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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.

19 February 2014

Right Thinking and Acceptance

Letting go, or acceptance, is a concept found in many religions. It's the foundation of the 12-Step program. For many of us, especially those raised in Western cultures that more often talk about pulling by bootstraps or making things happen, letting go sounds like giving up. I wrote about this specifically in an earlier post.

As I make a fresh start with this blog,I'm beginning with Buddhism's Eightfold Path. I mentioned the Four Noble Truths in my previous post because the Truths are the first step on the Path. I also explained that I separate pain (what comes to us inevitably as part of life) from suffering (what we do to exacerbate pain, like worrying, complaining, wishing things were different, etc). So here is how I understand the Four Noble Truths.

FIRST: Pain is an inevitable part of life.
SECOND: Suffering happens when we attach ourselves to our desires rather than accepting life's pain.
THIRD: Suffering ends when we detach from our desires and accept pain as inevitable.
FOURTH: The Eightfold Path offers a way to practice and learn detachment.

These Truths form the first step on the Eightfold Path, and that step is called Right Thinking.

There's a quality of self-examination that is essential for ending suffering, a self-awareness that permits examination of our thoughts. When I had to leave work I loved because the migraines were interfering too much, it took me many months to realize that certain thoughts -- what if I never work again? -- and emotions -- feeling victimized -- were unnecessary, yet of my choosing.

Here's what I discovered when I began to choose to rise above my self-imposed suffering: just sitting with life's pain is really hard. Not that suffering is easy, but there's something about cycling through suffering that holds a kind of odd payoff for our need to figure things out or our addictions.

Yet there is a purity in acceptance, a scraping away of baggage and addiction and desire that brings one face to face with God, or Allah, or our Buddha Nature, or the Great Mother, whatever language one uses for the Ultimate Divinity for which we're all searching.

Christians sing a hymn, Just As I Am. After the title phrase that begins each verse, various realities of life are acknowledged without one plea,
* waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot
* tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt
* fightings within, fears without
* poor, wretched, blind
 and with the expectation that Christ will cleanse, will purify, having shed blood for us.

Isn't it what we're all wanting, really wanting, deep under daily problems and triumphs and sufferings? We think it will come to us if this ache or hurt would just go away, or if someone would give me a job, or if she/he would just come to realize we were meant to be together, or if I would just stop making mistakes and be right all the time, or if I could have just one more drink, one last puff at that pipe.

Above I wrote, sitting with life's pain is really hard. But that's not the final word. Learning to accept pain by letting go of self-created suffering, by detaching from desires, is the opening of the doorway to joy. That's what I'll write about in my next post.

You can email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com, or make a comment below.

09 February 2014

There's Always A Choice

As I have, over the past nine years, sought relief from chronic pain (migraine), I've learned that it's easy to unconsciously exacerbate one's pain. And since I'm making a fresh start with this blog, I want to re-examine that in the larger context of life's pain.

I know. It sounds depressing, doesn't it? Yippeeeee, let's talk about how full of pain life is! Not what you want to do during an afternoon's perusal of the internet. But there are a couple of distinctions I'd like to make.

First, I don't want to dwell on life's pain. Let's just acknowledge it's there, be realistic about it. If we can simply nod and say, yep, life's full of pain, then move on to the next point, we're setting the stage for deeper healing. We're making room for healing around what's hurting us, like the relationship that's ending, or the job recently lost, the new job not yet found, or a doctor's diagnosis, a friend's disease, or our physical pain.

Second, I've come to understand pain as being different from suffering. Pain is a migraine. Suffering is being upset because I have to cancel yet another visit with a friend. Pain is leaving a long term relationship. Suffering is  guilt and blame and anger. I think of suffering as being what we layer over pain.

Life's pain is inevitable. Suffering is our choice.

Once I learned that, Buddhism's Four Noble Truths made a lot more sense to me. This migraine is inevitable, and I can choose not to make it worse by getting mad about it, or feeling sorry for myself.

In my next post, I'll spend more time with the Four Noble Truths.

You can comment below through GooglePlus, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

05 February 2014

Starting Fresh

I have changed the title and description of my blog.

Used to be: Chronic Pain and Spirituality / How the life of the spirit and chronic pain interact

I changed them in order to expand the purpose of this blog. I began posting in 2010 and kept at it fairly steadily until last October, when I stopped altogether. Not only was school taking a lot of time (understatement), but I was again displeased with the repetitive nature of my posts. My main topic was how spiritual practices can enhance pain management skills, and how pain management informs spiritual practices. After three years, I was coming up with little that was fresh, mostly linking back to previous posts.

This new iteration will be about learning to live a circumscribed life without binding one's spirit. My life is bound by chronic pain, but there are realities that limit other lives -- illness, disability, past trauma, unemployment, and addictions, for example. I want to explore more widely how and why we can try to live joyfully despite such restrictions.

How do we free our spirits within a life that seems to thwart our will at every turn? What have ages-old spiritualities and religions to teach us about that freedom? What is happening in recent research in neurology and behavioral sciences? I'd like to share stories of people searching for freedom in their otherwise circumscribed lives, what they have learned, how they have struggled. 

I'll begin in a few days with a series of posts exploring Buddhism's Eightfold Path.

I'd love to hear from you. Please contact me at carold.marsh@gmail.com or through GooglePlus.