Sunday, September 30, 2012

New Chapters

“The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.” ~ Arnold Bennett

It's funny. Three years ago, I was still living at my parents' house. Three years ago, I transitioned from my first full-time job out of college to my next job. That change, like most, facilitated others. Six months later, I moved into my place, a lower level duplex unit I made my own.

Having been away at college at my own apartment for three years prior to that, the move itself wasn't particularly difficult. But I remember where I was in my life then. I remember how I lost I was. I remember the moment I set foot here, I knew this was where I'd begin the next "phase" of my life. I just didn't realize how long that transitional phase would take. Yet, in three years, so much has changed. So much.

It reminds me of the things I'm now reading about and embracing. The preciousness of the present moment. How that IS reality ... and everything else is memory, memories we can fixate on, distort, filter ... illusions in that way. Me sitting here right now, with the warm glow of my living room lamp casting shadows throughout the room, my breath slowly moving in and out of my body, this is real ... this is life. And it only seems to move quickly in the looking back.

Sometimes, at my darker moments, I think, "Wow, I wasted so much time in the last three years," but the truth is, none of it was wasted. Yes, I could have done more with my "present moment" than I was back then. I came to this place a shell ... and my past was continuing to bleed into my present at that time ... I let it bleed in ... I welcomed it at times. What I had wanted to be the first chapter of a more promising future with wiser choices and promises kept, had really become an epilogue to the past. But it was necessary, it was necessary for me to gradually seal off the openings and gather strength in each scar.

The roller coaster of the last 5 years has been quite a humbling ride. The last year ... an empowering one, especially in the recent months. And now, as I look around at my place, half packed up, half still alive ... it makes me both nostalgic, sad, relieved and excited. Whether I like to think of them or not, I've got quite a lot of memories here. Some high points ... some very low points. The essence of them no longer assail me though. They feel like a subtle throbbing in my heart, a living pulse, not good or bad, just alive.

So, this epilogue turned into a prologue in the last year. And in this last year, I've sealed quite a few sapping holes and embraced the forces that help me grow. As a result, a lot of those past loose ends have seemingly tied themselves up. The universe works in strange ways. Things that once devastated me or I thought would devastate me ... for some reason, they aren't anymore. They haven't felt awesome, but whatever it is going on inside me right now, it's creating a sense of peace in the places that once ached. Yes, some corners still ache, but I'm filling them with light a little at a time.

Which brings me to the now. My prologue is almost over. Each piece I pack away, the things I finally throw out or lock away breathes catharsis. And I realize now, it's not about a new "physical" place per se. That is merely symbolic of what's already happening inside me. Sure, it will be nice to be renting my own home, to have a new level of independence and responsibility. To make it my own. But that's all secondary to the new things going on inside of me.

This process has, by no means, been roses. I seem to vacillate each day between different emotions. But I'm observing them instead of judging them more and more. I'm learning what it's like to embrace my entire self. And that seems to make all the difference.

And those sustaining forces in my life, I look at them with new eyes and appreciation these days. They know who they are. I suppose new chapters tend to spur reflection. And as those around me move through their own chapters — some turning to a new page, others feverishly writing their current one — I'm realizing, we may all have different stories, but there are key characters in all of ours.

And I am thankful for the ones in my own.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are You a Soft Person or Hard Person?

"Soft nature of a person does not mean weakness. Remember: Nothing is softer than water, but its force can break the strongest of rocks." ~ Author Unknown

I remember, a couple years ago, I was at a lake on my lunch break with someone, who, for reference's sake, I was completely in love with at the time ... and as we were walking up toward the parking lot, he looked at me as he held my hand, stopped mid-stride and said, "I love how soft you are."

It wasn't said in the physical sense, it was said of me as a person. I remember being taken aback by the statement. I mean, it isn't something that people normally say to each other. But, suffice it to say, it has stayed with me ever since.

After things went awry at that time in my life, I'd slowly turned bitter ... hard, walled up, resentful. And it's taken me quite some time and a lot of internal work to break up that cluster of negativity inside and remember the woman I was then, the person he saw, the person I see more and more of these days.

In searching for a good quote to start this post out, I came upon a blog entry done by a woman named Jeannie Lovell called "I want to be a soft person." She basically took words right out of my mouth. One particular part that hit was: Soft people are loving, kind, empathetic, caring, understanding, giving and a little spiritual. Soft people see their own inner beauty and they help those around them see their inner beauty. The people they are around leave feeling good about themselves.

She also talks about how some people never become soft. Oftentimes, after being hurt or going through tough times, they become hard, embittered, opinionated, angry and lack empathy for others. Lovell closes saying, "I want to be a soft person ... I want only soft people in my life."

After feeling pain, hurt, betrayal, anger, despair ... I'd decided "soft" meant "weak." Which is why my intro quote resonated with me. I realize now, it wasn't weak. It was real and if embraced, can be one of the most powerful forces on this earth. It was me at my most genuine. I remember what I had felt then — compassion, trust, an unbridled outpouring of love, hope, selflessness and caring. That was me. 

Sure, it wasn't placed in the best hands or situation then ... and it was taken advantage of ... it's always going to be taken advantage of on some level, even by people who may not realize it. I do it to others myself without realizing it sometimes. But the point here is, that's OK. Because that was me, at my most vulnerable and uninhibited point. That was real. And the peace I'd felt then and there, at that lake, in that moment ... that is something I'd forgotten about until recently. In all the times I've been walled up, inhibited, controlled, sad, bitter ... I'd never felt that kind of elated peace. And amidst my recent mini break throughs, that statement, that moment and that feeling has come back to me.

And, like Lovell, that's the kind of person I want to be. I would rather be a soft person and make those around me feel good about themselves ... than a hard person who is selective in my empathy and bitter or cynical the rest of the time. I've had bouts with those traits in myself over the recent years. I've seen how they could impact others, hurt them. I've been on the receiving end of hard people as well. And that's just not the energy I want to feel and provide. 

One point Lovell makes, though, which I completely agree with, is you have to love yourself first and truly "see" your inner beauty and find inner peace before you can emanate that kind of soft energy. And once you do, you notice how you draw people in who yearn to feel those things ... and they begin to see it in themselves, too. You also notice how those that don't like it or avoid you or don't understand you, that doesn't bother you like it may have in the past.

So, maybe it wouldn't hurt if we all took a good look at ourselves ... and asked, "Am I a soft person or a hard person?"

Maybe our answers will surprise us.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Look Around You ... Go With It

“I believe in going with the flow. I don't believe in fighting against (it). You ride on your river and you go with the tides and the flow. But it has to be your river, not someone else's. I don't believe in fighting the wind. You go and you fly with your wind. Let everyone else catch their own gusts of wind ... you fly with yours.” ~ C. JoyBell

I've recently been asked what my goals in life are. Approaching 30, many people go to "marriage, children, family."

For me, though, while they've changed some over the years, I'd say for the last 8 years or so, I've had the same main aspirations — traveling, writing, enlightenment, inspiring/helping others .... and the hopes of someone to share it all with and grow with.

I used to get perturbed when someone would act surprised by my lack of a desire for the marriage, the house, the kids, as though that was just ludicrous. But now I've made peace with my answers and others' responses. Maybe because I've made some minor, but significant break throughs recently and feel I've gotten a sense of my higher Self back again — or at the very least I'm on that current path — maybe it's just that I've grown confident and comfortable with my own personal goals over the years.

That having been said, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that just because I don't have the "usual" bullet points on my checklist for life, I'm not unwilling to experience them if one day, my path arrives there. But for now, I'm embracing the aspirations and callings I'm pulled toward ... and going with it.

That takes me into the heart of this post. It's kind of simplistic sounding, but considering how we are as a collective, mind and ego-driven society, it's one of the most difficult things to do I think — going with it.

Eckhart Tolle has taken me further into his book, delving into enlightenment, present awareness, inner peace ... and just what he calls "Being." He also mentions how as continue this transformation, we will notice our circumstances and who and what we attract will begin to change as well.

I was sitting at my favorite "haven" today, near the beach on a bench. It was cool out, but the sun blanketed me and the constant metronome-like waves cradled my spirit. I felt all my stress and cares dissolve instantly. I was just ... there.

It was then I noticed something ... the steady, rhythmic waves, the gentle breeze, the flag on the flagpole gently billowing in the wind, the trees swaying, the reeds and grass softly bending to and fro, the butterflies fluttering on the coattails of a sudden gust ... the birds flying and soaring with breeze ... everything was just being. Everything around me wasn't resisting anything, wasn't resisting what life was doing right at that moment. Those birds' instincts were to spread their wings and just soar while everything else went with the natural ebb and flow around it, too.

Yet humans and the minds that set us apart from everything else — from life sometimes — can't. We resist things all the time. We fight with ourselves, our own instincts, with others, with our circumstances, memories, anxieties, fears, with society's "expectations," pressures, insecurities, with change. We can't just be present and go with life. We can't just trust in the natural evolution of things, in the natural ebb and flow of the universe, in our inner selves. We often want to control everything. I've been just as guilty.

But today, that moment ... it's like it all clicked into place. Every word I've come across, feeling I've felt, every seemingly coincidental, yet random reference to this same notion fused together like the lyrics of a song that were suddenly serenading my very essence.

Sure, the things on my plate, the working parts were and are still there. But why should I fight them constantly? Why should I worry about the moving part that hasn't come to be just yet? There's no point. Why should I compare what is on my plate to others' and who am I or who is anyone else to say what I'm working on or aspiring to do doesn't have just as much "life" in it as anything else? Why shouldn't I just focus on what part of the goal process is in front of me right now, in the present and lay each stone down as I go?

Because my path, after all, will ebb and flow. All of ours will. But as other species, our own pets and the natural world around us showed me today, we're meant to enjoy the ride ... and go with it.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Art of Being Gotten

Tying into recent thoughts and posts, I've been more attuned lately to those around me, in my life or just passing by, the current relationships and connections I have as well as those of the past ... pondering who and what is to come. But not in the sense of fixation, more like a gentle observation, of my mind, without judging it (a hard thing to do), how it works, what it does ... and then looking at the minds of those around me, recognizing the familiar patterns, waves, noise.

This extended to mulling over society, its "norms" and its expectations ... how society has become a giant blob that takes on a hundred forms a day, whether reflecting in the people in our lives, our relationships, friendships, our own reflection in the mirror ... our jobs, our everyday mediums. How all of it ties into our minds and perceptions, the ways we look at others, the ways we don't look at ourselves and vice versa.

I've touched on the concept of "being gotten" before. About the sacredness of that feeling, when someone "gets" you. If you have someone like this in your life, all I will say is, cherish them ... get them right back ... and accept them just as they are.

However, one piece of the puzzle I have not slid into place until now, is how that concept also hinges on us getting ourselves. Knowing ourselves, truly. And accepting what we know. In the last several years, I've been always looking externally for my identity ... and harshly criticizing myself or those around me for not being "it." Is there someone or several someones out there who "get me?" Yes, I've met some already and will meet more.

I just had to get myself.

So, what does that look like? What picture does being gotten and getting myself paint?  I'm not quite sure, but my guess is ... it's something like this ...

She laid on the den floor, examining the nails in the wood, pressing her hot cheek against its coolness. She could almost feel the vibration of a deep voice, rumbling through the floorboards, quivering against her eardrum. 

She breathed in the ink and paper scent, wafting ever so slightly across the room. She felt like a piece of play dough, poked and prodded, forced into one form or another. Her body ached from the contortions. But now, as she lay there, her feverish skin melted back into a formless puddle — neutral, reborn.

Lie here, say that, get up, don't be melodramatic, calm down, let go, cheer up, try this, do more of that, don't be selfish, come here … no wait, stay there, think this, don't think that, did you know … he's this, she's that, I'm this … you're that, we are, I swear, be on time, be sensitive, understand … have patience, love is … pay attention to me, to yourself, pain, I'm sorry, smile with me, trust me … see me, love me, listen to me, forget you, forget … remember.

The whispers thrummed through the veins in the wood. So much noise … static. Everyone always pressing in on themselves, on eachother … pure intentions lost. A societal cluster, building on itself, conformation. Her body began to cool against the wood. She heard the door close in the other room … footfalls against the thin runner along the hallway. The loose board near the doorway creaked against his weight.

She felt a tear escape the corner of her eye and hit the wood beneath her. Her lips slightly parting as she looked down, toward the doorway. She saw a silhouette lean against the frame, crossing arms, examining her. Examining, judging, labeling … mind dominance, microscopes, here's a flaw, there's one, too … she sees them everywhere as well … maybe it's really her standing there, or a new him, maybe its the entire societal cluster, taking on one form, no one is innocent, guilty.

But she has begun to quiet the noise. She has found silence amidst the coolness … bringing sanity to a maddening place.

Will he pull her up, make her come to him … put her on a pedestal and then point out her flaws … will she reciprocate, constantly searching for identity.

Her body takes shape, its bruises gone. She feels him walk over, bringing the scent of vanilla and honey with him … and stands over her. She once flinched, flinched under the lens. But she doesn't this time. A different energy surrounds them.

She feels him crouch down, move a piece of her hair from her eyes. He leans in, kisses her temple, then unfolds onto the floor next to her. He presses his cheek into the wood and meets her guarded eyes. They're the same eyes … they're his eyes, they're hers … they're theirs. He makes no movement at first, but then reaches behind and pulls out something. Suddenly, she feels the warmth of fabric cloak her body. She scrunches her forehead, holding back a dam of emotion brought on by relief.

He says nothing … silence … everything is silent for the first time ever.

And then … he simply reaches out his hand — bursting her dam.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Mind, Friend or Foe?

"People think that the way you make a change is that you wait for it to feel natural or easy. But transformation comes from being willing to be uncomfortable or uncertain. You have to dive right into not knowing. It's hard at first, but the process gets easier over time." ~ Kelly McGonigal


So, to continue from my last post, but kind of in a different direction, the above paragraph I just came across today hit me hard because there's a lot of change going on around me and in me right now. It's not all bad, but it's not all easy either. And it IS pretty damn uncomfortable. Being a woman who has always focused on being "in control," I've realized I haven't been in control of much of anything. My MIND has been controlling ME. And the truth is, while it is a vital part of my existence, it's become the main thing driving my ship. Which means, I'm either constantly living in the past or constantly dreading/anticipating the future. I'm rarely in the present. 


I had a post not long ago describing my "creative process" and in that post I talk about how when I'm "in the moment," I experience every possible detail, layer, emotion, scent, touch, sound, sight going on around me at once. And nothing else matters. My mind is working in harmony with the rest of me and I create as a result ... whether I create peace within or positively impact another, whether I create a poem or short story, perhaps a sketch ... something that impacts people in other ways. But those experiences often lead to positive things within and without.


I just never knew how to sustain that state of being beyond those temporary moments until now. I'd always end up defaulting to my mind, to anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction ... to the past or the future and no longer in the present.


"See if you can catch yourself complaining in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness." ~ Eckhart Tolle


Madness ... that hit.


I think most of us do this at some point or another. Because we identify ourselves so deeply with our minds and not much else, we just tend to live in the past and future. And so, that creates a state of dissatisfaction ... we all know the notion, of always wanting more. Oh, he's doing this with his life, I should be doing that to. Oh, she's got this going on, I want that, too. I'm not good enough, I'm not where I should be, etc. and so on.


Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist, yoga teacher and longtime meditator wrote an article about this same exact concept of "present awareness." She talks about how neuroscientists have found that everyone has a "default state that the brain shifts into when we are not fully immersed in an activity."


This state is constantly thinking about the past or future, making judgments and categorizing and comparing things. It makes our brain a "suffering machine." And our minds (aka egos) thrive off that. I mean, think about it, if you force yourself to be IN the present, whether by "watching" what your mind is thinking about without judging it (I've noticed when I do this, my mind immediately stops and any anxiety I was feeling is gone) or by just forcing yourself to be fully in the moment (focusing on details, your breath, the smell of the air, the sounds around you, etc.), your mind is no longer "in control." This has been my issue most of my life ... this constant dread feeling or sadness from the past. It really is exhausting. 


So, Kelly mentions these mindfulness practices, like yoga and meditation, can take us temporarily out of that default state and into this present experiencing state. And the more you do this and monitor your mind as though it is some separate from you, the more you gain control over it and find more balance. 


What I liked about Eckhart's quote is the idea that when we express discontent or complain, we make ourselves victims. And either we can do something to change our current circumstances (or at least try to) or we can fully accept them, but either way, some action is better than none. I've noticed that when I start slipping into a funk and counteract that state with something productive or something I CAN control to change things or work toward changing things, I feel better ... more at peace. I think focusing on what you can do in the present moment to alleviate that dissatisfaction is key ... because you're focusing on the now and everything else will happen as it happens.


So, to sum things up ... I've basically realized that everything I've been reading for the last several years, quotes about living in the now, have FINALLY clicked. Guess I just needed something to bring it all together ... and it's crazy how it just kind of happens. All these pieces around me are finally clicking.


Because it's true, our lives are happening at this moment ... there is no future day when we're all of a sudden going to start "living." It's all right now and by taking it in as it ebbs and flows, we are being present.


Sure, this is all FAR easier said than done. And I'm still learning, messing up, reining it back in ... but that's all part of the present, too. It's not about success and failure (those are mental perspectives). It's about giving all I've got in each moment ... that's all the success I need.


Till next time ...



Saturday, September 1, 2012

Now Is Truly All We've Got

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time — past and future — the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

"We may be searching for answers that will helps us move from anxiety to peace, from confusion to clarity and from emotional pain to happiness. As the world's great wisdom traditions tell us, the answers are always within. By going inside and connecting to the deepest level of our being, the clamor of competing outside messages begins to fade and inner awareness dawns." ~ Deepak Chopra.

This post is going to be a bit “out there” … so consider yourself warned ;-)

There was a time in my life, pretty much around the time I was 15, 16, 17 and 18, when I was a lot more spiritually in tune with myself and those around me, when I was meditating a lot, in touch with nature, the elements and going to intuition seminars with my cousin, Nikki.

I remember still dealing with depression and anxiety, but having such a strong sense of self and my true identity that I was able to keep a lot of those mind-related worries and issues in check or they eventually didn't exist at all. They didn't hold the power they eventually began to. Those who know my personal life, know the various experiences, bad and good, that ensued and have brought me to this point. Unfortunately, along the way, I lost that identity and was no longer tapped into that higher self, so to speak, like I once was. I began to fully identify with my mind, with memories and an obsession with a better future. I always got sidetracked or put getting back in touch with the spiritual part of myself on the backburner, thinking, “One day I'll get back to it, after I deal with this, this and this.”

Well, I'm done with that. In fact, in the last five months, I have had countless signs pointing me to the present moment. The first major one, in March, when my heart condition acting up from stress and anxiety led to a hospital stay. The emergency phycisian walked into my room and just stood next to me for a minute … he studied me, looking into my eyes and then began talking about holistic treatments for the things going on with me. I was so taken aback. I mean, I can't imagine holistic emergency physicians are a commonality. He talked to me about holistic ways of relaxing and finding peace and a mindset free of anxiety/depression, hurt and pain and disease. A few days prior to this, two people I randomly encountered (one was a source I interviewed for a completely different story) talked about meditation, Yoga, Reiki. My Yoga instructor at that time was also talking about Chakras (or our energy centers).

I felt a strong pull inside, like I did as a teenager … that calling. And yet, I didn't respond … again. I got caught up in my daily grind, in sorting out my emotional and psychological issues while putting my spiritual self on the backburner. But, as per usual, the universe doesn't work on MY whim. Since then, I've had continous, seemingly random references to those same practices, including me starting to receive the Yoga Journal and being turned onto Eckhart Tolle's teachings.

I have many moving parts going on right now in my life. But I realize none of that matters. Just like when I was younger, I don't need to complete one thing or another to reengage with this part of myself. It can work harmoniously with anything else going on in my life, good and bad. And it's different now. I'm different now. I'm not the little girl I was then (even though she makes her appearances on occasion still). And I'm not without my scars, my mistakes, flaws, regrets and hard-learned lessons. But everything in the readings and teachings I'm finally paying attention to is simple: Live in the NOW … be always present.

It's about ending your mind's rule over you. It's about no longer identifying with your mind and with time itself (meaning the past and future). It's about realizing those are illusions and everything that matters and that we experience is happening right this second … it's not happening in the future or in our past.

I am so sick of my mind ruling me. In fact, I'm determined now more than ever to change that. I've done it before so I know I can do it again. But I also know it's going to take a lot of practice, time, discipline and dedication. The mind/ego can be a VERY powerful thing and feeds off of emotion and identification, so any threat of separation is going to naturally cause resitance. But I'm up for the challenge.

So, instead of just starting to physically do stuff every day (Yoga, stating my intention every morning, meditation, etc.) I've been reading, reading and doing more reading to “prep” myself for this undertaking. The physical stuff wasn't cutting it without the mental, emotional and spiritual mindset in place.

So, I'm going to leave you all with a few Tolle passages that have hit really hard. And I'll elaborate more on them soon.

“For so many people, a large part of their sense of self is intimately connected with their problems. Once this has happened, the last thing they want is to become free of them; that would mean loss of self. There can be a great deal of unconscious ego investment in pain and suffering.”

"Intense presence is needed when certain situation trigger a reaction with a strong emotional charge (something that happens to me more than I'd like). The reaction or emotion takes you over — you 'become' it. You act it out. You justify, make wrong, attack, defend ... except that it isn't you. It's the reactive pattern, the mind in its habitual survival mode."

“Time and mind are inseparable. Remove time from the mind and it stops — unless you choose to use it. To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with the past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be.”

“The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.”

“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”

The mind creates an obession with the future as an escape from an unsatisfactory present.”

The past perpetuates itself through lack of presence. The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes your 'future.'”

And lastly, this one REALLY hit me, because I've often regained perspective in certain overwhelming moments of my life by imagining myself on my own death bed and thinking about what would really matter in that moment.

“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret to life is to 'die before you die.'”

Think of that.