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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 June 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Living Well

It's all very well to talk about living well, as does Diane Mariechild in today's reflection in Open Mind -- Womens' Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful, but how do we do it when our lives seem --  or are -- far from "well"?

By not fleeing or denying or pretending.

By living consciously into each moment: by being fully present.

Fully present even to our pain, be it physical or emotional or spiritual; living consciously along with the difficulties presented to us.

That kind of presence to life doesn't happen, doesn't come to us just because we want it, although I am convinced that wanting it is a prerequisite for finding it. Over the years of living with chronic migraine pain, I have been taught and have developed on my own many practices for living life well despite pain. Not that I am really good at these practices always, or that I go through life in saintly fashion, smiling beneficently while courageously hiding physical suffering.

No, my practice must include regular, if not constant, reminders to slow down, stop whining, breathe deeply, and look into my tool box of pain management techniques. Even after all these years, I need to remind myself. Even after all these years, I still want to flee or deny or complain. Thank goodness I learned long ago to smile wryly at my foibles, shake my head and re-resolve to change.

Whatever practice works for my pain -- meditation, deep breathing, deep muscle relaxation, inhabiting the body, chanting and mantras (all of which I have posted about; see the Labels list to the right of this column) --  also works in my spiritual life, helping me to let go of desired outcomes; nudging me to leave aside the worry about lack of productivity and inability to hold down a job; teaching me to accept the moment and therein find God.

An odd blessing it is, that migraine pain has led and continues to lead me to spiritual depths unavailable in my busy, productive life before the migraines got bad. It is the sort of blessing surely awaiting us, simply available through quiet acceptance of what is Now.

You can email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com. Comments on this post can be made through GooglePlus.

13 June 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: What Brings True Happiness?

The quality of our life changes when we live with chronic pain, and it is easy to submit to feelings of depression, anger and loss. Yet -- and even though such emotions are surely natural and understandable -- who wants to live perpetually in anger, however natural the reasons are?

Here is where being in pain can help lead us to spiritual wisdom, as I have posted recently.

For me, the pain and other effects of migraine keep me from engaging in life as I used to. But I do not want to give up on life completely, so I have been forced to seek meaning within the pain and discomfort. Much to my initial surprise, meaning was there. It was very much different from the supposed joys and productivity of the life I'd left behind -- activity, work, better purchase power, more time to seek out what the world calls 'pleasure.'

"We might spend our whole lives attempting to gain sensory pleasures, yet pleasures are transitory. The belief that the physical world is solid and unchanging and can bring true happiness is an illusion created by the mind. The deepest peace and greatest joy are beyond material and sensory pleasure." (Diane Mariechild in Open Mind -- Womens' Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful)

Hidden inside our pain-filled lives is the truth about what constitutes real fulfillment, true happiness. When we have seek out meaning in our lives despite the pain we can find what Diane Mariechild calls "deepest peace and greatest joy".

You can contact me at carold.marsh@gmail.com. Comments to this post can be made through GooglePlus.

09 June 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: The Ego By Any Other Name

In the throes of my deepest codependence long ago, I just knew that if I acted a certain way or said the right thing I could fix the relationship that was going wrong, the anxiety buzzing within me, depression's weight in my gut. I could say just the right affirmation, follow the dictates of this great self-help book and I would have a perfect life.

Here is what Diane Mariechild (in Open Mind -- Womens' Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful) has to say about that:

"It is easy to delude ourselves by thinking that we can make things totally convenient and comfortable and eliminate all pain. This unrealistic thinking is disconnected from the truth of physical life...another way of disguising the ego's need for control with positive, upbeat language."

What she is pointing toward is the Buddhist concept, equanimity.

"She who loves roses must be patient and
not cry out when she is pierced by thorns." (Olga Broumas)

We who love life must be patient when life disappoints us, hurts us, betrays us. (I believe in "crying out" sometimes, so cannot accept that limitation on our approach to life. Sometimes a quick whine or a good cry is what I need in order to move on.)

We who love life must not allow our ego to delude us into believing we have control.

And though we do not have control, we do have choice: we can choose to be aware of the ego's machinations, of our need to have things our own way; we can choose to accept life's situations and circumstances and joys and difficulties without layering onto them the suffering of anger, frustration, expectation, and neediness.

Realizing that we have this choice is our power in life, not over life. Exercising this choice is the beginning of wisdom.

Contact me at carold.marsh@gmail.com. You can make comments through GooglePlus.

07 June 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Natural Peace

The place from which to endure and manage chronic pain is the natural peace that is our intended state; the state from which our culture, relationships and our reactions to them drag us every day, every minute.

Add pain to that mix and we are even more tied up in confusion, chaos, disorder.

"We have become accustomed to living in conflict and don't realize there is another way to live... Once we are willing to directly perceive and deeply explore this conflict the conflicted energy dissolves and natural peace emerges." (Diane Mariechild, Open Mind -- Womens' Daily Reflections For Becoming Mindful)

How we deal with chronic pain can lead us to the peace -- the natural peace -- about which Mariechild writes; it can be the doorway to a more constructive, wise way of being in this world. If we allow it, the burden of pain becomes the blessing of peace.

It's a paradox. The pain that frustrates, upsets and creates disorder within us is leading us to inner peace. If we allow it to lead us, if we make the decision to let it take us through that paradox by living into the tension between two seeming opposites, we can choose peace.

Contact me at carold.marsh@gmail.com. Comments can be made through GooglePlus.

06 June 2013

Reading Mariechild Together: Life As Practice

"Life is our practice. If we listen deeply to what's going on -- if we're involved down to the very bottom with our life situation -- this is our true teacher, the most venerable teacher. Life -- roshi!" Maurine Stuart

This quote begins today's reflection in Diane Mariechild's Open Mind -- Women's Daily Reflections for Becoming Mindful.

Notice that Maurine Stuart does not qualify what life must be like in order for it to be our teacher. Any life -- our own lives -- are the teacher. What she does qualify is how we respond to life: if we listen, if we are involved down to the very bottom, that is when life can be our teacher.

So it's not just about living, it's not just about going through the motions, half-awake, unaware, uninvolved with life's depths. It's about plunging in, being aware, remaining open to the lessons.

It's about asking questions: what does this event/circumstance/person have to teach me? Will I allow myself to be transformed?

If we explore our pain, if we plunge into its depths with a mind- and heart-set of wanting it to teach us, then our lives of chronic pain can become, instead of burden, teacher.

You can contact me at carold.marsh@gmail.com. Comments can be made through Google Plus.