Side Notes: Small Successes

Let me say first that I sometimes throw myself the most magnificent pity parties – usually with fine snacks and often gifts as well – so I’m not looking for sympathy here.

That said, and just by way of offering a bit of background for this article: I’ve been dealing with chronic pain for many years now. A little over two years ago I fell – hard enough to be hospitalized for a week and then put in a physical rehabilitation facility for another three weeks – and after that, up until about a month ago I’d been unable to walk anywhere other than around the house… Then I bought a treadmill.

It took about three weeks for me to figure out the minimum number of minutes that I could reasonably say I’m able to do in any one session, as well as the minimum number of sessions I could do in any given week. I should note here that this ‘figuring out’ stuff wasn’t planned; it’s just how things went. I’m not that damn smart.

Anyway, what it’s come down to is this: If I’m able to use the treadmill at all, I can do five minutes, and even if I have a few bad days when I can’t do it at all, I can still swing three days a week. So this is my current goal: Five minutes, three times a week. If I can do more I will (and so far I have).

For me at this point, this is a fairly easy goal so it’s unlikely I’ll fail at it unless I dive into a really big flare (‘flare’ = more inflammation and pain than will allow me to function). If/when that happens I’ll just suspend the goal until I’m back on my feet, and if I’ve been down a long time I’ll probably have to whittle down the goal so that it’s still doable, and I’m okay with that.

It’d be more difficult to dial back my goals if I wasn’t prepared for the possibility. I guess you could call that an advantage to chronic illness for those of us who deal with that — we learn our limitations and how to work with them. Good grief I wish it was an easier lesson to learn.

The reason I’m setting goals is 1) because I can (as in, I am able to), and more importantly 2) because I get an ENORMOUS emotional payoff for small successes. I am all about comfort, and the payoff is hugely tied in to my comfort level in terms of how I feel about myself in general. Even better than my magnificent pity parties: Fabulous pats on my own back and melodious toots of my own horn. Yay me.

This is my point: Whether or not one is able to set goals, I think it’s really important to acknowledge and wholeheartedly accept the good feelings that arise from any successes, no matter how small.

Any new thing you do, no matter how little it can be done, it’s more than what was being done, yes? I’ve found that when I can manage not to make comparisons like ‘yay this is what I did but boo I should be doing more’ or ‘boo I have so far to go’ and just stick with ‘yay I did that’, oh boy I can squeeze a whole lot of comfort and enjoyment, pats on the back and toots of my horn out of getting even the smallest of things done.

Yay me!

Back to meditation next article. Probably.

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Meditation, introduction

Let me say up front that I am a slow learner. (And I’m just fine with that.)

It took me several decades of searching for and trying various methods of meditation before I found what works for me. The purpose of this series is to help others find what works for them, perhaps more quickly than I did.

In my years of searching I encountered a number of folks who insisted that there is only one true method for meditation, and if you’re not doing it their way you’re doing it wrong. Others were less dogmatic about the method but insisted on defining the experience, and in a way their definitions can be quite accurate because what one experiences in meditation is heavily influenced by expectation.

I will note here that some folks want/need teachers to provide them with rules and definitions. This series is not for them, but I want to be clear that the ‘find it myself’ method is no better; it’s just different.

That said, after all those years of trying different methods without much success, I realized: Those methods were discovered by human beings who must have initially sought meditation on their own with no rules to guide them. That the experiences of those folks were so varied led me to conclude that not everyone will benefit from the same method, nor will everyone experience the same thing. If some human beings can find what they’re looking for, then perhaps anyone can. The very rule some claim, that only special people are chosen to receive such information, is still only a rule that was established by human beings. Go figure, huh?

So I did my best to set aside all my beliefs and expectations (easier said than done, by the way), and started my journey anew. The first thing I did was so very simple: I put a question in my mind – What do I need to know right now? – and just listened with all my being. My only real expectation was that an answer would come in some form. What I experienced from there might not be relevant to anyone but me, so I’ll spare you the description. Just wanted to provide some idea of where I’m coming from with this series.

This is what I recommend to those who seek their own methods of meditation: Do your best to set aside all beliefs and expectations. Find a comfortable position where your body can relax without drifting off to sleep. Ask a question, then listen for an answer. It might come right away or it might take some practice sessions first before you see any results. Be willing to be patient if that’s necessary, but don’t expect the process to be difficult.

If it is difficult and you feel like you’re forcing yourself to do this, then it’s not a good fit, and that’s okay. The next couple of articles in this series will offer some strategies for self-guided (visualization) meditation, which is great for times when it’s just too hard to stay focused on listening alone.

Feedback is most welcome. Feel free to share your own methods and experiences.

Until next time…

Balance

Years ago a friend gave me a book with a most unfortunate title: You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson. Not a title that would have interested me, but as it was a gift I thought the least I could do is give it a quick skim…

For a time – before my friend gave me that book – I did strive toward ‘happiness’ as a life goal, but after failing time and again to reach that goal I realized there are times when ‘happy’ is not the best – or even a possible – response to certain situations. I didn’t want another book on how to be happy; I wanted to learn how to deal with the emotions I had. Turns out Carlson’s book was exactly what I wanted. The title is misleading but perhaps necessary; I think ‘being happy’ probably sells better than ‘finding balance’.

You wouldn’t know it if you met me now, but prior to reading Carlson’s book I’d been a terribly negative person, along the lines of ‘being depressed no matter what’. No more realistic but a whole lot easier to achieve than the opposite end of that spectrum. Now I am neither always negative nor always positive.

Balance is not ‘sad and sadder’ or ‘happy and happier’; it’s between those two, and it is certainly also not a matter of staying in the middle but of moving between the ends as the situation requires and as gracefully as possible. I often fall flat on my face, but at least now I know where my center is and how to regain my footing. Might take a while to get back up and moving, but I do eventually get there.

All of which is not just to say, Hooray! I’ve had two good weeks. This is definitely a trend, but … yeah. Hooray! Beyond that I would strongly recommend Carlson’s book to anyone who’s uncomfortable with the thought/emotion process and is looking for balance.

And that’s it for me today. Can’t promise I’ll be back soon, but ya never know.

 

 

Cycles, Revisited

The months following my last post were… wow. Really hard. Health issues flared up for weeks, and then the fatigue just hung on and on and on and and and…

I realized only recently that my two year depression-free streak had ended. Denied it for quite some time, but there it was. As I said before, this is part of my natural cycle; what made it so difficult to recognize was 1) I was (perhaps a bit overly) invested in keeping up my ‘streak’, and yet 2) I also wasn’t struggling with it like I always have before. That second reason is confirmation for me that my sense of self acceptance has gotten quite strong — although I declined to label it as depression, I did in fact recognize it as a ‘normal’ part of who I am.

There’s a fine line between acceptance and apathy, but over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at discerning when it was time for me to move on and start pushing myself forward again. Been doing that, gently, for about a month now. There have been good but still low energy days here and there, but yesterday I had an incredibly good day – physically and emotionally – and today’s the same. It’s too early to call it an upward trend, but … yeah. I can nudge myself in that direction and hope it’ll take.

Once I know for certain this is a trend and not just an isolated phenomenon, this is how I’ll feel:

Finally

Until then I will remain cautiously optimistic. If the fatigue (or a flare up) returns, at least I had a few very enjoyable days.

By the way, here’s what I listen to when I’m feeling productive:

My “Raucous Musics” Playlist

Have it playing – loudly – right now, in fact. It’s an eclectic collection of good beats and sometimes iffy lyrics. You’ve been warned. =-)

 

Cycles

I don’t change, so I grew.”

That is one of the most beautiful sentences I’ve read in a long time, written by a friend who is nearly four decades younger than me and who is going through processes at that young age that I didn’t even begin to go through until I was in my forties.

Wow, right?

Anyway… When I was young I was taught to hate myself, which is a very uncomfortable (painful) feeling. Pain prompts action, so from childhood I sought to improve myself – with very limited success. I put most of my effort into change, something akin to trying to ‘make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. I wasn’t able to take any real steps forward until I learned to accept myself as I am: Not inferior (as a sow’s ear is to silk) but different.

Accepting my differences was a good start, but then I had to ask myself, ‘different’ from what, exactly? Realized rather quickly that nothing is gained from comparing my self to social norms; it only served to invalidate what is ‘normal’ for me. Self discovery (and sometimes hilarity) ensued.

Which brings me to my point, finally: All of that which I am as a human being exists within the larger context of the physical universe, and specifically this Earth. I’ve found that the process of molding, shaping and growing is best done in harmony with my external surroundings. For example, as I’m writing this it’s winter, the coldest and darkest months of the year, when many living beings hibernate. For me that means introspection is the most valuable use of my energy, taking stock of who and what I am right now.

Which brings me to my other point: Taking a good look at the darker aspects of my being, I’ve learned that ‘dark’ is not equal to ‘bad’; they’re simply aspects of me that I don’t like or that I don’t yet understand. Grief, for example, is a ‘dark’ emotion, a natural response to loss. I certainly don’t like to feel grief, but I’ve found it’s much better to embrace the feeling, allow it to run its course, than to fight against it or ignore it. But. It’s also natural (at least it is for me) to try to bury those uncomfortable emotions, so winter is a great time to suss them out and deal with them. The process is nourishing in its own way.

Once that’s done, I can turn my attention toward where I want to go from here and in what ways I want to grow. It’s sort of like planning a garden: What seeds do I need to sew now in order to enjoy the harvest later? This gives me ample time to take stock of what ‘seeds’ I have on hand, which ones I need to obtain, and to plan on when I’ll plant them and in what parts of my ‘garden’.

Of course that’s the simplified version. Carry the metaphor a bit farther: There’s the rest of the yard that needs tending, plus repair and maintenance of the house, and so on. Most of those things are best considered and planned now so I’m ready to take action when the weather permits.

So. That’s where I’m at right now, still taking a good look at me. The seed sorting has begun in a peripheral way, but I’m not yet to the point of actually planning my garden just yet.

It would do me no good to become impatient, to try to sow seeds right now or to feel disgruntled over the lack of things to harvest at this time. Of course I DO become impatient and struggle with all that, but I can find my way back to balance, and as I become more mindful of this process the struggle becomes way more manageable.

In fact… in fact… after a lifetime of depression, I am now well into my second depression-free year, having (finally) learned to work with, not against, my own natural energy cycles and with those of the Earth’s seasons as well.

Yay me, huh?

Esoterica

In the last couple of weeks I’ve caught myself (aha!) internally arguing one point or another regarding things that bother me. Realized this was my brain’s way of looking for a topic to address here, which is one of things that really bother me about media in general and ‘news’ in specific, this tendency to focus on the negatives. They are, after all, more newsworthy. … Not really, but that’s the rationale behind it anyway. Having noted my own leanings in that direction, I have a better understanding of this trend. Still don’t like it.

Not enjoying how I feel when I’m forming arguments in my head, I’m gonna go ahead and talk about what’s good in my life. Or, put it this way, I’m not gonna talk about what’s ‘wrong’ with the world.

How ’bout I explain ‘pluralone’ for starters? I’ve used this name in various online communities, most of them centered on spirituality; it denotes *my concept of self — that I am more than just this mind and body and therefore one who is made of many layers: Plural one.

*As my spirituality will be the dominant theme of this blog I’d like to say up front that what I have found to be true in terms of spiritual reality may not be (certainly is not) true for everyone. I won’t even attempt to define spiritual reality for anyone other than myself; I’m just sharing my own experiences and the conclusions I’ve drawn from them.

That said, after those aforementioned ‘nightmare’ years (see my first post) I was utterly disconnected, mentally and emotionally removed from life in general, including my own thoughts, feelings and spirituality. Re-connection had been slow going until fairly recently. So here’s the good news: I’m back in touch with me, more so than before all that crud happened. I’m delightedly surprised; thought it’d take a lot more time and effort than it has.

The thing is, all that horrible stuff served me well in the long run; the experience was painful (major understatement) but … *sigh* it may sound trite but I learned a lot about myself and my spiritual reality even while I was disconnected from both. Go figure, huh?

And that’s all I’ll say today, except: In these weeks since my initial post here I’d been thinking that this was the wrong time of year to be starting something new. That’s not right, though. I can be pretty flaky at the best of times. I’d love to write on a weekly basis but I think that’s not a realistic goal. Right now suffice it to say I’ll write when I can.