when the roads curves into the woods and we can’t see what’s next…

not long ago, someone asked me to write a post about career paths that don’t happen as planned. when they’re twisty and curvy and nonlinear. when it doesn’t go from A to B to C in a simple, planned fashion.

our world likes to move in a straight line, and when the path ends up being a little more unclear it’s unsettling. we’re told that if we go to college and get the degree there will be a job waiting for us like a pot of gold. we’re led to believe that life just falls into place in this way, and it’s even more frustrating to see that it does, indeed, happen for some just so. we’re left feeling agitated, comparing ourselves to others and sifting through our psyche to find what the heck the problem could be. we determine that something, indeed, must be wrong.

fret not. there’s nothing wrong with you, and in fact, this time in your life might be just the lesson you’re needing to learn. of course, in the midst of a job search and potential financial stress, it doesn’t feel like an ‘opportunity.’ no. it feels like a setback, a punishment from the universe. but really, it is a good thing.

why? because you’re learning that life isn’t pretty. you’re learning that the path moves differently for different people. to experience hardship can shape you in ways that getting things easily just don’t. i know it’s frustrating when you just want to get on with life and it seems to have chosen stagnation instead. thats’s the ego getting caught in the trap of constant movement, in the belief that if things aren’t happening then…well, things aren’t happening.

but, try to shift your focus and view this situation from a different lens. where’s the window? do you have some more time to yourself before having to be at a job right now? this can be a great time to get to know yourself better. to see where your mind goes when it doesn’t get what it wants (which will happen repeatedly as you continue to grow, i can promise you that) can be quite illuminating. and to learn to work with that now is truly a gift.

one of the best realizations i’ve ever had is this:

there aren’t any rules.

no rules! yes, there are the standards of human decency and laws we must follow. but, it’s not a law that you must be in your career fresh out of school. it’s not a law that you must be married with a kid by 30. these ‘rules’ were created by a society and it preys on our need to belong. to break the ‘rules’ triggers our fear of not being accepted. it challenges our self worth, but that’s mainly because we’ve made our self worth dependent on our accomplishments.

so, with that, i will remind you: there aren’t any rules. consider what you’re learning right now as life unfolds in ways you hadn’t predicted. you might want to throw a chair through the window you’re that frustrated, but once that rage and impatience and fear subsides, consider the lesson. because these lessons comprise the foundation of adulthood. and a solid foundation, while hard to come by at times, is the ground upon which your life is built.

the ice cream date

oh, ice cream. this week i took my daughter, Willow, to get some ice cream and it was quite magical. there’s a sort of specialty ice cream parlor here in Ann Arbor (called Blank Slate; check it out if you’re ever around, and be sure to let me know so we can meet!) and it opened back up recently for the season. i was having a craving for ice cream, so we went.

this trip was magical for several different reasons:

1. before my daughter and i left the house i asked her if she liked ice cream. she said, rather seriously and quietly and after a brief pause to let my words sink in, ‘yeah’ while gently nodding her head (meaning, nearly her entire upper body; so cute). this is fairly new for her and anytime she does something new it’s worthy of a fireworks display. or, ice cream. this was confirmation that we had to go.

2. i was having ice cream with my daughter. my daughter. the weirdness of having a child has yet to fully pass. i don’t think it ever will, as i think life is just generally weird. all of it all the time. i describe everything as weird, so this likely won’t change. anyway, i was having ice cream with my child. or, should i say children? because my inner child was the one fully immersed in the pleasure of it all (or at least the consumption of the ice cream).

3. there were very few people in the store. this was heaven for my introverted, highly sensitive self. my daughter had enough people to stare at while i could just sit and indulge myself and just be.

but there’s something deeper to this experience, what i’m now referring to as ‘ice cream date’ experiences. it was a rather spontaneous trip, one born of craving and desire. i allowed myself to lean in, fully, without guilt or shame or resistance (and i’m usually resistant to most things, on some level). the deeper part was allowing myself to experience pleasure. period.

time slowed down for a bit during this visit at the ice cream store. Willow sat in her high chair, looking around and scooping herself a little more ice when she wanted it. it was raining outside. it was quiet inside. we were having fun, just being together. i was having fun, just being with myself.

it’s in these little moments when my heart breaks open and i’m flooded by life and the beauty and pain it holds. the awareness that these moments with my girl will be so short-lived is heartbreaking. that i wasn’t able to hold on to her babyhood, and won’t be able to hold on to her toddlerhood either. most memories will be eventually pushed out by new ones over time. it’s both wonderful to know there’s more goodness to come, and devastating to know there’s so much slipping through my hands without any say on my part.

so, i suppose the work of integration is to fully allow the despair to settle so my heart can open wide enough to let these memories leave a mark on my psyche, soul, heart, and mind. to let myself love these moments means i also have to let them pass. because love is what’s here now, in this moment. tapping into anything else is resistance or fear, creating the illusion of control or certainty, and keeps me from being fully awake to my experience.

this is new for me. i typically disconnect from many experiences because every time i open wide i cry. i cry about birds flying in the sky getting food for their babies, about fish swimming with plastic, about the hate in the world, about time passing. what happens when you allow yourself to open? what touches you in those soft places? what holds you back from going there?

as my final note (instruction?) here – allow yourself to enjoy the littlest of moments. when you’re waiting in line for your coffee, smile at someone and share in your humanity the need for love and to be treated with kindness. when you’re on the subway, get to know your neighbor. or, just breathe deeply for 5 minutes and be glad you can be carried home rather than driving your own car. there’s beauty everywhere.

everywhere.
even in the ugly.
even in the dark.

and if you don’t see it around you, look within. consider that YOU are the beauty in the situation. own the beauty you bring to the world.

do nothing

too much of our culture is about             
doing something:
be different.
grow.
change.
enlighten.

how about:
stop.
be.
relax.
listen.

we’re wired to grow and evolve,
and yet we believe it’s something
we have to make happen. that we have to fight
and create.
instead, can we clear the space
necessary for the changes to
take place on their own?
yes, some work from us is necessary and helpful,
but what’s even better is
allowing the work to work itself out on
us,
through us,
within us.

this is why i believe
doing nothing is the first step to doing anything.
we need to land in our lives
first.
we need to know where we’re at so
we can make informed decisions
about where we’d like to go next
so we’re not left at the mercy of the wind
to carry us on it invisible
strings and tendrils.

to do nothing is to come home.
to be with what is instead
of run from what we wish wasn’t.

everything in our world
tells us to do differently.
to go for it,
to work hard at becoming the
person we want to be.

to do nothing, though,
can mean we open to the reality
of who we already are.
we can see we’re enough,
and okay, without needing to change
anything.
because changing anything from a place
of fear only reinforces our lack.
our damage.
our brokenness.

do nothing and become everything.
or simply be okay.

the season of transition

here in michigan, we’ve lately had some “unseasonably” warm days sprinkled throughout the blistery cold. it’s been much welcomed, and it’s stirring in me the rumblings of spring. it’s letting me know that there’s a transition on the horizon. soon, in the near future, the scales will tip and the warmer days will be more frequent. the cold won’t seem quite as cold. and the snow will melt shortly after falling. we’re not there yet, but it’s coming.

being in this place is tricky, and i find myself longing for the change of seasons to happen much quicker than my logical mind knows it’ll take. rationally, i know that i can’t make the sun shine any brighter than what nature will allow. i can’t turn up the thermostat on the weather. i can’t melt the snow, grow the flowers, extend our daylight hours. but boy do i want to.

a couple years ago i prided myself on not complaining with the masses about how sick and tired i was about the weather. i thought, ‘there’s nothing i can do to change this, so there’s no point in complaining.” instead, i consciously chose to embrace what was and shift my focus to get cranky about a culture that doesn’t honor the natural rhythms of life. and while that’s still generally true for me, i’m desperate for the weather to break. i’m craving open windows and bare feet and being able to go out the door without having to take 20 minutes to get myself and daughter ready. i want to plead with the seasons – won’t you hurry up and change already?!?

and then i’m humbled as i think about how we do this to ourselves when deep changes are taking place within, whether that transition involves a clear life change or not. something inside senses a transformation before we ever really see it on the surface, and yet we want it to come to fruition now, this minute, damnit. maybe we feel restless, or bored, or easily distracted. perhaps we are more irritable than usual, quicker to cry or pick a fight with a partner. these are the signs, psyche sending signals that something is shifting inside. and yet we must sit and be patient, for it doesn’t do us any good to yell at ourselves about something that simply needs more time.

so, the work is to stay with it all. maybe you’re getting glimpses of the spring making its way into winter, or summer to autumn. notice how you grasp and cling and crave the change, yet can’t live it quite yet. can you trust that it’s happening, even without you having to do too much? can you create the space it needs to shift on its own? can you trust that your inner seasons will naturally change, just as winter always, eventually, turns to spring?

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.