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LIFE DOESN’T FRIGHTEN ME

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My 8-year-old niece recited Maya Angelou’s “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” for her English class subject. Her mom posted it in FB and I watched it in full admiration for her ability to memorize and say the words with clarity and expression.

Listening to her poem felt like entering a door inside me.

It was the first time I heard “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” and it came at a time when life seems to be frightening me more and more.

The ongoing war in Aleppo, Mosul, Yemen and other parts of the Middle East, the genocide in Myanmar, Trump rising, chaos in the government, a plane crashing killing an entire football team and their coaching staff and journalists because of lack of fuel, earthquakes in Italy, Japan, Indonesia and elsewhere, the appalling migrant crisis in Europe, human trafficking and many other tragic news seems to pull me strongly to be scared about life.

When I heard my niece recited the poem I realized how this past months fear has crept in heavily on me.  Some are saying its best to skip the news and stay unscathed by horrifying stories around us. Yet this is not how I want to live. I cannot not read simply to protect myself from the pain of knowing.

With the advent of the internet though there is a tsunami of visual bombardment of graphic information. Some are really way beyond what the heart can receive. The other night I deliberately did not look at the video of a teen-ager in Mosul whose body was dragged before a tank. The article said it crushed the boy’s head.

Apparently it came from the very same photo-journalist who posted the iconic picture of a young boy from Syria who sat stunned, bleeding and motionless in an ambulance which captured the hearts of global viewers. If it was the same photo-journalist who participated in the death of an Iraqi teen-ager and in bringing out the iconic photo of a young boy in Syria to blame Assad’s regime then it is truly frightening. The media may not be telling the truth also. I also think of Bana Alabed, the 7-year-old girl mom who kept posting with her mom’s help from the war-torn Syria since September. I also am confused how could they continue to have a Wi-Fi access when everything else was taken from them by the atrocious civil war?  It frightens me to realize that we don’t really know what to believe anymore. Propaganda initiatives is making a fool of all of us if ever even Bana from Twitter is a fictitious character.

Life also frightens me knowing that Trump will very soon take office. It frightens me that there were really people who voted for him. For real.

Life frightened me recently too when I heard that my brother needed to seek a specialist for a health concern.

Life frightens me as I hear news of my mother having  forgetful episodes already. I think of the possibility of her having age-related illnesses such as dementia. I pray it will never happen. I know what ravages Alzheimer’s can do to a person having lived with someone for the past ten years and counting.

Life frightens me when I see an introvert, shy-looking teen-age niece who is studying in a Catholic school, suddenly posting a picture of her almost naked self in a skimpy swim-suit in social media. 

Life frightens me when a once bright-eyed, bubbly and highly smart  nine-year old girl I know as a baby  drastically  changed into a  violent, extremely anxious, verbally abusive and depressive person. Her inability to cope after a bullying experience at school and her teacher’s refusal to acknowledge the incident shattered her not even a  decade old spirit. She now  refused to step out of the house for months already and never went back to school. This week she has to be restrained and brought to a psychiatrist.

Life frightens me whenever I am having a chest discomfort. ECG result did not show a need for further test and a doctor told me it could just be an acid reflux. But it still frightens me as I still have the pain now and then.  I read that at times the first sign of a heart illness is death.

Where were the years when I don’t have these morbid thoughts?

Where were the years when I read or watch the news and not really feel affected by it?

Where were the years of my life when cholesterol, triglycerides, SGPT were not part of my vocabulary?

Where were the years when death is seen only for other people?

Aging, maybe aging is doing this to me. Now I know more clearly that death is real and time here on earth is limited. When your young life seems to be forever.

But who have I become through the years?

Why does life frighten me  when I’m supposed to be a woman of faith and with a life completely surrendered to God?

Is it because of my regular reading of news nowadays, both locally and abroad  which I was not really doing in the past?

Is it because I have acquaintances and friends near and far who had sicknesses or some even died already?

Is it because a most beloved friend/mentor is aging and I know I am apprehensive about being on my own when she dies because of  her silent heart related health issues?

Conditions may not also be according to how I wish things are at the home front and I may also be having a quiet, pervasive and long-standing down time. I know I am going through a deeper sadness in my own life as I enter my 50’s and yielding, struggling to the re-shaping of a deep celibate friendship as his life’s work and geographical move has to be respected.

Am I grieving for the seeming loss of a familiar regular conversations which circumstances is asking me to let go?   Am I in transition as I realized more and more that ultimately I am and will be ALONE? Yet I know this is what is being asked of me.  It’s  my  path towards my own authentic inner freedom and emotional/spiritual maturity at this time of my personal journey, this what I call yielding mode.

It’s been many months too since my last period. I may also be in a pre-menopausal chemical imbalance mode. I can also be affected physiologically and it may be coming out in my tendency to dwell on life’s harshness and attachments to old ways.

I don’t know but the truth is it feels good to be able to name all this. To say fully that life frightens me ironically feels freeing at the same time.

I am not ashamed to name how I feel.

I am not feeling apologetic too  that this is where I have found myself now. In a space where  I am not supposed to be “seen”as dictated by how others expects who I should be. As a nun I am expected to be without fear. Only faith.

I call this a home-visit. This is me visiting my own self and finding her afraid and yet it is alright. I know I don’t even need to explain myself to anyone. I just wanted to write and acknowledge that life frightens me. This is my own truth. Right now. I am grateful for having come across Maya’s poem.

As I listened to Maya read her poem in You Tube it has a soothing, calming effect on me. Yes, I have fears but here comes Maya saying that there’s another mode of living. She’s not giving a list of assurances of a terror-free existence in her poem. She’s simply saying it doesn’t scare her at all.

And if she can live that way I know I can too.  Maya has Faith in God. She has Faith in herself. She has Faith in LIFE.  Without needing to convince myself the words of Maya Angelou quietly gives me hope and an abiding sense that I am safe and will continue to be safe and need not fear life.

In life and in death I belong to God.

LIFE DOESN’T FRIGHTEN ME

Shadows on the wall

Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Bad dogs barking loud
big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Mean old Mother Goose

Lions on the loose

they don’t frighten me at all

Dragons breathing flame
on my counterpane
that doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
so they fly
I just smile
they go wild

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys fight

All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls
with their hair in curls)
they don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes

And listen for my scream,

If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
that I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
and never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

– Maya Angelou

 

 

LIVING IN TWO DIFFERENT PLACES

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I wrote this is January 23, 2011.  I still have PMDD but I am learning to catch it early. I feel I want to hug the person that is me that wrote this four years ago. Posting this is my way of hugging me. 

I live in two different places each month.

At first I thought it was just all in the mind. I thought the pharmaceutical industries were simply trying to  sensationalized a new medical diagnosis to sell yet another drug.

In my twenties I could already sense something was wrong with me. Years later my  Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) was confirmed.  Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)  was not yet known then.

I was never clinically or officiallly diagnosed though. But based on my patterns this past years  I know I have PMDD.

And it scares me….

This land of PMDD creates havoc in a magnitude that scares me more and more.

Most of the time I am already  flat on my face   before I can really accept that I am not myself anymore. Recently I again had a major conflict with my best friend.

A day before I “changed” everything feels normal. We were talking then all of a sudden I seemed to have instantaneously transformed. He said something that shattered my peace and immediately my moods went below zero.

It led to an ugly exchange of words. A fight.

None of us won.

It is DAY 22

I still feel “unsettled.”  I still feel  drained about that fight.  It is day 22. When the bleeding comes magic seems to happen. I go back to my previous home. Each month I live in two different places.

Self-diagnosing myself as a woman with PMDD does not excuse me from the toxic climate I am creating.  I am at all times responsible for the person I am becoming.

For now I just want to write and help myself  manage the symptoms and hopefully write less and less about it.

I don’t just want to write about PMDD. I want to write about LIFE.

There is more to life about this emotional roller-coaster.

I still believe in myself.   I just had a short conversation with my best friend a while back. I could sense  that my craziness is seen not as  all of me. I am still loved.

GROUNDLESSNESS

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Pema Chodron’s “groundlessness” is St. John of the Cross’ “dark night.”

When we experience groundlessness or dark night we are given the gift to awaken to the truth of life’s essential realities. What once gives us a sense of safety or peace is shattered, lost or acutely seen in its truth. Impermanent. Fleeting. Superficial. Unreliable. Undependable.   Groundlessness/dark night sets in.  This is universally labeled as SUFFERING.

No one will ever be exempted.

In our younger years or before we got interested to read spirituality books or have our “awakenings” – we go through life believing that all pain, difficulties, restlessness, uneasiness, conflicts – all that makes one ill at ease – has to be solved, fixed, do away with, before we can finally begin to arrive “there.” To that serene, peaceful life.

In my readings of Pema, which I find strong resonance with St.  John of the Cross, I am seeing more clearly that suffering cannot be completely removed from our everyday life (though there are  unnecessary, man-made petty sufferings which can be avoided.)

Pema’s words – befriending our personal demons –  speaks to me of facing our fears and understanding where they are coming from and learning skills to healthily manage them, instead of assuming that our fears are to be seen as enemies and “bad” parts of our personality.

I have met and sat with my personal demon countless times.  Psychology labels them as “weaknessness” or “learned/acquired dysfunctional reactions to life’s miseries.”  These are my autopilot response   when I feel groundless.  It is my common “escape route,” my complusive reactions to find safety, my habitual way of relating with insecurities.

Befriending our personal demons is the initial step in loosening its grip on us.

Pema’s echo of the ancient teaching of unconditional friendliness towards oneself is similar to Jesus’ “To love others as we love ourselves.”  Love of self is “maîtri – unconditional friendliness towards one’s self.”

The journey truly begins with one’s inner life and not on what is outside.

FEAR is always inside us. It is this fear, this sense of groundlessness, which makes us relate to life on a perpetual ill at ease-vigilant-alarmed mode. Fear blocks our path to “friendliness” towards our own self.

I will continue reading Pema, with focused this time. I want what she has understood and lived and is teaching as a Buddhist nun. I also want to continue seeing the pattern of similarities of my Catholic faith and the Buddhist lessons on putting order into disordered lives.

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL

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Serenity begins with the choice to be mindful. This is about paying attention to where my awareness is lodged at this present moment. Being aware of where my thoughts and emotions go, in touch with my never ending stream of inner dialogue, able to observe and recognize what I am thinking about.

I’m done with the first half of my lifetime. I am in my late 40’s. I am now living the remaining half of my journey. It is bound to end. There is a finish line, an expiry date, that one big RED LIGHT called death. While I still have today – existing, aware, connected – I want to live the best life that I can have. Meaningful, serene, happy – in all its reality.

I cannot waste my time. I should not. It is extremely precious. This is God’s gift – this being here. PRESENT to what is.

Waiting for the result of my medical tests reminded me of this one great truth:   Life is beautiful no matter what we have and rather not have right now.

The idea of my possibly having a terminal illness, after recently seeing someone who died of CA barely recognizable in her coffin, shuts down everything for me. All I could think of is the beauty of being ALIVE every single day.

In the face of an imminent death an automatic shift inside us happens. We label a lot of things around us as petty.  Immediately I told myself that I should have written a book, say whatever I want to say. It will be my one and only chance. I’ll die anyway.

Everything pales with the thought that I might have cancer. There is great fear but I was also enveloped with immense appreciation of being alive. It was an experience of connectedness with the truth that I am gifted with life.

It was a concrete appreciation of who I am and all that I call my own life. I had all kinds of scenario about leaving my family, my good friend.    I saw that I have a good life.   It amazed me that more than regrets I have a deep realization of being blessed, of this good life that I have. I am not saying I am now ready to die. It’s more about I have grown in seeing life’s beauty and countless gifts. The very fact that I am here, alive – is an immense source of contentment and joy for me. There is nothing to resolve, nothing to fix, nothing to strive for, to grasp, to gain, to go to – I am just here. Alive. Breathing. Writing my thoughts. I am happy.

I am still basking in gratitude upon receiving a “no need for a biopsy”  result.    I hope I will not forget the lessons learned these past days, the beauty of   this PRECIOUS MOMENT, present to WHAT IS. I was scared as I was waiting for the result of my tests but I was also learning much. It was a taste of mindfulness in the midst of whatever it is that I might face ahead. I am grateful I will still be around.

NO GUARANTEE

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It took me years to have clarity on this.

It’s true. Wherever we assume we are in our practice of meditation or in the spiritual/emotional growth we claim to have “achieved,” none of these will actually spare us from all that can hurt us in this life.

There is no guarantee; there is no assurance that when we dive deep into teachings of being “awakened” life henceforth will be pain-free.

Maybe we started to enter into this new realm of “paying attention,” coming from a desire to set things right in our chaotic lives. Somehow we knew we got there.   And then life has its way of making us  realize that  whatever path we have chosen none of that will  shield us from all that we were hoping we will stop having.

When we were younger and is new in the path, it is excusable to assume that once we have read all the mindfulness books and is extra-faithful and generous in our “practice,” we’re in for a steady and a peaceful journey.

But later in life we cannot insist on this anymore.

Life has its own way of surprising us and letting us know that there is nothing to hold on to. Not even our   utmost faithfulness in whatever life of prayer we have committed to.

Issues get recycled or we may encounter new ones that we never thought we’ll ever have or experience. Themes vary but there is a common touch of suffering: of having no one or nothing to hold on to. It could be terminal illness, separation, conflicts with others, financial problem, senseless war and killings, an addicted son, mental illness or even the death of a beloved cat or dog.

It’s a movement which we see in our lives in its varied stages. So we continue on. We begin to gradually see that none of whatever “practice” we commit ourselves to, will make us invincible. Lights and shadows continue to dance around us and we still stumble and get trapped.   The darkness prevails, light sets in, transition come, peacetime. And then another cycle.

And slowly we see that all along it’s not about making our lives without an issue, problem, conflict, darkness. Because no matter what we do life is both light and shadow, war and peace, life and death, death and resurrection. It’s always a mixture of everything that makes us human and divine.

Our prayer practice is meant to make us pay attention but not to escape. We are guided to step back from needless, avoidable stupid choices as much as we can but ultimately we can never be fully shielded. Our prayer practice is never meant to shield us from ourselves and our neighbor’s vulnerable humanity but it can draw us to hope and trust, beyond words and concepts,   to keep believing that within us is our only peace and security.

My life. My choice. My peace.

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I am on a cross-road as I see my life coming full circle.

Being aware nudges you not to ignore what you already know.

My 17 year old self did all those because she didn’t know any better. It is a different space now. Life has already taught me many lessons. I am my young self’s mother now.

Mistakes committed then can be excused but not anymore this time.

There can be no justification. I have to accept that we really cannot have it all.

To love and be loved, no one is taking this away from me. No one can take away our friendship, no one can erase what we already have.  But I need to accept, in dosage that I can manage, that there are things I have to give up.

Today as I journaled for an hour something inside me click. It was like finding the right key. Life really has its way of repeating issues to make one see. Do I need another decade to accept I now see?

Love is real. Friendship is real. Our bond is real. I can hold on to this and let go of what shouldn’t be and cannot be. Where I fall I can choose to stand. My scars can be my stars. Gems in the rubble of my one lifetime.

It’s alright when I get confused but right this moment my life is crystal clear. I am seeing the pattern since I was 17. Where else can I go to run away from this pattern?

Life is short and it is a gift that in the midst of my being healthy and fit I have this capacity to reflect and realize that my life is important and i cannot simply flow mindlessly.

If I will not choose others can make decisions for me later and that would break my heart. It is better that I am the one setting the pace, and that choices are made in this quite peaceful space.

My life. My choice. My peace.

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