Thursday
Nov012012

Which came first...the Question or the Answer? 

Answers.  We all look for them.  A sample  yesterday from my twelve year old son...   "What should I eat?" My response was a listing of options from our cupboard and refrigerator. "No Mom, I know what we have to eat.  I want you to tell me what I should eat."  My response was simple "An Apple."  More frustrated now than ever he restates "No Mom! I know what is healthy! I want you tell me what I should eat!" My answer now was another question "Are you actually asking me to tell you what you want to eat?"  "Never mind! Your no help at all!!"

 or from my three year old grand daughter...

"What's that cow thinking about Grandma?"

"Does that cow have friends?"

 and then there are those of my own making...

"Where's the money for these bills going to come from?"

"Is there any way to fit more hours into the day?"

"Where is the 'Peace' I am supposed to be actively pursuing?!"

"Can I post on my Pursuing Peace website - "Not having a great day - How 'bout you?"

Now I know alot about finding answers - I am almost 50 after all.  That's a few years of answer gathering.  By now I can actually find answers quite easily most of the time.  Others - the ones I know will take diligent study to find are often simply set aside on the  "I will work on that on that one later" shelf - unanswered but available.  Still others I know are perhaps not meant to answered at all - at least not directly.   These are actually the most important questions (and non answers).  We all ask this particular type of question  hundreds of times each day. Phrased silently to ourselves and to those around us.  I am not the first to ponder upon this fact.  Consider the following quote by American Playwright Tennessee Williams.

"Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question."

I was discussing my question and answer dilemma with my husband a few nights ago.  (My usual pre post check in) He shared that when he was in law school one of his professor's told them to keep rephrasing their questions until it could only be answered with a "Yes" or a "No" answer.  In this way the truth would surely rise to the top.

Truth.

Seeking Truth?

Can Peace be found there? Amid the unanswered questions? Are these questions actually the left and right turn signals along life's path? Perhaps the question is there simply to move me towards an answer I already have... The Peace I am coming to know seems to follow a course that never allows me to see too far into the distance. I find myself putting my foot on the brake simply because I'm not sure where the next bend in the road will take me. And then there I sit - in the middle of road, people honking at me, with life folliage growing around my wheels binding me down. It is the fear of facing various "Truths" in our lives that keeps Peace at a distance. The truth is as we take our foot off of the brake we begin the process of navigating lifes many turns. 

Hmmm....

"Where's the money for these bills going to come from?" (I'm not sure.  But sitting here looking at them isn't going to make a deposit in my bank account.)

"Is there any way to fit more hours into the day?"  (Nope.  But tomorrow I will be given a new day ready to fill.)

"Where is the 'Peace' I am supposed to be actively pursuing?" (Just around the bend waiting patiently for me to catch up.)

"Can I post on my Pursuing Peace website - "Not having a great day - how 'bout you?" (Absolutely. But a better post would be "Celebrating Life's Good Things" and then receiving over 50 photo's and captions to remind me of a different question that needs asked ...)

The question is not what you look at but what you see.

--Henry David Thoreau

Thursday
Aug022012

Unwrapping shit...

She reached over and squeezed my hand. I returned the gentle squeeze and held her hand as we silently continued down the highway. We had been following my brother pulling the U-Haul trailer for several hours now. Heading North on I-15 away from the beautiful red rocks of Southern Utah.

 The year before my Dad died they had purchased a small retirement place there. A place my mother had come to call home over the past 15 years. It wasn't home - not really- but she had built a good life there since my father died all those years ago. She had many times reflected back to that day and said that Dad must have known he was leaving her soon because he had asked her "Is this the place you will be happy Mom?"

It had only been about eight weeks earlier that she had called me. "It's time for me to come home Brenda Lee..." A few simple words. One sentence. I knew it marked the beginning of a road we would travel together now.  The road lay long and straight ahead of us. The sun was beginning to sink to our left. We both could feel the peaceful assurance that we were headed in the right direction. Home. Our home. None of this was going to be easy - and those few miles we road together in silence feeling that assurance continues to be my strength on our most difficult days together. The veil of forgetfulness that comes with age brings an undeniable fear of the unknown to her eyes on those days. Other days we laugh together - perhaps over how good dinner was... "I can't remember a thing I ate but it must have been delicious and I ate every bite because I'm so full now I need a nap." That evening we all laughed together and quite accurately my daughter described the moment as reminiscent of Pooh Bear innocence.

For years now I am certain she knew that it was coming. I believe that early on she heard the whisperings of the Spirit tell her that memory would slip from her grasp. She spoke of it often - always with fear of it's imminent approach. I would tell her that she was being ridiculous and to let it go. But she could not - she knew what I did not -- she knew.

I believe we all are given that "knowing" of things that we may not want to face. With the knowing comes the ability to prepare for the terrain ahead that will be laden with difficulties. It is a Peace Offering. In Augusten Burrough's book This is How he describes some of life's offerings this way - "Sometimes life hands us gift-wrapped shit. And we're like 'This isn't a gift; it's shit. Screw you." I love his brutal honesty about many of the experiences we would toss aside as worthless when in fact our life gardens cannot grow without them. My favorite way to deal with these packages is to look at them with disgust and toss them to the side. I'm not picking that up. And yet...I know. I recognize the wrapping paper.

I know.

I can recognize Peace even from a distance watching me - waiting patiently for me accept the offering. Really?? You can't give me something I would actually enjoy experiencing? No response. (Of course) Just a nod to pick up the gift, open it and move forward.  Somehow the package contents are always just what I need most - I just didn't know it until the life foliage around me began to bloom.    

It was my mother who joined me on the journey this past month. She is eighty six and beautiful inside and out. As her short term memory fades her recall of the past is illuminated. It is with joy she recounts her life. (A gift.) As she becomes more child like my children love to "play" with her. They spend hours together. One day driving 25 miles simply to enjoy a slice of cheesecake. It was after all national cheesecake day. (Another gift) I came home from work and my kitchen was spotless with every dish clean and put away. Who could be so thoughtful? Only a mom. (Wow...what a gift)

She was and still is afraid of the darkness that is front of her but she does not let that fear keep her from moving forward. Neither will I. I am sure we will find more packages to open along our way. I hope I recognize them for what they really are.

Fertilizer.

Tuesday
May222012

Tug. Pull. Stretch. Let Go...

 

My husband and I were enjoying lunch with our daughter recently when she started contorting her facial muscles in various movements that were quite entertaining to witness. We laughed a bit as she described her co workers witnessing the same thing in between customers at the busy coffee shop she works at in Boeing. She said that she was working on relaxing her facial muscles that were tight and she felt strongly were contributing to her recent headaches. She followed that up by saying she couldn't wait to get home and pull on her hair. And even though we once again all laughed at the visual image of her "hair pulling" the concept is actually sound.

These methods of gentle pulling and tugging at the head and facial muscles as a means of relaxation, tension release and stress relief can be highly effective. It also includes gently tugging on your ear lobes, raising your eyebrows and/or stretching them gently and opening your mouth as wide as you can, holding it there and then closing it. Each of these helps release the fascia and muscles beneath it. Fascia forms directly under the skin and serves as a strong layer of connective tissue between the skin and muscles underneath it. As I studied the effects of Fascia release and later Ayurveda in massage school I came to understand the importance of this simple and gentle pulling in relaxation of both the mind and the muscle.

The fascial system covers the entire body and is interconnected in a manner similar to a web. When one area of the web is loosened it affects the entire web. As gentle traction is applied to the restricted fascia it will result in heat and increased blood flow in the area. This allows the body's inherent ability for self correction to return, thus eliminating pain and restoring the optimum performance of the body. There is an "unwinding" that occurs as the facia is gently stretched and then released. So picture if you will a rope tightly twisted up on itself. As you examine the rope trying to decide how best to loosen and straighten it back out so that it is useful once again you can see that gently pulling and stretching, slowly unraveling the kinks will give you best results.

I was teaching a class a couple of years ago on this subject when a woman in the group who was from the Philippines spoke up. She told us that as a child if they were naughty her mother would take them aside and rather than give them a spanking she would massage their heads. This would release the negative energy they were carrying and relieve the tension that had built up. Once again a bit of laughter came from those of us in the room imagining a gentle head massage rather than a gentle spanking or the oh-so-effective "time out" for our own naughty children.

I began massage school when my youngest had just turned four and my oldest was just entering high school. That could be a whole "pursuing peace" story in itself... But for the sake of this post try to imagine my household lineup for massage practice. There was no way that I could give each of them (six as you may recall) full body massages even on a weekly basis. Thus began the practice of head, shoulder and foot massage before bed. I could easily address the needs of one or two of them each day both physically and emotionally by spending ten or fifteen minutes with these simple and highly effective massage techniques. Quiet in the beginning and often a bit uncomfortable as the fascia and muscles let go - it didn't take long for relaxation to set in and conversation about whatever their day held for them to give us quality bonding time in a simple setting. With that personal experience in my memory I could relate to my Philippine friend and her mother's head massages. It actually made perfect sense to me.

We are all going to experience stress. There are times in our life when it is going to seem like all we are capable of is treading water as the weight of our life circumstances threatens to pull us under. This is unavoidable. I have the greatest admiration for the daughter we shared a moment with this week. Barely 20 years old she is a single mother with a soon to be three year old. She works the 4:00 a.m. shift at a coffee shop in order to get off and still have time to spend with her beautiful daughter. She is in bed early foregoing many of the social activities of someone her age. She carries her responsibilities and worries with such grace. I know there are days when Peace seems out of her reach, when sleep is only a concept she vaguely remembers, and when the daily grind of life has left her spirit bruised. It is then that she always amazes me...just when the worried mom that I am is sure she can't possibly keep her head above water any longer - she starts swimming. Moving forward and finding Peace through simple means. Like laughing with her parents over lunch while doing a great work towards a peaceful evening - hair pulling.

The ideas you will find here are simple. They may not always be easy to implement but it isn't because they are difficult to do. It is a fact that people are often more willing to attempt something that requires much more effort and expense to solve a problem than something that is easily within their reach, ability, and budget. Give this one a try. I will outline some of the steps below. You can do them for yourself or have someone else try it while you close you eyes and relax.

Hair Pulling

Separate your fingers. Run them through your hair from the forehead back, when you have a handful of hair close your fingers and squeeze. Repeat starting in an inch or two back from where you began each time.

Take a hold of a fairly good sized chuck of hair at the base of the hair. Gently pull outward. Repeat all over the scalp. Twisting can be very beneficial as well but usually requires that the scalp already be somewhat loose.

Massage your head as you would if you were washing your hair.

Ear Tug

Gently pinch the ear lobe between your thumb and index finger. Pull the ear lobe in a down and out direction towards the same side shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds and release. Repeat.

Two other very simple places to hold the ear and pull are the index finger just inside the ear and the thumb behind the ear, and the index finger and thumb holding the top of the ear. Pull up and out. Hold for 30 seconds and release. Repeat.

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr192012

Dancing to life's rhythm...

Spring in the Northwest... the emerging of life in color from the veil of grey which winter holds here.

My son took this picture a couple of weeks ago.  It is one of my favorite streets to drive in town during the Spring bloom just as it is his.  He sent it to my phone.  Simple enough - a quick connection - and with it a reminder that I could glimpse Peace simply by driving home the long way that day.  This next photo was actually sent to me while I was creating this post.  (...hmm, imagine that...)  My younger son snapped this one while up at our cabin in the Cascade Mountains and with the magic that is Iphone I received his text moments later.  A chipmunk peaking out from his winter hideaway to take at look at what Spring has to offer him. They both thought they were simply sharing a moment of their lives with me.  They were... and I loved it.  What they were unaware of was that it was more than that - their photos reminded me that I too needed to awake from Winter's dormancy. 

My husband and I have often joked through the years that Spring- the season of all things Baseball and Softball in our home- pulls us out of our winter "sleep".  Perhaps (one could reason)  it is the fact that in Washington we play ball in the rain that we are so wide awake.  My daughter told me she actually experienced a "brain freeze" during a game in freezing sleet a couple of weeks ago.  We laughed together and shrugged it off.  Oh well - of course we sit in the bleachers with umbrellas, warm boots, long-johns, blankets, and portable heaters, to watch rain drip off the nose of our kids in ready position, slides never done better in two inches of mud, and the ball disappear into the farm land fog for a double. It's Spring.

Throughout our lives we cycle through periods of varying degrees of connection.  Reaching inward and outward in an ebb and flow similar to the tides.  My husband describes this as the rhythm of life.  At the time we weren't discussing Peace at all, rather the political/economic cycles we recognize and have witnessed over time.  As you become aware of this rhythm your view of the events around you become much more stable (...do I dare say "peaceful"?) even in the midst of great change.  As you fine tune your ability to  recognize the various cycles (rhythms) in your own life you will see them not just seasonally throughout the year but weekly -  even daily.  It is through this process that you can find balance and peace.  Life really isn't so random.  However, I do love that it appears so.

My nephew told me today that Spring is the time for answering the question "Who will I be this year?"  The picture of the chipmunk my son sent me seems to ask that very question as well.  A stretch, a look around, and a decision to explore. 

I believe many make the mistake of thinking that Peace = Solitude.  Although there are definately times when a need for solitude and self-reflection is necessary and beneficial for all of us, the vast majority of the time Peace is found by and through our connections with others and the world surrounding us.  Our ability to master the "dance steps" of life as we practice empathy, laughter, service, listening, playing, problem solving, and pondering (just to mention a few) is greatly increased with each personal connection we make.

Will there be six more weeks (days, months, years...) of "Winter" in your life? That is a question we each must answer for ourselves.  Perhaps, like Spring Sports at our house, there is something that gives you a much needed nudge back out into the elements of life this time of year.  Or, maybe all you need is a whisper - like the trees in bloom on my son's drive home.  As the world around us awakens, so can we. 

Peace dances to the rhythm of life.  You cannot partner with Peace for life's dance as a wall flower...you must explore the dance floor.

Thursday
Mar152012

Breathing...A Peaceful Rant?

 

 

I have been wondering...what do people think about a person who dedicates time and effort into a website titled Pursuing Peace?  Do they think "She must exude Peace on a daily basis"... "She must have the perfect peace full life" ... "Peace...what?...I must have clicked on the wrong link..."  or maybe they know me and they're thinking something more like this "Who does she think she kidding?"..."Really?"..."Isn't she the one with six kids?"  Well, someone who does know me asked the other day "Where's the rant?" I laughed and responded "Yeah right. A Peaceful Rant." 

Hmmm...why not?

It is true that I do love a good rant.  Generally about something that I seem to see so clearly that obviously everyone else is missing.  Like, for instance, the fact that life is NOT easy.  Or, that challenges DO make us stronger and refine our lives if we allow the process.  Or, that miserable people - though they deny this fact - are often most comfortable MISERABLE.  And it is also true- as every good ranter can affirm - I feel better after I have vented my frustrations with the world.

But not for long.

The process of venting - catharsis - does make you feel great, but it accomplishes little else.  In fact it can actually reenforce your desire to feel good through venting never addressing the issue causing your frustration in the first place which would negate the need to vent all together.

So what is a "Peaceful" blogger to do? Let's consider another meaning of the word Vent.  "To rise to the surface of the water to breathe" 

Breathe. 

I have to admit as a massage therapist no one knows any better than I do the therapeutic benefits that come with a deep breath.  I have felt unyielding muscles "let go" through conscious, deep breathing. So many people hold their breath, without realizing it, throughout the day.  Are you one of them?  Think about it...it may surprise you. I have literally had to teach people how to breathe again.  When instructed to take a deep breath many simply fill their lungs, lifting their chest and shoulders in a brief inhale and exhale motion. Now, while this type of breathing may sustain life, it's not the type of breathing that lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, strengthens the immune system, and simply put - makes you feel better.

I also know from personal experience that a well place sigh - deeply felt - does carry with it a glimpse of the peace that at the moment may be evading me.  Quite honestly, even the thought of Whales venting brings with it a sense of peace for me.  I am from the Pacific Northwest and as such have seen that quiet, peaceful, beauty first hand.  Off the shores of Kauai a few years ago my family was awe struck at the majesty of a pod of whales venting so near us we could almost touch them from the Zodiak we were in.  Imagine that whales deep breath...taking in enough air to fill his lungs to capacity - holding it with ease while he travels - and then that exhale...definately one with some umph behind it.

That's the kind of breathing I'm talking about here.  Deep...slow... and with intent.

Just like the whale, a breath that's going to sustain through the deep waters of the day and get you where you need to go. 

Here is a simple breathing exercise to get you started:

  • Breathe in slowly, counting to eight (maybe you only make it to five or six in the beginning).
  • Hold on to the brief pause before the exhale for just a moment longer than usual.
  • Exhale slowly, consciously letting go of whatever frustration your holding on to.
  • Pause again, for just a moment, before you continue with the task at hand.

Variations in this can and should include closing your eyes if possible.  A good stretch.  A "walk about" outdoors if you can, but hey - even around the office can do wonders.  If your sitting in your car try cracking the window just a bit to get some fresh air...even if a raindrop or two sneaks in.  At night before you sleep  do this breathing several times while lying on your back and slowly pumping your feet... toes towards the ceiling then forward towards the distant wall.  With each breath let go of the day and settle into a good nights sleep.

Finding peace can be difficult if your not getting enough air.  So often we stay underwater, feeling overwhelmed by the currents pull.  All we really need is a good vent...rising to the surface of the water to breathe.