Frida Kahlo probably had fibromyalgia

While continuing to learn more about fibromyalgia, I found something interesting: Frida Kahlo probably had it.

If you’re wondering what fibromyalgia is, the Mayo Clinic says it’s a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Symptoms sometimes begin after a trauma, surgery, infection, or significant stress. Women are much more likely to develop it.

One researcher, Manuel Martinez-lavin, says it’s likely the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo had fibromyalgia. The bus accident that badly injured her at age 18 must have been quite traumatic and was followed by many stressful surgeries. The accident left her with chronic pain, well documented in her art.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-11-07-37-amThe Broken Column

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Trauma never goes completely away

My friend Spike shared a link to this New York Times article on Facebook, and since trauma and recovery are themes on this blog, I thought I’d share it here. The author, a psychiatrist, writes about how trauma and grief never go completely away.

Can’t get over it? You may now stop trying and believing that you have to or that something is wrong with you because you haven’t or can’t.

My mother’s knee-jerk reaction, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” is very common. There is a rush to normal in many of us that closes us off, not only to the depth of our own suffering but also, as a consequence, to the suffering of others….

The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.

Lessons from the 21-day Byron Katie challenge

The challenge to focus on The Work of Byron Katie for 21 days was worthwhile. I examined a painful thought that has been a thread running through my life, that my father didn’t care about me.

I subjected that belief to inquiry, and it did not hold up. My father did care about me. I know that deeply now. The way he chose to express it — nonverbally, without physical, verbal, or visual signs of affection, without playfulness, and pretty much without much eye contact or much facial expression at all — was not a way I understood or valued when I was young and first had this thought.

I realize now that he showed his caring by simply being there with his family and not somewhere else, supporting me from infancy through adulthood, reading aloud to his children, helping with homework, and creating order through daily rituals (dinner time, bath time, bed time). He wasn’t really that different from many men who were fathers in the 1950s and 1960s — who had been through sobering times (the Great Depression and World War II). He was not frivolous, not expressive, and a man who had lost his own father at age 9.

I took him for granted.

I did this challenge a bit differently than I initially envisioned doing it. I had thought that I would do one worksheet a day, answering the four questions and doing the turnarounds for 21 days.

That would have been extremely time-consuming. My blog posts would have been quite lengthy, and I fear you, dear readers, might have completely lost patience and interest.

So instead, I worked on one issue, my relationship with my dad, which even though he’s been dead for years, I still felt some tender sensitivity and pain about. I liked doing it slowly and deeply like this. Sometimes at Katie’s workshops, there just isn’t time to really go deep with my own stuff. This was satisfying and memorable. I feel like I got the process in my bones and now find myself asking, “Is that true?” and “What happens when I believe that thought?” Just noticing…

I have turned over that rock and examined the ground under it, the creepy-crawlies, the shadow, took a good thorough look, and then put the rock back and moved on.

Of course there are more rocks to investigate, but I can see that each time I do inquiry, the remaining rocks are perhaps fewer, lighter, and smaller.

And wow. Would I ever like to get to the bottom of how I create my own suffering with my thinking! That would require a lot of discernment. Speaking of which, this great quote on that topic came up today on Tricycle Daily Dharma:

The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment, the awakening that takes place when illusion has been overcome. It may sound simple, but it’s probably the most difficult thing of all to achieve. It isn’t some kind of magical reward that someone can give you or that a strong belief will enable you to acquire. The true path to awakening is genuine discernment; it’s the very opposite of belief. ~ Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The Seeds of Life”

So yeah. Enlightenment comes through examining illusion, that is, using inquiry and discerning the truth. This is how it works in real life.

In filling out the worksheet, I went back to the last years I lived at home, when I was in high school, and how it was then between my father and me. I remembered yearning for his positive personal attention, and it never even crossing my mind to just ask him for it! Because “we didn’t do that in our family,” it wasn’t even in my realm of possibilities back then.

I am so grateful to have busted out of that prison. I’m not sure when that happened.  At some point, I gained the quality of brashness. It usually works, too.

I think it’s a great idea for people to ask for attention when you need it. If the person who is asked can give it, fine, and if not, fine. There are always others, and of course, there’s the self. Doing The Work is a fine way to relate to the self. Quality time.

My relationship with my father, which transcends his death, has expanded. It’s become lighter and broader. I can consider other possibilities for his behavior than the narrow, joyless ones I laid on him.

This opens me up too. My hurting self, the wounded child, has healed (at least about this topic). It’s a memory now, in the past.

After having done the work, it doesn’t matter whether my father did or didn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s only a concept, just a theory to explain his behavior.

When I ask, “How do I react, what happens, when I think that thought?” I realize that it just doesn’t matter that much to me. I wonder more how he would have reacted had he known, fully aware that whatever I think is idle speculation, just opinion. It was his business, not mine.

I like to think that if he wanted help with it, which he never asked for, I would have gladly been willing to give it.

Just like he would have been glad to give me more attention, if I had asked for it.

People are like that, aren’t we.

Day 19 of The Work: Do you believe life should be free from pain?

This Tricycle Daily Dharma quotation reinforces Byron Katie’s work:

We suffer because we marry our instinctive aversion to pain to the deep-seated belief that life should be free from pain. In resisting our pain by holding this belief, we strengthen just what we’re trying to avoid. When we make pain the enemy, we solidify it. This resistance is where our suffering begins. ~ Ezra Bayda, “When It Happens to Us”

Next time you’re feeling emotional pain, I invite you to examine whether a “should” is involved. “Shoulds” are always beliefs, as far as I can tell.

Imagine (that is, make up stories about) what you believe should happen.

Now think about what you believe shouldn’t happen, and create two stories. In one, imagine having no resistance to what shouldn’t happen. Just let it unfold and witness it. In this scenario, if there’s pain, there’s pain, but there’s no drama or story.

Then create a worst-case scenario, complete with lots of drama and a compelling story!

Just see if you can do this. Now you have three options.

The point is, how much do you add to your own suffering? Without the story, the pain can just come and go, and that’s it. It hurts. You move on.

How we got the idea that life should be free from pain is something to be curious about. It seems to me that if you have a nervous system, pain is inevitable. (Although I have gone to great lengths to avoid it myself!)

Day 9 of The Work: Who would you be without the thought?

The fourth question to ask when you are doing inquiry (i.e., “The Work” of Byron Katie) about a situation that is emotionally painful is this:

Who would I be without the thought?

Applying this question to my statement that my father didn’t care about me is astonishing.

Without the thought, I am free of these painful feelings. When the thought leaves, the feelings leave.

What’s left is an empty openness. I feel it in my chest. There’s a freedom there that wasn’t there before. It’s as if that thought never existed.

Who would I be? Well, I experience myself as more expansive, more open, lighter.

“Who I am” is my identity, composed of my thoughts, emotions, sensations, and emptiness or spaciousness. Who I am is pretty much how I experience myself in each moment. (Everything else is about me, not me.)

What are you experiencing this very moment as you read this?

It’s so easy to think that who I am is my story: “the woman whose father didn’t care about her” or “the woman whose father had Asperger’s” and so many more stories I’ve bought into and perpetuated about myself. Whenever I think a thought that’s accompanied by emotional pain, I can do inquiry, starting with question #1.

Who I am is not my story.

My father is also not who I formerly believed him to be. When I think of him without this thought, a series of images comes into my mind. Without my story and its emotional baggage, they are neutral snapshots: my father sitting on the sofa, my father at the dinner table, my father driving, my father standing outside his office building waiting for his ride home, my father kissing my mother.

These are much kinder images than those of a father who didn’t care about his daughter.

Man, where did that thought ever even come from? Never mind. Who cares? I’m just glad to have busted this painful, limiting story.

To recap, I’ve already asked:

  1. Is is true? (if no, skip to #3)
  2. Can I absolutely know it’s true?
  3. What happens when I believe the thought?

“Who would you be without the thought” can also be asked “What would you be without the thought?” And whatever your answer is, you can ask again, “What would you be without that thought?”

See where that takes you! (It takes me into a vast experience of empty presence where anything can happen.)

Next: the first turnaround.

How to create inner peace

This morning I woke early and sensed a shift in my energy.

Without thinking about it, I started happily organizing some accumulated clutter in my bedroom that I’d been procrastinating on. I even fixed a couple of broken things. I cleared some space, found good places for stuff, and created more visual order.

I found a business card I’d been looking for, someone who asked me to contact her once I got my massage license, which I did about a month ago. I’ll call her today. Yay.

I do care about having an orderly home, and yet managing stuff (even living in a trailer!) often gets the better of me.  I make it a low priority. It’s not that I’m a terrible slob, although I’m sure I am in someone’s eyes. I pile things up to deal with later. I start doing things and get distracted and don’t finish. I leave stuff out to remind me that it’s not “done”. Then I notice I have a lot of piles, and clearing them seems like drudgery of the worst kind.

Today I created order and completion without thinking about it, because something opened up. I felt more upbeat. I was observing myself, thinking, “Wow, I am behaving differently. I like this. I feel energized and productive. Something has shifted. What happened?”

This is what I attribute the shift to. (Or perhaps the stars had something to do with it.)

On Tuesday evening, I went to bed aware of how much I mentally obsess about problems. By obsess, I mean they occupy my attention during times when I am not actually communicating with the person I have issues with, or I am imagining how I will handle something in the future. I do this often, usually not making much progress.

This ruminating helps me get clearer about my feelings and what I want, but it also distracts me from being fully present. I’m “in my head”. I’m feeling tense and anxious. I’ve become a slave to my thoughts, especially my fears. I get stuck and then don’t know how to stop. And then I become aware of my state.

It’s a way that I create my own suffering. I’d like to get out of my own way.

I vowed to myself that night that since this habit doesn’t really serve me all that well (except when it does give me insight and direction), that I was going to do something different yesterday.

I decided to dissolve my preoccupation. That is, when I realized that I was not feeling happy and present and content because my mind was rehashing some issue and I was feeling lack of joy in my body, I would take an impression, a snapshot, of my full experience—the images and words in my mind and the feelings in my body representing the person or the problem—and imagine that whatever power gave it substance (Higgs boson?) simply withdrew from it.

I saw, heard, and felt it fall apart. Images of faces and places, my own internal dialogue about it, and the worries, fears, and stuckness I felt in my body all lost coherence, dimensionality, reality. They fell apart into a pile of atoms that were swept away by the solar winds.

If it’s all illusion anyway, you might as well make it work for you. You can dissolve the illusions that don’t bring inner peace, joy, and freedom. It’s like dissolving whatever is within that keeps me from fully occupying and experiencing myself in this moment.

Mind you, I’ve just been doing this for one day, and I only did it a handful of times, but that was enough to create the energy shift I felt this morning.

If you’d like to try this, here you go:

  1. Think of something that’s been worrying, preoccupying, or troubling you, something you feel anxious or disturbed about.
  2. Take a snapshot of your whole internal state, and notice how you represent it. Is it a memory or something you imagine happening in the future? What does it look like? Are you telling yourself about it in an internal dialogue or monologue? What sensation are you feeling and where is it in your body?
  3. Just like a movie scene dissolves or fades so another scene can begin, allow the images to dissolve into pixels, dust, atoms. Turn down the volume of the sounds and words until you hear silence. Tune into your body and the sensations you are actually feeling. Let the feelings drain down into the ground. Note: It’s important to really take your time with this step. First you acknowledge your internal visions, words, and sensations. Then you allow each one to exit in a way that works for you.
  4. Notice the absence of the preoccupation. What are you experiencing? If there’s anything else related to the original state, allow it to fully exit.
  5. Bring back the images, words, and/or feelings. How is this experience different from the first time?
  6. Dissolve them again. How is this different from the first time?
  7. Imagine that any time in the future, when you notice you are not being present/feeling happy/being preoccupied, you have this powerful tool to create inner peace at your disposal.

Insight into internal and external awareness

Tricycle magazine’s Daily Dharma quote (see below) addresses the nature of reality.

It all comes from the mind.

I’ve been interested in the mind and how to use it for a long time. Learning about the 12 states of attention (taught by Nelson Zink) helped me recognize how habitual we often are in how we use our minds — and how we can regain access to neglected states.

One of the characteristics of every state of attention is whether it is internal or external. Some people are more externally focused, while others attend more to their internal experiences. Internal/external are metaprogram sorts in NLP and pertain to Enneagram types as well.

One of the directions to wholeness is to seek more experience with the awareness that you use less often. When an externally referenced person begins to notice more of her/his internal experience, it can be mind-blowing!

Notice how often your mind attends to external matters and how often it attends to your actual experience. Are you more internally or externally referenced?

Tibetan Buddhism weighs in on these states:

The Root of Everything

The mind is the root of everything. In the Tibetan teachings, it is called kun je gyalpo, “the king who is responsible for everything,” or in modern translation, “the universal ordering principle.” Mind is the creator of happiness and the creator of suffering, the creator of what we call samsara and the creator of what we call nirvana. As Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche used to say, “Samsara is mind turned outwardly, lost in its projections; nirvana is mind turned inwardly, recognizing its nature.”

-Sogyal Rinpoche, “A Mind Like a Clear Pool”

Yes, nothing exists outside awareness. Therefore, the mind is the root of everything.

Wikipedia says samsara is “the continuous but random drift of passions, desires, emotions, and experiences.” In other words, suffering.

Nirvana, on the other hand, is said to be beyond suffering, the mind free of attachment.

These are new connections for me today. Thank you for that, Tricycle!

Pain and suffering: the distinction

Several people whom I follow on Twitter linked to this post, Does it hurt? Yes. Is that a problem? No.

Read it if you’ve ever wondered about the difference between pain and suffering. They’re not the same.

The title kind of gives it away, but it’s well worth reading anyway. Pain is inevitable because you have a nervous system. Pain is a form of communication. It lets us know to stop doing whatever caused it (if it is in our control — some pain is not), to seek safety, care, rest, healing.

Suffering comes from pain plus resistance. It’s the resistance to pain that causes suffering. If we could just surrender to pain, just let it wash through our awareness without judgment, it would leave more quickly.

But we judge and resist pain. “I don’t like pain.” “I hate pain.” “I fear pain.” “I shouldn’t feel this pain.”

Last year when I was just a couple of months into my practice of meditating for 30 minutes every day, my body hurt every time I sat. I kept expecting it to go away. My suffering was due to my belief that a sitting practice shouldn’t hurt.

When I checked in with my teacher, Peg Syverson, she said that pain is part of sitting. Every meditator faces this issue sooner or later.

Once I understood that pain was part of my body’s adaptation to the posture and that I might always experience some pain each time I sat, an odd thing happened. Or perhaps a natural and normal thing happened.

My body stopped hurting when I sat. The pain and the suffering both just left.

Interestingly, I’ve heard others’ stories about that: that the older you are, the more quickly your body adapts to sitting and the sooner you can sit without pain.

I suspect that in some cases, the opposite may be true. Habituation has a lot to do with it. Any new, prolonged activity that uses muscles differently than how you usually use them results in discomfort or pain.

Now it may be easier to do this with minor pain than major, but next time you feel some pain, get curious about it. Breathe slowly and deeply to relax, and feel it. Exactly where is it? Does it have a sharp boundary, or is it diffuse? What is the quality of the pain: is it dull, piercing, throbbing, steady, deep, shallow? How long does it last?

You may not feel joy, but you can rejoice in the fact that you can feel pain.

It means you’re alive.

A contract on house, relationship woes, and 1950s housewife takes LSD

I’m up very early today, which is going to be a long one full of NLP training for master practitioners. It’s metaphor weekend!

Yesterday I gratefully signed a contract on my house! It feels really, really good, seven and a half weeks after listing it. It looks like the couple who saw it Thursday night for the first time and came back Friday to see it in the daytime are offering a backup contract, if the first one falls through.

Also yesterday, several people I care about were experiencing relationship difficulties. Feelings of disappointment, betrayal, anger, hurt, sadness, disrespect; expressing feelings, finding support, creating distance, moving on in some way. (Don’t try to make sense of this — I’m talking about several conflicts and people here. I’m sure you have experienced something similar — a loved one’s pain.)

I’m especially grateful to my Facebook friend Fran who asked this key question:

What is the lesson? Therein lies the silver lining!

Great question! Thank you, Fran!

I thought about it for a while. I got how my energy had gone out into each person’s hurting heart, feeling their pain. I got clear that these difficulties belonged to them (even if some were of their own making — like, “Man, what did you expect would happen? Snap to! You’re hurting someone!”), and that I could just simply extend my heart to them.

The pain is in discovering that the world is not as we believe it to be, that people are not who we believe they are. It is as it is, they behave as they behave.

if you can’t trust ’em, move on with those you can trust. if you betrayed someone’s trust, know it will probably never be the same. forgiveness, compassion, good boundaries solve a lot of problems. i hold them in the light.

And finally, today I am grateful for the wonderful finds on the internet. Here’s an old film from the 1950s where a normal housewife is given LSD and interviewed by a scientist on camera. Back when Technicolor was new. ; ) Enjoy!