Otherwise

A wise woman reassesses her priorities. She stops occasionally to work out what is important, what her values are. A wise woman knows life is a matter of fine-tuning. She takes stock and either polishes life or discards that which undermines her well being. I find myself in that moment: I am in need of space; I need a break. What was important nearly two years ago, when I started this blog, warrants recalibration. I look out of my window and I see the season is shifting; I drink coffee with a friend as she weighs up her options while burdened with many, too many, anxieties trying to crush her audacious spirit. 

Life is change; mindfulness is accepting change, even daunting, scarifying change. As I attempt to think this through, the word ‘otherwise’ comes to mind. From the Old English ‘on othre wisan, the prefix ‘other’ implies ‘distinct or different from’, while the archaic meaning of ‘wise’ is ‘the manner or extent of something’ as in ‘he did it this wise’. The word is related to ‘wit’, which means ‘to have knowledge … to see.’ I find I have a new knowledge of myself and my writing, different to the knowledge I had of my self and of writing in 2015. My ‘season’ as a writer, has changed. I can do little more than abide the change.

I am going to take a ‘blog break’ for the next seven weeks. I need to mind my health and prepare for a challenging and liberating journey to the other side of the world. I want, in addition, to draw on and clarify the confidence my blog, and my readers, have given me.

I do this with a deep sense of gratitude. Thank you for reading this blog. Thank you for your comments. Thank you for your support. If I decide, at the end of my break, to change direction please know it is because this blog, my readers and the experience of being part of this amazing community has shown me that,

… all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

to rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

‘Ulysses’ Alfred Lord Tennyson

Pain: A Reflection

Two days ago, I drafted a post describing my struggle with a herniated disc and the resulting pain. Yesterday, still dealing with pain and under the influence of supposedly helpful pain relievers, I accidentally deleted the document.

I wrote about feeling trapped on an island of pain, how being left (due to a set of unavoidable circumstances), alone for several hours to fend for myself, it felt as if my friends and family were swimming through the shoals of my pain and batting the seaweed of my frustration and anger aside as they headed for their own islands.

It’s probably just as well I lost the file. I was feeling sorry for myself and needed to rant, although writing the draft helped me come to terms with my predicament. Losing it helped me to understand that nothing is permanent including my pain, which hasn’t quite dissipated but has reduced, thanks to the ministrations of a good physiotherapist, the gentle restorative exercises he suggested, and plenty of rest.  

I found another self on that island of pain, a self that swung too readily between binary opposites of hope and despair, a self who fell into the trap of believing life was either a vale of tears or a pain-free paradise. Why, I moaned, was I forced to endure the former when I craved the latter? This led me to reflect on the Buddhist notion that life is suffering, an inescapable misery rather than an occasion for learning, growing, and feeling compassion for myself and others.

Mindfulness techniques helped me cope; I sent my breath to the afflicted area, imagining it became suffused with a healing light and the relief, though momentary, was sweet. I also did a little research on neurological explanations of pain. In my situation, as I understand it, the nerve endings located in or around my herniated (and thinning) disc, alerted my brain to a potential problem; something was about to, or had, gone wrong. My brain then interpreted and sent the message on and I experienced debilitating pain. According to Norman Doidge , however, my experience was

an opinion on the organism’s state of health rather than a mere reflexive response to injury.

This means, I think, that in the process of collecting and sharing the relevant information, pain is little more than a construct of my brain. Could this explain why military personnel and highly trained athletes deal with pain better than most of us? They don’t ignore the brain’s signals, they recognise it as a construct and manage it differently than the rest of us.

As a result of my research I started a conversation with my brain, telling it my physiotherapist said I needed to move, that I would be careful and my brain didn’t need to tell me moving would hurt; it could also please ‘turn down’ the hurt, or reduce the length of time it hurt. Because, as Doidge reveals, that

neurons that fire together wire together,

and due to our brain’s remarkable plasticity,

neurons that fire apart wire apart-or neurons out of sync fail to link,

I attempted to reconfigure the neuronal link between what was occurring in my spine and the way my reactionary brain ‘read’ the information and conveyed it to me.

As I result, I found movement a little easier. This is not, however, a recommendation for dealing with pain, just a game my brain and I played, a narrative, if you will, I constructed to address the inconvenience of my situation.

As my pain recedes I ask myself once more who am I and do I believe life is suffering or is it a mindful awareness of both suffering and joy; a dance between the two?  I called my original blog, ‘The Loneliness of Pain’ because, over the weekend, I felt utterly alone. My research, the meditations I did and my reflections on the idea of universal suffering helped me acknowledge that everyone experiences pain. As we move closer to understanding, from a scientific and neurological perspective, the nature and significance of that universal suffering maybe we will become more compassionate, loving human beings.

I have no doubt that I, and my lower spine, will recover. Back exercises will become a daily routine, as will being aware of how I move my body now it has fully entered the ageing process.

I understand now that the island I thought I was on is only a peninsula. Feeling isolated by my pain, or by any experience of loss or grief, is an illusion; to suffer is human and because we are human, we never truly suffer alone.

 

Awash with Emails

I purchased a new laptop last week. The old one is still working, but it is slow and I’ve always had trouble with its dodgy space bar. That’s not the main reason, however; my partner and I are off on an adventure in late May and I plan to share my reflections on the new sights, experiences and different climes we’ll experience. The old laptop is too heavy to cart across the planet, hence the recent purchase. airplane

I’m a baby boomer but I know my way around most of my computer’s settings. I’m also reasonably skilled in problem solving (aka ‘trouble shooting’), mostly with the help of Google and YouTube. Is there no question these two sites can’t answer? I decided, therefore, I’d configure the new laptop myself. I didn’t want to bother my eldest son, my youngest son is off with his wife on their adventure and my partner is not, shall I say, as confident with computers as I am. I therefore cheerfully launched into setting up my little laptop, thinking it would take, at the most, a day or two.

That was a week ago.

Scrivener and I handled the transition superbly. Dropbox likewise. My precious photographs were transposed safely (I saved them to a USB just to be sure) and my word processing package seemed to settle into its new home with its numerous files intact. Facebook … well, Facebook is Facebook. Like water, it seeps into the tightest of crevices. And if you’re reading this then the WordPress platform also handled the shift well.

And then there was the email. It should have been simple. I felt I did my part: I planned my approach; I saved important emails; I followed the instructions, but to no avail. I’ve spent the last four days grappling with the beast that is my ‘personal information manager’ while my blog and other writing has languished.emails

I decided to pay a visit to my old laptop this morning, to check my email. One hundred and ninety five emails were downloading, the very emails I managed to head off on the new laptop. Yes, dear reader, I faced down an email tsunami, one I somehow caused but had no idea how I’d done so. Naturally, I did what every semiskilled computer user does; I panicked, shut the old laptop down and disabled the email platform on the new laptop. It’s obvious now that I need a son (or two) to help me undo whatever I’ve done. In the meantime, I can check emails on the Internet. And my phone. And my iPad.

martin_szajaThe point of this post is not my wounded Boomer pride but the irony of the situation. I am a born communicator who failed to set up a simple communication network. I don’t venture into the world and talk to actual human beings as much as I used to and I certainly don’t teach communication skills any more; I connect to the world through emails. I love writing emails, more often little stories tolerated, for the most part, by my friends. I have turned some of these missives into blog posts. But even though I can still communicate with the outside world, maybe it’s time to reflect on my relationship to my emails. I believe the real problem is not that I enjoy communicating via email, it’s the volume of email traffic that swamps my computer, emails I organise under cunningly named labels so I can locate and read them later. The other problem is, as well as my WordPress subscriptions, I subscribe to several (to tell the truth, dozens), of literary and writing websites. I suspect I accrue the equivalent of three large book’s worth of emails to read each week. Of course I can’t keep up; I simply file an email under its label and tell myself I get back to it one day.

Maybe the Email Goddess is trying to tell me something. Is it time to unsubscribe, yet again, from a few sites? Should I delete emails from before (and after) 2013? Will I ever read them? And yet, as I sorted, prior to the email deluge, through my old emails, I found some interesting stuff: notes concerning my PhD research that I’d forgotten I had; early photographs of my precious granddaughter; emails to and from my partner when we were courting; emails to my children and three emails from my father, written just before he died.  Among the polluted polynya that is my email cache, there are a few gems I’d like to scoop up and put to good use if possible.  antarctica-1987579__340

If it’s not possible, I have to accept that a part of my life is undergoing a thorough purge. But before I do that I’ll call my son and ask when he can visit me and work out what I’ve done and how to fix it.

 

How confident are you with managing your computer? Do you receive dozens of emails a week that you never read? Have you found old gems among your email or other files?