On Settling My Mind and Letting Things Be

Where have I been? Better question, or maybe a statement, where I have I not been.

I’ve been riding my bike by the ocean. I spent the fourth of July exactly how it should be spent, with friends on a boat. I treated my parents and my brother’s family to a nice vacation in the Cascade mountains. I blew my kids’ mind with a moped ride. I stifled my gag reflex and took a picture with my ex husband at Kindergarten graduation. I watched my son be inspired with his first taste of BMX racing. I went to an ironic art show about penises. I saw the sun set and a full moon rise at the same time while on the Pacific ocean. I smoked cigarettes with a very sad man on his back porch while comparing divorce war stories which were so different and yet eerily similar. I adopted two kittens. I had long, hopeful, but sad phone conversations with a friend in another state from long ago who was in the hospital for six weeks with an infected leg and trying to stay clean off meth. Sadly, he was in so much more pain than physical and he’s lost now. I met some amazing women at a blogging conference across the country and sang Rick Springfield while sober. I’ve carried on a lively texting relationship with a man who lives in a neighboring state who might just be my doppelgänger. We have never met but sometimes he reads my mind and we finish each other’s sentences. Go figure, he’s a writer and editor. You’ve never seen such grammatically correct texting which, by the way, is a turn on. I’ve grown an accidental garden of cucumbers. I took a fiction class and wrote my first short story in a year. I penned an anonymous sex article for an online zine which shall remain nameless. I met another really nice boy who I liked a lot. He wined and dined me with smoked salmon and white wine in plastic stemmed cups on a mountain trail. I lost that boy out of fear – his, not mine. But that’s not to say I haven’t been afraid.Where I've been

My fear, though, is right here on this page. I’ve been writing, but not much publicly. I’m bursting with stories, but I can’t get them out. It’s an achy, itchy sort of pain. I start, stop, then ignore, and live to tell more stories squashing the regret for the ones I neglected to get out which now seem stale.

But I can’t complain. I have no right. My life is pretty good now. Which on one hand, seems strange because the hole left by the explosion of my divorce is still hallowed ground. But it’s no longer smoking. And some things are much harder now. Like bills and missing my children. But overall, I still can’t complain. In fact, often times, I look around and can’t believe how stupidly contented I feel in spite of all that I have survived in the last six years with law suits, career moves, divorce and babies.

There are many reasons I feel content in the aftermath of such destruction, but the one that comes to mind is that I’ve settled my mind. For six years the space between my ears was its own battlefield. A constant stream of impossible choices: stay, go, fight, stand down, run, hide, pull out the big guns. And while in some areas, the battle rages on, I have managed to find peace. And that peace has come not by laying down my arms, but by accepting what has come to be.

Why? That is the question I have asked more times than my self-diagnosed ADD would allow me to count. Why did this happen? Why is this my life when I made so many good choices? Why can some people see themselves clearly and others die in search of? Why is addiction such a bitch? Why is it so damn hard to communicate when there are over a million words in the English language with an infinite amount of combinations? Why is love not enough? Why?

And I suppose the peace I have found is not in the answers to these questions – it is accepting that there are no answers. There has been one phenomenal shift in my life which I may never stop writing about and that is… nothing exists in this world without its opposite. There is no definition of light that doesn’t include dark. There is no truth without the lie. The full moon can rise at the same time the sun sets over the ocean. Both exist even when you can’t see them. Especially when you can’t see them.

And so I live with the hallowed ground and the hostile ex husband and the fear of writing and the contented joy of my wild garden and I let it all just be. I fight when I have to, I sit when I need to, I tend the fire inside which aches and itches and might burst any day. I keep asking questions and practice accepting the lack of answers. And with that, I have built a pretty good life.

So that’s where I’ve been. Living. Not perfectly. Not without mistakes and messes and missing pieces, but just letting it all be.

Also, regarding my absence from this space, a couple of months ago I was rattled by the power of what I do here by a few urgent messages from readers. One message, in particular, which I’ve neglected to answer, but the gist of which was… how? How do you live with the pain and uncertainty? How do you let go? How do you face the unimaginable?

I’m not entirely certain, Andrea, but I’ve come to understand that by expanding my view while narrowing my focus was crucial. I came to a point where I included all possibilities and explanations for the fucked up reasons life is fucked up, and yet, I held fast to my own, core truth. Now, I leave nothing out of the realm of possibility, but accept my own limitations. And I hold on. Often, for dear life. And I breathe. And now I know that one can haul around an excruciating amount of pain when you know that joy is riding shotgun. Nothing exists without its opposite and everything is, as always… temporary. Good luck. 

Yin and yang Kittens

My yin and yang expressed in kittens. (Also known as, Alex, left and Benjamin, right.)

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Oprah and Scars and Trust Issues

If you know me in person, you know that Oprah is my spirit animal. Since I was a teenager, growing up in a home where nothing was really talked about, Oprah came on television everyday and talked about everything.  All the things I so desperately wanted to have conversations about, there she was, talking. That dialogue with life changed me. It continues to change me.

I was madly in love with a man my sophomore year in college. I was 20, he was 23.  He was goofy and inordinately tall, 6’8″ next to my 5’5″. I used to climb the furniture to kiss him. He had already graduated from college and was a 5th grade elementary teacher. He took me, a little broken, a little dirty, he dusted me off, and he showed me some things. We were together for an impossibly short 9 months. The one Christmas we spent together he bought me red, plaid pajamas and an unauthorized biography of Oprah. It was 1999.

This man saw me. For a little while anyway, he really saw me. He inspired me to pursue a second major in communications, he convinced me to stand up and have confidence in what I knew to be true about myself. He showed me how deeply flawed even the really good people can be. He taught me that, and then he was gone. I knew he cared for me back then, and in a strange way, I know he still does although we don’t speak. And what all these years have taken away in memory, I remember something about him quite vividly. He had this long worm-like scar that ran down the center of his left knee. It was from surgery to fix what basketball had broken. It was smooth and wrinkled and felt like a silky soft, well, worm. As I ran my finger down it from time to time he’d tell me to stop. It felt weird because the tissue surrounding the scar was numb. He knew I was touching him, but could not necessarily feel me. I loved him so much it took me over a decade, and well into my marriage, before I could bear to part with those thread-bare pajamas.

Right this minute I am crushed by losing someone else I love. He too, has a huge scar. It’s on his right shoulder. While going through the law enforcement academy he was injured in a take-down drill. He had to have surgery to fix what it had broken. After surgery he contracted a major staph infection which ate away at the incision site and left a deep indentation of missing bone and tissue and a pretty big scar. He almost died. This painful tragedy manifested in scar-form was one of my favorite parts of his body. Laying in bed, always, my fingers would work their way toward that scar, sometimes unconsciously. He’d ask me why I did that. “I guess I just like scars.” I’d say. “It means you’ve lived.” He said that was funny – but what I think he meant was ironic – because he said he was self-conscious about that scar. But now it was one of his lover’s most favorite things. Our only Christmas together he bought me a collector’s book which was actually signed by Oprah. But that wasn’t all he gave me. He taught me something, too. In losing him I finally knew how to trust myself.

Because when we met I was very broken, filthy, battered from head to toe. I was in the midst of nasty divorce, and on my way to trial. Snaking your way out of a toxic relationship there are always landmines just in the periphery of where you know you need to go. A lot of my landmines looked like trust-issues. I didn’t just not trust him, I didn’t trust me. How could I ever be sure of any decision I ever made when I’d made so many MAJORLY horrible ones thus far? I played this dance with him for 6 months where I’d push him away, skeptical and crazed with fear, and he’d pull me back just before I jumped. This happened so many times, the pushing, pulling. After 6 months the fulcrum on our relationship tipped. I was the one pulling, and he was the one wanting to jump. Then he did. It all took 9 impossibly short months.

But I saw him. I did. And I think I still do, although, as he fades away his outline gets fuzzier. It’s hard to tell where he ends, and where I have reshaped him in the hazy hindsight of lost love. And now, my only wish is that I taught him something, too. Because I do not want to take more from this life than was so generously given to me in the way of incredible, loving people. I have met so many. I have loved so many even if I didn’t know how to show it, or name it, or trust it.

But I do now. Or at least I’m much closer than before. And even if I never see him again, I know that I am capable of trusting. Because he taught me that, and I will forever be grateful. I’m sure it will take me many years before I bring myself to put that collector’s book away, where it’s not always on my shelf, in my periphery, continuing to remind me to listen to that still, small voice, the one that urges me to keep talking about everything even when I’m afraid. To keep loving the scars more than the memory of the hurt that caused them.

 

The Hero’s Journey: You Will Survive

The Hero's JourneyI open this page a lot. I write some words. I erase them. I try again. I close the page.

When I first filed for divorce about a year ago I was still taking night classes at The University of Washington. It was my last semester of my two-year certificate program. I pulled my professor aside and told him what I was going through, and that I may not be able to complete the weekly assignments. He said something that stuck with me, “Don’t worry. The writing will come back. Just keep showing up and coming to class, the writing will come back in time.” 

It’s not that I have nothing to say. Actually, I have SO MUCH to say. I just can’t find the right words to say it right now. I have been disconnected from that part of me that knows how to express what’s deep, that part that can sort out the pieces of truth lying in weight on my heart, that thing that spins sadness into meaning.

Did you know that only 5% of divorces make it all the way to trial? So, chances are, if you’re getting a divorce, you’re going to “settle” before you see the inside of a courtroom. Both parties are going to put the hurt and anger aside, perhaps agree to disagree, and make plans for the next phase of life; hopefully putting the children’s needs first.

Not in my case. Nope. No such luck. And I have a lot to say about accepting your circumstances.

The last two months I’ve been through mediation, trial prep, and yes, a three-day trial. I’ve sat next to a judge for several hours and plead my case under oath and threat of perjury. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, and countless hours in preparation and hand-wringing. It has been other-wordly. It has taken a deep reserve of strength I did not know I possessed. And I have a lot to say about strength.

I never wanted to be in this position. In fact, I tried really, really hard not to get to this point. I tried to compromise. I tried to look the other direction as someone stole from me and my children. I tried to get along for the greater good. But each time I gave a mile, they wanted a hundred more. And part of the reason I filed for divorce was because I was determined NOT to be bullied into one more wrong decision. So, I ended up in court. And I have a lot to say about forgiveness.

The claims I’ve had to fight are nothing short of outrageous; from abuse, to mental-illness, to alcoholism, to neglect. Everything has been thrown against my wall to see what sticks. So far, none of it has… because none of it is true. This is what happens when you divorce a bully. It’s the same variety you see on the playground; angry, insecure, unable to process their emotions by any other means than abuse. And I have a lot to say about standing up for yourself.

But all of these things are precisely the reason why I can’t write. Each time I open this page, I start to write something meaningful, and a few paragraphs in, I drop into the overwhelming injustice and fear. My ability to see the bigger picture is clouded in fear. And I have a lot to say about fear.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s not about every slight or allegation tossed my way. It’s about something bigger. It’s about the human condition. It’s about what it takes to overcome life’s seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And that is the lesson in all this mess. And I have a lot to say about that.

Because life isn’t about what happens to you. It’s about how you rise to the occasion. It’s about how much grace, how much faith, how much perseverance and the unfathomable strength of the human spirit to overcome what’s been laid upon its doorstep. Because we are no victims of this world. We are witnesses. And we need to stay aware, awake, and determined to stand inside the fire, be burned, and live to tell the story. And I have a lot to say about stories. 

I’ve grieved buckets over this loss in my life. I’ve grieved oceans for the loss in my children’s lives. I have disconnected from my tether to this world, and I have lived so that I can tell you what it feels like to come back from there. And the lessons are the ones you’ve seen a hundred times in what Joseph Campbell laid out as… THE HERO’S JOURNEY.

1. Every one of us will pass through a door. Many of us will be pushed, some of us will choose, but we will all pass through this door. The door is labeled, “The Path of No Return.”  It is a one-way trip. Once you step passed the threshold, there is no going back. The life you knew is gone and the one before you is unknown. Beyond the door is solid black. You cannot see an inch in front of your face. There is no sound, no smell, no way of knowing what lies beyond. This is your own, personal, hero’s journey. Don’t think for a moment it isn’t.

2. If you are not pushed through, the first thing you must do is choose to pass. But before you do, muster up as much faith as you can. It may not be a lot, but you’ll be surprised how little you need. Faith will be your only armor, your only ally. It will be the drop of water in a desert, and the crumb of food which will sustain you for days. Pack it in whatever you can find; a pocket, a purse, a knapsack on a stick. You will need nothing, BUT this going forward. Don’t worry about how much you have. Faith is like marshmallow, it expands the more you use it.

3. No matter what (and I can’t stress this enough) you must pass through this door. If you were pushed, this is not your choice, but accept it as though it were. It will be one of the hardest steps you take in your life, and if you only have to do it once, count yourself as one of the blessed. But you must pass. You can’t say no to this journey. The life behind you has already changed, and the only way to grow into yourself is to walk through this black hole and into the unknown. Walk slowly.

4. It’s okay to be afraid. If you’re not afraid, you’re not doing it right. Gather your loved ones. It is now that you will find out who these people are. Hint: Sometimes they’re not who you think. 

5. Then begins the gauntlet. It feels like one of those pitched black, rollercoaster tunnels at an amusement park that goes on for days; it’s chaotic, unsteady, frightening, nausiating. In fact, you will probably throw up a few times. You’ll feel like you’re falling forever and there will be no guarantee of safe landing. Just breathe. That’s your only job right now.

6. Then you will fail. Miserably. And it will hurt. A lot. But know that this is part of the journey, and wrong turns in the dark are a part of the deal. Keep moving.

7. You may drink a fifth of vodka, smoke a pack of cigarettes, go on a bender in Vegas or yell at your mother… ask for forgiveness as soon as possible. Most importantly, forgive yourself. You will need to do this a lot. You should try to get used to it. (Ask me how I know.)

8. Test your faith. Submerge it in water for three days, hold it up to flames, put it in the dryer on high heat. All it will do is get stronger but you won’t know this until you test it. This is a good thing, a hard thing, but a good thing.

9. Then keep moving. Keep trying. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TRYING. Again. And again. And again. 

10. You’ll make progress. It will feel like moving a mountain with a teaspoon. But keep moving. Keep breathing. Keep trying.

11. Then one day, probably when you least expect it, there will be  pin-prick of light in the blackness. This light is the “other” side. It will always come no matter how much you think it won’t. It’s called hope.

12. Right about now you will feel accustomed to the dark, but you’re not, don’t let the dark fool you. You were never meant to live there, you’ve just forgotten about the light. It’s okay, that’s what the faith was for, pull a little from your pocket and forgive yourself for doubting. Keep moving.

13. When you see the light expand from a tiny dot, into a ray of sunshine, now is the time pause, look behind you, take stock of all the stumbles. Then turn around and face the light again. Pull out a little faith for sustenance on the last stretch. Keep moving.

14. There will be no ticker-tape parade or crape paper finish line to burst through. You will not win a medal for surviving. Stepping into the light is more like a gradual stroll. One day, you’ll turn around, and that darkness will seem a hundred miles away. Now is the time to stop moving. Stand still. Empty your pockets and marvel at all the things found in the darkness – self-worth, perseverance, real relationships, insurmountable faith – turn these things over in your hands like precious gems. Hold them close. Know that they are yours and no one can ever take them away. Be proud. Be humbled. Say thank you.

15. Now you’re ready to tell anyone who will listen about your story. Tell them it was painful and scary and you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. Then tell them you lived. And they will too.

That is the message I keep trying to tell. That is the message I will probably tell for the rest of my life. Stay tuned. These precious gems have so much to say.

The Loneliness of Post Divorce

I’m adrift right now, and I know it. It’s been almost three months since I filed for divorce and the loneliness has begun to wrap around me like a wet, dense fog.

During the day, I have no shortage of things to do. I have two small children who live with me most of the time. I have a job. I go to night school. I potty train my youngest, do the grocery shopping and mow the lawn. If an uncomfortable feeling creeps in during the daylight hours, I get busy.

It’s mostly at night when it comes. When my daily work is done and I’m settled into my couch or bed; that’s when I feel the thick haze descend. So I pick up my phone, pour a glass of wine, return to my computer; anything to stop what I know is my current reality and immediate future. Alone.

I’m an independent person. I like solitude. I like to be alone with my thoughts. Maybe I like it more than most, but no one likes it exclusively. We all need personal, often times physical connections. I’m in a place right now where I’m all over the map as to how much connection I want or need. I keep drawing it to me, and then pushing it away afraid of the fire and heat it brings. If I’m being honest, I don’t trust myself to handle it well.

For a month I’ve been riding this rollercoaster of surplus and deprivation of connections.  My emergence from the pain of my divorce began on a business trip to Vegas (of all places), and it was there my eyes were opened toward the future and all the possibility it holds. Since then, I’ve been reaching for that same feeling. I brush up against it every now and again. The constant, hopeful reminder that we’re on the edge of spring helps a great deal. The bright yellow daffodils blooming in my yard make me smile, and when I see them, I feel the rush of possibility all over again.

Duality of LifeThese daffodils were transplanted from my grandmother’s garden three years ago. My grandmother passed away four years ago, and after she died, my mom and I dug up some bulbs to plant as yearly, living keepsakes. They sprouted green shoots for two years, but no flowers. I was beginning to wonder if they would ever show their happy faces. But this year, they finally did.

Today, I sat down in front of those daffodils. I admired their daintiness and beauty but I also felt the sadness of loss. I sat in quiet reflection on those sweet, little flower faces and I let the loneliness fill me to tears. It felt good to embrace this duality of life.

There is no regret. There is no wanting things to be different or going back. I’m here, and I’m okay with being here. But here holds a lot of unanswered questions; a lot of fear of the unknown, a lot of solitude, and sometimes, even scary heat.

Over a month I’ve realized that if companionship is something I want, I could have it, and it wouldn’t even take that much effort. But right now, I feel like this loneliness has lessons I need to learn. Lessons I need to lean into and embrace even though I can’t see two feet in front of my face. I need to learn to trust that even when I’m surrounded by fog, the landscape is still there. The potential for daffodils still exist.

These miniature flowers took their sweet time showing their shining faces, and I think I need to, too. These keepsakes from my wise and loving grandmother sat dormant for two years; gathering roots, growing slowly under the surface before they decided it was the right time to bloom, and now… I will too.

I will gather my roots. I will sit below the surface, fighting back the fear of the cold season to come, and I will bloom when the time is right.

Because hope springs eternal.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

If You Say You’re NOT Broken, You’re a Liar.

“I have no issues.” The boy says.

“What do you mean? You have no issues? Everyone has issues.” I say.

“Nope. Not me. I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. Nothing gets me down. I always stay positive.” He says.

“Yes, but something bad had to happen in your life at some point. Something that broke your heart?” I ask.

“Why would anyone want to think about those things. I prefer not to dwell.” The boy says annoyed.

“I don’t think it’s ‘dwelling,’ I’m just trying to understand you. We all have things that caused us pain. Things that taught us… ”

“Maybe you’re just a negative person? All you seem to want to do is talk about negative things. Maybe you’re the one with a problem?” The boy says a bit too angrily.

I had this conversation once, many years ago. I was young, and at the time, ashamed of my own brokenness. With the desperation of someone on the verge of losing it all I wanted to run from those things that made me human. That which made me me. I wanted to put the past in the past and be nothing but positive, too. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. 

Back then I was too naive, too ignorant, too scared and ashamed to realize that all I’d been through, was really a gift. I didn’t understand that my brokenness was my strength. I didn’t know the simple truth which is: if you say you’re not broken, you’re a liar. Or worse, you’re in denial. And denial always manifests in ugly, ugly ways because no one can run from their brokenness.

We’re all broken. We’re supposed to be. Life is a series of breaks to your soul. Over and over and over again like ocean waves this life, and its heart breaks, break us. Because that’s how it is, and that’s how it will always be; birth, growth, death, rebirth. The more we fight this reality, this cycle of life and living, the more we suffer.

So I ask — why hide our brokenness behind fancy curtains, shiny things, and disingenuous status updates? What’s the point? Just SAY IT. 

The poet Rumi wrote, “Suffering is a gift, a hidden mercy.” I believe that. You, nor I, nor our next door neighbor cannot NOT suffer. But where’s the mercy? How are we to find the mercy in all this suffering? Because when you’re truly suffering, all you can think about is sweet, merciful relief.

So where is it? Where’s the mercy hiding, Rumi!? My answer… I don’t think you can find it. I think mercy finds you.

But first, you must submit to the randomness, the chaos, the complete insanity of it all. You accept that you have no control; that your will is not the will that will be done. When you do, mercy finds your sweet, beautiful, broken soul. And when it does, it lifts you up, out of the dirt, brushes you off, shines a light on your path, and keeps you walking.

Back then, back when I was a girl running from my own brokenness I tried like mad to cultivate a talent for controlling my environment; always attempting to decipher the randomness, minimize the chaos, and make sane the insane parts of me. Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work. 

Rumi also writes, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” So without the brokenness, there is no light. And what would we be without light?

So to feel the light, to let sweet mercy wash over you, you have to let go. Let go of the way you thought life would be. Let go of the plans you so carefully made for yourself, your children, your future. Because when you loosen the white-knuckle grip on life… you might just find the sweet relief you’ve been praying for all along.

So all I want now, all I have ever wanted, but never knew I needed, is beautifully broken people in my life. I don’t care what you’ve accomplished. I don’t care that you make a million dollars a day, or drive an Audi or own two Breitlings and can bench press an elephant.

Show me your flaws, your scars. Show me your wounds, your perfect imperfections. Show me where the light shines through and I’ll stand there with you; sunglassed admiring the view. No judgement.

Over the last three years I have received a lot of messages from you about how much my writing has affected your lives in positive ways. How much it has helped you heal and feel less alone. If you haven’t sent me a message before, and you feel inclined to now, please do so. Show me your scars. Leave a comment here or send me a message through Facebook or email if you’d prefer to remain private. Speak your truth. Own it. I will not judge you. I will think you’re brave and beautiful and I will be a mirror to reflect your amazing glow.show me the places where the light shines through

Don’t Ever Let Anyone Tell You You Don’t Have a Light

“Mommy, mommy, tell us  about the time you got hit in the face with a fish!” My 4-year-old exclaims.

“Yeah, yeah! Tell us mom!” My 2-year-old adds.

My kids love stories. I love that they love stories. This story is one of their favorites.

“Well kids, one time, in a country far, far away, I was riding on the ocean on a small boat. It was dark, and we were headed back to shore. The stars were bright and shining clear while the ocean looked black as oil. Then, all of a sudden something hit me in the head! I didn’t know what it was at first, but when I looked down in the boat, I saw it. It was a fish! It jumped right out of the ocean. And you know what?”

<the rapt attention of a 2 and 4 year old>

“What mommy?”

“It was glowing green! It was a glowing, green fish! And you know what else? It left some of its glow on my face! Can you believe that!?”

<toddler giggles>

“Like a ghost, mommy?” My 2-year-old asks because he’s fascinated by ghosts.

“But mommy, why was it glowing?” My 4-year-old asks because she’s at that stage where she wants to know why? Why? WHY!?

At this point, I used to tell them the truth. “I don’t know, that’s just how God made that fish.”

glowing fish in nemo

But that was before.

That was before I started to understand about light and things that glow. Now I tell them something different.

I tell them everything has a light. And it’s not just for making things seen – for illuminating the darkness – although it can do that too.

The light within all things is primordial. It’s the dangling light of an Angler fish made popular in Finding Nemo. It’s the glow that runs through jelly fish, lightning bugs and the aurora borealis.

don't ever let anyone tell you you don't have a light aurora borealis

Image courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day. http://apod.nasa.gov

And if you think you can only find this glow in the wild, think again…

"XXX" Neon Sign

… because this is what happens when you electrify rarefied gasses in a tube.

Whether it’s obvious or not, this elemental neon glow of far away galaxies and nebulas is what we’re all made of, and we only fail in life when we don’t see it, or we allow someone else to dim it.

I now know that the glowing fish that hit me in the face, wasn’t glowing itself, per se. The glow was from the algae in the water, which is common off the coast of Costa Rica. It’s called bioluminescence, and it’s the production and emission of light by a living organism.

Since their faces would gloss over if I said “bioluminescence” I tell them that the fish was giving me a kiss because he wanted to show me his light, and to remind me of my own.  I say that each of them has this light too, even if they don’t see it. I tell them we all have it, and it’s our job in life to find it, follow it, and let it lead us back to shore over and over again.

7 11 neon

I tell them they should try to see the light in everyone else too, no matter how dark it seems. And I tell them it’s very important not to allow anyone to tell them they don’t have a light.

And if they ever forget, they just need to look at the stars, or the local 7-11.

Then I tell them about an ancient greeting called “Namaste” which essentially means, “the divine light in me, sees, honors and bows to the divine light in you.”

And maybe someday I’ll add a little information about the relatively new technology of nuclear medicine which illuminates biologic activity in the body.

Because wherever you see it, it’s all light, life and love… 

Body Emotional Imaging Love

 Why? Because that’s just how God made us.

(The above image is from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States from recent research into the mapping of bodily emotions.)

This Too Shall Pass

This Too Shall PassI’ve been thinking a lot about time. I suppose fall does that to me. With all the leaves falling and the ground decaying under my feet. It’s Mother Nature’s most in-your-face reminder that time marches on, things change, release, fall away. And I suppose I feel like being grounded too.

I want my feet stuck deep in the mud. Each year the feeling is the same. The ache for grounding, the need for coziness, the desire to cook hearty meals and wear fuzzy socks. I just want to feel warm and safe and stuck into something solid. No more bouncing around like a beach ball on the waves, just stuck flat to the pavement like a wet leaf.

I start looking forward to all the yearly rituals of the holiday season. The Halloween decorations, the Thanksgiving meal, the Christmas, Christmas, Christmas EVERYTHING. These things are my annual touch stones; my measuring sticks of how far we’ve come as a family, how much deeper our roots have burrowed, how much wider our life has become. It’s reassuring and sad in equal measures.

There are these moments when I’m wearing my rain boots, my hood pulled up, my hands shoved deep in my pockets and yet the sun is still shining hard. In those moments I think everything is going to be okay. We are all going to be just fine. I can rest my weary mind for a moment and know that everything will be okay, not perfect, just okay. The okayest. Moments, just minutes at a time when I hear my children laughing or feel them breathing on my neck while rain pelts our windows and I know — there is nothing more I need to do in just that moment.

But those moments fade. The worry returns. And I am bouncing once again on waves of discontent.

Something I read recently by Pema Chondron keeps ringing in my ears. It’s about the “hot loneliness” inside. In Louis CK’s viral video on his rant against cell phones and social media he calls it, “the forever empty… that place where you know it’s all for nothing and you’re all alone.” I’ve been aware of that place lately. That ocean of loneliness inside. I’m feeling its presence more than ever and noticing all the things I do to keep it at bay: social media, the internet, busy-ness, cleaning, eating, obsessing. All this just to look away from the hot loneliness that I know is there rolling inside me. An ocean of forever empty.

I’m trying to sit with that feeling more and more. Breathe through it without feeling sea sick. I can only remind myself of something I have heard my whole life and yet have never really understood until now, “This too shall pass.”

And then all over again I ache for the solid ground. More roots. More boots stuck deep in the mud and my kids racing down the street with red cheeks and buckets shaped like pumpkins. The ritual. The release. The reminders that everything  is alright. Good, even.

The You Suck/ I Suck Hate Spiral: Why I’m a Gigantic A-Hole

I don’t know how to write this post without making myself look like a total asshole. So I won’t. Because I am being a total asshole. At least recently.

I have been having the most horrible, mean-spirited and hateful thoughts about another person and no amount of kumbaya positive-thinking is turning them around. Desperate for answers, I went to yoga for the first time in a long time. I haven’t been going to yoga for awhile and just typing that makes me want punch myself in the face because lamenting about my lack of yoga is so flippin’ pretentious and first-world-spoiled it’s sickening. But whatever. While I’m racking up a list of my horrible personality traits as of late… let’s add pretentious to the list. And now, like some asshole narcissist, I’m writing about it on my blog as if anyone really cares. So me?  Narcisistic?… check.

Here’s the deal, I’m being super judgemental. I am Judgy McJudgerson at the Judging Fair.

There is someone specifically in my life that I cannot stop judging. In my eyes, they are making bad, bad life choices. Choices that are affecting their family (and mine) and I can’t stop fantisizing of telling them how I really feel. Like All. The. Time.

Stop doing that! Can’t you see what’s happening? Can’t you see how your hurting your kids? Don’t you understand anything you complete imbicile?!?! Why are you even IN my life? Gah??

I realize how horrible that sounds. I realize it because I don’t normally grapple with these feelings. I’m a hippy at my core — live and let live, Sister — different strokes for different folks — potato, pitato and all that good stuff.  After I think these nasty things I suddenly feel like a dispicable person who should be stabbed in the eyeball with a flaming hot needle, and yet, I can’t stop thinking them. It’s like I’m riding this speeding train on a You Suck/ I Suck Hate Spiral that leads straight to Self-Loathingville and I can’t find the damn off ramp.

the-you-suck-i-suck-hate-spiral

To make things worse, I’m also struggling with jealousy which adds something special to my heaping pile of self-flaggalation.

As an editor and social media person, each day I read mom blogs and peruse Facebook and Pinterest for work-related items. Everyday I bump up against any number of smart/ wise/ funny/ talented people. These people have all morphed into one conglomerate of the “ideal” mom/wife/friend/human being. An ideal I’ll never embody. This imaginary flawless being looms large over me, tauting me. You should be doing crossfit. You should bake more tarts/ casseroles/ cupcakes in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. Why aren’t YOU writing amazing things like that? What’s your problem? You train wreck of a souless sack of fat rolls! 

So I went to yoga to find some breaks for this roller coaster.

My favorite part of yoga is Savasana. It’s typically at the very end of class. It’s the part where you get to lie there and not move. Savasana literally means corpse pose and, naturally, it’s my favorite part. I heard a yoga teacher say once that your true yoga practice begins the moment you enter Shivasana. That’s when you must wrestle your thoughts (aka demons) and strive to quiet those noisy bastards and just be; no thinking, no judgement.

On the surface it appears that I’m lying there motionless but I’m always fighting an epic battle in my head. I often think of monks when I’m in this corpse pose. I wonder how they spend months in silent, contemplative meditation when I can’t even do it for three minutes straight. I imagine them slaying every last dragon and devil known to man and then floating off into some realm closer to heaven. Usually I’m just struggling to get one toe off the ground.

So naturally, since I have been an epic asshole lately inside my head, this Savasana was no different. My thoughts turned to this person that I’ve been vehamently judging. The key to this pose, and meditation, is to let your thoughts come and go. To let go of the thoughts. To recognize them as you would a benign novelty, say a squirrel in the yard, and then let them pass through without attaching to them and thus giving them steam to fuel the engine.

So I let this person pass right on by. I waved. Metaphorically, of course. Nice to see you harmless, clueless, little squirel. Namaste. 

My next thought was of this ideal person that I’m bumping up against daily. Hello there figment of my imagination. Move along little bright-eyed, bushy-tailed wonder. Namaste. 

Then I thought (without thinking, of course) how interesting it was that I would think these two things back-to-back.

Judgement and jealousy.

Judgement because of jealousy.

I’m judging because I’m jealous.

I’m putting someone else down in a feeble attempt to raise myself up.

At this moment, my heart exploded inside my chest like a grenade and my eyes popped open because I remembered the last time I was called out for being this kind of gigantic asshole.

A long time ago, back when I was really young, and reeeeeaaaaalllly insecure, there was this boy who liked me very much. He liked me more than he should have and I took advantage of that. To my ever-lasting shame I treated him horribly. I don’t remember much about this person or our relationship accept this one thing. He called me out like no one ever has.

On New Years day, while standing in his mother’s kitchen that had just been burned floor to ceiling the night before in a house fire wherein no one was injured (thank god), he said something that I’ll never forget. I had just made a snarky, sarcastic remark trying to make light of a difficult situation. A coping mechanism I employ to this day. I don’t remember what it was specifically, but I’m positive it was insensitive considering the cirumstances.

He picked up a blackened coffee cup that had been sitting on the counter revealing a ghost impression underneath. He looked right at me and said,  “You know what my mother says? She says that hurt people, hurt people.”

Hurt People, Hurt People. 

The stinch of char and the sound of dripping water brings me right back to this particular shame. A moment when my heart exploded inside my chest like a grenade and my soul popped wide open. He was right, and I was an asshole.

And once again,  I’m a hurt person, hurting people. I may have learned enough to keep the sarcastic and insenstivie comments to myself, but I’m still thinking them.

I keep telling myself that this person in my life that I’m judging is here to teach me compassion and I always thought it was compassion for them. But now I think it’s compassion for me that I’m lacking.  I’m so horrible to me. I would never let anyone speak to me the way I speak to me. (See paragraph #2… and #6…. and #8.)

I may not have always known better to use kind words, but I do now. I know better than to judge them, you, me, everyone so harshly. I know better… and yet clearly I don’t. Because that’s the thing with self-loathing and self-love. It’s a spiral track. The progress is slow and winding and often times you feel like you’re getting no where, but inch by inch you are moving one direction or another, you just have to know which one.

sprial stems heart

Taming the Wild Thoughts

This past weekend I was solo-parenting from Friday until Tuesday because my husband went to a destination bachelor party. I didn’t dread this. Nor did I mind. But come Thursday of this week – after the solo pool trips, the solo grocery trips, the solo bedtimes and the work, work, WORK… I was D.O.N.E. I reached some imaginary limit of excessive labor and I just wanted to sit down and read something or write something because I wanted to, not because I had to. And I wanted to do it without hearing one single “MOMMY!”

When my husband came home from the gym on Thursday I promptly locked myself in my office after giving him that look that said, “You better give me a wide berth or this shit’s gonna get real,” with an extra eyebrow lift that said, “and I ain’t even playin’ because you owe me.” I had a wine glass in one hand and my other arm was curled around a half bottle of sparkling wine like a favorite blankie.

Then I got into my office, alone, with my wine, and what did I do? … I worked. Because, of course. What is wrong with me?

By the time I had to go to bed I hadn’t had a chance to calm my thoughts. My mind was still reeling with all the work, all the chores, the what if’s and all the things that still needed to be done.  There was a bushel of unfinished thoughts in my brain that were now rolling around like thorned tumble weeds headed for trouble. I was restless. Even after the wine I was jittery which is why I could never be an alcoholic because my thoughts are too powerful for fermented grapes.

When my thoughts circle the bowl like this it takes herculean efforts to get back to a calm place. A place that doesn’t feel like my world is lit match laying next to a growing pool of gasoline. And if it’s bedtime, forget about it. I’ll be listening to my husband snore for an hour before my body even begins to think about sleep.

I am lucky to have six best friends. Six amazing women who have my back, love me, accept me, know me better than I know myself. I count these ladies among the greatest blessings and when I start feeling anxious and restless like this, I try to count my blessings to fall asleep instead of sheep.

One of those dear friends, my oldest friend, sent me a handmade booklet she photo-copied and bound. It’s a simple little flip book made of paper, tape and a plastic bind. It fits in the palm of my hand. On one side of the page is one of these errant tumble weed thoughts.  A circle the bowl, light the match, pour the gasoline thought.  Things like, “I’m so tired. I can’t do anything right. Why can’t I figure this out? I’m never going to be good enough.” On the other side, is a corresponding verse of scripture to counteract that thought. Genius, right?

This dear, wonderful friend who knows me so well, sent this to me in the mail a couple of weeks ago. I set it aside as I wasn’t feeling particularly in need of such a rudimentary tool to get me through the day.

But that night, I was there. That place where only something homemade will do. Something rudimentary and simple and easy to understand. Something given to me by someone I love, who loves me, to remind me that I am always loved.. Have you ever just needed something like that?

So I pulled out the little homemade book and I read it front to back. Page by page I picked up those tumble weeds and I put them back in the barrel. Page by page I gently blew out the match and poured kitty litter on the gasoline because that’s how you soak up gasoline right?

I fell asleep with it in the palm of my hand which amazes me even now. But I guess I shouldn’t be amazed. Because that’s where we all are — right?

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He looks pretty discontent,

Because he looks pretty discontent.

Muster Up A Little Faith

Image credit- aswirly.com

Image credit- aswirly.com

We sit on our couches in the dripping wet moss of the Pacific Northwest, or high desert, land-locked mountains, or sunny beach communities, and we watch a swirling dark cloud whip up people’s lives in a place we don’t know. We feel horrible, we feel slightly comforted that we are not them, we feel sad and helpless.

We are all flabbergasted by the seemingly random, potentially disastrous and sometimes instantaneous way life can knock us sideways. In times like this, we tread along similar thought patterns of self-soothing–prayer, anguish, altruism–because even if we were not near that town, buried under that rubble, we  know, even fixate on the idea that bad things can happen at any moment. To us too. Sudden, devastating tornadoes are symbols of the impermanence and unpredictability of everyone’s life. It is this constant, most basic and low-frequency fear that drives us to seek out vices and means of control.

My mode of control is thought. I will think a thing to death. I will flip it over and over between my fingers–one by one and back and forth like a drummer with his drumstick–until there is a glimmer of sense to be made. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it forces me to be honest, to stay curious, seek information, use my brain. A curse because there is never a definitive answer and I am often wrong.

My primary focus has been people. If I can figure out why people feel, and do, and behave, then I can feel safer, more able to predict the future, more in control of my world. I have learned a lot about people this way, but it is not with other people that I am most concerned. The person I’m preoccupied with figuring out is, of course, myself. If I have learned anything over the years, it is that this is an impossible task.

People are as different and intricate in their thoughts and reasoning as the composition of the universe. There is simply no outer edge to human potential which is, in itself, a scary/comforting thought. There is no quantifiable algorithm that will make people suddenly make sense to me. It is impossible to discover the secret to suffering and pain and love and hate and love, because those things hold no definitive quality or concrete definition. They are forever moving, always out of reach like the funny shapes that move under your eyelids. As am I in any given day.

People are as crazy, hopeless, fantastic, capable, blinded and varied as the stars, and yet, at he same time, we are the same. It’s a circular thought. Our name might be Jane, or Randy, or Natalia or Xerxes; we may speak different languages, want different things, but we all still want… and feel, and try, and love in various combinations of each.

Science thinks it knows these things better than all else. I know, because I love science. Why do I love science? Because science is the pinnacle modality of control. Inarguably its goal is to quantify the world, deduce it down to elemental parts. It uses formulas and statistics and empirical data! to prove we are all knowable and known. Don’t you love the word empirical? But science has an outer edge.

And when you reach the outer edge of anything you can do two things: turn back, retrace your steps and tread a deeper path along the only thing you’ve ever known; or… you can close your eyes, muster up a little faith, and jump.