Driving home from Tai Sophia the world looked completely different. Snow had fallen on Tuesday and yesterday a freezing mist had settled in. The whole world looked white and shrouded in mystery. The landmarks on my trip home were completely obscured, changed, transformed. A journey I had taken so many times had become new again.
This winter I have been sitting in silence alot. Sometimes I look up and find that I have sat on the edge of the tub for 10 minutes completely lost in the quiet. I light the candles on my altar and just pause. I have dove into the unknowing this winter, into the mystery of my life and I feel a little like I am swimming in frozen white mist. It is so beautiful and even though I am traveling on a well-tread path, my life, once so familiar feels completely transformed and different.
This winter, I feel as though I am coming home to myself. Is it the old friends who are finding me, reminding me that the me I am becoming, is the same me I have always been? Is it the comfort with which I am trusting the voice that rises up in me and helps me know that I knew the answer all along? Is it the dreams I have had of water and rapids and wise old women who speak through their hearts. Last night I dreamed of darkness, a warmth, I dreamed of arms cradling me and of music, sweet music hushing me to sleep. “Rest, little one,” my soul whispered. All will be well and all manner of things shall be well.
I know that soon, the seasons will turn. Usually at this time of year I am itching for spring. I am dreaming of long lit days and camping and evenings by the pool. I am climbing out of my skin with the waiting. But not this time. I am overtaken by the moment.
Two nights ago Max and I went out to buy a pair of gloves. He had misplaced his last pair. For the last several weeks we have paired together mismatches and made due but when he no longer had a right handed glove that fit I knew it was time to break down. Shocked, that even as the snow was falling all our local stores had no gloves. There were plenty of bathing suits and sun hats and baseball gloves for purchase. When I asked the nice man about where to find the boys winter gloves he looked at me like I had 3 heads–as though he wanted to say, “Hey lady–the whole world is waiting for spring. No time to think about winter anymore.” I shook my head and we went out in the snow empty handed. Apparently sitting in winter, embracing it to its bitter end is a revolutionary act.
I was a bit agitated as we drove off, as we searched at store after store. “Why?” I kept asking my seven year old as though he had all the answers. “Why can’t we just sit with winter? Why is everyone in such a rush to let it go?” Something has shifted in me. I have come to love winter.
We finally found the last two pairs of gloves left on a clearance rack in a store in Silver Spring. The last two pair of gloves. I was tempted to buy both, because of the way Max loses his gloves. But we only needed one and I wondered if someone else would be thwarted by the fact that the whole world seems to want to operate on fast forward. I took my chances and we picked up just one pair.
I am embracing the hush of the last few weeks of winter, the evenings when we have permission to sleep early and wrap ourselves in covers and dreams and music. I am embracing the mystery of winter, swimming in winter white.
The front of my handmade love notes that I sent out to my neighborhood tribe today.
Four years ago on Chinese New Year, Juan left me.
The leaving was inevitable. We had talked about it. After nine long months of trying to make it work, a rest was needed. Some space. A break. An open space so we both could breathe.
He came home from work and told me that he had found a place, a room to share in a friend’s apartment. He thought he would take some stuff over there that night, after Max had gone to bed. He thought he would stay and watch a game. He might be home, but maybe he would try it out–see how it felt. He gathered his things together and after the bedtime routine was over he was gone. He didn’t come home that night. He would never sleep at my side again.
The year that followed was turbulent, scary, sometimes exhilerating. After the heaviness of trying and failing for so long, after the sadness that weighed on us and pulled on our shoulders, there were whole weeks when the freedom felt like the first warm spring day. After hoping and praying for so long, there were weeks when the grief chilled me like a November rainstorm. I honestly can’t remember much about that year, other than the fact that I breathed alot. Just breathed into whatever I was feeling–lightness, crushing saddness, giddiness, panic. I suppose really, that was all that was important, the breath.
The short break turned into a long one. The long break became official separation. The official separation morphed into a divorce. It would happen over three years.
But a turning point came as we approached the magical year mark. I realized he wasn’t coming back, that I had, really, despite my best efforts lost my marriage.
But I also discovered that I found myself.
That year, three years ago, I decided I would reclaim Chinese New Year. It will forever be for me the official start of my new year. It is a celebration of things that die and are reborn. It is my phoenix day. It is the day that I look forward at the sinewy river that is my life stretching out before me. It is the day that I look back at the good, the bad and especially the ugly…and thank them for teaching me, protecting me, bringing me here. I thank the traveling companions who have shared my journey and I send big open-hearted dripping love notes to my community. I light candles and dance around the kitchen. I write my Mondo Beyondo list.
Today is Chinese New Year. It is the start of the Year of the Ox. Last year at this time I would never have imagined all that would have happened this past year. I am thankful for what I have learned.
I feel my heart breaking open in new ways. I am terrified and thrilled all at the same time. I am standing on the edge of something new but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
And I find myself here on this page, this place where I practice. I thank you, the few who stop by here and sit with me, who breathe life into what I write here by reading it, who give my words meaning but speaking them in your mind. I wish you a year full of joy and countless new beginnings with every breath you take.
Happy New Year.
I am so happy you are.
Sometimes, being authentic means acknowledging when things aren’t going so well.
I hate that.
I like to think that I am a lemons into lemonade kind of girl. I am a survivor, blessed, luckier than if I had been kissed by a leprechaun myself. But today, walking around in a state of bliss just didn’t feel right. It felt forced and not accurate. And the thing about bliss, I think it cheapens it to pretend even if pretending is sometimes so much more pleasant.
Its fine. Really. Its all fine. I promise. No really. This problem, this pain, this heartache…its all good. Really.
It is easy to count my blessings. When I am feeling kicked in the butt, I have taken to looking at all the wonder in my life and trying to hold it as precious. Its raining, but I am here to watch the rain. And as a strategy its not a bad idea. But sometimes, I think, all that counting is just an excuse for me not to face the uglier parts of life–its an excuse not to look them in the eyes, to face them head on. As I am finding that when I ignore those grimy, unclean, unhappy parts, when I don’t deal with them they get bigger and bigger and more and more difficult to tame, and my bliss begins to feel tarnished and I begin to feel that I am just fooling myself.
But try as I might to deny it, life is not always pretty. There are ugly things that happen here, that happen to me, to us. There are financial problems. There is bad news. There are mistakes to contend with and consequences to be sorted out. There are colds, and broken hearts, and problems that seeem unsolvable. They are what they are–not bigger than me–but there nevertheless, sometimes lurking in the corner, sometimes breathing down my neck. Today I am learning (again) that I can’t wish them away with positive thinking and unconditional love. I am learning that sometimes I need to look them in the face, acknowledge the havoc that they have caused, the pain, the panic, the sadness and then figure out where to go next.
So thats why I have been listening to the blues, painting the room with the gritty, raw sounds. Swaying, moving, singing and diving into the blues. Reminding myself that pain, sorrow, bad luck and bad times can sometimes give birth to beauty, but only if we first claim the ugliness.
Sometimes the only thing for a kindhearted woman to do is to sing the blues and then get back to work.
Tonight, while the whole world celebrates change of the political kind I am cuddled up in bed. The parties that I had said yes to just days ago will thrive without me. The chance I have to dance and sing will come around again, I am sure. Maybe not the same way or for the same reasons. But in this moment I am listening to my heart, which is telling me to stay home under the covers and sleep.
Its taken me awhile to cycle back to this place, this place where I give myself permission to say no to dancing and music and celebrating and allow myself to luxuriate in quiet. Its not often that I am in this resting place and so I am telling myself to honor the quiet call to stay here. Still.
Shhh….baby girl….rest now.
The spring will come.
There is nothing that fills me up like live music, like dancing, like friends and laughter. The fact that I turned this down not once but twice tonight would normally give me pause. I am not sick and I am not sad. I am just listening to the quiet and I can’t quite stop.
It is miraculous. Almost a miraculous as dancing.
Shhhh…baby girl. Sleep tight and dream sweet dreams.
You’re a song; a wished for song-Rumi
“Sing me to sleep,” she asked, even though it seemed like such an indulgent thing to ask for. It had been over 30 years since anyone had sung to her from the foot of her bed with the sole intention of easing her into dreamland. But lately it seemed that she needed to be indulged. She needed it badly. And without thinking, she just suddenly without thinking threw those outrageous wishes to the universe, seeing who would bite. “I am going to nap,” she said this time a little bit firmer. “Come upstairs and play, come sing me to sleep.”
“Ok,” they said. It was that simple.
And that is how she found herself tucked into bed, drifting off to sleep, listening to the sounds of two electric guitars turned way down low, hushed to lullabye volume, the voices in three part harmony perched on the bottom of her bed. For an hour they sang, maybe more. With eyes closed, she dove in and out of their voices as sleep overcame her.
“Is our baby girl asleep?” she heard him ask the others from the edge of her bliss. “She is…Shhh…Lets take these downstairs and load up the gear. We will wake her later.”
Is there anything more luscious than being sung to sleep? It is just this sweetness that my baby girl heart had been craving. But asking for it seemed so out of reach–so nutty. Who sings a 39 year old single mother to sleep? And who am I, after all these years, to ask for such sweetness? Why is it so hard to ask for the preciousness of each other? For the sound of your voice as I drift into sleep, for the warmth of your hug as you leave for the night? These things are our comfort–they nourish and revive–they can be bread or water. As children we ask without fear or shame but then, we grow old and someone tells us that we cannot dare take too much: too much time, too much space, too much air. We train ourselves to live on a diet of pleasantries, and to survive on just enough affection. We worry about how we will be seen. We don’t want to be too big. And we fool ourselves into believing that the tiny sweetnesses that we crave are things we must deprive ourselves of to be worthy of this world. Why do we spend years training ourselves that we do not deserve that which we know as children is ours for the taking–pure love. Max just pushed aside my computer and climbed into my lap. “Mama, I need you to hug me. My leg hurts.” “OK” I say. Its just that simple. In fact, I suspect it probably usually is.What sweetness do you wish for, what indulgent lovely caress does your baby girl self require? Can you let yourself ask the crazy question, believing full well the answer will be, “OK”. Can you let someone sing you to sleep? It is a lovely way to wake up.
I have been dreaming lately–really dreaming. Wild, Jungian, image-rich dreams that glisten as though they are painted with glossy paint. I wake up each morning and lay in bed, mentally kissing and blessing each of the strange and wonderful characters who have floated through my night world, who are the map-makers, the ones who are teaching me about the silent, unexplored places of my crazy healer’s heart.
There is a baby girl, a toddler, who I walk with, hand in hand along the banks of rivers and streets. While I am tentative, she will skip on the slippery rocks. When she falls I pull her out of the water , but she protests telling me just how beautiful the river really is.
There is the healer man, who looks a lot like a friend’s husband now long moved away. It is so hard to get to him, I always struggle, facing obstacle after obstacle to meet him. I will spend what feels like hours trying to connect, the path is always crooked and jumbled and exhausting, and I am so frequently derailed and stuck. When I reach him finally, he always walks me back to where I started, talking to me about the five elements, and deep knowing and the people that he and I love.
There is the crazy political consultant who is so frantic and stressed that she does not realize that I have snuck into her house and am an imposter, there is the shop keeper of the book store, a magical man who knows the secret incantations but will not tell me, assuring me that they will not work unless I discover them myself. But my favorite, my favorite of all these wild and wonderful fairytale friends, is the headless grandmother.
She has appeared in my earth dreams, the ones with golden lighting, the ones when I feel grounded. She sits at the edge on an armchair throne and holds court. She is adored by everyone but I know that I am her most beloved. She watches me work the party, the smiles, the kisses, the stolen glances. She knows what is in my heart, even before I tell her. She knows, and even though she has no head she smiles.
In my last dream she took my face between her hands and smushed it the way only a grandma can. She pulled me in close and whispered to me, “My precious beautiful girl, sweetness is coming to you…It is coming soon…in the span of one year . I see it” And then she blesses me by squeezing my hand. I don’t question her one bit. She is the wisest person I know. Without a head to muddle her, with only her heart to guide her, I know she alone knows the truth and I find deep deep comfort in her presence.
I have been told that according to Jung we are all the people in our dreams. If that is true, my headless grandmother must be my wise old woman self: the one who knows just because she has been through it all before, the one who knows becauses she has no use for a head with all the mess that logic brings. The one who knows because she holds all the wisdom of this wide open heart of mine.
This week I have kept her close, mentally closing my eyes and holding my hand in her wrinkled bent fingers. Her “oh-so grandmother” string of pearls resting on her royal blue sweater on the place around the place where her neck would be. I have kept her close and felt her smile, her caress on my hand while the rain has fallen and the wind has blown.
To you and to all the people that you are: the wise, the frantic, the healers and the children, may you sleep tight tonight in the embrace of a grandmothers’ love.
Outside ideas of right doing and wrong doing is a field. I will meet you there. -Rumi
I recently started going to Quaker meeting with a friend and her son. I was looking for a place to sit, for an anchor to my spiritual life, a starting point for Max’s spiritual journey that I could give to him as a gift. So far, I have felt cradled by what I experience there at the meeting house. I do not know if we will settle here forever but it is a beautiful spot to just rest and soak in some light.
We have had some very quiet meetings. Where the very silence itself seems to be the spirtual message. Where the joy of just sitting, together in the quiet of the dark winter day seems to be enough to fill the hearts of those who attend. Where the silence is the light. Yesterday when the silence was broken when an older friend started to sing an old old hymn about compassion I was moved to tears. Her voice was so perfectly authentic. It was a rock that having been so gently tossed sent ripples of joy out through the place where stillness had once brought peace.
I have recently been thinking so very much about living authentically. Without trappings, without pretense. I am finding that it is almost impossible to really talk about. The very minute I start to utter words it seems that the very act of conversing about authenticity feels fake. And yet, in the moments where it happens, the act of living authentically is the most freeing, most invigorating, most liberating feeling I have ever felt. And like the woman who presenced great joy with her song, I long to bring it here and word it.
But is there any way to do this in a way that doesn’t stand in opposition to you and your beliefs? I have a young and very wise friend who said that he thinks that fear of being vulnerable creates much of the pain in this world. I think truer words have never been spoken. I think fear of being wrong creates a lot of pain too. Can we talk about living authentically without raising those demons? Can we talk about living authentically without getting into the notions of right and wrong?
There are some who say that living authentically means living without color. To be sparse in dress and speech. To be simple. There are others who would say that living authentically means existing in technicolor, to be creative expression embodied, to be life lived out loud at the top of one’s voice. For others I suppose living authentically is about living honestly and fairly. The beauty is I suppose that we each get to follow the path without prescription. Is there any recipe for authenticity? And is there any way to really understand beyond knowing it as it is birthed in your own heart? In the wordless deep way that only your shining light self can see…How can you or I know if the man down the road is embracing his life braking open before him or running from the life he has always had? How can any of us know except what is wordless in our own heart?
For me, choosing to live authentically means choosing to tear down the walls I once built between me and you, choosing to let go of the fears that keep me from being open. It is choosing to let go of the things I do that keep me from experiencing what is in front of me, to embrace the things that are in front of me even if they break my heart and to let you see my broken heart even if you can’t fix it or don’t care. For me living authentically means sometimes keeping my dreams tucked away for me and me alone to see, and sometimes keep my hurts there too–treasures to be revealed only when it serves us both to learn. For me, living authentically means living into my love, breathing through my fear and not running away. It means being honest but not hurtful. Speaking reverently and knowing when to dwell in silence instead. Keeping love at the center. And getting up every time I fall down. And letting go of the notion that I am ever right…or wrong…
It also means dancing my butt off, sneaking fudge from the fridge before dinner, knitting for hours and cheering like a mad woman for the Caps. It means laughing at really bad jokes, no matter how uncool they are because they are just really silly. It means having a second helping of chili because it is THAT good. It means hugging the teenagers in my life even though I think it makes them squirm.
It means all of this and yet none of this. These are just words.
Aren’t they just a substitute for telling you what it looks like when I live without thinking how to live…when I stop everything but my breath and the beating of my heart?
I think living authentically is what happens when my baby girl self and my wise old woman have a tea party. When I just giggle like mad and eat crumpets. In the field…the magical field out beyond right and wrong.
Outside ideas of right doing and wrong doing is a field. I will meet you there.-Rumi
On Friday, I took Max and a friend to go see the Washington Capitals practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. I thought it would be an opportunity for him to see his heros up close and personal. I thought it would be a chance for me to see how fast those boys really can skate, something that never fails to amaze me.
The best moment of the morning came when Alex Ovechkin, (for you non-hockey fans he is the star player on the Caps and in many circles thought to be the best player currently in the NHL) fell down. He wasn’t doing anything all that hard (for him at least). He wasn’t even going all that fast. He was just skating, maybe thinking of something else, and he tumbled. He lay there on the ice for a few seconds and then started to giggle. Then he got up and dusted himself off and started to skate again.
The moments when we witness our heros doing something amazing are indeed breathtaking–the unbelievable goal, the leaping of a star center fielder, the slam dunk that hangs in mid air for what seems like minutes or for that matter the perfectly played song, the crowd rousing speech, the essay that makes you cry. But if you ask me, Alex’s little tumble there, was a mama’s wish come true, as magical a moment as ever there was. I was able to look Max in the eyes and say, “See that…We all fall down. Even Ove falls. And then he gets up and keeps skating.” That fall meant more to both of us, than all of the Great Eight’s goals put together.
Sometimes it is so easy, for Max, oh shoot, for me to believe that we are the only ones who stumble. And not just on the ice. It is so easy to believe that I am the only one who loses her patience or her train of thought or can’t keep the house organized. It is so easy to believe that I am the only one who has been playing guitar for over a year and still can’t play the F chord, or for that matter strum the easy chords cleanly.
Lately, the house and the guitar and the inability to form a coherent sentence are not the things that make me feels so alone. No–its other things. Its been the fact that my life feels every bit like it is on the verge of breaking open but some days just feels stuck and unmagical and impossible to move through. Its been the fact that while I am embracing the stillness and silence of winter with awe, I sometimes find myself unable to settle. Its been the fact that while I am mostly hooting and hollerin’ while I run the rapids of my life, I sometimes still break into a complete panic and even worse feel stuck, paralyzed and just so damn lonely. And at those moments it is so easy to just sit down, stop, give up and say, “Why bother”. To gracefully admit defeat. To compromise and tell myself its OK that we all fail. Do I really need to live this way? Can’t I just go to sleep, wrap a blanket around my tired body and throw in the proverbial towel.
But then, there are moments like Ove’s moment. The moment where the only thing left to do is giggle, roll over, dust off and get back on my feet.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it takes, what it costs, to live authentically. I think it costs a lot. Not in the way some might believe–the funny looks, the fewer resources, the people who think I am strange. Sometimes, it is so damn exhausting to put my heart out there all the time, to keep chosing to stay awake, to stay with my fear, my loneliness and my joy.
And yet I don’t know what other choice there is to make, what other place there is to go but here, this wide open place. With every breath, even when I am tired, even when it seems impossible I need to choose to get up again, keep skating.
As the holidays fade and we get back into the rhythm of every day life, my wish for you is the strength to choose to live however authentic looks to you. And whether you giggle or cry when you fall may you choose to get back up.
OK we are a few days into our adventure in anti-consumerism. I have decided to hold this exercise lightly, to embrace it gently and not to worry too much about it. It is not a dare…It is a lifestyle change. There are no winners or losers. It is not something to be feared…It is an adventure. And I am learning that there really aren’t any hard and fast rules–I am going to have to figure it out as I go along.
Nevertheless, I find myself wanting to set some guidelines to help me form what this is…and just as important…what it isn’t. For me, this is not an contest to see what happens when I don’t spend money. Nor is it a plunge into austerity for the sake of itself. It is not about saving money, although I suspect that will be a nice benefit. For me the goal is simple: I want to notice what happens when I feel that need to consume. I want to be with that urge instead of going with it and I want to see if something shifts or changes. I want to explore the insecurities that lead me to feel the need to reach for my wallet. And then too, I want to teach Max to think twice about spending his hard earned cash and I want us all to understand the value of money. Oh…I want to reduce the amount of plastic garbage that is filling up landfills. I want to limit my footprint on the earth…
We survived our first big outing–We had gone to Kettler Ice Complex to watch a Washington Caps practice. They have a pro-shop full of very exciting Caps gear as well as hockey sticks and skates and things that we covet. We made it out alive and without spending a dime. There was one or two fleeting moments when I wished for the freedom to buy (for myself) but let it go and felt that much lighter.
But then, we went out to lunch. It was an outing. We were with friends. We wanted to celebrate the New Year and food shared together seemed like a perfectly fine thing in my book. Other than the doggie bags we brought home (and ate for lunch today) and the extra buzz from the sodas we don’t keep at home, we didn’t accumulate anything. It felt right, even if someone doing this experiment to save money would shake their head at me and scowl.
Our outing boiled down this way to me: Stuff-no. Experiences–within reason. Technically we did not NEED to go out to eat but it fits into my scheme. So does dance lessons and guitar lessons and Max’s karate class which I laid down tuitition for on New Years Eve. What I wonder is whether as I eliminate my need for stuff, do I spend less or more on these kinds of activites? We shall see…
A few other guidelines have come to me and feel right, at least for the beginning.
If I buy something I will buy non-disposable. I will buy used. I will buy local. And only after I have found out that I can’t borrow it and only after I figured out that we don’t already have something that we can repurpose or I can’t make it from something I have.
Lunches out at the office–I will limit them to one a week. I will pack my lunches but allow myself to do the working lunch with colleagues or the occasional meeting of a friend. Good food and good friends makes my heart sing–not numb.
The other night I had a dream. I was running with a friend, one of my dearest friends, down a creek bed to waterfall. We were running with the exuberance and complete wild abandon of a couple of 10 year olds. The whole world seemed open, a bright and full of possibility. We got to the wild rapids and I jumped, sliding down the rocks into the river and let it tumble and carry me on a wild ride. My friend jumped with me and we hooted and hollered and tumbled head over feet, tossing and turning and being swept along. The river was wild, almost dangerous but we knew no fear. Then the water dumped us into a deep still clear pool where I swam like a porpoise, like an Olympian, like the strong swimmer I never was but always wanted to be. I woke up knowing my dream was about trust.
About two weeks ago a friend was over. After a long chat, she presented me with a deck of cards and invited me to shuffle the cards, close my eyes and pick one. This was the card that I picked. TRUST.The experience gave me goosebumps, or rather chills as I had already decided that TRUST would be my word for the year. Every year I pick a word to settle into. A word to set the tone of the year. A word to serve as a guiding light. The word for 2007 was “renewal”. For 2008 it was “blossom”. But this year it is trust.
Even looking back at the posts I chose as my favorites, this past year on theme seems to rise up and scream at me: Trust. Trust myself. Trust my heart. Trust my loved ones. Trust my life. Trust is my big promethean struggle–it is the boulder I push up the hill. Settling into it seems like a fitting new years resolution. The card I picked said this. It seems to be to be the truest thing I ever read:
The more we follow our intuition, the more we’ll find that the right doors open to assist us in fufilling our life’s purpose.
At a holiday party, one of my friends talked about being laid off. She told me how when she got the news, she called an old friend and mentor. This wise woman told her, “This is either the worst thing that has ever happened to you…or it is the best thing that has ever happened to you. You get to decide what it is. And however you decide will determine what happens next. What you choose to make it is up to you.” I have often thought this way about Juan leaving me. In some ways it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. But in many ways it has also been the best. I have grown in new ways, ways I never would have explored had we stayed safe and secure in our less than perfect union.
I used to think that trust was impossible for me to wrap my heart around. I was a master at second guessing. A master at double checking. A master at making plans and then doing everything I could to push against the river to keep it from flowing. But I have come to realize that trusting is just as simple as relaxing into what is–that it is, that it can be the easiest of all possible ways. All around me, the universe is whispering “Trust, girlfriend…just let go and trust.” So this year, I chose TRUST. Not just as a word, but as an anthem…a way of life, a mantra, a prayer, a guide.
I will remember what it was to run along a creek bed. I will summon joy and jump into this messy, tumbling river called my life and let it carry me along through rapids, across rocks and ultimately to deep still water.
What is your word for the year? Whisper it here…or in your heart where it is most important?