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With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90  days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.

17 October 2011

Painful Poetry

An Original - if Awkward - Attempt to Find Humor in Pain

How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Migraine?
(Sung to the tune of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?; from The Sound of Music)

How do you solve a problem like a migraine?
How do you stop the vomit and keep it down?
How do you find a word that means a migraine?
A pain in the left lobe, ice pick to the head, a frown?
Many a day you know you're going under.
Many a time you cancel all your plans.
But how do you make it cease,
instead of the sure increase?
How do you get the throbs of pain in hand?
How do you solve a problem like a migraine?
How do you bear it once it has began?

When I have one I'm confused,
out of focus and bemused,
and I never know exactly where I am.
Any light will make me groan,
any movement cause a moan,
I can't stand it -
this pain, damn it -
it's no sham.
I'll spend hours getting rest
blindfold, dark room, no noise; lest
I should move and feel that stabbing pain again.
Don't come near me I might cry,
though I couldn't tell you why.
Nerves aquiver,
in a dither -
Let Me Die!

How do you solve a problem like a migraine?
How can you bear it once it has began?

06 October 2011

Meditation for (Distracted) Dummies (Like Me)

I am not a meditation purist.  I employ several different methods to help me slip into that peaceful, prayerful and meditative space that so nurtures and sustains me.  Perhaps it is due to the almost constant pain in my head. Perhaps it is simply what I was born with. Whatever the cause, my mind can often be so easily distracted, so quickly caught up in the flow of thought, that I have had to find other methods than the classic one (sit cross-legged on a small cushion and stay there for an hour or so with completely empty mind) to enter a meditative state.

As a follow-up to my previous post, I'll share these methods.

Thank God, bless Allah, praise Jehovah: there are people wiser and more centered than I who have recorded meditations that I can purchase and play on my portable CD player or my stereo.  Here are a few of my favorites, and you can go to Amazon.com to find any number of CDs to buy:

** Kelley Howell and Brain Sync profess to change one's brain.  I don't know about that, I just know that her guided meditations as well as her music CDs are very helpful for me.
** Stephen Cope has a 2-CD set called "Yoga for Emotional Flow" that I just love.
** Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's CD, "A Gift of Silence" consists of three guided meditations.
** Jon Kabot Zinn recorded a 5-CD set - "Guided Mindfulness Meditation" - that present a variety of ways to meditate.

I am not Catholic, but I did spend 30 days once in a retreat (the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius) at a Jesuit spiritual center in Pennsylvania.  That experience opened me to to rituals and practices of Catholicism, which, although I do not subscribe to Catholic beliefs or doctrine, have informed and deepened my prayerful and centering practices.  One of the things I learned to do was to use a rosary (a beaded necklace would do just as well) for centering.  There is something about the tactile, regular fingering of the beads that, combined with whispered, repeated phrases allows for peace of spirit and calming of mind.

Small things like the lighting of a candle, sounding of a singing bowl, or yoga assanas help center me and are a wonderful way to begin a prayer or meditation time.  I always use the breath for centering, something about which I have posted before (click on breathing in the LABELS section, to the right).

I recently discovered chanting, and do not have many resources yet, but learned from a CD, "Five Classic Meditations" by Shinzen Young.  I cannot find this CD, even on his website, but I saw a CD called, "Chant: Om Mani Padme Hum," and that is the chant I learned from the "Five Classic Meditations CD."

There are days when, despite my years of practicing centering prayer and meditation, there is something so pressing on my spirit that emptying the mind seems not only impossible, but not what I need.  Having learned from some visits to the Insight Meditation group in Washington, DC that there is a form of meditation that allows and even follows the thoughts arising from one's spirit, I now allow myself these times that clearly require reflection instead of meditation.  However, it's not simply a matter of plunking down in a chair and engaging in repetitive, compulsive thinking patterns that are anything but quiet and reflective.  I use music, simple ritual, and maybe a bit of chanting to help me center and relax before I begin reflecting.

There is more to share, but this migraine is worsening, so I will continue in another post.  May you allow yourself some moments of peace today and may these moments bless you and keep you close to God.
I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below (and note that I have been unable lately to comment on my own or any other blog, so will not be able to reply) or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

04 October 2011

"Trying to Meditate" Is an Oxymoron

I have used the language myself, and so when I read it on a blog recently, I was reminded of what odd things we say and think about meditation.

"I tried to meditate but it didn't work."
"I really struggle to meditate ..."

The odd thing about meditation is that if we try, or worse yet, struggle, to do it, we are dooming ourselves to failure.  It's just so different from most other endeavors in our lives, which have been full since pre-school of exhortations to simply try harder, to grapple with, to grasp for.  Yet we might as well try to grasp Jello as to grasp meditation.

Meditation is about allowing, surrendering, accepting.  I have a meditation CD I like very much (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's "A Gift of Silence").  In the course of one of the meditations, Sri Sri says that the minute we focus on our tension - and that is exactly what we are doing when we "struggle" to meditate - we are making it worse.  His instructions are to simply be aware of the tension without judgment or emotion: accept that it is there and continue with the meditation.

What Eckhart Tolle says is also helpful.  He uses the phrase "resistance to what is" when he talks about what the mind/ego does to create suffering. 

"The pain that you create now is always some form of non-acceptance, some form of conscious resistance to what is." 

When we meditate, if we do not resist what is - muscle tension or discomfort, scattered thoughts, restlessness, the sudden rising of emotion - and replace the judgment

"Rats!  There I go again, thinking about work." 
Why can't I just meditate?  What is wrong with me?"

with simple naming

"Here is tension."
"This is scattered mind."

we are then able to allow ourselves to slip into the meditative state.  And it does not matter - it truly does not matter - if, after a meditation session, we feel as though we spent 18.5 of the 20 minutes naming tension and scattered mind.  This, too, is a matter for simple acceptance.

How does this relate to pain management?  In several ways:
  1. A regular practice of meditation or prayer or relaxation is essential to good pain management.  What the body in pain wants to do is tense up to fight or run away from it.  This may be helpful for acute pain, but it becomes quite a problem for chronic pain, as muscle and emotional tension or stress only make the pain worse.  To the extent that we can reach for the tools that quiet our pained bodies, minds and spirits, we are managing the pain at the very least by not making it worse.
  2. If we have learned to accept tension and difficulties during meditation, we have skills that can be transferred to managing pain.  I have written about this in other posts, and I think it's one of the most difficult pieces of pain management to take in: allowing, observing and/or accepting our pain is the beginning of managing it.    Having practiced this sort of acceptance during meditation or centering prayer, we are better able to use it when we are in pain.  Accept that it is and then get on with pain management practices.
  3. Surrender.  Acceptance.  These are spiritual principles that cut across religious and philosophical boundaries.  There are many, many wise ones from whom to quote, so what follows is intended only to be a short list of examples and not exhaustive in any way.
  • Buddhism: I especially like the way Tara Brach writes about "radical acceptance."
  • Hinduism: The concept of karma is the context for acceptance in this link.
  • Christianity: Jesus often instructs us not to worry, to look around and see how even the lily is clothed, even the fall of the sparrow is noted by God.
  • Native American spirituality: Simply reading the lines on this link, I get the feeling that to live as so surrendered a part of the natural world is to not even need the concept of surrender.
Speaking of accepting, my head is beginning to ache, and that means I cannot look at the computer any longer.  I will continue this post in a few days.  Now, it is time to rest.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below (and note that I am having trouble with my computer and have been unable to post comments on blogs lately, even my own, so will not reply), or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.