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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.

 


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I had to work on Thanksgiving Day from three-thirty to ten-thirty at night. By the time I had been there for an hour or two, I had a real good case of the saddies and was well into one of the best pity-parties I’ve thrown myself in a long, long time.

For the most part, I attend all the family celebrations and stuff – it’s always been important to me to do so. I don’t ever want to look back and say, “I wish I had….” when I have the ultimate ability to stop that from happening right now, today.

So, anyhow, I was well into a really sticky pity party. I was getting truly morose, and feeling pretty justified in it. I was up to my ears in it, when I started thinking about my parents. They always make sure that there’s a place for all of us to gather together for holidays. What would happen when they weren’t here anymore? (I make myself face this unpleasant eventuality from time to time, trying to get myself mentally prepared, even though I’m pretty sure no one is ever as mentally prepared as they think they are).

So what would happen if they weren’t here to issue the invitation and the space and time to get together, to sit around a table with one another and break bread? (The ‘What If’ game is such a lovely and effective addition to any good pity party. Guaranteed to suck you even further into the mire). I am extremely unoptimistic about either of my siblings taking up the mantle and organizing and holding any kind of gathering, so it would probably have to be me. Then I started thinking about how that would all shake down without my parents around as buffers and referees. Not pretty. Not the stuff from which hazy firelit memories are made. The stuff of nightmares, really.

Then I started thinking about what that would mean, if I didn’t get together with them anymore. If it was just me. If Wittler and I didn’t get married, and/or didn’t have kids. If I was truly all alone on Thanksgiving and on every other major occasion for gathering together with family and friends. (See, I told ya – this was a grade-A pity party I was throwing myself here).

And then, it shifted. And I started to think about how that wasn’t the case for me. I had people with whom to gather, though I was unable to for this specific holiday. People who would throw open doors and arms if I appeared today on their doorstep. But other people didn’t have that.

And that’s when I had to scrap the whole mood I’d been cultivating. There is nothing like choosing to walk the ‘Path of Mastery’ that will put the kibosh on a good pity party. You can’t stay in it when you start thinking about what it’s like out there for everyone else.

I started wondering about the really elderly lady who lives a few units down from us. I only ever see the home care nurses – no family – come and go from her apartment. Who did she gather with yesterday? I started wondering about the man who came to my counter – he made sure to tell me that he was alone by choice on Thanksgiving, how he didn’t want to gather with a ‘bunch of strangers’ and keep talking about how the turkey was great (valid). But he lingered there, at the counter with me, unwilling to leave. Wanting me to hear him and see him. Wanting connection.

I started thinking about them, and all the people like them, who are alone on days like Thanksgiving. Who are alone so much of the time. Of those who, perhaps, did not even have the memory of pleasant times gathered together with others the way that I did (warts and all).

As I broke off pieces of my cold pop-tart dinner, I knew that my mom was tucking away leftovers for me to take home with me tonight, when I go over there. I knew that they wished I was there, just as much as I wished I was.

Yeah – you can’t have a good pity party when you’re on the ‘Path of Mastery.’ You can’t keep feeling sorry for yourself, when you know that there are so many others who suffer worse than you do. Standing for a moment on another’s path, wearing their pinchy shoes, has a way of putting all your trials and tribulations in perspective.

Today, I am grateful that I have the ability and the inclination to do this. I am grateful that every single time I get myself well into a good pity party, there is something that taps me on the shoulder and says, “I know you feel bad, but look over there. Think about how that must be for them.”

I am grateful for empathy. I am grateful for the choices I’ve made, and the people who’ve chosen to walk a stretch of this path with me. I am grateful for perspective and sympathy. I am grateful.

Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Separation, W. S. Merwin

I am watching someone go through a hard time. Except, I have always been watching this someone go through a hard time. She is the best architect of her own downfall, time and again. What do I do with that, when I love her?

I watch, and I stand back, and when advice rushes up my throat and bites at the back of my teeth, begging for expulsion, I swallow it bitterly down again. Because advice does not help. Guidance does not heal. Suggestions do not bridge the crevasse opening at our feet.

So I stay silent, and I hear her story. Again, and again, and again. The facts of the story change, and the faces in it come and go, shift, depart, return. But the story? That stays the same.

And I am finally coming to a place where I can honor the fact that it is her story. That if I can only love her, and let her have her story, I will find peace with all of it.

I am finally coming to a place where I can accept that my advice is really like unasked-for editing of a story that she is comfortable living. I need to let her have her mixed metaphors and incorrect tenses, because this is her story and she its author.

I am finally coming to a place where I can recognize and act on the knowledge that the choice to read that story with her is mine. I do not have to pick up the phone and hear the next chapter and verse of a plot which never thickens, and characters who behave in ways I predicted on page two. I can let the phone go unanswered, and preserve my peace when it suits me.

I do not have to allow her thread to be the color I paint my emotions with, my reactions with, my mindset with. Her presence, for so long, has dictated climate, and I finally know how to move out of that weather pattern kindly and compassionately.

I am finally able to see the thread stringing boldly through her own story, and though I don’t care for the color or the pattern she’s choosing, I can just let it be hers. I pick up my own needle, choose my own thread and color my days in way that I prefer.

My mistake was always in believing that we wanted the same color thread. My mistake was in believing that it was natural that she would want to sew me into her heart and her life in the way that I delighted to sew her into mine. My mistake was in thinking that we wanted the same story, that we longed for the same thread to color our lives, that we looked out upon the world and saw the same things.

We don’t, and we won’t. And I am finally able to cut the thread that bound me up so tightly in what she wove, and be at peace with it. I can finally know that I can love the beauty of the one who weaves, even if what she’s weaving is discordant with what I choose to create.

And when, inevitably, I find myself snagged up and tangled up in the old habit of matching my stitching to hers, I am going to pull out this blog and read it again and remind myself of what I know is true.

My grandfather, John Bertram Hicks. Looks like a troublemaker, doesn't he? He was.

Today is Veteran’s Day – a day to honor and remember the sacrifices that men and women have made in the name of defending our country. There has always been a part of me that has issues with war and the need for a military at all – the idealistic part of me. I am a pacifist at heart, and the idea of war as a necessity of our current way of life is a complete and total affront to all of my sensibilities.

When it comes right down to it though, sensibilities aside, I am grateful beyond belief that other people have been and are willing to put their lives on the line for an ideal that they wholeheartedly believe in – our freedom to continue our way of life.

And all of those ideals are lovely things, but the reality of war, and what it must be like to know with a visceral and genuine certainty that it is within your job description to kill others when necessary – and if necessary, lay down your life for those ideals – really is beyond the limits of my ability to empathize or imagine. I simply cannot do it – it surpasses the scope of my experience.

We live such sheltered lives here in the United States. They keep blabbling all over the news about how this is the Age of Austerity and the Great Recession, but I think that the magnitude of the attention paid to our economic woes (while woeful) is all out of proportion. Have we really become so soft and coddled in this society that having to go without cable television is now considered a major infringement upon our ability to enjoy and lead full lives? That is sad.

Austerity is having your sugar rationed. Austerity is having to go without tires for cars and for bicycles. Austerity is having ration coupons and victory gardens. Austerity is to truly go without – and not by choice or preference.

Yes, there are those in the country at this moment who are sunk deep in the mire of an austere existence – I read the news, I hear all about the evictions and job losses and foreclosures. I’m aware. They are experiencing deprivation and loss. They are experiencing austere living conditions – presumably.

On the other hand, the great majority of us have gone on with our lives, without the Great Recession causing much more than a blip on our screens. (I’m sure, at this point, many of you are wondering why a post about Veteran’s Day seems to be more about our economy…I’ll get there, just stick with me). We cannot comprehend austerity, because it has not entered our lives in a real way.

On days like Veteran’s Day, I cannot help but pan the camera lens a bit wider, and take in all of the things surrounding the need to even have Veterans in a world-wide way. I think about the people in Darfur today. But for our Veterans (and several other salient factors), we might truly know the kind of horrors and the “austere” living conditions that have been visited upon the people of that region.

Without our Veterans, we might be subject to the kinds of injustices and the restrictions of civil liberties that so many of the Chinese are suffering today. Without our Veterans, each one of us may be far more conversant with the realities of an austere existence.

I may not agree with it when we persist in sticking our militial finger into pies all over the globe (when are we going to ever start asking whether or not we should, rather than if we could???), but I value the sacrifices of those in our armed forces – and the sacrifices of their families. Think, for a moment, about the reality of leaving your family members behind to go off to far-flung places, knowing that you may never meet again in this life…hard to think about, isn’t it? Think about what it’s like to stand there and watch someone you love walk away from you, on their way to stand on the line for an ideal, knowing that this may be the last time you ever see their face. Tough stuff.

Tougher still than this seminal moment, is the everyday – every morning, and every night, spent wondering where and how they are. Wondering if they are okay, if they’ll be okay tomorrow. Those are the kinds of things that I think about on Veterans’ Day.

I think about both of my grandfathers – who, along with my grandmothers, truly survived ages of austerity. One day this past summer, I got together to art journal with Martina and Dani, and Martina had brought along a Life magazine from the early forties. I paged through it with wonder – I love vintage stuff, mostly because it’s like peering through a window to glimpse what life might have been like for those I know and love. This particular war-time issue had an entire three-page section devoted to the different rationing programs in place, and the reasons for them.

The people did this joyfully – they went without to serve the greater good of the country. I simply cannot imagine any of us lining up, smiling, to decrease our own creature comforts in the name of the greater good. But that’s what they did – my grandmothers at home, while my grandfathers fought.

Days like this exist to do more than give us a reason to fly the flag and wax poetic about the ideals of freedom and struggle and sacrifice. I ask you, take out your dictionaries and look up a few terms – struggle, sacrifice, austerity. Sound like what you’re experiencing? Probably not – and that’s okay, as long as you take this as your opportunity to put yourself in the place of those who are on everyday familiarity with those terms.

Don’t just think about the Veterans today. Think about their widows, their orphans. Think about their parents, their siblings. Think about what kind of courage it takes to stand before danger for the sake of so many you will never even meet. Think about what true austerity is. Think about it tomorrow, and the next day. Think about it next week. Don’t just save it for November 11th.

That said, I thank the Veterans for their service to this country – and by extension, their service on my behalf. I thank all who have ever served – including my grandfathers. My father’s father, Michael Joseph Gaar, served in the Army during World War II. He was color blind in such a way that he could pick out the camouflage of the enemy troops, so he did reconnaissance and scouting. Dangerous stuff. All three of his brothers served as well: John Gaar, Jr., Joseph Gaar, and Leo Gaar.

My grandfather, Michael Joseph Gaar (left), with a buddy from the neighborhood. World War II.

My mother’s father, John Bertram Hicks, served in the Navy aboard the USS John Hood. He lied about his age to get into the service a year early – I guess it was a bit easier to do things like that back then. They were both lucky – they served their time and lived long lives and raised families once their service was complete.

My grandfather, John Bertram Hicks (right), standing with a friend in front of the house where he grew up in Phillips, WI. World War II.

My Uncle Ed served during the Korean War. My cousin Tony is in the Marines serving right now and my friend’s husband JT is in the Army Reserves, and they’ve each done a handful of tours over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thank you, all of you. May you be blessed. As for the rest of us? I pray that we adopt a little bit of empathy, a little humility, and find a way to adjust our skewed perspectives.

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.

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.

Language…has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. (Paul Johannes Tillich)

I have always and ever been a study in contradiction – I am always both this and that. That’s part of being human, I think – the complexity and the changeableness.

I have always really identified with the mythos of the phoenix – the cyclical nature of it, the circularity, the rise and the fall. That’s me. I am both outgoing and personable, and reclusive and introverted. I am just one or the other at different times, cyclically. To everything there is a season, and a time for all things under heaven has been one of the strongest ideals / ideas in my makeup.

Lately, I find myself daydreaming about going to a hermitage. I always find myself thinking – at first – that a week would do it, and then the longer I entertain the daydream, the longer my ideal stay stretches. I’ve even scouted out places for hermitages – looked them up online, and priced them out and everything. One day, I’m strongly attracted to the whole no-phone, no-internet, no-tv, cabin-in-the-woods scene, and another day, I want to go up to a nice place I stayed once in Phillips, WI and enjoy all of those things, and the aloneness, too.

If I were a phoenix in fact, I would now at this moment be in the ashes stage of things – having already had a period of great growth and productivity, having allowed all that was unnecessary or outgrown to burn out of me. I have been so content in quiet. I have been so content in solitude.

I go through this cycle frequently – the first part starts with burning enthusiasm, and I just take in, take in, take in – absorbing everything that comes my way. Snapping it up and moving forward and doing so with energy, enthusiasm and verve. This sometimes coincides with the next part of the cycle – where I put out, produce, share, interact, and make things or formulate ideas, write blogs, write in my journal. Sometimes I flip-flop back and forth between these two phases for awhile – and the whole time, it feels pretty good – I feel alive and vital and invigorated.

And then I enter a phase like the one I’m in now. Where I wanna go all Thoreau and retreat to a cabin in the woods somewhere and just be. Not think, not do, not take in, not produce – just be. And I’m finally realizing that this is just a part of who I am – and that it’s a necessary part. Without the solitude, I burn out. Without the ability to just sit and be, I simply flame my way through life without taking things in deeply enough to make them true and lasting parts of who I am.

I’ve given thought to whether or not this is a depressed state – maybe, in a way, it could be considered one. I suppose that my other natural state of ebullience and enthusiasm so contradicts this one that it seems so. But there’s no real sadness, just quietness. There’s sadness when I’m flying high, too. There have been times of my life when lying in the ashes for too long has grown into a depression, but I know what that looks like now, and this is not it.

I like the fact that I can live in both worlds – the outer one of bustle and product and learning and interaction, and the inner one of synthesis and quietness and meditation and peace. I like the fact that I can be both things – and maybe, I am just getting better at putting words to the feelings of each and getting better at honoring each part of the cycle. The time when I haven’t done this, when I’ve denied myself a part of this, I’ve suffered. I’m really not interested any longer in making myself appear to be in certain mood or a state in order to put others at ease. It does me a disservice – and really, I think it does others a disservice.

Where in God’s name did we ever get the idea that we had to be forever happy? That if we weren’t, there would be a pill to “fix” that? Why did we ever move away from just letting things be in their natural state, in the natural progression and cycle? It’s become systemic in this society to “fix” damn near everything with some pill. Ugh. You know, it’s totally natural to be quiet. To not produce. To not be eternally and perpetually connected or available. To just be. To be in solitude. For a while.

To crave solitude and to find ways to embrace that need and fill it are healthy. To step back, to assess, to become still – these are all healthy things. When they stretch on and on, they’re not so healthy – but the need for solitude is something that I believe is innate. The need to engage in a period of rest is innate.

What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice. (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

If we never stop moving, if we never go inward and engage our own soul, that is unhealthy. If we are unable to or uncomfortable with being alone for fear of what we might just find within, that’s unhealthy.

There’s just so much to see and read, to take in, to learn, to engage with, to be available for, that there are honestly times I just get plain old world-weary of it. We live in the most connected society ever. It’s tiring. I, for one, remember life before the advent of the cell phone – and I loved it. I loved going off the map for awhile without there being this strange and unnatural unspoken expectation for you to make yourself available to all others simply because you are in possession of a cell phone. That is unhealthy.

I’ve been digging this alone-time thing. I’ve been digging being quiet. It’s not that my head is empty or that my heart is empty – it’s that they’ve been so filled that I need time to discern what gets to remain and what doesn’t. This past year and a half has been so utterly full of changes – and most of them awesome ones – and so full of movement and doing, that I truly haven’t had the time to make meaning into a meal – it’s been taken in snack-sized bites.

I’ve come to a time where it was necessary to sit alone and break bread with myself. To go inward and feel all the feelings I didn’t have time to feel before. To draw together all of my experiences and all the thoughts that go with them and to see them in connection and conjunction to one another. To play with ideas, or to just let them sit there in my mind and see what happens. To dwell. To be quiet enough to hear the answers to all the prayers I’ve prayed in the past year and a half.

It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts. (K.T. Jong)

I’ve grown adept at staking out my corners and letting the world know that I am okay…that I just need to go off the map for awhile. For the most part now my friends, my family, my loved ones understand it and respect it. It’s not so much that they give it to me, but more that I took it whether they were going to give it or not, and they’ve just gotten used to it. They maybe even see the benefit of it – because just like all work and no play make me a dull girl, all interaction and no solitude makes me a crabby one.

By all means use sometimes to be alone. Salute thyself; see what thy soul doth wear. (George Herbert)

I’ve given some thought to how this might play out if I ever have children. Once you’re a parent, your rights change. There’s a different order to things, and a different set of responsibilities that have to be attended to. One of the hopes is that I’d be able to show my children the value of solitude, and teach them to be calm islands in the river of life around them. To show them the value of all ways of being: the furor of fire, the flexibility of water, the stability of earth, the peace and purpose of air. The depths of spirit.

I grew up in the era before children had online calendars and their parents scheduled play dates and became glorified chauffeurs. I grew up hearing, “Bored? There’s no such thing. There’s plenty to do, and if you can’t find something, just sit there. Eventually you will.” And subsequently, I know how to have and enjoy downtime, as well as knowing how to occupy myself and engage with others. How to do both.

For now, I’m enjoying quiet. I’m enjoying naps. And I’m enjoying solitude.

When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing – nothing. (Saint Francis of Assisi)

Tonight I facilitated another Reiki Share, and walked out of there feeling like a brand-new-gal. These gatherings have been one of my greatest joys as a Reiki practitioner (for about a bazillion reasons). Tonight, we got to talking about prayer and prayerfulness. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, and I was so glad to get the input and thoughts of others as I muse over, ponder over, and chew on the whole concept of prayer, and the attitude of prayerfulness.

God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer. (Mother Teresa)

I have had a complicated relationship with prayer, I think. Maybe most people have – I don’t know. All I know is that I was raised as a Catholic, and that was my religious foundation for a great deal of my life. I don’t even want to get into that whole phenomenon of Catholic anger, or the idea of the “recovering Catholic.” That’s not what I’m driving at here, and I don’t really identify with either of those things. My Catholic upbringing – and my specific exposure to that perspective – gave me one conception of prayer, one way to live prayer, one way to act in prayer. And for a long time, that was the only way I could think about praying.

I believe I am finally in a place where I can actually appreciate the meaning of the word prayerful for the first time in my life. Of sensing the necessary openness, instead of expectation. And I came to it through Reiki.

One part of Reiki is actually providing yourself and others with treatment – that’s the part that most people are familiar with. They’ve seen it on the news, they’ve seen it on Dr. Oz, they’ve read about it online. And, all of that exposure? It’s great. I love it. But it neglects so much.

It’s the other part of Reiki that seems to be unseen, unacknowledged, and undiscussed. The inward part – the part where the practitioner (the one who practices) commits to walking a spiritual path. The part of Reiki that is the act of living prayerfully.

In college, I read Dorothy Day’s biography, and the quote that most struck me was when she said, “I could not go to God on my knees.” For such a long time, I really thought that was pretty much the only option I had – to be penitent, knees bent, head bowed, staring downward.

Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude. (Walter A. Mueller)

In the intervening years between reading and identifying with that quote and today, my conception of prayer, and my understanding of what it means to be prayerful, has grown and blossomed. Yes, there are times I go to God on my knees, but I let it be in reverence, and not in shame. There are also times I go with arms held high, feeling joyful and embraced. Feeling jubilant.

Eddie Izzard, a rather unconventional comedian, does quite a few skits on religion. (I love his comedy – it’s intelligent and quick and wry.) In one particular skit, he says that one of the things that’s always bewildered him is the way that so many Christians manage to sing praise songs in a dirge tone. That was my experience growing up – attending church each Sunday and watching the congregants sing Alleluia as though they were going to the gallows. And I prayed dirgefully. Uck.

Reiki has brought me a new way to experience prayer – something which I did not expect. I’ve talked about this quite a bit in Reiki Shares and in other gatherings, but not here on my blog. For me, providing treatment for someone becomes a prayerful experience. I tell clients that it feels almost as though the entire session becomes one long prayer. There is peace, and silence, and the space for them to heal and to find resolution. For me, there is inner quiet, and a meditative state that is something quite different than the state I’m in when I grocery shop or watch tv. There is an attentiveness and openness on the part of both myself and the client. We each enter the session with hopes (a form of prayer) and intentions (a kind of petition) and openness (the willingness to hear and receive the results of those hopes and intentions).

Prayer gives a man the opportunity of getting to know a gentleman he hardly ever meets. I do not mean his maker, but himself. (William Inge)

I try to bring more of that into my day (with varying degrees of success). I try to bring myself into a state of mindfulness more often in my everyday life. I try to think prayerfully, walk prayerfully. Be prayerful.

Being prayerful, for me, has come to mean:

  • Being soft like water – able to bend with the flexible and changing world around me.
  • Being passionate like fire – able to feel all the things that it means to be human with depth and meaning.
  • Being open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways of behaving.
  • Being mindful of all the world around me, and the deservingness of everyone and everything to be treated with the reverence that is due one of God’s creations.
  • Being mindful of my speech, knowing that the wrong words have such ability to harm.
  • Being mindful of my attitudes, knowing that I (like everyone else) tend to get “stuck” in them.
  • Being mindful of my part in all things – that even when I feel as though I’ve been wronged, there is something in that experience that is mine, and that I need to own.
  • Open arms. Open hands. Open heart.
  • More listening, less talking.

My intention this month was to work at being more prayerful in my daily life. I want to embrace all the ways that prayer has been a blessing to me in both joy and sorrow. I want to walk, knowing that with each step I take, I have an opportunity to walk prayerfully. With each breath, I have an opportunity to breathe prayerfully. Each word, each thought, each action – is an opportunity to be prayerful.

I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. (Abraham Lincoln)

It is of course possible to dance a prayer. (Terri Guillemets)

I wrote about this tonight because it’s occupying my thoughts, and I wanted to write about it to see where I was with it. I fully expect my feelings, thoughts, and ideas about prayer to change and grow – I welcome it. When I “write to discovery,” as I intended to do tonight, I tend not to be as eloquent as when I feel sure of what I’m saying – thanks for bearing with that.

I’d love to hear about what prayerfulness means for others. How do you experience prayer? How do you live prayer in your life? What things have you had to heal about prayer in order to get where you are today?

Part of walking the path of mastery is picking up all the pieces of your life one by one, like stones on the riverbank, and holding them in your hands. Turning them over and over, examining them. Seeing them again and for the first time. My growing relationship to prayer is another of those stones – one which I know I’ll cup thoughtfully in my palm many times as I walk forward.

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)