An invitation to share your thoughts

writing meditationI do a daily writing meditation each morning. First I chose a passage or two from one of my daily readers or other 12-step literature and re-type the passages so that they sink in. Then I write my own responses. I have done this over many years and sometimes I like to go back and read what I wrote about the passages in prior years.

This year I’ve decided to start afresh and just write in the present without plowing through the past, thinking of it only as the compost that allows me to grow and bloom in the present and not feeling it necessary to stick my hands back into the muck.

In the tradition of anonymity I will not cite which 12-step program the following passages are drawn from, yet fully acknowledge that they are the published words of others and not mine.

I share them today because they have special meaning to me and so encapsulate the struggles I have had since childhood adjusting to this imperfect world we all live in. I’ve highlighted the thought in each that most struck a chord with me.

share thoughtsPerhaps you would care to share your thoughts if one of these passages has special meaning for you.

Passage One
choicesLive and Let Live reminds us that we cannot control the actions or decisions of other people. If someone chooses to end a relationship with us, that is their right. If we’ve ascribed to the belief that the success or failure of our relationships is solely our responsibility, we may blame ourselves when a relationship ends. We can remind ourselves that each person played a part in the relationship. If a relationship ends, that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily at fault. Whether or not someone wants to be around us, we are still worthy of love and respect. Just because we don’t choose to end a relationship doesn’t mean we don’t have any choices. We still have the power to choose how we will respond. In the past, we have punished ourselves or assumed our role as victims. We don’t have to see ourselves as victims anymore. Today we can choose to be around healthy people who want to be around us.

Passage Two
pain teachesDo not consider painful what is good for you. My reaction to things that were “good for me” was one of pain. Today I know that pain puts me in touch with what I need—something from which I have cut myself off in blind obedience to habit. What pain tells me today is that I have to change. I am willing to examine old ways of thinking.

Passage Three
maturity-is-the-ability-to-joyfully-live-in-an-imperfect-world-quote-1People have disappointed you, hurt you, and let you down by being imperfect. Can you let go of the idea of perfection and accept reality, loving people just the way they are? Love the imperfect people around you. Love your imperfect self and your imperfect world. For if you cannot love life the way it is, you will suffer from eternal loneliness. We all live in an imperfect world, surrounded by imperfect people. The ability to love yourself and those around you is a gift from God that enables you to live fully, bravely, and meaningfully in an imperfect world.

Practice patience

Patience-allows-life-time-to-fall-in-place.8x10unexpected pain
a moment of inattention
the fall that only “old” people have
forcing me to face my age
my vulnerability

thrust instantly into
helplessness
incapacity
realizing I can’t just
pick up a fork
wash that other arm
reach for the remote
open the fridge
searing pain stops me short

cracked eggforcing my brain to remember
I will heal
others won’t
I can use the other arm
others can’t
I can work from home
others have lost their jobs to illness
I can count my successes
others will cave to failure
I can ask for help
others feel too defeated
I have family who have stepped up graciously
others are truly alone

I can see the benefits—
mindfulness in abundance
a window into aging
full evidence of being loved
acceptance of life as it is

attitudes and habits to carry
into wellness
when it comes
and it will come

just for today
practice patience

My Achy-Breaky Revelations

#10 – That broken bones bleed…a lot!

#9 – That all that blood slides down inside your arm leaving behind a gruesome kaleidoscope of black and blue and green and yellow bruises.

#8 – That independent, competent, know-it-all women with PhD’s don’t fare well when they suddenly become completely incapacitated and helpless. They turn whiny and weepy.

#7 – That I’m glad I didn’t do in my son those first weeks of his life when he was so colicky and I was up all night because at 43 he is a Godsend who scraped me up off the floor of the gym with his firefighter friends, stood by me in the ED, kept me from getting kicked off a flight by the TSA (“Look at me, Mom, don’t say one more word.”), and helped me move from pillar to post.

#6 – That my daughter is a whiz at multi-tasking: keeping us all afloat, packing, parenting, teaching, and organizing our big move two weeks after my injury.

#5 – That my son and daughter both picked amazing mates that have been equally helpful and caring through all of this, going way above and beyond the call of duty.

#4 – That my grandchildren remained their remarkable selves through this entire ordeal, Ryan winning his second scholarship to WWDC, Sam getting his Brown Belt and starring in the Middle School musical (after which I had my fatal fall), Aveline rehearsing for her starring role in Rapunzel, and Estelle being her best three-year-old self.

#3 – That Facebook messages and prayers of support can mean everything along with phone calls and visits.

#2 – That the above advice on FB is probably more important than I thought it was.

#1 – That God is good and is enabling me to heal, to laugh more, to wince less, and to begin to love sleeping nearly upright on the couch.

 

Valentine’s revisited 2016

Lonely-heart-miss-you-3D-wide-300x250now is the only time to
create a state of mind
a joyful moment
that will carry me to the next hour
travel with me though my morning
thread its way into my afternoon
trickle down to my tomorrow
spill over into next month
next year
to color all the days of my life

I always fantasized that that joyful moment
the one that becomes a contented hour
then turns into an afternoon of delight
could only come if my hand were held
my face caressed
my yearnings satisfied
by a man—a mythic prince.

but my prince is not here
not present in this valentine moment of mine
he is off smiling that shy little-boy smile
the one with the dimples and the heavy-lidded longing
for someone else
or so I imagine.

I could as easily imagine
that he is asleep at this moment
or lost in the shadow of a frown
perhaps his jaw is clenched in anger
his lower lip quivering with grief

yes…he could be sharing a blissful moment
with the woman he now loves
but they could also be sitting apart
hearts aching
in a dark place edged with uncertainty

will our paths ever cross again
will we need or desire each other if that moment comes

silly questions that beg to be left unanswered
I have only now
only this valentine moment of mine

what shall I do with my moment on this red-letter day
I will breathe in my solitary pain
I will breathe in the pain of all those who find themselves alone this day
I will breathe in the poison of lost dreams—mine, theirs
I will breathe out a measure of loving kindness,
that soft breath out will soothe me
and flow out in endless ripples
to comfort all the solitary souls

heartscould a moment in a lover’s embrace
with its uncertainty
its impermanence
ever produce such a melody
such a true and clear harmony
as the symphony of a thousand lonely hearts
connected by a single breath out

An ode to life as it is

cheeriosticking items off my list
picking popcorn from aging teeth
polishing up health policies
affecting thousands
popping cheerios into hungry mouths
cleaning up spilt milk
plopping exhausted on my couch

 

cameliasfinding joy in life as it is
winter camellias in rosy bloom
carried to school in pudgy hands
a warm sun drying sidewalks slippery from drenching rain
friends doing more than expected
kind words here
good thoughts when needed
even when not

crocusthankful for hints of prayers answered
before they are even lifted up
a new relationship springing up
like a purple crocus breaking through
freezing snow
bringing forth the hope of
spring as my life slides into
its own winter

wisdomallowing each moment to elapse
with no regret and
few expectations
asking only for
willingness
a sense of wonder and
wisdom

Conversations with people who are not there

imaginary friend on benchmy life has been spent having
endless conversations with people
who are not there

redoing real conversations that
went wrong
rehearsing future conversations that
won’t happen
at least not with those particular words
futilely expecting others to say words
I have put on their lips

making up both sides
as I do when writing fiction
where outcomes are almost always
in favor of the protagonist
that fascinating character who is
some better version of me

Imaginary friendfearful of real conversations
the shy five-year-old inside
still trembling in fear
in a corner of my PhD mind

trying to make life
turn out my way
believing I can control others by
my thoughts
just as nuts as those meth addicts I saw
who thought the FBI was talking to them on
their television
and I’m the helper
the sane one?

what if I refuse to have these
conversations with people
who are not there

I feel as though a big sink hole will
open at my feet
making life even more
treacherous
tentative
troubled

some of these conversations are filled with
dread or desperation
some are flights of fantasy
those even worse because
my “reel” life
will never measure up to
my “real” life

Illlustration of two children talking

stop bingeing on junk thoughts
build courage to have
real conversations with
real people
keep the “reel” conversations
in the can

just for today
no conversations with people
who are not there

Riding the my-will train

riding the my-will train to a
destination of my own creation
located nowhere on reality’s map
rocketing down the wrong track
hoping to pull a magical switch and
end up where I want to be

train stopwhat I need to do is pull the emergency cord
bring this insanity to a lurching stop
would I ride a real train to the
wrong destination
again and again
year after year
bewildered when I arrive
finding no welcoming arms
no expected outcomes

yank on that red cord
tell the conductor I want off
run to the station master
ask for direction from the one in charge
who knows all the best routes
including the one created just for me
take a few short trips at
his suggestion
regard it as an adventure not a
chore

smokey trainget off the train to self-destruction
head safely in a new direction
even if I have to wait in the station
be patient and let that
smoky false desire chug on by

read the wisdom of ancient passengers
scratched upon the walls
plato’s advice that
time will change and even
reverse many of your present opinions
refrain, therefore, awhile from
setting yourself up as a judge of the
highest matters

or elizabeth barrett browning
whom you greatly admire
a woman of letters and love who scribbled
God’s gifts put a man’s best dreams to shame

Cry for Paris

Parisshock flashes through a clear Berkeley sky
bolts of heart-splitting lightning
claps of solemn thunder
clouds shedding
red, blue, and white tears

my grandkids chatter away in French
on way to their French school
unaware of French brothers and sisters
who will not see their parents tonight
or any night
my Kia Soul reverberates in sync with
ambulances speeding down the
Champs-élysées
a planned six weeks in France next summer
becomes a question mark

should we let terror steal
joy from our lives or should we
stand in solidarity and
let our fallen towers give courage to the
cafes, stadiums, and music halls of Paris

L’après-midi d’un étudiant de la vie

berkeley mealUnexpected adventures sometimes lie close at hand. My first intention was to follow a good friend’s advice and check out the North Berkeley Senior Center. I had resisted crossing that threshold into senior-dom but circled the blocks north of UC Berkeley campus and found a parking spot, duly registered, and even ventured into the dining room filled with a couple hundred seniors waiting patiently for a nutritious, if not gourmet, lunch for the bargain price of $3. I headed for a table occupied by three more spritely-looking women only to discover that they were all speaking Turkish, having immigrated to the US in recent years. The one English speaker was kind enough to engage me in conversation and generously offered me the homemade Middle Eastern salad she had brought to share with her friends. These women knew how spice up life.

IMG_1099 At 12:30 sharp, I headed upstairs to the Center’s library, stocked by a generation that knows good literature and history, to what was advertised as the “Mixed Poets” class. No one arrived. So instead, I selected a slim volume in French, deciding that I could improve my French with a bit of translating. But I needed to find a French-English dictionary (forgetting that my iPhone had a translating app). Where to go? I drove back over to campus and headed for the Bancroft Library reading room with its thousands of reference volumes at hand. Passing under Sather Gate, I was transported back to 1963 and my sophomore year of college. I passed Wheeler Hall where I had taken a French literature class. Actually, I had only stepped into the classroom one time but had dutifully read Madame Bovary and the other selections on my own. To my dismay I discovered that 50% of the final would be based on class lectures. So I had gone to the Bancroft library, grabbed the Encyclopedia Britannica volume on French literature, boned up and passed the class with a B+. I walked passed other buildings where classes had been missed, phony excuses for non-attendance made up, and last minute cramming had taken place. Once ensconced in the beautiful vaulted reading room, I spent a few minutes using my newly found dictionary to translate the opening pages of what appeared to be a mystery novel, but then remembered my iPhone and took the easier route.

IMG_1094

Robert insisted I take only a photo of the hands of the maker.

But the most fascinating part of my L’Aprèsmidi d’un étudiant de la vie came before I even reached campus. Trolling Telegraph Avenue for a pair of earrings, my eye caught the table of an elderly (of course, I, myself, am not elderly!) gentleman, named Robert, who instantly engaged me with his bright mind, congeniality, and Irish gift of gab. A fascinating half-hour conversation ensued. He gushed that I looked like an opera singer, hopefully based on my flow-y outfit and not those extra pounds I had gained in Hawaii. I said I was a poet and he regaled me with his adventure about hitchhiking with the help of a couple of long-haul truckers from New York to California to hear Susan Sontag, the  radical American writer and filmmaker, teacher and political activist, read her poetry. Somehow Willie Brown got woven into the conversation. He talked about family, how only one granddaughter seems interested in his welfare, and where he lived and insisted I visit the next 2nd Friday Art Walk in Vallejo where he displays his wares.

IMG_1100Before our conversation ended, he insisted I take one of his authentic Gaelic bracelets as a gift. I thought of going to the ATM to get cash to pay him but then decided that only gracious acceptance was called for. The real gift was allowing myself an afternoon of being open to the small miracles that come our way when we keep our eyes, hearts, and minds open to what life offers. And, yes, I’ll return that French novel to the Senior Center library after I finish the translation. If I learn enough French, I’ll be able to understand what my three and five-year-old granddaughters are whispering about in the back seat of my car on the way to their French school.

 

Does rejection really hurt?

broken heartWe talk about having a “broken” heart or “wounded” spirit or “hurt” feelings when we experience a significant rejection in love. Why do we use words that are the same as those that describe physical pain or injury? Is looking at Facebook photos of your ex with his new love equivalent to spilling a scalding hot cup of coffee on your lap?

My inquiring psychologist side decided to research this question, and I came across a study published in 2011 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. A group of investigators compared brain activity generated by intense personal rejection with brain activity caused by intense physical pain.

First they explained that pain is registered in two different areas of the brain. The affective quality of pain (“That’s unpleasant!) is registered in the dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC) and the anterior insula (AI). This area also is activated by a feeling of social rejection. But the real bodily or somatic perception of pain (“Ouch!”—the brain part that makes you wince and reach for the vicodin when you are physically injured) is registered in the secondary somatosensory cortex (S2) and the dorsal posterior insula (dpINS), which we wouldn’t expect to be affected by purely emotional experiences.

Their research method was simple. Take 40 people who felt intensely rejected as a result of recently experiencing an unwanted romantic relationship break-up and give them two tasks. The Social Rejection task was to look at either a head-shot of the ex-lover and think about their specific rejection experience or a head-shot of a friend of the same sex as the lover and think of a recent positive experience with him or her. The Physical Pain task was a Hot trial with a noxious thermal stimulation delivered to their arm or a Warm trial with a non-noxious thermal stimulation on their arm. The subjects rated their “feeling” experience on each task on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the most painful. Their brains responses were studied with a functional MRI to see what brain areas were activated during each of these four trials.

So here is the surprising outcome. The ratings for both the Social Rejection and the Physical Pain tasks were equivalent with severe physical pain and intense rejection rated exactly the same. And, as expected, both the head shot of the ex-lover and the Hot trial produced activity in the affective or “That’s unpleasant!” part of the brain. But, both also produced activity in the “Ouch!” part of the brain. Conclusion: intense rejection is actually perceived as physical pain by our brains.

It is interesting that the “Ouch!” part of the brain is also activated if we observe another person experiencing physical pain. The researchers thought it would be interesting to explore if, for example, a parent watches their child experience rejection if this would also register in the “Ouch!” part of the brain.

So, what does this mean in terms of recovery from a “broken heart”? First, we need to be kind to ourselves and know that our experience is real and, in fact, is equivalent in terms of our brain’s response to a very severe physical injury. And, as the study showed, we can re-experience that level of pain by simply looking at a photo of the ex-lover or thinking about the rejection experience. Intense ongoing physical pain can interrupt sleep, create or worsen depression, and even lead to suicidal thoughts and plans. It can disrupt our relations with our family and co-workers. Chronic pain sufferers tend to reach for the alcoholic drink, the vicodin bottle, illicit drugs, or gallons of ice cream to take the edge off their pain. So do those experiencing intense rejection.

What are the solutions? We can look to how we help chronic pain patients. Part of my current job as the Mental Health Clinical Director for a large health plan is to develop strategies to help our members manage pain safely. We recommend therapists who can teach them how to look at their pain differently. How to think about “managing” their pain instead of getting rid of it. We offer them relaxation and meditation skills to lessen the pain without turning to addictive drugs, even the prescribed ones. Did you know that there is a opioid epidemic in our country—that the death rate from opioid overdoses is skyrocketing even when people are taking correctly prescribed doses? I recently put two and two together and figured out why I headed for the codeine bottle (prescribed to me as a teen for menstrual pain) when I didn’t get asked to a school dance. It actually worked to soften the pain of rejection.

A recent WordPress blog that I follow at thefallingthoughts.com entitled BREAKUP 2 MAKE-UP included many other helpful reframes for those suffering the pain of rejection. I particularly liked the bit about crying your eyes out but the next day don’t repeat the same thing—after all, we don’t laugh at the same joke twice. I also enjoyed the advice that everything has an expiration date—even relationships. I wouldn’t eat a can of spoiled tuna. I look at the expiration date and throw it into the garbage. When life reminds me of a long-expired relationship, why in the world would I want to dig in, thinking it will taste okay? It’s actually going to turn out about the same as holding on to resentments. It’s like taking poison and hoping the other person will die.

Ethan Kross, March G. Berman, Walter Mischel, Edward E. Smith, and Tor D. Wager. Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011, April 12, Volume 108(15), pps. 6270-6275