A Soul Walk

I have, at many times in my life, been a planner. This isn’t to say I’m particularly good at planning, as many disappointed friends and family members will attest to, but it does mean that I like to plan ahead for the things I’m trying to do. I like to know what’s coming. I like a certain sense of order, and when presented with spontaneous suggestions, I confess I am prone to a lot of blinking that signals internal processing (or stuckness).

composition-materials-notebook-760720I’ve planned my way through many things. I planned my way through college and two graduate programs. I planned my way through twin babies and toddlers. I planned my way through household budgets and family gatherings and career changes. And while a great deal of that planning has served me well, I know it’s not the only way to get things done. I also know sometimes planning is not the best way to get things done. I know this because I am also a musician.

I’ve written hundreds of songs – including about 20 that I actually like. I’ve also performed with different folks and had spontaneous moments of music magic that we couldn’t possibly have planned for. I’ve had terrible gigs turn into great evenings because of one small moment of inspiration.

And music isn’t the only place this has happened for me. My decision to become a life coach wasn’t really planned out. I had been thinking for a long time about what to do for work when the kids got settled in elementary school, but life coach hadn’t even surfaced as an option. When it did come up, it was like bells going off in my head. There was no need for a spreadsheet and a five year plan. It was time. The choice was clear.

Even having had those experiences of spontaneous beauty, though, my planning self tends to lead the charge. Because I know that I have this tendency and because I’ve seen the wonderful things that can emerge in other more intuitive ways, I’ve developed a practice that helps me stay in touch with that more soulful side, that helps me stay open to solutions and decisions that don’t seem to fit in the flow chart. It’s called a soul walk.

A soul walk is just about the most simple thing you could ever do. You don’t need any special equipment, unless the weather where you are is like the weather here in which case water is always advisable. All you need is some time and a willingness to quiet the internal hubbub.

On a soul walk, you begin walking any way you want. If you take walks regularly, you can even start on your usual path. Take deep breaths as you walk and notice what’s going on in the world around you, suspending judgment if you can. “There’s construction noise” rather than “There’s a whole lot of effing construction noise that makes me really angry” for example. Keep breathing.

daylight-daytime-fashion-906106When your breathing helps to quiet the monkey mind inside, start to pay attention to how you feel when you reach an intersection or any other opportunity to change course. When you see that intersection coming, just ask: “Which way should I go?” and see if you feel a pull. Don’t question it. Don’t fight it: “But that street has no shade. I hate that street. If I go that way I have to walk on the squishy mulberries on the sidewalk.” Whatever. Follow the pull, even if you think you’re only having a pull because I told you there might be a pull.

Let yourself be guided as though you have an inner compass telling you which way to turn at each intersection and keep breathing.

Notice if the pulls get stronger as you follow them. Notice what happens if you don’t follow a particular pull. Notice what happens when you just keep breathing while you walk. My guess is that at the very least you will have a peaceful walk that leaves you refreshed and feeling a little more confident, a little more supported, maybe even a little buoyant.

We make so many choices on any given day. And so many of those choices require us to weigh the pros and cons, do some calculations, negotiate with someone else; it’s easy to lose track of our own knowing, our own internal compass, the guidance that lets us walk with ease through the world.

Sometimes all we need is a little practice.

When was the last time you listened for direction from that quietest part of yourself? How long has it been since you felt that internal pull?

Maybe it’s time for a walk.

I Will Not Be Shamed

Someone tried to spank me on Facebook yesterday. I had posted a picture of myself after a haircut, something I do pretty much every time I get a cut as a way to celebrate doing something nice for myself and to continually work on the fear of being SEEN, real pictures of the real me at real (although admittedly well-styled, at least on my head) moments in my real life. I guess there were a lot of posts on my page yesterday, because I gave a sermon at my church and provided the music on Sunday, and folks had posted pictures and recordings of that. At any rate, the spanking…

artist-circus-clown-476Someone commented: “Wow Julia for someone who seems so private you seem to need a lot of attention.” It was followed by the obligatory: “LOL,” as a way to say I’m not really insulting you. Other favorite FB devices that serve this b.s. purpose include: “Just saying…” and the ubiquitous winky emoticon. This digital attempt to use humor to diffuse criticism is something I am VERY well versed in. It’s dishonest. It’s dishonest to pretend it’s a joke and it’s dishonest to believe you are NOT being critical when you do it. Mini-rant over; back to the larger rant.

So wow. Yeah. And I felt it for a minute, because let’s face it, the LOL, the “just saying,” and the winky face don’t really do anything about the words, do they? I felt that accusation. It fed right into old stories of mine about bragging, being too proud, trying to get the spotlight, things that were actively discouraged in my home.

Those stories are things I’ve worked on, but they’re still there, so when I received the FB spank, I had to take a few minutes. My initial response (internally) was not very friendly to the speaker, but it was also tinged with self-doubt. You can tell this is true because I DID go back and look at what I’d been posting that day. Was I asking for attention? Was I showing off? Was I shining too bright a light on the good things that had happened over the last 48 hours? ALL of that is spin, nonsense, garbage, old stuff that’s meant to keep me small.

My retort was sassy, but unnatural. I hid how it made me feel with false confidence: “I don’t actually need it at all. People just keep giving it.” I thought that would be adequate. He persisted. “I almost believe you… Sorta. It’s all good. You’re a babe regardless. LMAO.” Oh, thank goodness he thinks I’m good looking. I continued to respond with my put on self-confidence and he eventually surrendered, which I confess is my goal in these situations, BUT it left a mark AND it reminded me of some things.

It left a mark because it brought up old stuff that I’ve been working on but didn’t particularly want to dance with on a particularly good day. It also left a mark because dammit, can’t a girl just be happy about haircut? Can’t a girl just share the good things that are happening? Can’t a girl just be proud for a minute? Would it have been a problem if a man had posted photos of his recent speaking engagement, his golf score, himself all dressed up for a special night? WHY is this a problem?

It makes people uncomfortable. And to that I respond with a resounding: “Sorry. Not sorry.” I’m sorry if you are not comfortable sharing the wins in your life and if you were raised to believe that you should not crow when something has gone right. I mean that. I really am. That’s the part I’m sorry about.

What I’m not sorry about is that my newly found lack of shame and conscious decision to stop playing small makes you uncomfortable. You can challenge me if you really need to, but I won’t be pushed back into the closet. I won’t.

And I want to ask you to do something, which I acknowledge I have no real right to do, but if you’ve read this far, maybe you’ll be game.

alone-boulders-idyllic-426893If you get uncomfortable when people share their best bits, I want you to take a minute and think of something you are proud of, and even if you don’t feel ready to share it, just sit with it. Feel what it’s like to congratulate yourself, to revel in the good thing you are or did or had or made for yourself. Bathe yourself in praise for just a moment. It’s really okay. Nobody can stop you in your head. Nobody can ask you who you think you are or tell you you’re too big for your britches. You get to just enjoy it. If you’re ready to take it a step further, share it with me. Send me a little note so that I can read it and then say: “That’s awesome. Yay you!”

This is how we rise. Not even a little bit sorry for that friends.

Letting Go of Plan B

I stumbled across a quote the other day that challenged me.

“Why don’t we stay in the realm of the answer, rather than always returning to the realm of the problem?”

It’s from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love, which is a challenging book, chock full of challenging quotes, but this one called me out – not called out to me but called me out.

And I say that with some gentleness, rather than scolding.

balance-beach-body-1199588You see, I’ve discovered a variety of practices that make me feel really good, really centered, really effective. I’ve figured some things out about what my body and spirit need most to do my work in the world. And I do them… until I don’t.

This quote is me – my spiritual practices, my beliefs, my faith, my discipline, my will, my self-compassion, my business, most of my efforts really. All of them I handle with a duck-in/duck-out sort of mentality. I rarely go all in and sustain it.

I duck into meditation and then something interrupts my practice and I forget to keep doing it.

I dip into prayer and then forget to use it when I really want help or guidance.

I cherish my budding faith in the universe when I feel good and deride myself for it when things aren’t going well.

I always return to the realm of the problem.

What makes it so difficult for me to stay in the realm of the answer and what would that look like? My mind offers some very practical explanations for my dip in duck out approach.

You can’t, after all, meditate all day long. You do actually have to DO some things.

Wisdom answers: You can bring your awareness to your breath at any time. You can acknowledge your thoughts as transient and consciously choose and respond to them. You can wish for peace for yourself an others constantly.

My mind: You can’t, after all, pray all day long. You do actually have to DO some things.

Wisdom answers: You can converse with the force that binds us all day long, in snippets or treatises. You can ask for things, help, guidance. You can want and ask for more. You can see any action you take as prayer and proceed as though that is your intention. What would happen to your days if all of your actions were a prayer?

My mind: I’ve got too much to do.

Wisdom answers: When you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, your effectiveness, your efficiency, and your productivity skyrocket. You know this. Is it really the to do list that’s getting you or is that just an excuse?

And that’s when the bird poop really hits the hair, because it’s not about spirituality or personal development or woo woo practices, it’s about self-sabotage and whatever is getting in the way of feeling and being better.

It’s about being afraid to succeed.

It’s about being afraid to be different.

It’s about being afraid to change (AGAIN).

I see myself and this entire pattern as a desire to not be ALL IN.

I think I do this a lot, hold back, stop myself from being all in. I’m not sure exactly why, but I imagine it has something to do with the vulnerability inherent in being all in.

cards-casino-chips-39856When we go all in, we are clear about what we want. We are claiming and proclaiming (at least to whoever is around) our desires, our intentions, our dreams, our wants. When we go all in we stop hedging our bets, taking half measures, protecting our behinds, busily formulating Plan Bs. When we go all in we let other options go, we release the safety of the status quo, and we step firmly into new territory with unpredictable outcomes. When we go all in, we are risking (and the alarmist in my wants to add… everything).

The fears that get in my way are the same no matter what I’m talking about.

The reasons to play it small are equally consistent.

But the reasons to go all in, those I’m less familiar with as it has not generally been my way… except that one time.

That one time I decided to try one more time. That one time I decided to remove all of the obstacles to what I wanted. That one time I took advice and sought out the best collaborator I could find. That one time I aligned my thinking with the outcome I wanted and kept it there, ditching the fear that it was all a horrible mistake. That one time I trusted that even if I didn’t get what I wanted, I would be better off for having tried – really tried. That one time I quit my stressful job, stabbed myself with needles full of hormones, got poked and prodded and examined and investigated. That one time I did EVERYTHING. That one time I got pregnant and kept the babies. That one time.

And I’ve taught myself the lesson by thinking maybe I had something to say to you about the struggle to be consistent with our self-care. It turns out the lesson I needed to hear today was a different one, a lesson about the gifts of real commitment and some encouragement to jump in the deep end of the pool every once in a while. The question I need to ask myself is a real one about aligning my action to my desires, about honesty and authenticity, about realizing that taking risks has always been the only way to get the things I most wanted.

And so I’m going to start to ask myself: “Are you all in?” Not to spur myself to greater levels of workaholism. Not to shame myself into some kind of to do list-making frenzy, but to check my heart, to check my thoughts, to see if I am really committing to what I say I’m trying to do, to what I say I want. The answer doesn’t have to be “Yes,” but if it’s no, then that bears looking at, right?

How about you? Where are you employing half-measures and expecting a full return? Are you all in?

 

Trust as Your Anchor

In a prayer I read the other day, I came across this simple request: “Let my soul be anchored in trust.”

bare-feet-boy-child-262103I struggle with that idea.

I struggle to trust.

I struggle to feel safe being myself, taking risks.

I struggle to feel secure with who I am and who I might become.

My mind tells me if I work hard enough and protect myself and my family then I don’t have to trust, which is probably best because oh my mercy have you seen what’s going on out there?!

And I know there are people who would tell me that this lack of trust is not a problem, but wisdom, a sign of maturity in a hard world, lessons learned. There is surely plenty of evidence in the world that not everyone or everything is trustworthy. Hell, there is surely plenty of evidence in my Facebook feed alone that not everyone or everything, or some days it seems like ANYone or ANYthing is trustworthy.

If I allow myself to follow that evidence, if I allow myself to see all that is wrong in the world and, more importantly, use it to support the idea that I can’t, I shouldn’t trust, I live in fear and isolation. Fear and isolation feels like shit. Fear and isolation is an internal dialogue that never shuts up. Fear and isolation is being sure that you are alone and that if you screw up the consequences could be dire. Fear and isolation is living without love for yourself or anyone else. It’s enough to make me take up permanent residence in the blanket fort.

It seems to me that the only way to function at all without deciding and learning to trust is to live in fear – to watch, be vigilant, to inspect, to caution, and ultimately to create a container for our lives that is all enough that it may go unnoticed in the cruel world. The partner to that fear is busting your butt every waking moment of every day. This is how we shrink ourselves. This is how we lead small lives. This is how and why we hide the parts of ourselves that are crying out for display like a peacock’s fan. Who has time to be and feel amazing when there is so much to worry about? Who has the gumption to wonder if the things we’re choosing are what’s best for everyone if we think it is THAT scary out there? Who finds it compelling to take the undeniable risk of vulnerability if what we believe is that it is a sure path to our destruction?

But beloveds, it is all a choice. We can choose NOT to shrink. We can choose to act even in our fear. If I choose NOT to shrink, but to be my full self and thereby to trust the world with HER, everything is different. And yes, some people won’t like HER. And yes, some people will demand that she get back in that box. But oh lordy those feathers.

You see trusting doesn’t mean that I don’t see problems. Trusting doesn’t mean I won’t have problems. Trusting doesn’t mean that I don’t notice when things aren’t going my way. Trusting doesn’t mean we won’t have problems with other humans, our communities, our culture, our institutions. It DOES mean not seeing any of these as a signal that we are doomed, flawed, finished, washed up or even cursed.

animal-bird-feathers-148291.jpgI suppose it’s possible that folks are right and that I should be afraid – and believe me I still am more of the time than I care to acknowledge, but having experienced days without all of that fear, days in trust, and days when I act in trust even though I am afraid, I have to say I much prefer to live in a world where I believe I can actually be myself and ultimately I, and everyone else, will be better for that expression.

And oh lordy those feathers.

 

The Keys to Your Freedom

I still see Mel Gibson yelling Freedom at the top of his lungs, blue paint on his face, in his we didn’t know you were crazy and a bigot days. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you haven’t seen Braveheart, and in many ways that’s probably okay.

freedom-handcuffs-hands-247851The moment in the film is one where he’s motivating the troops to face a much larger, better equipped, and infinitely better trained army.  And he calls them to action, to sustained and courageous action in the name of freedom.

It’s been a clarion cry since people were people who organized themselves, since people tried to be in charge of other people, since the draw of other people’s stuff tempted the first guy to go take it with force. Freedom.

And it’s clear from history AND from the silver screen that the call to freedom gets people going.

It gets people motivated.

It gets people marching.

It gets people chanting.

It gets people fighting.

The call for freedom in our shared world is loud, persistent, and the consequences for NOT claiming it are all too often real and brutal.

What I’d like to think about on this independence day in the U.S. is the calls for freedom in our inner worlds, which are so often more subtle and more easily dismissed in favor of more “practical” concerns:

  • the cry for freedom that happens in your head as you drive into a job you can’t stand,
  • the cry for freedom that happens in your head as you tough it out in a relationship that doesn’t nurture you in the slightest,
  • the cry for freedom as you buy things you don’t need to feel better,
  • the cry for freedom as you search around for something to believe in that feels like a home rather than a prolonged punishment,
  • the cry for freedom as you hide pieces of yourself to fit in and please people.

Those are all real cries.

They’re not wearing blue face paint and riding a big stallion, but they will if you ignore them too long.

I used to ignore those cries, and I endured the loss of sleep, the anxiety, the gnawing hunger that came with that choice. I tried to move things around. How about this? How about a little graduate school? No, how about doing the same job in a totally different environment? No? I just kept plugging away in situations that were wrong because I was sure that the things that would make me feel free were not available to ME. Sure, someone else might be able to make that work, but not me. I didn’t even really think about it long enough to have an argument with myself very often. I mean, this was what being an adult was, right? You find something you’re decent at that will get you paid and you DO IT. How it makes you feel is just because it’s a job… “That’s why they call it work.”

I rode those feelings in to a job that was draining me of everything I had until I started to have heart palpitations, and until my doctor told me that there was absolutely no way I would ever get pregnant in that condition. I was 37. I believed I was running out of time – another idea that enslaved me.

I ignored the cries of freedom until I could literally physically not ignore them anymore.

I see people do it all of the time. You see we all have these ideas, ideas about what’s possible and what’s right and who we are. Some of those ideas help us feel free and some of them keep us in prison.

So I ask you on this day of independence in the U.S., are there cries for freedom that you are ignoring? Are there signals you’re getting that tell you something’s not right? How loud will you let them get before you listen?

Sometimes after turning a deaf ear for a long time, we don’t even know how to listen anymore. We don’t recognize the call. We don’t recognize the cry as one we can do anything about. It just turns into a sense of how things are wrong and will always be the way they are. It just turns into a sense of impossibility and stuckness. It turns into hopelessness and repetition, stress eating and drinking, suppressed emotions and weariness.

back-view-blonde-hair-countryside-757056Freedom doesn’t feel like that. And sometimes it involves changing your circumstances, but before any of that happens, it involves finding those chains in your head and your heart so you can see them.

Sometimes all you need to do is see them beloveds because you hold the keys.

I’d love to help you find them.

If You’re No Fun Anymore…

I’ve gotten the same message a few times in the last week or so. I may be hard headed, but if you hit me with a board enough times, I will notice.

adult-beard-black-and-white-543The first message came VERY directly from my Reiki master. We were working together and she just paused and looked at me: “When was the last time you had fun – not work on yourself, self-help, progress fun – just straight-up silly time fun?” I grunted in acknowledgement, not really wanting to answer her question. She relented and understood my hesitation for what it was, a need to give that more serious thought. Yep, that’s how I roll.

Truth is while I am FUNNY and can be FUN, I’m a pretty serious person. I spend a lot of time thinking about serious things, working on serious things, helping people with serious things. I have fun with that – I enjoy it, but it is not just straight-up silly time fun.

The second message came from my kids. They graduated from 5th grade a few days ago and while the beginning of the day was dominated by a ceremony that I think nearly bored them to tears, the rest of the day was play. They had a celebration with their classmates. They played soccer and ran around. They played on the monkey bars and played tag. They ate snow cones and laughed. Then they came home on the bus to prepare for our annual last day of school neighborhood water fight. My kids took it upon themselves to invite the youngest kids to our house to teach them the finer points of water balloon warfare without putting them in harm’s way with the middle school crowd down the hill. They played for hours: water balloons, squirt guns, a slip and slide and the next door neighbor’s giant swing. Then they came inside and quickly showered so we could watch our Friday night movie. I’m pretty sure we all fell asleep on the couch at some point. They PLAYED. They played hard. They played without pause. They played until we told them it was time to stop. They played like it was their job. I thought that and decided to hang on to that thought.

I picked up a magazine the next morning, taking full advantage of a few minutes before we started preparing the house for guests. I’d had the issue for months and had just never gotten around to reading it. I opened it to a random page in the middle and was confronted with the title of an article: “Playtime.” I’m listening.

The final message was from a friend, another seminarian (once you know one you know many). His sermon on Sunday was entitled: “Blessed Be Fun,” and it was all about the conclusion he has come to that there is enough that needs doing in this world that it is okay to pick the part that is actually fun. He describes this notion as part of his “theology of fun,” whereby we stop telling ourselves that the things we enjoy and dream of engaging in aren’t big or important enough. We stop fearing that allowing ourselves enjoyment and pleasure will devolve directly into hedonism. We, instead, learn from children who have the flexibility to follow and enjoy the process they are engaged in without such a keen and critical regard for the results.

I had to laugh. I was actually becoming seriously entertained by the full-scale campaign being waged against my inner-disciplinarian in favor of… fun.

The interesting thing is that I had actually taken this lens to my business in the weeks prior. If you follow the blog separately, rather than waiting for my newsletter to come out, you know I’ve been writing a WHOLE lot more. The reason for that is simple. Of the tasks I do for my business, writing is one of my favorites and I was limiting my writing time in favor of other parts of the business that I truly did not enjoy. During my weeks of physical meltdown, I decided to shift that focus. I decided it was okay to follow the fun. I decided that what I really enjoy actually matters.

So all of these messages confirmed that for me, but they also pushed me to look a little deeper, well, or a little shallower in this case. I look deep as a matter of course. Maybe, just maybe, I could lighten up a little.

So I’m thinking about that… LOL. I really meant that because that’s my reaction, my go-to response to something that I’m really not sure how to do. Sometimes I’m not sure how to lighten up, how to just have fun.

adult-beautiful-blow-156168But here’s the thing. I know people who really truly know how to do that. There are three other souls in this house who are much better at lightening up than I am. So the easy first step is to accept the invitations. My kids are around most of this summer (I planned a few structured diversions so the seminarian and I could get some work done). They will ask me to do things with them. They will ask me to play games. They will ask if we can go to a pool or a park or for a walk in the woods. The answer I hope to make habitual is YES. I want to channel Shonda Rhimes this summer and when my kids ask if I can play with them, I want to say yes.

I also want to follow their example and pay attention to the things that make me feel good, that I enjoy, that are fun to do regardless of the outcome. And I want to shift my energy output so more of it goes right there. I agree with my friend Bob Clegg who said: “If there’s a loving God in heaven (or a universal presence, omniscient spirit, etc), surely it would want us to have fun.”

If you struggle with this and you need me to tell you that play is important, not just fun, I’m going to say that. It’s important. It’s important because it teaches you. It’s important because it frees you. It’s important because humans get to have joy and you are human.

Now stop all of this heavy lifting and go play. Don’t come home until the streetlights come on.

XO,

julia

The Between Time

My brother loves the phrase “liminal time.” It is a good word, liminal. If words aren’t your thing, feel free to skip ahead, but those who’ve been playing along for awhile know that I am a self-confessed word nerd, and there are some words that are just plain better than others. Liminal is one of those words.

antique-classic-clock-1095601It means transitional, or a stage in the process. It is neither the beginning nor the end. It is neither the old thing or the new thing. It is between. It is ongoing. It is often ill-defined and formless. Liminal time. It can be the time after giving notice at work and before starting the new gig. It can be the time after setting up the PA equipment and before the band begins. It can be the time when a child is no longer a little kid, but isn’t a teenager. Liminal time can be after a project begins but before it really takes hold. It can be a clean but unfolded basket of laundry. Liminal time can be a lot of things, and most of that has to do with definition and perception.

Our culture really likes to present progress as a very linear thing. You move from start to finish and pass through stages along the way. If we observe enough people doing the same kinds of things, we can even predict those stages and measure time or markers or outcomes. The thing about liminal time, or being in transition, or being in one stage of a process, is that it isn’t always linear. Things don’t always move in a clear direction. The stages aren’t always obvious. Our paths of “progress” are pretty much never the same as someone else’s.

The beauty of remembering that simple fact of human variation is that it gives us the freedom to decide what the start, the finish, and all of the steps along the way are. We get to decide if we are between. We get to decide that we have made progress. We get to decide that we have completed something. We get to decide if we will continue or if the steps we planned to take are no longer necessary. We get to decide if forward motion is necessary and would be helpful. We get to decide to think of where we are as being temporary or the goal, fleeting or permanent, necessary or bonus. We get to decide and define all of that.

And that flexibility in our thinking is part of what makes liminal time such a good teacher. That sense that we are between phases or stages or steps calls out to us to examine what’s driving us, to touch base with our inner knowing to see if that next step moves in the direction we’d imagined or if it goes somewhere else entirely.

Being in between requires us to take a look at how attached we are to that thing, that place, that goal that we haven’t reached yet and question whether or not we’ve got our cart attached to the right horse. It may be that what we thought we wanted isn’t right for us at all. It may be that what we want is exactly right but the path, oh that path to get there looks nothing like what we imagined. We miss all of these opportunities if we don’t give liminal time its due, if we don’t learn to see the gifts of the between time, if we maintain a rigid and unyielding grasp on our ideas about what should happen and when.

I have children who, if we follow along with accepted developmental phases, are in a between time. They are 11. It is such a between time that we’ve dubbed it the “‘tween” years. They most certainly are not little kids anymore in so many ways. They are also definitely not interested in or ready for experiences and interactions they will have as teens. They are between. They long to be older because they see freedom there. They long to be younger because the notion of romantic relationships is appalling. They miss greater simplicity in play and friendships and they yearn for independence.  Their moods, as they experience their own duality, are all over the place.

I see how they have to stretch and grow in this liminal time. I see them struggle with it and I see them carry on. I see them release things from the past: friendships that haven’t stood the test of time, hobbies that don’t suit anymore, habits and desires that no longer serve them. I see them sensing that their understanding of the outcomes might have been inaccurate as they notice that increased independence and freedom often comes with greater responsibility. I see them wanting to be older but not being sure why. I see them doing a sort of dance with one leg in the past and one in the future. It is an uncomfortable position to be in.

afterglow-backlit-beach-797394And really, the only way to respond when one is stuck in that kind of straddle, is to bring your legs together, squarely underneath you, and to recognize the space you are in as the one that matters the most. Keeping our toes too far in the past and too far in the future strains the system and creates regret and disappointment. Drilling down to observations that are a little more granular lets us see all of the micro developments that take place exactly where we are. This moment that we think of as a between stage actually has hundreds of tiny steps that make it up. Our progress is continual. Our growth is unstoppable (even if it is painful and awkward at times). We feel that we are between when we don’t see all that is here, now: the incremental learning, the opportunities to be present and connected, and the sheer power of giving our attention to what is real, what is happening NOW.

We can inhabit the space of not being quite where we want to be, of having goals and aspirations AND at the same time acknowledge, see, and feel every bit of what is good and amazing about the place where we are. Each step along the way is its own destination and every pause is liminal. We are always changing and always complete. We are between and we are starting and we are finishing all in the same breath. To believe that and feel the comfort and peace it can bring, all we have to do is choose to see it.

From Liminal Time,

julia

 

I Shall Not Want

Babies want.

adult-baby-bed-225744They want to be fed when they’re hungry.

They want to be changed when they are wet.

They want to be held.

And as their vision improves, they want to touch the shiny things.

I have never met a baby yet that doesn’t want.

It’s part of how they survive, right? They want their needs to be met in specific ways (that last phrase has driven many a new parent completely insane).

We don’t tell them that they are not allowed to want when they are hungry, to be held when they need comfort. We don’t get upset when they want to touch the shiny things.

That all comes later.

At least it does for some of us.

I was raised to not want. I was raised to not want money, to not want nice clothes, to not want more than my share, to not covet, to not desire, and perhaps more importantly – not to express my wanting, my coveting, my desires. My wanting was pressure on a parental structure that was already maxed out. My wanting was a problem for other people and a personal character flaw of mine.

I should be happy that I had anything at all – don’t I know about the people in ________ (insert developing country in the news)? I’m not sure they ever actually said any of that. But the message came through loud and clear – at least it did to me. Christmas lists were requested and then bemoaned. Preferences were investigated and then judged. Being asked what you wanted became a trap. The best answer was nothing. I am perfectly content with everything just as it is. I imagine at least 50% of this story I had going was inferred. I heard it; I interpreted it. I determined what behavior would serve me best and intuited the reasons behind it. Given how all of the members of my family have changed and grown now I can’t possibly honestly say whether or not any of the story I have is accurate. The point isn’t whether or not it was true, but that it was true for me.

There are a lot of references to want in all of the great spiritual teachings and there seems to be some degree of consensus on the the fact that wanting is not necessary, that increased faith, belief, devotion – whatever – will help you to NOT want. This was not the version of not wanting that was part of my childhood endeavor. The version I was participating in was when you see that you do actually have a want and decide that it is a problem so you jam it down in a little mental box. You shame yourself for that desire. You lock it up somewhere internally and feel guilty. This is not a practice that leads to freedom or enlightenment. This is the version of not wanting that is born in, and regenerative of, fear, lack, smallness, and scarcity.

Having done a great deal of work and given it some thought, I now have two reactions to want that I think are equally important, at least to me.

The first reaction is based in the idea that rather than being fundamentally flawed or maybe even a little evil naturally, I am actually pretty wonderful. I am good. I am part of the goodness that exists in the world and my motives, when I don’t start thinking weird things and injecting them with insecurity and fear, are all pretty pure. My wants don’t make me a bad person. We like shiny things. We crave things. We seek experiences. And all of those are clues about who I am, what I am up to, where my path lies and how I can grow. When I am honest with myself about how I feel and who I am my wants are guideposts for the future rather than a rescue ladder for the past. My wants are a dance of imagination, play, and joyful experimentation with the laws of the universe and the will of the Divine.

The second reaction that I have now sees a different path to not wanting – one that is born in gratitude, awareness, awareness and recognition. I shall not want, not because I have no desires, but because I am so deeply aware of the blessings that are already mine. My clarity about the gifts of my life eases my grasping, slows my breathing and enlivens my grateful and great full heart.

I shall not want all of the time because I see the blessings around me. When I DO want, I will pay attention and see what direction my heart is attempting to lead me in. There is no shame in wanting and, in fact just as it does when we are infants, the fullest highest expression of my life may depend on  it.

blur-blurred-blurry-722680I shall not want is inadequate on its own. It is not a standalone piece of wisdom. I shall not want as a way to hide from my feelings. I shall not want as a way to cover my pain. I shall not want without reminding myself to look for blessings. I shall not create rules for myself that close the doors to joy, beauty, and new ways of being. I shall listen to the whispers of my heart and soul. I shall remain open even when fear screams that I should watch my step. I shall honor all of the pieces of me from a place of recognition of just how precious this moment, and all of my moments are. I will want shiny things and I will see all of the ones right there in front of me.

In love and gratitude,

julia

 

Impossible?

“Nope. Not possible.”

Years ago I was in my first band. I had finished college and while trying to figure out what the next step was in the recession into which I graduated, a friend introduced me to some musician friends of hers. She was playing matchmaker and we all knew it. It was a match. That night was the beginning of a two year group endeavor that was both terribly confusing and insanely fun.

audience-band-blur-518389The leader of our band of often merry humans was wildly ambitious. He had a mind for business and really wanted to make a go of our project. He wanted a record deal (that’s what they used to be called, I’m sure the terminology has changed). His optimism was infectious, even if his focus and willingness to do the tedious tasks of band management were not. We were reasonably successful as local bands go, our peak was an opportunity to play at The Bayou (a big deal joint in Washington, DC) as an opening act for an act that HAD been famous at one time. We got enough positive feedback to stoke the fires when we were discouraged and when we ran out of money, which was often. Internal drama aside, we succeeded in making music together and creating good experiences for other people.

The thing is, despite the fact that I was having a great time a lot of the time, and even though I enjoyed the positive attention that came from fronting our madness, I never really bought into the dream. I never really believed that success on a larger scale was possible. I never bought into the collective hope, not really.

I had decided (for a variety of reasons) that what my friend was really hoping would happen was simply not possible. Nope. Not possible. And so, when things got tough personally between us as a group and the shimmer of young love turned my head to the West Coast, I left. They were shocked, and in retrospect, I understand that. They thought we’d all be in it together. They didn’t know I had limited my emotional investment to what I thought was realistic for ME.

A brilliant friend shared a quote with me the other day: “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.” It’s from Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction writer. The application here is scientific in nature and wildly optimistic in a way that thrills me a little bit.

It’s also pretty clear to me that a contextual shift shows the real power of Clarke’s words. The idea of what is possible is central to so many of our decisions and our personal predisposition towards optimism or pessimism, toward risk-taking or security, towards dreaming big or playing it safe all are touched on by this one sentence.

We can start with a big picture. What is possible? We can come at if from the realm of the physical, the scientific, the laws of nature and physics as we know them. We can take a step in towards the slightly more personal and then as questions like: “What is possible in THIS world? What is possible in a lifetime? What is possible on this current version of earth? What is possible in this culture?” You can see that at each level, with each change, with each contextual shift, there is tremendous opportunity for interpretation. There is a new chance to exercise the choice of relying on what our own experience or the experience of those before has taught us about what we can and cannot do. Between every action, every feeling, every thought, there is a possibility, a choice to don or discard conventional wisdom and common sense about what is possible in this life for humans generally.

If you think that’s complicated, wait until we take the next step, because if you’ve been playing along for awhile, you have to know there is an additional step, towards the even more personal, the more internal, the more self-specific as we assess possibilities. There is a vast expanse of murky water between the question: “What is possible?” and “What is possible for ME?”

When we assess what’s possible for us, individually, as ourselves, we don’t just take on prior knowledge, cultural norms, group experience and common sense, we take on our most fundamental beliefs about our own value, our own worth, and our own capacity.

Common sense and conventional wisdom tend to work against musicians and other artists. The story we have about art as a life is that it is one that is dominated largely by poverty and struggle. I think too that we have some cultural stories about the necessity of struggle for art, but that’s a bit of a tangent. While I know there are plenty of folks who encourage their kids in the arts, even as formal study, there is often a hesitation there – like wouldn’t you like to minor in nursing or apprentice with a plumber while you do that? It is so difficult to make a choice that is not known to be financially stable. I imagine you could make a similar argument for any profession or endeavor that you were nervous about trying out:  “Switching careers is risky. Nobody makes a living that way. It will be too hard, take too long, require too much training,” etc.

The only folks who can scale THAT tower, the one that goes beyond conventional wisdom, are the ones who are willing to believe that whatever level of success or satisfaction they are looking for is possible, individually, for them, in this lifetime. They have to set aside thoughts like: “Well, sure that can happen for other people, but it would never happen for me.” They have to let go of the list of reasons that they use as evidence to keep them at half-mast on their willingness to try. They have to go all in.

They have to believe in that possibility often enough that they can complete the tasks, endure the rejection, and find satisfaction even when it’s not going according to big, auspicious, glittery plan. They have to release the idea that they are not worthy enough, or capable enough, or special enough to have the right to do what they are great at in this world.

emotions-microphone-musician-64274And then they need to strap on their brave boots and do the things – the things that they love to do, that make them feel fully alive, the things that, not at all coincidentally, just might take them where they want to go.

How much courage do we need to test that boundary of impossibility? Only as much courage as it takes to bridge the gap between what we think of ourselves and the challenge we’d so desperately like to take on.

Don’t Invite Chaos

We’ve been having some work done on the house. Nothing dramatic, just attending to some things that were on the scale from droopy to downright non-functional. In that process we got a new toilet and vanity for the bathroom on the first floor of our house. Really glamorous topic, right? Don’t worry, it’s not going to get any earthier than this.

bathroom-clean-faucet-145512The first floor bath is a half bath, and it is the one that gets the most use by guests. The toilet in it was there when we moved in and whoever chose it must have been short. I have nothing against short people, but there are toilet height realities at work here. As some of my extended family (nearly all of whom are tall) get older, my concern about the shorty toilet grew. Rather than install a bar for guests to haul themselves up with, we got a new toilet and dumped the vanity that was there for a nicer one. Now, I measured the vanity that was in there. I chose carefully from the incredibly ridiculous number of options, but I didn’t take the depth into account, so the switch, which was supposed to be seamless, invisible, easy peasy now created a mess by exposing part of the wall that was unpainted and damaged from the old vanity. My guy took care of the damage, but he is not a paint guy so lo and behold our easy peasy switch now has another element to it.

I’ve not really been happy with the color in that room for a while. I liked it when I chose it… It happens sometimes. So, as these little changes were taking place I thought “Maybe it’s time to just repaint the sucker.” When the damaged wall appeared I thought: “Guess I’ll be doing that sooner rather than later.” When we had a break in the installation process because we were waiting on backsplash parts I thought: “I should probably do that before he comes back to finish the job.”

I mentioned this to my husband. “You’re probably right. We should do that before he comes back.” I started thinking about paint color (something we literally NEVER agree on by the way).

And then I said: “He’s coming back in four days.” Scot mumbled and then said: “Well, let’s do it this weekend.”

I pointed out that this weekend does not exist. Saturday is the date of darling daughter’s end of term violin recital. It is also the rescheduled date of darling son’s season ending soccer tournament, which may NOT end in time for all of us to make the recital. The next day features church (did I mention he’s a seminarian?), a meeting in the afternoon and plans to hear a civil rights speaker that evening. Apparently painting on the weekend meant at night or something. No thanks. That left two work days, one of which featured him being gone and the other of which featured a VERY long list of things I needed to do for my practice.

So I’m doing all of this logistical math. I can see the writing on the wall, but still there’s a part of me trying to figure out how to make it work. Maybe if I skipped that, but then I’d have to call so and so and I haven’t even chosen a color yet. I could probably go after dinner tonight and get paint. Then I could start first thing in the morning while I drink my coffee…. Seriously?

I had pretty much lost the thread. I decided this needed to be done. I had a vague dissatisfaction with the color – not hate mind you, just vague dissatisfaction. That escalated to needing to take care of that and then to needing to address it pretty much immediately multi-tasking, maybe also talking on the phone and recording a guided meditation. Sounds perfect, right?

And all of this urgency was just because if I painted it before he came back, the finish along the edge of the backsplash would look nicer. Yep, that’s it. That’s all. A line of paint that will likely be water spattered and camouflaged by the weird crap my kids leave in there most days anyway.

I’m gong to intentionally make things more difficult, jam pack my schedule, reorganize my priorities, give up rest and family time for that? What happens then? Do I win some kind of award? Does my house get featured in a magazine? Can I post a picture on Facebook and have everyone ooh and ah?

I saw it all happening, all of these semi-conscious decisions to escalate, to make it better, more, now, and it wasn’t until I was very nearly about to pick up my keys to go to the hardware store at a stupid time of day to get paint (with some internal grumbling and resentment by the way) that I realized that I was inviting chaos into my life by even considering this project. I was making things more difficult for myself for a reason that I’m still not clear on. I stopped. I took a deep breath.

I went back into the bathroom and took another look. Not perfect, but better. A little work to do for sure. Five minutes later I got an e-mail from my guy letting me know my parts were in and he would be here in the morning to install them. Times up.

And so his part of this project is now complete. Our part remains and as I was in there today, I took a look around. Maybe that color is okay after all. Maybe a touch up on the repaired part would be enough after all.

blonde-hair-brick-wall-close-up-975668I can’t say I’ll never invite chaos in again. That would be a big promise for me. But what I do want to do is to get better at seeing it, seeing the moment happen for I get too deep in, before I’ve bought the materials for that super-easy DIY or craft project so that I can just see them out of the corner of my eye as I do all of the other things I actually want to do more. I want to notice the role I play in my chaos, in my scurrying, and in my own resentment making. I want to see all of these things because I HAVE learned that seeing things changes them and a little renovation is always a good thing.