To The Next Family Who Moves Into Our ‘Ghetto’ Apartment

Home-Quotes-21Dear Family,

My son and his friends often referred to our little apartment as, ‘ghetto’.

As in; not the mortgaged palace of a dual income family, decorated in the safe fashion of the day (grey/beige).

It’s the home where I raised my son.

It’s  the home where I painted his childhood room the brightest shade of lime green imaginable, and where we wandered outside into the courtyard , wearing our pajamas,  to look at the full moon.

I left our little ghetto pad to move closer to work when my kiddo launched into young, adult life. I moved to a three bedroom, townhome,  where homes sell for well over six zeros.

 

The ghetto apartment that you are about to move into is as much a home as any finer four walls that you will ever find. I daresay, that it’s likely the place where I spent the very best years of my life,  relishing every moment of motherhood.

We roasted marshmallows over real wood fires in  the fireplace, hosted full houses of friends at Christmas and Thanksgiving. We had nightly rendez-vous to the kitchen for tasty midnight snacks, and it’s where we knew we could come and close out the badness in the world when we needed refuge. By the way, I left you some dry firewood in the shed so that you can enjoy some fires this winter, when the wind whips wildly outside the patio door.

During the finer weather, we had ‘happy hour’ together; Gatorade, water, or whatever else we nursed while talking about the events of the day. It was a plain patio, but it was good therapy.

You are moving into the home where the kitchen doorway is marked in pencil with my kiddo’s growth chart. It’s small, but every night I could poke my head outside of my bedroom door into the darkness and listen to the soft sound of my kiddo sleeping safely.

Your ghetto home has some colourful neighbours; the man with dementia who hollers like the devil, the young ladies whom I think may be prostitutes, the fitness fanatic, and the little old lady who pokes her head out of her second floor patio door to let me know she appreciates the beauty of the flowers that I plant every year. Please plant some flowers for her and put up some Christmas lights – she’s lonely.

I spent some of the best years of my life in that ghetto apartment, and I think that my kiddo did too.

Not only did I pack up boxes and boxes of our stuff, but I also took the important things with me when I moved too; heart, attitude and love.  All of this so that I could make the new four walls home. Home is about heart and not place.

To the family moving into our ghetto home, my wish for you is that your time there is as deeply satisfying as it was for me. Spend time there. Sit on the edge of your child’s bed and giggle with them. Give them a cool soak in the old, worn out bathtub when they get fevered, and be sure to  run out into the courtyard in your pajamas to look at the moon.

Advertisements

Making Space: The Genius of Silence

coffee lakePractice makes perfect.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relied upon this little nugget of wisdom as a parent when my kiddo whines about not being able to do something. My response has always been; “How do you think I got so good at it? Practice makes perfect; get to it.

Yesterday I was anxious. The kind of anxious that feels like you have a thousand bees buzzing in  your head telling you all of the things you need to do, have to worry about, and can’t control. I was miserable; inside and outside.

Fortunately for me, I had a few hours of quiet time at the end of the day .Quiet for me is heaven. Quiet in the morning gives me time to meditate, and to take in just how fortunate I am.  It’s never a process whereby I sit cross-legged on a cushion wearing a mala made in Bali or a tunic made of hemp. No. It’s simply sitting with my thoughts.

Last night, in the quiet of solitude, I was able to spend some time reading the words of Thich Nhat Hanh.   It reminded me that my practice is not perfect. Far from it in fact. Just because I studied at the temple, attended dharma classes and go to silent retreats does not mean that my meditation muscle is exempt from a good workout on a regular basis.

As adults, we forget that our health as a whole is something that we need to practice on a regular basis.

It’s time for me to make space for some of the books and advice that I’ve gotten in the past. It’s time to make an effort again putting theory into practice.

It’s time for the genius of silence, and for my practice of peace to become a little bit more perfect.

Blowing Out the Candles

candlesOn the eve of my 4o-plus-somethingish birthday, I cannot help but reflect upon the lessons I have learned this year. In theory I’m an expert.  In practice, however, that’s another story.

I do believe that the difference between theory and practice is the key to successful living though darlings, because bridging that gap is the difference between annoying should-sayers, and the people who shine brightly and inspire the rest of us.

Grace has been a concept I’ve wanted to put into practice  throughout the past few years. There are  times I have failed miserably; my birthday breakdown at a bar while trying to sort out my mother issues; my insecurity as a partner, my ability to maintain a positive attitude in light of the every day demands of living. Yah, I’ve failed a few times.

But I have learned a few things from all of that bluster, and I’m old enough to take the liberty of sharing them with you;

  1. I have spent way too much time on my hair.
  2. We allow ourselves to be led by a false economy and fabricated news. Does it feel right? Do it. Does it feel wrong? Don’t. The world would be a better place if we all followed the golden rule.
  3.  If you love your body, it will love back. At a certain point you realize your body feels better when you eat this and not that; when you do this and not that.  It loves water and apples and decadent butter cream chocolate from your favourite Chocolaterie. It does not like to listen to people incessantly rambling about fad diets or extreme routines. Love your body, let it gently communicate to you, and it will love you back.
  4. Kindred spirits aren’t terribly hard to find, but it’s terribly hard to be vulnerable enough to get to know one.
  5. Create things. Anything. Creativity is your human spirit making itself present in the world. Let it sing, paint, write, carve, stitch, bake….whatever! Let your mind wander and your spirit reveal itself.
  6. Do not let bitchy people ruin your day. Attitude is contagious – be sure to protect yourself.
  7. Nobody’s watching. Seriously. Just relax.
  8. Change is scary, but constant. If you can be excited through the fear, you have life licked.
  9. You need friends of all ages; older ones and younger ones, and people who transcend age. You need nurturing and affection and the awesome healing power of human touch.
  10. Flannel jammies, hot tea and a good hobby to keep you occupied are three simple things that are highly under-rated.
  11. Always, always, always buy the shoes.

Be Like Water

  Despite my Irish temper, I try to go about my daily business doing my best to help others. At the very least, I try to keep my mouth shut and mind my own business.

When I started a career based solely on service to others, I struggled with it for many reasons.

I was surrounded by trauma, suffering and sadness. Quite often those emotions were expressed as anger and frustration, and directed at me.

 Before leaving the house every day,I read a little plaque that I had hung by the front door;

The highest goodness is like water. Water benefits all things and does not compete. It stays in the lowly places which others despise. Therefore it is near the eternal.~Lao-Tzu~

Each day I read this quote, hoping that I could just make it through another day.  Be like water, I reminded myself…be like water.

As pithy as it sounds, there is beauty in the dim, dark and mundane places that we so often avoid. 

Being joyful is easy when life is fun and exciting, not so easy when tedium exists. Not so easy when stress is relentless day after day. 

One of the secrets to happiness is being in the present moment and offering gratitude, even if it’s just that the present, unpleasant, moment will be over soon.

Be like water….

Nice Luggage, Let Me Burn It For You

burning luggagePart of my spring ( and sometimes fall ) ritual is heading off to a silent, spiritual retreat. Lead by monastics, it’s an opportunity to sit with my own thoughts, emotions and reflection.

For most participants it’s a bit gruelling, myself included. It’s not the silence that we struggle with, it’s the constant clanging of our own thoughts echoing relentlessly in our own minds.

Silent, solitary reflection leaves no room to escape one’s own bullshit, as it were. There are many silent tears, some not so silent weeping, but much joy in having a sangha to practice with.

Trying to be a better person isn’t a one-shot deal. It’s a daily effort, and a life-long journey. I’m better than I used to be, but boy oh boy, do I ever eff it all up sometimes too.

And I’m not alone in the eff-ing it all up. We all do it. Because we’re all human, and we’re all afraid of something.

Today I wanted to go get a puppy, eat Captain Crunch cereal for breakfast, and go out to stomp in the mud without combing my hair. In other words darling, I wanted to be a kid; A carefree, do what I pleased individual, immune from consequences. I wanted to escape.

Escape from what? I lead a rather charmed life, I’ve cultivated an image of  independent-do-as-I-pleaseness, and lots of women are a bit jealous of it. But it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s a hard thing to change, this hard-won, Teflon veneer, (and just as hard on my sweetie), and quite frankly darlings, I’m way overdue for a change.

Alas, this morning I did not do any of those things that would have been escape-like. Instead, I made breakfast, threw a load of laundry in, and stared at my tired eyes in the bathroom mirror before sighing a big sigh and convincing myself to let it go and get on with my day.

In my previous post, Spring Road Tripping, I wrote about the rare sound of the laughter of friends. It seems that as adults, we’ve all over-packed and prepared an arsenal of protective gear  for our futures, based on past wounds. Whether you’re thinking the key to lifelong happiness is building a wall to keep everyone out,  blaming someone else for your own mistakes, or simply burying your head in the sand, rest assured, you’re only buying into your own bullshit. So don’t bring along a wardrobe for it.

Bullshit in a  frock is still bullshit. No one deserves to be judged based on someone else’s behaviour, no matter how you tart it up. Last night I did it, and my sweetie did it, and from the sounds of it, we’re not alone.

Time to let that shit go lovelies. For me, you, and everyone.

Can you enter into each interaction with a sense of generosity?”  That was the quote of the day, and immediately I thought, “Can I enter into each interaction and let all of my fears, baggage and hurt, go?” I figure if we can let that go, there’s really no other intent than generosity. If we can let that go, there’s really no expectation.

It’s the same for a lot of people. Can we enter into each interaction without casting a shadow from the past on something unspoiled, true and good? Can we?

Fear seems to be the beast, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been letting it get the best of me lately, when really, I should be rejoicing.

Life is good. Love is good. I think that’s all I should carry with me on the next stage of this strange and mysterious journey. That, and a little bit of emergency chocolate. Pass me a match and that bag over there, will you?

Beach Life: Bathing Suits for the Rest of Us

Sennett-Bathing-Beauties-1915_thumbI bought a bathing suit today.

Yes, I know it’s the middle of Canadian winter. No, I haven’t booked a sun-holiday…yet.

I’m debating the merits of an Irish romp with my sweetheart, or a solo beach holiday.

Either way I’m taking a two-piece bathing suit with me that would have made my mother convulse.

You see, I was raised by a woman who suffered extremely low self-esteem and did her best to pass that little nugget of twisted psychology on to her youngest daughter. That’s me by the way.

I grew up in a small town and lived at the beach. Winter, spring, summer and fall. Summer was my favourite. There was nothing better than swimming in the lake all day, the smell of malt vinegar on the homemade French fries that they sold at the little snack shack that would sometimes be lifted off it’s foundation and dragged with the tide when the spring water was high.

Somewhere out there is a photograph of me grinning a grin so wild and wonderful, that I have held that image in my mind for all of these years. It’s a moment of bliss I remind myself I’m capable of, even as an adult.

There I was, white caps at my back,  standing naked, proudly holding my bathing suit at arms length. My waist-long, blonde, pig-tails tangled with lake water and sand, just daring someone to try and get that wet, sticky bathing suit back onto my body.

I may not have been skinny enough, pretty enough, or worried enough about what people thought about what I wore every day. But I was wise enough. Typical of anyone who suffered childhood trauma, I was quiet and very observant. I was constantly tuned in to the tiniest nuance of mood, just in case.

At a very young age, I came to realize that no matter how thin, how pretty, or how well-turned out they were, there were a whole lot of unhappy women out there. And that unhappiness was ugly. Like, soul-deep ugly. Their fear of not being good enough came out as anger and jealousy, and missed trips to fun places. It stopped them from smiling. IT stopped them from going to the beach, getting their hair wet, or smudging their mascara. Their insecurity overshadowed everything. They  let their tummies and their thighs hold them back.

You see, before I even reached puberty I had decided that fat would not keep me from enjoying the beach. Or the snow, or going out to eat a delicious meal. Later on in life, I decided that fat would also not keep me from making wild, passionate love to the man I loved. Some crazy idea of being not good enough would not keep me from having fun.

Being an average looking woman would not keep me from savouring all of the wonderful bits of life, and it certainly did not make me less worthy of healthy curiosity and joy. In fact, I think this joie de vivre is one of the qualities that make many of us beautiful.

I will never be solicited for the cover of Vogue, nor will I turn the heads of men because I’m the ideal beauty. But I will turn the heads of like-minded people. These are the people who buy big, bright bathing suits, get their hair wet, and laugh with every inch of their sun-soaked, skin.

Buy the bathing suit, not because it’s going to turn you into a model. Buy it because it’s a tool in your tickle-trunk of living fully.

 

 

A Night Owl’s Meditation Lesson for Morning People

no wormI’m not a morning person. Unless I’m the first one up when I’m in the great outdoors, marvelling at a sunrise, watching mist rise from a placid lake, and listening to the first call of the loons.

But that rarely happens.

So, I’m basically just not a morning person.

I am a night owl. The still darkness is rich ground to cultivate ideas and search out creative genius.

We all have a delicate balance of extroverted and introverted needs, and as a fence rider on almost every element of the Myers-Briggs assessment, I need as much time alone as I do surrounded by other fascinating human beings.

Morning people often insinuate that I’m wasting the day. They gently suggest that perhaps I’m a tad depressed, lazy, unmotivated, or accomplishing less than my potential. Morning people are wrong.

My very naïve beginnings at meditation have developed throughout the years, and my practice is now something I am aware of every day.

Waking slowly, at my own pace allows me to be quiet with the thoughts that come and go from my mind.

It’s easy to be aware of all of the thoughts that come to mind as your head is on the pillow waiting for sleep to wrap her arms around you. Unless you’re dog-tired, thoughts come fast. You can’t help but be aware of their presence in the quiet darkness of night-time.

Morning thoughts are different. These are the thoughts that come out quietly, like a hungry stray hoping for a leftover morsel. They slink quietly into consciousness and scatter as soon as you turn to thoughts of preparing for the day.

be the awarenessThis morning as I woke,I listened to the heart-breaking howl of the neighbours oft neglected dog.  The irony is that if some of my thoughts were sounds, they would have sounded like that baleful howling.

In the silence of my fluffy duvets, snuggled warm and safe, I had time to reach out and hold each of those thoughts gently, examine them, and then let them go.  At peace with my own self, I felt prepared to face the day, and share it with whatever the world had prepared for me.

My not-a-morning-person mornings are a simple pleasure, and a quality of life indulgence.  I have the peace to let my emotions and thoughts speak their truth, and the time to gently make peace with everything, both good and not so good. This is the value of meditation, practice, and the awareness of personal presence.

 

Fear – You Show Me Yours & I’ll Show You Mine

storytotellFear is a slippery little fella. Sometimes you need to hang on to it so you don’t get damaged, and other times, you need to set it adrift on a flaming raft with an over-zealous shove and a one-fingered salute.

This past weekend, fear crept in and tried to snuggle up in my heart. Good thing I can be a cold-hearted, logical gal when I need to be. Good thing I have friends who remind me not to let my imagination get the best of me and conjure up all sorts of possible ways that my happiness can be sabotaged. Good thing I didn’t turn tail and run. Good thing.

Regardless of what we identify as being bountiful or lacking in our lives, we live within the comfort zone of the known. We live rooted in the identities that we have crafted for ourselves. We cling to our wounds until they no longer serve as shields.

The truth is, we often cling to our wounds long past their expiry date, and we do this because that is the only way we know how to go on living. We do this often without knowing we’re doing it. We fear leaving what is known and comfortable to seek what is meaningful.

During the past 48 hours I  have received calls, and had coffee with friends who have all experienced some sort of crisis rooted in fear. I was an addict. I’m drinking too much. I keep winding up in toxic relationships. Today I heard all of these symptoms, and I offered as much compassion and humour as I could. After all, being fearful is normal. We need to tell and re-tell our stories. We need to be the storyteller, and we need to be the witness to the life-stories woven by others. Change is scary, and we need our friends to walk beside us when we don’t know if we have the courage to take another step on a path that leads to goodness-only-knows-where-but-there-had-better-be-margaritas-and-a-bed.

Fear of feeling, dealing with the here and now, or not having someone to prop up an ego seem to have been  served up a la carte over the weekend. It’s  a menu everyone eventually gets served; long in the planning and very bitter. It keeps popping up on the menu until you get tired of the bitter aftertaste and are inspired to take over the kitchen.

brokenThe most curious of fears is the fear of getting what you want. It means letting go of an identity that was defined by lack of the thing itself; career success, loving relationship, independence, you name it. You have to be brave enough to break down the walls protecting your own kingdom of fear.

While trying to shake off the snug embrace of a well-known-and-outlived-it’s-usefulness-fear-of intimacy which had slithered it’s way into my mind, I had a rather synchronistic encounter.

After zenning out and treating myself to some self-care paraphernalia at an over-incensed and herbal-tea’d hippie hang-out, I wandered back to my car completely and utterly distracted. Rationalizing with oneself can be very engrossing, and I was neck deep. I was not going to half-ass this one. I was going to face this thing down even if it meant a haze of incense, tantra-drumming, and Buddhist-throat-singing loud enough to scare the bejeezus out of the neighbours. While I was getting all bad-assed and spiritual with this fear, I was being watched.

Two men of questionable intent approached my car, one wedged between the driver’s side door and the car next to me, pulled on my door handle and banged on my window while the other stood at the right side.

Thanks to good habits, my door was locked, and the car was started. Thanks to a friend who was texting an invitation for a drinky-poo, I was head-down-distracted, allowing these two men to target me.

Hours after I had safely pulled away and caught my breath from the initial shock, I sank into the corner of my couch and cried. I sobbed and relived those few seconds of that man’s face just inches from my own.

But why? I was safe in my own space now. I was ok.

I cried because the threat of harm pulled me back into the rational fear I had developed throughout years of abuse and  assault. It was like someone tossed me back into the arena to face another hungry beast after I thought I’d finally made it out alive.

What I did next was remarkable. I reached out. Well, I reached out the best I could. Via text of course, because I couldn’t bear to speak and have anyone hear my voice tremble. My pride wouldn’t hear of it.  “I kinda need you.”

It’s rather ironic that my fear of letting someone in was challenged head on by someone literally trying to get in.

presence.jpgPart of healing and kicking fear in the ass is learning that it’s ok to be vulnerable sometimes.  It’s a lesson that I have found extremely challenging. But with true self-compassion, vulnerability can be the greatest warrior in the battle on the front-line of fear.

There is a spiritual alchemy exchanged every time we offer support or receive it. This alchemy is grace in action, mercy in motion, the very human breath of compassionate and spiritual living. It is the greatest enemy of fear. It’s ok to kinda need someone, they kinda need you too. Trust me, if you show them yours, they’ll show you theirs.

 

 

 

 

Well Hello There Anger, You Curious Beast

rozSubtlety has never been one of my shining qualities, nor do I wish it to be. It makes for hearty discussions that can be uncomfortable yet rich. Being with people who can admit that they are afraid of the dark,  yet have the courage to explore it are the best kind of people.

I’m a fiery gal. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. I am not for the faint of heart or the timid.

But I’m also soft-hearted to a fault, and love nothing more than to take people in, feed them, make sure they’re safe, and take care of them.

For many years, like many women, anger was not my friend. It’s ugly, and doesn’t accessorize well. It chewed me up from the inside out, and boy oh boy, did I suffer for ignoring it. Once my practice matured, I was able to let it in, give it room to breathe it’s fire, and finally burn off the dangerous edges.

This post was inspired by my incorrect perception. Some might even say, I was wrong. But let’s not get carried away now my sweet little peaches. Being wrong is such a bitch and entirely not sexy.

The human smorgasbord of emotion is fascinating, with a little of this and a dash of that sprinkled through the entire menu. What I’ve discovered, and I believe to be true, is that the  plethora of negative emotions are all rooted in the muck of fear. To be fearless about exploring those negative emotions, well, that my darlings, is interesting stuff.

I will be the first to admit that relationships scare the hell out of me. Commitment is a word I actually had an issue saying ( it made me stutter).  Yet, I’m a devoted, loyal, stick-with-you-to-the-end friend and colleague. What gives?

Well, after years of learning and practicing, I came to understand just how healthy it is not to deny myself all of the ugly-step-sister emotions; anger, jealousy, shame. They are all rooted in fear, and we, as human beings all experience fear and the offshoots of fear every day.

After a thoughtful discussion with my sweetie last night about anger, communication, and perception, I came back to an article by Jules Shuzen Harris, Sensei; Uprooting the Seeds of Anger, (Tricycle, Summer 2012 p44-47);

We’re going to keep getting angry. It’s going to come up. It has come up in our lives before, and it will come up again. This practice is about becoming more mindful, becoming aware of how we are getting stuck. With care and work, we find ways to get unstuck. But we also know that the moment we get unstuck, we’re going to get stuck again. That’s why it is called a practice – we never arrive. So when you find yourself upset or angry, use the moment as apart of your practice, as an opportunity to notice and uproot the seeds of anger and move into the heart of genuine compassion.

This passage speaks to me of impermanence, the Five Skandhas, and the importance of self-compassion as we practice mindful living/self-awareness.

When I first sought out meditation practice and the wisdom of the monastic teachings at a local monastery, what I really was doing, was running away from fear. I thought that I was doing something wrong, and that being happy all of the time was what being a spiritual being was all about. But, surprise, surprise, the Goddess-of-Everything-Delightful was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Ick.

Denying oneself the full-spectrum of emotion is like plastering concealer over a nasty pimple. Eventually it wears off, and it just makes the problem worse.

Our daily practice consists in running away…We are afraid of the suffering that is inside us, afraid of war and conflits…But we do not want this fear to manifest, because it hurts, and so we repress it.  We try to repress our suffering and we invite other energies into our ‘lving room’ to fill it up so that the negative energies will not be able to make their appearance there…We should not adopt this boycott policy. On the contrary we should open our door so that our suffering can come out.  (Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love)

I have committed to my practice, and I feel it slip when fear enters uninvited, tracking mud through my heart. But I won’t pretend it’s not there. I will not kick it out, or wash away the dirty footprints without taking a good look at how it got in, and what I might do lovingly acknowledge it.

 

 

 

2016 Predictions: It’s Your Choice Baby

liveonceToday someone paid me a backhanded compliment. Their ex accused them of being just like me.

To which I say, ‘That’s right douchedrop, she’s just like me. Happy.’

I’ve been accused of being too passionate, too cold, too serious, too silly and just too much of many things.  I am who I am in the moment. I feel deeply and think creatively and give big, warm, squishy hugs. It’s a wonderfully liberating way to be.

A lot of people can’t handle authenticity in the face of their own, long-ago-lost moral compass.

I know heartache greater than losing your true love. I’ve known regret, self-doubt, crippling fear and loss. I’ve known the depths of depression and despair.

Perhaps this is why I readily see beauty in simple things. Perhaps it’s why my definition of crisis is much more intense than the average bear. Perhaps it’s why tonight, with family and friends gathered at my humble table I felt a deep, profound, contentment.

This year I hope you have the courage to be who you really are. For some, you will be ‘too much’.

I hope that you are finally brave enough to take time to sit with your demons in silence, hear them out, let them have their say, and then graciously hold the door while they leave.

Be brave enough to use your heart for great love. Cherish your friends, fall head-over-heels in love, and don’t let the shadow of hurts-past darken the gift of getting to do it all over again.

Choose to be happy. Choose to be quiet. Choose to be alone. Choose to be whatever the hell it is that you need to be. But know it is a choice darlings. You, and only you, can choose.

Don’t whine and be a martyr for your lover, your family or your colleagues. Don’t waste your breath explaining away your shitty choices, or your crazy ones, or the ones that will make you smile a kazillion years from now when all you have left are memories of your misadventures.

My wish for everyone whose life I touch this year, is that I help them be at ease with themselves, in this wild and wonderful world.