A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wake Up Heart

Another week has gone by and I have continued with the meditation practice. I've also done a little walking meditation and some daily awareness/mindfulness practice. Those three meditation practices--sitting, walking and daily awareness--make up the core of the Buddhist course. To do all three of those practices is a daily/nightly discipline and I am slowly drawing them into my life. I never realized how important meditation practice is until now. Before it has been either take it or leave it (usually leave it...), but now I have to take it in order to do the coursework for this year long class (though I've heard some people take it over two to three years time). The question is will I commit to this lifestyle change or will I do it for a month or two and then stop? Right now, I have no idea, I can only approach it day by day, but I do find reading books on Buddhism and Buddhist practice helps to focus me. Through reflection on what I'm learning I become more aware both of Buddhist concepts (enlightenment, karma, samsara, etc...) and more awake. It's still off and on awakeness, but it's a start.

In under two weeks I will be heading down to New York City to meet up with my parents. I will be away a total of five days but two of those days (one going and one coming back) will be me sitting for six hours a stretch on a bus. I used to like to travel, but now I don't. I have become a homebody who gets anxious whenever I have to leave home. But I haven't been to NYC in several years and whenever I go I find myself wishing that I could live in the City again. This trip I want to continue with my meditation practice and that's going to be quite a challenge in itself. I'm not sure if I can pull it off, but if I can I think I will be calmer and more awake for the experience, happier.

More important than visiting NYC is seeing my parents. I only get to see them 2-3 times a year. They are in their 80s now and I will worry about them wandering around the City. I will probably spend a chunk of my time with them visiting museums and maybe going to the ballet. Being around them I will practice getting in touch with love and compassion, which is, according to Buddhists, a ripe time for cultivating bodhichitta or the awakened heart. In the coursebooks I'm reading getting in touch with your heart is stressed as a vital part of meditation. One of the reasons I'm drawn to Tibetan Buddhism is that I recognize that my heart is still numb, still partially frozen and the practice is about warming the heart and making it sensitive and responsive again. Pema Chodron has said many times that we all have this what she calls "soft spot" inside ourselves which I think is bodhichitta. It is open, tender, compassionate, wise. She also says that all the suffering in the world stems from people trying to protect their soft spot. In armoring our hearts we lose sensitivity and we become deadened or callous or cruel even.

Each time I was abused by Brendan, my heart began shutting down. What took it's place was intense distorting fear and suppressed anger. I had to deaden myself both to get through the relationship and to get out of it, but at what a cost! I haven't had a heart wrenching cry since before I left Brendan over 15 years ago. I associated that kind of crying with bodhichitta. When Brendan wasn't around and I got a chance to cry, I felt like a 4 year old kid who has been betrayed somehow for the first time by a loved one. My heart felt so young and pliable, so wide open, so innocent and rather beautiful and at the same time so very unhappy. Look at a young child crying deeply, he or she is absorbed, intense yet so open. I've been like that and you've been like that, just letting loose all the sadness in a shocked way. Like "How can this be happening to me?!"

It's what happens afterwards that is very important. After all that crying has settled down and your eyes are puffy and your nose is stuffed and you feel weak. That's the point where you are just existing with your tender heart, your awakened heart bodhichitta. So what do you do? You've been deeply hurt. You can either be accepting of it, soften, learn, open, start to grow up or you can get hard, angry, bottled up again, even revengeful. With Brendan I got hard and I got angry and I got numb. I blamed him instead of taking on my responsibility for helping to create the situation that I was in. It just was not all his fault and the fault he should have taken on and acknowledged but didn't gave me the excuse to lay all blame on him. I was abused, yes and he was in the wrong, but I played my part often out of ignorance and misery.

Anyway, my heart was scarred and I scarred my heart by shutting so far down. After I left Brendan I was still shut down and then I became deeply ill and shut down even more. But as I learned to take care of myself with therapy and medication and creativity I have been moving back in the direction of my heart. Now I can look at my wounded heart and say "What's up?" and "What can I do to help?" The pain that I feel, the suffering that comes up, is connected to bodhichitta, the soft spot and I am beginning to see this as true. Normally, I see pain as the enemy, but now I see pain as part of having a sensitive heart. Sensitivity can hurt, but it also can open up the world, rule out pain and you might be ruling out joy as well. And that's what I'm finding, that everything is intertwined rather than separate. That's what makes things so wonderful sometimes and so confusing.

We live in a culture of good guys and bad guys often ignoring that the so called "good" guys often act as immorally and as aggressively as the "bad" guys. The fact that good guys can act like bad guys and bad guys can act like good guys shows that life is not black and white. All of us, without exception, are a mixture of positive and negative impulses. The problem is we want to see ourselves as only positive and none of the negative. Even when we see and feel our negative qualities we want to deny them somehow, make less of them. And in some ways we should, should stop making such a big deal out of ourselves. But in other ways it is important to acknowledge that we have failings and limitations, not just acknowledge it but repeat it to others to let them know that they are not alone, that we are all in the same boat.

Too often I feel very separate from others and that's part of why I stay numb. I won't acknowledge that there are millions of people, maybe more, who feel what I feel. I've been trying to practice a little bit of the tonglen meditation which has you breath in pain and breath out healing or give away healing and pleasure. First you start with your own pain and then extend it to include the people you love, the people you feel neutral about and then the people you dislike or even hate. Ultimately you breath in everyones pain and breath out everyones healing, so you make that connection between your seemingly isolated pain and the pain of everyone else. In making that connection you build and deepen compassion.

I have a high mountain to climb and I'm somewhere near the bottom of it. The goal is to exchange my limited view of myself for a big view of everyone else and to be of some help to some of those others. But first I must gradually climb the mountain, pace myself, strengthen my heart.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sitting With The Pain

Thanks Mike for the comment you left on my last blog entry. It's good to know that there is someone out there sometimes following my blog who is interested in both Buddhism and the I Ching. I really would love to hear from you, especially about your studies with the I Ching, since I don't talk about it much with anyone.

Actually, I have not been consulting the I Ching as frequently since I turned my studies over to Buddhism, but I'm still keeping in touch several times a week. When I do, I have been getting in response to my questions a single hexagram with no moving lines. It's supposed to be an emphatic response, a hexagram to contemplate in its entirety. You're supposed to stop and look for a while. I asked the question "What should I focus on this year?" and I got 26 Great Taming. That stuck with me intuitively, though I couldn't say why. Then I asked if I should take this Buddhist course and I got 60 Measuring. Measuring, which I see as setting limits and being disciplined, also fits with Great Taming or, in this instance, me taming myself through meditation and philosophical studies. I was also reading a Pema Chodron book and she repeatedly used the word "tame" in talking about Buddhist practice.

So I've continued to meditate once or twice a day all this week. I've also been trying to just be, just sit still with my pain when it comes up; invariably it returns. I don't just sit still, I look at the pain. What I found was that the pain was not pure, solid pain, but pain sharing the same space with pleasure or non pain. The pain was concentrated and around it there was a lot of non pain or space or even pleasure. What this means is that the situation is not completely desperate. I have the choice to let go of the pain by redirecting my attention to the open spaces.

And I've thought this before in a different context. I've thought that the voices which have been capable of much cruelty and sickness are really part of a wonderful mystery. They are aware and can communicate and are subtle and intelligent and creative. There is a lot of space around them as well. My next thought was that people automatically attach the idea of hearing voices to something negative. They are a sign of mental illness, period. Though I'm aware that there are people who hear voices who are not mentally ill. I heard voices that were mainly benevolent for years before I became delusional and paranoid. Granted, I was still sick but not so much because of voices as because of the personal choices I made in life up to that point. I have said to those who are ill with voices or to their caretakers: Look for the good in the voices, don't just focus on the bad and you will begin to ease your suffering by expanding your perspective.

Buddhist practice seems to be expanding my perspective on my immediate experiences even more. I had heard Pema Chodron talk about the open space or in Tibetan "shunyata" that is always available and about breathing in pain in the tonglen meditation practice and breathing out the healing of pain, but it is only now after meditating for a couple of weeks that I am starting to understand that the two go together. And instead of pain being all bad, it is like another quality of experience, something to compare and contrast with other experiences, reactions and feelings. Don't get me wrong, I still want to run away from pain, but just being willing to sit with the pain and not do anything and let thoughts go even for a minute I am changing my mental atmosphere and opening myself up gradually.

But before I came to that awareness, I was just sitting in meditation with the attitude that I wasn't doing it to feel good, rather to find my way awkwardly to wake up to my present experience. That's an important point. Meditation can be very pleasant, sometimes so pleasant that you attach to it as a way of meditating "right", but really whenever you stop doing and rest in just being, you are meditating, regardless of whether you are comfortable or not or whether you are lost in thought a lot or not. There is no "right" way to meditate, not really, there is just having the courage to face your present moment and breathe through it and to let yourself keep waking up. You know how it feels to get all sleepy sitting next to a stranger on a train? You keep drifting off into sleep leaning into the person beside you only to wake up suddenly and with some embarrassment, only to fall again into sleep. Meditating can be like that, except you get all caught up in your thoughts, which, if you look at them, have no substance, only to realize that you are caught up, which then wakes you up to rest from your thoughts for a while. Either way, you are pulled into sleep/dreaming and then you wake up for short intervals...and that is meditation. As you go along training yourself to label thoughts as "thinking" and to encourage yourself to "Wake Up" I believe the intervals of being awake, aware and not lost in thoughts gradually become longer and longer.

So Buddhism is The Big Experiment. Each individual who approaches Buddhism must look to their own experience and start watching and asking intelligent questions. But I'm starting to see that you do need contact with others along the way, especially a teacher and other students. I was given permission to join the online Sanghaspace and I got my introductory course materials yesterday along with contact information for the Lama and one of her senior students. Within the next couple of days I will contact Lama Shenpen and the contact person chosen for me via email. I'm pretty sure the contact person is a volunteer, so I will be very respectful towards her. I have read through some of the materials and it is the real deal. It's written clearly, intelligently and sensitively and it has substance to it. I'm very pleased so far. I keep hoping that something that I do will take hold and that I won't continue in my pattern of embracing one thing, letting it go, embracing a new thing, letting it go, returning to an old thing, etc... I have good ideas, but I don't often follow through or I follow through but it takes me years of moving away and towards again. Maybe that's okay, as long as I don't give up on myself.

That's a new thought too: maybe it's okay to be the way I am. Maybe, but I'm not convinced yet. What I do tend to do is view myself as wrong in some way. If I feel pain, then I'm doing something wrong. When I look closely, that's not accurate. Pain doesn't have to be a judgment upon you, it can just be a fact of life. We demonize pain and blame all our troubles on it, but it's really just one of many aspects of our experience. The fact that it stands out makes it easier to study it, if you have the courage to do so. That's where I'm at right now, just getting used to sitting with discomfort/pain/suffering for a little while, here and there throughout the day/night. I'm even getting to the point where I welcome a bit of pain just so I can study and understand more about it. It's a tentative welcome, but there nonetheless.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

First, Train In The Preliminaries

Several years ago I bought something called The Compassion Box. It is an actual box with a book by Pema Chodron called Start Where You Are in it, a CD on how to do a meditation practice called Tonglen and a Card Deck with the 59 Tibetan Buddhist Lojong (or mind training) slogans. I have read and re-read (and underlined) the book in an attempt to learn some of the slogans, but I have not worked with the cards or the tonglen meditation practice very much. I'm presently working with the slogan cards before I approach tonglen. The very first slogan is "First, train in the preliminaries." This is what Pema Chodron has selected to be the commentary on the slogan: "The preliminaries are also known as the four reminders. In your daily life, try to: (1) Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life. (2) Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone. (3) Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around. (4) Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don't want does not result in happiness."

The preciousness of life. According to the Buddhist perspective, we have been reincarnated as all kinds of living beings since the beginning of time, but of all the life on the planet, to be born a human is a great achievement in itself. Only humans can learn, apply and teach the dharma, the teachings of Buddha. Being in a position where you have the shelter, food and time to study the teachings is considered precious indeed because it is a big step towards reaching enlightenment and then being of benefit to others on their up and down road to enlightenment. But all this stops me. Do I believe in reincarnation? Do I believe in enlightenment? Before I can approach those issues, I need to ask "What is dharma?" All I know is that the word dharma is used very broadly; it is not just the teachings of the Buddha, but also all the wisdom that was generated after him. Pema Chodron teaches dharma and the 59 slogan are dharma and developing an awareness of your mind is also a part of dharma practice. There is another lojong slogan that instructs "Regard all dharmas as dreams." In that instance dharma means life itself, or regard life as a dream. The final question is "Do I believe that life is precious?"

My automatic response is "Yes, of course, life is precious." But if I believe it, do I practice it? I know I put a value on my life because I worry about accident, disease and death. If I didn't value my life, I wouldn't worry about dying. And so the next reminder: life ends; death comes for everyone. It may be ironic, but the fact that death is inevitable makes life all the more precious. Which is one reason to contemplate death while you're alive. Contemplating death is also contemplating the impermanence of life. Everything changes. You're changing from moment to moment. Every seven years you will have all new cells in your body, the old ones will have died. We are rejuvenating as we are dying. So there's something precious within that very impermanence, maybe even something precious in that we all die. We have a strong common bond: all life is precious and we all die and new life keeps returning out of the ashes of the old life.

The third reminder is about karma or what goes around comes around. The law of cause and effect. This hooks right back into reincarnation. What you did in a past life can have an effect in this life and what you do in this life can affect a future life. But disregarding reincarnation, I think it is fair to say that if you generate kindness, you often receive kindness in return and if you stay hostile and critical, hostility is often drawn back to you. There's a lot of logic in karma. My brother, who is a devout agnostic, believes in the law of karma. So, be kind and generous to be kind and generous--stick with that as a rule.

The final reminder is a warning against what Buddhists call "ego-clinging". They challenge people to look closely at themselves, to see the unsatisfactory nature of craving/attachment and aversion. Feeling the suffering is a good way to motivate an individual to put Buddhism into practice. The goal of Buddhism is to end suffering (not to be confused with pain because some pain is necessary). The First Noble Truth is that life means suffering. The Second Noble Truth is that the origin of suffering comes from attachment to things and concepts. Self attachment or "ego-clinging" causes the most suffering because it is so pervasive and untamed. Once you look closely and get in touch with all the subtle and not so subtle suffering that goes on from day to day inside yourself and with others and once you see that getting attached to things and concepts cannot give you any lasting happiness because the nature of life is change, you are ready to embrace The Third Noble Truth that the cessation of suffering is possible. The Fourth Noble Truth is to follow the Eightfold Path to end suffering.

So everyday train in the preliminaries/reminders: the preciousness of life, the fact of death, the law of karma and the unsatisfactory nature of self-importance/ego. Actually, that's a lot to train in each day. I'm finding that Buddhism asks a lot of individual practitioners which is both a challenge and an obstacle to overcome.

I've been meditating every day for almost a week now. I've decided not to sit in the traditional cross legged pose on the floor, but rather to sit straight up in a chair with my hands on my thighs/knees and my feet flat on the floor. I decided this because I kept getting distracted by physical pain in my back and shoulders, an overall restless feeling. Too much restlessness and I give up the practice, so better to try the alternative, which has been working out. It's not that I'm expecting meditation practice to be just generally pleasant. Practice is a mixture of pleasure and pain, the ever shifting thoughts and feelings. I still am believing that the thoughts themselves are somehow important when, generally speaking, they are not. And so I hold on instead of becoming aware that I am thinking and just letting the thought go and resting in an aware but thought-free space. I'm also having trouble being lightly aware of every out breath. So right now I am just getting used to my mind watching itself, then getting caught up and then back to watching itself, saying gently and kindly "Thinking" in my mind when I want to let go of the thoughts.

Included in the Buddhism course I'm about to take is a forum called Sanghaspace. By taking this course I am entering into the Awakened Heart Sangha and this forum is where I get to meet other travelers on this path. But in turns out they upgraded their system sometime this past year and I was logging on to the old system, where barely anyone was posting. So I left a post there introducing myself (including my diagnosis), left a photo of the drawing of Pema Chodron I did and asked where everyone was. Someone got back to me today giving me a link to the new forum space. I registered for it and am awaiting approval to begin checking it out and posting. I was very relieved. Part of why I joined this course was to have access to other Buddhists as well as to the main teacher and one of her senior students. Isolation is a big theme for me even before I became seriously ill. And so I hope to become a member in good standing (albeit online) in time. What's good about this group is that it is based on a real life sangha in Wales, U.K. It also revolves around the teachings of Lama Shenpen Hookham as well as of her husband and her main teacher. So there is both a focus and perhaps an intimacy to this group that I haven't experienced on other Buddhist forum sites.

So that's what I've been doing this week, studying dharma and trying to apply it to my life gradually. I have not been being creative otherwise. No memoir writing (though I am sharing some memories with an old friend), no painting and no singing/songwriting. I was saying to Karen in an email that our lives are meaningful even when we are doing nothing. I do get hung up on valuing myself based on what I happen to be doing. If I paint a good portrait, then I am good, but if I don't paint (write, play, etc...) then I am bad. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the mindfulness meditation teacher, jokes in his audiobook that Wherever You Go There You Are that people should say to themselves "Don't just do something, sit there!" instead of saying it the other way around. There is something powerful about not reacting and just being for some time each day.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Abandon Hope

The first image is a drawing/painting I did of a photograph by Sally Mann. I was experimenting with using a middle tone paper, doing a light pencil drawing and covering parts of it with washes. My image is not really true to the photograph, especially the areas I painted with white, but I like the effect. Sort of primitive and elemental. The second image, done on the same paper, is a pencil portrait of the American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. This is a preliminary study. I plan to paint a couple of portraits based on this one, one in watercolor or gouache and one in acrylic. I respect and admire this woman. Listening to her audio talks and reading her books has even made me contemplate becoming a Buddhist nun at some point in my life.

I picked up from the library a book by her called When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times and an audiobook called This Moment Is The Perfect Teacher. I've read nine short chapters of the book and listened to two hours of the audiobook and, as usual, they are substantial. I wish she could be my teacher, but there is no way that is happening, except indirectly through her books and audio recordings. Still, I decided that I need some kind of guidance from an actual Buddhist teacher or two and since I live too far away to have a face to face teacher, I signed up for an online course in Buddhism in which I will have email correspondence with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and a senior student. I did this yesterday, somewhat impulsively, but not really. I had been contemplating doing something like this for a long time and the moment seemed ripe and so I went ahead and committed to it. I have to wait till I get the study guides before I can begin my dialogue with the teachers. These last couple of days I have been taking the time to meditate and I've been reflecting on Pema Chodron's instruction.

At one point in her book, she writes "Abandon hope." That sounds so dreary, so desperate, but that's not how she means it. What she means is that we are caught in a cycle between fear and hope. In abandoning hope, we get a rare chance to face our fears. Our greatest fear is that we will die and the truth is that we all will die, there is no way around that. It is a fact of life. So abandon hope that we will not die and while you're at it, abandon hope that you will someday be happy, that is that someday you will feel no more pain and discomfort because another truth is that pain and discomfort will be with us until we die. These are the hard facts that we keep trying to run away from and disguise, but once you stop and face them, they lose their power. The fact that we will surely die is a wake up call to treat every present moment as something precious. All we have is the present moment, the past and the future do not exist and yet we indoctrinate ourselves with these ideas as if they have validity. They are illusions. Then there is pain and discomfort that is necessary, like learning not to put your hand in fire or learning that the blade of a knife can make a deep cut in flesh. We need to know our limits and pain tells us what they are. But then there is unnecessary suffering such as low self esteem or fruitless anxiety and panic attacks. If we abandon hope of someday being happy and sit with the truth of our present experience, we take the blinders off our eyes. Then we can look closely at just what we do, our patterns and reactive behaviors. It takes a lot of courage to do this, but it can be done. Once we see what we do that hurts ourselves, we can begin to alter our behavior and change deeply rooted patterns of misery.

Misery sounds like such a strong word, as does the word suffering. But do you suffer? I soften it and say to myself that I feel discomfort on and off throughout the day. I shift from hopeful to fearful and back again, depending on what I happen to be doing or thinking. There is this constant moving from one thing to another, running away from either discomfort or realization of basic truths such as I cannot control life. You know, shit happens, that's life. Put that way, it's kind of funny, but when it happens to you, that unexpected bad thing, it is not funny at all. So you cannot control life, or people or even yourself in many ways. So what do you do, where do you start? There's no way around it, you have to pay attention to yourself in the present moment. If you don't, you just get swept along by various impulses. You have to be your own doctor, your own therapist, your own teacher and most especially, your own friend. Buddhists call paying attention to yourself in the present moment mindfulness or waking up. When you do this, you accept responsibility for yourself. Light awareness of your breath is a very important part of being mindful, being present, awake, aware. It can both calm and center you at the same time.

It seems as if it should be easy, just breathe and pay attention and what? everything will be okay? But it is not easy and even if you can do it, all your problems will not suddenly disappear. So why do it? Because of unnecessary suffering and a dissatisfaction with the status quo. The status quo is continually grasping at hope and pleasure and continually running away from fear and pain. It's a tiresome way to live. One of the points is to let go of hope and fear and sit with things as they are. If you are always hoping, then you are ignoring the excellent qualities of the present moment and obviously if you are afraid you are needlessly suffering. The way out of this is through it. You sit with what you are feeling and you feel it while paying light attention to your breath. You don't grasp at it or run away, you co-exist with it and as you do the hope and fear begin to dissolve and you are left with openness, peace, contentment. But, of course, that's not the end of the story, the hope and fear return again and again and so you begin your training and your practice. Pema Chodron calls this the training of the warrior. The more you train, the more you acquire the skill to lessen unnecessary suffering, the more you wake up. And as you wake up, you deepen your compassion for yourself and others.

Somehow, even though I am a beginner at all of this, I can feel the truth in what Pema Chodron and many other Buddhist teachers are trying to teach. I have moved towards and away from it repeatedly over the years. I have moved away from it because it is hard to embrace. It is hard to face the fact that I will die, sooner or later, and that I will always struggle with discomfort of one sort or another. It is also hard to sit with fear and accept it. It is hard to meditate and be mindful throughout the day and evening. It is hard to refrain from harmful behaviors and attitudes. But it is the hard things that are ultimately the most worthwhile, if you can stick with the practice and the training. This I believe.

Hope is about living for a future time, but there is no future time. There is only now.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Home Life

This is my music room downstairs, very stripped down, but functional. I've been creating a lot of songs lately, but I have to concentrate on just a couple and record them, maybe add extra vocals to harmonize and a minimal lead guitar track. I have a tendency to go around in circles when I sing and write songs, so I have to redirect myself into refining some of what I've done. The main thing is to touch base with singing and playing regularly throughout the week, even when my singing sounds like crap, just keep going, keep practicing. I bought a poster that has guitar chords on it which I'm going to post on the wall and seriously try to learn new chords. Because my guitar playing is so weak, I find using the electric guitar is easier on my fingers and sounds better than when I play my acoustic guitar. I'm just getting tired of using the same ten chords over and over. Before I got ill, I was a better singer and guitar player. I experimented more and pushed myself harder. So now I have another chance. My headset is different from the 1990s, which makes absolute sense, considering all I've been through since then. And so the music is different, but I still sometimes have the tendency to get dark. Usually I'm trying to mix the darkness with the light, alternating between the two. It's back to yin and yang.

This is my art studio space. It's not very large, but it's mine and I can keep the cats out of the area when I need to work. I have yet to start a painting downstairs. I'm still adjusting to being able to actually go downstairs. But I need to christen it soon, turn on the music and get out the paints. I meant to start a few days ago, but I've been getting a toothache at night and that messed with my days. I've ordered a new bookcase to put in this room to house most of my art books. It will be very good to have easy access to the books again.

Here are a couple of shots of the cat pen/play area that Richard made. I let the cats out except for one, Shanti, who was nervous about the cat door. I will try again today in a couple of hours.
I let them out on my birthday. They were all very happy about it (except Shanti), but they were nervous too and didn't climb on the the wood or scratch it, not yet.

I did do a chunk of Spring Cleaning a week and a half ago. I rearranged my living room, which I haven't done in a long time. I bought an expensive vacuum cleaner meant to suck up pet hair. So far, so good, but I have really bad luck with vacuum cleaners. I have about four defunct ones in my garage. For a while there, I was afraid of getting electrocuted by the contraption. But with eight cats I have to one) vacuum and two) change the kitty litter boxes regularly.

I still have to clean the kitchen. I notice that I've left that till last, so that's a problem area for me. I have a dishwasher, but I haven't used it in years and I'm, once again, nervous about testing it and other machinery out. It's just foolishness on my part. I've become an on again, off again fearful person. It has to do with living alone, too. If I were living with other people, I'm sure more things would get dealt with. Me, alone, I put things off because I can get away with it.

My 48th birthday was this past Friday. Though I allowed myself to go off my diet for a few days by buying myself a pizza, wings and sweet fried dough, I didn't have a particularly good birthday. Letting the cats out was the highlight of the day. I chose my birthday to quit smoking cigarettes, which I had gradually starting smoking more and more of over the last couple of months. I haven't gone through withdrawal, which is great, but I am suffering through some depression. Today was my first up day in a few days. I put on music that my brother had given to me for my birthday: Bonnie Raitt, Red House Painters, Son Volt, The Waifs, My Morning Jacket, all of it good and there's more to go through of it. If I can put on some music each day, I can get some work done. It sets the mood. Sometimes I fall into periods of silence and that can be okay, but just not all the time.

I made a new online friend this week. It's Karen Sorensen who I put on my blog list a few weeks ago. Her blog is called Dignify Me. If you haven't already, please check out her blog. I love the way she writes and one day I made an offer of friendship to her, which she accepted and so we've been emailing each other nearly every day for the past week. She is smart and talented both as an artist and as a writer and she challenges me, especially in her blog, to think more deeply about my beliefs. I am very grateful to have this opportunity to develop a friendship with her. My tendency is to make some contact with others, but then to withdraw, but it feels different with Karen. We are different, which is a challenge and we are the same, which is a comfort. The combination works well for me and hopefully for her too.