Write Your Own Story of Strength and Resilience

Yesterday, I arrived at a deeper sort of realization about my own resilience. After all of the restorative work I have done – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – I am not nearly as fragile as I imagine.

dsc00757After years of pushing myself to the limit, I came to accept that my body was screaming “enough!” (An easy message to receive while lost in the exhaustion of the Epstein-Barr virus.) I responded by paying attention to my body in previously unimagined ways and began a discovery process about health and spirit that will continue for the rest of my life.

This heightened awareness was and continues to be amazing. For all that I have learned, however, there is one major drawback: I became more conscious of my limitations than I was of my own strength.

I was obsessed with the food I couldn’t eat, the yoga I was too weak to practice, the events I couldn’t enjoy since I needed such an intense amount of rest. The worst of this illness was three years ago, but the legacy of lack still haunts the edges of my perspective.

Somehow it was largely impossible to recognize the incremental improvements that I was making because I had become so addicted to the story of my own illness. I came to realize how afraid I was to expend any energy for fear I would either crash and burn or feel like a failure and an invalid.

Only in the last year have I been able to step back and watch myself weather one physical, mental, or emotional storm after another. Life has been happening around me with all of its attendant ups and downs, and I am finally coming to realize that I have actually been riding the waves in grand enough style.

We live in a world plagued by contradictions and polluted with mixed messages. We are at once shown powerful women so worthy of respect and emulation (Oprah and Hillary immediately come to mind) and yet we are also barraged with ad campaigns about only finding your true worth if some man buys you a diamond or if you drop a few pounds.

We know in our guts that we need our strength, but the selling of fragility as the way to love and safety infects us all to some degree. I don’t think this is only a woman’s problem – all people, regardless of gender are subject to a market that thrives on keeping us weak. (Give in to you cravings. You know you need that drink/candy bar/trip to the casino. Resistance is futile.)

dsc00749Was my preoccupation with my weaknesses the direct result of a misogynistic media or the capitalist machine? Not likely. But it did help me understand how so many people are constantly unwilling or unable to acknowledge their own power and resiliency and instead become invested in their own limitations. We all get caught up in the stories that society hands us and the ones that we then personalize for our own journeys.

Our stories are vital, personal bits of narrative that connect us to the experience of our own lives. They can be beautiful, epic descriptions of strength that help reflect back to us our greatest traits. All too often, however, they are little scraps of fears and disappointments that have been woven together to become a dark fable of the futility of life.

The nice thing about stories? Someone gets to make them up based on the facts and the dreams that lay before her. Can you look at some of the stories that you tell yourself about your life and choose to turn the tales about resilience and strength into your own lived epic?

Adapt Or … Be a Lousy Houseguest?

A picky eater? Me? Never.

A woman who needs her sleep? Oh, me? No way.

A creature of habit? Who, me? No, no, not at all!

Well…

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I never realized how dedicated to my routine I have become until the last few weeks when I have been off visiting friends and family.

Ensconced in my beloved house, it has been relatively simple to establish healthy new patterns. Problematic foods avoided. Vitamins taken on time. Blog updated daily. Meditation practice observed. House maintained. (Ok, the last two are things I intend to throw into the routine, but I am honest to a fault).

I am beyond blessed to have people who love who take the changes that I have undergone in stride. They enable my gluten free imperative: we eat more Mexican (they have corn tortillas, right?); we make eggs rather than pancakes (no, please don’t worry about buying the extra expensive GF mix). Heck, we even sip herbal tea rather than opening a bottle of wine since I have sworn off drinking for a while as I get my body back in balance after years of troublesome yeast infections.

I used to eat anything any time and wore my barroom credentials with pride after a couple years keeping up with the lads in more than a few Irish pubs. I slept only when absolutely necessary and shunned the predictability of a daily routine.

And then I guess I grew up. Or maybe I wised up. I am not always certain whether those two experiences are mutually exclusive.

Sometimes I wonder if my transformation is stranger for my friends or for me as I offer to be designated driver and stifle a yawn past 10:30. I guess it is stranger for me since I am writing about it tonight.

The reasons I write about it at all are twofold: because I am grateful to have people who support the decisions I have made about my health (and so rarely make me feel like self-obsessed health nut who’s allergic to everything) and because I am learning a lot about the art of being adaptable.

There is a time for discipline. There is a time for tending to the self. There is a time for inwardness. There is a time to craft a life according to perfectly chosen criteria.

img_2224And then you realize that those perfectly chosen criteria are a lovely illusion that can be sweet and gentle for a while but invariably must fall away when we accept that we are not in control.

I had a perfect weekend with friends that took me out of my element enough to show me how I was getting perhaps a little too accustomed to my routines. I stayed up late and ate some weird food and guess what? I had a wonderful time.

I needed to remember that as much as much as I have changed and as hard as this journey to health has been, I am now far from fragile. There were days when this new incarnation of me was far from established when I might have had trouble deviating from the “safe” routines I was trying to create, but I live in steadier times and must realize I am strong and, yes, adaptable.

All this work I am doing is almost meaningless if I cannot carry it into the world and enjoy life all the more. Spiritual work and listening to the body are about training myself to live with a sense of completeness both within my own soul and throughout my outer experiences.

I am not training to be a monastic; these skills are not shaped and honed so I can be the perfect hermit.

Are you living within safe patterns that nurture you right now? Are you instead stuck in some sort of rut?

Can you step outside of your routines and still feel supported and healthy?

What would it take to both create positive patterns and yet still maintain the flexibility to adapt and to be a good houseguest even if you have to say “no thanks” to the main course?

Turning Wine Back Into Water

Communion CWMGaryDue to a nagging health issue, it has become alarming clear that I really have to eliminate sugar and alcohol from my diet. I’ve been reading about this worst case scenario for years, so it was not a when the news came yesterday that if I am serious about my health, I will do more than merely feel guilty as I delight at the gluten free bakery.

As I write this, I can only think of the incredulous emails I will receive from friends with whom I have downed countless pints of Guinness and emptied hundreds of wine bottles. It will be one thing to turn down birthday cake, but to refuse a champagne toast as well? When I finally do make it back to Galway could I possibly be so crazy as to ask for a club soda when I get everyone to go back to the Crane with me? When we go to beer gardens of Munich this summer will I smile and ask for a really, really big stein of water?

I am mourning all of the wineries in Napa I have never visited and thinking that I never enjoyed local honey enough when I had a chance, but is this really an issue of any worthy, never mind spiritual, import? At this point, I am not sure how all of this gastronomical denial will really affect me. Presumably, it will be much simpler to keep weight off during the holidays and I guess I will be more likely to remember the details of reunions with long lost friends if I do not lubricate my late night chatter with a nice Cabernet. But, at the same time I wonder what it will be like to be excluded from what seem to be amongst the major tenets of my culture: eat (whatever you like), drink (more than a little bit), and be merry (with the glow of all that has passed your lips).

Actually, part of that is really quite untrue – I have been avoiding gluten for a few years now so “eating whatever I want” is made of the stuff of distant memory to be stored next to pulling all-nighters in college and thinking Tom Cruise was attractive. Initially, it seemed impossible that I might have to live without bagels, but eventually I just realized feeling like an entirely different person made baguettes less essential. It just seems so much to excise even more wonderful edible possibilities from my already limited menu.

Of course, this realization is just over twenty-four hours old, so I am still trapped in bemoaning all that I will miss instead of focusing on finding what else there is to really enjoy as I have sagely been advised to do. As I try to cultivate mindfulness, it seems there can be no better way than to be compelled to pay even stricter attention to what nourishes me body and soul and what might be so much good tasting poison.
As I prepare to move through life that is not enriched by chocolate covered strawberries, I wonder what new sugar free, gluten free treats with high price tags and way too much packaging I will discover at the natural food store. It seems so strange that I will be driven, with many others I am sure, to the pricey aisles of such stores in pursuit of a life devoid of such perfectly natural plants as wheat and sugar cane, fermented grapes and aromatic hops. What does it mean when the modern diet (or in my case, modern medicine) has proven so detrimental that it sends us past eating like natural, conscientious omnivores to become odd niche eaters with strict lists and an overdependence on rice cakes? It will open a whole new set of challenges to try to live a more authentic life connected to this earth when I have to respectfully decline so many fruits of the soil and gnaw on some more broccoli. I’ll let you know if such obstacles seem worth it…

Embracing the Need to Heal

Since I have started reading David Edwards’ Burning all Illusions, as I have discussed in the last two posts, it is amazing to me the new lens through which I gaze at my experiences. One of the topics that he has illuminated for me is the uncomfortable degree to which we are forced to bear the mantle of modern society, “the way things are” in that resigned fashion that is meant to excuse all of the excess or the pessimism or the difficulty that marks the age.

In accepting “the way things are” we must stomach living in a state of constant contradiction. We’ve all listed those ridiculous phrases that roll off the reporters’ tongues and only begin to fester in our ears when we take a little step back: “peacekeeping missiles” is the one I find most odious. One of the less neatly packaged paradoxes that we encounter all the time is the celebration of both senseless strength and fragile victimhood in our culture. On the one hand, we are told face the world with an aggressive, competitive stance, to quit whining and arm ourselves with a stiff upper lip (whatever that is – I notice it is my bottom lip that is most likely to betray me when I find myself on the verge of pouting or crying). Yet, at the same time, as Caroline Myss discusses at length, we use our wounds as currency; we let all of the bad things that have ever happened to us be our defining elements and we demand others recognize what we have suffered.

Images of soldiers in distant deserts on one channel and confessional talk shows on another.

A conversation with my chiropractor the other day brought my own struggle between these two poles into perspective. I have been visiting this network chiropractor for over three years for various issues with my back and have been to see him more often lately as I struggle with sciatica. After a month away from his table and almost that much time away from my yoga mat, I returned last week with that same nagging pain in my right leg. After my treatment we chatted for a while – he was telling me that I needed to come more regularly to deal with this issue and I was trying to express the fact that I had spent more than enough time in his office. Thing is, I know that what he does can work for me, but what does it mean that I end up “broken” again after only a few weeks away?

I am a healthy young woman, so how is it that visiting alternative health practitioners has become a pastime that eats up a significant portion of my “discretionary” income? I do plenty of yoga (or at least I do when I am not afraid of a forward bend damaging this cantankerous nerve I never knew I had until this fall) and I know how to breathe healing energy into my body. I’ve been practicing Reiki for years and I understand a good deal about the connection between body, mind, and spirit. What is it that makes me so passive in my healing process? How did I become so dependent on these people with their gentle touch and well-placed needles and singing bowls? I never thought I understood that old adage “physician, heal thyself” until I realized that I was applying “body-attuned creature, sort out your own aches and pains” to myself.

Upon expressing these competing concerns to my chiropractor, I think a moment of true understanding blossomed between us. It was not that I wasn’t committed to healing, it was just that I felt guilty plunking down a $15 copay a couple times a week instead of doing the work myself. As we talked, I realized that placing myself under someone else’s care did not make me weak; it just proved that we are all part of a connected universe that hums along by creating constant webs of interdependency.

The other thing that he reiterated to me, but which finally made some sense, is that the symptoms I experience are just part of my body’s reaction to stress. Previously, this just made me more annoyed with myself – what was wrong with me that I was not using the ample tools at my disposal to deal with this alleged stress? What was I forgetting to do that made it possible for all that stuff to get lodged in my vertebrae?

This was the moment that I recalled all that I have been reading in Edwards’s book. If I truly believe that something is out of joint in terms of how we live in this world, if we are forced to conform in millions of insidious, soul compromising ways, then it only makes sense that my body is under more pressure than a human form was ever meant to bear. Since I believe so strongly that emotions manifest themselves in the physical form, it seems inevitable that my body would find her own way to rebel against the ideas my mind is only beginning to comprehend.

I have spoken of compassion many times before, and it seems time to employ such lovingkindness in the way I treat this body of mine. She is neither soldier nor victim; she is my soul’s home that deserves to be cared for and understood.