When I want worries and deadlines magically to go away

It started when I was in the first grade.

The waiting and the dreading.

I’d take a breath and try to hold it until the whatever-it-was-that-I-dreaded was over.

I think my first deadline worry and held breath had to do with the end of the six-weeks grading period and the issuing of report cards.  I was a good student, but what if, what if I got a bad grade?  What if I didn’t have all “Satisfactories”?  What if I got a “Needs improvement”?  Or worse yet, what if I got an “Unsatisfactory”???  So I held my breath until report cards came out, and I breathed with relief when I got all “S” marks.

My first dread worries were about trips to the dentist.  I usually had cavities, and I hated the shots and the drilling.  My mother always scheduled our dentist visits very near my birthday, which meant I couldn’t look forward to my birthday with happy expectation alone.  It was always mixed with dread of the dental visit.

The worrying and dreading and holding my breath until “it” was over got worse as I progressed in school.  The end of each six weeks meant tests, projects due. . . pressure.  After holding my breath through the deadlines, I’d exhale in relief and breath easy for a little bit after each six-weeks grading period was over.  But always, inevitably, the end of another six weeks would roll around, and the pressure, the dread, the holding-my-breath-until-it-was-over would return.

That continued into junior high and high school, where the six-weeks periods seemed to get shorter and shorter.   Projects and papers came due more and more often.  Six-weeks tests seemed to come every three weeks.  I’d hold my breath, I’d dread, I’d suffer through . . . until I could exhale and breath easy for a few days, maybe a week or two.

And on it continued into college, where the six weeks became quarters, which should have seemed longer – but didn’t.  The quarters had higher stakes of testing and research papers and essays and due dates.  At the end of each quarter, I would feel relief when all tests were taken and all papers were done . . .  until the next quarter, just a few days later, when it started all over again.

And it went on into law school, where the stakes were even higher and more pressure-filled because there was one exam for each course – and some courses lasted the whole year.  The intense pressure would build and build.  I feel sure I held my breath for weeks then, waiting for exams to be over.

Three years of this pressure ended with exams AND the bar exam.  I’m pretty sure I held my breath for several months straight.

And you know what I thought then?

I thought that when my schooling was over that I’d be through with the deadlines and pressures and dread.

I thought that “real life” would be different.  That I wouldn’t live with dread of deadlines, that real life wouldn’t have round after round of holding my breath followed by the exhale of relief for a few seconds before the new pressure began.

What I discovered, though, is that there are always deadlines.  Always expectations. Always dentists visits, doctor visits, things I really don’t want to do but have to do. Things that I dread.  Things hanging over my head.  One thing after the other.  Over and over again.

Over and over.  And over and over.

Throughout my lifetime.

Yeah, I was bummed out when I realized that there would never be some perfect time when all went well, when I felt safe and comfortable, when there was no dread.

Where did I come up with that fairy tale that there was some point at which all of my worries magically went away???

All I have to do is look around to see people under pressure, people with deadlines, people waiting to hear if a biopsy is malignant, people scheduled for surgery, people going through difficult medical treatments, people going through divorces, people dealing with addiction, people holding sick children, people grieving deaths of family members.

People in pain.

There’s always a doctor’s appointment, always a possibility that our economy will collapse, always a chance that there might be a terrorist attack, that ebola will spread, that a shooter might open fire in one of our schools, that a tornado will make its destructive swath right over my head.

There will never be a time on this earth when I have no worries, when I’m completely safe, when I have no responsibility.

Never.  Ever.

But that doesn’t mean I have to hold my breath forever.

Because I realize now that my lesson is to learn to live in the midst of uncertainty as if I were certain.  As if all is well.

Because it is.

Fall is beautiful whether I’m going through chemo treatments (as I was three years ago) or whether I’m in perfect health.

Friends and family still love me whether I have a deadline looming with my job or whether I’m on vacation on another continent.

The sun comes up every day – no matter if I’m worried or content.

So why, why have I, why do I waste this precious time on earth with worry and dread?  Waste the now looking forward to some magical time when I’m worry-free, pressure-free, deadline-free?

A magical time that does not exist.

Or does it?

Maybe all ll I have to do is tell myself a different story.  A story of magic where each moment is precious, each person precious, each situation precious.  No matter whether the moment is “perfect” or painful or even just mundane.

I can tell myself that this moment is magic, that it has nothing to do with deadlines or pressures or worries or pleasures or relief.  That it’s perfect just as it is.

That’s a fairy tale worth telling.

That’s the story I’m going to tell myself starting right now.

Because on some deeper level, the level under the “real life” I thought I was going to be in, that’s the true story.

One full of magic.  One full of perfect moments.

All I have to do is breathe in and out, be present . . . and appreciate what is.

It’s all magical.

That’s my new story.

And I’m going to keep telling it to myself until I believe it.

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Forsyth Park Fountain, Savannah, GA last weekend

Sometimes it’s just too much

There seems to be a lot of too much going around.

My friends are too busy and too tired.  And so am I.

That seems to be a common symptom of our society.  We work too hard and play too hard.  We fill every moment with activity.

We even seem to feel guilty if we take time off – to rest, to nap, to be.

Overactivity is, to use a cliche, a badge of honor.

Except that it’s not.  It produces perpetually tired people.

How did we get this way?  Technology was supposed to make our lives easier, to increase our leisure time, to give us time to do what we want to do instead of what we have to do.

We actually do have more leisure time than we did 50, 100, 200 years ago.  And what do we do with it?

We fill it up.

With going.  And going and going and going.

Until we’re even more exhausted.

I think it’s partially because we don’t want to feel.

“Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger,  jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

– Pema Chodron

If we take time to sit, to rest, to be with ourselves, we might feel that disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, anger, jealousy, or fear.  Heck, we feel those even in the midst of our busyness, in the midst of our exhaustion.  But at least we don’t have time to be with them, actually to feel them.  We push on with the busyness.

And hope the feelings go away.

But what if we were to allow ourselves to feel, to sit with, to be with, perhaps an emotion like irritation?  Would we be less irritated?

I find if I stay with a feeling, not judging it and also not beating myself up for having it, that its intensity diminishes.  Some space opens up.  And I feel better.  Not completely free of the feeling, but a crack begins.  It lets in some air.  And I can breathe a little better.  I feel a little more relaxed.  I enjoy life a little more.

I have a very busy couple of weeks coming up.  I can feel the anxiety.  Will I be prepared for what I need to do?  Will I take care of everything that needs to be done? Am I competent enough to fulfill my obligations?  Will I have the energy and stamina to get up early and be alert and involved through long days?  Will this busy time help me make a living, pay my bills, get me out of a hole?

Can I do it all?

On some level, I know the answer is yes – or at least partially yes.  And if it’s not yes, it’s not the end of the world.  At all.

But I still feel anxiety and doubt.

So yesterday and today I sat with that.  I sat in my yard with blue sky and crisp fall breeze and cats doing their catty things.

I felt my anxiety, my doubt.  I noticed where those feelings manifest in my body, in tight breathing, in tense muscles ready to spring at a moment’s notice, in an ache here, in a heaviness there.  I noticed all that.

My mind tried to create stories to explain my tension.  Stories from my past, from my parents’ reactions to stress, from my perceptions of others, from times decades ago and times just last week.

And I let those stories go.

They’d come back.  And I’d let them go again.

The question keeps being, “Who am I?”

And I realized that the answer is very fluid, changing just as the clouds changed today.

There is no set “me.”  Who I think I am is just a bunch of stories I tell myself.

So today, I let myself quit telling stories for a bit.

It felt good.  Less tense.  Less heavy.  Less binding.

So in these next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to be story-free – or at least somewhat story-free.  To let the stories tell themselves but not to get engaged too deeply in them.

Because they’re always changing.

As is what I think is who I am.

Maybe I’m a figment of my own imagination?

If so, I choose to be a lighter, less tense figment.

Starting right now.

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October in the Smokies, 2007

Sometimes I’m stupid, and I forget

I have to admit to stupidity.

Sometimes I get caught up in busyness.  In distraction.  In worries and problems.  In getting things done.

And I forget what I promised myself when I was going through cancer treatments.

I wrote this in a blog post as I was finishing chemo:

You know what I’m afraid of now?  I’m afraid that I’ll forget all that I’ve learned and am learning from this path.  That I’ll go back to living a “normal” life where pain and suffering seem far away.  That I’ll forget that all of us have pain and suffering in this life and that all of us need – really need – each others’ kindness and compassion.  I don’t want to forget that.   I want to be healed, to feel healthy and strong again – but still to remember what’s it’s like to be broken, to be tired and in pain, to need others’ help, to look for and appreciate kindnesses, to depend on something larger than me, that something that some of us call God and others call the Universe, and to know I am not alone.  Not now.  Not ever.  I don’t want to forget that.

I promised myself that I’d pay attention, that I’d be grateful each day, that I’d appreciate the “little” things like a hot cup of coffee, the gradual lightening of sunrise, the softness of cat fur, being able to walk easily from a parking lot into a store or up the stairs from my basement, being able to taste and enjoy food.  The “normal” things.

And then I got busy.  And I forgot to pay attention, forgot to be grateful.

The last couple of weeks have been very busy.  My mind has been occupied with meeting obligations, with getting a business going, with fulfilling responsibility.

And in the midst of that I’ve overlooked beautiful sunrises.  I’ve gulped down coffee and food while thinking of totally unrelated situations.  I’ve worried about things that are beyond my control.

I’ve forgotten too much of what I learned on my cancer journey.

I needed a reminder.   And I got one today.

I saw my surgeon for a six-month follow up visit.  I parked in the same parking lot at the same building where I got my diagnosis.  The same building where I went for blood work and for radiation.  I remembered how weak I was some of those times, how it took all I had to walk from the nearest parking space into the building.

I got a good report today.

I also remembered my journey.

And I remembered my promise not to forget.

I recalibrated today.  I’m going to remind myself more often to be present, to be grateful.  To realize how we’re all connected, how we need each other, how we’re not alone.

I am grateful for health these three years after the start of my cancer journey.  I’m grateful for being able to walk quickly, easily, from a parking spot nowhere near the door into a building – and not even be tired!  I’m grateful to be busy, to be working, to be active.

I also remember what it was like to be weak, to feel broken.

Yes, I can be stupid . . . distracted, preoccupied.

But I can also be reminded.

I can remember.  I do remember.

And when I do, when I remember, I say,

Thank you. For it all.  

Every bit.

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John takes a photo of Mt. Moran in Grand Teton National Park – a year ago today.

The Green-Eyed Monster

Why is jealousy, Shakespeare’s green-eyed monster, such a strong emotion?

I remember it from childhood, of feeling SO jealous of my sister, worried that somehow my parents liked her best, loved her the most.  I hated how the green-eyed emotion could consume my loving self, the self who adored my little sister.  How it could turn me into an angry, hurt, and oh-so-jealous monster.

And many times since then, I’ve felt that monster try to sneak into my subconsciousness.  When I think someone is being favored.  Or has more.  Or seems happier.  Or healthier.  Or smarter.  Or any other MORE that I think that I lack. That I worry I lack.

Perhaps perceived lack is at the root?

But not only lack.  Below lack is fear.

Back to my childhood, it was the fear that if my sister were more loved, then perhaps I wouldn’t be parented, fed, clothed. Perhaps I’d be abandoned.  Perhaps I’d end up alone, unloved, starving.

And when I feel jealousy as an adult, I bet those same feelings lie under the green-eyed monster’s emergence.

I’ve been on both sides of jealousy.  I’ve been jealous of people, and I’ve had people be jealous of me.

We adults are good at hiding jealousy, though.  Kids are more honest about it.  We adults try to hide it under sarcasm, criticism, comparison, evaluation.

We try to make it logical.  

Justified.

But we know, deep inside, that it’s not logic.  It’s not justified.

It’s emotion.  Primal emotion born of fear.

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I’ve been paying attention lately to how the green-eyed monster shows up in my life. To how I can somehow befriend it, to take the message it’s bringing me without loosing the monster on someone else.  And to being aware when I feel someone else’s monster start to raise its head.

Awareness is what can defeat the monster or turn it into something else, something not-monster, something kind and compassionate and loving.

Transformation is what I’m after.  From the green-eyed monster to my most kind, compassionate, loving self.

But also a self who knows the green-eyed monster when I see it, a self who will stand up to it.  Whether it’s inside me or someone else.

Courage is required.  Because jealousy can be so powerful.

Courage and compassion.  For the little kid in each of us. The one we each need to heal, to reassure, to comfort.

Yes, courage and compassion is what it takes to transform the green-eyed monster.

Starting with the one that lives within me.

 

Another anniversary

Just a quick post today to acknowledge the three-year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis.

I was terrified that day three years ago.  I numbly went through an MRI and PET scan that week (or the next.  It all ran together).  And then port surgery and right into chemo for eight weeks. And a lumpectomy and lymph node removal with good margins and no cancer in my lymph nodes.  Then another type of chemo for eight weeks.  And finally radiation for about six weeks.

I survived it all.

I’m still here three years later!

I had so much support, from so many people.  But still I felt alone sometimes.  I think it’s always like that when you go through something life-changing.  Parts of it can’t be shared.

I learned more from cancer and the time afterward than in my entire life, probably the rest of it put together.

Feeling healthy at my home church (for Salzburger Heritage Day last Monday)

Feeling healthy at my home church (for Salzburger Heritage Day last Monday)

And I’m still learning.

Each day is a gift.  Sometimes I forget.

But mostly I remember.

With gratitude.

9 Ways to Escape Being Present

Sometimes it’s just too painful to be in the present moment, right?

Just in case you don’t have a good repertoire of ways to escape the present, I’m going to share some of my tried-and-true methods, plus some that I know work for others.

These are all very effective ways to avoid the now.

1.  Think, think, and think some more.  Try to figure everything out.  Use your head. Ignore the rest of your body.  Intellectualize.  If you think hard enough, you’re sure to forget where you are and how you feel right now.

2.  Surf through, swim in, deep dive into the internet.  You can avoid the present for hours and hours and hours!  Watch YouTube videos.  Read about alien abductions. Research cat facts.  Browse StumbleUpon.  You’re learning all kinds of things that might be useful – certainly more useful than feeling your emotions at this moment.

3.  Binge on television, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, whatever source you use for shows and programs.  Watch a Kevin Spacey character manipulate people in totally unrealistic ways.  See “real” housewives back-stab each other.  See how a seemingly vacuous and obscenely-rich person lives in his or her narcissistic world.  Watch anything. Avoid your world.

4.  Eat and/or drink too much.  Chips.  Sweets. Soft drinks.  Coffee.  Wine.  Cake. Whiskey.  Cookies.  Chocolate.  Beer.  Potatoes.  Bread.  Ice cream.  Pick your favorites and eat or drink until you feel miserable.  That misery is better than being present with this misery, right?

5.  Run and run and run some more.  Or go the the gym every single day for hours at a time.  Push your body until collapse every weekend.  Ride your bike, climb rocks, do any physical activity that wears you out so that you don’t have to be with whatever is bothering you, so that you only have to feel your physical self.  No need to feel emotions, too!

6.  Stay busy every second of your day.  Working, driving, texting, cleaning, shopping, talking, cooking.  Never stop for a second until your head hits the pillow. If you stay busy enough, you’ll be tired enough to fall asleep at that instant.  Who has the energy to deal with now and its pain if they’re exhausted?  Nobody, that’s who!

7.  Go somewhere.  Out to eat.  To church.  To a concert.  To a meeting.  To synagogue.  To a club.  To a rehearsal.  Any place or event can take you away from your pain for a few hours.  It’s even better if it’s a do-gooder kind of place like a religious organization, nonprofit, or the like.  That way you can pretend that your avoidance is for a higher power or good.  Surely that higher power won’t see through you, right?

8.  Sleep.  For hours and hours.  Sleep late.  Take long naps.  Go to bed really early. Your body needs the rest – week after week.  Who’s going to question good ol’ sleep?   Not you!

9.  Argue.  With anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with you.  Use Facebook, Twitter, comment sections to set people straight.  Argue with your spouse, your parents, your family, your friends, your enemies.  After all, they’re all ignorant and need to be set straight.  After all, you are more insightful and intelligent than they are.  You are RIGHT!!  No matter that they are just like you, just on the opposite side of the coin.  Ignore their obvious shadow qualities, the ones that reflect your qualities, the ones that you refuse to acknowledge.  After all, you’re avoiding pain here!

Yes, use any of the suggestions on this list to avoid the present and its pain, the discomfort that it might bring.

I’ve personally used each of these strategies to avoid a painful present.

And you know what?

They worked.

For a while.

But eventually they quit working.  And I had to confront what I was avoiding.  I was just older and more set in my ways.  It was harder for me to change than if I’d been present to begin with.

I have to say, though, thank God they quit working!  Even if I was middle-aged or older when they did.  I needed to be a better, more real, less judgmental, more present person.

Not that I have completely quit trying to use these.  I still find myself zoning out with my favorite escapes.

And not that they’re all bad, always escapes.  Done with awareness, with presence, most – if not all – of these activities can be ways to be in the now.

That’s where self honesty comes in.

Because no one, no one else truly knows your motivations.

But you do.

Only you do.

You may have to do some digging to get to the bottom of your true motives.  Actually, you will.

Because, you see, it’s very easy for us to fool ourselves!

I had to do lots of digging. Through rocks and mud.  And more rocks and mud. Layers and layers.  And more layers.

And I’m still digging.

Because when I feel that pain, I don’t want to be with it.

Even when I know that presence is the best choice.

It’s a deep hole.  But somehow the deeper I dig, the more freedom I feel.

You’d think it would be the opposite, wouldn’t you?  That the hole would feel confining, claustrophobic.

But it doesn’t.

Maybe because I’m getting closer to another side?

I don’t know.  I just know I have to keep digging.

Even when I don’t want to.

Yeah, I often put one or more of my nine escapes to use.  But at least now I’m starting to recognize it when I do.  I may not be able to stop right then.  But at some point I do . . . .

 

I get out my shovel.  Or I use my hands.

And I dig a little more.  And a little more.

And a little more.

I’ll just keep digging. For a lifetime.

 

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Prairie dog in Moraine Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, May 2010

 

 

 

 

As they say . . . denial ain’t just a river in Egypt!

Now that I’m on Grouchy Day #5, I finally realized that something must be going on in my psyche. Typically my grouchy days come one at a time and last maybe a day and a half – at the most.

So what is it that’s bugging me??

What has me feeling ready to cry at almost anything, that has me irritated with at least half the drivers on the road, that tells me to avoid people and sleep or watch TV all day, that’s waking me up too early in the morning or making me sleep too late into the day?

After some reflection, I realized that it’s the upcoming anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis three years ago.  Often when I feel something but can’t pinpoint it, it’s connected with an anniversary.

The time of year seems to serve as a reminder to my psyche.

It’s August.  Summer is winding down.  The leaves and grasses are beginning to turn yellow or red or rust.  The angle of the sun is changing.

And I’m reminded of three years ago.

That’s where the “denial” of my title comes in.

I had a burning pain in my left breast, deep within, near the breast wall.  It had started probably in late May.  The pain felt a lot like cysts had felt in the past.  I knew about cysts, had had several, had had a couple of them aspirated.  This was surely another one of those.  The pain in this one wasn’t constant.  It would come and go.  Sometimes I wouldn’t notice it for days or a week.  Sometimes the other breast would have similar pain.  I’d had a mammogram in November, less than a year ago.

So my logical brain told me that this was just another cyst.

But underneath, my intuitive brain told me the truth.  That this was something different.

That this was cancer.

But that was way too scary.  So I let denial team up with my logical brain and tell myself that this pain, this slightly-different-from-the-usual-cyst pain was normal, that it was nothing to worry about.

But as August turned toward September, it got tougher and tougher for me actually to believe my logical brain – which was working in cahoots with denial.

Two days before I found the tumor I turned over in bed on a Monday morning, and I felt a distinct pain where I’d been having that burning pain off and on for two or three months.  But I opted for denial once again and put it out of my mind.

There was an undercurrent, though, one that said, “This is cancer.  You know this is cancer.  You need to do something.”

But I waited.  As I’d been doing from late May until now.  I waited.

That is – until Wednesday evening.  That night something beyond me, something greater than me, something that was a part of me and not a part of me, all at once – that Something made me check that place to see anything felt amiss to my touch.

And sure enough, I felt a lump way, waaay back in my breast, kind of underneath, back by my ribcage.

My world tilted.  Fear seared me.  I broke into a sweat.  I was panicked.

I have no idea how I slept that night.  Because I knew.

The next few days are mostly a blur.  Phone calls, doctor appointment, no it’s not a cyst, it won’t aspirate, go for a mammogram right now, have an ultrasound, now a biopsy.

Reading the faces of the doc and technician and between the lines of what they were saying,  I knew the truth.  Denial wasn’t much help now.

After the long Labor Day Weekend, I got my answer.

Yes, it’s cancer.

Those memories, those feelings that were searing then numbing my body and psyche, that’s what I think I’m feeling now this August these three years later.  That’s what’s making me grouchy.  Those memories.  Because underneath grouchy is usually something bigger and more profound.

Even though I had successful treatment and am pretty much living my life as I did pre-cancer (except for tiredness that lingers), even though I am so very, very grateful, I think this time of year is bringing those feelings back to me on some deep level.

And my acknowledgment of my grouchiness is helping me to look at my tendency toward denial. How if something seems bad, I just want it to go away.  Not just cancer or other health problems or things in the physical world, but my bad traits as well.

It’s easier to deny and ignore.

Or it seems easier.

But ultimately, it’s not.  And I know that.

Sometimes, though, I’m just a coward.

Luckily for me, that Something bigger than me, that Something beyond me . . . . it made me check for a tumor three years ago.

Intuition trumped denial.

So . . . .  what brings intuition?

To use Christian terms, I supposed I’d say it’s the Holy Spirit.  It’s that which is beyond us but that which works through us.  I don’t know that I have the language, the words to describe or explain it. But I know it.  And it helps me to know, too.

And, thank God, that Wednesday it took hold of me, took over, and made me confront my fears.

Yes, I still tend toward the path of denial.  But I’m trying to change, to overcome fear, to find bravery within.

And I’m relieved to I know that if I can’t, if cowardice is winning, if denial has me in its hold . . . . well, then intuition will step in and take over.

Just as it did three years ago when it saved me from a much harder cancer journey.

So today my grouchy self, with its tendency to denial, is grateful for intuition that’s powerful enough to grab me by the scruff of my neck and say, “Wake up!”

Okay, okay, I’m waking up . . . . at least somewhat.

 

 

Oh, and thank you, Intuition, the Something that wouldn’t let me go on in denial.

 

Alabama Theater, where I was a few days before my diagnosis

Ceiling of the Alabama Theater in Birmingham, where I was a few days before my diagnosis

 

 

 

Two Sides of Good Ol’ KARMA

OOOOHHH, KARMA is going to get you!!  You do me wrong, I don’t have to worry about it.

Because KARMA!!

This seem familiar?  Ever had someone tell you this?  Or maybe you read a Facebook post to this effect.  Or maybe you even thought it or said it yourself.

I sure have.

And I know I’m guilty of at least thinking this karmic revenge even if I’ve not said it out loud (though I know I’ve done that, too).

But karma works two ways, right?  If you put out bad thoughts, words, energy, they come back to you.

Guess what, though?

We’re both receivers and senders of negativity.

So why do we forget that maybe the hurt we experience at someone else’s hands might just be good ol’ karma coming back to us?

My first inclination is to blame the offender.  But when I step back, I have to consider whether I myself have put out some bad energy that’s coming back so that I’ll learn a lesson.

Dang.  I hate it when karma works in that direction!

I want it to go out, not come back in!

Karma’s not quite so attractive from that other side.

I’ve confessed in this blog before that I’m a resenter.  And that’s not all.  I’m critical, often defensive, sometimes angry.  I’m lazy and undisciplined and, boy, do I procrastinate.

I’ve got sooooooo many faults.  And some of these, probably all of these, affect others.  I don’t usually strike out to “get” others, but I sure can have some negative thoughts toward them.

So when I experience negativity directed to me . . . .  well, if I step back and consider it, I can usually come up with a time when I’ve acted almost exactly like this.  Actually, it’s usually many times that I’ve acted like this.

Sigh.

I know how it feels on both the giving and the receiving end.

And if I think on it a little longer, I wonder . . . . So maybe that’s ultimately what karma is all about?

Feeling compassion?

Now that really reframes karma for me.

I’m trying now not to judge so quickly, not to call on KARMA to “get” people – but instead to look at myself and remember when I’ve acted the same way, said similar words, expressed or felt similar emotions.

Yeah, I might be on the receiving end of some karma, eh?

And then I try to forgive myself as well as the “offender,” the karma-returner.

Because you know what?

We’re all doing the best we can with where we are right now in our lives.  Yeah, we can all look at our lessons and choose different actions – when we find the courage.

And perhaps, just perhaps, some compassion from someone rather than a wish of some bad karma will be just what it takes to shift the energy from pain and hurt into that courage.

I know en-couragement has often made the difference for me.

So maybe I can en-courage someone else just a little by choosing compassion and forgiveness instead of wishes for karma to bite my offender (and possible karma-returner) in the butt.

And in the long run, by choosing compassion, maybe I help my karma get just a bit better, too.

Oh, yeah – it will!  Because that’s how karma works, right?

And who doesn’t want some good karma headed her way??

I sure do.

So next time I feel hurt or offended, I’m going to try to take a breath, step back, and find some compassion.  For that person.  And for myself.

And in that process, I might shift some karma.

Just a little.

Flowers & butterfly at Biltmore Gardens

 

 

 

 

Destruct and construct

What makes letting go so hard for me?

Too often in my life I’ve chosen to hang onto things too long.  Material things as well as thoughts and ideas and even jobs.

On my silent retreat two weeks ago, I saw examples of destruction and construction, saw how letting go – to the point of actual destruction – could be positive.

That sent me on a tangent of considering (again) the paradox of seeming opposites.

Richard Rohr talked about just that in his daily meditation today:

 

“Paradox” comes from two Greek words: para doksos, meaning beyond the teaching or beyond the opinion. A paradox emerges when you’ve started to reconcile seeming contradictions, consciously or unconsciously. Paradox is the ability to live with contradictions without making them mutually exclusive, realizing they can often be both/and instead of either/or. G. K. Chesterton said that “a paradox is often a truth standing on its head to get our attention”!

Yes, at Sacred Heart in Cullman, that paradoxical truth did stand on its head and get my attention.

Last year, I felt the shift of energy at the monastery and retreat center.  I could feel an ending. And I could only see a part of the new construction.  I could envision the destruction.  I grieved the shifting of the energy from the buildings that had been a part of meaningful retreat experiences for me.

Before I left to go to a silent retreat there this year, I wondered what the new space would feel like for me.  Would it have the good energy that I associated with the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center?  What would the grounds be like without Mary and Joseph Halls?

Would I still like the place?

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Mary and Joseph Halls come down

Well, as fate would have it, Mary and Joseph Halls were in the process of destruction when I arrived.

I had been hoping their destruction would be completed, that the rubble would be cleared away, that I would only see a blank space where the yoga room, Sister Mary’s massage room, Sister Adrian’s pottery studio, our centering prayer room, and the dining hall had once stood.

But no, I could see where each of those rooms once were, though the walls had started to be knocked down.  I worried that the destruction would grieve the nuns, most of whom were in their 70s and 80s and who had seen the buildings in their heyday when college students lived in them – or they themselves had lived in them.

I found out, however, that the nuns were happy with the changes, content with the destruction, that they realized the buildings’ time was over, that they enjoyed the new spaces that construction brought them.

And on the final days of my retreat, when the crews started at 6:30 in the morning with their destruction, I saw the rubble of Mary Hall driven off in big trucks and the destruction of Joseph Hall, which became a pile of rubble.

No nuns went out to watch.

They were content with the changes, with the destruction and construction happening all around them.

And I enjoyed the new energy of the construction, of Mary and Joseph Houses, where the energy was even better than at the old Mary and Joseph Halls.

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Joseph House, part of the new section of the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center

You see, it was time for change.

And the change was good.

And those lessons are good for an old hang-on-to-things kind of person like me.

Things change.  Life moves forward.  Sometimes old needs to be replaced by new.

I’m learning to live with contradictions.

And to realize that destruction and construction can both be good – and necessary.

Mary Hall is gone and Joseph Hall is rubble.  But now Otillia Hall has a nice view of the lake.

Mary Hall is gone and Joseph Hall is rubble. But now Otillia Hall has a nice view of the lake.

The new and the old.  On the left, the new chapel stands in front of the old chapel.

The new and the old. On the left, the new chapel stands in front of the old chapel.

View of the new dining hall and individual retreat rooms and new retreat center.  But the old chapel is still the focal point.

Construction is still in progress.  A view up the hill of the new dining hall and individual retreat rooms and new retreat center. But the old chapel is still the focal point.

 

So what do you DO on a silent retreat??

My sister asked me this the other night:

“So what do you DO on a silent retreat?”

It’s a good question, one that worried me tremendously on my first silent retreat 14 years ago.

On centering prayer retreats and spiritual direction retreats (like the one I went on last week at the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, Alabama), the leaders suggest you don’t read or use electronic devices.  The point of these retreats is to be with yourself and God,  the expressions of this higher power.  Reading and checking email and Facebook and even crocheting or sewing are ways we can try to escape ourselves, just as watching television or surfing the internet or cleaning or a myriad other activities can be.

If you’re willing to let go of your habitual escapes, on a silent retreat you can go deep enough for thoughts and worries and all of the clutter in your mind to settle – at least somewhat.

It takes time for this settling to occur, though.  For me, this last retreat from Monday through Friday wasn’t quite long enough for the deep settling.  But perhaps that was partially because I didn’t feel called to the deepest parts of myself this time.

As for the initial question, what do you DO?

Well, you have time to get comfortable with being.  I like to be outside in nature, and this last week was a real blessing for that, as July in the South is usually unbearably hot during the day.  But last week was nearly perfect.

On Wednesday, the middle day of our retreat, it was very temperate and not humid at all.  So I spent nearly all day outside.  I was up at dawn to watch the sun bring light to the lake.  I did a couple of centering prayer sits.  I had breakfast on the patio.  I walked the labyrinth two or three times.  I wrote in my journal.  I reflected on my dreams and my life.  I tried to be present to what was around me, to the trees and flowers and birds and bugs, to be in my body, to allow myself to feel my feelings and not try to escape them.

And I slept a lot.

I told my sister how in each one of my silent retreats, I feel exhausted.  I’ve had leaders tell me it’s because letting go and going deeply into ourselves is hard work.  Typically on a silent retreat, I take two or three naps a day, sometimes long naps of a couple of hours.  I go to bed earlier than at home.  I dream deeply.  I always have some really interesting, involved dreams that give me a window into my subconscious self, to what is concerning me and to how I can grow.

Sometimes I do read a little at night from a spiritual book.  But I’m not reading to escape.  I’m reading for prompts, for nudges toward growth.  Because I find that the book I take is synchronous with what I need at the time of my retreat.

And I write in my journal.  On some retreats I write a lot, on some I write very little.  It depends on whether the retreat stirs up  junk or helps it settle.

On this spiritual direction retreat, I met with my spiritual director for an hour on each of the middle three days.  That gave me some input on what I was experiencing, a focusing conversation.

This retreat was much more unstructured than a centering prayer retreat.  Really, the only structure was meeting with our spiritual directors and lunch and dinner (because breakfast was on our own with food provided in the retreat house).  That openness was very inviting for me because I could follow my intuition as to how I wanted to spend my time.  We could go to services with the nuns, but I didn’t choose that.  Liturgy has been dry for me for several years now.

Yes, there were other retreatants.  This time there were six of us.  We’d see each other in the kitchen or coming or going or on the grounds or in one of the chapels.  We ate lunch and dinner in silence together.  After I got used to being in silence with others on my first silent retreat, silence hasn’t felt awkward.  It doesn’t seem it would be this way, but even in silence, you feel each others’ support.  I suppose it’s because you’re all there for the same reasons, at least at the root.

We are there to be.

And that takes me back to the question, so what do you DO on a silent retreat?

You practice being.

Not that you are present the whole time.  But you allow yourself the time and space to learn to be, to get a little comfortable with it.

And you bring some of that being back with you into your everyday world when the retreat is over.

So the retreat helps you both during the retreat and in your everyday life after it.

One day, I hope to have that presence – that being – nearly all of the time, in every situation in my life.

But for now, I’ll practice it a little at a time.  Except for during retreats, when I can take a crash course.

A crash course that I hope will help me grow in presence, that will give me some presence to bring back with me.

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Labyrinth at Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, Alabama

Labyrinth at Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, Alabama