A Change In Direction – A New Blogging Journey

GraceUpsideDown

2015 is proving to be THE Year of Radical Transformation for me, catapulted by a diagnosis of Breast Cancer that I received back in January.

Like most people given the news that they have a life threatening illness, my first thought was, “This can’t be happening!”  It’s true what they say, you know.  You never think it could happen to you. I’ve always been a strong, independent, capable woman.  After receiving the news just prior to my 58th birthday, I was feeling anything but.  Instead, I felt fragile and petrified. I wasn’t sure what to do, where to go, and who to talk to, to get my life back!

Mostly, I acutely felt my mortality for the first time ever.  This shit could kill me.

Breast cancer has impacted every aspect of my life, not just my health.  My relationships, my job, my spiritual and emotional lives, my finances and my sense of self have all been enormously impacted – I will never be the same.

And I’m beginning to think this may be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I’m learning so much while on this journey, and here’s one thing that I know for sure:  While there are definitely moments of gut wrenching fear, pain, and loss, there are many more moments of receiving unconditional love, peace, healing, and extravagant Grace.  Life has a new preciousness to it now.  I savor and find pleasure in the small, simple things, all while taking an honest look at what’s really important to me and how I want to live out the rest of this wild ride called LIFE.

There are still good things yet to be experienced.  GREAT things, even.  My best days really are ahead of me!

If I only stay in a place of SURRENDER, TRUST and BELIEF….

So, you may have noticed by now.  The Wild Pomegranate is gone, and Grace Upside Down is here with a new look, a new name, and new direction.  I have felt The Call to blog primarily about my own “dance” with breast cancer (love this term coined by Susan Weed, The Wise Woman!) and all the stuff that goes along with it.  However, not all posts will be BC related.  This is another thing I know: Breast cancer doesn’t define me.  It’s only one season in a long chain of seasons in my life.

But this dance is honing me and purifying me like a great big Fiery Furnace of Alchemy.  The lead is turning to gold.  I am going to come out of this thing bearing Gifts and I want to share them.  I will come out this deal in better shape than I was going in.  For all intents and purposes, I will be a completely changed woman, more ME than I’ve ever been, and yet different in innumerable ways.  Ways that I want to be in alignment with the highest version of myself and my purpose.

My hope is that what I provide here will be helpful to others engaged in their own dance with breast cancer, as well as caretakers and anyone else who might want to stick along for the ride.  That being said….

To My Subscribers:  Some of you have been with me since the beginning in 2007.  Please, please, please know that I will not take offense if you decide to unsubscribe in the face of this new direction I’m taking.  I totally get it if it’s not for you.  THANK YOU for the time that you did spend with me here, and I wish you much health and happiness!

For anyone else who decides to stay – and for the new people who make their way here –

Welcome to my Initiation.

Still Here, Still Standing

14557_1308787279173_1215328008_30948435_7422599_nSome days I hardly recognize myself.

It’s not just when I look into the mirror and see some bald chick looking back at me.

Or that I spend an inordinate amount of time laying around and watching TV  because I don’t have the energy for much else, or may be experiencing a low grade depression.

It’s not my preoccupation with what’s going on with my body, or what’s going into my body, or what’s coming out of my body (yeah…maybe a little TMI there…sorry.)

It’s not even that my world has become so very small, cloistered as I am for the most part within the confines of my home.

No.

It’s that so many of the ways in which I identified Who I Am seem to be falling away, like it’s all up for grabs right now.  Everything from my employment to my appearance to my activities to my health.  Seriously, all of it.

And I’m learning to be OK with that, in a very “Shit, are you kidding me right now??” sort of way.

My biggest challenge is to feel safe while going through this disintegration phase. It’s kinda tricky.  A lot tricky, actually.  It’s forcing my roots to shoot deep deep deep into my foundational beliefs.  To actually question what is is I believe in – Who I believe in – and why.  Because right now, these beliefs are my grounding.

I love trees.  I’m a tree hugger from way back, and I’ve always related more to being a tree than a flower. (I started this blog back in 2007 because of my connection with a tree …you can read about that here.  And wrote again in 2010 about identifying as an Oak tree here.)

Picturing myself as a tree is actually beneficial.  As a tree, I remember to bend with the storms of life so I don’t break.  And if something does break off, it doesn’t mean I’m finished.  Dead leaves and dead wood should fall away.  Pruning is healthy for me.  Hardening off my bark ensures strength to endure.   Deeper roots help me to stand.

And this is good.

ONE DAY WHEN I WAS OLD

by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years or so old,
I woke up an old woman that morning.
Not quite in body all the way, but close.
And also in mind.
And I thought, “This is good.”
For also, in the face I was changed,
a little bark-chipped and creased,
like a tree long-lived enough
after having been planted so long ago
by some winged bird
accidentally letting fall a semi-sacred seed
into some almost impossible place,
precisely the way most of us came to earth–
unplanned, and yet sticking to the place
where we were dropped,
growing, growing flowers and fruits
set into our DNA–
and this too was good.

I leaned through the window
of my bathroom mirror,
and touched her old, cracked face…
I soothed back her black hair
with fire opals
in its strands of white.

And I saw as I leaned in,
There were permanent diamonds
in her tear ducts,
those gotten from years of use
and pressure in dark places.

And I gazed at the body
she and I share,
and I saw that rubies
had grown into all my cuts
and that tiny mirrors shone
in all my widders and spalls…

and I saw that I was old
and strong
and delicate
and fierce, like a queen
who has ruled the lands within her reach,
not perfectly, but despite brutal winters,
she was still alive,
the heartwood hardened off just enough,
the tender capillaries still able to carry
the juice and the warmth.

And then, twenty-some years later,
I crossed the crone line,
wearing the tissue-paper crown
with the sacred words “Still here,
still standing…”
engraved upon it.
These words of triumph for all of us elders,
these words “Still here… Still standing,”
they’re the ultimate royal “Ha!”,
the ultimate para la vida “Ha!”,
to life, with life, all of life, filled with life.
Us, crossed now, the crone line,
para la vida, filled with life.

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years old or so,
I woke up an old woman that morning.
Not in body quite all the way, but close.
Also in mind, and this was good.
And also in the face I was changed
with all the marks of rings like a tree,
and this too was good.

I looked at my body
and saw that rubies had grown
in all my cuts,
and mirrors shone in all the widders and spalls.
And I saw I was old and strong,
like a queen who had ruled herself
not perfectly, but well.

And I leaned in and touched her old, cracked face,
and I saw the permanent diamonds in her tear ducts
that were gotten from years of hard use
and pressure in dark places.

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years old or so,
I woke up an old woman.
And I have been more and more free
ever since.

______________________

CODA

And so may it be for you.
And so may it be for me.
And so may it be for all of us.
Amen.
And as my grandmother used to say,
“Amen… and a little woman.”

_______________________

“One Day When I Was Old,” a blessing-poem by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Copyright ©1990, 2010, All Rights Reserved, including but not limited to electronic, performance, theatrical, musical, graphic, film, commercial, derivative. Uses: You are welcome to use this blessing poem in non-commercial ways without adding to nor deleting any part, just using the work in its entirety along with author’s name and this copyright notice attached.

Release

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I’m so incredibly sad.

It’s not just losing my hair.  I cut it short a couple of days ago, but it’s coming out by the handfuls every time I comb it or even touch it.  The clippers are out and ready to go along with a cute colorful scarf I bought last year, long before I knew I was about to embark on this journey.  So a buzz is in my immediate future, and not the good kind. (The photo above is what I just pulled out from the back of my head in a minute or two while contemplating this post….there would be more if I kept at it….but I’m making a mess here….)

It’s not the sores on my chest or on the roof of my mouth.  It’s not the three days I spent in the hospital earlier this week, or the antibiotics that give me headaches.  I know dodged a bullet by getting help before catching something while all my counts were extremely low, and my time in reverse isolation wasn’t really “difficult”as much as surreal.  Haven’t spent time in a hospital since my youngest was born 28 years ago.

I’m definitely NOT looking forward to it, but it’s not the idea of Round 2 coming up this Friday, or that I haven’t had the “upswing” of a bunch of really good days between rounds that I had hoped to experience.  With 5 rounds to go, maybe I’ll experience that next time.

No, this sadness is all of the above and none of the above….something inclusive and yet nameless that leaves me wanting to just lay down and not move for hours at a time.  For someone like me, someone used to being busy and active and engaged, who went into this deal feeling healthy and vibrant, that’s a little scary.  It’s not like me.  None of this is “like me”.

I haven’t even felt like writing….and I’m barely praying.  “Please, God” happens a lot.

Its almost as if I’m disintegrating right before my very eyes…dissolving….and, I suppose, in a way I am.  I am no longer the woman I was and I’m not yet the woman I will be.  When I look in the mirror, I never know who I’m going to see because I don’t look like “ME”.  Having experienced a Dark Night of the Soul before, my hunch is that I am now entering into a Dark Night of the Body.  Which effects the Soul, wouldn’t it?  The spirit?

I’m doing my best to remain grateful in the midst of a physical shit storm the likes of which I’ve never experienced.  For example, I’m grateful I didn’t puke my guts up after Round 1.  I’m grateful for family and friends that are so very supportive, kind and loving.  And patient!  Especially my husband, who is staying steady even when I swing from snappy to weepy to sleeping and back again.

I’m extremely grateful that I don’t have to work through this ordeal.  Financially we’re okay with my disability checks.

And right now – at this very moment – I am ecstatic for the torrential downpour happening right outside my window.  We’ve had a storm front move into SoCal these last couple of days, and the much needed rain is a BLESSING to my home state.  And for me personally, the dark clouds and the blustering winds and the sheets of water match the firestorm raging on inside of me….cooling me.  Bringing relief and calm and release.

Release.  How many times a day to I pray for release?  Release from the pain.  Release from the funky shit going on with my body.  Release from all the months of treatment still in front of me.  Release from the lethargy.

My friends keep telling me how strong and brave I am…how much courage I’m displaying, and what great attitude I’ve held.  Today, I don’t feel any of those things.  Perhaps it’s just been a really long week filled with some really stressful and traumatic experiences.  Maybe after I shave my head later tonight I will feel some of the “empowerment” I keep hearing about.  Maybe I will have a few better days until Friday.

Maybe.

The Perfect Storm

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That’s what they’re calling it, these infernos from Hell that are consuming tens of thousands of acres all over Southern California.  “The Perfect Storm” has completely destroyed over a thousand homes and businesses, and sent almost one million people running for their lives. It has irrevocably changed the face of many communities – and much of Southern California itself.

And it’s only Wednesday.

This is my territory, my ‘hood – Southern California. I’ve grown up here and created precious memories all along the various fire fronts.    I have memories of my days spent as a young woman on the beach and in the hills of Malibu.  I lived for awhile in San Diego and spent one long weekend at a resort in Rancho Bernardo.  In the last couple of years there were many trips to Lake Arrowhead to lounge, cruise the lake and enjoy shopping  and music with people I cared about.  Then there’s the fresh apple pie I’ve had in Julian, and the night spent in Fallbrook – avocado country!  I’ve made love in the hills of Big Bear and Ventura, and gone to the Ren Fair in Devore.  These are my stomping grounds.  And my Californian sisters and brothers in them.

I paced around the Tree House yesterday, keeping one eye on the news and the other looking out my windows at a changed landscape of my own.  It’s Nothing compared to what others have experienced.  I lost some Mexican pottery to the 60 mph winds, and everything is covered in a fine sprinkling of soot.  Then there are the piles and piles of windtorn branches and debris everywhere.  Across the way I can see at least three old trees that were snapped in half by the fingers of some invisible giant – Trees that have been rooted and growing here for probably 30 – 40 years.  And just like that! they were torn from the soil like matchsticks.

On my way in to work this morning, driving South into Irvine and nearer to the Santiago fires, the air became acrid the further I drove, and the Sun burned a blood red sky.  It’s hot and dry, but thankfully, the winds have stopped.  Only thing is, now the smoke lies like a choaking, gray fog blanketing everything in sight.  Kicking up ashes on my way to the door, I was grateful to fill my lungs with the clean air inside the building.  Even at this, my eyes sting and feel swollen, my nose is congested, and going out into the 90plus smokey heat to get to my car? It’s enough to keep me inside and at my desk for lunch.

I read the stories.  Watch the news.  Listen to the conversations around the office.  All of us have been effected in one way or another.  We’ve got employees that were evacuated in San Diego.  One of the parks in Fallbrook has almost completely burnt to the ground.

And all I can think about is…What must it feel like….

To be watching the news from an evacuation center, and see your home only yards from  consuming flames ten stories high?

To have only the space inside of your car for packing all of the ‘important’ items you’ve collected in 40, 50…70 years of life – knowing full well that the next time you return to your home, nothing will remain?

To have your son, husband, or father standing at the front lines of the Fire, inhaling smoke, blinking back cinders and fighting the damnable winds trying to get control of the Uncontrollable?  And knowing he’s trying to save the property of perfect strangers, his own life at risk of being be swept away in fire tornado?

What must it feel like to look around you and know that all of your worldly possessions just went up in smoke?

My heart breaks as I watch the news….families displaced and ‘homeless’ now.  The faces of the elderly particularly move me.  The elderly that may not have had insurance to cover their losses, who haven’t the physical or mental stamina to rebuild, restore, and recover.  Thankfully, our commuities here in California are coming together.  We’re seeing the very best of people come out, with very little of the nasty stuff our brothers and sisters in New Orleans experienced with Katrina. Maybe we were better prepared, having learned some painful lessons through their ordeal.  Maybe the people running the cities are different, somehow, or the people themselves are different.  I don’t know.  All I do know is this:

It reminds me of how important it is to build my life on something that lasts…something that cannot be consumed by fire, washed away in floods, or torn to hell by a tornado.  My life – like a house – must continue to be built upon a sure foundation of faith, love and hope, strong vital relationships, and a lifestyle that has rejected the superficial in order to dig deep into the Everlasting.

It also reminds me that I better get renters insurance.

Today is the Perfect Day to do that.