Sweet Surrender

Sweet Surrender

It is a natural reflex for all living beings to want to get away from pain, and for those who are faced with daily chronic pain, it becomes an ongoing struggle to get free from its grip. As we juggle medication, nutrition, supplements and every possible way to make our life bearable, we become frustrated and often discouraged when the aching is relentless. Well-intended people give us all sorts of advice from practicing yoga to taking a walk or a bath with Epsom salts. We do all that if we can, and much, much more! Pain management is our daily fare and I daresay we become experts at it.

And still, in those dark and lonely moments, the Dragon raises its ugly head and pushes us to the limit of what we feel able to endure. It was in one of those distressing flares that I discovered, much to my astonishment, a wonderfully simple way to make the pain fade away. I know it sounds too good to be true but I came across this and tried it out of sheer desperation. I had been having horrible headaches for which I have strong medication that, after a week, starts to give me serious stomach issues and this time, it got to the point where whatever I took for the pain just was not working. I’m used to hurting, but this bout knocked me out flat.

I lay in bed for days. Cried a lot. Could barely eat. I prayed. I listened to my guided relaxation and meditation, put ice on my head, rubbed-in peppermint or lavender oil. Nothing worked! As I was lying there, I recalled a practice inspired by Eastern philosophy. I had once read about resistance being the cause of increased suffering and I remembered how I could help myself. Now was the time for me to use this knowledge based on a notion that you have probably heard-of before: What you resist persists. So, this is about taking the path of NO resistance. Here’s a quick example for getting some degree of relief from any affliction or unpleasant sensation, physical or emotional:

Lying or sitting in a comfortable, relaxed position, I close my eyes. I take a few deep breaths and settle quietly by focusing on my breath. After a few minutes, I bring my attention back to the pain. (Now for the tricky part) I just observe the pain without judging it: it is neither good nor bad; it simply is. I try to identify it: is it pounding, stabbing, compressing, burning? I also take a moment to sense how it makes me feel: hurt, anguished, sad, angry, hopeless, helpless? However I feel, I don’t judge myself for feeling that way. Now back to the pain: I imagine a vast landscape with the horizon far beyond. I allow the aching to take all the space it wants. I let it expand across to the sky. I breathe in, allowing that great expansion. As I breathe out, I release my resistance to the pain.

In: I allow the pain all the room it needs, out: I let go of resistance. I see it. I see the pain spreading over the landscape. I feel resistance leaving my body and heart, flowing away, dissolving.

The first time, I did this for about fifteen minutes and after five minutes I did feel a bit better. I eventually got up and was astonished to find that after a solid week of suffering, it had noticeably decreased.

This works pretty well for me most of the time now and I do it whenever I feel the need. It’s not magic but there’s definitely something to it. I hope you give it a serious try. I mean just do it without expectation and with all your conscious presence. Your intellect or ego will surely say: “Yeah, sure…another thing that won’t work.” Don’t listen to it. Get into your heart and let it guide you to your peaceful center. Most important of all as you experiment with this method, be KIND to yourself; it may take some practice. I was pleasantly surprised to experience the peace and relief of SURRENDERING to the unlimited possibilities of the universe.

Do you have simple ways to manage your pain? Please don’t hesitate to share. Not everything works for everyone but there may be someone out there who will helped by your ideas.

See you on the path of healing and beyond,

Marianne

Image from a painting by Donni Lockidge. “Run Over by a Truck”.

 

Feeling Broken

Solitary Confinement.JPG

A winter of much worldwide discontent is behind us and the promise of summer seems to call for a time of quiet, lazy reflection on the shady porch. Through my open window, I can hear the ducks in the pond near the house and the soft breeze that makes the trees sway this way and that. A chorus of birds keeps me company, and sometimes the crows have a gathering of sorts in the nearby woods. They’re like noisy teenagers that you can’t help but like, because, well, they’re just so happy to be alive. My favorite birds, crows.

Last winter, I had a falling out with someone I love dearly. It wasn’t the first time and I chose to distance myself from that person, from a cycle that kept repeating itself, always leaving me in a position of having to suffer the physical consequences of the emotional stress. No matter how many times we tell them that the brain of someone with neurological issues cannot handle emotional stress, people who love us say they understand, but too often, they do not. I find that when I try to make myself understood, it’s like I’m speaking a foreign language. I used to be quite adept at having rational conversations and never backed away from a healthy discussion on any subject, including my own shortcomings. But now, I just can’t handle feeling “not good enough”, not “enough”. Because I have become awkward at speaking when I get emotional, I can’t get a break. I am always wrong and that’s that. I feel cast aside and invisible.

Isolation is the most difficult part of being home-bound by illness. The pain of missing family and the few close friends that still care is so very hard to bear year after year. And when you have to distance yourself from a loved one because the relationship has become toxic, it’s heartbreaking.

As I nurse this heart that’s been broken so often I’ve lost count, I tell myself that I am strong and resilient and that I will find a way to come to terms with this new aching. Time does not heal all wounds, so, I’ll have to work on the only thing I can control: me. On most days, I remember to practice Gratitude for all that is good in my life (like my husband, my dog, both of whom are there with me every day.), I deal with my “Dragon” and do what needs to be done. But it’s still there. That weight in my heart, that hurt. Sometimes I feel broken on so many levels.

I’ve said it before because I know that it is vital: Bringing my Conscious attention in the Moment is the one way to stop emotional suffering. I have to let go of the past. I have to let go of what I think, “should be” and accept “what is”. If I want to reconnect with the joyful part of my being, I must let go of any expectations for the future. No amount of scenarios I produce in my mind is going to change anything. And here’s the kicker: no matter how much pain I put myself through, it will change nothing! The challenge is this: Living in the moment requires that we dissociate our real self from our thoughts. Our thoughts feed our emotions, not what someone else thinks of us. Our emotions make us suffer. Our real self, our being, our spirit, if you will, only lives in this ONE perfect moment. This moment is all we really have, so why not make the best of it by staying in it, just breathing in and out and letting the sad, painful thoughts flow away? We are not broken, just human.

See you on the path of healing and beyond,

Marianne

Image: From the painting “Solitary Confinement”, by Donni Lockridge.

My biggest challenge

My biggest challenge

Like so many of you, I’ve searched and researched (since 2001 for me) to find new or better ways to manage my dragon: this illness and the story that comes with it. What I mean is that beyond doing the best I can to take care of my body and keep my sanity, I specifically strive to manage how I handle emotional stress. No one is spared stress in the world in which we live, so what can we do to avoid the destructive energy of emotional stress when our nervous system is already mortgaged?

This is my biggest challenge: Staying OPEN and trusting that no matter what new event disturbs my very-much-needed peace of mind, I can handle it without causing myself harm in the process. Panic and anxiety (unfounded fear) cause our body more harm than most life situations: we know they are poison to us! They create havoc in our body, our relationships and feed on every tiny bit of joy that makes our life worth living. Without joy, there is no peace and we cannot contribute to the world around us; not even a warm smile.

I’ve put together a few strategies to help me focus on staying open and trusting. If you haven’t yet given them a try, I hope you’ll give yourself a chance to do so. For me, it’s very much a work in progress; I believe it’s the work of a lifetime.

1. STOP

This is what I tell myself: When an event disrupts or upsets you, just stop, take a few deep breaths, and let those shoulders drop a bit. In other words, calm down. I know you’ve come across this one; it’s, easier said than done. Don’t give up because you don’t succeed at first!

2. SHOW UP

Our mind doesn’t do Here and Now, so the only way to get it under OUR control is to be consciously present. What is happening in the present moment is what we are to focus on and not the “whys, not fair, always me, sick of this, what am I going to do, what ifs etc.” Showing up and really being in the here and now, if only for a moment, is a huge step toward lasting inner peace. I have found that when I do show up, I am able to let go of the “poor me” story that keeps going on in my mind and get back to the matter at hand. I can better manage my life-situation when I can actually see that it is just that: a situation. It is not my whole life and it does not define me.

3.  STAY

Because of the stories it firmly keeps in our subconscious, our mind races and looks for ways to get away/out of an uncomfortable situation. That is what causes the stress! Our mind doesn’t know the way out without causing pain and damage. Because we are not our mind but the “being” that is able to see the bigger picture, we can become conscious, that is to say: present. We can tell our mind to be quiet. That doesn’t work, of course… When my mind just won’t stop, I like to tell it: “Go right ahead but I’m not listening to you”. You see, as soon as we are conscious that our mind is racing, we ARE present in the moment. Consciousness or Presence doesn’t know “fight or flight”, it only knows peace. So, staying in that uncomfortable moment allows us to learn to trust our self as we let our thoughts flow-on by as if on a stream; we may not be stopping them but we can let them go!

4. LET IT BE

Whether our stress is triggered by physical pain, money matters, relationships or other issues, we CAN choose how we think and act. Our emotions stem from what we’re thinking and will dictate our actions, so it all starts in how well we listen to our inner voice, i.e. our real self. In the stillness of that moment of conscious presence, we can see our situation for what it is. We can let it be and stop fighting it. It is what it is and no amount of worrying will change it! The world is not our enemy. Things happen. That’s life.

Accepting a situation doesn’t mean that we have to like it; it means that we can see it for what it really is and that we are willing to manage it as best we can, at our own pace, in our own way.

See you on the path of healing and beyond,

Marianne

Image above is the painting:   Lady in Wait,  by Donni Lockridge
Rising Strong

Rising Strong

I’ve borrowed the title of Brené Brown’s latest book for this blog because it resonates to the core of my being. Rising strong is not so much about physical power but about a strength that resides inside our heart. Many of us see ourselves as warriors, survivors, lion hearted and courageous while others feel defeated, guilty, weak and desperately overwhelmed. And it’s fair to say that we often feel all of the above in the span of just one day.

Chronic illness can knock you down so hard, so often and for so long, that you may think you’ll never be able to get back up again…you may not want to get back up.

Rising strong is what I experienced the day that I finally stood up to my Dragon (As I call the illness that took over my life in my book Higher Maintenance). I said: “Enough!” I was done feeling like a victim and began to map out strategies to manage my life differently. While I’d love to say I became the Dragon Whisperer, this beastie does not cooperate…

I’ve become a Dragon Tamer. Now, this way of looking at our situation is quite different from trying to fight the illness. It involves a journey that leads to a degree of acceptance. Yes, acceptance! I know it’s difficult to imagine accepting something that brings so much misery in our life, but we cannot manage what we do not acknowledge and accept. We need to clearly see what we are facing in order to climb out of the pit of despair.

Rising strong requires determination and focus. In my favorite movie, Gone With The Wind, after struggling with the horrors of war, Scarlett comes home to a devastated Tara. She realizes that almost everything is gone. She has lost her mother, her father has faded into madness; there’s no money and no food. Except for the actual house she used to live in, nothing is left of the life she once knew. Starving, exhausted and wearing what’s left of her last dress, Scarlett goes out into the destroyed garden, tries to eat some inedible vegetation and falls to the ground, sobbing. The heroine is crushed to the marrow. Just when you think she’s beaten, she does something wonderful. She rises. Strong. Fist in the air, she makes the famous solemn oath that she’ll never go hungry again. She goes on to do what needs to be done. This heroin has determination and focus. She makes a plan and carries it out. She’s no angel, but you have to admit that she is an inspiring example of what it is to rise strong.

But how can we find the strength to get up when we’ve been down for years? I have found that when I’m at my most vulnerable, I occasionally tend to “pray”, that is to say that I beg for help. I call out to the Creator and plead for help. The problem with that is that begging and praying are not the same at all. I believe that the universe supports us when we ask for help with an attitude of openness. It is when we are receptive to all aspects of our life that help can reach us and fill our heart with the strength to rise strong, and the fearlessness needed to tame that dragon.

 

See you on the path of healing and beyond,

Marianne

Please note that the image at the top of this particular post is a photo of the painting Ascension by Donni Lockridge. It may not be reproduced without the authorization of the artist.

 

Procrastination or Regeneration

Procrastination or Regeneration

A new year… New goals. New hopes. Determination. Uplifting feelings and aspirations flow through me, telling me that I can do it! I can do what I set out to do. But the fact is that this is not the case and when it is, well, the price tag is very high. As proud as I can feel from successfully completing a load of laundry, this sense of accomplishment doesn’t silence the pain or the reality that my “battery” seriously needs recharging.

How on earth can we manage the “life event” type of situations when we put off washing, getting dressed or even eating because we’re so very tired and in pain? When we eventually come to terms with our situation, we begin to develop strategies to manage it. In other words, we become expert procrastinators, and that term comes with a huge load of guilt and sense of unworthiness.

Throughout my life, I’ve believed what my young brain mistakenly interpreted as the truth: I am lazy and selfish. That’s what my grown-ups had repeated to me, and shame lived in me like a parasite eating away at my life force with the assistance of anger and resentment.

I am not enough. Not good enough, smart enough, loveable enough, pretty enough, rich enough… What? What is enough and who has elaborated the standards by which I should be enough?

I have. Yes, and because I have, I can do something about it. A change in perspective is in order!

Standing in my truth is very difficult when my ego is busy reciting my sad and dramatic stories, over and over. Standing in our truth requires the courage to question the beliefs that we assume are real. We have to look long and deep to excavate our real self, the old values by which we have been living and the ones that really matter to us now. We have the power to write our own story where we are worthy of love, healing, support and peace of mind; where we are not lazy, but aware of our limited physical capacities; not selfish but adept at self care, which makes us compassionate towards others.

It’s difficult to wrap my head around the notion that I have power over anything, so I know that what I’m sharing here may not seem doable. What we need to remember is that we have no power over the behavior of others or over the events that occur in our life. We do however, have the power to change the way we react. Our learned and conditioned responses can be totally transformed by changing the way we look at life.

When I re-write the story of my life, I release the victim in me, forgive myself and let go of my need to be guilty of making “bad” choices. I did the best I could. It’s the past, so I let it go. My truth is that today, I feel physically ill but I also feel spiritually strong. I know how I got here and I know that it is what it is. Period. No judgement, no guilt; just managing as best I can with as much respect for myself as I would have for someone else in my condition.

So, like the Borg, 7of 9 in Star Trek Voyager, I go into Regeneration mode as often as needed, which is pretty often… It is what it is.

See you on the path of healing,

Marianne

Please note that the image at the top of this particular post is a photo of the painting Behind the Glass by Donni Lockridge. It may not be reproduced without the authorization of the artist.

Managing through the Holidays

croix-dans-ciel

In 2016, this quote has become my Mantra for dealing with many of life’s situations:

“Not my circus. Not my monkeys”.

 Although many people will tell you that positive thinking will solve all your problems; it won’t. What it will do however is train your brain to discover a new perspective on the events of your life, and this new perspective will prompt you to respond differently to situations that come up. We cannot control events or the behavior of others. That’s obvious. What is less commonly accepted is that we CAN control how we react to whatever is happening in our life.

I’ve heard much criticism about the power of positive thinking; people saying they’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. There’s the problem. There is much more to positive thinking than telling yourself a few words to “erase” the almost constant turmoil going on in your head causing you pain, stress or sorrow. It is not something you “try”; it is a way of life than you embrace because you have had enough of dealing with the same upsetting situations, over and over. You want change! Just think about all the years of negative thoughts that went through your mind; do you really think that you can change the nature of your relationship to yourself, to others, to life…with a little try? Of course not. It takes awareness, or presence, if you prefer.

It is simple. It is easy. It takes practice. It does take work and a real commitment to self-care!

During the Holiday Season, you will almost certainly have an abundance of opportunities to be kind to yourself at an essential level. You can make a commitment right now, to have a “better” time this year even if you have to be present at family gatherings that often inflict sensory overload on our delicate nervous system. Go ahead. What do you have to lose? OK then. Here’s my plan of action as far as my thoughts are concerned: You can tweak it to your preference and use it as your lifeline!

1) When I feel upsetting emotions rising up, I STOP and ask myself: “Is what I am thinking TRUE?” Do not believe everything you think! (Ex: Is my father ALWAYS picking on me / or is this present situation getting to me right now?)

2) Acknowledge and embrace what you are feeling. Repressing emotions does not serve you

3) BREATHE! A few “cleansing breaths” will help you On what? On your mantra!

4) Repeat your mantra until you calm down. You’ll be surprised to see how fast this happens.

I chose “Not my circus. Not my Monkeys” because it reminds me that what others do or say or even think about me, is none of my business! It has to do with them, not me. If someone says or does something that upsets me, I help myself with those four steps. I leave the room if I have to, so that I can find my balance again and feel at peace.

You can see the Holidays as disastrous or pretty good, all things considered. You are in control of your own vision on life. Choose wisely what you focus on, and you can open your heart to the love you give yourself and then, spread it around!

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Marianne

mariannegranger.com

 

 

Pulled in both directions

Everyone knows what it’s like to feel as if they are being pulled in different directions. The notion of struggling to meet all the commitments and pressures associated with appearances and possessions can be difficult to fathom while most of humanity is crying out in fear, anger and sorrow. All is happening so fast…

Where does that leave us Dragon Tamers, who must face chronic illness each and every day?

I personally can’t help but feel disconnected with world events. I see, I empathize but I am on the sidelines…in my recliner or in bed.

And yet, part of me wants so badly to belong! I miss too many things to count, like friends, outings, traveling, wearing real clothes (instead of the soft kind). I miss going to the theater, to the movies. I love movies! I miss getting a massage every now and then, doing yoga and riding horses. And every mother knows how much our children and grandchildren mean to us. I miss mine. I miss showing up for birthdays and showers, and shopping with my girls. I am painfully aware of all the missing out… This is hardest when I say NO to an event, even a small one, because my body simply won’t permit me to leave the house.

On the other hand, I want to be left alone! I don’t want too many phone calls or e-mails and I don’t want company over because I am forced to spend my limited amount of energy on the dragon taming, managing the illness 24/7. Then there are the ins and outs of daily life to deal with as best I can. I really don’t want to socialize. Really I don’t! But the fact remains that I miss being IN the world and so sometimes, I say YES. I put on a smile, a little make-up and my best stretch clothes and just go for it, hoping that my body will hold up for that occasion when I can feel almost normal for a little while.

In every single one of life’s events, we are called to make a decision based on what is dear to us and what is doable. We are constantly pulled in two directions: one is a matter of surviving and the other, a matter of living. You can’t have one without the other. It’s a balancing act that we can accept over time.

The sooner we learn to STOP, to look deeper and really listen from within: only one direction becomes clear. There is no struggle if we become aware, truly present in this one moment. It is here that emerges a knowing that each of us is a drop in the cosmic ocean that is life, that everything is connected. It is here that our heart is at peace, and where the healing goes on.

See you on the path of healing,

Marianne

mariannegranger.com