Meeting Mr. Darling

Pride & Prejudice via Pinterest

Pride & Prejudice via Pinterest

Since I am still single in my fifties, you could say that I’ve never really mastered the art of relationships. As an English teacher who loves British rock music and Jane Austen, I read voraciously. My favorite novel? Pride and Prejudice.  Admittedly, I salivate over anything featuring dark, brooding Matthew MacFadyen types. I’m in love with love. That said, I can be decidedly clueless about the men I love. I tend to be loyal as a goddamn dog. I convinced myself in high school that I’d marry Elton John, even after he revealed he was gay.

My most recent relationship ended six years ago. Its demise brought me to my knees. Grief kept me in a paralytic state of navel-gazing for quite a bit longer than was even remotely good for me. I taught my college classes and that’s about it. On my days off, I stayed home and slept.

So, when Mary – my psychic energy healer – told me that I’d soon meet someone, I responded with the usual snort of doubt. My colleagues are married, not interested, or gay. The only men I ever see are the 18 and 19-year-old college students in my courses.

“Where am I going to meet someone?” I asked her, point-blank.

“Go online. Your inner kid will love that. I swear, the next time we speak, you’ll be in love.”

___

About six weeks later, I got an intriguing email from a man on an online dating site I’d recently joined. The message was from someone named – get this – Mathew (with one ‘T’) Darling. He had dark hair and eyes, and although he lived 700 miles away from Phoenix, in San Diego, he indicated a willingness to relocate for the right person. I spent some time reading his profile. A widower, he had two daughters. He made decent money and we shared many common interests. The one red flag? He was a conservative. I am a progressive, left-of-left sort of girl. As a result, I sat on my hands for several days, unwilling to chance a reply.

___

A few days later, my friend, Wendy, called from South Carolina to bitch about her Ph.D. program.

She asked me how things were.

“I got an email…from a guy.”

“Ooh. What’d he say?”

“That he liked my profile.”

“Of course, he did. Have you emailed him back?”

“Unfortunately, he’s conservative.”

“Well, babe, he obviously read your profile, so he knows you’re a lifetime member of the  Hillary Clinton fan club. Write to him. What have you got to lose?”

___

Within hours of receipt of my email, I heard back. There was a flirtatious undertone to the message.

“I like your picture,” he said, adding, “We have so much in common.”

As I read it, bleary-eyed from 14 weeks of non-stop teaching and grading, my heart did a little jig.

I wrote back asking about his life, work, kids.

His messages were a little disjointed at times, but nothing about them seemed unusual. This back and forth went on for several days. Then he suggested that we use Yahoo Instant Messenger to “talk” live – rather than continuing to exchange emails through the dating site.

He coached me through setting it up, and then he was there. We were speaking in real time.

I did notice something odd though. He spelled his name with two T’s on his email account. I asked him about it.

“Oh, it’s a typo.”

___

One morning a few days later, Mathew sent me an unusually romantic message. I loved what it said. It wasn’t in his typical broken style and I wondered why it was so articulate. I felt a slight twinge in doubting it, but something compelled me to investigate. (Once an English teacher, always an English teacher.) I cut and pasted a few sentences into Google and hit enter. Immediately I got several thousand hits: Romantic Message Template. My heart fell. I struggled to explain it to myself.

In the end, I blew it off thinking, how different is that from sending a Hallmark card?

___

Mathew revealed that he worked as an oil engineer in Uzbekistan. (I have no idea why this didn’t seem implausible; no idea).

“I can’t wait to finish my works [sic] here so I can come home to meet you.” He initially claimed to be of Irish and German descent, but over time that morphed in British heritage, based upon his marriage. He said he grew up in Illinois and went to the University of Illinois in Carbondale.

“My daughters are excited I found you. They can’t wait to meet.”

“What are their names?”

“Leslie and Julia.”

___

Again, when I signed off from chatting, I had a feeling of unease. I typed Mathew’s daughters’ names into Google and got a Wikipedia listing for the famous Darlings of Great Britain: Matthew, Julia, Leslie & Peter. As I read the bios I thought, why does everyone in this man’s family have a name that seems to be straight out of a J. M. Barrie novel?

___

Two weeks later, Wendy flew to Phoenix for winter break.  After seeing the state of my closet, she staged an intervention to prepare me to meet the mysterious Mathew Darling in person, as he had promised he’d be state-side soon.

She pulled dozens of sweaters, tops, and pants from their hangers and dropped them on the floor.

“No!” she said, tossing a patterned pink cardigan aside, adding it to the growing heap of pastel turtlenecks and mom jeans. “God, No!”

By the time she was done, I had about half the clothing I’d started with.

Next, she pulled open my underwear drawer and began sorting.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“A bra?”

“Wrong. This is an ugly, stretched-out piece of crap. You will never wear it again.”  She dropped it into a sack marked, “Goodwill.”

I felt like Eliza Doolittle to her tiny, spritely version of Henry Higgins.

___

The next morning, we headed to the mall where she encouraged me to buy new lingerie.

“Oprah wears this bra,” she said, knowingly.

I stood in the fitting room in Dillard’s as the bra salesperson felt me up, her fingers patting the tops of my girls.

“Perfect.”

I laid down my debit card and spent $140. I thought about the character, Sue Ellen, on my favorite episode of Seinfeld. When Elaine gave her a bra for her birthday, she wore it as a top. I imagined strutting into the mall to show off my Oprah bra, much to the astonishment of dozens of holiday shoppers.

___

After that, Wendy called Vidal Sassoon in Scottsdale and made an appointment for me to cut and color my hair.

“You need a grown woman’s hairstyle.”

“I can’t stand having my hair in my eyes.”

“Tough. Do you want to look dowdy and ridiculous, or do you want to look ‘come hither’ sexy? You decide.”

The next day we trekked to Scottsdale and I dropped $175 on a haircut and color.  Admittedly, I did have a beautiful waterfall of cinnamon-colored hair afterwards. It fell across my face in a way that made me feel like Greta Garbo or Veronica Lake.

___

The intensity and frequency of the messages from Mathew increased. 21 days after we met online, he told me he loved me. I couldn’t sleep after our conversation. I woke up early to check my messages. An email was waiting. It expressed tenderness and total devotion. I read it through a blissful fog of joy. He got online a few minutes later and we talked for more than an hour. As we said goodbye, he said, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

I signed off and sat perfectly still. A host of emotions washed over me. Maybe the long night since my ex was finally over.

Still, like a raspberry seed stuck in my teeth, something felt off.

I copied the first three sentences of that latest message into the Google search engine. What happened next froze me in my tracks. 538,000 results. Romance Scams. I clicked through to a few pages only to discover that this was an all too common ploy to extract money, plane tickets, or property from men and women looking for love online.

“It’s a scam,” I said under my breath.

How dare he do this to me?

I felt like the stupidest woman on the face of the earth.

In tears, I went into Yahoo and immediately deleted my account. Next, I went on the dating site and emailed customer service. I gave them his profile name, telling them he was a scam artist. In turn, they emailed all their users with that information. Then, I deleted my account there, too.

Once I did that, I called my best friend, Lisa, in New Mexico.  It was before 9 AM that Sunday morning.

“Hey, what’s up?” she asked, sounding tired.

“It’s a scam,” I hiccupped into the phone.

“Huh? What do you mean? What’s a scam?”

“Mathew. It was all bullshit. He was going to scam me for money.”

She hooted, knowing my financial condition.

“Well, that doesn’t mean you weren’t being real,” she said, her voice steady.

I stopped crying.

She continued, “I think this was a good thing. It got you off of Michael. It made you decide to get back to your life. He brought you back to life.”

___

Wendy was still sleeping on the couch. When she got up, I told her the whole story.

Hearing it, her face fell. “You’re kidding me.”

“Nope. He planned to scam me for money, but I figured it out. I’m proud of myself. I kicked his ass to the curb before he even broached the subject.”

“Did you contact him and tell him you know?”

“Hell no. Let him wonder what happened.”

As fast as he appeared, Peter Pan was gone.

___

I pulled my hair back and put on some makeup. I made a second pot of coffee and finished grades for my fall classes. After Wendy got out of the bathtub and got dressed, we drank coffee and ate rosemary garlic rolls slathered in butter.  We laughed to the point of near hysteria, imagining my darling’s reaction in Nigeria, or Russia, or wherever-the-hell-he-was. When his next plagiarized email went out, it would bounce back to him like a karmic boomerang:

The account you are trying to reach does not exist.

Lisa was right. I was back in my body and back in my life.

In spite of everything, it felt strangely good.

___

For more information on avoiding romance scams: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/financial_scams/financial_scams_4554.html

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Remembrance of Things Past

The Silent Garden by Christian Schloe

“Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.” ~ Thomas Hardy

The concept of linear time is a strange thing. This summer marks the 36th anniversary of my graduation from high school, the 27th anniversary of my graduation from New York University, and the 16th anniversary of my receipt of my graduate degree from the professional writing program at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Those facts, so neatly laid out, still seem impossible.

***

Surely, it was only yesterday I crossed the threshold of my first year of school at Westview Elementary School in Spokane, Washington. I wore a homemade polka dot dress and a pair of brand new saddle shoes from the shoe department at J. C. Penney. Away from my mother for the first time that day, I stood next to my small wooden desk, fighting the urge to cry as she valiantly headed for the door, a patent leather purse slung over her arm like an afterthought. She left me with a teacher who wore a gash of red lipstick and an emerald green skirt and jacket. Her name was Mrs. Otto.

I watched the clock’s slow hands move throughout that first day.

I wanted to stamp my foot; anything to get the clock to move.

Years passed before Momma reappeared, and it was time to go home.

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***

“All our sweetest hours fly fastest.” ~ Virgil

Now 54, I often feel bewildered by the speed of these intervening years. They have passed through me like lightning. My life has been completely changed by time – by the passage of it, by the stripping away of the notion of permanence, by the knowledge that time is the most ephemeral of all my so-called possessions.

***

I recently reconnected with a few of the friends I haven’t spoken to or heard from since high school. The friends of my girlhood. Friends who stood next to me as I passed through elementary, junior high, and high school; girls itching to delineate their boundaries, to forge characters and lives outside the confines of suburban life in the 1960s and 1970s. Women now, these girls remember a version of me I have forgotten. And because they remember me, suddenly, I do too. Through their eyes I remember that pensive waif standing on the periphery of the school yard.

I was certain I’d lost her to the dark waters of memory.

***

“And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?” ~ Tillie Olsen

I chatted on the phone last night with a high school friend. I haven’t seen or heard from C since the early 1980s, yet I often wondered what became of her. She had a long waterfall of chestnut colored hair, a crooked smile, and a delicate and diminutive body. She moved like a graceful doe through the hell we charitably label as “high school” in this country. The two of us met in junior high. We lived on the edge of the world of cheerleaders, school pride, football, and the perennial favorite: binge drinking (and the requisite projectile vomiting afterward). We were never part of it.  We never really wanted to be part of it. I take pride in the fact that high school was decidedly not the high point of my life.

“Whenever I heard anything by Elton John over the years, I thought of you,” she said, the hum of the telephone wire singing quietly behind her voice.

Elton John’s photos wallpapered my school locker back in the day. He was, and still is, my soundtrack for the entire decade of the 70s.

“Wild,” I replied.  “You know I met him, right?”  I told the story of meeting Mr. John backstage at a concert in London.

We talked about the people we still have peripheral connections to, although neither one of us has maintained contact with anybody from the class of 1978. We talked about the weirdness of reunions and the passage of time. We talked wistfully about our choices and the tributaries of connection that somehow bind us: the fact that we don’t have children; that we both managed to navigate the waters of life without ever jumping into that particular boat.

Eventually we closed the conversation by exchanging addresses.  She promised to come visit me.

I was surprised by the ease of the conversation and the laughter that punctuated it.

It was as though I finally had a chance to open a gift I had forgotten I’d received.

 

Illuminate: 4 Ways to Discover Your Shimmer

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There are a few facts and beliefs that suggest that you are radiant.

First of all, everyone is made of stardust – your very composite nature is heavenly.  Health wise, you would get pretty sick if you did not get any sunlight and vitamin D. And according to the Shambhala lineage of Buddhism, everyone has a basic goodness that shines through like the Sun always shining behind the clouds. And if many of the metaphysically channeled materials of the last 30 years are correct, you are a spiritual non-physical LIGHT-being currently having a physical experience.

You can let your light shine through in your day-to-day experiences and relationships.

During physical incarnation everyone does things that they are proud of and things that they are not so proud of, but remember as you delve in the work of self-discovery to always be truthful to yourself and to be gentle. Beating yourself up in any way diminishes your lovely divine light. Everyone who comes here intends to grow and evolve spiritually. Imperfection is fine along the path to enlightenment. If you had nothing to work through, you would not be here.

True self-awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses can be difficult to pin down or to get a glimmer of because we forget things so easily or exaggerate and distort memories. While I promise you that you are a beautiful light in this world, some people have difficulty identifying evidence of their radiance. They just don’t keep good enough track of the shining moments in their lives, while many are good at telling and retelling the stories of the darker moments that have happened. A healthy self-image records a more balanced record of who you are including your light and shadow parts. The first step to shining is developing a record of mindful and accurate awareness about the patterns that emerge in your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and communication.

How do you Shimmer or Dimmer?

I would like to propose that you become an anthropologist in your own life: witnessing and documenting there various ways that you let your inner light shimmer or become a little bit dimmer.  You will need a tool to help you start gathering data on yourself. The purpose of this data is to be used in understanding yourself better, recognizing and appreciating your strengths, and clarifying your weaknesses to make decisions about areas of your life you would like to improve.

Begin developing a daily practice of recording in a journal answers to the questions below. It is ok if you don’t get to do this every day, but the more regularly you do this, the greater data you will gather on yourself. When you are doing this, try to think of examples from your current day, though past examples may need to be addressed in this manner repeatedly to be processed. It is ok if what you are reflecting on happened in the recent or distant past. The point is to look for examples of your positive (shimmer) or negative (dimmer) behaviors so you can learn more about yourself.

Witness How You Showed Your Shimmer

  1. Begin by priming the mind by spending a few minutes thinking about an instance during the day (or past) when you responded positively to a situation or to another person. It helps if the outcome was seen by you as satisfying.
  2. Complete this sentence, “Things that made me happy about the above situation (or interaction)…”
  3. Then complete this sentence, “Based on how I handled the above situation, my strengths are…” This gives you a running tab of evidence of all your awesome strengths and ways you SHINE!
  4. Start noticing patterns. Are you good at saying kind things to people? Are you brave in facing fearful circumstances? What good traits keep coming up in your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and communication? Start connecting the constellations of your brilliance.
  5. You could also write about something you experienced today that was positive, then maybe consider wishing that other people could enjoy something similar. Maybe send the feeling of experiencing the nice circumstance to someone in particular. Practicing gratitude and then sharing it is good for helping you develop a sunnier disposition as you realize all the nice things in your life and feel wonderful sharing the energy of those things with others.

Witness How You Let Your Light Become a Little Dimmer

  1. Now, prime the mind for a few minutes thinking about a time (during the current day or in the past) when you responded negatively to a situation or another person and did not get a positive outcome.
  2. Complete the following sentences, “Things that annoy me about the above situation are…” and “Based on how I handled the above situation, my weaknesses are…”
  3. Also consider writing about how you might improve future similar situations or work on addressing your weaknesses. Maybe come up with some action steps that you can take. It is ok if you are not ready to address a particular weakness of problem. Just kindly noticing your negative patterns is the first step towards personal development.
  4. You could also just write about something you experienced today that was negative that you were not able to resolve completely. You could really connect to the feelings of others who are suffering in a similar way and wish them relief. When we share the energy of relief from suffering, we connect to others in a compassionate way that boosts the LIGHT we put into the world.

By recording information about your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and communication every day, you can begin to gather evidence of your positive and negative patterns over time. You can see how things repeat, evolve, or change. Writing it down is better that just noticing it in the moment and hoping to remember the insight for a later time. Record what happens and what you learn from your experiences as a concrete developmental guide for yourself. When you feel down, review all the instances when your shimmered, showing your awesome inner light. When you encounter a dimmer circumstance that makes you feel a familiar frustration, look back on the past patterns for improvement opportunities that are under your control. Start noticing the brilliant moments when you overcome negative patterns. Notice the areas that you just aren’t ready to fix yet. Through documentation in a journal, start witnessing your growth at whatever pace is in your highest good.

Overtime, you will start to get a more complete picture of your inner LIGHT and the areas in your life that you use a bit more illumination. What a glorious bit of stardust you will become!

MaMachine: Reclaiming Your Identity After Motherhood

Becoming a mother is a transforming experience. Something magical happens as we embrace this role. We instinctively nestle ourselves into caves of safety and comfort and guard our precious children with all of our might. We care for them and love them unconditionally. We dance with them and sing to them when they need to be soothed. We endure the pain of sore, tired, and overworked breasts to ensure their growth and good health. We fix three lunches because the first two weren’t good enough. We carry them on our backs even when we’re weary. This instinct to nurture our young is primal and we proudly do it with joy in our hearts. We freely give them everything we have… including our own sense of self.

But what happens when you give so much of yourself that there’s none of you left —  when you can’t remember what your own ambitions and dreams are outside of your children? What happens when you’ve lost the lover, the artist, the dancer, the rock star, the rebel you used to be?

Motherhood isn’t martyrdom and we are not machines. It’s easy to become a drone like creature when you’ve allowed yourself to be buried under the duties of parenting. This robotic transformation is sneaky and often occurs without our knowing. There’s nothing wrong with giving unconditionally to those we love, just not at the expense of our own well being (or sanity). It’s okay to indulge in life’s beautiful pleasures. As a matter of fact, by doing so, we teach our children to live more fully. We’re at our best when we balance our responsibilities with personal growth and fulfillment.

Here are five ways to spice up your life and go from ‘MaMachine‘ to “MaMaChic’!

#1 Be Spontaneous.

Set flames to your daily routine once in awhile. Join a yoga class. Go to a concert. Go dancing. Have wine night with friends. Make love in the middle of the day. The smallest act of spontaneity can rekindle that lust for excitement that used to burn within you.

#2 Get Creative.

Indulging your creativity is a marvelous way to show some self love.

#3 Rekindle old Flames.

I’m not suggesting that you scour Facebook looking for your high school sweetheart! Think about things that you enjoyed before becoming mommy. Ponder all of the things you think you don’t have time for anymore and write them all down. Choose one and make it a priority.

#4 Be Selfish.

This one sounds pretty bad…I know! But it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes. After all, your happiness is just as important as anyone’s.

#5 Pamper Yourself.

Hot baths. Red wine. Chocolates. Fresh flowers. Green Juices. Tropical smoothies. Date nights. Indulge…you’re worth it!

Desperately Seeking Silence

Image by Greta Tu via Flickr

Image by Greta Tu via Flickr

In memory my father, Wallace Earle Berry

June 29, 1926 – March 18, 2003

In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you. ~ Deepak Chopra

Rest and Renewal

According to Wayne Muller, ordained minister and author of Sabbath – Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, the reason that the idea of celebrating a Sabbath is starting to gain ground again is because there is a rising sense of understanding that it is only by resting we are renewed or reborn into our lives. Silence is the moist ground from which our realizations, creativity, and inspiration rise. If we never slow down, never grow silent, or never take time to just sit with ourselves—how can we possibly expect to care for others? 

Women, in particular, need to heed this advice. We tend to take care of everyone and everything except ourselves. We think that if we constantly give to others we are being good wives, daughters, mothers, worker bees and lovers. As a Buddhist, I believe that my outer environment simply reflects my inner life as a human being.  If my inner life lacks peace, my outer environment will mirror that. At its most fundamental level it is a sort of cosmic ‘What goes around comes around’ energetic.

So the darkness shall be the light,

and the stillness the dancing. ~ T. S. Eliot

Turning Within

Think about it. By turning inward to take care of ourselves, we create stillness and peace. By adding simple things like silent meditation, prayers of gratitude, or rituals of grace into our everyday activities, we are—one drop at a time—creating a movement of women who are planting seeds for peace.

Silence is the one place where each woman can hear spirit, if she chooses to listen. In silence we can hear the still small voice asking us to forge a luminous, authentic life. We can hear our own heart beating and feel the life that permeates every cell in our bodies. We become aware of our aches and pains, of the ways in which we drive ourselves into the ground always thinking that ‘doing’ is more important than ‘being.’

Natural Woman

We can feel the heartbeat of nature — the plaintive call of song birds, the rustling of trees, the invasive scent of orange blossoms — only if we get quiet.

So, take a moment to call in a healing breath, and quiet your senses. Listen to hum of the air conditioner or the buzzing of the lights. Become aware of how you are sitting and where your weariness is residing. This person is the person who needs your care. Treat her with the same tenderness you often reserve for your children or your spouse.

Take a down day at least once a week

Clear some time for yourself each week. Do not plan anything during that time. Allow an empty space on your calendar. Take a nap. Sit and stare at the mackerel sky.

Remember how you felt as a child – so unencumbered and free? Go in search of that child.

See if you can do nothing for an entire afternoon.

Send guilt packing. She’s got other fish to fry.

Do it.

You will be amazed at your own renewal.

Our Deepest Fears Guard Our Deepest Treasure

Your True Nature by Christian Schloe via Art Flakes

Your True Nature by Christian Schloe via Art Flakes

Our fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure. 

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

The past couple of years have been almost exclusively about conquering, dismantling and letting go of my fears. I’ve been afraid of so many things. Risk. Love. Success. Failure. I feared if I looked at my own shadow side, it might swallow me whole. Ironically, I was equally terrified of my light. I often overlooked what was present in favor of focusing on what was missing.

Coming from that place of lack, it is no wonder that I did a lot of circling the drain, examining my reason for being here, for suffering, for continuing to focus on what I didn’t want instead of what I did.

That’s something we’re often taught by our parents. Mine experienced too much trauma as children to ever really trust the world. My mother grew up in a violent household. She witnessed her mother and siblings being beaten. She learned to hide — in the cupboard, under the stairs, in the woods out back — in order to survive. She and all her siblings have struggled with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) without ever realizing that it what it was, their whole adult lives. My father ran away from home multiple times, often getting into hot water for rebellious behavior that was directly related to the strictness of his home life. (He once got a licking for painting his best friend purple. True story.) Everything had to be ‘just so.’ As an adult, he made bad choices, time and again, and was bailed out by his parents repeatedly. He was dyslexic and had trouble reading and writing, even late in his life. In lots of ways, he still had the mindset of an adolescent in 2003, the year he died.

As a result of my mother’s experiences, she taught me to brace myself against loss; to distrust life; and to often resist what ‘is.’ Because she was afraid, I became afraid too.

I realize now how futile any of those stances are.

Loss is the gig.

Life is always about loss (as well as deliciousness, joy, and every juicy experience).

Trust is crucial.

Distrust stems from the position that we simply ‘cannot handle’ what comes our way.

Again, not true.

We can and we do.

What you resist, persists.

And the most pointless of all my self-protective stances was resisting life as it was. The more I resisted it, the more the situation festered and grew. When I finally started to learn the lesson of acceptance and gratitude and grace, I freed myself for the first time.

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. ~ Havelock Ellis

My best friend and I often discuss these changes, in an attempt to unravel the mysteries that we face. So much is shifting and changing that I sometimes feel like there is absolutely no solid ground beneath us. Of course, I know that is not true, but when my fear kicks up, it is hard to reason with my internal hysteria. The thing is, that is happening less and less. I feel more solid and more sure and more grateful for all aspects of my life every single day. Changing this has been the hardest work of my life. Trusting that if I open my door to another person, they will value and respect and cherish me, is not something that I am used to feeling. However, this is where I find myself.

I look around my life and I see a vast network of visible and invisible support. I feel the deep love of my friends and family. I listen to the contented sigh of my dog as she naps near my feet and think, what could be better than this life I have? I am doing meaningful, creative, interesting work. I am writing. I dabble, read, cook, and plant things so I can watch them grow. I talk to students who are sometimes lost, and sometimes in need of direction, and I am able provide that for them.

I have this well inside of me that is constantly re-filled by my spiritual practice and my ability (finally) to trust my intuition. When my intuition says ‘yes’ to someone or something, it is right. When it says, ‘no,’ I had best heed its sage counsel.

The thing is, I trust myself now. I embrace (rather than resist) who I am — a woman in her fifties who finally gets it. I understand that loss can be a great teacher. It can create a place in my life for something beautiful and new.

Everything changes.

I see now how my mother has softened like an old cashmere coat as she has aged. She is luminously lovely, open, and true to herself. Instead of calcifying in her aging process, she has walked through many of her fears and found the other side. She is vibrantly alive and her courage is infectious. I want to grow up to be just like her.

An ending is also a beginning.

To me, that is what Rilke meant when he said that ‘our fears guard our deepest treasure.’ My life is truly just beginning. I have so much to savor and enjoy and love in the coming years.

What a gift to realize that there is nothing about any of this to fear.

8 Lessons on Clarity from the School of Life

HEaling

I’ve struggled for most of my life with self-destructive behaviors, bad attitudes, and I couldn’t figure out why these things kept happening to me. I estranged myself from my family, I got divorced from bad relationships that I’d picked. I just couldn’t find that peace of mind that everyone else seemed to have. About 15 years ago, I realized it was my own doing. I know, right? Who knew?

I began to seek out a different way of doing things, a different way of thinking because what I was doing and thinking were clearly not working. Using my rather unique experiences as a springboard, I read, talked, shared, took in, observed, and processed how other people lived happy lives. Since I was seeking clarity in my life, this made sense to me. This gave me an understanding of how my life works. But, how does one find clarity in the chaos of difficulties that arise in daily life?

1.     Ask for help: “Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful.” –Ric Ocasek

     It is difficult to believe that someone else has dealt with the same or similar issue that you are going through right now. But one of the keys to being human is understanding that you are not alone. Although the problem you’re facing may seem overwhelming, someone, somewhere has gotten through the same thing. Seek their guidance and wisdom by simply asking how they did it. Take what applies from their experience and use that tool to accomplish your own success in handling the issue.

2.     Help Others: “Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.” –Sai Baba

    What you give you receive. If you’re helping others to become better in their lives, improve their situation, be more productive and you’re doing it with love in your heart, the love that you gave returns and returns and returns. It can’t help it. When love is present in a giving heart, the return rate to the giver is exponential. It doesn’t just stop at the act of giving, it gets paid forward. It spreads more love and encourages others to give as well.

3.     Meditate: “If you know how to worry, you know how to meditate. It means to think of something over and over.” –Joyce Meyer

     This term is used frequently, but how and what do you do? Inside all of us is a place that is silent. A place filled with nothing but your own experiences, thoughts, actions, and yet it’s filled with nothing. It is the place where your inner voice speaks loudest. In order to find that place of peace within yourself, you must first seek it. Sit in a quiet room with soft music playing. New age music helps me. Focus on your breathing. When you breathe in, breathe in peace. When you breathe out, breathe out love. Be patient and wait. Thoughts will spill through your mind with the “Woulda, coulda, shouldas.” Let those pass. at the right time, the thoughts will ease and settle. The silent place within allows focus on the issue at hand. You may hear wild voices pushing you to act, but I’ve learned “When in doubt, wait it out.” The silence within will offer your own wisdom and guidance and it’s comforting to hear the voice of reason from within your own mind.

4.     Look for Omens: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” –William Shakespeare

     Find the things that strike chords in your spirit. Things that resonate when you see, feel, or think of them. They are easy to miss if they aren’t being looked for. Sometimes the messages will be a well-placed and very obvious sign that points your way. Sometimes it’s hidden in plain sight but gets overlooked because it couldn’t possibly be that easy. Maybe a friend will call just when you need them to and they have an opportunity you hadn’t considered or you’ll see something that makes you want to act because it strikes deeply within your spirit. If you listen, you will hear and see them. They are everywhere and they wish you nothing but the best.

5.     Adjust your Focus: “Your destiny is to fulfill those things upon which you focus most intently. So choose to keep your focus on that which is truly magnificent, beautiful, uplifting and joyful. Your life is always moving towards something.” -Ralph Marston

     Some days are just bad days. Whatever the catastrophe, it’s very easy to be inundated with “why me?” Shift your focus. Instead of bemoaning the negatives, look for the blessings offered. Waking up earlier than planned allows extra time for replenishment. Every cloud has a silver lining if you look for it. When you focus on finding that silver lining, attitudes begin to shift. When attitudes begin to shift, the Universe says, “Oh! You want more positive, here you go!”

     What you spend your time focusing on is what will be attracted to you. For example if you profess that you hate your life, your attitude will reflect more negativity. This will send the message that you like the situation and the Universe will continue sending it to you. The Universe doesn’t understand hate. “I don’t want this to happen.” The Universe, again, has no knowledge of don’t. It hears “I want this to happen.” It responds to the negative thoughts with what it hears. If you say, for example, “I love my life,” The Universe hears this and responds accordingly.

6.     Be Grateful: “Every blessing ignored becomes a curse.” –Paulo Coelho

     Similar to the Universe responding to your positive energy, is the act of being grateful. Small things, big things, in-between things, all await your gratitude. Grateful hearts attract more things (not necessarily material goods) to be grateful for simply by refocusing from complaining to changing. People who live by the law of gratefulness live a happier life because they’re not seeing only the negative of a situation. If you are looking for reasons to be grateful and you will find them.

7.     Be joyful: “There’s no destination. The journey is all there is, and it can be very, very joyful.” –Srikumar Rao

     Do things that bring you joy. If you feel happy dancing, dance. If you feel happy writing, write. If you feel happy working numbers in an accounting book, do that. Whatever brings you joy is the path you should be following not because you are told, but because it’s where your bliss lay waiting. Ask people what they wanted to be when they grew up. The majority will not be anywhere near the field they first imagined as a child. As an adult, it is easy to be sucked into the responsibilities that are necessary for our own survival as well as of those we love. In the meantime, that responsibility, when not balanced with our personal joyfulness, becomes a yoke that can become unbearable. Seek joy and balance in everything you do and that unwanted yoke all but disappears.

8.     Remember to take care of yourself: “Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.” -George Bernard Shaw

     There is such a thing as being too polite, becoming a doormat when it comes to dealing with other people. It’s one thing to take into consideration the feelings and opinions of others, but it’s an entirely different beast when what they want goes against what you need for yourself. By allowing someone else’s wants and needs to supersede your own, you give away a piece of your personal power. It’s okay to say, “I want…” “I need.” By maintaining those ideas, a healthy compromise can be reached. A favorite saying of mine is, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s a favorite because it is a reminder that your opinions, wants, needs, and objectives not only have merit but also have value.

As my behaviors shifted from self-destruction to self-construction, my attitudes have gained a stronger perspective towards positive living. My world has become a more beautiful place to live.

The results of a daily practice, applying what I have learned has allowed: Reparations with my family, a happy marriage, and a joyful, giving of love and time to others while maintaining balance in nearly every aspect of my life. There are still cobwebs that need to be cleared, but as my vision expands to include wonder, awe, and amazement of the world around me, I can’t help but think just how lucky I really am as well as how much my hard work has paid off. 

3 Mystical Actions to Empower your Inner Wild Woman

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{ Source: markshepherdsongs.com }

“A Woman’s issues of soul cannot be treated by carving her into a more acceptable form as defined by an unconscious culture, nor can she be bent into a more intellectually acceptable shape by those who claim to be the sole bearers of consciousness. No, that is what has already caused millions of women who began as strong and natural powers to become outsiders in their own cultures.”  ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

Women are the bearers of untamable divinity.  When we place the soles of our feet upon the holy ground of Mother Earth, we open to a special feminine language.  We pierce the mundane with every step we take, as the rest of the world’s rubber soles tread unaware.  The spiritual woman’s path is the pendulum sway of voluptuous hips in accord with the myriad rhythms of time.

The frightening beauty of the unkempt wildness of woman is what we all want so desperately to emerge.  We need our deepest aspects understood, loved, heard, and honored through a reverence that extends beyond the frivolities of diluted awareness.  The pique of woman is not the heart-stopping deliciousness of form and fairness that empowers her. Everyone who has tasted the nectar of a woman knows that the ambrosia that enlivens the tongue and opens the mind is only a pathway beyond temporal stimuli into the birth of ultimate reality.

For a woman to be complete she must be able to dance naked around a fire under the watch of a ripened full moon.  She must expel the tender sweetness of sexual delight.  She must be unhinged in order to create.  Women wear the veil to the unseen, unknowable world with every creative act, lifting it as we see fit.  Our bodies are heavenly hosts of the soul song that has the power to resurrect the dead and ignite evolution.

It can be smothering to be a woman of our modern age.  We have so much to prove, while we work to disprove our own fallacies, myths of our weakness.  We must be results oriented in order to convey we are worthy in a world with little feminine fluency.  We water down the mysterious power that cannot be contained, nor fully understood, thus diminishing our brilliance.  We wish to express ourselves in the fullness of our intuition, embark on life-changing spiritual journeys, partake in sacred circles and let the rain baptize our torn hearts.

Ultimately, we need to restore ourselves back to vibrancy every single day.

{ Source: Tumblr }

{ Source: Tumblr }

We require solitude from the distracting noise of a million unheard voices that call upon the divine mother.  The petitioners perhaps never realize that their mythic vision defies reality. The transcendent magic of the poorest woman enables her to hear every prayer uttered.  It is the letdown of her spiritual milk.

It is no wonder we have been silenced.  We have been blindfolded, led to believe we must not accept compliment or accolade.  We have been forced into the back of a world built on a foundation of insecurity, competition and supremacy.

Relationship structures have been recreated for women to submit themselves to their men, their most important aspects compromised so as to empower and simultaneously pacify their partners into unnatural comfort.  How else could the wrath of Kali be contained?  Who wouldn’t want to seek refuge in the arms of Mother Mary?

The world needs the unfettered woman now more than ever.  The maidens need to learn compassion and grace from their mothers. Mothers need to diligently learn the ways of truth from the crone. The crones must use their aged eyes to look into the mysterious future while foraging the bones of our ancestors to once again, bring ancient wisdom back to life.  

We must look to the divine feminine to help us from selling our souls for superficial ideas of enlightenment.  We must do the fearful work it takes to reach our sacred inner fountain.  We must be diligent, responsible and committed to our personal truth.

The world is a very frightening place when we cannot live our truth.  Living a lie gives us the burden of too much to remember.  So many costume changes must go off without a hitch, and too many people have to be pleased.  When we are liars we are bound at our delicate wrists to the outside world’s view of a depiction of us.  But we women have mastered the art of costuming in order to survive.  How can we break away?

:: Soul Retrieval:  For the seer, the shaman, and the priestess, soul retrieval is the act of recalling the lost parts of oneself across the reaches of space-time.  The process begins with the understanding that we are complex, multi-dimensional beings with the power to transform energy on sight.  We look to heal ourselves by reaching into the past and offering forgiveness to self and others, defeating the illusion of fear through positive action, and letting our love flow freely in those areas.  It is a journey into the vast desert of the forgotten self and adding flesh to neglected bones.  This is a practice that every spiritual woman must explore with a sense of full presence so that her truth may be used as a return path.

:: Embrace Sacred Solitude: Solitude is the art of spending time alone, by choice, and enjoying it. In sacred solitude, you have no gods to appease. You have no censorship.  It is the creative realm where you discover new truths, rediscover evolving truths, and heal from the demands of the world. It is a place to learn self love. Creating a personal space for retreat is essential for women.  We need a place to empty our hearts and bare our souls without fear of judgment or rejection.  Start with creating a space in your mind that you encrypt from negative thoughts, to-do lists, and responsibilities to everyone else. Then build your sanctuary in your home. Even if it is the smallest corner, it is your pristine part of the universe.

:: Create: Women are natural creators.  Whatever medium you choose, take time to create something.  Take a moment to close your eyes and tap into the Goddess within the containment of your body.  Feel the pressure of every word unexpressed, every desire you have wished.  We have mastered the task of quietness to be acceptable in a conformist society. Is what you don’t say your authentic nature?  What is your authentic voice? How does it sound? If you could say just three words what would they be? Reject the acceptable form.  Untie the corset, take off the control tops, unhook the bra, and spend time stark naked in your soft, creative energy.  You have the right and the power to do so.  The world needs the call of the mountain woman, the haunting sirens song, and the stroke of heartfelt truth that only you can give.

Prayer: The Route Your Light Travels

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{ Source: Pinterest }

“May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” ~ Mother Teresa

With all the saber-rattling and omnipresent war talk, the horror of gassing women and small children, the shooting deaths that have become as commonplace as dandelions, the news stories of dead rivers and dying towns, the burning of Yosemite, the dolphins staining the waters of Taiji blood red, the leaking radiation at Fukushima, and the blue fin tuna that now glow in the dark as a result, it is difficult not to feel despair.

The list of mistakes and mishaps resulting from humanity’s gross negligence goes on and on.

Sometimes, I want to hang my head and cry. I wonder about our seemingly endless capacity for creating monstrous problems, problems that seem insurmountable, intractable, and well, impossible to solve. How can we feel hope, grace, kindness or love in the face of such unspeakable horror?

We have to.

We must maintain hope. We must. We cannot cave into despair and complacency.

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

For the past twenty-eight years, morning and evening, I pray. I pray to take responsibility for my life and to go out into the world and help others. I pray to see myself clearly and to alleviate my own suffering so I can assist others in doing the same thing. I pray to see my life through a lens of possibility and joy, rather than through a gray fog of despair or hopelessness.

When I started my Buddhist practice, I didn’t believe it would actually work to alleviate my agony. A friend at the time challenged me to just, “Try it for a month.”

Why not give it a go?

He promised, “If it doesn’t work, I will never bother you again.” So, off I went. I started my practice, morning and evening. And within a week, my life changed.

***

PRAYING FOR PEACE

These days, I could occupy all of my time focused on the tide of sad, terrifying news that washes into our homes and computers every day. However, there’s no point in turning my prayer toward that nightmare.

Instead, I must pray for the peace I want to see bloom. That is my personal antidote to any war I see being planned.

I must add my voice to the energetic and angelic call for no more war, ever.  No more broken men and women returning from the horror of war.  No more post-traumatic stress disorder.  No more wounded warriors.  No more homeless veterans.  No more lining the pockets of the rich while stealing the very lives of the poor.

***

WHAT CAN I DO?

When my mom and I talked this morning, she told me that she took action to help people in her community to avoid obsessing over the state of things that are beyond her control. “I took a box of food over to the homeless people in Nicklesville (a former tent city in Seattle).  I felt like that was the best thing I could do.  Help someone here and now.”

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of the challenges we have in front of us. It is easy to throw your hands up and fall into numbness and lethargy. But I beg you not to do that. Think about the one thing you can affect. Think about the one person you can call. Think about the person you still need to thank. Think about how you can encourage one person. Today. If you are suffering, help someone else. If an avalanche of despair covers you, find a way, find some way to say, “Thank you universe (higher power, God, Goddess) for even this.”

Even this dark moment in human history can open a door.

Even this day where everything around you feels like noxious fumes, choking the life out of you, even then, there is something to be grateful for, something to celebrate, something to hold onto.

FOR THESE THINGS I GIVE THANKS.

As long as you breathe, you can change your life. And if you change your life, you will impact those around you.  And If those around you see you changing, they will realize they, too, can change. And the people around them will notice a small crack of light shining into their lives. And the people those people know will notice that soft light. And pretty soon, there is something numinous, something aglow, something shifting everywhere along the route that your light travels.

We are each light-workers,  healers, teachers and scribes. Our sense of gratitude for each breath, for each meal, for each moment we have, is our prayer.

If we can simply remember that, everything can change. Everything.

Accept Your Body, Eat a Chocolate Truffle

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{ source: Dailymom.com }

Silence, a pause in the noise.  We take a second to look around to ask ourselves who we are meant to be, brave enough to be.

The time is now for us to accept ourselves, to be true to our bodies and our hearts, and engage in genuine harmonious interactions with nature and each other. When we accept our bodies and hearts, our ideas and our souls for the beautiful, ugly, messy reality that we are, we can accept each other and live truly connected lives. We can gaze up at the moon or sideways to our friends and know deep in our hearts, “I accept you, because I accept me.”

We have grown up in a society that judges us on the size of our body instead of the size of our accomplishments, our souls, our hearts or our laughter. We know that there are not only false expectations about what our bodies “should” look like, but also widely accepted judgments about people of a larger size. The media tells us in different ways: sometimes subtly, other times overtly, that larger people are lazy, they eat too much and they are definitely not happy.

Over and over again, we receive the message that “thin is in.”  Well, if you fall short of thin, you are out.  You will be casted out of a society that makes clothes for “average” sized people yet makes healthy foods extremely inaccessible, and refuses to give us role models of size.  Instead, when we open up a magazine, turn on the television, or watch a music video, we see an overwhelming majority of people who do not look like us.

Many people struggle to find body image acceptance.

There are many ways in which acceptance of our body can resonate differently in each of us, and not only in our size. The reality is that it all stems from the same ideological image of what a person “should” look like. As the famous transgender author and activist Matilda Bernstein Sycamore states, “In a world where we are bombarded with images of what the  normal  is, nobody passes.” So the farther  away you are from what society dictates as this idea of normal, the less likely you are to see media representations of people who look like you.

The message that you are not good enough, the message that we don’t accept you, blares out into the world and into our ears. In chasing after multigenerational anti-acceptance rhetoric, we have created a society that in everywhere we look, there are messages about how we are less-than, and the daunting task of acceptance feels more challenging than before.

The reality of a world like this, and the reality of a world in which we do not accept ourselves, does not function and does not assist us in becoming our higher selves. To not accept our individual self is to operate on fear. A world in which acceptance is not a phenomenon, is a world in which we have only a skewed reflection of ourselves (at best) and therefore we can never truly see ourselves or others for the unique and beautiful beings we are. This leads to dis-trust, divisiveness and an ever allusive feeling that we are not good enough.

How can we attain this acceptance, especially when it is about body image? How can we love ourselves for who we are, for the size and shape of our body, and accept that we love food and will not feel fear or shame?

I suspect that one way to face body image acceptance, is to eat more chocolate truffles!

I propose a loving challenge for folks who may struggle, as I do, to find acceptance of the size and shape of our body:

eat a truffle.

Sit alone, with a beautiful sweet creation, and allow yourself to not think about eating, to not think about calories, but to sit with the comfort of knowing and accepting that you deserve loving and nourishing experiences, even when it comes to food. Take a bite! Let the sweetness of accepting yourself coat your mouth, and your throat. Allow gratitude to come forth.

Gratitude accompanies acceptance by allowing us to sit in the divine energy of body acceptance. Knowing that our bodies are only vessels allows us to give thanks for the gift of being able to experience lovely things— like truffles.

Accepting our bodies, our shells, our messengers is the beginning of a language that all creatures can understand. Individuality and self-acceptance are the bricks of a structure of universal peace within our soul. These structures built on the foundation of trust, loyalty, and kindness, are built without fear.

The structure of acceptance is strong and immovable against the storms of violence  The more vulnerable we can be in the face of body image acceptance, the stronger our communities can be, and the stronger and braver we, the leaders of communities can be. Our personal salvation, as well as the salvation of our communities, depends on accepting our bodies, ourselves and each other.