Observations on Being Without Power.

 

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Image found via Pinterest.

Our state recently experienced an historic power outage due to winds of up to 60 miles per hour. My house was without power for over 72 hours. Here are a few things I observed.

Of course there is the initial annoyance. No power (and no generator) meant no lights, no heat, no water, no refrigerator. At first, it wasn’t that bad. It almost felt like a reprieve from normal life. But soon, it got old. I went to the bookstore for the afternoon to get warm and charge my phone and laptop. That night, my husband and I drank some wine and played a few games of Cribbage by candlelight. Sweet, fun and a little romantic. But waking up to a really cold house the next morning, the reprieve glow had worn off. I went to the gym to work out and take a shower. My daughter and I tried to find a place to get warm and charge our phones but every place was full. So, we got food to go and went to the yoga studio where I teach. No classes in the middle of the day so we had it to ourselves: warmth, wifi, outlets to charge. All in all, a pretty nice afternoon especially since I wrote over 2000 words on my current WIP.

That night we stayed in hotel where my husband had a business meeting. Perfect timing. Enjoyed a warm bed and a hot tub. Woke up to news that the power was back. Yay! On my way home, my daughter called to say the power was NOT back on. Boo!

I began to notice how easily swayed my mood was by things completely out of my control. I found myself getting incredibly irritated when the DTE app hadn’t updated the repair status and that irritation began to spill out all over the place. It made me wonder how often I let my mood be influenced by things out of my control. How often did I let irritations pile up and feed off each other until I was just miserable to be around for myself and others?

Each time I walked into a room, I hit the light switch. Every. Single. time. It made me realize how ingrained our habits are. It made me wonder what else I do just out of habit, basically on auto-pilot?

As the irritation began to build I realized that I was just waiting to get the power back. Just waiting. Filling time until everything was back to normal That’s what drinking the wine was about the first night. Let’s make this a little less uncomfortable and make the time pass a little easier. I wonder how often I did that, bypassing what was uncomfortable, waiting for things to happen that I want to happen.

As offers to use friends’ refrigerators or freezers to save our food, or their house for warmth or an invitation to sleep in their spare room came in, I found how awkward I felt when offered such gifts. I have no problem at all offering such gifts to others, but receiving is not easy for me. Even when it was my best friend in the whole world. She had me come down to her home for the day where she made me a fresh salad, had bought my favorite tea and crackers. I said, “My gosh you are spoiling me.” She said with a lot of passion that somebody should spoil me, that I deserve it. That I take care of everyone else all the time and the sometimes I needed to be taken care of myself. I heard the words, and I tried to receive them with an open heart but I could feel myself closing up against them. How often do I refuse to ask for help or feel guilty when accepting it?

Finally, being powerless felt like a huge, neon metaphor for how I’ve felt since the election. Certain things are just out of my control no matter how many calls I make, marches I attend, petitions I sign, meetings I go to, postcards I send.

So, with so many things out of my control, what is within my control? Always my response. Always. I chose to get irritated by the power being out. I chose to check the app twenty-five times a days, hoping to see an update. I chose to drink several large glasses of wine to escape the situation in front of me. But I also chose to seek out warmth. To continue my meditation practice even if just for two minutes. I chose to continue showing up to my current WIP, making progress despite what was going around me. Chose to notice when it felt uncomfortable accepting offers of help. I chose to accept the help anyway, learning to get comfortable with it.

Now that the lights are back on, I hope to stay aware of what is in my power, and what is not. To stay awake to my habits instead of sleepwalking through my days. To be grateful for help when it is offered and brave enough to ask when I need it, believing that I am deserving of it. To be grateful for all that I have that I blindly take for granted as I easily flip on a light switch to light up a room or turn on the faucet to receive water or open the refrigerator full of fresh food.

Just like Dorothy, the power is always within us.

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Image found via Pinterest.

 

The Art of Seeing Myself Clearly.

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As part of an on-line program, Spring Equinox 30 Days Back to You, I did a full two-hour vipassana meditation this morning. It is a practice of seeing ourselves clearly, of staying present to exactly what is happening in the moment, gradually purifying the mind and getting rid of attachments which are the root of suffering.

Where to start? At the beginning I suppose.

First up was the question of where to do it. I thought I should do it in my yoga room. Then this morning I decided I would sit in my nook in the living room. It didn’t look like I pictured it “should” in my mind—me sitting on my mat, in my yoga room, spine straight. But I decided I needed to make it as doable as possible. This chair is comfortable, it is cozy, I had the house to myself so I wouldn’t be interrupted. It made me wonder how often I tend to sabotage myself before I even begin by not making what I want to do as doable or accessible as possible.

Lately, I’ve been meditating and practicing self-reiki in bed as soon as I wake up. I used to think I “should” be doing it on my mat, after I practice. But this works for me. I wake up and before I do anything else, I do some reiki. I am still in that soft space after just waking, this keeps me there then it leads me straight into a sweet meditative space.

When I first read that I was going to have to meditate for two hours by first reaction was,”NO FUCKING WAY!”

But I was also intrigued.

I thought it would be so hard, so tedious. I thought it would be painful physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

But I also thought it could really interesting.

I went into it without expectations. I deliberately didn’t read about others’ experience with it before I experienced it myself.

I got my cozy blanket, a glass of water, lit a candle, put my phone on airplane mode so I wouldn’t be disturbed, set the timer and just did it.

At first it was loud in my head. It felt like “Inside Out” in there. I had the rebel dressed in black muttering, “This is bullshit.”

There was one wringing her hands worried that we weren’t doing this right at all.

Another desperately taking notes so we could write about this afterward.

Another patrolling with a ruler in her hand, enumerating all the ways this was an utter waste of time.

The first time I checked the timer only 15 minutes had passed.

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I shared the space with my dog, Izzy. She slept on the couch then at some point got up and moved to the recliner closer to me. I thought, her whole life is a vipassana meditation. She is always just in the moment, doing what she is doing. I tried to be more like her.

I was acutely aware of my body and the shapes it made. The places where my body connected with the chair, that line or veil between the two seeming to dissipate.

I was hyper aware of my face and neck.

I heard the clock above the mantel ticking away, the hum of the refrigerator, the creaks and groans of the house, distant traffic, a siren.

Odd images would flash behind my eyes. It felt like I was watching a movie.

It felt like that limbo between wakefulness and sleep though I never teetered over the edge into sleep.

The next time I looked I had 37 minutes left.

Then only six.

Then the timer dinged and I came back.

And it felt like coming back.

From where, I’m not sure. A journey of some sort. A deep inner journey.

I don’t remember a lot of the details. I am stunned that two hours went by.

I am surprised that it wasn’t more of a struggle. I’m surprised that I was able to just allow my mind to go where it went and didn’t engage with it. I felt like an observer. A curious, compassionate observer.

I stopped struggling to remember everything that I experienced and just allowed myself to experience it.

Just allowed myself to be.

Just allowed myself to see my Self more clearly.

The Practice of Embracing Silence.

Pascal quote

Image found via Pinterest.

I’ve never been good at being alone.

Never been comfortable with silence. Which explains why I resisted meditation for so long. Even when one of my favorite writers/teachers highly recommended it for writers, coming just shy of touting it as the magic key, I still refused to sit with myself in silence.

When I first went away to art school, I arrived before my roommate. I had the apartment to myself for almost a week and I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t have a TV. This was well before personal computers, much less iPhones. I didn’t have a stereo. I think I did have a cassette player with earphones. And books. And myself.

Those few days were excruciating. I remember sitting on the couch in view of the apartment across from me where I saw other students, hoping, praying they would notice me, take pity on me and invite me over.

They didn’t.

When I was a young mother, I craved time alone, even if just in the bathroom. When I was lucky enough to get that time to myself, I almost always squandered much of it in front of the TV. Or I’d call family or friends and talk to them. Anything to fill up the silence. Anything to avoid being alone with myself.

Now, my daughters are both away at college. This week my husband is out of town so it just me and the dog and cat. And the silence.

As I sit in my cozy reading/writing nook in the living room I hear the tapping of these keys, the gurgling hum of the washing, the clock ticking over the mantel and the muted thrum of highway traffic. That’s it. No TV or radio or music to fill the silence.

No barriers between me and myself.

I no longer resist silence or being alone. I embrace it.

What changed? Me.

I don’t know when exactly it happened but it’s been since I started practicing yoga, since I finished my YTT. Yoga has allowed me to dive deep and figure out who I am, how I feel and to, you know, actually feel those feelings.

I think I was afraid of feeling too much so I avoided being alone, avoided creating space where feelings could surface.

Being alone no longer feels lonely. I am not always comfortable with being alone or with silence. Sometimes I still get that feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin. Of wanting to fill in the gaps of silence that press on me.

The difference now is that I allow myself to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And that is something that has definitely emerged from my yoga practice. I find my edge in poses that aren’t comfortable but I stay there, I breathe, I feel my body, I note my resistance and choose to stay.

Staying there when I want to flee is where the growth happens. It’s like a muscle that I push to its limit and it grows stronger. That space of hanging in past resistance helps in my writing as well. It helps with everything, really.

So, as I find myself sitting in the utter quiet of my home, I note the butterflies in my belly, I note my shallow breath and the urge to turn the TV on. But I don’t. I choose breathe deep. I choose to embrace the silence.

And in embracing the silence I am embracing myself, exactly who I am in this moment.

I wish eighteen-year-old me had known this. But she was young. She didn’t know or appreciate the beauty of all of who she was.

That’s okay. We know now.

 

 

The Art of Wabi-Sabi.

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One of the challenges of the holidays can be the added pressure of striving for perfection: finding the perfect gift, decorating the perfect tree, cooking the perfect meal, throwing the perfect party.

Today, on this Winter Solstice, is an ideal time to release the idea of perfection. Perfect according to who, anyway? How will you know when you’ve reached perfection? The truth is, you never will. That little voice in your head? That’s its job, so it’s never going to allow you to find perfection since that means it would be irrelevant.

Allow yourself to release the heavy burden of perfection for the lightness of wabi-sabi: a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.

The other day my husband and I were putting the finishing touch on my yoga room—a gold wall decal of an om symbol within a lotus flower. It’s about three feet by two feet so it was a little unruly to work with, trying to get it centered without it sticking too much to the wall, then getting it to stick enough to peel off the backing but leave the gold on the wall.

We encountered tiny air bubbles along the way. My husband dutifully and gently attended to each one, trying to make the surface perfectly smooth. The foil and wall did not cooperate.

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Finally, I said to just leave it as is—air bubbles and all. They aren’t all that noticeable and when I do notice them they remind me of all the hard work and love he put into creating this sanctuary for me.

In that moment I practiced wabi-sabi and found the beauty beneath the supposed imperfection.

In that moment I released the heaviness of perfection and welcomed in light, joy and peace of the beauty before me.

What can you release? What can you welcome in?

Embrace the Holy Moment

The gold clings to the

softly mottled blue wall

Shimmering, majestic.

Small pockets of air arise

Marring the surface,

Disrupting the flow.

Pressing gently,

attempting to feather

the air out and away.

Searching for a perfectly smooth

Sheen of gold

But they stubbornly return,

again and again.

Finally I surrender,

Instead of erasing them,

I choose to embrace

the beauty of these

So-called imperfections.

Pursuing perfection is fruitless

It leeches joy from the moment.

How much easier life becomes

when we no longer judge the

usefulness and beauty of something

based on such shallow, unknowable standards.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty of

The imperfect,

The impermanent,

The incomplete.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty

of each moment

As it is.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty

of yourself

Just as you are.

The Practice of Slowing Down.

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Image: Chad Sparkes / Flickr

I wish I had found yoga (or it had found me) back when my daughters were little. I think it may have slowed down time a bit. Kept me present once in a while instead of moving mindlessly from task to task, need to need—always looking ahead to the next phase, the next step.

The thing about time is that we think it is much less fluid than it actually is. We think it is fixed purely in increments of hours, days, weeks, months, years, etc…

Time is actually much more elastic than the structure we, as humans, have imposed on it. And it all depends on our awareness. If we are always looking ahead to the next thing on our to-do list (for the day or for life), life seems to fly past us in a blur. That’s how my daughters’ childhood was to me—a fast blur of time. It seemed like I blinked and it was over. Now they are both in college.

The holidays are also apt to pass in a flurry of activity. Our days and weeks are packed with things to do: buy presents, wrap, bake, parties to attend, decorations to set up. If we aren’t careful, the season is over before we know it and we didn’t even enjoy it.

I may not have been fortunate enough to have yoga twenty-two years ago, but I have it now. The practice of showing up to my mat no matter how busy a day is allows me to slow down my body, slow down my breath, slow down my mind.

The more I practice on my mat, the more I am able to carry that mindfulness off the mat and into my life.

It’s like a superpower—slowing down and being present actually slows down time.

I know that the less time I believe I have for yoga, the more I need it. The more I practice, the more time I seem to have. Funny how that works…

Explore your own ability to stretch time by just being fully present to what is happening within and around you.

Next time you are in line at the store take a moment to check in with your body. How does it feel? How do the clothes feel against your skin? The floor beneath your feet?

Stuck in traffic? Notice your breath. Is it shallow or deep? Warm or cool? Does your chest expand with the inhale? How about the low belly? Try to elongate the inhale and exhale, making them equal of length.

If you are baking a batch of cookies, take your time to notice what the ingredients looks like, how they smell, how they feel in your hands. And, of course, how they taste!

Savor the moments this holiday (and everyday) by allowing yourself the luxury of slowing down and just being present to what is.

And here’s a lovely reminder by Danna Faulds:

Walk Slowly

It only takes a reminder to breathe, 

a moment to be still, and just like that, 

something in me settles, softens, makes 

space for imperfection. The harsh voice

 of judgment drops to a whisper and I 

remember again that life isn’t a relay

 race; that we will all cross the finish 

line; that waking up to life is what we 

were born for. As many times as I

 forget, catch myself charging forward

 without even knowing where I’m going, 

that many times I can make the choice

 to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk

 slowly into the mystery.

-Danna Faulds

Source: Walk Slowly: A Poem http://blog.freepeople.com/2014/11/walk-slowly-poem/#ixzz3uKdGgyHc

 

Meditation as Bicep Curls?

I’ve resisted a regular, sustained meditation practice for years. Even when, at a retreat with Natalie Goldberg, and she pretty much guaranteed that meditating would help my writing, I still blew it off.

Even after becoming a yoga teacher, I blew it off.

Sure, I’d show up for a few days, weeks, even months but then I’d miss a day, then another and another.

I think I’ve always had this picture of how meditation should look and the way my wild mind flitted all over the place like a hummingbird on speed did not fit that picture.

In short, I felt like I failed every time I sat down.

Of course, I knew that bringing my mind back to my breath or mantra was the practice. But mostly I knew that in my head. Part of me still felt like I should get past that stage, that it was a hoop I had to jump through.

Being laid up these last few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to meditate. And I have. Daily.

Along the way, I stumbled across this video, which I just love. First, it’s animated and takes some of the heavy seriousness out of meditation. Second, one phrase in particular has stayed with me. That each time we bring our awareness back to the present, it’s like a bicep curl for our mind.

See, the thing that I feared was failing is exactly the thing needed to strengthen my practice, my mind, my awareness.

It’s so liberating.

I no longer fight my thoughts. Each time I notice my attention has strayed, I bring it back to my breath or mantra, knowing that that moment, that moment of starting over is the whole point.

It’s not failure.

It’s the practice.

The Adventure of Turning 50.

Turning 50 TTB

When I turned 40, my husband and I went on a cruise to Jamaica with two other couples. My kids were 11 and eight, we had moved across the country, and I was helping my sister deal with the death of her young husband—I was being pulled in many directions. The idea of getting away from it all was very appealing. Getting away from it all in the middle of the ocean with lots of food and drinks and people was even more appealing.

Turning 50 though, that wasn’t the case. Instead of being pulled in all different directions, my kids are in the midst of going off in their own directions as they prepare to leave for college in August. I no longer felt the need to get away from it all.

I needed to pull into my self. I need to find that self to hold onto once they are gone.

So, I began searching on-line for something to do, somewhere to go by myself. I looked at retreats, white water rafting trips, yoga and meditation hikes, hot air balloon rides, parachuting, renting a small writer’s apartment in Paris.

I was obviously looking to challenge myself in some way. Shake things up, but nothing came up that was on the day of my birthday. Definitely nothing that I was willing to pay that kind of money for with two kids in college.

I let it go. It wasn’t meant to be.

Then…

(Finish reading the entire piece here.)

Shades of Blue

 

Photo: Rose Mendoza via Flickr

Photo: Rose Mendoza via Flickr

I cried three times yesterday.

Yes. Three.

It was one of those days and I am learning to honor them.

The first tears came during yoga. I stayed for three classes. They came during a particularly challenging prana vinyasa. I felt them heating up behind my eyes and just breathed into it. Then they let loose (along with whatever samskara I hap tapped into) while I was in Urdhva Dhanurasana as my amazing teacher adjusted me, holding my shoulders, holding space as my heart spilled open.

The second round came when I realized that both of my girls were leaving for the day to go do fun teenage sister stuff. Which is great. Really. I love that they are so close. I love that they want to spend everyday together before Katie leaves for school in August. But my husband has been out of town for awhile, the girls have been busy with, you know, their lives and stuff and I’ve been home alone.

Some days I am alone and I am just alone. Other times I am alone and I am lonely.

Yesterday I was lonely.

It reminded me of when I was in college, before I had a roommate. We lived in apartments, mixed in with non-students so there wasn’t a dorm feeling at all. No easy way to meet people. I remember positioning myself on the couch in front of the window because I could see into the apartment diagonal from mine that housed some students so I hoped they could see into mine, see me alone in mine, take pity on me and invite me over.

That didn’t happen.

What did happen is that my girls and my “third” daughter came home from their fun sister day and invited me to a game night. WE sat around the dining room table playing Taboo, Bananagrams and Catch Phrase, laughing, talking and I remembered to just breathe it all in, enjoying, savoring every moment.

In Hatha this morning, the theme was “transitions.” That is what I am in the middle of. A huge life transition. Life is full of them, right? At least this is one that I am being eased into instead of forced into. At least I got an extra two years with Katie while she lived at home and took her general credit classes at the local community college. At least my girls and I sincerely like each other and enjoy spemnding time together. At least all those things.

But sometimes, like yesterday, the hole their absence will leave in my daily life almost takes my breath away.

That’s when I have to remember to breathe.

After all, I don’t want to be yanked kicking and screaming through this transition. I also don’t want to set up camp just outside the threshhold of this transition, stagnant and stuck.

I want to move mindfully, perhaps even gracefully through it, into whatever is waiting for me on the other side. Being with these tears, these feelings is part of that process.

The third set of tears came as we held our last mentor meeting online. There was a certain bittersweet quality to the meeting as we realized this particular way of connecting with each week was coming to an end, just as our time as apprentices was coming to a close. We wrote together once last time and everything I had been feeling all day got churned up by the prompt and was splilled out into more tears and a poem:

Blue

So many shades of blue

drizzling behind my eyes,

behind my skin.

Porcelain blue teacups of tears spilling

from my heart

as my girls have one foot out the door

ready to leave.

The loneliness is immense at times and

they haven’t even left yet.

But it’s coming.

In a blink it has come, this time of letting them go.

Wasn’t I just holding them in the soft glow of the nightlight,

gently rocking in the glider as if we were still one?

So, loneliness seeps in on days like today.

But also joy.

Vibrant peacock blue joy

that they are ready.

That they are ready to leave and

shine their own colors into the world,

spilling the rainbows of their awesome selves

out into the lives

they are meant to live.

 

The Numbers Game

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Ever since I started writing for elephant journal almost 4 months ago, I’ve been waiting for one of my pieces to reach the magic number that would catapult it into the Popular Lately category. I’d compulsively refresh the page throughout the day to see how many views each article had, eventually seeing the numbers stagnate shy of that magic number.

Then it happened. Yesterday this piece seemed to really connect with people and I saw the numbers steadily climb and I was so excited and then, there it was, on the front page under “Popular Lately.”

I’d done it.

Yay!

Then what happened?

Well, first this: I saw other articles which higher numbers. Much higher numbers. And that bummed me out. And made me question myself. Even though I had just accomplished the goal I had set for myself. I didn’t even give myself time ( a mere minute) to enjoy that accomplishment before longing for higher numbers. More, more, more.

So, there was that.

Then what happened?

Well, nothing.

It was cool, for sure. I was honored and grateful that my piece had resonated with so many people. I mean, that’s why I write, right? To connect. To have my words move even one person.

But, as I’d found myself checking the numbers over and over I wondered if that was true. Did I really only care if only one person was affected. My actions seemed to go against that premise. My actions seemed to suggest something slightly less altruistic: the more the better.

That got me thinking. What did more views really mean to me? The more views, the more poplar I was? The more views, the more liked I was? The more views, the better of a writer I was?

Then I started thinking about all the ways we measure our success on-line: Facebook likes and shares and comments. Blog subscribers and comments. Twitter favorites and retweets. Pinterest likes and repins.

It’s like we are reducing our society to the social dynamics of  junior high all over again.

I don’t know about you, but I hated junior high.

So….what does this all mean?

I’m trying to build a writer’s platform so I need to be part of the social media scene—a scene I actually enjoy. I enjoy connecting with people beyond my own small circle, connecting with other creative people all trying to share their words and stories. I enjoy being part of this on-line tribe of creatives.

I guess what this all means is that I need to stay mindful as I continue to put my work out there. Do my work, put it out there, help it make its way into the world then put my head down and work some more.

My hope is to have a book published and there are so many ways to measure a book’s success that I can’t let myself get caught up in the numbers game.

Sure, numbers mean something but they can’t mean everything.

My Own Little Love Letter to Liz Gilbert

Liz Gilbert post graphic

Have you seen Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest TED Talk?

No?!

Check it out here and read how she inspires me.

I hope she inspires you as well.