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.