Why do some people feel compelled to search for the meaning of life while others are perfectly content to accept life as it is?  Is it all connected with happy childhoods?

I’ve been asking myself this all morning.  I’m continually poking and prodding myself and the world around me, I can never leave things alone, just like my hives which are spreading across my body and face, now that I’m off of the prednisone.  Before last week, they got to the point where I spent the entire day agonizing over the itch, imagining worms crawling all over my body, tiny maggots squirming in every bump.  I poked and rubbed my bumps to see which ones were getting larger and which ones, if any, were getting smaller.

On Friday I decided that this has to come to an end.  I decided not to call the doctor and get more, probably different, more powerful, and just as useless, drugs for the problem.  I cranked up the meditating, stopped the ambien that I’ve been using for months for sleep, and went to Whole Foods for healthy foods and vitamins.

Now, I see that the bumps are spreading, but I’m no longer viewing them as worms crawling all over my body.  I need to move past this and get on with my life.  Now I’m viewing every poison-ivy-like-itchy bump as a harmless annoyance that I’m not going to let get the best of me.  Thus the intense meditating, tai chi, chanting of my buddhist mantra, etc.

But back to the topic of my post.  Just like the hives, why do I poke and prod at my life and why am I continually trying to find myself?

How I ended up with John for a husband I have no idea.  He’s not like me at all in this regard.  He never asks “what is life really all about?” he just lives it from day to day, happily.  He’s like my dogs.  He has an innate dharma.  I can never seem to find the one true meaning of life, it’s a daily quesion that continually accompanies me wherever I go.  I need an explanation for everything, I need context, I need understanding.  I need to write about everything, work it out, psychoanalyze it.

What’s with me?

Advertisements

Crashing

March 27, 2008

I crashed badly last night.  I didn’t realize it, but for the past week I’ve been on a prescription cream and a prednisone pill for an insect bite allergic reaction.  Both courses of treatment ended on Monday, and Tuesday and yesterday my back pain began to come back with a vengeance.

Last night I went home and found myself consumed with a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling of depression that I couldn’t shake.  I crawled into bed and closed my eyes, my head spinning, for a couple of hours.  I had a feeling that all of the euphoria that I’d been feeling for the past couple of weeks was artificial, caused by the drugs.  It felt like someone had shown me Heaven and then taken it away in a cruel joke, and that feeling filled me with grief.  I told myself to just close my eyes and ride through it, concentrate on getting through the night and then see what tomorrow brings when tomorrow arrives.

I woke up this morning, my body itching all over (after all that I still have the itching), but at least my head wasn’t spinning.  I spent an hour doing my qigong and meditating.  I tried to make sense of the last couple of weeks.

I’m still trying to make sense of them.  As I walked from the car into my building at work, I noticed the waves of euphoria are gone.   I didn’t feel bad.  I felt at peace about everything, thanks to the meditating.  Maybe I can use that taste of Heaven that I was given as motivation to continue to nurture my right brain and my creative self, and to trust that my “chi”– the healing energy inside my body — will cure my itching and my back.

This is my latest homework.  It restricted to 500-750 words, and the requirement was that every paragraph needed to stay on topic as defined by the topic sentence, and paragraphs needed to be connected through transitions.  Not sure if I accomplished this.  There’s a lot more to what I wanted to write, but I had to strip it so that I could remain within the guidelines.  If I continue with the story, I’ll rework it and try to formalize it as a publishable article. 

Two years ago a chronic back pain that has plagued me for most of my adult life pushed itself to the forefront of my existence. After a series of physical and emotional illnesses, the back pain heightened to the point where I was unable to do anything upright without crushing and stabbing pain. This left me unable to work and plummeting towards a life of certain debilitation.

By the time my back pain came to a head, I was taking ten pills a day — pills for various diseases, pills to fight side effects from those pills, and pills to treat the interactions between the two. In spite of these pills, new health problems seemed to appear every month.

I used to think that doctors and modern medicine were the be-all and end-all of medicine. In fact, no less than six different doctors that I saw could put all of my diseases and symptoms together to help me figure out why my health was sliding downhill, and what it all had to do with the flaring up of my back pain.

Out of desperation, I began to seek holistic treatments. I sought every treatment in the book, all at once: acupuncture, reiki, massage, Alexander technique lessons, and chiropractic treatments. Every day I studied the Internet, read books and met with therapists. I began a special diet that helped build the health of my body ecology through probiotics and foods that decreased the acid level in my body. Through this diet and the holistic treatments, I weaned myself off of every single medication that I was taking. I found a physical therapist that specialized in back rehabilitation. Eventually I was able to strengthen my back sufficiently and bring my health back to the level where I could go back to work. That was a year ago.

Over the next eight months I continued to seek solutions to the chronic back pain which had become tolerable, but still was undeniably present on a daily basis.

Out of the blue, within a month of each other, two friends gave me two paths to follow that would lead to a breakthrough in my chronic back pain. The first friend suggested that I do something I’d been talking about for a long time, pursue my writing. The second friend gave me a coupon for a special chiropractic practice that, instead of “cracking” your back, used gentle touch on certain points of your body.

I began my journeys down both of these paths. I began writing and exercising the creative side of myself. For the first time in my life, my right brain began to take a step forward and my left brain, which had dominated me for most of my life, a step back.

I used my chiropractic coupon, and began to get regular chiropractic treatments. My chiropractor suggested tai chi to help my spine, and so I signed up for tai chi classes. Through the tai chi classes, I learned a healing form called qigong.

This week I had a profound breakthrough in my chronic back pain. My back “released” itself, and for the first time, I’ve been able to feel pain-free freedom and euphoria through my lower back when I walk. I sometimes attribute this final breakthrough to the healing qigong, but every single step I’ve made along the way on this journey of recovery has contributed to bringing me to this place of life and well-being.

Life can be filled with peaks that seem impossible. I know. I’ve been there with this back problem. The key to climbing those peaks is to keep yourself focused on just the very next step that you need to get closer. Allow yourself to trust that the universe will support you in this endeavor. Leave yourself open to any and every possibility, no matter how crazy or improbable it seems. Don’t let despair, frustration and loneliness tell you to give up. Because, as I’ve learned so poignantly through this experience, yes, life truly is worth living.

Master Ou

March 8, 2008

I had a profound experience the other day that I think has changed my life.

I’ve been taking a tai-chi class for the past month or so.  One of my chiropractors (they are a husband/wife business) suggested doing tai-chi for my back, so I found and signed up for an adult ed class.  That was about a month ago, so we’ve had about 4 or 5 classes.

My tai-chi teacher talks about energies that move through your body.  I once asked her if the energies she talks about are real physical energies, or some sort of mumbo-jumbo touchy-feely new-age sort of spiritual energies.  She said that they were real, measurable energies.  I keep looking for these feelings of energy and think that I feel hints of it, but have never really felt anything truly distinct.

A couple of weeks ago, my tai-chi instructor sent out email that there was a special healer, Master Wen Wei Ou coming, and that anyone who was interested could sign up to meet with this healer for a 15-minute session.  I don’t have anything in particular to heal, so I wasn’t terribly interested, but still thought eh, what the heck, why not.  So I signed up.

My healing session was last Thursday in my teacher’s acupuncture office.  I waited in a room with about 4 other people who were sitting around chatting in very hushed voices.  The room was filled with the aroma of oranges.  There was a large bowl of about 30 orange on a side table, and a small refrigerator with some bottles of water on top.  It was a tiny room, about the size of a small bathroom.

I was nervous.  Which one of my many ailments should I talk to him about?  Nothing was significantly worth mentioning.  The cost of the treatment was $60 for a session.  What would I talk about that would optimize my 15 minutes?  I debated it all day with myself.  I asked my teacher before class and also in the waiting room, “What should I tell him?  should I talk about specific problems?  general stuff?  mental?  physical?  What should I say so I can focus him and not spread him too thin?”

“Don’t worry about it.  Tell him whatever you want,” she answered both times.

“What should I expect?”

“Don’t expect anything.  He’s nice.  Don’t worry.”

I waited in the waiting room with mild jitters.  A tall, thin Asian man stepped out of a room and out of the crowd of 4 people looked directly at me and gestured me over.  I pointed at myself and cocked my head, eyebrows raised in a “moi?” sort of gesture.  He nodded.  (Speaking of cocks, one of my dogs is masturbating in front of me as I write this. why do male dogs have to do such disgusting things?  Must he do this in my office?  Back to the story…)

I follow the tall thin Asian into a small room.  A middle-aged Asian man sits in a metal folding chair in the center of the room facing the door.  He is Master Ou. He holds his hand out towards an empty metal folding chair which faces him, about 2 feet away.  “Sit down” the tall thin one tells me.  I’ll call him Bert, for want of a better name.

Bert proceeds to sit in a chair to the side, facing the Master Ou and me.  It turns out Bert is the translator.  Master Ou speaks to Bert.  “He asks how your health is,” Bert says to me.

“Ok,” I say.  Bleh, after worrying about it all day, this is what ends up popping out of my mouth.

“Ok” doesn’t need translation.  The Master Ou chuckles.  “Ok” he says back to me, smiling.  He has a few wrinkles on his cheeks and short hair.  He wears a light blue short-sleeved button-down shirt and a pair of what look like tan Dockers pants.  He doesn’t look like a revered healer, he looks like some Hawaiian native, about to step out for 18 holes.  I expected an ancient Chinese man with a braided pony tail wearing a monk’s robe.

“Just sit back and relax” Bert tells me.  I sit back in my chair.  Master Ou moves to the front edge of his chair with each leg out to the side, leans towards me, and begins waving his hands.

“WHAM, KABOOM! KERBLOWEE!”  Each wave of his hands sends seismic tidal waves of electricity through my body that I’ve never ever ever in my entire life felt before.

“HOLY GODDAMN BEJEZUS-FUCKING-BATSHIT!!” I want to jump out of my chair and scream.  The energy is like zillions of infinitessimally tiny beings entering my body and rushing through my torso, filling it and circling, creating a humongous swirling ball of energy in one huge stream.  Every cell in my body is being hit with tiny lightning bolts.

My intellect tells me, Relax.  Don’t tense up or you’ll stop the waves.  As I sit there, the outside of me is in meditation position — sitting relaxed, eyes slightly open, keeping my mind clear of chatter.  The inside of me is smashed against a wall — pinned, suspended, being held up with just this constant, rushing tidal wave of energy.  He’s not even touching me.

I resist the intense urge to collapse onto the floor in one weeping heap.

After fifteen minutes of this, where I’m thinking don’t stop, oh please don’t stop, not yet… he stops.  He says something in Chinese.   “He says your left brain and your left bladder are tired,” Bert tells me.

I’ve been overworked, stressed out, freaking out at John…  that diagnosis was right on the mark.  “Should I seek treatment for my tired bladder?”

He speaks to Master Ou and turns back to me, “he says no need to do anything about the bladder.  If something significant happens, then you can seek treatment, but for now, it’s mild.  No need to do anything.”

“Will my making my left brain less tired help my bladder?”

“He says yes, that may help.”

“How can I make my left brain less tired?”

“He asks if you are going to his workshop next Sunday.  He’s teaching something that may help you.”

“Yes, I will go to his workshop then.”  I stand up and bow to Master Ou and then to Bert.  I’m overwhelmed with a sense of deference towards Master Ou.  He nods to me.

“I will see you next Sunday then,” I tell him.

“Yes,” he says to me, directly this time.

I leave, and my teacher is in the waiting room.

“How was it?” she asks me.

“It was….  wow.”  No words can do justice to the experience.

We chat for a bit, and she tells me, “If you keep practicing your tai-chi, you will begin to feel what you felt today.  He didn’t transfer that energy to you, he just enabled you to activate what was already inside of you.  Do your tai-chi slowly — much slower than we do in class.  We only do it quickly because of the time constraints.  When you practice at home, do it much more slowly, and see if you can begin to feel this energy.”

That was two days ago.  Since then, I’ve done my tai-chi practice much more slowly.  I’m beginning to feel the “energy” that she speaks of.  Even in my meditating I feel a difference.  I’m more often reaching meditation states where I don’t want to move, I don’t want to end the meditation practice because I find myself in such a state of harmony.  Maybe these lingering effects are temporary.  Maybe tomorrow they’ll be gone, who knows.

I always disliked the phrase “cancer makes you a better person” because cancer just simply sucks beans, no ifs-ands-or-buts.  When you’re going through treatments it’s damned hard to associate anything positive with the experience, and to hear someone else saying that phrase is demoralizing.  It feels like it’s devaluing your suffering.  Still, today, seven years after my cancer treatments, I can’t deny that my cancer has made me a better person.  Cancer made me suspend my beliefs towards everything in the world that I knew to be true; made me more open to any possibility; made me much less sure of the existence of one absolute truth, one absolute RIGHT explanation to the meaning of life and how it works.  If it weren’t for my cancer, I never would have started meditating;  I never would have become interested in holistic things; I never would have gone to these chiropractors; and I never would have considered doing tai-chi.  I never would have met Master Ou.

Master Ou took a virtual sledgehammer to my head and bashed my skull in.  “Feel that?  THAT is what the energy feels like.”  The word “healer” is a misnomer.  He’s not a healer, he’s a demonstrator.  He has the ability to SHOW people the energy that’s within them.  Today the world seems to have more vivid colors, more texture and more softness than I can ever remember.  I have my cancer, Master Ou, and everyone in between to thank.

I got up this morning, late, after a restless night’s sleep.  As I’ve been doing for the past 4 days or so, I wrote my Morning Pages before meditating.

I began my Morning Pages by saying “Look, I’m not in the mood.  I’m irritated.  Whatever it is you want to know about me or want me to say, forget it, it’s none of your goddamned business.” 

I forced myself to keep writing, though.  I started to write about what exactly I felt bad about.

I wrote about feeling like a loser.  I wrote about how, in social situations, I often don’t know what to say.  And then when I do say something it comes out in a crazy sputter.  It feels as though everyone else is standing in the room looking at me, all being “normal” and I’m tripping over my words, saying stupid inane stuff.  Many times after social evenings I reflect and then berate myself for some small comment I made that was completely off-topic or not as compassionate as it could have been, or maybe it was too bubbly or too loud or just simply too indescribably dumb.  I thought about this as I wrote.

I wrote about relationships that I’ve hurt in the past because of my stupidity, some which are still damaged and no amount of apology on my part will repair them.  I wrote about other relationships that I’ve hurt that I don’t care about and should.  I wrote about still other relationships that I haven’t hurt that I don’t care about but should.

I wrote about things that I hate about myself:  the ugly frown my face has when I’m thinking, my bowed legs, the way I feel incompetent at work, the way I hate my own writing, and here I want to be a writer…..  etc. etc.

This is the stuff that goes through my head when I’m feeling grumpy and irritable.  I know that now, because my Morning Pages don’t lie.  I cast this huge and endless stream of guilt and belittlement on myself regarding a host of random issue, from insignificant to significant.  It’s all fair game in my self-accusations.

I know I’m not alone with my complex web of negative emotions triggered by both real and imaginary things.  We wouldn’t have self-help feel-good books if no one else went through this.  I can’t explain why we humans (in general) aren’t born with an innate understanding of how to be at peace with the world and ourselves.  I only know that for me it’s a daily effort to keep all of this under control.  I can’t just, for instance, meditate one time and then everything is fixed (as in take a pill and it’s all gone).  It reminds me of what AA people do.  I have to stand up every single day of my life and say “Hi, my name is Jane, and I’m not at peace.”

For the past couple of days I’ve been doing my Morning Pages before my meditating and not after.  Morning Pages are 3+ pages of constant, nonstop, stream-of-consciousness writing.  Just continuous writing, with no idea of correctness or incorrectness, everything is game.

Morning Pages are a concept I’ve read about in several books.  The Artist’s Way is the book that gave it this name and triggered me to actually doing it.  In order for them to be most effective, you’re supposed to do them when you first get up, and before you’re completely awake.  In that way, your mind is still in a state where it’s not awake enough to actually pre-filter anything that comes out of the pen.

This morning I sat down, still sleepy, to do my Morning Pages.  I started off by writing that I had nothing to write about, and can we please get our Morning Pages over with so I can start my day….  grumble, grumble, etc. etc.

Before I knew it, I segued into writing about an especially difficult relationship that I have in my life.  I wrote about how I didn’t like this particular person, what I didn’t like about them, how I hate the way they do this and do that.  I kept writing and writing and bitching about this person.  As I wrote, I found myself writing out every tiny minute thing about my faults in the relationship and their faults in the relationship and why I react to them in the way that I do, and alternatively what must be going through their heads when they react to me.  It was almost like a one-person play, where the one person is me talking about this person in a monologue, no holds barred.  I described every little tiny detail about our relationship that I could think of, going back and forth talking about myself and then talking about them:  Looking at me through their eyes, and then looking at them through my own eyes.

I ended up going through an experience that is identical to what I’ve gone through in the past with therapists, only better because I was talking about the problem in my own way.  My head was controlling the flow and direction, not someone outside of my head.

My Morning Pages completely unravelled this relationship.  I wrote stuff I could never say out loud (cause it’s, well, seriously bitchy).  I was able to completely partition out the relationship section by section, and take each section as a separate entity.  I threw away stuff that really seemed explosive at the time but were not related to the core problems.  After doing this sectioning and culling, I was left with one or two things which described the exact trigger points for me.  I could build every single event and attitude I had about this person from these trigger points.

I wrote 5 pages as I picked through my brain on all of the issues.  When I got to the root cause(s), I looked at the history of behavior of this person and anything else I knew about them.  I found myself replacing my knee-jerk emotional reactions with a seed of compassion.  I think my Morning Pages and meditating are making me a better person.

This morning I found myself in my Morning Pages describing the place that I go when I meditate.   Later in the morning I tried to describe it to John, and discovered that it’s such a personal thing that you cannot hope for anyone to understand it unless they’ve been there themselves.  We humans communicate to each other in inaccuracies.  We can only express coarse approximations of ideas, thoughts and feelings.  So I would never expect anyone who reads this to understand unless they themselves have experienced it.  And yet it’s profound enough that it deserves mention as a fundamental part of my journey to strip the roadblocks away and find the creative part of myself.

I’ve been meditating off and on for 7 years now.  Mostly off.  When I was going through cancer treatments in 2001, I attended meditation classes through a group called Rigpa, taught by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Sogyal Rinpoche.  I was introduced to the group through his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying which I found amazingly comforting during a period where I was forced to confront the very real possibility of dying for the first time in my life.

I attended the classes for about 6 months even though I only meditated on days when I felt a desperate need for comfort and release from all of the various stresses that cancer and its treatments bring.

It seems that, regardless of how casual you have been about meditating, every time you sit, it generates some sort of tiny piece of memory that stays in your brain.  I’ve been sitting daily for the past 4 months or so now.  I started off with once a day, and then increased to twice a day when I began doing my Morning Pages about 3 or 4 weeks ago, usually 10-15 minutes in the morning, and about 20 minutes in the evening, nothing seriously hardcore.  Now, after 7 years of off-and-on meditating where it has been mostly off, I’ve finally reached a point where I’m beginning to understand some things.

Nobody can actually teach you how to meditate since each of us is a unique individual.  The classes give you tools and guidance, but then it’s up to you to sit every single day and study your mind and figure out how to use the tools to clear your mind of the thoughts and emotional manipulations that seem to consume our very beings day in and day out.  The tools include things such as sacred spaces, candles, verbal guided meditations, mantras, a group of people to meditate with, etc. etc.  The real learning is that which you do on your own.  You take the tools in the toolkit and take yourself into the real learning space where you are both teacher and student.

Rinpoche used to say a phrase over and over and over:  “Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form”.  It’s something that in his classes you hear so much you have it etched into your brain, even though you may be otherwise clueless as to what it means.

This place of meditation is a place of nothingness.  It’s a place that has no beginning and no end, no up nor down, no past nor present.  I have no body and no mind there.  There are no other things or beings or thoughts in this place, because there’s a sort of a filter that keeps all that out.  It’s almost like it’s a separate dimension that is completely devoid of anything perceptible of this world.  It’s not a high, it’s not a scrunch-the-eyes and imagine sort of place.  It’s a place of infinite space and yet nothingness.

If you strip away all, and you’re left with this infinity of nothingness, what you have left is complete and utter peace.

Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form.

When I meditate, sometimes John is watching TV in the other room.  The woofer on the sound system sounds like a sonic boom going through the house.

If I get annoyed at the sound making my head vibrate I lose my ability to calm my mind.  I find myself getting stressed out.

I discovered that if I allow the sounds of the TV to enter my mind and take them with an attitude of “John is doing something he enjoys.  The house has life in it.  Sid my terrier is probably cuddling with him”, then I can dissipate any emotions that I attach to it, and before I know it I’m meditating and completely unaware of the shaking of the house.

I was thinking about this this morning as I reflected on my past.  I was wondering where to go with what I’ve written — things about my father, my time in Florida, my suicide attempts.  What do I do with this information now that it’s surfaced into my consciousness and has become part of my superficial existence?

And then I wondered if this is similar to the TV and the meditating.  Take it, be with it, allow it.  Don’t struggle to suppress it or deny it.  Incorporate it.  Embrace it so completely that it becomes a part of my structure.  And make sure the rest of my being is strong enough that this knowledge doesn’t become the totality of who I am, but just another jigsaw in the entire picture of me.