The Birthday Lesson


I am in Vancouver, BC, traveling with two dear friends to celebrate my 60th birthday. This is the first of many celebrations commemorating not just my turning the big 6-0 but the culmination of the past few years of busyness and transition. Life’s directives demanded courage, and being the coward that I am, I fought hard and fruitlessly, of course because life always gets it’s way.

I’ve written about those events before so I’m not going into it now; let’s just say it was a remarkable time and I’m glad it’s over. 

I guess one of the benefits of living longer is learning you won’t spontaneously combust when life throws you a big ass curve ball, even when you’re certain it’s eminent.

Last evening, overlooking the sound from our Vancouver Island Air BnB, my dear friends Suba (52) and Gail (69), turned our discussion to birthdays, ours in particular, and all the ripe topics that aging conjures.

“Well, I guess it beats the alternative,” I joked, “My dad used to say, ‘No-one gets out of this alive.’”

“Aging definitely has its challenges,” replied Gail, “and I think as women we should be talking about it and helping one another. It’s hard nowadays because I actually have to think about getting out of my bathtub!”

I nodded, “I don’t know if I am getting more mature, or just more tired. I’m definitely more discerning about what I will spend my focus, energy and time on. It’s like yes, yes, no, no, oh, Hell no!”

“That’s so true. I think that is one of the many gifts of getting older,” leave it to Suba to point out the positive side.

As we watched the sun slip downward over West Vancouver on a Fourth of July evening, we volleyed the topic back and forth, lobbing a “greater wisdom” in response to a “can’t freaking sleep” until we’d developed a list of the hazards (cons) and benefits (pros) of aging.

Here is what we came up with: (and feel free to amend or add your thoughts)

The Hazards

  • Growing intolerant or impatient: ie. Grumpy old lady
  • Narrowing of interests and activities- resistance to change
  • Becoming a know it all
  • Self absorption
  • Lethargy – an unwillingness to make an effort
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Grief and loss of loved ones, friends, and sense of younger self

Then the physical realities:

    • Skin laxity, age spots and wrinkles
    • Toilet urgency
    • Insomnia
    • Fatigue
    • Reduced strength and stamina
    • Weight gain
    • Metabolism slows
    • Menopause
    • Takes longer to recover from set backs
    • Brain fog and memory issues
    • Medical emergencies

The Benefits

  • Wisdom, grace, and expanding consciousness
  • Greater Self acceptance and Self compassion
  • Greater capacity for forgiveness and compassion for others
  • Greater courage and confidence
  • Better sense of humor and patience
  • Mentorship, leadership, and volunteerism to nurture others
  • Greater resilience
  • Less concerned with what other people think of them
  • Less defined by material possessions and social status
  • Greater spiritual depth and connection
  • Greater freedom to pursue personal passions

 

Suba jumped in, “Hey! Don’t forget that we celebrate JOMO!” 

(The use of the pronoun ‘we’ did not escape me), “JOMO? What the hell is that?” I asked.

“It’s the opposite of FOMO- the fear of missing out. That’s what you have when you are younger. When you are in constant motion because you fear you’ll miss out on something. It’s the difference between reaction and creation.”

“Oh, I remember that,” I admitted.

“JOMO,” Suba continued, “is the opposite, it’s the JOY of Missing Out. Because you become more discerning with your time and the way you choose to spend it. You don’t care what you’re missing out on because you’re happy to be doing exactly what it is you’re doing.”

“Like being okay to curl up with a good book, your dog, or a few friends on a Friday night instead of going to the club, ” I confirmed.

“Lord, I’ll drink to that,” agreed Gail, raising her wine glass.

“Or maybe, we’re just apathetic ,” I mused.

“Well, then there’s that,” laughed Gail.

“No! No it’s not about that!” Suba insisted, “It’s about choice and shifting our value of time. It’s about realizing how precious our time really is. Therefore, the way we choose to spend it takes on a different value, too.”

“Oh, like my saying, Yes, Yes, No, No and HELL no?”

“Exactly,” smiled Suba.

“AND, maybe we’re ALSO tired,” chuckled Gail.

We all laughed because we’d just got done listing the physical challenges of aging, fatigue being one of them.

“It just gets harder to do things. You kind of have to push yourself,” said Gail. “I notice it’s harder to accomplish the same things that used to be rote. I can see how it would be easy to want to give into inertia.”

“And what about the big skin,” I offered, a term my friend Linda created to describe what happens to your skin as you age. “‘My body is pretty much the same size,’ she explained, ‘but my skin keeps stretching so it’s too big for my body.  It doesn’t fit anymore – it just sags.’”

Ah yes.  We went on to discuss our insomnia, chin hairs, expanding Meno-pots, (aka: post meno-pause belly fat), hot flashes, brittle bones, dry hair, dry skin and assorted ‘other’ dry parts.

The physical symptoms are an inevitable hazard of birthdays. But, we agreed, while inconvenient, they aren’t insurmountable. The decisions we make about what we eat, how much we move, the sleep we get, and the attitude we embrace towards aging all make a big difference.

We may not have a choice about aging, we agreed, but we do have a choice about how we age.

Just in case we had any doubts about this conclusion, God sent us as a timely reminder in the form of Elizabeth Robertson.

The following morning, exploring our Horse Shoe Bay neighborhood, Gail and I were delighted to discover a dirt trail.  Snaking elegantly through the woods, it was a welcome alternative to the narrow shouldered bike path we’d first encountered.

The trail was lovely, offering spectacular views, wild flowers, soft footing, and stunning quiet. We walked a long in peaceful reverence until we got to a fork.  Not sure of which direction to take, we asked an older woman who’d been walking in front of us about which way to continue.

“Well, you can go right and take it all the way the Whyte Lake if you want,” as she gave us a slow once over, “It’s about 3.9 kilometers to the turn off and another 2.5 up to the lake,” hands on hips, waiting for our decision.

“Thanks,”  I replied, eyeing her worn gray t-shirt and high water walking pants.

“Or,” she offered, seeing we weren’t making a decision, “you can go left and the trail goes up to the street above.  And there’s another trail just up the way that takes you down to the street below.  That’s my street.  My house is just down there,” she pointed. “I walk this trail every day..”

“Which way are you going?” I asked.

“I’m going towards the lake,” and as if to settle it, “ I’ll walk with you.”  

Elizabeth Robertson was a talker. And she seemed to know everyone else on that trail, including us.

We learned a lot from Elizabeth on that walk.

We learned that the blackberries growing wild on the trail would soon be soon ripe enough harvest.  That she’d return wearing a bucket around her neck to pick the first and best berries. We also learned that it didn’t snow in Horse Shoe Bay because it’s so close to the ocean, that it had been unseasonably dry of late and that she hoped they’d have enough moisture to ski up at Cypress Ski area this Winter. (Apparently it did snow at slightly higher elevations).

“Is this a bike trail, too?” asked Gail.

No, it’s just for people. And dogs,” she harrumphed, “A couple of weeks ago four dogs were off leash, just running wild, and they jumped on an elderly woman,” accentuating the word elderly to imply ‘present company excluded’.

“Poor thing was just standing there, and just got bowled over, flat out, by those crazy jumping dogs. And then here come the owners, a few minutes later, absolutely clueless. Idiots. I think she may have even broken bones!”

Clearly Elizabeth, who we’d learned was 84, did not consider herself vulnerable to the same fate.

“I walk this trail every day.  You get out, you to see everybody and except for the dogs, it’s pretty safe,” as she picked up her step, “And it keeps me in shape. Did I tell you I was eighty-four?  Look at these!, “ she said proudly pulling up her ankle length pantaloons to reveal her calves of steel.

“Wow, impressive,” we both agreed.

Elizabeth continued, “I went up to Cypress last Winter with a friend to do some downhill (skiing). It had been some time since I’d had that opportunity because my husband was ill and I couldn’t leave him alone like that. But after he passed, I just called up a girlfriend and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

“And do you know what happened?,”  Elizabeth’s tenor and pace picked up as she snickered, her arms flailed about nearly hitting me in the chest, “I got about half way down that mountain and my quads just seized up on me and I went ‘Argh,’ before I just fell down.  I couldn’t get up. The ski patrol had to come and put me on a sled and take me on down.”

“Oh no!  That wasn’t fun,” commented Gail

“It was just fine because that ski patrol guy was very good looking, “  she said without hesitation.  “And now I know to do my 90 degree wall squats to be in better shape next year.  I’ve been skiing since I was three years old so I guess I just took it for granted!”

Elizabeth went onto tell us she’d been living in the area most of her life.  Originally from the Eastern side of Canada, her father was a physician who was relocated from Newfoundland to Vancouver after the war.

She herself had worked as a nurse, then as a nursing teacher before becoming the director of nursing at the University of Vancouver, BC.

“That must have been interesting,” I offered.

“Well, it was,” Elizabeth said, but explained that nursing students and teachers, unlike other college departments, worked during the Summer break doing internships at the hospital.

“I didn’t like it that I had to work while the rest of the teachers were playing ping pong so I complained about it and eventually we got it worked out.  Then I got a group of us together to take that three months off to go to Kathmandu but my superior blew a gasket and said we couldn’t all be gone at once.”

“ ‘You can’t do that, You cannot do that!’ he kept saying to me, over and over, and I just sat there listening.”

“Did you end up going?” I asked,

“Well, I went home that night and wrote him my letter of resignation.  I put it on his desk the next morning, booked my trip to Khatmandu and packed my bags.”

“Did your colleagues go, too?”

“Well, no. It’s hard to get people to take three months off, but I did and I’ve never regretted it.  I took a lot of treks like that all around the world, adventure truck trips, biking trips, in Africa and Asia and all over Europe. ”

“That’s amazing. How did you decide to go to Kathmandu?,” we asked.

“Well there was a travel department at the University and I went in there and looked at a pamphlet about Kathmandu and that was just it. I went, but you can still book those kinds of trips online!  Look it up!  You can go!”

She said this with the enthusiasm and authority of any good teacher and I made a mental note of the web address she’d suggested.  Her energy was catching. 

I looked at her then, a little more closely.  Her face was soft, lined, with the faintest hint mustache over the lip. She wore her gray hair short, unceremoniously fashioned like a helmet. Her arms with covered with age spots and her busy hands were uneven and overly knuckled.  I marveled at her upright posture, brisk walking pace, and ability to tell a story without pausing; she was quick, astute and funny. 

At 84, Elizabeth Robertson may have looked old, but she behaved agelessly. She was clever and energetic and completely full of herself. 

When we told her we were tourists who were going “forest bathing” the next day, she snorted, “Forest bathing? What’s that?”

“Well,” we explained. “its when you commune with the energy of nature by walking and meditating in the forest.  It’s pretty amazing.”

She looked blankly at us before retorting, rather sarcastically, “Well, you’re in a forest now! There’s a tree- go hug it,” and she guffawed. Then she continued to talked our ears off.  I don’t think either Gail or I said more than two words the entire walk.  But that was okay because Elizabeth’s presence reminded us the many benefits of aging we’d included on our list.

Elizabeth was without guile, unabashedly herself, unencumbered by fear, doubt or apology.  She chose to stay active and engaged, never hesitating to offer her experience through a creative and entertaining stream of consciousness narrative; stories she just assumed others were dying to hear.

She was not timid. She was not shy and she definitely did not use her age as an excuse to withdraw or grow narrow.

“When I get home,” Elizabeth announced, “it will be 4 o’clock.  At 4 o’clock I watch the BBC British Kennel Dog show.  I watch it every day after my walk.  I love it.”

I smiled to myself. There was no FOMO for Elizabeth Robertson.  She was clearly  enjoying her JOMO years.

As we hugged her goodbye, I felt inspired as well as a little tired.  She was, I had to admit, a tad bit exhausting. 

But then I thought, I am getting older.

Everything Changes

I know change is inevitable and yet, I still resist and deny it when it arrives. I’m not sure why I insist on giving change such a bad rap because, in truth, change has been my life long friend.

Change helped me find the courage to leave an abusive man with no real home and two small children.  Change insisted I exit a toxic workplace, even when I didn’t have another job.  Change has alternately encouraged, discouraged, pushed and pounded me.  But what caused me the greatest pain wasn’t change, but the resisting of it.

Change’s constant presence still reminds me there is an opportunity in every letting go.

 

I’ve spent most of my adult life helping people- specifically in the area of health. My goal is threefold:  first, to help people desire to be healthy; second, to accept that it’s within their ability to do so; and third, and most importantly, believe that they’re worth the effort required.

Convincing someone to consider one of these tenants can be a stretch, getting them to embrace all three is just a plain, hard sell.  Why?  Because it involves change.

We’re so focused on what we think we’re giving up, we overlook the possibilities and opportunity within the same change.

 

 

Next month we will move Pilates 1901 to a new location. I am excited about this next chapter but also admittedly sad about leaving the home we’ve shared for eleven years. The new studio is just 28 blocks away, a beautiful new space that is as light and fun and as welcoming as always.

We’ll be providing the same great service with the same love and integrity that has always defined Pilates 1901. It really is silly to get my panties in a wad, but I do and I will, and I expect some others may, too.

It’s part of the deal. I get it.

 

I’ll still be teaching and preaching Pilates, health, empowerment, and faith to anyone who will listen.

But as I turn sixty, I feel also change demanding more of my attention and more of my grace.  I’m looking forward to less distraction and more presence; less thinking and more being; more teaching, and healing and learning.

One morning, many years ago, I was greeted with a note from my youngest son.  He’d left it for me on the desk where I spent the bulk of my time when I was at home.  It was a picture of Joan of Arc; beneath it, he’d neatly printed these words:  “For general peace and well-being, please resign from being General Manager of the Universe.”   Leave it to Spirit to deliver such a powerful message via a ten-year-old.  I’m sorry, Sean that it took me so long to hear.

The Buddah said, “the only thing constant in life is change.”  I am learning that is true. 

I’m just going to let go, trust and ride this new incredible wave.  I hope to see you at the shore.

 

 

21 Days in New Zealand

I’m lucky. I know it.  The word is literally tattooed on my body.  As someone who never traveled until she was in her mid-forties, I’ve been making up for lost time, especially in the past few years since I met my husband.  The rate of that travel has accelerated recently  because last year life acutely reminded us of our limited time here.  The Universe, in its wisdom, said, “you’d better go if you’re going” so we prioritized our bucket list and went… to New Zealand. 

I remember when I was telling people about the trip, those who had been there immediately lit up with joy, “Oh my God!  You’re going to love it!  You won’t come back!”  Even in the San Francisco airport, as we perused our New Zealand travel book and guides, a young man walking by said, “You’re going to New Zealand? I’m so jealous! You’re going to love it!  It’s so beautiful!”

And it was. Perhaps indescribably so.

 

 

Herb and I rented a camper van for our three-week adventure, a first for both of us.  We’d been told this was the best way to experience the landscape of the country and afford us the greatest freedom.   As it turned out, this was true.  Three weeks together in a camper is an adventure all its own, but that’s another blog.

The seasons are flipped in New Zealand, so it was early Spring when we arrived.  The weather, cool, rainy and unpredictable, proved to be a factor in the trajectory of our trip. It rained that first evening, navigating the “wrong side” of the narrow two-lane highway, our lumbering camper struggled to maintain contact with the road.

We found our way to the first of many “holiday parks,” quickly establishing a ritual of campground set up and nesting.  This was at Waihi beach; a couple hours’ drive south of Auckland in the north island. It was so rainy we couldn’t even see what was around us, but Mike the friendly Kiwi Park host put us in a “primo spot” near the beach and gave us a hiking guide in good faith.  

We spent our first night negotiating the camper “bed,” probably the biggest challenge of our three week trip. Neither of us is a generous sleeper and we sorely missed our king-sized bed.  After meeting a German couple, Bodo and Claudia, both in their late 70’s and happily traveling in a camper smaller than ours, we felt less inclined to complain.  The bed didn’t get better- we did.

That first morning, we woke up before the sun, still adjusting to the 19-hour time change.  Having coffee, we ventured out to the beach to watch the sun rise.  The rain was gone, and the beauty of the morning was astounding.  Absolutely stunning.  It was the beginning of what I can only describe as an intense and total immersion into nature’s art.

As we drove through the magical landscape, ever changing and miraculous, an explosion for the eyes and senses, we both agreed that New Zealand immediately had us by the balls.  It reaches out to grab you without permission or apology- a supernatural assault of spiritual beauty.  

As we traversed lush jungles, rainforests, and mountains, driving though vast valleys, lakes and streams, pastures dotted with sheep, we’d gasp in surprise at the ocean as we drove around the corner. There was nothing predictable or staid in this landscape; just an abundance of energy, animate and pulsing alive in every moment.

 

 

The landscape in New Zealand was formed by the Pacific and Australian plates (huge, slow-moving blocks of the earth’s crust) colliding and pushing up mountains.  Erosion caused by rainfall and ocean waves carved out lakes and streams, and volcanic eruptions and glaciers formed deep valleys and fiords. The result is truly jaw dropping.

Herb and I began trying to think of new words besides “Wow” as we drove through the scenery.  Some of these words were: Surreal, Extraordinary, Phenomenal, Spectacular, Amazing, Wondrous, Awe-Inspiring, … you get the picture.

 

 

Unyielding in its beauty, New Zealand demanded our full attention and presence. The sheer force of nature was a summons to simply BE- Breathe, Live, and Enjoy.  

The magnificent order and unpredictability of life combined in a way I can only describe as sacred.  

Perhaps it’s that proximity of nature that makes the people in New Zealand so unhurried, polite and happy.  For as many tourists as they host each year, they are remarkably generous and caring.

They care about food, (the food was so wholesome and natural I swear it was the reason I didn’t gain an ounce while eating and drinking with abandon); they care about each other (the murder rate in the United States 333 times that of NZ); and they care about the environment (despite heavy traffic, New Zealand’s national parks look amazingly untouched.)  Perhaps that’s because they realize we are not separate from nature- but merely part of it.  They live respectfully.

I could provide more details of our day to day traverse from Auckland on the North Island to Milford Sound on the south, (and if you have a trip planned to NZ, I am happy to share our trip notes), but I thought it better to simply show you some of the best moments of our trip in pictures.   Don’t worry, unlike your Uncle Harry, this slide show isn’t two hours long.  Enjoy. And if you don’t have a trip planned to NZ, please, plan one.

Nature is a teacher and a healer. This trip allowed me the time to immerse myself in her beauty and peace.

I made a conscious decision to follow her example and let myself “be” and simply enjoy.  Coming home has been different because that feeling has taken hold in my cells.  My mind and body are literally different- there’s so much more space for joy when you realize that life isn’t as complicated we like to make it.

Last night, a dear friend reminded me of the poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver.  I hadn’t thought of it in a while, but it perfectly captures my experience…

Here’s an excerpt…

“I don’t know what a prayer is.

I don’t know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, all too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

February Morning

Morning, quiet, dark, solitary has been my favorite time of day since I had kids.  

Sometimes it would be just me and my baby, nursing, quietly in a chair, my eyes focused on this miracle at my breast, so tiny and vulnerable and my heart would clinch tight and an immeasurable sadness would grip my heart.  Why, I’d think to myself, did I feel so sad?  Why didn’t I feel joy?

And I can only say because the moment was so damn full of love that, being who I am and how I entered this world, the same emotion touched a deep and unhealed void; some immeasurable loss and longing inescapably linked to great love.

As my children grew and my business took more of my time, I got up earlier and earlier.  

Sometimes it was because I needed to go to work early, other times it was because it was the only calm time in the day.  Mostly it was because it was quiet and solitary and I could hear myself think.  Sometimes it was just because my anxiety would not let me sleep.

Raising children is not an easy feat, and I must admit I failed them time and time again.  I was too young and too scared and simply too reactionary to be a great Mom, despite my love and intention for their wholeness. I was not whole myself.

I guess I can be grateful that two out of three of them have forgiven me and despite their childhood wounds, want to share my life and know me as I am today.

One does not, and because he was the first and it was so completely crazy, and he felt (and was) unprotected from his Father and my chaos, he has every right to be angry.

What breaks my heart is that he is so angry that he cannot feel his fear and move through it.  Some pain is just too early, and too deep.  The irony is that we share the same pain and are separated by it.

As I write this cold winter morning, before the sun is up and there is only dark silence, I am grateful for this time- the peace and the solitude.

It is now that I practice compassion for myself and for this day and for the people and situations that I will encounter.  It is here that I give thanks for all that is good in my life and all that I am learning and have to learn.  It is here that I remember that every breath is a gift and time is fleeting and today is the only day I have.

It’s humbling, this immense joy and I need to let myself open to receive it.

Breath in, Breath out, Breath out. Let go.

The Price of Fear

 

Preparing this blog in honor of the full moon reminded me of another retreat, in Belize. We didn’t have a full moon that week, in fact, there was just a sliver, so the stars showed bright and clear. After dinner, I often walked down the beach to explore nearby docks and enjoy looking up.

There were a few docks available, but the one I was drawn to was narrow, old and rickety. In the darkness, you couldn’t see the end of the dock, so it looked like you were simply walking out into the vast, endless ocean. It was scary.

One night, my friend Tricia and I walked that dock together clasping hands. We were both facing demons that trip, demons that were safe nowhere else, and so we walked into the abyss together and marveled our fear and also the magic of the stars.

The closer we got to what looked like the end of the dock, the point at which we would simply glide into the deep, we slowed to a stop, struck silent by the beauty and terror of the illusion before us.

We both knew it was no accident we were there together in that moment. We knew the fear and pain in each other’s hearts. We both worried about how we’d each move on, around or over our current challenges. Who better to hold hands with and face the unknown darkness. We stood there a long time treasuring a moment that lasts a lifetime.

Like that long walk down the dock, we’ve traversed some treacherous terrain since that night; some of it together and much of it alone. We’ve had time to face ourselves unmasked, afraid, and it was hard.

What is the price of fear? What is it your fear and what is it costing you?

Change, even when it’s necessary; even when it’s time, is rarely welcome and almost never alone. Fear is inevitably part of the package. But like any bully, fear can’t stand up to scrutiny. Confront your fear and fear backs down. Fear is co-dependent; it ’s only power is the power you grant it.

I’ve lived with fear for a very long time, but age has made me realize it’s time for it to go.   I’m just too damn tired to give fear my finite energy. Instead, I’m investing in another F-word- FAITH.

Some folks might think that’s naive or make-believe.  “Hope is not a strategy,” is what they would say.  But I don’t agree. If choosing faith over fear is choosing one illusion over another, I choose faith.

Why I’ve Decided Not To Age

Recently Herb and I went out on a date.  We wanted to try a new, hot restaurant called 1900 so we made a reservation.  Good news?  We got in.  Bad news?  The only thing left open was at 6:00 pm.  Now that might explain what happened next, but it was still shocking, and unwelcome, and altogether uncalled for.

The restaurant tucked discreetly off the street, was beautiful and sophisticated, decorated in austere gray and white with floor to ceiling windows.  The elegant atmosphere was just quiet enough to make it seem extra special. We followed the hostess (who looked like she was twelve) to our table and sat down, grinning because we were so excited to be out together.

We giddily nodded as our waiter delivered water, took drink orders, and recited the specials, so we didn’t immediately notice where we’d been seated.  It was a corner table, one of the best in the room where we had a lovely view of everyone in the place.

It wasn’t the table that bothered us, it was the company!  It looked like we were dining in an upscale nursing home! Everyone in that room was OLD! 

I looked at Herb and asked, “Did we cross over to this status without our knowledge?  What’s with the all the raisins?”

He smiled and said, “Well, we are eating at 6:00 pm.”   Leave it to Herb to be positive.

Unconvinced, I looked suspiciously around the room.  This, I thought to myself, seriously sucks.  Then I had a drink.

This morning I woke up with a stiff back.  It’s been stiff for about three weeks, but it went rogue on me this weekend after a particularly shitty week.  Undeterred, I woke up at 5 am, thudded out of bed and stubbornly did my morning meditation.  Mind over matter, you know.

I then packed a bag to drive with Herb to the Mayo clinic for the third and final visit in three weeks.  It was to be a good day- at 2 pm he was scheduled to get his arm out of the straight cast he’s been wearing since having elbow surgery last month.

Living with the one arm bandit has had its challenges and we were both looking forward to his emancipation.

Although my back was killing me I was determined to be a good partner and make the six-hour drive. I packed my Yamuna balls, back support pillow, ibuprofen, ice packs, and favorite healing crystal to help me make the journey.

We made it as far as the county line before he turned the car around and brought me home.  “This isn’t going to work,” he said, ” let’s be logical.  You’re miserable and I can’t worry about you.”

So, I thought, maybe I am old. 

Tomorrow I turn 59 and that’s a number an awful lot like 60, which I used to think was old.  In fact, when I was a kid, my friend Duonna House told me her parents were 30, and I thought they were ancient.  I also remember watching middle-aged women put lipstick on in the bathroom at Putsch’s cafeteria, wondering why they even bothered.  Didn’t they know they were old?  Jesus, I was brutal.

Now, when I hear my kids talking about feeling old in their 30’s I want to laugh, but really, why should I?  Age, like time itself, is a construct, so who’s to say who’s “old” and who isn’t?

Age never bothered my client Rae Block.  A diminutive force of nature, Rae’s power as a woman only increased as she aged because she only grew more into herself.  She was funny; she was intense, she was smart, and she was irreverent.

I knew the moment I met Rae that I was in the company of a unique woman.  What I didn’t  know at that moment was how lucky I was that our lives had crossed.

One of the first things my new employer said to me was, “I hope you’re better than my last trainer.  All she did was walk me to get ice cream,” and she laughed that ornery laugh. “I knew how to manipulate her.  I hope you are going to be tougher on me than that.”

Classic Rae- being herself was never a problem.

Rae was bold.  She wasn’t about to take an ounce of grief from anyone and you knew it.  She had lived a life of her choosing and she took responsibility for it.  That’s why she abhorred anyone who didn’t do the same.  She did not suffer fools… or victims… or weaklings.  I loved Rae and I never wanted to disappoint her, so I learned to be someone she could respect and that helped me in my own life.

As the months and then years passed, my time with Rae became one of the highlights of my week.  She’d roll her eyes during wall squats, protest about the treadmill speed, feign weakness on the abdominal curls, but she was as lithe and energetic as a 20-year-old (she often looked like a 10-year-old rolling around the floor), and I marveled at her ability to be completely ageless in mind and body.

One day after training, Rae mentioned that she had a spot on her lung and that her son was taking her to the Doctor to have it biopsied.  I went cold inside. 

I said, “You’re going to be fine.  You feel great!” and she agreed.  She felt fine; she felt great.  Nonetheless, I asked her if I could call her after she went to the oncologist to see how it went.  I also told her she didn’t have to pick up (Rae valued her privacy), but that I would call anyway.

I was with friends for dinner but snuck away to the ladies room at the appointed time to call her.  I was relieved when she picked up.  I thought this was a good sign.

“Hi, Rae.  How are you?”

“Fine darling.  Fine.”

“How did it go at the Doctors today?”

“Well, I went, and David went.  And I have lung cancer.”

“Oh, Rae.  I’m so sorry.”

“Yes, well I asked the Doctor about it and it’s spread to several places.”

“Oh, Rae.  I’m sorry.”

“Well then I asked what stage it was, and the doctor said 5.  Then I asked her how many stages there were, and she said 5.”  (with humor!)

I said nothing.  I couldn’t because she didn’t want tears from me.

“And so,” she continued,” I asked how long I had to live without chemo and I didn’t like that response… so I guess I’m going to have chemo.  We’ll just see.”

“Well you know I’m here for you.”

“I know that darling.”

I think she sensed I was going to say something schmaltzy so she interrupted, “But Dr. Holt called today, and I got some good news.”

“What was that?”

“My mammogram came back, and I don’t have breast cancer!”  and we both laughed.  That was Rae.  She died in 2009.

When I begin to feel sorry for myself because my back hurts, or my hip hurts, or my butt or face is drooping, I think of Rae. 

Because Rae never cared about age.  She never seemed like a woman of 75 or 80 or 82.  She was beyond it.  She was simply Rae and that example was only one of the magnificent gifts she gave me.

Thank you, Rae.

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.