Maternal In Memorium & Mother’s Day Manifesto

IshtarToday marks the second anniversary of my mother’s death.

Ours was an unusually complex relationship, with  complete estrangement over twenty years ago. Despite the common cry of making amends by well-meaning acquaintances who do not know the depth of the family’s dysfuncionality, I have no regrets when it comes to this relationship, or lack thereof.

My mother was a victim of her times and of abuse. She was the poster child of body loathing and repression.  I grew up surrounded by women’s magazines, and I confess, I still regularly take Woman’s World for their feel-good stories and their little strips of inspiration. It reminds me of a simple time when my paternal grandmother would clip the posts and pin them to the fridge, or tear out the Ziggy comics and pin them to her inspirational bulletin board in the sewing room.

My paternal grandmother was in touch with her power as a woman. She was wise, fierce, kind and strong. She lived fully and taught me what it meant to be my own person.

ziggy Times have not changed so much, and maybe even for the worse. Not only are we expected to manage our homes, but bear the burden of less feminine roles as well.  We are still surrounded by racks full of magazines, air-brushed images of the female form, with covers that imply we are flawed; how to be thinner, how to be happier, how to please our men, how to de-stress so we can be all of the above. We are ingrained in a culture who continues to devalue the natural life-affirming work of women.

You may wonder what this has to do with the anniversary of my mother’s death. Everything.

I was raised by a woman who was  estranged from her own beautiful, glorious and powerful self. I had a choice as a young woman, continue the trauma, or claim my own glorious divine feminine. I chose the latter.

So many of us hate our ankles, our bellies, our hair or our skin.  We punish our bodies and ridicule our own needs. We ignore the call of primitive intuition, and we diminish the great power of fertility and motherhood.

We live in the world of magazine promises; to create a common, submissive self that perpetuates a world where our value and spiritual gifts are damned.

As the years passed and I healed into my own femininity, into my own woman, forgiveness came. My mother was not a bad mother as such, she was  truly a victim of her times, of her inability to seize her own power, and grow into her own, always determining her own worth by the praise of abusive men.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I hope that all of the women in my life,  spend some quiet time, reflecting on their own beauty and how their body has served them well, their own natural, intuitive intelligence, and their own power to embrace the fullness of what it means to be a woman.

More than that, I hope that whether maiden, mother or crone,  that all of the ladies reading this live each stage of life and every transition fully.  I believe that is the secret to a well-lived life. That is the secret to having no regrets.

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When Christmas Isn’t So Merry

ADVENT WREATH

“Christmas makes me sad, ” one of my colleagues said in passing this week.

Sad was a theme for me in 2015, so her comment caught my attention.

My head jerked up from what I was working on and I listened to what she had to say.

“I still put up the tree and decorate. You know, for the kids.”

“Me too.” I said.

We were speaking with a younger lady who is still a starry-eyed romantic like we used to be. I hope she never loses that magic, because once you lose it, you can’t get it back the same way.

Loss during the holidays spreads a pall over the joy of the season. Loss as in a you’ve experienced the death of a loved one during the holidays, you’ve experienced another type of loss during the year (relationship, job, ability).

As you get older, there tend to be more people and more things to miss. There are deeper elements of life to reflect upon, and joy comes less and less from what is under the tree than from the quiet moments you get to spend with people you love.

When I was a child, the season of Advent was not a spiritual experience. It was a season of ribbon candy, clementines, chocolate galore and lots of toys. As a young woman, it was a season of party dresses, romance and giddy fun.  As a middle-aged woman, I realize the meaning behind the season of Advent; living in darkness, anticipation and mystery, meditation, and the cultivation of patience.

For those who find the Christmas season emotionally challenging, please try and remember that you are not alone. Our silver-bell-and-city-sidewalk-smiles hide a multitude of sadness.

For those who still find Christmas deliriously happy, don’t be afraid to share your enthusiasm. We love it, and are happy knowing that although we may bring peace and love to the season, there are others who bear the burden of bringing the joy.

Wishing you peace this Christmas. Wishing you love. Wishing you the joy of friendship, romance and the thrill of experiencing some of life’s  unfolding mystery.

 

 

Things Not Meant For You; Do We Ever Really Know?

Life is like one of those teachers who scare the living daylights out of you, but earns your respect for life.

This year, Life has offered me many opportunities to say good-bye.

Early this year, I tacked this little saying to my fridge.not meant for you

Grace and discernment are two qualities that I’ve become very conscious of during the past year or so. Little did I know when I tacked that little nugget of wisdom to the fridge, that I would turn to that saying over and over again, especially the, “…how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.

That’s a hard one. Mostly because we’re never really sure, are we darlings? Grace is one thing, but the discernment to know what or whom is meant for you is an entirely different ball game. It’s like you prepare for a game of football, and show up to find out that you’re playing badminton.

Life is a wonderful journey filled with surprises. The trick is to be able to stay curious and hopeful when the future remains unclear.

What I’ve learned about good-byes are that many of them are not really good-byes, they’re more like, ‘see you later’s’, or, ‘bye for now’s’.

Even the good-byes we look forward to are often just temporary absences until we’re presented with something from the past that needs some more attention. As we grow up, mature, and reach out, our worlds become smaller as we meet more and more people.

Death, break-ups, and career changes. I’ve experienced them all this year, and the fat lady of 2015 hasn’t finished singing yet.

Wishing you the grace to let go of the things that aren’t meant for you, and the ability to let go of trying to figure out if they really were.

Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

~Jimmy Buffett~

The Devastating Beauty of Heartbreak

"...and she finally stopped playing their song when she realized she was dancing alone..."

“…and she finally stopped playing their song when she realized she was dancing alone…”

Heartbreak leaves us utterly spent, hopeless and longing for connection.

It is a form of grief left to work its way out of your heart, struggling against every difficult, dark emotion that was hidden by the light of what you lost.

Our hearts break when our children suffer, when we witness injustice, when we lose a lover, a friend, or our family.

Our hearts break and our worlds change. To survive, we adapt, adjust, stretch ourselves to get through just one more minute, an hour, or a day.

I don’t know about you my darlings, but I’ve been heartbroken and stretched thin for far too long. I’ve wept morning, noon and night in between parenting, paying the bills and carrying out what-must-be-done-to-get-by.

Standing in front of the mirror wondering at how I got this damn old, my son said to me,  “You look good mom.”

“Like, ‘thinner‘ good?” I eyed my chubby profile before I slipped on my shoes.

No, like good all over. Even your face. Like you’re not so worried about work and stuff.” I’ve raised quite the diplomat. Instead of uttering the name of he-who-shall-not-be-named, he just left it at, ‘stuff’.

My first thought was, ‘Holy mother of pearl! I must have looked like a bag of old, worn out crap all summer’.

Heartbreak teaches us some of my favourite go-to-overdone-most-misunderstood-Buddhist teachings;

  1. Impermanence. Nothing stays the same and everything changes. In other words; This too shall pass.
  2. Interconnectedness. Our actions have consequences that involve the lives of others; For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
  3. Karma. Our thoughts and actions cause conditions which we must live through; You reap what you sow.

Heartbreak and moving on means doing things you’ve never done before. It might be going to bed alone, socializing in ways that you would never have done before, picking up a new hobby, or re-connecting with old friends. It can mean silently letting go, or hanging on.

Heartbreak cracks our lives open, with a  painful, receding tide that carries away people, places and things that we love. It washes us clean and floods our hearts with life again, brining back what was meant for us; fresh and mysterious.

Wishing you the strength to open your heart so the pain can escape, making more room for love, whatever that may look like.

Ghost Whisperer; Listening to Our Angels

waiting for a signI woke up at 6:23 this morning, assessed the snuggling situation with my big, duvet covered bed, and made the executive decision to roll over and relax just a little bit more.

Four hours later I made my bleary-eyed debut in front of the coffee maker, pressed the magic button, and stumbled around opening blinds and welcoming in the day. I would say I welcomed the sun, but alas, it is overcast. It’s the perfect, grey, fall, day to snuggle in and nest.

These are the fall days I’m most fond of. The ones where you can throw on a pair of jeans, sneakers and a sweater and take a stroll without being scorched by the sun, or blown away by a blizzard.

Grey days though, at the beginning of fall (not the nasty bleakness of late November) are the best for baking and cooking.

As a little girl, I was attached at the hip to my maternal grandmother. She taught me to roll pastry dough, to iron, and best of all, during days like today, she would sneak me to the top of the stairs, and read poetry with me.

My paternal grandmother was a woman who lived her life without apology; strong, independent, and fiercely protective of her family. She could also cook and bake like nobody’s business.

I gave her a journal for Christmas one year, and she faithfully wrote in it every day. She gave me the journal when she got sick, and I read it. Her September 13 entry reads,

Babysitting again. Scott slept until noon. Paula got home about 4 o’clock. Nancy came to watch our show. Jake was here. Patricia called. Called Carol later.

(names have been changed to protect the multiple identities of my wacky relatives)

I read her every-day notes, and know that life is just a series of weaving these days together; good and bad, full and lonely, happy and sad. A life is made up of  a series of seemingly insignificant moments that, when stitched together make a beautiful tapestry.

This morning as I stumbled in my half-awake-stupor, back to my writing desk, I had a sudden grief wash over me. I had a deep desire to pick up the phone and talk with her. I missed her with the same intensity I did when she died 15 years ago. More than anything I wanted to connect, to hear her voice, seek her advice, and most of all, do what we so often did when we were together; laugh. My phone rang….

bake a cakeI do believe this to be her way of answering a question I’ve had in my heart for some time. Yah, it may just be coincidence, but since it was an atypical call, I’m going to go with, “Thanks granny you old wise woman you, I really needed that.

Most of the messages I tend to notice are likely just my conscience calming down my anxious nature. Others are; Stay the course. Be patient, screw this and get the hell outta there.

So this morning, I felt lonely, that hollow pit of grief that always remains regardless of time or space when you lose someone you love, and I was given a conversation with someone I love very much to help soothe the ache.

Life is a continuous season of change; friendship, career, life and death.

Although our loved ones die, they remain with us as part of our conscience, whispering to our selves. They remind us of our dreams, reassure us when we are fearful, and once in a while, if we’re really quiet in our minds, shine a little light in the darkness when we’re unsure of which path to take.

Baking and cooking is one of the ways I quiet my mind enough to hear those whispers from the women who loved me the most. I’m sure that both of my granny’s will be with me today in the kitchen. But first…one more coffee…

Beach Buddha With a Side of Fry Sauce

Tneversaidthathis weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to the lake to enjoy a fresh fish dinner, drink Mackie’s famous Orangade, and dunk my fries in their special fry sauce.  Instead,  I got caught up in a whirlwind of worries.

In the moment, with the sun shining in a clear blue sky,the lake calmly offering refreshment, and soaring seagulls, my meditation training came back to me in a snap. This moment is it. It’s all we’ve got.

To be present right here, right now, holding all of our fears and worries, all the while appreciating how fortunate we are to have what we do, now that my sweet peaches, is the art of living.

Holding hope and loss at the same time seems paradoxical, but it’s the essence of the human mystery. I don’t preach this from living a blessed life. Loss is not a stranger in my life. Loss is a ruthless teacher and a sneaky sonnuvabitch.

Anxiety is the residue that gets left over when loss finally packs its oversized bag and leaves.

So often we associate  loss with death, and forget about all of the other losses; home, love, jobs, and hope.

Hope. Yah, that’s a tough one. Loss often packs a good one-two punch, with a kick to the groin – it always blesses us more than once in a very short period of time, leaving us feeling vulnerable, fearful, numb and hopeless.

With each loss we lose hope in the story of our lives; what we hope to do with our loved ones, how we hope to grow old and with whom or that old wounds may somehow heal with reconciliation.

As a young adult I suffered major losses. Journeying with someone I love as they experience new losses in the shadow of my own,  I began to wonder whether it was easier as a young woman than it is now.

But it’s not about easier or more difficult. It’s about different. Different as in; as we age we process loss much differently in the lengthening shadow of our own mortality. With each loss, our perception is that time offers us less opportunity to recover. Perception is the key word here. Loss can cause despair, and on the other hand it can be used as an opportunity to start fresh, put new building blocks in place (think Lego – it was my favourite toy when I was a kid), and write a new story.

Within the period of a few months, loss has snuggled up in our home, poured itself a drink, put its stinky feet up on the coffee table, and helped itself to an unfair portion of our sanity. It’s like the dreaded overseas relative come to stay for an unknown period of time. To celebrate the arrival of our special guest, my anxiety dressed itself up, rolled out the red carpet and said,  “Welcome, what can I get you? My sleep? A cozy blanket of  pathetic weeping perhaps, or how about some home-cooked fear”?

Despite my anxiety, I am aware of my blessings; my child, my love, my friendships, my life as I know it.

As the Buddha at the beach reminded me, it’s not impossible to hold hope and fear. It’s best just to let them both gently go and appreciate the moments as they are.

Wishing you the presence to practice letting go, being present, and keeping love and hope alive in your heart.

Lay Your Body Down;What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

faintingI’m not the kind of gal who runs from trouble. What I mean is, when the going gets tough, I stick in there. Always have, and likely always will.

You see, for the people out there who don’t know what it’s like to be ‘free’, I direct you to a line made famous by Janis Joplin but written by Kris Kristofferson;

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose

In other words, I’ve never had anyone who’s had my back and the only ‘thing’ I have to lose is my sense of self. Even though I come from a long history of a-holes (that’s French for lunatics and weirdos),  I’m the woman who always shows up, smiles and does what needs to be done.

Some days I hate it. I hate that people have so much damn faith in me. Some days I’d like to be the southern-belle who swoons and takes to her bed until the villain knuckles and offers her an icy mint julep and the keys to happily-ever-after.

Anyone who knows me knows that I would never do that. I’d be the southern-belle with mud on her skirts and a villain by the balls short and curlies with a shot of bourbon at the ready, and a poetry salon going on all the while in the parlour.

I live and love in a fiercely loyal way. It can be heartbreaking and it can be beautiful. As my darling cousin reminded me, “When you love, you love BIG, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” In other words, I fall completely head over heels and give 100% of myself. If I’d only invested in a tissue company, I might be able to stop my nine-to-five and open my home to artists and their muses…alas my sweet peaches, I digress…

Coming from a painful upbringing, I value ideals more than I do material things: friendship, honesty, loyalty, and stick-to-it-ness. I fight for what is good and right. I fight for the ideals and people whom I love.

Lately I’ve lost a lot. A lifetime of lost hope, and maybe even a future I was so looking forward to.

A wise grief therapist, in a Southern Baptist drawl reminiscent of an old-time, passionate, protestant preacher once said,

You will need to lay your body down

Walking up the stairs to my office a couple of weeks ago, those words came to me.  I realized that I have not had the opportunity to do this. More importantly, I’m out of practice and I’m not very good at it. But I try.

You see, when you’re ordained with the heavy knowledge of the human soul and its suffering, it’s not a job you can retire from, or hand to anyone else. It is simply yours to hold with all of the suffering and joy that comes along with it.

But you can rest. You can lay your body down; for ten minutes while you try to calm your mind, or two hours while your physical self recovers from being at battle with your anxiety. You can take time to feel the pain that you had no control over coming into your life, and you can release it. You can choose not to carry what is not yours and to replenish your own self in order that you may continue to love those whom have earned a place in such a completely loving heart.

There have been many, many tears lately. Years ago I thought that I didn’t have any left. I was wrong, but as I allow my emotions to wash over me, I remember my Sifu’s story of a woman weeping in meditation. She said nothing, simply rubbed the woman’s back until she stopped sobbing. This kind of emotional release is exhausting, and soon wears us out. Like meditation, we are aware of the rise, the expression, the pain and the release of these things that remind us we are fully human, just as we notice joy and laughter and love. The painful things suck though, and we’d be more than happy to avoid them. But this is life darlings, in all of it’s stunning and frightening mystery.

So, just a little note from an old gal who feels like she’s had her heart and soul ripped out, don’t ever give up on what you believe in. Don’t stop making wishes on old dandelions that are waiting to be blown out into a universe waiting to answer your prayers.  Don’t give up on love, on friendship or on bringing something good to the world every day, even if it’s just having the courage not to quit.

But do lay your body down, and please, remind me it’s ok to do the same.

You Can’t Go Around It – You Must Go Through It…

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love." ~Washington Irving~

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
~Washington Irving~

There are very few people in this world whom I consider true kindred spirits; the ones who live and die by the Mark McGuinn Lyrics,

I don’t believe you can get too much love, but you can get too much advice.

You can get too much advice. Sometimes any advice is just too much. It’s irritating and hurtful, and painful to hear.

Often it’s not advice that we need. No darling, we already know where the chinks in our personal armor are. We were there when it happened after all. We felt the flesh wound and saw the blood. It’s just that sometimes, as unpleasant as it is,  we must return to the scene of the crime to continue to make sense of it all.

Instead of advice, we need a hug, a snuggle, a hot cup of tea, and a long hot bath by candlelight where we can weep in private and our mascara won’t run. We need to let it all out where no one can see or hear or reach out. Because, the rationale goes, if they know how to comfort, they will know how to wound.

I’m almost a little too aware of what a roller coaster grief is, how it can grab hold, and throw you in the middle of the ring without you even knowing you’re a contender. It’s a fickle bastard with a wry smile and salivating lips. It has the patience of a saint, and the stealth of a lightening bolt. No matter how fast you run, or where you hide, it will find you.

Like most fabulous ladies, I’m a big fan of avoiding emotional discussions until I’m tucked safely away with a stiff drink, some Leonard Cohen, and no place to go until the swelling under my tired eyes goes down. Better yet, I like to avoid emotional discussions in which my emotions are the ones under scrutiny. In other words, I foolishly avoid my own sadness until it overwhelms me, but offer a shoulder when a friend is in need.

It becomes a matter of timing. I hear myself rationalizing, ” I can’t do it now, my kiddo will see me. I can’t do it now, I have to get some sleep. Maybe tomorrow right after work, that way I can pat my eyes in the car. I can’t possibly bother them with this stuff because it’s way too depressing.”

Maybe I’m such a hard ass because I’m not a big lover of well-meaning-platitude-spewing-amateur-therapists. Maybe it’s because when I cry I feel vulnerable and foolish, and the thought of someone minimizing it makes me feel weak. After all, I know what’s happening, so why feel it so deeply?

Maybe it’s because I’m trying to rationalize something that can’t possibly be coaxed into the tidy identity of the woman-who-has-it-all-together, which I’ve worked so hard to create and maintain.

Or maybe, maybe it’s just  hard to talk about things that cause me emotional pain because I’m human too.

Not Afraid to Boogie: Living a Meaningful Life

dancing old women

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” ~Frederick Nietzche~

Are you doing everything you ‘should’? Should. It’s worse than the F-word, and more lethal than methamphetamine.

I live in a suburb of commuters. Each day people herd themselves into train cars bound for the city corral, and then herd themselves back on to be let loose in the pasture of traffic-congested suburbia.

Commuting on the train was a soul-smothering experience. Everyone was dressed the same, barely made eye-contact, and wished they were anywhere else but being jostled along like Mike & Ikes in a speeding box while they lived a meaningless life.

I hated it.

So I quit.

That’s right, I quit.

I didn’t lose my mind and scream like an Edvard Munch painting character. I didn’t march through the office beating a drum and telling the man to fuck off. No, I simply persisted in the direction of the type of life I wanted to build. This train is a metaphor for life;

We make ourselves small in an effort to protect ourselves. We stop dancing. We try to fit in so no one challenges us. We turn inward when reaching out has garnered painful feedback. Turning inward and shutting down when you’ve been hurt is a mechanism to protect yourself, but one that is dangerous if you don’t eventually open your heart up again to all of the wonderful love that’s out there.

Trust, is not black or white. It merely exists on a fluid continuum of trustworthiness. All relationships whether personal or professional fall along this continuum somewhere. You just can’t let the untrustworthy outweigh the trustworthy in the grand scheme of life. It is a delicate balance, but if you’re out there reading this, I know you can handle it.

This post is not a tragic story of loss and lessons learned, although I do have those stories too. Unless you’re open to sharing a bottle of bourbon on a humid night, you’re not going to hear those tales. You know why? Because they’re in the past, and from this perspective, those experiences are an integral part of the firm foundation upon which I’ve created a good life, cultivated deep friendships and learned that belly laughing, sharing a smile with a passing stranger and  hugs are the best therapy. To lock yourself away is to deny yourself all of the beauty of life.

Although, in truth, nothing was the same.

She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea.

She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…

from The Heart & The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

If you live in fear, and crave change, the only choice you have is to take a leap of faith and step in the direction of your dreams, regardless of how many painful lessons you may have been taught.

You either dance, or wish you were dancing. My experience has taught me to dance whenever you can, with other people who choose to hear the music.

Grace: Not Just a Popular Name for 8 Year Old Girls

grace-and-imperfectionGrace is a practiced art. It is a quality of character made up of a unique combination of natural poise, and practiced during the most difficult of circumstances.

As it so happens darling, yours truly was born with little grace.

I was launched into the world among a family of women who were either unstable (read; bat-shit cray-cray), or fiery as hell. I thank my lucky stars that my character was forged on the fiery side. Although passion does not ally itself with grace, it is more conducive to being trained to appreciate it.

During my lifetime as a working adult, I have had the privilege of journeying with people through times of crisis. Even though this tends to bring out the worst in people, it also brings out the best. Grace is a quality of character that I aspire to nurture within myself, and admire greatly among those who already have mastered the art of living with grace.gracewater

Being graceful is a cinch when the world is on your side, not so much when you’re experiencing crisis.

Suffering gracefully does not mean suffering in silence. It means suffering openly with those whom you can trust to honour your feelings without question. It also means knowing when to disengage with those whom have not cultivated the same quality of character.

Grace is a beautiful way of being in the world, and I have yet to master it.

With each challenge I recognize the opportunity to practice; to open to the world and accept gracious guidance, or seek shelter from the overwhelming amount of superficial advice and ill-informed opinions.

It has been a challenge for me lately, but I recognize my struggle for what it is, and it’s been a tremendous learning experience.

Wishing you the strength to carry yourself with gracious dignity, and friends who have already laid a path for your journey toward finding the strength to be  kind, gracious and loving.

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