Lesson #12: The Big Picture

Note:  This is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

DSC_0080

I used to be someone who easily became defensive.  I could often amass the courage to “stand up for myself,” and I felt good when I did.  In many of my interactions, especially when they involved differing viewpoints, there was something I needed to defend, to protect.

But what was it that I needed to defend?  What needed protecting?

DSC_0009

I’ve learned that I can have great Friends Who Have Lots of Stuff, and the way I live is in no way being threatened.  Most of my friends even live in *gasp* houses!  And here I am, on Breaking Tradition, as happy as a clam, not threatened at all.

Most of my friends vote differently than I do, and yet my views are not being threatened.

DSC_0004

If someone has different views spiritually or religiously, that is in no way a threat to what I think to be true.

When we feel defensive, we need to realize that there is nothing there to defend.  Our freedom to explore the world and live our lives is not being threatened.

DSC_0003

In fact, think about it.  We love by default.  We like each other, until there is “reason” not to.

But what is that “reason”?  Often, it is nothing more than fear and misunderstanding.  Deep down, we all want to love each other.

DSC_0002

Our stories are similar.  We all have faced fear, we all have misunderstood, and we all are doing the best we can, with the tools we have.

We might be living in a way that differs from the norm, but that doesn’t make us any less a part of it all.  There is no way to not be a part of humanity.  We teach each other, whether we realize it or not.  We impact and are impacted by everyone we encounter.

DSC_0001

I used to worry that I didn’t “matter.”  I used to feel like I had to find something to do, to earn my place amongst humanity.  A lot of us feel that way.

But the truth is, we don’t need to try and do something grand in order to earn our place.  We have a place, and we all belong.  We are all a part of something larger than ourselves, just by being here and teaching the lessons that we have to teach, through sharing our joys and struggles, offering a shoulder, and inviting those around us to see us without our masks and facades.

Life.  It’s amazing, it’s larger than all of us, and we are all a part of it.

DSC_0084

Lesson #9: Just Listen

DSC_0086

Note: This is the ninth of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

I have a strange tendency, in social interactions.  I get nervous, fidgety, and become very eager to fill the pauses in the conversation with fascinating and funny stories.

Now, telling a good story is wonderful, but it does nothing to ease my nervousness in the interaction.

DSC_0081

Did I talk about myself too much?  Have I made myself interesting?

Do they like me?

I think for most of us, conversations are a lot higher-pressure than we want to admit.  We’re planning out what we’re going to say, while the other person is talking.  We’re not doing this because we don’t value the other person.  We’re doing this, because we want them to like us.  We don’t want to be judged.

DSC_0080

And yet our efforts turn into a cycle.  We play our role, plan our words, and make it through one interaction avoiding judgement.  But then, we feel more pressure in the next.  We feel like we need to wear masks, and hide behind personas, so that we will be liked.

So how do we change this?  By realizing that we are misunderstanding the entire situation.

The people we talk to are not focused on us.  They are concerned about their own words, and about avoiding judgement for themselves.  They, too, are stuck in the illusion.  And if we offer them a way out, they will more than likely be grateful for it.

DSC_0077

The way out of the illusion is to listen.  Listen to what the other person says, hearing without judging.  When you inevitably begin to plan out what you’re going to say next, think of questions that you can ask.  Be genuinely interested–not because what you have to say is unimportant, but because your curiosity will be healing to both you and those around you.

I remember a time that I visited two friends, and they both spent the entire time talking to me.  It was as if a listening ear opened a floodgate for them–they were yearning to feel valued, to be related to without fear.  And at the same time, I heard their stories, and saw how we were similar.  Our fear of being judged comes from the misperception that we are different, inferior, vulnerable.  By listening to those around us, we can see are shared fears, our shared love, our shared humanity.

It is through seeing past the illusions of fear and judgement that we truly discover our connectedness and ability to love.

DSC_0070

Lesson 7: Love versus Unconditional Love

DSC_0138

Note:  This is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

Like most people, I’ve spent much of my life seeking approval.  I wanted to be seen as strong, smart, driven, and responsible.  I made my choices based on this desire.

As a result, I had no opinions of my own.  I liked the same music as whoever I was with.  I went straight to college, after high school, and made that the primary focus of my life for 6 years.  I waited to get married.  I got a job in the area.  I left the trailer park we had been living in, to buy a house.

None of these choices were “good” or “bad”—there just were the choices I made.  There is no reason to regret any of them.  What does matter is that I made these choices with the goal of pleasing those around me.

I once read, in Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, that the phrase “unconditional love” is redundant, because all love is unconditional.  And that anything else is just approval, which is a judgment.  I liked this, and I wrote a blog post about love and approval, Last Winter.

But I don’t entirely agree with what I’ve written.  Because I now see that approval doesn’t even exist.  People grant and deny approval based on their own fears and projections.

When people approve or disapprove of others’ actions, it might be because:

  • They’ve chosen a course of action that has made them so happy, that they want everyone to experience the same happiness.

 

  • They are feeling insecure in their choices and are seeking validation, by having someone make the same choice.

 

  • They have regrets about past choices, and wish to make amends by advising you to choose differently.

We all do all of these things, so we need to be understanding when we’re on the receiving end.  But we also need to realize that there is something going on, that has nothing to do with us.  It is important not to take the other person’s words at face value, and to understand that our choices really do have no bearing on whether the other person loves or accepts us.

Realizing this is difficult, when the opposite seems to be true.  It’s hard to remember that the person who seems to be disapproving of us and our choices, is really just acting out of fear.  Making choices based on this fear will do nothing to alleviate it in the long term.  So it is not worth it, to sell ourselves out, to make choices that are not true to our deepest dreams and desires, just to put a Band-Aid on someone’s deeper fear.  In the end, we need to answer to ourselves, regarding our choices.

I remember something one of my blogging friends said in the comments, on one of his posts.  He said, “We do what society wants us to do.  But who is society?  People!  And people want other people to be happy.”

So live your life, be happy, and don’t let fears of disapproval stand in your way!

Face to Face in the Mirror

Just as I have a lot of experience failing at weight loss, I also have a great track record for quitting work-out routines.

I stuck with running for a month.  I went to step aerobics on and off for a month here and there.  I joined a gym, but felt way too self-conscious around all the perfectly-fit young athletes.  I tried doing videos, but got tired of hearing the same chatter every time I worked out.

When we started our new life in Houston, I wanted things to be different.  Riding my bicycle to work helped, but with the frequent rainy mornings, it wasn’t always possible.  Everyone here goes to the gym, and I found a place nearby, with very reasonable fees.

So I joined, but it was two months before I actually set foot in the place.  I knew I had 40 pounds to lose and I was horribly out of shape, clumsy, and more inflexible than anyone I’d ever met.  But, finally, I decided to suck it up and try a Zumba class.  I hid in the back of the room, but I was delighted to see that I wasn’t the most out-of-shape person there.  This was a different crowd than I had seen at the gym up north.

After tackling Zumba, I felt brave enough to give yoga a try. I was still self-conscious, and aware of the fact that I have never had much flexibility or muscle strength.  But curiosity still led me to my hiding spot in the back the room.

That first class, there wasn’t a single pose we did that was easy for me.  Even the seated pose (criss-cross-applesauce) was difficult for my legs.  I was completely unable to do at least half of the exercises, without significantly “modifying” them.  I was the only person in the room who could not touch their toes.  As I looked around the room filled with 20-somethings doing hand stands, I hoped nobody was looking at me.  I saw my body as physical evidence of weakness, and my out-of-shape state was proof that I had allowed fear to gain the upper hand more times that I was willing to admit.

Yoga class was the equivalent, for me, of standing naked in front of the mirror.  Facing my tight, tense body meant facing the stress and survival mode that had dominated my experience for too long.  It meant facing my fears that it was too late to do something about it.  It meant looking into the mirror and learning to love, rather than to judge, what I saw looking back.

So, in spite of my fears and insecurities, I kept going back.  I hid in the back, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.  I knew I was “behind” everyone else, and I didn’t want to be a problem.  Sometimes I questioned whether I really had the right to be there, being so far behind.  But I kept going, made slow progress, and tried to accept what I saw in the mirror.

The turning point came about a month into it, when I had indulged in a great deal of self-pity, before class.  At the end of my fit, I had decided that I would try to accept where I am, and that I was the only one who thought my progress was too slow.  We got to the part of class, where everyone else did handstands.  (At that point, I was the only one who could not do handstands!)  I was doing some balance pose–I don’t remember what–when the instructor approached me and said, “Let me show you how you can modify the plank pose, so that you can build up your core.”

We never realize how the smallest of gestures, timed perfectly, can make the greatest difference.  That simple acknowledgment, in that moment, said to me, “You do have a right to be here.”

And that changed everything.

The next class, I realized that I felt claustrophobic in the back of the room, when there was so much space in the front.  I had always stayed away from the front, because I didn’t want anyone watching and following me, and being potentially misled.  But, if none of these girls, with their perfect handstands, were willing to go up front, why shouldn’t I?  So, I grabbed my mat and water bottle, and made my way front and center, where everyone could watch my perfect modified plank pose, while doing their handstands!

By no longer hiding, I was no longer hiding from myself.  I was telling my body, “It’s okay.  You did the best you could for so long, under so much stress.”  It was time to return the love.  It was time to love, accept, and learn to work with the tools that I have, with what I have been given in this life.  It was a huge step in emerging from Last Winter, in moving past fear.

So there I am, three times a week, enjoying the space in the front of the room.  I can do more and more every time, even if I can’t touch my toes yet.  I’ve learned to be okay with my growth, at whatever speed it is.  And I’ve learned that nobody is looking, and nobody even notices that I can’t touch my toes.

The other students in the room had their own reasons for not taking that open space, front and center.  They were all facing their own insecurities, standing naked in front of their own mirrors, and trying to understand what they were looking at.  They were as unaware of my struggles, as I was of theirs.

When we face ourselves, and learn to love what we see, we become aware of our shared humanity and common struggles.

 

 

Pancakes

breakfast

I’ve never told you that sometimes I’m a bad mom.

I don’t always remember to read with my daughter every night.  I didn’t do a single in-kind activity with her during her last semester of preschool.  Some nights, I forego the bath, because we were out so late having fun.  And she’s often the one who reminds me that her teeth need brushing.

I am the parent who forgets to sign the forms for school, and needs frequent e-mail reminders.  Some nights, when we’re at the boat, we pick up a Happy Meal for her to enjoy.  Bedtime involves her watching Cinderella, until she’s ready to go to bed (which, surprisingly, always happens at a reasonable hour).  In spite of my resolve to be “natural” and “countercultural,” she knows all of the Disney princesses by name, owns numerous electronic toys, and loves playing Mario Kart with Rob and me.

Our life is one of squalor.  While we once aspired to have the elegant label of “minimalists,” we now live in a way that transcends labels.  My bicycle, with my helmet slung off of the handlebars, is the focal point of our living room.  Beanie’s tricycle stands next to it; there is no point in putting it away, because she rides it nearly everyday.  At times, her toy train runs through the entire apartment, acting as a means of transporting her toys from one room to another.  Boxes are strewn about, with boat and moped parts ordered from around the world.  Behind our table, a tiller handle is propped up against the wall (oddly enough, we don’t have sails stashed anywhere in our apartment.  That might be a first).  The once-empty master bedroom is now completely full.  The plastic kitchen that we pulled out of the dumpster has become a Doc McStuffins hospital, with a few teacups hanging amidst the stuffed animals.  In the middle of the floor, Beanie’s bicycle and scooter stand ready for action.  Her cardboard playhouse occupies the wall opposite the kitchen, and that is where she enjoys her movies.  The closet is filled with toys removed from the toybox, and her Pikachu and pirate costumes are strewn about on the floor.

It was in this squalor that my morning began, today.  I had made my way through our kitchen, filled with the remnants from last night’s cooking experiment (I have yet to have success with perogies, but I won’t stop trying!), and created some coffee for Rob and me.  After coffee and conversation, followed by a shower and my morning routine, I made my current favorite breakfast, one fried egg with pepper jack cheese. So far, I’ve loved 10 pounds off of my body, by eating simply and mindfully.

While fully enjoying the soft yolk and crispy whites, I heard some chattering just before the master bedroom door opened with a cracking sound.  Beanie emerges, with her hair disheveled, wearing the sundress she fell asleep in, with temporary princess tattoos covering her arms.  With a sleepy smile, she climbs onto my lap and leans against me, her ear over my heart.

A year ago, she could not speak in sentences.  Today, she proclaims, “I love you, Mommy!”

She draws her head back, grins at me, and relives our spring break adventures.  “I go to Kemah boardwalk,” she begins.  “I ride Jungle Bounce.  It is so high!  I go to music park (the park near our marina slip has an area where you can stomp the ground and hear a great drum beat.  At the end of this post is a video of Beanie dancing to it).  I go to Houston Children’s Museum.  I want to be a doctor.  Or an ambulance.”

I know she means “paramedic.”  I smile at her.  The world is your oyster, Beanie.

I’ve finished my egg, and it’s time for her to eat something.  Breakfast and lunch are when Beanie eats the most, and she’s still pretty twiggy, so I’m always eager to get her lots of healthy calories.  I consider making her a PBJ, but today seems to require something special.

I’m not a good cook.  But I have a friend who is, so I used his pancake recipe.  I poured too much batter into my cast iron pan, and it spread to completely cover the surface.  Thus, Beanie was treated to a “gigantic pancake,” which she excitedly took, once I had placed it on a plate.

“I want a Pacman pancake!” she announced.  I asked her if she wanted me to make it into a Pacman.  “No, I make a Pacman pancake,” she insisted.

So Jelly Bean joyfully ate her creation, then caught me trying to make more giant pancakes for the rest of the week.  She danced in front of the container in which I was placing them, until I gave her one more.

Later today, she will head over to Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment, where she will spend the night.  On Monday, she will accompany me to the gym, for my yoga class, and she looks forward to playing with the kids in the nursery.

I’m not supermom.  But who is?  Within the squalor of our life is something very real, very pure, and very deep.

This is love.

 

Cha-cha-cha-changes!

There was a warm breeze today, and I decided to leave my balcony door open, so that the fresh smell of the outdoors could fill my home.

 I sit out on the balcony tonight, with a pot of chili cooking inside, sipping my wine and watching life unfold around me.

There’s life in the lily plant, that we had rescued from the discount rack at Wal Mart, only to have it wither, encased in ice after Friday’s freak storm (and subsequent day off of work); it is slowly bouncing back once again. Life is tough like that.

There’s life in the children, riding their bikes in the parking lot. There’s life in the wind, in the sunshine, in the clouds. I sit, quietly observing—playing a passive role in the moment but a part of it all nonetheless.

I took some time away from blogging, so that I could look for answers. What was I supposed to do next? Why did I still struggle at times? Why did I still experience fear? Why couldn’t I let go of last winter? Why were so many people by my side, without asking anything in return? Why? Why? Why?

I spent some time examining these questions, and looking deeply within. I began to understand myself better, and I found that, rather than answering the questions, I began to gradually let go of them. Life isn’t a big drama, and it really all is okay. Things don’t need to be picked apart and dissected—they just need to be experienced.

I began this blog to tell my story, and I have done that. You were there as I began questioning “the script,” as I fell in love with the sea, and as I emerged from the storms of last winter, realizing that true reality was much more beautiful than the world I had been seeing and living in. I’ve shared with you the lessons that I’ve learned along the way—both my questions and my answers.

The telling of my story is over. It concludes as I awaken to the beauty within me, and the beauty that surrounds me. It concludes as I understand that imperfection is okay, and that backsliding is actually fake anyway.

I know that it is time to move on, when it is time to move on—that clinging is not helpful in the least. And I have a number of friends—dear friends who would be welcome at my table any day—who have either formally ended their blogs or taken extended breaks from them. And I know it would be better to stop writing, than to continue with the minimalism or personal development genres. I have no more to say in either area.

But, this evening, I look across the room at that goofy young (to my eyes, at least!) man, with the handlebar mustache. He’s become quite a figure in Clear Lake, riding his tall bike. We’ve spent a lot of time apart, as I’ve been working on myself and growing in my own way. It’s fine; it needed to be that way. We were relying on each other to meet our needs, and that really isn’t what love is.

Love can be shared more easily when you both become strong. And that’s where we are now. Our life has taken some exciting turns. While away for Christmas, we won a 22 foot sailboat for $200 on ebay, and that has gotten us involved with marina life once again. Being back on the water, we’ve become very eager to establish a permanent residence in that community. We’ve begun the process of finding a boat to live on permanently. It is time to move on.

So, I am changing the name of this blog, in order to reflect my new direction—our new direction. I am done telling my story, so it is now time to tell our story. You will be reading posts by both of us, detailing our new adventures (and anything else we want to talk about!).  Expect a lighter tone, more slices of our life, and one important element that my life has been missing, after such a difficult period–good, old-fashioned fun!

We hope you will join us on Our journey to Ithaca. We’re glad to have you on board.

cups

My One-Word Theme for 2014

“Love” was my theme for 2013, and it really surprised me how much I did learn about love, within the year.  The walls have been crumbling, and I have begun to understand love on a very profound, spiritual level.  Honestly, I considered making “Love” my one-word theme again, not just for 2014 but for the rest of my life.

However, life continues to teach me new lessons, and I’ve found another word, that aligns very closely with love.  And that word is, “Surrender.”  For so long, I’ve viewed surrender as a negative notion, as one that means giving up or quitting.

My views, though, were changed when I had e-mailed one of my friends about all the changes I intended to make in my life.  I had been in Houston for a couple of months, and I found that I was still backsliding and I was still fearful and coping with (perceived) unworthiness.  I was going to change things, be more disciplined, etc. etc.

My friend wrote me back, “The one thing you haven’t done is surrender.”

At first, I thought that was a compliment.  That I had rediscovered my old grit and insistence on pressing on, even when it seems impossible.  I wasn’t giving up.  I was going to become the person I wanted to be, no matter what!

But, on further examination, I saw that this was not a compliment at all.  My friend was telling me that I needed to stop trying to manipulate everything.  I needed to keep trying to get my hands in everything, and just allow life–and myself–to grow and evolve.

It isn’t through muscling ourselves that we change and grow.  It’s through awareness, understanding, and acceptance.  When we can see what’s going on, it will naturally change, if it needs to.  It can’t be forced.

And life is the same way.  We waste energy trying to get others to like us, trying to protect ourselves and make things turn out the way we want them to.  We need to do what we need to do, without wasting energy on useless endeavors.  There are things that are outside of the realm of our control, and we need to surrender, and to accept that.

Surrender is difficult, because we don’t like to be in control.  We want to hang on, and force things to stay the way they are, or force them to change in the way that we want them to.  But our forcing is like pressing on a brick wall.  It’s nothing more than a waste of energy.

Once we see that, we see that surrender is our only option.  We need to let go.  We need to stop trying to control the wind, and, instead, adjust our sails.

Once we stop fighting the weather, we are truly able to dance with the wind–to dance with life.

DSC_0034