Sacred Space

January 20th: Sacred Space

For so many years of my life, I was rootless and wild, which had its upsides- I can’t imagine a youth of conformity and structure, and if that sounds appealing to you, we are clearly different kinds of people. But there were downsides, too, one of which was that I often had no space of my own at all, let alone a particular one I carved out and called sacred. Often, I was lucky just to have a twin bed to sleep in with my daughter, and a room filled with belongings that weren’t my own.

I suppose back then that my car was my sacred space. I have so many happy memories of driving around with my windows down, singing at the top of my lungs, just feeling free and delirious with the possibilities stretched out before me. With a little money for gas and a car that ran, I could go anywhere I wanted, and I did. I had nothing but time, it seemed like.

That kind of freedom grows exhausting, though. It involves a lot of maneuvering, asking for favors, depending on the kindness of friends, being very, very poor. I grew up a bit and could see the benefit of being self-reliant and stable. So, I did that. Grudgingly at first, but over time, I’ve mellowed and come to enjoy this different kind of freedom.

One of the things I like the best about my life now is my morning routine, and the sacred space I have created for myself right here in my very own little house. My cushions, my candles, my crystals and incense. The time I spend every day in prayer and meditation, giving thanks for my countless blessings and anchoring myself in my body, to my breath, is something I never grow tired of. It feels different every single day.

I am not suggesting that you start praying and meditating immediately (unless you want to, of course) just because that is what I do…but I do think everyone should have a space that is sacred and meaningful to them, and a time each day to spend on themselves in whatever way feeds their spirit.

I wake up very early every morning and make this time for myself, but I don’t have to force it. This is just what works best for me. I spend time writing, reading, praying, and meditating, and it is the way I prefer to start my day. It’s a sacred time spent in my own sacred space.

Through this creation of time for myself, I have come to know myself in a way that I never did before. Investing in myself through a lot of hard work over the past years has paid off in a big way- now I have the time, the space, the security in life to dig into what suits me best. I can honestly say that the majority of my life and time is full of things and people and places I truly love and enjoy. I had to get through the hard parts to arrive here, but I never stopped trying, not even sure what it was I was reaching for. I knew it when I found it. And once again, I feel delirious with the possibilities spread out before me. That much is still true- perhaps now more than ever.

Create a space that is sacred and meaningful to you. Invest in yourself, in knowing yourself well and caring for your life in every aspect. Work hard when it is time to do so, understanding that this is how we get to the easy parts- through the hard parts. And if your life is nothing but hard parts and things don’t seem to ever improve, it might be time to take a closer look at what the trouble is. I know for me, it was always, always me, standing in my own way.

Love Is Not Hard

December 21st: Love is Not Hard

Would you be surprised if I told you that I am far more vulnerable here, when I write, than I am at any other time? And why wouldn’t I be? It’s so easy to sit here and talk about what is in my heart and my mind to this blank page and to the people who might read it than it is to walk through the world that way- wide open, everything tender exposed.

I have learned, over time, that love is dangerous. That my picker is broken, that my choices are bad, that I am difficult to love in return, that things inevitably fall apart. I have learned by watching others that marriage is hard and generally unhappy. That people are seething just below the surface. That everyone longs to be free. I have learned firsthand that love doesn’t always protect you, that love can be harmful, confusing, and leave scars. It’s no wonder that it is something I struggle with.

Here’s the thing: All of those things I just wrote in the last paragraph are not about love. Those things are about people, and people are flawed. The love we want to give others, the love we receive, is always mixed in with other things, wounds we carry, fear, immaturity, thoughtlessness…If we have never been loved well, how do we learn how to love others? How do we learn to receive love? How do we ever stop hurting others because we don’t know how to love the right way? How do we stop hurting from being loved poorly?

I’m not sure I know the answers, exactly, but I do think they are worth seeking out. I had the craziest dream last night, where I found myself doing something awful and it was as if I were two people- one in a blind rage, and the other watching helplessly, knowing I was wrong. And then a voice came from somewhere and it spoke to me…I can’t remember the exact words, but the message was clear- you cannot teach love any other way than by loving, and love does not look like this. Love doesn’t scream, it doesn’t bully or belittle or make people afraid. Love doesn’t play games or withhold itself until it gets its way. That isn’t love.

Love is not hard. People make it hard- by fearing how it may hurt us or remembering how it has hurt us before. There are a million ways we can muck it up and make it seem hard, but love is as easy and natural as breathing. So many of us have just forgotten or learned the wrong lessons.

Today, I’m going to remember that dream I had and let it guide me when it comes to dealing with those I love. Am I really loving them, or am I letting my brokenness and unconscious habits get in the way? Because it matters. Not only for me, but for the little person I am teaching love to. For her, I want love to be easy, safe, and natural. I want that for me, too. And for you, and for those you love. All of you.

Thoughts

November 16th: Thoughts

I do not know how anyone else’s mind works. I am only just now, at my age, beginning to understand the way mine works. I am pretty confident, though, that we all generally, at the very bottom of it all, want the same things: To love & be loved, to feel safe, to be healthy, free of worry, and to be peaceful and happy. That might look starkly different from person to person, but the desires are the same.

The biggest obstacle that stands between me and all of those things are not any of the things that make the most sense. I am not unlovable or incapable of giving love, I am not in any imminent danger, not sick, not plagued with problems. The things that give me trouble more than anything else are my own thoughts.

As I said, I don’t know how your mind works. But mine is pretty extra. I love my mind, don’t get me wrong- I am funny and imaginative and I have a knack for knowing how to coax a smile from a child or soften an angry heart. I love that about myself. I can also drive myself up the wall with fantastic scenarios that will never happen, assumptions that are dead wrong, and just plain rude remarks towards my own self, when I know I am doing the best I can. Who needs that?

Not me! Part of the reason I meditate (as I’ve mentioned a billion times before) is to slow the frantic pace of my thoughts, and to recognize when my thoughts are unkind and untrue. Most of the time it works great. When the stakes of the day are a bit higher, though, so is my anxiety, and therefore, my thoughts are a bit harder to deal with.

The thing is…I always end up doing what needs to be done. I always pull it off, whatever it might be. Looking back on my life, whatever the occasion was, I can’t think of one I didn’t rise to. Perhaps there have been some, but the point is, I can’t remember them if there were, so…it must not have been that important, right? All the stress and worry I put myself through was and is for nothing.

Today, whatever you have on your plate, remember, you can handle it. If your thoughts are being unkind and untrue, let them know that you see that and that you won’t be taking that shit on right now. Worry and stress do nothing but rob you of the joy of living, and you deserve to enjoy your life. So, make your best effort and know that is the most anyone can ever expect of you. And when your thoughts get a little sideways, remember YOU are in the driver’s seat, and you know what you are doing. If that doesn’t work, just turn up the music until you can’t hear yourself think. That works, too.

Beginnings

November 9th: Beginnings

I love beginnings- the start of a new book (whether I’m reading it or writing it), a new relationship, the first day in a new house, when you are standing in the living room, looking around at the clean floors and the empty walls, deciding where things will go.

That’s probably why I love these early mornings so much, too; if I get up super early, I get just that much more newness out of the day. Time to decide what I can accomplish in the hours ahead, time to set myself up for the best possible outcome by meditating and honoring my creative pursuits, setting intentions and practicing gratitude- you know, all that hokey shit I’m into. Listen, I am practical, realistic, and honest to the point of being blunt, so I know how annoying and weird all this woo-woo spiritual stuff can sound. I also know that it works for me. And if it helps me, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t help you, or anyone else, for that matter. No matter what your circumstances happen to be, gratitude, meditation (or mindfulness), goals (or intentions), and creativity (or doing something that fills you with joy), when pursued regularly, will benefit your life. Take the spiritual component out if it makes you feel more comfortable, and you still have a worthwhile endeavor. Unless you are profoundly depressed, in which case it is basically impossible to believe that happiness will ever exist or even that it ever has existed in your life (I was gifted this knowledge by post-partum depression, circa 2010), or dealing with another mental illness that distorts reality, the practices I’ve listed are more than just mumbo-jumbo.

Mindfulness and meditation have helped me become aware of my thoughts and slow down enough to start to change them. Setting intentions and goals gives me direction and purpose. Being creative or doing something that makes me happy…well, it makes me happy. Joy is super important. And expressing gratitude underlines how much is going right, even when my feelings don’t match my situation. You can feel terrible, and still have so much to be grateful for.

So, back to beginnings- I love mornings, and Monday’s, my birthday, New Year’s, new moons, new months…all of those things. I’m a sucker for a fresh start. The start of something new is ripe with possibility, like the first blank page in a notebook.

But here’s the thing- you don’t have to wait for Monday to roll around to start over again. You can– hell, “Next Monday” is the second most popular day to start a diet, right behind “tomorrow”. The problem with next Monday’s and tomorrow’s is that they have a habit of staying just a little bit ahead of us, in the future. That’s why, even if it’s 2:45 on a Wednesday afternoon from hell, you can choose right then and there, to start over. You can take a deep, dramatic breath, super loud if you want- you can even slump down in your chair and scrunch your eyes shut or shake your hands like you are trying to dry them off, if it helps. Or, you can simply, silently decide “Okay, enough of this.”, and you can reboot. Make a small shift in your behavior or your attitude, and change direction.

And I say your behavior and your attitude because, of course, those are the only things you can control. You can’t keep your coworkers from bringing in piles of baked goods every day, but you don’t have to eat them. You can’t keep slow drivers out of the fast lane, but you don’t have to get enraged over it. You can’t stop life from happening exactly the way it does, but you can choose how you respond to it. Even if you have been grouchy and angry and miserable all day long and it’s eight p.m., you can stop right now and start over.

Today, I want to thank you for hearing me out. I know this was a little longer than usual, but I needed to share this with you. If you realize you are in the habit of being unhappy, you owe it to yourself to change that. If your thoughts are mostly negative, if your life is just this side of miserable, if nothing is working out the way you wanted…give yourself permission to start over. I’m not talking about running away, I’m talking about changing your perspective. Trying something different. We are creatures of habit, and sometimes we don’t even realize the impact our own thoughts and words and attitude have on our lives. I encourage you to pay attention. Think about it. And, whenever you need to, however it looks for you- don’t be afraid to start over. The beginning is wherever you want it to be.

Intention

November 4th: Intention

It’s not a big secret that I am an exceptionally moody person. It took me most of my life to understand that not everyone is ruled by their emotions. Some people- get this- can have feelings about something and still make sound judgement based on reasons that have nothing to do with that feeling. I know, it sounds crazy to me, too, but…it’s a real thing.

As I’ve grown older, even I have had moments where I realized that, while my emotions were certainly real, the decisions I felt compelled to make because of them were not what you might call…sound. I have what my therapist calls “Big Feelings”. I tend to be reactive, and highly susceptible to the moods and emotions of other people, too. I take shit personally. I have to be careful how much news I listen to, what kind of things I watch on TV, and even who I can be around for more than short periods of time. Certain people just drain me. Sometimes I drain myself. Me, I have a harder time getting away from.

As I’ve dedicated myself more and more to meditation, mindfulness, and changing the unhealthy patterns in my life, I’ve found that setting an intention for the day is incredibly helpful. To be honest, I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing when I started doing it, but now I see it. Intention is sort of an anchor that pulls me back to myself when my emotions start pulling me away. For me, what that means is, early in the morning, before anyone else is awake, and for sure before I step foot outside my house, I sit down on my cushion, and I pray. If you don’t pray, that’s not an insurmountable obstacle really- I think just sitting down, closing your eyes, and getting still would be sufficient. I always start with gratitude- another day alive and well, a fresh start, a working body…there are so many things to be grateful for.

Then I ask for healing, balance, and whatever I feel like I might need at that particular moment. Lots of times, it’s kindness, the ability to be the loving mother my children need. By naming these things, I am setting them right in the front of my mind. At first, it seemed like all that did was make me notice how far away I was from achieving those goals. Now, I have developed a knack for spotting opportunities to be exactly the person I want most to be.

There is a space now, between an action and my reaction. There is a moment when I get to decide who I will show up as next. Sometimes, I choose the wrong way. But more and more, I am left feeling proud of the choices that I make.

Today, before you walk out your front door, think about the person you want to show up in the world as today. Do you want to be calm, more friendly, more focused, less stressed? When you lay down in bed at night and think about the day behind you, what would you like that day to look like? This is the time to make that kind of day a reality. Don’t be discouraged if at first all you see is how badly you’re screwing it up- that’s kind of part of the process. Keep setting your intentions, keep pushing forward, and little by little, you’ll see yourself evolving ever closer to the person you are meant to be.

Fleeting

November 1st: Fleeting

Last night, I was poised to do what I always do on Halloween- stay home to wait for the one or two kids that come tripping up my stairs in their sparkly costumes, shyly whispering “Trick-or-Treat!” as they hold out their bags. And really, as much as I do enjoy this, it’s more an excuse to not have to walk the streets for hours at night- after all, I get up around 3 every morning, so by the time I get off work at 5, I’m tired.

Last night, that was my intention. Let dad take Camryn like he usually does, and I can sit here on my couch and wait, munching on the candy that is meant for the trick-or-treaters, and finally getting some time to read my book.

But…something occurred to me while I was helping Cam get ready last night. Actually, that isn’t right- what happened was, it occurred to that I wasn’t helping Cam get ready last night. She didn’t need my help. I offered, and she didn’t even want my help. She had it. She drew on her own kitty nose, and her own whiskers, put on her own mascara, and her own lipstick. The only thing she needed help with was her tail, and anyone might need help with that.

I thought to myself ‘how many more times?’. How many more Halloweens will she be so excited about the day from the minute she wakes up? How many more years will she wait, in agony, for it to be the right time to start knocking on doors? How long before deciding what to be this year is a months-long dilemma? How long before she doesn’t even want one of her embarrassing parents to tag along with her, let alone both of us?

And so, just like that, I changed the plan. I lit all seven of the pumpkins we’d carved and left a basket full of candy on the top step, and I tagged along. I’m so glad I did. I spoke with neighbors I’ve never met, and visited with ones I know, people who have seen Camryn grow these past five years. I saw darling little old ladies in Witch hats, and the guy who wears the ape mask every year when he hands out candy. But most importantly of all, I was there to watch my little girl…well, be a little girl.

Here’s the thing- as humans, we have this weird ability to trick ourselves into thinking that the way things are is the way they will always be. I think it is probably a coping mechanism that has to do with ignoring our own mortality or something. Or, I don’t know, maybe it’s just because we don’t see very well the things that are most often in front of us. But it is an illusion. Time waits for no one, as the saying goes. We age, our children grow up and change, time marches on. It happens gradually, sure, but one day- one Halloween, one birthday, one first day of school…everything is different. Your role will change, and you find yourself looking back longingly at the very same things you once grumbled about- or at the very least, silently wished you could pawn off on someone else.

Today, as we start rolling full force into the holiday season, I hope that you can find a way to engage wholeheartedly, so that there is meaning in it for you. If you have children, be mindful that the atmosphere you create becomes the memories they carry for life. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just warm, loving. If you don’t have children, or if they are grown, or if you are the child and your family is not a safe place to land…remember, you still deserve to slow down, to show up for yourself, and to create beautiful memories. With a little imagination and creativity, there are so many ways to celebrate, to give and receive the abundance of love we all have. Wherever you might be, whoever you are, remember- life is precious and fleeting. Make the most of it.