"We come. We go. And in between we try to understand." - Rod Steiger
Today I woke up happy. Peaceful contentment. It's as though all the big and little pieces of my past aligned into this great big blob of gratitude.
I put on my warm clothes and walked with Little Big Dog into the snowy woods: sunshine, a sky so incredibly blue, it was hard to believe, the tree trunk shadows patterning the snowy path. I thought "I love my life." Then the little nagging voices started.
Oh, COME ON!!!! Can't I just have some peace for a while??? They attempted to sour my mood by picking apart what I'd done the night before. Enter my gremlins Assumption, Self Doubt and Worry. They began spinning their tales in my mind, their voices so familiar. But this time, I shut them up fast - I changed my attention to the beauty around me. The NOW. The HERE. On this path in the woods. With my dog. Peace. Contentment. Gratitude. It worked. They shut up!
I wonder why I could finally make this switch so quickly? Maybe it's because last week I let those three have their way with me for 2 days straight, sending me into a mental tailspin of believing Worry and Self Doubt all based on what Assumption had to say.
Maybe it's because I am an artist with a large capacity to imagine. And sometimes imagine the worst. (It turned out, what I had imagined last week was total bullshit.)
Maybe it's because I had spent the day before in my studio with 4 friends who are all artists. We all felt the nourishment of learning, sharing and creating around the printing press.
Maybe it's because I am savoring the unfolding of a friendship with a man I am not afraid to be myself with.
Maybe it's witnessing a coaching client shift towards happiness.
Maybe it's that I'm living my life on my own terms.
All the life junk that used to send me diving under the covers still comes and goes. But I'm making great progress. Gratitude really is the path to joy. It creates a warm inner flame no gremlin can stand up to.
I am building 5 clay houses that will fit over my deck lights, allowing the light to shine through their little windows. My friend Mary has generously invited me into her clay studio to create them. So far there's a tall stucco-ish ode to Santa Fe, a short hobbit house, another with trees growing all over it. All the roofs will all be made of copper, aging to a beautiful verdisgris.
I brought one unadorned house home to finish, to cut into and add onto. The other day I sat down to finish it because tomorrow I'm going to Mary's with number 4 in tow and to make the 5th, final house. I was feeling pretty groovy about this house, diving in without a plan, carving, adding on. Then I thought I better see if it still fit over the post it would sit on. I placed it on top of a scrap of post. Oops. A bit tight. That's when it began to come apart. Okay, no sweat - with 23 years experience helping kids build with clay, I was sure of my repair skills.
I added coils, expanding the house to fit over the post. I cut in here, took out large areas there, played around with the clay until I felt I'd done enough.
I let it sit up awhile and harden, then when I moved it again, it came apart into 2 pieces. No big deal - each side had a hole in it to screw it to the post so that wouldn't matter. I moved it again and it fell into 4 pieces. Not so good.
Alright, time to give up. I had taken too much clay away and it was better to start over.
The thing that really struck me was how I didn't really care. All the work building it, time spent, all gone to pieces. And I didn't feel any remorse or regret. Had I gone stone cold?
Then I realized I've finally gotten to that place in my life where some things that go wrong just aren't worth one single nano-second of my time boo-hooing over. As this great post from Tiny Buddha suggests, I've made acceptance a priority. The word "fair" is no longer in my vocabulary, I know this problem is teenie tiny and not a big deal, and I can start again, lesson learned.
I think I'm finally learning to be more like my dog. Living in the moment, moving on quickly to the next. The lack of drama is lovely. And I can't wait to see how the last 2 houses turn out. Life is grand.
In my tiny community, death has been strolling around lately, visiting mostly older folks. Not a shock, but still sadder than any words I know can express.
Last week, a very fit forty-year-old man I had just met died in his sleep. He was going to get married soon. In 2007, my forty-four-year-old husband fell far and died. He was just hitting his stride. Then there's Sandy Hook.
We all have our stories. And the enormous sadness of being left behind. What got me thinking is the random, sneakiness of death.
Many of us do what we can to live longer - wear our seat belts, eat right most of the time, exercise, take vitamins, whatever we can manage in the hopes we will live long, healthy lives. And science says it works. And we have a sense of control over how we feel and age.
Sense of control. That's good for many things. And an illusion for others. Like when death decides to come knocking. We can reduce our chances, err on the side of safety, wear our helmets when we ski or bike and keep a rubber mat on the shower floor.
But death sometimes just shows up. And this reminded me that in some cases, control can be an illusion. I can control my own actions, thoughts, what I pay attention to. As a teacher, I controlled class after class of children. I was pretty good at it. I control the amount of dust that accumulates on my dresser.
But I am sadly reminded that death will not always tolerate the notion of control. It will just show up. And I'm not afraid.
I have started downhill skiing again. I skied a little thirty years ago, self-taught. Did okay, guess you'd say I was an intermediate skier. A couple of years ago, I skied Telluride in Colorado, where they slapped a helmet on my head, terrifying, and I spent the entire time trying not to stiffen up with fear and fall. Not so much fun.
Fast forward to last Friday and I once again found myself on top of a mountain on skis, but this time in the extremely competent hands of a fine ski instructor. Seems so simple it's stupid but the first thing he taught me was how to stop. Yup. Muy importante. Then demonstrations, explanations, drawing in the snow to show me, practice, praise, drills, "let's just ski". And the views. I was in heaven.
For 23 years I was a teacher of art and life, learning, questioning, perfecting the art of teaching. I have the deepest respect for good teaching. The proof of my instructor's talent was in the black diamond trail I was able to ski down, with no fear. (Well, maybe a little healthy fear.)
Then he showed me the glades. Glade skiing is skiing in the woods. I live in the woods, walk in the woods everyday. Twice. The woods speak to me. I loved being in the glades. The thing is, there are all those trees you need to maneuver around. This is not a place for the easily distracted. (Clearing my throat.) I fell, over and over again, got up and did some more. I was getting tired.
And then it occurred to me that skiing is like how my life has evolved: lovely long runs, able to swoosh down the mountain with strength and balance because I've done the work to get my body there. Then, into the glades where I could have easily been fearful but I chose to be more aware. It was just like life, going along, then WHOA, here comes a tree straight at me! Sometimes I could turn but other times I would fall. But I would always get right up. Laughing. Then I'd put the fall behind me and turn just a tad sooner the next time a tree was in front of me. Learning.
How great would it be to live like you're skiing in the glades? Life's hard. Shit (trees) pops up. Turn. Another one pops up, fall to avoid the tree. Okay, a misstep. Don't stay down, don't cry (okay, okay, sometimes I cry) but get up, keep going and bring more awareness to the next tree that pops up. I'm realistic enough to know some falls take longer to get up from than others. But getting up laughing is where I want to be. Because it all works out one way or the other in the end. I trust that however I land, I will be able to handle it, get up laughing or, if the damn tree has really injured me, there will be a time when I will recover. Trust.
And one last word: please honor good teachers. My gratitude to this ski instructor for the world he has opened up to me is off the charts. Good teachers are gifts to the world. Now go out and ski the glades.
This is a great time for everyone to plan goalsfor the year. I keep advocating for focusing on how you want to feel. Goals are good, they're grounding, a place to start planning, a concrete something to end up with. But what if your goal was to feel a certain way? Feel strong. Feel loved. Creative. Filled with abundance. Don't we spend much of our time in the land of feelings? And what if ways for you to feel these feelings show up that aren't on your goals list? If you stress the feeling and not the goal, you will be more receptive to these wonderful surprises.
This was the question I posed to the wise women who attended the Bona Fide Butterflies' Women's Retreat this past weekend. Under the guidance of Debbie Philp of True North Yoga, they turned inward using restorative yoga, meditation and ritual. With help from freelance writer Beti Spangel, they were introduced to the power of writing and the many ways to journal. I was the Life Coach/Artist, encouraging them to play with art supplies and asking questions only each individual woman could answer for herself. And the biggy was "How do you want to feel in 2013?"
They took the weekend to distill their thoughts into wishes for this year. What we, the co-facilitators, did not expect was winding up with our own wishes.
One of mine was Patience. I have oodles of patience for just about anything and anyone. Except myself. This dovetails on last year's lesson of learning to be more gentle with myself. And it is nurtured by my new found love of Letting Go.
But faster than a dog can throw a biscuit in the air and catch it, MY Life Coach, Ed, had me expand on the word and I realized this was really about my age old life work of learning to TRUST. Trusting that it will all work out the way it is supposed to. Or the way it works out, I'll either love it or learn from it. Might suck. But I'm still standing. And smiling. I realized how the simple word Trust pulled me back to right now. It is a simple method of mindfulness. It shuts off my overactive analytical mind. It gives me peace.
But. Did Ed stop there? Nooooo. He had me try on the shift from "I am trusting" to "I am trust." Wow. Try saying that sucker out loud. "I AM TRUST." Talk about down and dirty totally personal and mine to wear. I tried repeating my three wishes in yoga class meditation this morning: "I am passion. I am trust. I am love." It was calming and exhilarating all at once.
So as you think about your goals, I implore you to think about how you want to feel and put that into the sentence. "I AM ________________." Believe it. Breath it. Experience the calm. Feel your way into the new year.
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." Meister Eckhart
In an attempt to calmly glide into my day, I sat down this morning in a sunny corner and set the timer for 15 minutes to meditate. Unable to control my monkey mind, I lay my hands gently on my heart and decided to focus on being grateful. WHOOSH, my heart opened and I almost started to cry. Okay, interesting. Off for the morning walk with Cooper. I wasn't in the mood for a big fat cry.
In yoga class, I was filled with appreciation of this body I grew up loathing. Three years of yoga and I feel so strong. No back ache. No shoulder ache. Movement and balance and breath. I almost even stilled my monkey mind. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Then coffee with my dear friend and yoga teacher, Debbie. I realized she is the closest witness to three years of my latest transformation. In her calm presence, I survived a mad crush on a musician (I'm still convinced he put a spell on me with his hugs and kisses backstage - that's how he sells Cd's! I bought them ALL!) Then there was the on-again-off-again, 2-year, half-the-year-long-distance boyfriend. I got my groove back and will forever be grateful to this dear man who wasn't right for me. I cried on Debbie's shoulder, would show up nearly manic with joy, then fill up with doubt a week later. WHAT A RIDE. All while she calmly watched me work it out, maybe throwing me a cryptic comment or two. Always hugs. Two years later, a steadier place. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
At 4:00, I took Cooper for another walk. It was gently snowing and beautiful. Here's my gratitude list from this walk:
Beautiful hand warmers made by an appreciative coaching client.
The most macho of soles on my boots so I don't fall down - lots of research before I bought them.
Sending a text to a man. A grown man.
Super nice neighbors who give me the most delicious homemade cookies, fudge, you name it, every Christmas.
Little Big Dog. (Cooper) Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I was really groovin' on the grateful record. But, just in case you think I've gone off the deep end of La-La Land, Cooper disappeared. Second time today (first time made me late for yoga class. Bitch.)
So she burst my little G-bubble. Here's my mad teacher face, with the groove down the middle of my forehead and my hat off so I can better hear her coming.
Yep, gratitude lists work, then shit happens and
the groove appears in my forehead. But I've found some kind of faster way back to some sort of balance. I dare say, I am feeling pretty darn fearless these days. There are so many reasons: events, people, realizations, and, most of all, a bone-deep understanding of Letting Go that has brought me to this place.