Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pondering Pint-sized Perseverance

Yesterday, just because the sun was out and the temperature was above five degrees (celsius,) I sat in a small local park and let spring soak into my bones. There was a little girl- about two to three years old- steady on her feet but clearly relatively new to all that could be accomplished once an upright posture is achieved. Dressed in a bright yellow jacket, blue jeans, and pink runners she was intent on her own activity, her head of blonde curls bent in concentration. Her mother watched from a park bench nearby.

Now, set into a very gentle slope that runs from the paved walking path onto the small playing field are two shallow concrete steps. The slope is so slight and the steps are so minimal you have to wonder why they were put there at all. Most folks just step right over them or go around them.

But to this small girl these two steps were an alluring challenge. Over and over she would go to the top step and prepare to jump to the ground, bending her knees, swinging her arms, her small body winding up for the leap to the soft grass below the two steps. She was as focused as any sky-diver. But despite her clear intention, each time, at the last moment, she extended one small foot and stepped down onto the lower step before making the clearly desired and more adventurous two-legged leap onto the grass.

And then she’d go back up the small slope, put herself on the top step and start the process all over again. I could feel my own body tense with anticipation each time she got ready to make the jump from the top step, could see the fear and determination in her small shoulders.

Suddenly, one of the boys who’d been running around the park noticed the aspiring jumper. He was bigger and older than she was- probably four or five years old. He raced over, paused briefly on the top step and leapt into the air with a shout of triumph, landing in a low crouch on the grass below.

The little girl watched him. Her forehead wrinkled into a frown, her eyes were serious, her mouth set in a grim line. I wondered if she would take the ease with which he had done what she’d been trying to do for the last half hour as encouragement or an indication of some kind of personal failure, a reason to give up.

The boy ran off to rejoin his friends, and the girl just stood on the grass looking at the steps for a few moments. And then she went up the slope and started all over again. When I left fifteen minutes later, she was still at it, still trying to summon the courage to jump from the top step, each time pausing just before the leap to take one step down. Perhaps she had taken the boy's agility as encouragement- clearly this was a feat a small human being could accomplish.

Or maybe she knew intuitively that each person’s “edge” where they find a challenge and must stretch to do what they think they cannot, is different. Perhaps she could feel that each time she tried her fear was loosening its grip a little more. Certainly she showed no signs of giving up.

As I headed back to my apartment to try and make some sense out of the note-covered walls (an attempt to organize material in the book I am writing) I thought about how human it is to keep trying, to find a way to do what feels important to us even if it doesn't come easily (and seems to come easily to another) or doesn’t hold particular value for anyone else. It made me smile to think of that small determined child in us all, willing to keep trying, frightened but eager to jump just for the thrill of knowing- hoping- that we can.

Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Singing Your Song Now

I came across this quote by Rabindranath Tagore this week. It took my breath away:

"I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung."

My whole body sighed a deep, "Yes."

In a culture where we stay in and return to school often well into our adult years (something I think is a wonderful priviledge and great gift) we can fall into endlessly preparing for the thing that calls to us, feeling we need to learn more, train more, perfect the stringing and unstringing of our instrument. Oh, of course, there are times when we need prerequisite skill development or eduction, and the feedback from a valued mentor can be invaluable in deepening necessary skills.

But what's that great John Lennon line? "Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans."

On some level, if we feel called to do something we deeply value, we may never feel "ready enough." But at some point, noticing that the days and weeks and years are passing, remembering that none of us knows how much time we have, we really do need to begin, trusting that we will learn what we need as we go.

This kind of quote keeps me writing, working on a new book when I wonder if I should be doing more research, taking another course or waiting until some idea or story is more completely formed. But I have been stringing and unstringing my bow often enough since the last song was sung, the last book was written.

There is some song that will only be sung because each of us is here. If we find it, may we have the courage to sing it now.

Oriah (c) 2013 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Choice & A Request

I have the stories that matter to my unfolding, and I have the need to write. But it hasn't been happening.

I know that my next book's working title is The Choice. I know it is about my struggle to make the choice to really be here in this life, within this body-self (not the one I remember having twenty years ago or fantasize about having if I ever start doing the exercise I say I will,) in this world (not the one built on romanticized memories of what we say once was or the one we hope we will create some day.) It’s about the nitty-gritty of what it means to say yes to life on all levels, no matter what demons- inner or outer- are licking their lips, baring their teeth and eye-balling me like a juicy piece of meat.

My agent told me yesterday to dip my pen in the blood and start writing. He’s right- about both about my need to write and where the stories have to come from. There’s no walking around what has unfolded since I wrote my last book.

And that’s part of why I haven't been doing the writing I need to do. I want to write around and not through the stories of the last ten years: a downward spiral and periods of separation from my inner knowing and connection to Presence that I could not have imagined was possible; the agony of betrayal, separation, divorce; loss of my home and belongings; the realities of caring for two parents with Alzheimer’s shredding my efforts to re-imagine a childhood rooted in silent terror as something other than what it was.

Of course, there’s also been recovery and healing, deepening insight and growing awareness but these are most often less like once-and-for-all celebratory aha-moments, but rather like the slow and sometimes not-so-steady lurching, stumbling, falling and painful rising of a small mud-covered animal crossing a burnt-out forest floor.

The books I have written have all been the truth of the journey I was taking. But the story is incomplete.

So what stops the writing? The two things that always stop us when we know what to do (or at least where to start) and find ourselves paralyzed or distracted: shame and fear. 

But still there is (with the help of many and that which is larger than us all) faith: in truth-telling to dispel shame and allow us to reclaim our lives; in storytelling to mend what is broken; in creativity to allow us to keep walking through the fear.

Ironically (or perhaps predictably,) I cannot make the choice to be here fully in this life without writing the book I am calling The Choice.

So, dear friends, I am going to allow myself the gift of inconsistency in those places where I am easily and pleasurably distracted. I will participate less on Facebook and put up a blog here intermittently instead of every week as I have done for several years (or post only small snippets and not worry about how coherent they are.) I will stop answering the many emails I receive each month- simply reading them when I can and saying prayers of gratitude.

I ask for your help- and there is a way you could help me immensely. Publishing these days is dependant  upon "on-line presence," and the time and energy required to cultivate that presence makes it almost impossible to write a book. So, even if I am not here as much, I would ask that you keep both this blog and my Facebook page ( alive while I write by "liking" or commenting on what is posted, sharing it with friends, and subscribing here (put your email address in at the bottom of the green column on the right side of the page.) 
Because the truth is, nobody makes the choice to be here fully in one small particular life in this big beautiful and sometimes overwhelming world, without a lot of help, without companions with whom we can sit around the fire after a long day of walking. 

Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Glimpses of Sanity

Sometimes the mind meanders and we are given a glimpse of the gifts in our struggles. This was the path my wild and wooly mind took one day this week.

I see ads for several on-line workshops all using the phrase “ideal life.” (As in, ‘Create Your Ideal Life’ and ‘Learn to Live Your Ideal Life.’) I wince, even as I consider what my “ideal life” might look like. I am disturbingly un-inspired, perhaps too aware (as a recovering perfectionist) that the ideal is often the enemy of the real, is what encourages us to pick at what is good until it lies in tatters.

Makes me think of a term coined by psychologist DW Winnicott: “the good enough parent.” Winnicott came up with this to reassure conscientious parents that they did not need to be “perfect” to ensure their child had a sense of being loved and cared for and welcomed into life.

When I was a child my mother’s response to the phrase “good enough” coming from my brother or I in response to any inquiry about a job she’d told us to do was, “Go back and do it the right!” For her, “good enough” was equivalent to “slap-happy” and sub-standard.

A memory from twenty-five years ago arises: I am talking to my mother on the phone, telling her that I’ve been diagnosed by yet another doctor as having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I’m thirty-three years old and have two small sons. I also have a broken leg (in a cast from knee to toe) and a fever from a case of pneumonia I just can’t shake. My mother tells me the CFS/ME diagnosis is “ridiculous.” She knows what’s wrong with me- I just don’t want to care for my home properly, have "always tried to get out of domestic chores.” She tells me to “get at it,” is clear that my house-keeping is "not good enough- not by a long shot!” (Later I wonder and consider that my mother may really believe that pushing me to clean my house will render me completely healthy and filled with vitality. Sadly, I've already tried the Housekeeper of The Year remedy and ended up in bed for weeks.)

My mind flashes forward twenty years. Despite a great deal of therapy, shamanic ceremony, meditation and other healing work I still warn my then-husband that the week before my parents’ visit to our home I will be (in my words) “a crazy woman.” I give up resisting the urge to make the house perfect (and consequently feel like I am cheating on the therapist I have not seen in a few years.) I know better. Knowing better doesn’t help. I wash windows, clean closets, wax floors, weed the garden and do paint touch-ups on the corners of baseboards and kitchen cupboards. (I include this last detail just so we are all clear that I had crossed the line between meticulous preparation and runaway neurosis.) The scent of fresh baked bread fills the house. The kitchen sink gleams.

My mother arrives. I watch her examine the house as she talks about the weather. I hold my breath. 

And then it happens. For the first, last and only time my mother says, “Your house looks nice.” 

I reply, “Thank you." 

As I serve dinner I start laughing. My husband asks me what's funny. I just shake my head. I cannot explain. I have spent a week of my life, (although more accurately, years) exhausted myself and plagued my husband for, “Your house is nice." Seeing how crazy and silly this is, the inner door to freedom opens a crack.

And this small insight brings a great gift: compassion arises effortlessly when I am with friends or clients who are mercilessly driving themselves to attain someone else's standards in the hope of being seen, acknowledged and loved. I understand how we sometimes get hooked by values we don't share. I feel no judgement about not being able to instantly break free. I tell them what we all know on some level, what I also need to hear and remember: we can't earn love; we are loveable and we belong by virtue of being.

My ideal life? To recognize, receive, enjoy and appreciate what is truly good enough. Good enough for fullness of life, for being able to do what is needed and enjoy the moments we have; good enough for love toward self and others to flow with ease.

I fantasize about new workshop titles: 'Learn To Live Your Good Enough Life Fully,’ or perhaps, 'Learn to Live Your Good Enough Life To The Best Of Your Ability.' Or how about, 'Savour What Is Good Enough Now!'

Oriah (c) 2013