Sunday, June 24, 2012

CH...CH...CH...CHANGES


I went to a retreat earlier this month with a group of people all interested in exploring "Life Transitions".  There are transitions at all stages of life, of course.  In fact we are "in transition" every minute of every day.  But this retreat drew folks who were 50 or older, not by design, but by self-selection. All of us are trying to figure out, now that careers are winding down or behind us, children grown and (mostly) independent, health and wellness beginning to demand attention where previously neglect may have reigned...what's next?  How can we create a "Third Act" where we can draw upon our experiences, delve into some old "tapes" that we've told ourselves is true for us, and see if maybe it's time to hit the stop button and find a new story that defines us, perhaps to embrace a life of creativity, integrity, and spirituality in a way that is intentional and satisfying.

Easy, breezy...right?  Well.....not so much.  Looking inside, being vulnerable about ourselves in front of others, struggling with conflicting "wants" and "needs", trying to hold on and let go simultaneously, feeling the crush of grief, the stomach churning grip of fear, the confusion of not knowing.... This is courageous work.  Try it some time.

Our gentle and encouraging facilitator provided us with sketch pad journals, a set of pastels, skill in leading meditations and a sense of safety for exploration.  Before each session, we had a time of guided and silent meditation, then he led us in a variety of exercises that used drawing, writing, and collage to explore our past and create a short-term goal for our future (...."and what will you do by Tuesday?").

One of my favorite exercises was to look back on the "chapters" of our lives and come up with a title for that chapter and draw a picture to illustrate that.  Here's mine:

The Childhood Years -- Hiding in Plain Sight.  The "story" of a quiet, good girl who was invisible much of the time.

The Teen Years -- Filling Out and Fitting In -- The story of a girl who got some attention from boys (nice/confusing) but couldn't seem to fit into the "popular girl clique".

The Young Adult Years -- The Rebel Breaks Free -- The story of finding feminism, breaking free from expectations, and establishing an identity not based on "should".

The Early Middle Years -- Call to Duty -- The story of accepting responsibility, engaging in activism, supporting a husband, raising children, running a household, finding meaningful paid work.

The Later Middle Years -- Emerging Self: Grieving -- The story of exploring an identity not defined by roles; and letting go, letting go, letting go: empty nest, aging/dying parents, leaving the work-world.

Now (Early Later Years?) -- A New Beginning....

It was interesting to briefly thumb through these chapters and get a sense of what was most important in each for helping me become Me, and to think about what those experiences meant for what the future holds.

The final chapter is still to be written, but I am not at that final chapter yet (well, we never really know, do we?).  It excites me to be able to actively create the pages that will lead up to the conclusion of this journey.  I think it will have something to do with intention, with healing, with presence, with mindfulness, with family, and with friends....

Because in every stage, in every chapter there have been many, many, many scenes of grace, of grief, of laughter, and of connection.  I can't imagine that changing.  I can imagine I will learn not to struggle so much, not to try to control so much, to just "be" more, and to live more fully in each precious moment of this precious life, seeking connection to heart, to love, to acceptance, and to joy.

At least, that's the view from here....©

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

DREAM-WEAVER

I had the dream again last night.  The one where I am in my house (sometimes it looks like my actual house and sometimes it doesn't, but it's "mine" just the same) and suddenly I come upon rooms I never knew existed.  The house seems to go on and on, one room after another, previously hidden from me, but now perfectly obvious as I wander through this maze of discovery of what was apparently there all along!

Naturally I "googled" this dream imagery and discovered it is very common and generally indicates the dreamer is on a journey of new discovery.  The reaction to finding these "hidden" rooms tells much about the dreamer's state of mind regarding this journey.  Afraid?  Excited?  Opening those new doors?  Or slamming them shut?

My reaction inside the dream is one of excited delight, of anticipation, and even desire for there to be more and more rooms.  This is a good thing...I am ready for growth and anticipation with the realization that I am discovering strengths, skills and abilities I have within me.  I am opening to realizing my greater potential!!!  Wow!  The dream last night seemed to focus on huge wide hallways leading to these new rooms.   Hallways symbolize self-exploration and a new path in life, a journey into the unknown, a transitional phase, a spiritual enlightenment.  Wow again!

Because in "real life" (that is, when I'm awake), I am very aware of being in a transitional phase, of being on a spiritual journey, of taking a path into the unknown....and sometimes it scares me.  Often I say I don't recognize myself anymore...or my life...I feel off-kilter and a bit panicked much of the time.  I feel a sense of dread and overwhelm.  This is not new, I guess.  I have always been a worrier and have gazed at the half-empty cup at every age and stage, questioning what is coming next and assuming it will be worse than what has come before...or at least that I will be unequal to the task before me.  I have done considerable "inner work" on overcoming these irrational fears, but it still seems to be my default response to change.

Conversely, my other "real life" (when I'm asleep) is seeking to assure me that all is well and, in fact, it's pretty great.  Retirement, kids grown up, a few minor health issues, increasing wrinkles and gray hair, and a new and sometimes confusing study of Buddhism and Insight Meditation do not foretell of disaster.  In fact, what my subconscious is telling me is that this is a time of excitement and growth:   I am on a path of self-realization, "hidden" potential is about to be revealed, spiritual growth and awakening are mine to behold.

All I have to do is believe it when I'm awake.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Monday, June 11, 2012

DEFINE "SIMPLE"

Voluntary simplicity.  I'm all for it.  There has been a slow erosion of our collective ability to see through the marketing blizzard that keeps us hopping to corporate-sponsored self-interest in our spending and consuming habits.  We THINK we need more, bigger, better.  The end result is an economy in shambles and an environment on the edge of disaster.

Yet, there is a tendency in some circles to romanticize the "good old days" when times were simpler, people were more important than things, and consumerism wasn't a national past-time.   I think a bunch of those words need definition and context: "good"?  "simple"?  "things"?

I am one generation removed from the family farm.  Both of my parents (and their parents, and their parents....) grew up on family farms in the rural midwest in the 1920's and 1930's.  Twenty acres of corn and beans, a large kitchen garden, some dairy cows, chickens, hogs, and horses to pull the plows.  They ate what they grew, slaughtered hogs for sausage and ham, gathered eggs and wrung the necks of chickens that ended up on the kitchen table.  Milk came directly from Bessie out in the barn.

Both of my parents fled this life the minute they could in the 1940's, escaping to the city to find factory work, buy a modest home on an old tree-lined street, and plant flower beds skirting the lawn.

We never went camping when I was a kid in the 50's/60's because my dad's too vivid memories of waking up with ice water in the glass by his bed after the fires went out during the night, of hauling water, tending animals and doing hard, physical outdoor work on the farm every day left him with no desire to re-live this existence for recreational purposes.  He worked hard and was proud that HIS family had a roof over our heads in a home that was warm and comfortable.

They also had no desire to plant a garden.  They had both worked long, hard hours growing the food their families would eat on the farm.  And in seasons when the garden was meager, hunger was a reality.  They not only didn't eat well in that case, they also had little to barter in town for grain, sugar, and flour, further decimating the pantry.  New clothes, toys, Christmas gifts?  Not so much.

Most nights they went to bed at early dusk, bone tired and beaten down, only to get up and do it again every single day of the year.

I guess you could say their life was "simple" and "things" didn't matter, but I'm not so sure those old days were "good" either.

So I get impatient about romanticizing about the "good old days" when discussions of voluntary simplicity and non-consumerism crop up.   Yes, we need to examine our wasteful ways, but returning to a by-gone time isn't my goal.

I want to look squarely at my own weakness for Madison Avenue's influences and become much more discerning about what I need versus what I want.  And that becomes a tricky thing indeed.  I really, really want an I-Phone.  Do I NEED it?  Hmmmm.....  How about that big truck and camper we bought last year?  Need?  Want?  Or our annual trip to Kauai?  Need?  Want?  It seems easy to decide in theory, but there are a million ways in which my life is enhanced by satisfying some wants in ways that are important...experiences and memories are what make a life full and rich.  I want that.  Need, however, is pretty basic stuff:  enough food to keep me from starving, adequate clothing appropriate to the season, shelter from nature's whims.  Finding the balance between need and want is where my energies lie.

Here's what I will do.  I will voluntarily do my best to ponder each spending/consuming decision I make to ensure I am awake and aware of my motives.  I think by doing this I can simplify my life and the choices I make, with an eye toward economic equality and environmental health.  I have some "cleaning out" to do; some "downsizing" some day; that all feels good.

But for now, I also know I want to honor what my parents endured by realizing that our abundance of CHOICE was hard won by the hard work and sacrifice of people who came before us.  They weren't perfect; maybe their own trials made them easy fodder for Madison Avenue too.  But I know that if my garden fails, Costco is right down the street.  They made sure I wouldn't starve; now I need to make sure others, and our planet, do not suffer from the result of my wants outstripping their needs.

At least, that's the view from here....©

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

SLIP-SLIDIN' AWAY


It's been established I am not a physical risk-taker.  No sky diving, rock climbing, extreme skiing, mountain biking, or knitting (They call them needles?!?  Really?!?).  So when I fall down, it really is an accident -- not something anyone would have predicted.

I've fallen on occasion in my life -- slipping on icy sidewalks, stumbling over roots and rocks on hiking trails,  missing a step coming down for my morning coffee, my dog jerking me too hard on the leash or cutting in front of me as we both bolted for the door for some reason, even twisting my ankle and taking a dive off a curb once while waiting for the "walk" light to come on.  Each time I am stunned to find myself on the ground.  Gravity is unforgiving.  YOU... WILL... FALL... DOWN!  There is that moment of panic:  Oh god!  What happened? Am I hurt?  Can I move?  Do I look foolish?  And then the taking stock as I wriggle a bit and try to find a way to pull myself upright, still taking inventory.  Finally, I am up breathing normally again, moving gingerly as sensation tells me where I've done some damage.  It generally takes me awhile to get going, with some groaning and rubbing aching body parts, accompanied by slow-motion movements, and pleas for assistance and sympathy.

I watch my "grand", "Angel", and she (at 2-1/2) falls all the time.  She practically bounces back to her feet,  often without skipping a beat in her determination to keep moving toward her goal.  Sometimes she does look a bit startled and might even pause to look to me to see if she should be concerned about herself in any way.  And of course if it's a particularly dramatic spill, she might shed a tear or two and need a hug of reassurance.  But for the most part, she is on her way within minutes, none the worse for it.  Often, when something unplanned and a little negative happens, she has taken to saying, with a shrug of the shoulders, "It happens..." in a tone that is wise and resigned, but ultimately dismissive.  In other words...No big deal; life goes on.

So on Monday I was out in the drizzle taking photos on a piece of breathtaking property where I was on a retreat with friends.  I spied a lovely little wooden structure housing an old sauna, accessed by a red brick stairway.  There was some sort of white sign attached to the rail at the top of the stairs, but I didn't want that in my photo, so I studiously ignored it as I held the camera to my eye, adjusting the field of vision until the sign no longer appeared in the viewfinder.  I took a few shots and decided to walk closer to the top of the stairs and shoot down....

And down is where I went.  I slipped off the top stair, immediately hit HARD on my tailbone, bounced down a few more stairs, dragging my right elbow on each stair as well, and landed at the bottom breathless and sore.  Really, really sore.  I sat there in the wet for a moment, catching my breath, realizing my friends were about 20 yards away, but no one had noticed my descent.  I wondered if I should call out, but thought not and slowly rose to my feet.  I brushed myself off and was delighted to see I'd protected my expensive camera from any harm and the stairs would make an even more lovely photograph from the bottom shooting up!  So I started snapping pictures.

When I rejoined my friends and recounted my misadventure, I also related that I was pretty darn proud of my quick recovery and gave all credit to my Yoga practice for keeping me flexible and balanced and allowing me to fall with some measure of grace and minimum of damage.  I was relieved by my "it happens" response....

Until an hour later when my left wrist swelled up and became impossible to move without considerable pain.  And my lower back seized up, tailbone becoming the focal point for constant aching.  Ice, pillows, Tylenol and Alleve were prescribed by my sweetly concerned companions, and while at first reluctant, I eventually took their advice and found relief in these remedies.  I was pretty sore for 36 hours.  But still happy that nothing was broken--the fear of the aging and scourge of oftentimes increasingly brittle bodies.

By today, I am nearly back to normal.  I can't really expect to fall down on hard bricks, jarring my butt, hitting my elbow, and twisting my wrist, with no after-effects whatsoever.  But I still think my Yoga practice kept the damage from being worse.  Plus, I got a whole new perspective on the subject matter of my photo!

Oh, and that sign?  I went back to have another look.  It said, "Caution: Stairs Are Slippery".   No duh!   But all's well that ends well.

At least, that's the view from here...©