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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.

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.

Tonight I facilitated another Reiki Share, and as I left, it struck me again how grateful I am to be who I am, doing what I am doing, where I am doing it. It struck me again how wonderful it’s been to have this opportunity – how wonderful it feels to be doing something that feels so exactly right for who I am and who I’ve longed to be.

I know that I write a lot about the discomforts of the path of mastery…and not a lot about the blessings. Tonight I thought about those blessings – and about how they are ever-present in my life.

I used to have moments when I felt utterly bereft, as though there was no solace, no corner of comfort for me anywhere, in my entire life. I haven’t felt that way in a long time – I have found my solace, I have found what gives me succor.

Tonight we talked about the Reiki precepts, and we talked about walking the path of mastery and what that means. I think that anyone who’s ever embarked on any kind of spiritual journey, or a journey to self-mastery can say that, at least once, they wished they’d been the kind of person who was content not to question every bloody thing. That they wished for a ‘normal’ and ‘quiet’ life. And tonight I said, “But that is not what it has been given you to do.” And as I said it, I realized that that statement was for me.

There is no way on earth that I could live another life than the one I have. There is no way I could just decide to derail this path, hop off, and get on another one. It is not given me to do. There is no way, because I would be miserable. This is what has been given me to do.

I asked for this – longed for it, in fact. As a child, I was fascinated by the Christian mystics, by the hermits, by those who heard a call deep within their souls to take up their banner and march down a rockier, steeper, bendier path than the others around them. I was intrigued by those who held aloft a lantern to light the way for so many others who trudged similarly fraught paths.

The conditions of the path are really immaterial – whether I was a nurse, or a police officer, or a nun, or a coal miner, or a Reiki master, what I could not forsake is this need to look deeply, to question, to ponder, to explore. That is what has been given me to do.

When I finally was able to pursue Reiki training in the way I’d longed for so long to do, it was like a homecoming. It was like some fretting bird finally quieted and was soothed in my soul. Because I’d found it, finally, the lantern I would bear for others, and for myself.

 

 

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.

 

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.

  

 

For the past few weeks, things have felt really intense. A few different things have been chasing around and through my thoughts – mantra-like – that wanted to be written. And every single time I sat down to write them, the words wouldn’t come, and nothing I felt was translated onto the page. It was obnoxious. So, today, I am determined to expel at least one of these imps into the blogosphere, even if it doesn’t come out quite right.

I keep thinking about my past selves. I keep coming back to the summer I was fifteen. It was a super sucky time in my life – my family life had entered turbulent waters, I was a teenager (‘nuff said), and I was dating a boy two years older than myself who was intensely controlling and abusive. Not a whole lot of bright spots there.

On Mother’s Day, the boyfriend and I were in the car, and we’d had a fight (can you call it that if you aren’t able to rebut anything? Then it’s really more attack-like – or at least that’s how it felt). On the way to an outing with his family, I already smelled trouble – he was in a dangerous mood, and on the road we took to get to our destination, the same set of train tracks crossed three times. He charged the train with the car at each crossing, as though determined to send the both of us to oblivion.

Things did not improve from there, and I ended up demanding to be taken home. On the return trip, I was alone with him and his anger, which poured out of him, came out and spilled over, seething. He sped – he knew it scared me, terrified me. The needle on the little car was buried, and I know that we were going over 100 miles an hour. And then he had a moment of clarity, of sense breaking through the rage. He tried to stop, but it was too late. The wheels on the car locked up, and we were still careening endlessly toward the T-stop, and the field of trees beyond it.

A strange thing happened then. I relaxed. I surrendered, knowing that there was nothing I could do to change it. I closed my eyes, and we crashed into the rear end of a van sitting at the corner, waiting to turn.

I leaned my face over the plastic console – I was bleeding profusely, and even then all I could think about was that he’d be furious that I’d ruined the upholstery in the car. It never even occurred to me that the car was demolished. He plucked me from the side of the car, and set me in the ditch.

A woman came, and she put her arm around me. She had a white sweatshirt on, with a pretty lace collar – the kind my mother wore. I never saw her face – too much blood and glass in my eyes. I pulled away, saying, “I don’t want to ruin your shirt.” She made me feel safe, and somehow, I felt no panic, no fear. She tucked me back into her, and said, “Don’t you worry about that now honey.” I didn’t see then or know then what she knew, what the boyfriend knew – that my face looked like hamburger.

The lady called my mother, on Mother’s Day, to tell her what a mother never wants to hear. There’s been an accident.

They strapped me in, and carted me off in the ambulance. I cracked jokes the entire time they scrubbed my raw skin with gauze and antiseptic. I laughed in the dark. They x-rayed my knees and told me the cartilage behind one kneecap was cracked vertically, and would eventually give me problems. That there was nerve damage. That there would be physical therapy. The only time I cried was when the doctor told me that they’d have to stitch up the cut on my eyelid (I sincerely detest needles – and there was going to be one repeatedly heading toward my eye. Shudder – still gives me the heebie jeebies).

I overheard the policeman telling my mother that if any one thing had been different, we would have died. That we should be dead. That it didn’t make sense because when cars hit like that, the engine comes up into the passenger compartment and crushes legs, and that didn’t happen. That we should have flown through the window, since we hadn’t had seatbelts on. That we shouldn’t be here. That somehow, miraculously we were.

They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom alone – later my mom told me that she was afraid of what would happen when I saw my face. They took me home, and I lay there – a bundle of nerves and pain. I reacted to the ointment they slathered liberally over my cuts, and it burned. I looked like someone had taken a blow torch to that side of my face.

Finally, I went into the bathroom. Alone. I stared in the mirror at the stranger there. Scabs from hairline to jaw line, from ear to nose. Grotesque. Somewhere deep inside, a caged thing stirred. I sobbed, staring at this ugliness on the outside, feeling the ugliness inside. Who will ever want me like this? Who, who? Who will ever want me like this?

I’d had the appropriate amount of teenage vanity – I was no beauty queen, but I had liked my face. I had a pretty porcelain complexion, with rosy cheeks – the kind that turns absolutely crimson and livid with too much sun. I had a smattering of freckles, and my mother’s eyes. I had my mother’s face, reimagined. And now, I was a monster.

The boyfriend was shades of remorse for about two days and five minutes. It took far longer for my face to heal, much less my spirit. The scars stood out fuchsia and angry on my cheek – slashes. My friends said, “They look cute, like cat’s whiskers.” That so did not help, but I knew what they were trying to do, and I let them have that – I let them feel like they could make it better.

Who will ever want me, like this?

At the checkup, my mom asked the doc about plastic surgery. He recommended someone, and we made an appointment. Somewhere in my fifteen-year-old mind was the desperate hope that they would be able to work magic, to make it all disappear.

We arrived at the office and met with the surgeon. He said that if they attempted to fix any of it, it would likely make it worse. I would just have to heal on my own. I was choking on tears, but I thanked him for his time, and we walked out of the office.

I made it to the elevator, my mom rubbing my arm. I couldn’t hold it in anymore – I needed to grieve for the girl I’d been and would never be again. I sucked in hard, and started sobbing, quietly asking, Who? Who will ever want me like this?

The elevator stopped to let a woman on, and I felt ashamed for crying. I felt exposed – and still, I couldn’t stop the hiccupping sobs. My mom briefly told the woman what had just happened. And the woman, this stranger, tucked me into her and held me. Told me that I was beautiful, and that someone, somewhere would see that and know. She held me in all my grief and sorrow. She said the words I could never have believed out of my mother (your mother has to love you, has to see you as beautiful, no matter what happens). She held me and rocked me, and there were tears in her voice when she comforted me.

Years passed, the scars healed and lightened, blending into my natural paleness. I still have to avoid the sun, because that whole side of my face is more sensitive. For more than ten years, I picked small glittering shards of glass out of my cheek and forehead. Tiny diamonds. Everyone who saw me then, broken, thought that I would never look the same. For the most part, I do. But I never was the same, and that was the important part.

I made decisions following this that came from a deeper well of strength and courage than I’d been able to access before. I became more assertive. I wore the scars, for a time, as a warrior’s badge of honor. I wore them in daring, and with a chip.

And then I didn’t need the warrior so much anymore. And I was able to soften. Eventually, I was able to see in this what I was meant to see – that cry, that Who? Who will ever want me like this? had been there before the scars, and lasted far past them. That cry is universal. That cry reflected the brokenness and ugliness I felt inside, about who I was – and my fear that I was far too flawed for love.

I softened. Each time I think about the woman on the side of the road, and how she tucked me into herself, and held me, I cry. Each time I think about the lady on the elevator, and the compassion she showed a stranger, the way she held me tight like I was sobbing for both of us, I cry. And I know that we are angels to one another.

We turn to each other in elevators and lobbies, in checkout lines and on street corners, and say, “I see you. You matter. Someone, many someones, want you – just like this.”

 

 

Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

By all accounts, I was one of those unsettling children who look out at you from a child’s face, but speak with a tone, confidence, and vernacular far beyond their years. I was what people tend to think of precocious in the classical sense, and not as a thinly veiled euphemism for too-worldly.

I have only ever known what it is to be precocious, and therefore, don’t exactly have the same perspective on many things that others (who weren’t quite as precocious) have. It is now, as an adult woman, that I look and see what that precociousness meant and what it wrought for me throughout my life. It is as I watch children and see them interact with one another, and watch them blooming “on schedule,” or “ahead of schedule,” or “behind schedule” with adult eyes. (Who determines these things, anyhow?)

In retrospect, I see my own journey with some clarity. (Can it ever happen any other way?) I can see how I tended to lack true peers – I could play the game well, and “fit in” with kids who weren’t quite at the level I was, but it felt like a lot of work. I could speak to adults with the maturity of one of their peers, but it came out of a child’s mouth and was often disregarded because of that – and I lacked the experiences of an adult, so that was one more barrier.

You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

I really wouldn’t say that I technically had a lonely childhood, but in some ways, that was very true. I realize now, that my love for reading and my passion for stories and books was partially inherent (I think we all come here with leanings toward talents and interests), and partially cultivated. I soon realized that having a book in front of your face gave you two things: a barrier and an excuse to not have to socialize, and something to talk about if you were made to interact.

When I was doing my student teaching internship, I happened to bump into one of my high school teachers. She remembered me instantly (having taught 168 kids a year, I now know how rare this is), and said that she remembered that I was never without a free reading book (again, having taught, I now know how rare this is).

Those books were my solace, my inspiration, and my shield. I was never really alone – I had a whole cast of characters holed up in my head. I was never really bored – even when I was stuck without a book, I could conjure one of the many stories I’d read to ponder.

I am going through the rest of the boxes I still have at my folks’ house, and I’ve come across some very old friends. I saved two things for last: my books and my genealogy research. Both are precious to me.

I share Einstein’s affirmation that anyone who is not lost on the rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe ‘is as good as a burnt out candle.’ (Madeleine L’Engle)

As I open these boxes, some for the first time in five years, I am transported. I remember the edition of Tom Sawyer that my mom’s parents gave us when I was about ten. I remember the huge, ponderous collection of Shakespeare’s Collected Works that my former mother-in-law gave me for my birthday one year. It has a maroon cover, and Bible-thin pages. I remember the copy of The Velveteen Rabbit my mom gave me shortly before I got married – a story that carries special significance in our house. The Bible my Aunt Margaret gave me for my confirmation. The canning books I bought when I thought it would be cool to make my own preserves (still planning on it, someday…).

The animal and plant guides I bought when I started to explore the complexity of our world… The poetry volumes I purchased as I discovered new voices… Philosophy… Spirituality… Religion… Life Sciences… My “Beach Reads”… Books from the Banned Books List… Classic Fiction… Eventually, I hope to have enough shelving to store / display them in some semblance of “order,” which will probably only make sense to me (which is fine, since I’m the one who’s into them all the time).

Then, this weekend, I came to some of my very old, very special friends. For Christmas, when I was twelve years old, my Uncle Dave gave me a series of books by Madeleine L’Engle, which I fell in love with. I’ve read my copy of A Wrinkle in Time so many times that I’ve loved the cover to smithereens. I promptly petitioned my parents for the rest of the series, and have read and re-read them repeatedly.

I am reading them again now, as an adult woman, whose precociousness, subsequent experience, and continually developing perspective, give me a new appreciation for the gift of them. These were the first books I’d read then, at twelve, that didn’t try to scrub the ugly things clean, in the way that so many people try to for children. They let the ugly be present, and they let the good and the beautiful be present, side by side, and gave the reader enough credit to make sense of it themselves.

Infinity is present in each part. A loving smile contains all art. The motes of starlight spark and dart. A grain of sand holds power and might. (Madeleine L’Engle)

L’Engle couched truths within fiction. I encountered God there, and science. I met with the age-old predicament of what I think of as can-or-should (as in, just because we can, does it mean that we should?). I entertained ideas of cosmic scope, and eternal reach, of infinite perplexity and infinite simplicity.

I lay on the couch last night, following Meg Murry through her troubles, her struggles, her challenges and triumphs. I walked along the path with old friends for a time, covering territory that felt familiar and brand-new at once. I spotted seeds of later-thought within the story – ideas that fueled the genesis of my spiritual questioning and my reasoning.

I lay there, at once twelve years old again, and brand-new to the world with all the wide-eyed optimism and belief in the possible – and at the same time, as I am now at 31 – older, a bit more cynical, a bit more hesitant, a bit more jaded, a bit less hopeful. I captured, for a bit, that sense of who I was when I’d read them for the first time – the wonder they awakened, the daydreams I embarked on, the debates they encouraged.

I like that girl I was, and there are days when I really miss her. In some ways, she was far braver then, than I am now (it helps when you don’t know all the facts of a situation, I suppose – it’s easier to talk myself out of things, or around them, now). Having got that sense of her – that essence of possibility and dreaming – I carry it forward into today. I marry it to my experience, and in that, I attempt to balance naiveté and experience.

I am grateful to Madeleine L’Engle for giving young readers enough credit, for having the guts to put it all on the page. I am grateful to Uncle Dave (and everyone else) for the gift of books – the gift of ideas, really. I am grateful to my parents for encouraging my precocity. I am grateful to my twelve-year-old self for having a courageous mind, and a questing heart, and an empathic way. I am grateful to have these thought-worlds to revisit, to rediscover, to recapture all the selves I have been. I am grateful, because they all contributed, and in this latest incarnation of self, I am especially pleased.

It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment, she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

 

I once had a garden filled with flowers that grew only on dark thoughts but they need constant attention & one day I decided I had better things to do.  (Brian Andreas)

At my “regular” job, my desk is directly next to a humongous picture window – and it is one of the few reasons that my day behind a desk is tolerable. I get a front seat to the doings and happenings out there, the comings and goings, the small dramas of mothers pushing toddlers or lovers hand-in-hand (or not as friendly, and therefore, more dramatic).

Most of these passersby don’t ever even notice I’m there. But every single morning, without fail, the elderly man who does outside maintenance for the company next door, walks by with his scoop bucket slung over his shoulder, and he waves. Every single morning. I wait for it – in my head he’s the scoop-shovel-man. I don’t even know his name. I know nothing other than that every morning, we share a wave and a smile – and that he’s an important part of my day because of it.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  (Leo Buscaglia)

I marvel at these moments when virtual strangers are able to connect and share something important – a small moment, a small mutual experience of being human. I tend to be something of a Pollyanna (I hope you all know who she was – Disney made a movie about her a loooong time ago, based on a 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter). According to Dictionary.com, a Pollyanna is an excessively or blindly optimistic person – I wouldn’t say that I am quite that extreme, but I make a real effort to see the sun peeking through the clouds on more days that not.

I don’t know if any of you have felt the energy shifting lately, but I sure have. It was funny – I was on facebook the other night, and one of my friends posted something along the lines of, “Is it a full moon or something? What a really weird, intense day!” I posted back, telling her that it was, in fact, the new moon that day, and those energies could be just as – if not more intense – than that of the full moon. Not sure what she made of that, but I hope her day went more smoothly, anyhow.

This shift links to something that keeps coming up for me in the everyday – a newer unwillingness to put up with things and people in my life who bring bad juju. And this brings me to the phenomenon of the Negative Nellies. A Negative Nellie is the antithesis of a Pollyanna. I am sick unto death of people who, when asked how they are, heave a deep and mournful sigh, and proceed to tell you how everything in their life is utter crap. Aack. Tired of it. These people leave a legacy trailing off behind them like a comet’s tail, too – but, instead of kindness, they sow sorrow.

When confronted with a Negative Nellie, don’t even think of mentioning the weather – this is one of their favorite whipping boys. If it’s a clear sunny day, it’s too bright; if you have a warmer day after a lengthy stretch of bitter winter, they’ll tell you how horrible it is that all the snow is melting and everything is wet. If you are in a ten-year drought, and the long-awaited rains have come, they’ll tell you how there is not enough rain, or too much, or the water just isn’t quite wet enough.

The dismal outlook of the Negative Nellie extends to literally every event, emotion, occurrence, or happenstance that could be conceived of by man (and some that haven’t yet). If you see a silver lining, they’ll find a spot of tarnish. And, lately, I find myself less and less willing to give them even a moment of my time – which presents me with a bit of a moral conundrum: I believe that one of the most important things we can be is kind, and I believe that there is good in every person (somewhere) – but then, I find myself wanting to absent myself from these folks who propagate and spread negative-vibes (which also eliminates some opportunities to show kindness).

I find myself unwilling to be subjected to or held unwilling captive to the Eeyore-ish moanings of these nay-saying doom-and-gloomers. So, I absent myself from their presence, from the conversation, and from the bubble of negativity that they cultivate & surround themselves with – and it made me feel just a bit guilty. Aren’t I supposed to be spreading sunshine and daisies wherever I can?

And then, I came across the following quote from George Eliot: It is good to be helpful and kindly, but don’t give yourself to be melted into candle grease for the benefit of the tallow trade. I had to read that a few times before the depth of her (George Eliot was a woman) message sank like a pebble into the still pond of my heart and rippled outward. How can I go on spreading kindness and a helpful hand if I allow it to be devoured by all and sundry? And, especially if I squander that energy on those who don’t WANT to think or see anything positively? (Depending on how you look at it, I either do the Negative Nellies a disservice by attempting to inject positivity into their contented discontent & melancholy – or, I make them deliriously happy: whenever I make a positive statement, they get the chance to spread negativity seeds with each rebuttal).

So, I think I’ve devised a new modus operandi – I will continue to extend kindness, politeness, courtesy, generosity, and compassion to all I meet – but, when I note the presence of an ‘event horizon’ surrounding these black holes of energy, I will pull back, retain my energy (and my integrity), and move on to offer the gift of my being to others (I realize that “gift of my being” sounds unbelievably conceited – but, I swear I don’t mean it that way – I see everyone in my life as a gift, so it’s hypocritical not to think of my self that way, too).

This new determination is all well and good, but I know there will be times when I slip into the maelstrom with the Negative Nellies and that’s fine – I’d rather take a chance with someone than squander the possibility of a wonderful interaction out of fear of being burned. I’ll just have to continually tweak my Nellie-o-meter.

What it comes down to, really, is this (said by those who’ve said it best):

Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.  (Author Unknown)

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. (Dalai Lama)

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Plato)

The other night as I was trudging up the colossal flight of stairs stretching up to our apartment, lost deep in thought, and laden with bags & belongings, an elderly gentleman who I’d seen around the building was making his way down. He has extreme difficulty walking – it takes him minutes to traverse what I can in a few seconds. He said something to me, which broke me out of my myopic fog, and I said, “Pardon?” And he says, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” And I look about for a moment, uncomprehending – until I realize he means the fake grass thingie I’m carrying under my arm (it looks like the wrong end of a hula skirt all tied up). And I just started laughing!

My laugh is a booming, chest expanding one – I hold nothing back. And I said to him, “Have a good night, sir.” And he said, “Thank you. You, too.” And I got the feeling that he was thanking me for more than my well-wishes. I hope he knows that my laughter was a thank you, too – for a moment shared on the stairs with a stranger, who saw an opportunity to reach across the silence, and make a connection.

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)