Saturday, November 23, 2013

Praising the Bridge


"Praise the bridge that carried you over."
George Colman

So, next week is Thanksgiving - a day when many of us sit around a table with loved ones and express aloud things we are most grateful for. Family, friends, health, wealth, survival, love, abundance... All of the things that bring us joy and fill us with gratitude.

Gratitude is such an incredibly powerful feeling. It broadens our horizons and puts things in perspective. We read books about it and fill journals with it - trusting in its power to transform the way we see ourselves and the lives we're living. Countless studies have shown that gratitude boosts our immune systems, lowers blood pressure, increases compassion, helps us feel more energized and alive... The list goes on and on.

But what if, along with all the things that bring us happiness, we could also be grateful for the things that bring, or have brought us, us unhappiness?

Having come out the other side of my own Carnival of Ridiculous Torment alive and in one piece I have learned to be abundantly grateful for the refinement and expansion that Pain has brought me. It is from the things that I thought would kill me that I have learned the most. It is precisely because I have been gutted so many times that I have the capacity and room to feel the boundless joy and love that I now feel. What I have been through has made me who I am - the events that have brought unbearable pain have shaped me and formed me and given me the ability to dance with the stars in a way I never would have been able to had my life just been an easy going trip down sunshine lane.

Not only is this possible to see and feel in hindsight, but as we are going through something difficult as well. It is an incredible thing to be able to recognize the lessons and purpose and expansion that painful events bring while we're experiencing them. It helps us endure them with far less resistance and assists us in getting to the other side far quicker than when we close our eyes, hold our breath and curl up in a ball to curse the heavens until the storm passes.


Bridges carry us from here to there. Sometimes they are a joy to cross, sometimes they are terrifying and difficult. But they always lead us from where we are to where we are going. And, for that, I will always be deeply grateful.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Two Wolves

So, apparently winter is coming. Try as I might every year, my plunge into denial and absolute refusal to utter the very word doesn’t do one freaking thing to keep it from coming. It comes anyway, which I think is just so unbelievably rude. Obviously, and for the official record, I am not one of those people that thinks that winter is a miraculous adventure cake covered in sparkling, creamy, white newness. It is a thug lurking in the bushes, just waiting to take me out. I’m not alone, I know. All around me are tender souls hunkering down for the epic cage match of Sanity vs. Face-Down-in-the-Snow-Unable-to-Brush-Your-Teeth-Fetal-Position-Emotional-Snail-Goo that is February through April-May-June in these here snowy states. Simply put, the past several years have seen me increasingly winter challenged. And it sucks.

I had my first wave of winter dread earlier than usual this year and decided to discuss it with a spiritual/intuitive coach of mine. She reminded me of a story from the Cherokee Indian tradition that I had heard long ago, but had completely forgotten.

The Two Wolves
(Anonymous from the Native American Tradition)
An old grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with raging anger at a friend, “I, too, have felt great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison into your own body and wishing your enemy would suffer and die. It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is kind and understanding and does no harm; it works to benefit the entire pack. He lives in harmony with all around and does not take offense or plot revenge. His heart is open and available to the Great Spirit. The other wolf is always vengeful, vicious and full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone for no reason. He kills without cause or remorse. He cannot think because his resentment, anger and hate are so great. His heart is closed to the Great Spirit.  Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me. Both of them try to dominate my Spirit.”  
The boy looked with amazement into this wise man’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The grandfather smiled and said, “The one that wins― is the one I feed.”

Wham, bam, thank ya Ma’am. Clarity. This beautiful and brilliant story is obviously about so much more than the refusal to let go of a personal snowy season victim story, and it applies to any and every area of life. The Light Wolf and the Dark Wolf (also referred to as the Light Self and the Shadow Self, the Higher Self and the Lower Self, the Human Self and the Spiritual Self, the Grown-up Self and the Big, Fat Baby Self – take your pick) we all have them, which one do we feed? Where do we direct our thoughts, feelings and attention?

Take some time to look at your two wolves and get deep-down-dirty-raw and honest about which one you are feeding. And how you are feeding it. And why you are feeding it. What are you afraid of? What are you avoiding or hiding from? What or who are you blaming or angry at? What are you addicted to? Where are your attachments? In what areas are you needing to grant yourself freedom?
I have gotten very good at recognizing my victim stories, both large and small, and this year, at long last, I have been able to let most of them go. Talk about miracle of miracles. There are still those that I am working my way through and to the other side of, and it is being done consciously and deliberately. I don’t believe in being a victim and I really do refuse to live my life from that place any longer. I can write about it, speak about it, coach others through it, kick ass at it personally and then turn around, sit down and write the Queen of Victimlandia opening paragraph to this post. Barf.
Being human – welcome to it.

Winter happens every single year. Every year it gets cold. Every year it snows and every year that beautiful white snow turns into piles of greasy, dirty, grey poop. Every year the sky vanishes, taking with it the fresh air, and inversion presses down on us. Every year winter lasts far longer than I would like it to. But it happens every year whether I enjoy it or not. I learned long ago that it is exhausting and futile to raise my fists, scream at the heavens and argue with What Is. What Is simply is What Is.
And, right now, What Is is that winter is coming. Which wolf am I going to feed? No question. It will NOT be the one that gnaws on its own ankle in a dark corner gorging on bitterness, complaints and off the charts depression. It will be the wolf who has learned how to pack her bags and move out of Victimlandia and knows, without a doubt, that she can, and somehow will, experience winter as…yes…a miraculous adventure cake covered in sparkling, creamy, white newness.


She’s going to feast on as many cozy, candlelit snuggles in the arms of a wonderful man, movies, happy music, laughter, girl’s night parties, Sex and the City episodes, chocolate, hot adult beverages, snowball fights and bubble baths as possible. I promise you that puppy is going to be fat, happy and, most definitely, well-fed. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Among the Living

I have spent a great deal of my life thinking about death. Most likely because I have spent a great deal of my life processing the deaths of loved ones that were closest to me. Death has, without question, been an actual character in the play of my life that I have been forced to wrestle and figure out an actual relationship with. It is something I have both learned a great deal from and something I have learned how to live with. Living with Death. Talk about an oxymoron.


When I received word a few years ago that my childhood babysitter had been diagnosed with a fast growing cancer, I jumped in my car and drove 45 minutes so I could say goodbye. It's always strange to say goodbye to someone you love when you know it is for the last time in this physical life. What do you say? "I love you... Thanks for loving me... Are you scared?... Don't be... What are your favorite memories of our time together?... What are mine?... Do you remember when?... I'll see you soon..."

Yep. All of the above. You hug and laugh and cry and hold hands and stare into one another's eyes a lot. She asked me to sing to her. I did. Then she asked me to sing that same song at her funeral. I agreed. She died the next week. I attended the funeral and sang for her the songs she had requested. I was cocky and thought that I wouldn't cry but standing above her casket a flood of childhood memories washed over me and I was emotional from start to finish.

This woman had watched over me as a child. She had played the piano and hide and seek with me. She put flowers on my own sister's grave every year. She was only, like, 56 years old. She had a constant smile that masked a hundred pains that I'm not sure how many people in her life actually knew about. And she is the only person that I know who loved chocolate more than I do.

When someone dies it is natural that we think about death. What is it like? Where do we go? What is the point? And then we think about life. How are we living it? How can we live it better? And, yes… Why are we here? The roundabout point of this post is best made in a story that was told at her funeral. When my babysitter/friend was about five years old, her family moved to a new town. She wanted to have a birthday party but her mother told her it would be hard because they had just moved there and they didn't know anyone. You can't really have a party with no friends. She left the house and came back about an hour later followed by several neighbors. "Mom, these are my new friends. Can I have my party now?"

This story both delighted me and caused a shift. I had spent so much of my life grieving and in pain and stuck in the spin cycle of all my victim stories. Like so many others, especially those spiritually and/or religiously minded folk, I had spent FAR more time focused on life before this one and life after this one than I ever spent focused on the life I was living right here and now. Life, I realized, was a big, fat parade that was passing me by. And, for the first time in my life, that wasn't okay.


"It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live." - Marcus Aurelius


I began to ask myself a series of questions that eventually led to one, singular inquiry. What does it really mean for me to be alive? What does being vibrantly, joyously, deliberately ALIVE look like for me? And, was I willing to do what it would take to get there? Was I willing to look at what I needed to look at, let go of what I needed to let go of, for Life to finally flow freely through my veins? I was willing and I did what I needed to do. And then, as though Life itself became aware that I had finally chosen to live it, I instantly found myself surrounded by an orchard of brand new possibility blossoms in the most glorious emotional springtime. And nothing has been, or will ever be, the same again. Hot damn.

Do you know what being alive means for you? What it looks like for you? If not, figure it out! It will be the single most worthwhile thing you have ever done. Life is your birthday party. If it’s lacking something you want - go out and get it. Make it. Meet it. Create it. Demand it. Don't rest until you have it.


NOTE TO SELF: Stop being fascinated by near death experiences. Focus on having near life experiences instead. Just a thought.