growing up is hard

it seems that when we reach a certain age in life we expect, and people expect of us, to just know what to do with ourselves. we go to school, get the degree, get the job, move out into the world and then…what? we checked all the boxes, so why are we struggling so much?

what our culture doesn’t talk about, nearly at all it seems, is that most people have no idea what they’re doing most of the time. i’ve fallen prey to the belief that i’m supposed to just know what to do, which is breeding ground for shame and keeps us lost in the silence of our hearts, afraid to reach out for support and guidance as we grow more fully into adults.

we all need guidance throughout our twenties, thirties, forties, and on and on. we need elders to tell us what we can expect, people who can reassure us that what we’re feeling (namely, the experience of being utterly clueless about how to get on with life) is completely normal. one of my aunts, now in her seventies, said to me many years back as i was really struggling with this very topic something along the lines of, “it’s not that you know more when you get older. it’s just that you get used to not knowing.”

and isn’t that the heart of the struggle? the fight against what’s normal and natural: the inherent uncertainty that comes with being human. our inability to tell the future pushes up against the illusion that such a picture exists. when we’re younger, it’s easy to buy into the belief that all these older people just somehow get something we don’t: they’ve managed to figure life out to a certain degree. they’ve managed to find peace in the chaos. they’ve managed to cross the threshold and have remained intact psychologically, spiritually, emotionally.

this is an illusion. the people who seem so grounded in life are probably those that struggled severely at least once along the way. they’re the folks that have met their demons and befriended them. there’s some kind of magic that happens when we’re not afraid of ourselves. but how do we get there? where’s the map? why isn’t anyone pointing the way? why isn’t anyone even talking about this?

and that brings me back to my original thought: we need guidance as we grow up. the invitation comes when there’s an inner agitation that isn’t easily explained. when we’re cranky for no apparent reason. when we picks fights with our loved ones because arguing feels good. when we fantasize about breaking furniture with an unspeakable rage or throw away everything we own and live in an empty room for a period of time. THIS IS NORMAL. when i speak about growing up, what i refer to mostly is to detach from our ego and live from a place of self acceptance, self love, and mostly, self responsibility. we make it our job to care for ourselves, just like a parent makes it her or his job to take care of her or his child(ren). yes, there’s support involved, but ultimately the parents carries the brunt of the job.

but to get there, we need to tell people we don’t know what we’re doing so we can remove the veil of inadequacy and allow ourselves to flounder. i long to live in a tribal culture where the guidance is handed down in an almost annoying fashion; at least then there wouldn’t be the shame of being clueless that prevents so many people from asking, the silence resulting in anxiety, depression, stagnation, addiction.

i’m not entirely sure what i’m getting at with all of this. i suppose, more than anything, i want those of you struggling with ‘growing up’ (which, really, is a rather vague and loaded phrase) to know you’re okay. this period of darkness or confusion or stuckness won’t last forever. sometimes there’s nothing you have to do other than create space for whatever it is that’s shifting inside you. there’s nothing to figure out or know. as Rilke says, the answers will come as we live the questions.

gathering the lost parts

go out into the wind
and look up into the sky.
watch the trees
sway
endlessly as the gusts
churn like sea waves.
remember that there was a time when you
were whole.
when all of you sat at one table,
each part welcome because there
was a deep knowing that the parts
comprise the whole.

it hasn’t always been true
that there are parts of you unwanted.
parts that shouldn’t be here.
this is something learned,
the teachings coming in their various forms:
relationships and media specifically.
we learn to shut off what others couldn’t,
wouldn’t,
learn to be with. it’s truly a brilliant design,
until it becomes more entrapping than helpful.

this is when we muster up the courage
to gather the lost parts.
this isn’t always easy,
as it involves feeling the
original pain that led to the severance
of our selves.

each part carries with it a story.
perhaps one of betrayal or abuse,
longing or loneliness.
each part wants its rightful place at the table.
that place where there is safety in numbers.
where it can find solace in simply being
accepted.

each part makes contact
with the others.
a conversation begins that slowly
builds to a soft, rhythmic melody of the
parts working together as a whole.

i see you

i see you there.
turning away in shame.
afraid of what others will think
if you actually allow yourself to say
what’s really on your mind.

i see you there.
wanting desperately to break out
of the chains that bind you.
the stories wrapped so tightly around
your gentle heart
and soft soul
that you’re not sure, exactly, just
who you are anymore.

i see you there.
in your vulnerability. in your quest
for answers and your search for truth.
i’ll meet you in the forest, and
together we’ll trek our way through
the brush and thorns and stop
every now and then
to admire the hawk above us or the ants below us.

and in that forest, sometimes
we’ll burn a fire, watching in admiration as
the shadows dance together through the trees.
you’ll tell me your stories behind the stories.
you know the ones.
the ones you’ve longed to tell, have been trying to tell.
i’ll help you develop a language for
these tales.
the depths of your beauty and searing pain.
the pain you think is unending. the beauty you think is
gone forever.

i see you there.
all of you.
and you’re glorious.

turn to adventure, seek out the darkness

in my counseling practice and as moderator of the Conscious Transitions Conscious Weddings/Break Free from Relationship Anxiety forum, i’m afforded the opportunity to work with people struggling to find their way into and out of the darkness. in our culture, we’re taught to fear the darkness, to avoid the negative, to push away what’s even remotely uncomfortable. we don’t even have any positive language, at least not in any kind of mainstream outlet, for the darkness and it’s potential to connect us to our truest selves.

many people will talk about this darkness as though it’s a place in which they’re trapped. a place they’ve sort of wandered into and just can’t seem to find the exit. while this may be true in some regards, what i believe is actually the cause of so much despair is the resistance to actually enter into the darkness. we naturally fear the unknown, and in this dark place, where it’s all unknown, we can stop at the entrance and stand there, peering into the shadows for all of eternity. we may know going in will serve us, somehow. right?

when our culture is void of ritual and practice for growing up, we naturally get scared when change comes calling. the change doesn’t have to be external. in fact, it’s often the internal changes that can be the most frightening. when we’ve learned to live a certain way for so long, anything different can feel completely beyond our reach.

so, then, the question becomes: how do we enter into the darkness? what does that look like?

i often think of it as being in a cave. or hibernation. or both. it’s cocooning your soul in such a way that growth can occur. it’s inviting in those others who can hold the container and space for you to fall apart and then rebuild. it’s saying, ‘i don’t know what i’m going to find in there, but i’m willing to risk it anyway.’ this is likely easier for me to say now that i’m out of my dark period, which lasted several years because i resisted it for so long. i get the ambiguity of the darkness, the “why the hell would i want to go there?” thought line. i understand the sheer terror of surrendering to some process that was completely foreign to me. i didn’t know how to walk into the woods of psyche. so psyche dragged me there herself.

when we’re on the brink of making changes in our lives (and i consider learning to accept all that is as it is to be a massive shift from the constant striving to be “different”), most people seem to think there’s a map. and not only is there seemingly a map, but that map only guides us to and through the places we actually want to visit. what we fail to recognize is that the trail often veers off into the wilderness. into the places that, at first glance, appear too scary, too treacherous, too out-of-our-comfort-zone. too unknown. we see the trail on the map that takes us into the mountain range, or the forest, or the deep blue sea. the trail ends at the entrance. the trail ending is the entrance.

it’s here we take fear’s hand. it’s here we rely on our footing, of taking one step at a time. there’s no way to see down the river around the corner; we must trust the water will carry us and that the path will emerge as we float with it. but to not ever get in the boat means missing out on so much.

i truly believe that we find ourselves in the darkness. we meet the parts unknown and hidden. unclaimed and restless. if you find yourself at Forest’s edge, stay there. contemplate entering, and then take a step. that step may look like calling a therapist and arranging a session, or picking up a book that’s been sitting for too long on the shelf, or telling a close friend the thoughts that scare you. it may also sound like, “I’m enough as I am,” or “There’s nothing I need to do or say or become to make me more lovable and worthy.” it could be picking up a paintbrush and taking it to a canvas without instruction. oh, the wonder that awaits…

whatever it is, it’s an opening. it’s the grand adventure of life to travel into the places that terrify and surprise, and to remember yourself along the way. the darkness won’t last forever, that i can promise you. as long as you keep one foot moving in front of the other (and a snail’s pace still counts as movement), you’ll make it. sometimes you’ll sit and wait, other times you’ll run for the sheer glee and madness of it all. but as the saying goes, this too shall pass. turn to adventure, seek out the darkness.

in the time it takes to surrender

in the time it takes to surrender,
have we missed the boat?
did we wait too long to decide
if we were going to go along for the ride?
perhaps it was the waiting that made the decision for us.
i don’t know.
what i do know is that it doesn’t matter
what would’ve been,
could’ve been.
what matters is what’s here. now.
today.
can we let go of living in fantasy to
embrace what’s…well, real?

in the time it takes to surrender,
what resistances come up to meet you?
what forces try to stop you, or steer you to
move over there instead?
does fear whisper in your ear,
taunting you with sweet lies and brutal “truths?”
only fear will tell you something is 100%.
wisdom knows the nuances, the uncertainty even
in the most certain of circumstances.
that dance with the mystery of life always leaves
an opening for possibility.

in the time it takes to surrender,
have you grieved?
have you followed the crack into the abyss,
that place that seemingly knows no depths?
crying tears of relief and despair,
where we’re brought to our knees and finally give in.
we turn it over to something, anything.
admitting both to ourselves and others
we can’t continue alone. even when no one
shows up, allowing ourselves to befriend
everything that lives inside can create
the inner community before the outer one
falls into place.

in the time it takes to surrender,
i want you to know it’s okay to fight it.
to resist it. to hate it, all the while
longing to let go.
surrendering is simple, not easy.
your tears will carry you along the way.
your cries will call the forces to support you.
your despair will change you.

and then, once you surrender, it’s a
repeated practice.
say thank you to everything that tried to stop you.
it was, after all, only pointing you toward
exactly where you need to be.

lean in

earlier this week, my daughter and i were in our bedroom. i was getting ready to go downstairs to meet with a client (i work from home, via skype/phone). as we were walking toward the door, i let her know that mommy would be going downstairs soon to work. she said something like, “no, no, no” and came closer to me, clearly not wanting to separate. what i did in the next moment nearly astounded me, because so often i want to pretend i don’t hear her pleas for connection, at least, or especially, when i have something to do or somewhere to be. i bent down, embraced her, and told her, “mommy will be back. i’ll always come back.” and with that we left the room and she easily went to her dad, waving bye to me.

admittedly, these lines were inspired by blog posts i’ve read about how to support the transition of separating. to remind my daughter that i will, indeed, return after being away seems so obvious, but i needed support in getting to that place. this was, however, really the first time i’ve successfully, fully implemented it. the first time i really met her emotion, took it in, allowed it to be there without trying to minimize (even if only to myself), and offered reassurance from a sincere place inside me. i slowed down to hear her. i leaned in toward her and her feelings.

this experience seems so simple, yet it’s struck and stayed with me as being quite profound. i have a history of not listening to my inner children when they’ve been calling out to me, screaming at me, tugging on me in some shape or form. it’s so easy to ignore, although that nagging anxiety in the background never really goes away when we’re ‘ignoring,’ does it?

what if, instead, we stopped to meet that voice? to crouch down to that two-feet-off-the-ground level and look ourselves in the eye and say, “i hear you.” we don’t have to talk ourselves out of feeling the way we do. or offer candy-coated reassurance that lacks any nutritive substance and only contributes and perpetuates the emptiness we feel inside (think, “everything’s okay” or “you’re fine”). to really listen. simply listen. to set aside our own agendas and acknowledge what’s happening in real time.

when we can truly lean in, listen, make space for what’s actually happening and needing to happen, many times we can find a simple solution, or genuinely reassuring word. just a moment of presence, of connection, is all that’s needed.

the risk of trusting

two stories : one moral

#1. lately, i’ve been thinking about trust and how hard it can be, especially after we’ve been hurt. i’m currently breastfeeding my almost 14 month old daughter, who now has some teeth. and teeth, you know, are good for biting. she hasn’t bitten me much, or too hard. thankfully. but, in one of the most sensitive of spots, and during an act that is quite a vulnerable experience for me, it hurts. it hurts when it’s unexpected. and it hurts because i’m feeding her and it’s a real shock to the system to be bitten when offering so much love.

i began to think about this experience, and how it’s now tinged with the slightest veil of fear because i don’t know if she’s going to bite me again. even though she rarely bites, and only does so playfully, there’s still fear on my part because i don’t want to get hurt. so, i’m on guard more. a little more tense. a little more weary and on edge. i’ve been hurt a couple times now during breastfeeding…could i be hurt again?

i went to a mom’s group for a little while when my daughter was younger and ran into one of the moms in a restaurant a while back. i chatted with her and her husband, and she was telling me how her son was growing some teeth and how nervous this made her feel as it related to breastfeeding. her husband chimed in and said that his mom stopped breastfeeding the first time he bit her.

just like that.

it’s so easy to give up on something after we’ve been hurt, isn’t it? it’s safer, feels like we’re in more control. as least we have the guarantee that it won’t ever happen again. right? to go back after being hurt puts us at greater risk. at least ego would have us believe that. yes, we’ve been hurt before. but really, it doesn’t spell doom for our future. every time i breastfeed i could be bitten, but i’m not bitten more than i am. and still, it would be easy for me to want to run with the fear.

i’ll admit that i don’t really fear being bitten every single time. but i will say that it has changed the experience. i’m aware of the “danger” yet choose to risk it. i have to choose to trust that my daughter isn’t going to make a meal out of me (well, i guess she is, but i’m assuming you know what i mean) every time she nurses. i choose to trust because the alternative is constricted fear, an avoidance of something so special because of the what if lurking in the recesses of my mind.

*****

#2. today my husband and i took our daughter to the library to play. it’s an easy play area. and free. win win. at the library was a 15 month old little boy who became an instant friend. at least friend in the sense of sharing space together and interacting as toddlers do: staring at each other, babbling at each other, getting a little curious about each other’s faces and clothes. they parallel played for a bit, each doing their own thing. coming together and moving apart fluidly. then out of nowhere this kid just walked up and pushed my daughter in the chest, knocking her over.

she cried a bit. my heart ached and wanted to lash out i’m sure. and then again, it got me thinking. thinking about a lot of things, actually. it made me think about how little control i have over bad things happening to my daughter. there was nothing i could do to prevent this, aside from never letting her interact with other children. i didn’t see it coming. nor did my husband, or the kid’s mom. it was impulsive, toddler behavior. he probably felt like pushing, so he did.

after a short cry and time spent with me, she was ready to get back in the play. she went back to playing with him. back to looking at him, open to engage. perhaps it was resiliency in the making. i thought about her willingness to risk again, despite this kid having just pushed her.

*****

the moral:

life hurts, and there’s not a whole lot we can do to prevent it. in order to love and live fully we have to risk getting bumps and bruises, heartaches and heartbreaks. we can choose trust over fear, even if fear tells us to run or hide or bury because we can’t bear to feel that pain again.

and that’s the lesson: just because we’ve been hurt before doesn’t mean we’ll be hurt again. it’s the heart of vulnerability. to open despite the scar. to wakefully walk into the fire, knowing our heart is on the line. to trust that we’ll be loved, that we can risk the pain to live fully, openly.

start where you are…

to start where we are is to admit
we’re not where we want to be.
things aren’t pretty
or fully complete.
they’re not done yet.
not ready.

to start where we are is to admit
that there’s so much more we want
to accomplish.
it’s the fear of judgment meeting
the need for visibility
that sends our message out into
the world.

starting where we are is the only option
sometimes. most times?
we can wait and perfect,
stalling our momentum in the process.
i hope starting where i am
offers a view into my own
humanity.
imperfection.
perhaps lack of skill or enough care to
make everything sparkly and ‘done.’

i suppose the point is to just
start.
to get pen on paper, fingers typing.
that’s the point. to start.
to get moving. turn inaction into action.
your heart may hurt with the longing
to be known. let the opening be
the pull outward, into the world.

lessons from labor

near the end of September 2016 i gave birth to a little girl. a baby. a child. and on that day, through the hours of pushing and screaming and crying and sleeping, i was born with her.

we birthed each other on that day. she wouldn’t be born without me, nor i without her. it’s a relationship like i’ve never experienced. this symbiotic, perfect, little relationship that has been growing from seed to bud to blossom. the roots are deepening each day, each hour. each smile as we meet eyes across the room. each little chuckle and gurgle as we communicate through spit and sounds. through words that us adults have forgotten. when will google translate tackle baby talk? oh, but the magic would be lost then. i prefer the mystery of the wonder. when we don’t get lost in the meaning of words….

only recently have i started to sink into the reality that yes, we birthed each other on that day. we did this, together. through giving birth to her something was born in me, too. and i don’t mean me as mother was born. no. while yes, i technically became a mother on that day, the mother in me wasn’t hatched overnight. or over 3 nights, for that matter. it’s been a slow awakening, an even slower deepening and revealing.

what i write about now are the most poignant details of my labor and delivery. because, true to form, everything is metaphor.

push. then push some more.

when my water finally broke, i suddenly felt the intense urge to start pushing. it happened unexpectedly and quickly and there was no questioning what i was experiencing. my doula, Sierra, encouraged me to go with what my body was telling me to do. so i pushed. for 3.5 hours. at one point, my midwife, Sarah, told me that i would have to keep pushing after my body stopped giving me the signal to push. that was hard to hear. i thought my eyes were literally going to explode. but i did it.

this was important to me, especially upon reflection, because we often talk about listening to our bodies and only doing what our bodies want to do. to a certain degree, and in certain cases, yes, that’s true. but sometimes we do have to push ourselves beyond our perceived limitations, beyond the signal to stop. this is true whether we’re laboring a real or metaphorical baby. it’s the ego that uses this “only do what your body is saying yes to” as fuel for resistance. because i can tell you i was not eagerly wanting to force myself to push, probably because i didn’t think i could do it. and there’s the gold: the “i don’t want to” or “i don’t feel like it” is really, “i’m scared and doubtful in my ability.” that glorious soft underbelly known as vulnerability.

waiting and doing: a dance

so, while Sarah was encouraging me to push, and then push some more, she was also patient as my body revved up to push again. i would push, and then push some more, and then wait. there was nothing i could do, and sometimes i wondered if the urge to push would even come back. but, we all waited. sometimes i fell asleep (Sarah and Sierra were full supporters of this, the body being the strange wonder that it is). sometimes i just laid there, wondering, waiting. and sure enough, i could feel it as one can watch a wave rolling in to shore. the slow build up, that little inkling of something on the horizon. and i was fully in it again. this dance continued: push and wait. push and wait. it was one of the biggest lessons from labor – there’s a time to push and a time to wait.

in the waiting is the trusting. it’s a total surrender. to not know when the next urge will come. or the next heart opening. or the next cry. if i had pushed when i didn’t feel the urge to push, i may have done more damage. or worn myself out completely. or who knows what. it could have gone just fine. but, that wasn’t my way. i had to wait for my body to give me something to work with, but once that ball was rolling, only then could i push it a few feet further. it was the most beautiful dance of masculine and feminine. doing and being.

it’s all about choice. even when you think there isn’t one.

after it was all said and done, one of the nurses said, “you were so in control.” to which i responded, “i’m glad i have experience with meditation.” really, i think meditation got me through with most of my sanity intact. (thank you Susan Piver!) i was able to direct my attention on to something that helped my mind not go completely bonkers. sometimes it was on my breath, mostly it was on counting through the contractions. but, the ability to focus attention truly is a superpower. when i could have shut down completely out of fear i was able (though not each time, not going for perfection here) to choose to lean in.

i talk about meditation here because in these moments i could have easily chosen to focus on how scared i was (meditation has taught me otherwise, hence the connection between meditation and choice). how much i didn’t want to feel the pain. how i wanted to run from it. how doubtful i was i could even go through it. of course i voiced all of this, somewhat reluctantly (my own issues were surely present with me, too – didn’t want to scare anyone else by saying i was doubtful about going through labor while in labor), but at various moments i clearly remember stepping into my strength when most of me wanted to shrink into the bed.

and so, i say this to myself and to anyone else terrified about change: it’s okay to be scared. it’s okay to not know if you can do it. because you’ve never done it before. you don’t have to know how it’s going to play out (this was another big lesson from labor). in fact, there is no way to know how it’s going to play out.

life is a beautiful evolution. the future is something we live into one day, one minute, one breath at a time. we are stronger than we think and softer than we acknowledge….all worthy of love just the same.

shadows

the shadows that chase you in the night areshadows
merely cast from the glow of the light.
they can’t hurt you. they’re not to be feared.
they’re the places we tuck
ourselves into when we’re not quite ready to be known.
to be seen.
to be heard.

the shadows that chase you in the night are
not actually chasing you.
they’re connected to you.
they are you.
sit down, next to the shadow. ask for it to open.
and revel at what’s revealed.
it won’t all be comfortable, and it won’t necessarily be easy.
but it’ll be worth it.

because the shadows that chase you in the night
hold treasures. they’re the little and big and giant
suitcases we store our unwanted parts, our tender
parts, our soft hearts and weary, passionate souls.
the shadows are often guarded.
they say, ‘turn away. it’s too scary here.’
the guardian will do whatever it takes to protect.
but befriend the guardian to gain entry into the darkness.
because in the darkness is where you will find yourself.
all of you.