writingmybrain

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Dig Deep & Digest

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Sometimes when everything in our mind and body screams at us to dig deep, we resist, we procrastinate, we go to do something else. Why is this and what do I mean by dig deep?

I suppose it boils down to two things for me: it means going deeper than the surface, of my life, the given circumstance or the emotional entanglement I currently encounter. It also means going into a place I’d rather not go because it will call for an honesty to myself I would rather not explore, identify, or allow to surface into my awareness at the time.

It’s a little like an ingrown toenail. It irritates and intrudes on my general well-being until I address it. I know it will cause some physical pain, however to ignore it, it will only grow deeper, find a spot where it won’t hurt for a time, but will arise again in my awareness until it has been addressed somehow.

It will also demand physical awareness in my body. Where is it, how to wiggle it to dislodge its hold on my flesh, what tools will I need to do the job? It will take time. I likely will not get it the first time, maybe not even the second or third. Each time I worry it, wiggle it, worm it out of its place of comfort into my physical and emotional space before letting it go where it now belongs—in the garbage, released from its hold on me.

It is pleasant? No. Is it necessary? Yes. Do I have the right tools? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. Either way, I troubleshoot the reality, and find the tools or improvise. The tools I have in my kit that guide and assist me in uprooting, digging deep and digesting include six elements: muscle testing as a guide; willingness to find an answer that holds true for the moment; a small action to register this new awareness; celebrate the win; acknowledge its gifts for showing up in my life; let it go in gratitude.

Do I manage to do this each time? Maybe no, maybe yes. I don’t always identify them as such, yet they occur over time one step at a time.

Take the ingrown toe as an example.

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Finding Words

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Recently I read this quote marketing is translating. Along this vein I have found myself saying in the past ten years that life is marketing no matter what we do. Whether we are marketing ourselves as a person in a relationship, as a parent to our children, or simply navigating or negotiating that bill that caught us by surprise. The bottom line is simply, we are addressing a concept to someone or their association and packaging our point of view in such a way as the receiver can handle, digest or manage it. It is about presenting it in such a way that it is received and as a consequence a new behavior, a solution to a dilemma, or a different action that can be taken in unison.

Truth be told, we are in the throes of marketing ourselves each and every day to anyone with whom we come in contact with at any time. So why when we talk about our business does marketing become so indigestible? I am currently on a volunteer board and every time I mention the “m” word I can the eyes of most of the other board members glaze over.

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Choice & Possibility as Partners

blog-choice & possibility“To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.” [Infinite lines P.4—The Tao of Writing—Ralph L. Wahlstrom

Recently I was in a group meditation, and as is customary following the mediation there is discussion related and unrelated to the mediation.

Last week one person who had been absent for three weeks mentioned a debilitating back concern that had entirely interrupted his quality of life, and how there is an assumption that this quality of life will continue as it has always continued regardless of age, and mishap. It is often when we face these disruptions, we begin to consider our mortality.

Recently I also watched a movie—Collateral Beauty—and a character representing Time— said to the protagonist Howard (Will Smith) “You just waste time…I give you a gift and you just waste it…”

Another way of phrasing this is that time incorporates all of the events of our life between A and B—birth and death—and it is also about the choices we make in any given moment.

Often when I mention choice to others, I also hear resistance. “There is no choice, man.” “I don’t have a choice.” “There’s nothing happening in my life that is about choice. It is what it is.”

And yes, I agree. It is often this perception that is also wrapped and disguised as resistance to change,  because change usually involves something different, and perhaps something difficult from us.

I remember when I was flat on my back unable to move, use my left hand or arm, told I may never walk or write again, I also felt sorrowful. One day, experiencing pain that was beyond the 1-10 categorization that allopathic medicine uses, the veil lifted.

I realized I have choice in every single moment of my life. Simply put, choice is also an attitude of approach. I could remain sorrowful, or recognize that a different choice was also mine.

In that moment, yes I was unable to walk or write; I may well experience pain for the rest of my life, but also I knew that through my breath, not only was I alive, I could breathe into the pain; allow that pain to dissipate (or not) on the breathe, visualize a different outcome, and trust that health and wellness would emerge differently than it had been previously.

Was it easy? No. It took and continues to take time. Is my life the same? No, and I also know that how I do my life is all about the choices I make today. I can choose to be sorrowful, or I can choose to look at what presents itself to me differently with gratitude rather than sorrow.

I mentioned to my friend at meditation, that when I was in that experience, the veil that lifted for me was all about choice, and yes—if this is as good as it gets—at least I had my voice. When I recognized that both choice and my voice were still mine, I rested in the hammock of possibility. Perhaps “to experience with intention is to anticipate the world,” is another way of seeing choice and possibility as partners.

Writing Practice: Take out your trusty journal, find a quiet place that resonates for you, and contemplate what “to experience with intention is to anticipate the world,” means to you, and the word choice. Write for 10-20 minutes. Did anything surface that you hadn’t considered before? Did you receive any keys (indicators) that may assist you to move, or alter a perception, experience, belief, opinion or judgement? How may you take a simple action that will help you integrate this change in your life? This may mean creating an image, recording a sound, taking a photograph. Now, make it visible in your life. This will assist you to recognize your choice and possibilities.

 

 


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Trust Your Gut

 

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I made a comment to a friend the other day how much I love to take photographs. It is a passion I had before my accident, and after five years of recovery and learning once again how to take photographs with one hand, I picked up a camera once more. However my comment was more along the lines that how I love a purpose to taking photographs. Of course, I have one—many in fact.

As a former journalist, photo-story was part of any composition. During the early years of recovery, getting to hold the camera still with one-hand, and focus was all about practice, again and again. I could (and still could) use a tripod, but hey, there’s something quite magical about taking a photograph with one-hand and not jiggling it to a blur. There’s a part of me that still loves the challenge, the unexpected, the magic. It makes my heart feel at peace, time disappear, and it’s like I’m dancing with what is before me. It is similar to writing and poetry, two more of my passions.

I recently read in an introduction to his book Critical Path. Buckminster Fuller included an article by his friend, e.e. cummings, the poet.

A Poet’s Advice

“A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn’t. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel—but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling—not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

Poetry and photography, for me, are felt journeys. In the book—Three Brains—How the Heart, Brain, and Gut Influence Mental Health and Identity by Karen Jensen, ND, she says—

“In today’s modern world, we are encouraged to focus mainly on our head brain. But we also need to use our other two brains to process our feelings and listen to our intuition to help keep us in balance.”

I am encouraged by this book because it explores the value and importance of all three brains—gut, head, heart—to work in unison for a healthy mind, healthy body. It honors the gut brain which is that part of us that is instinctual, intuitive, unselfconscious, immediate, practical, and direct.

I know from personal experience that one of the gifts of brain injury is what I now call the felt sense, which is also known as gut response.

This simple unrestrained response of what “pops” into mind, or out of one’s mouth without social boundaries is a good device I have grown to appreciate. It can be disruptive, it can be disturbing and it is certainly unpredictable, and often surprising.

Its gift is instinctual, intuitive, unselfconscious, immediate, practical, and direct, and I have learned to appreciate that uninhibited awareness. The gut became my indicator of how to be in the world. Of course none of this was in my awareness as first however; I did know it as a gut response, learned to trust it and later identify it as a felt sense. I named it at first as incongruence.

Today when my gut responds to an external situation, I know to trust it, listen, and take time to digest what it is being communicated to me.

Weird hey? Not really. By the same indicators I write and photograph now. My gut is a navigator of terrains. It intuitively knows things that my head has to ultimately grasp and articulate through language. My heart is the compass by which I travel the terrain. Together they’re a great team, and I feel blessed for the opportunities that arise because of the team work.

Writing Practice: Trust your Gut Writing—Go outside with your journal and pen. Find a quiet place that works for you. It could be a park, your backyard, a lake, a picnic spot. It could even be a mall where busy-ness is all around you. Start by jotting down things around you that “pop” into mind, a visual clue, a felt sense: words, phrases, observations, emotions. Write them randomly as they arise. No straight lines necessary. When you feel you have completed this, stop, breathe. Even close your eyes. Breathe. Keep breathing in awareness until you feel you are ready to go back to your journal page. Circle those words, impressions and phrases that seem to leap out at you. Breathe with awareness; pay attention to any indicators from your gut. When you are ready—begin to write. This may be an insight about health and wellness for you; it may be a journal entry or a poem. Just write—trust your gut writing and enjoy. No need to read it or edit. Just tuck it away for another day and time.

 


The Pot; the Play

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This week I had a great experience with two girls, almost three and five who came over with their dad. They come from a unique family in ways that are not apparent to outsiders. The parents have decided to share all responsibilities—earning livelihood, home-school, parenting and just about else they encounter as a family; religion, aging parents and eating to name a few. They come from different cultures and met in Africa where they volunteered—she Canadian born from Sri Lankan decent and he from rural Alberta. From my observation their relationship is steeped in acceptance and respect.

Dad and I had a little business to complete, the girls—came in search of play.
The little one saw the earthen pot and asked, as so many little ones often do—“what’s this for?”
“Can you imagine?” I said.
“Perhaps it’s for a potion,” she said.
“What kind of potion do you imagine?”
“These petals,” she said.
“The one’s on the floor maybe,” I said. “The flowers still need theirs.”
“I’ll get some things for your potion,” I said.
I went inside got a plastic container and filled it with water; pulled spatulas from the drawer and took them outside.
“Just in case you need them,” I said placing them on the table.

By this time both girls were involved. They continued with the potion—all the time talking to one another, and building their story. They pulled yarrow heads, added petals, a little dirt, some roots, and water and stirred.
The dog decided to drink some of their potion.
“Oh—oh, I wonder what will happen now that he’s had potion.” I said.
“Maybe he’ll fly,” said one of the girls.
“Like Pegasus the flying horse?”
“He’ll be the flying dog,” said one.
“Maybe a unicorn,” said the other.
Dad laughed and sat in the sun.

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Naming the World

It’s an interesting thing; this aging. I am surrounded by elders. I enjoy them, their wisdoms, insights, and the one commonality that distinguishes the ones still active and engaged, are their passions and passion for life.

It may be writing as an example, it may be walking, it may be reading, playing scrabble, canoeing, camping etc. but those that remain engaged in life are the ones that remain active in some way. A great example is my mother-in-law—98. She continues to name the world, practice Sudoku, walk, pick berries in season and enjoy her great, great grandchildren on those many occasions she connects with family.

A further example may be another elder who dragged me lake swimming this afternoon! Of course I joined the ranks of an elder when I turned 65 this year, but this woman far exceeds my enthusiasm for lake swimming and she is twenty years my senior.

I took my camera and ventured that way in support of her engagement. She loves to swim and last year swam daily in the river with a mutual friend my age! This week again I was impressed with another friend—88—her energy and our diverse conversations kept us up late. Last year, her husband died, and she is adjusting to this change.

My own mother is showing distinct signs of dementia and I can’t help link it to her increasing lack of interest and engagement in life over the past ten years. This year she had a stint insertion to stretch her aorta. Now she is getting the necessary oxygen, yet her attitude of engagement still wanes.

Personally, I experienced this with a contemporary a few years back. His physical decline coincided with angina attacks. His brain, as his arteries became more blocked and oxygen reduced, simply wasn’t getting to organs. His behaviour collapsed into this new habit of apathy and it was difficult to get him off the couch. Ultimately I let go because it was his choice.

Simply put, no-one can persuade anyone to do anything they don’t choose to do themselves. All the cajoling in the world won’t make a difference. Lasting motivation ultimately comes from the inside out rather than the outside in. A distinction I see with elders is those that remain involved in their passions, remain engaged in life. Those that lean into apathy tend to fair less well.

My friend—88—still journals, and has done so for over seventy years when she first began her practice in the wilderness backcountry of Canada; in part to track her days activities, observations, inventions and the emotional landscapes of her life, and in part to write extensive letters to friends. She began this practice early on, and keeps it up today. I call it—naming the world—she calls it writing.

Writing Practice: Go outside listen to the sounds of the wind in the trees. If its’s a calm day, listen to the sounds that meet your ears. Smell the air, touch the ground, feel the weather, taste the atmosphere, imagine the story, recall a moment…begin to write. Keep going for 15 more minutes without stopping.


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It’s All about Trust

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Today while I was with a client I was asked what’s the point?
It is a question I am asked often by this client; sometimes with such frequency I have to listen to hear what she has also said to me, and understand what she is really asking me. It takes time to unravel what this one question means to her.

It means:
* She has had life experiences that are valuable and she wants to share them with family members but what’s the point?
* She has also said that managing pain, nerve pain in this instance, makes it difficult to concentrate, so what’s the point?
* She has also said that it is only outside people spending time with her that make a difference to her mental health. Nurses don’t take time or don’t have time, and family are too busy, so what’s the point?
* She also says she cries a lot, she is surrounded by death and dying in this long term care facility, so, what’s the point (of living)?

All this is true. Her life is painful, tragic, and sad yet she also has purpose. Together we find that purpose through the act of listening (on my part) and recording for her, in writing. I ask questions and she provides details.

She can share her story as a stroke survivor, being immobile flat on her back in bed or in her wheelchair, having to live within the routine with no autonomy, and living in chronic pain —the good, bad and everything in between.

Her memory is excellent, her details exquisite, her experience unique to her and important to express in a concrete way. Mental engagement is vital. Her life and stroke experiences are hers to share so others can learn from her wisdoms. I am able to be her scribe, listen to her stories, discern key points so she can weave her unique points of view into a manageable project—what it is like living after a stroke, grief and loss, finding purpose again, or simply expressing emotions that are trapped inside for example.

I don’t know where to start she says, it’s overwhelming. She is looking at a photograph album that she abandoned before the stroke. She is surprised at how organized she was then, now she turns pages. Let’s start with captions, I suggest. She keeps turning the pages, flipping back and forth. She continues. She doesn’t answer. I wait.

We start to talk about the images. She flips back and forth. At last she begins to tell a story of the pictures, who’s who, and the historical context. What’s the caption? I ask. She begins to identify people. She tells me, I write the captions, she tucks the loose captions behind the photographs and turns the page. Together we complete the first step. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.

Next time we will take another step in the process of her re-engagement and finding her new purpose. That is the point. She guides me in the process. She is the leader. I follow.
There’s my dad with golf clubs, she says. He stands in a middle of a neighbour’s stubble field his clubs beside him. They played golf in the field—and on Sundays too! She pauses. Jerad still has those clubs.

She shares her story of her father playing golf in the farmer’s field every week in the summer because there was no golf course nearby. We become collaborators for her creative project. It is all about her health and wellness.

With that step completed, I read a story about her grandfather she shared on another occasion. By the end of our two hour session, she is laughing, her face has lightened; she has been heard. She is also reminded of her purpose and point. Her articulation is vital to her mental health. Her answers are inside, and in the process she experiences recognition and gets the point.

write4health(.ca) for example can simply be caption writing as it was today, or poetry writing. In previous sessions my client, who had never written poetry before, started to write one word at a time. Now she has over sixty poems under her belt. My purpose is to facilitate what she already knows, provide her with a mirror in which to see her inner genius, and reflect on her wisdom to her, via her projects.

Writing Practice: Take an image, an old black and white (or colour) photograph, from an album, box, book, or magazine—you may know the people and the surroundings, and you may not—either way, begin to tell a story, write or journal.
Prompts: Where is it? What is happening? What memories arise, or can you imagine? What does it smell like? What kind of a day is it? What do you think/imagine is going on? Have you had a similar experience? How does it make you feel? Is there something you had forgotten that this image reminds you of? Imagine how it feels to be in that image? What can you touch through your imagination in this image? In the event you are unable to write, ask someone you trust to be your scribe. Trust the process!