Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Winter Solstice Story

Preface: What would people have noticed in the sky at the time of winter solstice, say 10,000 years ago at mid-northern latitudes? Shortest days, longest nights, the cold, longest noon-time shadows of the year, southernmost sunrise, and southernmost sunset. And what would they have thought about it? Well, here's that story, her story...

Ah, I hear the sounds of Day, people starting to move and shuffle -- it must be getting close to when I will rise from this warm cocoon. It's sooooo cozy in here. Hard to leave. But can't help it -- need to pee. Bladder's full to bursting. Can't wait any more. Need to go out of the cave -- I'll make it fast. Very smoky in here though. Fresh air would be nice, anyway...

Cold outside -- brrr -- chills me to the bone. And just getting light. At least I can see where I'm going. Don't want to trip over all these rocks. And slippery, with water dripping and ice all over everything. Icicles!! I love icicles. And looking up, it's SO beautiful -- sky colors, clouds, beginning of the new Day. Makes me stop, even in the cold, to gaze at the dawn sky. Really stop. Can't forget to pee, I say to myself -- but all thoughts of a quick run outside fade as the beautiful morning sky commands my attention. What beauty the Forces of the World have brought today!

So I stop. And watch. It happens every morning, I laugh to myself. Captivated by the beauty of the sky. Thank you, Sky, for surrounding me with inspiration. I should have said I would be the astronomer -- I am usually awake earlier than everyone else, anyway. Now where is the Great Shining Sun going to stand up out of the Earth today? Last week I remember seeing the spot where the Sun stood up. It was over that distant mountain with the interesting curve to it. Right next to the lake. I remember last time we had a cold season, just around the time my little Laura was born, seeing the Great Shining Sun rise near that same place. And the days were short and cold then, too. I wonder...

And last cold season, the Great Shining Sun never stood up out of the lake. It was just like the lake made the Great Shining Sun turn around and move along the mountains in the other direction. The Sun must like to stand up out of the mountains -- anyway, everyone knows it is easier to stand on land than on water.

And I remember watching every day, day after day, and the Great Shining Sun was not swallowed by the water. I must remind everyone this is the way it was last cold season, too. There is no need to fear for the loss of the Sun...

And so it was that people long ago paid attention to the sky, and learned by noticing -- the southernmost sunrise, the southernmost sunset, the cold, the longest noon-time shadows, the shortest days, and the longest nights at the time of winter solstice. And they learned not to be afraid for the loss of the Sun, because every year the Sun came back North, and brought with it the warmth and the longer days. It was just a matter of waiting patiently...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gorgeous Full Moon Setting!

I awoke at 6:30 a.m. one week ago (Saturday Dec. 13) to find it clear outside here in Massachusetts with the getting-ready-to-set just-20-hours-past-full Moon still visible in the northwestern sky. So I dressed very warmly, made a hot cup of tea, and took my camera to the Sunwheel. The sky was gorgeous!

I arrived at the Sunwheel at 7:30 a.m. as sunlight was already spreading over the land, made my way toward the East to the center of the stone circle, and found that the Sun was just becoming visible through the bare trees as seen from the center of the Sunwheel. And when I looked more closely, I saw that the location of sunrise along the horizon was very close to the position it would have 8 days later, on the morning of the winter solstice. So even though my purpose in being out before breakfast on that cold December morning was to see the Moon setting, my attention was first captivated by the sight of the rising Sun.

I took a number of pictures of the rising Sun toward the southeast, the direction of the winter solstice sunrise, and then I turned around to face the northwest and the setting full Moon. With perfectly clear skies it was easy to see the Moon, still quite high in the sky northwestern sky, and I realized that it would probably be 30-45 minutes until the Moon set behind the hills on the horizon. If I had had long underwear on, I might have just stood out in the dawn air and watched, but I was already chilled to the bone and wanted to get warm. I gazed skyward as long as I could, and then went back to my car to go home.

When I got out of the wind and had a few sips of tea, I turned my car around and was just about to drive away when I realized I hadn't taken any pictures of the Moon. That was silly, I thought -- what if I didn't come back to see the Moon set further? So I had a few more sips of tea, let my hands warm up until I could feel my fingers, got out of the car and walked back to the center of the Sunwheel. I took at least 5 pictures of the full Moon when it was still maybe 10 degrees above the horizon. At this point I was satisfied with my outing, and I went back to the car to go home.

Once I was in the shelter of the seemingly warm car, I had more tea, sipping the deliciously hot liquid as I gazed at the crisp landscape. I was in no hurry to go anywhere -- no one would even be awake at home at this hour. And then I realized that instead of having my car face East, with the Sun already having risen, I could turn my car around to face West and watch the Moon as I drank my tea. So I did.

And by the time my tea was finished, the Moon had dropped considerably in the sky. Again I got out of the car and walked back to the center of the Sunwheel to take more photos. My interest in being at the Sunwheel to see the setting Moon, as opposed to anywhere else, was that Dec. 13 was the one morning this month when the Moon had its northernmost declination (i.e. latitude on the sky), and was even more northerly than the summer Sun ever gets. That meant that the Moon would be seen to set more northerly than the summer solstice Sun. However, since the peak of the Moon's 18.6-year cycle, called Major Lunar Standstill, was 2 years ago in 2006, the setting full Moon today was not as northerly as it had been 2 years ago in December. I was looking forward to the beautiful sight of seeing the Moon set between the summer solstice sunset stone and the northern moonset stone.

So I stood and watched the setting Moon, first taking photos with my zoom lens, and then taking photos which also showed the Moon's alignment relative to the Sunwheel stones. And all the while the Moon was getting lower and lower, closer to the horizon, closer to the time of setting. This time I didn't go back to my car. I just decided to watch the event from where I was. And what surprised me the most was that in the early morning light the full Moon was getting so much harder to see.

I was puzzled by this. I had often seen the Moon rise in the late afternoon, not even as full as now (just 20 hours past the instant of maximum illumination), and even in the daylight the Moon was easier to see close to the horizon these other times than it was this cold December morning. Turbulence in the atmosphere? A lower horizon? I'm not sure. For now, the faintness of the Moon as it set that day remains a great mystery to me.

Just before the Moon touched the horizon, I could still see it clearly, and the Moon shows in the photos. It helped that I knew where it was, though. I realized that if I had gone home and come back to see moonset, I might not have been able to find the Moon in the sky. But once the Moon went partway below the horizon, I could barely see it at all. I knew it was still there, and I took photos in hopes of enhancing them to see the Moon. Then I said a brief 'thank you' to the Universe for the gorgeous show I had just seen. Including that I was awake and well enough to see it! After all, 1 year ago I was not able to just get up any random morning, drive myself to the Sunwheel, and walk back and forth to the center from the road 3-4 times to watch the Moon set and the Sun rise. So even though very cold, I was filled with gratitude.

And this time, when I want back to my car, I really did go home.

I spent the morning making a picasa web album of the photos I took at the Sunwheel -- to view the photos please see:


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice!

We are having a snowy solstice here -- yesterday's nor'easter gave us 12" of snow, and another 8" are in the forecast for today. In preparation for today and tomorrow's Sunwheel events [sunrise @ 7 a.m. and sunset @ 3:30 p.m.], I spent about 1 hour at the Sunwheel with my snow shoes on yesterday, first walking East to West 2 times, then making a path around the Sunwheel 3 times, then flattening an area in the middle, and finally going from South to North 2 times before leaving. Not only was I enjoying being out in the snow, but I was celebrating my healing -- last year I was not yet able to snowshoe at the time of winter solstice.

This morning I went to the Sunwheel at 6:45 a.m. accompanied by my daughter and her husband. They are helping me at each event by carrying things and helping people who want to buy Sunwheel T-shirts and sweatshirts. It had already started snowing, and it still is. There were 9 of us in total at the Sunwheel for sunrise, standing out in blowing snow celebrating the return of the light. The instant of the official beginning of winter was 7:04 a.m. EDT, while we were out in the elements intimately experiencing the environment. And in spite of the snow, I shared with the visitors the 6 things that are special about the day of the winter solstice:

1) shortest day of the year
2) longest night of the year
3) lowest noontime altitude of the Sun
4) southernmost sunrise
5) southernmost sunset
6) Sun directly overhead Tropic of Capricorn at local noon on December 21

Plus I love teaching that solstice means "standstill of the Sun", since already for 1 week the Sun has been rising at the same place, setting at the same place, and had a low noon-time altitude in the sky. This 'standstill' will continue for about 1 more week. Interestingly enough, there are numerous holiday celebrations that happen at this time of year that bring in the light for many days.

This morning it was 18 degrees out and windy, our hands and feet were cold, and our coats became covered with snow. And even so, it was a wonderful way to celebrate the Winter Solstice. We didn't see the Sun but we knew it was there. In fact, after 11 years of seasonal gatherings at the Sunwheel, this was the first time that I held a seasonal gathering while it was snowing. Luckily I live relatively close to the Sunwheel so it was not challenging for me to get there.

Last year it had snowed a few days before solstice, and I realized then that if I owned snowshoes I would be able to create a path in the snow for visitors. I bought the snowshoes then, even though 1 year ago I had just given up using a walker and was unable to use the snowshoes. I thought that snowshoes -- especially with the poles in each hand -- would be ideal for walking in the winter, getting fresh air and exercise, and strengthening my body and spine. And sure enough, about 2 weeks later on a warm January day, I was out using the snowshoes for the first time, learning that it was good exercise that was safe for me in a flat place like the Sunwheel.

It continues to snow as I write these words, in the middle of the day on Dec. 21, 2008. If the snow stops by sunset, we will be lighting candles at the Sunwheel during the sunset gathering -- for solstice and for Chanukkah -- lighting up the stones and the snow and the night, and doing our own little part to add to the increase of the light.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Snow Drop Peaks Out of the Ground

This December I have been slowly working on the task of clearing the garden -- cutting the spent stalks of ferns and perennials from last year's blooms, scattering any seeds I find for the birds or for future germination, and mulching the rose bushes in case of a cold winter. I find it easy and comfortable to be on the ground on all 4's, since then gravity is not compressing my spine.

Each morning I tour the garden, gently moving along the garden paths under the pine trees or out in the open. Noticing whatever there is to notice. I notice holes dug by the squirrels, looking for nuts they have buried. I notice the leaves covering the ground. I notice the tightly curled rhododendron leaves. I notice the colors -- browns and greens mostly, with red berries on the crabapple tree. There are huge, green foxglove leaves starting to wilt in the cold. I leave them alone now, after one year pruning them back and the plants all died. I notice the nuthatches walking down the trunks of trees in search of bugs to eat.

And this month I noticed something that I have never seen before in the garden in December. It was on December 1st, no less. There on the ground was the green tip of a gallanthum (snow drop) shoot coming out of the ground.

I had seen the shoots occasionally appear in January in recent years, and then the flowers would bloom in February. Named 'snow drops' because they really do look like little drops of snow, and they really do bloom under the snow. One of the first things to bloom in the late winter and early spring. Before the crocus even. But it was still autumn on December first, and the snow drops were there. I checked yesterday, and found even more -- now 8 shots peeking out of the ground. So I covered them with leaves to protect them from the cold.

We have had the most peculiar weather this fall. Warm days in the 50's, with much rain, and then days in the 20's. Maybe the plants thought our cold snap in November was it for winter. Well if so, they will be surprised by the 14" of snow we are supposed to get tomorrow, 2 days before the winter solstice.

Sunday Dec. 21 @ 7:04 a.m. is the official beginning of winter, and I am curious how long it will last this year. I guess we'll find out!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sharing Our House With Others

I have recently wondered about the inventory of other beings in our house.

When I lie down upstairs in the afternoons, I often hear scurrying in the attic -- possibly sounds of mice or chipmunks. Yesterday, I heard sounds of scuffling in the walls that was more reminiscent of bats. And we have had bats in the attic in the past, so why not now? Then there are the spiders that tend to come inside in the cold weather...

We did get rid of the infestation of those moths that eat through boxes of crackers and get into everything. And in the winter, the flies and ants are absent. Thankfully.

I don't mind sharing our house, especially with creatures who live somewhere we don't go -- like in the walls. It's just more of a problem when they make noise that wakes me up, or they die in the walls and smell bad, or eat the structure of the house. Now that's not acceptable.

We've had the smell of a dead animal in the basement recently, and I am wondering if that is really what it is. Haven't found it yet. Don't even know exactly where it is. Hoping it will go away by itself.

Life in the 21st century is truly amazing. If it's not one thing, it's another. Time evaporates, whether dealing with dead animals or fallen leaves or just taking the next breath. I try to remember to savor the moments, even when they smell of a dead animal, but that is usually when I want to hold my breath. I am starting to truly appreciate the advice to simplify one's life. There is so much to do and so little time -- best to spend it on the things that are essential and the things that really matter. Now if I could only find that dead animal...

Monday, December 8, 2008

The First Snow

Yesterday morning, we awoke to the ground covered in white fluffy snow for the first time this year. Just an inch or so, but enough that it needed to be shoveled off the side walk and brushed off the car.

And it was cold outside, at least by December standards, with wind chills in the 20's. And cloudy and gray. By the time I had cleared the snow from the sidewalks and my car, my fingers and toes felt numb -- at least where I could feel them. OK, I stayed out a little longer than necessary, wandering over the frozen landscape through the winter garden, pruning the occasional rose bush here, scattering the seeds of snakeroot there (it's named black cohosh, also known as 'bug bane' because it keeps the mosquitoes away in the summer).

And as I was finishing up outside and getting ready to come inside to get warm, I recalled the first snow last year. Also December -- the 9th to be exact. Also a small snow fall (2"). I know, because last year I kept a list of the days we had snow and how much we got.

And my heart felt warm and full yesterday, even in the cold, because this year I am walking without a walker. And able to clear the sidewalk with the snow shovel. It didn't matter to me that yesterday's snow was just 1" -- last year I couldn't shovel even that amount. Last year this time I still needed to walk with a walker. And last year this time I was just beginning to get strength back in my spine. I couldn't twist or bend. I remember in the first week of December 2007 trying to do a yoga pose bending to the side or forward, and I couldn't go 1 millimeter.

There has been so much healing in my body over the past year, I am deeply grateful. Sometimes, with the healing being so slow, it is hard for me to recognize my progress. But I remember last December well, and today my heart is full. My spirit lives in delight. I am so grateful for where I am now that I don't look at where I am not.

I am grateful for the 1" of snow yesterday that showed me how much I have healed. And I have great faith that next December I will be even stronger and more flexible than I am now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How Many Rocks Can Fit Into a Bucket?

Today I achieved a milestone in my life and in my writing -- I submitted a book proposal for a book describing the Sunwheel, or astronomically aligned stone circle, I have built on the U.Mass. Amherst campus. I have many ideas about books I want to write and publish, and it has been a real challenge to figure out how to manage my energy, take care of myself, engage in my healing, and also to work on the creative projects that are meaningful to me. I began working on this book and book proposal in 2004, so this stage of the project has been over 4 years in coming to fruition.

I was reminded recently of the parable about how many rocks can fit into a bucket. So here is how it goes...

If you have a bucket, and you fill it with fist-sized rocks, would you say that the bucket is full? Well, is it?

The answer is no, the bucket is not full. Because you can now add handfuls of pebbles, and these small rocks will fill in the spaces around the larger ones.

So after adding so many pebbles that they come up to the brim of the bucket, would you now say the bucket is full? What do you think?

The answer is no, it is still not full. Because now you can add handfuls of sand to fill in the holes around the pebbles.

So after adding sand to fill the bucket up to the brim, would you say the bucket is full now? Is it full yet?

The answer is still no, because you can pour water into the bucket, and it will fill the spaces between the grains of sand, all the way up to the brim.

NOW the bucket is full -- of rocks, and pebbles, and sand, and water.

Next, pour everything out, and then put things back into the bucket in a different order. First put in the water, then the sand, then the pebbles, and then the rocks. Will everything fit?

The answer is no, the large rocks will not fit into the bucket if the other things are put in first.

The metaphor here for me about life is that if there are some big things I want to do in my life -- and for me writing a book is one of them -- these won't fit into my days unless I put them in first, prioritize them, make time for them. If I spend my time doing all the little things that are asking for my time and attention, and there are an almost infinite number of such things, then there are not the blocks of time left for the big projects.

So as I was finishing my book proposal, and making time to write everyday, I was reminded of fitting the rocks into the bucket.

And some days, I even dream about having a bigger bucket!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving. For me, every day is a day for feeling gratitude for everything in my life. So on Thanksgiving Day, there is an extra feast to go along, plus everyone I know is also celebrating all that they are grateful for.

There are so many blessings in my life, I know I am very lucky. My hope and prayer for you, and for every human being, is that on this day and on all other days, you feel blessed.

Here is a link to a beautiful movie that for me says it all: May You Be Blessed


And may others be blessed by you!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Miracle of Physical Therapy

I have been receiving guidance for Physical Therapy on and off for 15 months now. It began in August 2007 when I was able to begin to move my body again -- after my spine collapsed, and chemo began, and my bowel shut down, and I was in the hospital. All that. I couldn't move my body very much 18 months ago, and it really is true that our muscles lose their strength very quickly if not used regularly, so I began PT after 2 months of little activity.

I still remember learning to walk again in August 2007, and the visiting nurse was with me in the house checking that there was a clear path for me to walk, with nothing to trip over or get in the way. When she said to me, "You're walking slowly to be careful, right?", I remember replying, "No, this is as fast as I can walk."

And when the PT began at the same time, I was given simple isometric exercises. Some to do when I was lying in my lift chair before getting up, and others to do when I was standing. Exercises to strengthen my muscles, and to begin to stretch them. Always with the reminder to tighten my abs. Of course, I was on prednisone at the time, and one side effect of it is that one has no strength in the abdomen muscles. None at all. And if I didn't tighten those muscles, my back would get tired and sore and strained from lack of support...

So it was very interesting last week to visit my former chiropractor, Linda, who has training in Physical Therapy. I explained my great concern to her, that my lowest rib is almost in contact with my pelvis. She gave me some exercises to do, and instead of saying to tighten my abs, she said to imagine someone was going to tickle me, and me tightening the muscles near my belly button in response. That this would trigger the contraction, and ultimate strengthening, of the muscles in my lower and middle back. I realized that I haven't been tightening the muscles near my belly button as much as the muscles in my lower abdomen.

And already, after doing these new exercises, I can tell a difference in my body. I have more strength and less pain in my back. Where there had been little change over months, I have now noticed a positive improvement in just 1 week. Thank you Linda -- you are a miracle worker! I am now hopeful that my muscles will soon provide greater support for my back, and also greater support for my rib cage. Maybe even help lengthen my spine, and increase the distance between my lowest rib and pelvis. Now that would be a miracle.

I think I'll expect a miracle! After all, why not?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Healing from a Collapsed Spine

How long does it take to heal from a collapsed spine? From 15 compression fractures and shrinking 3 inches in 1 month (18 months ago) and losing the lumbar curve?

I don't know.
I wake every morning and do 20 minutes of physical therapy before I get out of bed.
I eat plenty of protein.
I eat nutrient dense foods, plenty of organic fruits and vegetables.
I drink Goji juice -- 8 ounces per day.
I take flax oil and fish oil.
I take supplements.
I do stretching exercises and yoga.
I meditate daily.
I say morning prayers of gratitude, expressing my thanks for all the love, abundance, health, support, joy, friendship, inspiration, creativity and peace that is in my life.
I say prayers before dinner, and whenever it strikes me to during the day.
I do standing physical therapy exercises.
I drink plenty of liquids.
I drink goat's milk to enhance the absorption of calcium.
All in all, I feel quite healthy, in fact.

I have enough energy to do what my spine is able to do.
I no longer need a walker -- gave it up 11 months ago.
I no longer need walking sticks -- gave them up 9 months ago.
I can walk up and down the stairs many times a day, as of 4 months ago.
I can walk for 1 hour as of 2 months ago.
I no longer get dizzy, a side effect of the chemo, as of 1 month ago.
I can now do yoga lying on my back, as of 2 weeks ago.

So how long does it take to heal from a collapsed spine?
I don't know.
After 18 months, I still need pain medication daily.
I need to rest my spine after being out of bed for 2-3 hours, and that means I either lie down, recline, or kneel on all fours. Something to relieve the effects of gravity on my spine. I'm still gardening, even though the high temperatures are in the 30's, because kneeling on all 4's feels good to my spine.
Mornings are good, and I am able to move around with ease as I take care of myself, and the ease disappears as the day goes by.

Will there be some magic day that I wake up and find that I am suddenly healed?
I don't know.
I expect that I will continue to improve over time, slowly to be sure, but improve nevertheless in baby steps, tiny increments -- this day being able to stretch sideways, that day being able to run a few steps. Exploring the range of comfort, which is constantly changing and expanding.

So I ask how long it takes to heal from a collapsed spine, and the answer is I don't know. But I do know that I am alive, and grateful to be alive, and healing, and grateful for that as well. And I also know that it doesn't matter if I don't have an answer to the question now, because I will find the answer as I patiently live my life.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Squirrels in the House!!!!!!

Well, I have lived in the same place for 25 years, and never before have I found gray squirrels in the house. Until this fall. About 20 years ago there was a red squirrel that got into the attic and made a huge commotion very early every morning. Drove me nuts! I had to hire a contractor to cover the holes under the eaves where the squirrel was getting in -- and it had to be when the squirrel had gone out for the day so it wasn't trapped in the house. Yes, I survived that squirrel adventure.

But my dealings with gray squirrels, until now, have been mostly in the garden -- where they plant walnut and oak trees, dig holes looking for nuts, eat the underside of the branches in the maple tree to drink the sap as it leaks out, or chatter at me as I garden.

The first gray squirrel in the house was just 6 weeks ago on the first night of fall when I came back from my trip to Montana -- I wrote about it in the post "Things That Go Bump in the Night" on Sept. 25. And that squirrel was clearly a young one, not yet full-sized. It did some damage, running around the dining room and living room in the middle of the night trying to get out of the closed windows, and finally it ran into the study. I closed the door with the squirrel inside, opened the window, and in the morning it was gone.

I had forgotten about that squirrel until last weekend. On Saturday afternoon I was in the kitchen making apple crisp, one of my signature autumn dishes. All of a sudden there was a huge commotion coming from the other side of the basement door. It sounded like an animal, too much noise for it to be a mouse or bat or bird. Probably a squirrel again. Same one? Maybe, maybe not.

When my partner got home we went into the basement together, and sure enough, there was a large gray squirrel sitting on the bookcase eating the jade plant. It had made a mess of the plant, in fact. Seeing us, the squirrel ran behind the desk, then into the furnace room. I closed the door, and the animal left the same way in came in -- through the walls up to the attic, and then out. I think so, anyway. And this was not the same squirrel as before -- it was a much bigger critter.

Over the past few days, as I pondered the 2 gray squirrels in the house, I wondered about the metaphorical significance of this visitor. After all, to suddenly get 2 visits in 6 weeks from an animal that I have never seen IN the house before -- this got my attention. So, what does squirrel mean, anyway?

I went to my trusty source of information on the metaphorical teachings of animals, the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson. In this book, 44 animals and their habits are described, along with ways of applying the gifts of the animals to our lives, what Native Americans call 'animal medicine'.

In the Medicine Cards, Squirrel signifies 'gathering', teaching us to plan ahead for the coming winter. Squirrel also teaches how to gather and store energy for times of need, to reserve something for future use. The message may be that I should honor my future by readying myself for change. The message could be to lighten my load, and get rid of an excess of things that I no longer need. These "things" can include thoughts, worries, pressures, stresses, or gadgets that no longer work. And squirrel has another lesson which can aid me if I observe what is obvious, and which can prepare me for anything. It has to do with the safe place in which to put my gatherings. Jamie Sams and David Carson write, "This safe place is an untroubled heart and mind, and that which is gathered to put in this place is wisdom and caring". They further suggest that "the energies gathered will set your heart and mind free, so that you will know that all will be taken care of in its own time. Apply this to your fears about the future and they will vanish."

Thank you, Medicine Cards, and thank you Squirrel. I needed that!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Indian Summer Came and Went

A few days ago we had Indian Summer, and it lasted for about 2 days. The temperatures were in the 60's, it was breezy and warm, and the damp air hit me in the face whenever I went outside.

On Saturday morning, after I went outside for the tour of my gardens, it felt so luxurious to be in the warm air that I decided to engage in the long process of preparing the garden beds and plants for winter. That process includes harvesting and planting any seeds still left, cutting down the dead stalks of flowers, mulching where necessary, raking leaves, and transplanting the plants that would be better off moved.

The wonderful thing for me about gardening now is that my back feels no strain when I am on all-fours. Gravity is not compressing my spine if it is horizontal, which means I can garden on hands and knees for hours at a time. So while kneeling in the garden at the front of the house, I uncovered some Jack-in-the-Pulpit seeds that I hadn't found to plant earlier. And when I picked up the seeds, still attached to the decomposing plant stalk, and that still attached to the plant bulb, the bulb came out of the ground. Oops! Time to put it back in the ground.

The Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants are very interesting, actually, and at the end of the summer when the seeds form, they are so heavy that they cause the entire plant stalk to fall to the ground, tipping the bulb over. So, typically, in the early fall I will find Jack-in-the-Pulpit bulbs in the garden poking out of the ground and tipped over on their sides.

So with a bulb having come out of the ground, I dug a hole and put it back where it belonged. And in the process, it turned out that I had dug up 2 other Jack-in-the-Pulpit bulbs! In fact, there is a small area in the front of our house where there must be over 20 of these bulbs, including all sizes from small peas to large lemons. It was quite a challenge to plant the ones that were showing at the surface, because each time I dug a hole, I uncovered more than the ones I was about to plant.

And as I was 'playing' with the Jack-in-the-Pulpit bulbs, it started to rain. Lightly at first. And I needed to put these bulbs back in the ground, so I just continued to garden in the rain. Then it started to rain harder, but I still wasn't done, so I continued to garden. Anyway, I had my rain coat on, and it didn't really matter if I got wet. After all, it was warm on this Indian summer day. But then it started to rain REALLY hard.

It was when I noticed a flash of light behind me that I wondered to myself 'was that lightning?' and then heard the boom of thunder. I noticed a few more lightning flashes and heard the sounds of thunder before I finished putting all of the Jack-in-the-Pulpits to rest.

With my hands covered in mud, my raincoat completely soaked, and my sweatpants drenched from the knees down, I came in out of the rain after my gardening adventure. After all, it was Indian summer, and I wasn't going to let the warm weather go by without spending time in the garden. I have too much fun digging in the Earth on my hands and knees.

Well, that was Saturday. Indian summer is gone now. Today the temperature was above freezing, but it was cold an breezy. And for the coming week, the highs are forecast to be in the 30's and the lows in the low 20's. So it is safe to say that Indian Summer is over -- it came and went in 2 days.

But even though it was cold today, I was still out in the garden on my hands and knees playing...

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Gifts of the Fall

"The Gifts of the Fall" that I am referring to are not the gifts of the autumn. I am referring to the fact that I fell last week.

I love to interpret events in my life in terms of metaphor, but when I fell last week it never occurred to me to look for any meaning in this beyond my gratitude for not being hurt, the reminder to be continuously careful, and the obvious improvement in the strength of my body.

And so I was startled when a friend of mine made several suggestions regarding the metaphorical meaning of my falling. First, she reminded me that the Universe sometimes has a dramatic way of getting our attention. Yep -- got my attention. Second, she suggested that perhaps I needed more Earth connection. I reflected on this and admitted to myself that I had been avoiding lying down on the ground because of the sensitivity of my spine to hard surfaces. During the fall, I found myself flung down hard on my back without getting hurt. And after the fall, I was able to dream about camping or even backpacking in the future! Or sunbathing at the beach. Or just relaxing on the ground. Or spending an entire day (not just a few hours) gardening.

Third, my friend suggested that perhaps my back bone could use some strength from the bones of the Earth (aka 'rocks') in healing. I found this idea intriguing.

And as the week went by, I noticed some gifts from the fall beyond these metaphors and beyond the gratitude for not being hurt and the continued care with which I navigate my days. One morning this week, I decided it was time to take out my yoga mat, and I was able for the first time in 18 months to lie on my back and do some gentle yoga poses. I hadn't attempted the lying down poses before I fell because my back had been too sensitive. Last autumn, I was unable to lie on my back on the floor at all. Last winter, it was a painful exercise just to spend 5 minutes lying on my back with my knees up. My spine was too sensitive when the compression fractures were more recent, when the lumbar curve was gone from my spine, and when I had lost much of the strength in my back. Surprise -- it's back. My back is back!

So I lay on my back doing yoga poses I hadn't been able to do for over a year, and I started to cry. Tears of joy, tears of grief -- both from the realization of what it took to get here, and from the joy of being here now. I was too full of emotion not to cry, so the tears ran from my eyes. On and on. But since I was lying on my back, the tears ran down my cheeks into my ears, and then I started to laugh as my ears filled with tears.

My back is back, and I have tears in my ears. These are the gifts of the fall!! And more seriously, and very wonderfully, I now know that my back is truly stronger than I imagined. I could lose my balance and slam my back hard on the ground and not break a bone. Yes, my spine tires easily and I need to lie down frequently during the day, and yes I still need pain medication, and yes there are things I still hesitate to do because of the jolting to my spine (like ride a bicycle). But I never doubted that my back would be back, and now I can say that it is. My back is back, and I have tears in my ears. These are the gifts of the fall!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One of the Secrets of the Universe

What makes the colors of the leaves change? As the colors on the trees turn from green in August, to yellow and red and orange in September and October, and finally to brown in November, I often wonder about the miraculous and beautiful changes in the colors.

Certainly, the leaves turn color as the temperature gets colder. And this is related to the days getting shorter and the nights longer. So both the temperature and the amount of daylight influence the colors of the leaves. Also the amount of precipitation toward the end of summer plays a role in how long it takes the leaves to turn and how long they stay on the trees.

But I noticed something intriguing on my walk today in the neighborhood. It is a clue about the changing colors of the leaves.

There is a bush that I walk past on every walk I take, and today many of the leaves on this bush were brilliant yellow, so I stopped to look a them. Tiny, oval, bright yellow leaves. Some of the leaves on this bush were still green, and a small number had turned from yellow to reddish brown, but what caught my attention were the brilliant yellow leaves.

I began collecting specimens of the leaves of different colors, when my attention was drawn to a reddish brown leaf. Then I noticed another reddish brown leaf right behind the first one and in contact with it, with only about half of this second leaf showing. When I looked more closely and separated the 2 leaves, I was startled and delighted! While the foreground leaf was entirely reddish brown, the background leaf had remarkable coloring. It was reddish brown where the light could fall, and bright yellow where it was in the shadow of the other leaf. There was a sharp line where the color changed from brown to yellow, not a gradual change, but as clearly marked as if by a shadow.

This was a dramatic demonstration that the daylight itself was causing the leaf colors to change! And where the light was blocked, the changes were less. It was awesome -- I felt as if I had just been shown one of the secrets of the Universe.

For most trees and bushes, the spacing of the leaves allows light to fall everywhere. So the light is not often blocked by one leaf from another.

And then I remembered something else I had noticed this year more than any other. As the leaves turned color, tree by tree, the leaves on the outside were reddest, then orange inside, and then yellow closest to the trunk. And this happened for the same reason, I think, as the tiny reddish brown leaf which had a yellow part where it was in the shadow of another leaf. The leaves on the outside of the tree get more light, and they shade the leaves to the interior.

So I thought I was just going on a walk today when I left the house in the brisk morning air. Little did I know that I would be shown one of the secrets of the Universe!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Grateful For My Strength

The leaves are all off the trees now, the daylight disappears earlier, and the temperatures are dropping. Yes, it is starting to look and feel like winter will be coming before too long. And since we have already had the first hard frost, now is the time to plant the spring flowering bulbs -- the daffodils, tulips, and crocus.

I have a special connection with flowering bulbs. I remember having a garden in our backyard when I was a child, and planting bulbs that would flower in the spring -- crocus, daffodils and tulips. Then when I had a chance as an adult to have a garden, I started by planting crocus, daffodils, and tulips. In fact, I still have some crocus which bloom every spring that I planted over 25 years ago!

As a gift from my mother, 2 weeks ago I received a box in the mail containing a large number of spring flowering bulbs, half for me and half for her. Last fall, I was unable to garden very much, so my ability to kneel down and be on all fours touching the Earth now is a real gift. And this was the weekend for me to garden. The weather was warm, in the 50's and 60's, not too rainy, and the new garden bed by the street out front had already been prepared. So yesterday I planted 25 daffodils, 10 tulips, 50 yellow crocus, and 20 anenome. I stopped gardening when the heavy rain began, so today all I had to do to finish was to plant 25 more daffodils and 50 purple & white crocus.

In the middle of the day I gathered all my gardening tools -- the shovel and trowel, gloves, pillow in a plastic bag to kneel on, and of course, the bulbs. I was outlining the area in the garden bed where I would plant the daffodils so I could begin to dig, and as I went for the shovel I tripped over a rock in the border of the garden. Upon losing my balance, I stepped on the plastic container holding my trowel -- luckily I avoided stepping in the box of crocus bulbs -- but I was still off balance. My left foot landed on a different rock in the border of the garden and that rock went out from under me. Trying to catch my balance, my right foot went into the garden bed followed by my left foot, and then my right heel caught on another rock and I fell to the ground landing first on my bottom, my momentum carrying me backwards. I didn't do a backwards summer salt, but I ended up lying flat on my back and hitting my head hard on the leaf-covered street. I remember feeling my entire spine go down on the ground, much less gently than I move these days, and realizing that I was not in control of where I was going and that I did not know the ultimate outcome. I was very present to observing and participating in what was happening to me.

And the HUGE MIRACLE is that I am not hurt. If any of the neighbors had seen me fall they might have thought I was doing a wild dance. I did hit the back of my head rather hard on the street, so I called Gene on my cell phone to tell her I was on the ground, and then I went into the house to take some homeopathic Arnica Montana for the fall. I was a bit shaken.

And then I went back outside, got on my hands and knees, and planted the remaining bulbs.

When I was finished and came back inside the house to rest, I thought more about my fall, and I realized that I am very lucky. I could have landed on my spine and fractured some vertebrae, or landed on my wrist, or broken a bone, or bruised myself badly. The fact that I emerged unscathed from my sudden connection to the Earth indicates to me several important things. First, my bones are much stronger now than they were 18 months ago. And second, I have some pretty talented angels and guides with me, who made sure that I didn't get hurt today.

So, all in all, it has been a very exciting day. I am very grateful for the strength of my bones, for my balance such as it is, and for the diligent attention of my guides -- and next time I will be more careful when I garden!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama

Dear President-Elect Obama,

I have never before written to a president, or a president-elect, and yet writing a letter to you has been on my mind all day. I am inspired by you -- by your words, by your intelligence, by your clear love and devotion to your wife and family, and by the connection you maintain to your heart as you speak. I am thrilled to be alive at this historic time, at this hopeful time, when the infinite potential of the Universe remains to be manifested. I am filled with optimism, and I truly believe that you will lead us toward a better world for our children and grandchildren. I see you as one of us, a normal person, not as part of a political machine, and I believe that is why I felt I could write to you.

I trust that you will make choices that are good for us and good for the planet. I know that you understand the importance of creating a world where women contribute equally to men, through their equal presence at all levels of government and society, and through remedying the discrepancy which still exists in the pay of women in relation to that of men. And I know you understand the importance of caring for the environment, and of moving toward a sustainable society where all forms of life are valued. I look forward to seeing the choices you make.

I believe that we are all on the Earth to be of service, and my favorite way of being of service at this time in my life is through the public teaching of astronomy in the out-of-doors. It is my hope that I will meet you someday, and that I will have the opportunity to share my love for the stars and sky with you and your family.

With gratitude and admiration,
Joyous Judy Young
Professor of Astronomy
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Back from Chicago

We just returned today from a trip to Chicago to visit my daughter. Not planned to coincide with the 2008 presidential election, and yet it was a momentous event to share. Not planned to coincide with my daughter's first professional talk on "Sustainable Gardening", and yet I was there to help give her pointers as she planned the talk, what to say, how to say it, and how to present it. I felt I was sharing a deep part of me with her, the teacher in me, and for that I was both honored and thrilled.

This was the first time in almost 2 years that I had visited my daughter in her new home. To be able to travel has been such a revelation to me. And even while able to travel, it still requires great diligence on my part to rest my back regularly, to plan days that include horizontal as well as vertical time, and to plan less as opposed to more.

While in Chicago, I was remembering that 1 year ago I walked around the block for the first time in 5 months. And on this recent trip, I was able to walk along Lake Michigan near the Northwestern campus. Both times, the autumn colors were spectacular. While the colors are now mostly past peak here in Massachusetts, the colors in Chicago were spectacular. And the warm weather was a treat.

So while in Chicago, it was an awesome and thrilling feeling to be witnessing and participating in American history. I feel inspired and hopeful about what we as a people can create in the world. And I feel humbled and grateful that we have an intelligent and thoughtful human being as president-elect.

Again I am reminded of the fortune on my tea bag -- "Anything is possible".

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cape Cod Adventures

It was with great gratitude, joy and delight that we were able to visit friends on Cape Cod over the weekend. They had bought a house there earlier this year, and once I became able to travel long distances in the car (in January) and sleep in a real bed (in May), we were able to come up with a weekend that worked for all of us -- the end of October.

So we packed up the car, including the dog (along with dog bed and toys and food), the air filter that makes white noise so that I can sleep, a cooler with food and Goji juice, suitcases, etc. -- we don't travel light -- and we headed off for an adventure. The forecast was for cool weather with a possibility of rain, but we knew that we would have a good time no matter what the temperature.

The last time I had been to the Cape was in July 2006, the week before my diagnosis. That summer, I faced a significant degree of anemia and would tire easily, but I didn't know why. Last summer, I was unable to walk or ride in the car, so going to the Cape was not a possibility. This time, I was overwhelmed with gratitude as we drove past the dunes and grasses, the dwarf pine and scrub oak, with autumn colors on the leaves of trees and bushes. I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom and joy from being able to return to the ocean, to walk on the beach and look for beautiful shells and stones, to photograph the sea gulls as they soared and swam. And I looked forward to seeing our golden retriever Goldie play near the ocean.

For me, the time at the Cape was enormously healing.
It was a joy to walk in the sand.
It was a blessing to hear the sound of the ocean waves.
It was a surprise to hear the noise made by stones rolling at the water's edge as the waves returned to the sea.
It was a delight to see Goldie watch the waves, and then to see her bound away from the water when it approached her feet.
It was mesmerizing to see the sea gulls flying over the water.
It was beautiful to see the autumn colors in the place where the sea meets the sky.
It was a gift to be reminded that Life is made up of memorable moments.

And that even a vacation near to home can bring peace, gratitude, delight, and healing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Making Friends With Fear

I find that as I navigate my days, working diligently on my healing, maintaining a positive attitude and positive thoughts, that it is impossible to keep fearful thoughts away. No matter how hard I try, they creep in. And no matter how many times I push them away, they come back.

So I have begun to make friends with fear. My neighbor is a very wise woman and an accomplished healer. She reminded me recently that to feel fear means that I am human. After all, we all need to be afraid of the oncoming train to motivate us to get out of the way. And there is the familiar statement that courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in spite of fear.

One thing I have learned about fear around a health situation or diagnosed condition is this -- if I am fearful of what will happen in the future, "what if this?" or "what if that?", then I am not living in the present. Instead, I am trying to project onto an uncertain future. And NO ONE knows what the future holds, not the people with cancer diagnoses, not the people with AIDS, and not the people with the diagnosis that they will die someday (i.e. everybody). Anyone can play the 'what if' game -- what if I get hit by a car? what if she leaves me? what if I lose my job?

And when I go to fear, when I play the 'what if?' game, I feel it in my solar plexus.

So for me, now, when I find myself going to fear, I say to myself, "Thank you, self, for the reminder that I am human." I turn the fear into gratitude. I smile inside, and then I relax into the gratitude I feel in the present moment. And another lesson of fear for me is to remind me to bring my attention back to the present moment. And then to I ask myself, "How do I feel in THIS moment?" Because this is the moment that matters, the one that I live my life in, the one that I love in, the one that I am cured in.

One of the tricky things about a diagnosis is that is it easy to 'buy into' what the doctors tell you a diagnosis means. It means this or that will happen. It is easy to worry, to be fearful about the future. To believe that something is wrong inside, and to become attached to that way of thinking about what is going on in your body. That this or that is happening and always will be. But doctors only know about the physical body. They know the mind has power (such as in how well the placebo effect can work), but they do not know how much power there is in the human mind. Doctors do not and cannot know how much magic the human spirit can work, or what miracles the Divine can manifest.

So now I let fear teach me to be present in the moment. And I let fear teach me to be grateful for being human. And for being alive. I allow fear to be present in my life, not as something to be afraid of, but as something to learn from. I am making friends with fear.

For me, healing is about the acceptance and embracing of what is. And having faith in magic and miracles. And believing that in every moment anything is possible. It is about trust and patience, and about being willing to wait. Even if I feel afraid. For this, too, shall pass.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wild Ginger Surprise

Have you ever looked closely at a wild ginger leaf? I mean really closely. Have you ever looked at a dried, pressed wild ginger leaf and held it up to the light?

Last week I began collecting beautiful autumn leaves, in my usual fall way, and placing them in the back pages of the huge Webster's Unabridged Dictionary to be pressed flat. Each autumn when I do this, I find the leaves from the previous year in the dictionary, all pressed flat, still showing the gorgeous color they did when I found them the previous autumn. I make the pressed leaves into collages of varying sizes, and them laminate them to make place mats or note cards or bookmarks or simple beautiful collages. I also make color xeroxes of the collages, before they are laminated, and these copies preserve the autumn colors forever (see post of Oct. 14 "Welcome Autumn!").

When I took the pressed autumn leaves out of the dictionary I found the usual beautiful red and yellow and green maple leaves of various sizes, I found oak leaves and dogwood leaves, witch hazel, catalpa, and ginkgo leaves, and then I found leaves from almost every plant in my garden. In looking at the leaves and holding them in my hands, I recalled that last fall I was unable to go for long walks in the woods as I had done years past, so instead, I wandered slowly through my own gardens and picked autumn leaves of many of the perennials I have growing here.

I found dried, pressed snake root leaves, columbine leaves, chameleon plant leaves, forsythia leaves, viburnum leaves, and turtle head leaves -- and then there were some leaves I could not identify. One leaf in particular got my attention, partly because it was so big. I could not remember what plant in my garden had leaves like this one. Its body was almost 6" by 4", rounded and very much like a violet leaf but bigger, and with its stem. I put it aside and wondered what it was.

And then I held this mystery leaf up to the light and was given a gift of huge proportion. There in the veins of this leaf, as I looked at it with light shining through, was the outline of a most beautiful lotus flower! I stared at this for many moments, taking in the beauty of this pattern, still wondering what plant the leaf was from, and acknowledging the beauty that is at all levels of the Universe, from the beautiful Sun and Moon in the sky, to the gorgeous autumn colors on the trees, to the pattern in the veins of this dried leaf from my gardens that I had collected 1 year earlier. And at the time I was unaware of the lotus in the leaf.

The next day, I wandered through my gardens and forgot to look for the plant that created this leaf. Back inside, I gazed at the magical lotus in the leaf and the plant popped into my mind. It is WILD GINGER!!! I have a large area of wild ginger under the pine trees in the back, where I planted it 10 years ago. It has spread well but not in an invasive way, and I remembered noticing before how similar the wild ginger leaves are to violet leaves, only larger.

So this morning, I went out in the cold air (it was below freezing last night) and found a wild ginger leaf that had not yet died and I picked it to press for next year.

Because I want to be reminded how much more beauty there is all around me, even more than I know -- and I have been able to find beauty everywhere in the world. Thank you, Universe, for the wild ginger surprise!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Rainbow Every Day

I love rainbows. And not just because I am an astronomer, even though the colors of the spectrum are extremely important to astronomers. For me, the rainbow is more than a conveyor of information about the Universe. It is a source of beauty.

I do not see rainbows very often. Maybe one or two per year in recent memory. I remember a very beautiful rainbow I saw at the beginning of autumn this year as I was sitting in a restaurant eating dinner. I had a front row seat for seeing that spectacular display!

And hanging in my windows at home I have some glass ornaments, so occasionally there is a rainbow spectrum which sends a splash of color across my wall.

So with my love of rainbows, I was delighted to find that I could apply the rainbow to my eating habits. One of the principles put forth in the book Food As Medicine by Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa is that I should EAT A RAINBOW EVERY DAY.

What does this mean? Well, nutrient dense foods are colorful foods. [I have been hearing that for several years -- from nutritionists, from my chiropractor, from my acupuncturitst.] So, to eat a rainbow every day means to eat red, orange, yellow, green blue, and violet foods every day. And that means fruit and vegetables.

So now I shop for color. Tomatoes, raspberries. Carrots, oranges. Pineapple, squash. Lettuce, broccoli. Blueberries and more blueberries. Blackberries, plums. And I eat for color. I remember to eat more fruits and vegetables with this simple reminder to eat a spectrum of color every day. It's a fun, beautiful way to approach nutrition and health.

Of course I would much prefer to see a rainbow in the sky every day, but if I can't see one, then at least I can eat one!!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Making Friends With Multiple Myeloma

I ran into a colleague the other day at the local garden center. I was in search of lime, as I was preparing a new garden bed and the soil in our yard is highly acidic from all of the pine trees around.

This colleague approached me and asked me how I was doing. With a big smile, I said, "Great." We chatted for a few minutes, and then he said, "I'm going to say something awful. You look wonderful. You look better than you did a few years ago."

I replied, "That's not an awful thing to say. I am spending a great deal of time and energy taking care of myself, so it is wonderful that I look wonderful, and it is also a wonderful thing to say."

I understand what me meant, though. The fact that there was anemia in my body, and then cancer diagnosed from a condition in my blood and bone marrow, and then spinal collapse, and then chemotherapy -- all of this might not lead to someone looking wonderful.

But I am not just anyone. I have chosen my own path in healing, and in life. And in my healing journey, I am combining the physical and the spiritual -- using Western medicine and Eastern acupuncture, daily meditation and visualization, with careful attention to nutrition and exercise. I make sure to spend time every day in nature, to read inspirational literature, to listen to beautiful music, and to eat healthy organic food, to spend time with those I love, and doing those things that bring me joy.

Plus, I am not fighting what is inside me. It takes energy to fight, and I want all of my energy for healing. So I am in a place of full acceptance and embracing of what is. That is, I am living joyfully with what is.

The fact is that I have made friends with multiple myeloma, that I am grateful for all the gifts in my life, that I am taking very good care of myself -- and I feel wonderful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Welcome Autumn!

After 2 nights last week with temperatures near freezing, the trees have now gotten the message that autumn is here. In the past week, the colors have exploded on the trees in Amherst, combining vibrant yellows, reds and oranges with the greens of trees yet to turn and the browns of leaves past.

My neighbor paused to speak to me this evening, and mentioned that the maple tree in our front yard is looking very beautiful. I had noticed the orange trees up the street and the red trees down the street, but it is hard to get a full view of the tree right in our front yard. So I took the opportunity to walk up the street just as the Sun was setting.

As I walked, I looked down at the beautiful red and orange and yellow maple leaves at my feet -- small red leaves with yellow edges, orange leaves with dark spots, solid yellow leaves, deep red leaves with black veins, and even some leaves which look as if they were painted with a full array of colors.

I love collecting colorful leaves in the autumn, and then I press them in the huge Webster's Unabridged Dictionary -- where they stay until I retrieve them, dried and in full color. And I know it is autumn when I collect leaves every time I go for a walk.

When color xerox machines were first invented, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. I took the colorful autumn leaves I had collected, made a collage of them, and then made color xerox reductions of the beautiful array of autumn colors. Leaves that themselves had never been found together in nature or turned color at the same time could be displayed together, and the xerox would never fade like the leaves themselves. I had found a way to preserve autumn. And since then I have continued, year after year, to collect whatever colorful leaves I come across in my wanderings.

So now I can say that autumn is here -- the trees are in color, the air smells rich and damp, the days are cooler, the Sun is setting earlier, and the time is here for me to collect leaves. Welcome autumn!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reflections on a Healing Journey

Today was a glorious day, with the autumn colors dressing the trees in bright reds, oranges and yellows. It was a perfect day to go for a walk in the woods.

I hadn't visited the local conservation areas in many months, as most of the walking I do is in my own neighborhood, so today I gave myself a treat. I went to the Amethyst Brooke Conservation Area, and walked on the Robert Frost Trail. As I walked through the woods on paths covered with leaves, and smelled the smells of Earth and Autumn and Nature, several lines from Robert Frost poems went through my head. "Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village though." And my favorite, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth..." I even imagine that the woods Robert Frost wrote about were the very woods I was in, with two roads in a yellow wood.

It was just 11 months ago that I went for my first walk in the woods after I experienced spinal collapse. At that point I had grown strong enough to walk with trekking poles on uneven ground, and my destination one warm November day was the very same Amethyst Brooke Conservation Area that I visited today. But today I needed no trekking poles. And today, when I came to the log over a small stream, I recalled that 11 months ago I had been unable to continue.

But today, as I stood before this log, I took a deep breath, focused on my core stability and my balance, and walked 10' across a narrow log spanning a small stream. It was wonderful! It felt like a right of passage, a gateway, a milestone.

Crossing this log over the stream marks a significant stage in my healing journey. It marks my independence, that I can go for walks on my own in the woods and not be impeded. It marks my ability to navigate a challenge. It marks my courage, to face what was once impossible and to find that it has become possible. And it symbolizes the obstacles I still face, and the knowing that I will surmount them.

It is as simple as taking a deep breath and crossing a narrow log over a stream.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Is My Story?

During Yom Kippur services yesterday, the Rabbi spoke in general terms about our stories, and I began to wonder about my story, that is, the story I tell myself.

What story do I tell myself about my life and what I face?

1) I tell myself that everything happens for a reason, even if we may not discover those reasons during our lifetimes.

2) I tell myself that every moment contains unlimited possibilities, that anything is possible in the ongoing magical unfolding of Creation.

3) I tell myself that my story today does not have to depend on my story of yesterday, or on my father's story, or my doctor's story. I am free to create my story anew each day.

4) I tell myself that my soul's gifts -- being an inspiring teacher and a creative artist, always looking on the positive side of a situation, being able to find beauty all around me, being a loving and generous human being -- are given to me by Great Mystery. And the way I use these gifts in the world is my gift back.

5) I tell myself that I deserve a life of joy, ease, love and abundance, and that is what I find.

6) I tell myself that it is my story that matters for me, and that I never need to give up my power of creating my ongoing story.

7) I tell myself that there are no rules. There are only choices, and then there are consequences of those choices.

8) I tell myself that I love gardening, singing, writing, reading, Sudoku, meditating, walking, hiking, playing, eating, smiling and laughing.

9) I tell myself that I love my family and friends, that I am a good mother, and that I am a respectful and compassionate member of society.

10) And I tell myself that it is crucial for each of us to make choices that reflect a deep understanding and reverence for the web of life that we are all part of.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This Diagnosis of Has No Authority Over Me

A friend came to visit over the weekend, and as we were talking she said she wished a friend of hers with tongue cancer could meet me because I am so positive about my health. I realized in that moment that I am now in a place that I continuously forget about my diagnosis. It holds no authority over me.

How did I get to this place?

Partly, it has to do with the collapse of my spine. For the past 16 months, my attention has been intensely focused on living with and healing from spinal collapse. And while this situation was caused by the cancer, the healing of the fractured vertebrae is simply that, the healing of bones in the spine that help hold up the skeleton. In my healing, as I have gained strength of body and spine, flexibility of muscles, and stamina for simple daily activities, the fact of positive progress -- no matter how slow -- gives me great joy in my improvement and faith in its continuation. In seeing the miraculous healing of my spine, I have (gratefully) forgotten about the cancer in my body.

And there is another reason why the cancer diagnosis holds no authority over me. Every morning, I do a meditation in which I slowly send golden sparkling light to every part of my body -- each bone, each joint, each organ. And as I do this meditation, each time I inhale I say in my mind, "Thank you, Great Mystery, for my curing." And each time I say these words to myself, I feel in my body the true joy and gratitude that accompany a deep knowing of being cured. So after 6 months of doing this meditation for about 20 minutes at the start of each day, and thus saying to myself "Thank you, Great Mystery, for my curing" and feeling the joy and gratitude of curing ~50 times each morning, at this point it appears that my body believes it.

And I believe it, too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So Grateful for Zometa

Today I had my bi-monthly trip to the hospital for an IV infusion of Zometa, the bone strengthener which I call my 'sacred nectar'. Zometa has helped to rapidly build the strength of my bones, and to counteract a consequence of the multiple myeloma in my body, which led to an excess of plasma cells in the bone marrow. This excess of plasma cells in the marrow causes normal bone building (by cells called osteoblasts) to slow down, and normal bone breaking down (by cells called osteoclasts) to speed up, which led to the weakening of my vertebrae and to spinal collapse in July 2007.

I have been receiving Zometa as an IV for 16 months now, and I am very grateful for Zometa for helping strengthen my bones -- along with the chemo (which helped halt the myeloma), physical therapy, eating nutritiously, a regular meditation practice, and daily bone strengthening exercise such as walking, gardening, and going down stairs. As much as I want to put only natural and healthy food into my body, to be alive in the 21st century with a diagnosis of multiple myeloma is to be able and willing to take advantage of such discoveries as Zometa when necessary.

So I am very grateful for Zometa, the sacred nectar for the strengthening of my bones.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Back from My Travels

It is autumn and I am home, back from travels to points West, where I went for rest, for retreat and renewal, for connecting with friends, for adventure, and especially for time in nature.

For many months, when I was healing from spinal collapse and a flare-up of multiple myeloma in my body, friends would mention the places they were going, and I would be very excited for them and then I would get starry-eyed. At the time, I knew I couldn't travel -- I couldn't sleep in a regular bed, I needed to rest my back by sitting in a reclining lift chair every other hour, and I could barely walk. One year ago now, I was able to travel by car for only about 1 hour. And I did. We drove to see the autumn leaves, and visited quaint towns nearby us in New England. And if I pushed myself to do more than I was used to, it would take at least 2-3 days of complete rest to recover my previous level of energy.

So I have learned a new meaning of patience, and I was already a patient person. I have had to live patience in order to heal -- since healing bones is normally slow, and with multiple myeloma it is even slower. In the past I would be patient, and then eventually get to the limit of my patience. But with slow healing, there is no limit to how patient one needs to be. The patience needs to be there, and keep coming, and coming, and coming. Healing from spinal collapse (with 15 fractured vertebrae and a height loss of 3") is probably the most challenging thing I have ever faced in my life. It has required extensive patience, deep acceptance of what is, willingness to do what needs to be done, and more courage than I knew I had.

And all along, I never doubted that I would one day again be able to travel. And now that I can travel -- that is, I can sleep in a regular bed, I can walk more easily, at least in the early part of the day, and I can sit relatively comfortably on an airplane for 2 hours (which is more than some people can say!) -- I find that it still takes a great deal of strength of back to travel. In the afternoon, when my back is tired, I can pull a rolling suitcase but I don't have the strength to lift one.

So I still have much healing to undergo before my body can do what I could do 2 years ago with ease, and before I become a world traveler again. How long it will take I have no idea, but that's OK, because I'm patient!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Things that Go Bump in the Night

I arrived home last evening from my first solo trip in 16 months, and what a wonderful adventure that trip was. I had gone to Montana for a Yoga retreat (taught by a teacher who is very experienced in helping those with physical challenges), and also for a Harvest Gathering, both events held at the beautiful Blacktail Ranch near Wolf Creek, Montana. That is the ranch where the Sunwheel that inspired me to build the one in Massachusetts is located, and I was thrilled to be back. I was able to lead sunrise gatherings for the attendees of both retreats, and to enjoy the beauty of the West, even with my continued need to be gentle with the demands I place on my body.

I traveled home on Monday, Sept. 22, the day of the Equinox, and sure enough I was up for sunrise on Sept. 23 to lead public gatherings for the first full day of Autumn at the Sunwheel. Of course, I was tired after my travels, and I needed to unpack some of my things for the sunrise gathering -- camera, long underwear, hat, gloves, and warm coat. I got to bed late, and expected to sleep 4.5 hours before my alarm would wake me in the morning. A short night, but I could rest during the day if necessary.

So I was very startled to be awakened at 2:30 a.m. by some noises downstairs in the house. I was exhausted, and knew I had to get up early to go to the Sunwheel, so I was in no mood to be losing sleep. Our bedroom is right over the living room, and I heard what sounded like several things falling off the walls. After the noises kept happening, I got up to go and investigate. Normally I might be somewhat timid, but after being in Montana in the 'wild', I picked up a wooden stick and was ready to defend myself and my family against whatever was making the noise.

I didn't find what caused the things to fall, but there on the floor was a small framed glass hanging (not broken) with the word 'Spirit' on it that had been hanging in the window. I wondered what the message to me was, then put the hanging back, went up to bed, and within 5 minutes the noises started again. Our 2-year old Golden Retriever is frightened of strange noises, so she began shaking. And after 30 minutes of listening to clunks and creaks in the house, I was truly puzzled.

I woke up my partner for help, and together we went to investigate. I turned on all the lights upstairs, and suddenly a small gray animal with a fluffy tail ran from my meditation room and down the stairs. It was a baby squirrel! After surveying the house, we found remarkably little damage for all the things that had been knocked over -- pictures on the floor, curtains pulled down, a small tea pot knocked off a shelf onto some pottery. Basically the squirrel had been trying to get out of the closed windows, probably after getting in through the basement. It was terrified.

Then it ran into the guest room and I closed the door. And as I was falling asleep, I realized that I should open the window in that room (even though it was in the 40's outside) so the squirrel could leave. And sure enough, in the morning the squirrel was gone.

One of the funny parts of this adventure was to go from thinking there was something scary wandering the house, to finding a tiny squirrel. My thoughts had initially created a situation of discomfort, and I realized that in any situation my thoughts could either see things as scary or as soft and fuzzy like the squirrel.

It all comes back to trusting the Universe, trusting that I can take care of myself, and not making assumptions until I have all the information. I'm working on it!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Grateful to be Able to Shower!

Today when I took a shower, I thought back to what it was like for me one year ago to shower.

Between the middle of June 2007 (when I went to the ER with a back spasm that caused my legs to collapse under me) and the end of August 2007 (when my daughter got married) I took 2 showers -- one in the middle of the summer, and one just before the wedding. It was so hard for me to go up and down the stairs, and impossible for me to stand without support, that showering on my own was not an option. I wore my hair in braids all summer so that it would not get tangled, and my daughter would very patiently braid my hair.

So taking a shower became a family adventure. My daughter and partner would put on their bathing suits, I would sit on the stool in the shower, and they would wash me while I held on to the grab bar in one hand and my walker in the other. It would take the 2 of them to get me all set up, stable, washed and cared for without getting too much water all over the bathroom floor (since the shower curtain would be open so I could hold onto the walker with one hand). They were good at washing my hair, and luckily the shower nozzle is removable so rinsing my hair was easy. They just couldn't wrap my long hair in a towel turban-style the way I do, and since I couldn't lean forward at all I couldn't show them what to do, either. No matter.

Towel around head when done, and dried and all clean. Those 2 showers last summer felt WONDERFUL!!!

And by the beginning of autumn, as I was healing and gaining strength, I became able to shower on my own. The first time, my partner sat in the bathroom to be nearby and make sure I was OK. For me to shower took so much energy and focused attention, that it was my main activity of the day. By winter, I had graduated from showering by sitting on the shower stool to standing under the water. I gradually became able to raise my arms and put them behind my head, which I wasn't able to do when my spine collapsed. I still remember the first time I could stand in the shower and wash my own hair, to simply take care of myself. At the time, I wasn't able to bend my spine at all, but I could stand up with ease, and wash my hair with 2 hands.

Slowly my pattern of self-care shifted from showering 2 times during summer 2007 to one shower every 2 weeks in the autumn, to one shower per week in the winter. By spring of 2008, I stopped keeping track of showers, knowing I would be able to get clean if I needed, and that a shower could wait if I didn't have the energy or strength in my back.

Such a simple thing, a shower. And so grateful I am to be able to shower with ease these days. I really didn't know how sick I was last summer, and that is probably a good thing, since I never had any idea what would be involved in healing. So showers are one symbol for me of how much better I am now. I took one today, and even though it was just part of my day instead of the main event, I still remembered to be grateful that I am now able to do the simple things in life. I am healing, and THAT is wonderful.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Guess What Rested in the Garden?

This morning as I quietly drank my morning cup of tea on the front porch, watching the beautiful morning unfold, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look, I noticed that a very tiny bird was sitting on a rock. It moved to another rock, and I wondered to myself, "Is that a hummingbird?!" I had seen a hummingbird rest in the branches of our spruce tree many years ago, but I am so accustomed to seeing them fly that a hummingbird resting was almost unrecognizable.

Right after I wondered if it was a hummingbird, the tiny bird raised itself a few inches off the ground, hovered in place, and then zoomed off. A hummingbird? YES!

So I ran inside to get my digital SLR camera with my new zoom lens, imagining that if the hummingbird rested in the garden once, it might come back. I spent the next hour enjoying the birds and squirrels and flowers in the garden, and the colors of the leaves beginning to fall. Camera in hand and ready for action.

Did the hummingbird come back? No, not that I've seen yet. But I'm patient!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Faith and Trust in the Universe

As I heal, after working so diligently every day for over 13 months, I am very protective of the progress I have made. I cherish it, and no matter how slow the progress is -- and sometimes it seems that weeks go by before I notice even a tiny improvement in my condition. I am still taking just as much pain medication as I did 1 year ago, and I still cannot stand for more than a few hours before I need to lie down to rest my spine. I still do physical therapy exercises I was given a year ago (and I was told emphatically NOT to stop doing them). So every day when I wake up, I slowly and gently wake up my muscles...

I have had to take the meaning of patience to a new level. I have always been a patient person, but the patience always had a limit. In the past, after being patient for a significant period of time, I would always get to a place where I would feel, "OK, now I have been patient enough. Now it is time for something to happen." Not so any more. I am patient as my body does what it needs to do to heal, and then I have to continue to be patient. And again. And again. And then even more patience.

There is no one who can tell me when my healing will have progressed to the point that I will no longer need pain medication. I will have to find that out for myself. And there is no one who can tell me when I will be able to have a day go by where I do not have to repeatedly lie down. That, too, I will have to find out for myself. And yet I have no doubt that I will reach that level of health, that my body will continue to grow stronger and more flexible month by month, more physically able to walk and hike and ski, and yes, even ride a bicycle!

The fact that I do not doubt for a moment the degree of my healing is part of Who I Am. I have great faith and trust in the Universe. I live a life of abundance, and I have never doubted that. I live a life of joy, and I do not question that. It is part of Who I Am. I can take a challenging situation and find the bright side of it -- for example, of being diagnosed with cancer. It is Who I Am, always looking for the positive lesson in what the Universe and Great Mystery present before me.

And yet, being human (or at least being over 50) means that I am also forgetful. At times, my mind will wander into future and wonder 'what if this happens?' or 'what if that happens?', and then I find myself in fear. An illusion about something that I have no control over, and which is not real. Then I have to remind myself to bring my attention back to the present moment, remind myself that everything is fine right now. Yes, my healing may be slow, but I AM healing. And I remind myself that I do have faith in the Universe, that I do trust the Great Mystery to be perfect in what and how things are orchestrated. This trust and faith in the Universe is for me the truth of what is. And I can say to my fear, "Thank you for reminding me of my human journey."

One doesn't have to have a diagnosis, a label, in order to go to the fear of 'what if?'. Anyone can be paralyzed by fear -- what if I get hit by a truck today? or what if I get hit by a meteorite? These, too, are thoughts that can create fear, but this fear is not (usually) related to the Truth of the moment. It takes attention to one's thoughts -- recognizing which thoughts need to be heeded and which are an illusion -- and diligence in the present moment to bring one's self back to Truth. And in that truth, faith and trust bring a sense of peace and ease, bring an acceptance of what is.

Of course, the irony is that with a diagnosis of cancer, the diagnosis itself creates the tendency to go to fear, worry, anxiety, and 'what if' regarding the future. And yet, the Truth is that none of us knows the future. We just know the present. Is yours a present which is a present (a gift) to yourself?

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Healing Power of Excitement

I am just astounded by the healing power of excitement.

Last summer, when it was so hard for me to move and I was in so much pain, there were 2 exciting events which involved interacting with many people. First, on June 30, 2007, our gardens were one of the 8 stops on the Amherst Garden Tour. I sat on a chair on the front porch, greeted the 311 visitors to our garden over the course of 6 hours, and was thrilled at the show of enthusiasm and delight, along with the wonderful compliments I received about our "Garden of Eden". And with the thrill and excitement of the day, I felt good in my body that day.

Then at the end of last summer -- Aug. 26, 2007 -- my daughter got married. There were times in the middle of the summer when I wondered what my physical state would be for the wedding. But following my hospital stay at the end of July 2007, I had begun to heal from the many compression fractures in my spine, and was receiving ongoing chemotherapy and physical therapy. By the end of August my dream came true: I WAS ABLE TO DANCE AT MY DAUGHTER'S WEDDING. Not only that, but I helped walk her down the aisle (true, I was also using her for support!), and I danced not one but SIX dances in all at the reception. At the time, dancing consisted of leaning on and holding on to my partner, but I didn't care HOW I danced, just that I was able to stand and move and celebrate!!

After the wedding festivities, when my daughter left town with her husband, she suggested that I have parties and as many celebrations as I could, because she noticed how I lit up when I was excited and when there was something to celebrate. I thought about her words, and took them in deeply when I realized the truth in them. And since my birthday was just 2 weeks away, I decided to have a birthday party! So less that 3 weeks after the wedding and dinner and brunch with over 120 people, I had a pot-luck dinner & birthday party with 25 friends coming over to celebrate my birthday. It was wonderful.

And as the year has gone by, I have continued to notice the healing power of excitement. If a friend comes over to see me, I not only do not notice the pain in my body, it truly isn't there, and I don't need pain medication until after the friend leaves. Or if I spend time with family now, I am so excited about being able to walk that I can walk more than I have typically walked in the last 6 months.

And with the excitement I feel, no matter what the source, when it means that I feel better in my body because of the excitement, that makes me feel emotionally even better, adding to my excitement and joy. So there is a positive feedback loop that gives me enormous amounts of energy. I am grateful, I feel good, I can use my body, and I am heaing.

And amidst all of the excitement, no matter how good I feel I still need to lie down for 2-3 hours in the afternoon to rest my spine, and that is something that I have come to love. I read, I meditate, I make phone calls, and in the good weather I lie down outside in the shade and enjoy the beauty of my "Garden of Eden".

So I have come to not only accept my situation, I EMBRACE IT -- I derive great strength from knowing that I am actively engaged in my healing and curing, and I have deep faith and trust that I am well cared for by the Universe.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Hawk Feather and the Hawk

As my back heals from spinal collapse resulting in 15 compression fractures (15 months ago) and spine surgery (3 months ago), my strength has grown to where I am able to go for a walk in the morning if I go within 2 hours of getting out of bed. I have created several routes of varying length in the neighborhood, some with hills and others which are level, some which take 30 minutes to complete and others which take closer to 45 or 50 minutes. Because my legs have been strong all along, I can walk fast (or what is fast compared to others who I pass on my walk), so my 40 minute walk is over 2 miles.

Today, as I went on my 30 minute walk, I picked up several feathers. One was a beautiful blue jay feather with a white tip and blue and black markings up the spine, and a few were nondescript, grayish in color, from what bird I do not know. Also on this day, because of road construction, I retraced my steps on the return home rather than walk in a loop. So I was quite surprised when I was returning close to home that I noticed a feather on the ground that I had passed by 20 minutes earlier. Maybe I had been looking at something else at the time.

The feather was white and mostly fluff, about 2 inches long, and I almost didn't pick it up. But I bent down, picked the feather up and turned it over, and was amazed to find that I was holding a gorgeous small red-tailed hawk feather, with the distinctive light brown markings up the spine. I was elated.

I am always on the lookout for red-tailed hawk feathers, because there is a nesting pair of these hawks within 1 mile of our house. I often see and/or hear the hawks, not only here at home, but 1 mile away at the Sunwheel -- flying, or soaring, or looking for food. At the Sunwheel, the hawks often sit on the tall standing stones to get a good view of the movement of live food on the ground.

So today, when I found the hawk feather close to home, it was a reminder to take my camera and new zoom lens with me to the Sunwheel in hopes of photographing the hawk up close. And what a gift that hawk feather turned out to be. Sure enough, a hawk was at the Sunwheel, standing on the field of grass that had been recently mowed, about 300 feet from the road. I attached the zoom lens to my camera before I got out of the car so I would be ready to take pictures when I made my presence known, and started taking pictures as soon as I got out of the car. As I walked closer to the hawk, I pointed the camera to focus and take a picture -- the camera (a digital SLR Canon Rebel XTi) makes a tiny beeping noise as it focuses. So the hawk noticed me and/or the beeping noise, and she started to fly.

I took pictures as fast as I could, not really knowing if the hawk was in the image or not. In fact, the hawk had flown to a branch in the tree right over my head. I continued to take pictures, and then the hawk flew to a bare branch in the tree, always looking around for food. I continued to take pictures until it was time for me to rest my back.

At that point I looked down on the grass and saw another hawk feather, larger than the one I had found in the morning. I picked it up, and said a prayer of thanks to the hawk and to the Universe for the amazing gifts of this day. What a wonderful adventure this is!

To view my nature photos, go to my Astronomy and Spirituality web site.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Magical Organic Blueberries

I love blueberries. And at the end of the summer, the local crop of these tasty berries makes them easily available.

So as I drove past a fresh fruit and vegetable stand last week, I stopped to buy some blueberries for a friend I was going to visit. As I selected the box I would buy, I asked, "Are these organic?" And the answer was no. But I bought them anyway so I would have them for my friend.

I didn't buy any for myself, though. I would wait until I could find organic berries, since I am making every effort to eat organic food.

So I visited my friend, and then had one of my Feldenkrais bodywork sessions. On the way home, as I was driving the same route I had traveled earlier in the day, lo and behold there was a folding table in a driveway with a large sign that read "Organic Blueberries".

I had already passed it by the time the words registered, so I backed up to the driveway and parked. As I got out of the car, an elderly man walked to meet me. $4 a pint for the tastiest organic blueberries around, he said. Taste one, he said. Someone had just bought 10 pints, and he only had 4 left. Hand screened by his wife, he said, so there were no stems. Just the best berries.

So I tasted one of the large, dark blue berries, and its deliciousness exploded in my mouth. I bought 2 pints.

And after getting back in my car I laughed. I was sure those berries had not been there earlier in the day. I gave thanks to the Universe for granting me my wish for organic blueberries, and I felt overjoyed and blessed by the magical gift. Life is truly amazing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Night to Remember -- Anniversary in the ER

This post continues the story of what happened after my bowel shut down due to chemo (see post of 8/20/08).

I was taken by ambulance to the ER just before midnight on July 24, 2007 -- needless to say, it was quite a dramatic way for my partner and I to celebrate our 15th anniversary together. I was in a great deal of back pain from the collapse of my spine, so shortly after beginning the ambulance ride I was given morphine. I remember watching what landmarks I could make out through the small upper windows of the ambulance, and paying attention to our progress by the turns we were making.

After arriving at the ER, I was put in a room where I waited. I remember doing a lot of waiting that night. I was waiting for a doctor to help me, waiting to digest my dinner, waiting to poop, waiting to feel better. I couldn't have felt much worse. Luckily I didn't have to wait for my family -- my partner and daughter drove to the ER and stayed with me that night.

I have never been so uncomfortable in my life. It seemed that my body was becoming overwhelmed with systems that didn't work. My skeletal system was incapable of holding me up, and caused me a great deal of pain. But the real reason for being in the ER was the shutting down of my bowel. My digesting dinner could not go into my intestines, which were already full with 5 days of food, so instead of moving through my system in the usual way, the food was going up and down my esophagus and burning my throat in the process.

My body was toxic to me, and I was in a sort of stupor from the morphine. I was in so much pain and discomfort, lying there on a bed in a darkened room in the ER in the wee hours of the morning, that I didn't care if I died that night. It breaks my heart to know, even now, that I had lost the will to live, that there was a moment that I was willing to relinquish this incarnation -- the love, the family, all that I had worked for, all that brought me joy. I just didn't care any more. It took too much energy to care, and I just didn't have any.

When a doctor did examine me, he decided to do an enema to clean me out. Nothing happened. Then another enema, and still nothing happened. Then the doctor decided it was time to do X-rays, and that freaked me out. Because of all of the compression fractures in my spine, I was unable to lie down on a hard surface, like an X-ray table. It would cause back spasms, and I just couldn't choose that for myself. So I suggested that we do another enema first, since that would be the therapy of choice if the X-ray showed an obstructed bowel.

Several hours later, after the X-ray and 2 more enemas, still nothing had moved in my intestines. It was around 4 a.m. in the ER, and my partner was sitting next to me holding my hand while my daughter was sleeping in the corner sitting up in a chair. I was dozing on and off, sleeping in the stolen moments when I could become comfortable, only to be awakened by my faulty digestive system. I turned to Gene and said, "I decided to stay."

The next morning I asked Gene if I had really said that, or if I just imagined it, the words, "I decided to stay". Yes. I had said those words out loud, I had decided to stay. I had been ready to give it all up, to relinquish this life on Earth, and then I had moved through that moment and made a decision -- something shifted inside of me and I made the decision to live. And in retrospect, it is clear that this decision was an important part of what I needed to begin the healing process.

Lying in the ER, before the sky became light at the beginning of the next day, the doctor came in to talk to us. He said there were 2 choices -- to admit me to the hospital, or to send me home. They weren't going to send me home because my bowel was not functioning, so they would admit me to the hospital. Only there weren't any rooms available yet, so I would stay in the ER until one was vacated.

Before the doctor left the room, my daughter said to him that I was very uncomfortable since my digested dinner was not able to go anywhere, and she asked about having my stomach pumped. That sounded like a good idea to all, so the nursing staff came in to put a tube down my throat (in through the nose -- very uncomfortable but effective). And as soon as the tube hit my stomach, the contents came up with quite a force of ejection! I did feel better after that.

By late morning, I was moved to a hospital room in the new wing -- I lucked out and had a private room with a picture window looking out over the green trees of western Massachusetts.

And thus began my first ever stay in the hospital, and a chance to begin a long healing journey -- and that is the story for another post.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Good Morning Kiss

My daughter came into town last weekend to attend the wedding of some dear friends of hers, so I drove to the airport Thursday night to pick her up. It was another set of firsts for me -- the first time in a year that I had driven to the airport on my own, and the first time in a year I had driven on the highway at night. It was wonderful to drive on a clear summer night down the highway with the wind blowing on my face, the Moon almost full and lighting up the sky.

Even though we got home late and all went to bed around 2 a.m., the next morning I was up early as usual. By 9:30 a.m. I had done my morning routine of tea, physical therapy, prayer, yoga and meditation, and I went upstairs to get my daughter up. She heard my foot steps and opened her sleepy eyes, even though I was trying to be quiet, and I leaned over and kissed her good morning. As I looked down at her smiling face, I realized that last summer when she got married, I was not able to do that for her, to kiss her good morning on her wedding day.

But I could do it now, I could give her that good morning kiss, and I was overcome with such a deep sense of gratitude and joy at being able to kiss my daughter good morning, that tears streamed down my face. Tears of joy for this rich moment of life that is such cherished gift.