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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.

26 February 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Two Expressing One

Years ago I realized that my life-long feminism was rooted in a deep sense not so much of the stereotyping of feminine/masculine roles but of the unfairness in the way the masculine was assumed to be more important, more worthy of praise, more relevant than the feminine. Even now, it is not gender roles that upset me, it is gender judgments biased quite negatively against those considered to be the feminine ones.

To me, the dichotomy -- seeing masculine and feminine as separate -- is made worse by the assumption that they are also unequal. And this is frightfully exacerbated in that it also opens the path to the violence perpetrated against women across the world: she is inferior, she is unworthy of my respect, therefore I/man need feel no compunction about brutalizing her.

I agree with Mariechild in today's reflection (from Open Mind -- Women's Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful) when she says,

"We have forced women and men into stereotyped roles, falsely assuming that only women can express the receptive and only men can express the creative. Yet these streams are manifestations of the one river of life, and exist together in both women and men."

And Tan Guangzhen, whose verse Mariechild quotes, promises that

"But the day you join them together to form the elixir,
You fall drunken into the jug yet have no need of support."

As with all stereotypes, the feminine/masculine one has basis in genetics and survival. I find it useless to pretend it does not or should not exist. I prefer to clearly see the stereotype without denying its reality so that I can join the dichotomized pair in openness of mind and heart. I don't deny that there are feminine roles and masculine roles; I long for them to be freed of judgment so that we can rejoice in the new life, the richer choices, given us by their joining.

For several years I have been living what might be considered a more "feminine" life. I am unable to work due to the chronic migraines. I stay quiet, alone; I take care of the household and our little dog; I cook and bake; I nurture relationships as much as I can through facebook, email, phone calls, and visits when the pain allows me. When I started school in August (at Goucher College, in their Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program), I added to my life the more "masculine" pursuit of creativity and study.

I have said that I enjoy being productive, now that I am in school after two years of being unable to manage a job. And yet I know that my creative work is utterly dependent on my receptive work and that to judge myself as more worthy or more productive now that I am writing and studying is to disrespect these years of deepening spiritual growth, nurture of self and others, acceptance and equanimity.

With this realization, I can fall drunken into the jug.

I would love to hear from you. Please click on "Comment" below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

23 February 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Fiery Tenderness

I love the seeming dichotomy in the concepts that are twinned in today's reflection (Diane Mariechild's Open Mind -- Womens' Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful). Mindfulness as tenderness; fire burning. Who would think these two things go together so well?

Yet that is what Meridel Le Sueur is doing in the poem fragment that begins the piece.

How can we touch each other, my sisters?...
We keep our tenderness alive and the nourishment of the earth green.
The heat is central as lava.
We burn in each other. We burn and burn.
     We shout in choruses of millions.
     We appear as armed mothers, grandmothers, sisters, warriors.
     We burn.

Mariechild then talks about mindfulness practice at vipassana  meditation retreats, during which the women present are not only practicing together but are aware that they are breathing the same air. That is what creates a safe space and makes the time of being together even more profound.

"We are learning to keep our tenderness alive...this gentle touch is felt by the Earth and all those walking on the Earth. Our actions become less harmful. The fire is burning away the dissatisfaction, the inability to see."

The refining fire of awareness, of the tender and intimate understanding that we are all connected: we shout in our millions, we burn for clearer vision and a better world.

How do we bring such awareness, such fire and tenderness, to our daily lives? What I have learned as I live with chronic pain is that awareness and practice of this kind does not happen in spite of the realities with which we live -- whether they be chronic pain, or constant busy-ness, or unrelenting responsibilities -- but along with, alongside, and because of them.

With this fiery, sweet awareness, I shout with the millions when in my morning quiet time; I burn with tenderness when I remember to go about my restricted days with love, in peace; I burn with my sisters when I lie on the bed in a dark room with a blindfold over my eyes, unable to move for the pain in my head.

Somehow, tenderness and fire are a very natural pairing when brought together by my weakness and vulnerability.

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

21 February 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Leaving Behind the Flowers

"...[W]hen the mind acknowledges the truth of impermanence it relaxes into itself." So writes Diane Mariechild in today's reflection (Open Mind -- Women's Daily Inspiration for Becoming Mindful). A mind relaxed into itself finds equanimity, which happens to be one of my favorite Buddhist concepts.

Mariechild's final sentence today is, "The mind is balanced." This is the simplest way to state the meaning and effect of equanimity. We are released from worry and ego and fear into compassionate attention and acceptance.

I am reminded also of Matthew 6:8 -- "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They neither labor nor spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon was dressed like one of these." (New International Version)

With equanimity we cease to worry about laboring and spinning. Our minds accept life and its changes, its passages; we worry less about controlling it.

The flowers bloom and they always die. We accept the joy of the blooming and the sorrow of the death without holding on to either; without fleeing either.

We are balanced.

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

18 February 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Stick To It

I haven't written a post in a week: bad migraines last week and then three days of catching up on neglected school and house work have kept me from blogging. And what a good reflection with which to start back!

We can do anything we want to do if we stick to it long enough. Helen Keller

In our busy lives, or pain-filled lives, we often don't have time or health to complete what we start. I know I don't: sometimes I will only have begun a writing assignment (I am enrolled at Goucher College in their Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program), then spike a headache and have to stop when I really don't want to.

So my version of sticking to it, per Helen Keller's advice, is to allow myself the rest time knowing that I will have the opportunity to persist later on. The neat thing is that often my mind -- even in its migraine fog -- is mulling a problem or scene revision without my being aware of it, so that when I get back to the computer, it is easy and natural to begin writing again.

"Stick to it" does not necessarily mean to force activity or work in the face of pain or depression or diminishing returns. For some of us and in some circumstances, it means to know when to back off and rest or recover, then when to return.

Rest, recover, return.

I would love to hear from you. Click on Comment, below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com. Thank you.

11 February 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Made Precious in Pain

What in your life is made precious in pain?

Finally the oyster knows itself
to be not different from the pearl:
soft flesh made precious in pain,
all a jewell in God's fiery sea.

How do you understand that you are not different from the pearls of pain in your life? Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who wrote the above verse, lived in a terribly unhappy marriage and suffered the kidnapping and death of her 20 month old first-born. She was no stranger to pain, and so she could write such wise and ultimately hopeful words.

I have a bad migraine today, the third day that it has plagued me despite rest, medication, and more rest. This is such a good day for me to think about what in my life is made precious in pain:

 I feel greater love and gratitude for my husband
 I have an increased ability for stillness and deep peace
 There is very little I take for granted
 My little dog gets so much more of my time, and I of hers
 I have enrolled in a low-residency program and will have an MFA in 2014

I would really rather not have these migraines. Yet the soft flesh has been made precious in pain and I have pearls. I have pearls!

09 February 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Abundance

I had lunch with my dear friend David Hilfiker yesterday. We talked about his recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease and the blog he has created: Watching The Lights Go Out: A Memoir From Inside Alzheimer's Disease. David is embracing what is happening in a way that is inspiring and, strangely, comforting; he is not depressed or upset about it; he views it as freeing him from expectations and obligations with which he burdened himself for all of his life.

And then I read Mariechild's reflection for today, February 9 -- "Women's Abundance." She says

"...we can each find a ritual that reminds us of the power of the bleeding time...Try placing a single red flower on your altar or desk during your bleeding time."

But I am past my bleeding time, and I imagine that many women reading this are also. How do we relate to this reflection?

I do have two thoughts.

One is that David's attitude toward Alzheimer's is instructive. I sense abundance in many things about him now: in his new-found ability for vulnerability with me and with others; in his joy at the ways the disease has freed him; in his learning to set aside the life-long assurance of possessing an amazing intellect in order to simply be with what is happening.

He teaches us that losing one expression of abundance does not mean we have lost all expression of abundance.  

My second thought relates to my chronic pain. I am on disability. I can no longer do the work I love. I am not productive in the way we generally think of production: some days I barely get off the bed (I do insist on getting dressed; spending the day in pajamas is really too depressing and besides, I have a little dog). I have grown to accept these facts of my life. Acceptance has led to peace that is increasingly overlaid with a simple joy and which stays with me until I allow the doubts to assail me. What am I doing with my life? When will I get well and DO something? I contribute nothing to the world.

I had one of those moments this week, and I shared about it with David. He reminded me that when I worked with very vulnerable women (homeless women living with AIDS), I never considered them to be doing nothing or not contributing. He said that I would never think that way about them so why think that way about myself?

And so today the peaceful feeling I love, with its joy in what is, has returned to me. And I know that the abundance is in myself and in my loved ones, and in us all, regardless of our condition.

May we all find our own abundance, and may we set it free.

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

08 February 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: A Universe of Blessings

If remembering that we belong to the universe gives us "enormous support and comfort" as Diane Mariechild says in today's page (Open Mind -- Women's Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful), couldn't it also help us when we are in pain?

It's not easy to grow or expand beyond ourselves when we are in pain. The natural tendency is to curl in around our pain, sheltering our hurting selves from anything that intrudes or requires effort. And that's a great response for acute pain -- that alarming signal from the nerves of your fingertips when you touch something sharp or hot, for example -- because you hold the hurt place, tend to it, become absorbed for the moment in its healing.

But with chronic pain -- physical maladies such as intractable migraine, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue -- there comes a point at which holding, tending and absorption only exacerbate the pain. Worse, we add layers of suffering on top of the physical pain: why won't it stop?; what will I do if it lasts much longer?; I can't stand this; I am missing out on so much.

For the purposes of this blog, I write about pain as having two components: physical -- the illness or injury that causes the pain; and emotional/mental -- the fear, anxiety and low self-esteem (to name a few) that we tend to slather around our lives of chronic pain. (I have posted about this before: The Power of Now: Exercising Our Power; and The Alchemy of Transforming Suffering Into Consciousness.) I have also posted about pain management practices and methods -- see the right-hand column under LABELS and click on those words for more posts.

So here is a practice for going beyond our pain, taught to us by Joy Harjo. She suggests we say the phrase three times at these times:
** before getting up in the morning;
** before each meal;
** before going to bed at night.

I have learned that those practices I use daily are the best ones when the pain is bad. They are ingrained, part of my spirit, and I turn to them almost without thinking. Joy's spiritual truth, or prayer --

Remember that you are this universe and that this
universe is you.
Remember that all is motion, is growing, is you

 -- is a mantra to add to my repertoire of comfort measures, those methods that take me beyond myself and my hurting head. Not that the pain goes away or I deny its existence, but that allowing my spirit to grow beyond the immediate concerns of my body and into the expansiveness of the universe puts the pain into perspective.

Enormous support and comfort, indeed.

02 February 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: The Vibrations of Prayer

"[A]s the guitar string stirs the piano's song[,]" so prayer moves through the air, says Dhyani Ywahoo.

Diane Mariechild's response to this wondrous simile is so beautiful. I shall not even try to add my poor words to it.

But I would like to link it with the January 31 page and also describe how I serendipitously read another writer's take on prayerful ways.

I am listening now to a book called "One Hundred Names for Love" by Diane Ackerman. In it she describes arriving at home from the hospital in which her husband has been for weeks, after a massive stroke that took away his language and comprehension. She realizes she needs to find ways to center herself and goes on to describe two that she uses immediately. One is to take long walks and create spontaneous haiku based on the nature she is observing. The other is to sit quietly and do something called "toning," which she says is a fourteenth century practice. She tones on successive vowel sounds after a few deep sighs, "ah...oo...ee...oh...."

Here's the phrase that caught my ear and makes me think of Ywahoo's poetic, musical analogy. Diane Ackerman says that toning is a "tonal massage," and goes on to describe how the vibrations loosen cartilage and sinew and muscle.

I love the idea that toning is prayer moving through me, as the guitar string stirs the piano's song.

I would love to hear from you. Click on Comment below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com. Thank you.