Friday, December 31, 2010

Word 2011

I am simplifying and returning to a word which was my word (quite unintentionally at the time) a couple of years ago:

How about you?

What is your Mantra for 2011?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

One More to Sparkle Pond

And then there were none...

We had six elder animals, and this week, we lost the final one to Sparkle Pond.  A difficult year for us, but we wouldn't change a thing. Marcy wrote about it here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Days of Rest & Discernment

I am resting this week, as I hope all of you are.  I am not teaching a single class.  I am going to read and make music lists and read some more.  And then I might read even more.

I am preparing internally for the coming New Year.  I am spending much time in prayer and meditation, time discerning what I will work on next, where I will put my energy.

How are you preparing?

Another thing I am doing is watching dance for inspiration, and right now, this woman is at the top of my list:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Let There Be Light...and a Chorus of Giggles and a Shimmering Glass of Wine

This year, our tree can only have lights due to the overabundance of Fresh Cats in this house.  All four of said Fresh Cats range in age from 6 months to not even 3 years.  And two of them in particular (I won't name names...Tuppy and Lilly) love to insert themselves inside the tree!

Every morning, Tuppy, Toby, Lilly, and Daisy are just Happy and Excited to Be Alive!  The joy with which they approach each day is infectious.

As it should be.  Though there has been sadness in our lives recently, it never ceases to amaze me how abundant Joy and Love and Beauty is, and how it works to assert its presence even in the midst of darkness.

And so we come to Christmas Eve.

Tonight, Marcy and I will attend Midnight Mass at the Cathedral.  A Mass of candle light and song and great ritual.  A Mass signifying the end of the dark season and the beginning of the light.  A Mass to remind us that there is so much Love in the here and now that nothing, not even death, is greater.

What better reason to celebrate?

May all of you have Great Love in your Lives; May all of you be Showered in Healing Light.

May your Hearts be wide open to that which you most need.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More Love

I taught a private Yoga Dance class recently to a group of yoga teacher friends, who have created a lovely sister community after having gone through teacher training together.  It made me miss the community that happens through training, the community of shining, bright, beautiful women who accompanied me through Yoga Dance training, who saw me so clearly and affirmed my deepest needs and desires.

Though, of course, being around a group like this in any way is a gift and a blessing. They were so warm and took me in so graciously. Here you can see us all after the class, sparkling from the fun and the sweat of it.  (One person is missing, obviously, and taking the photo.)

This week as we approach the birth of light and love, are you surrounding yourself with people who support your most beautiful and dream-filled self?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Snark Free Zone & the Meaning of "Real"

An Old Photo of Me with My Long Hair
Last week, at a very fragile time, I got a snarky and mean comment on this blog. It was flagged as possible spam and so I got to delete it before anyone saw it. I do not do snark. I do not post snark responses. Snark is sarcasm taken to a new (low) level and it usually is born of a writer's own insecurities. (There is an entire book out about how it is indicative of the fall of a culture.)

But this post is not about that.  It is about the content of the snarky comment: the writer was asserting (anonymously, of course) that I am not a Real Dancer. That my age forbids that, first of all. That no one will ever take me seriously.  That yogadance does not exist and that what I do is simply fun exercise.

This brings up a lot, doesn't it?

First, the term "Real Dancer."  I have the soul of a dancer. Period. This person has also never seen me dance...but beyond that, I am a Real Dancer, because I dance every day; I take my dancing seriously and it is my Work in this World; I share that love with others.  I could go on and on, but you, dear regular readers of Blisschick, don't need me to, because you come to this blog with open and loving hearts.

You know that the world's definitions of us are too limited, too small, and that we are way too shiny and grand to stay in those shoddy, cardboard boxes.

What constitutes a "REAL" anything?  Writer?  Painter?  Singer?  Yogi?

I will tell you what!  Intention.

What intention do you bring to this world and your work here?  I bring passion and joy and love and desire and need to my dancing.  I must dance.  Therefore, I am Dancer.

Fame and fortune are obviously the only things my snarky commenter thinks are important in this life.

For me, Dance is my Path -- physically, intellectually, creatively, and spiritually all at once.

Second, my age.  Anna HalperinMartha GrahamGabrielle Roth? These women never stop and this list could go on forever.  Humans increase in age and simultaneously increase in power.

I feel badly for people who use age as an excuse to avoid anything.

Third, YogaDance.  I will no longer partake of this discussion after this post.  One, dance was our first spiritual path once we were upright and walking.  Two, therefore yoga was born of dance and not the other way around (yoga asanas are NOT that old).  Dance is in every single human being ever born.  Babies dance; toddlers dance.  Third, my spiritual path is not the same as yours and STOP THINKING YOU CAN KNOW MY INSIDES.

Furthermore, YogaDance is about bringing a yogic level of mindfulness and breath to Dance, which has definitely been missing for most dancers.  For example, watch this video about one of our important choreographers, and you will see that the dancers are rather mystified by his emphasis on breath and it is new to them to think that breath could inform movement!

I am so frustrated by know-it-alls. I am so frustrated by infighting in the freaking yoga world. I am so frustrated by angry people who just want everyone else to be as miserable as they are.

Snark? Cruelty? Anything but Love?  You are not welcome here.  You are Served Notice.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Love, Again

When you open yourself to Love, you also open the inevitable door to loss. Loss hurts but there is no alternative.

There is an infinite amount of room at the LilyPad for Love, and in the last couple of years, having a number of older animals, this has meant a lot of loss, and there are moments, to be sure, when I don't think I can do it.  When I don't think I have the strength to face it.  When I think for sure that this time, this is IT, I am not loving another animal.

Ridiculous, yes, but the mind can get so confused when the heart is hurting.

The main lesson that Miss Zoe the Rabbit set out to teach me from the moment I met her was that there is always room for more love, that love begets love, that love expands us.

When Marcy asked if she could have Miss Zoe, I initially said, No, There is No Room.  I changed my mind quickly and then got to watch and feel the love in my life blossom past what I thought were its edges.

Now here we are at loss...again.  And those old thoughts of not being able to...again.  My initial, instinctive response to this loss is to close ranks.  To shove everyone away.  To hide my heart.  To bear my teeth at anything that feels threatening.

I feel myself pulled toward Fear Based Living, living that is really a slow dying.

Then I went to Mass on Wednesday, after Zoe had peacefully passed on Tuesday evening.  I went and I knelt and I prayed and I understood something big (and please, bear with the Catholic of this and see to the core).

That crucifix that seems so macabre to people?  It's about this whole love/loss/fear thing.  That crucifix at the center, even during the joy of Christmas, reminds us that death is always and forever, but that love is even bigger and stronger and makes us the same.  There are multiple times in a Mass where we are reminded to be free of fear, free of anxiety...even with that crucifix at the center.

Be free of fear and anxiety.  Always.  In the face of anything and everything. Because there is love and again there is love and around that next corner?  Love...again...

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Marcy and I are quiet right now, because we are mourning the loss of Miss Zoe the Rabbit, the most fabulous, beautiful, sweet, soft animal you would have ever had the privilege to meet.

Side note:  Miss Zoe is now, officially, in charge of your Karma, and she says one way to ensure her good graces is to give a donation to Orphan Angels, a no kill cat shelter run totally by volunteers, where they also happen to be taking care of two, large house rabbits.

Here is their donation page.  At the bottom is a paypal button, but there is also an address.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Teaching Kundalini Under the Weather

(The orb tree in winter; remember when it looked like this?)

Last week, I learned a really valuable lesson about teaching movement: that I can do it even when I don't feel well.

Here's the thing: the classes I teach are not typical yoga classes in which the teacher is spending most of their time walking around adjusting and guiding (no judgement here; they are just different). YogaDance is a full participation class, as you can imagine, because part of the point is to create an experience of community.

My other class, Kundalini Yoga & Movement, is also full participation but for a different reason: Kundalini teachers always do the entire set with their students, because part of the point in this modality is creating a shared energetic experience.  To walk around and make adjustments would interrupt the energy as it builds.

(Furthermore, in Kundalini there are no "poses" to be adjusted but rather rapid movements that must be explored and discovered and created in each unique body. The movements are simple for this very reason: each body can do them no matter their fitness level, and they can grow and morph as the body becomes stronger and more flexible. Added to that is some amazing, deep, challenging breath work where most of the magic resides. I tell people (and it's true) that the breath work alone could give you a stronger core, which then makes for a more supported spine.)

So last week, I was pretty sick in a way that meant I could NOT move around.  This was during a Kundalini class and I had always wondered what would happen, how I would handle this situation.  The key, I realized, was not to over talk simply out of a desire to be doing something.  The other key was to sit in simple seated as they were sitting or stand as they were standing and imagine the yoga happening in my body so that I might first, speak from a feeling state (as always), and second, be participating on an emotional and spiritual level if not a physical one.

It totally worked!  They all affirmed afterward that they had just as awesome (if a bit different) an experience as always.

I also had an amazing time watching them so much more closely than I normally can.  To see their faces glowing and their heart centers expanding, to witness their opening and relaxing and rejuvenating was a privilege that I usually only get glimpses of.

In a classical hatha class (of which I have had so many with many different teachers), there is a sense that there is someone leading and others following, but in Kundalini, it feels much more like a religious ritual in which every person is priest or priestess.  I was relieved to find out that that feeling can be maintained no matter how I am feeling.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Brainstorming Help, Please

Penn State Erie, the Campus Where I've Been Teaching

Today is a big day: my last class day at Behrend (Penn State Erie) until next Fall.  I am excited, to say the least.

I am excited to not have to drive out there in the winter weather.  The taste I have gotten this week is icky.  I am excited to not have to be thinking about a writing class practically twenty four seven, because that's how I roll.  I am excited to be able to completely focus my efforts of my and Marcy's creative works.

But I am also very nervous about that last one.  I feel a bit lost, a bit ignorant when it comes to the building-a-business part of teaching yoga/dance/movement.  I am a fantastic teacher, but how do I get more students?  How do I also work on my own movement creations?

So here I am, standing before you, with open hands and a quizzical look on my face: Do you have any tried and true methods that you are willing to share?  Do you have any advice of any kind for this newbie?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Love is the Ultimate Reality & Other Reasons Not to Freak Out

Daisy Girl

I've had a few rough days to put it mildly.  That's why you've not heard from me. I have been feeling too raw, challenged by my emotion disregulation -- a state of existence that can also be called "Freaking Out to the Point of Paralysis."

Just because I'm working the program, so to speak, utilizing the techniques I have learned so far through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, well, that doesn't mean that my symptoms have just disappeared.  Quite the contrary.

But it does mean that when this happens, I have a sense of what is really going on and I have coping mechanisms -- healthy coping mechanisms, as opposed to the old, rotten, self-destructive ones that I have lived with since I was rather young.

Anyway, long story short: Toby cat had one simple symptom and was perfectly normal otherwise. We thought it was something but that didn't go away so we took him to the vet and he just has some allergy stuff going on. He got an antihistamine and is fine now.

Simple, right?  Wrong.  When stress and normal human emotions feel like tidal waves and your brain can't discern the difference between TOTAL EMERGENCY and minor regular schtuff, well, it is a snowball turned avalanche kind of way to be.  (Sorry about mixing metaphors and all that.)

I immediately think someone is going to die.  That my life will end as I know it.  That I will never be happy ever again.  That I am too...fragile...not strong enough for these things that other people seem to be able to...handle.

None of that is true, of course. My brain is not like your brain. It processes emotion way too big and then it takes a very long time to come down.

This was all happening and I was a mess but I also was not the mess I would have been six months ago.

And during the entire thing, I was praying and meditating on my inability to trust this life, to believe in the love of it.

So here are some reasons I contemplated for NOT freaking out:
  • Life is essentially beautiful.  All of it. Including the end of life.  It all matters.
  • Love is the Ultimate Reality, the Ground Luminosity (to borrow a Buddhist term).  Love exists and is not something that can ever, by anything, be destroyed.
  • Which brings us to the Big One: Death is not the end of anything. It is just change. I still have loving, meaningful relationships with the loved ones who have passed over, including Jobie, Rosie, Ernie, and Scottie Cats, and my Great Aunt Dell, who guides me with her light and laughter to this day.
That's it.  Those few, intertwined things are all that matters.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Where Have You Grown Cold?

A Wee, Late Miracle in the Garden

One of my favorite people on this planet happens to be (through this strange and beautiful interwebs) someone I have never met in person, and yet, she is someone who feels like a sister born of my own heart's sorrows and joys.  I interviewed Michelle Halm here at the very beginnings of our budding friendship, and she has quickly become one of those people whom I feel I have know forever.

What is that Chinese saying?  Something like -- you will know your friends more in ten minutes than you know acquaintances in ten years.

As Advent has begun, she has been on my mind a lot, and it turns out that we are experiencing some similar (at their core) issues.  I feel blessed to have someone who understands these mysterious, Catholic parts of me, someone who never finds my faith strange.

There are many people who cannot get past the external, material facts of my life or those of the church for that matter, and so they judge -- from both ends of the political, spiritual spectrums.

But Michelle just gets it.

The whole point of this post was to share something with you that I recently shared with Michelle, but why not express my gratitude at the same time.  ((Smile))

Two days ago, I listened to a talk by Rob Bell, and in it, he kept repeating a prayer...a little different each time, and I am about to paraphrase but I think this keeps his meaning.

I think that people may relate to this right now.  This season is supposed to be about waiting and preparing our hearts and souls, but we have turned it into a season about "getting."  Getting presents. Getting things done. And on and on. (And do not blame media and advertising; we have done this ourselves.)

We have, thus, through our own frenzied actions, stripped the season of the awe and beauty with which it wants to speak to our souls.

So here's a little mantra/prayer to keep in mind.  See if it changes something in your heart.  See if you gasp a little or perhaps sigh:

Melt the places in me that have become cold;
Open my heart again to child-like awe.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Saving the World with Beauty and Bliss -- and Facebook

One of the last roses in our garden from a few days ago.

The world will be saved by beauty.
--from The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

When I first started this blog, at the top of every post every single day, I would include a link to the music that was my current favorite, and then I would write a small paragraph of that day's bliss.  (You can see an example here.)

Every day on every post.  This was when I was writing seven days a week.

The point of this part of the blog was to show how, no matter what else is going on, there are always bright spots.  Little things that we can be thankful for.  Always.

(Side Rant: what a disturbing thing over this past Thanksgiving week to see a backlash against...of all things...GRATITUDE.  Too many posts on Facebook were people complaining and saying they didn't feel like feeling grateful.  Don't feel like feeling grateful!? This blew my mind. Perhaps they could start by being grateful for having computer access which implies a certain level of wealth...)

I am not sure why I stopped writing that particular part of my blog. It had more to do with design and structure, though, than any sort of existential crisis.

And recently, I have found myself using Facebook to do a similar thing.  Anywhere from one to three times a day, I write little "Good Things" lists.

It can seem all Pollyanna, but it is a mindfulness practice and it is one that is speaking to people.  Besides the comments I get on my status updates, I have been getting pretty regular emails about my "Good Things" and how much they affect the quality of people's days.

What got me to really thinking about the power of all of this was an email I got the other day via Facebook.  I've surely gotten a lot of these, but for some reason, this one made me think.

It was a brief "love note."  Just a friend writing to say, basically, "I see you; I care about you" or some such version of that message.

Suddenly, because of that message, I saw my Good Things in a different light.  They are a mindfulness practice, for me, for sure, but they are more than that.  They also help other people to be more mindful.

As of today, I will change my "Good Things" lists to "Bliss List" on Facebook, and I will start writing them at the top of my posts again, also.

I invite you to do the same.

Let's change the world by noticing one little bit of bliss at a time.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the New Year in the Church calendar, and we begin that new year with a focus on anticipation and preparation.  Many of us are focused on getting to the Winter Solstice, and its fulfillment of the promise of increasing light.

I am diving, instead, into the dark.  This is a time for deep reflection and hibernation, a time to rejuvenate on a cellular and spiritual level.

Over this Thanksgiving holiday, I was looking forward to time for rest.  I did not get it. Instead my days were filled with activity and obligation to others, which was fine and in and of itself, even fun.

As Advent begins, my calendar is still too full, but as we travel through the following weeks, activities and demands will fall away, and my time will open and clear, becoming...lighter.

This stripping away and getting to the essential seems appropriate to me, as we anticipate and prepare for birth.

What birth are you preparing for?  What must be gotten rid of to make room for the new?

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Week of Gratitude: Laughter

My Favorite Tree, which I walk past as I go to my office.

If you created a gratitude list for either Love or Life, make sure to leave a link in one of the gratitude posts and share your list with others!

Today's gratitude theme is Laughter.  Besides my obvious love for alliteration, I thought it would be a good challenge to think about the role of humor in our lives. We are more often than not way too serious in this life, aren't we?

Here is my Laughter Gratitude list (and this one is taking some serious thinking on my part!):
  • One of my favorite sounds in all this world is Marcy's giggle. Anyone who knows her, loves the sound of her deep belly giggle. When she laughs like this, it feels like you've done something really grand and earned some sort of prize.  I get to hear it a lot, because, as she would tell you, I may be a very serious sort of animal but I am also quite funny.  Thankfully.
  • The cats do just about one million things a day that make me laugh but one of my favorite is when they, for no apparent reason, fatten their tails. Toby is notorious for this, and Lilly's gets so big, we call it "toilet brush tail."
  • One of the things recommended in Dialectical Behavior Therapy for an emotional disregulation distraction is funny movies. I love this. We have a few of our favorites, but we are now looking to create a collection.
  • Again, I have to say how thankful I am for teaching, because when I am teaching movement, for some reason, is when I feel most free with my humor and laughter.  It's a great way to get people to relax and not feel so fearful of trying new things, but it also cleanses this teacher's insides.
  •  I am grateful for our neighbor (the one who is like a brother) because he happens to be one of the funniest people I know.  He always has just the right descriptors for things and he can quote any freaking episode of the Simpson's at just the right moment and in just the right way.
  • When I was really little, I loved Tim Conway.  Who did you love?  Who do you love now? (HELLOOOO, Eddie Izzard!)
  • When I used to feel really badly, Marcy would draw a face on her chin, put a hankie over the top of her face, and do that whole upside down mouth routine thing.  Just the thought of that can make me laugh.
Do you laugh enough? Do you take yourself too seriously? What makes you laugh the hardest?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Week of Gratitude: Life

Daisy on Top of a Bookcase in My Writing Room

Did you participate and write about all the love in your life for which you are grateful?  If so, make sure you leave a link here or on the love post from Monday!

Today's gratitude theme is Life, as in the life you are living, the life you have built, the life you are building.

Here is my list:
  • In the Life is FULL OF SURPRISES and aren't they AWESOME CATegory: We've added a new member to the family, Tuppy, another tuxedo cat who was at our friend's no kill shelter here in Erie (if you can, send them some help), and who seemed to be way too shy to ever get adopted. He is fitting right in and there will be pictures forthcoming. I thought, oh, dear, we are just crazy cat ladies (and we are), but as a friend on facebook so rightly said, "room in the heart, room in the home."  Exactly.
  • Living my Bliss. Yep, I am the writer of the BlissChick, but I struggle just like anyone else. My point has always been that the struggle is worth it and is a sort of bliss in and of itself, because how amazing is it that we are born into this existence where we get to attempt to become fulfilled, passionate, awake beings?!
  • Dancing my Bliss and finally coming home to my body and to my purpose in life. It has just been over a year since I received this miraculous gift, and it never grows old or less miraculous feeling than those first moments when it happened. It changes and evolves but I remain ever grateful and ever in awe of it all.  I may question the details but I am done with doubt. I am on my path.
  • Dreaming my Bliss: I am grateful to have found my path and in the process to completely open to all the possibility that lies before me. I am grateful for the ideas and the inspirations; I am grateful that I once again find such joy in simply dreaming of what could be. I am grateful for the exploratory process itself. For the adventure, the not knowing, the surprises around the corners. I am grateful to be so Full of Dreams again.
  • Creating my Bliss: I am grateful to have the time and the resources and the space and the people and the energy to move toward dreams, to risk, to experiment.
  • Sharing my Bliss: I am grateful for teaching. For students who teach me so much. For new students all the time. Things grow slowly but they grow.
  •  In the Category of Random: I am grateful for our new little car that opens up so much of this possibility; I am grateful that I got to teach at university for a semester and the extra money that will make more trainings possible; I am grateful for our beautiful home; I am grateful for music, candles, espresso, good and plentiful food, books, good pens, warm clothes that fit, access to beautiful and thought provoking films, live dance events that make me feel like I am on to something, live dance events that push me to think past what I think I am on to, a community of creative souls in this tiny city...
What about you? What in your life is making you feel grateful?

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Week of Gratitude: Love

Photo by Marcy, Taken on Campus Where I Teach

For the week of Thanksgiving, I thought my three posts should be about gratitude.  I will do three themes, and I invite and encourage you to replicate this on your own blog or even in a paper journal (gasp!).

The three themes are Love, Life, and Laughter.  For alliteration's sake, of course, and because we are often too serious and we need to remind ourselves to be grateful for all that brings humor and light and giggling into our lives.

For today's theme of Love, here is my gratitude list:

  • The Lilypad overflows in this category. If not for the love of Marcy and all our animal guides, I would not be the person I am, and I would certainly lack a considerable portion of the deep motivation that is necessary to do the mental health work I am doing.
  • Miss Kitty (of library fame) who inspires me with her constancy of faith and insatiable curiosity about all things and people.
  • The Members of Writing Group, who inspire me to live my dreams.
  • Doctor Captain America, in particular, right now, I am so thankful to have someone who understands my difficulties, sees me, and inspires me to trust myself in regards to my health.  A doctor friend who knows when to say No. ((smile))
  • My yoga and movement students who inspire me with their trust of me and their courage in doing the work.
  • We are surrounded by people whom we know would do anything for us (including a neighbor who is more like a brother) and I know that that is a Big Gift.
  • Online I am gifted with a "cloud of witnesses" who support me in my journey in so many ways.  I dare not start a list because I would forget someone, and besides, you all know who you are!
  • Some of you I have been lucky enough to meet in person, and for the most part, my instincts about you have been right on and I have some friendships that are truly blossoming because of this space.
I cannot emphasize enough my gratitude for so many people whom I refer to as "friend."  For someone who moved so much as a child and who learned to simply and easily let go of friendships as a coping mechanism, it has taken me until I hit my 40s to really cultivate lasting friendships.

And as someone who tends toward black and white thinking (thanks, BPD), it has been a long road to understanding that people are faulty and that that is part of their beauty.

Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.


Friday, November 19, 2010


One of My Favorite Places

On Saturday, November 20th, I turn 42.

Sometimes, when I am in the warm salt bath that I take before bedtime, I think, what the hell am I doing? How am I in my 40s and just getting to this dancing? And I start to wonder how long I have left to do it, how long I can sustain this. And I feel the panic rise...

And then I remember that I have no choice, that once you find this kind of passion in your life, you are done being in control of everything, you are done with that illusion.

And then I realize what a gift I have been given and turning 42 is no longer important because each day is the only thing that matters.  Each day that I get to dance; each day that I get to teach someone else to love the way their body moves; each day that I get to dedicate myself to this path.

Each day is a birth day, a gift wrapped up in itself.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


'Tis the Season to think...contemplate...discern...reevaluate.  Next week is Thanksgiving and it will be all about gratitude here at BlissChick.  And right after that, we enter Advent and the season of light returning (yes, returning) and the birthing of possibility.

I am also thinking about where I was a year ago: I was in between my teacher trainings in yogadance, absorbed by the homework, loving the focus, and completely blown away by living my bliss so thoroughly, so afresh.

I went to the first part of that training just wanting to explore my dancer self again, having only months before rediscovered her.  I did not think I would complete the training or go on to teach.

Here I am, teaching five classes a week, and in January, I will add more to that.  I have plans for workshops and e-courses and books and videos.

So what is the title of this post about...this realignment?

In just three weeks, I will be done teaching a semester of college composition.  I have loved this more than I can say, but it has also thrown me off center.  I have spent the last few months living mostly in my head again, a place I rather would avoid.  (ha!)

My realignment has to do with getting back to that place I was in a year ago...or a different version of it, of course, because I have come far since that time.  I want, I need, I must get back into this body.

Entering this season of gratitude and re-birthing with wide eyed intention is my hope for this year.  I do not want to get to January 1st of 2011 and wonder how that happened.  I do not want to be pushed by momentum across that threshold, rather I want to dance across it through my own volition.  I want to leap and spin and sashay into the new year.

How about you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Regardless of the Pain, There is Still Joy

Lest you think it is all brow scrunching, hair pulling, and hand wringing here at the Lilypad as I work diligently through my difficulties, I want to be clear that I am ever mindful of the good, the love, the joy, the plenitude, and the moments of Pure Grace in which I am steeped.

I have bad days, hard days, days when my brain feels like pure mush, days during which forming coherent thoughts feels almost physically painful, days when taking a warm bath for its soothing effects is the peak of my "productivity."

But there are far more days when the pain of this hard work is much more subtle, like background noise that is slightly annoying but to which you become accustomed.

And of course, there are days when I feel I have made some amazing progress or breakthrough, though mainly, I am working to accept myself as I am and to not set unrealistic "goals" for this work that is far more precious and precarious than any goal that can be broken into bits on a to-do list.

My main point is that while I work on my brain and its pains, I am also living a beautiful life.

For instance, I have the tiniest, most tender bits of a new novel sitting on my computer's desktop, and I can feel whispers of what is to come with that work. My heart pitter patters at the possibilities.

I spend time, even in this extra crazy busy semester, trolling through iTunes looking for music for my movement class and being inspired by new little bits.

My faith grows and my heart expands even in light of this sometimes-feeling that I am standing at the base of a mountain, whose peak I cannot see.

I learn, day by day, ever deeper what Thomas Merton meant when he said that we are made for Joy, not for Pleasure.

Yes. Joy abides where pleasure fades. Joy remains steadfast, arms akimbo, staring down despair, whereas pleasure tucks his tail and runs the other way.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Good Things for a Personal Feast Day

I don't normally post on Saturdays, but...

Yesterday, Marcy and I took flowers to my Great Aunt Ardelle's grave, and we realized that it was the day before her death date...or Feast Day, as we prefer to call it, today, November 13th (1983).

So a simple list of good memories that I have thanks to her:
  • The ping of opening up a tin of chocolate Swiss Miss pudding.
  • Lugging a too heavy, too big watering can to the side of her house, to the only thin slice of shade on her property, to water the Begonias (as seen above). Learning from this the importance of beauty for beauty's sake.
  • Her hearty laugh.
  • The bubbles of ginger ale floating inside the thick, yellow/tan glasses.
  • The deep, claw foot tub with the stopper attached to a long, silver beaded chain.
  • A Christmas tree that stands as the archetypal Christmas tree in my mind.
  • The almost permanent apron around her waist.
I could make this list forever.

But the main thing: the warm love with which she surrounded and continues to surround me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How Self Sufficiency Turns Me into a Liar

Toby Wanted His Time in the Spotlight

After having nightmares on Monday night this week, I had a really tough Tuesday.  I have suffered from horrendous nightmares for most of my life, and over the last few years, they have decreased in frequency and intensity, but I can still go through tough cycles.  (No need for dream interpretation here -- they are always the same and they are always about feeling that my life is threatened, etc., and those fears are based in my experiences.)

I am grateful for the decrease. I am grateful for the times when I am getting good and consistent sleep.

But as is obvious (and also as is "proven" in psychological studies about depression and anxiety), waking from nightmares has a tendency to set the tone for your day.  Many times, it is just a matter of hours before I feel better -- being awake and focusing on other things is usually enough --  but this past Tuesday, my feelings of fear and anxiety and malaise stayed with me all day.

Marcy came home unawares because I had been emailing her about how I was utilizing all these different distraction methods from my dialectical behavior therapy.  And I guess (sigh), I had given the impression that some of these things were working.

They weren't.

Sometimes they don't.  It's why this is hard, right?  Because you have to keep trying, and if you have a bad day, there is still a good chance that tomorrow will be better. (And in this case, the next day was much, much better.)

We decided that I needed a "distraction" list specifically for the day after bad nightmares.  We made one, a good one.

And we thought that was that.

Later in the evening, I had another revelation (and wow...these are so frequent now with this DBT thing. I can barely keep up).

I realized that I lie.

Yep. I lie.

I pride myself on being Super Honesty Woman.  But after digging a bit, I revealed to Marcy -- and to myself -- that I am Super Honesty Woman about facts, about things that have happened, to other people when they ask about their own lives, but I totally lie about my feelings and my needs.

I am under the impression, still, that to be a fully functioning, mature human means taking care of my own business.  It means being Super Self Sufficiency Woman -- as if I am some freaking Puritan with buckled shoes.  (Okay...that makes sense to me...)

If I can't take care of, I must really be broken and bad, right?


So instead of fessin' up and telling Marcy, "Things are going really badly today..." I tell her, "Oh, yes, this is going okay...I am not worry."

Like some martyr.  YUCK.  I hate the martyr thing.  Hate. It.  And here I am, wearing a freaking hair shirt and telling everyone, "Oh, don't be silly!  I don't even notice the fleas!!"

(That made me itchy...)

I only just recently wrote about my need to admit to needing help and here I am discovering that it goes deeper even than that.  I...I can barely say this without choking...I...

I REPRESS.  (O M G -- As I typed that, my face scrunched up into that "what is that smell" look.)

I am a passionate, opinionated, assertive, funny, sometimes-loud, expressive person, and I REPRESS.

Oh. God.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Abandoning Fears

One of the consequences of being moved 19 times in your first 18 years of life is learning to very quickly let go of people.  Add to that the primary Rule of Isolation in an abusive household, and you have an adult who at the least does not truly understand the nature of friendship and at worst is suspicious of it.

To make it just a wee bit more complicated, consider the fact that the central thesis of BPD is an intense fear of abandonment based on experience.  Most people categorized as BPD were abandoned as children, either literally or emotionally (and I'm pretty sure there is really no difference there considering how the brain works).

These abandonment experiences are not simply to be "let go of," as they penetrate the body and remain entwined in the shadows of our very fibers...and they change the brain physiologically in ways we are just beginning to understand.

My brain is different from yours, unless you are lucky enough to share much in common with my past.  If you had a fairly safe and secure and predictable childhood, you have no idea.  If you experienced abuse as an adult, even, you have only a fraction of an idea, as these later experiences will not change nearly as significantly (or in as many areas) what is already set as neurological pattern in your brain.

My essential, base experience of life is that it is unsafe, that people are pain, and that death lurks everywhere so be on constant vigil.

As I work with dialectical behavior therapy, I am learning the value of things like distraction.  When my brain is acting extra wonky, for example, to the point of creating elevated levels of fear and anxiety, it's good to do something for distraction's sake.

I've never thought that was good.  All the new age spiritual types tell you to dive in and face your fears, but that is oversimplification to the point of malpractice, because some of us could easily drown.  I think a lot of people who spew this stuff don't have a clue (lucky them) about the severity of some of our pain.

Once you are distracted from all the adrenaline producing brain activity, you can then move onto the next step, soothing.  After that, you can deal with the issue from a different place.  See?  No avoidance or repression, but rather, temporary distraction to calm down and soothing to take care of yourself.

This is working pretty well for me.

But my hardest times are still the...hardest, and this is where the abandonment stuff intermingles with the misunderstanding/no understanding that surrounds friendship.

Marcy loves people. She is a people person. She is extroverted. She had a safe upbringing.  Our brains are radically different.  (Thank God!)

It is her nature, therefore, to have lots of friends.

This frightens me.  The story my brain generates around this is that she needs friends because I am not enough.  I was not enough of a child for my parents and now I am never enough for anyone else.

I have friends, but they tend to be friends that Marcy and I share.  I also tend not to do things alone with others because of my big time need for down time.

We are working really hard on this.  Negotiating between my need for gentleness and boundaries and feelings of safety and her need to be herself and to be trusted (which she is completely worthy of).

We often wonder how many couples out there have this problem and don't understand where it comes from enough to work their way through it?

Though we work on this together, I have to do a lot of the work myself, internally, watching my brain for its Giant Pain in the Ass Propensity for Making Shit Up.  Then I tell it to just STOP.  I present this as if it is easy and it is anything but.  This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

When you are raised in an environment of fear, one of the main coping mechanisms is storytelling.  You tell yourself stories to soothe yourself; you tell yourself stories to ward off evil, thinking you can control the future by contemplating every possible thing that could happen; you tell yourself stories simply because it is better than living in your current reality.

Now, as an adult, this storytelling mechanism is great for writing but not for living.  It damages my life, rather than protects it.

After I notice that the storytelling is happening and after I tell it to STOP, I still have steps to follow through on or it will just continue in the back of mind until it gets strong enough to break through and then I get caught up in emotional re-actions.  So, STOP and then I tell Marcy the story.  This is a key part of the process.  She reminds me that it is not real and then I move onto a distraction method and through the rest of the process.

Because of this process, my life is already different today than it was merely weeks ago.  I feel the pain more intensely now as I work with it, but it is good pain -- like after a workout when you feel all proud of yourself for sore thighs.  It's a sign of how hard you are working.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Daily Ritual as a Return to Sanity

Princess Lilly, Cat of Many Thumbs

Thanks to DBT, which I wrote about on Friday (see post right before this one), and specifically, thanks to becoming ever more aware of my thoughts, internal voices, and emotions, Marcy and I figured out a Very Big Thing last week, and I wanted to share this usual, I hope it helps someone else struggling with these issues.

For two weeks in a row, while I was teaching YogaDance, Marcy met a mutual friend for a beer and some chatting.  Marcy is a social butterfly and she needs more of this type of interaction than me.  (Cough...)

For two weeks in a row, I then went to pick her up and immediately felt pissed off.  This past Tuesday, the consequences were not bad (unlike two Tuesdays ago).  I took some time to sit by myself and noticed what was happening -- that I was reacting out of old stories and that that was not necessary.  So we talked that through and I felt pretty darn proud of myself.

The next morning, Marcy could tell that it wasn't done.  That even though I had avoided allowing my emotions to overcome me, there was more to it that needed to be uncovered.

Again, when she brought this up and we started to talk, I could feel my emotions ready to POP! but I watched them and made the conscious choice not to allow that.  This is a painful thing, for sure, but this is working hard to heal in action.

Seeing an old behavior trying to assert itself and saying No, Thank you.

We kept talking and dissecting.  I kept paying attention to those mounting emotions to which I was not going to give in.

I kept feeling uncomfortable.  But we stayed with it.

Acceptance and Change.  Change and Acceptance.

Accepting that I was feeling badly and accepting that there was a reason for it, but seeing that the reason was old and so the behaviors have to change.

This pain paid off because I was awarded with a true light bulb moment of understanding and clarity.

Transitions.  Transitions between one part of my day and another or transitions between being alone and then being with Marcy...Transitions are when I feel very vulnerable, when I am frightened that things will not go as planned, when I fear that things will not meet expectations and this failure will then be met with anger.

Again, this concept of transitions being dangerous comes from long ago and my body was still carrying it around and my current day reactions come from that.

I realized that as I walked into the restaurant where I was to meet Marcy that I felt afraid and then that led to feeling angry.  (To be clear: that fear and anger have/had nothing to do with Marcy whatsoever. It comes from long, long ago.)

I cannot emphasize how BIG this felt.  This understanding felt like a light going on in a very, very dark and dank room.

I am still in awe of the process of DBT and how it led to this.  (And I am only a few chapters into that workbook! A workbook with which I am no way affiliated!! HA!)

Now to deal with this, we know to utilize another DBT method -- distraction which then can lead to soothing which then can lead to truer encounters that are based in the present.

So we've decided that the missing element is Ritual.  In modern life, there is too little ritual.

There is nothing to formally mark the ends and the beginnings.  Humans are wired for ritual.  As Marcy said to me, it is the mutability of things that frightens me and so ritual creates something that is static and stable.  Something to look forward to.

We have started to create new Rituals and bring back some old ones.

Ritual is, of course, also about mindfulness in that it is about action imbued with intention.

For instance, we always take a hot salt or bubble bath before bedtime, but for a while now, we have not lit candles while doing so.  That simple act turns a bath into an ablution.

And we are creating rituals for our coming together times, for when Marcy comes home from work.  It is too easy to just rush into errands or making dinner or watching a little something.

What rituals help to keep you healthy and happy? Do you need to institute more ritual or bring back rituals that you've lost?  As we enter this season of holidays, perhaps this is a perfect time to think about this.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Prescription for Change...and Acceptance

As I have mentioned, I am currently (and very slowly) working through this Dialectical Behavior Therapy workbook.

And things are changing rapidly for me thanks to this incredible modality -- more rapidly than I ever could have imagined.  In that last two weeks alone, I have utterly changed how I approach my emotional disregulation and I have become aware of my thoughts in a way that I have never experienced.

Yoga has definitely prepared me for this type of work as my "witness" consciousness has been trained a bit, and DBT uses mindfulness training to the max, but something has clicked in place for me recently that was not happening before.

So what is Dialectical Behavior Therapy all about?

The psychologist Marsha Linehan created it, realizing that cognitive behavior therapy was not really working for her patients who were diagnosed as either BPD or Complex PTSD (and as I have pointed out, many believe these two may pretty much be the same thing).

Linehan realized that with cognitive behavior therapy there was so much emphasis on change that it left these patients, in particular, feeling defeated -- and judged.  BPD patients, especially, have a hard time staying in therapy.

So Linehan redesigned cognitive behavior therapy with a new focus.  Instead of focusing on change, DBT therapists strive to balance change with acceptance.

We work to change the behaviors that bring about pain and grief while at the same time radically accepting ourselves for who we are, accepting that we've been doing the best that we knew how, accepting that how we are was a logical response to what we've experienced.

Seems obvious, right?  But not so much for those of us who have spent most of our lives doubting our existence, our sense of self, our right to be here, breathing air.

I'll be writing more about what I'm learning.

But...what would your life look like if you could accept yourself as you are?  If you could see yourself as the beautiful, lovable human being you already are?