Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Blessing of A Painful Choice

Sometimes a choice arises that is totally unanticipated. 

I’ve been very fortunate. Although I’ve had CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) for thirty-one years, I’ve never had the non-epileptic seizures that are often part of this neurological disease. Until about a year ago. At that point the regular night-onset exploding headaches started to occasionally be accompanied by blinding flashes of light and bed-side-lamp-busting thrashing about. (And yes, after more than three decades I have tried the full range of bodywork, inner work, spiritual practices, energetic healing modalities, functional medicine, food plans, supplements etc. etc. etc.- often with positive results on many levels.)

Two months ago a dear friend with a different kind of nerve/neurologically caused pain tried a new medication and stopped having the daily headaches that had plagued her for decades.

Intrigued, I spoke to my doctor. I’d been resisting meds but, as my doctor’d pointed out, the trouble with seizures is, even if you’re willing to ride out the pain, they may damage the brain (and with two parents with Alzheimer's I'm particularly keen to protect all the brain cells I can.) 

And so the experiment began.

Over the next six weeks there was good news and bad news. The medication (at the smallest dosage I could get, which was less than one tenth of the daily recommended amount) stopped the night-time inner lightning show and the ensuing pain that had often left me struggling and recovering for three to four days a week. Yay!

There was, however, a down side: My never-too-great-energy plummeted. Despite being reassured that my body would "adjust" in a week or two, the decline was continuous. Twice I had to talk well-meaning strangers out of calling 911 when I had to lay down on the floor- once at the post office, and once in the laundry room of my apartment building. (It sounds dramatic I know, but it did seem that laying down and resting until I could move on was preferable and considerably less dramatic than falling down.) By the end of the six weeks it was regularly taking me at least an hour (sometimes two) to muster the energy needed to get out of bed and take the four steps to the bathroom after waking.

Needless to say, not much writing was happening. Or reading. Not much of anything was happening. I was pain-free but unable to walk around the block.

So there was the choice: deal with pain or be pain-free but unable to do anything. To my surprise, my preference was clear. Pain is not fun. Pain takes a lot of energy to manage. But, with good practices and lots of grace, it can be managed at least some of the time so I can participate in some of what I love- so I can write a page, read a chapter, walk in the park, do a little yoga, visit with a friend or my sons. . . 

So, I stopped taking the medication. This was my choice for now, with this particular med. If the pain was more or the dulling of my senses with the med less, I might have made a different choice. And, I am no purist- I do at times use meds to help me manage the pain. 

Having chosen, I felt oddly elated. It felt like a confirmation of my love of life, an affirmation of my choice to be here even when “here” involves pain. The medication encased me in a pain-free fog of deep exhaustion, made me feel like I was sitting (or laying down) outside of life.

It strikes me that this is often a choice we have to make because life includes discomfort in a myriad of forms: grief, loss, uncertainty, anxiety, physical pain, trauma, etc. But it also includes laughter, joy, love, caring, creativity, ecstasy, belonging and all that good stuff. And if we want to be awake enough to feel the latter, we will encounter- and feel- at least some of the former. Don’t get me wrong- I am not glorifying pain. I continue to explore ways to have less pain and more energy. But a solution that eliminates pain while taking away the sense of participating in life is not, for me, any solution at all

There were a lot of things I could not do in the last six weeks, but I could pray. Some days, I felt like I prayed continuously (when I wasn't asleep.) Oh it wasn't all enlightened gratitude-and-love-filled murmurings. I prayed in desperation and confusion, seeking understanding, expressing frustration and letting the tears flow. I prayed for the strength to get up off the floor. I prayed for calm when panic seemed more reasonable. I prayed for patience and wisdom. 

And I prayed for the world, for the earth, for the creatures of the land and the water and the air, for the human family and for those were suffering close by or far away, In particular, I prayed for those who were ill or in pain who did not have a warm cozy nest of an apartment in which to rest or good health care, clean water, and nourishing food. (Prayer is sneaky that way- if I sincerely start from where I am it opens my heart to myself and then, inevitably, to others and the world.)

And. . . having made the choice that was mine to make at this time, I prayed in deep gratitude for the Sacred Presence that is always with me, that holds me and helps me and gives me life. It's like a little miracle really, how connected we are to life- how we are life- even when life is not easy. What we are made of is stacked in favour of choosing life, and I am truly grateful for this, for being here, for the ability to feel what is in this moment.

Oriah (c) 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014


This is a heart-song in praise of the constant change that is part of the gift of living here on this spectacular blue-green planet.

Oh, I know- there are times when I resist or grumble about the ceaseless change within and around us. I want to cherry pick, to have only certain changes that I can direct or that I pray for- like peace in the world, and patience, and immediately effective strategies for living wisely and sustainably together. Or. . .the physical strength to get my laundry done today (okay, I don't actually pray for that but it would be nice.)

And sometimes, when I am feeling spectacularly delighted or crushingly overwhelmed, I just want everything- inside me and around me- to stop for a moment, to stay the same. Sometimes I even try to make things stop and stay the same. Yeah, like that ever works!

Change just keeps on rolling.

Earlier this week I posted an update on Facebook about a few days of challenging pain and exhaustion. The next morning I was not as tired and the pain had subsided a little. I smiled in the darkness of my bedroom and whispered thank you to this reality we live for being one of constant change. Oh, it’s true, some days the change is not in the direction I am hoping for, but even when that is true we are reminded that change is a constant, invited to find hope in that fact that present conditions will not stay the same.

So tonight, I offer my gratitude for movement, for unfolding, for birth and death, for decay and renewal, for change in all of its manifestations. And, ironically, when I truly accept change- both that which is chosen and that which comes unbidden- I find at the centre of it all. . . . a still point. Right there, at the end of exhale, before the impulse to inhale, I find an awareness of an implicate stillness at the centre of explicit change, a Presence beneath, within, behind and surrounding this constant movement.

The flow of constant change and the ever-present stillness- both true, both blessings, both holding and moving us.

Oriah (c) 2014

(Pic of the full moon from last night by the photographer Karen Davis. A reminder that what is full will wane, and what is diminished will, eventually wax to fullness once again.)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Postscript to Survival Strategies

Thank you to all the wonderful women and men who commented here and on Facebook on my story “Survival Strategies." As I read through the comments I feel held in your caring. It is sad but not surprising to see how many mention similar experiences of violence in their lives. This is not the first time I have told this story that happened in my early twenties. I wrote about it in at least one of my books, although there were details included here that have not been published before.

The incident I described happened more than thirty-five years ago. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some wonderfully skilled spiritual healers and psychological guides. As the trauma was released and I healed I was able to use this experience to be more deeply present and openly accepting with others who have had similar experiences. It has been my honour in my professional and personal life to listen and hold others’ stories, to let those stories break my heart open over and over, to offer what help I can for healing.

For those of you who have asked: the man involved was not a stranger but someone I knew (as is true in the majority of cases.) Years after this incident, when my own healing felt complete, I did look into laying charges. All of the police and lawyers (one former crown prosecutor) I consulted told me that, for a number of reasons I will not go into here, prosecution was not likely to be successful and so would not be pursued. I did what I could- through my lawyer I informed some who were geographically and emotionally close to the man involved (members of his family) about his violence. I have some reason to hope that they have both monitored his behaviour and found help for him so that no other women suffer at his hands. That is my prayer.

Following the impulse to share this story now, and receiving feedback has had an unexpected positive consequence. I’ve been working on a new book which includes some different but difficult stories about my life. I have great faith in stories, in their ability to offer healing and meaning to both the teller and the listener in the way they reveal the glorious and messy truth of a human journey. But I also know the vulnerability of writing about personal choices, and sometimes drag my feet about sharing those stories, reluctant to be on the receiving end of others’ thoughts, opinions and feelings about my life.

The response I received on the story I posted here has encouraged me to continue to write- not only because I received overwhelming support and genuine sharing, but because I also received a handful of messages and emails that were. . . .judgemental, shaming, accusatory and just downright nasty. And it was okay. I was okay! Oh, I’ll admit, it’s never fun to be misunderstood or judged harshly, but the thing that made me smile was that my own response was mostly curiosity and bafflement. I did not feel compelled to respond or defend or reveal more than I wanted to in an effort to be clearly understood. I got it! Others’ responses are theirs, so I am free to write the truth to the best of my ability and send it into the world with a prayer that it do no harm. I laugh as I write this- I have no hubris about this clarity and the freedom it brings. I know that as human beings we tend to “get it” and “lose it” and “get it again” over and over, and that’s okay.

So, it’s back to the writing. I will continue to drop in and share here as the impulse to do so arises, filled with gratitude for the richness of our connections and sharing here. May you be well. May we live together on this small blue-green planet of beauty in a way that is truly sustainable for our bodies, minds, hearts and souls.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 2014