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.

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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.

Touching in the Time of…

Strange days indeed. When a hug or handshake could be, I guess, lethal? When what human comfort we long to give, we must give via pixels?

In this time of COVID-19, when “social distancing” has become our norm, I wonder what is being ingrained into the minds and energy-bodies of today’s children. Everything is a potential threat, particularly the hands of others. Any surface we touch could potentially be contaminated. We must be on high-alert at all time.

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Sign at the entrance of my father-in-law’s funeral.

This is starting to be ingrained in me as well. How strange it is that now, when I see people interacting on a TV show, I’m conscious of how close their faces are? Back up, I find myself thinking. Droplet alert!

I don’t know what to think about all this. But it makes me sad. Isolation is not a healthy state for any human, and I can’t imagine living alone right now (or living without furry companions).

What I do know is that there are more ways to touch than through the physical realm. When a friend was barred from seeing her dying mother because the nursing home closed to visitors, I texted, “I believe that you can contact your mother by getting quiet and reaching for her in your mind and heart.”

Maybe this time of physical distancing will shorten our learning curve (as a species) for connecting through other means. I don’t mean Zoom or FaceTime, though those are a godsend.

I mean: Think of someone, put them in your heart, and part of you is with that person in that moment.

I mean: Connect by touching the same earth, reaching for the same sky (as a recent EmbodieDance class explored).

I mean: Feel how we are each more than our molecules, bigger than our bodies, part of the All in All. Meet me there.

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Gratitude: A snuggly nap with my cat, Edgar (Eddie).

Tip of the Day: See if it’s possible to replace worry with a heart-connection, or prayer, or spiritual delegation. Send the object of your concern a lighter energy than worry. (But don’t be hard on yourself if you do worry. Lord knows these are worrisome times.)

Resource of the Day: Meditation teacher Tara Brach is offering a free online mindfulness class to improve sleep and address anxiety. It is free until March 30, so check it out soon. You can download it and take the course later.

Wishing you expanded awareness during this contracted time!

Routines, Supports, New Delights

How are you finding comfort and stability in this wild new world we find ourselves in? Are there humble routines that bring you some sense of normalcy? Support systems in place to bolster you? Surprising new delights of any kind?

Just now the dryer is spinning my sheets dry, the supper dishes are in the drainer, and my sweetie and I are super-relaxed from a restorative yoga class offered via Zoom. My yoga studio has taken its offerings online, and I’m so grateful. Even in life pre-COVID, my nervous system benefited from the regular reset of a good yoga class. I would say it was a nonnegotiable before, and about a hundredfold more so now.

I can practice at home, and have restarted that this week, but there’s something about communal practice that takes me deeper. Even when the community is remote, it’s still very nourishing to be in a virtual “room” together.

As far as new delights, let’s talk about another kind of community. I have never seen so many people out walking the neighborhood. I have never taken so much time to stop and chat while I’m out walking Opal. I always had to hurry home to get my shit done.

I still have plenty of that drivenness, which is a blog post for later. But it seems so important to stop and smile and chat with strangers, and catch up with neighbors.

It does feel like this collective experience is already turning everything upside down—what we thought was so important…is maybe not.

Gratitude: See above. Plus: a hint of sunlight this morning!

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Some blue sky this morning.

Tip of the Day: This one is courtesy of Gaynell, who taught yoga last night (thanks for the good night’s sleep, Gaynell!) A practicing Buddhist, Gaynell reminded us of the transitory nature of… well, everything. Observing what is occurring—giving it space—allows connection with the wider awareness that everything is impermanent. So this is the big tip: Instead of thinking “I am anxious,” (as I sometimes do), try: “What is it like, this experience I call anxiety?” Then notice, allow, bring compassion. An excellent and timely reminder. We may feel fear or anger or confusion or grief, but we don’t have to turn it into an identity.

Resource of the Day: This is a spiritual resource. I love Nichola Torbertt’s conversation with redwoods about coronavirus. “What if this virus brings you to your knees so that you have to admit that you don’t really know how to move forward? And then what if you started reconsidering how you’ve been living? And then reaching out to each other—especially to those most at risk—and talking about what you long for and noticing the redwoods and the daffodils and talking to us, too? What if?”

See the whole post, it’s worth a read, and the photo is gorgeous.

BodyMindSpiritEarth

I had a realization at the close of yoga class, while resting in savasana (corpse pose), eyes falling back into their sockets, head heavy on the mat. It’s just this: I have a skull.

Oh I knew that of course. In theory. But it’s weird to think of this thing—used as symbol for poison, or to provoke ghoulish fright, the bony remains of a human—being embedded under my skin RIGHT NOW.

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Photo by Kate Bunker, via Flicker Creative Commons

Maybe this is not so revelatory for you. Well, I’m the girl who recently discovered, to my amazement, that the bones of my pelvis start way higher at my sides than I had previously pictured. When I thought “pelvis,” I thought “sex organs.” I thought “hips.” I didn’t think “bony parts at my waist just a few inches below my ribcage.”

In this level of bodily cluelessness, I may be unusual, but I think not. Do we really know what goes on under our skin? Do we key into the intelligence of our organs all working together, our blood flowing, our skeletons? Do we connect to the slime and gore of our insides, cached away under the outer layer that meets the world?

It’s easy to forget all that stuff, in an age where we think a whole lot. We can end up experiencing ourselves as brains on a stick, using the body to move the big brain from here to there. This brain that will save the day! (That’s working great for humanity so far, as our “progress” continues to wipe out species and their habitat at unprecedented rates.)

On the other hand, in spiritual development circles, we experience ourselves as bigger-than-brain, as soul or Higher Self, and we know that we go on beyond the body and the body is just dust and ashes.

I submit that this laudable idea can be just as alienating, even dangerous, as the big brain idea.

Of course we are our intellectual capacity; humanity makes incredible use (and misuse) of our curiosity, our capacity for logic, and our problem-solving prowess.

Of course we are our souls; that bigger perspective feeds many a spiritual seeker, including myself.

But the bones, the blood, the viscera—they have their own story to tell, and they don’t just exist to tote us from problem-solving puzzle to enlightened insight. Divorced from the body, the mind is imbalanced, the soul unmoored.

The energy within the body IS us. The blood moves, heart beats, bones/muscles/organs support each other in an integrated system that boggles the mind AND spirit.

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Photo by Marco De Stabile, via Flickr Creative Commons

I am not a mind. I am not a spirit. Not only these. I am a bodymindspirit. I come to practices like yoga and qi gong because I want to experience myself as all three, integrated and invincible.

Like most of us I’m good at neglecting this body. I push it past fatigue, I feed it poor fuel, I ask it to digest too much too fast, I wish it would just sit down and shut up so I can do my real work, but what if my real work is…a dance? A prayer-in-motion?

What if my real work is to sink back into this body that is part of the earth, that needs me to care for it in a deep and loving way?

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What if, by disowning the body’s “ugly” innards, and ignoring its whispers and clues and shouts and cries, I’m only contributing to the disregard of our precious earth’s wisdom?

That’s the bigger picture: bodymindspiritearth. Could I experience myself as all four integrated, and what would that look like?

What dance would I offer then?

Resonance

On the cusp of a “new year,” what shall we plan to create? I have a love-hate relationship with the cheerleadery “new year/new you” notion that’s so rampant. So much promise! So much pressure to do/be better/more this year!

I like the reflections my yoga teacher brought to class this past week. She turned the focus from goals to intentions, and asked how we wanted to be in the new year.

So a better question than “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” might be “How do you want to show up in 2019, for yourself, for your community, for the world?”

Resolutions generally involve some measure of force. We must deny ourselves something, or push ourselves to do something. But if we choose a state of being to guide behavior, positive actions flow naturally from that intention.

Not that we won’t fall short. But we can return to the intention time and again, while resolutions go out to the curb with the crumpled-up wrapping paper.

For me, it’s helpful to choose a word to encapsulate my focus for the year. This year’s theme was alignment. Last year’s, transformation. For 2019, it feels like the word resonance has chosen me.

I’m intending to sink into who I am, resonate my soul’s essence, and bring that resonance to any interaction. (Always holding this gently, with the caveats when I remember, when I can…knowing that this might be more often than I expect.)

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“One of the interesting qualities of being human is, by the look of it, we’re the only part of creation that can actually refuse be to be ourselves. And as far as I can see, there’s no other part of the world that can do that. The cloud is the cloud, the mountain is the mountain, the tree is the tree, the hawk is the hawk.” –David Whyte

The poet-philosopher David Whyte nails it when he says humans are the only part of nature capable of refusing to be what we are. We are so adept at pretending to be something other-than-us, we can even come to believe that we are that thing we’re pretending to be.

I’ve been down that route and it doesn’t work well for my constitution. In this second half-century of my life, I’m over fakery.

It’s chancy to show up. To be fully human is to be vulnerable. It means experiencing pain and loss and doing the best I can with it. It means risking exposure and shame. And risking deep joy and connection as well.

When I look up resonance, I find several definitions:

1. The state or quality of being resonant (resounding or echoing, as sounds: the resonant thundering of cannons being fired.)
2. the prolongation of sound by reflection; reverberation.
3. Phonetics: amplification of the range of audibility of any source of speech sounds… (more)
4. Physics: the state of a system in which an abnormally large vibration is produced in response to an external stimulus, occurring when the frequency of the stimulus is the same, or nearly the same, as the natural vibration frequency of the system.

So it’s about sound, speech, words, but also vibration.

I find it interesting that there is a scientific phenomenon (if I understand the physics definition) by which vibration appears to be amplified when frequencies align or nearly align.

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WinterLights 2018 at Newfields

Something to try, if you like: Walk into any group of people and resonate your truest being. You may be invisible to some who are not on your wavelength. No matter. Who sees you? Who finds you? You are drawing your people based on your vibration.

You are also, I believe, shifting the overall frequency in subtle ways, making it easier for others to resonate who they are as well. To show up as yourself is a daring act and might tempt others to reveal more of themselves than they would otherwise.

You are reverberating, resounding, perhaps at a frequency beyond the capacity of human ears to hear, but make no mistake: the effect is real.

Here’s to a soul-resonant new year.

Letting the Carapace Go

In San Diego I learned about sheep crabs, the largest California spider crab and impressive as can be, with a knobbily bluish shell.

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Photo by Eva Funderburgh, via Flickr Creative Commons

I learned that crustaceans molt several times over their lifespan: backing out of their carapace after first growing a soft new shell. They pull water into the new shell to expand it to allow for growth. It soon hardens and they go on their merry way in this roomier carapace (until it, in turn, becomes too cramped).

I’ve been taken with this image, thinking: What if we, too, could back out of our shells and emerge with a new watery skin? Though extending the metaphor requires a shell to harden, the expansion is what intrigues me.

We have the power to expand beyond what we think is possible. (And maybe we can be different from crustaceans, and choose to retain that soft, wet outer skin, instead of armoring up.)

What if the world, itself, could molt like that? What if it is in the process of molting right now? I use “world” here to mean consciousness, the stories that guide us, the collective agreements we have all upheld.

Can we make way for something that has yet to take its full form but that gives room for all of us to grow into the fullness of who we are?

In that personal and collective growth, we can look clearly at the shell of what is passing away. Perhaps it protected us, for a time. Or some of us anyway—those who have been privileged enough to be considered normative through race, gender, orientation, etc.

But: It’s time. We don’t have to buy into a story that makes no sense anymore.

We don’t have to agree to a dominant (but dying) cultural myth that diminishes someone else to make ME bigger. We don’t have to purchase (literally) the trappings of a culture that relies on what amounts to slave labor and massive inequity. We don’t have to buy into oppression, exploitation, racism, fear, war.

What if we all just walked away from that old defunct thing, just backed on out and moseyed on our happy way with something much softer surrounding us?

It isn’t easy, I’m not saying that—we white people in particular feel safe in our habits, in our business-as-usual. And the sweep of change encounters tremendous resistance in the form of the nation’s leadership (as Michelle Alexander brilliantly writes in her New York Times Op Ed today). But in the immortal words of Arundhati Roy:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

To get quiet enough to feel the newness beckon, that feels crucial. To allow the call of the new to bolster us as we get out from under the old.

For me, this exploration lends itself to a simple inquiry: What can I let go of in this moment? Maybe it’s a breath I’ve been holding, a grip in my eyeballs, a resentment, a knee-jerk defensiveness, a fear of speaking up… or a habitual dissing and dismissing of whatever I need to feel, as emotion washes through me.

Acknowledging, allowing, and melting any rigidity… That is where I want to place my attention this first day of autumn, and in the coming season of letting go.

What about you: How do you conceive of the old constrictive shell, whether for yourself or the world? Can you envision a new, slippery, softer shell? What you would like to fill it with as you create more spaciousness?

In backing out from under the carapace, we join countless others in an expansion that can’t be stopped.

Who Makes the Sun Rise?

Have you seen the gorgeous children’s book Who Makes the Sun Rise, by writer/painter Lois Main Templeton? The concept: A rooster takes credit for daybreak because his call precedes it.

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Photo by Kamweti Mutu, via Flickr Creative Commons

We saw the artist’s work last weekend at the Indiana State Museum. Her abstract paintings often incorporate handwritten verbiage into intriguing and beautiful images. (Her story is inspiring—she started creating at the age of 51 and hasn’t stopped, though that was nearly 40 years ago.)

But to that rooster, and his question. I’ve been thinking about how the thing I want to grasp is always just a little farther on. I’m not talking only situations or possessions. I mean: How I want to be is how I am not now. I’d like to be braver, physically hardier, more sure of myself, more centered, more incisive, more evolved. Better.

But: Who makes the day break onto this ideal future self? My present self, with her choice to turn toward everything that is in the present.

I always have the choice to come closer to acceptance, or to distance myself from what is and fixate on some ideal I can’t possibly match.

So who is that elusive future self? The one who will clear out enough mental and physical and schedule space to finish her feckin book. That’s who. The one who will always work to dismantle oppressive structures, who will be properly assertive without alienating, who will see all projects to stunning completion and never get the least bit snippy.

Who will always match inner and outer.

Who will let go of perfectionism once and for all.

See how this future self is so great (embodying all opposing ideals) that she keeps me from loving the flawed being that I am, and will surely remain?

But if I can remember to sink into compassion just for one short moment, I might find that I have just enough courage, and can let go of just enough perfectionism, to do one small thing. Like write for 15 minutes nonstop about something that scares me. Or lift a small free weight. Or say no to one thing I really don’t want to do, so I can turn back to the book. Or say the uncomfortable thing that needs to be said, awkwardly but willingly.

Who makes the sun rise? Into that new dawn, shining bright? My present flawed self, with her choice to act—even if the action is less than well executed, even if she doesn’t know for sure what the hell she’s doing.

Agency, isn’t that what we all need? A sense that we are somehow making life roll on, creating the future. Which we are. We make the day break anew every day. Through the smallest of choices.

So I’ll join that rooster and say without apology: I make the sun rise.

Lies I’ve Loved

Last time I wrote about radical ephemerality, shamelessly stealing from my yoga teacher. Since then we’ve had another gentle snow to delight my eye.

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You can’t see it, but there was a kingfisher in this old craggy cottonwood by the creek.

Then we had about a gazillion inches of hard rain, and wind strong enough to knock the birdfeeder off its platform. A sinkhole opened up down the street, the same one the city filled in with gravel sometime back. Water flowed into basements all over the neighborhood and the creek ran high and muddy.

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Blossoms in a sand trap show the high water mark.

And a friend marked herself as “safe” on Facebook, after a shooting in a California town I used to visit on business in the late 1990s.

Meanwhile I read a little book called Everything Happens for a Reason, and other lies I’ve loved, by Kate Bowler. It’s the true story of a woman living with inoperable stage 4 cancer, a memoir like none I’ve read before. Kate writes with great honesty and humor of the tyranny of prescriptive joy, the collective addiction to control, and the dumb things people say.

She writes of her habitual need to plan. For example: walking with her husband, the whole time talking about what to do next. (I can relate.)

But she’s smack in the middle of a present moment tinged with pain because of the possibility of losing everything dear to her. “I just need to live to be fifty,” she tells a friend. “I need to make sure that kid is launched. I need to get most of my life done. I need to lock it down.”

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Daffodil head blown far from its stalk.

 

“Don’t skip to the end,” the friend tells her.

It’s one of the wisest things anyone can say. In fact, at the end of the book she has a list of things not to say to people facing terrible times. Things like “Well, at least…” and “When my aunt had cancer” and “God needed an angel.” (She suggests instead: Silence. Offers of hugs and food. Or: “Oh my friend, that sounds so hard.”)

The book made me think of the biggest loss of my life to date, the death of my father. I remember his response when people would say, “Just keep fighting!”

“I don’t know what that means,” he said, as mesothelioma closed his lung tissue, and chemo and radiation made him only sicker. Grieving his foreshortened lifespan, he shook his head: “What does that mean, to fight?”

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I can never remember what these are called. I used to ask Dad year after year.

 

We put such pressure on our sick people, to be brave, to be fighters, to be positive. A well-meaning extended family member asked him, “Do you want to get better?” As if he somehow wasn’t clinging to life passionately enough.

Talk about dumb things people say. A few days after he died, a twentysomething fitness guru said to me consolingly, “At least you know he’s not suffering anymore.” I remember wanting to throttle her. Thank you for that insight, perky little cheerleader-gym owner. That just makes it all OK now. Or at least YOU feel better.

The funny thing is, I do tend toward the belief (beloved lie?) that things happen for a reason. I want to believe that the hard things I go through have a purpose, that my soul draws experiences to me so that it can grow. Perhaps it is a lie, but it feels like a more empowered frame of mind than blaming random chance.

I do know that some of the difficult times in my life have softened me to others’ pain, and brought me resources that later served a larger healing.

But I would never suggest that “everything happens for a reason” to a young mother dealing with a death sentence. Sitting squarely in her ephemerality. Life is more beautiful, and painful, Kate writes, than she could have imagined.

“My little plans are crumbs scattered on the ground. This is all I have learned about living here, plodding along, and finding God. My well-laid plans are no longer my foundation. I can only hope that my dreams, my actions, my hopes are leaving a trail for Zach and Toban, so, whichever way the path turns, all they will find is Love.”

—Kate Bowler