Friday, July 22, 2011

Altruism


                                                                                                                           The love of my life.                                                                                                                     

–noun
1.
the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others      (opposed to egoism).
2.
Animal Behavior,behavior by an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, as warning cry that reveals the location of the caller to predator.


Altruism is one of those words that I have read and heard in the past, but never really had a definition for in my mind. One of those words you just kind of take for granted that you know. Most times, this process serves me well, but every so often I find that I really don't understand a word - or as is quite often the case, my husband gently informs me that I've got it wrong completely. So I looked this one up to be sure. 

I decided to look up the definition this week after reading a quote by the Dalai Lama. It's a one liner, but it's a fairly unambiguous statement and one that I wanted to understand. This was his comment - "The ultimate source of happiness is altruism." 

~**~**~**~**~**~

Pema Chödrön has written a book entitled The Places That Scare You - A Guide To Fearlessness In Difficult Times. I have talked about and quoted this book before. It's a small book, but one of those that is so tightly packed full of wisdom that I can barely read a half chapter without having to sit and digest for a day or two. It's a good book. As I have mentioned before, she talks a lot about how to manage through difficult times. One of the suggestions she makes quite often is to allow yourself to feel the energy of a difficult emotion, but drop the story-line that we tell ourselves. My best example of this is when I am in debilitating pain and unable to get out of bed. If I can just lay there and concentrate on the pain without turning on the tapes in my mind that say things like "I can't do this any more" or "This is never going to end" or "I have been doing this for over two years now, I can't stand this" - then my pain and the whole situation is manageable. I've tried it before and it makes just as significant of a change in my ability to cope as medication can. In fact, at times, I have avoided medication all together. 
She makes another very interesting point about our experiences with suffering. She states that we learn just as much from our failures (or suffering in general) as we do from our successes. Specifically, this is the quote:
"In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience - our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
~**~**~**~**~**~ 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the past weeks have been very difficult. The frustration of a disease that is relentless in it's interference with my every waking moment - relentless in it's unpredictable-ness - relentless in it's affect on almost every bodily system - relentless in it's one constant voice of pain - has taken it's combined toll on me. 
The past weeks have also been filled with all that comes with caring for and being with my mother who has recently suffered a stroke. Her health has been slowly failing for a couple of years now, but at the age of 69, the sudden onset of this condition has been extremely difficult for her, for my father and for our family. As an only daughter, and the only child living near my parents (my brother and his family live in Louisiana) I find my desire to care for my parents quite often becomes preeminent to most everything else. It's a difficult balance. For those of you who have struggled with ill or aging parents, you are well aware of the physical as well as the emotional toll this can take. It's a sadness that aches from the deepest of spaces within for the people you love beyond words. 

~**~**~**~**~**~ 

I've thought a lot about the things that I have read these last days. I've thought about the things that I have written in the past. I've thought about the quips and quotes and do's and don't's that have so easily dripped off my finger tips and onto this white space. I've thought about the peaceful, bird filled mornings that lent themselves to my creativeness. The cups of coffee, the walks in the woods, the moments of stillness... But here is where the rubber meets the road. Here is where the opportunity exists to put my money where my mouth is. Here, in these moments, it is - chaotic, emotional, frightening, exhausting and unfair - far from still. In the blur of tragedy, life moves so swiftly that even remembering to breath becomes somehow lost in the current. As I lay in bed, devoured by the days events, I wept, "Why? Why me, why them, why now? Isn't enough, enough? Can't we at least get through one devastating event before we fall headfirst into the next?..."

And so goes the story-line. And so plays the tape.

As I lay there, I remember thinking to myself - how do I do this? How do I separate "the energy of the emotion" from the "story-line" that I know that I am telling myself. I can hear it. But what does all that mean? So I just started telling myself - be sad. BE sad. BE angry. BE lonely. These are difficult days and sadness is very real. I allowed myself to feel my suffering. Do you know what sadness feels like? What loneliness feels like? What fear feels like? Your stomach hurts. The center of your chest aches. Your body shakes. Your throat tightens. You feel the stick of sweat accumulate beneath your clothes and the tears fill up your eyes and run into your ears. You want to curl up into a ball and then you want to punch your pillow. You want to scream and then in the very next breath, you have no voice at all

Sadness hurts. It hurts so desperately that we will do almost anything to make it stop. But if we do - if we find an alternative to feeling - running away, taking a drink, popping a pill, eating, losing ourselves in the television, hurting someone we love - then our sadness only deepens and grows stronger for another day. But if we feel - if we stay with that painful energy long enough, we gain something very beautiful - and that is compassion. Compassion for ourselves and compassion for those we love. For it is in our very own darkness that we recognize our shared humanity. The comfort of the whole of all creation gathered with us in that very moment - sharing in our suffering, cultivating compassion and leading us to "ultimate happiness". 

This is peace. 




Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To My Parents

We will never forget


the stories of your youth
of the fierceness of young love 
beating all odds
conquering the impossible

We will never forget  


the happiness of our childhood
of sacrifices made and covenants kept
living by example
loving with grace 

We will never forget


the homes you provided
of the beauty you surrounded us in 
working tirelessly
creating dreams 

We will never forget


the grace of your presence
of the devotion to family 
abiding faithfully
teaching gently

We will never forget


the excitement of holidays spent 
of "Ho-Ho-Ho's" and treasures hidden
instigating silliness
immersing hearts in joy

We will never forget


the hours spent at Grandpa and Grandma's house
of the world you created
providing refuge
filling souls 

We will never forget


the summers in Zumbrota
of zip-lines, water slides, potato canons, pumpkin carving, pie eating contests
unending days
dream filled nights

We will never forget


the way in which you never grow old
of practical jokes, target practice and duck faces
teaching lessons
making life fun

We will never forget

The standards by which you live your life
nor the countless examples of 
compassion that fill 
your days

We will never forget

When we were lost
you found us
When we were hungry
you fed us
When we were destitute
you filled our pockets
When we were hopeless
you had faith
When we succeeded
you celebrated us

These things we carry with us
are the blessings 
of your
love

In your difficult days
when life and body
grow weary
and 
all that is good seems 
but a distant memory

May you never forget
how very much 
you 
are loved.


Forever and always,
Your family.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Minds Run Amok!

My bookcase...third shelf down from top. 



Lately, I have been suffering more than I like. 

I am sure that statement not only sounds a bit odd, but it most likely sounds a little “woe is me” as well.  Odd, in the obvious…who really likes to suffer at all – and “woe is me” in that…well, get over it Sunshine, we all seem to be suffering more than usual these days! One does not have to look far (maybe your own mirror) to find something that brings you great suffering.

So why the lead off?  Because when I am struggling to write, sometimes the best thing to do is to just stop forcing the situation and dig down and find out what’s going on Now.  So in a roundabout way, after letting go of a little bit of ego…ok, a lot of ego… and expectations, this is what it all shakes down to.

I am not feeling well physically these days.  More than the usual.  I’m not completely sure why this is the case, or which comes first, the chicken or the egg, but I have a general idea of some contributing factors.  Summer is WONDERFUL, but very different from the slow routine of winter. With the kids in school, Dave at work and shorter days, winter lends itself to rest. Summer, on the other hand, is full of activity. Kids home, Dave laid-off from his job with the State of Minnesota, longer days, things to do outside and scheduled summer-time events all present a multitude of opportunities to say, “Yes!”  And if there is one thing that I find most difficult to do – if there is one thing that I remain most  obstinate about – if there is one concept that I must re-learn time and time again, it is that of knowing how and when to say “no.” Especially to my family and those I love.

Carelessness in caring for Me leads to pushing beyond my limits. Convincing myself and others that, “I’m okay” or “It’s alright, I feel good today” or “I’ll rest later” only ends in an exhaustion that snowballs very quickly into increased disease activity and suffering.  Suffering for me, and suffering for those around me.  It was my inability to “think” that set me on this roundabout path to shedding a little ego today. “Brain fog”, or even sometimes more serious cognitive dysfunctions can be a symptom of Lupus as well as other autoimmune diseases. It is a symptom that I have struggled with to varying degrees since the beginning of my illness.  

Over the past month or so, updating the website, or even my facebook page has been extremely difficult. It is the reason why my entries have decreased dramatically.  I want to write, but the more I pursue the desire the farther away the reality becomes. Even reading has become cumbersome. I pick up books only to find my way through maybe two or three pages – reading paragraphs over and over again trying to connect thoughts. The same goes with my writing. What once flowed effortlessly now has become painfully slow.

Why? Why, when things seem so clear, do I let them get so out of control? I don’t have to go far to read my very own writings and think to myself, “Who IS that person?” And, “Where did she go?!?” Or sometimes I even wonder if my “togetherness” is a bit out of touch with reality! “Now this is the real world. Crazy, complicated and fast paced.  Enlightenment is easy if you’re living in a hut on the top of a mountain (or in a hippie village as I was most recently told) but this is real life here, sister!”

Unable to see the answer to my question, I was at least able to understand that I was suffering. And that my suffering seemed a bit out of control. Yes, I have a disease that creates a tremendous amount of pain and there is not much I can do about that. But not getting enough sleep, not eating right, giving in to bad habits, not finding time to meditate because I am “too busy”, not reaching out for help, neglecting my physical  appearance, reaching for a bottle of medication before a tall glass of water and a good nap – these things ARE in my control.

Knowing that, I went to my bookshelf and picked up Eckhart to help me out a bit. I knew I would not remember where to look, so I just grabbed The Power of Now, cracked it open and began to read.  Funny how karma is…

I opened to page 33 – Chapter Two – Consciousness: The Way Out Of Pain. Subtitle: Create No More Pain In The Present.

Humm….

“The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.”

This I know.
When I am tired, when I am overbooked, when one activity of the day blindly runs into the next activity of the day, when I eat on the run and neglect the sleep I need – there is no room for mindfulness.  In fact, I am functioning on a mind run amok. Living in pure maintenance mode - minutes, hours, days and weeks melt into a current of life that neglects all in its path and leaves me falling into bed sick, exhausted and discontent.

This is SO true! Think about it. Food never looks so good as when you finally decide to go on a diet.  “The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment.” If I’m hungry right now, and I tell myself that I am going to resist that hunger pain and not eat – the pain of not being able to eat can quickly become insurmountable. And I eat my chocolate cake anyway.  The present moment can be quite painful.  We will go to extremes not to suffer in its wake.

I don’t like not being able to take care of my family. I don’t like not being able to keep my home exactly as I used to. I don’t like not being able to be physically active. I don’t like staying home as others have their fun in the sun.  I don’t like saying No. And sooner or later, it all becomes too painful.  Moreover, if I am not careful, my unobserved mind – my mind run amok – will resist that pain at every turn. And inevitably what ensues is suffering.

The funny thing is, what are we moving so aimlessly fast towards? As we rush through our days – saying yes to everything and experiencing nothing – where are we going? What is the end result? Our illusion of time tricks us into thinking that there is some prize out there in the future. Happier kids, better life, more money, bigger house… out there – somewhere. When in reality, ALL WE EVER HAVE IS THIS VERY MOMENT. Make the Now the primary focus of your life and there is no more resistance. Instead of fighting reality – become part of it.

My reality is this. I have an illness that requires me to expend my energy very wisely. There are times when I can say “yes”, and there are times when I must say “no”.  I can fight that with all my might and suffer great pain (with the illusion of success or superwomen-hood), or I can accept the present moment and be completely alive in it. Caring for the Now, I ensure a healthier future for my family and myself. It may mean staying home, it may mean dirty sheets for yet another week – or it may mean not being able to write or paint – but what could be more insane than opposing life itself? The irony of it all is that in what appears to be saying “No”, is actually saying “YES” to life.  And once we say “YES”, life suddenly begins to work for us rather than against us. 
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