Category Archives: daily life

Love’s Fullest Potential

As you may have guessed from my lack of updates, this year has been very challenging. It has felt like a whirlwind. I’m still not sure I’ve had time yet to properly absorb Min’s loss, and the year has just marched right on. I don’t know where the time has gone.

In February, I had my right CMC thumb joint replaced, in a procedure called CMC arthoplasty. As joint surgeries go, this one was relatively simple and the recovery period was relatively painless and easy.

Emily (grey) cuddling with Snowcrash

Emily (grey) cuddling with Snowcrash

In March, I adopted Emily from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, who had been there for nearly 5 years… with reason. That reason: she was (and still is) very, very shy and scared of most people. I chose to work with her 3 years ago and gained her trust, but even after living with us for 8 months, she’s still wary of my husband. And she came with unexpected health issues: she ended up needing most of her teeth pulled due to severe gum inflammation that was autoimmune in origin and was just diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease last week. By the summer, another joint of mine was dying; my right ankle was no longer functional, and I became unable to drive and was only able to walk by seriously limping and leaning on walls/furniture whenever possible.
Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Also in the summer, Kosette, our 17 year old cat with multiple health issues, suddenly changed. Come August, she no longer was acting like “our” Kosette. Uneven pupils prompted a vet appointment where the worst was confirmed: a brain tumor. On August 6th, we put her down, to prevent her from suffering from the increasing anxiety and confusion that were surely to come. My ankle replacement and bonus toe/metatarsal surgery scheduled for August 27th, we decided to adopt Ethel (again from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs) earlier than we would have otherwise.
Ethel enjoying a sunbeam, home at last.

Ethel enjoying a sunbeam, home at last.

Only 10 days or so after losing Kosette, we brought Ethel home. And just over a week later, I had ankle replacement (and bonus toe/metatarsal) surgery… which was by far the hardest joint surgery I’ve had, in terms of pain after and the recovery period. One month non-weight-bearing on my right foot when my left hip was due to be replaced in 2011 and is not capable of bearing any extra weight and my left wrist had been replaced in 2008 and couldn’t bear more than 10 pounds. I’m still not sure how I got through that month, but I did. And now the end is in sight with this surgery. I’m doing Physical Therapy; I can walk almost normally; I can drive. I’ve yet to start seriously belly dancing again, but I’m hoping to get back to that sometime this week. In addition, I’m a member of the board of directors at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, and we’ve had a lot of struggles this year.

And that’s the summary of my life since losing Min this January.

Is it any wonder I feel adrift sometimes? That sometimes I still see Min or Kosette out of the corner of my eye? That I still feel like my mornings and days are too empty because I’m not spending ten minutes or more of every waking hour at home feeding (or attempting to feed) Kosette? That I wonder if I even had time to process losing my right ankle, to properly grieve the loss of a joint the way I’ve needed to in the past prior to joint surgeries?

To wonder where this year has gone. It feels like I just took a breath, and suddenly it’s almost Thanksgiving.

I have no regrets about anything that has happened this year. I just wish this year had happened over the course of 2 or 3 instead of just one. This has been one of the hardest years of my life thus far. But has it been a bad year?

No. Losing Min and losing Kosette were part of loving them. When I love a cat, I know that one day, that cat will die. And I make a choice every time that I will love this cat as much as I can for as long as I can and I will not hold back any love or affection out of fear of future pain. In a way, those final weeks approaching the end of a cat’s life have a sacred beauty all their own. The love fulfills its potential in those weeks. Do I love this cat enough to truly put their needs before my own? Is my love strong enough to let the cat go? I learn what my love is truly capable of in that moment, when my vet asks, “Are you sure? Are you ready?”, and I nod or say yes even as my whole being is screaming NO.

And then, I choose to love again. Because how could I not?

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under cats, compassion, daily life, death, grief, health, impermanence, love, pain, physical pain

“Nothing is what we thought”: A reflection on grief

Today’s slogan is, “Nothing is what we thought”. I love this quote by Pema Chodron because it has so many different meanings. First, it can mean that things are not the way we thought they were, that our perception of things is wrong. Second, it can mean that we are thinking nothing, that our mind is empty. And third, it can mean that our thoughts are nothing, that they are insubstantial and fleeting.

When this quote comes up in her book, it is the first meaning that she is referring to, and it is that meaning that I want to ponder in this post. A few months ago, I was feeling awfully smug about my ability to handle whatever life could throw at me. I felt that I was comfortable with the way grief affects me and I had a set idea of the losses that I expected to occur in the next couple years. Kosette, our 17-year-old cat with kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure, would die within the next year or two. Then, five or so years later, our 12-year-old cat Min would die. That was how it was supposed to be. But life makes a mockery of our expectations, and nothing is as I thought.

220709_originalWhen we came home after being away for Christmas, Min had stopped eating. Over the next two weeks, we took her to the vet many times, searching for the cause of her anorexia, expecting it would be something fixable. It wasn’t. It was intestinal lymphoma, meaning that even if she were force-fed, the food had nowhere to go. She stopped purring, was barely drinking, stopped urinating and defecating, and spent a lot of time each day hiding.

On January 13, my husband and I made the decision to put Min to sleep. There was nothing else we could do to end her suffering. There were things we could do to prolong her life, but nothing we could do to actually make her better.

It was a shock. And I learned that grief is not predictable, that life is not predictable. Life doesn’t care about your expectations. All you can do—all I can do—is love as much as you can, because, as cliché as this is, you just never know. And so I start 2014 not feeling smug at all, but feeling vulnerable. And raw. And uncertain.

Because nothing is what we thought, and that’s just the way things are.

6 Comments

Filed under belief, buddhism, cats, daily life, death, ego, grief, impermanence, slogans

“That of God”: Letting Go of Fear

Most of the time I spend at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs is spent interacting not with people, but with cats. My main function is what’s called “socializing”; that is, I give cats attention—pet them, pick them up, hold them, and so on. The goal of this is often said to be making the cats more adoptable. And I do hope that my interactions with the cats ends up with them being more adoptable.

But that’s not what I’m trying to do, exactly. My goal, what is behind how I interact with the cats, is to let the cats grow into who they truly are. What this means in particular for many cats is that I try to encourage them to be comfortable enough around people that they enjoy affection instead of fear it. This depends on trust and respect. The cat has to learn to trust me (and hopefully once they learn to trust me, they’ll extend that idea to other people), and to get the cat to trust me, I have to respect its limits. Respecting a cat’s limits doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes do something that pushes its limits (otherwise a shy cat would never learn to be petted, for example), but that when I do push its limits, I’m aware that that’s what I’m doing and I let the cat dictate how long this uncomfortable interaction continues. And when the cat has learned that he or she can trust me, then the transformation begins: she or he starts relaxing into interactions instead of tensing. Purring happens. Greeting me when I walk into the adoption center begins to happen.

Ultimately, it’s about teaching the cat how not to be afraid. I don’t believe there are any “mean” cats; I believe that when cats aren’t afraid, they’re loving and affectionate. But this isn’t a natural state for cats when they interact with people. It’s something they have to learn or be taught. And the older the cat is when this learning begins, the more fear there is to overcome.

In short, what I’m doing is seeing and answering “that of God” in these cats. And they appreciate it.

And I’ve been thinking that this is how I’d like to interact with people, too; to interact with other people in such a way that they know they have nothing to fear from me, so they can become who they truly are. Because people, like cats, aren’t born learning how to interact with people. It’s something we have to learn. And sometimes that process of learning gets tainted with fear and we forget who we are, at our core.

We’re like cats, I think: when we’re afraid, we lash out. And when we’re with someone who knows us—truly knows us—we blossom. Can we learn to see each other how God sees us? Can I learn how to answer “that of God” in people as well as cats?

I hope so.

1 Comment

Filed under cats, daily life, God, inspirations, love, practice, quakerism, speak and listen with love, that of God

Poem: “A Day for Whispers”

Today is a day for
Whispers
Soft caresses of
Silence
Misty with the dew of
Yearning
The grey satin breeze
The gentle rain of
Awakening.

Leave a comment

Filed under buddhism, daily life, images, poetry, silence

Agape: What I Forgot about My “Center”

It’s very ironic, and somewhat sad, that in my entire post about my “center”—the feline rescue I volunteer at—I forgot to mention one thing, the most important thing about my time there.

Love.

And it’s appropriate to focus on this during Lent, even though as a Quaker I’m not “supposed” to celebrate Lent. But I do, because I was raised Catholic, and because Lent is a season to remind me to challenge myself spiritually. Am I truly living up to Jesus’s example? How could I be doing more? Or do I need to be doing less?

Jesus is well-known for talking about a specific kind of love, “agape”, which is translated in so many different ways, but usually understood to mean loving those who perhaps are not worthy. I like to think of agape love as loving someone regardless of the idea of worth.

And this is one of the most fundamental aspects of my time at the feline rescue: loving ALL the cats there. Regardless of how young, old, cute, well-behaved, cuddly, affectionate, aggressive, healthy, ill…

All the cats there deserve love. And learning how to love regardless of any idea of “worth” is one of the best gifts I receive from my time at my Center.

Leave a comment

Filed under catholicism, cats, daily life, Jesus, love

Mindful, Thankful, *Wonder-full* Eating

It all began so mundanely. It was the beginning of October, and my husband picked up an intestinal bug…
(Warning: there will be talk about diarrhea in this post. There’s no way around it. But there won’t be details.)
… and then passed it on to me. After 10 days of being sick with this intestinal bug, I woke up one morning suddenly feeling better.

Except the diarrhea continued, though the frequency and other… characteristics changed. Days passed and the frequency increased. I tried the BRAT diet. I tried all starches. I tried extra fiber, acidophilous pills, yogurt. I figured maybe the IBS I’d had for years was just all out of whack from the bug and I’d get better. Except I didn’t get better—I got worse. And I began to feel very, very unwell and weak. After a week of increasing diarrhea, I returned to my Primary Care Doctor, who was quite concerned and mentioned sending me to the hospital if he couldn’t get me an appointment with a GI doctor that day. The GI doctor I saw was helpful, but couldn’t know what was wrong without a plethora of tests, which I proceeded to get done. In the meantime, while I was waiting for the test results, the diarrhea continued.

It didn’t matter what I ate. The more I ate, the more frequently I had to use the bathroom. I was drinking as much as I could stomach to stave off dehydration, but it wasn’t the loss of fluids that worried me. It was the loss of energy. I felt like my life was being drained out of me each time I used the toilet. I began having trouble functioning. It became hard to walk. I lost 8 pounds in 3 weeks, even though I was eating as much as I could and drinking bottles of Gatorade every day. One night, at 3:30AM, stuck on the toilet, a thought came to me: “What if I just never eat again? Then the diarrhea would stop.” Reason kicked in and I realized that wasn’t a viable option, but it did occur to me that I could stop eating solid foods for a time, by switching to Boost or Ensure.

I sent my husband out that day to purchase Boost or Ensure and switched to an all-liquid diet for several days. And the frequency of the diarrhea finally began to lessen. More importantly, I started feeling stronger, like I was actually absorbing nutrition from what I was consuming instead of just losing it to the toilet. When the test results began coming in and confirmed it wasn’t any sort of infection causing the diarrhea, my GI gave me a drug called Lomotil, which further reduced the frequency of my diarrhea and allowed me the confidence to start leaving the house again… though I always was aware of where the nearest bathroom was. I was still unable to eat solid foods, however, as the pain and diarrhea would ratchet up in intensity whenever I tried.

3 weeks later—the day before Thanksgiving, with only occasional tastes of bland solids like saltines and small bits of pasta in chicken or beef broth, I was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease, like Ulcerative Colitis. Like my Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, it’s an autoimmune disease, meaning my immune system had now decided to attack my intestines in addition to my joints. I was started on a drug called Pentasa, which worked very quickly.

427732_10152007668786996_618973844_nThanksgiving Dinner arrived. I was determined not to be drinking Ensure at Thanksgiving dinner. How can I possibly describe the sensation of eating that piece of turkey, that piece of kielbasa, that cranberry sauce…? It was bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Eyes out-of-focus, nothing-else-in-the-world, bliss. I spent a good 10 minutes nibbling on that piece of kielbasa, savoring the zest of the spices, the juiciness of the meat, the tang of the bitterness from the sauerkraut it was cooked in… And that turkey, that turkey that my husband had cooked and basted for hours, with that gravy and homemade cranberry sauce mixed in with it. I nearly cried out of sheer joy.

Thanksgiving Dinner was the start of my reintroduction to solid foods. With Crohn’s disease, anything can be a trigger, causing an increase in pain or diarrhea. This meant that I had to introduce one new ingredient (including spices) back into my diet at a time. The next several weeks led me on an exploration of solid foods. I still relied on Ensure for more than half of my daily nutrition, and whenever I found a new trigger, I would switch back to an all-liquid diet for two days to give my intestines time to calm down. By Christmas, I was beginning to have a clear understanding of what my intestines could and couldn’t tolerate.

The tale should have ended here, with my Crohn’s understood and my triggers mostly discovered. But my body—my teacher, my guru—has a wicked sense of humor and wasn’t done challenging my relationship with food.

It was the 1st week of January. I had just finished recovering from the flu and was finishing a preventative course of antibiotics when I began having diarrhea again. This time, the diarrhea was different and came with a very high level of urgency. I couldn’t leave the house. Lomotil was completely ineffective. I immediately switched back to an all-liquid diet, but it had no effect. The GI doctor on call over the weekend put me on Flagyl (in case the antibiotics had given me the infamous C-difficile bacterial infection) and told me to increase my Prednisone dose to 20mg a day. These measures helped moderately, but not enough. I switched to all-liquids, but it seemed like even the Ensure was causing the pain to increase. By the end of the 2nd week of January, I was beginning to have a lot of pain right below my right rib cage. By Sunday, January 13th, the pain was severe enough that I was regularly screaming out in pain.

I am not the kind of person to scream at pain. I have a very high pain tolerance. But this pain was unlike any I’d ever experienced. It throbbed on the pain scale at a 9 and then the spasms would make that 9 seem insignificant. Concerned, my husband contacted my GI, who told me that it was likely my Crohn’s responding to a new trigger food and to take some of my left-over hip replacement surgery pain medications.

That Monday, January 14th, I woke up to the same level of pain. I struggled to care for our 5 cats, but gave up in the middle of their breakfast. I just couldn’t continue on like this any longer. I contacted my husband and told him he had to come home. Now. Thankfully, he did. Once he arrived home, we planned on taking me to the emergency room. As I was getting ready to go, I began feeling very nauseated. I ran to the bathroom, swallowed the vomit… and had to shout for my husband to help me down to the floor.

“I can’t do this any more. Call an ambulance.”

One ambulance ride, 12 hours waiting for a room on a stretcher in the hallway of the emergency room triage area (luckily right next to a bathroom), several tests later, I was finally given a diagnosis:

Pancreatitis.

Usually caused by severe alcoholism or gallstones. Neither of which were applicable to me.

I spent 3 days NPO—nothing by mouth but ice chips—and was started on IV fluids, pain killers, and 15mg of IV steroids every 6 hours. By Tuesday afternoon, I was feeling much better. The pain was still very much present, but it wasn’t at all comparable to the pain I’d been in.

And being in the hospital began to have an unintended effect on me: because I wasn’t feeling up to doing anything and was constantly being interrupted, I spent most of my time sitting and waiting. Just sitting, just waiting. Mindfully. I’ve always wanted to attend a Buddhist retreat and been unable to because of my health challenges, and now it felt like my health had finally allowed me to go on the retreat I’d always wanted to attend.

Thursday morning, I was allowed clear fluids: apple juice, chicken broth, jello. I’m normally not a fan of apple juice, and I’d have enough chicken broth in November to last me a life-time, but after 3 days of ice chips? They. were. fantastic.

Two days later, I was released from the hospital, with a tentative diagnosis of Autoimmune Pancreatitis (because my immune system is one hell of an over-achiever!). This diagnosis came with significant dietary restrictions, especially for the days immediately following my hospital release:

  • Low sugar.
  • No protein.
  • No fat, especially saturated.
  • VERY small amounts of food.

Those first few days, I starved. Literally. I had gained 22 pounds of water weight from all the IV fluids from the hospital, which dropped off in 2 days, but after that water weight was lost, I kept losing. I would lose about 2 pounds a day, because I was unable to eat. The smallest amount of food would cause an increase in pancreatic pain.

But the 40mg of Prednisone was working, and I slowly began to increase my daily intake of calories. I slowly began to tolerate small amounts of protein, sugars, and unsaturated fats.

With Autoimmmune Pancreatitis being a chronic condition, I will continue to be limited in how much I can eat at once, especially how much saturated fat my pancreas can tolerate. My new diet is 4 300-400 calorie meals a day (plus 1 or 2 100 or so calorie snacks), with no more than 3g of saturated fat in any one meal. And I will likely have to avoid all red meat, at least in any significant quantity, for the rest of my life.

A recent dinner: Linguini with chicken sausage, tomato sauce with basil and oregano, and green peppers

A recent dinner: Linguini with chicken sausage, tomato sauce with basil and oregano, and green peppers

But eating… Eating has become sacred to me. Each bite of solid food is a joy. And I am eating all solids now. The Prednisone has soothed my intestines so that I no longer have to rely on Ensures for half of my daily calories. (Ironically, Ensures are actually very hard on a pancreas, because they’re high in protein, sugar, and have a gram of saturated fat, so I will need to use these with caution in the future.) Even eating such bland foods as Cheerios has become a delight. I am so thankful to be able to eat. And dinners have become such a journey! What will I try tonight? What new levels of protein or saturated fat can my pancreas now tolerate?

For years, I tried to lose weight and find a way to eat more mindfully. I wouldn’t have chosen to lose the weight this way or to learn how to eat mindfully by losing the ability to eat for several days, but I’m grateful to my body for this gift.

Eating—having the ability to eat, having access to food—is a gift. It’s a precious gift, one too many people in this world don’t have.

When I eat now, it’s with a sense of wonder. May I never forget.


PS: Another unintended effect of my hospital stay is that I’ve resumed my daily sitting meditation practice. I got into the habit of sitting and waiting, and I’ve enjoyed continuing that now that I’m home and getting well.

4 Comments

Filed under daily life, health, mindfulness, pain, physical pain, practice, sacraments

My Center

We Quakers talk a lot about “finding our center”, “centering down”, etc. Ask a dozen Quakers what we mean by the term “center”, and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers, though many of the answers would likely mention God, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, “that of God”…

But when I talk about the “center”, I’m talking about a real place. A place I go to at least twice a week and more if I can manage it. A place where I find joy, and love, and peace. A place where I know I’m needed and know without a doubt that this is where I’m called to be.

And that “center” isn’t my Quaker Meeting or my meditation group. That “center” is an adoption center at a local no-kill and cage-free feline (and canine) rescue called Chesapeake Cats and Dogs. I began volunteering at CCAD 4 years ago. My role was to help socialize the cats, and it’s a role I take seriously. If a cat is shy or skittish, I try to work with the cat, to help the cat understand that people aren’t a threat and that human affection is a good thing. But I also try to make sure that I find the time every time I’m there to pet every cat that needs it most.

And here comes the first challenge: in an adoption center that at times has housed over 60 cats at one time, how do I prioritize? How do I make sure that when I’m petting one cat, I’m not distracted by the dozens of other cats I want to find time for?

In short, how do I truly be present with each cat?

It’s just mindfulness meditation, in a different form. When I’m petting one cat, I’m just petting that one cat. I’m aware of the subtle body movements that indicate if I need to change my petting technique. I’m aware of the cat’s condition: has he or she lost weight? does he or she have any fleas or ticks? is he or she congested? What does the cat’s purr sound like? Are they any behavior changes, for better or worse, that I can notice? Are there other cats approaching that may make this cat feel defensive? And the only way I can answer these questions is by being with the cat, in the moment. And when I fail to stay in the moment, the cat always notices and reminds me to return to it.

There are always cats I don’t get to. When I leave, I make a mental note to make those cats a priority my next visit.

But there are also always cats I particularly look forward to. In a real way, some of these cats have become friends to me. Figuro, Snicker, Ethel, and Emily are the cats I’m most attached to. All of them have been at the center for more than a year; all of them except Ethel have been at the center for as long as I’ve been volunteering there. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I absolutely adore and love these cats.

Which brings me to the next challenge: how do I love and adore these cats without holding back any affection, but also without becoming attached? After all, I can’t adopt them all.

When I first began volunteering at the center, I would cry whenever a cat I’d grown to love would get adopted. It’s hard developing a relationship with an animal and then having to say goodbye, knowing that I would likely never see the cat again. I knew that this was our goal, that we wanted the cats to be adopted and never returned to the center, but it struck me as a loss each time. I asked the office manager, Debbie, how she dealt with this, knowing that she loves those cats even more than I do. She said something like, “It gets easier with time. There are some you’ll always miss and the goodbyes are always hard, but it gets easier.”

And it has. Slowly I’ve become able to feel joy when a cat is adopted instead of sorrow. Slowly I’ve learned how to love without attachment, but without holding back either. It’s not about me and what I’d like. It’s about what’s best for the cat.

And this brings me to the third challenge: how to cope with the death of a cat or kitten.

This doesn’t happen often (and certainly not for lack of care or veterinary treatment), but it does happen. It’s par for the course for any rescue, whether the rescue is a no-kill or not. Some cats and kittens we try to rescue will have health problems. And some of those health problems won’t be curable or even treatable. And sometimes, a kitten just wastes away and no one knows why.

There is no answer to this challenge. Only the opportunity to practice and to remember that nothing is solid and every one dies. All I can do is be sure that when I’m with each cat or kitten, I’m giving them my all: all my love, all my attention. Because there’s no guarantee with any of them that they’ll be there the next time I come in. Maybe they’ll be adopted before then, or maybe I’ve already noticed that this cat or kitten is going downhill and may no longer be alive when I next come in.

The answer to this challenge is in the answers to the other two. All I can do is all that I can do. There is nothing else.

My center may not be overtly religious or spiritual, but it’s a good teacher. When I forget to be mindful or become too attached or my ego starts parading about how important it is, these cats bring me back to center. They remind me of what’s important and what isn’t. They show me what real love looks like. They fill me with joy, happiness, love, and sometimes sorrow, despair, and sadness.

But through it all, I always return to my center. Because it’s where I’m meant to be.

2 Comments

Filed under cats, compassion, daily life, death, ego, emptiness, gratitude, impermanence, inspirations, love, mindfulness, practice

Outreach: A Monthly Query Post

Queries taken from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s “Faith & Practice”. The current month’s Query can be read in full here.

  • How do I ground myself in the understandings of my faith? Am I clear about my beliefs? How do I prepare myself to share my faith and beliefs with others?

    There are many ways I try to ground myself in the understandings of my faith. I try to constantly be mindful of my motivations behind actions and alert to any leadings I may be given. I attempt to allow love and compassion to be my primary motivation behind all actions and always question whether the way in which I behaved lived up to that motivation, and if not, then what got in the way.

    I’m not certain that I’m clear about my beliefs, not in the theological, dogmatic sense. I’m in general no longer very interested in arguing about dogma, or “notions”, as George Fox would say. My faith is what it is, and limiting it to words that may serve to divide me from others doesn’t interest me. So… I suppose that yes, I am clear about my beliefs.

    The primary way I try to share my faith and beliefs with others is through my behavior. If I’m not acting from a grounding in love and compassion; if my behavior towards another violates my Testiomonies of Simplicity, Integrity, Peace, and Equality, or violates their Testimonies; if I’m more closed than open, then I am not living up to my faith. I’m always open and available to talk about my faith with any who ask, and I don’t avoid discussing it in conversation if the subject comes up. I don’t really prepare to share my faith in any different way than I prepare to live it.

  • Does my manner of life as a Friend attract others to our religious society?

    I hope so, but I can’t be sure.

  • Do I seize opportunities to tell others about the Religious Society of Friends and invite them to worship with us?

    Yes. If way opens in a conversation, I don’t hesitate to talk about my Meeting and why I love our way of worship.

  • Is my manner with visitors and attenders to our Meeting one of welcome?

    … Probably not. I often feel rushed during Hospitality to leave as quickly as possible, because my husband drives me to Meeting for Worship and is often waiting in the car to drive me home. I don’t like ending conversations prematurely, so I often avoid starting them.

  • What opportunities have I taken to know people from different religious and cultural backgrounds, to worship with them, and to work with them on common concerns?

    I don’t limit myself to only working or being around those like me. If I feel led and way opens, I will worship with someone whose faith is different from mine.

  • What opportunities have I taken to know, to work, and to worship with Friends outside of my own Meeting?

    Other than online, I haven’t had many opportunities to worship with Friends outside of my Monthly Meeting. But I do communicate with Friends on facebook and find their virtual friendship helpful. I enjoy reading about how their faith shapes their lives and love being challenged by them.

Leave a comment

Filed under belief, daily life, leadings, meeting for worship, practice

The Dance of the Ego

I’m turning 30 tomorrow.

This bears repeating: I’m turning 30 tomorrow. And my ego has been out in full force over the last few weeks.

First, I had this idea of what I wanted my “big day” to be like. I don’t always have birthday parties, but I definitely wanted one for this year. And I wanted it to be a large party, for me, with 8-9 people. I wanted to get everything on my wishlist (only 23 items, how hard can that be, really?).

The wrinkle began over a month ago, when a good friend of mine told me she couldn’t make it. That wrinkle grew quite a bit, with most of the people I invited saying they already had other plans.

Then my in-laws seemed to forget that my birthday was approaching. Last year, I didn’t get the traditional birthday dinner; they chose to celebrate my birthday on Mother’s Day and picked up fried chicken (which doesn’t agree with my intestines, let’s just leave it at that) for dinner. The chocolate cream pie, while homemade, was made with Splenda, which also doesn’t agree with my intestines. Let’s just say it was kind of a… crappy birthday meal. So, I’ve been a bit anxious about whether this year I’d actually get a birthday dinner that I could really enjoy.

As the weekends passed without any mention of my upcoming birthday or questions about what food I may want for my birthday dinner, I began to get more anxious.

Did it matter that my father-in-law’s mother was in the process of dying and succumbed to death two weeks ago?

It should have, and I knew that it should have, but I’m ashamed to say that it didn’t really matter as much as it should have.

I felt like a 3-year-old jumping up and down while waving my arms and shouting, “LOOK AT ME!!! LOOK AT ME!!! LOOK AT ME!!”

It wasn’t pleasant. I could feel how unusually self-centered I was, but seemed completely powerless to stop the onslaught of ego.

It’s still there, really. It’s kind of hard to contain it. Turning 30 is made out to be such a big deal in American culture, like it’s the “end of youth and the beginning of the slow march into middle age”, as Dr. Bashir stated so eloquently on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And I honestly have mixed feelings about turning 30, because of my physical issues. I’m used to people being shocked by how young I am to be dealing with these kinds of physical problems, and the older I get, the less shocked people become. It’s like I want the credit of having dealt with these issues for 30 years instead of people assuming they’re a new problem somehow related to my current age. (I know that 30 is still young to be dealing with the level of physical issues I deal with, but it’s not as young as, say, 12.)

The teacher of the meditation group I attended suggested treating my ego with some compassion. This is a good suggestion. I often talk about my body parts as if they have their own thoughts and desires and have found it helpful, e.g., “My left hip isn’t happy with the amount of walking I’ve done.” I will begin relating to my ego in the same way, as if it’s a body part: one that I need to care for, but, like all body parts in pain, one that I need to realize is just a part and not as all-encompassing as it seems.

So, ego, I just want you to know that I know you’re there. And I don’t want to destroy you or harm you in any way. I just want to understand that you’re not the center of everything. Just like if I favored my left hip and completely ignored the rest of my body, I’d end up injuring myself: just so when I favor you above all others, it’s harmful.

Happy 30th birthday, ego.

Leave a comment

Filed under daily life, ego, physical pain, practice, vanity

Practice

Choosing to stop attending the Bible listening/study group with my friend was one of the harder choices I’ve had to make recently. I miss having the opportunity to see her, but I don’t miss the group as much as I thought I would. The truth is that I never really felt like it was where I was supposed to be. And as Easter approached, I began to feel more uncomfortable with the idea of continuing to attend.

For Christians, Easter is supposed to be a celebration. “Jesus is Risen!” For me, Easter has become a time of discomfort. It was at an Easter service several years ago that I was finally able to name that discomfort: that I don’t believe in the Resurrection or Jesus’s divinity. It was that Easter service that made me realize I wasn’t yet in the right spiritual home, that as awesome as the Episcopal religion is, it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Shortly after is when I (re)discovered Quakerism and knew this was where God had led me.

The truth is that attending that Bible listening/study group made me acutely aware of how distant I often feel from my Meeting. Since my Meeting is half an hour away, it’s all I can do to attend Meeting for Worship once or twice a month and the occasional library committee meeting. Being more involved with my Meeting, such as joining a discussion group, is not a possibility. And I miss my Meeting. I wish I could be more involved.

Another truth that surfaced after I realized I was no longer led to attend that group is that I need to be more faithful to my religions: both to Quakerism, and to Buddhism. I’d let my daily formal meditation fall to the wayside, with the excuse that since I was constantly trying to practice mindfulness, the formal sitting meditation “wasn’t necessary”. But I realized that I missed my meditation practice. So, I’ve started practicing sitting meditation again, and it has been good.

Tomorrow, I will be attending Meeting for Worship and then Meeting for Business. And I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know yet how to reconcile my longing to attend more Meetings for Worship with my physical inability to do so, but I’m hoping way will open. And in the meantime, on Sundays when I’m unable to attend Meeting for Worship, I’ll practice Centering Prayer meditation. It won’t be the same, but it’s better than nothing.

2 Comments

Filed under belief, buddhism, daily life, discernment, faith, Jesus, leadings, meditation, meeting for worship, third haven, worship