Last month my heart got broken into little itty bitty tiny bits. Like, the kind or heartbreak where the glass has been so shattered on impact that all you see the next day when you walk by are teensy glitters peering up at you from the asphalt. I cried like all hope was lost, because to me it was. Or it felt like it was, anyway. After walking a path that has consumed a full third of my life to date, I had arrived, only discover I had turned the wrong way at the fork all those many years ago. That evening, returning home, I remembered the library book I had picked up just before leaving town one week prior. The book was called "Steering by Starlight." I was so exhausted I didn't think I would be able to comprehend a single word, but I was also afraid my grief would wake me up in the middle of the night and I wouldn't be able to soothe myself and go back to sleep, which I desperately needed. I needed something - anything - that could help me make it through the long night ahead. So I cracked the cover, skipped the introduction altogether and dove into Chapter one, which was called (perfectly for my situation), "The End." I found my lifeline. And I haven't let go since. The author, Martha Beck, was a new name to me, but as it turned out she is connected to so many other mentors well known and beloved to me, including Elizabeth Gilbert and Byron Katie, which made it easy to open my heart and let her words and her wisdom in. The chapter "The End" started by describing an employer who was trying to decide which of two employees to hire.
I just finished reading a truly weighty (in every sense of the word) book called "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying." A friend recommended the book, thinking it might be illuminating in my ongoing quest to find out what happens when we die before I actually do. Right from the start the book felt intimidating yet somehow familiar, which (I expect) may be what death itself will feel like. For starters, it was more than 400 pages. The pages were crammed with text in a font size that suggested it was originally 800 pages in manuscript form. My glasses needed glasses to see it! And it was talking about, well, death. And dying. And the dying process. And how to prepare. And all the many stages of dying, and death, and then after death, and then (for those unlucky enough to miss all the clearly marked exits to enlightenment along that particular path) rebirth. The more I read, the more discouraged I became. I've been meditating since I was 19, which is a cool nearly three decades now. And yet so much of what the book described I had never even heard of, let alone realized I should be practicing. Death sounded, frankly, terrifying. If one (er) survived that process, there was after-death, which was way more terrifying. But I persevered and kept reading, thinking (hoping) for some much-needed encouragement that all had not yet been lost. I got it on what - I think - was actually the literal last page. And I paraphrase here, since the library was by that point chomping at the bit to get the book back and I forgot to photograph the page in question before dropping it in the little returned books slot. But the quote was something to the effect of "enlightenment is easy for the one who has no preferences." I think it may have been a quote from the Dalai Lama, who wrote the foreword to the book and is one of my hands-down favorite mentors. But even if it wasn't, it is a quote that sounds like something he might have said. And I thought, "AHA. Now HERE is something practical I can do."
I love it when I meet a new mentor. Often when this happens, I discover that my new mentor is already connected (through six degrees of separation - how else?) with other beloved mentors. For example, recently my Instagram feed popped up with a little quote by someone named Martha Beck. Intrigued, I followed the breadcrumbs to investigate.....and discovered that even Oprah has heard of Martha Beck, along with Byron Katie, another cherished mentor, and pretty much everyone else on the planet. But "better late than never" being one of my many guiding life principles, I headed right over to Ms. Beck's blog to have a look. Immediately I noticed a post titled "The Law of Attracting Trojan Horses." The moment I started reading I solved a mystery that's been plaguing me since the uber-popular "Law of Attraction" phenomenon first burst onto the self-help scene. Just to be clear up front, I really wanted to like the law of attraction. I wanted to believe in it. And I desperately wanted to believe that I wasn't the sole solitary idiot who couldn't figure out how to work it properly. As one mega-blogger, author, teacher, leader, after another touted the life-changing principles of the law of attraction, I as dutifully wrote out and repeated my affirmations, day after week after month. And yet somehow, I kept attracting the opposite of what I was affirming!
Sometimes I think I am a bit too interested in death. Of course, this interest seems to increase as I get older, which feels more than a little practical given the circumstances. But also, I'd really like to be able to prepare. I like to prepare for things that are important, and death feels like one of them. For something so intensely universal, it strikes me as a bit odd there are so few preparatory resources. I mean, I can find more instructions on how to organize my photo library than I can for how to organize for my own death! That aside, the other day a friend sent me a little blurb about a new book on (wait for it) dying. The book was geared towards caregivers as well as those actually doing the dying. In the excerpt, the author talked about how we are both the ocean and the waves, but we know we are the waves. When I read that, I thought, "we do?"
[embed]https://youtu.be/R3HwdCO6B0k[/embed] Animals are some of the best mentors. If they happen to be my animals (and I use the term "my" loosely), even better. Here is an example. Lately, my always hyper-alert 18-year-old parrot, Pearl, has adopted a new strategy to address things that scare him. In past years, Pearl would hiss, or strike, or flatten his crest, or raise his crest, or shriek and launch from whatever perch he happened to be occupying when the scary thing appeared. Sometimes he would even do all of these things at once, ensuring his mommy got a good scare also. But now, he sings. Yup. My parrot sings to what scares him.
Often when I have a big scary issue in my life that needs my attention, I find the safest place to work on it is in the morning when I do my daily meditation. At that time (and only at that time), as I'm tucked up into my covers and quite literally buried under layers of blankets and pillows, do I typically feel safe and protected enough to tackle the super-scary closet monsters inside my mind and heart. This morning, as I pondered my fear (phobia, even) around dating, intimate partnerships, romance, marriage (eek), the image popped into my head of a big cold pool. It looked very inviting, but the moment I got close I realized the water was quite chilly! In that moment, I realized that I have all kinds of different methods for entering that cold pool. I also realized that how I get in is all dependent on context. For example, let's say that cold pool represents a new creative project, like, say, making a music CD, writing a book, founding a nonprofit, rescuing a box turtle in danger and giving him a permanent home. In these instances, it is safe to say I cannonball into that pool at full throttle - so fast I often don't even stop first to check that I am diving into the safe deep end before I launch! But then, for instance, let's say that cold pool represents a new friendship, or (even worse/better), a new friendship where physical chemistry and the potential for long-term partnership is also present.
"Finding support from within." In the life I've lived thus far, I have heard this phrase a lot. A LOT. At this point, after more than three decades of recovery work from anorexia, bulimia, anxiety, depression, and now hypothyroidism, I typically don't even really "hear" it when someone says "find support from within." They could be saying "blah blah blah blah" for all I know or care. But that changed this morning. This morning, as I was wobbling through yet another morning of yoga lessons with Adriene, my wonderful YouTube teacher, with my left wrist all bandaged up and carefully isolated from any excess movement, and all the rest of me focused mostly on its absence along with Adriene's instructions, she said it. "Find support from within." Wait. Oh wait a minute. What was that profound thing I just heard? I could almost feel my little brain motors whirring, like a drone hovering above something super interesting that is nearly lost from sight....I rewound the video to hear it again. "Find support from within." This particular year, 2018, has brought some other challenges as well, and in particular a need to re-center myself in me-just-me as a long-term connection to someone I still truly love falls away. I'm not really ready to blog about it yet....perhaps ever....but just to say I'm rediscovering that, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, (insert apropos cliche here), I am my own most solid and trustworthy source of support. In other words, if I can't find it within, I may not be able to find it anywhere.
All my life, I've been a collection of parts. My thighs and my belly have easily captured the starring roles year after year. Hands, feet, neck - these less visible appendages have mostly had to content themselves with bit parts. Eyes, skin, ears - these unsung sensory heroes have been routinely relegated to bank of extras, props, stage hands, behind-the-scenes grunt work. My point being - at no time can I recall truly feeling like one connected whole body - one holistic and harmonious being. In my ongoing yoga studies, our teacher, Adriene, is continually slowing our lessons down, moving through each step like it is equally important with the step just before and the step yet to come. Today she explained that (and I paraphrase), while she realizes this slow-motion approach can feel tedious at times, she does this so we can start to experience our body as one inseparable unit, one whole that is working together on our behalf. She says this is a state babies and children tend to have naturally, but we lose it as we grow up. In my particular case, she is absolutely correct, and here is a perfect example:
Several years ago, I logged some significant time visiting an acupuncturist. At the time, I worked as a waitress at a cigar bar (BLEH) and my sinuses and overall health paid a daily price. I also found acupuncture to be helpful at that time in my life because my body was still trying to recover from two decades of self-starvation, binging and purging behaviors, which left me compromised on practically every level. At any rate, the professional I was seeing was trained in multiple disciplines, and over time as we healed me on a physical level, the healing work began to dig deeper. Of course she became a mentor and a trusted part of my support team, which meant I would sometimes come in and mention a difficult interpersonal interaction or conflict with a loved one as well. One day, after being on the receiving end of several such stories, she shared her perspective on what the underlying issue might be. She said she thought I needed to learn to "zip up." And she wasn't talking about my jacket. She then told me that, from her point of view, I was clearly an empath - which is another fancy term that basically just means someone who is sufficiently sensitive emotionally to easily pick up on others' emotional states and empathize (see?) with them. She said I was the kind of empath who had a lot of trouble figuring out which energy was mine (coming from within me) and which energy was someone else's (coming from them towards me). Then she gave me an assignment. The next time I felt myself to be in the presence of any strong emotional energy (whether I knew whose it was or not), or preferably before I even ventured out into any place where other people who were feeling strong feelings might be present, I should "zip up." This is how she told me to do it:
As I continue the healing process from hypothyroidism and life, small "inspires" (what I am starting to call tiny moments of inspiration) keep wafting themselves in my direction. My body is struggling to make me proud, or happy, or at least not mad. In some ways, this struggle feels like a legacy - and not a good one. For instance, I can remember my child-self making exactly the same types of efforts toward my parents, teachers, peers, everyone except myself, really. I wanted to make them proud of me, or happy, or at least not mad. But I never really stopped to consider how I felt about me. I never really paused to contemplate the equally complex relationships continually forming and re-forming within me. My body with my mind. My heart with my spirit. My body with my heart. My spirit with my mind. You get the idea. Earlier this week, a jaw-dropping, world-rocking quote by poet Nayyirah Waheed arrived in my inbox, courtesy of a daily email I subscribe to: and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.’