Photo Voice: Water

IMG_0486The color, the sound, the feel. Water! It is my element. I love the ocean, rain, a sparkling pool. And while I’ve never over-hydrated, I love to drink water — plain or with a little lemon juice. After surgery last summer, I spent four days in hospital without showering. A huge thank you to the nurses who gave me sponge baths, but oh how I longed for a warm shower!

Long-time readers know that swimming makes me very happy. I am thrilled to report that I’m back in the pool this spring. The first date with chlorine went well; I swam a slow mile and still felt great for evening class. But the next day – I needed a little rest and relaxation! In spite of that setback I’ve kept returning to the pool. Now I manage a mile and can still stand the day after.

IMG_0662

Do I swim as I did in college? Nope. But I enjoy it just as much, if not more. My heart thrums and my lungs expand as I reach and pull doing the crawl stroke. And the backstroke — Bliss. The backstroke was one of the first thing to go when Myasthenia Gravis first flared up. I couldn’t keep my head above water. My neck wouldn’t hold. It was like lifting a bowling ball with silly putty. I remember holding the edge of the pool at the deep end as I cried. Frustration, confusion and fear almost drowned me. I had no idea what was happening to my body. But now I glide through the aqua depths gazing at the clouds or squinting in the sun as I count off lap after lap on my back!

Swimming is part of my emotional hygiene, a baptism that washes away the dust of the ordinary and reminds me of the simple gifts I have right now: healing, recovery, buoyancy, movement.

I love water. I love taking pictures of water. What about you? What is your element? What brings you healing? Use Photo Voice to practice gratitude for this gift.

What is Photo Voice?

Photo Voice is a way to amplify and reflect on our very visual lives. And it’s simple:

  1. Look at your pictures. Those you have OR those you take today, this week. Make it super easy — I use my phone.
  2. Choose one: of your element, or that thing/activity/place that brings you healing.
  3. Print it out and paste it in a notebook. Or put it in a fresh google document. Or create a digital album.
  4. Write 3-4 sentences (or more!) about it: the story it makes you think of (or think up), or why you love it, what it means to you, the metaphor it holds.
  5. Share it. Use Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook (share with all your friends or just one), or keep it in your notebook to share with your future self.

Photo Voice is one way to access your creativity and through it your inner life. Creativity is the way we make (and find) meaning in life.

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing – it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.” ~ Brené Brown [emphasis mine]


Did this article speak to you? Let me know below. Would it speak to someone you love, let them know! Thank you 

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Photo Voice: Collections

Opening my digital photograph collection I had a tiny oh-my-gosh-what-a-great-idea! moment. It got me back to writing here. Borrowing an idea from the social-anthropologist in the family (hi, sweet man), I’m eager to craft entries for my own Photo Voice Series.

We’re a visual culture — note Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr, etc. Photo Voice is a way to amplify visual culture. And it’s simple: 1) Take pictures. 2) Then add thoughts or tell a story prompted by the image you captured. Here’s one way to do it.

Collections

Have you noticed how things cluster, gather, stack up, collect? I swept my kitchen floor and found a convention of dust bunnies behind the painted clock stand. In my garden, rocks from beach walks and long mountain rambles form small cairns. And our garage harbors a shocking variety of stuff that has no place in the house. Don’t even begin that conversation with Ken (hi again, honey). Oh, and my computer! The photos alone create stunning digital clutter — er, collections. What we once had in shoe boxes now resides on our devices. Progress, right? Okay, enough introduction. Here’s my take on Photo Voice!


Accidental Collection

collections: kitchen cupboard, accidental (sort of)

collections: accidental (sort of)

Since his mom died in January, Ken and I have begun sifting, organizing, and cleaning at the house where he grew. It is an important part of our grieving process. Taking pictures to chronicle this housework/griefwork is one way I transform difficulty into manageable life and material for art. The top half of this photo looks like the work of Dutch masters. You know, classic painters. Notice how the image recedes into total darkness. This kitchen cupboard held an electric iron, paper napkins, ant traps, batteries and much more. Kind of like our garage in miniature. We leave this house inspired to bring more order to our own.


Cupboard Contents 

collection: kitchen cupboard contents (random)

collection: kitchen cupboard contents (random)

The first cupboard I emptied and cleaned held this treasure trove: fire extinguisher, waffle iron, never-opened bottles of Mexican beer, California wine, and champaign, a garden hose nozzle, hand mixer, utility knife, bottle of brain food, gardening gloves and various tools. There’s a great band name or inspiration for a suspense novel here!


Surfboard Parking

collections: surfboard parking (intentional order)

collections: surfboard parking (intentional order)

After working in the house, we spend time outside. Walking along the beach is my favorite thing: it clears my head of the dust and sadness that permeate the house. I love wave sounds, sea breeze, dramatic skies, and the comfort of that steady horizon.


Wild Poppies

collections: wild poppies

collections: wild poppies (nature)

Order in the wild. Clustered on the cliff above the beach I love the camaraderie of these poppies as they tilt their trusting faces open to the sky. Makes me think of the line “…they neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like these.” The fence is there to keep me from the cliff’s edge, but it cannot keep me from falling for the giddy, fleeting joy of these beauties.


So, there you are. Photo Voice: Collections. Surprising things happens when we look at the pictures we take and write about them. The mind makes its own connections, in its own time. For example, I didn’t see that resemblance to Dutch paintings until the second edit of this entry.

Try Photo Voice

If you’re curious, a bit stuck on the creative front, or ready to have your own ah-ha moment, here’s what to do.

  1. Look at your pictures. Those you have OR those you take today, this week. Make it super easy — I use my phone.
  2. Choose one: your favorite, or the most evocative, or that curiously surprising one.
  3. Print it out and paste it in a notebook. Or put it in a fresh google document. Or create a digital album.
  4. Write 3-4 sentences (or more!) about it: the story it makes you think of (or think up), or why you love or hate or wonder about it, what it means to you, the metaphor it holds.
  5. Share it. Use Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook (share with all your friends or just one), or keep it in your notebook to share with your future self.

If you’d like to share it with me, yay! Just use my contact page and send me a link or your message.

One thing I know is true: We are made to create. When I create life feels more balanced, more manageable, and more like a gift. Try Photo Voice. Tell me what it does for your creative heart.  


Know someone who desires more extraordinary in the midst of ordinary? Share this post! Thank you 🙂

 

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6 ways to experience “good” grief: Why feeling bad is good for you, and more

The Wednesday before Christmas 2015, Betty Crane, 90-years-old and living on her own, rode the train from Santa Barbara to Riverside to spend the holidays with us. She visited her sisters, opened gifts with her grandchildren, and took us out to eat. She never returned home. Holding Hands with BettyOn Wednesday, January 27, 2016 she died. Complications of pneumonia led to respiratory failure and a heart attack.

My mother-in-law and I were not close. We both had small control issues. Her view of the world as a source of endless suspicion rankled my own barely-managed feelings of scarcity. Her rich imagination spun tiny observations into incredible stories that my unbridled sense of correctness could not endure. I am not proud of this.

But three things I appreciated about Betty 1) She raised the best man I know. 2) She noticed beauty and remarked on it every day. 3) She savored each meal she ate with us. “This is delicious, Rebecca! You couldn’t find any better in any restaurant!”

Suddenly, her voice is gone. February bagan the long exhale for Ken and me. After days of bedside vigils — A cruel game for the watchers, as my sister-in-law put it — we slowly find our way back into living our lives while mourning her death.

I’ve been surprised by how fragile and emotionally exhausted I feel. I don’t remember being so raw after either of my parents died. But grief has its own logic. It is what it is. And I choose to engage it all.

One reason I’m open to the grieving process is that I know many misconceptions surround loss, and I can identify & avoid them. John James and Russell Friedman, in their book The Grief Recovery Handbook, name the most common approaches to grief that just DON’T WORK because they completely ignore emotional needs. Here’s what we’ve been told — not because the tellers are cruel, but because this is what someone told them and they believed it.

1) don’t feel bad

2) replace the loss

3) grieve alone

4) just give it time

5) be strong for others

6) keep busy

James and Friedman make it clear that this time-honored “wisdom” does nothing for our need to grieve. They examine each misconception and reveal the damage it does. Read the book if you want to know more.

6 ways to find “good” grief

Feeling bad is good for you ~ Ken and I give each other space to feel sad, tired, confused, fragile — just plain bad. When we face our difficult feelings it’s less likely they will fester. We are gentle with each other and with ourselves as we acknowledge our humanity. 

Remember that no feeling is wrong, bad, or invalid. Our feelings are human. They are the natural response to hurt and loss and grief. By acknowledging your feelings, you acknowledge your humanity.” ~ Desmond Tutu

We neither minimize nor philosophies. No comments like Things work for the best. This was meant to be. God called her home. Rubbish! And if you tell me Everything happens for a reason, I might slap you. Not because I’m determined to feel bad, but because those words totally lack empathy and compassion. They do NOT help me feel better! So why say them? (For more insight on this idea read Tim Lawrence’s article HERE. Thank you Chris Oberg, my friend and pastor, for sharing this with me!)

Leave the space empty ~ We will not fill the space Betty left. The void left by her voice, her presence remains because nothing else has her shape, taste or feel. People, experiences, dreams — things of significance to you — are not disposable, interchangeable, or replaceable. When we lose one of these a wound remains.

Grieve with others ~ In all of this we have not been alone. Ken and I keep each other company — collecting Betty’s belongings, mortuary arrangements, telling his aunties their sister has died. Ken talks or texts his sister daily, we let friends know that we’re frazzled, our faith community shows up. Over and over people have sat with us in the discomfort. Just being. Their presence could not change the outcome, but it transformed our experience.

Time does not heal all wounds ~ As James and Friedman point out, the mere passage of time will not bring healing. It’s how we move through time that matters. Active engagement with grief is what brings healing. So Ken and I talk about how we feel. We listen to each other. We hug a lot. And we walk on the beach, eat on the patio, watch the sunset, or soak in mineral pools — activities that soothe and center.

Be honest (weak) for others & yourself ~ Being strong for others gets a lot of points in western culture. But it means pretending you feel something that you don’t. The truth: We don’t do justice to our loss if we buck up and stay strong. More truth: Grief is love facing off with its oldest enemy: death. And while love is stronger than death, the strength of love looks like tenderness, brokenness, and vulnerability.

Screw Busy ~ We’re a culture that has low tolerance for emotions and feelings. Grief is an emotional quagmire. A heap of unbidden feelings. Rather than face the bothersome mess, we’re encouraged to numb it. An effective way to numb our feelings: keep busy, very busy. ↣ Bonus: Busyness is socially acceptable! It is a badge of merit and worthiness in a culture that values packed schedules, monster check-lists, and performance (doing) over human feelings (being).

Crazy-busy is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us. ~ Brené Brown

Ken and I are letting what we really need, whatever form it takes, catch up with us. We show up for responsibilities, but we don’t take on extra work. Often we give ourselves permission to be totally unproductive for an afternoon or entire day. We make time to sit with feelings of confusion, weariness, and loss.

So many things cannot be fixed, only carried. When you face loss, and I know you will, I hope that my words give you a sense of companionship. It is not our achievements that make us the most winsome, the most human, the most relatable. It is our shared wounds and the ways we choose to carry them.

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I am the beloved. I am here!

Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is the first I’ve read this year. I found the book when — happy accident! — I stumbled upon Liz’s podcast with one of my favorite thinkers and writers, Brené Brown.

As often happens, I’m reading a couple of books at the same time. Next to Big Magic is an older text I began reading last year: Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri Nouwen. Gilbert and Nouwen — who probably never met in life, often speak with lively, generative voices from different perspectives. Along with Brown, the three created a delightful and challenging conversation in my head.  

I am the bThe timing was right. In the midst of a season that includes editing a book and using art to participate in my own healing and recovery, I found encouragement in Nouwen’s repeated reminder of identity, yours and mine, in the eyes the Divine: I am the beloved. In other words, a loving Creator put me here; I belong. Brown says, “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” Gilbert’s says the same thing in a different way: we are each here with a divine entitlement — an arrogance of belonging — to be, breathe, and co-create.

Beloved and Belonging

The arrogance of belonging is not about egotism or self-absorption. In a strange way, it’s the opposite; it is a divine force that will actually take you out of yourself and allow you to engage more fully with life. Because often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection). The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred — not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely by saying “I am here!”” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

I am here! Do you say that? Aloud and also in the way you move through your life? Without hesitation, apology, or guilt? Have you embraced your belonging? Saying “I am here!” has nothing to do with merit. It cannot be earned. It cannot be lost. It is a birthright. You are a member of the human family. You belong.

I love how Henri, Liz and Brené frame it. You belong, you are the beloved, no matter what. Even if you fail!

Knowing that you are the beloved and that you belong, what would you do — no matter what? What do you love SO much that you’d do it even if you failed? Think about that. How would your life look if you did what you love because you love it? Love it so much that you’d make the art, sing the song, write the story, raise the child, fund the project, dance the dance even if there is no recognition, no payoff, no notice of your efforts. You do it all for love. And that is enough.

Do it now

Whatever your darkest depths, step out and embrace your calling. Now. Be warned: There is no certainty or even remote suggestion of success. In fact success, whatever success is and however it is measured, is beside the point. Stop complaining, finding excuses, comparing. Save all that energy for better things!

I write these words for myself as well as to you. I’ve complained about my limited resources, sheltered upbringing, and late arrival to art. Found a loop of excuses for why I cannot make creativity my devotion. Compared myself to others who have more time, talent, training, and connections. Because I thought success proved the value, meaning, and validity of my calling, I poured energy into justifying my lack of creative success. 

Gilbert, Brown, and Nouwen give calling a stunning new definition. It’s not about success at all. It’s all about devotion & love. Receiving love: You are the beloved. Giving love: Saying “I am here!” by showing up for your calling with devotion.

These are the few things that make any life worth living: Kindness. Connection. Doing what you love, what you were created to do, even if you fail!

Over to you

  • What would happen if you threw out success as a measure of meaning and found satisfaction in the creative process?
  • How will you live knowing that you are the beloved, that you have a divine right to be here? 
  • What will your life look when you lean into your calling with the arrogance of belonging? 

I realize the answers for these questions are not simple. They will not be posted in the comments below. Instead, I hold you in the light as you think and act on just one of them.

 

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Lessons I will Carry

Well, we made it! It’s 2016 and we’re here, still standing (mostly).

2015 was a challenging year for me. Occasionally the fit was snug, chaffing, painful. I’m happy to shed it like a well-worn cloak. But as I wore this year I found lessons. In travel, medical adventures, work on a book, and participating in my own recovery and healing. I will carry these lessons in the pockets of this new year. 

the hurt of healing #bodycatalog Project photo by Adriana Mateus1. Be Present.

I’m all in. As much as I’m able I will face all of my life as it unfolds. Pain is part of healing and self-care.

If we do not suffer a loss all the way to the end, it will wait for us. It won’t just dissipate and disappear. Rather, it will fester and we will experience its sorrow later, in stranger forms.~ Elizabeth Lesser

Instead of resisting the pain and the healing that is wrapped in it, I will sit with it. I will not seek out discomfort, but will own it so that it can pass without added struggle.

waterfall scar #bodycatalog Project by Ken Crane2. Wear my skin like the gift that it is.

Sun-worn, slightly sagging, and scarred. This skin is mine. I treasure it and the stories it tells.

floating3. Healing depends on honesty about one’s story.

Honesty means vulnerability. This vulnerability will discomfit some and it will comfort many more. I’ll keep telling my story. The lonely & prickly family of origin, the surprising relief of acceptance & true love, the ways I wrestle and dance with health, aging, and simply being. What I know and what I don’t know.

Spend time with wonderful people.

Collaborate! Creative, talented, generous people make all the difference!

4. Creative collaboration makes all the difference.

I’m done with editing myself and I’ve stopped hiding (mostly). It is a constant source of surprise and relief to know that I am not un-friendable, as I thought for so long. Others know my sh** and darkness and say Me too — without judgement or trying to fix me. These others are my tribe. Because of them I don’t always work alone. I huddle, hang out, laugh, cry and sometimes make magic with some amazing women.

filled with light #bodycatalog Project photo by Adriana Mateus5. Do what I can and have mercy.

I will keep writing and putting my stories and ideas out there. This means that I will sometimes:

  • Sound foolish
  • Be wrong
  • Say things that contradict what I’ve said before
  • Be passionate about things that may not be cool
  • Offend a few folks
  • Be far from perfect, fully informed, or even original
  • Be misunderstood

I don’t wish for any of these. But I know that each is part of the this-is-my-story-and-these-are-my-thoughts deal.

The lessons I will carry add up to something simple yet subversive:

Show up. Trust. Surrender.

… I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.” Anne Lamott

Still squeaky clean the cloak of 2016 rests lightly on the shoulders. My intention is to wear this year, and every moment of life it serves up, with all the revolutionary grace, mercy, and joy possible. Come December may the life I live this year show signs of intentional use and heavy wear. With a few things worth carrying in the pockets of the next year.

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the danger of being careful

Not long after my last post on October 1st, someone I’ve known a long time told me that my words make him uncomfortable. The polite communication implied please stop. This is someone I care for and respect, so I did not dismiss what was said. I got quiet & thoughtful. I stopped blogging. I got careful.

The danger of being careful?

Careful does not cultivate creativity and connection.

It took a book for me to realize that careful had shut down my writing.

The book? Scary Close by Don Miller. We’ve never met, but Don is a familiar writing voice to me; I’ve read his titles Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. It was good to hear his voice again in his latest personal-story-as-universal-experience offering.

Don examines emotional health as he’s come to experience it through friendships, a therapy-for-adults kind of camp experience, and courting his wife (in his early 40’s). The chapter that pulled me up short in my weeks-long writing hiatus is entitled The Risk of Being Careful.

Being agreeable and being understood made me careful for years. I wanted people from strangers to family to get what I meant and preferably like it. This careful (impossible) desire consumed heaps of my emotional energy. Like Don Miller I’ve come to realize that I’m responsible for is my own emotional well-being. I look after my own thoughts, my own feelings. That’s all. Readers, listeners, whoever stumbles into the audience will think or feel whatever they wish about my work, my words. 

On wobbly days it is tough for me to remember that other people’s thoughts & feelings are their own business. It is so nice to be understood, to gain approval, to be liked. 

On less wobbly days I remember what all meaningful, original expression — also known as art — is meant to do.

Art should comfort the disturbed

Here are Don Miller’s words from Scary Close that stopped me in my careful tracks. 

Being afraid to love and being paralyzed at the keyboard both involve a fear of being know, a fear of making mistakes, a fear of being found out.” 

…the fear of letting people down is one of the primary reasons people procrastinate.” 

Is there anything more toxic than the fear of being judged? Judgment shuts us down and makes us hide. It keeps us from being ourselves, which keeps us from connecting with people.” 

I couldn’t afford to be afraid to write and my soul needed to be known and it couldn’t be known in hiding.

So I wrote. I wrote as though God thought my voice mattered. I wrote because I believed a human story was beautiful, no matter how small the human was. I wrote because I didn’t make myself, God did. And I wrote like [God] invited me to share my true “self” with the world.” 

Don’s words shook with such truth that I wept. Whether it comforts or it disturbs I share my story in hopes that you and I will connect. If we don’t connect, I encourage you to find writers who do speak to you in meaningful ways. They are out there.

My true “self” and my story include growing up in my family and my take on experiences in that family. My story includes managing health adventures with art — photos with lots of skin and writing about them. My story includes reflection and glimpses of redemption as I experience levels of recovery in different aspects of life. This is not always neat or sweet. And it is always risky.

The risk of being known is also the decision to be criticized by some.” ~ Donald Miller

As a writer I realize there are risks. My writing isn’t for everyone and I will be misunderstood and criticized. I get that. It is what it is.

If my writings speaks to you, I am grateful.

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OctoberFast

This month I’m fasting. I ate a yummy breakfast including fresh papaya, toast, and chai, so it’s not that kind of fast. I love nourishment!

I’m fasting from something that doesn’t nourish but that has become a habit of mine: Visual Violence.

Hiding photo by Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein

I’ve seen enough
photo by Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein

As a self-identified peacenik this new habit seems strange. But add up weeks of pacing myself (I’m 10 1/2 weeks post-surgery!), long afternoons or evenings to myself, and streaming Netflix and you get the perfect storm.

Since surgery I’ve burned through nearly two seasons of House of Cards — talk about dark — and last week began watching Person of Interest. One features dishonest, manipulative, power-hungry characters, the other follows two guys out to protect the innocent — oh, and lots of bad guys get smashed up in the process.

Wednesday I had a moment of clarity. The images presented on these high-production programs do not reflect life as I know it or as I’d wish it to be.

Watching people lie, cheat, and kill others is twisted fantasy. Spending hours gazing at this kind of fantasy does not help me understand reality.

Do you ever escape reality?

Books, particularly novels, have been my drug of choice for years. I throw myself on the bed and dissolve into a story. Instead of my suburban home, I travel to the English moors (Jane Eyre), the wilds of Ethiopia (Cutting for Stone), or Germany during World War II (All the Light We Cannot See). Talk about magic. Good fiction and fantasy is more than escape from reality. I agree with Lloyd Alexander, it’s a way of understanding it 

Fantasy-is-hardly-an-escape

Why escape?

Because life is hard, confounding, and sometimes just too much.

Healthy fantasy refreshes. It helps us step back, decompress, find perspective.

Twisted fantasy numbs.

Right now I have a neat little list of sorta, kinda, half-ass “reasons” for escaping into the mental numbing that is visual violence:

  1. my current reading list is nonfiction,
  2. I’m mildly bored with waiting to heal from surgery,
  3. real world news is heartbreaking and overwhelming — so let’s just pretend.

The truth: I escape & numb to avoid facing something important.

There! Said it out loud. What am I avoiding? I’m not sure. Not yet.

So I’m going to OctoberFast. For the month of October I pull the plug on visual violence.

Instead of hooking up my earbuds and inviting actors to dump imaginary lives right into my soul, I will pay attention to my own real life, my own hiding heart.

Along with more time to reflect and create, I hope to figure out what I’m avoiding. I’m curious and just a tad afraid of what I’ll find. This is probably a good thing. I’ll keep you posted.

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do before what you want to do after

How do you prepare for big change?

What makes all the difference — before, during, and after — a major life change? Intentional engagement. What is intentional engagement? It is showing up, paying attention, and making choices that align with who you are and what matters to you. These choices involve your body, you thoughts, your feelings, and your actions.

Intentional engagement guided me as I’ve moved from a diagnosis of myasthenia gravis (early 2013), into treatment, and through major surgery this summer. If you’ve just found me, welcome! I had a thymectomy — incision over the heart, a partial sternal split (sawing through sternum), and removal of my thymus gland on 22 July. If you’d like to know more, read here.

How did you prepare for surgery?

When a friend asked, How did you prepare for surgery? I had to pause. Neither my doctors nor the hospital hooked me up with a what to expect when you’re expecting surgery book or website. The last time I had a hospital sleep-over was after the birth of my daughter — more than 20 years ago.

How do you prepare for a big change?

Call me crazy, but I decided that I liked my life before surgery. Knowing this, my approach was simple:

Do before what I want to do after.

Here’s what I chose to do. Some pictured, some not…

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If you’re a list maker, feel free to use this as a template or suggestion and make one of your own.

1) Spend time with wonderful people. Take a pass on those who can live your life better than you can. You know, people with lots of suggestions, advice, or criticism. Step back from complainers. Hang out with people who see you as your best self and who can talk about a variety of things so that conversation is not all about health issues, or your big change.

2) Treasure your body — yes, with all its flaws and in spite of thinking it has betrayed you at some level. Celebrate what is. I do this in a many ways. I love Love LOVE food, so I nourish my body with whole foods and I savory meals. Before surgery I took long walks and showed up for yoga. Now I’m walking my five-mile loop again. Still not back to yoga because of restrictions. But that will come. Sleep. I love sleep! I’d be on the Olympic team if we had one. Say kind things about and to your body — Nice work, feet. I love how you hold me up, legs. Skin, you are amazing!

3) Travel, if at all possible. There is so much freedom in travel and at the same time life boils down to the basics: where will we stay? what will we eat? how will we get around? Ken had a research trip to Germany, Switzerland and Turkey. At one point he wondered aloud, Should we do this? The expense, the stress, the time a way. He considered canceling the trip before we bought tickets. I said, Yes! If I die on the table, at least we had these memories. Kinda macabre, it’s true. But life is for living. We made the stretch and I joined him for the almost three-week tour. 

4) Do & savor the simple things you love — walk, cook, create, putter in the garden, read, complete a home improvement project or two. I took on the room we call our study. I ripped out icky carpet. Painted the walls, covered the concrete floor with way cool craft paper, and put up a plank and block bookshelf inspired by something we saw in Germany.

5) Ask for what you need: let people know your preferences so that those who want to help feel confident that their efforts really DO help. I posted a note on Facebook. This was a bit scary; it’s possible for folks to bridle when given direction. I assured friends I didn’t expect anything. And it went brilliantly.

6) Show yourself how gentle, patient, and thankful you can be before the rollercoaster ride that is surgery & hospitalization, or whatever your big change. It may be tempting to start new habits after a major event. This might work. But post-surgery will bring it’s own variables and unknowns. Start now. When you develop your modus operandi before confronting all the unknowns — Limited movement. Pain. Fatigue — it’s easier to find your way to your desired groove afterward.

Gentleness melts me. And then it inspires me & invites me to consider options. When I step away from should, have to, must, gotta life feels more spacious. I’m motivated by love rather than fear.

Patience. The good stuff happens at the speed of life. Along with Tylenol, patience is my daily companion. I realize that all of the meaningful, positive aspects of my life involve quantity time. My marriage. Parenting. Friendships. Writing. Thinking. Forgiveness. Grieving. Growth. Healing. Anything that matters isn’t once and done. 

Mushrooms spring up and mature overnight. Redwoods take years.” ~ R. Waring-Crane

Thankfulness. There’s plenty in life that hurts, disappoints, and confounds. I see this and face it. I choose to focus the majority of my energy on what delights, nourishes, and brings hope. Practicing gratitude, speaking aloud what I’m thankful for, centers me in grace, in goodness, in joy.


How’s it working?

Very well, thanks! Did I do these things right away, every day after surgery. Nope! But I picked up where I left off as I could. This week I just celebrated my 5-week post-surgery anniversary. To commemorate the day, here’s a sweaty & smiling selfie taken after my 5-mile walk. Five weeks out, I’m happy to report that I’m doing now what I did before surgery. I spend time with wonderful people, rest, walk, savor what I love, rest, ask for what I need, treasure my body, and rest some more. Travel is yet to come — lifting a suitcase is still off limits. I am patient. I can wait.

celebration selfie, 5-weeks post surgery


Over to you

Are you facing at a big change? Why not intentionally engage the process? Do today what you want to experience tomorrow, next week, or next month. Practice goodness now and it comes naturally later. Even if you don’t see a big change ahead, curate your life so that your time and energy grow what you love. When life serves up big change, and it will, you’ll find yourself better prepared for whatever comes. And you’ll know how to find your way toward the groove you desire after the storm has passed.

What do you love? What will you cultivate and give more of your one precious life to today, right now so that you can find your way after life turns upside down?

Was this essay helpful? Please spread the love and share it with friends. Instead of quick fixes and life hacks, spread a bit of calm & the sense of enough.

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My Body as My Home

This afternoon (writing Thursday, publishing later) I pose topless. Yvonne, my friend and photographer, will chronicle the experience as we continue the Body Catalog Project. (This is my way to manage the unmanageable. I wrote about it here.) Carrie will film the shoot for a documentary.

Today’s shoot marks my one-month post-thymectomy surgery milestone. Yay!

I feel wobbly and full of butterflies.

Butterflies about the shoot — not because of Yvonne. She put me at ease on our first shoot. I love working with her; she is professional, wise, fun & compassionate. And she gives the BEST hugs.YvonneShoot/RobeNot because of Carrie. She brings a sense of calm to the process along with years of professional production experience. She also appreciates medical misadventures and body issues. One more safe person.

Photo Credit: Yvonne Polk

Photo Credit: Yvonne Polk

Why the Butterflies?

Because I’m still figuring out how to move as my body, mind, and soul find their way back into sync.

Because it’s been weeks since I’ve practiced yoga — and my muscles know it and show it. I just started my period. I’ve tried to cancel my monthly subscription, but no luck! So hormones have me sensitive and bloated. And, oh yeah, I’m over fifty. Top that off with feeling like a Woman In Pieces as I wrote here. Yes, butterflies swell to the size of bats that might burst out through my still-healing chest.

Butterflies most of all because I’m still in the trenches of a personal campaign to celebrate and honor my body. As it is. Celebrate and honor my body As It Is. (Yes, I wrote that twice.) This is tough slogging because culturally, a woman’s body is discussed in two broad categories:

  1. As a morality measure: to be seen/objectified, or not seen/kept secret, approved, shamed, used sexually (and judged), criticized, and always to be fixed.
  2. As a clinical specimen: to be regulated, examined**, diagnosed, treated, and often to be fixed. **For interesting reading on this idea, read more here.

Without thought I absorbed these views early in life. Someone in my family of origin cemented them with frequent comments about appearances — mine, or any other female — positive or negative. It was always open season for visual critique.

I spent years feeling self-conscious, self-critical, body-hating, fleetingly pretty, or ashamed.

Or I related to my physical self like one more impersonal responsibility — similar to a car that required fuel, cleaning, maintenance, and the occasional major repair.

Body as Home

Somewhere around 40 I began longing for more — a new category, a different kind of relationship with my body. Something beyond moral or clinical. Something holistic, more whole, even holy.

I didn’t recognize the longing at first, and didn’t have a word or phrase for it. But now, as I speak the word H O M E, I know. This is what I’ve been seeking.

My body is my home.” ~ R. Waring-Crane

Yes, you may quote me. 😀

My body plays a vital role in how I show up in the world as me. I see my body — scarred, healing, strong, fragile, bloated, responsive, aging, surprising — as a place of safety, a form of expression, a vehicle of wholeness, the location of my mind and soul, a trusted source of communication — informing me about how I feel as well as expressing who I am to others.

In the process of helping myself come into sync & building my relationship with my body as H O M E, I rely on the natural body-mind connection. Yogis get the body-mind connection. But in case that’s too woo-woo for you, meet Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School. Cuddy argues that Our bodies change our minds. She supports this claim with fascinating findings about the relationship between the body and mind in a TED Talk she gave in 2012. She’s especially interested in power dynamics. Those who feel powerful & empowered — confident, optimistic, apt to think more abstractly — take up space like this:

a might girl :)

and like this:

arms flung wide in joy

Those who feel powerless — unworthy, helpless, vulnerable — shrink like this:

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or like this — me two days after successful thymectomy surgery:

hands over heart

These physical expressions don’t only indicate how powerful or powerless you feel. By choosing how you pose, how you move your body, you can alter your sense of power. (Cuddy proves this by measuring hormone levels — testosterone and cortisol.) The body changes the mind.

I am the Butterfly

For this afternoon’s photo shoot, I’m taking up space. I’m using my body to nurture my mind. Claiming my body, my home, as my own, I tap into my own quiet power. I am the butterfly emerging from my post-surgery cocoon, unfurling my wings. My still-tender scar highlights the midline right over my heart.

As Yvonne’s camera catalogues my body and Carrie’s camera captures both of us, I honor the still-healing, sometime-hurting miracle I call H O M E. I celebrate My Body as My Home. My movements may be grand gestures of celebration, or small, intimate poses of appreciation. All of them nurturing. All of them empowering. All of them ways of saying to myself, Welcome Home


Do you feel at home in your body? Would you like a small guide or ebook to help you find your way H O M E? Let me know in the comments or by email. I’d love to create something for you!

 

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after the quake: a woman in pieces

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I slept through a major earthquake. Pretty amazing considering the epicenter was right over my heart. Hooked up to a breathing tube, monitors, and intravenous drips I missed the immediate physical drama of this body-battering experience. And I am SO thankful. Thankful I was numb during the incision, the sawing through the sternum, the removal of my thymus gland — as well as the initial clean up of wiring the sternum back together, stitching the tissue closed, and applying the derma glue that holds my skin shut. Sleep was a gift.

I am awake now. In the two and a half weeks since surgery I ride out the quake’s aftershocks. Between the shocks I recover. In times of calm I sense that the quake split me in invisible ways. I am a woman in pieces: 1) My body — the physical experience, 2) My mind — what I know & think about the experience, and 3) My soul — the space where knowing fails and feelings often have no words. And these pieces are not in sync.

That last time my body, mind, and soul seemed in sync was two weeks ago today when I came home from the hospital. It was a bright, hot Saturday afternoon. I felt ready. Surgery had been successful — minimal incision, a small Jackson Pratt drain instead of chest tubes, all of the thymus removed. I’d figured out how to manage the pain, sleep on my back, navigate around my room and the unit on my own, and yes, let everyone know that I could poop, thank you very much. My daughter helped me shed the hospital gown and put on real clothes. My nurse Steven removed the IV’s from either hand and told me I could shower that same day! He wheeled me through a labyrinth of halls and elevators to the sunny curb. Ken opened the door and I stepped into the getaway car. Since that drive home I’ve kept company with the strangers that are my body, mind, and soul.

My Body

My body knows how to heal itself. It is a miracle. Just over two weeks out and I am rested enough to feel restless. But I don’t have the energy reserves for projects more extended than reading book chapters. I love getting out to walk before the heat of the day — at first with holding Ken’s hand, then with him at my side, and now all on my own. But most days I wake from a sound sleep and think, “A nap would be lovely!” I’m aware of the ache at my chest — not deep pain, but pressure, awareness. Like bending over and remembering you have congested sinuses, but mine are over my heart. I love to laugh, but it still hurts. The tender spots where IV’s ran into the back of my left and right hands are less and less tender. The bruise from the a-line (direct to artery) has faded very slowly, but the ache lingers. I listen to my body and try to remember that I’m not to lift anything over 5 pounds for the next three months. In dream-like flashes echoes of the pain I knew right after surgery side swipe me. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of pain.

My Mind

Information helps me understand my experience. I’m still on the pre-surgery dosage of meds. I know healing is a process and we’ll dial these back gradually. I pace myself. Moving slowly makes sense until I momentarily forget and try to pull open a door or lift a large ceramic bowl. I hear the thoracic surgeon explain the pathology report on my thymus, “…no cancer cells. However, hyperplasia describes the condition of your thymus.” “Hyperplasia?” I ask. “Yes, the cells were enlarged and juicy.” Hmm. Okay. I pay attention to my thoughts and remind myself often that Recovery is my full-time job. And, I’m so lucky that my schedule allows for this time to rest. Instead of scolding slightly paranoid thoughts, If I go out in a crowd I’ll be tackled, I honor the fear of being jostled and stay home. I focus on the choices I have available moment to moment and make a point to celebrate each kindness that comes to me. I love to take pictures and post them to social media to catalog all the goodness. Love is my favorite medicine. And it truly is. I had no idea that I would ever be so loved.

My Soul

Before surgery I spent time preparing myself for life beyond surgery. To do this, I started the photo project The Body Catalog and a documentary film project. I let friends know what would feel healing. Now that I am on the other side and face the unexpected division of body, mind, and spirit I see that my notion of life beyond surgery was pretty vague. I wanted to move through the experience with as much grace as possible, land on the other side, and keep going. This goal didn’t include a plan for living days laced with aftershocks. How could it? Few people talk about how to live through the uneven waiting that is healing. Not much is said about the questions that bloom in the waiting: questions of purpose, direction, life beyond recovery. Perhaps few speak of this time because it is messy, uncertain, and so personal that it doesn’t make for inspirational material. In a culture that applauds shortcuts, life hacks, and the 6 Simple Steps to Enlightenment and Understanding, who wants to hear This will take as long as it takes?

The pain of the confused soul trying to catch up to the healing body and the informed mind is as different and as profound as the physical pain that ambushed me two nights when I was still in hospital. Thanks to great meds and vigilant nurses I survived those night terrors. Indeed, once the pain passed, I slept like a child. I have faith that I will survive the strange pain of living with the strangers that are my body, mind, and soul.

Keeping watch with strangers

If anyone tells me “This too shall pass,” I might just spit. The trite saying is cold comfort as the aftershocks come. with. out. warning. The fragility on the soul level often seems greater than the brokenness on the physical level. I resign myself to this discomfort as gently as possible. Resistance would be pointless, even dangerous. The disjointedness continues.

I wonder how long it will take for the disparate pieces of me to find alignment once more. For the record I do not like feeling fragile, scattered, weep-easy, discouraged. But it is what it is. I do my best to exercise an old-fashioned practice: I keep watch. This means that I observe with continuous attention, stay alert, look after with expectancy. How do I do this? I express the feelings — aloud, in my journal — and wait them out. I focus on the present. I look for joy and ways to share it. I trust divine timing.

Keeping watch means that I keep company and hold space for three strangers — my body, my mind, and my soul — as they move forward and search for ways to make sense of the physical trauma that was an earthquake right over my heart. I have hope that, as the aftershocks subside, the three will eventually find each other at that same spot. Until then — I am healing. I am fragile. I am awake. I am keeping watch. Each breath, each day, is a gift.

 

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