Connections

I’ve been single now for over two years. I have thought of “dating,” but in truth, I have not been ready. While I would prefer to have a special someone in my life, I know I have benefitted from flying solo and have needed the time to heal and the space to make sense of the end of my last relationship.

I have met a few women that have piqued my interest but so far nothing has translated into companionship beyond a few dinner dates. One adorable woman, on paper anyway, “should” be a good match. We have a lot in common. Yet every time we have gone to dinner one on one, it becomes awkward.

I occurred to me after one such evening that I could approach relationships using a different mindset. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to define a relationship, it can get in the way. Instead of only evaluating what I feel about a person, if I like this or that, what does she think of me (and other boring insecure thoughts I won’t water further by repeating them), a more useful question is, “Why is this person in my life and how can and do we connect?” When I used that question as my filter in regard to my new friend, I immediately felt more neutral about the ways we do not resonate with one another and it was easier to accept that we just don’t. But I sincerely like her very much and I enjoy seeing her in larger social settings. I feel positive towards her and less critical of myself under the focus of what works and how I do feel comfortable with her.

The same question comes to the rescue when I reflect on the relationships that are naturally thriving in my life right now. Off the top of my head as I type, two really precious friends that I have met recently come to mind. One is a massage therapist that rents an office just down the hall from mine and the other is in a peer supervision group that I attend monthly. Both women are smart, real, engaging and easy for me to talk to. There is a genuine mutual appreciation that flows within our conversation. I also still have several close friends that I don’t see as often as I’d like because we don’t live in the same city, but we are able to still enjoy time together when we have it and it’s easy to pick right back up where we last left off.

The older I get, the more I have come to value the gift of a kindred spirit, in whatever package it comes. I am choosing to be grateful for the wealth of connection that is abundant through friendships and mindful to not over emphasize the absence of a romantic one. That shift leaves me feeling content, deeply cared for and open.  

NN

White Light

It has been a while since I have had such contentment during “the holidays.” The season started with a perfect little fir tree and ornaments, one of my favorite traditions. Over the years I have made it a habit to buy an ornament from the places I travel, and my sister usually includes one in her Christmas package to me as well. There is a story, memory or sentiment attached to almost every one, and so the trimming of the tree, door knobs and kitchen cabinet pulls set a cheerful tone for the rest of December.

I have a lot of Christmas music and so I can listen to many different songs and genres, not tiring of any one particular tune. And of course there is always Pandora, which adds even more options to sing along to.

I sent out cards next, something I have not had the desire to do for the past several years. I didn’t even mind the extra postage required for some of the square ones I mailed. I let myself stretch this sometimes tedious task out over several weeks, addressing a few each evening or while sitting at a coffee shop over the weekends. Thankfully only one trip to the mall was required, as I had been buying small gifts throughout the fall as I ran across this or that item that reminded me of a loved one.

I even had the inspiration and energy to bake:  crescents, apricot bars and magic cookie bars (the kind with the graham cracker crust topped with pecans, chocolate chips and coconut, cemented together with condensed milk). I tried out a new recipe as well, a ginger crisp. I found the note card tucked away in my recipe box. I recognized my high school handwriting and I think I got the recipe from my maternal grandmother, but I had never tried making it. It’s a keeper.

My dear friends Dawn D. and Tim had come to Charlotte for Christmas Eve to watch their new baby grandson and give his parents a litle break. We had planned for them to stop in for lunch with me on their way back home on Christmas day. I made a tomatillo pork stew and went to Compare, a local Latin grocery store, for freshly made corn tortillas. The weather cooperated with plenty of sunshine and we enjoyed coffee and homemade toasted coconut cream pie out on my porch.

It was the first time Dawn and Tim had been able to come spend time with me at my condo. I wanted to make a good impression, and I, being the good obsessive-compulsive freak that I am, had cleaned my place as if President Obama and Michelle were coming for a visit.

So I was surprised the next morning when I was walking from my living room back into the kitchen to see a little dust bunny and a small part of a leaf on the hardwood floor. The sun was beaming in through the French doors and casting a warm light, bright and clear, on what I hadn’t seen when cleaning.

As I bent down to pick up the debris, the phrase, “…the white light of the Holy Spirit” came to mind.

Over a year ago, a spiritual mentor had suggested that I pray the following every day before beginning to meditate:  “May the white light of the Holy Spirit fill me and others.” I have to be honest that I balked a little at first when she made this suggestion to me. Although I was raised as a Southern Baptist, I have adopted a broader and more eclectic spiritual perspective over the years. Invoking the Holy Spirit initially suggested a return to the constraint of a more fundamental definition of religion that I no longer resonate with. And a little hurt and resentment still linger deep inside over some of the beliefs that I was indoctrinated with that damaged my sense of integrity as a child and young adult (i.e., the idea that I am a “sinner” and at my very core bad, that I could not trust my personal intuitive nature for guidance but needed to submit to a higher male authority in order to not be led astray, or that I was immoral simply for being gay, to name a few). In the end, truth is truth, whether written and found in the Bible, spoken by the Buddha or in the text of a psychology book. I do still believe in a Higher Power that is undefinable. I want to connect to this Source in any way that I am able to, and I began to soften and welcome the prayer each day as I said it out loud.

That Christmas morning I came into a deeper knowing as the sunlight created a moment of transcendence for me. The beauty and simplicity of this prayer is real and powerful. I will develop and grow as things come to light in my life. I want to be patient when someone I love does something I don’t like or hurts me, and I can seek to bring to light what is needed or to understand what is causing our disconnection. As a therapist, I don’t have to judge or determine what is best for another person, but rather I can trust and pray that light will show up and lead the way for us to work together towards his or her healing.

Indeed, may the white light of the Holy Spirit fill me and others.

NN

Little Giver

She came in the bouquet I bought at Trader Joe’s right before Thanksgiving, a green sprig and her siblings of background foliage. I noticed her elegant lines and expressive leaves nesting in layers at the base of a verdant knot, exotic and foreign looking in her own right as I trimmed her stem and arranged her along with the others like her and the flowers into a vase. As this or that flower lost petals or started to droop and got plucked out and discarded, she and her kind were the only things living after about two weeks. I transferred her family into a smaller vase and continued to enjoy their presence on the dining room table.

When some of the leaves began to brown and yellow at the tips, I took the vase into the kitchen. I was about to place them all in the trash when a flash of color caught my eye. One of her smaller knots, tucked behind other leaves, had unfurled into a flower. I had no idea that the knot was indeed a bulb and was delighted by this unexpected burst of life. Her petals were slender saffron-like threads of burnt orange, red and yellow, shooting straight up and out like a photo of a fire cracker in full bang. She made me laugh out loud as I snipped away what was dead and placed her flower in yet another smaller vase, appreciating the encore.

What a little giver, a happy reminder that life is full of surprises and abundant in ways that I cannot anticipate.

NN

Blind Spots

A few Saturdays ago I was driving up to Blowing Rock for the weekend. I was anticipating the fall leaves and hiking but was frustrated with leaving later in the day than I had planned. I was not successfully keeping myself from feeling rushed to “get up there.”  A truck was merging on to the highway, and I was going to move into the other lane to accommodate him. I am normally good about checking over my shoulder before changing lanes, but on this occasion I did not. I heard a loud and continuous honk coming from behind me and I realized that there was a van in the spot I was trying to move to. Thankfully, the van, the truck and I were all able to slow down and recalibrate, avoiding an accident. But it was close. I pulled off at the next exit to calm down, have a little cry of relief and refocus my mind on the task of driving. As I sat in a parking lot, I was struck by the realization that I was at the same exit my friend (and now ex sister-in-law) Holly and I had been just the weekend before. She had gone with me to Hickory to a furniture outlet mall there, and had offered to drive because I was a bit spacey that weekend too. Unfortunately, while we were at a light waiting for it to change, we were both jolted by a young driver who was not paying attention and rear ended her car pretty hard. It seemed like an odd coincidence to have almost had another accident in the very same area.

As I got back on the highway, I couldn’t help but wonder at the broader idea of blind spots. I asked the question, “What are the blind spots I’m not aware of?” The answer to that question for me right now is playing out in the drama of finding a new couch.

I moved into my permanent home about three months ago. I had been anticipating and looking forward to it for a long time. My ex and I had purchased and renovated this condo with the thought that we might down size and live in it in retirement, and we were renting it out in the meantime. We had a tenant in the condo when we broke up, and our renter had just signed a two-year lease that she did not want to relinquish. We came up with the equitable and mutually agreed upon arrangement of my ex staying in our house and me moving into the condo when it became available, so I rented another space until our tenant’s lease was up.

My new home is a great little 1000 square-foot space. It was built in the 1930’s, with hardwood floors throughout, a lot of windows and old door knobs. I am extremely grateful to be living here. But I had not expected the new wave of grief that would hit me once I settled in. I had built it all up too much in my head. And accepting that I’m no longer in limbo means that this is now my life, in stark contrast to what I had been creating, building and envisioning not that long ago. I was used to making joint decisions in a relationship, with someone who often had a clear sense of what she liked and wanted, and since we had similar preferences, I let her lead, tweaking along the way. It is an unfamiliar experience for me to have to come up with what I like and create it from scratch.

It “should” be fun, or it could be, but I was not experiencing the task in this way. I knew I was getting triggered and overreacting, but I couldn’t seem to change it. I impulsively made a purchase because I was tired of thinking about it. I let pressure and internal judgment bully me (“You are a 54 year-old, you should know what you like, buying a couch should not be this hard, what’s wrong with you?”) instead of being curious about my upset and more understanding. I also defaulted to and over relied on my intellect at the expense of considering my felt experience as well. In hind sight, I’ve chosen more of a living room couch than one for a den, and I am more comfortable with the latter.

The issue is not “the couch.” It is what it represents and stirs up for me. I wasn’t “seeing” or having compassion for why this decision was so challenging. Of course the superficial layer of how my living room looks does matter a little, as it is a piece of the pie, so to speak. It makes a statement about me. But I’m especially sensitive about it because it is a manifestation of a much deeper shift. In a way, I am like an awkward young adult again, negotiating some of the same unsettling milestones. Who am I now? What is important to me? How do I want to live? What do I keep and what do I get rid of? Am I acceptable, likable, or lovable? I feel vulnerable and a little lost, and that has been bubbling up into this process of designing my new space.    

Like so many things in life, it helps if I remember that often decisions are a process. I make it worse when I try to force it into being an event, quickly resolved and not messy. The reality is that I’m not going to make decisions perfectly. So what? I can feel opposing things at the same time:  excited and scared, grateful and grieving, liking a couch and also second guessing that decision. I function much better when I slow down and am patient with myself while also taking small (or big) steps towards growth and change.

Now that I’ve calmed down, I can put this past month into perspective and value what I have learned. I’m relieved to have made a choice and my living room is now box free and looks great. It’s far from the catastrophe I was making it out to be and the “journey,” if you will, has been just as important as the final outcome.

NN

Five Senses

I have been enjoying Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s free 21-day meditation challenge that started on Monday July 11th. The theme of this series is getting unstuck, a universal message that most of us can relate to at some point or another. Even though I am not feeling “stuck” right now, I am still getting a lot out of the challenge. I appreciate that Oprah and Deepak are so generous, giving away this experience to literally thousands of people.

The meditation for day four was on how to be renewed, with the centering thought, “I embrace the newness of the day.” The message was to consider the limitless potential and wonder of the present moment and the picture was a close up of some variety of parachute seed, perhaps a cluster of dandelions. After meditating, I set out for my walk that morning ready to practice reveling in “the now.” An exercise that I started several years ago to help me stay in the present is to simply tune into any one of my five senses (I mentioned this in an earlier post on YBL). My body can’t “be” in the past, or in the future, but only in the current moment. And my senses anchor me into my body while at the same time plugging me into my surroundings. I start by isolating my focus on one sense at a time and then either shift to a different sense or attempt to layer my awareness of two, three, four or all five at once. A walk or hike is the ideal venue to enjoy this game since nature provides so many stimulating options, but it can be done in any setting and at any time.

I was not even a minute into my walk when I happened to glance down at my feet and noticed a fluffy parachute seed, much like the one in the photo for the day. As if on cue, the pom-pom floated up off the ground, stopped for a second to acknowledge and greet me, and then gracefully began riding a soft breeze and swaying back and forth a few inches in front of me. It made me laugh out loud, and I felt light, open and happy. The little puff of seeds kept gliding higher, past my head, but still moving forward with me for about two or three minutes as I continued to walk. The wind eventually carried it over a fence and out of sight. I can still see her in my mind’s eye and re-create the feeling of expansion that experience gave me, smiling as I type even now.

As I continued on my walk, I listened to the birds singing and calling out to one another, and then heard the cicadas and crickets, all producing a melody of sorts. I enjoyed this orchestra for a while, until a rosemary bush up ahead caught my eye and invited me to take a few light strokes over some of her stems, leaving a pleasantly sticky residue on my fingertips. A deep inhale of the lingering oil offered an earthy and aromatic burst through my nostrils, skimmed my palate and then like a miniature table cloth, spread and settled over the center of my mind. It was a sunny morning, and the tree-lined street of my neighborhood provided the alternating contrast of sunshine touching my skin with warmth and then the softer grey shade immediately cooling it. Warm and cool, back and forth, warm and cool. And last but not least, as I had done many times as a child at my grandmother’s house, I picked a bloom off of a honeysuckle bush that was growing wild next to the Highland Mills Montessori School and enjoyed a tiny taste of sweet nectar found at the base of the petals.

I can’t think of a better way to start and continue living a day.

Jen and Sophia

I just got back from a week long journey to South Dakota. A friend of mine, Gloria, is a budding film maker and is working on her second project. It is set in South Dakota because a year ago she met and connected to a remarkable cowgirl named Jen, who is Native American, owns and operates the Native West Trading Company located in the small town of Interior and lives near the Lakota (or Sioux) reservation of Pine Ridge. Gloria was deeply affected by her interaction with Jen, the history of the Massacre at Wounded Knee and the on-going challenges that continue to unfold in this part of the country. She was inspired to make a film that has multiple layers:  a documentary which includes interviews with Lakota women and men, a story Gloria wrote, and a recording of the actual making of the film, including capturing the crew’s reactions and feelings about the experience itself. My main role was to assist with interviews and to facilitate processing with both the crew and the interviewees as needed.

One of the interviews I conducted was with a woman named Sophia. Jen moved to South Dakota from Nebraska when she was 19 and was “adopted” by Sophia’s father through a ceremony called a hunka.  They consider each other sisters, working side by side in Jen’s store and take care of each other as family.

Sophia is beautiful, quiet and soft-spoken, a private person, not someone who would volunteer to be in the limelight. Because Jen knows her well, she encouraged Sophia to be interviewed and talk about her experience of being sent to boarding school unexpectedly as a little girl, a common experience at one time. Sophia was honest about her reluctance but stated that she wanted to be open to new experiences and agreed to go on camera if I would ask the questions and direct the interview.

I have a lot to learn from the Lakota and know very little about their customs and culture. Two days before, Jen, Gloria and I had gone to a village on the reservation called Wanblee to interview an elder named Phyllis. It is customary to bring a gift out of respect and neither Gloria nor I had thought of this. At the end of the interview, Jen took off a ring that was her grandmother’s and gave it to Phyllis as a token of thanks. I was taken aback by this gesture, jolted by the sacrifice on Jen’s part (she had just lost her Mom a few months prior) and impressed with the generosity of it.

The custom of giving a gift need not be much, merely a gesture of respect or appreciation for something given. I had packed a simple bracelet made of beads that I liked and had made many years ago, but it was not a piece of jewelry that I treasured nor did it have familial meaning to me. I decided I would give this to the next interviewee of mine, which turned out to be Sophia.

Our interview was a sweet one, although at times awkward, as I was still getting used to knowing what questions to ask, and how to ask them, and also because Sophia is shy. Just as I would think the interview was over and silence hung in the air, she would disclose or say something poignant, and we would engage in conversation once again.

When we did finally conclude the interview, I took off the bracelet I had decided to offer and thanked her for being courageous and willing to be a part of the project. I was about to get up and turn off the camera when she started to unfasten a beautiful white loom beaded bracelet she was wearing that her Mother had given her. I had commented on it at the beginning of our interchange to break the ice and ease into talking, never dreaming that she would think of giving it to me.

Again, I was stunned at the lack of selfishness and the open-handedness of what she was offering me. I was not sure how to proceed. I had sense enough to say thank you, and was then honest with her that I felt uncomfortable and surprised by her reciprocity. She just smiled at me, and I can’t remember what else we said to each other after that because I was dazed.

I thought about this event for the next day and a half, moved by her gift to me, which has grown into something much more than the bracelet itself. The long history of how our government and we as white individuals have acted with such dishonor towards Native Americans is well documented and continues into present day. Part of my willingness to be involved in this film was because I want to be a link of change in this trend. I am keenly aware of racism because I am a social worker by training and have lived all of my adult life in the South, at first in Texas and now North Carolina. I am confronted almost daily with the resulting inequality and outcome of oppression and institutionalized discrimination. And it bothers me. It is a complex problem with no easy or simple answers. But if I care, and I do, then how do I act as an agent of healing, show respect and have healthy relationships with someone from a race other than my own?

Sophia would have every right to be suspicious of me, hardened because of all of the hurt from the hatred and greed shown to her tribe. According to www.native-languages.org, the word used for a white person in the Lakota language is wašicun and it means “non-Indian” and literally “someone with special powers.” Unfortunately, as relations between the two races deteriorated over the years, it began to take on a more negative meaning. The Lakota have a great sense of humor and many a play on words. The phrase wašin icu means “takes the fat,” (which in their culture would refer to the best piece of meat) and the spelling and pronunciation is similar to the word for white man. So wašicun--wašin icu (the white man--takes the fat), unfortunately fits all too well. Jen had told our crew about this pun as we were all talking one day during a shoot. So it felt like here I was, repeating history, being the typical white person, taking the best, even in spite of my wanting to do the opposite.

I couldn’t shake the bad feeling. Guilt is an appropriate emotion to feel when you have wronged someone, but useful only as a motivator to correct the mistake made and to make amends for it. Ruminating in guilt and shame is not productive for either party. I knew this intellectually but I was not able to shift into a place of peace. It didn’t help that the following evening the film crew went as a group to the site of the Massacre at Wounded Knee. We took an offering of burning sage, which is believed to help promote healing.      

Perhaps it was because of the smudging, but the next morning it occurred to me that there is a big difference between receiving versus taking something. Sophia had freely given me a gift and I was just as free to accept it. She is every bit my equal and if I show her respect through valuing her offering, then there is no room for shame. What if we related to one another from this perspective, on mutual ground, and appreciated our differences rather than judging or fearing them? I believe individuals, ordinary people like me, Gloria, the rest of the film crew, Jen, and Sophia can and will change the world we live in.

But make no mistake; it humbles me that someone who has so little is willing to give so much. May I learn from Sophia’s example how to be the best person I can be:  honest, courageous, open-hearted, willing to learn and generous.

Thank you Sophia and thank you Jen, from my heart, hahó hahó.

One Step at a Time

I take my cup of coffee seriously. I like to buy small batches of locally and recently roasted coffee. I splurged on a burr grinder (it is easy to use, grinds the coffee evenly and therefore captures “the volatile flavors and aromatics concentrated inside” the bean, to quote an article in the New York Times discussing why to invest in a burr grinding). On weekends, for a treat, I use a Bialetti expresso maker and have an Americano (expresso with a little bit of hot water) in a nice cup and saucer instead of the everyday mugs of the work week.

On most days I make my coffee using a French press. I accidentally cracked the glass while washing it one morning. The replacement I got works fine but the bottom metal plunger does not quite properly align with the slender rod connecting it to the silver cap on the top of the press. Each day I found myself struggling and fidgeting to get it all situated correctly inside the carafe.   

I occurred to me one morning that I was making it harder by keeping the plunger and the cap together, trying to do it all in one step. It was so much easier to work with just the plunger, and then as I slid it down inside the glass, the cap followed into place without any resistance at all.

This simple guideline, taking one step at a time or making incremental changes as opposed to doing everything all at once, helps reduce feeling unnecessarily overwhelmed in my life at large. For example, I am contemplating some big upcoming changes. I will be moving out of a loft I am renting and into my condo, and I am also looking for a new work space to rent. To do them both at the same time doesn’t make sense now, but for some reason I was considering doing them both in the same month. And how I imagine something going does not always match the actual experience of living it out. Better to make one change, evaluate the new landscape and adjust, and then continue to tweak as I go.

With all this talk about coffee (and in honor of today being Friday), I think I’ll pull out the Bialetti and kick off the weekend with a little brew…in a pretty cup and saucer, of course.

NN

Sometimes I Ask the Wrong Question

One of the great things about being a therapist is that I learn a lot from my clients too. While every person is different and brings a unique set of strengths and challenges into my office for a session, there are universal themes and processes that are similar. The repetition of the structure itself is useful in teaching me important truths about how to support and facilitate change. There is value in being curious and open to how I go about asking for what I need and want.

A good example of this happened one day when a client who was struggling with depression came in. She was frustrated with her husband and his unwillingness to help her with their twin daughters. She was a stay-at-home Mom and was feeling burnt out. She fantasized about having a weekend alone, even if it was to clean the house uninterrupted by a request for a snack or to break up a squabble over a toy. As she tried to talk to her husband about this desire, she presented the idea to him in the form of a suggestion that he take the girls to his parent’s house for a weekend. Apparently he was not open to this idea at all, but she gave me enough information as she relayed what happened to make me wonder if his resistance had more to do with how she was presenting her request. I suggested this and we role played her going back to her husband, being more upfront about what she needed (a break) and wanted (a stretch of time alone in their home ) and to be open to how he might be willing to make that happen. Sure enough, when she came back a few weeks later, she reported that when she and her husband discussed the situation again, what he had initially resisted was taking his daughters for the weekend to his parents. He did care about how she was feeling, and proposed taking the twins out of town to Asheboro for an overnight stay and a trip to the zoo. While not the more economical solution she was hoping for, nor completely addressing the larger pattern of not enough help from her husband, she did get a much needed respite from being a parent.  

The idea of being flexible, of being open to having a conversation, of looking for how to understand myself or a situation instead of being rigid about doing things “my way” or being “right” are just a few examples of small but powerful ways to flow more easily in day to day living. I can be honest about what might not work for me but can add, “In what way can I help or be an agent of change in this situation?” instead of completely rejecting a request or refusing to be a part of a solution. How am I able to contribute to a win-win? “I agree with…” as a starting point rather than total resistance. It also helps to know what I really want and need in the moment and to be upfront about it with myself and whoever I am relating to.

I value slowing down, being curious, flexible and open to how little shifts in perception can often yield big results.      

NN

Tweet

I’ve been thinking about my last post, and how without realizing it, I’ve accepted that I “can’t” be high on life. Why? Maybe feeling keyed up and agitated has to go, but not my wonder and appreciation for life. I think the contrast of how broken I felt, cracked open, against the backdrop of awareness of life helped me connect to it. “It” being wonder, a sense of life, of synchronicity and oracles. So maybe the edge is not as sharp and obvious because I’m not sitting in the shell anymore, but I think I want to refuse to believe that I can’t still be in touch with it.

I remembered to ask for an oracle this morning as I meditated. I cracked the window open while I drank my coffee because I wanted to hear the birds tweeting and chirping, it is such a sweet sound. I looked up the word “tweet” and the on-line Oxford dictionary tells me it means the chirp of a small or young bird. I’m that young bird emitting a chirp to the Universe and the immediate reply is an ever so slight cool and gentle caress of air against my skin and the rosemary growing in a pot at my window sill waving hello.

NN

Thank You

I have been in a difficult emotional space for a while. I have been feeling anxious and scared and a big trigger is my professional life and the changes I am considering making in it. I get overwhelmed by how to work it all out and am easily discouraged. When I am not mindful, the fear of not knowing bleeds into my daily experience and contaminates my sense of hope. The passage of time and the normal routines of my life are making me keenly aware of what I have lost. It’s all part of the process of acceptance, of change, a little (and at times a lot of) fear about my future. Other relationships have also changed, shifted, or died. Friends move away or need to create new focuses, and last Friday my ex and I scattered the ashes of our sweet friend and cat Clarissa (she died almost two years ago, but neither of us could face letting her fully go until recently). Loss, death and new life are all linked, I know this intellectually. I have not been writing because I can’t articulate much about hope these days, and I would just be stewing in heavy feelings. Life is hard enough, who wants to write or read about hopelessness?

I spent two weekends ago with my friend Dawn and her husband Tim. I was trying to describe what I’ve been going through for a few months and she pinned the tail on the donkey. “You’re missing the high.” She was so spot-on. It was helpful to be heard and to have my experience understood and reflected back to me. I have been “high” on life for the past year and a half, somehow, despite going through a divorce. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know. Manic at times, Dawn pointed out.   

My normal energy is not on that frequency. And it’s not sustainable. But I don’t want to crash and default to a shutdown setting either. My challenge is to deal with the experience of disorientation that comes along with life transitions and find my new set point. I keep practicing what I preach:  stay in the moment, it is all I really have and it is more than enough. When I start to plummet, I look for the grain of truth in my experience (real but not true) but am determined to not be ruled by my emotions and old, tired story lines.

In a few weeks it will be a year since Alexa, Dawn and I launched this website. As I drank my coffee this morning, it occurred to me that I could write about how deeply grateful I am for my two friends, to this space of writing and for how much purpose and joy it has given me over the past year. And ironically enough, here I am again in touch with and writing about a little flame of life flickering out of the ashes.  

I don’t have to be high to be grateful and it pulls me out of despair. It’s just right.

NN

Simple Act of Kindness

I am required to obtain 40 hours of continuing education every two years as part of maintaining my license as a psychotherapist. I attended a four hour workshop last Wednesday on the power of habit and how to take advantage of it.

The presenter was using anecdotes from her personal life and her private practice as a life coach to illustrate the teaching points and bring the principals she was presenting to life. We got a little off-topic, as is often the case in workshops, and she recounted an incident that happened to her last December. She had sent her son who was home from college for the winter break to what she thought was his dental appointment. When he got to the dentist, he did not have an appointment on that day, and she realized that she had inadvertently kept his reminder card from the year prior rather than the most current. There was another patient sitting in the lobby, also a Mom of a college student, and she overheard the receptionist discussing the dilemma. She graciously offered to let the presenter’s son have her teeth cleaning appointment for that day because she knew it would be six months before he would be back home and she could easily reschedule to another time. Even though this had happened many months ago, the presenter teared up a little as she talked about this incident and commented on how it really meant a lot to her that this stranger had helped her out and that it had motivated her to be aware of ways she could be more giving in her day to day activity. What also struck me was that it was a simple act of kindness, but it was now being appreciated by 50 other people because the presenter was sharing it with us. I would imagine that the patient from the lobby has not thought about it since, and yet she is still having an impact.

It was enough that the presenter and her son were helped out of a jam that day, but it is also worth considering how easy it is to be kind and to wonder at its unknown repercussions.

NN

Dry Times

I’m not sure what to write about today. I have been battling a virus all week, some version of the flu, and have had a lot of chest congestion, feeling achy at times and zero energy. Yesterday I could tell I turned the corner, as I finally started feeling more like my usual healthy self.

I’ve made a commitment to write a weekly entry for this website since March of last year, which I have been able to honor most of the time. Some weeks the typing is easy and fun, others are work but there is still a flow of words, at times themes are subtle and quiet, and I am surprised by what results on the page. Then there are weeks that are silent, or seem that way at least, and I stare at the blinking cursor, straining to listen. Or worse, mute the harsh critic that throws out mean autoimmune one-liners to explain why things are dry. I force myself to write at those times especially, even if all I can muster is a journal entry, because life is all about seasons of experience and I want to cooperate with this truth and not take it personally. Nothing is “wrong” when I am uncomfortable with this or that, it’s just what is.

Of course I prefer a state of contentment over one of feeling upset. Somehow being in the moment really does facilitate peace of mind. I noticed this a few days ago when I was still feeling wretched. I was making my morning coffee and had not been up for long. All of the congestion was making itself known:  tightness in my chest, head aching, and exhaustion from coughing. Just moving felt difficult. I asked myself what was good about “this moment” and shifted my focus to the pleasure of making coffee. The sound of scooping dry beans from the can, then the clicks they make as they tumble down the shoot of my grinder, the smell of tiny fragments of coffee releasing into the air as they are ground, the visual and sound of clean water catching fragments of light as it’s poured and eventually begins to faintly rumble in the kettle, the warmth and heat of the stove light in contrast to the cold and dark of 6 am.

I still felt sick but emotionally it was if my fever “broke” away from feeling oppressed and depressed and I was at peace again. I was no longer struggling to get away from my circumstances or wishing the future would hurry up and get here. It was a simple recognition of what it means to be mindful and present.

To be able to feel contentment amid difficulty is possible and I am thankful for the reminder.

NN

Begonia

I have three pots on a small cart below my big living room window. Two of them have herbs that are thriving but the one to the left was empty. I popped into Trader Joe’s for some cut flowers and saw a begonia plant that was just the right size for my pot, so I brought her home with me.  She is petite and has seven dusty orange and faint celadon colored blooms surrounded by a nest of big, lush green leaves at the base of her.

This darling little plant has charmed me for the past few days. She is in my direct line of sight right now as I type. I haven’t been inspired to look up a word lately, and was curious about what I might find if I investigated the origins of “begonia.”

To my delight, the word was in the Dictionary of Word Origins by Joseph T. Shipley and says See Appendix II. The Appendix is a list of words that come from names. Apparently the first begonia was brought to England from Jamaica around 1775 and named after the French governor of Santo Domingo, Michel Begon. I marvel at the courage that the first explores had to get into a boat a set sail, not knowing what would happen, if they would be able to return or what they would find. And I can only imagine the wonder of those back at home seeing a totally foreign plant like my begonia for the first time (say, if I was a guest of the royal court or the housekeeper whose job it was to dust the conservatory or library) knowing that it undeniably grew on their earth but that they had no awareness of it until that moment.  

In a different but related way, we are all explorers if you define the concept more broadly. I look back at the last year and four months and have discovered new growth, emotional and spiritual plants, if you will. I’ve stepped into deep, dark and scary places within myself where the light of understanding and love has fundamentally shifted my experience and awareness. There are still caves that feel like they elude me. But I’m open to the moment, to the unknown and curious about what I don’t know. It takes courage. I mostly feel hopeful about what else there is for me to discover and nurture (in spiritual, creative, psychology, professional and relational terms). The answer keeps pointing back to the present moment and being faithful and open to the now. I like believing that new life is already growing in my soul, that I really am whole and I am just not completely aware of it yet.

But like my begonia plant, it is there, it is all, ready and there.

NN

Come into Being with Happiness

What do you write when you feel like you have nothing to say and you have not felt inspired in a while? It’s been cold for the past week, so I haven’t been comfortable being outside much, and that adds to the lack of vigor. It’s a normal part of the ebb and flow of life, as there are moments of expansion and contraction, moments of stillness.

Perhaps the message is to just be.

I often joke with clients that we should eliminate the word “just” because when it is placed before an intention or as part of a suggestion (i.e., just let go or just relax), it implies that the corresponding change is simple and easy when in fact it is not.

The word “be” is actually in the Dictionary of Word Origins by Joseph T. Shipley. It says, “See fetus.” “Fetus” states that the root fe- means to produce offspring, and that it is akin to the Aryan form bhwe-, from bheu-, to come into being; whence the English word “be.”

“Fetus” in the Dictionary of Word Origins also says “See turmeric.” In the discussion of the word “turmeric” is another tidbit about the origin of “fetus.” It states that, “…fetus is related to felix, felic-, happy; whence felicity and felicitations.”

So, my take away:  to come into being with happiness. Not such a bad goal when I circle back to having nothing to say.

NN

The Life that is Waiting

This is the second time I’ve gone to see a movie at the Manor Theater and left crying.  That deep, painful weeping, the kind that shakes you, that is soundless because there are no corresponding words to describe the internal experience. I went to see Brooklyn, an innocent chick flick, hoping for some entertainment. The movie is about an Irish immigrant named Eilis who comes to the United States and slowly finds her way, including love. What happened to me as I watched is a testament to the power of story. My ego undefended and following the storyline was not prepared for how I would relate to what was happening on-screen, and I waded too deep into the lines. What uncorked me was the hope Eilis had in creating a life with Tony, her beau. He loved her and was committed to a life with her, and they each had dreams that intertwined. I have been loved liked that, and I used to believe in happily ever after. I was committed despite the imperfections of my former relationship. I think the big secret to staying in a long-term relationship is wanting to.

I now have a dilemma. How do I become truly uncommitted, emotionally untangled and start over? Or maybe a better way to phrase my question is how do I commit to myself? As a few days went by after seeing Brooklyn, I was able to catch what I had not seen while watching it. Eilis had two really great options, but she lost something dear to her in each choice. Neither was better, both scenarios offered love and individual development. She was at a crossroad and had to pick:  stay with the familiar, literally, and continue to live in her homeland, or return to the U. S. and pursue a life with a man she loved and see what unfolded. She could not live in both places.

I don’t have a choice to go back to my family, to my partnership. I can have aspects and parts of it, but not the whole. And I am a whole person. My other option, really, my only option, is to be open to what will unfold now. There are losses and gains in the life that is no longer mine, as well as the life I am currently creating. A year and three months into breaking up I thought I was further along in my grief of letting go, but I still have work to do.

I went up to Blowing Rock right after Christmas and went for a hike. I had mapped out in my mind the route I would take. As I was walking up from Bass Lake to the Moses Cone Manor, I saw this trail off to the left that I’d never noticed, despite hiking on this carriage road many times. I was curious. I had to climb over a fence and it was muddy, two things that would normally deter me, especially the muddiness. I checked in with myself and I did not sense that I was risking too much going off trail. I told myself I would turn around and go back to the known route if at any point the path ahead of me was not obvious.  

For the first 15 minutes of the hike, I was enjoying the sense of adventure. It was challenging to cross over small streams and the birds were my constant companions. I thought I was going to have to turn back at one point because a large tree had long since fallen across the trail and brought several rhododendron with it, now happily growing right on the path. However, there were wide enough gaps that I was able to maneuver through and I could see the other side of the trail through the leaves. At this point in the hike, I committed to walking through to the next trail instead of retracing my steps and having the option of returning to the original path I had been on.

I was confident that the trail I was on would eventually connect with the carriage road on the northwest side of the park, but I started to get anxious. Maybe because I’d removed the safety net of turning back or maybe because I’d been hiking for over 30 minutes and thought I would have reached the larger road by then. I was straining and longing to hear a human voice, a sign that I was not lost. I reassured myself with each step what I knew to be true and that was that I would eventually run into a larger trail. Sure enough, within five minutes, I saw a small pond I have sat by several times before and knew that I was about to be connected back to the lake.

As I continue down a new path in my life, it helps to normalize that I am at times anxious, afraid and uncomfortable. Yet there are many familiar components that anchor and reassure me, and it is also exciting to wonder about what is up ahead. I find my best life is a mixture of it all, creating the most out of where I am right now.

E. M. Foster, a novelist who was born in 1879, said it best, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

NN

Stage

So, I didn’t just flip through the book of quotations that I mentioned in my post last week, I actually bought it. In the foreword, the editor, Russ Kick, mentions a challenge that Yoko Ono proposes, “Try to say nothing negative about anybody for three days, for forty-five days, for three months. See what happens to your life.” I read that Friday evening right before going to bed.

I make it a point to go to yoga every Saturday morning that I’m in town, as my favorite teacher at the Y, Leslie, offers up a great class. As I’m weaving in and out of traffic, rushing, I hear the words, “@#&*ing idiot!” easily spew out of my mouth at the driver in front of me, hanging in the air. He’s taking too long to turn into a parking lot and I have to hit my brakes. The acoustics are good because I’m in my car.

I realize that I have set the stage for this little drama by not leaving myself enough time to get to class without rushing. I’m agitated and anxious, angry. Am I really speeding to yoga, yelling at other drivers and yellow lights, to hurry up so that I can get to my mat, get in my body, center, breathe in and out and relax? What is wrong with this picture?

Don’t get me wrong, the goal is not about always being nice or squelching difficult emotions. Lord knows I’ve overrated this quality, at my expense. What strikes me is the control that I have and am not exercising to make my life more peaceful. I would not be ramped up if I were being respectful of time and reasonably pacing myself.

As playwright, set designer, diva, director, audience and critic of my life, I want to be mindful of what I am writing, creating and projecting.

So, start over, day one, baby steps, and let’s see if I can say nothing negative for the next few hours and make it to lunch.

NN  

Creating the Perfect Love

As I shopped for Christmas gifts a few weeks ago, I ran across a book of quotes at Barnes and Noble. I randomly flipped the book open and an excerpt of Toni Robbins caught my eye. He wrote, “We waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love.”

There are multiple layers of truth in this one sentence. I like that it reminds me to look at relationships in terms of moments, this moment. I always have the power to shift my response to or perspective on what is happening, which this quote encourages me to do. I can be mindful of what I am creating in the space between me and another person. It’s about a dynamic interchange versus a stagnant one.

Toni’s quotation also inspires me to have hope in the possibility of growth and evolution. One of the difficulties of being in a relationship arises when a pattern of relating becomes unproductive and entrenched. We all have issues that we struggle with, ways that we are individually stuck or unhealed. We reinjure ourselves over and over until we are able to be aware of what we are doing and outgrow a distorted belief and/or corresponding harmful behavior. And of course, that singular process affects or hurts our partner, family member or friend because we can’t relate to another in a healthy life-giving way if we aren’t free internally.

I don’t have a lover right now.  I am currently contentedly single. And yet this truth is still relevant to me because it also applies to the relationship I have with myself. At any given moment, I am able to create love by treating myself with understanding and in an accepting way. I have the freedom to develop. I have the power to change whatever no longer serves me and is not conducive to my well-being. It may not be instantaneous or easy to do, but with the firm gentleness of love, I can thrive. It is critical that I do, and the more responsibility I assume for my own vitality, the more I will have a life worth living.

May I be mindful of the ability I have to create love, both within and in between, in every moment.

NN  

It's Touching

I have been moving towards depression since Thanksgiving. I had a lot planned, and in hind sight, did too much over that holiday. The combination of ripping and running and not carving out much quiet time left me feeling untethered. And I remember thinking, “Uh oh, what about Christmas?” I typically love this time of the year:  the lights, decorating the tree with special ornaments who are like old friends, the music, the cookies, traditions with my little family…I don’t really feel like doing much of any of those things this year. And since college, I can easily get melancholy around the holidays. After admitting to myself that I was getting depressed last Sunday, I cried for most of the morning and then reached out to a few friends. One went on a walk with me that afternoon and two others made dinner plans with me for later in the week. I am a psychotherapist after all, I know I have to force myself to think and behave differently if I want an unpleasant experience I’m going through to change.

About 15 years ago, I went to see a documentary at The Manor Theater here in Charlotte. It was about two friends and avid mountain climbers telling their harrowing story of an excursion gone awry. There is a part in the film where one of the climbers, Joe, who has been badly injured and has fallen deep into a crevasse, makes an agonizing decision. He realizes that his only option is to try and go down further into the hole he is in to find a way out, which ultimately saves his life. I can still remember how my stomach dropped as I watched the actor play out this scene, and it makes the hair on the back of my neck rise just thinking about it now.

I thought of this film when my ex and I broke up last fall and watched it again. At first I could not find the documentary because I had remembered the title as “Into the Void,” when in fact it is called “Touching the Void.” My mind has fused this documentary with the incorrect title and I have to look it up almost every time because I cannot get it right.

Pardon the pun, but there is a deeper meaning all tangled up in this for me. There are multiple themes that point to my deepest wounds:  emptiness, voids, being all alone, hurt, and fear, wanting to give up. The story is literally propped with all of these images, and the only way out is having to, as this climber did, face them.

But the true star of the show is hope. It is about wanting to live, about finding what’s on the other end, not about going into the fear itself. Touching on but not going into fear or “the void.” And that is the crux of the matter. It’s okay, essential, to understand and have compassion for my feelings. But when it comes to fear, the goal is ultimately to look for the light and life that eventually peaks out at the end of the tunnel and move despite the intensity of feeling.

NN

Strips (or Not) of Fortune

The last ten days have been unusually busy:  a birthday party, a quick but wonderful visit for a few days with a dear friend from Texas, who is family to me, then two Thanksgiving celebrations (one of them a three hour drive away), a hike up Crowder’s Mountain with a group of girlfriends and a lot of baking. Even though I show up as an extrovert on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (a personality inventory), the older I get the more I value alone time and solitary activity. I’ve had precious little of it lately and am feeling its absence. I’m a little spun up and off balance.

Because I have been so busy, I have not been paying attention to oracles. So yesterday morning, I asked for one as I began the day.

I don’t want to complain about the wealth of friendships and love that I have in my life.  Case and point, another precious friend, Laura, just gave me a platform bed frame that she had sitting in storage. I was telling her about my plans to buy one on-line a few months ago when she made the generous offer.  She said she’d been keeping it, sensing that someone in her life would want it eventually because she knew she would never use it, as its modern flair does not fit with her décor. She even brought it to me yesterday and hauled the monster up a flight of stairs with the help of a neighbor Greg. I baked her some cookies and took her to lunch at Lang Van’s as a thank you.

After a delicious meal and great conversation, Jung (Lang Van’s owner) brought out the usual fortune and peanut cookies with the tab. There was no fortune strip in my cookie, which was kind of cool because it made me wonder at what I would write for myself. A carte blanche fortune (a quick look up on Google to make sure I was spelling carte blanche right offered up the bonus of a definition:  complete freedom to act as one wishes or thinks best). I like it.

I would have been perfectly content for that to be the end of the story. However, as I reached into my purse to get my wallet and pay, I saw that my wallet had fallen open. All of the fortunes strips that I have liked from past meals and tucked away in my wallet had spilled out of the pocket where I keep them into the floor of my purse. The synchronicity of that happening in concert with no fortune strip is hard to ignore. A confetti of blessings and options, both written and not, swirling all around me.  

Love, friendship, freedom, possibility, good fortune, abundance…what better messages to be reminded of the week after Thanksgiving?

NN  

From the Sky

As I dusted my tiny loft yesterday, I came to my poetry board and thought about the word “want” falling to the floor and getting my attention last week. In an attempt to replicate the experience, I closed my eyes and lightly scratched at the board, wondering what tiny rectangle of language I would knock off. I was surprised at how tight the magnetized words clung to the metal backing they were all on, but eventually the word “with” gave it up and flicked off, landing face down. Hmmm…

I had a sweet oracle a few days earlier on Friday as I was walking to my car. It was a remarkable morning because it was finally not raining after two weeks of dreary, wet and soupy weather. The welcome contrast made me appreciate the beauty of a clear and dry day. I was approaching my car from behind and I saw a reflection from the sky of an “X,” framed like a picture by the back seat window. I immediately thought of how “XO” is the symbol for a kiss and a hug as I turned to look up to see the origin of the image. Two jets, at this point long gone, had left the crossed contrails of their exhaust suspended in the atmosphere above me. Adding to the experience, my mind inserted a quick soundbite from Jimi Hendrix:  “‘scuse me while I kiss the sky” (from his song Purple Haze, only in my case, it was the other way around). It was like being given a big, puffy kiss, and I felt a bubble of joy rise out of me as I laughed out loud. 

I spent the rest of the weekend looking at the sky when outside, scanning for the “O” to complete the set. After the third day, it gently occurred to me that I was trying to force something. And I had done the same when wanting to repeat an oracle with my poetry board (which is just a vehicle for poetry after all, not an Ouija). I was reminded that part of the wonder of oracles, in my experience, is the quirky synchronicity and surprise of a message. It wasn’t “wrong” to be curious about what word would turn up in my experiment or to look for an “O”, just not effective.

May I be aware of how I create disappointment through control and getting too attached to a particular outcome, and instead, be open to the fresh and unfolding present moment.

NN