Freeing the Mind

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, (Using Affirmations as Mantras), mantras are usually short Sanskrit sentences that translate often into some form of “I bow to God.” People łiving in religious communities that use mantras are encouraged to say their mantra all day every day. Saying a mantra quiets people’s minds and in so doing they are better able to focus on God.

Months ago, while I was living in a senior residential community, I faced a situation where that knowledge was useful.

I was beginning to have more trouble walking. One day, as I walked, my foot became caught in a paper bag. I was increasingly frustrated. No matter what I did, I couldn’t free my foot from the bag. Since then I’ve been told that that kind of experience and the accompanying frustration is typical in Parkinson’s patients.

About this same time, I started saying “I can’t do it” a lot. Eventually, I realized that I was immersed in negative thinking.

Whenever I heard myself say “I can’t do it. I changed it to “I can do it.” or “I will do it.” At times, I even used the line from ”The Little Engine that Could. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”. And once I achieved the challenging task, I said “I did do it.”

I decided if i was going to free my mind from negativity it could be done with a positive mantra. Tochange what I was saying to myself,I would change my mantra. While I knew that it’s best to say the mantra all day every day, I also knew that in therapy group we only expected clients to say it 1000 times a day. For this purpose I would say it anytime I was facing a challenging problem where I was tempted to say “I can’t do it” and if I still had problems I would bump the mantra repetition up to 1000 times a day.

I soon noticed that I was more successful in meeting my goals when I said the positive mantras, i.e. “I think I can” pretending I was the little engine chugging along the tracks or using ”I can do ït” or “I will do it” or “I did do it” as a positive mantra.

(Note: ”I will do it“ is the mantra that is most likely to be successful while “I can do it” and “ I think I can” tend to be less effective. Whatever the mantra is that brought you to success should be changed to “I did do it”once you’re successful. It is important that you reward yourself in this way.)

Using Affirmations as Mantras

Mantras are most often used by Eastern religious communities. They are frequently a short Sanskrit sentence that means “I bow to God.” People are encouraged to say their mantra all day every day. Saying a mantra quiets people’s minds and in so doing they are better able to focus on God.

During the years that I was a psychotherapist who did group therapy, my co-therapists and I had clients use affirmations as mantras. They were encouraged to say the mantra/affirmation at least 1000 times a day for 21 days. Some affirmations you could consider using in this wayl are “I am Love.””I am beautiful through and through.””I deserve respect. “”

Saying mantras/affirmations this way can also be used to change self-defeating beliefs and behaviors. An example of this type of affirmation will be found in the next post.

If you decide to try this process out, please leave a message in the comment section below to let us know how it worked for you.

Lumosity: Brain Training Games or Coping with a New Reality

Lumosity consists of brain training games. I have been playing them on and off for about 10 years. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing them and also have enjoyed competing with myself and others my age.

Each game focuses on an area such as speed, problem-solving, attention, divided attention, memory, flexibility, etc. I am fascinated to see that even though my scores are lower than they used to be, I have the same strengths that I had when I played them before. My highest scores are problem solving, attention, and memory. My weakest area was speed in the past and it continues to be lower than other areas.

I remember having a lot of 97- 99 percentile when I was younger but now when I’m compared to my peers my highest areas are in the mid 60 percentiles with the exception of problem solving which is 88.4%

I have been able to get home health services since I have been staying at this senior living facility. One of the home health therapists focuses in part on cognitive areas. She thought any deficits I had could be attributed to stress, but suggested I do some brain training activities. She was delighted when I suggested Lumosity.

One day in the last few weeks, I got my foot caught in a paper bag when I went over it with my walker. I became very stressed when I couldn’t fix the situation.

I was able to eventually figure it out and free myself from the bag. But I am having more problems with my left foot freezing, especially when I’m stressed.

I am also challenged by getting dressed. Sometimes I can’t figure it out and I need help. I don’t necessarily like that I need help, but I appreciate that help is available.

I need to acknowledge and accept the grief about what I’ve lost without losing myself in it. And there will be lots of opportunities to use my problem solving, attention and memory skills. Thank you Lumosity for showing me I continue to have those skills.

My Judgments May Be Wrong

I have had a recent reminder that my judgments may be wrong. It can be very difficult for me to open envelopes now. I often end up tearing the envelope and hoping I don’t tear what’s inside of it.

One day I got an envelope that was secured a lot more than normal. There seemed to be no way I was going to be able to get inside without getting help.

I became very judgmental. Don’t you know that I can’t get this open? How would they know? I didn’t even know the person that sent it. I went further into my tantrum. What do you think this is, Fort Knox?

When I tore the envelope open, I felt like the contents were very worthy of Fort Knox level protection. It was a gorgeous 3-D get well card from somebody I didn’t even know.

This incident will serve as a reminder to me that my judgments are not always right. Or warranted. This may have been the most beautiful card I have ever seen.

Letting Go of Al and My Kids

Our marriage ceremony Golden Gate Park
in San Francisco 1971

I have had more than two full and difficult months. When I last wrote about Al, I mentioned that he had had a stroke. His stroke was on the weekend before Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day, our son Satvamrita arrived from India to take care of him.

In that post, I said I didn’t know whether either one of us would live for a few days or ten or more years because the next moment is not in our hands.

On December 29, I had an appointment to get my eyes checked about two blocks from Al’s apartment. The friend that drove me and I were invited to come to his apartment for dinner after the appointment. We decided to go. I’m sure glad we made that decision. (I generally don’t go anywhere because of Covid.) That dinner was the last time I saw Al.

He had had trouble sleeping for months before the stroke. He would go to bed in the late afternoon, wake up about eight and then be up most of the night. He had followed the same sleeping pattern after his stroke. On January 6, he started sleeping all the time. Satvamrita wasn’t even able to wake him up for appointments. Then, in the early morning of January 8, he took his last breath. So he ended up passing in his sleep.

He was ready to go and he was finally out of pain. (He had been having severe leg pain for months if not years.) I wasn’t ready though. I had never considered it a possibility that he would be gone so soon. After all, Chaitanya was coming to relieve her brother in mid-March. In my mind, they would continue trading off caring for him for years.

I was also not at all prepared for how deeply Al’s death would affect me. When Satvamrita called me that morning to let me know his father had passed, he was feeling such deep grief. I burst into tears and felt so sad, sad for Al, sad for my kids, and sad for myself. I cried spontaneously many times over the next weeks and I imagine that will continue to happen from time to time. Al’s presence in my life clearly had meant a lot to me.

My kids planned their dad’s memorial to be held three weeks after his death. There was both an onsite function and a zoom option as some of Al’s contemporaries would have been hesitant to venture out in the current Covid situation. Since I am now living in a senior community, I also decided for the zoom option.

There was a video that was created for that event. My kids collected pictures from throughout his life and also some videos. They then sent them to a friend at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram in India and she created the memorial video. I often cried as I watched it. It is so beautiful.

(The video has photos of when Al and I and our children were young, and information about his extensive career working with the homeless.)

Not only was I dealing with Al’s loss but I had to deal with the fact my children would soon return to India. Luckily they had spent significant amounts of time with me throughout their stay here. But letting go is still difficult.

They are presently in Norfolk, Virginia spreading some of their dad’s ashes and from there will go to Baltimore to do the same. On February 10, they will go back to India.

I know that I will talk to and correspond with them frequently when they return to India. They are always good about staying in touch. But it has been several long and difficult months. I know I have to be gentle with myself and I am very appreciative of all the friends that are helping me.

I will miss Satvamrita and Chaitanya and I will miss Al.

Al, Sreejit (his name before he was initiated as Satvamrita) and Chaitanya in 2018.

***

Before he died, Al wrote a memoir about his childhood. Although the memoir details many of the abuses he suffered, it is also an inspiring story of how he was able to keep picking himself up, over and over again to make the best possible circumstances out of the situations he found himself in. You can find both kindle and paperback versions on Amazon, if you’re interested.

Laughing is Good for Me- Part 5

I am currently living in a senior living facility in Woodinville,Washington. They have all sorts of activities here. Most of them I do not participate in because of my health but I do what I can.

One day around.Halloween, they offered a complementary pancake breakfast. People were invited to come in their pajamas. I decided I would participate in the breakfast although I would not be wearing my pajamas.

I hadn’t looked at the flyer carefully and showed up on the wrong day. After some confusing moments, the hostess figured out what was wrong.

I decided not to participate in the actual event. I went down to the lobby soon after it was over however and saw a staff member in a very large onesie. I don’t know how many people came to the breakfast and I don’t know how many wore pajamas.

I don’t even remember who was wearing the onesie and I don’t remember if it was a costume or actual pajamas but I will long remember the experience of turning the corner and seeing her. And I will laugh.

On Thanksgiving Day, I also walked to the lobby. This time the person that is most often in the front desk said “Look at what I’m wearing.” She came from behind the desk, pulled up her skirt and this is what I saw … big skinny chicken legs. (They were actually socks.) I laughed.

I was pleased that when I asked for one, she gave me a photo and permission to put the picture on my blog and to say whatever I wanted to say. I will hold that whole experience in my memory. And I will laugh when I think of it.

***

I thought I would give a warning before the next section. some of you may not want to read it because it is gross or because I sound like a middle school student who is obsessed with bodily functions.

My stomach is gurgling a lot. Actually it is more than likely the gurgling is coming from my intestines. One day I was too tired to hold the phone while I was talking to my son, so I set the phone on my abdomen with the microphone pointing towards my head. All of a sudden the gurgling started. “What is that?” my son exclaimed! Remembering that moment still makes me laugh deeply.

I am on so many medications that constipation can be a real problem. I celebrate it on a day that I poop at the beginning of the day. I sometimes even celebrate the size of what comes out of me!

It isn’t only stories about humans that are making me laugh. Somebody sent me the cartoon about two crows, a baby and a parent. The parent crow was saying to the baby crow “Just hold it until we find a parked car.” Not only is that like middle school humor but it also feels like it is actually true that the crows have their strategies for interfering with human lives all planned out.

For many years, I have only remembered one joke. Question: How do you make God laugh? Answer: Tell him your life plans.

This week, a friend added to my joke repertoire. I don’t know why he told me this joke unless it is because I have so much gas and essentially no control over when it comes out but it certainly fits the category of bodily function humor:

An elderly couple is in church. The wife says to the husband, “I’ve let out one of those silent farts, what do I do?”

The husband says, “Get new hearing aids.”

I laugh every time I remember it.

The Angry Bird T-Shirt

I bought a new T-shirt three or four years ago. I thought the design on it was lightning. I was dismayed when I discovered that it was actually a depiction of an angry bird.

I did not want to wear a picture of an angry bird on my T-shirt but it is the most comfortable T-shirt I’ve got and it is also easy to get in and out of. Both of those qualities are very important to me right now.

As I continued to think about it, I remembered when the crows used to dive-bomb me in the Greenbelt behind my house. There was an old helmet that had been left in the Greenbelt sometime in the past. If it hadn’t been so dirty, I would have been tempted to put it on as I felt I was being attacked. I was told that it was nesting season and that I was coming too close to their nests. The crows were only protecting their young.

This year, the same thing happened at the place that I am staying now. Crows dive-bombed me two different times in May or June. It happened in different parts of the property, so I don’t know if it was the same crow or two different ones. Those incidents happened three or four weeks apart. Both times, I could feel the wings of the crow touch my head. And once again, it was nesting season so the crows were simply protecting their babies.

When I remembered those experiences, I no longer cared about wearing a T-shirt that had a picture of an angry bird on it. Then, I realized that my role as a corrective parenting group psychotherapist had been to teach adult men and women how to take care of their inner children.

As such, I was an advocate for the young. I was also a protective mom when it came to my own children. Even though they are now adults, I don’t want anyone messing with them and will definitely come to their defense, at least in my mind.

So now I am able to wear my angry bird T-shirt proudly. It is one of the symbols of my life. What are the other symbols? I’ll have to think about that.

The Angry Bird
Going for a walk with friends

Addendum to My “Stay Alert” Post

When my friend Pat mentioned a warning that went through his mind the other day, it occurred to me that I had missed an important aspect in my “Stay Alert” post. The area that I had not thought to include is to stay alert for warnings. We often are warned about impending problems but instead of heeding the warning we may answer the inner voice with a flood of discounting responses.

I wrote a post (Heed the Warnings) about these warnings in 2014. I gave a lot of examples from my life. I suggest you read that post first and then read this one. This post I consider an addendum to my recent Stay Alert post.

I asked Pat to write down and send me a copy of the warning so I would be sure to report it accurately. What he wrote was an expanded form, written after he read my 2014 post. I am going to include most of his comments. He wrote:

Loved the “inner voice”! Reminds me of the times I have heard “that voice” – that quiet voice …

And as Karuna knows, I heard it just recently about ten days ago when I was walking through the fraternity’s renovation project and heard that voice say, “watch out for nails!” . . . Just before I stepped on a nail! OUCH! 😳😲😀😂 (and just between you and me 😂 I didn’t listen to nurse Karuna’s voice telling me to get a tetanus shot . . . But I survived and all is well!)

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.