When we expose our soft underbellies, we risk ourselves. There is a freedom in risk when your heart is aching to tell the truth. Yet in doing so, we grant the courage to others freedom to do the same. This is my underbelly of truth, how it is. Living with severe sleep apnea, which in the past was a point of shame. I practice kindness now even in my difficult places. My wish for you is to do the same. ♥
When one is alone long enough, it is out of necessity you grow accustomed to days upon days spent alone. You accommodate yourself. Too many days float by, like leaves on a stream, where dressing or brushing your hair becomes a bother—because, really, who is going to see you?
In fact, you prefer your aloneness over the feeling of having to entertain others because there is little energy for it. You’re practiced at keeping busy even when you’re doing nothing at all.
You’re okay with phone calls to ask how you are to which you usually make light of with a joke; or calls from those who just need a listening ear and they know you’re there. Because you’ve always been good at listening or speaking a timely word and it makes you feel useful.
Yet to pick up the phone and ask for something is akin to lifting a 50 lb. weight. It’s difficult. Friends complain you never call. You know you should. Everyone has their life to live and you’re no different.
You mostly seem to find a way around things on your own because you’re a seasoned soldier and survivor. You know how to go it alone—for the most part.
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
Today we start the rest of our lives. It’s official.
On this day, January 20, 2017, President Obama has left the White House and a new President takes his place—for better or worse. I have my own ideas about what he might or might not do while seated in the Oval Office. I am sure you do, too. All eyes of the planet are watching to see what is going to happen. A man comfortable enough with his own authority is now taking his place in a seat that is powerful enough to make or break this barely visible blue planet–a planet that spins in the backwaters of an incomprehensibly vast pinwheel of stars. Think about that for a moment.
And it is a man who, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, has repeatedly, and with a very long stick, poked the tiger of our fears since announcing his candidacy for President of the United States. Poke, then stir and repeat. This has been the methodology for his brand of success over the years, it would seem.
However long the life span remaining for each of us here on a breathtakingly small speck of universal life, there has never been such a time as this between technology and the ability to create or destroy. I believe actions for better or worse are felt as a rippling waves throughout the fabric of all of life itself, wherever it is or whatever form. Everything is connected.
Though widely attributed to being a Chinese curse, the saying “may you live in interesting times” may be deduced from analysis of the late-19th century speeches of Englishman, Joseph Chamberlain and erroneously expounded upon by his son, Austen Chamberlain. However it came about, we are here right now, in the boiling cauldron of interesting times. [i] Interesting times are signals that something is about to change. In fact, it is pretty much a guarantee–and you play a part in it whether you choose to or not.
Interesting times are created for thinking people just like you and me. Now, what are you going to decide to do with your place in it? Remember, if you choose to distract yourself in habituation, hoping to maintain the status quo away from uncomfortable feelings or the work of change, you’ve decided.
Most critical is the decision to give up any complacency you may be in possession of about your own life, and over your place here as a citizen of the earth, and over the gifts and talents lying within you. And you do have certain gifts and talents even if they have become undervalued, dormant or gone underground.
Because as you may or may not know, our gifts and talents, no matter our personal idea of them, were given to us so that we could give them away. They are meant for service and for the betterment of yourself and the betterment of mankind. They are intended so that you will be able to better know exactly what and where the passion is in you to go out and serve–and with the proper tools innately and proportionately exact to you.
But sometimes you’ve got to start digging to uncover them before you can utilize them. I have some ideas about how you might begin the process and will write more about that very soon, because now is the time you are really going to need to rely on those beautiful parts of yourself. They are what will save you on more levels you can know in the present moment, and might even positively contribute to life on Planet Earth.
Collectively, we are powerful! This I know. Individually, you might not have not given yourself enough credit for surviving until now.
Desperately seeking change, whether realizing it or not on a conscious level, this is the time that the people of Planet Earth through their most heartfelt and fervent desire have collectively moved heaven and earth to effect change away from the prevailing system and towards a more healing one that WE get to create as we go. We have put people, point men or women, if you will, in place around the world who are sufficiently capable of taking a sledgehammer to our most cherished fears in order to exquisitely tear them down.
The time has arrived. We stand on the precipice of fear and change. What is our future going to look like? Right now it is a big question mark. Question marks in life are doorways to limiting probabilities or countless possibilities. What will we be? It is ours to choose for better or worse individually and collectively. We have an amazing opportunity. We get to make up the rules for continued life on this mother ship upon whose back we reside—much like the rules that were made up for us in preceding generations.
We live in times meant for the unseating of dominance of one over another, of our fears over love; and whether we’ll be pushed by our fears or pulled by love and courage.
This is the part where we now get to save ourselves! Ultimately, no governing body can do it for us. It’s going to take some true grit and a lot of courage.
Time to get busy! Dig where you are. Ask for help. Reach out. Network. Power lies in strength of community. Choose to be a force for good where can you do the most good for the most people.
Your uncovered and passionate heart bent on love in service over fear will show you the way through.
The beautiful wild calls to me more and more. Days and years pass, and I am moving closer to death now that I am in the last third of my life. Being here now, I feel done with so much focusing on the logical minutia of my days. It’s easier than when I was thirty or forty in a way. This minutia feels stale as I move towards lightening the agendas others have for me, the ones I have of myself, the tyranny of the urgent cracking its whip over me to move faster, work harder, accomplish more. I am ready to become a human being now rather than a human doing. My commodity is not valued in how much I can accomplish but in realizing my mystery, to be tenderly compassionate towards all that I have deemed as less than perfect within and around me.
This is what makes perfect sense to me now, the alchemical weaving and blending of logos and mythos together into a substance that becomes far more valuable than either alone. Gold, if you will. I have spent the better part of a lifetime mostly doing one or the other, furiously scurrying around to accomplish whatever long to-do list I had in order to be able to live in the mystery. As if I had to earn the right to lie on my back in the grass and gaze at shape shifting clouds or put my pen to the page when the first lines of a poem slipped in to my awareness or try my hand at putting some color on the canvass—or merely to take a much needed nap.
What makes sense now is living on purpose, living with awareness of all that I am doing in each moment, of acceptance wherever I might find myself. Washing dishes turns into an act of grace as I feel the warm water running over my hands, handle each fork and cup, happy there are dishes to wash, food to prepare, food at the end of my arm anytime I want it, blessing the earth and each hand that went into its growth and preparation; or paying bills, feeling the abundance of the universe, that I have been graced with a roof over my head, a place to lay my tired body at night.
I am grateful I have what I need when I need it even if it is not always exactly what I think I want.
Today I was counting the last of my former life, the years I have spent in caretaking. I believed it mine to shoulder the atlas as I cared for seriously ill friends and family, along with a serious illness of my own. Counting too many years in the business of living and dying, emergencies, and crisis and drama in the physical, mental and emotional arenas—I am just done.
Now I feel ready to count the stars in the midnight sky, to watch the sailing ships of clouds passing by. I am ready to take long walks, write books, and rise up and up into my one beautiful life before dissolving back down into the primordial soup from which I came.
Yet even in the sad and the bad, the worry, the hurry that has consumed my days, I am utterly grateful. These are gifts of pain I have been graced with. Deep within me lies a dark underworld from which arises a priceless seam of gold, a transmutation of the pain and fear into a precious metal. I couldn’t have fully understood this until more recently. I am multi-dimensional, of the stars and of the earth. In this suit of flesh and bone, lives a being descended from the stars, from the source of life itself. I am meant while I am here to dwell in both myth and logic, to learn equally about both, to learn to weave them into a beautiful tapestry. Everything is purposed in my life to propel me towards the realization of this wisdom…to be heavenly minded while tending to life, to mend that which is broken with my compassion, to seek forgiveness, to forgive, to be a place holder for love, to be in a possession of a heart that has been broken wide open, to become fertile ground where life can grow.
I have not entirely mastered these things yet. It’s okay. It is not mine to completely master. Better to accept my own humanity, my fragility, my missing the mark so many times. This is true wisdom to know there is perfection in failure and fragility. It is part of the dying process, the cycle of life. Everything has to eventually die so that something else can live. At every moment, ten thousand things are dissolving at the same time ten thousand things are arising, taking their turn at form, at life, deciding what they will be, just for the joy and the experience of being in any particular state. For are we not each and every one and everything nuances of the one life that runs through us all, here to learn about life, ourselves, each other?
Grace is continually born out of pain, life arising out of death. Our pain becomes another’s grace as we reach out to touch and comfort. We can do this because we’ve been there, walked through the same fire of suffering. Lives and hearts are made whole from shards of anguish and heartache. Love grows. We’re not alone.
There are times in life we are called to stare into the darkened abyss. Not everything is for joy. You might think of a rising situation right now where this is so.
However, the abyss is not for the purpose of shame. We are not called to that.
Shame, that is THE problem with humanity, what got us here…the shame we perpetrate upon one another and ourselves. Shame is used by individuals without real power. Shame creates powerlessness in its victims.
The abyss is a call towards healing. It strips everything down to its essence, takes the varnish right down to the bare metal. It’s the fire that burns down the house. It is a revealer of what needs changing and what needs loving in order to grow or even survive. Courage is required. Letting go of irrational or unhealthy fear is also required. We are the tipping point of radical change now whether we like it or not, as a planet, as a people. It’s taking us somewhere many of us have never seen before. It’s up to us to set the stage towards the very thing we’ve been asking for on the other side of it all.
When trauma or pain arises, it requires awareness, the willingness to face it for what it is. Ultimately, pain is to be used towards ours and others healing.
Whatever level or intensity of pain one suffers through, either by ones own hand or another’s or catastrophic means, correlates to an exact degree in its opposite joy and awareness. It expands what we can hold, our strength, and our consciousness. We come to know wisdom, grace and joy to the degree we’ve suffered on the opposite end of the spectrum. That is if we use those experiences to better rather than embitter us.
Whether we are a nation, a planet or a person, it’s when we remain shut down and unconnected that life has to throw bigger hammers at us in order to get us to wake up and pay attention.
There are different rules for different levels of consciousness. What might work or be true on one plane of existence might not be for another. There is no one size fits all anything. However, they all work together in attempt to wake us up to the miracle and interconnectedness of everything to everything. They work in tandem to get us to free our minds towards possibilities rather than remaining frozen in fear.
It may well be that the abyss we are looking into could be the very thing that ultimately forces us together if we are going to survive and create a different future on the other side. Extremist ideologies, poverty, governmental interference and policies, and increasing militarization may ultimately force us to cross the bridge towards our brother and together create a different future.
This is what I woke up to this morning—sunlight streaming through my window, a brilliant blue day out there. Somebody turned a light on inside my head.
Unusual for February in the Pacific Northwest when the temps are normally quite chilly and the sky overcast, and when the gray seeps through everything, including yourself.
But we seem to be having long stringed days of uncommon weather, missing our freeze, warming everything so that even though it is not officially spring, it is springing, nonetheless. In propitious pinks and milky white cherry blossoms, in fat fisted dogwoods and citron yellow crocuses peeking their heads above the earth. Which doesn’t usually happen until the end of March into April.
Someone got their memos mixed up.
Expect the unexpected, they say. Like in everything. That’s how it is in life. Just when you get settled in to your humdrum routine or you’ve run out of answers to most everything, life decides to rearrange itself again around you, and you have to figure it all out or it figures it for you—and sometimes in the most delightful ways you never saw coming after a dark winter.
I’ve had a burning question inside of me for a while now, going back and forth on. One minute decided what I’m to do, and the next vacillating. And though there are no neon signs over my head pointing the exact way to go, there seems to be some kind of bright encouragement being broadcasted right here in my own living room telling me to keep stepping forward, like notes from some higher plane unexpectedly showing up when I need them the most. Like this morning. Zingers from the Universe, kind of like paper airplanes zipping all around or bouncing off my head, chock full of illuminated insight written into their folds and wings, like why didn’t I think of that? Simple, brilliant, wonderfully uplifting and motivating.
Just a couple months ago, I was fresh out of everything, which makes it all the more rousing and thrilling now.
Well, you’re not ready ‘till you’re ready, I suppose. And spring around these parts was ready much before anyone thought it should it be. At least this month.
So here’s the thing: Sometimes you just have to be brave and take risks—do that thing you’ve been contemplating for a while. Put your big toe in the water and start even if it all seems kind of muddified (I know that’s not really a word, but I just made it one) at the moment. Sometimes that is what it takes to make things clear. The water doesn’t clear and the answers don’t come until you actually commit to the risk through action. Some action, even the smallest one is a beginning. (And maybe that small action might even be asking for help or admitting a secret that’s been tearing you up for awhile.)
Sometimes you think you’re not ready, not prepared enough, don’t have the right answers yet. You might be mistaken to assume that idea so quickly. Dig a little deeper. What is really holding you back? You might fail or embarrass yourself? Public opinion? You might die? Well, you just might. Any of these things can happen. That’s the risk you take being alive every day—and we are all terminal in the end. Yet maybe, just maybe, you are being given another chance to live in a brand new way, a chance to make up your own song, start your own blog, develop your best ideas into something phenomenal. It could take some time, and there will be mistakes and learning curves. It doesn’t have to be perfect—that’s not the point–unless you are developing lifesaving equipment.
This morning, as spring was springing just outside my door, everything was conspiring in my favor, informing me that all the traumas of the past are about to become my greatest strengths. Everything I have been through, and like you, it has probably been plenty, contributes to the strength of my tomorrows if I allow it and move forward toward that thing I’ve been thinking about. Like forever.
From Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth, I’ll share what sprung me out of my sleepy head and into the clear light of the day:
There is an important idea in Nietzsche, of Amor fati, the “love of your fate,” which is in fact your life. As he says, if you say no to a single factor in your life, you have unraveled the whole thing. Furthermore, the more challenging or threatening the situation or context to be assimilated and affirmed, the greater the stature of the person who can achieve it. The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.
“The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth. The obstacle is an advantage, not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.” Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way
Maslow says, “What one can be, one must be.”
I know I don’t want to die with all these beautiful words left inside me. I want to give them away, to scatter them everywhere. And whatever it takes to get there, whatever the obstacle, I’m okay. I’ve been thinking about these words of mine since I was five years old. If not now, when? And the universe seems to think I’m ready, so who am I to argue with that? There are some upcoming and real challenges that lie directly in my path over the next several months, but I am committing to whatever it takes to embrace them and move through them to the best of my ability—and that is all I can ask for. Do my best—yes. And let go of all self-recriminating thoughts when I don’t or it’s not perfect enough. I’m practicing at this whole thing called human life.
Today I am filled with overwhelming gratitude, as I stick my toe in the water and swallow the demon, for all the challenges and obstacles in my life today as I think about all the beautiful good it is propelling me to in my life. And it feels huge.
After your mother dies, there are some things that happen that you didn’t see coming.
Something happens. Life begins to reshape itself. The landscape takes on new form. And whatever cords between you in life in what was unhealthy, what bound you to her ways, her beliefs about how life should be or about how your life should be, begin to dissolve.
However, I should qualify that.
You must be committed to change for a more authentic life first, even if you might not know what that looks like.
Change is usually never what you thought it would be. It looks different, feels different than what you originally envisioned. Change can go on and on way past the expiration date you think it should; when you think you’ve had just about enough and can go no more with the direction it’s taking you, loudly announcing to the world you are ready to get off this ship that feels like it’s sinking or bobbing wildly about in every direction.
Still, the bottom line is commitment. Commitment to your own growth. Not everyone chooses this in life. In fact, most don’t. It’s work; and after all, when you think about it, it’s all work—everything, that is. It’s just that some kinds of work—the unhealthy habitual kind, the tranced out states of mind, the escape routes that we so often try to catapult ourselves through, produce far different and negative results than the one that is committed to seeing positive growth in a life riddled with fears.
So first, you have to say YES. Even if you say it with trepidation or hesitation or can only whisper it. Even if you’re scared to say it–if you want your future life to look different than your past, or want to die not as an impostor, but knowing you lived an authentic life, you have to first say yes, and then keep saying yes. Beyond that, you may know nothing, having no idea how to get to that authentic life. Nevertheless, you can be sure you’ve been heard. Life finds the way for you. It will meet you where you are and take you by the hand and lead you out.
And yes, this could take awhile. So you better settle in for the long haul. There will be rest stops along the way where you can sit a spell and catch your breath, trust me.
Both my parents are gone now. As the eldest child, the one that was groomed to take care of everyone else first while being admonished to forget about my own needs or self care, my earliest lessons were in the art of shame and guilt. The religion of my parents and the generations before was a hard taskmaster, and I was an A student.
Shame is a Pandora’s Box whereby one opens the lid and all kinds of awful things fly out. It shows itself in self and other loathing, dishonoring the body, incessant and unhealthy guilt and judgment over almost everything. It relegates the sacredness for all of life to the bottom of the garbage pile. We learn to fear or blame anything that doesn’t look, talk, walk or believe the way we do. We see the world as a mirror reflecting back our own fears about ourselves.
Recently, a dear friend of many years confided in me a conversation she had with her mother, now deceased, shortly before her death. Her mother had told her shortly before her passing, that she, my friend, would finally be free once her mother made her transition. My friend queried her mother as to what she meant, saying that she didn’t want to be free if it meant her mother’s leaving. My friend’s mother who had been very controlling over my friend throughout her life, thought that was what she was referring to. Her mother told her, “I can’t explain it, but you will find out.”
That conversation with my friend was a big aha moment for me. We both agreed there were changes we could never have foreseen in the death of our parents, unanticipated emancipation from previously held fears that were finally allowed to surface. Collective grief long withheld inside our bodies now acknowledged. We were grieving for far more than just our mother’s deaths. And it was huge!
Grief has a way of forcing you to the mat. You can’t hold it at bay forever. It will eventually catch up with you, taking on shape and form you never saw coming. Or maybe you did. The warning signs were there, but you might have ignored them or come up with all kinds of excuses for shutting it down or stuffing it into some hidden corner of your psyche.
Seventeen months after my own mother’s death, my mother’s voice is beginning to fade in my head. It’s not that I don’t intensely miss her and long for her physical presence in my life, it’s just that I no longer have to live up to her expectations of me. Her death opened a door in my life I don’t think I could have gone through before. I collapsed. There had been years of care giving, illness, and the loss of so many others in my life that I held near and dear. I laid in my bed with exhaustion. Slowly, I was for the first time able to listen to the larger world around me in nature, to the inner world inside me full of its own black holes, its own wisdom, its secrets that began to bubble up to the surface in realizations and long held emotions. Up and up, one after the other, I began to take full stock of my life. There was nothing to stop me from doing so.
Of course, this required a commitment on my part first. What else was I going to do if I ever wanted to get out of bed? Allowing all those hidden places to surface and then to face what felt surreal or scary without running away from it, without trying to numb myself out so I wouldn’t have to think or cry or grieve whatever monster was coming out of the closet.
I gave myself permission to grieve, not only for my mother, but for myself, to say that it was okay if I didn’t absolutely feel top of the world every minute; and to even forgive myself on certain days when I failed to love my life, to wish that there were a way to get out of my body. I gave myself permission to say I didn’t feel so okay, that I needed help.
There has been so much healing work that has gone on these last seventeen months, and it has been intense, painful, and full of unexpected grace and recognition marching right along with the desperation and depression and even wanting to, by default, leave my body. I have been through the gamut of emotion, pain and elation.
Now the light of day is beginning to seep through the cracks of my life. We all know the song by Leonard Cohen who sings, “Ring the bells that still can ring, there is a crack in everything—that’s how the lights gets in.” I am ringing the bells in spite of everything and through everything, knowing that something bigger than the humanness of myself holds me, sees me, and intimately knows and loves me as perfect underneath my sacred cracks. I am asking for some signs of blessing and acknowledgment. Am I doing it right? Am I listening for the whispering intuitive voice that lives inside of me? Am I making progress? The answer comes back with a big YES.
I realized that if my tomorrows were to be different, then I would have to be different, be willing to make changes in my life and allow for the changes that naturally find their way to me. I am finally beginning to reap some of the ripened fruit of my hard labor in the sowing I’ve done these past months.
Several weeks ago, I decided to test the waters. In my journey, I have recognized my issues surrounding money, and have asked to find healing for that, as well. I recognize that the Universe is full of abundance, that everything is there for us if we can only learn how to harvest and use it over anxiety of not enough and scarcity. And so with that in mind, I asked for a sample of abundance in my life in order to overcome some of that mentality of lack and fear, put a chisel in the crack so that a little more light can begin to spread itself into the darkness of my fears.
Three days later, I was gifted with a fairly recent edition of a Toyota Corolla, upgraded and in perfect condition, with a couple minor cosmetic flaws easily and quickly remedied. This in comparison to my present and paid off car, as reliable and low mileage as it is, felt unsafe for me as I traveled the slick, wet, icy or snowy roads up here in the Pacific Northwest part of the country.
Relating this experience to another very dear friend who is extremely tuned in, I was informed that a door previously closed in my life, had now been kicked wide open. Now a couple weeks into it, I continue to receive quite unexpected blessings—blessings I never could have anticipated, but come in logical form, falling into my hands. The abundance is flowing. Someone turned the faucet of grace on, and I am now standing knee deep in it.
I don’t think any of this could have come about if not for the death of my mother. Oh, yes, maybe it could have in another life or place, but maybe not in this one. I had to be made ready for it–it was always there waiting in the wings of my life until I was. There was so much re-wiring within me that needed to be done that, for me, could only happen through the everyday tragedies and blessings that muscled their way into my life when I wasn’t looking.
It’s been a long road, and I am far from done yet. Then again, who knows? Life is a big question mark, and you never know what will come around. The thing that insinuates itself into your life in misfortune or grace can ultimately be the very thing that brings your wildest dreams to you. Stay with it—it could be better and worse than you ever imagined.
WHAT I REMEMBER IS JAYNE. Jayne Mansfield, that is—the bursting at the seams, large bosomed, blonde bombshell and sexpot of the 60’s. The Hollywood star with the heart shaped pool in her backyard lived a large life in my mind. I wanted to be her. I was nine or ten playing house in my bedroom—as Jayne Mansfield, of course, stepping into the cool darkness of my closet to make out with an imaginary, muscle ripped Mickey Hargitay, while my girlfriends, all the while sighing and moaning, languished on my bed waiting for me to come to my senses and come out of the closet.
Then one day she was beheaded. I was devastated. Riding in the front seat of her car, slamming into and under the backside of a semi-truck, and…off went her head—I imagine right into the back seat! Just like that.
I imagine that she believed she still had a lot more making out with Mickey left to do, but as you know in all things, they end. Time runs out, and all you’ve ever done is all you’re ever going to do. And besides all that, I had already grown tired of making out with Mickey and was feeling the intensity of my puberty bearing down on me in the crush of feelings I had towards the boy down the street.
So much innocence left behind as the crush of life began to have its way with me. I almost succumbed to it more times than I care to say. Lucky for me, I made it this far into my sixties. Surprised to be here now, I was sure I would die before I was fifty. My entire adult life was white hot with extreme busyness and caretaking, and then total collapse—all of which I believed to be a badge of honor I wore proudly.
While at lunch the other day, my friend, Mystic Meena (whose odometer is getting ready to roll over to seventy), happened to remark on a sixty-seven year old actor that had passed away recently. Meena related how television pundits had observed after his passing that at least he had lived a long, full life—to which my friend exclaimed, “Bullshit!” When I was thirty, sixty-seven was definitely old—and death not so unexpected—that is, of course, unless you are sixty-seven. Unless you are ready for it, the pronouncement of death always comes as a surprise at any age. I don’t feel done yet.
Here I am, and the sun is beginning to dip in the sky. There isn’t a whole life left in front of me as I have a series of “holy shit” realizations that I’ve got to begin now if I want to find and use my real voice. My dreams are still the same. It’s just that I have a little less physical energy to realize them with. Maybe the point of the body sliding past the apex of youth is this: it compels you towards your realness. I don’t know for certain. It’s just a hunch I have.
Now that the leaves are beginning to turn into blazing yellows and crimson reds and oranges, into their most flagrant and final stand for beauty, I am wondering how I didn’t see there could be so much splendor in moving towards that inevitable final breath of falling from the tree. What a metaphor to our lives—the grace-filled allowing, the gentle welcoming of age, the coming home to ourselves, finally. Perhaps, the leaning into our wisdom years, of spreading our brightly colored canopy over the lives of those coming up after us as way-showers is what really matters. Personally, I don’t want to waste it, not a single drop, not a single brilliant colored leaf of it between now and the time whatever pronouncements over my impending demise are made.
I am heading towards my glory years; and it going to take some careful planning and execution as I begin to re imagine myself, playing smarter, not harder. There is still time enough whether it be one year or forty years. I cannot take my body for granted anymore. I cannot ignore and punish it. As long as I am able, there is a strict requirement for honor and listening, then supplying it with the necessary rest, nutrition and nurturance it requires. In this one moment I have been gifted. It almost didn’t happen.
Whatever has happened in my life has brought me full circle. I am lucky to get the chance to have a “do over” in the last act of my life, playing the part of me rather than someone else. My fear, in whatever time is left, is leaving this life realizing I never had the courage to live an authentic life.
Admittedly, I am scared. It’s a moment by moment thing requiring a firm commitment. Holes must be plugged in order to enter into right relationship with myself. Gone is the bent towards extremism in my thoughts and actions, doing everything at once or nothing at all. It is not mine to single-handedly save the world.
If I want to live out the richness and the depth of all that has brought me here, I must practice sacredness and gratitude in the gentle or not so gentle breath of each day, in allowing, in letting go, in lightening up, and in laughter, and last but not least, in the flow of words that find their way from my heart to my fingertips. I am rising up and up into this voice that has been given me, flowering quietly or noisily, vibrantly and brilliantly. I am practicing freedom, using the only voice I have to set this prisoner free.
“There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency.“
IT”S ALL OUT THERE.I am ten years old, flying out the door to play with my friend across the street. My chores are complete; the dinner dishes have been scrubbed clean and are neatly stacked in the drainer, a clean dish towel covering them while they dry.
School’s out, summer is in full bloom. Jasmine’s in the air, and I am intoxicated with it. My cherry red Schwinn bike waits at the door, my portal to the world. The heat of the long day is cooling with the advent of the evening’s breeze. I step up, one foot on one pedal at the same time I deftly swing my other leg over the bike’s other side, and without even sitting down, begin pumping down the drive and across the street, wind against my sweaty ten-year old face. Breathless, I arrive at Charlene’s door.
Charlene and I are making our big plans for the remains of the evening—should we play with our dolls or race down the street on our bikes? I am not there twenty minutes when there is a firm, heavy knock at the door. I hear my father’s voice calling for me. He is ordering me home. By his tone, I know I am in trouble, and I don’t know why. So does Charlene’s mother who stands awkwardly at the door. I feel embarrassed, my face flushes. My head begins to buzz a little bit. Feeling disappointed, I’m slightly sick to my stomach. There’s a storm coming.
My father grasps me firmly by the shoulder and marches me back across the street, my bike left propped at the neighbor’s porch. He leads me to the kitchen where I am horrified to see that he has removed every single dish, pot and pan, every knife and fork and everything in between from their appointed resting place in the cupboards. They are piled on the countertops, in the sink, and on the washing machine, and he is yelling at me how he found a spot on one of the “clean” dishes I had washed, and because of that, I must now wash every dish in the kitchen. I will not be playing until this is done.
Of course, it takes me to bedtime to complete. The tears run hot down my face as I work, steaming soapy water to my elbows—not daring to shirk my assigned task or there will be worse punishment meted out in the form of a hand-picked switch across the back of my legs and bare buttocks, or days spent confined to my room. I know my dad will be back to inspect my work for perfection. I am angry—it seems so unfair, but I’m just a kid.
A seminal moment. There were more than a few of these teaching watersheds in my house or my church. That beautiful, bright star racing to earth to be born into her amazing life just crashed to the ground. And stayed there.
I know how to play. In leaves or long walks, heady laughter, in beads and baubles, shaky bicycles at sixty, blackberries plucked from barbed vines on a sweltering August day and swallowed whole past purple stained lips and tongue. Arising in an instant from my seat and out the door because it is the time of Robins and Jays and Juncos and they are putting on a show just for me. In swirling yellow leaves, in piles of things, in midnight skies life is calling to me to come out and play.
But not until I’ve done the damn proverbial dishes! There is hell to pay inside my head for that. I have been torn apart with it for over fifty years.
You think you’d outgrow these things. There have been years of therapy and hundreds of healing modalities. You’ve yoga-ed to death, stood on your head, breathed, meditated years and hours on end, ad nauseum, and it yes, where has it has brought you but right here, right now, facing it down all over again. There are layers of this stuff. It’s those pesky monsters lurking in those darkened closets who stalk your days, insinuating themselves into your knee-jerk reactions and thoughts, like some kind of mad puppet-master pulling on your strings. Monsters of overwork, self-doubt and not good enough. Monsters of rape or stalking and bad men. Monsters of abuse and punishment for not being or doing what they expected. Monsters of horrible things. Some are unnamable, and some are just looking for names.
My parents are gone now. Finally, I am coming up for air. Contracting waves push me forward into the bright light.
Cords cut, blinking back the light, I see my monsters, crawling, too, out of their darkened wombs. Breathe.
Together we will learn a new language.
There is something indescribable shaping inside of my heart. I am falling in love–all those distorted faces inside the cosmos of me, softening. That ten year old, that girl of the many ages I’ve been with the broken parts just needs love. And I am surprised. Why did I wait so long—not knowing this would happen on those long days spent in the land of nothing where dishes wait for swirling blue skies and stars, where phones don’t ring and I can say anything without fear of reprisal or a backhand across the face.
With wrenching compassion and forgiveness, tears of sweetness run down my face. I understand, and I vow to keep her safe.
For all the children hiding in closets growing up to wound or be wounded, to become captors or victim, willing or not, imaginary or real, the shape of forgiveness morphs my heart, heals me bit by bit. So many wounded children in desperate need of love or a bit of wrenching compassion—the angry, haters, the wife-beaters, the earth destroyers, the less than lovely.
Here is the funny part: All those monsters? They are merely pointing to the places needing love or understanding a spot of kindness. I am listening. Still, there are moments when I fall through the cracks. There is nothing to forgive in that.
Furthermore, it is time now. The season is ripe for healing, and as a friend recently said to me, “What you got to do besides that?” She was right. No dishes, no mother, and no place I have to be—mostly. Nowhere else to go but here, loving me, without shame or self-recrimination, forgiving those that wounded me; forgiving me for wounding others, and finding infinite compassion in all of it. And…
I could go on.
But summer’s out there waiting for me, rising in full, fragrant bloom, and the jasmine is calling.
I am going through a dark night of the soul. Yet today, upon awakening, I slipped outside on to my porch with my morning coffee, sat and listened. Even the gray-skied Oregon shroud and the blur of cars racing by couldn’t keep the praise of the new day from winging through the trees in song.
Today—what a profound relief—a few inwardly quiet healing moments spent where gratitude could find me. When I arose from the chair, it was with much delight that I could feel the welcoming of it all no matter what or whom is showing up.
The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat hatov, which means, literally, “recognizing the good.” Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours, because, as my dear friend, Mystic Meena, says, “When gratitude is your only prayer, all begging ceases.”
Nevertheless, I am, this year, recognizing where in my life I have played the part of beggar. More than any other year, it has come to me this year that begging has no place in my life anymore. There are so many ways I could describe how it has manifested in my life.
I hesitate to share, but for the purposes of this blog, I will be brief. I know I am not alone. Many of us share similar stories—a lifetime’s worth, but more recently for me in my 40’s and 50’s (now in my early 60’s), I went through a difficult and abusive marriage and divorce, which was followed by a decade of illness interspersed with multiple major and/or near death surgeries; an immediate family member with severe bipolar disorder I took responsibility for, and thankfully,they are holding their own now. Subsequently, however, my mother dropped into my life fulltime with Alzheimer’s Disease. It fell to me to care of her for six years until she passed exactly one year ago today. There was a period in between my mother’s illness and death of insane traveling combined with the end of a challenging relationship. And it almost feels like too much to even mention, but in the last thirteen months, I have experienced seventeen other deaths both near and far to or from me. It’s more than I can process in one fell swoop.
No wonder I am outright physically and emotionally exhausted—part life happening because it does and part believing incorrectly about where answers laid.
Trauma hides in our organs and brain and skin and shows itself in some interesting ways, comes back to us as fate in illness or loss or poor choices with unfortunate consequences. Three weeks ago, I ended up in the hospital with crushing chest pain.
My overdoing, my attempts to save everyone but me have become my undoing—and thank god! I’m taking the year off. No one to care-give but me; no volunteering; no wounded bird projects. My mother is gone along with so many others. I love her dearly, miss her terribly, but I am free now to play catch-up with me.
Cumulative grief, my hospice grief counselor of the last few years calls it. I have lost body parts due to profound and overwhelming cumulative grief…grief of which I managed to push back down into my body out of guilt or shame or whatever other false notion I had about my life and how I needed to show up in it. My mantra has too often been “I’m fine, I’m fine”, when in fact I was not fine.
I have decided to out myself. I’m working on allowing what needs to surface for healing, surface. My agreement with myself is there will be no tolerance for guilt or shame in myself or through the well-meaning words of friends. What’s done is done. I take full responsibility, give myself complete grace. I’m allowing the imperfection of my life or my choices or what befell me to bleed through, to give in to crying or laughter or sleep. I am holding to the idea of giving up my quest for perfection in exchange for a more imperfect authentic self. There is work to do.
Grief can be an exquisitely painful, surgically exacting knife that reduces one down to their more essential self. It has a way of stripping away the superfluous, the pretentious, and the inauthentic. No less true in my life, I am greatly paring down to what heals, what brings balance and wholeness, or what feels restorative in the most inward parts of me, even as painful memories trigger tears or the sudden wash of anger at current injustices having nothing to do with me. I have allowed so much in order to be liked or loved.
These last months, there is a pull between living and dying. Every moment I am acutely aware as I feel caught in its tautly roped tension between “what’s the use?” and the desire to push through and forward towards my long held dreams and goals—dreams that have dogged my days since I was five years old. I still want what I’ve always wanted: to feel the length and depth and breadth of my days, to feel wholly alive. Most certainly, I’ve had my moments. Profound, they burn inside me. I want to live free from the inside out, maybe for the first time in my life.
There are days I often fail to make a lot of sense to even myself—those days when pulling myself out of bed seems like an insurmountable task, or my legs refuse to carry me. Then there are other days when grace shows up unexpectedly as a beautiful reminder that life is still good no matter what, and I am brought to my knees in gratitude just because.
My most important job right now is me. I am working on my vulnerability, my transparency. I am making the decision, however challenging, to give voice to my secrets, to honor my emotions and my body, who both show up as messengers of what needs more loving in me. Sometimes I don’t feel so okay, yet I am determined to walk this path, ultimately give up my beggar-hood for the deepest practice of gratitude. I have a feeling this may be the most important work of my life yet.
While having a soak in the tub this morning listening to a podcast with Desmond Tutu and Krista Tippet on her program, On Being, on NPR Radio–I listened in as Desmond Tutu wondered in sadness at the many angry, vocal Christians, who side-by-side with their fear mongering brothers-in-arms, seem presently possessed by a kind of mad ideology these days. He observed that having strayed so far from their original call to love “even the least of these”, they now appear to be singularly focused on the sexual orientation of others while at the same time painting “the least of these” with the brush of “not quite human”.
To be fair, however, I will add there is a silent majority of caring and compassionate individuals who do practice their faith in accordance with the original tenets of their faith. I am not talking about them.
The world is changing quickly. This we know. It is natural to resist change, to step outside the safety of our comfort zones. This is also known. Yet I cannot help but believe these same angry individuals act and believe as they do out of a deep fear of “the other”, those whom they perceive as different from themselves. Obviously, someone has to be at fault for the troubled world they see reflected back at them. Someone has to take the blame for the mess they think they are in. The fact is, the genie is out of the bottle, and they are working feverishly to stuff her back into that bottle. Their once secure landscape has changed, and they want it back.
Happily though, for many, the genie will never crawl back into her bottle. She has awoken from a long sleep and isn’t about to let anyone put her back in her place. She is finding her voice after being silenced for so long, and has she got a story to tell! The planet over, the genie is out. The time of secret holding and power mongering is being outed. Life everywhere is outing itself on streets and in homes in every nation, resisting the old ways of power gobbling systems that ultimately kill and keep people in shackles. People are talking to one another the world over, telling their stories, rising up, bringing in something new–a new way of showing up in the world, taking their power and dignity back along with their ability to think and decide for themselves what their lives should look like.
No one knows yet exactly what it will look like. We are making it up as we go. For sure, everything is made up in this life by someone or a committee of someones.
So while one system is being born, another is dying at the same time. It is most true that in order for something to live, something else has to die. This is the way of life, the natural order of how it is–but I’ll save that for another blog entry. Presently, chaos is at the helm while the adherents of fear in last stand attempt to stamp out anything they don’t yet understand.
Yet forces bigger than all of us–Life itself, is reworking itself into a higher order, and chaos is absolutely necessary at the same time while something else is arising, while the old system dies–and it will die. Here’s the thing–they might win some skirmishes, but eventually they will lose the war. A critical mass has been formed, and there is no stopping it now. And maybe, just maybe some of these same frightened individuals will discover love for the first time in the process with the realization you can’t authentically fix anything with hate, even if you believe God gave you license.
No matter how it looks, in the beginning, middle and end, love always has her way.
You have not heard from me lately due to one of the following reasons—pick one:
1. I have been seeing a great deal of this handsome frog.
2. I’ve been having delirium tremens from using the wrong detergent.
3. I have been spending a great deal of time with my mom who is getting ready to make her final transition into the great beyond.
If you picked 1 or 2, sorry! Door number 3 it is, but, hopefully, you already knew that, although I have dated a few handsome frogs in my time.
My mother is getting ready to walk or sail or fly, or whatever it is we do, through that big door called death. We all have to go through it sooner or later. However, as her daughter, it is extremely challenging to watch. Hospice tells me she is experiencing terminal agitation, which is a stage where the body has run its course but is still fighting to survive. There can be intense anxiousness, twitching, jerking, and an inability to lay still, odd body contortions, combativeness and anger. This can start from hours up to a couple of weeks preceding death. She is already a week into it, but had been declining somewhat dramatically the last several weeks before.
There is a beautiful resident cat in the cottage of the memory care facility where my mother lives. His name is Jasper, and he is a silken black very Zen like cat. I am told that when a resident is getting ready to pass, he will climb on their beds and stay there. He starts at the feet, and as it gets closer, he moves to the middle of the bed and at the end he is on the pillow with them. In the past, my mother never appreciated him jumping on her bed, but last week she was found petting him as he lay next to her. Jasper has taken up residence at her feet.
It is difficult to watch someone you have loved your whole life shrink down to nothing and be in so much agony in their slide towards the inevitable. She has been in hell every minute and completely aware of being there even if the person who once lived in her body is no longer there.
I have had to make some painful decisions in these final days as to her care and comfort, and I have to tell you, it has been wrenchingly difficult and guilt producing. There is so much I don’t know here. She has a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate) in place, but what to do about getting water or a little bit of food into them if there is still the willingness or ability to swallow at all? She has been placed on heavy meds in order to keep her comfortable. Otherwise, she is attempting to get up and then repeatedly falling; shockingly, she’s even been found climbing on chairs and sitting on tables. No one would expect this from a very frail and skeletal 95 lb. woman who just two years ago, weighed in at 180 lbs. After several recent small strokes, her speech is unintelligible, but she is still amazingly strong and has a death grip when she decides to hold on to something. She has become a danger to herself at this point, and after getting as much water and a bit of food down her as she has been able to tolerate, she now sleeps, due to the influence of medication.
As her guardian, it has been up to me to tend to all the business of dying. I am either with her, or making phone calls and tying up a lot of loose ends every day. It is a tremendous amount of work, not to mention the emotional business. In the evening, I collapse and cry in my compulsion to try and make her dying as comfortable as possible. This is not always so possible, and there are daily emotional adjustments to her constant and many changes.
Still there have been some funny and/or meaningful things she has been able to say in the middle of it all:
She mentioned that she keeps seeing “Dad” hanging around a lot lately and didn’t know why.
The other day, my girlfriend, who has adopted my mom as her own and has provided invaluable help as Certified Nursing Assistant, was tending to her. Mom looked up at her and asked, “If you’re my sister, then why are you so short?!” (Her “tall” sister passed away several years ago, and my mom has been mentioning her a lot lately—so she must be hanging around, too.)
My same girlfriend told her that she was very beautiful, and my mom straightened herself and replied in a clear distinct voice, “Yes, I AM beautiful!” before slumping over and returning to her unintelligible speech once again.
You have to find reasons to laugh. Yesterday after we left my mother sleeping and after we met in conference with administration and hospice regarding mom’s care where I chose comfort over everything else they could do, my girlfriend and I went to lunch and had a glass of wine. Jokingly, I informed her that taking care of the dying requires lots of wine. She said she thought she would write that into her contract the next time she takes care of a terminally ill patient.
Family and friends have made last minute visits to see her, but it does not appear that she recognizes much of anyone anymore. Yesterday while sitting next to her bed, this same girlfriend who has been there every step of the way through this journey with me, suggested to my mother that she hug me. On cue, my mother who was determined to lean vertically in my direction, put her head on my chest. I put my arms around her and for over an hour we stayed that way—her ear against my beating heart, my fingers playing in her hair, gently caressing her back and arm…it was the last moment of heaven together before she closed her eyes—maybe forever.
“Oh, God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.” —Macrina Wiederkehr
I never leave home without my face on. My public face, that is. This includes hair in place, makeup that includes blush, eyebrows, mascara and eye shadow.
Iwill often joke to new friends, “If something ever happens to me, please remember to put some eyebrows on me!” Usually it gets a big laugh, but no, I’m serious. I only have half of an eyebrow over each eye. Without eyebrows, my face seems frameless, lacking a point of reference. Some mornings can be challenging enough after a difficult night with sleep apnea, frequent awakening cramps and multiple bathroom visits as I stumble into the washroom, look into the mirror and see those two burnt holes in a blanket staring back at me.
I mean I need the stuff! Sometimes I think about not applying mascara, or even, god forbid, an entire face and just going as me. The thought of this causes some anxiety, and so I will determine to just leave the mascara off, then watch as my hand takes on a life of its own, picking up the mascara wand and applying it to each set of eyelashes over my two burnt holes. I mean, what if someone should see me with my dark puffy circles, the brown aging spots and sagging eyes? I am half envious of all those women out there that can get up, run a brush through their hair, slip into an old tee shirt and jeans and proudly walk out the door and not give a damn.
Life is always full of choices. Academically, I am aware of the countless potential I can choose from in any given moment. For some reason that I have not yet let go of, the outward facade that I put on is unusually difficult to step away from. Oh, it is easy enough to pinpoint the development of this story in my life. You know, something having to do with being brought up in the 50’s and 60’s when appearances were everything and women were taught to please others before themselves. My parents were no exception to that rule, and my mother taught me well. She was beautiful and never left home without looking like she just stepped off a Hollywood stage.
When I was sixteen, a onetime date later confided to his friends that I looked like I got hit in the face with a hockey puck. Word got back to me. I was crushed and humiliated. Now looking back, I know that was not a true story. Looking back at younger pictures, there was not a damn thing wrong with me! I was cute—why couldn’t I see it and appreciate it then? Yet you would think that by this stage in life, entering my sixth decade that I would have pulled it together by now. There is still not a damn thing wrong with me. So why do I shy away from cameras and public mirrors?
I recently watched an online story regarding a young woman who had recovered from an eating disorder. After intensive prolonged therapy and recuperation, she made the courageous decision to take a year off from her reflection, blogging online about it. This meant all household mirrors covered up, no focus on dressing room or public mirrors. Her makeup was applied by touch, and she dressed without reflection, even prepping for her own wedding sans mirrors, except for the assistance of a few friends. At the end of the year, she was ready to see her image as if for the first time and found she was finally beautiful in her own eyes, blemishes and all.
I am not so comfortable I could choose as she did, except for avoiding public mirrors, which I already do.
I have made the choice to change a lot of things in my life, but overall, I have to admit that my outward physical appearance is one of the more difficult challenges. I am not as consumed and have made some incremental progress over the years, telling myself now I’m sixty, so I don’t have to look like I’m thirty anymore. Still moving to another country halfway around the world, converting to a different religion, finessing an escape from the clutches of a serial killer or leaving bad relationships and/or losing everything to start over again—I have done all of this and much more—all the easier choices to make. I have succeeded in many areas, stood tall, taken major risks, and pretty much leaped over tall buildings in terms of some choices in my life.
Like a cat, I have managed to live nine lives and be here now to tell about it. Yet I did it all with makeup on! Oh, and the eyebrows, too! I even go into surgery with makeup neatly applied. Unless I’m dying (did that, too), I wear the damn makeup!
How would my life be altered if I made a different choice and walked out the door without perceived definition? I am identified by a set of eyebrows it seems.
So what would happen if one day, maybe even today, I put the makeup down? Would small children run screaming when they saw me? Would people cover their eyes at my appearance? Would otherwise friendly dogs bite? I think not. What I might actually begin to realize is a new sense of freedom after the first moments of insecurity and slinking around corners in order to avoid being seen. I might even forget myself a little more and begin to see other sentient beings in a way I have never appreciated as much. Or maybe I’m putting too much stock in my public persona. Yet I secretly suspect my world view would be positively altered.
Where are the boundaries when one becomes undefined, when one lets go of all tightly held identities? I suspect I would become freer to “make up” my own life. Who would I be without eyebrows? And does wearing makeup encapsulate my life into something more acceptable by others rather than allowing me my own fuller creative expression? Maybe my life would come to define me more than my made up face on some level as I let go of immediate impressions of what I think others think I am. And not becoming too rigid about this, I would be at liberty to wear it or not on any given day.
I have a girlfriend who is an accomplished mystery novel writer. When she has a good idea or vision about something that would help or heal in this world, her whole body is instantly and purposefully moving towards it to accomplish it. Yet she remains largely undefined, and to some who might look at her, by her own admission, their first impression is, “What the hell happened here?!” It is inspiring, yet scary to watch her in action. She is kind of crazy in a good way, too, having committed herself to being here and fully participating in the larger healing process around her..
My friend informs me that upon initially meeting me years ago, her immediate impression was that I was a nice, sweet, boring type of church lady who didn’t have much to say for herself. I presented my writing and poetry to her, as others before me have for critique or approval. Not expecting a lot, she admits she was astonished reading it. A complete vision unfolded in an instant as she witnessed it going into hospices and hospitals and books, places where it would begin to heal lives and hearts. She tells me, “Shoshana, do you realize who you are and what you have to do with this? Your work is brilliant!” She envisions my life’s purpose in exactly the way I have always known it at the deepest core level since I was a small child, and she consistently holds the mirror of my true self before me. Gotta tell you, pisses me off! Because she, along with more than a few of my other respected and accomplished writerly friends, won’t shut up or leave me alone on the subject! They are on my back about it all the damn time. Yet, I know they are absolutely spot on.
My friends are my conscious when I don’t want to see. They are me in a way. I look at them and see myself, even when I don’t want to see.
Taking my makeup off to show the world my true self, my blazing heart, could very well be the next thing I need to do to set my life on fire, or at the very least, to set some part of myself free. Wrinkles, age spots, dark circles, missing eyelashes and eyebrows, nothing in place to offset the crooked teeth or crooked smile. Yet is it not worth my life—an amazing and brilliant force for good—that would say to the world “there you are!” instead of “here I am!”
I might be from Venus. When I was a girl of five, I would dream every night of catching the wind and soaring high above the earth. I could see perfectly everything that was going on below. It was a heady, exhilarating experience, and I had no doubt about my ability to run and leap into the sky. I was quite sure about my powers because I was from Venus, you see. And the secret to Venus, in my five year old dreams, is that the clouds surrounding Venus were actually a protective cooling system from the intense heat of the sun where we lived. This world I had traded in for Earth, Venus, was futuristic and beautiful, and we were a highly advanced civilization. Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone where I really came from down here on Earth, but every night I was my own little super hero. This was a nightly ritual I entertained for several years until the world convinced me, of course, that I was only dreaming nonsense.
Now that I’m returning to my second childhood, as they say, I’ve decided that maybe I was right the first time, at least about flying. A week ago, while in deep sleep, I dreamed I was a great bird with expansive feathered wings of black and white, all the while still being me. Life was so big up there that I was near bursting with the deliciousness of it all as I glided down the length of a wide green river below. My wings effortlessly followed a natural easy up and down swoosh, dipping low to the ground, swooping and rising into the air again, catching the currents as they lifted me higher and higher. I could feel the sun warming my face and back as I rose. And I wasn’t alone. Others joined me in my flight—indigenous colorful human birds whom I knew had my back. Other human birds came near to us, too, who at first appeared menacing, but as we got close, they showed themselves as friends and together we banked and dipped, letting the wind carry us further along until we landed on grassy slopes along the river where I was led to their sacred tented circle of community as an honored guest.
As I flew, I couldn’t understand how so many had forgotten they, also, had the power to fly. I wanted to tell everyone on the ground to come join us in this most ecstatic experience. And one or two young human birds, a little afraid to fly, did make the leap into the sky—while I taught them how to bank and dip and rise again, how to catch the light just right.
Life can feel so very overwhelming and congested at times, and it is good to catch the uprising drafts of wind now and then, to see life from up high as though through the eyes of mighty bird. It is easy to feel landlocked when we can’t seem to appreciate the proverbial “forest for the trees.” From my vantage point up there, I knew I was beautiful. There was space enough to travel anywhere I wanted to go, and I knew this was really the natural order of things. There was a seamless-ness to life, a natural ordering as I understood my meaning of being here for my soul’s growth. Up high, it was easy to trade in the tired and old for the sacredness in all things.
It’s been a long path from my five year old self to here as I lean into the wisdom years, but I am coming to more fully understand what fragments, what fails to enhance or bring joy, what stops me from flying when forests are thickened by too much overgrowth, and I am unable to get a foothold on catching the currents. Not that I look for it or expect it, but I understand it becomes necessary that some trees might need pruning. Trees need light to grow, just as humans do, and old growth prevents the fullest measure of light from getting in. Every forest needs a good fire now and then in order to clear the ground, pry open the tight fisted buds and force new life up from the underground.
This is truth: That chaos is completely necessary, as is fire, or water or wind, as are all the elements of the earth. After the burning, chaos is bound to bring order around eventually. It is the natural order of things. Order arising, becoming this thing or that of another order and the cycle begins again.
It helps to have wings. You should try it sometime.
Awhile back I made the decision to leave a relationship I was in. As decision making often goes, the lead up to the decision was distressing, agonizing even as I searched my heart for right answers of what to do, all the while not really wanting to do what was right knowing it would be the most inconvenient and painful for all parties in the short run. I vacillated back and forth, one moment totally ready to stick it out and make it all okay no matter what, believing it would be; and the next knowing some things were beyond my control and repair.
Day by day, the situation had become increasingly unbearable in exact proportion to the good that seemed to be leaving for both of us. Looking in the mirror, I was looking like someone else looking back at me. My joie de vivre had taken flight to distant shores. My soul was shriveling and meaningful purpose or repair wasn’t to be conjured up or found anywhere.
Then one morning after a particularly bad night, I just woke up with perfect clarity of what I had to do.
I took comfort all the while in my questioning knowing that the decision would make itself. I knew I didn’t have to rush to judgement or do anything ahead of schedule. However, I will add the proviso this may not be true in every case, and indecision and vacillation can too often render one immobilized, keep a person in a stagnant or even dangerous situation, or at the very least, from their most authentic selves. The thing was I knew myself well enough to know how resilient I am, how much of a survivor, that I have survived far more painful things. I knew I would ultimately do what I needed to do to save the only life I really could when nothing else was working—my own.
I knew there would be those who would disagree with my decision, who would call me wrong for doing so, who would question my motives, who would no longer call me friend. I knew this questioning might arise from people who thought they knew what was best for me or my partner, or thought they had a grasp on who I am or what the situation was. Nonetheless, I knew in the depths of me what was true, and I left in spite of the clamoring voices that might surround me.
It was one of those watershed moments in life when you know you are going to have start from scratch all over again. It’s not like I haven’t had to build from the bottom up before. It’s a kind of fire in your life that burns the house down. It’s damn hard work to rebuild. It’s damn inconvenient, too.
Oftentimes the decision to leave a situation, a job, or a relationship is something that decides itself. One day, after a lot of tossing and turning and sleepless nights, you just wake up knowing. Suddenly there are no more questions. The decision becomes almost independent of you and begins to move you at that point.
And sometimes the decision is made for you, thrust at you without your input. It can be abrupt and shocking, leaving you crying and groping for answers for endless days.
Yet you do find the courage to go on you didn’t know existed—from a place deep inside yourself. You do what’s necessary to rebuild life in a meaningful way, to restore the lost vitality, to create something beautiful and with purpose. You laugh again. You make new friends. You are still you, maybe only now a better version, and you grow through the pain into wisdom and caring and helping others to find their way, too.
First, you must do the important work of grieving, whatever it takes. It doesn’t mean, however, that there will not be doubts or second guessing once the decision has moved you away. You will still wonder what if, what might have been. Then again in your heart you know the truest answer, that you did the right thing, that you can never go back.
How do we judge the rightness of a decision except by listening deeply to our own heart, following our truest true? Hindsight is usually a good barometer once you are far enough down the road from it. In the meantime, we must trust life and our hearts enough to listen, to know that the answer will find us. And if we are fortunate enough to have a friend who knows and trusts our heart also, it also good to listen to that friend of wise counsel.
The answer that comes may not always look like something we think it should or hoped it would. Sometimes the miracle comes through the hard work of growth and willingness to change. It may not be convenient. It might be painful. Yet in the still small voice of yourself, the places that whisper, you know it to be true if you are listening. You know that if you do not heed the whisper, the inner knowing underneath all the questioning, second guessing and vacillation, you will miss something very important in your life—yourself, your reason for being here.
In an alternate version/universe of yourself, you decided to stay against what your heart knew to be true, to play it out, and it had catastrophic consequences. In this universe, however, you will get to live and thrive because you left, or because you were left. You have something else you are supposed to do, that waits for you to walk its way. And maybe you might not have found your way had you remained frozen where you were.
Not so much by relentless hammer blows—
the rubble pound of life,
rather by wind that blows
‘cross water, skipping, skidding, rolling,
smoothing over without care or heed the many edges of things.
Washing past what cuts, what causes to bleed
in sprays and stings, in the steady pulse of waves heading toward land, or in
strong undercurrents without end
wearing things down, leveling them out,
the jewel refined,
the patina rubbed in, shined into the stone.
Change comes slow,
does not relent or flinch, hitherto howls and moans,
sings its wearying song.
All the jagged lines, the gouged holes done in
by the slow increment of time,
the tic toc of year upon year pushing against,
wearing down both stone and skin
And one day, surprised, you wake up
after you’ve become transparent enough,
and the beautiful thing inside,
the truest gem of shimmer and light,
rises up and up and flies.
This week, having been a little unsettling, I accept myself in whatever state I am in–doubt, sadness, joy, pain, bliss, I’ve run the gamut. There is room for everything. I am perfectly imperfect. I’m going with that.
This week, I accept that words have eluded me as I have struggled with my imperfect attempts to be brilliant here. After much effort of starting, stopping, stilting, nothing until stop–I’ve felt like a too hard eraser that stubs across and rips at the page. I offer this instead, a poem in honor of this sacred life and being–
Let the soft animal that is your body,
rise up from the earth.
You who live on the edge of infinity and stars,
feet on the ground deeply rooting into black soil beneath you,
feel as emerald earth rises up through your bones.
This animal that you are, that houses you,
needs stroking, needs petting,
needs feeding and nurture.
Let it purr.
Your animal soft or sleek is perfect,
this suit of blood and bone and flesh—
born from Earth and stars
—that houses the light of ten suns.
This animal that is your home for such a brief time,
that gives you arms to surround and hold close with;
hands to comfort or create with;
legs to run, to climb mountains or merely to move towards
a crying child; and
eyes that mirror the heart beating inside your chest.
This being-ness so full of miracles
in every miniscule act,
in the little lion that roars when its hungry;
in the vast army of red corpuscles muscling their way
through your body,
its vast arterial highway—
down to atoms and quarks in joyous dance
and light that explodes in ecstasy
in the cosmos that lies between.
As the heart flows into the body in
muscle and skin and lungs that breathe;
in fits of laughter when your eyes water
and your beautiful cheeks can take it no more
and your body is doubled over with pleasure—
until the last day your animal serves,
until earth reclaims your house,
and your light is freed, what shall you do?
Till then, here’s a clue:
Love the animal you find yourself in.
Praise it often for giving everything you need and more.
Why give it less when it asks so little of you?
Just a little fresh air and sunshine, some good food,
This was written awhile back after years of caregiving, illness, and death, and the demise of a relationship. Our lives can feel much like a proverbial pressure cooker at times–especially these days on the planet as time seems set on warp speed. Yet intersecting with the grief that can overwhelm us in doing our work, there come unexpected moments of pure release, a benevolence, an answer to prayer, as if to say, “go on, keep moving, you are not alone”. There is sweet grace in not knowing, in our confusion of not having exact answers but knowing they will arrive in the exact moment necessary–and not a moment too late. There is grace in allowing the knife edge of pain to do its best surgical work in our lives without trying to cover it over with the lid of denial. Better to accept our own vulnerability, our tears–there’s a new day coming when we do–even if we are the only one changed.
These are days when grief takes what it takes. When the best I can do is hold myself and cry. I am spent with it, pale and tired, worn down.
Nonetheless it seems right that I should find myself here at the same time when everywhere trees are catching fire, going down in cloven tongued flames of glory, suspended between death and life in a kind of spectral breath stopping splendor—a brilliant colored luminosity that makes you wonder what it is that dying knows.
Sorrow has a way of opening me and ripening me, of letting everything out—and bringing everything in, while the whole world rises to meet me in my solitary pain while I fall. Yet not always so serenely as the dying leaves, while I am choking on the words, “help me, please”, and I think no one is listening.
What comes without predictability startles me—strong arms that gather me up in moments of laughter or surprise. Grief interrupted, I suppose, preempted by grace when the unexpected flare of golden light outlines dark clouds after heavy deluge; or falling words from a stranger’s mouth apprise I’m still here. It’s okay to cry—
or laugh when yesterday, as trick or treating goblins came out— as I went by a dark angel in bright wings receiving a ticket from a sternly posed uniformed man; and further along the road seen were old men in tutus teetering down the sidewalk in high heeled shoes.
These are gifts of pure release, a break in the storm, a kind of benevolence coming into my bones, won’t let go, that fiercely holds on. Laughter and transcendence, marrow building even in what is dying; even while I let go, and life goes on. Even while what needs to come around, comes around, and once again, I find myself spiraling down to my knees.
It is my hardest work in this earthly realm, to tell myself the truth, to tear this mask of pretense off. In this, I believe I am not alone. I am struggling daily to confront my own humanity, to be intently present for myself as I listen deeply. I am discovering as I listen, it has the unintended consequence of changing my entire view of life around me. Allowing this pain sensitizes me the humanity of others in a larger way. Labels about how I believe someone might be are falling away, and I am beginning to see an integrity in the basic goodness of life, no matter the outward appearance.
Concurrently, what comes is the knowledge of where I’ve failed to live up to my own commitments to others, where I’ve lied in order to gain something for myself, and in so doing, deeply hurt someone else; where I’ve failed to say what I mean and instead what I thought someone wanted to hear, the many occasions where my motives have been less than pure, where harm was done to another soul. It hurts to look at the many parts my actor self has played, and to take responsibility for where I have failed the test of my own humanity. It crashes in with a loud thud, and I am grieving also for what I have done at the same time I am feeling relief, a proverbial lightness of being.
Still and always, there are respites that come guaranteed, bring the necessary energy to go on, to see it from above, then the wheel turns instinctually to face me with what needs attending in my life.
My soul that needs its time in mourning, its difficult times of transitioning, the realization of what’s been lost or what was done. And I am tempted to run. Still I can count on my steadfast life of reckoning in the fated events and happenings that show up. It then becomes up to me to find the beautiful truth of what needs grieving? Or what needs loving? What needs amends?
As with everything in this life, this life of mine requires its struggling, it maturing and I am grappling with my relationship to it and my place in the world. Things take time to grow and mature on the vine as in me, to be fully what they are intended to become.
I am learning a certain approbation of the requisite pain, the obligatory difficult work of grieving what’s done. There is a fundamental understanding I cannot summon to myself everything at once. What is trying to be born requires turning over the soil again and again. Like biting into a sour green apple before its time, impatience would have us spit it out, leaving a bitter taste upon our tongue. What is vitally important is the struggle, then the acceptance in the rendering down where the most essential self is found, where the truth of the heart is let out. It is in the stripping away of façade, or the relief of laughter, in the unexpected support we receive, in the surrendering again and again that something necessary and bewilderingly beautiful can finally emerge.