Doing Nothing Isn’t Easy


Meditation never came easy for me. Sitting cross-legged, back straight, hands on my knees, eyes closed, saying ‘ahm’ repeatedly feels awkward. On the other hand, I began practicing yoga – on and off – when living in Alaska six years ago. Walking or snowshoeing when 50 below isn’t fun especially with CFS/ME and fibromyalgia. Yoga dvds work for my life style.

A wandering mind always proved frustrating when I tried meditating in the past.  Instead of calming, I grew impatient sitting there.  My mind runs six thousand thoughts a minute when trying to sleep, read, or any other idle moments.  I couldn’t push aside thoughts while meditating.

In addition to yoga, I use deep breathing in hopes of lowing blood pressure before the nurse wraps the sleeve around my arm, reduce some anxiety before participating in unpleasant situations, and occasionally even in hopes of falling asleep.  The last exercise rarely works.

What I did not know is that the beginning and end of many routines I practice in yoga include several minutes of lying or sitting still and focusing on the breath actually is meditation in its simplest form. Reading Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, I learned  lying on my back with eyes closed and bringing attention to breathing is meditation.  Also, a wandering mind is totally normal and a-okay!  I either read or heard in a podcast on meditation that thinking of thoughts is a wave that flows in and out during the process of meditation.

If a critical piece of mindfulness is daily meditation, I need practice and patience or my journey ends before getting started.

I try remembering daily that I need a few minutes but have yet to make it routine. Usually, it seems that I forget until I’m lying in bed wishing I could sleep.  Sometimes, I close my door at work and try while sitting at my desk or after I feed the dogs and before making dinner.  I glance at the clock before closing my eyes and breathe.  Inevitably, thoughts take over.  I continue breathing and remember thoughts are simply ‘a wave’.  But they feel more like a rip tide pulling me away from my intent and the next thing I know, my eyes are open and two or on a good day, five minutes have passed.

Today, while hubby was napping, laundry was washing, and dinner was progressing I lay down on my bed.  The thoughts continued to roll ashore as I inhaled then I tried letting go with each exhale.  Inhale, and a new thought drifted in, exhale and I let it go.  When opening my eyes, 25 minutes had passed!

I felt calm and ready to get back to house duties.  I start a new job in a couple of weeks and start about an hour later.  Meditation could be a mindful way to start my day.

My Journey Towards Mindfulness


Listening to my dogs and husband’s breathing while they slept the other night reminded me that taking slow deep breaths relaxes me and eases anxiety. Stress and letting go are constant battles in my brain.  The former can aggravate chronic and mental illness and pain.  I practice yoga and other exercises that are gentle on my body  (though, admittedly, not lately) and learned some time ago the value of deep breathing.  Not the most disciplined person, I find myself needing more – a tangible, realistic way of letting go of circumstances that are toxic to my brain.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Watching Anderson Cooper on a 60 Minutes report on mindfulness, my curiosity piqued when Cooper said research of the practice showed positive results for sufferers of chronic illness.   Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction and Relaxing Program (later renamed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.  While he studied Buddhism, Kabat-Zinn prefers taking a scientific approach to mindfulness and apparently, it works.  American Mindfulness Research was created in 2013 to support empirical and conceptual data as well as develop best practices.

According to the website: www.mindful.org: “Mindfulness is the innate ability we have to be present, composed, and to pause before we overreact to the challenges of our busy lives.”

I’m intrigued that practicing mindfulness can improve physical, as well as, mental health.  The practice may also improve eating habits and insomnia.  Through research and practice, I hope I can better manage stressful situations – especially those that I cannot change – and improve my health.  Never before disciplined with daily meditation, I recently started listening to a podcast offering free mindful meditations (Mindful Meditations) before sleep.  I think I’m ready to take the next step and practice mindfulness in my daily life.

In addition to the websites mentioned above, I’m reading two books by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness for Beginners 
Wherever You Go, There You Are  

I welcome comments from readers who practice mindfulness and anyone who wants to join me on my journey.

One Year Later


My life changed dramatically in the past year. I began working full-time, my husband and I bought a house on 5 acres, and I needed to find a new health team. I put my blog on the back burner because it was an obligation that I could not add to my busy plate. But I’ve missed the process of writing and sharing. It is a project that gives me purpose. While sometimes a painful and challenging process, clicking submit always satisfies.

I am not sure where my writings will lead this time around. Reading past postings, I realized that there was too much about my health challenges. How boring is that?! My original intention was writing as a motivator, educator and counselor but it sounded more like a whiner. I do not feel pity for myself so why would I write like I was seeking consolation from others?

This time around, perhaps Erato, the poetry muse, will bless me with inspiration more often. Perhaps my camera lens will document some of the remarkable landscape, creatures, and loved ones that surround my life. All I know for certain is that I want to nudge my creative self.

I continue to manage life with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyletis (we have to find a new name for this disease!) and fibromyalgia. Postings will continue to be influenced by my chronic illness, as it is a component of my life. But now I plan on sharing experiences from my exploration of ways that enhance my life – increasing joy and giving purpose in life.

I hope you join me on my new adventures.

The Well


Life’s challenges keep trying to knock me down these days.  I think that I’ve finally hit rock bottom and can start climbing up and out of the well of despair. Crawling and scratching, I try maintaining a positive attitude.  I try to remember “This too shall pass, good things will come around again” and “I know some day I will appreciate and learn from these challenges.”  But I lose grip and slip deeper into the cold dark chasm.water well

.  After a morning in bed, I can no longer stand it.  Years of practice forcing myself out of bed despite the pains, nausea, and other chronic symptoms keep me from wallowing and asking, “Why me?”  My dear mother offers suggestions and wants to make it all better.  But I know I need to find my own way.

The Guard Dogs of Despair
The Guard Dogs of Despair

Devoted black labs stand guard nearby and play a role in my recovery.  They carefully  lick the salty tears that overflow from my eyes and, Luna especially, keep a wary brown eye until they are confident that I’m okay.  Even my dear husband gets me moving again.  I can’t bear his attempts to jump-start my motivation with suggestions of taking the dogs for a swim or going for a drive.   My morose refusals start to gnaw at my conscience, “He’s worried and wants his wife back.”

Thank heavens for the support system, the unconditional love and concern.

So, once again, I look up from the bottom of the well and a shaft of light beckons.  Step by step, one hand over the other, I begin climbing the wall of the cold, damp well.  My nails may break, my fingers may bloody and I may get knocked down again.  But one day, I’ll climb out, seal the well, and life can again be full joy and purpose.

An Unlikely Role Model


Several years ago,  I was sickened and disgusted as most dog lovers and decent human beings when I read about NFL football player, Michael Vick running a dog fighting ring. I don’t even tolerate my own dogs growling at each other so I cheered when Vick went to jail, jeered when he returned to the NFL, and rejected his claims of rehabilitation and having greater appreciation of dogs and other animal welfare.

Yesterday, I read that Vick repaid his $20 million in debt and for the first time thought, “Good for him.”  He didn’t file for  bankruptcy, negotiating, or running away, Vick manned up. Vick earns a hefty $3.5 million this year for playing football, not to mention a likely fortune with Nike.

But why do I care? Once again, I found myself fighting battles.  A chronic fatigue syndrome/fibro flare caused by a virus, stress, or over activity reared its ugly head and knocked me down. Finances went from bad to worse. Not working steadily for the past four years depleted my savings.  My husband is an Agriculture teacher and let’s just say that educators are not highly valued in Texas. Recently, we have received some assistance from a generous donor which has helped us tremendously. Until moving to the Lone Star State, I have worked and supported myself since college. I was independent and a hard worker. But  some called me  enabled for accepting assistance or just plain lazy.  As chronic sufferers would surely agree, try living in our body for just one week!

But  My admiration for Vick returning the money he owed and fighting to win a spot back as top quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles served as a reminder for me. I too have struggled and overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges at times in my life. Things have not always turned out as I planned and goals were unsuccessful. But I accepted defeat, learned, and moved on.  I am resilient!

I took a break from writing this summer to try and give my mind some rest.  I’ve been scattered, confused, and shooting in the dark.  In other words, I was not planning, I was just doing.  I knew what I wanted to do but stress, fear, anxiety, and defeatism kept me from effectively thinking, organizing and doing.

This is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and as a Jew this is the time of year for change to occur. More so than January 1st so future blogs will very likely describe my journey towards the next phase of my life.

“Losing a battle or losing everything we thought we possessed will bring us moments of sadness. But when those moments pass, we will discover the hidden strength that exists in each of us, a strength that will surprise us and increase our self-respect.

We will look around and say to ourselves: ‘I survived.’ And we will be cheered by our words.”

The above quote is from Manuscript Found in Accra by Paul Coelho, which I am currently reading. Coelho is author of the remarkable book The Alchemist. In the Manuscript, Coelho talks a lot about defeat, experience, and love.  Many of Coelho’s writings resonate with me. Anticipate more quotes in future postings.

I survived many obstacles in my life single, alone, and independently. I am now married to a loving, caring, and supportive husband. I have some incredibly loving, supportive, and loyal family members. The moment of sadness has passed for me. I survived and I know my life will continue to be full of hope and joy.

Even Zoe sees a new day is dawning
Even Zoe sees a new day is dawning

The Phantom Inside Me


“Ow!” I yelp as I leaned on my wrist a bit too heavily.

“What did you do now?”, my husband asked.

“Nothing. It’s just the phantom is in my wrist today.”

This is a common exchange between me and my husband.  He seems to think that I’m a klutz.  Just because he’s seen me stub and break a couple of toes and observed countless bruises on my legs from bumping into things doesn’t mean all my pain is the result of some self-induced injury.

ghostI call these mystery pains, ‘the phantom’, as they mysteriously attack and leave various joints without warning.  These are the traveling pains that are sharp and cause weakness to the joints.  If the pain is in my ankle, I am unable to walk.  If it moves to my wrist, I cannot open a jar or bend down to kiss my husband.  In about 10 minutes, the attacker is gone and there are no lingering effects.

Sometimes I wish that there was  evidence that these illegal immigrants invaded my body.  There is no joint swelling and test results are negative when I visit the doctor in acute pain.  It confounds me every time that my symptoms rule out other diseases and rule in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.  I feel relief that  rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or another serious more life threatening illness tests return negative but frustrated that there is never a definitive answer only ruled out diseases.  Furthermore, the elusiveness of these dual illnesses admittedly cause emotional setbacks at times.

Then, my husband says something to make me smile or I watch my dogs interact with each other or with the cat and my low mood transforms to joy at the simple pleasures that life offers.  The phantom slips back into hiding for a bit.  Yeah, I have discomforts in life but they are nothing compared to the simple moments that bring me joy.  I’m so lucky.

Homer and Zoe, who now romps in eternal fields and streams, made me laugh daily with their wrestling moves.
Homer and Zoe, who now romps in eternal fields and streams, made me laugh daily with their wrestling moves.

 

Luna and Homer at play at the lake.
Luna and Homer at play at the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My hubby being silly on face time with grand twins. I wonder if this cowboy would kill me if he knew I posted this but that's what he gets for not reading my blog.
My hubby being silly on face time with grand twins. I wonder if this cowboy would kill me if he knew I posted this but that’s what he gets for not reading my blog.

Be Inspired: Your Brain


Imagine changing your way of life by improving the function of your brain.   Mind & body expert and bestselling author, Deepak Chopra, claims we can do just that in an article I read recently on the CNN website.  Apparently, we can make our brains work better simply by thinking we can improve them and the best way for us to relate to our brain is to ‘inspire it’.

According to Chopra, "thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it.
According to Chopra, “thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it.

The ways Chopra suggests improving brain function are also important aspects of living better despite chronic illness & pain that I coach my clients.  The brain is a powerful muscle requiring exercise and a bit of TLC for best results. By changing how we think of ourselves, new adventures and opportunities await.

Below is an abbreviated list on how you can inspire your brain to work better:

  • Manage stress
  • Avoid dull routines
  • Do something creative everyday
  • Read something inspirational everyday
  • Take time daily to relax, meditate, self-reflect
  • Deal with negative emotions such as anxiety and anger
  • Love and Be loved – it’s a worthwhile risk
  • Take some time to notice and appreciate nature daily
  • Follow a personal vision – how do you want to live your life?
  • Participate in at least one activity that fulfills
  • Get involved in a cause that is bigger than you.

The article continues with thoughts in your brain that you should ignore.  Not surprisingly, the thoughts to ignore are: passivity such as letting life take care of itself; inflexibility in daily routines and opinions; and allowing feelings of stress, anger or anxiety get the best of you.

For many of us, inspiring our brain may seem like an overwhelming task.  But with encouragement and patience, I believe everyone can do it.  I also think it especially important for sufferers of chronic illness to work on inspiring their brain, for it is through these activities that living better becomes possible.

Chopra’s CNN article can be found at:  http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/04/health/chopra-better-brain/index.html?hpt=hp_bn12

 

Live more joyfully despite chronic illness.  

Contact me at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com and let’s schedule time to chat!