Thursday, November 15, 2018

Skinny Pants

This past Sunday, as I began running through the woods, forgetting that it had rained two days before and would be thick with mud and fallen fall foliage, I found myself frustrated and then amused by my frustration. It’s just mud. Of course it would be there. I had been running in the reservation long enough to know that. The mud could not be my real frustration. But I kept having to stop so my vulnerable back wouldn’t get surprised by a sudden slip of my footing. I wasn’t appreciating the interruption in what felt hard enough...running. I used to enjoy it. Now I am trying to find a new way to move that would feel satisfying, but until I do, I carry on and get myself out there. I ended up at the pedestrian bridge in the reservation where I stopped and sat, dangling my legs off the rock wall looking over the river below. My eyes settled on one rock where leaves coming downstream had gotten stuck, one on top of the other. The water was pounding it steadily. I kept my eyes fixed waiting to see when the top leaf would get dislodged and start flowing downstream again. Other leaves would slip right on by on either side. What made those particular leaves stuck while others simply moved on? Some even went straight over the top of the rock, as if mocking the leaves they sailed over, enjoying the ride of strong current. I resolved that I would stay there meditating on the rock until one leaf got freed. I wanted that satisfaction. Time passed, I got cold and couldn’t wait any longer. As I made the long walk back through the woods to my car, I thought about mud and stuck places and recalled myself the day before. 

On Saturday I resolved that with my alone time, when the kids were not around and Mike was in a workshop all day, I would take the opportunity to find some winter clothes. It is the kind of thing I need to do alone and for good reason. I went to the mall determined to be patient and hopeful that it would be painless. I ventured into store after store trying to find clothes that fit my short, muscular legs. Clothes I could work in, that were comfortable and flattering. Two and half hours later, I went home with nothing. The style of the day is not just SKINNY. It is TRUE SKINNY, ULTRA SKINNY, SLIM, EXTRA SLIM, CURVY SKINNY. That’s the best one yet. I hate to tell them, but there is no such thing, at least not the designers’ idea of what curvy skinny is. I did go into the fitting room and made attempts on pants that did not say “skinny.” Finding I couldn’t get one pant leg over my calf, let alone the rest of my leg, I would pull it off saying a phrase of loving-kindness to myself. My time in fitting rooms can be very brief. I’d take a breath, pick myself up, and walk out ready to face another store. If I wanted to, I could attempt to put 2 pounds of muscle in a one pound bag (my nicer version of the phrase), but I don’t think it looks good. Nothing about it appeals to me, let alone the fact that it is flat out uncomfortable to be in all day. I left the mall defeated. 

Back at the ranch, Mike returned from his workshop, filled me in on his day and asked about mine at which point I burst into tears. I don’t not like my body. I just wish they made flattering clothes for it. Though I am so glad not to live in the 1950’s, I do think the clothing was spot on. You could be curvy or pencil thin and the clothes appreciated the body, rather than body trying to appreciate the clothes. Instead, today, I have to endure the self-shaming that inevitably comes when store after store insists that you have a different body. The worst part was that non of this was where I wanted to be spending my energy or time. So I added shame to shame just to make it worse. But maybe, feeling like I must be the only woman (because that’s what we usually one else has this problem in this way), who likes her body and can’t find flattering clothes...maybe this is where I need to spend my time. On the way out of the mall, I passed what I refer to as a middle aged store where the clothing is comfortable and I am guessing made for curves. For a brief second, I contemplated going in it. Of course there is nothing wrong with the clothes in the store, it’s just my association with it. It was a crushing thought for me. I kept on walking. Though maybe, if I could have gotten my ego out of the way, I would have found something to wear.

The next day, as I walked back out of the woods enjoying the remaining leaves shimmering in gold, I thought...that’s my rock. I can be just like that leaf that slams against it and can’t get off easily. Someday I will get freed from it. The current will touch me in just the right way to loosen my attachment and I will sail smoothly down the river again. I might meet another rock of a different shape later on. I know better than to think otherwise, but this one will be behind me. Even if it doesn’t happen in this lifetime, I do know it will change. For now, I will stick to my Lucky Brand jeans for the winter and even though I just learned that they, too, stopped making the one style that fits me, I have enough. Mud, rocks, and skinny teachers on this path.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Making Friends With Vulnerability

I have read many powerful statements from teachers and artists about vulnerability and why allowing ourselves to be in touch with and to embrace our vulnerability is a necessary piece to living fully. When I read them, my intellect agrees, but until I try on whatever piece of wisdom is before me and look deeply at how it relates to my own experience, the words stay shallow, no matter how deep they may be. The beauty of running mindfulness groups that contemplate themes such as this is that it asks me to delve inside. And so this is where my excavation took me...

It took me first to a question a friend recently asked of me. He wanted to know if I was still blogging. The question tugged on a sore place. I haven’t been writing, though it has been high on my list. The urgency, the space, the spark that started and sustained my blog for some years has not been there and now I wanted to know why. I began the blog when I got divorced and was struggling to make sense of what happened, of my new life, of the pain I was going through. I was at my most vulnerable during these years. I felt alone, lonely, sad, scared, ashamed, unsure. I also felt the most alive, present, open to seeing and experiencing, and I continually took chances that were uncomfortable. Researcher and Author BrenĂ© Brown says, “we can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” This felt true of this particular period and I shared it in my writing. I saw moments in nature that stunned my eyes with their beauty. I caught the smallest of interactions between strangers on city streets and was delighted by our humanity. I felt the complexity of this life and waves of compassion surged in me. And then I fell in love. A new partner to go through this life arrived literally around the corner. The impossible became possible. With that gift, my writing, the space that went with it, and the urgency of my experiences was dimmed. My path in life had cleared a bit. I was no longer trying to find my way through the thick brush. Now, I was held by another; I was doing the work that felt like my calling, and I was busy with a new life. In retrospect, I realize that with this new partner and with being on an increasingly busy, self-directed work path, I no longer felt so vulnerable. There is great relief in that. As my wise friend exclaimed recently, “who wants to be vulnerable!” Of course we don’t, but it does bare fruit. And so now when I read these insightful lines of writers and teachers on the value of vulnerability, I get it. The question for me then becomes how do we feel a certain degree of comfort and security, as well as be productive leaders (in family, in work, in the community, as care-givers), and allow ourselves to also be vulnerable. How, when we are responsible for so much and always doing and going, can we be in touch with our vulnerability so that we can be open to the unknown, willing to try what is uncomfortable, and be courageous, as well as soft enough to receive? How do we remember that we are not in control when it seems so much is up to us? This is the challenge.

Most of my explorations of these kinds of questions lead me to the same place. When I slow down; when I take time for myself to contemplate; when I am alone in nature; when I am graced to be a witness to the dying; when painful pieces of relationships show their faces and I don’t run. These are the things that bring me in touch with my vulnerability and invite me to soften, to let go, to open to a wider perspective. They call forth my compassion without any effort. When I am in this place, I am alive. I am humble. Here, I can write again. I don’t need to be suffering to have this awakened in me. I simply need to slow down and see. With my eyes and heart open and a willingness to be unsure, tender, and imperfect, I can be in the game seeing with “beginner’s mind.” 

On this perfect fall day, I went back to the woods after my morning group and walked alone. It felt so good to be back and it feels so good to write and share this with you. I know that every time I teach or lead a group or share a blog post I am vulnerable. It is rarely easy. In my performing days, I felt the same way. It never got easier no matter how many times I did it. I don’t ever want to get to the place where I don’t experience vulnerability. If I do, I know I have stopped living with my full self in the world. “Bring it on,” I say. Except that those words don’t fit. I know I can’t call it forth like that or go after it with an energy that is its opposite. All I can do is keep stepping in the direction I want to go. The challenges are there. I know that moving closer to intimacy, gratitude, compassion, and love will take me out of my comfort zone. If what I want in my vocation is to keep bringing my authentic self to my groups, my clients, my writing and if what I want in my personal life is deeper connections and friendships then my work is cut out for me and I have no choice but to be vulnerable. Not all the time. Who wants that! But, yes, in bearable, chunks I can gently surrender. I think that is the most we can ask ourselves to do...kindly take the next uncomfortable move in the time we can. And, there is no timetable other than our own. There is no race to get there. If there is an urgency, it is of our own doing because we want more for ourselves. We can be grateful to this part of us. She is on our side, even if she creates anxiety by nudging us to the front of the line. “Be brave” we can hear her whisper. We can receive the words with open palms as if letting a falling leave land into the cupped space. Not grasping, just receiving this invitation to be our authentic selves and take a chance on her (or him) being enough.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Call To Celebrate This Age

It used to be that new clients would fill out their intake forms and I knew without looking at their birthdate that I was younger than most of them by what felt like a large gap. With that age difference, I unconsciously felt an insecurity. But then, as if overnight, it shifted and I started to realize that I was the same age and sometimes older than the client before me. I would be shocked inside. When did this happen? Below the level of my conscious mind, I expected it to change again, that I would be the younger one again; this was just a fluke. But that’s not how it went. I was no longer the younger one. And even more surprisingly, I was no longer the less life-experienced and knowledgeable one. 

My hands are showing their years of work. The sun spots on my skin remind me of my mom’s. As a kid, I remember sitting on my mom’s dressing room counter top watching her get dressed for work before the school bus came. I loved that ritual of watching her put her curlers in her hair (the hot kind that would turn dark red in the middle when they were ready). I would talk with her as she picked out her outfit in the closet with the sound of sliding hangers on the rod as she searched for what would feel good that day. I’d watch as she put on her stockings and the little bit of make-up that she wore. I remember in watching her get ready that the skin on her torso looked soft, almost like a baby’s, not fat, but soft. I thought it was different from mine, but didn’t associate it with age. I don’t remember what words she used, but one time she commented on how her skin wasn’t taught anymore. I now look in the mirror and see that I am softening, too. I am probably the age she was then. It is shocking and I don’t want to feel shocked. I want this process to feel natural, organic, as if everything is right on time and I am at ease with it. Well it is right on time and it is shocking and I am working on being at ease with it. But this is how it goes…this process of adjusting to an ever changing body. Our minds don’t feel like we are growing older. Our body tells us. This becomes an opportunity. It is an opportunity to make peace and to truly celebrate this place, this time, this age. It is up to us to keep feeling beautiful, sensual, valuable and alive in this world within the inevitable changing that must happen.

I am coming to realize that this time is not one to shrink from, but exactly the opposite. It is one to bask in. The coming decades, however many of them we have left, offer us the chance to savor the fruits of our experiences, of our hard work, of our wisdom and knowledge. It can be a time to relish in our skills, in our confidence, in what we can share because we can trust in what we know and are more comfortable with the process of learning. We can step into the role and own it. We don't have to prove ourselves, strive hard, or care so preciously what others think. We can do what our hearts tell us and not be reigned in by fear of how it will be perceived. We no longer need to explain or get others’ permission. We can make choices and deal with the consequences without questioning ourselves like it's life or death. We can be open and soft because our defenses are down as we trust more in life’s path and our own resiliency. This is a great time. 

I find myself not caring if I am too corny or like something that is not fashionable right now. My coolness barometer is no longer in a prominent place. It is still highly functioning, but is at a further distance. What a gift. I wouldn’t change this time for another one. I am going to celebrate this decade and strengthen this resolve in me to celebrate every next decade going forward. What an honor it is to be here. When I forget, as I am likely to do in moments, especially in our society that does everything in its power to tell us that maturing is something to avoid, I will come back to reading this and to remembering the gifts I have now that I could not have in my 20’s and 30’s. I am who I am now and she is the person I want to be, aging perfectly.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Empowered Living & Dying

This fall, I visited a young friend who was approaching her death. She was concerned about what her next step should be in the process, which would ultimately determine how fast she passed. I sat beside her and unlike any moment in my past did the meditation and mindfulness instructions I have learned become more relevant, more urgent, more applicable. I cannot know what it is like to be sick and facing death. Even when we are well, it is hard, if not impossible, to recall the sensations of extreme physical pain and discomfort which we once experienced. Our brains don’t allow us to call it up the way we can an emotional pain. To imagine dying and needing to make a choice that dictates the end of this physical body and life as we know it is equally impossible. I’d like to think that I would handle it with courage and elegance, but of course I know that might not be how it will go. Just like planning for the birth of a child…we can prepare the way we want to and have ideas of how we want it to go, but in the end, so many factors will dictate its course, not us alone. I know when the time comes I could be irritable, foggy, or in too much discomfort to respond to what is happening with grace. As I sat at my brave friend’s bedside, what did feel clear to me is that we can be empowered in our dying if we practice while we are living. We can practice letting go now, so that our ultimate letting go is less ridden with strife. 

Every now and then I offer two different meditations on dying to my groups. I find them liberating. They help me to remember what matters in this life, that we don’t get to hold onto anything, and that our actions here are “our only true belongings.” Though our body goes, our actions are what live on. What I do here sends ripples out into the universe. These meditations help me get clarity on what I want to spend my time doing, who I want to be around, and what I want to cultivate while I am here. The reactions to the meditations I share are often mixed. Some people get annoyed or struggle with it and wonder what the point is. Others get sad. Still others, like me, take comfort in the reflection. I am often wary of offering this meditation because I don’t want to be the cause of upset. But, being with my friend in her final days, I understood its value even more and know it is worth working with. As she lie there unable to eat or drink, suffering with thirst, she felt the pressure to make a decision. I let her know that she didn’t have to worry about the decision. She could stay in the moment and let the next best action arise. If she was okay in that moment having her mouth sponged with water, feeling the relief of that small trickle of moisture on her lips and in her mouth and seeing the eyes of the ones she loved around her, then that could be enough for that moment. And when that became not enough, she would know, and could take the next best action. She could let go of controlling. She could stop fighting, as she had been for the past few years, and just be. The words “just be” so often used in my meditation groups again felt more real, more urgent to understand. What is it like when we let ourselves just be, not leaning ahead into the future, or going back over the past, not worrying, not dictating, not wishing things were different than they are, but simply taking in this breath, these sounds, these colors and movements, these smells and sensations. Just be. We can practice it right now. We can stop reading or I can stop writing and just be, feeling this breath and this breath…this is what we have. This is the moment we are alive.

We don’t know how death is going to greet us. It may be sudden and no decisions need to be made or it may come slowly with sickness. Either way, it will serve us well to remember to live every day with full presence and gratitude for the experiences each moment brings. We can be empowered in our dying by living each day as if it was our last. It was an honor to be with my friend in her final days. To be with the dying is a gift. To live is a gift. Every time we practice returning to the present moment is to remember this very thing…this life right here, right now, is a moment to savor. My friend’s husband described her passing as her “graduating” from this life. I do believe she graduated from this life. With honors. The work she did here carries on. In the busyness of our everyday lives, we can repeatedly return to the questions: what do we want to have carried on? What ripples do we want to send out? If we practice living with intention, awareness and clarity now, when the times comes, we can feel empowered and let go, trusting that we continue on because our actions are still out there rippling away, making more ripples, never ending. Even more empowering is to know that we can choose right now to make those vibrations arise out of kindness, peace, compassion and joy.