Pausing on the path

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I don’t believe in a god per se,  but I do believe there is order in the universe and I believe in karma. I would say I don’t believe in a personal diety or guardian angels. I used to. I was a card-carrying Episcopalian for most of my life and I was a believer, baby. I was in the choir – literally and figuratively. I believed in everything, actually, not just the Christian stuff. I believed there was truth in all of it, though like the elephant in a dark room, we can only see the pieces close to us and can’t make out the whole. I still believe that. But as for the god who knows and cares what’s going on with me?

Nope.

But here’s the thing – every now and again, the universe speaks to me. I can tell you about a number of times a message came to me at exactly the time I needed it, or something happened that opened my eyes to something important, etc. I’m sure everyone has experiences like that. I’m not willing to say definitively who or what sends those messages that do indeed seem completely personal – like someone or something is paying attention and wants to help, but I’m willing to acknowledge that it exists. I have no idea where it comes from, but I suspect it’s something within me…

Cool to think about, but a topic for another time.

Today, I’m processing the most recent incident of this “message sent/message received” thing. First, this from a blog I read this morning – one I read everyday:

“Remember how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.” ~Rick Warren

And 10 minutes later, this tidbit from a transit in my horoscope (Jupiter sextile MC):

…you will be able to understand how your past has affected the present, and you will learn to gain control over parts of yourself that used to control you. This increase in self-knowledge may be accompanied by or may come to you through an increased religious or spiritual self-awareness.

This is EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of weeks. It’s what I write about everyday in my journal lately – how living with my mother as an adult the past few years has explained so much about my childhood and has helped me come to terms with and appreciate who I am and all I have overcome.

I was feeling kind of hopeless this morning, but this perspective – especially the first quote – has lifted my spirits. Yes, I want to focus on the here and now, and not get bogged down in thinking about the past, or caught up thinking about an imagined future. But every now and again it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come. Especially if you’re lagging and the path ahead seems overwhelming.

I’m going to rest today in the knowledge that I’m closer to the person I want to be than I ever have been before.

I’m going to celebrate how hard it has been and that I haven’t given up. I’m going to give myself a pat on the back and revel in the beauty of this crazy life; filled with gratitude for all the experiences and gracious souls who have helped me and taught me along the way.

Tomorrow I’ll go on. And the day after that, and the day after that, and…

Because I know I can. There is more to go, and I’ll be ready for it.

Today, though, it’s time to rest.

 

 

Lost in the world

Are You Lost In The World Like Me? from Steve Cutts on Vimeo.

One of the best things a therapist told me to do a number of years ago was to stop watching the news. It’s overwhelming and depressing and not usually anything you have control over, though it may affect you directly: the very definition of stress.

It also directs your attention away from where you are in the present moment, and flings you headlong into a faraway place in the past. The news has already happened. It’s not now. It was then, even if that then was 10 minutes ago. It’s over. And it’s there, not here. Not right in front of you in this present moment, where you should be focusing your attention. Be here now. Not there then.

What I did, actually, was stop watching TV altogether for the most part. I watched hockey (Go Wings!) and cycling fairly often, and I loved Big Bang Theory, reruns of which my local CBS affiliate played during dinner time on weeknights. After dinner, if there wasn’t a hockey game I cared about I turned off the TV. I read, or wrote, or went for a bike ride or a walk, or something. I never lacked for things to do.

Now, living with my mother, I don’t watch TV much at all. We watch DVDs mostly, of old British mysteries, and old US detective shows like NYPD Blue or Homicide: Life on the Street. She likes Naked and Afraid, and we watch that on Sundays. Sometimes movies or a series like Outlander on one of the premium channels. That’s it. No news, no reality shows. No current weekly comedies or dramas.

I don’t have a moral objection to TV nor do I judge people who watch and enjoy a lot of TV. Whatever floats your boat is fine by me – your business.

I simply discovered that I felt better about myself if I wasn’t comparing myself and my life to people on TV, and that I worried less about what was going on in the world if I didn’t know about it every minute of every single day. It’s really that simple. Self-preservation. I also found that I liked other people more, and was more tolerant and less likely to judge if I took them at face value and wasn’t influenced by the ways in which certain people are demonized on TV.

So now I’m feeling the same way about social media. It’s partly what I do for a living, so I’m on FB alot during the day for work, but as for my personal feed, I pay less and less attention to it, for the same reasons that I don’t watch TV. Ditto Instagram. Everyone on my Friends list is someone I know and most are people I’ve known a long time and really care about. Some live far away, so I’m happy for the opportunity to connect with them easily.

I find, though, that if I spend a lot of time watching everyone else’s life scroll by, I feel worse about mine. I celebrate their successes and mourn their losses, and I’m genuinely happy for all the bright and shiny fun things my friends and family are experiencing in their lives. However, I’m not experiencing a lot of that in my life lately and haven’t actually much of my life, so I feel left out, or like I’m not doing it right, or that there’s something wrong with me. Honestly, I don’t need that.

I do better if I’m just in my head, in my body, doing my thing. Here. Now. In this moment. My moment. Not someone else’s.

My life. Not someone else’s.

Not self-centered or self-absorbed – just self-contained. Not comparing my unique life, my unique path, so someone else’s singular walk in this world. I’m not like anyone else, so I don’t need to live like anyone else; to have the things they have, or to do the things they do. So it’s easier for me not to be distracted a million times a day by the shiny happy pictures scrolling past all day long.

Having said that, I also have to say: I love to read blogs, and I love Twitter. I think the difference is that I don’t know any of the people who write the blogs I read, nor do I know any of the people I follow on Twitter, which are for the most part publications and organizations that post great content that teaches me things. I love to know about people’s experience of life on this planet, and when I don’t know the writer I’m less likely to compare myself to them; I can just take in what they have to teach me (or be entertained) without feeling bad about myself and my life.

So, whatever. Just my thing. Your mileage may vary. Life is big and there’s room for everyone.

I love the video above, though, cuz I am a little lost in the world. (And I love Moby and I think Steve Cutts is a genius.) I’ve always felt a little out of sync, really, and for a lot of my life I felt like I didn’t belong here at all – that there was nothing here for me. That my presence here was a mistake.

I’m grateful I don’t feel that way anymore. It was a long, painful struggle to get past that feeling. But I do still feel a little lost quite often. There is just so much I don’t understand about life and people and why things happen the way they do. But I’m pretty sure about who I am these days, and what I’m up to, so that’s all I need to keep track of, really: that I’m where I need to be, doing what I need to be doing.

Here. Now. Watching the rest of the world flow by, without getting caught up in the undertow.

Blisters

I raked for a couple of hours yesterday. It was a warmish sunny day, and there was no reason not to rake. Believe me, I tried really hard to think of one. 🙂

I wait and rake in the Spring because I’m more willing to be outside in wet cool weather in May after 6 months inside than I am in the November, when it seems much colder after 6 months of nice weather. Mostly in Autumn I’m just pissed off about the prospect of the long miserable winter ahead and not in the mood to do much of anything outside. When Spring comes, though, I always wish I had done all the yardwork in the fall.

All my neighbors do their leaves in the Fall, so mine was the only unruly lawn once the snow melted. I would rather have been out for a nice bike ride, but I succumbed to the “yard guilt” and picked up the rake. There was nothing for it but to get out there and get ‘er done.

While I was bringing order to my lawn universe again, I thought about my dad, whose birthday it was yesterday, and the pride he took always in keeping the house and the yard looking good. I thought about all the years he had raked leaves, and all the years I’ve done it at this same house, and others I’ve lived in over the years.

Sometimes the “again-ness” of life gets me down, but other times, like yesterday, it brings me comfort. So much is uncertain, but there will always be leaves to rake (as long as there are trees, and let’s hope that’s forever), and snow to shovel, and laundry to be done, etc. No matter what horrible or fantastic thing you’re dealing with, you still have to do the dishes or someday you’ll have to eat raw potatoes with your hands. There’s no changing that. You just have to figure out how you’re going to deal with it.

Raking (and all chores like that) are opportunities to connect with the essence of life – it’s againness – and find your place in it. The leaves don’t care who or how important you think you are, or how you feel about raking, or the seasons, or your job, or your life, or anything else. They’re just there, and you have to deal with them…or not. It’s your choice. How you feel about any of it doesn’t matter. The trees drop their leaves in the Fall whether you want them to or not. Period.

The universe couldn’t care less about you or me, or what you’d rather be doing or having or being.

It just is.

You can rail against that is-ness – cry and moan and feel sorry for yourself – or you can just go get the rake and get out there. Do the dishes, shovel the snow. Or not. Deal with life or don’t. Life doesn’t care. It’ll break you if you let it. It’s not personal, it’s just the way things are. Over and over again.

Do what needs to be done, and shut up about it. It’s the same for everyone. Life is ultimately about the ease with which you handle your particular again-ness.

As the man said, “Let it be.”

Living accordingly

“Maybe the reason nothing seems to be ‘fixing you’ is because you’re not broken. Let today be the day you stop living within the confines of how others define or judge you. You have a unique beauty and purpose; live accordingly.” ~Steve Maraboli

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I’ve been beating myself up pretty good the past couple of days, feeling like a failure, abnormal, an alien. Feeling like an idiot for getting myself in such a desperate place again. Thinking about how hard I’ve worked to get well, to accept myself as I am, to have compassion for the trials I’ve faced and the ways in which they have shaped my journey. Berating myself for throwing all that away by willingly putting myself in a situation that has brought me to my knees once again.

What was I thinking?

Well, I thought for once I could do something meaningful for someone else. I wasn’t thinking of myself, necessarily. I was challenging myself to feel compassion for the one person in my life I felt least deserved it, but probably needed it the most. I knew I would be challenged, but I felt like I was up to the challenge and that it was almost pre-ordained by the universe. Major karma between me and my mother all these years, and I felt this would be the end.

I had no idea it would take this long. Honestly, if I had known I would still be here 6 years later with no end in sight, I might have run away screaming when she asked me to move in with her. Really, though, there was no other choice. She couldn’t live alone. What else could I have done? Looked my then 80 year-old mother, recently widowed after 60 years with the same man, living on meager Social Security and in poor health as always, in the eye and said, “no?”

Well, yes, in theory I could have. She would have died in a short time, probably, and I would have gone on with my life. I wouldn’t have felt good about that, though, and in some ways that might have been more challenging anyway. I’d still be around, and she would have called on me constantly no matter where I was.

Ultimately I would have felt like there was something more I could have done. So instead of feeling bad, I did that something more. I wasn’t being true to her so much as I was being true to myself. This is who I am, who I always have been – loyal to a fault. Like a dog. To my detriment, almost always, especially where my family is concerned.

So now I’m a better, if not happier person. I have never believed that the purpose of life is to be happy. I believe the purpose of life is to be of use. I believe in the Golden Rule. I think if there is a god, that’s really all the bible needs to say: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat others with love, acceptance and understanding. Even your worst enemy is a human being worthy of respect and kindness. Everyone is deserving of forgiveness, love and care.

Even my mother. I forgave her a long time ago, and now I’m working on the “love and care” part. Everyday. Mostly it’s on-the-job training, but I’m getting through. It’s so hard, especially the last few months when she has been so ill and my life has been turned upside down again, much as it was over and over as a kid by her poor health, and then later by depression. I’m tempted over and over again to question my decision to be here, and the life that led me here.

Over and over, however, I find that the answer to those questions is simply that “this is who I am.” This is who I’ve always been. I believe I have lived my life according to my purpose, even when I wasn’t really sure what that was. This is the family I got, and they are and have been my path to enlightenment. The path has been arduous – strewn with rocks and pits, over mountains and deep valleys – just like everyone else’s. I’ve been tempted to lay down my pack and stop so many times.

But I haven’t yet, and I hope I won’t. As I have gone on I’ve become stronger, better equipped, and better at seeing the way ahead. I can’t see where the path ends, but the next step is clear, and maybe the next step after that. I try to stay in the moment, and I find I’m happier if I don’t think about what’s ahead. I’m tired, but I focus on putting one foot in front of the other and that’s all. Just keep moving I tell myself every morning when the alarm goes off.

Get up, and just keep moving. I’ll be where I need to go soon enough.

Wasting Away

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.”
T.S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism

I caught up with a childhood friend yesterday on Facebook. She and I were best friends and neighbors until she moved away when we were both 14. I’ve seen her once since then – 30 years or so ago when she came back to town to visit her mother – but then we lost touch. It was nice to see pictures of her now and to hear about her life, but it made me sad, too.

When asked to superficially describe my life I find the only thing I’m comfortable talking about is my work. I don’t want to admit that much of my life was determined by the severity and duration of the chronic depression I’ve struggled with since high school, and the rest by my obligation to my parents. I feel good about myself and the fact that I’ve survived the depression and done right by my family, until I’m talking to someone else, especially someone I grew up with. Then I find that I feel that – compared to them – I’ve wasted my life. Or, at least, that I have nothing to show for it.

On the face of it, anyway. In the condensed Facebook version you can’t see how much I’ve grown as a human, or what I went through just to be alive now. On the surface, it seems like maybe I took the “easy way out” by staying in my hometown and living a “small” life by myself. Maybe I was lazy or scared and couldn’t manage anything more important or exciting. Or more normal. 

What’s not clear is that my life has been the hardest way out, for me, anyway, because none of it is what I wanted or dreamed of. I’ve had to deal with the worst things I could imagine as a child – never getting away from my family and being alone all my life. I didn’t ask for depression; it just took over. I didn’t ask to have the parents I got or to feel obligated to them. I didn’t choose any of the things that made other choices impossible as my life went on. I have always just made the best of what I was given, which in terms of freedom to choose, was not a lot.

In the vast realm of human suffering, my life doesn’t even register on the scale, but it was hard for me. It’s been a struggle. I don’t have anything to show for it except that I AM STILL HERE. Still getting out of bed every morning and facing the days as they come. Going through a very difficult time right now and hoping that things will get better, but knowing they may not for a while, and still getting out of bed.

Every. Single. Day.

That’s worth something, isn’t it? Not giving up? Still trying to be a good person, and trying to do the right thing. Isn’t that valuable? I think so. But it doesn’t condense well, and that will always be a problem for me, as much of what goes on between people never goes below the surface.

I know, though. I know the whole story and I know I’m alright. My life has been worthwhile. I haven’t wasted anything. Most importantly, the ending hasn’t been written yet. There is more to come and I will keep showing up for whatever it is with the best that I have to offer.

 

Journeying on

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I struggle to remember this everyday now. I have every reason to believe my life will go on after my current situation is over, and that belief is what keeps me going. If I thought this situation with my mother would be unchanged for the rest of my life I think I would give up.

It’s hard and I look forward to the end, while trying to stay in the present. Not an easy task when the present is so unpleasant and difficult in so many ways, and life beyond it is freedom.  The end is not in sight, though, so I try to remember that living in the future and wanting something different than what is happening now is the very definition of unhappiness.

This is what is, and this is what I have to deal with. It’s not permanent, but some days it seems so, and I guess that’s what’s hard. I can’t see the end, and though I keep telling myself, this too shall pass, it doesn’t.

Over and over things seem to get better – I might have part of a day in which mom is feeling pretty good and work is okay and all the housework is done – but in an instant it’s gone. Mom is calling for me with some problem, and/or, as in the case last weekend, we get 2 feet of snow that I had to deal with for 5 days. Or I feel like I’m pretty on top of things at work and catching up from all the time I missed in the last two weeks, and I get an email that in an instant changes everything and I’m behind again.

I wake up in a panic every morning thinking about the day and all the problems that could be waiting for me, anxiety crushing my chest. I’m tired before I even start. In the shower, in the car, at my desk, in my chair in the living room in the evening, I tell myself: Everything ends. This is not forever. I know that’s true, but it doesn’t feel like that, and I’m tempted to lose heart.

I’m just so tired.

So at those times I allow myself to think about my hope for the future: About a time after my mother is gone and I can move back into my little house, and have only myself and the cats to worry about. I could travel again, and have time out with friends, go for walks and bike rides; do the things I enjoy doing. The things that make life enjoyable for me.

But I can’t linger there. That’s not reality now and while it does give me hope to think about that time, I have to be present in this time to do what needs to be done. This is all there is right now. Until it’s over, this is where my energy belongs.

This is my journey, not my permanent destination, so the only thing I can do is keep moving. It always comes back to that, doesn’t it?

JUST KEEP MOVING.

 

 

Looking back, looking ahead

When I was younger I lost huge blocks of time – days, sometimes weeks – lost in the fog of depression. Everything just stopped for a while and then when the depression lifted, I went back to doing the things I liked to do – the things that made life worth living. My life.

I couldn’t lose my job, so I put every bit of what little energy I had into getting there most days during those times. Some days I did nothing but sit in my office and stare at the wall for 8 hours, but I was there, and I stayed employed.

That’s what life during those times boiled down to: focus on that one thing – the thing that had to happen so I could go back to my life when I was well again. Most days when I got home from work I went to bed. The next day I would do it again, and the next, and the next, until slowly, as the depression lifted, I could begin living fully again.

This time I’m spending caring for my mother feels like that time again, and it scares me. I find myself using some of the same techniques I used in those days to maintain my life so I can go back to it when things get better. I don’t have time, opportunity, or energy to do any of the things I enjoy; the things that keep me healthy. I have to postpone appointments, get-togethers with friends, daily walks, posting on this blog – the list is long.

My focus this time is trying to eat properly and working as much as I can. This last week 1/2 days, next week, hopefully 6 hours per day. I keep telling myself I survived all those years with the depression, and I will survive this. I will survive this, and then I will have to rebuild my life just as I did before.

What’s different this time is that I don’t have to hide what’s going on. There is nothing shameful about caring for a family member, and everyone has been very supportive, and for that I’m grateful, especially at work. There was nothing shameful about the depression, either, but I didn’t know that then, and I had no support.

There weren’t drugs then like there are now, and I didn’t know anyone else who struggled as I did. I felt broken and different, and I did everything I could to conceal what I was going through from everyone I knew. Sooner or later that deception ended most of my relationships, so I was even more isolated, but that actually made it all easier.

I don’t have to do any of that now, and I’m very grateful for that difference. This is hard, but it isn’t as hard as that was, and I’m so much better-equipped to deal with the disruption now. I’m ready to get back to my life, but it’s not time yet, so I’m just hanging on. I know someday I’ll get back to it all and then I will be able to enjoy it all the more knowing that’s it all for a reason, and that I’ve spent the time away doing something worthwhile. My mother will be better (I hope), and I will be better for the experience.

So it’s the same in some ways, but very different also, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. I’m going forward, not backward, and it’s okay.

This too shall pass.

 

The hard way

Work Zone Begins_edited

I’ve had two situations today in which keeping my mouth shut was the wise choice. It was NOT my first inclination, but that’s exactly what I did in both instances, thank goodness. Apparently I’ve learned a couple of lessons: “living to fight another day” and “picking your battles.”

So this is growth, right? My temper and my mouth got me in such trouble when I was younger. Over and over. I lost friends, jobs, relationships – the list goes on and on. Just about every time I opened my mouth in anger I was still yelling as I or someone else walked out the door. I felt justified in my anger and I told myself it didn’t matter. Picture Jack Nicholson: “You can’t handle the truth!” Not my problem. I was righteous, baby!

It did matter, though, and I have learned from those mistakes. That’s a good thing. Learning “the hard way,” as they say, is painful, but effective. I would like to reach a point at which I learn without pain, but I’m not there yet. Not even close, I’d say. I’d also like to say that I’m always able to keep my mouth shut, but I’m not there yet, either. I’m a work in progress.

Mostly, though, I’ve learned not to tick off people from whom I want or need something. That may seem fairly evident to you, but it has not always been that obvious to me. Duh. Turns out, people are not inclined to help you or give you what you want if you just yelled (or are still yelling) at them. Huh.

So, the second part of that puzzle is what to do with the anger that I’m not unleashing on someone, and I’m getting pretty good at that, too. I walk, ride my bike, write, sing, or play a game until I calm down. And I talk to myself. I talk to that angry part of myself who is so desperate to have her say. And we make a plan to make it be okay – to right whatever wrong has made me so hot under the collar – down the road. Not now…later.

Just because I’m not yelling, doesn’t mean I’ve given up. That’s the key. That’s what took so long to figure out. In the past I had two modes when something made me mad: get angry and lash out, or lay down and die. Angry as hell or depressed. Nothing in between. The concept of delayed gratification was foreign to me.

I get it now, though. As in all things, moderation has turned out to be the better way. As often as I can, I take the middle way: think about a considered response to whatever has set me off, and figure out the best way to deliver that response. Not in the heat of the moment, but sometime later when I’m calm enough to think it all through and make sense of exactly what made me angry and what I want to do or say about it, if anything.

Yeah, sometimes after I’ve calmed down, I don’t do anything. I work on letting it go, cuz I’ve figured out that no good would be served by responding. Imagine that! Thinking before you act or speak, and then CHOOSING not to do either. Wow. So simple, and yet so, so, very hard.

One of the situations today begs a response, and I’ll figure out the best way to respond when I’m calmer and I’ve thought about the situation some more. Fortunately, I have the time to do that. I have to try to be sure I know what I want out of the situation – turns out what I think I want initially is not always really it – and figure out what the other party wants, so I can present my case so that we both win.

The other situation I have to let go if I want to keep my job, and I do. So I have to work on reconciling myself to doing what I’m being asked to do, even though it’s not fair, it’s not right, and it sucks big time all the way around. No matter how I look it, I lose. Except I win, because ultimately what I want is to keep my job. So lips sealed tightly, fingers stopped from hitting “Reply” and typing what I’d really like to say, but can’t.

Growth, right? Maturity. Man, it’s hard. I feel like I won today, though. I still have my job, all of my friends, and my dignity.

Most importantly, I will live to fight another day.