PFO Hypoxia and a Butterfly

It’s fascinating how something can become so familiar we barely notice it until it is suddenly gone. Upon awakening from my heart surgery, the first thing I realized is the thumping in my chest was silent. At first I thought my heart must have slowed way down, even below its normal 50 beats per minute. So of course, I looked up at the monitor. Without my glasses or contacts, I couldn’t read the number, but my heart was definitely beating as evidenced by the squiggly line running rhythmically across the screen and no alarms sounding. If I concentrated, I could feel my heart moving softly within me.

Ever since I was a child, my heart has thumped hard. Not in the pounding way when we have anxiety or a sudden fright. I’ve had that too, but this is different. Mine would thump, thump, thump – sometimes fast, more often slow. Sometimes it would hurt, but I had been told it was “chest wall” pain from Fibromyalgia. I thought everyone felt their heart thumping, and that it was a sign of a good, strong heart. Now that my butterfly has been installed and the PFO closed, I know just how hard my heart has been working for most of my life.

The road leading up to this surgery has been ridiculously long. If you’ve read my book Peace with Pain, you know I’ve lived with chronic pain and illness for many years. One of my more troubling symptoms has been syncope, feeling like I’m about to pass out, and is one not related to my primary diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, or to any of the conditions on the list from the multitude of doctors I’ve seen.

Nearly 20 years and at least 6 cardiologists later, I have a diagnosed that can actually be cured: platypnea orthodeoxia. This complicated sounding name describes something quite simple: Platypnea means shortness of breath that is relieved when lying down, and Orthodexia means a fall in arterial blood oxygen. So while the name is descriptive of the condition, I would suggest another one that is easier to pronounce: PFO Hypoxia. Many people are born with a PFO, which is a flap in the heart in between the atria, which separates the unoxygenated blood from the oxygenated blood. In an unknown amount of people, this flap opens and causes shunting of the unoxygenated blood to the left side of the heart, where it is then sent out to the body.

The symptoms I experienced whenever this flap would randomly open included feeling like my head was suddenly under water and a powerful wave of fatigue would make me feel like I was about to pass out. On days when I would have multiple episodes, I noticed I also had increased muscle cramps and weakness, confusion, and an intense headache that would correspond with the episodes.

My diagnosis was complicated by the fact I have low blood pressure. When the PFO was found 10 years ago, the cardiologist said it did not cause my symptoms even though the technician who did the bubble test and my common sense disagreed. Of course the doctor with extensive training would know more than a technician and more than me, so I accepted there was nothing else to do except eat more salt as the doctor prescribed to increase my blood pressure. Adding more salt to my diet helped, but over time the episodes grew increasingly intense and more frequent. I would check my blood pressure and be very confused when it was normal.

In 2015, the volunteers at Dharma Center talked me into a getting a smart phone so we could accept credit cards. One day while exploring the apps installed on the phone, I found the Samsung Health app with an oximeter. I played with it and forgot about it. Then when I had an episode, I remembered it and checked my oxygen level. The reading was 72. Normal is between 95 and 100. I thought the meter must be wrong.

At my next Rheumatologist appointment, I had an episode while waiting for her, so I used my phone to measure, and once again the reading was in the 70’s. When she came in, I asked her to humor me and let me use their office oximeter so I could see if the phone app was correct. She agreed, and I sat hooked up while we talked, with of course nothing happening. Until suddenly it did. While just sitting and talking, I started feeling woosy and my oxygen dropped down to 77, and a minute later it came back up to normal. She exclaimed, “That’s so weird!” I replied, “I know! Why is it doing that? My head felt like it was under water, but now it feels fine. This is what I’ve been telling you about for years!”

Thus began another odyssey of medical appointments and tests with cardiology and pulmonology…and once again I was told the PFO was not the problem. Of course my oxygen levels drop never dropped when I was with the cardiologist; the episodes were completely random. At the last appointment with a pulmonologist, he suggested I see a psychologist who could teach me some type of sleep deprivation method after I told him I had not slept through the night in 20 years. Needless to say, I gave up on doctors for a while.

I did buy a medical grade oximeter. While the phone app is useful, sometimes it would take 10 minutes to register a reading; my guess is it cannot accommodate the rapid changes. My previous life as a systems analyst kicked in, and I tried to find the pattern. I figured if the doctors couldn’t fix me, then I could stop doing whatever was triggering the oxygen drops. I started recording the oximeter with photos and videos in my smartphone in the hopes of tracking the pattern.

Late in 2017, I had 5 days of almost non-stop episodes. I was meeting with my holistic doctor during one of them, so she insisted I follow up with a specialist. She first recommended a neurologist, but he refused to see me for “random hypoxia” stating he had no idea what to do for that. The following month, she sent me to a cardiologist and said to make an appointment for bradycardia, since I also had a low heart rate, to make sure I got in the door this time.

On my way into his office, I had an episode in the elevator and waiting room. I recorded it with my phone. Then after an EKG, while waiting to see the doctor, it happened again. I recorded it once again. By this time, I felt pretty loopy. So when Dr. Azimi, the cardiologist, walked into the room and asked why I was there, I said, because of this, and I shoved the phone into his face.

The most amazing thing happened. He watched it. He listened to me. He asked questions.

(If you’ve been in the health care maze, you know how precious this is.)

With the oximeter still on my finger, he asked me stand up and walk around. I told him, “It doesn’t always do it. I can’t find the pattern…no matter what I’ve tried, I can’t make it happen. That’s why I made the videos.”

He asked to see more from my phone!

As I told him my history, I mentioned the PFO. He became excited, and said he knew what was wrong with me. I looked at him with disbelief. I had been brushed off countless time…this is a weird thing no one has…how could he possibly know?

He jumped up and ran across the hall, and brought back a booklet from a conference. “This is a paper I presented: The Consequential Inconsequential PFO.” He continued, “You have an atypical case, but I was going to test you for a PFO, and you say you know you already have one. You have platypnea orthodexia. I started treating people about 10 years ago, and it’s interesting you wound up in my office out of all the places you could have gone. I think it’s much more common than doctors believe, so I give talks on it at conferences.”

He went on to describe the treatment: He would go through the vein in my leg to place a device inside my heart to close the hole created by the PFO. At that point I wanted to run, but his excitement kept me there. He showed me a YouTube video of a prior patient. Her case was so extreme she needed an oxygen tank and couldn’t stand up without her oxygen levels dropping. Now she was completely cured.

I left excited, but by the next day I was worried and skeptical. So I did my research, eventually found another doctor who had heard of platypnea orthodexia – which was not easy – and I even got tested for the metals that comprised the PFO closure device. I have a nickel allergy, so Dr. Azimi contacted the manufacturer and got me a sample of the device so I could ensure I would not have a reaction to it. This was wonderful, since I got to touch and play with this thing that would be supporting my heart. It looks like a butterfly with its wings up, and is incredibly durable. With all of that complete, I finally agreed to the procedure.

Less than two weeks ago, I had my butterfly installed. So far, the big change, as I said above, is my heart is beating softer and not working so hard. The other major bonus is I’m sleeping better! I think I’ve slept more this past week than I have in 20 years!

When I asked Dr. Azimi if the surgery would fix my chronic pain issues, he said, “I don’t know about that…I only know about hearts.”

It’s too soon to tell, but I do feel a fundamental shift in my being for the better. I am deeply grateful for all of these experiences. I learned how easily we adapt when something is wrong within us, and how important it is to keep questioning. While in the chronic life we must take breaks from the search, it’s important to stay open. We never know when we’ll find something to make us more functional.

Thank you to all of you who offered prayers and healing thoughts during and after my surgery. It made a huge difference to feel such tremendous support. I am excited for this butterfly to soar!

 

Love to you all!

 

If you have unexplained episodes of syncope, check your oxygen levels!

 

Sharp Health News created a story about my experiences. you can watch the video below, and read the article on their website.

 

 

 

Here’s more about Platypnea Orthodeoxia in this video of one of my doctor’s other patients.

 

 

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Uncertainty

I live a life of uncertainty, not knowing what each new moment will bring. Through my routines and rituals I create a sense of stability that allows me to move through this world. I am not alone in this charade; I am simply one of the few who know how paper thin this illusion is.

We can get lost talking and thinking of the uncertainty of world events and all the variables leading to endless possibilities. But I am not so high minded to consider my small form as something that could change the streams of existence out there.

In here, in my tiny life as perceived by this mind-body, there is enough to watch.

The body, weak with chronic illness and pain, surprises me each day with what it can do. Sometimes it catches me off guard with what it cannot do. So I have learned to love the unexpected.

My new cardiologist thinks he can fix the random hypoxia that sends me into loopy episodes of confusion, which spawn headaches, weakness and extreme exhaustion. He wants to run a wire through my leg vein to place a metal device in my heart to close a flap that keeps opening. Platypnea Orthodeoxia Syndrome, he excitedly called it. I’m Number 7 of the patients he has met in the past 10 years who have what he called in his conference paper a Consequential Inconsequential PFO.

Most people who have a PFO in the heart have no issues. Although some have strokes. And others like me, get migraines. And even fewer like me, get hypoxia…or hypoxemia if you want to be specific. The hypoxia – low oxygen in the tissues – has not been proven in my case, but my oximeter clearly shows the hypoxemia – low oxygen in the blood. In typical cases of this rare condition, the PFO becomes stuck open when standing or sitting up, then closes when lying down, and the episodes can be reproduced. For me, the trigger is hidden; at least I have not been able to figure it out in the past 10 years of random bouts of loopy-ness. I accept this diagnosis of an unusual presentation of a rare disease as yet another aspect of my uncertain life.

The cardiologist wanted to see if any of the prior episodes had resulted in a stroke, so he sent me for a brain MRI. I had an MRI before, long ago, when I first began this quest to stop the episodes, which came back normal. Back then, I also had undiagnosed low blood pressure, so the episodes came with the extra bonus of momentary black-outs complete with falling down. When the doctors figured out the low blood pressure, they told me to “salt load” so I eat a ton of salt now. It helps. No more black-outs, but my head still feels weird at times. I thought it was being caused by a low heart rate, which I also often have, but once I got my own oximeter, then I knew about the hypoxemia. Thank you smart phone for your fun little app!

About a month ago, I went into the tube with earplugs for the MRI scan of my brain. Exhausted from running a few errands, I welcomed the chance to be horizontal. I decided to treat the loud knocks and pings from the machine as techno music and let my mind rest in meditation. My third eye pulsed and my body became light. Near the end, Vajrayogini appeared before me. Encased in a ring of fire, she smiled. A garland of skulls hung about her neck. I was dazzled by the beauty of her red-orange skin and I felt such deep love. Her arrival was a surprise since she is one I have explored only briefly in passing, and never have I meditated upon her form until she appeared in front of me. I rose from the MRI bed refreshed and renewed. On the way home, I saw a rainbow next to a bright spot in the grey cloud covered sky. It was not an ordinary strip of color, but more of a rectangular block that hung in front of me as the sun began to sink in another part of the sky.

Because the heart device is made partly of nickel, I went for allergy testing. I reacted to gold, which is strange because I often wear gold jewelry without any problems. I also reacted to nickel.

When I returned to the cardiologist to hear the test results and to let him know about the nickel allergy, I saw similar bright spot and rainbow block in the sky. I have no idea what that means, but it seemed kind of cool.

The cardiologist is taking the nickel allergy seriously, and after attempting to find a non-nickel device without success, he convinced the manufacturer to send him a sample device so I can do another allergy test with it to see if the coating is enough to prevent a reaction. I’m waiting for the device to arrive, waiting with uncertainty. Will I be allergic to it? What if my skin does not break out, but then I have a reaction after it is implanted? How would we even know?

The MRI did not show any obvious signs of stroke, but it did show areas of “T2 hyperintensities in the periventricular and subcortical white matter” that the cardiologist did not know how to interpret. So more questions for another doctor; this time a neurologist gets to face my uncertainty.

It also showed an unusually large pituitary gland measuring 9mm x 7mm x 12mm. In the spiritual world, the pituitary gland is often associated with the third eye. And then there was that whole vision of Vajrayogini. At times I feel like the Divine Mother is playing with me to see what fears she can find. I mean, what is the one thing more frightening than heart surgery? Brain surgery of course!

The report says the oversized pituitary gland could simply be a normal variant, but it recommends pituitary function tests. So I let another doctor draw the blood, and now I wait for results and more uncertainty.

As I move through all of these tests, the big uncertainty of what if this heart procedure does not help looms in my mind. I’ve spoken with another cardiologist who agrees the PFO getting stuck open is a reasonable answer to the random hypoxemia. He said the only way oxygen levels can drop and come back up so quickly is if there is unoxygenated blood mixing with oxygenated blood. All those years ago, when the PFO was first discovered, I remember the technician exclaiming that it could cause my episodes as we watched the bubbles cross over from one atrium to the other. That is before he realized he was not supposed to tell me anything! But the cardiologist back then said PFO’s are inconsequential and cannot cause symptoms. His response always made me wonder why he went looking for it if it doesn’t cause problems.

The opposite extreme also arises in my mind: what if this fixes all that has gone wrong with my entire body? Will stopping the non-oxygenated blood from crossing my heart allow the body to finally heal? I always love the fantasy of being healthy and strong, where I can work all day and still have energy to play at night. And I could stop taking the spice rack full of pills and supplements. What a dream that would be!

And this brings me to an additional point of uncertainty: the notice from my rheumatologist stating she is retiring. This means I need to find someone else to help me manage the pain, which includes a prescription for a narcotic. In this world of opioid epidemic legislation, this is somewhat of a big deal. So yet another doctor, and another batch of uncertainties.

But if the heart surgery fixes everything, I won’t need pain medication. But if it fixes only the hypoxemia, I will still need the medication. But because of the nickel allergy, I have to wait to schedule the procedure until I can test the device.

Why does uncertainty so often come with the word but?

With the approaching holidays, the only appointments I can get with doctors are in January. So I will wait a few weeks longer with my uncertainty.

Through all of these endless ruminations of the mind and trials of the body, one thing is certain: my heart – not the physical one with the hole in it – my inner heart is stable in a field of love that shines light in this world for me and all to see. When the uncertainty weighs on me, all I need do is breathe in and breathe out, knowing this is it. Of this Light I have no doubt. And for that, in this life of uncertainty, I am deeply grateful.

 

 

 

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Impermanence of Spiritual Names and Book Rankings

First of all THANK YOU for making Peace with Pain a Bestseller! It was fun to see the bestseller label on Amazon for two days. It was fun to watch Worlds of Power, Worlds of Light hit number one in its category of mysticism. It’s also been fun watching the rankings fall. Such is the play of life. We rise high above the mountains, then we glide down into the valleys. When we are fully present, the entire ride is spectacular in all its mysterious glory.

This world is impermanent. Nothing here lasts. And that is part of its beauty. These fleeting moments we get to be here together, experiencing creation, destruction, and re-creation, are precious because they cannot be permanently preserved.  Although a photo or screen shot can help us hold on to a moment frozen in time for a short while!

If we become distracted by our thoughts and reactions, we miss the opportunities presented to us, which occur only Now. This is the powerful lesson of impermanence: keep watching, stay present, no matter what. The experiences we witness and interact with may elicit tears in one moment, and laughter the next. The truth is, we never really know exactly what is coming next… and that makes it exciting!

A few months ago, I received a new spiritual name. Since then it’s been percolating inside my being, creating structures that will allow it to do its work in this world. Today with the full moon, it’s pushing its way out into the world.

Spiritual names are funny things in that people like to make all sorts of assumptions. During the course of my journey, I’ve held many different names. Some have been used publically, some are still held privately between me and Eternity. We use spiritual names for a variety of purposes, and the reason behind a name for one person may not be the same as for another. In short, a spiritual name is highly personal.

Many years ago, I was given the name Dharma. I fell in love with teaching and with the teachings. I became so enamored by exploring, practicing, and sharing the pathways to Enlightenment, I no longer cared about my own desire for Liberation. I simply adored discovering Truth in all its myriad forms. Once in a while, I still run into students who knew me by that name.

In that timeless moment when Grace freed me from all doubt and suffering, I became Isis. It was a name I had held long before I met my beloved teacher Rama; a name I had tucked away in a forgotten memory recorded in an old journal. The Goddess was my first teacher, and it was fitting She would give me the name Isis to use once again for the great magic of transformation.

Several months after becoming Isis, the media began to use that name as an acronym to refer to a group of nefarious people. My name and the line into Light it represents became charged with extraordinary power. I and others who carry the name Isis hold a door open to the Divine Feminine, the potential energy of all creation, the true meaning and power of that name.

I got hit with emails and “helpful” suggestions from people that I should change my name because of the events of the world. I found wonderful essays by others who shared the name Isis about how they chose to hold to the Divine power and keep their name, despite what was happening and the obstacles they faced. I was amused when I realized in the movie The Gods of Egypt, they dodged the name Isis by referring to her only as Mother. I have some students who avoid calling me Isis. The time a student looking for our seats chose not to yell Isis in a crowded theater and instead use Jenna was probably a good idea! But that’s the other funny thing about spiritual names – we really don’t have a choice, at least not if we want to stay true to our Path.

I love the name Isis, and all She represents. I love all that has arisen within me since I was reborn as Her. However, like all things, that spiritual name was impermanent. A new name, a new aspect of Light continues to unfold, and it’s time to publicly recognize this new incarnation.

Today, I am Turīya. (pronounced: tu-ree-ah)

Sharing a new spiritual name is a bit like rolling out a software upgrade, and it will take some time for it to be installed everywhere. The older software is still available; I am still Isis, just as I am still Dharma. I am also Jenna, Jennifer, and if you’ve known me a really, really long time, Jenny. It doesn’t matter to me what name you prefer. Whatever one you select will allow that version of the software to run and we can have an interaction on your terms.

Turīya is difficult to define. The best explanation I can share is Turīya represents groundlessness, or the background upon which existence and non-existence plays. Like all spiritual names, this one is also a doorway through which students may pass to experience the expression of Light.

As the present moment unfolds before me, I don’t know what is next in this impermanent world. Isis taught me to always look at and accept that what is, is. So in the spirit of Isis, I am Turīya and I look forward to meeting you as I explore this ever-new world.

Four Buddhist Truths Learned from Chronic Pain

1. Everything is Transient

During my last pain flare, for over a week I lived with the feeling of two nails shoved in my eyes, causing an intense headache. It would be easy to say the pain was constant since it bothered me enough to interrupt my activity several times a day. However, if I remain fully present with my body during these times, I notice how the pain waxes and wanes, even during a full body pain flare.

I’ve found this to be true of all the types of pain and fatigue I experience. As I expand my awareness out from the body, I see the truth of impermanence in all aspects of life.

 

2. Suffering is caused by Attachment

When the pain forces my body to shut down and all I can do is lie on the couch, I watch my mind as it grapples with the situation. If I remain attached to getting up and being active, there is great suffering when the body refuses to cooperate. If I let go of the attachment and instead observe what is, there is pain and discomfort but no suffering. It is as if a large weight is removed and I can simply be with the pain as it changes form with every breath.

I watch how at times we all cling to ideas of how we think it should be – whatever the situation – and how this attachment blinds and separates us from what really is here now.

 

3. There is Always a Way Out

Intractable pain feels like being a tiny cage with no escape. It can overwhelm the attention to the point where there’s no other point of focus. At level 10 on the pain scale, the body collapses and the mind shuts down – the way out is the autonomic response beyond our conscious control. At any level below 10, we can find the way out by focusing our mind.

Once we realize this, we have many choices:
– increase our suffering by focusing on our attachment,
– escape through the power of imagination,
– distraction either physically by introducing different sensations or mentally through visual or auditory stimulation,
– or conscious observation of the qualities of pain through the lens of detachment.

Sensorial distraction may include a tens unit, massage, petting an animal, listening to music, or watching a movie. Conscious observation with detachment may include reminding ourselves I am not this fragile body and all of this is merely sensations passing through my awareness field. Throughout the years, I have applied all of these methods to find my way out of the tiny cage.

In my dealings with others, and in my own pre-pain personal experience, I’ve seen how we find ourselves feeling trapped by a situation over which we have no direct control, yet there is always a way out of that feeling of helplessness by taking control the one place we always can: the focus of the mind.

 

4. Meditation Makes Finding the Way Out Easier

Practicing meditation makes the mind stronger, and thus allows us to gain control of our focus in the most trying of circumstances. I could write paragraph after paragraph with examples of how myself and others have benefited from meditation and share many studies revealing the power of meditation, but this is the one Truth you’ll have to prove for yourself.

JennaDesertViewTower

 

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THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

Mammograms, Ropes, and Snakes

When your entire body hurts all the time, and the breast soreness becomes intense with each hormonal cycle, it’s natural to avoid things that increase pain. So I put off my mammogram for what I thought was 2 years, but turned out to be 3. The day after the test, I happened to have a follow up with my doctor, so she gave me a print out of the report and said the radiology department would be calling me back for more boob squishing. I didn’t think anything of it and focused on the more pressing issues of discussing options to treat the Endometriosis that has been getting progressively worse. We decided on another trial of Femara, this time taking the estrogen blocker for part of the month instead of every day and unleashing the dreaded hot flashes. (Ironically, Femara was originally sold as a breast cancer drug.)

As promised, the radiology department called in the morning to schedule the additional mammogram and breast ultrasound. I had looked up “new asymmetry on the right axillary tail” so I know there’s a good chance the abnormality is simply a shadow. I made the appointment for next week and told the woman on the phone, “it’s probably just a shadow.” She didn’t comment.

I finished getting dressed and thoughts about the upcoming test unleashed a wave of wistful sadness as I considered the potential changes to this body. Just then the wind howled and was answered by the baying of all the neighborhood dogs. They howled and yelped as if to say: “Don’t worry, you are not alone.” The sadness dissolved into gratitude for this body and the life it has lived.

Through my spiritual practice, I’ve become accustom to watching my mind. I notice the random thoughts that pass through, the moods and feelings, basically all the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful things that arise and fall away. Staying centered in the present moment, this practice of mindfulness has allowed me to both witness and fully experience the entire range of options available to humans.

rope-948677_640As I went on with my day, I watched my thoughts return to the abnormal mammogram. The classic example of Ignorance offered by Shankara played out in my head. In a dark corner, there is a coiled shape. We don’t know if it’s a rope or a snake. And if it is a snake, we don’t know if it’s a dangerous snake. If we pretend it’s a rope, then we could invite great danger through our mistake. If we pretend it’s a snake, then we could freak out in fear and waste energy over nothing. All we can do is remain calm and open while we seek more information.basilisk-rattlesnake-7303_640

I noticed over and over I kept telling myself, “it’s probably just a shadow.” Then it hit me: I was facing denial. I laughed and reminded myself I had no way of knowing until the next test. And at that time, I would deal with whatever needed to be done.

It seemed within minutes, my mind switched gears and hit anger. I realized there was still some deep resentment I held towards my body. It became sick and disabled when I was 28 years old, right at the age when I was prepared to make millions as a computer consultant. My illness cost me friends, money, and endless adventures and instead gave me tears, exhaustion, and pain – lots of pain. It also gave me the motivation to work my spiritual practice on deeper levels than I could have imagined. I spent time sitting with my body, apologizing for my anger and showering it with gentle gratitude for the immense strength it has despite all its challenges. I also scanned my attention for any external resentment. Within my mind, I asked all those people for forgiveness for any harm caused by my anger and let it all drop away.

As I chopped green onions for lunch, I caught myself bargaining. “I’ll eat better, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables,” I promised. Immediately my blatant honesty kicked in and said, “No you won’t. You’ll do what you do, and eat what you want. And that’s OK.” The bargaining stopped right there.

Later in the day, as if out of nowhere, the depression hit like an avalanche. Although I’m familiar with the stages of grief, I wasn’t expecting it. As first I was confused. I thought perhaps the sadness arose from all the horrific stories on Facebook I had been reading. But my practice demands that I look, and look deeply.

I watched the mind cycle through its thoughts. It wasn’t death that brought me to sorrow; to me death is a natural part of life and although I miss those who have gone, I feel no fear or sadness at the thought of the death of my own body. The sorrow that arose came about at the thought of the decisions to be made and all that my husband and I would have to go through if it does turn out to be cancer.

I thought of the unknown form coiled in the corner and smiled from the calm of the present moment. The appointment has been made, so there is nothing more to be done right now. The report says “Incomplete” and that is all I know for sure. The sun will set tonight, and it will most likely rise tomorrow. There are piles of projects on my desk, and I’m excited to see what I can accomplish in this beautiful body. And when the tests are done next week, then I’ll know whether the form in the dark corner is a rope or a snake and I will deal with it accordingly.

I’m sharing this with you today because I know there are millions of us waiting for the results that will tell us if the coiled shape in our dark corner is a harmless rope or a deadly snake. Once we have done everything we can to discover the information, we can only wait for the Light. And in these moments of being with the Unknown, we can let the wind and the howling dogs remind us we are not alone.

dog-moon-howl-647533_640

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7/12/16 – UPDATE

First, the news: It was a rope! The radiologist told me the change they spotted was a simple lymph node that did not appear on my previous scans, probably because of its position close to my armpit. They want me to come back in 6 months to make sure it doesn’t grow or change in any way, so there will be more squishing sooner than I like, but it is worth it.

Next, I want to say a big THANK YOU! to my sweet husband, who took time off from work to go with me for my tests. Having him there was a huge comfort, especially when I watched the ultrasound technician taking many pictures of a round blob. And a big THANK YOU! to those of you who left comments, sent emails and texts and phone calls and who inwardly sent beautiful healing energy. I feel so completely supported, and I am humbled by your kindness and your love.

I know sitting with the Unknown is a challenge to which many of us relate. While I was sitting with my own unknown this week, I was reading Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid and came across this line: “…we poor humans are wired up to always think the worst is gonna happen because it so rarely does. Then what’s only lousy seems okay – almost good, in fact – and we can cope just fine.” The truth of this strikes me even deeper now; I had hoped what they saw was a shadow and that would be the end of it and I could go back to skipping mammograms. But it being a lymph node in need of watching actually is good in scheme of things.

Remembering Shankara’s example of the rope and the snake allowed me to let go of that tendency to think about the worst, and saved me from wasting hours of doing research on things I don’t need to know about right now. It let me avoid being sucked into fear and instead, I worked on the projects I wanted to focus on out of love.

My wish is for those of you who are reading this is that with whatever issue has taken on the form of a coiled shape in a dark corner, you also are able to remember that it is safe to let the Unknown be Unknown for however long it takes to get a light shining in that corner. You are not alone with the Unknown, and while you are waiting, you are allowed to go on with your life, having fun exploring this magical world.

Please continue to share this post with anyone who may benefit.

This beautiful butterfly enjoying the flowers greeted us as we came out of the hospital; a wonderful reminder of the endless transformations we all experience each day!

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Jenna

Dealing with Other People – Excerpt from Peace with Pain

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Dealing with Other People – Excerpt from Peace with Pain

A friend of mine often recommends my book, Peace with Pain: Your Guide to Life in a Malfunctioning Body, to clients in her counseling practice. It’s helped those with physical pain, as well as those who suffer from mental and emotional pain. There’s one chapter in particular that she points out: Dealing with Other People.

To make it easier for people to access, I’ve created a video reading of this chapter. You’re welcome to listen and share this page with anyone who may benefit. If you watch it, the cats provide a little entertainment about halfway through the video. 😀

At the end of most chapters, there’s a Take Action section. Here’s the Take Actions steps for Dealing with Other People:

PWP-DealingWithOthers

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Jenna

Tools for Empaths

An increasingly large number of people of people are becoming highly sensitive. They feel things others simply don’t – perhaps you are one of them. If you notice the emotional state of others without even looking at them, or your senses can detect the slightest light, sound, taste, smell, or touch, or you feel the energy left behind in a room, you are an Empath. Some may call you a Highly Sensitive Person and look at you with reverence. Others may think you’re exaggerating when you complain about being overwhelmed by everything around you. Some days you may celebrate your intuitive power, while other days you hide in your bedroom.

Power and sensitivity go hand in hand. If you are an Empath, one who feels deeply, then you have great power. When we understand that power is the ability to perceive, it can make it easier to accept what we are. Once we accept our power completely, then we can learn how to navigate the world without being pummeled by it.

The first energetic tool we learn is to shield ourselves. Through the use of our imagination, we picture an egg-shaped light encircling our entire body, extending out by an arm’s length. Using our breath, we inhale our energy and keep it inside this protective egg. Our subtle-physical body, made of fibers of energy, is the part of us that feels. It’s what makes an Empath an Empath. (We all have a subtle body, but not everyone is fully conscious of it like an Empath.) By keeping the subtle body tucked in close, we reduce our exposure to the myriad of sensations. The shield, this thick egg shell around us, stops the energy we touch at the outer limits of our subtle body. At that moment of contact, we can decide to let the sensation in all the way, or to let it go around us.

Obviously it takes energy to create and maintain the shield. We have to feed our body well, we need to exercise, and we need to take time away in rest and meditation to allow ourselves to rejuvenate. We also need to spend time in water in each day, washing away and neutralizing all that we’ve come into contact with. However, this work is well worth the effort when compared to how drained we feel when we don’t take this special care.

The next technique we learn is Grounding. There are hundreds of chakras, or energy centers, within the subtle body. These are points where the fibers come together, and energy can be directed through them. For the Empath, four are of special interest: the base of the spine, the arch of each foot, and the crown. From the chakras on the feet and at the base of the spine, a line can be connected to the center of the Earth by simply imagining it. The molten center of our home is the ultimate recycling plant. We can dump anything there, and it will be transformed into pure energy, ready to take its next form. By imagining a line at each of these three points, we can then direct any unwanted energy, feelings, or sensations to those chakras and let gravity to the work of disposing of it. In daisyfeet-319695_640order to prevent a vacuum that will suck in whatever’s closest, we also open the crown chakra and imagine pure gold light pouring into us at the same time.

A wonderful place to get a feel for Grounding is to find a patch of grass or sand on a sunny day and take off your shoes. Feel the sun energizing you as you breathe in through the top of your head, and with each exhale, allow all the heaviness you picked up flow out through your feet and the base of your spine. Once you get the hang of it, you can ground anytime in any place, even with your shoes on.

These two practices of Shielding and Grounding are enough for most people to have a balanced life in the midst of average people. Instead of constantly feeling run over, the hardest part of the day becomes the maintenance of remembering to put up our shield before we go out and grounding out what we no longer need at the end of each day when we get home. And of course, we have to remember to keep doing this throughout the day whenever we get knocked off balance.

For many Empaths, however, living an ordinary life is not enough. We want to grow, explore, and discover the limits of our awareness. For those of us who want more, we must learn to live without the bubble of protection.

Remember, power is the ability to perceive. If we keep our shield shut tight, we don’t experience all that we could. We limit ourselves to our own small comfort zone.

If we want an extraordinary life, then we must open up. By opening completely, without pushing out any of our own preferences, we feel everything as it passes through. Our awareness stretches, and we grow even more. The possibilities are infinite. The key is not to judge any sensation as good or bad. The moment we push our opinion onto the experience, we celebrate-EarthSuncreate a block in the flow. That particular strand of energy gets stuck as if on a hook, and it pulls us into the mind state or sensation we were hoping to avoid.

These hooks are attachments. In our subconscious, we decide we cannot be happy if a certain condition is not met. For example, if we are on the bus and someone gets on who is very angry, we might be knocked off balance. We feel the anger, with its prickly sharpness and heaviness and we think that person should not be so angry. We don’t like the anger because it’s painful. In this moment of judgement, we’ve attached our peace of mind to the condition that people not be angry around us. The hook then collects all the sensations associated with anger and pulls our mind into it. By recognizing what has happened, we can unhook ourselves, and the energy flows through us once again unimpeded.

For those of us who want to be able to go anywhere and feel everything, our practice becomes one of self-examination and spiritual growth. When we are knocked off balance, instead of looking outside to blame circumstances or pointing at ourselves with guilt for being too sensitive, we objectively examine the situation. We identify the attachment, and recognition becomes liberation.

At times when we cannot open completely, we continue to use the Grounding technique to let go of anything we no longer need, and we pick up our Shield whenever the world becomes too much. And of course, the basic care that’s good for everyone of eating well, exercising, rejuvenating with meditation, rest, and water is a daily gift to our being. With practice, these actions become second nature.

As Empaths, we are uniquely suited to advanced spiritual development, which comes about when we stretch our awareness to the limits and beyond. Welcome to the highest, happiest, brightest adventure of your life!

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THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

Sitting in Judgement

It’s easy to sit in judgement of things we know nothing about.

I loved my work as a computer consultant designing software, coding, testing, and training the end users. I also made a ton of money and was able to pay off all my student loans and credit card debt. I even bought a vehicle straight off the assembly line. That was fun, to get exactly what I wanted.

But life doesn’t always give us what we think we want.

My body went haywire, and slowly everything I built was destroyed. I lost not only my job, but my career and identity as a computer consultant. I lost friends, and I nearly lost my boyfriend. But he stuck around and our relationship grew into something new, something stronger. (He’s now my husband.) I lost an entire decade – my 30’s – to spending the majority of my time being sick in bed.

I lost all my physical strength, and sometimes even my brain would shut down, causing me to have memory lapses and confuse words, like saying black when I meant white. My husband repeatedly deals with me insisting we’ve never watched a movie, only to have to me say: “Oh! I remember it now!” at the last scene. (I just did that to myself yesterday!)

If you’ve never had severe pain and fatigue, you cannot imagine what it’s like to be on the couch wanting a glass of water and not being able to get it. Until you experience it, you cannot know the frustration of having the wrong word come out of your mouth, and knowing it’s wrong, but not being able to do anything about it except try to back-peddle and try to explain what you really meant, with words that – yes, you guessed it – also come out wrong. Until you lived it, you cannot know what it’s like to have an unpredictable body that may or may not cooperate at any given moment.

There was no car accident or sudden incident to point to…this illness came upon me gradually, like being hit by a truck over and over. At one point, during one of my early collapses, I argued with myself about calling Rama for help. I had the number to his answering service, so I could have easily gotten a message to him.

But as I said, it’s easy to sit in judgement of things we know nothing about. I thought the pain and fatigue were temporary. I thought I was being weak. I convinced myself it was nothing to worry about, and that I needed to exercise more and work harder. In short, I ignored my body’s cries for help and tried to force it to perform despite the collapses.

Two weeks later, Rama died.

After Rama left the body, I spent a lot of time beating myself up over the decision not to call him. He could have healed me, right? Or he could have at least spared me a great deal of suffering.

When he was gone, I decided to honor the commitment I made during the teaching empowerment he gave me. Even though I was barely getting through the day, I decided to teach meditation publicly. (I had taught privately for years, but my students were sparse.)

Going through all the basics with new students turned out to be the most amazing gift. I relearned everything, and found not only did it work for the students, it worked for me.

During my lost decade, I found incredible support as we created and built Dharma Center. (Thank you – you all know who you are!) My faith in the Teachings grew exponentially.

Of course, I would still torture myself from time to time. One day I did the math and figured if I had stayed in the tech world, I would have been on track to have earned well over a million dollars by that point. I would have been able to buy a beautiful house near bday-sunset-4webthe ocean that would provide a buffer from the world. I would have been able to write large checks to support the Teachings. And the bright minds I would have been able to mentor…Oh wait, I get to do that now!

I’ve spent nearly 20 years being poked and prodded by doctors with lots of labels but no answers. I’ve tried hundreds of remedies and diets and treatments. I still play in that world from time to time. But what has helped the most is learning to listen to my body and give it what it needs, when it needs it. (To learn more of what works for me, check out my book Peace with Pain.)

I also learned to fall gracefully, keeping in mind what my Aikido teacher showed me so many years ago: “Don’t fall, just relax and sit.” I’ve accepted that my body is high maintenance.

During all of this, I’ve also somehow learned how to look good even when I feel like crap. Apparently that is my special siddha power. So unless you spend a great deal of time with me, or if I tell you, you’d never know the condition of my body.

When I finally let go of the judgement – of everything – the most amazing thing happened. I let go of who I thought I was and who I thought others were and realized I know nothing.

I began to have timeless moments where I lived above the pain. But always, I would come tumbling back to the apparent reality of suffering. Even with these ups and downs, the illness I had judged as life-destroying and the body I had judged as weak turned out to be exactly what I needed to wake up. Once yet again, it’s easy to sit in judgement of things we know nothing about.

I don’t recommend this method of pain as a means to self-discovery as it is fraught with the pitfalls of self-pity and anger. Instead, look honesty at whatever Life has given you to work with and stretch to see what is beyond your self.

The coming and going into samadhi continued for I have no idea how long. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, it stopped – or I stopped. The doubt was gone. The suffering was gone.

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I was standing on a rock my body should not have been able to climb in its exhausted state. (I pushed my body to do it because my student wanted to see the other side of the arch, and something surged within me to make it possible.) I stood there, in my unpredictable body with all of its pleasure and pain, knowing inner peace and unconditional joy beyond all of this. To borrow from Shankara, both the rope and the snake were gone. To this day, It remains. There are no words to adequately describe it; I can only call it Grace.

After all this time, I finally get the joke when Rama sang with Zazen: “Why did the Zen Master become a Zen Master? Because he couldn’t get a job doing anything else.”

 

 

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THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

Enlightenment Is Our Natural State

There are no words to describe Enlightenment. We can use concepts to allude to the state of Awakening, to God-Realization, to Self-Realization. That last one, Self-Realization is rather ironic since it’s realizing there is no Self. We can say it is a state of Unity, of ultimate bliss and peace; that it is freedom from suffering. Enlightenment is the end of Ignorance, the end of attachment to senses, and the end of coming to any state of Being.

Liberation from suffering is probably the closest we can come in words. It does not mean pleasure and pain are no longer felt. In reality, they are felt more deeply since there is no resistance. But a particular sensation doesn’t hang around very long because there is no self to cling to it. Beneath all the waves that arise, there is that indescribable sense of peace, but even the word peace falls flat in reality.

Enlightenment does not mean everything in your life works out. It doesn’t mean that all money problems and relationship issues and health challenges suddenly disappear. What it does mean is that the human drama does not block the endless Bliss that is the play of existence. Even Gautama Buddha had to eat, manage relationships, and deal with back problems that would cause him pain. When the back pain became intense and his body could not sit up straight, he would ask one of his disciples to give the discourse while he laid down. You may have seen statues of him in a reclined posture; now you know why he was memorialized in that position.buddha-relaxing

Why didn’t Gautama just heal himself, or ask one of the many gods, goddesses, or healers who came to him to hear the Dharma to fix his body? Having a perfect physical body was unnecessary for him to accomplish his task of teaching. When you know you are the Dharma-kaya, what difference does the temporary physical vehicle make? On another level, his physical pain also served as a teaching for his students to let go of their attachment and worship of the body.

Enlightenment does not mean you are a Saint. There are Enlightened Saints, but not all Saints are Enlightened and not all of the Enlightened are Saints. As long as the body exists, there is a sliver of ego and a variable personality that interacts with the world, complete with its own quirks and eccentricities. The difference between one who is Awakened and one who is not is that there is no clinging to the ego or personality. The Awakened changes to fit the needs of those around her, to show them Light in a way that they have the possibility of seeing It, to aid in the Awakening of those they meet. Or, sometimes their job is simply to meditate alone and let the Light shine through them, so they may chase people away. Their actions don’t always make sense to those who are watching from the outside. To the average person, the Enlightened may appear aloof, fickle, sometimes cold, and sometimes extremely loving. None of these words adequately describe Enlightenment. It is everything and nothing all at once.

All I or anyone can really tell you is the struggle to Awaken is worth every moment. Each experience you have in this world contains within it the seed of realization. While it is certainly not easy to let go of every last attachment and lay yourself bare before the Light, it is what we were made for. Enlightenment is our Natural State.

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My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please visit my Support page to learn how you can help keep the work going with a one-time gift, or as an ongoing Benefactor.

THANK YOU!

Jenna