When the Absence of Pain Feels Like a Presence

A little over a year ago, I had my gallbladder out, with happy assurances that the pain that had been interrupting my sleep and my dinners would disappear. But it didn’t. And every night, I would wake up at 4:00 AM in pain.

But I’m a Reiki practitioner, right? I should be able to fix this! I mean, if I can cure my husband’s glaucoma, surely I can take care of a simple belly pain? So last Tuesday, after high-fiving all the way home from the eye clinic (seriously, the pressure in his eye went from 26 down to 18 using nothing but Reiki and how incredibly cool is that????) I thought, dammit, it’s time. I managed to find the right kind of magic and my belly pain disappeared. Yay me, right?

Well, sort of. No more pain. And I was still waking up at 4:00 AM, just as I had been doing for the past two years or so.
At first I thought it was the pain waking me up. But I took a deep breath and, no, it wasn’t there. So I just breathed into whatever it was that was waking me up and eventually relaxed and fell back to sleep.

And I think this experience is common to most people who lose a source of pain. It goes away and leaves behind a space and we don’t really know what to make of that space. So we rush to fill it.

I think this is why a recovering addict has a relapse. Why someone who finally leaves a bad marriage enters into another one. Or, heaven help me, leaves a crap job only to sign up for another (It took awhile, but I think I’ve left that one behind).
Awareness is huge. Knowing that you will feel the absence of pain as a space. Not calling that space emptiness, or worse, a hole. Holding it open, just breathing into it and allowing yourself the time you need to see what it develops into. Being kind to yourself if you have filled it with more pain. It is, after all what we’re used to. It can feel so right.

We set our clocks back on the weekend. And since my body can’t tell the difference between one hour and two, I’ve started waking up at 6:00, which is really close to snuggle time. And eventually the dog wants in and then he’ll need to be taken out for the first walk of the day and any day that starts with the phrase, “Ruffles, walkies?” is pretty much guaranteed to be a good day.

Breathe. Hold the space open. Be kind to yourself.

Relax. You’re Fine. Just The Way You Are.

A few weeks ago, Karen Schulman Dupuis invited me to take part in this year’s Ignite Stratford.   So of course I said yes.   The title of my presentation was, yes, “Relax. You’re Fine.  Just The Way You Are.”  A few people have asked me to post the transcript here, which, hey! Easy blog post!  The videos will be up on YouTube soon and I’ll post that as well, for those of you who weren’t able to make it out last Thursday night.

Many years ago, while browsing through the Self-Help section of my favourite bookstore, I thought that if I ever wrote one of those things, I’d call it “Relax. You’re Fine. Just the Way You Are.” 

Inside would be blank…

And then someone invented blogging, so I did that instead.

As I look around, I am always amazed and saddened by how dissatisfied we are with ourselves.  How we enact Get Tough policies against ourselves on an almost daily basis, thinking we need to lose more weight, get more organized, be more successful.  We think we need to become perfect when, really?  There’s nothing wrong with who we are!

We are, all of us, miraculous.

Alive.

Feeling.

Throbbing with life.

Every single one of us is completely unique.  Since the dawn of time, there has never been anyone quite like you.  And there will never be another you, ever again.

I say, let that shine and to hell with those last ten pounds!

As a Reiki Practitioner, I get to touch people.  And the variety of proportions of people is amazing.  Upper arm to lower, arms to legs, left side to right, no one matches.  No one is “in proportion”. We are all ourselves – a unique and miraculous measure of humanity.

And in the face of that, notions of correctness and perfection go right out the window.

Perfection and definitions of perfection are an arrogant and frightened attempt to corral the wild wonderfulness of life into something manageable. 

Give it up! 

Let the wildness and the wonder of it wash over you.  Wallow in it.  Drink it up and understand that perfection is everywhere.  Yes, even in you!

Whether you believe that humanity evolved over time or that we each come straight from the hand of God, isn’t it strange, after your Mother’s been through 97 hours of labour to have you, to then look at her and all the ancestors who formed you and say, “No.  It’s OK.  I can fix this!”

It’s like looking at a sunset and telling it to try a little less orange next time.  Or telling a robin that his song is too high-pitched.  Or telling flower that it needs to drop a few petals.

YOU DON’T NEED FIXING!

There are so many better things you can do with your time,  your limited, once in all eternity time on this earth.

This is your trip of a lifetime.  Do you seriously want to spend it whipping yourself into shape?  Forcing yourself up that ladder of success?  Feeling bad about yourself?

There are so many more things to see and experience.  Stuff to try.  Trouble to get into. 

Big crazy projects to launch, just to see where they go. 

Friends to discover and cherish.

There are babies to snuggle. 

Books to read and wine to drink. 

Ideas to follow down strange and wonderful tangents for no productive reason, but because they’re interesting.

There are old people to learn from and love (and to mourn when they’re gone).

And dinners to share, during which you tell the stories of the people you’ve known and the ideas you’ve had.

I’m not saying to never make improvements or to let everything slide – humanity jsut isn’t built that way.

Lord knows, I’m a huge improver!  I like to keep my house on the cleaner and tidier end of the spectrum.  It suits me.

Eating healthy food and getting enough sleep lets me function better so that I can really enjoy the big adventures when they come along.

And, when I’m out walking my dog, I have been known to break into the occasional light run.  It feels good and Ruffles loves it.

So jog if you want to.  Cut out the junk food if it makes you feel better.  Give to a good cause if you really believe in it.

But please, do these things because they bring you joy, because they’re part of the wonderful banquet of life and not because you think you’re loathesome.  Because you’re not.

Believe me.  You can relax.  Because you’re fine.  You are SO fine. 

Just the way you are.

Love Unexpected Part Deux

I’ve spoken before about friendships that happen when you least expect them.  And now I have another story to tell.

As we were rolling into summer, a friend called and asked if I could take over dog-walking duties for her.  I had walked Ruffles, the dog in question, a few times before.  Lynne needed to head out west to see her parents and I had not much going on so I said sure!

The plan was that I would walk him for two weekends and then he would move to a new home while his then-owner got ready to move into a nursing home.  That was the plan.

Two weeks turned into another two and then an on-going commitment.  Weekends only became weekdays as well for awhile.  And we decided to open a bakery.

As we rolled into September, I started to panic a little.  There are two major food festivals here that we need participate in.  Lynne’s parents needed more help and more time than she had reckoned and Ruffles still needed his walk. 

One day, his owner, Pat, started talking about her plans for the future, her need to stop living on her own.  “I’m a hazard!” she’d say with a grin as she shuffled around her kitchen.  Living alone was getting harder and harder for her.  I worried that she’d fall.   As gently as I could, I asked what her plans were for Ruffles when a space became available for her.  Silence and then, very quietly, “He’ll have to be euthanized.”

“How sad will that make you?”

“I try not to think about it.”

I wrestled with my conscience for a moment.  Alan and I had sort of talked about it.  But in all the work setting up the bakery, we hadn’t actually reached a conclusion.

Shit.

“We can’t let that happen.” I told her.  “If you don’t have anyone else when the time comes, we’ll take him.”

You know when they say, a weight lifted from someone’s shoulders?  I literally saw it happen.  That woman was three inches taller when I left that day.

And how cool is it that when I said to Alan, “I told Pat we’ll take Ruffles when the time comes.  That’s OK, right?” he just said, “Yuh.”

Well, Pat’s space came available and on Saturday night, we became dog people.  The timing is terrible.  Huge food festival this weekend.  Tons of work and exhaustion.  Plus we leave for Paris on Monday, a trip we planned ages ago. (Thank goodness for our friend Maxine who will take him in, love him up and spoil him rotten while we’re away.)  But you know what?  Now that he’s here, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I wake up in the morning to his little cartoon face smiling at me, wondering if it’s time for a walk or a cuddle.  He hangs out in the kitchen when Alan’s cooking.  He makes friends wherever he goes.

We never planned to get a dog, he just wandered into our life and needed us. 

And you know, some of the best decisions I’ve ever made were ill-considered and badly thought through, made in a moment of clarity when something deep inside of me just said “Do this!” and all the sensible parts of me  smacked their foreheads and gave up. 

How about you?  Do you plan your life carefully and sensibly or do you follow that anarchic voice inside?  And which do you prefer?

Never Too Old

Just before we opened the bakery, while Alan and I were in the middle of set-up mayhem, we took a little side-trip to the beach with a friend of ours.  We brought some wine and some cheese and crackers.  We wiggled our toes in the sand.  We dreamed dreams and schemed schemes.  It was lovely.  And as we were sitting there, watching the sun creep down toward the horizon, the thought floated through my head that, how cool is it that we still get to do this?  Because not one of us will see 4o again.  And, while it’s not unusual for a bunch of middle-aged types to sit on beaches, it is unusual for people to continue to dream and to risk making those dreams real.

See, we have this idea that there’s a time for that sort of thing and that after awhile you have to stop.  You get to a certain age and whatever it is you’re doing, whatever your stage in life, well, it just has to stay that way forever and everandever until you die.  We all, I think, have a number in our heads after which we think we’re just supposed to quit dreaming.

But you know what?  It’s an illusion.  A lie we tell ourselves.  An excuse, maybe, so we don’t have to keep on scaring ourselves with these outlandish hopes and risks.  Or maybe we’re afraid of looking foolish and it’s one thing to look foolish when you’re young but something entirely different to look foolish AT YOUR AGE.

And so some of us stop.  We settle down, we stay safe.  We save for a secure retirement.  We stop dreaming.  We start to grow old.

Or.

We can continue to take chances.  We can acknowledge that time, yes, is moving on and we are getting older.  I’m turning 5o on Thursday.  I just became a great aunt for the ninth time.   Alan and I also just spent a helluva lot of money that we didn’t actually have to open a new business.  Big risk.  We may never retire.  We don’t care.  We feel more alive, excited and happy these days than we have in a really long time.

The risks are worth it. 

Alan and I aren’t the only ones taking chances.  A friend of mine got married for the first time at the age of 70.   They had two happy years together and then her husband died of esophogeal cancer.   She misses him terribly but she doesn’t regret a thing.  And how cool is that? 

When my siblings were young, my parents signed them (and eventually me) up for piano lessons.  My Dad listened to us practising, day after day after day and one day asked the piano teacher if she ever taught adults.  She was happy to take him on as a student.  My sister and I were secretly horrified.  The man was 4o, for heaven’s sake.  In our childish view of things, 4o was practically dead and why on earth was he bothering to learn to play piano soooo late in life?  Dad lived to be 81.  Played his piano right up until he died and loved every minute of it.

When we moved in with her, we talked my mother into replacing her uncomfortable mattress with something more padded and cosy.  We had a discussion in the furniture store.  Mum felt that it was ridiculous to buy a new mattress at this stage in her life.  It would be a waste of money.  I said, “Look, if they deliver it and you get even one good night’s sleep on it, it will be totally worth it.”    She had four months in the new bed before she had to move into a nursing home.  Four months of comfy, restful sleeps.  Totally worth it.

I’ve been trying to get my thoughts about this all nice and tight and coherent.  It’s not going to work.  I’m sleep-deprived and distracted by the many demands of a new business.  I’ve left it so long that some of you lovelies have started to worry.   Sorry about that, but thank you for your kind messages.  You’ve warmed my heart.  So  I’ll just have to put this out there, a little random and rough around the edges and hope that you can get what I’m trying to say. 

Dream big dreams.  And never ever stop.  Because it’s the cessation of dreaming that makes us old.  It’s having nothing to look forward to that shortens our lives.   Life is meant to be risky.  It’s supposed to be scary and exciting and breathtaking.  Even at your age.

***I was very flattered when Maureen Argon asked if she could interview me and take some pictures for Spotlight Toronto.  The resulting post flattered me even more.  Thanks Maureen!***

Celebrating Downie Street Bakehouse

You’ve all been so wonderfully patient over the last little while as Alan and I got the bakery ready to launch.  It’s been a long process, full of blog-fodder, which I will be writing about over the next few weeks.

We have just now passed our final inspections.  Alan is firing up the mixer as we speak and we will be open for business at 8:00 AM tomorrow.  If anyone’s from London, Ontario, you can find him at the Western Fair Farmer’s Market.  I will be dusting off my super-hero persona – Shop Girl – and running things at the bakery.

Thank you so much for your patience, support and encouragement. 

Semi-regular posting will resume fairly soon.

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