Its been a strange kind of May. Strange in the sense that it is unfolding completely differently from how I ever imagined which is generally exactly how everything usually unfolds. Laced with losses and unbearable grief for people I love and small inconveniences for me. Full of plans that got cancelled and timetables that have been changed. I’ve found myself out of sorts and uncomfortable and feeling tight, disconnected, a little paralyzed. I feel drained of my superpowers, doubting I ever had them. All weekend I have walked around feeling cotton-headed and spacey and terribly overwhelmed. I feel not myself at all and not in the least bit grounded.
Out of school and setting up my practice I am now in a stage that is all about “getting to the next stage”. Its strange really. After years of practicing being simply present with what is, I wake up each morning to find myself constantly anticipating the thing that will come next–whether its the start of the summer or getting my practice to the next big place. I am constantly looking ahead at the schedule–what is coming next and then next after that? I am having discussions with Max about the rhythm of days that won’t unfold for weeks, focusing on getting to a magic number of patients per month. My eyes have suddenly gone out of focus–trained too long on a magic horizon which is really just illusion. This is how I have lost my way.
In our house we are in transition spaces. At 13 Max is becoming. Becoming a teen. Becoming a man. I am becoming too. Becoming healer. Becoming old and wise. In this Facebook-era, more than ever we are focused on the big moments which seem to arrive out of nowhere in my feed–things that are done and complete and neat and tidy celebrated with punctuation marks. But we are really all constantly in transition. We are constantly becoming–there is no other way–but we have falsely thought that there is a magic arrival place that is somewhere else–a place called NOT HERE. When my practice is full. When its summer vacation. When the house is clean. When the teenagers stop acting like jerks. When your eyes are focused on the horizon it is easy to feel that the place you need to be is anywhere but here.
Max and I were sitting on the couch, watching the Sandlot–one of our all time favorite films. He was leaning on my ever so slightly–what passes for cuddles now that he is 13. And then it hit me THIS. This is my life. This is my life that I love. Now–not next month when I will have so many patients or when summer is in full swing. Not next week when I have caught up on sleep and laundry. Not next year when the garden is weeded. Not one day when it all somehow comes together in some magical formulation that I can’t even now anticipate. The magic is now. Right now. With the aches and pains and the mess and the stumbles and the completely imperfect ways I make mistake after mistake. How could I have forgotten the lesson my life keeps telling me again and again?
Moving my eyes from some make believe tomorrow and training them right now on what is here is the only way to bring it all into focus again. This is a lesson I learn over and over and forget with predictability.
Winter is coming.
The gentle fall winds have shifted and its downright blustery and cold. Its dark so so early. Every morning it gets light so much later. I am feeling it, this downward energy. I am moving at a glacial pace, contracting like ice.
From now until the winter solstice all of nature is in a rapid descent into darkness and quiet. Winter is the time when all of nature goes inward. The trees have pulled back their sap. Many animals are hibernating or less active. Even the water in the lake freezes into stillness. This is the time of year when we too are called to rest, or to move more slowly, to sleep longer and stay by the fire. If we slow down just a little we can feel it—the pull to linger in pajamas or curl up to sleep a little earlier.
Of course, modern culture does not cooperate with this movement does it? In fact we are about to kick off the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE the holidays—the music, the lights, the food, the connection! But if we are not careful, the holidays can really deplete us at the time of year that nature is asking us to rest. Once upon a time when the depth of winter really did take over life, the holidays were about holding each other dear through the darkness, spreading a little cheer so we could make it through, giving us a little hope at a bleak and cold time.
Now, in an era of constant 24/7 connection, light and activity, that notion has taken off into a manic frenzy of gift giving and socializing on steroids. The pressure to buy piles of gifts and to attend countless holiday parties stretches our resources. We find ourselves running around, pushing against or completely ignoring nature’s signals that we are in a season of rest—no wonder so many of us get sick at this time of year!
I have said it so many times. The ancient medical classics tell us that one simple way to stay well is to follow nature’s wisdom. Look outside and see what the trees and animals are doing–and do that!
If you have a busy few weeks ahead of you, with lots of work, family commitments and social engagements on the calendar, you may want to work in some “winter practices” to help keep you balanced. Or, if you have a quiet holiday season planned, these winter ways can help you get the most out of winter’s break. Like the bulbs we plant in our gardens, if we winter well, we will have the energy to spring up when the weather warms up again!
Here are some very simple ways to align with the energy winter:
Sleep more. Give yourself permission to nap in the afternoon when you can. Maybe by the fire. Or pick one day (or more) a week when you will wake up with the late rising sun. Turn off your alarm and allow yourself to sleep as long as your body needs. Take advantage of the darkness and rest more.
Allow yourself to experience the dark. Electric lights make it hard for us to really understand the signals winter is sending us or truly experience winter’s energy. It becomes hard to turn off and rest with the lights keeping us in endless summer. Pick one or two nights between now and the winter solstice and dim the lights or turn off even half your lamps and use candlelight or firelight to cook and dine by. See how you sleep and how you feel the next morning.
Experience quiet. Turn off the TV, radio and internet. Try a social media fast for a few days or a week or more. Some of my friends have started to adopt technology free time periods at home—no phone, internet, TV or computer from 5:30-8:30 pm. If you try these things, notice how you feel in the absence of all the noise. Do you feel rested? Or restless and anxious? The restlessness may be a sign that you need a break from the stimulation.
Practice stillness. If you have a meditation practice, winter is a wonderful time to recommit to it. If you don’t, that’s ok too. You can create your own meditative rituals. Start small. Take 5 minutes a day and just sit quietly and breathe. I recently discovered a great free app (Calm) which offers short guided meditations and sends reminders to me to take a break. Or take 5 minutes to just drink your morning coffee or tea—no multi-tasking—taste what you are drinking and really enjoy it! Sit in your car for a few minutes before pulling out of the driveway and set your mood. Set your alarm at work and give yourself 5 minutes to do nothing. I have been using the time my computer boots up in the morning to close my eyes and feel my bottom on the chair and my feet on the ground. Start with small moments of stillness.
Take a hot bath. There is nothing like a soak warm water to remind us to rest.
And speaking of hot—Its especially important to be eating warm nourishing foods this time of year. If you are in the habit of grabbing a salad to go for lunch, try replacing it with soup. Warm breakfasts are especially important–oatmeal, eggs and even pancakes are so much better than cold cereal or yogurt. Below you will find recipes for my favorite warm foods. The pumpkin amaranth porridge is an amazing qi builder and seasonally yummy to boot. But let me also speak a few words in praise of congee.
Congee is an Asian rice porridge, traditionally eaten at breakfast but great to eat for any meal. It is easy to make in a slow cooker or crock pot and is perhaps one of the very best qi building foods out there. It’s wonderful when you are sick or recovering from any kind of illness but especially one that has done a number on your stomach. It’s both savory and sweet, easy to digest, delicious, nourishing, warm. You can make a bunch and keep it in the fridge, heating it up on demand. You can eat it in the morning and unlike oatmeal it doesn’t leave you sleepy! And its trendy too—I recently saw it on the brunch menu at Volt! Three cheers for Congee!
Recipes for Congree and my favorite winter breakfast–pumpkin porridge below!
Wishing you peace as we move into the quiet dark,
Congee (makes about 4-6 good sized servings)
1 cup of rice (any kind -white, brown, jasmine works)—I like to use the black rice that the Chinese call “forbidden rice”—You can get it at Trader Joes. Trader Joes just calls it “black rice”
6 cups of a liquid. You can use water but for more flavorful and nutritious congee, use broth for some of all of the 6 cups. Any kind of broth works great—veggie, chicken, beef, lamb.. I use whatever is in my freezer or fridge and sometimes mix leftover broths together. If I don’t have homemade broth, I use a low-sodium broth from the store.
Put the rice and liquid in a slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours. Or cook on the stove, covered, on the lowest setting, stirring now and again until you get a thick porridge like consistency.
You can eat congee just plain. Plain congee feels good when you are sick and there is not much you can stomach.. That said, the great fun of congee comes from the toppings. The Chinese top their congee with all sorts of savory goodness. Sliced pork, radishes and scallions is one very traditional option. I have friends who throw in hard boiled egg slices. I like to use left overs from the night before heated up – nothing like a little shredded baked chicken, broccoli or roasted root veggies on top. My most recent serving of congee was topped with a few pieces of leftover bacon, caramelized onions, roasted sweet potatoes and pickled beets from Number One Sons at the Silver Spring Farmers Market (those beets are addictive!). That was divine!
You can find all sorts of inspiration on line though I like to look in my fridge and use my leftovers to make a delicious mix. Yummy congee can be quite simple–sometimes one or two ingredients is all that is needed.
The idea is to have a good balance of flavors to balance out the sweetness of the rice–something rich like meat or mushrooms, something tangy/sour like pickled veggies, earthy tastes like root veggies, maybe something with a real kick like kimchee. Experiment and let me know your favorite congee combos–If I hear from you I will pull something together to share!
The leaves believe such letting go is love
Such love is faith
Such faith is grace
Such grace is god
I agree with the leaves
It is All Souls Day/el Dia de los Muertos/the Day of the Dead. My Mexican in-laws taught me a lot about this holiday the year I married. Juan and I spent a month in Oaxaca and for many years would travel there this time. I was blown away by the beauty of the holiday and the sweet relief of coming together as a community to grieve those we miss and to laugh and celebrate their lives. We built altars (called “ofrendas”) piled high with flowers, favorite foods and pictures, decorated graves, danced and sang, laughed and cried and held each other remembering with the same sweet sorrow the old folks who had died years ago and the little baby who had died just earlier that year. That was the year I learned that letting go does not mean forgetting. I learned that in fact, remembrance was the only way to let go.
It’s raining as I write this. The kind of cold howling windy rain that rattles the windows. There is no longer any doubt that we moving from the bright days of summer, through the awe-inspiring golden fall into the quiet dark days of winter. While I welcome the gifts of this quiet time of year (I love to wrap up in blankets with my book in front of the fire) if we are honest we see that his transition requires a lot of letting go.
You can see it outside in nature, the trees are letting go of their leaves. Birds are letting go of their homes and flying south, perennials are dying back. Outside so much of the natural world is dying or leaving or retreating. With less light the animals are less active. Everything is slowing down and getting down to the bare essentials. The light is quickly disappearing. I can understand why so many traditional cultures choose this time to collectively grieve and to practice letting go.
We modern humans are not so practiced with letting go and in fact, we resist it. At the day to day level, we resist letting go of activity and the hum of daylight and summer. We use electric light to keep going as though we have eternal sunshine. We also struggle with the bigger losses. When facing death, divorce, the loss of a job, or even the loss of the way we had hoped things would turn out, we often feel pressured to move on with it, to “get over it” and get back to the business of being happy and/or productive. Its as though we have no space for our grief as though it can’t exist side by side with the movement of life.
When you think about it though, its crazy because even the happiest and most joyous transitions in life involve some loss. My recent graduation from school has been exciting & wonderful. And yet graduating meant separating myself from a community that I love deeply and value greatly How many new parents grieve the loss of their old freedom and spontaneity(and sleep) in silence and shame because the world expects them to be nothing but overjoyed with their new lot in life.?
We grieve because something precious, something we valued has passed or transformed. Its as natural as breathing. Grief can exist side by side with joy, but too often, we barely give it its due, so anxious we are to move on and just feel the joy.
So afraid of being swallowed up with sadness we stuff it down. Sometimes it stays buried but sometimes the grief is so big and we have no way to navigate it. It overwhelms us and we feel stuck and drowning in a wave that never breaks over us.
What happens to grief that is unprocessed? It gets stuck in our body and creates illness. The Chinese medical classics tell us that unresolved grief is one of the major causes of disease. It damages the Lungs and sinks or consumes our qi. It impacts other parts of our system too—creating blockages and taxing our ability to make energy. Sometimes we can be caught in a cycle of low-grade funkiness, and exhaustion or life loses its zest and everything feels flat.
So many traditional cultures understand that we need practices to help move our grief. We too can adopt some of those practices to help us more smoothly navigate life.
In the face of losses, big and small we can:
Give ourselves the space and permission to feel what we feel. We need to treat ourselves kindly and gently. I used to think that cultures that required mourning family members to wear black for a year were repressive. Then I learned the color was not meant to isolate but to help signal to the community that a little extra kindness was required. Wearing black said, “I’m working through a loss and need a little space.” No questions asked, no explanations needed. Just be kind—not for a day or 10 days but for a year or for however long is needed. Can we give ourselves the space and permission to work through our losses without predetermined timelines and expectations that “I should be over this by now”
Acknowledge the value of that which we lost and discover the pieces that we can hold onto—the “gems”. I was mired in grief after my divorce. In an effort to help me, my friends and family reminded me often that “I was better off without him” and tried to help me forget him. And despite their good intentions, from that mindset, no matter how much I tried to move on, I was stuck in anger and sadness. Then I found a new practice to help me move through the grief. For weeks every night I made lists of everything I valued about Juan and what our marriage had given me. Some of those things were gone, but others stayed with me—my amazing son, my new appreciation of spicy food, my love of Mexican art, an exploration of the Divine Feminine,, my home. Finding the gems allowed me to acknowledge what my heart knew—something precious (our partnership) had passed–and then to see that not all was gone. Through remembrance, I was able to focus on that which remained with me–permanently mine.
Create rituals of remembrance. As one of my teachers says, working through grief is not a “one walk dog”. We often feel the sting of a loss – especially the loss of a loved one for years—maybe even a lifetime. Creating regular (daily, monthly or yearly) spaces to acknowledge this reality gives us the space we need to keep going. This is one of the many things I love about the Day of the Dead holiday—the regularity of it. It comes every year and we have things we do every year—ritual and rhythm help life to keep moving.
Practice letting go in small ways. When I was really struggling with the end of school, I helped myself by cleaning out closets. No joke. The energy of letting go of clothes and other stuff I didn’t need, and the process of discovering what was of value in my closets helped me with the bigger task of discovering what I could retain from my school experiences even as I was letting go of my regular school routine and weekly community.
Working with our emotions such as grief, anger, sadness and fear can help us keep flowing and healthy, even in the face of hard times. Wishing you much coziness on this windy chilly day. Feliz Dia de los Muertos! May you find joy and comfort in remembrance of all you love!
For teaching me to sit
for knocking me off my ass
for relentlessly pushing me
for gently holding me
for showing me how to fail
for cheering me on to success
for urging me to be fierce and big and brave
for calling me to be humble
for never giving me the answers
for revealing possibilities
for honoring tradition
for delighting in creativity
for bearing witness to how I wobble without ever trying to fix me
for trusting me to stand up and wobble less
for never losing faith in me
for imploring me to trust my intuition
for forcing me to back it up with theory
for standing in awe with me
for making it clear
for allowing it to be muddy
for declaring me to be a beginner
for acknowledging my mistakes as learning
for welcoming me as colleague with wide open arms.
A deep bow. My heart swells with gratitude. My life has been blessed by yours.
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.
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
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.
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.