morning meditations: almost better than coffee

I’m re-reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s You are here. Page 39 popped out at me this morning; he’s talking about the beauty of being still and fully present for the moment. And how freeing that is.

I like to make a practice of reading something positive in the morning to set my day off on the right tone. It helps to get me in a place of, hopefully, presence and stillness. The more I practice, the more it works. Like playing the piano, or doing yoga. Mentioning yoga, I’d better get on my yoga flow before work.

But after the coffee. Always, after the coffee and the books.

The Great John Lennon once said: whatever gets you through the day. So go forth and you do you this morning. Even if it means making your silver fingernails look artier in the pic (but hey–I was in the moment 😉

Namaste, darlings!

Maggie

Accepting what we cannot change

Sometimes we don’t have flowers. Sometimes we have weeds. But there is beauty even in that, in the work of weeding, hands in the earth, knowing that hard times are the fallow fields preparing us for tomorrow’s beautiful growth.

So we accept what we cannot change. This ALLOWS us the mental space and the time to work on what we actually can. The serenity prayer is simple, freeing, and actually pretty deep. When we make space in our heads by giving to God what we can’t change–accepting, surrendering to our Higher Power’s higher will–we have a lot more time and emotional energy to change the variables under our control. God’s got this–but we are her hands.

Namaste, darlings!

-Maggie

Recovery and Zombies

“The zombie apocalypse is a lot like rehab, kid. You just take it one day at a time and do the next indicated thing.” -Doc, Z Nation, S1:E2

I love zombies. Or rather, I love the ethical questions in The Walking Dead, the silly camp in Evil Dead, the ridiculously delightful mashup of horror genre cliches in Z Nation… but there’s more to it.

We can look at the Zombie Apocalypse as metaphor: surrender to the reality of the situation and then fight like hell to change what you can. And let The god of your understanding take care of the rest.

And if you’re interested in a great read on zombies from one truly badass scholar, check out Kelly Baker’s Zombie book! It rocks. I endorse.

And as always, keep it in the day, and let tomorrow handle itself.

Namaste, darlings!

Maggie

i am the jewel in the lotus, or, the alchemy pain to joy

Pain, transmuted–eventually–to joy.

Sometimes it’s internal emotional combustion. Today, it’s tangible.

I’m making art out of old get well cards.

The reminders of pain, love, struggle, become something like this:

Then, after a lot of work, the magic happens.

This is one of my paper pieces, hand-inscribed with a Sanskrit mantra in brush and ink. Om mani padme hum: I am the jewel in the lotus.

The lotus grows from the mud, just like we do in recovery. And the jewel is your heart, full of love, after time, after letting go, opening up, and revealing the beauty of god inside you.

Namaste, darlings!

Maggie

A Handbook for Processing Cultural and Personal Trauma

Many people are emotionally reeling right now. In addition to the turmoil in the world, we all have our own stuff. My great-uncle passed away this weekend, and I loved him dearly. He was a hero of the Korean War, beloved by all, full of laughter and light and stories—and love. All he had seen, all he had experienced, made him more loving, more empathetic, and more compassionate. He cared deeply for all life. With my emotional red alert raised already by the refugee crisis, my uncle’s death was harder to process. This is normal; we’ve all got our “stuff.” And in times like these, what might have felt like ordinary obstacles can become full-on roadblocks, and traumas seemingly insurmountable.

Seeing refugee children torn from their parents’ arms and placed in cages and tent cities is terrifying. Perhaps it is even more frightening seeing people we know (or thought we knew) supporting this horrific violation of human rights.

When I taught the Holocaust, my students would ask me, “How could this happen?” There is no simple answer. Indifference, fear, hatred, and bigotry are the big ones. But the choice to be a bystander is in itself a choice. Do you look, and face the darkness, or do you turn away, barbecue something on the grill, change the tv channel? Do you believe the propaganda, because it’s easier than facing the darkness and then having to make the choice about actually doing something about it? Or do you find a way to stay kind, to stay aware, to stay good, and somehow remain sane despite all the madness around you?

These are hard questions. And I’ve thought about them for seventeen years. As a scholar of war and human rights, watching or reading the news is never simple.

Anxiety is running rampant in these dark times.

But there are some strategies I learned in my years studying the Holocaust, slavery, and genocide, that help me to stay sane.

The first is the most important. It’s about perspective. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu heard hundreds of hours of accounts of the worst violence, torture, and cruelty—what Victor Frankl described after the Holocaust as “man’s inhumanity to man.”

Oprah (yes, Oprah, legit!) asked Tutu years ago how he handled it. Tutu said that most people are like vacuum cleaners; they suck all of horrible things they see inside of them and it just stays there. Tutu said that we have to be dishwashers: to witness, to help others be seen, to process their stories, and to clean them.

It’s hard to be a dishwasher. Reading concentration camp memoirs and stories from the Warsaw Ghetto and U.S. State Department documents turning refugees away, such as the story of the SS. St. Louis, in which refugees from the Holocaust were literally on the coast of the USA, yards away from safety, but were turned away. They died.

I fell into a deep depression the first time I was studying these things, and understandably so. But I had to learn that the act of witnessing, of listening, of not turning away, is itself a good deed. It’s the right thing to do. When we don’t turn away, we can educate others.

When we don’t turn away, we have to process the grief and the horror and the compassion fatigue. It’s hard, but it can be done.

MEMOIRS

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Reading memoirs of trauma and violence can be overwhelming. But they can also be sources of hope—many authors stand out in this category, transmuting their experiences into stories that can uplift us after they make us cry. Organized by going backward in time, here are a few to get you started:

  • Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom (Mandela’s memoir of Apartheid)
  • Ruth Minsky Sender’s The Cage (on surviving the Warsaw Ghetto in the Holocaust)
  • Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography (American slavery and freedom from the perspective of escaped slave—and greatest orator of the nineteenth century—Douglass)

HISTORY

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And reading books that explain how ordinary people either let terrible things happen—or how they chose to fight them—is also helpful. Alphabetically, these are excellent:

SELF-CARE

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It’s also important to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself!

  • Go outside and look at nature, whether that means visiting the flowers in a park a few blocks away, or out your backdoor at the Chesapeake Bay, just DO it! Here’s more on “Why Connecting with Nature Elevates Your Mental Health.”
  • Read a favorite book, one you already know and love. (Check out my Goodreads here!)
  • Watch an old comedy that always makes you laugh. Lifehack has a great list of 10 Movies You Should Watch to Boost Your Mood and Energy. An IMDB user made a comedy list of movies that cheer you up.
  • And seriously, laugh! No, really. Even fake laughter releases endorphins that are very real for your body. If you can’t make yourself laugh, take a gander at “laughter yoga.Call a friend you haven’t spoken with in a long time.
  • Call the people you love and tell them how much you love them.
  • Send snail mail along the same lines.
  • Look at beautiful pictures—faerie eyries, mountains, the beach, puppies–to destress. There are ACTUAL STUDIES on this.
  • Make yourself a special mocktail (here’s my mocktail recipe board).
  • Order your favorite meal.
  • Take a hot bath. Use candles. Add bath salts. Music helps too. Go wild. Add a boat like Chandler Bing from Friends if you need to make it feel more manly. (Actually, here’s a whole fun thread about Friends!)
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  • Listen to slow, soft music that slows down your brain. Here’s Peaceful Piano on Spotify!
  • Take deeeeeeep breaths. In to the count of three, out for the count of five. This gets your body out of fight or flight mode, and lets it normalize itself. Let the Berkeley scientists teach you mindful breathing here.
  • Play: pick up an instrument, lift weights, play video games with your kids or friends, toss a ball for your dog, annoy your cat by removing them from whatever box they are currently sitting in and cuddle.
  • Exercise—just 20 minutes of cardio releases seratonin in a big way. The Runner’s High is REAL, folks.
  • Get in touch with the Higher Power of your understanding and ask for help.
  • Work on mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh is my favorite writer on this topic, and this is my favorite book of his. He even has a great quote on the magic of washing the dishes:

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity,for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

OTHER RESOURCES

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And please remember: it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out. Ask your loved ones for a little extra TLC or a hug. Talk to a trauma therapist. Send up a flare. Let someone see you, really see you—so they can know.

We are all in this together. Keep fighting the good fight and take care of yourselves. And love each other. Love each other fiercely, because life is short. But hang in there, because together, we dishwashers can help heal ourselves, hold each other up, and continue the great work of doing good wherever we can, however we are able

And as always, Namaste, Darlings

—Maggie

we fight

Sometimes we float soft on the pink cloud of the joy of recovery. Other times, it’s a battle. We fight. We win–one moment, one breath, one day at a time.

Music is one of my favorite forms of self-care. Listen, soothe, heal, repeat. So, here’s a little musical inspiration for your journey–the latest from one of my old favorites, Dashboard Confessional.

We Fight

feet on the earth

The sea. The mountains. The grass in the park. There is something primal about having our feet on the earth, barefoot.

In yoga, we focus a lot on grounding. Grounding into ourselves, the earth, the ultimate source. Our higher power.

Whenever I’m stressed, I have to stop. Take a breather. Take care of myself. And ground. Let go of what is hurting, binding, release it down. Dig my toes in–never mind the imperfection of the messy pedicure and flip-flop toe stub from the subway–and pull deep from the source. Feel the life in the ground beneath us, the promise in the earth itself.

Wherever you are today, I hope there’s a nice patch of land you can sink your toes in.

I wish you: Peace. Serenity. Joy.

Namaste, darlings!

-Maggie

we can only change ourselves

“In spite of our desires, changing others will never be an option, whereas changing ourselves takes only a decision and is a choice always available.” ― Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women Hazelden) 

We can only change ourselves! This is good news, though, because it frees us from the overwhelming burden of having to fix ALL THE THINGS for EVERYONE–as if we actually could…

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I love my 90s kid cultural references (and if you haven’t seen Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, you should, because it’s my favorite adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, like, ever).

But on a serious note, part of recovery is recognizing that the only part of our mental health equation we can control is ourselves. Our reactions, our choices, our outlook. We got this. God’s got this. And daily meditations like the one from THIS FABULOUS BOOK (quoted at the top of the post) help immensely.

May you find joy, and grace, and life today.

Namaste, Darlings!

-Maggie

Bipartisanship as Anxiety Cure, or, My Thoughts on SCOTUS

Anxiety is on the rise, in people with and without a diagnosis. Our political climate affects us all—especially those of us in recovery, so that’s why I’m talking about it here. In the spirit of full disclosure, my first alliance is always to human rights, and I’m pretty much a good liberal. But it’s not important to me whether my friends are liberal or conservative—the world needs both.

A lot of folks on both sides of the aisle are in a tizzy over the Supreme Court pick. I’d rather have Kennedy still in his seat, and Kavanaugh isn’t making my best staunch conservative lawyer friend very happy, either. But this is not, as many pundits assert, the end of the world as we know it.”

No, really! Please hear me out. Bear with me.

A fine American tradition is our two-party system with bipartisanship at the center. That’s still actually working in the judicial branch. The late Antonin Scalia, representing all evil to good liberals, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG to fangirls like me) representing all evil to conservatives, were actually—wait for it—friends.

Ginsberg, who sees the U.S. Constitution as a living document,  with amendments improving it as society evolves (eg. the Reconstruction Amendments ensuring equal protection and due process—and freedom itself for African Americans!) was friends with the most Conservative guy on the bench.

The late Scalia was the brains behind the “Originalist” interpretation of the U.S. Constitution (which basically says it should be interpreted in the light of what my con-law prof called “the 1776 bunch” would have wanted—as IF they could have magically anticipated a world with nuclear weapons and internet pundits!!!). He was friends with Ginsberg. There’s also the important idea that we need to consider the abolitionist authors of the Reconstruction Amendments as founders, too. But there’s a middle ground, where both interpretations meet.

Donald Trump is not a proper conservative like Scalia. Trump’s a reality TV star who flaunts the constitution, and I think Scalia would be pissed if he were alive. Trump is a racist casino owner. He calls immigrants parasites and cockroaches. He mocked a disabled person on tv. He’s vile.

But that’s not what the SCOTUS nomination is about. Trump didn’t prepare the list; a group of conservative jurists called The Federalist Society did. They’re qualified attorneys with degrees, experience, and proper scholarship. I don’t agree with them in general; I’m team Ginsberg, and they’re team Scalia. But both teams share a commitment to the fairness of the judiciary branch. 

There is hope for all of us. And in these troubled times, when anxiety grips us like an anaconda’s death embrace, I’m saying this is one less thing we need to freak out about. It’s going to be okay.

But there are other things out there—like the ongoing refugee crisis—that we need to fix. Vote. Organize. Pray. Work. But also, talk to people on the other side of the aisle. Be like Ginsberg and Scalia. We can all work together for the good of our country. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, can work together. We can be bipartisan. 

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, I believe Roberts will be a swing vote, and not much will change in the Supreme Court.

Ginsberg and Scalia didn’t vote together, but they respected each other, and were able to work together, and even play together. Here is a picture of the two of them riding elephants together:

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In other words, the Zombie Apocalypse may come yet, but Kavanaugh isn’t it.