By ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser’s photostream

This was written several months ago; things are better now.

Right before I took the Buddhist precepts last year, after months of preparation, study, and personal reflection, the founder of our Zen temple visited our group and imparted to us such simple advice:

Trust yourself.

You have all the tools you need to protect yourself from what the world throws at you.

You have all the tools you need to protect the world against what you throw at it.

How often have I ignored my gut feelings to spare someone else, to avoid an ugly scene, or a uncomfortable moment? How often have I pushed away the clear idea that a person or an action was wrong and should not be pursued?

I spent much of the first third of my life saying and doing as I pleased, with little regard to how it affected those around me. At the same time, I ignored an inner voice that said: run. tell someone. don’t believe it. Instead, I painted flowers over pictures of rotting corpses and rewrote scary stories as funny fables.

Later, when I became aware, really aware of that lack of filter, I overcompensated in the other direction. I kept quiet for the sake of peace and harmony and to further the idea that I was a nice person on the outside as well as the inside.

Often I felt like that repainted picture: a flower to the world, a rotting corpse underneath.

I mention this in the context of the last few months. If you’ve been reading here long enough you know I’m trying to do some deep writing, some exorcising, some healing. (Not much of it sees the light of the Internets.) What’s resulted is that if I open myself wide enough to scrape the contents of my soul, I become physically ill. I have been sick three times in five months. Flat-on-my-back-and-slow-to-recover sick. Aside from a weakened immune system, which has led to less time at the gym and out and about in general doing healthful things, I’ve been on a bit of  a downward spiral.

I’ve been haunted by a frank conversation I had this winter where I blurted over tea, “I need to be in therapy. I know I do. I’m just too cheap.”

Ouch. That was my excuse. I’m too cheap. Therapy is not cheap. But somewhere along the way I decided it was too expensive for me. I talked with a few close friends who kindly suggested: What about your husband? your children? Don’t you owe it to them at least to help yourself to be a better partner and mother? Think of yourself: In order for you to launch a job search (which is all about self-esteem and selling yourself) and move forward with our life, you need to be healthy and stong. Think of it as an investment.

Really, I couldn’t argue with that logic. So I contacted a therapist recommended by a person I trust.

It did not go well.

It’s hard to say what went wrong. Was it me, so resistant that I found fault with everything about the therapist? Was it the therapist, who just struck me as too harsh, especially for an initial consultation? I don’t know. I haven’t been in therapy in 20 years. And then? It was a kindly older woman, who always seemed on the verge of serving tea and cookies on a silver platter.

This appointment was more like going to the principal’s office after being caught throwing a sloppy joe at the lunch monitor’s back. By the time the appointment ended and I was alone I found myself on a train without brakes hurtling toward despondency. I cried all weekend long. I was totally alone. My husband was away on business. I came up with excuses not to attend two social gatherings because my poker face was at the dry cleaners.

For days I wrestled with my thoughts, pushed away the self-blame and pity and anger and frustration and finally I heard the faintest of whispers. The smallest of voices, like a pure musical note, cut through cacophony of chain saws, bulldozers and dusty, swirling debris:

Trust yourself.

So I did. I canceled my next appointment.

I didn’t cancel the idea of therapy.

Just that therapist.

This I know: What lies beneath is no different from a swelling tumor. My denial and lack of trust feeds its cells. Listening to my heart, trusting myself, speaking up, telling the truth, and not allowing myself to be led down dark paths, that’s my chemotherapy.

I won’t give up.

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Other things of nature

Photo by MZ

I had two pieces that should have been posted by now. Rather than publish, I killed them.
They sat around so long they gathered moss. One was about how a visit to the chiropractor ultimately predicted the illness I am now trying to cure. I went on about how I thought I was in such good physical condition, what with all the exercise and personal work I’ve been doing, I thought for sure the chiropractor would ask me to pose for X-rays for a brochure on spinal health.

Instead, the chiropractor asked if I’m being stalked by a scythe-carrying man in a dark cape. (Maybe I should have mentioned my five-hour-a-night sleep routine. I know that puts me to the front of the line to see the Grim Reaper.)

In a state of denial, I shrugged him off, proclaiming myself to be in good health. I paid my bill and cartwheeled out of his office. Two days later chest pain, headache, and a deep, phlegmy cough sent me crawling to bed.

Bad timing.

Perfect timing.

Sometimes nature places a banana peel in my crazed path, forcing me to slow down. Meanwhile, leaves plummet to the earth, stripping the trees of their pretenses. The season shifts, suggesting the time is now to get certain things done before snow covers the landscape.

So I’m thinking, as I prepare for a string of days that will physically and mentally challenge me, that I need to better manage the other things of nature, the ruts, the holes, and the bees.  I need to be stripped of my pretenses.

I’m taking a break, a really intense break free of books and computers and televisions and cell phones. For five days. So that I can sit in peace and face the mirror that is me. And hopefully, when this is all done, I will know how to accept the reflection rather than reinvent it, cover it up, or ignore it altogether.

I think the hardest thing to be is who you really are when you cannot hide behind props.

How brave are the trees to stand naked all winter.

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Meme Monday: the Honest Scrap edition

To complete the trio of awards bestowed upon me recently, here is the Honest Scrap award from Lorna the Bathtime Blogger.

Lorna passed this on to me for what she called “my heartfelt writing.”

Thank you, Lorna,  for thinking so. I try.

Nevertheless. This meme requires me to do the unthinkable: list 10 honest things about myself.

Holy crap.

Well, since I’ve done a number of these in recent weeks and revealed a bunch of mundane stuff, I thought I’d take the sprit of this award and delve deeper. Here goes:

1. I never meant for this site to be an anonymous blog. When I set it up more than two years ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.  I thought I’d somehow work my identity into it, but I never got around to it. Now? I really don’t know how to break out of this pattern or if I should.

2. People who should have taken care of me in my childhood hurt me. People in positions of trust. So, I have trust issues, particularly when dealing with people in one particular profession.

3. The people who did these things largely got away with it because I didn’t say anything until many years later, when it was too late. It’s fair to say that some members of my family do not believe my stories.

4. I was on antidepressants for three years. I kept it a secret (big shock!) but quit for two reasons: I gained way too much weight and I didn’t cry at my grandmother’s funeral. I could not shed a tear. I loved that woman with all my heart. I was her favorite granddaughter. Here she was dead and I felt — nothing. I decided to wean myself off them when my prescription expired. I have better ways to deal with my demons. I don’t fault anyone who takes them. I fault greedy doctors who push them on patients and never inquire afterward about how they are working or ever suggest maybe it’s time to get off them.

5. I am not easily honest. You can imagine the amount of gut wrenching involved in hitting publish on this post. It’s not that I set out to lie. I do not like lying.  I just like to protect the truth, even if there is no good reason to be so secretive. Lately for the purposes of not letting history repeat itself, I’ve been more forthcoming.

6. It has taken me more than two years to realize a lifelong friendship that ended badly needed to end. It was toxic. Always had been. I had so much guilt over it. Then one day I realized: I deserve better. Magically, I have made countless new and wonderful friends. I’ve also learned to treasure the longtime friendships that are healthy.

7. I just replace one addiction with another. As a child: nail biting. As a teen and into my late 20s: cigarette smoking. In my 30s: exercise. Today: Food.

8. I don’t like a lot of fuss about anything. Once, when I was quite young and on a class field trip, I climbed into a wooden fort, fell through an opening in the floor and plummeted into a mud puddle below. I didn’t utter a peep. I just stood up, waited for the swirling stars to stop orbiting my head and joined the group as if nothing happened. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

9. I am not now and never was a flirt. I figured if guys were interested in me, they could have a real conversation with me. I am not interested in bullshit banter.

10. I am an (almost) daily meditator. After searching for a number of years, I found a community and a practice that met my needs. My life is so much better because of this discovery and a commitment on my part.

Well, there you go, my  guts are on the table, steaming and stinking for all to inspect. It’s taken me a long time to get the courage to post this.

I’ve met some folks in the last year or so who’ve opened my eyes to the idea of a more authentic life, one in which I walk around wearing robes of my own design and follow the path less traveled. If you are so inclined, pass this along to any blogger or writer you feel speaks from the heart.

Setting sail


As I descend the stone steps leading away from the nondescript red building with the Tibetan prayer flags flying over the front porch, I notice for the first time that my feet are cold and that my legs are a bit numb.

But I am abundantly aware of the state of my spirit. My inner being is so light it soars above the snow-covered landscape and cuts straight through the airy clouds to the sun. My head is buzzing. I liken it to a runner’s high. This feeling. It stayed with me all day.

How could this be? My internal weather has leaned toward dark and stormy for months. My inner self a heavy thing dragging on the pavement. In one hour the storms, the weight dissipated. Later that evening, I attempt to recreate the experience at home. Again. Amazing energy flow and calm. I am on to something here.

After an on-again, off-again meditation practice that I abandoned right around the time I became a mother of two, and a missed opportunity to visit a Buddhist Temple in China, I finally summoned the courage to attend a service in Detroit.

I went in with no expectations and more than a little bit of anxiety (of the unknown) but my nerves calmed almost immediately after entry into this peaceful environment.

Even though I had no idea how to conduct myself in this setting, I felt welcome and serene. It’s not often that I get an undisturbed hour to myself.

By the time the service was over, I had a strong feeling that I had found a new spiritual home, one in which I could begin my journey toward healing my inner self and giving wings to a new outer life.