Category Archives: health

HEALING

What is Luann doing with all those little boxes???

I worked in my studio yesterday. It was a major event.

I made eight little pendants for my simple horse necklaces. Not a big deal, usually. Certainly not a big production day for me.

But it was significant. Because it’s the first work I’ve made since my knee replacement surgery last month.

My last post before I went under the knife showed the frayed mental state I was in. It wasn’t pretty! Even now, I lay awake at night, exhausted, my body aching for sleep, my mind racing at 90 mph. A litany of minor sins streams through my brain–all the things I need to do, all the things I have to redo, all the things that need fixing/making/writing/cleaning etc. After what seems like an eternity, I finally fall asleep.

But when I wake in the morning, all I feel is tired.

I’d be more worried, except my very good friend Jennie, a recent surgery patient, too (who was, incidentally, also the first visitor I “received” once I’d stabilized from the surgery) gave me a wonderful insight.

“It’s not so much the surgery, or the pain,” she mused. “The hardest part for me was when I did start feeling better. But I was so damn tired all the time. No energy!”

Oh gosh. I’d forgotten all about that part.

So once again, I have just the right words at just the right time.

I can walk without crutches. The pain is easing. I don’t have to wear those damn compression stockings anymore!

But my body is not healed yet. It will take more time, and I must be patient with myself. Exquisitely patient, no matter what the demands in my life try to tell me otherwise.

And Lydie’s advice was right. Yes, it might be easier to work in here if my space were cleaner, less cluttered, less dusty. Maybe I should have spent more time restocking stores with inventory, or even trying to get fitter before my surgery.

But when I come in the studio, and see the materials for my next big series of works, it makes me think of the exciting new ideas I want to bring into being. I see a studio full of everything I need to take that next creative step forward.

I must remember to ask, every day, when I enter this fabulous space, with patience, with gentleness, with respect and joy:

“What is it you need from me today, that this new work can be brought into the world?”

All it really wants, for now, it seems, is for me to be here, with love. And intention.

And so my studio, too, is patiently waiting for me to heal.

11 Comments

Filed under art, choices, cleaning the studio, creativity, health

LOSING MY GREEN BELT

A teensy break from my “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS” series…maybe.

I was hiking in woods above our home a few weeks ago, and lost my house key. Not too big a deal, under ordinary circumstances–our family seems to lose house keys like a six-year-old loses teeth.

But attached to the key chain was one of my most prized possessions–a little tag made from a section of a belt used to denote rank in the martial arts. In my case, green belt.

When I first took up Tae Kwon Do more than fifteen years ago, it was a struggle for me. I was over forty, I was out of shape, and I was never an athlete to begin with. But I fell in love with my practice and slowly worked my way up through the ranks. I had good instruction, and although I wasn’t fast or especially talented, my techniques were sound.

Green belt level always seemed ideal. It meant you were at that hugely desirable third stage of learning, able to competently demonstrate good technique with some thought. But training is not as rigorous as the next level (red belt). Maybe halfway to black belt–still a long way to go, but with hope it can be achieved.

It’s a good place to be.

Soon after I tested for green belt, I received two presents, one treasured, the other one I wish I could forget.

I was given a key chain with the aforementioned green belt, which I treasured.

And one of my black belt instructors severely damaged my knee while sparring with me.

And no, it wasn’t an accident, it was something a fifth-degree black belt should never have done to anyone outside of a life-or-death situation, let alone a student.

I call it that incident a “present” because my husband calls it “the gift that keeps on giving”. It totally screwed up my leg, and as a consequence, my lower back, my hip and my posture. I’ve had multiple surgeries to repair the damage, including an ACL replacement, months of physical therapy and other complications. I still struggle with compromised range of motion, swelling and discomfort.

The positive outcome? I left the martial arts, for good, I thought. But a decade later, I came back. First to Thai kickboxing and five years later, a new Tae Kwon Do school.

I’m even older, achy, ouchy, and even more out of shape. But I know now that, though my practice will always be a challenge, I will continue until I simply can’t.

I’ve learned to show up, even when I didn’t want to. I’ve learned to work through frustration and self-doubt. I’ve learned not to measure my progress against others, but to simply try to do a little bit better each time. And sometimes, I’ve learned to just stick it out “just five more minutes.” And another five minutes. And another. Until, miracle of miracles, the two hours is over, and I realize I’ve made it through another whole class.

And that has been a gift. Because I have applied these principles of practice to many other areas of my life, including my art.

The school I’m in now has a more aggressive, sparring-oriented approach, and my progress is even slower. I may never see green belt again.

So my little key chain was my constant reminder of how far I was able to go, once upon a time. A time where I could hold a little personal dream that I might at least achieve that level again, someday.

And now it’s gone.

I remember how upset I was when, trying to provide provenance for my past placement at this new school, I was told that “anyone could buy one of those key chains”, it didn’t prove anything. They’re right, I get that. Even now, I could simply buy another one. But anyone who knows me, knows I would never in a million years do something like that. It would feel like cheating.

I wondered why its loss feels so hard. Today I read an article by Lee Eisenberg, author of Shoptimism. (Okay, it was in today’s Parade Magazine and you can read it here.

I realized my little green belt tag represented something of value to me–of a time when it was physically possible for me to dream of being a black belt someday. Not as a goal, but as a culmination of a process, of dedication to my practice.

And now I have no such dream.

What I do have is the realization that black belt would be wonderful (after the training and the testing–it’s a brutal process.) But the dream of black belt is no longer my goal.

My goal is to simply keep going, and to keep on practicing, and to hope for incremental refinement and improvement. And hopefully, to continue my practice far, far, into my life.

So as painful as losing that memento is, maybe it’s just as well. Maybe it was actually holding me back. Keeping me in the past. Maybe it’s just time to let go of the need to remember stronger, younger days.

Or maybe I just don’t need a reminder anymore. Maybe just being me, and being grateful I can practice at all, is all the blessing I need.

5 Comments

Filed under art, choices, craft, health, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

STARTING OVER AGAIN Part Deux

One door closes, another opens.

I made my decision, and I will leave my Tae Kwon Do practice.

Ironically, I had just submitted a testimonial to the school a few short months ago.

I had an excellent talk with my head instructor. I’ve grown to greatly trust and respect him. He’s seen this coming, though he’d hoped I would find a window of opportunity, a chance to “get ahead of my body” before another injury could set me back.

He said some things about my spirit that made me cry (in a good way.) He urged me to stay until I had my “next step” in place. He reminded me that we all eventually reach this place in our practice, including him, and he will help me figure this next step out.

Less than 24 hours later, I may have found that next step.

It was practically under my nose.

A few months ago, a friend mentioned her brother-in-law is a “world class Tai Chi guy.” I found the contact information she gave me. I took a deep breath and emailed him.

He wrote back a few days later, and agreed to meet with me.

Turns out he “gets” the martial arts aspect of Tai Chi (something that is important to me right now.)

It turns out he is an accomplished martial artist in several disciplines, who did indeed “compete” at an international level for several years.

It turns out he thinks Tai Chi could be a perfect “next step” for me, incorporating strength, balance, focus and safe practice.

It turns out he knows–and respects–my instructor.

And it turns out he lives around the corner from me.

I took a deep breath, screwed up my courage, and asked what was in my heart:

Did he have any interest in teaching?

It turns out he’s been thinking that teaching would be a way to return to a daily practice, something that’s been hard to fit into his schedule the last few years, as he travels extensively back and forth between two cities.

Just thinking about this, and now writing about it, sends shivers down my spine. (In a good way!)

As we dig our way out of our third snow storm here in New Hampshire, I send these good wishes your way:

May your home be warm and may your power stay on.

May you have food on your table and may you have family and good friends to share it with.

May you find you own tiny miracles to astonish you, as often as you need them.

And if you need one today, take a look at this wonderful little movie, Where the hell is Matt?

I can’t watch it without tearing up. It delights me to my very core to see people of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors and beliefs, join this guy in his silly dance.

And it astonishes me that it came of a “silly whim” of his to quit his job, drop everything, and simply go see what was out in the world.

Thank you, everyone, who wrote to encourage me during this very difficult time. My goal is to catch up on my comments section in the next few days.

And Merry Christmas to all, wherever and however you dance!

5 Comments

Filed under art, change, choices, health, life, martial arts, mental attitude

STARTING OVER AGAIN

I’ve been slip-sliding away the last few weeks. Low on energy, low on creativity, low, low, low in mood. Didn’t feel like I had much to say so I didn’t say anything.

I thought I could handle the one-day-at-a-time thing, which then segued into can-I-make-it-through-the-next-15 minutes?? thing, and hit bottom with the stay-in-the-moment thing.

Then I twisted my knee again in tae kwon do class Monday night. I fled the class, limped home, and spent the next two days with my knee iced and elevated.

Dang! And I was just getting the hang of dealing with life in 60-second packages!

It’s mostly my fault. I was cajoled to “work a little harder”, and I should have said no. That’s my responsibility.

But practicing tae kwon do has become more and more about saying no, with less and less to say “yes” to.

I’ve tried to go back to the martial arts half a dozen times now. I just can’t figure out how to practice safely. Looks like I need to explore that tai chi thing again.

I’m feeling overwhelmed with sadness about leaving, but also relieved. I’m beginning to realize how much I’m dreading another major injury.

Most people don’t see what the big deal is. They have no idea how much I’ve enjoyed my practice, nor what I’ve gotten from it.

I’ve learned the very definition of “perseverance” from my studies. Leaving feels like giving up on a very profound level.

It’s taught me so much about life, and about myself. That will be difficult to walk away from.

But if I don’t, I’m afraid I’ll be walking “funny” the rest of my life.

I’ll share my thoughts as I work through this, and I’ll know more after I see my doc after Christmas.

If anyone would like to pass on words of wisdom, I could use them now! I know I have much to be grateful for, but it’s still hard.

14 Comments

Filed under choices, health, martial arts

SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT from the inside out

It’s funny how one day, I have absolutely no idea what I could write about that would possibly interest anyone. The next, I’m flooded with the same idea over and over and over again.

The last few days, I’ve seen “environment” road signs all over the place. But not the “environment” we usually mean.

I’m talking about our own personal environment.

I saw the first sign yesterday, at an inspirational black belt ceremony in my old dojo. I remember when the candidate began his journey in martial arts. I wrote this article about him in my old blog. To me, this guy epitomizes the powerful and transformative journey to black belt. He is now officially one of my life heroes.

One of the teachers read a speech he’d written about achieving black belt level, about how important our environment is to the process. Everything in our environment–the people we interact with, the support we receive, the choices we make, the food we eat–all contribute to who we are.

If we intend to transform ourselves, we must create the environment that supports our intention.

The second sign was on my way home. I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Last night I found the third sign.

It was this odd little book on my dining room table. It’s called As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. It’s been floating around my home for months. I kept picking it up and moving it here and there. I think I know who gave it to me, but I’m not sure. It seems like it just appeared on day. (You can download a copy here for free.)

The premise is, what you think is who you are. We create our own reality, and we see the world through our own filter. Believe your life sucks, and that’s what you see. Believe you can make it better–and incorporate the choices that make it happen–and you will.

I finally started to read it last night. I glanced at the back…right where it says, “Environment is but his looking-glass.”

Which stopped me dead in my tracks.

This metaphor–our environment reflecting us–was suddenly very clear.

Yeah, it took three signs, but I finally got it.

Our personal environment is powerful. The environment we create will either support us in positive ways, or in negative ways. You can turn your life around and make it all the way through to black belt. Or you sit around, confused, overwhelmed and troubled, wondering where you lost your way.

Either way, it’s our choice.

I’m sitting here realizing I’ve let my environment slip.

I got a great start creating a better workspace, as you can follow with my series of articles on Cleaning the Attic.

I’ve added yoga to my activities, which has had huge mental and spiritual benefits.

But I’ve let other things slide.

I’ve made it entirely too easy to make unhealthy food choices, and hard to make healthy ones.

I’ve been lax on creating opportunities for daily workouts.

I’m still too quick to volunteer my time and energy to things that either hugely annoy me or endlessly distract me.

I still agonize over whether I spend time with people I “ought to” vs. people who will inspire me and support my artistic vision.

Or maybe even “no people at all.” Years ago, I remember being stunned when an artist said she let days go by where she wouldn’t even answer the phone–because she needed to protect her creative time. She was an amazingly self-absorbed person, but she was also an amazingly talented and productive artist.

I want to be a good mom/daughter/friend/wife/citizen–but I also want to be an amazing artist. I need to find that good balance point again.

So I’m realizing that “protecting our environment” can mean many things for me right now.

I need to be selfish with my time, sometimes.

I need to make sure I have salad greens in the fridge, and I need to make sure there’s no more Halloween candy in my studio.

I need to make just as much time for working on a fiber piece as I do for folding the laundry.

I need to limit the time I spend with people who would be happy to suck up every spare minute of my time and emotional energy. But I’m still hopelessly addicted to “being nice”, so I gotta work on that.

I need to find something, some activity, that demands I work out hard, for at least an hour a day. My fitness has suffered greatly since I left behind my almost-daily kickboxing practice. If I can’t find the self-discipline to do it myself, I have to find a way to have someone else make me do it.

I must decide where/how I can study martial arts, where IF I ever make it to black belt, I can be an asset, and not an embarrassment, to the school.

A friend said once, “When you feel your prayers aren’t being answered, see what’s in the way that blocks them from being answered.” I’m thinking about this right now. Because that blockade is part of the environment we’ve created for ourselves.

I don’t have it all figured out yet. It’s an ongoing process, my biggest “work in progress”.

But that’s what I’m thinking about right now.

4 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, change, choices, fitness, health, life, martial arts, mental attitude, time management

SMALL GIFTS

Taking a small break from the latest business series on halfway wholesaling… I just had to share two small gifts in my life lately.

I started back riding two weeks ago. It’s the first time I’ve been on a horse in more than six months–maybe closer to eight, come to think of it. It was wonderful! But that’s not the small gift (because being well enough to ride at all is a big gift….)

My “main ride” at the stable is Fancy, an old blue-eyed quarter horse with a thick black mane and a skinny tail. (He’s the favorite candidate for mane-braiding among the younger riders.)

Fancy could be urged through his paces, but emphasis on the “urging” part. Whenever I asked for a trot, you could see him thinking, “Are you suuuure?”

You could actually see him heave a huge horsey sigh, a low groan, and then, if you were lucky, a reluctant, slow trot–for a few paces. A few more requests, more sighs and groans, and I’d get a finally get a good trot out of him. (Which was a nice one, when he finally got going.)

He carried his head low, low, low, which meant I had to give him a lot of rein room. And just when I would relax and let my attention wander, he would do something like bolt through the barn door and dart outside. I learned to duck in a heartbeat.

But he was reliable, and safe (except for the barn door thing), and I grew to love him. Even the slightly worried look on his face when I came to his stall, which seemed to say, “We’re not riding today, are we??!!”

Fancy is not doing well this season, and I can’t ride him. I miss my old cow pony (though I’m not sure he misses me–he always kinda kept to himself, though he loved the Cheerios I brought him.)

My new ride, Carol, is a smaller, slightly younger mare. She has her “things”–every horse has their “thing”–but they are manageable things. (For one, she’s a head-tosser and needs to work with a martingale.) She’s quicker to respond, and wants a lighter hand on the reins, forcing me to use my legs more. She’s also quicker to see if she can get away with something–but easy to bring back around. I will need to pay attention at all times, and be ready to catch her. She also has more energy, and will work harder for me. I need to get strong fast, so I can keep up with her.

She is, in short, the perfect “next horse” for me.

I also went back to Tae Kwon Do class for the first time since my hand injury (in December.) I was so nervous about going! I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up in this school ever since I started 18 months ago, and now I’m really behind the eight ball. I even took several private lessons with my instructor, to help me build confidence about returning.

There’s another student, brand new to our school but with martial arts training. She’s coming back from horrific injuries and surgeries. My instructor paired us up so we can both train slowly and carefully, bringing each other back up to speed gently.

My new partner is excited to be training again, but overwhelmed with her setbacks. She keeps apologizing for the things she can’t do (when she can barely stand to do the techniques.)

In her I see myself. All the ruefulness, all the regrets for the skill she used to have, and may never have again. The embarrassment for what she can’t do, the self-consciousness of being around people who are better than her. The fear that this is as good as it’s going to get.

And my heart goes out to her.

About the fifth time she apologizes and says, “I used to be able to do this!”, I interrupt her.

“Let’s not go there,” I say.

I tell her we both have to let go of what we used to be able to do. It will destroy us.

We both have to focus on what we can do. We both have to be right here, right now. And we both need to move forward from here.

“You’re doing great!” I tell her. “And I know how much courage it took for you to even show up tonight. Let’s focus on that for now. You and me, we’re going to get better, and do better. Starting now.”

She lets her breath out slowly, and nods. And smiles.

I am the right person for her to train with right now. Because I’ve been there.

And she is the perfect “next partner” for me right now. Because everything I tell her, I’m also telling…myself.

Two gifts in my life right now.

3 Comments

Filed under courage, health, horses, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

KITTEN THERAPY

I’m slowly returning to normal activities, and my spirit continues to mend, too.

It was a shock to learn that the spirit can take longer than the body to recover from a long year of injuries and setbacks. It was a good lesson to learn, though. I think I’ve gained more compassion for others in the same boat. You can handle one setback, another and another. But at some point, your soul just wants to hunker down and run.

We’ve always heard that when we are down in the dumps, it can help to reach out and help others. It’s a good way to get us outside our own heads, a way to move and act without being totally self-referential.

But if even that seems like too much, here’s a lower-threshold spiritual treatment I can almost guarantee will provide the same benefit:

Kittens.

There’s something about kitten antics that makes everything else weighing on your heart just fly away.

Everything is wildly interesting to them–the hem of your jeans, the tie on your robe, the cord on your window shades, the dryer lint in the waste basket, the bug crawling on the floor.

They jump, bounce, flounce, roll, and cry piteously when their tail is, in turn, mistaken for a toy by a sibling.

And if you get tired of dealing with a hamburger-sized ball of fuzz that sees everything in the world as attackable, there’s always an exhausted yet hugely grateful mom-cat who’s happy to simply sit and be petted.

Now, you don’t have to rush out and buy kittens. In fact, there’s a great way to have an (almost) everlasting supply of kittens on hand.

You can be a kitten foster care provider.

One of our favorite family volunteer projects is to act as a foster home for our local humane society. When they receive a pregnant cat or a mom-cat with young kittens, they quickly place them in homes for temporary care–about one to three months, or until the kittens are old enough to be safely adopted.

This gives the mothers a calm, loving environment outside the shelter. It gives the new family a haven from all the diseases that course through a shelter. It ensures the kittens get maximum socialization with humans, critical to their emotional development as family pets.

And as a side effect, our family gets to enjoy kittens in all their glory for two months.

Just when they reach those teenage years (in kitten time), they are all ready to go back to the humane society. The mom cats, unfortunately, may have to wait for new homes. But at least the kittens are adopted quickly, usually within a week. Although I confess, our current pair of cats, our clown-cat Chai and our nervous-nelly cat Moxie, were both former mom-cats in our home.

The layout of our home allows us to set up a foster cat station apart from the other critters. Our two regulars know something is going on, of course. Suddenly, interesting food is delivered to a room that’s now off-limits to them, and they aren’t allowed to drink out of the bathtub faucet anymore. Their bewilderment is palpable, and their attempts to convince us that they need that extra nice cat food, too are amusing.

Our latest batch came to us last week. The mom-cat has been christened “Juno”, after the movie with the young pregnant teen heroine of the same name, because she is so outrageously young herself. (A visitor, on seeing her emerge from the “nesting box”, exclaimed, “That’s the mother??

The kittens are tiny, and just now starting to open their eyes. Three golden mackerel tabbies (probably male), two black torties (probably female.)

They’re really too young to play with yet, and Juno waits anxiously nearby when we handle them, ready to snatch them back at the least little peep out of them.

But already, everything is delightfully right in the world.

P.S. This works with puppies and bunnies, too.

3 Comments

Filed under funny, health, humor, life, mental attitude, pets

NIA and Me

I’ve been hearing a lot about NIA lately and this is the YouTube video that convinced me to give it a try yesterday. Hey, if anyone knows the name of the music in there, please let me know.

NIA ( “Neuromuscular Integrative Action”) fuses elements of dance, the martial arts and yoga into an invigorating cardiovascular fitness program. It’s a low-impact workout that’s accessible to all ages and abilities. You can read more about NIA here.

I hit all kinds of obstacles on my way there. I got a late start, I couldn’t find my workout clothes (or any that still fit), I got lost on my way to the place that offers the class, and I couldn’t find a parking space when I got there–their parking lot is buried under a mountain of snow and ice.

When I finally dragged myself into the dance studio, I found the instructor and one other student. Drat! No hiding in the back row…

I thought, “Well, how lame is this gonna be?” But I was pleasantly surprised.

There is very little formality or structure to the movements, which is perfect for me. I’m one of those inept people who really never got the hang of “the grapevine” in traditional aerobics class. I also haven’t moved actively except for walking for over two months. It was frightening how much muscle strength I’ve lost in that relatively short time.

But I did my best. I worked up a sweat.

And best of all, I had fun.

I’m definitely signing on for the class, at least for the next couple of months. This will be the perfect way to ease gently back into my normal regime of martial arts, climbing and yoga.

But the absolute best thing that clinched it was the boost to my ego.

No, the instructor, a dancer, didn’t ask me if I had trained as a dancer. That only happens in the movies, and if you saw my dancing, you’d probably make some snide remark about that wouldn’t even happen to me in a movie.

But she did ask if I’ve done NIA before, and was surprised when I said no. She insisted I must have had some training in it, because I looked very practiced and comfortable.

I’ve either gained more skill than I thought from those thousands of hours of martial arts training, or she is a salesperson extraordinare.

P.S. I was originally going to try Zumba first, but I just can’t shimmy like that. Maybe after NIA…?

8 Comments

Filed under action steps, fitness, health, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude