Friday’s Focus—Sidetracked

The roots of the trees veined the road with some pieces poking through like bones; the roots so close to the surface it was just a matter of time before they were revealed by wind, rain, and tires and bleached white by the sun. Between exposed tree roots and ruts cut by heavy rains, driving over 20 mph made the car bounce like a carnival ride. I creeped along gripping the wheel, eyes constantly scanning the road ahead as I craned my neck out the window now and then to try and see around the bend a promise of a smoother road, but all I got was a sore neck and tired eyes.

Crawling along this stretch of road, it felt like the trees and birds were my only company. I continued to scan for holes and hills and eventually relaxed my body into the  roll and sway of the car as it dipped and climbed. Low stone walls appeared here and there broken only by a car-width dirt path leading up into the tree line. The fire numbers were the only other indication that people lived out here.

Isn’t it funny how it seems when we rush the most we find ourselves delayed even more—you’re late for an appointment and you get behind a slow driver; you spill something and you have to change your clothes; you run into construction on the road; your son forgot to fill the gas tank last night when he borrowed the car so now you need to make an extra stop this morning; it’s your turn to bring snacks for your daughter’s homeroom party but she didn’t tell you until the morning of, so it’s an impromptu trip to the market.

Or, you decided to take a side road home because you thought it would be a short cut and instead you find yourself crawling along a worn out road layered in alternating sections of gravel and dirt, and which is taking you much longer than if you just stayed on the road you knew.

I believe in being at the right place at the right time, and if I hadn’t taken that side road and forced to go so slow, would I have noticed the stream making its path down the mountain into a small gully carpeted with moss? Would I have heard the crows’ jeers and the scream of a hawk overhead as it was being harassed by the crows and chased from their territory? Would I have noticed the burst of Queen Anne’s Lace amidst a blanket of ferns? Probably not. And I wouldn’t have noticed the take your breath away beauty of the God sky as I finally came out into a clearing.

What I most likely would have noticed was a road, trees, water, birds, flowers, rocks, and clouds. Just things in my line of vision. If I wasn’t forced to slow down, I probably would have missed the beauty, breathlessness, and the God of what is behind all those labels.

Sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to be late or delayed. More than once I’ve wondered if there was something unknown and unseen that causes these delays for who knows why.

So maybe this time it was to show me—remind me—that there is more to watch and look at then a clock and the next appointment and errand.

p.s. I finally made it home only 10 minutes late, but with views I’ll never forget!

IMG_1916.JPG

#takingitdeeper

Advertisements

Friday’s Focus—Again

It’s been some time since I’ve been here last. Did you miss me? I did! Literally. Things have been so hectic with the selling and moving from our home to not only a new house but a new state,  I feel as though I lost myself in the process. Everything was put on hold that didn’t have to do with the day job, lawyers, bankers, or real estate agents. The only writing I was doing were checks and emails. Subjects of blogs and short stories swirled in my head borne out of people we met and circumstances but there they stayed, behind the wall of my mind and never making it beyond the thought, “Oh, I should write about that.” It’s time to breathe life into those stories and writings again.

Last night, I decided enough was enough and sat down to the keyboard to let my fingers do the walking so my mind can do the talking, and well, here we are. Again. Still feeling my sea legs in the new place, I look for corners and spaces as new homes for my yoga mat and books. Settling into a daily routine of day job mixed in with the new neighborhood sounds will take awhile, but in the meantime, I’m growing accustomed to the sounds of hammers and saws sprinkled with a few swear words from my husband, which has actually been helpful to use as a gauge on how well (?) repairs have been going!

This move is the cap of what has been a fierce 8 months (actually the last 3 years) of continuous major life events. Feeling tense and uptight had become very familiar feelings for me. Sitting within these new four walls, with the dust settling and the boxes slowly being unpacked, I can still feel the anxiety continue to surround me, which is exactly what I had wanted to change. “Maybe it’s too soon,” I tell myself. “I need to give myself time to slow the twitching and unwind from the hectic pace,” I add.

Almost as a ready response, I hear the words “no matter where you go, there you are” echo through my head and immediately recognize the truth in it. No matter where you go—house, hut, country, or planet you move or travel to, if the changes you seek aren’t made within, it won’t matter what zip code you land in.

I knew better than to expect a complete whoosh of having all my problems disappear as I watched the tail lights of the moving truck leave, but I guess to be honest, on some deep level, I must have expected it to happen all the same.

How we experience things all comes from our perspective, and if our perspective, our basic way of seeing something, doesn’t change, our experiences and our views will continue to be more of the same. This week, as I get myself back into my writing, and once again set my sight on the changes I want to make within (and without), I’m consciously refining my perspective of what each day can bring. This is not about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses but rather taking off those glasses to get a clearer and more honest view. One of the simplest and most profound ways of doing this is by intention, which is something we can all do.

Even if you don’t have any plans of moving or traveling any time soon, you can still set your intention and perspective anew each day and welcome yourself home.

IMG_1904#takingitdeeper

 

Friday’s Focus—Setting the Timer

All good things in moderation. How about all things in moderation? Good is subjective. It’s good to have a job but if you’re working 10 to 12 hours a day, unless you’re throughly in love with what you’re doing, it’s not so good. If it’s not our jobs, many of us find ourselves giving to our spouses, our children, our families, our committees,  and our friends. Did I miss anyone? Oh, yeah. When do we give to ourselves?

Commitment is commendable but so often, and so quickly, we find ourselves chasing our own tail and living in fear of making sure we did what we were supposed to and make sure all angles are covered.

Each one of us has a personal motivation for doing what we do and for however long and hard we choose to do them. Typically, the urgency and frenetic energy of the “hamster on a wheel life” starts to feel like the norm and anything otherwise can tend to make us feel lost or like we’re missing or forgetting something.

I think we all know on a root level when we are doing too much and become out of balance. Once we see it, it becomes a matter of taking our attention deeper and consciously setting the timer to approach whatever we’re doing in a manner more aligned with balance of anything that’s been missing (or been pushed out).

It’s not just important but imperative to our mental health (which influences our physical health) to find that benchmark within us and understand the driving force behind what is creating the one-sidedness and drive.

The realization came for me as an almost physical click. Sitting quietly one day, my monkey mind was incessantly chattering away as it swung from thought to thought “And then this [inhale] but then what if [exhale] oh yeah and then that [inhale]…” when suddenly I felt a tug in my solar plexus and a loud “NO” reverberate through me.

I was done. Cooked. In all of its frenetic energy that monkey ripped away a veil that had been covering what I finally recognized as feelings of fear I was using as my drive: fear of missing something, and then the deeper dirt-honest fear of not being good enough and making mistakes.

So, now what? So now I set the timer. Some time for this. Some time for that. Like a New Year’s resolution, it’s so easy to set an intention, but it’s another to put it into action. Recognizing and understanding motivations is a great start. To make any sort of difference though, we need to go the next step and put the intentions into action.

No matter how good we are at our jobs, at our roles of parent or spouse, it’s impossible to cover all angles all of the time and make sure that something isn’t overlooked there, or a skinned knee is missed here. Sometimes we need to set a timer on our overload of one-sidedness. Making a mistake is not a taboo. Wearing a band-aid is not the end of the world. You’ll live. We don’t need a permission slip from anyone else but ourselves. And admittedly, sometimes that’s the hardest permission to get.

#takingitdeeper

IMG_1510

Friday’s Focus—Whispers and Shouts

This is something I wrote and posted two years ago and I was reminded of it again in our house hunting. The original piece is about how everyone and everything has a story, whether it’s vocalized or not and houses carry stories too. Each house, each home carries the energy of its occupants. There’s so much you can tell at a glance, but it’s the empty ones….ah, those are the ones whose stories fire up the imagination of what was…and what could be again.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

We all have them.

Even if you say you don’t have a story, that’s still a story.

So tell me a story. Not just a story. Your story. Not just your story. Your truth.

We tell stories to each other to makes each other feel less alone, to feel less afraid. Some of us tell stories because we are proud and we want to share. We are all storytellers on some level—if not with our words, then with our actions or in our being. We are even storytellers by our silence.

Our stories tell us by the way we hold our head high (or low), and the laugh lines and crows feet that map our joys and sorrows. If there is Botox there instead, then I can still see your story in your eyes. Do you meet mine or would you rather gaze to the distance or to the floor?

There is a story in your hair—the length, the color, and whether it covers your face to further conceal your mask or do you wear it swept back daring the world to gaze at your features as you stare back?

Your chin tells me a story. Is it jutted out in defiance and pride or does it tremble in fear or sadness?

Your shoulders tell me a story. Are they rounded as if you try to hide your existence or are they rolled back, your chest and heart open and wide?

The jewelry you wear tells me stories. Do you shine and glitter like a thousand lights in a chandelier, or do you carry bells on your fingers and toes to dance to as you walk into a room?

I’m interested in the stories of your hands and the babies and lovers they held in sickness, health, passion, and love.

Your scars and tattoos even share. They tell me one story while your piercings scream another.

I’m interested in the stories in between your stories; the pauses and the sighs in between your words because they speak just as loudly and sometimes louder. Come closer and whisper to me your secret, whisper to me your story and I’ll tell you mine and then we’ll whisper them into the wind. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl or a man or a woman.

The young have stories called dreams and the old have stories they call memories. Let’s use our imaginations and listen to the stories of the trees and birds and the lions and monkeys and then we’ll tell them to the stars and the moon and the sun until we are one big story with a thousand different voices, a thousand different names, a thousand different experiences and yet, somehow, some way, all one.

So take off your mask and let your shadow step forward, because I can already see your story whether you tell me or not but I want to hear it come from you.

#takingitdeeper

IMG_0536

Friday’s Focus—Hyacinths in Bloom

The sounds of the neighborhood waking up with its barking dogs and chirping birds and the ticking of the living room clock keep me company on this rainy morning as I write this. I noticed yesterday that the Hyacinths are starting to come up. They always reminded me of Spring, Easter, and my mom. They were one of her favorite flowers and I always brought her some for Easter. Seeing them start to bloom is bittersweet. It reminds me that it’s been nearly 3 months since she passed away. I don’t know where the time has gone and though I’ve been making peace with her passing there are still some days that are harder than others and I’ve found that a stranger’s condolences and a momentary kindness can still bring me to tears.

The medical bills are arriving and with each one, I’ve needed to make a phone call to verify submission to insurance or to get some clarity on the services charged but not explained. Conversions begin business as usual: name, date of birth, account number, relationship to patient; rote questions coming over the phone from a faceless office worker probably counting the days to Friday like I do.

To help explain why I’m calling about a bill 2 months overdue and that it’s not a shirking of responsibility on our part, I explain that it’s just been forwarded to me from the facilities and that my mom had passed away in December. Suddenly, the numb drone becomes a human being and with a soft intake of breath comes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Please accept my condolences.” It’s a kind sentiment that’s appreciated and something that still makes me twitch when I hear it, but it’s the personal stories that follow are what brings the feelings of loss fresh all over again.

I can’t begin to say how much it annoys me to have to make these calls to follow-up with doctor offices and agencies, but by the end of the calls, my attitude has completely changed. What starts as a business as usual call ends up with me tearing up listening to sage advice and deep personal experiences that the other person has gone through with the loss of their mother or other loved one.

One woman, now in her late fifties, lost her mother when she was 14. She told me about how she still misses her and the memories they never got a chance to make. She shared with me what she’s learned over time and ended the call with a blessing. I honestly felt that God takes moments and people like this to make direct connections to remind me, all of us, that we are not alone.  

None of us will ever know what can come out of our experiences and how it can help others. There are certain levelers in life that will happen regardless of age, sex, and status, and this is where the human heart comes in if we let it. Those people didn’t have to share their personal stories, but they did, and I was completely changed from each, small conversation. I cried because it was suddenly one grief acknowledging another but I also smiled at the sincerity of the connection. It’s so easy to feel alone because of a death or an illness in the family. 

It’s also easy to feel alone when sometimes the day or recent events have just been difficult, challenging, and going in directions you never imagined. Connecting with a stranger or a friend by one small conversation, one sliver of a share of memory, or genuine good wishes can make the world of difference. It won’t solve our problems or be a miracle cure but when you share your heart, that’s a healing in of itself and a moment you will never forget or regret.

I hope today’s Focus inspires you to keep your eyes open and your heart open wider. You never know what today’s conversations could bring. The birds are still chirping but the rain has stopped. I just looked out the back window and a ray of sun is shining directly on the Hyacinth buds. I think I’m going to go out back and spend some time with the flowers and remember how much she loved them.

#takingitdeeper

IMG_1476

Friday’s Focus—It’s in the Mail

As far back as I could remember, I’ve had a fascination with the mail. I loved getting letters and looking through catalogs. Even when I was too young to get anything addressed to me, I’d eagerly sift through the daily delivery. I don’t know what it is I found so exciting about getting mail. I think, on some level, mail represented everything that was out there and a whole world of who knows what kind of adventures. There was no Internet or texting when I was growing up so any big event and news always came through the mail or the phone. I even got a kick out of advertisement fliers!  And then the day came I discovered catalogs. Oh, I was in heaven.

One of my earliest catalog memories is lying on my stomach on the living room floor, propped up on my elbows with my knees bent, and my feet kicking each other in rhythmic slaps as I leisurely flipped through the Sears catalog, imaginary window shopping on the things I would buy for my house when I grew up. Nothing could beat that catalog except maybe the Christmas edition.

Sears catalogs eventually gave way to Speigel and Fingerhut. To this day, I look forward to going to the mailbox. My husband kids me saying he’s never seen anyone so excited to get bills. Trust me, I’m not, but I get excited about what’s in between the bills—or what used to be. These days it’s all advertisements. No one writes letters anymore. Do pen pals even exist? When I was in grammar school, I was a pen pal with a girl named Irina who lived in Europe and we exchanged letters for many years, eventually meeting on a trip she took to the United States. Eventually we lost touch but it was fun while it lasted.

I can’t remember the last time I got a letter—a personal letter. Even cards such as birthday cards have been relegated to e-cards or just posts on FB with birthday cake emoticons and texts highlighted with party hat icons. I think the only two kinds of correspondence that still prevail through our mail system are wedding invitations and sympathy cards, but neither of them have completely escaped the keyboard either. I think weddings and death are too sacred to completely go the way of electronic communication.

With cursive soon to be a lost form of writing, I find it sad to think that translates into a decline of letter writing as communication. I recently came across a packet of autographs and letters I received from authors whom I’d written letters to, telling them how much I enjoyed reading their latest book and it reminded me of how  fun it was to receive a letter that was sometimes nothing more than just “Hi, how are you? What’s new? Good to hear from you.”

I see stationary sets still being sold in bookstores and card shops but how many people really buy them anymore? I’m always tempted to buy a set just because it’s been so long since I had any kind of official stationary, but somehow I never get around to it.

As much as I love getting letters and things in the mail, I’m just as guilty by not sending out as much as I would like either. Yes, it’s definitely easier to send a text rather than going out to buy a card and then “damn, I thought I had a stamp,” so out again to the post office, and then finally getting ready to mail that card (which by now is a few days late), you stand there in front of the mailbox thinking how late it is and wondering if you should forget this card and go buy another one that says happy belated, or sorry I missed…. and start over. At least you have that stamp now.

Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art and finding those handwritten notes from some of my favorite authors reminded me of something I don’t want to forget or to lose to time or to the Internet.

Putting pen to paper is cathartic and studies have confirmed it. I hope today’s focus on the lost art of mail and letter writing might inspire you to pick up a pen and even a notebook paper and go write a letter. There’s someone out there who would love to hear from you.

#takingitdeeper

IMG_1037

 

 

Friday’s Focus—Anchors

I’ve found a trail, around a lake, that takes me deep into the woods, up some hills and around rock ledges and edges and dwellings of animals for sure. I’ve found a place where the wind drives through the groves of pines and one by one, each tree joins in the whoosh as they sway back and forth; once in a while, the limbs add their creaks and their groans.

The wind catches my hair across my face and I look up to see the slow and majestic movement of the branches swinging to and fro. And I hear

Nothing.
Not one bird.
Not one human.
Not one dog.
Not one car.
Not one chainsaw.
Not one plane.

Just for this moment.
Just for this breath of a second

There is just me.
And the woods
And the wind
And the water

and I find myself anchored. The air is cold and crisp and clean. I take a few slow deep breaths, luxuriating in the scent of the trees and the earth itself. I can actually smell the colors of green and  brown around me. With each inhale I take in from this place, there is an exhale where I let go of the noise, the commotion, the pollution that’s inside me.

I notice a shadow pass on the dirt path and when I look up into the sky, squinting at the sun, I see a huge blackbird fly by. So silent in its flight but its very existence, right at that moment, carried a message that couldn’t have been any louder.

I closed my eyes and knew.

This is where I can find rest.
This is where my soul can find peace.
This is where my body can relax.

This is where I knew my heart could let go.
This is where I knew my heart could fill again.
This is where I knew I could heal.

This place is my anchor.

It brings me home into my own skin and grounds me.

I believe we all need a place like this, that just allows us….
It doesn’t just have to be a place. It can be a person, a song, a book…

It’s that which holds us in place long enough to give our souls the chance to knit itself back again. To close the gaps and holes that tore it open. It’s like a salve on a wound, bathing it in medicine that is so pure it can only be from God, gifted to us humans through the Muses.

Sometimes we are lucky and find our anchors while consciously seeking that one thing, that one person, that one….but then there are those anchors that show up by chance, maybe led by a tickle of intuition to go there, zig instead of zag, listen to that, turn left instead of right,  and then there you are.

I am lucky to have a few such anchors in my life, each one different but no less powerful. Yet this place is special in its extraordinary culmination of senses. It takes my breath away. The air tastes sweet, the colors soothe my eyes, and my ears can rest from the cacophony of city sounds but best of all, I can find the peace and quiet again to be able to hear my soul sing once more.

Not just for today, this Friday focus, but for every day, I wish that each of you find your own anchor that is best for you. An anchor that is not a burden but rather one that gives you tranquility and peace.

#takingitdeeper

IMG_0477

Friday’s Focus—From Stuff to Simplicity

About a month ago we made the commitment to put our house up for sale and in preparation for the realtor’s picture day, we’ve been busy packing, boxing, disassembling, and either donating things or throwing them out. This has shown me two things: we have way too much stuff and the different ideas my husband and I have of ways to get rid of things.

I tend to just toss something either in a give-away pile to a local drop box of whatever charity I can find in the nearest parking lot, or throw it out in the garbage. Even larger things (thank you strong garbagemen). I want to add, as a caveat, lest my throwing things out is seen as being cavalier, it’s not. I would be more than happy to donate to any number of organizations but they have become extremely picky at what they take and won’t come to my zip code.

Trust me. I’ve tried….numerous times, from my father-in-law’s passing, to my mother’s passing, and now to us planning our move. I ended up having to hire a haul-away company for my mother’s things because no one would take the furniture. In speaking with the owner of the company, he agreed with how difficult it is to donate these days where we live but what I liked about them is that they bring the items they pick-up to other agencies first to try and donate them before just trashing it. Since I don’t have the capability to move larger items to the nearest facility (about 20 miles away) and take a chance they may not even accept the donation, this doesn’t leave many options open, so it’s garbage, parking lot donation box, or haul-away.

My husband holds onto things he’s more than ready to let go of but would rather give said object to someone he knows, which I think is actually very admirable, sweet, and thoughtful, but it also makes it harder and takes longer to get rid of things which end up in bags in his car until he sees the person! I’m a big believer that things find themselves to people who need them and so, I figure, let the Universe decide who gets what, but my husband goes for the the more personal touch.

In the last few years, we’ve found a middle ground focusing on a community center we know of that does great things for the neighborhood and is much needed by providing crisis intervention, information, prevention, and support services to individuals and families. This is something we both strongly believe in and we’ve come to make special piles dedicated to donating to this center. We strongly believe in this place and what it does and means for the community, and personally, I’m happy because I’m still getting rid of things and my husband’s happy because even though he may not know the person’s name that will receive that shirt or book or whatever, he knows the type of people who frequent there and is more than happy to help those individuals and families out.

Now that we need to start weeding through a lot more stuff for our eventual move we’ve both become a little more ruthless at what stays, what goes, and how it goes. What I’ve found so interesting is not just our divesting styles but the psychology at play when you go through a clean-up.

There’s our parents philosophy that creeps through with “We paid for it so we need to hold on to it, because throwing it away is like throwing away good money” and then there’s, “Well, maybe one day we’ll use it.” And of course, the favorite, “Oh I’ll fit into that again…..It will come back in style…I’m sure I can use it somehow…..Every time I’ve thrown something out before I’ve needed it a few days later….” Not anymore. Whatever it is if it hasn’t been used yet—off it goes to a token person or a token garbage bag.

There are some things that are harder to toss than others because of personal attachments but it’s also those same attachments to people or places that make it easier to let some things go if the memories aren’t so good. I’ve learned that the memories in our minds and experiences of events mean so much more (and take up less space) than any tchotchke or T-shirt that doesn’t fit anymore anyway.

Packing things for our move has been very cathartic and a step towards simplicity that we’ve been yearning for. I’ve been yearning for. Every spring of course, there’s the token spring clean-up but judging by the amount of things we still have, spring wasn’t enough of a motivator. Moving out of house is though!

I’m craving the need to shake out and crawl out from under anything excessive and using that space to stretch and breathe. It’s more than metaphor or an inspirational passage. As much as I’ve been working on myself on the inside to rid things that don’t serve me, so I’m moving on to the outside. It’s time to create that much needed space around me in addition to inside me and it feels good. Looking around at the boxes already packed and the piles of books still needing to be gone through, there’s so much to do, but it’s a start.

When will you have enough of your stuff and what will make you move from Stuff to Simplicity?

#takingitdeeper

IMG_0660

Now.

Every single one of us.
Has something to say.
It’s not just a story.
It’s their story.
It’s your story.
It’s your time to tell it.
It’s your time to write it.
To draw it.
To sing it.
To be it.
Will you?
Or.
Will you let it remain.
In your mind.
In your soul.
As a thought.
As a desire.
As a dream.
Let’s make it so.
And be.
Who we have been.
Dreaming ourselves to be.

#taingitdeeper