Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Howdy from Oregon!

Yes, I am no longer in Australia but in beautiful central Oregon.  My silence over the past month has been due to the fact that I’ve been on an epic voyage (well, epic for someone with CFS!) 

I was a university student a Kansas University 15 years ago, and it’s where I got sick.  I never thought I’d be able to come back to the US but a few opportunities opened up, and the trip planned itself in about 30 mins. (It’s always a good sign when things fall together as easily as that.) 

Firstly, Centrelink (the Australia Govt body that gives me my disability pension) allowed me to go to stay in a number of countries around the world, mostly 1st world countries, for as long as I liked.  Then, the Australian dollar reached parity with the US dollar – so I could afford to stay here.  Then, a friend of mine moved to the little town of Sisters, in central Oregon, and said, ‘come on over…I think you’d like it.’ 

So I came – and I do like it!

I didn’t write anything about the on my blog before I left because the lead-up to the trip was stressful.  A lot of feelings that I’d blocked from the time I first got sick started to re-surface.  It was emotionally and physically draining, I felt like I could only take one day at a time, and was never entirely confident I would make it onto the plane. 

I had hoped I would have had all my crying out of the way before getting on the plane (that was my plan anyway. Plans, schmans!  I don’t know why I bother making them!)  So, I cried on every flight I was on, then cried in the airport, in the supermarket, in the cafĂ©, in the… well, you get the idea.  I single-handedly (or single-nosedly) bumped Kleenex’s sales up 10% over the past month. 

I broke my flight up in Hawaii, which was so beautiful.  I even had a good energy day and the woman I was staying with grabbed me and said, ‘get in the car…you need to see at least SOME of Hawaii!’ So she got her big plastic cup  of rum and coke and we jumped into her jalopy and drove around the island with the rum sloshing around and Christian music blaring from the radio.  The coast-line was spectacular…I can see why tourism is their biggest industry.

Then I flew straight to Oregon, and am in Sisters which is a small town on the edge of the high desert, with beautiful mountains in the background.  Here are some photos taken just down the end of my street.  Lucky me! 

I’m not sure how often I’ll be writing blog posts from here.  I’m just going to take it easy, and write whenever the urge grabs me, rather than trying to keep to a schedule.

Hope this finds you, my lovely reader, happy and having a day with at least a few sweet things in it.  (I have apple-pie fudge in my fridge, so that will be my sweet-thing.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hatred never ceases by hatred

I was just listening to a podcast  talk by Jack Kornfield, a US Buddhist teacher and former monk. In the talk Jack tells the story of working in a Cambodian refugee camp with his teacher Maha Ghosananda.  Maha Ghosananda was a Buddhist monk who became known as Cambodia's Gandhi for his work to bring peace to Cambodia after the Pol Pot holocaust that  decimated its population. 
I transcribed the story becuase I thought it was so profound. Here is is as Jack tells it.
"Mahagosanada got permission from the UNHCR to open this little Buddhist temple in the centre of the camp - which was 50,000 people in these little huts, without hardly any water or shade. And when the Khmer Rouge found out that the temple was being opened they let it be known that anyone who went to the opening would be killed when they returned to Cambodia.
So, it wasn't clear whether people would come at all.  But he was this incredibly good hearted and loving monk.  He was spared being killed - most of his family and monastery were killed - because he was in Thailand for the worst of it.
So he went around ringing this bell once the bamboo temple was made, and in the central square 25,000 people came. Half the camp showed up.  And he sat there, in this dusty camp, looking out over the faces of these people, the faces of people in trauma. There would be one uncle with 2 nieces who had survived, a grandma with 2 grandchildren.  Everone had lost family members, temples burnt, schools destroyed. 
And I thought, 'What is he going to say to these people who have lost so much?' And he put his hands together and just began to chant, sounds in  Cambobdian and Sankskrit that they hadn't heard for 8 years.  In this beutiful chanting tone he began to chant one verse from the Dhammapada  which says, 'Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and enternal law.' 
And after a while 25,000 people were singing, 'Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and enternal law.'  
And it was as if he was speaking a truth that was even bigger than their sorrows.  Yes, there's destruction, yes, there's killing and still, there's no end to this without love."

Thursday, April 7, 2011


What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?

I woke up early yesterday morning and saw this beautiful, crisp, Autumnal sunrise happening right outside my window.  I grabbed my camera and took a few shots from my front-yard.  How beautiful!  I love EM Forster's novels (Howards End is probably my favorite) and thought his quote was a good match for these photos.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A healing touch

Over the last few days I’ve gone into a fairly regular kind of energy slump where even listening or thinking becomes painfully exhausting. It’s as though my body is so tired that even moving my mental muscles to form a thought makes me ache.

Yesterday, as I was lying in bed I caught myself trying to do a metta (compassion) practice when I was too tired to think straight. I was trying to form kind and caring thoughts about being in pain, but this mental ‘trying’ just increased my pain.  Hmph!  I was stuck. 

Then a section of Toni Bernhard’s book ‘How to be Sick’ (oh, how I love that title!) came to mind. Toni writes about cultivating compassion towards herself in the face of chronic illness by using phrases of care and understanding such as 'My poor body, working so hard to feel better'.  She then writes:  'Whatever words I choose, I often stroke one arm with the hand of the other. This has brought me to tears many times, but tears of compassion are healing tears.'

Following Toni’s suggestion, I stopped trying to think compassionate thoughts and just started stroking the top of my hand with my other hand.  This kind, compassionate touch went beyond all thought, straight into the heart of the matter; ‘Oh, I’m sick.  How sad.’ 

I was transported back in time to when I was very young – 5 and 6 years old – and spent months in hospital with asthma. I was not only isolated from the world, but also cut-off from my immediate surroundings by a thick plastic tent covering my bed.  Asthma medication was pumped into the tent, so I could breathe it in and out. The intention was to heal, and it probably saved my life many times over, but the experience was confusing and so very lonely. 

The simple act of touching my own hand brought me back to this sad time; a time where all I really wanted was kindness and a sense of connection – to hope, life, and the outside world.  It felt as though offering myself this care, even 30 years on, was a kind of healing. This beautiful and simple practice gave me a sense of mothering and caring for myself. 

Thankyou Toni! 

Beautiful Gili Air - Lombok - Indonesia

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Awakening Now

Awakening Now
by Dana Faulds
Why wait for your awakening?
Do you value your reasons for staying small 
more than the light shining through the open door? 
Forgive yourself,
Forgive yourself.
Now is the only time you have to be whole.
Now is the sole moment that exists to live in the light of your true nature. 
Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain. 
Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain. 
Please, oh please, don't continue to believe 
in your stories of deficiency and failure. 
This is the day of your awakening.
Danna Faulds is a US poet and  practitioner of Kripalu Yoga.  She's written four books of yoga poetry: Go In and In; One Soul; Prayers to the Infinite; and From Root to Bloom.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Self-Compassion Phrases

Hello lovely readers! 

It's been a while since I've posted, mostly because I've been busy crying. (I am confident that at the end of this financial year I will get a thank you letter from Kleenex and hopefully a free mega pack of man-sized tissues to see me through another afternoon of weeping). 

When I last posted I wrote about doing an exercise where I recorded how I was feeling and then responded with phrases of self-compassion.  This little exercise opened the flood-gates and 15 years of 'coping' has been washed away in my tears, as I allow myself to feel all grief-stricken, pissed-off and crappy at losing so much of my life to this illness.

I've been practicing saying little phrases of self-compassion to myself as I lie in bed feeling whatever feeling is present in the moment.  To help myself do this, I've been collecting and writing down phrases of compassion and kindness.  During the day, I have the list of phrases open on my laptop and while I'm resting I just open my eyes every so often and pick a phrase to repeat to myself.   

I thought I'd share this list in the hope that some readers may find it useful.  I'd love to know what your favorite self-compassion phrase is! 

Bumper list of self-compassion phrases

Yes, I’m sick – it’s difficult. 

What’s going on here?  How are you feeling?

It’s not my fault, there’s nothing I have to change.  

I never get to choose a feeling – I just get to choose how I will meet the feeling.

I’m sad that I’m sick.

I’m sad that I feel this feeling difficult.

This feeling is meant to be here, and I care about it.

How are you? I’m seeking to understand, not to change.

I’m doing the best I possibly can in this situation, a really good job.

I’m doing a great job of resting and taking care of myself.

I feel agitated, I want to ‘do stuff’ – well, that’s totally fine. It’s totally normal to feel like you want to do things when you’re sick.  I’m sure we’ll find time for you to do that later.

Even though x is happening and I feel x I choose to trust the place I am in.

I know I’m a good person because good people feel x and I feel x. Therefore I’m a good person.

It’s not my fault – it’s just happening.

I love you every way that you are, exactly as you are – and I’ll help you to be any way you want to be.

I’m here to make life better; I’m here to help.

This matters.  Whatever it is, it matters. 

(My latest portrait - I thought it suited the mood of this post!)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Developing the Mentor Pt 3

For a few weeks now I’ve been writing about using Zen teacher Cheri Huber’s techniques of discovering an inner mentor. (Here’s Pt 1 and here’s Pt 2).

My task for the past week was to make a recording of myself talking about something in my life I was struggling with and then recording what the ‘mentor’ would say in response.

When I started to do the recording I didn’t have a plan of what I would talk about.  I just turned on the video recorder on my laptop and found myself describing how I was feeling physically; just listing my physical symptoms.

‘I feel exhausted…my head hurts and the muscles behind my eyes feel tight…’

Then, I found myself describing how I felt about all these physical sensations.

‘I feel so left out, and so envious of other people who can get out of bed and do things…I feel like this is my fault and I should be able to change it…’

Then, I used the second half of the recording to say mentoring, compassionate phrases to myself.  I found it quite difficult to come up with these phrases, they certainly didn’t flow naturally!

I found myself saying things like,

‘I’m not here to criticize – I just want to listen, and to try to understand what this is like…I’m here to help in any way I can…I’ll support you through this.’

Saying all these things was incredibly moving,  and listening back to the tape everyday has been so comforting but also very, very sad.

I’ve been sick for 15 years and this past week is the first time I’ve been able to cut through the numbness that surrounds this illness and just feel my physical sensations and the feelings I have about them.  I'm starting to realise how trapped I've been  in the beliefs that I ‘shouldn’t’ be sick, that being sick is my fault, and that acknowledging my physical symptoms is a sign of weakness.

I am starting to have some awareness of the cycle of blame.  Something bad happened (I got sick) and my instinct was to judge and blame. The judging and blaming led to more difficulties (I was numb, I couldn’t feel much at all) and I felt that the way out of this problem was to judge myself a little more (I’m such a cold person, I’m so judgmental, I’m not kind…blah blah blah). 

As the saying goes: ‘It’s heaven all the way to heaven and hell all the way to hell.’  I thought that by piling on the criticism and judgment I would ‘improve’ myself and get better; I thought it was ‘hell all the way to heaven.’  But, really it was just hell all the way down. 

Starting to feel again is painful.  Sometimes it feels as though there is an intense, white, anguish that rises up through my bones as I allow a feeling like sadness or grief  move like a wave through my body. But it also feels right, and real. I feel I’m learning to counter the instinct to judge with the mentoring voice and I can see small, but important changes.

 I woke up yesterday morning feeling exhausted.  As I lay in bed I cried, because I was so tired and it was the beginning of another long day with this illness. After about 10 minutes I stopped weeping and realized that was the first time in 15 years I had just spontaneously cried because I was sick – and not pushed my feelings down by saying something like, ‘well…it could be worse, there are people who are much worse off than you’ or ‘well, you don’t deserve to feel sad, it’s really all your fault.’ I had just allowed myself to cry for 10 whole minutes.  Quite an achievement.

On a completely different note - I posted before Christmas about doing a house portrait for my dad.  I just got it mounted onto a wooden block and had some photos taken and here's what it looks like.  I think it's quite cute!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Developing the Mentor Pt 2

Last week I wrote about a little project I was doing with a friend of mine.  She has been doing an e-mail course with Cheri Huber and one of her assignments was to teach someone else the techniques she's been learning in the course. 

My first task, which I wrote about last week, was to record myself talking about all the positive things I was doing to help my life improve, or be a bit happier.  I've been listening to this recording every day and have found that it really helps to externalise the positive, mentoring voice in my head. 

This week's task was to spend some time just thinking about who this mentor might be.  When I think 'mentor', does an image of a person come to mind?  Or many people?  When the mentor speaks, what does their voice sound like?  If the mentor isn't a person - what is it? Perhaps there's a particular feeling, or color, or sound associated with it.
All interesting stuff to muse on. 
I've been interested in Cheri Huber's work for a year or so now, so I've thought before about the qualities and persona of my mentor.  My mentor changes a bit. Often it's an older woman (modelled on some older Catholic nuns I met during my time doing volunteer work with refugees - truly inspirational women).  My other mentor 'voice' is a man of about my own age who speaks with a slow Texan drawl.
The Texan drawl bit was odd at first, but  I worked out that I liked the idea of the mentors voice speaking to me really slowly and calmly, and when I tried to imagine that the Texan drawl is what I heard!  (A bit like Owen or Luke Wilson's accents).
So, my mentor is kind, accepting, speaks slow Texan, and is either Luke Wilson or a nun.  Hmmm...kinda weird, but it works for me!
A pictorial depiction of the inside of my head. Confusing!?

Monday, January 24, 2011

It is simply necessary to love

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.

- Claude Monet -

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Developing the mentor Pt 1

A friend of mine (who also has CFS) has been doing an e-mail class with US Zen teacher Cheri Huber over the past few months. Cheri's work places a strong emphasis on developing a compassionate and kind inner-voice, which she calls a 'mentor'. 

As part of the e-mail course my friend was asked to find someone else to teach some of Cheri's practices to, focussing on the development of an inner-mentor. I am the proud little guinea-pig!  

I thought I'd blog about doing my 'assignments' (because if I blog about them it means I actually have to do them!)

My first task was to find a way of recording my voice.  I ended up just clicking on the video recorder in my laptop and recording myself speaking on video.  This way, the recordings are on my desktop and with one click I can be listening to them.  (I thought it was important to make the listening process as simple as possible, or I'd find an excuse not to do it! Like most people, I don't particularly enjoy listening to my voice on tape.)

My next task was to record myself saying all the positive, good things I was doing to support myself in my meditation and awareness practice, and all the ways I was committed to giving myself a better life. 

It was quite weird to record myself saying these things, but I came up with three minutes of affirming statements.  The recording says things like: 'I'm really committed to making my life better and giving myself the best chance of getting well and finding peace.  Even when my meditation practice is really difficult and I feel like I'm getting no-where I still keep going.  I'm committed to spending money on books and on my psychologist.  I'm committed to travelling to the monastery whenever I can.  I really appreciate the parts of myself that are persistent and focussed and creative - because these parts help me just to keep going in this practice.' 

Now my task is to listen to this recording every day.  As I listen I silently say, 'Yes, that's true' after every statement I make on the recording. 

It is very interesting to listen to what the critical voices in my head say in response.  'No - it's NOT true!' they say. 'If you carry on like this, just focussing on positive things, you'll never get well!' 

I try not to engage with these voices, but just bring myself back to the recording and my silent repetition of 'Yes, that's true.'

I've been listening to Cheri Huber's radio programs for a year now and have noticed she often recommends people record themselves speaking.  Until I did it myself I wondered why, but now I see why it's so powerful. 

I have a 'voice' running continuously in my head, and for 99% of the time it's a voice of judgement, and comparison.  Having another 'voice' that I listen to on my laptop makes it clear that what is going on in my head is just one opinion.  It's not necessarily correct and I can learn to develop this kind, mentoring voice and then have a choice about what I listen to. 

All very interesting! I'll let you know about the next assignment when I do it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Self-Compassion and Levine Talks

This blog has many lovely readers and one just e-mailed me a link to a website I thought you might like. It's called self-compassion.org and is a collection of writings, MP3 downloads, and exercises all focused on self-compassion. 

There's even a test you can take called 'How Self-Compassionate Are You?' (I'll admit I'm a little scared to take that test!)

There are some lovely resources on the site, including some written self-compassion exercises that I'm going to try.  The website's author, Kristen Neff,  is a US professor who is also a Buddhist and has a book about self-compassion coming out in April.

Another website I discovered recently is Levine Talks - which features audio by the wonderful teachers and writers Steven and Ondrea Levine who spent many years working with sick and dying people. This website has been set up to give some financial support to Steven and Ondrea who are now retired and both quite unwell - so it's not free.  (But, at $10 a month it's not crazy expensive either!)

Hope you are all enjoying the first days of the New Year (and not snowed under!)

Mekong River view taken opposite my guesthouse in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

New Year's greetings!  I hope this coming year is one of peace, happiness and as much health as is possible.

After living it up over Christmas I am now in an energy slump. (Mojitos at midnight?  Never a good idea...)

But, I do have a new haircut to console myself with as I spend the next few weeks recovering in bed.  One of my sisters, Brigid, (in the top photo with stripy top) is a wizz with a pair of scissor and she and my Irish cousin gave me an asymmetrical new hair-do. 

Reactions from other family members were mixed.  Well, actually, they weren't mixed at all. One sister said, 'It looks like someone has hacked at the back of your head with a hatchet.'  And the other said, 'Our hair grows symmetrically for a reason, God makes it that way.' (I asked her when she'd last seen a symmetrical tree).

My other news is that the little print I commissioned as arrived and it is gorgeous and so detailed. 

I love the way Plamena wrapped the text around the image. 

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