Healing My Grief with Creativity, Part 1

Trusting the Process

When it comes to grief, there is no “fixing” separate from feeling.

Preface: In my previous blog post, “Married to Amazement,” I wrote about my emotional roller coaster of a week in the hopes that it would bring clarity and help alleviate some sadness about my friend’s recent death. Since then, it occurred to me that my thinking process had entered what I’ll call the “cerebral realm” towards the end of that post. After noting that I felt sad, I posed some thought questions to myself, shifted my perspective to focus on new beginnings, offered myself reassurance, and gave myself other-oriented appreciation tasks to offset my grief (which I will undertake with sincerity).

These cognitive strategies can be helpful, but they are also are a way in which I can unconsciously detach from emotionally-charged events. Sometimes I rush to “fix” situations for myself without fully feeling the underlying emotions they have generated. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of response. In my case, though, staying in the cerebral realm is a remnant from my upbringing and I long to connect more fully with my underlying emotions. I strive to notice when I am detaching, consciously or unconsciously. So, as much as I wish I could say writing that post “fixed” my feelings, it did not. The next day, the sadness lingered and seeped into the remainder of my week. This is not surprising–my friend just died; it’s going to take time to process and integrate this change into my life in a lasting way. The lingering sadness, however, is a reminder that when it comes to grief, there is usually no “fixing” separate from feeling. At least not for me.

As you will learn here, I found it virtually impossible at times to hold the sadness in my heart and also be productive (I’ll define “productive” as engaging in goal-directed behavior). In this five-part post series, I describe how I used meditation and the creative process for self-healing during the week after my friend died. I also share some insights about grief and self-compassion I gained in the process.

January 22, 2019

Today my monkey mind is telling me all the things I should do (“I should put finishing touches on the creative writing lesson I’m giving tonight”; “I should publicize my next workshop”; “I should finish the blog post I was writing before my friend died”). And all that is true; completing those tasks would help me in a macro-sense to earn an income from my creative work, and that is necessary. But I know that whenever I use the word “should” towards myself it tends to invite feelings of fear and anxiety; I start to feel like I am boxed in and I have no options. The truth is, however, I do have options. I know I could ignore the “shoulds” for a while and listen to what my heart is telling me. I could invite a mindful presence, I could be here now, I could place self-compassion first.

I take a few deep breaths and invite the self-compassion option into my consciousness for a few minutes. As I breathe, I notice a sensation of heaviness in the middle of my chest. It feels like a boulder is weighing me down, and I know this sensation will remain for as long as I try to ignore my feelings. And if I try to compartmentalize my feelings into boxes labeled “later,” and go about my day, the distress will likely shape-shift and emerge in other ways, perhaps towards other people. What to do?

At times like this, when I don’t really know what to do with myself, when my mind is telling me to do one thing but my heart is pleading with me to do another, I try to create space for whatever my confused heart is trying to tell me. And today my heart is telling me that I need to center myself and be present to what’s there, even if what’s there is painful. If I dive into the pain, if I use the creative process to both express and contain it, maybe the heavy weight will lift a bit. From past experiences, I know that the only way out of emotional turmoil is through (compartmentalizing is a short-term solution at best). I also know that the tasks on my to-do list will still be there afterwards if I take a short break. I can set aside temporarily the planning and writing that was in progress. I can engage with and express what’s here, what’s present, what’s “now.” I can open myself to surrender instead of arming myself for battle. My inner perfectionist who tells me there is one “right” way to spend my day is not always right.

So, sometimes I just have to give myself permission to do whatever is necessary to give my heart the relief it needs and make space to breathe. What tends to help me is usually one of two things, and more often, both: 1) Meditating or doing some movement or sound-making practice followed by expressing myself creatively using traditional art supplies, or 2) Showing up at Mother Nature’s doorstep, meditating in her presence, and making images using some of her tangible gifts. Writing, of course, is involved in the process, too. But the writing that comes is not like the writing you are reading now. When I am in the thick of emotional pain, writing prose often feels like pulling myself out of quicksand with both palms greased. Not always, but often.

On this day, I decide to give myself the gift of one hour’s informal art-making time. By “informal” I mean I’m going to engage in an improvisation, of sorts. I have created enough formal mindful creativity experiences now for myself and others that I can often simply relax into my process without creating a strong structure around it as I would if I were preparing a self-directed project or small group experience. First, I set an intention for this practice: I am curious about the weight I feel in my chest and I would like to “move” it (preferably off my chest). I feel physically tired, however, and one of my arthritic knees feels weak… a full-body movement practice is not going to happen. Instead, I set up my table with my journal, a couple of brushes, a coffee cup filled with water, and a tray of watercolor paints. I select watercolors because they are a fluid medium that can express movement with little to no effort on my part.

After I set up my supplies, I light a candle and set the timer on my phone for 60 minutes. I relax into a chair, place my feet flat on the floor, place my hands on the paper, and tune in to the rise and fall of my breath. Soon enough, as my mind quiets, my thoughts turn to my friend’s passing and the tears come. Good, let them come. This is the release of pain. This expression is cleansing.The color blue enters my consciousness. I turn to the watercolors, wet my brush, and load it with blue. Wait, I do want some structure here, some containment. I have to go back to work after this. I reach into a drawer, retrieve a white oil pastel crayon, and draw a spiral that turns into a circle. I don’t plan this, it’s just what comes and I go with it. Circles are safe spaces for me. I know the waxy spiral will resist the paint and I can follow the line with my paintbrush. I apply the blue paint, then purple, then yellow… I blend some colors…

Rainbow Mandala: Trusting the process to notice, feel, and release

About forty-five minutes later, I see before me a circular rainbow of sorts; an expression of my intuition. I am reminded of a Native American proverb that has brought me comfort in the past: “The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears.” Then I engage with the artwork more directly. I dialogue with the oil-pastel spiral I drew, still somewhat visible on the page. It may sound unusual, but I use an imaginative process I’ve learned from my mentors to generate some writing: I name the spiral, then ask it how it is feeling, what it needs, and what it needs from me.* From this writing, a short poetic letter arrives:

Dear Sadness, You are a part of the journey, my journey of acceptance. People are born, they live, they love, they die. So shall I. So shall I. No satisfying why. And through it all, it’s okay to cry—a puddle, a stream, a river, a waterfall… All of them clean.

My timer rings, but I need a bit more time to close my process; I reset the timer for 15 more minutes. I take the artwork outdoors and prop it up against an oak tree. I sit with my image and my letter for a bit, gaze into the colorful circle, focus on the center. As do this, I notice that I no longer feel the heaviness in my chest that I had felt when I first sat down at my art table. I release a long exhale. Somehow, through the creative process, the boulder has shifted, the hard energy has dissipated, and my sadness has lifted enough to go back inside and return to goal-directed work.

In closing, I can’t help but think of a phrase I learned from my expressive arts mentors, often attributed to Shaun McNiff, a leader in the field: “Trust the process.” Yes, when I don’t know which way to turn, when I feel confused or overwhelmed, I can trust the creative process of noticing, feeling, and expressing. That is my intention going forward as I focus on self-healing and integrating this new grief experience into my life.

*Note: This practice is based on the work of Shaun McNiff, the author of Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go.

Married to Amazement

Birth, death, breath. We need not look far for sources of amazement.

During the week of January 14, my heart completed four back flips then stuck the landing in a world of confusion: Joy! Sadness. Joy! Sadness. Talk about a weird experience of emotional extremes… Upside-down and inside-out… and boy, did I feel it.

Celebrating the birth of baby Emerald.

Monday: Joy!

When my partner’s mother called me to say she had just become a great-grandmother, I felt ecstatic! I hung up the phone and tried to resume my previous activities, but I simply could not contain the joy in my heart. I called her back a few minutes later: “I can’t sit with this news by myself! I need to give you a hug!” She replied, “Come on over!” For a good hour we sat in her living room and gushed over photos of the red-faced, blanket-wrapped, tiny-hat-wearing newborn. We even made a sign with printer paper and markers welcoming the baby into the family, then took selfies with the sign and sent the photos to the baby’s parents, who live out of state. It was so fun! A new person entered the world. How wonderful! How exciting! How miraculous! It was such an amazing day.

Thursday: Sadness.

Later in the week, I learned that one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, died at the age of 83. When I heard this news, I felt sad, but the grief was tempered with understanding and acceptance; she had lived a long, inspired life and she left us an incredible legacy: Her esteemed body of work. She received the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize; she was no literary slouch. I’d only discovered her work a few years ago, but she quickly became one of my muses and her “praise poems,” sources of comfort. In an interview she gave last year to the “On Being” podcast, she said, “I acknowledge my feelings and gratitude for life by praising the world and whoever made living things.” Her way of communing with nature and translating her nuanced observations into accessible language connected strongly with me and many others in my spiritual community. People in my social circles shared poems like “Wild Geese” and “The Summer Day” so frequently that I began to think of Mary Oliver like a member of my extended family. Indeed, like many others, I ask myself the poignant question that ends her poem, “The Summer Day”: What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?

A page from one of my journals. The poem is the last stanza of “Ghosts” by Mary Oliver.

Saturday: Joy!

When I offered my first creative-arts workshop of this new year, I left the experience feeling joyful and grateful for what I hope will become a future of community-building through the arts. Over two hours, I witnessed the participants as they connected mindfully to their creativity and then shared with each other about their image-making experience in a such a beautiful, authentic way. While they were creating, I took about ten minutes to make a quick artwork: A mandala that elaborates on my new year’s intention about living with integrity (as I wrote about in my previous blog post), noting that it is “Sacred Ground.” The participants left our time together with their own colorful artworks, personal intentions for the new year, and some plans to activate those intentions. I expressed appreciation to the participants for joining me, and they reciprocated that sentiment.

Sunday: Sadness.

So much contentment; then, wham! The very next day I learned that my friend, Judy, died, having lost a battle with an illness. She was a strong supporter of my creative arts workshops, so what hit me first was the realization that I would not be able to tell her about how well “Create Your Vision 2019” went the day before. Then I realized I would not see her at spiritual services again; in fact, I would never see her anywhere again except in my memory. In a room full of people who had just heard the sad news of her passing, I wept. Later, I found a photo of us that was taken two years ago, after she had attended one of my workshops. I remember how it warmed my heart to hear her tell me how much she enjoyed the workshop, how excited she was to have found a piece of birch tree bark in the supply kit (it held strong meaning for her), and how glad she felt that I was offering these arts experiences to enrich our community. She told me I was doing a great job, and I felt very grateful for her kind words.

My friend, Judy, and me sharing a happy moment in 2017.

In the months since she received her diagnosis, I had not seen Judy in person. I knew she was receiving challenging medical treatments. I had, however, sent cards to wish her well which included messages of hope and appreciation for her past support. I considered reaching out to her in a more direct way, to offer to bring some art supplies to her home, to spend some time creating with her. But for one reason or another I didn’t make that call. One reason was that I thought she and her family might want privacy, as I had wanted when my own late parents had experienced serious illnesses in recent years. Another reason probably has to do with my discomfort around illness, having been a full-time caregiver for my father in the three years before he died. Long goodbyes are hard for me, but I now regret not reaching out to discover if Judy might have wanted my company. I hope that attending her upcoming memorial service will bring me into contact with others who knew and loved her and provide some sense of closure; it’s difficult to sit with these feelings of loss.

As I take the entirety of the week’s events into account, I cannot ignore the facts: One of my friends died and my community lost a beloved sister, but just a few days earlier a baby was born. And I’m sure many more babies have been born since then. I wonder, do births temper the loss we feel from deaths? For every death there is a birth of some kind, whether it is, in this case, the birth of a human being, or the birth of an idea, or a new connection between people, or a new artwork, or simply a new breath. As I consider that, I take one breath, then another. Through some miracle the creation of breath happens inside my body without me doing anything special. Breath joins us at our beginning and leaves us at our ending. Breath joins us as one people no matter where we live or what religion we are or whom we love. I’m reminded of the phrase Mary Oliver used in her poem, “When Death Comes,” that I have borrowed, in homage, as the title for this essay: “When it’s over, I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.” Birth, death, breath. We need not look far for sources of amazement.

Meditating on the kind of circle-of-life stuff I have shared here reminds me how important it is to tell people I know and love how much I appreciate them and the myriad ways they contribute to my life. I won’t have these folks in my life forever; and who knows, I may depart before they do. This I know: I’m glad I raced over to my partner’s mother’s house to share joy with her. I’m glad I spent time reading over some of my favorite Mary Oliver poems after I learned of her passing. I’m glad I expressed appreciation to my workshop participants for their support. And I’m glad I took the opportunity to send my friend thoughtful cards and hopeful messages before she died. I’m really glad I did that; it inspires me to take more opportunities to express appreciation to my friends and family.

Each person who touches my life is a source of amazement. I will tell them how much I care about them and how much the little things, the tiny moments, the things I take for granted, really do matter. We never know how much a kind word or action shared with a loved one or even a stranger can impact that person’s day, week, or month. Words matter. I hope we can all connect with feelings of appreciation and give birth to our own “praise poems” in the form of more kindness toward others and ourselves. How amazing that would be!

On Living with Integrity (and Inside-Out Leggings)

A collage from my journal: The Integrated Self

Last week, I arrived at my meditation group about five minutes before starting time. I was running late because I had decided I could finish just one more thing before I left my apartment. Trying to finish just one more thing–a frequent challenge for me lately. When I entered the meditation room, I pulled the glass door closed softly behind me, hugged the side wall, stowed my purse in a corner, then slipped out of my Velcro-strapped sandals as quietly as possible. I scanned the room and waved hello to folks I knew. Most of the regulars were already seated; I spotted an empty chair in the center of the half-circle. Yes! I zipped across the open space in my bare feet and claimed my spot. Yes! I made it! Just under the wire, but at least I didn’t interrupt the group leader. Whew! Just as I began to relax my shoulders away from my ears, just as I began to settle into my seat, just as I invited in a deep breath and exhaled a sigh of relief, a soft voice from a few seats over whispered, kindly but with a tinge of concern, a question in my direction:

“Theresa, are your pants on inside out?”

What? I tilted my head down and fixed my gaze upon my thighs. I stretched out my legs in front of me and examined the state of my black leggings. Well, I’ll be damned. Thick seams ran up the inside and outside edges of my thighs. I quickly retraced my morning steps in my mind to find some plausible explanation for this faux pas. Yes, the bedroom was dark when I got dressed this morning. My mind was racing ahead to a meeting I have later today. I was thinking about several deadlines; I simply wasn’t paying attention to my clothing enough to turn the light on or open the blinds. My attire was the least of my concerns.

With a smirk in my questioner’s direction, I replied, “Yes. You are right! My pants are on inside out. How about that?! Thanks for telling me.” The woman with the kind voice smiled. I returned her smile, raised my eyebrows, and nodded, “I guess you can tell I’ve had kind of a rough week?” She chuckled and said, “It happens to the best of us.” Then I felt my embarrassment lift; I threw my head back and laughed. A small group of folks within earshot shared a chuckle with me. I appreciated that they were laughing with me and not at me. I stifled a few self-directed giggles during the early minutes of our silent meditation. It’s a good thing I’m not perfect.

As I write this reflection, I am reminded of some lyrics in the song “Upside-Down and Inside-Out” by the contemporary rock band, OK GO. (If you haven’t seen the video for that song, it is eye candy worth sampling; the band members bop around with paint-filled balloons in a zero-gravity airplane. Colorful chaos ensues.) Anyway, I listen to this song frequently, and the lyrics that resonate for me are, “When you met the new you, were you scared? Were you cold? Were you kind? When you met the new you, did someone die inside? Won’t stop, can’t stop, it’s like a freight train!” These words about sum up the past month for me: A change in my life has hit me like a freight train. I am a “new me.” I wonder, how will I treat this woman who is taking on new challenges while wearing her leggings inside out in public?

But wait, wait, wait… Let’s back up, here. Just a few months ago I was living in accordance with this well-known quote from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke, “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…don’t search for the answers…live the questions now…perhaps…far in the future, without noticing it, you will live your way into the answer.” After experiencing internal strife over the last several years, I gave up the struggle to know the answers to “everything unresolved in my heart.” I was perfectly content living the questions, practicing patience until sometime “far in the future” when all would be revealed, when darkness would turn to light. Then, quite by surprise, a seismic shift occurred in my life between Christmas and New Year’s Day, almost without me noticing it. So, I have gone from my recent former self standing on the precipice of the Unknowable Next Thing, longing for authenticity and integrity to guide me, guarding my threshold space like a warrior holding a shield, to suddenly standing smack in the middle of “living my way into the answer.” Case in point: The image below. A few days ago, I did a guided meditation to help me set an intention for 2019. I stayed very much in process, let go of any need for my art to be fine-art pretty, and simply poured out images that entered my imagination: An arrow pointing forward supported by my trusted mandala, entering a block of green. Then, this writing came:

“I am living in integrity, moving forward with trust and love, creating building blocks for my future.”

Intention Setting for 2019

So, what happened? How did my inside finally come out? How is it that I am sharing my images and writing with the world on this website instead of pouring them all into my journals, as I had in recent months, and had for years before that? How am I now offering my own mindful creativity workshops and trusting that people will show up? In short: I got angry. Yes, I got angry, and that experience helped spur a sequence of events that revealed what I incontrovertibly value. As Arthur Burt put it, “Nothing happens until the pain of remaining the same outweighs the pain of change.”

Before the holidays, I spoke with a life adviser with whom I’d connected over the past several months to share tales of my early and more recent pivotal life experiences. I’d sought her counsel to help me surmount the obstacles I saw on my path. On this day, I was explaining, yet again, how challenging it was for me to face the obstacles ahead. (In other words, I offered abundant reasons why I could not move forward with tasks I thought I wanted to do, but wasn’t sure I wanted to do, and I wasn’t sure how to move forward if I also wasn’t sure I wanted to do these tasks… argh! It’s maddening just writing about my ambivalence.) After some discussion, I expressed my frustration at my inability to determine the source of my resistance. This adviser informed me that someone with my history and life experiences will never find the total fulfillment I am seeking in any one place, any one job, so I may as well accept that and learn to accept a life of partial fulfillment in a variety of places. I felt discouraged and disappointed by this feedback, although in my heart I wondered if she might be right. For the last few years, I have been seeking a way to bring my talents, abilities, and personality into alignment; I trusted there was a way to do this and if I lived that question long enough, answers would emerge.

A few days after speaking with this adviser, I wrote in my journal about our discussion. I vented much of my frustration, expressed my anger (“She doesn’t know me!”), and at the end of all that, I entered the world of self-empathy… and collage. I had recently printed out many of my favorite images, screenshots, selfies, and inspiring memes I’d collected on my phone over the last six months. I began to explore these images without any specific goal. I knew they would tell me where they wanted to go on the page, how they would fit together. I was curious about their messages; I stayed open to any wisdom they held. When it felt right, I began moving them around on the pages, adding paint and more writing. Several pages of collaged artwork emerged from this contemplative time (one of these images I’ve included as the featured image for this post; a selfie I took following a movement process along with two owls collaged beside me). I meditated; focused on my breath. Again, I let go of my need to know. (Note: A special labyrinth walk also contributed wisdom here; I will share those insights in a separate post, soon).

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, I experienced an epiphany as I spent time with my collaged images and read over my writing. My adviser might not have been able to see the alignment happening through our conversations, but I could see it happening right in my journal! Taken together, the new images I’d created offered new insight. I wrote this passage in my journal:

“I can fulfill my needs and provide my own source of love and trust and authenticity. It comes down to this: ARTIST. I am the ARTIST of my own life. Being an artist, being a writer, connecting with my story, and inspiring others to connect with their stories, connect with their creativity, brings my talents, abilities, and personality into alignment. INTEGRATION!”

I realized my artist-self has been standing beside me this whole time, she has been there through several false starts and setbacks; our alignment has been there, I just couldn’t see it. Or, perhaps I was not willing to believe it. Now I could see my artist-self, this “new me,” standing right in front of me, beckoning, saying,

“These obstacles are NOT insurmountable. In fact, they are not obstacles at all. They are opportunities. You have me, your spiritual power animals, your community of supporters, and your boundless creativity backing you up. You’ve got this, girl! Rest time is over. Time for forward motion. You have everything you need. Ok. Go!”

I felt as though I’d known her all along, this voice of strength, clarity, and certainty. And that would make sense… We have been traveling this journey together. I let go of needing to know, I trusted the process of self-inquiry through the arts, and answers emerged. And today, as I write these words, I trust her counsel; she knows the way forward. Here she is. Here I am. And here we are in one body. And here is this website. Here is this blog post. Opportunities. Voila!

Much like the moment when I realized I wore my leggings inside out to my meditation group, this process of letting my inside out, letting my artist-self out, is a vulnerable space to occupy. The old me, the insecure, self, the questioning self has died inside. But there are remnants, and sometimes I feel scared; the anxiety bloom rises from my chest to my face like in the old days. At these times, I call to mind my favorite Brene Brown mantras: Embrace imperfection. Vulnerability is strength. Then my heart rate slows back to normal. The freight train of my new self is speeding down the track, but I am more accustomed to a slow-winding, wandering path. So, inside-out can feel like upside-down, but this I know and trust: I am prepared to be kind to myself. I am prepared to laugh at myself. I am prepared to be perfectly imperfect. I can’t stop, I won’t stop, being me. I’m ready for colorful chaos. After years spent in darkness, it’s my time to rise and be the light I want to see. My voice will be heard. I will create my own destiny…

And if that destiny includes members of the public noticing the inside seams of my leggings on occasion, so be it.


Cherish Your Interruptions

Meditation Table

Yesterday I felt a strong need for a break around midday. I had experienced a hectic morning on top of a busier-than-usual past few weeks. I felt tired and anxious, and I longed for a return to equilibrium, a slowing of my heartbeat and breath rate. I knew I could continue working alongside my feelings of mild distress and fatigue, but I also knew that a silent, meditative sit would help me press my “reset” button and I would most likely arrive back at my afternoon tasks feeling more refreshed and clear-headed. Perhaps attending to my need for rest would help me accomplish more in less time.

To begin my meditation practice, I sat in a folding chair at my meditation table on the screened-in porch attached to my apartment. I set the meditation app timer for 60 minutes and took my mala beads in my hands. I had a feeling it would be challenging to focus on my breath cycle alone, so I decided to use a mantra (repeated word) to help me gain focus quickly. I heard the first ring of the timer gong. On every in-breath, I silently said, “still” and on every out-breath I silently said, “ness.” And with every “still-ness” cycle, my fingers grapsed the next bead on the mala string. Still-ness. Still-ness. I would invite my active mind to come to a state of stillness.

About ten minutes passed and I noticed a gradual slowing of my breath. My shoulders fell away from my ears. Still-ness. Still-ness. Yes. I felt grateful for the calmer state I was sure would emerge over the hour. This is exactly what I needed. But just as I noticed some serenity happening, just as I started to relax, I heard a loud, abrasive, whirring “RRRRRR!!!!!” coming from somewhere nearby, followed immediately by deep sounds of motors and high-pitched clanking metal. WRRRRRR!!! WHIRRRRRRR!!! REEETTT!!! REEETTT!!! I was jolted out of my bliss. “The landscapers are here?” I said aloud, incredulous. “Today?” They usually come on a different day. WRRRRRR!!!! REEETTT!!! REEETTT!!! The machines seemed to reply, “Yes! We are here! We are here! Don’t we sound loud and powerful? We have asserted ourselves into your blissful meditation, young lady, because we can! Ha! Ha! Ha!” I sighed, “Crap.” I felt my shoulders stiffen and my chest tighten.

As I listened to the sounds of machinery coming closer to my apartment, I gazed at the pine trees outside my window. A cardinal hopped around on the ground, a fire-red bit of loveliness, pecking here and there. I placed my mala beads down on the table dejectedly and picked up my phone. The seconds of my precious meditation time ticked away one by one. I wondered what to do. Should I go inside where it’s quieter? Should I forget the whole thing and get back to work? Then I noticed a subtle shift in my consciousness. I remembered something that had happened last week could help me in this moment. I smiled broadly; my shoulders dropped. Oh, yes. This is the practice

A few days prior, I had attended my weekly meditation group. We were about 15 minutes into a 30-minute silent sit when someone’s ringing phone broke the silence with its cheerful and catchy tone: Boop-boop-boop! Boop-boop! Boop-boop-boop-boop! That time was just like now. Yes. I was just getting into my flow, being totally present, when that sound catapulted me out of it. On that day, I noticed the ring tone invading my headspace and felt my chest tighten slightly in annoyance as I listened to it play. I said to myself, “Someone forgot to turn off their ringer. Bah!” The tone rang for several cycles; however, I could not help but soften my heart and “boop” right along with it in my mind: “Boop-boop-boop!” As it rang I thought, “The phone is still ringing,” and when it stopped, I thought, “It stopped. Good. Hm. Okay, back to the breath.”

During the group discussion at the end of the meditation, I experienced a change in perception about the ringing phone. First, I felt compassion for the person who forgot to turn off their ringer. I’ve done that before, as I’m sure we all have, and if that had been me I would have felt a bit embarrassed. Second, it occurred to me that perhaps the ringing was not a distraction from my practice, after all, but rather was the practice, or at least a part of it, maybe even an important part. The phone ringing during a silent meditation is like life, in a way: We’re moving along on our path, relatively peacefully one hopes, we’ve got a good predictable flow going, we think we know what to expect around the next bend, and then, “Boop-boop-boop!” something happens that we don’t expect. There’s some kind of an interruption to our life flow. A distraction. A plot twist. We’re catapulted into a different energy space and we may or may not like it. If we like it, great! But if we don’t, then what? How do we handle it?

I wondered, what can I learn from this? What happens if I resist the interruption? What happens if I lean into it instead? Could I learn to accept it, or perhaps even cherish it? Noticing. Feeling. Holding the feeling with compassion. Accepting. Gratitude. This is the practice. My practice. This is where learning happens. With a shift in perspective, “interruptions” might just be opportunities. But we’ll never know if we resist them.

Back on my porch surrounded by machine sounds, I took my phone in one hand. The timer was still ticking. I climbed down from my chair and lay belly-side down on the cool concrete floor. I stacked my hands into a flat pillow, turned my head to one side, and rested my cheek upon them. My body shook slightly, in a rather pleasant way, from the vibrations entering and rising from the floor. Thank you, property managers, for hiring landscapers to take care of the grounds. Thank you, landscapers, for doing the hard labor I cannot do to beautify my surroundings. Thank you, old self, for adjusting your perception and letting go of resistance. I closed my eyes.

About forty minutes later, I woke up to the timer’s gong. In the distance I heard the machinery still whirring and clanking away. I felt surprised that the steady noise and gentle vibrations had somehow lulled me to sleep. I must have needed the nap! I stood up and got back to work.

Happy New Year 2019!

“The road ahead is not some predetermined path that I am forced to trod, but it is a rich byway that I can help create.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough 

La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Gainesville, FL

As I gaze at this recent photo I took of a Live Oak tree on La Chua Trail, I wonder what she has to teach me. Some words come immediately to mind: Persist, nourish, grow, expand, transform. I’ve been visiting this tree regularly for over 15 years. During that time I’ve seen her thick, sturdy body and rugged bark endure all vagaries of Florida’s weather, from summer’s suffocating heat, torrential rainstorms, and mercurial hurricanes to winter’s cooler temperatures and drier, calmer days. In all seasons, her elegant branches grow skyward into a crown, then extend out in multiple directions. They support soft, heavy clumps of Spanish Moss, and create cozy homes for twittering song birds, secret hiding places for insects, and abundant shade for wading birds, alligators, and admirers like me. Her magical leaves even turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. She accomplishes all these tasks while growing ever taller, ever wider, ever stronger. Just by standing there, she gets to do so much…

Persist, nourish, grow, expand, transform. Do I have to do these things, or do I get to do them? With 365 new days ahead, I’m shifting my thinking away from “I have to…” and toward “I get to…” Today I get to write my first blog post on my new website. And you get to read it (thanks for doing that!). At this moment, I get to stop typing and pause… I get to close my eyes, take a deep breath in, then exhale slowly. I get to feel grateful for the rise and fall of my chest, the gift of my breath, my beating heart, my thinking brain. I get to feel grateful for my inner weather (mercurial as it sometimes is), and the guidance of my inner wisdom. I get to open my spirit and anticipate the many wonders that will greet me: The new opportunities for learning I can cultivate, the self-connection I can nourish through the creative process, the new friends I can make in my community, the kindness and compassion we can share. Just by sitting here, I get to do so much…

The light in me greets the light in you, friends. I am so happy you are taking this adventure with me. Just imagine all that we will get to do in the days and months to come! What, I wonder, are you looking forward to?

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