had anticipated, but she is recovering well and back at working her two jobs. She continues to wow us all. 

Oliver healed up just like new! After clearing him with the vet, we decided that it might be best if we find a home where Oliver could get a little more one on one. So we found a simply fantastic no-kill shelter called Caring for Cats and Oliver has officially been named Olivia and is awaiting adoption. We are very excited to think of the wonderful life this beautiful kitty will have. 

Life truly does amaze me. 


Alison Green said...

Live life in reality not just in your head.
Thank you, thank you, thank you xxx

MIchelle said...

Knowing versus feeling is SO where I am at right now too. Thank you for a wonderful read and reminder.

Christine said...

Oh geez, now I have to remember all the things I want to comment on!It's so surreal when I read one of your posts and think "Hmm, I am there too!"

I have just started doing some work on mindfulness and still having a bit of a hard time grasping it. Like you, I always have "books in waiting" and perhaps spend too much time in my own head.

Your comments about not defining yourself as a sick true. Don't know if I mentioned this previously to you or not but I started seeing a therapist who specialized in people with chronic illness. My sole purpose in starting to see her was to deal with the fact that I define myself too much by my illness. Being ill is often the main topic between Chuck and I as well as my other family members and friends. And I was (am) sick of it. I am finding that the therapy is helping a lot and Chuck has noticed a difference as well.

We went to Boston for a Sjogren's support group in December. Our plan was to go sight seeing/Christmas shopping in Boston for a few hours afterwards if I could. I actually made a plan that after the support group, we would talk about it only during the time we were waiting for the train and that was it. No talk the rest of the afternoon about Sjogren's, being ill, etc. etc. The only exception was if I needed to modify what we were doing due to my physical status i.e. pain,etc.

It was a great experiment and taught us both a lot, me especially.

I think it is just fantastic that you are so proactive and self aware. In the end it not only makes us stronger women, but healthier ones as well.

Love the pizza too! Gluten/dairy-free pizza can be delish!

Jennifer said...

I love the picture of all the blank canvases. My heart soared when I read of you taking the exit, going to the craft store, buying art supplies. I love love love this.

Love seeing what you are putting on those canvases on Facebook too!

You go, T! Shine your light, live your life. Sometimes we must just DO -- despite what ever realities are that day. I'm finding that to be so true for me, just do regardless..... Especially with creating. It's so freeing and FEEDING to me to even just hold my art things in my hands. Medicine for the spirit.