I’m tired. Happy and irritated and tired.

I’m tired. I almost chose not to write.  “I’m not in the mood to bare my soul today,” is what I thought as I considered what I would write about in this post.

I’m tired of trying to understand and explain what I’m experiencing in this unfolding and layered process of becoming more and more un-paralyzed.  It is too complex. The complexity itself is exhausting. Because even as I celebrate daily victories, I feel grandly defeated in each day.

In one breath I celebrate being able to reach to the top shelf for a plate and the next I wince at my awkward step-stumble across the kitchen.  I grumble as I fumble the package I am trying to open, and I softly smile as I deftly remove the item from inside.   I’m as proud of my six smooth steps as I am irritated by the water I spill during the three awkward steps that happen as I move from wood to carpet covered floor.

Part of me knows this is all ‘normal’. Regardless of specific circumstance, everyone’s life is as filled with daily challenges and disappointments as it is with success and celebration. It is the game that we call life. It is up to each of us to attend to these wildly rolling circumstances to the best of our ability in each moment. To move through it and let it go. I just have to keep moving forward, moving through time, being as true to myself and life as I can be. I know this as deeply as I forget it regularly.

Like this tired feeling, why in the hell am I so tired? I’ve been fighting with it tooth and nail. All day I’ve been arguing with my tired self, “Why am I so tired? I didn’t do that much. I’ve been resting. I haven’t been ‘over-doing’ so I shouldn’t be tired right?! Blah, blah, blah” on and on the internal voice challenges the feelings of what I’m experiencing. I had completely forgotten that talk I gave myself last week, that it doesn’t matter why I am tired. I don’t need an explanation. When I’m tired and I need to rest. Done.

So I almost didn’t write, so that I could rest.  But the part of me that is working on doing what I say I want to do pushed a bit. And I’m happy I did. I feel better both having written and having a better understanding of myself in this complexity.  As I wrote to you, I am writing to myself. Thank you for being a reader who helps me come to some kind of clarity about this wild human experience.

May we all be kinder to ourselves. May we all keep celebrating our efforts and soothing our own perceived failures. May we keep loving ourselves when our own expectations are not met by our very own selves and may we learn to set expectations that are in fact meetable.

 

So strong. So long.

I’m finally coming to terms with what it means to be in for the long game.

This isn’t about what I can do this week that I couldn’t do last week, this is a life long project.  I’m starting to realize I may not even be able to call it a project, it’s just what I do.  Like this is what my life is about. Being present with my mind and body, learning to accept and love its limitations as I explore new ways to expand my capacity. Learning to watch the criticism, the judgement, the deep longing for it to be somehow different than it is. To recognize that if whatever I am bemoaning were ‘better’ there is a good chance I’d just bemoan something else.

So I may as well dig my heels in, give up on ‘bemoaning’ altogether and accept this as my lot in life,. I’m learning to enjoy it for what it is. With deep long restorative breaths as my most reliable companion.

And I ought not kid myself, it is f*cking amazing.

I mean, I’m a yoga teacher who got to be paralyzed and relearn how to use my body from the most very basic fundamentals of movement.  I have deep-dived into the ocean of existence and I am living in a veritable treasure trove. The best yoga teacher training program anyone ever created.  Listen, I’m not trying to suggest paralysis and a recovery from it as a desirable path to learning yoga, but I will says its damn effective.

It is honestly nothing short of amazing to revel in my current level of strength and coordination. My own jaw drops when I think about how far I have come in 31 months. I can clearly recall how I marveled at the level of motor skill complexity we take for granted in our daily routine.  And I frequently catch myself now, doing a seemingly simple task, without too much thought, and recall how complex or impossible it was for me to do, not so long ago.

It can still be easy for me to focus on what I can’t do. I think this is true for many of us in all kinds of life situations. It wasn’t like that early in my healing process. There was some kind of magical switch in my brain for the first maybe year of this experience. I was just so flipping happy with every new motor skill that came on line. I had no concern for what I couldn’t do and I experienced unadulterated joy in what I could newly do.

I guess it was a gift of the traumatic experience of being paralyzed. I had all life expectations wiped away, and I became happy with whatever it was that I was offered. I was blessed to have very few ‘setbacks’ and to have all of the love and support I needed to keep stepping along a clear path toward healing.

At some point on the path, I guess the point when I ‘moved back to Pittsburgh’ to ‘try to build a normal life’ that things started going a bit awry. I started upping my expectation game. As I achieved a certain level of functioning, I suddenly had a huge focus on all that was so hard and clearly ‘not normal functioning’.   I became disheartened and sad. It was also winter and cold and dark and gray.

So now it is warm and sticky. My body is strong and healthy. My mind is cheerful and full of hope.

I still type with two fingers. I can’t open the windows in my apartment because I am not strong enough. It’s hard to get dressed. It’s hard to walk. I am numb and tingly to the nth degree. I still cry at least once most days, and often more than once with deep sobs.

And all of this is just ok. In fact, I love it. It is my lot in life. I am strong and this is the long game.

 

How can I live with this broken heart?

How can I live with this broken heart? This has been ringing in my mind over and over the past few days. The pain inside is deep and it feels real.  I feel it anytime I allow myself to dwell in the dark nooks and crannies of my heart space.

Like the stream and it’s constant flow of water over stones and earth, my internal dialogue flows in a long narrative of explanation. I have a thousand stories to explain my hurting heart. And a thousand more to counter-explain why my suffering is neither unique nor particularly painful on the global scale of difficult circumstances.

I haven’t written here in over a month. How can I? The title of this blog is about my experience of a spiritual awakening that happened after my fall down the stairs. But you know what? I haven’t felt very awake lately.

I feel as trapped by my life stories and societal conditioning as I ever have. Where did my awakened spirit go? That part of me who was so alive during my Healing Journey, where is she these days? She is hiding away. She is drowned in worries of how I will pay my bills. She is choked by the pollution of city streets and a commercialistic culture. She is asleep, dreaming of the next place she can run off to to come back out of hiding.

As I write to you today, I am cc’ing her. May she read this as a wake-up call. May you recognize the parts of you that you love, or love-to-hate, that are asleep, and let this serve you also as a wake-up call.

May we each recall that we are at our best when we bring all of ourselves to the table.  When we notice that the spiritual, or creative, or bitchy, or weepy, or generous or clever, or any part of ourselves has been tucked away and hidden for one reason or another, the fact that we noticed means we miss that part of ourselves.

By limiting our expression to what feels safe and socially palatable, we reinforce cultural norms and patterns that suppress the true nature of being human. These norms are the creators of oppression and a simple great act of resistance is to be yourself fully.

By capitulating to social conditioning we miss out on the rich and the subtle qualities alive in the ephemeral aspects of our world.  This social conditioning is created to numb the masses into believing there is a right way and a wrong way to live.

I miss the part of me that looks within and writes about it bravely. I miss the part of me that knows that this thing we call ‘making a life’ is a big game that doesn’t really mean much in the large scale of existence. I miss the parts of me that sing and write poetry. I miss the part of me that knows how to be angry. I miss all those parts of me and am calling them out to play.  What parts of yourself would you like to call out to today?

It isn’t fair to our selves or the world around us to hide parts of ourselves. We owe it to existence to live our lives from a place of integrity as the whole and messy beings we are. To embrace and shine the kaleidoscope of emotions and talents we have to offer the world, whatever they may look like.

I was getting excited super as I wrote the words above. And now I feel tired.

Suddenly I remember why parts of myself are hiding, because other parts are tired. And sad. Exhausted.

It takes all of my energy to get dressed and make it through a day. The simplest acts take my fullest attention. I am giving all I have to healing this physical body, what is left of me after that?  How can I write poetry when I have nothing left inside to offer?

Prioritize.

Breath.

Accept I cannot be all of it. But I can be some of it.

I can be and do what matters most on each day by making careful and mindful choices.

By honoring and loving all of me existence as best I can with my very broken heart.

By allowing healing energy to flow through me.

This is waking up.

With all my love,

Lizandra

 

 

 

How paralysis is helping me feel more.

If you have been reading with me for the past months, you know I’ve been having a hard time dealing with the powerful emotions flooding my world.

The reality of settling back into life in the US after my 14 month Healing Journey and 3 month US Hugging Tour, while dealing with my state of being post-injury has been more challenging than I anticipated. Faced with the idea of building ‘a normal life’ my limitations and challenges kept smacking me in the face. Stuck in some ideal of how things are ‘supposed to be’ I often felt crippled at every turn. Without the novelty of world travel, I find myself unravelling a bundle emotions still unprocessed.

I am proud of how I’ve felt and continue to feel this emotional turmoil so fully as part of my healing process. Pausing here for a little pat on my own back.

This feeling my feelings is a whole new game for me.

I’ve spent most of my life running away from feeling any negative emotions. Anger? Nah, don’t do it. Sadness? Um are those cookies I can eat? All of them. Shame? No thanks, I’ll just focus on hating my body as it is, and beat myself up for not doing more to change it. So much easier than admitting or feeling shame, discomfort or unworthiness.

But those habits seems to be in the past. These past few months I have felt anger, sadness, and shame welling up inside and screaming, crying, writing and talking their way out of my body.

What a gift. Ironic isn’t it? That an injury that paralyzed me,  leaving 50-60% of the surface area of my body numb and half of the muscle fibers in all of my limbs unresponsive, that this same injury has helped me learn to feel my emotions more is indeed a wild truth.

A wild truth, for which I am deeply grateful.

I had no idea that so many of my long term and ongoing life woes were a myriad of symptoms from unfelt feelings.  Who knew that once I started feeling anger and sadness that my relationship with food would become easier? Who knew that acknowledging shame and discomfort and getting curious and compassionate with those feelings would be the key to being kinder to myself and my body?

Falling down again, and again.

Lately, I’ve been falling about once a week.  Not in a literal physical sense. It’s incredible that in 2 1/2 years of learning to walk and move around with a body that is itself learning to sense the world all over again through a damaged nervous system, I have only physically fallen down a handful of times.

But emotionally? Emotionally, I fall as a daily experience. And it’s typically an intense emotional breakdown once or twice a week.  Learning to face and deal honestly with my emotions has been the steepest learning curve in the totality of this experience.

The physical process of learning to be in and move this body with a different way of sensing is almost straight forward in a way. Simple in it’s entertaining complexity. It often feels like a fun game I am playing. It is like living inside of an exciting science experiment.  What will I discover and learn today?

It’s amazing I honestly feel this way about my physical injury and physical healing process.  About 80% of the time. As long as I am rested and resourced with the energy I need to be the exploring physical-scientist-healing-being I love to be, then I’m good. This is the version of me I know, love and appreciate.

Then there is this other 20% of the time.  Oof, this is where the deep and painful learning is taking place.  This is me falling down, emotionally, psychically, energetically.

This is me standing in my kitchen seething at the amount of effort and focus it takes to open that bag or box of whatever. This is me deciding not to get dressed because the effort required just doesn’t feel worth it. This is me in tears because I peed my pants at my doorway again.

This is me learning to feel the seething anger, frustration and sadness instead of pretending it isn’t there.

This is me waking up.

I am not waking up from the physical experience of relearning how to use my body.  That process is the catalyst for me learning what it means to feel my emotions more fully. To allow and invite them in as welcome guests who get a seat at the table of my being, regardless of how uncomfortable they may be.

This is part of why I want to write about my experience. I want to help or inspire others to be brave enough to be with their full spectrum of emotions.  I had that big fall down the stairs that changed my life and helped me have this deeper experience of life.

I don’t want you to wait for that big fall.  We don’t all have to experience a big fall to wake us up to our reality and true nature.  But we do all live a life comprised of an ongoing series of falls that we continually get back up from.

We don’t really have a choice. Eventually we either get back up, or we die.

We don’t get a conscious choice in many of our falls. Our choice comes in how we react to our ‘falls’ and how we ‘walk’ once we have gotten back up. If we can learn to love and be with the pain of our falls, the parts of ourselves we feel less proud of or even hate, then we an be sure the brighter parts of ourselves will be more willing to emerge from the fall.

 

The Privilege of Walking.

It is a tough topic, walking. Seemingly simple, and mundane. Except it isn’t.

It feels as complex as a topic as it is as an act.  A complexity hidden in it’s mundanity. And most of us instinctively know that. We can’t explain easily to someone how to walk. We don’t teach our children to walk, because we couldn’t. We don’t even know how we walk except to say you put one foot in front of the other.  And while we can acknowledge that we take this cosmically orchestrated, somewhat mysterious act, largely for granted, we also know that we don’t want to give it up.

I guess it’s kind of like breathing, or being in good health.

It’s just something we do in our daily lives. Walking, breathing, being healthy.  Until something happens to disrupt it.  Then as we lose the feeling of it being a natural easy part of our daily life, suddenly we realize how centrally vital it is to our existence.

I’m writing about walking because of the central role it has played in my life for the past 2 1/2 years  – and damn it is a hard interest and explanation nut to crack.  How can I talk to you about why and how this simple and seemingly mundane act of walking, has redefined my life?

On one hand you get it. I don’t even need to tell you about it.  After I fell down the stairs I couldn’t walk anymore. That sucked. Duh.

I have gone through a long and painstaking process to be able to walk again.  As I write that, I realize this is part of the story. This is the interesting part.

We didn’t know if I would ever walk again. What was that like?  What has it taken for me to be able to walk they way I do today?

I’d like to tell you about those feelings and that process, and I guess I will. But it isn’t easy.  Since the mechanics of walking are somewhat of a mystery, my process has been a slow unveiling of that mystery on different levels, both sub-conscious and consciously and it is hella hard to get at, seemingly impossible to explain.  Not just to write about it, to actually reflect and comprehend what it was I have gone through to get from there: being paralyzed – to here – walking to and from almost anywhere I want to go.

And this my friends is why memoir writing can be amazing. Because I will learn about my own experience in trying to find the words to share it.  As I write about it in this public draft format, I realize that there are indeed ways for me to explain aspects of the experience. It’ll just take time and effort – just like the process of becoming ambulatory again.

Ambulatory again. I’m two and a half years into this, and I walk really quite well now….and…this is where it gets tricky.  I am loathe to tell you or even admit to myself, on many days my walking experience sucks almost as badly or even worse than it did in the earliest. Just for different reasons.

The biggest reason it still feels like it still sucks is that it doesn’t seem to get any easier. It continues to require painstaking focus and effort. In the beginning it was painstaking effort to take a single step, then to put two steps together – now I am obsessed with the muscle firing patterns that can lead to a smooth gait.  With each level of improvement, I just construct new goals to reach.

The privilege of walking. Like most privilege, we take it for granted.  And I am ashamed that I take my current walking ability, which many with a spinal cord injury can only dream of, for granted.  No, that is not quite right,

I don’t take walking for granted. I can’t. Because it still feels like a feat. What I take for granted is the privilege of walking well enough to be able to improve it.

As I write this I realize that nearly every step I have taken for almost 30 months has been a carefully analyzed step.  Now I kind of wish I had gotten one of this fitbit contraptions. Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to say just how many steps I’ve taken during my recovery-discovery period?

Ok that is it for today. It’s time to choose an image, and publish this drafted piece of writing. It’s not done, it is not perfect, but it is something and of that I am proud. Thank you so much for being here with me on this journey – it means the world to me.

Here’s a video of me walking in the early days of rehabilitation.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Flaurie.ireland.39%2Fvideos%2F546940325470090%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Sticky Mango Fingers on a Snowy Spring Day

I was standing at the sink of my tiny kitchen this morning with mango juice running down my hands onto my wrists. I held the slippery oblong seed gingerly in my partially paralyzed hands hoping it wouldn’t slip. I maneuvered it to my mouth and tasted the sweetness of the mango fiber that wouldn’t leave the seed by knife. The fiber and juice along the seed called my mouth to set it free, to allow it to be enjoyed. As my numb awkward hands carefully moved the seed to my mouth, my eyes focused on the fruit to help create the connection.
 
As my lips and tongue made contact with the seed, I shifted my gaze up to a wintry spring Pittsburgh street scene outside my window on Centre Ave. Fluffy white flakes swirling above the shiny black city street, tree limbs heavy with freshly fallen snow, bundled people stepping carefully through slushy curbs to climb into their car after an appointment. I stared at it all and wondered about eating juicy fresh tropical fruit while its snowing outside.

As I gazed upon the snowy scene and swallowed fruity sweetness, I recalled the many mangoes I’ve eaten from the trees in Ghana, Costa Rica and Haiti. And the sweet eggfruit I watched grow on the tree beside my cabin in Hawaii, all the while thinking it was a mango. The sweetness in my mouth brought back the sweetness of those adventures. Did I fully enjoy those times? I asked myself. And the answer in my heart was and is yes.

As I sit here, numb feet trying to feel the floor, typing with two fingers until I started to type this sentence and I slowed down to practice using more of my fingers type. And as I type more slowly, my mind has the space to wonder into the thought of yet another thing I could do daily to help my recovery process along. Wouldn’t it be great to do typing exercises to help rehabilitate my fingers and hands? Another great idea for faster more complete healing….if only I had the time, the energy, the focus….to do it all, to be everything I have ever dreamed of and do all the healing practices that will make it all more possible…if only…

Focus.

As I sit here typing, remembering my past adventures, I feel both proud and grateful for how fully I experienced the off the beaten path travels I have taken in this lifetime.  I love that trees and their fruit have played such a central role in my experience of being fully present for and in those adventures. It is fascinating to realize that I took very few, if any, of my days living abroad for granted.  Time spent on foreign soil, before and after my fall down the stairs were the richest days of my life. Why? What can I bring of those days to my experience of life today, here in Pittsburgh?

Focus. Memoir writing.

My love affair with fruit fresh from trees started in Ghana.  When I arrived in January 2004 mangoes were in high season and I gleefully ate many everyday.  I was enamored by the colorfully dressed Fante or Ewe women with huge smiles by the roadside stocked with massive mango piles stacked on rickety wooden tables. I would walk to them in the morning, trying out my Fante to say, “Good Morning! A mango is how much?” They didn’t sell just one, they had too many. So I would buy too many for too little, eat as many as I could, and give the rest away. Every day. I had never eaten so much delicious fresh fruit.

As January turned to February,  the piles of mangoes started getting smaller and the prices started going up.  I would barter with the women to get closer to the original prices, but they explained the mangoes were nearly ‘finished’s so they now cost more.  Simple supply and demand pricing.   Not too much later, there were no more mangoes. I was devastated.

It was the first time I understood what eating in season meant. We were in a small town on the coast of Ghana.  Far from the bustling capital of Accra, there was no grocery store in Elmina, getting shipments of mangos from other places. We had been eating the mangoes from the trees in the area, and in time we finished them.

When I expressed my sadness about no more mangoes, I was told not to worry because mango trees give fruit every 6 months. That meant I had a good chance of seeing another mango season before my year there was complete.  I accepted the lesson, and looked forward to the fall when I would again feast on mangoes.  That summer I started thinking about the book title for that grand Ghanaian adventure, “Waiting for the Mangoes to Ripen”.

I left Ghana in December of 2004 and somehow I didn’t get to see another mango season in full bloom. And I have yet to write that book.  I know I will write that book one day, just like I know I will write the book of Falling Down. Waking Up. It will happen in its own sweet time, just like mangoes grow in their season on their own time.

More drafted mango storytelling:

Eight years later I moved to Haiti to teach yoga. Again I arrived in a new country to a mango season just beginning. The mango trees in Haiti are prolific.   They have so many different varieties coming in all shapes, sizes, textures and flavors. But this time I wasn’t in a small town, I was in the capitol of Port Au Prince. There were three full service grocery stores in addition to massive markets and somehow there always seemed to be mangoes. I learned that shipments of mangoes come in from the Dominican Republic where they are cultivated year round.