Laughing is Good for Me- Part 4

I saw a new doctor a few months ago. At one point during the appointment, he saw that I had something in my mouth and probably figured that it was gum or candy. He stuck out his hand and said “Spit it out.” I was shocked but I’ve been laughing about it ever since. I am 72 years old. I wondered if he had children and how old they were. At the time, I simply mumbled “It’s for dry mouth and it is gone now.“

I kept waiting for something else funny to happen. One day last week, my phone provided me with that experience. I dictate almost everything nowadays. What I dictate and what the phone writes is often drastically different. That day, I wrote a friend who is out of the country and said I hoped that she and her husband were having a good time. What the phone wrote was “I hope that it was everything that you want and that you were in the freezer having a good time as well.” I have laughed about that change ever since it happened. Where does the phone come up with these things? At least this time it was not cussing.

Two friends visited me a few days ago. I was telling them about something that I wrote about in the first post of this series. The husband’s response was funny. I wanted to use it and to quote him correctly so asked him to write it down for me. When I received it in the written form, I discovered he had added to it. This was his response:

The way I figure is if you are old enough to be passing by a window, and you haven’t seen a naked body — now is as good as time as any! Not that I would give them much to see, and quite likely could scare the aliens away from the human race if they were seeking a probe-able body. In reality, I would likely be a little embarrassed, but not enough to think twice about the matter. 😊

If you don’t know what this is referring to I suggest you go back and read or reread the first post. I still am uncomfortable with the thought somebody might walk by my window and see my butt but I always laugh when I think of these responses.

Stay Alert: What We Need to Learn Will Be Revealed

I have learned during my life that the answers to our questions are often nearby; Likewise, if we keep our eyes open and stay alert, we will be able to see ways we have been prepared for what is to come. The knowledge that an event was preparation may not be evident until sometime in the future.

Amma has taught me a lot about those things and has given me lots of opportunities to practice them but I also learned from other writers and experiences.

I remember reading that often where there are poisonous plants, the antidote to the poison is a plant that is nearby. I also read that whenever our path crosses someone else’s, we have something to teach them or something to learn from them.

I used to teach a workshop called Lessons on Lessons. There was one exercise where I asked participants to go outside and ask questions of inanimate objects such as rocks, fences, or light poles as well as plants, trees, and animals. And after asking their question, participants “listened” for a response. What amazing wisdom we can gather that way. If you haven’t already tried it, then do!

I learned the benefit of accepting lessons as they come as opposed to resisting them which often results in prolonging the lesson and any pain that comes along with it.

In addition to teaching content related to some of the areas above, Amma also taught and gave opportunities to practice lessons such as: “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice”; discrimination between right and wrong; detachment; the importance of staying alert and putting in effort; and the importance of love and compassion.

Now that I am dealing with major health problems, I can see ways that I have been prepared for that experience by Spirit , the Universe, God, Guru, or whatever we call our higher power.

Most of these occurrences happened before I knew that there was anything wrong in my body. But each has been invaluable since I have known.

Some examples that I am aware of:

In the mid 1980s, a friend of mine took a workshop with Virginia Satir that lasted a month. I wanted to do that too. But I had young children and a job so I rationalized that I couldn’t do it then, I would do it later. She died before I took the training. Having lost that opportunity, I reacted very differently when I met Amma.

I met Amma in June 1989. That weekend I spent a day at her Orcas Island retreat, six weeks later I was at her East Coast retreat and six months later I was with her in India. I continued spending time with her each summer on the US tour and each winter in India for the next 30+ years. I had learned an important lesson from my Virginia Satir experience. I no longer put off doing what was important to me.

In 1997, I was on a plane headed for India when it had a decompression problem and dropped 25,000 feet in about a minute. Amma was aware of our plight at the time that it happened. Part of me believes that I was meant to die that day and that every day I have been alive since then has been a gift. So if I died tomorrow, I still would have lived a full life

In the early 2000’s, I had another experience that impacted my life. I read what I think was the last book that somebody I respected wrote before her death. She was asked if she still thought God was a loving God. She responded “No”. I thought she sounded very bitter and had the distinct impression that it was due to her not accepting help when it was offered. I vowed that I would learn to accept help so that when I needed it, I could let go and gratefully accept what was being offered rather than push it away saying “I can do that for myself.”

Now that I am having physical problems, I am receiving lots of opportunities for doing that and experiencing the benefits of following through. I really appreciate all the help I am getting.

In 1973, I broke my right wrist just before I started graduate school. In 2017 or 2018, I broke it again. Again, I had to learn how to do many things with my non-dominant hand. I don’t remember much about the earlier experience, but in the more recent one I remember having considerable difficulty figuring out how to put on a bra and fasten it.

Because that incident happened then, when my left arm and hand became weak with my current illness, I knew how to put on a bra. That may seem to be a minor thing, but it meant a lot to me.

In 2018 or 19, I started noticing a man in my Seattle neighborhood who I believed had had a stroke. I did not know him but I watched as he walked for long periods every day without fail. He even walked up and down big hills seemingly unafraid. I was so impressed. He was an inspiration to me and gave me hope when I started having trouble walking.

Because of my years as a psychotherapist and a nurse I am prepared to speak up and advocate for myself when I think that’s in order.

I have many friends, colleagues and family members who have dealt with cancer or serious chronic illnesses. All of them have modeled courage in the face of adversity. I hope I can be like them.

When I came back from my last trip to India in January 2020, I had an intuition that I would not be going back to India the next year as had been my practice. In fact, I wasn’t sure I would ever be going back. By then I knew I had a physical problem, but I didn’t know about Covid. I didn’t realize essentially the whole world would be on lockdown and I wouldn’t be the only one not going where they wanted to go.

A recent example of the value of staying alert and of the answers to problems being nearby occurred when I decided to put together another issue of the Pacific Northwest GreenFriends newsletter. I completed it but it was much too hard for me to do, I needed to put this in my past.

Then it occurred to me, that I had gotten direction for the next step in two emails that came while I was doing that project. Both emails said something like “Why is this newsletter still a PDF, why is it not a blog or a website?”

I realized that in the 11 years I had been organizing our newsletter, GreenFriends- North America had started a website and a newsletter. Our newsletter could end and I could encourage our writers and photographers to contribute to that publication. I got support for that plan from the appropriate people and then announced it.

So in summary, remember that if you stay alert that you will be more likely to find the answers to problems nearby. And you might also discover ways in which you have received preparation for some of the problems that you have faced in life.

There is value in keeping your eyes open and making these observations. Perhaps the greatest value is feeling you are not doing this life journey alone. There is help all around you.

Laughing is Good for Me- Part 3

I remembered the story I was going to tell the day after I published the last post without it. So I will begin this post with that one.

***

During the height of Covid everybody ate in their rooms. When I first came here, they were starting to use the dining room again, but most people preferred to continue eating in their rooms.

When a meal is prepared, a staff member writes the name of the person who ordered it on the box that holds the entrée. They get your name from the dinner menu we fill out each morning.

I have found that staff members learn the names of residents at astounding speed. But my name was not familiar and my writing gets continually worse.

One evening, the word “Karma” was written on my box!

I really laughed at that one. I hadn’t been asking “Why me?” or “Why is this happening to me?” but if I had been, I imagine, but of course don’t know, Karma would have been Amma’s answer! At least it would have been MY answer.

***

Last Saturday I had company. At one point I said I usually walk out to the front desk lobby area or beyond five times during the day. I remember when I walked to my room for the first time. It seemed so far. I couldn’t imagine doing that walk every day even once. Even by the next day, the distance didn’t seem so far.

Back to the story at hand. I listed the reasons why I went out to the lobby area so much. 1: pick up the free pastry that’s put out every morning for us and to fill out and submit the menu for dinner 2: pick up the free afternoon cookie that’s put out for us 3: pick up my to-go dinner 4: pick up mail or a delivery and/or 5: to meet a visitor

The visitor that I was telling this to laughed and said that the staff had certainly found good ways to keep us moving. I also laughed when I realized that what he said was true. I’m not going to pass up a free freshly made pastry or a free freshly made cookie. Especially when I can rationalize that they are small. and I was also not going to miss out on a dinner, a delivery, or a visitor.

***

I was wondering what my third story would be. And then Pat came back from vacation and provided the perfect opportunity. (If you don’t know who Pat is, read or reread the last story in Part 2 of this series.)

I had walked out to the lobby to get my cookie for the day. I picked up the cookie and then decided to also get some cold water. I put a lid on the water and then put it on the walker seat next to the Amazon packages that I had just picked up.

The water slid off the walker seat and spilled on the floor. The lid had come off. It created quite a mess and I was mortified. Especially since I couldn’t clean it up myself.

All of a sudden I heard “Karuna’s water has broken. Karuna’s water has broken.” Being the mother of two children and an ex labor and delivery nurse, I had no doubt what he was referring to. That was so funny considering I’m 72. What could I do other than laugh.

Laughing is Good for Me- Part 2

I am staying, temporarily, in a senior living facility in Woodinville. I really like it here and it is wonderful to only have to navigate one room instead of a multi-story house. (I’m in a studio apartment now.)

***

More than twenty people live in my wing of the facility. Most I have never seen. But there is one couple that I have passed in the hall so many times. I see them when I’m going to pick up my to-go dinner and they are coming back from their dinner in the dining room. (Both options, and more, are available to everyone.) We often come out of our rooms and enter the hallway at the same time. Now, we laugh whenever that happens.

It reminds me of being in Amritapuri. There are many people there I never see. And there are others that it feels like are around every corner I turn. Those people often become major parts of my trip.

I wonder what the frequent meetings mean in this case, in addition to giving us something to laugh about.

***

This morning when I went to the bathroom a mosquito caught my eye. It was in the toilet. I felt a dilemma. I didn’t want to sit down and have it sting me. but I wanted to use the toilet! I decided to flush the toilet and see if it would leave. It did. But did it come right back? I would have to take my chances.

Soon thereafter, there was a mosquito on the window screen of the main part of the studio. Was it the same one or a new one? To be determined. Maybe. This is a new experience but is one I will laugh about.

***

Probably the person that has caused me to laugh the most is a staff member named Pat. He is quite a jokester and to me is committed to seeing beauty and joy all around, and adding to it whenever possible.

Whether it is by wearing mismatched or playful socks or forwarding a file to my daughter and adding a note saying that I am behaving myself, he brings light into the world. And he always waves and calls me by name when I walk by his office.

My earliest memories of him happened on my first days here. The first thing I remember him saying is that at one time he had been a priest for 15 years. That certainly peaked my interest.

He came to see how I was doing for the first three days. The first time he asked me where I got my spiritual guidance and I gestured to a picture of Amma. “The hugger!” he exclaimed. (Amma is known for having given 39 million hugs. So far.) I was amazed that he even recognized her picture because it was a really old one. During that visit, a mother duck followed by seven ducklings walked by my window.

Since then when people visit me, if he knows that they are coming to see me, he asks them if they are huggers. If they look at him like he’s crazy then he asks if they’re devotees. Most are. This process has brought much needed laughter into my life.

***

I think there was one other thing I was going to write about but I don’t remember what it was. The mosquito incident drove everything else from my mind. I guess there will be a part three to this series at some point!

108 Degrees!

The Seattle area has very moderate weather historically, neither cold nor hot. Weather patterns are changing here though. A good example occurred in June of this year. I was staying in Woodinville, a small city near Seattle, at the time. I took screenshots of my weather app on the day leading to it and on that day.

Sunday
Sunday
Sunday
Monday
Monday

At least it never reached 109!

I hope this is a once in a lifetime experience for Seattle area which does not for the most part have air-conditioning but I suspect it isn’t. Hopefully it’s at least over for this year. But that may not be the case either.

Update on Over or Under?

When I wrote Accepting Parkinson’s article in December 2020, I had no idea it would be be a very long time before I would write an update. I’m not going to do that update today either but I am going to write about a topic that has been on my mind, a topic that is completely irrelevant and unimportant.

in November 2015, I published a post on this blog called Over or Under? it is about the controversy about how to hang toilet paper. (https://livinglearningandlettinggo.com/2015/11/15/over-or-under/.)

I suggest you read the original post before you go on if you don’t remember it or have never read it.

I believed I had always been an under without knowing it. I had a client at the time I wrote the post who admitted that she changed the toilet paper from under to over whenever she came to my office.

I never dreamed that being sick would be the occasion that would cause me to change from being an under to an over.

But it has done just that! My hands are both weak but the left is weaker than the right. The toilet paper roll is now to my left which is also something I am not used to.

I have found that putting the toilet paper in the over position makes it much easier for me to break it off. So I have joined the overs!

I said this was to be a irrelevant and unimportant post. I think it was just that. I hope it is the first of many posts, some important and some not.

Accepting Parkinson’s

Those of you who have read my blog posts for some time might remember that one of Amma’s teachings is to “Be like a bird sitting on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also encourages us to focus on the present moment, rather than dwell on the past or the future. I have had many opportunities to apply those lessons in my life. Each experience has helped in preparing me for what I am dealing with now, Parkinson’s Disease (PD).

During my years as a psychotherapy client and as a psychotherapist, as well as during my spiritual journey, I have had plenty of opportunities to learn that Resistance=Pain. Leap of Faith went so far as to say that Resistance=Death. Amma teaches us to accept whatever comes. Byron Katie wrote a book entitled Loving What Is. These teachings and plenty of experiences in learning the value of acceptance and the futility of resistance have also helped me to accept that PD is part of my life now and will probably be for the rest of my life.

My younger brother died at 39. Shortly before his death he wrote an essay, The Truth I Live By. The sections of that essay that impacted me the most were:

Is cancer unfair? Is it fair that we should expect billions of cells in our body to reproduce over and over again, over an entire lifetime, and always get it right?

 I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. 

Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time.

I am now 72 years old. No matter what happens in the future, I believe I was given and have lived a full lifetime.

Right now, every day is filled with puzzles to be solved, whether it is getting dressed, figuring out meals or at times even walking. I’m grateful to Ramana for housesitting when I stayed in Woodinville and for staying on to help me when I returned home. I am grateful for the love and support I get from other friends and my neighbors. I am grateful for my doctors. I am grateful for my physical therapist and for all the zoom exercise classes he and his staff provide. I am grateful for the medicine I am taking to relieve the symptoms of PD. I am grateful for the love and support I receive from my adult children, Satvamrita and Chaitanya, and my ex-husband, Al. I am grateful for Amma’s never-ending love and guidance. I am grateful that I have so many things to be grateful for that I can’t list them all here.

I used to teach a workshop called Lessons on Lessons. When I started this blog, I decided to call it, Living, Learning and Letting Go: Lessons on Lessons. I am realizing that as I learn from Parkinson’s Disease I will have the opportunity to share those life lessons here. Consider this the first in a series! I don’t know how often I will write but I will write. As I wrote those last lines I remembered that the pastor’s wife of a church I used to attend always prefaced her weekly announcements with “If the Lord shall say the same we will……..”

With that in mind and knowing that I don’t even know “what is around the next corner” I will amend one of my last statements to say that it is my intention to write about the lessons I learn from this experience.

Finding Peace in Uncertain Times: Amma

There is no doubt in my mind that Amma has helped me the most in finding peace in uncertain times; by her presence, her teachings and the opportunities to apply those teachings, her music, her guidance when I have questions, the example she sets in living a life of service and the community of people I have in my life because of her.

As I am dealing with my own health problems, as well as living in the world during a pandemic, I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to learn persistence, flexibility, letting go, being like a bird perched on a dry twig, and being in the moment. While my mind still goes into overdrive, most of the time I am able to find a centered place within me.

As I am writing this, I am remembering a prayer I wrote in the mid to late 90’s. It is still my prayer.

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

[Amma means mother]

The Truth I Live By

I shared this piece written by my younger brother on this blog in May of 2014. He wrote it before he died of cancer at the age of 39. This seems like a good time to share it again.

The Truth I Live By

(William John Smith 1953-1992)

 Everything makes sense. This can be paraphrased many different ways, although many attempts are less accurate. One of Voltaire’s characters stated, “All is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.” This is unnecessarily optimistic. My phrasing doesn’t imply that everything that happens to us is good either in the short or the long term. Everyone experiences moments or long periods of unpleasantness. One can hope that over the long period of a lifetime these sad times may not add up to much overall, but most persons with a little thought can think of individuals whom “fate has treated unkindly,” i.e. who have received more than their share of agonies. I think this is one of the hardest things for you, C., that what has happened is just not fair. I’m not sure how long ago I came to believe (or realize) that fairness isn’t the issue. There is nothing fair about life, either in distribution of rewards or unhappiness. And what’s to say that it should be fair. If each of us had an opportunity to create a world, then maybe that’s an attribute that we would build in. But this world is not of our making, and all of the mental checklists that we might make comparing who’s gotten more breaks than we have, etc., will never change the fact that we have to make the best of what we’ve got, not despair over what we perceive as inequities. So life isn’t fair. How do we cope with that? One way might be to remind ourselves that no matter how bad things seem to be at any one time, a little time spent flipping around the TV channel or reading a news magazine will serve as a reminder that we should be embarrassed to be heard complaining about the vast majority of things that concern us. I don’t doubt for a second that I have lived a very privileged existence compared to 90% of the world’s people.

I’m not sure that that is the best way to approach a new tragedy, though (i.e., making ourselves feel better by thinking of others doing worse). I would appreciate a more optimistic approach. The best way to greet each unpleasant event is to grab it by the throat and make the best of it. C. and I have both had our share of suffering, almost all of it, I’m happy to say proceeding our first date. There is no doubt that led to a degree of maturity that made our time together (pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis) much more meaningful than the lives of those growing up “with the silver spoons.”

Is cancer unfair? Is it fair that we should expect billions of cells in our body to reproduce over and over again, over an entire lifetime, and always get it right? Doesn’t it make more sense to recognize the initial miracle of our birth, the magnificence of our growth into feeling, loving, praising adults, the privilege of experiencing enough of life that we can despair over not having the time to spend longer doing the same? One of the things I am most grateful for is that many, many years ago I learned to be grateful for what I’ve been given. I didn’t, as occurs with many, only get shocked into this realization by a terminal tragedy. This type of appreciation often does begin in the midst of despair, and for that reason I am actually glad that I had enough hard times as a young man, to allow me to think hard about what things are and are not important. Accordingly, for the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve been able to ignore aspects of 20 th century American living that are of no consequence to me (parties, cars, frivolous chatter, clubs, etc.) and concentrate on things that touch me personally. I am forever grateful for what it was that dropped the blinders from my eyes so many years ago.

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time..

I am blessed to have had a brother who could embody these attitudes.  I hope those of you who read this find his words meaningful in your lives as well.