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Archive for the ‘transformation’ Category

Preamble

Issues of personal privacy, openness, and freedom were what were on my mind when I woke up this morning. These on the microscale, mind you, not the grand scale of constitutional rights and such. Just little old me wondering at how much to say or to not say, trying to figure out if I’ve said too much or if there is some value to others in it.

That seems to be the key. I’ve written about some very personal things lately and it feels a bit strange, but it is also very freeing. However, that is not enough. What may be liberating for me to say may or may not be helpful to someone else.

That said, I may or may not know what may be helpful to someone else. So I have to take my intuitions on what to post or what not to post with a dose of faith and a grain of salt. The major dividing line seems to be whether or not the theme of the personal story or the reflections that I am relating touches on the deeper issues of meaning that we all share. There are a lot of things I fly right by with just a word, or a sentence or two, because it doesn’t seem that relevant. If someone responds to that in a comment, I’ll go into more detail at a later time.

This morning, I reached a couple of decisions. This is a personal blog. If I get too personal, or if it is of no use to them, people can pass on by with a click of their mouse. If it is of some value to you, welcome. The surprise to me is that I don’t worry so much about what others think, or about being hurt by being open, as I used to. Age and experience do have their benefits. Some personal reflections by way of example:

It’s Just Bodies

One thing you learn working as a firefighter and an EMT – it’s just bodies. Cultural mores and conditioning fly out the window when someone is in pain, trapped, or injured. They have to. There is no time or energy to waste. Yes, you are taught to respect a patient’s privacy and modesty, and you do to the extent that you are able, but above all else it is life that matters. After you’ve cut the clothes off of people a few times, whether exposing injuries for treatment or searching for them, you acquire a certain equanimity about skin and body parts. You get inured to blood, vomit, urine, and feces. It just isn’t that big a deal.

Likewise, a hospital stay can get you over a lot of physical inhibitions. When the nurse hands you that wispy little thing called a “gown,” we are not talking Cinderella here. It’s too short, too thin, and has that damnable slit up the back. I tried to walk around with one hand behind me in an effort to keep the thing discretely closed, but soon gave up. If my butt shows a bit, it shows. We’ve all got one and most people aren’t in the hospital for the view.

They’re Only Emotions

So much for physical nakedness. The very same thing goes for emotions. They are important and they deserve respect, but they are, once again, something we all share and which are pretty similar across the board.

As a firefighter/EMT, I saw people at their best and at their worst. You deal with the permanently psychotic and deranged, you deal with those who are only temporarily that way out of pain, or fear, or grief. You deal with the dead and the dying, the conscious and the unconscious of every age and background. You deal with those closest to them. You deal with the distraught stranger who is trying to help and the stranger who may have caused the problem. Sometimes those strangers are one and the same person.

Anger, fear, guilt, loneliness are there on the scene to be “managed” and “treated,” too. Sometimes they are far and away what needs to be handled most. On some calls there isn’t even anything “wrong” that regular, basic human contact wouldn’t fix. Failure to thrive can arise from the simple lack of connection and touch.

What Really Matters

Over time, you learn how to handle the situations and your own reactions. Like a series of class iv rapids, you run the risk of becoming hardened and cynical and you run the risk of burning out, of succumbing to compassion fatigue. If you successfully negotiate those powerful currents, you discover the middle way. You toughen up a bit, but you also become more accepting of the human condition and less concerned about the ephemera that most of us obsess about most of the time. Stuff matters less, people matter more. Ego matters less, principle matters more. Time matters. Relationships matter, soul and spirit matter.

We come into this world naked and crying, with at least one other person present. For a long time I thought I’d seen too many people go out of this world with no one else there, or with only some strangers in blue in attendance. Somewhere along the way, I realized none of us are strangers.

Separation is only an illusion, and one I can only maintain if I myself close off. There is no other; there is no individual me that stands in opposition to the rest of the world. The only reason even for the perception of individuality is the opportunity for relationship.

I have to cut off my own garments of fear and become emotionally naked to be free. I have to open up my own arms to embrace the world.

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One thing about writing about personal things in a public forum – sooner or later you will have to retract something you’ve said, apologize, or otherwise eat crow…

I need to correct something I said in my last post. I did believe it was true at the time, and the realization was quite freeing, but it is inaccurate. When I said, “I was finally able to admit what it is that I miss the most about firefighting. The danger,” I was wrong.

That sentence nagged at me all day and wouldn’t let me go. True enough that I enjoyed the danger. I do miss it, and facing it did develop qualities in me that I value, but it isn’t what I miss most. It took a few hours of acute writerly discomfort before I ran smack into what it really was that I missed most. Perhaps I should have known at the ease with which the first post rolled across the keyboard that I was missing the obvious. When something means as much to me as firefighting and EMTing did, it is never that emotionally glib.

I’ve been a frequent reader over at Steve Pavlina’s blog the last few days. I was merely preparing to do the exercise he recommends in his post, “How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes,” when the truth hit me. Structural collapse. A rain of metaphorical burning embers and charred trusses fell around my ears. I guess I needed the old cosmic 2″ x 6″ up along side of my head after all.

I didn’t need to do the exercise; I’ve been doing it for a year and a half. Longer, even. My personal mission went through my mind as clear as a the crack of thunder a half-mile away during the summer monsoons. “To embrace the world, sing it a lullaby, and rock it to sleep.”

As simple as that. Pavlina says that the mission that is yours will make you cry. It did. I’m still almost woozy from the impact. I know that’s it. I can look back over my life and see so many ways I’ve tried to live that out unconsciously and unknowingly. I “mother henned” my crews and trainees unmercifully at times, try as I might to moderate what I identified as “misplaced maternal instincts.”

“To embrace the world, sing it a lullaby, and rock it to sleep.”

The first part of that phrase is right out of something I told M back when I first started firefighting, that it was a way to “embrace the world,” to help whoever needed it whenever, however, without question. When the tones sound, you roll. It is called the Fire Service for a reason. The thing that gives me the shivers at the moment is that it was also during that conversation that we discussed how I was dealing with the miscarriage I had had a couple of years previous. Sometimes it is like looking into the face of Persephone to gaze into the eyes one’s own unconscious. One half the year in the world of light, the other half shrouded in darkness…

I can think of many ways that this could play out. And I know that thinking is not how it will play out. It will be in the day to day living and dying, the quiet listening to my heart at those moments when I will be tempted to take the easier road, to go back into unconsciousness and denial. On the surface it makes no sense that a childless woman of nearly 50, who wanted children and could not have them, and whose husband (now-ex) once told her she wouldn’t have been a good mother anyway, would have such a mission. M’s reply… “Who better?”

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Something clicked in my brain this morning. I was finally able to admit what it is that I miss the most about firefighting. The danger. Or, perhaps, more specifically, the opportunity that danger affords to test myself, my wits, and my preparation. In other words, danger has allowed me to build a warrior’s spirit.

This may or may not sound like that big a deal, but keep in mind that I’m a GIRL, born in the late 1950s, and not encouraged to stretch myself in those ways. Security is what I was programmed to seek and it nearly killed me, and in far worse ways than any physical danger I was ever in, even when my leg went through the floor of a burning mobile home. In too many areas of my life, for too long, I played it safe and tried to meet others’ expectations of me, while my spirit nearly suffocated.

Damn. This is freeing. I’ve danced all around it and made all sorts of other excuses for how I’ve felt, but the truth is I like a good scare. My friend Margie gets hers by watching horror flicks, I got mine going into burning buildings and playing out along the interstate. We even called it “playing,” despite the acknowledged dangers and how hard we worked. Big kids in huge, screaming, red trucks. I watch my new nephews with their fire truck and laugh. I watch my niece with her dolls and wonder how I can plant the seeds of revolution…

I’ve known for a long time that my calling was a sort of “warrior path” that demanded attention, training, focus, and determination. I knew that firefighting and EMTing, for me, was a way of being a warrior without hurting anyone. I loved it and I’d go back to it in a heartbeat if I reasonably could. I have spent a considerable amount of time wishing that I could; I tried to overcome the nerve damage in my legs to that point and failed. For a long time, all I could see was the loss. What I didn’t see was how it was training me for the life I have now.

The challenges have become more subtle. Life is demanding that I move inward and grow in new ways. It’s still all about facing fear and overcoming it. My old post, “It’s Not the Flames That Kill You,” rings even more true to me now. It’s still about pitting myself and my knowledge, skills, and abilities against formidable foes, but my real enemies are fears of insignificance and finitude, doubts of my ability and worthiness, worry about the future and regrets about the past.

I will undoubtedly take a few wounds, just as I will undoubtedly have some victories. We all carry both scars and medals with us through life. In a way, the scars are medals. Funny thing, though, I’m not looking at that so much anymore. Just as in the movie “Michael,” in a silly scene where the archangel come to earth takes on a bull in a pasture shouting “Battle!” at the top of his lungs, I’m rushing headlong into my own personal fray with new enthusiasm. More precisely, I am renewing the struggle and shifting the field to my advantage…this old firefighter learned a thing or two about strategy and tactics along the way.

And you know what? I think we’ve gotten it wrong a lot of the time. It isn’t about the winning or the losing; it isn’t about staving off death until the last moment. Not a one of us gets off this planet alive. It is about the depth and the quality of one’s life. It truly is about how you play the game, or fight the good fight, or any of those other old cliches. Despite their weariness, they hold important truth. It is about your heart. It’s about doing what you were born to do with your whole heart and nothing less.

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The metaphor of skydiving that I used in my original “Jump. Fall. Fly.” post of a few months ago has taken on new meaning. I’ve been hanging onto the edge of the jump door resisting this one for a while now, but the time has come to let go and take the dive. This bird is flying south for the winter, maybe longer.

When I left the “Valley of the Sun” sixteen years ago, I swore that I’d never go back there to live again, but as the old saying goes,”Time changes everything.” There’s a lot that has changed in my life and a lot that has not turned out anything like I’d hoped or planned. I never thought I’d ever look at metro Phoenix and see a place to make a fresh start…

Understandably, when your life falls apart, one’s first reaction is to try and stabilize what’s left. I did that. Then you start to look everything over and figure out what you can do with what you’ve got. I’ve identified what I want to accomplish in what remains of my sojourn here and I’ve started to make some progress towards those goals. However, a lot of what I want to do simply isn’t going to happen in the Flagstaff area.

In the last couple of months, as I’ve held onto the old dream of staying in the high country, a kind of stagnation has started to creep in, despite all of my new learning projects and ventures. I’ve also come to realize that I will set myself up for failure if I get stubborn with my original plan and persist with what I want vs. what the times demand.

It happens sometimes in the fire service that an incident commander will stick with the original plan even when it becomes apparent that things have changed. The results are seldom good when you let yourself get into a situation where the incident is getting ahead of you, not you ahead of it. That’s the reason you do continuing assessments throughout an incident, not just an initial one. Tactics at least, if not strategy as well, must be revised as conditions change.

So, it’s time. Time to shake up everything that’s left and see what happens. It’s scary and this isn’t my preference, but I’ve packed my parachute and my emergency backup. The stomach butterflies have started to dance their little slip jig. Now, the only way to know if I’ll fall or fly, is to jump.

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I’m pretty tired today after getting back to the novel edit, exercising more, practicing guitar, and being up to my eyeballs in working with my new content management system, so I’m going to take the easy way out and do a link post. Here are a couple of inspirational posts and pages I’ve benefited from lately:

The Good News About Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith, by Barry Brownstein on Giving Up Control

Eight Principles of Fun, by Michael Bungay Stanier at Box of Crayons

Wisdom From the Ninja Village, by Alvin Soon at Life Coaches Blog

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:-) As an act of self-discipline, I made myself NOT write a blog post yesterday and got back to work on editing the novel. I’ve got a lot to do in two weeks.

With all of the various projects I’ve got going, it’s a struggle to keep some balance and order in my life. The optimum ratio of discipline to devotion is not always easy to find. It can be even more difficult to CHOOSE to do what I know will further my goals. Emotional baggage, habit, and distractions can all get in the way.

And, sometimes, it’s not easy to know if what you are doing is helpful or a hindrance. I took a break (a good thing) from my Drupal research and did a little blog reading. (Could be good, bad, or neutral.) I found one that I really liked – Random Acts of Reality – by an EMT with the London Ambulance Service. When I read “These Boots…” by Tom Reynolds, I went on a real ambo ride down memory lane. Yep, Ditto. I remember it well. I may have worked rural areas of northern Arizona, and my boots often walked through sand and sheep manure or kneeled on the side of the interstate rather than went up steep stairs in a “tower,” but the kinds of situations we faced when we got to the patient were pretty similar.

I took a few moments and remembered. I took a few more moments and let myself miss the work, the skills, the people. (Bad.) I don’t have much time for nostalgia; I have absolutely none for self-pity. Choice time. I thought, “OK, what from that time would help me now?” A little dose of the warrior attitude that is so necessary in that line of work wouldn’t hurt.

Get the job done despite the sinus headache. Stop whining about time constraints if you’re going to play LabPixies Trio on iGoogle. (No, no link – I’m not a pusher!) Get down on the floor and do the girlie pushups, because that’s where you’re at right now. It doesn’t matter what you once could do or what you plan to do in the future, what are you doing this minute? Is it getting you where you want to go?

Off to workout mat, then the guitar corner…and when I’m done with that, back to the novel.

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The Goal
I’m in the midst of reviewing the last year and determining what I want to accomplish this coming year. I tend to use my birthday the way a lot of people use the New Year, as a time to reflect and set “resolutions.” At this point, I know there is one overarching goal that I have as I turn the corner towards fifty. I intend to get in the best physical shape of my life.

Definition
I don’t know that I’ll ever again be able to tote a wildland pack weighing 45 pounds for 3 miles in 45 minutes, be capable of lifting patients, or carry someone down a ladder like I used to. I don’t expect to go back into emergency services work. My definition of being in the “best shape of my life” has changed considerably.

I’m not looking just for strength and endurance anymore, though those are still high on my list. I also want balance, coordination, flexibility, and versatility. I want to be able to hike the Grand Canyon again, kayak without undue strain, get back up to speed on my martial arts, and be able to flamenco dance the night away. I want to be very healthy and extremely fit.

The Obstacles
This is a tall order, as I won’t have simply lethargy, poor time management, and internal resistance to overcome, I will also have to work around the nerve damage in my legs, which though it’s largely healed, does still flare up occasionally. I will have to curb my enthusiasm and be very careful to start slow and increase gradually.

My goal will demand a lot from me in time and effort, patience and persistence, but it’s a worthy goal and a challenging one that will help in every other aspect of my life, where I will soon set other worthy and challenging goals.

Today’s Steps Towards My Goal
Ready, Set, Go – My blood pressure, heart rate, and other vitals check out. In fact my blood pressure has improved from a year ago; I suspect because of the weight loss. I’ve already got the basic physical clearance to start an exercise program, though I’m still waiting for some blood work results. I expect those to be fine, as well, though I do want to have that cholesterol count to use to track my progress.

Initial Assessment, Part One – I weighed in this morning and took my measurements, plus set up a new chart to track my results. I also started a project file and set out the references I’ll need to design this program. I had a pile of old notes, workout logs, and such that I’ve stuck in a file box for now, and will go through these over the next week or so to I glean what is usable from past exercise programs. This first week, I am just focusing on getting a stretching routine and a good, solid dance warm-up together and establishing exercise as a daily part of my schedule. Anything beyond that will be gravy.

Workout Area Setup
– I also set up a workout space today right next to my bed, so that first thing in the morning I can do my stretches and “bone-builder” exercises, and I did them for about twenty minutes. It’s a decent start.

The Focus Has Changed From Weight Loss to Fitness
I’m not concerned so much about weight loss as I have been in the past year. Gradual is good. With thirty five pounds gone, the remaining twenty or so I expect to lose over the next year or so should come off fairly naturally with more physical activity and increased lean muscle mass.

I learned my lesson in the past four weeks, too, as I watched my internal resistance kick in when I set a defined goal of losing six pounds in one month. It didn’t work; I lost one pound which is the least I’ve lost in any previous month in the last year. So, I’m back to my “non-method” of just trying to eat smarter and healthier and let my body find it’s own equilibrium.

Want to Join Me on an Adventure?
So that’s what I’ve set out for myself for the coming year – to go from a flabby forty-nine year old and to a fit fifty.

All of the above detail is there for two reasons. One, for my own declaration of intent and the threat of public embarrassment if I fail. And, two, to invite you to join me. It would be fun to compare notes and encourage one another in reaching our respective fitness goals. So, comment and/or check back, as I will be putting up some links to logs and worksheets and other things that may be of help and interest.

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