all the small things

There are changes afoot in my life. Everyone has them. Mine are probably no different from yours. My husband starts a new job this week, the better of the two that he was offered but it’s not the one that called to his heart, it is the one that will bring home money and afford him time with his family. The decision had the familiar feel of being choiceless. Something we’ve experienced many times over the past seven years in our effort to find a way forward, like the strong undertow in a river; we have been swept this way and that without any control. Lately, we have had conversations about moving back to Virginia, specifically Charlottesville. It’s a place where our hearts feel they belong, where it truly feels like home. We’ve been away so long though and suffered much in that time that we fear we are idealizing it, creating beauty out of the commonplace. It cannot be denied (for us) though that we love it there. My gut says go and I’ve learned to trust my gut. His gut is like a frantic child, unsure of what it wants, feeling this and that, which leaves him confused about what to believe in. I give it up to source, I am able for the most part to let it be. This is how I feel and I believe that this is what I want. We will be happier there which can only be beneficial for our family. Of course, I think of the kids and how they’ll cope but I think they’ll enjoy it too, in the long run. My parents live there and they are getting older. My Mum is a paraplegic, my Dad her only caregiver and I want to help.

Anyway, lots of changes I imagine coming up in the next few years. In the meantime, I am reading but cannot seem to stick to one particular book; I want to read them all. On the heels of The Assassin piece I wrote for the Creative Writing Challenge, I have almost completed my first short story. I’m excited by the fulfillment of that but also critical of its content. It it just like so many others? Does it feel childlike or is that just my perception? Aaahhh!!

I am continuing to read “Living With Your Heart Wide Open” and practicing Mindfulness daily. It’s really an easy thing to do, even during the most mundane of things like cooking, washing up, cleaning up cat poo, flossing my kids’ teeth…I am aware that I’m not in the present and by being aware of that, I can bring myself back to mindfulness. I love that.

I wanted this entry to be light and lovely so here are some things that make me smile:

1. I smile and wave to the guy at the bus stop on the way to school in the morning. I noticed that he did this first a few weeks ago. Sometimes it’s freezing out there but he stands there with his ear muffs on and little red lunch bag and he smiles and raises his hands to passing drivers. An action like that deserves to be acknowledged and I do so every morning that I see him. We both smile. He gets it, I think.

2. It’s corny but I love the way the sun’s rays power through morning clouds, like shiny ladders to earth.

3. My skinny kitty curls up on my right shoulder when I’m reading in bed at night. She stretches out her right paw and gently pats my face, tilts hers toward me, pleading with her big, round eyes so that I can’t help but stop reading and spend a moment loving her.

4. Connecting with strangers and making them laugh. I do it a lot. At the grocery store mainly.

5. I’ve discovered a radio station that plays a lot of 70’s music. I do like 70’s music. Disco. Yep.

6. Hugging trees, big and small.

7. Walking in my heeled boots.

8. Incorporating into my ‘going to sleep’ routine, ten things that I’m grateful for that day.

9. Understanding how to let things be. When it happens, it’s amazing.

10. Being in the story that I’m writing.

11. When my kids come to me for hugs.

12. Watching The Amazing Race with my husband. Also, moving my feet in time to the theme tune and finishing it with a flourish of raised hands.

13. My good, good friends who will always give me honest feedback and advice.

14. Hiking in nature.

15. No matter what I’ve experienced, what I’m working through, however unpleasant or joyful it is to do, I’m solid and sound and grateful and blessed.

Lisa…

Self-compassion

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I was going to start this off from a snarly frame of mind, but that was yesterday. And today I feel differently.

Lately in trying to find the truth I had been pulling from many sources. I borrowed The Vortex by Esther & Jerry Hicks and began reading that over the weekend but it spoke to me in righteous tones and fair pummelled me with its notions. I get their point of view, I really do, but I couldn’t justify spending my precious reading time with a book that preached to me.

Then there was Deepak Chopra’s 21 Day Meditation Challenge. The excitement I felt upon signing up ebbed away pretty quickly. After Day 2, in fact. I don’t think it was wholly Oprah’s involvement although I think that might have been a factor. For the most part, I just didn’t ‘feel‘ it like I did the one in November. The subject matter was not of importance to me even though I know that generally, the challenge would cover all bases.

If it doesn’t feel right or I find my interest waning, unless it’s to serve me better, I won’t do it.

I dropped all the boxes I’d been carrying.

Metaphorically speaking.

I did hang onto a book “Living With Your Heart Wide Open” by Steve Flowers and Bob Stahl as recommended by a wonderful blogger, Karl Duffy at mindfulbalance.org. I highly recommend his posts, btw.

I’m not a quarter of the way through this book but have already carried out a few of the exercises with surprising results. The one that has helped me most was finding acceptance and compassion for the self. It sounds easy, but it really, really isn’t. It’s easy to be accepting and compassionate for others but digging deep, pushing through the critical, the tangle of judgment to find the nugget of compassion for oneself takes a lot of practice.

There are certain songs that I cannot listen to. They evoke memories of good times and bad times, but either way, they cause me pain. After reading the section on how thoughts feed feelings and how we can defuse those feelings by creating an observer’s point of view, I decided that the next time I felt something strongly enough, I would do this exercise. Sure enough, the next morning, I heard one of the songs. Normally I would find an alternative station. Not this time.

The singer sang the song, the lyrics played out in my head, my solar plexus burned into my eyes and I felt the hot sting of tears. As instructed, I held the thoughts where they were but brought my awareness to the feeling (rather interesting to do when driving) for the duration of the song. It was tricky, I’ll admit because my conscious would want to delve into those lyrics and the meaning behind them. I fought and won and stayed with the feeling. It was unpleasant. No lie. When the song was done, I turned to the thoughts in my head (using some visualization) and asked how I would feel if I just let these thoughts (lyrics) come and go without becoming involved in them.

Hmm…said the thoughts…I would feel no pain. It would be just a song. It will always have a memory stamped on it but it wouldn’t bring me pain.

The final and next step was crucial and harder still…

To ask myself what in me was seeking acceptance and compassion.

How do you feel compassion for yourself when all that’s been said has been silent and critical, oftentimes without you knowing that that’s what you’ve been doing. It’s a stealthy voice, that one. Practiced and cunning.

I asked myself that question a few times before just sitting with it. In the car, almost at work. The radio off.

And the answer was: my heart. We are all capable of so much love and we should love, in all its forms. But we are conditioned to believe that if something goes wrong or someone hurts you or things don’t work out, perhaps it was the wrong thing to do. You may be angry at the other person, hurt by them but you are also angry and hurt at yourself for being gullible, or stupid, or not thinking. Over time, maybe it becomes what we expect the outcome to be.

When I was done the exercise, the hurt in my solar plexus felt strangely whole, like it was filling back up, healing almost. I can’t describe it properly, except to say that it didn’t burn anymore, it just glowed.

I’ve a long way to go, lots of compassion to discover, so it’ll be baby steps and all that but I’m on the right path. Taking my time and doing things my way with my meditations, my truths and my journey.

In the meantime, I’m reading like a fiend, and writing too. It’s like I turned a corner and in front of me was the box of creativity that I’d discarded years and years ago. Just sitting there waiting patiently for me to return and open it up. And, oh, the delights! The possibilities! I’m so excited!

Lisa…

Creative Writing Challenge: 2AM Photo

It’s 2AM and your phone has just buzzed you awake, filling the room in white-blue LED light. You have a message. It’s a photo. No words, no explanation. Just a photo. Tell us all about it. And what happens next.

All I want to do is sleep. The red-eye I took from California has personified itself as I am jolted awake in my hotel room in New York. I reach out my left hand for the phone, scars criss-cross the lines on my palm like snake trails across sand. I am used to them and give them no thought whatsoever. My focus is the phone, and I see as I bring it to my bleary eyes, a photo of a building here in New York. It is the New York Times. I know precisely where it is; I’ve been to this city many times. I’ve been to many cities around the world many times; my profession requires me to travel. Extensively.

My name is Troy. I am an assassin.

Switching on the bedside lamp, I breathe deeply and close my eyes against the soft glare. They water slightly as a gritty heat rises then fades to a weary submission. I want to sleep but I must go. With one burly arm, I push back the blanket and slide my legs to hang over the bed. I lift my feet and flex my quads and smile slightly with a raw confidence. I am strong, I am silent, I am mean. I am death.

I do not carry much with me; just essentials. In my holdall, two pairs each of jeans and boxer briefs, black. Two t-shirts, forest green, short-sleeved, crew neck. Four pairs of Hanes crew socks, white. A dobie bag with soap, shampoo, razor, bandaids. One navy blue, V-neck sweater. I will wear a black, boxy leather jacket and carry in my right hand a slim, black briefcase containing my tools. This is the most valuable possession I own. Without it, I cannot do my job; I am unable to function.

It is now 2:20am. I am dressed. I flip the briefcase open to inspect the equipment. I run my torn fingers across the body of the Glock; she’s a beauty in silver. For a moment, I am not here, I am somewhere else in my head, someplace from before. I have an inkling of rushing bodies, confusion, yelling. I can’t grasp it. I notice that these illusions or dreams, whatever they are, are becoming more frequent. I don’t understand them and I don’t care to so I return my attention to the briefcase. Check the silencer, screw it on, unscrew it off. Check for bullets. All is well.

I put my jacket on, sling the holdall over my left shoulder, grab the briefcase, pat my back pocket for the phone, take one last look around the room and leave. Quietly. The room is paid for so I am able to exit the hotel unobserved. I am stealth. Unseen.

The building I am instructed to go to is not very far. I do not waste time with taxis, with socializing, with being seen. I stride to my destination with purpose and keep to the inside of the sidewalks so as to remain in shadow. I have three blocks to go. It is cold but I do not care about the weather. I care only for my gun. I do not care for my target who shall only be revealed once I am there. I care only for the money which will be my reward.

Up ahead, I see a group of boys. I do not falter nor do I slow down but I can sense in their posturing around each other, trouble. I grip my briefcase tighter, look left and right and cross the road. I am too late, for they have seen my diversion. They think I am fair game, a lone man out on the devil streets of New York in the early hours. They begin to shout toward me and upon receiving no reply, convince themselves to poke further. Five or six of them, young men, hop and falter across the road beside as I continue my way forward. They catch up behind me with taunts and threats. They have no idea.

Suddenly, I feel a sharp stick to my left hamstring. I limp to a stop, look down and see a gash in my jeans. Beyond that, a small knife lies flat and shiny on the sidewalk, save for a sliver of my blood attached. I turn around, drop my holdall and confront these hoodlums of the night. They stand in a wicked line, a blockade of attitude, eyes blaring, daring me to come. And I see I have a choice.

Before I can make a decision, they are rushing me. Headlong and vile, spitting curses and thoughtless in their evil, vacant eyes. I have no time for my Glock so I am forced to rely on old skills. They are young and thin and wiry. I am older but I am fit. Strong. Evil with an agenda. And they will not stand in my way. The first one with black, shaggy hair leaps upon me, fists ready with right-angled elbows, and face exposed.

I am there. Again. That place. With the rushing bodies, yelling, grunting. Combat. Hands on. I remember that I could hold a knife without wincing, turn it around and slice a neck open. The kids don’t stand a chance.

When it is done, I am breathing hard. Memories of a job from a former life are fading quickly. The boys are strewn about, broken bones and cords are all that is left of them. I feel no pain from the pathetic stick in my leg so I jog to my holdall, sling it over my left shoulder, pick up my briefcase and continue my shadowy, purposeful walk to The New York Times Building where I will await the next photo. That of my target.

Challenging the dark side.

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
– santiz Patanjali

I yoinked this from fellow blogger, starrystez. Thank you.

Just let it sink in.

Remember a time when you embarked on something, a project or new endeavour that excited you, made it so that you could almost feel the very cells in your body tingle with anticipation. I felt that way when I saw my actors at the very first rehearsal perform the play I had written. Not the read-through; when we began to block movement and discuss emotion. The act of seeing in front of me that which I had written, come to life, made me come alive inside with a tense, jangled enthusiasm.

It’s safe to say that that play is the one piece of creativity born from my own mind that has seen a beginning and an end. I have many ideas whirling around in my head but none that I can grasp and collect and piece together into anything with potential. My computer at home has a dozen, if not more stories that have been started with a flourish and grand idea but never made it past the first or second chapter.

I’ve been working on a book lately that expands on the play I wrote but now it feels trite and silly. It hasn’t any character development. It has a beginning, middle and an end yet gradually, it has become a plodding one-note effort. I’m bored with it. It has ceased to excite me and unfortunately, will probably end up on the cyber shelf next to all the others.

However there is a dark, whispery thought that has beckoned over the past year. I’m not sure if there’s a trigger for it’s timeliness but it seems to be calling a little louder each time. It happened during my drive to work this morning, ironically after I marvelled at the loveliness of the sun’s rays shooting to earth through the clouds. I do a lot of that these days; looking for beauty in nature wherever I am, it makes my heart sing.

Anyway, the thought…a murmur really…to dive into the dark side. It’s not a place I’ve been comfortable to go in the past, mainly because of that silly mindset that if you imagine something awful happening, it actually will. Like when you call in sick because what you really want to do is go to the beach but within a day or two, you actually do fall ill, that sort of thing. Perhaps I am hearing the call with a clarity I haven’t known because I am more in tune with myself and aware that the dark side is as much a vibrant possibility as the “light” side. I am no longer afraid of acknowledging it.

The dark side is very deep and shadowy, like most people’s. It’s the watery harbour for those things you want to say, those things you want to do but by their very nature, go against every moral and ethical code. For the situations you think of that perhaps only see the dim light of your craziest dreams. Scary things. Terrible, terrifying things. Opposing situations that if you considered to bring them to the light of day, would leave cracks in your psyche that could eventually become wider and deeper until those harbour walls crumbled, its blocks of stone splashing into the murky water one by one until the demon in you was unleashed and there was nothing you could do to save yourself.

That’s the call and if I heed it, I will have to go further and go deeper than I have attempted before. I will have to commit to writing something wretched and gasping that’s been scraped off the sides of a dark, earthy pit. It feels like a giant snake stuck in a deep well, circling with a cruel patience and when I finally allow myself to succumb without fear, it will uncoil itself and up it will come. And all that I want to say will rise up with it. I will feel just like that saying above.

All my thoughts will break their bonds. My consciousness will expand in every direction.

Lisa…

Perception and Judgment

Last Thursday I went for a run, well, it was more of a jog really. It was a lovely, albeit bit of a breezy afternoon but I enjoyed the still of the tree-lined streets, the soft sound of Heart Meditations radio flowing into my brain. The feel of breath coursing in and out of my body. Really feeling my feet connect with the ground. It wasn’t easy going though because it’s been about six months since I exercised with any regularity so there were quite a few times I stopped to walk before picking up speed again.

I used to criticize myself for doing that and would always feel that people in their houses or people driving by were privately deriding me for walking, so I’d wait until no-one was around before doing so. Now I try to allow myself the grace to admit that I’m older and I have been remiss in taking care of myself physically so I need to give myself time and space to return to where I want to be. It’s a tough pill to swallow; the feeling of inadequacy, failure or dread – they can be real moodbusters. So, I’m making my way around the houses and am aware of these thoughts but am not squishing them down because I know they’ll just pop right back up again like a bunch of Whack-A-Moles. Instead, I do my best to allow them to come and go and I counter them with positive thoughts in a gentle manner. If I need to stop to walk, I break the notion of stranger derision by just stopping and walking. No matter where I am or who’s driving by. I could feel my ego recoil in horror every time. *smile*

And then, as I was headed out of the lovely tree-lined estate, almost done with my jog, I saw ahead of me a young couple also running. I noticed her hair first of all, which was perfectly parted and highlighted and pulled back into a pony tail. She wore a short-sleeved light blue shirt over black pants. And big sunglasses. In a split second of judgment, I saw myself as a middle-aged mother of two wearing her husband’s long-sleeved shirt because she had nothing else warm to wear, a thin hoodie wrapped around her waist, strategically placed to cover her ass, and shiny black pants. Also scraggly hair that had not been professionally cut in a year and no sunglasses. I thought she had me pegged.

Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. I couldn’t tell since her sunglasses were so big and we really didn’t greet each other as we passed.

However, it really was my perception of myself that bounced off her and back to me. And I knew it as they passed by. I judged her and me and was aware of it in the space of about two seconds.

Isn’t it amazing how snappy the mind can be?

I felt vaguely unsettled for the remainder of my time outdoors and it was one of the things I brought up to my husband when I got home. Even then, I felt sure that this woman had judged me. My ego kept throwing up her image for me to compare myself against.

It’s only today, four days later that I’m admitting what I did and thought and felt. And being ok with it all. Because isn’t that what our journey is about? Experiencing these thoughts, becoming aware of them and accepting them. Learning that the ego has its place in all of us, that our shadows are all part of us and how we can become aware of their role in our soul on a daily basis, isn’t that all part of finding our truth?

I love my soul. And the “bigness” of it. How there is so much more for me to dive into and explore and observe and accept.

Lisa…

Thoughts from the Monkey Mind

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I would love to give credit to whoever created this artwork but I’m unable to locate the artist. It’s perfect though in providing a graphic description of what goes on in most of our heads. Every day, we generate anywhere from 12,000 – 50,000 thoughts a day. That’s an incredible amount. Can you imagine if we acted on every single thought that chugged through? My mind is imploding just thinking of the chaos.

In the past, I have put myself through the emotional wringer…

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“Oh hey, that looks like fun, never done that before, let’s give it a whirl!”

One thought led to another and the things I wanted were manifested. But, they weren’t well thought out thoughts; I absolutely did not weigh in with consequences and I ended up feeling like this:

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This article was my a-ha moment for today. I say “for today” because I understand about choices and the like. It’s just that some days, spiritual oneness and peace seem further out of reach. It’s a lengthy read but I took this little nugget:

“We make a thousand choices a day, each one a bargain in which the brain weighs expected benefits against expected costs. Therefore, it’s important to make good bargains, good choices, in which the real benefits are greater than the real costs.”

…and snapped to attention immediately.

So, what I had thought would feel wonderful and good, i.e., what I pulled out from the bargain rack ended up costing me more than I thought and ultimately, I was left feeling awful after putting myself though the emotional wringer. Undoubtedly, it affected other people too.

I’ve felt a little wobbly thought-wise the last couple of days. I knew it vaguely as I went about my days: driving, eating dinner, interacting with my family, writing, whatever…I knew it. I tried to control my thoughts with affirmations and repeated phrases but they built like a crescendo. Not to the point where I grabbed something off the bargain rack in an unrestrained fit of desire, nor was I reduced to anything emotional.

But if they persisted, I could be tempted to veer off my soulful path.

That happens a lot. Let’s face it, I’ve only been meditating regularly for four months so I’m still seeking my truth. I have had to guide myself back from whatever thorny mess that I’ve wandered into a number of times.

Those thoughts were most apparent during meditation; the incessant chattering of those stupid monkeys! It was work, let me tell you, to ask to be brought back to my mantra time and again. Persistence paid off though and I am able to smile at the process. Today I felt that sought-after glimpse of clarity and deep, deep gratitude. That one brief, shiny moment was worth fending off some of that off-the-wall shit those monkeys threw.

I never used to be the kind of person to think things through and I’m still really not. I’m impetuous and I dash headlong into things. But when it comes to the important stuff that matters to me and to those closest to me, I truly do know that the more I learn, the more I read and the more I meditate, the better I feel about the thoughts that come and go.

And the better I will become at plucking and running with the ones that have wonderful outcomes.

Lisa…

Take it as it comes.

I’ve lived here…

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Plymouth, England

and here…

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Charlottesville, VA

and many, many other places in between. Currently, I live here…

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Delaware

It’s been a gypsy kind of life, minus the caravan. Although, I’d love to have one of these…

Gypsy Caravan

…in my back garden, all nestled in some tall overgrown grass with some hollyhocks and foxgloves. Imagine lounging on the steps during a warm fall evening with a glass of chilled white wine and some noshy things to nosh on. Mmmm…

Anyhoo…yes, I’ve been picking up my stakes and throwing them down all over England and the United States. Made such a mess, you could probably track me down in Borneo if you wanted to. Not going there though, too many creepy crawlies.

My Dad was a Navy man, you see. British Navy, if you please, which meant moving from one Naval married quarters to the next, until I grew out of the primary (elementary) school years and needed a place to buckle down with regularity. And that’s how we ended up in Plymouth, England. Actually, we’d lived there twice before during our early years (that was a fun time – leaving a school at the age of five only to return five years later? All the kids I knew had grown up and around each other. Nowhere else have I ever felt quite like the outsider as I did during the final year in that school.)

Anyway, yes, during my secondary school (middle) years, I lived in that house in Plymouth for six years.

And here’s where I just blew my own mind across the desk. That is the longest I’ve ever lived in a house. From the age of twelve to eighteen. I’m forty-three now and the most I’ve stuck down roots in a house, not a town – a house or apartment…would be three years. Sometimes, I know my up-and-moves came from possessing a restless spirit. Sometimes it was circumstance; a broken relationship here, a job loss there, eviction notice or a condemned house (yes, that happened) – they all necessitated a move.

Just to backtrack a second, it’s probably safe to say that in my entire life, I’ve never settled down. My Mum’s marriage fell apart around the time that I was born (fabulous!), so was forced to find where she could in terms of housing. As a single, working mother in the early 70’s, I’m sure it was no easy feat. She’s told me over the years how she met my Dad (not my “step dad”, because he actually went one step further and adopted me) at a Halloween party when he was docked in Norfolk, VA and how she was sort of her friend’s wing girl, except it was my Mum who met her “One.”

So, at two and a half, I moved from the States to England. New Dad. New family. New environment. A lot to adjust to, right? Even as a toddler. These days, there would be much care taken for the well-being of the toddler and the family as a whole. But back then, there were no outreaches, no helping hands, no sympathetic groups. You had to get on with it. Stop yer grumblin’ and get to work!

Here I am now with two kids of my own; both in elementary school and one not far from the middle. I was adamant before the oldest started school that they would not be shifted and shipped around like me. That they would have a stable education and that they would grow up in one house. Images of my son bounding in after some extra-curricular activity, of my daughter standing on the beautiful butterfly staircase before going to prom…

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…Yes, these very stairs. This was our house, the one we dreamed of living in until the kids went to college. Buuuuut….circumstances outside of our control forced us to move, and move, and move again. And, quite frankly, that gorgeous house should never have been ours. It was out of our league.

I know kids move around all the time. And kids are resilient. Kids bounce back. That’s what everyone kept telling me when mine had to bear the brunt of switching schools. They took the changes in stride, shed a few tears, balked a little in the mornings but on the whole, seven months in, they’re doing just fine.

I turned out fine too, despite the lack of concern for my true well being as a toddler and the subsequent trauma that occurred which might be a bit too personal for sharing. That, and I’ve recovered quite nicely from it so why dredge it all up again, right?

We have more house moves on the cards, I know for a fact and with each one, I become more weary; I wanted to plant those roots and watch them grow (excuse the French Kiss line) a long time ago. I actually really like where we are; it’s the first time in a long time that a place feels like home.

So, circumstance might have some control over the situation but how I deal with it and how my family sees me dealing with it is the most important thing. I just wish I hadn’t unpacked ALL the boxes in a fit of “Goddamn it, I’m fed up with living my life in boxes, I’m going to open up everything and put everything in its place,” when we moved in.

Lisa…