Walking in Another’s Shoes

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

-Henry David Thoreau

The morning schedule was busy with patients who needed physical therapy reassessments and evaluations. This meant writing two notes per patient, testing each patient and “extra” brain work to analyze the test scores. The headache from the early morning antics at home was growing and I was getting hungry; a dangerous combination. A quick chart review revealed that my next patient had been moody at his last therapy visit. “Fantastic!,” I thought to myself as I begrudgingly walked out to the waiting room to call the moody patient back into the busy clinic.

Usually I perform the physical testing prior to performing the patient questionnaire that asks standardized questions of patients to help create benchmarks regarding changes in their function, as well as to help predict outcomes. Since the patient was visually impaired, I had the additional pleasure of reading the questions to him. His answers were long-winded and often did not answer the question being asked. Hungry, in pain and tired now of redirecting him, I was doing my best to remain calm while inside I was screaming in my head. Yes, now I was moody.

One of the questions asked about driving, and being tired, hungry and in pain I read it without even thinking about it. The patient calmly replied, “Did you know about my wife? She use to drive me to my appointments. I lost her last month unexpectedly.” Talk about being instantly humbled. My countenance quickly turned around (and around some more).

From that point on I asked few questions. Instead, I just sat there with the patient and listened to him talk while remaining as present in each moment as I possibly could. No wonder this man was moody! He had unexpectedly lost his wife of 59 years. “I heard a thud and I didn’t realize that she had fallen from a heart attack.” So he was not only grieving for her loss, he was also blaming himself for it.

Yes, of course I cried. I cried tears of sadness for his loss, while grieving my own losses.  Some tears were shed in envy. Here I am in the process of separating from my husband of 15 years and this man has lost his spouse of 59 years (I wanted a lift partner, I thought to myself). Other tears were from guilt for having dreaded working with this man and for having judged him difficult before knowing his story. Add to that the shame of not feeling compassion for the patient until he had a heart-wrenching story to tell, thus deviating from my ideals.

At this point I moved into gratitude and wiped away my tears and did my best to verbally acknowledge his suffering. Then I asked his permission to share his feelings with his referring physician.

It can be such a challenge to know what someone else is going through. Sometimes we see someone who is having a bad day and we know not why. In this situation, I was given the gift of an inside glimpse into this man’s life that helped to put him being moody into perspective.

The patient seemed genuinely grateful for the time we spent together today. I know I was grateful and expressed my gratitude to him, as it was another lesson for me to remind me of compassion, unconditional love and that you never really know what someone else may be going through until you walk in his shoes.

Here is a link to a really great ad for The Cleveland Clinic that I feel exemplifies this concept. The video begins with the Thoreau quote from above:

Namaste

The Middle Way of Balance in 3 Parts

~~~ Part I

The sweet scent of her body soap transports me back to my grandmother’s home where the little girl’s legs stretch to step into the ceramic tile lined shower. The scent of the familiar maternal soap fills her nostrils as the cold tile submits to the warmth of the water beating down upon it. She lathers up. Acquiring the scent of her grandmother’s favorite soap, of which she knows not the name. The hot steamy water rinses off the traces of dirt and grime from playing and running care-free outside.

Stepping from the shower, she dries her body with the thin towel that seems to scratch more than absorb. The walls lined with ceramic tile bead with sweat from the steamy shower. The tiled floor cools her feet as she struggles to pull the dry clothes over her still damp skin.

Just as soon as the memory arrives, it fades away. The house is no longer filled with the stoic energy of my grandmother who transitioned long ago. Even though her physical form no longer exists, her memories are still held closely in the folds of my heart. A tear rolls down my cheek as I recall the compassion and valor that she injected into my life.

~~~ Part II

Physical memories of my grandmother carry me back into my dream time memories of her. One dream in particular always seems to stand out as I vividly recall her visit to me while I lie in silent slumber from many years ago now.

It is interesting to realize that she came to me in a dream set upon the waters of the bay beach, as the beach was one of her favorite places to be.

The water was tepid like bath water. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel stretched out like a pointing finger, thrusting itself out into the waters that were calm and glassy like a lake. Water swirled around my body, holding me, comforting me, supporting me in its warm embrace. I floated peacefully, allowing the current to take me at its will.  Leaves drifted by, gracefully dancing in the swirling, twirling eddy-like currents.

Gently and calmly, my grandmother’s silhouette appears as an anachronistic vision, even in my dreams. She sits back gracefully in an inner tube. Her bathing suit is modest and humble, as are her large framed glasses that I remember all so well. As she glides by, floating on the reflective, glass-like waters of the bay, she whispers softly to me in a commanding way, “Take the middle path. Take the middle path, my dear.” As quickly as she arrived, she drifts off to the mouth of the bay and disappears off into the Atlantic Ocean. Her words still linger in the air, guiding me to a life of greater balance.

The morning alarm sounds off, waking me from my slumber.  Even today, I continue to hear her voice, “Take the middle path,” especially when troubles seem to abound. I still recall the power of this simple message from my this dream that I dreamt so many years ago.

~~~ Part III

Shame is held here.

The pelvis carries it all.

It balances the load.

Taping helps to bring balance.

Tape the front.

Tape the back.

Hold me in my place.

Hold me in this space; this place of balance.

Force transmission.

Top to bottom.

Bottom to top.

Right to left.

Left to right.

If it ain’t tight, it ain’t right.

Tape me. Hold me. Help me carry this load.

Hold me in this space; this place of balance.

The tape helps to change the muscle memory.

Retraining. Reforming.

Molding me. Showing me.

Remind me what is it like again to be free.

Free from constraint (oh, the irony of being taped to be free…).

Hold me in this space; this place of balance.

The middle way requires focus.

Presence. Awareness.  Attention to detail.

The pendulum swings to and fro.

Back and forth. Forever seeking balance.

Yet the pivot point remains steady.

The middle way,  the balance between opposites.

The point of neutrality.

Releasing the need for duality.

Hold me in this space; this place of balance.

Namaste.

Writing is…

My medicine.

The salve for my wounds.

It is my outlet, my inlet.

It gives me insight and perspective.

Through words I connect more deeply with myself and others.

Writing is my gateway to sanity, though I often write insanely.

Writing is my pleasure and my pain.

It is my balance and imbalance.

It is my breath. Through it I inhale and exhale: breathing, panting, gasping. Grasping. Releasing.

Writing is the fire in my belly that burns until expressed through my fingertips – my lips.

It is my passion and my dispassion.

My obsession, my lesson.

Writing is for me the burning embers of my desire; my soul’s truest expression on this plane.

Writing is in my soul. It is there that I connect to the All and beyond.

Writing is …. simply me.

Namaste.

Heart-to-Heart Conversation

This past Sunday, I had to have a heart-to-heart conversation with a dear friend. This person was becoming very sad that her efforts on a project did not seem to be appreciated. She had been doing a lot of work and she just did not feel that others were really seeing what she was doing.

When asked if she was enjoying what she was doing, she readily admitted that she was and her face lit up when she did. So I asked her some questions. First, I questioned, “What is your motivation, what are you doing this for?” She quickly replied, “Ultimately, I find that this project opens my heart and makes me feel alive. I am enjoying the process and what it is giving to me. If what I am doing is helping someone else other than just me, then that is just icing on the cake.” So, in essence, she was doing this work to help herself to move through the process of life. If her work helped just one other person, all the merrier.

My next question really seemed to help her to see the light. “So if you are really doing this to help yourself, then what does it matter if no one else seems to be appreciating your work? It’s your job to appreciate your efforts. Furthermore, you may be affecting others without even realizing it. Keep doing this for you. Keep enjoying what you are doing. Be sure to appreciate yourself for this self-care. You have had such a tendency to take care of everyone else first, or to only do a task if it was to someone else’s benefit first. This is your time to work on you. End of story. Like you said, it’s just icing on the cake if you help someone else.”

Later that evening, my friend was compelled to join some other friends for dinner, even though she had “other things to do.” While at dinner one of our friends that we had not seen for several months asked me about the work being done on this blog. She wanted to know if my post called, “This, again?!” was an original piece or not. I assured her that it was my original work. That evening she shared with me how this post had affected her in a very profound way. For several minutes, and then again later in a private message, she spoke to how she was moved by it and appreciated it.

You see, my work was done. I have affected the plus one and can now see the icing on the cake.

As you probably have guessed by now, my friend who felt unappreciated at the beginning of this post was me. The conversation “she and I” had was the “heart-to-heart” that I had with myself. The friend at dinner, well, she really is a friend that exists in a different body. And she really did spend that time telling me how much she appreciated my post.

By appreciating the benefits that my work had done for myself, I was able to receive appreciation from others. Since then, I’ve received more accolades from others regarding my work. It is my hope that you now find more ways to appreciate yourself for what you do for yourself and not just for others.

Namaste!

May we be free of this: Tonglen Meditation

Freedom. Freedom from pain. Freedom from suffering. Freedom from that which no longer serves. Freedom from attachment. Freedom to be ourselves. Freedom to be.

Can you guess what my “word of the year” might be?  I’ll give you three chances and only the first one is right… Yes, it is freedom.

After seeing The Elephant Journal article about Tonglen Meditation in February and watching the last two videos posted below, I have used the simplicity and beauty of this meditation to gain freedom for myself and others on a daily basis. This was reinforced recently when one of my favorite author’s, Tom Grasso, posted the first YouTube video below in one of his blogs. These are two variations of the same meditation.

Pema Chodron, a well known American Buddhist Nun, explains how we can use Tonglen Meditation to improve the lives of others in this YouTube video:

I encourage you to take the time to watch this video, or the series of two below.  This meditation can be life altering for you and others if you take the effort to make this part of your daily practice.  This meditation is so simple and it can change your life, freeing you and others from our suffering.

May we be free of this…

Pema Chodron explains the story of Tonglen Meditation:

Pema Chodron explains Tonglen Meditation in Practice:

Namaste.

Moving On: Closing a 15-Year Chapter

Love knows no distance.

– Walt of Shorebux

Tucked back in a corner lot near the base of the Lesner Bridge is the best Starbucks I have ever had the pleasure of being a customer. This location first opened its doors in August of 1999. It has been serving handcrafted beverages for almost 16 years, yet it will be closing and moving to a new location this week.  I am very sad that my favorite Starbucks is relocating.

You see, this Starbucks is in a perfect location for me. Just over a mile from my home, it is within walking, biking and running distance. Yet, the best part of this particular Starbucks is not its location on the “right” side of the road on my way to work. No, the absolute best part of this Starbucks is the people.

The store manager of 5 years, Amber is down to earth and so friendly.  She knows me and my kids by name. Furthermore, Amber has always been the kind smiling face who offers empathy when she can tell you’ve had a rough day (she doesn’t even have to ask; she just knows). Let’s just say I had many long, rough days when I worked as a Home Health PT. If you know Amber, you know she is an awesome person with a huge heart! She exemplifies what is it to be a good manager as she leads by example.

Her leadership is part of what makes this such a great store, as the baristas here are also consistently the best I’ve seen in any one location (good leaders hire, train and lead by example). Many of the baristas also know me by name and they also know my beverage of choice. They know that sometimes I vary my drink a little, so they wait for me to order. “Two pump grande vanilla soy latte” sometimes has an extra shot. Sometimes it is a tall with 1 and a half pumps. The baristas have the soy out before I even order as that part, at least, is consistent. They know what I’m going to order, and will even say, “don’t you get that with 2 pumps?” when I’m too tired to say all parts of that 6 word long order.

So the baristas know my drink and they know my name. You see, that’s not all. There is more. They also know me as an individual. Some baristas know more about my separation than my own mom (sorry, mom!).

I’ve also talked about a full range of topics with this group of baristas, individually. Tattoos and tattoo artists with Walt. Parenting, dating, separation and divorce with Jackie, Andi and Amber. Vampires and weight loss with Crispy (not necessarily at the same time). Physical Therapy and running injuries with Josh. Being neighbors and career changes with Nikos. Running accomplishments and goals are a topic with any of them who will listen. (yeah, that’s what some of us crazy runners do).

You see, this Starbucks means more to me than my lattes. They fill my cup with more than my espresso beverage du jour. They are caring individuals lead by an empathetic leader. In essence, they truly seem to care about their customers as individuals.

So it is with a heavy heart that I say bye to this amazing group of individuals who are all moving. This store is closing this week to re-open in a new location that is 7 miles “in the wrong direction” for me. That is 7 miles one-way from where it currently sits. While I will make it a point to visit, my visits will be far less frequent than what they have been over the past 9 years.

To “my” Shorebux Baristas, I will miss you all greatly. Thank you all for filling my cup with more than just a “handcrafted espresso” for all of these years. It has been great to know you all. I leave you with the wise words of your very own Walt, “Love knows no distance.”

Namaste.

Shadows of Death

ID-1002510

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadows of death, I shall fear no evil.

– Psalm 23

In Buddhism, Shiva, the creator and the destroyer, represents the process of breaking down that needs to occur prior to being able to build back up. Nature is filled with examples of this idea of death and rebirth. A wave breaks on the shore before being pulled back out into the ocean, only to form again. The tree dies, decomposes and becomes the nutrients for the seedlings. This is a natural cycle, yet for some reason in our Western culture we shirk away from the idea of death.

The idea of death can become pervasive for me when moving through the painful aspects of the emotions of change. It is then that I often experience pain in a way that leads me to want to die. (Hang up the phone, there’s no need to call for help.) This is a passive wish for which I do not take harmful actions. Over the years and with learning compassion for myself, I have learned that this “death wish” is only temporary. This is the part of me that no longer works for me; the part of me that needs to be released or transformed. It is the part of me that needs love the most at that moment and it is that part of me that is dying to be loved. Literally.

By being compassionate with myself, by performing my self-care rituals such as meditating, going within, chanting mantras or just being still and honoring the part of myself that is “dying” to be reborn, I find that I can move more quickly through this cycle of death. For this is not a true death; instead it is the shadow, or the threat, of death. It is my belief that this is what is meant in Psalm 23. Death is but a shadow that lurks around us. It is our fear of the shadow that gives it the power to control us. By having faith, we are able to move through the valley (“I shall fear no evil, for thine rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23).

The challenge comes in releasing attachment to the part of me that is dying. The attachment to “who I thought I was” is where the suffering begins, and if I chose to allow it, to also end. Loving myself into my strength looks like, and sometimes feels like, death.

By honoring the natural cycle of death and rebirth, I can keep moving through the process. By honoring myself, through compassion, I am able to be reborn. I am able to leave behind that which no longer serves me.

Namaste.

Photo Courtesy of Nick Coombs on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shedding My Skin: Pushing the Envelope

 

May we exist like the lotus at ease in muddy water.
-Buddha

As a child, I knew I would one day go to college. Academics were very important to my parents. A’s and B’s were expected and exalted. Physical activities, like competitive sports, well, not so much.

In fact, I learned to fear what I could do with my body. Climbing trees was forbidden. I became afraid of heights. Falling was discouraged. I became afraid of falling. Getting dirty meant getting in trouble. I learned to stay clean and my pet peeves became wet socks or having sand in between my toes with shoes on. So for me, academics became my focus; my safety from my fears and pet peeves, and sports, well, not so much.

It is also important for me to mention here that it really hurt for me to run. For me, running meant my lungs burned like fire. They would start to burn within just a few minutes of running 90% of the time. It also felt like I was breathing through a straw. For me, running was not fun. So while I did run for P.E. classes and some one mile races, it was often quite painful and it did not lend me to want to run and play sports. It was not until Physical Therapy school (in my late, late 20’s) that I was finally diagnosed with exercise induced asthma and running became less painful (at least for my lungs).

So why, in the year that I turned 39 did I start to run and push myself? Running became my place to be free. It helped me to shed the pounds (the skin) of who I was. Running became my moving meditation to mentally release my troubles and to focus on me, my body, and my thoughts. For someone who 98% of the time focused on the needs of others, it was time for me to learn to focus on myself. When running I was not a mother, a physical therapist or partner. While running I was free to be me. I gave myself the gift of being able to focus on whatever I wanted. And sometimes it was so freeing to focus on no-thing.

This past weekend I was awesomely amazed as to what I could do with my body. This weekend, I pushed my envelope and challenged myself. I broke through many of my fears, don’ts and “hate to do’s.” I challenged my fears (I had many). And I got to see how far I have come in this process called life, as I was able to see how much of my skin I have shed in the last year.

Even while favoring a hip flexor injury, I was able to complete most of the 25 obstacles in a Rugged Maniac 5K. In doing so, I was able to “put to bed” some of my greatest physical fears! I climbed ropes and scaled walls (it was not always gracefully). I crawled under barbed wire in muddy water. I crawled through narrow tunnels (did I mention I get claustrophobic?). I got stuck in mud to my knees and laughed as I fell in slow motion. The muddy clay was so thick on my feet and hands that it looked like I had boots and gloves on. I jumped over fires (ok, they weren’t big fires, but I could feel the heat as I hurdled over the burning wood!). There were tiny pebbles, mud, and debris in my wet shoes and socks for 2 hours. Instead of freaking out, I freaking LOVED IT! I felt alive like I had not felt for a very, very long time. In fact towards the end of the race I even lied down in the mud to remove any traces of cleanliness.

The best part?! The absolute best part was that I LOVED IT! It was so much fun that half-way through the race I actually found myself thinking that I’m DEFINITELY going to be doing this again NEXT YEAR!

See you at the races!

Namaste.

On Finding My Tribe

(Author’s note: As I prepare to publish this, “Lean of Me” is playing. How fitting!)

It was a fateful weekend that brought the eight of us together. Initially it seemed like an innocent gathering of souls. The initial seeds were planted when all came together under one roof to celebrate Thanksgiving on 11.27.2014. Little did we know how much this “chance” encounter would change our lives forever.

Yes, forever is a big word here, especially since that was merely 5 months ago. Yet it is fitting. Allow me to explain.

In giving thanks, we came together and found each other and ourselves. Many of us felt broken; failed marriages, loneliness, and relationships checkered our pasts. I personally felt like I was adrift on the sea alone, paddling for somewhere safe to land. Having been separated for 3 months from my spouse of 15 years (and partner of nearly 20 years), my life was a bit topsy-turvy.

We gathered around the dinner table where the jokes and laughter almost immediately ensued. There was an immediate chemistry that would later be forged around the backyard fire pit. We told jokes, shared camping stories and showed YouTube videos of the comedian Steve Byrne, which smelted it all together.

Thursday night was such a great time that we crafted plans the next morning for another gathering. Night two was even more epic. The nights blur together, so it’s hard to tell what was different on night 2 from night 1. However, somewhere in there we added “Cards Against Humanity” into the mix. Another night of gathering, bonding and forging our connections through humor that pushed social boundaries.

Night three sealed the deal. We named our tribe Crotch a Lots or CAL (because we talked about our crotches, a lot). On this same night we “renamed” each other. Similar to the “Hashers,” we had no say in what our names were. As most of us were runners, we were familiar with the Hash Town Runners (later, we would helped others to find their running abilities).

On that third epic night a private facebook page was created. We posted jokes, we shared pictures and the friendships were now further set and would continue to grow.

Since that fateful and “Epic” Three-Day Thanksgiving Weekend, the synergy of our group has only expanded; as have our numbers. As our group has grown, we have added other like-minded individuals who can “hang” with our boundary-pushing humor. (just for reference, “The Shocker” is our gansta-style hand symbol). Being supportive of the group as individuals and as a whole is also an important trait we look for in new members.

teamCAL2

In my tribe, we have supported each other in a broad range of ways that I’ve never experienced with a group outside of my blood relatives. We can count on one another for support, whether we are moving, packing, painting, paying the tip (yes, just the tip), needing help with relationships, drinking, being sober, need shoulders to cry on, celebrating birthdays and holidays, partying in general, getting out of our shells, laughing, climbing walls & getting unstuck from the mud (literally and figuratively), celebrating accomplishments, meeting fitness goals, giving one another props or recognizing our accomplishments, running, “geeking out,” and most importantly: giving each other space to be ourselves without judgment. It is also important to mention that one of the strongest undercurrents of our group is that the glue that seems to hold us together is our heavily sexually slanted humor.

Words just cannot describe how awesome it is to be part of such an amazing group of individuals. We support one another in ways I have never experienced. I am so grateful to be part of this experience with each of you. Thank you, I am forever grateful for the support you have given me at this delicate time in my life!

We are Team CAL and we are EPIC!

Namaste

Why can tattoos be so damn sexy?

tattoo

Artwork is artwork regardless of the medium. The skin is our largest organ and it can be a fantastic (or tragic) canvas for artistic self-expression for both the tattoo artist and the bearer.

Tattoos are art in motion. They move with us. Tattoos can have the ability to move our spirit and our emotions, too.

Since I was a young girl, I have been fascinated by tattoos. It is no wonder that at the ripe age of 18 I received my first ink. Two more pieces were added to my collection within a year. Getting ink can be addictive.

Now that I am running free again, I see tattoos on men and it can be an instant “bump” to their sexiness level. Depending on the artwork and its placement, I’ve seen a man’s sexiness level increase by 2 to 4 points (sometimes more). Of course, this is not all skin deep. A man’s personality is much more important than dermal ink.

“Why can tattoos be so damn sexy?” I’ve asked myself. (I am often a mystery even to myself.) Is it the distinction? The commitment? The vulnerability? Designation, similar to a uniform? The (relative) permanence? (after all, nothing in life is truly permanent.)

Tattoos can be a window, like the eyes, into the soul. You can see what someone’s interests are. Sometimes you can see their poor decisions, too, etched into the canvas of their skin.

Another hypothesis is that tattoos represent a warrior’s spirit. In some cultures, the higher the rank and the greater the warrior’s achievements, the more tattoos one earns.

While tattoos are certainly not a requirement for a man to have to be considered sexy, they can certainly contribute to a man’s sexitude, at least in my perception.

(Now a man in uniform with tattoos. Wow! That can be powerful!)

Namaste

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