Caterpillar Mindset

Glorious fall.  Cool gray mornings and blankets of morning fog beckon my heart to run trails in the woods. Living in a valley is a privilege, each morning revealing unexpected beauty ~ a canopy of golden leaves heralding the trail,  mist rising from the stillness of the pond like a warm cup of coffee embracing me.  Running at this time of year is not exercise, but an opportunity to take in as much beauty as possible with each breath and step. Filling myself up with gratitude for the beauty of this day and the spaciousness I have intentionally carved in my life to experience these moments.

Not concerned with endurance, a work out-worthy pace or cardio impact, I seek connection with the sounds, smells, and sights surrounding me: the fiery red intensity of the tree line set against the blue sky, the golden leaf shower raining down on me as the breeze convinces the tree to unladen herself of her wealth. My mind meanders like the trail before me. How does the tree feel unburdening herself of her majesty? Is it relief, like how I feel after a good haircut? Or is it sadness like when children leave home, inevitable but tinged with a lingering sense of loss? 

It was in this state that I came across three friends, three gorgeous wooly caterpillars crossing my path. Slowing my life, I have learned to pay attention to the signs around me.  I stopped. And spent time watching these three caterpillars. The first one I scooped up with a leaf and transported to the woods for safety. The second one I slid to the side of the road after he rolled into a ball. I waited for him to unfurl, but he never did. The third one I simply watched, intent on crossing the trail under his speed and making great strides.

And so I wondered, what is going through the caterpillar’s mind right now? When I run, I shed all kinds of thoughts and worries.  What am I doing wrong? How can I make this situation better? What am I supposed to do?  Why am I not…..

Does the caterpillar ever worry it won’t make it to the other side? Does it ever get frustrated it isn’t moving faster? 

Looking at the spiney mohawk hairs of the caterpillar, it is captivating, big round glossy black head, striped in orange and black like a tiger but not quite enough to settle into a fearsome pattern. If I held a picture of an Isabella Moth up to it and said, “this is what you will be in seven months,“ would it even believe me?  Observing its present embodied existence it seemed preposterous, even audacious to me. Looking at its lowly earth bound body in close proximity to dirt, would it even believe that in a brief two seasons it will have wings and take flight? I am doubtful it could imagine its own miraculous transformation.  And if it was capable of contemplating its radical transformation would it continue to have the courage to move on?

The same is true for us. Can we tolerate our own potential greatness? Can we, at this moment, fully accept and step into our own potential?

Few among us have the singular belief in our own unique greatness like Steve Jobs. More often we stumble, peer, glimpse, run away, revel in and are deeply afraid of our greatness. As Marianne Williamson says, “What we are truly afraid of is not fear, but our own greatness……..” 

If we can’t fully embrace our own magnificence and the manifestation of it in this lifetime, are we doomed to not transform? And then how do we reach our potential when there are times we are unsure or unwilling or afraid?

The caterpillar knows.

 Continue being yourself in this moment.

Don’t consume yourself with worry about the future, how fast you are or are not moving. Don’t compare yourself with others and their pace of movement or change. If you are authentic to yourself in this moment your path will unfold. 

Sometimes you will have to be scooped up. Sometimes you will curl in a ball and need to hold tight to yourself.  But eventually you will learn to move under your own speed and you will take a step, then another. Then another. You will find your own pace, cadence and rhythm that is unique to you.

You will learn to trust yourself. 

Follow your instinct to crawl while crawling, rest while cocooning and fly when wings have sprouted.

There is no other way.

I have tried to run when I had only crawling legs, resisted resting because I was worried I would never fly, and when I got my wings I have been afraid to take flight.

The caterpillar knows. So now do I. Image

Holding On

Holding tight. Holding in. Holding breath.

Gripping. Sticking. Bound. Tight. Caught. Crushed.

Holding onto emotions has been the root cause of most of the pain in my life. Even happy ones. Grasping to maintain a joyful high.  Being unable or unwilling to move on or forgive.  Trapped in intensity. Allowing the tempest teapot of discord to boil over into all aspects of my life. Searingly painful. Often a precursor to depression. Grasping to hold onto happiness.  Plummeting into self imposed Imageexile with anger.

The gravitational pull to yoga and meditation has helped me cultivate observational  awareness when the tide swell of emotions looms close and threatens to consume me. Like a pebble inescapably being swallowed by the receding tide, I can see when emotional forces threaten to overtake my center.  In theory, I observe and release those emotions.  Learning how to effortlessly release them is my life’s work.

It is a constant challenge. A riddle. Solving myself. And just when I think I have  mastered it, a tidal wave of intensity rolls over me, this time from an unexpected direction, and I am lost in a sea of emotion, knowing I need to release, but unable to access the tools to do so.

My father, 85 years old with dementia well under way, has no problem releasing.

I picked up my father the other afternoon. He asked me how I and my children were doing. I relayed a series of life altering tragedies. My son’s good friend drowned and died. He went into physical and mental shock. My mother in law was placed on hospice and was dying. Dad comprehended and felt the intensity of emotion in that moment of relaying. He expressed deep sorrow, empathy and compassion. Five minutes passed. He asked again, “how are you and the kids?” No residue of sadness. No weariness from the prior telling.  NO holding onto emotions: anger, sadness, happiness. 

He.  Simply.  Let.  Go.   For him there is no other path.

I sat there in absolute astonishment. How liberating it must be to experience a moment fully, feel the contour of its intensity, be with that feeling without flinching and be done with it. How freeing for your body and mind. No nagging midnight crazies. No writing nonsensical to-do lists in the wee hours of the morning to gain control.  No alteration of mood or affect. No anger in your heart.

Feeling every dimension of life as it unfolds and moving on.

Dementia has gifted him.  A modeled reminder of what is available to me in every moment. Taking you in Dad. Not quite ready to release you.

Ironing the Wrinkles of LIfe

We become our parents when we have children.

As Labor Day approaches, it is forever inexorably linked with vivid memories of my mother wheeling the black and white TV on the rickety TV cart out into the kitchen for a 3 day marathon of ironing, standing vigil with Jerry Lewis and the MDA Telethon until the last song was sung and she would cry.  My mother spent every Labor Day going through our clothes, sorting outgrown and soiled clothes and starching our new outfits for the school year.  From pinafore collars to Levi corduroys, no article of clothing was spared a once over. Even after we all had left the house, she continued the ritual utilizing my father’s clothes as her focus.

For my mother, the daughter of recent immigrants, starched impeccable clothing was a symbol of success, an imperative for a successful life.  It said more about you than your vocation, your bank account or home.  Greeting the world with a pressed clean outfit meant you had assimilated and arrived. And, even if you didn’t have two nickels to rub together, you looked the part. It conveyed status, even if you had none. First impressions mattered, especially for my mom who had spent her childhood longing for nice clothes like the other kids at school.  It was a privilege to have nice clothes and they should be treated as such.

I see this metaphor of clothing as longing to fit in played out by my refugee students. Their choice of clothing often provocative interpretations of typical student garb; their prioritization ofImage expenditures understandable. My experience observing my mother informs me it is simply the universal deep desire for acceptance and belonging.  My mother wanted her children to feel they belonged. They were accepted as equal. And so she ironed our clothes, our jeans, our ripped jeans, our flannel shirts…anything she could her hands on, even when we begged to her to let us look sloppy.

 It was a big event to see the TV in the kitchen, a veritable party. The novelty of eating breakfast while watching TV being enough of an incentive to get me to wake  early so I could be the first one to get to the TV and choose my favorite cartoons before my siblings got up.  Having to rearrange the bunny ears in all manner of contortions to receive a good enough signal so the screen was filled only half way with snow was a constant challenge as we shifted the TV around the linoleum floor in our small kitchen.

I was the youngest of four children and my mother’s shadow. I loved being around her, watching her, talking to her, chatting while she ironed. She was an extremely busy woman, often catching up on lost sleep on the couch between shifts as a nurse, so any opportunity to be with her and be seen by her was special.  During the three day vigil I refused to play outside or go biking in the neighborhood. I remained by my mother’s side, watching her iron for hours, entranced with the whooshing sound of hot iron meeting moist starch, the starch cloud rising off the board, the smell of clean permeating the kitchen, the sound of the heel of the heavy iron landing on the board with a “thwunk”. To this day, ironing remains a soothing meditative engagement for me.  It was warm and cozy, even with the windows wide open.  Her loving presence multiplying and filling the kitchen as each additional wire hanger laden with an article of clothing was filed on the partition between rooms, until eventually a wall of ironed clothes was built. Watching it, I was filled with excitement at the prospect of my many new crisp outfits awaiting their debut.  They would soon line my closet, like soldiers standing attention, waiting patiently and perfectly for my daily selection decision.

 As the weekend unfolds, I have informed everyone around me I am not doing anything. I am sitting in terribly wrinkled clothes without an agenda to accomplish.  I am not going anywhere. I am staying home ironing. I relish these three days. The purposeful pause in time to transition and reflect. Marinating in possibility these summer months has birthed a number of wonders in my life.  My children are growing up. Witnessing their unique personalities take root in the world through friendships formed, relationships pursued, studies and passions ignited and followed fills me with gratefulness.  As the milestones of my life accumulate, I wonder what thoughts my mother had at this time of year as she spent hours ironing: what worries she carried about our family, her children, her marriage, what dreams she longed to realize, what gratefulness she felt in her heart.  Buddha said there is more than one way to meditate – sitting, standing, laying down, even walking. Ironing must be on that list. My mother may not have meditated, but I can’t help but think that her time ironing served her in the same way; the repetition, the cadence, the rhythm, the ritual of the action staking out a parcel of time to be still, evoke calm order, smoothe the wrinkles in clothing and life. 

As I starch and press and tackle the mountain of ironing I have accumulated and set aside for just this holiday, with the added bonus of my daughter’s summer wardrobe dropping on my floor, I repeat the love of my mother: pressing her dresses, ironing t-shirts, knowing full well they will be rolled into a ball in a few weeks as she crams them into her suitcase. No matter.  It is my way of sending my children out into the world swaddled in a little extra confidence and love, knowing their grandmother and mother surround them with love and confidence and perfectly pressed tops.

Laundry as love. That is her legacy to me.  

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Bed bug blessing

“I have some really bad news Mom,” she whispered into the phone. And paused.  Awaiting my response. Afraid. I could almost see her facial muscles tensing, cringing, her shoulders rounding.  My 20 year old daughter rarely, if ever, asked for help or advice.  She was the oldest of four siblings and had long declared her capacity to care for herself, insisting since second grade she no longer needed me to walk her up to the bus stop.  When she called me, it was usually a blasé check in to pass time while she walked home.  I savored those moments, even if it was to listen to her rapid breathing as she walked and talked, feeling privileged that she still checked in with me.  With her departure for college several years ago, I now had a heightened appreciation for any missive from her.  I swept through the list of potential disasters which could follow: rape, pregnancy, assault….  She hesitantly uttered , “ I think we have bed bugs,” her voice trailing off.  Given the disasters I had conjured, bed bugs seemed hardly worth a second thought.  Relieved we didn’t have to contend with a life altering problem, I tried to convey a nonchalant approach to the vermin. I had done battle with lice repeatedly when the children were young, bed bugs were a no brainer. I was almost ebullient

Stepping into the role of mom the problem solver, I was at my best. As we mutually googled the little buggers sharing tips for diagnosing an infestation, tell tale signs of infestation and bites, and most importantly how to rid your dwelling of them, I felt calmness flood my body. My voice intentionally modulated to soothe her, a can-do attitude being my rudder.  We rapidly determined there was a high probability that her summer sublet in Washington, D.C. was infested. As we spoke, her attention was repeatedly distracted by the ubiquitous city rats ambling  outside her balcony.  Though they were commonplace, their presence tonight was causing her to teeter on the verge of emotional bursting. I knew what I had to do. She needed to get out and feel safe. Now.

We quickly shifted the focus of our mutual googling to Hotwire.com.  She was concerned about the necessity, the cost, the practicality, the appearance of moving into a hotel.  Resisting the expense necessary to avoid the bug tide, my repeated reminder of the prospect of a night sleeping in a bed which she now knew was infested with bed bugs biting her all night long was all it took to move her to relent.  With less than a week left of her internship, a full on battle to rid herself of the bugs was of limited utility and expenditure of her time. Our mantra: Limit  exposure. Get out. Akin to the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, ours was a planned, swift departure, taking only what was absolutely necessary. Leaving behind many previously useful objects that were either too costly or burdensome to debug or lug. 

Within several hours, she had identified her essential wardrobe for the duration, laundered and double bagged it and moved into a delightful half price hotel room in Dupont Circle. Four hours later, her voice chipper, relaxation evident in the tone of her voice, she said, “thanks Momma for making me feel safe.”  I had done my job well.

Grateful to catch any falling. Still.

Finding a blessing even in bed bug infestation.

Sheryl Sandberg you just wait a few years……The Intrinsic Value of Motherhood You’re Missing

I have watched from the sidelines and lived the conflicted heart of trying to attain work/family balance. With Sheryl Sandberg advising me to lean in and do more, and my own heart saying some days, “I just want to stay home today, cook a decent meal and clean my house so my children return home to a loving peaceful home”, I don’t need another uber woman admonishing me about the failure of my sex to gain sufficient career advancement. I want acceptance in my own heart for the daily compromises I have made and continue to make as I juggle the demands of life, family and fulfillment.  The divisive debate among working and nonworking women, childcare v. stay at home mom, and between women of greater socioeconomic means and those who must work to survive has done little to assuage my guilt or help women meet competing demands in their own life. 

The recent celebration of Mother’s Day gave me pause to reflect on the importance of my role as a mother, woman and career woman.  Through twenty years of parenting, I have gained perspective on my roles. Real change for me would mean women are supported for whatever choice they make. And, they are supported again, as they change their minds and update their choices along with the changing needs of their family or self.  As a mother of four, former full time lawyer and now part time everything, I don’t need to read anymore studies to inform me that parenting while making a living or building a career is difficult, heart wrenching and filled with compromise.  As a society, we are far from finding a perfect solution, never mind a governmental policy that will wave a magic wand and solve this tug of the heart. The reason being?  The opportunity cost of choices in life.  We have choices and with choices come looking back, longing, regret and/or guilt for the path we didn’t choose.  When I have chosen work obligation, I have felt guilty for short changing my children. And, when I have prioritized my children, I have felt the sting of not being fully prepared for my work life.  And when I have had no choice but to simply forge ahead with the task before me, I have had to block out the opportunity costs entirely and hope for better days ahead.

Unlike the generation of women before us, we have the choice whether and when we want to become mothers. Many of us are fortunate to have the choice to wholeheartedly pursue a career.  Unlike many of our sisters around the world, we also have a choice about the kind of partner we have in our life, and thereby the level of support in partnership.  But with all those choices come the repercussions of our decisions. Bearing the repercussions is a far more complex task.  Younger, I thought I could have it all. I try to remember a time I made a choice and didn’t have to forego something else in my life. It is really an unrealistic, magical way of thinking.  Being a mom to four children and a full time career woman required two people present at all times and I was one.  For me, leaning into my potential has meant honoring the intrinsic value of being a mother as well as a working woman. 

What I have learned to do is rest in magnificent snippets of both worlds.  I will never be the COO of Facebook, but I was able to greet my children at the end of the day and hold space as their stories spilled forth unedited.  I won’t be a judge, but I have known the sublime pleasure of the scent of my children’s heads as the four of them spooned in my bed sandwiched between their father and me telling ridiculously funny stories, laughing uncontrollably, punctuated with an occasional contest passing gas under the sheets. At times I have chosen love over work and those memories endure.   Likewise, there were times I engaged in professional pursuits with a singularity of purpose, daring myself to grow in ways I had never known. Those moments were exceptionally meaningful and I missed school plays and important spontaneous moments so I could experience them and use my talent.

The issue of family/life balance has been touted as a women’s issue, but it is not. Indeed, male loss of family time has been a given for eons.  Men have missed out on childrearing and precious developmental moments for the sake of earning money for the family without remark.  Only as women have born the opportunity cost of working has this issue gained traction. 

I have experienced my fair share of missed events for my children. I was lucky that my children had a father who was equally committed to those moments and was able to be there, I want to say in place of me, but as his own person. See the rub is I can never quite absolve my own guilt over not completely fulfilling the role of mother even when it has been a conscious choice, obligation or represented an intellectual professional pursuit that made me feel alive in a way parenting never could. So, that is my wish for mothers. Peace. Peace for myself and other moms who are fully engaged with the richness of life and the attendant compromises. Allow. Allow the guilt to subside and be just as compassionate with yourself as you are with others.  Be compassionate with your Self and your heart. You are doing a great job!  

 

 

Mary Beth Ogulewicz is a part time professor, a part time yoga instructor and always a mother of four children 20, 15, 13 and 11 years old.Image

Dipping My Toes

How does transformation happen?

For some, it happens in a sweeping moment.  A catastrophic event.  A diagnosis. For me, it has been in baby steps, creeping, crawling, peeking, turning, hiding, gathering courage, sometimes suffering and perilously testing the waters in small ways.  I wish I was one of those tantalizingly bold women who simply let go of everything in one fell swoop like a trapeze artist leaping into my life.  But that is not my nature in life nor has it been my nature in transformation.  And that is alright.  Slow learner transformer is who I am.

In my early 40’s I began to experience anxiety, insomnia, and I kept hearing the word “inauthentic” in my head.  I knew “it” was calling me out, but I was in such deep denial I could not broach this thing.  Fear wrapped me tight like swaddling.  I knew if I began looking at this thing my world would come undone and, as unhappy as I was, I was oddly comfortable in the discomfort.  It had become my norm and wasn’t that better than the unknown or worse yet, homelessness? I was not ready or willing to be uncomfortable.  I had worked hard for all my stuff that surrounded me in my unhappy lot and I was steadfast in my resistance to going backwards in the generational climb forward of life. 

As many others have experienced, midlife was a time of change visited upon me.  My mother died.  The intensity of parenting was easing and the gap with my spouse was widening.  It seemed all anchors in my life were giving way at the same time.  I can recall thinking: without my mother, who had been my best friend, who would I be?  She had been the mirror for my reflection.  Without all my clearly defined  relationships to frame my expectations for how I should fit in the world, I feared I was finally going to have to inhabit myself rather than allow preordained roles to define me.

It sounds rather trite but the confluence of death, betrayal and career exhaustion served to unmoor me.  I was angry it happened.  I had done everything RIGHT.  I had followed every Rule on how to live a good life, and here I was facing a precipice of nothing.  No intact family, no longer an extended family and no career.  I had gone from hero to zero. 

This is how I found myself in transformation’s fire. An unwilling hostage. 

The turn towards life was gradual.  I dwelled in suffering and anger and resentment for several years.  Angry with myself for prior decisions, I now clearly saw how I had traded myself for the needs of another, I slowly  accepted that I was responsible for placing myself in harm’s way and needed to start resurrecting myself.  I desperately wanted someone to come along and do the work for me.  No one was coming.  I wished I was moving headlong,  with no hesitation into transformation like this inspirational piece depicts:

“She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go. She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go. She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all of the memories that held her back. She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right. She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go. She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go. No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go. There was no effort.

 

There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that. In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.” -Ernest Holmes

 

But I was not brave. Instead, I would have to read about letting go, assembling my own self help library from Suze Orman, Dr. Phil,  Oprah,  Dr. Christiane Northrup,  Iyanla Vanzant,  Pema Chodron,  Elizabeth Lesser and Martha Beck.  I was looking for anyone to help me.  How had they done it? What finally allowed them to embrace themselves? What gave them courage? I could become consumed and emotionally vested in the success of their plight and rebirth but upon closing the book, always found myself unable to manifest the same courage and zeal to change my own life.  I went on pilgrimages thinking if I saw the wise ones in person I would be able to detect something from their physical embodiment that the written page obscured. I saw Marianne Williamson.  Nope.   Sat in the front of row of a PBS taping of a Dr. Christiane Northrup Special, Nothing.  Elizabeth Lesser and a weekend at Omega. Not a budge…Courtesy of a persuasive letter writing campaign, my best friend and I were even vetted by a producer of Oprah to be featured audience members  with Tony Robbins and Oprah. Nope and nada.  The successful seekers must have been imbued with something from the gods that was not discernible to my scrutiny.  The gods had deigned them lucky and me not. The omnipresent chorus in my head since childhood heralding, “everyone gets to be happy but you” was singing loudly.  I went on yoga and meditation retreats.  I had my tarot cards read, consulted a psychic, I switched careers and returned to school to get a Masters.  None of which provided relief, guidance or courage. 

 

In hindsight, my transformation began in much smaller conventional ways.  I bought a laptop.  No parades. No sweeping music.  Stepping into the Apple store was my victory (though I insisted a couple of my children accompany me for moral support).  I had allowed myself to become dependent on my spouse.  I didn’t have a computer nor my own email.  It hadn’t even dawned on me that I could have my own email, this fact powerfully illustrating the depth of my relegation of personal power.  I thought the people in the Apple store were going to laugh at me when I entered.  I knew nothing about computers. I timidly asked if I could buy one, wholly expecting they would say no. Instead, I was supported through the selection process, encouraged through my One to One tutoring sessions and eventually high fived as I became proficient.  The world opened for me.  I got my own my email address. I wrote long missives while connecting with long lost friends without fear someone else was reading them or judging them.  I googled incessantly: places to travel, things to see, courses to take, groups to join and things to learn.  I learned to make iMovies. I created Power Points! I was creating. I finally existed in the cyberworld! My ability to learn and grow became endless and my ability to connect with others magnified thousandfold.

 

Next…..iTunes. I gathered all my old music that I loved. The first time I heard the music I thought “this is the soundtrack of my life” and cried.  All the music that felt like me was in one place and accessible with a click of a button. Like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall I was gathering pieces of myself and mending myself.  No king’s horses or king’s men needed.  Had the outward circumstances of my life radically altered to a casual observer? No. But my inside was starting to sing.

 

I then bought my first car! I researched mileage, maintenance costs and test drove several cars whose image matched my new image of myself.  I bought a Prius! (once again I had a couple of my children accompany me for support)  I was fanatical about my sole ownership of it.  Why? It represented my hard fought independence and space for me to dwell within.  The one location he couldn’t be.  The one location I could be in control that could also transport me to other worlds I was interested in: beaches I always wanted to explore, hiking spots I had yearned to see for years, museums that displayed beauty.  I wanted to see it all and now could with minimal cost. I loved climbing into my Prius and setting off.  It represented independence on wheels.

 

Once I began claiming space in the cyberworld, then with my car, I yearned for more and more space in which to grow and flourish that resonated within me and supported my inner dreams.  I bought a desk.  A beautiful maple desk with clean lines and minimal flourish.  It was gorgeous. I was subconsciously claiming more and more space for my real self.  I could sit there, imagine, create, plan, write and google. Thereafter, I began to claim the room in which it was located.  I bought a matching bookshelf, a beautiful floral rug and a chaise.  I brought my yoga mat in and my meditation cushion.  It was my room through eminent domain.  One 9 by 12 space that was entirely me and I loved it. Sometimes I stood outside the threshold of the room and just admired it, as if admiring myself in a mirror. 

 

But eventually I began to chafe at its limits.  Why was I limiting my expression of myself to one room? Why was I still trying to fit within a rubric that felt wrong and limiting of myself?  What would happen if I really decided to live out loud? Why couldn’t I have an entire existence that was supportive? Why not friendships that were as authentic as that room? Why not a romantic relationship that filled my well? Why not an entire life? Career?

 

This slow expansion of myself has been the meditation of my living, exploring the limits I have placed on my happiness and living.  Why had I done that? What were the roots? What was the payoff for living in a compromised happiness? Why was I always so scared to move beyond a limit each time? 

 

Yoga has been the supportive parallel exploration of those questions and my mental and physical limitations. Through practice I am gaining a growing acceptance and love of those limitations and learning to study my reactions to those limitations.  Can I just sit with that moment of meeting my first edge? Relax in it, breathe and be okay with where I am.  Not judge my failure to be further down the line or have all matters resolved.  This expanding compassion towards myself and acceptance of all parts of me has allowed me to bravely begin speaking my truth.

In yoga I first began stretching my body. Being amazed at what I could do, I gained  strength and suppleness I had never imagined possible.  Gathering strength to do Wheel or Dancer’s Pose reminded me of my potential.  When there were postures I would never find infinite flexibility in I learned to greet that edge and make friends with it.  Accepting myself and still seeing the perfection of my very being in an awkward expression of a pose was like learning to love for the first time. Eventually I became more curious about the citta vritti – monkey mind chattering in poses.  The patterns in my mind during yoga were mirrors for my life off the mat.  I was stuck in both.   I wanted to move beyond the physical limits, mental limits and life limits.  Yoga reconnected me to my own worth.  Reminded me that I had god in me and if that was true I deserved to be cherished.  The reclamation of that notion off the mat caused me to speak honestly for the first time about financial matters.  My fears that I was incapable of handling.  I opened my own bank account.  Self worth finally had a price tag associated with it. 

My creativity was stirred by yoga as well.  I began to write notes for ideas for stories.

I took yoga teacher training! (Insert standing ovation here) The day I walked into Kripalu to check in for my month long training spontaneous joyful crying erupted, pouring forth from somewhere I wasn’t even cognizant of.  Allowing my heart’s desire to manifest was the connection. I had unwittingly claimed another piece of myself .  

 When I came home I wrote and wrote and wrote for the first time without fear of judgment or other’s impressions of me.  It was the first time I was really free in writing.  Within a matter of a few weeks, I had created a logo, website and a blog and was sending my words out into the internet.  It was the germination of years of tending my own fruit. Not being able to retract words, filter the content  and just speaking my truth deeply honored my soul, my journey and the wisdom of living errors. 

A friend recently wrote to me, “ I love writing because it reminds me of my vulnerability.  It is a delicious and frightening experience.”

This is my delicious, frightening and brave sharing of myself. Worthy and loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Landing in Motherhood

“The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are.” Joseph Campbell

 

It started as a 5 or 6 year old, receiving my first baby doll named “Baby Secret”.  I loved that sponge bodied red pajama suit clad doll.  I rocked her, held her, talked to her.  I could even pull a string on her hip and she would tell me a secret.  Whispering with rubber lips  “I Love You”, she filled my deepest longing for love and affirmed my worth when my parents couldn’t express it due to exhaustion or emotional stifling.   Cementing our bond, I clutched her each evening until I wore out her red pajama suit and hand stitched it back together.   No matter the discord that was happening in my home or in my mind, my worst moments were made better through bonding with Baby Secret. 

The seeds of motherhood were planted.

Every year for Christmas there was a new doll, with each year bringing a new “better than ever” feature; a doll whose hair actually grew in length out of the top of her head, a doll who could urinate, a doll who was nearly life size and you could hold hands and walk with;  the mother-child relationship becoming more and more realistic with each passing year.

Then the 70’s came and I began to question whether I would ever want to be a mother.  Having to be responsible for another person’s emotional life was a burden.  Who would really ever want to clean up someone else’s urine? Watching the mothers of my friends, I was firmly in the camp of career over family.  Mothers as a category were largely uneducated, powerless and unhappy.  My own mother was a mixed bag.  She was the only woman I knew who worked full time and had a career as a nurse.  But she paid dearly for her desire for intellectual and professional fulfillment, both emotionally and physically.  I watched as she struggled mightily to survive each day, never mind even hoping for balance.  She was breaking ground and running head long into the family versus career struggle long before the women’s movement championed issues of life balance as worthy of social critique.  She was living what would be rallied against in feminist circles decades later.  I equated motherhood with a wasted emotional and intellectual life, an inability to pursue your dreams, and pursuit of a career with supreme self actualization

I pursued education, became a lawyer, and then began to look around; Single career women were also unhappy.  Living in Washington D.C., watching career civil servants at the State Dept.,  I became disillusioned with the allure of being Mary Tyler Moore in the city.  A great wardrobe and killer high heels meant nothing when Friday night came around and there was no one at home waiting to share your secrets.  Though I didn’t know what a fulfilling life trajectory looked like, I checked off successful single career woman living alone in Crystal City with a cat as one possibility.   Life without children looked painfully lonely.

And so, that is how I find myself at the age of 48 with four children ages 19, 15, 13 and 11.  At a time when some of my friends are experiencing the thrill of an empty nest or even some beginning their grandparenting years, I still have seven years of nesting before college even begins. There is a reason behind everything that eventually comes to light.  For me, the protracted length of my motherhood has been the gift of time I needed to come to terms with the task and joys of motherhood and myself.

Motherhood and my ability to be complacent with it has been shaped and illumined by each passing year.   I’d always assumed that the urge to grow myself would subside and I would become completely fulfilled being a mother to four Baby Secrets. When that didn’t occur for me, without great effort, I began to question my motherly quotient. I was not joyfully selfless like June Cleaver. Prior to my awareness of breath, of being rather than doing, and being able to rest in the space between stimulus and reaction, I was a crazy mom, trying to constantly control disorder.  Four children, a white kitchen floor, a dirty dog and unhappiness compounded by a shelved career and an inability to identify or make my emotional needs known created an unsettled uneasy alliance with motherhood.  I was doing all the right things: dressing my kids well, checking their homework, driving them to  lessons and co-curriculars to develop any inkling of talent they exhibited.  I thought I was a great mom.  The same zealousness and energy I had applied in the courtroom I summonsed as a mother.  Outdoing any expectation of the norm, I exceeded all expectations for outward signs of motherly success. My daughter was identified as intellectually gifted and was writing for the newspaper, my children all learned to read early, tied their shoes early, learned to ride bikes on their own early.   They were clearly functioning at the top of the American family intellectual growth charts.   They were in the 98th percentile for everything,  everything but happiness. The notion that I could control anything was terminal.  The idea that being constantly busy was healthy was decidedly stressful. In hindsight, it’s a wonder one or two of my kids didn’t develop a tick.  But most of all I was unhappy and didn’t know why. And shatteringly, this was a topic that was taboo.  No one talked about being an unhappy mother at playgroup, Shake, Romp and Roll or Pollywog swim classes. I would search other mothers’ faces for signs of discontent.  Maybe there was a code I would see in their eyes.  But there was no tribe of unhappy mothers who wanted to honestly explore the entangled feelings that motherhood brought on.  Instead, they held Tupperware, Tastefully Simple and Silpada jewelry parties, exchanging recipes and trying to outdo one another with their entertaining prowess. I was disinterested, exhausted, resentful they could be content with such an insipid life and alone.

 I can still recall hopping in the family van when their father came home and relief troops were in place to “go for a gallon of milk “– code for aimlessly driving around two counties to feel freedom, independence and gain a modicum of balance in my life for a few hours. My kids used to think I went to Vermont for the milk. But I would return to the trenches of motherhood after my several hour sojourn only slightly relieved. Like opening a shaken bottle of soda and slowly relieving the gaseous explosion, I knew each time I had released only the most explosive element and soon enough would reach that point again.   I’d duck my head, hunker down and hide from what was dogging me – my unhappiness.  Afraid of what I might find and what I might lose if I faced the truth of myself.

In recent years, as the physical aspects of parenting ebbed, I have begun to experience renewed waves of awakening.  But this time the calls begged me not to run away but to delve deeper into myself and pursue my persistent questions about myself. In yoga, we say what you resist persists. “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” -  Pema Chodron.   The motherhood inquiry was not going away without deeper inquiry.

Interestingly, gracefully and delightedly, yoga has been a powerful tool for mining my depths.  Exploring myself through yoga has resulted in a profound shift in my feelings about motherhood.  My tension and ambivalence towards motherhood is resolving. Or more truthfully, it’s me that is resolving.  I love the word “resolve” because it contains the word “Solve”.  Trying to solve myself.  World peace begins with inner peace.  I was not quite sure world peace was a consequence of a more peaceful me, but I have seen powerful changes in my family as a result of my own peace.  The notion that a child would fulfill something inside me like Baby Secret did has finally outlived its usefulness.  And more importantly, the notion that outward signs of status, accomplishment and achievement as indicators of happiness and fulfillment have been foiled.   As I suspected, real life parenting was bound to be more difficult once you add real children with real needs, real poop and real vomit. In hindsight, my less than skilful response to such challenging experiences as four children vomiting at the same time while running out of all the towels and sheets in the house are understandable.

Falling in balance postures and large distances looming between my nose and knees in forward bends have taught me to be compassionate with my limitations, accept the beauty of my imperfections and see myself shine even as I fall.  Falling and realizing I was okay, still loved and still worthy of another try gave me courage.  My determined resistance to handstands, headstands and crow was a metaphor for my life.  I resisted instability at all costs, even if that meant missing out on the fun.  So when my teacher asked, “ who is afraid of handstands?” my hand flew up.  With his support and guidance  I kicked up against the wall marking a seminal moment of growth, of stepping into unknown space. I could explore parts of myself that were taboo and survive.  I did it.  I was okay. But if I allowed fear, my arms collapsed.  Yoga doesn’t care if you fall.  It only cares if you get back up.  Yoga doesn’t care if you succeed.  It only cares that you try.  And then try again.  It isn’t about where you are in a posture but how aware you are in a posture. Awareness of myself had always scared me. I feared where it would take me and that my carefully constructed world and belongings would fall apart.  It did. They did. And I am much happier living in the mess of my real self.

 

My relationship with myself is now premised on unconditional self-love.  I no longer  label or limit myself as inadequate or angry.  I view my limitations as friends, teachers.  I embrace them as loving guides. Observing my mind in postures I can finally see my mental patterns. Rather than sinking into loneliness or disappointment,  I have become attuned to the physical feelings that accompany emotional judging and can observe when the critical feelings first rise in my body and mind.   It is a relief to be able to identify those feelings at their outset and know I will no longer become their prisoner.  I note the feeling.  Identify it.  When it is especially intense or painful I sit with it, breathe and breathe some more.  When my heart rate slows, my shoulders drop and the tightness in my stomach relieves, and I feel some distance from the emotional rise, I am able to become curious about the feeling.   Through this process, I have feelings but I am not the feeling.  Resting in the space between the stimulus and my emotional reaction, I can inquire where the uncomfortableness is pointing me to look at myself. I don’t run away anymore, instead I curiously explore myself.  And accept myself.  Sometimes I don’t reach an answer, I just note the circumstance and feeling and return to it on another day, like finding a key that doesn’t fit a door that you put back in the drawer because you know one day you’ll find the door it fits.  If the issue becomes apparent, then I release it.  Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow.

Ending judgment of myself and practicing self compassion has freed me to more fully live my life. It has also emboldened me to give myself permission to explore happiness. Limitations of the mind can also take form as limitations on joy and happiness,.  Consequently, I have begun to explore the dreams I packed away when my babies began arriving.  It has been glorious, like rediscovering a treasure chest of myself.  Ah, there you are Mary Beth!  Buried for so long! Come on out!  I don’t have to choose between roles anymore nor play a role.

With my yoga practice, I am gaining peace with my identity as woman, creator and mother.  Giving myself permission to indulge all sides of myself simultaneously without judgment has been key.   Feeling satisfied for the first time, I am able to wholly  embrace the sublime pleasure of giving to my children, not out of duty or playing a role, but giving with pure love, no resentment or resistance.  This is the beautiful juxtaposition of being an older mom with years of parenting still ahead of me, I get a do over.  Each moment with my children is more poignant because of the shift in me and awareness of myself brought about by yoga.

In the context of mothering, this presence and openness has revealed itself in many ways.

I can love with abandon. 

I relish the moment. 

I attune to my children’s needs and intuitively sense the slightest problems. 

I can simply be with them,

Hold space for them to unfold and

Be a container of love and security for them to experience all of their problems without feeling the need to resolve it for them. 

I allow them to experience growth, challenge and pain and teach them to be curious about it. 

The depth of my love for mothering has grown in step with the depth of my love for my children.  My love for my children has flourished and my children have flourished in that new love and space.  I no longer get annoyed I have to drive an hour to pick them up when I am tired.  I look forward to time alone with them, and the opportunity to be a welcome respite from the stress of school.  To simply be with them in whatever moment or mood they are in.  I welcome and accept their anger, frustrations and limitations of their emotional responses and can hear their desire to grow as well as fear of being vulnerable.  In many ways it is like I am mothering for the first time.  And I love being a mom with all its challenges and limitations.  When things go wrong , I release it – releasing the planned life I had for the life awaiting me.  Before, my sacrifices were tinged with resentment, now they are expressions of love.

I often begin my practice by saying, “close your eyes and come home.”  That home was previously clouded by fear of repeating maternal mistakes, lifestyle judgments and fear and resistance to being myself.

I am finally landing home.  In my heart.  In my children’s hearts.  In love.

 

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Diving into Beauty

What makes me beautiful now more than ever?

I finally own myself.

I finally inhabit myself.

I finally see inner beauty radiating every time I catch a glimpse of myself.

I used to think of myself as a very powerful, self confident woman. I was a successful prosecutor, smart, articulate, well read with fabulous suits and gorgeous shoes. However, I always felt a whiff of inauthenticity imbuing each moment, snapping at my heels. I was an imposter who was threatened I’d be revealed and ripped off the stage. That fear was the embodiment of my disconnect with my true beauty, my feminine power and my lack of understanding of my true essence.

I used to describe myself as mildly attractive. In other words, if I put a lot of effort into my grooming I could make myself attractive, but never beautiful. And, if I took off my make up, didn’t do my hair or dress well, I would transform back to the ugly stepsister Cinderella before she met her fairy godmother. It felt like a fraud being perpetrated ~ dressing up every day, holding myself out as strong and confident, advising, admonishing and demanding female victims make changes in their life for their safety, when I was unwilling to do my own inside work.  We must live what we teach and I was failing to embody my feminine power.  I felt insecure about my looks and my life and was fearful about where the examination would take me and what I would have to lose to become authentic.

The price of remaining in that space was steep ~ not only in emotional terms but practical financial terms because the more insecure I felt, the more money I spent on the outside efforts to compensate. At first I could assuage the insecurity by purchasing $50 heels.  When that began to fail, I merely upped the price for my purchases. If a $50 pair of heels made me a little better, wearing $150 shoes would make me feel like Princess Diana.  There was surely something magical about a higher price barrier. Yes, there was the temporary thrill in stepping into a courtroom with kick ass heels, but retail therapy had limited curative effect and the high always ended before I finished paying for the item.  Moreover, it set me on an endless search for self love. By defining my beauty through purchases, beauty was elusive, ever changing and always slipping through my fingers as the next trend appeared.  I was in perpetual pursuit. What was the next trend that was stylish, that could signal to the world I WAS beautiful? That I was worthy of being loved? It was exhausting.  Self medicating through shopping still left Me with Me.

This past year I did Yoga Teacher Training. Committing to a process of intensive exploration and excavation of the heart and spirit that would be the greatest gift I have ever given myself.  The deepest work was not the difficult yoga poses, but rather the many hours exploring the mental patterns that pervaded my practice and ultimately mirrored my life off the mat.

As  mid-life often does, mine knocked me off my well trodden path. Ignoring the whispers and gentle nudges of discomfort to address my self, I was hit with a two by four in order to gain my attention and prioritize working on my inner self.  My marriage had faltered, my career became increasingly difficult to fake, my mother died and my children seemed fine without me.  Who or what would be the mirror for my reflection now that my mother was gone, my identity as a lawyer faded, and my roles of mother and wife were superfluous? Where was “I” in this life I had created? I went through a period of anxiety and insomnia and kept hearing the word “inauthentic” in my head.  I was scared to death what it all meant, and simply used greater will power, turning up the t.v. even louder while I sat on the couch watching “Sex and City”, eating popcorn, waiting for Carrie to pithily address my problem in an episode with Big.

Turning to yoga, I found a safe way to reconnect with my self and look at these issues.  Each day on the mat, I felt a growing peace as I loosened my hips, increased my flexibility, strengthened my body in ways I had never known and performed backbends while imagining black butterflies representing swallowed anger and resentment fly out of my stomach.  Yoga was clearing my self out.  I was landing in my Self.  Going to Yoga Teacher Training was another step in the process of reclaiming myself or perhaps even being myself for the first time.

AHIMSA.  It sounds sacred.  Breath whispers with the exhale as you articulate it.  It evokes a spiritual quality in the air, a calling to something greater.  That greater calling was myself. Ahimsa loosely means non violence.  Each day I cultivated, lived and embodied one of the Yamas.  But how was I to embody Ahimsa? Immediately my mind swerved to prosecutorial notions of criminal violence.  I knew I was not violent in that criminal sense.  I realized I could turn the inquiry inward and look at  violence in thoughts and words toward myself. I left our large yoga practice room  and my 64 classmates and went upstairs to my dorm room  before the next session.

Barefoot with black yoga capris, a tank top and head band, I walked into our Spartan dorm room. Six metal bunk beds greeted me, white walls, white linens, three bureaus and a lone sink with a mirror were my home. The sparsity of furnishings intentionally set a blank canvas for reflection and transformation. Being able to create and/or find my self without visual distraction and clutter was the intention of Kripalu.  A perfect pod in which to birth myself. I was there to breathe life back into myself, infuse my life with vibrant color against the blank canvas of life

I walked up to the lone sink and glanced in the mirror.  My first thought was, “God you look awful.” I was shocked. Damned it! Not even five minutes after I took a vow to practice nonviolence towards myself and I was condemning my appearance.  I stared at myself again. What did my judgmental mind see?  Fat face, ugly hair, terrible skin.  I had rolled out of bed without showering, thrown on my several day worn yoga clothes, pulled my unbrushed hair back with a hairband, stray gray hairs peeking out, and hadn’t bothered to brush my teeth. I kept staring. But wasn’t that just what I loved about being here and living the life of a yogi? The intention and focus was on the interior, not the exterior. No one cared what you looked like here. Wasn’t I so proud of that being staring back at me? I was bravely facing my self and my life without distraction and varnish. I was showing up on the mat to do exploration with honesty and intention. Just me and my me-ness and messiness staring back at me. I had mustered personal courage and self love to winnow maternal guilt and drag my work with me and spend time away from my kids. Re-reading my journals, I had long been expressing a deep desire to become a yoga teacher as part of my encore life. The desire was showing up everywhere: in essays I wrote, in pictures I collected, in journaling exercises about happiness and in materials I wrote for my classes. I had innumerable logical reasons not to come to YTT and only one propelling me forward: me.

Committing to clearing out all that stood in the way between myself and being open and loving, I was grateful and felt deep love for myself. I had done a lot of courageous work as a prosecutor but in a determined, brute force, armored way. What I was learning here was how to be vulnerable and open and loving with myself and eventually with others. Inhabiting feminine aspects of power and potential was completely different. Love, intuition, compassion, kindness, non judgment and openness were my feminine power principles now. Living that way, being that way was softening all parts of me.  At that moment, I committed to seeing those aspects of myself every time I glanced in the mirror rather than the uneven skin tone, acne scars and imperfections on my face.

As I began to explore my edge in poses on the mat and greet those moments without judgment, I began to identify my negativity as thoughts not reality. It became easier to set aside them and my inner cheerleader inside.  I grew to accept and love myself in those moments of imperfection.  Consequently, the negative remarks appeared less frequently and eventually dissolved in frequency.

And, so I began to feel beautiful …..really, really beautiful and happy.   Spending time in our sangha, we created the world we wanted based on giving and receiving love and taking risks and trusting eachother. It also unleashed untapped creativity and commitment to my work. This allowed me to release my old habitual ways of viewing myself.  Being without any care for my appearance was so freeing. It allowed me to identify myself as being  more than my outer appearance. I am infinite, eternal and whole as Devarshi Steve Hartman explained.  I was light, I was love, I was a sacred being. Connecting with my divinity forever altered what I see in the mirror. I physically see the gray hairs and roots, my jawline sagging, my doublechin growing and the occasional wild chin hair. I love it. I love it all. Because it is the expression of my life’s wisdom and my hard-won inhabiting of myself. There is so much more to me and my life than how I appear to others. What is most important is how I am with myself. If I love myself, then I can more freely love others. Recently I came across the word, capacious. It means spaciousness. That best sums up how I feel about myself, my life and my beauty. My beauty is my spaciousness, my ability to deeply love myself and share that with others.

Something beautiful stirred deep in my soul during the intense month long excavation and practice of compassionate judgment.  I fell in love with myself. All of my self .  For the first time in 49 years I understand and see my sacredness.  It is beautiful.  I am sacred and I am beautiful. What is really in the mirror? Not an outer manifestation of perfection, but love.  I am love.

 

Joy

Joy

Heart’s Deepest Longing

Heart’s Deepest Longing

 

“What’s difficult in life is to stay centered when somebody does or says something that tempts us to close our hearts….. That is hard. But that is also how we grow. We go through those circumstances in order to evolve into people who can hold to our loving center no matter what the world throws us.” Rudyard Kipling

 

For one week I laid supine on the cool wooden floor on top of my yoga mat learning to guide Yoga Nidra, a method of guided meditation intended to deeply rejuvenate and relax all levels of being. An integral inquiry of the practice is to connect with your heart’s deepest longing.

I couldn’t.

No matter how I wanted to, no matter how I forced it, tried to allow it, invite it, wish for it, hope for it, I couldn’t.  I eventually gave up on it. My mind whirling: What should I want? What do I need?  I surrendered to the block and set an intention to remain open.

Amidst this frustrating and seemingly effortless practice, my father who is 85 years old and has dementia ran away from my house. The juxtaposition of me spending hours unsuccessfully trying to connect with my heart and my 85 year old father easily acting on his became a clarion experience.

Driving 85 miles an hour down the turnpike when I got the call that he had set out at high noon on foot on one of the hottest days of the summer drove me to desperation. Slides depicting worst case scenarios repeatedly flashed in my head of him lost in the woods, laying dead by the pond, hit by a truck on the side of the road. Headlines of the derelict daughter haunted me. I pulled my car over, stopped myself, sat and breathed. I somehow knew he’d be alright, I just needed to find him as soon as possible. Dialing into my former prosecutor’s skillset, I covered all bases of the search, routes he would likely navigate, clothes he was wearing, canine officers’ schedules just in case…. Emails, calls and texts flew as I set out my multi jurisdictional dragnet to ensnare him. Though I knew he was setting out for only one place, like a wily cat, he eluded me. While I frantically received calls from friends and relatives as far as Springfield reporting sightings of him, he was eventually found contentedly sitting in his backyard, some 10 miles from his start point.

I greeted him, wanting to respond with anger, frustration. He looked up at me. With clarity in his eyes, sublime softness in his face, he emanated peacefulness. He knew exactly where he was and what he had done and was deeply pleased, content.  He was proud of himself. At a time when he experiences so much daily loss, confusion and fear, he had successfully navigated his own way HOME.  His response to me was, “I had a great day Mary Beth and I’m going to do it again tomorrow.” He saw no danger in his action, all he could feel was renewed self worth. He had proven to himself that he was still highly capable.  Drawing on his determination, physical stamina, and heart’s desire, he had traveled back to his home, regardless of the tears cried by his grandkids out on bikes searching for their grandfather.  For me, it was a day of high emotion and intensity. For him, it was a day of joy. Like a homing pigeon, he could still find his way home.

I felt my anger melt, my heart breaking open once again in the midst of a challenging new situation with him. There was indeed a part of me that admired his capacity to manifest what he felt deep inside, how he so easily connected with his heart and act on it despite danger and logic. Unencumbered by rational thought, it was imperative he listen to his heart, act on those impulses and get that need met. Feeling I had failed him, I wondered why, despite my best attempts to attune my daily life to his needs, keep him engaged with daily travel, a diet of his favorite home cooked foods, and outdoor activities to keep him fit, he still wanted to be home. It was now obvious. His home was his heartspace. That space I longed to connect with, he so easily found the physical manifestation of.  His home was his heart’s deepest longing.

This day challenged me yet again to learn to communicate with him in a new way. Learning to understand what motivated his action and relating to him from a place of understanding and love was the only answer. As dementia has stripped his ability to conform his behavior to societal norms of male emotional restraint, he continues to reveal parts of himself to me that amaze me. As he goes to the space of emptiness, what remains is that his essence is love. This realization made more remarkable by the lifetime of emotional bottling,

Dr. Brene Brown, a top social scientist has made a career researching vulnerability and whole hearted living. In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection“, she concludes from her research that, “all human beings are deeply wired for connection”.  The notion is beguilingly simple, provocative and true. It explains our search for faith, community and intimate partnership as well as more troubling patterns of behavior that serve to block and avoid deep connection.  When I see the behavior of my father at this stage of life, he embodies whole hearted living.  The search for his home, his unceasing inquiry of all females as potential companions, and his readiness to strike up conversation with all strangers he meets serve as points of potential connection for him each day. Each greeted with the same open vulnerable sharing of his heart intention.

Living with and taking care of my father is not a virtuous act. Often my children serve to light the way for me to transform burden to blessing. They readily appreciate his constant serenading of strangers, his daily inquiries into the status of their love life.  As the great escape happened that day, they too felt great fear but easily released it to compassion for their grandfather, gently plying him with examples of good behavior that would warrant more positive attention in the  future, hoping their schooling in positive behavior support would deter future dangerous escapades.

I’d like to believe everything happens for a reason, to teach us, to lead us to a greater opening . What I learned as I experienced the tumult of emotions that day, was that if I view life from his heart centered perspective, almost all our actions make sense. In each moment we either move toward love or away from it in fear.  Dementia’s grim aspects are often all that is reported as family’s grapple with loss and new states of relating. We have experienced our fair share of those moments.  Certainly this day had watershed moments of new despair about my father’s path with dementia. But committing to surrender rather than control on this journey has altered the experience. My father’s dementia continues to call my family to view uncomfortable challenges with compassion and love. It has made us a better family as he shows us the importance of expressing love, receiving love and connecting with heart’s deepest longing at all times in life. IMG_3494