The Natural Order of Things

death, parent, adult parent death, natural order of things, grief, funeral

I tell myself this is the natural order of things. This is the way it should be. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier. Your brain understands this. Your heart protests.

You’re born into this world with unshakable tenets. Such as, the sky is blue. Such as, falling on the pavement hurts. Such as, cold ice cream on a hot day is magical. Such as, you’re born to parents who help you navigate through the hallways of your home. Parents who teach you how to navigate down the paths of your life. Parents who watch you slowly drift away to create your own life. Separate, yet tethered.

And one day, one of the strings breaks, and you find yourself flapping in the wind a bit lopsided. This is the way it’s supposed to be–you’re supposed to bury your parents, not the other way around. It’s tragic when parents bury a child. This is how life unfolds, they tell you, this circle of life.

Is this how it’s supposed to be? A life stopped suddenly and everyday objects left askew like Pompeii artifacts? Her handbag draped easily over the chair. Her last load of laundry folded neatly at the foot of her bed. Her lipstick perched on the bathroom countertop. Everywhere I turn, she is there. Yet everywhere I turn, she is not there. And she won’t be ever again.

It’s strange to reconcile this juxtaposition in each moment of the day, in every moment of the day. Because she lived here. But she doesn’t live anywhere anymore in these moments today, tomorrow, next week. Next Thanksgiving, next Christmas, next birthday. She is here, but she’s not here, and she won’t be here. It’s a strange assault of being overwhelmed with this contradiction, yet feeling a void of nothing, an absence of feeling, a numbness.

It’s strange to live moments and make memories without one of your life pillars. It’s strange to watch your mother lowered into a deep hole in the ground. It’s strange to comfort your father and your sister some moments, and wonder where the wailing noise is emanating from the next moment. (The answer is you, the wailing is coming from deep inside you, from a place you did not know existed.)

It’s strange to hear stories about her childhood, her past, her other roles in life. It’s strange to integrate all this new knowledge of someone you thought you knew intimately, and end the day with a new understanding of her. It’s strange to step back and see the bigger picture of her personhood and life and impact, because nothing more will be written about her; she has no more stories to live out. It’s strange to summarize your mother’s 79 years into a five minute eulogy.

I understand this is the natural order of things. My heart protests.

Posted in Parenting, Relationships, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Music is What Feelings Sound Like”

drums, rock band, life lessons, music, musician

Reason #79 why I love my band: Their sense of humor–not everyone would agree to referencing blood sausage in their band name.

This motley crew who gather weekly with me are my Church. Which is strange because one is Jewish, I’m not a religious person, and there’s a good chance the other three are atheists. Church, to me, is where I feel my spiritual God. The beach and the ocean are Church for me too, and there’s no crucifix in sight.

Church to me is where my soul settles and is home. Church to me is where grace and redemption and kindness are offered, no purchase necessary. Church is the tribe of people who remind me, through their example, to be patient and kind and gracious. Church is where truth lives, and love and acceptance are given unconditionally. Church is the space that encourages me to be vulnerable and authentic and take risks, and is the soft space that allows me to fall and falter and fail. And they let me come back the next week after I’ve shown them I’m human and flawed.

I’ve discovered making music is holy. Making music with others is magical and mystical and awesome. To this day I’m in awe that I can keep a steady beat. When I can contribute to something that resembles a familiar song, I’m ecstatic.

Despite said ecstasy, I am not at all talented and still cannot count. It still requires a great deal of practice and work on my part. Our guitarist literally listens to a song once, and plays it. I lack that gene. So this band provides me the opportunity to keep practicing and working hard at a craft that fills my soul. This band also provides reminders and opportunities to practice life lessons.

You can’t hurry past parts of the song or life: When I’m practicing a song, I get really irritated sometimes when I just want to get to that really tricky part. Sometimes I just want to rush through the chorus and get to that bridge, but I know I need to practice the entire song so the transitions flow and I get a better sense of the song. Sometimes in life I find that I’m trying to rush or force things, or wishing parts would speed by. This reminds me to stay right where I am in the moment and take things as they come. I’ll get to where I will be when I’m there. I always do.

You’re never really “there”: A funny thing happens when I’ve mastered a song. By funny, I mean it bewilders my band. We’ll have a period of time where I can play pretty solidly. Until I don’t. Part of my charm is suddenly becoming inconsistent in weird places and at odd times. They don’t know what to make of it and it throws them off. I smile, apologize, and offer to buy the next round of drinks.

In life I’ve worked hard at staying in the discomfort, in doing hard things, in doing scary things, in taking risks. With each life event, it seems to be a little easier, there’s a sense of mastery. Until things go south or I’m in a super vulnerable spot. And I’m reminded we’re never really ok with endings, we’re never really ok with getting hurt or disappointed. We’ll always have varying degrees of self-esteem/sense of self issues. I’m reminded feeling vulnerable isn’t a mastery one achieves and you never feel vulnerable ever again. You don’t conquer it and leave it behind, never to feel vulnerable again. You can get to a point of being willing to take more risks, but it still feels scary. You get to a point of being able to cope with discomfort in less painful ways. You get to a point of loving your body and still having moments of feeling not skinny enough. There’s always opportunities to practice.

Listen to your gut, don’t let others shake your confidence: I’ve stumbled on my current favorite song to play. Because it’s a Guns N’ Roses song. Because there’s a lot of different parts to it. Because I figured out how to play it all by myself. Playing that song makes me so proud and happy. I played it solidly for weeks, until I became wildly inconsistent. I realized I was having trouble counting because our singer had jumped in at different times and I was trying to meet her where she was. But in that, I lost my confidence in my own counting and playing and no longer trusted where I thought we were in the song. I’m reminded I need to go with my gut and not let others shake my faith in myself.

Balance: Yet at the same time, I can’t just be an asshole and ignore the rest of the band or we sound like shit. That’s called branching out to be a solo act. Technically they have to follow my lead even when I mess up. But I’ve learned we sound as good as our weakest link. We need to work together to make sure we as a band sound good. So it’s a balance of doing my own thing, but staying mindful of where everyone else is at, and making adjustments if needed. If our singer has missed a verse and jumps to the chorus, we’re all meeting her there. If I stayed in my own lane and kept drumming to what was right, it’s pretty obvious pretty quickly something’s not right. It’s a nice reminder of the balance of doing my own thing, and simultaneously being a good citizen and working towards the common good.

So I’m sticking with this particular tribe of mine, this one I call my band, and it’s not just for the money. I love these opportunities for making magic, for practicing mindfulness, for doing hard things. And quite frankly, there’s not really a career path for solo drummers. Especially for those who can’t count.

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Cosmic Perspective

Northern Lights, aurora borealis, Iceland

Perspective is everything. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

I try to remember perspective and gratitudes, and how important both are for my sanity, ability for acceptance, and sense of peace. It’s not always easy, because life gets in the way. I’ve found though, that it’s important to be mindful to seek perspective when in the midst of anger, or disappointment, or irritation.

A recent evening in Iceland provided a rich opportunity for this practice. (By that, I mean it was a complete shit show). When I travel with the kids, I try to keep expectations low and plans fluid. We were four days into the trip, and so far everything had been outstanding beyond belief. The landscape was just breathtaking. We were meeting lots of new, fun friends. We were having amazing adventures hiking glaciers and walking behind waterfalls and going down into lava and ice caves.

We were also spending our nights under heavy cloud cover. No possibility of Northern Lights. Until one night, it looked like there might be a slim possibility. The kids and I explored the city and mulled our options over dinner. They were intent on seeing Northern Lights. So we decided to go for it. We popped into a tourism office as they were closing. Somehow I ended up paying more than three times what I had expected for the last remaining seats on a small van because everything else (cheaper large bus tours) had quickly sold out.

I love being spontaneous. Until I’m not dressed for the elements. And waiting an hour in the snow for the bus. Holding leftover miso soup from dinner that La Chica insisted I must bring back to the room. By the time we were picked up for the drive out to the National Park to search for Northern Lights, I was already a little grumpy.

The hours pass. The temperature drops. The winds pick up. The children get tired and cold and cranky. The soup gets spilled all over me so all 15 of my fellow tourists get to smell eau de ginger miso soup for the next 4 hours. I’m left with frozen fingers, only a cellphone camera, a Boy who refuses to get out of the van, and La Chica who is dead asleep. I’m a couple hundred dollars lighter. And a bit more than a little grumpy at 2am.

I decide I’m going to make the most of my few hundred dollars and I force myself to stay outside as long as possible. I decide I’m going to try to take photos on my cellphone even though everyone else with DSLRs and tripods tell me it won’t work. I decide to show them I’m just as stubborn as the aroma of soup is.

I learn from our very kind tour guide that the faint light wisps in the night sky aren’t delicate cirrus clouds, but are actually the Northern Lights. I learn from a kind tourist that this is usually what people see, faint white or light green swaths of light that really look like faint clouds. And if you stare long enough, the shapes and intensities shift and change–and that’s when they’re dancing.

I start to take pictures of the dark sky, and I’m stunned. I learn from these kind people that the lens of the camera pick up colors our eyes cannot detect. So I keep taking pictures with my stupid cellphone, and I see blues and greens and pinks.

I’m reminded that what we see in life depends on what lens we’re looking through.

I’m reminded there is light in the darkness.

I’m reminded that had I not paid too much for this intimate tour, I would not have learned how to see the Northern Lights, I would not have seen such magical colors and forces of nature, I would not have learned how to take pictures of these elusive lights. I’m reminded perspective is everything. I could continue to be grumpy about the price and the cold and the soup and the fatigue. And I had every right to be grumpy about each one of those things.

Or I could switch lens. I could see things as the person I want to be. I could be grateful for such an opportunity to learn to see the lights, to actually experience the lights, to have the opportunity to practice perspective. And I’ll be damned if I’m not grateful I recently upgraded my cellphone and apparently have a pretty kick-ass camera in it.

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Walking with Bad Decisions

bad decisions, grace, parenting

Recently I received a note letting me know My Child had made a Bad Decision. It took my breath away. Intellectually, we know our children are human, and will make Bad Decisions. We know we each made our fair share of Bad Decisions, and we still do to this day because we’re human. But when the note comes home and this Child’s Bad Decision leaps from your Intellectual Mind to your Real Life Soul, it takes your breath away.

The disappointment, anger, and sadness walk in and settles onto the couch and dares to put their feet up on the coffee table. I’m a yeller, I do it well when these friends come over. So the kids and I came to an agreement years ago. If they had something to tell me but were afraid of being yelled at, they were to warn me, “I have something to tell you, don’t yell.” And it works. I just need a warning and a moment to inhale deeply and steel myself.

We came up with this arrangement because I want my kids to come talk to me about hard things, when they’re having hard times, when they’re in a bind and need a safe place to land or a safe hand to pull them out of a situation.

So I waited for My Child to come tell me about the Bad Decision. I waited and waited, and I realized the Child was not going to tell me. So we went for a walk. Because forward movement helps process thoughts. Because not having to look each other in the eye makes talking about hard things not so hard. Because being in nature helps us to remember to breathe deeply. Because being in the world provides perspective. Because it’s harder to end or avoid a conversation when you’re far from home and still need to walk back. Mothers know how to create a captive audience.

My parents and my Asian culture operate in a world where shame is their currency. Disappointments and anger are thrust upon you dripped with shame. Shame is the belief you are bad, you are a mistake. Guilt is the belief that you did something bad, you made a mistake. So I grew up believing I was my mistakes, I was bad, broken, not good, not worthy. It took a long time to understand I’m broken, AND worthy. That I make mistakes, AND I’m good.

So I knew the Child and I had to keep walking so that Shame didn’t catch up to us, and so that we could talk about making mistakes. We sat by the lake with our friend Grace, and created a safe place to talk about our values and how pressures and stress and fears create opportunities for struggling to do the next right thing. We talked about how things don’t always end up the way we want, and it can be heartbreaking, and we survive. We talked about how it was important to have a safe space to circle back to when things don’t turn out as we hoped, when we didn’t do the next right thing, when we’re faced with the natural consequences of bad decisions.

We talked about self-care, and doing the best we can, with each decision. And some days are better than others. We talked about making amends, forgiveness, redemption. We talked about how this was just the beginning of the long journey of life, where the Child will be faced with so many more opportunities to make decisions, and some will be harder than others.

I don’t think the Child expected a Fairly Calm Mother, I think the Child expected the Yeller. I know I didn’t expect the Fairly Calm Mother. But I just remembered how it felt, so many times, to feel full of shame, to feel I was bad, to feel I was the mistake. And I knew perpetuating that family dynamic was not the next right thing. And I found that it wasn’t so difficult to offer grace and acceptance because I knew anger and admonishments would not create a learning opportunity, would not create a connecting opportunity, would not model to the Child who I want to be, who I want them to be. I knew that blaming language does not solve problems, talking about solving problems solves problems.

I think of all my Bad Decisions, and how truly fortunate I am that my life did not swerve off a cliff. I think of how much time and energy was wasted in thinking I was the mistake, instead of learning from the mistakes I made. I think of all the grace and love and redemption I was fortunate to receive from friends and loved ones in the face of my mistakes. I want my kids to act like the people they want to be. I want them to see me act like the person I want to be. I want to be the safe place for them to come to.

There are the natural consequences of the Bad Decision the Child must deal with. The judgment on the side is optional though. Today we chose to deal with the appropriateness of the Bad Decision, and leave it at that. Today we chose to remember you can be a good person and make bad decisions. Today we chose to walk with Grace instead of Shame. I hope these are the kinds of walks we will continue to have with Bad Decisions, because we’re human and it’s what we do. Some of our best stories come from Bad Decisions, after all.

Posted in Empowerment, Mindfulness, Parenting | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

The Truth About Snowflakes

snowflake, liberal, politics

Being called a “snowflake” these days is supposed to be a derogatory term, insinuating someone is so delicate they get offended too easily. Being a “snowflake” is supposed to mean someone feels so special and unique they are entitled to special treatment. Being a “snowflake” is supposed to mean someone’s not resilient.

It’s being used now to label and dismiss people who do not support the nation’s current administration and do not support this administration’s actions and agenda. Here’s the truth though about snowflakes. Don’t underestimate snowflakes even though they may look gentle and delicate in nature.

You find snowflakes in the fiercest of weather conditions and circumstances, and that’s precisely when they shine. Get enough snowflakes together, and they can wreak havoc, they’re a force to be reckoned. Blizzards, avalanches, slippery roads, school/work closings. Snowflakes, at the core, are just water particles, and they can take many forms that can change land formations–cold harsh ice, strong tidal waves, pouring freezing rain, hard sleet. Anyone exposed to harsh winters knows to respect snow. Work with the snow, and it is beautifully breathtaking and fun. If you don’t respect the nature of snow, accidents abound and you’re cold and miserable.

When the landscape is blanketed with snow, there’s a sense of peace, tranquility, hope–millions of snowflakes coming together to do what they do naturally.

Don’t underestimate a snowflake, and what one snowflake is capable of. And certainly do not underestimate the power of millions of snowflakes together. The weather forecast is calling for one hell of a snowstorm.

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Grace in a Tree

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I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I don’t believe in waiting to make changes once a year. That just seems silly to me, seems to set yourself up for failure with a lot of heavy expectations and pomp and circumstance. I prefer to make changes when needed, as needed. And since these changes are usually about self-improvement or improving the quality of my life, these changes are needed on a continuous basis because I’m a bit of a fixer-upper.

I can always stand to be more patient and understanding. I could use some work on self-care and kindness. I am also on a constant quest for grace. To be more gracious, to give more grace. So I work on this daily, and some days are better than others. Sometimes I need reminders. I have temporary tattoos of “Grace” for a visual nudge. I even brought home an abandoned kitten I named Grace.

I expect the quality of my life will improve when I bring more grace into my life. I believe I should be more content and that life should be better if I offered more grace, if I was more gracious. And sometimes I remember that Shoulds get me nowhere except stuck. Just like what happens when you invite Grace into your home, and she gets stuck in your Christmas tree.

Turns out I had forgotten kittens are furballs on crack, intent on scratching new leather furniture and breaking glass ornaments. Turns out that you can invite grace into your life, into your home, but grace doesn’t automatically make your life or home calmer or better or more joyful. Turns out that having grace in your home simply means you’ve opened your heart and home to the opportunities of love, connection, sweet moments. And you’ve also opened your heart and home to minor destruction, lots of screaming and spray bottles, and frustration.

Turns out kittens are a lot like life. Some moments are better than others. The joy accompanies the pain. And things aren’t always what you think they will be. This all reminds me of a common misconception about meditation. Oftentimes people seek a meditation practice because they believe it will end their suffering. It is hard work, the being still and accepting, and when you think you’ve sorta got the hang of it, you realize there’s no end to pain and losses and hurts. But wait, I thought if I learned how to be still, I should not feel depressed or hurt again! But you do realize the experience, the suffering, is different. We have these expectations of outcomes once we master a skill or take an action, yet oftentimes reality is a bit different than what we bargained for.

Some years ago I started working on being vulnerable, authentic, brave. I needed to figure out who I really was, and I needed to like who I am. I also knew my past relationships failed in part because I had not been vulnerable, authentic, brave. So I did a lot of hard work, and I love the place where I am now, and I love who I am now. I also realized I thought I should have better relationships, should feel more joy, should be coupled successfully, once I was more vulnerable and brave.

And yet I find that I’ve also felt pain, also had to redefine success, also still have no relationship. But…I thought once I got there, was brave, was gracious, things would fall into place! And I’m reminded that I did fall into place. I’m right where I’m supposed to be at this moment, with Grace in my home reminding me to take down the Christmas tree.

Posted in Dating, Empowerment, Meditation, Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

How to Heal Our Country

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It has been 12 days since the election. I have been sitting with it all, not sure what to say, think, write. Everyone has something to say. It’s hard for me to take it all in, to sit and listen to all the opinions and facts and projections and fears and hopes and anger and glee. I wish I was a better orator and had the intelligence and grace to know how I feel and what I think about all this, and espouse eloquently.

Then I remember I am a writer, a storyteller. So I can do that, I can tell you a story. I will tell you a story, because the one thing I do know post-election 2016, is that I want each of you to write your own story instead of reading other people’s stories. This is the one thing I do know. My voice needs to be heard. Your voice needs to be heard. This is a story of how we got to today, and what we need to do tomorrow to keep writing our own stories.

I have never felt such great sadness and fear about our country and our world and our literal existence with any previous election. My preferred candidate has not always won, and I have not agreed with everything any president has ever said or done. I’ve gotten angry, but I’ve never felt such alarm in my heart as I see how divided we’ve become as a country, as a world. I suspect this storyline is familiar to you too.

It does not matter who I voted for. It matters that our country is a democracy, and I don’t always get what I want. It matters that our country values freedom of speech, so that I can tell you what I’m thinking and feeling, and you can tell me what you’re thinking and feeling.

This matters because we’ve stopped doing that. We are here today because along the way, we began to shout at each other instead of talking with each other. We stopped looking people in the eye. We stopped sharing coffee and walks with people. We stopped remembering we are more similar than different. We forgot we belong to each other.

As our lives became busier, and as we created and stayed in echo chambers of our making, as we shared memes and sound bites, as we read click bait headlines, we began to see the world in Other Groups. Blues and Reds. Whites and Browns. Haves and Have Nots. And so many more Me and You Groups. And we haven’t stopped to take the time to notice what color their eyes are. We haven’t stopped to take the time to find out how their fears developed, how their families have thrived, how they’ve struggled. Instead of making eye contact with each other, we stare at the headlines and memes on our phones. We have forgotten our humanity.

Everyone in every Other Group feels invalidated. Feeling like you are not being heard leads to knowing your needs aren’t being met. Fear and anger fester and grow. And we start calling large swaths of humans some horrible names. Racists. Chinks. Misogynists. Faggots. We ascribe and project characteristics to people we don’t know. We don’t know who these people are, what their stories are, what color their eyes are. We don’t know how they got to their place in that Other Group. But we think we already know all about them.

And so here we are today in the storyline. This is a democracy so we have to accept election results whether we like it or not. Acceptance does not mean you like it. This democroacy also means you may be delirious with joy and hope for the future. This is a democracy so you can say and do what you can appropriately to try to have your needs met. This is where you change the words you are using to tell your story. This is the really important part.

I understand we have to talk things through with like-minded and trusted friends to process our feelings and formulate our points of view. I understand we need to read about current events. Do all of that. Then do more. Read more. Read more about the history and context of each issue you are passionate about. Read things from different points of view. Read it all with an open mind and a skeptical eye.

Then do two things. One is to do good works. I know we take comfort in sharing hashtags and changing profile pictures and wearing safety pins. I know there is comfort and support in solidarity. But do more. Make the time to write and call your elected government officials. Make time to volunteer with causes you care about, whether it’s working a phone bank or stuffing envelopes or raising money or organizing rallies or boycotts. Just do something. Make time to impact the passage of bills you do not agree with, or with bills you do agree with. I don’t care what you agree with. This is the beauty of a democracy, I may not agree with you, but I urge you to do what you believe in. Protesting and rallying is important to let the world hear your voice. Showing up is only the first step though. It’s not enough. If you don’t like how policies are being made, find out what you need to do and who to contact to have your voice heard.

You must do something other than comment on Facebook or discuss at a cocktail party or march with a sign. You do not get the right to bitch about something if you don’t do something about it. Do something. Do something real and meaningful and impactful. Do works that impact issues and policies. Stop worrying about characteristics of people with opposing points of view. The latter does not impact change. Be a change agent. This is your country. This country is part of your story. Write your story.

And as you write your story, be mindful of the words you choose. This is the second thing you must do. Words matter. They have meaning. Words can hurt, words can heal. Use them carefully. Use them to connect. As you gain a greater understanding of the issues you care about, as you do good works, go and meet real people in the Other Groups. Go and sit with them. With one of them. With some of them. Bring coffee. Bring cake. Bring grace. Ask her name. Ask for his story. Keep your mouth shut so you can look into her eyes and listen to her story and pain and fears and failures and struggles and injustices. Find out how he got to this place in his life where he believes the things he does.

Take the story in. Do not judge. Take a deep breath and be still. Holding someone’s story is sacred work. Holding someone’s story means accepting this person as who she is, without judgment. When we judge, we are not connecting. We are building a wall greater than any wall any president can build. When we judge, we are perpetuating the stereotypes of an Other Group. “See, she’s so elitist, she doesn’t understand. See, he’s so uneducated, he’s too stupid to comprehend. How can they possibly think that way?”

That gets us nowhere. We’re back to shouting at each other, talking over each other, forgetting that we don’t all have to agree all the time. We need differences of opinion. We also need to remember that it’s easier to compromise with someone we validate, while it’s easier to dismiss someone we don’t see as human, as someone who belongs to us, to you. We each have a right to our opinions and beliefs. We don’t have to agree with them. We do however have to find a way to work with them if there’s any hope for humanity.

We all have flaws and fears that mold and create our beliefs and behaviors. We are all messy human beings. We all get swept up in things. It’s time to stop and be still, and breathe. And get to work, one connection at a time. Actively getting involved both within your own Group, and getting to know and understand the Other Group. The only hope for salvation for all of us is real change on an individual level. We must write our stories with humanity and grace and kindness. We each have a responsibility for this.

There are no easy answers. There is no quick fix. There is never enough grace. Especially in the face of outrage and despair and anger and fear. There is work to be done. A lot of it. Choose your words mindfully, pack a lot of kindness and grace, and start writing the rest of your story, the rest of our country’s story, the rest of the world’s story. One of our greatest storytellers, Garrison Keillor’s famous line is: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

Do that. Take good care of yourself, do, and I mean do, good works, and keep in touch. Reach out to the Others, connect, stay in touch. Please do this, because I really should not increase my alcohol consumption long term, and I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

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