soft heart, strong back

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While we are called to show strength during times of struggle, we are also required to surrender to softness. We simply can’t only muscle through. The way through is a soft heart and a strong back, my friend Stephanee told me when I shared with her my struggles over being so sensitive and emotional so many years ago.  Soft heart, strong back, beloved author, Elizabeth Lesser, reiterated during a retreat I was on last week in Sedona.

Where there is fear, there is love and softness seeping into all corners of our lives. It pours through our windows as sunlight and shows up with friends over tea (or wine) in front of a warm, amber colored fire.

Welcoming the way of softness is an invitation to come home and rest. To come home to our hearts, to ourselves and really listen, honor, and accept what we are hearing and who we are.

We are wired for connection. We yearn for true support in our families and community. We want to help and be helped so we can all rise up together.

The way of softness is tender and big-hearted. It is brave, deeply open and spacious. It can also be extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable at times.

Softness is about taking care of ourselves by simply noticing our crazy buzzing thoughts with what Elizabeth Lesser refers to as “unconditional friendliness”. Softness is about melting into who we are and showing up with our battle wounds, scars and tears. And when they flow, not wiping them away or apologizing but letting them be seen.

Softness is learning to look at and accept the imperfect perfections we are born with. This radiant softness is brimming with limitless possibilities for hope and positive change.

I think it takes both strength and softness to look hard and honestly at our stuff and make peace with our own personal limitations. So many of us feel inadequate. Like Keven from This Is Us.

I know the people closest to me love me unconditionally but when I was little and I sucked at math, got in trouble for “issues with self control” and held a pencil wrong, I didn’t always feel all that lovable. Now I make an ugly cheese plate for company, still suck at math which is now called finances, and get really nervous before I speak. Sometimes, I still fear being unlovable. And no one can accept and love these parts of me unless I accept and love the heck out of them first.

So I’m just gonna go ahead and start claiming what I’m not good at. Let’s get that out of the way first so what we can pay attention to what we are good at. No distractions or disillusions. Let others help us in the areas where we need help. Isn’t this the sign of a good leader anyway? That they know how to pick the right people. The people who’ve got our backs and support and love us through all of it. The ones that are better and smarter then us at certain things? The ones who are willing to meet us soul to soul while putting comparison and competition to the side.

Which reminds me…

Right before I left for Christmas break, the first Christmas without my sweetest mom,

I was having a royal messy and crazy-ass moment when picking up my kids from my friend’s house after getting IV fluids to help flush out a nasty virus that was wreaking havoc on my body. As I opened my car door, plastic cows came tumbling out. My daughter was still in her pajamas. And it was late afternoon. A friend earlier had told me I looked terrible. I was bleary eyed and hungover after taking Nyquil the night before. And then my very neat, aesthetically pleasing friend whose tampons are even pretty, picked up a glass in my cup holder that contained some melted chocolate and two to three, I can’t be sure, half – eaten, glazed munchkins, and said, “Lindsay Bomstein, this is why we love you.”

I heard her say it, I really heard it and laughed. And maybe for one of the first times in my life, I didn’t feel all that embarrassed by it.

And while I was on my retreat last week, as we sat around in a circle, I sat up, spoke and once again the hot tears came spilling out. Oh jeez. Again, in front of all of these women I don’t know.

But you know what? Some of these amazing women came up to me and told me that they admired my tears. My openness. My ability to cry and be seen. Holy shit, really? Yes, really. Because that is me. And you need me to be me as much as I need you to be you. That’s all it takes. Who the hell wants to be impressed by how together we’ve got it? I want to be impressed by how together you don’t have it but that you still smile and love the heck out of life. So remember the next time you have to show up and you feel out of sorts that what you deem as your imperfections may just be the most authentic, beautiful gifts you have to offer. That and your soft heart and strong back.

And thanks to Melissa Biggs Bradley for creating opportunities for connection around the world. She mentioned the self-determination theory in an email last week from Sebastian Junger’s new book, Tribe, that really spoke to me. The theory “holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.”

And to connect to others, we’ve got to feel our strength and also soften up a bit too.

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fierce with reality

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When we open up to our brokenness, we begin the path to wholeness. 

When I was younger, I used to hope that when I turned 20 and then 30 and now 50, that I would be free from getting so humiliated or feeling fearful or anxious. I thought I just needed to grow up.

I still get humiliated, fearful, and anxious. But what is different now is that while I don’t particular enjoy these strong feelings,  I am more okay with them because I see them as passing conditions. They are simply tools to work with. And they don’t define me.

Wholeness is not perfection. Wholeness is acceptance. It is simply a willingness to look at all of it…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When we give voice to our brokenness, we in turn let light shine on and from these places.

And who knows how this light will change our lives and illuminate the hearts of others.

As Parker Palmer says, the way to God is down.

And when we are mindful of our pain, when we hear it and can identify it as sadness, anger, jealousy, grief, whatever it may be…we see our brokenness as something to understand and not necessarily fix. We change our relationship to it. It becomes something to work with and grow from.

It becomes a portal to awakening not a pathology to treat.

Barrie Davenport in her book, Peace of Mindfulness, writes, “Don’t add another layer of suffering by fretting over your suffering.”

There is nothing wrong with you. You are not perfect thank goodness! But you are beautiful in your brokenness. Because you are fierce with reality.

today trascendence

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“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.” – Eckhart Tolle

Our anger, pain, and our sadness is fleeting. Our bad moods are fleeting. These emotional states often have such a grip on our hearts. But they are not who we are. We are the observer, the witness, the one that notices the rollercoaster of emotions.We are along for the ride.

These emotions, they come and go like a dense fog rolling into view and limiting our visibility only to later be burned off by the warming sun. And when the fog eventually lifts as it always does, a more sparkly, clearer, and truer sky is revealed.

Our souls are not fleeting. At the core of our beings, no matter what turmoil is going on around us, we are pure magnificence. Compassionate. Genuine. Loving. Light.

Even in death our light shines like a million shooting stars showering down on the earth blanketing those we love with a glowing embrace.

We are together in this. Our hearts, our souls at the deepest level are the same. We are one.

“In the end there are three things that matter. How well we’ve lived. How well we’ve loved. How well we’ve learned to let go.” – Jack Kornfield

We as human beings have this amazing capacity to be reborn at breakfast…everyday this is a new day, who will I be today? – Jack Kornfield

 

 

 

we connect

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“There are so few places in our normal social lives where we are privileged to meet one another so vulnerably-to laugh, and cry and laugh again. ” – Pat Schneider from Writing Alone and with others

Tonight I am feeling very moved and grateful for the opportunity to lead women’s groups.

When people ask me what we do in these groups, I struggle with forming a concise and intelligible response.  It is hard to convey exactly what transpires in a room full of women sharing their thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities with one another.

Many of us lead isolated lives. As a stay at home mother, I will never forget how lonely I felt those first few months after having my son and not returning to work. I was thrilled to be home with my sweet new baby and I also missed many aspects of my job. It was a very strange time for me and for many women I know.

Before I became a mom, I worked with a local Hospice. It was an incredibly fulfilling and life affirming job. I loved the people I worked with. And training and managing hospice volunteers was a constant reminder of how much good there is in the world.

I will never forget talking to a lovely woman on the phone one day when she told me she had not been out with her family since taking over the care of her uncle. She was beside herself pushing back tears when I told her that a volunteer would be coming over to sit with her beloved uncle so she could go out and enjoy a nice dinner with her children.

It brings me to tears thinking about it. Or the gentleman who helped a beautiful 18 year old woman make a video so that her family would always be able to watch her when she was no longer here.

It is no surprise that I missed this work.

The quiet at home felt very odd. I would go to the park, meet friends, and get coffee but it all felt like a weird world I wasn’t sure I had signed up for. As much as I like being alone, I like to be with people too!

And we human beings are social creatures wired for connection. We thrive from deep bonds with one another. Bonds that help us make meaning out of our days and bonds that help us navigate the spectrum of emotions and experiences.

This brings me back to my groups. Really they are about connection. And not just the connection to one another but the connection to ourselves. Sometimes we get so busy or overwhelmed, we may not even be able to identify what in our life brings us joy. So we snap at our loved ones because we are so depleted.

Or maybe shut down or clam up because we feel fearful.

But then we talk to others struggling and we feel less afraid. Or we share what we are grateful for and we are reminded just how much there is to celebrate.

It is a reminder that we have more similarities than we do differences. It is a reminder of how much we need each other. And how much can happen when we come together in the spirit of collaboration and soulfulness.

And if you think these groups are selfish, they are a bit. And this is a good thing. We deserve it. If we all took responsibility for our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, we would live in a much healthier and well-balanced world.

So what do we do in these women’s groups?

We show up for each other. We wake up. We listen. We share. We laugh and sometimes we cry. We write. We play. We feel. We breathe. We connect.

And for that I am so grateful.

 

 

i don’t belong here

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I am a fish out of water. I don’t belong here. I look weird in a dress. And weird in makeup. In fact, my daughter told me I looked like Kimmie from Full House and my son told me I looked like DJ from Full House. The one when she put on a bunch of horrible make up that made her look like a clown but really more like a hooker…bright blue eye shadow, eye liner like a racoon. Not good.

I want to walk in the woods, crawl around on the moist earth and smell the dirt and the decaying leaves.

But here I am listening to a mother talk about how her daughter hasn’t quite found her thing yet. Next, she will try synchronize swimming, maybe she will like that. I wonder if she will have to wear nose plugs.

I hope the little girl just does what she wants. And grows up knowing it is okay to do what you love even if you suck at it.

Or if all you want to do is sit on your couch and be cozy and make things without being a winner of a dance competition…that’s okay too.

But I don’t blame this mom because I do it too. Should my kids have more play dates? Is it okay that they prefer to come home after school over going to someone’s house? Are we at the right school? Should I encourage them to do more or maybe less? Do they watch too much Full House? I think I know the answer to that one.

I want to play and snuggle and laugh and write and drink coffee and good wine. A beach, a bonfire, mountains. No schedule, no plan, running with the wind. Freedom.

When I hear about how your daughter is so smart that you had to change schools, I find myself yearning to ask about your heart and what makes you sad and angry and how you want to be in the world.

And here I am now drinking my coffee with the sun bursting through the windows.

I belong here. And really I know there is no such thing as a fish out of water because I belong everywhere. All of us. We belong.

Whether we have a thing or not.

the gift you give yourself is the gift you give others

froggy happy“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is silencing the mind.” – Carolyn Myss

My current state of mind is all over the place.  One minute devastated, the next minute hopeful.

The news is heartbreaking.

But I am reminded of a Mr. Rogers quote that always lifts my spirit, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

There are many earth angels among us, and there is a lot of goodness in this world.

But I still want to cry. And I want to make things better. It feels infuriating and overwhelming when humans repeat the same mistakes over and over again. But worry does nothing other than take you out of the precious moment you are in.

This is when I try to breathe. To just pause and breathe.

The other day while on a walk with my family, we stopped for a “mindfulness moment.” This has become a bit of a habit that we practice whenever on a long walk. It is a way of checking in with ourselves and one another.

My son – having heard me talk numerous times about how I love to be outside among the trees, water, and animals – asked me if there was anything else that gave me this same feeling as being  in nature.

I identified what it is that I most love about being outdoors. I love the freedom, the openness and vastness, the lack of walls, boundaries and rules; the natural light and color.

And what I most adore about being in nature is that sense of steady peacefulness. It feels like a break, an escape. There is nothing to figure out, no problem to solve. It offers a glimpse into the understanding that we are all connected and all navigating this messy beautiful world together. In this place we take turns being the helper and the helped and we are never alone. Everything somehow feels alright.

Nature teaches me compassion, empathy, resilience, and humility over and over again. It creates feelings of awe, magic, and hope. It adjusts my perspective reminding me that I am just one spark in a sea of stars.

I realize that there is a place I go to when I yearn for this similar sense of calm, balance and ease.

And all it requires is a little stillness.

Years ago, before having my son, my doula (which is an emotional support person,) asked me how I handled pain. I realized that sometimes distraction was helpful like watching a funny movie or going out with friends. At other times venturing inward felt necessary.

These are the times when we just need to step away from the battery of external and internal noise and focus on a peaceful place within.

The great Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, talks about the many benefits of creating a gap. She writes, “We can stop and take three conscious breaths, and the world has a chance to open up to us in that gap. We can allow space into our state of mind.”

Sometimes it is easier to connect to this space than others. But it is always there and always available to us when we are feeling lonely, scared, and anxious. Or joyful, grateful, and relieved.

She also writes, “You get so caught up in the content of your life, the minutiae that make up a day, so self-absorbed in the big project you have to do, that the blessings, the magic, the stillness, and the vastness escapes you.”

For me this restoration of soul happens when I simply pause for a few minutes during the day and consciously tell my thoughts and list of things to do that I will get back to them. Then I focus on nice big belly breaths…inhaling through my nose while pushing my belly out and expanding my chest to the count of  3 – 5. Then exhaling out of my nose, belly back towards my spine for a longer count.

That space, that stillness born after the exhale and before the next inhale, can feel like both nothingness and everything-ness. It can feel like a flash or an eternity (mostly just a flash for me at this point.) It is the sweet moment right before the next thought arrives and it’s a blissful little window for my soul to peek through and make its presence known.

Right now as I practice accepting that my days, my hair, my kids hair, and all of our emotions may be all over the map, I am working on letting go of expectations and the need to try and understand why things happen the way they do.  I have no control over these things.

But I have control over how I choose to look at the situation before me. If I can find my breath, I am better equipped at staying focused, present, and even joyful.

I am just trying to breathe and find nature inside.

And it helps to remember, when feeling a bit un-tethered, that there are always angels in our midst. Like the 92 year-old angel dressed in purple that I met the other night at the retirement home while my son and daughter, along with their classmates, sang Christmas carols.

This earth angel with the sparkly blue eyes told me she still felt like she was 10 and that every morning when she wakes up, she prays to be a blessing to someone else.

I believe if we take moments periodically during the day to pause, breathe and count the blessings all around us that we, too, can be blessings to others.

We become more of who we are and peacefully present to the nature within and all around us.

And our presence may just be the best present we can give.

Wishing you and those you love peace, freedom, health and happiness!

 

Children Naturally

Love Life 

from the Parents Tao Te Ching by William Martin

Your children naturally love life

Their love of life is so spontaneous

and unconscious.

It delights in every nuance of light

and color.

It wonders at every shape

and form.

It dances in their bodies

without self – consciousness.

They are not taught this love.

It cannot be taught,

only lived.

If you live this love for your children

you will guide them,

but never demand a certain response.

You will welcome them,

but never smother them.

You will give birth to them,

but never possess them.

You will nurture their dreams

and guard their self-respect.

They will honor you naturally,

not because of who you are,

but because of who they are.

Don’t worry about how your children treat you.

Concentrate on how you treat yourself.

If your children see in you

a sincere celebration of who you are,

they will return eventually

to their natural joy,

in themselves and in you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the choices we make

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“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Marukami

I learn something new every day.

Many days, it is the same lesson in disguise. Over and over again. I think I will be learning it for the rest of my life.

The lesson is this: We create our own reality. We choose how to share our energy within this reality and what thoughts and actions we want to focus on next.

I don’t mean that we make shitty things happen. Sometimes really bad things happen, and it is completely out of our control. It is simply not our fault.

Some people believe that nothing is random. But there is just too much sorrow and extreme suffering in the world for me to believe this exactly.

I do believe however, that no matter what happens, something good can come from it.

We choose what we want to believe.

And it may take a long time to arrive at this place. And it may take a lot of conscious practice. This is, after all, not an easy task especially when bombarded constantly by grim news.

While I was in college studying abroad on a program called Semester at Sea, I had the opportunity to visit The Peace Memorial in Hiroshima. There, where the atomic bomb caused such vast devastation that nothing grew for decades, were now proud trees and smiling children taking photographs with tourists, many of them American.

Inspired by the true story of a young Japanese girl named Sadako, colorful handmade paper cranes symbolized prayers for hope and peace. The story tells us that even while Sadako was dying from cancer, she folded hundreds of origami cranes in an effort to turn her attention towards praying for personal healing and the healing of the world. And with every crane, she made the brave decision to move toward hope and not away from it.

When coping with harrowing circumstances, it is as if we have been split open and the contents come spilling out, sometimes against our will. We may feel like we have little control over our feelings, thoughts, and reactions.

But turning toward our difficulties, not away from them, is what enables us to make the next thoughtful choice.

We also then become more empathetic to the fragility of the human condition. Maybe then we are more inclined to access the wellspring of compassion that lives deep within our hearts softening into our reality.

I have to admit, I get frustrated with people often. Sometimes I stew in this. But after awhile, I choose to believe that we are all trying to do the best we can with what we have been given. And the time between the stewing and compassion is becoming perhaps a tiny bit shorter which is helpful!

Because of the hardships that we endure as humans, our resilience grows and our souls bloom. We can also use these opportunities to become more aware of who we are; our values, what motivates us, and what we need to feel our best. We learn to honor our innate wisdom, surround ourselves with supportive people whom we can trust, and persevere by attempting to find meaning in our struggles.

And always we get to choose what to think and do next.

Fortunately, there are many people who have showed us the way. These uplifting stories are about ordinary people who choose to focus on the solution and not the problem, on the bright side instead of succumbing only to darkness…even though there is nothing wrong with the darkness, and it is an important place to pause from time to time.

Recently, I saw a story about a man who opened up the only store in his neighborhood in New Orleans. There had been no redevelopment there since Katrina. Not one single business. But this kind and determined soul literally spent all of his retirement money on opening a convenient store to help out his neighbors.

Along with selling the essentials there, he provides perhaps something far greater; a sense of community, respect, and hope where there had been little since the storm.

His choice was born from love. He chose to believe in abundance, not scarcity and made a courageous decision without knowing if he would ever be able to save the kind of money he had before.

I am always reminded that I too have a choice as to what to do next when yearning for things to be different than they are.

For example, when I am missing my dad, I am greeted with the eternal knowing that, more powerful than the sadness, is my desire to honor him and bring what I loved about his generous spirit to life.

So I envision what it was like to be in the same room as him. What stands out to me is that he profoundly appreciated the little things; the colorful hibiscus in the backyard, a gin and tonic at the end of the day, hanging with family, the celery in the tuna fish my brother-in-law made, and taking friends from the East Coast to beautiful spots in Arizona for a “50 cent tour.”

He never talked about the potency of living in the moment and looking for the silver lining. He just lived it.

So this morning when I found my tweezers in the car after declaring that someone had most definitely come into the house (again) at night and taken them, I celebrated as if I had won the lottery.

And why not celebrate?

We can always try, as hard as it may sometimes feel, to find something, even if it is one little insignificant thing, to be grateful for. This has become something of a mantra for me.

And these moments inspire other opportunities for gratitude to arise because gratitude begets gratitude. For a brief spell, we may even get to reside in the space of feeling thankful for all of it.

Because there is beauty and potential even when we feel there is none.

And while our genes are powerful and our circumstances heavily influence who we are, what we choose to tell ourselves is equally as important to our well – being.

Being human is the whole enchilada…the whole messy enchilada.

None of us have it totally figured out. And contrary to what we see on social media, no one is happy all of the time. No one is perfect. No one escapes loss. Or disappointment. Or failure.

But here we are.

And still we have choices to make.

Because this is our one beautiful, messy reality.