The Long Winter

“There is no winter harsh enough to withhold the promise of spring.” – Karen Kaiser Clarke

I put my spring wreath on the door. I put my winter clothes away. I thought winter was over. But I was wrong. We have had 6 or more inches of snow today.

I thought I’d post a few of Greg’s pictures from this winter. (I use this blog kind of like a scrapbook. I had all my 2012 entries made into a book for only about $30).

I spent the day drinking hot chocolate with the dogs on my lap. I also wrote a blog post for Psychology Today. It’s called A Simple Way to Put the Spark Back in Your Relationship. I don’t know why, Psychology Today is sometimes so slow to load, but if you’re patient, you can read it 🙂

Hopefully next time I’ll be posting Spring pictures!

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Small Blue Thing

Greg and I had planned to go to Kansas City tonight to see Suzanne Vega in concert. She has always been special to us, as we listened to her a lot in the early years of our relationship. We love the images in her lyrics and her simple singing style. When we bought the tickets a few months ago, it seemed so doable. But riding in a car really aggravates my pain, and Kansas City is a three-hour drive. As the time has approached, I realized that it would take a lot out of me–not just the drive, but then sitting for several hours for the concert, sleeping in a strange bed at a hotel, and then another three hours home the next day. To a lot of people, it wouldn’t seem like much. But when you have chronic pain, certain things take their toll and you have to weigh whether it will be worth it or not. A weekend like that would probably take me a month to get back to my normal level of manageable pain. I asked Greg to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how much he wanted to go. If he had said anywhere from an 7/8 to a 10, I would have gone. But he said a 6. I don’t know if he was being honest, or if he realized it would be hard for me. Anyway, we’re not going, and it’s okay. Really okay. That is the wonderful thing about being married to your best friend. Plans change and it’s okay. We’ll listen to her records instead. Greg is into buying vinyl records now…I think of all the ones we’ve sold at garage sales over the years, and now he’s buying them again 🙂

Here is a video of her performing our favorite song of hers, Small Blue Thing and the lyrics are below (they are not formatting right, and I’m getting frustrated trying to make it work–UGH).

Lyrics:
Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye
With my knees against my mouth
I am perfectly round
I am watching you
I am cold against your skin
You are perfectly reflected
I am lost inside your pocket
I am lost against
Your fingers
I am falling down the stairs
I am skipping on the sidewalk
I am thrown against the sky

I am raining down in pieces
I am scattering like light
Scattering like light
Scattering like light

Today I am
A small blue thing
Made of china
Made of glass

I am cool and smooth and curious
I never blink
I am turning in your hand
Turning in your hand
Small blue thing

Some Favorite Blog Pictures from 2012

A big part of the fun of this blog has been working with Greg on the images. He’s such a great photographer. I keep thinking I’ll learn to take my own pictures, but then I wonder why?  I can be the director and tell him what I want and voila, I get it! So here are some of my favorite photos he’s taken for my blog this year.

Larry loves to dream, big or small, it doesn't matter

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Hearts Set Free

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Love and Baseball

Photo by Mike Tigas via Flickr CC

(This is a guest post by Greg, my baseball-loving and very sweet husband.)

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I have always been a baseball fan, and I grew up wanting to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. I remember pitcher Bob Gibson who was such an intense competitor that he continued pitching after suffering a broken leg. I never made it to the major leagues, but I did pitch in college.

When Barb and I were dating about 25 years ago, we went to a Cardinals game together. It was miserably hot as it often is in St. Louis, and I was very focused on the game. She said I ignored her and she swore afterward that she would never go to another game (one of our first fights). Over the years, she grew to tolerate baseball and even have some fleeting interest.

Of course, her interest was most intense when our son was playing little league and I was coaching. She loved the games and wanted to document every moment. Once she was taking pictures of our son warming up to pitch when one of his throws got away. The ball hit Barb squarely in the shin. Over the next few days, we watched as her leg took on a variety of technicolor hues. Barb may be very gentle, but she is also very tough.

This brings me to today.

Chris Carpenter is pitching for the Cardinals. Carpenter has been the ace pitcher for the Cardinals for several years, and he was a key to their championship in 2011. Carpenter has been out all season due to chronic pain, numbness, and weakness as a result of thoracic outlet syndrome. Just two months ago, he had a rib and part of his scalene muscle surgically removed. His return today is a testament to his determination. In baseball parlance, he is a gamer.

So, why am I writing about a baseball player on a self-compassion blog?

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that Barb has been struggling with chronic pain. Like Chris Carpenter, she has thoracic outlet syndrome. She was diagnosed by the same doctor that first identified Carpenter’s condition. Barb and I feel a kinship with this major league pitcher that we’ve never met.

Barb works at a job that requires a tremendous amount of typing. Typing (or any repetitive motion, such as pitching) exacerbates the pain of thoracic outlet syndrome. But, just like Bob Gibson pitching with a broken leg, Barb continues on with pain. She doesn’t like to complain–she just wants to do her job.

Today, though, Barb went against her basic nature. With my encouragement, she talked to her boss and explained her condition. Barb had been dreading this because she does not like to call attention to herself, but I thought she should let her supervisor know in case she needed anything down the line. Perhaps in an effort to channel Chris Carpenter’s determined spirit, she wore a Cardinals shirt to work (it was a “dress-down Friday). Her boss responded very reassuringly, telling her that she is one of the agency’s “rock stars,” and that they would do anything possible to support her.

Cardinals fans revere Chris Carpenter. He competes intensely, and by his example, he brings out the best in his teammates. His efforts are seen on televisions across the country.

I love the lessons and mythology that come from sports. But, as I talk with Barb tonight, I realize not all warriors wear uniforms. Not all heroes are famous. Let’s acknowledge all those who struggle with dignity, and let’s love and support them.

Finding refuge in tough times

I have been in the midst of a pain flare-up and haven’t been able to do much on the computer 😦 I miss blogging and communicating with all of you! I just cheated a little and found this Q/A from Tara Brach. She has a wonderful book called Radical Acceptance, and this was on her Facebook page today. It speaks to where I am–in the midst of struggling, yet trying to lean into the struggle, not fight so hard, and most of all, trying to find the presence of mind to remember self-compassion. I hope to be able to write more soon!

Okay, this is Tara “talking” below:

Question: How can we remind ourselves of what refuge is when difficult times come to life?

Response: There is a deep and powerful question you can ask yourself: How can this situation serve the awakening of my heart and mind? Then let that be your prayer–that whatever is going on in your life be part of what truly can free your heart and spirit. If this is your question and your prayer…then you will be guided home to an inner refuge of peace and freedom.

Sometimes the heart has to be broken open to be free, and the process can feel like a huge confusing, frightening mess. Please trust that within you is the love and awareness to awaken through all situations. The key is to take refuge in presence over and over, with tremendous self-compassion. The more you turn toward presence, the more you trust the process…the more fully you will discover an inner sanctuary of peace and freedom.

Hearts Set Free

The Self-Compassion Bill of Rights

Today, this fourth day of July, year two thousand and twelve, I, Barbara Ellen Gerth Markway, do solemnly declare these inalienable truths and freedoms for myself, and for my Self-Compassion Project friends.

We shall be:

Free to try new things without fear of failing (and if a little fear creeps in, we do it anyway).

Free to not judge ourselves harshly when we become frightened, avoid, and hide under the covers for awhile.

Free to love others with hearts wide open, even when it hurts like crazy.

Free to close down for a little while, heal, and then love all over again.

Free to carve out our own unique niche in the world, and gently quiet the voice that says we never quite fit in.

Free to experience and celebrate our bodies as wonderfully complex, mysterious, sometimes painful, sometimes pleasurable, always beautiful, and usually faithful in getting us where we need to go and doing what we need to do.

Free to honor all our thoughts and feelings as valid, and free to explore when they are useful or not useful, helpful or not helpful.

Free to non-judgmentally reflect on the past, envision the future, always as a way to inform and live in the present.

Free to tell our stories, not tell our stories, change our stories, maybe even surprise ourselves with a new story…or just drop the story and breathe.

And perhaps most liberating of all, the freedom to begin again.

Be sure and follow me on Facebook!

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A few more photos for you…I know I said in my last post that I was going to try to do my own photography, and I still have that as a long-term plan. But this picture was too hard to get with the low lighting and all– I needed Greg’s expertise. I knew what I wanted. I could see it in my mind. I already had the glass, star-shaped candy dish and made a quick Hobby Lobby run to get the floating heart candle. We had fun working together on our deck and took about 50 pictures. The stars shone above us,  fireworks exploded around us, and we even heard some cows mooing in the distance. 

Protecting the Tender Heart

Photo by Greg Markway

I don’t want to dare greatly*.

I don’t want to speak dangerously*.

I don’t want to tell my story*.

When I wrote my last post, Busy Be Gone, I thought I had turned a corner in my self-compassion project. I was loosening the connection between my self-worth and being productive. But I think I jinxed myself. I soon lapsed into a cynical malaise where I didn’t care about anything (well, I still enjoyed Ben and Jerry’s ice cream). I found pretty pictures and inspirational sayings on Facebook annoying. The usual blogs I read sounded sappy. I couldn’t pick up a pen to write. I worried, maybe I’m doomed to feel “tortured” as I described in my post on January 1st. Maybe that’s just my personality. Is there going to be a tortured personality disorder in the new DSM-V?

I thought to myself tonight, if I don’t write something soon, it will be over. This blog will follow the fate of many blogs before–it will wither away and die. And I really don’t want that to happen. So I picked up my pen and spiral notebook, my Kindle loaded up with my favorite books, a bottle of water, and sat out on the patio with my beloved Bichons, birds, and a few annoying bugs.

After skimming through some things, I found a section of Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, that seemed to describe what I was experiencing. She says it is normal that when we start letting go of our defenses, and when our old ways of coping don’t work anymore, we can get even more neurotic. (Oh my, that does not sound good.) But she reassuringly says that this is okay. This is when we need need to develop “compassionate inquiry” into our moods, our emotions, our thoughts. We need to be curious about our “personal myths” and the way we are “divided against ourselves, always resisting our own energy.” She describes it as an ongoing process that takes years (Okay, so my year-long “project” may not be just a year…Somehow, I already knew this.) And I especially love this part, which jumped right off the page screen: “With precision and gentleness, we surrender our cherished ways of regarding ourselves and others, our cherished ways of holding it all together, our cherished ways of blocking our tender heart.”

Yes! I have been blocking–protecting–my tender heart. I have been afraid. I’m not sure of what, but I sense that fear is behind all this.

That’s all. It’s just fear. It’s not that I’m doomed to be tortured for the rest of my life. It’s not that I’m going to quit writing. It’s not that I’m never going to speak dangerously, dare greatly or tell my story. I’m just letting go of defenses and having a momentary, even predictable lapse, into old patterns of self-protection.

My heart feels so much better now.

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*Daring Greatly is the title of Brene´ Brown’s forthcoming book, which of course, I’ll buy and love.

*Speaking Dangerously is a reference to Susan Cain’s best-selling book Quiet, and her “Year of Speaking Dangerously”. Susan is an inspiration to me.

*Telling Your Story (or Your Story Matters) is something I see frequently, but I mostly attribute it to Kelly Rae Roberts. If you follow this blog, you know I’m obsessed with her work.

When It’s OK (even advisable) To Quit

Recently, a friend of mine took a full-time job, and then had to resign soon thereafter due to a number of factors. I know she struggled with the decision. I understood her angst. I have taken on too much of late, and I’m having to rethink some of my goals. It feels like such a failure I can’t do everything I set out to do. But how many of us set unrealistic expectations for ourselves? My husband says I do (and he’s usually right).

When I googled quitting, there were literally pages of inspirational quotes about why quitting is bad. (You know, quitters never win, and all that stuff.) But I did find a Chinese Proverb that took a different view: “Of all the strategems, to know when to quit is the best.”  Yea!

But how do you know when is when? When is it okay to quit and when should you tough it out?  These are some very loose guidelines I came up with for myself:

It’s okay to quit…

…when you’ve gathered new information that makes the original plan unworkable;

…when the timing is wrong;

…when you thought you could do more than you can;

…when you’re changing directions;

…when to keep going will deplete you of energy you need for something else (or allows you to regroup your energy);

…when you made a mistake;

…when quitting is the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself at the moment (my personal favorite).

This is the shortest blog post I’ve ever written. I really thought about developing each and every point above, and giving more examples. But sometimes you have to know when to quit…

(Note: This is an old post from a different blog, but someone I care about is going through a rough time with a decision, and I think this may speak to her.)

Surrender

Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.

-Gail Sheehy

I was feeling a bit blah this morning. My second appointment for accupuncture didn’t go according to plan, but I don’t feel ready to write about it yet. I perked up when I clicked on my blog and found some comments that made me smile. Sara, from North of Chicago, was researching the word “surrender” and she found my blog. How cool is that! I just googled “surrender” and mostly found links to bakery shops and references to a song by Cheap Trick called Surrender. I did find the quote above, that I really like. Anyway, she read several of my entries and suggested I listen to the song, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. The lyrics are lovely.

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothin’ seems to fit
Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’

So I just did me some talkin’ to the sun
And I said I didn’t like the way he got things done
Sleepin’ on the job
Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’

But there’s one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me
It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red
Cryin’s not for me
‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’
Because I’m free
Nothin’s worryin’ me

[trumpet]

It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red
Cryin’s not for me
‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’
Because I’m free
Nothin’s worryin’ me

If you want to listen to B.J Thomas performing it live, click here.

Coming to My Senses

I see darkness.

Dark as the inside of a coffin,

Or dark as ten feet of dirt.

You say certain things glow in the dark,

Even grow in the dark.

You see light.

I need your eyes.

I hear my words and they sound crazy.

You hear my words and say I’m sane.

I need your ears.

This is a part of a poem I wrote a long time ago for my husband, Greg. I don’t remember what prompted me to write it, but I was probably in one of my weird, moody moments.

Since the day we met, Greg has listened to me, reassured me, and accepted me. He has loved me like I cannot fully love myself.

I wonder, though, what if I saw myself through his eyes?  Maybe if I did, I’d see my beauty. Maybe if I did, I’d speak my truth. Maybe if I did, I’d own my power. What would it be like to live that way for even one day?

Okay, prepare for the tone to switch. Greg just read over my shoulder and said if I saw myself as he did, I’d be insufferable. He also joked that I wouldn’t need this self-compassion project anymore. Maybe I’ll just have to give it a try.