My lack of ambition

IMG_0325Ambition

noun

a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work : her ambition was to become a model | he achieved his ambition of making a fortune.

• desire and determination to achieve success : life offered few opportunities for young people with ambition.

ORIGIN Middle English : via Old French from Latin ambitio(n-), from ambire ‘go around (canvassing for votes).’ 

What is ambition?  Last week, my friend said she was struck that my partner and I accept each other’s seeming lack of ambition.  What does she mean?  Should I be offended?  My friend comes from a very accomplished family and has siblings and friends who have high status jobs and high salaries, its true, but I assumed she was commenting more on our acceptance of each other and our humble material status (I’ll have to clarify with her for sure).

Her comment elicited some interesting thought on my part.  Ambition . . . I think my partner and I have different organizing structures than much of society.  In a way we are dedicated to a lifestyle and to values of simplicity.  To gentle vocation . . . He is a carpenter who likes to build things, fish, mountain bike, and hike.  He is devotedd to me, to his children, and to his parents.  I am committed to a mission, in a sense, to help individuals and communities be healthier in mind and body.   Money therefore, is not the main motivator for either member of this couple.

So no, we do not have big, high-paying jobs.  We aspire to earn more money, but we’d like to do so by doing what we do better.   In the meantime we are happy.  We enjoy our relationship and lifestyle immensely, and we love living near the Rocky Mountains.  We have good family relations, good friends, good food, and time for books and building fly rods and writing.  We spend as much time as we can outdoors, and we consider ourselves richly blessed.

If ambition in our society connotes success, than I want to ask what success entails.  I identify with passion, with the development of excellence, with innovation, and with developing work, art, or vocation with enthusiasm and integrity.  Ambition can easily become merged with destructive ends, or it can be clouded by insecurity or the undue influence of others.  Consider the instance of the woman who becomes a doctor because her parents want her to while she wants to be an English professor.

So I don’t really identify with the concept of ambition.  Do I have drive?  Yes, I feel an enduring and deep motivation to investigate what it means to be healthy in mind and body, to live from spirit and humble inquiry into what spirit means.  Do I work hard and persist?  I think I do:  I work hard to integrate yoga into healthcare, and I challenge myself to work with others, learn from others, about what they need to be healthy, what helps and hinders.  I explore models of health and mental healthcare.  I keep writing and stirring up conversation on the issue.

I do relate to ambition more in the original roots of the concept, “to go around [canvassing for votes].”  I travel about, looking for like minded people, listening to people struggling with illness and pain, investigating organizations that were set up to help but may or may not be.  I read history and Eastern philosophy and explore various healing arts to learn more about where we came from, about our imbalanced institutions and professions and what might be missing.  I work in different institutions to learn when I am too idealistic and to compare notes with others.

What a different meaning the word ambition had originally.  The current meaning is one I relate to in this sense that I have of drive, but I am wary of how distorted, or corrupt it can become.  My driving question is, How do I live this one life that I have?  What do my head and heart say?  How does my body want to engage?  What makes me a better person, more present?

I want to be present, internally motivated, a healing presence.  I love this life.  I want children to grow up being honored and feeling free to follow their passions and to align those passions with their ambition rather than living a distorted or destructive sense of the term.  I want to enjoy my connection to the earth and to my loved ones.  I want to create and share.

You see, my friend’s comment made me think of lifestyle and motivation, but it also lead me to the idea of archetypes.  My partner is an artisan, and I also see him as a “husband” in the old sense of the word:  a master of the home who can construct the hearth, build the fire, feed his family, cultivate a garden, fish the streams and care for the earth.  What does a man like him do with ambition and pressure to succeed in the material world defined by the current version of Western civilization?  From my perspective, he is a companion, in the archetypal and practical sense.   Me?  Perhaps I am a rebel, visionary, or storyteller:  I am a person seeking to bring deeper wisdom to our society and our healthcare system.

It seems to me that once you touch into these archetypal energies, once you think of a life unfolding, ambition can show itself to be misguided energy.  For me the intrinsic motivation is the gem of a life, something more like the idea of the “daemon,” or forces of nature, or the gods themselves guiding us strongly and surely and shaping our outer life.  A deep and driving force inside us, something ambition, fear, and conformity can stifle.

Spiral staircases and old friends

IMG_0914“. . . in my own life, I seemed to be going round and round and round, making the same mistakes, having the same failures, the same experiences – and seeming to make no headway. But in fact, even though you’re going round and round, you are going upward. You are moving towards up, as I hope, towards the light or in the labyrinth, into the center of yourself.”

Karen Armstrong, in an interview with Bill Moyers about her book, The Spiral Staircase.

The religion writer Karen Armstrong called her memoir The Spiral Staircase, a phrase from a T.S. Eliot poem called “Ash Wednesday.”  I love the reference, because I have had the experience many times of revisiting situations and making the same mistakes, but I do see progress.

Armstrong’s book came to mind two weeks ago when I reconnected with an old college friend.  Marlene called me and we talked for an hour.  Afterwards I felt like I took a strong shot of déjà vu, some kind of elixir that coursed through me like adrenaline.  I had flashbacks to our young selves, and I saw a clear continuity to my meandering path.  I noticed an enduring thread in each of our worklives.

Marlene and I caught up with family, work, health, etc., but we also caught up with a seed we both contained as young women, an inquiry into how people heal and into our own relationship with healing.  Each of us was looking for something missing from healthcare as we knew it.

In college we could not yet articulate what we were after, but we’d begun our search.   Marlene was clearer at the time, and she worked harder, studying chemistry, organic chemistry, nutrition, spending hours in labs.  I dabbled in many subjects, for a while pursuing a “liberal arts” major with concentrations in biology, psychology, and English subjects.  Psychology made me squirm with discomfort, while literature taught me more about human beings, so I switched to English with a minor in biology.   Marlene focused on nutrition studies while I looked into journalism, and after college we moved away from each other:  After we married we didn’t talk for twenty years.

Marlene worked in dietetics (which ultimately frustrated her), then entered chiropractic school and private practice.  I worked at a hospital as a neuropsychology tech and studied cosmologies, philosophies, and Jungian psychology, later becoming a health writer and yoga therapist.  We both discovered how very different our emerging conceptions of healing were from most of the world’s, and we continued our studies through reading and workshops and mentorships.

Our recent conversation revealed some very similar conclusions about health.  We have come to believe that healing involves so much more than a specific modality, nutritional approach, or medical treatment.  We found that our own illnesses and recoveries required deep introspection, prayer, withdrawal from everyday life and its values, connection with nature, and a transformation in our physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual habits and ways of being.

Marlene experienced fibromyalgia, then breast cancer.  A long-time health fanatic, she was riddled with pain from fibromyalgia and looked to her emotional life and spiritual faith to heal.  Through cancer she faced intense fear and physical discomfort, again facing her own makeup and calling on her faith as well as a strong sense of humor.  Her tumor, with the help of chemotherapy, shrank to nothing.

I studied yoga therapy and ayurveda, yoga psychology, and body-oriented psychotherapy, or hakomi.  I experienced a change in consciousness as I became more aware of my body and of sensation and changed old patterns of movement and perception.  In the midst of all this study and practice of yoga, I encountered candida, which weakened me and made me foggy headed, and led me to make radical changes in my diet, friends, and exercise patterns.

Where are we now?  Marlene became a confident chiropractor, focused on muscle testing and the storage of emotions and life stories in our bodies and working to free folks for better health.  I have become a published writer, a student of many modalities, a disability and wellness coordinator, a yoga teacher, a spokesperson and interpreter for integrative medicine and for a broader perspective on healing.  You could say we are doing the same work we started years ago in different forms.

But, as Karen Armstrong observed, we can only see this spiral staircase in retrospect.  It’s been a path that has often seemed faint and hard to see.  I feel strengthened and empowered by my reconnection with my friend.  I feel a little more whole knowing I have a long-term companion in my travels.

The trouble with Dr. Oz?

IMG_1356The New Yorker is my favorite magazine.  Every once in awhile, though, I encounter an article that really makes me scratch my head:  Actually a couple of these have been written by Michael Specter, including his recent “The Operator,” subtitle (in the contents), “The Trouble with Doctor Oz,” February 4, 2013.  (Specter is also the Author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.)

I think Specter, along with some other Oz critics, is right to question the unbridled and hyped up promotion of herbs or foods, like raspberry ketones to burn fat, or green coffee beans for weight-loss, or red palm oil for Alzheimer’s disease, though I do think its helpful to bring attention to these things:  In my mind the hype and overemphasis is problem.

On the other hand, I strongly part ways with Specter when it comes to Oz’s showcasing of some “alternative” approaches to healing.  I am like Oz in not needing scientific proof that these approaches work.  If one thinks physicians should stick within the scientific, Specter’s argument is understandable.  But medicine is also an art.  In addition, science has shown us that sometimes placebos work as treatment.  Specter says that Oz’s practice of mixing “sensible” and scientifically proven information with unproven information is hard to understand—IS IT?  Science, after all, is sometimes used in specious ways to promote pharmaceutical drugs.

These are old questions representing two camps, the Western scientific and Eastern, the rationalist and the mystic, the chemical and surgical with the natural (the latter has not been studied as extensively).  Here’s where I come from.  The two major health conditions that have affected my wellbeing have been untreatable by modern medicine.  If they progress to cancer or blindness or an autoimmune condition, medicine will have an “answer” or treatment, but I have used alternative methods to reverse or stop the problem in their tracks.  These modalities, ayurveda, acupuncture, and herbal medicine, were off the radar of modern medicine, and science would not have given me reinforcement for pursuing them.

My experiences with keratoconus, an eye disorder, and candida/gluten intolerance, a digestive disorder, taught me how to address illness from a system, organic, natural, and energetic  angle.   Arresting of the keratoconus and resolving the candida issue involved processes that took quite a long time and a commitment to my health at emotional, spiritual, physical, social, and environmental levels.  I may not have healed had I not meditated, prayed, dropped unhealthy friendships, actually adjusted my way of exercising to a more gentle one focused on yoga and walking outdoors in the sunshine.   Without all these angles of approach, I would have become sicker and repeatedly visited my physician, who could only have given me temporary measures and helped me manage chronic illness.

Western science and medicine exist in one realm while some of the healing arts tap into another.  We have to acknowledge the limitations of our mechanistic medical sciences, to realize there is a realm of healing, of energy, that we do not understand with our rational minds.  We need a practice of mindfulness, of openness, of listening to the body, emotions, spirit, and chi, to old traumas and the need for radical self-care on all these levels.

This approach is not easy.  It requires time, energy, and an ability to go through upheaval and reorientation.  It demands an openness to uncertainty and to life changes.  It means loosening dependence on the rational, analytical intellect and paying attention to the body and its sensations.  I think the process also leads to examination of our culture, to a reengagement with our selves, and to a new relationship with the fruits of the earth, the herbs and natural foods. Not many of us will engage in such a process, particularly if we are working hard and are engaged with a profession of status, busy in our day-to-day lives.  It is easier to turn instead to the scientific, the prescription, the surgery.  Valid too, but sometimes not enough.

Specter quotes Oz:  “All I’m trying to do is put a couple of road signs out there.  I sit on that set every day, and that is what I am focusing on.  The road signs.”  Oz says he wants to erase barriers between patients and medicine, wants to raise issues that remain undiscussed, wants to walk the line that divides conventional medicine and alternative cures.   I am glad for his efforts.

Specter also says of Oz, “He describes modern medicine as a “civil war” waged between conventional physicians and those who are open to alternative cures for maladies ranging from anxiety to cancer; he considers it his mission to walk the line that divides them.  But more often his show seems to erase that line completely, with results that may be less benign than Oz and his many viewers realize.”

I tend to think the marriage of pharmaceutical companies and medicine is also less benign than many realize.  I for one think that Oz is doing important work inhabiting that zone between medicine and holistic health, between science and energy healing.  Many of us are grateful that he’s talking about these things, engaging with people out there seeking healing.  Medicine does not have all of the answers, and we need people like Oz to ask the questions and to present other sides so we might actively engage in our own healing in ways that involve our bodies, minds, and spirits.  I believe we need just such a wizard to catalyze a transformation.

Community acupuncture makes my day

IMG_0878I recently had some sinus problems that made it difficult to function, and a friend recommended that I visit the local community acupuncture clinic.   It seemed like a good idea to me, because the cost of most acupuncture is prohibitive, especially if I need multiple treatments.  So I made an appointment at the clinic online, filled out some forms, and went on in.

I entered a nice lounge with comfortable couches and a kindly male receptionist, was soon ushered into a private room to visit with an acupuncturist.  After we talked about my ailments and concerns I went into a communal treatment room with high ceilings and a large curved window on one end.  I sat in one of six recliners, and the acupuncturist put numerous needles in me and left me for an hour to relax to the sounds of gentle new age music and water trickling down a rocky fountain. I went into a reverie, truly relaxing, falling in and out of sleep. I left feeling serene and supported by a community who wanted to help me sustain my health.

The visit was $25, and I was told the subsequent appointments would be only $15.  After the first treatment the inflamed and raw sensation in my sinuses calmed down, and by the time I had gone for three treatments, I felt relieved of headaches, sinus pressure, and a couple of other issues.  The third time I went I met the man who started the clinic, along with his wife, who does acupressure and Emotional Freedom Technique.   The owner said he is a social entrepreneur interested in integrating businesses as well as treatment modalities.  For example, he said, the clinic has a nutritionist who helps with weight loss, and when the clients run up against emotional blocks to weight loss, they see acupuncturists or his wife for additional support.

I went home and watched this video on the movement connected with community acupuncture:  Community Acupuncture Video

Watching the story of this community acupuncture movement in the US, I felt a strong longing to see it take hold in a bigger way.  I saw dedicated practitioners searching for a way to help more people, and I heard the stories of people who experienced deep healing through their treatments and through feeling part of a healing community.  I saw people working together to provide good healthcare, or really I should say, healing.  There is basically a movement afoot to provide true care to clients, and I feel we have a great need for such alternatives.

Here is a statement from the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA):  “Our mission is to work cooperatively to increase accessibility to and availability of affordable group acupuncture treatments . . . Multi-stakeholder cooperatives recognize that producers and consumers are mutually dependent on one another, and that the health of the relationship between these groups is connected to the health of the larger community and economy.”

We need a great deal more of such an approach to healthcare and community.  Community acupuncture provides a crucial service, makes it affordable, and empowers healthcare practitioners.  It helps people take care of themselves and lead lives that are not only freer of suffering, but maybe even more fulfilled.  When we can obtain healthcare at affordable prices, see practitioners in environments that are good for both of us, feel a part of community, and know we have greater ability to affect our well being, we are more energized and engaged in general.

As healthcare gets more expensive, as I grow more reluctant to pay out-of-pocket for treatment because of my high insurance deductable and feel more stressed out by the bills, the tests, and the meds, I long for this simple and affordable care.  I am truly not against mainstream medicine, and I use it when I need it.  But I am also for this natural, preventive, healing, and empowering care.  Thank God it exists.

I love knowing my practitioner is as dedicated to health on a community and political level as I am, that she respects the body’s mysterious ability to balance and heal.  That she can perceive my current ailments through a wider lens encompassing my constitution, my overall health, my life story, and assist my healing on many levels.  I feel a great deal of gratitude, and I feel inspired to work myself in a manner that is good for my whole community, both local and beyond.

My father was a neurosurgeon, and I went into yoga

IMG_1452Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.    Carl Jung

My dad was a pediatric neurosurgeon in an inner city hospital.  His work virtually consumed him, and he came home late at night, many times after we kids were in bed.  When he was home, he often sat in an armchair reading or writing, and even on family outings to parks or movies, he could be called back to the hospital.

I felt like he lived at the hospital and that our suburban family world was a difficult one for him to understand or feel at home in.  All the activities and issues in the lives of his wife and four kids seemed more than he could handle, especially after his absorbing work in the city, and I do think he had a difficult time navigating the transitions from one to the other.  At home he was often distracted or short-tempered.  When most stressed out from challenges at work and returning to a raucous house filled with children, he’d yell at us.

When I went to work with him as a child, I too experienced the gulf between one world and the other, both geographically and culturally.  From suburban streets lined with similar homes, groomed lawns, and white faces, to city streets filled with row houses, dirt yards, convenience stores with boarded up windows, and black faces, I observed an unsettling contrast.  Arriving at the hospital, we parked in the VIP area and entered the foyer of a tall modern building with light streaming in from immense windows.  We walked down halls lined with rooms filled with sick people.   We entered elevators and escaped into Dad’s office with a view of the plant-filled foyer.  Quietly I looked about, absorbing sights and sounds, filing away the images and impressions of this strange world.

I saw Dad examine patients and interact with other medical staff, decisive in tone, projecting knowledge and care.  He was friendly, and he was respected.  Nurses, doctors, and patients told me he was a great man.

Dad’s examining room had a wall covered with photos of kids from the spina bifida clinic, kids of all ages who had shunts placed in them.  Other kids he worked with had brain tumors or facial abnormalities or other mysterious diseases.  At hospital holiday parties we kids would see other children suffering from all kinds of maladies, some thin from cancer or some with deformities, some too weak to walk. I felt like a space being in that environment, awed that I experienced health and wealth while other kids knew both illness and poverty.

Dad also grappled, actually wrestled with, the suffering of his young patients.  Sitting up late into the night, he read the Bible, C.S. Lewis, William Faulkner.  This pondering of the spiritual and philosophical aspects of illness and death had a lasting effect on me.  Confronting not only the reality of disease but the dichotomy between my life and the lives of others, I developed a lifelong interest in seeing things from different angles, in connecting distant worlds, in the causes and alleviation of suffering.  In my twenties I read the Tao te Ching and went on to explore dreams, then later Indian and Chinese medicine, eventually practicing yoga and meditation.

I considered but never truly had the desire to be a physician, yet Dad’s work and his response to it gave me a lifelong need to investigate, to learn, and to serve in other ways.  I study life and “medicine” on spiritual, cultural, and psychological levels.  I explore what it means to heal and how a spiritual dimension can help us negotiate suffering.   Practicing yoga and using Ayurvedic herbs  and bodywork, I experience a stronger more supple body and greater emotional grounding, and I really feel the connection of mind, body, and spirit.

I love the way that cosmologies of Indian and Asian medicine are so comprehensive of all aspects of our being and are also still relevant today.  I believe that the acknowledgement of the origins and dimensions of our being within nature, within the divine, must ultimately be part of our healing journeys.  I know from experience that the energy medicine involved in yoga and qigong, as well as the interpersonal/emotional healing provided by psychotherapy, also provide keys to healing.  And I know healing doesn’t always mean curing.

Rather than following in Dad’s doctor footsteps, I followed his investigations into the wisdom traditions, the nature of life, and even social economics. I traverse various worlds (urban and rural, poor and rich, mainstream medical and natural medicine), seeking ways to connect, to communicate, and to widen our medical paradigm.  While I confronted some strong dichotomies as a child, I now explore the idea that everything is connected.  My role is investigative journalist and somatic educator:  Believing we have to unravel our current ways of thinking about both economics and treating illness, I am interested in opening the dialogue and the process of questioning.  Believing there are wiser ways to live and govern, I turn to ancient ideas and to experimenting, conversing, and opening ourselves to change.

It’s an exciting time, a “brave new world” in which not only the business of medicine is changing, but in which models for business itself are shifting.  We know our ways need to change.  How now do we see ourselves, and how do we want to live and address our ills?

Further adventures in yoga

I have so much faith in yoga to affect things physical or mental that I notice a need for it in many places.  Yoga for disabilities, yoga for kids in the justice system?  Amazing and effective in grounding, bringing more mobility and peace of mind: I have heard feedback from students corroborating my impression.  Now I have an opportunity to teach yoga, breathwork, and yoga nidra (deep relaxation) for veterans at a local clinic.

The prospect of working with vets traumatized by war is intimidating, but so was the prospect of teaching the other groups.  My friend Gina works at this vet center and is the one who invited me to teach; I ask her what it is like to work with these people, how they are affected by trauma the trauma of war and reentry into society.  She describes the anger, anxiety, and problems adjusting, and tells me it is challenging to work with this fallout of combat.  I get on the Give Back Yoga website and order CDs by folks who work with veterans:  They are on breathing and on yoga nidra, a practice for relaxing the body and even employing some hypnosis.  After years of my own practice and the influence of good teachers, I trust the ability of the yoga to do its magic, and I know how to incorporate feedback from the participants.   It’s a good starting point for challenging work.

We will meet once a week, equipped with mats, blankets, blocks, and bolsters.  My friend will be present, and that eases my mind.  Her experience dealing with the anxiety and anger that can erupt will be helpful to us all.  I will review all I have learned about dealing with trauma through the body and with mindlfulness.  With Gina there, and equipped with yoga and my own grounding through the practice, it may be doable.  It may be a healing experience.

There are now techniques for addressing trauma, whether from war, abuse, or accidents.  Yoga provides some that soothe the nervous system and rewire patterns in the muscles and nerves:  These other approaches, such as Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, try to access traumatic memories and neuronal patternings and provide alternative experiences and a type of reprogramming.  My training in hakomi introduced me to basic presence and vocalizing with people re-experiencing trauma, and these other approaches go deeper in working directly with that trauma.

Twenty-three vet hospitals in the United States have yoga classes.  The Veterans Yoga Project is providing support and training to yoga teachers and centers introducing yoga to vets.  It’s pretty cool, really, to see an institution turn to yoga acknowledging the need and embracing the techniques and healing aspects of an ancient practice.  I am ready to jump into the pool and swim with the current on this one.

The Veterans Yoga Project’s mission “is to provide education and support for the mindful use of therapeutic yoga practices as an aid in the recovery process from post-traumatic stress and other psychological difficulties among US Veterans, their families, and their communities.”  The Project notes the following, information heeded by the vet hospitals around the country:  “Veterans coping with post-traumatic stress who practice yoga report better sleep, improved focus and concentration, less anger and irritability, and an overall greater ability to enjoy life in the present moment.” 

On the spectrum of disability

Before I worked at an independent living center I attended a workshop with Matthew Sanford, a yoga teacher paralyzed from the chest down.  In the workshop, he brought up the fears able-bodied people feel around disabilities as well as the commonalities among people in both conditions.  A gifted teacher, Sanford has provided helpful guidance to me and many others.  His intimacy with trauma, disability, and healing speaks deeply to me, as does his mission to change the perspective of the medical community and to educate on the mind-body relationship.

I think his teaching on yoga and healing is applicable to everyone.  Hasn’t each of us experienced some kind of trauma, some kind of search for healing or wholeness?  Whether we have a visible or invisible disability, or we simply have emotional wounds or limited beliefs about ourselves or limited social skills, we need to find our wholeness and self-respect.  We need to find our meaning and connection with others.

I share an office with a man who is quadriplegic, and each day when he arrives at work, I remove his hat and pull a file for him.  I consider these small tasks a privilege to perform because he is my friend and cohort.  And because they are a clear expression of our interrelation with each other.  I know this man as complex and normal as anyone, though I also think he’s a bit more evolved in having come to terms with his disability and valuing himself and his life.  He is bright, has a dry and deep sense of humor, a cool demeanor under stress, and an easy way of asking for and giving help.  His “boundaries” are strong but flexible, and his solid kindly presence is a comfort to me.

Another coworker is in a wheelchair and has a tracheotomy tube:  He cannot eat solid food, and he speaks with a whisper.  Yes, I feel sad for him, and I feel scared at the prospect of what life gives us to manage, and I wonder if he feels left out of social meals and gatherings, as I have from time to time.  At the same time, I am grounded by reality in his presence, sobered by our common human condition with all its vulnerability and tragedy.

My coworkers, both able and compromised physically, have taught me to take difficulty more in stride.  As a staff, we provide respect for anyone who comes in, from the special needs kids who help out twice a week with their teacher, to the man with schizophrenia who imagines people trying to tap into his computer and control his life, to the young man on parole trying to manage reduced vision.  The welcoming attitude demonstrates, or should I say embodies, the truth, that everyone has worth and value, that no one is lesser.  In fact, I barely see disability anymore.

I see my commonality with the state of disability when I encounter my psychological ruts or react, fight, say things from my childish self.  We are all limited in our humanity, even as we withdraw from others or grow angry and hurt them.  I think of my own introversion and lack of skill with boundaries, and I think of close friends with bipolar disorder, or people I know who are narcissistic and never seem to change, only to implode in their marriages or work lives as they age.   I often find myself wondering if might be possible for all of us to show up without hiding these things, and yet seek connection and resources and new learning about wellness and emotional freedom.

The challenges of love and loneliness, work and finances are held in common.  My coworkers who talk with me about disability, about growing up with cerebral palsy, managing MS, dealing with daily life, have taught me that our struggles are similar, if not varying in degrees.

Most profoundly, I am aware of the shared experience of losing physical function.  We seem to have a tendency to equate physical appearance with who one is, to make assumptions about personality or inner reality. And yet we also know, even if only on an unconscious level, that we will all experience disability, or death.  As a yoga teacher I am curious about what it means to be whole within an injured or deteriorating body.  I seek to learn how to experience more embodiment in such a state.  To help others yes, but also because I know we all will experience some disability at some point.  And because I seek to come to terms with my own eventual decline.

I see shared experience when I teach yoga at work while all of us sit in chairs.   A lesson in the fundamentals of yoga is absorbing in whatever physical form.  Someone’s practice is interesting to me whether it is a standing pose, a difficult arm balance, or aligning the spine and feeling through one’s torso while sitting.  Each of us struggles to be present, to let go, align, and breathe—to wake up to our experience.

Matthew has a DVD called “Beyond Disability.”  I believe the title refers to starting where we are, finding wholeness from there, and healing.   His personal experience with trauma and loss infuses his work as a yoga teacher dealing with injured bodies.  Yet he is so fully engaged in life that one sees how the term disabled becomes less relevant, and he inspires others to engage as well.

Truly this opportunity to work where I do has taken me beyond the concept of “normal” just as it has taken me beyond the concept of disability.  I barely see disability any more, and I am grateful to be less self conscious of what I perceive as my own shortcomings, such as my shyness and recurring boundary issues, to let go of more ego as well as its brother insecurity.   I feel cleansed, cleared to learn to show up as myself and to do my best given my own abilities and circumstances.

Over time, I have grown accustomed to a model in which we respect the state in which people find themselves, and it reminds me of the acceptance and loving-kindness we provide for ourselves in meditation.  At work we make things work for individuals or make a mutual decision to look for another environment.  Time is not wasted pounding a “square peg into a round hole.”  The respectful and welcoming attitude at work which seemed novel to me at first has become mundane in its constancy, and yet it is rare.  Might it be extended?   Can you imagine CEOs and CFOs, all the competitive high tech and financial and healthcare folks able to acknowledge their own disability or dysfunction and be more evenly respectful of others?

Each day I learn about our rights to live as fully as we are able, and I learn that if we claim these rights, there are supports for us.  If we get past the anger and our own ego/insecurity, we usually find aid, whether from God, humans, or nature.

Disability is more visible in some, but the challenge and aspiration is the same for all, and it is to live as fully as possible.  For society the gift of people with disabilities claiming their rights is great:  to see that life and love and heart are not dependent on fully functioning arms and legs.  That, even in a rupture between mind and body, body is alive in mind.  And sprit is alive regardless, reminding us of the mystery in our existence.

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Louisiana Dreamer ~ Embodiment of Courageous Wild Creative Freedom

Musings and meanderings of writer/artist Linda Hubbard Lalande on art, culture, social media, spirituality, yoga, life

epilepsy me and neurology

complimentary wellness and epilepsy experiences