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I attended and graduated from Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and I – like every woman to pass through those hallowed halls of learning – was required to take a course entitled ‘Search for Meaning.’ The class was four credits – two of which were philosophy-oriented, and two of which were spiritually-oriented. We had two instructors – translation: we had two times four credits of homework for the class, and we ended up christening it all sorts of things like ‘Search for Sanity,’ or ‘Search for my Lost Social Life.’

And despite the workload, it was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. It was a deeply important part of the formation of my growing spiritual and philosophical nature.

Every student to pass through Mount Mary was required to take that course, and despite the differences in content for each section, one requirement never wavered: we all read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. (Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who’s path led him to witness and endure some of humanity’s most horrific acts against its own members (the Holocaust) – his suffering and the suffering of those around him inspired him upon his release to write it out and send it out into the world anonymously. At the last moment, a friend talked him into at least putting his name on the title page. And this short book stands as a testament to humanity’s quest to discover the meaning of life, even and especially amidst great suffering.)

I’ve found myself thinking about that book on and off in the years since I took that class, since I graduated, and a lot of life happened, and a lot of change happened. I found myself thinking about it for a few weeks, so I finally dug it out and I’ve been curling up with it for a few minutes a day since I unearthed it from the depths.

It’s interesting to see the places where I marked the pages. What I underlined then, what I underlined now. The differences in perspective. The ability to see deeper than before, and to catch nuance and meaning in things that all those years ago, I didn’t know would become important.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite parts with you tonight. I’ll let them stand alone, because they speak for themselves.

“When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’”

“…the meaning of life differs from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are real and concrete.”

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it….The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment – not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends….He simply gave up….and nothing bothered him anymore.”

“We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you….human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death.”

I’ve been going through some tough stuff lately, and learning some hard lessons. Revisiting this helped me put things into perspective, and to remind me of some of the things I believe in. It helped me refocus on the core of what I hold to be true in what sometimes feels like a world gone mad. Hope you found something here for you, too.

Um... Yeah. It looks kinda like that for all of us. The comfort is that I'm pretty sure it's supposed to 🙂

When I was in high school (which will date me, but whatever), Garth Brooks was huge, and that song was huge. And every time we have a night like tonight, where wave after wave of storms rolls over us, unleashing fury in crash and thrash and torrent, the words of that song come creeping back in.

I taught Reiki tonight – to a woman who made a long journey to come and be a part of the class each day. To a woman who braved Tornado Warnings and funnel cloud sightings and sheets of rain to drive here. To a woman who so valued the training, that she made an arduous trek to complete it. I honor her dedication, and her commitment to the path that she said she’d spent over ten years waiting to pursue.

I thought about that a lot tonight, as we intermittently checked the front windows of the shop to ensure that we weren’t on the brink of ending up following the yellow brick road, instead of the Reiki path (haha). About how some of the things that we want desperately end up lying mysteriously easily in the palms of our hands, as though they’d been nestled there all along. And how other things, other longings, seemed to have to cost you, seemed to have to exact a price.

We lit candles to make sure that there would be some light if the storm managed to knock out the power. As the electricity pulsed and dimmed over and over again, I thought a lot about how it said something about her character, and the depths of her desire, to saunter out into the storm to complete her training. It says something about each of us, when we pursue the things that don’t seem to want to come easily. It says something about who we are deep inside.

I always think of it as being willing to bleed for it – not to be gross. What are you willing to bleed for, to sweat for, to sacrifice for, to bring into being? I look around at a lot of people in my generation, and in the generation coming up behind my generation, and there’s this pervasive sense of entitlement. Well, folks, newsflash – you might get to the top of the heap by lucky accident, but you’ve gotta stay there by your own will. Or you have to put in your time in the trenches, so that someday, you can stand at the top and survey how far you’ve come.

When did we ever think that this was supposed to be easy? Just where in the heck did that come from? Where did we ever get the idea that it wasn’t supposed to hurt, wasn’t supposed to cost us, wasn’t supposed to leave scars? Life does that – if you’re really living it.

If you’re really living it, going deep, and putting yourself out there, you risk – and those who risk gain the rewards. Those who show up in their own lives every day risk much, but gain much. It is just as much work to maintain a true apathy, as it is to cultivate the ability to be PRESENT in your life.

Do you show up? Do you risk anything? What hill are you willing to die upon? What are you willing to hurt for? I think about that, as I listen to the “where’s-mine-ers” and the “me-too-ers” and everyone else who thinks it all just comes so easily – all the people who think that they should just have it handed to them.

And then I thought about my student tonight, and I realized that she valued what she came to receive. She knew that sometimes, things have to cost you – and the things you’ve longed for – the things that fill your soul to bursting – are worth the price you pay for them.

Thanks for letting me rant a bit. It felt important to acknowledge this, and to talk about it tonight (as the thunder rolls, and the lightning strikes…)

We are misled from early childhood to think that life is something you get through. Life is something to be in. (Dustin Hoffman)

I am trying to be IN the moment. I am concentrating on it. I am working to be grateful for all of the opportunities that life offers me in each day – whether they’re for happiness or healing, and whether they are comfortable or uncomfortable.

Lately things have been uncomfortable. And that’s okay. I mean, it doesn’t feel great, but I know that stuff is being brought to my attention because it’s a good time to address it, whatever it is.

It seems like the older I get, the fuzzier righteousness becomes. Things just are. I just am. We just are. Morality gets clearer, and simultaneously harder to verbalize. Soapboxes seem ricketier, and look far less appealing, as perches go.

Fighting with people at this stage of the game seems silly. Doesn’t mean I don’t still do it. I do. I just try to do it differently. I try not to be underhanded. I try to be as clear as possible, and to leave anger out of it. There are times I think I do pretty well, and there are other times I suit up for battle with the intent to make known how irate I am. That’s being human, I guess.

I’ve had a series of conversations over the past several weeks with someone who is very, very close to me. The reason we’ve had to repeat the conversation is because each time we enter into it, it’s like I am speaking Greek, and they are hearing French. Frustrating. Maddening. Infuriating.

Today, I came to them again, and I needed to just say the things that I’d been afraid to say – I hate hurting people’s feelings (I’m empathic: it just hurts me right back). At the onset, I could see defensiveness in every line of their face and body. I called attention to it, and I said, “I can see that you’re defensive right now. We’re just going to talk. I am not angry, and I am going to work very hard not to get angry.” Calling it out like that seemed to help a little bit.

And I realized something important. I was able to leave emotion outside the door. I was able to be calm and to articulate what I needed to. I was able to honor them and their need to respond in whatever way that they needed to. And, we still did not come to resolution. It seems we are at an impasse. I see green, they see purple – and we’re both looking at the same vista.

It’s frustrating. But a part of me feels very, very clear – a part of me knows that I do need to keep affirming that it is green, because that is my truth, that’s what I see. A part of me knows that if I back down this time, I will betray myself knowingly and without any excuse other than to make the other person comfortable – and this is hard, because I’ve spent the better part of my life attempting to make others comfortable. It’s instinctive.

Part of that realization was that I’m no longer willing to ensure their comfort at the expense of my own. I’m still a big fan of finding the middle ground, and of compromise…I’ve just been able to see the line where bending becomes enabling a little bit more clearly.

So, I’m trying hard not to look at this impasse as something to be gotten through. I’m trying to see it as something that is a part of our lives in the now, and that I should appreciate because it is teaching me some pretty important lessons…even if they are uncomfortable ones.

I’ve been reading Pema Chodron on and off the past few months, and it’s helped. She talks about how we human beings have a very low threshold for discomfort, and that we allow ourselves to follow the impulse to get away from whatever’s causing us that discomfort. This time, I am trying to be IN the discomfort – and I’m trying to use it. I want to see where it will lead me, because I know that this situation cannot remain unresolved, and running away will solve nothing. There is no true escape, only delay.

I don’t want to push things off anymore. I want to follow this rabbit hole to see where it leads. Even if I get a little battered on the way. Wish me luck.

 

I do this thing once in a while where I open up a book to a page without looking, or dial through my Ipod without looking, intending that the Universe will flash me a message of whatever I need to hear at that moment. (Sometimes I cheat — if I don’t like the first message, I’ll do it a few more times with different books).

I’ve been dealing with learning to let old habits and ways of thinking go, so that I can enjoy the life that’s spread out before me. So I can savor the banquet. This is what I paged to today:

Every moment is a new beginning for me. We all do a lot of vacillating between old ideas and new ways of thinking. I am patient with myself through this process. Beating myself up only keeps me stuck. It is better to build myself up instead. Anything I say or think is an affirmation. I become aware of my thoughts and my words. I may discover that a lot of them are very negative. I used to approach life through negative eyes. I would take an ordinary situation like a rainy day, and then say something such as, “Oh, what a terrible day.” It was not a terrible day; it was a wet day. Just a slight change in the way I look at an event can turn it around. I choose to look at life in a new, positive way. I enjoy new ways of thinking. (Louise Hay, Meditations to Heal Your Life)

Just this week, I was telling Dani that I finally realized that I needed to stop talking about leaving my “regular” job as having left it — I needed to start saying that I’d started my life’s work. When I focused on the leaving and the ending, I wasn’t looking forward or into the moment, but into the past. When I talked about the old job and called it my “real” job or my “regular” job, I was implying that there was something lacking in my new pursuit — when I don’t really feel that way.

So boys and girls, I think I am finally starting to ‘get it’ — to learn to ask for new eyes, instead of for new circumstances!

 

 

Am I seeing it as a sign, because I want a sign and am looking for a sign? Or do I see it as a sign because it is a sign? I’ve always done this circular kind of questioning, this ‘which came first – chicken or egg?’ kind of wondering. Sometimes, though, I just allow a sign to be itself, and accept it, because it’s so fortuitous and timely and unquestionable that questioning feels like sacrilege.

When I first went to part time at my ‘regular’ job, in order to embark on the dream of being a Reiki Master Teacher offering her services at the shop, I went through a period of intense doubt (as do most people when they’ve made a change that feels huge). That day, standing outside of the office with my aunt, I watched a Strange Angel come to me with a sign.

I stood there, dumbfounded, as a woman popped out of a shiny black SUV and announced that she was the Mustard Girl. She told me how she’d left behind a life of certainty in order to start a new life as the purveyor of homemade and heritage mustards. How she’d doubted it could even really happen, but that now, she’s got accounts throughout the Midwest and a committed customer base, and it all happened because she’d been brave enough to ask an old man how to make mustard, and to follow where that passion led.

She glowed. She was so happy, so utterly in the moment, that she glowed. She handed each of us a few bottles of complimentary mustard, popped back into the shiny SUV, and went on her way. It was a ‘holy sh&#’ kind of experience. And it snapped me out of the miasma I’d sunk into – it stopped the little voice in my head. The one who dirges all day long, “Who are you to think you could do this?” A new thought replaced it – “If the Mustard Girl can do it, so can I!” A strange battle cry, to be sure, but it worked.

Seven months have passed since that fated sidewalk meeting with the Mustard Girl. Since then, a million things have happened, all of which led to me leaving my ‘regular’ job in order to take a chance on…. me, essentially. So, I gave notice, and I made plans, and I talked about it to everyone. And in the past month, it seems like each person that comes my way needs me to tell them what I need to hear most – that it is possible, that they can do it (whatever ‘it’ happens to be). They need me to be their Mustard Girl, and so I am.

This week is my first week away from that ‘regular’ job, and I am grateful for the way that it’s playing out – even though I wasn’t at first. I’d intended to revel in the freedom from that old routine and simply bask in the empty space left behind and let my creativity and juiciness bubble on up. Instead, I’ve spent the week minding the shop for Dani as she gets to revel in creativity, and homecoming, and a different kind of freedom. And I’m grateful to the Universe for setting it up this way, because it was good to give me something to do while I got used to the idea of having all that space and time and emptiness waiting to be filled with the longings of my heart.

I’ve spent some time second-guessing myself this week – hovering over or behind Wittler as he attempted to blow off steam in virtual pursuits (he’s a devoted World of Warcraft player). I mostly got non-committal grunts of assent or disagreement over the background noise of virtual people virtually exploding virtual targets. Even our most devoted cheerleaders get tired of the same routine when they’ve done it a few hundred times.

So, I left Wittler alone, and I made the bed each morning, and did the dishes and went to the shop. And I took care of business. And I mulled. And I pondered. Some of it was jubilant, if disbelieving – as though I were a dog that’d finally slipped its chain and didn’t know quite how to go about achieving all the things it had dreamed of doing. Some of it came from that crummy voice that mutters the nasty stuff, “I can’t believe that you thought you could make this work. You don’t even know the first thing about what you’re doing. You’re going to fail. You’re impractical. What made you think that you deserved this?”

Somewhere in between all of that, I came to the shop today and got down to business as normal. And then, it all slipped sideways. Dani always says, “Is it odd, or is it God?”

Was he a prophet, a soothsayer, a convenient pedestrian, a madman, a holy man, a sage, a way-shower? All those things? None of them? I don’t know. I looked up from what I was doing to see a brilliantly sunshine yellow shirt, and a key lanyard that said, “God is awesome” dangling in front of my eyes. He introduced himself as Artemus, and proceeded to tell me all about all of the ventures that he had going for himself – from advertising on the sides of dogs to helping others live their dreams to scouting out new talent. I kept waiting for the pitch.

He asked me what my dreams were. I told him, that ironically, I’d started to live them this week. I told him that I’d decided to leave the known behind and to do all of my “someday, I’ll’s” today. That I was going to build my Reiki practice, and that I intended to try really writing, instead of just playing at it. I wasn’t sure why I was telling all of this to a complete and total (and rather odd) stranger.

He turned to me and said, “Your time has come. The world will meet you.” And then he told me that he was looking for all sorts of things, one of which was love, and said, “I’m a revolutionary.” Then he thanked me, gathered up his dog advertising board and binder and left the way he came. And I stood there, bemused.

And I had that choke-y feeling at the back of my throat that I get when I listen to live music (which calls emotions from me with vibrancy and insistence). I felt like crying – in the good way, the grateful way. I let myself think about it a bit more – the yellow shirt made me think of the solar plexus chakra, our power center. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, the female warrior, the protectress of women. “God is Awesome.” Indeed. Odd, all the way around.

Maybe I see signs where others see a slightly odd man, or a condiment peddler. Maybe I see just what I’m meant to see, when I’m meant to see it.

Whatever the reality or the truth of the situation may be, what I know and feel to be true is that when I stand there, mewling about my fears and getting bogged down in that feeling of undeservingness, I am sent a sign that is unmistakable and cannot be ignored.

Thanks Artemus. Thanks Mustard Girl. Thanks to all my Strange Angels.

 

 

One Alice chose to leap from the solid ground and follow the white rabbit, that’s when things got interesting. All the hesitating at the edge of the cliff? Everyone does that. It’s the leap that makes waves, makes changes, makes things happen. Creates the resounding ripple through the universe.

The past two weeks, I’ve felt the urge to mutter, “curiouser and curiouser,” hourly. Things have been really intense, and I retreated inward. I had a lot to process – about the decisions I’ve made –  emotionally, that I’d already processed mentally. Mental processing? Psssht! A snap. Emotional processing? Another matter, altogether.

It’s like I am finally able to sit back and see all the threads woven together now. Things that were coming to an end are buttoning themselves up, and resolution is everywhere. And all of that is GOOD. All of that is also accordingly intense.

I’ve been snappish like an old dog on a hot August day – testy, nasty, and plain-old no fun to be around. I’ve craved silence and solitude. I’ve longed for a hermitage somewhere, where I could go and let the wind blow through my hair, and the sun beam on my head, and let all of this stuff just assimilate itself into who I am today, now, in this moment.

The past two weeks, God (in infinite wisdom, I am sure) has taken the opportunity to make the things that are coming to an end SO uncomfortable that I am battered. And that’s okay. I know that the reason I need the battering is because I am so damn stubborn. I am learning, in no uncertain terms and in a way that I will actually remember later when I’m doubtful, why leaving this job is a good idea. Why it is an absolutely fabulously wonderful plan to go out on my own. Why it is so important, so necessary, to stop all my procrastination and dithering and just embrace the me I was always destined to be. Why it’s so damn important to just get on with it already.

The past two weeks have been bruising and horrid so that there was no way I could ever look back at this and fashion for myself some story of martyrdom – so that I’d always remember the honest gut-wrenchingness of it, and know that I made the right decision. So, I’m grateful. I’m applying salve to my wounds, but I’m grateful for the wounds.

The past two weeks have been liberally peppered with all sorts of affirmation, too – for every instance of negative reinforcement, for every single “Ouch! Quit it!” in the old situation, I’ve been given a balm that grows out of the new situation. People have come forward to tell me how wonderful it is that I am doing this (not what I was going for, but thanks all the same – it’s helped). People have affirmed my abilities. The universe has supported my plans with reinforcement from all angles. And I’m grateful.

I was not in this appreciative and magnanimous mood last night. Last night, I was a terror. I was annoyed, and short, and nasty to be around. I was mean to Jeremy, who did not deserve it, and mean to the cat, who never deserves it. I was not fit for polite company, and I was getting sick of myself and the mood in which I’d enveloped myself. So, I did something smart. I walked out the door, determined to return in a better frame of mind.

I walked out across the streets. It was dark, and cool and breezy. It helped to blow off the head of steam I’d built all day. It was quiet. I wandered down the alley behind the shop. I crossed “Love Bridge” behind the place where the farmers’ market is held, and I went to the river. I went to the water. I sat there, in the calm dark and I just listened to the river rushing past.

I brought my journal, thinking I’d purge some of this bleck out of me. The universe is wily and doesn’t pull any punches – as soon as I started recounting my day and bemoaning my state (whine, whine, cry, cry, poor me), my freaking pen died. I am like the best Girl Scout ever created – always prepared, except today. No extra pen. I had to laugh. I did laugh, out loud. Just me and the river and the biggest spiders I’d ever seen in my life.

So I walked around, and let the peace of it seep into my soul. I checked out the abundant and abnormally-sized arachnid population. I watched them at work. I watched them skittering back and forth, weaving patiently through the night, hoping that somehow (having faith) they’d benefit once all these strings had been drawn together. (If you knew me, you’d know that watching spiders usually gives me the heebie-jeebies. But these were outside spiders. That’s their house, and in their house, I’m fascinated by them. In my house, I’m terrified. Illogical, I know.)

I came home with a measure of peace. I hadn’t found a cure-all, but I’d soaked up some measure of solace. I could be nice. Mission accomplished. I could even laugh at myself.

And tonight, I started thinking about where I got all of the ideas for how life should go, and why – for me – certain things scream of “settling,” and why there’s something within me that just won’t abide it. Why I couldn’t just accept my lot, and be content with what I’d had. Why I’d so often felt like a square peg shaving away at its corners to try to squash itself into a round hole. And I remembered. Thoreau.

Thoreau’s writing has always really hit me where I lived. I couldn’t dismiss it the way I could other messages. It was always like he’d written it all, just for me. So I pulled it out, and I reread it – you know the one – THE passage that got to you. Everybody’s got one – if not Thoreau, someone else.

Here’s mine (bear with it, and remember, that the chaff cradles the good stuff):

To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

We must learn to reawaken and to keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. (Thoreau, “What I Lived For,” Walden)

Thanks, Henry David Thoreau, for daring to be thought a nutter by everyone you knew. Thanks for writing it all down – all the discovery and the struggle and the enlightenment you found. Thanks for fanning that spark within me – that carpe-diem, seize-the-day, life-is-short, burn-brightly spark within me.

I’d rather be speeding down the rabbit hole into the unknown than standing on the edge, looking down and wondering ‘what if.’ I’d rather be hurtling into life, fully present and engulfed by the living of it than seeping away slowly. I’d rather be doing this than what ‘I ought to be doing.’

And every single time I doubt that, I am going to open that book and read that passage. Seize the day people – take chances, dance in public, go after what you want, wring out the pleasure from each moment. Be a brilliant flame. Light the way for others. Don’t look back. Grab your resolve, wry grin in place, and rush, headlong, deep into the moment.

 

 

I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze

than it should be stifled by dry rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor,

every atom of me in a magnificent glow,

than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.

I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.

I shall use my time.

(Jack London)

 

Ever since I was a little girl, there was a quiet knowing, a small urging deep inside me that whispered, “You’re going to be something special. You’re going to do big things.” I think everyone has that little voice inside them, that inner certainty of specialness.

And that little voice, that inner urging, doesn’t let me rest. More accurately: I refuse to stifle it (for long).

When I was younger, my absolutely all-time favorite movie was Dead Poets Society. I think, honestly, that movie is one of the reasons that I taught high school – everyone cringed when I told them that was the age group I wanted to teach. Why do you want them when they’re already so screwed up? There’s no chance to change them.  They’re past molding. They don’t listen. Etc., etc., etc.

I wanted that age group because they were on the cusp – they stood at a great precipice in their own lives and had to make choices, had to make that leap. All that potential for greatness – it inspired me. I didn’t see damaged kids who were already set in stone – I saw kids who had been through the fire, and who would be heading out into the world, ready to start some fires of their own, to heal the burns of others, to mark it in their way. I saw potential.

What I failed to grasp then, was that I’d come to that precipice again and again in my own life. That I’d face that leaping off point more than once – that we all do.

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. (Andre Gide)

Well, I’m standing on that cliff once more, facing the unknown. Knowing that the discomfort of staying on solid ground had finally outweighed my fear of taking that leap. I’m tired of listening to that other voice inside me that says I’ll fail, that I can’t-won’t-shouldn’t. I’m tired of allowing fear to make all my important decisions for me.

All of those “Someday, I’ll….” statements? Well, I’m doing them, now. Someday kept moving farther and farther away. And I had to get real with myself and decide – was I ever going to reach out and grab any of this? When?

Today.

I quit my “regular” job yesterday. I gave 30 days notice. I stood on the cliff, looked out, and leapt. I have no idea what will come of this – but something will! I will have tried – really tried! – and not only invested half of me, while the other part clings to some illusion of safety.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a great adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable. (Helen Keller)

I’ve had to look hard at myself, at my life, at what I believe. I’ve had to point fingers at what wasn’t working. And I had to ask myself, if when I lay down to die, would I be at peace with this? Would I feel that I had come and done all that I wanted to do, all that I’d longed to do?

Yesterday, as I girded myself to make that change, I wrote this in my journal:

God, please go with me as I enter the unknown. I trust You to guide me; I trust You to give me strength against the challenges to come. In trust and faith, I place my well-being in Your hands.  Amen

“Someday” is today.

 

 

For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul. (Judy Garland)

I’m a perverse creature. On the surface, I am all calm, cool, and collected – a lot of the time. At first glance, I don’t allow much softness to come through. I’m working on that, actually… At first glance, you wouldn’t take me for a woman much given over to sentimentality or easily swayed by romance. At first glance.

The truth? Just because something seems to be true, doesn’t mean that it is…

So, last night, Jeremy and I watched What Dreams May Come – a movie I always watch with a handkerchief. It was his first time seeing it all the way through, and there were a few parts that got a little tough for him. He (politely) didn’t comment or make a big deal out of it when I dabbed surreptitiously at the corners of my eyes.

The movie over, my emotional needs satisfied, he thoughtful, we sat there. We each have our own blanket, and our own end of the couch, and then our legs tangle up and take over the middle. Sometimes we duel for dominance of the middle territory (this increases as warm weather increases, fueled by me), but today we were content and lazy and comfortably entwined.

And then we started talking about the movie. And he said, “I’d do that, you know. Find you.” And I just smiled in the way that only a woman can when a man pledges to do some knightly deed for her love (a smile that’s one part entranced, one part dubious, and one part patronizing).

He was quiet for a minute. He asked me if I thought it would be like that, when we die. I said I hoped so, that it would be something like that – reunion with friends and family, communion with others and with God, the presence of joy.

At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet. (Plato)

And then he blew me away. He said it didn’t matter to him – that if he died and it was all blackness and endings, and not the heaven that any of us hopes for or dreams of, that he would have spent all the days of his life hoping and dreaming with me and that was heaven enough.

I pretend that my heart is resistant to melting, but it isn’t. It puddled, instantly. He meant it. That is how he really feels. And it was equally humbling and exalting to know that.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. (Lao Tzu)

It made me think of all the times I lost my patience when he took forever to make a decision. All the times I got in a snit because he forgot to do something or I tripped over his shoes. All the times that he left a job half done (I saw it as half-done) and I got an attitude. It made me think about how that couldn’t possibly feel heavenly. And I wanted more for him, and for me – to see our lives in the now, in every moment, as he saw them – a little slice of heaven. Guess I really will have to quit “sweating the small stuff,” hey?

Seeing our life through his eyes, let me see it differently, too. I always say that we’re building an empire – I think he sees us already enjoying the one we’ve built. I always focus ahead, on all that’s left to do – he sees all that we have done, and all that we are and have. I see the promise of heaven, someday – he sees it now, in the moment.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. (Zora Neale Hurston)

After I started working at the shop, and Dani saw Jeremy and I together for the first time, she told me later that I was different around him. I, somewhat panicked, said, “How? What do you mean?” And she said, “You’re softer.” And I thought, Hmm – that’s not so bad, I guess. It’s hard not to be when he says things like that and means them.

 

The other day, Jeremy (my fiancé) and I had an argument, and I gave lack of confidence as a reason (excuse) for my behavior in the situation. He, incredulous, turned to me and said, “I ran 400 miles away from my family, my hometown, and my past. You stayed here with all these same people, took it on the chin, and kept going. Don’t tell me you’re not confident! You’re one of the most confident people I’ve ever met.”

Where do I begin? My first thought was, “That’s a lie. I’m not confident. That’s bravado and stubbornness disguised as confidence.” My second thought was, “He really thinks that about me?” And my third thought was, “I never really had a choice.” In many ways, I see what he did as brave – venturing off to try his fortunes all on his own – and what I did as “cowardly,” I guess.

I suppose that one of the main reasons I “stayed here and took it on the chin” was that, in my family, there is no running away. They will come get you – if not physically, then emotionally. I was too well trained to the family expectations to go haring off to Ireland as I longed to do. When my life crumbled around me, I heaved a sigh (well, a few hundred sighs, actually), squared my shoulders and kept marching.

At the time, I’d thought that I’d changed dramatically – and I had. Everything I believed about myself, about others, about the nature of life and love and relationship, about reality, about success and failure, about individuality, about “good” and “bad” had changed. Everything had changed. I had changed.

I just hadn’t changed as much as I thought.

The moment we try to please another and abandon our own truth for theirs, we essentially hand our power to them, violate our own integrity, cut ourselves off from our inner wisdom, and – at least for a while – disconnect from our ability to love and nurture ourselves. (Betty Ford)

I was the Good Daughter. I did my duty. I tried not to disappoint my parents – I followed the code of behavior they laid out (both written and unwritten). I was very good at covering up misbehavior and lying “for their own good.” (Honestly, there are some things that parents don’t want to know their children are doing, that the majority of kids end up doing).

I exceeded expectations. I developed a strong perfectionistic streak. I attended all functions, I said the right things to the right people. I worked a LOT – too much (important in our family – being jobless for any reason is “shameful” – along with a lot of other things). Wherever they stated an expectation, or where one was unspoken, I not only tried to meet it – I tried to do it perfectly, so that I would be “beyond reproach.”

When being a “good girl” or a “good boy” becomes a way of life, we can be sure that exhaustion will accumulate, resentments will build, desperation and neediness will increase, and we’ll travel deeper into the land of victim consciousness. (Betty Ford)

So, when my life fell apart, when living by all those codes and rules didn’t automatically guarantee success, security and safety, I questioned everything. I suppose I went through a sort of “second adolescence.” I rebelled against expectations, figuring that if it was impossible to meet their standards, I’d do whatever I damn well pleased and pretty much courted displeasure as much as I courted their pleasure before.

And then the pendulum swung again. And I realized that in courting their displeasure, I was destroying my relationships with my family. I had to find the “happy medium.” At first, I thought that I’d just swung too far the other way (from people-pleaser to people-displeaser), but it’s really not that simple. All that I’d really changed were the externals. The circumstances, the situations, the conditions. Deep down, I was still aiming to eventually shine in my parents’ eyes, and in everyone’s eyes.

And now, I think I’m finally starting to “get it.” I didn’t take things far enough. I changed my course of action, but I never really changed my reasons for acting or my rationale. I never went deep enough. I hadn’t touched what Dani calls “my core foundational beliefs.” And I realize that until I do that, nothing will really change. 

Now, I’m working to try to rewrite that story. Recast myself. Discover what it’s like to do something just because it’s what you want to do – and not because you know that action will get you the pat on the head. I’m trying to imagine my way towards what it means to be me – without the people-pleasing.

 

 

Perfectionism is slow death. (Hugh Prather)

I separate all of my M&Ms by color, and then I eat each color in groups of three. I wish I were kidding. For the longest time, I really thought that this, among many other things, was simply quirky. I’m not so sure anymore.

There is a proper way to fold everything: large and medium bathroom towels get folded one way, hand towels another way, washcloths another way. I have another method for folding the towels and washcloths for the kitchen. There is a proper way to fold sheets, jeans, to tuck socks together. And all of these right ways are set up in a little system of rules in my head. Part of me argues the point that I’ve just figured out the neatest way to fold everything so that it fits into the space we have for it, and another part of me realizes that the preciseness with which I accomplish these tasks is a bit neurotic.

The other day at the shop, I was cutting apart my printed blog posts and securing them into my journal. I saw nothing odd about this. I cut them into pieces, then glue stick the pieces into place, and then cut tiny little strips of tape to secure the corners and kind of ensure (more) that they won’t fall out (someday).

Dani was standing next to me, watching: “What are you doing?” I told her. “But why are you taping them in? They’re already in.” I explained. She watched for a few moments more, and then just burst, “I can’t even watch this! It’s like, sick! It’s driving me crazy!” And off she went. I could kind of tell that it was getting to her – like nails on a chalkboard – but I kept going out of perverseness, I suppose.

My logic? No one but me really understands it. It’s another little code, another little set of rules. The title of this blog? Dreamphemera, alluding to the inescapable brevity of the human experience. Me including my (by nature ephemeral) blogs into my (less ephemeral) journals? That, I suppose, is me railing against that – me shouting into the darkness, saying that I, somehow, will circumvent the end we all come to and leave a legacy of some sort. That I will find a way to control that, too.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I’ve been thinking a LOT about all these little rules and codes, and unspoken taboos lately – these quirky little habits are like the visible tip of an insidious iceberg. Beneath the surface lurk all sorts of other little rules and codes for behavior, tasks, food, conversation, relationships, etc. AAARGH.

I’m frustrated. It’s frustrating. The more I think about all of it, the more I realize that it really is all about control, and the urge to feel safe. If I control the outcome and all the players, then it will be known, and therefore, safe. What utter hooey.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. (Anna Quindlen)

I am a total perfectionist. While Dani watched me cutting those strips of tape for my blogs, she saw me as doing each one uniformly, with uniform motion – all that I could see was that this strip was too big, that one too small, this one inserted crookedly.

This is something that’s been coming up for me consistently the past few weeks – first with the small things, the little routines, the subtle habits. And then, I started thinking about it on a deeper level – and I could see that it was like a fungus that had spread throughout the entire block of cheese, unseen. The only things I’d noticed were the quirky things that people commented on – all of the deeper stuff? I got real good at blaming it on something else (all excuses).

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target. (George Fisher)

Then Wittler and I had a conversation last night – issues resulting from one of the subtler and more damaging ways I “seek perfection” needed discussing. It was an awkward conversation. I had a hard time being honest. I wasn’t totally honest. And it didn’t feel good. Afterward, I lay in bed, studying the ceiling in the dark, and dwelling on it.

And came up with a few things:
Perfectionism is about control, not about seeking excellence.

Perfectionism kills creativity.

Perfectionism kills relationships.

Control is about avoiding fear and pain.

Controlling outcomes is an effort to feel secure.

Control is an illusion.

Security is an illusion.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

On this path, fumbling towards mastery, out here where everyone can watch, I’ve encountered challenges, I’ve changed mindsets and behaviors, I’ve worked on me, and all the stuff surrounding me. This is a tough one.

I couldn’t be honest in our conversation last night, because I felt like Linus. As though someone had asked me to set down my blankie, and walk the rest of my days without it, naked.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. (Anne Lamott)

If I don’t get honest about this with myself, I won’t be able to be honest with Wittler. And if I’m going to be honest, giving up this way, this control, terrifies me. Even though I can intellectually know that control is an illusion, giving that up just scares me to death. What do I put in place of it? And how can I ever hope to truly thrive, to truly grow, if I am so busy making sure that everything is in its appointed place, and done in the approved way?

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)

 Maybe it’s time to start relaxing into the fumbles.

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)