This journal is for people with pain, and also anyone who is facing a life challenge. I do write about God, but not in the sense of formal religion. Rather more as spiritual help – and to make sense of living through pain.
Not writing about how to grasp joy – just about trying to find joy through the labyrinth of pain. Because if I don’t keep joy in my sights, I will drown. It is about the space – like a sunlit meadow – beyond pain that one can reach – or grasp – or glimpse. A place of peace while pain drums in the background. Why try? Because if I do not, what is the point at all?
OK. So I don’t want to write about pain. I live with it. But it has been such an extraordinary journey with such unexpected bonuses that I must write about the plus side – the up side, the fun, humour and bittersweet of living with pain. The irony is that I don’t want it, but I wouldn’t return what I have learnt through it.
It is how I felt when my mother died. At the end of the year when I thought back, I wouldn’t have wanted to grow on the back of my mother’s suffering, but I wouldn’t want to return what I had learnt and the changes it had made in me.
Although those weeks took all I had, I found I was sorry for my husband who had not been involved in the death of either parent. His father was killed in WW2 when he was under two and his mother died suddenly the other side of the Atlantic.
Those weeks waiting for death were also infused with light and a surprising amount of laughter. There was the feeling of being surrounded by a kind and loving force. A gratitude for any small sign of renewal, ducklings by the pond, courageous snowdrops forcing their way to sunlight. When a writer in Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported being surrounded by butterflies when her father died, there was amazed recognition. Because butterflies had been everywhere for my mother. I had seen them and talked of them to friends. Yes, the butterflies came for her and for me.
Sunday, 20th February 2011
Have just been reading Bad Mother, in which Ayelet Waldman laments the glorification of the “good mother”, who, she admits is in no way like herself or any of her friends. A “good mother” is patient, calm, placid, baking, does crafts and puts her children first. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a mother like that, as she’s completely unlike my mother, who ricocheted through my life, fizzing with ideas and a passion for books. How DULL.
Which made me wonder, is a “good mother” actually not particularly good for children? We all try so hard to be her and have such guilt for failing, but do children need more than a “good mother”? Do they need someone with passion and interests that lead the child out of the nursery to glimpse a greater world? Do they need someone whose temperament is not the same every day, but who tries to respond to life honestly and with their whole self?
My mother was not a “good mother” and at times I have bitterly complained, but when I asked myself who I would be without her, I saw what she had given me. An ability to see the drama and pathos in others’ lives; a passion for thinking things out, making patterns and seeing beyond the box. An understanding of good and evil and the presentation of a world beyond the humdrum. Exhausting, alarming, but dull, she never was.
Monday, 21st February 2011
Have just watched PBS Nova which mentioned that pain is processed in the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain. And when this is distracted the pain is blanked out, for example, in marathon runners who injure themselves and don’t feel the pain till the end of the race or the soldier in battle. This resonated with me as I am acutely aware that I have to control my self-talk when in pain. I have to watch my narrative to myself. If I keep telling myself the pain is bad, it gets worse, but if I can concentrate on something different, it is less fierce. Easier said than done!
It is true that the emotional state you are in governs the memories you can access. If you are feeling pessimistic, negative memories are easily available, which is why during a marital argument one can only remember the times one’s partner has previously offended and not the many kindnesses of other occasions.
Saturday, 13 March 2011
Reading Spousonomics: interesting idea of seeing marital arguments as loss aversion. Made me wonder if marriages 50 years ago lasted because there would be such a great loss (status, money etc., particularly for the women). Today, the loss is the other way round; most of the problems are the loss of previous positives.
Have been watching myself today and seeing where my reactions come from loss aversion. Very interesting – so many hurts come from it.
Saturday, 19 March, 2011
I was emailing Fran to comfort her over the death of a young friend and told her my theory: “in the beginning was the Word” refers to a blue print or idea of God for a possible world that we have to make manifest – the purpose of free will. Then I pondered as so often on the dichotomy between our every day life and the spiritual ideal. The two always seem worlds apart.
Suddenly it came to me that the minutiae of our daily life are the building blocks of God’s plan. Brick by brick we build God’s kingdom and every brick counts. We must do this from the deep centre where we feel at one and at peace.
Thursday, 11th June 2011
Reading book on time. Are eternity and the universe the same as God? Not well expressed! But if time is an accident, a blip in eternity, then all our activities and explanations are small fry – excursions from a state of oneness that is God.
Saturday, 11th June 2011
Reading about Open Focus a form of biofeedback developed at the Princeton Biofeedback Institute. Dr. Les Fehmi spent hours wired up, trying to put his brain into alpa. The harder he tried, the more impossible he found it, until he gave up! He found that surrendering produced the alpha he had been striving for; instead of concentrating so intently and focusing on his goal, he relaxed his focus and let go.
So like life itself – the more one tries to make life work, usually the less one achieves. I remember a woman agonizing over placing her elderly father in care. There was nowhere she could bear to place him. Finally, she said, “I can do no more, God. Over to you!” And the next day, a friend casually mentioned a home which she liked and where her father stayed till his death.
But, as she said, “You have genuinely to let go. It doesn’t work unless you stop trying to force life.”
Sunday, 13th June 2011
Reading Megabrain by Michael Hutchison. He talks about dissipative structures: order out of chaos. That chaos is necessary for growth. I have always recognized that out of grief, tragedy, illness comes great growth, but always felt (aided by a lot of nirvana-based New Age theory) that it was somehow a fault in me to need to create the scenarios. “Surely,” I would admonish myself, “you can be advanced enough to grow without these soap operas.”
Then later I wondered if I had at some level entered an agreement that I was prepared to grow and therefore more would be asked of me. This certainly helped with the desperate question, “why me?” when I watched others so easily move, travel, play their grandchildren when it was so hard for me.
Now in this book, he talks of the instability of artists, pointing out that creative people are more mentally fluid, with a richer neural network, which enables them to make connections and think outside the box. This mental turmoil leads to unusual insights as well as greater instability.
Perhaps the excitable, enthusiastic brain of mine is not the disorganized negative I have always thought. One teacher yoga said that with most people she was trying to raise them upl, but I was like a balloon on a string, something it was clear was not OK. This book has given me a new perspective – and more tolerance.
Monday, 21st June 2011
Yesterday, we drove up to the cottage for the final clean out after moving. Ruby was there and gave us big hugs.
The house was floating on a sea of daisies, the air soft and clear. I have never seen the trees so thick and enfolding. I knew it would be a sad day and asked for God’s grace to live it well.
Driving home, having locked the door for the final time, through the country fields, listening to music, I felt so surrounded by grace, soft as a cloud. Open focus, in the Flow.
I remembered other times, like before surgery and having said good bye to our daughter when she moved overseas when this grace cradled me. Truly when asked for, it was always there, but I had to ask and usually one is so embedded in the minutiae of life that one doesn’t ask. When my mother died, God’s presence was there so close I could touch it. I was strangely in the flow and what I needed was somehow provided. I missed it when it left.
Monday, 4th July 2011
Reading Geneen Roth’s Lost and Found. Her struggle to choose how she reacted to losing all their savings in the Madoff ponzi scheme paralleled my struggle with pain. The same realization that I could choose my reality and that I should live in the NOW. That in this actual moment I could be happy, though in pain – as long as I didn’t think of the past (I have been in pain for years) or the future (I can only go downhill through pain) – in the actual now I was OK.
Then the logjam broke and the solution came quietly from a pamphlet my sister picked up in passing. It took 10 minutes and one trial of an Open Focus exercise and I no longer have chronic pain. I no longer plan my days round pain. I take no painkillers. Yes, I have to be careful of my back and it does hurt if I do too much, but I can disperse the pain. My persona Is no longer pain. (Later note: this lasted about two months until over-zealous physiotherapy which I could not get back from, but the hope and promise I had at the time is what I have written here.) More info on Open Focus.
My question is: what shifted to allow this solution? What changed in me to make it possible?
She talks of the “stillness beneath – and between the passing thoughts” perhaps the same as my “sunlit meadow beyond pain.” She said it always made her more grateful and kinder both to herself and those around her.
Tuesday, 5th July 2011
Idea: is buying – not the splurge of shopping, but the small guilty treat or the thoughtless expense is actually flexing against the Puritan Protestant straightjacket – a small rebellion against mindless discipline? A kicking against perceived fate and the inexorable discipline of the universe?
Wednesday, 6th July 2011
Reading Richard Restak’s The Brain has a Mind of is Own. He talks of how we actually decide on an action milliseconds before we are consciously aware of it. It is also possible consciously to over ride one’s subconscious choice as when one decides to change an action after one has started it. (Subconscious is not meant in a Freudian sense, but as unconscious.) I wondered if stress is sometimes the result of the half-felt battle between the two.
As we start actions involuntarily, our self-definition or awareness of self comes from our conscious limiting of our actions. No wonder he says the 10 Commandments are mainly negative! And no wonder my posited battle is so wearing. If, again, our particular brain chemistry is skewed in one direction, like low serotonin, then we struggle to put it back in balance. There’s always a personal will that makes the choices that form you.
Also read how EEG readings show great differences in reaction between “good” and “bad” words, like beauty and crime. Explains why I can sense a difference in subtle feeling when I meditate on different words. Also why one’s mantra is important.
Thursday, 7 July, 2011
Geneen Roth tells of a man dreaming he was part of some tragic drama. Then the lights came on and he realized he could have stopped the drama whenever he wanted, but he hadn’t known he could. I wonder how much in our lives we could stop the camera and change the plot.
Sunday, 28th August 2011
Taking the Gaia theory (that earth is one self-regulating system) further – is consciousness one whole? What de Chardin called the noosphere? And our spiritual purpose is to lose the ego and find the deeper common self – God within? So our life’s purpose is to live to support God and the noosphere, not our personal glory?
Second thought on reading a book on Buddha – can one reverse Buddha’s First Noble Truth and say because we are born we experience JOY. Not suffering?
Later – doesn’t work as well for the later truths – except for the second (attachment and ignorance). We need to feel our deep rightness and inner joy, which is not dependent on what we have or want or what we fancy we are.
Which leads to the third truth – love and joy.
Monday, 29th August 2011
Live an examined life. Socrates said an unexamined life was not worth living. Not a narcisistic navel-gazing life, but reflective, aware and conscious of its consequences. I hope that makes a “graced” life. On holiday, felt strongly the bubble of God’s grace.
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Reading Faith by Sharon Salzberg. An extraordinary story of overcoming a very unhappy childhood and resolutely searching for inner peace, which she found through Buddhism. Though, unlike the rest of us, she upped sticks at 18 and went to India, not knowing how or where she would find inner peace.
She emphasizes our ability, whatever our circumstances, to choose to have faith in generosity and kindness. “… that we are not cast out and alone.”
From her I get the core teaching: “Love everybody, serve everybody, always remember God.”
Friday, 2 September 2011
Musing on Faith by Sharon Salzberg: we are not in control of what happens in our lives. We want the centre of our lives to be firm but it never is. We try to make it safe and dowse fear, but we can’t. And when we are afraid, our vision narrows and alternatives and solutions are unavailable, just as when I am in pain, I cannot make a decision. She talks of the Buddhists’ “fixated hope” when we insist on OUR solution. We have to relax and melt into what happens. She quotes a friend: “I am not going to make an enemy of my own death.”
“Even as we fall endlessly, with faith we are held as we open to each moment.” – Christy in her moving testament to faith when fighting addiction.
Suffering is the “proximate cause” of faith – Buddhist for likely cause.
“Deep suffering, even the night of despair when all faith is gone, can be the means to arrive at faith, uncovered, renewed. The springboard to faith.” Sharon Salzberg.
She suggests, and found to work, Mindfulness – which is watching what is happening and letting it pass, without fighting it or gettingbattached to it. I have aways to remember that I can be steeped in pain and only able to access memories of pain, yet two hours later can be happy.
Saturday, 3 September 2011
A bachelor friend said he thanked God every day growing up that he was not a woman. Perhaps being a woman is like having an atypical brain – difficult but a great gift. Deeper richness but a high price. Just as women have a greater sense of colour, so do they feel a greater range? I am so grateful for being a woman.
My husband said how thrown he was by being ill. As if he lost his sense of where north is. I realized that women are so aware of pain, from cramps to morning sickness to childbirth. In, or out of, that lack of control perhaps comes our development.
Sunday, 4 September 2011
I take refuge in the three jewels:
The Buddha – the potential within us for an awakened mind (the deep self that is OK?)
The Dharma – the truth – ways of nature, how things are. Includes Buddha’s Four Noble Truths:
Suffering arises from attachment to desires;
Suffering ceases when attachment ceases.
Freedom from suffering can be achieved by following the Path: That is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
The Sangha – the community of people who have walked the path before me. “Each one had personal conditioning to untangle, lives to understand, loss and fear with which to wrestle and hearts to offer.” Sharon Salzberg.
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Back very painful. Cannot sit, have to stop and lie down between tasks. The Open Focus technique is not holding it. So trying not to spiral down into despondency. Trying hard to put non-attachment into practice: non-attachment to feeling pain-free, being able to use the computer, to having choices. Am trying not to fight myself, but to accept and let pass.
Sitting in the garden and struck that the moment is perfect. I can see the almost misty sky with the houses clear against it. Flowers surround me and a chipmunk roams. I have put out nuts, but perhaps he doesn’t like President’s Choice. Perhaps the trick is to look for the perfection in each moment. Just as I learnt that when I take each moment separately, each one is happy. I may be in pain , but if I take that tiny slice of life, I am happy; I am not unhappy. It is only when I attach narrative to them that I feel lonely, bored or afraid of the future.
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
Very painful day. Went to physio and left hardly able to walk. Very frustrated as had been doing wonderfully until adjustment on 23 August, since when have been increasingly limited.
So now have to find a way of being with the pain and counteract the negative feedback between pain and my mind. I realized last spring that I have control over my thoughts and that I have the choice as to how I react – easier said than done. It is difficult to keep my spirits up when wherever I turn doors seem to shut. As I said to my physio, all the mechanisms I customarily use to change and control mood, like exercise, gardening, cooking, cleaning, writing and computer work (which is wonderfully soothing) are off limits. Leaving lots of empty time to think – and it is what I think that will make or break me.
Am reading a wonderful book, Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hansen, which in itself is a gift of synchronicity. I had read it before but not noted the name. Had been looking for it everywhere, searching under meditation, etc, but with no luck, till on top of Mt. Tamalpais outside San Francisco I got into enthralled conversation with a woman who knew the author. He looks at the connection/parallels between Buddhist practice and neurology.
So what I had been feeling my way towards – my choice of thoughts – is borne out – except more strongly: our thoughts can change the neuronal pathways in the brain. My depressed thought spirals actually increase pain and wire my brain towards negativity. BUT I can rewire my brain to be more positive and deactivate pain pathways.
Today am working on repeating a version of the happiness prayer: may I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be filled with loving kindness, which I have often used in the past, widening it to include everyone I know. But today, as I limp home trying not to cry with exhaustion and pain, the prayer narrows, “May I be happy, may I be blessed.”
Repeat this all day. Morale is so hard to manage. On the one hand, I can be resolutely cheerful, but that turns into slave driving and eventually I hit the wall and burst into tears. Although that feels like giving in, I know I need the release and feel much better afterwards.. So it is finding the via media between self-pity and self-compassion. I am British, so softness comes hard to me.
Friday, 9 September 2011
The mantra “May I be happy, may I be blessed” is remarkably effective. Just saying it at any moment of stress is like balm for the soul. It feels as if everything slows down and I am surrounded by sunlight. Is it selfish that at this point I am doing about me and not expanding it to other people? Although it goes against my British upbringing, I don’t think so. It feels as if at this point I need to put the oxygen mask on me before putting it on anyone else. Each day I measure my day by contact with others and what I have been able to do for them, the things that expand my heart, but I have never done that for myself. The strict British self-talk kicks in.
More of Buddha’s Brain, which points out that the parasympathetic nervous system is also known as “rest and digest”. No wonder I have digestive problems. Also that we are primed to be in a state of alertness, “fight and flight”, but we can counteract this by deliberately activating the parasympathetic nervous system. To balance the two systems take deep breaths.
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Reading Invisible Acts of Power by Caroline Myss. Have had awful neuralgia in my face for days. All the muscles seem to be tight, but not the rest of my body. I remember this once years before and it went on for months, but it was all over my body. Can’t remember what lifted it.
She suggests that if we are still attached to or processing our past, this locks in that energy and drains us.
I thought about this – I have a lot of my past, not still (I think) processing, but perhaps giving me my identity, yet it’s because I can draw on this, I can reach out to others and help them. I can and do find something in myself to match their experiences and use this understanding to help them. Perhaps it is partly being a writer.
I vowed I would move forward and release myself to intuition and the direction of the universe and the tension melted out of my face.
Back to Buddha’s Brain – Rick Hansen also talks about “second darts”, the worries we create to add to the initial stress – our mental self-talk. Usually how we describe or react to something is much more stressful than the event.
When he says that psychological pain uses many of the same pathways as physical pain, a light went on. My brain was trained from very young to experience psychological pain so no wonder chronic back pain took hold so easily – it travelled sensitized pathways.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Dipping back into Buddha’s Brain, I have been trying to be more mindful in everyday tasks. Was walking by the harbour, trying to be aware of the feeling of walking and the bright beauty of the water, the sharp lines of the boats against the misty hills – and thought ” this is the feeling of life – of actually being alive, the essence of what all animals share.” Is this prayer?
I read (was it Jung?) that there is normally a veil between us and the collective unconscious and at times of great emotion it thins so we can see through as feelings rise like waves either side of a trough, leaving a permeable skin. I have always thought that that is why moments of deep sorrow like funerals are cathartic. The trick would be to be able to see through without having to attract dramatic scenarios. (Is that why people like watching tragedies and murders on TV?) I can’t because the evil and anguish breaks through.
Anyway, to return to my musings on energy: is the heroism balancing the evil? In wartime Britain, people “pulled together” and barriers broke down, but this went in peace time and many speak nostalgically of the “wartime spirit”.
Thursday, 29 September 2011
Buddha’s Brain: Awareness of the body increases right- brain activity – and away from mindless chatter. Have always found that it helps going to sleep if I put my brain into visual mode – must be the same thing. Am now concentrating on breathing into my body – directing my breath first to feet and then legs, etc. ending with my head. It works very well and helps relax or sleep.
He also suggests not fighting thoughts, which makes them more persistent, but acknowledging them and sending them on their way – that way they stop nagging for attention. I have certainly found that arguing with or blocking thoughts does NOT work.
Friday, 7 October 2011
Watched Steve Jobs’ speech on the value of life and awareness of death. Particularly poignant in the face of his death yesterday. Thought how moving that the whole world is mourning, not something one would associate with technology. That there are small remembrances at Apple stores.
Stomach burning – feeling as if scrubbed out with sandpaper. Not unusual, but tiresome. Realize how easy it is to let it be the centre of my thoughts.. Remembered that he said live each day as if it were our last and ask yourself if it were your last day, would you have wished to have lived that way. Of course, I wouldn’t want to live my last day with backache and a raw stomach, but then so many days are like that. The alternative is to make my inner self a place of sunlight and that would be my choice. Whether I can do it is another matter, but thinking of Steve, I can try.
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Trying to cheer myself up with a lot of back pain and need to rest between tasks. Trying to make myself feel the day is worth while. Don’t know why it never works to try at changing mood. Telling myself never works although I constantly try it.
Then I thought: try and receive the small blessings, just quietly observe them, don’t count or force them. And it worked – I felt bathed in sunlight, helped by the actual beautiful day. Then later I read the remark by Martin Seligman in Flourish that a measure of likely longevity is being able to accept love from others. And I realized that my forcing the mood is lonely and punitive, while accepting blessings makes me feel loved and cared for, which must be healing. As does my prayer, “May I be happy, may I be blessed.”
Thursday, 13 October 2011
Reading Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg in which she tells the story of a ferocious emperor in Northern India who, surveying the carnage after a greedy battle, spied a monk, quiet and serene, carrying a begging bowl. The monk told him about Buddha’s teachings, converted him, leading to the spread of Buddhism across the world. The power of one man’s witness to loving kindness. Ties in with stats showing ythat in a city where people meditate the crime rate goes down.
I wish to dwell in loving kindness. It is the only place I want to be and it’s peace is so much deeper and more enduring than negative, hurried emotions. I am deeply pacifist and this tale is witness to the power of one person’s grace to affect so much. It is the only thing to aim for – whether I can tread a little of the path, I do not know, but I must try.
Saturday, 15 October 2011
Sharon Salzberg: advocating the practice of Metta – loving kindness meditation. That loving kindness to others has to be based on loving kindness to oneself. She points out that spirituality based on self-hatred can never sustain itself. That when based on self-hatred, generosity becomes martyrdom, morality repression. Without the foundation of loving oneself becomes a loss of boundaries and codependency. With these sentences, she puts her fingers on all hesitations I have had, all I have seen go wrong with love.
One saintly woman I knew well let her family walk all over her. She put herself last and did this with great religious depth – and she would wake in the night clawing herself in self-hatred.
I am choosing my phrases for Metta. I have already been using using “may I be happy, may I be blessed”. And over the last few weeks, they have come true. I feel increasingly at peace, connected and filled with loving kindness to others, yet without feeling depleted as in the past. This joy far outweighs my pain, so I am able to more easily see the richness even in my more limited life, than the previously closing doors. Now I am adding, “May I be healthy, may I be fear-less”. That is free from fear, not fearless in the intrepid sense, but free of the fear I have had from a child that the future may hold bad things.
Sunday, 23 October 2011
Broke my ankle last Monday. A learning experience. Had just added the phrases “may I be healthy, may I be fear- less.” Ironic that the next day I should break my ankle.
But, at the end of the day at Emergency, I realized that the new phrases had partially worked. Throughout, I was cheerful and took each hurdle, including climbing 3 flights of stairs to bed on crutches, in my stride. Remember lying back in my chair, saying, “Life is perfect.” Suspect that was the morphia!
Sunday, though, very low. My leg swollen and hot, very painful to put to ground. Stomach also been bad for days. Just felt overwhelmed by the effort of psyching up to keep going cheerfully. Felt that the spirit is willing but my energy feels like a drained battery. I just don’t know how to do it right. I feel as if I try too hard, but don’t know how else to do it.
Tried keeping the feeling and letting it be in meditation. Realized, in meditation, that I had always been trying to be healthy and cheerful and always, the moment I was down, psych myself up to avoid falling into an abyss. I tried to be present for the abyss and, to my surprise, it was benign. It has always been benign.
As I meditated on the quality of the feeling and let it be without fighting, I realized that at any threat, which included being sick or unhappy, I girded up my loins, battened down the hatches, and cut myself off from universal energy. It was as if I unplugged from the mains and ran on my batteries, which, of course, ran down. And lately with chronic back pain, damaged digestion, let alone a broken ankle, have been unplugged most of the time. Very exhausting!
Then it broke over me that the support, blessing had always been there, as it was at my mother’s death. I had been too frightened to see it.
Then, what about illness etc.? I have always known that is the wrong question. God or the universe does not control what happens by chance, especially as so much comes from our civilisation. He does offer, guidance, support and strength, which has been amply demonstrated in my life – when I have let him.
Tuesday, 26 October 2011
Reading about the cycle of kharma, how in different lives sometimes one is the harmed, sometimes the victim. Round and round it goes. Also remembered that one can step out of the circle of fate and choose a state of grace. I do choose to end the dance.
Was practicing meditation on sympathetic joy – where one takes someone who is happy and rejoice in their happiness. Something we often find difficult to do. I chose Liz who had come into her own in early retirement, healthy, strong, happy and gloriously fulfilled in her art. I chose her because I am very fond of her, but also because being with her can’t help but underline what I have lost through illness. It was a lovely rich feeling. I felt true happiness for her and also deep content that such happiness can exist. How happy I was knowing of such happiness.
Tuesday, 1st November 2011
Have had awful tension in face and shoulders for days. Finally realized that it emanated from solar plexus. Penny dropped when read of Buddhist pilots being fatalistic in the face of an accident. According to Shirley Maclaine, one should never have a Buddhist pilot as they have a fatalistic approach to crashes. I had been reading more and more about Buddhism and meditation. Know have always been wary of meditation. Never known why, but it is the emptying of self, the handing over of autonomy.
And of course the prime reaction to breaking my ankle has been the loss of autonomy. I was surprised it hit me so hard, as did the feeling of lack of privacy – something I fought for growing up. Funny how for the last few days I had felt everything zeroed in on my teens. The tension just melted away with the realization that we were given free will and the whole point is to use it wisely and well.
Thursday, 10th November 2011
Been rereading this journal. Surprised at how much is about spiritual growth, when that is actually so little of my life. There is so much that’s prosaic, like balancing bank accounts or chopping vegetables. And so much that is interesting and totally secular.
Only last night I was reading At Home by Bill Bryson. He said that only five Celtic words remain in the British language, so I at once looked them up on my iPad. (Thank you, Steve Jobs!) This led to a list of the five or so Cornish words remaining, one of which is penguin. How on earth did the Cornish ever see a penguin and why was it useful enough to have been retained?
Noticed, as often, tension in bed at night. Finally thought to ask myself why this pattern. It has been a major contribution to lifelong insomnia. So what do I do every night, but review the day, as taught as a child, with emphasis on where I have failed and what I should do better. Of course, one can always have done better. It takes me back to the “miserable sinner” teaching of childhood.
I remember confirmation preparation and its emphasis on sin, our daily chant of “we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us”. My terror in chapel at school when we were told there would be another virgin birth – and my fervent prayer, “Don’t let it be me. How would I tell my mother?”
So why not joyful prayer? I assesses the day through grateful eyes, but not the powerless gratitude of the impotent. Just joyful recognition of every kind gesture, thoughtful word, both mine and from other. And instead of planning tomorrow from the stance of today’s failure, approached it with the attitude of how can I expand the good and build on the positive. All tension dissipated and warmth filled my soul.
Monday, 14 November 2011
Saying my affirmations: may I be happy, etc, when it occurs to me that beyond just stating it, one is setting the intention.
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Started Hypnosis for IBS CDs. Very soothing. Hope it will help the highly reactive state of my digestion since the bug I caught in Africa (undiagnosed for 10 months) and highly unpleasant treatment following. This came on top of undiagnosed celiac disease for 25 years which had left my digestive tract vulnerable to bugs.
The celiac is controlled by a gluten-free diet, but I also have problems with milk, both the protein (casein) and lactose. When I did pick up the African infection which wrought havoc for months, my whole digestive tract became inflamed and hypersensitive – and has not subsequently calmed down. I gather, though no one has told me, that it is IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). The inflammation also affected my ligaments, so my back got much worse.
Was reading New Scientist and came across article saying hypnosis is the only effective treatment for IBS, developed at Manchester University and paid for under NHS. Talk of synchronicity! So found the site and downloaded the CDs.
Started the CDs – very relaxing and the thing that came to me afterwards (connected?) was the vision of one’s core self being secure. That I have the right to choose this inner state – to choose only what is good and to safeguard this core. It made me realize how easily open I am and how I almost feel it is selfish, heartless not to be open to others’ distress. Yet, again it is like putting the oxygen mask on oneself before helping another. One has to act from whole – back to Sharon Salzberg and Buddhism again.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Breakthrough thoughts on the story of our lives – at least, my muddled attempt at a story. What is true?
No, the story I thought I had to have, born of a child’s attempt to make sense of what was happening – what I thought I had to do to survive – was not true.
So what is true: I started with my normal nightly review and I am happy, every day I am happy although my ankle is in a cast and aches, though I can’t eat much or do much. My mood is happy, so I am blessed.
So, if I don’t have to work hard, appease the world, justify my existence, then what is the truth? Where was God?
Looking with open eyes, I see that we have a deeply happy marriage, lasting almost 50 years. I am alert and intelligent with a great capacity for joy. So what, if I have back pain, celiac disease and a broken ankle? Every day, I am deeply content. The ankle has taught me patience and acceptance. It has also shown me how much I contribute to the home. Am amazed at how much my husband is having to do to replace me. He is on the go non-stop.
The next deeply learned conviction was that one has to suffer to grow, which gave suffering a purpose – and, I suppose, made the suffering bearable. Story again! I know that when my mother died, I grew, and though it was a terrible time, I wouldn’t want to give back what I had learned. When I told my father this, he said gravely, “I think I have matured.”
But there’s another way to see it – not that one needs suffering to grow, but rather that one chooses to use it to grow.
Strangely, I have learned patience and acceptance with my broken ankle (whether it would work for something more serious, I don’t know) but in the strangest way. I have a lot of pain with it, and I can’t do much, but somehow it doesn’t matter. I am content and whole and the pain is somehow peripheral.
Also a feeling of greater connection – that watching other people’s happiness or success in some way enables me to feel it too. Have just been watching a program on quantum mechanics – seems the spooky connection at work. That is, where two particles become entangled, if they separate, what affects one will also affect the other. Perhaps people emotionally linked do the same.
Friday, 25 November
More on quantum mechanics. The fact that one cannot predict where a single electron will land, but can with certainty predict the distribution of a large number seems very relevant to our understanding of God. If He sends us off with free will, He cannot predict what will happen to any one of us, but can predict how humanity as a whole will react. How depressing for Him!
The spooky connection explains the seeming connection between people, serendipity and even feelings of forewarning, dread etc. which appear so inexplicable. I remember a friend who ran meditation classes telling me in August 1989 that something momentous would happen around Remembrance Day – all her students’ energy was all over the place. On November 9th the Berlin Wall came down!
Sunday, 27 November 2011
Reading Susan Johnson’s A Better Woman. She writes about the essence of being a writer: how often they feel different, come from difficult backgrounds and lonely childhoods, “children whose interior worlds somehow became more radiant than the regular world witnessed by eyes.”
She writes of her yearning to write, to “move people in the same way I had been moved by books which illuminated the experience of being alive.”
It struck such a chord with me – the exquisite flame of creation, the feeling of laser like inspiration, the need to understand, encapsulate, pass on. A writer on her death bed will say in wonder, “So this is what it’s like!” Life was always too brilliant, too moving and very lonely. It is like living in a foreign language, seeing and yet dwelling among people who are blind. Then translating from ecstasy into the mundane. I always thought part of my job as a writer was to see the extra, take people’s lives and present them back to them, illuminated and framed.
Thought of research on introverts and extroverts, where the introverts are more sensitively tuned and how extroverts turn up the volume in life just to know they are alive. Is it the same with creative people? I need peace and contemplation just to balance the intensity of the experience of being alive. I look at others rushing, know I don’t want to, wonder if it is some lack in me that I live a low key life, yet it is so rich in thought and wonder, kindness and reciprocation that I don’t honestly think that more would be better.
Of course, the question is, could I be more useful doing something else? I don’t know, but do try each day to have loving, fruitful encounters, to validate and to hear each person I meet. Also so often there is information I can pass on, links to be made and huge satisfaction watching someone’s life going well, recognizing God in them. Like today when heard a friend had the courage to fly to Mexico to get MS surgery. Then her joyous email telling us of her improvement.
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
A friend came for supper Monday and asked us each for a word to describe our lives. He said his was “content”; Mike said his life was too varied to give any one word. I wondered about “love” as that has been my underlying motivation, my greatest satisfaction. (Remembered my mother saying just before she died that it all began with me – and when I asked what, she said, “love.”) But then it didn’t seem to cover the brilliance, awe, fear, the juice of living. So I opted for “vivid.”
We both told him, turn about, how we had come from fear, with no model to base our marriage on, yet somehow believing that it was possible to build something good and lasting. I realized how important it had been for me to take the ashes of that terrified childhood and make something wholesome, to break the chain of unhappy lives and send happy children into the future. It was always the most important thing to me and what I based my decisions on. Sometimes I felt like the buffers in a railway station stopping a train in its tracks, standing between the past and a sane and healthy future.
I also realized that that huge effort not only took a lot of my health but also skewed my vision. It meant any failure with the children, and of course there were failures, wereunbearable. Then I realized that the biggest thing we both did was to take the childhood unhappiness and spin gold from it – our marriage. Joyful, loving, laughing, enduring, more than I could have imagined.
Saturday, 19 December 2011
A long gap as we have been in England. We arrived at to be greeted by an ecstatic granddaughter dressed in a dress I made for her mother when she was seven. Chattering, long hair flying, warm and loving, just to look at her makes my heart smile.
Thursday, 22 December 2011
My back is not coping with the amount of sitting, uncomfortable chairs, being unable to orchestrate my day. It is back to chronic pain.
Miracle though – there are 3 clinics doing low level laser (more info) in Britain and one is 5 miles away, so am having treatments to try to stabilize it.
Very low and tearful, pain seems endless and limiting: I can’t sit for long, walk far or join in most of the family activities. The weight of dealing with pain dragged me down, I couldn’t see a way ahead and felt the weight of the effort to be positive and brave. The wish is there, but where, my soul cried out, are the buffers at the end of the track?
Where is the give when I hit the wall? Immediately came the voice, “I am here! ” And I felt the enveloping relief of God’s mercy. In the peace that followed I could say, “I am prepared to go on to the next stage of development, however hard it is. And there was peace in my heart. Must reread Buddhist lack of attachment.
Thursday, 23 December 2011
A lot of pain. Can’t sit anywhere for long. Makes it difficult to join in family activities. We were watching Ballet Shoes – the original version that they watched with us as children. Wonderfully old-fashioned and Posy reminded me so much of our elder granddaughter. But after 30 minutes, I had to go upstairs and lie down as my back hurt so much.
Asked myself, “What is the lesson? What am I to take from this?” The answer came back, “Stop!” But stop what? All that came through was stop doing, it is enough to BE. Much reflection and came to the conclusion that I must learn not to rest my value on activity (deeds) but on presence (how I am).
Started with stockings and Grandad having put out hopeful garbage bags, weeping stage tears of disappointment. Watched our daughters getting Christmas dinner for twelve seamlessly, like a ballet, always anticipating each other’s moves.
Took our eldest granddaughter upstairs to call a friend back home who is alone this Christmas. And she sang her heart out: “Christmas is for you! Christmas is for me!” Very seriously, she listened to him, nodding earnestly before breaking into a joyous, “And a very, very Merry Christmas to you!”
Monday, 26 December 2011
By request, I read Bible stories aloud and, with great difficulty, steered away from the Crucifixion. We settled on Jonah and the whale. Very disconcerting how grim God appears – quite like the nastiest fairy story. Thank goodness they hadn’t wanted Job! Then it struck me as I tried to explain it to her, that I was in fact explaining it also to myself. That the real story is that if you feel nasty inside, full of hate etc., then you are closed to all things good – the destruction that was threatened to Nineveh. So, I explained, God wasn’t threatening them, just explaining what happens and when they changed and were sorry, then they could connect with goodness.
It’s hard being God, I said. He is sad every time you hurt yourself. Think of feeling that sadness for all the people in the world! And if you do kind things He feels happy. As we were driving home from the Boxing Day party, I looked up at the misty dark and wondered, “Is it that we can either nourish or drain God?”
My cousin had helpfully said to me about my back that my life was not worth living. I had explained I couldn’t drive over to see her the day before we flew as it would be too much for my back. “Oh, no, I instinctively replied, “it is SO worthwhile.”
And all the way home, watching the sky, I felt so connected and so fulfilled that, yes, my life, though limited, is so full of joy.
Friday, 29 December 2011
My aunt’s 95th birthday. We all drove in convoy to my sister’s where our grandchildren puddled round our feet, in a swirl of balloons. Four generations chattering, my aunt with a look of bemused surprise. Our eldest granddaughter very seriously carried the flaming cake through the crowded room, intent with delight.
Saturday, 31 December 2011
Started our trip back to Canada. When I hugged our eldest granddaughter goodbye, she cried. “Grandmum, my heart doesn’t want to say goodbye.”
“I love you up to the moon. Whatever happens in your life, always look to the moon and I will be there, loving you.”