Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Resilience Reminders

I am so thankful for the gifts of reading and writing, two of the keys to my spiritual progress. I don't read as many books as a bona fide bookworm, but when I do read, I really let the words sink in deeply. Have you ever read a book and felt like the author was writing directly to you, as if the book were a message to your own unique spiritual family, the author being your brother, or mother, or father, or sister? I just read a book like that, Through the Flames, by Allan Lokos. The lyrics from the song, Virginia Woolf, by the Indigo Girls, come to mind:

Some will strut and some will fret
See this an hour on the stage
Others will not but they'll sweat
In their hopelessness in their rage
We're all the same the men of anger
And the women of the page

They published your diary
And that's how I got to know you
The key to the room of your own
And a mind without end

And here's a young girl
On a kind of a telephone line through time
And the voice at the other end
Comes like a long lost friend

So I know I'm alright
Life will come and life will go
Still I feel it's alright
'Cause I just got a letter to my soul

And when my whole life is on the tip of my tongue
Empty pages for the no longer young
The apathy of time laughs in my face
You say "Each life has it's place"

The hatches were battened
The thunder clouds rolled and the critics stormed
The battle surrounded the white flag of your youth
If you need to know that you weathered the storm
Of cruel mortality
A hundred years later I'm sittin' here living proof

So you know you're alright
(Life will come and go)
Life will come and life will go
Still you'll feel it's alright
(Someone gets your soul)
Someone'll get a letter to your soul

When your whole life is on the tip of your tongue
Empty pages for the no longer young
The apathy of time laughed in your face
Did you hear me say "Each life has its place"?

The place where you hold me
Is dark in a pocket of truth
The moon had swallowed the sun
And the light of the earth

And so it was for you
When the river eclipsed your life
And sent your soul like a message
In a bottle to me
And it was my rebirth

So we know we're alright
Though life will come, life will go
Still you'll feel it's alright
(Someone gets your soul)
Someone'll get a letter to your soul

I have loved this song for years. Listen:

I had met the author of Through the Flames briefly in a class he taught on Buddhism. I was on an e-mail distribution list in 2012 that made me aware of a deadly plane crash he survived in Burma. The people on the list were asked to pray and send healing thoughts. This past month I saw an announcement that he had written a book about surviving the trauma of the crash and living his life recovering from severe burns on approximately 1/3 of his body. I remembered what an excellent teacher he was and immediately bought the book. 

I have been affected for the past 8 years by my own physical injury, and though I am grateful for my health and know that much worse injuries could have befallen me--though I am not a victim of a tragic accident--though I am still relatively young and vibrant--looking in the mirror or seeing photos of myself is still hard on some days. So much of our value in this culture is attributed to our appearance. 

The above is an honest selfie with no filter, and you can see my nerve damage. My smile is not full; it's not the smile I had before I turned 35; my eyes are not the same size; my smaller eye tears frequently; my appearance is altered by nerve damage. It's not that bad. I know. But often it feels bad, tight, constricted, achy. I deal with it and I don't hide as a result of it. In fact, I became a yoga teacher, getting up in front of groups of strangers and using my body as a tool for expression and healing, after I was injured. I was able to do so because of what I learned from my injury. My cranial nerve damage has been a true gift. I learned that my strength is perfected through my weakness and light can shine more brightly through a visibly broken vessel. We're all broken anyway--in some people the brokenness shows a little more. 

When I read Allan Lokos' latest book, I felt so affirmed when he wrote about his feelings upon looking in the mirror or seeing himself in photographs following his injuries. I was reminded of many teachings that have helped me develop resilience throughout my life, not only after my injury, but also growing up with my mentally ill mother and multiple divorces in my family of origin. I felt such a strong connection in my heart when I read what Allan wrote about his father's severe bipolar disorder. My mother is also bipolar. So many aspects of this book spoke directly to my deepest wounds. I recognized the survivor in myself as I read about Allan's amazing resilience. 

Perhaps the most important lesson I took away from Through the Flames, one I have been trying to learn for many years, and one I feel like I have known off and on but tend to forget, is that happiness is an inside job. True happiness does not stem from external conditions. Life is what it is and happens as it happens and we cannot control it. As Allan explained in his book, we go through so many types of trauma, loss, dis-comfort and dis-ease in a lifetime: we lose loved ones, relationships fail, we lose jobs, we contract illnesses, we become injured...unless we die, we recover, maybe not 100%, but we keep going. We are naturally resilient beings. We have within us the ability to find happiness in even the most difficult situations. Recently I have been unhappy about getting fired and have experienced emotional turmoil as a result, and the following passage is what I truly needed to read at this moment in my life: 

"...no one is able to give to another the gift of happiness. Each of us has to cultivate it for him- or her-self through reflection, effort, and even determination. Since happiness is a mental factor, it will not be found in external or material things, though sometimes they certainly may contribute for a short time and in a small way. 

The same is true of unhappiness. Someone may speak to us in a way that we find rude or obnoxious, or a situation may be difficult and challenging, but the resultant feeling of unhappiness exists within ourselves and therefore can be changed only within ourselves. It often seems that if we could change the other person, or existing conditions, then we would be happy, but the reality remains that we can control only what goes on internally. This is a difficult concept to grasp because one's immediate response to a challenging situation is usually to try to change it, rather than look within where change can actually be accomplished." 

Allan also made the distinction in the book between healing and a cure. I have been told there is no cure for my idiopathic condition (some doctors said it happened because of Lyme, some said it was swelling from pregnancy, some said it was both causes, some said they had no idea what caused my seventh and fifth cranial nerve damage). I don't expect my injury to go away, but I am open to that possibility. Also, I feel like I have healed from it. I have experienced other losses and healed from those as well. My more recent losses still sting, but so much less after reading the resilience reminders in Through the Flames

After reading the book, I felt like I'd been hit in the head with a Dharma stick. Truly every valuable teaching I had gleaned from studying Yoga and Buddhist philosophy was rephrased and reframed for me in a way that sunk in. I felt internal shifts that have opened up new avenues of forgiveness (of myself and others), peace, ease and joy. I feel lighter. I feel freer. I know again how resilient I am. 

My intention in sharing all of this is to remind each person who reads this post that you are also resilient, you are capable of healing, you deserve support that meets you where you are and teaching that sinks into your heart and soul. Different books, different teachers, different experiences are right for each one of us and I want to cultivate faith in others that they will each find the resilience reminders right for them. I chose the word "reminder" to emphasize that what you need lies within you; what can help is to find sources, cues, signals that lead you back to the place of wholeness within you already know. 

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