Life. This week.

I’m not sure where I am going with this tonight – only that it has been more than a week since I’ve last written here, and I like to stay current in my journaling right now, so I want to check in for a moment and reflect.

The daily activities that make up my days leave so little room for breathing space. I’m not alone in this as so many working parents are in the same position. But it seems especially challenging in this past week when academic papers are flowing in and stacking up faster than I can grade them.  Tuesday had us at the ENT for Jude’s appointment and Wednesday had Norah and I home for her school’s teacher work day, so I’ve missed desk time and the week has become disjointed and overwhelming. All the little things. They feel big this week.

We did make it to Jude’s school for lunch yesterday though. He was excited to see us, and they place you on the stage when parents come to eat with you. He felt special, I think. And Norah was fascinated with the experience of eating at “kindergarten school.” She walked in carrying her Frozen lunchbox and wearing a dress she chose for the occasion. Little things go a long way at these ages. I’m so grateful for that at a time when little things are all I can muster sometimes.

UntitledI’m fighting hard to rest in the good enoughs right now and stop demanding more more more of myself. But to be honest, I am failing miserably. I’m nearing the one year mark of when things changed for me, and things are finally settling in and smoothing out around here, and I’m feeling itchy. Feeling like I should be doing more than I am. I’m dancing on that line of comparison we all feel drawn to, and I need to work harder to fight that.  I’m so tired of working hard though. I’ve learned immeasurable lessons and grown so much in this past year, but I’m tired. I’m ready for something to be easier, and I’m mostly talking about my relationship with that inner critic. I’m ready for her to quiet down for good. But I think maybe she never does for some of us. This is just life. Working hard to simply determine when to demand more of yourself and when to say you’ve done enough and rest in that for a while. It’s hard, right? To figure out when I need to push forward and when I need to take a seat.

I’m not sure this is making any sense at all tonight. But it’s been hard week. It’s been a hard year. I’m tired of hard. I know I’m not starting from scratch, but sometimes it feels like I am, and I’m exhausted at the notion that I am alone. I’m worried that the scars are too thick for anyone to see past them and I’ll be alone forever. Wouldn’t that be his final accomplishment to be proud of? I not only left you to begin again with two kids and married my new soulmate immediately, but I screwed you up so profoundly that you are too broken with self-doubt for someone else to deal with.

I’ve read that Rumi quote a thousand times The wound is the place where the Light enters you. I’ve felt the Light and I’ve seen it, and I know from the voices of my friends that I’ve illuminated that Light, too. That other people have seen it in me. But sometimes it just feels like a wound. This week it’s a wound, and it’s more dark than light. The smallest stabs still ache sometimes, and I want to know when that stops. When that skin thickens and the scars fade.

But I’m seeing – when I have the clarity to look without my distorted view – that I offer others so much more kindness than I offer myself. I’ll see the best in others, and never in myself. I give them the benefit of the doubt and not myself. I need to get better at this. It’s like the imposter syndrome I wrote about before, except worse because I inflate others and see the very best in them so much so that I often give them more credit than is due. And by contrast, I refuse to see myself without the faults screaming loudest.

I can learn so much from my kids sometimes. The way they don’t really care what others think unless you are in that circle they’ve come to trust and cherish. They don’t have an inner critic to silence yet. Past experiences haven’t given them a soundtrack of criticism on loop. They see only what is right in front of them. The start of a new day and all the chances that it brings to practice the very best of ourselves.

Norah was singing some song of her own Tuesday morning as I brushed her pigtails at the start of the day. It cracked me up, and I snapped a quick picture.

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I’m so tired all the time – 5:30 am alarm, kids, work, life. All of it alone. It’s a lot. Some weeks it feels like more than others. But these little faces –  their little stories and smiles and quirks – I can learn a lot from them. And I just want to see myself the way they see me, without the scars and baggage and doubts. Everyday new and worthy.

Manifestation

The kids are away this weekend, and I’m mostly using the time to be certain everything is ready for the first full week of the school year. Clothes washed, lunches packed, house clean.  Come November, I’ll be drowning in term papers and laundry and ready for a break, but I love the clean-slate feeling of August. For a few shining weeks, everything is new and organization is apparent.

I registered long ago for a Jen Pastiloff workshop that took place yesterday, and the timing couldn’t have been better.  Her workshops are so hard to describe – a combination of journaling and yoga and sharing and dancing.  It was a bit outside of my comfort zone as I knew it would be, but I’m convinced that all the very best things lie just beyond our comfort level.  I persuaded my friend Tally to join me, and it was the most amazing afternoon. An incredible experience.

UntitledI would describe myself as an inconsistent yogi.  I’ve dabbled in yoga at various times of my life – some Svaroopa yoga before kids, prenatal yoga regularly during my first pregnancy, a month-long Bikram yoga challenge a couple years ago, meditation here and there to help with specific anxieties and challenges.  But I am certainly not an advanced yogi by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s something I’d love to make time for, but it can be a challenge to find the time among the rest of my life tasks and events.  Jen doesn’t really demand a lot of challenging yoga in her workshops though. She simply uses the poses to get you out of your own head and into the body to strip away the ego.  You are also much more likely to share with strangers if the room is sweaty and you are moving or chanting in unison.

This idea was echoed in something I was reading recently on Melanie Tonia Evans‘s blog which has been a healing balm for me in many ways.  She discusses ways that we disconnect from our bodies and the reason that “coming home” to your body is necessary to self-fulfillment, especially when healing from past hurts.  Our culture always encourages us to reach outside for fulfillment, and she explains, “No-one taught the value of coming home to ourselves in our bodies. Rather than our [culture] guiding us with, ‘Sit with your bad feelings, take your attention lovingly with full self-devotion inside your body, ask yourself what is this really about and heal yourself,’ they would have been more likely to tell you, ‘Don’t dwell on it – get up and do something else.’ … Because of being unplugged from our connection to ourselves we have been easily trained into a model of ‘getting’ and ‘doing.’ The trying to secure something from outside of self in order to feel at peace within oneself…. The reason why any of us wanted ANYTHING was to try to feel content and at peace – not realizing it had nothing to do with getting or doing – it is always to do with coming home to self-partnering and addressing our own state of consciousness….We also need to understand this: emotional peace has NOTHING to do what Life and others have delivered you – it is to do with your own state of consciousness.” 

This resonated with me so much.  It’s only been a few months since my divorce happened, and I’ve already been torn between a desire to sit with my own grief and use that to heal myself and the loud voices of some people who say that reflecting on your pain is simply bitterness and that you should “move on” and busy yourself with something else. The glory of Jen’s workshop is that you have to be in your body and commit fully to the self-exploration she is asking of you.  Her journaling prompts cut through all of the false ego and get straight to what’s real: What would you be if nobody told you what you had to be? What do you fear?  To be where I want to be, I have to be rid of… It is nothing short of a spiritual experience to be in a room with strangers, move your body in a way that mirrors everyone else in the room, and then answer these questions and share your reflections with others.  

My recent essay on bodhichitta describes what I mean by this, and it was the first time in my life when I sat in a room and could feel that human compassion tangibly with people I didn’t know at all.  As one person stood up to share, she commented that so many people in the room looked familiar to her and she couldn’t explain why, just some comfortable familiarity that she felt and saw in our faces.  I think the answer for why she felt that way lies in bodhichitta.  For a few hours we were stripped of the ego or judgment that normally guides each of us and we saw others with a lens of common compassion.  You could hear in the conversation and what was shared that each of us is fighting our own battle, all so different yet exactly the same.

So many yoga or meditation instructors speak in these lofty terms and metaphors that are not always accessible to many of us. But Jen’s approach is different.  She speaks in terms that we understand and she is “real” in every way.  Her workshops are coined Manifestation Yoga, and you begin the workshop by writing down on a post-it a short list of things that you want to see unfold in your life. Meditating on, praying for, and visualizing those things each day can bring you closer to them, yes.  But she also acknowledges that if that’s all we had to do, life would be pretty easy and predictable.  Obviously it’s not that simple.  Manifestation in her words is to “Make shit happen.” You have to identify what it is you want, give some intent and clarity to that goal, and then identify what stands between you and the life you want.

I found when I sat down to write what stands between myself and my goals, I heard so many others share what I’d written: fear, uncertainty, feelings of inadequacy, and allowing others judgments or opinions to restrict me. These answers were the same for so many of us. She spoke a bit about the “1 in 100” scenario – meaning if you are in a room with 100 people, and 99 of them love you and 1 doesn’t, whom do you focus on? The one that doesn’t.  I know for certain that my recent months have allowed me to come so far in refusing to let others’ judgment affect me.  I at least don’t let it sink in as deeply or for along as I did before. But I’m only human, and I can’t help but be somewhat affected by it.  

And to be honest, when I reflect on the things said to me and about me in the past nine months or so, it’s enough to break anyone’s spirit.  You don’t measure up. You were a bad wife. Your own actions are what led to pain and disappointment. You need to stop writing and you should be ashamed of showing your pain and sharing it with others. Everyone perceives you as bitter and angry. People tell me your writing is terrible and nobody believes any of it. You are a terrible mother. You are selfish. On my best days, I can rest in the love and acceptance of people I value, but on the worst days, these comments sink in and cast a shadow where I don’t want them to dwell. Jen’s workshop yesterday was a safe place to work through these things and cast them out of my consciousness.

It’s hard though, right?  The mind is a powerful thing.  On the one hand, thoughts can enlighten us and guide us, and there is tons of research to support the power of positive thinking. On the other hand, if I believed everything that my mind tells me in regard to my own self-worth, I’d be in trouble.  It’s human nature. Fear and uncertainty is natural. Not only that, but I’m realizing that the only people who feel no fear at all and don’t care about others’ opinions of their actions in the least are defined as sociopaths and narcissists.  (Jen Pastiloff touched on that briefly yesterday as well.)  But to use her metaphor, when 99 people in the room see love and authenticity in you and recognize your gifts, to focus on the one who doesn’t see your worth serves you in no way at all.  And I’m realizing that is precisely what is standing in the way of myself and my big goals: the criticism I still hear far too loudly. I ran across this recently online somewhere, and it made me smile.  I need to tape it on my mirror.  

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It’s not as simple as placing glasses on my face. (I wish it were!) But I can drown out the influences that leave me feeling doubtful and unsettled if I’m very careful about what I let sink in and if I devote time everyday to focus on aspects of myself that are worthy of appreciation and value. I left the workshop feeling energized and ready to start a new academic year with a clearer purpose and more mindfulness to combat the outside voices that feed feelings of inadequacy.  When we unrolled our mats and were preparing for the workshop, we were given temporary tattoos from Conscious Ink as a little favor.  It will be gone in a couple days, but it’s on my forearm as a reminder to me as I begin the school year.

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It’s impossible to recognize the sacred value of the present moment when you have a constant soundtrack in your mind of the million things wrong with you or the million reasons some people dislike you. I’m vowing this week to push those voices away as much as I can and listen to my own compass instead. And right now, my own compass says I am strong and capable and loving and exactly where I should be.

hard things

Today is the day! Jude started kindergarten.  This morning, I put my baby boy on a bus.  I can’t believe it.

 

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Motherhood just changes you at your core, doesn’t it? I was saying earlier this week that it never stops feeling like one big change after another. Having a child who grew in your own body and rocking that baby in a dark, quiet house. Chasing those chubby toddler legs.  Singing ABC’s with a preschooler.  Those days feel SO LONG when you are in them, yet they all run together and race by as you look back. Here we are. Another change. Another new chapter on the horizon.  I’m excited for him, and seeing growth in your children is so fulfilling.  But it also aches a little bit. Being a mother is like forever seeing a piece of your heart running loose in the world, and sometimes you want to protect it and tuck it back deep in your chest where it belongs, but it doesn’t work that way.  

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He’s getting older, and I don’t feel like it’s my job here to comment on his feelings and his perspective.  But I’ll say that he was all the things you’d expect – excited, a little overwhelmed, exhausted, and proud at the end of the day. It was only 8 hours, but it was the longest day of my life. Such a joy to see him step off that school bus with a look of pride and satisfaction.

 

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It’s been a hard week. With all of the emotional intensity of preparing for today, it leaves you feeling unsteady anyhow.  Being human is hard sometimes.  I’ve come so far in the healing process, and I can see that on this journal as I look back at old entries.  But here we are with a new chapter of challenges I didn’t anticipate.  Watching someone who hardly knows my son come to open house events, school functions, teacher meetings, and all that this life entails.  It is HARD to swallow that.  There is so much more I could say, but that is already more detail than I usually write in this space where I try to focus on my own piece of the journey and not someone else’s.  I just don’t want to be hypocritical in my reflections here, so I’m admitting that while I am doing well in many ways and melding somewhat gently into this new life, this was a bad week full of encounters I wish I never had to experience. It makes me angry to see someone push an agenda on my child and me.  Life is full of hard things, I know. And this is hard.

Yesterday my awesome friend, Amanda, posted a fearless reflection on Facebook where she ripped the mask off and was honest about motherhood challenges and all that they entail and how they leave us wondering if we are doing the right things, if we are enough. Reading the responses she received was inspiring to me — just moms being honest about how hard this job is and how much we question if we are doing it right.

I have so many friends who are amazing and are not moms, so I don’t like to make big blanket statements on motherhood, but I’m just going to say that there are some things that you just do not get — you do not even remotely understand them — until you’ve done this. Everyone thinks they know everything about parenting until they actually do it. And those parents that —  even after they have kids or after their kids are grown — walk around saying they are the best parent in the world?  Those are the ones to really worry about and the ones you can be assured screwed up somewhere. It takes humility and authenticity to do difficult jobs, and parenting is difficult for certain.

Jen Pastiloff (who is leading a workshop this Saturday that I’m super excited to attend) posted this recently.  It resonated, and I saved it.

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I’m just going to be honest tonight.

I’m here to say that I am grateful for so many things in my life, but I’m also deeply hurt by some actions that were done to me and more than that by the complete lack of remorse or respect from those involved.

I’m inspired by my children every day, and they are the compass for my decisions and actions, but I still think motherhood is the hardest gig ever and I’m sure I don’t always do everything right.  And sometimes I feel so tired and weary from the heaviness of this job and the responsibility of guiding two little people.

I’m confident and I know I am whole and capable of so many things, but I can also be shaken and broken so quickly by someone’s simple actions or one hurtful comment. It still surprises me how solid I can feel on the inside and yet still be broken so quickly with someone’s simple stab.

But that’s being human, right? Being full of lots of imperfections that you wish didn’t exist but they do.  Thinking things that you shouldn’t take as the absolute truth but sometimes you do. Feeling things that you wish you didn’t feel but you do.

It’s all here – the doubt and the shining moments, the guilt and the satisfaction, the anger and the joy.  There’s a line in an Avett Brothers song that says, “There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light, and I’m frightened by those that don’t see it.”  It pierces me all the way through when I hear that song.  Those who don’t see it – they don’t feel shaken or see both the darkness and the light – are the ones who frighten and intimidate me the most when I’m playing the comparison game. But really if you don’t have moments of self-doubt and hurt, I’m learning you don’t have much to offer.

So here’s my offering tonight. Life is full of hard things.  And sometimes they feel too heavy, but on the other side of that heaviness, there’s always a joy and satisfaction tied to it.

My brave boy stepped on a school bus and began a new journey today, and it was full of fear and self-doubt but also full of joy and pride.  I think I can learn a lot from him.