Saturday, April 18, 2015

On Loss and Living

Elisabeth Kubler - Ross, in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, identified five universal stages of the grieving process: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. To experience and then move through grief, not all stages need to be experienced, nor in a particular order.  We all experience life in our own unique ways.

I have experienced all of these stages when dealing with death, the initial shock, the why not someone else, the tears, and finally the gentle letting go. I remember being shocked at how angry I became after a dear friend committed suicide and the subsequent guilt for that same anger. How dare he do this to his family and friends? How dare I feel that way? Why didn't I notice he was in pain? These extreme tragedies take a toll on the body, emotionally and physically. It is understandable to go through extreme emotion when death occurs. It is the smaller losses that I have a harder time navigating and do not always allow myself the time and space to grieve and mend.

Let me take one small step back. I have been looking for full time, meaningful work for the past four years. Within that span of years, I have pieced together small jobs, usually just enough money to eek through, pay some bills and keep myself stuffed with tofu and kale. On a few occasions, I have actually obtained longer stints of temporary work, work that entailed months of steady work and income. It has been the loss of those longer stints, one just recently, that have proven intensely painful.

Now I am not comparing the loss of a loved one to the loss of a job, there is no comparison, however I am exploring whether the stages of grief can explain the complicated, convoluted feelings that I experience after my employment losses. First the denial and isolation, the initial, "I am so ok," accompanied by a huge smile and race to a far off location to cry by myself. Second, the "fuck you and your mother and all of her distant relatives." Third, the dreaded if onlies..."If only these people were different, or I was a transvestite from Jupiter..." Fourth, the utter ridiculous sadness, that realization that the health insurance is gone, I will have no money to eat and I will be living in a cardboard box (albeit a recycled one) for the rest of my life. Finally the acceptance, the knowledge that God does for me what I cannot do for myself. I cannot leave a place. I cannot even call in sick. I will stay in a situation until the bitter end, the marriage until all cards have been played (and it was a double deck) and only leave when I am broken. I believe that the Universe has my number. I need to be booted. And I need to find that ray of elusive hope fluttering in the breeze. In order to find that hope however, I have to stay with the feelings, to be here, in the present moment, in the uncomfortable, messiness of it all. Throughout the whole process though, I need to ignore the voice of the "You Suck Monster" and listen to the voice of the Divine, that voice that has always guided me, that has always gently kept me from situations that do not serve my Higher Purpose. I need to trust in the process, that gentle unfolding of life.

It is a beautiful day, and as I gaze out the windows I know that I still have a few more months of a paycheck, that maybe I will take that Yoga Teacher Training course this summer, or maybe something else. Fifteen years ago, I would never have thought I would be right where I am today. Fifteen years ago I was struggling to raise my son, battling with addiction and stuck in an unhealthy marriage. The Universe took care of me then, and it will surely take care of me now. I just have to open my hands, ask for help, and be ready to receive the answer.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Beginner Mind

It has been a long time since I have sat down to write; my fingers miss the rhythm of the tapping on the keyboard and my mind misses the meditative state that writing induces. It is a blustery Saturday in the Berkshires; the snow is still piled up in the backyard, but Spring birds have started their morning symphony. All is well.

I have not taken the time to write, I have not given myself the space to prattle off a poem, or even just a few lines, lines that someday will transform into a story, a post, or even just a note to myself. I have been too "busy," rushing about my day, working and commuting while squeezing in runs and yoga and shopping and bill paying and time with my partner. Too often, what is really important, what really brings me joy, those activities are stuffed into a drawer. Out of sight, out of mind. If I were to go back, to read my previous blog posts, I would undoubtedly find a post similar to this one, following months of silence. What is really important to me today? Do I make the space in my day to nurture those things? Probably not.

It is National Poetry Month. Yes, it is already April 4, but I remember last year on April 1 I made the vow to create one poem per day. I upheld that vow and was left with 30 poems, some corny, some nonsensical and a few that made me smile. The act oif creating as a daily practice is intensely powerful. It is within the act of caring for my self and my soul, that I find God. It is within the intersection of self-care, silence, and creativity, that my Higher Power exists.

So right now I gaze at the sun-streaked sky, the balsam pines swaying in the wind, the snow disappearing, and oak leaves floating across bare ground. It is in this moment that I am grateful, for the desire to put my fingers to the keyboard and the space and time to do so. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Balancing Act

It has been a very busy few months. I started a new job with a long commute and began teaching a course on the Divine Comedy for adult learners while attempting to maintain my fitness routines, a relationship and juggling doctor's appointments and shoveling the two feet of snow we have at the moment. That was definitely a run on sentence. I feel like a run on sentence. Balancing career, motherhood, and self-care has always been a challenge for women. And I usually can do it, keep numerous balls up in the air while drinking coffee and "relaxing" in yoga. I have managed to fit in my daily run by waking up at 3:45 so that I had enough time for my hour and half commute to work. I have managed to race home, let the dogs out and eat a quick dinner of fruit on the way to a yoga class. I have managed to spend my weekends at my second job prepping for my classes. And I have managed to spend time with my boyfriend and sleep at least six hours a night. I had balanced my carefully constructed life. I was holding the pose, my standing leg was shaking, but I tucked my tail bone and reached my arms into the sky. And then it snowed. And snowed again. And I struggled to pull on snow boots and ski pants and shovel. And shovel, and push my way through the backyard with the dogs, and take off the boots and the pants and and and...I toppled to the floor. Winter happened in New England, it always does, once per year, but I forget how long it takes to yank up the boots, to pull on the gloves each time one has to exit the house. Those moments add up, as quickly as the snow piles up, and then drifts onto the newly shoveled path. I need to learn to laugh when I tumble out of balancing poses, to have a rest and maybe just stay down for a few moments to recover. I can always pull myself back up, but allowing myself to be a few minutes late here and there, to buy pre-cooked food instead of fumbling with the tofu, to decrease (gasp) my mileage, just until the sun warms up the earth, and I can trounce out of the house in a pair of flipflops. Can I do it? Can I slow down just a tiny bit?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Resolve This

Resolution - a resolve, a decision or determination. The act of resolving or determining upon an action, method, procedure etc (dictionary.com). It is New Year's Eve, and you know what that means. Millions of people will resolve to get fit, quit smoking, publish a world class novel, find the meaning of life, and discover the secret to happiness, all within the next 365 days. By February 1, however, these resolutions are all forgotten, the pounds are still gently swaying on our hips, we haven't written more than 15 words of that novel, and we really have no clue how to find happiness. If I do something differently, if I change, if I add, if I quit, then all will be right with the world and myself. The very word "resolution" conjures up an image of forcing, it is a determination, a decision to do something. Then it is our job to follow through. There is so much pressure to begin these resolutions on the first of the year, with a clean, fresh slate to work with. Why do most of us falter and begin skipping our daily trip to the gym on January 8, or buy that pack of cigarettes?

I have been successful in carrying out New Year's resolutions. Last year I resolved to sparkle every day, and yes, every day I brushed on glitter, I did not miss a single day. I am not saying that resolutions are fruitless. I will say however that we need to change our resolutions, or outer changes, to intentions, or inner changes.

Intention - a purpose or goal, aim (dictionary.com). An intention comes from deep inside, we have purpose, a goal to meet. This year I intend to be kinder to myself. I will pay attention to the negative voice inside my head. This intentions does not involve lifting more weights or completing a triathlon, but as a result of being nicer to myself I might make healthier choices. When I set an intention, if I fall off the horse, I can grab the stirrup and heave myself up again. After all, it is an inside job, no messy gym memberships or costly hypnosis involved. And the intention can change as I change. Yes it is all semantics, but there is enough pressure at this time of year to "fix" ourselves. What if we aren't broken? What if we are perfect the way we are at this moment in time? Grab that moment and go within. How can you be kinder, gentler, more loving today? Make that an intention, and have a brilliant New Year.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Compassion Is For Sissies

I made it through Thanksgiving, and as a long time vegetarian recently turned vegan, it has become increasingly harder with each passing year. I cannot stand to see the freezer filled with Butterballs. But I shied away from writing about the mass of feelings surrounding the deaths of millions of birds and the resulting pictures that filled my Facebook newsfeed. Why? Because sometimes I feel as if compassion is mocked in our society. Men are called sissies for crying, women hysterical. We don't let our sensitivity show lest we are called weak. I do not see mobs of people sobbing in front of the lobster tank at Price Chopper. We kill. We kill people, we kill animals, we value killing. People cheered when Osama Bin Laden was killed. Many of us support the death penalty. And most of us eat dead cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys. Vegetarian Times Magazine released a study in 2008 that stated: "...3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent, or 1 million, of those are vegans, who consume no animal products at all. In addition, 10 percent of U.S., adults, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet" (Vegetarian Times). Not a large percentage of the population. It is 2014 and if that study were repeated it might show an increase of vegetarians out there, but it is still just a drop in the bucket. I admit, I am a sensitive person, and sensitivity seems to be undervalued in our culture. If I were to say that every time I saw meat in a supermarket I felt upset, or that when I thought of baby cows taken away from their mothers to make dairy products, I teared up, you might call me insane. Who cries over milk, spilled or in a glass tumbler? Is there such a thing as too sensitive? I hope not. Dr. Nalini Chilkov explored the process of creating a compassionate society in her article on the Huffington Post. Although the article is based on the practice of Buddhism, she wrote: "The path to a compassionate society arises from the intentions and actions of individuals within that society. One small act of kindness and generosity ... one act of tenderness ... one act of selflessness ... each of these moments makes a difference. No act is too small." Maybe what is important for me today is to value my own compassion, and my own sensitivity. It is a big part of who I am. The trick is to suspend judgement of others, because that is not compassion at all. I choose to eat plants rather than animals. Maybe you are a carnivore. I value compassion today, but that doesn't mean that you do not, although in my mind I am screaming at you. And if you see someone crying in the meat department, please don't judge.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Spiritual Adventuring

I cannot remember where I heard the term, "spiritual adventuring," but it struck me, enough to stop what I was doing and write it down. This blog post has been sitting here, blank, for at least a month, with only the title. As I write these words, I do not even know what the end result will be, but that is ok. By the time I hit the "publish" button, there will hopefully be a fully formed idea. For me, that is part of the fun of writing. I begin and see where it leads. To me, my spiritual life is similar to my spiritual life. I begin with a thought and see where it leads me. Over the years I have tread innumerable paths: from the religion of my upbringing (Christianity), to a place within the Unitarian Universalist community as a young adult, to experimentation in New Age concepts (yes I took a Tarot Reading course and explored Shamanism). I have participated in a past life regression, (don't even ask) and studied meditation and yoga. I have become a Reiki practitioner and have worked through twelve step programs. And I am still exploring.

Lately, there have been controversies surrounding the practice of other religions within a so-called
"Christian" nation. I have read the comments of outrage, how dare we accept people of other faiths, people who do not recognize the "one true God." This outrage lately seems to be pointed at Muslims. For the past 2000 years Christians themselves have been persecuted in this way. At first I was angered, why can't we all just get along, why can't Christians accept others of different religions? But then the anger faded. I sit here as a person who has led a spiritually adventurous life, and you know what? It is pretty cool. I try out different practices, I pray in a myriad of ways, I take what I can use and leave the rest. I chant "Om" after yoga, I meditate, I give and receive Reiki treatments and I partake in sessions with a spiritual counselor. Today the image of my Higher Power is that of a Great Blue Heron and an ancient oak tree. I find peace next to a stream and I talk with my ancestors as I watch the water rushing by. Sometimes I call God a She, and am amused when people get all flustered and self- righteous (yes, that is not so spiritual of me but kind of fun). Tomorrow, my spiritual practice may change, and I may discover a way up the mountain of which I was previously unaware. I look forward to it, a new spiritual adventure. Can I get an "Om?"

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Returning to Center: What To Do When My Practice Derails

I have not been writing. I can feel the deep loss of this important part of my daily spiritual practice. Three weeks ago I started a temporary job in my chosen field, which will last until Christmas. I have been underemployed for a few years now, so the position was welcomed and it has proven to be an amazing opportunity. I work with people I respect and have support in learning my craft. The only caveat? A long (hour and half each direction) commute. Before this job, I would wake up early, go for a five mile run, and head to work. I would then come home, maybe another short run or yoga class. Now I am waking at 3:45am to run a quick two miles and leave my house by 5:30. The days are shortening and daylight savings time has begun. My schedule has been disrupted and I am experiencing intense exhaustion. Three hours a day in the car has begun to wear on me, and the resulting illness derailed the daily spiritual and physical practices which have kept me centered and, for the most part, serene. My job now is to get back on track, which includes taking a few moments a day to write. My problem is, that if I cannot do something completely, I do not even begin. So today I am here, with a cup of tea and the blank page. I do not have to write a novel, I just have to write a paragraph. Disruptions are part of life; we change jobs, go back to school, experience loss or fall sick. Getting back into the rhythm of routine is nearly impossible for me, but must be done before I succumb to the negativity that plagued my life years ago, before embarking on a spiritual journey.

As I write this post I am reminded of the opening lines of the Divine Comedy: Midway in the journey of our life / I came to myself in a dark wood / because the straight way was lost (Inferno 1, lines 1-3). Dante writes that it is the "journey of our life," not my life. First, I am not alone, we all get lost, off track, or derailed. But just because the straight path is lost to us, we are still someplace, even if it appears to be dark. It might just be that the straight way is not the path I should be walking, and I need to get lost for a bit, in order to focus on my surroundings. What has the past three weeks taught me? First: I adore teaching and I adore teaching teenagers. Second: I am wrapped so tight in my habits and routines that any time I stray from the path, I lose serenity. I am not well practiced in the art of navigating through change. In the Comedy, Dante, after finding himself in the dark wood, continues on, even though he did not know how he had gotten to that place. He takes a rest, and continues on the path, although he is ultimately thwarted by three vicious creatures. It is only when he accepts the help and guidance of Virgil, that he is able to continue. Albeit he continues on a different journey, one that will result in the writing of one of the most important pieces of literature.

What can I learn from my favorite writer? Certain daily practices may have been derailed, and it may seem a wee bit bleak, but if I reach out and accept the help and guidance of others, I might be able to find a different way. I know that in the past when I was trying to figure out how to juggle my undergraduate work with commuting and raising a child, I only had to ask for help and my schedule smoothed out. The first step in resolving this unrest, is to ask for Divine guidance. Breathe in, breathe out, pray, take a nap, and begin again. My one paragraph has become three, and I already feel as if I am returning back to my Self.