Desert Super Bloom of Love

The desert always has more to teach. In the past, I came to the desert seeking power. This time I asked to learn about Love.

The desert greeted me and my students with the sweet scent of wild flowers perfuming the warm air. Birds cooed and chirped while bees buzzed and kissed every open bloom. A blanket of green draped over the mountains, soft and inviting – a stark contrast to their typical burnt brown vegetation and sun-bleached stone.

We left the retreat house in the late afternoon and drove through the deep sand to a cliff tucked away in the folds of the desert canyons. The sun sank behind the mountains, turning the sky a fiery yellow and orange. Mars rose white and bright as the last rays of sun splashed pink across the sparse streaks of cloud.

Deep blue gave way to velvet black while Orion stood proud with his bow outstretched and his sword hanging at his side. All thought fell silent as the sky yawned wide, revealing the Milky Way and a million sparkling diamonds…so many worlds of Light.

In the loving arms of the desert, She let me play with the energy and twist our perception. Laying down our backs, we watched the stars dance above us. With a slight push of occult pressure, the world turned, and we felt as if we were standing, leaning against a wall in front of an open doorway to the stars. The students giggled, and shifting us once again, we flipped back and then upside down. We stared down, watching the ocean of stars, our bodies glued to the ceiling of dirt as the universe spun around below us. In these moments, the desert taught me the love of play and laughter.

As we packed up, one student had trouble standing. Two others rushed to helped her, and in that moment, I witnessed the love of sangha. Selflessly and without hesitation or judgment, spiritual friends lifted one in need and helped her down the steep hill.

The next day, I saw self-love as she chose to stay at the retreat house while the rest of us ventured out again. She went within at the house where she could learn from the desert while respecting the limits of the body.

Upon heading back to our secret spot, this time late at night under the star-filled sky, we found a tent pitched. We sat silently on the cliff, not far from the tent. The desert continued to teach the theme of love, this time of a couple engaged in idle chatter, waiting for us to leave! After a few minutes of meditation, the desert reveled to me a new place where we could sit, and each group could have their privacy.

After driving through the sandy canyons and washes, we came upon the spot I had seen. The wash opened wide, and we sat on a hard shelf of sand that formed a type of sidewalk to keep us off the road. The first area we had been was one of seeing and third eye vision. This new site was all heart: expansive yet protected, spacious yet full. The desert washed us with pure love, as we sat in Her and with Her, merging mind with Eternity.

The next day, my students left. I had hoped my husband would join me in a wild flower hunt, but tired and sore from hockey practice, he stayed home. I recognized the love of relationship, where we respect each other’s needs and wants.

Alone in the retreat house and in the wide desert, I saw that was not the end of it as an old samskara arose within me. I had asked to learn about love, and the desert delivered once again.

I love adventure, and I love sharing adventures with others. The pattern from the past is to always take someone with me. I’ve broken this pattern many times, and many times it has returned. This time, in the stillness of the desert, I saw beneath the pattern. I witnessed the loneliness of not having someone to share the beauty with, and the loneliness of not having another actor in the story.

Sitting with full awareness of this sadness and loneliness, I realized in each moment it is enough to enjoy the beauty and connection with Eternity. And I realized alone, I am enough, always and in all ways.

As Eternity washed away the remnants blocking my heart, vulnerable and small, I opened deeper. I see how my will pales against Her might, and once again I see I am not the doer; I am being done.

On the last morning, I walked along a trail at the base of a mountain I had discovered on a solo adventure the previous day. I found the perfect boulder for meditation, where I could sit above the ground fully supported. Bees buzzed all around, like the hive upon Kali’s head. In this place, there is no fear. There are only beings doing what needs to be done, collecting the sweet nectar. A dragonfly danced around me as the clouds alternated sun and shade. And the birds continued their cooing and chirping.

I dissolved once again into Mother Earth and melted into the Sun. I am loved and I am love. Even in my forgetting, my heart knows I am being done.

*Please note: Going alone into the desert or any wilderness is dangerous. Be smart by staying near populated trails and checking in with park rangers before and after your adventures. You don’t want to break your leg in an accidental fall and become ant food because no one knows where you are!

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THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

Drug Holiday and Opioid Awareness

Recently I went on a drug holiday. Because of the wonders of smart phones, it gave me time to read more articles, posts, and comments on Facebook than usual. In that odd close-knit virtual world, I discovered countless people with legitimate pain issues being treated with suspicion and asked to perform unreasonable steps in order to obtain pain medication from their doctors. There’s always been a stigma attached to using pain killers; however it’s become much worse than I realized. So I’ve decided to share this story of my past month to help raise awareness.

If you’ve read Peace with Pain, then you know I live with constant chronic pain from a currently incurable illness. Part of my treatment program involves taking pain medication, and includes an opioid by the name of Norco. This past year, the pills stopped working as well as it used to, despite all of my efforts to rest, practice pacing, and utilize herbal remedies. Doctors call this Tolerance. My doctor offered to increase my dose, or if I wanted to try a stronger medication, she could send me to a pain management specialist. (Because of new regulations and restrictions promoted by the DEA, she is no longer allowed to prescribe Percocet or anything stronger than Norco.) Starting over with a new doctor can be a nightmare when you have a cluster of chronic conditions, and taking stronger medications has a whole list of problematic issues, so I declined. Instead I told her I would try a drug holiday again before considering her offer.

With 18 years of chronic pain, I’ve faced this problem before. The solution to drug tolerance is not easy, but for me, it’s effective and has allowed me to stay at the same dose for over 12 years. (It took several years to find what medications offer me to most functionality.) The answer is what I call a Drug Holiday.

I have no medical training, so nothing here is medical advice. TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST if you want to go down this road yourself.

Without any scientific backing, it’s my theory that the body adapts to whatever conditions exist. In my case, there is an illness causing pain. The Norco blocks the pain receptors in the brain, and tricks the body into thinking the pain has decreased. (Nothing gets rid of all the pain – sorry to burst your bubble.) The body can then function at a higher level because it is not using all its energy to deal with the pain. However, the body is smart, and it adapts to the medication. It eventually figures out the pain is still there, and it increases the pain signals so they register in the brain despite the blocked receptors. This increased pain level forces the body to take steps to protect itself, including slowing down the cognitive processing and impairing memory (hello BrainFog), decreasing muscle strength (sorry, cannot lift that glass of water right now), and increasing fatigue levels (too tired to sleep or walk or eat). It feels like the illness is progressing as the body functions less and less. The cycle continues until something changes.

The easiest thing to do is increase the dosage or change to a stronger opioid. The first issues we face with that option are increased constipation and greater stress on the liver. The second problem is the adaption of the body and the likelihood of having to increase the dose again in several years. Each time we move up the ladder to a stronger medication to take on a regular basis, it leaves us with fewer pain killer options if we ever need them in an emergency. This is a long-term view, but an important one to consider if you’re facing a life of chronic pain. You may think the pain is as bad as it can be, but if you’re not passed out from pain, it can always get worse. (Again, sorry about that bubble bursting.)

The final problem is the delicate balance of finding the right dose of the right medications that provide the body with the highest level of functionality. Muscle relaxers work great at numbing my pain, but they leave me stranded on the couch unable to participate in life. I save those for when I’m in a flare and cannot do anything but watch television and rest, and even then I use them sparingly because their effects sometimes linger for a day afterwards. When we increase our dose, we have to watch carefully for the tipping point. At the correct dosage, Norco allows me to live an alert well-adjusted relatively normal, albeit modified, life. (For example, my days are much shorter than the average person, but if I meet a stranger they have no idea I live with chronic pain.) If I take something stronger or more pills then I need, I feel drugged and slow like when I take muscle relaxers – basically I lose functionality instead of improving it.

This is what doctors and government officials hate about long-term opioid use…they cannot standardize dosage and one pill does not work the same for everyone. They must rely on patients to honestly assess the effect of the medication and trust the patient to tell them what the correct dosage is for them. They also may need to try a variety of medications to find the right one. Add to this the risk of addiction in some individuals and we have doctors who are terrified to treat their patients. So keeping my medication and dose the same benefits not only me, but it also helps calm the doctors I encounter. (Yes, I’ll talk more about the addiction issue soon, as that is an important hot button topic.)

The other way to overcome the tolerance issue is to reset the body’s pain receptors. Again, this is just my theory and experience without any scientific backing. This resetting is what I call a Drug Holiday. Just like it sounds, I take a holiday from all the pain medications I take. This was my third time embarking on a drug holiday.

But wait…ALL of them, not just the Norco?

Yes. In order to reset the pain receptors, we have to let the body feel the levels of pain it experiences without the modifications provided by drugs. The really hard part is it can take a couple of weeks for the body to clear out the residual left by long term us of medications. Hence the importance of the Holiday part – when we do this, we need to take a break from our daily life. I am very fortunate to have the freedom to do this. I realize not everyone can settle into the couch for a month without losing everything they have.

I began with a rapid reduction in the amount of Norco I take, which is a tricky step. Because the body adapts to the medication, if we go off of opioids too quickly the body experiences withdrawal effects such as vomiting, sweating, and in extreme cases seizure. (Again this why you need to talk to your doctor!) During this phase, we have to pay close attention to the body to see how fast we can reduce the medication. For me, I was able to drop down to a half pill every other day after 10 days, and by day 14 I was off of the Norco completely. In order to deal with the pain, I took Tylenol during these two weeks, as well as relying on my non-drug remedies. (Keep in mind not all medications can be cut in half safely – talk to your pharmacist first.)

At this point, it was time to stop the Tylenol and my anti-inflammatory medications and herbs. I continued with my nutritional supplements (Juice Plus and vitamins) and added an herbal blend designed to detoxify the liver.

During the month, I limited my activities and embraced Netflix. I also got a new full back heating pad, took lots of baths, stretched as often as possible, spent extra hours in meditation (laying down at times) and saw my Acupuncturist and my massage therapist. The entire process was physically and mentally exhausting, and I was thankful I did not have to teach a meditation class. Most days I did not go outside even to get the mail.

By the second week, I began to adapt to my new normal. When I had to go to the store, I observed how impaired my driving was from pain and resolved to be extra cautious. The one other day I had to drive I planned lunch with a friend at the half way point so I would have a rest break before heading home.

I accepted that I could not always stand up on the first try. I gave myself a break from the inner complaints of pain by watching comedies and HGTV because I could not follow complicated story lines. I felt a sense of great accomplishment on the nights I cooked dinner for my husband – putting pizza in the oven counts, right? Basically, I let myself veg-out and fully accepted in that moment, this was my life. In the back of my mind, I remembered how this was my life for a very long time, before I found my doctor and she experimented with me to find the right dosages of the right medications. I felt the fear of that reality before meeting my doctor and accepted that too. I tried to sit at my computer, but lost all concentration after only a few minutes. I relied on my smart phone to distract myself with Facebook. I ignored most of my emails. It began to sink in that this could be my life permanently if I’m ever denied medication because it’s a potentially addictive opioid. I thought about how radically my life would change and all I would have to give up. I had to sit with that idea quite a while before I could finally accept it.

Today I’m taking Norco again, and my body is more alert, stronger, and functioning at a higher level than before the Drug Holiday. I am grateful my month of self-imposed torture worked! There is still pain and limits to my functionality; however I’m able to do more than lie on the couch. I’ve been increasing both the dose and my activity levels slowly over the past two weeks, seeking that hard to describe level of balance. Finding the balance between medicating pain and pacing activity is my responsibility as a patient who uses opioids, and I fully acknowledge and respect the importance of doing it. I wish more doctors were trained to educated patients on this point.

Teaching patients to be responsible, not through fear, but through an understanding of what medications can and cannot do, is the best way to reduce the risk of addiction. Opioids reduce physical pain, but they do not eliminate it entirely. Used correctly, they improve functionality. When used improperly, they impair functionality.

Every body is different, so there is no standard dose, and not all medications work for everyone. We as patients have to take on the responsibility of closely and honestly examining what medications (not just opioids, but all medications) do to us in terms of functionality and quality of life, and doctors have to trust what we tell them.

Addiction is a terrible disease, for both those who are addicts and for those who love them. We must provide easy access to treatment for those affected, and support for their loved ones. Addiction is a complicated issue, and the substance an addict uses to feed their addiction is rarely, if ever, the real root cause. To manage and eventually end the disease of addiction, we must be willing to look deeper into the reasons people feel the uncontrollable need to escape from their lives.

Death caused by the misuse of opioids is a real problem, and it is one we must take a holistic view of in order to prevent. We must be willing to talk about opioids openly, without stigma. We must accept there are kids who are seeking ways to alter their mind through drugs and offer them education. We must accept there are people who like the dissociated feeling of being over-medicated and drugged that allows them to escape from feeling their emotions, and offer treatment programs designed to help them find their way back to participating fully in life. And we must accept there are over 100 million people like me living with chronic pain, many of whom use opioids responsibly in order to function.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact your health insurance about covered treatment options. Virtual and in person support groups can also be found by searching online.

 

To help prevent medications from getting into the wrong hands, bring your unwanted medications to any police station in San Diego County for proper disposal. (Check with your local county for similar programs in your area.)

 

Please help protect our right to pain medication by contacting your government representatives in the House and Senate, as well as your local government officials. Let them know there are better ways to fight addiction than making life even more difficult for chronic pain patients.

 

In the past several years, a quiet war against opioids has been raging. I don’t know who is behind it or why. The media seems to be focused on addiction issues, but it appears that chronic pain patients are bearing the brunt of the attacks spearheaded by the DEA and CDC. Here’s a list of some changes you may not be aware of:

Norco and other medications like the codeine cough syrup you may have been prescribed the last time you saw the doctor for a severe cough were changed from a Schedule 3 drug to a Schedule 2, which is the highest level of restriction. (Schedule 1 is for drugs with no medical use.)

  • Schedule 2 means only paper prescriptions are accepted by the pharmacy, whereas before a doctor could call the pharmacy or send the prescription electronically.
  • Refills are no longer allowed, which requires a trip to the doctor’s office each month for a new paper prescription.
  • Pharmacies must wait a full 30 days in between filling prescriptions, even if the doctor writes a new prescription before that time frame.
  • Some doctors have opted to simply not write these types of prescriptions because of the extra recorded keeping and reporting involved.

The DEA has also put pressure on health insurers to increase the tier of opioids; instead of being a tier 1 generic drug at the lowest cost, Norco is now a tier 2 (brand name level) drug, even though it is a generic medication that has been used since 1943. Some plans have made it an even higher tier. The higher the tier means a higher cost and financial burden for the patient, many of whom live on a fixed income from disability.

The DEA has also succeeded in pressuring health insurers to implement quantity limits, taking away a doctor’s right to determine the appropriate dosage for their patients.

Some lawmakers are now pushing to implement a prior authorization requirement for some opioids. If you’ve ever had to wait for prior authorization to get your medication, you know this is a bad idea. Take a moment to imagine being in agonizing severe pain. You’ve made it to the doctor and they prescribed pain medication. You get to the pharmacy and they tell you they need prior authorization. This means the pharmacy must call your doctor, who then must call your insurance company. Once the insurance company has processed the request, they inform the pharmacy. How long do think all of this will take? How much unnecessary pain will patients have to endure while they wait for this process to play out? With a new prescription required every month and no early refills, now imagine having to deal with this every single month.

 

Thank you for reading this very long blog entry. You may not be directly impacted by chronic pain or this absurd war on opioids; however it does affect you and your right to pain medication should you ever require it. Please take action now by contacting your government representatives to ask them to protect our access to pain medication. Please also share this blog to help raise #OpioidAwareness.

 

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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 Patron.

THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

 

Magic on Maui & Kauai

Between adventuring and resting, there was not much time to write while on retreat in Hawaii. On the plane ride home, I wrote until my hand could write no more as I tried to capture all the magical moments of this retreat. Traveling with a chronic illness is never easy. However by respecting the body’s limits, pacing, and with the silent power of meditation, not only is travel possible, it’s fun!

I thought about sharing excerpts from my journal, but instead I decided to share the posts and pictures that landed on my Facebook page during the trip. I’ve incorporated those posts into this blog, and added a few more photos and videos that didn’t make it on social media. On this most recent retreat, I’ve learned some important lessons that I plan to take with me into all aspects of life. I hope you can use them too. Enjoy Hawaii!

Like stars, we shine
for anyone who wants to look.

Progress – our own or that of others –
is none of our business

Our job is simply to shine.

July 18, 2016

Live above the clouds…

AboveTheClouds

July 19, 2016

Cloudy on the mountain, but loving Hawaii!!

SmilingOnCloudyMtnCloudyRoad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We left the summit clouds of Haleakala for the Lavender farm, where we found sunshine and Buddhas! If we are flexible, then life gives us wonderful surprises when things don’t work out as planned.

LavendarGardenBuddha
OM MANI PADME HUM

StupaInPaia

In Paia, we walked inside this little stupa, turning the prayer wheel. At first, my traveling companions started walking faster and faster until I felt I was about to break into a jog! (Apparently one of them was trying to get the bell to ring more often!) I had to ask them to slow way down, and remind them this was an opportunity for walking meditation. Once we slowed our pace, we began chanting OM AH HUNG, which was painted on the inside wall along with a majestic mural of various Buddhas. A little girl watched us with curiosity, so I invited her in when I reach the doorway. She walked with us as we turned the big prayer wheel. There’s always room for another friend on the Path. The acoustics in the tiny building were amazing. We all left there feeling the beauty and Light of all the Buddhas!

 

After dinner, a magical moon came out to play…
What do you see in this picture?MagicalMoon

(I see a pyramid!)

July 20, 2016

MoonBright

There was a dog howling at the moon in the middle of the night near our room at the Kula Lodge. The wild roosters have begun to crow. And I know it’s going to be a wonder-filled day!

 

 

 

Amazing gift today…

SmilingAt10000Feet

The weather cleared this morning on the volcano so we could see all the beauty of the alien looking landscape of Haleakala. The sun warmed the air to an unusual high of 62 degrees at 10,000 feet!

OceanAndObservatory10000Feet

Yesterday we had to put on rain ponchos and heavy coats and we couldn’t see 5 feet in front of us! Now we can see the Observatory and the ocean 10,000 feet below!

HaleakalaCrater

 

When we went walking and it became too warm, a light misty rain cooled us. When we became chilled, the sun would come back out to warm us up again. So magical to have the weather respond to our every thought! More proof that Eternity always gives us exactly what we need, when we need it.

 

We sat in silence on a grassy patch at the side of a trail at 8,000 feet while the insects buzzed and danced. The mist and sun continued to keep us comfortable.  While in that little grassy field, we made a short video to share a wonderful story of the Aloha Spirit in action that we had witnessed in the parking lot.  You can watch it below:

As we headed back, important decisions of whether the need to pee outweighed the need to rest were made. For one of us –not me, but I’m not saying who – the need to pee won forcing this person to make a dash to the bathroom in the parking lot, while two of us remained resting on the trail. When we got back to the car, the rain clouds had rolled in, completely obscuring the view.

SmilingAtTheSummit

So blessed to have the opportunity to see this and be here!

I am thankful I didn’t have to wait for a healthy body to enjoy the transient nature of it all! If you are out there waiting, know you don’t have to either. Get out and enjoy this amazing world in whatever way you can.

NeneBirdsGazing
Nene birds gazing out at Haleakala

July 21, 2016

We left the Maui mountains and are now enjoying the Garden Island of Kauai. We are thankful for the pre-retreat clearing on Maui, and are ready to meet the others for the full “Touching Aloha” retreat!

LeavingMaui
Goodbye Maui

I want to mention a note of gratitude for the kindness from the TSA workers at the Maui airport. My travel companions were TSA pre-check, but I wasn’t, so they left me at the security check point. I didn’t think the security line was very long, but when I got to what I thought was the end, I discovered it went farther than I could see, and snaked back and forth three times. The heat and humidity washed over me, and my muscles complained from the previous day’s walk on the volcano. I started heading for the back of the line and realized my body was not going to make it without severe consequences. The previous week I had read an article on the Mighty, which gave me the information that there is help at the airport for those of us with physical challenges (even if we don’t look the part) and the courage to show the TSA agent my disabled parking card. Without making a big deal of it, she pointed me towards the unmarked handicapped entrance, explained the procedure of showing the next agent my card, and saved me from what would have become a grueling increased pain flare that could have ruined the rest of the trip. We need to be willing to ask for and receive a reasonable accommodation when we need it. (The old me would have waited until the pain had become too intense to handle before talking to the TSA agent.)

HelloKauai
Hello Kauai

 

 

 

 

 

The birds are chirping and the wind is dancing with the palms as the sun begins to rise.

KauaiCondoView

May your day be as beautiful as the ocean kissing the sand!

 

July 22, 2016

We hiked up this trail, very slowly. A big Thank You to Lakshmi for helping me keep the correct pace! She used walking sticks, and her deliberate placing of each pole and each foot allowed me time to rest in between each step I took. My walk up the mountain was step step rest. This proves once again that going slow allows me to go far.

NapaliCoastOverlook

When we sat in meditation on the side of this sacred trail, I felt the energy of the land growing within me like an ivy vine, slow, strong and vibrant. Later when we talked, Lakshmi, our guide for this retreat, said the island of Kauai plants the seed of truth within us.

At this view point the wind was so strong it pushed me back on my butt right after this picture was taken!

The beach you see below is where we snorkeled with the fish and floated in the healing water.

“Can I push your feet?” asked my friend when we were in the water. The current was too strong for me to keep swimming against to keep my place next to the fish and coral reef and I was about to head out of the water. She pushed my feet while I steered, and we had a hard time not laughing with our masks on as we followed the fish around and attempted to avoid collisions with others enjoying the water. Accepting help from others allows us to explore much more than we can reach on our own.

 

July 23, 2016

We were able to visit the local Buddhist Temple, even though it was closed, thanks to our BuddhistTemple-Smallexcellent retreat leader Lakshmi. She was able to find the caretaker and asked permission for us to sit in the Temple. It was such a blessing to be allowed to sit inside to meditate. After exchanging business cards with the Buddhist priest, we went outside to put our shoes back on. The temple priest came outside and gave us all books describing their particular path of Soto Buddhism.

In the parking lot, one our retreat members flipped open the book to a page with the Japanese character for Sangha. No matter the particulars of our personal Path, we are all connected in the community of Light.

 

After shopping, ice cream, and a great meal, we found ourselves somewhere over the rainbow…

OverTheRainbow

There’s nothing quite like floating in warm ocean water as the waves rock you beneath a full spectrum, half-circle rainbow. Not that we needed it, but it was yet another wonderful reminder: Magic is real. The rainbow lasted for over an hour, giving us a chance to take pictures!

There’s also nothing quite like aggressive chickens on the beach!chicken-small

 

 

 

July 24, 2016

Today I felt like I was in India. My first time at a Hindu temple for puja filled my being with endless bliss. The rain washed us clean before and after the ceremony. While listening to beautiful chanting by the monk, I easily slipped into meditation and Ganesh appeared before me as I sat in front of a huge statue of Lord Kartikeya!

At the temple entrance, Ganesh stood watch over a pavilion with a bowl designed to let you burn a piece a paper on which you write an obstacle you’re facing. Thank you Ganesh for removing the obstacles in my Path!

HinduTempleGanesh

Photos inside the temple were not allowed, but I found this friend waiting at the end of the Banyan Tree meditation path. (see video below) The exact moment I rang the bell in offering a prayer, a small branch from the tree tapped my third eye. Very playful!

On our last night on this magical island, She cleared the clouds and showed us the stars! This retreat has connected me to the Fire element like never before. I feel the flames of love, and the joyful activity that is to come upon my return. So thankful for all the blessings on this journey!

July 25, 2016

Mahalo Kauai for all the magic!

KauaiFromAirSmall

And Mahalo to my dear friend Lakshmi of Integrated Meditation Studies for organizing the Touching Aloha Retreat to Kauai for Dharma Center Members and sharing this beautiful treasure with us.

 

 

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To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

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 Patron.

THANK YOU!

Jenna