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!
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
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.
Every since I was a baby, you have loved me with a no-big-deal, unconditional kind of love–the kind of love I never doubted. No matter how nerdy I got, no matter how I failed, no matter who rejected me, you held me as dear, never questioning my worth.
As a matter of fact, I think you are the only person whose love I never doubted. Even during the most insecure moments of adolescence when everything was swirling and I questioned everything, you were never a question in my mind. I was always sure of you. I was always sure that you were sure of me. I could be steady in your presence. I know myself to be as strong as an oak when I am with you.
When I was small you held my hand when I got scared and guided me back home. Even now, I feel safe with you. Always sure you have my back. Always sure that I am everything I need, that nothing more is needed You hold me as cherished with all my rough spots, and quirks.
You are my sweet gypsy rose, who will sing with me when life is getting rocky, who will laugh with me because you know all the things that could make me cry. You are a beacon calling me home to myself whenever I wobble. You remind me that I have always been this wise and that it is simply a matter of remembering. You teach me grace, reminding me that love is simply the act of putting one foot in front of the other, pouring the coffee, walking around the lake, talking to strangers, doing the chores, making guacamole, pulling the kayak out to see the sunrise and singing in the kitchen.
Life waxes and wanes, filling up and emptying and yet you, you are still there, a light that guides me back to myself.
My prayer tonight is that you know this love and that it call you home to the wisdom you have always had, the wisdom that allows a 3 year old to love her baby cousin so fiercely, the wisdom that holds us all so steady in your presence.
May you know that you are the north star we all sail by. The one that tells us we are already home. No matter how far we quest, we are already home.
For Leenie, my cousin and hero, who has always loved me and who inspires me to be brave.
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
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.