When fear tightens its grip,
“What would someone do if
they loved themself?”
Now do that.
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.
The scary part is being so darn good at it.
Whomever you are,
wherever I might have lost you along the way,
Whether you know this or not, whether I’m lost
To your thoughts, or you think of me often
Or now and again,
Whatever we had in laughter, in bittersweet or hoped for dreams,
Our present lives written as they are because of that—
We are pages scribed in a book
Because I loved you or you loved me.
We are not lost because of our loss—and though
we may never speak—or maybe we do,
In my heart where love is found,
I will always love you.
You are a part of the larger story of who I am,
And I will always be grateful to you.
One day in the greater light, when the book is closed,
I know we will meet again,
Once upon a time oh so very long ago…I didn’t know…
I stumbled across this faded photo again tonight. A boyfriend and dear friend of so many years and I in front of the fireplace. I didn’t know then how time would pass so fast. There was so much life in front of me. I didn’t know how we would lose one another while we were busy making other plans. How years of illness or homelessness or death and marriages and so many other things would descend upon one or the other of us. I didn’t know how you can lose touch with someone you swore you could never lose.
These days, however, my intuition is stronger than ever. I’m learning the wisdom in living life with a heart that is willing to open to loss or joy or confusion. I’m learning that life with an open heart requires much wisdom. Wisdom–a bit of hardwon gain in exchange for oh so many losses. In that, I’m lucky. Wisdom is partly listening to intuition, that still small voice that says, go here, turn there, you’re okay. Wisdom is also partly resilience, learning how to bounce back from tragedy, how it’s okay to grieve or cry, how to let go of what fails to serve our life or the greater good any longer.
Too many people refuse the necessary changes that get you to wisdom. Wisdom requires boundaries in this world. Boundaries that are necessary for protection of your beautiful heart, for letting go of suffering, for not allowing the entire world, or even a smidgeon of it to take your heart hostage. Your heart is your own. You get to choose whom you share it with, whom and what you open it to. You must treat it well.
Change is inevitable. We are designed for it. We are not meant to hold on to anything too tightly, for in the tightness of our grip, we create suffering.
To be sure, life has a funny way of landing you in the most unexpected places. You never know where that might be or what will happen along the way. but I’m learning to live the questions, as poet Ranier Maria Rilke said to his young protégé. And as in all things, life is an inside job.
I believe it is ours to come into this life to learn how to lessen not only our own suffering but then the suffering of others, as well. Kindness helps, starting with you. But it can take many years to learn that. You are very fortunate, indeed, if you have discovered it and become infinitely and patiently kind with yourself while you learn the special kind of braille that is required to navigate your way through the darkness: Indeed, it is the first step towards living a few answers.
“Wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
– Parker J. Palmer –
It’s messy, and its
imperfection is a virtue of living in this body.
It means we are here for the human experience
in every imaginable facet, in all its
anguish and glory. Yet not necessarily
all at once, although it can feel like it sometimes.
Quit trying to airbrush your imperfections away.
—they keep you real and learning.
They have the ability to heal your soul and ground your body.
Forgive yourself. Embrace what hurts—be infinitely kind to it
while you wait for healing.
As often as possible, be in the feral world of nature where nothing
pretends to be anything other than what it is—broken or beautiful.
Unfurl your life, bent wings and everything.
Learn to inhabit yourself—dig your toes into the soil now
and then as a reminder you are part of it.
You are already gorgeous with your shriveled petals, your funny ways,
your insecurities, and your
crazy ideas that just might save the world.
When you’ve learned to lighten up on yourself, learned compassion and kindness, you grieve for the years the locust has eaten. When you were so unjustly hard on yourself. When you looked in the mirror or at your life.
When kindness arrives at your door, you look back at old photos and realize, “there was nothing wrong with me”. And anything that appeared to be out of place was merely fear and a deficit of love towards yourself playing itself out in the world.
When kindness arrives, you fall in love, maybe for the first time.
The world is not our personal yardstick by which we measure ourselves. We will always come up short when we do.
It is by the heart we see ourselves rightly—even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Stay close to your heart. When hope or life feels spare, remember to return again and again.
Your heart is the book by which you rightly read your life.
Uncertainty is hope when you don’t know the outcome.
By now, I’ve gotten used to an array of recent diagnoses I’ve been on the receiving end of…reminders of my mortality, some having the potential to shorten a life. In the beginning, admittedly, it throws you off balance. And after a time, life then becomes a new normal where adjustments have been made, answers are being sought. You learn to manage your new normal—or a new version of the old.
Apart from the most trusted of confidantes and after the first period of mourning and shock of news, whatever it might be, you learn to keep the bad days to yourself and share the good ones by putting on your dancing shoes, getting out to catch up with life and friends.
You’ve come to recognize your survivor-hood by now.
And when someone asks, you work to keep your answers brief and hopeful. You recognize quickly the glazed eyes, the subject changed. Vulnerability can feel awkward.
Yet you know in the end analysis, everything is alright.
Yesterday I ran into a somewhat new acquaintance who upon seeing me, recognized and embraced me immediately. Embarrassed because I was having problems remembering our exact meeting and conversation, I played along. So much has happened since then. Before we parted, she made sure to take the time to let me know the takeaway of our first meeting while she cried in front of me, how she had walked away feeling so much hope. Unbeknownst to me, I had apparently conveyed knowing that no matter what calamity befell me, I was always certain I would be okay (after a period of adjustment). Nothing was the end of the earth, not in death or life. And that gave her hope right up to moment we bumped into one another yesterday.
It’s interesting, while just being who we are, what we never suspect what people will take away in their meetings with us we’re not aware of. I wonder who of us asks ourselves if our presence is an ordeal to bear or a welcoming breath of fresh air.
My hope for each one of us in the darkness to always keep the vulnerability welcome light on. However it looks, there is a way home.
How beautiful to commit just one day to not speaking about that which disturbs, disrupts,
brings unnecessary pain to ourselves or another,
to dwell in and listen to the silence of our own deeper nature,
to be attuned to and see from the heart
rather than racing to reply or judge or manipulate.
How beautiful to allow and make space for one magnificent day of your life just as it is!
Today might be a very good day.
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.
To me, this is what makes perfect sense.
It’s enough, a place to begin
to wait for a single drop or bead of rain
to fall on the hole you’ve climbed in.
A single drop that waters the single word
that strikes the chord that plays just right,
that grows into a bud, a tiny shoot, a spark of hope.
If you can wait long enough.
A day will do, then becomes two and three,
a week, a month, a year of unexpected alteration,
offerings falling from ominous clouds
straight into your heart.
And what went down, now goes up—
it’s the natural law of things.
The blackness of pain, as you will learn,
drop by drop from day to day,
will serve to increase your capacity for joy,
stretch your boundaries,
which can often hurt as you know,
then break the cords that hold too tight
your beautiful and sacred life,
if you can wait
just a day or more.
If you give yourself permission to fall,
say it’s okay to be held while you go down,
go easy on yourself,
there will be stronger arms than yours right now
to catch you while you fall.
there will be that day,
though I can’t say exactly when,
you will rise and rise from your black loamy bed
born in sorrow and blood
and know you were glad you stayed
and waited for rain.
© 2016 Shoshana Wolfington
I am a river sluicing past canyon walls,
splashing at the bends before
settling down again.
Little whitecaps belie the deep undertow
of quiet and knowing repose
rushing through my belly below.
And following a predestined path set before
over a million years and more,
I do not hammer or drive into the stone
at my side—it is with instinctive ease
that I bend and twist and glide.
I have no need to resist what lies ahead
as I wash on by.
Let the howling winds chip away the stone,
let the rain drive a wider channel—
I am going the way of angels.
© 1997 Shoshana Wolfington
I wish the following excerpt were written by me, but it’s not. It comes from David James Duncan, “What Fundamentalists Need for Their Salvation”, Orion Magazine. He, like me, cut his teeth on fundamentalism, so we both know a bit about it. I want to share a brief excerpt with you as it strikes a deep chord within me that I, myself, aspire to, but don’t always live up to.
The article was written during the era of President G.W. Bush, however, the author makes numerous salient points that could be applied to any extremist belief system. There is a middle path between the far left or the far right points of view. A middle path that would unite rather than divide, that would find the commonality in us all rather than the differences. Extremism, hate driven zealotry whether coming from Christian, Muslim or Jew or any other religious or political ideology, seldom comes to any good end.
“True evangelism based on the example of Jesus (whether you believe in him or not–my words) does not suggest the ‘missionary zeal’ of self-righteous proselytizers. It implies, on the contrary, the kind of all-embracing universality evident in Mother Teresa’s prayer: May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” Not just fellow nuns, Catholics, Calcuttans, Indians. The whole world. It gives me pause to realize that, were such a prayer said by me and answered by God, I would afterward possess a heart so open that even hate-driven zealots would fall inside. There is a self-righteous knot in me that finds zealotry so repugnant, it wants to sit on the sidelines with the like-minded, plaster our cars with bumper stickers that say, ‘Mean People Suck’ and ‘No Billionaire Left Behind’ and ‘Who Would Jesus Bomb?’, and leave it at that. But my sense of the world as a gift, my sense of a grace operative in this world despite its terrors, propels me to allow the world to open my heart still wider, if the openness comes by breaking–for I have seen the whole world fall into a few hearts, and nothing has struck me as more beautiful.”
growing in reckless disarray far
from the trellis with its measured lines and squares.
Out of control and knee deep in weeds and fallen leaves—
the rich compost of soil below.
Insects that come to feast on our decay,
is perfection, indeed.
Indeed, everything is trying to help us live
even in our dying.
Give up trying to sanitize your life away.
Life never works like this.
You are not as together as you would like to believe.
Give up your dreams of enlightenment—
let it find you while you go out and live.
Fall down and get up again—let it be worse or better than
you ever imagined.
Dear, you must surrender to the beauty in everything
before you can really know anything.
© 2015 Shoshana Wolfington
When I loved you, when we were strong as trees,
rooted in green, when I said yes to everything—
it was easy to love.
sturdy as trunks, foliage thick as spring,
where has it gone, my dear?
We had our years in laughter, in plenty or little
back when we bent so easily in the wind.
We were foolish with love,
spent it down to our skin, ’till
there was nothing left to say, and
you sent me away.
Near a lifetime’s passed,
I don’t always think of it so much,
so much water and so many years come and gone,
but truth is,
I love you—yet winter’s here,
branches stripped, their leaves spent,
too much weather in limbs sweeping the ground.
Still it’s been a lifetime of loving you,
though not like when we were young.
Yet here it is—
alone or together, husband, brother, companion
and friend, in sweet and bitter,
in axe to the trunk—oh, I remember
all those springs and summers when once I loved you, when
we were young.
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.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ~~Lao Tzu
I am over it–I’m throwing out my “Goo-B-Gone” in exchange for authenticity, giving up the sanitized version of myself for a more authentic me. Me with all my messiness, my pain and my outrageous laughter.
This is not to say I don’t still sometimes dig through the trash for that stuff in a moment of panicked meltdown. But the general theme of showing up as myself is having its way against my compulsive need to look strong for everyone. I am finding freedom in asking for help, in admitting my vulnerability.
It’s heady stuff, exhilarating when you finally begin to let the truth of yourself out.
It’s taken me awhile to get here after much grief and loss, and I’m not about to throw away all this hard work in order to look good for a lot of people that don’t really care because they are too busy worrying about how good they smell or how well they clean up.
I have given up my dreams of reaching total enlightenment or perfection in this lifetime and have decided to go out and live. If I have to fall down, that’s okay—let my life be worse or better than I could ever have imagined.
I’ve spent too many years believing certain things are fixed or healed and put away for good. These are just silly notions I’ve entertained. I have come to realize that I am at my best when I am broken wide open to both myself and others; and that because of the brokenness, there are far vista-ed rooms that wait for me, things within them I could never have conceived of on my own. It’s not that I go out looking for it. It has a way of finding me when I’m least expecting it. Wait long enough, it will come around. Life can be really surprising on both ends of the spectrum.
What I have often thought of as healed or finished so often returns for another day of reckoning, another layer of awareness in order to enter into wholeness, to make you ready for certain gifts that are waiting in the wings to enter your life.
I know my perception of how things are is limited by my stoicism, my blind faith, my rigidity, the wounds that live inside me. It is only by becoming soft inside, by allowing life to do its best work on me, and my eventual surrender to the whole beautiful world living inside my beingness that I am given the password to enter the sacred expanse of rooms or realms beyond anything I knew existed. Openness is where the sweetest of grace sweeps in. Brokenness is where it can find me, where I tumble down to my knees in gratitude for this one moment of pure release, knowing I am seen.
Pain is often the chisel that cracks the heart open when I have refused to surrender.
And it’s okay that it might take a while to learn this. I am learning to be tender with myself.
I am done with trying to sanitize and rationalize my life away.
Life doesn’t work like this on a more organic level. It will always find a way to come to you in order to crack your most carefully crafted exterior wide open. We are not as together as we would like others to believe.
Sometimes you just have to fall apart in order to come together. That toughened exterior has to crack wide open–the one that always wants to tell the world how fine you are, the one you hide behind with your doubts and fears and wounds.
There are some wounds that are buried deep, and like a splinter, take their own sweet time to surface. Sometimes the abyss looms large and we fall in.
On the way down, open your eyes and look around. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t judge yourself in the falling. Life is having its way with you, hoping you will surrender your heart to it—that you will find a way to say yes.
Life and the ability to laugh will cycle around again.
Life has a rhythm to it like the natural inhalation and exhalation of breathing, like the tides going in and out. No less your very own life, too. Expansion and contraction, contraction and expansion. There is no getting around it.
There are times you are required to give out and then just as naturally, simplify your life or days enough in order to take in the necessary nurture and nutrition your depleted body and soul requires. You cannot serve from an empty vessel. If you habituate yourself to serving from that place or believing there is no other way, life will come in the backdoor to simplify it for you. It will make a way where you thought there was none.
Recently, I let the windshield washer tank in my car run dry. I discovered this one day when I went to turn it on, and the only thing that came out was disgusting brown ooze all over my windshield. It’s kind of like this when we let our tanks run dry without taking the time to fill them back up.
In my years, I am coming to recognize that I always have enough. It might not appear to be so, I still too often hit the panic button; but it starts with the knowing that I am enough in whatever comes along. It is my perceived inner lack that I project out into the world and then draw back to myself.
Knowing this requires a daily commitment first to show up for myself, even if in the smallest of ways, such as consciously and simply inhaling and exhaling first before taking action or deciding what to say when things fall apart. And maybe that is all you can do in the moment. You might have to keep breathing, on purpose and with awareness.
No matter how we perceive it, we don’t know the end of the story yet. It could be better or worse than you ever imagined and then circle back around again. And remember that at the end of every story, a new one begins, whether that story ends by death or circumstance.
Put away the veneer and shellac, and begin to peer into the holes of your life with new eyes–there are stars in there!
If I were to get a tattoo on my arm to remind me in every minute when things fall apart, here’s what it would say: Everything Is Okay.
Stand here, where you are right now.
Stop what you’re doing and just notice.
Put your phone down, your gizmos and gadgets
and pay attention.
What is around you?
What do your eyes see?
A bare leafed tree?
A single apple on the counter?
What is here now?
What do you hear?
A barking dog?
The voice of a child?
The wind in the leaves?
This is where your happiness lies.
Not there or over there or something just beyond your reach
or something left behind.
You are here now.
You have already arrived
if you will stop and notice where you stand
and let be what surrounds you with your full attention.
©2014 Shoshana Wolfington
As I enter the last third of my time here on earth, looking back over my life, I find that some things never change as much I might have believed they did. I am still starting over again as I’ve done many times before. It’s all about “beginner’s mind”. I won’t officially arrive until I graduate from this life. Until then I am still learning–and in fact, learning many things are not to be taken as seriously as I once thought, that laughter counts for a lot and kindness starts with me.
I love these exerpts by spiritual teacher and author of Life With A Hole In It, A Guru in the Guest Room, Vicki Woodyard :
“….Here’s the deal. No one reaches full potential until they die. Not only that, no one appreciates them until they do. I am speaking of both literal and psychological death. ‘The price of kissing is your life.’ …….
Things come and go. People come and go. You’ll leave and probably forget your hat. If you do, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It just means you forgot your hat. See, that’s the thing about death. You can’t come back for your hat.”
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.
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.
Love has a way of entering the back door
of your life
when you least expect it.
When you had your life precisely charted out,
your keys in hand, your perfect plans,
while walking out the front door,
when suddenly, BAM!
the back door slams against the wall,
like a hurricane coming in.
I was just leaving, you said.
You had to lay down your keys
and your map—because what just came in looked nothing
but what came in had its own plans for you.
While standing there, you’d never guess, looking at the mess,
it was only love come
to save you.
Resistance is futile, it said, surrender best.
But of course, it might take a while to learn that.
And when you finally get it
while it’s got you, this thing of your undoing,
this decimator of plans,
it becomes sweetness in your hands,
and the whole splendored universe moves
inside of you.
You wonder how it is you never saw such an endless
midnight sky blinking back at you.
Love is a shape-shifting trickster in ways you’d never conceive,
can take you to dizzying vistas you’ve never seen
on some crazy and crooked paths.
It’s not about what you think it is. It’s more than that.
Love comes to bust down your doors and walls,
shake possibility loose in your mind,
get you to move beyond your self-imposed boundaries
as a citizen of the stars
into your own feral nature.
Out beyond the dictates of decorum or certain civilities
waits your aching passion,
but first you must learn to surrender
you think you have, then leap
from the precipice of that life.
© 2014 Shoshana Wolfington
I am a woman of many names.
A life’s collection, in fact,
tried on in dressing rooms of elation,
false starts and infatuations, premises
designed for the backs of others.
Trying things on in ideas or people, in places I’ve been.
Discerning what fits or not, what’s priced too high,
beside what rings genuinely so
in the clear bell of my soul.
Some names remain—names I wear still.
Some interchangeable, suited well.
A collection of ideas coalesced, a coupler of connecting notes,
the jarring timpani, the repetitive litany, the well-choreographed song;
and you must know
life has come down to this in these years of gold—
I’m still the same girl I came here for.
Notes off key now and then, I was never lost, always known,
the soul of which knew well where I need to go.
It has come down to here and now, stronger for the places I’ve been,
I’m a full playing orchestra not done until the fat lady sings in clothes that fit,
with trails to be walked upon, and dreams that resound loud and strong
inside the clear ringing bell of my soul.
© 2014 S. Wolfington
Slicing open a lemon this morning, squeezing out all its sour essence, like I do every other morning, I felt myself suddenly overcome with gratitude. This simple small act of slipping the sharpened knife past the dimpled yellow skin of this brightly colored, tart flavored little fruit—feeling the sun’s warmth streaming through the window on my back, I give thanks. I give thanks for the earth, the sun and the rain that nourished the tree that it grew upon—from small bud to flower to this lovely little fruit that sits on my counter now in front of me, that has shown up to support and sustain my health and wellbeing. Grateful, I offer up a blessing of thank you again as I down the juice in a glass of sparkling filtered water.
It came to me how I too often forget to say thank you for so many simple things and how, conversely, I find myself grumbling and grousing over my long lists of overwhelm, things I need to accomplish. Life is so simple when we allow it to be so. I am working on remembering in all things that life can be so beautifully and elegantly simple, that I don’t have to complicate it in every minute by stressing out over what I don’t have or what remains to be done. I want to be done with the complaining of it all. Instead I want to celebrate my life, this gift given to me every single day I wake up. These little acts of self-care and gratitude say I value my life, bring me unexpected joy in the most difficult of circumstances and keep me resilient and moving forward.
I am reminded of the term “Pura Vida”. When visiting Costa Rica, a country that I hope to travel to one day very soon, I have heard many remark upon their return how the custom is to say at every opportunity, “Pura Vida!” No matter what is happening, “Pura Vida!” When exiting a cab, when paying for groceries or when sipping coffee or chatting with friends, people will call out “Pura Vida!” Rain leaking through the roof? Pura Vida! Flat tire? Pura Vida! Not enough money or food? Pura Vida!
In Costa Rica, Pura vida is less a motto and more a way of life. It is an expression of happiness and moving on no matter the flat tire or the spilled milk. It is good to remember that monotonous complaining is a waste of time and there are many among us who are far less fortunate. If we are here and healthy, and there are many ways to be healthy, then we can also remember that life is good and that we are exactly where we need to be no matter what it looks like from the outside.
I’m no hero, and I’m no victim. I just want to start by saying that.
When it comes to what is going on with my mother’s slide into death, please do not overestimate what I have done or as the good and dutiful daughter my mind might want you to perceive me as in certain moments. Tonight I am feeling tired, and so because of this, I am stepping away from my mother’s bedside for a couple of days, knowing that sleep is the best meditation.
Having just said that, I also want to relate some intriguing and somewhat bizarre occurrences I’m experiencing recently, but I’ll get to that a little further down in the second part of the story.
What I write here for all the world to see can feel very private. So private in fact, that my own mother, were she aware of it, would probably be horrified by my disclosures. If I were twelve years old, more than likely, I wouldn’t be let out of my room for weeks. How do I know this? It happened when I was ten and twelve and fifteen—oh, the trouble I got in for my writing. It stopped me for a lot of years. Those were different times and that was before the internet.
I have taken all of this into consideration—a lifetime of consideration, because, inherently, I was born to write and this is what we do as collectors and chroniclers of stories. I had to make a decision to do what I what was born to do, and to hell with the consequences. I am totally alive when I write, when I let out all the secrets and mistaken truths of my life, when I am witness to the work and wisdom of both microcosm and macrocosm.
The reason I write this is to chronicle these precious days. I want to journal thoughts, emotions, insights and observations as they come up. If by doing so and making it public, only one person is encouraged or helped, even if it’s just me, then mission accomplished. This is my service in life, which is why we are gifted with talents and/or passionate interests, not to hoard for ourselves, but to give away.
We grieve and celebrate in community, the sorrows halved and the joys doubled by doing so. It is not my conscious wish to write in order to garner admiration or sympathy from you. Honestly, I cannot hold space for that because then I feel falsely obligated to somehow try to either live up to it or live it down. What I write is an intimate logging of experience with death and dying. Too often death and dying can be taboo subjects in a culture that has a difficult time facing its own mortality. We like to present ourselves as happy successful people all the time when inside we may feel quite different, while our emotions are begging for expression. Not an expert on this subject, it’s my desire to open the door to discussions about it.
There is a Buddhist meditation that calls for one to mediate on one’s own death, to envision oneself as already dead. Most assuredly, it is a reality check as we come to appreciate the brevity and impermanence of our life and material possessions and the true value of relationship. This practice has been helpful to me whenever I have practiced it over the years.
I have also discovered a Facebook page, well, several of them from different areas around the country called “Death Café”. I am considering starting one myself when I am a little more rested. In these death cafes around the country, people are gathering in homes and parks and restaurants to have intimate and heart felt discussions regarding death, and no, not in any morbid sense of the word, but an exploration towards wisdom and acceptance of letting go or surrendering that which needs surrendering or whose time has come to an end.
So this is why I write, and not to mention the fact that this is what I do: investigate my thoughts on the page, which is what good writing can be about in the hope of teasing out the curiosity of the reader, even as self, as to their own process of erroneous thoughts and belief system.
Changing gears, I have stories to tell. Things are going bump in the night.
I have been spending hours at my mom’s bedside. Saturday, I shed a few tears, no, they were more like sobs right at her bedside. I don’t know if you are supposed to do that in a dying person’s presence, but I did. So did the caregivers. I also talked to her a lot as she slept.
It’s no secret I believe there is Big Love that surrounds us at every moment if we are open to it. Some of you are familiar with the story of my Near Death Experience. Having traveled to the other side where I personally witnessed them, I felt strongly there were angelic forces or beings of light in her room, and so I quietly said a prayer to be able to hear some word of encouragement from them for my own grieving process. A few minutes later, I happened to look through her little bookshelf and discovered the book, Into the Light—Real Life Stories About Angelic Visits, Visions of the Afterlife, and Other Pre-Death Experiences, by John Lerma, M.D.. I couldn’t have received a better word of encouragement and comfort as I began to read, tears running down my face as I did, filling the trash can with snotty tissues as I read.
Mom looked so peaceful hour after hour. However, I had a difficult time leaving her and didn’t get home until 1 am and asleep until 3 am due to a situation. Sunday feeling tired to the bone, I went in to see her in the afternoon.
Walking in her door, there was something different about my time there on Sunday. Because I was so tired, I could not be as present for her as I had the day before. Not that she was able to talk to me or acknowledge my presence at any point, still I felt the duty to be there on Sunday whereas I stayed out of love on Saturday. Sunday, she was agitated and fretful, attempting to lift her head off the pillow, crying and moving her legs around. I tried to comfort her and stroke her hair, but nothing worked despite the meds she was receiving to calm her.
It is said that your loved one can still hear you even if they don’t appear to be all there or are comatose. So I continued to talk to her, and even played a recording from some family members she hadn’t heard from in a while. I was hoping for closure, and I thought she might need to hear their voices expressing their love for her. That only upset her more it seemed. Of course, these were my ideas mostly in my attempts to soothe her.
By 8 pm, watching her, I sat and meditated, asking whatever unseen benevolent forces that were in her room to please show me why she was so agitated. These are the words that immediately formed in my mind:
“Go home! You are exhausted and on a deep level, she is worried for you. You are keeping her from her rest.”
I knew this was correct. If you knew my mom, you would know that no matter what state of mind she is in, the first thoughts for her are the well being and safety of her kids. I immediately got up from the chair, gathered my things, kissed her on the cheek and went home.
Today, Monday, I awoke feeling not much more rested and wondering if I should attempt to go see her again. I sat in my chair and meditated for a long while, asking again if I should stay home or go see her. I mean what if I miss something or she passes and I am not there? What if she says something in a moment of lucid clarity just before crossing over and I miss it? What if she dies alone? I want no regrets.
My cell phone rang. I considered not answering it until realizing it was my youngest sister calling. Right away, she wanted to know how I was feeling. Living a state apart, we keep up with our lives by phone. I told her how tired I felt. She relayed the word “faith” to me. It was something I must hear, she said. It pertained to all of us in letting mom go. There was an urgency to tell me—that we must trust mom will pass as she needs to and if I am meant to be there when she does, I will be. If not, not. It will be perfect however it turns out. The more important thing needed was taking care of myself right now.
How did she know? I had not told her the events of the day before regarding Mom’s agitation and my prayer for guidance. She relayed how she was letting Mom go, too, sending her spirit to the arms of Love Itself. She prayed, and as she did, I actually saw Mom fly up in a beautiful quilt of memories to a whole happy crowd of people waiting to welcome her. I saw the light. There was a party waiting for her! I saw mom suddenly looking young and radiant as she dropped the quilt to look back down at us and say “Thank you!”
A bit later while paying her bills (see how I wasn’t resting?!), the phone rang again. Hospice calling to tell me she was very peaceful today, sleeping soundly. I had left an anxious message during the middle of my visit the day before with news of my mom’s agitation and what we might do about it. The hospice nurse bluntly told me that she believed my mom had most likely been triggered by my presence. I then told her of my tiredness and agreed. “Stay home and rest for a couple of days”, she said. They would let me know if something came up.
What happened next was most strange: Doing some work on my computer, I felt a sudden and unexpected gentle touch, like someone had softly stroked my shoulder. I felt it through the pajamas and fleece robe I was still in. I whipped around to see what or who was there or if something had fallen from the ceiling on me. Nothing. Empty space and nothing on the floor or me. What was that, or better yet, whom?
So what is the takeaway from all of this? You might call me crazy or foolish, but if you have read anything else I’ve written, I believe there answers out there we don’t even have questions for yet. I am learning to surrender, to let go, admit my vulnerability, my lack of answers–and it is perfect. Some habits die hard as the one who in another life always felt the compulsion to rescue everyone from everything. I don’t have to adjust or fix my mother’s road to the other side. Her death does not need my intervention. Life does not require for its existence that I fix or adjust or straighten everything, only leave much as I find it in its perfect imperfection.
Having said all that, I’m climbing back into my perfect rumpled, unmade bed where all my pillows are just right.
It’s been a long fire.
This burning down the house,
this finding the Holy Grail,
this drinking from the cup—
an act of grace I am worthy of.
perfect equilibrium beginning to end
in each cord of kindling wood
until nothing remains but equanimity,
the face of God
in me the golden ratio—
the opening so vast
only bearable through love.
© 2013 ~ S. Wolfington
“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.
I will 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!”
After fire has burnt down your house,
the old skin of imperfection doesn’t seem
so terrible anymore.
There are worse things than that and
as watersheds go,
you’ve lived through them all—
you endure, you’ve learned
each brings a mercy of its own.
Now there are bones and memories that creak—
the crashing footfall of youth exhausted,
its intoxicant flush tamed,
solidity spent, traded in
for more sophisticated sensibilities.
Accustomed to imperfection,
light streams through its cracks and holes as
you walk weightless now
in upward, ever widening spirals
freeing yourself towards heaven.
2012 ~ S. Wolfington
Salvation keeps calling my name.
Never lets me stray too far
–not running a lonely track,
turning this way or that,
there is always the breath of her
panting at my back.
This dark womb in which I sometimes hide,
lose myself, sleep for a while,
the eyes of her always watching me,
“Sleep my girl, but not for long—
I know where you are.”
There is a fundamental understanding that has come to me
under every far-flung tree or rock I’ve fallen upon,
I am not lost,
only found and
© 2013 ~ S. Wolfington
I went down to study the universe today.
And where I sat, an assembly of lives
I wanted to stop them and ask,
“Excuse me, do you mind
if I take your picture?”
in countless configurations,
and being God they’d forgotten, worlds of their own creating
skewed on twisted shoulders—
stooped, unstrung, shuffling along; or others
all together sprinting past, the young and strong.
The far strangeness of eyes that
could not look in mine.
The sometimes garish garb of suits fit for space floating by,
as if they had just sailed in on their ship.
Those who looked as if they’d never been loved—
and so I sent them some—a smile, a nod, a silent benediction.
There were various hats, walkers and toddling gawkers
swaying side to side—I thought they might tip over.
Such an odd mixture of life in form and song and color—
all in the shape of God.
Funny, I went there to study,
instead I fell in love.
© 2013 – S. Wolfington
Redemption comes easy. We’re told that. It’s sold on street corners, in pulpits and on television. Hawkers of salvation everywhere with goods to sell that will make you happy, change your life, offer eternal deliverance, forgive every sin and clean your toilet. Our lives and souls can be washed clean in an instant in beauty creams, laundry detergent and holy blood.
So whatever I have thought redemption is, I have been paying my dues towards achieving it without buying into creams and detergent. At least that’s what I tell myself.
What is that anyway? In my quest for this elusive thing called redemption I have supposedly bought into, I have often found shame instead. It has caused me to be overtly punishing of myself; and I think I’ve confused redemption for perfection at times. When I am perfect at this thing or that—religiously meditating every day; my life pristinely organized and categorized; practicing compassionate kindness with everyone equally; never getting my feelings ruffled; faithfully practicing healthy habits of eating right, exercising daily; going to bed early; resisting unhealthy habits and demands…after I’ve perfected all this, then I will somehow find my redemption, and the scepter of “good-enough-you-may-now-enter-the-kingdom-of-light” will crown me. Then the angels will sing. Oh, and one other thing—flawless, inspired writing that hits like a zing to the heart of every reader.
What a load of bull crap!
Redemption is this: I am already redeemed in every moment no matter what is going on. As the comedian, the late Gilda Radner, used to say, “It’s always something”. There will always be something lacking, something left undone, something urgent or necessary to get in the way of our perfection. We can exhaust ourselves into a quivering heap trying to achieve it. I am not always going to get it right. When I think I have achieved a certain modicum of equanimity or balance, there will always be something to challenge me. Life doesn’t fit into neat little packages for the most part.
So what would redemption really look like for me on a daily basis? Devising a daily, weekly or life plan and then executing it to the letter? Nope! There are many components to my life that, in fact, add to its quality when I adhere to what’s good for me. I could start with one. Good sleeping habits are an example, and I do have specific challenges with my sleep that can detract for sure. Yet maybe redemption comes in dropping the story I’m telling myself about how it is, how I’ve become a victim of life or even my own inaction after a night without sleep. Maybe it’s just accepting that I am humanly flawed, that life is messy, and that all I have is right here, right now, and I am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing now because I am doing it. I can change my story, shift my dimension by being with this moment on its own terms. There is no other story beside woman sitting at her computer writing about redemption. I can sit here and focus on this one thing I am doing and drop the stories about how I should really be doing ten other things and how much there is to do and why-can’t-I-get-it-all-done-at-once, or I-should-be-saving-the-world-and-why-haven’t-I-done-it-yet? Let go of that big tangled ball of string of everything I must accomplish, be and do that wants to live inside my head. Instead I could pull on one strand, the one solitary note of the singular thing my heart or my body is speaking to me to do now. Maybe what is more needful is to be “woman sitting at window watching the rain come down”.
Redemption for me lies in this one moment, not in a thousand others that don’t exist.
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.
This is the face of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is only one face among many and it belongs to my mother. My mother has always been a beautiful woman. I am talking about movie star beautiful. Always beautifully groomed and made up. In her younger years, if you squinted your eyes just right, you could almost see Natalie Wood–at least that’s what my cousin says. Natalie Wood or not, she was stunning! And she is still beautiful at 80 with this terrible disease that has had her doing things she would be utterly shocked at if she knew about. She was always a very proper and private woman, and taught me well in the rules of feminine etiquette–don’t know that it took so well with me, but she tried.
For five years, I have been and continue to be her overseer, protector, companion, bull dog, bouncer, secretary, gopher, care giver and moving man. Nearly two years ago, I had to place her in a memory care unit after a severe psychotic break sent her spiraling down into severe Alzheimer’s. She is in a better place with the help of medication now, although declining a little more every day. It has been hard work, and I have learned so much from her, but I also have Adrenal Fatigue as a result which has taught me big lessons about how we take care of ourselves or not while caring for others.
The surprising thing I didn’t know I would do is I have fallen in love with many of these dear souls that live alongside her, that don’t always fade so quietly into the night as Alzheimer’s exacts its toll on their minds and bodies. Tonight, surprised again, I fell in love when I went to visit my mother–let me share with you this endearing little story.
So this evening, I popped in to visit my mother. Happened to be the dinner hour, and they had a full house going with lots of energy. I am spoon feeding my mom and listening to the female resident who usually sits with her and who is blathering away about what I have no idea. But she telling me all about something she did using words that sound like gibberish interspersed with English and pointing to the Sloppy Joe she hadn’t eaten, but wrapped up in her napkin. I was agreeing and nodding and telling her what an amazing story she had, when all of a sudden, she stopped mid sentence, looked straight at me and said, “You look particularly beautiful tonight!” Wow! I thanked her profusely and told her I loved hearing that, and she replied, “Well, I just say whatever comes up!”
Apparently, I am having an interesting life between lives lately. The time between sleep and not fully awake has taken on a life of its own.
Stuff I need to know, I suppose, shows up, talks to me. It’s like I’m in school again sitting at my desk, taking notes, listening. White sheets of paper waft down from some other realm with questions on them. Is this a test? Am I imagining? I hear distinct words in my ear. I see things I wasn’t trying to see. And it takes me by surprise when I was just trying to get in a few more winks before stumbling out of my bed. In those moments, I suddenly get it—it’s an aha or eureka moment where truths become more tangible for me rather than just reading written words on a page.
Maybe these little visitations are showing up in the early hours because I am too thick or opaque in my waking hours while fifty other things muddle through my head; or where there is the risk of poor message recall in my dreams while I play telephone trying to decipher. These understandings, visions and voices are never predictable, but surprising when they do show up.
This morning I was in the classroom again. Today’s lesson presented itself before me as I understood the truth of real self, who and what it represents, and who I am in my most intrinsic being-ness. The ocean appeared, as it were, on the chalkboard, vast, watery and unfathomably deep, and I understood it as metaphor of that which I am where stillness is, where nothing is disturbed–I Am That, while above waves are crashing and black storms cracking. There were a tsunamis rolling across the horizon towards land and life as it was known would be no more. I was not this. I understood in this that the waves, the storm, the spaces in-between—the lulling calm intersecting the waves, and the tsunamis were my life—but they were not me even when I believed they were. I was the one underneath it all watching, observant, aware, quiet. Yet there was complete permission in the experience of the storms and waves. I saw it was okay, the emotional life of my life, its pain, its joys, its numbing, frozen places, the spaces in-between, the everything that was happening. It’s just my life, that I don’t have to fight it all, for whom I am beneath the storm remains undisturbed, holds space for it all. It doesn’t mean I’m less or more than based upon what is happening on topside of my days.
Then another thing arose on the horizon of my listening and seeing, the words, “Your thoughts activate the earth.” I realized deeper I am not my thoughts either, but they hold sway over my world as to what appears or shows up in it. My thoughts like waves that come and go, certain habituated thoughts that create patterns and grooves in my life, in the lives of those around me.
I suspect we are more powerful than we know. That our collective thought patterns when amassed over time and space hold sway as to planetary events, weather patterns, global and earth changes. Maybe the tsunamis that we create with our minds or the literal or metaphoric events that befall our lives are necessary in order to clear the deck for bigger changes to come as a kind of answer to our struggle with letting go of our outmoded, no longer useful patterns in thinking. Otherwise, our lives become stagnated and even stinking.
Our lives like waves that rise up, then fall, rise up again and the cycle goes on, all the happy and sad, the tragic, the comedy, the spaces between our birth and dying. Yet we are not the ten thousand things appearing. It’s just our life showing up.
Now the question is how to use this sacred and powerful life that’s been gifted us for the betterment of ourselves, our neighbors and the world? How do we activate our life on this earth and become a force for good by allowing the undisturbed self we really are to influence the life we are living?
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,
laughter and friends to hold near,
some cleansing tears—
Choose to be an opening everyday
through which love lives.
© 2010 Susan Wolfington
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.