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A New Heart

largeAnd so it ends, this tumultuous year of 2017. Do I dare to breathe a sigh of relief only to inhale deeper while buckling up with uncertainty into yet another orbit of the earth around the sun? I want to be cheerful, gay, frivolous, the life of the party, and all those standard traditional things we are supposed to share at the dawning of a new year whether we mean it or not. But, I can’t. Honestly, I am so tired, and I feel so miserably sad that I can’t even pretend to feel hopeful. I am spent. 

I am sickened by the ignorance and lack of compassion, the stubborn stupidity of party line thinking, the lies, the closed minds that continue blindly through their privileged lives with blatant disregard for the well-being of others, and the dark revealing of a swath of people who mistakenly think our country is only about them. I believe I have lost three-quarters of my stomach since the onset of 2017. I fear my heart is soon to follow.

A few days ago, I was taken to the ER via ambulance.  A pain in the center of my upper chest and stomach, where the ribs meet, actually propelled me to the living room floor, face-down in agony. It radiated into my back. It literally took my breath away. I didn’t know if I would die from the pain or from not being able to breathe. The image that came to mind was the creepy snake-like creature from the movie Alien that burst through the guy’s chest. That’s how painful it was. I kid you not. I had this same experience about three years ago. This time was worse by far.

After two doses of morphine in the ambulance, two more in the hospital, and one dose of Toradol, I was able to stop thrashing around on the hospital gurney long enough for the medical team to run all the standard tests. Everything came back normal. It always does. I’m as healthy and fit as I have ever been. Physically, there is nothing wrong with me. That directs me to what I know now and knew then, was my biggest ailment.

images (2)It is said that stress is a killer. Plain and simple. I believe it. I won’t blame it all on the year 2017, for there are several factors that have contributed to my stress and anxiety throughout current, as well as years past. Many are things we all deal with on a daily basis. Many are personal to me and will, for now, remain so. After my recent hospital scare, I’ve been thinking long and hard about upping my efforts at meditation, self-care, and self-compassion. I must apologize to my heart and take better care. I had the epiphany that I am the only person able to unconditionally count on to make my life work. I am responsible to work out my own salvation without depending upon others. People let you down. Strangers. Acquaintances. Friends. Family. That said, I have spent the past three days living mindfully, determined to incorporate this precious quality of life-enhancing practice into my life. I have eaten well (although lightly), drank tons of herbal teas, slept often, listened to guided meditations and motivational podcasts, marveled at the beautiful white fallen snow, collected bird data for Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab from watching the flutter of activity at my backyard feeders, put on new warm slippers, snuggled into my fuzziest and softest sweater, read all sorts of books and painted my first watercolor piece.

I know I must proceed with caution for it has been my experience more times than I care to remember where I have been on a dangerous precipice of not knowing what to share and with whom to share it. It’s risky business, this sharing. Writers are courageous, and it makes them vulnerable. Vultures are waiting to swallow you when a moment of human weakness takes hold. “Kiss my ass,” I say. Haters and bullies get cheap thrills by targeting your beliefs – “That’s not very zen,” they sneer. Again, I say “kiss my ass.” And I mean it.

downloadI teach yoga, study spiritual texts, meditate, eat healthily, drink green tea, use aromatherapy diffusers, burn incense, attend silent retreats, care for the environment, volunteer for those in need. I’m not supposed to say things like “kiss my ass.” I’m not supposed to get rattled or angry. I don’t know who made that boxed-in rigid rule, but let’s just purge that baby right here and now. I know a few such smug yogis (or Christians, or Jews, or atheists or assholes) like this. I also know they’re full of shit. Oops, there I go again.

I do not live in a Hallmark movie. I live in a buried treasure chest of diversity – filled with jewels, gold trinkets, broken and tarnished pieces of everything imaginable, some rusting to corrosion and some golden gleaming. I have good days, bright moments, exceptional experiences, dark shadows, and several secrets.

My heart instantly breaks into shards of glass for those who are hurting, and yet it amazes me that I have the concealed potential to use those same sentimental shards to harm those who I deem hurtful. I lose my breath at the simplistic beauty of a silhouetted tree in the midst of a field at dusk or wonder about the sullen stories hidden in power lines sagging from the eaves of dirty shingled row houses along small-town Main Streets. I succumb to miserable weakness in questioning my own character and integrity, knowing there are hungry wolves out there, just waiting, salivating at the mouth, to ferociously pounce upon any personal flaw I may reveal. But I have guts when it comes to fiercely defending the character, rights, and integrity of others.

I am mouthy, loud, gutsy, glorious, soft, brutally honest, fragile, colorful, mindful, grateful, strong, compassionate, opinionated, flawed, awesome. I am a wonder. I will be nothing less. My power lies in being the complete authentic me, every single step of the way, every single day that I figure it out, wishing 2018 will bring a new direction and the very longed-for hope back into my life.

download (2)As I await its arrival, I will add extra color to the palette. I’ll try to give up striving for perfection. I will no longer make excuses for other people’s bad and abusive behavior. I will no longer cover up for other people’s lack of responsibility, or worse, take the blame for it. I will not allow others to manipulate and gaslight me into thinking my behavior and feelings are irrational or too sensitive or “not very zen.” I will guard my vulnerabilities a little more against the cruel and dangerous people who tuck them away to use against me at a later time. I will no longer doubt myself but instead will trust my gut instinct. I will always reclaim my reality when someone tries to muddle it with a need for control. I will stand up for my beliefs and the beliefs of others. I will not cower behind them. I will not roll over into submission so someone can rub my belly and say “good doggie.” I will speak my truth. I will share my truth. And so help me God, before all is said and done, I will bare my truth.

And I will continue to tend to my heart, my precious, gentle, fragile heart as I delicately define the lines, curves, and grooves of my most authentic sculpted self.

The Four Limitless Prayer
May all living beings have happiness
and the cause of happiness;
May all be free from sorrow
and the cause of sorrow;
May all never be separated
from the Bliss that is sorrowless;
May all live in equanimity,
free from attachment and aversion.

How do you heal your heart?

(Some thoughts previously shared in a blog post from January 2017)
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Luxury

oxygenMy friend needs a ride to the hairdresser. She has to sit frequently. She gasps for breath and coughs from the 30+ years of being a smoker. She doesn’t like the way her new tank ‘pulses’ intermittently instead of releasing a steady stream of oxygen. But the tank with the steady stream empties quickly. It costs too much money to keep refilling it so often. She can’t afford it, this luxury of comfortable breath.

b8

Cool

I think of the days when I was a smoker. A cool, hip teenager. Years ago. The corners of my mouth turn down in disgust at the thought of smoking again and polluting the new healthy version of my temple body. A shiver of disappointment in my past unwise choices rattles down my spine. My breathing exercises during yoga classes would be labored if I were still a smoker. But now, I breathe deeply, completely. I fill my lungs and fully exhale through a series of pranayama breath practices. Each breath a precious gift. I am grateful for my desire and the accompanying discipline to quit all those years ago. I am grateful for the luxury of my comfortable breath.       

But I wonder as I sit in the waiting area at the hair salon inhaling toxic chemical fumes, will those days of lung abuse eventually show up for revenge? Will I have to carry around a tank full of pulses of air everywhere I go? Have I sold my lungs for a fleeting moment of delusional, youthful cool?

I hear my friend tell her stylist the story about her new oxygen tank that ‘pulses.’

The stylist says, “Oh, that’s not good.”

My friend says, “No, it’s not.” Cough. Cough.

smoker1

Not cool

They talk about eucharistic ministers and choir members from a church they both attend. They are excited about the music they will hear during their Christmas service. My friend says she misses singing. She says she wants to sing so badly, to “feel the music in her throat”, but her lungs “get all locked up” when she tries.

 

I can hear my friend drag her walker to her chair. She rolls into the waiting area. I can hear the pulse, like a slow, drawn-out heartbeat magnified on a machine in the hospital, raspy like the hissing voice of Darth Vader. Her haircut looks good. She is lighter. Refreshed. She coughs as she pays the receptionist. We walk slowly to the car. We make one more stop for her blood test. I carry the extra oxygen tank that we always keep in the trunk in and out of each building we visit. “‘Cause you never know,” she says.

I help her out of her coat and back into her chair just in time for Wheel of Fortune. The oxygen pulses as a contestant spins the wheel. The pulse is a normal sound now, a resigned acceptance of the interruption to the rhythm of our conversations. We say our goodbyes until next time.

I think of my friend in her chair, watching television, struggling for breath and coughing. I wish I could fix it for her. I fill my lungs with air, appreciating a taken-for-granted life-giving gift. I turn on the radio and sing softly as I drive home. “Cause you never know.

singa