Three years and two weeks ago I took a leap and jumped, following a dream, following an illogical and improbable yearning to be a healer (of the ancient sort), following something old inside me. At the time it felt like the end of a fantastic story, about finding the way home, making something happen despite all odds, about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Girl follows dream. Ta da. The end!
The day that I started school I walked into a space I knew well but still felt foreign and a little bit intimidating. For years I had come to the school to see my doctor who rented space there, then for my own acupuncture treatments, to visit the book store and once even to take a workshop. The school enthralled me. It seemed a place of magic and deep wisdom. And as deeply as I loved it, it always seemed a little closed off and mysterious and strange. Despite those many years of entering and exiting, despite all the ways I had been tended inside her walls, the place did not feel quite like mine. When I passed the classrooms, the student kitchen, the back doorway to the garden, the chairs in the student lounge I felt like I was trespassing in someone else’s church. I had the sense that I was walking through someone else’s sacred ground.
Yet, that morning, when I arrived as a student that building transformed for me, instantly opening up and welcoming me home. For the next three years every time I walked through those doors, I walked into an adventure. Within those walls I broke down, forgot everything I knew, got confused, lapped up knowledge, fell apart, put myself back together, railed and sputtered in frustration, discovered something new, opened my heart, printed out homework, took a risk, took a breath, sobbed, started over, waited for exam results, paced, laughed, giggled, danced, hugged, tried again, made tea, had deep and soulful conversations, had silly and outrageous conversations, got quiet, heated up my lunch, read poetry, prayed like crazy, fell apart, put myself back together, grabbed food from the fridge, bought a soup, sat at a picnic table, traded notes, held a hand, told a joke, laid down on the ground, got up, got fascinated, tried and failed and tried again, laughed, learned, pushed myself, pushed someone else, held the space, held someone else, fell apart and put myself back together…and somewhere along the way I began to learn the beautiful mysterious art of Chinese Medicine.
Through it all, from the very first day three years ago, the kitchen, the hallways, the classrooms with the moving tables, and the piles of chairs, the front desk and the bookstore, the couches in the front, the picnic tables, the garden, the library, my locker, the yellow walls with purple trim, even the stairwell, it all became mine, deeply fiercely mine–as familiar to me as my own bones, skin, hair. The landscape of transformation. My safe and sacred space. My nest. I unfurled there. I blossomed. I loved it there, lingering as long as I could when the day would end. I could never imagine leaving.
Two weeks ago, as I was walked into school on a weekend to see my acupuncturist I noticed something. The yellow and mustard walls in the stairwell, the purple banister, it suddenly felt strange–even alien. Like I was walking through someone else’s church, welcoming–but not quite mine. This space had held me through a lifetime of transformation already but something had changed. I knew then it was time. I had been dreading leaving but the space now belonged to others again. My transformation would continue elsewhere. So I scheduled my check out.
Three years ago when I had lunch with my then new friends (now soul sisters) Rebecca and Malgosia I told them, “I fully believe that I won’t finish, I can’t imagine how I will complete this crazy program but I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try. So here I am…”
Here I am.
There were many days when the only thing that kept me going was that I loved to be there.
Today I treated my last patient in the student clinic. I handed over my files. I filled out way too much paperwork, said how I wanted my name on my diploma and requested my transcripts be sent to the licensing boards. I smiled alot and held back tears. “Congratulations” they all said. “You are ready” they said. “We will miss you” they said.
Tonight, I walked out of that beautiful and strange space, the one that no longer feels like home, but still feels sacred and magical and special. As I walked down the stairs in the yellow and mustard stairwell, I leaned on the purple railing and slowed. “Thank you” I whispered with each step down. “Thank you for holding me.”
I paused then and turned to the woman in the lobby. “Good night” I yelled. “Good bye” I whispered.
And then, I opened the door to a new beginning.
I know of course that the very personal sacredness of this place was created for me by the magic of a group of 30 amazing healers — the ones who started with me on that day 3 years ago–the ones who held my hand and held the space and kicked my butt and dried my tears and shared their notes and shared their lives. I know now that the reason the space never felt quite right before was because they weren’t there yet. I love you guys. This is for you.
Its 4:45 am. I am sitting at a pool watching you swim laps with your friends. Last night I said, “Its your birthday….Its OK if you skip practice.” But you turned to me with a smile on your face and said, “I love to swim and l love being with my friends…I can’t imagine where else I would be on my birthday.” This says it all kid. You go all in, you joyfully rise to the challenge, you do whatever it takes. You show up and do your work. You attack life.
I am so inspired by you. This is the year you decided you wanted to make it to Zones and then proceeded to put over 650 hours in at the pool to make it. Along the way there were meets that took up your whole weekend, practices so hard that you could barely get out of bed next day, missed sleepovers and parties and homework squeezed in between eating and swimming. But every time I said, “You don’t have to do this…” you looked at me with a smile and said,”But I want to…I don’t want to miss it”
This was the year that you discovered that optimism and positive thinking changes everything. When you felt like a rock star you showed up as a rock star. When we sat in complaint it all fell apart.
This was a blossoming year for you–in so many small and big ways. You brought your A game to interactions with friends, and navigated some tough situations with consideration and kindness. You made some hard choices. You struggled with people who disappointed you but came out finding your way, always with kindness. Even with me. Even when you were angry beyond words, you kept at it until you could say what you wanted to say kindly, standing your ground, searching for words but telling me “I HAVE A RIGHT TO MY FEELINGS”. No matter how badly you wanted to win, you made friends with your competition, joking on the blocks, hugging before a tough race, coming home from each big meet with new buddies to text about sports and movies…and girls.
You are solution oriented. When I have been too tired to see straight, blurry eyed from studying you always have an idea to set things right–whether its cleaning the kitchen or ordering out food or curling up to watch a movie.
When life gets hard or we have a difficult challenge to face, you remind me that life is an adventure, a game to be played with gusto, a gift.
Some people think I am crazy for driving you to these early morning practices but what they don’t know is how much joy I get from watching you laugh on the deck and start the morning by jumping feet first into the deep end. Secret is, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Happy birthday dear Max. I love you so much.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.–Ferris Bueller
Tomorrow marks the first day of my last trimester in my acupuncture program. The proverbial beginning of the end. My very last class is a mere 15 weeks away. Shortly after that I will graduate and begin a whole new phase of my journey.
It feels miraculous really, to have made it this far. It seems like just yesterday when my heart ached because of how deeply I longed to go to school to study this magical medicine. For years, I was bogged down in a swamp of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It seemed that I would never start.
But start I did. I am so profoundly aware of how the Universe has conspired to allow me to be here, to allow me to keep walking this path. It was nothing short of magic how part-time work and car pools and many other small every day miracles lined up making it possible for me to keep walking through those doors. As a result, every day I was at school, no matter how tired, or grumpy or stressful, I held as gift.
Oh its been a journey! School has put almost unbearable strains on my time and health. There have been moments where I was challenged beyond my wildest dreams, times when I was pushed right to edge. And oh how I have desperately missed my neighborhood community which faded into the background while I studied! And now with just 15 weeks left I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But lets be clear. I am not sprinting to the finish line. No, I am sauntering. Savoring the last delicious bits of these glorious three years. Drinking it in before this dream that once seemed impossible, changes into a new one.
I have come to know when I am in the presence of something precious. I am so grateful for my teachers, for my classmates, for the experiences that have radically transformed me.
I have no idea what the future may bring–what gifts and challenges my new adventures will offer. I don’t know what this phase will transform into. But I do know that this setting sun, this ending time, this space of transition, this last juicy sip is to be cherished not because of what lies on the other side but simply because it will one day no longer be here. Slow down I say. Look around. Take it in. Let it seep into your bones again and again. Its not yet time for goodbye.
And so, acknowledging how far I’ve come, how close this next milestone may be, I shift my eyes from the horizon, from the light at the end of the tunnel, from the future that is rushing towards me at break neck speed and I focus them on the only place I need to be.
Here. Now. Right in front of me. With a fresh notebook and brand-new pens and a grateful heart.
For my beloved cohort–you ragtag band of magical people! I love you beyond measure. Thank you for holding my hand as we walk.
If the only prayer you ever said was “Thank You” that would be enough–Meister Eckhart
I woke this morning with a heart light and full of gratitude.
It hasn’t always been this way. There have been days–very dark and heavy days–when it was a struggle to rise. Days when I felt so sad or so beaten down or just so overwhelmed or riddled with fatigue or pain that I wondered if I’d ever know joy again. But rise I did. Because its the only thing to do. One foot in front of the other–one breath at a time.
I used to think that happiness was the result of accomplishment or tying things up neat and tidy, of accumulated pleasures or wealth or good health but now I know that happiness comes simply from walking the walk and opening up to all that we see along the way, the glorious and the ugly, the cozy and the uncomfortable. Happiness rises up slowly and glows from inside when I simply bear witness to life happening all around me. So simple really. I almost missed it.
This spring I was blessed enough to attend another birth. On the way to the hospital we had to drive through the Mall filled with tourists here to see cherry blossoms and monuments and museums. As we drove through the milling crowds I wanted to roll down my window and shout, “Hey–you–someone is being BORN over here and you don’t even know it!” There are miracles happening all the time–we just have to open our eyes and pay attention.
Life is a gift and I am so grateful that I have made it 44 times around this great sun. Its been nothing short of an adventure. Every great adventure has scary moments and times when you think that the hero(ine) won’t make it. Every adventure has cliff hangers and moments that are so breathtakingly beautiful or painful that your heart (my heart) breaks wide open. Every adventure has moments when the loss is so heavy and dark you think (I think) it’s over and then a tiny light glows somewhere and somehow its not so dark and then out of nowhere there is majesty and brilliance and something no one expected. I am so grateful for it all. It has brought me here. And I welcome what comes next, the good, the bad, the ugly, the sublime.
I’m closing my eyes on this night with a heart so overflowing with love and gratitude. Because I am living a life that I am creating, the life I always wanted. Because I work side by side with amazing extraordinary people and get to partner with them to profoundly change the world. Because in my work I get to nurture the potential in others. Because I have a child who is kind and happy. Because my entire life I have walked side by side with loving friends and family who have carried me, danced with me, cooked for me, dreamed with me, dried my tears. Because I the older I get the more convinced I am that gnomes really do live in the forest. Because seriously, life is nothing short of magical. Because it is all miracle. All miracle.
(Hey YOU! Yes YOU! Someone, something is being BORN over here! Don’t miss it!)
I am so blessed. So truly blessed. And so grateful for another day and a chance to start another year.
Several Times in the Last Week
Ever since Happiness heard your name
It has been running through the streets
Trying to find you.
And several times in the last week,
God Himself has even come to my door-
Asking me for your address!
Once I said,
I thought You knew everything.
Why are You asking me
Where Your lovers live?’
And the Beloved replied,
Indeed, Hafiz, I do know Everything -
But it is fun playing dumb once in a while.
And I love intimate chat
And the warmth of your heart’s fire.
Maybe we should make this poem into a song-
I think it has potential!
How far does this refrain sound,
For I know it is a Truth:
Ever since Happiness heard your name,
It has been running through the streets
Trying to find you.
And several times in the last week,
God Himself has come to my door-
So sweetly asking for your address,
Wanting the beautiful warmth of your heart’s fire.
-Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladinsky
The morning you were born and I held you in my arms, I knew I was all in but I had no idea.
I suspected that part of my job was teach you not to be afraid. But I had no idea that you would teach me to let go of my fear too. You taught me to ride a loop rollercoaster & to throw my head back and let myself feel like I am flying. I never would have had the courage to do that if it wasn’t for you. Being your mom, I have become braver than I ever thought I’d could be, speaking out, standing up, trying new things–all for the sake of you.
I thought it would be part of my job to teach you to never give up. But its you who taught me. This summer you worked with me patiently until I learned to do a flip-turn, encouraging me to stay with it even when I struggled, even when I thought it was no use or not important. It was because of you that I haven’t given up–even when life has gotten impossibly hard. You taught me to just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You inspired me to push on to keep going–all for the sake of you.
I was sure it would be my job to teach you to work hard, buckle down and have discipline. But it is you that gets me out of the house early so you can hit the rink or the pool in the wee hours, putting in your hours, breaking down your shot and your stroke so you can meet every goal that you set in front of you. And truth be told, over the last 12 years I have worked harder than I ever imagined I ever could without even thinking twice. It’s for you really.
I had no idea that the tiny child I held in my arm 12 years ago today would have taught me so much, given me so much, challenged me so much. I had no idea when I held you that I was holding in my arms this amazing potential–that the person I was holding would grow up to be the kind of person who patiently helps younger children with their butterfly stroke and their starting dives, the kind of person who gives his own money to the hungry, the kind of person who stands at the end of his friends lane and cheers his head off to keep him going through 200 painful meters of fly at top speed. I had no idea that the baby I held was the kind of person who would get in the pool and swim 180 laps straight the week of Junior Olympics (when everyone else with any sense was resting) to raise money to build an elementary school in Honduras. I had no idea that the baby I held in my arms would call me out when I was being a hypocrite or challenge me to think of things in a new way. I knew only one thing. Love. And truth is that is all I know now. That is the only thing to know.
I love you so much Max. I am so grateful for the hours we spend reading together, watching Glee, in the car chatting or listening to music. I am grateful that you talk to me when you are upset–especially when you are upset with me. They say these years can be the most difficult as you push away and establish yourself as a young man. I really have no idea–but that’s ok. Because I had no idea how much I would love you and how much that love has pushed me forward, no matter what.
I have no idea what the next few years will bring, but whatever it does I am all in.
Happy 12th birthday.
Ever since I was a wee child I have a thing for gnomes. Not the ceramic kinds that live in British gardens but the magical kind that ride on birds and build houses in trees. I spent almost 3 years of my life (between the ages of 8 and 11) tromping through the woods with field journals proving the existence of these little woodland creatures. Gnomes, it seemed to me, lived in a simple but abundant world full of comfort and love and nature and goodness. I wanted to live in that world. Proving their existence meant that I too could live in such richness. Close to the earth, with everything I need at my fingertips.
While I think about gnomes often, it is rare that other people do. So I had to pause when I saw the email from the Washington Capitals of all people advertising a “Nicklas Backstrom Gnome Giveway”. Normally I delete those emails from the Caps. Being in school now we have no budget for hockey tickets and I don’t like to be tempted. But I was curious. I mean, who makes gnomes that look like hockey players? I opened the email to see what it was about.
Nicklas Backstrom is Max’s favorite hockey player. Max loves the way Nicky passes and moves the puck around, elegantly setting up plays. When he is on his game it can be a little like watching the ballet.
Max said, “Mom, when the Universe combines my favorite hockey player and your favorite magical creature it must be a sign”. Or maybe a wonderful excuse to throw budgets and concerns about school nights spent in the city to the wind and instead do something joyful and spontaneous. Perhaps it was the gnomes calling us, but we miraculously found last minute tickets for a cheap(ish) price we haven’t seen in years. Yes–the tickets were high up in the rafters but we were going to see a hockey game!
Max and I rode the metro down to the game with delight. This unexpected hockey game, these wonderful little gnome dolls we would get at the door, it all felt like such a luxury, a miracle. We were royalty headed to that game, rich and carefree. We got to the game really early so that we could be among the first through the gates, collected our gnomes and headed down to glass to watch warm-ups. It’s such a treat, especially when our seats are in the uppermost tier to get down to watch the players so close up. What a guilty pleasure to be so close to such speed. We hung out behind the goal while they warmed, flinching as the pucks hit the glass, marveling at the strength and speed of the players. It was already a full night of juicy goodness by the time the whistle blew ending warm ups and the ushers moved us out into the hallway. How could it possibly get better?
We got in line to to ride the escalators up to the top tier to our seats so high in the stands. “Mom,” Max laughed. “Let’s act really crazy so we can win the Ameritel Move of the Game”. That’s a contest where the spunkiest of fans in the Upper Tier win tickets to move down to the the Lower Level. “OK” I giggled with enthusiasm. “Let’s get our silly on!”
As we turned the corner, about to step on the escalator, a stranger in the crowd touched my sleeve. “Are you on your way up to the 400s? ” he asked. And then, just like that, he handed me his tickets. “Take these for you and your son. They are great seats”. He was invited up to a meeting on the club level and didn’t want his tickets to go to waste. He wanted someone to enjoy them. He picked us. And suddenly we were rink side–just rows away from the glass.
“MOM…We just won the Move of the Game” Max said. “Not the Ameritel Move of the Game but God’s Move of the Game.”
Tears filled my eyes. God’s Move of the Game. So simple. Be joyful. And everything moves.
It is so easy to believe we live in a world of scarcity. In a world were there is not enough–enough time, enough money, enough love and support. It is so easy to believe that we live in a world where comfort and joy are things that are earned through hard work and struggle. Everything about the way our culture is set up seems to suggest it.
And yet, as a child, tromping through the mud searching for tiny footprints I learned that joy and goodness were right outside in my backyard. The gnomes’ world of abundance and simple treasures was always accessible–it was simply a matter of stepping into it. I could get lost for hours in that kind of abundance. And then I grew up.
It is a relatively new practice for me to learn to see abundance everywhere–to let go of my stories about struggle and open my eyes to goodness that arrives when we show up and do our work (whatever our work may be) with pure joy. To see the spontaneous meetings with friends as gifts. To see cancelled plans as a chance to finally catch up on a long neglected project.
Truth is Max and I would have had the night of our life sitting up high in the 400s. We would have screamed for the Caps, cheered their goals and mourned their loss with the same level of fury and abandon. We had already felt like we had won. And that I think is the secret.
Something from my childhood was calling to me this night. A message bubbling up–From the gnomes…From God…From the kindess of strangers and my own wise heart. A metaphor perhaps reinforcing this practice.
We live in abundance. Already. Right now. Not tomorrow when the house is cleaned and the homework is done. Not next year when the bills are paid. Not 10 years from now when my practice is busy and full. But now. Now. Now.
Open your eyes and step into it. The view is amazing.
Many years ago, a woman, named Odette moved into my house. She taught me about faith and courage, a special kind of faith and courage. See, Odette was separated from her babies. They were tens of thousands of miles away and they were held apart by immigration and economics and seemingly impossible obstacles. For the longest years, Odette didn’t have her own babies close but she helped me raise my baby. She was his auntie and favorite babysitter. She sat at my table and told stories and told him to eat his vegetables and cooked and sang in my kitchen while Max and I danced. And sometimes after we put him to bed, I’d hug her and we’d cry together, thinking about her girls so far away.
One spring night, in a fit of possibility, a group of us held a party of the most magical sort. The girls were sick but we thought, in a moment of optimism, we could get them here. We raised thousands of dollars that night as bands played and we danced and mamas and papas stuffed money into shoe boxes. Thousands that could pay for their care and would one day help bring them home.
It was a long way from that party to the homecoming, to the magical day that Odette wrapped her arms around the girls she missed so much. Odette never gave up faith. There were many more moments like that party. Small moments (and big pushes) that paid expenses we never would have thought an immigrant mother could bear. Through networks far bigger than those here in our little neighborhood, through the courage of a friend who used all her super powers, through lawyers who work miracles and through hundreds of people who gave something tangible and real, those girls found their way home to their mama. In the darkest of days, with the worry and the pain, Odette and her girls were being carried in the arms of all the mamas who loved their babies.
Yes, through that experience, I learned about faith. Not about a kind of faith that is ethereal. The kind of faith that comes when hundreds of people recognize that their own divine generosity and create the way forward with a dollar or two or ten, their talents, something tangible. Love enfleshed.
When I was deciding to go to acupuncture school, my greatest fear was that I would lose my job or my health insurance, for one reason, and one reason alone. I had visions of myself at Max’s bedside, unable to pay for care he might have needed, imagining that desperate, helpless feeling I know many impoverished mothers know, that feeling of not being able to help him get well, that feeling of having to watch him suffer for lack of resources. When he cut himself on a rusty fence, when he banged himself up in hockey, I doubled over in gratitude for the insurance and the money in the bank and I paralyzed myself from moving forward with questions about WHAT IF? In those moments, Odette’s story reminded me that there are no guarantees, other than that love shows up actively in some way shape or form. If I was faced with the worst, well, I would need to have faith in God. I knew that sometimes that God shows up as a network of mamas. I one-by-one counted my band of soul sisters who would stand fiercely with me if my boy was in danger and leapt. I haven’t lost my insurance or my job but I know if I did we would find a way.
If I had any doubt about this lesson, my first day of school, my teachers gave me language to understand it clearly. They taught me to not refer to my child as “mine”. They said, the children belong to all of us. It is their world that we are creating together. While Max he came to the world through me, he is not mine. He is ours. All the babies are ours. And we are all the mamas.
Yes. Faith is love enfleshed. And Love is not a sentiment. It is an action.
I have been recently reminded of these stories and faith that is love enfleshed by another story. This is the story of another mama, this one someone I do not know–though I love those who love her. She is living a version of that nightmare of mine. She is afraid for her child’s life. She cannot wait for insurance to kick in. She is not sure how she will get her the treatment she needs but she is doing everything she can. And yet, while she labors to birth a new life for baby, she saw that she was not alone. She spoke her prayers out loud, and the Universe answered not with a fancy big solution but with a simple network of mamas and papas, aunties and uncles, love enfleshed into action. Women and men contributing small amounts, in partnership with the mama who birthed her, building a path forward for her daughter, (our daughter) brick by brick. Creating, together, a world in which she can live. In the last few days, her friends, family and strangers have raised money for several days of the treatment that can save her life.
Watching it unfold gives me so much hope, so much faith, moves me to tears. And yet there is more to do.
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed thinking about all the children of the world who suffer and I think that I cannot help all of them. And then I remember if I just do what is in front of me, it is enough.
Right now, in front of me, there is a precious child named Asia. She is our child, brought to us through her mama, named Mani. If you have found your way here, she is in front of you too. She is yours.
This is a kind of faith. Love enfleshed. Love as action. I lean into it and want to see it grow.
I was born on the 18th day of September. I have always loved the number 18 and been delighted how it, through ancient Hebrew, connects to the word “LIFE”. I wonder right now what would happen if we all took whatever prayers we may be whispering and enfleshed them with LIFE in the form of $18 or some other multiple of 18. How many more days of healing might it create, not just for Asia but for but for all of us who will be healed when we see prayers answered in the most simple of ways.
You can be part of this here. You can whisper your prayers for LIFE and then answer them.
About a month ago, I was laying here in bed, listening to the sound of the rain, just as I am doing right now. And then over the comforting pitter patter that had me almost asleep, I heard a kitten crying outside. I checked to make sure it wasn’t one of my cats, rolled over, turned off the lights and went to sleep.
I really want you to think that I am the kind of person who ran right out, then and there and brought that kitten in. But I didn’t. It broke my heart to hear her cry in the cold and yet, I didn’t move. Fear masquerading as “common sense” struck. The last thing I needed was one more cat. I am already at the the human-to-cat ratio that puts me at risk for crazy cat lady status. What’s more, I immediately started playing the tape in my head that said “There is not nearly enough money in my life right now to support our merry band of humans and cats, let alone one more feline mouth”. I told myself stories that she was probably a new pet belonging to one of the neighbors and crying outside their door, having snuck out by accident. It made it easier to sleep.
The next night, Max came home from hockey practice and told me he saw a kitten. She was still shivering outside our door, skinny and cold. We could hear her meows as the dark set in. He broke down in tears. I posted to the neighborhood listserve begging the owners to come get their poor lost cat. I did my best to keep on going with my night, telling myself that someone else would step in. I told myself that by using my mad social media skills I had done my part. As I put my sobbing child to bed, I promised Max that if she was still there the next morning that I would figure something out and then secretly prayed like hell that she would find her way home.
I had no time to take in a lost kitten. The day ahead of me was packed full of far too many commitments and not nearly enough time, and I knew taking that kitten in would mean time spent making posters (“Lost Kitten”) and taking trips to the rescue league to get her checked out and money so we could give her shots and get her tested for all sorts of cat diseases so we could find out if its safe to let her mix with my cats, all the while balancing an impossible amount of work, school and mothering duties and a schedule that was already way too full. I knew taking her in would mean finding space for one more litter box and separating her from cranky older cats who don’t like change. So when I heard her cries the next morning, I was more than a little annoyed. Why my house? Why cry here? I fumed at the inconvenience. But then I remembered my promise to Max last night and a promise I made to myself a long time ago–that I would lean into love, and so I must even when it is inconvenient, even when it is messy and even when (especially when) it throws everything awry. And as I went outside and scooped her up and carried her in my house. And as I did it, I knew it was exactly what was needed. For the first time in days I felt right in myself again. I asked myself if there really was any other choice? No–not if I believed in love and the power of leaning into it.
She is curled up now next to me as I write this, purring. She cuddles up with me almost every night, defiantly pushing past the big older cats who claim time with me. Maybe she is listening to the rain now too, remembering that day she cried outside and wondered what would happen next. I’d like to say there is some happy ending to her sweet story, some Pollyana sweet finish about how we found her owner (we didn’t despite days and hours of trying) or how our home is so much happier with her here. It’s true, we have some moments of sweetness and joy thanks to her, (she is a funny cat) but in all honesty, our house is a little messier now. There is not a lot of peace in the valley with our older cats. There is a lot more hissing and broken vases. This is a lot more litter to scoop. Leaning into love isn’t always tidy or easy or warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it can be downright shitty.
And yet, thinking back, I remembered that feeling inside of me, that buzzy uncomfortable tight feeling in the center of my chest that came up when I was trying to resist doing what needed to be done. And I remembered how when I finally leaned in, the world seemed to conspire to help me get it done and that tightness disappeared.
There is a part of me that wants you to think (that wants myself to think) that this really never comes up for me, that I am the kind of girl who leans into love always. And yet, there are countless small moments when it happens. When I resist giving a compliment, or avoid a phone call, or walk past a person on the street, usually justifying it to myself that I don’t have enough time, that I am in a rush, or that something more important needs to get done, that I’m depleted. And I feel that same buzzy tight feeling in my chest.
This is the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. These have certainly been some dark times. I can barely get out the word Newtown without breaking down in grief. And the bombings, wars, natural disasters that have filled the news, they weigh on me, along with the mean-spirited, “I’m drawing a line in the sand” kind of negotiations that have been going on in Washington (& other places). Closer to home, I have been dancing with facing some of my own gremlins, the kind that beg me to be kind to myself. It can be overwhelming all this darkness. And to be honest, the thing I have felt most through these dark times is fear.
That thing that stands in the way of love is not hate, but fear. Fear plays itself out in so many ways, from greed, to prejudice and yes, keeping us, keeping me from leaning in and doing what must be done, in the smallest most loving way.
If my life has taught me anything it is that the only way through fear is leaning into love. Not the kind of love that is sweet and syrupy and sentimental, but the kind that has you pick up the phone and listen, or that has the hard conversation, or that says “Welcome, I will share what I have”. The kind that says “I don’t know what to say but I’m with you.” The kind that says “Thank you”. The kind that takes action, big and small, not matter how inconvenient. If my training has taught me anything over the past year and a half, it is that this kind of love is the most valuable tool in a healer’s toolbox.
I will walk through this darkness into the light through the practice (because its a practice) of leaning into love. I will slip up sometimes, I might resist. Fear may get the best of me as I practice. But then I can let go of that fear and begin again.
They said the world was going to end today. I say that the world is always ending and always beginning. That every breath we take is a new beginning and new chance to lean into love and away from fear. In doing so we will raise the sun and create warmth and safety where there was once cold and pain.
Just ask my new kitten.
I have been watching the leaves. They are turning now on the trees. The are crunchy and brown under my feet. They are letting go.
This time of year, my whole body, my whole heart, my whole soul always seem to line right up with the trees, with the leaves. This letting go time. Sometimes it creates such a lightness and an opening. And sometimes it is tinged with great great grief. This time of of year I seem to more frequently remember all those I love who I’ve lost along the way. I am aware of the dreams and plans that have faded. I am so keenly awake to the shifting and changing tides, which often carry something I loved out to sea, even while they bring me new juicy goodness.
With the onslaught of school year number two I am profoundly aware of how much this shift into school has cost me. Gone are the days of lounging on a friend’s porch drinking wine by candlelight, or staying up until 2pm banging out the Pogues on my guitar. Gone is the clean house, or the fridge filled with homemade food, the house filled with friends for communal dinners. Gone is lengthy stretches of time with my girlfriends and evenings writing or making art. Gone are lazy weekends with Max. Gone is an old work life I once loved.
Instead I am in a constant balancing act, triaging. Most waking hours are spent in a mode of uber-efficiency–fitting in homework and housework and errands and cooking and work and parenting into each tiny crevice of space. Calculating how every spare moment will be spent to get it all done. Constantly making choices between essential tasks.
I am not complaining. This is a life I have chosen, a life that is opening up a whole new world for me, a life that I have dreamed about. The hours that feel so chock full are filled with profound learning and a sense of my own power and perseverance. Even still, though, there are those moments where I am knocked flat with grief for the loss of the space and time I once had. I never truly understood how truly precious that time was. Never even knew really that I had it.
And yet, I know, that the gift of this moment is the learning to find the space even in the chaos. To know how truly precious my time is and to savor the moments, however short, when I am cooking or singing or sitting on a porch. To savor the time I have to study, to clean, to shop for groceries because that time is so short I can love it even more. This is my time to know, deep in my bones, that whatever time I have is enough if I am present and fully awake.
Today, I finished a midterm early. I was suddenly gifted with an hour of space. Space I had been grieving. So instead of filling it immediately from my never ending to-do list, I put down my bags and walked outside into the rich autumn sunlight and waded into the waist high brown grass around the pond. With the world glowing in the golden late afternoon light I faced the pond and lifted my arms, moving through the qi gong exercises that never fail to set me right, place me back right here, right now. With the wind moving the grass like an ocean. With the ducks suddenly taking flight in perfect synchronicity. With the weeping willow and the clouds and the turtledoves and the grasshoppers.
This too will go. In just a few more weeks, or maybe one good rainstorm, the world will shift and golden light will turn winter blue. But for now, I take a deep deep breath and can only say thank you.
And even as I crave space and time and openness, I say thank you for this crazy chaos and manic schedule, for the way it is forcing me to stay awake and not take one single moment for granted.
And I say thank you for grief because grief calls me to cherish what is here right now because it reminds me that soon it too will pass.
I wonder if the trees grieve during these times of transition, when they realize that the big green leafy summer is ended, even as the season of glittering like diamonds is around the corner. I wonder if the trees, in a regal and somber way, acknowledge that something precious is passing, and whisper a deep thank you as that sweetness is dissolved, maybe even weep with gratitude for what is now lost. Do they kiss their leaves goodbye as they let them go? I wonder.
This summer at a neighborhood party, a friend offered me prosecco. As she furiously searched for a champagne glass, I waved her effort away. “Please don’t go to the trouble,” I said. “A juice glass is fine…”
From across the kitchen another friend piped up. “Oh no!” she said. “You give her a proper glass. That Meg she is always settling…”
At the time, I have to admit I was quite shocked. I smiled as I accepted my drink but inside I began a silent response. “Settle? Really? How about–That Meg–she is flexible, laid-back, grateful! There are a thousand other stories to tell about my willingness to accept a juice glass. Settling is NOT one that fits.”
And yet, I have learned that when there is that much charge for me, there is something hiding, wanting to be danced with. So as the summer languidly rolled on, I questioned whether my friend had uncovered something in me, something begging for attention.
Could it possible be true that sometimes, just sometimes, behind the smiling laid-back gratitude of this woman, is a girl who is happy to take what she can get because maybe, just maybe she wonders if she asks for more if she will get it? Because asking and not receiving feels too painful? Because she has gotten practiced at making do?
Truth be told, I could care less what kind of glass I drink my bubbly wine in, but this summer I allowed my friend’s words to be a bell, calling me to attention, about where I maybe WAS settling unnecessarily. Where I gave in or gave up too quickly out of habit or worse still, out of fear? Whenever I felt smug for my willingness to just roll with it, I began to ask myself “Is this truly flexibility? Or am I just afraid to ask?”
Since I was in college, I have been very lucky to be gifted with hand me down cars. As a young person working in the non-profit world, I felt so blessed not to have the burden of a car payment, felt so grateful for a functional car that came cheap. I don’t really notice what cars look like, have no opinion on features and only notice a car’s size when packing for a camping trip. In short, I have been an ideal candidate for this kind of saving in my life. And for a long time it served me well.
But somewhere along the way, that gratitude and flexibility turned into a kind of habit. A habit of thinking of myself as the kind of person who just drives whatever. I took pride in not spending my precious budget on a car–even though I was paying more at the pump and putting my mechanics children through college. When I started secretly wishing for a more energy efficient, non-scratched, or dare I say more reliable car, I shamed myself. “What happened to that flexibility girl?” I forgot that as a 43 year old professional woman who carries precious cargo called children that maybe my car needs had shifted.
This summer when my used wagon began to become unreliable, breaking down not once, not twice, but three times on the highway, when the mounting car repair expenses became burdensome, I started to ask whether maybe, just maybe, I was in the name of gratitude and flexibility settling for something less than what I needed. And maybe, I could open to the possibility that if I named it, I could find a way to have what we needed- a reliable, safe new car. One that came with a warranty. One that I could count on functioning not just for months at a time, but for years.
I began to do the research and discovered much to my surprise that for the same money I was investing in repairs, I could bring into my life a new, reliable and safe car. I was shocked. I had never asked a question big enough that even allowed me to see that I could both have everything I need without busting my budget. Settling was not required.
It was simply a matter of changing the question from “What do I think I should have?” Or “What have I always had?” to “What would serve us in this moment and how do I bring it into my life?” Its not a black and white/either or question. I can be grateful for all those used cars that saved me cash during truly hard times, for the joy and wonder they brought us with their quirks and their gifts AND I can open up to the fact that life shifts and that sometimes new shifts mean new needs and then new possibilities.