New Beginnings

The last few months have marked rapid change in my life. It has been a time of putting old things down, centering myself, and preparing to move forward. Spring seems to be the season when I, along with the Earth, shed the Winter’s heavy grey blanket and begin to grow, and to bloom.

My kids are just a couple of days away from Summer vacation, which is my favorite time of year. Lazy days of sleeping in, going to the pool, to the water park, our second home at the lake, and hanging out together. No agendas, no schedules, no homework or projects. Just enjoying each other and the long, sunny days.

When you’re a kid, growth is clearly marked, whether it’s with a pencil on a doorjamb, or by grade level. You graduate from one grade every Spring and start a new one in the Fall. Once we become adults, the demarcations of growth are much less obvious, and much less often. We may get married, or divorced, or have a child, or start a new job, but other than that, we may not notice changes.

I have grown so much spiritually and emotionally since last Fall. I have opened a new book, full of new chapters and new possibilities, where anything and everything is possible. I just have to be open to receive it. I need to listen to the guidance of the Universe, and trust it.

After every ending, there is a beginning. Old patterns die hard, and it’s important for us to recognize when we are drifting back into patterns that did not serve us well in the past. Lessons are repeated until they are learned. Change can be scary, but if we are to grow into who we are destined to be, we must take a deep breath, gather our courage, and step into the unknown.

 

 

Tending Garden

be too love farm

When you see your life as a wide open space where anything can unfold, it gives you room to ask the question, “What do I want to do?”  So often we bog ourselves down with responsibilities and expectations that don’t exist.

Earlier this week I was reading through a vintage bread-baking book, and it occurred to me that people made bread with what they had on hand. There are corn bread recipes for dairy farms, with milk, butter AND heavy cream. There are recipes made with sour milk. There are recipes for bread with no dairy at all. It was then that I realized that I am just one generation removed from being on a farm. My mother grew up on a farm, and my dad’s folks both grew up on farms in rural Kansas. My grandfather had thirteen brothers and sisters, and quit school in the 8th grade so he could tend to the fields. I remember my mother telling me about how to rotate crops to improve the soil, and how she used to break open watermelons on the sly out in the field, sitting down and eating it without Aunt Laura knowing.

Is it any wonder that I love to garden? That getting my hands in the dirt and cooking with the food that I grow gives me such a profound sense of satisfaction?  Probably not.

Yesterday I drove out to a friend’s house who lives in the country. To be fair, my house is eight blocks from cows, so it’s not a long drive to what most people consider to be “the country” — but for me, driving out to the country means going about fifteen minutes south to where houses are a quarter mile or farther apart.  My friend lives on forty acres and has horses. As I was driving, I noticed a farmer who was plowing under his field, preparing to plant a spring crop of who-knows-what. I noticed farm after farm of cattle. I noticed a really big black crow walking down the gravel road, just because he could. I felt at home.

I work for a large hospital, but what I really want to do is grow food. I want to bake bread. I want to tend to my garden. I want to be fully present for my family and friends. I’ve been absent for too long, spending too much time on social media and embroiled in drama with people I never really liked.

It’s time for me to get back to my roots, to dive deep into my center, to care for myself and the people I love, and to do what I want to do. My purpose in life is not to tend to other people’s crops. It’s time to tend to my own garden, and see what grows.

Your Life is Now

Anticipation

Few words snap us back to reality or force us to look squarely in the eye of our own mortality as “cancer”.

Once the initial shock wears off and you’re faced with the prospect of actually dying, a deep sense of peace washes over you. The people and the things that really matter to you come into crystal-clear focus. You stop trying to look down the road at what you’re going to do “then”, and realize that your “then” has become your “now”.

The photograph above is of a favorite painting of mine, called “Anticipation”. I love it because the woman is dressed up for a night out, and is sitting at the window. We spend so much of our lives like this — sitting at the window, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for our lives to start. Waiting for the conditions to be right to start living the life that we think we want, because that life is certainly not the life we have.

Or is it? That’s a question only you can answer.

I follow a blogger that is doing #365DaysToLive, and something he wrote struck me:
I needed to start living. I needed to stop trying to find love, waiting to start all the adventures I’ve been holding off hoping for a partner to do them with. I needed to stop expecting happiness and health to somehow fall in my lap. I needed to get out and stop thinking about what life isn’t, and start learning anew what life really is.

Your life is now. Start living it.

You Shall Make Your Way

There was a racially-motivated murder in my hometown a week ago.

That’s a nice way of saying there was a hate crime. The FBI hasn’t called it that yet, but it’s clear that is what it was.

A large manufacturer of GPS equipment is located less than a mile from my home, and it employs many Asian and Middle Eastern professionals who are here on H1B Visas.

It should be noted that on the surface, my hometown looks like Trump’s America. There are a lot of “Make America Great Again” bumper stickers on the back of pickup trucks, and American flags fly off the backs of those trucks. The man who murdered Srinivas Kuchibhotla and shot Alok Madasani asked for their Visa status, and yelled “Get out of my country” before he open fired on them.  He then drove seventy miles to stop at an Applebee’s and gloat about how he had killed two Iranians.

Srinivas and Alok are from India and had been here for many years. They have families and friends who love them. They were kind and hardworking. They were neither Iranian, nor Muslim, nor terrorists. It didn’t matter. They have brown skin and the murderer decided they needed to die because of it.

I attended a prayer vigil put on by the India Association of Kansas City on Sunday. The conference center overflowed into the parking lot with attendees, the great majority of whom were from India.  This is what I noticed: I did not feel threatened. Not by the men wearing turbans, not by the women in their saris, not by the prayers that were being said in a different language, none of it.

You know what I did feel threatened by?  The white guy with the buzz cut in the leather jacket that said he needed to get to the front of the conference center. I sized him up, decided I didn’t trust him, didn’t step aside, and told him, “Good luck.” That’s when he said, “I’m a friend of Laura’s.”

Laura is a sister of one of the other men that was shot last Wednesday.

The Indian woman in front of me heard him, extended her hand, and said, “Then you shall make your way.”

It struck me that there we were, standing among people who were grieving the loss of a friend, coworker, fellow Indian, who had been shot by a crazy white man who hated them for no good reason, and instead of telling this young man “No”, she welcomed him in. Encouraged him to move to the front.

To be honest, as I was standing there I thought that if someone wanted to do harm to a whole lot of Middle Eastern people, this was a situation that was akin to shooting fish in a barrel. But she welcomed him in.

Forgiveness.

Grace.

Hope.

Love.

It’s still evident in spite of Trump’s America, and you don’t have to look very hard for it.

We shall make our way.

Turn, Turn, Turn

moonrise-02-16-17

It’s still technically Winter here in the Midwest, but we’ve been given the gift of a string of 60 and 70 degree days recently. The birds have returned, and are singing. The daffodils and hyacinth are breaking through the ground and showing their leaves. Trees are beginning to bud.

It’s enough to make a cynic like me think that we might actually make it through another year without getting six feet of snow dumped on us.

I watched the sunrise this morning from my bedroom window, clutching my coffee and marveling at the colors and the spectacle that happens every day, without question, without having to force anything. I shuffled down to the kitchen to start breakfast for my family, who were all still trying to ease themselves out of bed.

Resistance takes on a whole ‘nother meaning in the morning when your bed is warm and cozy.

I saw the moon high in the sky, between the trees, outside of my kitchen window. The birds and the squirrels were already at work, completely oblivious to everything that humans are prone to worrying about.

Nature doesn’t care about politics. The sun and the moon rise and set, the trees lose their leaves in Fall and bloom in Spring, the birds migrate south in Winter and north in Spring, the squirrels bury nuts in Fall and tiny acorn trees sprout in Summer. Those sprouts will turn into trees that will drop more nuts for the squirrels to eat, and to bury. A perfect cycle of life. Nothing in nature is rushed, and everything is accomplished.

I was watching a documentary the other night about seasons in the Arctic. There is a caterpillar called the Arctic Woolly Bear Caterpillar. It spends 90% of its life frozen. It wakes up in June, just as leaves are beginning to sprout, eats as much and as quickly as it can, then hides under a rock and freezes for eleven months. The next June, it thaws, wakes up from what amounts to freezing to death, eats some more, hides under a rock, and freezes again. This goes on for up to fourteen years, when, by some miracle of knowing, it spins itself a cocoon, turns into a moth, and mates.

Timing, even if it is excruciatingly slow, is always perfect. There is no need to rush. Focus on what is in front of you and do what’s next. Everything will be accomplished. Just ask the squirrels and caterpillars.

The Year of Discovery

tube

2016 was a tumultuous year, and I’m not even talking about politics.

In April, I lost someone I loved very much. It is a loss I still feel today, and expect to feel for a very long time.

The summer was glorious. Warm, sunny, full of fun with my children at Schlitterbahn, the pool, and our lake home. Once again, when it was time for school to start, I wasn’t ready to let them go.

All year long I fell in love with my husband over and over again. The man I married is patient and kind. He laughs when I am being unreasonable, and makes me laugh about how unreasonable I’m being. He knows me better than anyone else. I made a good choice almost two decades ago. The jury is still out on whether or not his decision was a good one. So far, he thinks he got the better end of the deal. I don’t understand how.

My children grew up a little more. I taught my son to drive. I cried at Christmas after realizing that I only have three more Christmases with both of them in the house.  Our family will start to scatter, and soon it will just be my husband and me left with too much time to fill, and money we didn’t know we had. We will travel to all of the places we’ve been meaning to go. I look forward to the next chapter of our lives together.

On New Year’s Day, our family tradition is to go to a local ski resort and go tubing. You pay the fee, walk to the end of the ski slopes, inhale the smell of the wood campfire that’s burning to keep people from freezing to death, grab an innertube, and catch the conveyor belt to the top of the hill.  Once you’re up there, there’s still a bit of a ways to hike, so you drag the tube behind you feeling more and more Sisyphean with every pass, select a lane, sit down, and off you go, screaming, laughing, and bumping your ass all the way down.

That’s been 2016 for me. A lot of dragging a heavy load behind me up a hill, only to feel pure joy in the letting go as I slide down and into 2017. I have no idea how this year will turn out. Last year I said I was taking a year off, only to have the job of my dreams fall in my lap in February. This year I am taking on more and more responsibility at work, and loving it. If I learned only one thing this year, it’s that I am important. Self-care is essential to being happy. You cannot pour from an empty cup. I hope that this year I will discover more of what brings me joy. I hope to have more of those “laugh so hard I can’t breathe” moments. To spend less time on social media and more time with people in meaningful conversation. More than anything, I want to discover who I am, beyond the titles of mother and wife and friend.

Bon voyage.  Off we go.

It’s the Most Terrible Time of the Year

winterblues

I have always suffered from a low-grade depression. Even as a child I don’t remember ever being full of joy. I’ve always attributed it to my high intelligence; I have a tendency to look at every angle and focus on the worst possible outcome. Recently, however, I’ve noticed that my darkest time of year coincides with the Earth’s darkest time of year. In other words, I’ve got Seasonal Affective Disorder. When daylight starts to wane, so does my mood, my energy, and sometimes, my will to live.

The lack of sunlight causes me to feel tired, cranky, anxious, and hungry for carbs — so not only am I pain in the ass to live with, but I get fat too. On average I put on 5-10 pounds every winter.

Last winter I put on 15.  It was a particularly bad year.

Since I cannot take antidepressants, I have looked for alternatives. One of the things that has worked for me was purchasing a sunlamp (like this one). Light therapy is so effective in treating seasonal depression that most folks in Switzerland own a sun lamp, and a library near where I live has installed lights for patrons to use.

A negative ionizer (like this one) can be helpful as well.  Our electronic devices emit positive ions, which can depress our mood, among other things. A negative ionizer helps put the air we breathe back in balance. A study done in 2006 showed that more than half of the people using a negative ion generator reported a significant reduction in seasonal depression. My sun lamp has an ionizer built into it, but I’ve found that having one on a table in my living room 24/7 is more effective. Both of these things combined with regular exercise, eating better, and eliminating people from my life who were causing me a lot of emotional trauma, have made this winter far more tolerable than those in years past.

Making substantial changes to my inner circle this year and has helped tremendously. I am an empath, and that means that I absorb energy from people. I did not realize how much chaos and depression was being generated by one particular relationship until I cast it aside. That got me thinking about self-care versus the obligations that we think we have to other people.

This time of year especially, we think we have to go to Aunt Susie’s or Cousin Bob’s house and spend time with people we don’t like or do things we’d rather not. Hold on to your chairs, people, because I’m about to say something revolutionary — you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. It’s true. You don’t even need to make excuses. You can simply say, “No thank you.”  You can add “I’ve made other plans” if you wish, but it’s not necessary. If you would rather stay in your pajamas until noon on Christmas Day and then go to the movies, you can. We put so many expectations on ourselves, and I hear people say over and over that they wish they didn’t have to go to this place or that, or talk to this person or that one and I always ask the question, “So why do you?” Usually the answer involves some elderly relative that may die soon and they feel obligated to go, or they only see these relatives once or twice a year, so they think they have to go.  They don’t. And neither do you.

This year I will continue to pare down my self-imposed responsibilities, minimize the need to take care of everyone but myself, pay attention to my body, my moods, the state of my head, and practice radical self-care. It truly is a matter of life or death for me.

I will never be the type of person who will feel joyful all the time. What I’ve realized this season in particular is that I can get through winter without bouts of despair. I can even (gasp!) feel happy at times. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and it is manageable. A light box like mine can be extraordinarily helpful, especially in combination with eating good food and exercising regularly. You don’t have to hate the holidays. You can look forward to the holidays as a time to rest and relax and reflect on the relationships that are important, and meaningful, and add value to your life. I encourage everyone to take the time to pause and reflect on the people in their lives and the responsibilities they’ve assumed, and cull those relationships and responsibilities accordingly. Oftentimes, less is more.

 

 

Filling the Void

November 2nd marks the anniversary of the day my mother was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, so I’m naturally introspective at this time of year. This year I’ve been thinking about the wounds that we carry from our childhood, and how we can heal those wounds.

Psychotherapy is often centered around the first relationships that we knew, those between our parents and ourselves. People that grew up with a parent who was not supportive or nurturing tend to have difficulty cultivating close relationships when they reach adulthood. Of course this is a generalization, but I’ve found it to be true among the people that I know. For myself, having a mother who was depressed and didn’t have the energy to parent a child like me who was, as they say nowadays, “spirited”, and having a father who worked hard to pay the bills and was rarely home, and if he was home he wasn’t truly present, I spent most of my formative and teenage years running amok. I had no rules, and since I was an A student, nobody bothered to pull in the reins. I was drinking and smoking by the time I was 15, tried all sorts of drugs, had sex with a lot of people I barely knew; this behavior continued through college and well into my 20s. I quit drinking beer at age 21 (the age people are supposed to start drinking it) because I went on a bender after finals and spent two days puking up my guts. I should have died. The amount of alcohol in my system was lethal. I know that now. I stopped drinking completely in 2010 and haven’t had a sip since.

We all have holes that we try to fill. Whether our parents abandoned us, or didn’t care for us, or were judging us, or were too busy working or doing drugs or just flat-out ignoring us, we have voids in our hearts and our souls that we try desperately to fill. Some of us turn to drugs, alcohol, or sex.  Some of us turn to religion. Some of us run away from anyone who dares to love us. Some of us throw ourselves into our work (I’m guilty of that too). The problem is that none of these things fill the void. They push it down.  They numb the pain. They put it off to another time, but none of these things heal.

What heals is acknowledging the void. Taking the time to sit with whatever it is that is causing that wide-open gash in your heart. It takes effort to figure it out. It takes courage to come to the realization that you have a wound in the first place, and even more to stop the behaviors that are not healing you. It’s more than saying “I drink because my mother didn’t love me.” It’s realizing that you are using alcohol to squash the feelings of inadequacy and anxiety and worthlessness, and then stepping forward into the light. Stepping into the light leads you to the next realization that you are worthy, and you are enough just as you are.

When my mother was dying, I was there. I took care of her and my father throughout the last four weeks of her life.  I moved in with them and cooked their meals and got up every two hours to give my mother her breathing treatments and medicine, gave her baths, and cleaned up the mess when she didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. One afternoon just a few days before she died, she told me that she and my father always worried about me. They thought that I’d never find anyone to marry me, or that I’d never learn to take care of anyone but myself. She told me that she’d been wrong, and told me that I turned out okay. That moment was life-changing for me. If my mother, the woman I’d had an acrimonious relationship with for the last forty years, could see value in me, why couldn’t I? I realized in that moment that I did have the capacity to do hard things. Really hard things, like helping my own mother die at home. I was worthy.  I was enough.  I was ready to start healing. Not all of us will get death-bed affirmations from a parent, but we don’t have to wait for a parent to die to give ourselves permission to see our worth.

It has been six years since my mother passed. I have done a lot of hard work, especially sitting on the cushion and getting face-to-face with myself. There is still much left to do, but the light is shining, and every day the wound closes a little bit more. Recently I have had the joy of experiencing truly unconditional love — and I was the one giving it to myself. When we can accept ourselves for who we are, we can begin showing that same unconditional love to others. This not only changes our lives, but has the capacity to change the lives of those who are dear to us, as well as everyone we meet.

Lao Tzu is credited with saying “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” All you have to do to start healing is find the courage to take that first step.

Clarity vs. Reality

One thing I have noticed, as I’ve taken some time and space recently, is that clarity comes when we are still. So much of our lives is spent on the proverbial hamster wheel that we don’t stop to contemplate reality. We have a picture in our minds of how things are, but my reality is different than your reality, or my husband’s reality, or my children’s reality. This was very evident to me the other day when my son told me, quite proudly, that he’d remembered to email himself an assignment so that he could print it off in his 6th hour in time to give it to his teacher during 7th hour. My question was, why didn’t he print it off at home when he’d had a printer available all weekend? His response was, “You’re missing the point.  The point is that I could have blown it off, but instead, I figured out a way to get it handed in.”

Same situation, two perspectives.

I’ve had to work hard to remember this lately because I have a friend stuck in the cycle of addiction. I can clearly see the way out, but he doesn’t. He thinks he is trying, but he is not. As someone who knows addiction and addictive patterns a lot better than I’d like to admit, it is clear to me, from this side of the fence, that he has not hit his rock-bottom yet. He isn’t willing to do the work. Nobody ever does until everything falls apart. The work is hard and messy. It’s one thing to get off the crazy train, but it’s another to leave the station. At the moment, he’s stepped off one crazy train only to board the next one that came along.

Now, as I’ve said before, my tendency is to want to save people.

This is where the hard part comes in.

I have to step back and watch, and wait. I know that his journey is his, and that as much as I would like to call for another intervention, another attempt to make him see the light, another chance to save him from himself, I have to let him fail. I have to let him fall. I have to understand that the reality I see is not the reality he sees. As right as I think I am, he thinks I’m just as wrong.

The true reality is that no one knows what is going to happen. This is a tough pill to swallow when you’re convinced that you’re so smart you think you can predict the future. I do this a lot with my kids. I see something coming down the pike, and it resembles something that came down the pike at me once, so automatically I assume that the same result will follow.

For the record, it usually does.

But sometimes — sometimes — I am surprised that everything works out okay. In the meantime, I work myself into a tizzy of worry.

This is where the sitting still comes in handy.  We must find that space to breathe, and see things as they are — not how we wish them to be, no clinging or grasping, no resistance, no screaming or yelling or stomping our feet.  Just sitting, breathing, and waiting to see what happens next. Having moments of stillness opens the gates of clarity to see reality. You can choose to accept and acknowledge what is in front of you, or you can choose to reject it. The choice is yours, and yours alone.