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Stay.Right.Here.

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Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master.  In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew.  Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.

These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.  

And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control.  Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…

I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me.  I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically.  Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow.  Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.

And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought.  In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up.  I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.

When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over.  I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.

I mean…

I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.

I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death.  (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)

I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.

And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now.  I have today.

A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff.  I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth.  I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.

In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace.  It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes.  And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You have today.  You have this moment.  Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment.  Don’t let it slip away.  Bask in it.  Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.

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Maya, thank you

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I join the chorus in remembering and commemorating, our dear sister of soul, Maya Angelou.

A few years back I had the great fortune of hearing Maya read.  It was (I believe) to be her last reading tour– She was approximately 83 years old.  The experience was like no other.  It wasn’t really a reading it was a speaking, as words just seemed to fall from her mouth onto our expectant ears.  Here we were child-like perched at her feet– bright eyed and waiting with hopeful anticipation.  And boy did she deliver.

She made her way to the podium…

silence filled the room…

And then she spoke.

Her voice– like a bell rang so clear, so precise, so resonant– lodging into the fibers of our beings immediately.

Her voice– commanding.  It could have just been her and I there in that room for all I knew because her voice had the poise and ability to evoke that kind of intimacy.  And I felt loved.

She spoke that evening of the suffering and the tragedies, the longings and the hopes, the breaths bated and loves thwarted.

She spoke of broken childhood, the rising of a woman and the aching of her aging bones.

Her memory was clear and differentiated.  She held no ties to societies definitions of femininity or beauty.  She stood tall and on her own terms.  She gave the rest of the sense that we, too, could join in that resolution.

She welcomed us into the joys of conceiving and birthing our deepest dreams and yearnings.  She taught us that the sweat, pain and groans of birthing give way to authentic selves.  She called us to never lose hope and reminded us that self-preservation is a lie.

That evening she told us of the process of losing her sight– paying all dignity and honor to the gifts that her eyes gave her over the years and with grace releasing her eyes from the need to strain or maintain.

I know I was one of hundreds that night and yet, I felt like she knew me.  That is what Maya has been doing all these years teaching all of us that we are known, as she exposes her story and the rich tradition of giving voice to tragedy, fear, triumph and courage.

She’s led all of us on this feminine tradition of telling.  There is no need for secrets or hiding here… come as you are naked and open.  Maya along with many other female voices (Adrienne Rich, bell hooks, Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem) have been modeling for us this woman tradition of rising up and taking our place and we will ache in her absence.

I was so lucky to participate in that evening.  I’ll never forget it nor her.

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Building from scratch (more life transitions)

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A little less than two years ago I decided to leave.

I made a decision to leave a position of 10 years at the local church that I served, while (at some point) also deciding to leave a marriage of 15 years.  I left a whole life behind.

It’s complicated and I never knew that these two events would overlap or coincide with one another, but it’s the way things worked out.  Many who know of these transitions or are even reading this now may be saying– “Wow, what a nutcase”.  But most never knew the pain.  And so to use the well known saying, “You can’t understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”.  Well, that feels appropriate for now.

Maybe over time I’ll be sharing more of my story, as it might be helpful to others, but for now I share what I’ve learned over the past two-ish years about transitions.  (This will likely be over several blog entries)

Some of the hardest transitions have to do with divorce, death and identity and there are no road maps for these transitions.  Maybe that would be easier in some way, but here’s a freeing thought: the path is really all our own— for better or for worse.  The decision or circumstance around the change is deeply personal.  And guess what?  So is the path through the transition.  That said, it’s really nobody else’s place to assign judgement, criticism or critique about how or what you are doing on that path.  You get to be the one who invites whoever you want to be on that path with you– joining you in exploring and finding insight & wisdom to navigate these sometimes shark infested waters.

And to those who feel that they have the authority or take the opportunity to force their viewpoints on you when you are walking this path well feel free to push back.  There is nothing wrong with letting those know to, “Back off– back WAAAY the F off”, because it is not their place or their path.  This is sacred ground meant for those that can handle with care, humility and kindness– all others, no entry.  Know that this is not unkindness– this is firmness to protect the space you will need to heal, grow and move forward.

In the next few entries I’ll post some of the topics of transition, but I’ll leave this entry by saying that the in-between of transitions can often feel like a kind of pit– not like a deep, black hole but like a plateau-ish space that is in-between the thing that was left behind and the new thing that you’re moving toward.

The plateau can be marked with all kinds of emotions: confusion, grief, discomfort, loneliness– even anger.  It is often uncomfortable and when people ask how you are it is hard to come up with any words to describe how you are feeling or what is even going on.  It’s like trying on a suit that is four times too big and trying to figure out how to make it work so that it puts out the appearance that it fits you and it expresses some semblance of your personality and style.  The longer you wear the suit and reflect on it the more you begin to ask, “Who am I, anyway”?

This is awkward– and so the instinct here is to run and to get out of this stage of transition as fast as you can.  This space is the most ambiguous of the stages of transition and it can feel as though one is not moving, but just standing still.

Pause for a moment.  Don’t rush.  This stage is a vital part of the process.  There is something to be learned and listened to in this moment.  And although, it’s uncomfortable and difficult and– even painful it is an important stage.  In his book called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes William Bridges talks about this shift and he states that you cannot move into the new without the old ending.  This in-between state which Bridges calls ‘The Neutral Zones’ is something we have to go through and not around.

So you might as well sit back and try to incorporate a few things at this stage:

1) Stop fighting & Surrender.  The struggling about and trying to fist your way through this stage is only suspending the inevitable.  So relax and accept where you are at.

2) Pause & be patient.  

“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”  Henri Nouwen

3) Take this pause to write your autobiography or your passage journey.  Find time alone– reflect and listen.

4) Be ever so kind with yourself.  You haven’t done anything wrong to be in this particular space in the process– it’s just a natural part of the process so do some self-care and have grace for yourself in all the awkward moments.