Thursday, May 22, 2008

On retreat

I wont be posting for a couple of weeks but don't miss me too much. I am on retreat, working on my book at my mom's apartment while she's in Italy. I am getting some really good work done... or I was until the kids arrived (Max is home for the summer and KT is on Memorial Day vacation until Tuesday). They showed up to watch American Idol with me--and today, they're exploring the neighborhood while I get my car inspected.

Then, Im sending them home and plunging back underwater, blissfully re-entering the project.
Back in June!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Growing up

I miss being a mommy.

You knew this was coming. And so did I.

Being a mommy was something I took to like... well, as if I were made for it.

Oh, there were times when it overwhelmed me. But mostly, things flowed along. Monday led to Tuesday led to Wednesday. Rainy days led to sunny ones. Scrambled egg sandwiches led to peanut butter sandwiches led to macaroni meatball soup.

This other thing, this having a kid in college and one on the way there, is a part of parenting I'm not that great at. For one thing, it's so, I don't know, grown up and impersonal. It's all paperwork and financial aid forms. Family meals happen a couple of times a week. Their questions are more complicated--"Should I rent a house with 7 other guys or stay in the dorm?" "Can I do my senior year at the community college? Im sick of high school." "Is it too early to believe I've found the person I'm going to marry?

Being a mommy was hands-on, in the sandbox, on the floor. Being a mommy was soup on the stove, mini-sundresses to sew, reminders to wash little hands and bedtime stories. I was good at that.

These days, I'm not always sure what to do.

Like when one of my kids seems troubled, should I ask alot of questions or back off? Should I invite my son's girlfriend to dinner when she visits or let them be alone? Should I engage my daughter's friends in conversation or let them sulk in the back seat?

And what happens next year, after they're both safely tucked into college; what do I do then? Do I fill my days with work--maybe a full-time job or volunteering? Should I finish my book projects, return to school, find a group of friends to travel with?

Is it still okay to sing in the car?

You know what I mean... if a mom sings in the forest and there's no one there to hear her, does she make a sound?

The early Christians wrote that the soul has an empty place which only God can fill. I have been thinking about this alot lately. For me, this emptiness was filled with mothering and loving my children. Now as it eases open and empty again, instead of filling it with busy work and mindless activity, I feel myself turning and yearning toward.... more.

Today, my son returns from college for the summer with his sack of laundry, his crates of computer equipment, his socks on the floor. We know what to expect, having experienced Christmas vacation and Spring Break.

Max will fill us to the brim with humor, demands for Chinese food and calls to adventure--"Let's go to the city, the beach, the movies!" He will rebuild the tower of laundry on his bedroom floor, he will hog the remote, he will start existential arguments with his father.

When he arrives, the empty place will fill again. I will get caught up. There will be herbs to transplant, beach towels to launder, barbecues and macaroni meatball soup to serve.

Still, it's coming... the time when I will need to take my life in hand. Max will return to school. Katie will soon follow.

Last night, a friend said to me, "It's time for you to grow up." And I thought, Nope, not yet.

But soon. Soon.

Last summer, my girlfriend asked me, "What do you do with yourself when they're gone at the same time?" Her son was leaving for several months in Europe. Her daughter was headed to summer camp and she was concerned.

I understood. I'd been there the year before when Max went on exchange to France--and Katie went to film camp. "It's not that bad," I reassured her. "In fact, I loved it." I spent hours doing what I wanted, uninterrupted by demands for food, money, car trips, attention. Time expanded. My husband and I got to know each other again. But then, I knew they were coming back.

Last year, just before Max went to college, he came over to me in the kitchen. "You need a hug," he said, pulling me into a wiry, warm embrace. At the time, I thought, "He's the one who needs this hug!" But once he had me, I realized how much I'd needed it, too.

It's a give and take. My children don't call out for me in the middle of the night anymore, but now and then my cell phone rings and my son mumbles, "Hey. Got a minute?" I love listening to their dreams--of the classes they want to take, the careers they want to explore, the relationships they're beginning. I like them. They like me.

Ten years ago, a wise healer told me, "You don't have to be the perfect mother. You are already loving them just the way you should." A comment that sent me into spasms of relieved, exhausted sobbing. I love them just the way I should.

And then, something happens...

Five minutes ago, I looked up from this writing to find a young mother squatting in the breezeway at the entrance of this cafe beside her five year old son as he threw up all over the carpet. She looked desperate, trying to keep other customers from stepping in the mess, trying to soothe and help her son.

As I handed her a pile of napkins, she looked up, completely overwhelmed and close to tears, "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"This isn't your fault," I told her, "And it's not yours either," I told her little boy. "People get sick. Other people understand."

Nodding vigourously, tears running down his cheeks, he said, "I just walked in and it came out of me!"
"Oh dear," I said. "It's awful being sick, isn't it?"
Nodding, hiccupping, he smiled at me.

While Mom cleaned him up, I fetched a cup of water and told the restaurant manager to send a mop. I shooed some customers around the mess. Then, I sat down and had a little cry.

It's happened, I realized. I've already grown up--somewhere, somehow, I've passed from Mother to Matriarch, from Mommy to Great Mother.

And I know what my job is. Passing down the wisdom I've been given by my children and the wise women who've helped me along the way.

There is nothing I have to do. No way I have to change. For now, this morning, I can just relax and wait for Max to arrive and take over the sofa. No longer a Mommy, I'm simply getting used to--and loving--being a Mom.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Getting Unstuck

Sometimes, I find myself stuck, unable to put one foot in front of the other. I am beginning to understand what is happening--and how to resolve it.

Being stuck, for me, is about sending myself conflicting messages. "I want to write books and teach and travel around the world," I sigh, visualizing myself writing in airports, checking into hotels, standing on stages, signing the inside covers of my books."

I absolutely love teaching. I am also one of those people who LOVES traveling--I love airports, I love discovering a new city, browsing in bookstores and gift shops. I also love hotels--as I've discovered many women who've been stay at home moms, do. There's something almost sinfully self-indulgent about the solitude, the way I feel when the door of my room closes and I am completely, blissfully alone to kick off my shoes, unwrap my clean glasses from their crinkly paper wrappers and do whatever the heck I want--even if all I want to do is drink a glass of water and fall asleep with the TV on.

So this traveling image creates a great big YES from the soul level for me. So why am I not out there, zipping through the clouds on a plane; Teaching a kick ass class in Australia? Pulling my best-selling book from a shelf at Barnes and Noble.

Cuz I'm stuck.

The moment that YES is out of my heart, thoughts arrive, cautioning, "You're not ready for that yet. You dont have enough training to attract a class. And besides, what NEW thing do you have to teach anyway? Everyone knows all this stuff."

Next, these thoughts come: "So get the training already. How long are you going to take? But I have no money, no time, Im tired. I have too much to do. Our money needs to go to the children's college now.

And finally, these thoughts come to seal the deal: "I should have done all of this sooner. It's too late (accompanied by big heart sigh) I'm too old."

And the YES that delighted and inspired and invigorated me body and soul, is gone.

That's what being stuck looks like from here. For the past two years, I've been developing a getting unstuck strategy that seems to be working. I pass it on to you:

GET A SNAPSHOT OF YOUR YES/NO IN ACTION

First, activate the process by pulling out your favorite not-yet-realized dream.
VIsualize yourself doing it, really get into it, activating all of your senses. How does it feel to be doing that, living that? What can you see around you? Are there specific tastes and smells associated with it? Really let yourself feel into the experience.
Enjoy it, send love to it. Send it out into the world through your heart and belly as a real, fully realized possibility. Now take a snapshot of this moment.

WATCH AND LISTEN
What thoughts come up? Are you excited and invigorated by the vision or are you beginning to hear inner dialogue like, "But I dont have the money," or "I am not ready (or perfect) enough yet," or "Someone (and see who you name) won't like it or will sabotage me," or "My parent(s) never gave me the skills I need to be successful." When you activate your YES, what is your NO?

WHERE THE NO COMES FROM
From the fearful ego, the part of the psyche that is afraid that change equals loss. Loss of control and loss of identity. The ego is terrified that if you change roles, switching from editor to personal chef, for example, that you will be humiliated. The ego's logic is: If you take away the mask I wear or the role I play, I won't know who or how to be. The ego fears dissolution.

Remember the ego is not "the bad guy". We need the ego, it is the part of the psyche that allows us to create structured thinking, to name and label things. Basically, the ego's job is to maintain us in a world of forms and separation from oneness. These are important to keep us "sane" in a material world.

Still, what do we do when the ego's fears sabotage our progress.

We soothe it. When such thoughts as, "I am not ready," or "I am not trained enough", or "I don't have the money yet," come up, simply remind yourself (and your ego will hear you) that you can take things one step at a time.

Remind yourself, "I always learn along the way," and "When I don't know, I can ask questions," and "There will be helpers and mile markers along the way to help me."

The key here is to tell yourself the truth that no one knows exactly what to do before they do it, and that we need not be perfect--in any way--to "qualify" to move forward.

Just set your intention and do one little thing in that direction at a time. Put one foot in front of the other and allow the changes to happen gradually.

That's how I'm making my slow and steady way to my goals. Sometimes, it seems to take forever. Other times, a kind of tipping point is reached and I feel as if I'm surfing a tidal wave of change.

That's how change is, and personal transformation is the same way. One day, I'm struggling to learn some new complicated piece of technology or psychology and a month later, that part is second nature to me--and I'm wrestling (delightedly) with something new. We lose weight an ounce at a time. We walk a marathon one yard at a time. We write a book one page at a time.

Allow change to come at its own pace in its own way. Don't push things along. But do your page, take your step, study your textbook."You have to work your prayers," Dolly Parton reminded me a million years ago. I've never forgotten that.

That's why, when it feels like I'm stuck or like life isn't moving fast enough, I've learned to take that as an invitation to get off the sofa and take a step, any step--one little action in the direction of my goal.

If I find that I can't manage even that: I know that it's time to simply sit down and look around me, appreciating how far I've already come. I bless this stop and go life. I bless this bumpy road and the well-earned callouses on my heels and the way that I sometimes need a bandaid to wear the fancy new shoes I had to have.

And soon enough, I'm ready to get up and start walking again.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gratitude

Last year, my friend, Jamie, told me a story. She was at the ashram and meditation practice had ended when her teacher presented her with a plate of almonds.

“No, thank you,” Jamie smiled, thinking: I’m not hungry and even if I was, Im not in the mood for nuts. She was also demonstrating her natural reticence to eat from shared plates, perhaps some earlier germ training.

“Oh, but you must,” the presenter said, returning her smile. “This is Prasad, shared food after prayer or meditation. It’s part of the practice.” Realizing it would be rude NOT to partake, Jamie took a few almonds and popped them into her mouth, savoring the lesson in sharing and gratitude.

How often do we turn away the gifts we are offered?

I remember a conversation over dinner with dear friends a few years back. My husband’s parents had offered to purchase for us a new side-by-side refrigerator and I was explaining my reluctance to accept such a big gift to our friends. “I’m afraid there will be strings attached,” I said. “Strings of 'Poor Amy and Matthew, they can’t afford things so we gave them a refrigerator.'”

“But you must take it,” my friend Chris explained. “You need a refrigerator. You can’t afford it. The universe found the easiest, simplest way to get it to you.

“Accept it without strings of your own,” she continued. “Accept it, with gratitude to your in-laws and to the Universe and it will come in clean.”

These stories are gifts. Chris’s advice was a gift, too. We receive such gifts each day. The sun rises each morning. The moon comes at night. We have lovely food to eat, grass to dig out toes into, a flower to smell—we have our family to love.
How often do we take time to thank God for the rising of the sun? How often do we look at our spouse and think: Thank you God for you—for the gift of a person who loves me and wants to make a life together with me, this person whom I, in turn, also love? How often do we, lifting a fork full of nourishing food and thank nature for for providing it or thank the cook for preparing it—even if we cooked it ourselves?

On the wall of my kitchen, I have a framed greeting card drawn by Mary Engelbreit. I see it every time I walk into the kitchen. “Thank you!” it gushes, the illustration, of a girl arms open wide, head thrown back is exultant, joyful, shouting, “Thank you!” with full heart. It reminds me of the way I felt the day I mounted it on the wall--abundant with blessings, and so grateful that I could not begin to express it.

I started keeping a Gratitude Journal—a pretty bound book that, it’s worth remarking, came to me as a Mother’s Day gift from my daughter just after I’d decided to start writing down all of the things I’m grateful for.

The act of recording gratitude, of taking the time to simply write down, “Thank you for this day... thank you for my husband’s love... thank you for the new shoes I bought today... thank you for the sun... thank you for my children...” had the most uncanny way of settling me down, of grounding me into my life and gave me the feeling of having completed something.

It was a kind of prayer I did each night before bed and later, when I didn’t need the ritual every night, continued to pick up every few days, weeks or even months, whenever I was moved to say thank you.

I was given the gift of a lovely day, or a sweet husband and I enjoyed it very much and then remembered to say, “thanks.” It was a kind of punctuation on the day. It was also a kind of conversation with All That Is. Ask, Receive, Give thanks.

Friday, May 2, 2008

May... and writing free

Each writer must find the writers whose work inspires, whose particular rhythm makes her own work flow onto the page. Today, I have found two: Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and poet, Mary Oliver. These muses speak directly to my Camp Edalia girl soul: The part of me that remembers the cushion of pine needle forest floors, ponds brackish with algae and buzzing with dragonfiles, and deer appearing and disappearing like flickers of sunlight through trees.

Hush.

Though my current habitat is planted with telephone pole and traffic light, reading Annie or Mary reminds me that just under the surface of my daily round, my Camp Edalia girl is poking a stick into a creek bubbling with treasures--tadpoles wiggling, bright orange salamanders scaling the banks, slippery stones that beckon, "Take off your shoes and dip those toes."

I drive teenagers to malls and stop, captivated when a bird with a red tail swoops in front of my car as if telling me something, when a frog hops across my asphalt path, when a gaggle of turkey vultures stops traffic as they cross a highway. Last summer, a hummingbird buzzed up and hung in the air right in front of my forehead as if to say: We know who you really are.

These arrivals strike me like a tuning fork, vibrating me deep down, soil to bedrock.

When I read Annie and Mary, I perch on a tree stump and watch them aim their binoculars to capture some ordinary woodland wonder--a clump of blueberries, a timid hare--and bow their heads to scribble notes in a pocket-size, wire-bound sketch pad, transforming it from everyday to exalted.

They are with me, these muses, on this May morning, in my car, in the parking lot outside of a cafe, where a wave of my own voice suddenly breaks the winter log jam and bursts free...

I have left my notebook somewhere (at the bottom of a bag? stuffed in a pocket? open, mid-sentence on the kitchen table?) so when inspiration comes bubbling and tumbling up, I rush to grab pages of a just-printed manuscript to pour these words.

My words spill into margins, fill ten pages front and back.

Oh, I wish you could see it, the ecstatic, exuberant penmanship, wild swirls like waves themselves—as each line courses from me like champagne released from the neck of a green glass bottle, words tumbling over each other like new schools of fishes, bursting through boundaries like swollen spring streams, gurgling and giggling with a joyful, Yes, Yes, Yes.

I write all of this with my car windows down, breathing in May, as above me, a hundred little black birds perch on a wire, shivering their wings and switching places, as I take flight.

New Link I love

Escape From Cubicle Nation