When You Lose Focus, Just Begin Again

(I’ve just read this over, and it feels unfinished, but that’s just where I am. I’m just trying to love and live the questions.)

I’ve been on this journey of rehab and recovery since the summer of 2011. There are times when I feel terribly discouraged as if I can’t go on, but what choice do I have? Those times usually come when I can’t sense any improvement, and my anxiety sort of hijacks my life; I’m so anxious I can barely put one foot in front of the other. But sometimes I get to a place in the road where I feel I’ve gained some insight about what has happened to me and begin to understand the challenges that lie ahead. In the last two weeks I have come to one of those times.

Here’s the insight that I feel like I have gained:

Since we all basically operate our lives using our brain as Command Central, anyone who suffers a brain injury, (and there are some injuries that are a whole lot worse than the one I suffered,) is challenged with a sense of their life feeling somewhat disoriented and unmanageable. “Life is harder than it was before,” is one way of saying that, and this creates anxiety. The mixture of disorientation and anxiety can lead to depression, and as my neurologist has said to me more than once – “Lex, everyone who suffers the kind of brain injury you suffered from your stroke has to deal with lots of anxiety and depression, and it is often the last thing they get past in their recovery. You have to be patient.” – but I’m not really the patient sort… Ann recently brought home Anne Lamont’s new book, “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair” and I have enjoyed and benefited from reading certain passages in it. The most helpful one is where she told a class of children that when really horrible things happen in people’s lives, often the only thing you can do is sit with them and help them pass the time, suffering with them instead of trying to fix them. I realized that this would indeed be the most compassionate thing I could do for myself – to sit with and be with myself instead of racing ahead trying to find a way to get away from myself, either by thinking of some future fix or some past memory when I was better.

Abandoning myself when I’m feeling anxious and alone is not a compassionate thing to do, so I keep trying to remind myself that acceptance of exactly where I am and who I am, and being with that person, is the best strategy for me moving forward. There was also the following passage on the first page of the book – I am not sure what it means or how it applies to me but I am curious about it and it made me feel hopeful in some way – again I can’t explain why.

“I don’t know Who – or what – put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”

Lastly, I was recently talking with a friend about my attempt to cultivate a meditation practice – he asked me what type of meditation I was practicing and I told him I had no idea, but that I spent much of my time sitting and worrying that I was doing it wrong. He passed along this meditation teaching – he said, “the best meditation teacher I ever had told me this – when you lose focus, just begin again”. I like this, because it feels non-judgmental. I tell this to myself when I begin to race away from myself into the future, I tell myself to begin again, to sit with myself.

There is a golf parallel to this that is really uncanny, but I will save that for another post…

15 thoughts on “When You Lose Focus, Just Begin Again

  1. Nicely said, Lex, and best wishes for continued progress and peace. Hurry up and post the “golf parallel.” I need it!
    Merry Christmas to you and Ann and hope to see you soon.

  2. Lex,
    Coming home after a hard week in kindergarten, ready for the weekend…
    Finding this on my computer filled me with boundless energy and joy, for that’s what I always feel when I touch base with either you or Ann. Thanks for including me on this loop, and know how much my own spirits will lift as soon as I get the notice that there is a new post in “A Beauty to You”.
    And Lex, a beauty to you as well….

  3. I spend way more time on the internet reading blogs that I would like to admit, which I mention only to say, this post is just the best thing that I have read all week.

    I especially love : “I keep trying to remind myself that acceptance of exactly where I am and who I am, and being with that person, is the best strategy for me moving forward.”

    The journey of a whole lifetime is in those words…just awesome.

  4. Lex, what a beautiful and insightful post, especially the last part about meditation and worrying that you’re “doing it wrong.” (I think lots of people can identify with this feeling — myself included.) Looking forward to following your blog, and hopefully to catching up in person sometime soon! xo, Merrill

  5. Lex,
    Thank you for sharing your journey. I appreciated your post, your openness, and particularly your comments on acceptance. And the question of doing meditation right or not!

    If you have any interest in doing a guided meditation, you might try this one from Thich Nhat Hanh: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehhzQq7cIuc He also does walking meditation.

    Since seeing him in Boston this fall, I started a blog to explore issues such as accepting what is now. If you have any interest, it’s here: http://gracedancingin.wordpress.com/

    You may find this quote from Pema Chodron on meditation interesting: Meditation…Let the whole thing be soft. Breathing out, touch your breath as it goes. Sense the breath going out into big space and dissolving. You’re not trying to clutch or catch that breath, you’re simply relaxing outward with it. There’s no particular instruction about what to do during the in-breath ~ there’s nothing to hold on to until the next out-breath.

    Labeling our thoughts during meditation practice is a powerful support that reconnects us with the fresh, open, unbiased dimension of our mind. When we become aware that we are thinking, we say to ourselves, “thinking,” with an unbiased attitude and with tremendous gentleness. Then we return our focus to the breath. We regard the thoughts as bubbles and the labeling like touching them with a feather. There’s just this light touch ~ “thinking” ~ and they dissolve back into the space. Even if you still feel anxious and tense when the thoughts go, simply allow that feeling to be there, with space around it. Just let it be. When thoughts come up again, see them for what they are. It’s no big deal. You can loosen up and lighten up.

    Saying “thinking” is an interesting point in the meditation practice. It’s the point at which we can consciously train in gentleness and in developing a nonjudgmental attitude. Loving-kindness is unconditional friendliness. So each time you say to yourself “thinking,” you are cultivating unconditional friendliness toward whatever arises in your mind. Since this kind of unconditional compassion is difficult to come by, such a simple and direct method for awakening. It is exceedingly precious. From Comfortable with uncertainty: 108 teachings on cultivating fearlessness and compassion.

    Wishing you, Ann, and all a happy holiday season,

  6. p..s. That last line looks odd. In the book it is written this way: SInce this kind of unconditional compassion is difficult to come by, such a simple and direct method for awakening it is exceedingly precious. Perhaps adding … or a comma before “it” might work.

  7. Nice work. Do you know the Gaham Wilson cartoon with the two Zen monks meditating next to each other? The young monk, smooth-skinned, wears an apprehensive expression on his face; his companion–old, grizzled, with a drill sargeant face, is speaking. “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

    Sounds to me like you get it. The rest–and it’s a big rest for all of us–is practice.


  8. Lex, we’ve not met but I know your brother, Doug, through my husband Jim. I’ve kept up with your journey through Caring Bridge and was surprised to find a need for my own place on Caring Bridge in October. I was diagnosed with a meningioma pressing on my frontal lobe and later discovered to be wrapped around my optic nerve in two places. On October 7th I was in surgery for 16 hours at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to remove my unwanted “guest.” For me, surgery was easy compared to recovery. I struggle every day and your words on your blog resonated with me in a way that nothing else has since I began this journey. Jim read them first and urged me to read them and I protested, saying, “I’m not brain injured.” In truth, I suspect that some of the symptoms that linger on might never go away and all I can do is work for improvement. Compared to your ordeal, mine are minimal. Hey! Everyone my age has some kind of short term (even long term) memory loss. I believe the key is to just keep making memories and live everyday as well as I can. Not always easy as patience is not a virtue I enjoy.

    So, Lex, let me thank for your inspirational words. I will keep them and reread them many times. And, when someone asks how does it feel, I’ll just refer them to your blog and tell them this guy has said it better than I ever could.

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