Pain And Suffering

IMG_1087“We suffer because we marry our instinctive aversion to pain to the deep-seated belief that life should be free from pain. In resisting our pain by holding this belief, we strengthen just what we’re trying to avoid. When we make pain the enemy, we solidify it. This resistance is where our suffering begins.”

 Ezra Bayda, “When It Happens to Us”

It is difficult to get rid of the sting of adversity we often find ourselves surrounded by. Whether it’s a health issue, a relationship problem, or some other circumstance, we deem it unfair and find ourselves going to war with ourselves to keep it at bay. But none of us exits this world without experiencing pain and suffering.

All we want is to feel good. We want to be happy, knowing our own minds, surrounded by family and friends who understand and support us. And that’s the way it is much of the time.  But then pain comes calling in the form of loss and fear. Sometimes it crushes us. We feel desperation. We get depressed or anxious. We scream and cry trying to make the hurt go away.

But pain is what it is. It’s like the weather. It’s an integral part of our lives. Screaming and crying won’t make it go away. Even when the sun is shining and roses are in full bloom it’s nearby. If you aren’t feeling it now, you will before too long. The thing is that as quickly as it arrives, the weather changes and you find yourself back in the sunshine, unless you choose to cling to the stormy forecast.

While our house was torn apart by the renovations we chose to do over the winter, I spent my time suffering.  I just wanted my house back, with nobody else in it.  I ranted about the four weeks the contractor had promised us that turned into eight. I was living in a hotel without a decent kitchen to prepare healthy meals in. I was gaining weight and having one big old pity party. I was forever readying myself for the next problem that would add to my stress.  I was miserable, as well as miserable to be with.

When I decided to sit with my suffering and just let it be, I realized that I had been allowing myself to be a victim. I asked myself, “Who is it that had set up these circumstances?”  It was of course me.  I’m the one who wanted wood floors in the kitchen rather than the stone tile that made my back hurt.  I wanted the laundry room moved upstairs so that I wouldn’t have to lug dirty clothes down into the basement every day.

As I simmered in my pain, I remembered that I had choices. I could be unhappy and negative about my life or I could allow the sun to shine and pay the price of feeling homeless for a couple of weeks while my house got a lot easier to live in.  I chose to look at the positive side of my circumstances. Sure, I was annoyed when things went wrong but then recalled what I’d have in the end.  I try to remember this when other storms blow in, be it something I choose or not.  Stormy weather comes and goes  just like the sun.  That’s just the way life is.


Winter, February 13, 2014

Winter, February 13, 2014

Lately I’ve found myself lost in grieving the unusual number of deaths that have touched me during the last month or so.  It started with Pete Seeger, who became a part of my life when I met my husband. Bill played the guitar, sang, and was deeply immersed in the folk music movement in the sixties and seventies. Pete was one of his heroes and his voice could be heard in our home every day through recordings or the words Bill sang. When Pete died, my daughter, Lisa, noted that she had grown up with him and indeed she had. Pete was an important part of the antiwar and peace movements in this country and we all know his role in politics during and after the McCarthy hearings. He was a great man and thankfully we have his music to keep us company as we travel down our own paths. To pay homage to him and other folk heroes of his time, we rushed out to see Arlo Guthrie, live here in Charlottesville last week. Arlo celebrated both his father and Pete through song and story telling. I was rolling  in the aisles with laughter and tearful, remembering those good ole days.

When Philip Seymour Hoffman died days later, I was in shock. I had seen him live on stage several times and appreciated his range and versatility in the roles he played both on stage and in film.  He was my favorite actor of all time. I last saw him in “Death of a Salesman,” as Willie Loman, on Broadway a few years ago and he was brilliant. When I first heard that he had died of a heroin overdose I was angry.  I thought, “What a waste. How could a man who could bring out the the deepest of humanity through the characters he portrayed so perfectly, be so stupid?”  But then I remembered my own time of learning about addiction when I discovered that several of my family members were addicted to alcohol and drugs. I spent time in rehab supporting one of them and religiously went to  ALANON, trying to wrap my head around the idea that some of people I loved were addicts. Those were life changing times for me that I’d forgotten about as I tried to make sense of Hoffman’s death.  But, he was just another human being with a disease and no better or worse than the rest of us.

On a more personal level, one of Bill’s high school classmates died a week or so ago. He like Bill, was in his seventies and akin to the rest of us entering old age, we expect to see old friends occasionally moving on to another world. It was not a pleasant piece of news, but it is the way life is and another reminder of our own mortality.  I felt comforted to see so many of Bill’s friends come together via phone to reconnect and celebrate an old friend’s life as well as their own.

During the snow storm last Thursday more sad news came as our neighbor across the street died at age 95.  It was expected.  He suffered from congestive heart failure. He was a beloved music professor at UVA, and is deeply mourned by his family and untold numbers of friends and students who studied with him over the years.  As a neighbor I will miss the occasional walks I took with him around the block and our wonderful conversations. Boots always made others feel as though they were the most important people in the world. He never forgot that I was working on a book and just a few weeks ago, when Bill went over to help lift him out of a car, he asked Bill how my book was coming along.

The hardest news of all came a few hours later from a friend telling me of the death of one of the members of the meditation group that I had once hosted at my home. I was stunned, especially because he died of an apparent suicide.  He was a lovely man in his forties, and though I didn’t know him all that well, he was for me a very special person, someone I enjoyed being with and deeply respected. He always had wise words to share at our meetings and I’ll always consider him an important teacher.

At the memorial service held for him on Valentine’s Day evening, I sat with two other members of our group. We sat in silence, sharing our tears, not one of us able to understand why he took his life.  As with Hoffman, using heroin to escape his demons, J. must have been a victim of some unbearable pain that he could no longer live with.  I can not judge him for what he did. He, too, was just another human being like you and me. I can only be grateful that I had the opportunity to know him and to share discussions about life with him.

Death is simply another stage of life. We all must face it and though it scares me, I, like everyone else, confront it over and over again every day of my life. We are born each morning into a new day, and die each evening as we fall asleep with the day coming to its own end. I’m still learning to take each day as it comes, cherishing each moment, grateful for having known all of those around me, sharing sad and happy moments in time.

Living With My Demons

IMG_0952“Silence arrests flight, so that in its refuge, the need to flee the chaos of noise dimishes.  We let the world creep closer, we drop to our knees, as if to let the heart, like a small animal, get its legs on the ground.”

– Barbara Hurd, “On Silence”

 Well over forty years ago, just after my son was born, I slipped into a nasty period of postpartum depression.  I had trouble going to sleep and when I did, awoke way before dawn with my mind in a tangle of troubled thoughts. I cried most of the time, found it hard to get in the shower, and to get dressed. I sought out a therapist. He told me that I was suffering from the changes that were occurring in my life and also in my body. He gave me an antidepressant and asked me to come back in a week.

It took a while for the meds to work but I kept going back to see him for a few more weeks. He seemed to think that there was more to my dismal state of mind than just being a new mother.  He asked me several times, “What are you so afraid of?”  I was totally confused by the question and answered, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m afraid of anything.” Thanks to the pills my mood improved. Six or so months later I gradually stopped taking them and went on with my life, adjusting to motherhood and all that it entailed.

But his question stayed with me.  Over the years I’ve asked myself that same question, knowing in some way that it was an important question for me to think about. But no answers appeared. I was locked up tight, and ignored the sound I heard somewhere in the distance of someone pounding on a door wanting to be let in. I ignored it and just wanted whoever it was to go a way and quit making a racket.

As my life went on and more than a few years passed, I slowly got closer to opening the door. It happened over the span of life lessons that we all go through as we maneuver our way through earth school.  Once I opened that old beaten down door, I began to find many answers to the therapists question. It was scary to discover all the things that terrified me and there were more than a few. I was afraid of being alone.  I was afraid of my parents. I was afraid of the pain I was feeling and I was afraid of what tomorrow might bring. I lived in dread, making up stories of what cataclysm was about to happen next and how I would get myself through it. Plan A was always at the ready, backed up by plans B, C, and D.

One day I woke up and decided that I was not living the life I wanted. It had to go. Who would want to live in fear 24/7?  Who would want to hurt that much?

I started seeking help and over the years have learned how to cope with my demons. I began inviting them in one at a time. I listened to what they had to say.  As I got to know them,I realized that what made them so terrifying was slowly ebbing away. We got to be friends. We all live together now, helping one another as new life situations arise.  The part of me that is noise sensitive knows that when the clatter gets too loud I need to seek the solace of quiet places. When I feel sadness or overwhelm approaching, I’m able to converse with them and find myself feeling lighter and happy to move on.

I still get scared. Sometimes I’m afraid of the dark, of leaving this wonderful life, of what aging has in store for me.  But I’m able to let them go. They’re just thoughts that come along like rain clouds.  They are here and then they’re gone. It’s in not letting them build up to become powerful storms that allows the sun to come out and dry up the occasional rain.

A Survivor’s Toolbox

DSCF0163I’m over at my daughters blog, Sacred Circle, this morning at:

I’ve written about things that help me get through tough times.

Time Enough

DSCF0195I began the process of writing my memoir a few years ago. Among my friends are those who have been working on their books for years. But they’re all a lot younger than I am. I might not have “years” to work on mine, so why even start? Approaching my seventieth year, I figured I’d be dead long before I finished it and thought I’d be wasting my time. Afraid that it might be too big a commitment, I worried that I would have to leave behind the other things that I need and enjoy doing. Like gardening, slapping paint onto canvas and watching it magically become a finished painting. Cooking delicious healthy meals, or traveling to places I’d like to revisit or go to for the first time.

But some told me I must do it anyway. They said I have many things to share that would benefit others … especially women.  And there was that voice in my head that I often shut out. It told me that I really didn’t have anything to lose. I kept seeing the word memoir, everywhere. When in bookstores, I’d find myself in the memoir section. Reading newspapers and magazines I often found references to memoir and their growing popularity.  I took all of that to mean that I must proceed.

I started by simply writing down memorable stories from my life. I posted many on them on my blog. Some, I filed away for a rainy day when I planned to haul them out and rework them into something I could share. It was the beginning of scratching that spot on my back that was bugging me.

I kept at it and the irritation went away. I enjoyed the process and found healing for myself as I wrote down stories that I had never shared with anyone except my therapist, my husband, or a few very close friends. I joined a life-writing class and found support and encouragement there. I finally decided that maybe I did have stories that other people  would want to read and made the commitment to write a book.

I had no idea where I was headed but I figured sooner or later I’d find the thread that was lost in my tangle of stories. Conflict grew. I wanted to spend time on writing and finishing my book before my “deathday” came along. But just a year earlier I had decided a new lifestyle was in order. I was exhausted. I needed to slow down, to be present in each moment. I was looking for a more fulfilling life. Could I do both at the same time?

I had spent too many years following the rat race, trying to do too much, too fast, in too little time. My lifelong belief that “when you choose to do something, you do it well or not at all,” was left in the dust by the side of the road. Every now and then I’d stop and ask myself, “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” I never had an answer.

When my mother said, “Your life is a train wreck,” I denied it. But as I took on her care when her health deteriorated, I began to think that perhaps she was right. There was never enough time for anything I wanted to do. I grew more and more anxious. I was unhappy and angry. I blamed Mom for taking all of my time. I moved faster and faster so that I could take her to the doctor and expand my garden from a quarter an acre of flower beds to a half an acre. I longed for time to read, paint, take naps, and stare into space. The faster I went, the more angry and exhausted I became. That pattern pretty much continued until my mother died and I no longer had her to look after.

The first months were long and hard and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t find anything satisfying to do. I was still moving too fast and beginning to hate the things I once loved doing. When the row of potato plants in the garden were ready to be harvested, it took all of the energy I could muster. All I wanted to do was cry. I knew something was terribly wrong. I felt like I was killing myself. Consumed in grief and anger, it took a few years for me to find myself again and begin to heal the losses I had endured.

I came to understand that throughout my life, I had given much of my power and energy to other people. Of course, I had a family. I wanted to be there for my growing children and to spend time with my husband. I had parents and two brothers I also cared about. I gave them all of myself, saving very little for me.

When my kids left home and I had more time, the pace of my life got faster. I had to make up for the time I’d lost. I had too many things I wanted to do. But mostly I still put others first. My worries about time took on a life of their own.

I brought it all to halt two years ago. No more. Finished. I decided to live each day as if it were my last. No more running around not knowing where I was going. I do only what calls to me. If it doesn’t, I don’t do it. “No” is a very important word. So is “Yes,” under the right circumstances.

I won’t be talked out of what I want unless there is a good reason and it makes sense. Those who are used to my giving way to them, may have a problem with all the above, but I feel much better. I’m learning to make choices that leave me satisfied rather than frustrated and resentful. Sometimes I choose the garden over my book.  Sometimes I take a few days off to play or rest. It’s a balancing act.

My book can’t be rushed. If I don’t finish it before I die, it’s still been a marvelous ride. I’m feeling the passion for living, loving, and writing. There is time enough for it all.