I am halfway through the most luxurious vacation. Ask me where I am going and I will tell you I am here. Right now.
Once upon a time, I would step out of my office for lunch and watch the tourists wander the streets of DC with envy. I would wish it was me in their shoes, walking my streets without the rush, the to-do list, without my head buried in emails or lost in a conference call. I would watch the tourists and sigh and want to be them. And then I would go on vacation to some wonderful far away city and watch the locals with envy. “It must be so wonderful to walk by this river every day!” “I wonder what it’s like to come to this amazing coffee house every morning?” “I wish I knew what it feels like to pass through this park in all seasons and weather!”. I would watch the locals and sigh and want to be them. The irony (and dare I say maddness) of this was not lost on me.
Its been such an adventure filled year. It has been quite a dance, learning to balance a full time school load along with the job that pays the bills and parenting a busy 10 year. Life is so very full and truth be told, I don’t remember being happier. This year I woke up to the fact that the life I have always wanted was actually the only life I have ever had. It’s always been here this life, not “out there, beyond the to-do lists and someday achievements”, but right here. The good, the messy, the sometimes sorrowful or maddening or sweet. Its all right here. I am so blessed.
And yet, there have been times this year when the crush of the work at home, school and work was so intense I could barely breathe. What I did in those moments was breathe. And when I got real still, a tiny voice inside me would whisper, “Tend my life, just tend my life”. And I would. I would do the dishes, fold the laundry, answer email, print out my homework and smile. Smile for having had food to eat, clothes to wear, a job and the incredible privilege of returning to school as a 42 year old. In tending my life I would rediscover the joy of it.
When talking about this month I have off from school, a friend said to me, “I bet you can’t wait to get away–escape the craziness!” It was then, there in that exact moment that I knew I wanted to do nothing else but stay here and take 16 days to sink into my life, this life I am creating, this life that supports and sustains me, this everyday existence. I wanted nothing more than to wander the streets of my own life and practice being awake to the beauty of it. To tend my life and not to miss one sweet thing. I wanted to host Max’s friends for playdates and to fold the laundry and go for walks and nap. To walk to the grocery store and read books about acupuncture and have dinner with friends. Truth is I wanted to do everything I have done all year with peace in my heart, more ease, more gratitude. I wanted to use the space created by no classes and a few days off from work to really drink in my life with slow sips and deep gulps. It is here that I am practicing letting go of the agenda and the striving and the to-do list entirely and instead do what is in front of me because it needs tending, because I love it, because it is everything I ever wanted afterall.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Sometimes life can feel like an endless slog, a long to-do list, a never ending trudge up a hill. We’ve all been there. When the exhaustion is overwhelming and it feels as there is nothing left to give. When we collapse for a moment before crawling forward one tiny bit at a time.
I was once told that it helps to be present to the birds singings and the beauty of the path as you walk it. I have come to learn that it more than helps. At the end of the day, the path, the trudge, the walk, the run through the rain and the sleet and the snow, it is all there is. Our experience of it defines how we live. Not being present to the path means that we miss out on our life.
I am practicing being inspired as I trudge, seeing the hard work not as dues I have to pay, but the reward in and of itself. I am practicing letting go of the destination and simply opening my eyes as I walk forward. I am finding beauty everywhere.
I am inspired by my child, who at 10 took it on himself to raise thousands of dollars for Back on My Feet–a program that is all about putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how miserable the weather. I am inspired by the men and women who get up every morning before 5 to run together because running is the only thing that saves them–some urban professionals, some newly recovering addicts, some folks who are making there way off the streets and into the lives they have always wanted to live. I am inspired by refugees who take a chance and leave everything behind to build something new for their families risking that it will all fall apart. I am inspired by the single mom who took a chance and followed her heart to become a healer.
Too often, we see the stories at the moment of glory, the rare moment when someone has reached some mountainous summit and the clouds part and they stand for a moment in the sun, catching their breath, arms outstretched to the heavens. Sometimes we watch and say–“See it was all worth if for this moment!” But that moment–well, that moment is just one moment. Every other moment matters just as much. The moment when you fall down broken on the side of the road, stitch in your side, blood on your knee is every bit as glorious. I am practicing seeing it that way.
Can you see it? The inspiration in those moments as you crawl through muck, certain that you will never see a mountain top again. Can you know that it’s not “worth it in the end?” but worth it now. Worth it because you see your own power, even when you feel most broken. Worth it because you are breathing and here. Worth it because it could be otherwise. Worth it because you keep going one step, one breath at a time.
It’s something like this. There are all these stories you told yourself when you were a child, the stories about life that you whispered to yourself as you closed your eyes to sleep. They were the stories that kept you safe, or explained the big, wide, scary world, helped you make sense of it all. Some of them were stories someone told you. Some of them were stories you made up to keep yourself from being hurt. Some of them were simply stories that seemed to make sense at the time. They kept you warm and cozy if a little bit boxed in. At very least they enabled you to close your eyes and sleep.
But that’s not how the world is. You are older now, and you know better. You see that the world is not that small and maybe, yes, not that scary. There is a world of possibility and abundance all around you. You know this. Your spiritual teachers have taught it to you, you have seen amazing miracles unfold. You have been inspired by amazing heros who don’t seem limited by stories. Seeing is believing they say. And you chose to believe.
So you have papered over the old stories with new ones–stories of Universal goodness, hope for the World, richness and abundance in the most glorious senses. You whisper them to yourself as you fall asleep at night. You can close your eyes because of them. You gather hope from other people’s stories. You hold them in your head as a new manifesto, solid if abstract truths and for awhile it worked. It carried you somewhere else. It brought you here. To this place.
One day you will break down, because suddenly it stops working. The more you try to lean into the new stories, the more you find that even though you have papered over all those old stories with new shiny pretty ones, those old stories never went away. In fact, the more you have tried to give into the new sparkling stories, the more you hear the old ones shouting from the depths. Those old stories still sit simmering in their smallness, festering. Incongruent and confusing. And you somehow feel like you can’t settle, like something is tugging at you restless. You may feel like you are being broken open. Or maybe you will feel blocked. Maybe you will feel like a fraud. Or maybe all of the above.
And then out of the murkiness–an epiphany. You cannot paper over old stories with stories that aren’t yours–you need to transform them. You cannot abstract yourself out of this box your old stories once put you in. Its time to take another leap and while you don’t really know how to do this, can’t imagine what needs to be done, you know that all the stories need to shift. The jig is up. You can’t simply layer stories upon stories–it doesn’t work that way. What happens is that you have mind full of stories and a confused heart. So you start again, but this time you start the way you did as a little girl.
No abstractions. No theories. This isn’t about the Universe or the World or someone else in their juicy magical wonder. No stories of anyone else’s journey will give you the calm you need. The only stories that will really settle now are the ones about You and your blessed and messy heart.
These new stories may start: “I live in a world of ease and abundance…” and then they go on to describe the way the light falls on the baseball field at 7pm just before the boys pick up the bases, and the smoothness of the cheesecake you had for dessert and the sighs of the cat who is dreaming of birds and the angelic face of your sleeping child and the virtuous circle of kindness and love that you witnessed in a group of runners. Perhaps they will start, “I am powerful and wise…” and then go on to sing about how you balanced the checkbook and fed the children and made it through that really impossibly hard time. Or maybe they will start, “I am exactly where I need to be…” and then you will describe how every time you allow yourself to pay attention you learn something amazing. You will forget every abstraction and stop finding inspiration in others and instead make yourself the hero of your stories. Because this is the only way it will move from your head to your heart.
You must tell yourself these stories every night. Concrete and real and very personal stories of power and triumph and wisdom and kindness and yes of the kind of heart break that comes from leaping and falling and getting up again. This will be your bedtime story. Until you know what else to do. Something like this. Something like this.
I used to think:
That if I was a good girl and showed up, did my spiritual work, pushed through, endured, gleaned the gems from the muck, learned from the impossibly hard times, opened my heart (anyway), kept going, was clever, was generous with spirit, believed in the impossible and kept marching forward with hope,
That one fine day the gates of heaven would open up, or a fairy godmother would touch me on the shoulder, or some hero would rescue me and I would be rewarded with ease, with love, with joy, with rest.
Now I know:
That life has served to hone me into someone who is brave and strong and able to stand on her own. That I am incredibly powerful–powerful beyond measure and that the reward for all the hard work is not a fairy tale ending but the courage and strength to bear the heavy loads without faltering, to be able to trek the mountains by myself, carrying my whole life on my back while singing. The reward is the ability to create this wild, wooly, sometimes treacherous but always thrilling adventure that is my life. The reward is to know that I have it in me to keep going no matter how rocky the coast line, how high the mountain, how dark the forest.
Ease and joy and love (and even rest) have been ever present all along the path–Mine for the taking, like fruit that grows on the trees I pass, mine to recognize and harvest and savor. These gifts are not my destination but what has sustained me all along, what will sustain me as I keep adventuring on, all I need to do is pay attention.
by Brian Andreas
I don’t know how long
I can do this, he said.
I think the universe
has different plans
& we sat there in silence
& I thought to myself
that this is the thing
we all come to
& this is the thing
we all fight
& if we are lucky
enough to lose,
& I sat there silent
because that is not
that can be said.
If I could tell you one thing, my dear heart, it is this. No one has it figured out. None of us. We are all just trying to get from birth to death as peacefully, as sweetly, as nobly as we can. We are stumbling, most of us, though from where you sit it may look as though some of us are elegantly waltzing or doing a fancy latin dance. We are making it all up as we go along. You are not alone.
You will make mistakes and those mistakes will teach you things–things you never imagined you would learn. You will work hard, harder than you knew you could and it won’t even feel like work. It will cost you dearly, this passage. You will have your heart broken a thousand times perhaps–by friends, by lovers, by strangers. You may think you can sit out by refusing to give your heart or numb yourself but giving it away to everyone. You can’t. You will doubt everything you ever knew to be true and tell yourself a hundred fairy tales. None of it will be true and all of it will be true and then you will wake up.
You may feel extraordinarily lonely then, even though your sobs are resonating through hollow chests all around you. Resonating like bells ringing together, like guitars humming, like drums thumping in unison. And in that moment as you move to the harmonies of joy and sorrow, you will look up and see that the whole world is dancing with you and that your stumbling looks like a magical choreography so stunningly beautiful and honest that all creation is wondering how you got so wise, how you learned to dance like that, what secrets you must know.
Dear one, if I could tell you just one thing right now its this. You know everything you need to know and absolutely nothing all at the same time. There is no magical moment when suddenly you are worthy. There is no gate to walk through that makes you belong. You have arrived here. It is your birth right. And that’s all that is important.
For at least 5 years now it has been my New Year’s ritual to pick a word to guide me through the coming year. It is a word I hold dear, whisper upon waking, and hold close to my heart. It is a word that serves as a compass when I am not really sure what I am doing anymore. When I can’t remember what I want, I touch that word again and remember–“Oh yes….this…” The words are always different and yet they keep calling me forward in the same direction each in their own unique way–each of them pulling me forward on my path, one foot in front of the other.
I have come to put a lot of power in this word I choose. If I don’t take good care I can get superstitious, even neurotic and fret over the word, fearful that I may inadvertently welcome in suffering I don’t want, or hard times I don’t need. It can be such a big thing to pick a word. Words after all have so much power.
Imagine my delight when I started school this fall and it became a practice to pick a word for the day, a designed created mood, a word that is (to quote my teachers) “big enough to live in”. I embraced the practice as eagerly and as joyously as I embraced my New Year’s ritual. I practiced living into a word each day, sometimes calling on my yearly word, sometimes picking something new my heart needed. However it went, I remembered something that I always knew and often forget.
The word itself is not a magic word, but rather an inspiration to reach deep in my heart and live my life awake. It is not that I am calling forth the word from the world but creating it myself in every moment. I remember that my word does not represent how the world meets me, but rather how I meet the world. If my word is peace I don’t expect the Universe to deliver peace to my door, but rather I commit to meet whatever comes with peace. In doing so, I create peace, a joyous peace to live in. I am awake to all the peace around me, (the sleeping child, the flower that knows no fight) and when it isn’t there, I am awake to the possibility that I can create it right here, right now.
This year I am living into the word Open. Open, like openhearted and vulnerable. Open, like ease and simplicity. Open like welcoming. Open like doors that unlock, paths that unfold. Open like embracing whatever comes my way, faithful that the lesson in it is exactly what I need to learn.
This word business is a practice. A practice in which (even after years) I still find myself a beginner. I fall down and pick it up again. I will need to remind myself: Are you open to life? How about now? How about now? One year I posted a sign on my front door so that I would see my word as I left out the door. This year I will say it to myself every time I touch a door. I am making a tag for my key ring. My dear friend Edamarie made me a necklace this year out of an antique keyhole. I will touch it and remember to open up to my life so that my life can open to me.
What it your word for 2012? What magic will you create for all of us? What energy you will be for this world?
Not that long ago in the treatment room, my acupuncturist took my pulses and told me that my chi was stronger and more balanced than she had ever seen it. And its true, I was feeling more full, more peaceful, more aware of the great abundance in my life than I have perhaps ever. The situation of my life was not all that different than it had been a few months ago, but I am so fully aware of the gift of it all, it was not a surprise that my body began singing that tune. I felt so blessed that the Universe and I had worked together to heal some cracks in my heart so that I could begin to store a reservoir of energy to face whatever life would throw at me next.
You know what happened then? I immediately began to wonder when the next shoe would drop and tragedy would strike. I was certain the Universe had brought me to this pinacle of joy, only to rob me of it. I admit this sheepishly, but to be honest its true. I have programmed myself to believe that opening up to goodness means a sure fire punch in the gut is coming. I sat with that a while and got curious about it.
Max went on a long planned overnight trip this week to an indoor water park a few hours away with some of his best buddies from hockey. The trip is well chaperoned by people I love and trust deeply. For him, it was a holiday dream come true–an amazing adventure laid out before him.
Over the holidays Max and I had lots of opportunities for mom/son time. We spent hours reading together all snuggled up by the fire. Just as I would sink into the goodness of being his mother, fear would start to creep in. Foreboding Joy.
With this trip on the horizon, this trip so exciting and marvelous laid out like a gem I got fixated on the fact that this trip–this beautiful gift of a trip would be the thing that did us in.
I was certain that something was going to go wrong–horribly wrong. A car accident, a drowning, a bully or a sick man who would lure him away. He would bump into sharp corners of some sort and be wounded horribly. He would not come home. All these things do happen after all to families every day and the truth of the matter is we never know when life is going to shift and change or throw us a curve ball. We don’t know when we or our loved ones will breathe their last breaths. I tried to hold these facts without dwelling on them. I breathed and focused on the present moment. It seemed to help.
One night Max crawled into my bed, his room was so cold. I was awake and as I snuggled him and watched him sleep I felt that fear start to rise again. That panic that he would be taken from me. Visions of firey car crashes warred with my internal reassurances that he was traveling with a paramedic. I wondered whether it was my mother’s intutition that was telling me to not let him go, to slam the door on this opportunity and keep him safe by the fire with me. I then wondered whether this was my own difficulty sinking into the kindness and the adventure presented to him. This war was taking me nowhere good.
So late that night, I made a different decision. Instead of stepping on that rollercoaster, I stepped back and asked myself what on earth could this fear be pointing to. As I looked at his giant puppy ten year old self sleeping in heap and stealing my covers it was clear.
I love this child so very much, so deeply, so completely and with such abandon that my heart is completely and utterly exposed. And that is a very blessed thing. Being Max mom is the greatest joy of my life, a job that has new challenges and new twists and turns, a job that is ever changing. It is a job that I love with a passion so great, I sometimes think I will explode. And that is a blessed thing.
It was not his trip with the long list of possible (though not probable) tragedies that could occur that was scaring me. It was being this vulnerable. I sat with this fact for a long time. I wrapped my arms around my boy and I slept on it.
When I woke up, I realized that my vulnerability is what is saving me, what is healing me. When I sit, open in the classroom, letting myself be moved, I am practicing being vulnerable. When I marvel at all that I have, kissing each ordinary blessing in my life, I am being vulnerable. This vulnerability is terrifying and it is a treasure. It is what is opening up the deep well of energy and chi and goodness that I am drawing from. It is what is allowing me to sink even deeper. Its not a surprise that as I wake up to vulnerability I found myself struggling with it too.
What a treasure it was to stumble upon this. I have bumped into the work of the marvelous Brene Brown before and yet as I sit in my pajamas waiting for Max to come home, it resonates at a level so much deeper than before.
I am aware of how I protect myself from this vulnerability by refusing to open up entirely to the love and goodness in my life. How quick I am to slam the gates around my heart and what it has cost me. And I am making it decision, right here, right now, to practice vulnerability, over and over again.
The Ted Talk takes 20 minutes but it may just change your life.
**Thinking with love of K. and others who are sharing this journey with me. We are all walking it together. Holding hands will make it easier.**
Sometimes in order to learn something deep in your bones you need to forget it. Only then can you realize that you knew it always and this learning was really a remembering, a reawakening, a recovering of wisdom ancient and old.
This is wisdom you always had, though you thought that someone had to teach it to you so that you could really have it. So you go through the motions and you bring your good school girl self to the classroom and you listen with new ears and see with new eyes. And you flail and throw yourself against it until you are tired. And maybe then you are still.
In doing so, the school girl realizes she is really a wise old sage and that even if her mind wasn’t sure she ever had it, her bones always knew she did. This wisdom is woven into the very essence of her/of you/of me–of all of us.
You only needed to get your mind out of the way.
So you told yourself you didn’t know. You came at it in new again so your body could demonstrate that you do know. Everything that you need to know is already here. Its just a matter of remembering. Its just a matter of allowing heart, your bones, your blood to speak what it has always wanted to say if your mind would simply let it.
Christmas morning found me in my pajamas, cooking pancakes and bacon and brewing a pot of coffee while Max and Juan played the boy’s new video game downstairs. It could have been a scene from the movie I used to play over and over again in my mind during the early months of our separation, the movie entitled, “If Only It Could Work Out”. So funny that we ended up here even though we haven’t really ended up anywhere near what I thought “here” would look like. Two separate homes. Custody agreement and child support.
Its been almost 7 years since we separated. Max doesn’t remember what it was like to live with his dad and sometimes he cries that he just wants to know what its like to have both parents in one house. I know that feeling of wishing my family to be whole too–that sense that THIS is not how its supposed to be. That sense that families are SUPPOSED to be together in one house or that parents are SUPPOSED to work it out for the sake of the children or that we are SUPPOSED to be rewarded for hard work with “happy ever after”. I once held onto those old stories too.
And yet, if life has taught me anything these past seven years it is that there is no “supposed to”. There is simply life, marching on, throwing curve balls and opportunities to learn new ways of being. There is no happily ever after but if we can let go of the SUPPOSED TO there are plenty opportunities to be happy right now.
The definition of our family is constantly shifting. Truth be told, every definition is really simply a story, made up, self constructed. We are just three people, two adults and one wise, funny, brilliant and gorgeous child doing our best to make it through life peacefully. Connected to one another in a thousand different ways that matter. (Disconnected in some other important ways too!) Juan and I are both profoundly awake to the fact that whatever we did to one another in marriage and divorce, the best thing we ever did bring this amazing child into this world. We have found a way to let the rest go so we can both bathe in that sweetness. We have found a way to dance a new dance so we can both be with our son and witness his glory on this most magnificent morning.
We have done Christmas lots of ways, but recently have found a way to a shared Christmas morning. Of being together the three of us around a tree because there is no where else any of us wants to be right at that moment than together. Next year it could be different.
I called the boys to the table and served up the breakfast on the Christmas plates that someone had given us a few years after our wedding. Its lovely to have this ritual now, this simple way of celebrating life, despite what it threw us.
Next year may bring new challenges to navigate, new rituals, new dances. Truth it, despite every tradition faithfully executed, its always new. Each of us is always showing up new and that means new dances every time. And so while this Christmas morning was pure sweetness, I simply breathe and let go of any attachment to the fact that this is the way it is supposed to be.
After all there is no way it is supposed to be. There is only just the way that it is. There are ten thousand ways to be a family–joyously, painfully, brokenly, messily, lovingly a family. Every one of them is perfect.
Every glorious one.