Finding Beauty

“The most liberating thing about beauty is realizing you are the beholder.
This empowers us to find beauty in places others have not dared to look.
Including inside ourselves.”
~~Salma Hayek

It is easy to become bogged down in negativity and disillusionment. Sometimes life becomes overwhelming and we become lost in the ever looping cycle of disappointment, desire, longing, comparison, worry and maybe fear.

Winter is thinking about giving up it’s hold on Nature. It still is in the teasing phase of backing off for a day only to return the next with snow and cold. At these times we grumble through the house commenting on how cold it is. We dig the sweater out the drawer where it had carefully been put to keep safe until next winter. Looking out the window we are struck by how gray and white everything is, longing for color. Bleh. Winter. What is ever good about winter we wonder? We long for spring, sunshine, warmth, blue, green and yellow so we can feel good and cozy and energetic. Ahhhh, to be again in the Light.

Many years ago on a rainy, very cold and bitter Halloween a friend and I were with our children as they made the rounds of the neighborhood. My friend commented on how uncomfortable we all were in the chill of the night. As she spoke we passed under a street light that illuminated a web glistening with frozen crystals. I paused and marveled at the beauty of Nature’s art. My friend laughed as she passed me and wondered how I managed to find something of beauty to marvel at in the cold dreariness of the evening. She ended with “You seem to always find the good and the beautiful in everything.”

I laugh now remembering that night because I do not always remember to see the beauty of the moment. Honestly, sometimes it takes a great deal of effort to push passed all the wallowing. With mindfulness and being present, finding beauty can be some what effortless and always calming. Beauty is everywhere. Beauty helps us relax and find rest, hope and peacefulness.

“Beauty” is a word that has positive connotations. But “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder and we all have different definitions of beauty. My friend from Halloween did not define a sparkling web and a cold wet night as something of beauty. I did see it as such and acknowledged without the night and cold, I would possibly have never seen the beauty there in the light of a street lamp.

For me, the act of being present and mindful, in that situation, allowed me to see the inherent beauty in something separate from the moment in time that was physically unpleasant.

Honestly though, I am not able to do this all the time, but I do try to look for beauty, the goodness in a moment that may initially want to go down a different path. By pausing and taking note of any small, wonderful part of any moment my overall mood changes.

” A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” ~John Keats

The definition of beauty includes: ” gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” While the weather was miserable that night, the glittering spider web was visually beautiful and spoke to my spirit as something magically beautiful.

For me this is all just a reminder to pause to be aware of how we are viewing or approaching something during the course of our day. If we meet something with upset, regret, disappointment, hurt, the overall result is a negative feeling. If we pause and sit with whatever it is for just a little bit, perhaps we can find the pearl in amongst the discarded broken shells.

I am definitely working on this daily as I try to find any moment of beauty in the last 8 months recovering from an aneurysm. There was so much that was dark and scary. So many things that made me feel fear, anger, confusion, worry. Yet, with a deep breath and with pausing, I was able to find a few pearls. First there was the proof of love’s strength and courage. I have no doubt the love of my family and friends was key in me being able to surmount the dire possibilities of having an aneurysm rupture. I experienced the power of love. Oh, I most certainly had been aware of the power of love, but this was a new dimension of understanding.

As my body (and mind) heal I see the beauty in the strength of the human body to overcome obstacles. I find great beauty and blessing in having a warm bed each night that embraces my weary body and soul and allows me to sleep and be healed. I understand the beauty and gift of life each and every morning as I am aware that I have opened my eyes to a new day. I experience yet another level of beauty and joy in motherhood as I embrace my children. I look upon my husband and see the beauty of his love and selflessness as he walks side by side with me every single step of the way. I see and feel beauty in the cold of the morning because I feel it. There is beauty literally all around me. Within the act of acknowledging beauty I am becoming healed and whole. I experience gratitude and am humbled by the beautiful, nurturing power of love.

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Beauty comes to us all the time in so many ways. It is left to our interpretation of things to define experiences as beautiful or something different. It takes work and is sometimes difficult, but the payout is peace of mind, a full heart, and the promises of possibility, joy and hope.

I also know there are very bad things that happen to people and that beauty hides. This is my story, my walk with beauty. If you are in a dark and lonely place I will hold you gently in love and light.

 

 

 

 

 

Resting By Still Waters

There is still a great deal of processing going on for me. I am still battling demons who repeatedly whisper to me that if I was “stronger”, “more determined” I would recover more quickly. I put up a resistance to these thoughts mostly before sleep or as I awake in the morning. You know, the quieter time of the day when the world is quiet and I am nestled in warmth and comfort.

A few days ago as I was safe in this space of quiet and comfort I remembered the image of still waters reflecting back the treasures and beauty of Nature on the shores that contained them. Various Buddhist and other meditative narratives speak of the meditative mind being like still waters rippling in concentric circles as thoughts are tossed disruptively out like throwing stones into the calm waters. I realized that is what my mind is like these days….on occasion it is still and reflective, while other days it is full of the ripples and disruption of thoughts of feeling impatient, harboring doubt and regrets. Not unlike waters in Nature, my mind is not easily stilled or calmed. One small stone or another always seems to be thrown in from somewhere behind or within me. Whatever reflective, peaceful state I may be in, the waters and mirrored images are sometimes disrupted and ripples begin to distort the reflection.

(photographs by me, Ithaca NY)

Granted, my figurative tossing of stones into the calm waters of my thoughts is my decision, and just like in Nature, there is no true prevention for something causing ripples in the waters or in my thoughts and emotional well being. My reactions to words, events, experiences, other people all create ripples. I then must take  deep centering breath and just like stopping along the shore of a lake to watch the ripples slowly melting back into still waters, I wait for my own thoughts to settle again. If I pause long enough I understand that things are not always tossed into the waters. There are times when the mirrored calmness remains as such, void of disruptions. It is here where I am nurtured and embraced, free of the distortions of the ripples, wrapped in a soft blanket of clarity and focus. This is where I can see the calm waters of my heart and soul. These are the shores where I pause to look out over the waters of my life and find peaceful spaces to observe what is reflected.

Times when the waters are particularly kinetic, I find myself going back to the Metta prayer:

prflg_gr_metta

These words line the path back to the shores where calm waters softly kiss the land. My own thoughts, fears, desires are gently redirected to less turbulent places. My life as reflected back to me by these calm waters is in focus and framed by the eternal clarity and beingness of “just this moment”.

 

Of Being In The World

“We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well—places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As we stand in one of those places, fear may remain close at hand and our spirits may still tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.”  ~~Parker Palmer

Horton Bay heron

drawing by me, Kathryn Howlett. Heron in Horton Bay, MI.

We don’t have to “BE” our fears.  You may be  familiar with ” be not afraid” . There are two dozen examples in the Bible.  It doesn’t tell us not to fear. It means we don’t have to “BE” our fears.

‘Fear’ feels like my middle name these days. It follows and haunts me. I feel as if my body and brain have betrayed me with this aneurysm. Some days I feel as if my fears weigh heavily on me and I am sinking. I don’t know how to toss the weight overboard. Sometimes it feels like I am holding on to a bouquet of helium/fear filled balloons and am being swept away and carried here and there with no control. To contemplate letting go of the fear only presents as another fear, falling and crash landing.  So, how do I get across the fault line of fear and to move instead to firmer ground of trust, hope and faith?
I look for places and time in the day where I can stand on steady ground and regain my balance and perspective. From these vantage points I can look out at the world and life around me with hope and trust.
To be aware of these places and times, I have to pause now and then to create a place of non movement and silence or near silence in order to be aware of them and to allow them to come to the forefront of my thoughts. In so doing I move gently towards a place of promise, away from fear.
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day 
is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”
Etty Hillesum
Sometimes I close my eyes and listen to music, or just close my eyes in silence. Sometimes I draw. Sometimes I read, but often that makes me think even more!! Focusing on my breath helps. Whatever aid I enlist has to come from a birthing point of awareness. I have to be mindful to create these spaces because they do not always give birth to themselves!!
These spaces of rest and quiet between my breaths nurture something deep inside of me. They set in motion self care and healing .
Within this space come the words and thoughts “Allow this to be a learning experience that you will grow from.” I don’t have to live from the place of, or to be “fear”.
I have to do three things. One, be mindful of the pauses and allow them to bring me a sense of peace and grounding. Two, to rest in those pauses. Three to look around and reach out to those who are near.
There are some days, or moments in the day when I forget and get wobbly and off balance. In those moments I have to call upon “trust” and reach or call out to those near by to steady me or maybe even catch me. It is okay for me to do that. Not only don’t I have to be perfectly balanced all the time, I need to give up the thought of possibly even being balanced all the time.
I am coming to understand that while I may not be able to be even keeled all the time, there is a centering that happens through the awareness itself. When I breathe deeply and regain my balance, there comes an easy awareness of the pause between breaths and I can rest for a time in the presence and grace of that pause. And healing comes forward wrapped in a gentle blanket of quiet, trust, hope and faith. And when I am wrapped in that blanket the whirling of my thoughts slow down, and I am able to “be” in a space of less worry and fear. A place of balance and awareness where allowing just being to be enough.
Awareness allows me to have days that do contain moments of the healing pauses. The softer hours of sunset and sunrise seem to be the more fertile times for the pausing to arise. The slowing breaths, the quieting of the mostly ever present endless commentary of dreams, thoughts and worries, opens the door and allows for the stepping out into quieter, less kinetic places in my mind. And here, not unlike being out in Nature on a mountain top or standing next to the lullaby of ocean waves greeting the sandy beaches, I find myself in the places Parker Palmer refers to : places with names like trust and hope and faith.
Signing off now to go visit one of those places for awhile. Going to reflect on the way I want to choose to “Be” in the world as I recover and recoup.
A previous post: The Pause Between Breaths

After The Rain

Good morning. There is about a 6 inch covering of snow on the ground so no, it is not raining here. The rain in the title refers to difficult times in life. We all know these moments….times when we can feel such intense emotions that we feel as if they are raining down on us and we attempt to seek cover to prevent us from becoming soaked or washed away.

If you have been following this blog you know I am recovering from a ruptured aneurysm.

 

“When after heavy rain the storm clouds disperse, is it not that they’ve wept themselves clear to the end?” ~Ghalib

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Grief is our response to loss. Through grief we can feel the depth of our loss and resulting pain. We process to the degree to which we feel the truth of the pain, from not only loss, but what occasionally feels like betrayal. By allowing and feeling the process of grief we slowly begin to recognize, integrate and eventually accept these truths that come through grief. As we slowly integrate our thoughts and feelings there comes a time when we are ready to let go and the time has come to grieve. We can only let go and go forward if we honor and allow these feelings and to experience grief.

One result of the aneurysm has been the loss of memory. As I slowly came out of a drug induced  twilight of mostly sleep I became aware of the absence of the people I loved dearly. My husband and children, my sister and sweet friends flowed in and out of my hospital room, but where I wondered,were my parents and step mom?

In the course of inquiring about these missing loved ones I was told the three of these loved people had passed on years before. I assume the degree of shock and sorrow I experienced at this was not so different from the first time around. Writing this and recalling that shaking grief, I sigh heavily at the thought of experiencing it twice. How could I not remember my parents dying? Anger and sadness burst out of me. It was easier for me to believe my family standing in front of me were lying than to believe my parents and step mom were gone.

What I know to be true even without recalling the old memories is that I came to a point in time when it was time to let go and to grieve (again). There was absolutely nothing for me to do but to let go of the sorrow and feelings of loss and to grieve.

As I have worked with various therapists and as time has become a natural healer, I have regained some of these memories. I have a deep sense of gratitude in having them once again because, even as the first time, there was such healing and insight as I walked down the path of saying good bye and burying my parents. Yes, the deep, soul wrenching sorrow was there, but in coming to the point where I was able to honor the flood of feelings and emotions, I was then able to move forward.

Right now I feel as if I am going through a similar experience. I experience grief over having lost who I was. The aneurysm has left my body and my mind different, changed. Strength, stamina and coordination are off. Memory skills are weak….I live off a calendar so I can remember to take medication, doctors appointments when my children are home and when they are leaving. Because of both I feel dependent and fragile in ways I am not used to feeling. There is a sense of loss, grieving and often confusion.

Sometimes, when I am in the quiet space of just falling asleep or beginning to wake in the morning I understand on a tender, inner level that I can only let go and go forward if I honor and allow these feelings and to grieve, again. By allowing this I also have to allow myself to feel, come to terms with and release my grief about my going through the experience have having an aneurysm and all the associated medical procedures and surgeries with all the varying physical results of pain, discomfort, bruising, tiredness, and loss of independence. Most certainly this a different kind of loss and grief than of loosing a loved one to death, but in many ways I feel I have lost part of myself. I have “lost” the memories of the experiences that molded me to become the person I am, I have lost memories of love and tenderness.

Still, it is time to take in a breath and survey where I am mentally, physically and emotionally and to take the first steps to moving forward.

Some memories are returning. Although they linger behind a soft fog, they are there, peeking out and I hope one day they will walk all the way through the soft curtain of “forgotten”.

To all my family and friends who have walked next to me these past 7 1/2 months I thank you for your love and presence. I hope you will continue to stay by my side and help me regain my physical strength and my emotional health. Memories that we once shared may now be yours alone, and with time and nudging I hope those memories will become shared again.

To the blog followers who are not personal friends or family, thank you for the opportunity for me to share these feelings, thoughts and stories. I know they are an important part of my healing.

“It takes courage to grieve, to honor the pain we carry. We can grieve in tears or in meditative silence, in prayer or in song. In touching the pain of recent and long-held griefs, we come face to face with our genuine human vulnerability, with helplessness and hopelessness. These are the storm clouds of the heart.” Jack Kornfield

“Releasing the grief we carry is a long, tear-filled process. Yet it follows the natural intelligence of the body and heart. Trust it, trust the unfolding. Along with meditation, some of your grief will want to be written, to be cried out, to be sung, to be danced. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief to an open heart.” Jack Kornfield

 

 

This Path

“This is my wish for you:
Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes,
rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips,
sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag,
beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being,
faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt,
courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth,
Love to complete your life.”

*Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I have wandered down this path of recovery I have done so hand in hand with family and friends. Holding me tight so I wouldn’t trip and fall at the uneven parts, each companion offered physical support, but more importantly spiritual and emotional encouragement. My unsteadiness, which caught me off guard, was anticipated and brought to balance again and again by the mindfulness of my companions. While the pace slowed and turned cautious at times, I did find the courage to know myself and to have  the confidence to trust and reach out and a faith that glued everything together.
My wish for all of us mirrors the poem. That each of us have a source of comfort when we face challenges, smiles that can soften sadness, a glimpse of the beauty that is ahead, laughter to lighten the weight, arms to circle us, open eyes and heightened senses, others to shine a light to show the way for us, belief in a higher plan, the knowledge that we are stronger than we may think, to sense what is true and to know and share a love that binds everything together.

Being in a place of uncertainty and dependency I have learned that there is grace in vulnerability. This vulnerability teaches me  to let go of the uncertainty and fear of the unknown, and to spend less time working to control that unknown. As I remind myself to slow down a bit in body and mind, to savor the flavors of this moment rather that looking too far ahead especially with expectations and longing. Right now is what is and when I slow a bit I find great comfort and even security in the moment. I can feel myself wrapped in a blanket of love: the love of the moment, the past, and yes even the future. A love that allows this moment to be full and enough.

Before the aneurysm I had had several experiences that I knew had come from a place of grace and love. Things that at first were difficult to explain, yet held recognizable truths for me. The “message” or “lesson” was clearly for me at that particular time.

In the course of difficult days there is a comfort that comes when I am open to receiving. There are tender smiles for me when sadness intrudes.
When I look up and outward there are rainbows that do follow the clouds. There are smiles and  laughter lingering on my lips.
The sunsets do warm my heart. A hug is always available when my spirits sag.

jan 2013a
Beauty is all around me. Friendships brighten my life.
In my heart there is a faith that sustains me. Tucked inside there is a confidence to lean on when I have doubts.
As I grow I find I do have courage to know and honor my true self. It comes with a patience that is able to accept the truth of what is.
I have been blessed with many great loves that are all a part of the greater circle of love that surrounds me.

Today. at lunch, my husband, daughter and I talked about my recent time in the hospital and rehab after the aneurysm. So many thoughts and feelings surfaced for each of us. Memories and emotions that we each are still processing. Contained in all of these were tears, smiles, and soft laughter. The balance of awe and awareness that could only be witnessed at this moment. We each had a palpable memory of the uncertainty, fear and helplessness that comes at such times. As we looked at each other, the power of the moment, THAT one moment, there was a whisper of understanding, grace, love and gratitude. We were lifted up. I felt so full.  Here, around a table looking out over the lake, a love that is so enduring bound some of the worry and fear and placed it to the side. This moment was for being in the loving presence of each other and breathing in the gratitude that nourished us body and soul.

I am on some kind of a journey. One I had not planned nor was I prepared for. The ride has been bumpy and I have strayed a bit from the path, but have been guided back on course.
Each day I struggle to see the same progress those around me see that I have made. I think I am beginning to allow myself to see the same healing and change as the fear and worry fade a bit to the back ground. I know I am so much more aware of the blessings in my life and am able to give them their rightful place of guiding lights on this amended path.

Writing this I might even go so far to say that I see and understand this aneurysm , as terrifying and scary as it has been, has brought me to this day, on this path, with a new perspective on many things. Now, I ask to be given the strength and courage to find my way on this path. I believe it will lead me to opportunities to explore the rawness of a powerful love, the parting of the fog that covers what is right in front of us, and a inner strength that goes forward with a brighter light showing the way.

 

A Place of Love

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I currently have a lot of time to explore new authors and books, music and poetry, recipes and art. In exploring a topic for this blog I came across a TED TALK by Valerie Kaur, link here: Revolutionary Love . Her words brought me hope, some tears, excitement and courage. This, I thought to myself, THIS is what I want to write about this week.

The quote above from Parker Palmer popped up next and voila! I had a solid theme for a blog post.

The fundamental premise is to look around and ask yourself “Who have we not yet tried to love?” What are each person’s individual stories that we need to hear because those the are stories can help us see there is no stranger among anyone we meet.  

One of the greatest gifts I have been offered/given in my life has been the opportunity to travel and even live in places all over the world. Some of the time I traveled with friends, my father, my husband, and most recently my children. But some of the time I traveled alone. Taken out of the comfort zone of what I was familiar with I found myself experiencing some worry and anxiety. Some of this arrived at my door step even before I began the adventure. What would happen if….? How do I…….? Is there…..? Who will……..? Questions based on uncertainty and a little bit of fear and worry. I was entering a realm of the unfamiliar, even the unknown. I would be my own source of comfort, courage and ingenuity. I would be in places and situations where I did not speak the language that might have been required for me to ask for help or direction. Off I went! First I traveled to India and Nepal. My father, an Episcopal minister had been asked to be part of the team traveling with a group of college students. He was able to make arrangements for me to go with him. After that we were off to Belgium for The Second World Conference on Religion and Peace. Before going to Belgium we stopped in Denmark where I stayed with a Danish family for almost a week. I no longer remember what my father was up to! With in this same trip I went to Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, France and Germany with my father.

Years later I traveled with my dear friend AnaLisa to attend a 6 week college session in England, and then I traveled to Corfu, Greece before meeting her again in Athens where we made arrangements to live in Iraklion, Crete. Years later, married, I found myself traveling to Japan with another friend and her young son. Eventually my husband would come and join me and we would remain in Kyoto for another 6 months. In each and every place there were people who reached out with their heart and hand when there was no shared spoken language. Yet there was love, care, respect, help and trust.

It’s true, as Parker Palmer writes, we all have places of fear. Right next door are places of hope, trust and faith. They are just a step away from the place of fear, yet the first step to leaving fear behind sometimes seems like such a huge, wide one and we falter and pause, wondering if we can get across the chasm. if we would but only take a moment to look up instead of towards our feet, chances are we would find another on the other side reaching out to lend a hand. We are guided and supported by probably hundred of people through out our lives. Those who will reach out to us offering the very best of our humanness. If by some chance we still stumble or fall they are still there to pick us up and dust us off.

As I have been on this journey of healing and recovery I have stood at the edge of that chasm. Frozen by the unknown and fear. It has been a mind game of sorts, and a tug of war with my sense of pride as controlled by ego. Voices in my head yell “You shouldn’t need the help and support of others. Take care of yourself for heaven’s sake.” The dreaded “shouldn’t s”. BUT, if as Parker says I am able to instead, begin from a place of promise, a place of hopefulness, I will head in a direction not so scary and uncertain. And maybe, I will not travel alone. Perhaps now that the foundation is more stable perhaps others will follow me towards a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.

I can remain stuck in the quagmire of self pity, uncertainty, cynical thoughts and feel all the accompanying feelings and emotions which may only add proof that I am in fact stuck here forever. Or I can gather myself up and step just next door to faith, hope and trust. From this place stepping forward is not so intimidating, so impossible looking.

Sitting here, having walked through a door I never even saw (the aneurysm) and finding myself frozen in disbelief and fear, I am humbled. Humbled by what I now understand is a kind of strength, promise and hopefulness. It comes from deep inside of me, upheld by the foundation built from the love of others. There is no weakness or shame in reaching out to others. It may just be that they are in fact the bridge that connects us, me, to a more trustworthy , more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world. A place where we heal, grow, love, share, offer, receive, nurture, trust and discover and gain the strength to reach out to others in return.

I put a lot of time into thinking about all this because it is my path to healing and regaining pieces of my life. I am not blind to the goings on of our world. There is much pain and suffering. There is divisiveness and mistrust, anger and fear. When I am quiet in my heart I understand some of this mistrust, anger and fear because, for a moment I am able to put myself in the proverbial shoes of the “Other”.

I am in a place where I feel out of control of the situation, at the mercy of things I cannot control, scared and worried, unsure and uncertain of the future, and sad. When I can understand the situations others are in that may cause them the same feelings and reactions, I am able to feel connected to them, as if I am standing next to them rather than against them. It is possible we may look at each other in recognition of this and reach out towards each other, helping one another.

It’s been difficult to see the silver lining of the past six months, but it is there. It is the cloak of hope and love. Both hold a guiding lantern up to the perceived darkness of not knowing and soften the fear, the uncertainty as they guide us to our place in the world were the light shines on trustworthiness, hopefulness and faith. And it is in this place, understanding there are no strangers, we rest in the arms of others, where we may find comfort, pause, healing and growth. We will discover the one we have not yet tried to love is not so different from us. We need only to care enough to listen to their story with an open heart and then reach out to them with compassion and empathy.

So, this Sunday I contemplate my own way of Being in this world. What guides me and sustains me?

The Treasure Map

Good morning!! As I continue to heal it is ironic that I have ordered a dozen books to read, but still struggle to read because of short term memory failings. As soon as I turn a page in a book I have to go back because I have forgotten what I just read.

Yet, here I am using a quote from a book I am reading because it struck a chord that held long enough for me to remember it!! The book is: “Magic In Plain Sight–When acceptance is the healing” by Patricia Heavren.

“Waiting, hoping, (listening) for the “map” to reveal itself. The human narrative, etched by the soul, never fails to tip its hand by exploring a kind of treasure map, a place where “X” marks the spot where something of value is buried. It isn’t the kind of map used to plot a path from one place to another. It’s more the type found behind smooth glass in kiosks stationed at a mall entrance where “X” has an accompanying message;”

“You are here.”

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I AM here!! Friends we hadn’t seen in years stopped by yesterday and it was wonderful. Joanie had recently had a similar experience with a cerebral hemorrhage. As I answered the questions she had for me, I saw the switch of complete understanding click on behind her eyes. I wasn’t going to have to go into babbling depth about what I was experiencing. She had experienced it herself and understood exactly what I was describing.

As I wander around what does kind of  feel like the mall of my life, big and little compartments of various experiences and memories, I do sometimes get lost. I don’t seem to be able to get back to the place I want to be. It makes me frazzled until I find the “guide” and stand  rigid in front of it almost demanding that it do it’s thing and get me to where I want to be.

I take a small step back as the words next to the “X” scream out at me: “YOU ARE HERE”.

Lights flash and bells whistle in my mind. Of course I am “here”. And suddenly, understanding where I actually am, that frustration and fear fall back. I am here. I am ok. I will be able to get back to the treasure…..where I will be healthy and healed. I understand there are “Maps” that will help guide me: therapy, will power, family, friends and doctors. But, I have to, at least for now, have a shared, agreed upon safe spot where we can meet if we become separated or lost. That place is the place marked by an “X”,”You are here.” I can only go forward from where I am.

Just like that mall guide I stood demandingly in front of, waiting for it to tell me how to get “there”, it instead told me where I was, “HERE”. And that was the map. I had to understand where I was in order to figure out how to get where I wanted to be otherwise I might stay lost, wandering, searching. Knowing where I am (recovery) is the first step in reading the map to get to where I want to be (healed).

I get tripped up sometimes and take a wrong turn here and there, but I’ll get to where I want to be! For now I am here. Looking around I can see in all directions. I know if I stay grounded in being “Here” that I can get to “There”.

So many of you help by lining up along the path waving me forward in the right direction. You are beacons for me, holding me true to the way, making sure that I always remember that to get to the finish line I must know the route. I’ll get there thanks to your guidance!

Sustenance

Here in the Northeast Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow so we have a little more winter ahead before Spring wakes up. If you’ve been following along you know I am recovering from a ruptured brain aneurysm. If you’re new to this blog, I am now in the 6th month of recovery from this. I spent many weeks in the hospital and many months in rehab before being  able to come home.

Memory was significantly affected. While much seems to be returning, there are things that remain fuzzy or cloudy. Things one might think you could never forget, like the death of loved ones.  Alas, those tender moments of deep sorrow needed to be retold and relived.

Recently I was looking at a site I follow, Gratefulness.org, and came across this question to ask myself in their “Practice Space”: “What memories sustain me?” The word “sustain” jumped at me. What keeps me going?

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I think it caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly because of the targeted loss of some memory, and two, because thankfully I retained/regained many powerful memories. A whole line-up of memories fell into place as if on cue. As I reflected on those memories I came to the train of thought that wondered how this played into the mindfulness concept of being present in the moment and not wandering back to the past or longing for the future. The past is over and the future is unknowable.

Working with this I began to see that while I did not try to linger in or relive the past, I had walked that path once and the experiences and people I met challenged me to grow and to continue along to discover what was up ahead. I value the lessons of those experiences and now, as memories, they do continue to have a profound effect on the person I am now.  I am now most certainly different from the person I was then. To my mind the memories are significant because they reflect events that did in fact mold this person I am now.

These stories that are now memories were significant in me developing into the person I am today and have been incorporated into posts on this blog. You can read of few of them here:

Sounds of Life,   About That Box of Photos Under My Bed ,  Every Single Day,  

There are other posts as well that contain stories about my memories and how they influenced who I grew to be.

To be clear, there are memories I do not share because they are not happy ones and I do not see how my sharing them would be of value. At least right now. There are no deep, dark secrets, but there is profound sorrow, the endless lingering and looping of the “What If?” thoughts and questions and a few embarrassing moments too!

Blogging presents an interesting conundrum: what is okay to share and what is not?

As I sit here now writing this I am focused on healing and recovery. There is some awareness of learning and transformation,  but much of my focus is only on physical and emotional healing.  I have come to understand how some things in my past, now memories, built up and created the person now delegated with this task of lifting “me” back up and dusting off my shoulder before sending me forward.

I have found myself in positions where I have been confused and scared. I have experienced pain and hurt. Because of the aneurysm there I things I do not remember. With my family by my side I made it through all of it and while my body is still weak, some thing in my heart and soul is ready to burst forth with new growth and blossoming. Something almost sacred, that was seemingly born and fertilized from this difficult medical event.  The sign posts along the way towards recovery and healing asked “What memories sustain you?”

There are too many to list but the common thread is that they are all so different. There are memories of being loved and nurtured as well as of being worried or afraid. There are memories I would just as soon forget as well as ones I am sure I could never forget. “Good” or “bad/painful”, each one was part of the construction team that built the person who is writing this. Without each part of the story, each memory, I would not be who “I” am. Yes, “I” would still “be”, but “I” would not be the “I”  am now.

So, as I meander along memory lane in the hopes of reaching my destination of “Healed”, I take comfort in any and all of these memories. Turning each one over and over again like a newly received gift. Each one a part of the mystery puzzle that manifests as Kathryn. Along the way I do not need to linger long on any one memory. Instead I only need pause to take in the view and then, looking forward, take a breath and continue one foot in front of the other.

Memories are a little fickle in general. If I am honest with myself I generally discover that while there may be memories I would just as soon delete from all files, they are also, if I am being honest, a tangential piece of a “good” memory. The place of origin did not begin as something sad or painful, it usually was the result of diverging from the path intended. This is a long, round about way of saying I am trying to make peace with this aneurysm. Each day I work to give my body the time, space and support it needs to heal and to allow the aneurysm to be a short term visitor in my life, not a boarder who needs tending to.

Would you like to share the things that sustain you?

 

 

 

Sounds of Life

The days and nights move along slowly for me. Activity and busy-ness don’t come into play much as I move slowly towards recovery. Patience is now a mantra as I try to allow this slow moving, almost stillness, the space it requires from me.

As I begin to write, one of my cats, Bert, sits in front of the window making little chirpy cat noises as she watches birds at the feeders. Short, high pitched little snippets of sound that indicate she is excited. She interacts with life in her own way, but what she takes time to observe and respond to is what animates her. Otherwise she is asleep!

There is sound all around us. An infinite soundscape, like a smorgasbord of food, but for sounds. Right now I hear the subtle sound of the timer on the fish-tank ticking the minutes down before it comes on again.

I have seemingly endless time now to be aware of the variety offered up by my home soundscape. From kitty chirping to timer ticking, there really is no true silence here. Life around us is all about doing things, being busy and productive. It’s all about noise: music, TV, movies, radio. There is beeping and buzzing from endless sources. Even the refrigerator and furnace speak up from time to time. And Bert and Stewie chime in with their meows, purring and squeaks.

When life creates a lot of noise I find myself becoming jittery and tense. Almost anxious. To be clear, it is usually an anxiousness about nothing in particular. It just a response to noise. Maybe you’re thinking “So what?”

If I pay attention to my body and mind I find that I can get wrapped up and lost in background noise. Some of it is like fingernails on a chalk board. Not all noise grates. There are also softer, melodic sounds. Sometimes they get drowned out by the harsher more abrupt sounds.

With these sounds and noise just about everywhere, I expend a great deal of energy trying to buffer or quiet them. I find I am more aware when there is a pause or lull, and I notice my mind and attention wandering all over they place now that I don’t have to filter the noises as much. My thoughts speak up, usually creating their own stories that may be positive or not. The point is not always to judge them but rather if they are true or not. An unchecked mind can wander aimlessly and walk along, arm in arm with emotions and feelings. Generally this results in thinking that becomes lost and confused. Stories are narrated that are not real.

If you think about all the “noise” in our lives that is generated by re-playing conversations/thoughts/events, self talk, list making, small talk, negotiating, important conversations and all added together with car and traffic sounds, machine noises, other people talking, the radio, electronic buzzing, quiet, let alone actual silence, is hard to come by. Does it matter? I think it does. It does for me.

It is difficult to silence thoughts that come to us as we settle into sleep at night or as we rustle awake in the morning. When our feelings get hurt we become expert story tellers.

As I spend time sitting, reading, drawing, “working” on recovering I become more aware of sounds and thoughts. Sometimes I can figure out how to turn off or ignore some of those sounds. My thoughts are a challenge to turn off. If I have presence of mind to stop moving  I am able to focus on listening to the softer, secret sounds surrounding me. In so doing the other sounds fade and sometimes even silence arises.

The softer, secret sounds may be leaves dancing together in the wind, the sound of a snowflake landing on a carpet of snow, an eagle calling across the valley,

Why does it matter? For me, I am reminded of that snowy winter day when I stood still, my boots no longer squeaking  on the frozen ground. When I stopped moving I saw fluffy snow falling around and on me, it was like being in a snow-globe. Then I heard it. The sound of a weightless snowflake landing on a drift of other snowflakes. Just a soft, soft, pffft sound. I had heard wind and sleet before, but never a snow-flake landing! A feeling of awe and wonder embraced me.

Another time I was reading outside on a summer’s day and heard a buzzing sound. I looked up thinking I would find a bee or mosquito darting around. Nope. No bee or mosquito anywhere. But there was a hummingbird! I was hearing the buzzing of those insanely fast wings working to keep the little body in the air.

Decades ago as I lay on the grass near the Taj Mahal in India, eyes closed, body and mind at rest, I heard chattering near me. Without moving I opened my eyes to see a squirrel sniffing my hand. Tentatively his paw reached out and I wiggled my finger. He scurried away squealing something in squirrel language.

Something happened to me as I experienced these things. First I experienced awe and joy, but I also had found beauty and mystery in the place I inhabited. “Nature” became something important and not abstract. It was dynamic and alive and I sensed how little of it I probably paid attention to. When I did, it presented beauty and mystery and awe.

When I tuned out the sounds of a “busy” life I discovered the whispers of another world and the wonder of this world. A world I share with miracles. A world that sustains awe and beauty, fragility, power and life.

Now, when snow falls I listen for the feather soft landing of a snowflake, and I experience wonder. Now, when I hear a sound I look up to see birds dancing together on a branch, a tiny, newly hatched baby bird providing the song they are dancing to.

When I experience the sound of a snowflake landing or see birds dancing to a chirping lullaby, I am changed.

I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem: The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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A feeling of being balanced occurs. I come back into alignment with Nature, with the Earth. I am humbled and renewed. The art of being quiet allows me to hear the sounds of life.

This time of healing and renewal is challenging for me. I become restless and frustrated, wishing for a faster return to strength and health. As I watch sparrows dancing together at the feeders I am coming to understand I can choose for this slower pace, this occasional stillness, to be a blessing, if I would only close my eyes to just listen and then, when it is time to open my eyes and see what I may not have noticed and feel the power of awe and wonder as healing powers. So many gifts and lessons from Nature.

 

 

 

The Opposite Of What We Want

I’ve been out of the hospital and home now for a little over two months and I really want to be able to say that things are going well, but honestly I have to work on making myself believe this on a daily basis. This is not intended to be a pity party, just a snapshot of what my recovery is like. Not surprisingly, it is hard work physically, mentally and emotionally. And while there has been progress and improvement, each day is filled with therapists, doctors, exercises, tiredness, frustration, aches and pains and way too many medications. While I do improve and get stronger, I still have a feeling of “stuck-ness.” I can’t drive. I’m not allowed to cook alone. Can read but do not remember what I just read when I turn the page, can draw and, if someone is around, play board games.

I have lost a certain kind of freedom and I miss it. I feel as if my body has failed me, or if that is too strong, at a minimum it has left me feeling let down and disappointed.

As I search for some comfort and reassurance to cradle me while I try to patiently regain my perceived “being-ness” and independence, I grab on tightly to the love of my family and friends and sometimes the sentences and thoughts in the books I try to read. Reading is now a slow, uncomfortable process, but I read and search for threads of hope and healing and do find comfort on occasion in the words and thoughts of others.

Today this jumped off the page and into my ruminating thought process: ” The wisdom that took longer for me to acquire, through direct experience rather than being told so by someone else, was never to assume that trust always lines up with desire. The offerings of the holy are often the opposite of what we want. They don’t sort for our willingness to receive them. They’re abundantly bestowed, like them or not.” (Magic in Plain Sight by Patricia Heavren.)

I interpreted this to mean is this: I was being “offered” something ‘holy’. Within that however, is the message that the universe is not concerned with what I might want or desire (health, strength, trust). There is no concern as to whether I would like to have an aneurysm. Rather, it was “bestowed” upon me with no concern for my thoughts. The “Holy” saw things differently than I did and had determined I needed to be presented with something I had to work on unwrapping patiently in order to figure out what it was.

“On a fundamental level, everyone plays with the swing of seeming opposites. Advancing and returning comprise an ageless dance with infinite expressions. Everything emanates out and eventually returns home again. It’s the breath and essence of all life, an ever-flowing, sacred change of direction by the One.” (Magic In Plain Sight) So, was I being called to move towards some ‘sacred’ change of direction or something else? Geeze…..this is a lot to process, to ponder. Why on Earth would this be so? All of this would seemingly be the opposite of what I wanted in my life!

There was no place for me to go but inwards.  The only path before me was to try to see, in the quiet spaces of my heart and mind, my true Being. To see what was there, even if it appeared to be hiding or a little bit out of focus. As I kept reading, Patricia revealed a piece of the puzzle, the magic and value of ordinary things: “….one of the early clues that vast intelligence and enormous heart are ever-present in ordinary things, a kind of living wisdom that can take a lifetime to recognize and appreciate, if ever.”

‘Living wisdom’ concerning ‘ordinary things’. I am in no way suggesting that an aneurysm is an ordinary thing. It is scary and serious and dangerous. Perhaps what is ‘ordinary’ for me in this bumpy, restless, time of my life is understanding that my body and spirit are held together by a desire to live. Held together by the threads of unfailing love that cradles and comforts me. Was/is this a call for a sacred change? For me? For my loved ones, my friends and family? What was the living wisdom I was experiencing? How was I to understand what this was and turn it from something I resented to something I could appreciate and value?

There have been teasingly small glimmers of understanding, but like the child blowing on the fluffy seeds of a dandelion flower, scattering them into the air, these glimmers just danced away like sun sparkles on water and the scattered dandelion seeds. Pretty and awe inspiring, but gone quickly. Never to be regained or held on to. Ever fleeting and temporary.

So now I am trying to give positive meaning to something scary. Why? Because I have “lost” so much time. I have missed making beautiful memories and instead have frightening memories and emotions. I am not able to just let all this “be”. I have to find a way to make sense out of some thing that is medically cold and straight forward, and shift it towards some thing that has value and purpose. Otherwise these months will remain “just” lost time. Ultimately the outcome will be determined by the path I take and the destination I choose to pursue. Of course things will appear that I haven’t foreseen or planned for, like an aneurysm, but what else can I do? Stop? Stand where I am, not moving? No thanks. I’ve successfully climbed too many personal mountains to give up or doubt I can get through this.

In quieter moments when the view is not clouded with sorrow and worry, I do see a open path towards healing and growth. Along this path are turn outs where I can pause and refuel and take time to be aware of the “living wisdom” of “ordinary things.” As I gaze  ahead I sometimes feel I am walking among those “ordinary things” and they come into view and focus. The sacredness of the “living wisdom” is always before me with its hand held out and open. Illuminated in the glow and softness of hope and trust. For me, hope is soft because it has to be pliant and pliable, not hard and anchored. Ordinary and sacred might not seem like they go together, but really they do.

As I sit here writing there is a cat in front of me making those little cat cooing sounds that I interpret as sighs of contentment. The snow is dripping off the roof and has become the background music for the dance of the birds that flutter and vie for positions at the feeders. These are ordinary things during the days here on Turkey Hill Rd., and to me they are sacred events. This is how I see life in the days I am living. This is what “living wisdom” is for me…..taking the leap and creating a space and the time to see sacredness in the ordinary. And my path now is to walk this path of recovery and maneuver around the bumpy parts of discomfort and frustration, fear and loss, seeing those things as part of the sacredness. The sacredness that highlights the path so that I can see it more clearly and step with more confidence and determination. A sacredness that gives space for understanding some things may appear to be the opposite of what I believe I want/need.

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I may discover as I meander this path that the end ebbs and flows in front of me. First near and then further away. Maybe there is an end to the path, maybe not. Where would the “end” be? Maybe I’ll just come to a fork in the path and just continue to meander along in a different direction. This continuation might just be an invitation to see more expressions of the sacredness in the ordinary, and not just be a longer way that delays the arrival to somewhere I think I need or want to be. Just allowing the paths/journey to be the experience. The trail signs with arrows along the way direct me to “Be here now”.

I have not always enjoyed this part of the journey. There has been confusion, pain, loss and resentment. I lay my head on the pillow at night and silently lament “why is this happening?” I hear several  answers. “The medical reason is….blah, blah, blah” That reason offers no comfort. Another response is fierce love from family and friends that almost yanks me awake while wrapping me a tenderness and certainty that has no room for faltering or failing. The other response is softer and highlights the question to Mary Oliver’s offering: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Within that question is also the answer.
Mary Oliver links

So here I sit fingers tapping the keys, gazing out the window upon the grayness of the season. I am here. This moment is sacred to me. And I will continue to try to find the ways to honor the sacredness, understanding that I am being offered many keys to many doors. It is no concern where the doors lead but rather if I can discover which key opens which door. It is about walking through one ‘ordinary’ door after another with eyes wide open, curiosity pulsing through me, anticipating a meeting with sacredness.

So many of you reading this are part of this sacredness. With you by my side and in my life,you are the sacredness in my life. Your friendship and love illuminate my days allowing me see the sacredness in the ordinary, making my life and life experiences extraordinary. My family, husband, children, siblings, in laws, nieces and nephews, friends, all tether me to what matters, to what is sacred in this life. Your love and kindness nourishes me, sustains me, heals me.

Now I’ll close and move on to my physical therapy exercises and try to give space to allowing them to be the keys that just might open another door to something extraordinary. You never know!

Thank you for being the sacred parts of my ordinary life.