When fear tightens its grip,
“What would someone do if
they loved themself?”
Now do that.
“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.
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.
Would you please just sing your song?
It’s just old friends here.
Make every mistake you can.
Please do it wrong.
Your singing will never be good enough for you—
it never has been.
Yet you have a word, a voice, an intonation,
a clear ringing bell
with light inside that is begging for release,
and still you hold it all in, fight the brilliance
that is uniquely you.
People are begging for your song,
waiting to be saved by a song that only you can sing,
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.
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.
What if it sits like a stone in your heart?
Every. Single. Day.
Until you do that thing you’re called to do.
What will you do until then?
How will you spend the currency of your finite days
looking at the clock, busying yourself
while you wait for perfection.
What never works in distraction.
Even then you feel it staring at you.
This stone of your passion, pervasive,
invading every little crumb of you.
You already know what to do.
You’ve got to begin.
Put some color on the canvass,
write a word, a scribble, anything.
Risk yourself for the sake of freedom.
Relieve your heart of this weight now.
This is truth:
That when you begin,
your wings will come,
but not ‘till then.
She needed dream time. Life had felt like a whip at her back. Death had left its calling card—again and again, more than she cared to recall; and she was tired now, thought she might lie down though there was still a great deal more to do, even with the business of death being cleaned up.
She wasn’t sure if she should wade out into the water where everything was—a sea of possibility, laughter, work and friends. Was she ready to take her dreams and leave the shore of reasons why not? No, she was not, but who is? Sleep called her out quite a bit, and she didn’t know if that was just an excuse to stop or if she merely needed catching up, but giving into dreaming seemed good.
And honestly, who can sleep forever when dreams are burning holes in your head?
Dreams were in order then—a reordering of her days, a visioning, a new place to begin. There was something so right in this, so elemental when you break it down by task: Sleep well, eat whole foods, and walk a lot. Be good to herself, draw it out, breathe, draw it back in, connect with the ground, and write it all down. Say yes when one means yes; and know that saying “no” is not a dangling thread or frayed edge.
Dream on then. There’s time enough for it all in what would come; it was exactly perfect in its imperfection, she thought, while wading in.
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.
Wakening this a.m., eyes first beginning to flutter open, I saw a clean white sheet of paper floating down in front of me. I heard inside, “Today is the first day of your life. What will you write on this new page?”
Today I choose to write kindness, to see through its eyes. I choose to take good care of myself today; and to notice with new eyes the perfection of life within me and around me.
Each morning when your soft sleepy eyelids flutter open, a clean white sheet of paper is given to you. This is the first day of your brand new life. What will you choose to write today on this new page? How will you choose to respond to the thousand and one little things that enter your day?
“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!”
“Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life is too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it”, Danny in ‘American History X’” 1998
The other day I was parked in Costco
parking lot and getting ready to exit my car
when another car parked alongside me.
Inside, with the windows rolled up,
I could hear the poor woman screaming
at the top of her lungs over and over at no one I could see (on her blue tooth maybe?), “I hate you, I hate you! Do you know how much I really, really hate you?!” For a moment, her force of spew threw me off balance–I have no idea of the circumstances she was in, but my heart went out to her in a kind of way for whatever hard journey she is on.
We all have our upset moments, but it’s not an address I choose to live at every damn day. I realized that it’s been many years since I’ve lived in that world of constant upset with everything and everyone…I also realized that for most of the people in my circle, this was also true. It is work to get here. None of us are immune from the more difficult challenges that can come our way or the instant reactions that might arise–the work comes in understanding that you’ve probably survived worse and if this is worse, you will survive one way or another, here or there. It requires the vigilant practice of practicing infinite compassion and kindness towards yourself and others. You learn to start again with beginner’s mind, knowing the gift in everything will find you if you remain open to it.
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
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 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.