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Day 171 “The Big Tree”

A Guided Visualization

Sit somewhere comfortable, with your feet touching the floor, and your spine as straight as possible.

Turn off any distractions- cellphone, t.v., radio, etc.  Instrumental music, especially nature sounds could help, otherwise opt for silence.

Let your eyes go soft, focusing only on the words before you, but letting everything else blur into the background.

Follow your breath in, pause, and then slowly let it go.  Pause again before taking the next breath.  Continue to focus on your breathing until it has calmed to a slow, deep intake and exhale.

Listen for the beating of your heart.  Let your breath and heartbeat become the signals to keep you on track.  If you lose focus, find them again, and continue.

Imagine you are standing in the middle of green, open space, on a beautiful warm, sunny day.  Close your eyes if you need to and see the vibrant colours that surround you.  What do you see?

As you breath, imagine you can smell the freshness of the air, the sweet aroma of the grass.  Is there a hint of flowers in the air?

Listen, or remember, the sounds of nature.  What does it sound like?

Do you have tastes you associate with this scene?  Memories from carefree summer days?

Feel the earth below your feet.   Imagine the warmth of the sun on your skin, and a gentle breeze caressing you.

Now bring your awareness to a big, old tree not far from where you are standing.  Bring the tree closer until you are standing under its branches and can reach out and touch the bark, feeling its roughness.  Imagine you stand with your back to the tree, leaning into it.  What would it feel like to let this tree fully support you?  Can you feel its strength?  Be with the tree a moment and let yourself relax more deeply.  Give over all your stress and burdens.

As you surrender, imagine that you can feel the life pulse of the tree.  Imagine you hear it as a heartbeat and that your heart beat are one.

Now allow yourself to become the tree.

As you breath, notice that you have roots that extend deep into the earth.  Breath into them, feeling the cool soil and nutrients that nourish you.  Breath deep into the knowing that the earth supports you, that you part of a larger eco-system.  Notice how your roots make you feel grounded and fully present.

Notice also that you have branches that reach up towards the sky and bend with the breezes.  Remember that you change with the seasons, sometimes letting go and sometimes blossoming, sometimes basking in the glory of your fullness.  Notice how this knowledge feels in your body.

As the tree, find your center:  the place that feels both grounded and expansive; strong yet calm; rooted with heightened awareness.  Breathe into this center and feel the energy flow outward, to the tips of your roots and branches.

Spend as much time as the tree as you need, and when you are ready, bring that feeling of centeredness back with you.

To return to normal consciousness, become aware once again of your breathing.  Follow it in and out.  Then feel your body in the chair and your feet on the ground.  Slowly begin to move your fingers, your feet, your head, until you feel yourself returning – refreshed and renewed.

Note:  The image of the tree as a tool for centering comes from Dora Kunz’s teaching.  Dora says once we have mastered the visualization, it is easy to recreate the feeling just by looking at a tree.

 

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Day 170 “Elimination”

“I’ll have the summer berry salad without the candied pecans and dressing on the side please.”

Yes, I am one of those.

The candied pecans have gluten which I have eliminated from my diet.  The cheese is goat, so I can eat that, as opposed to cow’s milk, which I cannot.  I have also eliminated meat.

“I think your problem is that you don’t eat meat,”  my friend Petra says.  “You need the protein.”

Not eating meat is a choice that I made years ago, because I was finding it hard to digest.  “My naturopath says meat and dairy create inflammation in the body.  I quit because of my fibromyalgia.”

“But you still get sick after eating! You should see a proper doctor.”

“I’ve been going to doctors about my health problems for years.  All they do is prescribe medicine that my body rejects.  Doctors don’t appreciate the relationship between food and health. It’s not part of their education.”

“Well, something is wrong.”

I don’t disagree with her there, and I know others get frustrated by my choices, but I also know my own body and it is even more frustrating when I get sick after eating.

“You’re not celiac, are you?”

“No, I am not.  After my last colonoscopy, the doctor said I have an inflamed bowel, or IBS.  I took myself off gluten after reading about it.  It has made a huge difference, and when I do eat something with even a little bit in it, I know it.”

“Well, I think you should be talking to someone who knows.”

Petra and I can never agree on my diet.  I am also allergic to shellfish, coffee, melon and alcohol.  It makes dining out a challenge.

Today’s reflection, in The Joy of Tao Every Day, by Derek Lin, is about the dangers of elimination and black and white thinking.  Lin is referring more to ideals, and psycho-babble, but it got me thinking about my relationship to food, and wondering if this could be part of the riddle of my ongoing battle with weight.

When I was a kid, my stay-at-home mom spent her days in the kitchen, cooking and baking.  Everyday I would return home from school to find fresh baked cookies, muffins, and usually a pie or cake.  There was no limit to the sweets we consumed in that house.  Ice cream was another favourite in our home.  I loved ice cream so much, I remember thinking I would die if I couldn’t eat it.

At the same time, I suffered from severe allergies as a child.  A trail of balled up kleenexes trailed me everywhere, and a constant runny nose and puffy eyes earned me the nickname, Snickers.  Summer was the worst, and back to school always an embarrassment.  I asked my allergist once if he thought there was a connection between what I ate and my affliction, but he said not likely.

Then as a young mother, I stumbled upon alternative medicine and attended a conference at which my seat mate was an allergist.  A maverick, he called himself.  He believed that food had everything to do with allergies, and suggested I try an elimination diet.  I went one step further and found someone who could do alternative allergy testing.  Bingo!  I eliminated the foods that he pinpointed and immediately improved, which was wonderful, but I had to give up my beloved ice cream.

Elimination of foods has not been easy, nor has it been fun.  Food is at the center of most cultural and social experiences, so participating for me is not as simple.  It is yet another way in which I feel left out, or outcast.

I have been questioning, in my most recent posts, the role that food plays in my life, and why it is so difficult to not overindulge.

I suspect, for me, it has to do with all the limitations I feel.  Eating was the one area as a child that I didn’t experience constraint.  Eating was reward, comfort, indulgence, and satisfaction.  Do I overeat now to try to recreate those feelings?  Is it the little girl in me that needs that reassurance?  And if so, is there another way I can give it to her, because the adult me feels awful after indulging in junk.

Lin writes:  “absolutes are impossibilities, while moderation is the practical reality.”

Moderation.  I like that word.  I also like the concept.  Forced to eliminate so much from my diet already, maybe what’s needed is an agreement to practice moderation instead of what feels like further deprivation.

 

 

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Day 169 “Intention and Results”

Every so often, life has a way of taking over, and sending me spinning off balance.  These are the times where I reset goals in an attempt to regain equilibrium.

Now would be one of those times.

So I take inventory and line up my priorities once again:

1.  To work 90 minutes per day.  (Even though I am still technically on holidays, a teacher’s workload is intense, so I can always work.  Here, I am trying to minimize it so it doesn’t take over.)

2.  To spend 60 minutes per day writing.  ( I see writing as a luxury because I do it mostly for self-serving reasons, therefore; I tend to undervalue it and it is the first to go.)

3.  30 minutes of exercise per day.

4.  Choosing to eat healthy foods that support my well-being.

Number four is the clincher.  I have some food allergies and a lot of sensitivities, so eating properly becomes really important for my health.  Why then, is this goal so difficult to keep?

The intent is good, but what is it about food that makes it so difficult to control?  If I had the answer, I would be rich, especially in this age of health and weight consciousness.

Yesterday, for example, I ate a healthy breakfast, and an equally satisfying lunch, and had planned my dinner ahead of time.  I ended up being out longer than I expected, and felt the temptation to grab something “snackish” to fill in the gap, but I managed to hang on till dinner.  Then the cravings started.  I wanted something sweet to compliment dinner – a habit that dates back to childhood.  So I ate the remainder of a chocolate loaf.  I didn’t stop there.  I had an errand to run and thought about stopping to pick up a chai tea latte, overlooking the fact that I had eaten dessert.  I talked to myself about my goal, and settled on coming home and making a low-fat latte.  I enjoyed my treat, and felt sated, but then remembered that there were potato chips in the cupboard.  I convinced myself that a bowl of chips was better than eating from the bag, but of course, I wanted more.  I was far from hungry at this point.

The resulting indigestion and inability to settle down for a good night’s sleep was not a new experience.  Neither was telling myself that I won’t do that again!

The results speak for themselves.  As much as I want to think I am conscientious about what I eat, I remain overweight.

What is the food replacing? I ask myself.  What function is it serving?

A number of things come to mind.  First, I am an emotional eater.  I eat when I am upset, but I also eat when I am happy, especially if I have accomplished something and am proud of myself, such as keeping on track for an entire day.  It is easy to see where this habit derives from by watching my grandchildren.  Food is an easy way to console and celebrate.  I have no doubt that is how my mother handled me.

Sometimes I eat to suppress needs.  Now this is getting personal, but because of Thor’s condition, there has been no sexual intimacy for some time, yet the urge remains for me.  Potato chips have been my go to food when feeling lonely for a long time.  I know it, but still go there.

Overeating creates a cycle that is difficult to break.  I feel good about myself, I self sabotage, I eat junk, I feel bad and indulge more.

There is also the problem I wrote about the other day:  instant gratification vs long-term gain.

I have no self-control in the instant.  If there are no chips in the house, I can usually talk myself out of the need for them, but if they are on hand, I have no self-control.

Why is it so difficult to shift my focus to long-term gain?  Herein lies the complication.   In order to be able to commit to something in the distance, I have to be able to believe in the future.  (Boy, this is tough stuff!)  Truth is I stopped believing in the future a long time ago.  I have chosen, instead, to live for the moment.  That way, I have convinced myself, I won’t have as many disappointments.

As a child of parents who were never able to follow through with promises, I first learned the pain of disappointment, but it didn’t end when I left home.  I chose partners and built relationships that repeated the pattern.  And then I took over.  I proved again and again to myself that there is no gain in setting my sights on the future.  The future is too intangible and unpredictable.

What I failed to tell myself is that not all of the future is foreseeable or predictable, but planning ahead (in the moment) can help prepare the way.  Choosing not to eat those chips in each moment helps secure a healthier self in the long run.  Eating the chips, conversely, will ensure that my goal is never met.

If I ever hope to see results from my intentions, I will need a new, and responsible attitude.

 

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Day 168 “Hidden Messages”

“I’m not as smart as you.  I’d probably be okay if I was smarter.”

“That’s not true, Mai!  You are very smart.”

“Do you really think so?”

My sister and I were doing dishes after supper.  I had come to visit parents and Mai, who lived just upstairs from my parents’ apartment, joined us.  Mai is paranoid schizophrenic.

“You got 96% in your nursing program.  Intelligence is not your problem.  You have a mental illness.  That is different.”

“I did, didn’t I?  I used to be a good nurse.”

“I’m sure you were.”

Mai would attempt to take her life at least once a year, resulting in the eventual loss of her job, and much of her independence.

“Do you want me to do the washing?  You must be tired.”  Mai set down her dishtowel and backed away from the sink.

“I am just fine.  We are almost done.”
“You’re probably just tired.”  Mai removed herself from the kitchen area of the apartment and sat down.

I realized in the that moment that it was actually Mai who was tired, but somehow, she was unable to articulate that, so she projected her feelings onto me.  It was an aha moment for me, and explained much of Mai’s behaviour.  I would notice it when we went out together.  If she would suggest that I was hungry, cold, or whatever, it really meant that she was.

“Mai is unable to speak directly to whatever is bothering her,”  I explained to my Mother later on.  “So we can’t take what she says at face value.”

“It must be part of her illness,”  my Mother deduced.

I agreed at the time, but then it became apparent to me that my Mother did the same thing.  Her hidden messages were not as easy to detect.

“How can you keep a husband and work full-time?”  she might ask me, which I would take as criticism.  Or, she would say:  “You were out having lunch with a friend, what about your husband and children?  What did they do for lunch?”  Such statements would grate on my nerves, until I decided not to take them personally and investigate what she was really saying.

“Did you ever want to work outside the home, Mom?”

“Oh, I would have loved to, but your father wouldn’t let me.  A woman’s place is in the home.  When I did go to work, it was only after I threatened to leave, but he never liked it.”

My Mother’s seemingly judgmental comments were actually expressions of regret for the limitations she felt in her own life.  Apart from not being allowed to work outside the home, my Mother also didn’t cultivate any personal friendships.  “My children are all I need,”  she would say.

My family, I came to understand, are masters at hiding the truth.  It warranted a look at my own behaviours and communications.

I am highly skilled in convincing myself that immediate gratification far outweighs longterm gain, thus my ongoing issues with weight (or should I spell that wait?).  Put a high calorie, non-nutritious snack in front of me, and I will go for it everytime – hungry or not.  I convince myself that I deserve this, or I’ll be good tomorrow, or that it’s just this one time, all of which are lies.  Thor is my co-consipirator in this process.  We support each other’s need to overindulge.

So what, I have ask myself, is the hidden message behind this behaviour?  And if I am to get honest with myself, what will that look like?

Clearly, I have work to do.

 

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Day 167 “We are one”

My first journal was a flip-the-page, week-at-a-glance calendar that my father gave me when I visited his office.  I kept it hidden under my mattress and wrote while huddled in my safe spot, between my bed and the wall.  I must have been six or seven because the sentences are very basic and I hadn’t learned cursive writing yet.  Most entries are one sentence:  Dad mad at mom.  Got an A on spelling.  Visited cousins today.

This rudimentary diary was enough to get me hooked, and then I started asking for proper ones.  Ones with little keys that I could lock, to safeguard my thoughts.

As the length of my entries grew, so too did my emotional expression.  At eight, I wrote about unfairness, and my growing anger at injustice.  Mostly, it was expressed like this:  Tommy said girls can’t play baseball.  Beat him up.  Got to play.  Leslie always gets picked first for everything.  Told the teacher that wasn’t right.  She let me go first.

The pattern that emerges through those young years is one of increasing isolation, as I discovered that I really didn’t fit in the world.  Time spent alone, and writing, increases.

At twelve, I get excused from regular English lessons to work on a novel.  Writing overtakes my life, and becomes such an intimate companion that I let go of the need for external friends.  I have stopped trying to fight my way into acceptance, and resigned myself to the fact that few people want to be friends with a nerd like me.

The summer of my fourteenth birthday, I learn that my father is a cross-dresser, and somehow I think that the world can tell by looking at me.  I start sitting at the back of the classroom, and journaling instead of taking notes.  My grades slide, but I discover the power of poetic expression.  I am a loner.

I never speak of what I have learned, but trying to process the information will be the topic of many entries for years to come.  Into adulthood, my daily writing consumes pages and pages, and I have now switched to three ring notebooks.  I have boxes of notebooks, labelled “Mom’s Crap” by my children.  I take them with me on every move: a piece of my soul not yet revealed.

It has only been in the past year and a half that I have ventured to share my writing with an audience, albeit unknown, through blogging.  Recently, I have received responses, and visited other blog sites, and to my delight, I have discovered that I am not alone.  There is a whole community of therapeutic writers like myself.  We write because we have to, because it is our passion, and our lifeline.

The internet has given us the opportunity to break through the barriers of our self-imposed isolation and helped us uncover commonality.

In the greater scheme of things, we are, after all, all one.

abuse · Family · mental-health · nonfiction · recovery

Choosing Self Love

The day was sickly hot, and my allergies were bugging me.  I just wanted to hunker down in the corner of my room and lose myself in a good book, but when I tried the back door, it was locked.  I knocked.  No response.  I knocked harder and longer.

The door swung open angrily, and my oldest sister yelled for me to get lost, slamming it in my face.

I knocked again, more persistently.

She opened again hissing at me:  “Seriously, V.J.!  You need to stay away, or Mom will kill herself.”

“But it’s hot and I don’t feel well.  Please let me come in.”

“No way!  Mom can’t handle anything else.”  She slammed the door again.  I heard the lock slide into place.  I slumped down on the step, thinking over what she had said.  Was it really possible for me to be the cause of my mother’s suicide?  The rest of the family, save for my Dad, were inside.  I was the only one locked out.  Was I really that bad of a kid?

That was the day I learned that I could be responsible for another person’s well-being.  I wasn’t yet eight years of age.

* * *

“I am not a very good daughter,”  I explained to the therapist I had been seeing.  I was thirty-seven and having difficulty with my own daughter, so I sought help.

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, I upset my mother and she hasn’t spoken to me for a week.”

“You think you are that powerful?”

“Pardon me?”

“You actually believe that you can influence how someone feels?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way.  “You mean, my mother’s reaction is out of my control?”

“Exactly.”

* * *

“My husband tends not to look after himself when I am away.”

“And how does that make you feel?”

Eighteen years later and I am back in therapy again.  Situational anxiety and depression is the diagnosis.  I feel like I have regressed.

“Guilty.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, if I was home I know he would be cared for.”

“So you are responsible for his choices?”

“No….well…..I guess that is what I am saying.  Shit!  How do I let this go?!”

“You will not always agree with the choices that your husband makes, but you can at least let him have responsibility for them.”

“That makes sense, so why is it so difficult for me?”

“It’s really about control.  Somehow you believe that if you can control the other person’s behaviour, then everything will be all right.  It never works, of course, but it’s a product of growing up in an out-of-control family environment.  It’s part of being a people pleaser.”

I thought I had dealt with all this years ago, and said so.

“The subconscious tries to heal those parts of self that are still wounded, so it repeats patterns.  The secret is in re-parenting yourself.  This need for control is a reflection of a childhood need that wasn’t met.”

“Like the part of me that thought she was responsible for my mother’s suffering?”

“Yes.  As an adult now, you need to offer that little person a different perspective.  What would you tell that little girl now?”

“Well, I would sit down on that porch step with her and explain that whatever her mother was going through was not her fault.  I would tell her that her sister was coping with a bad situation, and that it was not related to her behaviour.  None of it was her fault.”

“That is a good start.  Can you see anything else that the child might be missing in this scenario?”

“Caring for.  I was hot and tired and needed shelter.  I probably needed some comfort too.”

“So how will you give that to her?”

I think this over.  Am I good at looking after myself?  Occasionally, but not always.  “Why is looking after myself so difficult?”

“You tell me.”

I look back at the little girl locked out of her house, and I suddenly know.

“She doesn’t think she deserves to have her needs met,”  I realize.  “I still don’t think my needs matter.  Others are always more important.”

“So who should you be responsible for?” the therapist asks gently.

“Me.  And her.  She needs me to take care of us.”

“Can you do that?”

“It’s the only choice that makes sense.”

(Image: hdimagelib.com)

Humour · mental-health · nonfiction · spirituality

Bathroom Inspirations

“Meditation will open whole new worlds for you,”  the psychic proclaimed.

“I know nothing about it.  How do I start?”  I was really just being polite.  Dragged to this session unwittingly – I thought we were going to be playing euchre – I didn’t want to burst my friends’ bubbles by telling them how skeptical I was.

“It’s really very simple.  Find a place and time where you know you won’t be interrupted, clear your mind, and focus on the center of your being.”

Really simple.  I decided to try it, since the woman had said a few things that hit home.  Maybe she was right about this too.

Step one turned out to be a problem.  I was twenty-eight years old, and pregnant with baby number three.  Finding a consistent time and place to practice meditation was a challenge.  If and when the girls did nap at the same time, I would use those moments to do laundry, prepare a meal, or try to catch a few winks myself.

“Make time,”  she had insisted when I told her about my busy schedule.  “It is up to you.”

I felt so inadequate as a spiritual being, and at the same time driven to prove I could do it.  I grabbed every minute of solitude that I could find.  I would learn to practice the art at the drop of a hat.  I would become super meditator.

The psychic was right.  I had profound revelations, and discovered a new source of wisdom from within.  It was amazing.

“Doing it in the same place, and at the same time, communicates your intent to the subconscious, unleashing the inner wisdom,”  she had explained.

It was true.  With practice, every time I went to my meditation place I would experience that connection, and sometimes even without seeking it, insights would flow.

Then one day, an amazing thing happened.  I was out for lunch with a business associate and we were trying to figure out a mutual problem.  Neither one of us could find a solution, until I excused myself and went to the Ladies’ room.

Clarity overcame me before I could even flush the toilet, and as I excitedly revealed the answer to my colleague, I marveled at how easily the idea came to me……in the bathroom…..the same place where I practiced meditation at home.

It seems that my subconscious mind is not particular about which bathroom I use.  Now I experience inspiration when nature calls.