Monday, September 1, 2014

Creating a Spiritual Practice

Creating a spiritual practice is much like painting a masterpiece. You sit down at the canvas and just pick up
the brush. Where do you begin? First some colors must be gathered, mixed, prepared...then maybe just maybe you feel as if you should start painting with cerulean blue. Just take a dab of paint at first, try not to go too heavy handed in the beginning. Now remember, this will not be done overnight. I have been creating a spiritual practice for years now. Layers of paint have added, colors mixed, a little turpentine comes in handy when something didn't work.

I am writing this as I am reentering society, "reality" as some might call it, after a week on Cape Cod. I spent this week running, attending spiritual group meetings, walking my dogs, daily yoga classes, eating healthy vegan food, and relaxing on the beach. Most of the week was spent in silence, on my own. It was a beautiful week, and by the end, I began to feel like a person again. It was a week I would have never been able to take had I been hired at my "dream job." It felt as if my spiritual practice was supercharged. I already have a daily practice: prayer in the morning, running meditation, and spiritual meetings with others. I also write a daily gratitude list and eat vegan food (a practice of non violence.) But the week on my own, near the ocean and an abundance of yoga classes and running trails, allowed me to, as Emeril would say, kick it up a notch. And today, as I have no full time employment as of yet, I can continue this daily practice. But what happens when I find employment? The hour of yoga and two hours of running, followed by prayer and meditation and an evening walk with the dogs, might not fit so well when working 8 hours and commuting. Plus, I am adding too much to my daily practice at one time. I have noticed, that a habit sticks when I add one at a time, and a doable goal. If I were to say, plan on adding a full yoga practice while increasing mileage and meditation time while simultaneously juggling a life, a relationship, a grown child, animals, a household and family and friends, I might internally combust. Or the new routine would just not stick.

What color can I add to my canvas today? Might it be a gentle stretch in the morning while I am brushing my teeth, and maybe a few minutes of alternate nostril breathing to calm my mind with the goal of continuing to take at least one yoga class per week?  I would love to end each day, feeling just like I did while on my retreat. But life is what happens when we are making plans. And a full immersion in a complicated spiritual practice might not pay the bills or make my partner happy. Just for today I will add a few small pieces from my retreat into my daily practice, see how the color looks on my already paint splattered canvas. I can always add more paint later. And it only takes a small shift to make a change.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Running Downhill

Uphill takes forever and no matter which direction I run, there always seems to be more up hills than down. Why? I guess because we take longer to run uphill. Downhill I speed up and it is over quickly. Same with life, the harder hills seem to take forever, but once you crest you can cruise down. It all comes down to this: is it worth the climb? If you ski, you might say yes. When I am running full speed down a hill, the wind in my hair and a smile on my face, I say hell yes. There are always going to be climbs, times throughout the journey where it is just so hard, when you are breathless and ready to collapse. For me, my mind wants to give up right before the crest, but I know if I just hang on, the view will present itself. I reach the top, legs sore, lungs burning, and slow for the descent, the delicious, glorious descent. The descent is why we run, that feeling of being alive, the absolute joy of losing control. It is over soon, and life returns back to normal, maybe a few gentle bumps, some flat open spaces, and a few twists and turns. What I need to remember, while in the midst of a life climb, is that the crest will appear, and the freedom of the downhill only comes after I climb. I worked hard to earn my college degrees, and the feeling of freedom, of joy and accomplishment after receiving that diploma...that is why I brave the hills. Today, jobless, I slowly make my way up another hill. I send out resumes, I search online databases, and I ask for help. I climb. I don't know when the crest will come, but for this one moment, right here and now, I believe I will make it up that hill, maybe with sore legs, but the downhill will be so much fun.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


I was called skinny the other day. As someone who has always struggled with weight I wasn't sure whether to be happy or frustrated by a so-called compliment. I finally settled on frustrated. I have lost 20 pounds, but have worked my butt off by running and weight lifting. I have gained muscle mass. I would have rather been called fit, or strong. Weight has always been an issue for me, and I have been sensitive about my lack of, or abundance, for as long as I can remember.

When I was younger I participated in a gymnastics program. I worked on cartwheels, rolls, back bends and front walkovers. I wasn't built like a gymnast, but I had fun. Today in yoga class I remembered how flexible I was and how things have changed. Why did I ever stop, I muse. I know the reason, and today it seems pathetic, but it wasn't to my twelve-year-old self. Someone wondered how I could do gymnastics with my larger thighs. That was all it
took, I quit the next season and I spent the next years battling with body image, overeating and lack of exercise. Today I am 41; I run at least 5 miles a day, and with the recent addition of yoga, have begun to get my former flexibility back. It was just a few words, how could they be so powerful?

Words hurt and affect us in unimaginative ways. But in order for the words to hurt, we must allow them to. And if I am upset or elated by another's comment about my weight, it means that I am allowing another's opinion to become part of me; I become fat or skinny or scrawny or buxom. These are merely labels. When did our culture become so obsessed with the way a body appears? And why is it ok to comment about someone's body? When did the body become a commodity for consumption, the property of the public? Young women are forced to cover up in school, because it "distracts" the boys; mothers who breastfeed in public are shunned or shamed; advertisements with scantily clad women are plastered on park benches. We act as if, as a culture, we have a right to judge the bodies of others, whether the supermodel or the pregnant woman in the check out lane.

Did that person have a right to tell my 6th grade self that her thighs were too large to participate in gymnastics? Is it ok for people to comment on the weight I have lost or gained (I have had it both ways.) After all, both extremes take a lot of hard work. I don't know the answer, just for today I choose to wake up early and run, not because it will make me "skinny," but because I feel alive when I run, I am closer to God, and yes, it affords me the right to eat extra popcorn.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

When Life Hands You Lemons...

Make lemonade, they say. I think that I am about to disagree. In order to make lemonade one must add sugar, lots of sugar. Sugar rots your teeth. Instead, why not make a new drink altogether? After all, lemonade is over rated. As some may know I have been actively looking for a full time teaching position. One such position had opened in a community of which I was a part, my dream job with supportive people and kids I adore. I have worked part time in this community for three years now, and found out last week that someone with more experience and expertise was hired. Lemons...I could add a bunch of sugar. But does this rejection mean that I have been forcing myself into a world in which I do not fit? Sure, I could continue looking for that elusive position, even widen my search to schools within a two hour commuting time, but if I need to add sugar, why not just have a different drink altogether? If I cannot fit into a community of which I was an active participant, then maybe I am looking in the wrong places. I love to teach. I love working with young adults. I love literature and writing. But does that mean that I would love teaching literature and writing to young adults? There has to be something that I am missing.

It was 1am when I wrote this. I had found out the day before that I did not get my dream job. I had been crying and could not sleep. I had forgotten the greater purpose, forgotten that God never leads me astray. I had been trying to fit myself into that square hole again. Maybe because of fear, fear that I will continue to struggle financially, fear that  I'll never have enough. And they are valid fears, I have defaulted on student loans and I cannot seem to keep up with my bills on the income I have been earning.  I think that fear has blinded me to a world of possibilities other than that road which seems to be the right choice because others have taken it. If I were not afraid, what would I do? Would I be a writer who teaches or a teacher who writes? A year from now I will return to this post, and say, "ah, that is what the Universe was thinking." Today, not so much. But for that few moments when I sat down at the keyboard and typed, I was no longer the square peg. I think I am going to make a smoothie instead, much healthier.

What next? 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Letting Go

Letting go, a very hard thing for me to do, be it letting go of a person, an outcome, money, time, or food. I
tend to keep my fingers shut in a childish way. And some of the things I hold onto are quite silly: my drawer full of milk chocolate after being vegan for a year and half; money that I have in the bank to pay bills; and extra time. I have Clenched Fist Disease. Letting go requires faith, faith that after I pay that huge bill another paycheck will arrive, or if I throw out that milk chocolate, the next time I have a craving I will have the money to go to the store and buy a bar of dark chocolate. It is almost as if parts of me are stuck back in preschool, "mine." We see this in our culture, people amassing huge amounts of wealth and keeping it (think Walmart and its billions in profits paying workers minimum wage). In this area of the country every time there is the threat of a huge storm we run to our local store and stock up, just in case. It is fine to be prepared, but fights have broken out over electronics at Christmas, and road rage (you are in my space, my way) is prevalent. Many of us do not wish to give our well-earned tax dollars to support needy families, and letting someone into the traffic flow is just not done.

Just how does one "let go?" I hear the phrase, "let go and let God" all the time, but easier said than done. Usually I can let go of the harder stuff: the divorce, the damaging fire, or a death in the family. But letting go of the day to day nuisances has me clenching my fists. I do still have a hidden drawer filled with non vegan chocolate, and I do worry that I will mess up that job interview next week and I do have enough money in the bank to pay the cable bill. But what if...what if I after I pay the cable bill my car will need repairs and I won't have enough money to buy food? What if I throw the chocolate away and I cannot transport myself to the store because my car is in for repairs? What if the sky turned green and pigs really did begin to fly and I was forced to eat Ramen noodles for the rest of my life? My fears can be ridiculous, but very very real. When  the fear has taken control I forget every single time that when I have let go of a situation and asked for help, help has come (maybe not in the form that I wished, but nevertheless it always arrives.)

Just last week I received a letter from the IRS telling this seasonally underemployed gal, that she owes $1,700. It was huge, and completely out of my control. I wrote the scenario down on a post it, and tucked it into my God Box. The situation was larger than I could manage. I then asked for help and contacted a tax accountant, and a few days later received an answer. I did do my taxes correctly, but I need to contact one of my reporting agencies. A solution, one that I would never have thought of on my own. By placing the situation in my God Box, I allowed my fists to unclench, I allowed my faith to begin working, reminding me that I am going to be ok no matter what. And if the end result is that I have to pay $1,700, I will make a payment plan. I won't be force to eat Ramen noodles for the rest of my life, while pushing a shopping cart around. Letting go goes against my nature, but when I accomplish this monumental task, amazing results follow. When I let go of my need for a particular job six years ago, I ended up attending Mount Holyoke College, which turned out to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. If I had held on, I would not be where I am today. Today I have an amazing life, a part time summer job I enjoy, a beautiful partner to share my life with, an amazing son and a group of friend I adore. When I can remember that these are the results of letting go, maybe, just maybe I can throw away that milk chocolate and pay my cable bill. If I choose to hold on, well, the consequences are there, just waiting. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back

The phrase derives from an Arab proverb, a cataclysmic event cause by something inconsequential. This saying has also lead to the phrase, "the last straw." Aside from the animal cruelty aspect, which is slightly disturbing, it is great wisdom. So many times we traverse difficult roads, I know I have, deaths, divorce, fire, debt, unemployment, sickness and struggle. While we struggle our friends surround us with love, support and we seem to make it through. There are times however, when something so small, so insignificant that it shouldn't really affect us, happens, that we take a nosedive into oblivion. The straw, that one final straw. I know it holds true for me, I will sail through hard times, with my family at my side, and then the dry cleaners are closed when I really need that shirt for a job interview...or that last check I wrote toppled my checking account into oblivion...that I fall. 

Why can't the camel just say, "back off?" Because we are not in control, and that is the hard part. I adore control, I love it when things go my way, when I am right, when I get the job I want, the man I want, and the jeans I want fit. I love it when my life, a theatrical event, goes off smoothly, when it calls for a standing ovation. But this is not the way of life, it is messy, complicated and doesn't always go our way. We muddle through the best that we can and hope that when the final straw falls, we have family and friends there to pick us up, give us a box of Puffs Plus, and send us on our way. 

My dog is at the vet right now, under anesthesia. She was clawed by another dog at the dog park. I do not have the money for it, and the other dog's owner can only contribute a portion. Last night I felt that helplessness as I laid awake at 1 am (I never have sleep issues) worried about buying groceries and paying bills, while looking for a job and keep my house in order. The vet bill was the straw, that moment when I lost control over my tightly budgeted life. I couldn't write it off, and it wasn't going away. The only thing left was prayer, and I prayed and fell asleep. It seems so simple this morning, prayer. Please help me juggle life, please help me with this personal straw. I know that I won't be underemployed forever. I know that my degree and all of the hard work I spent attaining that degree will be useful some day. It is just not today, not according to my time frame. Today I need to focus on the simplicity of prayer, not the please help me get what I want prayer, but the help me to go through this with dignity and grace.
Help me to travel this path with grace and dignity
Help me to allow you to guide me while I walk.
Help me to slow down and witness the beauty of the moment.
Help me to work with you and not against you.
Help me to love and to allow and to relax into this day.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Give me some space please...

photo credit:http://www.wyophotos.blogspot.comLately I have been noticing something about myself. I need space, physical space, psychic space and emotional space. I don't know if it is because I am one of those highly sensitive folk, but I become physically uncomfortable around loud people, or anyone either in a vehicle or in person, coming too close. I tend to pick up on what others are feeling (tailgaters and their anger) and get easily distracted (clicking of someone typing on a laptop in class). Is this the ramblings of a mad woman? Is it because I am a country girl, and grew up with a big backyard and the woods in which to play? Or maybe it is a personality flaw, that uber sensitivity that allows me to keep others at bay (black flies don't count!). 

I think as a woman, my culture has taught me to be small, to take up as little space as possible. Look at the passengers in a  bus or a train, the men have splayed legs, taking up more space than allotted, and the women usually cross their legs, in effect, making themselves smaller. I have issues with anything or anyone that comes too close, be it a black fly (mean little suckers that dive bomb and attack in Spring) or the man standing behind me in the grocery line.  

Elaine Aron has written many books about the Highly Sensitive Person, approximately 15 -20% of the population who notice subtleties, is very intuitive, is sensitive to pain and to noise, among other things. Here is a list of traits on Elaine's website. When I took the quiz on this site, I came up overwhelmingly highly sensitive. It can be a hindrance (I am scared of car horns for what they do to my nerves!) as well as an asset. I can "read" people's emotions, and that can be very helpful, saving me from many scrapes. 

Personal space is a huge trigger for many people. On her website, Dr. Juith Orloff writes about how to cope with space invasion. "Why can personal space intrusions make our blood boil? Aside from being obnoxious, rude, dangerous, or unhealthy, they violate a primitive instinct that we’re not safe or respected. When we experience such violations, our brains actually react as if we were still back in 50,000 BC. Research shows that personal space disputes such as neighbor feuds about overgrown foliage are evolutionarily prompted responses aimed at guarding resources and ensuring survival." She  has a list of personal space invasions on her website. These include: telemarketers, loud cars, air pollution, tailgaters and graffiti. Knowing these triggers helps us to let them go when they pop up. Why do people get so close? Are we programmed or is it a personal issue?

Time Magazine answered the question: Why is so uncomfortable to be close to strangers? "Evolution seems to have programmed this discomfort via a brain structure called the amygdalae, a pair of almond-shaped brain regions deep within each temporal lobe that control fear and the processing of emotion. It's your amygdalae that keeps you from getting so close to another person that he could easily reach out, gouge an eye, and then drag your woman off by her hair." So we can blame it all on our ancestors, something we, as humans, excel at.

So I am a highly sensitive person that has a highly developed amygdalae. No one will be gouging my eyes out anytime soon, just please, if you see me driving, cute little blue shoe-sized car, don't honk. I am off to the woods.