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Filtering by Category: mindfulness

falling {11/14/13}

Kelley Clink

Three years ago, in October, my grandmother died. The following October I lost over 20 percent of my body weight, was unable to eat, and doctors were unsure what was wrong with me. The October after that I lost the only pregnancy I've ever had. And then, this October, I lost my best friend.

I don't want to be paranoid, but I'm sensing a pattern.

Fall used to be my favorite season. I loved the crisp air and clear skies, the sweet smell of decaying leaves. I loved pumpkins and apple cider. I loved Halloween. And this year, before my dog died, as the air began to cool and the leaves began to change, I found myself reaching backward, scouring my memory for that feeling. I let myself hope that a piece of my life could revert back to what it used to be. 

I really ought to know better.

No, that's too harsh. I don't think we ever stop hoping to recover what we've lost, whether it's a person, a place, or something as simple as our innocence. It's part of human nature. We seek pleasure and push away pain. We struggle against change. We try to keep solid ground under our feet. 

Unfortunately, we're not capable of building ground solid enough to withstand life. As Pema Chodron says, trying to control our experience "is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later we're going to have an experience we can't control." We are going to lose someone we love. We are going to get sick. We are going to die. And, not surprisingly, we aren't going to feel very good about any of it.

But guess what: we don't have to. "We always want to get rid of misery rather than see how it works together with joy," Pema says. "The point isn't to cultivate one thing as opposed to another, but to relate properly to where we are." It's okay to be sad. To grieve. To be frightened or angry or anxious. Joy would not exist without sadness. Love would not exist without death. Spring would not exist without fall.

I think I loved fall so much as a child because it was a little death. I knew spring and summer would come again, and so it was easy to be right where I was, to enjoy everything the season had to offer. As the deaths in my life have gotten bigger, as the metaphorical springs and summers have become unpredictable and unknown, I've learned that love changes, life changes, and I change, too. The ground beneath my feet will continue to shift. It's time to get comfortable with falling.

defacebooking: an experiment {5/30/13}

Kelley Clink

You may have noticed that I've been quiet lately, Internet-wise. This is in part because I continue to focus my energy on physical rehabilitation. But there is another reason. In the past five years social networking has become de rigueur. It started innocently enough with blogging, LiveJournal, MySpace. Facebook swallowed them all whole, but that seemed okay because it was about 'staying connected.' Then Instagram, Google Plus, Four Square, Twitter. Now it's a bunch of shit I haven't even heard of (Vine?), in addition to the old standbys. If you look up from your phone, you'll see that everyone else is...looking at their phones.  

Clearly I'm not a Luddite--anyone who wants to have a career as a writer can't afford to be. But I've noticed more and more the uncomfortable itch that comes over me when I sit at my kitchen table without my computer. I wanted to understand where that itch comes from. I wanted to sit with it.

So for the past few days I have been. And wow. WOW.

For me, social networking started out as a way to 'stay connected.' It was a novelty to check in with friends I hadn't seen or heard from since high school. My current friends posts are always smart, funny, and interesting. I'm not sure when the change occurred, when status updates and tweets took the edge off lonely moments. When I started squeezing my life into 140 character chunks. When I began needing people to like, to follow, to comment, to reply.

What I didn't realize until I sat without it, was how much I've been using Facebook as a distraction, an escape from the present moment. 

During meditation, thoughts and feelings arise. We acknowledge them, we sit with them, and we let them go. This is supposed to help us do the same while we are not meditating. The more we realize the transitory nature of thoughts and feelings, the more peace we will cultivate in our lives. This is especially necessary for me as someone who experiences depression and anxiety. The problem with social networking is that it's all about tightening your grasp. Every little thought, observation, or experience becomes fodder. Becomes relevant. This is speaking just to speak. This is the opposite of mindfulness.

This isn't to say that mindful social networking isn't possible. It is. There are people doing it. Some of them are in my newsfeed. I'm just not one of them. Yet.

For now I'm going to continue my experiment. I'm going to sit at my kitchen table sans computer. When status updates pop into my thoughts I'm going acknowledge them, sit with them, and then continue washing dishes, or folding laundry, or reading a book. I'm going to try and get back to breathing. I'm going to pet my dog. I'm going to look at my face in the mirror, smile, and say "Welcome back."

staying ahead of the pain {3/1/13}

Kelley Clink

I had hip surgery a couple of days ago, and before I left the hospital my doctors and nurses repeated one thing a dozen times: stay head of the pain.

What they meant was that I should take my medications before I felt like I needed them, but I couldn't help thinking what a rare situation I was in. It isn't often that you get a heads up when something is going to hurt, much less a cure that fits in the palm of your hand. It got me thinking about all the pain that we can't stay ahead of, the pain that smacks into us out of nowhere like a meteor, shattering our lives and blasting us with aftershock.  

When we lose someone, or fall into a deep depression, taking care of ourselves can feel impossible. But knowing that suffering is a part of life, and that some days (or weeks or months) will be harder than others, we can do some prep work. So while we may not always be ahead of the pain, we can have a plan for taking care of ourselves when it comes. Here are four suggestions for making it through difficult times:

1. Be gentle with yourself: surround yourself with things that make you feel calm, nurtured, comforted, and safe. Start paying attention now and keep a list, so that you have it ready when things get tough. My list includes: meditation; getting outside; petting my dog; reading Anne Lamott, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh; listening to music; dancing; wrapping myself up in heavy blankets; and lighting candles.

2. Reach out. Have a list of people you feel comfortable calling when life gets hard. It doesn't have to be a long list, just a few friends and/or family members who will listen when you cry without trying to fix it. People who will tell you that you are not alone. 

3. Be present. Making space for your pain will help you identify your emotions. This is hard to do, because when we are hurting we seek distraction. But ignoring or pushing down our pain means it leaks into other areas of our lives.  If we can be patient with our pain and give it space to breathe, we are likely to move through it more peacefully, with less collateral damage. 

4. Look for changes, no matter how small. Write them down if it helps. Grief, depression, anxiety--these things are not the same everyday, and taking stock of the changes will remind you that nothing is permanent. 


say it loud {2/22/13}

Kelley Clink

This week I had two conversations with two wise, wonderful women, and both of them found their way to the same topic: how conditioned we are to keep our pain private. Whether we are mourning a death, the end of a friendship or relationship, the loss of a jo, whether we are anxious or angry about upcoming life transitions, whether we are sad for a reason we can't articulate or see, we somehow believe that others don't want to hear about it. Probably because, at some point in our lives, someone actually didn't.

Now, I'm not trying to point fingers at parents or teachers or friends. I'm saying that there is some truth here: it's hard to listen to someone else's suffering. Not because it is a burden, or because we don't feel compassion, but because it makes us feel helpless. Most of us (I hope) don't want anyone to suffer. And most of us, when confronted with another's suffering, don't know what to say. There isn't a handbook for this (well, there are probably lots of books that could help, but they aren't exactly being distributed on street corners). 

So, where does this leave us? With the scary-ass prospect of not only having to tell people what we feel, but also what we need. And the even scarier-ass prospect of being mindful enough to figure out just what the hell it is we feel and need.

I know. Yikes.

For a long time I thought it would be so much easier if, like Elizabeth McCracken wrote, we could summarize our transformative pain and put it on a card:

When I was a teenager in Boston a man on the subway handed me a card printed with tiny pictures of hands spelling out the alphabet in sign language. I AM DEAF, said the card. You were supposed to give the man some money in exchange. 
I have thought of that card ever since, during difficult times, mine or someone else's: Surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack of cards that explains it for you. My first child was stillborn. I want people to know but I don't want to say it aloud. People don't like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card. 

But the more I think about it, the more I believe in the importance of saying it out loud.

I know. YIKES.

Here's my theory: the less afraid we become to share our pain, the less afraid others are to hear about it. In fact, the more we share with others, the more others share with us. And when we give ourselves (and each other) permission to be wounded, vulnerable, human, we create space for compassion.

Not everyone is going to get it, and that's okay. As one of my lovely friends said this week, if I share my story with someone and they aren't comfortable with it, it's their problem. Your compassion can extend to these people, too. Perhaps your story is too close to something they have also experienced, something that they are not ready to share. Or perhaps they just feel helpless. Whatever the reason, I'm 99.9% sure it isn't because they don't care.

It's taken me nearly a decade to understand this. And I spent more than half that decade pretending I was fine because I thought it was what everyone wanted to hear. I thought it was what I was supposed to feel. But when I started telling people about my pain--out loud--my life changed. My grief changed. My heart changed. And I began to heal.



 


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