Finding Peace

The Permanence of Impermanence

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Saw this pink flamingo slowly dying on the street this morning. Wonder if someone is missing it? 

You have to pay attention because, if you don’t, you will miss the best things.

My mind has been parsing the notion of loss lately. I’m not talking only about losing a person or pet to disease or losing my children as they grow and become their own people, although these two particular losses have been weighing heavily on my heart recently. I’m also talking about losing things like my hair or the bottle of peppermint oil I had in my hand a minute ago or the astounding piece of wisdom I was about to share but which vaporized before I could pry it from my brain. I seem to be losing everything these days.

When the universe persists in presenting me with opportunities for growth, eventually I catch on to the pattern. And the current rate at which I have been facing loss has given rise to non-stop mulling about the loss and what loss even is and where it comes from and how I can best deal with it in the moment and how to survive it long-term and what I can learn from it to help me along my path. Searching for meaning is what I do as a double Gemini.

Buddhism teaches that suffering is a constant condition of the human experience, and our inability to deal with all types of suffering (from physical pain to the pain of persistent change to the pervasive conditioning that finds us repeating the same negative behaviors from which we need to escape) keeps us from experiencing true happiness. If you are born, you will suffer and you will die. It’s how we choose to approach suffering that determines the quality of life before we leave.

Loss is painful because we have a misguided notion we have some right to claim ownership. We don’t. We don’t own our bodies, we occupy them. We can’t keep them from aging or changing. We may be able to lessen the visible effects of our unhealthy behaviors and the constant pull of gravity and genetics, but we cannot stop our march towards death or the visible proof of that continual process. We don’t own others. They too have a timeline and will move through this life on their own path. Our inability to accept that life is transitory and that the people in our lives are as impermanent as we are creates a path to misery because loss of life is unavoidable. In the poignant words of Walter White, “Every life comes with a death sentence.” We don’t even own items we own. A burglar can take my computer. An auto accident can wreck my car. A fire can incinerate my home and everything inside it. And there is very little I can do about any of it, really.

This morning I looked out my bedroom window into the park-like backyard I am fortunate enough to enjoy. There were finches and nuthatches clinging to the feeder. Squirrels chasing each other around the tree trunk. A mouse scurrying away with a fallen bit of feed corn. A small bunny gnawing a dandelion. This is not the same bunny that inhabited our yard before (I will never forget you, wherever you are, Wobble Bunny), yet our yard still has a bunny. The dead squirrel we found last week has been replaced by another squirrel happy to stake his claim. The players are different but the play is the same. This, in a nutshell, is life.

Loss is certain. Change is inexorable. Pain is compulsory. How we approach and what we take from these guarantees is a choice. My children are almost grown, and I can wallow in sadness about their impending departure or I can appreciate them now. People I love will move on. My hair will get thinner. Items I have lost may show up eventually or they may not. But squandering time perseverating about the loss of people or belongings I could never stake claim to in the first place is useless. I am going to practice appreciating life and its players now. So, I am going to close up my computer, drag my sons out of their basement cave, and take them outside to appreciate the carousel of revolving life in our yard because the only loss I can avoid is a wasted opportunity to own the fullness of this moment just as it is.

Un*#@% Yourself

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Me back in the days before I had self-awareness

Un*#@% yourself. Be who you were before all that stuff happened that dimmed your *#@%ing shine.

If you’re lucky, there comes a time in your life when you wake up. I mean really wake up. And it’s the kind of wake up that comes at the end of a nightmare where you are falling into an endless abyss or your children are drowning before your eyes while you stand powerlessly nearby or you are being crushed under a collapsing building and your lungs begin to burn with suffocation. It’s the kind of wake up that leaves you shaking and stunned and mind blown and sick to your stomach. It might happen from one singular event (“I’m sorry, but you have cancer”) or, as in my case, it might happen over time as the weight of a lifetime filled with little injuries finally snaps something inside of you. Some people never wake up. But, if you’re lucky, it happens, and you can start living consciously.

I went back to therapy yesterday for the first time in nearly a year. I went with the idea that, at forty-eight, it is finally time to get over my obnoxious lack of self-esteem. So, I told her that I need to get my head on straight about myself. I do not see myself as others see me. I self-sabotage my own potential for success. My stinking thinking has got to go. I need tools, I told her. To gain some insight into where we should start, she conducted some basic reconnaissance work.

Her:  What if you won an award? What would that feel like for you? What would you think?

Me:  *head tilt with impressive pensive expression as I tried to imagine facing success*

Her:  I’m guessing you would feel it was undeserved? 

Me:  Ummm….yeah. But that is not the worst of it. I would assume there had been a mistake.

Her: *consciously trying to keep a neutral countenance* 

Me:  I would be thinking that they must have run out of other people to give the award to.

Her: *noticeable eyebrow raise* 

Me:  I would assume I was their last choice.

Her:  Wow. Okay. We have some work to do. 

Being me, my next thought was that she was making a mental note to determine if my insurance would cover enough therapy sessions to help me out because that, my friends, is how deep my internal negativity goes. I am appallingly cynical. It would make for great sitcom dialogue.

After a little more chatting, we came up with some strategies. I need to write a letter saying goodbye to the person I am now and all the baggage she carries that is unhealthy. I need to define who I think I really am underneath all the old junk and what the new me looks like inside. I need to make a list of things the old me would not have attempted because of fear and negativity and then start doing those things to reinforce positive behaviors. I need to decide on a mantra I can use to replace the old thoughts when they creep in and start messing with me. I need to surround myself with positivity and people who support my goal. And I need to be willing to talk about this journey without judging it or myself, which is why I am writing here today.

All this makes my head hurt. A lot. But, it turns out that the copious amounts of wine I have been imbibing and augmenting with generous servings of Ben & Jerry’s are not helping me feel better either. Trust me. I have tried that therapy for a year. It’s possible that only because that therapy didn’t work I had to go to real therapy. (Well….that and an increasingly obvious waistband issue.) I now have no choice but to do the hard work. My desire to change has finally exceeded the ease of staying stuck in the miserable same. It’s a weird place to be.

Putting yourself out there is rough. It’s hard under the best circumstances, but it’s harder still when what you’re putting out there is a shameful something you’ve spent your lifetime ignoring. If it weren’t for the waking up, though, I wouldn’t be sure it was worth it. If it weren’t for the annoying headache brought on by mental overload, I wouldn’t know for sure I am more awake today than I was yesterday. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? Well…I’ve done that. Now it’s time to get to work. I am cautiously optimistic that I will like the new me. I think she’s a good kid with crazy potential.

The Ponce de Leon Syndrome

Ignore the facial hair and focus on the balayage brilliance.

Grey? I don’t see no stinking grey.

“If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated. I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile. I think that the older I get, the more yoga I’m going to do.” ~Jamie Lee Curtis

I was sitting in the chair having my hair guru, Danielle, work the miracle of balayage on my way-too-quickly-greying tresses when I came across an article about a growing trend of women shaving their faces. One of my joys in going to see Danielle is that I get to check out all the latest copies of People, US, and In Style without actually having to buy any issues. It’s how I get to act like a typical female without having to admit to a grocery store clerk that I am typical. But I am going to have to stop reading these publications if articles like this continue to pop up. Why can’t I just read in peace about Bruce Jenner’s transformation to woman without realizing I’m failing as one when I already have all the right parts?

As I battle the march of Middle Age, a battle that becomes more arduous and gruesome as my forties pass, I can barely make time for whitening toothpaste, moisturizing sunscreen, and a daily appointment with my Clarisonic (which is really more of an every third or fourth day meeting if I am being honest). Now I’m supposed to add shaving to my already overtaxed routine? Apparently, this is the latest resurgence of an old exfoliation trend. The article claims that mens’ skin is much less wrinkly and smoother because they shave, thereby removing dead skin cells each time they drag a razor across their face. You can have this dermaplaning done at a dermatologist’s office or spa for between $85-150 a month or you can buy razors and attempt to master the technique yourself and repeat it every four weeks. The more I thought about it, the more it began to make some sort of sense. Most men age pretty darn well. But, still, are you kidding me? Is this what it’s coming to? It’s almost like there’s someone out there trying to see what wild things they can get American women to buy into. The beauty industry does quite well for itself.

I’m not thrilled about getting older. In a few months, I am slated to hit 47. Forty-freaking-seven. And as much as I am trying to be all zen about it, I am not even remotely there. Am I glad I’m still on this planet after nearly a half of a century? Absolutely. Living is much better than dying. But long life comes with aging and aging isn’t pretty. I struggle with the reflection in the mirror. I notice the wrinkles, the blossoming jowls, the dark circles, and the skin imperfections earned after too many days at high altitude without sunscreen because when I was a kid it was SPF 4 tanning lotion on my redheaded body at the pool. It freaks me out. Maybe I should skip the shaving? Honestly, I might be better off with a full beard, now that I’m thinking about it. A beard could hide all sorts of stuff. Wonder if I can grow enough chin hair for that?

I’ve tried all sorts of things to make myself feel like I don’t look my advancing age. My latest insanity is micro needling to improve skin texture, but even poking myself in the face to increase collagen production doesn’t seem to be helping. No matter what I do or how much I invest, time’s gonna keep right on marching across my face. And even if I enlist every treatment known, from Botox to fillers, from laser skin treatments to facelifts, I’m never going to look 20 again. I could spend the GDP of Lithuania on anti-aging treatments, but it won’t stop the inevitable. The years will take their toll.

So I am now trying to discern what aging gracefully might look like for me and how I might achieve it. I think every day about my friends who are on the backside of 50 and who assure me that all my insanity over my appearance will decrease. Eventually I will become more comfortable in my own skin and won’t care as much how I look. I won’t give a second thought to staying younger looking by adding a close shave to my routine. I’ll strive for good health. I’ll focus on drinking lots of water, eating my greens, getting restful sleep, practicing more yoga, and cultivating bigger smiles. And I’ll stop reading stupid articles about how shaving will make me look younger.

Truth is that I am much happier with myself now than I ever was at 20. Would it be nice to have my 46-year-old wisdom in my 20-year-old body? Sure it would. Just like someday I will wish for my 70-year-old wisdom in my 46-year-old body. But I’m not a Disney fan and I don’t live in Fantasyland. This idea we have as a nation about women staying and looking young into our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond is a bit Ponce de Leon. If we’re smart enough to acknowledge that the Fountain of Youth doesn’t actually exist, we should be smart enough to know we can’t wish it into existence either.

We spend our youth looking forward to being older and our adulthood wishing we were younger. It’s a horrible paradox. I’m working on becoming more zen about aging, but I have a feeling I’ll be working on it until the day I die.

Good Writers Ruffle Feathers

“As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and working toward it while letting go of how it comes to pass.” ~Jim Carrey

Last week, I made a big decision. I decided it is time to start taking myself more seriously. Now I absolutely do not mean that in the way where I plan on losing my sense of humor about life on this planet. I am working toward levity and whimsy in my life. It’s part of my path toward zen. I want to be able to laugh at myself easily and get my panties out of a bunch with greater speed when something goes wrong. In fact, my goal is to avoid getting wadded up in the first place, but that is going to take a lot of personal growth. I am working on it. What I mean is that I want to start taking myself more seriously in terms of what I can do. I want to have greater faith in myself. I want to act bravely, to take risks, and to give myself room to achieve things I’ve always wanted but have been afraid to ask for.

So, with that singular goal in mind, I visited my therapist on Thursday. I told her what I want for myself and together we brainstormed ideas to help me move toward my goals with courage, conviction, and purpose. I am ready to promote myself and see what may develop for me when I admit, without hemming and hawing, that I am a writer. We discussed my self-defeating habit of apologizing for and belittling my own work. We discussed that there is room for all kinds of writers in the world. My work doesn’t have to be for everyone, and merely because it isn’t for everyone doesn’t mean that it is without merit. I left her office feeling buoyed by intention and clarity of mind.

And then yesterday, less than 24 hours after I had spoken my dreams aloud and vowed to move in the direction of my writing goals, the universe sent me my first test. No warning. No time to work on a mission statement. Land mine. Boom! You have to love how that works. To give a long, hairy story a crew cut, something I wrote profoundly upset someone and suddenly I was in a maelstrom of self-doubt. Although I hadn’t intentionally been hurtful, something I had written caused duress. For awhile I felt so badly that I thought about taking the post off my site. I spent the morning and part of the afternoon cycling through emotions, rolling between incredulity and chagrin, frustration and trepidation. I had really stepped in it now. I was making enemies with my mommy blog. How was that even possible?

I reached out to a couple reliable friends, hoping they could stop my tailspin and rein me back in. And in the midst of my mental turmoil, one of them made this simple statement. Good writers ruffle feathers. Just like that, things stopped spinning. She was right. While I can do my best to avoid damaging personal relationships by composing mindful articles, at the end of the day my primary responsibility as writer is to my audience and my craft. Words, whether spoken or written, can hurt. If I live within a paradigm where I own others’ reactions to what I say, I will never be able to write anything meaningful to me or anyone else. And that is not the writer I am nor the writer I wish to be.

So thanks, Universe, for the test. I get it now. While I am sorry that someone was hurt because that was not at all my intent, I stand by my article. It was part of my blog, and my blog is an honest account of my stories. Not everyone is going to appreciate them, and I’m okay with that. I don’t always appreciate their stories either. There is room for me in the grand posse of writers, and I am going to keep diligently working toward my goal and stop worrying about the path my journey takes. There will be stumbling blocks and paralyzingly moments of self-doubt, but I am finished letting others dictate what is appropriate for me. If you get me, great. If you don’t, that is fine too. Life is too damn short not to be true to myself, whoever I happen to be in this moment.

Relax…Nothing Is In Control

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” ~Eckhart Tolle

I got to take the boys to their ski lessons today. For me this meant a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a quick trip to Starbucks for a latte to help wash down my Lara Bar breakfast on the ski-traffic-heavy drive to Winter Park. As the sun was coming up, I sipped my daily dose of caffeine and listened to my sons discussing Pokemon…again. I looked up occasionally from the road to witness the sun tinting the snowy peaks the palest shade of baby-pig pink. Colorado is awesome. And, as much as I gripe when the alarm goes off at 5:30 on a weekend morning meant for sleeping in, and as mind-numbing as hours crawling along in round-trip ski traffic can be, I’ve accepted that ski lesson Saturdays are a miracle. They just are. They fill me with inexplicable gratitude.

I skied a few runs with the boys and their ski instructors this morning before taking off to do a few runs on my own. As I was waiting in the singles line for a quad lift at the base of the resort, I made a mental note that it wasn’t going anywhere fast. I looked to the loading area and determined that they had stopped the lift. If you ski, you know lifts get stopped all the time to help load or unload passengers who need extra time. Not a big deal. I looked away to take in the ski racers cruising down the run to the right of me. When I looked back, I noticed that the lines were getting longer and the lift was still not moving. Clearly, this might be something bigger than a stop for a person who had difficulty getting off the lift up top. I was confident it would start again soon, though, so I stayed in line.

While I was waiting, the guy behind me in line got a phone call. I got to enjoy every word of his not-so-private, personal conversation. It went something like this.

“Hey. Yeah, babe. I don’t think I’m going to make it up there in time for the next competition. I know! Well, don’t be mad at me. I want to be up there. The lift is STOPPED. I can’t go anywhere. No. Seriously. It’s stopped. They just brought over a maintenance dude so I don’t think they’re going to get it moving anytime soon. (He began to get more agitated.) What do you want me to do? I can’t fix the lift. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the competition. I’m so pissed. Yeah. This is bullshit. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t miss another competition! (Here he got really sarcastic and caustic.) Hey. I get it. You’re mad. I’ll get there when I get there. No. Seriously. What am I supposed to do? Yeah. Whatever.”

At this point, he disconnected the call, muttered under his breath a five-letter word for the woman he’d just spoken to, and started complaining to another person in line about the lift situation. He was animated, irate, and nearly ready to start a bar-level brawl with anyone who might be in charge of the lift. The lift was still not operational, and I could hear him huffing and puffing in disgust behind me. He could have been a toddler.

While he was doing this, I looked around. There we were. Healthy, fit, and privileged enough to be able to afford the not-entirely-inexpensive sport of snow skiing. It was a gorgeous, sunny, 40-degree day standing there in the unmoving line at the Zephyr lift at 9,000 feet. Everywhere I looked, there were people who were taking a day with family or friends to enjoy a fun activity in the beauty and majesty of the wintry Colorado Rockies on a nearly cloudless morning. It was a perfect day, even if the yahoo behind me couldn’t see it through the cloud of his righteous fury and the fog he had generated with his Big Bad Wolf heavy breathing.

Realizing that it was silly to wait when there was another lift 50 yards away, I backed out of line and skied toward the Arrow lift, kind of happy to be leaving Mr. Grumpypants behind. The Zephyr lift did get started again, shortly before I boarded my nearby chair. On my ride up, I thought a lot about the guy behind me in that other line. It seemed like such a waste to get bent over something utterly out of his control. He was so wrapped up in his world, in his disappointment, in his annoyance, that he couldn’t even take a deep breath and enjoy the situation for what it was…a nice muscle break in between ski runs. End of story. The competition went on without him. And I’m pretty sure everyone’s world continued to spin without him there. Even his.

I recently saw this quote I’ve been repeating as a mantra lately. Relax…nothing is in control. Seems to me one of our biggest flaws as human beings (and yes, I’m sure there is some perfectly rational psychological mumbo-jumbo to explain why it’s imperative to our survival) is our inability to accept that the vast majority of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. You can choose the perfect outfit to wear to the meeting, but not be able to help spilling coffee on it when the light rail lurches to an unexpected stop. You can choose your college major, but not the fact that ten years after you graduate with said degree it may be obsolete. You can choose your lovely suburban home, but not the criminal who decides its contents would look better as cash in his wallet. Relax…nothing is in control is the same as the old, tried-and-true shit happens. It does. And no amount of indignation, profanity, or foot-stomping is going to change that.

Take a look around you. How much of your time do you waste railing against things beyond your control? Where has that gotten you? Take a deep breath and take comfort in the fact that nothing is in control. When the unexpected happens, look for the gift there. You can usually find one. And if you can’t now, hopefully you will be able to someday.

And Just Like That All Was Right In The Universe

Squeeeeeeee!

Squeeeeeeee!

Sometimes you just know things are meant to be.

A little over a month ago, I told my husband that if The Decemberists (an Indie folk rock band I’m partial to) scheduled a concert in Denver this spring or summer, I would be there. I’ve already seen them in concert. A few years ago I stood in a cramped theater surrounded by hipsters with long beards, swept up in a sea of flannel, and swore to my friend I would see them live in concert again. And then I told hubby that the scheduling of said concert could possibly preclude all sorts of previous engagements, including but not limited to graduations, anniversaries, vacations, and surgeries. I kept checking their site for a concert announcement while waiting for their latest album to drop. And drop it did. Today. Nothing makes a lousy Tuesday masquerading as a Monday better than the long-anticipated release of new music.

This afternoon, I got a concert alert stating that yes, in fact, The Decemberists will be bringing their North American tour to Denver this spring. I’m not going to lie. I did squee a bit when I saw the message title. When I opened the actual message and examined it a little more closely, however, I honestly released a sound that was somewhere between a girly squeal and a coyote yip. I didn’t even know I could make a noise like that. Not only are The Decemberists coming to town, but they are coming to my favorite venue, the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater. On my birthday. And Spoon is opening up for them; tickets for their last show here sold out before I got one and now they are coming back as if to make it up to me. Are you kidding? Did I mention this is all going to happen on my birthday? On. My. Birthday.

I know I am an infinitesimal speck of dust in an unfathomable universe. I know that by comparison this one event is meaningless and smaller than the smallest particle comprising a grain of sand when you compare it to something like this photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. But, when things like this happen…when everything seems divined by some higher, magnificent power…I take note. I stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and wallow in perfection because I know that this the-world-is-amazing-and-I-am-so-fortunate-to-be-alive feeling of utter joy will pass soon enough, probably when I have to deal with Joe’s science fair experiment again. Luckily, that too has only the importance of the tiniest particle on a microscopic particle comprising a grain of sand, so it’s all good. The universe is awesome.

And Then Life Happens

What will you leave behind?

What will you leave behind?

It has been a lachrymose few days for me. And while I’m rarely teary-eyed for long, sometimes my thinking brain gets trampled unexpectedly by my feeling heart and leaves me a bit off kilter. Life’s challenges can explode like forgotten landmines lying in wait, and recently I’ve been privy to more bad news than good. The shock of the unexpected and the gravity of life’s free fall moments got the best of me last week. I’ve been clawing my way from my heart back to my head for days hoping to gain some traction in the present.

Late last week, I learned via Facebook that a former high school classmate of mine died. It’s not easy when anyone dies. It’s more difficult when the person who passed is your age because, well….Hello, Mortality. Beyond that, I hate learning about death through social media. It’s such an unwelcome, impersonal shock filled with unanswerable questions. I can’t say that I knew this person well. He was among the best students in our class, so I was on the outskirts of his life in AP Physics and Calculus. He was someone I knew from the hallways, the yearbook pages, and the sharing of mutual friends. As the news of his passing spread across my Facebook friends’ news feeds and the online memorial tributes to him increased in number, I grieved along with my friends through some sort of osmotic process. The few interactions that John and I shared happened in the more recent past. I knew more about him through Facebook than I knew of him in the real world, so I suppose it was fitting that I learned about his moving on through the same channel. I can’t say that I had an impact on his life in any way, but I know that his life touched mine in the kind of way that makes you realize that we citizens of Earth have more in common than we think we do based on what we see on the outside.

Today as I was driving home after dropping the boys off at school, still absorbed by life’s absurdities and ill-timed departures, I was following a snow-covered van. We traveled along at 55 miles per hour and the snow from the van’s roof blew off in swirls. As the individual flakes whizzed toward my car, it appeared I was making the leap to hyperspace. In the early morning sunlight, each flake was a tiny fleck of gold or silver. I got caught up in the beauty of this pure and simple occurrence. It made me deeply and honestly happy. I felt better than I have in days. It wasn’t a winning lottery ticket that brought me out of my funk. It was a moment of gratitude for life brought about by a random act of beauty I was finally present enough to appreciate.

I can’t stop thinking now about how wrong we humans are about our journey on this planet. We make life into what appears on the outside. We obsess with how we look rather than focusing on who we are personally and what truly matters to us. We stress about where our kids go to school more than we worry about our relationships with them. We want the respect of others, and we think we will earn it with important job titles, tastefully decorated homes, and luxury cars. We are cats jumping at shiny things. We are clueless.

The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. Everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart. ~Jim Carrey

This quote has been bouncing around in my head for weeks. I’ve been wanting to say something about it, and several times I’ve sat down with my laptop to try to coax the words out of my mind. They wouldn’t come. Then our class lost John and it came into focus. All the epitaphs, composed for a friend who left us too soon, collected the whole of John’s heart and put it on display for all of us who regret that we did not know him better. Short though his life was, it was a life lived right.

We who are still here are lucky enough to have this moment. Don’t squander it. Look around you. Be grateful for what you have. Pay attention to those who matter. Don’t bother chasing the shiny distractions. Time is precious. Someday someone will be painting a verbal picture of you posthumously. Make sure you show them your best side now.