One of the best parts of blogging is meeting people from all over the world. Dr. Alice Boyes is a psychologist in New Zealand who also writes at Psychology Today. She just interviewed me for her blog called In Practice. It’s a good overview of my self-compassion project so far. You can read it here.
I found this on a Google list serve about self-compassion. It is too perfect (irony caught) not to share.
I am falling in love
with my imperfections
The way I never get the sink really clean,
forget to check my oil,
lose my car in parking lots,
miss appointments I have written down,
am just a little late.
I am learning to love
the small bumps on my face
the big bump of my nose,
my hairless scalp,
chipped nail polish,
toes that overlap.
Learning to love
the open-ended mystery
of not knowing why
I am learning to fail
to make lists,
use my time wisely,
read the books I should.
Instead I practice inconsistency,
Probably I should
hang my clothes neatly in the closet
all the shirts together, then the pants,
send Christmas cards, or better yet
a letter telling of
my perfect family.
But I’d rather waste time
listening to the rain,
or lying underneath my cat
learning to purr.
I used to fill every moment
with something I could
cross off later.
the laundry done and folded
all my papers graded
the whole truth and nothing but
Now the empty mind is what I seek
the formless shape
the strange off center
Elizabeth Carlson : Source: Teaching With Fire
So many people have already posted their word for the year, and as usual, I’m a few steps behind. Oh well. My word for the upcoming year is Open. Greg actually suggested the word to me. He said, “What about the word open?” and I immediately said, “Nah…” There I was shooting down an idea before I really thought about it. Not very open of me. And here’s another interesting tidbit. I finally decided that Open was going to be my word. Then today I clicked on Ali Edward’s Word of the Year blog, and she had just announced that her word for 2013 is Open. I felt a little deflated. She took my word! But that’s okay. I’m sure there’s enough space (openness) in the world for us both to have the same word.
I’m sure my word will take on lots of new meanings over the course of the year, but here are a few of the things I’m hoping I can do:
Open to possibilities. I tend to get locked down in my thinking…not being able to see there may be many paths, many ways of doing things, if I’m only open to seeing things in a new way. I also think I may be on the brink of some changes in my professional life, and I want to be open to seeing that there may be many ways I can share my talents.
Open to taking risks. I’m quite risk aversive. I have to push myself to try new things. My worry brain is always telling me to play it safe. I really don’t have anything in mind when I think about risks, but we’ll see what happens. I may surprise myself and do something crazy.
Open myself up to people. I used to be painfully shy–not so much anymore, but I’m still a through-and-through introvert. I don’t let too many people really get to know me. And if I do, it takes a long time. I can work at a place for years and barely make a dent in getting to know my coworkers. I want to make a conscious effort to change this and share more of myself with others. I need to make a few more friends, too. It’s kind of hard to find friends when you’re fifty.
I’m excited about the word Open. It’s a noun. It’s a verb. It’s an adjective. It’s a Superword!
The very word itself implies adaptation and flexibility, two things I need more of in my life.
And in the spirit of flexibility, any variation on the word open is okay. I like the word openness, too. Here’s a great quote I found on Good Reads.
Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” ― Tony Schwartz
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.
Did you know there is actually a word of the year? According to Dictionary.com, the word for 2012 is bluster. This is how they define bluster:
to roar and be tumultuous, as wind.
to be loud, noisy, or swaggering; utter loud, empty menaces or protests: He blusters about revenge but does nothing.
They cited the election and the weather as being the two big stories of 2012, and aptly noted that there was a lot of bluster involved in both.
There is also another Word of the Year project that takes place. I first heard about it from reading Brene´ Brown’s blog, Ordinary Courage. She selected a single word that she used as a touch point to guide her through the year. Her word was “light.” Brene´ got the idea from Ali Edwards, who runs an entire e-course on using a word of the year for self-growth. Ali writes:
A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting or rich and soft and slow. From my own personal experience, it can be a catalyst for enriching your life.
As 2013 approaches, I started to think, “Maybe I need a word for the year.” I tried talking with Greg about it. After explaining the concept to him, our conversation went something like this:
Barb: I wonder what my word of the year could be? (not getting much of a response, so I prod him.)
Greg: I don’t know. Maybe your word should be “word.”
Barb: What? Why would my word be “word”? That makes no sense. You’re not taking this seriously.
After bantering back and forth a bit (good-naturedly, off course) , I decided there is a gender difference in what gets written and read on the internet. It’s not that he’s not taking it seriously, he just doesn’t relate. He’s the most caring and sensitive man I know, but he doesn’t read the same kind of blogs I read. Selecting a word for the year simply isn’t something he’d ever think about doing.
I’m going to pick a word for the year. I’m not yet sure what it will be, and I wonder how I’ll ever keep it to a single word.
Brene´ said she didn’t want the word “light” to be her word (I’m not sure why; it’s a good word). She said that the word picked her. It kept popping up in her mind.
Ali says the word can be practical or fanciful. It can be a feeling word or an action word. It can be a word that represents what you want more of–or less of–in your life.
Later in the day, we were shooting some footage for a new video I’m working on. I was throwing colored tissue paper scraps into the air when Greg exclaimed, “Your word should be color!” At least he was trying.
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.
*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.
As I wrote about in a previous post, Befriending the Body, I’ve experienced pain on a daily basis for many years now. I’ve tried all the conventional approaches: physical therapy, steroid injections, and two back surgeries. For the most part, I’ve made peace with the pain and just assumed it would be something I would deal with forever. Yet there was always a nagging voice inside me that said I owed it to myself to explore more options.
I’d read some research on acupuncture, and there seems to be some scientific basis to support its use in chronic pain. Although I live in a fairly small town, I’d heard about a physician here who had trained with Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known alternative medicine “guru” and best-selling author of many books on wellness. One of my friends had been to Dr. Christopher Link, and had taken her daughter to see him, too. She gave Dr. Link rave reviews, and I decided it was worth a try. What did I have to lose?
Once I decided to go ahead, I waited four months to get a “new patient appointment.” I figured he must be good as it took so long to get in. I’ve now seen him three times, and there are many aspects to my treatment plan that I’ll write about in other posts. I had my first acupuncture treatment last week, so that’s the subject for the day.
First of all, I had a mini-breakdown the few days leading up to the treatment. I worried about the financial aspect. This is all going to be an out-of-pocket expense. Am I going to be wasting my money? Mostly I worried it would be just plain weird. I had done some more research and found some people had emotional reactions to acupuncture. I talked to my friend about it and she did say that acupuncture can “release a lot of energy.” That didn’t sound like a good thing. When I hear stuff about “energy work” I get turned off. I also didn’t like thinking about the very real possibility that I’d cry somewhere along the line. Ugh.
I had worked myself up into such a state, I called to cancel the appointment, but the receptionist talked me out of it.
The night before my appointment, I meditated. An image came to mind of a picture I have hanging in my office. It has a quote on it that says: “Sometimes your only form of transportation is a leap of faith.” I don’t readily trust doctors, but I took this as a sign that I should give Dr. Link the benefit of the doubt.
At my appointment, he first came in and asked how I was doing. I offered a brief “okay” before I launched into a list of questions. I think I was mostly trying to prolong things. I thought maybe we’d run out of time. I even suggested that he was probably running late and we could do the acupuncture at my next appointment! Silly me 🙂 Finally, I asked, “Do I have to believe this will work for it to work?” He said definitely not, and then he told me about research studies with animals that proved expectations had nothing to do with acupuncture’s effects. He shared with me that he had been skeptical about acupuncture at first, too, and he added that he didn’t know for sure whether acupuncture would help me. I appreciated his honesty.
The actual treatment wasn’t too bad. As always, my anxiety ahead of time is much worse that the actual event. I didn’t want to look at the needles, but I’m pretty sure he put at least two in my ear and I’d say about ten in my arm and hand. Then a TENS unit was hooked up to the needles, and a heat unit was directed to my arm. I felt like I was a ham being baked.
Next a nurse put a call button in my hand. I asked, “What is this for?” She said, “To call if you need anything.” What? I was going to be left? I was doing okay until this point. I guess I had missed the part that the needles are left in you for a period of time. I was going to be in a room all by myself with needles buzzing away in my arm. The nurse asked if I wanted some music, and I said no (music would be more likely to make me cry). I did ask for a blanket for my feet, which were freezing cold. I was proud of myself for being assertive and asking for the blanket.
During the treatment, I tried to do some breathing meditation. I imagined Sharon Salzberg’s voice from my meditation CDs telling me to simply notice the breath. I didn’t have to change anything–no need to try to breathe slowly or deeply. Just follow the breath in its natural state. At times my attention was drawn to various points in my arm where the needles were. There was one place close to my armpit that was a little uncomfortable. Otherwise, there was no discomfort–mostly just strange vibration sensations. I heard a timer go off and the nurse came back in. I imagined I was cooked to perfection. She said I looked flushed. She said Dr. Link had told her that was a good indicator that your nervous system was actually being reached. I didn’t say the room was just hot and stuffy, but that’s what I was thinking. She told me I could get off the table, but I felt a little bit paralyzed or something. She must have noticed an odd look on my face, and she said to take my time, that some people feel a little dizzy afterward. When I was telling Greg about it, he said, You were probably really relaxed.” I informed him that I was definitely not relaxed! (This was serious, scary stuff.)
I made it to the front window, paid for the treatment, and got instructions to drink a lot of water, and take it easy.
I went home and looked at myself in the mirror. Could I see any marks where the needles had been? Did I still look flushed? No, and no.
It was hard not to evaluate whether anything had happened. As pessimistic as I usually am, I actually thought I felt “more space” in my shoulder area. This experience of “more space” extended down my arm into my hand, and lasted all that day and the next day, too. I even forgot to take my Extra Strength Tylenol, which I take religiously.
Now if I could have only ended this blog post here.
A few days after that, the pain was back. I thought to myself, “Well, yeah, the first day I stayed off the computer–one thing I know aggravates my pain. Of course I felt better.” Even the second day, I was still trying to do less on the computer. “Maybe I just need to stop typing so much, then I wouldn’t need this stupid acupuncture!”
I didn’t expect one treatment to magically cure me. I’m going to keep going, at least for a little while. Dr. Link said we’d be able to evaluate after about 4 treatments what kind of response I was having. And I don’t know if it’s related, but I have slept really soundly since the acupuncture treatment.
As I’ve thought about this whole acupuncture thing, it dawned on me that it’s really not relevant whether it “works” or not. The point of this self-compassion project is to learn to be gentle with myself, regardless of the circumstance. Sure, it would be great to not be in pain all the time. But it’s not mandatory for happiness. Just two and a half months into this “project” and I already feel better equipped to deal with whatever life brings. Pain or no pain. It’s all good.