About Me

My photo

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.

25 March 2012

Accept and Bear Reality

Fourteenth in a series

We who live with chronic pain feel powerless a good bit of the time.  Not only can we not control the pain -- it is chronic: by definition, out of our control -- but we are disabled in aspects of our lives that pain-free persons take for granted: travel, work, exercise, daily and basic choice.  It's worth a good whine every now and again, and I do indulge, as my husband can attest.  But one cannot whine very long without seriously damaging one's self-esteem.  So, what is left to us chronic-painers?

The same thing that is left to every other human being on this planet, that's what is left to us.

Long before I began living with migraine disease, I'd read various authors -- Anthony de Mello, Melody BeattyEckhart Tolle, Pema Chodron -- who all said essentially the same thing: when it comes right down to it, the only control any of us have in our lives is the control we exert over how we accept and bear reality.

This being the case, we with chronic pain are no different than any one else.  One of the realities of our lives is that we live with chronic pain.  It is a difficult reality, no doubt.  But we can choose to take it out of the victim-mode of this chronic pain is ruining my life and into the empowered-mode of this chronic pain is a reality I can choose to accept and bear just like every human being.

Suddenly, we don't feel so alone: Our task, our lot in life, is the same as any spiritually-evolving and -maturing person.  We don't feel absolutely powerless: We do have a choice.

We can choose how we deal with our life circumstance.  We have power over our own reactions.  We are in control of our Selves. 

Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now, makes a case for the human ego being the root of our inability to accept our reality, our Now.  My previous several posts have been discussing this.  He says that coming out of a mind- or ego-identity (he uses these terms interchangeably) brings us along on the journey to spiritual enlightenment.

Our life circumstance, chronic pain, can become a doorway to our spiritual enlightenment.  We can choose to let our pain teach us to live in the Now, to open our hearts to reality, to show us the freedom of accepting what is.  And all of the spiritual teachers I know say that this is the path to inner peace, to a loving heart, and to becoming a compassionate presence in this hurting world.

What more could we ask?

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.  Thank you.

20 March 2012

"The Power of Now" and Pain: Shame-Free Zone

Thirteenth in a series.

I have been posting about sensitive stuff lately.  It is not an easy matter to honestly turn our attention to our inner workings when we are speaking of the darker side of human nature.  I think that one of the main reasons it's not easy is that we have learned shame and guilt.

We get it from our religion, our parents, our teachers, and society in general.  We are taught shame, we are encouraged to feel guilty.  Maybe this is done to us for what seemed to be a good reason to some authority figure -- to help us learn a lesson, to show us a better way to live.  But the fact is that shame and guilt are unproductive emotions.  They harbor secrets and make us unwilling or unable to bring what is skulking in the dark into the light for healing. 

"Our secrets make us sick." (Alcoholics Anonymous saying)

In the context of this series of posts on Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, guilt and shame also keep us from being in the Now.  They keep us from experiencing the power of this moment because they anchor us in the past, they make us deny the present and fear the future. 

For example: if I am ashamed of that part of me that needs to stay sick because my ego identifies as a sick person, I am forced to keep it hidden under layers of guilt and fear.  I can never release that shame from its dark containers: I can never bring what is happening in my ego to the healing power of the reality of the present moment.  I am stuck, forever denying myself the liberation, the freedom of living in the Now.  Not to mention that it lowers my self-esteem and obliterates my self-honesty.

Many of us will feel defensive, angry, or upset reading a post like the one previous to this.  Please just accept those feelings, acknowledge them as human.  The reality of our lives is hard enough.  We have to deal with pain just about every day.  We have lost careers, relationships, income, mobility, choice.  Our lives are stripped down close to minimum.  We have little control over circumstances -- well, no one has control over circumstances, but we seem to be more at their mercy than many people we know.


Yet we do have control over one thing: how we deal with, accept, work with and live with the reality of our life in this moment.  This is where we overcome difficulties and darkness, in the choices we make to confront and be authentic about what is our Now.

And that will be the subject of my next post.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.  Thank you.

16 March 2012

"The Power of Now" and Pain: Identifying with Pain

Twelfth in a series.

It is insidious, really, how easy it is to become identified with a life circumstance like chronic pain. There is nothing shameful about it -- we all do it by finding our identity in such things as our work, family, wealth, intelligence, experiences -- and Tolle says that our egos bear the responsibility.  The ego will grasp at anything to give it identity and meaning.

"Another aspect of the [suffering] that is an intrinsic part of the egoic mind is a deep-seated sense of lack or incompleteness, of not being whole.  In some people, this is conscious, in others unconscious.  If it is conscious, it manifests as the unsettling and constant feeling of not being worthy or good enough.  If it is unconscious, it will only be felt indirectly as an intense craving, wanting and needing...people will often enter into a compulsive pursuit of ego-gratification and things to identify with in order to fill this hole they feel within." (page 45)

If we are in chronic pain, there's not a whole lot to grasp on to.  In many cases, we have lost huge chunks of our lives: careers, relationships, income, and freedom of movement.  But what Tolle tells us is that, as counter-intuitive as it seems, we are still compelled by our egos to clutch at something to identify with.  For the insecure ego (and the ego is, by nature, insecure) being in pain is as good as anything else.

Here are some of the ways I catch my own ego grasping at the identity straw (I list these things because (1) it's good for my self-honesty to get them out there; (2) it strengthens my awareness, which helps to bring me into the Now; and (3) maybe you will recognize yourself and be relieved that you are not the only one):

1. Talking about my symptoms.  It is amazing how often I repeat the litany of what is wrong: why pain, where pain, when pain, how much pain.  Sometimes, I am sure, it makes sense -- for example, when my doctor asks me, or when another migraine-suffering soul wants to compare notes and connect.  However, there are many other times when I begin reciting my woes with very little provocation.  And sometimes, once I get started, it is really hard to stop.

2. Garnering sympathy.  I never knew it until my husband pointed it out to me (bless his heart), but I have certain dramatic tendencies in the way I talk about and relate to the world around me.  This served me well when I was on stage, back in another life, and still has its uses for story-telling and otherwise participating in a fun evening with friends.  But it loses its allure when I indulge in drama as a way of getting sympathy.  I am canny enough to be subtle about it, but it is still happening, and I do feel chagrin when I catch myself.

3. Fear.  Tolle says that the insecurity of the ego has its greatest outcome in fear.  "Because of its phantom nature, and despite elaborate defense mechanisms, the ego is very vulnerable and insecure, and it sees itself as constantly being under threat." (page 44)  This means that because my ego grasps at the person-in-chronic-pain identity, it fears having the pain taken away.  If my migraines are cured, my ego reasons, who am I?  No one.  I am dead.  How unsettling is that?  When it comes right down to it, there is a part of me that DOES NOT WANT TO GET WELL.

Phew.  It feels good to get that out there.

But now my head is hurting from all this honesty.  (See how I use my identity as person in pain to bring this post to a close?)  In my next post, I'll write about becoming aware of the ego and its machinations.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

10 March 2012

The Power of Honesty

I wanted to write a post this morning.  I thought I'd follow my usual routine of reviewing my notes in Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, then spend an hour or two writing a post, the eleventh in this series.

Except that, come right down to it (come write down to it?), I am unable to muster the energy because this morning I have a migraine, which is not unusual; and I am low in spirits, which is unusual. 

I don't care to act the victim, or at least I try to catch myself when that temptation arises.  So I'm not vying for sympathy, here.  It's just that some days are harder than others, and there's no clear reason why, it just simply is that way.  I don't judge this mood, I don't wish it away, I take a deep breath and accept it as what is Now.  I am human, though, and I cannot resist just this one comment:

Chronic pain sucks.

05 March 2012

"The Power of Now" and Pain Management: The Ego in Pain

Eleventh in a series.

In my previous post I shared a list that I derived from a paragraph in Chapter Two of Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now.  It teaches us about the alchemy of taking the base metal of suffering and turning it into the gold of spiritual awareness.
  1. Focus attention on the emotions or thoughts that are causing you to suffer.
  2. Accept that the suffering is there.
  3. Let go of thinking about it, judging it, analyzing it, whining about it. ESPECIALLY avoid making an identity (like being a Victim; I have posted about this before) out of it.
  4. Continue to observe the suffering. This is called being present, or staying in the Now.

In this post, I want to discuss step #3: letting go of the impulse to make an identity out of being in pain. 

Tolle explains that it is the "egoic mind" that seeks to give us an identity:

"Since the ego is a derived sense of self, it needs to identify with external things.  It needs to be both defended and fed constantly.  The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often also, political, nationalistic, racial, religious and other collective identifications.  None of these is you." (page 46)

I think that Tolle's ideas about the ego, stated briefly in the above quote, but also dealt with in many of his books, are the most important part of his teaching.  These are richly provocative, even radical teachings that could be the subject of many a blog post, book group meeting, or passionate discussion.  But as usual in this blog, I will stick to the subject at hand: chronic pain.

What Tolle is saying about the ego -- that it will grasp anything for identity out of a "...deep-seated sense of lack or incompleteness, of not being whole." (page 45) -- is true for those of us dealing with pain every day of our lives.  It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it?  I can just hear you thinking (as I did when first confronted with the idea): "WHAT? You think I WANT to be in this pain?  You think I take pride in it?  I'd let it go in an instant if I could."

Of course you would.  Yet the fact is -- and I believe this is why Jesus had to ask in John 5:6: "Do you want to be healed?" -- there are ways in which being in pain serves our ego.  If the insecure ego will grasp at anything for security, for an identity, then it will grasp at the role of suffering person in chronic pain just as quickly as it will grab at the role of smart person at the top of her industry.  And it will just as easily find ways to nurture itself in the role of victim of pain as well: on compassionate attention from others; on the emotional safety of having an easy excuse for avoiding unpleasant things in life;  on having something, anything, to identify with in an otherwise dramatically changed and circumscribed life.

These are not easy things to admit to ourselves.  They are not easy for anyone in any circumstance.  Tolle argues that we are so controlled by our egos and so accustomed to being so, that we do not even know it is happening.  Our very society is grounded in the workings of our egos: sages like the Buddha, Hafiz, Jesus, and Ghandi knew this and spoke words that continue to feel radical to this day.  To become aware, to allow the power of the Now to supplant power of the ego, is to approach spiritual enlightenment.

Just remember that your ego will quite happily grasp at the identity of spiritually aware person and then you are back where you started.  It's humbling, to say the least.

In my next post, I share some more details about identifying with the life of pain.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.  Thank you.