Mother Issues

I wish I didn’t but I do.  I have issues; more than a couple.  

I’m a fifty-eight-year-old woman; I understand the nature of personal responsibility and don’t play the victim. There are simply facts that have influenced who I am and how I live in the world; one of the larger issues being my relationship with my Mother.

Ruth Wylodene Sturdivant Ramey had a big name and even larger presence.  

She weighed 89 pounds when she got married, a diminutive, complicated combination of waif and warrior.  My Mother played both princess and martyr; she, the consummate shapeshifter whose presence, though loved, was not to be trusted.  This planted within me as a child, a quiet bud of longing that took root until I too became a shapeshifter, never quite sure of my center.

It happens a lot. Despite our best efforts to defy, know better, and resist the pull of our past, many of us still end up becoming our parents.  I find this ironic and also hysterical.

I spent the larger part of my life disgusted and impatient with my Mother. I thought she was weak, manipulative, and narcissistic. I was embarrassed by her inability to manage her emotions, be consistent or take responsibility for her behavior.  She was everything I did not want to be, and that resistance to her left its mark.  I nursed a secret aversion for the feminine, a misogynis, afraid that being female also meant you were weak, indecisive, and irrational.  Predictably I cultivated the more “masculine” parts of myself.

I took charge, pursued success, and denied vulnerability.  I then systematically cut my losses when things didn’t work out for me.  I stuffed my emotions by overworking, overeating and overdrinking . I then took it to the other “extreme” and over exercised to try to right the ship.

And for a long time, it worked- sort of. There were jobs’ lost and relationship troubles and divorces, but through it all, I remained stubbornly hopeful and certain my life was on the right path.  My sons grew into men, my businesses expanded and I met a man who loved me, challenged me and made me laugh.  

I began to believe I might deserve this happy life and gave myself permission to enjoy it.

Last year was difficult, unexpected and distinctly unwelcome.  I thought I had done the work necessary to be a fully present, balanced and loving adult, but I was wrong.  The old shapeshifter resurfaced, adrift again, only this time it was worse, much worse because I’d believed myself to be so grounded, and faithful and true.

I didn’t see the hole, but I fell anyway, grasping for handholds that weren’t there.  From the bottom, I could see the light above but had neither the faith nor the motivation to muster the climb.

Time passed.  Things happened.  People helped me.

The other part of my “Mother” story is the fact that before Ruth Wylodene was my Mother, I had another one, the Mother that gave birth to me. This Mother was unmarried and could not keep me, despite the fact that she was already raising my brother.  This Mother planted the first seeds of fear and shame in me because even in the womb you can tell when you’re not wanted.

When I was in my early forties, living large and in charge as the manager of a local health club, I decided it was time to find that birth Mother.  Adoption records were sealed in the state of Missouri, so I had to hire a private investigator – Laura was her name- to help me find her.  She was an intermediary, designated to make contact so that my Mother and I could finally connect.

I sent my carefully crafted letter, with pictures of my three sons, my husband, adopted parents and siblings to my birth Mother.  I assured her I was happy in my own life but also had questions; questions only she could answer.  I already began bargaining with her saying that even if she could not meet me, could she please write and tell me my story.

I explained to her that when you’re adopted, it’s like having your portrait painted on glass- I needed her to give me the background to give context to my features.

The process moved slowly despite my anxious inquiries for updates.  I picked up the phone at work one day and was surprised to hear Laura’s voice on the line. I wasn’t expecting her to call me, so it took me awhile to process what she was saying.

“No more contact,” she repeated.  Your mother returned your letter with the words, ‘No more contact’ written on the outside.”

“No more contact?  So, is this is it?”

“I’m afraid so.  It’s her choice.”

I put down the phone and began to sob.  Crying was something I didn’t do back then, especially at my workplace, but I did that day.

I don’t know with whom I was angrier- her for rejecting me, or with myself for believing she wouldn’t.

I gathered my things and quietly left work.  I sat in my car for a long time until it was time to pick up my son Sean from school. He was eight years old.

When he got in the car, seeing my eyes and face swollen, he immediately asked, “Mom!  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong sweetheart.  I’m just tired,” but it was obvious I’d been crying, and that meant something was definitely wrong.   We drove a few minutes in silence; I could feel him staring at me.

“Mom!  What’s wrong?  Are you sick?”

“No, I’m not sick.  I’m fine.  I just had a bad day.”

Always the sensitive soul, Sean, now near tears himself said, “Mom, you’re scaring me.  What’s wrong?”

I pulled the car off the road, exhaling as I explained what happened, “Something  happened today Sean and it has NOTHING to do with you and I am not sick.”  I told him how I’d been adopted and that for years I’d wondered who my parents were and why they would give me away.  I hadn’t told him or pursued it because I didn’t want to hurt Grandma and Grandpa. Finally, I’d hired someone to help me locate her, and they had.

“Today the lady called and said they’d found my birth Mother, but she’d sent my letter back and wrote on the envelope NO MORE CONTACT” at which point I burst into tears.

In that moment, I felt stupid and sorry I’d exposed my son to my pain.  He just looked at me for a few seconds, thinking. Then he said, “Well I’m sorry Mom but she must be a “B,” because who wouldn’t want to know YOU.”

His innocent compassion catapulted me back into the present.

What did it matter what she thought of me? I was his Mother and he loved me unconditionally. His honesty offered a profound spiritual lesson: focus on what is and let go of what is not.

This was the moment that mattered, sitting in the car on the side of the road with my eight-year-old, not some story about a stranger who, for whatever reason, chose not be in my life.

I wish I could say that I learned this important lesson that day, but it’s still something I remind myself to work on often.  The laws in Missouri have recently changed, making all adoption records public.  My friend, an attorney, is working to locate my birth records.  I am not looking for the same reasons I did then, but I am still looking for my birth Mother.

Longing, loss, and heartbreak have been recurring themes in my life. But so are loving big, laughing hard, taking risks and pushing my limits.

I’ve been told I need to learn to let go of control, accept help and be vulnerable- in short, embrace my feminine side. I wouldn’t disagree, but it still makes me smile. “Working” on this isn’t the answer- it’s much harder to simply accept, trust and let go.

I am not a Motherless Child.  I’ve had two of them: one gave me life and the other just made it a lot more interesting.

I’m not sure why I chose to believe their decisions were my fault; that somehow I was damaged, unloveable or wrong. I suspect it was simply because I was a kid who wanted to feel loved.

I like the poet Rumi’s words, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

That sounds true to my heart, and I’m just going with it.

Spring in Kansas City

It’s Spring in Kansas City, despite the cooler than average temperatures. Everyone is a bit on edge, cranky that we’ve been robbed of the Springtime weather we deserve.  When will all this cold and rain stop they ask? But as I sit here writing, I can hear the robin’s song and they are not worried. They sing because the can and they do, and they don’t complain.

Recently I have been bone-tired, feeling sluggish, bloated and off-center physically which, I have attributed to a new awareness of my age.  Alex, my Arvigo therapist, also suggested it is the result of the work we are doing together- as I have let go of lifelong trauma stored in my body, I have softened and am more connected with how I really feel.  I am smiling right now because a larger part of me liked feeling a bit taut, tense with adrenaline, even if that energy came from anxiety and holding and grief.  Now, it seems, I am softer and more compassionate, but tired and still dealing with anxiety and grief.

I know from experience this is temporary- that in fact, it is simply life.  I also know that my feeling the pain is not as painful as my resisting pain, and if I am honest with myself, that is probably the reason I am exhausted and sad. Bracing simply isn’t as effective as it once was, taking more energy because my spirit has shifted and doesn’t flow that way anymore. Of course, embracing the pain because is the lesson here.  Embracing what “is” is always the lesson.

For whatever reason, as I was preparing to meditate this morning, I reached for a book that someone (perhaps Peggy Peterson) gave me years ago.  Written by Buddhist Monk Pema Chodron, it focuses on the Lojong Teachings on awakening compassion and fearlessness.  Who couldn’t use some of that, right?

The book uses 59 slogans and simple commentary to help train our minds when we run into resistance in our lives.  This resistance is innate, so these slogans can pack a powerful reminder if we employ them.  It’s mindfulness training to help us remember we have a choice- not simply a reaction to every moment.

Four Reminders for your daily life—- try to:

    1. Maintain awareness of the preciousness of human life.
    2. Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone.
    3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around.
    4. Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.

 

Wow, sounds familiar.  At night, when I wake up, which is often, I often ask my angels to speak because I am quiet and can hear them better.  Last night they repeated what they have been saying for a while now, “let go, trust, you are loved, all is as it should be.”

Of course, that should be the easiest thing in the world, because they are just trying to help me remember that the pot of gold that is already mine; but as a human, an emotional human, I tend to forget, be fearful and want to insinuate myself against the flow of the Universe.  Seems kind of funny as I actually write this.

In Buddhism, the belief is that we can use everything we encounter in our lives, pleasant and painful, to awaken genuine, uncontrived compassion.  By making friends with what we reject, what we see as “bad” in ourselves or others, or learning to be generous with what we cherish and see as “good”, we can gradually reach Bodhichitta, or “awakened heart.”  This is something we already have but usually have not yet discovered.   Our confusion and misery come from not knowing that the gold is right there- but unnoticed, from always looking somewhere else.

The Lojong’s message is that if it’s painful you can learn to hold your seat and move closer to that pain. Reverse the usual pattern which is to split, to escape. Go against the grain and hold your seat. Lojong introduces a different attitude towards unwanted stuff; if it’s painful, you become willing not just to endure it, but embrace it, to let it awaken your heart and soften you.

And if we experience something that is delightful or pleasant, usually we want to grab it and make it last.  We’re afraid it will end. We’re not inclined to share it.  The Lojong teachings encourage us to think of other people and wish for them to feel that way too- to share the wealth and be generous with your joy.  Give away what you most want.  Be generous with your insights and delights. Instead of holding tight, fearing that they’re going to slip away, open up and share them.

Whether it’s pain or pleasure, with practice, we begin to let our experience be as it is, without manipulating it, pushing it away, or grasping for it. The pleasurable aspects, as well as the painful ones, become our key to awakening our Bodhichitta- our hearts.
I’ve been wearing a rose quartz heart necklace around my heart for a few weeks. When a young woman at the coffee shop counter commented that she liked it yesterday, I smiled and replied, “Thank you. I’m working on my heart.”  She replied, “It’s a good time to work on our hearts.”  We were both right, except maybe it’s not supposed to be work- maybe our hearts are just fine already, and we just need to stand down.

Standing down.  Not my strong suit, but I’m trying to accept that, too.  If the robin can, perhaps I can, too.

One Soul. One Source.

I’m guilty. Maybe you are, too.

When someone we care about is having trouble, we want to help them, intercede, solve their problem.  This presents itself in many ways- rescuing, enabling, justifying, or appeasing them.  Alternatively, it may be distancing, judging them, and becoming impatient. Either way, we forget one fundamental truth: each of us is fully capable and wholly responsible for defining the course of our own lives.

Instead of viewing this as the very essence of our time on Earth, a remarkable gift and opportunity for learning, we often choose to suffer, resist, eradicate or deny the issue.  This is what causes pain.

I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to help others.

Without hesitation, I offer advice, remedies, strategies, and solutions.  I see pain and I know how to fix it- why wouldn’t I explain how?

On a recent trip, I met a young woman who’d been in a horrible car accident several months before. She’d been near death, but not ready to die, had pleaded with God to return her to life.

Her wish was granted and she woke up to find her pelvis shattered requiring multiple surgeries, inscrutable pain and months of physical therapy. She was returned to life, but it was a much different life than before. 

When I heard her story, it was hard to believe she’d had to learn how to walk again because she looked completely whole.

On a day trip to Tikal, she quietly shared her worries about being able to handle the rigors of the day. She was apprehensive, and at that moment seemed fragile to me.  Aware of this, I worried about her as we hiked, climbed and ascended staircase after staircase to view the ruins. Many times I checked myself, wanting to ask her if she was all right, but I didn’t. I realized my worry was not required- in fact, it would have disrespected her experience that day.

Instead of hovering and reminding her of her challenge, I simply asked, “How’s your butt?”

As it turned out, her butt was just fine and we all had a magical day together in Tikal. As we sat in our circle the next day, telling our classmates about our adventure, my friend, near tears told the group about her surgery and concerns about going to Tikal.

She also told them how wonderful it was to discover she was up to the task, stronger than she believed, marking a significant milestone in her recovery.

As I listened, my eyes welled with tears. Her story not only inspired me but shed a huge light for me as well.  In the guise of helping others, I’d often overstepped my boundaries by either giving unsolicited advice, urging a certain outcome, or secretly judging, withholding compassion, and distancing myself.

It’s natural to want to help others. The issue isn’t the help itself but the intention behind it.  

Now when I hear myself giving advice or providing an agenda, I check in with myself to see if it’s triggering some need within me to fix, control or make the world right.

As a child, I learned early that pleasing was a way to feel loved, safe and accepted.  That meant being hyper-vigilant, always ready to remedy, repair, or make better. This wasn’t all bad as I’ve gone on to create a business centered around service and helping others. But as an adult, I also realize, it’s not my responsibility to fix, cure or change anyone else.

Who am I to think I know better what is best for someone else? The arrogance has been so well disguised I didn’t recognize it. When I give advice, suggest solutions, urge action, whose agenda am I really invested in- theirs or mine?

This isn’t just a boundary issue.  This is a spiritual issue.

And so, when I am triggered, I remember a long night when I was suffering, feeling lost and hopeless, desperately wanting to help someone who would not be helped. Crying, I heard a voice. The voice said calmly, “Stop. This isn’t yours. He’s fully capable. He’s able to choose. It’s not about you. Remember, ‘One Soul. One Source.’ ”

I took that to mean that we are all one Soul connect to one Source.  But each Souls journey to Source is entirely their own.

What is Source?  I think it is LOVE.  And Love simply IS.  

It has no need to attach, make right, insinuate or adjust.  Love is not attached to an outcome. Outcomes, agendas, judgment, needing to feel helpful… that’s something else altogether- that’s Ego, the real cause of our separateness and suffering.

Look to your right

As I’ve gotten older, perhaps because I feel time differently, perhaps because overall I fear less, I like putting myself in situations that scare me… in a good way.

Recently a few of my Pilates 1901 team and I went climbing at the nearby ROKC climbing gym in North Kansas City.

While we were excited to be together, I could also sense some apprehension as we laced up our climbing shoes and teased one another about the way our butts looked in the harnesses. Looking up at the little mounds and hand holds on the 30 foot walls, we were secretly thinking, “Will this be fun? Will it be too hard? Will I be able to do it? That looks awfully high.”

Ulysses, our playful but instructive guide got us going on the walls quickly. When asked who wanted to go first, I volunteered, mostly because no one else did. I’d had climbing experience, mostly on ice, so I felt like I should lead. “You look like the fearless leader,” quipped Ulysses.

Little did he know.

Unlike my experience on ice, ROKC offers self belay which means you are held safe to the wall by a top side rigging system which is triggered by the movement and weight of your body. Simply stated, when you need the rope to hold you, it is there. But, you need to trust it.

As I climbed the beginners path , feeling the gentle tug of the belay and finding the handholds and footing secure, my confidence soared and I scrambled up grateful for the ease. When it was time to let myself down, Ulysses instructed me to sit back and let the rope catch me so I could safely traverse back down.

So I did, only I didn’t.

When I sat back, there was a slight delay before the rope caught me and I freaked out, twisting and flailing into the wall several times before landing with a thud on the (padded) floor. I looked up at Ulysses accusingly, “What happened?” “You didn’t sit back and walk down.” Which, of course, was true. What he didn’t say was, “You didn’t trust the rope you control freak.”

Eventually all of us got the hang of climbing and descending, cheering each other on, enjoying ourselves as we improved with each climb. We were also humbled and thrilled by the physicality of it, correctly predicting how sore we would be the next day.

A few predictably soared. Cara, a natural athlete and rock star, negotiated her way up the rock like a pro. Megan and Kristin, young and lithe, skipped up the rock like little ponies.

And Tricia, married to a rock climber, impressed all with her experienced cat like splits and grip skills.

By evenings end, we all felt accomplished and agreed it was a great team challenge.

Ulysses, sensing my reluctant desire to push further, offered to belay me as I went up a more advanced route. As I picked and clawed my way up I felt his support on the rope which felt good and familiar.

But it wasn’t enough when I found myself perched, spread eagle, and precariously unbalanced. Tired and clinging, my left leg, deeply flexed and unstable, simply refused to work. My left hip, having endured three hip replacements, simply refused to work I tried and tried to make my muscles work, but it was not happening.

I began to shake and got pissed which only made me shake more. “Okay, that’s it! Let me down Ulysses! I’m done.” He pulled the rope tighter and said, “Hang on and rest a minute.”

Frustrated, I said, “I’m done! I can’t do this. It’s my hip- I’ve had it replaced and it’s not working! Let me down.”

“Just rest for a minute. I’ve got you.”

I just hung there, totally annoyed at this man child who had no compassion for a geriatric like me. How old was he anyway? Thirty? I was tired, pissed and uncomfortably exposed. What else could I do? I inhaled; and then I exhaled.

“Okay, now,” Ulysses coached, “look to your right.”

I barely heard him because I was pouting.    “What?” I snapped back.

“Look to your right.”

And as I looked to my right, of course, I saw it- another option- another way up. I hesitated before I let my left leg down (actually it slipped off the foothold), and gracelessly moved my body to the handhold to the right. With his help, I also found my footholds and breathing heavy, clinging to the wall, grateful to have made it, came face to face with a child of about ten years old, passing me on the climb.

Okay Lord, I thought, I get it!

My fear had gotten the best of me and I’d panicked, using my hip as an excuse. Fear not only blinded me to finding another solution but threw me directly into victim mode. Gross.

Thankfully Ulysses was there to remind me I had choices. I climbed the rest of the way up, right beneath that ten year old and felt really, really good about it.

 

When the evening was coming to a close, I asked Ulysses how old he was. He was twenty four; younger than my youngest son. I smiled at that and gave him a good tip.

I hope he’s my coach again, because you know, I have to go back.

Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places

The truth about body obsession, self- loathing, and longing…

As someone who has worked in the health and fitness arena for over thirty years, I’ve seen and experienced my fair share of body obsession and all its incarnations. By body obsession, I mean our endless pursuit of a better body, weight loss, and perfection, based on the misconception that once we lose that last 10 lbs we will somehow be “better” “more acceptable” “more powerful” or “more loveable.”

You might think this is ironic since as a trainer and fitness guru, I’ve spent my entire life talking about self-improvement via weight loss, exercise, and nutrition. 

We say want to “be healthy” to “feel better,” but really, what does that mean? I’ve seen clients lose and then gain hundreds of pounds, not because they were weak, lacked motivation or were unprepared.  Their heads were totally in the game- the part that was missing were their hearts. It’s impossible to take good care of yourself when you’re at war with yourself.  Fear, self-judgement, procrastination, apathy, sarcasm- these are just a few of the ways we sabotage, prolong, or deny ourselves true health, joy and happiness. 

 

At War…

One of the most common expressions of this war is a pre-occupation and dissatisfaction with our bodies. We don’t  like our thighs, our bottoms are too big or too small, the skin on our belly and arms is beginning to sag. 

Tom, a friend of mine, refers to his body as a “Meat sack.”  A deeply spiritual person, Tom encourages others to simply appreciate the miracle of our body and cherish it as our physical home on Earth.  Our bodies and consciousness are deeply connected and yet, we act as if they weren’t.

When we lack respect for the body’s tireless service to us (despite our abuse and misuse), no amount of “application” (ie. dieting, exercising, and wardrobing) will change how peacefully or joyfully we live in them. Accepting and valuing our bodies, imperfections and all, is the first necessary step toward healing that hole in our heart; that pit we feed with our fear, shame and feelings of unworthiness. 

In her book, The Answer is Simple- Love Yourself, Live Your Spirit, Sonia Choquette writes about the body, “To love yourself, you must love your body as well- it comes as a package deal. No matter what kind of body you ended up with, it’s the only one you have, so you must live with it whether you want to or not. Realize how important your physical self to your life’s journey- not for the approval it wins from others, but for the service it provides for your Spirit. It’s your vessel, your carrier, your means of experiencing life. Like a car that gets from point A to point B, it’s your mode of transportation on Earth and will work much better for you if you treat it with a little respect and care.”

 

 

The Struggle is real…

As someone who has struggled for years with my weight, body image and self-acceptance, I was constantly looking for love in wrong places. This has included desperation dieting, over-exercising, obsession with perfection and punishing myself for my repeated “failures.” My only real failure was to deny the fact that I was already loveable, whole and okay. Once I set about doing the inside work, the impetus to care for my body fell right into place. That’s because mindset and motivation, like our body and spirit, are inseparable.. we can’t have one without the other.

 

Letting go to have more…

As I’ve gotten older I am learning more about my body and appreciating it more for the amazing home it is. It’s no longer about losing 5 lbs, or fitting into the size 2 or feeling “acceptable”; it’s about being able to cherish the moments of my life, doing the things that I want to do, with the people I love, in a healthy, strong, 59-year-old body.

It’s respect for the little moments which add up to the big moments which define the quality of this life I have. I don’t want to miss another moment because I’m feeling “fat” or “depressed” or simply “less than.”

That’s a decision- that’s an agreement that I no longer entertain nor accept. Life is short and amazing. I don’t have time to waste making choices that don’t support me, my dreams, my relationships or feeling freaking fantastic.

Come to think of it, none of us do.  So why not choose to celebrate?  It’s so much more fun.

Belize Three Ways

Belize, Part One.

It’s not often you get the chance to leave the country for an extended period, and frankly, it took me until I was forty-five to leave it at all, so the novelty of travel (all travel) is still a thrill for me.  This most recent trip to Belize was unique in that I would be experiencing three separate trips in one, three trips that like all great travel experiences, reunites you with parts of your self you may have misplaced, forgotten or simply not yet discovered.  This was the case with Belize.

When I told Herb I was planning a work retreat in Belize, I could see the wheels spinning behind his blue eyes. He likes to be with me and I could tell he was angling for a way to be in Belize as well.  I knew that, of course, and we made plans for the two of us to go down a bit early to play and prepare for my retreat.

In case you’ve missed this fact, Herb and I had one suck ass year last year.  Illness, homelessness, inopportune acts of nature and major surgery all took their toll not only on our health but our relationship.

We knew we’d make it, but it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty and there were scars.  This trip and our trip to Greece over the holidays was to rest, heal and start anew.  And that’s what we did.

One of the things I love about Herb is his generosity.  I don’t understand “frugal” or “cheap” even though I’ve never had any money in my life before.  I always tell Herb how much I appreciate that he treats me to places I’d never have been able to go before, to which he replies, “I’m treating myself, and you’re just here with me.”  Which, of course, I love because it’s so untrue- he loves treating me!

So, Belize Part One is all about a tony resort, being waited on all day, lounging by the pool and eating and drinking way too much.  It was also, to Herbs credit, a workday or two as Dr. Johnson (my retreat co-host) had come down a few days early to prep for our first international T School retreat.  That involved the two of us running around Ambergris Caye trying to get the last bit of our retreat details nailed down.

Lesson learned… NEVER rent a house, no matter how amazing with a shitty property manager.  It’s unnecessary stress, the worst kind.

Our Retreaters began arriving the same day Herb left the island, February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Herb was a trooper about going home as he knew #1, I would be working at this retreat, #2, we’d had a great visit together, and #3 I’d promised to come home.

 

Belize, Part Two.

This was our first retreat out of the country and as you can imagine, there was some anxiety about getting it all right to provide our 12 expectant participants the experience we wanted them to have.  The great news is we just happened to get the most amazing group of women ever!  They got along together, were laid back, fun and participatory.

For folks wary of women in groups, we proved that the stereotype unfounded.  We bonded over wine, tableside talks, exercise and open discussions about what we needed to do to shift in our lives forward with more balance, health, and joy.

It also helped that we had an amazing home, private pool, beach, and dock to do Inversion Therapy, Yoga Puncture, Mindful Movement or just kicking back.

At breakfast, we met to cover educational topics including brain health, hormone balance, skin health, the benefits of meditation, eating real food and being a part of a female tribe.

After that, folks were free to rent golf carts, explore the Caye, get a massage, facial, hang out by the pool, read, walk, sleep or learn Inversion Therapy (and what a spot to do it)!

Evenings we reconvened around the table for delicious and healthy meals lovingly prepared by Fanny and Siria, the two most amazing cooks ever!  Fresh fish, veggies, fruits, tortillas, and desserts left no one longing for more.

Some evenings we convened again, but often folks went off to their rooms to read, out to a local watering hole, or simply a starlit walk on the beach.

The dock next to ours was so low to the ocean that at night when you walked out on it, it truly looked like you were walking straight into the dark water.  It was scary and also thrilling.  One special night, Tricia Collins (friend and 1901 coach) and I held hands as we walked out that long pier.

With only the stars for light, our steps into the void became a metaphor for overcoming our fears- it was frightening, but in a good way.  It was an experience I’ll hold in my memory for my lifetime and I am glad I was with Tricia to do it.

I guess what I am getting at is that in addition to learning together via planned discussions and workbooks, we also had time to learn other ways:  downtime, the wind, the ocean, and the quiet. There really was time for each of us to simply BE, and that was magical.

Side Splitting laughter from a decidedly WRONG game of Cards Against Humanity, freestyle dancing to shared tunes via Spotify, and morning workouts bound us together as a group and as a tribe.

When it was time to go home, it was bittersweet.  While folks knew it was time to go, it also felt wrong to have to leave so soon.  I think most of us felt like close friends by the end of that retreat (closer friends if we’d already known each other.)

We had participants from as far away as Atlanta and New Jersey and all offered support and feedback for future retreats.  These women taught Dr. Johnson and me as much or more than we’d been prepared to teach them.

There is immense power when people come together for positive change and we all felt it.

 

 

Belize Part Three.

Dr. Johnson and I stayed after our peeps left to discuss the retreat before catching a cab to the airport. We talked until it was time for her to fly back home.  I would not be going with her, I was staying on for another adventure of my own.

A friend of mine and I’d been talking a few weeks in advance of my trip to Belize over a personal situation that I’d been dealing with – it was really the accumulation of many months of fatigue and mild depression from the stressful year Herb and I had experienced in 2017.  I was in a funk, couldn’t get out of it and felt a little desperate because I am normally a happy person.  I was not happy; in fact, I was miserable, and it was time to address my issues.

My friend, Sabin, suggested I look up a woman who did retreats in Belize, a healer of sorts who had written a few books on the healing power of plants and the Rainforest.  When I looked this person up online, I discovered that she was offering a retreat, one that was offered only once a year in the jungles of Belize, the very day after my retreat finished in Belize.

I took this as a sign and registered the same day.  I had no idea what it would be like, what kind of people would be attending, or what, exactly, I was to learn. That was at once exciting and uneasy, but I was ready.

I spent my last day in Ambergris Caye, walking the beach walks, eating plantain chips and homemade guacamole, and sleeping.  I didn’t realize how tired I was until I laid down on the sofa in my hotel room and quickly passed out.

The next morning I called Herb to tell him all was well and getting ready to board my plane to Belize City where I would meet my co-participants for the 2-hour ride through the jungle to our destination at Chaa Creek just outside the city of San Ignacio.

That van ride was not something I was looking forward to and as I flew over the azure water below, I had a moment of buyer’s remorse, longing simply to stay in the sky.

I calmed myself by remembering what Herb had said, “Honey, if it’s wackadoodle, you just get on a plane and come on home.  You don’t have to stay.”   I laughed because he was referencing another retreat that we’d both attended that was completely “wackadoodle” as in “scarycultlikeweirdos.”  Let’s just say it left a mark.

As it turns out my time in the jungle was neither “wackadoodle” or scary.  It was phenomenal. From the time I arrived at Chaa Creek, walking thru the darkness to our Jungle Camp, serenaded by a cacophony of birds, monkeys, and other unseen creatures, I felt I’d come home.

I’d asked for a private cabin if possible, (admittedly spooked by the possibility of a potluck roommate) and was relieved when that wish was granted.  When one of my campmates asked how I scored that, I replied, “I asked.”  Little did I know at that moment how much I would learn alone in that cabin, writing, crying, listening, and laughing in the darkness, entertained by midnight concerts by enthusiastic Howler monkeys.

The first evening we had a dinner of rice, beans, corn tortillas and some overcooked vegetables prepared by Docimo, our camp director, who as it turned out, entrusted our care to his entire family.  He’d been working in that Jungle Camp for twenty-three years, so it was only natural that his family became part of the business, too.

They took excellent care of us and seemed very concerned our satisfaction, so much so that I, carb-averse freak that I am, ended up eating beans, rice, chips, and tortillas all week long.  One night when they served inedible red snapper (that they called Tilapia) I cut it up in little pieces and pushed it around my plate so as not to offend them, to the great entertainment of my table mates.

 

The workshop, on meditation, grounding and the healing property of plants turned out to be not only interesting but exactly what I needed.

I had the opportunity to be far away from home, in a land so beautiful and foreign, I could completely immerse myself in the teachings.  I made friendships I know will last a lifetime and discovered kindness beyond measure in our group.

Our teachers were strong, learned, caring and compassionate.  I was unprepared for the impact this experience would have on my life: grounding, clarity and time away helped me mourn the losses of 2017 and much further back.  Healing was needed and healing was provided.

The last day as we went around the room, each recapping our experience together I said, “I came here to reclaim my faith, somehow missing the fact that I came here on faith.”  That kind of sums it up for me.  In the busyness and overstimulation of our life in these United States, it’s easy to forget we already possess all we’re seeking.  Like love, and value, and grace, and well, faith.

Beyond the noise, there is quiet, stillness and peace.  It’s always there and always has been; we need only listen and trust.  That requires being still, and quiet and peaceful.  This is hard because nothing in our culture supports that.

Our rituals are gone, our connection to one another is on life support, and our sense of shared values is decimated daily by the news.  Our children are killing one another and the best protection we have to offer is more guns to arm the teachers?  No wonder it’s hard to have faith these days.

But we must.  We must wake up each day and ask ourselves what it is we can do to make our world better.  That means taking action each day to be positive, be still, stay grounded and be a conduit for love.  If that sounds naive or Pollyanna, I don’t care because we all have that choice to make.

Love or fear?

It really all comes down to that.  Sounds simple, and I guess it really is. Perhaps remembering that simplicity will help us heal.  It’s time.

What a Big Wall of Ice Can Teach You

My first trip to Ouray to ice climb was several years ago.  We went to meet our dear friends Chuck and Doris Downey who are avid rock and ice climbers. Each year, between mid-January and mid-February, ice climbers from all over the world congregate in tiny Ouray, Colorado, home to one of the world’s greatest ice climbing parks. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too- who in the world gives a shit about climbing big icicles?  Well, apparently a whole lot of people.

That first trip I was still rather untested in the outdoor world.  Sure, I’d hiked a bit but was more than a little terrified of heights.

I‘d only rocked climbed once and was so scared that my leg bounced uncontrollably as I clung to the rock in fear (this, I later found out is known as “sewing machine leg.”) I hated it, hated being terrified and hated that although I was the youngest in my newfound foursome, I was the least competent of all.  Always the positive cheerleaders, my new friends said I‘d be “a natural on the rock” IF I lost about 10 lbs.  Yep, that’s right.  Not only was I incompetent, I was fat.

Needless to say, that stuck with me, making me a reluctant (and petulant) outdoors person.  Why would any rational person agree to this?  Bundled up in five layers of clothing, wearing Frankenstein boots and spikes, squeezed into a harness prohibiting any chance of peeing, I stood frozen in a gully so deep, dark, and cold it could be Siberia.  My rented boots hurt me so bad I cussed my friends with each lumbering step—- and there were a lot of steps since we also had to hike to the park to find a wall that was open and climbable.  And that was just the beginning of the fun.

My first climb I clawed and picked my way half way up the wall, shaking, cussing and sweating even though it was 40 below.  I was cold, thirsty and dying to be anywhere but in this crevice, on this wall, heart pounding, ego trampled, miserable in my task.

Reaching a spot which required skill, I tried in vain to get a good pick in the hard ice.  It simply bounced back in my hand with no result, over and over again.  I said to myself, in what I  thought was a whisper, “well, fuck this!”  then heard it echo down the walls for every other climber to hear.  Some thought it was funny,  I did not.  I was lowered down, humiliated, vowing never again put myself in this ridiculous situation.

In the years that followed, I made excuses…my foot hurt, I got a boob job, I was constipated, whatever, just to get out of that damn ice climbing. It got to the point that on our last trip, I just went snowshoeing myself, not even feigning interest. I didn’t want to and I didn’t have to, and that was that.

Last year, because Herb was sick, we didn’t go to Ouray.  In fact, we didn’t get to do a lot of things we’d normally do due to his illness. It took most of the year for us to finally discover what was behind his decline.  A trip to the Mayo Clinic precipitated immediate surgery on 8 vertebrae in his cervical and thoracic spine.  We prayed this would help him reclaim his balance, strength, ability to walk and workout again.  It was a really scary, shitty year.

This January, when we talked about ice climbing, it was Herb that would not climb.  Only 6 months post surgery, climbing was still out of the question.  This did not make him happy but we wanted to see our friends and decided to go anyway.

When making our plans, I announced that I would be climbing this year; not just because Herb could not, but because I could.  After losing so much the year before, I decided there was absolutely no excuse for me not to climb if there was still a chance I could.  I refused to take my strength and health for granted. I had a new attitude…and I actually wanted to climb.

Was I still scared?  Yes.  Was it still cold (not really as it was unseasonably warm in Ouray this year). Was I still self-conscious?  Not a bit. I got over myself and decided the challenge would be FUN and it was!  Was I any better a climber?  Well yes, actually, I was, but I still sucked.

I still hacked my way up the ice, but I became open to the lesson.  I wasn’t “bad,” but simply unpracticed.  This could be learned and I was learning it.

learned how to look for the best spots to place my tools, use my legs to steady myself and slow down, and balance my center of gravity, strength, and agility to climb better. But the biggest lesson I learned was to let go.

Let go of what other people thought of me up there.

Let go of being afraid and feeling desperate.

Let go of the fear of failing, appearing weak, unskilled and out of my depth.

When I lost my footing and fell, not once, but twice, I let Doris hold me tight so I only fell a few feet.  I learned to trust another person with my safety. And this time when my friends said I did great and praised my willingness, I took it in and laughed at my failures.  My heart still beat hard in my chest and temples, my legs shook, my arms were tired and spent… and I’d never felt more alive!

I let go. I fell, and I was caught. Most of all I climbed and climbed until I got to the top of that damn ice wall and I loved it.  I really did.  All except the part about not being able to pee.  That still sucked.

The Power of Grace

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Sean took this when Gracie was younger.

I first saw you on the internet. You were my rebound baby- chosen on a whim as I mourned the loss of my sweet little rat terrier Belle, a victim of a hit and run. Belle was fierce and protective, exposing her tiny canines to dogs and humans alike, any creature that would dare intercede between the two of us.

I’d wanted to replace her and decided I would rescue you, a furry little white pig from a farm in Iowa, put up for adoption by a Jack Russel Terrier rescue. I saw your wiry face on the website and made arrangements to make the drive to retrieve you.

Imagine my surprise when the dog that awaited me was so wild and compulsive, she wanted nothing to do with me.

You vomited the entire ride home from Iowa. I tried to comfort you, to hold you, but you were having none of that.

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Our grand-daughter Madeline with Gracie & Jack

They told me you were about 3 or 4 years old then, but you would have never known- you had the energy and wild spring of a puppy, and my friends laughed at the marks on my kitchen wall where I’d keep track of your high jumps.

You weren’t interested in cuddling or learning, and I wondered aloud to my son at the time. “What the hell am I going to do with this animal?”

An old soul, only ten at the time, Sean replied, “you’re just going to love her like you did Belle.” Other sympathetic friends wondered if I should ‘take her back,’ but you can’t un-rescue a rescue dog and I took my son’s advice and let go to simply love you.

That was the first lesson you taught me.

I became unattached to what I wanted you to be and accepted you as you were. I prayed for Grace and named you that to remind me. I forgave you when you peed on the carpet and dragged rabbit entrails into the house. I defended you when you picked fights with dogs four times your size at the dog park. And I laughed as you skipped and ran like a manic squirrel around our backyard.

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You had to wear a clown collar as you got older as you licked yourself silly.

I learned that you needed lots of exercise and we ran together in the days when that was possible for both of us.

When you got tired, you would just stop running and refuse to go on until you were good and ready. No amount of coaching or shame could motivate you; my little 18-pound Jack Russell taught me the power of clarity and decision in self-determination. You were headstrong and beautifully rebellious, and it drove me nuts.

As we both grew up, you opened your heart to me, gradually accepting the love and touch of others.

You began to let me rub your wiry neck and exposed your belly for a good scratch. I took note those many years ago when you ran up to Herb, on his first visit to our home, and jumped into his arms. It was so unlike you that it amazed me; you knew instinctively what I would come to learn in the coming months, that Herb would come to love me and you, and take care of both of us as our most trusted friend.

Small dogs live longer, and I was lucky to share your world for over fifteen years. I always underestimated your age because until recently you seemed so young, but like all of us, age became evident in your slowing down. First, you lost your hearing, then your eye-sight and finally your ability to tolerate the extraneous. You preferred your own space in the heated garage, away from distraction and noise so you could rest and simply be. In recent months when friends came to visit and asked where you were, we’d open the door to your room which we jokingly called the “nursing home.”

gracieSo, of course, we all knew your time to go was coming, but today was not the day I wanted to say goodbye.

You lead me once again, dear friend, as you stopped eating and drinking, finally needing our help to stand.

Today you could not walk and your breath, labored and heavy, let us know it was time to let you go. So we wrapped you in a blanket and cried all the way to the vet, knowing that you were counting on us to have the courage to help you go, but hating the decision all the same.

As we sat waiting for the doctor, both of us crying, I turned to Herb and said, “I guess this isn’t such a good display of how I am going to be able to help you.” But of course, that’s not true. Letting go of loved ones is a bittersweet reminder of what it means to be human… the very act of loving another creature all the while knowing life’s impermanence is one of our greatest gifts and, on days like today, challenges.

So I held you as you slipped away today Grace.

I loved you and saw you and took care of you through your last breath. Thank you for teaching me patience, and acceptance, surrender, and yes, perhaps, even grace. You, my love, were such a treasure.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I miss you already.

Power Struggle

God and I are in a power struggle. So far God’s up, three to zip.

First, it was Herb’s diagnosis with mold toxicity- a disease that was dormant in his body for years and triggered by a perfect storm of unfortunate misdiagnosis, bad meds and a horrible condo rental in Costa Rica.  His pneumonia in January signaled an abrupt change in our world, providing a new opportunity for education and adjustment that we’d just as soon have avoided.

Then came the systematic dismantling of our home and forced exodus to squatting in a hotel for a month.  

Like two Hobo’s we carried our clothing in sacks, bad food, and longed for the comfort and safety of a place that was our own.

Soon the day came when we could move back home.  The remodeling had not yet begun but the mold tests had come back negative which meant we could move home, even if our house was still torn apart and our furniture, neatly stacked in piles to provide a pathway from kitchen to bathroom, made us feel like hoarders.

It didn’t matter because we were home and we had a kitchen and we had a shower and most of all, we had a bedroom- our last refuge, where, at the end of the day, we could fall into bed, watch tv, rest, and simply be together.

The simple things are magnified when your life is a shit storm.

Three days after we’d moved back, on a sunny Wednesday morning, a swift and fierce gust of wind uprooted our neighbors 120-foot Oak tree, toppling it with all the force of a train, onto our house and through the roof of our bedroom.  I kid you not.  A fucking tree came straight through the roof of our bedroom.

I was in the back of the house when I heard the crash.

I was sure a transformer had blown because there was no storm outside to warrant the thunder.  I went out back to check on my dog Jack and we just looked at each other.  I looked around the backyard.  All good. That was strange, I thought, as I turned to go back inside.

When I glanced towards the front of the house, the front window was completely dark, blocked by branches, of course. Stunned, I opened the front door to discover my home buried beneath this giant tree.  I was also surrounded by curious and concerned neighbors who’d gathered due to the crash.  It was a neighbor, in fact, that pointed to the roof; I’d walked outside before discovering the damage to the bedroom.

Somehow, I’d missed the air thick with dust, the door blown off its hinges, the mangled metal air vent, and the gaping skylight created by the limb which now pierced our roof.

The bed, our last oasis, was destroyed.

I was in shock. I only managed the necessary tasks with the insurance company, etc. because the situation was so surreal.  But by Friday I’d come out of the ether and was in an extremely hateful mood.  I was angry and indignant and begging someone to knock the chip off my shoulder just so I’d have the excuse to clock them.

I cussed and swore at stupid drivers on the road.  I glared at strangers in the grocery store.  I flipped off a bus driver and honked at an old person.  

I was rude to a friend of mine on the phone.  This was entirely too much to handle and God was an asshole.

Later, I got a text from the friend who I’d been rude to.  This is what it said:

” I attended a charity event last night (to support orphaned kids/families in Rwanda, because of the genocide that occurred there several years ago), and heard a story about a Rwandan woman who watched her husband, kids, and entire family murdered. She was raped, had her teeth macheted from her mouth and barely fought back to life and lived. An American dental surgeon came to her village, and when he “restored her smile” with new teeth, she told him she couldn’t wait to go to the village where that savage lived, and smile at him, to show he could take everything that mattered to her, but he couldn’t take her smile.”

This got my attention.  Nothing like a well-timed (and meaning) text put your indulgent insolence into perspective.

A tree fell on my house.  It did not fall on me, my kids, or my husband.  I woke up on a Wednesday morning, a tree fell on my house and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to prevent it.  Random shit happens.  Lack of control and vulnerability is what scared me and made me angry, not the damn tree.

By this time in my life, you’d have thought I’d learned that control is mostly a myth, highly susceptible to abuse and always overrated.

So what do you do when God gives you a swift kick in the pants to remind you? You can tell him to GFH, or you can exhale, let it go, and, yes, even smile.

I’m pretty sure that’s what God was doing when he heard me tell HIM to GFH, anyway.

Like he doesn’t hear that all the time anyway, right?

Sunday The Right Way

It was a bright Sunday morning, the sun was shining bright in the Winter sky, and best of all, Herb woke up feeling better than he had in weeks. This was reason enough to make a plan for an outing, a field trip! (Back story: on our recent trip to Costa Rica, Herb contracted pneumonia which had the expected detrimental effect.)

We were both excited to enjoy a Sunday together, and, as we’d been recent shut ins, get the hell out of the house.

Cindy Cart, one of my clients, had generously shared tickets to an exhibit at the Nelson Atkins Art Gallery where she works. Another client had just reported that this unusual exhibit was fabulous and a must see, so I was eager to go and Herb, feeling so much better, was easy to coax. So after our morning ritual of coffee together in bed, we jumped in the shower, and, all smiles and unicorns, set out for our Sunday morning adventure.

We’d planned to get to the gallery as it opened at 10. Imagine our surprise when we drove up just minutes after it opened and the line for parking snaked all the way down the west edge of the building. Wow, we thought, it sure is great to see all these people out at the Nelson. So much for our unique idea.

What we hadn’t realized was that it was a special day at the gallery to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Families of all ages crowded the Bloch wing to enjoy a program full of free exhibitions, dancing, tea tasting, and music. The energy and excitement was contagious…. but we did secretly have concerns that we might not get into the exhibit we came to see (or rather, hear): Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff.

When we presented our tickets to get in, we were pleasantly surprised that most people were otherwise engaged in the special events of the day; there were only four or five other people in the exhibit. We were curious about what we’d heard about the installation but still did not know what to expect. All we’d heard was that it was a sound exhibit and wonderful. True, it turns out, on both accounts.

When first entering the exhibit, there is the usual explanation of the artists’ intention and hope for the observer. Janet Cardiff, a Canadian artist has created an interactive space where the visitor literally steps inside a piece of music. Her thought is that people need a way to connect and experience presence, in this case, through music, for emotional fulfillment and release.

Surrounded by forty separate speakers, each one filled by a single voice, we were literally immersed in the astounding beauty of the music. The piece, (Alium Nunquam Habui, written by 16th-century composer Thomas Tallis) is sung in Latin, in a capella; the clarity of the notes both breathtaking and somber.

We had the option to sit in the center of the speakers where we could hear the piece in unison, surrounded by the power of forty magnificent voices joined together in song. Or we could walk slowly around during the piece, pausing in front of a single speaker or group of five speakers, hearing the clear, often awe-inspiring voice of a single tenor, soprano or child singing their individual part.

The effect for us was just what the artist intended; we were impacted emotionally, not only by the beauty of the music itself, but by the metaphor for what is possible when individuals gather with a common theme. The effect was an immediate presence- to the music, the moment, and the miracle of the human voice. The result was not only powerful, but transcendent.

When I looked up the meaning of the word Motet, it read, “a motet is a mainly vocal musical composition, of highly varied form and style, a piece of music in several parts with words, from the late medieval era to the present.”

Further, it was thought at the time that the motet, “was not to be celebrated in the presence of common people, because they do not notice its subtlety, nor are they delighted in hearing it, but in the presence of the educated and of those who are seeking out subtleties in the arts.”

When many of us are feeling agitated, angry or simply depressed by our current political climate, the Forty Part Motet is a potent reminder of our capacity as human beings to come together to create something good, shared, beautiful and profound. Standing in the center of that circle of separate voices, one doesn’t hear disparity or separation: instead, we hear the splendor and glory of co-operation, unity and shared effort.

Aristotle’s statement, “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts,” has been debated by mathematicians, psychologists and philosophers; but in the end it is our interpretation that matters most.

The Forty Part Motet asks us to consider our individual gifts and how they can serve the larger score. Now seems to be an excellent time to decide what it is we want as a country and decipher a way to unite to create something we want all want to listen to and more importantly, something that we’re proud to sing.