maté gratitude

i am grateful for:

1) a maté tea brew my teacher/healer/friend valerie simonsen gave me. it’s keeping me awake without making me cranky.

2) my cough almost healed thanks to another brew, this one from my dear acupuncturist caroline radice.

3) the amazing bursts in development by my lil guy. since walking he’s started pointing, waving, and handing us stuff. like: here, book, read it to me. it’s this explosion happening as his brain makes so many millions (billions?) of connections. go dendrites!

4) the pumpkins around my house. on this gray day they are providing nice spots of juicy color.

5) my aqua mug that tells me to “trust the process.” mmmk. trying.

6) toys in my house.

7) that moment when baby boy goes to actual sleep for five whole hours at a time (or more). it’s just so good to have a moment for my brain to rest.

8) obama supporting net neutrality.

9) changes afoot!

10) socks. warm, colorful, fuzzy socks.

Valerie Reissmaté gratitude

dream insight gratitude

a little local brooklyn graffiti, third eye, looking within action for you.

a little local brooklyn graffiti, third eye, looking within action for you.

I just had a dream that reinforced this insight I had the other day: Experiences that are troubling, intense, or traumatic cannot just be “let go.” They need to be processed, digested, and integrated. Then, we grow. But this idea that we need to “let it go,” does us and our experiences a disservice. Sure, the momentary upsets—someone cutting you off, not giving you what you want, or displaying a character trait that upsets you—by all means practice letting go on that stuff. Do your breathing, imagine it sliding off of you, whatever.

But the big stuff is a full meal that needs to be enzymatically processed—with movement, therapy, prayer, writing, art, talking, ritual, etc. Usually with more than one of the above. And possibly over years, with regular re-do’s as the new old fragments surface. Let’s be clear, though: There is no sealing off, either. When you seal off the old stuff, it costs you the suppleness of your self; it ferments and then explodes or seeps toxins into your life. Sorry for the icky digestion metaphors, but a) I have a one-year-old, so it’s right there and b) it’s apt—we truly digest our lives or we don’t or we do it halfway—whatever we can bear. That is fine. But we do not “let it go.” It’s our life, possibly the only one we get, not a red ballon we can release, which we now all know just pops eventually and hurts a dolphin.

We are all holding something that we think we should have let go of already. Can we all agree on this?: No beating ourselves up over it. No “letting it go.” But no holding it tight and sealing it off, either. Acknowledge its presence and be tender toward it—if it’s such a big deal that it didn’t just evaporate, it probably requires your attention and your care. What does it need? What is it trying to tell you? Listen, write, move, talk to someone OK with dark and tender things, and digest a little bit at a time. I’m pretty sure this is how we get more wise, more loving, and more magic.

Valerie Reissdream insight gratitude

namasté, grim reaper

This month marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with cancer. I was 31, working for a magazine called Breathe, doing yoga, and living a relatively healthy life. It was unexpected. So unexpected that I spent months with a persistent cough, slight fever, then night sweats, an upset stomach and feeling generally awful. I thought my liver chi was rising, again. You know how it is. I thought it was stress. Or unresolved issues about something. So I went to acupuncturists, massage therapists. I drank nasty herbs. I pulled tarot cards. I journaled. Then I finally went to a “real” doctor whose nurse told me “You people never push hard enough” when I held the cotton ball over where she had just drawn blood. The doc herself sent me home with cough syrup. But she did call back a week later when my blood work came in and sent me to get an abdominal ultrasound, “just in case.” Her lab was booked for a month, but I made an appointment.

But I kept getting worse. More coughing. My colleagues pushed me to get checked, again. I finally went to the magazine’s health columnist, an MD who’s also an acupuncturist. He looked over my blood work and shook his head. A lot. “There’s something really wrong with you.” He said it over and over, like a mantra. He palpated my belly. He injected me with some vitamins, which normally perk the unperky right up. They did nothing. “You’re seeing my internist—tomorrow morning.”

I went. He sent me for tests. First that ultrasound. The ultrasound doc, an older guy who asked if I was single while he wanded my belly, got serious mid-swirl. He saw stuff. A lot of stuff. He turned kind. He went animal on my insurance company to get me a same-day MRI. (Which I think is like getting last-minute seats at Per Se.) He did. As I walked out his door, he handed me my file and said, “Let’s hope this has a happy ending.” At the MRI I looked around at the clinicians’ faces, trying to read them. I could. And it wasn’t good. But it also got them suddenly very nice. Offering me water when I got dizzy, telling me not to rush.

Finally, the internist called me back for my results, in-person on a Friday evening. Everyone at work found this as ominous as I did. But we were closing—a late night ahead. I said, “I’ll be back unless I have some terrible disease or something!” No one laughed.

The doc barely looked at me during a cursory exam. When we got to his cramped office with a giant mahogany desk, he squirmed in his seat, shifting papers. His opener: “I don’t mean to be the Grim Reaper, but…” Yeah, really.

A lot of words followed while I fell from a steep inner cliff, grabbing tissues as I dove. I found myself comforting him; he was young and nervous and had clearly not much experience in the shitty news delivery department. I left, I knew I needed to check in with work, but also that I needed to talk to other people. It was cold, dark, November. I stopped in a church in midtown that was so incredibly bright. Sat a moment. Walked more. Finally called work and told my boss it was bad. We both cried but I couldn’t tell her more. I called my boyfriend at the time and a best friend, leaving messages to meet me at my house, and just kept walking the 80 blocks home.

From there, I entered a world foreign to my organic, yoga, nothing-bad-in-my-shampoo, please self. A world of bad doctors and sainted doctors. Of dosages and multiple prescriptions. Of treatments and side effects. I knew some people in my new age community would tell me I brought this on myself. Later on someone did wonder aloud to my face why I didn’t just use wheatgrass instead of chemo. I lived downtown and was at the World Trade Center site on 9/11. I worked next to the pit starting a few months after, in an office that was never properly cleaned. Two years later I worked in another office that was never properly cleaned; one day I opened a window and dust—that dust—flew up into my face. Blood cancers have been prevalent with residents and responders. Mine is a blood cancer that usually affects 65-year-old men. I don’t know what caused it. But I have some ideas, ones I can’t let go.

Since becoming cancer-free mid-treatment, I have stayed that way. I would like to stay that way forever, until I die of some sweet thought in my sleep when I’m 100. I do my best to do the things I can to stay healthy. But I also know we don’t actually know what causes cancer, and thus, what keeps it away. And once your house has been robbed, every creak is a masked guy. The PTSD has abated. But I have a cough right now. It’s been going on a while. And it’s that time of year. So I’m moving up my annual appointment. Also, pregnancy in so many ways mimicked the symptoms of being sick. And my birth experience echoed the sense of being a disempowered patient, judged by caregivers for how I (sensitive, always) responded to their treatment and treatments.

I have tried to gorge on gratitude, feast on love, call on grace. Some days, like today, when someone posts one of those stupid “Cancer Truth” bullshit posts that say “everyone who has had chemo will die in 10-15 years” I get that kind of fear that is just solid belly cold and then I want to scream, and worse. Like I want to yell at the people who say, “Well, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so why does it matter if you had cancer?” It matters. It matters a lot. I’ve been hit by a “bus” and I know there’s no cure for it, and though it might be down the road another could be coming for me, cuz they talk, the buses. See? Shitty metaphor, shitty metaphor taken too far.

And now. Now I have this incredibly beautiful person in my life who I want to tend for every day he could possibly need or want me. For every milestone and graduation and crisis and romance trouble and everything else he will and will not want to talk to me about. I want to be there. I NEED to be there. When I first told my oncologist I wanted kids, when I was just a year or two out of treatment, he didn’t think it was the best idea. He wasn’t sure if I’d be here that long, I think. Then later, with more years behind me, I asked more seriously what he thought my odds were. And he just didn’t know—this is a cancer that affects older guys. Fertility and cancer and chemo is vastly under-studied. Fertility and this particular blend of mine? Totally unknown. But he didn’t think it could hurt—no hormonal concerns. Also, I think he had more faith in me. That I would make it, as he saw other patients who didn’t. I had more faith then. And meeting someone I wanted to have babies with—well, it was done.

And now I am someone’s mother. There are people with this disease who never recur. I think. Honestly, I’m here, I’m good. I stopped Googling. I gambled on going forward. On staying healthy. On being loved and giving love. Some days this feels wise. Others, stupid. It’s all so precarious, right? I mean I hate that stupid bus metaphor, but we all live on a slender stalk and a delicate earth. I feel like all there is to do, ok, not all, but mostly—line up how we want to live and do it. Be with who gives us love and energy, do what gives us joy, and minimize the crap we need to do to be grown-ups. Make choices based on the big yes in our chest whenever possible. Be kind along the way, as best we can. Be gentle when we mess up, which we will. Afford others the same. Realize that our rage at others is pointing at something in ourselves we haven’t acknowledged or embraced. And once we do that, clarity happens.

I make gratitude lists. I talk to friends. I sleep. I eat greens. I drink water. I snuggle and kiss. I help my baby with his verbal skills and walking skills and do my best to mirror him and see him and acknowledge his essential self. I write, for a living. I walk. I breathe. Sometimes I meditate. I rest on the community I live in. I mourn for my dear friend who died of cancer well after I healed. I keep it real, but not too real. I like reality cooking shows and shopping and reading celebrity memoirs.

And now I’m realizing how this could sound like I’m signing off into the great beyond. But I think I’m actually signing on, again, to life. Chapter 2: The Next 10 Years. Life as a mother—to a person, to my body and my soul. Life as a wife and lover to my dear husband who will cry reading this, which I love (and sorry!). Life as a friend. Life as a writer who gets braver. Life as a survivor, though not just of cancer—life as a survivor of the indignities of being on earth. Of illness and trauma and grief and agitation and of course joy and love and laughter and bliss. Of pleasure. I welcome grace into this next chapter. And warmth and friendliness and love and peace and cells that are happy and balanced.

That is not the whole story, or even half of a half. But it’s what I’ve got on this blustery November day that reminds me of another one, 10 years ago, when the Grim Reaper seemed to bow his head and say “Namasté.”

Valerie Reissnamasté, grim reaper

cranky day gratitude

sunset

today is one of those itchy soul days. the kind of day when i want to yell at the world for being ignorant and anti-science and racist and sexist and willfully moronic, if not demonic. instead, i am grateful for:

1) the sane, smart, kind people out there.

2) my new sweater sweatshirt. so cozy.

3) words with friends. scrabble any time i want it is so satisfying and fun.

4) the blazingly hot pink sunsets that have been lighting up the brooklyn sky all week.

5) the amy poehler book yes please. so far, loving it.

6) the bear. the baby bear and his stiff-legged toddler walking. he’s going further and further and it’s just so incredible to watch him become this like, person.

7) pumpkins. specifically those pumpkins that resulted in the pumpkin chocolate chip mini muffins i made from this recipe. omg. so good i want to make them every day.

8) our cozy family love home nest. i never really thought i could feel whole in a family. and i do. it’s like all these old cracks are healing as we love each other and offer our son a model of a version of what that can mean. he loves it when we hug or kiss. he stares and smiles. i realize i didn’t really have that, and it’s a whole lot.

9) this piece i wrote for onfaith, 10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Yoga. it was so fun to get to be irreverent and sassy in a piece of paid writing. i usually just have to slip into another voice entirely. but this was done in one of my own authentic voices. that feels good.

10) soft little cheeks. nom nom nom.

 

Valerie Reisscranky day gratitude

clouds with light gratitude

clouds

i am grateful for:

1) the way the clouds out my window over manhattan are bruised but full of light.

2) next month = 10-year cancerversary. lots of feelings.

3) this month = baby boy turns ONE. lots of other feelings, some overlapping and related to above.

4) grady’s cold brew with om almond milk over ice in a mason jar.

5) working from home.

6) possibilities that might shake things up around here, in a good way.

7) children’s books. he eats them more than he pays attention to me eating them, but i love having them around.

8) toys, ibid.

9) a partner who is  a full-on dad. not a babysitter dad. but an equal parent. which burns sometimes when baby boy likes him better, but overall, so blessed.

10) walking! baby boy taking first steps and first uncertain jaunts across the room. it’s like seeing kermit ride a bike in the muppet movie. strange because you just don’t associate that kind of movement from him. amazing because it looks so free. and sad because, not like kermit, my baybeeeeee!

11) a slow and steady fall.

12) staying mostly centered despite the terrors out there.

13) socks. goodhew is the brand, cozy is the feeling.

14) cooking curry dishes. and mexican and italian and chinese. yum.

15) amy poehler’s smart girls organization. tag line: change the world by being yourself. amaaaazeballs.

Valerie Reissclouds with light gratitude

radio interview gratitude

a couple of weeks ago i did a really fun interview with sister jenna, director of the meditation museum. being in new mama mode for so long it was good to remember things like yoga and meditation and how they can help us stay sane and happy. i start at about the 8-minute mark.

Check Out Self Help Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with America Meditating on BlogTalkRadio
Valerie Reissradio interview gratitude

sunshine through the clouds gratitude

i am grateful for…
1) organic blueberry toaster waffles

2) the love and support of a man who has a similar sense of humor as me. being able to laugh at the same stupid shit makes everything sparklier.

3) the little face in my life! the face! the big eyes and perfect lips and puffy cheeks and four little squirrel teeth! and curly, puffy hair hair that’s exactly like mine was. it’s just nothing short of magical.

4) even the less magical moments like yesterday when tiny face was hysterically screaming and crying and would not be consoled. (i know why like humanity knows why we’re here.) i had to kick into actual mommy gear. like: i am going to show you you are loved even though you are not responding to my love. i am going to give you some ibuprofen in case you are in severe teething pain. i am going to take you to the doctor if this doesn’t abate soon. i am going to put you into the stroller even though you don’t want it because i think it might calm you down. and if it doesn’t, off to the doc we will go! the second we got outside he stopped crying, all that was left of the storm was wet lashes and pink cheeks and a pout. he chugged water and we strolled. it’s all such a mystery, these pre-verbal storms. i wish he came with a read out or a print out or a baby-o-meter of some use to tell me pain, location. feeling, intensity. something. instead we must guess and throw all our caring at the small child. and be patient. and try 800 different things. none of which may work more than time passing.

5) our dear sitter chelsea, whose last day was yesterday. she’s off to be a midwife. baby loved her so much. i almost sobbed when she left, on his behalf as much as mine. baby’s first goodbye, even though he doesn’t know it. i imagine he will miss her, in his own way. and wonder if he knows. i told him. but don’t know if he knows any of the words yet. how do you know “leaving” until someone has left and you feel her absence? i’m tempted to say “baby’s first loss.” but maybe he doesn’t need that projected. maybe it’s baby’s first successful relationship with someone who is not his parents. maybe it’s a gain.

6) the new sitter who starts monday. i am nervous, of course, fearing all the possibilities. but excited, too. and curious to see how he will grow with another soul tending him a few days a week.

7) my shoulder getting better, finally. i still can only raise my arm parallel to the ground. but that’s much better. so, yay.

8) the world—in all its love and agony. oh how is it possible to write now and not just weep? it’s so ugly out there. it’s so brutal and unfriendly and horrific in so many places. i honestly don’t even know how to digest the horror and know i am of no use when i try. so my aim is: read enough to know. not enough to break down. focus on the positive. send out the positive. be as warm as i can. speak up as needed.

9) the pre-tinglings of fall.

10) love.

Valerie Reisssunshine through the clouds gratitude

crib-flying gratitude

i am grateful for:

1) elizabeth gilbert on facebook. because this.

2) finding books read and scribbled in by younger me. 20-year-old me, to be exact. enabling me to post things like this:

“When pleasant feelings arise and we automatically grasp them, or when unpleasant feelings arise and we try to avoid them, we set up a chain reaction of entanglement and suffering. This perpetuates the body of fear. However, if we learn to be aware of feelings without grasping or aversion, they can move through us like changing weather, and we can be free to feel them and move on like the wind.” – Jack Kornfield, from “A Path with Heart” (I just found this underlined in a copy I read in college that I likely bought at the Kripalu bookstore, circa 1993.)

UPDATE: Oh my, I love me. Scrawled by 20-year-old me on a blank page in same wonderful book on mindfulness: “what happened to the good ol’ days when we made out till we thought our genitals would implode because the “actual act” was barely thought of as a reality, much less expected?”

3) stephen king’s paris review interview from 2007-ish.

4) iced coffee in a mason jar at home.

5) the boy being ok. yesterday, i was waiting for the post nap-put-down crying to quiet and i heard an odd fabric shuffling, then THUMP. then WAHHHHHHHHH. yep, he jumped or fell or leapt out of his damn crib. i sprinted of course, and there he is, on the floor, howling. i hover my hands over him a second while talking to him and thinking holy shit holy shit holy shit. because i know if he’s broken something major i should not move him myself. but he is thrashing and waving and squirming as usual, just more. i scoop him up and try to hold him but he is having none of it, so i lie him on the bed and pet him while he howls, and say sweet things as i see how high that crib railing is and how small he is and think that if i flew off something 50% taller than me and landed on my face then belly that would hurt. that would be scary. i keep doing this math. he finally calms down enough to pull my hair, which makes him laugh and i know he’s going to be ok and we have just dodged a very scary bullet. he’s just babbling now so i call my husband, which i rarely do when he’s at work and he immediately asks what’s wrong and i tell him, “he’s ok. he just jumped out of his crib.” and there is silence and oh my god. and laughter. because wow what a little mischief maker and how are we such crappy parents that we hadn’t lowered the crib yet (he hasn’t pulled up and really only yesterday was he able to get from his belly to sitting on his own, so i guess that’s why, but still). and also the laughter is relief that he’s ok. i see his pupils dilating normally. he’s moving fine. so i get out the porta-crib, which will be his temporary home. i feed him and sing and rock him and put him down for the nap he still hasn’t had and he goes down like a boo and i slip out and take deep breaths and down some rescue remedy and text with my husband and eat some homemade granola. whew. whew. whew.

6) a non-sweltering august.

7) a job, a cozy home, a lovely family.

8) being emotionally healthy enough to have all of that and to appreciate it, even when i get overwhelmed by the world and my world.

9) pinterest. the beauty, the beauty.

10) the “silly tails” book series for babies. check them out. the best.

11) sunsets at our pad.

Valerie Reisscrib-flying gratitude