self-ease

Summer 1980, age 21 — I was certain, then, that no one could be more monstrous than I was. I look at myself then, so fresh and young and pretty, and can’t imagine how I saw what I saw. I still can remember what I saw, and it makes me shudder.

The really terrible thing about being seen and described as a monster by your mother is the way that gets internalized, right from the start, before you even have words of your own. It’s like a slug of radiation, slow-leak-poisoning you for decades. She did her thing, and I finished the job for her long after I left her and never saw her again. I believed I was the monster she saw. I believed I was a fat cow, as she called me. Her words transformed into the very lenses in my eyes. The clinical term for it is body dysmorphia, but that seems so bloodless. It’s confusing to other people who look at you and see a perfectly ordinary human being. Maybe they see beauty, maybe they see plainness, but they just can’t see what you see yourself. They have normal lenses. 

The changes that come with aging are twofold. First, if you’re lucky I suppose, you simply become more comfortable in your own skin, which at that point is softer and sagging. And second, also if you’re lucky, you dig out those old lenses, delete and replace those old stories, and find a new voice in your head that wishes you well.

Here I am with Nancy, my boon companion. Isn’t she lovely?

Selfies are fascinating to me. Young people seem to take them to practice different ways of self-presentation, to be flirty, to show their youth. Selfies can show you in a special place — here I am, on Machu Picchu! At the Parthenon! In a little boat in the middle of the Mekong River Delta! Here I am with my daughter, my granddaughter, one of my grandsons, my friend.

And sometimes I think people take them for the same reason I do, which is to try to see themselves clearly. To snap a picture and then gaze at it, ah, that’s me. That is my nose, that is my smile. Taking selfies has helped me learn how to see myself. I look closely at all of them, the awkward ones, the ugly ones, the mid-grimace ones, the lovely ones, looking for myself. It’s a digital effort to build my own database of myself. I have a folder on my laptop full of them, and I keep trying to remember to delete them all in case I die unexpectedly and my kids find them and think I was surely narcissistically self-centered. For some reason it’s easier to see a photograph than to see in the mirror, where I move and live and my face morphs. I too easily get distracted by my thoughts in a way that I don’t, with a picture.

When I started sharing them a couple of years ago, people’s comments and responses were extremely difficult to take. They made me uncomfortable, and I wondered if people thought I was fishing for compliments. If they had been inside my head they would have known the truth of my humiliation, and the courage it took to share them. I’d thank them, and for a very long time I thought they were just lying out of kindness. And then, about a year later, I started to think it wasn’t that they were lying, but that their vision of me had everything to do with them and their generous hearts, and little to do with me. So I thanked them for seeing me with such grace and love. 

January 1, 2017, in my 58 years of glory

When I share one now, and someone leaves a generous compliment, my gratitude is very different. I see a bit of what they see. And best of all, I can’t see what my mother saw, no matter how hard I try. I see an aging woman with a kind face (usually), with a nice smile and a generally attractive appearance. I usually like my hair (especially that glorious white streak that frames my face, how I love that!). I’ve come to like my nose well enough. I see echoes of my father and his mother, both of whom I was always told I resembled. Actually, I was told I looked JUST like them, and in fact I have their hands exactly, although my hands have never been violent.

OK. That’s me. I see.

I guess this post is just an alternative way for you to think about seeing people’s selfies — and especially if it’s a somewhat older woman sharing them. Maybe it’s not at all about showing off, or hoping for compliments, or about narcissism. Maybe she is just trying to see. Be kind. Help her.

excavations

What a remarkable and original mind

This morning I listened to Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with Raoul Peck, director of the truly marvelous documentary I Am Not Your Negro I wrote about this a couple of posts ago, and continue to recommend that every person go see it. Raoul Peck is a very interesting man with his own fascinating history, and his interview gave me additional insights into James Baldwin, and also gave me another chance to hear Baldwin speak, since the interview included a bit of Gross’s interview with Baldwin in 1987. It’s astonishing to listen to someone with an original mind, it’s like breathing the freshest air (no pun intended there, really) after being in a stale, enclosed room of ordinary objects. Here’s the interview to make it easy for you to listen:

Baldwin had to leave America to learn who he was outside of the labels that were attached to him from birth, and the way he talked about that in the older interview, that he had to learn who he was, not what he was, gave me a new perspective. He was a genius at that; when he lived in Paris, and saw the photograph of Dorothy Counts walking to school, integrating the school in North Carolina, his thought was shame and anger — we should have been there with her, he thought. She should not have had to do that alone. That’s not what I think when I look at it, and in part that’s because I’m white and feel the shame of those reactions and unimaginable awe at her ability to be so composed.

She held her head so high, Dorothy Counts.

Raoul Peck said that no one thought Baldwin’s thought when they saw the picture, and that was his gift, his ability to see what others don’t see even though it’s right there, obvious when he says what had not been obvious before. He had such clarity and sight and then an extraordinary gift to convey it with eloquence and unflinching, direct power.

Peck was born in Haiti, and lived in the Congo, and then all over the world. His experiences as a kid with dictators and the cruelty of power gave him an insatiable need to fight against abuse of authority. He said he simply cannot accept it. That struck me, because whether one can or cannot accept it, authority will continue to be abused and so this sets you up to be tilting at windmills, fighting an endless battle. And it struck me because I have my own version of it, as I’ve learned lately.

My friend Nancy often says to me, “I’m glad I’m not burdened with empathy the way you are.” Not just because she happily voted for Trump, but she keeps telling me to just let things be, not to be so absorbed by the protesting and the despair I feel, I have my own work I need to be doing and I should just do that and let the world be. I keep trying to explain to her that I cannot do that. I would like to! I would. I’d like to let it be, whether because I trust that others will protest and march and fight, or whether because I just allow that the world will ebb and flow and things will go as they will and it’s beyond my personal ability to change it anyway. But I can’t. Probably because of my own experiences in childhood, I just cannot accept abuse of authority. I cannot accept basic human rights being stripped away from human beings. I just cannot. It’s not a choice, it’s not even a value, it’s much more fundamental than that. It’s not even about my empathy, which I do have in deep stores. This is who I have always been, and because the fight was never so stark, my experience of it was never so strong.

Recently a varied number of people have told me that they think I am very brave, or fierce, and it always surprises me because I think those things include some aspect of choice and I’m not at all choosing my response. It isn’t even a response, really. But I am learning more about who I am, underneath the labels and descriptions. Even underneath my own labels and descriptions, I guess. It can take a long time to see a pattern; for the longest time, it’s just a number of data points. On a nice piece of empty graph paper with that neat and axis, when you are learning geometry, it’s easy to see that two points determine a line. But in the messy noise of living a life, with labels and confusion and conflict (even/especially inside yourself), that line can take a long time to see. As awful as it is, what is happening to my country, it has snapped my understanding into sharp relief: THIS IS WHO I AM. This is always who I have been, always. From rescuing pillbugs, to being bewildered that my best friend couldn’t come to my birthday party just because she was black, to my undisciplined thrashing in response to unfairness of all kinds, it’s always been this. It’s a line, from my feet through my core to my mind, and it just is.

In the most perfect world, each person in this world would be focused the most on being exactly who they are — to seeing the world as they see it, to flowering themselves out into the world. To singing their songs, saying their poems, engineering their creations, fighting the injustices they see that others don’t — and we would all do our best to encourage each other in that. I certainly didn’t have that, and I think when I was raising my kids, I was more focused on keeping them alive and on the path toward education and making “good” choices for themselves instead of listening to them and helping them flower. I can do that with my grandchildren of course, and I think my daughters will be better at that than I was. For me, at age 58, I continue to excavate, to shine lights in the corners, and to see who I am so I can flower outwards. And I add James Baldwin to my own pantheon (which includes Mister Rogers, Hillary Clinton, and John Lewis) for models for how to be a person in this world. I have an impulse to say that I’m changing right now, it feels that way, but I think a better way to say it is that layers are falling away that have hidden me from myself — and maybe they didn’t hide me from you, maybe you saw through them.

Be you. Let me see you. I want to see exactly who you are, I really do. I am feeling cheated by the world. I feel cheated by the oppressive white culture that hides so much from me. I feel cheated by the labels and boxes we are defined by whether they fit or not. Please be you, it’s the most important thing you can do, and it’s probably true that you will have to figure out what that means, first. xoxxo

three things: mirrors, growing, and zen

FEED: When my little family and I lived in New Britain, CT almost 30 years ago, in what was clearly the ghetto part of that otherwise-rich place, I got a chance to get away for a bit. We had three tiny kids at the time, all under the age of 5, and we were planning to move to Virginia. My then-husband had already been there scouting places to rent, and he suggested that I go, that he would stay with our kids.

even after driving over that bridge hundreds of times, the view of Manhattan never fails to take my breath away

This was such a glorious thing—just me, after such terrible hardship, a solo road trip (and I adore road trips). And not only that, I would drive through New York City for the first time in my life. I left around 4am, I think, and as I came down through the scary (to me then, and in the dark) Bronx and went over the beautiful George Washington Bridge, with all of Manhattan spreading out to my left, this song came on the radio.

It was popular at the time and I really loved it, and I think it probably came on the radio a dozen times on the 6.5-hour drive, or at least it felt that way. So even now, when I hear the song I just get filled with the same soaring sense of freedom, and the lyrics poke at me too. If you wanna make the world a better place, you’ve got to look at yourself and make a change. Lots to think about there. But at the moment I am just being fed by the beat and urgency of the song, and by the memories it holds for me.

SEED: Over the last couple of very easy years of my life, I’ve often written about feeling the complacency of it, and about wanting to use that easy time to challenge myself, to get out of my comfort zone, maybe to learn something new.

Well. Then the presidential campaign came along and all that ease went away, and now the fact that he’s in office and trying to destroy everything — no more complacency here, or anywhere else. As it all started unfolding, I often felt so many levels of terrible, including some inner levels, some frustration and personal hopelessness: I don’t know what to do! I don’t know how to do anything about any of this! I’m not an organizer! I don’t know anything about lobbying, I don’t know how to do any of this! I don’t know how the details of the government work! How can I / what do I / where do I / I can’t!

At one of the marches a speaker said something about this, that it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to do, learn how to do it. It’s all learnable. Dig in, investigate, read, ask, poke around, assume roles, make things happen! I had to keep reminding myself of that because it’s not my instinct at all. Hell, after I had already made a sophisticated quilt by hand I thought I didn’t know how to quilt so I took a beginner’s quilting class. THAT IS SO ME.

It has been very frustrating, having all those feelings going on at the same time the frustration and fears about what was happening in the government were so overwhelming. It was just too much, too many sources of fear and upset, and yet there was nothing to do but keep flailing in the muck.

Yesterday I realized that I’ve learned a lot. I have really gotten somewhere with how to do these things. It’s less confusing, it’s less impossible-feeling. I have yet to organize a march, and still wouldn’t even know how to begin, but I do now know that I could figure it out. My understanding of things has become more sophisticated. I’ve paid attention somehow, in the midst of all the overwhelm.

And so this terribleness was also an opportunity, as terribleness usually is. And I guess the other thing about terribleness opportunities is that no matter how many times you go through that process, the terribleness feels so terrible that you can’t remember the opportunity part. That’s true for me, anyway. I’m by no means anywhere with it except to say that I’ve noticed the opportunity of it now. There is a very real ALIVENESS to being confused, to doing something new, to having to figure out a new language and new modes and slowly seeing that you have changed as a result.

READ: My friend George gave me a daily Zen calendar for Christmas — the only Christmas gift I received, actually — and as I pulled off all the days’ pages that passed while I was in NYC, two caught my attention:

“Nothing is more real than nothing.” ~Samuel Beckett

“Just try to feel your own weight, in your own seat, in your own feet. Okay? So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now. Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere.” ~Bill Murray

That Beckett is so Beckett, right? It’s the kind of thing you can say to yourself and then pause to see what it means and then just get kind of lost. Is nothing real? Is there a realness to nothing? AAARGH! And I don’t know if the second quote is by that Bill Murray, but doesn’t it just give you a sense of calm?

I’m off to babysit wee Lucy this morning, so my day is off to a great start, and I hope you have something wonderful in your day too. xoxox

my own pink cardigan

My mother was the black hole of maternal care. We kids made our own dinner (“fix-your-own,” which meant cereal every single night…which, to be honest, we didn’t mind); we made our own school lunches even when we were too little to do that, using whatever we could find (bits of old food wrapped in aluminum foil and gathered in an empty plastic bread bag); and we were on our own if we were sick (and woe be on to us if we were sick enough to warrant a visit to the doctor, because we’d better be really sick or we had just wasted her time and money and there would be a price to pay).

One of my painful childhood memories happened when I was in second grade, at lunch. I was sitting in the cafeteria eating my miserable little lunch, and an outcast already because I had the wrong kind of lunch, when I noticed a girl from my class sitting at a nearby table. Her lunch, as always, was in the proper brown bag, and her sandwich was wrapped in plastic, not foil. She had an apple and a cookie — all A+ according to the code of normal. But that day she also had a thermos filled with hot soup, and she was wearing a new pink cardigan.

I turned to my friend, the other outcast, and said, “Hey, Pamela, why does Jennifer have that thermos today?”

“She’s been sick,” scabby Pamela said, “so her mom made her some soup and got her a new sweater.”

I was instantly sick with envy. What makes her so special, I thought with such bitterness it hurt me. What makes HER so special. I just wanted to die, I really did, and even writing this post has filled my eyes with tears.

It was really all wrapped up in that pink cardigan. It felt to me like the loudest emblem of love and care — a new, soft bit of pinkness wrapped around the girl, keeping her warm and loved, reminding her of her mother’s care. And who had hot soup?! No one. No one but Jennifer, that day, food to help her feel better and get well. The cardigan made me imagine that while Jennifer was sick at home, her mother had tucked a blanket around her, stroked her head, fed her.

I used to recall this memory once in a while and the envy still felt present, but mercifully the bitterness faded a long time ago. This morning I recalled it again, unbidden, when I realized that I had metaphorically wrapped my own pink cardigan around myself. That same tender care, that same love, that same desire to comfort and tend, I figured it out. I’ve got this covered.

rumbles

Tectonic plates shifting, that’s the image I keep getting as I think quietly about this change I feel — a change you aren’t aware of, but you are if you come back here to see if I’ve posted and then see that I haven’t. For people with my particular struggle, going dark like this might mean depression is lurking around in the dark corners, but this has nothing whatever to do with depression. And thank heavens for that. I mean it, I’m so grateful not to be depressed.

Instead, I’ve been going through a tremendous shift that has very much to do with telling on/about myself. It has mattered to me a lot to tell my own story, which I’ve done relentlessly for more than a decade, now; I can’t remember exactly when I started blogging, but it was in the LiveJournal days….oh, wow. Anything you want, and everything you’ve ever done, can be found online, and I just found mine. I started my LiveJournal on March 3, 2004 (here’s my profile, wow, that’s amazing, and my posts here). No need to look at the posts, because they cover the same major themes and topics back then that I still write about. My kids and I all started them at the same time, because the girls were off in college and we figured it was a way we could easily keep up with each others’ lives, and then when we spoke on the phone we could talk about the big stuff, with the little stuff already shared and covered.

Writing like this stuck with me, and I moved away from LiveJournal to a blog called Out of a Stormy Sleep, which I then transitioned over to Thrums, and had to hide that one because of the creepy stalker who sued me, so I came here, to my pillbug palace. I’ve said everything I have to say, over and over and over and over and over.

But that isn’t why I’ve been quiet — because God knows, the mere fact that I’ve already said something several times didn’t stop me any of those instances, right? I’ll say it again. Instead, I’m having a big shift to wanting to hold my own thoughts and experiences for myself, and to share them in a different way, a closer way, a more personal way.

This change also goes along with another shift involving other people. I kind of atomize myself and spray outwards, falling on anyone who will accept my presence. I have a lot of friends in Austin, and that’s great, but it feels unwieldy, it feels like I can’t keep up, and because I’m gone so much, the connections remain relatively shallow. My “book club” has disintegrated because really, almost none of them wanted to read books, and absolutely not the books I want to read. Without that central pole of “book club” holding us together, I think we’ve drifted apart into our friend-pairs and that’s a change — but one that goes with this deeper change I’m feeling, too.

As autumn approaches, a time that feels more focused and ‘serious,’ the mindful focus I’ve been working on the last couple of years turns toward my social connections, and by extension, toward the way I share myself. I do want a book club, but this time I will create one from a thoughtful place instead of “hey I want a book club, everyone in the pool who wants in!” And to be fair, when I first moved to Austin and had to create a world from scratch, and didn’t know anyone other than my kids, I did the best I could — and my poetry group worked out beautifully.

And so I will be letting a bunch of acquaintances continue to drift away in their own streams and I’ll dig my own stream a bit deeper. I’ll share myself more discriminantly, not with groups (with one exception), but instead with a few very good friends and thus deepen those relationships. That just sounds so good, and less frantic.

I’m not sure what it means for this blog. I’m certainly not shutting it down, and I’m not making any claims for what I will and won’t be doing with it. I’m also feeling kind of social-media-fractured, between Instagram where I love sharing photos, and Facebook where I love sharing funny or moving things, or recommendations, and Goodreads, where I loving keeping notes on books I read. And in all those cases, I really enjoy friends’ photos, and friends’ posts.

Mostly, I’m leaving this post here by way of explanation. I’m still here and will still be here, I’m just shifting things around and trying to figure things out. Some of my friends are so far away I only share my life and keep up with theirs in this online way, and to lose these forms would be to lose those connections…..and that feels like a loss I want to avoid.

Anyway. Still here, still changing, still figuring it all out. xoxo

on the misnomer of “mentally ill”

meBefore I say anything else, I’ll claim it: I deal with mental illness. I’m not embarrassed by that, or ashamed of it, and I don’t think it means I’m weak, or broken, or less-than anyone in the world. This simply is, in the same way that I am tall, I have blue eyes, and my smile is gummy. All that simply is. (That doesn’t mean I’ve always been accepting of and happy about those things, except the blue eyes, but they’re all true whether I am happy and accepting of them or not. They simply are true of me.)

But I do very much take issue with two things: the idea that this relates to weakness or brokenness, and the terminology. I assume this was first termed “mental” illness to contrast it with “physical” illness — as if those are discrete, non-overlapping islands of experience — but my own experience, and the experiences of others I know, relate more to a framing as an emotional or psychological illness. I’m not sure what bugs me so much about framing all these struggles as mental illness, exactly, but I do think it’s the apparent separation from physical, which is mystifying, and also that it just drifts too far away from the experience, which then means people are on the wrong track when they try to understand others.

If I told you I suffer with an emotional illness, what would you ask me? Are you sad? Are you anxious? Are you scared? Do you feel despair? Do you feel like it’s too hard? Those questions get right at the nub of it, don’t they? Yes, when my depression is with me again, I am sad, and scared, and I feel despair, and like it’s too hard. When I answer those questions you understand something about me. I could also tell you that my brain chemicals are wacky, but what do you do with that, exactly? That’s a potential treatment approach that a doctor might help me with, but it doesn’t tell anyone anything.

And then there are other kinds of emotional/psychological illness, some of which I also deal with but have learned to keep closer to my chest because they are too frequently misunderstood. I’m not being cagey about them, and again I don’t think they mean I am broken or weak or less-than anyone, but they require more careful language and much more careful listening (and frankly, it’s the more-careful listening that’s the biggest problem). I’m talking here about different kinds of psychosis, for example, some of which are transient, some of which are nevertheless understood by the person in the midst of the experience, and some of which are devastating and debilitating, like the real tragedy of schizophrenia. People are starting to talk more openly about psychosis, and if you don’t know her already, Elyn Saks is an extraordinary woman with schizophrenia that roared forward while she was a student at Yale. Her memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, is exceptionally good at letting you see that illness from the inside, and her TED talk will leave you amazed. I saw her speak in NYC and with the rest of the audience, listened with my mouth open, in amazement.

But even more than my wish that these experiences were called “emotional illness” instead of “mental illnesses,” I wish they were conceptualized differently. They do not mean that we are broken. They do not mean that we are weak. They certainly don’t mean we are less than anyone else who does not have these experiences. Having these experiences simply means that we have these struggles, these painful experiences, these difficulties to deal with. Maybe they become so debilitating that it’s hard to keep a job, but much more often they simply mean that we suffer, and we too often feel all alone with that suffering. I hate that. I won’t draw the kinds of parallels that people usually draw with a physical illness (most often to diabetes or cancer, both of which people are also blamed for, at times….), but I will say that the suffering is real. If you know that someone you love is suffering and you dismiss it, well, you might want to examine that a little bit.

I do suffer. Partly I suffer even without emotional illness because I feel everything so intensely, and because I truly think that to live my life the best way I possibly can, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m not here just to deeply experience the “happy” bits, and to shunt off all the rest as quickly as I can. I’m definitely not here to take the position that well, that doesn’t serve me so I won’t feel it. I think it all serves us, and deepens us, and allows us to grow and learn more about who we are. And so I suffer when my experience is painful. AND I suffer quite terribly from periodic and chronic depression, and sometimes from suicidality. AND I suffer from PTSD, which also includes some strange experiences I’ll write about one of these days. And you know what? Not only do I reject anyone’s notion that therefore I’m weak, I instead say (with a bit of a fuck-you attitude) that actually, I’m stronger than most people I know. I’m strong enough to go there. I’m strong enough to come back. I’m strong enough to stand there and look at it in the face. I’m strong enough to go from here to there:

Yep. Strong enough to go from there to there and back again, strong enough to endure and get richer, and sometimes just strong enough to survive it. Strong enough not to be broken by the pain and sorrow and struggle. It’s the opposite of weak to sit inside that suffering, man, and anyone who has ever been there will give a very loud AMEN to that.

Can I get an amen on that up in here?
Can I get an AMEN on that up in here?

mystical mysteries

Have you had something you might call a mystical experience? Something you’re shy to tell people, and when you do, you have to wave your hands a bit and you couch the story in all kinds of hedges and disclaimers — you’re not a this, it’s not like that — and maybe you don’t even have a framework to explain it. And of course you don’t tell everyone about it, you pick and choose very very carefully.

I’ve had three of those, at least. The most beautiful one happened last summer, mid-July, and I wrote about it here. I just re-read the post and I think it’s lovely, and captures the wonder pretty well.

like this
like this

The one before that happened in New York City, and I’ve mentioned it before. I was crossing a side street and  suddenly everything shifted and I saw time. It was like each person left contrails behind them, or something. I stopped in the middle of the street and just looked around, it was all there behind each person as they walked past me, as they moved down Broadway. My memory is that the air became very still and I didn’t hear anything, but I’m not entirely sure any more. But I do remember standing there for what felt like two or three minutes, seeing time. Wild, and how do you explain that?

But the most important mystical experience I ever had, by FAR, happened in a Quaker meeting in Alexandria, Virginia. I made a glancing reference at this experience a time or two here, but the other day Nancy and I were talking about the power of mystical experiences in our lives and this was certainly a potent one for me.

That was such a special place. The Alexandria Friends Meetinghouse, Woodlawn, is at Fort Belvoir, a proximity that always struck me as funny. Peace right up next to military, how appropriate. The meeting was founded in 1848, and the house stood during the Civil War. (The history of the house can be found here — here’s an excerpt: “On July 21, 1861, Confederate and Union armies clashed at the Battle of Bull Run in nearby Manassas, Virginia. Sounds of the battle punctuated the silence of meeting at Woodlawn, prompting Chalkley Gillingham to write in his journal, “This was the celebrated battle day at Bull Run and the first day of the week. All day at our place we heard the roar of the cannon distinctly. While we sat in Meeting, we heard the noise of war and the roar of battle…..”” Can you imagine?)

The meeting house
The meeting house
the sunny, warm inside
the sunny, warm inside

It was so special, it really was. The Quakers who attended that meeting were warm, generous, funny, and serious people. The thing I loved most about them was that their religious beliefs weren’t in their mouths (and not just because they gather for silent worship) — they were visible in the actions of their lives. They didn’t just put them on when it was time to go to the meeting, and then put them away until the next meeting. They lived their beliefs. It was the only church I’ve ever been part of that felt real and true. I guess it’s appropriate that my most powerful mystical/spiritual experience happened there.

For years I’d been trying to forgive my stepfather. Trying real hard. Bearing-down hard, grunting hard, working at it. Getting nowhere. Writing about it, praying about it, clenching my fists, opening my hands. Getting nowhere. And then one Sunday I was sitting in that room, the one in the picture above. The room settled into silence, and I sat in the gathered silence with everyone, each of us waiting to hear God. There was a huge beam of sunlight, I remember gazing at it, and sitting with no expectation, just waiting. And then I felt a hard SMACK on the back of my head, like someone had slapped me with an open hand, at full strength. My hand flew to the back of my head in shock, and I turned around to see who would’ve done that to me. Quakers are pacifists!

There was no one sitting behind me.

I turned back around, my hand still on the back of my head, and as I struggled to make any sense of what had happened, I suddenly felt a sensation of warm, thick water flowing down all over me, from the top of my head. It was like an egg had been cracked on my head or something, that kind of sensation, but it just kept flowing. And I’m not kidding, I felt all that hurt wash out of me. It just all washed away, and it was simply gone. I think my hand was still on the back of my head.

All that pain, all that struggle to forgive, all the trauma, simply gone. I never talk about him and everything he did, because it’s all gone from me. It washed away in that Quaker meeting. I don’t have the religious language to talk about it, I don’t have a framework that explains it, I’ll fumble and say something like God met me there and took me where I was trying so hard to go, but that sounds false to me because I don’t talk like that, I don’t have that kind of belief structure. But I believe it anyway, even though I don’t have a supporting framework for it.

When the meeting ended, I remember standing up and looking at everyone and wondering if they could see how different I was. I went to the potluck afterwards and wondered how I looked, surely they could all see! But no one seemed to spot what felt like an extraordinary shift. I imagined that my eyes looked different, all filled with light. When I gathered my kids and we drove home, an hour away, I sat in the car filled with wonder and couldn’t tell anyone what had happened because I didn’t know how.

I still don’t, really, even though I just did. What happened to me? I know it by its effect: I forgave. I feel shy putting that first-person pronoun there, so squarely at the beginning. “I” forgave? What was the “I” doing the forgiving? Or maybe forgiveness was given to me? That feels truer, but pale compared to what the experience and consequences have been. If you knew me before, and knew how truly devastating that poison was, how terrible the weight of what I had to forgive, you’d be in as much awe as I continue to be in. That happened in 1989 and I’ve never felt even a featherweight touch of any of that old stuff.

As the years pass, and now the decades, the power of that experience is every bit as fresh. The mysterious wonder of the absolute GONE-ness of all that pain, as completely awe-inspiring 27 years later. I’ve never gotten used to it as just a thing. My shyness to tell the story has nothing to do with what happened, at all — it’s not a question of whether I’ll be believed (totally irrelevant to me), it’s just hard to tell a story when the center of it is mystery.

Have you had a mystical or spiritual experience that had this kind of long-lasting power? I’d love to hear about it, though I doubt you’d want to share it in a public blog comment. But if we know each other and you feel like sharing, just know that I’ve had my own experience and I am open and filled with wonder.

xoxoxox

bringing it back

FOR ME, the best thing about meditation is the direction provided to new meditators: Just bring it back. Notice your mind is wandering? Just bring it back to your breath. Notice you’re lost in thought or emotion? Just bring it back.

I love that because it says “all is not lost!” I love that because it makes clear that ‘bringing it back’ IS the work, that ‘bringing it back’ must be said because mind-wandering is the most common thing. If not, they wouldn’t need to say that . . . and so you aren’t doing it wrong when your mind wanders, that’s exactly what minds do.

treeAnd for me, the very best thing about that saying is the application of it to life off the mat, which is where you spend almost all your life, right? It’s about recognizing that balance is not a steady state, it’s not the absence of stillness, it’s the effort of finding stillness. Standing in tree pose, the movements in your standing foot are the pose, they are the small adjustments you make to stay in balance. Tree pose is the adjustments, not some never-attained complete absence of need for adjustment.

And gosh, this is so helpful for me as I work to right the caboose and seek the balance I’ve temporarily lost. All I have to do is bring it back. That’s all. It doesn’t matter where I am, or how far I’ve slipped away from balance, all that matters is that I bring it back. That’s all.

And so I am back to the following, with compassion:

  • When I wake up, I drink 24 ounces of water and lie in bed thinking what I want from my day in human terms, not in “to-do-list” terms. What I want today is to be good to myself. What I want today is to eat well. What I want today is to be present with Nancy when I see her in an hour, to enter that space with her of trying to see and hear her, and share myself.
  • I plan good food for myself — my wonderful, delicious green smoothie for breakfast. An apple and almonds for lunch. A yummy dinner of the most colorful vegetables I have, with an egg or tofu. Plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Yoga before I go to bed, a nourishing yin class since my afternoon and early evening will be spent helping Katie with Oliver while she prepares for their week away. Being truly there with Oliver, and with my daughter.
  • Gentleness with myself about my many worries.

That’s it, I can do that today. I can just bring myself back to this kind of care. I can just bring my life back into balance, even if I’m in a different place than I was before I lost my balance. Even if I don’t have the upper body strength and degree of endurance I had on the mat . . . just bring the practice back. Even if my clothes don’t fit as comfortably. Even if I have to sit with some of the cravings I have after eating so badly in NY. Just bring it back, that’s all. Just today, which of course is the only time I can do this.

And I have to say that it helps SO MUCH to have encouragement and support from friends. I asked a group of friends to help me, and I am so grateful for their words and energy. All is not lost. I’m grateful to have lived long enough to have learned that! For most of my years I’d throw up my hands and think ah well, it’s all ruined now and that would be that. I’m glad to have learned differently.

I think this is so important, because I do not think my redirected life has failed! For two years I’ve been stable in my body and self-care, and recently I haven’t. And? So? That’s life as a human being, and boy am I a human being. xoxoxox

strange (for me) stability

stabilityOn June 27, 2014, I started something new. What I really mean is that once again, I decided to do something new — even though it was the same old “new” thing I’d been trying to do my whole adult life: lose weight. I always accompanied that with the little thought and keep it off, but I never even put that into my decision as a real thing because I didn’t think it was possible. Because this has been my life-long M.O.:

  • Lose 50 pounds by starving myself
  • Several weeks later, “slip” and decide what the hell I’ve ruined it now.
  • Gain 50 pounds because I don’t know how to lose 5 or 10, but I sure know how to lose 50!
  • A couple of years (or more) later, repeat.

When I took yet another stab at it in the summer of 2014, I had a different mindset. I had a longer view; I was thinking about what I wanted my life to be in this next stage, so it was a whole-cloth, decades-long (hopefully!) view. I wanted to take excellent care of myself because I do want a decades-long stage, and I’m 57. I wanted to feel differently inside, and that was the umbrella over everything else. Strangely, I didn’t decide to start “on Monday,” or “at the beginning of the month,” I decided to start right at that moment, 4pm on a Wednesday, I think. I’d already been eating mostly vegetarian, by which I mean completely vegetarian when it’s my cooking, and doing the very best I can when others cook for me.

Because of who I am, I needed to monitor my “gains” (which means my losses), so I weighed every single morning. My day drifted into a rhythm: green smoothie for breakfast, nuts and fruit mid-day, an hour of yoga at 4, a beautiful dinner made for myself, an hour-long walk after dinner, and meditation before bed (and work in all those long spaces in between). I liked it! A lot! It was easy and it fit me. And the weight fell off, which surprised me.

But really, my biggest fear and concern came then, when I lost the weight. Losing weight, know how to do that, check. Keeping it off, complete mystery. And then my friend Megan said, “Decide you can do it! You can.” As silly as it may sound, that was transformative. Something shifted.

I’ve weighed myself every morning I could ever since, and that slight monitoring feels important. The coolest thing is that there were times I gained weight! During my month in Chicago, I gained 10 pounds; no surprise, given the kind of cooking and baking I was doing, and IPAs I drank. But the big surprise is that I shrugged, meh, who cares — because I enjoyed my time eating with the kids, and it felt like comfort and care. And I knew that I’d just get it off and get back to myself. When we travel to Southeast Asia, I want to enjoy the foods we eat and not be worrying, so when we return I always have a few pounds to lose so I can get back to myself.

Get back to myself. It’s just become “myself” now. There are times I can’t do yoga for a variety of reasons and I really miss it, so when I can do it again, it’s a sigh of return. Aah, back to myself. The weight slips away and I feel myself again. It’s a version of myself that never existed, a dreamed-of, elusive version, and now it’s just ME. And the best part is that I feel present in my life in a way I didn’t before, which brings the stillness I wanted.

How? Why? Truly, I think these are elements:

  1. I started immediately instead of waiting, even for the next day. Kinda caught me off guard! Oh, I’m already in it! One thing about that, I think, is that I’d already “blown” the early part of the day, surely, eating more or differently, which helped me think about those experiences differently.
  2. My perspective — the rest of my life was the whole point, instead of right now.
  3. A whole-life approach instead of just diet and exercise. And in fact, not even approaching it as “diet and exercise” but instead mindful eating that made me happy, and moving my body in ways that feel so good. I wanted to be calmer inside. Still inside. I saw all the changes I made as contributing to that goal, because that was my real, centering goal.
  4. Daily monitoring. For me, I really believe that’s important. It doesn’t come with inner nastiness, or critique at all! And my weight fluctuates, too — not just the big fluctuation of Chicago, or the semi-big fluctuations of vacation (which are usually 5 pounds), but up 2 down 1, etc. It just gives me a general awareness. I also have a number in mind that is my outer limit of gain, and if I hit that, I am just a little more careful with my dinners until I drop below it. More vegetables.

I love the way you can keep surprising yourself, even at 57. Once in a while I realize, with deep surprise, that I’m wearing the same size I’ve been wearing for more than a year. I don’t care what that size is, although I’m happy with it, but I do like that it’s the same size. And the stillness inside me, the way I more easily address the world and myself — not always, but more often and more easily — surprises me too. I am able to be present much more often, now. All that also feels like me now.

Today I’m flying to NYC and then we’ll be off to China at the end of the week. I hope it’s a good Tuesday in your life! xoxoxoxoxoxo

contradictions

Time to snip the tiniest little bit from Leaves of Grass (go here to read it in full if you don’t own a copy, but I recommend you have your own copy — with you, always):

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Even though I love this poem, and this bit of it specifically, and even though I believe it as one of the truest things I know, I still struggle to remember it, because my multitudes frequently contradict each other and pull at me and my sense of identity: I’m this. I’m that. No wait, I’m this.

blue moonThe evening of the blue moon, I had an extraordinary experience and I’m not sure how to talk about it. I’m not even sure of the meaning yet, so I’m not ready to talk about that aspect either. But essentially it was a deeply spiritual experience, and it required me to be open to the world in a specific way that has sadly become uncomfortable to me since I entered my PhD program back in 2000. It was led by a friend of mine who has strong Native American Alaska Athabascan heritage, and it drew, I believe, on many of the rituals and songs of her culture. Her incredible use of her drum and rattles, and burning sage, and whooshing wind from a feather fan, and her amazingly strong voice singing and calling — all while our eyes were covered as we sat outside in the dark — was disorienting and deeply personal and moving.

As I drove home later, thinking about everything that had happened within me, I was trying to reconcile being a logical, rational person trained in the scientific method, and a spiritual person open to the larger world that goes far beyond that. I found myself thinking, “Oh, I’ll be that flowing spiritual person.” [silly] The funny thing is that I have no problem appreciating the flowing-together of science and spirituality. Richard Feynman said,

I have a friend who’s an artist…He’ll hold up a flower and say…”I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty…I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more…I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty… The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color…the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds.

I believe that! With all my heart! It’s my own very regular experience, even. I’m not sure why my default automatic response is to insist on either-or categories, when a moment’s reflection reminds me that there are so few absolutes I believe in that I can’t even think of one at the moment.

It’s funny how my mind moves out to the superficial when I encounter a conflict like this — kind of ‘presentation of self’ stuff. I’m pretty smart and thoughtful and love talking about big things, love extremely intelligent people, and feel most comfortable there. So when I came face to face with my openness to a more spiritual world, my superficial thoughts were about how to dress. Loose, flowy, specific jewelry and hair vs more tailored. Isn’t that silly? I think it’s just a top-level entry to bringing myself to thinking about how these different ways of approaching the world can live together in a deeper way. My kind of clothes with specific jewelry and hair. Rational and intelligent and scientifically minded and open and understanding Big Things that you come to through ritual and guides.

One clear thing that happened in that experience kind of cracked my heart, and I can talk about it. So very clearly I saw that I’m a tightly closed person, tense, scared. It surprised me (and it surprised me how true it is) because this is an area in which I have grown  so much. When I started therapy in New York back in 2005, my primary goal was to stop being a terrified person in the world. So when you are at, say, 0% of something, 50% looks amazingso dazzling you can hardly believe it. But it’s only 50%, it’s not time to stop. I have a lot of opening to do. I have a lot of guards to let down.

Perhaps my friends and loved ones would argue with me, no, you’re not closed, you’re open. But maybe they wouldn’t (except for Dixie of course, who loves me with soul-filled eyes and heart). Maybe they’re aware of my tightly guarded borders. Luckily I have people in my life who model the very parts of myself I’m struggling to become and remain open to. We’re all our own unique combination of bits, and contradictions, and so none of my models have the same amalgam of things I do, but that’s more than fine.

Thanks, beautiful blue moon, and thank you, my friend, and there’s nothing to wait for anymore. Time to do it.

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asking

needOnce again, I learn big lessons from my kids. My kids’ dad is . . . well, not very forthcoming. I’ll put it like that. His reaction to big news—the kind that most people would go on and on about—is, “Huh! That’s great, darlin!” and then that’s that. So Marnie has learned to kind of coach him along into giving her what she wants or needs. So, for example, if she has told him good news and he says that (as he reliably does), she says something like, “Oh dad, your excitement about this means so much to me!” and so he keeps going. I think that’s absolutely genius.  He’s a kind of person who digs in his heels with other approaches, but this one simply gets him to say more. She gets what she wants, very specifically, and he gets an opportunity to give his daughter more of what she wants, without it being a harangue or a demand. (Not that you shouldn’t be able to make demands, of course….)

Ever since she told me this, I’ve been thinking about this broader issue. One area I have a lot of growth to do is asking for help/accepting help. I can do it with my kids (I can do everything with my kids) but I can’t do it anywhere else in the world. I’m good about being open about a situation in which I need help, but beyond sharing my situation I become something of an island. I can’t ask, in the first place, but the harder thing is to accept help when it’s offered. It’s sad, and something I don’t like about myself.

But thinking about Marnie’s insightful approach, and the concept of coaching people to give me what I need, I have found an approach that I think even could pull off. The next time I need help, I think I can frame it to get the kind of help I need: Friends, I need advice. Friends, I need comfort. Friends, I need distraction. Friends, I need emotional support. Friends, I need someone to go here with me. Can any of you help? Having been on the other end when friends were in need of help, I know the deep desire to help, and the sometimes difficult task of knowing what would help. But advice, I could try to offer. Comfort, I can come give that. Distraction, no problem. Emotional support, you got it. I’ll go there with you. Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you need, of course, but I suspect that even just saying that — I’m having such a hard time and I don’t know what I need, but I’m feeling terrible/scared/heartbroken and need some help. Can any of you help?

The shame of my emotional block is that I am surrounded by such wonderful people. In addition to the group in the picture, my boon companions, I have an extraordinary friend who lives right next door! Bosom friends scattered around town. Reliably on-my-side friends in New York and Connecticut. And a posse of friends down under, whose emotional support is 100% count-on-able. They helped me through Gracie’s death in a way that still makes me marvel.

some of my dear friends in Austin -- and I know they'd help me, no questions asked
some of my dear friends in Austin — and I know they’d help me, no questions asked

As I was thinking about Marnie’s approach, I thought about something that happened just over a year ago. One dear friend’s husband got a cancer diagnosis, and my friend mobilized everyone she knew to help them through it in such an incredible way. One of their friends had in-depth knowledge of some aspect of the diagnosis. One had access to medical research databases. One knew about managing insurance. And on and on. She assembled a team of topic experts! Seeing her take that kind of problem-solving approach was a great gift to me and taught me so much. (But then she is always teaching me wonderful things.)

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating — we’ll see if I actually do it when the time comes. I think I will. And anyway, like Jeff told me in our early health coaching sessions, at some point you have to get off the couch and do something different. Time for me to get off the couch.

“be a person who”

Zoolander always makes me think of my son
Zoolander always makes me think of my son

I know this is a regular theme of mine, but it amazes me so much I keep finding my way to a surprised reflection on it: I hardly recognize myself.

  • I exercise every single day, at least once — yoga and/or walking and/or strength training.
  • I am a vegetarian (though when I’m in NYC and my husband cooks, it’s hard hard hard).
  • I have a tan. (The least important of these changes, but the most remarkable for eternally lily-white me. This is mostly due to my ease with my body, now, so my willingness to be outside in a bathing suit.) (Plus, I think the daily dose of sun has been great for my spirits.)
  • I start every day with a green smoothie, and now I also have a juicer.
  • I meditate regularly.
  • And then these two, which are in a different category but all of a piece with the whole:
    • I’m not motivated to hide my smarts any more.
    • I have more friends than I have time to be with, and a rich social life.

NONE of that was ever true for me, ever. Ever. Not once in my 56 years of life. In fact, the inverse of those things has been true. It’s so weird, and since I think a lot about change, I’m kind of fascinated by how it has happened — especially since it has stuck for an uninterrupted year, and the changes are expanding, and my very sense of myself has changed.

Jeff, my VERY sweet and deeply thoughtful health coach
Jeff, my VERY sweet and deeply thoughtful health coach

It’s easy to say that my food-related shifts are due to working with Jeff, my health coach, but he would insist — and I’d have to agree, now — that he facilitated something I was really ready to do. I’d become so overwhelmed and frustrated and anxious about everything having to do with food, I had no idea how to eat any more, and I was tired of yo-yoing. Up 50 lbs, down 50 lbs, repeat. Just so tired of that. And with eight little words from him, everything changed: You can eat ALL the fruits and vegetables. Of course it was more than that, it was having him to talk to about it, and even just deciding to pay someone to help me with it, but that eight-word sentence started a shift.

I think if I’d just “decided to become a vegetarian,” I might’ve done that for a while and then drifted back to unhealthy eating, my life-long M.O. But then, once that change was underway, I was a vegetarian who also started each day with a green smoothie. A person who bought a VitaMix. A person who stopped at JuiceLand for a treat, instead of the grocery store for a pint of ice cream. (Though on occasion it’s still a treat!) In talking with Jeff about health in general, I started moving more, I got off the couch. I finally listened to my own self — Lori, you love yoga, just do some damn yoga. And after a bit, I bought myself a very nice yoga mat and some blocks. And after a few weeks of using a free app on my phone for yoga routines, I signed up for YogaGlo, an inexpensive monthly subscription to hundreds of online classes. Well, by this time I was a person who ate all the fruits and vegetables, started the day with a green smoothie, did yoga, and then I started walking more regularly.

All those incremental shifts accumulated and settled into place, and became habit. I grew into a person who did those things. A person whose life held those habits. And when you’re a person with those habits, other habits make great sense and fall into place more easily. Now I’m also a person who owns a juicer! I’m about to become a person who bicycles, as soon as I find a bike. Now I’m a person who lives a healthy, conscious, engaged life.

And so I’m wondering about this construct, “being a person who….”. I wonder if change happens more deeply if we have a different view of ourselves as a person, so perhaps a kind of top-down shift. (Although my shift was definitely bottom-up, beginning with one tiny change that collected others in the neighborhood.) Maybe the issue is that once that top-down understanding has arrived, the rest is easy and the change is permanent. I no longer feel like I’m resisting my old self — a feeling I had for several months as I started making these small changes.

Maybe you want to be “a person who makes a difference in the world.” Maybe you want to be “a person whose life is creative.” Or “a person who draws people together for art/music/poetry.” I don’t know, I’m just brainstorming. But I wonder about this; would it be different if you signed up to volunteer somewhere as opposed to wanting to be “a person who makes a difference in the world” — and then perhaps signs up to volunteer somewhere? Maybe your own understanding of what you’re doing would matter, would help you persist through disappointment or frustration.

If you aren’t all that happy with the way you’re living your life — and let’s just say in this general domain, for the sake of discussion — what would it mean to you to be a person who lived a healthy life? It might look very different from my version. I wonder if starting with that question and then just plucking different elements to work with would be helpful? Hmmm. I think I’ll do that with myself on another topic, now that I think about it. So I think this becomes less about change, and more about growth.

I remember when I was staying at home with baby Katie, and one day as I was making the beds and planning to clean bathrooms, I thought, so this is my life, making beds and cleaning bathrooms — but immediately after that I realized no, my life is making a cozy home for my dear family. The big-picture view instead of the foot-level view.

Anyway. If you live in Austin and know someone who wants to sell a bike, I’m all ears.

becoming THAT person

rulesI am a rules follower. It’s one of my least favorite aspects of myself. Following rules probably saved my life as a kid, but it’s not required now and so it’s not serving me well to be so dedicated and insistent on following rules. I feel deeply uneasy when I don’t follow some rule, some social guideline, some authority. The problem is that it’s not just myself as a rules follower that matters; it’s that I hold it so deeply that I think everyone else should be following the rules too, all of them all the time.

There are so many times I dislike this about myself, but one of the strongest is when I am in some social setting, a public space like an airplane, or an airport waiting area. I’m in those places a lot, so this comes immediately to mind — especially since I recently had this experience. Or in the subway in NYC. For instance, there’s a kind of unspoken agreement that we don’t eat on the train, especially stinky food. It’s a shared space, it’s crowded, sometimes it’s very hot, and long after you leave, the smell remains behind. (And we’re already dealing with other kinds of smells, body odor and perfume and alcohol.) I get so furious when someone is sitting there with a big container of strong-smelling food, eating it like they’re just at home. Shared space! Shared space! (Even though usually it’s a smell I love, a strong curry or something!)

So when I’m sitting there and someone violates one of these rules, I start fuming. And the horrible voice in my mind starts ramping up, and it’s ugly. Who do you think you are! Oh, you’re too good to X. It’s so ugly. And then my expression gets hard, I can feel it. And I’ll cut my eyes at the “offender.”  This is one aspect of myself that I’m most ashamed of, one that I work on so often. The last time it happened, there was a bunch of young teenage girls sitting together waiting for the flight to board. They were being very loud and laughing and doing that excited squeal that young teenage girls can do. Otherwise, the waiting area was very quiet; it was a very early flight and the rest of us were reading or talking quietly to others.

The fuming started inside me. I lowered my shoulders, took a deep breath again and again. Looked at the girls, realized they were excited about their trip together, tried to find a place in myself that could connect with that — the thrill of being a very young person going on an exciting trip on an airplane. Breathed some more. Felt my face getting hard, tried to relax it. Allowed myself some self-compassion; I know this mean voice, I know its origin, I’ve been its lashing object since I was a little child. But then I started frowning at them. Breathed some more. And then they did a tremendously loud squeal together and my hard-frowning face turned towards them and I flashed a terrible look at them. They literally flinched.  I recoiled from myself.

harridanI became that woman. The harridan. The shrew. The one you move away from.  I do not want to be that woman. I want to be the one who smiles at the young girls, off on an adventure, having fun together. The one who thinks yum, that curry smells so good, I want some! I want this neurotic aspect of myself not to come out at others, definitely.

But I also want it not to come out toward myself! I want to color outside the lines. I want to make noise (well…..thoughtfully maybe). I want to be as exuberant as I feel. I want to feel looser about these rules — aware of them but not sadistic with myself about following them. I want not to be so sensible all the damn time. (“Yeah, but if everyone walked on the grass here it wouldn’t grow! That’s why the sign is there!”) Maybe I’d like to just that one time take my shoes off and walk on the damn grass.

This is an ongoing struggle, and like the hardest ones, it’s an inside job. Even if you’ve battled this kind of thing, your fix is unlikely to be mine, so I keep at it in the dark but I bring it into the light and try to look at it. I’ll keep working at Kurt Vonnegut’s beautiful advice:

“Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded…you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of…God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

on not being a monster

There is a psychological theory that says people sometimes incorporate another person into themselves — a kind of psychic possession. It goes far beyond just feeling merged or bonded with another person, it’s deeper and more all-encompassing than that. It’s probably a psychoanalytic theory, and I tend to be very dismissive of them, so my tendency would otherwise be to toss this one on the pyre, good riddance to bad rubbish.

But I can’t. For so so long, decades, I had incorporated my father into me. I was him, he was me. It probably began, as things sometimes do, with my being told over and over as a little kid, “You look just like your father, you disgust me, go to your room.” “You are exactly like him, that sorry son-of-a-bitch, get away from me.” Etc. And there were some ways we were alike; we shared a deep love of reading, and old movies, and an easy sentimentality that left us touched very deeply by the world. I wasn’t old enough then to parse the characteristics, to see that we only shared a few things, not everything. To see that while I may have looked a bit like him, and shared some preferences and a couple of small quirky behaviors and a soft heart, the ways we were different were much greater — and critically different.

So I took my mother’s words to heart and believed her . . . not my first mistake, but perhaps my worst. I grew to believe that I was a monster. That I was fully and literally a monster, and wore a very thin sheen of something else on top that fooled people. A very thin mask, just a couple of layers of skin cells thick, so thin that sometimes you could see through it if the light was right. Sometimes a glimmer of a monster expression would flit across my face, I felt, betraying what lay beneath. When I met Jerry back in 1978, as we were falling in love I warned him over and over: “I’m very bad, you’ll see, very bad, you should stay away.” He’d ask, “But Pete, what’s so bad?” I couldn’t articulate it, I could give no examples, it just was true. It was so true and pervasive and all-encompassing, all I could do was smile sadly for him, shake my head, and say, “You’ll see.”

When I felt all the rage inside me — and it was all justifiable — I was terrified by it, believed it was the monster, and if I let it out a tiny bit it would kill everyone around me. And so, like my father, I often shimmered with rage, but I held mine very tightly. Every time I felt it, I took that as proof of the truth: I am a monster.

I sincerely believed that the entire time I was raising my children. I felt such great relief seeing that they were not monsters, that they were not like me.

When she was a young teenager, Marnie and I read John Gardner’s Grendel aloud to each other, a time I remember with such joy. But when I first saw the cover of the book, my stomach dropped away. It was a painting of me.

grendel

It was exactly a painting of me, even the way the head was tipped up and rage was pouring out of the mouth. That lived inside me, that was me. I wore a pale skin suit over it, but that was me. How did that artist know me?

When I was in my very early 50s — so not very long ago at all — I finally exorcised him. The better way to say it, obviously, is that I finally realized I am not him. I made this image, in the final agonizing throes of that exorcism, to show how it felt:

haunted

That’s my own real shadow, and superimposed is a ghostly silhouette of a photo of him. I added a whip in his hand. I felt utterly haunted by him, and tormented. It was such a relief to finally be able to see the truth of who I was all along: not a monster, never a monster (among a lot of other wonderfuller things).

But what’s heartbreaking and true is that tiny little surprise pockets are still alive, tiny little landmines, and can ambush me. Yesterday I went swimming and wore my two-piece bathing suit. I walked tall, and I was happy to be there, and didn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. I was going to swim in the sun, feel the cold water on my tummy for the first time ever. It was going to feel wonderful. I spread out my towel in the sun, looked around at all the young moms with their little children splashing in the shallow end and the lap swimmers back-and-forthing at the far end, and as I started to take off my wrap, I was instantly paralyzed with the thought that the mothers would be horrified because I was scaring their children. That they would grab up their children and run away in fear.

It wasn’t that anyone would look at me and judge my body, my soft tummy a delta of silvered stretch marks. It’s that they would see me as a monster. Exposed.

My eyes filled with tears and I wrapped my arms around myself, rocked myself a little, felt sorry for that little hidden bit that is still afraid that’s true. That’s not true, honey, and it never was. You are wonderful. Come on, let’s go swimming. So I stood up, dropped my wrap, held my own hand and walked into the water with a great big smile. A little boy with blue, shivering lips walked past me in the chilly water and said, “It’s so cold!” and I laughed and said, “It is, but look up at the beautiful blue sky, and those amazing clouds.” He and I stopped and tipped our heads upward, and the only thing that came out of my mouth was a laugh.

full disclosure

My last posts have focused on the biggest part of my life — the way it’s so happy right now, the way I am so happy right now, and the fact that my life has been peaceful for almost a year and I am eating it right up — and that’s all true.

And just like every other person in the world, my life is complex, filled with sometimes-contradictory experiences and feelings. As I have said before, my own happiness is characterized by a range of different feelings and memories and tendencies, including the ability to hold sadness.  Marnie once said that I feel all the emotions every day and think hard about what they mean, and I think she’s right. (But not all every day, because that would be exhausting.)

dancing with Will at Katie's wedding, a moment I didn't want intruded upon
dancing with Will at Katie’s wedding, a moment I didn’t want intruded upon

Even in the midst of my happiness, sometimes I wake up already crying and missing my son, and I just cry throughout the day. Sometimes it goes on like that for a few days. I’ll be cleaning the kitchen and tears are just seeping out of my eyes. My heart aches, my chest literally hurts. Sunday was one of those days, and when I was driving up to Katie’s house to stay with Oliver while the kids celebrated their anniversary, I found myself wondering how much longer I can bear this pain . . . and feeling like I surely can’t bear it for much longer. I very sadly have a couple of dear friends who are grappling with their kids’ absence from their lives. We talk about this a lot, because it’s a big comfort to share this pain with someone who understands. All my friends are compassionate and kind and loving when I talk about it, but these two friends get it because we’re all members of a club we never dreamed we’d join. A club no one would ever want to be in. (But how wonderful to have that darling little Oliver to spend time with — balm for an aching heart, to be sure.)

So I didn’t write about that when it was happening; I kept it close to myself and wrote about my happiness, which is also true. “Secret” #2 is that I’m drawing, and feeling a story pulling at me that I am nowhere near skilled enough to illustrate. I won’t be showing you any of it because it’s just for me.

And “secret” #3 is that I have a big and wonderful thing in the background (it’s about me, it’s not secret news of a daughter’s pregnancy or anything like that), and I won’t be sharing that until the time is right.

whose heart wouldn't be nurtured by Oliver?
whose heart wouldn’t be nurtured by Oliver?

Three little things to keep to myself, kind of, and this marks another shift in my life. I’ve never really understood privacy where my own self is concerned. I definitely understand others’ privacy, and find it easy to hold others’ secrets — or even just their ordinary stuff, because it’s theirs and not mine. I always wanted to say whatever was true for me, after a childhood of lies. It was almost a philosophical mission of mine, a militant mission, to get to be the one who says who I am and what I’m thinking and doing. Of course, I do write about my son and his absence and how much I miss him, so that’s not private in the same way as the other two things; I just ride those waves of sorrow when they come and don’t write about them every time. That’s not about hiding them and presenting a false story (“Look how happy I am!”), but rather a tender holding of something so personal, a desire to take care of myself as best I can, and it happens in the context of my greater happiness. So within my deeply happy day taking care of my sweet little grandson, and being available to my darling daughter so she had the ability to go out alone with her husband, within that I was also crying and nursing my slashed heart. (That picture of Oliver cracks me up; he’d just gotten up from a nap (nap hair!) and was watching that Disney movie Cars. The hair, the focus, the little hand on his hip….. )

As I told Marnie yesterday, shame is a big enough reason to keep my drawings private — I’m grinning, and wish I could put that word in a smaller sized font — but not too long ago I would’ve shown them and made great fun of myself: look at how badly I draw! I’m glad I don’t want to do that now.

And the big and wonderful thing in the background, oh I look forward to telling you about that one. I know you will be happy for me. I could tell, there’s nothing stopping me, no requirement that I keep it quiet, but I am relishing holding onto it and waiting until it’s ready to tell.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and again, and again — for 56 more years, I hope — getting older is so magnificent. If you’re already magnificent at 30, that’s incredible and I’m so happy for you and can only close my eyes and try to imagine how amazing you’ll be in your 50s. Earlier this week my incredible friend Nancy and I were talking about aging, and I said, “There are two kinds of people — one kind who thinks there are two kinds of people……[joke]…..–one kind who becomes more and more certain the older they get, and another who becomes less and less certain.” I think that’s true, and I think becoming less certain about things allows new things to happen, new thoughts to emerge, and new ways of being to come forth. It’s not just about aching joints and failing memory; it’s about letting go of things that don’t fit any more. Maybe they never really did, and you just get old enough to finally notice.

Right on.

what you let go

doesn't seem so hard when you put it like that...
doesn’t seem so hard when you put it like that…

The other night I was taking a yin yoga class with Felicia Tomasko over at YogaGlo. I love so many things about her classes, and I especially love her yin classes. This one in particular was focused on detox, so lots of twists and long, long holds (languid, as she likes to describe them).

During one twist she said, “What you let go of is as important as what you take in.” She was specifically talking about breath, about exhaling, but it struck me as being very important in a much bigger way, and a way that is certainly relevant for me. You too, maybe.

As a person who has historically had an impossible time with conflict, especially with saying no, I don’t want that, I have found myself with an accumulation of relationships over the years — like we all do. During my childhood, when we moved every few weeks, I remember explicitly thinking that it didn’t matter about that person because we’d just be moving soon. And so I both learned that as a strategy, and simultaneously never had to learn how to stick with people and work things out. No need! Moving on, moving on, moving on.

Since the beginning of 2013, I’ve ended two friendships, the only two times in my life I’ve done that. Both relationships were toxic and quite bad for me, and in both cases I ended them completely, without equivocating. The two women involved made it very easy for me, and I’m grateful for that. I’ve never been able to end any relationship directly and so it was good that the need and reason were both so loud and clear.

And now, in the wake of the wide-ranging changes that have been happening with me over the past year, I find that I am listening to what people say in a different way. I am hearing them, hearing their actual words. I even kind of hear them in real-time, instead of a split second later which is how I used to hear them if I heard them at all. With a time lag, I’d realize what had just been said and my moment felt lost, the moment to say What? What did you just say to me?!

It’s not like this change is an easy one, necessarily, because it means I’m more likely to face a moment when I need to challenge what someone says, in that moment, and I’m not very skilled at that. (Plus, it’s scary. With only one very recent exception, most people lash out if you say something they don’t want to hear, turn the tables and blame the other. I need to remember my recent exception to this and let it hold weight.) And if I listen carefully to what people say to me, and there are enough instances of a certain kind, it may be that I need to let relationships go. There is only one current relationship I have that feels wobbly in this specific way, and I’m certainly not itching to throw gas on anything, or make a problem where none really exists, but I am hearing what she says.

It’s worth thinking about. What you let go of is just as important as what you take in. I don’t have trouble letting go of stuff; my life taught me all about that. I let go of place pretty easily, for better and for worse equally. The events of my life have taught me pretty loudly that nothing lasts forever, that it’s all, every last bit, going to change, transform, perhaps disappear in the way I have it. I haven’t yet faced a loss within myself that is grievous—all my limbs work painlessly, my senses all work, the most important organs are just pumping along without a problem, my mind works well enough—so dealing with the ordinary losses of aging have been easy to accept. Looking ahead to the losses I’m likely to face as a consequence of aging is a waste of now, and luckily now has become my favorite place to be.

Felicia’s comment about the importance of what you let go is surely about the things we choose to let go, like relationships that aren’t good, work that is crushing, habits that hurt. Since life feeds up a banquet of letting go of things we don’t want to let go of, perhaps the critical corollary is How you let of things is just as important as everything else.

You grieve. You acknowledge. You honor. Perhaps you find some kind of ritual. You understand the place of the loss in the scheme of things, yourself, your life, the world. You cherish and then you open your hands. You discover who you are without it, you discover who you are now, and you allow time for that to settle. In the perfect world, the one I hear about and only make the tiniest visits to, that’s how you let go of things. But it’s always worth the effort, I do believe, and the effort may take a very long time, a number of passes, some forwarding-and-backwarding. You understand that maybe it’s a process, not a one-time-only deal, a one-stop-shop.

Another lesson learned on the mat. xoxo

it’s true what they say

“Breathe, Lori!” My kids used to say this to me all the time (but with thicker-than-usual accents, breathe, Lo-ri!) because I would suddenly gasp and take a huge breath. My body did that; it wasn’t that I thought I should take a breath. I’d go a long time without taking even a shallow breath, and when I did breathe, it was the shallowest in-out-in-out of breaths, staying up at the very top of my lungs.  Periodically I’d feel seriously air-starved and I’d try to take a deep breath, but couldn’t. I wanted to breathe into my full lungs but couldn’t get ‘over the hump,’ as it felt.

breatheWhy was it so hard? I think most people don’t breathe well, but some of us really just don’t breathe. People who have PTSD, for instance, cannot breathe. When you live in fear, you take shallow breaths or hold your breath. (Here is a link about teaching soldiers back from military service how to breathe.) It goes with a whole physical experience: shoulders up next to your ears, holding your breath, body tensed and alert. That was my entire childhood, and it all just kind of stuck.

On top of the simple need to breathe and get oxygen into my body, it also left me with its own kind of sorrow and shame. I can’t even breathe right! What’s wrong with me! Please, just let me get a breath this time…  I never could reliably breathe well. I had starvation-level breathing, enough to keep me alive but not one molecule more.

When I started all this new stuff 10 months ago, I did think about my inability to breathe, and hoped it would help. I didn’t set out pointedly to learn how to breathe, but figured it went together with other things I was doing. (It still just boggles my mind that all this unfolded — and has stuck — because I started doing one thing at a time.) Being present (so not being trapped in the past), meditation (ditto), and yoga, all that surely might help me breathe.

And oh my goodness has it. I can breathe. I breathe all the time, full breaths. Lung-expanding breaths, which I never did, ever. Slow breaths, deep breaths.  And whenever I want, I can take full lungs of air. Whenever I want. Once in a blue moon I can’t get over that hump, but 99% of the time I can breathe fully whenever I want. I think it’s rare that I don’t breathe fully when I’m not thinking about it.

Every single time I notice it, every single time, I feel such wonder and gratitude. Gosh, I can breathe. Feel that, I can breathe! Ah, that delicious breath. I wonder if some day I’ll just get so used to it that I take it for granted. I think not, but it’s something we do. I don’t think most people even think about their breathing, but for those of us who do, it’s a huge wonder and gift.

Breathe, Lori.

ecstasy, then laundry

laundryThe post title is a straight-on reference to the title of a book by Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  I was thinking about this yesterday when I woke up, actually, and then as my challenging day unfolded it came front and center. I’ll start at the beginning.

I’ve been staying up too late the last several nights for a variety of reasons, and then sleeping a bit late each morning. It’s not my best rhythm, and when it’s combined with the incessantly gloomy skies we’ve had, it’s not my best head, either. So I woke up late and as I lay in bed doing my morning ritual, reflecting on what I wanted from the day ahead, I felt so flat, so uninspired. Even less than that. So I was thinking about this as a natural part of life: the exciting newness of a change is gone now, and the days are still the same kind of days. Of course. That’s one great thing about change at the beginning — at least the kind of change you seek out on purpose — it revitalizes you and disrupts the ordinariness. For a while, until it also becomes ordinary.

And while I am so very far from enlightenment, I do sit at the foothills of the trail that leads to the path that eventually takes you to the highway that ends up, eventually, at that bodhi tree. At least I have some new skills to help me deal with things. That’s enough.

So I finished my morning ritual, went into the kitchen to make my coffee — another very pleasurable ritual, that — and then turned on my computer, only to find that I had been pretty seriously hacked by someone in Germany. My browser was changed to google.de, and I had been locked out of all my email accounts. While I was in the midst of dealing with all that, which brought its own traumatic memories of our being hacked so horribly in NYC, a friend called with a personal crisis that was just close enough to one I’d had in my life that it rattled my bones. Like a 10 on the Richter scale level of rattling. When I hung up the phone with her, my whole body was shaking and I couldn’t stop pacing in circles. Marc called and I talked to him and broke down crying, remembering my own situation from 2005.

When we hung up, I knew what I needed to do. I changed into my yoga clothes and hit the mat for a vinyasa flow class. I needed to find my way back to the present, back to now, and back to my own body and breath. At the beginning of class my mind wouldn’t stay with me, despite the fact that the class moved quickly and demanded a lot of me, required me to think carefully about positioning my body and breathing. By the end of the hour, as we moved into savasana, I still wasn’t there all the way. I lay there and my old experience was in me so deeply that tears ran down both sides of my face, just missing my ears, in a steady stream. I tried to relax into the earth and just be, and my mind was not still. Then the teacher told a story I’d never heard, about the origin of the pose:

shivashaktiWhen Shiva first saw Shakti, he was so completely struck by her beauty that he fell backwards and lost all desire for anything but that moment. She walked towards him and danced on his stomach, and he had no awareness beyond the moment.

I can’t find that story online anywhere, but it’s so lovely, and it helped me in my roiling moment. I felt Shakti dancing on my own stomach, I felt the ground under my shoulders, and head, and bottom, legs, feet, hands. I felt my breath raising and lowering my chest, and my face and jaw relaxed. It was better.

But it wasn’t behind me all the way, and my shower didn’t move it, breathing didn’t relax it, just feeling the feelings didn’t relieve me into the present moment, a pizza and craft beer at my favorite place in Austin didn’t wash it away. I came home, did the laundry, opened my computer, worked, and lived another day of my life.

022515And that’s what it is. Life is sometimes like that. Inner experiences can whammy you, sucker punch you, just when you least expect them. Spiritual efforts like mindfulness, yoga, meditation, (pizza and beer…..consumed mindfully!) don’t magically wipe everything away. They aren’t magic wands, they don’t eliminate difficulty. But they do help, and they do give me a way to approach difficulty so that I might get something from it instead of just being tormented by it — a seed of wisdom, a connection to the suffering of others, a deeper awareness of my own experience, a more peaceful body. An ability to hold it and know I can hold it, and still engage the world with openness and kindness.

And that’s pretty good.

I’m not saying it’s magic, but….

Remember a couple of days ago I wrote a post about sitting with feelings — the ‘you are the blue sky’ one? In that post I talked about sitting with extreme anxiety that seemed to be due to a memory trying to come back. WELL! Once I was sitting with the anxiety and I realized that all that physical stuff was the memory. It was the memory of how it felt then, that specific and horrible dread and anxiety in the night — and just to be sure I figured it out, my little mind kept making me ‘see’ a man standing in my room at night.

!!! That was the memory, how it felt. I acknowledged it, understood it, accepted it.

Since that insight, I have not had a moment of anxiety. I haven’t been waking up with it in the middle of the night, I haven’t been seeing the man, my heart has not done that pounding thing. I can breathe. I am amazed.

wonderWould I have gotten through it so quickly if I’d treated the symptoms to make them go away? Taken Klonopin constantly, had a beer here and there? Would it have passed so fast if I’d distracted myself so I didn’t have to feel it? (I’m not sure that would’ve been possible, it was pretty intense.) Would it have moved through if I’d indulged it and gone to talk to someone about this extreme anxiety? Of course I have no idea. But I think not.

Here.

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Happy Friday everyone. Stay warm if you’re in the north! And don’t be afraid of your feelings, they won’t kill you. And be kind. For heaven’s sake.

 

always at my own speed – a slow awakening

I just hate being a cliche. I nearly didn’t start college at 36 when my husband and I divorced and I had three young kids because I felt like such a cliche — trembling and scared single mom gets her education! Luckily I slapped my inner self and said, “Self, don’t be such an idiot. Get your damn education.” Sheesh. And here again I find myself feeling like a cliche — older woman waking up to what it means to be a woman in our culture.

It isn’t that I have spent my 56 years believing that women should be quiet and serve the coffee. When Marnie was 2, I was writing Christmas cards and Marnie, standing beside me, asked me what the card said on the front. I read it to her — “Peace on Earth Good Will to Men” — and she said, “Peace on Earth Good Will to WOMEN.” She had to learn that somewhere, and I believe she learned it from me. It’s been in my mouth, always, care about women and women’s rights as human beings (still and even more quickly being stripped away now). I’ve lobbied, marched, written letters. Marnie my girl went off to Smith College, a choice I urgently encouraged and reveled in. Just women, a fantastic environment for women to get their voices clear and loud.  It startles me still that some mothers discourage their daughters from going to women’s colleges (“but where will you meet men?” . . . seriously????). I was thrilled that she made that choice.

But for myself, it has been harder. I defer. I stop talking when interrupted (to be fair, that’s true when women interrupt me too). So much of my deference to men is invisible to me, it’s so automatic. I spent much of my life waiting/hoping/expecting to be rescued by a man. Realizing that I was partly appalled by the woman in my self-defense class who went on and on, pummeling the man in the sternum, made me realize that deep inside I had an idea that women should not behave like that. (Again, to be fair, I think no one should pummel an innocent person, but I had a specific reaction to that woman doing it.)

And I trash talk. Again, to be fair, I trash talk men and women. Vicious and cruel judging was the blood sport I grew up with, and the habit still resides in my cells. I’ve rooted most of it out, but it still comes out about silly superficial things. Last night I clicked through a slideshow of outfits people wore to the Grammys and thought Good grief, Madonna looks ridiculous, I’m sick of something something something. Another woman’s outfit nearly prompted me to make some kind of caustic comment on Facebook. And it hit me all at once: I am never again going to trash talk a woman, any woman. I’m starting there. I’d like to stop trash talking completely, but it feels especially important to stop saying negative things about other women. The culture does that for us loudly enough. Cruelly enough. I have to speak up when anyone jokes about ‘resting bitch face.’ I have to speak up about the fact that the bulk of television “entertainment” involves the rape and/or murder of women. Think about that. Once you see how prevalent it is you’ll be sick to your stomach.

I need to stop using hedging language when I speak. “Well, I guess I think…” NO. “I think.” I need to stop saying, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” I need to know what I want to do and say it when I’m asked. And not wait to be asked, for that matter.

I don’t need to be anti- others, and certainly not anti-men (except for anti-rapist-men and anti-violent men and anti-those in power who are trying to strip away women’s rights), I just need to start supporting women in a fuller way than I have in the past — and that includes myself as a woman. That’s where I have to start.

here is a strong woman. Me.
Here is a strong woman. Me.

Lessons learned

There’s a new tab in the menu bar up above, titled “Lessons Learned.” For the longest time I thought this was something bad about me, that I had to keep learning lessons over and over, and each time felt like I’d never known it before. I no longer think that’s something bad about me; I think it’s the nature of most lessons in life. Learning something on the first try and having it become a permanent change is pretty rare. It’s only happened to me once, in fact. I’ve mentioned before the sideways slinky — a clinical psychologist friend of mine conceives of change this way. We move around the curve, and even though we end up where we started, we’re a little further along. A little farther ahead of where we started. Her idea gave me great comfort.

Once in a while I’ll have some reason to find an old post in my blog and I’m often surprised (and a little embarrassed, to be honest) to find a post describing a big lesson learned, a big change made, and I’d forgotten all about it. The lesson or change hadn’t stuck in the way I lived my life, even though it felt transformative when I’d learned it. The funny and great thing is that just re-reading the post would invigorate it and get it going again; it wasn’t that I had to re-learn it as fully as I did before, I just had to remember it.

Since I’m in this ongoing period of learning so many lessons, I decided I’d keep them in a spot where I could quickly and easily run my eyes over them whenever I want, or whenever I need a booster . . . hence the new page in this blog. There are so many contexts in which lessons are learned: our own experiences in a range of contexts, books, others’ experiences, and closeness to a baby or someone dying — someone at either end of life. These first lessons I’ve posted are things I’ve learned in my yoga practice, but they matter off the mat, you don’t have to do yoga for them to be relevant. These are life lessons learned, not yoga lessons.

tree poseMy favorite lesson so far is that balance is not a static state. Just think about that for a second. While we were doing tree pose one day, my teacher said that balance is not a static state, that holding the pose entails small movements in the standing foot, in the body, and that sometimes we lose the pose — so we just go back into it. Oh how I loved that idea, because it made me realize that I’d had an idea that having a balanced life would be a done deal once I figured it out. The various times I’d found balance in my life and then got out of balance again, I always felt like I’d failed. I had been assuming that balance was a static state, even though I hadn’t really articulated that — it was more an invisible underlying assumption.

I won’t call out the lessons when I add new ones to the page, but I thought I’d mention the page just once in case you want to run your eyes over them on occasion. I think they’re big enough lessons, life lessons, so they might be relevant to you too if you need or want them.

Happy Friday everyone — we’re looking ahead to a blue-skied weekend with mid-70s temperatures, and I know we’ll all soak up the warmth and sun. If you’re snowed in, stay warm and safe!

AA order

actionI have lots of problems with AA (and the other -As), but acknowledge that they get some critical bits right. The one I’m thinking about today has to do with the order of things. Therapy culture takes this path — even CBT, the least interesting one of all in my book: figure out why, and then the change will happen/be easier/last longer. A stripped-down version of the AA path: make the change, then do the rest.

When I started working with my food coach a couple of years ago he said something similar — something like we can talk about all the whys, but you just have to get off the couch.

I love the double entendre of that — get off the couch, the literal couch, the therapy couch, get up and act.

Perhaps it’s just me, but taking change in this order feels so startling, and so much simpler. And it makes much more sense, too. One great thing is that the moment you do something different, you start changing. You aren’t thinking about changing, you are changing. And the more times you do that thing, the more you become a person who does that thing. That isn’t to say that you forevermore only do that thing, but the change you’re seeking is happening.

This post isn’t about yoga, but yoga offers such a great example (taken from this article):

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

So look at the ~12 to 3 part of that image. AFTER A CLASS, those things happen. You can follow around to see the effects after a few months, after years, but I think it’s the things that happen immediately that are most fascinating, and most relevant to my point in this post. Changing changes us, kind of definitionally!

Actually, this post was stimulated by my previous post about not explaining myself. I wrote near the end of that post that I realized that I explained myself because xyz, as if I’d done that thinking first, figured it out, and then stopped explaining myself. But that wasn’t the order! I stopped explaining myself, and then realized that I do it because I think I’m going to be judged. The accidental genius of changing first was that immediately I got to see the flaw in my thinking! It’s great when I accidentally do something smart. I didn’t explain myself, no one said a judgmental word, no one betrayed a judgmental flinch of expression, and then it was easier to do it the next time.

The biggest change that’s happened to me since last June is that I seem to have resigned my position in the Overthinkers Club! As CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, C-all-the-Os of that club, I am shocked, but so much happier.

It’s bitter cold and super windy here today, and lots of snow coming on Monday, so I’m SO looking forward to heading back to Austin on Tuesday, and simultaneously anxious that this weather will keep me grounded. Fingers crossed, yo, and have a good weekend!

What’s YOUR deal?

always the explainer
always the explainer

Actually, I have a couple of deals at least: I feel like I have to explain myself constantly, and I’m still too much a pleaser. That second one is still pretty hard for me, but I’ve made some headway on the first.

Here’s a great example. And it’s silly, as most of them are. Before I left for New York, I gave myself a manicure. My fingernails were long-ish and shaped nicely, and I painted them red. I love red fingernails. When my nails are long-ish enough, my hands look nice. But when they’re trimmed short, my fingers look stubby. My nailbeds are short and sit out at the tips of my fingers instead of being long and well into that last bit of the finger. I was a little worried about the manicure lasting for the 12 days I’m here in New York, but meh, whatever, it’d be fine.

Then two nights ago I was lifting a piece of furniture and my hands kind of slipped and came up, dragging against the edge of the table, and 7 of my fingernails just broke. Some broke so much that I had to cut them down to their shortest length. Since so many had to be trimmed that short, I just trimmed them all that short. And they still have the red polish on them. NOT NICE LOOKING. (Of course I could have dashed out to the drugstore on the corner and bought polish remover but I didn’t want to venture out onto the icy streets.)

So I see my hands with the very short red nails and grimace a little. Ugh, that red, just highlighting the stubbiness of my short-bed nails. Yesterday I went to meet my friend Traci for lunch, and ordinarily I would’ve explained myself right off the bat. See, I had this accident, I know it’s kind of awful looking, look at this, blah blah blah.  Instead, I didn’t. I didn’t explain my unattractive nails, I didn’t tell the story, I didn’t say a word about it. And probably she didn’t notice them! Our lunch was our usual thing, filled with talking and laughing and catching up with each other’s lives.

When I took the lentil salad to book club a couple of weeks ago, and had not been able to find radicchio, I didn’t explain it. I just shared the salad and we all ate the potluck meal and laughed and had a good time.

I’m still a Level 1 non-explainer, because I think about it and make myself not explain. But I can feel that I’m leveling up, and will soon be a Level 2 non-explainer: I’ll think about it but it won’t be any kind of struggle to keep quiet. Level 3 for the win — not even thinking about it.

I realized that I constantly explained myself because I imagined that others were judging me in all the various ways. But they probably aren’t! They’re probably not even noticing or giving any of this a second thought — in fact, they’re probably thinking about their own things. By bringing it up and into the conversation, am the one who makes it a thing. That would be me, not them. It’s been kind of remarkable letting this go, actually.

I'M TRYING!! (Is that OK?)
I’M TRYING!! (Is that OK?)

Next up: finding my way to being a Level 1 non-pleaser. If you had to figure that one out and have any tips for me I’d love to hear them.

well OK then.

I’m flying this morning to New York, but I just have to say a little more about this truly (to me) shocking thing that happened on Wednesday. One way I am not a very good adult is that there are ways I should take care of myself, but I don’t — and one is that I just won’t go to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor, partly because I’m just so healthy I imagine either it’ll just be money spent to learn that I’m healthy, or because I think they’ll spin something out into a worry that really isn’t a worry. I’m stupidly healthy with stupid good blood pressure — 112/78, my most reliable number. I’m from long-lived healthy people who live into their late 90s, if they aren’t alcoholics. I also don’t go to the dentist, but I make up for it by taking super good care of my teeth.

My husband, on the other hand, goes to the doctor all the time. All the time. For very understandable reasons, he also expects the absolute worst to happen, so every little strange thing that happens in his body he imagines to be something fatal. It drives him crazy that I don’t go for regular check-ups, and he got outright mad at me when he was here, because I haven’t seen a doctor at all for ~3 years, maybe more, so I went ahead and made an appointment. The only real problem I have is a slightly insufficient aorta, and osteoporosis, and I have not been careful about taking extra calcium. In 2011 I crossed from osteopenia into osteoporosis, worst in my hips and a little less bad in my spine. But all the numbers had crossed that magical mark from -penia into -osis. I truly thought that that was a direct path, one-way only, into worse and worse -osis. I was curious about how much worse it had gotten, and that was really my only concern going in.

I have been working around the edges of it. I consistently do yoga sessions that focus on balance, to help me not fall. On flexibility, to help me catch myself and not fall. On strength so I’m less likely to fall. I carry my cell phone with me at all times, and put it next to the tub every morning when I take a shower, in case I fall so I can get help immediately. I don’t rush and am mindful in situations that might be risky, like stepping around the dishwasher in my small kitchen. Instead of doing a long extended reach-around, I just step around (and carefully). The consequences of broken hips are more often fatal for women than heart disease. It’s serious. I was having dinner with a friend earlier this week and we talked about our real horror of falling, and how almost obsessed we both are about helping ourselves not fall. It was a funny moment to share.

SO. Exam: check, absolutely no problems anywhere, healthy as a horse. Blood work: absolutely great in every way. Cholesterol ratio better than the nurse sees, outstanding. Liver, kidney, thyroid, check check check. Healthy as a horse. Like every single person I’ve ever heard of, I’m Vit-D deficient, which I wouldn’t worry about except it facilitates calcium absorption into bones. Mammogram scheduled when I’m back from NYC but it all looks good, her exam showed healthy tissue. Bone density scan: SHOCKING. I moved backwards in my spine, back into -penia! My left hip? Back into -penia! The right hip ratio? Back into -penia, although the neck of that hip is still in -osis. (That’s the narrow part in the picture on the right, and it’s where breaks are most likely to occur.)

bones

Maybe you knew this was possible without taking drugs or supplements so this isn’t at all surprising to you, but I had no idea it was possible. I thought the best I could do was to keep it from getting worse, I truly did.

My greatest improvement was in my spine, and the radiologist said that my yoga practice (and my diet) is responsible for that. Yoga is especially good for the spine, and since many of the poses are weight-bearing, you get that aspect too. Walking and running are especially good for the hip bones, so now my mission is to walk more and try to get that right hip neck down into -penia too. I just had no idea this could happen, and it feels thrilling, like the biggest news I’ve heard in so very long.

Of course I can’t know for sure, but I’ll bet the news — especially about my bones — would’ve been quite different if I lived the way I always used to. Not too great a concern for healthy eating, a too-great focus on sweets, and zero (by which I truly do mean zero) exercise. Do yoga, especially if you’re a woman in or approaching my stage of life. Just do it. Walk regularly. And while going vegetarian has been so great for me just because it liberated me and made eating so simple, I do think that the more you can add vegetarian food into your diet — even if you don’t just eat vegetarian — the better your health will be. Turns out I have been getting more than my daily requirement of calcium just from the food I eat! A cup of almond milk — the liquid in my morning smoothie — has 600mg, and my daily requirement is 1200mg. Halfway there, and the spinach I include adds 60mg more.

I have a Pinterest board filled with vegetarian recipes I’ve collected, and I haven’t found a bum one in the mix yet. I haven’t made them all (I have 1,057 recipes pinned), but the ones I have made have been wonderful. If you want to check out the board and save any recipes that look good to you, just click the picture below:

pinterest

And once more with feeling, a hearty recommendation for YogaGlo. My favorite teachers are Jason Crandell, Stephanie Snyder, Amy Ippoliti, Jo Tastula, and Felicia Tomasko. They offer a free 15-day trial period, and I was so hungry for that 16th day I signed right up. It’s $15/month, and if you look at the cost of yoga classes you see what a deal this is. New classes all the time, classes for any reason, various times of day, different needs. Being able to do it at home means I actually do it. (And if I want to be more social, I can always go take a real life class.) If you’re worried about not doing the poses correctly and using poor alignment, let me show you this:

YogaForce Mat
YogaForce Mat

You can find that on Amazon, but it’s expensive — $89 usually, on sale right now for $73. BUT! You can also draw these lines on your own yoga mat with a fat sharpie! I refer to the lines all the time and use them to ensure proper alignment. Of course be sure they’re perfectly parallel and the cross lines are perfectly perpendicular to the long line, but there you go.

Shocked. I’m just so so shocked. I feel so powerful — I changed my bones, did that myself! A condition that felt inevitable turns out to be just a little bit evitable. 🙂 That is amazing. Taking care of your health doesn’t just hold off trouble, it can even reverse something as solid (or not) as your BONES. I remain shocked by this, and return to the mat with a new kind of gratitude. Take care of yourself.

spin

OK, so this is NOT one of those idiotic ‘glass half full’ things. I had quite the little rant about that dumb idea during my nightmare period of late 2012-2013. But it is about the complexity of experience and the multitude of frames available.

In the last several months, it has not been uncommon for my Austin friends to comment on how much I have changed since they met me. There is, of course, the dramatic evolution through and past the extreme grief I was in when they met me. I was numb, crying, haunted, devastated, a kind of ghost. Grieving, suffering. So, as people do, I worked my way through all that and slowly cried less often. Slowly laughed more easily and with less guilt about it. Starting with only Katie and Trey as my anchors, I built a rich life, with poet friends and book friends and soul friends. I found my circle of women. That was the ordinary transformation of a person starting over and coming out of grief. But I also learned how to live alone, which has been the most important piece of my transformation, I think.

In a way, this part of my life has been like the very best adolescence. Ordinary adolescents are figuring out who they are, they’re trying on this and that, they’re experimenting and trying and failing and trying. Lucky me, I get to do all that but without the raging hormones, without the adolescent frailty and uncertainty, and with my own resources, my own home, my own income, control over my own life with no need for anyone’s approval or permission. That’s the important part, and the part I have never been able to do in a relationship. That’s all on me — no one has ever demanded that I cower and give in. I do that, I give myself away before I even realize what’s happening. I need to focus next on not doing that when I am with Marc.

red-hibiscusBut the transformation my friends see is deep in me, and real, and I feel like a life-size flower. I really do. It’s funny that the image I always have, when I think about that, is a hibiscus. (My outer right calf is tattooed with hibiscus and sunflowers [here’s the post I wrote about why I chose it, and a picture of it is in the post].) When I wake up in the mornings, as I move through my days, when I climb into my wonderful bed each night, I feel like a huge flower in full bloom. It’s extraordinary.

When I bend over to pick up something, I feel the strong muscles in my back. I feel the bending over with my flat, straight back, I smile that my hamstrings are loose enough to keep my legs straight when I touch the floor. When I head to the yoga mat, I think about this opportunity to become stronger (instead of grim-faced ‘exercise to lose weight’), more balanced (literally), more flexible. When I hold plank, I recognize my abdominal muscles are becoming stronger (instead of dreading having to do it because it’s good for me). When I hold down dog, I press my hands into the floor, lift my butt, push my thighs back, lower my heels, and marvel at my body and what it can do (instead of wondering how much longer this is going to go on and hoping no one is looking at my fat rear end and thinking about what I wish I could have for dinner but I won’t because crap I am once again trying to lose weight).

That frame makes such a difference in helping me head to the mat every day, I’m telling you. It’s not a chore, it’s not something I ‘have’ to do, it’s not something to cross off my to-do list, it’s not [sigh] exercise dammit. Ah, it’s a chance to become stronger, such pleasure. Lucky me, another day to work at becoming stronger.

When I make my dinner, it’s a chance to pick and prepare food that helps my body be strong and healthy AND a chance to be as creative as I can be, a chance to make something that tastes so good I want to slap myself. It’s not diet food, it’s not about how little I can eat of boring food so I can lose weight (or keep off the weight) and then get right back to my ordinary eating. It’s about the pleasure of taking good care so I can be strong and healthy.

WHAT???? Me? Who is this woman?

And the funny thing is that these frames don’t come afterwards, as a way to reconcile myself with something I don’t really want to do. I have no doubt I’d tried that reframing dozens of times in my life and I guess I just wasn’t there yet. I guess I didn’t believe myself when I’d think those things. Maybe the issue is that now it’s not RE-framing, it’s simply what is for me. So I am not suggesting anything for you, you have to find your own way — it’s all an inside job, every bit of it — but I share what is for me, in case you feel a shiver of recognition inside yourself.

Those [re]frames surely contribute to keeping me grounded, but they aren’t by themselves responsible for the transformation. But I think being grounded, and having solitude and the opportunity to take up ALL the space, has let me be more daring with myself, and helped me be less timid in general, less timid about who I am, and less afraid of the world, somehow.

Gosh living alone is thoroughly glorious. It is. Of course I’m not alone at all, I’m surrounded by love and affection and companionship and all the social stuff I could possibly want — and I see Marc 12 days/month, and we travel together. (I secretly think I have the most perfect life anyone could ever have.) But here I am, alone in this beautiful, comfortable place, and I can blast a song that fills me with joy and dance like a lunatic all around my house until I can’t breathe. I can wake up at 2am and decide I want some eggs, and turn on all the lights and bop into the kitchen and scramble some luscious orange-yolked Parker eggs (thank you every day, sweet Karyn), then take a bubble bath with candles, and then sit in bed and write as long as I want with all the lights on if I’m enjoying the deep middle of the night. I can decide I want to completely change the way I eat and just do that, exactly as I wish. I can decide I want to do yoga twice a day and just leave my yoga mat out in the living room because there is no one who will be bothered by that.

And the toilet seat is always down.

fighting the not-doing

Doing savasana in Nong Khiaw. Gosh I wish I were there right now.
Doing savasana in Nong Khiaw. Gosh I wish I were there right now.

At the end of a yoga practice, you end in corpse pose — savasana. My yoga teachers always call it “the most important pose” and then they say something about integrating something something something. Before I started doing yoga in earnest, before I undertook this massive mindfulness change in my life, I thought that pose must be great because you’re tired from doing the yoga, so aaah, you get to rest. Silly me.

It’s the hardest pose of the whole practice, whatever the practice entails. Other poses may be difficult to hold, hard to find your way into, they may require a lot of hours of practice to be able to do fully, but they’re hard in such a different way, a kind of fun way. Can I balance like this today? Can my legs become a little straighter today? Are my hamstrings loosening (nope!)? But when I am moving into the pose, it focuses and holds my attention and I am doing. Rib cage lifted and shifted right (hmmm, ok), slide right hand down my leg to the floor (hmmm, ok), and voila. I’m there to some degree.

But in corpse pose, I’m meant to just be. Instead, my mind is racing with things I need to do when I get up, lists I need to make, chores to do, conversations I am in or need to be in, things I want to write. NO NO NO, be. The challenge for people my age is that the task will be completely forgotten if it’s not acted on, but . . . um, so? So what. I’ll make the list, and if something slips off it I will deal. If I miss a chore, um, so? If I completely forget the point of what I wanted to write, OK. But it doesn’t feel that way when those thoughts are pressing on me during savasana. How very hard it is not to do something.

worryAnd not just during this pose, either. When we worry, we feel like we’re doing something. Or rather, if we just stop worrying, we feel guilty because it feels like we don’t care (or however you might construct that). If we’re anxious, and all we’re doing, really, is focusing our mental and emotional energy on thoughts, it can feel impossible NOT to do that. Right? When the lawsuit was hanging over my head and would suddenly rear up again, all my energy got dark and swirled hard inside me as I imagined all the ways it could go badly, all the damage it could cause to my life. Of course it’s retrospect joy to say, “Well, and look: it all came to nothing and so that was wasted time!” But I could also note that however it turned out, all that swirl and worry was wasted time, because it had no impact on what was happening. What it did, though, was to keep me terrified and exhausted. Unless it’s a kind of focused, problem-solving thinking that results in an action that can be taken (even if the action is just a way to help yourself deal emotionally), it’s not “doing” anything. That’s a big lie. When you worry and indulge anxiety, you aren’t really doing anything. You’re indulging thoughts of all the most dire consequences. My worrying, my periods of anxiety, sure aren’t indulging thoughts of how great it might turn out. I’m feeling as if the worst has happened — and it’s not like that prepares me in some way. There have been times in my life when the worst did happen, and the consequences were not lessened because I’d been practicing experiencing them during my worry and anxiety! If anything I was so exhausted by the time they happened I was less help to myself and others.

Oh so easy to say, just don’t do it. Yeah, right. But you can practice! Savasana lets me practice, when the biggest consequence is that I won’t remember an item on a list. Meditation lets me practice, when the biggest consequence is that I will not be able to find a moment of just being. I’m now in my seventh month of nothing terribly dire happening to me or anyone I love, which means two things: (1) easy for me to say, what would I be saying if I were in trouble?! AND (2) seven lovely months of practicing, so I am likely to be able to be more helpful to myself and others when it comes, as it will.

Savasana is really just meditation, you know. Sit up on a cushion, lie down on your back, sit on the couch or in a chair, sit under a tree outside, sit in your car. Be still and present for five minutes. That is practice, and it’s harder than you can imagine.

evolution, not resolution

Although my graduate research was all about the specific words we use, and what that means about us, I went to graduate school to study something entirely different — why some people survive terrible trauma and others don’t. Like most research psychologists, my research was me-search. I’d fought so very hard to change everything that was familiar, everything I’d grown up with so I wouldn’t cause the same trauma to my children, and while I believed that a lot of people fight just that hard, some make it and some don’t. The research was too close to me though, too personal, and too difficult to do with the required level of dispassion.

But I may as well have a PhD in the psychology of change, because I think it’s one of my real areas of expertise. I know a huge swath of the literature but I have also spent so much of my inner energy and strength and mind and heart on it.

I’m thinking about this as January 1 approaches, because I know so many people are thinking about their New Year’s Resolutions — most of which, I’d wager, are physical/health-related. That includes losing weight, getting in shape, quitting drinking or smoking, eating better, incorporating exercise into their lives, things like that. Weight loss and getting in shape have been on my list most years of my life, though they aren’t this year.

It’s been 183 days, now, since I started my life-change project, and I’ve been about 90-95% successful. I’m still doing yoga at least once a day, twice when it’s possible — seven days a week. (Except on vacation, when it just didn’t fit so possibly.) I’m still eating primarily a vegetarian diet. If I’m eating at someone else’s house I eat what they prepare, and gratefully; I just eat as well as I can given what they have lovingly made for me. But when it’s my choosing, it’s all vegetarian and not all that much of it. I’m still meditating every day. I’m on day 4 of a 40-day meditation project (“I am Grace of God,” Kia Miller on YogaGlo). I’m still doing one thing at a time. I still spend the bulk of my time in silence, which I find so nourishing it’s hard to describe.

how about right now, in this moment? WHY NOT?
how about right now, in this moment? WHY NOT?

I think a lot about why these changes have slipped into my life so fully — why they’re no longer “changes” but are instead just who I am and what I do. There was one big difference in the way it all started this time, so I share this with you in case it’s helpful. Instead of picking a time in the future — “Monday,” “January 1,” “the day I go back to work,” “the day my vacation begins” — I just started in the moment I decided to do it. It was late in the afternoon, but I didn’t even wait to start first thing the next morning. I think one reason this was powerful was that I didn’t sabotage myself in advance, or set it up only to find some reason it wouldn’t work. In the past, starting at some point in the future usually led me into a frenzy of doing before the date came. So I’d eat a whole lot, let’s say, because on January 1 I couldn’t do that any more.

This time, I was writing about it at ~4pm-ish and just started doing the things I wanted to do. I turned off the television and just wrote, doing that one thing. I downloaded a free yoga app to my phone and did 20 minutes of yoga (a lot for me then, left me sweaty and panting). I scrambled around in my refrigerator and pantry and made the healthiest meal I could. Was any of it perfect on that day? Oh, no. My meal was not. My yoga session was not. The silence felt weird. Was any of it perfect the next day? Oh, no. It took me a couple of weeks to find the pieces I needed, but I found them while I was doing it, while I was changing my life.

If you read the “Dear Sugar” column that Cheryl Strayed used to write in The Rumpus, maybe you read the column about a woman’s fear of changing her life mid-life “before it’s too late.” I just love these sentences Strayed wrote about change:

“Real change happens on the level of the gesture. It’s one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before. It’s the man who opts not to invite his abusive mother to his wedding; the woman who decides to spend her Saturday mornings in a drawing class instead of scrubbing the toilets at home; the writer who won’t allow himself to be devoured by his envy; the parent who takes a deep breath instead of throwing a plate. It’s you and me standing naked before our lovers, even if it makes us feel kind of squirmy in a bad way when we do. The work is there. It’s our task. Doing it will give us strength and clarity. It will bring us closer to who we hope to be.”

And that’s so right, even if the real change is just losing weight. Turning off the television. Adding exercise. Whatever it is, the change happens at the gesture.

And guess what, when you revert to the old familiar, all is not lost! Again, it’s about the gesture. So when you have a day of eating like a maniac and lying on the couch watching absolute crap on TV and also flipping through your phone or iPad and having a glass of wine before — and maybe during, and maybe after — dinner and screw it, the weather is crummy so you’re not going to go out for a walk and you just don’t feel like even doing five minutes of yoga, screw it, and there are some Christmas cookies that need to be eaten before they go stale…. you can just return. All is not lost, that was then and life is imperfect and so you brush your teeth carefully before turning in. You get out your very best lotion and put it gently on your face. Massage some into your chunky thighs, with a bit of love. You take care of yourself, not the best day maybe, not the way you want to be taking care of yourself, but now you are taking care. Now you are. So you drink a glass of water, you take some deep breaths — maybe you stretch your body, and you get a good night of sleep. You don’t have to wait for the next “Monday,” or “first of the month,” or “bathing suit season,” or anything at all. Change happens in the small gesture. Evolution, not resolution.

the George Carlin variety of stuff

If you didn’t see this back in the day, please start by watching this HILARIOUS but also making-you-think video of George Carlin talking about stuff:

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When I was growing up we moved every little bit, and there was an occasional move where we just left everything and started over. When my kids were growing up, we moved a good bit and I always took that opportunity — while they were at school and I was packing the house — to pitch the various broken toys, Happy Meal plastic crap, and things they’d severely outgrown. I did that with my own things too, so we never lived with too much stuff. I don’t know how people do it who don’t move! I gather they tend to accumulate stuff.

When I moved to Austin two years ago I only had my clothes and what was left of my library. That was it. So I had to buy every single thing a person needs, and that was a lot. Finally, a few months later, I had everything I needed . . . and then I bought one extra thing and didn’t have room, had to move a chair into my garage. THAT was strange! From nothing to too much, in a few months.

stuffIn the last two years I’ve added small things here, wedged extras in alongside existing things, bought things to wear, books, and I realized last week that it was starting to feel like my place was cluttered. It isn’t really, not too badly, but it feels that way to me. So yesterday I started to cull, and I started in my chest of drawers. (When I was a kid I thought it was chester drawers, and I figured the piece of furniture was named after some guy Chester.) ANYWAY. The underwear/socks/bra drawer! My lord, I’d become anxious to open it, and had to cram things down to get it closed. I have a washing machine and a dryer of my very own that I can use 24/7….how many pairs of socks and underwear do I need! Undies variables: silky and cotton, dark and light. That’s really it. Three each, twelve pair. Period. More than enough. Socks variables: boots, dress, footies. Three each, nine pair. More than enough. Bras: wow that old sports bra’s gotta go, and that one, and the rest can be organized. Now my drawer opens easily and I have a super abundance and I can breathe.

I did that in all my drawers, and in my closet — and of course the closet is trickier, if you’re a person like me who ranges across sizes. Right now I wear an 8 but I need to be prepared to find myself back in the 12s, at least for a while. I’ve done the yo-yo too many times to think this is it, finally. I hope it is, and I have stuck here longer than I usually do with weight loss, and once I’ve stayed at this steady weight for a number of months I’m going to get rid of the bigger clothes. Still, there were shirts I haven’t worn for years, a couple of dresses that I scarcely remember, etc. And shoes — culled those too. I feel so much lighter, getting rid of all that stuff, and can’t wait to attack the next spot.

Some people feel most comfortable — emotionally, aesthetically — with lots and lots and lots of stuff, and good on ’em. My ancient old aunts Bea and Hazel lived together after Bea killed her husband and Hazel’s husband went to the store for smokes and never came back, and they were both fond of stuff. Their bathrooms were jammed to the ceiling with paper towels and toilet paper and other stuff, their garage was packed, the closets were all stocked up. It didn’t feel like hording as much as it felt like being sure they weren’t going to run out of staples. Most objects were covered in some way — crocheted dolls covering the waiting rolls of toilet paper, for example — and they were happy as clams.

I realized this even applies to incoming information. I’ve gotten rid of cable (well, I am forced to keep basic cable or else my internet price goes up, how stupid), and yesterday I also culled my Facebook feed, unfollowing sites I never ever follow through. It’s getting more manageable, and since I just jump in once in a while for a minute to check on everyone, I’m less likely to miss what matters. I’m doing the same with email, unsubscribing and junking things.

At first all this getting-rid-of felt FANTASTIC and then shortly afterwards, there’s a feeling of silence and emptiness. And then I remembered: AH….silence! How beautiful, just what I wanted, so lovely. I can reach out and invite what makes me happy. OH….emptiness, I can breathe, enjoy what I have, bring in what makes me happy.

Sayonara, stuff.

 

 

stepping back with intention

it really does feel like this inside me
it really does feel like this inside me right now.

I don’t mean stepping back from writing here on my blog, though it has been very quiet here for quite a while now. For a while now, it seems like all I’ve had to say was that the changes I’ve been making are so very good. And they still are, and it’s quite still in my mind, like a deep clear lake. Occasional small ripples from a breeze, not more. Big blue skies above, reflecting on that lake. It’s wonderful, and I share this post in case any piece of it is useful for you.

The style of yoga I do is vinyasa, which focuses on the breath and coordinating it with a flow of poses. It feels quite beautiful to do it (and at the same time I’m glad there isn’t a mirror nearby to show me what I actually look like doing it…), and I am enjoying feeling and seeing my muscles change, become toned, work more smoothly. Vinyasa relies on a specific kind of breathing called ujjayi pranayama, and it makes a bit of sound. It’s like whispering in your breath, there in the back of your throat. It’s a long, deep breath, in, out, coordinated with the poses, which are typically arranged for the in-breath then out-breath. Breathing is something I’ve always had trouble with, as in I forget to do it and I do very tiny little shallow breaths when I do breathe. It turned out to be a great thing that it was vinyasa yoga that drew me in, because this focus on the breath and this specific kind of conscious breathing has helped me off the mat, too. (It’s fascinating the way each little thing ripples out so far.)

My morning ritual has expanded a bit too, and while it’s much harder to maintain in NYC, it makes me so happy and starts my day so beautifully in Austin I’m more determined to find a way to do it there. (There are so many fantastic things about living alone, I’m telling you!) My alarm goes off at 6:30 and I lie in bed stretching a little bit and thinking about what I want to accomplish in my day — but not in a to-do list way. Here’s an example from yesterday, when my to-do list included making a carrot cake, washing my hair, working for several hours, and going to Katie’s house for Halloween night. What I wanted to accomplish, though, was to enjoy making that cake, enjoy the fantastic smells of fresh grated ginger, carrots, pecans toasting. Enjoy the transformation of ingredients into a gorgeous batter. Be present on my yoga mat. Just be there for Oliver’s first Halloween, my mind and heart there, with my family, present. Relish the giving of some carrot cupcakes to my most wonderful friends Nancy and Bob, just a little bit of pleasure for me and for them. That’s what I thought about yesterday morning before I got out of bed.

the dropdown box shows some of the kinds of classes
the dropdown box shows some of the kinds of classes; click to enlarge if you’re interested.

Then I stood up, did some long body stretches reaching my arms up, leaning back, moving my shoulders. Drank some room temperature water with lemon squeezed in. Brushed my teeth, changed into my yoga clothes, and went to the mat. If you are interested in developing a yoga practice at home, I can’t recommend YogaGlo enough; it’s the best $18 I spend every month. SO many classes for all levels of ability, for so many durations (all the way from a 5-minute session to some that are 120 minutes long), dozens of teachers and a variety of styles. And you can combine filters to see just the classes that might work — a level 2, 15-minute, working on balance session, for instance. The 30-minute practice I did yesterday morning was a reverse energizing flow, kind of GENIUS. It started lying on the mat for a few minutes, the way most sessions end. And slowly, slowly, the poses required a bit more. Lying down, then some lying-down twists, then some hands and knees, then some lunges, then sun salutations. By the time my little practice ended, my heart was working and I felt so ready to get going. And it was just after 7am. Most mornings I just do a 10- or 15-minute practice in the morning, but yesterday I had time and wanted to do more since I was not sure I’d do a longer one when when I got home much later in the evening.

That gets my day off on just such a beautiful note. My body is warm and I’ve decided to take care of myself and my world, just for that day; I know what matters to me for that day; any kinks and hurts are helped, if not removed. After that I make my beautiful pot of French press coffee (oh the sound of the beans grinding, the sound of cold water going into the kettle, the smell of the grounds, and then the plunging…oh, and the drinking 🙂 ) and get to work.

I also developed a nightly ritual that means a lot to me. Sitting on my mat, I hold my singing bowl in my palm and tap it, feeling the vibration in my hand. When the vibration dissolves, I place it on its little pillow and meditate for at least 10 minutes. I close that little practice with another gong on my bowl and then place it on the shelf. Make-up removed, teeth brushed and flossed and mouthwashed, house (and mind) settled for the night (locks checked, lights out, thermostat set, ceiling fan on), and I tuck myself in. Bedside lamp off, no television or cell phone, and a bit of Kindle reading until I fall asleep. It’s a quiet and peaceful routine and I go to sleep with everything cared for and in its place.

This quiet and stillness is helping me step back and think about what I want to do next. I have a book idea, a non-fiction book, and I’m putting the pieces together in my mind, at the high level. My life is about to get very busy — my birthday next week, a long 4-day weekend to Chicago to see Marnie and Tom, back to Austin for 3 days then off to New York for a few days, then off to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and I won’t be home until December 9. And then, of course, the holidays. So I’m not expecting a product of any kind from myself, I’m allowing myself the time to mull and ponder, the space for something new to arise, and the pleasure of the process.

It’s the first of November, another year is starting its slow winding-down, its settling-in, its immersion into quietude (well, in the northern hemisphere anyway). I love this time of year and hope you are finding some peace and pleasure of your own, however it may look. xo

brooding

broodingIt’s gone so quiet here on the blog, in large part because I am in flux between old and new. I’m brooding……but the egg-sitting meaning, not the dark glowering mood meaning. I am sitting in quiet, listening for the creative consequence of this enormous change that has happened to me. As time passes I am feeling more confident in the shift, more solid about it. Of all the things I’ve been in my life, I’d say “professional changer” has been central. Some of the changes took place very slowly and required a lot of incremental shifts and constant effort, which is not to say that the change always moved forward. Plenty of my changes took that two steps forward, one step back route.

Plenty of other changes were short-lived, or visited and revisited and revisited and never really took hold the way I wanted them to. (Which, of course, begs the question of ‘want.’) I’ve only been making these changes since June, but for the last four months there haven’t been any steps backwards and the pull of the old has faded to the point where I can barely see it there, receding behind me. In a strange way, this shift has been extraordinarily simple, like an insight. The cool thing about insight is that it feels effortless, whole, complete — all at once things look different, and you can no longer remember why it wasn’t always this obvious.

Yesterday I had lunch with my gorgeous, luscious, beautifully creative friend Traci. I was telling her that I have nothing to write anymore, and she smiled and said that I will. And I believe her — in part because I trust her, and in part because I feel it myself. I’m beginning to think that what’s ahead in this next stage of my life will look very different. My subject matter before this shift was my own story, but I am beginning to think that my subject matter is moving toward straight non-fiction. It’s beginning to be exciting as I listen hard for what’s coming.

One thing that’s coming — to gently segue — is lots of great travel and times with friends! In the little period of time I’m back in Austin I have so many things lined up with friends and family to stretch out my celebration of my birthday. O I cannot wait for that. I think birthdays ought to be properly and joyfully celebrated — mine and yours! I’m so glad I get to have a whole week of chances to be grateful for another year twirling around the sun. Then a 4-day weekend in Chicago to see Marnie and Tom, then a few days later back to NYC and then a few days after that, we’re off to southeast Asia again.

the morning alms round in Luang Prabang -- my Thanksgiving morning will begin by helping feed the monks
The morning alms round in Luang Prabang — my Thanksgiving morning will begin by helping feed the monks
a great alley of food vendors in Luang Prabang -- my Thanksgiving dinner this year!
A great alley of food vendors in Luang Prabang — my Thanksgiving dinner this year! A heaping plate of food, $1.25, but with a BeerLao it comes to $2. 
sidewalk eating and drinking in Hanoi
Sidewalk eating and drinking in Hanoi. This is just a little cafe on a side street; on big streets, the entire sidewalk as far as you can see is filled with these little stools and tables, and people eating pho, banh cuon, bun cha, chao ca, bun rieu cua, and other stuff I don’t know but want to eat immediately.

Between now and the end of the year, I have so many things going on I may still be brooding, percolating, developing. I have a couple of ideas starting to press on my mind, and I may be hitting you up for some help. In the meantime, I’m also starting to think about goals for my next year. More on that process very soon!

xoxo