Leaning into Uncertainty: accepting the gift of this moment

If you were to look in my journal – a fate I’d not wish on anyone – you would see a frequent refrain. I wish I knew what is next. Nearly every day in some form or another, I express this desire to know, to know what’s next, to not feel so uncertain about…well, almost everything. What I have a tendency to forget, in fact what we as a culture try to whitewash continually, is the fact that there is very little that is certain. Cars crash. Parents age. Cancers grow. Jobs disappear. The list goes on and on. Although we invest our money and purchase life, car, health, dental, vision and pet insurance, we are still not immune catastrophe. Or at the very least, discomfort.

This kind of talk makes me the hit of every party.

I believe it’s this sense of uncertainty that is weighing so heavily on my soul lately. I’ve shared over the last couple months of writing that I am in a season of endings. While ending can be emotionally fraught, they are a natural part of life. We must have endings in order to have beginnings, but we resist the former and embrace the latter. Maybe it’s because of the emotions associated with endings: fear, anger, sorrow. Even the best ending is seldom entirely joyful. I have even protested myself that I am not sad about these endings, but when I say this, I am not being entirely true to myself. I am sad. But sorrow itself takes so many forms, the warmth of nostalgia, the darkness of grief, bitter tang of regret. Sadness is not the enemy we have been taught to believe.

It may be that I have mistakenly tried to distract myself from uncertainty by anticipating what’s next. Anticipation is one of my favorite emotions, allowing me to experience a wonderful thing many times before it occurs. This seems a much more enjoyable process than allowing a season of endings to take it’s allotted time. I pretend I have control by trying to force events, emotions, probability. Constantly erecting barricades of expectation only to be crushed beneath them when they crumble. In this way, I am my own worst enemy.

Withdrawing a bit from all the voices of the outside world, lovely and unlovely, is a way for me to ground myself in the present. Whether I feel joy or sorrow, whether or not I know what’s next, I can live this moment. I may not know what’s coming next, but I can decide what I will bring to the moment I inhabit. When I fight against uncertainty, I bring a combative, controlling presence. But when I embrace the unknown I bring peace both within and without. How can I resist conflict in the world when I create conflict within myself?

I can’t.

My task right now is to be present. Excruciatingly, vulnerably, joyously present. This moment and who I choose to be in it is the only certainty I get. Learning to accept this, to embrace  this miracle of now is the path I walk today. Whether the path is beautiful or wretched is entirely up to me.

Things falling apart is kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and they fall apart, again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen. Room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. -Pema Chodren

Hibernation Zone: When I can’t get no satisfaction

One of the things I love about our annual family trips to the beach is how very isolated we are. We stay offline, barely even taking phone calls or texts. We sometimes stay outdoors from sun-up to sundown. It’s like living in a safe, gentle bubble with only the wind and  the waves and one million books to keep us company. It really is my favorite time of year. This year I seem to be particularly anxious for it to arrive, I think it’s the hibernation factor. I feel the need to unplug (ironic, I know, as I say this online).

This week I’ve been particularly edgy (not that you’d notice- wink, wink). The political atmosphere is very hard for me to escape. I can’t find the balance between informed and sane. Actually, it’s sanity I truly struggle to find. It’s bleeding into all the areas of my life. I can’t, in good conscience, completely shut down, but even being informed leaves me feeling enraged and powerless.

Honestly, my general attitude about everything is dissatisfaction.

So what do I do when I’m cranky, and snappy and generally dissatisfied? I’m giving into my urge for hibernation.

It’s a long, holiday weekend so I won’t be torturing myself with guilt over pulling out of the information cyclone for awhile. Hopefully the fire hose wanes to a trickle for a week or so.  Either way, I won’t be around to see it. No news, no email, no social media. At least until I get grip on this mood.

I’m not leaving the house. I might love to be home slightly more than a normal person should. It’s not so much about the house, just the home part. Give me a day on the back deck with the dogs and some food and a stack of good books and I am a happy girl. Today I shopped for groceries for one billion years so now I get to hide away from the world until the food runs out again.

I plan to read until my eyeballs fall out, run until my lungs make me stop, meditate, listen to good music, smooch on my Hunky, and generally find my happy again. I know it’s in there. It just needs to wake up from hibernation. I’m coaxing it out with all my best moves.

 

Self-awareness to the Rescue: Recovery and Growth

Basically, yesterday was a wash, creatively speaking.

The good news is that self-awareness changes so much about how I process days like yesterday. I understand that I often fall prey to my own castles of expectation. I also don’t transition quickly. Basically I sabotaged myself by expecting too much, too quickly. I didn’t allow time for decompression and transition in my mental processes. Throw in a bout of anxiety and some car repair, and I simply didn’t have the resources to bounce back.

Working through a 12-step recovery program hasn’t always been easy or fun. It’s very difficult to honestly take inventory of my shortcomings and failures. But if I do it with balance and self-love, inventory reveals so much about my personality and patterns of behavior. I can actively work to change behavior patterns, but personality is a bit stickier. Rather than try to change my personality, I am learning how to work better within it. Being an introvert and an HSP (highly sensitive personality – read more here and here) aren’t liabilities until I don’t respect my boundaries. Then I begin to frazzle, fray and eventually, fall apart.

I know these things about myself now, but that doesn’t mean I always make the best choices. Occasionally, I even have days like yesterday where my personality protests for no discernible reason. Even though it’s frustrating, at least now I can say, I understand the problem. I may not completely understand what triggered the breakdown, but self-awareness means I can work through the cycle more quickly and effectively than before.

It’s interesting to me that we live in a culture that is steeped in education, success and progress, but we generally spend very little time learning to understand ourselves. It wasn’t until I was in therapy that anyone really encouraged me to listen to my very own soul. In fact, being immersed in a religious environment, I learned not to trust my inner voice at all.  I believed I hold little of inherent value and I shouldn’t love or trust emotions or internal desires. My own terrible, wretched flesh was my enemy.

I don’t believe these things any more, but I am not immune to falling back into unhealthy thought patterns. When my emotions are high or my physical self needs food or rest, I have to remember that taking care of myself, listening to my inner voice, is ultimately the most unselfish thing I can do. Self-care makes me a better human, which benefits everyone around me. Self-awareness makes me a better steward of my own soul.

Yesterday was an aberration, a blip in a pattern of healthier and more self-compassionate behaviors and choices I continue to learn. Today, I can continue to beat myself up for being entirely human, or I can move forward with the choices I know make me a better human. And I can say thank you to everyone who saw me yesterday and choose to love me anyway, still.

This recovery thing? It’s working for me. One day at a time; one moment at a time.

Cranky when Writing: when Creativity runs dry

I’m cranky about writing today. It’s true.

It only took 84 days for me to run out of words but I feel all dried up of creativity. Which is, of course, tinged with irony since it is the first day of my creative sabbath. Perhaps I’m frozen by possibility again? It still happens from time to time.

I had a little anxiety moment on my run this morning. Those triggers can go off unexpectedly. I can’t live with my guard up all the time, but boy when those things hit you with your guard down, they can drop you before you know it. I’ve been shoo-ing that demon out all day now.

Also I’d rather be reading. Some days all I want to do is curl up with a book and lose myself. Maybe I just think losing myself is preferable to living with myself on an angsty sort of day.  At least the van has working AC again.

Here’s the thing, we all get to have an off day, whatever the reason. The days we hide in the bedroom with cups of tea and grump for no-good-reason. It happens. I used to fight harder against it, but struggling only binds me more tightly. If I just let myself be prickly awhile, eventually I come out the other side.  I do feel kind of sorry for Hunky, though, while it’s going on. He’s sort of collateral damage.

Maybe that’s the lesson for me today. We get grumpy and prickly and blah sometimes, and that’s how it is. Instead of beating ourselves up over it, “shoulding ourselves to death” my friend would say, we can just lean in. Everything is temporary. This too shall pass.

So what you can know about my first day of creativity is that I am literally counting words as I type to meet my minimum requirement. I letting go of perfection and saying this is good enough. And tomorrow is another day. For better or worse, I’ve done what I could do.

Reading Scripture Sideways: a new take on a very old book

I’ve been slowly, as in snail’s pace slowly, working my way through Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible. I actually want to read it like the pages are on fire and I have to finish before it consumes them. I want to gorge myself on the clever, gentle, insightful ways of considering an ancient library. Scripture. I used to love it. Even now the word feels so weighty and mysterious when it sits on my tongue. I believe that’s because it is  weighty and mysterious, wrapped in thousands of layers of meaning and interpretation. Yes, I used to love scripture. I was so much more certain of everything then. Now, honestly, I’m afraid of the Bible, and that fear is holding me back from enjoying not only Rob Bell’s book, but scripture itself.

I know what you’re thinking: here comes the crazy again. It’s true. I have all the issues when it comes to church and church business. But through all this great big hairy church mess, somehow, I never believed that God lost her faith in me. Even when I stumble and flail and fall and swear, even when I push her away like an over tired toddler, she loves me still. She’s been faithful in every way and for that I am so deeply and powerfully grateful.

Religious institutions have not been so merciful or forgiving in my experience. Now I’m what old cowboys refer to as ‘gun shy.‘ Churchy words and situations make me anxious. I seldom measure up to expectations, and when I do it’s because I’m not being true to myself. And then there’s the Bible, the weapon most often used against me in religious altercations (also known as rebuking, church discipline and spiritual authority).

It’s true, I’ve used the Bible as a weapon myself, back in the days when together we were infallible. I can accept that about myself even if I don’t like it very much. Had I known how quickly that weapon would turn on me, I might have thumped more gently, perhaps not at all. For as long as I can remember, we’ve elevated scripture with superlatives: inerrant, inspired, ineffable. Words so high, I cannot attain them. I’ve learned to defend it, uphold it, revere it and memorize it, as though tongues of fire straight from Heaven itself licked words upon papyrus scrolls with nary a misprint or mystery in the process.

What I didn’t learn was how slippery millenia old stories of the Divine become as they slip through time. Or how entirely human the men and women who recorded the stories really are. Sometimes a very human agenda superimposes itself over a very divine story. I didn’t learn context, or layers or culture. Truth may be eternal, but the expression of Truth isn’t so easy to nail down in concisely neat terms once and for all.

So I’ve floundered.

My experience of God doesn’t fit so neatly on the pages as it used to. It keeps sliding off, bursting out, growing bigger than the neat little boxes I learned about. The God of my deconstruction is endlessly forgiving, but God out of the box can get you excommunicated (or perhaps even crucified).

I’ve avoided wrestling with scripture for fear it will disappoint me. It has a lot to live up to when you look at it as the very word of God. But recently, I’ve started to see it a bit differently. Jesus, Himself, is the very word of God, and to date, He hasn’t failed me. I think for me it’s time to let the words of the Bible be what they truly are – a very human attempt to describe a very indescribable God.

An immutable, inerrant Word of God is far too dangerous in the hands of someone like me. But a human attempt to unravel the Universal Christ in ways we can understand and embody, with all the mistakes and course correction that entails? That might just be the right fit for a heretic like me. And if it isn’t, I have a God who’s waiting to fill in the gaps. Because that’s the kind of God she is.

Creative Sabbath: the evolution of the Month of No

Tomorrow is my last obligation until September.* How crazy is this? July and August stretch out ahead of me with only possibility to fill them (and a vacation…oh, how ready I am to feel sand between my toes again). I’m trying to decide how I will handle such a windfall of days. This is too miraculous a gift to squander, not when there are so many things I want to play, try and do. Shelves of books await. Empty drawing pads beckon. Words sit on the tips of my fingers waiting to emerge from the keyboard. Miles wait for me to run. Sabbath awaits for certain, but I think it will be a creative sabbath as opposed to one strictly devoted to rest.

I never realized how much of myself I poured into education until my young ladies enrolled in college. The last school year was a big wad of transition for all of us. Them to having someone besides their Mom as teacher, and me to being merely a support system. Most days my biggest responsibility towards education is a pep talk.

It took much longer than I imagined to decompress from that. I spent quite a few hours simply sitting, resting, not planning or  really doing much of anything except the basic necessities a household requires. I don’t regret that time. That Sabbath was well-earned and well spent.

Then December and January rolled around, uncovering some old scars and creating some new wounds that required attention. I will take any person to the mat who says spiritual/ emotional work takes place only in the head and heart. Real, deep work in the depths of ourselves is a whole body endeavor. Some days, I dropped into bed completely exhausted. I tackled emotions the way surfers ride high seas, and my body told the story. Each day felt like a minefield of triggers. The only thing to do was eat well, sleep enough, and make sure I had soft places to land.

I’m still doing this work, but it’s less critical now. There’s room for other things, and now that I’ve restored some faith in myself, my creativity is beginning to peek out again.  I plan and plot and purge everyday, so much so that I have room now to refill (figuratively only, I am not refilling my house with stuff I don’t need). I might even take naps!

What I do know about myself is that I have to make a loose plan for my weeks and days. I have Olympic level frittering powers. You may recall my last birthday where I spent roughly eight hours in a hammock. While rest and restoration will be part of this gift of time, it won’t be the primary focus. Productivity will also not play a major roll. I may gold medal in frittering, but I silver in busy work. It looks good but it doesn’t really provide any personal growth. I want to use this time to grow. This Sabbath is about creativity, learning to play, learning to fail and not label myself a failure.

What I would love is to look back on these months and say, these days changed everything. But those are some high expectations so what I truly want is to look back and say, I’ve changed for the better. I’m happier, healthier, more open and loving. If I have something to show for it, wonderful, but if the only changes are those that take place within my heart and soul, even better.

When is the last time you took time for yourself? What’s stopping you?

*Obviously, I still have obligations. I have a husband and dogs and a family. What I don’t have for the nest two months are outside obligations, ministry responsibilities, appointments or projects.

**I called June my Month-of-No. This creative Sabbath has evolved from that idea.

What a caffeine ambush is teaching me about disruption

Two or three months ago, maybe more, maybe less, I put myself on a caffeine curfew. This means I no longer have afternoon coffee (though I have found some delightfully yummy teas). I hadn’t considered it until this week, but so far this year, I have developed multiple small habits which are beginning to add up to significant differences. I gave up caffeine as one of several small changes to improve my sleep patterns, and it’s working. I’m happy to report, my sleep has improved drastically this year. That is until I hit a minor disruption.

Yesterday I was ambushed by caffeine..a lot of it, late at night, around 10pm. (Hush, I’m old.) I never even thought about what I consumed being “against my curfew.” I rarely drink soda. I know it has caffeine, but I don’t think about it being on the curfew list. Even after a terrible night of sleep, I couldn’t figure out what went wrong.  It didn’t hit me until around lunch time today. STUPID SNEAKY CAFFEINE AMBUSHED ME AND MADE ME INTO A ZOMBIE. I’m struggling today. Dragging and sleepy and trying not to bite everyone’s head off.

Which is why sitting down to write something seems daunting. The 100 day project is not an insignificant change. It requires planning and preparation. I didn’t do either of those things today. But now that I’ve put in eighty-two days of effort, I’m not letting a caffeine disruption keep me from doing what I set out to accomplish. And perhaps, that’s the most important thing I’ll keep from this little project.

Sometimes we get unexpectedly waylaid. When disruption happens, we are  tempted to let ourselves off the hook with habits or changes which require effort, telling ourselves, I’ll just do it tomorrow. Maybe it’s OK to lean into some self care and give yourself a break. Goodness knows I am all about the self-care lately. But maybe, it’s even more important to push through and do the thing you’re avoiding anyway.

Sometimes the consistent, small changes are the ones worth the most effort simply because they are the real momentum shifters. 

I made a list this weekend of the little incremental shifts I’ve made since January. From dog walks to running, from caffeine curfew to full, uninterrupted nights of sleep, from a few hundred words to over ten-thousand. These little shifts add up and before we even realize it, we’re so much closer to the person we aspire to be.

So maybe I could have blown off the little rituals, the stacks of small habits I work through from day to day: meditation, journaling, vitamins, writing, herbal tea at 4pm and BY GOLLY NO SODA. But I didn’t. Instead, I showed up and kept aligning myself in the direction I want to go rather than expecting to wake up there one day as though by magic.

And by the way, even after showing up I found time for some self-care, and a really early bed time.

How pimento cheese and chicken salad can save our souls

Last night I met with some good friends at a local sandwich shop. We discussed a fabulous book over pimento cheese, or chicken and egg salads. We also discussed British television, under-reacting, how children survive to adulthood, pre-reading, parental angst and Chuck E. Jesus. We did not talk about news, politics, rage (well, other than parental rage), or anything else of national or international import. Basically, it was delightful. At one point I thought to myself, these are the moments that save our souls.

I’ve been thinking about important minutia lately. Oh how we love the grand, sweeping gesture. We accept the mantra, “go big or go home.” But most of us don’t have the energy, knowledge or support to go big, so we just go home, where we feel powerless to add anything of value to a floundering world.

Here is where we miss an important truth: it’s the little changes, usually begun right at home, that begin sweeping momentum shifts. It’s not about making the biggest splash when we cannonball into the pool. We simply start where we are with what we have.

We live in a culture of hero worship. Even the church has “heroes of the faith” we love to rally behind. We believe we aren’t smart enough or good enough or experienced enough to do something for ourselves. So we wait, and we wait for someone else to start something we can get behind. And by get behind I mean make a facebook post about it and hope people like it enough times to affirm our position.

But last night, as we encouraged each other, admitted our secret fears and confessed our secrets (My children had no formal educational instruction until they were 8-ish years old, and now they all go to college. How about that?), I realized how empowering it is to be seen…heard…known and finally, accepted. Such a small thing which makes such a huge difference.

Instead of marking the things which divide us, instead we joined together for a bit on the things which make us human, a trait every one of us shares. These shared little things are the ones which save our souls, not the giant political systems or the moral majority. The way we change the world is by connecting with each other in small ways, across systems and religions and ethnicity. When we meet in the connecting spaces, we create the momentum that tilts the world towards love, acceptance and equality.

Yesterday I shared about feeling rage, impotent, helpless rage. But today I woke empowered – to feel more, to hear more, to connect more. You probably won’t hear about it in the news. It probably will receive very little attention at all. But I will know. If I can shift the moment to love those closest to me, then perhaps they will shift theirs as well. Each of us shifting a bit at a time towards love, mercy, grace and justice eventually we’ll create a tidal wave so huge, it covers the whole earth, washing us clean.

Lean into the Sadness: thoughts on rage, despair and healing

Remember the other day when I was listening to Bruce Hornsby and writing about happiness? Today it’s Glen Campbell, because when I have the blues, I always go back to my roots. Classic country and cowboy music is about as good as it gets in my book. I’ve been tapping in my love of music this year in a way I haven’t in quite some time. Just another tool in the recovery toolbox, one I let get rusty for awhile. Sadness is dogging me this week, despite my happiness declarations (which I still believe, by the way).

This week the world seems heavy. Heavy, hard and mean. Issues threaten to swallow me in their vast terrible brokenness. Racial Injustice. Democracy. Polarization. Terrorism. How do we even stand against evil systems like this, systems which have reigned for thousands of years?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I feel a ball of rage in my gut for things I feel helpless to change. Even though I use the tools I know will help: meditation, avoiding social media, self-care, I still feel stuck. Stuck or trapped or isolated. While these feelings may not be entirely reliable, they tell me about the state of my soul. They move me to empathy, to explore other perspectives, to lean into confusion and pain. They also warn me against becoming trapped in patterns which only lead to self-destruction. These feelings push me to connect with loving people, beautiful places and peaceful practices.

I want to do something but rage is not the fuel for this fire. Love is. Love is. But I damn sure don’t feel loving right now. Normally this is where I withdraw and practice all my escapism and distraction rituals. But I’m not going to do that. Not this time. I’m learning new ways to engage with the world, in love, as it is. Even on tough days, like today.

Maybe it’s a cop-out to make this confession and then send you elsewhere, but if you are like me, feeling impotent, faceless rage and not sure how to dispel the overwhelming despair, then you need to read these words from Brian Zahnd as much as I did.

It’s ok to cry while you read it. Sometimes it helps.

“When the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, with the wounds of his suffering still visible, he did not say, “Let us rage against Rome and the Sanhedrin.” No, Jesus spoke a word from elsewhere. He spoke the first word of the new world. He said, “Peace be with you.” And in due course these earliest of disciples turned the Roman world upside down by embodying the Pax Christi, a transcendent peace that exposed the Pax Romana for the empty propaganda that it was.

So here is my advice for those of us who inhabit this age of rage.”

Read the rest of this beautiful message here.

I’m grounded: choosing good tools to stay rooted in reality

Two-thirds of my progeny are currently away from home. Aside from double the dog duty when this happens, I also find myself with large, quiet swaths of unoccupied time. I never have much trouble entertaining myself (INFJ), but I have to be careful not to go too far into my head for too long. Discontent is an easy road to travel when my head insists I should be able to create an ideal existence. Unfortunately, very little in this world lives up to the kingdoms I create in my head.  I am a much happier person when I stay a little more grounded.

There are many ways I reground myself when I’m feeling cut-off and adrift, when my body and my reality are the last place I want to be. Meditation, exercise and working with growing things all pull me out of my head space and into my body space. A good wrestle with one of the pups anchors me in the physical present by engaging all my senses, including my sense of fun. But I get the most bang for my grounding buck when I’m doing some good, old-fashioned house work.

If you spend much time at all talking to me, the conversation will roll around to minimalism. I’m a die-hard.  But it wasn’t until recently that I realized how often I use minimalism to plant myself in a healthier reality. The act of evaluation forces me out of what should be, to what is right in front me.

Let’s face it; life gets messy. Relationships require work. Cars break down. College demands tuition. People get sick. There’s literally no end to the list of things which can send us spiraling off into the Land of Should.

This should be easier.
I should have handled that better.
They should know how I feel.
Should Should Should Should.

I constantly take the mental train to Shouldtown, shoulding on myself the whole journey.

That’s the head space I’m talking about, the idealism in which I am so easily trapped. Reality can never compare to all the ways I am certain things should be. Because of my personality, I can camp out for weeks in Should Town, wallowing in my discontent and disdain for the way things are.

Understanding what tools pull me out of that space and back to reality is an important part of my recovery. When I use them to get grounded, I can break out of that funky head space and see reality clearly. Dreams and aspirations are necessary components of happiness, but idealistic perfectionism is the enemy of emotional health.

This week, when I’m not reveling in a book, you’ll find me cleaning closets and sorting the storage area. I’m making meal plans and writing book reviews. I’m touching and working and feeling and sorting, all ways to push my emotional roots further into the soil of my precious reality. If I let myself stay in my head, I miss so much that is beautiful and wondrous right in front of me, already resting in my hands, just waiting for me to notice.

There are so many things I enjoy about my personality. But like everything else in this world, I have strengths and weaknesses. The more I learn about myself, the easier it becomes to pull myself back from unhealthy thought and behavior patterns. I am more than the result of what has happened to me in this world, I’m also what I choose to make from the things I cannot control. When I’m grounded, I can see past what “should” be to what can be, and what steps I can take to facilitate the possibility.