Contemplation and Dedication

December 30, 2013 at 2:18 am (Chronic Pain, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health, Spiritual, The Panniculectomy, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Today will be a year and a day since my ordeal. It has been a very difficult, draining, painful year. I have suffered so many different kinds of loss that I don’t know if I can cleanly separate one from another. They have come at me from every direction, from places I would have never suspected, and in ways that only made any sort of sense in retrospect. I spent a lot of time mourning. This should have surprised me a lot less than it did, having struck a complex and winding deal with Death herself, but I’m still a Fool who bumbles forward ignoring all the big “Dead End” signs along the way.

And then, a few days ago, a very small light was lit. I spoke to Hel directly, and the best way to describe what happened would be that I got my “annual review”. We spoke about times when I truly contemplated in the way She had asked, and times when I did everything I could to avoid said contemplation. She showed me in that transpersonal yet compassionate way how each distraction from my Purpose had been removed. It sometimes felt like a student of meditation getting wacked on the knuckles every time they were obviously not focusing. But I learn the best lessons through pain, both emotional and physical, so it’s not like She was speaking a foreign language.

After we went through the Year of Contemplation, I asked if my failures and misdeeds meant that I had to Contemplate for another year again. “Oh no”, She replies with a slightly amused grin, “It’s not like when a new lesson begins, the old ones end. It just means you are building upon the foundation, and contemplation was the first layer.” Oh yippie skippy.

The next theme came to me slowly. I saw some opportunities start to swirl and manifest around me, and having learned some of my lesson, I wondered if this was a test to see if I would give in to another diversion. As quickly as I could, I went back to Her and asked for clarification. I’ve made enough terrible mistakes already; I was willing to risk being told to figure it out on my own if it meant She might share more insight.

That’s when 2014’s theme was given to me, much in the same way that 2013 was the Year of Contemplation. This year is to be the Year of Dedication. I will still spend much time, likely even more than last year, in spiritual contemplation, but I will also be taking on the responsibilities of sorting out what people/places/things fall within my calling, and which ones only serve as distractions or hidey-holes where I can run away from the difficulties of my station. Some of the plans I have for 2014 have already shown how they are part of my Dedication, and other plans have already been deemed unfit.

I am still sorting out one aspect of Dedication, and I think my confusion is because I really want Her to give me a straight answer, and She wants me to find the right answer on my own. When I first was in preparation for the ordeal, I knew that She wanted some form of oath or promise that would bind me to Her. I had first toyed with the idea of becoming Her consort or spouse, and honestly the reason I didn’t explore that further was because I listened to someone I shouldn’t have who had big stakes in the outcome of that decision. But now I am unfettered (for the most part) and the question lays on the table again. For now, I am offering her my celibacy, which is going to be a very big challenge for me. For I am not only forgoing sexual contact as part of this experiment, but I am also consciously not looking or even really fantasizing about finding a new lover. (Right now, I have a mostly non-sexual relationship with Rave, and a few romantic relationships that are not only long distance, but that I rarely ever see; so the temptation has been present to try to find a new dating situation of some sort.) What I understand as the long term goal of this experiment has less to do with establishing a sexual or romantic relationship with Hel, and more about accepting the reality of my life at 40 years old.

I have tried, more than a few times, to establish a “family”. In some cases, I married or created a partnership with a person whom I felt was able and willing to establish a family unit with, only to have the relationships fall apart and with that, a complete cut-off from their life. Other than that, I have tried starting covens, communal families of choice, and other group dynamics that focused on a long-term familial devotion to one another, but most of them (really, save one) have all eventually given in to entropy. I know this yearning for family is partially due to the instability of my childhood; and that has become even more of an issue with my mother’s passing early in December. I have never met my father’s extended family, and my maternal one has become estranged from me over time. The feeling is even stronger and sadder now that both of my parents are dead; even my brother voiced his concern to me that without my mother, we may all lose touch with each other.

I also have always wanted children. I had the opportunity once when I was much younger, but I opted out thinking that I would someday reach a more stable relationship in which to bring offspring. I have tried, both in the unofficial “hey, let’s just stop using protection” path, as well as with a more formal “let’s track my ovulation and basal body temperature and have sex when things look ripe for it”, and other than a few miscarriages it just never happened. Now I am having unmistakable signs of perimenopause, and I don’t have a fertile partner of the right biological sex in order to give it one last try. And even if I did, my life is just not conducive to the responsibilities inherent in having a child, which is why adoption is not an alternative. My best hopes is to try to remain an active part of my godson’s lives, and accept my childless lot.

It’s a lot to give up. When other people were dreaming of stellar careers and fancy trips, I’ve always had a far simpler vision of what I thought my life would be like. I just wanted a stable family life wherein all of the people involved had made a lifelong commitment to love and respect each other, and work collaboratively in raising some kick-ass children. I never really cared about what I would be doing or how much money we had, just that there were both adults and children in my life and that we had a loving, fun-filled home.

Then again, when I surrendered, first to Loki and later to Hel, I never asked for the family package. In fact, I consider myself lucky that I have been able to have the relationships I have experienced in the last fifteen years, and I have fond memories of all of them, even the ones that ended on bad terms. I know plenty of spirit workers who have been denied the opportunity to have mortal lovers at all, so I know they were a blessing. And there’s nothing written in stone that I won’t be able to have them in the future (yet); it’s just that I need to take this time to dedicate myself to the reality I am in, have been given, and to stop pining and/or trying to create a reality that is not mine to have. So the celibacy is less about not having sex (I am still allowed to masturbate, thank you Hel), and more about letting those dreams slowly rot on Her altar. If I were to take time to find and pursue a new lover, it would very much distract me from that process, and rekindle my hope.

And She has said that this is not forever, and that any changes to that I will have some say in. If Mx. Perfect-for-Del shows up, then part of that perfectness will have to be the understanding that sex is not on the table right away – not that it was with lovers in my past, either – and that my calling as Her shaman-and-sometimes-consort takes a huge precedence over any mortal, any day. It means that the tasks and responsibilities I take on this year as I begin to hone-in on what I am dedicating myself to are very much more important in terms of time, energy, focus, and availability. I will have to be very clear and unrelenting in my communication about what I am able to share with a lover, and if they can’t accept that, it’s better we know that up front, than spend a long time both hoping that things will somehow change.

I know that this year of dedication will be a lot of work. Not only personal work in the same way contemplation was, but also actual “must be awake, alert, and able to engage” types of work. My pain has been bad enough for the last two months that my doctor is very concerned, and I am also showing some early signs that I may have a new abscess. But part of what She wants from me is to find the balance between making time to do the things that allow me to be as functional as possible – like going to doctor’s appointments, seeking out therapies, eating well and getting what exercise I can tolerate, etc – but at the same time, not falling into another dark hole of counterproductive nothingness just because I feel shitty. I don’t know where that balance is quite yet, but I will sure be trying to find it.

I have so many other things to write about – obviously, my mother’s death being one of them – and honesty, I’ve started six or seven different entries and I eventually realize that I’m just not ready to share so openly yet. Another sad consequence of 2013 is that I had to learn to be much more circumspect about what I share online, as I have found more than once, someone using my words, my experiences, my life, etc as a way to attack, belittle, hurt, shame, or punish me. Some of the entries that I have deleted were purely emotional responses to such things, and I know that sort of pettiness does nothing but make me look like a jerk – I know this, because the people who did these things sure looked like jerks when they did it first. Instead, I am taking some time to note important thoughts, feelings, and insights, and when I am able to write from a less tumultuous perspective, I will get back into the swing of things.

But for now…

Hail Hel, Lady of Mercy and Patience.

Hail Hel, Who is as Warm as She is Cold.

Hail Hel, Who Loves Silly Fools Who Take Too Long To Learn.

Hail Hel, Giver of Life and Death in Equal Measure.

Hail Hel, Entropic Transformation.

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He’ll Look Around the Room; He Won’t Tell You His Plan

January 1, 2013 at 1:59 am (Hospitalizations, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, Spiritual, The Journey Towards Diagnosis, The Panniculectomy) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Maybe it’s all the opiates, but I keep wanting to say something profound about how this year was full of upheavals for me and sound all poetic and mystical and intelligent. But really, I think it would just be rehashing stuff I’ve already said and done, and after surviving my ordeal I have very little desire to look backwards anymore – at least for now. I am choosing to look towards potentiality, towards the empty status update box, the (mostly) empty Google calendar, the blinking cursor at the beginning of the open Word document, and taking a nice deep breath.

A lot of my recent Underworld journey* put my feet on a very specific path, and the first step, 2013, is about being a year of contemplation – and really, things have all fell in line to make that very easy. I’m moving into a house where I will need much less help taking care of myself; both in that it is all on one floor and therefore I can make my own food, do my own laundry, and the like, but also because I will be living with my full time slave who receives such joy in her service. (And boy howdy does it make a difference when someone who you rely on for assistance does these things with an open and happy heart, rather than a resentful and lazy one.) I have much less teaching commitments, and I’m not really planning on chasing down more. (My plan is to submit to events I’ve never taught at before, just to see what’s out there, and possibly choose to ::gasp:: attend a few new things, too.) I have enough money to pay my bills and just a little extra to have a nice day now and again. I have the ability to focus on doing a little more work from home when I need more scratch, and a little less when I don’t.

Except for the all the follow up doctor’s appointments and the regular medical merry-go-round, I really don’t have a lot of reasons I have to leave the house. I mean, I love my friends and will want to see them from time to time, but there’s something to be said for the fact that we looked really hard to find something in the much more accessible city of Frederick, only to end up in the much more out-of-the-way city of Hagerstown. A casual trip to Baltimore or DC would be much more of a drive now than it was before, and we really only have a handful of friends who live less than 30 minutes away from H’town. On top of that, we found a tiny little complex that’s mostly meant for senior citizens (who were cool with us moving in when they found out I was disabled), so I expect our neighborhood to be quiet and respectful as well.

After the crazypants monkeyhorseplay that was 2012, the idea of spending a year in sacred contemplation sounds absolutely, well, divine to me. I know it scares some of my closer friends and lovers, because I do have a tendency to cocoon away from the world and not notice how long I’ve been gone until someone comes in and pulls me back out again. But I will have to find a balance, because I need this time of quiet, stress-free thinking and feeling if I am going to truly figure out what happened to me on Dec 28th.

I know many people are waiting with somewhat baited breath to hear about what happened to me and why it was decided that I was to return to the land of the living, but unfortunately it’s going to take me some time to piece it all together. Instead of something like having a dream, or even a living/waking experience, it was more like I came to in ICU with a head full of foggy memories that weren’t there before, even though I didn’t have the physical connection to those memories. I am fumbling at words here, and most of the examples or metaphors I would use might only serve to confuse the matter. For those of you who have had ecstatic trance experiences, or dissociative episodes, or perhaps even possessory experiences when you were the seat/horse, it kinda felt like that – like you’ve come back to your body, and you know it’s seen and done things that your consciousness wasn’t present for, but every so often something triggers a memory, a foreign thought, that feeling of being right on the tip of your tongue but not quite there.

Luckily, Rave was at my bedside and ready to jot down notes of the things I remembered in the immediate hereafter, when I was still in ICU and hadn’t yet fully realized what my brush with death was. I just had all these memories that both did and did not feel like they belonged to me. Like I said earlier, I’m grasping at words and failing quite a bit.

Over the next few days, I did some talking to various mystical types who were able to just listen to what I had to say and give their insight when they had any. I know when I get to the new place and set up my altar, some of the images will coalesce. When I get time to journal freely, and to get back into a meditative practice, and do all the shaman/spirit worker type things I have been putting off for a while now, it will all come into view.

So for now, I leave you with two thoughts based on my Journey:

1. Everything you do is a choice. You may feel like you have no say, like it’s the proper thing to do, that it is required of you, but in the end, the only things you have to do is “stay black and die!” (-Joe Clark, Lean on Me) That is, everything that is outside of your autonomic system is a choice. Spend a day being conscious of all your choices, every one. Do you always drink coffee that way, only because it was the way your mom drank coffee and so that made sense to you? Do you have to be someone’s girlfriend just because you slept with them last night? Do you know why you chose not to shower today, why you put your hair up, why you were mean to your coworker? Think about it, and become painfully aware of every single choice you make, and wonder what would happen if you fell out of step, made a different choice, went in a completely different direction?

2. Every time I go into surgery, I get a song stuck in my head. I have no idea why this was the song of my panniculectomy, but it was also heavily used as the background music for my Ordeal. It is “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People. It is about school shootings, so that you’re trigger warning.

I like this second version a little better; and yes, I first heard this song on The Voice. Sue me.

 

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Pushing the Limits

May 9, 2012 at 10:35 am (Chronic Pain, Disability, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I am, at heart, a pusher of limits. If you tell me I (or you) can’t do something, I am literally obsessed with finding a way to make it possible. This may sound like a mostly positive thing, but as one may expect there are times when pushing a limit means falling off the cliff hidden behind it.

I did an image search for “pusher of limits” and this was one of the first images in the results. I’m not sure my Pusher of Limits looks like Grover, but I just couldn’t resist.

Things have been a little challenging for me lately, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t updated the blog since April 18th. I’m very sorry about that; I am trying very hard to make at least one post a week, but as the warmer weather defrosts my schedule, my responsibilities as a traveling educator start to eat up what little post-surgical spoons I may have had lying around. Not only was I teaching classes at the event, I facilitated a very intense ordeal. So intense, in fact, that several of those close to me pulled me aside beforehand and very seriously asked me if I was physically up for the demands of what I knew (and didn’t know) would be expected of my corpus habitus.

Pusher-of-Limits said, “I can do this. I will make it work.” Saner-Voice took steps to try to reduce the impact on my body.

Now that the event is over, and the season of events has begun in earnest, I’m seriously taking stock of where my health and my desires intersect. Pusher-of-Limits keeps telling me that nothing has to change, that I can continue to travel and go to camping events forever. Saner-Voice and Corpus Habitus disagree.

I turned to Ninja the first night I was at Ramblewood (a campground that hosts several alt sex/spirituality events during the summer) and said, “I shouldn’t be here. I can’t hack this. I need to rethink some stuff.”

I won’t lie. Even with having a personal golf cart, and two service people plus my spouse and friends who don’t mind lending a hand, it was fucking hard. I was frequently in pain, even if I didn’t show it. My incision, which is still healing (but doing nicely) hurt like a mo’fo most of the time. I didn’t get to do or see as much as I would have liked, spending heaps of time in bed with my Nook banking spoons for my obligations. I did get to have a little fun, but it was short and sweet and sporadic.

Wanna know a secret? I am scared to death that I can’t do this anymore. I was scared every moment that I was there that something would go wrong, that I’d be rushed to the emergency room in a strange place and have to find a way to explain why I was at a campground three weeks after surgery. I am terrified that the level of ability I have now is dwindling, and each event I attend I have a moment of “This may be the last time I can do this event.”

Doing these events for me is “being with the people”. I spend so, so much time in isolation, sometimes only seeing my spouse and my slave for weeks at a time. Other than doctor’s appointments, I rarely go out just for fun, and three times out of four I have to cancel because I feel like crap. The artifice of “obligation” that comes with being a presenter for events helps motivate me when really, if it were just another social outlet, I’d likely cancel. Even while at the event, there are times that twenty minutes before class time, I’m in my bed desperately summoning spoons so I can just get through the next ninety.

So it was with great trepidation that I saw Dr. WLS yesterday. I knew my drain had been very active while I was away, and my scar was aching at a pretty intense level. I honestly don’t know if he’s just so focused on ending our relationship that he wasn’t concerned, or if I’m really doing better than I think, but he “advanced” my drain (moved the tubing out about three inches) which is a step towards having it removed. He looked at my scar and said it was healing very well and didn’t look infected at all.

Today, the limit pushing is a different one. Now that I’ve realized Dying for A Diagnosis, and have a general feel for the difference between blogging and journalling, I’m seriously thinking about starting a second project, where I can talk about spirit work/shamanism and ordeal/kink, which only sometimes is appropriate for what this blog is for. I need to figure out if I have enough writing spoons to take on this new blog without neglecting this one. Baphomet is skeptical; if it were up to Hir, this would be my focus and I’d write in here every day, pumping out as much content on chronic illness and spirituality as I possibly can before I die.

I am aware, as I ponder this, that DfaD is more than a blog. It’s a devotional act, a very important vehicle of communication for those who feel vested in my health, and a meaningful tome for those who suffer from chronic illness and need to hear our stories told in honesty and truth. I need to evaluate my reasons for wanting this other blog, and what commitments I can make to it while still striving to post here at least once a week as health provides. There are a plethora of blogs about shamanism and ordeal/kink, but not as many about the spiritual experience of dying.

Can I push my limits a little further? Or is it time for Saner Voice to rule?

I made a promise, and sealed it with death. I will live up to my promise first and foremost, and will not shake the responsibility You have put on my shoulders and in my heart. Hail Baphomet! Rex Mundi!

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Internal and External Pain

October 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm (Chronic Pain, Spiritual) (, , )

As someone active in the New Age/Neopagan religious communities, I am exposed to a lot of theories on the nature of pain and suffering, and what the “right” course of action is about it. Everyone has an opinion, and a lot of it is deeply based on the person’s own experience with their bodies and their understanding of the bodies of their loved ones. As an ordeal master, I know that there are several approaches to the spiritual experience of suffering and pain (or intense sensations), and different ones lead to different outcomes. When I try to cross-apply this knowledge, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I find that we have different opinions when it comes to the source of the pain. External pain, that which comes from an outside source and is usually on-purpose, like scourging or hook suspension, is seen as something to be experienced in the body. We revel in the neurological responses to pain; we “ride the hormones”, and allow those sensations to induce altered states of consciousness. We focus on the experience, and allow it to reside in our bodies, even if it is unpleasant or traumatic. Those that engage in these sorts of practices claim that the body is the gateway to the spirit, and by applying these sensations we simultaneously experience what human embodiment is all about as well as the feeling of the soul being a separate entity to the body.

However, when the source of the pain is internal, that which comes from injury or illness, is seen as something to be transcended. We use healing modalities that “push” the pain out of the system and replace it with light and ease. We encourage people who suffer to meditate and breathe, to allow their mental focus to leave the body and allow them to escape some sort of “bodily prison”. We rarely, but sometimes, talk about directly addressing the source of the pain and trying to heal the illness, but I don’t know any faith healer that is claiming to cure fibromyalgia or cancer or splondyosis or anything like that. They focus on the experience of suffering and pain, and try to remove that from the equation.

Having been through both experiences, I have applied what I have learned about pain management and embodiment to my chronic illness. I have used the same breathing techniques I have taught to ordeal dancers in order to endure greater amounts of body pain than they thought possible, when I am faced with the onset of acute, immediate pain that I cannot address any other way. On the other hand, when enduring ordeal, sometimes I focus on transcending the pain, particularly when I am walking “both roads”, and am responsible for the ritual in some way no matter how much suffering the ordeal is causing me.

I wonder, however, if this leads my faith about the body and suffering to a strange crossroads. I want to believe that the body is holy, and that our experience of being embodied is important as our role of enduring the human existence. I do believe that the body creates better and more useful pathways to the divine than most other means, including drugs. You can put your body through a variety of experiences in your search for the divine – you can deprive it, you can overload it, you can slow it, you can overtax it.  All of these may lead to some better understanding of the divine and your place within the Universe.

I also believe that suffering can lead to a feeling of decreased quality of life, and can limit what one can do with the body. Most of us have a natural aversion to internal pain, (even when we say we enjoy pain – I always ask masochists if they are *really* into pain if it’s okay if I break their leg)  and look desperately for ways to make the suffering stop, or at least give us a sense of ease for an amount of time.

What I’ve been stuck with is the dichotomy of this. If I am truly a body worker in my role as Ordeal Master, and believe that pain is meant to be experienced in the body as a way to understand the Divine, why do I differentiate internal and external pain? Why is hanging from hooks a holy endeavor, but having severe nerve pain something to get rid of or treat This is why (arguably “real”) tattoo artists don’t use lidocaine (a topical anesthetic) when tattooing someone – they’ve learned that the experience of the pain is part of the package, and a painless tattoo just isn’t the same. But boy howdy, if I am experiencing terrible menstrual cramps, I am the first one to reach for the ibuprofen.

I guess because there are times now, in my experience, where I am tired of listening to whatever message or lesson my pain is trying to teach me. I am a bad student. Part of me thinks that if I really documented how my pain plays in my body, I might receive an important key that unlocks my diagnosis. But because I’m a normal human being, I spend more of my time trying desperately to dull the pain, to transcend it, to create a life experience that feels less painful. Maybe I can endure external pain in my body because I know it has a beginning, middle, and end. In that vein, I know for certain that my internal pain has an end; it’s just not a thought most people find pleasant (death).

I know another shaman and we frequently talk about how much we hate the fact that we have to live in bodies. Since both of us are well-schooled in what the kids call “astral travel”, or having life experiences outside of our bodies, it can feel like an option to just take off, leave the disabled and pain-ridden body behind and just experience life in this liminal state. However, we’ve both been told by our Deities that this is not an option. We have to live a human experience, so that we can relate to the people we work with. Also, if we were meant to be spirits, not humans, They wouldn’t have gone through the process of giving us bodies to begin with.

So in a way, I’m glad I have options. When I experience pain, I can examine it and decide if it is better treated as external pain – and then go about allowing my body to process the pain, and feel it sit and ache in my muscles/bones/nerves; or as internal pain – and medicate and meditate and treat it so I can feel some relief. I think where I reside right now is somewhere in the middle, even if none of my current pain is external pain. (I can’t bottom anymore, really, because my body has used up its store of endorphins and other fun hormones dealing with my internal pain.)

On the other hand, I feel like I am sending pain mixed signals about what I believe about its nature. Is it a thing to be nurtured and felt, to be experienced and embodied, as part of my human experience? Or is it something to be transcended, avoided, treated, like some unwelcome parasite that sucks my life dry? Can it be both, or some hybrid therein, or is “pain” just too small a word for the various ways we experience suffering in our bodies?

I know that I believe all pain is sacred, even the pain I try to medicate away. Without my chronic illness, I wouldn’t be the person I am, and I believe the pain has taught me a lot about being human. I just like to vacation from school once in a while.

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