Growing Roots (A Series): Part V

Rooting in Your Gifts

When my children were young I began to search for a family church – not out of faith or a desire to worship anything in particular, but out of a desire to provide them and maybe even me with a safe spot, a community, a place to be at home even when home didn’t feel that good.

activity-adult-adventure-1376960.jpgI held memories of backpacking trips with groups from my my childhood church firmly in mind as I investigated our local options. Ironically my now seminarian husband was less enthusiastic about this quest, so I became the advance team. I made a list of churches to visit based on what I knew generally about beliefs and practices and what I could get down with, and perhaps more importantly what I couldn’t get down with, and I began to visit them.

I went to services to see how it felt, to check out what was being taught and said. If the minimal bar of not offending me was passed, I then asked about their programming for kids. It’s possible that part of my motive as a stay at home parent of twin pre-schoolers was to find just one hour in my week where I could sit and think without being interrupted.

I could say more about the churches I visited – who made the initial cut and why, but that’s not really the point today. Today the point is what I did with church.

I think, even in my older twin mom exhaustion that I knew that many of my core needs were not being met. This reaching out for community was an attempt to shift that balance, but it was, in many ways, an attempt to apply that same old geographical solution to the problem of feeling terribly alone and isolated. If I could just find the right place, I would feel better.

I did find a place, a really great place, and we began (slowly and intermittently) to attend as a family. People were welcoming and friendly enough. We were reserved and rushed. Church became an additional item on the list of things to do, and I (as the one who started it all) became the ringmaster of the Sunday morning circus. In my attempt to find community, I had created a lot of work for myself, had added more tasks to the insane stack of domestic work, childcare, and freelance writing and editing I was already doing.

For me doing all of these things meant doing them well. I was exhausted, and fully retreated into my armor of perfectionism. So when I entered this new space – wrangling husband and children to get there, it became a box to check off (and to be sure to do well) – one more thing on my list – a thing that I sensed could help but that I was really unable to engage with in a way that WOULD actually help.

I had set a trap for myself, and I was caught.

And then, one Sunday, the choir returned from summer hiatus. And they were good! I say this with love: church choirs are often NOT good. Being a musician can make regular attendance at a place with a not good choir a difficult thing to commit to. This choir was good, and it occurred to me that maybe this was a thing I wanted to do.

It had been over 20 years since I had sung in the University Choir at Penn State. I had been in a few bands in the meantime, and occasionally even been paid for that, but even that beer-soaked musical effort was a distant memory, so there was some anxiety about taking on this new musical thing with a group of people I didn’t know.

The director and I sorted out where my voice belonged and I began to attend. And I began, again, to sing. It had been years since I’d sung in front of people who I wasn’t attempting to coax to sleep or to learn the alphabet or just cheer up.

It had been far longer since I’d read notes on a page, and it was tricky. As I continued to attend, I found help all around me. I learned who the great sight-readers were and sat near them for a boost. I slowly went from singing along quietly and tentatively to actually singing along, sometimes with confidence. I began to feel my way back to the space that appears when I sing and I allow myself the pleasure of trusting that I am good enough at it to stop worrying.

Wednesday nights became sacred time, and it was easy to believe that the shift that occurred was a result of finally choosing the right geographical solution. I had finally found the right place. In retrospect, I think something else was at play that created that magic for me.

To participate in choir, I had to set everything else aside. There is no multi-tasking in choir. I also had to face the fact that I would make mistakes. These were two things I was desperate to do but didn’t recognize the longing.

attractive-background-beautiful-756453In addition to that though, to get that soaring feeling I sometimes get when I sing, I had to engage with my gift and trust that it is good enough. Whoa.

I had to plug into something that I knew could bring me joy and let all of the worry about looking foolish go. Whoa.

I had to take off enough armor to let the sound come out, to breathe deeply to support it, and to have the sensitivity to others necessary to work in a group with my, and all of their, gifts. Whoa.

I had thought to turn outward to root myself in a community. I had thought it was a question of finding the right place and then identifying the right people and then, over the course of however long it would take a shy and introverted person to do so, to cultivate relationships with those people.

It had not occurred to me that I could turn inside – to my joys, to my desires, to my needs and my gifts and that turning in THAT direction i could grow roots and find community. i could find more nourishment, confidence, AND kindred souls for care and comfort.

I had never realized that rooting begins not just with soil, but in the seed.

Growing Roots (A Series): Part II

On Making People Your Roots

There was a commercial many years ago that always brought me to tears. It was Christmastime, early morning, and a young man arrives at what can only be his parents’ (beautiful) home. He is carrying bags and it seems that he is not expected. His mother comes down the stairs to find him – is overwhelmed by joy, and then they have coffee, the “best part of waking up.” The moment the producers of the ad filmed is the best version of what we want from home, from being rooted: acceptance, love, beautiful surroundings, familiarity, and a warm beverage. Really, it was quite a scene.

Family, where we’re always accepted, loved, where things are always familiar and beautiful and we can always find common ground over a cup of coffee… Ahhhh.

adult-affection-beach-936018Yeah, no, not me either, and I have a pretty good family. I say that like there’s some universal scale for judging families. What I mean is that my family’s dysfunctions tend to be low-level enough that they are not apparent to the casual observer and can often be bypassed with determined politeness. I recognize that in the family dysfunction Olympics, we are not on the winning team. And even with that said, my family has not always been a place of rootedness for me – a place of finding strength in the storm, a place of holding on when everything seems to be falling apart.

And I daresay that my family is not unique in the fact that sometimes they are the locus of my storm. Sometimes they are what seems to be at the heart of my falling apart. Sometimes they are the wind and the hail and the drought that makes my roots necessary. This is not some horrific betrayal on their part, merely a failure to be anything but human.

Family Scripts

The dynamics of family are complicated and sometimes painful, tangled in expectation and old wounds. Our behavior towards them often dictated by events from years ago; their understandings of us often hopelessly outdated or falsely based on a single event, a temporary pattern, or a developmental stage.

We see this when families get together and re-enact the same scripts over and over again. The patterns of interaction are predictable because they are ancient and ingrained. We know what they will say. They know what we will do. We are all caught in a play that stunts our growth by failing to leave room for something new. There is no improvising and being the one who steps outside of that script, who changes the rules, can be daunting and exhausting, unappreciated and met with disapproval. The roles we play in our families can make real rooting, a search for authenticity and growth difficult.

When I get together with my family, I become the quiet one. Yes, really. This person running on at the mouth (well, the digital mouth as it were) can go the better part of a holiday event without saying much of anything. The competition for airtime is too intense for my liking, and when I try to join in on the ribbing and merry teasing that my family loves, I miss the mark and offend someone every time. Quiet is safer. Quiet is predictable. Quiet and apart maintains the structure of our interactions that was established when my siblings were all born two years apart and I trailed behind by a few more years. Status quo please and thank you.

We all like stability and predictability. This is, after all, part of what we seek in hoping to feel rooted. This same yearning can make the dynamics of family unsafe for change. What are we to do then, if these iconic containers (home, hearth, and family) for rootedness and connection are false?

chatting-cups-dog-745045One answer many people choose is community – building a hearth and home of one’s own by carefully selecting a group of confidantes, playmates, treasured humans with whom we can entrust the most tender parts of ourselves. I’ve constructed my own “framily” over the years. Most of my twenties were spent with a group of four couples, most of whom I still count among my closest friends. Framily can do a lot to keep us sane, keep us motivated, keep us warm when it gets really cold in the big world. I can and have found a great deal of comfort and wisdom in my chosen beloved community, but there was no magical rooting feeling that arose with that effort.

My sense of rootedness, of the capacity to draw strength and dig into peace only really began when I started to look for those things, and to toy with the idea that I could find them, within myself.

Roots are Grown, Not Given

beautiful-black-blur-987627It was only when I began the difficult task of truly accepting all of myself, even the parts that I was ashamed of, that I began to grow and feel those roots of acceptance.

It was only when I began the herculean task of loving myself – even the body that aggravated me – that I began to grow the roots of unconditional love.

It was only when I began to toy with the idea that this ME, this person, this incredibly complex combination of genetic material, cosmic timing, and individual experiences is enough, is perfectly formed for this world and all that I want to do in it, that I began to grow roots of strength and sustenance.

It was only when I began to acknowledge that all that has happened to me and every choice I’ve made has taught me, modeled me, and guided me to now that I began to grow roots of trust.

As I continue my own journey of rootedness, I have begun to explore the ideas of a divine and benevolent force that I had discarded after one too many personal tragedies. I’ve begun to find new sources of strength, love, and compassion to tap into but the gateway, even for these “higher planes” is always through me, through openness, through love.

Where are you looking for your roots? Do you feel them? Have you looked inside?

Growing Roots (A Series): Part I

Where Are You Rooted?

bark-beautiful-branch-1080401I think the Hallmark card answer to this question features family and home – some kind of (outdated for most) fictional version of the generational homestead where you are always loved and encouraged. For most people reality is a lot more complicated. Modern humans don’t often have access to their physical ancestral home (“I grew up here. I was just driving through the neighborhood. Do you mind if I look around?”)

I, for one, moved three times before I graduated from high school and became a sort of serial home changer for years after that. Some of those later moves were based on the sheer practicality and necessity of changing work situations and the realities of being a renter, but I was always searching.

I was always searching for HOME, some mythical geographical spot – some alchemical mixture of architecture and good vibes that was meant to be a safe and enduring harbor for me. I had this sense that my internal discomfort and restlessness just needed to be in the right spot to be healed.

The Family Homestead

When my parents made the decision to leave their home in the DC suburbs in order to downsize and remove themselves from the rat-race, I asked that they let me know before they put the house on the market. This was the house I had lived in during high school and to which I had returned in times of early adult crisis. They did just that and my husband and I bought the house from them.

abandoned-antique-architecture-175692It was a charming old house and I loved it like a family member. When we hired an old house inspector, we found out our new home was in fact an ailing family member. We jumped into the task of reviving her, bringing her up to code, making her safe, securing her against the forces of nature. I had this idea that when we got her completed, the magic would ensue. I would feel safe. I would feel certain. I would feel like I belonged. I would feel rooted and connected to this place where I had done so much growing.

We spent a lot of money on that hope. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. If you’ve ever owned an old home, or a boat, or your own business, or had a kid with terrible teeth, you are familiar with the wind gust that is generated by thousands of dollars rushing out of your account to fix the most recent problem.

My favorite fix occurred on the day that the old house fixing specialist, who rode to work on his bike that had a wagon of tools attached, inserted four car jacks under the house in specific locations to address the fact that the whole structure was sinking into the ground. Each jack had to be raised to a different height because, as is the way with old houses, the level of “sink” into the earth varied from spot to spot. This reality had made for interesting versions of parallel and perpendicular between walls and floors, creating gaps and cracks and thousands of places for small objects dropped on the floor to go and live for eternity.

We poured our money and time into that old girl. And after several months in that house, after seven years of trying, I got pregnant. This shift created new cracks in our plan to be rooted in place, to be the link in a geographic family legacy chain.

Cracks in the Foundation

While we had been rebuilding, old problems were festering in our neighborhood. Crime was on the rise. More to my immediate and specific concern, violent crime was on the rise. As my body grew to accommodate twins, my walk to the subway slowed. At that slower pace I became aware of more signs of trouble and experienced my own lumbering vulnerability which increasingly attracted unwanted attention from others.

During the final phase of my pregnancy, which involved 10 weeks of modified bed rest (which I will forever refer to as “house arrest”), I was reclining in the only chair that could still hold me comfortably when I heard gunshots. They weren’t in my house or even in my yard. They weren’t next door, but down the block. I don’t even remember the circumstances of the crime, I only remember sitting in that chair, nearly incapable of even rising to standing by myself, and feeling vulnerable, helpless, and wildly protective.

My dreams of digging deeper roots – of digging in to that family place – were shattered. I stared out at the double corner lot we’d been so excited to have as a place for kids to play and knew I couldn’t be okay with it. I thought about the playground down the bock where I’d imagined taking my kids and where I’d recently seen evidence of drug traffic and knew I’d been fooling myself all along. Having spent time here growing didn’t mean I should stay, and it didn’t mean I was home.

The funny thing is, though, I thought I’d just gotten the place wrong. I still thought the answer to my rootlessness was finding the right location.

The End of the Geographic Solution

When we embarked on searching for our current home, we had 3 month old twins in tow. There is nothing like house hunting with infants to cure you of the idea that finding the perfect home will solve most, if not all, of your problems. There is no perfect home for 3 month old twins. And 3 month old twin parents are really too tired to make good decisions. We chose the house where they stopped crying and fell to sleep. Yes, that is the truth.

I could tell you more about that house, but the house is really not the point. The point was to get to feeling rooted, and dispelling the myth that hearth and home, that architectural and geographic alchemy are THE answer to that question. We landed in a better spot in so many ways, but it took years for roots to grow and they didn’t grow because we’d found the right place.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are places that are better and worse for us. I believe that the spaces and land we inhabit can contribute to our growth and well-being. But I don’t believe that you need to find the right house or the right town to feel at home, and as a one-time compulsive real estate shopper, THAT was a huge revelation.

How to Grow Roots

argula-botanic-grow-6414Feeling at home, deeply rooted, is an inside job and requires attention to what is going on under all of that practical geography.

Being rooted is about more than checklist of features, double-closets and neighborhood school rankings. Being rooted is about more than a spot on a map or walkability or even how much the utilities run. Being rooted is about more than your family’s history on that spot, more than your memories, more than expectations and tradition.

Being rooted starts with listening: listening to discomfort, listening to tingles of curiosity and the light quick breath of joy. Being rooted starts with your attention to the signals your amazing body gives you when you can get quiet enough to hear them. Being rooted means being at home with and in YOU, an idea that confounds some and scares the living daylights out of others because it sounds like a lot of work and like it may be uncomfortable.

And it may be, but you don’t need to do all of that just yet. You don’t need to take all of the healing steps to grow your roots. You really only need to take one step at a time.

And the first one is simply a breath, in through our nose and out through your mouth, a breath that soothes your tired nervous system, that nourishes your cells. A breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, that takes your focus and thereby quiets the chatter in your mind. Just a breath and your attention on the growing sensation that you are safe, that you are secure in this one moment, that in this breath you are completely and unassailably okay.

Roots are grown rather than found or inherited. They are cultivated rather than dictated by tradition or market forces. They are individual as much as they can be intertwined. They are yours.

Keep breathing.

If I Were Good…

“My value comes from my vocation; this is a cultural trap.”

The words sort of rang out around me. I was in an amphitheater listening to the Reverend Skye Jathani preach. I did not expect to like him, but that’s another story altogether. THIS story has to do with that quote.

Reverend Jathani was sharing that he spent a fair amount of time providing professional counseling for young people, and what he noticed was the weight that the struggle for self-worth put on what could be a much simpler choice – what to do for work.

close-up-doctor-health-42273Jathani noticed that so many young people were making significant, and oftentimes expensive, decisions about their schooling, career, and job choices based on what would make them a good person, what a good person WOULD do, you know if they were one. “If I were a good person, I would choose to be a pediatric heart surgeon in the poorest location I could find. I would not charge for my services,” says the musician with a gift for poetry. This example is fictional and admittedly exaggerated for effect.

I am VERY familiar with this drive to find our self-worth in work. After a short stint in corporate America doing environmental policy work (which didn’t feel environmental at all and definitely felt like a lot of work – again a story for another time), I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I was tired of diddling around on the edges of social change. I wanted to sit in the seat where it happens.

And make no mistake, I firmly believe that I had that relationship right; teachers are agents of social change. I left my not very cushy job and embarked on a Master’s degree in record time so that I could get down to the business of creating a better world. I landed a teaching assignment in an affluent Maryland suburb. The kids drove nicer cars than I did and still complained about their rides. Somehow my vision of Stand and Deliver had morphed into where can my husband and I both get a job that is somewhere we want to live.

Despite the compromise, I was very proud to be a teacher. I am still proud to have been a teacher both in Maryland and later in Washington, DC. I continue to be proud to be a teacher, albeit a teacher of adults who CHOOSE to learn with me. When I made that career move into teaching, I KNEW that what I was choosing was something that most people in society, including my parents, would understand, approve of, and maybe even admire. That really mattered. And I was good at it. I was, and continue to be, a good teacher.

But the classroom ate me alive. My need to do well by my students, to not just be a teacher, but be a great teacher (because if you’re going to buy your self-worth, you have little choice but to go all-in) made me pour hours and hours into my profession that rightly could have been spent refilling my cup. I slept very little. I worried a great deal. I railed against the system whenever things went wrong outside my classroom. I marched to the administration office on a pretty regular basis.

And look, all of those things are fine. They would all have been fine if it wasn’t for the fact that I was doing them to save myself.

You see it wasn’t some inner calling or deep intuition that I was answering when I chose to be a teacher. Being a teacher was the most practical way I could think of to help people, and I really needed to help people so that I could be a good person, because frankly, I was really quite certain I was NOT a good person.

Fresh off a divorce after a short marriage that I and everyone around me were pretty sure could have gone differently with a little maturity on my part, my self-worth ached for evidence of my value to such a degree that I would have traded just about anything to succeed in that noble profession.

And that’s where I slipped into the trap.

Our culture tells us that what we choose for work is a demonstration of our value and our biggest source for pride. We learn that work is the key to a meaningful life and to the measure of who we are. I so needed to test well.

And what all of that pushing made me miss was just this: the quiet voice suggesting that I take care of myself, the wise voice asking if it wouldn’t be better to train to be an administrator than to constantly try to do their jobs for them, the nagging sense that if I continued on that course in that way I would find myself locked down by anger, bitterness, and the dis-ease that had already begun to show up in my body.

I was simultaneously experiencing a decline in my health (a strange assortment of symptoms likely triggered by exhaustion and stress) and taking a last shot at getting pregnant with the help of the infertility guru in the region. The day that he suggested that my body would be best served by finding different work was one of the best worst days I had for a long time.

I was so relieved. Someone was telling me to stop. Someone was acting as alarm clock for me to wake up. And yet, if I could not be that teacher, who would I be?

During my infertility treatment I managed to land a job with a non-profit that read like a fantasy for someone who wants to be seen as a good person. And I did a terrible job. The reasons for that were not all under my control. My boss was removed and more than a little concerned with own reputation at the expense of actually doing work. I was unprepared for the job I got and nobody around had any idea how to do it. I was far too tired to be the go-getter it would have taken to really shine in that job.

So I didn’t shine. I did the work in a minimalistic way. I found competent and friendly help and as I moved further into recovery, and later pregnancy, I had the opportunity to experience being a good person without being a great employee. I had the opportunity to see that I was not in a job that worked for me and to let go of the worry of that thought so that I could rest and listen for and attend to what was next for me.

beach-breeze-clouds-370037And as pregnancy with twins progressed to bedrest with twins, I learned to be a good person from a seated position, fully reliant on the help of those around me for all of my needs. I learned to let go of work as salvation and to look inward at what I could be, for my children and over time, for myself. I woke up and in doing so, learned to find my self-worth exactly where it is located, inside of me, at birth, irrevocable, unrenonounceable, no returns or exchanges.

When I see this I am free, free to listen to the call that lights my spirit on fire. And as it turns out, that helps people.

So bet it.

What You Can See Changes

August is coming to a close and I’ve barely whispered a peep about the practice that I’ve been doing during this last of the summer months.

Some background facts: 1) meteorologically it is usually somewhere between swamp and armpit in my state during August; 2) I have a geriatric dog; 3) I like to walk; 4) there is a huge construction project going on that has impacted the woods behind our house and begins making an atrocious amount of noise at 7 am; AND 5) I let on to my mentor and coach that my meditation practice had fizzled and the other practices that keep my head and heart in the game just haven’t felt right lately.

So she suggested I do a little experiment. She suggested that I get up BEFORE the construction and instead of doing whatever I would normally do first, I take a walk, a mindful walk, not a gung-ho let’s get some exercise walk, a connected walk. I could take my aging canine to slow me down so I can pay attention and get into the woods before all of that infernal noise.

environment-forest-grass-142497She suggested that there might be things for me to see, hear, feel there. She reminded me how I feel when I am in the trees. She suggested that since my other practices weren’t doing the thing, maybe it was time for a new one.

Now there is a WHOLE lot in there. Yep, a lot to unpack, but rather than do that for you, I’m going to just tell you what I found.

I have, every day since she suggested it, gotten into the woods before the construction begins. I have slowed down; and she was right, the dog helps with that, except on the days he has outright refused to join me from the comfort of bed (some friend). I have appreciated the cooler air coming down off of the mountain (it is technically a mountain even though it is a Maryland mountain and thereby admittedly on the small side). I have loved the quiet at that hour. Well, what initially seemed like quiet until I tuned in and heard all of the birds, the squirrels, the water in the creek, the deer skittering away, a dog on the other side of the neighborhood saying hello.

I have stood at the top of what I thought of as the gash in the woods where the trucks razed the trees to create an easement for a water line. At first I took it in with sorrow. At second and third glance I saw that the children were right and it will make an amazing sledding hill come winter. And finally, as time has passed, I see the grass growing back and the wild beginning to, ever so slowly, return. I am awed by the stamina of our earth even as we plod along so disruptively.

I have stood in that tree-lined space and asked what I can do to help: to help the land that had been torn, to help our country, to help my community. Answers have come. Some were complex. Some were remarkably simple. All were clearly for me.

abstract-art-blur-1038278I have gone from a woman doing the dance that can only result from walking face-first into a spiderweb woven across the trail, to a woman who sees the spiderweb from a yard or so away and slows down, shifting perspectives to get the whole scope and art of it all, the woman who takes the time to figure out how to get around it with the least possible disruption.

I have allowed the energy of the grove to seep into me, wash through, and return to the earth as I walk on.

I have entered the woods in one place and come out another, having experienced more changes than seem reasonable in those short walks.

As my month long challenge comes to a close, I sense that my lesson in the woods may be nearing an end, which is not to say that I won’t return, but it may not look like this, may not be at this time, may not be THE way to adjust my sights in the coming month, because that is what these trips were supposed to do, to help me see.

When we open to an experience, and enter it with the persistence of one who is devoted to that openness as process, as experience, as a moment of renewal, what we can see changes, like spiderwebs catching the sun at just the right angle. We can wake up, even just a little, to everything in the world that usually escapes our notice.

Wake up loves. It’s time.

They’re Cashews, Not Communion

Yesterday I arrived home from a weeklong visit to the Chautauqua Institution, a wonderful place in New York that my family visits every summer. It’s really difficult to describe Chautauqua, and so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that. What does or doesn’t go on there isn’t really the point of this story anyway. The point of this story has to do with what being at Chautauqua does for ME.

When I am on my vacation, I attend a short worship service most days (but only if the preacher of the week is really good because mornings). I also take in two lectures most days, topics determined by a theme for the week. One takes place in a large amphitheater and the other in a smaller venue called the Hall of Philosophy. So with just these things, being on this trip gives me all kinds of fuel. Fuel for my spirit, fuel for my brain.

actors-artists-ballet-45258I am also there with family, so I get all kinds of connective fuel. I plug back into relationships and watch my kids and extended family do the same, getting to those conversations that take more than a lunch date, phone call, or even Sunday dinner can allow. In our home away from home we also have access to concerts, ballet performances, plays, visual arts galleries, and even a few comedians. So I get a big dollop of culture while I’m there as well.

Now, if you’ve hung in with me, I appreciate the trust, because this is not a commercial about my favorite place. Frankly I don’t need anyone making it harder to get tickets, but I wanted to show you how FULL my week was, how packed with things that are nourishing to me, how abundant the goodness. And I didn’t even mention the lake, the wooded walks, and the chipmunks… SO FULL.

And so I leave at the end of the week admittedly a little tired because I hate to miss a single opportunity and it’s a LOT of stimulation. There’s not a ton of downtime for this introvert. But even with that slight imbalance when I come home, to my life that really is pretty great, it feels a little empty.

After spending all day in the car yesterday, I stayed home this morning with our old canine buddy who is still working on forgiving us for leaving him… well, okay he doesn’t actually appear to be working on it at all, but I trust forgiveness will come anyway at some point because dogs are like that. In staying home I had the opportunity to catch up on some things I needed to do: some music I really needed to practice, some laundry I needed to get going, a little more unpacking because we ran out of gas to finish last night after the drive… and here I am in a lovely home, having some peace and quiet like I often really really want and honestly, it doesn’t feel all that great.

The funny thing is I didn’t really notice it, that it didn’t feel so great, until I noticed myself dipping a little desperately into the container of whole cashews. If you’re not a cashew fan, let me just catch you up by pointing out that they are VERY satisfying for hunger and they are a favorite gap filler of mine.

I noticed as I was attending to my bits, carting laundry around, making some iced tea, stopping to pet the annoyed dog and talk to him in hope of speeding reconciliation along, that I just kept dipping into the jar. Munch, munch, munch. I noticed after a couple of dips, that unlike the first foray, it really wasn’t about physical hunger at all anymore.

And I heard in my head: “They’re cashews, not communion Jules.” We can talk about the voices in my head if you want, but it could take awhile. So let’s just suffice it to say that this was the voice of the wiser and sometimes kind of impatient me, the one who wonders how many times I need to hear something before I get it. This lesson was about the use of food in inappropriate ways. This lesson was about covering up how I felt and failing to see what I really wanted.

I wanted to feel FULL. I wanted to feel bursting at the seams full. I wanted to feel all of the full feelings I got to feel for a week, but I was using the wrong tools. I wasn’t craving food, well, at least not after the first handful. I was craving the feeling being full, deeply satisfied, plugged into my body and my mind. I wanted to feel like there are so many amazing and brilliant people out there doing good work and so many more who are just on the verge of that and maybe don’t even know it yet. I wanted to feel like anything is possible, and that every single one of us has gifts beyond measure, even if we aren’t the one dancing Acteon’s part in the ballet. I wanted to feel full of new ideas and inspiration. I wanted to feel plugged in to the people who matter most and to myself. I wanted to feel full.

But cashews aren’t communion and so I put the jar away. I wasn’t hungry anymore anyway. They were just filler.

adult-boy-child-325521Yesterday in the car I made a list of actions I want to take that reflect some of the parts of our vacation that I want to extend into my “regular” life. I’m going to take another look at that list and see if it is listening to what I’m hungry for, and when my seminarian gets home from the service he was wise enough to go to in spite of fatigue, we’re going to check a couple of those boxes off, add the things/people/experiences we want to have to feel that good full, that deeply satisfied feeling. Because that’s really what it’s about right? Having the presence of mind to see what we’re REALLY hungry for and then figuring out what to do about it. Cashews aren’t communion. Cookies aren’t love. Physical fullness doesn’t do anything for a case of the soul empties. It’s all just cover and I can do better for all of me.

If you and your taste buds can’t seem to get a handle on what you’re really hungry for, I’d love to help.

What’s in the Way?

I’m getting some guidance from an exceedingly wise and savvy master coach. She is tremendously helpful. AND she pushes me. And that’s what I signed up for, but you know how that goes. When you find these people, you know it’s a gift, but oh my. Before she asked me anything I promised myself I would go “all in” on this relationship. In other words, no half measures, no diddling around. Everything she suggests will be attempted. This is not the way I usually operate, which is the point, right?

alcohol-alcoholic-drink-1484So she stepped right out of the leading gate and wondered if I would consider giving up alcohol while we work together. It is a four month commitment. The potential health benefits alone (improved sleep, less peri-menopausal interference) of such a move should be enough for me to immediately get on board with that experiment. But I wasn’t on board. I was not at all on board. In fact, my resistance was pretty strong.

And THAT gave me pause. There was an initial panic: “Am I an alcoholic? Why is this a big deal? Why am I even hesitating? Do I have a problem?” This line of inquiry proved rabbit-hole filled and so I shifted my lens. I moved from fear and judgment – the need to discern and neatly categorize myself – into curiosity.

Why IS this a big deal? What am I getting out of my relationship with alcohol? Am I resisting because it is change? The tenor of these questions was very different than that initial panic reaction. It was genuine curiosity, like looking at the patterns of veins in a leaf or growth rings on a tree stump. “Wow. Look at that. Huh.”

And so I sat with her suggestion overnight, just being with my discomfort at my discomfort, noticing it, seeing it, working not to judge and just notice. Taking this stance, of curiosity and observation, made it a lot easier to really consider what was going on and figure out what I wanted to do about it.

Ultimately I decided to follow her suggestion (with a one week exception when I am on vacation with some food and wine oriented folks who always combine those nicely) in part because I promised myself to be all in, but also because of the reaction it caused. It was pretty clear to me that my attachment to the bottle was stronger than I wanted it to be (and here’s where my mind can go crazy with that and make it MUCH bigger than it needs to be) and I thought about what it does, the wine (my drink of choice).

I can say I drink it for the taste, and I do, but I’d be lying if I said that was all of it. I enjoy that warm feeling. I enjoy the softening of the edges it brings. I like the mellow relaxation it ushers in. THAT is truth. And I know that constantly warming myself, softening my edges, and finding the mellow zone is keeping me from some experiences, some realities, some feelings, and some thoughts that could use my attention. I’m not sure I know what those are, but the attachment/the resistance tells me that they are there, waiting for my attention.

And so I have embarked on this four month experiment. It has only been a couple of days and I can already say that skipping the glass or two in the evening has produced some physical differences. I am sleeping more deeply. I also don’t seem to need as much sleep. I wake up more quickly with a clearer head. The morning caffeine that had been on the rise now seems excessive. My body is noticing and appreciating the break.

My mind? That’s going to take longer I’m afraid, as it usually does. But the process of considering this change and ultimately making this decision in the interest of commitment and authenticity, reminds me to ask you what might be getting in your way. What are you using to avoid, delay, ignore, or subdue how you feel about things? What habits are keeping you from living more fully, in a more engaged way, with more consciousness and clearer choices? What change are you resisting with everything you’ve got?

bed-blanket-female-450056Listen, I’m not suggesting we all go monastic here. No sleeping on pallets or hair shirts required. I do, however, think there’s value in looking at what we use for comfort or distraction and asking ourselves what it’s really doing for us. What is under the desire for comfort, for numbing, for relaxation, for soothing? They are uncomfortable questions to be sure, but looking at them, seeing them, noticing what arises when we actually sit with that discomfort, THAT is a part of the path to freedom, the place where you know you can handle any feeling, the place where you know yourself and make clear decisions about what does and doesn’t work for you, the place where you actually address the things that bother you rather than just telling the dissatisfied part of yourself to hush.

I’d ask you to join me out of solidarity and turn this thing into some kind of  120 day challenge, but I don’t feel comfortable being that specific, and frankly 120 days is a long time to for me personally to maintain a cheerleading posture. What I do want you to know is that I am here, noticing my stuff, seeing what I’ve been hiding from, feeling whatever comes up. I am here working at my authentic humanity because it is safe to do that, even when it feels scary and super uncomfortable. If you’re ready to give up a warm fuzzy or two, I can be there for you too.

 

Kitchen Wisdom

I looked up from my laptop and noticed quite a lot of smoke in the house. That sounds like a moment to panic, but it wasn’t quite THAT kind of smoke, and I’d been in this same spot just about 10 days ago.

berries-blueberry-breakfast-718739You see my daughter likes to cook. She’s 11. She’s got a few things down. She REALLY REALLY wants to master pancakes. She wants to make light, fluffy, perfectly brown pancakes in her mother’s cast iron pans.

She objects to some of my methods. And that’s okay because if she wants to learn it for herself I am down with that, until it sets off the smoke alarms, which it has twice now.

You see pancakes require at least two things to work reasonably well: a pan that is actually hot all the way through AND just the right amount of fat on that pan.

There’s a lot of room for error in that sentence, like a lot. How hot? How much fat? What KIND of fat?

I didn’t realize how many variations there were because I automatically made some choices that I knew would work well.

She needed to experiment.

And that’s when the pan heat being too high and the choice of butter as the fat combined to make for a smoky mess.

Now I don’t want to go all Alton Brown on you, but I will share the short version that different kinds of fats respond differently to different temperatures. It’s called “smoke point.” Each kind of fat has a different temperature at which it just creates nasty smoke and gets spread all over the house and wakes everyone up and gives the aging dog anxiety.

Once I realized what was happening (again), I quickly intervened: helped her cool the pans down a little with some water, gave her two better options for greasing the pan, and assured her (she was drowning us in apologies) that everything was okay. It was just something she needed to learn. It was okay. A little noise wouldn’t kill us. It was okay. She got to see the lesson in action instead of just listening to me spout on about it. I’m pretty sure she’ll make different choices next time. In fact, in true Life Coach kid fashion, she wrapped up our conversation by saying: “Next time I will not heat the pans so much and I will use coconut oil instead of butter.”

Awesome. The dog may live a while longer just because of that.

What I found interesting later in the day, when looking back on the incident was that nobody got upset with her. And once she had apologized a few times, she was completely open to the information about what would help next time. She was an active participant in learning a better way to do it next time. She just wanted to get the lesson – well, and eat her pancakes.

Once she had apologized she didn’t beat herself up profusely for “doing it wrong.” She didn’t rehash and revisit the great pancake debacle for hours or days, although I imagine there is the possibility of some teasing in her future on this front. She didn’t just collapse and cry about what a terrible cook she is. All of those options were available to her.

blond-blur-fashion-415263.jpgWhat she chose to do was to figure out what the lesson was and to get the people around her to help her learn it and to clean up the mess learning it made, something we did without complaint or even a heavy sigh.

How much easier would things be if we treated all of our mistakes this way?

How much more quickly would we learn?

How much more willing would we be to take risks?

How much more connected would we be to others?

How much more full and delicious would life be if we could treat the hard stuff like a failed batch of pancakes?

Your Patchwork Self

I have a farmer friend. She lives in a lovely spot not too far from me. And on that property is the lovely old house she and her family have made their own. She posted about it the other day:

One of my favorite things about this house is the east facing wall. All over it are these little metal patches from when knots fell out of the siding or animals made holes (like a jackass woodpecker did two years ago). Only the east side has patches, but it probably has at least 15, giving it a patchwork quilt effect. Some are sheet metal, some are flattened tin cans, some are can lids. They just don’t build them like this anymore.

35628534_10213137051754012_5365022642195660800_nI saw the same thing she saw. I saw beauty. I saw pieces and parts and years. I saw weather and chipping and labor and pain. I saw time and sturdiness, nature, and effort. I saw all of the everything in that gorgeous east facing wall – the one that greets the day.

And I got to thinking… you know how I do.

I got to thinking about our own east facing walls: the part of us that faces every new day, the part of us that gets the bad news first, the part of us that has things to do, the part of us that interacts with the rest of the world while the rest of us shakes off the sleepies. I thought about the things that happen to that part of us: how we come face to face with nature and aging, how we bump into others who may not be as ready for daylight as we are, how we discover what has gone on in the night, while we rested. We discover what people think of us. We take the hits of societal pressure and being in community. We face the thoughts that make holes in our peace of mind.

And then we hide all of that. We show our other sides – relegating our relationships to the guest room, the parlor, the bathroom with the fancy soap and unused towels. “Is this my best side?” we ask the photographer. We tilt our heads to hide our chins and smile a little smaller to make the wrinkles a little more shallow. We hope nobody caught the eye roll or the frustrated sigh.  We turn our attention elsewhere and it takes quite a bit of energy really.

I think all of that hiding and fault-finding really is a lot more trouble than the repair and maintenance of that character-laden East Wall. It really can be so simple to do. Just some sheets of aluminum, an old tin can, a note from a friend, a call to a loved one, a moment with a particularly inspiring book, a walk outside without any entertainment, a few moments in stillness. We can apply the patches. We can do the maintenance. It doesn’t get rid of the damage that was done, but it does shore us up for another day, another trial, another jackass woodpecker.

And when we do that work, when we care for that part of ourself that takes all of the hits, we can continue facing the new day, continue seeing things we wish we hadn’t seen, keep on fighting the good fight. And then we can stand back and look at it, our handiwork and all of our efforts, and see those parts for what they are: complete, serviceable, strong, and magically beautiful.

In Times of Battle

Things are pretty much a catastrophe here in the U.S.

mcallen-detention-center-05.nocrop.w710.h2147483647I can’t even really think about it for extended periods much less write about it without all of my circuits overloading.

So many people are hurting.

So many people are frightened.

So many people are angry.

And we all want something to do. And none of us are sure what that is. And many of us fear none of it will work.

Our system seems to be broken – and I think folks from either side of the aisle would agree at least on THAT part.

I seek comfort by telling myself that when things get broken something new and better emerges.

I engage my responsibilities as a citizen by taking part in the actions that I think make my opinion known and that might actually help.

I use my gifts as a coach and healer to, hopefully, spur change on every level and cushion the hurt of that shift.

And yet it is still not enough.

Because change will not happen any faster than it happens.

And people will be hurt.

This is not a shoulder shrug or an oh well or a suggestion that we not fight with every ounce of love, power, conviction, and passion in our beings for the rights of the vulnerable. Please don’t hear that.

It is just an acknowledgement of the brokenness and the probable duration of the evolution taking place.

We are in for a long one friends.

And it is not just those of us in the states.

Similar trends are emerging elsewhere, a signal to me that there is much work to do and that it will last.

And so I say to you, you beacon of hope, you divinely infused human: please take care of yourself.

As you make your calls and write your letters and share your events, keep breathing.

As you send your prayers and call on the energy of love and compassion, feed yourself real and nutritious food.

adorable-baby-born-2133As you read the news and inform yourself as best you can, find some moments of silence where you are fed by the quiet.

As you wait for the latest bombshell to drop, go to bed and rest the body that is carrying all of this with you.

The battle outside is raging.

We need you.

For you to fight, you must take care of yourself.

In love,

julia