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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

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

When Your Belief Falters

This sounds like a title for a totally spiritual post, and in some ways I suppose this is, but the beliefs I want to address aren’t just about whether or not there is a divine force in the universe and what the true nature of humanity is. Don’t get me wrong, we can totally have those conversations. I’m the daughter of one and sister of another Episcopal priest. I am also married to a Unitarian Universalist seminarian. I can totally go there. What I wanted to say up front is that if that’s not your bag, you still have beliefs that this post applies to.

adult-blur-burn-783200I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve been having a tough time of it. I suspect a hormonal element, but don’t want to get diverted by a conversation of peri-menopause, because yeah, I don’t have many words about that that anybody wants to hear. Point is, in this tough time, I felt some beliefs shaking a bit. Some of them were new beliefs – things I’ve worked out, chosen, built up in the last several years. Some of them were old beliefs that I’ve been rediscovering. They all, collectively, felt great. And while I was feeling great I kind of forgot that beliefs and faith in just about anything don’t register at the same level on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. There is a bit of an ebb and flow here. We wrestle with our beliefs and our faith in our minds. When we decide what we think about something, that’s not usually the end of the story. Old ideas re-emerge to challenge our decisions. Circumstances around us prompt us to doubt. The failure of the world to bend to our will and reflect our cherished positive beliefs can shake things up too. Ebb and flow.

I was discussing this shakeup with a trusted mentor and she asked me an important question: “What anchors do you have for when things get tough?” In other words, what can help buoy you? (I am avoiding an urge to talk about the spelling of that word.) Note that the question wasn’t: “What makes everything better? How do we add glitter to that? Where do you keep your rainbow unicorns?” It was “What helps keep you steady when the seas get dark and stormy?”

I thought about it and was able to answer with some daily practices that I usually participate in: prayer, journaling, exercise of some kind, and meditation of one form or another. Yes, it’s a lot. But it’s also not. THAT is probably a separate post.

The point is that these are the things that I’ve found that help to fill my cup when I am empty, that make my body feel good and my mind feel more peaceful, that bring clarity and oftentimes a sense connection that I crave. These are the things that keep me anchored. And so I have entered into a covenant with myself; I have promised to pursue these practices and, more importantly, I have acknowledged the increased importance of performing them when the legs on my table feel a little shaky.

It is the practices, the deeds, the daily devotions (or routines if you’re more comfortable with that, it’s just words) that create the bridge between ecstatic certainty and a return of hope. It is keeping the practical promises we make to ourselves when we are most connected, most certain, most sure that allows us to ride out the storm of uncertainty. It is the practice, because that’s the word we use right – practice, that allows us to refine our understanding of acting in faith even when our faith in ourselves, the divine, or the world falters.

A mentor of mine wisely encourages people to write these things down: to write down the promises you make to yourself about what you’re going to do to keep yourself anchored (even more structured people might even suggest you, gasp, schedule that ish). It’s not just spiritual practices, it’s decisions, ideas, projects, things you think might help/feel good/make your world better – all of that needs to get written down because stress wipes the slate clean. The cortisol hits your bloodstream and you become an idiot. I guess I should say that’s what happens for me – maybe stress makes you smarter, although the scientific literature suggests that’s unlikely.

That brain wipe thing, that’s pretty much what happened over this last dark spell. I had a pretty significant and exciting list of both devotional/mindset/get right with body and soul practices AND plans for business going into that space and then – brain wipe. All of it disappeared. What was I going to do next? What was that great idea? Who was I going to talk to about collaborating and why? What? Why on earth am I spending so much time on all of this meditative hooey? What’s the point? I couldn’t remember any of it. I broke all of my promises to myself. And I say that NOT as a form of self-flagellation. Self-forgiveness has already been applied. It’s just interesting to notice how it all devolved.

I hit a rough patch, my beliefs felt challenged. That scared me. I got stressed. I dropped several of my daily devotions and I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing in my work. BOOM. I don’t want to say it all could have been avoided, but I do think the bottom, when I finally hit it, could have been higher… and who doesn’t want a higher bottom? (Yes, I amuse myself.)

beach-clouds-colour-674320I’ve been rambling for far too long here, and I’m trying desperately to bring things to a close, but I can assure you that there is no close on this particular topic. The relationship between me and my faith and between me and what I believe about myself and the world around me is an ever-evolving one. The covenants I make and the practices I keep may well need to shift over time as well. I’ll keep working at it. I’ll keep practicing. When it all goes in the tubes, I’ll try to keep my promises. If I forget again, I’ll remember the bottom line. Sometimes the best we can do is to care for the body, be gentle on the soul and wait for the tide to shift.

In love,

julia

 

On a Wing and a Prayer

aisle-bench-cathedral-161060The church of my childhood used prayer as part of every service. We would all kneel, or stand (depending on which part of the service). The minister would say some things. We might mumble some things back in unison. There was also a time when individual members of the community could offer their private concerns for the group to acknowledge and, in theory, pray for. This experience didn’t do much for my understanding of prayer. It wasn’t something my parents emphasized either. I think we said grace at the dinner table, but it obviously didn’t make much of an impression on me. These scripted group prayers were pro-forma, something you just did. It didn’t have to mean anything. With that in mind I embarked on a prayer-free adult life. If it doesn’t mean anything, why should I make any other choice, right?

Then a book on prayer found its way into my hands – into my library bag actually. I tend to enter the library with a list of three books and walk out with two bags. The exuberance of discovery takes over. The most interesting part about this literary infiltrator is that my understanding of the divine, God, gods, Goddess, Universe, Great Spirit, Gaia is pretty murky and non-specific. And yet this book, by an author with whom I was already familiar, was in my bag. I remember putting it in there in the fog of bibiophilic fever. It just kind of called out to me, so I grabbed it.

My seminarian looked at it a little askance, but wisely refrained from further comment until the book had some time to settle in, until I had time to spend with the book. We like to spend time with books over here.

A few days later I picked it up and glanced through. Some of the language made me pause. It included theological certainties I wasn’t ready to claim, but something in me said, “just read.” And so I did. The book is not really a book on prayer, but a book of prayers. Organized by theme, by human soul need: for when I need strength, when I feel hurt, when I need courage. I read through several and once I softened to the language (sometimes substituting my own proper nouns, sometimes deciding I wasn’t sure it mattered), I could see the beauty of the text.

What was there was some of the most intimate conversation I have ever seen. The prayers included deepest wounds, dearest hopes, admitted failings, and unmitigated heartbreak; disappointment in others, judgment of ourselves, and above all a deep and relentless desire for love and a sense of belonging. It was an extended song about human-ness and the melody of it tugged at my heart.

The next morning, after my kids had left for school, I decided to spend some more time with the book, not so much as a visitor, but as a participant. I looked through the table of contents for a state of mind that sounded like where I was at that moment, turned to the page and then sat there staring, needing further instruction. “Just pray.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant. There was no minister here to say part of it and for me to mumble back my dictated response. It dawned on me that I was supposed to SAY these words.

Well, there was no way that was happening. I can’t tell you exactly why, but my brain said No Way to the idea of praying from this book out loud. Not having it. You can forget it. Case closed. The coach in me thought that was interesting, but the rest of me wanted to get on with things, and there was the whole “Just pray” that I kept hearing softly. I decided it didn’t matter HOW I did this thing, it seemed to matter far more that I did it.

And so I did. I read through the prayer in my head. But I didn’t read it to get to the end. And I didn’t read it to analyze it. I spoke it in my head. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but it was different. I paused between lines. I took deep breaths when something caught me. When I was done, I closed the book and proceeded with my day.

I did this for a few days running, setting aside the language questions, just praying.

And I began to notice something. I began to notice a lightening, an easing of burdens I hadn’t even fully made note of. I noticed the arrival of a peaceful kind of energy – a calming and enlivening at the same time. To be fair, as this was the morning, this could all be attributed to the arrival of the small amount of caffeine I enjoy hitting the blood brain barrier, but it didn’t feel like that. It feels like being inhabited by the best vision. It feels like co-creation and capacity. It feels like love and possibility and joy – sweet, blessed joy.

blonde-casual-fashion-18895I’m not sure why all of that is and the last thing I’m interested in doing is arguing about that, but I can tell you that this practice – this practice of being honest about where my head and my heart are, claiming healing, expressing gratitude for what is and allowing the openness to accept whatever assistance might be forthcoming – this practice changes me. And it feels good – not look how holy I am good, but in my body and in my heart good, at peace, connected, more whole.

I still sometimes struggle with whether to speak the words out loud, and I’m still not sure about what language it makes sense for me to use, but I will just pray because it feels good.

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 had 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 fix it and then to needing to address it pretty much immediately by 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 was going 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. Time was officially 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.

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 before 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, before I say yes to something I don’t really want to do that will exhaust me. 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 internal renovation is always a good thing.

What Are You Cultivating?

My friend was telling a story to the kids at church (that’s what she does for work – cool, right?). It was a story about a boy who made a garden as his summer project. It was a wonderful story about all that was possible if you just pursue what makes you YOU, unique, special. And as with every garden story, it was also more.

agriculture-close-up-depth-of-field-767240In the garden we never question the need to take care. Initially it’s all about preparing the soil – and this ideally happens WAY ahead of time, something I struggle to remember both on the earth and in any endeavor. Next it’s about tending the soil AND protecting that emerging seedling. In my garden rabbits are usually the culprit and this stage – well, and for later summer seedlings, bugs.

As the plant grows there are a host of things that threaten the soil and the plant. Most of these need to be guarded against, spotted and removed, occasionally even eliminated (I confess I have been known to be merciless at times in the garden). If we get really good at this whole gardening thing, there is an additional category of things to do to encourage help in our garden – inviting beneficial bugs, making the area friendly for the right kinds of birds. Even experienced gardeners continually ask themselves what can help that garden flourish – what would bring it more nourishment? How can I prevent and stop weeds and pests from doing damage and inhibiting growth? We ask so many questions and make so many efforts.

What would it take to turn that lens on ourselves?

How do we prepare the soil for whatever we have to offer the world? What kind of nourishment will best serve us? How much water do we need? How much light and how much dark?

How do we protect tiny new shoots of growth and exploration? How do we keep them from being stomped on by careless acquaintances or by our own doubts and fears?

How do we keep a vigilant eye on creating the best possible conditions for growth while shaking off the pestering worries of how our growth will be received by others, master our resistance to our own change, prevent ourselves from self-sabotage and self-destruction?

Because that’s the work. We tend to think that whatever we do for a paycheck is our “work,” and I get that in our real-world economy, some attention needs to go toward that calculation, but our real work is in the garden. Our real work is tending the soil, having the patience for germination, protecting the seedling, nourishing the plant and being persistent enough to get to the day of harvest. In the garden we celebrate on harvest day – the day we finally get the bloom of the flower or the fruit from the tree or the bean from the bush. In our personal gardens, we can celebrate the whole process.

body-clouds-early-morning-823694We can celebrate what we learn about preparing the soil. We can pay keen attention to our bodies and how they feel. We can enjoy the pleasures of a good night sleep and a delicious and healthful meal. We can celebrate the emotional work we do to be ready to grow again. We can provide our bodies with experiences that make it feel well, whole, strong AND peaceful. We can congratulate ourselves as we enrich ourselves for new work. we can take pride in our capacity for self-care and refuse to allow it to be deemed “selfish” or vain.

adult-autumn-autumn-colors-1122280We can celebrate our growing ability to let the harsh words of others roll past us even in our most tender stages. We can acknowledge our increased capacity to spot and work through situations that we know will stop us short. We can appreciate the wisdom of the spirit that continues to grow even as we are uncertain that this is wise, good, or safe. We can give thanks for the ability to ask for help and the love embodied that brings us assistance.

female-girl-muscles-903590We can celebrate the ways in which our growing strength protects us from all manner of threats, the way we develop an ability to not be seduced by thoughts, plans, and actions of others that would take us off course. We can rejoice in the greater feeling of freedom that comes with each new shoot.

And when it is time to harvest, we can celebrate the miracle of everything we can create from this new vantage point, from this new perspective. And we can look behind us and see everything we were creating all along.

This is the work, and it is gut-wrenching and glorious and we are so blessed to have it. And let’s not forget what comes at the end of all of the work. It’s YOU, it’s what becomes possible if you can find the way to being exactly who you are and cultivating the part of you that can never be replicated. How are you tending your garden?

XO,

julia

Learning Surrender

I’ve been sick this week. I struggled to type that because what I’ve had is a migraine, and for whatever reason, in my mind that is not the same as “sick.” I didn’t realize had a separate category for migraines until just now. This is kind of a tangent, but maybe not. Bear with me. I’m loaded up on caffeine (helps with the headache) and a little addled.

adult-alone-black-and-white-551588I felt this beast coming. I can usually tell a migraine is coming. As early as Sunday I was getting signals. Persistent headache, geographically different than other “regular” headaches, which honestly I don’t get many of anymore. As we move into Monday I noticed that my teeth were starting to hurt. I don’t know how to describe this any more specifically, because it’s really weird, but it’s also a sure sign for me. When all of the teeth on the top of my mouth hurt, we’re talking migraine either on the way or here. I ignored these signals. When I mentioned the possibility to my stepmother, who also suffers from migraines, she said: “You know it’s better to just take the prescription if you know it’s coming.” I mumbled some kind of agreement at her, knowing full well that she was right, and didn’t do it anyway. I didn’t want to have a migraine. I didn’t want to take migraine meds (that can sometimes leave me feeling a little loopy and deflated). I didn’t want to allow the whole thing. I had plans for the next several days. I was going to fight this migraine in a super passive-aggressive “wait and see” kind of way, even though all of the signs were there. I was going to keep my commitments.

And so it came, and it came like a freight train. Tuesday morning I could barely get out of bed and was clinging to counter edges and furniture to navigate the lower floor of the house. The prescription was unearthed. I retreated to my bedroom, and read in the semi-dark until I feel asleep again, hoping for relief. It was not to be found and it became clear that this migraine was going to a be a medication maximum situation. I added the second dose, found my darkest sunglasses, donned a baseball cap to block more light and cancelled everything for the day, something I pretty much never do. I had no choice. the pain was so bad I was sitting on the couch just crying – quietly so as not to aggravate my headache further.

I looked at my calendar with some remorse about the day. I looked at Wednesday’s schedule and thought about the appointments and end of the year choir party I knew I was likely to miss. I felt the discomfort of needing to miss things I really wanted to do. And then, for the first time maybe since I was pregnant, I fully surrendered.

I stopped trying to see if I could maybe be well enough to get something done. I stopped hoping I would be well enough to make an appointment or an engagement. I stopped worrying about tidying up after myself. I stopped wondering if maybe by the afternoon I could work. I surrendered. It felt like I didn’t have a choice, and really I didn’t, but there was still a moment of consciously acknowledging that and giving up the internal debate, acknowledging the need to do my body this kindness, seeing the peace available to me if I just stopped wondering if I could do more and rest.

bed-bedroom-blanket-1097116And so I did. I figured out what I could to make myself as physically comfortable as possible, and adjusted according to how that changed throughout the day. I listened intently to my body when it said “no food” because of the associated nausea and then what specifically it wanted when the wave of nausea subsided: “bell peppers? OK, will do.” I proceeded gently, quietly. I read and napped and occasionally hopped on line to communicate for a few minutes and then hopped off to save my eyes from the screen light. When TV became an option, I watched whatever I wanted with no guilt or remorse for wasted time. When I’d had enough of the stupidity, I turned it off again and rested and read and made myself tea.

In short I did exactly what I try to help my kids do when they are sick. I took excellent care of myself. I let go of expectations and judgments about being sick and about what I “should” be doing and I gave my body what it needed.

Here I am two days later, not completely recovered (this is usually a multi-day phenomenon), but significantly better off and free of the sense of dread that can come with facing what we’ve missed. I missed nothing. Clients have been rescheduled. Plans have been changed. Everyone understands and it will all be okay.

That struggle not to surrender? I think I do that a lot. I find myself going halfsies on lots of things – and there can be a benefit to that. Halfsies can be helpful (when you have twins sometimes it feels downright necessary), but so can wholesies. Going all in, not because we want to reinforce feeling sick or whatever it is, but because that feeling we’re fighting or avoiding by staking out the middle ground really just needs to be felt. There is a peace in surrendering to it. There is a peace in allowing it. There is a kindness in acknowledging what is really true and then making it as comfortable for yourself as you can. Where could you maybe use a little surrender? Where are you straddling the line and suffering for it? What would happen if you just let go?

Make Room

I am hearing it as a clarion call this morning: “Make room.”

I have been making room in my mind – through clearing out old thoughts, adding spiritual practices that encourage a peaceful, and sort of minimalist outlook.

This call is, I think, one to make room in my heart and in my home.

What is taking up space in my heart and in my home? Old junk, old junk that doesn’t serve me anymore.

Now just to be clear – that stuff that’s taking up the space, it wasn’t always junk. It was hurt because of loss. It was anger at the violation of a boundary. It was a gorgeous dress that fit just right and was needed for a wedding. It was fabulous shoes for non-arthritic feet. It was facial and skin products for younger face and skin. It was all either necessary as a signal from my soul or wonderful and helpful for the rest of me at some point (well, okay, except for the occasional bad purchase, but I think that goes without saying). By saying it’s junk now I am not categorizing it as junk eternally and shaming myself for having it. I am not judging myself for having this heart and space junk. I am simply recognizing it for what it is.

art-blur-close-up-580631How do I know it’s junk? I know it’s junk in my heart if it keeps rearing up and getting all mixed up with current problems. I know it’s junk in my heart if it escalates other hurts and tries to make me create bigger arguments out of small ones. I know it’s junk if I don’t really want to look at it, but I can feel it. I know it’s junk when it feels old, heavy, and like something I thought I’d dealt with before. I know it’s junk in my heart if increasing maturity has helped me to recognize that the problem that junk came from was never really mine to begin with (don’t worry if that sounds alien, it will come).

I know it’s junk in my space if it makes getting to the things I’m looking for difficult. I know it’s junk in my space if it’s gathering dust from disuse and disinterest. I know it’s junk in my space if I feel bad when I look at it either because I’m judging myself for acquiring it or judging myself for not making use of it or judging myself because it no longer fits, helps, or serves me. I know it’s junk in my space if it keeps surfacing with no real purpose, asking me to get rid of it and get on with things.

And friends, I’ve got a lot of junk.

There was a time I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see the individual pieces. I couldn’t see the contours because there was so much that it just took on immense proportions. I had so much old hurt in my heart that addressing any piece of it felt like a way to open a Pandora’s Box full of gut-wrenching devastation. But slowly, I found some edges. I was able to identify some pieces. I could start to get purchase – find a hand or foothold so I could move forward with just a little bit of it. I could heal those old hurts… but first I had to feel them.

I had to stop stuffing them in a closet because they were inappropriate, inconvenient or just too big to handle. I had to stop ignoring them because I had things to do, people to attend to, piles of laundry – ANYTHING to not actually feel. I had to stop deciding that I couldn’t handle feeling my own pain. I had to learn that I, in fact, CAN deal with how I feel and that when I do that, I actually feel better. You see allowing some of that stuff out of that closet lets all of the other stuff shift a little and suddenly it’s not a mountain of pain, but a structure built of individual bricks and stones that can be dealt with in pieces. The important thing here is that it’s not a one shot deal. No matter how much you deal with these things, well human experience says there will be more and if you don’t deal with those, they will become junk.

What do I do when I know I’ve got heart junk? Well, after I admit it to myself, which can take a very long time, I actually set aside some time. I make an appointment with myself to feel it. I know that sounds nutty, but that way I can deal with it when I feel most safe to do so – when I am alone, when it is peaceful, when I don’t feel like my reaction to that pain will spill over onto the little empaths in the house. They can see me in pain, but they don’t need to see it all of the time. It is mine to feel when I am ready and to share as I wish.

What do I do when I’ve got space junk? I ignore it for a long time. LOL. I wish this were not true, but it is. And then when I can’t take it anymore, when I feel like the stuff is starting to be the master of the house, I whip out bags and boxes. You know it: donate, trash, gift/rehome, put away. And I try to be really honest about those categories. I am a firm believer in reusing and repurposing, but some things really are just done.

abstract-blur-bubble-612341Just like in my heart, some things really are just done. I don’t need to give them to someone else. I don’t need to reuse them for current problems. It’s time to feel it and imagine that the water from the shower is washing it off of me. It’s time to say out loud: “I now release this pain and seek healing for me and for anyone else involved in it.” It’s time to get rid of the junk. It’s time to make space.

 

Not Selfish, but SelfFULL

Those of you who know me know I love words. I love to write. I love to play with words (the sounds, the meanings, the options). My love of words is not just based on play, but on the power of words: the power of words to instruct, to share, to create community, to heal. I cannot acknowledge that power without also recognizing the shadow side of that power, the power of words as weapons, the power of words to limit us, to harm us, to wound us.

The words that have wounded me the most in the past are the ones I chose for myself.

ancient-antique-armor-339805More often than not those words were also supplied by fellow humans, but it was my decision to consume them, to make them part of my own self-talk that did the most damage. One of the words I ate was selfish. It was tossed at me by someone who, in retrospect, didn’t really know me at all. But it must have been offered at just the right time because WOW it landed. I took the hit. I ate the word and made it part of my internal dialogue, the place where I could categorize my flaws. Selfish. I am selfish.

Believing that I was selfish was incredibly powerful. It explained why I wanted things, AND why I shouldn’t want them. It explained why thinking of myself happened and why it shouldn’t. And as I got older and had kids, my selfish diagnosis explained why I should put all of everyone’s needs before my own all of the time. It explained the perils of bad parenting. It explained the difficulty of raising twins. It even explained the pain of watching parents age while taking care of small children. I was just selfish. If I had not been selfish, all of that would have come easily, right? I ate it. I ate that word. I grabbed that linguistic sword and used it to cut an ever perilous path towards selflessness.

Selflessness, the hallmark of people like Mother Theresa and other icons of generosity. If only I could cultivate selflessness. If only I could not want or think of myself or need anything. THERE. There’s the answer. I should just not need anything, ever. I should shrink my desires until they are practically nothing, until I am practically nothing (have you seen a picture of Ghandi?). I should shrink. And so I did. I said all of the yeses and I did all of the things. I paved the way for an amazing childhood for my children and filled the gaps for my poor overworked husband. I did all of so many of the things in an effort to prove that I could defeat my selfish core.

And then came a day when the urge to have something of my own, which may well have first demonstrated itself as the simple desire to pee in private – without child or dog in the room, became to great to suppress. The desire to have something, ANYTHING, actually be about me overrode my ability to shrink. It felt like a total failure in one moment and like a glimpse of freedom in the next. And that moment allowed me to really question this whole setup – this selfishness nonsense.

This selfish story was based on some pretty important assumptions. It relied on the belief that it is not possible to take care of yourself AND take care of other people. This selfishness story was grounded in a fundamental flaw being the most important thing about me rather than the idea that there are plenty of important things about me, who I am in this world, that may actually need to see the light of day. The selfishness story is based on the idea that my needs didn’t have anything to do with goodness and light and the unfolding of a stunningly miraculous human as I actually satisfy those needs and imagine wants that take me to new places. The selfishness story is a load of bull.

birthday-bow-box-264771So I’ve developed a new word, a new goal: Self FULL ness. Unlike selfishness, selfFULLness rests on the idea that taking care of my needs is actually important. SelfFULLness acknowledges that I am unlike anyone else on this planet and that I deserve to be here, be well, be peaceful, and nourished, and growing. SelfFULLness looks not for a glass that is half empty or half full but a cup that is actually overflowing.

I didn’t just think of this as an idea. I’ve done it. I’ve arranged my life so that there is actually the possibility of me feeling MORE instead of LESS. I’ve set things up so that I can actually allow myself to want WHILE I acknowledge and appreciate the abundance with which I am surrounded everywhere I go. I’ve rewired my brain to notice my pleasure, my joy, and to follow those. And now my cup fills up and overflows. It overflows in all of the necessary care-taking ways (so good news you need not come save the children), but you know what? It overflows with joy and affection in ways it hasn’t for years. It overflows with warmth and openness that selfish me couldn’t dream of. It overflows with good things for all of us. My cup overflows all of the time and I fully intend to keep on pouring what I need in there.

I have laid down my sword of selfishness. I heard it clank as it landed with all of the other swords I’ve dropped over the last few years. Selfishness as a word, and as an idea, and as a soul meal, it really doesn’t work for me. SelfFULLness is a feast we can all enjoy.