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

things I have gotten used to

About a year before my life fell completely apart in October, 2012, I finally came to a bit of peace about the fact that I was going to live in New York the rest of my life, at the same address no less. (This irony is not lost on me…) Before I found that peace, I’d been too afraid to relax and believe, because I thought that if I did, if I let my guard down, the pain would be too great when I lost it. So I had just about a year of relaxing, thinking aaah, OK, I won’t ever have to move again.

And then of course I had to move again, move #81 at least. For some very good reason, I didn’t turn on myself with recrimination and self-loathing — idiot, see? You should never have fallen for that. That would’ve been so me. Maybe everything around me was just in such agony and confusion that I didn’t have the energy to spare to hate myself for having believed that.

Then last June, when I started changing my life, I entered into a period of peace, by which I don’t mean inner peace but rather the peace of not having disasters and tragedies happening around me. Nothing bad was going on for me, or for anyone I love. It was weird. It kept going. That felt weirder and weirder. Once I felt unsettled by it because I didn’t know how to understand such a prolonged period without trouble.

This morning I realized that my life is still peaceful and I’m just used to it. It’s no longer noteworthy. I’m not afraid that it’ll end — probably because I know it will. Or, rather, it will be interrupted. Trouble will come to me and/or people I love, because that’s how it goes, but peace will return too.

Here’s a short list of things I’ve become accustomed to now:

  • peace, outer and inner
  • my body, which no longer looks temporary in its shape
  • daily exercise (what?)
  • my poetry group; I didn’t get anxious before they came the last two months because I am just used to them and know it’ll be great
  • my circle of women
  • eating well, the way I want. Of course that is regularly interrupted, when I go to NY and on vacation to places that heavily feature meat, like Colombia (whose motto ought to be ‘All Meat All The Time!’). But when it’s my choice, I’m so used to eating well that it’s my go-to selection.
  • Austin. I wasn’t used to this kind of life when I moved back, and didn’t think I could adjust to small-town living. It did take a while, and there were times it was hard, but I’ve gotten used to it and feel in its groove now, and love it again.
so much captured in this picture of my book club: the ease and safety of this group of women, my comfort in Austin, and the expectation of a peaceful life
so much captured in this picture of my book club: the ease and safety of this group of women, my comfort in Austin, and the expectation of a peaceful life

Of course this isn’t a list of things I’m grateful for — that would start off with my daughters and their families. The deal is I’ve always been used to them, unafraid that I’d lose them. And that’s just the best thing.

Speaking of, I get to spend a couple of days and tonight at Katie’s. All that delicious time with my daughter, and with Oliver, lucky lucky me. I hope you are having a period of peace, I hope you have something wonderful planned for the day, and if that’s not true for you at this moment just remember that it will be true again. xo

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

lull-ing

Lately, as this astonishing period of peace and happiness just keeps going and going and going, I’ve found myself a little itchy. So I sat with that, wondering if it was something about needing a little trouble, just a little, because I’m so used to living with trouble. I hoped that wasn’t the case, I really did. I’ve known people who seemed to have to stir things up all the time, and I never thought I was one of those but you know, sometimes you can be the last to know things about yourself. At least that’s true for me.

we kinda revel when it rains
we kinda revel when it rains

And then several days ago it was a luscious day for those of us in drought-stricken Texas. At least in Austin, the temperature dropped 25-ish degrees and it rained, a slow and quenching rain, for a good part of the day. (And little did we know that would kick off several days of good rain, though never enough for a droughted region.) I felt re-energized by the rain and cooler weather in a particular way, and I realized what the itch was about: sameness. Every day our weather is exactly the same at this time of year: very very hot, no rain. Every day. Lots of sun. Beautiful blue skies filled with puffy white clouds. (I never get tired of that sky.) Every day my routine is the same, even if it’s differently the same in New York. But wherever I am during a two-week period, it’s exactly the same for that location. I’m feeling still and calm, and have been eating good food, doing yoga and meditation every day, the same. I see friends or family here and there, interspersed, but my days are the same, seven days a week.

So I think that itchy feeling was mostly about needing something different! Not bad, not trouble, just different. Really good information, because when I’m feeling that way now I know I should just mix things up — work in a coffee shop maybe. Go take an actual yoga class somewhere instead of just doing it at home. Nothing I can do about the Texas summer.

quiet, not bored. contemplative, not bored. happy, not bored.
quiet, but not bored. happy, and not bored.

I guess even a peaceful and happy rut is still a rut. It’s also true that the inner quiet and calm is a bit un-remarkable, by which I mean there is nothing to remark on. My experiences are not unremarkable, but I have nothing to grab my attention and get my anxieties flowing, and they are SHOCKED! SHOCKED, I TELL YOU! Except for the vague and general financial worries that all but the endlessly rich have (bubbles), and except for political worries we all have (bubbles), I have nothing to worry about. It’s very weird. I’m not complaining, not even a little bit. But it is weird. [not complaining…..]

My time in New York has been great so far — a trip to the Delaware Water Gap on Saturday, lots of walking around yesterday including a walk to Harlem and back. Lunch today with a friend, dinner on Thursday with a friend, and something fun next weekend, don’t know what yet. We were going to head out to the Delaware Water Gap next weekend but seized the pretty day on Saturday while we had it. Plenty of work this week, great twice-daily walks in Riverside Park, and peace and quiet and calm. The leaves are turning here, the light is lower and just a little weaker, the breeze carries a tiny bit of a nip. The wheel is turning.

it’s even LITERAL

Yesterday I wrote about finally being ready and able to leave all the old stuff behind, stay present in time. I was thinking metaphorically, but also of course about thoughts, perspective. Last night I realized there is another level, a more concrete level.

Late in the afternoon, I drove to south Austin to see the new movie The Trip to Italy (charming and melancholy, like the first, but I like the first a little better….still, quite good and worth seeing). As I was driving in that part of town, I was sitting at a stop light in a big intersection where something very dramatic happened to me as a kid. And I realized that my mind had gone back to that old story — hey, I already know it, I don’t need to go through it again — so I looked around, thinking let me see what’s actually here in this intersection right now.

yes, it was like putting on glasses
yes, it was like putting on glasses

Well! I’ve been through that intersection a number of times since I moved back and I guess I’ve never seen it as it is. I was literally seeing (and yes, I’m using the word literally accurately) the intersection from 1972. I “saw” The Rainbow Grill on the corner, where my stepmother had worked. But when I made myself look yesterday, pointedly, I saw what was actually there. I saw the intersection as it exists today — and that’s what exists, that’s where I sat in traffic, and that’s what everyone in the cars around me saw. That is Lamar and Barton Springs, Austin, TX, in September of 2014.

It was quite remarkable to me, getting an in-my-face example of what it means to get stuck in the past. It’s not just about recalling memories, it shapes the experience of real time.  So I looked around as if for the first time, because in a real way it was for the first time. Ah, so what is here at this intersection? Look at it, make mental notes so you remember if you want to come to any of these places. Wow, I want to come back and check out this place and that. So startling, and such power the mind has.

Actual traffic on actual Mopac. Horrible.
Actual traffic on actual Mopac. Horrible.

And also another mind-related deal, this one a benefit of meditation. I don’t know if you know this, but Austin has ATROCIOUS traffic. Atrocious. One of the major north-south highways is being expanded (but not nearly enough, so the moment the work is completed it’s going to be too little), which means the already-clogged ridiculous highway is often a parking lot, as far as the eye can see — and in both directions. I left my place at 4, thinking at least rush-hour traffic wouldn’t be so bad yet, but yes: parking lot. Not moving at all. What should’ve taken me just under 20 minutes took me almost a whole hour. But the relevant point is this: as I sat on the highway, unmoving, occasionally inching forward a tiny bit, the inner monologue started up. This is so ridiculous! Good grief, this is absolutely ridiculous. And my irritation developed into self-righteous anger, and took on a huge life and boy was I on the road to furious (because I wasn’t on the road to anywhere else!). Within 45 seconds I was up and running and getting madder and madder. And then I laughed, because I realized that I was telling myself a whole story. A story about the situation being ridiculous (actually, the situation was simply heavy traffic), and then fury at the traffic engineers who consistently fail to do what needs to be done, and have since the 1960s….but the fury at them was personal, as if they were doing it to me. It was the story that was riling me up, not the actual situation. I had enough time to get to the theater, I had good music on the radio, and this kind of traffic is just what it is to live in Austin. It IS, and fighting against it with stories only aggravates me. There might be other ways to fight against it — take the first exit and wind around through smaller streets, which I could do since I’ve lived here on and off for 50 years. (50 YEARS.) Meditation has helped me separate more quickly and spot the story, realize it’s a story, and let it go. And that’s kinda cool.

Do something nice for your mind today. Cut it some slack. Give it a break. Take it outside. Let it be, slow it down. Do whatever makes you breathe deeply and let go. It’s so  so good for you, and for me, and we could all stand to do it more often.

There he is! Happy and wonderful Oliver.
There he is! Happy and wonderful Oliver.

Happy Friday! I get to babysit my darling little grandboy today, lucky me, and dinner tonight is fresh corn on the cob, roasted okra, and whatever other yummy vegetables I have waiting for me. Work, yoga, seeing my daughter, loving Oliver, eating well. Peace. I hope your Friday has your version of these good things. xoxo

strong back, soft front

El Presidente, charming
El Presidente, charming

On Tuesday night Marc and I met new friends for tacos at a great little Mexican joint down in Chelsea called El Presidente, before we all went to the dharma gathering at Shambhala. I enjoyed it even though the talk kind of wandered around and didn’t have a focus, my left knee and hip screamed angrily at me during the meditation period (very un-Buddhist, knee and hip!), and as is often the case, the evening included dyadic exercises.

I hate dyadic exercises. Since I was there with Marc, I could’ve just done it with him but we aren’t “supposed” to interact with people we already know. Damn. I hate that.

Before the exercises, the teacher spoke about the point of meditation (and the gains you make from meditation) really mattering most when they are integrated into your life and taken into the world. I can sit on a cushion in a little room all day long, but the value of it is to take that into the world, into interactions with other people. She talked about being in the presence of people with very strong centers, very peaceful and aware people; she said others can feel that, it affects others too, and I know what she meant. It can feel like a physical force of peace, being in the presence of people like that. (And it can be a little disconcerting too, if you are in a very different place.)

Apparently this is a very common bit of teaching for meditation practice, but I had never heard it before: Sit with a strong back and a soft front. For the exercise, we were first told to hold that stance, strong back and soft front, and interact with each other. I was so busy concentrating on strong back, soft front (as was Matt, my very sweet partner) and the exercise felt weird, affected. Our next task was to simply sit and interact however we wished, and for both Matt and me, there was a lot of slouching (to indicate comfort and to encourage comfort for the other person) and leaning-in. We were more animated, a little less distracted. The last task was to first spend 30 seconds or so connecting with ourselves, getting anchored in ourselves, and then to simply open our eyes and interact. That was really amazing. It sounds obvious, but with that one I felt like I was ME, looking at him and engaged with HIM. You could hear the energy levels shift in the room too — it was loudest with the second task, and quiet and steady with the third. (With the first I was so distracted by trying to maintain a strong back and soft front I don’t know what was happening in the room.)

I want to think more about this strong back/soft front thing, and see if I can find it naturally in my body and experience. My back is not strong, but my yoga practice is certainly working on that, so perhaps as it begins to feel stronger the attitude will be more natural to me. The soft front part I get, easily — it’s just that in conjunction with the strong back that isn’t as immediately intuitive. But that little exercise, even though I hated it, showed me the power of taking that moment to check in with myself first. The whole “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” thing I guess. And of course “strong back” isn’t just literal. My literal back may be weak for now, but as long as I am solid within myself and open to others, that is the deeper definition of strong back and soft front, isn’t it?

nourishmentYou know, really I should just shut up and quit saying things — especially quit saying things as if I know anything. So often here on this blog, and in my own mind and life and conversations with people, I’ve said something about change coming about during times of trouble. That during easy times, peaceful times, happy times, people don’t really change so much. My thought was that during the easy times, people are just enjoying themselves, each other, life, and there is no press to stimulate change. But there is another possibility, too. During easy times, we have the time and space to reflect, to work with some of the consequences of the difficult times. Our attention (and intention) can be directed toward growth of all kinds: from plants in a garden to personal growth. This prolonged period of quiet and ease has been tremendous for me, and the various things I’m working with are affecting each other in a nearly exponential way. It’s kinda cool. Mindfulness, meditation, one thing at a time, quiet, yoga, food and exercise, family, peace, inner quiet. Highly recommended, and not at all overrated.

Happy Friday, everyone. I hope your long weekend has something good, something fun, something with friends and/or family, and everyone be safe!

teachers *everywhere*

I’m not going to name names, but over the last several days I have learned so many great things from some of the women in my life. …..Pause here for a big whoop! whoop! for the women in my life, and you do one for the women in yours. Amen, sisters. I have learned things and been directed to resources and cared for. It’s been a very rich time, even though this was a miserable week of excruciating headaches beginning Tuesday at 1am and finally ending this morning. Man. It’s been rough.

But here are some of the things I have learned:

  • Spontaneous calls from down under are a blast on a Friday night just before going to bed. Highly recommended — get one if you can!
  • The Wake-Up Project, based in Australia, shared with me by a true sweetheart when the world’s tragedies and troubles were weighing me down a little more than I could take. Check it out. The kindness cards they have are only available in Australia, but I can make my own and participate. The focal point of the project is mindful living and kindness — how great is that?
  • I’ve lost the weight I wanted to lose, I know how to eat now, so it’s time to figure out how to just maintain where I am. Where eating is concerned I’ve been an all-or-nothing eater my whole life — though I eat very differently now, all the fruits and vegetables and whole grains so maybe the whole game has shifted. I am nervous about being able to stay here, and a friend said, “Believe in your ability to keep it off.” !!!! You know, I’ve never done that! It was never in my head. If anything was in my head, it was an unarticulated wonder how long this will last. What excellent and yet very simple advice. Yeah, I believe I will be able to keep it off. I do. Apply this to a problem you’ve struggled over for a long time.
  • prayersPray simply for divine harmony. I have the most unformed, uncertain beliefs of a spiritual nature. I hang on to certain principles — be kind, love others, help when you can –but I don’t have a dogma, a belief of any kind in an afterlife, no idea who I talk to when I say prayers (most of which are like Anne Lamott’s:  help, thanks, wow). When someone I love is struggling in some way I send good thoughts, etc., but still have an impulse to look out to the stars and say their names. But usually I’m being bossy and deciding what should be done. Instead, my dear friend prays for divine harmony, and I just love that. Heaven knows I don’t know the best thing, and heaven knows some of the very best things that have happened to me were born out of the worst things. I don’t know, I really like it and find a kind of deep comfort from it.
  • It’s far too complex and detailed for a bullet point in a blog post, but a darling friend told me about a transformative and healing kind of writing. The metaphors in the approach made me cry and they feel so deeply true. I want to share it with a couple of people I know.

goodMy beautiful friends are going through life writ large: falling in love, planning trips, going to Italy, returning from a family memorial service, hoping for new jobs, waiting for boyfriends to arrive, enjoying the happiness of a healing partner, dealing with cancer in their families, too many of those, dealing with loss, being filled with pride in their children, adoring their children, worrying about their children, life. I feel such incredible privilege getting to dance in the margins with them, share the hurt and worry with them. Such a privilege. And me, the back and forth traveling, a week of hard pain, lovely dinner with my children and grandson Friday night, weekly and reliable [wonderful] chat with my Chicago daughter Saturday morning, the final end of the lawsuit hallelujah, joys in my children and grandson, delicious food all around, gorgeous faces smiling at me, pleasure in my wonderful life, going to the theater with beautiful friends on Wednesday, and book club on Thursday. It’s worth pausing long and hard and noticing. My life is really wonderful right now and nothing hurts. Nothing is wrong. Everything is right, for the moment. It hasn’t been in the past, and it won’t be again, because that’s the nature of life — so it’s even more important to breathe and be mindful when it is.

I hope yours is. And if it’s not, your turn will absolutely come round again. Happy Sunday y’all. xo

yeah, do this everyone

Wage Peace

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

Judyth Hill

the sky

blue skiesLast night I took a lovely long walk through my neighborhood. I was feeling kind of bad, unsettled, skinned-up a bit. Yesterday afternoon Marc and I took a walk together, him in Riverside Park and me in my neighborhood, us walking and talking together on FaceTime, showing each other the various sights, and I got out of breath. Man. That’s pretty sad. So I recommitted myself to daily walking and left my house last night while the skies were still pretty and blue and the clouds were white. We’ve had such beautiful weather the last few days and my walk was exactly what I needed — physically and emotionally.

Coincidentally, I was thinking about something Pema Chodron said. My friend Megan sent me an image with the thought on it last week, maybe because she remembered how much I love it.

pema

Do you know Pema? Here is her Amazon page that lists all her books, and I recommend any and all of them. The only one I haven’t read is How to Meditate. She’s an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition, and such a clear thinker. Her book When Things Fall Apart has been a touchstone for me, and like a touchstone I return to it again and again. You can also find a lot of her videos on YouTube, like this one which I love, on fear and fearlessness. You certainly do not have to be Buddhist to appreciate her thoughts, to find wisdom and truth in her insights (or those of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen monk).

But the brilliance of that insight — you are the sky, everything else, it’s just the weather — stays with me, although sometimes I forget. When I remember it, troubles drift away. When I think of the full range of troubles I’ve experienced in my life, whether they are enormous (like my childhood, and Gracie’s death) or frightening (like the thing still happening in the background) or our intensifying fears approaching Oliver’s birth, or brief interpersonal troubles, I know they appear and disappear. They arise and maybe they contain noise and light, thunder and lightning, and then they exhaust themselves and dissipate, blow away, and the blue skies are still and always there. Those clouds of worry and upset and fear drift through my mind and sometimes I forget that I am the blue sky behind it all.

That my mind and heart can be as clear and wide open as that sky. That they are as clear and wide open as that sky, and I forget to remember that the rest is just the weather.

eyes full of clouds
eyes full of clouds

Here — please just spend a couple of minutes listening to this wonderful little talk by Pema about this lousy world.

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But seriously, let’s ban the perfume.

forgiveness

forgiveI’m editing a book on successful families, and I’m working on the chapter on forgiveness. This is a topic that has burned in my heart since I was a young child. I had Prisoner-of-War-levels of forgiveness to do, and it seemed impossible to do it all. I remember clenching my fists and bearing down, as if giving birth, trying so hard to forgive. I wanted to, because I realized that I was not keeping them on the hook, as my broken heart was mistakenly whispering. The person on the hook was ME. Only me. However much I did or didn’t forgive, they were unaffected. There’s that line that’s sometimes attributed to Buddha, sometimes to Nelson Mandela, that says holding on to resentment (or anger, or a grudge, or bitterness) is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Guilty as charged, I did that.

So in this chapter I’m editing is this sentence: “All of us have the power to forgive, but we often seem to fear it and resist doing it, as though it might be very painful and possibly destroy us—when in fact, just the opposite happens when we finally discover the courage to forgive.” I like that the author refers to the courage to forgive, that felt right to me. Why do we need courage? Why is it so very hard to forgive?

Justice, of course. We long for justice, which kind of rarely comes, actually. And by “justice” I mean “justice that I get to see.” Big deal:  long-run justice, after-I’m-dead justice, in-the-afterlife justice, of what good are those to me? I want to see it right in front of me, and boy howdy, I’d just feel so much better. Lighter. Happier. I’m pretty sure I’d feel all those things.

But also, aside from a longing for justice, I think we also fear being or becoming a chump, which is an old gangster moll word I seem to use a lot. But isn’t that true, however you might say it? Who wants to be a chump, always the one who gets used, misused, mistreated? If someone treats you badly and you forgive them, bloop!, what’s to stop them from doing it again? Haven’t they learned that you won’t hold them accountable? Don’t you get some kind of sign over your head, visible to the user-types in the universe: Easy mark! No waiting!

(you can find ANYTHING on the Internet)
(you can find ANYTHING on the Internet)

And right there, as I was thinking this through (instead of editing, as I was supposed to be doing), I realized where my wires got crossed. Forgiving does not mean I have to put myself in a position to be treated that way again. The problem is located in that “forgive and forget” phrase, and where the hell did that come from, anyway? If you do a Google search for that phrase you see it’s ubiquitous. Books by that title, the Big O weighs in of course, lots of support for the words being stuck together like that. I don’t think we actually forget, perhaps because we’re just afraid it’ll happen again, and why wouldn’t we be afraid of that? But remembering does not necessarily mean you didn’t forgive. I’m pretty sure of that. I’ve forgiven a world of hurts that I still remember. I’d have to be profoundly amnesic to forget them. And yet I remember them without that thorn of pain in my heart that I had before I forgave.

You have to decide for yourself how close to draw the protective wall, how high to build it, how much you’ll reinforce it. If you hurt my feelings and own up to it, I’ll forgive and forget, absolutely no problem. If you seriously wound me and own up to it, I’ll forgive but it will be a footnote in my mind, at least for a while, until I learn that it was an exception. But if you seriously wound me, don’t own up to it, and keep doing it, wouldn’t I be a complete idiot to forget? And wouldn’t I also be stupid to stay close enough for you to keep hurting me? For my own sake, I’d need to forgive you, but wouldn’t it be easier to do that if I’ve taken care of myself and have taken steps to protect myself from you?

Thinking it through like this makes me feel a lot better about forgiving, especially since it has so many good consequences for me. It’s better for your health, your heart, your mind, and probably even your hair and fingernails to just go ahead and forgive already. The only outstanding niggle is that justice bit, and I don’t know what to do with that except release it, somehow. I don’t have a long view in any framework — no sense of “Judgment Day” or karma — so I’ll just have to release it in a meditation way. Notice it and let it go. Justice…..notice it and let it go. Notice it and let it go. Drain it of its power.

I wonder how much of hanging on to something instead of forgiving is about a deep need to forgive yourself? To forgive yourself for allowing it to happen in the first place, or for letting it go on too long; to forgive yourself for being innocent (or whatever variable is at play); to forgive yourself for not hitting back (or whatever action you might have done, had you been able). It’s hard to look at that — even just typing those words produces a big catch in my throat and brings tears to my eyes, and it’s not even hard to forgive myself. The catch in my throat, the tears in my eyes, they’re compassion for myself, for having been an innocent little girl, or an overwhelmed partner, or an overly vulnerable, stretched-too-thin person. When I think about the things I still need to forgive, I find that forgiving myself in the midst of that situation almost makes the rest dribble away. Interesting. Forgiveness gives the forgiver release from the persistent self-punishment that unforgiveness demands.

Probably everyone struggles with forgiving someone, right? If you found the magic silver bullet of forgiveness, I’d sure love to hear about it. I’m always looking for other ways in, because the poison has taken its toll on me and I’m ready to wash it all away.

happy. just happy.

Yesterday I was happy all day long. It’s the first day I’ve been happy in nearly 7 weeks, since I got that terrible call from dear Katie, about our precious Grace. After seven weeks in the  terrible dark, a happy day is almost blinding.

It helps that I slept the night before — I haven’t been sleeping at all, though I’ve had a few nights of uneasy sleep, anxious sleep, scared sleep. But I slept from 11pm to 7:30am, a long luxurious sleep. Undoubtedly that set me on a good path for the day.

And then there was a cloudburst; nothing big, not big enough to register with the weather service, but big enough in my neighborhood to give me 20 minutes or so of pure pleasure. I sat with my French doors open, listening to the rain splashing on the dry crunchy leaves, breathing in that delicious smell of rain hitting dry dirt, and then listening to the rain dripping from the trees and the eaves of the house. The air smelled so sweet, that ozone smell that fills the air after a rain. I had a couple of phone calls with clients, a day filled with work, and it felt just fine to be me, in my new life.

Partly what helped was that Katie and I figured out how to arrange the couch in my living room, so even though it’s completely empty except for the couch, I can now “see” the rest of the pieces that will fill the space. I can now “see” it as the comfortable, cozy space it will be. I’m trying to organize a poetry group here, since it was one of my favorite experiences in New York, and so far 12 people have indicated interest so I’m looking at my imaginary living room and imagining it filled with people talking about poetry. Perhaps a meeting of a book club. People talking about things I love, in my own cozy home. Temma and I once talked about having a salon, and maybe I can do that here. I never could invite people into our apartment in New York, partly because my husband saw patients in our apartment and the arrangement of the rooms made evening company impossible. Also, and more importantly, I never felt like the place was mine, it certainly never looked like me, or felt like my own place, so I’m especially looking forward to having people in my new home. To good conversation, to an open bottle of wine, and to that specific kind of pleasure in my place.

Also, partly what helped was another day of not having to run around and do things, buy things; another day of just sitting with myself, another day without some big terrible thing happening. Man, I just need some more of those!

And my day ended so sweetly, with a nighttime walk in my neighborhood, which is lit up with Christmas lights:

Today will be another day like yesterday (though there might not be rain….) — but most importantly, a day spent with myself, in the quiet, just living my life. I cannot seem to get enough of those.

Thursday Katie and I plan to go out shopping for my living room, and I finally look forward to that. I’ll work on Saturday and/or Sunday, but one night of the weekend I want to go to south Austin to see the Zilker Christmas tree, which is 155 feet tall. The fun thing to do is stand underneath it and spin around while looking up, making yourself dizzy. The last time I went, they had hot chocolate and carolers, and I hope they still do.

 

So, much to look forward to. Plenty of work. The pleasure of good coffee in a quiet morning. A day of work, a day without tragedy. Something good for dinner, something I make for myself. And fun in the days to come. Home-making in the days to come. Conversations with friends, time to reflect and maybe even to read (I hope! I hope!). Time one of these days to start getting out and remembering my old friend Austin.

Thanks for holding me up, y’all — you can relax your grip a little now. I’m OK.