26 May 2014

Chronic physical pain/chronic emotional pain

Sometimes, going into a retreat/practice weekend is energizing. Often, it is draining, demanding, and brings to light exactly what I'm wrestling with.

The rest of this is long. In the LJ days, I'd have cut it. It's also as honest as I can be right now.


Two years ago, I was freshly grieving the sudden loss of a relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. I haven't really dated too much since, and I've been rejected time after time around the same two themes (paraphrased): "you are too good of a person or friend/you deserve better" and "you are too different/complex from the norm."

Four months ago, I was packing to prepare for the first of two moves since then.

Six weeks ago, I spent 16 hours straight around the imminent death of one of the most complex relationships I'll ever have. Mom died a few days later.

One month ago, I took the leap of working full time - a thing I had not done since 2004.

Three weeks ago, I put my feet in the local sangha - a thing I had not done since August 2013.

A week ago, I unpacked the very first box in a move that depends which my ability to work full time, pay more rent than I ever have, and handle the shifted dynamics of one of my oldest and most complex friendships.

These are not the most pressing and urgent issues in my social radius, and outside of a touching amount of practical and logistical aid... they are all things I'm dealing with amid being of help to the urgent and the needing of those whose pain sings more loudly than mine.

There is an adjustment that comes with settling into chronic physical pain - it folds into your life to a point where it is like getting dressed or eating or breath; just a garden variety part of your life. You don't talk about it as much; who talks about the day in, day out grind when it is unpleasant but present?

It seems that there is a likewise adjustment to chronic emotional pain. I'm starting to go through that, and it's just as difficult as it was to do this with all the aspects of my life affected by the physical.

At some point yesterday, I fell down the well of the awe-inspiring, truly epic, and unfathomable loneliness around all of that.

It took my breath. It broke my heart. It's one of the most painful emotional experiences I've had in my entire life.

So I took another breath, and went back to my tonglen practice for the pain that sings louder than mine. It's what I could do to help... and that was the name of the retreat: "How Can I Help?: the Basic Goodness of Society."

But mine isn't gone, and I'm with it again this morning, in the quiet hours before I put it down because neither I nor my roommate work today - a rare chance to make some co-decisions about the Shambhala household and Home I'm working to build.

I have no words for this. I don't even know whom to ask for the words... who might know this state of loneliness well enough to have touched it so completely that the have a way to describe it. Except for Pema:

"So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn't sit for even one, that's the journey of the warrior." (Ani Pema Chödrön, "When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times," p 68)

~Norbu Pamo (Jewel Warrior)

20 May 2013

"Breaking the Cocoon" - What is Pain Without Fear?

In Shambhala, there is a concept called "cocoon:" it's a familiar, enclosed environment made up of our habitual patterns.  It is stifling, constricting, dark - but it's what we know.  It's safe, even if it's smelly and awful.

I've worn my pain and my illnesses as my cocoon.  For many years, even those closest to me have "forgotten" that I hurt, that I'm tired, that I'm ill.  I've hidden, wrapped into the ever-repeating patterns that keep me separate from others, keep me from reaching out for support and assistance.  I've been terrified that if people knew I was sick - or how sick - they'd leave.  I've held onto my fears, used them to trap myself and ratchet up my pain by grasping, clinging.

This blog represents a fundamental shift in thought about what it means to be in pain, to be tired, to be fearless.  It's founded on the idea that sick and successful, pain and pleasure, exhausted and ecstatic are not mutually exclusive.  It is one warrior's response to chronic pain and complex medical conditions.

In the end, what I'm doing here is giving a voice to the complexities of my health, my treatment team, and the radical idea that I'm not hoping any given thing will work - or is the correct answer for me, even if it does. 


Disclaimers, Intentions and "Fine Print":

* If you're new, welcome.  My sincere aspiration is that something in these pages inspires, uplifts, or connects for you.  If you also live with chronic illness or pain, I hope I can be a moment of respite and truth.  If you love someone in chronic illness or pain, I hope to provide some perspective on what that might be like.  But these are my experiences - yours or your loved one's may be very different, even if the condition (or combination of conditions) is the same.

* If we already know each other: regardless of what you may discover, I'm essentially the same person I was before you read it.  This changes what you know, is all. 

Be forewarned: this will likely change how you think, act, and spend time around me - at least for a while.  It's possible you'll deal with something akin to a grief process.  Please, don't read on unless you're ready to - make an informed choice about this.

* Some of the subject matter has the potential to be triggering.  I deal with a lot of complex social factors, and I recommend you read with caution.  Obvious triggering situations will be labelled as such, but we all have different things that get to us. 

* Much of my language (and indeed, thought processes) comes from a blend of Shambhala, Tibetan, and Zen Buddhist traditions; Stephen Covey's repertoire of books; a number of different productivity and organizing systems (primarily Leo Babauta, David Allen, and Dave Crenshaw); and smatterings of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and the broader wisdom/success literature.  You'll also find quite a few references to Joss Whedon's Firefly/Serenity

"No one has the corner on Truth." (Noah Levine, Hardcore ZenThese teachers are not perfect; that does not negate their wisdom.  I will also refer to the Spoon Theory, one of the best ways I've ever read on how to explain chronic health.

* I am not perfect either.   You will find references to things society deems unacceptable, especially given my health conditions.  I am "a person, actual and whole." (Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity)

* These conditions - all of them - are real.  I work with a full team of medical professionals.  While I am happy to discuss many aspects of this process, I will not accept commentary that implies my medical issues are illusory - I tolerated this for many years, and the damage is done.  

Corollary to the notion of my conditions being real, suggesting the latest (unstudied) treatment for anything is likely to be ignored. Your advice doesn't replace my doctors', and even they only get to advise.

* This blog will include links to a number of other businesses/vendors/places on the Internet. I am in no way compensated, unless otherwise stated. 

* I offer links and informal references where available.  I will use APA citation style when necessary, or when citing peer-reviewed research not available without subscription.  

With that, welcome.


Norbu Pamo ("Jewel Warrior")