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Archive for February, 2012

When you see a gorilla in the mirror, don’t be alarmed.  It’s only you.  Or some version of you that isn’t always easy to see.  And you might sweep your hair back from your face and pinch your cheeks to get some color but, nope, still a gorilla.  “That’s getting nailed by life, the place where you have no choice except to embrace what’s happening or push it away,” writes Pema Chodron, Buddhist master, in her book When Things Fall Apart.

                Sounds pretty desperate right?  Things falling apart?  Perhaps that’s why I didn’t read the book when I first received it as a gift a few years ago.  Nope, I’m good, I thought.  Things haven’t really fallen apart.  I’m just a little lost is all.

                But then I kept hearing the name of the book and the Buddhist who wrote it and I beat my chest and told myself….I will try to read this book!

                You see, this book focuses on one thing that I have always have trouble with—practicing loving-kindness towards myself.  It’s so easy for me to be a good person to all those around me—a good lover, a good daughter, a good friend—but when it comes time to turn that warmth, that compassion inwards, I tend to shrink away.  It turns out I’m not alone.  Lots of people have read this book.  Lots of people have fallen apart.  Don’t be alarmed—we are surrounded by gorillas. 

                I’ve been reading one chapter every few days.  This isn’t a book that you sit down and devour on a rainy day…it’s one that you pick up, read a few pages and think….and maybe use a highlighter for the parts where you find yourself nodding your head.  Double-underline the parts that have you bursting into tears. 

                Today I read a chapter entitled “It’s Not Too Late” and Pema has us imagine that we have a terminal disease but might live for a while longer.  In that time we have left, it’s important to make friends with ourselves.  Make friends with ourselves—-what does this mean for you?

                I once had a very tricky therapist who made me come to conclusions about myself via my compassion for others.  I would tell her how I was beating myself up about a certain issue and she would say “What would you tell a friend who was going through the same thing?”  Lightbulb. 

                When you look at a friend who is facing great obstacles in his/her life, you see a person that you love, who may look tired, but you know the strength that lies underneath.  They, in no way, resemble a gorilla.  Look in the mirror again.  What do you see?

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Overcoming the Snooze

This morning I did something pretty monumental. I deactivated the snooze button on my alarm clock. I calculated a solid eight hours of sleep and then set the time to that. And when the sound filled my dreaming mind, I woke up, knowing that was my only chance.

 This is a big step for me, as someone who is admittedly a bit addicted to my snooze button. I wasn’t always that way. In college, I had an alarm clock that was a chicken wearing sunglasses, holding a guitar. The alarm sound was the chicken singing “Hey baby, wake up, come and dance with me.”

It’s a wonder I held on to any roommates. But the chicken didn’t have a snooze button so he wasn’t all bad.

Over the years, I have become to love the little button that lets me drift back to a semi-sleep for another ten minutes or so before it sounds again. But this has resulted in hitting the button repeatedly and then getting up exactly when I have to, so that I won’t be late for work or whatever else I have to do. This is what snooze takes away from me—the possibility to go running, to do more writing, maybe some early morning stretching.

 But what the snooze button gives me is a chance to drift away from the crazy dreams that I have more often than not. Today, I am still ruminating on a particularly wacky one that I had last night, where part of the dream was me losing one of my front teeth while biting an apple and smiling self-consciously throughout the night at a party where I was surrounded by semi-strangers. And that’s gotta mean something right?

So let’s do the math. Snooze takes away things that are pleasant in my life, things that give me pride and joy. Snooze gives me a chance to escape from things that maybe I should be facing anyway. It’s not calculus…snooze is not a good factor in my life. Is there something in your life that’s like that? Have you ever tried seeing what it would be like to eliminate it?

This is what I’m trying with the snooze button. I wonder if anyone still makes that chicken alarm clock….

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“You’ve got to let it go,” he said.

As I stalked the empty corners of my mind

My indecisions became his apparitions and he’s up all night again

Perhaps I should stay up later to work these things out before my head hits the pillow

Instead of laying them down with nary a thought between the sheets

He makes a noise to let me know he’s not sleeping

And I don’t move, don’t answer

This is my battle and I don’t want any soldiers

If I find my way, it could all change, he might not understand

What it means to have the constant dream reel while awake

What it’s like to always have my weapons drawn

What it’s like to stalk the empty corners of my mind

I could tell him, I could try

But now the sheets are rising and falling softly beside me

The neon numbers remind me that the days are too short

And the whole thing just makes me want to get some sleep

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Surprises by mail are just the coolest thing.  Since I only check my mail about once a week and usually just find bills inside, yesterday was a pretty amazing trip to the mailbox.  For starters, I found a paycheck from work I did in November.  And unexpected money is always good.  But what came next was something that money could never buy, unexpected or not.

                I found a padded envelope with the familiar script of a dear friend.  I waited until I got back inside before ripping into the package.  I read the note first, a beautiful card with thoughts of love and compassion and caring.  And it could’ve stopped there…because words like that and taking the time to put them on paper and mail them away with a stamp is a greatly appreciated gift.

                In the note, she said that the gift contained inside the small sack was something that had given her great strength during a hard time.  She said she had kept it above her bed as a reminder.  She knew that I would appreciate it also and she had faith in me that I would eventually gain strength as well….and she wanted to help give it to me.  Inside were prayer flags, six squares of soft dyed fabric, each with a saying.

TRANQUILITY — The peace that comes when energies are in harmony, relationships are in balance.

LOVE – An inspired form of giving, love breathes life into the heart and brings grace into the soul.

COURAGE – Not the absence of fear or despair but the strength to conquer them.

HAPPINESS – When one’s spiritual needs are met by an untroubled inner life.  Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others.

PEACE – To bring peace to the Earth, strive to make your own life peaceful.

WISDOM – Knowledge, intuition and experience combine to guide us in thought and deed.

                I went into my room and saw that there were two nails already in place above my bed, the perfect distance away from each other to hang the prayer flags in just the right way.  It’s as if the spot was waiting to be filled with exactly this gift.  Call it serendipitous, call it fortuitous, call it the hand of the Creator if you will, but those words were meant to find me and to hang above my sleeping head as reminders.

                My dear friend didn’t pick up her phone when I called her and my voice broke as I left her a message.  Thank you, I said to her, knowing that she would understand the full weight carried in those words.  Thank you for thinking of me, thank you for believing in me, thank you for being a friend.  Thank you.

                I think about the postal carrier that walks around each day, delivering these tokens of love and hope and I get why they would walk through rain, snow, sleet and hail to make it happen.

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Road Maps

“How did we get here?” my friend asked me as we sat on a porch together, after not seeing each other for over a year.

                But I knew just what she meant.  She wanted to see the road map of her life, routes that were lined in yellow, tracing all of the major events.  Maybe there were places where the yellow lines made sharp jagging movements back and forth and maybe there were lines that ran strong and true, surging across the years.

                This friend and I met in college and during those years we formed a tight bond together with a group of girls and guys and we all lived in a beach house together.  The day following our conversation, I walked down the beach about a mile and sat in front of that very house where I had spent so many days and nights.  I wanted to knock on the door and ask to be let inside so that I could get closer to those memories but instead I stayed out front, a respectable distance away in the sand.

                It’s now been over ten years since we all were together in that house but I swear that I could still hear the laughter.  And now we’ve all moved on, the lines on all of our own individual maps spreading us out far and wide and then, every few years or so, reconnecting in one place where we met for weddings, baby showers and reunions.

                I’ve often wondered how my road map has led me to my current place in life, about which turns I could and should have avoided and which ones I was lucky to take.  And when I start to doubt my choices, I cling hard and fast to those beach house friends, the ones that I can always come back to when I need truth.  And I think about their road maps and about the ten years that have spread us apart in distance only. 

                I wonder about who’s living in that house now.  I bet they are young and full of hope and the belief that life will always be easy.  I want to hand them a marker and a map and tell them to mark the spot carefully so that they can always find their way back.

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Knowing…Just Knowing

Do you believe in signs?  Well, I do.  I am one of those people that look at the clock often right when it hits 11:11 and knows that it must mean something.  I make wishes on shooting stars and believe they will come true.  Sometimes when I’m driving in my car I tell myself that the next song that comes on the radio will provide advice to a problem that I’ve been thinking about.  Sometimes that works.

                In the summer of 2009, I went to my mailbox to find the course catalog for the local community college’s fall courses.  I came back into the house and sat on the couch and told myself “Something is going to be in this catalog that will make it all start to make sense.  Something will be in this catalog that will be the answer to finding something that will spark my passion.”

                I flipped open the catalog, breathing deeply and there on a page in the middle, like it was in neon lights was a course called “Fiction Writing.”  It was being taught by a man named Scott Lasser, who I had just read about in the newspaper a few weeks earlier.  He was a local who had just published his third novel.  And I knew that I had found it.

                You see, I’ve always been a writer and I had never taken a writing course.  What would happen if finally I admitted to the world that writing was something that I loved to do, simply by taking this class?  Because it wasn’t easy.  I had to get permission from my job at the bank to leave early every week.  I had to commit to shortened lunches every day for the entire fall to make this happen (and I am a girl who enjoys a leisurely lunch).  I had to take a break from my second job, where I waitressed only on Wednesday nights, because that’s precisely when the class took place.

                It would have been incredibly easy for me to look at the scheduling of the class and to toss the catalog aside, thinking that it was just too difficult.  But I couldn’t.  Not this time.  Because I had been given a sign that this class was to be part of my story.

                It was my first writing class.  In it, I got some great lessons from Scott.  Sometimes his voice still rings in my head when I’m writing a new piece.  My classmates were wonderful and complimentary and constructively helpful.  Since then, I’ve joined writing groups and taken more classes and admitted to all those around me that I am a writer. 

And I don’t think I could ever go back.

 

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The Mousetrap

There is a mousetrap under my sink.  It has a little dab of peanut butter on the end.  Last night my dad showed me how to set it, pulling back the copper square and setting the lever to spring into action.  I put my finger on the other end, asking if that’s where I should place the peanut butter.  The trap didn’t snap against my finger but I felt like it should, to teach me a lesson.  I knew better than to put my finger there, didn’t I?

                But I really didn’t.  I’ve never set a mousetrap before.  I’ve always left that to someone else….someone less squeamish, someone more brave, someone more, well, male.  And so now that I’m living by myself for the first time ever, there is no other choice.  I must be the brave one.

                My mom urged me to call my landlord.  No, I can do it, I told her.  My best friend offered up her boyfriend to come over.  No, I can do it, I told her.  And I can.  I don’t want to. But I can.

                These are the lessons that are slowly offering themselves up to me, giving me a chance to prove that I can take care of things on my own.

                I’m an only child and I went well into my college years before I had a boyfriend.  So I’m a bit fiercely independent.  Call it stubborn, I will call it fiercely independent.  I learned how to change a tire and check my tire pressure.  I had a small toolkit in my house.   So I know that I used to tackle these tasks with a sense of pride, knowing that I could go the rest of my life without having someone else fix things for me.

                But then, at some point along the way, I started letting someone else do the heavy lifting.  And I loved it.  I loved being taken care of and not having to do the things that were a little less desirable.  And you know what they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. 

                So now there’s this mouse under my sink.  And I love mice.  I think that they are cute and furry and I would never do harm to another living being.  But he’s gotta go.  And so I set a trap.

                This morning I opened the door under the sink cautiously.  I was torn.  Part of me wanted to find the trap empty, so that nothing further would have to be done.  And part of me wanted the chance to prove myself.  I wanted to see that my trap had worked and I wanted to pick up that dead mouse without crying and dispose of it properly.

                The trap was empty and I closed the door, breathing a sigh of relief, knowing that the test would come at a later time and hopefully I would be prepared.

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