Towards the end of March I wrote a Provision, Music Matters, in which I reflected on the importance that music has come to play in the process of healing my brain from autoimmune limbic encephalitis. For this Provision, as I wrap up a week-long assessment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, I want to reflect on the importance of poetry. Music and poetry speak to the depths of my soul and both have been calling me back to life. Want to read some great poems from one of my favorite poets? Read on!
So this has been at once an encouraging and discouraging week at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. On the one hand, one of the few world experts in my brain condition tells us that he sees areas of my brain that have been permanently damaged. On the other hand, the same expert tells us that because I was diagnosed and started on treatment so quickly, the level of damage is much less than many people with this condition that he sees. It’s impossible to say, for sure, how far my recovery will go. Both statements are true and both move me to tears.
That’s especially true since the latter statement would have never come to pass were it not for the wisdom and tenacity of my daughter, Bryn, who is a medical doctor working as a hospitalist in Las Vegas. As I have written before, Bryn takes after me in many respects and our shared traits have served us both well through this crisis. I have come a long ways since this all started, and I still have a long ways to go, but without Bryn I would be dead and Bryn, as well as many other family members and friends, would be sad. It is a miracle that I have come this far and it will be a blessing as well as a testament to modern medicine for me to come even further in the months and years ahead. But so we move, together, as a community of family and friends.
In the process of recovery, I have already written a great deal about how things that move the limbic part of my brain – like music – have proven to be essential to my recovery. I listen to music all the time and it frequently moves me to tears. The same is true for movies and poetry. I watched the Life of Pi this past week, for example, a movie of mysterious adventure, hope, and triumph, and the tears were streaming down my face as the main character triumphed, stubbornly and tenderly against all odds, over extreme adversity. That is my hope and prayer for where I am going with my own saga. But one never knows for sure in advance where life will take us. That’s the magic and mystery of it all.
Poetry speaks to my soul in much the same way. As I read poems, some will occasionally sneak up and grab me at the core of my being, revealing much as to where I am, where I have been, and where I might be going. In that spirit, then, I thought I would share some of the poems of Mary Oliver, published last year in her book A Thousand Mornings, that have resonated with my soul as I have sat in hospital waiting rooms and struggled to keep myself awake throughout the night as part of an EEG assessment. I hope you will enjoy these poems, finding them meaningful as well as moving.
AFTER I FALL DOWN THE STAIRS AT THE GOLDEN TEMPLE
For a while I could not remember some word
I was in need of,
and I was bereaved and said: where are you,
It’s hard to express my grief more clearly or powerfully than that simple, 4-line poem. I would remind you that my first seizure, on August 30, 2012, sent me sliding down a flight of stairs towards my basement office. That’s not exactly a golden temple, but it comes close for someone who has made trafficking in words a lifelong pursuit. I am bereaved over my frequent inability to remember things and to find the right word and I am scared by worst-case scenarios. But that poem does not have the last word.
THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER
As long as you’re dancing, you can
break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.
Sometimes there are no rules.
Those three things are worth remembering. That’s not to say I won’t take my pills on time – that’s one rule I have come to honor religiously. But that is to say that prognoses are always guesstimates. No one knows for sure how my recovery is going to go in the months and years to come. Everyone who knows me, much to the chagrin of my daughter-in-law, knows that I am good at breaking rules. But always in the service of what I perceive to be a higher good. And sometimes breaking rules is just extending rules. In fact, sometimes there are no rules; sometimes, despite the odds, everything turns out all right.
Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little.
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m travelling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
So we end up where we started; we’re back to the golden temple. And we enter through the door of stillness. That’s hard for me. I like to be busy. To accomplish things. To get things done. To send out a Provision, every week, on schedule. Such are the voodoos of ambition that interfere with sleep. Even though I understand the value and power of sleep, especially now in my time of healing, it is still hard to set those voodoos aside. It is still hard to fly low and to not say a word. But such is the challenge of life.
Coaching Inquiries: What are your voodoos of ambition? What would it take for you to take the day off; to set them aside and let them sleep? How could you become more attentive to yearnings and needs of your soul? How might you open the door to the Golden Temple of life?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I’m always delighted to receive the Provisions and keep track of your progress. I especially like to read about the lessons you gain from your experience. That’s an inspiration to us all to let life be a teacher.
I was watching a program called “Weed County” about the conflict between the growers and police in Northern California regarding marijuana. One of the themes was about the medical or medicinal properties of marijuana, particularly separating out the active ingredient (THC) that causes the “high” from the CBD ingredient that, according to this program, reduces seizures. Have you explored this option. I know it sounds unusual, but I’m sure that we’ve only explored a tiny surface of the value that the plants around us have for healing. Cheers.
I just wanted to say what wise words you speak when you urge us to let go of the little things and don’t harbor grudges. I believe it was Marty Seligman who said that seeking revenge and holding a grudge is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies. I am very happy that your health is recovering although it must seem sometimes likes it is two steps forward and one step back. Every forward step is a victory and the back steps just keep us alert. I think of you most days and send love and best wishes to you and Megan and all your family and friends. An e-hug is on its way from Hong Kong.
Blessings this night for you, Megan and Bob. Another chapter is opening. You are in my heart every minute. The best is yet to come!
So, have you been finding all of the gifts in this illness??? Sending you healing prayers!!!
These last group of Provisions have hit close to home for me in different things I deal with on a day to day basis at work and some things in my personal life. In reading some of them, I feel like you are talking about me and reinforcing how I need to strive to continue to climb to another level. As we all know, God works in mysterious ways to get us to accomplish the things the divine Spirit wants us to do.
I know personally that you are a strong-willed individual and you will continue to get better, even if it is in small steps. We all thank you so very much for all you are doing and for Megan’s everlasting support. Always remember that sometimes little things can make the biggest impact, when we least expect it. Wishing you the best with your visit to the Mayo Clinic.
We’ve never met. I took the Wellness Coaching training last year and you were one of my teachers. One of the best, for sure. I’ve been following your journey, as you put it. I have tremendous admiration, respect, awe, gratitude for all that you have written and done to find your way back to recovery. I know you are on your way to the Mayo Clinic. I hope all that goes well too.
Have you ever looked into brain synchronization? I live in Santa Fe and there are a couple of people there who have great expertise. As I understand it, simply, your brain waves can be altered and aligned (sound waves, via headphones) and I’m just wondering if that kind of high level tune-up would make your brain happier, less stressed, less inflamed?
I am not a doctor. I am a journalist who writes about healthy lifestyle issues. I’ve been at it since the 70’s. Maybe there is something to this Brain Synchronization stuff and maybe there isn’t. I keep thinking to mention it to you every time I read one of your Provisions, so here I am, posing a question of my own.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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