What’s in your wallet?

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19 years ago, at 7 am in a near blizzard, I got in my 9 year old Subaru Loyale, and drove 50 miles to bankruptcy court. My lawyer, whom I had met with once, several months prior, was supposed to meet me there.

He was an hour late, citing the weather. He got no sympathy from me. Even the trustee was unimpressed. He pointed out to him that I had come farther, and that I had been on time. I missed my scheduled time because of him, so I had to wait until the end of the regular schedule for my hearing.

I think the trustee felt sorry for me that my guy was such a loser, but that didn’t stop him from levying a $37,000 judgment against me. I had to borrow the money to pay the judgment from my parents, who had to take out a second mortgage on their house to get it. It was 3/4 of the total amount I owed. So much for starting over.

I paid my parents $500 per month for the next 7 years to repay that debt. They wouldn’t let me pay interest. I had a good job, and after a few years I was able to get a secured credit card, so was able to start rebuilding my credit. In 2009, I was able to get a loan to buy a house, and I felt like I was in the clear.

Then my dad died and I moved in with mom. Dad had been ill for a long time, and by the time he died, the house was in severe disrepair. Those repairs, along with the steep property tax owed for the next few years, forced me into credit card debt once again. Given my history, I didn’t make that choice lightly, but neither mom nor I had any savings, so I had no other recourse.

I had built good credit over the years, though, so 3 years ago my credit union offered me a high limit, low interest credit card that I used to transfer all my debt from the other high interest cards.

This past Saturday I made the last payment on that card. As I write this, I have no credit card debt. In fact, the only debt I have now is the mortgage on my little house, cuz last fall I paid off the car I bought 5 years ago. I don’t really consider my mortgage a debt, per se, cuz if I wasn’t making a house payment, I’d be paying rent, so to me it seems like the same thing.

No debt. I can hardly believe that’s true. I feel free in a way I haven’t since I left high school. Student debt that took 12 years to pay off, credit card debt, car payments on 6 or 7 cars over the years, the bankruptcy judgment, more credit card debt; owing someone something has been a constant in my adult life.

Owing, or being in debt is a powerful metaphor. Not only do I believe in karmic debt manifesting in this life, but I think psychologically I always felt I had to pay my way here because I didn’t really belong. As a child and then young adult, I felt that there was nothing here for me; that my presence on the planet was a mistake, and that I had to make up for what it took to sustain me.

I don’t feel that way now, thank goodness, so I’m hoping that my new found freedom from debt is permanent. The tide has turned. The money that was going to debt payment is now going into savings. After 20 years at Acme Health Services, I have a nice pension fund building. I’m hoping to refinance my house soon, and in a couple of years, transfer it to a reverse mortgage or sell it.

So I’ve kind of backed in to a good financial situation. I’m not rich, and I’m probably not ever going to be unless Publisher’s Clearinghouse is involved, but I feel good about my financial future in a way I never have before, and that’s a very good thing. On that day 19 years ago, I never would have imagined this day would come.

I found my way through the blizzard, and I can see my way forward clearly. It took 58 years, but I made it. Hallelujah!

 

 

Signposts

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Winston Churchill has been a hero of mine for quite a while. To me, he embodies the word “resilience,” and that’s something that has meant a lot to me over the years. My goal throughout all of my life, through some pretty rough stuff, has simply been to keep going. No matter what.

I didn’t want to. There have been plenty of times, deep in the cold morass of the blackest depression, especially, that I’ve thought of giving up. In the middle of bitter disappointment, abject failure, burning rejection, aching loss, I asked myself, “Why?”

Why keep going? What is this all for? What will change?

I didn’t give up, though, and it turns out the answer to all those questions is: ME.

Life hasn’t changed – it’s still hard, and will always be so, but I’ve changed. Turns out I’ve always been resilient, though I didn’t think of myself that way. When I look back at my life, though, I see it. I kept getting up. I took some pretty hard blows, but I got up every time and went on. Bruised and bleeding, for sure, but I got back on my feet and I went on. Every. Time. Sometimes I had help, sometimes I didn’t. Either way, I was the one who had to find the strength to go forward and I did.

As I’ve gotten older I find that I get up faster and that I see those difficult times differently. That’s what’s changed. I see the benefit, the opportunity for growth, quicker than I used to, and while I probably still don’t welcome hardship, I am able to embrace it more fully and faster than I used to. For that I’m deeply grateful.

Last weekend brought me to my knees, literally and figuratively. It pressed all the buttons, hard. In thinking about it now, though, I realize a couple of important shifts.

First, I didn’t get angry. Amazing, cuz that’s my first reaction to most everything unpleasant, typically. I didn’t this time, though cuz I didn’t take it personally. I joked about being punished for taking time off, but it really was a joke, not something I truly believed. It was all just stuff that happened, and I got that right away.

Second, I didn’t make more of it than it was. I did what needed to be done, for myself and then later, for my mom, which is normal. I’ve always been good in a crisis. Afterward, though, I didn’t obsess about it for days and days, and that’s new. It was nasty, and not something I hope to go through again anytime soon, but it’s over. Life goes on.

Resilience.

Never give up. Never, never, never, never. We all have the capacity – that resilience. All creatures are resilient, but for humans it’s different, in that we have a choice. You have to make it over and over.

Everyone I know goes through really rough stuff, again andagain; really gnarly rotten stuff. We all have our own curriculum here in Earth school, so the obstacles are different for all of us, but there are always obstacles, no matter who you are, or how in control you think you are. There is no way to do it “right” so that everything goes well for you. There just isn’t. There’s no point to that. We don’t learn from easy.

We don’t get stronger. We don’t get better, unless we’re challenged. That’s another thing unique to humans. That’s just the way it is. Getting angry, or bitter, or blaming someone else, or numbing out in some way is not helpful. Those are not ways of going on; they are ways of getting stuck.

Stand up. Dig deep and find your own resilience. It’s in there. Shake off the past. It’s over. Look ahead. Check in with yourself right now. Figure out what you need to do to keep going and do that thing, whatever it is. Take care of yourself and soothe your wounds. Reach out if you need help.

Then go on. Take a step, and then another,  and before you know you’re on to the next thing. The other thing – the past – that’s a part of you now, part of your life resume. It’s not all of you, though. You got through that. Pat yourself on the back. You did it!

There will be more, and you’ll do that, too. Cuz you just keep going. That’s all there is. There is no other way. No matter what. Through all of it – the highest highs and the lowest lows – all that this amazing human life has to offer.

Never give in – never, never, never, never. Thank you Mr. Churchill, for showing me the way.

All by myself

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A week ago I was just beginning a 4-day weekend and I was really looking forward to it!  I had taken Friday off, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that I hate Valentine’s Day, and Acme Health Services was closed on Monday, President’s Day in the US, so at this time last week I was reveling in the thought of 4 whole days unencumbered by plans of any kind. Yippee!

Thursday night I started to feel ucky, but I chalked it up to fatigue following 3 grueling weeks at work trying to finish a project, and went to bed early.

The first thing I did upon waking Friday morning was expel the entire contents of my digestive system in grand fashion in a matter of moments. It was intense. I was one sick puppy. I hardly ever get sick, but there was no denying that this was not a passing thing, no matter how much I wished for that to be true. I spent all of that day and most of Saturday in bed, not even considering getting up or ever putting anything solid in my mouth again.

By Sunday I was pretty good, though, so I kind of hung out around the house, reading mostly, and being careful about what I ate. I still had Monday, so though I was bummed about the weekend so far, I wasn’t devastated. I figured it wasn’t a total loss…yet.

The first thing mom said to me early Monday morning was, “I’m going to throw up.” So much for “the last day.” It was a long day, but she seemed pretty stabilized by the time I was ready to go to bed that night, so I went upstairs and slept until I heard a loud crash downstairs. I rushed down to find mom laying on the floor in the den, passed out cold. She had gotten up to go to the bathroom, got dizzy, and down she went.

She wasn’t able to walk very well when she came to, but working together we managed to get her back in bed, and settled in again, but leaving her to manage the bathroom on her own again was not an option, so I settled in on a chair nearby and dozed. I got a couple of hours sleep, but I was exhausted and I didn’t know how mom would be that next day, so I emailed my supervisor to let her know I wouldn’t be in to work on Tuesday.

Mom is nothing if not resilient, though, and throughout the next day she did very well, even ate a couple of tiny meals, and slept through the night (making it to the bathroom without incident every time) and I was able to return to work yesterday. Today she’s close to 100%. Very impressive for almost 88.

At any rate, I had a lot of downtime on Sunday and Monday and I was participating in an online summit for people who are (Myers-Briggs Type) INFJ and INFP, so I was able to catch up on a lot of the speakers I had missed over the week long event, and more importantly, I had time to process all of the information. As a result, I realized some important things about why I struggle so much in this situation with mom.

I tested as an INFJ about a year ago, and reading about the personality type helped me understand a lot of things about myself in a new light. That’s fodder for another post some time. What was important about this weekend was that in listening to some of the conversations with the speakers (who were all INF – introvert – types) I was given a nudge about something I hadn’t considered before, and that was my mother’s personality type and why our differences made it difficult for me on a day-to-day basis to live with her again.

I have said before that if you spent years going around the globe interviewing every single person on the planet, you would not be able to find two people more opposite in every way than me and my mother. People laugh when I say that, and that’s what I intend, but it’s really true. I’ve always understood that, but I didn’t really fully understand why, or in what specific ways we were so different.

Having said that, we have always connected very well in some ways, also, and that’s made it possible to continue our karmic dance together throughout my life, and especially now. What’s been difficult these past few years, I realized this weekend, is that I haven’t been able to do for myself the things I need to do to be sane and happy, because I’ve been trying to keep her happy, and in doing that, I lose out.

What makes her happy is interacting with people. She HATES to be alone. So, for the past couple of years, since she’s not able to leave the house, I’m her only source of interaction. I’m gone at work all day, so I try to limit the amount of time I’m away from home in the evenings or on weekends, and when I’m home, we’re together. ALWAYS.

On the weekends, I have a few hours in the morning alone before she gets up, but that’s it. Herein lies the crux of my problem, and this is what I realized this weekend in a way I hadn’t fully grasped before; at least what the consequences of that situation are:

I am hardly ever ALONE.

I only really value two things in life: solitude and freedom. True since I was a little tiny person. I was an only child, and I reveled in it. I was hardly ever lonely. I played up in my room, I read, I wrote stories, I sang. 50 years later it’s still true. I love to be alone. The things I like to do are solitary pursuits. I lived alone for 37+ years. I like to be with people, and sometimes I was lonely, but I had friends I did things with often enough. Even if I had to be alone and didn’t want to be, though, it was worth it. I always chose solitude over society, freedom over stasis.

ALWAYS. And I always will.

Now I have almost no solitude. I have swapped what I need to be whole and healthy for what my mother needs to be whole and healthy. I did it most of my young life and I’m doing it again now.  No wonder I’m utterly exhausted and feeling hopeless most of the time. The first 5 years I lived with mom she was more independent and so was I. It’s really only the last couple of years that this is an issue.

I don’t mind the care-giving role. That’s not it. I thought it was, but in really feeling about it, it’s not. I am a natural caregiver. I have filled that role in my family all my life and in reality I’m fine with it. I like to be of use. But the “no solitude” thing is another sack of cats, and I don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I don’t know if there is anything to be done. I think that train has left the station. Monday night made that pretty clear to me. It’s only going to get worse until she dies, and honestly, that could be years from now.

The most important thing I realized this weekend, though, was that this is my problem, not hers. It’s a choice I made at some point, and it’s not her fault that she’s wired differently than I am. It’s not her fault. She’s just living her life, taking care of herself in the best way she can. Asking for what she needs. It’s my choice to give that to her, and it’s not her fault, any more than it’s my fault that it’s hard for me. We just are who we are and who we are is not alike.

Okay, so now what?

Now I need to find a better way to make it alright for me. I have been trying to take care of myself – eating properly, exercise, meditation – but nothing seems like it’s enough. I keep stumbling, feeling like a failure, but now I know why, so I hope I’ll be able to walk a little straighter going forward. Now that I know exactly what the problem is, I can zero in on a solution, or at the very least accept that there is no solution, so I can stop feeling like I’m lacking all the time.

So the weekend was worthwhile, after all, though I would not have said that at any point before Wednesday. And honestly, I hope this weekend is better. Another “growth” weekend like the last one just might do me in!

 

What it’s like here

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Autobiography in Five Chapters

ONE

I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in
I am lost … I am hopeless
It isn’t my fault
It takes forever to find a way out

TWO

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I pretend I don’t see it
I fall in again
I can’t believe I’m in the same place
But it isn’t my fault
It still takes a long time to get out

THREE

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it is there
I still fall in … it’s a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault
I get out immediately

FOUR

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it

FIVE

I walk down another street

© 1977 Portia Nelson


I love it when the universe sends me a love note. They don’t always get through – my “mailbox” isn’t always open, I’m sad to say – but when they do, they are appreciated. This time the love showed up in the form of this poem, which, at the time I heard it for the first time this week, snatched all the air from body in a most insistent way for a moment or two, and hasn’t given it all back yet. It made me laugh, and then it made me want to cry, cuz, man, ain’t it the truth?!

This is the autobiography of all of us. For each of us the streets and the holes are different, but we’re all out there everyday falling prey to the again-ness of life over and over and over and over, aren’t we? You drag yourself out of whatever hole – hell – you stumbled into, and then, right around the corner, there it is again. Different hole, maybe, but the same stinking pile of muck at the bottom of it.

Again.

Yep. That’s life. The poem ends, but the holes don’t, even on another street. The autobiography continues to be written for as long as you’re walking around, right? Many more than five chapters, I hope. Some of my holes have been patched. Some of the really big ones, I’m happy to say. But I’m always discovering new ones, or old ones on new streets.

Most recently I encountered one of the larger craters on my particular street – my birthday.  It comes around every year, and that’s a good thing, right? I’m so happy to be alive for another year. Truly. I never thought I’d live this long, so every year is another milestone reached. I couldn’t be more grateful for the life I have and for the life I’ve lived.

The hole’s still there, though, of course. In the bottom of that particular gaping pit labeled “Birthday” is a great big pile of steaming, stinking dung that I’ve plunged into every year for a long time. Even when I finally could get out, I still had the stench of it all over me for a while.

Adoption. Loss. Rejection. Abandonment. Muck. The anniversary of the pain of my entry into the world, for me, and for everyone involved. A month later joy for my adoptive parents – yes! But that day, there was only the sadness of a young women giving birth to her first child in a strange place – a baby she would never see or hold or care for – and the sadness and fear of a baby without a mother.

Ugly Black Sticky Stinky Muck.

Though I have no conscious memory of the day, that baby resides somewhere in me still, and she is hurt, and angry and so, so sad. When I was a kid and a young adult, I was sad only for myself, and I was down there in that hole alone, unable to share my pain with anyone else. As I got older and could better understand my birthmother’s experience of that day and the days after, I was sad for both of us.

Now it’s a part of my autobiography, but not the all-consuming story it was for so many years. I don’t fall in that hole very often anymore. In recent years I’ve stumbled over it a couple of times on the actual day, which is mostly the only time I think of those events anymore, but I haven’t fallen in. It’s not the months’ long slog through the depths trying to claw my way out that I experienced as a younger person. Thank goodness for that.

This year, I didn’t even stumble over the hole. I saw it was there. I stopped, said a little prayer of gratitude for both my birthmother and I, and then walked around. I realized that it really doesn’t matter anymore. It probably didn’t really matter for as long as I agonized over it, but that’s just the way it happened, and I forgive myself for that. This is my autobiography, and I’m writing it with my one-of-a-kind pen. If I could have done it differently I would have.

I wish her and myself well. Happy Birthday to both of us. We’ve survived. Our lives went on, chapters have been added, and our autobiographies are still being written. She’ll be 77 in August and now I’m 58. We made it to another street.

Wow.

I would like to meet her, but that’s probably not going to happen. We corresponded 10 years ago, or so, and she answered all my questions. That contact helped me make peace with the whole thing, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that kindness. I’m sure it cost her something. She doesn’t want to meet me, and though I wish she felt differently, I have to respect her choice. She doesn’t owe me anything. She gave me the greatest gift of all – life – and that’s enough.

So on to the next chapter. There will be more of all of it: streets, holes, chapters. A lot more, I hope. For all of us. Each of us writing our own autobiographies, describing for each other our own again-ness, sharing our stories of what it’s like here in these bodies on this planet at this time, in this moment. Right now. Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.

Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday, Linda.

Many more.

In ourselves

It is not in the stars

One of my favorite parts of my job is doing the social media posts for Acme Health Services and our affiliate organizations, one of which is a hospice volunteer group. In that capacity, I spend a lot of time wandering around the web looking for content that might be meaningful to our followers. For the hospice page I search for articles about grief, of course, but also about all aspects of caregiving, cuz presumably the folks who follow us are probably now, or have been in the past, caregivers to a loved one.

As a caregiver myself these last 7 years, I find these articles useful as well. There are a lot of us out there: middle-aged people caring for elderly parents or other family members in some capacity, and there is a lot of good information about staying sane and healthy available on the internet, thankfully. I live in a small town in a relatively sparsely populated area, so it’s a real boon to be able to connect with folks in other places who are going through the same thing I am.

This week I stumbled across the blog of a woman about the same age as me who is living with and caring for her 80-something mother, who has dementia. We are different in that my mother is still pretty sharp. For that I’m grateful. My dad had dementia, and that was a difficult road to travel.

In many other ways, however, we are scarily alike. This blogger has never married, and never had children. She works full-time outside her home. Other than cats, this is essentially her first experience as a live-in,  day-to-day, hour-to-hour caregiver for another human being. Same for me – all of it – so the similarities in our current circumstances, and our lives in general, really struck me.

I encounter people all the time who are surprised that I’ve stuck with mom this long, or that I agreed to do this to begin with. Sometimes I’m amazed myself, but here I am, by choice, doing the best I can for mom and trying to take good care of myself along the way, every hour of every day. This has been my life for 7 years, and it will continue to be my life until one of us takes her last breath.

It’s been up and down, for sure, and I’ve struggled mightily at times. It hasn’t always been an uplifting story and it remains to be seen whether it’ll turn out to have a happy ending. Many times I’ve felt that I couldn’t go on, and yet I did, and I will, to the end, whatever and whenever that may be, for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.

This blogger put it this way: What else am I going to do? Yes! Exactly.

What else is there to do in a life that is more meaningful than offering another human being – especially a family member – the love and care every human being deserves when it’s needed? The first 50 years of my life I thought a lot about how I could live a meaningful life. What do I have to offer the world? Do I matter? Why am I here?

Now I know. I don’t think about any of that any more. This is what I have to offer. This is why I am here. As it turns out, a life-long failure at most everything by which society measures people, finally I know I belong here and I’m a success. I matter to my mother, and perhaps my story matters to someone else, as that blogger has validated my experience.

Really, what could I be doing right now that would matter more? What else could I have been doing in the last 7 years that would have transformed me in the way this experience has? I have been forced to become so much more than I was, even so much more than I thought I could be. I still have a long way to go, but I am a much better person than I was when I moved in here. Not only have I become responsible for the care of another human being – which is not something I ever wanted – but I have become responsible for myself in a way I never was before.

This has been a win for both of us. I have benefitted from this experience as least as much as my mother, and our relationship, which was turbulent for most of my life, has been repaired. That’s no small thing. The irony that she and I would be the two left standing in our family and would be required to rely on each other this much at the end is almost too much to be believed given our history, except that it’s exactly the way the universe works, and it’s clear to me now that it was always going to be this way. This was where we’ve been headed all along.

That’s about as close as I’ll come to believing in destiny. Really, it could have gone either way. I could have said “no” at any point, or I could have given into the resentment that rears its ugly head every now and again, especially when I compare my life to that of my friends. I still could – it ain’t over yet. The end could be tomorrow or it could be another 7 years. The future is uncertain.

For now, though, I’m resting in the knowledge that I’ve made it this far. That’s all. I’m grateful for that, and my wish for all of us on this caregiving journey is simply that we can rest easy knowing that we’re right where we need to be, and that we’re doing the best thing we could be doing at this time.

It matters.

Shadows on the wall

Treasure - Joseph Campbell

I came across this quote from Joseph Campbell a while ago and it struck me immediately. Yes! Of course. Life is hard. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

If you’re having a hard time, you’re not doing it wrong. It’s hard for everyone, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Most importantly, you’re ready for it, even if you don’t know it yet.

Humans are equipped for difficulty. We are outfitted for adversity by design with our big creative brains. We are hard-wired for problem-solving. We have the ability to think about the past, the present and the future; to remember and to anticipate. We can visualize our place in time and space.

We can control our thoughts. We can learn from mistakes. We are able to empathize with other creatures – to think beyond ourselves and our own needs. We can anticipate and avoid danger, and this has helped us survive as a species.

Somehow, however, we have become so averse to experiencing hardship and it’s accompanying emotional pain that we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not supposed to happen. Worse, we believe that there’s something we can do or something we shouldn’t do, that will ensure a carefree life.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

But here’s the reality: That’s not the way life is, and it’s not how it is meant to be. It just is what it is. Up and down, good and bad. There’s nothing you can do, or anything you can stop doing to ensure a smooth journey through a joyous life. You can’t avoid experiencing the bad stuff. Full stop.

Every being on this planet experiences hardship.

Sadly, though, you can avoid dealing with the pain of those experiences and that’s what’s getting us in trouble now. Our big brains have solved the “life hurts” problem in the short term with all sorts of distractions – food, drugs, sex, social media – it doesn’t really matter what the distraction is as long as it pings the pleasure centers in our big brains, and gets those magic endorphins swimming around in there.

I say in the short term, because typically you can only employ these methods for a relatively brief time before they start contributing to the “life hurts” problem more than solving it, and that’s only if your distraction doesn’t kill you and/or something in your life that matters to you.

Honestly, our happy shiny/everything’s fine/I’m okay you’re okay/skating on the surface/ first world existence is killing us and the planet. Everything is not okay, and our belief that if we’re not “happy” all the time, and doing everything “perfectly” according to society’s whims we’re doing something wrong, is sad, dangerous, and just plain incorrect.

Give yourself a break. Life is hard, and if you get that and you’re facing it head on, then you are doing it right. Bad stuff happens, good stuff happens, and your reaction to both is what has the potential to make your life meaningful, to yourself, other people, and to the planet.

Instead of trying so hard to avoid stumbling, and avoiding the dark places, the problem we should set our big brains on solving is how we can better help each other go in after the treasure, holding hands, and reassuring one another. No more distractions. No more shadows on the wall. Let’s get real. In this year of perfect vision, let’s take the blinders off, and gently, kindly, help each other find our way through in the dark.

If your life is going smoothly right now and you’re having a blast, good for you! Enjoy this time. Regroup and recharge.

If you’re stumbling, do the best you can to keep going. You’re not alone. It doesn’t seem that way if you spend a lot of time on Facebook or Instagram or watching TV, but that’s all fiction. Rarely is real life depicted there. Hang out in the dark for a while until you come out with the treasure. It’s there, and you’ll find it if you look for it, rather than trying to distract yourself from the pain. Be brave.

Feel the pain, but don’t dwell on it. Listen for what it’s trying to tell you and then let it go. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

You may need a guide to lead you through, or maybe just a helmet and some rope. Get what you need. Take care of yourself. Take sandwiches; you may be in there a while. Wear warm clothes. It’ll be scary, but don’t give into the fear. Find your way through, grab the treasure – the wisdom, the healing, the fundamental truth about yourself, and/or your life, the understanding, the ability to go on – and come back into the light.

We’re waiting for you with open arms.

 

Rolling along

Fluent

I have been working on developing a mindfulness meditation practice the past couple of years. I do as well with sitting regularly as I do with doing anything else regularly, which is to say, with varying success. But I keep trying, cuz it helps me and I think it’s important. Every day since January 1st I’ve been doing a series of guided meditations online. I do better with guided sessions and these have been really interesting.

The theme this first week has been setting intention. I like this better than goal-setting or resolutions, cuz it’s immediate, addressing how we feel right now, not in the future. It’s something to hang onto and check in with every moment, rather than thinking I’m working toward that thing or that some kind of pay-off is coming down the road. It’s now. Am I being true to my intention right now? In this immediate situation?

On day 4, the meditation included the question, “What is my life asking of me this year, and what quality must I cultivate to answer that call?” The words that floated to the surface immediately for me were:

Open.
Generous.
Committed.
Disciplined.
Patient.

I was surprised they came so easily, but I immediately understood how all those words applied to my situation at home with my mother, at work with a project I’m involved in and my co-workers in general, and with my friends.

And then the quality – what will make it possible for me to embody those intentions?

Trust.

Ack. Not my best thing. Not anyone’s best thing, is it? Nothing in my life, and I mean no thing has given me any indication that people can be trusted, even those who claim to love you and seemingly have your best interests at heart. Even if they don’t mean to, people will hurt you. Over and over again. I think most people over the age of 2 have trust issues and have good reason for them.

So I thought about it a lot, and I wrote about it in my journal, and all of a sudden it came to me. The trust that’s required is not in people, but in the process. The path. The river.

The flow.

Once again I come back to just being. Being the true me, with intention, and integrity.  True to my inherent spirit. Open, generous, committed, disciplined, and patient. Two of those are easy for me, the other three, uh…not so much, but they’re in there somewhere. And trust? 

The very hardest thing. But this isn’t pass or fail. There is no judgment. There is only what is, not what should be. I can either do it or I can’t, and either way I’m being true to my intention – it remains the same. As Yoda said, there is no try.

Being present in each situation, with each person, in each moment, one moment at a time. No small thing, that, but the idea is that it comes about in each moment. It’s not something I’m striving for or working toward; all that’s required is being. Being true to my nature, which is, I think, all of those things; they’re in me. Covered over by debris and not easy to see, but they’re still there.

Now, lest you think I’m being incredibly naive in thinking that everything’s going to be sunshine and light from now on and I’m going to just “be” my way into a perfect life, let me assure you that I have no such illusions. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think I’m going to get beat up pretty bad. That’s where the trust comes in. If it comes, I have to trust that pain is part of the process. Same with pleasure, by the way.

If I’m true to myself, true to my intentions, and trust that I’m on the right path, it’s all good. In each situation, we receive a reward or a lesson, and both are worth our time and attention. Each person offers us a mirror so that we may see ourselves more clearly.

Stay present in the moment and be. Am I open, generous, committed to, and patient with myself? That’s a good place to start. I can’t expect to give others what I don’t have. Do I trust myself? I’ve made a lot of mistakes, so that’s hard, but yes, I’m getting better at it. The important thing is that I trust the flow and where it’s leading, and keep moving forward.

And hope. In all things, hope for the best. It can’t hurt.

What is your life asking of you this year, and how will you answer that question?

 

The kindness of strangers

Mostly I have my hands full just trying to get done all I need to get done on any given day, but I also think about what good I can do in the world, and what my legacy will be. I live a very small life, and it seems to me most of the time that anything I am able to do wouldn’t make much of an impact. When I’m feeling low and the responsibility of my current life weighs heavy on my shoulders, I get discouraged about the future, and I feel powerless to change anything; certainly not any of the seemly intractable problems facing our world today. It’s easy to fall into that trap; after all, everywhere we look lately there is really bad news.

And then, something small happens, the jaws of the trap are pried open, and I’m reminded that anything is possible. Most importantly, I’m reminded that I can’t do it all myself, nor do I have to, but I can do more.

Monday winter reclaimed December in Michigan. We had warm temperatures and no rain or snow last week – no white Christmas (fine with me). Unusual, but not unheard of, and we all knew it would end. We got about 6″ of wet heavy snow on Monday, and the city plows were out working hard all day. It stopped snowing for a bit around 5 pm, so I decided to go out and clear out the driveway before the next round. I don’t have a snowblower, so I started working on the mountainous snow boulders blocking the end of the driveway – courtesy of the plows – with a shovel. When I tried to break up and move the first one, I knew I was going to be out there a long time.

Just after I started, however, a man in a maroon pickup pulled up and signaled for me to move out of the way. He dropped his plow and cleared all that big heavy stuff out of the mouth of the drive with a couple of swipes. I waved and smiled and mouthed THANK YOU! He smiled, nodded, and drove off. The whole thing took about 3 minutes.

Just that easy. I have no idea who he is. With that one kind act, in that short period of time, he changed my life. Suddenly, unexpectedly, what I thought was going to happen – an hour or more of hard physical labor in the cold and wet – didn’t happen. It changed in an instant from an anticipated difficult experience into something wonderful. Not only did he make something physically easier for me – spared my back and shoulders – but he lifted my spirits with that plow, and opened the world up to me again.

It’s easy to get cynical and to believe the worst about people and their motivations and actions. It’s easy to lose hope in the future and in our ability to solve problems or effect change. On the face of it, honestly, the future looks bleak. I get very discouraged sometimes.

That man reminded me that ultimately, one-on-one, it doesn’t matter who we are so much as what we are. I don’t know anything about that man except that he has a maroon truck and that he was kind. I don’t know his name, or where he lives, what he does for a living, what his political or spiritual beliefs are, what his sexual orientation is, where he’s from, or whether he is a cat or a dog person. What mattered yesterday was that he had the opportunity to be kind and he acted on it.

He made a difference.

It’s not the big things. It’s not doing the “right” things or what society tells us we should be doing. It’s not a bright shiny life on Instagram or Facebook. It’s not friends or “Likes” or the newest, latest, coolest. It’s not all happy, smiling and lovely. It’s not all gloom and doom, either. The world is complex, and so are human beings. There are no easy answers.

But sometimes it is simple. Ultimately, it’s not who we are that makes the difference, but what we are. I have a limited realm of influence and not a lot of money, but I can be kind. It’s a decision in any given minute. I can be kind to myself, to my mom, my co-workers, and to strangers if given the opportunity. That’s really the message of Christmas we take into this new year, this new decade:

Make room for the gift.

That’s the challenge. Open to others. If you are able, give them what they need.  Sometimes that’s something you can touch, sometimes it’s time, sometimes it’s just a smile.

Smile. Let someone know simply that you see them and that you wish them well.

I can do all that. I don’t always, sadly, but I can. I want to be better at it, so I have to keep practicing. You only see these opportunities if you are paying attention in the moment. That’s the key, and that’s what makes it hard. So hard. The future is exciting, and the past is comforting. The only thing that’s real and important, though, is now.

For me, this year, this decade: In each moment, do what you can, be what you can.

Thank you, sir.

 

Happy New Year

It’s New Year’s Eve,
We’re set to go!
What will it bring?
Do you know?

Happiness and joy?
Sorrow and tears?
Some of both –
Like other years.

This turning world,
Moves through space –
The years fly past.
And by the grace

Of some great power,
We go on –
Minute by minute,
Hour to hour.

The road ahead,
Unknown as yet –
Its highs and lows
Will soon be met.

Don’t rush along,
Take it slow.
Savor each moment,
Because you know

It goes by fast,
There is no brake.
This thing called time
Just doesn’t make

Apologies for
The concerns of man
Before you’re ready
It’s here again!

The night before
The new bell rings,
We hope so much,
For all good things,

In this new year,
And so we go –
What will it bring?
Do you know?

Happy New Year!