Space Available Essays: October 2001

Name That Pain

by Patricia Darcy

Elvis floated up during the yoga session as a name for my hip pain. I wanted to dialogue with the pain and I also wanted to inject some humor into my right hip. Elvis' hips move effortlessly and mine would like to. His had the flexibility and ease of motion which mine covet. Now I can reference it without whining, "Elvis is acting up," "Elvis is irritable," "Elvis is edgy."

What a shift to have a hip with attitude! Automatically, I lighten up. I can't take a hip named Elvis too seriously. Talking to Elvis will guide me. When is it time to stretch and strengthen? When is it time to rest? Do I need to push the envelope on my hip's movement a la Elvis? "What do you need most?" I ask. "Love me tender," says Elvis.

I even like it that Elvis is a male name and somewhat unusual. It gives me a little distance. It fits because chronic pain is foreign to me. I'm trying to make friends with it. Up until now, I've been hostile towards it, not even wanting to admit that a chronically sore hip is part of me. Physically and emotionally it was a relief to find a way to embrace it. My new companion is both a distraction and delight. Two days in a row Elvis lured me into a dance class. No, I can't walk very far or stand for very long, but yes, I can dance. Show me how to dance with the pain, Elvis.

Exaggerate the Negative

by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D

Remember the song "Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative"? Easy for them to say! Although being aware of your thoughts, and exercising your authority to choose new ones, is helpful, sometimes the strategy of accentuating the negative creates such a hilarious parody of the situation that it can help you change your mind even faster.

Woody Allen films are funny because he understands the movies of the mind. Listening in on the soliloquies of his characters and witnessing their mental concoctions is amusing because it's so human. We all do it. One of his characters may have a simple headache and suddenly he fantasizes about being in the hospital with a terminal brain tumor. Psychologist Albert Ellis calls this awfulizing. That's a great word. It's powerful because it's such a perfect description of obsessive worrying. Whenever we work up a situation mentally to the point where it has the most dire conclusion imaginable, we're awfulizing.

When I got the contract for my most recent book, I only had two months to write it between business trips. How could I do it? I was already busy, and the daily office work would still be there. Furthermore, the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's holidays were coming up. Most of our blended family of six adult children were planning visits. I began to awfulize. How could I possibly find time to write? I would miss being with the kids, and they would think they didn't matter. I began to dwell on the fantasy that I was a hypocrite, one of those people who loves everyone in general, but no one in particular. How could I write about inner peace for busy people if I was a mess?

I sat down at the computer to write in that elevated state of mind. Wonder of wonders, after a whole day, nothing but drivel had appeared. That scared me even more. Apparently my fantasies about not being able to write the book were true. So I decided to try exaggerating the negative. "I will never write this book. I'll have to give back the advance and then the bank will repossess the house. We'll end up in the street – and all because those kids are coming!" I can do a pretty good comedy routine, and soon I was laughing so hard that I relaxed. At that point, I was able to acknowledge what my good friend Janet told me. She pointed out that I've always written best under pressure, being the type of person who lives for deadlines.

"If you had a whole year to write this book," she reminded me, "you'd start the month before it was due." I was awfulizing over nothing. I did love to work like that. I could spend the mornings writing and have the rest of the day free once the kids arrived. I relaxed, sat down, and immediately began to enjoy the creative process.

The key to exaggerating the negative is that humor counteracts the physical effects of the stress and panic that accompany obsessive worry. The body can't tell the difference between what you imagine and what is real. Awfulizing is just like watching a scary movie. Your heart pounds, your breathing becomes shallow and ragged, your muscles tense, and you become hyper-alert. You're ready to fight for your life. Once you're in that state, it can be hard to get hold of yourself without a good dose of laughter to calm you down.

You don't have to be facing a book deadline or any other unusual circumstance to get trapped by awfulizing. You probably do it every day. Perhaps you're drinking your morning coffee when you think, I'm so incredibly busy. I still have yesterday's phone calls to return. I bet there will be 10 new voice mails and 20 new e-mails today. Then there are the two reports that are due. What a beautiful day it is. I'd love to go out for a walk, but there's too much to do. How did things get so out of control? I'd rather pack it all in and move to a cabin in the woods. Now that your thinking has created stress, physical tension, and neurotransmitter disaster, you still have to get through your to-do's, but with a body that has just been beaten up by chemical two-by-fours.

This week, when you notice obsessive worry, label it: "I'm awfulizing!" Try exaggerating your movie as if you were Woody Allen, until you see how entertaining you are. "I'm so busy. No one in the entire history of this world has ever been so busy. I have more phone calls to return than the president. I could run three countries, and I haven't even had breakfast yet." This will help stop the stress response and return you to a relative state of peace.

Excerpted from Inner Peace for Busy People: Simple Strategies for Transforming Your Life by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., bestselling author of Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. The book is available at all bookstores, by phone 800-654-5126, or via the Internet at http://www.hayhouse.com.

The Seduction of Victimhood

by Mary P. Farrell

"I was rear-ended the other morning."

"Oh no, are you ok?"

"Yeah, my neck is pretty sore and I really banged my knees."

"How's your car?"

"Not bad. Our bumpers lined up pretty well. She said to me, 'I thought you were going to go.' I figured I'd wait for the car that was coming the other way to go by. She thanked me for being nice to her.

I can't tell you how many times this past week I've had that conversation. It hardly varied at all. Except if I didn't get something done, then I would add "sorry I didn't get such and such to you. I was rear-ended and it threw my whole week off."

Suddenly I had such power. People showed concern for me, asking how I was, had I seen a doctor, telling me about the accident they had. One daughter did the food shopping and the other is going to mow the lawn. I could use that help every week. Of course, I've been stoic, no complaining, and just rubbing my neck now and then.

I have spent years learning not to, as Caroline Myss would say, "lead with my wounds." However, it does lead to a reduction in casual conversation. If you don't know someone very well it can be easier to bond over problems. If you are asked, "What is going on?" telling tales of woe makes for instant connection. People will then share their story and you have a foundation, albeit a flawed one, to work from. Of course you have to keep searching for more woe to share. Everyone must be willing to engage in this behavior or the whole thing falls apart.

How can I move through this time without calling upon people's sympathy for me? How do I disconnect myself from the need for sympathy? It feels nice having people worry about me. I am a single parent (ooh, I may be able to get some more mileage out of that one yet) and am used to being independent. I have some difficulty in asking for or accepting help. Being a little banged up makes it easier.

I had been divorced for about six years and I had a little spiel I would tell about my former husband. He didn't pay child support and I worked hard to support our two children. I would pull out this story of the "deadbeat father" and I would get a lot of pats on the back. People would tell me how good I was and ask, "How do you do it all on your own?" I would give a wan little smile and say, "It's easier on my own than it would be with him." People would shake their head knowingly.

I didn't realize how much I was using this story as a means to connect with others. I was defining myself as a woman with a bastard for an ex-husband. The question "Who are you?" was answered by a description of a man I hadn't lived with for years. Then I met Betty. I began to tell her some story of a wrong done by my ex. (That reminds me of one of my lines – the great thing about my ex is I don't have to be angry about the past; he always gives me something new to be mad about). Betty interrupted me and asked, "How long are you going to need him to be an asshole?" Well, that stopped me in my tracks. I needed him to be an asshole? I was part of making him be an asshole? I was responsible? I learned. I learned to own what was mine. I learned about true forgiveness. And I have worked at not leading with my wounds, but how to resist during this time of vulnerability.

About a month before this accident I decided to try an experiment. If something happened that I wanted to complain about, I would only tell three people. So there I was, in a large building supply store, trying to get information on a tub surround kit. I asked my question and listened while the young man explained what tub surround was. "Okay, but can I." As he launched into is third rendition, I interrupted, "Can you and I agree that I know what tub surround is? What I want to know is." Now this, this is a story worth sharing. I get to give the rundown on the work being done on my house, the frustration of dealing with an ignorant sales clerk, and show off my knowledge of home repair. I called my brother to get the answer to the question and gave him the rundown on the behavior of the clerk. I got home and explained the incident to my daughter, complete with inappropriate outrage, and then I told my boyfriend. Now I couldn't tell anyone else. Here I had this great story and couldn't share it. Bummer!

It became a good practice. Upset about an incident at work, I had to not only choose whom I wanted to share it with, but I became careful of the words I used. Limiting my chatter about incidents helped me to focus on the true issues. I usually can get to the root source of problems, but suddenly I was getting there a lot faster. I wasn't distracted by those willing to commiserate with me, or who I could entertain by my humorous rendition of the trials and foibles I encounter on my daily journey. The time I would have spent regaling others was now spent on inner reflection. Connections made, shadows faced, dilemmas unraveled.

So, back to that car accident. I am no longer talking about it or surreptitiously rubbing my neck in front of crowds. I have delved into the deeper meaning of so-called "accidents." I choose to step beyond victimhood in any situation I find myself. If someone makes false accusations of me at work, I know that it has nothing to do with me. I can send love and compassion to that person instead of spending time moaning and complaining about the unfairness of it all. Cut me off in traffic? I'll send you the blessing of "right thinking, right action and correct perception." If I forget, and if I start to send you a different greeting, perhaps one signified by a certain finger, I can usually stop myself and I won't carry you with me for the rest of the day. And I won't have to explain to everyone I meet about the person who lacked the foresight to stay off my road.

I invite you to give it a try. Next time something happens to you, no matter what a great story it is, no matter how big the injustice, tell only three people. Choose three people that can see beyond the mundane. Choose three people willing to go deep and explore the mysteries of life. For everyone else, "Can you believe this weather?"

Day Signs

by Susan Meeker-Lowry

One day a few years ago, I was driving along in my car worrying about money. This wasn't unusual for me. At the time I was an activist struggling to make ends meet for my family and for the organization I directed. My work was very important to me. I felt I was fulfilling my life's purpose. But every once in a while I had to wonder if I was on the right path. After all, it was so hard and these were the days of "do what you love and the money will follow." Maybe I was on the wrong path after all. Maybe I should just give up and get a "real" job. These thoughts went round and round in my mind as I drove. At one point I looked up at the sky and there right above me was a cloud that looked just like a thumb and forefinger coming together in the "okay" sign. My heart lightened considerably and I let out a sigh of relief. I was on the right path. Somehow things would work out.

Many times in my life nature has provided messages when I need them most. I have learned to pay attention. Sometimes, like the cloud, the messages confirm what I know to be true and give me the extra confidence I need. Other times, nature offers gifts that have a special meaning – a rock that glows "pick me up," and when I do I sense a special magic, a connection to the place I found the rock that I can carry with me wherever I go. Or sitting by a brook, I gradually become aware of the flowing water, the rocks and twigs that get carried along until they catch on something and stay for a while until they are swept away again. The water is alive, magical. It fills me and for a time I become the water, feel the flow, the ease of letting go. The message? I need to let go of my need to control everything and "go with the flow." Seeing the water, the rocks, the twigs do this so effortlessly gives me the strength and the insight to calm down and try to flow myself. I treasure this aspect of my relationship with nature. It is proof of my connection to all of life.

Until recently I had no idea that what I'm doing is paying attention to what geomancer Sig Lonegren calls "daysigns." Plants, trees, birds, stones, the four directions, numbers all have symbolic meanings. The healing properties of plants can have meaning, too. For example, you've been disheartened lately, things just aren't going well in general. You're walking along thinking about your life, wondering how to get back on track. You stop to rest and notice you're sitting next to a clump of St. John's Wort. A butterfly arrives and feeds delicately on the tiny yellow flowers, then flies off toward the east. This could mean taking St. John's Wort would help your depression or it could mean simply, "Take heart, be strong. See how I thrive here in this rocky, sandy soil? You can, too." To me the butterfly would be a symbol of transformation and beauty and the east represents new beginnings.

So the next time you're on a walk, wherever it is, pay attention. Notice the rocks, the plants, the trees, listen for bird songs, feel the wind, hear the leaves rustle. What messages does the Earth have for you?

Giving it Up

by Craig Howell

Ever the Star Trek fan, I've been following this imaginative sci-fi program since I was a kid. No, I don't dress up like a Klingon or hold up my hand, fingers split in "V" formation and proclaim, "Live long and prosper." But I am a big fan of the writers.

I thoroughly enjoy the subtlety of the layered plots, with some underlying messages that I am sure are being imparted to viewers. Some are helping to pave the way for acceptance of new ideas, like delving into the nature of time by using a time-travel sequence in the show where the people on the ship actually meet themselves in space within some sort of a time warp.

The most interesting thing that has come up is the introduction of the relentless, one-minded hive known as the Borg, in the "Voyager" continuation. Here is a group that goes looking for people to populate it's society (if you can call it that) by ruthlessly kidnapping them, surgically reconstructing them, and giving them a number, a place in the hive, and a little regeneration cell. Although all of the Borg are from different areas of the Universe, each "drone" ends up looking pretty much the same. Of course, this scares the bejeezus out of everyone in the galaxy because they don't want to be "absorbed," and I would feel the same way. I wouldn't volunteer to be absorbed by anything or anyone. I like being me, however crazy it gets sometimes.

They are touching on a sensitive issue here: "the collective." The collective is where you loose your individuality in order to become a cog in the desire of the "one," the all, ideally to serve the whole. This is a thought that has crossed my mind when I contemplate where I actually came from, spiritually. If I come from God, then I am a part of that, and by all rights, will return to that. Most likely I will return as something much more expansive than I am now in human form. But I wonder if I will remember "me." If I release myself to be "one" with the Creator, do I get lost somehow and become just a cog in the collective, simply responding to the larger stimulus with no creativity on my own?

Everyone on the show is resistant to being assimilated. They don't want to be a Borg, as this, in their minds, amounts to dying. But the Borg are just as resistant to allowing anyone free choice. They just assume that this is how it is, and that's that. It's their way or – well, it's their way: "You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

Whenever I hear this Borg mantra, something drops inside me. I know resistance is futile. Death is inevitable. I don't want to resist, but having no memory of the spirit existence, I become uneasy at the thought of my passing. I guess I shouldn't be afraid. We die a little every year as our life goes on, slowly inserting new ideas and beliefs. Like the Borg nanoprobes, the new melds with the original, growing together, inseparable, until the old self is just a memory, even seeming like a different person. Maybe that's what it is like. Maybe I will look back while on the other side to the physical side and see a person that I hardly know anymore. Not really me, just an old friend who has been assimilated so many times already, he doesn't mind if it happens once more.

Craig Howell is a writer, musician, astrologer, published poet, and seeker of truth, living in Rhode Island. He has just completed his first book, Through the Eyes of Kwan Yin, an array of channeled question and answer sessions on the mysteries of life through Ascended Master Kwan Yin. He can be reached by email at zenoman@bigfoot.com.