Friday, November 28, 2014

Playing with pain

As we jostled our props into the convention center via a back-door bay, my partner, Renee, lit up at the energy level. It was invigorating I had learned when I attended the Victory of Light Psychic Expo a few years ago. Then, I volunteered to scout it out for my Quaker Meeting. We had been asked to join another Quaker congregation that had registered for a booth.

Those few years ago, I hadn't known what I was stumbling into: a marketplace of wellness, healers, seekers, vendors and readers of every ilk; diverse workshops from angels to death, past-life, mediumship and a service by Tibetan monks; and, eventually, a venue for some of my work. Astonishing. And also heartbreaking as my body absorbed the magnitude of those in pain and seeking relief alternatively.

Which is why I contacted the organizer, Victor Paruta, a well-known psychic whom I'd had the blessing of meeting years ago as a reporter, to ask if Renee and I could present "Pain as Spiritual Teacher." During that long-ago interview, it became quite obvious that I would have to put my objective self aside and seek a reading for authenticity's sake. How could I report about reading never having had one? It was profound, even more so when I recognized that Victor had also been an English major at Miami. Clearly, he has a gift ... not just for "reading" people, but for organizing such a powerful event, now in it's 20th year which attracts 4,000 people.

As presenters this time, we knew were were prop heavy, but that's part of our schtick. Dragging in the oversized basket and two stuffed, identifiable Ikea bags, I experienced an epiphany. "Renee," I called through the wind, "we need to rename our workshop ... we need to begin calling it a playshop!"

That is what we do: open folks to/by playing, so we begin to access possible meanings in our pain in a gentle way and from a different place in our brains. It increases our neuroplacticity, Renee says. I know that intuitively and from experience. Renee knows as a counselor with a science background ... which is why we are such a good pair.

Living with chronic pain, as 47 percent of American adults do according to Gallup, is enough work. We don't need more, yet we need space and a creative approach to understanding. A playground, that's what we create on the fly or in my studio. Inventing inviting spaces is one of my gifts and one I adore sharing.

As we looped through the back ways and into the exhibition hall, I heard Renee sigh. So did I, this was even bigger than a few years ago. "Can I tell you how wonderful this is that you go us here?" she asked. "Not a problem, it seemed like such a good fit and Victor said yes."

We lugged our baskets, bags and box as close we we could get to our room. There was a crowd gathered outside waiting for the next presentation. The halls were over-flowing. We wanted to get a lay of the land and calculate what we were up against in terms of room arrangement, how much time we'd have to get in and set-up, etc. It was a bit overwhelming, but we were stoked by the palpable level of energy. And the possibility that we'd have a nice-sized crowd. We'd optimistically prepared for 30.

As the crowds exchanged and things quieted in the hallway, we noticed Victor, and Renee wanted to meet him. Several people stepped up and he took time with each one. I wasn't certain I wanted to interrupt. So, we ran up to the exhibits to kill a little time. As soon as we entered, I spotted a dear friend.  Turns out, she was there for us! We ambled through the main and auxiliary halls, returning to our area and Victor was still there, conversing. I finally interjected and introduced Renee. He was so welcoming and anxious to tell Renee they have a mutual friend who is her biggest cheerleader.

Next, we decided where to trim our presentation by 10 minutes to accommodate the transition between presentations and waited. There was no swell in front of our door, but we knew a workshop (mind you, we hadn't had the insight to change the name yet) for those in chronic pain would not be a huge draw, although it should be.

The doors eventually opened, people streamed out and a festival staffer hoisted our wall of pain into the doorway as Renee and I quickly set up. As we began turning chairs around to form a circle, the seats filled. I noticed the anticipation as attenders didn't know what to expect. Their eyes beamed at the discovery of the props: looming, green Hulk hands; rocks in sand; orange pillows strangled by rope; a variety of squishy toys; blank Venetian masks; ribbon-enclosed boxes loaded with stuffing; a bin of jewels. As they would later learn, these would represent ways we handle our pain in survival mode.

We began a few minutes early and a few more streamed in; 25 people attended! We learned about how to play, we played, we took a body scan and rated ourselves on a pain scale of color, we embraced our pain giving it attributes such as color, shape and personality, we reflected on those in journals in any way we choose and we shared. That was a pretty full slate for 50 minutes and such a large group. Yet, I could see we had succeeded. One woman who said she could never relax to play, even as a child, found a medium to do so. Another recognized the child jumping up and down in her head clamoring for attention and two with a rare leg-pain disease connected.

We lingered in the hallway with participants, then loaded our cars. We returned, intending to visit the exhibition hall, but found ourselves struggling. As woman in chronic pain, we had extended ourselves a bit, but that's exactly the reason we can relate and reach others coping with chronic pain.

• When has the energy of a venue affected you?
• And when has something different spoken to you?
• How do you resonate with pain, personally?
• How can you be with others in pain?
• How do you play?

a life with
chronic pain
doesn't always
flow the way
one would wish

and management
take over just
to function


oddly enough
can open
that tightness
and rigidity
to new
our brains

and reminding
us that we
still count

Our next "Pain as Spiritual Teacher" event is Saturday, Feb 21 at Future Life Now in Northside. $20 off if you register by Dec. 1 Please share with anyone you know struggling with chronic pain. Thank you! tinyurl.com/painworkshop

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Nakedness is blinding

Asking why appearances matter so much in the material world answers itself: because it IS the material world. Things are solids and shapes and we identify them by how they look.

In my world, where spirituality and creativity merge, I am much more interested in the inside. What composes someone? What is their interior life? Who is the self they don't often show?
Prickly self/paint and pastel on paper

My oldest is currently enamored with costume and fashion design and served as lead costumer for the high school play, for which she performed admirably. The fashion world seems superficial to me and yet, something she said yesterday has me thinking otherwise. "Mom, the thing I like about fashion is that it can be so individual and you get to express yourself." As an artist, I know that is true and surround myself with color and what I call the magic of accessories. I wore orange purposefully Wednesday to boost my energy and brighten my aura on a particularly tiring day.

One morning at the gym this week, I noticed the cute 40-something moms in their neon racer-back nylon shirts and matching shoes, hair looking perfect. Meanwhile, I was dressed in 10-year-old yoga pants, inherited gym shoes, a nondescript t-shirt and bedhead. I really don't care what I look like at the gym. I am there to work.

Apart from the pack of moms, I noticed a perky red-head with whom I had a long conversation about nine months ago. Our daughters attended elementary school together until the family moved. They changed schools, then districts for their daughter, who was struggling. When we spoke, she was excelling at an alternative school and I was lamenting the pressure my then-sophomore was experiencing. The mother opened my eyes to looking at other options for my daughter. She was a good listener and shared her wisdom generously.

So, I decided to interrupt, which is atypical for me, and let her know how much that had meant and that my daughter, now enrolled in a post-secondary program where she attends college classes part time, is blossoming. That the high school stressors were gone.

Her entire demeanor changed when I uttered those sentences. "I really needed to hear that today. I broke away from my friends, I am a rebel and independent, but mostly because I was furious today. Furious with how things are going for my daughter."

We spoke about 20 minutes and she shared how her daughter had missed her friends, so they tucked her back into a small suburban district known for its academics. And she'd sunk back into old anxiety patterns and was a mess. My heart broke. This teen struggles with anxiety, yet is cool as ice on the outside. The district doesn't get this and really is of little help. "They only see the strong exterior and assume she's like everybody else," the mother confessed ... though everybody else, who seems perfect on the exterior, is anything but inside.

We talked about my nephew, a very premature baby who has grown into a wonderful young adult and will always struggle with cerebral palsy. Had my sister not become his advocate, he would have been written off. In fifth grade, the district informed my sister they were placing him on the non-graduation track because, essentially, he impacted their test scores. She had a fit and asked what the point of finishing would be. Wouldn't that district love to know he's taking college classes ... thanks to mu sister's continued advocacy. He's a smart kid with processing difficulties.

This mom's other daughter shares some of those same issues. She's got her hands full.

"You're so open about all of this," I remarked. "I have to be real," she said.

Being real, that's exactly what I am looking for.  No pretenses, walls, fences or facades that project a perfect image. Because we're not.

Chronic pain has taught me that lesson and tomorrow I'll be co-leading an hour workshop on pain as teacher. Our goal is to provide safe, creative community where those struggling can share themselves and be open to what their physical pain may be signaling.

And I keep thinking about this beautiful teen who has learned the trick of pretending on the outside because most of the world isn't ready to deal with its realness. Nakedness can be blinding and awkward instead of real and beautiful.

• How do my insides and outsides mesh?
• When am I real?
• With whom can I be real?
• Am I comfortable being real with Spirit?
• What happens when I am?

as an artist,
I am attracted
by what something
looks like

as a mystic,
I want a closer
look, to
the inside

for that is
where the center
of anything,
can be found

and it's
where God


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