Stone Angel

Sometimes in order to get moving you need to break up, break out, break through,
Smash apart something that you once settled for to make space for what is meant to be yours.
Sometimes you need to stomp your feet and bellow in order to open up the space where you will shine instead of being forgotten in the foot lights.
And sometimes you need to strongly draw a line that cannot be crossed, no matter how innocently to protect your heart from folks who stumble blindly and don’t want to open their eyes.
Sometimes you need to walk away from the thing that only sometimes sorta works, even though you have no idea if anything better will be found. Even though it means you will lose everything that you thought kinda sorta held you once upon a time and you think that maybe that thing was the closest you’ll ever get.
Sometimes you need to be fierce.
Because you can’t play this small anymore.
Because if being compassionate does not always mean being “nice”. And sometimes you need to stand completely on your own in order to see how the universe does provide.
Because you need to remember who you are–even the parts that scare you.
Because that is the only way forward. That is the only way.

Evening metro-Dupont Circle

Every evening at the close of the day, I walk down the escalator to the platform, deep underground and wait for my train.

In the morning my head is already buried in the email on my phone, planning the conference call at 10 am, walking briskly to make time for a cup of coffee before tumbling into the day.

But every evening, I am slower. My magical electronic devices are buried deep in my bag and when I look up at the sweeping arches, it never fails to take my breath away. Shadows fall over the rails as the trains move by and I am transfixed by the holiness of this place. The rumble of the trains could be chanting, it swells to a crescendo, fades and then silence. Everyone waiting in rows on stone benches, heads bowed in something that could be prayer.

And then another swell of noise calls me and I rise to walk through a door, take my seat and lean my head against a window and turn my head to watch the blackness rush past taking with it the busy-ness and business of the day.

As the train exits the tunnel, I am awash in autumn’s golden light–the kind of light that turns the junk yards and tire shops into dramatic post-modern sets where lines and light become the main attraction, making game of shadow and I imagine construction workers as artists arranging it all just so for this moment. I pinch myself as I pass each scene–whispering to noone in particular “I LIVE here. The monuments and capitol buildings and houses that are white have nothing on these overgrown empty junk lots bathed in the warmth of a sun saying it final goodbyes–lingering to kiss everything once more before finally slipping away for the night.

This is my way home, I tell myself every night. This is how I come home.

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Max is a very picky eater. He and I have this drama that unfolds this way almost every few days. He opens the fridge hunkering for a snack. He sees carrots and cheese and milk and leftover Thai food. He sees peanut butter and apples and some fish. He does not see leftover pizza –the only food that he thinks will “scratch his itch”. And so he closes the fridge. And whines. And he declares himself starving.

He doesn’t just think he is starving. He IS hungry because he has refused to eat. Dug in his heels. His stomach rumbles because he did not take in what was offered. He didn’t see the mountains of food in the fridge as nurturing healthy goodness, but rather he saw it as “not quite right”. He has rejected it. In those moments, with an empty belly and a mind set on pizza, he really is starving even as he stands before a refrigerator that is full.
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“You have everything you need.”

When teachers, doctors and friends whisper those words to me I both am deeply comforted and deeply cynical.

I love the idea that I have everything I need. And yet, it is one thing to intellectually understand that “I have everything I need” and quite another to feel the full weight of that. Really feel it and trust it. I have struggled with the whole abundance notion.

Truth is, I can be more like my picky eater son than I care to admit–at least at a metaphorical level. I sometimes find myself standing at a the Universe’s fridge, staring at the makings of a feast, and not finding the thing I think will scratch my itch, I close the door without taking anything and declare myself starved.
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Its not hard to see how this happens, how we can miss the abundance laid out for us in all of its juicy goodness. Afterall, we are trained to think in terms of scarcity. Not enough energy, not enough time, not enough money. That is a story our society trains us to tell ourselves over and over again. Its the excuse we make for why we don’t write more, or call more, or practice more. We say not enough so much that we start to believe it and it becomes like a mist that starts to cloud up our lives.

In some cases, I walked right by gifts offered up lovingly by the universe, certain that they were not meant for me. Sometimes I have rushed right by, telling myself I didn’t have time to open the door and peak in, believing I didn’t even have the time to stop and explore and that chances are there would be nothing there anyway.

In other cases, perhaps, I have not even seen the abundance offered because I was so attached to it showing up differently I just couldn’t see it. Truth is, it is easy to open a fridge full of delicious food and declare yourself starving when you can’t find the one thing that you thought you wanted, the deliciousness you had been dreaming about all day.

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And yet I have come to believe that this small shift in perspective is the difference between a life full to bursting with joy and love and one in which I feel like I am depleted. Its not simply a matter of gratitude. Its hard to be grateful for something that for one reason or another you simply don’t see. How often have I for one reason or another missed a chance to be nurtured, nourished and held by the universe because I closed the door not recognizing the gift that showed up. How often have I wandered through a banquet feeling starved because I can’t get my mind off pizza.

I am trying to make a practice of seeing the gifts life offers me. Here are just three things I am doing to remind my hungry self that there always is enough:

1. Make a practice of saying yes whenever something lovely is offered. If it turns out I really don’t need it I can pass it along and share the joy. But by saying yes I allow myself to consider and hold what is offered as a gift. By making space for it in my life I can see it.
2. When I find spare change, I tell myself that it is a reminder that there always is enough, even if it shows up in small bits. I immediately put it in a special jar on my altar to remind myself that what we need always shows up.
3. Make what I need from what I have. Make the cookies or the salad from whatever is on hand, even if it is no trouble to run out to get the one thing that feels missing. Redecorate the room from whatever is found in the attic and the basement. Dig through the bottom of the craft bin to make art. See that it all comes together perfectly without any extra steps or trips or additions.

I am curious about how you are cultivating the sense of abundance in your life. How do you celebrate it? How do you teach your eyes to see it? I am opening the comments up and hoping you will play along so I can learn from you.

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I don’t know where I learned it but somewhere as a child I started to believe that “perfect” was the goal. A perfect score on the test meant that I was OK, read: not flawed, excellent, deserving of a prize. I think somewhere someone well meaning had taught me that we should always strive for perfection and the rare moments when I hit the mark filled me with a deep relief that I mistook for joy: “I AM good enough”, I would think. As I grew, such a mindset pushed me to excel, but it also pushed me into a kind of deep unhappiness and state of panic.

I only jumped into things that felt like I had a chance of perfecting–if it was truly hard or my progress was slow, well I gave up and put my attention to the areas where I was naturally talented and where perfection was more “attainable”. I shied away from things I was bad at, sat on the sidelines if I could. And I carried great shame about the things that I struggled to master.

And I carried that shame a lot. Because of course, in 99.9% of the things I do, I am not perfect. Not even close.

I am happy to report that I for many years now I have been on a mission to let go of the story that I need to be perfect. In some areas, I have found it easy to be gentle with myself. For instance it was easy to make the choice to let go of having a perfect house when faced with the choice of doing that so that I could spend time with Max. But its been harder for me to let go of perfection in my work. Even though it made me crazy at times, I gained a lot of self-satisfaction from being so GOOD at it. It was only after I realized that the projects that were good worked just as well as the ones that were perfect that I realized I could actually enjoy the work and the process, versus enjoying the fleeting 30 seconds after I finished something supposedly perfectly.

But the greatest gift of letting go of perfect, has been allowing myself to really dig in and try things that I am not naturally talented at and will never be perfect at, but I really enjoy. Like art, and music. Like playing my guitar. My guitar playing is sloppy and my hands are slow to learn. It has taken me almost 3 years to play an F chord clearly–and still, you got it, its not perfect, but there are few things I enjoy more than banging out a Pogues song or strumming a little Dylan.

Letting go of perfect has freed me up to take risks. I will never have the perfect words to say to a friend who is struggling, but its OK to just sit with them and hold the space, or better yet, imperfectly and awkwardly stumble through words that might bring comfort or a new perspective. I am willing to try something completely new for the sake of experimentation with no attachment to being able to do it well. Like picking up iceskating after more than 20 years or learning to swim. Or speaking a new language in a new country or playing at an open mic, despite my disasterously messy playing. I am bit by bit allowing myself to live more fully, more authentically and more joyfully.

Of course, I am not perfect at this practice either and I can find myself slipping into real unkindness toward myself when I don’t hit the mark when I think I should do better. Like communicating with my loved ones. Or in disciplining Max. I am practicing this kind of self compassion every day. Its the practice, not the mastery that matters.

I love that Brene Brown is holding a Perfect Protest and encouraging us all to throw off the heavy weight of perfection to more freely live into our own lives. I can’t wait to read her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.

Click over here to play along with this beautiful woman and lets create a most imperfect revolution.