Archives for the month of: April, 2014

Life can feel pretty chaotic, happenstance, random, coincidental or strange. I’ve got my free will, you’ve got yours, we’ve all got circumstances. Somewhere in the recesses of my fragmented memory I hear a memory of myself screaming at someone “This is not a fucking GAME!”

Isn’t it?

Is it?

What if it actually were, and we could know that going into it, and as with any game, even have the rules in front of us, and a moment to get set up? There are lots of sorts of games that life is rather like. Games make good metaphors of life for that reason, and many games creep into our language as figures of speech. (I’m looking at you, Baseball!)

If you had a stack of chips – call it your savings – and cash flow that replenished that supply – call it ‘a job’ – and some goals to reach with those resources, and some challenges and hurdles to overcome… that sounds a lot like life. The only thing missing is a system of winners and losers, and a way to keep score. And a timer. Games always end.

Here’s your first goal, first round of the game: acquire suitable housing. lol Yep. There are a lot of options. Do your chips cover what you want most? No? I guess rethinking that makes sense then… What can you afford? Meet the need as soon as possible, improve over time; it’s a common strategy. What if you are fortunate enough that you don’t want or require more than the basics? Your chips pile up! Is that important? No – they’re just chips. lol  A lot of people miss that detail.  We primates are a competitive bunch – what we grab up and keep close doesn’t have to have real value, it just has to be more of whatever it is than that monkey over there has. Hell, in some groups, even having more pain, more misery, amounts to riches.

Every choice we make matters. Every opportunity for a decision, or indecision, or action or inaction, takes our piece another step around the game board.  We progress toward our goals, or move away from them. Sometimes we stand still.

This morning, I’m playing The Game Of Life in my imagination. I’m starting with the chips I’ve got, the job I have, and mentally rebuilding my experience with those resources. Not personally my own? I’m not counting it.  What do I really need? What do I want? What contributes value to my experience? What do I keep, what I do I let go? What can I have? What is out of reach? What matters most?  At the conclusion of this morning’s game, I’m hoping for a clearer picture of the life I would like to be really living. A good map makes any destination easier to reach.

What will I choose to fill my life, my home, my experience?

What will I choose to fill my life, my home, my experience?

Few challenges are as challenging as they seem. Few hurdles stand as tall as we fear. Our choices matter – even our choice about what matters, and what the choices may be.  Today is a good day to make good choices.

This weekend was well-spent on healing and wellness, gardening, love, meditation; it was a delightfully quiet weekend.  In spite of aching knees, juggling a cane, and the frequent heavy rain showers, I spent much of the weekend in the garden, hands in the earth, feet on the ground, eyes skyward or focused on some tiny wonder.  The fresh spring air, and dampness of raindrops on my skin as they loose from where they had collected, when I brush by unconcerned, soaks into my skin, into my heart. I feel refreshed and whole and free.

There have been few places or times in my life when I had no garden at all.  Even in apartment living, I’ve generally had at least some potted herbs, perhaps a rose, or a potted tree of some sort. In 32 years of adult life, I’ve been without a garden for only about 5 years. Some gardens were a continuous struggle with drought, heat, rain, drainage, bugs, critters, in-laws, distance…something. It isn’t always easy. Actually, it’s rarely ‘easy’. Gardening is work, and commitment, and planning, and more of all that and trouble-shooting on top of it.  Long before I heard the word ‘mindfulness’ used in a sentence, I found ‘now’ in my garden. Healing perspective is in my garden. A breath of fresh air, that too, I can find in my garden. A few minutes of stillness, some wonder, excitement, a bit of novelty, a sense of home, peace and contentment, adventure…all in my garden. Lush greens, dark corners, hidden corners of peace and loveliness, and the occasional stray flower of a sort I don’t recall planting; my garden has been the foundation and safe deposit box of whatever sanity I could hang on to, in many years of my life.

Remember the gazing ball that was broken last year? I replaced it Sunday.

The new gazing ball, honoring the hold one; this one already broken, a mosaic of shattered glass.

The new gazing ball, honoring the hold one; this one already broken, a mosaic of shattered glass.

It was that sort of weekend in the garden. I puttered around tying off loose ends, finishing projects, following up on things, taking a second look… it was a weekend for pleasure and perspective.

...And a new bird bath.

…And a new bird bath.

I sometimes overlook how healing I find the garden. A moment of OPD or weirdness, a flare up of my arthritis, or a trip to hormone hell, and even though I know how healing the garden can be, it isn’t always my first destination on that journey. Still human. I checked.

Beauty feels so good.

Beauty feels so good.

It’s worth taking the time to ‘be’ in the garden. Permanence is not relevant. I had allowed myself to be distracted by impermanence, somehow. Perhaps tomorrow, or next year, or 5 years from now, this will not be my garden. Is that important now? Now is the garden as I stand in it. It needn’t wait for another day, or more certainty, or something better, or more of… it needn’t wait at all.  The garden has planning and future, and daydreaming, of course, and all that is as lovely as soap bubbles on a spring breeze. The garden is a very ‘right now’ place nonetheless.  It has my history, my present, and my future along stone paths, and held in bright pots, unfolding each moment as a seed of some ‘next time’.

My history. "Splish-Splash" rose [Moore. 1994]  I've had this miniature, this very plant, with me since 1995.

My history. “Splish-Splash” rose [Moore. 1994] I’ve had this miniature, this very plant, with me since 1995.

I have moved a lot. I’ve had more than one garden. I’ll likely have others. Each is precious to me, and each is ‘my garden’ for all the days I tend it. I hold nothing back; I garden now, even though the future is not assured.

The garden is my future, as well as my now, holding my daydreams gently.  Seedlings of the California poppy border I planted this spring are just coming up now.

The garden is my future, as well as my now, holding my daydreams gently. Seedlings of the California poppy border I planted this spring are just coming up now.

This weekend I enjoyed the garden and let life’s small drama’s pass me by as much as possible.  It made for a beautiful weekend, and a lovely ‘now’.

Today is a good day to smile and make eye contact with strangers. Today is a good day to listen to the answers to questions, and hear more than words. Today is a good day to enjoy the spring. Today is a good day for kindness and wonder. Today is a good day to change the world.

[Trigger Warning; discussion of nightmares inspired by sexual trauma, child abuse, domestic violence and war. Be kind to yourself, my words are not worth ruining your Sunday.]

We sleep. We must. Sleep is non-optional, even for the sleep-challenged. We sleep, or eventually, we go mad, and we die. I have difficulty sleeping, and struggle with a number of ‘sleep disturbances’, and have since I was very small. My biggest sleep challenge is returning night after night to ‘The Nightmare City’ when my sleep has entered a period of prolonged and frequent bad dreams; the first day or two it isn’t an issue, but after a few days, in spite of clearly understanding how necessary sleep and rest are, I begin to fight the need to sleep, to avoid the nightmares. Yes, nightmares are that bad.

Oddly, I rarely have nightmares if I nap, during the day. How strange is that?

I do all I can, all I have learned how to do, to ensure that when I wake from a nightmare I can quickly recognize I am no longer asleep, no longer threatened, and re-orient myself for sense of place and time, and begin to make willful use of mindfulness practices and meditation to calm myself. It’s nice to have that going for me, these days.  My physician is concerned about my difficult sleep. She’d like me to do a sleep study. Sure, okay, no problem.  She’s a good doctor. I listen to what she has to say.  I know, though, from a lifetime of experience, that medical care will not lock the gates of The Nightmare City.

It’s a quiet Sunday morning. I’m not in much pain as the day begins. My sleep was mostly pretty restful, not dreadfully disturbed.  I woke thinking about cartographers, chaos and damage, the trauma wilderness that so many of us seem trapped within, and it took my consciousness by surprise to find myself fairly calmly ‘looking over the wall’ into The Nightmare City without panic.  Shall I show you around a bit?

Light without illumination.

Light without illumination.

One prominent feature of The Nightmare City is that no matter what the lighting, it feels dark. It is somehow always night, even in nightmares that seem set in day time hours. The darkness is about more than a quality of light. The lights illuminate nothing, they are simply points of other colors, of varying intensity.  Beauty generally seems ‘at a distance’ or in the periphery, illusory and unattainable.  Madness, anger, hurt, fear, confusion, and doubt are generally imminent, and very visceral. The behavior of other creatures and beings in The Nightmare City don’t follow common social convention, or the laws of physics.

Last night the streets of The Nightmare City were empty, deserted; I was alone. I walked, hearing my feet crunch as if walking on icy snow, or egg shells. I did not look down.  The cityscape seemed quite familiar, this time, and very urban. Also vaguely threatening. I felt that eyes were watching me, that ill intent was everywhere, and that the moment was on the cusp of imminent terror. I walked. The air felt icy, and my lungs ached. I found myself wondering if I were holding my breath in my sleep, and realized that this time I was aware that I was asleep, and this was The Nightmare City.  The terror pulled back a bit, receded; demons no doubt checking their calendars for conflicts.  Nightmares are far less terrifying when I am aware I am sleeping. There is a lot of value in lucid dreaming, and I breath a moment of gratitude for awareness that actually has a feeling to it, a feeling of ‘awake’ ‘alive’ and ‘well’ being pulled into my lungs, fortifying and restoring me. In my dream, my phone pings, and I have a calendar alert from a cadre of demons advising me that we’ve rescheduled. I wake briefly, hearing myself laugh out loud, and return to sleep.  I am regularly and firmly schooled by my sleeping consciousness, pwnd by dream world hackers, or taken to task by my demons, and waking only to return immediately to The Nightmare City is pretty routine.

The Nightmare City has streets lined with decrepit town homes and row houses, retail shops, alley ways. There are rarely any cars, not even parked cars.  For some reason, cars generally only show up in pleasant dreams, for me.  I saw a car in The Nightmare City, once, bearing down on me at a high-speed, and me with nowhere to go, back against the wall… waiting. I woke breathless and frightened, holding my breath in the moment before death… waking was a relief.  I don’t trust the sight of a car in The Nightmare City.

There is machinery and industry in The Nightmare City. My oldest nightmare that I can recall, which was a recurring nightmare well into my 20s, when it just stopped, was one of gigantic bees, with huge stingers, operating a system of huge metal gears grinding together. The bees wore pickelhaube-style helmets.  This is a nightmare I think I first had sometime when I was younger than 5 or so. I found it quite terrifying, and incomprehensible.  The bees were operating the gears – and I was caught in the gears and about to be ground up. The worst of it was that I, myself, was directing the actions of the bees from another vantage point, as myself, but separate from the me about to be ground up – but aware that I was one and the same and the outcome would apply to the me directing the action as much as the me being ground up. Quite incredibly terrifying, to the point that I still recall it in detail.

The Nightmare City has cafes, too, and places to stop for refreshment, parks, gardens, neighbors – not any of which are to be trusted or taken at face value. Sitting down to a coffee with a group of women who seem friendly, quickly becomes a nightmare festival of mocking laughter, derision, and meanness driving intense insecurity, fear, and a desire to escape, usually in the face of no ability to do so.  A stroll through a beautiful park in The Nightmare City may seem innocuous, but trust me on this one – the park is filled with demons, and re-enactments of trauma, and oh hey – more derision and mocking laughter.  A good evening stroll through a park in The Nightmare City would be one that was peopled with nothing more vile than mean remarks, and maybe some little old ladies spitting at me, or angry little dogs. It could be a whole lot worse.

Lately, I keep walking up on a very young me, huddled in a white flannel nightgown, weeping and rocking over something held tightly in her arms. I want to help; I recognize she is me. I walk toward her, but my steps bring me no closer. She is so distressed, and as my frustration builds, she cries harder, and her nightgown starts seeming to have a bit of blood soaking through, where it is tucked tightly around her, and touching the ground. She wails, and I keep trying to drawn near to her, to hold her.  She doesn’t get any closer however many steps I take. There’s more blood than I realized, and the nightgown is soaking up more of it. She cries – I cry out to her. She doesn’t or can’t hear me. We don’t seem to be ‘in the same place’. I reach for her, anyway, hoping that the dreamscape will let me reach her. I see that there is blood on my hands, although I still can’t reach her. There are tears on my face, and blood on the white flannel nightgown I am also wearing… I feel so small.  I start screaming and screaming “Please!! Please!! No!” I wake from it, as often as not, still huddled small and tightly, rocking, something trapped in my firm panicked grasp – usually a pillow – and struggling to breath through tears, choking on snot.  “Unpleasant” doesn’t begin to describe it.  This one has been coming up a few times a week for weeks now.

Some of the oddities of The Nightmare City are just flashes of memory; painful enough, they need no augmentation. I get some of the usual human primate fare, as well, dreams of falling, dreams of showing up to work naked, dreams of loss, of insecurity, of frustration, of grief. There was a time I did not understand that those were also nightmares, they seemed so benign in comparison to other things in The Nightmare City.

Last night though, I just walked through stillness. As if the city were largely abandoned. Doors that often opened at a touch were locked last night. The air was cold, and most of the time I felt I was breathing air; sometimes it is poisoned.  There was no one else visible, just that feeling of being watched as I walked.  Perhaps that, too, was only me, noticing myself.  I thought I heard voices in conversation and turned to face them, all was dark and I was alone, and somehow in my room, sitting lotus on my bed (which I knew wasn’t likely with my knees in the shape they are in, and that alerted me I was still dreaming). I looked at my bedroom door suspiciously; my bedroom also exists in The Nightmare City. Trust me when I tell you opening that door is a very bad idea…although it’s been a long time since I was tempted to do so, and I no longer know with any certainty what might be on the other side.

I woke myself with the observation that the candle on my nightstand was out, but the room was bathed in light; confirmation I was dreaming, and that is often what it takes to wake from The Nightmare City, gently. When I woke I knew that I had, because the candle on my nightstand is battery operated and still flickering, and some odd details immediately adjusted from ‘dream’ to ‘real’, like the pillows being just pillows, rather than huge piles of unfinished paperwork – which hadn’t seemed odd when I was actually still asleep.  I used the waking moments to calm myself; it wasn’t exactly a bad nightmare, as nightmares go, but my heart was still pounding, my hair still damp with sweat, and I was shaking with fear; my ‘to go bag’ from The Nightmare City.  I meditate for a few unmeasured minutes, then get up in the night, like a child, for a drink of water.  Bare feet on hard wood, standing in the kitchen, I still feel so small, so young, so vulnerable… as if for the moment I am not me-now, as much as me-then.

I return to my room, to my bed, to the dimness of candlelight, and to sleep, but not to The Nightmare City.  I dream, instead, Dave Matthews’ love songs, breathing the scent of a loved one from my pillow, and wake later, feeling whole, and content, and well.

Today is a good day to share and to trust. Today is a good day for compassion, and not just for others. Today is a good day to open doors, and enjoy gardens. Today is a good day to change the world.

I woke at 1:37 am to a loud bang. I returned to sleep. I woke again at 4:21 am for no reason that was obvious, and went back to sleep again. When I woke to the alarm, it was a bit as if I was never sleeping. My brain seemed pretty busy from about 1:37 am on until the morning alarm. Mostly playing mc chris’ “Tarantino” on repeat in the background of my consciousness. What’s that about? My back aches with the ‘everyday pain’ of arthritis. Yoga is difficult this morning. Sitting with good posture is difficult.

My coffee is neither creamy nor sweet.

This morning these are simply my experience, my observations. I feel pretty positive and basically ‘okay’ as an emotional being. It’s a nice change from Wednesday.

Wednesday, a bit like this.

Wednesday, a bit like this.

Yesterday wasn’t bad at all. It started well, ended comfortably, and aside from a distinct lack of physical comfort in my experience, the day proceeded well between the beginning and end.  Yesterday’s high points? Love, and roses.

"Baby Love" rose [Scrivens, 1992] first to bloom in my garden this year.

“Baby Love” rose [Scrivens, 1992] first to bloom in my garden this year.

My very human experience has its ups and downs. This morning is still so new there’s no knowing. I meditate, sip coffee, study, do yoga, and prepare to face the world. I feel, for the moment, content and complete, in spite of my arthritis, in spite of pain, in spite of the headache, the bitterness of my coffee, or the slightly sick feeling of mornings. A little later than now, I’ll leave for work, probably have to remind myself to grab my cane before I go; it is an encumbrance as much as a help, and like I child I tend to abandon it anywhere I happen to sit down, if I happen to stand up with ease when I return to movement. lol

In spite of pain, and the unsteadiness of my knees lately, I still walk as much as I can. I’m still getting in about 5 miles a day, about 3 of that is commute, spread out over the morning and evening, and 2 miles for a walk midday. If I ‘give my knees a rest’ and allow myself to succumb to the illusion that not using them will somehow put things right, I put myself at risk of gaining weight, pretty much immediately. I keep walking every day I can put weight on my knees and ankles at all. (I’m heavier than I’d like to be, and very much aware of the toll that is taking on my knees and ankles. Stabilizing my weight below 200 lbs is within reach, and I’ll be very happy to hit that benchmark.)

Still, the pain is what it is, and it is part of my experience. As much as I look forward to the beauty of spring, and a lovely walk on a nice day, there’s a bit of a ‘Little Mermaid” element to it; every step may be painful. Growth has often felt that way to me; every step painful, journey and destination worth the difficulty.

Pain is a shared experience. Most people have some. It’s odd to be in a group of people and observe that one person commenting on their experience of pain or discomfort tends to launch a round of compare/contrast statements, with some one-up-man-ship thrown in for flavor. I try to stay out of those, and regret it when I launch one. Few things result in feeling less heard about hurting than everyone else chiming in about how much they also hurt. Everyone wants to feel heard about pain.  I’m not sure anyone ever does.  Our own pain is so visceral. The pain of others tends to be far less so.  I have been working on compassion first, sympathy, understanding – hearing that this human being speaking to me is hurting, and recognizing their experience, without sharing mine, even out of sympathy. (Allowing them to have their experience, feel nurtured and supported, and not diminished by my experience, or denied the opportunity to be individual. ) I don’t know that it does or does not ‘work’ any better than countering every tale of discomfort with one of my own, but it seems likely to be less annoying or dismissive.

It’s Friday. Looks like a quiet solo evening on the calendar. I find myself hesitant to be at all excited about it. I’d rather not become invested in the outcome and have to deal with disappointment if life throws some changes in the mix. I’m eager to spend some time on my writing and dive deeply into meditation without a timer, clock, or deadline on the other side.  It’d be nice to look forward to doing that pain-free, but that’s unrealistic these days, so I don’t bother about the pain until it speaks up with enough force to be a real game-changer.

Friday. Black coffee. A backache. Spring flowers. A quiet morning. This is not only ‘not bad’ – it’s actually pretty good.

Lately, my knees are making it hard to walk comfortably. I’m not sure what that’s about, certainly it could be any one of a number of things, including ‘aging’.  I’ve also been having more difficulties with spelling than I used to, and dropping words when I write, using opposites when I speak, and generally struggling to communicate simply.  More effort has been required for the same result. This frustrates and worries me. The worry shows up in other places; my manicure is not so well maintained, and I sometimes catch myself rubbing my hands, although they don’t hurt.

This is a very human experience.

Easter came and went. Earth day, too, has come and gone. Spring is quickly heading for summer, although the weather here is quite cool and rainy and not giving away much in the way of intention to progress toward summer.

Pure loveliness.

Pure loveliness.

This morning I don’t have much to say about everyday drama, or work, or growth. I’m a little too sensitive to the aging thing this morning. I am in a little too much pain to be concerned with the puzzles of being and becoming. I’m not sleeping well, although I am sleeping enough to be reasonably rested it doesn’t give my mind the downtime it needs. My dreams are filled with ancient hurts being enacted in newer symbols and a cast of characters from my present, making my waking life seem subtly colored by hidden stress, and secret pain.

I’m prone to tears. Hormones? Unresolved anger? Failure to take care of me by being willing to prioritize my needs high on my own to do list? Arthritis? Menopause? Failure to nurture my relationships well? Headaches? I don’t know. Perhaps any or all of that in some combination? I feel tired when I think about it. I can quickly go from tired to angry. I am easily provoked.  Where the hell do all these tears come from? Why am I crying so much?

Is there a storm on the horizon?

Is there a storm on the horizon?

Mindfulness still matters, still eases my suffering, still settles and calms me. Meditation still helps me find balance, relax, breathe, and give myself compassion. I’m still ‘taking care of me’ and working with my physician on matters of my health, with my therapist on matters of my mind, and with my loves on matters of the heart. Progress. Growth. Wellness.

Sometimes I feel very much like something inside me has to work very hard to keep something else inside me from just giving up. I feel sad to see those words as my fingers skip across the keys. Tears fall. Some days are more work than others.

Today is a good day to see beauty. Today is a good day to recognize the kindness in a smile. Today is a good day for strong coffee. Today is a good day to choose well, and to love wholeheartedly. Today I still have the opportunity to choose to change the world…