Thursday, December 29, 2011

Loving The Dark Days

The sun sets in Vermont around 4:20 these days. That means it's getting dark at 3:30. Many people seem to be upset by this natural occurrence. I find it the ultimate invitation to be cozy with a cup of tea, a fuzzy blanket, and a good book. The dark days of late Fall/early Winter make it even more evident that most of the world is on the wrong speed. I yearn to slow down even more and be as internally-oriented as I can be during this time that the earth and the sun are in cahoots to impress us with the need to rest.

This year I say, "Heck with the cards and presents and candles!" I'm sitting at a window or lying down by a window and watching the river flow. It keeps me present and aware of something other than my own internal drama and suffering.

Cancer is my proving ground for how serious I am about living. It's become my life's work to learn how to be with this disease and all that it brings and find a way to make peace with it. I'm in less pain when I am in a state of internal acceptance (not to be confused with "giving up"). It is in this state that I make wise choices about my life. Every little move - how I lift a pan, how I reach for a roll of toilet paper on a high shelf (a challenge living with 6 foot 4 inch Steve who puts things away in places I don't know exist) what I commit to do when invited to a party, how I exercise, how many errands I run in a day, and what I plan to do with my future effects my daily pain level. Consciousness is potent medicine! I'm continuously learning how to cultivate the consciousness that allows me to live and thrive. My most challenging struggle is giving up being an overachiever.

I have just not been motivated to write for other people for a while. I'm trying to respond to everything that comes up inside me that feels like a "should."  I'm sorry if you've been waiting to hear from me. My tempo is unbelievably slowed down and I haven't been able to crank out blog entries that meet my literary standards, or even just report on current events, but I will try...

Our apartment is feeling a lot more like home. Having a couch (we love our new couch) and proper lighting helps. 15 foot ceilings with no ceiling light fixtures makes lighting a serious challenge. We've had to be creative in figuring out ways to light up the house effectively. The people in this building, especially the poor college students, joke about what happens to the vision of Woolen Mill tenants from living in dim light. Those of us who face the river get some pretty bright light in the daytime when the sun rises over the river, but by 2 pm it's fairly dim inside. We're still in search of a few lighting fixtures for some dark corners.

We did our first little dance of apartment living celebration when it snowed and someone else shoveled. Apartment life is the best!

I found a wonderful Tai Chi teacher (http://greenleaftaichi.com/about/), who does Tai Chi as if it were standing and walking Continuum. He teaches the form or sequence of movements along with some principles that describe the movement of chi. Then he has us make up movements of our own, feeling the chi and using the imaginal mind to apply principles like, "walking under water," "pushing clouds," or "pushing a beachball under water." Sometimes we play the childhood game, "Red Light Green Light" in which he has us move on our own and stop randomly with a call of "red light," and we see if we can sense the energy and suspend right where we are in a balanced way. We pause, feel what's moving and what's not, make a little adjustment if we need to fine-tune our balance, and then after calling "green light" we start moving again. In 8 weeks we will learn the "Wu" style or "art of the water school" short form. He hopes we integrate the principles into how we move in our daily mundane life. He's quite young, but he totally "gets it," unlike many young people who seem to primarily be in search of "Buns of Steel" or some other useless bodily transformation. He's got a great future as a teacher, and I'm happy to have discovered him now.

I love the movement studio across the bridge. If you look at the photo taken from my living room on my Facebook page, it's the building across the bridge in the distance in the center of the photo. It takes 3 minutes to walk there. There's a walkway under the bridge that feels like a magic gateway to get to the other side. I go there once or twice a week for some class. My current favorite is this one: 
Total Body Connectivity: The best way for students seeking to integrate and enhance body-mind connectivity. This class combines Bartenieff Fundamentals, Delsarte System of Expression, and Laban Movement Analysis for essential Awareness, Balance, and Coordination practices.
It may sound more "structured" than you Continuum folks might think I would enjoy, but it isn't. It's very spacious and inner-directed. That's how Lucille approaches all her teaching, acknowledging that everything, hence all movement arises from "nothing." There's no better place to be!

I also found more than one great massage therapist, a wonderful Hakomi practitioner/therapist, and an acupuncturist who has a special interest in treating people with cancer. I've assembled quite a team, all within 15 minutes from home!

We have seen/heard some great live music: one-woman solo marimba, Gogol Bordello (gypsy punk rock), Cuban jazz, and Regina Carter, a fabulous jazz violinist at the UVM recital hall, a room with some of the best acoustics I've ever heard, and only 300 seats. UVM actually stands for Universitas Virdis Montis, latin for University of the Green Mountains, not University of Vermont, although that's what it actually is. Regina Carter is a MacArthur Fellow this year and has done an amazing job researching African folk music and synthesizing it into her jazz.  Check out her new album: http://www.reginacarter.com/

Burlington has so much for such a small place. The indoor winter farmer's market is in full swing and our little Winooski downtown has some new "pop up" stores and a gallery that will probably just be here for the holiday season. The downtown landlords rent out empty store fronts very inexpensively to artists and artisans in attempt to stir up interest in the growing groovy neighborhood. I am sure this place will make it, and although I wish it "were there" already, at least there is the excitement of watching it turn into an interesting place. The food coop has plans to open a branch here in a building that's starting construction in the spring. Yay! Great food just around the traffic circle, about a 90 second walk from home.

It's been dipping into the single digits at night and I'm loving getting bundled up. I go into one of my favorite stores downtown, Outdoor Gear Exchange at least once a week asking advice about some winter weather garment that didn't exist 15 years ago. It's amazing how the technology of keeping warm has improved. Remember my Norwegian friend's advice, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."

No big snow yet, just a few inches one day and a few dustings that melted quickly. We had a mallard couple (they are known to pair for life) who moved in to a calm spot on our river for almost 2 months. They swam in circles all day together, seemingly unfazed by the treaturous waterfalls on one side and a dam on the other. They were my heroes and the subject of many staring-out-the-window-at-the-river meditations until they flew south a few weeks ago. We have a fair number of non-migrating seagulls here that huddle on the rocks in the half-frozen river and some small dark birds that fly in swarms and swoop over the river. I could watch them all day, and sometimes I do! 

My 17-yr-old step-son Luke is arriving tonight from Santa Cruz. Won't he be surprised when he feels single digit weather for the first time?! We have extra layers ready for him. His 19-yr-old brother arrives next week from Berkeley. Luke goes back first, so that we'll have time alone with each of them on either end of our time together. We'll be off to listen to more music, see some movies, play Settlers of Catan, snowboard (I'll read and drink tea in the ski lodge), go to Montreal for the day (90 miles north across the border), splash and scream at Vermont's new indoor water park (http://www.jaypeakresort.com/#/water_park/), and eat lots of great food. I'll rest a lot while they run around, and enjoy being with them, even if I can't keep up with their pace.

After they are gone, I enter a whole new phase of life. Steve goes back to work on January 17th. Check out his new website, even though it's still under construction you'll get an idea of the face of his new practice: http://stevepaulus.com/Office_Website/Home.html. I begin a mini-retreat/training at the Burlington Shambhala Center (http://burlington.shambhala.org/
and I go for my 6-month oncology work-up. I'll keep you posted as the results of my scans come in late January. By then, I'll be immersed in my favorite paradox of the year; as the days are getting lighter, the temperature and snow are still falling. I will be rising to the occasion to discover and honor the rhythm of this next phase of life.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November: The End Of Survivor Guilt & The Beginning Of Metamorphosis

November is quite unpopular in the northeast. A friend of mine calls it "stick season," but I find it magnificent and I feel truly welcomed Home by this time of year. The last of the leaves are falling, and the palette of the earth is simplified to shades of brown, blue, gray, and white. If you recall the artwork in my old offices, there wasn't any green. I like having a break from green, yellow, pink, and red for several months. It's exhilarating to be "back east," as they say in California, to have the contrast of changing temperatures, and the sensual shift of the colors of nature, and to shift gears in concert with the earth's cycles. I finally start to cool off in November. I've been overheated for 14 years in California.

I became weary of the October Breast Cancer Awareness Month pink ribbon epidemic - another good reason to celebrate the arrival of November. My friend Julia, a fellow adventurer in Stage IV living says,
"Thanks Safeway/Yoplait/fill in the blank (multinational bizzillionaire company) that’s helping me be aware of breast cancer. I’m quite aware. I’m so happy my disease is helping to sell your products."
I am happy that someone is raising money for the cause, although I wonder about who gets that money and how they spend it. I reach my limit when every wine list in town has pink ribbon specials, the local recycling and garbage pick-up company has a pink truck that drives around town, you can buy pink ribbon snow tires, the local Zumba fanatics throw a Pink Party Zumba class, and the local students can be seen wearing, "Protect My Assets" t-shirts.

What's the point? Are companies making money and getting tax deductions on the backs of  women with breast cancer? Do people alleviate their survivor guilt by spending money on products with pink ribbons?

I don't think that our culture has a deficiency of focus on and awareness of breasts. Breasts don't exist as separate from the body of a woman. Breasts are not "assets" and if a woman with breast cancer is told that they are then she can't help feeling like damaged goods. I actually went to the Pink Party Zumba class (kind of like an anthropological expedition) and I cringed as the sweaty young scantily-clad participants drank out of plastic water bottles. I think they missed the cancer part of breast cancer awareness. I commend them for attempting to promote exercise as a way to prevent breast cancer and increase the quality of life in women living with the disease, but they missed a few other important points.

In this realm, Vermont is no different than California, they just wear more clothes here for most of the year. Objectifying the body is a rampant distortion that disrupts our experience of being embodied. The body is not an object; it is a process. (This is what my book is about - please buy it and read it if you want to dive deeper into exploring this. In fact, please buy 10 copies; they make great stocking stuffers!) I am moved by the way David Abram describes this sense of things in Spell Of The Sensuous,
To acknowledge that “I am this body” is not to reduce the mystery of my yearnings and fluid thoughts to a set of mechanisms, or my “self” to a determinate robot. Rather it is to affirm the uncanniness of this physical form. It is not to lock up awareness within the density of a closed and bounded object, for as we shall see, the boundaries of a living body are open and indeterminate; more like membranes than barriers, they define a surface of metamorphosis and exchange.
I am on the fast track of "metamorphosis and change." I hardly recognize myself, which is a good thing, just occasionally disconcerting. I'm looking forward to winter, when everything slows down (except the diehard skiers) and hibernates or looks like it has died, only to be reborn in the spring. Ice may form on top of the water, but it is "more like a membrane than a barrier." Ice insulates and protects the deep dark waters beneath, so that the fluid intelligence continues to unfold and express its creative potency. The bare trees of "stick season" may look barren, but they are cooking up a new expression of creativity that will burst forth from the deep live roots in the spring.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Coffee and "The Hidden Discipline Of Familiarity"

Everything is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
  -- David Whyte, from Everything is Waiting for You
     ©2003 Many Rivers Press
This poem by David Whyte inspired me last year when I was struggling with coffee withdrawal. I love coffee, and now that I've admitted this publicly I can show you how I work with this embarrassing urge. I theoretically feel like I'd be better off without it, but like anyone with a charged relationship to a psychoactive substance, I struggle. It was actually my mother who introduced me to this sacred elixir when I was 10 years old. My mother and I would share a cup of instant coffee (yuck!) and eat cookies together after lunch when no one else was at home. That rush of energy and alertness, combined with the secret we shared that we were a little naughty drinking something that we shouldn't be, imbued it with even more appeal. 

I've always felt that it is a dietary transgression, and I wish I didn't like it so much. I've always had rules about drinking coffee, and felt that if I could stick to them, I wasn't a "coffeeholic."
  • I wouldn't drink it on work days. 
  • I wouldn't drink it past noon, or maybe 3 pm if I had to stay up late.
  • I wouldn't drink too much at once. 
  • I wouldn't drink little bits all day. 
  • I wouldn't drink it if it tasted bad.
  • I wouldn't drink it to override my natural bedtime, except if I were driving a long distance and my safety depended on it.
I'd give it up at least once a year for a few weeks or months, just to prove that I was in control. Once I worked with a homeopath and went 6 years without any, and when I was diagnosed with cancer I felt like it was time to give my system another rest from it. I had none for almost a year, and then like any addict, I began making deals with myself to convince myself it was okay.
  • I could have a little, but only in the morning, and not every day. 
  • It would have to be organic. 
  • I'd learn to love it black, to avoid the additional evils of half-and-half or soy milk. 
  • It would have to be freshly ground to preserve the valuable antioxidants.
  • I'd have to roast it myself. 
I found a source of organic green coffee beans and bought a home roaster. I figured that if I had to go to this extreme, I wouldn't drink that much, and I'd seriously enjoy how precious a cup could be. I thought I would adapt Michael Pollan's Food Rule #39 to the roasting and consumption of coffee, "Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself." I'm definitely not drinking as much as I want, but I am limiting myself to my own home-roasted, organic brew, which caps the amount I consume.

I drank a cup one day last year before I went off to my Santa Cruz writing group, where Carolyn Flynn read the David Whyte poem that introduced this entry. I was inspired to write the following scenario about my beloved beans to sanctify our personal relationship and pay homage to their origin. I'm filled with gratitude for their journey across the world, and for their ordeal of transformation which results in giving up their life for my alertness and euphoria. Perhaps it's just another excuse to make me feel better about my tiny transgression, but I want to believe that cultivating a conscious relationship to what I eat and drink somehow augments its potential benefits and dampens the deleterious effects.

“Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity,” was the only line of the poem they could hear from inside the burlap bag. Many a poem was uttered by heart, by the clerk who worked at the Berkeley coffee supplier while she filled green coffee bean orders over the internet. Most people who work here have at least a master’s degree. Many have PhDs in subjects that make them virtually unemployable, like vertebrate paleontology, seventeenth century Dutch painters, or Aramaic, but this makes for profound small talk over the coffee, which the beans deeply appreciate.

They arrived last Tuesday from Guatemala, then on to Oakland, and finally Aptos, before preparing themselves for the ritual roasting. As their small pale green bodies began to tumble and dance in the roaster, under my careful eye, they rose like the Phoenix. As they began to heat up and darken I inhaled their toasty aromatic essence wafting from the top vent of the roaster. Our joining was ecstatic.

Their small round bodies plumped and darkened, sizzled and popped telling me they were ready to rest and cool. Later they would surrender their individuality to the burr grinder who would bless each of them as their fragments blended into a dark pile of coarse grounds.

They met a sacred stream of hot water as it poured into the cool glass container of the French press pot, and dissolved into their final realization of their destiny. I poured this potion into my blue cup with the Celtic knot etched into the glaze covering its rounded sides, and felt the familiar mingling of spirits from across the world feed me this elixir of alertness. No longer a tiny hidden transgression, this state invited me through the doors of alertness and filled me with anticipation of the everything that is waiting for me. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

We're All Just Passing Through

I picked up Jack Kornfield's newest book, A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times, looking for some grounding guidance and inspiration during this challenging phase of moving and unpacking. He opens the book with the description of a cartoon he saw in the San Francisco Chronicle which shows a nomadic family crossing the desert on camel-back. The daughter must have just asked her father the classic childhood question and he replies, "Stop asking if we're almost there yet - we're nomads for crying out loud!"

This made me laugh and lighten up. It is an illusion to think that any of us are anywhere permanently. Even if we live in the town where we were born, we're all just passing through. Life in essence is temporary.

I've made some big moves in my life: Philadelphia to Miami, Miami to Sarasota, then on to Gainesville, New York City, Brooklyn, 10 days in Jamaica, Queens (that was a terrible mistake), then back to Brooklyn, Woodstock (NY), Santa Cruz, and now Vermont. Perhaps moving gets harder as I get older, or maybe it's that pesky cancer-thing that slows me down. This move has been the hardest thing I've ever done in terms of sheer endurance. With my impaired and painful hands, my sore chest, and limited energy level, I have to rely on Steve and others to do all the lifting and gripping, as well as many other things. It's challenging for me to be so much more dependent than before. 

It took 6 weeks to sort and pack to come to Vermont, but the task really began when we decided to close the office last February. It's actually been 7 months of shuffling "stuff" around. Feeling the simplicity and lightness of having rid ourselves of a great volume of stuff is the reward for all the grueling effort. It is beyond a profound relief to be here and be almost settled.

Arriving here was somewhat wonderful, but moving to a state that's been declared a disaster area put a damper on the excitement about being some place new. Although Hurricane Irene did no damage in our part of the state, we could see the frightening height of the water marks on the bridge footings, and everywhere we went the first week or 2 people talked about the floods. The water was still high when we got here. The river was so raging that we could hardly sleep with the roar. In the 4 weeks that we have been here the waters have receded and quieted a bit. The sound of the river is always there in the background. I'm hoping it never gets so low that it can't be heard.

It is so beautiful here - lush and green and full of life and rushing water. There are the first signs of fall: a few orange-tipped trees here and there, that rustling sound of dry leaves in the wind, and flocks of birds en masse flying south. Yesterday was the first day I wore a scarf - very exciting for a woman with a scarf and boot fetish! In 1985, I was given the "Jane Jetson Little Black Boot Award" by my medical school class in honor of having the most pairs of black boots anyone had ever seen (they must not have known Imelda Marcos). I look forward to regaining my title.

Everyone drives much more slowly here. Even on the highway (I-89) the speed limit is only 55 mph, and it's not uncommon for cars on the entrance ramp to merge while driving 40mph.

There are so many great radio stations, we've run out of preset buttons on the car radio. Our refuge and rest from the chaos at home has been the movie theater. There are 2 fabulous theaters here that show a mix of independent films with some mainstream movies. They show all sorts of interesting things, like live HD simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera (my mother's old stomping ground), a live lecture by Jane Goodall, The Rolling Stones in a concert from Texas, and Phantom Of The Opera live from Royal Albert Hall in London. Every time we see a film the theater is packed with a wide array of ages ranging from teens to elderly - definitely a wider demographic than in Santa Cruz where young people are often mysteriously absent from the audience. And for some strange reason, the people here are like me; they don't get up and leave while the credits are still playing. I feel like the music and the credits are part of the complete experience of a film and I always stay until the end. In my 14 years in Santa Cruz, the only film I saw after which the people sat through the credits was The Lives Of Others. What's that about?!

We may have missed Hurricane Irene, but we do have a flood story. However, the only water involved came from our hot water heater. We sent our stuff cross-country on a 28 foot truck. They delivered it to a terminal about 20 minutes away and we had to shuttle it on a smaller truck to our apartment building. The movers who were supposed to unload us had to cancel to go south and help with the flood relief effort. So instead of having 3 men for a full day, we could only find 2 men for a half-day. Steve rented a U-haul and did the rest himself. It took 3 days (in the rain) to get all the stuff off the 28 foot moving van and into our apt.

At about 11pm on the night we did the majority of the move, a strange sound emanated from somewhere in the house. I thought I had left an alarm clock set and packed it inside of a box or my dresser, which was still wrapped in moving blankets. We searched for the beeping and discovered that it was the water alarm on the floor at the foot of our hot water heater, which had sprung a leak. I crumpled in a big chair in the living room, cried, and passed out as Steve dealt with it. Thank goodness for apartment living! The night property manager came and drained it, and by 8 am the maintenance crew were in here installing a new one.

And now, almost a month later, it's still not over; we have to finish unpacking and make a nest. I actually enjoy unpacking, organizing, and setting things up, but I'm exhausted. There's an important distinction between wanting to have things set up so that I can relax, and being patient and relaxing in the moment, regardless of the mess in the external environment. Isn't this always a struggle? I get concerned that I'll spend too much of my life trying to complete my illusory list so that I can "relax" and that I'll never be done. I don't want to live like that!

"Dysrhythmic" is the word Steve uses to describe this strange feeling of being out of synch with time and place. After a month, we're starting to feel like maybe we're not on some strange vacation, and we don't have to pack up and go back to Santa Cruz. We can't believe that we bought a one-way ticket. We're still in shock that we live in such a new and different place.

Each day brings more feelings of being at Home. We are slowly replacing the furniture we left in California. It's amazing how much a couch makes a living room feel like home. We bought a new one and it's not here yet, so we're managing with some comfy chairs. We know where to go for most things we need. We don't need a map to get everywhere anymore. We are starting to know the people in the building and the neighborhood people, like the mail carriers and some Farmer's Market vendors. We went to our first city council meeting and were welcomed.  I am checking out the movement scene and I went to a class taught by someone who went to UCSC in the late 70s and took dance classes with Beth at Cabrillo. Small world!

We have no lack of entertainment possibilities. We saw a fabulous Cuban jazz trio (Alfredo Rodriguez) and we're going to see David Sedaris, Richard Thompson (solo guitar), and Gogol Bordello in the next few weeks. We're in week 2 of a conversational French class. Steve is signed up for a bread-making class so he can get some new sourdough starter. I'm off to my old Osteopathic study group, which meets in November, after my 14 year absence. We went to the monthly open-house at the Burlington Shambhala Center and found it a very sweet place to meditate with a group. They have open meditation sessions 6 times a week. They are quite laid back and flexible - they even serve coffee!

Today I had my appointment with my new oncologist. She's wonderful and in total agreement with the treatment plan and how I've been caring for myself. Today I attended a wonderful retreat for women with metastatic breast cancer, followed by the yearly Breast Cancer Conference sponsored by the Vermont Cancer Center. This year's topic is, "Being Well Throughout The Cancer Journey". http://vtbreastcancerconference.org/

I am hoping to start feeling settled and have more regular writing time. Sorry about the long wait and then this rambling post. I'll aim to make them shorter and more frequent. I have a few pieces of more "literary" entries almost ready, so be on the lookout for them. Subscribe, if you haven't already, so that you get emailed automatically when I post an entry.

I think back to that crazy week that began with my comment about not wanting to die staring at the back of that damn bush and I am so profoundly grateful that I made it here. I have the  Health, hope, creativity, and curiosity to make it through this transition gracefully. I have Steve, who is wonderful beyond belief in his sense of presence, love, and commitment to making a new life together here. And I have all these old friends and colleagues who have surfaced to welcome me Home, even though we're all just passing through.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our Part Of Vermont Is OK

For those of who are concerned, we want you to know that our part of Vermont escaped the worst of the storm. It should be quite green from all the rain by the time we get there. Now that's making lemonade from lemons!
We've been listening to Vermont Public Radio on-line: http://www.vpr.net/ to get the inside scoop on what's happening.
I'll be blogging more after we land and settle. For those of you who are tired of checking, why not enter your email in the "subscribe box" to the right and get an automatic email each time I post an entry?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Earthquakes & Hurricanes Welcome Me Home

Contrary to what some people are suggesting, there is no causal or mystical significance of my move back east and the recent natural disasters. The earth is not quaking at the anticipation of my return, and the hurricane that is ripping up the east coast has nothing to do with my penchant for spirals. I am amused, though, by the metaphorical implications of cataclysmic change in my life.

We are quite consumed with the last phase of packing and loading the 28 foot truck that will carry our worldly possessions across the country. 
Steve & Luke = testosterone!
I dream of the moment the truck drives away with all of our belongings, wondering exactly how I would handle it if I never saw the stuff again. Somehow, putting all of my things in boxes and stacking them up in one spot makes it easier to imagine losing it all without attachment.

Here I am, posing as a "fragile basket case" in the staging area for boxes in our garage. Someone I spoke to last week called this the "loose shit" phase - the time when miscellaneous loose shit gets randomly thrown in boxes that defy labeling.


I am trying to rest and pace myself. I lay myself down in bed at least twice a day, and it frequently turns into a full-fledged nap. Steve won't let me lift a thing (I'm not sure I could if I wanted to), but my hands still hurt from all the handling of little stuff. I have sorted, shredded, or tossed unimaginable things from the bowels of my closets: report cards from elementary school, journals from seventh grade, recipes from my 1973 college dorm, hundreds of casette tapes, anatomy notes from medical school, my father's death certificate, hideous tchotchkies from my childhood, countless rocks, feathers, and crystals, and a jar with some lump of tissue in formaldehyde that was removed from my arm sometime in the 90s - good grief!

We fly out on Thursday, well after the storm will have passed. A soggy Vermont will welcome us. We have shipped some boxes ahead so that we have "indoor camping" supplies to hold us over until the movers bring our stuff: a blow-up bed, kitchen stuff, some clothing, sheets, towels, blankets, and other basics. We sold one of our cars and shipped the other. We'll rent a car at the airport and will keep it until ours arrives. In our new life we hope to only have 1 car. With Steve's office 1/2 mile from home, and living "downtown" on a bus line, we think it's worth a try. We kept the Subaru, so we're prepared for the winter, but there's no way for us to prepare for any other natural disasters while in transition. Let's hope that Mother Nature calms down and lets us get settled in our new home before another cataclysm.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

An Unexpected River

I was sitting with Steve, staring out our living room window a few weeks ago, drinking what we jokingly call our morning "hot brown liquids." Hot and brown describes the range of morning brews, from coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, to coffee substitutes like Dandy Blend. I was staring out our picture window that faces the back of a hedge, and the following sentence popped out of my mouth, "I don't want to spend the rest of my life staring at the back of this damn bush!"  In that moment, I could feel that something unexpected was about to unfold.

Steve was profoundly unhappy in his new mainstream medical job. It just wasn't working out (no one's surprise). It was becoming evident that he was going to leave the job imminently, and we were dumbfounded by our seeming lack of options. I keep in touch with many old friends from all over the northeast, and one day while chatting with one of my oldest Osteopathic friends, he explained that he was doubly in mourning: for the death of our dear 89-year-old teacher Stan Schiowitz, and for the loss of the family physician with whom he shared his office, and that he was just going to wait for the perfect Osteopath to come along. We wondered why he was telling us this now. It just wasn't quite the right time to even consider such a big move. 

This next synchronous detail is one that I couldn't have made up if I tried. I got a random spam email from apartments.com announcing the availability of a 2BR, 2 bath loft apartment a half-mile from our friend Jonathan's office. The apartment is as big as the house we live in right now (1700 sq ft) and has 12-foot-tall windows that face the cascades, several small waterfalls on the Winooski river.
This is the view of the cascades on the river, outside the apartment building in question (the fisherman is seasonal).

There's a health club in the building, complete with pool and sauna, and a canoe launch right behind the building. We continued to wonder, "why now?" but we were starting to feel the inevitability of the momentum of what was about to unfold.

That night, after Steve returned home from work, we called my friend in Vermont to tell him about the cryptic coincidences. By the end of the conversation, he offered Steve the opportunity to share his office and develop his own private practice. Jonathan deeply appreciates Steve's unique blend of Osteopathy and primary care and offered the possibility of making it a reality.

In the past, we had toyed with the idea of moving to the east coast "someday," but we would never have rationally chosen to do so now. It seems as if we've been called by some  mysterious force and we've surrendered to an attraction that feels involuntary, like magnetism or gravity. In a matter of about 6 days from the time I blurted out that prophetic statement, a perfect storm landed us unexpectedly on the shores of the Winooski River, just 2 miles from downtown Burlington, Vermont. We're moving on September 1st. Here's what it looks like:

This is the Winooski Riverwalk, which begins behind our new apartment and connects the downtown area with miles of hiking trails.


Although "Winooski" sounds Polish, it is not; it means "wild onion" in the Native American Abenaki language. Here's a story about this unique town:
http://www.7dvt.com/2011winooski

If we were there this weekend, these are some events we'd be checking out:
http://artmapburlington.com/winooskipops/?p=89
http://monkeyhousemusic.com/
http://www.highergroundmusic.com/
http://www.7dvt.com/
http://www.cvfest.org/

If we want to see a film, we'll walk down to the local independent theater:
http://merrilltheatres.net/

There's even a performing arts center for music, plays, dance, etc: http://www.flynncenter.org/performances-events/2011-12-season.html

Vermont is quite politically progressive, including valuing universal health care (to be implemented by 2014 for all 600,000 people in the state) and respect for same-sex marriage. And we'll have Bernie Sanders as our Independent Senator, the first US Senator to openly identify as a "democratic socialist."
Bernie Sanders!
We'll have a fabulous food coop:  http://www.citymarket.coop/
And a farmer's market around the corner, in addition to many others within a 10 minute drive. The Burlington Farmer's Market runs year-round! Vermonters are serious about good food:
http://www.vermontfresh.net/index.php

There's a large population from Viet Nam, Somalia, Bosnia, and Iraq in our town and with that comes all sorts of great little restaurants, grocery stores, and some welcome diversity in the otherwise fairly Caucasian culture. We're staying at The Tibet Inn the first night we arrive, owned by a formerly Tibetan family, who call Burlington their "land of the snows," which in Tibetan implies that it is their spiritual and emotional home.

There is a huge movement and meditation community with many options:
http://www.uvm.edu/~CHWB/psych/?Page=mindfulness.html&SM=mindfulnessmenu.html
http://burlington.shambhala.org/
http://vermontzen.org/index.html


The Winooski River feeds into Lake Champlain, the 6th largest lake in the US, with the Adirondacks Mountains of New York (the largest national forest in the US)  towering in the distant view west. Burlington is called "The West Coast of New England." Winooski has been called "Burlington's Brooklyn." It's a lot like Santa Cruz or Woodstock, for those of you who live in one of those place and know what I mean.

If your east coast geography is sketchy and you're shocked to realize that the Canadian border is only 45 minutes away from our new home, and Montreal is 90 miles away,  here's where it is:

View Larger Map

In terms of my health care, I discovered an annual Breast Cancer Conference less than a mile from our new home: http://vtbreastcancerconference.org/  I found a fabulous oncologist, an MD with a PhD in nutrition. Her research has been about the relationship between breast cancer and inflammation, and the effects of exercise on survival in cancer patients - sounds like my kind of gal! My beloved Oncologists at Stanford have set me up with referrals to Dana Farber Cancer Institute (Harvard Medical School's cancer center) if I need a big university-style back-up in Boston, 3 hours away.

Steve and I decided that we want several months to be together and not working now, while I'm healthy and feeling relatively good. Why wait until we're forced to take time off? Life is too short and too precious to wait for what we want to come in some unknown future. No one says with regret on their deathbed that they took too much time off of work! We are going to go on this crazy adventure September 1st and we'll be there for my 55th birthday (9/26) and the fall colors. I desperately miss the seasons - all of them, including winter. My Norwegian friends say, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." I say, "Let's go shopping!"

I've loved living in California, but I've always felt like California is a somewhat like a foreign country where English is conveniently spoken. It has just never felt like home.

I want to go "home," and even though I believe that home is where the heart is, I want to be in the familiarity and sensuality of the seasons, and near the people I have been missing for the 14 years I've been in California.

I am filled with the whole spectrum of emotions; I'm sad about being far from the people and resources I love in California. I'll miss the tall redwoods, the Pacific ocean/Monterey Bay, the amazing food and wackiness of San Francisco, and in the same breath, I'm overjoyed about doing something crazy like moving 3089 miles at this stage in my life to a place that calls to me.

It's not a totally random choice for a new home. I have many friends nearby, some of whom I've known for 35+ years, and a huge support network within a fairly short distance. There are "sub-tribes" of all my communities here: Continuum, Commonweal, Mindfulness, and Osteopathy. Steve and I have visited Vermont many times in the past few years, and I have been going there since I first discovered the town with my dear friend and colleague Hugh, with whom I co-directed the 1993 Cranial Academy Annual Conference on the Burlington lakefront. (There's a picture of a bunch of us there on my facebook page, in the "Great Moments in Osteopathic History" section of my Photos, if you're interested.)

For those of you who want to stay in touch, please keep me in your address book and check out my blog periodically, or just drop me an old-fashioned letter or phone call. My email and cell phone number will stay the same.

I believe it's a sign of my thriving life force that I have this surge of energy to expand and explore. I've been resting for 2 years, and it feels like now is the time to have a great adventure along this unexpected river. 

Happy Anniversary Bone & CT Scans

I have a lot of big news and I'll begin by letting you all know that my recent work-up showed that my tumors continue to shrink and there is no new spread. I'm 1 month short of my 2-year anniversary and I'm obviously, officially, a statistical outlier. There was an 80% chance that I wouldn't make it this far, and now that I have, I'm in uncharted territory.

There are no statistics on women who live 2 years past their diagnosis with the type of cancer I have. At this point, anything could happen. I have had the honor to meet many, who like me, have outlived predictions. I have other Stage IV friends who are up to 25 years post-diagnosis. I know that I could be hit by the "proverbial bus" and die tomorrow, but barring something unforeseen and random, I now join the ranks of those who mystify their doctors.

I am devoted to the exploration of that which guides my self-care and attentiveness to the preciousness of life. . . and in my next entry, coming very soon, you'll hear about my next piece of big news.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Riding The Breath Inside My Bones

The companion piece to my last blog entry, "Secret Sculptures of Bone" was published today on the new North Atlantic Books Communities website. Please check it out by clicking here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Secret Sculptures Of Bone


Dear friends, family, colleagues, and blog-followers,

Hello to all my tribe members who are gathering in Indianapolis this weekend. Today's entry is dedicated to you all. I wish I could be there, but this is the next best thing. 

I have a huge collection of half-written fragments, which I have decided to share with you. Many of them are parts of other, larger pieces that are in varying states of completion. Some of them are re-written excerpts from other things I have written, or passages that didn't fit into my book.

On Tuesday, June 28th, a piece I wrote will appear on the new website from my publisher, North Atlantic Books. I will be part of the "Wellness" Community on their site. The following is the introduction to that essay, with all the content I edited out of the original to have it fit their format. I hope you enjoy them both. Here's the link to the new site from North Atlantic: http://nabcommunities.com/


When I took the oath as a physician on graduation day from Osteopathic medical school in 1986, I promised to listen deeply, to feel the messages conveyed by my patients’ bodies, especially their bones, not knowing what that promise would eventually entail. After years of caring for people and devoting my studies and perceptual training to receiving the stories of other people’s bones, my own bones call out more loudly than anything I've ever heard...
(go to North Atlantic Books Communities on June 28th to read the rest. . .)


Here are some other things I love about bones:
Many bones include a trabecular mesh in their architecture that incorporates air spaces. Most bones are about 20% water. The air and water that are incorporated into the architecture of bones engenders them with great strength and resilience. Some bones are filled with blood-producing marrow. A bone is made of bendable, resilient collagen (which is composed from protein, vitamin C, and water) into/onto which minerals (calcium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, silica, iron, zinc, selenium, and more) have been embedded. The whole thing is surrounded by a membranous sac called the periosteum, which is chock-full of nerve endings and a hefty blood supply that continues on into and out of the bone. Sometimes the articulating ends of bones are covered with a layer of cartilage. Living bones are far from chalky or dry.

Some bones are flat, some are round, some are long, some are shaped like the crescent moon, and some are wild shapes that have no names.


Some have spiraling patterns etched on them from the way they developed and from the way things are attached to them.










The Eiffel Tower was designed based on the shape and arrangement of the stress-bearing fibers in the femur. Notice the similarity of the architecture to that of the femur.
Drawing of a femur showing stress fibers in the architecture of the bone.
Some have quite unexpected shapes, especially the bones in the cranium. Here's a picture of my second favorite bone in the body, the sphenoid bone (this is an anterior view with the ethmoid attached, for all you anatomy buffs) of the cranium, taken by my colleague Andrew Haltof, DO. This is the "secret bone behind your eyes" that Kim Rosen writes about in "The Anatomy of Wings." Kim, along with Cathie Malach put this poem to music and recorded it as a wedding present for Steve and I in 1997.


There’s a secret bone behind your eyes
carved in the shape of a butterfly
the outspread wings remember the skies
and the waves and the wind and the weather’s tides

you can only reach it from deep inside
though the wingspan might be galaxies wide
as it lifts the soul from the thickness of flesh
sweeping it out of pockets of death

some have seen it and some have not
but those with the sight
they never forgot and never returned to their childhood home,
but rode the breath inside the bone back to the sculptor’s hand. 


Have you reached deep inside and seen any of the "secret sculptures" that collectively form what you call "your body"? If you're an Osteopath or a Continuum practitioner, I know you have. How about the rest of you?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Do What Grandma Said Was Good For You And Earn $800

When I was in practice, I frequently heard the complaint from people that they felt fatigued. People often asked if there was some supplement they could take for what they thought was "adrenal burn out." I always replied that there is no vitamin or herb that replaces sleeping 8 hours a night, eating well, exercising, and resting - and until they do these basics of self care, that it would be an insult to their system to try to trick themselves into pushing harder. Many people were disappointed with my response, hoping that there was a magic potion (something stronger than coffee) that would allow them to override what their body was telling them they needed.

Now some researchers in the mainstream of medicine are starting to look at the effects of stress, especially poor sleep in relationship to surviving breast cancer. When I heard about this study I wanted to sign up because I hope that amassing this data will prove what I hope to be true - that all those common sense things we can do to care for ourselves will prove to be the statistically significant factor in surviving and thriving with breast cancer.

Last summer I volunteered for a study at Stanford in which they are exploring the connection between breast cancer survival and what our grandmothers told us to do: eat well, sleep 8 hours, exercise, get fresh air, rest, and relax. They are doing this by measuring all sorts of indicators in blood (cortisol, ACTH, melatonin, Interleukin-6, fasting insulin, Natural Killer cell activity, markers of inflammation, etc.), doing sleep studies (EKG, EEG, respiratory and leg movement monitors, etc.), tracking diet, and emotional stress. Then they will follow-up once a year and see if our test results predict how well we do.

I know that there are many variables that can't be measured, but why not measure the ones we can? This kind of study rarely gets done because there is no drug or product involved. If this study pans out as we hope, the result will be that more doctors will have to tell people to sleep more, eat more fruits and vegetables, meditate, rest, live a more relaxed pace, and take some time off to enjoy life more often.

They still need to have normal, healthy post-menopausal women without breast cancer or auto-immune disease, ages 45 - 75 to volunteer to be in the control group. The study is almost completed, they just need a few more subjects without breast cancer. Would you consider being a subject in this study? It's not a volunteer job; It pays $800.

The study involves an interview, which can be done over the phone, a medical and psychological screening interview, a 2 week period during which you go about your normal daily life while wearing an "Actiwatch" activity monitor that looks like a wrist watch. During that time, you fill out a questionnaire that takes less than 5 minutes per day. At the end of the 2 weeks, a sleep lab technician is sent to your home and wires you up for a home sleep study 2 nights in a row. Then you spend 28 hours in the Stanford Hospital research wing (about an hour from Santa Cruz) where you get an IV from which they draw blood samples, you give a saliva sample, you answer lots more questionnaires, and eat and drink a measured amount. The lights in the room are dim, but I was able to read and watch a movie. I loved the experience! It was a bit like a meditation retreat for me. No clock, no internet, no cell phone - just peace and quiet, for a very good cause.

Aside from the $800 they will pay you, you get some of the blood test results, and a summary of your sleep study.

If you're interested, you can contact the delightful people at Stanford directly: 

Casey Brodhead  at 650-723-2744 or email caseyb@stanford.edu  or
Bita Nouriani at 650-723-8479 or email bita@stanford.edu

Wherever You Go, However You Eat, There You Are

My friend and nutritional consultant, Mark Mead has a new website, click here to check it out.
I wrote the following story about working with him and about my relationship to my diet for the "Stories Of Healing" within the "Connections" section of his website. If you've been following my blog all along, you've read much of this story. If you haven't read my blog posts from way back in Fall of 2009, then this will be a great little summary for you. Mark works with a wide variety of people, not just people dealing with cancer. If you're looking for a fresh approach to your diet (or your life), consider doing a phone consultation with him.  

Jon Kabat-Zinn's book title reminds us, "wherever you go, there you are," and Geneen Roth writes, ". . . you can examine your life by either looking at the way you live or the way you eat. Both are paths to what is underneath and beyond the eating. . ." As you read my story, consider the way you eat to be a reflection of some attitude you have about your life, and then feel (don't think or decide) the way choices arises in you. Don't set out to change anything, just observe yourself. Let curiosity, not ideas or opinions guide you. I find this a fascinating way to discover things about my self that weren't apparent on superficial examination. The kindness and curiosity that I have for myself has allowed my diet (and my life) to profoundly shift without having to use will power or New Year's-style resolutions.


I was the last person anyone expected to get cancer when I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer in October of 2009. I had a normal mammogram in July, just three months before my diagnosis, but the cancer I have is not the kind you can see on a mammogram or feel as a lump. I didn’t discover what was lurking inside of me until I developed severe pain when it spread to my bones. I am alive and thriving 2 years after my diagnosis, when 90% of women with my situation have died. The following is some of my thoughts about why I am I here to tell my story. 


After a lifetime of eating well, exercising, meditating, loving well, and having a very satisfying and successful professional life, I find myself trying to understand or at least make some meaning of this affliction. Perhaps I might have died 20 years earlier had I not been living so well prior to my diagnosis. Cancer is a sign of our times; I have learned to not take it personally. We all live in a polluted world full of toxins and carcinogens and some of us, for unknown reasons, are more vulnerable to the effects of the environment. The answer is, like so many things in life, unknown and unknowable. We have to follow our gut feelings and have trust or faith that we are doing the best that we can to care for ourselves. Gut feelings – that’s where Mark Mead enters the picture.


Working with Mark as my nutritional guide has been tremendously helpful in finding the diet and nutritional supplements that feel right and are individualized for me. But there’s much more to say about working with Mark than this simple testimonial. 


Having my initial cancer diagnosis be metastatic/Stage IV (there is no Stage V !), it was considered too late for conventional chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation to be effective. It’s not that the doctors wrote me off as a lost cause, but the mainstream medical evidence actually supports not doing these things in my type and stage of cancer. They acknowledge that “once the toothpaste is out of tube” these common treatments cause more damage than benefit. In Stage IV cancer that has only spread to bones (I have no spread to internal organs like my liver, lungs, or brain), the quality of life is better, and the body is much more prepared to deal with the cancer if the system isn’t overwhelmed by these harsh treatments. Traditional chemotherapy doesn’t target bone that well, so I chose not to do it. I am “lucky” enough to have a type of cancer that is highly sensitive to estrogen (Estrogen Receptor Positive or ER+) so the first line of treatment was to get rid of my estrogen. Bones respond very well to the presence or absence of estrogen. I chose to remove my not-yet-menopausal ovaries, and begin taking a daily pill of Arimidex, an inhibitor of the estrogen that might otherwise get produced in my fat cells and adrenal glands. Our plan was to do this simple approach and see if it would be effective before considering more extreme treatments.


Here’s the really interesting, nutritionally relevant and important part of my story:
It took about 3 weeks to decide on this approach and arrange for the surgery. During that time I began my search for other treatments and to make life style changes that felt complementary. I considered myself someone who had been eating well for decades: mostly organic, high fiber, tons of veggies, minimal sugar and processed foods, but I did eat some organic dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, with an occasional chocolate chip cookie fling. I woke up one day and felt from somewhere deep inside that I had to stop eating (mostly) all animal products. I became what I jokingly call a “coho-ovo-whey-vegan.” I eat my weekly dose of wild Pacific salmon, an occasional egg if I know it is of the highest quality, and I put whey protein in green drinks and smoothies. It was during this time I called Mark, the husband of a dear friend and fellow Continuum Movement Teacher, for some nutritional guidance. Mark didn’t need to convince me of the things that would be helpful to change in my diet, but he helped refine the details of how to do it and he guided me in the choice of supplements and vitamins to add to my regimen.


After 3 weeks of dietary changes and daily, prolonged periods of meditation, I began to see and feel a change in my bone tumors. The tumor that caused my sternum to bulge shrank by about 1/3. The pain I experienced began to decrease in intensity. During this time while I was waiting for surgery and had not yet begun the anti-estrogen treatment, I was still in the process of interviewing doctors and assembling my “team.” I told one of them about my tumor shrinkage, and she replied, “Well, that just doesn’t happen!” She refused to believe that what I was experiencing was in the realm of possibility. She was sure I was mistaken, but I wasn’t; I had it documented on CT scans where we could measure the change in size of the tumors before the “official treatment” had begun. In addition to my subjective experience, the difference could be objectively measured. I knew I couldn’t work with this doctor if she couldn’t believe in the out of the ordinary.


I have continued to consult with Mark and fine-tune my regimen of dietary changes and supplements. I love his combination of open-mindedness, curiosity, and common sense, along with a grounded respect for what can be addressed in the research literature.


I like to ponder the philosophical basis for how and why I have made changes in my life, especially in my diet and nutritional supplement program. It seems paradoxical, but I can’t wrap my head around doing anything as a way to fix or exterminate my cancer. I work with Mark to choose a program that targets my condition, and yet I don’t want to live my life as if I’m “damaged goods.” This is quite a philosophical conundrum.


Changing my diet, along with all other life style changes is a process of inquiry and exploration. Although a disease might have motivated me to change my diet, I think I benefit most when I do things in the spirit of simply caring for myself. The potential benefits of any lifestyle change get distorted when I do it in order to accomplish something specific. In my past, if I went on a diet to lose weight, I always gained it back, but now that I am eating according to what feels right for me, I’ve lost weight and kept it off as a “side effect” of just doing what’s best to care for myself. Even though some foods and dietary supplements are known to address cancer, I’m not comfortable with being confined by a fear-based treatment protocol. I eat these “anti-cancer” foods because they feel good in my body.


When I’m working with the mystery of what goes into my digestive system and what happens with it when it is absorbed and assimilated, I have to surrender to the unknown. In spite of how technologically advanced we have become, many aspects of the inner workings of the body are not fully understood. Working with the infinite number of variables in the living human body it is impossible to be entirely scientific. Mark finds a way to respect what is known scientifically and combines it with common sense and intuition in tailoring each person’s approach. 12 women with breast cancer will need 12 different diets and treatment regimens. Working with Mark has been a great way for me as a unique individual to explore what works best for me. The answer to the questions of what to eat, and what supplements to take expresses itself differently in each person.


Becoming mindful about what I eat has been an open-ended exploration that has led to nearly miraculous improvements in the quality of my life. By carefully choosing what I eat I have cultivated an attentiveness to myself that draws on the expression of the healing forces from within. Changes in diet do not rely on healing forces from outside the body. You might say that food comes from outside the body, but once I eat it, I am in relationship to how it becomes part of me. This is incredibly empowering. It’s as if any change in the progression of cancer is a “side-effect” of nourishing the internal terrain with my relationship to food.


We all need to cultivate caring for ourselves because we long to be cared for, and not because it alleviates the fear of disease, or the disease itself. If you eat a certain way because you're afraid of developing cancer or heart disease - your efforts are fear-based and they might eventually backfire. If you have a mammogram because you are afraid of breast cancer, don't think you can eliminate that possibility by checking it off your to-do list. If you do some daily practice because you are afraid of a disease and you think you are somehow cleansing yourself by doing it, it won't necessarily work. The fear is stronger and more paralyzing than the effort you make to avoid disease, especially if you are not conscious of your motivation. As long as you practice from a place of trying to change things, you might miss being informed by the necessity of how you are and what you need in the moment.


Ultimately, each of us has our own questions and answers unfold as we live our lives. Others can guide us, offer us a map, and point to a suggested path, but we are the territory. We have to choose the road and make the journey ourselves. Mark is a great guide, but he can’t make the journey for us, he can only suggest a path that has a record for helping others navigate the treacherous terrain of cancer and find their own way. This is what he does best. Mark is there to provide the container or the sacred space in which we get to live into the emerging answer.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Needle and The Knife

In a previous blog entry, not that long ago, I said that I was going to spend more time writing. I had hoped to be offering you a lot more frequent blog entries. I didn't know at that time that my hands would flare up and give me another reason to delay writing. I attribute the flare-up to the aftereffects of the move out of the office. I may not have carried boxes or furniture, but I have spent the past 4-6 months sorting through 23 years of books, papers, and miscellaneous things I call "the ghosts of offices past." My hands got seriously overworked and now need even more profound rest. 


In early May my left hand got so bad that I couldn't use it at all. In particular, I couldn't use my thumb (officially, DeQuervain's tenosynovitis). I surrendered to having an injection, which helped considerably - another surprising foray into an emergency western medical treatment! It's so strange to find myself in this predicament. Ah, more opportunities to let go of identities that don't serve me. Sometimes I ride the fine line between positive thinking and denial, and have to pause and ask myself to question what I really need. I want Osteopathy or acupuncture or some herbal remedy to do the trick, but I don't always get to decide which approach will bring the most relief. It's helpful for me to suspend judgment over treatments that might help, especially when I've tried every possible alternative. 


It's now a whole year since my right hand surgery, and I'm thankful I had it done. My right hand is about 70% better. I have nerve damage (some numbness and diminished strength,) which seems like it might be permanent. I'm open to continuing to improve, which my hand surgeon admits is in the realm of possibility, but it's unlikely that I'll regain 100%. Time will tell.


I'm humbled to have such severe problems with my hands that nothing more subtle than a needle or a knife helps. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Misconceptions About Meditation & MBSR

First of all, thanks to all who supported my team in the Marin Human Race. We raised over $10,000 for the Commonweal Cancer Help Program!

I have gotten a wide variety of feedback about my new foray into teaching Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). For the most part, people are supportive and excited about my new frontier of exploration, but some are questioning my orientation. I suspect that this doubt is a sign of misunderstanding. The most common misconception people seem to have about MBSR is that it is "simple" and hence boring. This is totally not so! MBSR is simple indeed, that's the beauty of it, but it is not simplistic. If you think this, consider what I said in my blog post on January 30th, "If You're Bored, You're Not Paying Attention."

At the root of MBSR is the profound practice of cultivating awareness. There is no other practice, as far as I'm concerned. I don't care if awareness gets re-packaged and called Continuum, Yoga, Tango, Chi Gung, Transcendental Meditation (TM), or basket weaving; it's all the same practice. I think it's great that there are at least 5,762 ways (this is a random number, please don't quote me like it's a fact) to access awareness of the present moment. I think of these different approaches as "doorways." Each of us is attracted to a different set of conditions, a different portal, and we find the one we fit through most easily. The depth to which we take a practice is dependent on our desire and ability, and not the approach we use.

The concepts taught in Continuum are not readily experienced by everyone. For those of you who have tried and feel like you don't understand Continuum, MBSR is a portal to develop the perceptual ability to appreciate much of what is taught in Continuum, as well as a way to cultivate embodiment in general.

Some people enjoy structure. They might love a Tai Chi class where they practice the same sequence of movements in every class, led by a teacher in the front of the room, who guides them every step of the way. There is power in this sacred form, as long as you move freely inside of it, and don't give up your own experience to move just like the teacher, or to perfectly execute the form.

I'm a bit of an anarchist, and I tend to not like having a leader tell me what to do, unless it's something I'm still learning and it's totally new to me. I prefer a very unstructured class with a lot of independent study and exploration. I'll take a 6-hour long Continuum dive with little or no instruction, or a day-long silent meditation session any day. For some people this would be ineffective; their attention would get easily diffuse and wander without structure. They might feel lost, stuck, or bored in a long Continuum dive or meditation retreat. There's nothing wrong with this. In fact, the awareness of feeling this way is really important for this person to guide their life. Water is somewhat useless without some sort of a container. We all get to choose whether we want our water in a glass, in a bottle, in the palm of our hand, in a bowl, in a river bed, or from a water fountain. No judgment; just different ways of accessing the same thing.

Some folks tell me that they think MBSR is too "dry." (Many don't think this, but it has come up often enough that I'd like to address those who have this conception.) I'd like to point out that this is probably a thought, not necessarily an experience of awareness. It is easy to get caught up in ideas about the body and miss the actual experience of being embodied. The container might be too stiff for some people's preferences, but the contents of MBSR is within each participant and not in the structure of the class, and is therefore fluid in nature.

All the various approaches to meditation, whether you are drawn to something secular like MBSR or something oriented to a spiritual or religious practice like Vipassana, Zen, or Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism, Jewish or Christian mysticism, TM, or simply staring at a flame, are maps. But remember, the map is not the territory. Any structured approach offers a balance of guidance and freedom. The territory is the awareness as it arises uniquely in each of us. Aldous Huxley reminds us, "Don't mistake the pointing finger for the moon." As long as you end up freely experiencing your own territory, I don't think it matters which map you used to get there.

I hope I've offered varying views in an understandable way. My aim is to appreciate all the varied and wondrous points of view, without being defensive, and present them in ways that allow us all to understand each other.

In an old issue of  Heron Dance , Rod Mac Iver quoted the liner notes from the 1966 John Coltrane album Meditations, in which Coltrane is interviewed by Nat Hentoff (music critic from the old New York paper, The Village Voice). Coltrane's description of his music resonates with how I am experiencing my life these days,
Once you become aware of this force for unity in life you can't ever forget it. It becomes part of everything you do .... my conception of that force keeps changing shape. My goal in meditating this through music, however, remains the same. That is to uplift people as much as I can. To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life.
   There is never any end. There are always new sounds to imagine, new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we've discovered in its pure state. So that we can see more and more clearly what we are. In that way, we can give those who listen to the essence, the best of what we are. But to do that at each stage, we have to keep cleaning the mirror.
Clean your mirror. See yourself clearly, knowing that what you see is not you, but a reflection of you. Don't take your reflection literally.  Allow your awareness to rest in the observer who sees what's reflected in the mirror, and express yourself from there. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Help Me By Supporting The Commonweal Cancer Help Program

So many of you have offered kindly to help me with whatever I need. I am blessed to have such a loving and giving support team of friends, family, colleagues, and patients, that I haven't needed to ask many of you for help. Here's your chance!

This May 7th, my team, Team Hot Weals ("weal" as in Commonweal), will participate in the Marin Human Race to support the Commonweal Cancer Help program.

When I attended this program in April, 2010, I found that it was one of the most helpful and healing things I did for myself in that early stage of learning to live with cancer. I have learned much from them about what it truly means to embrace the moment and live well, regardless of a diagnosis. I stay involved with Commonweal as a volunteer because I get to connect with great people who value the preciousness of living, and I admire and respect the work this organization does to make the world a better place. I am seeking sponsors for our walk to help Commonweal reach out to more people who are living with cancer. All the money raised will go directly to this program.

Would you be willing to sponsor me for $20-30 or more?  Click here to go directly to my Donation page, or go to our Commonweal Team Page and click on my name to make a donation. You can also find out more about the race day events at Marin Human Race  if you're interested in attending to cheer us on in person.

Thanks for your love and support,
Bonnie

About Commonweal

The Commonweal Cancer Help Program (CCHP) is a week-long retreat for people with cancer. The intention of the program is to help participants live better and, where possible, longer lives. The Cancer Help Program addresses the unmet needs of people with cancer. These include finding balanced information on choices in healing, mainstream and complementary therapies; exploring emotional and spiritual dimensions of cancer; discovering that illness can sometimes lead to a richer and fuller life; and experiencing genuine community with others facing a cancer diagnosis.

Commonweal is a nonprofit health and environmental research institute in Bolinas, California. Founded in 1976, Commonweal conducts programs that investigate the environmental links to cancer and the possible solutions; support sustainable living; enhance juvenile justice; reconnect health professionals with the meaning of their work; and many other things. Please visit the Commonweal website for more information about the Cancer Help Program, along with the many other fabulous programs they offer.

Friday, April 8, 2011

No Philosophy, Just News

This is not a literary or philosophical blog entry; it's just a news bulletin. Many of you know I spent the day at Stanford yesterday, and I want to let you all know that I'm doing well. All I had done were some blood tests, which all look better than ever, and the conclusion is that there's no reason to repeat a bone scan or CT scan until summer or fall. I still need to be seen by them and have blood work done monthly, but no big testing unless something changes.

Most of what I suffer from is treatment side effect. I don't want to complain, because the cancer seems to be moving in the right direction, BUT my joint pain persists, temporarily stirred up by the antics of moving. My hands are somewhat worse. I had an emergency where I panicked and almost had to cut off my wedding rings. They are now at the jeweler being re-sized because my fingers have permanently swelled to a size and a half larger than the size of my rings. My hands turn into pin cushions when I grip anything too long. I have pain in my feet, knees, 1 shoulder, the opposite elbow, my whole neck and back. I can live with this, if I get to live. I just have to continue to test my limits and stay within them. I struggle with understanding how much I can do and every week or so end up totally laid out in bed for a day or two. This should be my worst problem!

As our house recovers from looking like a flea market that got hit by a tornado, I hope to start writing more again. I wander from room to room looking at the piles of things from the office. It's quite surreal. For those of you who knew our office and loved its Zen simplicity, the secret to that spacious order was hidden in our huge kitchen closet and a few other stashing spots. Steve and I spend a few hours each day sorting, shredding, loading bags of books for our local used book shop to get trade credit, and boxing things up that we just can't part with that are destined for the attic. We'll probably unload the attic someday and throw it all away. Some charitable organization is going to get some great bags and boxes of stuff. In June we'll have a monster garage sale, and hopefully by the summer we will have integrated the stuff we want to keep into our life and freed ourselves of the rest.

I have at least 4 half-written blog entries, 3 half-written books, and way too many emails in my draft folder. I need a stretch of days, weeks, months to rest, move, meditate, and air out the space inside my internal atmosphere in order to write that way I'd like to. I can feel it coming. . .

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Field We Created In This Space Extends Out Infinitely. . .

The Field We Created In This Space Extends Out Infinitely Forever . . .

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Life That's Waiting. . .


As you can only imagine, these last few days of Steve and I being in our office together are an intense emotional roller coaster ride. I have been trying to write for over a month, and just can't get the words flowing. So instead, I offer you this quote to ponder, from An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms,
"You have to strive every minute to get rid of the life that you have planned in order to have the life that's waiting to be yours. Move. Move. Move into the transcendent. That's the whole sense of adventure..."