Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dropped by the Universe into My World

I am trying to learn to surrender to the universe. I am learning to let go, to allow. I am learning to let the powers of the almighty forces work both through me and for me. Those of you who know me on a superficial, very public level might respond, “Oh, but darling, that is SO you.” Those of you, however, who know the real me, the one I share with almost no one, are probably thinking, “Yeah. Right. Like THAT’LL ever happen.”

I tend to be a bit of a control freak. I sometimes feel I know what it’s like to be God. I am cocky and arrogant, a little too sure of myself. I have not gotten where I have gotten in my life by grabbing the bowl of popcorn, sitting back, and proclaiming, “Ah, now THIS is going to be a great show.” No. I have busted down doors. I have knocked through walls. I have found a way in, around, under, or through things that never considered having a way in, around, under, or through. I have MADE things happen. I have made things happen that very likely should never have had a way to happen. Control feels good to me. Control feels good to me, I know, because my early life was so very much out of my control.

It has been suggested to me more times than would be considered normal without getting weird that I have worked hard in my life and need now to sit back and let life work hard for me. I cannot process this. I have no idea how to do it. I have no idea what it means. Trust. I assume it involves some level of trust. But, then, how would I know.

And, so, as any good student does, I show up with an open mind. I show up ready to learn, to absorb, to gather as much as I can about this topic of which I know nothing at all. I show up to try, to give it a shot.

At the same time as I am learning to allow, my sister and I begin a challenge. We are thick in the middle of a Midwestern winter and have come to the end of our collective rope. We need something to shake things up, to bring a little sunshine to otherwise grey skies, to get us out of our boring selves. We need something fun.

We have agreed that we will send each other a set of three challenges each month for the remainder of the year. Of the three, we are to choose only one to complete. In this, we can get out of our comfort zones, our staid routines, while managing to remain somewhat inside of them as well. My challenge for the month is to spend an entire day taking random photos, or to visit businesses that begin with each letter of the alphabet, working my way from A to Z, or to befriend a stranger. I begin by strategizing. I begin by picturing how I might complete each task. I begin by asking myself which feels best, which feels right.

And then it happens.

As part of a project I am working on to feed the hungry, a volunteer shows up whom I have never met. I see her name on the Facebook page I have created for the project. She and a friend are working behind the scenes to round up THEIR friends in an effort to raise big dollars for this cause. Her comments are everywhere. She shares all of my posts. She takes this cause and runs with it as if it were her own. Who IS this and WHERE did she come from?

As it happens, she will be dropping donations at my house. I will have opportunity to meet her face to face. When we do meet, we learn that we are much alike, have much in common, and get along more than what would be expected from just the regular friendly acquaintance. We are the definition of kindred spirits. Not that we’re ready to do coffee or share a bottle of wine, but I do believe she would be up for it if I asked.

And then it occurs to me. This lovely face was a stranger, and now she’s a friend. She’s a friend who was dropped by the universe into my world. I smile. I smile because I have just allowed without the conscious effort to know that I was allowing. I smile, too, because I really like the way it feels.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hug Fest

Feb. 10

I like to make myself real. Students too often view instructors as this big authority figure up in front, someone who lives at school and has never had experience with the real world. Sure, instructors have a family. Sure, they live in a house. But, beyond that, there is not much thought given to concepts such as joy and pain, hardship and fortune. There is no emotion, no soul, no heart attached to the person at the lectern. So, I share my stories. To make myself real. To help students feel comfortable coming to me, asking things of me, and sharing with me as I have with them.

I read an essay today. This was an essay that I had written at one point in response to an invitation to attend a poverty simulation. Having grown up in such a situation, I was not only not eager to attend but angry at the assumption that such concepts as hunger and home insecurity could be learned in a lovely facility complete with heat and refreshments and the reliable transportation to attend. As it happens, I was asked to read the essay to the very group onto which I spat. It was a powerful experience. It was powerful not only for those sitting in the chairs but for me as well. It was ownership. I had claimed my life.

You should know that I spent many years hiding this life, overcoming, pretending it did not exist. When I say “many,” I mean that only about four years ago did I begin to put this essay, along with similar others, into book form and post them for all to read. For ALL to read. It was as painful a thing as I have ever done, and this coming from a woman who has given birth four times. I began to share my story. With the help of a writer friend, he pulling the words out of me, me cursing and dragging my feet, I came to a place of love and forgiveness toward my parents and my past, toward society and myself. I came to a place of ownership for the life I have led.

And so I share this story every term with my classes. To make myself real. To put a heart to a face. It is a powerful story, so powerful that even after all this time I cannot read it without tears. The tears are mine and they are those on the faces in the crowd.

I read my story today in the last few minutes of class. As I cleared my eyes and looked up from my reading, a line had formed from the front of the class to the back. These students, from whom many instructors never get a name, never get a personal story, never care to know detail one, these students stood in line to offer me hugs, big fat hugs that meant serious business. They built me up. They praised me. They thanked me for being who I am. They thanked me. For being who I am. And one? One thanked me because she could see herself. She thanked me because she could see herself in my words.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Recess for the Brain

Feb. 9

I allowed myself some space today, space to laugh at silly television, space to get lost in fluff magazines, and space to enjoy just a bit of naughty food. I have been concerned lately with the feeding of my soul. I have been concerned to the point of making it a business. I can never seem to do a thing half-assed. I am a bit of an overachiever like that. Today, however, I gave myself the day off.

I am not much a fan of magazines. They offer too many ads and not enough meat. Today, however, I drowned myself in them. I saw a few yoga outfits I would totally rock, found a broccoli stir-fry I might like to try, and learned that squeezing a person’s “buttocks can wake you both up from a trance of business-as-usual relating.” I may have already known that. I learned how to snack smarter, as I blew my daily Weight Watcher points on a giant bowl of Chex mix. I discovered that, yes, I would want to incarnate as myself, could never take a vow of nonviolence because it seems so damned hard, and might consider moving to Chicago just to buy that salad in the vending machine that comes in a recyclable jar.

I flipped through these goodies while watching other people’s home videos gone wrong. To think of all the nonsense cluttering my brain as a result of piñata hits to the head, skateboards and bike parts to the privates, and trampolines that seem to move while in midair. And what would I do without the noodles shooting out the baby’s nose or the dancing dog in the suit and tie? All I could think the entire time was “And people win money for this?”

I know it’s not the philosophical read for which you had hoped, but I needed the space and had a few laughs. It was a giant breath for my heart, recess for the brain. Come morning, I’ll be rested, refreshed, and ready to go. Not to mention I'll have five different oatmeal recipes just waiting to be tried.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Nothing Special. And Everything That Is.

Feb. 8

It has been a good day. I know my challenge is to write on a positive event that happened during the day, but sometimes it is just too difficult to choose. The interesting thing is that this particular day was really nothing special. It was, however, filled with many things I love the most.

I began my day with my backend sitting in a pew. I would not say that I am a religious sort, only that my spirituality is critical to my definition of who I am. Since I was sixteen, I have taken myself to church. Church and I have an on again, off again relationship. I do not feel the need to be in a building designated for worship in order to actually worship. And organized religion, just being honest, constitutes only a tiny portion of what I consider to be my spiritual being.

Spirituality, to me, encompasses a sense of compassion, of interconnectedness, of seeing myself as one small piece in the puzzle of the whole. Yoga helps me come to this. Yoga calms my mind and feeds my soul. I was able to spend time with my practice today. I began a good book, too, on the topic of mysticism. Curled up on the couch with my readers perched on my nose, I explored the subject a bit before turning to a magazine I had found on spirituality and health.

My husband made his famous goulash for dinner. Those who know me know how much I love beautiful food.

I spent time with my two youngest, graded some exams, and unpacked the groceries that my husband and daughter brought home from the store.

I sit penning these words, now, with my little white dog at my side, flannel pajama bottoms and fuzzy socks warming me while a fire blazes off to the side.

There is a comfort in routine, in sticking close to home. There is a sense of grounding in normalcy, in doing those things that care for the body and repair the soul. What has been good about my day? Nothing special. And everything that is.

Friday, February 6, 2015

It Ain't Pretty, But it's Chocolate

Feb. 6

I made a cake today. I know that does not sound like a monumental act in need of record. I did this, however, because I am learning once again how to love myself. I say once again because I believe each of us, as children, inherently knows the process of caring for one’s self. We eat when we are hungry, sleep when we need rest. We play to our heart’s content and stay away from those who bring us down. And if we feel like dessert, well by gosh then we HAVE dessert. Even if we have to sneak it. We laugh until our sides hurt, spend entire afternoons doing nothing but rolling down grassy hills. We tell someone if we like them. We tell them if we don’t. We find time to spend away from the world, little hiding places that belong only to us. And we would never consider speaking meanly to ourselves or downplaying our talent in any way. In fact, it is usually the opposite. “LOOK AT ME!! LOOK!! LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!”

I felt like cake.

I know this sounds at odds with my recent attempt to lose weight, but you should know that when I do a thing I do it all the way. The weight loss effort is part of a plan to help rejuvenate my soul. I am journaling on the positive, focusing on gratitude, returning to my yoga. Even this I have made into work. Three gratitude posts daily, a short essay, forty minutes on the floor. GO!! Don’t miss a day. Don’t let yourself down. Don't let others down. Keep up the work. You can do this. You can DO it. Why? Why be so militant in my quest? Why so harsh?

So I made cake.

To be nice to myself. Because I wanted it. Because I love to create in the kitchen. Because cake, to me, represents the very definition of love and fun, of party and happy. I was covered in flour, up to my elbows in cocoa, and had gentle tunes floating through the air. I swayed my hips as I licked a spoon or two, hardly able to wait for the final results.

I fed my body with this cake, but mostly I fed my soul.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ready to Fly

Feb. 5

I strapped myself in, held on tight, and let myself fly. It was freeing, more freeing than anything I had felt in a long time. Up in the air, through the trees, platform to platform. Ziplining had never been a thing to enter my mind as something I might like to try. I tend to get serious in my life. I tend to forget to laugh and play. This was the first time in a long while that I had felt the exhilaration of just letting go.

My sister and I had created lists. I made hers. She made mine. “Twenty Things to Try Before This Time Next Year.” Had I made my own list, it might have looked something like this—paint the kitchen, weed the backyard, replace the toilet, return all those books. Let’s just say my comfort zone was begging ME to leave.

And so I painted, but not my kitchen. I sat with a friend and created some art. I spent a day in complete silence, sent a message in a bottle. I rode a trolley in San Francisco, walked beagles and poodles and mutts who had no home. I packed myself into a car with a good friend and headed to St. Louis. I enjoyed a weekend of great conversation, a visit to the museum, arboretum, and the arch, my first massage. Some might say that I failed to finish the list. I would say, “Oh, but look what I tried.”

And, so, we’ve decided to do this again. I have lately found myself in a bit of a rut. I am desperately in need of a breath of fresh air. We had a brief chat, my sister and I, earlier on the phone. We laid out our plan, talked about rules. Come Sunday night we will each receive our first month’s list. Of three items provided we choose only one. Each month following, we receive a new list. It is required that we journal, take photos, post a status or two. Provide some proof that we are breaking free, that we are exploring, learning, remembering to laugh.

So, here I go, strapping myself in, holding on tight. Stand back now. I’m ready to fly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Would You Like Fries with That?

Feb. 4

I met a woman in a drive-thru parking lot. I do not know her. We have never met. We came to exchange some previously agreed upon goods. I have been clearing my home of clutter. Twenty years in the same house and four kids later, I have accumulated a bit more than I would like. My soul is feeling overwhelmed with STUFF. This woman agreed to lighten me of my load.

My husband cannot, for the life of him, pass up a sale. Pool noodles. Light sabers. Kleenex. It makes no difference. If he finds it cheap he purchases twenty. Or ten. No less than five. Suffice it to say that every August I find myself in possession of a good supply of markers and crayons, highlighters, and notebooks- spiral, three-ring, and two-pocket folders. Keep in mind we have not had children in the schools in over a year. And even then, it has been close to a decade that the elementary bus has stopped at our house. For the love of God, somebody take this stuff off of my hands.

And so she did.

I met a new face. I put a face to a name. This woman is part of a group I have recently joined. We exchange things. We ask for things we want but do not have. We offer things we have but do not want. Jeans. Jewelry. Books and pans. Dog sweaters. Help with taxes, with homework, with moving, with neutering, and food. And, yes, some of us offer up sixty-four pack Crayola crayons. It is refreshing to participate in an environment that encourages sharing and kindness. It is refreshing to never talk cash. Cash is not allowed. It is frowned upon to the highest degree. No dollar amount can ever be said. The group is strictly one neighbor helping the other. Reduce consumerism. Reduce waste. Promote face-to-face exhange. Encourage compassion and a helping hand. Encourage swapping pens and pencils in the McDonald’s drive-thru in the middle of the afternoon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Little Respite

Feb. 3

A thick blanket of fresh white snow, a fat mug of steamy Earl Grey, a stack of exams, nondescript tunes, and, in lieu of red, a purple pen. Surrounded by windows and retro décor, I am sitting in the newest coffee shop in my little town. Is it possible for grading to be meditative? As with my yoga, this time spent surrounded by the smell of espresso and decaf is a respite in a cluttered world. I find myself returning to my breath.

I have recently taken on the challenge of journaling on the positive that happens in my day. In addition, on Pinterest, I pin to my Gratitude board three things that happened during that span for which I am thankful. At first, I felt much like my students during a final exam. “I know the answer is here somewhere, but Christ sakes, what the hell is it?” I would search my brain for some monumental event. Lacking one, I would postpone my journaling and pinning in the hopes that some miracle would befall me and make me look good. I have made my goal public. I have an audience to please.

Well. A miracle did befall me, but it was not nearly what I would expect. I have found myself searching for the positive before it has chance to occur, looking for the extraordinary in the mundane. I have challenged myself to never journal or pin on the same thing twice. Do you know how difficult this is for a girl who orders the same items off the menu every time she dines? It has become a beautiful treat to see something as ordinary as a bowl of rice and tofu as a gift. The fact that I can eat that rice with chopsticks becomes a talent for which I give multiple thanks. And that I consume this take out in my warm home with my dogs at my feet? How could I possibly want anything more in my life?

Mindfulness. That's what it is. Mindfulness and gratitude. A respite in a cluttered life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Boy and His Dog

Feb. 2

I was forty-five. I had two dogs, two cats, four kids, and a house full of neighbor children. I was operating on too many pizzas, too little sleep, and not nearly enough caffeine. I enjoyed my days, yes, but they passed in such a blur that I struggle to pull up facts in order to share a tale. Much of my children’s past may just as well be falsity as it is the truth. I pull up what I can. I fill in the rest.

One truth, however, is that one of those children had energy to spare. And one of those dogs was a newly rescued pup, also with energy to spare. I had neither the time nor the desire to leash the dog for a daily walk. Clever mother that I was, I sent said son out into the backyard with said pup. “Run him around a little. Throw a stick or something.” Finishing up the dishes, I watched as my little towhead wore that dog out. “Thanks, Johnny, for making him happy. I think he likes you, you know.” And, so the two formed a bond.

Six years later, we find ourselves snowed in. It has been a lazy day. We read. We napped. We watched a movie or two. I threw a pot of chili on. Said boy and said dog are still living under the same roof. Murphy, the beloved rescue, was finding himself with a bit of excess energy. I looked at my son. “Take him out and run him around. Throw a stick or something.” From the window I watched as the two flew through snow, as they deepened a bond that has been years in the making. They are one, really. Master and his pup. That dog lives for that boy. And the boy? Murphy is his world. “Thanks, Johnny, for making him happy. He loves you, you know.”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Everything Beautiful. Everything White.

Feb. 1

I have never been one of those winter zealots. I do not enjoy being cold. I do not ski or snowboard or sled. I don’t own a four-wheel drive. I cannot, for the life of me, build a snowman that stands. When my children were younger, I detested the winter months. A trip as simple as going to the store involved wrangling four tiny humans into coats and snow pants, boots and hats and gloves. Get them in the car. Stop the arguing over who sits where. Get them buckled. Inevitably, somebody has to pee. Get her back inside, out of the boots, out of the snow pants, out of the gloves. Business done, get her back into the boots, into the snow pants, into the gloves, into the car. For the love of GOD, nobody throw up, nobody ask for a drink, nobody wet your pants. I’ve got broccoli to buy, and I haven’t got all day to get it. I much preferred the lazy summer days when I could let the bunch of them run around the backyard in their skivvies. Out of cereal? Running low on bread? Grab your flips and get in the car.

I must say, though, there is something soothing about a good snowing in.

I did not grow up in Michigan. I was raised in the cornfields of Indiana. In Indiana if it snows, it is gone the very next day. Not so in Michigan. It snows in November and melts in May. The spring thaw, they call it. This is one thing I have always appreciated about the state. At least if it is going to be cold, it is beautiful while it happens. I enjoy seeing the white on the ground instead of that crunchy brown grass. My favorite time is when it snows flakes so big it looks like cotton falling from the sky.

It has snowed and snowed and snowed today. There is an excitement in the air. Children wear pajamas inside out, dance and spin and laugh. It is their way of signaling to the universe that they expect a snow day when they wake. Neighbors clear their driveways, blowing freshly fallen snow this way and that. Some have those super deluxe snowblower models and clear all the way to the stop sign and back. Neighbors being neighborly, the snow will do that. If I am confessing, while everyone else is putting on a pot of chili and hunkering down inside, I go out for a drive just to be alone on gorgeous winter streets, just me in my winter wonderland, as if I am a character in one of those globes you turn upside down and shake. The little kid in me enjoys the thrill of just keeping between the curbs. Not worrying about staying inside the lines. Slipping and sliding, everything white. Everything beautiful. Everything white.