Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book List

As promised, here is a list of books I use and used to achieve some semblance of mindfulness. This is just a selection, but a selection of my favorites. Some I am still reading, some I reference quite a bit, and I find all of them helpful. Please feel free to mention additions to the list in the comments or an email. I will add them to the list and look forward to reading recommendations.

Peace and much love,

And here is a favorite quote to think about this evening and the coming days...

"Even after all this time the sun never says to the Earth, "you ow me." 
  Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky."

Book List (these are in no particular order)

Dr. Wayne Dyer (any and all of his books, meditations, or lectures)
Wishes Fulfilled
Excuses Begone
There's a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem
Your Erroneous Zones
You'll See it When You Believe It
The Power of Intention

Marianne Williamson (any and all of her books and lectures)
A Return to Love

Gabrielle Bernstein (any and all of her books, meditations, and lectures)
Spirit Junkie
May Cause Miracles

Foundation for Inner Peace
A Course in Miracles

Jon Kabbat-Zinn
Arriving at Your Own Door

Jelaluddin Rumi
The Rumi Collection

St. Theresa of Avila
The Interior Castle

Viktor Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning

Hafiz and Daniel Ladinsky
I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy

Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Rick Warren
A Purpose Driven Life

Elizabeth Lesser
Broken Open
The Seeker's Guide

John Shelby Spong
Jesus for the Non-Religious
Liberating the Gospels

Devon Franklin
Produced by Faith

Paul Tillich
The Courage to Be
The Shaking of the Foundations

Sarah Ban Breathnach
Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

Martha Beck
Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Have
Steering by Starlight
The Joy Diet

Tal Ben-Shahar Phd

Living Our Dying
Joseph Sharp

Steve Hagen
Buddhism It's Not What You Think

Monday, July 22, 2013

Just a Day

My thirteenth accident anniversary fell on Wednesday of last week. This anniversary perplexes me. My feelings lie somewhere between celebration and trepidation. Yes, another year of living life with challenges is accomplished, yet another year has also passed since that day that changed my life so drastically. The recollection of the details of the day are difficult and filled with pain. A lifeless, broken body isn't exactly a pleasant vision, nor is it a moment to celebrate. Each year I deal with the day a little differently. In years past, I planned fun events or meals out with friends. Several years, due to illness or depression, I stayed home and read books or watched movies all day. But, this year, I think I finally did the right thing.

I rode a roller coaster of emotions during this past year. Last July, I was still sick, still infected, and still slowly climbed the gargantuan mountain of healing, and in stark contrast, I also learned my infection finally vanished after a decade of attack. As the anniversary approached, I pondered what I wanted to do to honor it. I am no longer an extreme person. Inner peace is my goal and a loud, festive celebration just didn't seem to fit. So, in the end, I chose not to do anything. I decided to allow it to come and go as if it was just another day on the calendar. This option appealed to me because immediately after I fell, my greatest hope was that my life would stay the same and not be a constant reminder of the day I fell, the day I felt like I lost everything. One of my first questions I posed to the doctor, was whether or not I had the ability to drive a car. I feared the loss of freedom and unrealized dreams more than anything else. I was determined not to give up on the life I planned. Of course, the change was inevitable. Plans changed and dreams changed. Some stayed the same, but many took a hit and a lot of alteration. However, the loss of freedom was only temporary and, overtime, the learned ability to ask for help only deepened relationships, rather than divide them.

When I woke up last Wednesday I remembered what day it was and thought back to the day thirteen years prior. I briefly recalled how and where I woke up that day and what I did throughout the day. For a minute, I felt sad for the girl who didn't know how her day would end, but then my dog barked like a maniac at this black cat that always crosses our driveway. I jolted out of my coma of remembrance and jumped up to stop her from waking up all of my neighbors. As the day progressed, I meditated, shopped for groceries, and prepared to head out to Ashlea's house for the evening and honestly, I forgot what day it was. My normal routine took over and the rush to get ready and gather the homemade pizza ingredients occupied my mind and I simply forgot.

Several nights a month, I dream that Ashlea and I star in a cooking show. It is a reoccurring dream and it always leaves me laughing. She and I talk about recipes and food a lot, so I can only assume this is why the dream keeps replaying itself. I finally arrived at her house late, of course. It takes me forever to spin around and get dressed and gather anything and traffic didn't help the issue either. We started to make the dough, allowing the yeast to activate, adding the flour and honey and turning the mixer on for ten minutes. We put the dough in a bowl, covered it with a towel and let it rise. While it was rising, we prepared all of the toppings. We sliced peppers and onions and olives, reduced balsamic vinegar, and made the basil pesto. And while we were doing all of this, Ashlea remarked on how fun it was and I joked we were staring in our cooking show. We were living a dream. And once again, the gravity of the day eluded me. After dinner, we played fashion show with her darling and loving children, watched a special preview of the new episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey, and had our famous, as dubbed by Kyle, Ashlea and Sarah goodbye. She and I can never, ever stop talking. We must be peeled from each other or forced to leave. After watching the kids chase and catch fireflies for a minute and trying to prolong the conversation a little longer, I finally ended up in my car and pulled out of her driveway and headed home.

It was a hot, summer night. It was dark, but the sky glowed with a perfectly crescent moon. I drove onto the highway and decided to open the sunroof and roll down the windows. I almost turned on the radio, but stopped and opted for silence. And then it hit me. The significance of what day it was finally dawned on me. But, it wasn't like all of the other years. I didn't cry tears of sadness and I didn't remember the hurt and broken girl. What I felt, was a sense of freedom, a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of knowledge that I was right where I was supposed to be. And then I thought of something. Thirteen years later, thirteen years after I questioned whether or not I could drive again, I was driving. My hand controls now second nature and driving a regular occurrence. A tear wet my cheek, but it was a joyous tear. It was a tear that said I faced my fears and I won. I worried that day, all these years ago, if I would ever go where I wanted to go again, if I would ever have the kind of friendships I had before, if I would ever be the person I was before, if I could have a dog, I would ever realize a dream, and today I finally had the answers. Somethings, like driving and having a dog, turned out as planned, and others did not, they turned out better than ever imagined. This life, this life filled with challenges and struggle and a bit of suffering, well, it delivers the spectacular in spades. My relationships are better, I love harder, forgive frequently, and I enjoy simple abundance. Sure, it's been an uneasy path and will continue to be, but the growth that has happened along the way is worth every rock and every ravine. And as the wind blew on my face, I drove home, filled with love, filled with light, and a happiness I haven't felt in a long time. I drive, I am free, and I still dream and sometimes I actually live the dreams. I just wanted these things to exist as a part of my everyday life again, I wanted my life to be a life, not just a life after an accident or traumatic event. And without even noticing, without even trying, I discovered my prayers, my wishes were answered. The day was just a day in my regular old life. And the answers to those prayers, those wishes, popped up and beamed right in my face, just like that glowing moon that followed me home.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Kids are All Right

I planned to post a list of books I read and reference quite often. A few of you asked for recommendations and I decided to share the generated list with everyone, instead of just the few. I am still gathering titles for list. I never realized how interesting and fun it is to culminate the books I devoured over the last several years. This list just grows and grows and grows. Hopefully, I'll finish it and post the list in a few days. In the mean time, I choose to share a quick story.

Earlier this evening, my mom, two young girls visiting from Georgia, and I walked to the little popcorn shop a couple of blocks away. I live in a quaint neighborhood with a small town square lined with adorable boutiques, an antiqued ice cream shop complete with marble counter tops and floors and hot pink decor, and a local fire station that looks as if it jumped out of the pages of a story book. The square hosts a lively farmer's market on Sunday. All throughout the summer, kids of all ages walk and run through the streets and during the school year, dash to the popcorn shop right after the dismissal bell rings. Kids and adults alike gather around the wrought iron tables perfectly placed in front of the popcorn shop and munch on popcorn and slurp Hawaiian shave ice. Yes, apparently it is shave ice, not shaved ice.

We ventured up for the shave ice and some truffle popcorn. Since the town is quite old, some businesses are grandfathered in and, therefore, aren't require to meet disability law. Most of the establishments are accessible, but the few that aren't either have a portable ramp or offer to help lift my chair up the two or three steps. Tonight I opted to sit outside while my mom and the young ones ordered and collected our goodies. The weather is perfectly warm with a nice breeze and very low humidity. Rain dominated the forecast since the beginning of July and finally stopped a couple of days ago. I was happy to sit with Belle and enjoy the early evening. I sat waiting at one of the iron tables, while a group of three boys sat at the other table. They appeared to be in between their eighth and ninth grade years of school.

Sometimes kids this age are given a hard time. Teenagers, as they are called, get a bad wrap. Adults seem to forget we were once this age and act as if teenage behavior is some foreign, unknown phenomenon from beyond. When, in reality, the behavior teenagers exhibit is just a normal part of the growth process. They are just kids struggling to find their ground while swimming in the murky waters of too young for certain things and too old for other things. Waffling between adulthood and childhood is tricky business. Attitudes form because they are just trying to figure it all out. As adults, we should give them a break. I know most of us know just how hard it is to be thirteen and fourteen and fifteen and so on. Insecurity takes hold in the form of pimples, body changes, and the desire to want to be like everyone else. I also notice discussion centered around how disconnected today's kids are. I hear comments like, they are attached to their phones and they can't communicate unless the communication takes place through a device. This kind of talk really bugs me. As a former teacher and nanny, I do admit I have a bias towards kids of all ages, but this generation of young people isn't any worse off than any other generation. All generations have distractions. Teaching self control is part of life, whatever the distractions happen to be. Kids aren't anymore distracted today than they were when I was hooked to the Nintendo or gabbing on the land line phone. In fact, I notice the opposite with the kids navigating today's world. I notice kids who are more aware, friendlier, and far more open to difference than ever before.

I've stated this a few times, but once again, I feel truly blessed because I see humanity at its best. Just as adults rush to help out, kids and teenagers also run to hold doors and help push my chair up icy ramps. This particular group of boys, hanging out in front of the popcorn shop, enjoying popcorn and Fanta Grape Soda, were no exception. Right away, the boys commented on my dog and shared how cute they think she is. They made direct eye contact with me and shared stories about their own dogs and answered my questions in complete sentences. I learned what high school they will attend in the fall and heard tales of recent summer adventures. The boys showed me tricks with their straws and fed my dog pieces of popcorn. Not once did any of them take out a smart phone or attempt to send a text. They were alert, kind, and pleasant. My disability was a non issue and never mentioned or even noticed. And when my mom and the young girls walked down the steps, headed over to the table and placed the newly purchased treats on the table, these boys, these teenage boys, noticed there was only one available chair left. Each boy jumped out of his seat and offered his chair. They cleaned up their mess, throwing away napkins, straws, and popcorn bags. And as they walked away, they turned around, looked directly at me, and said, "It was nice to talking to you."

I don't know why there is so much suffering in this world. I can't explain why bad things happen. I certainly worry about the world we are leaving behind, the world we are leaving these kids. But, what I do know, what I don't worry about, is the kids inheriting this world, the kids tasked with handling and accepting the future, they are just fine. They are confident, polite, chivalrous, friendly, and kind. The kids are all right.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Loving Without Expectation

As much as I try not to, I worry about relationships quite a bit. How I define myself no longer fits into the acceptable definition column. I no longer fulfill a laundry list of expectations or a check list of attributes. My life requires a lot of accommodation and sacrifice and I can only imagine how that appears to someone else seeking a partnership. I worry the other person only sees a life of sacrifice. 

I thought this was confirmed as I wheeled up the hill to meet a few friends at a local wine bar the other night and lady stopped me to tell me she felt sorry for me. I know she has issues of her own. I see her stumble home from the wine bar, late at night, and unable to walk in an upright position. I tried to force her words out of my mind, but they stuck. They stuck because these words, these feelings of pity, are one of my greatest fears. I work every single day to eliminate fear from my mind and replace it with love, but the fear just keeps reappearing. And this encounter didn't help my practice at all. When I venture out, to the grocery, to a baseball game, or to Homegoods, I always worry people feel sorry for me. I don't want to be seen as pathetic or in need of pity. I desire people to look past my injury and see my soul, see my light, but I know that isn't always possible. So I worry. And this worry, especially, comes crashing down when I think about a life partner or significant other. I don't want it to, it just does.

I think we label one another far too much. When we bring someone home to meet our parents or our friends, we list all of their highly regarded accomplishments. I used to have these things. I might be introduced as a dancer or a teacher or whatever someone used to describe just how special and significant I was. In these description situations,people tend to think things like, wow she did well for herself, or wow he is batting way above his average. And honestly, I fell for it too. I fell for the check list and the attributes making someone special and worthy. I fell for the attraction to another based on how cute he was or what school he attended. This way of thinking, how we look on paper, works for a while, at least until it doesn't anymore. Eventually, that playwright, or United Nations Ambassador, or opera singer, or president of a company, or professor, or celebrity chef, reveals himself or herself as human. The curtain is pulled back and the wizard is just a tiny man speaking with a large, booming voice and hiding behind the curtain. 

This might sound devastating or pessimistic, but it isn't. When we pull back the curtain and get to the gut of who we really are, learn to love with out expectation, we are brought to an entirely new and undiscovered territory. A place that does not have definition or definable attributes or accomplishment. A place that is equal and empathetic. A place where we can finally see each other as we truly are, without the make up and the cute clothes. And please don't misunderstand me, I like cute clothes and playwrights, and opera singers, and poets, and actors. But I don't like them because of their titles or descriptions. I usually end up liking them most when I see their human side emerge. I like them most when they fall or they fail and rise to new levels and share their devastation, when they share their human side. The truth and humanness never bother me. 

A discussion occurs, quite frequently, how, as a culture, we like to raise people up and watch them fall. Some say it is because we are obsessed with the failure; we are obsessed with the mighty falling. But, I disagree. I think this 'fall' is so intriguing because it is human. This 'fall' portrays a great and might fortress, as a crumbling human wall that has now opened itself to sensitivity and realness. For once, we can finally see ourselves in this larger than life person, this enigma. 

No one is perfect. No one will fulfill all of our needs every single waking moment. And during my late nights of worry as I obsess how I am defined, I realized I will never live up to any definition, walking or not walking. I can only hold fast to my descriptions and accomplishments for so long. Eventually, I will become real, breakable, and beyond definition. Others may feel sorry for me or be in awe of me, but neither of these matter. I may feel like I don't fall into a category of must date this girl or checks on a check off list, but in the end, it doesn't really matter. People will think what they think and I can't stop them. What I can do, what is humanly possible for me to do, is to not give in to the definitions others may align with my condition, with my humanness. Whether or not someone else feels sorry for me, is a moot point. Whether or not someone sees a life with me as a struggle or sacrifice is also moot. The only thing that matters, the only option I have, the only description applicable, is how I see myself. Is how I choose to respond to my condition, my humanness, and my ability. Because the response and attitude I have towards myself is one that I inevitably, without a doubt, is the one I will extend to others. A long time ago, I stopped seeing a stumbling lady as a drunk or helpless victim. Instead, I started seeing her as a wounded warrior. You see, whatever wounds or broken bones or disabilities we carry or learn to live with or learn to live in spite of, are not who we are. They are not what define us. They are what make us into who we are and give a glimpse into where we've been.

And as I worried this is how people see me, what this lady said to me might just be true, I had an epiphany. When a person feels sorry for me, or sees my scars and broken bones as a defeat or weakness, or recognizes my wheelchair as a burden, she is only seeing herself in me. And she just might be recognizing herself and her weakness for the first time. She sees that part of her that is broken and scarred and is afraid to live in the light, scars and all. She sees that part of her that is crippled or paralyzed. What she really feels sorry for is her inability to love all of the parts of herself, is her inability to see her own humanness. And in turn, what I really worry about, what I really lose sleep over, is not whether or not someone else with love me, it is whether or not I really love myself unconditionally and without expectation.

I will never be checks on a check list. I am neither chart topping accomplishments, nor heartbreaking failures. If judged by my medical records, I am, all at the same time, a supreme mess and an unbelievable miracle. The only thing I will ever be, the only thing I can ever be, is my human, flawed, broken, self. I, too, can learn to love without expectation and without condition. However, I must first extend this very thing to myself. I certainly can't ask another to do it for me. The relationship with myself is the most important, the most crucial. It is what gives me eyes to see and air to breathe and a heart to love.

Monday, July 1, 2013

You Only Live Once

Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.

I finally just learned what the Internet jargon or text speak, YOLO, means. If you are clueless like me, it  is an acronym for, you only live once. I see it all over the Internet as captions of pictures of things like drinking a big, frosty alcoholic beverage during the day, eating a large and indulgent meal or dessert, or a vacation to some tropical paradise. The phrase always stands out, especially when associated with the aforementioned activities because, well, if I did any of these things, I would pay greatly. I can't drink alcohol during the day. My accident really has little to do with this. It's more of an issue with my tolerance level and falling asleep after only a few drinks. Keeping up all day, while drinking, is just not one of my talents. And eating whatever I want and in large quantities not only makes me feel sick, but it also causes issues with my body that are just absurd and completely frustrating. And vacations, well they just don't happen for me. My physical issues come along with me and I never truly get any kind of break or vacation from paralysis. I must pack an extra bag of supplies just to keep my body working correctly. Vacations turn out to be far more of a hassle then a pleasure for me.

I know I sound like the Grinch right now, but there is a point to this rant. Only living once is something I think about often. As a young girl, I used to lie awake with anticipation while I counted the nights of sleep until Christmas arrived or my birthday finally came to pass. I eagerly anticipated summer camp and trips to far away places. Packing was exciting and arriving at the airport, even more exciting. And while I couldn't wait for it to arrive, the trip, or holiday, or birthday, would come and go and once again, I would be in a state of disappointment and feeling let down, until I found the next adventure.

After my accident, I made sure to always have something to look forward to. My calendar, always filled with social events and work commitments, had little room for anything else. I distinctly remember thinking things like, I just have to get through this day and then tomorrow, I will wake up, go to breakfast with a friend, shop with a friend, go home to change, and then go to a movie with a friend. And then the following day all of my friends will meet at my house and we will pile in the car and head to Keeneland for the day. Excitement and busyness seemed to keep me going. I thrived on complication and busyness. One evening, a friend and I stayed up until the wee hours of the next morning frying chicken and baking homemade cake for a birthday party. I slept all of two hours, woke up, and left to volunteer for the entire day.  I then gave myself only one hour, in between activities, to get ready for the fried chicken birthday party. Oh, and then we all went out that night to listen to a band play at a local bar. I basically never stopped planning and anticipating and coming down from the busy highs. You only live once. I said this to myself all the time, every time I dashed out of the door as I was on to the next thing.

This lifestyle grew more and more difficult the sicker I became. Popping Advil became a full time job, just so I could keep up with my living. Hospital stays and blood transfusions interrupted my fast pace living and irritated me immensely. I used to think, don't you see, I am trying to live. I am trying to seize the moment, I am trying to take large bites out of life and swallow them whole. I am brave, I am strong, I am tough, and I am busy. I keep going when the going gets tough. I do not give up. See me, I am doing it, I am living. But the thing was, I wasn't living. I was just anticipating and filling up time. In a nutshell, I was escaping the silence, escaping the downtime, and avoiding the pain.

There is an art to doing nothing. It isn't for the faint of heart. When the silence sets in, so do the tingles of pain. Thoughts rush in and tears flow. I remember stupid comments I said or moments where I was nasty. I remember embarrassment, I focus on failure, and I basically have time to think. And when this quiet is all there is, I realize I am not always brave, I am not always strong, and I am certainly not always tough. I am vulnerable and afraid and I don't like it. It's so much easier to pick up the phone and make a lunch date or breakfast plans than it is to sit with discomfort. I know this because I experienced it.

My illness forced isolation. My depression forced sitting alone with my thoughts. At first, I hated it. I hated the spears of judgement I threw at myself. I hated the way I saw myself and thought of myself. I felt out of control and wanted to run from myself. But, this time I couldn't. I finally reached a point where I was too sick to do anything. My only option was to lie in my bed, without anticipation, without plans, and stare at the ceiling. I could drown out the pain with the television or a book, but sometimes those were just too exhausting. My eyes stung from fevers and my head ached. Silence and rest were the only options. And as I inched closer to death, I didn't think about the nights out I was missing, or the places I hadn't yet visited. I actually thought about the way I treated others and the way I treated myself. I worked through all of my regret. And the regret wasn't found in missed opportunities or missed football games, it was found in moments when I was nasty or mean or left someone out of the equation. The regrets were found in moments where I snapped at someone and didn't listen to them and just continued talking about my own life. I regret looking through people. I regret hurting rather than helping. As the many days of silence increased, so did the pain. For all of my only living once moments, I could think of a moment where I was unloving, unkind, and unaware of an other's feelings. I was moving too fast before to stop and really noticing and now that my life came to a screeching halt, the mistakes were personified. Doing nothing was painful and made me feel weak, sensitive, and sorry. Pretending to be okay and high on life was no longer an option. I wasn't able to pretend I was perfect and able to handle everything like a champ. I couldn't bottle my anger and lash out at everyone else anymore. The tables were turned, and I had to take a long, hard look at myself, broken and ill, for the first time.

And then the change happened. It occurred somewhere between the self-loathing and the bad memories. I found myself, literally on the ground, begging for forgiveness and promising to change. I swore I would find my bravery and do right with it this time. I promised to use the toughness, I once thought I had, to stand up for another, rather than beat them down with the rest of the crowd. I promised to accept and love myself, but work to make sure I was the best version of myself I could possibly be. I promised to live as if I only had once chance to do this right. I promised to finish strong.

As I started to heal, I noticed my desire to fill my calendar no longer existed. I was so accustomed to doing nothing that I had to force myself to do anything. Staying in on New Years Eve or just sitting with my dog became my new way of life. And as I sat and continued to listen to the silence I learned what only living once really means. It doesn't mean filling up every moment or living in a constant state of forced spontaneity. It doesn't mean spending every waking moment with another person or friend. It doesn't meant attending every concert, or football game, or dinner out. What it truly means, is living as if this life really and truly only comes around once. And this means, taking care of my body. Eating was nourishes it most, filling it with good food, rather than what only pleases my taste buds. It means allowing enough nothing time to remain calm and peaceful and kind. It means leaving space in my calendar to breathe. It means sitting and looking out the window and listening to the rain fall or the trees blow in the wind. It means, instead of checking off adventures on a list, actually living the adventure that life already is, all of life, even the parts of it from which I want to run and never look back.

I find life isn't about chasing and grasping moments and minutes of excitement. It isn't about anticipation and grandeur. And it certainly isn't about vacations and escapes from reality. What life is truly about, what truly living in the moment means, is accepting all of the moments as a part of the magnificent and the heart wrenching portrait that life is. There will always, always be clouds, but there is always, always a blue sky waiting behind them. I can't fill and force every moment to overflow with sunshine and rainbows. It just isn't possible. The work it takes exhausts me and leaves me utterly lacking. I feel most whole, most fulfilled, when I sit with complexity of life. When I work through the pain, find the joy along the way, and rise above the clouds and see the sun and blue skies.

Sitting in silence taught me I was both sensitive and brave. It taught me I was weak and strong. It taught me I was human. All of the parts of myself are worthy of respect and love. And knowing this allows me to see all of the parts in everyone else and respect and love those parts too. But, the greatest thing the silence taught me was to go with the flow of the great ocean of life, instead of against it. Because when I float with the waves, appreciate the high and low tides, I am more loving and kind. I am open and free. I am in a state of giving, rather than taking. Chasing happiness all of the time left me, mostly, unhappy. Sitting with the tension of the good and the bad, remaining comfortable with the silence, leaves me utterly peaceful and serene. It allows me to truly only live once and without regret. I am less mean, less nasty, less harsh, and far more fulfilled. Instead of watching the empty days of the calendar, I watch my words and actions. I try to live up to the promise I made, to be the best version of myself possible. I may not succeed every, single day. I may feel failure or disappointment, but that is okay. That is what living is. Living life is picking myself up when I fall, holding some one's hand when she falls, crying both tears of sadness and joy, and learning to rest, peacefully, in the midst of it all.