Eight weeks after neurosurgery on Kaiser Permanente's (KP) 5th floor in Redwood City, I received a phone call from KP freelance writer Kim Hayes. "Staff read your feedback about your experience here and found it compelling," she said. "If you're willing to be interviewed for our in-house publication, we would be delighted!"
Two more images below from Paige Green Photography, taken two weeks post-neurosurgery. Count = 52 staples. Grateful, grateful!
Those were days I will never forget. Here I am with my daughter and mother. Photo credit and my whole heart of thanks goes to: Paige Green Photography.
From the mouths of many people I trust, and from the severe pain I have experienced through sciatica, I’ve learned it is very important to respond quickly once your body sends a signal. Listen to it. Whether your sciatica is a symptom of imbalance in your pelvis, nerves, spinal discs or somewhere else, it is very important to curb pain and inflammation as soon as you get the signal.
For me it was 70 days ago when my lower back spoke and I started to listen and… Oops. I let it go. It’ll heal on its own… Ha! Not so much. Life had something else in mind. Ten days later, severe pain shot down the back of my left thigh from my gluteus maximus. Sciatica had entered. Listen sooner than I did if you want less pain, OK?
One day in the lightning bolt grip of sciatic pain, I pulled up to my friend Kristin’s house in too much pain to get out of the car. I sobbed and reached for the center console where my husband had a small bottle of ibuprofen. I don’t want to take pharmaceutical drugs so soon after brain surgery.
Kristin looked at me with her characteristically sunlit face and said, “Jess… taking these doesn’t mean you don’t trust your body.”
Pharmaceuticals are a Godsend in acute situations. Whether it’s ibuprofen or a steroid like Prednisone, consider for your body and soul what is appropriate. Tolerating extended pain and inflammation is not advised on a medical or spiritual level.
In my first week with sciatica, I read that most cases last 2-3 weeks. Some are shorter; some are longer. A retired General Surgeon who practiced for 40 years told me, “Sciatica can last 3 to 6 months.” Gulp. That was hard to hear.
Depending on the severity of your case, consider having images taken through MRI. Maybe you’re like me and newly totally fascinated with physiology. Maybe you want to talk to your sciatica and ask what it’s here to teach you. Hospital imaging can give you very helpful information about your specific sciatica experience that’s not available anywhere else.
Remember this. Pharmaceuticals have negative side effects. To support a conscious relationship with your body that leads to less suffering, consider how to detox whatever meds you’re taking. Detox tea, acupuncture, infrared sauna, dark leafy greens, anti-inflammatory foods, creams and supplements… more on all that coming soon in steps 3 through 10.
Here is Step One of 10 on Healing Sciatica, all about LISTENING.
Yesterday, anger greeted me. I got emotionally triggered when I felt judgments, criticism from others who I’ve been close to in the past. As a long time fan of feeling all the feelings, I let myself feel anger and disappointment, and then began wondering how I might need to explore some impacts I may be having that were not intended.
Something I’d considered years ago — that some of you have faced yourself before — presented itself again.
Am I “too much?”
Is my way of expressing Love effusively, communicating robustly and sharing wide-openly, self-centered or vain? Is it needy? Am I seeking attention in a way that is not based in Love? Am I having an impact on others that is not what I want, not what Love wants through me?
I felt annoyed that criticisms weren’t being shared directly but instead talked about away from me. This didn’t feel like Love. Having direct communication withheld by loved ones left me feeling like I couldn’t consciously converse, which might help me to explore where I may be having a hurtful impact.
I prayed for God’s arms to wrap themselves around me. I laid in the sun for some medicinal vitamin D and for the striking pierce of the sun’s bold light.
Streaming from its rays, there was a whisper.
It was like the sun spoke to me… “Even when you’re angry, even when you’re triggered, you are lovable.” Just like we all are, no matter what. Oh, did I ever inhale that piercing, whispered Light.
Moments later, I had the fortune of a phone conversation with my dear friend Michael who sees me. Now, not 10 years ago. Not next year. Now. He sees my intentions, my far-end-of-the-range ways of expressing personally and openly, as inspiring and beautiful. Are they? To some, yes. Am I “right” and others wrong? No. Does Michael withhold feedback when it’s not cozy and comfortable? Nope. We “go there” because we aren’t conflict avoiders. Resolving conflict can be delectably juicy! It is part of sharing Love in a friendship. In his presence, even over the phone, I felt seen. We explored some of the unconscious ways I might want to look at more closely, and I simply felt seen… through the eyes of God, which is Love.
As long as we are willing to humbly consider feedback about our ways, words or actions, there is nothing else to consider in this situation. If you live on the far end of a range and you revel in PDA like me… or perhaps you only wear the color purple or you are a committed vegan… or perhaps you are openly gay or lesbian living in a town where most people can’t be at peace with that…
You are courageous!
I acknowledge you for living your truth. You aim to fully accept yourself. You honor who you are. And you live it — despite the unsavory circumstances you sometimes experience. It’s worth it, to be you.
People’s unwillingness to accept you as you are is a reflection of their unwillingness to accept themselves. Breathe it out, let it go, and take your attention away from them. They do not have power over you. Unless you give it to them -- take it back! Criticism from others is not your problem and it's not a healthy place to keep your attention.
If they call for Love through you, you can extend it however that feels true for you. As for judgment, in this moment you can choose to let it go.
Turn your attention to those who mirror your Light back to you!
Lean into the Light you are made of.
If I am a poppy and you are a rose...
We are both still plants. We can grow in the same garden. We have so much in common, and WOW you are stunning! We can be at peace with our differences, we can actually revel in them. I don’t need you to be like me — and I don’t need you to like me. However, if we want to express spiritual and emotional maturity, we can choose to celebrate our differences! They really are gloriously gorgeous.
When you are triggered, do healthfully vent. Honor and release the edges of anger, pain, rage, shame, fiery upset. Vent with pen and paper or with your voice out loud. Ask within yourself, What might be the gift in this for me? Aim your attention away from others and toward the power of Love that lives inside of you. How might this tense situation actually be pointing you to greater self-acceptance, greater Love for the one precious you?
I'll close with this.
Our 12 week old Goldendoodle puppy Jerry loves to eat. A few times I’ve thought, Gosh, does Jerry have overeating issues? Oh no! Sometimes he whines and seems to want more food after eating and then I hear my gut and heart speaking… "Mama, will you love me? Will you touch me?" I sit on the floor and begin to pet his furry belly. He kicks his little golden puppy leg and melts. He begs no more.
It wasn’t food he wanted. It was Love.
OUCH. All the empathy in the world to you.
Sciatica is... so... painful. I'm on Day 50 with it today as I write to express my Love for humanity — that's you — by sharing all the things that have helped me along the way. I gave birth to a child with no medication or interventions, and yes there was some pain involved — but at least I got a child out of that! And labor was seven hours, not 50 days. OK, onward, let me share with you, precious human, and may you be free of pain ASAP.
First, now, and in every now that follows: LISTEN. It’s your body. It’s your journey. Your body knows what it needs and it is a pristine communicator.
Listen. What is it saying now? Does it need a nap? When you stretch, what feels good and what doesn’t? Listen to your body, and go with what other people tell you works when it resonates with you, not just because it worked for them.
A retired General Surgeon who treated many cases of sciatica in his 40 year MD career says the steroid injection many patients receive works for 50% of them. Is it worth it for you to try? Ask within yourself, ask trusted friends and family for their thoughts, ask your body, then decide for yourself.
He also says one thing that’s been very effective for him in relieving the nerve pain associated with sciatica is CBD+THC cream. Plants are powerful. Is this for you? That’s up to you. Listen.
Use the power of your relationship with the divine, whether you call it prayer, meditation, inquiry or something else, to help you heal. You are not your story. You are not your pain. Who are you, in your essence? Yep, deep stuff — just like the sting of sciatica. It’s physics. Like attracts like.
When we listen, we can find insights that help us heal.
Every day since neurosurgery 3 ½ months ago, I have chosen music as meditation. Singing songs based in Love and Spirit, songs based in the power of what we call God, gives me divine chills all over my body. Does it matter that I have no voice training? Nope, nada, zilch-a-zippa. The acoustic vibration within my throat and vocal chords literally zings me into feeling ecstatically high. How? It puts me in touch with Who I Am. It is medicine.
To explore this question for yourself, I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s teachings about the power of the present moment. His consciousness is a profusely clear invitation into a higher state of our own. YouTube is full of his wisdom — spiritually potent talks given for free. I also found Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, to be very powerful on this topic. We can free ourselves from some of the pain by recognizing it is not who we are.
Ultimately, I believe my own experience with sciatica is life’s way of fine-tuning me to be my body’s best friend. Best friends listen well. How well do I listen to my body’s messages — her lower back pain, the pressure my spine feels when I stand too much, the streaks of lightning-like pain down the left thigh? When my body whispers her pain, do I listen? Or does she need to shout thunderously from my glut down my thigh, for me to listen?
Sciatica is a symptom of something else. If I had listened fully when my lower back began communicating it needed attention, would I have prevented the sciatic nerve from yelling 10 days later? My sense — probably. Guilt and shame? No. Lesson for a dedicated student? Yes.
Bring your attention back from the future when it goes there, to now. Now is actually all we've got. Going into worry and fear about the future can sting, and we don't want more of that!
How attentively do you respond, giving your body what it needs rather than denying it the Love it’s meant to receive from you?
What does your body need right now?
A wise friend once said, “Life is sad and beautiful.” Her simple words were eloquent and profound. It’s true, I thought, this is the range of human experience, so wide. It’s not fun living on the sad end of the range, yet no one gets to escape this part. It’s part of the human experience.
Eight years ago I gave birth at home to a baby girl two weeks and three days prematurely. Two hours after she emerged from my body, our midwife calmly told us she wasn’t breathing well and that I needed to get dressed and go to the hospital. I went into shock. Raw and unmedicated, my entirety felt ripped apart by desperate, frozen thunder.
Inside the ambulance, the paramedic flicked the bottom of our baby girl’s feet to keep her lungs stimulated. Her father and I spent day and night after day and night in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as her lungs received support to grow healthy. On her 10th day of life outside my body, we took her home.
In the weeks that followed, I fed our precious baby my breast milk and was supported by a well respected Lactation Consultant. When she told me that my milk supply was low because my breasts’ milk ducts were arranged differently than most mothers’, my being felt ruptured again. What? My body could not feed my baby?
A silver lining appeared. I was introduced to a woman named Mary who had an oversupply of healthy breastmilk. Her milk was just right for our daughter as she had given birth just five weeks before I had which meant our babies’ nutritional needs were similar. Mary and I shared a fierce bond. Our daughter was fed largely by Mama Mary, someone with whom I share core values and whose milk I trusted. I’d pick up small, tall glass jars of her milk and stock our refrigerator weekly. My soul’s Village values shone bright and a new human life became fully nutritionally nourished.
Still, the shock and trauma I had experienced after giving birth struck me on deep levels. I entered 13 months of postpartum depression, even in the presence of the greatest Love I’d ever known: our child. Even in the presence of her highly devoted father. Even in the presence of world class friends and an attentive, loving family.
Thirteen months was a long time to feel down. Our daughter received a lot of love and affection, she was held by our arms and in her carrier, I sang to her and we read to her, and her lungs worked great. Still, something had lodged itself within my consciousness that kept my inner skies gray.
Then one day, I decided I wanted to exit. I wanted to rise up. I wanted to find a land where joy was daily, where the songs I’d sing to her filled our home with bright smiles and silliness. This can’t be difficult, I thought.
It was springtime. My little lady, with her toddling new steps, stepped out of our front yard onto the sidewalk with me. Renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle came to mind as his distinct capacity to be present seemed to slip into the fresh April air. The essence of Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, planted itself in my mind.
This moment, now... I thought. What do I want?
I took one step forward and stopped in that position, one foot in front of the other.
Ahh, the sun feels so good on my face.
Another step, and pause.
Goodness, we have a healthy daughter! WOW, wow, wow! How fortunate we are.
Her voice makes my heart do kartwheels. She is a dream come true!
As my daughter toddled along the sidewalk giggling and plucking flower petals off the ground, it struck me that all of a sudden, I felt lighter than I had when we walked out the door. God this felt good. I continued.
I have legs to walk. We have hills in our neighborhood. I love walking up hills!
Another step forward, another pause.
Where we live, the air is clean and feels so good to breathe in… I love this fresh air!
I could kiss her cheeks and belly 1,000 times a day.
As we walked past neighbors’ homes admiring trees, I realized I felt noticeably better. My heart was light, right now. And in the next right now. I was not depressed. Not right now.
Another step forward and pause.
We have fresh food to eat, grown organically. Love for our bodies, Love for the Earth.
It was that simple.
When I could have chosen antidepressants or coping with overeating (which I had chosen in the past), I chose a simple exit into a place of feeling good. Whichever option is chosen does not change whether that person is lovable; I am simply glad that in this situation, I chose a way out that didn’t hurt.
We are all doing our best. Depression is something many people experience and we all make the choices we need to, to cope, process and heal.
Seven years later, I find myself applying this same simple practice as I move through recovery from neurosurgery. Is there pain? Yep. Is there fear? More than I ever thought I’d face. Are the answers complicated and difficult? No, they are not. One step after another, one day at a time, I can choose — as can you — to live in the only moment there is: Now. In this moment right now, I can choose to notice beauty, joy, and all the things I’m grateful for. In this moment right now, I can give thanks for how my body communicates with me so precisely. As does yours, with you.
Alternatively, we can choose to place blame, we can choose to focus on negativity in our physical body or in the world, we can choose to feel bad. Regardless of the circumstances, we are free to choose.
To anyone experiencing depression, fear or anxiety, I share up this simple tool to bring yourself to a brighter state of mind. Your choice. You choose. Step outside and one step at a time, one moment at a time, focus on what feels good. You are the creator of your state of mind, and by the way, you are radically beautiful. Notice that. It’s all up to you.
Nine weeks ago, I turned a corner I didn’t know was coming. A large brain tumor was found inside my head that might have been growing for 10 or 20 years.
Sitting in the office of the Chinese Buddhist man who would become my lead neurosurgeon, I gazed at the screen looking at my large tumor, perplexed. Dr. Lewis Hou, the neurosurgeon, said they didn’t yet know if the tumor was cancerous. He voiced my options: surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
Instinctively, I knew I could trust him. His masterful surgical skills somehow stood clear in my shocked awareness, and his compassionate nature assured me that he could lead me through this trauma with gentleness and grace not always found in hospitals.
“Surgery,” I told him. My gut said, Let’s go in and get the tumor out.
Two and a half weeks later, I laid on a wheeled table and was rolled into the immaculate and brightly lit surgery room. Eight hours later, 99.99% of the mandarin-sized tumor which was laying on an optic nerve had been removed. What remained of it was smaller than a grain of rice, and why? Optic nerves are sensitive places, and mature surgical teams don’t mess with the exquisite design of the human body more than they have to.
My tumor was found to be benign. Prayer hands began lifting from my body at least 22 times a day. For every clinician who entered my ICU room, prayer hands arose.
I named my tumor Fidela. She was my friend; I decided to see her that way. She came to me to invite me to make a decision I had wanted to make for decades. She invited me to enter a new life, a second life within this one life. Near death is right in your face with this kind of surgery. There is no doubt, this is my Second Life.
Is it different here? Did the highly vulnerable state I was in for four days and nights in the ICU, have any positive impacts on the way I live? Was it worth it to take a bunch of anti-inflammation steroids and pain reduction opiates? Did two weeks of constipation and three weeks of insomnia — sleeping 2-3 hours a night because I had to stay sitting up due to intense pressure in the head — leave me with any golden gems of massive beauty?
Eighteen thousand times, YES.
Three months ago, I had no idea pain and trauma could open my eyes so big. Never, ever would I wish that sort of pain on anyone. No one. Yet, so many humans have ridden the stormy waves of intense pain and trauma, coming out the either side with much wider wings.
What is here?
Should you ever find yourself or someone you treasure in a situation of intense fear or trauma, let me share what my life has shown. What is possible, what we are free to choose rather than horror, blame, disgust and their friends in the family of fear.
My head shakes. For nine weeks now, since I laid on that table with my head cut open, my days are filled with awe.
Is this really what we’re given? Do I really get to live on this planet? One with magenta tulips and moss growing on rocks, one whose soil grows fresh tomatoes and mangoes for me to eat? One with canyons to gaze at and hike in, one with rivers to swim in, and rocks to lay on naked as the sun’s heat presses hugs against my back? Is this really the home we are blessed with as a species, sharing it with endless other fascinating species? Do I really have clean water to drink?
Yes. Awe. Mouth dropped open, heart pulsing as gleefully as all the seen and unseen stars in the universe.
Do I really have this much Love in my life? Cards, flowers, food delivered to my family as we moved through the first weeks of recovery. Text messages brimming with adoring words and offers to help in any way I need it. Was that wild spill of Love existent in my life before this? It existed, yet it wasn’t expressed to anywhere near the degree it was being shared now.
Is this really happening? Important relationships in my life that had seen conflict and had tension woven into their fabric, now smooth with that tension only a tiny memory? A whole new view on my role in making a marriage fulfilling? A daughter who was happy I was alive, and seemingly unaffected by the 52 staples keeping my head skin together?
All of this, yes. Awe. This Love is available to all of us.
Each day now, I fall in Love — I did not say romance, I said Love, the essence of who we are, emanating from within each of us when we let it — multiple times. Workers at the hardware store or farm stand, neighbors, strangers on the sidewalk. Simple interactions of connectedness, of union. Easy, Love. Available, Love. That’s what these eyes see now, plain and clear, everywhere.
Does it help to remove my sun hat or head wrap and show people my wound? Sure, sometimes. Empathetic people’s eyes often tear up easily, and we’re instantly friends. Sign of an open heart. Divine union, right then and there.
For the first part of my life, loving humanity was easy but loving myself wasn’t always that way. This body offered an easy way to cope with life’s difficulties. Sugar found in cheesecake or mint chip ice cream gave me the sweetness I was longing for. When my body said she’d had enough food and was fine if I stopped eating, I’d pile my plate higher to feed something that still wasn’t fed.
Feelings. Food isn’t their medicine. Love is.
Eating to comfort my feelings was a habit for 40 years, as was insufficient physical movement of this body, even though she felt so good when I danced or threw frisbee. These choices caused many problems including five years of monthly Pain Level 10 migraines. And when the right side of my body began losing capacity and I could no longer write legibly or throw frisbee, it was time to call the hospital. That’s when I met Fidela.
Those habits are now gone. That was the past. That was my last life.
Most humans have addiction to something. Food, shopping, screens, sex, gambling... addiction comes in many forms. When we consistently choose to look outside ourselves for the answer, we eventually find it isn’t there.
For me, and for anyone who chooses this, emotional eating is in the past. Why? These new eyes see Love more clearly than they did before. They are alive, for cryin’ out loud! I can see, I can touch, I can walk, sing and feel! My feelings are served by actual medicine. Love. Love in the form of singing. Love in the form of delectable hugs that flood my body with serotonin. Love in the form of listening. We each choose our ways.
Over and over again with these new eyes, my prayer has been spoken from a whisper in my heart. May everyone on Earth know Love like this. May we all choose to know and feel Love like this. May we all see through eyes that remember: Love is what we’re made of.
These eyes are open, fresh, and although I’d prefer to never be that scared again, and to never feel that much pain again, I sure like this life better than the last one.
YOU ARE SO LOVED.
I sit in the audience that loves Planet Earth. People next to me tend to want children honored, and women, and all humans. We want fairness in the world.
Donald Trump therefore doesn't tend to be a match. People around me have a lot of opinions about him and some are vocal, giving him responsibility for the awful things he's done.
I get it.
Yet almost the whole time, I remain aware of his wounded heart, his wounded being. Am I forgiving of his ways? You bet I am. Do they still hurt when I focus on them? Absolutely.
I'm simply here to say that it really hurts my heart -- and sometimes disgusts me -- when we throw mean words at him as if we don't know any better. I wonder when we will evolve, when we will shift as a society to be a species who acknowledges pain, and extends Love toward that pain rather than making the pain stronger with our fear, our blame.
Do I have answers? Not for you, not right now.
I just needed to name it. When we add pain to pain, it makes more pain in the world. Is that what we want?
My Precious Fellow Humans,
You've known for a while that I love you. It's simply glaring, the beauty of our species. At our core, we are all made of light. I see it in my daughter, I see it in us all. And it feels way better -- it feels clean and true -- than any sort of hatred used to feel.
And so five years ago, I started this blog to give what I felt was the best thing I could offer: tips on how we can lean into that light rather than into the tough, painful parts.
Five and a half years of Leaning into Light. That feels so good! I'm a personal writer. Yep, that's where I find the richest material, in the place where vulnerability + courage meet up and tell a story.
Now, with 5 1/2 years behind me, instead of writing articles on this blog, I will only write letters. It's happened before, and from now on that's it -- my great art, expressing Love through letters, will get center stage here.
A few letters already on the blog include a poem I wrote before becoming pregnant with my daughter Dear Baby Boy Soul, and one written days after the Camp Fire, to two dear friends A Letter to Two Father Friends. Then we lived in Sweden for a year and I wrote her this letter A Bewildered Sort of Thanks when we got back home to the USA.
Because Love pierces so big, in a letter.
In my handwriting, or yours. There is something so special about a letter in the mail.
Thank you for celebrating five years with me! It's a big dose of devotion that has kept me coming back to this blog.
Stay tuned for more letters. If you've not received a letter in a while, text your address to a friend and ask them to write to you! Or write to them first. Electronic communication will never have the same weight, in my book.
Letter writing never died. It is alive and it is a healing, joyful medicine for humanity.
Are these tough times? Oh my. Our U.S. Postal Service is really struggling, and that's no good. We've got one of the best postal services in the world. It's a very positive element of our country.
Yet there's SO much beauty spilling out of the cracks these days. Huge light, beaming from all sorts of awkward and fresh-brewed places. People are buying postage stamps to try to help save the USPS. People are helping each other with groceries and other errands. People are slowing down.
Three friends today sent me the same very, very sweet news link. An 11-year-old girl and her postal mail magic. She is spreading joy, uplifting others, and her story rocked my world. Here's a glimpse of some real-life magic, straight from the heart of a child.
In a nutshell, the message I'm extending to you right now is this:
Love is the most powerful force in the universe.
You've got the power of Love in your hands.
And one very easy way to express it is through a hand written letter.
So get out your pen! Life is slower these days for most of us. Grab. A. Pen. And a postage stamp. You can easily make an envelope if you don't have one already. Writing to somebody you care about is a very kind thing to do. Your recipient will be moved, touched, honored.
It was never on my horizon. I didn't know. I hadn't heard. I'd never seen someone go through a time like this, where it seemed like all their friendships were taking turns.
Essentially, in life we give things the meaning they have for us. Blue, to you, might be a sad color. To me it might be a favorite, like water in the tropics.
So with multiple friends having conflict with me over the past year, is it about me? Am I the problem? That's a perspective. And I always want to take responsibility for my impact, intended or unintended.
How am I creating the problem? I can ask. There is risk involved. Risk to what? My ego. And that's OK with me. It might be that one friend has something to share about how I impacted her, that is not pleasant. It'll hurt, yet it's OK.
Life is sad and beautiful. I am human, I am lovable, I am learning.
Other times I might learn that this person isn't someone I like anymore. We can talk. He can learn how to be more of the person he wants to be. And then? We can let go if we want to.
These are wild times. Pandemic. Racial revolution. Insanity...
What stands out as most important to me are five things:
1) People matter. Friends matter. When someone is upset with me, I want to be aware of it, listen and apologize and forgive. I also want to be forgiven.
2) I'm always learning. I wouldn't have it any other way! Divine order is happening, and conflict is part of being human. I'm not wrong or bad, and they're not either.
3) I am not weaker from this. More muscle to move through conflict is a good thing.
4) It is a dream come true to have begun studying communication and EQ as a child.
5) No matter what I've said or done that may have been hurtful, I am lovable. I love me. I like me. That's freedom!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, Love-based leader and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.