Tag Archive | Buddha

Lighting the Unknown Path

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As I have said before, it is the “unknown” that is always more difficult than the knowing. The waiting. The wondering. The wandering… of the mind as it tries to grasp on to something concrete.

My last several months have been spent in this suspended state. First we found out that our home of 15 years was suddenly being sold and we had to, in weeks time, find a (hard sought after one story) home, apply for a mortgage (which had become a Big Scary Monster in our heads), sort and pack through years of our life and family “heirlooms,” find the means to buy (and fix up) said house, move and settle, the list goes on.

The only way I survived this process was JUST doing the next right thing.  Nothing more. My husband’s anxiety would reach new and alarming heights and I would have to remind us both, “okay, let’s take a breath. Now, forget ‘The List; ‘ what’s Just ONE Thing we can do in this moment?”

And you know what? One (baby!) step at a time, we walked our way right through the scary terrain of the unknown and into our brand new home.

These are the lessons and skills I so desperately need to remember to apply to my life now.

Because just when I thought I was leaving the path zig zagging through The Woods of Uncertainty, I fell into a Bog of Burdensome Worries! (Didn’t mean to go all Tolkien on you!).

I’ve known since fall that my body was heading into unknown territory again. It’s both a blessing and a curse that I am so in tune with my physical being after years of severe illness and trauma, that I can tell as soon as I start to go off-kilter.

This time, I knew somehing major was brewing.

So, instead of going to the doctors with these worries  (although I didn’t sugar coat my concerns at my appointments either), I turned to internal pep talks, such as: ” Hey, dear body of mine, I know you are giving me warning signs that you’re failing in new and different ways, but could you just please hold on until March? And then I promise I will attend to all of your needs with the upmost of care!”

That wasn’t too much to ask, was it? Guess it was!

Because my “gift” for Christmas Eve was to wake up without the use of both my legs. Totally and completely, from the hips down (yep, includes the bladder, too!). What fun!! For two days, I could  not walk and afterwards, I had complete numbness, like my legs had fallen asleep and could not be stomped, shakened or rubbed “awake.”

Yet, did I go to the hospital? Nah! I had a host of “good” excuses… “It’s the holiday; it’s a weekend” and the creme de la creme: ” I just don’t have time for this right now!”

So my body went from flashing yellow to a blaring red : STOP!!!!!

A little over a month ago, I was reading when half the page disappeared. No joke. I could only see half of every word. A very strange and scary experience. So I shook Dave awake with a, “Honey, I need to go to the ED.” Complete resignation. No questions anymore.

The details since don’t matter as much as the lessons I’ve learned. But in brief, I am in an even deeper state of limbo… not quite knowing the true cause of my weakness and Optic Neuritis (the partial blindness ) yet (MS? CIDP?) and therefore not able to receive the right treatment aside from high dose IV steroids to abate my symptoms.

So nothing left to do but Surrender. Wave the white flag of blind faith (literally this time!).

And to reach out for help. I already feel physically vulnerable, so why is it still so hard to completely crack open and be emotionally vulnerable, too?

If anything, this move was a great practice lesson. My husband is the first to open his door to others when they need a helping hand, but he latches every bolt when it comes to receiving help for his own needs. This time I didn’t let his fear of “not seeming like enough” dictate our choices and I threw open every door and window wide with a sign hung proudly, “HELP NEEDED WITHIN.”

And my friends and family showed up. They packed, they listened, they moved, they cleaned and scrubbed my new abode. All with a smile and an encouraging hug. No expectation of return payment.

This move would not have been possible without this team!

So why should my health be any different?! I need to throw out the old skipping records that get stuck on the refrains filled with shame. Shame over my diseases, over my needs and inability to “do it all” for myself; shame over what I used to be like vs what I am like now; shame over always needing more.

But, most of all: FEAR. Fear that I won’t be able to give back. But we all have our own gifts to offer to the world. And for a long while, mine were coming in the form of my words; of being completely vulnerable through my stories. Through sharing with others and having them, in turn, share with me.

But as soon as life became overly tangled, I stopped writing. Which essentially dammed up my River of Grace… the universal energy that flows into, through and out of me… on to you… connecting all of us on this divine journey of life. So that WE ARE NOT ALONE.

So I think of Buddha’s quote, “if you light a lamp for someone else, it will brighten your own path.” And it helps me remember that whenever someone “allows” me to help them, it always feels like I am the one receiving the gift!

So while my path is now being illuminated by the inner light and energy from other’s  (as I write a dear friend is coordinating meal help for us; fulfilled by those who know me and others who are doing so purely as a random act of kindness); I am holding out my own candle in hopes of lighting just one other’s dark path of the unknown.

There is so much going on beneath the surface of each of our lives.  Let’s look just a little deeper inside.

I know I’m grateful someone stopped and did so for me. All while holding a candle to help light my way, as I take just one next step forward along the path. For as long as I’m moving forward, I’m heading in the right direction.

Namaste.

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Calling All Angels

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Just over three weeks ago, I had emergency surgery to remove a non-functioning gallbladder (another “perk” of Polychondritis, my main autoimmune disease. Yea!). My husband couldn’t help but announce repeatedly that this was now my 15th surgery in 7 years’ time(!).

The surgery went fairly well as did my initial recovery. After re-learning to walk post a 5 day epidural (I swear, I now know what Bambi feels like on those wobbly legs!), I was happily released.

After my 10 day hospital stay, I was only home for 3 days, when I suddenly developed a hot, sharp and stabbing pain in my abdomen. A same-day CT scan showed a very large small bowel obstruction and I was promptly sent to the ED, to await transfer to the inpatient unit.

This time, my stay was Hell.

It began with the placement of a nasal-gastric (NG) tube. I have always said this is the worst procedure I’ve ever undergone (and that’s saying a lot, considering all I’ve been through!). But this time was even worse. The main disease process of Polychondritis is the destruction of cartilage in my body, most prominently in my chest, ears, and nose. I already knew that the cartilage damage in my right nostril was so pronounced, it was effectively “closed for business.” And I clearly stated to the attending surgeon that only a pediatric sized tube would fit in my left nostril. Yet, she insisted in trying larger sizes first.

The doctor quickly learned that I knew my nose better than her, and had to use the smallest tube possible. Now, I don’t know a single person that feels “okay” about having an NG tube placed, so surgeons are used to complaints regarding this procedure. What they didn’t take into account was my personal history. The pain was beyond excruciating. The only way I can think of describing it is; it felt like someone had first taken a hammer to my nose, shattering the bones, and then commenced to insert (shove) a tube up my nostril, while asking me to drink water through a straw, drawing the tube down my throat and into my stomach.

This was the first time I felt “my light” go out. I felt like my Soul Beacon had been 1-blown-out-candle-michal-boubinsnuffed. I was drowning in pain and couldn’t tell the surface from the bottom.

My husband bore witness to this, and stated later that he saw the moment I let go. The moment my eyes went dull and blank. I would have done anything to make the pain stop. I was ready to trade my life for this relief.

Having these very deep visceral feelings scared the heck out of me. I started to question whether I had the strength to continue this battle being waged inside my body, with no foreseeable end. Slowly I began to fight again, to refuel my Soul Beacon from the exchange of light, love and energy with others. But I still felt dim; like my light could once again blow out with the slightest of breezes.

That breeze came a few days later when my body started to shut down. I had uncontrollable shakes, deep abdominal pain, unrelenting migraines, and spasms traveling from head to foot. I couldn’t focus on anything. There were none of my normal reprieves of drawing or writing, or reading, or even watching T.V. All I could do was lie there, writhing in agony.

I felt myself slipping away. It felt like I had one foot in this world and one in the realm beyond. One breathe from the universe, and I would blow away. Forever.

Without words, my family could tell. My husband and mother put up a barricade around me, keeping visitors away, while silently standing guard. They didn’t complain of hours spent entertaining themselves while I slipped in and out of consciousness.

And then one day, a dear friend of mine showed up unexpectedly for a visit. I whispered a request for Reiki. And while sending me healing energy, she also received messages in return:

angel of light 2She leaned close to me and told me that everything was going to turn out the way it was supposed to; that I could let go (and let God, so to speak). Then she passed on the most remarkable message: “As I have told you before, you are surrounded by angels, spirit guides and light beings that love and protect you. But this time, I felt something even deeper. There is one angel that has wrapped themselves around your entire body. They are protecting you and encasing you in love. They are only waiting for you to call on them for help and support. Use this angel. Ask for their guidance and protection.”

And with that, she left.

I was overwhelmed. If I let go, would that be letting go of this body, of this lifetime? Or would the act of letting go release the tension and stress I felt over having to “keep up the fight?” Could I truly trust in my angels and guides to take care of me, to lead me in whatever direction the Universe had planned for me?

I chose the latter, to trust in this intuitive message my friend passed on. It took me a bit to even find the strength to ask for help. But eventually I did. And that’s when the miracles started to happen.

The nurses discovered that my sugars had dropped so low, I was partially going into diabetic shock. And after several bags of sugar water being pumped into me, I started to recover. Another nurse ordered me an air bed that softy pillowed my inflamed joints. And the doctors finally reinstated my medication regimen that treats my autoimmune conditions (stopped out of fear of effecting the recovery rate post-surgery), most significantly providing infusions of steroids. My body started responding in kind.

But, even more remarkably: I embraced my angel back. I called on the energies that swirled around me for support and protection. And I began to feel like I was wrapped in a quilt of love. A quilt that hugs my body, wherever I go.

I don’t think it matters what your particular religious or non-religious beliefs are. Words like “angels,” “spirit guides,” and even “God,” don’t need to be defined. They can mean something entirely different for each person. For me, they all come down to energy. I don’t believe that when we die, all of ourselves just disappear. We are made up of many charged particles. So our physical bodies may fail us and be sent back to the Earth (to be recycled and revived), but our energy, or our “soul,” stays active. For some, they may find comfort in the idea of Heaven. For me, I truly don’t know. But I do know that I have felt the energy of loved ones passed surround me at many moments in my life. They have sustained me, they have pushed me, and they have caught me when I’ve stumbled. But, most of all, they have saved me. They brought me back from the brink of death 7 years ago, when my colon first ruptured. And they brought me back this time, when my mind and body was too fatigued to continue the fight on its own.

And that’s the key: even when we feel alone, we are not. We don’t have to face life’s challenges all by ourselves. Each one of us has an army of angels, light beings, and spirit guides just waiting to be called upon.

All it takes is a little prayer or meditation. Picture yourself surrounded with light and love. Feel the energy of the universe travel from without to within and out again. We are not stagnant beings, each one of us has a River of Grace flowing with our life force within us. Some believe this river is fed by God, others Buddha or Allah, or a Higher Power. For me, it is not an entity I can name. I choose to call my source God. But my God is not an omnipotent being, it is a mass of swirling light and energy that flows around all of us. Most often, my God wears skin, as a messenger of hope.

Each day I pray to have my eyes, ears, heart and soul open to receiving the gifts and messages from God and the Universe. This way I don’t miss the miracles when they come my way.

Because of this practice, I was able to see God in the form of my friend’s words as she asked me to trust in and use my Guardian Angel.

And even a skeptic cannot argue with the outcome. Because here I am just one week later, at home and recovering, with the energy to share my story with you.

Will I be able to weather another wave of physical assault on my already ailing body? I don’t know. But, that’s the key; I don’t have to know. All I have to do is trust in the universe to provide for me, whatever comes my way. My goal is to spread this message of hope and faith to others, so that collectively, we have the energy to face life’s challenges.

What challenges are you facing today that you could call on your angels or guides to help you navigate? All it takes is closing your eyes, taking a couple of deep cleansing breaths, and then, just… asking.
What have you got to lose by trying?!

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Breathing in the Now

Present moment

I was asked recently: “How do you stay so calm and in the present moment throughout all your health scares?”  This inquiry came from a dear friend who is filled with future worries over a loved one who may have cancer.  I include words like “future” and “may” on purpose.  Because upon reflection, I realize that this is the key to my acceptance, and subsequent serenity.

I must keep my mind in the present moment at all times.

This is a mindful practice. And as the word “practice” implies, it takes concentrated effort to maintain.  But with practice and time, it becomes more natural; like a form of breathing.

Breathing in the NOW.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to keep my mind, body and spirit in the here and now; neither fretting about the past nor worrying about the future…

SPIRITUALITY: The next question my friend asked was regarding to my spiritual health… “Is this what makes you so strong?” she wondered.  I’ve thought a lot on this. My immediate response was to explain that although I am deeply spiritual today, it was not always this way; especially during the throes of my most severe illness.  But, I was wrong.  Although it is true that my spirituality has only grown over the years and I can now comfortably say I believe in a Higher Power, an Energy that is greater than myself, there was always a spiritual trust deep in my soul…

TRUST: A trust that everything would (and will) work out the way it is supposed to be.  I can’t define what this is and nor should I (this is where I can get into trouble!).  But I do have an unexplained knowing.  And that “knowing” is the faith that I am going to die not on my time clock, but on the Universe’s.  And although that may sound scary, it can actually be very freeing.  Because once you let your mind release the worry of when you’re going to die, or get sick, or come upon hard times, you can focus on the HOW:

THE HOW: How am I going to live today to the fullest extent of my spirit?  What steps am I going to take to: nurture my mind, body and spirit; reach out to others instead of isolate; strengthen my relationship with my spiritual base (whether it is God, Buddha, the Universe, or the trees); show myself all the love I deserve; and reach out to others in need?..

SERVICE:  One of the best ways I have always found for getting outside of my own insular world of worry is to reach out to others.  This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve heard me sing this song!  Being of service to someone else (stranger or loved one) not only gets me out of my own head, it uplifts my soul, recharging my internal energy source, my Soul Beacon. And, let’s be completely honest here: there is always someone who has it tougher than you right now.  It’s important to keep that perspective!

IN THE NOW:  There are many techniques I use to keep my mind in the present… I will repeat the mantra “I have arrived” over and over while holding my hand on my heart.  I will use a God Jar (you can name it anything you want); this is a container where I write down my worries and place them inside.  Then when those worries resurface in my mind, I gently remind myself, “Oh, Tam!  You already sent that to the universe/God; you don’t need to worry about that anymore.  It’s taken care of.”

CONTINGENCY PLANS:  Stop making them!!!  I was master of this for so many years, and all it did was exhaust me!  I would figure out all the “possible future outcomes” and then come up with (several) contingency plans for each scenario.  But, you know what?  90% of the time my future would unfold completely different than anything I had “prepared” myself for.  So I would still have to fly by the seat of my pants, in the moment; but my mind would be so fatigued from all the ruminations, I wouldn’t have the energy to successfully face what was in the here and now.  Then, one day I just stopped!  And, you know what?  If I am doing all the above things to take care of myself on a daily basis, I can always find the tools to help me with whatever comes my way. And my life, my spirit, is much calmer because of it.

I realized all the anxiety I was feeling on a daily basis was self- created.  I decided to get off my own Merry-Go-Round of Hell (cue Twilight Zone music…).  You can, too!

STOP WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP:  I thought that if I was always waiting for something bad to happen, I wouldn’t be caught off guard (disappointed, disheartened) when it did.  Yes, my life is constantly dropping shoes on my head!  But, all that waiting did was create a stress-filled environment where I was inviting trouble.  We attract what we expect!  So, I started expecting differently.  And because I stopped looking to the sky for these impending “bombs,” I am now able to recognize and celebrate all the calm days between the storms.

STOP ASKING “WHY ME?” AND START ASKING “WHAT NEXT?!:” Truly, there is no answer to the question “Why?”  I can’t tell you how many times loving friends have lamented, “Why you?  I just don’t understand why the nicest people get the hardest lives?”  I don’t know either.  But all this question does is create an environment of self-pity.  And when I am stuck in self-pity mode, I can’t see all the amazing gifts that have come out of my illness.  I’m not saying it’s all “unicorns and rainbows” here! But, I do know that in any situation, be it physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, inter-relational… the only question that serves me is: “What next?”  What am I going to do with the hand that is dealt me?  How am I going to make this Situation serve me?  What skills do have to get through this?  And who do I know that can help me?

Once I move beyond victim mode, into action mode, I am living in the present moment.  AND, FOR ME, THAT’S THE ONLY PLACE I WANT TO BE!

“I Have Arrived. I Am Home.”

white lotus by Tamara P.These three simple words have changed my life dramatically.  I first came across this straightforward mantra: “I have arrived” in a novel by Paulo Coelho.  In this compelling text, he discusses using it daily as a reminder that each of us, in each moment of our day, is exactly where we belong.  “Let go of the idea that the path will lead you to the goal. The truth is that with each step we take, we arrive. Repeat that to yourself every morning: ‘I’ve arrived.’” (The Witch of Portobello).  I followed this suggestion and now use it as a tool at the end of my morning prayers-reflection-meditation.  I pause, take a deep breath, open up my arms to the world, palms up and say, “I’ve Arrived!”  I say it with gusto.  I say it with conviction.

I didn’t begin this practice feeling overly confident about these three words.  Could they really make that much of a difference?  But, at the same time, I realized that it couldn’t harm anything by trying.  Now, after some 40 odd days of this daily practice, I can see that it has clearly made a difference.  It is a not so subtle reminder that my only “job” is to be fully present in each moment.  We’ve all heard this before, in one form or another.  But it’s an abstract concept, one that’s difficult to grasp in the rush of everyday living.  They are words that can easily be said, but are not often truly felt.  I have now crossed this barrier and in doing so, have developed a deep desire to share this technique with others.  I encourage you to try it, even if you feel silly or cynical.  What do you have to lose by giving it a go?

The concept behind the mantra “I’ve arrived” is a deceptively simple one.  By stating these words, you bring yourself, mind, body and spirit back to the present.  It’s almost impossible not to.  In the beginning, it may only be for that one moment after the words leave your lips.  But after repetition, those moments become minutes and then hours, until this thought fills your days.  I now find myself walking through life with an inner smile; I feel like I have my own little secret.   And when I find my mind drifting into the future (which it naturally will do) I remind myself to repeat the mantra, “I have arrived.”  I think there is a key in repetition; in not changing the words or the format, always repeating the same mantra until it becomes your own calling card.

As I was sharing my “revelation” with a friend, she said she was familiar with this practice, but from a different source: Thich Nhat Hanh.  I researched this and discovered he takes this process a little deeper and incorporates it into the daily activity of walking.  He speaks of walking meditation as a way to connect body and soul with the here and now. Through intentional, mindful walking, “We generate peace within our body, our consciousness. We embrace and heal the pain, the sorrow, the fear in us, and that is the ground for helping peace to be a reality in the world.”  He takes two natural processes; walking and breathing and adds a third element, the mindful mantra.  His suggestion is to measure your breaths to your gait, pacing as such; breathe in, take three steps; breathe out, take three steps.   As you get the rhythm going, add these two mantras:  on the inhale: “I… Have… Arrived.”  And on exhale:  “I… Am… Home.”  But what does this all mean you may be wondering.  By saying “I’ve arrived,” you are reminding yourself that you have arrived in the here and now, the only time where life is fully available to you, which is you one true home.  I like to think of it as bring my soul home.  And whenever I think of the word “home”, I think of solace, peace, comfort, and love.  This is the gift you are giving yourself.

This practice, in just over one month, has helped me with my fears and anxiety with my physical pain and mental burdens.  If I have already arrived, then I have nothing to worry about!  The future doesn’t matter, as long as with each step, or each breath I take on this earth, I arrive.  I am naturally going in the direction I am meant to be.  I am keeping my focus and attention ”where my feet are.”  And my feet are always right there, in my present space and time.   The Buddha said, “the past is already gone and the future is not yet here.”  Thich Nhat Hanh likes to remind us that we have an appointment to keep with our life and that appointment takes place in the present.  When we separate ourselves from the present, by either dwelling in the past or projecting into the future, we create a space (a chasm, really) between ourselves and the here and now.  This “space” fills up with fear, pain, anger, grieving, and despair.  But when we bring ourselves back, to live fully in the now, we fill up that space with peace.

“I have arrived.  I am home.”

As these words become practice, you may want to add more lines to the mantra, just one line at a time.   There is no hurry.  We’ve all spent many years far away from “home,” now that you’ve arrived and come back to your Soul Home, there is no rush.  Time is endless.

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh