It Doesn’t Matter What You Say: Lessons Learned from Maya Angelou and Pema Chodron

#truelove #allowing #dating

GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
It Doesn’t Matter What You Say: Lessons Learned from Maya Angelou and Pema Chodron
“I’ve learned that people won’t remember what you said
And people won’t remember what you did
People will only remember how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou

In 2005, my mother was in a hospital, dying. I remembered that a friend of mine, Pippa, had written about being a volunteer in a hospice and it occurred to me that my mother needed to be there, not in a hospital being tortured with countless meds, beeping machines and pointless procedures. Studies indicate that many people receive aggressive and unnecessary treatment in hospitals and if given the choice, would prefer hospice care.

My mother was suffering. She deserved something better.

I called Pippa, she gave me the number of the hospice and within a few hours my mother was admitted. What I remember most about that afternoon was that my friend Bella met us at the hospice with flowers. She didn’t know my mother and my mother was not even aware that she was there — but I was so grateful. As a volunteer, Pippa came by too, many times. They called her “the tea lady.”

While my mother was in hospice, my sister was hit by a car and had to have five surgeries to save her leg. My daughter was going through very difficult teenage years — and I felt guilty because I couldn’t be as attentive as I wanted to be. My husband was home though — because his business as a freelance photographer had been on life support too.

Life was grim, but in that darkness I discovered the writings of Pema Chodron — thanks to my good friend Jacqui, who suggested I read some of Pema Chodron’s books. Her writing saved me.

I came to understand that all the overwhelming anger and sadness — that it was all perfect in its own way. That life sometimes is really hard. You can’t escape that. You have to learn how to hold it, how to accommodate it. You’ll be tempted to numb it — with drugs or food or alcohol, or television or shopping. But the best route is to just sit with it. Feel it. Push through it.

I can’t say I became a Zen master, but I learned that I wasn’t alone and that everyone’s life will have struggles, and that those times — when Bella arrived with flowers, or when Pippa came in with tea and cookies, or when I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on my way to the hospice — were for me, the moments for which I was most grateful. And that dark time held lessons for me that forced me to grow and become a more empathetic person.

My mother and sister survived, but sadly my marriage did not. In 2009, a few years later, my husband and I separated. Thanks to the lousy economy my job ended. My daughter, then 21, decided to move 3,000 miles away and then suddenly, my mother died.

I thought 2004 was rough. That was a walk in the park compared to 2009. And 2010. Divorce, death, moving, it all hit me like a ton of bricks — like a tsunami. I felt oceans of grief, of tears.

I turned back to Pema Chodron, to meditation and to a beautiful place called Friends In Deed, a spiritual center for anyone dealing with life threatening illness, grief, bereavement or need support in caregiving. At Friends In Deed I was able to put in practice what I learned by reading Pema Chodron — that all of us suffer, that we don’t have to do it alone, that being with others through difficult times — even just one person — lightens the burdens.

I had dinner with an old friend who had been through a difficult divorce herself — Abigail — and when she heard that I had two dogs, no job and had to move, she said, “Why don’t you move in with me for awhile? You can get back on your feet — we’ll figure it out.”

That was 4.5 years ago — I am still there. Abigail saved my life. She gave me a safe haven to go through the grief and eventually come out the other side. In these years — I also lost both of my beloved dogs, but I didn’t do it alone — Abigail was with me when they died. So many friends were with me — too many to even name.

My daughter moved back to New York. I found a job I love. No man yet — but there’s time.

I rediscovered my love of dance.

I learned that life isn’t about how much money you earn. It isn’t about your status, how many houses and cars you own. It is about how you roll when life hands you challenges — because it will. Trust me.

It is about showing up in a hospice when your friend’s mother is dying, or sitting with someone in the emergency room, or calling a friend going through a divorce, or meeting them for a coffee. It may not be opening your home for someone, but it might be.

And it doesn’t matter what you say to that person. It doesn’t even really matter what you do. How you make someone feel — if they feel less alone, even for just a moment. That is what matters.

6 Things Recovery From an Eating Disorder Gave Me
Over the course of my recovery from an eating disorder, the following question has been asked numerous times: “If you could turn back the clock and not have an eating disorder, would you?” To which I respond, “Duh.” I do not know anyone who willingly chooses to develop and endure an illness that tears through life like an F-5 tornado, destroying everything and everyone in its path. An eating disorder is so terribly miserable, I would not even wish it on my worst enemy’s cousin’s tarantula (and I’m arachnophobic). But over half of my life has been defined and ruled by this insidious illness, and as devastating as it has been, it has ultimately changed my life in a way for which I can only be thankful.

This illness has taken a lot from me, and it has had its fair share of time in the limelight. I could express how frustrating it was at times to feel so misunderstood by others thinking I had willingly chosen this affliction, as if it were something I could simply elect to have or not have. I could speak at great length about each treatment stay in numerous facilities. I could share how deeply anorexia destroyed my body, and the many medical consequences I sustained as a result. But there is so much I have learned from this illness, and from the very sick girl I once was. Now, I can look at myself during that time from a third-person perspective as I morphed into a creature that stared out through my eyes and spoke with my voice, but with whom to this day I do not identify, know, or recognize. She gave me much more in life than a hefty medical file and a story to tell. She helped me come into my own, and made me who I am.

She gave me endurance.
I cannot begin to count how many times I have experienced a challenging or difficult situation where I have said to myself, “Christina, you can do this. If you can endure all that you have, and survive three months without coffee (inpatient treatment + weak heart = no caffeine) you can do anything.” As someone whose zest for a cup of joe (or eight) rivals that of Danny Tanner’s, this was no easy feat, leading me to believe my capabilities are endless.

She gave me compassion.
Thanks to my parents and upbringing, I have grown up with very strong values and a big heart. But it wasn’t until I started to regain my health that I began to really feel alive for the first time in years. Maybe it was the self-love from which I was deprived so long, or maybe it was that my heart was just growing back to normal size after shrinking from years of malnutrition, but being alive just makes me to reach out and hug everyone. No matter how pristine one’s life may appear, absolutely no one is immune to human struggle, and a simple kind word or thoughtful gesture can truly make a difference. Nothing gives me more joy than being the one to pass it on.

She gave me maturity beyond my years.
I recently turned 25, and while that is neither a particularly green age nor ripe age, I feel like I should be getting my AARP card, like, tomorrow. I am fully engaged in the culture that is typical of a millennial 20-something, and am by no means lining up for the Early Bird Special at Denny’s just yet, but anymore I rarely sweat the small stuff. (Thank goodness. Pit stains are the last thing I need.) I can usually see the bigger picture, and that is a perspective for which I am incredibly grateful.

She gave me a vibrant sense of humor.
Starvation kills brain cells. During the depths of my illness, all of my “funny-making cells” that make me who I am were dead as a doorknob. Luckily, they have risen from the dead, because I sure do enjoy some harmless mischief once in a while, and good humor, always. Some people have private drivers; I have a private drummer that thumps out a beat to which only I can march.

She gave me deep and lasting friendships.
Although my eating disorder strained many friendships, recovery blessed me with many new ones. In treatment, I have gotten to know so many inspiring individuals from the inside out. Walls come crashing down in a room full of mere strangers and it quickly forges powerful bonds unlike any other. One of my closest friends is someone with whom I went through treatment four years ago. She has played such a huge role in my recovery and is one of the greatest people I have ever known.

She gave me a platform upon which I can help others.
Throughout my recovery, I have, independently and through Project HEAL, had the opportunity to speak to large audiences of all kinds and mentor others who struggle with an eating disorder. Openly speaking about battling an eating disorder is still, unfortunately, kind of a taboo topic. Even though up to 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States alone battle an eating disorder, these illnesses have a way of shoving a sufferer on their own little island. (A deserted island sure does sound enticing. This one, however, is not.) Funny as it sounds, I am very grateful to have gone through all that I have. I know how meaningful it is to have someone as an ally in the war who has been there, done that, and learned the hard way that the only way to survive is to jump off that island and learn how to swim.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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