Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pain as teacher

For the past few weeks I have been struggling with tension headaches. I have historically not had headaches issues in the past. So this has been new.  I posted the following on Facebook,

"i have a whole new appreciation for those who experience migraines and/or chronic pain of any sort ... yup, i have had a lot of health issues but headaches has never been something i have struggled with .. then about a month ago, it started knocking on my door. I noticed it but didn't give it the attention it needed ... and as any health issue (or anything in life), when something is trying to tell you something, and you don't listen, it continues to give you messages hoping you will listen, and if you don't pay attention, it will knock you over with something that will get your attention. The headaches would be constant but sometimes it would be like my head was going to explode. Then at one of my sessions with my trainer I mentioned it to him. He asked me more questions and began pushing on points in my neck and shoulder ... talk about shooting pain to the spot in my head .... radiating, pulsing with a vengeance! I have had a shoulder injury and my physical therapist 'warned' me about the importance of my posture. How our body adjusts and compensates for minor pains and injuries ... and my shoulder injury has been a long time coming from probably poor posture and other ways of moving. As painful as it has been, the good news is i feel like i can do something about this. I have a couple lacrosse balls and they have become my new 'best friend' ... i can push on trigger points ... my trainer tells me it will hurt, and boy does it hurt. He explains the physiology of muscles and scar tissue and nerves .. i am also having deep tissue work done .. let's say that that is also very painful but I can tell the difference already. So, needless to say, it's been a kinda rough week for this household, but this morning, i actually feel a little more alive. Maybe i will actually get a walk in today :)"

When pain in the form of intense, throbbing headaches came knocking on my door, i slammed the door on its face! No, not today. I don't have time for you. She kept returning. A few times i popped a couple tylenols. It wasn't until I had my conversation with my trainer and he pushed on trigger points and showed the connection of the tightness in my neck and shoulders that something shifted in me ... no more slamming the door on Pain; no more masking the Pain; listen to Pain ... she is my teacher; she has been trying to get my attention.

Dear Pain,

You have my attention. My undivided attention. I am sorry for slamming the door on you. I am sorry for not listening. I hear you now and I am committed to paying attention. It's not easy to learn a new way of walking, sitting, and noticing the very tiny shifts in my body and my muscles. Old habits do die hard! I have a lot to learn, and in the moments when the pain is intense, I will remind myself to breathe into you, relax and imagine the throbbing hurt dissipating. You are my teacher. I embrace my role as student.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Grand Canyon ... and California Condors

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon with my partner, my sister and my niece. It was my first time to visit the Grand Canyon. I have seen photos. It is true .. photos aren't able to do justice to the magnificence and grandeur of standing on the rim of the Canyon, or as we hiked down the canyon.

I had the opportunity to also watch the sun rise, and the sun set ... breathtaking. And as we waited for the sun to set we had the opportunity to see a few california condors. Wow!!! These raptors are HUGE!! We were told their wings could stretch almost 10 feet!

Watching the california condors and turkey vultures made time fly as we waited for the sun to set, along with many other Grand Canyon visitors. I haven't had a chance to sit down and really reflect on the magnificence of our vacation. I hope to do that in the not too distant future.


Let go.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Reaching. Stretching.

Somehow, some way, along my life's journey i began telling myself a narrative that isn't true ... that i'm not creative or artistic .. and for many years, I also told myself I can't write. Sure, I played the piano. I rationalized that it was classical piano ... "anyone can read notes", yet I continued to pursue playing the piano, and even got a presidential scholarship in college to study under concert pianist Ruth Slenczynska. My gut knew it wasn't just about reading notes and playing notes ... then again, isn't anything in life so much more than what it appears to be on the surface? I would listen to jazz musicians and others who could just sit down at a piano without notes, improvising, creating music ... I would wish I could do the same. I honestly don't remember if I drew as a kid .... as an adult I could only draw stick people :). In the past week I have made a commitment .. a new stretch/reach goal for myself ... to challenge myself in creative ways .. to activate brain cells on the other side of my brain that have probably been dormant :). I have signed up for a Beginner's Observational Drawing class. It begins in a week and a half and I am super excited! The other day, I attempted to draw my pup Ishka.

It was an attempt of using 'grids' and drawing from a photo of Ishka on the dining room table. I thought i would post this photo and have an online documentation of my journey in developing my drawing skills :).

I am attempting to change the narrative that has been occurring in my head for longer than I can remember ... that I am not creative. I also used to tell myself I couldn't write. Fortunately, I have freed myself of that inaccurate narrative. I do believe I can write now ... in fact, writing is what has been a life jacket for me in my own personal healing journey.

So I am excited for this new creative journey ... of learning to draw; of learning to see the world in a whole new way ... to notice shades, tones, colors, light ... to explore new perspectives.

I may periodically post drawings as I embark on this journey. It will be a fun way for me to look back on this journey years from now :).

Thursday, May 18, 2017



Why pause?
To breathe.
To break patterns.
To create space for what is to be.
To let go of attachments, expectations.
To Be in the moment. Just as it is.
To honor the beauty and the pain of what exists in the moment.
To embrace and accept, without judgment.

Why pause?
To allow myself time to return to Center.
To allow myself time to see and notice the light that burns inside of me ...
inside all of us.
To walk the Earth.
To look up to the Sky.
To re-ignite the Fire inside of me.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Spirit. Fire. Joy.

Legacy ... Play ... pure, utter joy.
I believe Ahnung brought baby Legacy into our lives. Legacy also brought the puppy and playfulness out of Ahnung. Maybe Ahnung wanted me to have a reminder (after she had crossed over into the spirit world) to not take life too seriously. To laugh. Play. Live in the moment.

Legacy and Ahnung were bonded in a very deep and unique way. I continue to feel Ahnung's spirit living on through Legacy.

So one of reach/stretch goals for this coming week is to notice each day, in whatever way, feels right, 3 things:

1. Ahnung - notice how the spirit of Ahnung is around me; moves through me. Is there any object, a song, a person, a spirit, an animal, an idea, a Way that touches me in the Ahnung Way. Just notice it. Then let it go.

2. Ishkode (means 'fire' in ojibwe) - notice the fire burning inside of me; notice when it ignites ... notice when I feel alive. Stay with it. If only for a moment. Acknowledge the fire; thank the fire; create space for the fire inside of me to ignite, to fizzle, or whatever course the fire needs to take.

3. Legacy - create time and space every day to feel joy; to play; to be a kid again. Live in the moment.

Ishkode (aka Ishka) ... my fire!

Ishka ... in her hyena, let's play mode with Legacy!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Slowing down. Stories. Spaces.

I had a busy morning yesterday with work calls. I was tired from lack of sleep and by mid day I wanted to lay down for a short nap. Yet something inside of me kept saying, just get outside Marilou. Walk. Take your nature walk. Bring your camera ... stroll. pause. be ... don't worry about steps, miles, exercise. I allowed my mind to daydream. The name and image of Mrs. Jensen popped up in my head. She was one of my favorite teachers in elementary school in Thailand. I fell in love with C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when she would read that story to our class every afternoon. I remembered an exercise she also has us do. She would have all these different photos on 8.5 by 11 laminated sheets .. she would spread them out on a table ... pick a photo that calls to you. Write a story.

As i strolled in the woods i intentionally slowed down and listened. I would often close my eyes and just listen to the songs of the birds, the cardinals, the pecking on tree branches by woodpeckers. I heard an owl. I was looking out into the water and saw the head of a turtle. I felt like he was looking at me, looking at him. He slowly swam towards a branch floating and crawled up ... stopped. And there he stayed. There i stayed too as I soaked in the peaceful, slow, quiet, healing energy of the turtle; I noticed his reflection in the water and asked him if it was okay for me to take a photo. I bring my camera with me to capture moments in nature. I am a visitor and a guest in this world, and in the woods I am in the land and home and space of wildlife and trees and rocks ... I ask permission. Yeah, sounds crazy, but I do. I am grateful yesterday for the gift of the turtle, the does, the downy woodpecker, the trees, the geese, the ducks, the robins, the water ... I am grateful to my elementary school teacher Mrs. Jensen who planted a seed so very early in my life to explore the ever changing story and landscape in every image and to allow my mind to wander and to write stories ....

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Soul food

This past weekend I took a nature walk ... again, not counting steps, worrying about how far I was going, number of steps or miles ... just noticing, observing, listening. Amazing how nature can be such nourishing soul food. And I found myself watching this one goose .... the word JOY kept coming to mind.

I find myself trying to listen more deeply to what calls to my spirit, my soul ... what makes me feel alive? what nourishes my mind, my body, my spirit, my heart ... what challenges me?

One of my favorites poems is Mary Oliver's The Summer Day ...

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

The last lines of her poem, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? is a question I reflect on quite frequently.

It seems the more i open my mind and my heart .. the more I can slow down, pause, be still ... the more I am able to notice I am both nothing and everything ... the more I can experience moments of letting go and accepting life, and myself, exactly where I am at .....

We accept the graceful falling
Of mountain cherry blossoms,
But it is much harder for us
To all away from our own
Attachment to the world


Saturday, April 29, 2017


Last Sunday I took a nature hike and brought my camera with me. My partner and I began what we are calling, at least for now, our stretch goals. We are on week 4. Every Saturday evening we come up with what our stretch goals are for the coming week. We have daily goals, and then we have goals for the week. We write our goals on a white board and place the white board where we can see it every day ... a reminder to us of what we have committed to 'stretching' for the week.

This past week, one of my stretch goals was to get outside for a nature hike with my camera. I have been great about going out for with either a walk or a run every day. For this walk, I'm not tracking anything ... doesn't matter how many miles or how many steps. Just walking. Noticing. Observing. Listening. Loved it!! I found myself thinking about paths, about how our lives are our intertwined in so many paths; how we often walk paths without noticing; how we go through life unaware, worrying about tomorrow or yesterday ... how we do everything but live in the present moment. My daily meditation practice reminds me and gives me the opportunity to practice staying in the moment, noticing my breath, observing thoughts and emotions that have mastered the art of hijacking my being. I practice accepting whatever comes ... without judgment (yup, that is much easier said than done at times!) ...... then letting it go.

I noticed in my walk how I became more aware of my surroundings ... noticing the birds, wondering about life below the ground, of the stories that go way beyond what my eyes could see, of life everywhere, of miracles. I found myself acutely aware of what a small piece I am of this miraculous universe, and how many miracles are all around us, if we can simply allow ourselves to listen, to see (not just with our physical eyes), to notice ...

I found myself myself embracing wonder, curiosity in a way that fed my soul ... like a young kid experiencing life, asking questions.

Amazing what a simple nature walk can do.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017


My sweet Missy is once again struggling with low platelets. Her platelets are dangerously low and she is at risk for spontaneous bleeding. We have begun prednisone to suppress her immune system and hopefully get her platelets back up. Her vet thinks there is a good chance she has immune mediated thrombocytopenia. I need to keep her quiet and still ... as my vet said, wrap her in pillows.

Missy is fortunately feeling like her usual self. She isn't showing any symptoms and for that I am grateful. Thank you Ahnung for watching over your sister. My prayer is for Missy to continue feeling good. I am going to bring her back to the vet on Friday to get her platelets checked. She will have been on prednisone for almost 5 days. Hopefully her platelets will have gone up a little. I would like to know where they are at before we go into the weekend.

I have been reflecting on how Missy came to me ... how she was sent to me by Shen whom I lost suddenly and without much preparation to spleen cancer ... how she opened up the door to the world of 'fostering' and animal welfare in Minnesota ... how she walked me down a new path I would never have imagined ... how my life is what it is today.

Ahnung and Missy (2009)
I have had a lot of emotions come up ...  worry, fear, anxiety. In my morning meditations I find myself encouraging myself to find that calm center and to embrace all that life brings my way. I have found myself returning to the grief and the fear and the pain when I lost my first dog Splat; when I lost Shen and Shadow to cancer within 7 months of each other; when I first heard the news Ahnung had cancer and when the earth would shake and crack beneath me for almost 2 years as we walker her final walk together.

What I realized this morning is that Missy, like Ahnung, is 'sick' .... at least that is what lab tests and diagnostics are showing ... she, however, doesn't know she is sick and she is acting and feeling like her normal self. I am grateful for that. I am grateful for how great she feels. I am grateful I find myself having to try to calm her down so she doesn't bruise or bleed spontaneously.

Sweet Ahnung, please continue to watch over your sister. Wrap her in a blanket of love, light and healing. And wrap me too and give me the strength and courage to simply Be present for Missy .... to not worry about tomorrow, or what could be ... to simply Be here with her today.

Missy, Mister, Legacy and Ahnung (2011)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walk the earth ...

This morning I find myself reflecting on wise words someone once told me as I was struggling and when there was uncertainty in my life .... she said, 'Marilou, walk the earth.' When I think of 'walking the earth' my mind and heart now go to my spirit dog Ahnung. I know she is watching over us ... We never know where our life's journey will take us. My meditation practice reminds me to stay in the moment ... to acknowledge what pops up in my mind and in my heart ... to welcome, give space, and then let it go. Sometimes the letting go is very hard. I remind myself, over and over again ... keep walking the earth; keep sitting; keep letting go; keep practicing; keep trusting my life and where I am at, and all that is happening around me, is exactly where i need to be.

I read this in the May 2017 issue of 'Lion's Roar' ... "In the space between desire and despair, between holding and letting go, between clinging and release, and between my desire for you and my desire for your happiness, which things cannot exist together, and yet which could not exist separately ... Can you see this? In this space is the unspoken thing that lives" [From the novel, Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis]

This morning I will focus on welcoming all as a guest ...

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


This morning I was reflecting on the word listening. What does it mean to listen? And what are we listening to? do we even know how to listen anymore?

So often we are running so fast, distracting ourselves, waiting for some ONE or some 'authority' figure (doctor, individual in a position of 'power' or with all these degrees or letters after their names) to tell us what to do ... the other week i heard someone on NPR talk about a recent study/research done on sleep. How one group had 8 hours of sleep and how another group had 6 hours or 7 hours, and one group completely deprived of sleep. How the group that had 8 hours performed 'better' in cognitive tests than the other tests. I was talking to my partner about this over dinner last night. It seemed crazy to me that we would even need to 'study' that ... how much research money was spent so that scientists could study that? What ever happened to simply learning to listen to our own bodies? What if we listened to our bodies ... when we are tired, we rest. Why do we need to come up with studies so that scientists can tell us we need 8 hours of sleep? If we listened to our own bodies I think our bodies would tell us if we needed 8 hours of sleep, or 9 or 10 ... or 7 or 6.

Imagine if we trusted the wisdom of our own bodies ... if we didn't run from ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions, our 'demons' ... if we simply noticed them and gave them space and room .... if we listened not just with our ears but with our hearts, our bodies, our mind our souls ....

"once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit" 

~ e.e. cummings

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rain. Water. Life. Joy.

I am looking out my meditation/writing room. It has been raining since last night. Rain and scattered thunderstorms are anticipated all day. The cardinals have been visiting often this spring, and this morning it's as if they are dancing. I think of my dog Mister (photo on left). He has always LOVED water. When we have gone to dog parks with small bodies of water, he will dive in and splash his away in pursuit of other dogs who often are stronger swimmers .... he may not be the most graceful, or fastest swimmer, but he doesn't care. He is in pure ecstasy. We haven't gone to the dog park in a while, and this morning I found myself thinking of him splashing around. We need to return there so not only can he experience joy and ecstasy, but I can also experience that with him.

We have teachers all around us. They come in human form, in books, nature, wildlife, rocks, mountains, rivers, tragedy, loss, poetry, music, silence .... for me, my Papa knew the hurt little girl in me needed the unconditional love of a dog in order to open up her heart again. When Ahnung crossed over to the spirit world she waited a couple months then sent me Ishkode ('fire' in ojibwe) from Leech Lake. She was a fireball of a puppy. Ahnung knew I needed to laugh more in my life ... and with Ishka, laughing more was something I did!! Ishka is a smart, smart girl with a very active mind. I remember as puppy how she would drag downspouts off of my house. And like her brother Mister, she too, loves the water.

Every morning I take time to quiet my mind. An intentional time for quiet and space. To notice the flurry and chaos of my mind. To intentionally create space ... yes, the semicolon, the comma. If i didn't, my sentences, my life, would be one incredibly long, run on sentence, and I would fizzle out. I reflect on poems and words of great writers like Mary Oliver, Rumi, Mary Sarton, Wendell Berry ... I allow myself the time to reflect and question, and to simply Be in a place where I encourage my mind and heart to simply notice. It's not easy at times .... so i gently nudge myself to keep on practicing. It has served me well for decades; it has saved my life; it has allowed me to create new paths where paths never existed.

We are all teachers. We are all learners. We are all exactly where we need to be.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Returning ....

Spring has arrived in Minnesota, yet the image that calls to me is an image i took several winters ago in my front yard. I've taken a hiatus from writing on my blog. At times I've been hard on myself for not writing .... a voice inside of me kept telling me i needed to start writing again. Not just morning journaling. I needed to write for my blog. Reflection writing. It has been a gift for myself to be able to go back through my blog and read my stories, my reflections, and even the heartache as I went through what has been my most painful loss in my adult life ... losing my Ahnung; my soul; my heart. I needed to write to let out all that was inside of me; i needed to write to heal myself; i needed to write to give words to the messages my Ahnung was sending to me; writing was as essential to my survival as air was.

Tonight as I was hiking with my dog Ishka (my bridge to Ahnung) I could feel the spirit and the energy of Ahnung flow through me. I feel her every day. August 25, 2017 will mark 4 years since i held my sweet girl as her spirit was set free. It has been a journey. An amazing journey as I have discovered places inside my heart i never knew existed; as I have experienced laughter again, and almost 8 months ago met the love my life. It was, and still is, terrifying to open up my heart completely and fully, to another human being; to let her in risk being hurt, and to be vulnerable. But I believe Ahnung brought us together.  She tells me, there is more to my story ....

In my hiatus from blogging, I continued to practice 2 simple things that have kept me sane and grounded for decades ... meditation and journaling. Last January (2016) I got myself a personal trainer. I needed a boost to get myself going. After my diagnosis with my heart condition I was hesitant to workout. I realized I did not feel good physically. I was using my heart condition as an excuse to not workout ... my cardiologist never told me don't exercise; he simply said to refrain from high intensity sports as I was at higher risk of sudden cardiac arrest. I made a decision to get my physical health back ... in my first session with my trainer when he asked me what my goals were I said, I just want to feel better. No weight goal. I said, I am tired of feeling crappy, of feeling tired and low energy .. i just want to feel good. I was committed to a lifestyle change, not short term fixes. A year and a half later, I can honestly say I have never felt better physically. Every day I run or walk. It is my way of grounding, of releasing stress, of connecting to Ahnung, to the wise spirits that are around us .... to noticing the miracles of life present in so many ways.

So I have no idea where my blogging will go ... what stories, what journey, what reflections ...

I wrote and blogged almost every day while I was going through some of my deepest and darkest moments. Truth is ... I am happy now, most of the time (yup, not all the time! If i said I was you would know I am in denial!) ...  my heart still aches and misses Ahnung. She was right though .. there would come a time when the piercing pain right through my heart would ease, but I had to allow myself to feel the pain ...

So nothing profound in this blog as I return from a long hiatus .... I decided to just type away. Sometimes you need to just get started, so that's what I am doing.

And I end with a photo of our fur family .... we now have 5 beautiful pups ... (from left to right: Missy, Legacy, Mister, Ishka, Piper ... and above them, spirit dog Ahnung) ... ages are 12 yrs, 6 yrs, 10 yrs, 4 yrs and 16 yrs old!!!