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About me

October 1, 2014

October 1, 2014
Finding a New “Normal”
I know it’s a cliché, “a new normal.” But it fits.
We do this all our lives. I have found a new normal after numerous life events, none so life-changing as the one I’m going through now, which I hope you’ll stick around to read . . . but first I go back.

I had to find a new normal when I was the first person in my family to go to university. It was a scary and formidable place filled with privileged kids and a few like myself, a country girl raised on a farm—more comfortable with animals than I was people. At times I felt so alienated by my academic surroundings that I hid in the stairwell of the physics building, feeling alone and unworthy. I remember crying in the basement of the math department, a young woman in the 80s trying to get a degree in science. Often I was the only woman in my classes.
Perhaps that’s why I found solace in my mandatory humanity classes and ended up changing my degree program to writing, which included classes in Women’s Studies. I was less alone there.
A new normal.
When I decided to go to graduate school, another new normal. I chose a writing/teaching program that was predominantly female and had numerous female professors. I felt safe and challenged both. I was thrilled to learn.
Then came graduation with a PhD and a job offer from a university in Kentucky. I became a “professor.” A new normal I tried to live up to. I really loved to teach. I moved to Little Rock the next year and joined a writing department. Loved my job, loved my life. I started a small business. I was happy, healthy, excited about each new day.
This is important because it relates to the present.
In Little Rock, I woke each morning, readied my son for school while I baked quiche for the café I had opened and managed while not teaching, drove to campus to teach and work, picked my son up from school, returned to the café where my son did his homework, and I worked until closing time. Returned home. Sometimes I enjoyed a day off—but not often. I was engaged. I was living. I was doing. And I think I was happy most of the time.

Then came the next transition. A plane crash. American Airlines flight 1420. It tore my world apart. I became depressed, psychotic, and delusional. I was hospitalized. I was fired. I lost my business.
Then started a ten year search for sanity, which included Buddhist studies, meditation practice, yoga training. A new normal. Healthy living, active exercise, learning. Again, I was in love with live, engaged, and excited about possibilities.
Then my son died. MRSA, pneumonia. He died at the age of 20. How does a mother deal with that? She makes a new normal. A normal without her son.
Then she falls in love. She falls in love with a long-time friend who’s son is a drug addict. She tries desperately to help her new love/husband save his son, whom she’s known for over 20 years. And then he dies of a drug overdose at age 22. A new normal.
No children. Just my husband and I, trying and succeeding at living a life of gratitude in honor of those we lost. Seriously, we were succeeding. Every night we would toast to the sky, to the stars, to our lost children, and to all the world. We celebrated life.
And then came the cancer diagnosis. My husband was dying of stage-four colon cancer. And it was my job to see him through it. A new normal. My normal became the chemo ward at the VA, medication supervision, cleaning bloody stools . . . it was a job I loved and hated at the same time. But it became my new normal until . . .
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2013. And with much hope (because very few people in my extended family had died of cancer) I took a BRCA test. The test came back positive. I have a gene that predisposes me to breast, ovarian, and colon cancer. I had a double mastectomy in April. Charlie died in August. I had a hysterectomy in December. All sad and difficult, but still not what this new normal is about.
On Labor Day weekend 2013, still reeling from the death of my husband, I fell ill. I thought I had the flu. I spent the weekend in bed, alone. I was alone. I was scared. I was in pain from my second breast surgery the week before. I thought it was the flu.
The sickness, mostly vomiting and diarrhea, continued. In the second week of September 2013, I started seeking medical help.
My search has included: traditional medical testing, acupuncture, psychological evaluation, more medical testing, drugs (taken and given up), spiritual healing, any fucking thing I could find. I was called “hysterical” by one doctor who could not explain my illness.
I have not given up. And I guess I’m writing this mostly as a confession to my family, friends, and meditation students. Because I am still sick. Horribly sick. I either spend the first few hours of my day vomiting or on the toilet with sever diarrhea. After which I am so exhausted it’s difficult to engage in life the way “normal” people do. Seriously, can you imagine having the flu for over a year? Can you imagine spending your first two hours of the day vomiting? Can you imagine diarrhea for five hours every morning?
So this is my new normal.
I have tried so hard to find answers (and will continue to). I’m still going through testing—I can’t tell you how much blood has been drawn from my veins in search of a diagnosis. I’ve given stool, urine, blood to the almighty medical system that returns results of “normal.
But I live in a new normal. I live in a normal of chronic abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
I know there are people out there—family, friends, students—who feel like I’m “letting them down” because I’m not “available” to them as I would like to be. But this is my new normal. A chronic illness that I cannot control and that has yet to be diagnosed. I promise I will keep searching, both physically and spiritually, to find a cure, to get better, to change my “normal.” But for now, this is where I am.
Sometimes I run to the toilet not knowing which end of my body to empty first. Vomiting and diarrhea. It’s insane. It’s my reality. It has been my reality for one year and 31 days.
I want to thank to the bottom of my heart those few people who understand how painful this new reality is for me.
And I want to beg humanity to understand that physical illness doesn’t mean we don’t care or don’t want to help. It means we can’t. Chronic physical illness is a prison. And I am trapped in it.
Yet, I am not discouraged or disappointed. This is my lesson. This is my new school. My new normal. And I will do what I can because of and despite it.
Love Love Love.

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I Cry

May 31, 2014

May 31, 2014

Today I cry. I cry for many things. I cry because 15 years ago I boarded a plane in Dallas that crashed and killed 11 people, injured many, and left lives broken (including my own). But I also cry because a woman was stoned to death by her own family. I cry because we fight with each other over which corporate-owned group of people will run this country. I cry because a young man shot people and then himself. I cry because of cancer. I cry because there are women and men dying each day in war, in famine, in pain. I cry because hard working men and women cannot afford to buy food. I cry because veterans are so easily sent to war and so badly treated when they come home injured. I cry because this world is broken. And I cry because I feel there is so very little I can do to change it.

But what I can do is this: I will not raise my voice in anger; I will not think badly about those who have hurt me—I will forgive. And I will beg my friends to do this one thing: be kind. It’s the only hope we’ve got.

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A Practice for Those in Pain

May 7, 2014

This is about a practice many of my colleagues who study meditation and Buddhist philosophy engage in called The Book. The Book is a way of checking in on your mortality and meditation progress by writing down, six times a day, a brief update on how well you are keeping your vows (such as not lying, not harming other people, not stealing, etc).

I was talking to a therapist the other day (oh, yes, I have numerous therapists who work collectively to keep me from jumping off proverbial cliffs as I try to navigate the dark forest of grief, illness, and general insanity).

What usually happens in these therapy appointments is I explain how horrible I feel; the therapists then asks me what I think will help; and I go on to teach Buddhist philosophy both to the therapist and to myself, reminding myself that I KNOW how to do this—I just need to remember and practice it.

On this particular day, I was teaching about the Book practice and how helpful it is to check in every two or three hours, in writing, about how well I am practicing mortality.

“Does this Book practice involve self care?” my wise therapist asked.

This question sparked a long discussion of the translation of Buddhist philosophy from east to west. What I tried to explain, and will attempt to do so again here, is that Buddhism doesn’t just need a translation of language but also of culture.

Let’s face it. Buddhism (and Christianity for that matter) was developed in deeply patriarchal societies by and for MEN.

So when the question about self-care came up in our discussion, I had to answer, “No. It does not. But it SHOULD!”

This then led to a homework assignment for myself (given by myself as is often the case) to re-imagine the Book practice to include, and even focus on, self-care.

Here are four Book vows relating to speech, for example:
Tell the truth
Speak only meaningful things
Use your words to help and not hurt others
Use words to support others and speak kindly of them

All of these relate to OTHERS. The only advice I was given as a student of Buddhist philosophy was “you’re a person to, so of course you’re included in ‘others.’”

But that’s not enough. That’s not a strong enough translation for a culture of people—women and men—who tend to think badly of themselves, idolize “others,” and suffer from low self-esteem. It’s simply NOT enough.

So I will take the liberty of writing a new set of vows for the Book practice that I will be using for the next few weeks (months, years—however long it takes), and if you are suffering from loss, sadness, illness, depression, PTSD, etc, regardless of whether you’ve practiced the Book before to try these out with me.

Here’s the old version, which focuses on “others:” (NOTE: these ARE important, powerful, life changing vows and should NOT be disregarded—but may be supplemented with the below version for those who are in deep pain).

Body
1. Don’t harm other living beings
2. Don’t steal
3. Respect relationships (no adultery)
Speech
4. Don’t lie
5. Don’t hurt others with your words
6. Don’t speaking meaningless words
7. Don’t speak badly about others
Mind
8. Don’t wish ill on others
9. Rejoice when good things happen to others
10. Develop wisdom and a deep understanding that you create your experience of your world.

Here’s my translated version for those of us in pain:

Body
1. Take care of yourself, by which I mean spoil yourself; eat, drink, even smoke if you need while in crisis, and do so without guilt. But keep in mind that your body is your temple, and you should try to nourish it with health (to the best of your ability, even if that means letting it rest on the couch with a glass a wine). Take a shower if you feel like, and don’t if you can’t muster the energy. Cancel that appointment if you are weak. It’s OKAY! If it feels right, do yoga. If it doesn’t, get a massage. Cuddle with your pet or your lover. Love body as you would love a friend. Give it what it wants and needs while you recover.
2. Don’t steal from yourself. Don’t NOT (oh here’s some double negatives for you) stay in bed, thus stealing the time from yourself that you need to heal. Don’t NOT answer the phone if you don’t feel like talking. GIVE YOURSELF WHAT YOU NEED. If you don’t, you’re stealing from the most important in your life. The one person who can help you; the one person who can help others when you’re stronger. Don’t steal anything from YOU including but not limited to pedicures, flowers, medications that you don’t THINK you should take but your doctors do.
3. Give and accept love freely, but don’t let ANYONE manipulate you in your time of grief. Don’t let anyone take advantage of your vulnerability, sexually or otherwise. Don’t accept the jealousy or anger of a friend whose partner wants to sit with you all night to keep a knife out of your hand. Love them, respect their relationships, but also allow them to love you—without feeling any sense of obligation or pressure. You need love, safety, and support. Accept it.
Speech
4. Don’t lie to yourself or anyone else. You are in pain. Admit it. To yourself and others. I deserve to grieve. I have suffered a great loss or I am in pain and it’s OKAY to be NOT okay. “I can’t go out at night—I’m afraid.” Don’t make excuses. You have enough truth. I’m scared; I’m lonely; I’m hurting; I don’t know if I can survive this. You should be able to tell your friends: I want to die WITHOUT being taken away in handcuffs, because sometimes grief is THAT heavy. Speak these truths only to those who you can really trust. I admire police and firefighters, but they do NOT belong in my bedroom when I’m crying—unless they are my dear friends. And if you are in serious danger of hurting yourself, tell someone who you can trust to help you.
5. Don’t hurt yourself with your words, verbal or mental. Do not tell yourself to “get over it,” nor listen to anyone who does. Don’t call yourself lazy or weak. You are surviving pain. Don’t add to that by insulting yourself. Don’t even THINK of calling yourself fat, unhealthy, or a loser. Every breath you take is a win for Team You.
6. Don’t spend time with bullshit. Lots of people will have lots of advice about how to heal. They may or may not know, but they are NOT you. Instead, watch endless episodes of your favorite TV shows that make you laugh or keep you interested. Talk if you want to; keep silent if you prefer. Spend as much time listening to your deceased love’s favorite song as you want. Sing “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground” over and over until you collapse in a sobbing mess of pain and let it wash over you.
7. Don’t tell others that you’re a loser. Don’t talk about your failures. Talk endlessly about how well you cared for a dying friend/spouse. Talk endlessly about what a kind person you are trying to be TO YOU. Inspire people with your ability to say good things about yourself.
Mind
8. Believe things will change for you and things will get better. Dream about a new life without pain for yourself.
9. Feel compassion for yourself and your pain. And pray your own heart will heal. As it does, you can help and inspire others—but heal first.
10. Remember that you are not in control of this pain (or yourself). You didn’t CAUSE this pain; you are experiencing it. And knowing that, you can see the pain as a horrible thing, or a beautiful lesson that will be the inspiration you need to become stronger, more lovely, more caring person. Don’t fight against the cocoon of your illness or pain. Let it transform you by surrendering to wonder of it all.

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Unique Path through Grief

April 10, 2014

In five days I will celebrate the amputation of my breasts in a double mastectomy.  I will probably send flowers to my surgeon, Dr. Michelle Ley, for saving my life from breast cancer and then spend the day crying.  I can’t image what else could be more appropriate.  Maybe I will also spend some time with Charlie, perhaps smearing some of his ashes (and ancient Indian tradition of remembering one’s own mortality) on my scars that will never heal.

Here’s what I won’t do.  I won’t “meditate.”  Not on a cushion with my eyes closed and ear plugs blocking out sounds.  I will not try to turn off the world in order to go “in” to meditation.

I spent seven years, some of those in India and Tibet, some in a dusty remote desert retreat—all of which were beautiful.  I have studied, practiced, and then taught the art of meditation.

It was always called a “practice.”

Some 30 of my friends this weekend emerged from a three-year, three-month, and three-day meditation retreat.  During which they not only “practiced,” but lived the dharma (Buddhist teaching).  I didn’t go.

Instead, I stayed “out” here.  I stayed to first practice and then LIVE the dharma.  And this is what I learned . . .

Life is suffering.  Life is painful, ugly, grotesque.  Life is cancer eating my beloved husband’s body to the point that he could neither walk nor feed himself.  Life is cleaning bloody feces from his body.  Life is drains plugged into my chest excreting bloody puss from surgical wounds.

I realize I may sound a little cynical—give me a few moments, and I’ll make up for it.

Most of those who read this know the story, so I won’t recap it again here (the earlier posts on this blog reveal my struggles).

And while I will not “practice” meditation today, tomorrow, or on April 15.  I will joyfully fall into the life those years of practice have given me.  It’s not what you might expect.  Because grieving is unique to each individual person who deals with their own unique and difficult pain.  It’s a part of life we know as being human.

Here’s what I have to offer you (and I thank Leanne for helping me realize this).  My meditation today will be this.  At noon, I will want to drink.  I will want to fill this whole in my heart that aches for the loss of Charlie.  I will want to quiet the voice that says, “you’re not good enough, Julia.” I will want to look at the beautiful roses in my garden and feel gratitude instead of anger because the hands that planted them will never again hold mine.  I will want to look at the statue of an angel in my garden and believe in angels, believe in goodness, believe in love.

And so my meditation will go something like this: taking a deep breath, understand that my mind creates my world, and think what will you do?  I will pour a drink.  I will cuddle with my dogs.  I will sit outside and pray that I can give more than I take, that I can love more than I hate, that I can learn more than I suffer.  And I will toast to Charlie, the Angels, my friends, my family, the people I love.

Most importantly I will give myself permission to grieve in my own unique way.  To find light and solace in whatever way my mind/body feels might work.

I honor those who have overcome addiction.  (Lighting a cigarette now).  I have done it too—and it felt great.  I honor those who confront the debilitating addiction to substance abuse (having a drink now).  I honor you, because I will learn from and with you.

But for now, despite whatever media, trends, judgments, etc. have to say.  My heart, my soul, my mind need to heal.  I need to heal so that I can be of more help to others.  Healing sometimes requires medicine, rest, retreat.

And today, I give myself permission—with full awareness (that I can only attribute to amazing practice of meditation) to rest—smoke, drink, read, retreat.  I give myself that gift of non-judgment, just as one of my friends newly out of retreat expressed to me today.

I will not pretend to be something I am not.  I am a meditator.  I am a human.  I eat.  I talk.  I drink.  I smoke. And I dare any of you to cast the first stone.

(Now I sound defensive—not intended).

But when you are stuck in a human body full of pain, sadness, and sorrow—what kind angel would begrudge you the small comforts of escape?

Note: I am not advocating addiction.  I have watched it destroy people I love.  But I am giving myself permission to spend this day, the next, perhaps the next five or more, to be.  Fully and completely who and what I am in this moment.  I will not hide.  I will not be shamed.  I will be.  And I am still alive.  I’ll always be alive.  (Highwaymen).

And I pray reverently that all of you who read this give yourself permission to be WHO YOU ARE in this moment.  Not judging yourself against the past, against another, or against what “should” be.  Just be.  And do so with love.  As I do.  Love.

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Goals

March 29, 2014

This is a short one. Thinking about the kind of person I want to be . . .

If I cannot find words that help instead of hurt, I choose not to speak.
If I cannot find phrases that inspire instead of offend, I choose not to write.
If I cannot act in ways that show love, I choose not to move.
If I cannot find thoughts of peace . . . I’ll play music.

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Flying

March 24, 2014

March 24, 2014

 

I can’t believe I haven’t posted here since last year. I am still recovering from surgeries and Charlie’s death.  Recently a friend sent me a link to this blog, and as I read it, I couldn’t help thinking, “I could have written this exact thing.”

 

http://zenpsychiatry.com/the-truth/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ZenPsychiatry+%28Zen+Psychiatry%29

 

“The truth is,” she writes, “I’m in pain.” And because of that she didn’t want to write.

 

I feel the same.  I want my writing to be inspirational, helpful. But sometimes—like all beings—I suffer.  And that suffering has been so intense that I lost my voice, my words.  It’s happened before.

 

After I survived the crash of American Airlines flight 1420, I literally lost the ability to find words.  I couldn’t speak or write at times, which led to my losing my job at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.  The words came back; my ability to speak and even write came back.  But when tragedy struck me again with such force (my husband’s cancer and death, and my own cancer), I lost it.  Again.

 

I have lost much.

 

But something happened this past weekend that has freed my voice.  Opened my heart. Changed my life. A small positive note in symphony of sadness.

 

I want to humbly offer it to those who care, who need, who try, who fail, who get up again after being beaten.

 

Here’s the story.

 

Charlie died in August.  I had my second breast surgery two weeks later, and I spent one week convalescing.  Then I booked a flight to Boise, Idaho to visit my girlfriend Bobby White, a dear friend of many years who had been fighting breast cancer for the past six years.

 

One week before the flight, I fell ill with what I thought was the flu.  I had to cancel the flight due to illness upon doctors’ orders.  I was sick sick sick.  I felt terrible not being able to visit Bobby, so we talked on the phone.  She was sick as well. She told me it was okay, and I could come when I recovered.

 

I laid in bed the entire month of September.

 

And November.

 

And December.

 

I went to see doctors; they ran tests—they could find no reason for my illness and still haven’t, though I still suffer from the symptoms.  I had another surgery in December that intensified my physical pain.  And I kept searching for answers.  Finally, a cancer internal specialist suggested my illness may be stress-related, and that I should just take it easy. So I quit doing most everything, and I tried to re-engage in my own meditation practice, play music, enjoy.

 

But the stress of loss, finances, and other life issues would not leave me.

 

Recently I decided to just live again and live with the illness instead of suffering from it.  I had quite a bit of help doing this from people that I love dearly.  One of those people (actually it was a conspiracy of two), managed to get a motorcycle back in to my garage.  A 2013 Harley Street Glide.  Pearl.

 

Riding was such a blessing, a freedom I didn’t think I’d ever feel again.  It gave me confidence, a sense of joy, and movement, such as I have not had since my double mastectomy in April of 2013.

 

Riding again connected me with old friends with whom I’d lost touch during Charlie’s illness.  One of those friends had become a pilot and owns his own plane. Here’s where the story gets interesting.

 

I rode with my buddies to breakfast one morning in a town south of Tucson called Sahuarita.  This friend, the pilot, was there.  It was only my second ride after having bought Pearl, and I was feeling strong, confident.  Like a person again rather than a ghost.  The waitress came to take orders.  I don’t eat very much anymore, it makes me sick, so I watched as plates of eggs, hash browns, and pancakes were passed around.  I had water.

 

Some of the people there I had not met before. And the conversations were going like this:

 

“I met Julia because of her plane crash . . .”

 

“It was that TV show about a plane crash that Julia was in . . .”

 

“I love to fly,” said the pilot.

 

FUCK  was all I could think.  Panic set in. My heart was racing; my mind had fallen into PTSD mode.  I could see the flames.  I smelled the jet fuel.  I felt the blood on my hands.

 

I sent a text message to David, who was sitting next to me.  It said: “Panic. Gotta go!  NOW!”

 

I heard his phone buzz but he politely ignored it as the conversation about flying continued.  So I said, “David, check you’re phone.” Quietly. Privately.  I was about to cry. Maybe I was already crying. My hands were shaking.

 

David stood up and announced that, “Julia has to get going.”  He walked me out of the restaurant and asked if I was okay.

 

“I’m okay, I just have to GO!”

 

David is a considerate friend.  “Do you want me to go with you?”

 

“No,” I said.  “Finish breakfast.  Have fun.  Explain that I have an appointment.  I’m okay. I’m going home.”

 

Then I rode.  Fast.  Tears streaming across my face.  One hundred miles.

 

I finally felt the panic subside and rolled home. It was okay.  All was well.

 

Later that week I got a text message from the pilot: “Was great to see you, Julia.  Any time you want to fly, let me know.  I’ll take you.”

 

I wrote him back asking if he could fly me to Boise to see Bobby.  I needed to see her at least once.  To thank her for our friendship, to thank her for teaching me how to put on makeup, to reminisce about truck-surfing and rodeos.  I needed to thank her for supporting me through Charlie’s illness.

 

Then Bobby died.  My heart shattered again.  My illness and fear of flying had kept me from visiting my beloved friend.  And now my chance to ever see her in this life again was gone.

 

  1.   Fear.  Sleepless nights.  Drinks. Anti-anxiety medications.

 

  1.   Two days ago.  “It’s a beautiful day. Do you want to go fly now?”

 

It was a kindness that I find difficult to describe. The kindness of a person who plans for days but doesn’t tell me because he knows my fear.  He waits until the morning he has free to surprise me with the request so that I don’t have time to lose sleep, worry, fear.

 

“Yes.”  I wrote back.  “Yes!” In the moment I felt so brave. I would ride to the airport; I would fly.  I’m a badass survivor! I will go up in that plane; I will touch the clouds.  And I will wave to Charlie and Bobby.

 

After agreeing on a time, I had to quickly get ready, pulling on boots and stowing my gear in the bike.  I rode to the hanger, saw the plane, and thought to myself.  No problem. I can do this.

 

My pilot, who will remain anonymous for now, is a dear friend who also survived serious trauma, illness, and PTSD. The camaraderie was palatable, welcomed, comforting.  He is also an expert pilot.

 

He walked me through the pre-flight check. He explained to me what would happen.

 

I was confident and hopeful.  I tried to leave my worries and fears behind. I climbed into the plane, a Piper Cherokee, belted myself in and put on a headset.

 

The pilot went through a safety check after taxiing to the runway.  He looked at me and asked, “Are you ready?”

 

“Yes,” I replied weakly and smiled that fake smile I give every time someone asks me if I’m okay.  I have perfected that smile.

 

We accelerated.  Lifted.  The plane bounced, and the panic struck.  I could not stop crying.  I think I screamed.

 

“Look at me,” the pilot said.  “Look at me!  I’m calm.  I got this.”

 

“Please,” I begged, “please take me down!”

 

And he did.  Radio communications were made, changes in plans. Within five minutes we were back on the ground.  I was shaking and crying.

 

“You did great, man!” The pilot said. “You did it.  You got up!  I’m proud of you.”

 

More crying.  More panic.  “No I didn’t.  I couldn’t take it,” I sobbed through the tears.

 

“No, man.  You did it!  Be happy. It’s okay.  You’re safe.  We’ll go get some fuel, take a break, and then you can let me know what you want to do,” He said.  “But seriously, as a survivor, I can tell you, you did great. I totally expected this. It’s no problem.”

 

He was talking over my sobbing as I apologized over and over.

 

We taxied to the gas station, and I got out of the plane.  I walked to the fence to smoke a cigarette away from the fuel and starting thinking, meditating.

 

Here’s my internal dialogue:

 

“It’s okay, Julia.  He said you did it.  You did it.  It’s okay.”

 

“No, it’s not!  I’m fucking scared.  I can’t do it!  I couldn’t get to Bobby, I couldn’t save Charlie, and I can’t fly. I’m a loser.”

 

“Okay, wait.  Let’s think about this.  Remember refuge?  Remember what your teachers taught you?  Let’s think about that.  Let’s think about fear and what it is and where it comes from. Let’s just be quiet and listen to our heart.”

 

And I did.

 

“Sir,” I said.  “I want to go up again.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes.  I’m sure.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“I can do this.  Let’s go.”  My legs and arms were shaking, but my mind was still.  “I can do this.”

 

My friends were waiting for my text that I was flying over their house soon.  I had cancelled.  We got back in the plane.  I grounded myself. I watched my breath. We taxied.  We took off.  The plane bounced.
“Look at me,” the pilot said.

 

And I did.  I saw a serene look of both joy and peace.  And I felt it.

 

The plane bounced.  I was shaking.  He circled the airport.  “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m okay,” I said.

 

“Alright.  We’re going to fly 20 minutes to Ryan field.  Are you good?”

 

“I’m good.”  I was shaking, but I watched his face and I felt my breath. I sought refuge in the truth that fear was not real.  And we landed at Ryan field.

 

After a break at that small airport and a long conversation about tragedies, we flew over my friends’ house.  The pilot tipped the plane, and I could see my friends on the ground waving.  I waved. I was filled with love. Then I looked to the sky, the clouds, and waved to Charlie and Bobby.  “I’m here!  I can fly with you!  I love you!” Then we flew over Tucson, my hometown, my beloved desert. The muscles in my neck and legs were beginning to ache from the shaking, so I tried to relax.

 

Next came a “touch and go” landing and Tucson International Airport.  The pilot nailed the landing—such a pro—and he gloated.  His arrogance made me laugh, like Charlie used to, and I was okay. The plane bumped, I tensed, I breathed, I relaxed.  And soon we were back on the ground in Marana.

 

This experience reminds me of “modern” literature works like Ulysses written by the great James Joyce.  Every moment was slow, intense, and the feelings microscopic.

 

As we taxied back to the hanger, the pilot said, “Man, that was unbelievable!  You totally changed.  You did it!”

 

“What chances did you give me of going up again when we were at the fuel station?”

 

“Seriously?” He asked.  “Zero.”

 

I had survived.  I had overcome “Zero.”  But part of my mind (and this is for all of us who still fear and panic) was ashamed of my pride.  People pay money to do this.  People would beg for the chance to fly with this man in this plane.  And I’m “proud” because I didn’t completely lose it? I felt a sense of shame mixed with my pride.

 

As I rode home, I could not stop both smiling and shaking.  I was greeted by welcoming friends, love, and support.  Shame and pride battled for ground in my mind.

 

That night I slept a peaceful sleep such as I have not experienced in nearly two years.

 

And then this happened.

 

I was waking up, having coffee when my phone pinged.

 

“Want to go again?”

 

WHAT?!  My calves were aching from all the shaking the previous day. My neck muscles were sore.

 

“YES!”

 

And again, I rode to the airport.  I helped with the preflight checks. I felt no fear. This man, this pilot—because he has survived trauma and because he is a kind soul—knew.  I had to go again. I had to solidify the truth of my ability to overcome fear.

 

We flew to Phoenix.  A level Bravo airspace.  He was a master.  I was not afraid.  I admit to a few moments of panic as we descended over South Mountain, and again as we diverted after take-off because of traffic in the air.  But I flew.  Regardless of the fear.  Forgetting the past.  I laughed. I smiled.  I was alive.  And I was flying.  I will be eternally grateful to the pilot.  To the plane.  To the sky for holding me.  And I will continue to heal.

 

And that’s the story.

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Audios from Meditation Class at Center 4 Stress Reduction

March 19, 2014

I am currently teaching a meditation class at the Center 4 Stress Reduction in Tucson.  Below are the audios, which will be updated each week.

Class 1: 

Class 2: 

Class 3: 

class 4: 

Class  5: 

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