The world is FULL.

A mantra I’ve embraced this year and repeat to my son all the time, “The world is full of magic, medicine and miracles. Every day is a new adventure.”

Its been a rough few weeks….months? I’ll be frank, its been a real rough year. For a lot of people, not just me. But the last few weeks really threatened to kick the shit outta me. I lost sight of my mantra. It happens. Things pile up, layer upon layer until you’re staring at a mountain that seems insurmountable and suddenly months of tiredness, years of tiredness, all hit at once and you want to draw all the shades and hide. The world is just too much. I know there are a few million or more people who can probably relate to this feeling right now. What is going on in the world right now feels like way too much to hold. Despite the current social and political climate, this is familiar terrain for me come mid-December. Wanting to hide out, feeling overwhelmed. And the amount of self care I feel like I need to cope seems impossible for the life of a working, single parent.

But here is the miracle, here is the magic: for anyone in a dark place right now, it only takes a tiny crack of light. When it feels like the mountain is sitting on your chest, a knock on your door can turn everything around. When you feel like you’ve fallen for the last time and you’ll never rise again, it may just be that someone else’s call for help that pulls you out of the fog and into the big bright world again. Or maybe a good homemade meal, a walk, a long hot shower. Just for today or just for the next hour. These are miracles. Maybe they don’t change the circumstance. Maybe they can’t bring order to the chaos still swirling inside you or in the world at large, but maybe – they can help us to keep breathing through it all.

I have come to realize that the real miracle is the abundance I have in friends around me who can point me back to light and remind me to keep looking for the magic, the medicine and the miracles. Earlier this month I got to visit with a long-but-not-so-lost kindred friend who I am so indescribably grateful to share this lifetime with. We have known and watched one another grow for over twenty years. We are not the same girls we used to be but somewhere and in some ways we still are. It’s weird. And though our paths have winded away from each other for years, somehow life has brought us back together at a time when we find ourselves in very similar processes. And this gift of being seen, really seen by another person and to speak the truth we see, this is medicine for the soul. 

Then this weekend I was visited by another newfound but not so new soul sister and am elated to see how paths have intertwined. We picnicked on the beach, went in search of a mysterious hidden labyrinth in the cliffs above the waves, we ate the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my life, found some magical crystals and talked and talked and talked. Time passed differently. Everything felt symbolic, every word meaningful and synchronicity abounded. My friend, she brings magic wherever she goes. And this weekend she brought it to me. 

I have another dear sweet friend who fights courageously every single day through pain and depression to keep breathing, to believe that things won’t always be this way. She fights for her life, she fights to find the purpose in her struggle and I watch her and wish desperately that I could take her suffering away. But she inspires me every single opportunity I get to spend time with her, even on her worst days. She is a MIRACLE. Another crack of light, my sister-in-law who sat with me on my bedroom floor and helped me make phone calls I was too overwhelmed to make and create a plan for getting through this last week when all I felt like I could do was lie on the carpet. And another friend who sits me at her kitchen table and makes me coffee and breakfast on a hard morning. Yet another friend who brings me oils to help with pain. My neighbors who bring over food every time they have extra of anything and have no idea that it always arrives at the exact moment that the fridge is empty. The fact that I have at least ten people I feel like I could call at any give point and say “I need help” and they would offer whatever help they could. Small miracles that are big. Small miracles that suddenly make things more bearable. Small miracles that at the very moment they arrive feel like they save your life.

I am moved to tears by the WEALTH of family, friends and community that surround me.

The little Acorn Scout asks “What is a miracle?” I tell him it is an amazing and unexpected gift. So whenever something happy happens, he says, “Is that a gift, mama? Is it a miracle?” And I laugh and say yes, yes! It is a gift. It is a miracle.

The warm sunshine in the middle of a cold December, a friend’s buoyant recovery after surgery, a gift of firewood found on our porch, a hot shower, mending a miscommunication with an apology, a steaming cup of turmeric chai with honey,holding my friend’s sweet newborn baby, the right song at exactly the right moment, cherished new and old friends, soft and warm socks, two almost pain-free days in a row, a card in the mail from a friend I haven’t heard from in too long, an extra long real hug from someone that doesn’t know all of it exactly but doesn’t need to, another morning waking up to beauty of the morning fog in the redwood treetops…treasures around every bend.

Whatever you focus on is what you’ll find. Keep looking, I tell my son (and myself). Keep watching and you’ll see… the world is full.

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Collage by me.

 

 

 

 

The in between place: Sometimes things are just shitty.

I’m in the hard holding space.

The painful, restless, unknowing place of trying to hold more than a human heart is capable of holding without knowing how anything is going to turn out.

The in between space, waiting for each next breath, each next step, having faith that healing can happen, that peace is possible. The world feels so heavy and full of darkness right now. I grieve over the war and violence in the world, I grieve with my fellow countrymen over the unfathomable corruption and devastating policy-makings of our government, over the unthinkable and compounding acts of violence and what it means for the future of our children and our planet.

Violence. Oppression. Suffering. Helplessness. Rage. Grief.

My partnership has been in its own stage of painful metamorphosis. Kind of like how the caterpillar in the cocoon has to completely dissolve before it can change form… you really want to believe its going to be reborn into a beautiful butterfly, but for awhile its such indistinguishable mush. Sometimes your faith can’t help but waver somewhat. I mean, it just looks like mush. It feels like a mess. From your limited human perspective, it doesn’t look promising. From the outside, things look impossible. Except that something tells you “Hold on. You don’t have all the information.” And you have lived long enough now and seen enough miracles to know that they are always happening.

It’s been a hard waiting. It’s been a good while now. Breathing, believing. Praying. And waiting.

There should be a meme out there that just says “Sometimes things are just shitty for awhile.” Because ain’t that the truth of life? It isn’t being negative. Actually it feels quite liberating when you remember that its normal for things to suck for awhile. But then they get better. Then suck again. And then its wonderful. And not everything hard is necessarily something that has to be (or can be) fixed at the moment. Like the world right now.

I’m going to make that meme.

Speaking with a few different friends this past week, it seems a lot of us are cycling through a pattern of feeling totally overwhelmed and checking out. I know that’s been true for me. Because it’s just. too. much.

Last week, I had to log off social media and the news feed for several days. When I came back on, I read first about Colorado and then about San Bernadino. What is happening? And what, oh what, are we to do about it?

To be awake, to be alive is to feel the darkness of the world, the heaviness when it comes, but to be of service to the world is not let ourselves be swallowed up by it. So I teeter back and forth, trying to find my balance when one after another these blows keep coming. We can choose gratitude – and can I tell you how my heart is swelled in gratitude these past weeks?? – We can focus on the positive, we can seek beauty for I have learned that there is always, always something beautiful happening

But we can also learn to sit with sorrow when sorrow is warranted, rage when rage is due, grief where heartbreak is demanded. This is what it means to be fully awake, we can’t choose to be selectively conscious. It is the juxtaposition of feeling these simultaneous polarities. We don’t turn our backs on one or the other, we don’t go back to sleep. It is the seemingly impossible task of learning to hold them both, the light and the dark. To find stillness in the churning sea. In the face of a tidal wave that threatens to wash away everything we know and to still believe that whatever the storm takes or leaves in it’s wake we will go on. We will still look for love.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist (that’s really a thing), author and stroke survivor (listen to her TED talk here) has said that it actually takes less than 90 seconds for an emotion to get triggered within the body, peak, dissipate and disappear. So anything more than 90 seconds it caused by our thoughts about the emotion. We feel fear, we instantly create a story about why we are afraid and what ifs and how the world is unsafe and we feel out of control, which creates more fearful emotions.

Feelings create thoughts, thoughts create feelings. These become the constructs of our reality.

This simple concept feel especially empowering to me right now. I can breathe through 90 seconds. Hell, I breathed through 22 hours of labor contractions and I learned you don’t waste that sweet spot in between, you take any tiny respite you can.

Breath by breath.

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Glennon Melton, of Momastery (whom I adore and if by any possible circumstance you are not familiar with her, her blog or her work, please give yourself the huge gift of introducing yourself) gives these instructions on how to respond to global trauma:

“1. BE STILL. Feel it. Listen. Pray. There is a word in my holy text: Selah. Selah means holy pause. The Selah is the space between what happens to us and how we respond to what happens to us. When we don’t take a Selah—we tend to respond from fear. Fear is never a powerful or transformational launching pad.

2. HERE I AM. This is the action after the stillness. This is when we feel centered enough in love to be fairly certain that our reaction will bring light instead of more darkness. We are ready. Love is our launching pad.

Stillness without action is not compassion. It’s more like pity. Compassion means your pain into my heart and back out through my hands.  Action without stillness can’t be trusted. It has no wisdom, no steadiness, no plan. It’s reckless. It’s oil on a fire.”

Let’s look for beauty.  Let’s find a little patch of the natural world and sit in it; by a rock or a stream, beneath a tree or prostate on the Earth. She is very absorbent, She can hold all of it.

Let’s tune out when we need to. Let’s do the things we love with people we love. Let’s do the things we love by ourselves. Let’s look around for someone who needs help and offer what we can for service to others is a great healing balm for the human heart. Let’s stay awake.

And let’s pray, pray, pray. (Or dance, or sing, make art or do what you do.)

Ask ourselves, “what is the next right thing?” and do it.

xo

Here ya go 🙂

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(For more good stuff read here: “What would happen if we let people be broken sometimes?” by renegademama.)

Carry on soldier.

This very moment

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When I come to sit, I always find what I need to find. I see what I need to see.

So often we seek to rise above, to access a different plane of experience. I want to be filled with heavenly light and waves of unconditional love, of understanding and otherwordly-peace. Instead, I see my irritation with partner.

I see my guilt about not being more present with my son.  I see the way I am beating myself up for something insensitive I said to a friend. I see my resentment that my weekly schedule seems full of tasks that meet other people’s needs. I see my disappointment that the day hasn’t gone the way I wanted, that I don’t feel the way I expected to feel or that I aspire to feel or that I think I “should” feel.

And I see my doubt that in this imperfectly perfect moment, beauty is here for me to find.

As seekers we can’t help but want the transcendent experience that will take us out of these earthly bodies with our infantile feelings, sweep us up out of the mundane intricacies of the human life, and set us back down with transformed awareness. And sometimes we do get blessed with profound spiritual experiences.

But the most powerful and subtle work is the commitment to being with the moment just as it is. Only the longer we sit the more the surface layer starts to peel back and — oh! look at all we were missing!

The compassion I have been withholding from myself. The gratitude I have for recent provision. The honoring of my own process of working through and letting go. The comfort of the sun’s rays. The rustle of a soft breeze. The gift of encouragement from a mentor. The trees, the earth, the sky, the aliveness all around me. The things I have to look forward to. The celebration of recent accomplishments and new endeavors. The realization that everything all the time is in transition.

And right now is “it.” There is nothing I seek that does not exist within this moment. And now I can smile at it all, I can see that it is all part of the ever-changing landscape, a kaleidoscope of light and dark and every color on the spectrum.

We don’t have to wait for something outside to break through.

The magic of being with what is transforms our vision. It means that I honor my experience, whatever it may be. Throughout the day, whether my task is pleasant or tedious, whether the moment feels trying, mundane or profound, I extend permission to my resistance, disappointment or restlessness. I tell myself “You would rather be doing something else and that’s ok.” Dishes still need to be washed and dinner prepared and phone calls returned.

As Pema Chodron says that “this very moment is the perfect teacher”, just being with what is. It may take some strengthening of muscles we aren’t used to using but in time we increase our endurance. Instead of looking for an escape route we can stay where we are, we can stand our ground, we can breathe through it and see it is not bigger than us. We can see that they are just feelings about doing the dishes, not the dishes themselves. And they pass. Like the tantrums of a toddler, fierce in their wake but quickly receding.

The magic of coming to sit again and again to come fully awake, to remind myself I am alive. and that this is a truly grand thing.

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“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly despairing, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” 

~Agatha Christie

Walking Meditation

My son woke extra early this morning. So we went out for a walk and watched the sun lighten the sky.

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“Wherever we walk, we can practice meditation. This means that we know that we are walking. We walk just for walking. We walk with freedom and solidity, no longer in a hurry. We are present with each step.

Walking in this way should not be a privilege. We should be able to do it in every moment. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around and we are alive and healthy and capable of walking in peace.

As we walk, imprint our gratitude and our love on the earth.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

The real story.

There is some popular rhetoric out there that negative feelings can be extinguished simply by overriding them with positive thinking and affirming thoughts. But we can’t wish the ugly stuff away.

Yeah I know. Damn it.

And what a well-oiled machine I have developed for ignoring, for dismissing, for arguing against my real experience: “I shouldn’t feel like this, it isn’t valid, it isn’t justified, it’s stupid, I don’t have the right!” This stale soliloquy, come to find out, is my red light. I am going to go out on a limb and assume I am not alone and that underneath, we often grapple with pervasive fear that keeps us from acknowledging the real story instead of holding on to the story we wish were true.

Who would I be if I admitted I felt this way?

Possibly human. Plausibly humble. Positively wise.

“Stating what is, even if what is is not “good,” is being more positive than pretending it’s good. It is connecting to something authentic, seeing it so we can change it, starting us in the direction of positive change instead of keeping us in the same place of denial – totally disconnected from what is. Which, ironically is really the negative scourge. Gratitude for what we have does not make pain go away. Sorry. Although gratitude can totally amp our connected worldview and lessen the effects of our pain, it doesn’t replace holding the space to feel our pain. Giving words to what needs to be felt is not being a whiner. It is a healthy part of the healing process. And it’s not weak – it takes strength to do. If you never acknowledge where you are, you will never be with it long enough to give compassion the right-of-way. You will never heal.” ~ Mary McInnis Meyer (Check out Mary McInnis Meyer’s whole post here.)

Oh what grief I could have saved myself in the first year of motherhood had I given permission to my own experience instead of comparing it with what I thought it “should” have been, the real or perceived experiences of other mothers! How much suffering I could have avoided if I could have allowed it to be just as it was: a mixed bag of beauty and painful growth, moments of despair and profound gratitude, anger, humility, redemption, so much letting go. So much grace.

And what great liberation we can find in the words of others who are brave enough to say the things we think we are not “supposed” to say. The things we may be ashamed of, the feelings and thoughts we have kept in the closet because maybe as long as we don’t look at them – as long as we don’t show them to anyone – maybe they really aren’t there. Maybe I can paint my experience differently, I can pretend I am the mom, the partner, the friend, the sister, the sibling I want to be. The one I “should” be. That is why words are so powerful and that is why truth sets us free. Hearing someone else’s truth often gives us the courage to speak our own. It doesn’t have to be pretty. But the real story is more beautiful that the one you had planned anyway.

Here in lies the practice. We keep coming back to unpack the closet. And we see that we are not our feelings at all, what a relief!  We are so much more! Our feelings just tell us what our experience is. Having the courage to open the door and see what is really there. To greet our experience just as it is, with all of the ambiguity, juxtaposing desires, sometimes incongruent and contradictory feelings, both the light and dark – the full range and complexity of what it means to be a human living. And why should I want or expect to be anything more than what I am? A flower does not wish to be an oak, it just blossoms where it is! What a tragedy, if the flower spent all of it’s energy wishing to be a butterfly and missed the chance to bloom?

And it’s okay sometimes to say: “I can’t look at this right now. It is too uncomfortable. I am choosing to numb out because I don’t have the energy or courage yet to face this.” That is the practice too! Sometimes admitting that you are not ready to face something IS the most courageous act you can take in the moment.

We can’t wish the ugly stuff away. But there is better news: we don’t have to.

I am so thankful I have people surrounding me who I can be real with when shit gets real. It is measureless. And a partner who has his own shit but somehow we can unite to support each other. So when I am whining again: why do I always have to be the one having to accept a different story from the one I wanted?  They can hold space and remind me of the amazing human being that I am and:

  1. a) forgive me for being temporarily daft
  2. b) gently – or bluntly – remind me that everyone is facing a different version of the story than they wanted. That is the path.

But: c) it really does suck sometimes

and furthermore: d) it’s okay to say so.

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More folks telling the real story:

Karen Maezen Miller: Cheerio Road (I have written about Karen Maezen Mille’s work before.)

Mary McInnis Meyer: Real is the New Good

Anne Lamott: facebook.com/annelamott  (or just Google Anne Lamott and start reading. Here is a great interview with her.)

Other mamas who talk straight and skip the sugar coating:

Janelle Hanchett: Renegade Mothering

Lola Lolita: Scary Mommy

Meaghan O’Connell: Life is hard. Here is someone.

Biz Ellis and Theresa Thorn (podcast): One Bad Mother

Glynis Ratcliffe: The Joy of Cooking (for Little Assholes)

 

What other refreshing real voices are out there owning their story in all its raw, resplendent glory? I would love to hear from you.

Keep on keeping’ it real.

Mantras for Real Parents

Today I am reposting an article from Shawn Fink of abundantmama.com. I have come across this a couple of times in the last two years and it is simply one of those posts that is worth coming back to again and again. Just…scroll… it’s so worth the read.  Oh and by the way – these totally apply whether you have kids or not.  (:

This good stuff, ya’ll.

Real Mantras for Real Parents

by Shawn Fink

I am by no means a parenting expert. I do, however, feel pretty sure that I understand the human condition fairly well.

And, well, humans have emotions.

Now, I have always been extremely passionate. But, never in my life until I had kids did I truly understand emotions. I was an only child until I was 17 years old. I never had any enemies {that I know of!}. I was just always balanced. Happy and balanced.

Then I became a mother. Of crying babies. Of two screaming, crying babies.

It was, to say the least, emotionally exhausting. {Oh, and it’s wonderful, amazing and life-changing and all that, too!}

But, in those early days, it was, at times, depressing.

And when those babies grew into toddlers …

Frustrating. Overwhelming.

And when those toddlers grew into big kids …

Easier. Much, much easier. And yet there are still many moments where I have to bite my tongue, breathe one of those deep, through-the-ribs-kinds of breaths …

and. walk. away.

Walk Away

I believe whole-heartedly in self-talk. Some might call them mantras. I call it nurturing myself. And, while, yes, this, too shall pass … there’s a whole lot more to say to ourselves when times are emotionally challenging. These sayings help me reframe a complicated situation so that I can react in a more balanced, calm way — all necessary when trying to live mindfully.

Whatever you call them — here are the phrases that I chant in my head when things are difficult in my life {and I am not just talking about raising children right now either. I use them at work ALL THE TIME.}

10 Real Mantras for Real Parents

{Trust} I used this a lot when things in our life were uncertain. I’m using it right now as I try and build this Awake community on this blog. I use it every single day when I send my girls off to school. We used it a lot when my husband took a great job pretty far away in order to get off unemployment. I Trust that this is all bigger than me. I trust the Universe is in charge here.

{Walk Away} Yeah, I’ve found myself knee-deep in an endless argument with a 5 year old. Uh-huh. Walk away. Really. Works like a charm.

{I choose peace} It’s really very simple. I choose peace. In everything that I do. Except when I’m on the phone with Verizon. I draw the line there.

{It is what it is} If I had to pick just one, this is it. I say it all day, throughout my day and rarely for anything related to raising children. This one is almost always used at work, in my role in our community and trying to make the world a better place. It’s also the most zen saying we can utter. It’s just … well, it is what it is.

{Just be kind} When the kids are having a rough day. When they’ve been less than. Just be kind. I say it to myself. I say it to them. Just be kind. It’s really that simple. And, remarkably, when I say it to them, it churns through my being as well. I am suddenly much more patient. So, just be kind.

{And this} When things are big — very big I say this to myself. And this. Another zen saying that just allows you to soak all of the feelings and emotions and chaos into one moment.

{What am I feeling?} I tend to gloss over my own emotions, walking around just doing, doing, doing and not feeling, feeling, feeling. Ever since I started doing these emotional check-ins, I have learned how my body responds to stress. So, if the kids are acting up and I do a check in, I know what I’m feeling and what I need to do for me BEFORE I respond to them. This is also great for recognizing when you know you just need to take a break from everything. It also tells me when I need to hole myself up and write a few thousand words — to get the crankies out.

{I got this} I’m not sure but lately this has been my mantra. Truly a mantra, too. I juggle a lot of things and yet … I’ve got this. Oddly enough, I just heard the Jennifer Hudson song with these same lyrics today on my Pandora station. It was hard not to crank it up at work.

{I am enough} By now this is pretty well known thanks to Tracey Clark. Still, it’s beautiful enough to repeat here because it’s so moving. So often we beat ourselves up for not doing enough, not being enough, not feeling enough, etc. This mantra is just organically soul-nourishing. Gosh, to think … I am enough. That is a wonderful state of mind for any person, any parent.

{Breathe} In. Out. One. Two. Three. Deeply. Often. Over and Over. All the time. When things are rough. When they are not. Just take deep breaths. This really make me pause and think — again, before I respond or act.

{I am thankful} Last but not least, in this past year, I am saying this more and more. I am thankful. I am thankful to have you in my life. I am thankful for this learning moment. I am thankful for this day, this breath, this sunrise.

There you have them — 10 real mantras for real parents. They are the hug you need at the moment when no one else is around. They are ways to heal in the moment when any other kind of stress release isn’t possible. We cannot always control our situations, but we most absolutely can control our thinking.”

For more, visit Shawn’s blog here.

2014

Over the last year we tried to remember to scratch down little and big things that we were grateful for and stick them in an old pasta sauce jar labeled “Gratitude 2014”. On New Year’s Eve we took them all out and read them. Some were funny. Some drew us into silence. All of them made us remember how much happened in a year. How much we were given. How much there was to celebrate. And there was so much more…after we finished reading them all we kept thinking of things we forgot to add. It was just a meaningful experience and we enjoyed it so much, I decided to make a collage out of all our little scrappy gratitudes. And we started our new jar for all that 2015 holds!

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