Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Gift of a Horn Honking

I was running on this cold, gray, February morning using music to boost me along like engines on either side of my ears. I have been running over the past year without any music, but these winter days are asking more of me to get out there. I do what is requested and kindly feed the need until I am inspired enough to take them off. Today, this need was replaced when I heard a car honk its horn from behind me. I turned to look as it passed and saw the driver giving me a thumbs up. A huge smile instantly found its place on my face and I felt a surge of happiness and gratitude for his acknowledgement. I thought about what kind of a person it takes to do that. The driver saw me running and didn't just carry on with his business. He must have had a quick succession of thoughts that went along the lines of, "wow, a woman running even in this freezing cold" and the recognition of the will, the effort, the discipline, or whatever it was he thinks that it takes. Some part of him was saying, "right on!" That is a person who can't be self-absorbed. His world is larger than his concerns, problems, or tasks. Though I don't know him from Adam (whoever that is), I feel confident to say he takes in what is around him, feels it, and shares his positive response. What a beautiful thing.  

What I was left with by this simple gesture of encouragement by a stranger was the reminder that we can all offer that magic to people everyday if we take the time to look around, to wonder, and to be grateful and inspired by what we see. I ask myself, why not offer support abundantly? Why be stingy with love? What is the fear that gets in the way of my ability to give out? And, what gets in the way of my being able to receive? There are gifts all day long. My train was on time. That was a gift. I had my usual breakfast with my kids at the town diner and though my daughter spilled orange juice all over herself, my co-parent dropped off clothes on the way to work so we wouldn't be late for school. That was a gift. The news reporter stopped me with a camera on the train platform to ask my opinion on possible fare hikes. Her smile in the rush of the moment of the train arriving and her trying to get my answer was left imprinted in my head. That connection was a gift. We can take in these moments and be filled and we can fill others. I'm taking in the reminder by the driver honking his horn. It was a bell of mindfulness to wake me up. I ran on and felt the rush of this life, of the train flying by, of the snow starting to fall, of the artist sharing his music in my headphones, of my heart beating, and of how greatly I can affect the beating of another's. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Laugh With Me

I was told that Mercury just came out of retrograde. I really have no knowledgeable understanding about what that means, but I will concede that there has been a flurry of obstacles and scheduling messes lately, so why not blame it on a planet's backward movement. By far, the best cinematic scene from this period of time was this one...I was on a late train home from the city when it stopped moving and we were told to get off in Newark and wait for another train. No big deal...yet. It was a freezing, windy, February night. We were crowded like sardines in a stairwell waiting. The next train arrives and we all get on and soon this train, too, starts to falter. We are told at the next station that we should get off or take our chances to see if it makes it further. I have a few more stations to go. After a chorus of mumbling and cursing throughout the car, with the shared looks of "you're f#@!g kidding me, right" or "what are we supposed to do now" half the train gets off. I stay on because I can't picture how the alternative would turn out. In the middle of this, I get a recorded call from school announcing a delayed opening for the next day. Today was already declared a snow day, requiring major adjustments. It is now 10:00 pm. I think of who might be willing to get me at this hour and my awesome, young neighbor from my old block comes to mind. She's the one who will show up with her baseball cap on, in good spirits, willing to help. I quickly text her and she agrees to come get me at the next stop, bearing that we get there. We do, so I get off, not realizing in my fast effort to come up with a plan that I would probably get to my station if I just stay on. The station I get off at is deserted. No one gets off with me. The wind is blowing the snow off the roof top of the station and I am freezing. Not a soul is around with the darkness lit only by the station-lamps. I don't know on which side of the tracks my friend might arrive and I can't see the parking lot on the other side. As I stand there wondering why I got off and how crazy this scene feels, I look at the station and the icicles hanging off the roof and the shimmering sparkle of the icy snow blowing past the station lights and I think, "I have to take a video of this; it is too wildly beautiful." I take my phone out and it is dead. I laugh out loud at the moment I am in. Fortunately, it was too cold for unsavory characters to be out, so that fear quickly left like my steamy breath into the frigid, night air. There won't be a video to share and now I realize I'm waiting a bit too long, and I can't reach anyone. I climb up the stairs of the overpass, which turn out to be treacherously icy, to get to the other side of the station. I'm going slowly and I'm afraid she will leave if she has been sitting there long. To my warm relief, there is the minivan I recognize with its Obama sticker on the back. Thank goodness. I got in the car, grateful for my friend's presence and help, and laugh some more at the absurdity of how the first day of the week is going. The rest of the week continued in this fashion. Life is made up of these kinds of moments, days, weeks, for some, even years. It is what we do in them that is of interest to me. 

Of the great spiritual teachers, writers, or healers (for lack of a better word) I know of who talk of suffering, the ones I trust the most have a common trait. They know how to laugh and when you meet them you smile because you can see in their smile an abundance of genuine joy. They might talk about suffering with great seriousness and yet, they have a great sense of humor. This is no coincidence. They know pain and so they can know joy.

When I was in college, I had to give what was called a senior colloquium to graduate. We had to present a thesis of sorts to four professors sitting around a long table. What mine was about doesn't matter so much, but the overall feeling had a gravity to it. The hour or more was supposed to have the feel of a conversation, but I remember not being interrupted very much. I can still feel the palpable stillness in the room after I finished my closing statement. I wasn't sure what it meant. The only comment that I remember was from a professor who had a voice and a look of an older Sean Connery. With his full white beard, in his tweed jacket, and that very particular voice he said something to the effect of, "well Jean, for someone who can take such a heavy stance, where does that smile of yours come from?" For years I thought it was just nervousness and sometimes it most definitely was. But, as I look at photos of myself throughout my childhood and even today, I hold the same smile and it does not feel like nerves setting it off. I can speak of suffering and stay with discomfort because I can also smile and laugh easily. Without seeing the joy and humor in moments like standing outside a freezing train station with a dead phone and a delayed school opening to start the next day, this life would feel like too much to bare on a regular basis, let alone the more significant issues that arise in sickness, divorce, financial insecurity, and war. In retrospect, I think my smile always held self-healing and, maybe even unknowingly, healing for others. And the great thing is now, I can actually cultivate it. We all can.

How do we laugh? How can we find our smile amidst so much daily stress that comes our way? I do better when I can see my life in its larger context, like a movie. Things are not happening to me. Things happen and I can look at my life as an observer and marvel at what is there. In moments like the ones that night, to be able to step back and change the stance from what feels like a personal affront ("NJ transit sucks"...I heard it around me as if the transit company was intending harm), to "wow, we are all in this together and what a mess it is," without blame, is what makes it go from hell to humor or at least to wonder. As I got off the train, I wanted to wish the conductor an easier day tomorrow. He still had the rest of the stalling train ride to get through. For me to get through, it took a kind of inner pause button to see beauty, even in the uncomfortable moment, and to want to take a picture. It's like pausing a movie to digest a scene. When we can be still for a moment, we have room to see, to remember what matters, to recognize that we are not alone in it all, and maybe even to laugh at the intensity of the moment instead of react in upset. I was exhausted and I did not like the way the night was going, but it was my life in that moment and I'd rather be there experiencing all of those sensations and emotions than not be alive to feel them at all. I might as well stay present to my tiredness, to my frustration, to my fear, to my anxiety and to touch my interconnectedness to everything around me. From that place, I can smile. My teacher would say, "and this, too." How can we welcome this, too. We might as well since we are here in it. With that acceptance, we start to see what there is to marvel at and enjoy right now. In the end, everything worked out that week. People showed up and helped. Everything got done. Gifts were given and received, as crazy as it all felt. 

I write about subjects like pain, struggle, loneliness, and sadness and if you've been around me, you also know I smile and laugh a lot. I love people who bring that out in me. As I write that, I feel inspired to bring it out in others more. As the week went on and more obstacles came my way, I definitely had moments of thinking I had to "get through" this week, which I never like to feel. But still, I "rolled with it," as one friend described it. In the rolling, I laughed much like I did as a kid rolling down the grassy hill in my backyard.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Remembering Love

I wrote a blog post two weeks ago and it has been sitting here as a draft for too long. It was hanging on to me like a bird not quite ready to fly. It held on so long it started to feel more like an albatross than a dove. I wasn't sure why, but maybe it was because I needed to have more of the experience I was writing of before it could really take flight. Or, maybe it waited because it is a good topic for Valentine's Day week. Either way, I am back again to share more humbling life experiences. One came in the form of feeling pain from a struggle in a significant relationship. The other came from going on a date, two very different experiences that required the same remedy. They are experiences of trusting in overall goodness and recalling the intention to love. These ways of seeing have such depth to them that they trump everything. They silence all my objections. They quietly reign over all other beliefs I may have.

Like most do, these deep thoughts came to me when I was running. My mind was fluctuating between a difficulty I was having in a relationship and of sensing my heart beating, hearing the sound of my sneakers on the pavement, feeling the sensations of a cold, gray, New Jersey day. The alternating mind states brought to light the trap I had fallen into. It happens when I am in a struggle with someone I care about. I can forget seeing what is positive and that love is the most important element. It is as if a tsunami suddenly washes away all the positive and leaves only destruction. In my insecurity, I can lose a sense of the person's genuine affection and deep regard of me because I am hurt. I might even construe the person's action(s) as intending harm. Running, I reminded myself that I could stop that train and get on board another one that asks what else is true about the person and his/her action and, more importantly, of the larger whole that we are a part of. In doing that, my heart opens a bit, enough to let light back in. It gives me the space to see and feel myself and the other person as vulnerable and human and therefore perfectly imperfect. I can sigh a breath of relief and remember that this one difficulty, situation, or pain is not the whole of it, (let alone even true). I can recall that my deepest desire is to love and care for that person and to want good things for him/her, for us. The same is likely true in return. It is not that there should be no fights or disagreements, but that ultimately we get back to what really matters and often it is a choice to do so.

To assume the goodness in another and in a relationship, and to remember love...I want to recall these intentions whenever I find myself in the rather hellish state of feeling hurt, angry or unloved by someone significant to me. I hurt so much because the person is significant. That is a beautiful thing. It doesn't mean I let someone walk over me or simply dismiss some hurtful action, but that I don't assume the worst. I can pause and comfort myself and then go back to that person and have a conversation that comes out of a place of care and the desire for deeper connection. In every moment, when we question someone's intention or find ourselves struggling with his/her actions or choices, we can assume goodness behind them, even if it comes out in odd or confusing ways. We don't have to like how it comes out and it might still hurt but we can tap into our deep wish for mutual love, happiness, and intimacy between us. We can rest in that and feel the tremendous freedom that comes with it. We are not bound by our pain. The great thing is that even when our past hurts get stirred again and if the person is no longer in our life, we can still recall the goodness and have the inner conversation. We can heal now.

The second experience, which was the reason for the delay in this post, involved going a date. That day, I was nervous and excited and anxiously curious about what the experience would be like. To calm my nerves, I kept reminding myself to allow goodness to be part of it, that ultimately I wish for good for this person and myself. The date went very well, which is wonderful news, but what happens next is a miniature flood of fears. What if this, what if that, what if the sky comes crashing down? Again, my busy mind found itself alternating between those anxious thoughts and recalling love and goodness. I could tell this was a man I liked. What matters most, though, is not that I get what I want, but that I wish goodness for him, for me, and for us. Whether that means we end up together or not, these beautiful intentions reign. Throughout the week, until our second date, I would find myself feeling anxious at times and so I kept recalling the higher road I could choose to take. And, it really is a choice.

I want to keep remembering to view the goodness in others as the primary lens through which I see and to keep, at the forefront, the intention to love. We can all choose to cultivate this ability, not just when we are suffering over a disconnection but even in easy times. The world needs this. We choose what we see. It is a powerful thing and it is what makes us free. With that, I am letting this one fly.