Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It Takes a Village

As I reclaim my sacred space and altar time, I wanted to find a chair, stool, or bench that I could use to sit at my altar to Osun. It would need to be large enough to sit on comfortably for an hour, but small enough to remain in front of the bookshelf upon which the altar resides.

My intention was to do what I like to do--find a piece in a thrift store and fix it up. After putting that off for a couple of weeks,  I realized that this is another lesson in accepting my body and its limits. While I may be able to fit the trip to Goodwill into my spoon allotment for the day, the energy required to do the rehab on a piece is just not there.

So looking for something suitable now involves shopping for new. I've found several designs that fit the dimensions.  Now it's time to choose. While I don't have a huge following, it would be fun to have those who read this blog choose the design of my new prayer bench. Here they are:

Number 1

Number 2

Number 3

Number 4

Number 5

Leave a comment with your choice and a few words about why you like the one you chose. I'll announce the one that got the most votes in a couple of weeks. I'm excited to see what folks think.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Mercy Seat

One of the sacred practices that became lost for me when I was undergoing cancer treatment was dedicated and regular time at my altar for Osun. Osun is my encantada,  the Orisa that has called me, been my guide and teacher for most of my life. While I have kept and maintained her altar, spending a hour or more in contemplation and prayer, or doing readings slipped away as my ability to concentrate, and my physical stamina were siphoned off by chemo, radiation,  and the entry of fibromyalgia in the aftermath of treatment.

As the new road of my journey opens before me, and I am beginning to breathe more slowly, make choices with more spiritual purpose. I find I can begin to look around at the wreckage of illness and begin to reclaim what still serves my life. It's not always about letting go. We have to hold close the blessings, and gifts that nourish us too.

Osun's altar is often found in the bedroom or the kitchen. But I have no space in either of those rooms. Her altar sits on an expansive bookcase between living room and dining room. The relatively public area puts Iyalode Osun in the main area of my home and I love her there. But how to have some quiet and private time with her?

One of my partners, with whom I often have shared altar time got my mind shifted in the direction of being more active about reclaiming my sacred space. As I thought about his words, " always took everything to your altar--joys, sorrows, everything..." His words sent me back to childhood and my mother's A.M.E. church, the call to bring it all to the altar. Everyone would sing so soft it was almost a whisper, "Come ye disconsolate...where 'er ye languish...Come to the mercy seat...fervently kneel...Earth has no sorrows,  that Heav'n cannot heal...."

It was my favorite time in church, so hushed and yet so deeply reverent and unwavering in faith that whatever it was, the Creator would take care of it. It stuck, one of the few pieces of traditi Izonal religion that did. And so I,  in my own way and on my own path have regularly come to the mercy seat to laugh, to weep, to supplicate, to beg and even bargain because I am not immune from my human failings. Every time I found what I needed. Every single time.

As I sort through the upturned and scattered pieces of my life, this found thing is pure treasure to me. How I will accomplish it is not so much a problem as an opportunity to allow Osun a more firm purchase in my heart and spirit. She will show me the way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Taking Stock

I spent a week in Tacoma General Hospital last week. A silent kidney infection went rogue and put my body into Sepsis. Been home for a week and I'm back to being able to do pretty much nothing, again.

I looked at the bottles and bottles of pharmaceutical drugs I've been allowing into my body since the cancer diagnosis

Then I had my husband bring down every bottle and box from the upstairs bathroom. 

When I look at this, I see poison. I see the root of why my body cannot heal properly. Why I'm limping along in a world between alive and dead, barely able to function. I can't place the blame entirely on Western Medicine.  I bought the snake oil, lock stock and "smoking barrel. " 

So this morning I'm assessing my state of being. There's a bag of kitty litter complete with turds waiting for this pile of pharmaceutical crap. Right now, I'm angry. At the consumer culture that makes medicine into profits, bottom lines, and way to get paid, instead of healed. I'm angry at a culture that treats the old as fodder for big pharma. I'm angry at myself for so easily swallowing the pills and the lie.

I'm not being stupid. I'm intelligent enough to know what I need to take, and what is simply junk. So enough. Enough of the sawbones' claptrap.  This morning, with the beginning of a tickle in my throat that wants to turn into something bigger, instead of the medicine chest, I'm into the kitchen and my teapot.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stepping Off the Big Pharma Road and Onto My Own

This is not a blog about Fibromyalgia. I am no expert. I have no special wisdom to impart to anyone looking for tips, tricks, or strategies on how to deal with having this vicious chronic madness that invades your life and turns it inside out. For the uninitiated:

a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas. (from google search)

The National Institute Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases says, "Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue (feeling tired). People with fibromyalgia have “tender points” on the body. Tender points are specific places on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs. These points hurt when pressure is put on them."

The Mayo Clinic defines Fibromyalgia as " a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals."

For two years since undergoing treatment for Breast Cancer, I've been battling, all out warring with a host of symptoms that fit the clinical definition of Fibromyalgia. According to the diagnostic criteria, which mind you, are sketchy at best, a person has to have suffered these symptoms ongoing for a minimum of three months. I received a definitive diagnosis this week, finally. The first appointment with a specialist came last year after repeated visits to my primary doctor, who implied I wasn't trying hard enough to get well, and that my pain was purely the result of clinical depression. The specialist, a neurologist, leaned back in his chair and glibly told me that Fibromyalgia is just a garbage term. It doesn't actually exist. Yeah...never went back to him. I've done the Big Pharma Shuffle, from SSRIs, to Tricyclics, to Lyrica, Effexor, Celexa, Trazodone--I've truly lost count of the number and kind of drugs I've swallowed attempting to gain control of my body and its pain and exhaustion. I have completely weaned myself from all prescription meds  except the three I truly need to take.

I don't know why I thought that I could invest all of my faith in Western Medicine. Fear and the desperation of chronic pain will drive a person to make unwise choices. Prior to seeing the rheumatologist who named my pain, I was focused on simply bearing it, coping moment to moment. I focused on hope--hope that it would go away, would heal on its own, hope that something would happen to make it better, or all else failing, I would die and it would all just stop. The problem with coping is that it requires different skill sets to deal with problems. I have not been using the right skill set to deal with this. Hope, too, requires a particular energy and mine has been to retreat into passive waiting. That kind of hope carries a thin light and I need something more active, more bright to see me through what I know now to be the state of my physical being.

Even my old standbys of altar time, prayer, drumming, creating art have not been enough to transmute the imbalance of chronic illness. I've tried, but I recognize now that I will need to go much deeper into spiritual practice, find the proper teachers and guides, if I am going to be able to have any decent quality of life.

First of all, I have no abundance of disposable income. Just don't have it. But I do have the resourcefulness gained from being poorer than many most of my life. I know where to look for free stuff. First stop, library for books about fibro, exercises, symptomology, treatment, all that. Next stop, a search for support groups that yielded a free  Tai Chi class at the Senior Center in Sumner, WA, about 20 minutes from me. I went to the class this morning, no small accomplishment since just opening my eyes and emerging from the blankets was a feat of strength today. The class was small and the forms were done seated--a blessing for me since I've given in to using a cane during this flare. The center has Yoga every week for 5.00 a class, and Ceramics for 3.00 a class.  I'm signed up for both.

I admit that at first I was turned off by the idea of hanging out at a place for old people. I felt I wasn't ready for that, not slowed down enough, but this morning's class disabused me of the notion that I am anyplace but in the deep down of slow and scrounging for a spoon. Humble pie is bitter sweet...and though it seems that so many of the young are slapped with Fibromyalgia, it is not a disease of the young. It is a disease, an imbalance in people who, like me were high energy never miss a beat, juggling all the plates in the air one handed. I was never a Type A kind of person, but I had my shit together. I did everything and anything I wanted to do. That was then. Shuffling about trying to remember what I was saying a few minutes ago is now. Wiping the kitchen counters and having to put my head down for a few minutes so I can make it to a chair to sit is now. Lying awake at two a.m. in pain so relentless and bone busting I'm sick to my stomach is now.

So I'm digging deeper for healing, even deeper than when I had cancer. Western Medicine has failed me. I have no more faith in what they provide except within an extremely limited scope. Spiritually, I am in a place that feels awakened by the call to do more than I have ever done before. To be more of who I am meant to be and to connect to my place in this world more firmly. Yes, even in pain I can do this.I am no longer at war with my body, no longer engaged in ways to make it submit to my desires. I see this path as one of making peace with my reality, finding balance in the midst of storm. Pain no longer is the focus, though it is ever present.  Will the pain go away? I can't say, but I am moving toward wholeness, not simply moving to be pain free. Ashé...

Friday, September 12, 2014


Healing is a process. Healing is continuous. Healing washes the spirit in waves much like the tide rises, sometimes unperceptively but always in motion in and out, advancing and receding only to return again.

On November 4, 2011 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I have been treated and tracked from the realm of cancer patient to cancer survivor. I am still learning what that means. One thing I've discovered is that I have not "recovered" all that I was before cancer. Deep fatigue, muscle and bone aches, memory loss and slowness have continued to be present and relentless; a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia is a naming that gives little comfort.  I have developed scarring in my lungs and other late effects of the treatment that have a serious impact on my ability to function. I'm angry and frustrated at not being more physically well than I am. I know that I am not alone. Despite the doctors' pronouncements that I'm cured and should be feeling so much better--I'm not. I am out of synch, out of balance with my body and my spirit. The treatment took its toll and I am coming to know and accept that wellness and balance will be the work of my life from this point forward.

Western Medicine treats. It is not concerned with healing. From etymonline:

"restoration to health," Old English hæling; see heal. Figurative sense of "restoration of wholeness" is from early 13c.; meaning "touch that cures" is from 1670s.

By force and by poison cancer has been torn from my breast and my body. Blood was drawn and tested and found to be free of malignancy. Yet, I am not restored to wholeness, nor have I yet to receive the touch that cures. The year of BC blocked me from my spiritual practice, isolated me from the physical ability to engage in those pursuits that have  sustained me, kept me balanced, whole, and in harmony with my life in this body. I have resisted the truth that healing/balance is now the work of my life. I had been on a trajectory that had graduate school and work at the center of my life. Though the work I wanted to do was good work, work that would help others, it was still about what I could accomplish more than it was about who I am. Now, who I am has changed and that is as it should be. As a human I do not want to change. As a spiritual being change is a part of my existence. And once more, I have no map or guide book to navigate the passage I must travel.

Once more I find myself in this place of unknowing; I am walking with faith toward gnosis. It has been and continues to be a mostly solitary journey for me. By necessity I have withdrawn from connections to people and things that are not useful now. The time has come for me to let go of a guide who has been with me since the beginning of this journey in 2011. She gave me a new copy of Anita Moorjani's book, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing , which I have read and meditated on.

Each day I do something outside even if all I can do is sit in the sun. I try to practice patience with myself when I can catch myself in the act of self loathing for my perceived inadequacies both physical and emotional. As a Black Woman, I have been acculturated to a life of self denial, of self worth only in the light of what I could accomplish and achieve, because no matter what just me would never be enough. The Black Angels that keep appearing in my readings--Sun Daughter, Mother Soul, Earth Mother. Coming off the sleeping path of these guides requires me to be focused on my own needs instead of everyone else's. Cancer has taken all of that self from me. I am no longer able to keep house, cook, take care of everyone's needs as I did. Having Breast Cancer has brought change and this opportunity for growth. Anita Moorjani describes her healing as a process of "allowing" rather than doing. For me, it feels more of letting go. Letting go is the first step in allowing. Without letting go, nothing can open, nothing can enter in.

My spiritual practice has changed as it must in the wake of Oya's broom. Simplicity reigns supreme. My altars remain oases of spiritual energy, a little bliss in the eye of the storm that comprises my life these days. Many days, tending them is by necessity brief, but the brevity makes me pay attention more to what I am doing. Oya clears the way, and not kindly, for new growth, for rebirth, for allowing. When you hold on too tight, Oya will open your fingers and level everything you know down to rubble. From the destruction, if you are open, if you "allow," will come the growth that Creator asks of you. And that is why we are here--to love, to grow, to become, to experience this journey in a human form.

My journey has reached a place of learning what it means to heal, what it means to be broken, and what it means to be whole while still in the midst of pain. I have no clue where this road is leading. A spiritual life is no guarantee of answers. You don't get special treatment. The blessings and joy are built into the work of it all. The end of summer sunflower from my garden is the blessing that found its way into my pain-numbed brain, and hearing Osun's laughter in my spirit, I brought the golden girl inside to Iya's altar. That I could allow this small place of beauty in the midst of  pain and fatigue that made me want to crawl into bed with a bottle of wine and a chocolate bar, is a sacred thing to me. There is a place of light still that lives within me. I am understanding, I think what it means to "allow."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

To Be Whole in the Sea of Chaos

I live with a mentally ill family member. It is my choice to allow them in my home. I know what I am doing and what I am in for with this. I know that I am not alone in coping with this situation. According to NAMI, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill,  one in four adults experience mental illness in a given year. Not all mentally ill people live with family, but many do. Dealing with the daily challenges of balancing a spiritual journey with the chaos that is the constant companion of my family member has made for an often treacherous path.

In this world, we treat the brain and its chemistry. We dampen, we sedate; we manipulate receptors.  We parse the mind into vectors. We take people out of the community and lock them in wards of hospitals. We indoctrinate new behavior patterns with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Yes, we still attach electrodes to peoples' skulls and induce seizures--ECT.

What this realm calls mental illness, my ancestors would have called an opportunity. The visible imbalance in a person would have been treated as a milestone of growth in which the entire community, led by medicine people or shamans  would have engaged in a process of encouragement and restoring of balance--not just for the individual,  but for the whole community.

Yet, it's not simple.  I don't live in a community of people who follow my traditions. I do not have access to a shaman or other spiritual leader. My family member is an adult in their 30s.  I cannot force her to seek help or take medication, or to seek spiritual guidance and healing. It is not my responsibility to do any of these things anyway. What I can provide, I do. She is safe from the dangers of the streets, has good nutritious food, and all of her basic needs provided for, including access to help for her illnesses both physical and mental.

What I have come to know in the process of this experience is that I had to let go of the guilt, the self-hate,  and self-blame I was pounding myself with daily. Not only was my family member's mental illness affecting me, but even more, my own destructive destorted emotions and thoughts were making me sick on all levels of my life. When I finally recognized what was happening to me, I entered into my own healing around her illness.

The shape of healing for me lies primarily in letting go. Letting go of what is not mine to control. I am an earth mama. I dig in deep and hold on tight. There is no holding another person's illness. I actively support my family member, but this journey is not mine to travel. The actions I take to move toward wholeness in the midst of her brokenness are deliberate. Without a community or shaman to turn to, I rely on the rituals of ancestor reverence, meditation, purification, and releasing to carry me.

My art is prayer and so I create...something even if it's just a few words in my journal.  Trees, plants, flowers are healing to my spirit, and they sometimes bless me with some wisdom I am needing, so I spend time outside every single day.

Drums are the Mother's heartbeat, a vibration that sinks into my bones and sends heartache into the earth to be transformed. Weekly drum circle at Ted Brown Music, yes.

Spiritual house cleaning is not always an action within. I needed to rearrange where we sleep in order to bring a more peaceful and calm energy to my home. Moving my family member into an upstairs bedroom, taking her chaotic energy out of the heart of the house makes it possible to reclaim my space and re-establish the flow of the household.

While I love her and care what happens to her, these actions are for me. If love is an action, then I am choosing love for myself. As a woman on my own spiritual journey, I choose how my feet move. Some may call my actions selfish. I call them loving. I call them being present to what is and letting go of what I can't control.

Mental illness is a place of labyrinthine darkness,  where there is no light and guides are few. From the outside I see how my family member struggles, how her pain spills outward threatening to pull me under.  I am no good to her in that place of under. My lesson is to experience healing in the midst of her brokenness,  to sit with what is, to learn the truth of what it means to be a wounded healer.

For those looking for more traditional support locally:

Community Connections

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lessons from the Food Bank

In 2011, I got breast cancer. I lived through the treatment.  I am still here. I paid the ferryman's price to stay of this side of the Styxx. I can no longer work outside in the 9 to 5 world. I don't care much for the term, "disabled." I collect a small payment of 525.00  month from the 'gov'ment.'  I shop for clothing on ebay, and in thrift stores. I reuse and recycle, plant a food garden, and this year I'm making my first batch of pickles grown in my pesticide and chemical free back yard. I clip coupons, shop sales at the grocery and every Monday, bright and early I take my coffee, my book, a folding chair and hit my local food bank.

According to Feeding food banks are no longer just a failsafe against emergency needs for food. More and more people are relying on food banks as I do--as an ongoing part of my family's food supply. In 2013, FISH Food Banks of Pierce County served more than 500,000 people, many of them young people under 18 years old.

No,  I am not too proud to wait in line for surplus day old bread, canned goods, and whatever else the local food bank has on hand by the grace of Creator and generous donors. Without this weekly supplement to our food budget, we would not be able to make ends meet. That's not entirely true. We could eat, but we would not be able to pay some other bills which would lead to a cascade of catastrophes culminating in no lights or water or gas. Not good. So I go early and I wait the three hours for the doors to open.

I am fortunate to have this resource available.  I am even more fortunate for the company I keep while waiting in line.  My Kwan Yin, Tara Goddesses, a group of ladies who arrive early many times before I do, have become a cherished part of my week. From Korea, they speak comfortably with one another, observing their cultural traditions and behaviors that to me speak clearly of their solidarity as women, and their respect for and loving actions with each other. One or two of them speak some english, but it doesn't matter to me. I am content within the easy flow of their conversation, reading their body language, observing their rituals.

The ladies who arrive later always come and say good day to the oldest of the group first. She takes their hands gently, holding them for a few moments--a sweet gesture of affection. The women share. There is laughter, news traded,  even a bit of gossip whispered, but mostly there is the unmistakable warmth generated when women gather. It is a radiant energy that gives a lightness of being to my heart and opens a space for my spirit to smile and connect with these women, without a common tongue between us.

It began slowly, this lightness I feel.  It began with one of the women knitting and so I brought mine. They smiled and touched the stitches,  nodding approval. I felt they allowed me into their circle just a bit with that interaction. So when I arrive each Monday I nod, smile, and greet them in english, "Good morning!" They smile,  nod, and return my good morning with their own. We might exchange a few words about the weather.  Then came the day a man with a rickety riding mower came to cut grass on the church grounds. A huge rock was kicked from under the unprotected blades. It screamed into the wooden porch support where we were all waiting, hitting the wood with such force, it sounded like a large caliber gunshot. The impact was inches from my head, where I sat in my green lawn chair.

As we looked at the crushed wood in the porch support, and examined the heavy rock  streaked with paint from the wood and scored from the blades of the riding mower, a couple of the women touched my arm, saying "luck." The oldest, looked at me pointed up and said, "God," and smiled.  Now when I see her on Monday she takes my hand and gently pats it. Sometimes she tells me her knee is hurting. Other times she just smiles.

The women call her anjeo, a term of respect and affection I'm guessing.  I feel included in their morning gathering though I dont speak Korean and I am of African and Cherokee descent. This Monday morning I am the first in line. As my Tara ladies begin to arrive,  they greet me in english.  "Morning! " "How do you say good morning in Korean? " I ask.  Anjaseo... when anjeo arrives she says, "good morning! " I say, "Anjaseo!" She is delighted and hugs me. Anjaseo♡