It often doesn’t take much of any one thing. Its more like a perfect storm of a series of small moments: a dust up with a friend that leaves me feeling wounded, a summer cold or a restless night, a parenting challenge. These wee heart aches can create a sort of cocktail that can leave me feeling weary and it can kick up the deep dark loneliness of single parenting.
For the record, I want to be clear that on most days I wouldn’t trade the loneliness of single parenting for the loneliness of a stale and miserable marriage. I know too many unhappily married parents who are so much more alone than I–who cannot avoid it, who feel trapped. I know that my designation as a single mom forces me to weave connections my married to loneliness sisters may not feel permission to create.
But its on these days, the days when I am not feeling well, when I need someone to cherish me. When I feel so alone, afraid or unsure that I just wish for someone to wrap their arms around me, soothe my tired mama’s body, brainstorm what on earth to do with that amazing, beautiful, perfectly normal but challenging child. Its on these days that I don’t feel whole all by myself.
When those days hit, I can find myself, weeping like a little girl. It happens almost spontaneously. Like a child who has experienced too much birthday party, too much first day of school, too much bright lights, big city, loud noise I can find myself involuntarily withering because it feels like its just. too. much.
I have long ago found that if I let the weariness and loneliness wash over me–if I don’t try and dam it or fight it but just let it roll it will settle back again and I will feel grounded again. And if I let all that happen and I listen to my grief I might even just learn something.
So today, when I felt it well up I took its appearance as a kind of sign that maybe its time for a walk–to wander out for 40 minutes and drink some tea and sit on a park bench near my labyrinth and be.
Sitting on this bench, I wondered “What will it take until I can feel whole–when I don’t need another pair of arms to soothe me, when I can feel the ground beneath my feet and know that it is enough. What will it take to know the solidity of my own soul not on most days but even on days like this. When I can feel secure and whole even when the bottom seems to drop out and I am left as the last grown up in the room? ”
Breathing in deeply the green summer air, my face moist with humidity and silent tears it came to me.
Forty days. In the desert. Forty days. On a mountaintop. Forty days. In the sacred company of your sisters. Forty days of a rest.
It was as if the wisdom of all those ancient ancestors came whispered in one breath. Take a break and simply go to the space where you can be. Take 40 days if you need to.
A ha! Thats why the mystics of the past left to flee to the desert. Not as some sort of punishment or banishment. Not as some sort of self imposed suffering. No–it was 40 days of luxuriating in the stillness and quiet that is found in the presence of the God-spark within. They went to listen to the quiet of their own hearts. To escape the messiness of community and the hurt that we can experience as part of human day to day life.
Forty days of Lent is not some sort of punishing self ritual–but a rest in simplicity to prepare for the great transformation of springs rebirth. Its not a ritual of denial, but a ritual of return to simplicity–to the few good things which sustain us. A release of the extraneous.
In Mexico new mothers are cared for like new babes themselves for 40 days after their birth. Those forty days after the birth of a babe provide a woman a sacred space to transition into motherhood.
Those 40 day rituals…I had always thought of it as an isolation, a hiding, a contraction…
But what if it is 40 days of protection, of sheltering? What if it not a practice of cutting oneself off not from life’s richness but rather from the hurtful distracting bits of life? What if the isolation is not an exile but a retreat so that the soul work can be done, so the blossoming can begin, so the opening can happen in a space of complete safety? What if that is what Lent is really about–retreating into the simplest, quietest, most essential place to prepare to bloom in the spring time? Its not 40 days of hiding, but 40 days of practicing opening up in the safest of space.
Maybe, sometimes that is all we need to keep growing…40 days in a safe space.
Maybe that is all we need to find the earth beneath our feet.
Maybe that is all we need to find the security we crave.
Maybe it is as simple as 40 days.
Perhaps its is the wilds of a desert. Maybe it is the top of a mountain. Or maybe it is the stillness of a daily meditation practice that had long been forgotten, the luxury of healthy food prepared with love, and the careful choice of company.
I am wondering what my 40 days could be if I could carefully choose? What harmful things would I cut myself off from–not as punishment or ritualized suffering but to enable a return to myself? What habits would I abandon? What inner dialogues, worries? What people might I leave–just for a short time–because the flow of my love to them (or their love to me) has been uneven? What burdens could I let go of to give me space to bloom?
I don’t know just yet, though I am beginning to imagine. More than imagine because I am going to find out.
I am off on an adventure.
The bonfire from our August summer vacation
Max has been sick much of the weekend. He has a crazy summer cold. He is sick one moment, fine the next. I think I may be getting it.
Saturday was big and juicy–a ripe summer solstice full of rain and thunderstorms and sunlight. It was the new moon and when the day, full to bursting finally gave way to the dark it was truly dark. I made wishes and burnt them in flames to send them up to heaven or the universe or perhaps some place across the veil–wishes for the health of my loved ones, for my journey, for babies to be born, for other babes to come home and for even more babes to stay right where they are most loved.
Sunday morning I found myself at the rink. There were only a few of us there–a figure skater working on her routine and a couple of die hard hockey families. While Max got his sea legs back and skated himself back into wellness, chasing his friends, I dwelled in my beginner space again, and slowly worked on my “C-Cut”–the hockey style way of skating backwards. The 80s pop that was blasting over the loudspeakers fell away and for me the rink felt silent–just the cut of my skates on the ice, the whoosh of my boy whirling past. My mind was still as I worked on something so new, as I tried to keep my balance in this new way. I could not think of anything else while I was paying such close attention to where my weight was.
It still surprises me how much I am settling into things that are unsettling, choosing the unfamiliar, the new. Some might think I am rushing away from my life, searching for distraction but I know that no–its an opening, to the practice of being a beginner, to sink into the richness of life with all its possibilities. I wobble in these new unfamiliar hockey skates but I notice how different it is, how much easier I can turn, and it is fascinating to me and it makes me curious. I to wobble in a newish way of being, I see how strange I feel to let go of some old patterns, assumptions and ways. It scares me a little and it makes me curious.
Today at yoga we had a substitute teacher. She was a good teacher but she is not my beloved one. I realized how attached I had become to Karen’s style, rhythm voice. I heard myself say…”Ah…but Karen has us hold that pose for 5 breaths-not three” and I giggled and realized how todays yoga practice for me was simply being there with someone new. To adjust to a new place, to arrive somewhere else than where I had hoped and to see the beauty in it.
But making room for all this new means clearing out the old. I am diligent and its seems that my practice is to let go, let go, let go some more.
I am quiet tonight. I am here at my desk at work and I long to stay, clear papers, clean out email, let go of all the things that don’t need me. This letting go is a new exercise for me–even though I have been practicing for years. It is an onion and the more I do I continue to wobble, beginner like, letting go of what is not needed to make space for fresh dreams, new paths, fascinating journeys. I am scared to let go of too much. There is so much of my life that I love and I am terrified, even as I say yes, that the price I will pay for my dreams will be too high.
I say yes anyway and comfort myself with the fact that there is still a lot of stuff to get rid of that doesn’t serve me before I get to the rest of it, before I am left asking myself what dear and beloved bits I need to sacrifice. Right now I am sacrificing my latte’s, paper clutter and toys and clothes we don’t need. I am letting go of habits like buying things we want just for kicks. I am slowly letting go of my all to quick reactions–the ones that assume that someone meant to hurt me when they spoke–the ones that personalize. I am practicing letting go of my self judgements and my inner gremlin’s admonishments. That is practice enough.
One day I may be asked to sacrifice my financial security, my comfort, my community. I can talk a good game about non-attachment but Oh, if I am honest it terrifies me–when I wonder what my dreams will cost. Its a silly exercise really as there is no way to know. So I focus on the paper, the negative self-talk, the reactivity. I know that really there is no magical economy–no God or Goddess with a ledger book keeping score of what I have given up before I get my prize. There is no formula of suffering that must be met before dreams can be realized. I know it but I am still practicing owning it.
I know that simply the practice is the point. And it will carry me where I need to be. That I believe because there is no other way to go.
Losses will come. Anyway. And grief and letting go will be part of the game. Anyway. And I will keep breathing anyway.
Every mid-June as the days swell, our little town here is blessed with the SilverDocs Film Festival. Sponsored by the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel, it is an eight day exploration and celebration of documentary films.
Last night I had the good fortune of scoring a ticket to a talk given by the legendary Albert Maysles at a symposium that honored him.
Mr Maysles films are beautiful. Last year at this time, when I was feeling so dark and dreary, I went to a midnight showing of Gimme Shelter and began to feel lifted, transformed. Grey Gardensanother one of his films is a tender portrait which clutches my heart.
As I sat in the darkened theater, Mr Maysles was charming and sat chatting with the humility of a great uncle in the kitchen. And he uttered words that resonated at a frequency that tapped right into all that I have been learning this year, a perfect finish to a wild roller coaster ride that started 12 months ago.
“Everyone just wants to be seen” I heard him say. His words washed over me. I am paraphrasing here for I am not sure I have them quite right but the gist of what he said was this: We all need to be seen and loved for who we are. That the whole point is the loving. That in and through this great, compassionate, loving gaze we can finally come to know and understand one another. We long to be seen, exactly as we are–and to be loved that way. Broken and wounded, when seen through the eyes of love we can be whole and perfect. That the greatest shame of our society is that we learn to live with our hearts hidden and locked, not daring reveal our inner thoughts and feelings, when in fact to reveal our secrets and be loved–that is the point.
In snippets spilled out casually in humble answers to an interviewers questions, Mr Maysles summarized the whole of what this last year has been about for me–what I have learned through the crazy twists and turns, through the ups and the downs. Yes…I silently prayed in thanksgiving for his words…Yes, me too…this is what I have come to believe.
We all desperately need to be seen, exactly as we are, through the lens of great love and compassion. We crave it–it is indeed what heals. This belief which has become unearthed in my own heart, this belief is what is compelling me forward these days. It is that which is calling me on this next leg of my journey.
Tomorrow is the summer solstice. The light will be at its greatest and I have to admit, it is as though so much of what we have dreamed of seems to be slowly coming true. Without telling stories before their time, I can only say that for very special people in my little tribe marvelous and magical things seem to be coming to fruition after a long dark winter when the dream of them seemed simply impossible. I too am feeling shifts in my own journey, as though I am coming into a clearing which is bright and where suddenly I can see the path. Midsummer at its most magical.
I wish you a tomorrow swollen with abundance and with the joy of being seen–exactly as you are–with great reverence and love.
All my life, well, at least as long as I remember I have been under the impression (or should I say misconception) that if something was worth doing, it was hard. It required labor and work and a whole lot of earnestness and heavy thought.
And so it was when I talked to Kaiya about how I would heal this soul wound, the one that is keeping me from asking for what I need, the one that tells me that I should simply not want more than what I have been given, I had a plan that involved a lot of work.
I laid out my strategy for her. I involved a lot of thinking, and journaling, and making art. It would involve being still and being insightful and being open, and I was up to the task, because mind you, I am no slacker. I can roll up my sleeves with the best of them and do my work.
Sweet, Kaiya, she listens so patiently and then smiles. “What if its not so hard?” she asks me. “What if its easy?” I look at her like she has three heads.
“Yes,” she said. “What if its only hard, because you are making it hard? What if part of the healing is recognizing that life CAN be easy. That joy doesn’t have to hard. That love, and abundance and wonder is all coming to you, just because. What if?”
I was silent. I kept looking at her. I heard her…but had I really heard her? What was she saying? Easy? Had I heard right?
“Yes,” she smiled “easy. What would it feel like to you if healing from this was…easy. What would that look like.”
I was stunned. I had not once considered this.
What would it be like to simply declare, “That is how I used to do things. That is how I am used to see the world. Now I am going to do it differently.” And then practice. Make lots of false starts and a couple of mistakes but playfully laugh them all off, and keep going. Easy going. Simply. Voila.
Recently while I was contemplating all this I read about how the only thing you need to do to run a marathon is start and keep going. And practice.
It has made me wonder, how many obstacles we create out of thin air, simply by declaring the path hard. Doing hard things requires energy (which we often don’t have) and pain (which we don’t want) and a certain amount of conditions that need to be pre-met. Does it mean we never start?
Or when we do start do we avoid the simple path and take a long, windy, complicated one when it isn’t necessary. How many mountains do we climb when there is a short-cut right through the pass?
I can’t tell you how many ideas I have given up on because I was exhausted and overwhelmed thinking about the process.
I am not sure what changes in life this new found wisdom will bring? Will the dreams I am dreaming unfold with grace now if I adopt this new ease. It is so tempting to fall into a trap of expectation, to swing on the pendulum so completely in the other direction but I don’t want to let myself use that as an excuse to talk myself out of faith and trust and starting.
On Wednesday Odette came over for dinner. Since she moved out we have established Wednesday evenings as “family dinner nights.”
We sat around the table and talked until way too late. It was raining Wednesday night–its been raining all week–as it has been practically all spring. When we finally wrapped up our food and put away the wine and the dishes, I announced we would take Odette home. We all put on our raincoats, and boots and opened the door.
To say it was a storm was an understatement. The sky was black and the rain was falling so hard that our normally bright street lights were covered. Wind lashed the branches back and forth. Thunder filled the space as though we were hiding under a garbage can and someone was banging on top. Then lightening lit up the sky. Max screamed and we all jumped back. “I guess I’ll just stay the night,” Odette said.
As we shook out our umbrellas I noticed that the ceiling was leaking. I grabbed a bucket and trudged up to the attic to see if I could find the place in the roof that would need some love when the storm had passed. As I was up above, I heard Max and Odette talking.
He was terrified of the lightening. As it filled our big picture window over and over he cowered.
“You know Max,” Odette said. “When I was a little girl in Rwanda, we would go out every day and take care of the cows. And sometimes a storm like this would sneak up on us. The sky would suddenly grow so black and even if it was day time we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. But we would have to get back home. It was really scary, all that dark. The lightening was frightening too–those plains were pretty flat and we were afraid we would get hit. But we would pray for the lightening to come anyway, because it would show us where we were and would lead the way home..”
Sometimes the thing that scares you the most will lead the way home.
Say yes to adventure, even when you are not quite sure how to start. Say yes to the journey because maybe, just maybe declaring the start of the trip will somehow make the path appear. Say yes, because until YES is bellowed loud, it seems like it all could get canceled anyway. Say YES because YES reveals how we tell ourselves no all the time.
No sooner than I came out with my healer’s dream, I found myself a little stuck.
Now what? I wondered.
And suddenly, in the treatment room, during my own acupuncture session, the what appeared. My healer’s journey starts with myself and with a wound so big and huge that it threatens to swallow me and my sweet little dream up in it.
Its the wound that I keep so neat and tidy, underneath a flesh colored bandaid. I have hidden it from so many, especially those closest to me. I have covered it over so neatly and prettily that I was able to ignore it, pretend its not there. I fool everyone around me too.
Saying yes and deciding it was time to start making things happen is what ripped it I wide open.
Its the hurt that comes from my belief that I won’t get my needs met. It is the ache that results from the belief that I will always need to settle for something almost nice enough, and be content with it. It is the soreness in my heart where I tell myself that I should take my portion of happiness however small and say, “Thank you very much”, That I should not ask for too much (that I won’t get it anyway) and that good girls aren’t greedy.
For so long, I have been afraid to ask for too much. Afraid because I thought that I wouldn’t get it anyway and the disappointment would be crushing. Afraid because I thought that I would be scorned, laughed at, ridiculed for daring to believe anyone would give me what I need. “Can you believe she thought she was so (deserving, smart, lovable, worthy?” I hear them chuckle. I am afraid that if I dared ask for my dreams to come true, the abundance in my life, the goodness and richness and beauty would all evaporate. So I sat in gratitude for what came my way and told myself not to dare think about asking for one stitch more.
Over the years, I have disguised this wound from so many, and even from myself. The wanting and the believing that the wanting will never be satisfied left me feeling like I had a giant hole in my gut.
I have mis-used the language of Buddhism to console my little wounded heart and to keep it in check. I would think about desire and suffering and attachment and translate their lessons as “Don’t bother to dream too big girl” I tell myself. “Those dreams are not for you. Give up your wants and desires. Simply say thank you for what you have.”
In an effort to swallow disappointment I stopped asking for what my heart wants and needs, and I called it “contentment”. In order to prevent myself from being attached I gave it all up and told myself I didn’t deserve it.
Teasing out the difference between this burying of my dreams and seeking true contentment seems to be my work right now. To be honest it seems like messy stuff and I feel as though I am stumbling along gracelessly.
Yet, I believe it is possible to live in the moment, awake and present to whatever that comes my way, to find joy and happiness in the messiness of now without promises of certainty. But I also believe that living this way does not mean that I need to turn a deaf ear to the whispers of my heart, the ones that beckon me on journeys, and call me toward my dreams. I can play in their possibilities without attaching to them. I can chase the butterflies, without attachment to catching them. I can ask for what I need to start this journey. I can ask and I can believe that it will show up without being attached to what that looks like.
I know I am brave enough. (she says with a gulp)
I think it starts with YES.