i can just tell

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photo by Phoebe

Dear Blog, it has been four weeks since my last post. Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been four weeks since my last confession. As a kid, I was always majorly intrigued by confessional scenes in movies like the one in Flashdance! The dimly lit space I imagine smelling like Frankincense, the mysterious presence behind the partition, the downtrodden expression on the confessor. Dancing, welding, confessionals, leg warmers, hot dogs. For some reason, I recall hot dogs, am I right about this? And the ice skater friend with the sweaty boyfriend and the pervy father. What a movie!

My current state of mind in this particular moment is supremely grateful for my friends, my husband and kids, my mother-in-law, our various babysitters, my siblings, my aunt and uncle who live near my mom, my mom’s friends, her caretakers and nurses, and the random stranger angels that the universe has kindly thrown my way. Like the one at the airport who saw me with the most loving and knowing expression in her moon shaped, chestnut colored eyes. I was alone with my three kids standing on line to get a boarding pass for my “lap child”, sobbing. After saying goodbye to my sweet mom and one of my closest and best friends who came to spend a couple of days with us, I was in bad shape. Always in airports.

This friend who came a visiting, asked if she could do anything to help while we stood talking in the kitchen. Well, there is one thing. I told her she could take my mom’s Cocker Spaniel, Betty, to the vet to have her anal glands expressed. She had been scooting on the floor and her bottom was clearly in need of attention. A google search informed me that this is not something human beings have to worry about, fortunately.

But the visual of my friend backing out of my mom’s driveway with my 7-year-old daughter in the back and the dog in need of anal expression riding shotgun, is a vision I will not soon forget. Nor will I forget the look on her face when I told her I would need to get her prepared for the appointment with gloves and goggles. Fortunately, that was a joke. But talk about angels, she is the real deal, that Sal and I love her very much.

When I got up to the ticketing counter, the woman with the kind eyes, said, “I know how you feel, I haven’t seen my mom in two years.”  When I asked her how she knew that I was crying over my mother, she softly said, “I can just tell.”

Angles of all sorts are getting me through this time. Especially in airports. Must have something to do with wings and flying. But I take great comfort in knowing that when life is hard, we are never truly alone. And that we are supported by seen and unseen forces. I believe we are very much loved, appreciated and divinely guided.

And every glance, text, email, voice mail, hug, gesture, card, shared meal, walk, are the bones that hold us up. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “We belong to each other.”  We really do. I can just tell.

 

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prayer; dear some something

james-douglas-730photo by James Douglas

Prayer. When I was little, I prayed. But it was really more of an OCD. My own version of If I die before I wake…was an anxious plea to keep myself, family and friends safe, healthy, happy, and alive. If I didn’t perform this prayer the same way every single night, right after closing my eyes but before drifting off to sleep, I feared something bad would happen.

Unfortunately, something bad happens whether you pray or don’t, have an OCD or not.

I never learned how to pray. And I didn’t know whom or what I was praying to exactly.

But I did it anyway. It soothed me and felt essential in some curious way.

I didn’t see my parents pray. If they did, it was personal and discreet, perhaps it was something done at night or first thing in the morning behind closed doors.

When I was younger and heard someone say, “I’ll pray for you”, it sounded like an insult. But, “You are in my prayers”, sounded more inclusive, gentler and not so judgemental.

Tosha Silver in her exquisitely beautiful book, Outrageous Openness, seems to echo this sentiment when she writes that worrying about someone is the worst energy we can send them (and ourselves). She writes, “It’s simple instead to learn to send blessings as soon as worry begins. Just hold the person in your mind filled with light and happiness, see them peaceful and content. Do it day after day. That’s the single most useful gift you can mentally offer anyone you love.”

I also read somewhere that while meditation (and or stillness and silence) is listening to the divine, prayer is talking to the divine. To be in a relationship requires both; talking and listening, giving and receiving.

But every dawn of every new day, my definition of prayer expands. It is deeper, wider and more forgiving. The particulars are irrelevant. All that matters is that I do it. Prayer to me is inviting sacred meaning into my day.

And now when I think back to my dad admiring the desert sunset with a gin and tonic in hand, swaths of orange and purple sky embracing him, I see him in prayer. My mom, on the beach, sitting in her chair, toes in the sand, drinking up the sunshine as waves play and roll around in the background, feels like prayer. A positive intention, a wish on behalf of a loved one or stranger can also be prayer. Singing Happy Birthday around a cake lit with the soft glow of candles and smiling faces, prayer. Art, prayer. Walking for charity, collective prayer. Writing this blog, prayer.

While reading the book Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, I loved the visual she offers of imagining a bottle of vinegar and oil. When we pray, her friend Geri says, “pour out the vinegar first – the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurt you, whatever is harsh, and jangling your nerves or spirit.” I am worried, scared, sad. 

And then what you find underneath is golden. There, lies the oil. There, the divine is working. There, we are not alone. Please give me strength. Please provide comfort and peace to those I love.

We get to bring our whole selves to prayer. We are honest and naked in prayer with nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers. We pray when we or others are in need. We pray to give thanks. We pray when we are standing in the midst of sacred awe.  And sometimes we pray simply because we don’t know what else to do.

“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself up to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, “Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going. I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.”

“These prayers acknowledge that I am clueless but something else isn’t. While I am not going to go limp, I am asking for the willingness to step into truth.”

Prayer is said to be powerful. I used to think that meant powerful as in the realm of magic and miracles, powerful. And while that might be true, prayer is also powerful because of what it does to the person praying.

In a recent article in Outdoor Magazine, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg writes about his research on prayer. “Newberg found that prayer allowed his subjects to more ­quickly and ­efficiently achieve flow, that coveted state of mind most commonly described as being ‘in the zone.’ During flow, a cascade of neurochemicals descend into the brain, including dopamine (which regulates pleasure), serotonin (which reduces stress), and norepinephrine (which activates the fight-or-flight response). The brain also undergoes electrical changes.”

Prayer is good medicine.

Prayer for me is no longer an anxious plea. It is a letting go, a ride on the crest of a breaking wave. It is an open arm surrendering, falling backward onto a field of velvety green grass. Prayer is resting. It is being carried. It listens, it holds, and it is always an option. Sometimes, it is the only option.

Admittedly, I still pray, hoping to keep the bad at bay, but in addition, I pray to be given the strength and courage to endure whatever happens. I pray to be of service. I pray as a way of showing up.

I pray to stay open.

And, slowly, prayerfully, I am learning.

 

 

 

 

ushering in the magic

“I am more vulnerable that I thought, but much stronger than I ever imagined.”– Tedeschi Calhoun

Some days I pretty much have it together. And to clarify, pretty much having it together means a sticker on the bottom of my foot (thank you friend for telling me in yoga yesterday), a dress on inside out with the tags whimsically blowing in the breeze and shit everywhere…literally, my baby took off her diaper and pooped on the carpet on Sunday afternoon.

I had it so together yesterday that a young guy walked up to my car and asked me if I was his uber driver. I said no and we both laughed as I drove off with my perplexed son in the backseat and an infant car seat next to him. Oddly, I was flattered which may be something I should explore with my therapist.

But really I am joking, I never have it together. The people that you think have it together probably have odd fetishes and aren’t that much fun.

Really, right now, I am sad. And grateful. And tired, napping in the middle of a sunny afternoon tired. My mom, my sweet, Oil of Olay and Tide laundry detergent smelling mama, is in New Jersey coping with cancer. Again. And I miss her. I miss our almost daily phone chats. I miss her visits. So much has changed these past few months. I want to be with her. I want to be with my kids and husband. I want to be on a beach alone. I want to be helpful. I  don’t know what I want or need or how to be of service. Mostly, I wish we could go back to the way things were. But I know that is not a reality. I try to stay present and thankful for what we do have.

This being human business is hard work.

I am rereading Broken Open; How Difficult Times Help us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser because I love it so much and need it right now. I read this passage yesterday and it gave me chills. I felt scared awe as Einstein called it. Tears glimmered in my eyes like the soft track of light from the sun’s rays on the water. The presence of soul…

” If our senses were fine enough, we would stand around with our mouths hanging open at the glory and grace of it all. We would sense the presence of mystery everywhere: the angels keeping us safe as we drive home from work; the spirits hovering around our children; the thin waft of light pointing us in the direction of The Road of Truth. All we can do is try to refine our senses. We can try to quiet the noise in our minds, listen for deeper instructions, and leap without fear beyond what we think is so”.

These times call for a lot of checking in and grounding in the soul. The sadness doesn’t dissipate but it is accompanied by a big blanket of love, acceptance, support and appreciation of the universal mystery weaving in and out of every waking moment. I am trying to let myself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what I really love like Rumi tells us to do, and trust that there is something bigger at work here.

And then, in addition to the sadness, I feel warmly alive, thankful, at peace (sometimes) and even happy (most of the time). I don’t take the abundance of blessings and kindness of friends and strangers alike for granted.

Being human is hard but more important than hard, it is sacred.

Connecting to others is a saving grace. And true connection soothes sadness.

Although, right now, I often want to cocoon myself up with a good book, I find when I have chatted with dear friends, over tears and hope, that it feels rich and life affirming  Like an unfurling rose. It leaves me feeling better because we just touched something authentic, sweet, and universal.

So often we want to run in the other direction but when we swim towards what is hard and face it together, magic happens.

Because we all suffer.

But in the fog of suffering, there are angels everywhere. My friends have reminded me in so many different ways of the beauty, joy, laughter and meaning in the midst of it all. No small act goes unnoticed.

Jenny told me to listen to beautiful music because it supports the nervous system and keeps the energy up. So I listen to music I love (when my kids aren’t yelling at our Amazon Echo to play  “Baby’s Got Back” or “This is How we Do It”) and it helps. Because of more music, we have been dancing more too. And singing. While my particular singing may not be beautiful, it does unburden my heart and tether me to something collective, something humans have been doing forever in every corner of the planet during good times and bad. My chest feels softer, more open, and not so achy. Glory, Glory, Halleluja, since I laid my burden down…

Stephanee mentioned grounding, supportive rituals and lighting candles. It too reminds me of all of the abundant blessings all around. All the beautiful light ushering in the magic.

I used to think I needed more time to engage in such rituals. That to meditate or pray, I needed to set aside special time. But now I just do it whenever however in my own imperfect, not together way. The intention is there and intention is big. I burn palo santo and sage. I light a candle while I do the dishes. I pray out loud for all of the people I love and know are hurting while I am driving around in my car. I write in my journal in the pick up line. I say yes to help and food and walks. And no to what drains me. I take a bath with nice salts and probably don’t wash my hair because it is too much work during a ritual!

Meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein speaks to this, saying that we don’t need to set aside time for spirituality, rather spirituality is simply unfolded into our days. The way we fold towels, listen to our children when they speak, and by being honest with one another about our feelings.

Grounding in the soul looks different to everyone and is often the medicine we most need. It may involve simplifying and prioritizing, getting in touch with what we hold most dear, and letting go of countless, energy depleting obligations.

This soul time means perfection has to go while compassion and self care takes center stage. Which for me means I must write this right now. But while I do, my baby girl is using an orange chalk pastel on the stucco wall outside. Sorry, Josh and thank you for understanding.

Engaging in small, meaningful rituals is a way to sustain the soul. Rest is always a good place to start.

Last week, I heard doctor and wife of Paul Kalanthi, author of the beautiful book, When Breath Becomes Air, say that while Paul was alive, he taught her that life wasn’t about avoiding struggle, it was about finding meaning.

One day, we will die but today we are alive. 

And our lives have meaning.

In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, she discusses finding meaning during grief and how we build resilience. One activity that helped her after her husband died was to write down 3 things she did well each day before bed. Smalls victories, maybe seemingly insignificant ones like checking email but anything that kept her going, kept her knowing that she was doing what she could to be engaged with living.

We live with losses and grief and the older I get, the more I realize grief is never something you get over. Rather, it is something we learn to live with. And that anything, any small thing that keeps us choosing life, light, and living with compassion, kindness and connection is a good idea. Our souls know that we will be okay.

 

 

a dead cockroach and a full moon

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The day before, while driving to pick up my kids from school, I felt something crunchy in my bra. A leaf perhaps? But when I reached in and pulled it out, it was a dead cockroach. I threw it on the floor of my car and kept driving. How the fuck did that get there?

Last night I took a walk down to the end of the street to see the water and maybe catch a glimpse of the full moon with our daughter, Phoebe and our dog, Poppy. As we approached the end of the street, a huge orange-pink globe was rising from the depths of the water, climbing up an invisible ladder high into the dusky sky. We saw the moon rise! And it was so breath taking, I had to sit down on the sidewalk, with the wind sweeping it’s purifying magic and punch colored bougainvillea petals around me, and stare.

Earlier in the day, I gave myself a hug. I realize this may sound absurd to some of you. But it was the kindest and most tender thing I could do in the moment. I had a baby bottom soft sweater on too which helped. But I sat on the wood floor, put my arms around me, reached my fingertips toward one another and breathed.

It was everything.

These days, I don’t have much room for shoulds. I am guided by my aching heart, kindness, rest, and not letting crunchy dead bugs get in the way.

The walk, the moon, the hug, and in this very moment, the sound of the cooing dove, may not sound like big earth shattering things, but to me, they are big enough and beautiful enough to keep me hopeful and so very grateful.

tell yourself a different story

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“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I choose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. That nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.” Cheryl Strayed

I was in yoga the other day loving the practice of inhaling my arms up over head while inviting in any images I wanted to flood my being and environment with. I envisioned a pale pink rose, petals unfolding like the unfolding of a story, bursting with love, light, mystery, healing, and grace. I breathed this into my body, into every cell and part of me. And I breathed out fear. Fear was what I wanted to do away with. Letting go of the fear and letting in the good stuff.

I am in a place right now where the sadness I feel, I am okay with. Sadness is a testament to love. But fear is it’s negative and alluring counterpart. The sadness, I will let visit and have its way with me much like a roaring wave, allowing it to take me under since fighting it is futile, and then watch with awe as it recedes back to the horizon. I’ll accept the waves washing over me encouraging them to whisk away any stagnate, stuck parts impermeable to change. I can’t control the sadness, I simply can’t repress it but I can learn to accept it and allow it. And when the sadness comes and then it goes, it leaves nothing but love in it’s wake.

Now, fear on the other hand, well sometimes, I’ll look at it. And run with it and let the what if’s dance around in my hand as they whirl around stealing my attention with their grabby fingers. But often times this indulging fear leads me down a path of worry and unnecessary struggle. So the fear is a different story and one I am choosing not to give into at the moment.

After completing these particular sun salutations at yoga, I reached for the blocks to place under my hands as I stood in a forward fold and felt grateful for their presence as I laughed at myself thinking about how years ago, I would have scoffed at needing blocks. My ego thought it was a sign of weakness. But now I take all of the help I can get. And yoga as well as life is much sweeter with the support.

 

love yourself, be who you are

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How right my friend Charlotte was when she said, “I feel a blog post coming on”, the other morning as we walked by the water with the low tide and soft breeze. I was so excited, I saw a Roseatte Spoonbill, an unusual and spectacular sight at that particular spot. I inhabited an older version of myself…older Floridian woman, wrinkly and tan with a visor on shouting out the names of various birds to no one in particular…Tufted Tit Mouse! Cardinal! Scrub Jay! (Thanks Mom for inspiring me to learn my bird names). I like the idea of this older, wiser, even kookier me.

It seems to me that within us all lives our younger selves and older selves simultaneously. The 7-year-old me lives side by side with the 80-year-old me.

As the gorgeous pink bird with the vibrant red stripe and spoon for a beak ate her breakfast oblivious to the people admiring her unusual beauty, the white Herons and Seagulls next to her, did the same. They seemingly paid no attention to their neighbors’ more stunning outfit. I doubt they were thinking, “You guys, I totally like her colors better than mine.” They just ate together enjoying their fish. No big deal.

And it was no coincidence that the day before my fairy hummingbird tree nymph of a daughter sat next to me on the floor coloring. When I glanced over to see what she was writing, her poster board revealed words that made my heart soar, Love yourself, Be Who You are.

Love yourself, whether your self is your little self, your teenage self or your elder. Be who you are…sage advice from my little girl…because who you are is so brilliant no matter the color of your feathers.

Deep breaths AND chocolate

I used to think it was all or nothing. If I taught yoga, then I must be very yogic at all times or else I was a fraud. So I best be eating organic chia seeds marinated in bone broth with kale chips and a green smoothie to wash it all down with. I thought to myself, I can’t be a calm, loving mother if I am also feeding my kids Cheetos and yelling at them to clean up the pile of shoes on the floor or their underwear on the coffee table. (We have a history in this family of undergarments being left in odd places – just last week my mother-in-law found a strapless bra in my husband’s car – I hate strapless bras and took it off as soon as I could after a recent event, fortunately it was mine and she thought it was funny).  The list goes on, I can’t be healthy and have dessert or teach others about meditation if I need medication to help with my anxiety. I can’t be sensitive and strong. I can’t be brave and scared. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

Oh yes I can.

I am so grateful to my new friend Charnell, who during a recent women’s circle, stressed the importance of the word, and. “You can wake up anxious and still cut up apples for your kids lunch”, she said. And while I have certainly thought of this, lived it in fact, I have never realized how glorious the word and really is.

And it is liberating. And is spaciousness. And is kind. And is acceptance. And is compassion. And is the antithesis of perfection. And is sincere. And is genuine.

This chasing happiness business is crazy making. Because it is impossible. So maybe we find meaning instead and stop worrying so much about finding this elusive perfect happiness. Like Vikor Frankl who survived the Holocaust teaches us in his beautiful book, Man’s Search for Meaning, we can survive hardship when we find meaning in our struggles.

As I prepare for facilitating a new women’s circle starting this weekend, I am swept up in gratitude for the bright and beautiful creature in my back yard. It is a cardinal and to me this sweet little bird signifies that my dad is near, telling me I’ve got this even though I am not sure I do. These days I don’t strive for perfection or even happiness, I strive for acceptance. And meaning. And unconditional love. And in addition to deep breaths, I need chocolate.