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photo by Nick Gatel

photo by Nick Gatel

Yesterday was one of those days when I needed to give myself points just for getting dressed.   I meant to post a blog.  I had started one about a weekend worth of celebrations.    I had started one about the immigration ban.  I had started one about Imbolc and the winter thaw.   I just couldn’t manage to bring any of those topics into a coherent, cohesive whole.

I needed an ostrich day.  A day to curl up and put my head in the sand.  A day to pretend the world didn’t matter.  I didn’t talk to friends.  I didn’t get to my “to do” list.  I stuck my head in a book, turned on Netflix, and played games on the computer.

We all need an occasional day like that.   Right now there are many people who are practicing civil disobedience.  There are many people who are truly threatened by the political climate.  There are many who are suffering cognitive dissonance working to convince themselves that what they see, what they say,  means something else.  My Facebook feed is full of posts saying “maybe I should take a break from Facebook”

Sometimes we need to just take the time and space to actually feel our feelings.  There can be so much going on in our lives that our emotions become a jumble and we don’t know where we stand or what we think.  Allowing ourselves a moment to come back to our own center, without being battered about by our circumstances, can recharge us.   Taking time can allows us to be more effective in the world.

Unfortunately, sometimes those ostrich days make me feel worse rather than better.  It’s too easy to get into the cycle of self blame and guilt.  It’s easy to start thinking of all “better” ways to have used the time.  We live in a culture that has no patience for this kind of “time out”, and we carry that culture with us into our “time out” space.

It’s my Daily Practice that gets me through.   I get dressed.  Then, since I’m dressed I might throw in a load of laundry or run out to the mailbox.   I make my bed.  Then, since I really appreciate having the bed made I might tidy up someplace else in the house.   I do my language lesson.  Then, since I really do want a vacation, I might balance the checkbook or pack a bag or make a fun meal or even just tend to my seasonal spaces.

Doing the small Daily Practices I know I’m not lost in a hole.  I am not entirely overwhelmed.  I’m just taking some time out.  Doing the Daily Practices I have a springboard to reconnect, to move forward.  Doing the Daily Practices I am reminded to have compassion for myself.  I am reminded to appreciate what I do, and accept that I can not accomplish everything.

Daily Practice becomes a kindness to myself.  Doing Daily Practice is a magical act of transformation.  It’s not always apparent that Daily Practice is doing anything.  (That’s one of the reason “Daily Practice Sucks”)  But ultimately we practice so that when we need something to be easy, when we don’t have the time or energy, when we are looking for a lifeline we have the Daily Practice to lean on.



Road Trip

Road Trip

I had the opportunity this weekend to participate in a rescue mission.  That’s not as dramatic as it sounds.  My daughter, Karina, has quite the extended family given the divorces, the friends, the steps, and all the variations on “you are family to me.”

One of these family members has been in a difficult intimate relationship for some time.  There is a history of isolation, abuse, and attempts to leave the relationship.  After a conversation with Karina where she heard, “I want to come home” she went into action.

She arranged for transportation (costs covered), housing, a potential job opportunity and alerted the built-in support system of family and friends.  There will be a bus card, people willing to help with transportation in town, bedding and toiletries and probably anything else as it comes up.  When another call came, “I need to leave NOW”, Karina went into high gear and hopped in the car.

I went along, not only because it’s a long drive but also because she wanted back-up for anything she might find when she arrived.  I have family in the area where we were headed.  I called ahead.  Without knowing ANY of the actual players, they stepped in as well.

My family members met us at the home of the person we picked up.  We were taken out for dinner.  We were offered any additional support we might need along the way.  I got the bonus of being able to see family I haven’t been in contact with (outside of Facebook) for years.

Karina’s family member will be fine.  They are overwhelmed, not only by making such a dramatic change but also by the outpouring of support.  We also talked on the way home about how much of a difference THIS family member could be in supporting other of Karina’s extended family members who are struggling.  We made it clear that even when you may be needy, you can also be needed.

Very few of us expect to have real support when we are desperate.  Asking for one small thing is hard.  Asking for planning, organization, execution and a lifeline is humbling at best.

Just the other day a friend dropped off a stack of boxes for packing.

Just the other day a friend dropped off a stack of boxes for packing.

I think we all have moments in our lives when this is exactly the kind of help we need.  I know I have.  I have been fortunate, awed, and overwhelmed on the occasions when my friends and family have swept in and just taken care of business.

When I had cancer last year my women’s group stepped up and made sure that I had the post surgery support I needed.  They came by to check up on me, made sure I had food in the house, ran errands, and washed dishes.   One of them brought me home from the hospital.  Another took me out when I was going stir crazy.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but they clearly did.

The last time I had work done on my house, to increase accessibility for Orion, we needed to move out for 6 weeks.  Cleaning and packing was beyond me.  Again, I had friends come in and just do it.  There was no judgement, no need for instruction or supervision, just support.  I could focus on what I needed to take with me to the hotel, they took care of everything else.  I knew I needed help, but never expected that level of support.

I am grateful that I have been able to count on my friends when I truly need help.  I am grateful that I have learned to accept help when it is given.  I’m grateful for compassion that has no judgement, simply does what needs to be done.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back a small bit of what I have been given.


My children (both) have always had a flair for the dramatic

My children (both) have always had a flair for the dramatic

I often have a lot of drama in my life.  I’m not really a drama queen.  I don’t go out of my way to look for dramatic things to happen.  I tend to underplay rather than overplay the things that are going on in my life.  Even when I sound dramatic “My kitchen cupboards are literally falling off the walls!”  I’m not dramatizing.  I do know what the word literally means and am using it appropriately.

I noticed this week that the drama in my life right now isn’t actually mine.  It’s rather refreshing.   There’s plenty going on.  My parents are exhausting themselves with their political activities.  My daughter is working herself into the ground.  I have friends in the hospital, going through divorce, fighting cancer, dealing with family change (dying parents, kids graduating).  I’m surrounded, but it’s not mine.

It’s not that it doesn’t impact me.  Last Friday was National Donut Day.

Karina really has been working hard this week! She says this is just the overflow.  There was no more room in the kitchen.

Karina really has been working hard this week! She says this is just the overflow. There was no more room in the kitchen.

My daughter bakes donuts.  Guess who got Minnie?  I helped my parents out where I could with accessibility issues.  I take late night phone calls from my friends.  I can do that, because right now it’s not my drama.

Orion spent the weekend with his Reach for Resources gang, so I was on my own schedule rather than his.  I went out to eat Friday (with a friend who needed an ear), Saturday (with my parents who needed a ride), and Sunday (to celebrate a birthday).  I got a couple long leisurely baths, a late morning sleep-in, and the opportunity to putter without feeling the need to accomplish anything in particular.

New friends and a really wonderful meal at the Italian Eatery.  Happy Birthday JoAnne!

New friends and a really wonderful meal at the Italian Eatery. Happy Birthday JoAnne!

I’m finding compassion much easier when I’m not also overwhelmed.  “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” gives me the opportunity to listen, be a resource, and also set my own boundaries.  I can be available without being “caught up” in the drama.  I am grateful!

Ups and Downs

The saga of the house of sick continues replete with great drama.  There are also long periods of absolutely nothing getting done including posting a Monday blog.  Luckily there are occasional bright spots as well.

Kuan Yin from wickapedia

Kuan Yin from wickapedia

The second Thursday of the month is GOM (Goddess of the Month).  My women’s group has been getting together exploring myth and ritual for almost 15 years now.  We pick a theme at the beginning of the year, divide up the months and show up.  Whoever’s month it is is in charge and the rest of us are all in for whatever our hostess has in store.

We go back and forth with more or less structured themes.  Sometimes we’ll follow a book chapter by chapter.  Our founding was to take a year and go through Ladies of the Lake by Caitlin Matthews, exploring one Goddess at a time.  Hence the name of the group.  Other years are less structured and this year is a free for all.  We spent a day at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and picked a piece that inspired us.

Our first ritual this year was inspired by a statue of Kuan Yin, bodhisattva of compassion.  What a lovely way to start the year.  What a really necessary reminder to get through the rest of my weekend!

GOM is usually a late night, because we’re women and we chat.  I was awakened at 5am the next morning with Orion hollering “Mom, I threw up all over myself.”  Poor dear was so miserable and achy.  Once I got him cleaned up he literally slept the entire day.  I had to wake him up for Tylenol and fluids.

This may not sound like such a difficult day, but my entire to-do list involved shopping.  I still need the groceries and cat food.  I did manage to swing past the post office when they were closed on Sunday and drop off mail, but haven’t hit the Goodwill or the library, also on my list.  Saturday Orion was better but still dragging and I certainly couldn’t take him out to get my ingredients to make something for Sunday.

Sunday Orion was feeling well enough to send with his father (they over did it).  I managed to find the stuff in the house to make baklava.  I was free to attend Pie Day.

Pie Day was apparently inspired by Dan Pierce at Single Dad Laughing.  I missed the post but my friend Michelle didn’t.  She encouraged us to bring any kind of desert. We’d all cheer up from the post holiday blues and end up in a sugar coma.  It was a sugar orgy!

Which brings us to Monday.  Monday morning Orion woke up with a headache.  Orion has hydrocephalus and has a shunt that drains excess spinal fluid from his brain into his abdominal cavity where it can be absorbed.  When it gets blocked, clogged, infected, pinched off or stops working Orion gets a headache.

Sometimes that can be fixed externally.  Often it involves brain surgery.  Orion is 24 years old and I stopped counting brain surgeries before he was 10.  He had 4 before he was six months old and although we’ve gone years without one we’ve also had years where he’s had 5 in 4 months.  An infection is even worse and he’s had those too.

When Orion is sick I watch him like a hawk and when Orion says he’s got a shunt headache I take him very seriously.  So after getting showered and dressed (pointedly in clothes that did not need to be removed for radiology) we were off to the ER.  You all know that every ER in the country is full to capacity with the flu right now and ours was no exception.  There wasn’t even a parking spot in the ER lot!

Where we wait.  Orion's usually happier in his chair than on the cot and just as easy to transport!

Where we wait. Orion’s usually happier in his chair than on the cot and just as easy to transport!

We know the drill.  First you talk to the triage nurse.  Then you talk to the intake nurse.  Then you talk to the nurse assigned to your case.  Somewhere in there you talk with registration and pull out the insurance cards.  Eventually you get to talk to the ER doc, or on Monday the physician’s assistant, who can actually order something to be done.  You tell them all that they need to call the neurosurgeon’s office and let them know we’re here.  (It is protocol to let them make that phone call although there have been occasions when I’ve just gone and made it myself.)

Then you wait.  You wait for someone to come and draw blood.  You wait to get in line at radiology where you will need both Xrays and a CT scan.  You hope that the radiology techs are willing and able to deal with Orion’s other structural anomalies (the one’s that make it hard for him to get into the “right” position for the pictures).  You wait for a radiologist to come by and actually READ the pictures.  You wait for the ER doctor to report what the radiologist report says.  Then you wait for neurosurgery, which has finally been called, to make their way down to the ER to decide what to do.

Monday everything actually looked pretty good.  The blood work was normal.  The radiology was close to Orion’s baseline.  The neurosurgeon tapped the shunt to make sure it was working and even that didn’t indicate any excess pressure.  The CSF (spinal fluid) looked clear and although they will culture it, that will take over a week.  The neurosurgeon suggested an eye exam and sent us home.

I suppose a headache from eye strain probably does feel a lot like the beginnings of a shunt headache.  I suspect Orion is still a little dehydrated from Friday which will also cause a nasty headache.  In 24 years Orion has never been wrong about calling a headache for what it is.  Maybe this time he just doesn’t feel well enough not to blow it?  I’m keeping him home again today, pushing fluids and keeping fingers crossed.

May Kuan Yin look down upon us in compassion.  May we call on her to help us maintain our patience and good temper throughout our trials.  May we rely on her mercy as we work our way through our own dharma.  May we be blessed by the compassionate Kuan Yin.

In Response to Kindness

I want to thank everyone who commented on my first blog posting on Kindness.  I do read the comments and you’ve each made valuable points.

I don’t think that Kindness and Compassion are interchangeable.   I think they refer to different states of being.  I do think they are very easily confused both in intention and in action.  Not that anybody suggested they were the same, but I’d like to make a distinction.  I’m just not sure I’m clear enough to draw that line myself.

I’m not sure that Kindness implies Helpfulness either.  Although being helpful is certainly kind.  I think that Kindness can also be Not being helpful, removing yourself from the situation.  I think sometimes Kindness can be still, and open and welcoming without taking action at all.

I do think intent matters.  But I know that all the best intention of kindness can lead to some ultimately nasty behaviors regarding other people.  Very often I’ve seen kind intent used as an excuse to make judgements upon or decisions for other people.  Taking away someone’s autonomy isn’t kind no matter how thoughtful the intention.

For instance, is it kinder to tell someone a piece of information that is difficult, or is it more kind not to tell them?  For me this depends not only upon the intention, but on the information.  Is it a fact or an opinion?  Is it something you know or something you’ve heard?  Is it something they can do something about (like the toilet paper?)  Or is it something that can’t be fixed (like the ink stain on the back of their skirt.)

The easy example here is with medical information, both with informed choice and with HIPAA.  Do you tell someone ALL the likely side effects when many of them are temporary, not life threatening, and scary enough (but not as bad as they sound) that the person might not get the treatment they need?  Do you believe the patient can determine, “it’s okay if my friend stays I can tell them anything,” when the patient probably can’t anticipate what you have to tell them?

I have been in situations where I literally did not trust a family member’s definition of kindness.  I was pretty sure that this particular person would decide that I needed sleep more than I needed to know, in the moment, if something dramatic was happening with my infant son.  Whatever happened it could wait until morning.  I had seen this type of kindness demonstrated in other settings with other family members and did not want it applied to me.

My daughter spent 10 days in England this summer.  She said when she left, if her brother ended up in the hospital, please don’t call her.  She knew there would be nothing she could do and she couldn’t handle that kind of stress.  Smart girl.  Not only was she self aware, but she was being kind to herself in letting me know how to be kind to her.

I’m pretty sure if I can beat myself up I can also choose to be kind to myself.  I don’t think kindness is limited to either intent or action.  Sometimes I think acts of kindness can be unintentional, especially when they happen to meet just the right need at just the right time.  That sort of “mind reading”  all the kind intent in the world can not achieve.

 So some days the brownie is kind, and some days it’s not.  It was never really about the brownie.

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