Life and Randomness

trigger

It’s been a hard couple of weeks in the news. I know so many women who are having to turn away, and sometimes I do as well. It feels like the same message is taking different forms and swirling, swirling in the universe for me to grab hold and bring it to the light for a better look.

I unloaded to my friend last weekend about some personal battles I’m having in my own head and heart and some hardships she is facing, and she mentioned that Pema Chodron quote, Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn. And look at us, here in 2018, still having public conversations about who is to blame for someone taking advantage of a woman’s body, her trust, the essence of who she is.

Look at me in 2018, at nearly 38 years old, still wondering if I am to blame for my own heartaches. It is all the same thing.

Do you know how many times a day I say either aloud or in my own head that I am sorry about something? Or that I should have done better? Or that I should have some kind of future-vision where I could see something coming before it gets here and read through someone’s false exterior like an x-ray? Or any other number of questions I use to dig through emotional labor like a shovel through gravel in the wreckage left behind by a man in one form or another. Always in a soft space where I am looking for the kindest way to respond, looking for the silver lining, trying to put pieces together in a way that fits. But sometimes none of it fits. None of it. You just have to leave it there untouched and unanswered.  I guess I’m saying tonight that it feels heavy and I’m tired of my own softness.

I am trying so hard, so so hard, to believe that there are men in this world who are kind and real and honest and mature and can do hard things. But I have been proven wrong so many times that I am losing faith, friend. Losing it fast.

And even as I type this, I think don’t post this because clearly someone who has repeated heartbreak with the same scenario playing on repeat like a broken record is at the root of her own pain somehow.  But can you see what that is? Again looking for a way that I am to blame for someone else’s dishonesty.

I had a night this weekend where I was alone in the darkness trying to sleep, and it felt like such deja vu that was so long ago buried in my body that I forgot what it even felt like until it bubbled to the surface again. I was right back to a place I’d rather forget and it felt unwarranted but real, so incredibly real – that voice in my head and my gut, that heaviness and quiver. I talked myself out of it for days and days, telling myself it was trauma buried somewhere and resurfacing unnecessarily and I shouldn’t listen to it – to my own blood and bones and frame and gut that knew what it knew without reason. I was telling myself it was wrong.

But the body never lies does it? My wiser self is always in there somewhere saying can you hear me? knock knock. Until louder and louder it goes. And even then sometimes I blame my own self and call it a misdirection. But she is right every time, my body. Every time she speaks to me, I need to listen. Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn.

I asked that same friend tonight on the phone – through a few tears and a lot of her refrains of I know, I know – how many times a heart can take a beating before it just closes for business. Tonight I feel as though I am at my limit. In my own life, when I watch the news, when I look at a string of days behind me that I would rather forget or at least be able to write over again.  When I think about doing this again and again, I want to give up and just harden it and close the doors for a while.

But I know that my heart is a muscle the size of my fist and it somehow keeps beating again and again. Yours does too.  Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learnNothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn. I’m letting these words flow over me tonight like water, letting them slide and sink in the dark as I fall asleep. I don’t feel the deja vu anymore at all – no shakes and no quivers and no tightness in my center. All I can feel now is the quiet rush of my own self here again, the same as she ever was. Sore but not broken.

Today I drove home from work in the late afternoon light. My drive is long but mostly rural and beautiful and winding. I was exhausted from work and the questions tumbling in my head the last few days. And I remembered the day I moved from my old house – my married home – when I was coming out of a season of my body screaming at me for months and months before I listened. My friend, a fellow single mom halfway across the world raising her girls alone, sent me a song as a moving soundtrack. This played on repeat for me for nearly half of that day as I packed the last few boxes and swept the dust from the corners of the empty rooms in that house that felt like a haunted museum.

I flippantly put that same song on today as I rounded a curve, and I turned it loud as I drove toward the sunset to a quiet and empty house of my own waiting for me.

I didn’t expect it, but my chin quivered when she began the second verse – And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind. I can never leave the past behind. I can see no way, I can see no way .I’m always dragging that horse around. Then the tears came with my favorite line – I am done with my graceless heart. So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart. A long and winding road with the music loud and the tears flowing will get you where you need to be. Every time.

Here’s to cutting it out. Every last graceless piece of me that blames myself for someone else’s actions. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, sure. But the heaviest horse I carry, the one that hangs on my back like some never ending shadow is that command I have absorbed that tells me that it is my job to clean up any mess left and make neat, beautiful piles from the wreckage.

Tonight, I’m not sweeping anything. I am letting it be. Shaking it out and out and out again until all that is left is who I am underneath the heartache – solid and true. Grace upon grace upon grace. I believe every story my body tells me, every true and right thing she whispers. And I believe yours, too.

 

 

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divorce, single parenthood

the right kind of loneliness

I’m on day 5 without the kids – something that only ever happens in the summer – and so far I’ve taken a yoga class, cleaned out my garage, completed two books, watched a full season of something on Netflix, hiked a nearby spot, cleaned out the kids’ closets, made a few trips to Goodwill, begun my book proposal, and accepted a freelance writing job. Today I have another yoga class and a lunch with friends on the books.

I guess as it turns out, I am not all that good at relaxing. I say I’m fine with being alone, but as always, the body keeps the score, and I’m up early every morning with more energy than I should have — all that end-of-the-school-year exhaustion hardly palpable this week as I suddenly have the fire to complete every task under the sun.

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I know I’m tired and craving stillness on the inside, but you have to carve away the layers to get to that spot, or I do anyway. I hope to get faster about that eventually, but for now, I can remember that this is how it works for me always. I squirm a lot and try to move to the right or the left instead of just sitting with it. I self-medicate with busyness. And then the buzz slows its pace little by little until the stillness finally arrives.

I can remember what this was like the first summer I was on my own, and it’s not nearly that bad anymore. But I’m surprised to feel that anxious fire still there a bit even now, two years later. You think you have mastered something and moved beyond it, but there it is again. I’m remembering what Pema Chodron wrote in When Things Fall Apart, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter…”

I think part of this, if I’m being honest with myself, is that since I’m seeing someone, it’s been months since I’ve had an extended time of being alone like this. He’s on a big trip across the country with family this week though, so I have to sit with it awhile again. Timing is never accidental, and I think I needed this. (We all need it from time to time.) There is no barometer that can allow you to check in with yourself except stillness and solitude. It’s also Pema Chodron who reminds me, “Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

This is the ultimate test of joy and contentment, I think. Can you sit with yourself without distraction for any period of time? Strip the roles away piece by piece – mother, wife, girlfriend, employee, friend, sister – whatever they may be. Strip it all away and stay awhile with the person underneath all of that. Sitting in the loneliness, the right kind of loneliness, for a minute, an hour, a day. It shines a light on all the places where you are holding something too tightly.

I can remember writing something in the early days when my life exploded, and I said I knew that there are women who grow stronger and wiser from life’s heartache but that I didn’t know how they got there. Now I know though. It’s that time alone to feel the pulse of what you need and want and what life is teaching you. That’s how you get there.

I’m recognizing the value of it all and trying to be grateful for it, even in the itchy silence of an empty house. Stillness and solitude always show me what I need to know.

Books, single parenthood

sifted

We are cleaned up and dried out. The renovations will begin soon. For now, I’m sharing a bathroom with the kids, and my kitchen floor is bare cement. We have no sheet rock on the downstairs ceiling or sofas in the living room, and Jude will sometimes lie on a blanket on the floor and inspect the ducts and wires exposed. It’s the awkward holding moment before the rebuild, where everything is uncomfortable and foreign and weird, but there is something really lovely on the other side of all of this if we just be patient. I know this well. Patience comes easier than it used to.

I’m reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior (along with everybody else, it seems), and it is so hauntingly familiar to me in moments. I find myself nodding and revisiting my own parallel moments as I read along. She speaks about crisis as a turning point, and she explains that it means to sift, which I didn’t know before.

Sure enough, I examine the etymology for myself and see that it is associated with to separate or judge in Greek, to sift or separate in Latin, and even a sieve in Old English.

I can remember visiting the tourist stops in North Georgia as a child and panning for gold, taking the sieve and lowering it in a muddy trough, scooping up sand and mess and shaking the metal sieve back and forth again and again to find the small gold flakes left behind. We’d pick them out and place them in tiny vials filled with water and stare at them all the way home on the drive back. The gold specks I found myself were somehow so much more valuable to me than something I could buy in a store.

Pema Chodron tells me that “nothing goes away until it has taught you what you needed to know.” And I think maybe she’s right. What if all of these moments that first appear to be crises are actually my teachers? If I listen close enough, I think they are.

With each defining moment in my past two years, I see the sieve working to let go of what I never needed to begin with. I am lighter and lighter and lighter with every crisis. It makes me laugh to think about the rhythm of our past week and the way it was remarkably unaffected by my actual ceiling caving in. The ceiling caved; I had the mess cleaned up; and here we are chugging along like always.

On weekends I have the kids, I give them a “kids’ choice” night where they call the shots on dinner, and we huddle together and watch a movie. As usual, they voted for pizza last night, and proclaimed it the Best Movie Night Ever! because we could spread blankets across the empty living room and lie on the floor while watching Ninja Turtles. Where I used to see mess, I now see magic and connection and possibility. Maybe what I needed to know, as Pema Chodron says, is that what matters isn’t going anywhere. No house can hold it. No title can contain it. No half sibling changes it. When I wasn’t paying attention, the past two years of time with just the three of us somehow cemented these threads even stronger than they were before. Ceiling or no ceiling, home is the space between the three of us. I knew that from the beginning, but as it all fell away last week, I learned what safe feels like. It’s all right here.

Jude’s birthday party was today, and I ordered the cake three days ago when he walked into Publix with me and decided he wanted the Godzilla one. I reserved a pavilion at the nature preserve nearby, and he spotted a pinata in Target this weekend. Nothing matched. It was perfect.

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Kids played and explored on the nearby nature trail. (Thanks, Pinterest scavenger hunt printable stapled on a brown paper bag.) They sang and had cake. They played some more. We came home to more play time with neighbors, and Jude dove into his new gifts. I roasted a few vegetables for a light dinner and bathed both kids, and the doorbell rang at 7:30 with a neighbor delivering a slice of pumpkin pie straight from the oven and oozing in that perfect way that happens when you cut it too soon to keep its shape.

How is my busy, overwhelming life with so many unanswered questions about my future somehow actually easier in the present than when my path was straight and predictable in front of me? Everything is simplified. Necessity calls for it when my finances, my energy, and my time are so restricted. But look what happened in the meantime. The strongest stuff remains, and the rest doesn’t matter. I have no one to answer to but the voice inside my own self, and she requires no check boxes.

The good thing about rock bottom – whether that is a life turned inside out or a house stripped of what it once was – is that it gives you a chance to rebuild exactly how you want it and take away all the extraneous mess that weighed you down to begin with. The view from the bottom seems pretty great today. I am the one to set the course. I’m tired and worn and sleepy, but I can see for miles and miles.

Holidays and Parties, Life and Randomness

how the story ends

My university closes for Good Friday every year, so I’m off today. Norah is with my mom so that I can volunteer in Jude’s class this afternoon. I rolled out of bed later than usual, and I walked Jude to the bus stop this morning in jeans and a hoodie and came back to write a bit in a quiet house when I’d normally be commuting to work and planning for a full day. Space to breathe and sit in silence is so rare this time of year, but even little bits of time can create the opening I need to regain perspective.

Birds are busy outside as I type this, and I can hear them singing. The grass is greening up. April always feels like a swollen bud that’s about to bust wide open. I felt it so intensely last year as I moved into this new space, and I feel it now again.

Yesterday was Norah’s egg hunt at school. I slipped out of my office for a bit to join her.

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I noticed a few colleagues and university staff stepping out to the front steps to watch the madness. Dozens of kids running as fast as they can to gather what they find. It’s the simplest of ideas, and yet they get so excited.

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She dug right in and ate more candy than I should have agreed to, but indulgence and celebration can do so much to carry us through the mundane, so I gave her no limits. There’s more value in these indulgences the older I get. Life, responsibilities, worries, bills, chores, expectations – it all feels like a lot sometimes. But it fades to the background in these little moments of celebration.

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I clamored into work yesterday with 2 crates of strawberries I’d hurriedly bought on the way in. Norah’s class was having a picnic after the egg hunt, and I volunteered for that item. It was spring picture day as well, and my fervent scrubbing of her St. Patty’s Day tattoo didn’t remove it, so I had to ask her teacher to tilt her in the photo pose so as not to show her right arm. This week, I have also stuffed 96 Easter eggs for 3 different celebrations – each set with its own slightly different instructions. Like “add a few pennies to each egg for a math activity.” “No chocolate, please.” etc etc. Last week, Jude had to make a “leprechaun trap” as a “family project.” And there are at least three different forms sitting on my kitchen counter right now informing me of field day and fundraisers and field trips.

My coworker was laughing along with me yesterday as I unloaded my strawberries in the office kitchen to rinse and cut them for the picnic while lamenting over the everlasting tattoo featured on picture day. Her kids are grown, but she remembers this season and the thousand demands it brings. She dug up a passage from her office bookshelf with a copy of Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation about the “rememberers” and the “non-rememberers.” I recall a time when I was a rememberer, always on time for everything. But lately I feel like a non-rememberer. A mom who throws supplies on the table as I make dinner so that my son can finish the “family project” assigned 6 days ago that is due tomorrow. My “family project” at the moment is keeping us alive and fed and reasonably happy. That is all I can manage.

I haven’t had much time for dreaming lately, for looking at the big picture or what is ahead. This is good in ways; it keeps me grounded in the present moment because I only have room in my mind for this minute and the next 72 hours or so. Beyond that, I cannot tell you much.

But I’m feeling a tension emerge in that way lately that I haven’t felt in a long time. I sometimes feel a huge opening and such immense gratitude for the open road in front of me. That sense of possibility I’ve written about here before. But I am also surprised, in some less steady moments, to find myself craving a sense of certainty. It’s human nature to do so, but I’ve grown so accustomed to the mystery in my past year that I always find myself surprised when the old discomfort of uncertainty creeps up again. Jenny Offill also says, “You think you want the blue skies, the open road, but really you want the tunnel, you want to know how the story ends.” I think that is true for each and every one of us. It’s human nature to want certainty. But I’ve made so much progress in the past year, become so comfortable with the not-knowing. Anytime I step into new territory though, it’s back again.

I picked up Things Fall Apart again this week to revisit some passages that brought me so much last summer when I read them for the first time. Chodron insists, “As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”  She’s right. The middle way, the questions, have brought me so much. It’s staying in them after the bulk of the storm passes that is the hard part. To stay here, to be here in the truest way, to not get anxious or itchy or hurry for resolution. That is the difficult work at hand for me right now, but it’s where the magic happens. I don’t have to know how my story ends to know it’s a good one.

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Thanks for sharing your passages on my last post here and over on Facebook! The winning number was 9, so Melissa is our winner! Interestingly, she shared one of my favorite passages I encountered when reading Tiny Beautiful Things:It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” Congrats, Melissa! And thanks for reading. I will message you soon to ship the gifts to you.

Books, divorce, gratitude

bodhichitta

It’s the final full week of summer vacation as Jude starts kindergarten in ten days. (I can’t believe it!) I’m wrapping up my summer reading, and I’m feeling grateful that I’ve read more of my own choosing this summer than I have in probably the past six years or so. It’s hard enough to find the time to read as a mom, but then add the fact that my job requires some intense reading as well, and I rarely get to immerse myself in my own books.

I’ve read all kinds of things in the past few months, and it amazes me how all of these seemingly different works are connecting into one big mural of meaning for me.  There is so much power in the written word because of the immense power of human connection.  It’s a concept I try to relay to my students as the central thread of why I’m teaching them to read analytically and to write clearly.  As C.S. Lewis says, “We read to know we are not alone.” We learn through each other, and I have no doubt that God speaks to us through one another as well. In Christianity they call it The Holy Spirit.  In other religions, they call it by a different name, but it is the same idea.  I feel as though it’s only through the past few years of my life, and especially the past few months, that seeing the divine in all of us is made real and clear for me. Namaste in the truest sense.

Looking back again as the dust settles, I can see this was an element responsible for the disconnect in my marriage as well.  Motherhood changed me at my core in a million ways, but namely it made me more spiritual, more grateful, more aware of the big picture.  I always felt that everything happened for a reason, but after having children I felt the presence of the divine more than ever and could see that hand orchestrating elements of my life and reflected in even my small daily experiences. I don’t think that philosophy was matched in my partner at all – actually I know for certain it wasn’t because this is something we talked about in the final days. And that is okay.  My path is not the same as everyone else’s. But in hindsight, I’m not sure that I could grow spiritually the way I have in these past months with such a mismatched mirror in my own home. I see that clearly now.

Everyone’s path is different, and mine is my own. Spirituality means nothing if you don’t hold it close, and it takes holding it up to the light, trying it on for size, and seeing what feels right to make it real.  I was flipping through albums at a family reunion recently, and I found a beautiful image of an old baptism.  This is the way of my family for generations, and I know Southern Baptists get a bad reputation sometimes for some things that are neither here nor there on this specific post of mine (for another time), but what I love about that blend of faith is that it is held close and personal.  The idea of being born again into something new only happens if you believe it from the inside outward and do the work yourself to maintain a connection to God. Baptism in the water is meant to outwardly mark a change in who you are.  You are emptied of the old and washed clean again by your relationship with the divine, and now the divine resides in you.

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And sometimes those sacred waters of baptism aren’t reflected as a literal pool of water but a threshold in your life and your own experiences. A crossroads when you are out with the old and in with the new, so to speak. My path is separating from people I’ve known, not just from my former spouse.  And I’m learning to be okay with that. There are lots of complicated reasons for some of these separations; divorce always changes your peer group.  My core of closest friends is just the same, and I can’t explain how incredibly grateful I am for their help and encouragement. But there are a few on the outside of my close circle who have fallen away. They are another example of the things I’m letting go – as I’ve alluded to before.  David Whyte has a poem that states, “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” And I think that sounds insulting somehow – implying I am bigger than someone else. But sometimes I think “too small” can just mean they are not what I need right now where I am on my own journey. And to be fair, I am likely not what they need either.

When thinking about how I am changing, who has fallen away and who hasn’t, who is “bringing me alive” and who isn’t, I didn’t really have words for how this separation has happened or why. But when I read Pema Chodron’s work I wrote about before, she has a chapter on the Buddhist concept of bodhichitta which is a Sanskrit word meaning a “noble or awakened heart” – or as she explains, “this kinship with the suffering of others, this inability to be able to observe it from afar” or “the discovery of our soft spot.” I’ve rolled that one around in my head often these past few weeks, and it illuminated a lot for me.

I was having lunch with a good friend and mentor last month and we were discussing privately one of these people I’m referring to and how hard it has been to regain footing in my life without someone who was once present often, and she revealed that she always perceived this individual to be “a lightweight” which I thought was a perfect description.  Someone who treads in shallow waters because it’s easier or because it’s comfortable – or maybe just because they aren’t there yet on the capacity to process something greater.  It’s far easier to distance ourselves from pain though, far easier to make it shameful and tell someone to hide it or move on quickly than to hold bodhichitta for a moment and let that pain penetrate your own heart. I can think of countless examples in my past where I listened to people shame others for showing pain and weakness or where I listened to others refuse empathy and compassion for someone else. These are things I’m now ashamed to even admit that I tolerated, and I simply don’t have the space or energy for that in my life anymore.

I think people awake to their own bodhichitta in their own time. I can keep people on the peripheral of my life when they see things through a lens of very little compassion, but I can’t maintain close connections with them anymore. And I’m seeing more and more each day that this idea has very little to do with our society’s concept of religion.  Many of these personalities that have fallen away from me are seated in a pew every single Sunday, but somehow they haven’t softened their hearts.  They don’t have eyes to see it.

And so often I think this relates to fear.  So many people want to be seen as perfect with the house and the kids and the prosperity that they think defines them. To admit that you feel fear or hurt or embarrassment, to admit wrongdoing, and to feel in your core that there is suffering in the world and a battle within each of us – all of those things are uncomfortable.  All of those things require admitting that you are not perfect and not always right. So few people are willing to step out of the skin they are wearing and own up to all of these things.

Chodron explains, “Because bodhichitta awakens tenderness, we can’t use it to distance ourselves.  Bodhichitta can’t be reduced to an abstraction about the emptiness of pain.  We can’t get away with saying, ‘There is nothing happening and nothing to do.’ … Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. … In the process of discovering bodhichitta, the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth, not the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt… We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away.” The challenge is not pushing it away, not holding it distant from us because it makes us uncomfortable.  I’m finding that seeing another’s pain, whether that is a close friend or a stranger, is so hard for many people.

And the reason it is hard is because it turns a lens on our own selves.  It shows you where you are gripping too tightly, and it brings about the horrifying thought that the pain could be yours as well and that you are not safe from it.  I know this because I have done it in the past as well.  When you rationalize the million reasons that could never happen to you, it’s a way of trying so hard to convince yourself of a concept that is simply not true.

What I said before about these very different books working together to paint one big picture for me? I’m taking a big leap now from Pema Chodron to Amy Poehler which seems ridiculous, but bear with me. Poehler’s book (which you should read this very second if you haven’t yet) includes a chapter on friendship in your forties, and I am not quite there yet in age, but I related to her words so much in light of my changing landscape these days.  She says when you are forty and have gained life experience, “You can read people’s energies better, and this hopefully means you get stuck talking to less duds….Gone are the days (hopefully) when you take everything personally and internalize everyone’s behavior.  You get better at knowing what you want and need… Lastly, because you are a superhero, you are really good at putting together a good team. You can look around the room and notice the other superheroes because they are the ones noticing you.  The friends you have over forty are really juicy. They are highly emulsified and full of flavor.  Now that you’re starting to have a better sense of who you are, you know better what kind of friend you want and need….I am interested in people who swim in the deep end. I want to have conversations about real things with people who have experienced real things. I’m tired of talking about movies and gossiping about friends. Life is crunchy and complicated and all the more delicious.”

To me, these “superheroes” are those who are awake to the concept of bodhichitta, those who can drop the ego for a moment and let some discomfort set in. Those who have encountered past pain or disappointment or mistakes and aren’t afraid to talk about it. And as I form new friendships with people I am yet to meet and one day look at the prospect of future romantic relationships, that is my biggest test.  Are you awake to bodhichitta and all that entails?

Because here’s what I’m finding, friends.  Bodhichitta does not mean that you are sad and full of sorrow all the time as you reflect on the miseries around you and feel empathy for others. In fact, it brings quite the opposite.  It’s only when you let in the sorrow of the world, when you sink into empathy, and when you embrace imperfection that you can find true joy. Happiness is something else entirely, and though this may sound strange, I’m growing tired of “happy” people who are not joyful. True joy cannot depend on outside circumstances at all, and true joy can only come when you let it all in.

In his lengthy work “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”  Wordsworth writes that when “we are laid asleep in body, and become a living soul: while with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” He’s referring to transcendence through nature as that was his route to the divine, but I see those lines resonating in my own life as well. When we “are laid asleep in body” and strip down the ego and feel that harmony or kinship with someone else’s pain or imperfections, that’s when we see into the life of things.  And at this moment in my own life, this crossroads in the journey, so to speak, I simply can’t maintain connections with those who don’t see it. Looking back, I see how this past few months has worked like a sieve for me. All the hindrances fell away, and those left are the real gems – the ones who are helping me grow bigger and propel forward to a life that is so much richer than the one I’ve left behind.

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Books, divorce, gratitude

waking up

My kids are home with me after a week away.  For once, the time without them did not drag by slowly last week.  I took dance class two nights in a row (sore muscles to say the least), finished up an editing project I’d taken on for extra income, and did a little reading and writing of my own choosing as well. I got some incredibly encouraging news on the freelance writing front with a submission that was accepted quickly, and I hope to expand on the details for that when it is published.  It’s been a goal of mine to submit some personal essays to a few publications for quite some time, so this gives me the motivation to keep writing and keep submitting.  On the whole, it was a really great week.

I’ve heard of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart for years, and a good friend of mine mentioned it yet again recently, so I decided to pick it up this weekend.  It’s a quick read, and I settled in one afternoon to read most of it in one sitting and then finished it up Sunday morning.  I’m getting better at enjoying the perks of solitude.  A quiet house, cooking a solo dinner of my own choosing, reading for pleasure more than I have in ages, or even small gems like having a house relatively clean and listening to music at my own whim.  These things don’t make up for the kids being gone, and I am happiest for certain when we are together, but I’m finding that recognizing the positives of my situation is helping me to ease into it a little deeper and not long for this season to be over.  This summer is also affording me so much time to think and reflect on the past decade of my life, and I can’t begin to describe the difference that is making in my ability to process things positively and move forward to make things better.

This recent change of perspective relates to Chodron’s book as well.  It’s hard – especially now with social networking to let us know what others are up to – to rest in your own imperfections and your own transitions and not feel lame or worthless.  People are in performance mode almost always, and I know that.  But I fall for it everyday and have to shield its impact a bit from myself if I can.  I see it with friends and acquaintances – and yes even strangers – on the internet.  I see it with my children’s father who is excitedly planning a wedding that is only three months away and relishing in a lot of happiness right now. I see it everywhere.  But the point Chodron makes so well in this book is that change is the only constant in life and that suffering serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things.  When you rest in your discomfort and use stillness to do that, you truly evolve from your pain or experience.

She explains near the beginning of the book that “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that 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 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” (8).  Allowing space is the hard part for sure. I’m working hard in my current life to include fun experiences that take my mind off things for a while. Dinner with girlfriends, fun outings with the kids, trips to the bookstore, late night Netflix, weekends away, and lots of other things.  But these past few weeks, I’m also letting myself sink into the loneliness and the feeling of being completely not in control, completely clueless about what lies ahead for me. Before I read this book and could give a name to it, I could feel what Pema Chodron is talking about already – the healing that only comes from allowing space for it all to be felt in the truest sense.

This idea of admitting and feeling suffering without fighting it is contrary to our nature. Chodron speaks at length about our culture’s tendency to avoid pain and suffering by covering it up with a multitude of things – alcohol, excessive spending and a desire for worldly attention, new romantic relationships – and more specifically, she explains how ineffective those distractions are if we really want to grow from our pain and become fuller and richer as a result; “We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated … When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.  We do everything we can not to feel anything threatening … When we breathe in pain, somehow it penetrates that armor. The way we guard ourselves is getting softened up” (89).  I’ve seen this firsthand with friends of mine who have suffered unimaginable losses or pain or disappointment. They have emerged as completely different people than they were before. Life softens and deepens you if you let it, but only when you allow yourself the time to sink into your suffering a little and learn your way around what it all means.  And though it is really inconvenient, I’m seeing more and more that you really can’t do that at all when you try to fill up the pain with something else.

I’ve let go of so many things this past few months.  Material things – my car and house and leisure space in our family budget.  But also I’ve lost so many assumptions about people and about life and about myself.  It’s crazy to look back at the first post I wrote six months ago when I finally explained what had been happening for me, and even then I alluded to this act of letting go and the things I was still clinging to. And though that was only about six months ago, I feel like I’ve changed so much at my core. It’s like being completely emptied of everything you had and everything you assumed only to start filling yourself up again in a totally new way.

I wish there were other ways in life to experience this groundlessness as Pema Chodron calls it, but it usually only comes in these painful experiences of loss or profound disappointment. As she says, “We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure because sooner or later, we are going to have an experience we can’t control. … We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a full human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life (72).  There are so many ways we “run away from the immediacy of our experience,” and they seldom look like running. They often look like distractions or like “moving on,” “staying busy,” or “having it all together” as I hear people say from time to time.

The biggest change that has happened for me is that I’m done with that. I don’t have it all together. I am not starting some brand new life that will align perfectly by my expectations and look just like my old life but with a different person. The perfection veil was pulled away for me. I didn’t choose the actions that began that avalanche.  But in the aftermath of all of that, it feels so liberating to have it removed and simply be in a moment in my life when I have no master plan and no grand storyline I’m trying to write. All there is in front of me is the here and now.  I worried so much in these past few months that I was missing life with my kids because I was so overwhelmed and busy with life tasks and cleaning the mess in front of me.  But now, in a weird way, I feel like I am missing less than ever because I have no idea what is ahead and I have nobody to answer to but my own calling and these two little people. That’s it. I woke up to that new lens as I finally reached the other side of all that has happened.  I’m here, right now. I don’t know about the rest, but the rest doesn’t matter.

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And I feel as though it has taken a lot of internal work to get to this statement, but I am finally beginning to feel genuinely grateful for it all – every moment and where I am now. I’m starting to look less at my current situation as a stepping stone to something else and see it as simply life and what I am. Yes, it is all part of who I will be and where I will go and forever changes the way I see the world, but really it’s just the path I’m on to learn what I am meant to learn in the only way I could learn it. I am exactly what I feared when I made decisions seven months ago – alone and completely unsure where I am headed next. But ironically, now I don’t fear where I am at all.  I’m almost beginning to fear the other end because I don’t want to lose this lens if I move forward to something else.

Everything is at its most essential and distilled moment.  Everything is immediate right now.  It’s like waking up, and I want to remember these lessons and these moments – even the hard ones – in my years ahead. In hindsight, I had years and years of ease and happiness, and I was asleep for so much of it. As Chodron says, “When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, even you and me” (54).  I’m awake to all of it now, it seems.  Awake to the bravery and the kindness and the softness and all of it. I’m seeing it all in a way I haven’t witnessed when things were easy. I’m becoming grateful for the hard part, and I guess what I am trying to say – if this makes any sense at all – is that I’m enjoying the middle way as Chodron calls it.  There’s so much good I’m uncovering, and even more waiting down the road if I can keep these eyes to see it.