Life Lessons from Snow

nature, snow, life lessons

I am not a professional writer because I can’t write to assignment. Yet I didn’t argue with my friend when he gently told me to go for a walk in the snow, look for something special or inspiring or beautiful, send him a picture, and come home to write about it. I laced up my sneakers and threw on my Wonder Woman beanie hat because yesterday was not a good day despite good intentions. I woke up still carrying yesterday’s pain and I don’t want to keep holding it. It was getting heavy.

I love running in the snow. It brings me closer to God. It’s peaceful and quiet. There’s hope and new perspectives. So I head out to the trails and start looking for something inspiring, something beautiful, something special. I quickly realize that I cannot find one thing that is inspiring, beautiful, special. Because it all is. All of it.

All of this world is inspiring and beautiful and special. My friend nudged me out the door to remind me that this world is larger than me and my bad day and my pain. Perspective is everything, and when I’m sitting there crying and sobbing, feeling sorry for myself, it feels like my world is closing in on me. And it is. My sadness and my problems grow in between each tear that falls down my face. I feel overwhelmed, and I cry more.

I needed the reminder to do something different, and that is to actively widen my world back up. Perspective is everything. My pain is real and sad, and it is a glorious world with so much beauty and joy.

This curious little graveyard sits in the middle of nowhere, right off a trail. It’s over 160 years old, and holds a family of six. Of all things, this provides perspective. Our time here is short. It’s up to me to make it good, even when I have a bad day.

One of the things I love about running in the snow is that the world seems to soften. These rocks are hard, jagged, cold. Yet it becomes a canvas for snow, and the rocks seem to soften. This reminds me that every moment and interaction in life is an opportunity. And hard things happen. It’s up to me to decide if difficult or bad things harden my soul, or softens it. I want life’s trials to soften me, because fully feeling and holding the hurts and pain gives me the gift of empathy and compassion. This empathy and compassion connects me to all of the other messy humans, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Walking in the snow affords a different view than running. I notice more details. Nature is a funny thing, a wondrous thing. This reminds me that there’s always something bright, even in the midst of cold times. You just have to look for it.

I always marvel at how the trees look so different with a coat of snow. I can see their shapes in a different way. I can see how the forces of nature twisted their trunks and branches. I can see how the winds of life have blown and blown, and pushed and pushed some trees. And yet they still grow and thrive. These trees were certainly supposed to grow straight and tall like most of the other trees. But sometimes we don’t get what we want in life, and winds of life push us around and batter us a little. I can stand strongly and keep growing and thriving even with unexpected twists and storms that rage.

The snow, the woods, the raging storms life throws at me–I choose to allow them to soften me. This is how I grow and thrive in this vast world that is inspiring, beautiful, special. Choosing to allow life’s hardships to soften me make me inspiring, beautiful, special.

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Grace: Always the Next Right Thing

grace, mercy

I’m processing the end of a relationship, and some moments are better than others. It didn’t work out, but he’s a kind, gentle soul full of grace. That’s what attracted me to him the most. Just because it didn’t work out doesn’t change the fact that he’s a good man. He asked if it’s possible for us to have some sort of friendship.

I was trying hard not to cry at that moment so I said it’s too soon. I told him I didn’t know when I could be a friend to him. Because I didn’t want to put myself in a position of feeling sad or angsty every time we had an interaction. He was clearly over me, but I wasn’t over him. And I just didn’t know when that might be. I needed to make sure I was in a good place where such a genuine friendship would be good for me.

The grief process is not linear. It vacillates between sadness, despair, anger, hope, acceptance, denial, bargaining. Back and forth, each one coming and going at different times. It reminds me of a pinball machine–how the ball randomly hits at different points.

First I was sad because it was over. Then I was angry because he didn’t slow his roll from the second we met, until his roll stopped and he took his roll and went home. Yesterday I missed him because I cared about him. I’m trying not to attach any storylines to each emotion (such as “I miss him, but he’s already over me.” or “Ugh, it’s so hard for me to find someone I click with, and when I do, it hasn’t lasted.”). These storylines create the suffering. Suffering is optional. Sitting with the emotions is a very different experience. I can do that.

Then my frenemy Grace whispers to me. She tells me it’s time soon. I tell her no, it’s too painful still. And I don’t want to reach out to be friends if the intention is to keep ties with him in some desperate way. I don’t want to engage in the bargaining stage. She whispers to me that I know better than to make up such stories. She tells me I know this will help set me free too. She tells me I know this is the next right thing to do.

I used to think I was always right. My teenage son thinks he’s always right. Neither of us are. But Grace is always right. Today is the day I reach out and offer grace and mercy and true friendship. Because I need to act like the person I want to be. And I want to be a kind, gentle woman full of grace and mercy. I do not want to be an angry or despairing woman.

I know being friends with him would help him process as well, and when he first asked, I was filled with both indignation and anger. I wanted the lone spotlight, I was the one hurting, enough about you, what about me?? And in my anger I wanted to withhold grace and mercy if it would hurt him just a little. Why should I be the only one suffering here?

Grace reminds me I do not get to decide who is deserving of grace and mercy. Because we all deserve both. Grace reminds me I can do hard things; this is an opportunity to start to do things differently. Grace reminds me I’ve been mindful to surround myself with a tribe of kind, gracious people in my life, and isn’t he a kind, gracious soul? Grace reminds me I get what I get and I don’t get upset. Grace reminds me to trust in life unfolding as it does.

It’s easy to offer grace to pleasant people, it’s easy to offer grace in positive times, it’s easy to offer grace when everyone’s happy. It’s the hard work of life that offers opportunities to practice offering grace when you least want to offer it, when you’re feeling stingy about grace. The times when you don’t want to embrace and offer grace is precisely when you need to.

My heart tells me it might be too soon. My soul tells me today is the day. Grace is kind and reminds me I can grieve and simultaneously do the next right thing, and by doing so, it’s transformative. I’m learning that offering grace is always the next right thing.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”― Anne Lamott

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Gratitude for When Darkness Falls

grief, darkness, sad, sadness

I lay here listening to the world wake up slowly. Cars start driving down the road on the way to work. Footsteps shuffle to the bathroom. I can almost hear the black of night turn to grey as light slowly brightens the room. The sounds start to fill the air. The silence thru the night was so comforting, enveloping me, hugging me as I sit here alternating between crying and being all cried out. I resent these sounds of the world waking, they’re telling me I need to put on my appropriate face and act like a normal human being when I just want to curl into the fetal position and wail.

I’m also grateful for these sounds. They ground me and remind me that no matter what, the sun rises each day and this life is bigger than me and my grief, and that I need to get over myself. I vacillate between these two extremes. I wonder why. Why despite a truly wonderful life do I want more? Why despite a truly wonderful life does one facet of life evade me?

I know it doesn’t matter why. I know this too shall pass. I know memories will fade. I know I will survive and thrive. I know this world can be cruel and unfair. I know I will cry more than is necessary. I know I will miss the darkness of the night, when I can stop pretending everything is alright and I can be the visceral animal I am and feel too much. The darkness of night allows me to do this.

I know I will put on my brave face for the light of day and live my good life. But some moments I’m tired. Sometimes it’s all too much. My head throbs from too much wine, because I’d rather feel the pain in my head than the pain in my heart.

I lay here with too many thoughts, and I lay here empty, void of feelings, because I’ve felt too much. I try to shut it all out, this day, this pain, this loss. But responsibility beckons and pushes me to my feet. And I am so grateful. Yet I look forward to the darkness when I can fall to my knees again under the weight of it all.

Some days it hurts. Some days you realize things didn’t turn out the way you wanted. “Some days” reminds me I’ve been given the gift of another day. So it doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter why I was given another day. It doesn’t matter why I suffer a loss. It doesn’t matter why good things come to an end.

It doesn’t matter why the sun slowly fills the room every morning. I must get up and make my own noises in the light of day. The darkness allows me to make other noises. I’m grateful for both, and I’m grateful for the things that make me create these noises, the things that make me laugh and cry. Today I’m looking forward to the comfort of darkness. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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How to Get Unstuck

trapped, unstuck, stuck, mindfulness, Pema Chodron

There is a theory that trauma lives in the body, that our memories are experienced through our senses, and stored in our bodies (Bessel van der Kolk). I believe it’s not just traumas, but all events. Just like you can see stressors or major events in a tree’s rings, these impact our bodies in ways that leave marks that you may not be able to see on the outside.

I can physically feel my angst and anxiety live in my body, in the pit of my stomach, deep in the back of my heart, tight in my shoulders and neck. I can feel these spaces fire up when I get anxious or afraid or sad. I know these familiar friends, they are old reflexes, my body responds like it always knew how.

When my body and my mind and my heart automatically react in these ways, I’m tensing up, anticipating what might happen next. I’m pushing up against possible outcomes. I’m trying to control the future. I’m doing all of that because I’m hoping for something different than what’s happening right now that’s triggered the reaction. I want different circumstances, a different outcome.

When I’m reactive and looking for what might happen next is precisely when I need to embrace all the unknowns as it unfolds in its own time. This is exactly when I need to accept the current circumstances life is offering right now, without judging them as good or bad or confusing. But accepting it all just as it is. I need to practice acting in different ways, instead of reacting. I need to practice viewing the triggers in different ways.

Sometimes doing hard things is really hard for me. I have good intentions and I try really hard, but sometimes I get a bit neurotic and become a whirling dervish of blathering emotions. Sometimes I get stuck in a familiar place of confusion or sadness or anxiety, and despite knowing intellectually how to get unstuck, I stay stuck. And then I judge myself more for that, and stay stucker.

Sometimes it just takes different words, a reframe, to shift my perspective and understanding of the situation, and then I’m not so stuck. Pema Chodron writes, “…you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”

That, I can do. I can start to do things differently. I used to think of it as: “I’ve got to stop giving in to my fears,” or “I’ve got to stop panicking or getting anxious when I think about potential future outcomes I cannot control,” or essentially, “I’ve got to stop doing all the things I used to do. On such a larger level, I’ve got to stop being who I used to be.”

When I think in those words, it’s difficult for me to just stop doing it. I have been able to do so to some degree, but it’s still a pretty tumultuous place. But I have also learned to offer myself the same loving kindness I would offer a child. That includes how I talk to myself, what words I use.

A useful and effective strategy when working with children is to ask that they do something as an alternative, instead of asking the child to just stop a behavior. For example, instead of saying, “Stop running!” it is oftentimes more effective to say, “Please walk!”

People oftentimes know they should stop a behavior, but are at a loss as to what behavior should be in its place. We need to give people alternatives to fill the void. They need to know how to act in addition to what they need to stop doing. Losing weight is too amorphous. Teaching someone what specific things to change in one’s diet and activity level makes it doable.

This is also why we role play in therapy. Telling someone to be better with boundaries is wonderful and necessary. But we need to practice using words in a safe place to be able to actually be better with boundaries in real life.

These slight shifts make all the difference. So I can be kind and gentle with myself and stop flagellating myself with thoughts that I should know better, and instead just bear witness to current circumstances and how I automatically react. And then I can start to do things differently.

I can start by acting like the person I want to be. I want to be someone who is full of grace and empathy and compassion even while feeling anxious. I want to be gentle and kind even while feeling sad. I want to be someone who is patient and accepting even while feeling confused. I want to be someone who trusts life’s unfolding. This is a shift from the old thoughts of “I shouldn’t freak out,” or “I shouldn’t feel hurt,” or “I shouldn’t try to control things.”

Instead of what I shouldn’t do, I’m practicing being active in what I do want, in being the person I want to be. I’m practicing not fighting with myself, fighting against myself. Instead, I’m starting to do things differently.

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Peace: Simple, Yet Hard

meditation, mindfulness, peace

When I was much younger, I sought out meditation practice in the hopes of quieting my mind enough to give me inner peace. Back then, I thought peace was a quiet destination. A calm bliss. I thought it would relieve my suffering, my angst, my qualms. I had a lot of those. It’s no surprise that I wasn’t very successful with my earlier attempts at meditation.

Then came the day that I embarked again on this journey, and oh, the difference it makes when you learn to relinquish your perception of, and attempts at, control. I’ve since learned that life is generous in offering opportunities to feel fully alive–to experience the full spectrum of feelings. This includes joy and despair, anticipation and fear, anger and contentment. Life’s generosity is boundless, to the point where I say, “No, no, that’s much too much. Please, don’t.” in that pleading voice you use with your Aunt Betsey when she brings over armloads of presents she ordered from infomercials. But life continues to not hear you, like when Aunt Betsey’s hearing aid doesn’t work, and continues to give us circumstances where we succeed and fail, love and hurt, laugh and whimper.

I used to fear the negative feelings. Because I feel too much. I lack the moderation gene, so all my feelings are on steroids. I’m a little extreme, a little intense, a little passionate. By “a little,” I mean “a lotta.”And I used to fear I would be consumed by them. I used to fear that if I felt fear or despair, that I would spiral deep down into that pit and never be able to come up for air. So the irony is that at the hint of a negative feeling, I would step down into a pit of fear, and that fear would weave complicated stories about all the horrible possibilities and outcomes that my overthinking mind could imagine. And I can certainly tell stories.

So it took me a long time to muster up the courage to truly embrace fear and despair and sadness. Doesn’t that sound silly? That I needed to be brave enough to feel sad? Yet to this day, it requires courage for me to decide not to blunt the pain, or avoid the pain, or deflect the pain. It requires courage to not try to outrun the fear, or shop away the anxiety, or overwork to deflect unhappiness. For a long time, I didn’t want to feel that pain, because it hurts. And you know what? I’ve learned that when I fully feel the pain, it hurts.

And that’s OK. That’s kinda pain’s charm–that it’s a hurty sort of feeling. I’ve learned that there’s no avoiding opportunities for pain and hurts. I’ve learned it’s not the events in life that cause the suffering from the pain, but it’s the storylines we tell ourselves about the pain that cause the suffering.

It’s the storylines we tell ourselves about how of course this would happen, things like this always happen to me. It’s the storylines we tell ourselves that once again, I’m not enough. It’s the storylines we tell ourselves as we project into the future and see the potential obstacles, and we tell ourselves things can’t possibly work out, so why bother, may as well throw in the towel now.

It is these stories we tell ourselves that cause suffering. When we tell ourselves these stories, we must remember we are writing these scripts. We are the authors. Fear is not the author. Despair is not the author. Hopelessness is not the author. We can always write another story. It’s really that simple. But simple can be hard. Sometimes simple isn’t easy.

And peace can be found in this space, in this space in between simple and hard. Peace is the place where positive and negative feelings pass through, and you hold each one gently, and then put it down. Peace is holding the feelings without the stories. Peace is trusting that you can hold each feeling without being consumed by it. Peace is a place where the only certain thing is uncertainty.

Peace is treading through life gently and kindly, while holding these feelings without the storylines, the judgments, the labels of good or bad. Instead, knowing they just are. Peace is running into jagged, sharp edges and riding smooth carpet rides with equanimity. Peace is the space where you allow life to unfold and allowing the uncertainty to be uncertain.

Uncertainty because telling storylines can provide the ending to your story by becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy or a forced ending. But that’s where suffering lives. Peace is being open to it all, observing it all, and just being in that space. Peace is knowing you need not do or say anything sometimes. Not everything needs to be said out loud. Not everything needs an action or response. Sometimes things just need to sit, to be, for a while.

I’ve found the strange byproduct of being mindful to practice living in this space is that I’m much more compassionate and empathic. Letting go of the narratives we write that keep us imprisoned in our past or fears or unrealized potentials frees us to remember others have the same fears and hurts and anger. And in that place of connection with others, the anxiety and sadness and fears and pain soften. And this is peace.

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Why I Must Tell My Children I Was Raped

rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, #MeTooA friend asked the other day if there’s anyone left in Hollywood, referencing the daily news stories of women sharing their stories of being sexually assaulted by powerful men. Hollywood? This isn’t confined to the entertainment industry.

I’m conflicted about all the coverage. Honestly, it’s breaking my heart. I’m having a difficult time absorbing all of this. On one hand I’m so glad this is all finally coming to light. On the other hand, I’m so sad it’s so common and pervasive, it breaks my heart that so many people have been hurt for so long. It is the magnitude of this avalanche that overwhelms me.

It has made me think about things. About how my first assailant now lives in the same town as my boyfriend. About how my second assailant only dated Asians. About how my third assailant has a dimple in his chin. About how I hadn’t really thought much about the second and third rapes until now, and how I’d never told anyone about those until yesterday.

It has made me think about the statistics about repeat victimization–that a woman’s chances of being raped again increases by double to ten-fold, depending on the number of assaults. It made me think about how we don’t know exactly why this holds true.

One theory is that there is a learned silence, and then an inability to enforce boundaries. This has forced me to really look back and examine why and how there was a second and third. And I come up empty. I said no both times, Both times they ignored me. I enforced a boundary. I was not silent. They trampled right over the boundary. And it was then I became silent.

And it is in the silence that abuse of power thrives. So for all these brave people publicly sharing their stories, I’m grateful. I realize I’ve been too silent, and thus I’ve contributed to this breeding ground that perpetuates this violence. I realize I need to do a better job at empowering myself and my children so that we can be agents of change.

I realize I need to be proactive in raising my children, all of our children, to speak up and speak out. To do so, I realize I need to tell my kids about these assaults. As parents we struggle with how much we decide to disclose to our children about our past behaviors–cutting classes in school, alcohol or drug use, general mischief. I never planned on telling them about being raped once, much less three times, but I realize now we need to have a difficult and honest conversation so that they can be active in making positive changes in this world.

Survivors become empowered when the assailant loses power. They become empowered when they see other victims being validated. They become empowered when there’s safety in numbers. There is strength in numbers. This is why we’re seeing all of these women speaking their truths about so many men in recent weeks, speaking their truths after all these years.

They’ve stayed silent for so long. They’ve accepted, we’ve accepted, this dynamic as the norm. We might not like it, but we’ve accepted it. We must teach our children to speak up if they’re assaulted or harassed. We must teach our children to speak up if they witness or hear of such behavior. I taught my kids when they were younger that if they need help, they need to continue telling adults until they find one who will listen to them and help them. We must continue to tell our stories until someone will listen and help.

To teach our children to do so, we need to give them words. Of what an assault or harassment looks like–it can be so unexpected. We’ve heard so many women say they were caught off guard, didn’t know what to do, their minds racing–so many of these stories recently highlight how they were caught off guard by odd requests or sudden groping. We need to talk about the different scenarios that are inappropriate and what are red flags signaling you to run.

We need to talk about what to say and what to do when you find yourself in this situation. We need to teach our children that No is a complete sentence. We need to teach our children what their options might be if No is ignored. We need to teach our children how to react to this abuse of power differential. We need to practice using the words, or this concept is useless.

We need to teach our children how to confront someone if they bear witness to or learn of someone who has harassed or assaulted someone. We need to teach them it is their duty and responsibility as a human being. We need to teach our children that it is hard yet necessary to stand up to powerful people. We need to practice using these words too.

Words. Give them the words. We teach children what a house fire might look and smell and feel like. We teach them where the exits are and the escape plan. We teach them where to meet outside. We’ve given them words to empower them to stay safe. We practice fire drills. We must do the same for rapes and sexual harassment. This is not a drill.

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Ninja Princess

ninja princessI hold great disdain for the princess culture. The nauseating pink and batting eyelashes and the requirement of being saved by someone. There’s something helpless and vapid and useless about these personalities that are heavily marketed towards young girls. Yet there’s something magnetic about these princesses that draw girls towards them.

It’s no secret I loathe princesses. I firmly believe girls should aim to be the Queen, she can behead anyone, so why choose to be #2 in the land? La Chica pretends to be ambivalent about princesses because she knows how I feel about them. But she fell for the marketing too. She is also a quiet soul. She sits back and observes and soaks things in. She has this ridiculously wispy voice that sounds like a church mouse that’s out of breath. She speaks in short sentences and uses silly words.

This drives me crazy. Because I fear she uses this to rely on the world to save her. Because I fear she plays the damsel in distress a little too well, because everyone thinks she’s so adorable they bend over backwards for her. Because a good friend once told me I’m a force of energy and opinion, and that I’m very demanding. So it drives me insane to consider that my own child might be a helpless, vapid damsel.

And then I met one of her former teachers who knew her for three years. I mentioned my fears, and she pointed out that there is no mistaking she is my daughter. She said the wispy voice is one thing, but the content is something entirely different. She said La Chica has no problem being clear with her opinions, and frankly, she doesn’t take crap from anyone, and has a strong core.

I was stunned. It’s always so interesting to discover different facets and perspectives of your child. Then it made me laugh. She’s like a Ninja Princess. People think she’s docile and delicate, but apparently, she has no issue with taking you down when you underestimate her. Which leads me to conclude I really need to learn to sleep with one eye open.

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