Recent days have been bumpy. Each day with its own series of ups and downs and back up again (mostly). Because the "new normal" doesn't arrange itself overnight. We create it one small course correction at a time, which bring us closer to stability, familiarity, and a sense of normal.
Things that are working in my house: making art, physical activity outdoors, planting seeds (literally) for a big new garden, revising the schedule of working-at-home and school-at-home, practicing patience and mercy (aka grace) with ourselves and each other. What's working in your home? What fails are you either learning from or just moving on from? It all counts.
"Where is balance in your life?" the question is our homework assignment from the circus lessons coach. I've considered my answer and I'm happy with it.
I am seen, known, and loved for who I am. I dwell in my close relationships with my husband, son, and besties. I enjoy my home. My daily routine generates only a minimum of stress for me. My life is safe, secure, and stable.
Rooted in this place of comfort and warmth, I'm reaching out, stretching, and challenging myself. The vital tension between comfort and growth is how I'm balanced.
At 45 years old, my heaviest weight, and lowest level of physical fitness, I'm enrolled in circus lessons and enjoying them. I just received my A1C (blood sugar) test results - my highest/worst numbers to date. So, J and I have embarked on a focused and intentional diet to bring my blood sugar back within healthy boundaries and maybe shed some pounds in the process. I'm walking in the evenings, inconsistently but persistently. I'm tending to my body, my physical self care and presence, in new and supported ways.
I've planned a solo adventure. In October, I'm attending the Evolving Faith conference in Denver. The ideas, experiences, and emotions of how one's spirituality and/or religion may change over time is one of my passionate interests. Ultimately, I'll be traveling alone to meet and engage with strangers, pushing through the membranes of my introversion.
It's been almost a year since I created and hosted my first retreat. It went smoothly yet it left me exhausted and sensitive to all the areas for improving the event. It also reminded me of how much I value and enjoy small gatherings of women talking together about substantive, real-life, heartfelt topics. This year I'll host more of these group conversations in my home, starting with one this month. And, I'm revising the retreat for a new participants.
There are more ideas for stretching still percolating through my mind, but this is where I'm balancing, today. It's a vibrant, creative, growing space between the comforts of home and the unknown out there.
I’ve been learning and inconsistently practicing new habits to improve my health in the last couple of years. My naturopath, desperate to get through to me, once asked me if I wanted to “be here.” As in, did I want to be alive. I took the question home, thought and journaled about it for a week or so, and decided that yes, I want to be alive.
I wanted to be alive for my son, especially. Now, I add to that my partner and future husband. My friends. My garden.
Do you see the pattern there?
It’s a small and personal world that I live in and live for.
I wonder, is that really enough to make my life worth living?
See, I was raised an Evangelical Christian in the United States in the latter part of the 20th Century. And while individualism, trickle-down economics, and oat bran bear no resemblance to the Gospel, somehow religion was tangled up with the contemporary culture. In the midst of the dissonance, the religion identified itself through symbols of personal piety like, proscribing sex outside of heterosexual marriage, campaigning against abortion and anyone associated with them, and conflating the AIDS crisis with the so-called "abomination" of homosexuality.
But the text of the gospels, whether taken as a summarized whole or proof-texting parts, doesn’t provide a lot of instruction on personal matters. Rather, it dwells on issues that affect the collective and show up publicly. Issues like poverty and greed, genuine hospitality for society’s outsiders, and otherwise living one’s life in contrast to the dominant culture’s power structures and definitions of worth.
As a child, I accepted the faith and its religion in earnest. But disconnects between the words we said as a congregation and the way we lived in our homes and daily lives, occasionally broke through and concerned me. Those concerns developed into a heavy tension as I matured. If the spiritually faithful were in action unfaithful, what was the point of the faith? If the congregation lives according to the prevailing culture rather than its proclaimed savior, which demonstration of their faith is true? Ultimately, I judged culture the winner in this competition.
It was a relief. I cut loose from the tension. I freed myself of the obligation to follow Jesus’ example. I chose values like personal security, private property, physical health, and my immediate relationships.
But Jesus’s life, and that original tension, hovers around me.
Jesus didn’t preach about raising children, saving for the future, or delaying death through proper nutrition and daily exercise. Those things are cultural and they still matter to me. So I don’t measure up to his example. I’m making no effort to measure up and simply won’t. Is there a way to live within the tension of the dominant culture and the example of Jesus? Something more than financial donations and social media posts denouncing the powers that be. I really don't know. In the meantime, maybe I can register some faint shimmy on the Richter scale of practice. That, to me, is the path to a life worth living.
I haven't been writing here in a regular way for ages. Real life occupies my mind, time, and energy so much. Here's what I'm doing now:
What is my problem!? I wondered, from the midst of a low day. I scribbled my way through it, through the lens of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
My "problem" isn't my brain - at least, not in the same way as - my emotions. Big. Overwhelming. In-My-Body feelings. And in response to those big feelings I do something. Usually something unhealthy, or in DBT-speak, something Ineffective.
It's Ineffective because it blocks my route to my Goals. My Goals come from my Values. Although... these days it feels like my Goals are being adopted and incorporated from the naturopath and my dismal health numbers. It feels a little backwards. My Goals are actually determining my Values. They're good Values - Health, Longevity, Fitness. They just didn't start in me.
Priorities and Values can change with time and circumstances and new or renewed insights. For a long time, with L, my Value was survival. While at my last job it became Interpersonal Effectiveness. That continues in my current position, though I have some mastery of it now, relying on my good manners plus prompt response time. But the Naturopath and my numbers indicate that my Value needs to be Physical Health.
I've never been an athlete. And it's a very long time - 15 years or more? - since I felt strongly connected to my body. I do experience my strong emotions in my body. But then I tend to do something external to try and change how I feel emotionally. Eat. Smoke. Watch TV.
Mindfulness, I guess, is the tool or skill for acknowledging the big emotions in my body, then letting them pass, while I remain present in my body. In my senses and physical sensations. The Wise Mind process is how I sort out what's going on and choose actions that are Effective for body and emotions. Effective for my Value of physical health.
And... this scribble suggests... my Value of Emotional Integrity...
I've been in therapy for the last seven years. And I think I'm burned out on it. I'm tired of talking about myself. I'm tired of listening to a therapist's perspective, questions, and suggestions. I want some quiet in my mind. I want some time to synthesize what I've heard; practice what I've learned. I want a pause from all the chatter.
This is a tricky decision to make, because I'm just coming out of a funk and still really struggling to do the daily self-care that my body needs. But that's just what I want to do - the doing part of these years of learning.
I expect that my therapist won't be keen on the idea. Maybe the naturopath won't be either. I believe that they see their work, together, as support for me to do the doing and since I haven't been consistently doing it maybe that looks like I need more support.
But it doesn't feel like support, these days. It feels distracting and disrupting. It feels like one more thing I have to do for someone else - keep an appointment. It feels inconvenient and, due to a billing error, suddenly expensive. A break, a pause, looks so freeing and open.
So what do I want to do with this pause that will make it worth the risk of declining my practitioner's support? How will I make this work for me? I'm drafting a routine for myself to include the daily practices necessary to heal my body and sustain my emotions and mind. Here's some of what that entails:
Tangled up in all this striving for good health and self care is something about my beliefs about myself and my life. Am I worth taking good care of? Do I want to be alive and for a long time? Is my life worth living and my work worth doing? Depression says, No. And again, no. Over and over until I'm too tired to resist and I yield to believing that the answer is always no.
It requires a vivid imagination and a good sense of humor to say, Yes.
The world is a big and chaotic place and I am small and, yes, meaningful, in the midst of it. My work as a secretary and as a mother is repetitive and mundane, and yes, it's worth doing well. My body is temporary, already bearing the toll of the years and, yes, it warrants persistent care and tending. Yes, because my tiny life touches other tiny lives and we matter to each other. Yes, because good is worth doing and being for each other. Yes, for laughter. Yes, for beauty. Yes, for comfort, sanctuary, and justice. Yes, for remembering important things and returning to them with the passion of awakening for the first time. Yes, because connection is real. Yes, because where there's a breath there's a hope. Yes, because I am here, now.
I don't and probably won't always remember to say, Yes. My imagination falters and my humor is pretty dark. But deep in my gut, where intuition and faith reside, yes simmers and bubbles up to my memory. I make a fresh list, again, of how I choose to live. I start to practice, again, the routine that heals me. And I look for the reminders of yes.
Those reminders, for me, right now, aren't revealing themselves in my therapy appointments. That might be the biggest reason to take a pause from sessions. And seek new places and people who say yes.
It’s been a long season of doldrums, for me. I keep waiting to feel differently, better, engaged, inspired… but I can’t wait any longer. I’ve started making decisions to do the good stuff that I want to do but don’t feel like doing.
I started, like I always have, with lists. Intentions and goals for how I want to live this year. Changes where I’d like to develop momentum until they become just how I live, just my life. A new day-planner for 2017 helped by providing prompts to think about and a place to jot it all down. That spurred me into creating my own little curriculum or syllabus for self-care. Recipes, movement goals, books to read, practices to adopt into habits.
It still feels like work, right now. I am making progress, in a staggering, uphill, pause-out-of-breath kind of way. I’m starting a new yoga class. I’ve cooked two new recipes. I’m writing again.
Writing. That revealing, self-discovery, expressive, often creative craft that I’ve always turned to and returned to over the years. Creating and expression are things (“things”?) that I’m missing in this season of doldrums. So this evening I chose to write. Regardless of how I feel about writing, right now. To sit with a blank page and meet myself in my own words.
"Hold your heart in all tenderness. Something healing this way comes."
- Jen Lemen
These words have been on my heart a lot lately. Because they are beautiful and hopeful. Because there's so much that needs healing - in my body and my heart, in the bodies and hearts of people I care about, in this country, in the world...
To me, these words are an invitation to be softer, compassionate, unguarded and vulnerable. Open to pain, my own and others'. Faithful to myself and others in the midst of severe trials. To accept hope and healing, to believe that it is coming. To carry hope and healing into my relationships. To be one who bears hope and tends others as they heal.
It's been a long time since I've felt myself to be an open, compassionate person. Post partum depression and the end of my marriage rendered me harder, less emotional, disconnected from other people and myself. The last couple of years, and moving forward, have been about my healing in terms of reconnecting and re-membering myself to those parts and practices and tending their life and expression. Lately, I find myself invited to engage with others, beloved friends, with depth of feeling and healing presence. These invitations challenge me to be the best version of who I am today and to keep growing into someone tender, attentive, and tending.
My dear friend's health crisis is one of the invitations I'm accepting right now. Losing faith in those dark hours last week is probably what rose this quote to my mind. It reminded me of how to show up and who to be when life is so very hard. It reminded me of who I am.
I resumed treatment with the Kind Naturopaths several months ago and I just received back some lab work on my blood. It’s not good. I’m nearly diabetic and have ridiculously high cholesterol. Like, one of the categories could not be calculated it was so high. That news, through the lens of my family’s history (Dad losing his fight with heart disease at the age of 44), felt like a death sentence. My mortality jeering in my face, demanding that I respond.
I’ve been struggling with making changes to my eating and physical movement habits for a few years. A one baby-step forward, two giant-steps back kind of struggle. I’m an emotional eater who comforts herself with food and lounging on the couch or buried under my covers in bed. And while I’m getting better at feeling my feels it’s not happening quickly enough for my physical health.
I expect that lots of American women are in this place. Life is hard and I don’t imagine that I’m so unique. But the numbers tell me that I’d better get unique when it comes to making big changes for my whole health, my whole life. My son’s life with his mother.
It’s a lot terrifying and a little bit exciting to take this on like a challenge. My body wants me to win. It’s giving me information that says, “Tend me and here’s how...” I’ve collected enough data to form a response. It will be a creative, mixed media type of piece applying body, mind, and heart.
Here are some of the ways that I’m working with my whole life to heal my body:
That’s where I’m at today. There are more good things to add to this list but I need to be gentle and realistic. A long list feels overwhelming and exhausting to me right now. The list is part of remembering myself, putting myself back together, with the good stuff that’s nurtured and engaged me in the past.
In this way, my blood is reminding me who I am and how I want to live. It’s a good message via a hard medium. And it’s got my full attention.
A few weeks ago I finally settled on the idea and accepted that there is no unifying meaning to be made of life the way it is. The lessons of my childhood and a spiritual walkabout through Neo-Paganism and Wannabe Buddhism all fell away with a clattering clumsiness confirming their unreliability. This very prospect of accepting the emptiness had followed me for years, threatening to unravel my tenuous and tentative commitment to life. And in this moment of acceptance it called to me again, with a bellowing vow to suck me into a void where nothing really mattered. Where I and my love, my Little N, didn’t matter. But I held my ground.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed in my bright little room, I spoke softly to the emptiness inside of me. "You can stay with me. I'm not running from you anymore. And you can speak with me. I'm not afraid of your noise and words. I understand you a little better, now, and you are precious to me."
The emptiness is valuable. It reminds me of my agency. I can choose how and what I assign meaning to. Like some sort of spiritual anarchist, I'm declining and refuting the religious law and order that defined how I became who I am. I retain a hermeneutic of love, grace, and justice as my lens on life, but I reject the prescribed social order and the shoulds of personal piety, of judging our neighbors, of accepting and yielding to an unjust social, political, and economic status quo.
There’s no inherent meaning, for me, no obvious goodness or rightness, to the way Western society is ordered. It’s not God’s Law that we live in heterosexual legally married nuclear families, that we prioritize private wealth and comfort, that we amplify a narrow view of individual morality over a broader view of public health, economic and environmental sustainability, justice for the marginalized and the poor, that we define those in need as “deserving” and “undeserving” of aid and support… It goes on. It’s all been better said and sometimes solved by folks wiser, more experienced, more effective than me. But it bothers me. And the religion of my upbringing hasn’t helped any of it get better.
The same critique applies to my personal life. There’s no inherent meaning in my marriage and divorce. It doesn’t mean anything that my ex-husband, L, now lives with me and Little N as a roommate and my partner in parenting. I assign no value nor criticism to my leaving home and my birth family to pursue my education and plant myself in a new place with new people in my life. There’s no particular meaning to rejecting the religion and politics I come from. There’s no particular meaning to my current financial struggles and career anxiety. These things just are, and I get to choose what sense to make of them.
It’s easy to wax on about the big bad world out there. And it’s easy to hunker down into my tiny personal world. The common theme in both scenarios is my choice. The ordained law and order is an illusion. It’s refutable. It’s synthetic. I can and must choose something true in order to keep going in my life.
The search for something true sends me right back to the prophets and good teachers who have walked this path before. I’m thinking of guides like Buddha, Jesus, and even today’s pagan teacher Starhawk. Their words, lives, and choices, illuminate true things for me about non-attachment to stuff, people, and notions, drawing in the marginalized, supporting the weak and the poor, heeding, tending and defending our home planet.
In some ways it would be easier to yield to the illusion and accept the myth of a divine law and order that structures our public and personal lives giving us meaning and righteousness. But that doesn’t ring true for me and my life. It doesn’t fill the emptiness and it never has.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
on Blogger as
Out of the Attic.
I began posting here in April 2014. Please visit the original site for the rest of the story on topics like: