Surgery & Meditation

It is with much gratitude that I greet you this morning.

My wife drove me yesterday morning to the surgical center where a torn medial meniscus was removed in my right knee.

The injury happened during a run in July 2016. I waited this long to have testing done because I thought it was simply a strain. I completed a pain-free run in January to have my hopes dashed as the day went on because the pain progressed. It is a good thing that I maintain very realistic levels of hope about just about anything, that way the disappointment is minimal and thus much easier to manage.

A visit to an orthopedic surgeon and an MRI both confirmed the diagnosis. Surgery was scheduled as was time off from work. Anyone who knows me knows the latter of the two items was more difficult to schedule.

I am now one-day post-operative and the pain medication sits on my dresser untouched. Advil is hopefully becoming a close relative which will join the Lortab on the dresser. No medication at all for pain for which I am also grateful. I know my meditation practice plays a large role in the way I manage pain and discomfort.

I am grateful for the gifts which have been bestowed upon me secondary to all of my hard work.

Namaste

It’s time for a change

With hands clasped together in prayer, I greet you on this beautiful day.

A lot has been intentionally crossing my mind as of late.  As winter comes to an end and spring approaches, I have noticed the depression which I have worked so hard to manage during the long winter months has begun to lift. Medication remains a constant but there is also a renewed outlook which has buoyed my determination to continue the fight. Medication has been helpful as has my journal writing. Introspection has returned.

Since the beginning of 2015, I have twice changed employment. The first change found me looking for a challenge and the second was out of necessity for my physical and emotional health and well-being. The first change resulted in a depression which I found myself denying, even after I had left. I found myself in the throes of burnout and experiencing anhedonia-like I cannot recall. I forced myself to run. Running is normally a part of my day. For me, there is nothing better than rising at 4AM and getting in 7-10 miles. My love, my desire to run let alone wake at what some might call “that ungodly hour” had left.

Denial is a wonderful thing, or so we allow ourselves to believe. During the period of forced running, I felt a pain in my right knee. As the pain dissipated within a mile, I continued to run. One particularly depressing day, I completed a run, sat on my porch to rest in the solitude of this early hour and watch the sunrise. I rose, did nothing in particular with respect to movement and felt and heard a pop in my knee. Running without pain was now completely out of the question.

It has been in excess of 250 days since I last took a run.

As I procrastinated, my knee began to feel better. Pain was a thing of the past. A little over a month ago I went for a 3-mile run and was excited as there was no return of pain…until several hours later. The injury remained and it was time to seek a more in-depth intervention other than playing the wait and see game.

I finally met with an orthopedic surgeon, completed an MRI and ultimately was informed the diagnosis was a “complex tear of the meniscus.” The doctor was passive in his attempts to turn me away from a surgical intervention. He also cited my progressing age as a factor to “slow down and find another form of exercise.” I have other forms of exercise but none provide me with the solace that trail running does. There is something magical at rising at 4AM before everyone with sense rises for the day, lacing on a pair of running shoes, filling a water bottle and simply hitting the road. I time many of my runs to be in certain places at certain times so I can catch the rise of the sun.  The run is my therapy while the sunrise is simply a bonus. When I see the sunrise, I think of my maternal grandmother who’s presence embodied all that a beautiful sunrise could be.

There have been many lessons learned over those last two years. I have listened. I hold no remorse for the amount of time which it has taken me to move forward for this is where many of the lessons lie.

I photograph, write and post the results to better understand the journey I’m on — both the literal ones where the Vespa scooter moves through the world and those trickier trips where my mind conspires to understand what the hell is happening to me.  In either case, I’m a spokesman for myself and don’t pretend to offer much to anyone else.

Publishing to my blog as of the last couple of years has been terribly inconsistent. I felt as though a lot of the things about which I have wanted to write did not fit “The Dharmata” very well. I felt as though I had become pigeonholed and subsequently stale. I felt this change needed to take place some time ago and for any number of poor reasons, I never followed through with the change.

I have changed the name of my blog address to thebeardedrunner.net. This is a change GoDaddy tells me is in effect immediately. I hope you continue to follow me on this new path. I plan on writing more regularly about depression, running, the importance of activity in our lives and whatever else come to mind.

Are you Living or just Surviving?

What follows is a letter written in 1958 by a then 22-year-old Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter wrote this letter to his friend Hume logan after Hume had asked him how one can find meaning and purpose in life.

I hear complaints frequently in my work as a therapist. People come to me complaining they feel ‘burned out’, stressed; that they cannot ‘find the time” to do the things they want to do, that their time is taken up by the things they ‘need to do.’

The majority of my clients do not want to hear my response. They want medication or another ‘quick fix.’ As Hunter says in his letter to Hume, there is no quick fix. Hunter talks about the importance of identifying a goal. This is another issue that the majority of my clients struggle to understand. They come to therapy with a vague goal of ‘wanting to feel better.’ Trying to ferret out a more in-depth response is often a difficult proposition which is precisely why so many of us struggle to find our way. We remain adrift throughout life like a sailboat lacking a rudder. Wind can fill our sails but lacking a rudder to ensure we are traveling in the right direction will get us nowhere.

I am going to let Hunter take it from here and share his thoughts on this question.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles …” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors.WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

Your friend,
Hunter

I hope Hunter’s advice helps you find your way..

Namaste

How to Feel Happier During an Unhappy Time

This is republished from Gretchen Rubin.

Sometimes, it’s not possible — or at least not easy — to feel happy. However, it’s sometimes possible to feel happier. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Remind yourself of reasons to be grateful. When things look really dark, it’s hard to feel grateful, but remembering what’s good in your life can help put problems into perspective. I have a friend who recently suffered a big disappointment at work. She said to me, “As long as my family is healthy, I can’t get too upset about anything.”

2. Remember your body. Take a twenty-minute walk outside to boost your energy and dissolve stress. Don’t let yourself get too hungryGet enough sleep. Manage pain. It’s very tempting to run yourself ragged trying to deal with a crisis, but in the long run, you just wear yourself out.

3. Do something fun. Temporarily distract yourself from the stress, and re-charge your battery, with an enjoyable activity. Watching a funny movie is a reliable way to give yourself a pleasant break, and listening to your favorite music is one of the quickest ways to change your mood. When my older daughter was in the intensive-care unit as a newborn, my husband dragged me off to a movie one afternoon — and that few hours of distraction made me much better able to cope with the situation. Be careful, however, not to “treat” yourself by doing something that’s eventually going to make you feel worse (taking up smoking again, drinking too much, indulging in retail therapy). My comfort-food activity is reading children’s literature.

4. Take action. If you’re in a bad situation, take steps to bring about change. If you’re having trouble with your new boss, you could decide to try to transfer. Or you could change your behavior. Or you could find ways to pay less attention to your boss. Ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem?” It’s astounding to me that often, when I take time to identify a problem exactly, a possible solution presents itself.

5. Look for meaning. Re-frame an event to see the positive along with the negative. Maybe getting fired will give you the push you need to move to the city where you’ve always wanted to live. Maybe your illness has strengthened your relationships with your family. You don’t need to be thankful that something bad has happened, but you can try to find positive consequences even in a catastrophic event. Here are some examples.

6. Connect with friends and family. Strong relationships are a KEY to happiness, so fight the impulse to isolate yourself. Show up. Make plans. Ask for help, offer your help to others.

7. Make something better. If something in your life has gotten worse, try to make something else better – and it doesn’t have to be something important. Clean a closet. Organize your photographs. Work in the yard.

8. Act toward other people the way you wish they’d act toward you. If you wish your friends would help you find someone to date, see if you can fix up a friend. If you wish people would help you find a job, see if you can help someone else find a job. If you can’t think of a way to help someone you know, do something generous in a more impersonal way. For instance: commit to being an organ donor! When you’re feeling very low, it can be hard to muster the energy to help someone else, but you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. Do good, feel good; it really works.

By taking whatever steps you can, you give yourself a deeper reservoir to deal with your happiness challenge. What other strategies have you used to make yourself happier during an unhappy time?

“I can’t…”

I greet you with hands clasped together in gratitude on this gray morning.

I was asked the other day why I write. I write for one or two basic reasons. I write because it is a release for me. Writing allows me to have a therapy session on paper. Like most people, I have few others in my life who I can trust that they will be honest with me. Honest feedback is what we need. It is what I need and crave. Many years ago I did not crave the honest feedback. It hurt. Hurt is something from which we turn and run. We remember the path and we remain a safe distance from the path.

When I write, I write about life lessons which have impacted my life. There are lessons which are both good and bad. Like most people, I enjoy the positive life lessons and try from time to time to ignore the negative lessons. The negative lessons are the ones which “make me feel bad.” God do I hate this phrase too! There is nothing in life which can make us feel anyway. We choose our response which is colored by the lenses of our perceptions. Enough about this for this is a topic for another day and another time. Anyway, I write to share the life lessons which I have learned.

If we allow ourselves to pay attention to the lessons which we perceive to be negative, hurtful, however, you’d like to label them, then you’re missing out on a lot. There is often more to learn in what we perceive as negative lessons. We can learn how strong how resilient we are or can be. When we make decisions which are not in our best interest, we can learn who we can trust and who in our life we know will be there for us.

There is a word which I hear many times during the day. I have said this word myself and am mindful of the power which I allow this phrase to have when I do use it. The word is “can’t.” The phrase in which we use this word, often without thought is “I can’t.”

In my position as a social worker, I hear this word throughout the day, by clients and staff alike. One day after hearing this word said by one client at least a dozen times, I decided to make a hash mark on a piece of paper every time I hear the word. The photo below is what I came up with.  So you don’t have to spend your time counting the vertical marks, I’ve done it for you. 87 times! 87 times today alone and this was just during the time I spent in my office between 9 AM and 5 PM.

hash-marks

“I can’t.”

Bullshit!

Yes you can!!

Be honest with yourself and honest with others. When you don’t want to do something, tell the individual you won’t. When you remain stuck in the world of “I can’t” you are lying to yourself and to others. Be honest.

I love this saying. I received this as a gift in 1990 from an Executive Director from whom I learned so much as a therapist. I work hard every day to live by these words.

If you cantthink you’re being honest with yourself and others when you say “I can’t…” Please keep walking. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. If you want to tell me you don’t want to help me, that’s cool. I get it. I respect you for your honesty. Now, not everyone will be as easy as I am with your honesty, then I say the Hell with them. Do you really need or want that kind of negativity in your life?

Have you ever really looked at the facial expression of someone when they utter this phrase? Their forehead is wrinkled, their nose scrunched up; their facial countenance is what I would think one’s face would look like when a pile of freshly minted dog feces is passed immediately below one’s nose. We need to show everyone just how genuine and genuinely sorry we are that we “can’t” help them. It is this facial expression which we believe we need because it makes our lie more believable.

We stay away from I won’t because we are concerned we’ll have to explain ourselves, our decisions. So what! Grow a pair and stand up for yourself.

To sum it up; Stop saying “I can’t!” Grow a pair. Pull up your big boy or big girl panties and own your decisions. If you don’t you will allow others to own them. Then you’ll end up in my office because you’re anxious because “people just don’t understand me.”

You’ll live a happier life with less stress and less anxiety. Then you won’t need to come to see me.

Entitlement is Optional

This has been reposted from Seth Godin’s blog published on 1/10/2017.

It’s not forced on us, it’s something we choose.

And we rarely benefit from that choice.

That emergency surgery, the one that saved your life, when the ruptured appendix was removed—the doctor left a scar.

We can choose to be grateful for our next breath.

Or we can find a way to be enraged, to point out that given how much it costs and how much training the doctor had, that scar really ought to be a lot smaller. And on top of that, he wasn’t very nice. We’re entitled to a nice doctor!

Or we can choose to be grateful.

Marketers have spent trillions of dollars persuading us that we can have it all, that we deserve it, and that right around the corner is something even better.

Politicians have told us that they’ll handle everything, that our pain is real and that an even better world is imminent.

And we believe it. We buy into our privilege as well as the expectation that our privilege entitles us to even more. It’s not based on status or reality. It’s a cultural choice.

And you’re entitled to your entitlement if you want it.

But why would you?

Entitlement gets us nothing but heartache. It blinds us to what’s possible. It insulates us from the magic of gratitude. And most of all, it lets us off the hook, pushing us away from taking responsibility (and action) and toward apportioning blame and anger instead.

Gratitude, on the other hand, is just as valid a choice. Except that gratitude makes us open to possibility. It brings us closer to others. And it makes us happier.

There’s a simple hack at work here: We’re not grateful because we’re happy. We’re happy because we’re grateful.

Everything could be better.

Not because we deserve it (we don’t, not really).

But because if we work at it, invest in it and connect with others around it, we can make it better. It’s on us.

It’s difficult work, counter-instinctual work that never ends.

But we keep trying. Because it’s worth it.

Stop complaining!!

Stop complaining!!! No one wants to hear it. If you think people do want to hear you bitch and complain, you are sorely mistaken. I had a great mentor tell me many years ago if I was just going to bitch and complain I needn’t enter his office, but if I had several probable solutions to the problem, we could talk all day.

Let’s talk for a minute why complaining isn’t an effective communication tool.

For one, I don’t want to hear it! No one wants to hear it!

Secondly, it doesn’t help! If you believe it does, please send me an email and let me know. I’ll have to give whatever trick you used to make the act of complaining successful a try. If it works for me I’ll add it to my bag of tricks. Until then, pull up your big boy or big girl pants and deal with the shit storm that can be your life.

Third, you sound like a big baby. I don’t want to be in the vicinity when you’re complaining because I want no one thinking I share your thoughts. I especially don’t want anyone thinking I share your form of ineffective communication.

Just so you know, you’re not anything special. You don’t hold the market on bad decisions, bad times, etc. So stop complaining and whining like you do. I said it before and I’ll say it again. In fact, I’ll keep saying it, “Life sucks sometimes!!!” The sooner you understand and accept that fact, the easier it becomes to seek help and move beyond.

Shit happens, and there are times during life where things don’t go our way. By the way whoever told you you would always get what you wanted when you want it lied to you. Maybe they simply didn’t have the balls to be honest with you. That sucks but it is what it is.

If you keep making bad decisions, stop making bad decisions. If you can’t figure out why you keep making bad decisions, ask for help but by God if you’re going to ask for help follow two simple suggestions. Number one be honest with the person who you are trusting to help you and number two, listen to them and do what they’re asking you to do. If you don’t want help because you’re so narcissistic as to believe that you are the only person on Earth to suffer from such injustices, get over it. If you come to see me for therapy, when I ask why you keep doing what you’re doing, please don’t respond with “I don’t know.” If you’re 10 this is an acceptable response. If you’re an adult I would hope by this time in your life you’ve given this some thought and you have a more intelligent response than “I don’t know.”

If you’re lazy and want to blame others for your life and decisions, see the first paragraph and pull up your big girl/big boy pants. Stop complaining others and grow up and accept the life decisions which you have made which are causing distress in your life. Stop bitching and complaining. I said it once already, life sucks sometimes. Make the best of it.

If you don’t like the people in your life, get rid of them. That also goes for family! And don’t complain to me how you can’t because you’ll hurt their feelings. Please!!

If you want to lose weight, stop blaming everyone for their bad habits which you  want to believe then causes your bad decisions. If you don’t want to be 400 lbs then stop eating and start exercising, watching what you eat and make the necessary behavioral changes in your life to get what you want from life. I once did therapy with a diabetic client who refused to acknowledge his behavior in his disease even after having both legs amputated and being in three diabetic comas.

Some of us allow ourselves to become so entrenched and attached to the negative ways of thinking that we don’t see a way out. Actually, we won’t allow ourselves to see a way out. Again, there is always help. You need to ask for it, be honest with the person you have chosen to trust to help you and by God, follow the often simple suggestions which they are giving you. You are given feedback based on what you are telling that individual. Remember; bad information in, bad information out!