Make no mistake

If I could choose to do one thing and actually make a living at it, it would be woodworking. I love wood. I love creating, making mistakes, fixing my mistakes. The whole process is something that I am in love with. It’s like a meditation. Just me and tools and wood for hours.

It took a long time to love making mistakes. When I first started woodworking 15 years ago, I would get upset and beat myself up for days when I made a mistake. I would abandon projects that I screwed up. Scattered around the house and in my shop were my wood orphans: table tops with no legs, table bases with no tops, cutting boards that needed planing, cabinets with no doors, warped cabinet doors. It was like the Isle of Misfit Furniture. But slowly I started figuring out that nothing is a mistake with woodworking. Wood is easily repaired and my mistakes are opportunities to learn how to build better. I actually look forward to screwing something up now; it means that I am still learning.

I always seem to be in the right place at the right time for free lumber. Several times I have been offered to rummage the contents of old barns containing treasures of dusty planks, splintery huge beams, and sections of trees. It’s like opening presents when I get home with a load of wood. I never know what I have until I cut or plane a board and find something amazing like tiger maple, red cedar, crazy grain patterns (which I love). Or four-inch thick boards I thought were pine turn out to be walnut. Score!

This week was the first time in 12 months that I stepped foot in my shop to work on furniture. I’m building a six-foot mahogany bar top and a large hutch from pre-used wood and local fallen trees that I milled. Time stops when I’m creating. I immerse fully and there are no thoughts of anything other than what it is that I am working on. Being 100% in the moment sounds so simple, but in the whirlwind of life I don’t find myself there near enough.

I forgot how good this feels.

 

 

 

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Mind, Matter, Modern Medicine

Chemotherapy starts Wednesday; the port is implanted today.  My body is essentially going to be poisoned with the bark of a yew tree, a heavy metal, and an antibody. The bark of the yew tree, of course, is the one that fascinates me. Someone figured out that a tree’s bark could aid in the cure of cancer. Science is amazing.

Now is the time I really need to get myself low. Deep breaths. I tend to be a shallow breather if I’m not paying attention. My breath is up high in my chest unless I focus on it and push it down into my belly. That is a practice, learning how to breathe correctly. Sounds easy enough: in through your nose, out through your mouth. But there’s a lot that needs to happen in between and during.

I will be getting into my meditation zone for chemo. I feel myself settling in and preparing for it. I find meditation a very personal thing, one I don’t talk about a lot because it’s so individual, and honestly, it feels a little weird to share. I think a lot of people get stuck on the word “meditation,” on what it means. People have visions of a monk sitting uncomfortably cross-legged for hours, but I see meditation as anything that helps us get out of our heads, a moment when we aren’t thinking and we aren’t reacting, and we’re just observing for two or twenty minutes. For me, meditation is primarily about being still, but I can also get to a pretty low and still place by being outdoors or playing music. It’s possible that virtually everyone does some form of meditation; they just don’t know they’re doing it.

How low can you go?

September 22, 2015

It is what it is, but maybe I can guide it just a little bit. Maybe.

When I was in elementary school, around 3rd or 4th grade, I started getting migraines. The pain would last for hours and was unbearable, followed by copious amounts of vomiting and a sensitivity to light that lingered for days.

One day I got a blind spot and fell down the stairs at school. I don’t know if anyone really knew what to do with migraines then. I’m sure the nurse asked what happened and was baffled when some 3rd grader said she couldn’t see her feet. I’m positive it freaked my parents out, too. I was either really good at getting out of school or something was going on.

The migraines continued into high school, and in 9th grade my mother took me to see a neurologist. Migraine research was pretty new and he suggested I see a colleague of his who was experimenting with biofeedback and pain management at the time.

The second doctor showed me how to use my breath, my body, and my brain to control my migraines. I was hooked up to all sorts of gadgets measuring my heart rate (EKG), temperature, and brain activity (EEG). One of the first times I came out of the room, my legs were like jelly, and it was hard to walk. My mother thought he gave me a sedative. He was quite enthusiastic about how “low” I could go, and every week I went lower. It was the best drug ever and it was inside my brain. This doctor changed my life, and I don’t even remember his name.

It wasn’t the first time I experienced meditation. My science teacher in 7th grade had taken our class into the woods and sat us all down on logs while he talked about nature and connectedness. During the last part of class he had us close our eyes and “listen intently to nature.” He wanted us to relax into it. We were 7th graders, little shits. Most of the kids were snickering, poking each other, rolling their eyes, yawning. But something happened for me. As I was listening to the teacher and the birds, everything went completely silent. It felt it as if I separated from my body and from time. It was like I was moving forward and backward at the same time. I was here, in the moment. It’s like when you fly in your dreams. THAT feeling. I look back at this and realize it was my first experience with drugs. This is the high people chase, and it’s pretty goddamn awesome. This is what meditation feels like for me now, and has since I was 12.

I’ve never had a full blown migraine since the biofeedback. I get a blind spot. I meditate. It goes away, quickly. What does this have to do with cancer? When I think of recovering from surgery physically and emotionally I’d rather use meditation than pills. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take pills if I need them without hesitation. But I’m pretty sure I already have the best drug possible inside me already.