Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Liminal space, Vivaldi's Four Seasons is sexy, and other things on my mind

The past few months have depleted me. It's a hilarious sentence to type when I think that for 31 of those days I wrote about the self-care practices I had taken up over the past few years. But alas, life is a both/and situation.

I was both writing about the very real ways that self-care had helped me to heal and grow and blossom in my new life and also I was sinking into an abyss of frustration, weariness, exhaustion, and disillusionment.

I am writing tonight (still from the library) to say that I finally got tired of myself. I was sick and tired of being tired and despairing. I got quiet and listened, and what I heard was painful. As I blew my hair dry this morning, in the place where my soul was quiet, I heard myself say, "My problem is loneliness. I am so lonely."

As soon as I attached a label for the feeling I've been fighting, I could feel my soul sigh. It said, "Girrrl, finally. NOW we can get somewhere." What seemed daunting at first is that this is not the kind of loneliness that can be fixed by hanging out with my people. Sure, they are wonderful and I love the time I spend with them. But at the end of the evening, I still drive home to a house that is empty fifty percent of the time.

So society's answer--to meet someone, to find my way back into coupledom--is actually not going to solve my problem. I believe I was born with this strain of loneliness. Thirteen years of marriage didn't make it go away and neither has two-and-a-half-years of unwedded bliss and free time.

No, the thing the quiet is telling me is that only me and the brains, body, and heart God gave me is going to get me out of this. In the words I have found soothing in the past eighteen months, this liminal space I'm in ain't over yet. This realization has been building for several weeks, but the truth of it really became clear this morning. In the past, I have resisted such a notion, but this morning I remembered that the liminal space is the juicy, fertile space where the future good stuff is going to take root. Have patience, self, I said. The good stuff is on its way.

With this epiphany helping me breathe a tad easier, I downloaded a podcast for my commute and hit the road. The conversation made me smile, sometimes even made me laugh. The laughing always helps me shift into a better frame of mind.

Also one of my dear friends texted to check on how I was feeling after a recent stomach bug, and in my answer, my existential loneliness seeped out. She asked all the right questions, but mostly she created the safe space for me to say these hard things. No judgment, no fixing. Simply compassionate presence. I thought I'd felt good naming my problem in my bathroom alone. I felt even better saying it to someone else.

I've entered the busy, hectic, crazy-making season of my day job, but today I didn't feel so burdened by it. I forged ahead with what needed to be done and in between I made plans for how I could better manage the suffocating end-of-season workload. I felt a clarity I haven't experienced in months. On a brain break, I checked my personal email and the quiet told me: pay attention to this. An answer to your pain lies in this message in your inbox.

The yoga studio I go to (infrequently of late) hosts a yogapalooza every January. For $30, you get unlimited yoga classes and are encouraged to practice for 30 of the 31 days. I've never participated because my schedule wasn't conducive, but this year I have a fifth grader who can be home alone for an hour while I practice or I can go to the 6 a.m. class before her dad drops her off for the bus. Mostly I heard the quiet say, this is your key to returning to your yoga practice. I also heard the quiet say, and damn girl, your arms will look AMAZING in February! So I signed up. Calliope, my gut, also confirmed this was a good decision.

The email also included information and registration for the studio's next yoga teacher training in 2018. As I clicked on the information, I heard the quiet tell me, it's time. You need to take the leap and get this training done in the new year. I haven't sealed the deal since I don't like impulsivity, but I am meditating on it, and I feel certain that I will take the plunge.

In these two actions--or one action and one contemplation--everything shifted. I felt the weariness that has felt like a boulder on my chest shift its weight if not completely roll off me. I remembered that the days go much better when I take life in all of its ups and downs as an adventure rather than something murky and mucky through which to slog. I looked back over the past few months: I have not been in an adventurous state of mind. Adding yoga back into my daily routine in this new way is one step toward taking back my life as an adventure.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am so grateful for today. I'm also grateful that FaceBook memories reminded me about how listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons Recomposed by Max Richter was a good thing to do. Vivaldi really did compose some sexy stuff. I've listened to it for hours on repeat and I love it more with every listen. (I mean, listen to track 11 and tell me that isn't SEXY.)

Other things on my mind (in bullets):

  • I love traditions. I especially like letting go of old ones that no longer serve to make space for new ones. Such as Thanksgiving Day with my friend and her people and the weekend after with my daughter and our grandfather. GOOD STUFF.

  • Meeting the woman for whom I was named was a sacred experience. She is 95. Her smile reaches her eyes. She held my hand and stroked my arm as we got acquainted. Her blue eyes leaked tears every time she saw me. And here's the yummy part: why wouldn't she? She had recently learned that her life had meant enough to some young girl that when that young girl grew up and became a mother, she passed on all that legacy goodness to a new generation. Oh, to live a life honorable in ways that makes someone want to give their child your name! That's amazing, and I am privileged to be a part of that. No WONDER I have always loved my name. It's a good one.

  • My Christmas cards are addressed, sealed, and stamped. Speaking of traditions, this is one of my favorites and in the midst of all of the above, I found space to honor this tradition. With my daughter's help, I managed to get the labor part of it done BEFORE Thanksgiving.

  • I don't have my 2018 word of the year yet, but I DO HAVE my next writing goal (besides work on my novel.) And for once, I'm not telling anyone about it. I'm going to put my nose to the grindstone and do this thing. When it's done, I'll tell you about it.

  • I am reading some of the books on my daughter's book pile and WOW, authors of books for youth. You all are amazing. Right now, I'm plowing through Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. It is breathtaking, page-turning, devastating. It's everything you want in a good read. Check it out. I also recently devoured Jan Karon's new release To Be Where You Are. I didn't want it to end.

  • I have given up ever whittling down my reading list. There is some liberation in knowing that I will die with books still left to read.

  • Most of my Christmas shopping is done. That feels amazing.

  • The new lounge pants I bought at ALDI for $9.99 were a tremendous buy.
So back to the loneliness for a minute. I'm going to be fine. I know I am. Half the battle is knowing what you're dealing with. And that goes for you, too. Maybe loneliness isn't your thing. Whatever is your thing, you're going to be okay. We're all going to be okay. I am certain of it. And if for awhile it doesn't look like it, I am certain there'll be a good story when it is finally over. I'm looking forward to telling you mine, and I look forward to hearing yours.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Post write31days blues

I am back at the library. My computer situation is in a state of limbo, and I don't have enough energy to address it in a "get this sorted out" sort of way. Plus my daughter loves spending time at the library, so our time here is a miraculous solution to our opposing introverted and extraverted ways.

I have nine minutes of computer time left. Computers shut down 15 minutes before the library closes.

My brain is a scattered mess, and the usual fixes or balms are yoga and writing. I have been doing neither. Not even journaling. This is not good for my well-being.

Two friends said as much yesterday as my poor, frazzled, weary brain took my body through a wave of panic attacks.

Seven minutes.

So I'm here chronicling this low point. One of the friends commented how funny it was that I recently finished an entire series on self-care.

"I've been doing other forms of self-care," I suggested.

"Yes, but not the kinds that do you the most good when you're in this state," she countered.

She's right. I know she is.

Before I started this post, I jotted down my ideas for next October's writing series. At least on that front, I'm ahead of schedule.

Five minutes.

She believes that I am coming to the end of a particular season, and so my anxiety has gone into high gear. Oh please be right, I told her.

Either way, I've been here before. I have better coping skills now and have practiced them. This round is the advanced level, and I have to prove to myself that I'm up to the challenge. Yesterday I asked for help. I also worked on the things that were causing stress and today went better.

Three minutes.

I am being evermore refined by the fire of life. I know I will manage.

Two minutes.

Time to close and hit publish.

More thoughtful posts to come.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

31. The writing has changed me.

I have come to the end of my third #write31days series. I learned so much from the previous two years that I don’t feel exhausted as I have in the past. I am proud of finishing it only three days past the official end of the month. I’ve actually enjoyed the time I’ve spent going to different library branches to sneak in some writing in the midst of my busy days. I feel gratitude in that “be grateful for everything that comes your way” sort of way that my laptop broke before I’d finished the last few posts. It gave me the opportunity to measure my walk against my talk. I’m delighted that the two match.

I implemented self-care techniques whilst writing about how to take care of myself. The universe has such a sophisticated, nuanced sense of humor.

A friend caught up on reading the series and texted: “There’s been a change in you. It’s obvious in your writing…”

I texted back, “The writing has changed me.”

He told me that the sentence was the title of a blog post. I decided it was the right title for the final post of the series. Ultimately, writing has served as one of the most crucial self-care tactics I have employed.

I spent months of 2017 writing stories that I needed to put to rest. By writing them, I exorcised them from the nooks and crannies of my heart and mind. I’d been carrying doses of poison in my body for years. I was so used to the toxic elixir that I didn’t notice its noxious effects on my ability to care for myself. Writing those things diluted the concentrated toxins. Now I’m free. The burden is diminished and I feel lighter and happier than I’ve ever been. I feel hopeful and optimistic about the future.

There were times that I sought publication of these stories. But as I received multiple rejections, I came to understand that that writing was for me. The writing process helped me look at the stuff that brought me pain. Giving it form and shape, turning it into art, helped me face my demons, acknowledge them and to ultimately make peace with them. For so long, I had sought validation and acceptance outside of myself. The writing confirmed that my self-validation was enough. More than enough. WRITING DID THAT FOR ME.

The writing changed me.

Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine being where I am now. It’s exhilarating to no longer fear the unknown—in parts two and three of Astrid’s story and in my own life. I am embracing everything as an adventure. I know I can handle everything that comes my way. I trust that I am never alone—that Calliope is on this journey with me, and that together, my gut and I can rise to every challenge that presents itself.

I’ll keep buying myself flowers, getting massages, and reading for hours when the situation calls for that kind of Sabbath. I’ll relish and prioritize sleep. I’ll continue seeking wholeness and opportunities for extending generosity. I’ll keep practicing yoga, set boundaries, and speak kindly to myself and others. I’ll keep setting goals and asking for help. I’ll keep expanding my playlist and enjoy the artists and musicians whose offerings soothe, motivate, and inspire. And I’ll keep holding my own hand.

These practices will remain the same even when life changes and things feel unfamiliar.

And I’ll meditate on the wise words of others. Especially of people like Martha Beck:

“The compasses inside you will always be pointing the right way, even if you forget to check them, even if you fail for a while to hold your course. You can begin again at any moment, and the instant you turn back toward true north, every mistake you’ve made and every minute you’ve spent following the wrong path will become the raw material of wisdom, compassion, and joy.”

30. What neuroscience says about being happy

I like reading articles with lists of suggestions. I read them specifically to determine where I fit on whatever spectrum the article is exploring. So when my friend Dan sent me thisarticle, as referenced in my massage post, I was delighted to see that according to neuroscience, I’m doing pretty well in the happiness department.

According to neuroscience, happiness is better achieved by participation in the following:

  • Asking what am I grateful for? (I do this as a general practice.) Off the top of my head:
    • My daughter
    • My tribe
    • Travel memories
    • Getting handwritten letters in the mail
    • Belly laughs
    • Marisa de los Santos’ books
    • Watching Top Gear and America’s Funniest Videos with my daughter
    • Autumn
    • Writing
  • Labeling negative feelings. Dan calls this embracing my discomfort. It’s also become a general practice. Calliope and I work together to name whatever I’m feeling—disappointment, fear, anxiety, worry, shame, exhaustion—and then we sit there feeling that emotion for awhile. Naming it helps every time.
  • Make that Decision. I have become vastly more decisive in the past three years. This week alone I have been presented with two technology-based problems: a phone that no longer charged and a ‘service engine soon’ light on my car. In the old days, I would have stewed and freaked out thus making the problems worse. But on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning (everything seems to strike at once!), I faced the challenges head on. Tuesday evening I walked out of the Sprint store with a new phone without too much damage to my budget. Wednesday evening I discovered that the engine light was for something that needs to be replaced to pass the emissions test, but isn’t going to keep me from being safe on the road. Knowing this is so much better than avoiding the answer and chancing it. Decisions made=happiness.
  • Touch people. I am one lucky mama to have such a snuggly, huggy child. She lives for hugs like I do. And as I discussed on day 3, in the absence of more regular adult hugs, I substitute this need with monthly massages. The benefits far surpass my need for hugs. The massages work out the kinks of too much desk sitting and the stresses of long commutes behind-the-wheel five days a week.
This article helped me evaluate my happiness in scientific terms—not something I would naturally do on my own. The four measurements are in fact self-care tactics, so no wonder my happiness levels feel higher than they have been in a long, long time. It’s good to be happy. It’s also good to know how one can influence it on days when happiness feels inaccessible.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

27. Trusting my Gut

All of this self-care has had a healing effect on me. It’s shored me up in ways I didn’t realize were worn thin. I can see now that I was running on spiritual and mental fumes for a long, long time. Some days I’m still weary, but now I know how to assess what I need and administer one of the 20 tactics I’ve discussed in this series.

Part of the knowing what I need has come by the practice of listening to my gut. In the reflection and contemplation of the past three years, I have come to realize that my gut instinct was always my true north. I simply didn’t learn to trust it. I can remember being as young as ten years old and having a clear sense of what I needed. I simply didn’t have the language or practice in exercising that wisdom in a constructive, pragmatic way.

Now as an adult learning from my past mistakes, I am moving forward in consultation with my gut. I trust her guidance and wisdom so implicitly that I’ve decided to give her a name. My gut’s name is Calliope. In mythology, Calliope is the Chief of all Muses. She presides over eloquence and epic poetry. According to Wikipedia, she is also often depicted with a writing tablet in her hands. My gut agrees with me that she should be called Calliope. Cal for short. (I love naming things!)

Rob Bell did a recent podcast where he talks about being the committee. It’s a movie reference from Chariots of Fire where a character says they’ll have to consult the committee on a decision, and another character says, “We are the committee.”

Calliope and I together make up the committee in charge of my life. We consider the possibilities, make the decisions, own the mistakes and failures, course correct, and celebrate the milestones.

This feels so different than in the days when I consulted everyone and their brother to weigh in on my decision making. How could they know what’s best for me?

This is not to say that I never ask for advice or consultation with other wise folks in my life. But it does mean that at the end of the day, the decision is mine. I run EVERYTHING past Calliope, and together we make the decision. I have learned to trust her when she tells me that my decision making is fear based, and I sit and wait, until the decision that does not incorporate fear comes to me. I no longer look for others’ approval. I know myself and what’s best and offer my own approval.

Holy crow--is this a better way to move through the world. Cal and me—we’re the committee.

Monday, October 30, 2017

26. Music

My first memory of music being a part of my life is me as a four-year-old wearing my dad’s giant white and black earphones. They were giant ear muffs over my tiny head and ears. Spiro Gyra was playing. My dad was nearby helping me keep the earphones on my head.

Later, music accompanied my dad, sister, and I every weekend when we loaded our trash in the metal drums and drove them to the outskirts of town to the local dump. Roy Orbison was a favorite every time it came on the radio because my dad sang it with a funny falsetto. It made the three of us giggle every time.

Then there was Whitney Houston, Tiffany, and Debbie Gibson.

Mariah Carey, Sting, Erasure, Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, Avett Brothers, and Gregory Alan Isakov would come at different intervals of life and help define that each stage for me.

Words play such an important role in my life that they have appeared in various forms throughout this series. All of these artists’ lyrics have formed a scaffold by which I shore up my inner life. I have an eclectic taste in music—I have different music for different moods.

Struggling with depression and the “what next?” of life after graduation, Mariah Carey’s Christmas album was the only music I could stomach as early as October of my senior year. My poor roommate gauged my mood and outlook by what was playing when she approached our door.

I played the piano and viola as a young girl, but I didn’t practice, so those forms of musical expression didn’t stick. But they gave me a foundation for appreciating music and knowing what to listen to which remains with me to this day.

As I type I’m listening to the Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter album. The cello, banjo, and horns are such a soothing presence.
I nurture myself with music of all genres, and am so grateful for its restorative, contemplative powers.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

29. Weekend Wisdom

“We can be shiny and perfect and admired, or we can be real and honest and vulnerable and loved. But we actually do have to choose.
And I just keep choosing this real and vulnerable and honest place, not because you don’t get hurt there – because I do – but because this is the pain that grows us. There’s pain in both places, and nothing hurts as much as not being known.”

 – Glennon Doyle

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

25. Boundaries

My daughter has been on fall break for the past week, so her backpack has been idle. I had a few things to send back to school with her when school resumes. I unzipped the bag, and realized I had taken a break from looking through her backpack. Among the papers, I found grid paper used for long division practice. I looked at those faint lines, and how they were helping my daughter keep the digits in the right place, thereby making the process of solving the problem easier. 
The grid paper reminded me of how boundaries serve the same purpose in our lives. Three summers ago, under the shade of mature trees in a park a few blocks from work, I read a book that introduced me to the idea of boundaries. As I read on, I heard myself say, “Oh gosh. That’s the next thing to tackle. I don’t have any boundaries.” And so with the help of my counselor, I set out to course correct. 
That epiphany that came under the shade of those big trees was one of many little directional signs that dropped into my life and pointed me in a new direction.
Boundaries form the invisible lines that mark an individual’s emotional territory. They are the rules, expectations, and protocol of human interaction. Healthy boundaries create space for us to use our energy appropriately and to protect us from toxic interactions and circumstances. Healthy boundaries make navigating the complexities of life much easier.
Rob Bell discussed boundaries in a recent podcast. I cannot recommend the episode highly enough. I’ve listened to it twice. The second time I took notes. Here are some of the highlights:
  • “Part of spiritual growth is growing a spine.” That’s what I’ve been doing.
  • Setting boundaries is like building muscle. The muscle grows stronger as you do the work.
  • Boundaries protect our divine spark—that essence that bears the image of the divine that we all possess.
  • Having boundaries is a stewardship of self.
  • Jesus had strong boundaries. He told his disciples, If the village rejects you, shake the dust off your feet and leave. (He also cites other scriptures where Jesus demonstrates strong boundaries. This was a brand-new consideration for me.
  • When you begin setting boundaries, you may feel like you’re being mean, but you’re not. “You’re starting to be kind with yourself, which feel counterintuitive if you’ve allowed yourself to be walked on for years. You are growing a spine.
  • “Boundaries make us more loving and compassionate.”
While I was fascinated to hear Rob’s explanations, I was delighted to realize that much of what he was saying felt like review. I have put boundaries in place in the past three years—in all aspects of life—personally and professionally.
My life has improved vastly since that afternoon on the park bench. I no longer feel so overwhelmed by social interactions. I have a better understanding of how to maximize my energies to accomplish what I want and need to in daily living. I understand my limits in relationships, and as a result I have more of myself to give when the time and circumstances are right.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

24. Removed the S words

A few days ago I wrote about how I've nurtured myself by adding words to my vocabulary as a form of meditation, focus, and kinder self-talk. Today, I am advocating for the removal of two S words. I experienced a marked improvement in my life and well-being when I removed the poisonous words: Should and Sorry.

Should is laced with guilt and obligation. When I found myself saying I "should" do something, it was inevitably a chore that did not bring me joy. A task hijacked by a word certain to keep me de-energized at best or in a foul mood at worst. I used to catch myself saying things like, "I should do the dishes...or the laundry...or go to the grocery." Those shoulds never inspired or motivated me. They made me less inclined to tackle the task at hand.

The toxic cocktail of should becomes more concentrated when the word is used to guide behavior as it pertains to relationships. “I should call...visit...ignore certain bad behavior...” These shoulds are deadly to health and well-being. Should can lead one into vulnerable, unsafe emotional territory. Should keeps up appearances. By removing should from my personal lexicon, I let my well-being and energy resources guide how I spend my time.

As for the word sorry, well, my writing partner and I have a whole book to say about that awful word. But until it's written, I'll say this: girls and women are socialized to apologize for everything. Ladies, have you listened to us? Do you notice what the circumstances are when you say, “I'm sorry”? If you're like me, you'll find yourself saying you're sorry when you pass someone in a tight hallway at work, when you want to make a point, share an opinion, or disagree. I'm Sorry. I'm Sorry for being Sorry. It was an appalling discovery. We apologize for our very existence!

When I stopped saying sorry, I began hearing how often my daughter said the word, and it was crushing. With time and awareness, I have helped her reduce her usage. We talk about how the word sorry is reserved for times when we have done harm to someone. Hurt feelings, caused an accident, etc. Do you realize how infrequently those instances occur in daily life?

I mother myself by being mindful of the words I say and do not say. I act with integrity, not obligation. I am accountable for my words and actions when I have caused hurt or a problem, but I do not apologize for things that fall outside those important lines.

Monday, October 23, 2017

23. I interrupt this series to practice what I preach.

I am sitting at a terminal in my beloved second home, the public library. It’s seven p.m. on a Monday night. I’ve worked all day, done the grocery shopping, and now it’s time to write.

Life hasn’t stopped being stressful, but I’d adjusted to the ever-present stresses and things were moving along swimmingly. And then the past couple months got bumpy. The bumps didn’t feel like speed bumps. They were the kind that seemed to cause my stress and anxiety to accelerate.

Then on Saturday, with six blog posts planned out, but not yet written, my four-year-old laptop’s charging port stopped working. I knew it was losing juice on Friday morning when the screen displayed: "The battery level is very low. Plug in the computer." The problem was the laptop WAS PLUGGED IN.

I ran downstairs. I grabbed my flash drive and ran back up the stairs. I went into the office where I store my external hard drive and went to town backing up files and photos I should have been backing up all along.

“Mom, have you saved Astrid?” Cadence’s first thought was of my book. And her question reminded me that while I did have it backed up, I hadn’t backed it up since working on it two weekends ago. With a calm determination, I breathed deeply and kept copying files. Gratefully, the laptop still had power after I’d completed the back up.

I’m annoyed that I’ve got to buy a new computer. I’m annoyed that I didn’t have all 31 posts written ahead. I’m annoyed by the inconvenience of having to make trips to the library to do my writing.

But actually more than anything, I’m grateful. I'm grateful that I had time to save all my stuff. Not having a computer at the ready means I have to be creative with my time management. And this: I’ve learned how to schedule my posts for the next few days. This was a feature I hadn’t employed before, but necessity demanded I figure it out, and put it to use, which may potentially ease the need to go to the library every day for the rest of the month.

The biggest thing I am grateful for? The test of whether I can take it easy with myself and my expectations when life doesn’t go as planned. Do I mean it when I write about being gentle with myself? Do my actions match my words?

This computer mess is giving me the opportunity to prove to myself that I really do. As a 31Days participant, I am part of a network of writers who cheer each other on for the month as we write and publish our posts and read each other’s words. I have often observed how hard on themselves these women are when they find themselves a day off their schedule, or they come down with a cold, or life simply gets in the way of the writing. For the past two years, I’ve cheered them on. I’ve reminded them that there are no real rules to this challenge. Writing and publishing for 31 days is a guideline. The world won’t come to an end if a day gets skipped or they have to finish the series after October 31.

Having my computer malfunction before the series ended presents an opportunity to tell myself the things above that I’ve shared with other writers. Am I listening? Do I believe my own words? Am I giving myself a break?

The answer is yes. A resounding yes. As I have said in the past, it will not matter in a week or a year on what day the series is completed. What’s most important is that a body of work will exist after a strenuous period of contemplation, writing, and publishing. That is where I am concentrating my focus, and I believe it wholeheartedly. I know these circumstances would have knocked me sideways two years ago. I appreciate the self-care I am offering myself in real time. I call that progress.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

22. Weekend Wisdom

"When fear makes your choices for you, no security measures on earth will keep the things you dread from finding you. But if you can avoid avoidance—if you can choose to embrace experiences out of passion, enthusiasm, and a readiness to feel whatever arises—then nothing, nothing in all this dangerous world, can keep you from being safe."

- Martha Beck

21. Weekend Wisdom

-For DH-

"If you ever meet someone brave and powerful enough to walk with you directly through your most unconscious wounds and shadow caves--someone with the stupefying courage to see through the chinks of your armor and then help you take it off--love them because they have done something for you which is impossible to do alone. They will show you the treasure you've been seeking all your life--and they can do this because they aren't afraid of your fear."

Friday, October 20, 2017

20. Relinquished Allegiance to the All-Mighty To-do List

I come from a hearty stock of do-ers on both branches of the family tree. Strong, determined farmers on one side and miners and blue-collar folks on another. I have always been surrounded by people who have worked hard. List makers who were devoted to checking things off the list. I don't know any other way.

But any good thing can become an obstacle in too great a supply.

A few years ago as I could feel the tectonic plates of my internal geography shifting, I began questioning my busy-ness and how well it was serving me. I began exploring the role of rest and sabbath in one's life, and how it might nourish and enrich the work I did.

The first noticeable benefit of sabbath appeared in my writing life. For years I dogged myself in periods where I was only thinking about what needed to be written. I noticed it particularly at work. I felt bad for all the moments I wasn't hunched over the keyboard. In time, I began to notice that when I did finally sit down to write, the words flowed more freely. The resting produced overflowing supplies of words when they were ready. Because I am stubborn, it took me awhile to accept this as part of my writing rhythm, but once I did, I used it to my advantage.

Years later I read the book, The Gift of Rest – Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath by Senator Joseph Lieberman. I was struck by his dedication to observing the Sabbath through his Jewish faith in the midst of the life of a public servant. I kept thinking, "If this busy senator can slow down, press pause on his important responsibilities for one 24-hour period each week, surely so can I."

I do not observe Sabbath in the same way the Lieberman family does, but I have relinquished the guilt I used to feel if I wasn't "doing something" every moment of my waking hours. As time passed, I've come to know that it's not the rushing that gets things done. It's the rest and restored energy that does.

These days I write lists as a way to soothe a busy, chatter-y mind. There is some alchemy in unloading my mind of what's zipping and zooming across my grey matter. I no longer hold myself to the list as I once did. I trust that the important things will always get done. And the other stuff will either get done or will no longer matter.

I mother myself by doing those things that must be done and by letting go of the pressure to do all the things all the time. I feel more content, more pleasant to be around, and when the right moment strikes, more productive.

Martha Beck's words have been particularly helpful as I've come to appreciate the role sabbath observance plays in my well-being and self-care:

"During the times we think we’re being “unproductive,” the seeds of new worlds are germinating within us, and they need peace to grow."
I find myself less and less impressed by the busy lives other people and families are living. What's the rush? Where's all this busy-ness going to get us in the long run? Other than frazzled and grumpy?

Here are two more quotes that have resonated with me:

"What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?" - Greg McKeown

"If you don't want to burn out, stop living like you're on fire." - becoming minimalist

I mother myself by honoring the sabbath moments in my life--even if it's a few hours on a random Tuesday night--time away, no matter how long or on what day does my heart and mind and body a world of good.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

19. I ask for help.

In my early twenties, as I was learning how to be an adult, I asked for help a few times. Once I was really unhappy in a job and another opportunity came my way. I asked for help in pro'ing and con'ing my options. I had a sense that I should pass up the opportunity, but I wanted some guidance before making the decision. What I received instead was an unhelpful and protracted lecture over the phone about how this job change was a terrible idea. Old stuff that had nothing to do with me was drudged up. There was yelling. For minutes without end. I felt belittled and demeaned. I felt as though I wasn't to be trusted with my own decision making. I sobbed and finally stopped the tirade by saying I wouldn't take the job.

A few other times, I asked a particular friend for help and he was conveniently never available. I had allowed myself to be vulnerable with this friend. Each time he went out of his way to be unavailable, the story I was writing in my head about asking for help grew gloomier and more twisted. Asking for help was futile. It was a sign of weakness. It didn't get one anywhere. One might as well knock off the neediness and get to work sorting things out for oneself.

There were benefits to this do-it-yourself approach. I learned that I was a resourceful and creative thinker. I found work-arounds that I wouldn't have found if I'd been working with others. I was proud of my self-sufficiency. But this approach was also isolating and lonely.

Then a new chapter of my story began. I found myself owning a home solo, and creative work-arounds go only so far.

Excessive rains the day after Christmas caused my basement to flood. The carpet and padding were ruined and had to be torn out and removed.

The ceiling fan and light in my bedroom stopped working. The switch needed to be replaced.

The wooden patio steps rotted and needed to be rebuilt.

You get the idea.

These broken things needing repair came at me in rapid succession. Sometimes I couldn't catch my breath between one problem and the next. The corrective tasks were above my skill levels. It was time to admit I needed the help of people with different expertise. I mothered myself by insisting and encouraging the idea that asking for help was not the sign of weakness or failure I once believed it was. In time, I regarded my requests for help as signs of maturity, growth, and strength.

I also realized that in the give-and-take equation of life there must be people willing to take or the equation can't work. I'd spent so much time being the giver. By insisting on going it alone so much, I wasn't contributing to the equation by giving people who care about me an opportunity to help.

Recently, I received a letter in the mail saying that the peeling paint on the trim framing my garage was in violation of some city ordinance. I was caught off guard and super annoyed. I did not have time, energy, or money for this. I let the initial feelings of frustration and embarrassment pass, and then I texted my neighbor for help. He made recommendations for next steps. My parents were in town during this time. My fix-it dad pulled out the ladder and the supplies he needed and got to work.

I thanked him profusely and let him do his thing. I didn't feel any of the old feelings of weakness or being incapable. I simply felt gratitude. I know that asking for help is an important element of self-care.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

18. Kinder Self-Talk

Removing negative self-talk from my inner chatter has been another of the most nurturing things I have done to improve my life. Negative messages recorded themselves on my mental tape from an early age, so I believed that the conversations I was having with myself were accurate reflections of who I was.

I repeated terrible things to myself and believed every word. I convinced myself that sometimes I wasn't enough and other times I was way too much. I heard the voice that told me I talked too much, and so I was always self-conscious about the things I had to say. I heard another voice tell me that I was terrible in the kitchen. So I proved myself right every time I tried to cook or bake something. The hurtful things I believed about myself ran even deeper.

A few years ago, I began choosing a word of the year to guide my thoughts throughout the coming twelve months. One year the phrase "let go of outcome" came to me. Each time I felt anxious about how something would turn out, I would recite those four words, and noticed that I breathed easier and interrupted the flow of sludge mucking up my mind.

Since then I have mothered myself into kinder self-talk with the words Gentle, Trust, and Quiet. Gentle was the word that got me through my 40th year when I was scared, in brand-new emotional territory, and working my way through the 40/40 list. That year revealed what exacting standards I had for myself. Gentle was the right word to soften those hard edges.

Last year, I meditated on the word Trust. I needed to re-engage with the idea that I could trust again. Trust myself, trust men, trust my gut. Each time I had a decision to make alone, I would conjure up the word. I could feel myself relax as I recognized I was capable of whatever was before me.

As the calendar page turned into the new year, I had one word, but then another better-suited word landed on my mind. I decided it was time to be Quiet. To listen more than I spoke. To be attuned to what my gut wanted for me to hear. As the months have passed, sometimes the world around me gets too noisy, and I'm grateful for my word. It's the prompt I need to re-energize and re-calibrate.

All of these words have taught me about the importance of learning how to soothe myself. They have helped to turn down the volume on the loud, obnoxious voices that do me harm. With practice, those voices do not pipe up as much, and when they do they are quickly silenced by kinder, gentler talk. I have no idea what the next word will be, but I will get quiet and trust that the right one will come at the right time, and that it will carry the message I need for the coming year.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

17. Therapy

One of the most nurturing things I have done for myself is to seek the guidance of a counselor. Under this woman's patient, kind, and professional care, I have peeled back the layers to discover the origins of my pain and confusion and what caused periods of depression and anxiety. She also helped me see the role I played in the suffering I have experienced. She has bolstered my confidence to face it head on and to not be licked by it.

This woman introduced me to the idea that certain behaviors I was putting up with are unacceptable—no matter what my relationship is to the person doing them. She taught me a new vocabulary. She helped me connect dots. She told me she was proud of the hard work I was doing to heal. She even set before me a vision of who I could become as I healed.

I found the person in my corner who told me, “This stuff you've been through, the things you are describing, are not right. They never should have happened to you, but since they did, here are the tools to climb your way out.”

My life is better. It's easier to navigate with her encouragement echoing in my mind. I go with the flow better. I don't shutdown as quickly—if at all. Life feels good and navigable and worth the effort and heartache. I feel confident about who I am and how I choose to express myself. This is a new feeling, and it is wonderful.

My pain has not been in vain. I am now in a position to share what I know about setting boundaries and caring for myself. I have empathy for the pain of others because I have experienced my own. I'm not afraid of my pain anymore. And I know that sharing my experiences gives other people hope that they can heal from their own circumstances.

I mother myself by seeking the objective perspective of a counselor. I love myself enough to insist that I do not stay where I am. I push myself to challenge hard things, and and continue to grow into the person I'm meant to be.

“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”

- Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

Monday, October 16, 2017

16. Welcoming the Liminal

"All the buried seeds

crack open in the dark

the instant they surrender

to a process they can't see."

                                                 - The Book of Awakening                                        
                      Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have 
                                                           by Mark Nepo

When I first wrote about liminal time last summer, it was a brand-new concept to me. It's definition—the time in-between—brought immediate relief. It's a transition, the space between when an ending occurs and before something new begins. I could feel my body relax when I heard an explanation of what it is and the importance of leaning into the time. Having a name for the strange place I found myself in brought comfort and made it easier to drop my resistance to not knowing what the future held.

It's a scary, uncomfortable space, but when one surrenders to its possibility, it can nourish, restore, and be a time of preparation for the next season. When one abides this time, it has a protective feature too. It prevents leaping into something before one is ready. It also requires discipline—a letting go of plans, a sense of control, and the need to be assured of what's to come. It also requires a lot of faith.

Now as I write a year later, I feel the benefit, wisdom, and peace that comes with having relaxed into the in-between. I am far better at not knowing what's around the bend. I'm not surrendered to the unknown 100% of the time, of course, but I'm much more settled about waiting to see how the future unfolds than I have ever been.

I mother myself by letting go of the need to know what "the plan" is. I rest easier in the unknown and see it as adventure now. Acceptance of liminal time is one of the harder forms of self-care to practice, but it also reaps more powerful results. It is worth all of the effort, and definitely gets easier with time.

Friday, October 13, 2017

15. Weekend Wisdom

"She is both, hellfire and holy water. 

And the flavor you taste depends on how you treat her." 

- Sneha Pal

14. Weekend Wisdom

"She's a searcher of her own soul; a seeker of her own joy; a discoverer of her own light; finally a friend to her own heart."
- S. C. Lourie  

13. Set Goals. Don't reach all of them.

2015 was the year of the massive goal-setting. I created my 40/40 list in celebration of my milestone birthday. A friend told me later that I approached the list "like a military operation." She's right. I had never been so goal oriented in my life. I leaned on that list for stability when everything else in my life made me feel wobbly, uncertain, and scared. Then I completed the list, and wasn't sure what to do with the free time and mental space that had been absorbed by the task completion of the year before. I rested the following year and reflected on my goal setting. I set an outline for the year. They provided some shape for my days: read more, work on my book, and rest. There were no deadlines, no absolutes. They were guidelines rather than goals to be met. They were exactly what I needed at the time.

The pendulum has been swinging in big long swipes—far to one side with excessive goals, back the other way with barely any. This year I've felt my goal setting finding its way to the middle of these extremes.

I am also coming to terms with the idea and inevitability that I will not reach every goal I set or at least not in the time frame that I imagined. This seemed problematic when I was working my way through the birthday celebration. Now I understand it is an important element of goal setting. If I am managing to hit every goal I set, I am likely not setting my sights high enough.

I have not reached most of the goals I set for myself in 2015--outside of the 40/40 list and 80,000 word count for the novel--seen in the photo below. But the exercise was invaluable. It forced me to take a broader view of my writing life. What did I want to accomplish in the next few years? What steps could I line out to work toward that? This year I have honored the spirit of the goals by writing for submission and setting my sights on specific publications where I want my work to land. Most importantly, the goals pointed me in the direction of sitting my butt in the chair and doing the work. Whether I've crossed off all the items or not, my butt has been in the chair much more than in the past.

I mother myself by giving myself goals to pursue while also extending grace when I don't hit them all. What's that saying? Shoot for the moon and you'll land among the stars.

"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal, and not in reaching it."

~Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, October 12, 2017

12. I am not my blemishes.

I did not have flawless skin in my teens and early twenties. Who am I kidding? Some days, I still don't have clear skin in my forties. In the years when I was under the care of a dermatologist, it seemed bad skin swallowed my entire identity. It didn't matter that I was funny or kind or smart. I was invisible behind the blemishes. Once in high school, my wanting to avoid dealing with the issue caused a really big fight in my home. My need to be seen for more than my blemishes outweighed my desire to find a prescriptive solution to the bad skin. This upset the order of things within the family. The offended parties left the house, took a walk, and subjected me to the silent treatment. This was a reminder that I was on the wrong side of the issue. It also underscored that my feelings were valid only when they aligned with the others'.

Another time, in my early twenties, I was on a long car ride to my cousin's wedding where I was going to be a candle lighter. I was asked if I'd been to the dermatologist lately. When I sheepishly answered no, I was reminded that "no 25-year-old man would want to date a girl with bad skin."

These were the days when a date was hard to come by. When my younger cousin was getting married, and my younger sister was engaged. These words cut more than skin deep.

These days, I take a gentler approach at how I characterize my appearance. I look in the mirror, and notice the high points. My light blue eyes, my gently sloped brows. I appreciate the lines around my eyes and mouth—the ones carved in by a lot of laughter. I see my imperfections too. The bridge of the family nose that others have suspected was once broken. The faint spots and scars leftover from hormonal surges of the past. I tell myself that I am more than my shortcomings.

I worry less about the opinions of others, particularly those who think it's acceptable to say unkind things. Who deliver opinions as facts.

I mother myself by accepting the light and dark that make up who I am.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

11. Yoga

My sister was a sophomore, and I was a senior. Posters hung in our high school hallways about joining each grade's Powder Puff football teams. The guys were going to coach and also cheer lead. I wasn't a fan of football, but I was interested in being part of the hoop-la. The Powder Puff experience looked fun. I also thought that maybe if I was on the field and being given a position, it might finally click how this dang game is played. Powder Puff might help my spectating later.

There must have been a conversation about it over dinner. My sister was going to play for her class. And I was going to sit in the stands and cheer. My parents were firm. Julie would not be playing Powder Puff football. She could get hurt. There was no discussion, and I don't remember fighting the decision. Inside my head, some message was received though:

My skinny body wasn't up to the job.

I labored long and hard to bring my daughter into the world. I was induced, which meant that unnaturally powerful contractions built quickly and did not relent for hours. I met those pains without medication for hours. When it finally came time to push, I machined my way past counts of ten for two hours. This little human wasn't budging. She finally emerged by c-section. I was grateful for modern medicine. I was grateful for her safe delivery. I was also grateful labor was over.

In the weeks that followed, I was met with a variety of comments confirming the need for a c-section.

"You're so little. We knew you couldn't do it naturally."

Again, it appeared my skinny body wasn't up to the job.

I entered a yoga studio weeks before I lost my job. It was yoga that kept my head straight through the fog of grief and fear and extra hours that had once been employed behind a desk. My teacher later told me, "It was an advanced class. I wasn't sure you'd return." And here I was showing up. Me and my skinny body were doing the hard work. And not crumbling as a result.

Over the past six years, yoga has helped me show up not only on the mat, but in the present, often in extraordinarily difficult moments of my life. Yoga has taught me how to breathe and be still in the tricky positions. Yoga has reflected back to me the strength of my body. It has shown me powerful results with hard work.

Yoga unlocked a part of me that had been shut tight. I've lived so much of my life in my head and my heart. I've been shut down and cut off from my body. Yoga gave my body back to me.

I mother myself by moving on my mat, challenging my beliefs about my physical limitations, and taking that new found trust and wisdom in my body into real life. Yoga is squashing the messages that trained me not to trust my body.

This spring when I bought a new bed, friends came to help me move out the old mattress and to assemble the bed frame. My friend bore the weight of the old mattress by guiding it down the steps first. I stabilized it from the top of the stairs. We eased the mattress down the flight of stairs and out the front door. We maneuvered it down my front steps and into the garage. When we set it down in the garage, my friend said, "Girl, you have a strength I'm not sure you knew you had. Wow. I'm impressed. You really pulled your weight."

It was a proud moment. I was glad to have this strong, kind man notice and confirm what I already knew.

She began to measure herself in contentment and laughter rather than in inches and pounds. 
- Unknown

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

10. Being Good versus Being Whole

It was autumn. My first semester of college. My friends and I were hanging out in the guys' dorm. At least six, but probably more like eight or ten of us were packed in this tiny corner dorm room on the fourth floor. Somebody stood at the mini-fridge and offered cans of soda. He tossed one my way. I dropped the soda and then blurted out my first swear word. The room fell silent and then erupted with laughter. No one expected Julie, including Julie herself, to say something like that.

It was a shocking, exhilarating, authentic moment.

Over time my good girl status became a self-inflicted burden. I really was a good girl—it wasn't in my nature to do things most of my peers did, to step outside prescribed boundaries. The problem was my motivation. I was so intent on being good to make other people happy and to not disappoint that I wasn't making decisions for myself. There is nuance here that I hope I'm able to convey. At 42, I am making decisions solely based on what's best for my heart and soul and while on the surface those decisions may not look much different from decisions I've made in the past, they FEEL COMPLETELY DIFFERENT because I'm no longer looking for approval.

This is what I wish I could have known at 22. I came to a crossroads a few times where I had to choose one direction over another and in those early adulthood years, I always chose the "approved" route. I am certain I missed out on adventures that would have been really good for my younger self to have experienced.

All of this is topical for me now as I carve out a solo life for myself and also contemplate how to guide my pre-teen daughter as she enters her teenage years. I want her to be safe and smart, but I also want her to experience life. I want her to know that she's going to make mistakes, and I will be there for her when she needs to debrief and figure out where she made a wrong turn.

While every parent wants their kids to be "good," at this stage of life my interest is focused on my child being whole. I want her to practice making decisions that honor herself, that keep her safe, but also that make for a rich, "extraordinary-in-its-ordinariness" life.

I am mothering us both toward wholeness.

Monday, October 9, 2017

9. I lose my cool. Then I accept responsibility and apologize.

The early toddler months of my daughter's life were hard ones for me as a mother. I remember vividly saying out loud, "Why are you acting like a 13 (and 14, 15...) month old?" The question would start in frustration and then the absurdity of it would make me laugh. It gave me a moment to collect myself and to chill out. I'd pick her up and cuddle her. It was a reset button—those ridiculous out loud questions.

The truth behind my outbursts was that I was no longer coping well with the status quo. In those early months of toddlerhood she was asserting herself, but didn't have the language to help me understand what she needed. This natural frustration was coupled with my own exhaustion and feelings of isolation, and created tantrums for both spirited mother and daughter.

When she was about 18 months, I read the book Raising Children with Character by Elizabeth Berger. My flashes of explosive frustration with this precious little human startled me and wracked me with guilt. They also frightened me because I was certain I was continuing a generational loop that started long before me. That was the last thing I wanted to bring into the present.

It was within the pages of that book that I learned one of the most important parenting lessons: frustration and losing one's cool comes with the parenting territory. As adults, it's important to remain in the driver's seat, but these flashes of anger and irritation are going to happen. We best serve our children by acknowledging our shortcomings and apologizing for our mistakes. In doing so, we teach our children that even adults make mistakes. Being accountable for our actions and apologizing for our missteps role model to our children how to correct these mistakes. Children grow up learning how to acknowledge their own mistakes and missteps. They also grow up with a more realistic view of adulthood. That adulthood is not some magical state where all goes well all the time.

I felt a tidal wave of relief, and began putting this new information into practice. I acknowledge my moments of weakness, short tempers, and impatience with my daughter. Every time I do it, (and thankfully now that I'm in a healthier mental and heart space it happens less frequently) it creates space for really nourishing conversations about personal responsibility, mutual respect, and being kind.

I am mothering myself as I mother my daughter with new emotional tools.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

8. Weekend Wisdom

"And as she fell apart her shattered pieces began to bloom-- blossoming until she became herself exactly as she was meant to be..." 
-Becca Lee

Saturday, October 7, 2017

7. Weekend Wisdom

"Sometimes the journey has to be traveled alone in order to appreciate the strengths that lie deep inside of us."

- Steve Atchison

Friday, October 6, 2017

6. Buying Flowers

As I write, there's a vase of lemon yellow and electric pink roses sitting on my dresser. When I stand in line at ALDI's I survey the day's inventory of cut flowers. When the roses are looking good, I choose a bouquet or two. The dozen roses in my room cost me $8. A small price to pay for a spark of beauty in my home.

I mother myself by allowing this frivolity to balance out the overarching and overwhelming bents toward pragmatism and practicality that generally rule my choices and my spending.

During courtship, I was showered with flowers (on one particular occasion, two dozen red roses were delivered to work). Once married, the floral parade abruptly stopped. I was scolded for not watering the flowers I'd been gifted. I was punished for my perceived lack of appreciation.

Buying myself flowers is an act of healing, but it's also a subversive act. It's tripping a wire in my brain. It's disrupting the message that for a long time reinforced that I didn't deserve to have this splash of beauty. That I wasn't worth the effort.

The frugal part of me also delights in the fact that I am accomplishing this with so few dollars.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

5. Generosity

The morning I graduated from college I was doing final dorm room move-out cleaning. My parents stood by as I moved the vacuum around the square of space I'd called home for the past nine months.

A friend came to my open doorway. "Julie, could I borrow your vacuum when you're done?" she asked.

"Sure, I'm finished. Here, you can have it now," I offered the vacuum without thinking.

She pushed the vacuum down the hallway to her room.

"That is an expensive vacuum," my mom said in hushed tones. "We don't share things like that. I've loaned things and had them returned broken." A lecture ensued. (The vacuum was returned without incident.)

The impulses I've had to be generous in adulthood have had to first run through the filter of that encounter years ago. I have questioned my desire to be generous and whether I should act. Twenty years later, and maybe precisely because of that moment, I hold my possessions lightly. I know the risks of sharing material goods—they might not be returned or might be returned a bit more used—and yet, I choose to share anyway. I've decided to take the risk with sharing my heart too.

I mother myself by honoring this generous impulse. It feels GOOD to share what I have. That dorm room scene set the parameters for my own philanthropy: Give what you can. Give when you can. Give without an expectation of return.

I am gratified to see how another generation is moved by an impulse of generosity. I took my daughter shopping at IKEA to spend a birthday gift card. In the shopping cart she placed three polar fleece throws to give to homeless people who are cold this winter; a surprise for me (pack of three journals, a spiral notebook, and a pack of three pens); and two glasses to fill with candy to give to my co-workers. I cannot remember what, if anything, she bought for herself. I was struck by the need to remind her that it was okay to shop for herself with her birthday money.

"It makes me happy to buy gifts for my friends," my daughter answered. If I recall, there was also a mention of random acts of kindness in her explanation.

I recognize the feelings she described. It's what makes being generous feel so good.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

4. A Hand to Hold

This is the strangest form of comfort I have found. Some nights when sleep didn't descend on me immediately, I felt loneliness the most acutely. The future seemed vast and uncertainty loomed so large that it stamped out my imagination's ability to consider the possibilities (things seem bigger and more worrisome when I'm tired). The bed was too big, and I was swallowed up in it's emptiness. On those nights, I really wanted a hand to hold. This thought comforted me. And then I got sadder because there wasn't one to hold. Then I got a really strange notion: what if I held my own hand?

Could that be a comfort?

I felt silly and glad I was trying this in the privacy of my own room. My right hand clasped my left. I closed my eyes. I sighed deeply. I scanned my mind and body to detect a reaction. Was this helping? Did holding my hand make me feel less lonely?

The answer was yes.

This small act of mothering myself lifted the weight of feeling so alone. It eased the burden that made this loneliness feel like a permanent condition.

I held my hand a lot, and in doing so, I learned about the importance and steadfastness of being my own best friend. In an unexpected way, holding my own hand taught me about the wholeness I could muster from within.

And in time, I've found that this practice has soothed that particular ache for another's hand to hold.  I'll hold my own hand forever, but it feels like progress that it's no longer such a deep need anymore. Mothering myself in this small way has led to great healing.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

3. Massage

This alone time reinforced the fact that hugs are few and far between. Hugs were hard to come by long before my divorce, so touch deprivation is not a new thing for me. While I am grateful to have an affectionate, snuggly child, a mama needs more than the embrace of a school-ager sometimes. I have a great friends at church who hug me every Sunday. But I need more healthy touch than even that provides, so I enrolled in a monthly massage membership.

I read an article recently that outlined four things that neuroscience has determined helps people feel happy. Hugs are one of them. (You'll hear more about the article later in the series.) I was pleased to learn that according to neuroscience, if hugs are in short supply, massages are a good substitute.

Once a month I spend an hour (sometimes more) in the expert care of a massage therapist who helps ease the tension of too much desk sitting, migraines, worries over money, and whatever creeps into the muscle and fascia of my body.

I am grateful to both therapists (depending on their schedules) who make that hour's oasis a safe, nurturing, and restorative time. I float out of the room after they have worked out the kinks and tight spots that inevitably make their way to my neck, back, arms, and legs day-to-day and week-by-week. I breathe easier and am more conscientious about how I move and lift my always-heavy bag for a day or two after every massage. 

These massage appointments help me take stock of my physical and emotional health. I am genuinely happy. Instead of fixating on what I don't have in great supply (hugs), I have learned to concentrate on what I do have (massages and the embraces of my daughter and my amazing friends.)

Monday, October 2, 2017

2. Books

I was the lone reader in my family growing up. Reading made me feel isolated because there wasn't anyone who loved to read with whom I could share what I was learning and experiencing. At the same time, reading gave me a sense of belonging and expanded my network as the characters became cherished friends.

On occasion I would ask to be read to. Reading snuggled up together wouldn't happen, but the details from that time are fuzzy. In adulthood I was asked, “Remember when you asked me to read to you when you were little? I just couldn't. Reading to you reminded me that I was never read to as a child and it made me so sad.”

It was a missed opportunity for both parent and child. Reading together could have healed those hurt places in one, and fortified the bond for both.

I kept reading solo in those years, and the more I read, the more I loved the pastime.

I mother myself now through reading in two ways: I allow myself long stretches of reading on weekends when I'm alone, and I snuggle with my daughter and read to her when we are together—I've even read to her when we're apart via Skype. 

In a funny twist of fate, my daughter is also not a reader—yet. But she likes to be read to. She appreciates the closeness that reading together induces. So do I.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

1. Sleep

A mama puts her child down for a nap or tucks her in early when the day has been extra full or the child is especially frazzled. In the early months after my divorce, I felt frazzled a lot. I had an abundance of spare time alone. For so many years, I had been occupied with my own daughter's schedule and needs that this free time felt heavy, empty, unstructured, and endless. Some days I couldn't figure out what to do with myself. I was restless and didn't know how to fill the last few hours of an evening without feeling sad or despondent. I was nervous about my sad moods plunging  into depression. 

On those nights, I tucked myself in much earlier than ever before. One Friday evening while the SUN WAS STILL SHINING, I pulled back the sheets of my too-big bed and fell asleep. I fought thoughts of being a loser for going to bed at 7:30 at the start of a weekend. I slept nearly 12 hours. Proof, indeed, that my body and spirit needed the rest. I wasn't a loser. I was a mama who made sleep a priority. This rest formed a new self-care habit that would help me feel better and grow stronger.

Now I relish early bed times. I haven't gone to bed at 7:30 in months, but a new rhythm developed, and my sleep schedule is in better balance. More and better sleep helped repair the frayed edges of my heart and mind.

"The juiciest action step for you at any given moment may be to rest. I can’t emphasize this enough. Everything in nature ebbs and flows, and trying to flow without ebbing is a stressful, anxiety-based strategy. Wayfinding magic often needs you to literally fall asleep so it can proceed. The final step in joining up with a horse is to walk away from it. The final step in connecting with anything you’re trying to bring from Imagination into Form is to let go, surrender, totally detach. Napping is one of the most powerful steps in many a Forming. If the impulse to rest or sleep arises, cancel everything and crash."

- Martha Beck

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Rejection 14

I feel one season ending and another beginning, and I'm not talking about the summer to autumn transition. I have spent the year writing hard things that I needed to examine and release from my body. I took the step to send those words out into the world to see if they might get accepted for publication somewhere.

So far, they have been rejected by each place I have sent them. I have been upbeat about the rejections. In some ways, I have been relieved that they haven't been published. I have done the work and been accountable by submitting them, but as time passes, I understand that this particular season of writing and its results are primarily for me and my healing. I mustered a lot of courage to consider writing the words and the considerable more by sending out any of this work. I sent it all out. That in itself is a victory.

This particular rejection from Full Grown People stings more than the others. I have set my sights on getting published there. It's a personal goal, and so to learn that the editor is “taking a pass” on this essay feels more personal. I know it's absolutely not personal, but right now if feels like it. I feel a bit discouraged.

Three hundred rejections feels like A LOT of rejections. I know what 15 rejections feel like. How will 300 feel? It's also an incredible amount of writing.

I keep wondering, what do I have to say that will get accepted at this site? I feel emptied of things to say. This is actually a good thing. It means I've written myself dry. It's time to set down the submission writing and pick up the novel writing. I am learning how this writing life ebbs and flows for me: devote time, energy, and mental space to a project for awhile, feel its natural ending approach, pick up something else, repeat. I need the cycle to do its work, so I can be ready for the next thing.

By calling the submission season closed, I won't be distracted as I enter the novel writing season. That particular season closed last year when I'd worn myself out amassing 80,000 words and began writing draft two. I was spent. I needed time to rest, recuperate, and refuel. Writing essays refueled me. They moved things around in my mental attic space. Now there is room for me to consider the lives of my characters more attentively.

I'm ready to dive back into story telling. Acknowledging the sting of this rejection helps. I trust that I'll have other things to say later that will be considered publishable. I am not there yet. But I'll get there, and I'll be a better writer for all effort.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Dream Big, Live Small

I've been contemplating a new way to live my life. It's an integration of all the heart and soul work I've been doing over the past few years. I have learned a few truths:
  • Difficult circumstances are temporary states.

  • You learn what you're made of during said difficult circumstances.

  • The bad stuff has a unique set of lessons to teach that cannot be accessed any other way.

  • Debt stinks and drains. 

  • Life doesn't have to be on hold whilst paying down said debt.

  • Small gestures of kindness make a big difference. 

  • Goals create structure.

  • Writing is my world.

  • Dreaming is free.

Basically, I have considered these nine truisms for me and come up with this: 

I am happier than I have ever been because I sense my purpose and am devoted to that pursuit. I am letting go of things—thought patterns and old habits—that no longer serve me. As I let go of the things that don't work, I'm picking up others—mostly relationships—that nurture me and allow me to nourish in return. I have learned the value of being on the receiving end of the giving equation, and have grown in my ability to accept help.

I have big dreams: travel the world with myself, my daughter, and with friends; write and submit essays, short stories, books; get published. I am unconcerned with name or brand recognition, big publishing houses, or big book advances. Sure, in my fantasies, those things will come. But in my real life, I want to live a small life where my love, smiles, and contributions make a big difference in the corner of the world I occupy.

This smallness is not the same kind that author and lecturer, Marianne Williamson, references in this, my favorite quote:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I am no longer playing small as I have done in decades past. There was a time when I identified with this deepest fear of being powerful beyond measure. I did play small. It fit within others' expectations of me. No more! The smallness I am referring to now is the confidence that the extra cans of soup and green beans I pick up as I grocery shop will be a helpful donation to the pantry at church. That the small donation I sent to a non-profit after the rally trauma in Charlottesville is a worthy contribution. Before my family was the recipient of an anonymous giver's small gifts during our stints of unemployment, I didn't believe that small gifts could make a difference. I know they do now. And I am committed to giving of myself in common, ordinary, small ways knowing that they actually do make a difference. 
I received the most stunning thank you letter this week from the organization I referenced above. It's opening paragraph blew me away and reminded me that this sort of living small is the right fit for me:

If you had just thought of our students, of Charlottesville, we would have appreciated it. If you'd just sent a message of support and strength, we would have been moved. But you sent us a gift, made a monetary investment in ensuring the future of Jewish life at the University of Virginia, and for that, we are humbled and grateful...Your gift...was part of that support. And though healing doesn't happen in an instant, your gift makes an actual difference in the strength of community we will continue to nurture and sustain here in Charlottesville.(I would have removed the justs, but that's a different blog post.)

This was a humbling letter to receive because a. I gave what I could-- a mere $10, and b. writing letters is what I do in my day job. I want the letters I write to take donors' breaths away like this one took mine.

Every line of Williamson's quote is sterling, but I am especially drawn to these words: “And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I am learning that what is written here at 300 rejections plays into this idea. I admit my fears and struggles, and it creates space for others to acknowledge their own. It is humbling and extraordinary every time I ponder it. Living like this sets me up to show up, do the work, and wait with anticipation for what's to come. To think, once this way of living terrified me. Now it's pure exhilaration. I know there's nothing to fear.

This girl is learning how to dream big behind the wheel of a Tesla

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.” ―William Martin