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I’ve been M.I.A. for about a month now. Big things and big changes have been sweeping through my life, and most of what I’ve been writing has been in my journal (home for all the news that’s not fit to print).

One of the big things I’ve been dealing with is this:

At about five in the morning on December 21st, my dad collapsed (a couple of times), and they took him to the emergency room. After about seven hours of running every conceivable test that you can run on a body, they finally pinpointed what was causing the trouble – he had 80% blockage in his ‘widow-maker’ artery (runs along the front of the heart – and isn’t it nice that it’s named that & that the doctors and nurses actually call it that in front of you? Neat. Thanks. We weren’t scared enough) and 60-70% blockage in one of the arteries that runs alongside his heart.

He went from feeling fine and fit the day before, to facing open heart surgery the next morning. My dad is a 57 year old non-smoking, non-drinking, daily bran-eating, daily walker with a physique that could be featured in medical texts as ideal for the male of the species.

He also has a family history of high cholesterol that is unaffected by diet or exercise (as in, didn’t matter how many bran muffins my dad snarfed down, or how many miles he walked, he was going to have to deal with this anyway). His father died of a major heart attack at age 65, again somewhat unexpectedly – a fact which was forefront in all of our minds during this.

So, we were all thrown for the proverbial loop. And it called all sorts of things into question, made each of us face and deal with things that we’d been burying or looking away from. And I’m grateful.

I played the ‘what-if’ game about it all (I am the uncontested champion of this game), and no matter how I ran the scenarios through in my head, they did not turn out nearly as prettily as reality did. And so, I couldn’t be anything other than grateful. Grateful that it all happened, and grateful that it all went precisely the way that it did.

In the intervening weeks, dad’s done a lot of healing physically. I’d been more worried about his mental/emotional healing – when you discover the body’s ability to betray, you end up feeling whammied, and I was worried about how he’d handle the whammy. I shouldn’t have worried – I should have just trusted. Dad’s coping well – and he has a lot of time for introspection, since he’s in enforced low-activity for at least six weeks following the surgery.

I went over there this week to help them denude the house of all the Christmas hoopla, since pop can’t lift more than 5 to 10 pounds. And dad turns to me and says, “You still plan on taking me grocery shopping today?” And I, of course, said, “Absolutely!” when I was really thinking, “Hunh? Didn’t remember that…but okey dokey.”

I was probably the best one to bring – I let him have his way and do things his way…until he shouldn’t. I’m not shy about calling people out, and we all know it. So, I was the perfect policeman. We had a great talk the whole way there, and the whole time we were shopping.

And on the way home, the talk turned to how he was dealing with his recovery, and some of the things that were starting to glimmer in the murk for him. I mentioned that Dave (my brother) was probably having the hardest time with all of this. And dad, in typical understated fashion, said, “Well, he probably thought I was dying in his arms, so I suppose he would be.”

And I told him that wasn’t the reason. It was because when Dave was young, he hungered for my father’s attention (which for a variety of reasons, wasn’t available), and then when Dave got older, my dad hungered for more connection with his son…and now Dave is mulling all of it over, and wanting to deepen their relationship. But they’re both the stoic and stubborn products of our Austrian ancestry (which seems to cancel out the Irish in the worst possible ways…), and they don’t reach out well. So, I dropped my pebble into that still pond, and trusted that the ripples would wreak whatever changes to the shoreline that they were meant to – or not – and I let it go.

And then I turned to him and told him that I’d had a hard time with all of this, too, but not for the same reasons. I said that I just wasn’t ready to lose my father yet – I was greedy and wanted many more years together. He smiled. And I said that I felt like he and I were square, that we’d done all the reconnecting and that we had a good relationship, and that I didn’t have regrets – only the greedy desire for more of it. I asked him if he felt the same, and he smiled and said, “Yeah Carolyn, we’re good.”

I know how lucky I am to be able to have that conversation with my dad, and to know deeply that it’s true. I also know that I made my own luck there. I reached out to him in my typically tactless and blunt fashion when I was done being an angsty teen and told him I didn’t like the vibe we had and that I wanted more…and what I wanted it to look like. And then we built it.

In the course of our grocery shopping conversation/excursion, I told him that I regretted nothing about my life. It didn’t strike me until right now, that he’d looked at me kind of oddly, and said, “Really?” with the kind of incredulity that implies sincere and invested interest in the answer. No, dad, I regret nothing. Because all of it brought me here, made me who I am now in this moment. Even the worst stuff shaped me (and I’ve gone through some muddy and bloody trenches in my short life) – and is, perhaps, what I ended up being most grateful for since it affected the deepest and most lasting change.

I know he’s on his own road to reconciling his regrets and healing relationships. I know I can’t do it for him, and I wouldn’t if I could. All I can do is let him see me, and the way I’ve chosen to deal with life as a teacher, and rejoice that he still has the opportunity to choose to engage in it…or choose to let it fall away again.

It may appear that I am lackadaisical about all of this – I assure you I’m not. It’s more a matter of having put out the blaze, and looking at the smoldering foundation, and knowing that there’s both time and opportunity for the owner to build anew. And being grateful for it.

 


Dublin Doorways

In 2003, I went to Ireland for three and a half weeks over the Winterim through a program offered by Mount Mary College. We had to choose one of three courses to take during our stay — I chose Irish Literature, no surprise there. I’d have taken theoretical mathematics and failed it miserably if it meant I could go to Ireland (thank God it didn’t come to that).

I had wanted to go to the British Isles ever since I could remember. And at the start of the semester, I walked into school, and saw the flier taped to the wall: Winterim in Ireland. My heart absolutely stopped. I marched straight down to the office and made an appointment to find out just what I needed to do to get there. They only had two spaces left, and they needed a deposit today in order to hold my place. I wrote a check, asking that he give it a day or two for the deposit I’d need to rush home and make to clear in my account.

I didn’t discuss it with my parents. I didn’t consult my then-husband. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I just did it.

The Liffey River, Dublin

I think now and then about all the what if’s — what if I hadn’t had that overage check from tuition socked away in my underwear drawer? What if I’d consulted my parents/then-husband and they’d tried to talk me out of it? What if I hadn’t seen that flier? What if I had and the trip had already been filled? But that didn’t happen.

What did happen was that I told my friend Char V. about the trip, and she signed up. We went together on an adventure that cemented a friendship into a sisterhood. I fought a little bit with both of my parents about going so far away — something they didn’t really like, because they didn’t really understand my need to do it. And then I went out and got my passport. I fought with my then-husband, knee-deep in the ashes of our failing marriage, a day before I left to go, after no protest from him whatsoever for four months. And then, at one in the morning, he helped me finish packing.

Ate, drank, and laughed here.

I cannot describe to you what it felt like for me to just go off and decide this, to follow through with it, despite all of the opposition. I’d been such a good daughter, and such a good wife. Always looking to please others. Making this decision, and going through with it was the first hammer-blow to the chains I’d bound myself with. I left here a girl, and came back a different woman.

The moment we landed in Dublin, we boarded a bus that would take us to our lodgings for the first week. There was something flapping wildly in my chest — which I thought then was just a reaction to the way that the busdriver was navigating the busy streets of Dublin (he, and everyone else I saw, drove as though they were driving a tank at breakneck speeds on open roads…even when they weren’t).

Discovered silence and sanctity here. (Glendalough)

That feeling wasn’t a result of being imperiled by a rogue busdriver. It wasn’t nerves, or fear. It was the most powerful sensation of coming home that I’d ever had in my entire life – to a place I’d only ever been in my dreams.

The moment we got our room assignment and toted (by hand) our incredibly heavy bags up the two flights of narrow stairs, I grabbed Char’s hand and said, “Let’s go!” To which she replied, “Where?” Anywhere! I wanted my feet on the ground. I wanted to smell the air. I wanted to stand there, knowing I was in Ireland, feeling the fluttery joy of homecoming in my chest.

At a holy well in the mountains near Derry, after our bus almost went over the side of the mountain.

From that first foray, through the entire trip, I struggled to swallow that feeling. I couldn’t understand it. I’d grown up in Wisconsin. I felt at home at my parents’ house. I loved it there. In the intervening years I’ve learned that some things aren’t meant to be understood. They’re only meant to be felt or experienced, without attaching reason to them.

The president of the college — a woman who I had a bit of hero-worship for – had married an Irishman, and used those contacts to craft a truly incomparable journey for us. At one point, she told me that I looked like I’d been born there, I fit in so well. I’d seen that myself — no one knew I wasn’t Irish until I opened my mouth and my Midwestern accent flowed out, exposing me.

Early morning walk around Inch Island, near Derry. Even in January, it was still so green.

I savored each minute. I took 33 rolls of film. I went to every single talk and presentation we were offered, and went along on misadventures with our smaller group of cronies every night. I barely slept – I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

And there are times now, here, when I walk out the door and something about the day triggers a deep and inconsolable sense of loss and homesickness. Something about the moisture in the air, or the freshness of the breeze, or the quality of light shining through overcast skies. And I could just weep.

Char & I huddling under about the 13th umbrella we bought. They don't stand up well in the wind.

I don’t though. I swallow that longing, and store it away. Because I know that someday, I’ll go back. Someday, I will stand on the shores of the home of my heart, and feel that fullness again. Someday, I will stand on a bridge spanning the Liffey, and look around at the low buildings that feel so familiar and know that they’re mine. Mine, whether I’m there on the Liffey, or here in Wisconsin longing for them.

I was feeling nostalgic today. Something about the way the air’s so fresh coming in our apartment windows. Enjoy the pictures. And wish me luck on, someday, getting back home.

One of Ireland's many secrets hidden in plain sight.

Image courtesy Brene Brown, Ph.D. & Ordinary Courage

Hello world! I got the best surprise today! I had a wretched day — well, to be more precise, the day itself didn’t do anything, exactly. More accurately, I somehow found myself in a real stinker of a funk, and no matter how I tried to logic myself out of it, I was stuck in ….. a ‘mood.’ It did not help things when I overheard another driver disparage my driving skills and malign my character by comparing me to a female dog (I had a little vision of leaping from the car like a cheetah and going crazy on him. I restrained myself. Barely.) It was, all in all, a not-great day. Bleargh.

I annoyed myself, in fact.

And then, after a day of labor, and laundry, and lament… there it was. Just lying there, waiting for me. A box from Amazon.com. In the lobby under the mailboxes. With my name on it. (There is really nothing better, unless it’s from Barnes & Noble — then it’s just as good. *smile*).

The best part of it? I won the book through a contest on one of my favorite blogs — Ordinary Courage — by a phenomenal woman — Brene Brown. That’s partly what made it special — I never win anything, and I won this. More though, it felt like a present, like a gift.

And the appropriate thing to do when you recieve a gift is to thank the giver. Thank you, Brene Brown, for choosing my TGIF that day. I own your books, and I’ve read and reread your books, and am walking down a path that leads away from the futile quest for perfection (in part, because of you). Thank you for putting into words the niggling thoughts and dastardly patterns that swirl us down a purposeless path seeking perfection — you have a way of putting things that speaks to me where I am (and hits my ego where it lives).

Another appropriate thing to do? To recommend, heartily, to all I know, that which I’ve appreciated: Go check out her blog and her message.

And Dr. Brown — thank you. You had no way of knowing it, but today was the best day to get that gift in the mail! I’m sitting down and cracking it open as soon as this is posted!

My present: Taking Flight by Kelly Rae Roberts

Hindsight provides new eyes. (Wayne W. Dyer)

One of my greatest downfalls has ever and always been being too future-oriented. In plain-speak, I think way too much about tomorrow, and not enough about where the heck I am right now, this minute. I’ve been making some headway on that lately, and it feels good.

I’ve been doing the ‘work’ of changing that way of thinking, and being consistent in it — when I catch myself in the act of robbing the joy of the moment in thought and deep contemplation of how much further I need to go, I take a breath. And then another. And I think, “You will not pass this way again, Carolyn. Enjoy the scenery. Smell the roses. Savor the moment.” And like a dreamer pulling away from the lingering tendrils of the dream, I look around and discover that right where I am, now, in that moment, is beautiful. Precious.

It’s funny how I always seem to end up saying to someone else just what I need to hear most. Tonight I facilitated another awesome Reiki Share (that’s not me tooting my own horn — it’s me touting the benefits of Reiki Share *smile*). At the conclusion, we were all talking to a newer traveler about her impatience to get somewhere else on her path.

I turned to her, and seeing myself, I told her that I did truly know exactly how that felt. But having trudged a bit longer, I’d discovered something. That, yes, we do continue to long for some greener pasture, some benchmark that we set for ourselves, no matter how stringently we attempt to live in the moment. That’s part of being human — the desire for more, to be more, to have more, to grow more, to feel more.

But that there would come a point for her, when she’d reached her own self-imposed benchmark and looked backward. That someday, she would look back at this self, this now self, and she would be nearly unrecognizable to who she had striven to become, who she had become. And that even though in the doing it felt like it was taking forever, it would happen in a blink of an eye. A moment.

I am my own worst critic — like most people. I am my own nasty whip-wielding slave-driver — like most people. But I had that moment, and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given. I had that moment, where I looked backward down the path I’d been walking and saw myself at the start of the journey, and felt who I was at this point in the journey. And the self I sprung from felt like a fond stranger.

Meeting myself this way, through time and distance, had an unexpected effect. It let me relax. I could finally look at myself and realize that all of that change and growth happened, and I almost didn’t know it. All that way traveled, and me so intent on where I had yet to go, that I didn’t even see how far I’d come, how much I’d changed.

It made me think about all the selves I’ve had. It made me think about myself at, say, nineteen. (I’ve gotten a new perspective on the nineteen-year-old lately, since I’ve been working with some of them, and the proximity has driven home a few interesting lessons about the gifts of time, age, and challenge.) At nineteen, I had the temerity, the naiveté, and the rose-colored glasses to see the world as this big realm of possibility. Overwhelming, boundless possibility.

In some ways, I still do. But the naiveté has been tempered with wisdom, and the temerity with patience and compassion. I’ve traded in the rose-colored glasses for something with a little clearer outlook, and find that I like the view just fine.

The biggest gift? Knowing myself. Knowing myself so, so much better and deeper than I ever could at nineteen. Loving myself enough to stand up for myself in the way that almost none of us can manage to do well or consistently at nineteen. Respecting myself. Having compassion for myself.

Knowing that it starts right there, with me. I didn’t know that at nineteen — that before you strap on that cape and well-meaning smile, and set forth to save the world from itself, you’d better have saved yourself first.

Walking the path of mastery isn’t for the timid. Not if they want to stay timid. For every flat, even stretch of smooth sailing, there are periods of rocky, uphill climbs. Parts where you fall. Times when you crawl. And the whole time, you’re being given a gift — the one you asked for. To be made new. To be formed by life so that you can shape your life.

I’ve got a lot of affection for that wide-eyed gal I was. I love her to pieces. She was so full of illusion and romance, strutting along with a swing in her step and a chip on her shoulder. A saunter and a smile and the godawful hubris to think that she knew so darn much about so darn much.

Without her, I wouldn’t be standing here, right where I am now. And I love now. I love the possibilities I see from this vantage point, which that girl could hardly have dreamed of. I love that instead of thinking I know so much about so much, I realize how little I do know. That I can accept that it isn’t always necessary to know.

Looking back helped me embrace my now, which in turn, will make my future a whole lot brighter. Funny that it seems to have to work that way.

You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be. (Chuck Palahniuk)

As I write this, a family stands in a hospital waiting room, forced to make a decision — the hardest decision. As I write this, a young man who I knew lies in a hospital bed, his chest moving up and down only because of the air forced into his body by machinery. His heart beats because of that same machinery.

Last night, while Jeremy and I enjoyed a quiet dinner, a young man stood in his kitchen, faced his wife, and handed her a note. Apologizing. And then he put a nail gun to his head, and shot himself with it.

Today, they will unplug the machines which breathed for him, which beat his heart for him. Today, he will die by his own hand. His mother and father, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, his wife, will suffer and grieve. His children will suffer and grieve.

The only one whose suffering has ended (presumably — since I cannot know what follows this life), is him. For the rest, a new suffering has just begun.

This young man was troubled. He had a difficult childhood. The people who should have loved him and cared for him either could not or did not know how. He suffered abuse. He suffered. He went without — food, education, health care, love.

He carried this into the rest of his life. He took drugs — bad ones, and a lot of them. I saw him powder narcotic pain medication and snort it up his nose. He drank. He had affairs, recklessly and with the kind of abandon that tells you he’s using them as another way to drown all that hurts him.

He had trouble with the law. And then some more. He did time. He got out, and picked up where he left off. He chased oblivion with the determination of one who’s bent on getting there, come what may.

He fathered a son with one woman. He was not a good father to this son. He was not a good partner to the mother. He left them, and sired a daughter with another woman. Before her pregnancy even started to show, this woman left him, recognizing finally, the danger inherent in the relationship. He found another woman, one who already had three children. They married. And then yesterday, he put a nail gun to his head and killed himself in front of her.

I don’t know how to feel about this. Part of me feels relief. Part of me feels sorrow. Part of me pity, part of me compassion. Part of me condemnation, part of me understanding.

I suppose that my feelings about this should be simple, but they’re not. The daughter he never met, and the woman who left him before her pregnancy even started to show? I know them and love them both deeply — they have permanent reserve on some of the most tender parts of my heart.

There was always a shred of hope that one day, he might see what his choices were doing — to him, to everyone around him. Now that shred of hope is gone, and all that remains for the rest of us is the walking forward.

Even before he knew what it was that he attempted to do, he was working to kill himself, in bits and pieces. Even as a child not yet in middle school. He had a nice smile, warm chocolate brown eyes and rich dark hair. And a hole inside him that no amount of pills, or booze, or sex, or danger could ever quite fill.

And someday, I will sit with the woman and the girl. I will try to explain why this man, who should have been a father to her, was not. Where he went. Why he chose what he chose. Why she will never have the chance to know this part of her ancestry, this part of her beginnings. I will try to help explain the unexplainable.

All of that is yet before me, before them. Today, all I can do is pray. That he feels the peace that eluded him his entire life, at last. That he is at rest. That he is finally cradled by someone who feels nothing but unconditional love for him. That he can finally lay down his burdened heart, and know that no matter what has happened to him or because of him, he is beautiful and precious and always was.

I tend not to write a lot of posts about the stuff I’m actually doing. Not directly, anyway. I tend to write posts about how I’m feeling. And as I sat here in front of the blank screen this morning, I realized that at this moment, life has been more about doing than feeling lately and that’s good and appropriate. It means I’m coming out of the funk that moved in this summer, and getting on with things.

This summer has been about reassessment, about growing into things, about taking out and looking at the pile of emotions that amassed while I wasn’t looking. And what have I been doing? Cleaning house – both physically and emotionally.

I have undergone a whirlwind of transformation in the past two-plus years, but what I realized this summer as I was taking a look at all that’s happened and the way I feel about it, that transformation reaches further back. And in order for me to look at and appreciate the scope of what I’ve done, and chosen, and been through, I have to look back at least five years. That’s when the whirlwind kicked up, and the life that I’d laid so carefully before me was swept away in the gale.

And all this time, I’ve just been grateful that the winds of change swept through my life and helped me birth a life and a self that was far more in alignment with what I wanted. I never looked back and just felt the grief that came with the letting go of what I had thought I had wanted.

And this summer, all the feelings associated with that loss and that grief and the subsequent transformation came hurtling to the forefront, insistent. So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing – dealing with grief over all the things I’ve lost or given away. It came as a kind of surprise to me, actually – I had thought that I’d dealt with all of this in the moment and in the immediate aftermath. And I did, but not in the way I’m dealing with it now.

In the immediate aftermath, I felt the sorrow and the grief as painfully as an open wound, and I processed it that way, with rawness and the hesitancy of someone first inspecting new stitches. And I kept moving, kept growing, kept changing, kept doing.

That initial emotional processing of all that happened to me and because of me did not go deep enough, though. What I realized this summer is that in order for me to go through all those feelings the rest of the way and clean house emotionally, I had to be able to say goodbye to all the ways that I’ve defined myself because of the wounds I’ve borne and hung onto. In order for me to take this down to the next layer, where it becomes more soft remembrance than harsh grief, I need to release some identities that I’ve hung onto.

When it all happened and was fresh and new, my grief was primal and raging and raw, and I allowed myself to feel that, briefly, way back when. Then, I got up and got on with my life, because life was insistent, and because at that time, I really did think I was over it.

This summer has been about revisiting, remembering, and reassessing. About going through and feeling all the feelings that I did not let myself have between then and now – and realizing that if I’d been ready to deal with this before, I would have, but I wasn’t – I was ready now, and so now is the perfect time to go through this layer. I feel lighter, and I’m grateful to know that maybe this won’t be the last time this surfaces for me, but having been to this dog and pony show a few times now, I know it gets easier each and every time.

After reassessment comes a new outlook, a new plan – all done with more clarity (hopefully). Having sloughed off another layer of my own story, I’m ready to write a new chapter. That’s what I’m doing this week, and I’m excited.

The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself. (Alan Alda)

Today, I had the opportunity to be a part of something grand and rare and fine – a group of women who came together to celebrate, explore, and rediscover their creative selves. A group of women who were unwilling to play small anymore. A group of women who were unwilling to make the artists within them play second fiddle to duty for one moment longer.

Today was the first meeting of HeART & Soul, a women’s art journaling group that Dani and Martina devised, at Three Sisters’ where I work. I loved watching everyone walk into the back room, art kits in hand – looks of excitement and trepidation on their faces. Art is not for the meek, people. And maybe, the trepidation was appropriate – for some of us, declaring ourselves ‘artist’ feels like stating that we’ve become something dangerous and sketchy (haha) and to be looked at askance. Because, honestly, society says so.

It is a brave thing to open a dialogue with your own beautifully messy soul – because when you open that door, you know that what comes through might not be ‘neat’ or ‘acceptable’ or ‘proper’ – and because you know that in order to do this thing right, to go all the way…you need to, well, go all the way – and that means you need to not care if it’s messy or imperfect or ‘unacceptable’ to anyone but you.

Today, these women were a part of a guerrilla art movement (and not like the surreptitious knitted coverings of trees or murals that appear overnight, which is its own thing) – guerrilla forces move among us, unnoticed. They look like you and me, but they’re agents in a revolution. Today, I had the chance to be a part of that revolution – of women awakening to their own innate creative power.

I do tend to think of things kind of militaristically – I’ve noticed that I tend to return to combat metaphors a lot in my blogs. I do see myself as warrior. I see each and every one of those women as warriors. Gentle ones, fighting the hardest battle they’ll ever fight against the most wily opponent they’ll ever face: themselves.

We are our own worst enemies. We are the ones who tell ourselves how wrong we are, how broken, how strange, how unacceptable. We are also the ones who have the supreme power to end it. To stop lying down and taking it. To place a flower in the barrel of the guns leveled at us by the inner critic. To scream at the top of our lungs, “ENOUGH!”

We are the only ones who have the power to claim our own beauty, our own majesty. We are the only ones who have the power to claim our own strength, our own imaginative prowess, our own unique vision. No one can give it to you. And no one can take that away, unless you let them. Today, thirteen women came in testament to their unwillingness to go to bed feeling as though a piece of them had gone missing, like a sock lost somewhere between the washing machine and the dryer. They arrived in testament to their unwillingness to move through another day with this part of themselves left unexplored.

It was a beautiful thing to be part of – I am grateful to have had the opportunity to act as witness. Any time someone stands up to an oppressor (even if that oppressor is within), there should be someone to bear witness, to honor them and their experience. Thank you everyone, for sharing yourselves today. Thank you for coming – thank you for choosing to explore the unmapped depths within you. I look forward to the next time when we stand together on the line, and face down our worst critics: ourselves.

There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. (Martha Graham)

I’ve pretty much decided that the person I most need to ‘hug it out’ with … is me. (For the uninitiated, ‘hugging it out’ is to end an argument or dispute with a hug showing that the ill will is over). The person I am the cruelest to … is me. The person I am most frequently at odds with…is me. The person I am the hardest on…is me.

Not a real comfortable thought. Pretty crappity, actually.

And how did I come to this bit of wisdom?? By getting slapped upside the back of my head with it via the Universe. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I choose to pay attention – and when some issue comes up for me in separate instances in quick succession, I figure that it’s being brought front-and-center for a reason. I choose to believe the reason is because it’s something I must be ready to look at or deal with.

On Monday, in two separate instances, I was forced to confront the fact that I have an absolutely impossible time saying anything good about myself in a true and real way. And I don’t mean that I can’t admit that I do things well – but that’s surface stuff. I can’t say nice things about who I am as a being. And that sucks.

The first slap? During our art journaling group, where the page topic was “I am beautiful and sacred because…” People, I had nothing. I looked around at my friends who were busily listing out the ways they knew they were beautiful and sacred, and I sat there frozen like a deer caught in headlights. I actually felt my brain do that open-mouthed, fish gasping, um-um-um, thing. I finally picked some stuff that I felt like I could convince myself was true and put it on my list. And somewhere in the back of my mind, the justifications started, “That was just hard because you weren’t focusing. It’s nothing. You know all this stuff. Blah. Blah. Blah.”

And I went about my day. That night (as I wrote about in my last blog), I attended a ‘floating salon’ where we were talking about our womanness and what it is to be a woman, etc. One of the things that we were encouraged to do as a part of embracing our juicy selves was to brag. About ourselves. Again, the deer-in-headlights, fish gaping reaction. My brain panicked and just kind of stuttered.

As you all know, I am verbose. Loquacious, even. When asked to come up with even one brag, I had nothing. And as much as I’d like to say it’s because I am some paragon of modesty, up for sainthood or something, I can’t because I’m not.

What I am is a product of my upbringing – the child of Midwestern parents whose genealogy includes a whole lot of stoic folks. Talking about yourself is pretty much a no-no. When you’re asked how you are, the proper response is “Fine. And you?” And then they say, “Fine.” And then you talk about the weather. Bragging? That’s anathema.

I can admit that’s a convenient ‘out’ for me – when you become an adult and make your way in the world on your own, it’s on you to iron out the wrinkles that are inherent in any upbringing (different upbringing = different garment = different wrinkles – but no matter what, we’ve all got wrinkles). Once you’re out there on your own, I figure you don’t get to point at your mommy and daddy and say that’s why this or that is screwy with you. What you get to do is sit with your wrinkle and figure out why you’re still hanging onto something that obviously doesn’t work for you anymore. And replace it with something a bit healthier, or with a better fit for you.

And the reason I’m clear on the fact that I can’t simply point to my Midwestern upbringing, shrug my shoulders and let it go is because this was the second time today that I needed to be able to say something good and positive about myself, and it was the second time I was utterly stymied by that simple task.

What’s one good thing I can say about myself? Well, it’s another ‘easy’ one because it’s about something I do, not something I am. I am an awesome cheerleader for people – I am awesome at telling other people how awesome they are. It’s absolutely effortless for me to see their good stuff and tell them about it.

Why in the hell can’t I do that for myself? I am okay at telling myself the things I am good at – I can at least acknowledge it. I am utter crap at telling myself the things I am. You know, I don’t even know if I am clear on what I am. What I embody. What I shine forth.

I’ve thought about this for a couple of days now, and I think it has to start with stopping something. I have to stop telling myself all the ways I fail. I have to stop pointing at all the missteps and small mistakes and flogging myself with them. I have to stop telling myself perpetually that there is something wrong with me.

A few weeks ago, one of my dear friends posted a video on her blog. And I found myself going back to watch it again and again. It was called “There is nothing wrong with you.” I watched it, and I cried. Because no matter how much self work I’ve done, no matter how much excavating I’ve done inwardly, no matter how many books I’ve read or classes I’ve attended, I still believe that I am something to be fixed. To be improved. To be healed. To be amended, appended, adjusted. That I need to improve, remove. That I need to tweak and pull and twist myself continually in the aim of finally achieving…what?

And you know what? It’s not true. I am not broken. I am not faulty. I am not sick. I am not damaged. I am not a screw up. I am not a failure. I am not something to be fixed.

There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with you, either, by the way, though you think there is.

I think that somewhere along the way, I stopped focusing on what the path of mastery is supposed to be about and started getting stuck in fixing all my foibles. That is not the path of mastery. The path of mastery is noticing. It is attending. It is being present. It is noticing who you are and what you do, and how it makes you feel – and then knowing that the path continues beyond that point of notice, offering you opportunity after opportunity to make new choices. Nowhere in that is there any inherent judgment. I slapped the judgment in there all by myself.

It’s reflective of that distinction that good parents make when correcting a child – to make sure to say that it was a bad choice, or a naughty thing to do, but to never tell the child that they are bad or naughty. Somewhere along the line, I stopped making that distinction for myself, and started telling myself that I was wrong, that I was broken, that I was bad. And I forgot that it was the things I did – which can always be changed, and new choices made – which could be judged, if judging is even necessary.

I’m sharing the video on here again, because I need to watch it again. There is nothing wrong with me. I cannot hear that enough times, and maybe neither can you.

Last night, I floated along on calm waters. Enjoyed feeling buoyant – let the breeze kiss my skin and flitter through my hair. I soaked up the sun until it drifted into twilight, and then I soaked up the light of the full moon. Watched it glitter and dance on the ripples of the calm expanse of lake. Fought the urge to dangle in an undignified manner off the back of the boat to run my fingers through the darkling water. Found that I had missed this, without ever knowing that it was being missed.

I drifted along in a company of women gathered together in a ‘floating salon’ pulled together and orchestrated by one of the many amazing women I’ve met in the past two years. We came together as an outpouring of her personal searching for a vision of womanhood that filled and fulfilled her. To share in that search, and to talk about our own searching.

If I am going to be brutally honest, and tell it like it is…the last thing I wanted to do was discuss the topic of desire. And my reaction to that made me realize that there was something there that wanted looking at – why did the idea of talking about desire make me want to forego the beauty of the boat trip and the experience in order to avoid discomfort?? Because I have had a shitty relationship to my physicality. That is why. At least in part.

For the past year and a half or so, I would have to say I have not been a good friend to my body. And I don’t mean dieting. To be honest, I have never dieted in my entire freaking life, and I probably never will. Not because I’ve been blessed with some absurdly wonderful genetics or metabolism, but because I am pretty sure that I am constitutionally incapable of it. I don’t own a scale. I don’t care about them. I want to feel good in my clothes – that’s the barometer for me. And right now? No, I kind of don’t.

For a while, I had been doing yoga. I liked feeling bendy and strong. I liked the way that the practice of it made me walk differently every day of my life, even though I only went to yoga once a week. It made me feel conscious of what my body did and the way it moved, and what made it feel good to live inside this skin and use these muscles and to be a physical being. And then, I stopped going to yoga.

In conjunction with the yoga, I had been going running a few times a week. And when I say ‘running,’ I mean ‘interval training,’ only I didn’t know that’s what it was called. I called it, ‘walk a bit, run a bit, get tired of running, walk a bit, run a bit, get tired of running, walk a bit more, go home.’ And I did that because, essentially, I didn’t want to run that much. I had no freaking clue what ‘interval training’ was until I told someone that’s how I ran and they told me that’s what I was doing. I thought it was just exercising in a way that didn’t make me feel like I was going to die.

I was able to recognize that I liked both running and yoga for the same reasons: even if I was doing it ‘with’ other people I was really only competing against myself and for myself, there’s almost no coordination involved, they made me feel bendy and strong, and there was the ability to be very meditative since yoga is, and running is like being on autopilot. And still, I stopped doing both. I could point to this or that, but the fact is, I let other things take precedence and I abused the relationship I have with my body as a result.

So, how does desire fit in here? Well, if I’m busy not looking at something because I don’t want to face it, then I sure don’t want to get on a boat and talk about it, cause then I have to look at it or there’s no point in going. If I’m going to be honest and tell it like it is, then I’ve gotta say that there’s a big part of me that feels uncomfortable talking about or thinking about desire – a fact which, actually, kind of surprised me. But I had to look at the fact that I’m good about saying or asking or desiring some things, and crap at doing the rest – which means, I’m still not doing it all the way. I’m only doing it part-way, and well enough to hopefully not get ‘called’ on going halfway.

What I’ve gotta sit with for awhile is why in the heck I feel like I can’t ask for or expect things? What is it that is making me feel like I can’t desire things? I’ve gotten to a point (and I’ve been journaling about this actually in my private journal) where I feel like I could not tell you what shape the next year would take – not even remotely, not even vaguely. And that’s totally not me.

And there’s a relationship there – if I know what I desire, and I believe that I can bring those desires into being, then I know at least vaguely what shape my year will take. So, I think it’s obvious that there’s a disconnect between me and knowing what I desire, and a disconnect between me and believing I can bring those desires into being. And I don’t know which bit got unplugged first, but they’re both unplugged.

Knowing the way my year could go involves different parts of my being – my mental self, my emotional self, my spiritual self. All of them have gotten a lot of play for the past two years. My physical self has been the orphan left out in the cold. And like a starving orphan, my physical self no longer knows how to voice a desire or to even communicate it. My inability to voice desire on any of these levels is not particularly healthy. I am really good about attending to others, in the way that women tend to be – I naturally act as caretaker. And I’m really good about preaching about self-care to others…so I have to start listening to my own sermons.

I could not point to a moment in time when I started to become unclear on what I wanted, what I desired. I could not point to an instant or an instance that caused that shift. And maybe, I’ve never been very good at voicing them…but only thought I was. That’s the trickiest bit, isn’t it?

I’ve always framed it as thinking about the things I want – but that so passive, isn’t it? Want means that you’re in a state of want, and lack. That there’s some kind of dearth that you have been powerless to amend. Desire feels active, passionate, proactive. Desiring things means that all of your being is devoted to bringing the things and experiences you desire into being. It is creative, powerful, and empowering. Want is disempowering.

So much of this past year has been about me defining the things that I no longer wanted to be a part of my life. About elimination. About destruction. And that has to come first. In order to build something new, you have to tear down the old, or let it come tumbling down of its own accord. I have been purging, purging, purging. And now, I have to say…for what? What do I desire? With what do I want to fill the emptiness I’ve created? What do I want to be born here? What do I desire to bring into being?

Maybe it’s time to stop tearing everything down for a bit, get some focus, and connect with what I really desire. One of the suggestions that came out of our group was to make a list of all your desires and post it publicly in your home so that everyone who lived there with you could see what you desired and help to bring it into being. I am adding that to my ‘to-do’ list for the week. Not so much because I need others to know what I desire, but because I need to know what I desire.

“We live in a culture that tells us that there is never enough. That we are not enough, that we are not good enough, that we are not safe enough, that we can never be certain enough, that we’re not perfect enough. And maybe the one that we really don’t talk about, that I think is perhaps the most dangerous, is that we are not extraordinary enough. In this world, somehow, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life. And so often we are missing what is truly important because we’re on the quest for what is extraordinary. Not understanding that in our ordinary lives, in the ordinary moments of our lives, is really where we can find the most joy.” (Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW)

I love this woman and her message. She’s willing to look at – and talk about – all the things that we turn away from. Thought I’d share this with you today – it’s something I’ll bring into the hours and the minutes of my day today.

Watch the full video on her blog here.

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)