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Category: Personal Essays

For My Children: Move to Your Own Music

For My Children: Move to Your Own Music

 

FOR ANY DAUGHTER/ FOR ANY SON

Do not let yourself be blindfolded early on.

Do not accept harsh or kindly lashing, slashing …

even when it is called “traditional,” “required.”

Do not be lulled by sensations…

soft velvet wrapped around your head

will blind thee nonetheless.

Do not hide behind, “It can’t be bad,”

“It’s not that bad,”

“No real harm’s been done. . .”

Do not try to convince yourself by bargaining,

“See, they’re such exquisite velvet blinders. . .

a cut above the usual.”

Be wary of “doing what we do here,”

“doing as we have always done.”

Withstand grinning Death in his many disguises;

he will promise fleeting excitement ,

a once a year glory in exchange for forfeiting

your one precious and wild life forever.

Do not pour salt

into the earth of your mind

and expect lilies to grow there.

For us, resistance is ceremony.

We are the proof that the soul’s truths

transcend the oldest time-honored lies.

 

“For Any Daughter, For Any Son” by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

 

Nothing feels stronger than the tug of tradition, an incredibly magnetic pull toward the past. Traditions are an important part of any family story. What would we be without those that have come before? That being said, it is important to understand that we have no obligation to take ownership of what may not be meant for us, including our family traditions. We flex our courage muscle each time we resist doing things as they have always been done as opposed to listening to our hearts and moving in that direction.

 

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “Do not pour salt into the earth of your mind and expect lilies to grow there.” Breathing in these words, I experience an instant release of the unwanted. Salt is an abrasive yet essential mineral for life. The metaphor of a mind filled with this life mineral, yet unable to blossom, is powerful.  Why not sprinkle salt and leave some room for the lilies to germinate? After all, beauty is discovered only by giving breathe to an otherwise constricted way of being.

 

Resisting the status quo can be difficult. By its very nature, resistance can be insidious.  If I wish my daughter and son to be strong minded yet gentle hearted, I must let them forge their way into this role even if their path differs from mine. Who is to say one way is the only way? Walking through life with a different cadence does not dishonor.  It takes many cadences to create the beautiful music of a symphonic variation. One cannot possibly bloom if trying to walk, act or behave as everyone else.

 

The harsh words of the critic will sound, seeing all that is different and speaking to these differences without permission.  Forget what you hear and see. As Dr. Estes writes, “For us, resistance is ceremony. We are the proof that the soul’s truths transcend the oldest time-honored lies.”

 

The following thoughts are for my beautiful children. My wish for them is that they continue to honor the voice within and dance to their own music, no matter how different it may be. Dance my loves and live fully.

 

Know your truth and honor it with every action and thought. Be freely and unabashedly yourself and revel in knowing that no matter the outcome you have lived life on your own terms.

 

Be brave and circle your on wagons as need be. Bravery is hard fought each time you face a fear that is not yours to hold. Toss out the ceremonial makings of the expected and dance a new war dance of your own. Listen for direction on the winds of change and let the breeze elevate your soul.

 

Face hardships with a humble heart and know that this life was not meant to be easy. Everyone, no matter how they appear, has experienced darkness bringing them to their knees. It is only face down in the dirt that one can finally let go of all expectations, inhibitions and unwanted observation by committing to the blooming of a beautiful soul.

 

Let go and flower into the sun, dance in the wind and smile broadly. This life is such a beautiful and precious gift. Remember that each new day is filled with possibility no matter what obstacles you may experience.

 

Smile at your troubles, laugh during your hardships and release the fear of the unknown. Silence the voices and refuse to change the music of your own drum. It is only when being completely self that life unfolds as it should.

 

Love unconditionally. Love those that make you uncomfortable, love family that you do not understand, love strangers that appear odd and love those that argue for the obscene and confrontational. Approach all with love in every instance. Think before you speak and hold your tongue if you do not trust what might be said in haste.

 

Do not acquiesce to others but simply send them love as you move in your own way. Try not to hold hate in your heart. Hate is a darkness that will take root and strangle the bloom before it has seen the sun.

 

Finally, dance. Dance to the music in your heart and the soothing sounds of the universe. Feel the rhythm of your day as if turning pages on a score. Balance moments of excitement with moments of repose just as an allegro meets an adagio. Feel joy in your body and do not be ashamed by this. Jump into the freedom that comes from moving your body in your own unique way. Embrace the oneness you experience in this movement and cherish the togetherness of body and soul.

 

Dance your way through the hardship and heartbreak and continue to listen to the music of your heart…turning it up loud. Be simple in your complexity, an open book that sits on a shelf waiting for those that wish to read you. Stand in honor of this authenticity and refuse to back down. Never forget, you are a beautiful soul and deeply loved.

 

One of Those Days: Chronic Illness Sucks

One of Those Days: Chronic Illness Sucks

 

A Prayer

Refuse to fall down

If you cannot refuse to fall down,

refuse to stay down.

If you cannot refuse to stay down,

lift your heart toward heaven,

and like a hungry beggar,

ask that it be filled.

You may be pushed down.

You may be kept from rising.

But no one can keep you from lifting your heart

toward heaven

only you.

It is in the middle of misery

that so much becomes clear.

The one who says nothing good

came of this,

is not yet listening.”

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

 

I began writing this post over two months ago and could not find the motivation to spend another minute on the challenges of chronic illness. It seemed to be a bit too “woe is me” and I hate to sound as if whining about things, it is not in my nature.  What prompted a return to this draft was a series of events that cast me back into a much darker place of “why me” regarding autoimmune diseases and the way in which illness permeates every corner of my life, even if I like to pretend otherwise.

 

Spring has a history of being difficult on me. It is this time of year that I was diagnosed after experiencing a severe relapse that left persistent issues. It is also this time of year when I struggle most with fatigue and MS symptoms that flare up constantly with little rest for the weary. Maybe it is the temperature change or the long academic year wearing on me. All I know is that spring gives me a run for my money every year.

 

Thursday, I woke up feeling exceptionally tired. When I say tired, I mean like having just run a marathon and ready to dive under the covers for a ten hour sleep…that tired. I have a mantra I live by of  “energy creates energy” especially in moments such as that morning. With this in mind, I made my way to the gym and limped through a workout, giving myself kudos for having pushed through the sea of brain fog and muscle fatigue. Rushing to work, I was foggy but somehow made it to school on time. Walking in the break area I grabbed a used napkin out of my bag to throw in the garbage, made a quick move on my right leg and momentarily felt the all familiar disequilibrium that plagues me. Before I could gather myself my leg gave way. I raised my upper body abruptly to catch my balance and instantly cracked my head on the hanging cabinet above.

 

What followed was intense ringing in my ears, pain shooting down to my feet, a leg that felt like jello and a flood of tears. Coupled with the complete embarrassment at this having been witnessed by a coworker, my day was not going well. An “MS day” as I like to call them, had outed me in the most public of ways. I had hurt myself for the first time because of the unpredictability of this illness. The tears keep coming for over an hour, something else that has changed in the past year. My emotions are like floodgates and for some strange reason I have no off button once the gates are opened. It is not depression, it is the inability to control the physical process of crying.

 

The day progressed with a few mandatory meetings in which I tried to pretend nothing was wrong, multiple visit from the school nurse, a risk management intervention and a local trip to the workers compensation doctor. The doctor was impressed with my vocabulary around neurological illness as well as the many tools I have empowered myself with. This did nothing to change the fact that I was sitting in a doctors office because of a balance and weakness issue caused by my constant companion, MS. Nothing could change that.

 

Safely arriving home after this whirlwind of events, I collapsed in a heap on the sofa completely spent from the physical and emotional drain of it all. It is unbearably humbling to realized illness can rear its ugly head at any time, disrupting every area of my life in an instant. Relaying this story to my sister, she sweetly reminded me that not everything is because of MS. People lose their balance and hit things all the time. While I especially appreciated her attempt at making me feel better, I knew my MS was to blame. I wish I could rationalize it all away somehow, but I could not. I knew how my leg and dizziness symptoms present and they did ever so grandly that morning. 

 

“There are going to be frustrations in life. The question is not: How do I escape? It is: How can I use this as something positive?”

― Dalai Lama XIV

 

A constant challenge of this disease is the need for greater emotional intelligence and sensitivity in all instances. This need has been one of my most profound teachers. I have learned I can not expect, nor should I, a suitable reaction from others in their gracious attempts to comfort me.  I have learned I will always doubt myself when it comes to discerning what is disease related and what is just age or illness.  I have learned because my illness is somewhat invisible others will want to commiserate by sharing the story of a home remedy “that works!” I have learned to be kinder to myself in all of my failings and shortcomings, when I am unabashedly sad or a bit introspective and quiet. Finally, I have learned that I am fragile in my humanity and must be loving and patient with the process.

 

Our lives are short, minuscule in geologic terms. We are all terminal and it makes no difference what we might be afflicted with. Pain and suffering do not discriminate and come in many flavors. One does not need to have a disease to experience all of these emotions, it is important for those with MS to remember that others have challenges as well. In some small way this understanding helps me feel much less isolated and alone. Growing older gracefully with the added challenge of illness is humbling at best. I know that I am not alone in this journey and look to others for guidance and support when I am at my wits end.  

 

Take a moment and really see those around you. If someone you know is suffering in some way, let them know you are there. No personal stories, remedies or suggestions are necessary. Just let them know you are sorry for their suffering and sit with them in whatever way feels right. That is it. Empathy is not providing solutions, empathy is feeling another’s pain and remaining with them in that place as support. As in all things, simple in its complexity and exceedingly difficult in action.  Illness is a constant reminder to connect emotionally with those around us and to continue to be available in this way as long as is necessary. On Thursday, I was reminded that even the worst of “MS Days” is better than no day at all. 

 

Words have Meaning

Words have Meaning

 

Love after Love

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

 

Midlife is a strange and unfamiliar territory with the tapestry of my life becoming a colorful cloth woven from unique experiences of old and of what is yet to come.  Even with the underlying sense of fatigue that accompanies a full life, I remain optimistic that patience, understanding and growth will sustain as I continue this very humbling and human journey. To this point, an area of introspection that still eludes me is complete self-acceptance. It is one thing to write, teach or talk about self love. It is still quite another  to feel what can only be called a lingering sense of unease with parts of myself that I find less desirable. With an embarrassing level of honesty, I wonder if feelings such as these will ever go away. In addition, the “love thyself” dialogue of late has me flustered. I find it exceedingly difficult to find a place of belonging in this narrative, leading to even more feelings of separateness from the group.

 

Words matter and in my case nothing more than the written word. The constant search for inspiration has provided some peace in this chapter of life. When I am totally spent and exhausted from constant reflection, I find refuge each and every time in the thoughts of another. Reading others words without prejudice somehow makes my confusion less so.

 

Love after Love by Derek Walcott is no different in this regard. His words soothe me in the most gentle of ways. “The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door….” How wonderful to greet myself with elation as I might a dear friend that has been deeply missed. In truth, I have missed the girl that was creative, gentle-hearted, sensitive, curious and thoughtful. I have missed the girl that worried less about what others thought and more about big ideas and important questions. I have missed her and have begun welcoming her back with open arms. It is in this return to wholeness that I see myself apart from others opinions and begin to open as was meant only for me.

 

Life is a winding road peppered with diversions and distractions. It is curious that at this juncture I am returning to a more authentic self, before the self-critique took over and silenced all the beautiful uniqueness within. These words say it all; “Give back your heart, to itself, to the stranger who has loved you, all your life, whom you ignored…” I apologize to that young girl whom I left behind in an attempt to “blend” in. That beautiful child that was filled with such a loving and creative spirit. That child that was loved but often misunderstood. I welcome that child at my door and into my home. We are one and without each other I am lost.

 

I am forever thankful to all the intrepid writers that have continued to write regardless of audience. It is in your words that I have rediscovered self in the most glorious of ways. Words continue to matter. Nothing speaks to a seeker more than words of self-discovery. Keep writing my beautiful ones. It is within our words that we will be set free.

 

Quiet Butterfly

Quiet Butterfly

 

Keeping Quiet

by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language;

let’s stop for one second,

and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,

wars with gas, wars with fire,

victories with no survivors,

would put on clean clothes

and walk about with their brothers

in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused

with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about;

I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

 

Quiet. I crave it but never seem to get enough; quiet in my external environment and quiet from an internal dialogue that haunts me. It is only with quiet that I find clarity, especially during periods of great transformation. As in the metaphor of the butterfly, I feel the delicate strands of a self-imposed cocoon restricting at the moment. Discomfort is necessary for growth and I wonder how much I must bear before breaking free and stretching my new found wings. I feel a constant hum of the other, a sound in the distance that beckons me. The sound being the steady march of possibility, the limitation being a tightly wrapped cocoon. I have the urge to burst forth regardless of circumstance, common sense tempers this desire with a litany of questioning. A constant risk assessment visits like a bad habit, it baffles the mind.

 

Having flirted with uncertainty before,  memory replays moments of flight apart from this ever tightening cocoon. Even so, I am certain that I have stifled transformation by allowing the opinions of others and even myself to further restrict.  It is difficult to admit that in learning how to fly the atmosphere will become unstable. Wings must be taught how to catch the air, glide effortlessly and land softly while still enduring bumpy rides and hard landings. The discomfort of it all is like an itch that can not be scratched, lessened only by the ever present hum of possibility.

 

“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”

― Patricia Highsmith

 

Tuning into this hum calls for solitude and a clear mind.  Only in this space am I able to separate fear from possibility, often becoming shaken by the speed of impending transformation. Life is so very short and if not soaring what then? I have only myself to blame if I do not escape from this cocoon with a certain measure of immediacy. It is only in flight that all pretense is left behind and beautiful colors that are uniquely mine appear.

 

“The quiet sense of something lost”

― Alfred Tennyson

 

In this space I sense those who have come before, living in the most unusual of ways.  Having unabashedly taken flight they experienced both the joy and heartbreak of a life well lived. Feeling the void of sudden departure it is clear someone will fill this space, this vacuum. Someone will be the free spirit that shines deeply, unafraid of the cuts. Someone will live dangerously, taking chances and relishing results. Someone will approach all others with unconditional love, no expectations or judgments. Someone will break free and fly…. Looking to the sky, I smell the air, feel the breeze and absorb the rays of the sun. It is only in failing that one can be transformed. I silently pray that I become this someone. I silently pray for wings.

 

 

Waypoints

Waypoints

 

“Most people are on the world, not in it– having no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them– undiffused separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate. ”

― John Muir

 

The time is quickly approaching, I can feel it. The time in which I have the choice to remain frozen on the banks of life or move forward with the river as it ambles along to the next waypoint. These waypoints are deeply marked on the map of my life. In hindsight they jump off the page; moments in which I stayed in the wrong relationship, raised my beautiful children, decided I was not smart enough for that job, went back to get my masters degree or stayed in an unfulfilling job. All very clear in the rear view mirror. My gypsy spirit has either beckoned me down an unfamiliar path or held me in place with a knowing that the time to move along was not at hand. If pressed, I would have to say that I have experienced more beckoning than holding, so much so I am getting a bit tired of the unrest. Tired of the risks, the uncertainty and the constant wading into the unknown.

 

How do I know change is looming? It announces itself with a specific feeling of agitation, a sensation of being undone ever so slightly. The rhythm of my day seems off and I begin to accept a certain level of disconnect with all around me. I sometimes think this is akin to a long goodbye, a gift that allows me to move on to the next chapter without much consternation. On the other hand this disconnect can be off putting. I wonder if it blurs my view of what is really happening, clouding my better judgment.

 

In moments such as these, I call upon my intuition. This requires a trust of self that has been earned one mistake at a time. Life can be treacherous, a virtual landmine of decisions that can set one off in the wrong direction indefinitely. It is in the ability to redirect oneself that strength is earned. A strength in knowing all will be well no matter the circumstance.

 

It takes great courage to break with one’s past history and stand alone.”

-Marion Woodman

 

We are never only our past mistakes but a combination of moments that have ushered us to present. My map is filled with waypoints, some I wish to forget and others that brought me great joy. What I can say with clarity is that I have explored, taken risks and moved off the banks of the river more than once. In some instances I nearly drowned, but in others I floated to the surface and enjoyed the easy ride down the river. In moments of drowning, I thankfully found a gentle strength that has remained. I know I can swim. Knowing this gives me courage to speak with my heart and find joy in all instances.

 

Trust in self is paramount. With resolve I can dream big, plan for the future and even face down failure with no harsh expectations. This does not mean that by taking risks I am fearless, on the contrary I am scared every single time. Jumping from one waypoint to the next is uncomfortable at best. It requires strength of character and a commitment to not look back, at least not for long. Yes, I am tired and this uncertainty is like an old friend I no longer want to speak with. What is clear is that I have more waypoints ahead. The journey is not over for me and I must find peace in the process. I understand standing on the banks is no longer an option. I am fast approaching the last chapter of my life and the time to move along is always now. While I long for a gentle swim down a lazy river, I will surely experience more rough waters along the way. I trust in my ability to weather the storm, ride the waves and identify my next adventure as it comes into view.

 

The Guest House

The Guest House

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

 

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

 

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

 

I like to think of myself as perennially optimistic. I try my best to see the positive in all things, the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if doubts persist, I rarely speak them. My long held belief is that by speaking positively, words will become a reality. The woe is me attitude is not welcome in my home and I try my very best to lead by example. It is for all of these reasons and more that when I do have days with shades of sadness, I have trouble knowing how to process these feelings.

 

Be it the celestial activity of the past month with a lunar eclipse, mercury retrograde and a solar eclipse, the change in my living situation or that pesky perimenopause that makes every day an experience, I am left slighty off balance.  Coupled with my constant ongoing struggle with MS, this multitude of occurrences has me tired. I am frustrated by the way my body defies me even after treating it with the utmost of care. I eat better than most people, exercise regularly, sleep eight hours a night and do my level best to manage stress. It is always a complete shock after having done all of this work, waking up day after day to a body that is tired.

 

It is on days such as these that I ponder why I have been given this lot in life. I work hard and give my job and family my best. Why am I constantly being taught the lesson of grace, humility and acceptance? Haven’t I been through enough already to have earned some collateral in the wisdom bank? Realizing the whininess of my internal dialogue, I chastise myself for complaining and am constantly disappointed in my frustration, wondering why I entertain such thoughts rather than getting on with my day, head held high.

 

Looking for solace,  I often turn to the written word for inspiration. I look for a way to find compassion, patience in my shortcomings and a space to allow moments of sadness and grief. The truth is that it is hard having a chronic illness. Sure, I can buck up and do my best to forget, except for when I can’t. Some days I just want to curl up into a ball and be sad. I want to acknowledge how difficult it is to live with an illness that makes every single task a challenge, even one as simple as getting out of bed. I try to never take ownership over these emotions but choose to gently observe until they move along. In the morning I may be feeling deep saddness and by the afternoon it has passed and I am optimistic once again. This does not make me overly sensitive or unstable, this makes me human.

 

As Rumi speaks to with The Guest House, I too am thankful for the ability to experience a rainbow of emotions. He says, “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent, as a guide from beyond”.  My days of sadness, weakness or quiet reflection teach me more about myself than a constant state of  perennial optimism. I freely swim in the dark depths of self making it that much more beautiful upon returning to the light. I appreciate my family, friends, my ability to walk, read, listen and love; all things that are never guaranteed. Never be afraid of appearing human, it is in these very human moments that strength, courage and acceptance is won.

 

Changing Tides and Mothers and Daughters

Changing Tides and Mothers and Daughters

I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.

I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.

I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task

I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.

I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.

I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.

I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.

I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.

I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.

I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.

I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.

I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I Believe.

Mary Anne Perrone

 

I write this post on the eve of change. I understand that life is nothing but a constant flow of change. Somehow, even with this knowing, I am constantly caught off guard in moments such as these, as if the air has been knocked out of me and I can’t catch my breathe. I understand change is my teacher and one that I continue to struggle with. Resistance is futile. Change will stampede in when least expected and demanded attention. Every ounce of denial I throw at it is rejected. I am powerless in its throes and dislike this feeling immensely.

 

Where do I begin? If you have read a few of my previous posts, you know that my daughter and her boyfriend live with me at present. My daughter has lived with me for the past few years beginning during a time of great distress and upheaval in her life. It was a difficult transition at first. She headstrong and secretive not exposing her coming and goings, me newly divorced and just beginning to flex my independence muscle. Suddenly and without premonition, we were thrown into a partnership that was anything but comfortable. In fact, for the first full year, she slept on my living room floor of my small one bedroom apartment that represented my first foray into independent living.

 

I struggled to find my new normal. Faced with a constant assault of chitter chatter, facetime conversations and late night arrivals I was unsettled. I would often find hair dye on the bathroom cabinets and bad food in the refrigerator. Forget my no shoes in the house rule, that went out the door as soon as she moved in with her high heels and sneaker collection that screamed style next to my clogs and sandals. My living room had become a hostel with pillows and blankets strewn about. At the same time, she was traveling periodically for work, the side effect being a permanent piece of luggage lying about and used as a dresser in between jobs. Her schedule was the complete opposite of mine. I woke up at 5:00am and went to bed by 8:00pm. She was up by 10:00am and often went to bed just as I was getting up.

 

I worried about her late at night as I had never done when she lived alone. Having her under my roof somehow increased my responsibility and I demanded that she text me if she was not coming home so that at least I knew she was okay and not on the side of the road. It was an uneasy relationship but one founded in love. We had all the right reasons for “putting up” with each other and our love for one another was the glue that kept us from screaming in frustration.

 

Over time, the waters began to calm. We learned to speak our mind without crying and had meaningful conversation instead of arguments. I learned to loosen the rope and only voice my opinion in matters of practicality such as finances and cleanliness. I reminded myself that her personal life was just that, hers. I even managed to sleep some nights and not lie restless in my room waiting to hear the door open, breathing a sigh of relief that she had made it back to our sanctuary safely. She had moments of manic cleaning in which she vowed to “get her life together” and was a whirlwind of activity inside our little apartment. The blankets folded, clothes tucked neatly away organized. These would often be fleeting, but progress is progress no matter how small.

 

The good life starts only when you stop

wanting a better one.

—Bertrand Russell

 

We made the joint decision to move closer to my work and into a bigger space. She began paying rent and was a roommate in every sense of the word. What had once been passing moments of adulting now became more regular and we eased into a more mature relationship of equals. She began dating a wonderful young man and he too moved in with us as he struggled with the time between college and medical school. I dove into my work and strived to find some sense of balance with my health needs and desire to forge my way in a new field. At the same time she signed me up, despite my great reluctance, for online dating. A moment that will forever be a point of humorous recall between the two of us. In just a few seconds she was chatting with men online as if she was me as I stood back appalled. The tables were turning in the most interesting of ways.

 

As I took tentative steps with a heart in recovery, she was by my side encouraging me to just try. No expectations and no promises. I on the other hand, encouraged her to look forward to a career transition and a more permanent work situation. In many ways, there were times our roles saw a complete reversal and we established a sisterhood of togetherness as two adult women. We talked about many things that I never spoke about with my mother. Sometimes uncomfortable, but freeing in the letting go of what had been held inside far too long. No more shame about past experiences, just love.

 

With my daughter moving out into a sanctuary of her own, I cannot help but reflect on the time we had together. As women, we push our daughters to leave the home and experience the world, yet we do not provide avenues for them to celebrate their womanhood soon enough. The power and beauty of a strong woman resides in her acceptance and love of her feminine power. I like to think that our time together was an opportunity for both of us to reclaim this power. We will forever be as different as oil and water, but it is in spite of these differences that we have found the perennial common ground. We see each other as beautiful souls and respect the journey we have taken thus far. I have no illusions that life will be easy moving forward, but I am sure that I have a kindred spirit in my daughter. We can talk about the things that concern us and the prospects for the future. Our love for each other has survived the heat of unrest and will continue to persist no matter what life has in store.

 

Becoming Alike in Our Differences

Becoming Alike in Our Differences

Sometimes hidden from me

in daily custom and in trust,

so that I live by you unaware

as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,

a wild rose looming at the edge

of thicket, grace and light

where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing

again what I chose before.

-Wendell Berry    

 

Speaking with student employees, I found myself in a philosophical conversation that was familiar ground. Always slightly out of step with my peers, it was refreshing to tread the fertile ground of the “why” question with younger minds. I should preface this by saying the school I work for is an experimental art school and both faculty and students tend to walk the edge of what is considered fringe in thought and practice.

The conversation turned to the idea that people in close proximity become inadvertently like-minded.  Is it human nature to form tribes and alliances with other like-minded people?  My question for the students was, “In your differences, are you not becoming more alike?” This caused some head scratching and much debate back and forth. Is it in societies push to diversify that we have stepped beyond embracing uniqueness into siloed tribes of like? Uncomfortable question to be sure.

People like to feel a sense of belonging. Even in fringe communities, the casts of characters often dress the same, eat the same and think the same. I am baffled when I see this happening even at an institution of creative and exploratory practice. Look closely and you may notice the similarities of people in these groups. Yes, they exist outside the social norms of the day, but in their own tribe, they are alike.

As one the wanders from one group to the next, I find it more challenging to be separate. By choosing this lifestyle, I am often alienated from the most unique groups of people. Maybe it is because I am a free spirit yet do not buy into every crystal and aura reading ideology, maybe it is because I am a hippie yet will not run around in a tie dyed shirt barefoot in the woods. These sensibilities do not speak to me in totality. Parts of the lifestyle do, but never everything. This may also be why I find organized religion difficult. I enjoy pieces of most practices, but tire of the all or nothing mentality that is required to call myself Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. I prefer the beautiful flow of mysticism that encompasses many different views but asks the same questions. In the realm of politics, I am an independent. Politics has a pack mentality that sickens me. I am allowed to have my own ideas separate and apart from a party. God forbid I am a conservative that believes in abortion rights or a liberal that believes in lower taxes.

 

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu

Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East

or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not

composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,

did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace

of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two

worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that

breath breathing human being.

-Jelaluddin Rumi

 

Reading Wendell Berry, his “wild rose” speaks most specifically to me as one that hides under the radar but blooms nonetheless. Each group of people that I interact with has something to teach and that is what is so fascinating to me. Whether I borrow some of the ideas or not is completely up to me. Being different requires strength in standing alone. Solidarity with self can be difficult in practice. It is saying no when everyone around you is saying yes; it is being comfortable being the only voice for your point of view. Maybe the answer is not to continually seek out people more like us; maybe it is to flourish among others that are different. In this way we can celebrate our differences with no expectation to conform to a specific type of rebellion.

We are all members of the human race. In this way we are all the same. Given the freedom to explore our personalities we flourish into a gorgeous field of wildflowers, each different but as beautiful as the one before. A daisy does not try to be a rose or any other flower for that matter, the daisy just blooms. Each flower, standing alone and blooming creates the togetherness of the field, breathtaking in totality only because of these differences. The next time you are in a group of people, find those most different from yourself and spend some time with them. You may discover a few things that interest or speak to you, even if just to observe, listen and learn.

Kipling and The Metaphorical Shoebox

Kipling and The Metaphorical Shoebox

‘Brother Square-Toes’

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling

 

Rudyard Kipling has managed to weave together everything that I aspire to be in one poem. In reading his writing, I am reminded that I spend many days listening to others who for one reason or another have chosen me as their confidant. In this listening, I am often left wondering why some are left so broken from life while others continue to move forward with hope regardless of circumstance. What is it that separates these two very different approaches to life?

 

My first thought is that this separateness is created by a gap in faith, but I believe that does not fully explain the dichotomy. The fact that some are left struggling with darker emotions while others rise above is both fascinating and terrifying. Terrifying in realizing these lost souls could easily be me. We are all only a few thoughts and decisions away from being stuck in a dark place . We all have the potential to embrace the darkness rather than the light.

 

One possible answer is in the weaving together of our stories while not clinging to this narrative as if a baby to a beloved blanket. It is in feeling the scars but rising above the pain. It is in leaving those behind that have treated us as less than while not lingering or looking back. It is in not hanging on to a metaphorical shoebox of wrongs hidden deep away in the shadows of our psyche.

 

Kipling say it perfectly with, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same;If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken, Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.”  We have all flirted with this shoebox of wrongs at one time and stayed in this space far longer than expected. It is a dangerous place filled with a bitterness that is frightening if allowed to fester. Triumph and disaster are just that, two pivotal life moments each having a place in the tapestry of life. Without sadness, there is no joy; without anger there is no love and without failure there is no gain. One requires a concrete measure of where to begin in order to set goals and achieve tangible change.

 

It is only in lingering in this shoebox that one can get stuck. You will find those in this place proclaiming how life has mistreated them, committed great wrongs and where the blame lies. Remaining the victim allows the pain to completely dictate a life. Overcome by the shadows of the shoebox, one can only see darkness, missing out on all of the many beautiful things that life offers. Kipling speaks to this with, “If you can make one heap of all your winnings, And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss”. Heeding Kipling’s words, I make every possible effort to avoid this shoebox filled with bitterness. I no longer feel jaded, spending precious life energy pointing fingers at those that have peppered my life in unforgiving ways. I simply look at these same people as knots in a beautiful and colorful tapestry of my life, nothing more.

 

Empty your shoebox, let it all go. Don’t carry around things that no longer serve, even if those that we love refuse to let the story go. The rehashing of the past does nothing but reaffirm harm. It has no value in the present. Everyone has something that they struggle with, tucked deeply away. Work each and everyday to write new stories that do not need to be buried in a box, stories that uplift and serve a greater purpose. Occasionally you may still tuck away a few morsels of regret, but do not linger. The journey is happening now and the road is just ahead.

 

Look to the Sky

Look to the Sky

 

“I was wedded to all the stars of the sky.There was not a single star left, and I married every one of them with great spiritual pleasure. Then I married the moon.”

― Ibn Arabi

 

I have so many questions. I dwell in the space of the unknown and reside there comfortably, most of the time. I rarely become frustrated and make a conscience decision to quiet the voice of uncertainty daily. It is only when I am tired or experiencing change that my resolve weakens and I begin to question more fervently. Thankfully, I now recognize this as a symptom of stress and find that by gazing at the sky, I am able to calm myself. The immediate connection I sense with the universe feels like a warm blanket enveloping me with an all knowing wisdom. My brain stops the constant repeat of anxious questioning and for a few moments, I am at peace.

 

How does looking at the sky have such a profound effect on well being? I  suspect that frequent sky gazing creates cords of connection to the universe and the energy that is our life force. This life force, one single and universal heartbeat, encompasses all life as we know it. Taking some deep and measured breathes, I feel this life force enter my body, permeate every cell and take up residence. All anxiety is immediately lifted and a calming sensation settles in. Any lingering questions become less important in the vortex of this energy.

 

Dwell as near as possible to the channel

in which your life flows.

Henry David Thoreau

 

My frequent desire is to bottle this energy and carry it around with me every day. I make every attempt to memorize the peaceful feeling and return to this place in times of unrest. It requires a letting go that is difficult to master when overcome with the many distractions of daily life. I actively practice by visualizing the expansive feel of the universe whenever I find myself in the company of anyone that may be struggling. I make a herculean effort not to take on the heaviness or darkness of their energy.  I have my own dark corners to work on and have no interest in taking on the soul work of others.

 

The minute I heard my first love story,

I started looking for you, not knowing

how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,

they’re in each other all along.

Rumi

 

Finally, looking to the sky evokes the astounding beauty of creation. We are all so fortunate to inhabit this magnificent and forgiving planet.  By focusing on this miracle, I find some immediate perspective of my place in relation to all else. If I do not show up with love in my heart each day,  I will have lost a valuable opportunity to embrace the beauty of this life fully. Rather than worry about riches and professional acclaim, I worry about not having loved enough even when given this one precious life to do so.  Looking at the sky reminds me in the most intimate of ways that this journey will in fact end. Everything has a season, including me. Looking to the sky reminds me of what is important and what is not. It is all very simple even within an exterior of complexity and uncertainty.  On this day, look to the sky, breathe deeply and let the life force of the universe take the wheel for awhile. Don’t worry, it can handle it.