A day in the life, 2018

February 25, and this is where I am. In between the day’s demands and the shadows, this is what grief looks like…how it wears, almost five months into my new reality.

This grief is like no other. First, it’s all-encompassing. Losing my son has changed my calendar, my reckoning of life’s history, into a great division of “before” and “after.”

Even when I look fine, and I seem to be involved in other things, awareness is just under the surface. Loss is on my mind and heart, even if I’m able to disguise it and appear “normal.”

I no longer have to remember when I wake up. I wake up already knowing. I know the fact that Alex is gone, and I take up that awareness as soon as I’m conscious.

I recognize that while people have been very kind, and I’ve felt free to speak about Alex, I also have to function, and that means I have to be able to have work conversations; logistics conversations; I want to be able to ask a question in the market without falling apart. I don’t need to answer simple and casual questions (from TSA agents, checkers, hallway passers-by) who initiate the pleasantry of “how are you?” with more response than they want or need to hear. They are not asking for my truth. They are asking for my veneer. And that’s ok. I accept that for the most part, our culture does not expect or invite real answers to these questions of courtesy.

Grief is surprising. It’s not all about sadness, though a lot of it is. I love to talk about Alex in happy moments, remembering funny things he said or did, sweet memories, good times. I talk to him a lot as I move through my days. It’s a one-sided conversation, but I like to think he hears me.

I play music he loves, and I believe he hears that too.

Sometimes grief is overwhelming, and for reasons I don’t always see coming. Walking through the grocery store, the sadness is sharp and deep. We used to talk a lot when he was shopping, he would call me and share all sorts of stuff…we used to laugh a lot. He was picky about food and diet. And bacon. He loved good bacon. How do you manage yourself when you’re suddenly drowning, looking at one of his favorite foods in the market, melting into a pool of memories?

The big times you can see coming, and you brace for them. Holidays…we’ve been through the first round already. I think his birthday will be harder. But I know where that date lives on the calendar, and I’ll be as prepared as I can be to make it a day of happiness that he lived in this world, rather than sorrow that he’s gone.

(I’m trying to train myself to still speak of him in present tense, though I know that may be confusing, and it isn’t always appropriate. I say I love him, not I “loved” him. He is still living, just not in this realm.)

……………..

It’s the small things that sneak up on you that are hardest, really: the moments you just double over because something catches you off guard; the times you have to stop and breathe deep because you can’t just keep going. You have to stop and physically give in to what you’re feeling in the moment. Sometimes I begin sentences in a normal voice, but can’t finish my thought because I’m suddenly overwhelmed.

I never get in his car without feeling like I should thank him for using it. Not that I ever wanted his car. No. I would so much rather have him, infinitely more than a vehicle. But we paid off the car, and brought it up, so now we drive it. I have survivor’s guilt, even though we had no say in what he chose. Even though we would give anything to have him back. The guilt that I am alive and living is so strong, and I don’t know why. I remind myself that he left. He chose to leave, though I know it wasn’t anything that he did to wound us. But even without intention, it did wound us, and we are forever walking around with that hole, that gap, in our beings. Sometimes I think that must be visible to everyone.

I miss talking to him in the places and times when we used to connect. He’d call while I was making dinner, or on my way home from work, and we’d chat. About the little stuff, and the big. Now those times of day are empty, and I wait for my phone to ring, knowing it’s not going to. Or if it rings, it won’t be him.

I hear his laugh, his hearty, doubled-up-with-joy laugh, when he found something so hilarious he had to share. He had a keen sense of humor, and loved a good joke and a funny story. He was quite the story teller too. He had the Irish gift of gab, and he could spin a tale like he was born to do it. He had favorites that grew with the telling. He could turn on accents, face animated and body following the story, going through all the motions, giving you the full force of his personality, filled to the brim with life, overflowing with charm, his personal brand of attraction. He was handsome and sweet. He was the kind of man who grabs your heart, for the best of reasons.

…………

Grief bounces off every-day items and situations that have no connection to Alex, at least as far as anyone else could see. But there are links to him everywhere, and I see all of them.

It works like this:

We last saw Alex in Hawaii on a family vacation, and I used a new brand of hair dryer on that trip. I liked it so much that I bought a hair dryer like the one in the hotel when we got home. I had used it for months before Alex died, with no thought connecting him to the dryer. But now, every morning, I see the hair dryer and I pick it up to dry my hair, and there is an immediate path that opens to Hawaii, and to Alex, just because that’s all connected now.

The whole state of Colorado is linked to him, and a million other things. Things like an ad for In ‘n Out Burgers, which he loved. I see that chain is expanding to Colorado, and I mourn that he won’t get to enjoy it in his home state. He’ll miss that. As though it matters, with everything else he’s missing, or everyone who’s missing him! But it does matter. It’s another dart to my heart, sharp. And yet so trivial. How do you explain you’re crying over a burger chain your son liked? It seems silly. But in grief, nothing is silly, nothing is meaningless. The smallest, most insignificant connection can feel momentous. And the links that really are meaningful can take your breath.

Anything that touches our life with him growing up falls into this crevasse. Anything that touches on something he loved, or even something he disliked…anything that reminds me of something that reminds me of him…like the hair dryer, the object or situation or memory is not necessarily something anyone else would connect to Alex. But I do, effortlessly and instantly. It is an involuntary response to awareness of him, and awarness that he’s not here.

Grief is both exhausting and effortless. I say effortless because it happens naturally, without putting intentional thought or emotion toward my grief, or toward the one I’m missing. It just happens. It is lightening fast, and penetrates to the marrow. Like a physical jolt or wound, I feel the hurts, deep and painful.

It is exhausting because it doesn’t end. You know the way you feel when everything is going right? When you’re well with the world? I don’t know if I can ever feel that again. I believe Alex is in a better place, as they saying goes. I believe he’s at peace, and I believe he can see us and know how much we love and miss him. But even believing all of that, it doesn’t change the reality that I miss him being here. I miss knowing he’s out and about, doing his thing, being Alex. And when I do my mental checks to see that all is right with the world, I feel for him. And he’s not there. And I can’t connect. I can’t fix it. I don’t know how to make it right.

So I live with this. It’s ok. I accept this as part of what it means to love, to be vulnerable, to invest in another person. I invested in my son, and he repaid that investment with so much that was good, and beautiful, and sweet. I just wish I could have changed the ending.

But that too, I’m coming to see differently. I’ll always regret that he couldn’t continue. But I’m coming to accept that he felt that way, and it was his right to make that decison. And I believe that even the dead have a right to privacy. I don’t know all the issues that led to his choice to die. But he was 30, an adult, and as much as he shared, he was not under obligation to share everything. We all have chapters we don’t read out loud, and I accept that ultimately, he chose not to share what he was thinking those last hours. We know a bit, from the words he left. But we don’t know all, and we won’t.

Just because we are mother and son, the relationship doesn’t erase the right to our own lives, our thoughts, and our choices. Just as I haven’t shared everything in my life with my children, so they have a right to filter their lives. It’s a matter of respect, and it’s also reality. Everyone should have the privilege of managing their choices and their privacy.

If that sounds like I’m approving of suicide, or even advocating for it, I’m not. I am trying to accept what I must, and recognize that life is not a given. We don’t have control over anyone beyond self.

I belong to a FB group of survivors of suicide who have a military affiliation. The stories I see posted are all so similar…stories of (mostly) young men who seem to have had so much to offer, who were loving and generous, and seemed fine, or mostly fine, until suddenly, shockingly, they were not. The spouses, mothers, fathers, siblings, and children of these individuals write from varying places of disbelief, sorrow, depression, and confusion. What happened? What did they miss? What went so tragically wrong?

I understand. We know some of Alex’s story, but not all. He didn’t choose to share everything with us, or seemingly, anyone. Or perhaps he shared bits and pieces with different friends and family, but not all with anyone. We are left trying to piece together the puzzle.

What I’m coming to feel, to believe, is that the why is not really important. It would have mattered if we could have understood enough to have stopped his death. But now, knowing more…well, it feels like dissecting his last days and hours is an invasion. If he wanted us to know, he would have let us know.

This isn’t coming from lack of love, but rather, from deep respect. My son was a strong person, a deep thinker. If this choice to end his life was what he came to after considering his options, even if I strongly disagree, I know, in that moment of decision, he believed he was doing the best thing. I may disagree with his choice, but I also respect that it was his choice to make.

This is a hard stance to take. Aren’t we all connected, and don’t we owe something to the others in our lives? By choosing to remove himself from his family and friends, he impacted all of us, and it’s so hard to bear. It’s so hard to accept his loss.

Yes, I believe we do owe something to the people in our lives. But when anyone reaches the point Alex reached, I don’t think they’re capable of seeing that. I believe with all my heart that his choice to die wasn’t made to hurt anyone…not family, not friends, not his girlfriend. He was choosing to end his pain. It seems so incomprehensible. Didn’t he grasp that ending his pain would be painful for everyone? How could he not see that?

That’s why suicide is often viewed as an act of selfishness. But I believe it isn’t about selfishness. I believe suicide reflects the victim becoming so blinded by their pain they don’t recognize the enormity of the loss they inflict on everyone who loves them.

I think about all this, turn it over and over in my mind, try to come to some place of peace. I talk it out loud, reason it out to Alex. I want him to know what I’m thinking, what I’m working through. I want him to know he is loved, in the here and now, even if he is beyond us, living in a different realm.

It turns out I need his approval for going on, and maybe it helps him to feel my acceptance, as much as I can accept without endorsing his choice. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to anyone else. I don’t know.

I only know what I have to live with, or without, more accurately. And I know that to live with this reality, and to live without Alex, I have to find a way to make some sense of it. Making sense of an act that seems senseless to me is a feat of mental gymnastics. But I’m doing it. I’m trying to see from his perspective, and remove myself. That’s the only way I can confront this.

I come back to the same place again and again. If I couldn’t save Alex, maybe I can save someone else? Maybe in reality; or maybe I can help someone else who struggles with loss. Come along side and say I understand. Push for awareness, interevention, blood drives, laughter, and all the things Alex stood for and loved. It’s the only path I see to walk. Honoring my son with strength, and with understanding, as much as I am able.

The grief is there, a part of me. I don’t know how it will be five years from now, or ten. I expect it to continue. Maybe finding ways to use our story will soften the pain a bit. Or maybe not. Whatever I can do for anyone else, it won’t bring him back. But maybe he will see, and smile, and know his spirit is still having an impact. He’s still doing his thing, in this life, and in the next.

Quotes…there are so many powerful words that speak to pain, to loss, to grief. This is one I like…only one of hundreds, maybe thousands.

‘You know’ – she shrugs – ‘most people’s lives are a struggle. This is just my recipe. You have a choice with your experiences, even if they have been negative and difficult, and one thing you can do is turn pain to power.’   – Thandie Newton

That’s a beautifully succinct way to put it…the recipe is to turn pain to power. I don’t interpret “power” as personal power or for personal benefit. I interpret this as the power to overcome, to make something positive from great pain and loss. And that’s what I’ll try to do, for Alex, for myself, for my family. For everyone who knew him.

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Sometimes you need to be still…

For two years I’ve lived out of a suitcase. Two years.

I never saw that coming.

The past two years, since we sold the house in Ketchikan, we’ve worked in small communities in SE Alaska, lived in temporary duty clinic housing, and traveled.

We’ve traveled a lot.

And that’s been good. We’ve traveled for work and traveled for fun, spent time with family and friends, and seen some amazing places. We sorted through a lot of stresses, a lot of questions, as individuals, and as a couple.

We didn’t really have a plan when this chapter began. We just sort of fell into this life. Mostly we couldn’t decide what we wanted, where we wanted to make a home again. We still haven’t decided. And the thing about Alaska is, there’s always plenty of work. It’s easy to ride the circuit of clinics, spending a few weeks or a month at a time, take a break, then make the rounds again. It’s easy to stay busy when you can’t make a decision.

But as of this month, we’re creating a hub again.

We didn’t buy a house, or settle on our “happily ever after” place. We haven’t retired, and we’re not working full-time either.

One of the locations where we’ve worked on a regular basis has individual clinic housing available that we can use with a limited commitment, so we’re taking the offer of housing, more stability, and a space to unpack, for the first time in a long time.

My personal commitment to Alaska is on the horizon. I have roughly four years to go to my next decade, and that’s the timeline I’m working with.

While I’m slightly giddy about seeing my Kitchen Aid again, spreading out, and having access to all my wardrobe in one place, this decision also serves other needs.

There’s no doubt we’ll be here more regularly, even though I expect we’ll still be working in other locations on occasion. It will be good to have a part in adding stability to this clinic. We’re not indispensable…no one is…but we have a contribution to make.

The other thing I’ve realized is: I need some stillness in my life.

In the past year I wrote a book, launched a site, I’m creating an online course, and I’m developing webinars and videos. All of it was done between working in three different locations, traveling back and forth cross-country, and trying to make sure I had the right clothes for the right season and occasion in my trusty roller bags.

Some days I’m disheartened because I have so much I want to do, and I feel so slow at accomplishing.

I finally recognized I’m never going to progress unless I slow down and carve out some space, and time. I’ve been telling myself if I’m focused, if I want to take my online work to the next level, I just have to try harder, be more determined.

What I really need is to slow down a bit. I need to be in the same place for more than two weeks at a stretch. I need to spend more time writing, and less time packing.

I need to set up my little home studio and leave it in place, rather than trying to cart it around with me. I need to use the timeline I set for Alaska as the timeline for my personal work goals as well.

Even as I write this, we’ve got more travel lined up for the fall. But I think the difference is in my mindset. There’s a place in this home that’s just right for a little creative nook, and I’m excited to have more time to invest in the work I’ve committed to.

So much about the last decade has been unexpected. To be honest, that pretty much sums up my experience of Alaska. Unexpected. Some good, some not-so-good. But this is a twist I hope will be in the first category.

And maybe my roller bags will get a well-earned break. 🙂

~ Sheila

 

 

Redeeming the past

So, at the beginning of 2015, I’m working through an on-line course to help me narrow my goals and focus my energies. It seems like I regularly need to do this…easy to get lost in the options and opportunities, in the roles and tasks and have-tos that appear, like magic, in my day-to-day.

Some roles I’ve had for years, and still enjoy; they are a part of me and mine. Others I’ve outgrown but haven’t completely shed all the tasks that were attached. There are also new interests I’d like to explore…how do I filter what I really want, eliminate what’s draining my resources, and say no to anything new that doesn’t fit?

I’ve had a lot of ideas of how I want to spend the years in front of me. Given my genetics, I could live to be about 300…well, maybe not quite that old. But old enough that I should have a nice stretch of time to fill, if I don’t step in front of a bus or meet with some unfortunate accident. I try to remember to look both ways when I cross the street, so here’s hoping I have time yet on my side.

Which brings me to the course I’m taking. It’s an online, move-at-your-own-pace offering, so I can work through each module as I have time. In case you’re interested (no kickback coming to me, just sharing my resources) check out Donald Miller’s Creating Your Life Plan. Right now it is closed for new enrollment, but I assume it will reopen at some point in the near future. It’s labeled a life plan, but it also helps to define roles, boundaries, priorities…all so important when you’re trying to refocus.

I just finished the third module, and so far we’ve only looked backward, which seems like the wrong direction if you’re planning the future. But I suppose the point is that it’s easier to determine where you want to go if you take a look at where you’ve been.

But here’s the part I really love.

The process doesn’t just ask you to review your life…it asks you to review it in terms of positive and negative experiences…big or small, it’s not the size of the event or encounter that is important, but what it meant to your life.

We’ve all had experiences that to anyone else would seem of little importance. But something happens in a moment, and life is never the same again. Or maybe it is your view of life…the point is, something changed. It’s described as any event / experience that’s like a door you walk through, that you can never turn back to where you were before…a life turn.

I’m simplifying of course, and I can’t cover everything (nor should I, this is copyrighted material!) but what I want to share isn’t a new concept…this course is just bringing it out in a different way.

The concept is redemption of past pain, and how we can do that for ourselves. The inspiration for this piece of the course grew out of Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, and the work that he did with concentration camp prisoners to help them find a reason to survive even the most terrible of conditions.

I’m familiar with the idea of redemption. As a believer in Christ, redemption is salvation, and I’m grateful for that light in my life.

But this redemption is something we can do for ourselves, and it is a way to find healing for whatever has brought pain.

The idea is that as you pinpoint life turns…those important and life changing moments that have shaped your life…as you define those points, you also determine if each one is positive or negative. I found it pretty easy to define my events. There’s no right or wrong number, and obviously the younger you are the fewer life turns you’re likely to have, and the older you are the more you’ll have.

After you have your list of events and note the negative ones, the next piece is a little more challenging. Look at what happened and all the circumstances that occurred because of each negative situation. The challenge is to “redeem” that event by finding good that came from it.

The instructor was very clear…this is not redefining a tragedy as a blessing, or trying to dismiss something that was very painful as a non-event. This is about looking the hard things of life in the face, acknowledging the pain, and then looking carefully to see what good came after, whether in your life or for someone else. And keep in mind, seeing good coming out of something negative is not a time limited thing. The process could be over a long period.

Maybe you lost a job and that led to a new career you couldn’t have imagined. Maybe you experienced illness and that brought new insight and relationships to your life. Maybe you had to work through some difficult loss and you’re using that experience to share and minister to others who are dealing with the same circumstance, and you’re blessing others with your knowledge and empathy.

It isn’t an easy exercise. How could it be?

You’re asked to look very closely at the hardest moments of your life…loss and failure and disappointment. And you’re asked to redeem that pain if you can.

What does that do for you? Well, if you haven’t already worked through a process like this in some form, it helps you confront bitterness, anger you may be holding, sadness, and any other negative emotion you can think of.

It is hard to do, and maybe it will never be completely finished. Some wounds just keep giving hurt.

I believe God can redeem my future.

But I have a hand in redeeming the pain of my past. Only I can decide if I will allow pain to have a greater purpose, a higher meaning, for me, or for others.

I think we do this instinctively sometimes. We reach out to people around us who are hurting to share stories of how we overcame difficulties in our past. That is redeeming our pain, giving it a greater purpose.

But some people get lost…can’t find their way to doing that…seem to get trapped in bitterness and sadness instead of working through it. I’m not here to say I’ve got it all neatly sorted out. I battle this in some ways on a daily basis. Aren’t there wounds in all lives that seem impossible to get over? To finally be done with?

But it can be done, and it has been done, with people overcoming bitterness and pain that seem unimaginable…it is about forgiving others, forgiving yourself, and then seeing where that grace leads.

It was interesting to me that as I looked at my life, the big hurts and disappointments I could easily spot. But there were some significant smaller ones that I had never really confronted, or dealt with in a constructive way, and this exercise helped me put them to rest. And the big ones? Well, if you have major loss in your life, and sadly most humans do, it may have to be a work in progress…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…in fact, having to work through the hardest losses and sorrows of life over a period of time allows you to grow with the experience…none of this is cookie cutter, simple, or quick.

I think the point is to do this deliberately, intentionally…by doing what we can to redeem the past…not deny the hurt, but give it a purpose, a reason that makes living through it meaningful…by doing that, we take the bitterness out of it, and begin to see the value, to ourselves or to others, of the experience.

Remember, the point is not to remove the pain; that may not be possible. The point is to remove bitterness and to find peace. Only then can we turn our full attention to the future in a whole and healthy way.

So…I’ve been challenged, and I’m passing it on…if you’re doing some reordering and future planning in this first few weeks of 2015, look behind you to make sure your foundation is firm, that your difficult experiences are redeemed. It will be hard…but it will be worth doing! I say this as someone still in the “doing” stage, looking at circumstances with far-reaching consequences, the ends of which I can’t see in the moment. But I believe, in this context, that my past will be “redeemed,” as well as my future..and that’s my goal.

~ Sheila

Too busy to choose?

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.   ~ Old Zen saying

I find it easy to be busy. Easy to let the tasks of life fill the days and create a sense of pressure. And though I’ve streamlined my holiday plans, December is not a month that lends itself to a slower pace.

Well, let’s be honest…is there any month that slows down? Not on my calendar.

And if I’m already busy, how am I supposed to carve out extra time to sit and meditate? Or find the quiet for reading and reflection?

It’s like so many other paradoxes in life:

The more love you give away, the more you have.

Without darkness there can be no light.

The pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy.

What is this strange logic that works in spite of itself?

The way I make sense of it is to understand the power of deliberate choice.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost doing useful things that were unplanned. I sidetrack myself when I sit down to online work and before I begin I have to check email, my bank balance, my credit card charges, my this, my that, my other….All helpful, but not necessarily helping me to the end point, the goal of why I sat down with my computer in the first place.

Other times it’s errands. I have something that I need to do, but I tack on other stops since I’m out. Sometimes I lose whole afternoons to things that didn’t have to be, just because I was out and about anyway.

That may sound like good planning, batching running around and being efficient.

But the busyness also gives me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to get to the end of one of those days and kid myself that I’ve done a lot, when in fact I’ve done very little that I needed to do, or wanted to do.

I’ve done what was in front of me to do, just following the line of busyness right into exhaustion.

But when I choose and stick to my choices, I control the game. When I set aside an hour to meditate, or an hour to read something powerful, I know I won’t have time to check all my favorite sites, or watch a casual hour of TV. I’ve chosen, I’ve committed myself. The decision is made up front, and I’m not even tempted to the things that nickel and dime my hours.

I’m still working on the discipline to set a specific time to read, and a time to meditate. I’ve been traveling, and that’s never a time to create a new routine.

But the paradox is also…if I put off until it’s convenient, it will never happen.

When I tell myself I’m too busy, I’m not always truthful. I may be filling my time, but I’ll acknowledge there’s a big difference between busy and productive.

Not that I think there’s no room for down time in life. Of course I need the down time, the lazy afternoons or slow mornings when I feel the luxury of a change of pace or the joy of the unexpected.

I try to get around this with lists. Yes, I’ve written about the power of lists before, and how as a list maker I’m compelled to check off things as they’re done. But here’s the thing…if I’m deliberate about sticking to my list, I’m better about avoiding the time-suckers. Because you know what never makes it on my list?

Funny, I never list browsing on Pinterest.

I never schedule time for catching up on Facebook.

I never set aside time to aimlessly wander the internet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she hastened to add!

But you know what I mean. It’s ok to do it now and then. But too many of those side trips and I’ve eaten up my hour to sit, or my time to read something inspiring, given away all my opportunity for real, and substituted illusion.

Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Give up real for illusion?

One of the words I heard over and over again at the meditation retreat was “balance.” The need for balance is a struggle for most people, and that’s pretty well acknowledged. There are whole book store aisles devoted to time management and work/life balance, personal/family balance, etc., etc., etc.

However you manage it, here’s my tip: Choose, and choose wisely. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Be picky. Be focused. Be honest with yourself and with your time.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re really busy? You’ll find yourself sitting for an hour, and you’ll know it was just what you needed to do.

Hope overcomes doubt.

No guilt, no telling yourself you don’t have time.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.  ~ Frank Herbert

“Come out of your miseries!”

“Come out of your miseries!” This is the calling of the meditation retreat I attended.

Did it work? Did it help? Yes. I don’t know. Yes. I don’t know.

First, let me say that it was an amazing experience. To keep silence for nine days, and sit still for many hours of each day in a group effort was unique, of course. The things I thought I would struggle with were easy, and the things that I expected to be easy were surprisingly difficult.

The retreat was held in a rural camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a short distance from Yosemite Park. Imagine a kid’s summer camp, only one with no swimming, no arts and crafts, no team competitions. The men and women attending the event were housed separately, ate separately, and only saw each other at group sittings, three times a day, and during the evening program. The silence began on the first evening and lasted until mid-way through the ninth day. Then the silence was lifted so we could discuss joint clean up efforts and end-of-event logistics.

The silence was easy. The sitting was hard.

When I thought about group silence, I thought about it in the context of how it is to be silent in normal life. When you’re silent in a crowd, you either feel anti-social, or a sense of loneliness. But in this setting, because we had all agreed to be silent and to maintain that at all times…no chatting except to ask questions, very softly, of the staff…it didn’t feel awkward at all. In fact, on the ninth day when we could speak and the atmosphere was full of voices, I missed the quiet. It felt like something precious had been lost.

The schedule was rigorous, up at 4:00 am and meditating by 4:30. Breakfast break at 6:30, with the first group sitting from 8:00 to 9:00. There were additional meditation hours when you could choose to meditate in your room or in the hall, and a lunch break, then a rest time between noon and 1:00.

At 1:00 there was another period of private meditation, followed by another group sitting from 2:30 to 3:30. We had a simple tea at 5:00, just fruit and hot tea or beverage of choice (no carbonation though). The evening sitting began at 6:00, followed by an evening “discourse” on the techniques and the philosophy behind them. There was another short sitting after the discourse, and then lights out by 9:30.

I can’t do justice to the whole event in a blog post, so I’m not going to try. I’m going to write a book about it, sharing the details of the days and some of my personal struggles that prompted me to attend.

It was powerful. I can’t claim to have perfected the meditation technique, and I’ll also be honest to say that I think the silence and being disconnected from the electronic world (another thing I thought would be hard, but was surprisingly easy) were as important as the actual meditation for me.

The sitting was hard. We sat in rows, eight across and eight deep, everyone sitting on large foam cushions, piled with more cushions, bean bags, some using special little wooden stools, or even stadium chairs to give better back support. It was still hard. For the group sittings we were asked to maintain our positions without movement if at all possible: these were called “Sittings of Strong Determination.” The first few minutes of sitting still were not difficult, but it’s amazing how you begin to stiffen even in a short period of time, or how you begin to feel an itch or tickle or some other distraction of sensation.

The whole point was that we were learning to observe our respiration and physical sensations and to recognize: this too shall pass. The idea is that you retrain your mind to not react to the sensations you feel…you keep a calm and balanced mind as you sit and ignore the impulse to move or scratch a tickle. I sneezed twice and had to wipe my nose…couldn’t help those movements.

We used no mantras, no visualization…just silence and our bodies. As the hours of group sittings went by, you could hear soft creaking noises as people tried to shift ever so slightly to relieve their positions, without a real motion of movement. You would hear coughs or throat clearings, and occasionally someone would get up and leave…you could hear footsteps and then the door to the entry area open and close.

But for the most part we sat. We sat and sat and sat.

And between sittings, (sittings themselves were not supposed to be a time to think about your miseries, or your life issues, or the big questions, just focus on your breathing and sensations). Between sittings and the times of private meditation, I did think.

The process is supposed to help you master your mind and purify your mind. The whole program is based on a universal code of morality and goodwill and compassion toward everyone. If it sounds hokey, it wasn’t. If it sounds simple, it certainly wasn’t.

But neither was it difficult.

It was a rich experience of clarity and creativity, and I found that surprising, though I’m not sure why. I think it is that I had no idea silence and sitting could be so powerful.

Am I glad I participated? Yes! I don’t know if I would do that same event again, but it has made me curious about other events of this nature. I learned that there are many different styles of meditation, so I assume there are other resources for learning and experiencing.

One of the things I came away with was the realization that although I regularly read and have a quiet time of reflection, I have never had a set time or a disciplined approach to my quiet time. Meditation is not something you do between reading emails or getting a second cup of coffee. This made me want to be more intentional and deliberate about my quiet time, choosing a time of day to sit and focus, and creating a goal of being disciplined about keeping that routine.

I’ll have more to say I’m sure…after nine days of silence, I feel words pouring out of me! But for now, that’s the quick version. I need to have some time to sort out some of what I learned, some of what I thought, and some of what I hope to gain.

And hey…even though I didn’t work out once during that time, missing my cream in my daily coffee and eating only fruit at night was a pretty good diet! Though the scheduling was pure coincidence, I think I’m in pretty good shape to head into Thanksgiving. Well, that’s one immediate benefit, to say nothing of the ones to come as I make sense of the whole experience.

More to come!

~ Sheila

Voices on the page

I read a post today on the subject of the individual writer’s voice, specifically the use of punctuation, breaking rules of grammar, using the same style of writing repeatedly…run-on sentences, dashes, parentheses, foot notes, etc…

The post included quotes from several writers talking about their personal writing style quirks, why they use them, how their writing style is part of their message, and it was validating, encouraging, reassuring.

Sometimes I’m intimidated. I know the blogging world is nothing if not a platform for the individual writer’s voice, and that includes everything from the way some writers have humor pouring our of their keyboards to the way others use profanity, to the use (and mis-use) of punctuation, spelling, and grammar in general.

Still, sometimes I worry. If I write the way I talk, inevitably, I break rules. And I’m not funny enough, or a strong enough writer to get away with it. Am I?

Don’t answer that! I’m not looking for reassurance, just typing out loud here.

The answer is, no, I’m not that good a writer.

But maybe, in this forum, that’s not important.

What’s important is that I’m sharing my reality, and I’m always happy when someone comments as if to say, “Hey, that’s a reality I know too!”

I’m happy when someone comments out of empathy, or sympathy, or to share a different perspective. Because that’s the truly rich world of blogging.

Did you ever think that writers of past eras didn’t get the kind of feedback and interaction we receive through this medium? Good or bad, you’re putting yourself out to the world, and the world (or your 10 readers, or whomever!) has a chance to interact.

That’s exciting to me. It’s fun to me to have the exchange that comments offer…to know this isn’t a one way street. Whether I’m commenting on someone else’s post, or reading and replying to comments on my blog, the process reminds me I’m part of a larger group, a circle of writers, just like me, who use this platform to say just what they want, just as they want.

And the more I write, the more I read, the richer I become, and the better I become. No false modesty here…like anything else, practice actually does help this process.

So going forward, I’m going to write a little more freely…I’m not built to disregard the rules of grammar completely, and poor spelling is a particular pet peeve of mine. But I’m going to think less about style and let my voice speak for itself. I’m not likely to win any awards, but that isn’t what this is about anyway.

Here’s a link to the post. Maybe you’ll see something of yourself in the comments! Enjoy!

The Valley of Indecision

So I have an offer on the house…lower than I wanted, so I’ve countered. And now I wait to hear. The prospective buyers have until Wednesday at 5:00. I doubt it will take that long to hear the decision, but still, the wait is hard to endure. And will they counter again? I hate these games. I wish we could just sit down and talk to each other. But that’s not the way it’s done.

The hard thing is I’ve loved this house. It’s been a nest I would enjoy anywhere, but unfortunately I can’t barge it down to a new location in the lower 48. So part of the process of resetting life is making the choice to move. It’s the first step of many, and at that, my anxiety may be premature. I may just get a rejection and be back to square one.

What do homes say about us? What do they mean? I’ve been a life-long nester, and my home is my refuge in many ways. But I have to say, the older I get, the more I realize…the physical structure, and the furnishings, while they’re important, only go so far.

When you need a real refuge, you need heart, and soul, love and strength. You need character and integrity, loyalty and grace. And none of these things are dependent on the structure of a home, no matter how beautiful or how comfortable it may be.

I’ve faced some challenging moments in my life, and I’m sure there are more to come…life has a way of doing that, testing you, sending a lot of the same lessons over and over again. And each time I realize I learn something new…insights about what I really value, who I want to be in the good times, but more importantly, in the bad.

I’ve learned to feed myself the messages that I want to live, to project what I want to be until it becomes real. Some of the transformation has been slow, but it is happening. And selling a home is just another filter…another lens to look through, to see what I’m really made of.

There have been plenty of times I’ve been disappointed in myself…haven’t been strong enough, or brave enough, or creative enough. But one thing I do know: I have heart, and I don’t give up. So using the filter, the lens, of the success of selling the house, if it happens, I’m going to be thrilled, and celebrate, and find a way to make it positive.

And if it doesn’t happen this time, I’m still going to find a way to make it positive. That’s my life lesson, to take the experiences that seem like defeats and turn them into victories. And believe me, some of the defeats take a lot of work to reframe. Some of the defeats have nearly killed me. But I think most people have to absorb this teaching if they survive, and thrive, in spite of the darts of life.

Sounds pretty philosophical…maybe I’m taking the whole thing too seriously. But tonight, waiting on a decision that has the power to impact my life in such a big way, it doesn’t feel like I’m blowing it out of proportion.

I’m not in control of life, but I can be in control of myself. So whatever happens, I’ll find my smile, and I’ll put on my heels the next morning and go out and try again. Because anything else is the true defeat, the true loss.

The house will sell when the time is right, and I know that in my heart, even if my head has a hard time believing that.

Wish me luck!

And to my blogging friends out there…I haven’t abandoned you…just a little pre-occupied right now. But soon, I’ll be catching up, and reading about all you’ve been up to this summer.  See you soon!

My house!

~ Sheila

June promise

June 2nd and another month presents itself. Already half through this year, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the tasks I listed for 2014.

I really wanted to improve my blog this year, and I’ve done that in fits and starts. Like all my rhythms, writing often takes a back seat to travel and routine, or lack of one. But I’ll admit that’s often just the excuse. The root of what I’m missing is not a better grasp of technology, it’s the discipline to sit down, even when I’m time-zone challenged, and power on my lap-top, put words on the screen instead of reading them off.

I signed up for Writing 101 to put some structure around my goals, and this is my beginning. I’m sitting surrounded by the stacks of packing, getting ready to go back to Ketchikan tomorrow, back to work, away from days of sun and camping. But I stopped my sorting, sat down to gather my thoughts. Packing is just another distraction, and it will wait.

Today we ran errands out in the hot California sun, the little red pick-up we keep for getting around down here feeling oven-like until the blast of the air-conditioner cooled us down. I’m going back to Ketchikan with specialty cheeses and my favorite pasta sauce and Panzanella crackers. I stocked up on some farm stand corn, the first of the season down here. Got a burger at In-N-Out, satisfied the fast food craving with crispy fries and animal style.

I drive around and wonder if I could ever live here, back in the hustle-bustle after years of small town life. I don’t know. I toy with the idea. Some days I think I could, then the traffic gets to me, or the big box stores seem too big, and I’m happy to find myself out on the rural roads that lead back to the campground. The slow speed of a winding road suits me better than interstates and freeways.

Driving here is a lot like the life I’m living: it’s either the fast lane and overwhelming, or it slows down to a pace I enjoy, and I find myself daydreaming, mesmerized by the scenery.

It’s easy to get lost in your own life, so caught up in the details of living that you forget — you forget you had a plan, and goals, and a timeline. I call it the “where am I?” — you know, that dazed look that says you’re trying to catch up… what state am I in?  what space I’m in (house, trailer, apartment?) and the commitments I’ve got the next day…which clinic am I in? What food do I have in the fridge, and is the bed made, and what season of clothes do I need for tomorrow?

I’m making it sound worse than it is, but at that I’m often disjointed enough. I don’t know how people who travel every week manage. And while I love it, I’m also weary of it. Ready to stand still for a while, find my feet on solid ground. Ready to put the details of life on auto-pilot and give my attention to the things that matter. Still, or again, finding my focus. The funny thing is, I read over these words and it sounds like I’m self-absorbed. But I think the opposite is true. I’m not paying enough attention to the life I’m living. I’m largely floating on the current of events that carry me along. And that’s not what I want. I don’t want to be driftwood in the current of life.

What’s the secret formula? I already know. I just have to reclaim it for myself. The secret is service, and giving, and living with such purpose, such intention, that my busyness finds meaning again, and my work is a labor of love, not just a labor.

And so I promise anew. I promise to make life matter, not just mark the days off the calendar. I promise to notice the details that are worthy, and let the insignificant be just that: insignificant. I promise to love, to cherish, to fill each day with some task that is meaningful and powerful.

Thank you Writing 101! Thanks for the reset, thanks for the reminder. Maybe that’s the power of a blog…the self-reminder that each life matters, and if so, then my life, my contribution, matters too. I just have to find the way, and at the same time, promise not to take it all too seriously. Wouldn’t want to do that. 🙂

The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.

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California burger

 

 

Summer corn

Summer corn

California rambling

Seaside

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Pacific blues

The travel trailer

The travel trailer

 

Good things come

A couple of years ago I wrote this:

I struggle to patiently await the unfolding of events. I have a lot of ability to be patient with people, but not with circumstances. It is especially difficult to wait through something that seems to be holding up my life…like selling a house…have I mentioned that I have a house on the market? Just a few times?

While I am waiting, I think about one of my favorite phrases. I remind myself that many things happen “not at once, but at last.” Often I see this at work in life circumstances. Other times it defines a personal journey. I am not able to understand something at once, but at last, I get it. I am not able to forgive something at once, but at last, I am able to find that spirit in my heart.

I need soak time, time to mull things over, time to absorb. I don’t know if that makes me a slow thinker, or a deliberate one. Maybe it comes to the same thing. But I do know that when I’m faced with choice, conflict, decisions, I need time to reach a conclusion. And that’s frequently the way life is, at least in matters I would like to be quickly resolved. There is a process, or a chain of events, or a natural unfolding of the story that must be accommodated, must be honored. To try to rush an answer, in my experience, generally leads to a bad outcome. Or a different outcome than I want.

And so I wait. I wait for life to sort itself out, for forces to align. While I’m waiting, I’m doing what I can to make myself ready. And while I’m waiting, I see things happening that give me hope, bolster my faith, help me to know that when the time is right, I’ll have the answers I need. Not at once. But at last.

No, I haven’t sold my house, and it isn’t even listed right now. That story is still in the making.

But there’s another story unfolding, another example of “not at once, but at last.”

My son is going to college. He’s planning to get a degree.

He’s almost 27, spent five years in the army, has worked the last three years. He has a commercial driver’s license, and has supported himself with driving the last couple of years. He’s doing well and advancing in his job. But finally, finally, he wants to pursue education.

It’s been a long time coming. When he was in high school we expected him to go straight to college, and he almost did. But ultimately he chose the army instead. That was an education in itself, and a decision he’s proud of, one we supported. After five years, he finished his army contract, and we talked school again.

No, that’s not correct.

I badgered him to go to school, and he dug in his heels. He just wasn’t interested, and nothing I said made a difference.

Last week, out of the blue, he told me he’s going to enroll this fall. He wants to get a degree in engineering. He got bored, and he’s ready for a change.

Let’s just say I was…surprised. And then I remembered my line.

Not at once. But at last.

Tonight he called to tell me he’s rearranging his work to accommodate a new schedule. He’s going to use the GI Bill. He’s working out the details, with no prompting from me, no coaching. I know he’s just in the early stage, and there’s a long road between the first semester of a degree program and the last. And I know he might not get there. He might get derailed. I know all that. But it’s a beginning, and he’s taking the initiative.

I also know that a degree is no guarantee of success. Life can be rewarding and wonderful without higher education; a degree is only worth something if it leads somewhere. I know people who went to college, but didn’t really benefit from the experience. Somehow though, I don’t think that will be the story here. I want this for him so he can discover his potential, and that’s really what education is about.

So again I absorb the lesson life has to teach. Be patient. Let the story unfold, let it write itself. Don’t assume you know how it will end because you’ve seen the beginning.

This time the lesson is sweet. It’s very sweet. Not at once. But at last.

Get moving

So, I took my own advice and decided to quit wandering in the valley of technology and self-education. I’ve found a small design firm that I’ll be working with in the coming months to help me move to the next level with a business website and integrated design plan.

Aaaahhh…that’s the sound of my brain cells relaxing, thanking me, and getting ready to focus.

Actually, I think focus is one of the biggest challenges of our era. There’s so much coming at you, every waking moment. I like technology, gadgets, and all the positives.

But I finally had to admit: I’m just not able to absorb everything I need to learn, keep my current work going, keep up with my travel schedule, manage my day to day, and kid myself that I have energy left to launch a digital business. Just not possible.

I was reading a post a few days ago about outsourcing things to virtual assistants to free time for creative thinking and higher productivity. And I realized…why am I trying to learn how to set up a business website? I don’t have that expertise, and in the time it takes me to create a site, I could pay someone else to do it for me, and be working on building a client base.

I read so much about how easy it is to set up a website…well, WordPress made it easy enough to create a blog. And if I put 40 hours a week on this project, I might be able to do it for myself. But that’s not happening, and it’s not going to happen.

As I often say…I’m a slow learner and a late bloomer. But I think this will give me the boost I need to move forward. And that’s a good thing, because frankly, doing it the other way…trying to be a team of one…has been exhausting. I see so many people on line who look like they’ve created an amazing blog/business/website that’s an overnight success. Maybe that’s true for some, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe the sites I see that look like the lone entrepreneur is the only one behind the work…maybe there’s really a team effort going on. Whatever. The reality is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is finding a way to pursue my goals. I don’t think there’s a special medal for doing it all on my own.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the things I can do…creating content and looking at ways to add value to service and product…and getting out of the way of professionals who can give me a beautifully designed site.

And yesterday I picked up some more work for the summer, so my costs for this boost will be covered.

Just seemed like a little message from the universe. 🙂

“Make a pact with yourself today to not be defined by your past. Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your hard work isn’t what you get for it, but what you become for it.”   Steve Maraboli