To Live It Fully

Adapted from my year-end e-newsletter.

Have you seen the new Pixar movie, Soul? What a gem! Move over, Heaven Can Wait and others of the genre. Now we can experience a funny-yet-resonant vision of the afterlife (er, beforelife) through the lens of a middle school music teacher named Joe Gardner…whose life won’t be complete until he performs at a top jazz club.

Aside from the entertainment value, I found the story moving and unexpectedly wise—the kind of work that stays with me.

One of the most affecting parts of this film is when new souls dive through the Earth portal from the before-place (where souls are designed). We witness their joy and wonder in this freefall towards our planet, where they will incarnate into human bodies.

When’s the last time you felt joy and wonder because you got to wake up here on this beautiful planet?

It reminds me of the most hopeful podcast I listened to this year: a conversation between Charles Eisenstein and Edith Ubuntu Chan (a physician). Chan shares the mystical experiences she has had, particularly the way her son came into her life. You have to listen to it, but suffice to say there are (in her understanding) legions souls eager to come to Earth because it is such a rich place of learning and transformation.

Having just been through a crucible of a year collectively, a year that pushed us to grow and transform personally and communally, it’s understandable that many here are weary. Many are grieving, angry, fearful, depleted—and with good cause. Many feel jaded, consumed by stories of things drastically out of balance. And yet.

There’s a bigger story we can tap into, one that is not just about this planet, not just about this physical body’s experience in it.

There’s the choice point, if you believe this way, of coming here in the first place. Followed by all the choice points thereafter, that shape how we experience the situations we’re born into. As a recent client put it: “Why is all this happening… for me?”

That in itself, that reframing from victim to seeker, is a choice point.

To look for the bigger picture, to fall into the possibility that everything we encounter can give us a chance to evolve.

Just as the soul voiced by Tina Fey released the hand of teacher/musician Joe (Jamie Fox) and bravely dove past the point of no return, we have all sojourned to this point alone and together, communally and individually bound to co-creating this reality we live in.

Moving into this next year, which so many hope and pray will be different from 2020, let’s not lose sight of the joy of being alive. Because (spoiler alert): “To live it fully” turns out to be the purpose and meaning of life. That’s not to say that every moment we breathe in will be joyful or even pleasant. But it is here, it is ours to experience.

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Want to know more about YOU, as in your soul-level essence? And let go of whatever’s been holding you back from fully shining your light into this world that needs you so much? I offer Soul Realignment, an Akashic Record reading that puts people in touch with their expansive soul-level selves, and assists with clearing blockages to expressing their fullest divinity. Available via Zoom. Book here.

This reading was so edifying and greatly resonant. It feels important to start this shift going into the New Year…
—Nancy M., Excelsior, MN

What the Cat Knows

What do we do when we don’t know what to do? That question was posed in a mindfulness class I took years ago, and it has stayed with me.

Do I reach for my phone, open the fridge, queue up some distracting media?

Do I reflexively find some busyness to occupy myself, so that I won’t have to dwell in an uncomfortable moment of not-knowing?

Or do I open to the possibility that not-knowing can be a rich place, and give it some space, bring it some breath, honor it with a pause? Maybe I need to roll on the floor, look out the window, have a good cry, go for a fast walk, or…

This has been a year of many-times-over not-knowing. I have done all of the above. And I have learned so much from watching my cat, who never falls into a quandary of not-knowing, who always expresses his full nature, which is to say Feline. Or a mix of Feline and Divine, I would say. Just as you and I are a blend of Human and Divine.

Here are seven of the many things Eddie the cat knows:

  1. Seek always comfort. Lie in the sun as often as possible.
  2. Observe everything. Stare out the window or into the eyes of another being or off into the middle distance. There is much to witness.
  3. If sick, be alone and sleep the day away, eat minimally, listen inward.
  4. As much as possible within the constraints of your life, control what you can. If you want to be in a room, shove the door open and enter (or register your displeasure if the door won’t yield to your head-butt). If, five seconds later, the room does not suit your mood, leave. Reenter as the mood strikes. It is your prerogative. You need not explain.
  5. When the urge hits, tear through the house. Life is your playground. Also, you never know what new unexplored cranny you may discover.
  6. When you want a catnap, take it. Who’s stopping you?
  7. Know that, over the course of the day, you can stalk your prey AND expose your soft underbelly. You contain multitudes. Radiate your essence, always.

Of course, life in a human body is not as simple as all that. There are deadlines, obligations, not to mention a cerebral cortex that creates dramas, commentating the livelong day. Still, my cat knows how to bring the essentials into focus. The warm lap. The windowsill. The purr and the yowl and the occasional growly hiss. The sprint and the snuggle, the nibbling at plants and batting at breakables.

The supreme catness of him, no apology or rumination needed. No asking, “what should…” “what next…” because there is only now in this meow.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go loll in a patch of sunshine.

The cat exploring a recent kitchen reno project

It is Your Life

A poet I admire, Mark Nepo, says we should only write while fully centered in the heart. His counsel: If your mind dominates, drop the pen, still the voice, turn to another activity until the heart can take the lead again.

From a recent podcast:

“I want to enter timelessness. I don’t want to plan to finish a chapter because of some deadline—then the expression is an ‘it,’ a product. I’m no longer in timelessness; I’m controlling.”

Mark Nepo

So much feels out of our control these days. Speaking for myself, I sometimes find that my itch to control whatever I can infects my creative work and daily life in unconstructive ways. I tighten up and end up with a headache or a sleepless night.

But, like Nepo, I want to approach my work (and my life!) from a place of expansion, not contraction. A simple invocation at the start of a writing session can reconnect me to that space.

When it slips away, as soon as I remember, I reconnect to the biggest possible frame—to who I am and what I’m about and why I’m doing whatever I’m doing. I want to contact the biggest why possible, which is always to be more fully aligned with my Divine nature.

So: to move into that spaciousness, to call in that alignment, is a way to enter timelessness, to reenter heart space.

And this is not just about writing. It’s about how I practice yoga, how I do my workity-work, how I connect with friends, how I steward my money. I have the choice to treat everything as a thing to get done or as a big-big-big picture action.

Doesn’t everything go better and feel so much more timeless when I first remember what it’s all for?

As an inveterate list-maker who also skews mystic, I have made a study of the intersection between getting shit done and falling into spacious/timelessness. I don’t thrive without timelessness, but I operate in a time-driven world. And I do want to finish and publish my book, keep in touch with loved ones, stay on top of bills, and show up fully at my workplace.

I am starting to see that moving with ease through all these arenas is possible. It’s not about following a strict list or schedule. Nor is it about floating in the ether every moment.

Photo from the Indiana Dunes, Fall 2018

It’s more about reconnecting on the regular to this big-big-big picture. Often that comes through movement, or stillness, or breath, while consciously invoking the love that’s all around. The fact that I am love, made of love, made from love.

The more I hew to my truest “who”… the easier it is to stay in my heart.

And if, as soon as I look at the clock and think what’s next, I lose this feeling, it’s OK. Because I know how to find it again.

In my notebook, I commune with my inner Wisewoman, who says things like:

Breathe deeply, this moment is not a thing to be gotten though, a task to complete. It is your life. What is coming into your senses right now? What is your body experiencing? Hold it all.

To which I say, Thank you.

No Matter What

I cried already this morning when walking Opal on the golf course, where the line of voters snaked out to the street and the overflow cars were parked on the green. No matter what happens, no one can say the populace is apathetic.

Most of my friends are on edge today, fervently hoping for a particular outcome of the election, worried about what comes next. It struck me this morning that it might help to look at what I can count on, no matter what.

I know that no matter what, there will be major healing to do, and being a bystander is not an option for me.

I know that I will always be a person whose heart lifts with the kingfisher’s rise over the creek. I will always find comfort in my furry companions who will always love me (in succession; I know these particular friends won’t be around forever).

I will always thrill to the sight of birds flocking and wheeling across the sky in great numbers, as they do this time of year, even if it is “only” starlings. I will always be a person whose face defaults into a smile for random strangers. Who wells up to see humanity in its marvelous shapes and forms and shades, feeling our oneness even in our division.

I will always care deeply and seek to be fully alive to everything, even the hurt.

None of that says all that much about me… except perhaps that I have been extraordinarily lucky.

This birthday card from my sweetie …

The inside of this card starts out, “In a world that can be a little rough around the edges, you soften the lives of those around you…” Cue the awww.

All I can say is, may it be so.

The Human I Need to Be

Help me be the person I need to be to create this work.

That is my mantra, of late, thanks largely to Jen Louden, whose writing retreat and Writer’s Oasis have been hugely enriching for my creative expression. She believes that the creating of a thing gives us back to ourselves; that we become more of ourselves by digging into a project; that we become who we need to be through the very act of creating it.

The journey the project takes me on becomes as fundamental to healing—mine and others’—as putting a final product out there. The project teaches me what I need to know, gives me strength, shows me something beyond what I’m shown in the din of voices out there in the public discourse. And that reverberates far beyond what I can know.

Many of us yearn for a different world than what we see, and despair of ever getting it, give the broken state of things. But we are creating our world all the time, whether we mean to or not. Every act is a contribution to the reality we share.

It’s sort of like the person who adopts a dog: It’s impossible to not start training the dog right from the start, whether intending to or not, whether ever enrolling in formal dog training classes or not. (Don’t believe me? Say your puppy jumps up on you and you scold him, or wrestle with him, or rub his wee face because he’s so damn cute. Any one of those is likely reinforcing the jumping: You’re training him to jump up. Or he’s training you to respond to his jumping!)

What I mean to say is, I want to put at least some of my attention, in this destabilizing time, to consciously creating what I want to see more of. Because whether I realize it or not, I’m creating my life (and by extension the collective life) every moment.

Last week I planted Austrian winter peas, as I do every fall, for the tender shoots, and they’re coming up in my garden. I planted cilantro starts today, and lettuce too, because it soothes me to put my hands in the soil.

Cilantro from KG Acres

So many things are outside of my control, but here is just one contributory thing I can do in my small sphere.

I actually can’t control how these baby plants grow, but I can offer a little prayer to them as I set them in the ground, and commit to watering and tending them. Their rootballs connect my prayer to an entire planet. I imagine it suspended beneath their bodies. This one act of tender care signals my hope for a nourishing season ahead, no matter what else comes.

I create a modest garden that brings me pleasure and returns me to myself. It helps ground me. It puts me in contact with living things—the microscopic abundance in the soil, the miracle of a being that can make food from sunlight.

Pea shoots emerging

Just so, I make a thing out of nothing but words, like food from sunlight, that may or may not last more than a season, but that brings me along and turns me… slowly, slowly… into the human I need to be, rooted on this planet.

Force ≠ Power

Everyone’s working so hard these days, trying to figure out how to parse the new COVID-19 reality, trying to deal with massive uncertainty and upheaval.

A long time ago, an intuitive told me that “trying harder”—my usual tactic for getting through difficult things—was a habit that didn’t really serve me. I cut my teeth on the Mennonite work ethic though, and it’s a hard one to let go. Even now, knowing that it doesn’t really help, I’m not too long at a task or goal before my eyeballs get all squinched up and I hold one shoulder tighter or squeeze up my right thigh. It’s natural, right? I’m working hard!

We did an experiment in yoga class that showed me how truly unhelpful this pattern is. My teacher Gaynell had us swim our arms through space, bounce at the knees, forget about holding a certain posture. Get a little playful. Then she directed us to feel our “energy ball.”

You can do it right now just by shaking out your hands, rubbing them together, shaking them out some more, and then holding them a little bit apart. There’s a staticky feeling, a sort of fuzziness, between them—you feel it? That’s your own energy field.

So we have this energy ball and we’re playing with it, expanding the space and closing it, in touch with flow, and then Gaynell has us CLENCH EVERY MUSCLE IN OUR BODIES. You can do it right now. Really go rigid. Tense everything up completely. Your face, your toes, your glutes, everything. Then: Feel for your energy ball. Where did it go?

Mine collapsed. I mean, I couldn’t feel it AT ALL.

In the same vein, I once saw a demo with a personal trainer who tightened every muscle in her body… and was measurably weaker on a strength test, vs. staying loose and using only the muscles needed. This surprised even her.

These experiments tell me that force ≠ power!

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Photo by “orangemaniac” via Flickr Creative Commons

True power is quiet humming fuel, the life force underlying everything. Forcing, clenching, pushing, driving… these are all things I’ve been enculturated to do when my energy runs low. Just push on through. But, what if I’m just making life harder for myself and everyone around me?

What if there’s a way to reconnect to that hum every hour of every day, and use it to fuel my endeavors, instead of listening to the busy mind that overrides every small signal and tells me to press on? To drop any unneeded “efforting,” as yoga teaches us?

What if, indeed, this energy source is key to transforming this messed-up world from the inside out?

If I were to stand in my energy, could I listen more deeply, engage more fully, relate more authentically, even with people who push my buttons?

Could I have access to inspiration, innovations, and solutions that get cut off every time I tighten up?

Could I, through an easeful resonance, alter the energy of any place I enter?

I’d like to think so. Remembering to remember to remember… that’s the key.

Gratitude: Where would I be without yoga, my yoga community, my yoga teachers? Clenched-up, lonely, and snappish, that’s where. I’m especially grateful that some classes are now offered outdoors. If you need some support, check out Irvington Wellness Center for virtual classes and—if you’re local—for select in-person offerings. (I also offer Soul Realignment via Zoom, and you can book through IWC.)

Tip of the Day: If you read through my post but didn’t try the experiment… try it out now!

Resource of the Day: How to rewire the fear response through love. Check out this article by happiness specialist Arthur C. Brooke (four tips at the very end). 

Not your Sister’s Self-Care

I was asked to write a wellness article for a local women’s magazine, sharing practices that can help us find our footing in the midst of uncertainty. I was in the midst of drafting it when the world blew up for the second time in a few months, with George Floyd’s murder.

Not for the first time, that confluence of events made me really think about self-care in the context of  inequity and social change. Is self-care an inherently selfish act? Does it require donning blinders and living in a syrupy bubble of pampered and precarious comfort?

Not the kind of self-care I mean.

Embodiment teacher/activist Abigail Rose Clarke has said that having the time and space to do mindbody practices is a privilege. And the very fact that this kind of practice is a privilege, she notes, makes it a responsibility.

We who have the time and space to create the change within ourselves that can help heal the world, must do so.

I believe that building our personal resilience does in fact heal the world. I think of the white woman who called the police on a Black birdwatcher and claimed he threatened her, after he lawfully requested that she leash her dog. The level of reactivity in that act, aside from its painful demonstration of racism, indicates (to my mind) someone who is not awake to her own need.

Self-care, and not your sister’s self-care of pedicures and bubble baths and pricey skin toners, is a muscular act. It requires facing up to the boiling mess of emotion inside us, and giving it room to flow and transform. So often we suppress the things we don’t want to feel, but they don’t go anywhere but underground.

Then they burst out in annoying and sometimes dangerous ways, like chronic pain or low-grade irritability. Or acute reactivity that puts another in danger.

In actual fact, turning towards our emotions on the regular, with self-kindness, is what relieves and releases them. And it may not look pretty or feel yummy. Rolling on the floor and wailing is not a Calgon-take-me-away moment (totally dating myself with that reference). But I would much rather have a private tantrum than inflict that pent-up frustration, fear, and resentment on another.

(It doesn’t necessarily have to be a tantrum. Maybe it’s just experiencing that inward trio of sensation, thought, and emotion—and following where they lead with curiosity.)

By turning to kinder practices that nourish the body and soul, we become more resilient and less reactive. As we move through our day with less fear, suspicion, and hostility—less triggered, or more able to stay with the triggers and breathe before acting—we truly do build a more compassionate community and world.

I used to teach a class I called Radical Cell(f) Care, offering self-care practices I’d gleaned from various energy healing traditions. I called it radical because this kind of practice gets to the root, because it gives us tools to pause, because it creates change from within. It generates more kindness in a world sorely in need of that.

portulac

The portulaca blooms closed up in yesterday’s rain, and opened again when it stopped. Life inhales and exhales, contracts and expands. 

Now, kindness alone won’t solve the pattern of deadly force against black people and the dearth of justice for their murders, or other ways massive inequities show up in our society. It won’t halt a pandemic’s spread (but may slow it down, as people take precautions, expressing their care for each other). On its own it won’t fix the breakdown of our planetary systems, or the rise of fascism, or other seemingly intractable problems. But I still contend it is a vital tool for addressing the general awfulness that faces us at every turn.

Policies are behind much of the awfulness—policies set by people with power. We are also people… with our own power. Our choices and behaviors can uphold the awfulness, or challenge it, transcend it, create something brand new.

We need to continually refuel for the big and small acts that will make change. We need to embody and radiate the kind of muscular compassion that doesn’t look away from the awfulness, and doesn’t allow it to persist, and points the way to a different kind of world.

Gratitude: I am grateful for the view I have from my desk—our tiny back yard, where I can see young robins eating mock strawberries, and all the garden freshening under rain, and all the chipmunks, neighborhood cats, hummingbirds, bluegray gnatcatchers, sparrows, cardinals and so on making it their playground.

Tip of the Day: From the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is HardI learned that willpower is a finite resource. We exhaust ourselves quickly if we power through with grit alone. It’s not high-quality fuel. I’ve been cultivating a new motivation to fuel I do throughout my day, connecting to a feeling-level motivation where I can. Positive feelings like love, kindness, pride, excitement, and joy have staying power. If you are working toward change, it might be useful to check your fuel levels!

Resource of the Day: I started watching the Reimagining and Remaking America replay with activists Valarie Kaur and Van Jones. Now I can’t wait to read her book, See No Stranger, which makes a case for the ultimate long-haul fuel: revolutionary love.

What I Learned

There was a lag between my dad’s tests and the results. We knew something was wrong, and it could be bad, but we didn’t know for sure. The Saturday between his test and the oncologist appointment, I stopped over as usual for lunch after hitting the farmers’ market. It was a brilliant June day in 2011, and Dad was making the most of it in the back yard. Mom and I agreed: We wished we could just freeze time.

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Dad on a summer day

We couldn’t. The oncology appointment brought the kind of news every family dreads: terminal cancer.

I sometimes feel, now, like I’m in “please freeze time” mode. A pervasive sense of dread stalks some of my days and many of my nights. Watching swifts in their lilting flights as I walk my dog early in the morning, I have a weird sort of anticipatory nostalgia. This spring has been stunningly beautiful. The world is so inviting. And who knows what lies ahead for my family, my community, my country, the world?

But then again, who ever knows? We just think we will keep on our merry way, that nothing will ever change, but that’s an illusion.

But time can slow down a bit, when you pay close attention and know that you are really there, occupying the moment with all your senses.

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Follow the path with senses open…

What I learned from that horribly short period between Dad’s diagnosis and his death (and from what came next) is this: We can handle the worst. We get through it. There are still beautiful moments even in the awfulness. Dad speaking into a circle of family and friends around a fire. Grinning over a fat slice of cake, his 71st birthday. Going to the front door to thank the folks from church who surrounded the house in song one evening. Hugging me close, saying he didn’t want to leave us. Tender times I will never forget.

This is a tender time for us all, no matter how we show up for it, and the intensity packs a punch. I won’t soon forget standing in a parking lot with tons of neighbors spaced more or less 6 feet apart, scanning the skies for a Blue Angel flyover tribute to essential workers (including my nurse spouse, who got to be there too). Hailing from a pacifist tradition, I didn’t expect tears to well up, but they did.

There are many things I will remember as touchstones in the coming months, no matter what happens. And being here with my whole body/mind/spirit is the only way to navigate the uncertainty.

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Rooted

Gratitude: Sharing garden plants with friends and neighbors feels so abundant, and brings Dad back to me. We dug up Virginia bluebells that had spread all through his and Mom’s yard since he’s not there to thin them. We took some to Kate, who gave us two different kinds of tomatoes and 3 different kinds of peppers, plus basil. A neighbor came by with cilantro starts and went home with shovelfuls of various overgrown perennials from our yard. I have my eye on some wild ginger and salad burnet spreading in my beds that I can pass to another gardening neighbor. And on it goes.

Tip of the Day: Try this practice from Martha Beck to bring you into your body and the moment: Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Now experience them all at once. Guaranteed to take you out of your thinking mind and into your body.

Resource of the Day: Check out this article from time expert Laura Vanderkam about savoring time to stretch out the feel-good moments (and to make memories more vivid).

The View from Here

Program Note: When I first started this series, I had the ambitious idea of posting something daily. Turns out life is not as spacious as I imagined it would be in sequestration, and spring weather has me loath to spend any more time in front of  a screen than I need to. I have not wanted to add force to the equation, believing that “powering through” would taint the result with an energy I don’t want to perpetuate. I’ve tried to take my own advice and rest more. But… I do miss the days when I just let fly with my words, and I wonder if all the napping and stepping away from screens might also stem from reluctance to be seen. Several half-finished/half-baked posts are languishing, “not good enough yet.” All to say: I hope to find some balance and post regularly without too much drivenness. I don’t want to add more jangling to the global collective. And now back to our regularly (?) scheduled programming…

Several years ago, when I was dealing with chronic pain, I read a book written by someone with a similar condition. She wrote of widening beyond the place of pain and all its attending emotions.

One example: Her feet hurt terribly every time she took a step. But they did not hurt during the part of the step where they were off the ground. So she put her attention on the lift, not the footfall.

The spaces between the painful things can expand in our awareness.

These days when it seems like there is so much that hurts, or has the potential to hurt, where do I put my focus?

This past week we’ve seen the lifting of stay-at-home orders in my state and elsewhere. Here this is happening in a phased way, more or less status quo in my county till May 15—except the golf course opening, which foils my afternoon jaunts. I would have been glad to stay hunkered down much longer, but I know that people without a work-at-home job, broadband internet, a harmonious home, a friendly neighborhood, rainy-day fund, etc., are hurting.

Even knowing it was inevitable at some point, the announcement of this new phase brought back me some spikes of anxiety and dread. Wondering how an ambitious rollback of restrictions (“back on track” by July 4?) will play out for people most at risk, and how it will impact the front-line workers, such as my spouse, who stand ready for fresh numbers of COVID-19 patients.

I also notice some exuberance, sort of like “the nightmare is over! they said so!” And that scares me too. I live with someone facing the toll of COVID-19 every time she goes to work, and I can still entertain “it was all a bad dream”?

Then there’s the fraying of social cohesion. I’ve had this nice notion that this crisis will eventually result in a new, saner, more equitable world, but how exactly is that supposed to happen? It seems like divisions are being drawn ever deeper, scapegoating is on the rise, and the pandemic is far from over (no matter how tired of it we might be, or how much our leaders want to declare victory).

I don’t really want to document all the things that worry me right now, but instead expand my awareness to the space that holds the fear. I’m not saying fear never offers valid or useful information. I’m talking about including it in something bigger.

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View from the morning walk, leaning against my hackberry tree friend.

(Short rant: Sometimes in the spiritual development world, there’s a certain pollyanna way of looking at things, where people try to hush up the hard stuff by pasting a smiley face on it. There’s a lot of bullshit around the role we play in creating our reality, a mindset that makes it easy to ignore major systemic injustices. I’m not of a mind that nothing bad will ever happen to those who live right. New Age bunkum implies that feeling bad is basically your own fault for not being spiritual enough. That way lies madness, and further injustice. We don’t need to slap a happy face on things that are really crummy.)

So, what I’m talking about is not so much looking the other way as widening out. 

I made a very basic list of things I could count on in my journal early on, when I was reeling. Maybe it’s still useful. A place to put focus. I added to it and buffed it up a bit to put here—maybe you can add things to it too.

20200426_164339 (768x1024)Things we can count on:

  • The sun in its cycle.
  • The moon in its cycle.
  • The seasons of the planet.
  • Stars up there. Milky Way.
  • The fact that the sky will cloud and clear and cloud and clear.
  • The way buds open, flower, fruit, and fall.
  • The fact that every oak tree starts as an acorn.
  • The universal truth that everyone experiences loss and grief.
  • The space between the tiny particles that make up a body. Particles whirling so fast they seem solid but actually hold vast spaces between them.
  • The way ice melts when it’s heated. The way fire burns.
  • Gravity.

Gratitude: Friends who hold me up even from a distance when I’m falling.

Tip of the Day: This one brought to you by the one and only Fred Rogers, whose biography I’m listening to: “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices, and hopefully your choices come from a deep sense of who you are.”

Resource of the Day: Speaking of gravity: Abigail Rose Clarke, founder of the Embodied Life Method, offers a marvelous free meditation, “The Solace Practice.” It gently guides you into really feeling the way your body gets heavier on the exhale. I can’t describe it, you just have to experience it. Go here to connect with her and receive a link to the practice.

Looking Down

For a short month during my horse-crazy girlhood, I took horseback riding lessons. I remember riding around an indoor arena. I remember not being allowed to choose the same horse each week, because “you’re learning to ride horses, not a horse.” Beyond that, I don’t remember much.

Other than the instructor telling me repeatedly, “Look where you want the horse to  go.”

Weirdly, I couldn’t seem to do it. Down and to the side, that’s where my eyes went, to the churned-up wood chips on the floor.

Looking back, I think I was rattled by the stimulating environment and the scary thrill of being high on a horse’s back. All I could see was the ground.

I sort of thought I was looking forward, and I was even more rattled by the frustrated instructor’s repeated injunction to “stop looking down.” I may have managed to glance at the horse’s ears a few times, if not actually through them to where I wanted the horse to go. (On the other hand, where was there to really go in that small arena?)

Did I mention I was a myopic and dreamy child? When I later started driving, on rainy days I found myself absorbed by the raindrops hitting the windshield of the vehicle, vs. the street I was driving down.

But about the riding lesson, two things come to mind. 1) It’s hard to learn something new while overstimulated or scared, and no amount of clear instruction will change that; and 2) Looking where you want to go, while good policy, may require some preliminary work.

I was reminded of this episode by Martha Beck’s video, Thriving in Turbulent Times. In it, she talks about being mindful of your focus, and training it toward where you want to go—looking between the horse’s ears, say, or kicking into a goalie’s net. Or moving toward a future defined by resilience, justice, and mutuality.

I absolutely love this idea, and it makes total sense, and I have sought out evidence the positive side of humanity, wanting to put my focus there. I live for the kind of good news that can somewhat counterbalance the hard stuff (see Resource of the Day below).

And I also know that for me, sometimes there’s a crucial first step before I can reclaim my focus from where I don’t want to go.

I must first find a way to hear the parts of me that may not be on board with positivity in the moment. I need to find a way to calm my nervous system. I need to be extra extra gentle with myself for falling into an unwanted pattern.

(Martha Beck is also down with this, by the way, so I’m not dissing her work in any way.)

This week I went to ground a bit. John Prine died, the refrigerator broke, I had to wear a mask to the drug store for the first time. Everything piled up and seemed sad and scary and hard. I couldn’t sleep. I found myself sinking into despair and anxiety, overloading my nervous system, ending up shaky and overwhelmed—then making it worse by shaming myself for going there.

Enough already. A good cry is as necessary as a good nap, in my book. Why do we have tear ducts, if not to use them?

If I let myself look down, or allow full absorption in the raindrops instead of the street ahead, it can be a relief. It’s honest. Right now, my body says (from the floor, curled up in a sobfest), this is where I need to be. Time enough later for windshield wiping and plotting a course.

horse

Me and my brother and one of our cousins, long before the lessons.

Gratitude: One thing that has really sustained me, and given incentive to continue this project, is all the feedback I’ve received, even third-hand. In addition to this blog, I sent out an e-newsletter called How Will We Choose to Live? that received more responses than any in recent memory. Thank you to everyone who takes time to read these words. I know how much content is out there to wade through, and I’m honored.

Tip of the Day: A double-edged one today. Writing this series has helped me, and has given me a sustaining project, an outlet. Friends are going deep into gardening, or rediscovering crocheting, or learning languages, or making masks. Maybe there’s a project that can help you through this time.

But maybe it’s also, conversely: Don’t try too hard to get shit done. Maybe don’t try out a new skill or join another online lecture. There might be some inner tending that needs to happen before new learning can happen. Do we really need to take a free Yale course on well-being right now? Maybe the highest of higher education is found down deep within.

Resource of the Day: In the good-cry department, here is John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” episode 2. I love everything about this DIY online news show, which gave me a fine place to land while surfacing from my funk. Around minute 9 is where it really kicks up a notch, at least for Hamilton fans.