A few evenings ago while taking a walk, I was stopped in my tracks by the irresistible sight of the late day sunlight illuminating chartreuse-toned, newborn leaves up in the trees. It was a stop-and-take-a-picture moment, which is my version of stopping and smelling the roses (unless there are actual roses to smell!).
Sometimes the simplest things can transport us into awe, joy, and gratitude if we are receptive to them. If we can even notice them in the first place. I am passionate about photographing such “magic moments” and have a library of nearly 10,000 images that is essentially a visual gratitude journal. It helps me to remember. It uplifts me. And it trains me to see the light in this world. Holding that frequency is what I feel called to do. There are others who focus on the darkness. There are some who insist, “If you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention!” There are those who are committed to finding solutions. There is room in this world for all of us. However, I know my place. I’m here to hold the light. Not in a Pollyanna sense, but in a despite-it-all sense.
I woke up this morning thinking of someone who often disturbs my inner peace. I tend to hold a negative opinion of this person, even though I realize they are hurting and have reasons for their behavior. Then the image of the sunlit, baby leaves popped into my mind, and I imagined visualizing people who annoy or upset me bathed in the kind of light that illuminated the tender leaves. I noticed how it felt to even think about doing that. My defenses were up. Why, though? What is so threatening about seeing people illuminated in the most flattering way, from an angle that allows us to perceive their goodness, which I believe is inherent in everyone, even if it’s buried deeply – perhaps beneath an overwhelming desire to be loved and accepted?
Hmm… It felt like my ego asserting itself again. (I call her Susie Q.) Cling to an unflattering view of someone else to…make me feel better about myself? Simplify my world? But the feeling of tightening, closing, and cutting myself off doesn’t feel good. It feels like shrinking and constricting. It doesn’t feel intuitively right.
It feels much better to soften, open, and connect with someone’s higher nature, to bathe them in the light of love and compassion. It doesn’t mean I have to do anything differently. I don’t necessarily have to get any closer, interact more, make myself vulnerable, or take on responsibility that isn’t mine. It’s really not about the other person as much as it’s about freeing myself from a narrow, limiting view that prevents me from expanding and evolving (which is what I think I’m ultimately here for).
All I know is that it feels good in every cell of my being when I’m able to shine some love and compassion on the stories Susie Q creates and to see others as beings of light rather than boundaries by which I define myself. And I am grateful for the power of images to awaken me so that, like the sunlit leaves freshly emerged from tight buds, I can open and expand and gather more light.
Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But my intuition assured me it was time and that the effort would be well worth it.
I had borrowed Marie Kondo’s little book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, from the library while we were in the process of clearing out my parents’ house at the beginning of the year. I read bits and pieces of it, but life was busy, so I put it aside.
After we closed on my parents’ house, I landed back at my own house where I hadn’t been spending much time, and when I opened my eyes, I didn’t like what I saw or how I felt in that space. It felt cluttered and chaotic, and so did I every time I stepped through the door. It was hard to focus or have a clear sense of direction when I was home. I had the feeling that my real life was buried somewhere beneath all the clutter, and I was determined to excavate it. So I picked up the book again and declared February to be my month of Divine Decluttering.
On February 1st under my mentor’s guidance, I created a bagua (feng shui) map and realized the space that was most chaotic in the house corresponded to the area of my life that was in greatest disarray. Incredible! So that’s where I started, beginning (as Kondo suggested) with my clothes. I collected every article of clothing I owned and made a massive heap on the living room floor. It felt overwhelming, but I knew I had to do it. I held every single piece of clothing in my hand, one at a time, and asked my guiding questions:
Does it spark joy?
Is it uplifting or draining?
Does it support an old, outworn self-concept or the current way I envision myself and the life I am creating?
And that’s what I have done with every single object in my house, including utensils, papers, CDs, personal care items, spices, plastic containers, photos, cards, letters, and absolutely everything else. No fork or pen was left untouched! At this point, I only have two more rooms to go before the whole house is decluttered. However, I could feel a positive energy shift immediately, on day one.
Decluttering the house was a gift I decided to give myself in honor of my 50th birthday. My intention was to have the house completely decluttered by my March 1st birthday. But by the time my birthday rolled around, I realized I’d need another month to complete the process because I’m diving in so deeply and allowing emotions to arise, tears to be released, and revelations to be recorded as I let go of what has outlived its usefulness in my life.
Something powerful happens when you hold an object in your hands and connect with its energy. Clearing clutter has uncovered deeply hidden emotional clutter, relationship clutter, mind clutter, and so much more. With each room I clear, I feel more aligned with my higher Self and my vision of who I am, the life I want to live, how I want to feel, and who I want to spend my time with. It feels so amazing to be surrounded by objects that support that newly awakened vision. This is the journey of a lifetime that ranks right up there with becoming a mother. It is a soulful process that has transformed the home I felt ashamed of into a sanctuary brimming with vibrant, inspiring, peaceful energy.
It is the most incredible feeling to look around, and everything my eyes rest on is there because I want it there. Everything is intentional. Along with letting go of personal possessions, I am releasing outdated concepts of who I was in the past that no longer fit with who I am now and who I envision myself becoming. There is “art and heart” all around me now, which is who I am! My home has become an authentic expression of my true self, simply as a result of mindfully clearing away the clutter!
How does clutter-clearing create such profound inner shifts? Here are some examples and highlights of how it has worked for me.
First, I decluttered my coats and washed ones that I didn’t want to put back dirty. I got rid of some of my mom’s coats that might have worked for her but didn’t work for me. I thanked them for serving her and for making her happy and comfortable. Then I put them in a large, plastic bag that I brought to the collection bin for a secondhand store run by a local church. Same for a fleece sweater my mom gave me that never really worked for me. As I put the sweater in the donation bag, in my heart I thanked her for always wanting me to be warm in the winter. I need not hold on to things a deceased loved one gave me, as a souvenir of his or her love. For example, some of the gloves my mom gave me are quite worn now, and it is okay to let them go. She wouldn’t have wanted me to wear worn-out gloves, and because of how she loved me and gave me the gift of warmth, I can now do the same for others…and for myself.
I discovered right off the bat that deep decluttering is a process of taking a good, honest, conscious look at everything in my life and determining what I really want going forward and what needs to be released with love and gratitude. Now I don’t have to weed through closets and drawers to find what I want to wear because everything that doesn’t feel good or bring me joy is gone. And I have my clothes folded neatly in drawers (using Kondo’s method that I learned from YouTube videos) so everything is visible. I also discovered some treasures buried beneath all the rubble!
I didn’t plan to work on the kitchen next, but one thing led to another, and before I knew it, the contents of all the kitchen drawers were in a huge pile on the kitchen table. Clearing the kitchen felt overwhelming at times because there was so much to go through, and I knew it would take about a week of hard work. When overwhelm threatened to bring me to a standstill, I imagined how great it would feel to have the kitchen clutter-cleared and then had the energy to keep going!
During my kitchen clutter-clearing, no utensil was left unexamined. I held each fork in my hand to ask if it sparks joy, and some were discarded immediately. There’s one with a rose design on the handle that I don’t find beautiful, nor do I necessarily love the shape of it compared to other forks. Yet holding it in my hands brought tears to my eyes – tears for the family that no longer exists and all the meals we shared together. Even though it doesn’t spark joy, and aesthetically I don’t find it particularly pleasing, I decided I need to hold on to this fork for now. It seems to want to stay with me.
Since both my parents and my last remaining grandparent all died within the past six years, I have inherited a lot of household items, including two sets of electric beaters – one from my grandmother and one from my mom. Which one to keep and which one to let go of? When I held my grandmother’s beaters in my hand, I felt her spirit very strongly. It made me happy. She loved to bake and cook, and it reminded me of family get-togethers at her house. My mom’s electric beaters might be in better shape or possibly better quality, but when I held them in my hands, aside from knowing they belonged to my mother, I didn’t feel anything. So I decided to keep my grandmother’s beaters. I feel my mother’s spirit come through other objects much more strongly.
Clutter-clearing is an opportunity to ask many probing questions, such as when I decluttered the cabinet where all the plastic containers were stored haphazardly. After getting rid of anything without a lid and reducing my collection by about 50%, I posted an “after” picture on Facebook. A friend commented that she stores almost everything in mason jars, and that got me thinking…
I use mason jars for food storage, too, to some degree. But I never made the connection between getting rid of plastic containers and using more mason jars because they are stored in completely different parts of the kitchen. So why am I holding on to so much plastic, when I don’t even like plastic? Is it because I can use those containers when I make food for other people? How often do I do that? Is that something I want to do? If so, why am I not doing it more? How can I do more of it if it’s important to me? So it’s a matter of looking at what I hold on to and why and asking questions about why I’m not living in accordance with the vision I have for things in my house. Then it’s a matter of either getting rid of the vision and the stuff or making some adjustments to the way I live my life.
Books, Binders, and Papers
Although I dreaded it, it wasn’t so difficult after all to get rid of my teaching materials. Actually, it was a joy! A master’s degree should not be a life sentence if the work no longer calls to you. I held on to some arts and crafts ideas for young children because I want to do them with my granddaughter. And I ended up keeping my mindfulness and social-emotional activities because that’s where my heart still is. If I ever were to do any kind of teaching or work with children in the future, it would be around mindfulness, social-emotional learning, and/or art. That became very clear to me as I clutter-cleared papers and books.
I also got rid of papers that served as reminders of difficult times. I choose not to carry them around with me anymore. It feels so good to be free of them!
No area is left out, however small or seemingly insignificant – like the stairs, for instance. I have a wall gallery of family portraits going up the stairs that hadn’t been touched in years and was collecting dust. I decided to only display photos that spark joy. I love my daughter, and yet there is a certain time of her life that was so very difficult, and it showed in her eyes. I didn’t want to see her in that way anymore, and I can only imagine how it must have been for her to visit and see pictures from that time of life on display. So I took down the ones from that era and framed a stunning portrait of her when she was very ripe with child and filled with excitement and hope. And putting up the first framed portrait of my granddaughter was a big deal in itself. Now the wall gallery on the stairs has come alive with new vibrance. In addition, I took a good look at the potted plants on the stairs, which had become more or less invisible to me, and repotted most of them so that they are more vibrant and alive now, too.
The one and only bathroom in the house is the room that has undergone the most dramatic transformation of all. The bathroom has issues, and we reached a point of throwing in the towel, presumably when my mom became ill. The composition of our well water combined with the materials the bathroom fixtures and appliances were made of required much effort to keep the bathroom clean. The bathroom was an embarrassment that prevented us from inviting company over. When visitors would come, we dreaded them asking to use the bathroom. It was that bad.
It was when I was scrubbing the toilet and bathroom floor that I acknowledged how out of whack my life had become and vowed to never, ever, EVER let it happen again. It took repeated treatments of some nasty, heavy-duty chemicals that I wouldn’t otherwise use to make things right again. I experienced myself shifting into a more empowered state of being and atoning for the ways in which I have gone astray after my mom died. As I scrubbed away the mineral buildup, grime, cobwebs, and dust, I acknowledged that there are things that have become normalized in my life that never should have been, and the toilet was a perfect metaphor. I vowed that I will never live like that again. Since I have experienced how bad it can get, from now on I will be more mindful and proactive – in the bathroom and in my life!
Even though I have gone passively to places I never want to go again, I realize the importance of accepting that I went there, rather than passing judgment and dragging around shame. My biggest takeaway from the spiritual retreat I went on last month is that in order to truly be in a relationship with another person, you have to see him clearly for who he really is and accept him completely. Many people are in relationship with their partner’s potential rather than the actual person, and when you are able to see through your illusions and desires to change someone, you finally can start being in relationship with the person. Once you see clearly who he is, you are empowered to make wise, healthy choices about the relationship.
It’s the same with your relationship with yourself. If you are relating to your potential, you might not accept yourself (or even allow yourself to see yourself) as you are and get stuck in self-judgment and believing you need to change rather than understand what’s really going on. When you keep your shadow material unconscious, you’re not free to embrace and be nourished by your wholeness, which allows for greater insight and understanding. If instead you can take a good, honest look at yourself and accept everything you find (a sense of humor helps here!), you are empowered to make wise, healthy choices about living your life in greater harmony with your higher Self. The truth really does set you free, and what I’m talking about here is the difference between being self-righteous and being self-aware and loving.
Heck, I could have written an entire essay on clearing and cleaning my bathroom.
I realized early in the process that focusing on elaborate room makeovers and applying feng shui remedies distracted me from clutter-clearing and slowed down my momentum. Nonetheless, the bathroom needed more TLC before I could move on. I put up a new, more subdued shower curtain, removed the stained glass paint from the window (which felt even more like penance than scrubbing the mineral deposits from the toilet) and replaced it with mini blinds, added some plants, replaced rusted shower shelves with something much more aesthetically pleasing, took down the mildewed over-the-door organizer that housed personal care products (after decluttering its contents down to about one-third) and replaced it with over-the-door towel hooks, put a two-foot tall shoji folding screen around two stacked wood crates used for storage, put up an attractive accent mirror, added an aromatherapy diffuser and candles for relaxing baths, and asked the landlord to install a new medicine cabinet to replace the rusted eyesore we had grown accustomed to.
Though the bathroom in this circa 1820s rental house still has significant issues and limitations, it was like I had waved a magic wand at it! I made the most of it, and now it, too, sings with fresh, new energy! Hallelujah! We can have company over again! This will delight my son when he’s home from college.
Cards and Letters
Kondo advised decluttering in a certain order because some things are harder to part with than others, and you need to strengthen your letting-go muscles. Personal mementos such as cards and letters fall into that more advanced category.
The happiest discovery: A birthday card from my dad with a very simple, loving message that sums up our relationship. We might not have understood each other or had much in common, but the bottom line is that we loved each other, nonetheless. (And the gift is that loving someone who was so different from me makes me less likely to pass judgment on others whose beliefs are in such opposition to how I view the world. It humanizes the “other,” for after all, even though my dad and I didn’t see eye to eye about the world, he truly was a sweetheart who didn’t harm a soul. But I digress…)
Decluttering cards and letters helped me to clarify and appreciate relationships. My grandmother would carefully select cards, and her cards and messages, along with my parents’, mean a lot to me now that they’re gone. Going through cards and letters also inspired me to take time to acknowledge others – their milestones or simply to say hi and let them know they matter – by sending cards. It’s something I want to get back into the habit of because it’s special to receive a handwritten card. I sent out two cards of appreciation this week to important women in my life, to reactivate those relationships. It was a joy to put them in the mailbox!
The most amazing, woo-woo find: A birthday card from my parents that brought me to tears. The inside read, “Always remember what a wonderful person you are and how very much we love you.” For some reason, that message touched me deeply. It was exactly what I longed to hear from them. A little later, I was looking through more cards and came across the exact same card that they gave me another year. It felt like the universe or my parents underscoring that message. The next morning, I found a third copy of the same card! I am the oldest of three children, and perhaps my mom bought three copies of the same card with the intention of giving one to each of us. However, I ended up with three of them! It felt like a message they really wanted me to receive, and finding three copies of the same card after they passed away was no small thing.
I thought it would only take a few hours to clear one small closet, but instead it took a few days to go through the boxes of photos, cards, and letters stored in it. As with utensils, I left no photo untouched! Clearing photos made me conscious of how I want to redefine myself. I don’t need to accept anyone else’s definition or perception of who I am. I am completely free to sculpt my own definition of myself. For example, I can discard any pictures that don’t represent me as I want to be represented. Goodbye to anything that is embarrassing or shameful or just not the me I want to be.
When I looked through pictures of me throughout my life – many that I received from my parents – I wished I could go back in time and tell my younger self to lighten up and not be so serious and perfectionistic. I reflected on where that came from and generated compassion for myself and anyone else who might have contributed to my attitudes towards life and myself. That’s the kind of healing that can take place when you clutter-clear in silence, without any distractions, as Kondo recommends. You face yourself head-on and can set yourself free.
I’m especially interested in keeping pictures that express someone’s spirit and pictures that support family stories that we recount with joy and humor, whether it’s about a particular event or time of life. For example, I kept pictures of my children (who were voracious readers) reading at the breakfast table. And some pictures might not be as much about the people in them as the spaces we inhabited. I’m holding on to some pictures because they show the interior of my grandmother’s house, my childhood homes, or other homes I lived in, to remind me of long-forgotten details that contribute to the feeling of the spaces.
Another note about photos: In the process of clutter-clearing, you can photograph objects instead of keeping them and create an album of memories that takes up much less space than it would to continue storing the items. I anticipate doing a lot of this when I clutter-clear the rented self-storage unit that houses many of my parents’ possessions that I didn’t have time to go through before closing on the house.
Putting It All Together
Clutter-clearing has set in motion the most amazing transformation I’ve ever experienced. It is so empowering! I guess sometimes things have to become a literal mess before you become motivated to turn them around. I expect to have the entire house clutter-cleared by the end of the month. But there’s so much more! After I finish decluttering the house, I intend to turn my attention to decluttering: my car, the rented self-storage unit, the garage, my computer, my phone, and my online photography portfolio. I have it all mapped out on my 2017 wall planner. This is my year of massive decluttering. And it’s not just stuff. It’s everything. I’m going to the core of the clutter and eliminating it once and for all.
Being mindful now keeps me in this new energy field and prevents me from reverting to the old, cluttered, chaotic life. I don’t ever want to go back to that! So I mindfully fold each piece of clothing with appreciation rather than toss it mindlessly in a drawer or pile. After a month and a half, my clothes are still folded beautifully, and the kitchen cabinet housing the plastic containers remains orderly. Once my house is entirely decluttered, I will just have to keep on top of the routine cleaning.
Here are some other insights and realizations I’ve had during my clutter-clearing journey:
I discovered treasures I didn’t even realize I had or had forgotten about because so much other stuff got in the way.
I realized it’s draining to look for something I like/want by having to sift through all the other stuff.
I acknowledged that I am in a different phase of life now where things that once felt right to me no longer do. (And that’s okay!)
Even if I never wore a particular article of clothing or pair of earrings, I need not regret spending the money because it supported a vision of who I once wanted to be – and therefore served a purpose.
I’ve become conscious of everything I’ve been holding on to and why – and have let go of so much after asking questions I’d never asked myself before. This is profoundly healing and enLIGHTENing!
I realized I’ve let some things slide that really bothered me. And when you allow that to happen for years, it creates a big mess and lots of resentment. So the clutter-clearing process has awakened me to the necessity of standing up for what is important to me and not just letting it go and just “dealing” with it. The outer, physical world is a reflection of our inner world and relationships.
I find that I am attending to matters immediately rather than putting them aside to deal with later, like mending clothes that need a patch or button and dealing with items on my to-do list more promptly. Just get it done! Don’t put things off because that only contributes to clutter (including head clutter). Take care of it promptly or just get rid of it.
Even if I made it, I don’t need to keep it!
I discarded so many nature photographs that I once thought were pretty good. It allowed me to see how my photography has improved over the years.
I got rid of a number of large objects that were in the way and literally collecting dust and serving no purpose, that had become more or less invisible to me. The elephants in the room all of a sudden became visible!
If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of clutter-clearing and are intrigued, I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s book. She promotes a quick, all-out, down and dirty approach to clutter-clearing because:
When you tidy your space completely, you transform the scenery. The change is so profound that you feel as if you are living in a totally different world. This deeply affects your mind and inspires a strong aversion to reverting to your previously cluttered state. The key is to make the change so sudden that you experience a complete change of heart. The same impact can never be achieved if the process is gradual.
An intense and committed pace has worked wonders for me, for the very reasons she stated above. I had reached a point at which things had become unacceptable and had to change. I had momentum from clearing out my parents’ house, so I already was in that get-it-done-quickly mindset. On the other hand, my mentor, Denise Linn, invites us to experience clutter-clearing as a pilgrimage rather than a sprint. She is less concerned with efficiency and speed than with making it a deeply soulful and regenerative process. And I have to admit that I’ve let other areas of life slide temporarily so I can declutter my home so intensely. I have not been active in my online photography and business development classes or publishing blog posts, which are also very important to me. But in order to be more focused and productive in my home, I needed to clear the clutter in a big way and make it a priority.
However, I am really just beginning the clutter-clearing process. There is much work yet to be done and so much to learn, and I can’t even imagine what it is going to feel like by the end of the year, though I expect it will feel like the positive shift of a lifetime!
The last time I published a blog post was after I finished clearing out my parents’ house nearly two months ago, in preparation for closing on the house. After that, I took a little breather and then embarked on a mission to clear my house of clutter, for life had become chaotic in recent years, and even more so with my dad’s health crises last summer, his death from Legionnaires’ Disease in October, having to attend to estate matters, and the quick sale of his house (my childhood home). Caring for my own house had gone by the wayside, and when I finally landed back home after the house transaction was completed in January and opened my eyes, so to speak, I felt like Rip Van Winkle waking from a long, enchanted sleep.
My life had changed dramatically in the 8 1/2 years since we moved into this small 1840s house on the Hudson when my youngest child was entering fifth grade, and particularly in the last few years. Now my son is in college, and my daughter has a daughter of her own, which of course makes me a grandmother.
My grandmother and parents passed away, a close relative came out as transgender, family dynamics shifted considerably, I resigned from my teaching career, and I was approaching my 50th birthday and menopause. So much water had flowed under the bridge in front of my house (literally and figuratively), and the point is that my house had become quite cluttered and overgrown with possessions from previous chapters that were no longer relevant. This had a strong, adverse effect on the energy inside the house, which felt confused and in disarray.
When I stopped and really took a good look around, I realized things needed to change. It was time to regain control of my life and home so they would better reflect the current vision I hold for my life, and I declared February to be a month of deep, divine decluttering. I envisioned a clutter-cleared home as a birthday gift to myself that would feel amazing. I’m about halfway done at this point and intend to write more about the remarkable process soon. But anyway, that’s how I’ve been spending my spare time over the past month and a half and is why you haven’t heard from me!
Yesterday I turned 50, and it was the best birthday ever! I had given a lot of consideration to how I wanted to celebrate this milestone birthday and planned activities that spanned a week and a half, including:
An astrological reading with someone I’d been wanting to have a reading with for years
Creating a “spirit lantern” the evening before my birthday, which coincided with the new moon and Losar, the Tibetan New Year (I sell this kind of custom-made lantern in my shop)
My first adult birthday party in nearly 30 years.
In addition, I had a dream about an old friend and housemate from my 20s that prompted me to get in touch with him after more than 25 years. I stopped by the old homestead on my way home from the retreat center, and the visit resulted in a hefty dose of post-retreat, birthday week magic that left me inspired and uplifted in so many ways. Experiencing the wildly creative and aesthetically and energetically incredible heaven on earth he had created both indoors and outdoors over the past 30 years was powerful beyond words. That visit was a sweet surprise that helped me to recover some parts of myself that I had forgotten about. It left me determined to infuse my life with more joy and play.
In another stroke of birthday magic, yesterday I received from Artful Ashes a beautiful, glass heart memorial that was made with some of my parents’ ashes (the white swirls). It arrived on my birthday, of all days!
One of my retreat goals was to compose a letter to my one-year-old granddaughter, for her to open and read later in life. In the process of doing that, I ended up creating a list of 50 things I’ve learned as a result of my 50 years on the planet – wisdom I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren. I finished the list on my birthday and offer it with love and sincerity as my birthday gift to you. I’m sure your list would be very different, based on your own personality, experiences, and “issues”, but here’s what I came up with, based on mine… [UPDATE: It turns out the following list is the first draft of my handcrafted book, 50 by 50, that is available in my shop!]
Your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself (your Self). It is the basis for all other relationships. The health of all other relationships depends on the quality of your relationship with yourself and the extent to which you accept all parts of yourself. Your relationships with others are ultimately reflections of your relationship with yourself, and the way you relate to others is a reflection of how you relate to yourself. If you tend to see the worst in people, inflate their flaws, and find them deficient, perhaps you need to work on your own, inner critic and loving yourself. Until you have a healthy, loving relationship with yourself, it will not be possible to have a healthy, loving relationship with anyone else.
Stop compromising on what you really want and then blaming it on not wanting to disappoint, hurt, or inconvenience someone else – because those who truly care about you would want you to be happy, and it’s not fair to put that kind of burden on anyone or to give away your power to make decisions about your life. You don’t need to ask anyone for permission to do what you know is right for yourself. Claim responsibility for your life, and do it!
When you experience rejection, don’t turn it into a story about your self worth and convince yourself that you’re not good enough and should give up what you are trying to accomplish. Resilience is every bit as important as talent, skill, and capability. Trust that you will find the right opportunity at the right time and that any door that did not open for you simply wasn’t right for you. You have no idea what the powers-that-be were looking for. It might be something very specific, such as a particular style or chemistry. Don’t ever let what you perceive as “failure” define you. More likely, it is about whether or not someone or something is truly a fit for you. It is a blessing not to be bound to a person or situation with whom your energy, values, etc. are incompatible. Believe that something even better is in store for you!
If you really want something, don’t give up! You hold a key to a door that will only open for you. All you need to do is find it. Even if everything seemed to go wrong today, tomorrow might be the day when the universe aligns, and you will find yourself drawn to the right place at the right time, interacting with the right people.
No person, situation, achievement, or anything outside of yourself will provide abiding fulfillment, happiness, or peace of mind. This includes finding your soulmate, having a nice house, well paying job, or successful career, being able to go on exotic vacations, etc. Such states of minds can only be generated from within. Any satisfaction that is dependent on external factors is only fleeting.
Relationships and love endure beyond physical death. There are so many ways our loved ones reach out to us! We just need to pay attention.
People really don’t care so much about what you do or don’t do. They’re busy with their own lives! You are only the magnified center of your own universe, not anyone else’s, and this is good news because it takes off a lot of pressure! Worrying about what others think about you is perhaps the greatest impediment to living the life you were made for and fulfilling your unique potential.
It is empowering to take responsibility for your role in situations and relationships! Thinking of yourself as a victim, blaming another person for wronging you, and holding him responsible for your happiness and peace of mind is disempowering. Accepting your responsibility and claiming your power sets you free and feels great. So does forgiveness! Holding a grudge is like ingesting poison. and forgiveness is the antidote.
The people who seem most confident and sure of themselves are often the least so. Don’t be fooled by appearances.
You don’t need to save the world. Start with saving yourself by doing your inner work and evolving, and then the benefits from that will ripple into your world. Begin within.
Our parents and grandparents are human and therefore imperfect. They are learning just like we are, and chances are they never intended to hurt us. We need to forgive them for the mistakes they made, just as we will want our own children to forgive us for the mistakes we inevitably make. We are not here to be perfect, and we cannot hold anyone’s imperfection against them.
It is impossible to please everybody, no matter how talented, successful, or enlightened you are. Don’t even try.
When people criticize you, take what is useful, and let go of the rest. So much of what others say – including their opinions of you – is more about them than about you.
Do what you love. And if you love it, don’t give it up for anyone, for that is far too great a sacrifice. Don’t give up on your own talents and passions in order to be more appealing to someone who doesn’t value them. Be faithful to what lights you up and ignites your creative passion. Instead of trying to make yourself more attractive to a certain person, put your energy into pursuing your dreams. Then you will be more attractive to people who are more compatible with your vision of who you want to be, and that is who you really want to attract, even if you don’t realize it. Doing what you love is one of the most attractive qualities of all.
Don’t listen to the voices that insist you won’t succeed at a certain endeavor. If it really calls to you, you owe it to yourself to pursue it or risk spending the rest of your life regretting that you didn’t and wondering what might have happened if you hadn’t listened to the naysayers.
Trust and follow your intuition. It is your internal, navigation system that keeps you aligned with your True Self and saves you a lot of pain and suffering.
Strive for authenticity, not perfection. The greatest perfection you can achieve is to be more fully yourself.
When you feel inclined to walk away from someone or something, be really honest with yourself about whether you are truly done and complete with it or whether you are deferring to fear, avoidance, or the hopeful delusion that the grass is greener elsewhere.
Make decisions based on love, not fear. Never allow fear to be in the driver’s seat!
Cultivating gratitude can transform your life. It is a powerful practice.
You can’t change another person. You can inspire someone to change or support him in his effort to change. But if somebody does not want to change, there is nothing you can do to change him. And you need to be okay with that and let go of your need to “save” him (and consider what motivation is behind that need). Focusing on helping others can be an excuse for not doing your own inner work. Believing someone needs to change is arrogant and belittles him. When you can see through your illusions about who you want someone to be, to the reality of who he is, you can choose between accepting him as is or releasing him with love because who he is doesn’t fit with the vision you have for your life. Both options are much healthier than being in a relationship with someone’s potential rather than the actual person.
Don’t beat yourself up for not doing better or accomplishing more. Instead, consider your desire to improve yourself as movement in a positive direction.
Every now and then, it is useful to consider what has outlived its usefulness in your life and to let go of those things (including relationships), to make room for something new and wonderful to come in.
You are enough as you are, right now. Don’t let anyone (including yourself) convince you otherwise. You are worthy of love simply because you exist.
I used to think there was one, true vocational path I was created for, and I needed to find it or my life would be a waste. But there are so many different ways to shine your light in this world. So many possibilities! You can do it in whatever job or situation you find yourself in. And if you find yourself unable to bring your light to your job, then you need to seriously consider releasing yourself from it or changing the way you relate to it – because you were made to shine!
It is never too late to engage with a creative passion or learn something new. You don’t have to disrupt your whole life and accumulate a lot of debt by going back to school. You need not make it your career. You can find a way to do it on some scale, whether through volunteering or learning on your own, just like my mom took up guitar in her 70s and was able to reconcile her lifelong love of music with her unfulfilled dream of being a nurse, by playing guitar for hospital patients as a volunteer.
When you are considering what vocation to pursue, be honest with yourself about what is most important to you. For example, if living comfortably and having the finer things in life is most important to you, you might want to think twice about pursuing a career in a low-paying or risky field (like social work or the arts). If creativity is most important to you, then you must find the courage to live a creative life rather than stick with what feels “safe”. Have the courage to specialize if there’s something you’re really passionate about, rather than take the generalist, “safe” route that covers all bases. There is always a way to do what you feel called to do, even if you don’t make a career of it. And sometimes not making a career of it or demanding that it pay your bills allows you to enjoy it more.
There is guidance all around us. All we need to do is ask for it and be open and receptive to it. Synchronicity is one of my favorite forms of guidance!
If you’re feeling down or off, focus on the basics. Are you getting enough rest? Movement? Good nutrition? If not, start there.
You weren’t supposed to know back then what you know now. It doesn’t work that way. So give yourself a break, and be grateful you know it now, without second-guessing what your life might have been like if you had learned it earlier.
Nobody’s life is perfect, no matter how it appears on the surface. Everybody has issues. Other people’s issues might be very different from yours, but they certainly have them! So don’t spend any time hiding behind a wall of shame erected by your perceived faults. So many people have parts of themselves or their lives that feel too shameful to admit to anyone. Things they never imagined they’d experience and that even cause them to question their goodness and worth. But telling the truth to a trusted person often reveals that you are not alone (you never are) in what you are feeling and experiencing. Sharing like that can release you from the shackles of shame. I have experienced so many things I never imagined I would – things I would have judged others for had I not “been there, done that” myself. As a result of all my experiences, I have developed greater compassion for others and am someone people can be open and honest with, without being judged. Everything we experience offers us a gift or opportunity, if we hold it right.
Don’t pass judgment on what you don’t understand. If you truly understand someone, you can’t help but find something to love about her. Everyone has reasons for his/her behavior. But that doesn’t mean you need to take on someone’s problems.
Our obstacles, challenges, handicaps, etc. are in our lives for a reason and have gifts to offer us. They serve a purpose and are perhaps our greatest teachers. This includes difficult people.
The things that are most important are not things.
You can be grateful for the blessings in your own yard and also seek to experience new horizons. Find something to appreciate and enjoy wherever you are. Don’t make your happiness dependent on being somewhere else. You won’t be happy there, either, unless you carry happiness inside you.
Do not guilt yourself into living in poverty because other people in the world have so little. With greater abundance, you can do more good in the world. You don’t have to choose between being “spiritual” and being prosperous. You can be both. It is more about the attachment you have to money and material things and whether you attach your self-worth and happiness to your possessions or bank account balance.
Jealousy is perhaps the most misguided and unproductive emotion of all.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You have your own, unique talents and style. Other people can inspire you, but believe in yourself, and shine your light without worrying how you measure up to anyone else. The world needs you to shine your light. Don’t keep it inside!
Since we and our loved ones are not guaranteed tomorrow, don’t leave any kind or loving words left unsaid. Don’t hold them in or put them off. Let your heart speak when it has something to say, for tomorrow might be too late.
Don’t take yourself or life too seriously! Never underestimate the value of a good sense of humor and the willingness to look like a fool every now and then.
The company you keep matters. Surround yourself with healthy people who believe in you and encourage you to be the best you can be. Stay away from critical, cold-hearted people and those who stomp out your light.
You are so much stronger than you think.
It’s often easier to forgive and have compassion for others than it is to forgive and have compassion for yourself. This is where we your work lies, and it is important and worthwhile work. “Love your neighbor as yourself” works both ways! Don’t deny yourself the gift of forgiveness and compassion.
A pretty/handsome face is but a crumb compared to the banquet of a kind and loving heart.
Sometimes the Universe provides you with an alignment of factors that creates the perfect storm for you to challenge yourself and grow.
There is a big difference between your inherent worth and your sense of self-worth. What you accomplish and how you are treated by others are reflections of your sense of self worth. They do not reflect your true worth. Love yourself enough to teach people how you deserve to be treated.
If you find yourself in a situation or relationship that feels wrong, there is always a way out. If you can’t come up with any options, ask for guidance. Even pray for guidance! Pay attention to what appears, and have enough faith to take the escape chute the universe sends your way. It is a great relief to free yourself from something that feels wrong.
You are a more powerful co-creator of your life than you can imagine, and your imagination is the key to it! “Mind over matter” is for real. Have fun experimenting with manifesting what is in alignment with your true Self. Be very clear about what you want, and imagine how it will feel to have your wishes fulfilled, as if it is a present reality. You could begin with manifesting small things like parking spaces and work your way to bigger things. Creating a vision board can help!
Your true Self cannot be defiled by anything of this world. It is indestructible.
This, too, shall pass.
And with that, this very tired birthday girl is heading to bed, hoping to write very soon about the magical journey of clutter-clearing!
After a month of superhuman effort and not nearly enough sleep, last week we closed on my parents’ house, which my family moved into in 1980, when I was in eighth grade. In early December, my siblings and I accepted an offer on the house that gave us a mere three weeks until the projected year-end closing date to get everything out of the house. I had no idea how we were going to accomplish this feat – only that it would happen because it had to. And it did. Although it took place at warp speed – or perhaps because it did – the process was an intense journey of love, reflection, and clarity from which I emerged with some fresh stories to share.
The morning after we accepted the offer, I felt stunned. I recalled the scene in Titanic in which the builder of the ship realizes it’s going down and that in a matter of hours, everything in the ship will be at the bottom of the ocean. That scene summed up how I felt about the reality that all my parents’ material belongings – absolutely everything they accumulated throughout their lifetime – would be gone by the end of the month. As I lay in a comfy bed in the guest room of the home they filled with so much love (and stuff) over the past 36 years, it seemed impossible that all of it would be gone soon, and only love and memories would remain.
After my mom passed away in May 2014, her possessions remained essentially untouched. We hadn’t gone through any of her clothes or personal items, although last winter my dad started talking about how we needed to take care of her clothes and have a yard sale. But it didn’t happen. So for 2½ years, we were spared the grim task that we suddenly had to face head-on, that made grief feel brand-new again, as if an old scab had been torn off.
But it wasn’t all sad, for such times are opportunities to realize that you are not alone and that there is a handful of gracious people willing to step forward and help, even right before the holidays, during winter storms, and when you’re sick with possibly the worst cold you’ve ever had. People who will think for you when your mind is foggy from said nasty cold and provide emotional support when they notice you’re feeling overwhelmed. People who will work for days sorting through and arranging stuff throughout the house, including a frigid garage. People who show up with a truck and move very heavy furniture into storage for you because (according to them) you are worth it.
Times like this serve as a beacon that illuminates where love and nourishment exist in your life – and where they don’t. You notice who shows up, who you can depend on, and who you can’t. The people who stepped up to help inspired me to reflect on the relationships I devote the most energy to. When there is so much love and light available, why settle for anything less? The helpers in our lives teach us how to be kinder and more generous and considerate of others in their time of need because we realize how much it matters and that interdependence is the basis of our human existence. It’s one thing to know that with your mind and another to experience it as a living truth that beats inside your heart.
The silver lining to the gut-wrenching job of preparing for a rushed estate sale and clearing out my parents’ house was spending time with my sister and daughter, sharing interesting discoveries and memories with them and others who leaned in and formed a caring circle around us. I came across so many long-forgotten treasures. Some finds, such as the sheet music from my very first piano lesson in third grade, made me wistful and compelled me to reflect on roads not taken and crossroads where I allowed fear and lack of confidence to get the best of me. Holding the music in my hands filled me with the same excitement I felt at eight years old, when I received my first, official piano assignment. The whole process was like a great life review, two months before I turn 50. I realized that the choices I’ve made have resulted in so much unnecessary suffering, hardship, and limitation, and life didn’t and doesn’t need to be that way. So I resolved to turn it around from this point forward by making better choices, believing in myself, and not selling myself short. I realized that all along, it was my own mind that set me up for failure and suffering. And it is my own mind that can set me free.
I felt my parents’ presence more than ever once all their possessions were out in the open, and I saw objects that generated so many memories. There was my mom’s sewing machine, sewing notions, fabrics, and the dress patterns she sewed for my daughter. I regretted not asking her to teach me to sew. She taught a friend’s daughter how to sew after the friend passed away, and that should have been my cue to ask her to teach me. I came close a few times, but life was busy, and I ignored the little voice inside that urged me not to put it off.
To save it or to get rid of it: that was the question. My old (circa 1975) calculator, for example, was an interesting conversation piece that I found in my dad’s dresser. It had been left behind on an airplane one day, and my dad had first dibs on it and would be able to bring it home if it remained unclaimed after a certain amount of time. I so hoped it could be mine because I wanted my very own calculator – and they were new, exciting, and expensive back then. I loved the green, glowing numbers! Holding the bulky, vintage calculator in my hands brought the story to life more vividly than merely describing it from memory. But is it necessary to hold onto the objects, or just keep the stories? Might a photograph or video suffice and save space?
There were stories, moments, and memories attached to so many objects in the house. Now there is nobody left to tell many of the stories, so if I don’t know them by now, I never will. I think back to when I did a screen recording of my parents talking about old photos five months before my mom died and how grateful I am that we did that. Perhaps my son could shoot some video of me showing and telling about the objects I came across in my parents’ house that sparked stories. Together, we could create a video heirloom of family history. It’s important to share our stories and to listen to the stories being shared with us. They help us, respectively, to review and make sense of our lives and understand where we come from.
The night before the estate sale, I cried three times. The first time was when I opened a tin of my grandfather’s things, including what appeared to be an engraved wedding band, and reflected on all my relatives who have passed on and how short a lifetime is and what we leave behind – and the meaning of the trinkets that get passed down through the generations, as well as the gesture of saving them.
The second time was when I opened a box of my parents’ friends’ obituaries that my dad had clipped from newspapers. So sad. So much loss. So sweet that he did that. When I looked through the box, I found my mom’s obituary, which he had printed from the Internet, and was overcome with sadness because it must have been so hard for him to add that obituary to the box. I could feel his sadness so strongly.
The third time I cried was when I discovered yet another dresser full of personal items at 10:00 PM when I was exhausted and sick, and my tennis elbow was flaring so badly that it hurt to even brush my teeth, and I needed to get to sleep to be ready for the sale in the morning! Actually, there was a fourth time, too, when I checked the weather forecast before going to sleep, for the weather gods were not smiling upon us that weekend.
After our rather disappointing attempt at an estate sale that wintry weekend before Christmas, the next step was to rent a large dumpster and box up items to be donated. This involved a final walk-through to decide what I really wanted to save from the landfill. It was the last chance before these items would be gone forever, a process of looking and listening for which items spoke to me, which ones seemed to want to be saved, which ones I might regret letting go of so hastily, and which ones my parents would want passed down – keeping the reality of limited space in mind. And then came the realization that possessions really didn’t matter, and what our parents would want most was for the three of us to treat one another with kindness and respect. I felt them guiding me. Ultimately, it wasn’t about the stuff. It was about the memories, relationships, and the qualities they modeled and inspired in us.
It was also time to attend to boxes of personal artifacts that had been set aside because they were not part of the estate sale. One day, I came across two boxes of particular significance, one right after the other. The first contained every printed program in the history of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where my mom worked for 40 years. Many of the covers were so familiar that they brought me back in time, to when they graced the coffee table of my childhood home, and I read them from cover to cover. The feelings these programs stirred up were admiration and respect for my mom, who was a VIP staff member at SPAC and was literally my ticket to all the performances. I felt strongly connected to her and grateful that she encouraged me to be musical.
Then there was the second box, which had the opposite effect. It contained my mom’s Eastern Airlines recruiting and training materials that listed physical requirements for flight attendants, including specific body measurements and height requirements. My mom loved being a flight attendant in her 20s and bought into the whole airlines fashion culture. She met my dad when she worked for Eastern, and he worked for Mohawk. She had to give up flying when I came along and eventually returned to work as a recruiter. Coming across the Eastern Airlines materials helped me put into perspective my mom’s ideas of what a female should look like and aspire to and all the body shame I experienced growing up because I was such a sensitive soul – the shame that caused me to decline my sister’s invitation to be her maid of honor because I couldn’t bring myself to wear a dress I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable in, that might leave me open to critical comments from my parents. Even though I realize my mom was a product of another time and meant no harm, I can trace most of my “issues” back to that box and have a certain, ceremonious fate in mind for it.
The two boxes summarized perfectly the dichotomy that defined my relationship with my mom and the complex dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship. Even when we do our best, sometimes we end up unintentionally hurting those we love the most. And on the flip side, what we perceive as criticisms from which we need to protect and defend ourselves can blind us to the love and light that’s coming a hundredfold from the same person. We might fixate on the negative and fail to see the positive – and cut ourselves off from the good stuff, which is unfortunate all the way around.
There were so many boxes. When I opened up yet another box of meaningful newspaper clippings, cards, plane tickets, programs from school music concerts and recitals, etc., I was at the same time completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff my parents saved and deeply touched by how loved we were that they saved everything that had anything to do with us.
It was amazing to hold objects in my hands and feel their emotional charge and realize I’d been carrying those feelings inside me all these years. Uncovering such objects activated old feelings but also allowed me to interact with them in a greater context, with the experience and wisdom of an adult rather than a child – which was very healing!
The process of clearing out my parents’ house led me to discover how sentimental they were. Seeing what they saved revealed their sweetness and the depths of their hearts. I understood how much they loved each other and that love was the fundamental nutrient I was raised on.
I found a box of my grandfather’s reel-to-reel recording tapes. One of them includes a recording from the day I was born and many recordings of me when I was very young. It was really touching to find them and to know that my grandparents were so excited about my arrival that they started making recordings the day I entered the world! I didn’t have to do anything or be anything in particular to be loved and celebrated. I just needed to show up, to just be me. That’s a mighty realization! That night, I drove home listening to the radio, and when a love song came on, I imagined my parents and grandparents singing it to me when I was a baby, which was really powerful. A deep shift occurred inside me when I listened to the song in that way.
I’m so grateful for all the time I had in the house before it was transferred to the new owner. Observers might have thought I was depressed, but that was not the case. I was on a deeply spiritual, healing journey and sought closure the best way I knew how: by leaning in and listening to the tender places. Unearthing hidden treasures.
Even when only a few boxes remained in the house, I’d stop by to do yoga and take a nice, hot bath. I still found it comforting to be there, even though the house was silent and empty of everything except for the bathtub and major appliances. The empty rooms mirrored the inner clearing process I’m undergoing as my clarity deepens in response to grieving multiple losses, and I work on releasing what no longer serves me in the days leading up to my 50th birthday. It was interesting to notice what memories arose when I stopped and took in the energy of each room. The rooms were full of memories. Light still graced the empty spaces.
After everything had been cleared out, only the energy remained within the walls…and it was exquisite energy, so peaceful and nourishing. The night before the closing, I had a white, jasmine-scented candle glowing on top of the stove and basked in the energy all night under the full moon in my little makeshift bed in the living room.
While sweeping the bathroom the next morning, I thought about how I would go forth and integrate what I found and saved from my parents’ house into my own life. In time, I will figure out how all the objects and the stories attached to them will fit, and I will decide what to keep and what to let go of and just hold onto the stories – or even rewrite them in some cases.
Then I did a goodbye walk-through. I stepped through the front door and remembered how my mom would greet me with a big hug and smile and the aroma of something yummy in the oven, like a birthday cake or macaroni and cheese. I paused in the family room, where we opened Christmas presents, and the TV was always on. This is the room in which I watched Downton Abbey with my mom and then with my dad after my mom had passed, and where I visited with my grandparents and so many other relatives and family friends through the years.
There was the dining room where we all gathered around the table to celebrate birthdays and holidays, though the room seemed so small without any furniture…
I went through each room, allowing the memories to arise and honoring the space that held them. When I got to the master bedroom, a heart-shaped rainbow appeared on the floor where my mom’s bed used to be.
This is how it ended:
The night before the closing, when I was going through the very last box in the house, I felt a nudge to ask my daughter if she’d like to come over the next day to say goodbye to the house. She immediately replied, “Yes, I do!” In the morning, before taking my last shower in the house and doing my goodbye walk-through, I paused to look out the bathroom window at the back yard and remembered how my dad scattered some of my mom’s ashes in a special spot. It occurred to me that I hadn’t scattered any of his ashes there, and that needed to happen so “they” could be together there as part of the land. Later, when I picked up my daughter and granddaughter, I realized I forgot to get my dad’s ashes when I stopped home. So I called my son to ask him to meet me at my parents’ house with the ashes.
As it turned out, my last moments in the house were spent with both my children and my granddaughter. (It reminded me of the night my mom was dying at Gateway House of Peace, and my son and daughter had an ice cream party and movie marathon in one of the upstairs bedrooms and made a sad situation feel more like a celebration.) Little Ava, who will celebrate her first birthday this weekend, was crawling around exploring the house and then had a dance party with my son, with lots of laughter. It was wonderful. Then I thanked the house and its energy (which felt like it was ready to move on), closed the door behind me for the last time, pulled out of the driveway, honked the horn, and waved at the house with my daughter and granddaughter – who represented my future – in the car with me. It was the perfect ending to a 36-year chapter. It was totally unplanned, but that’s the kind of magic that happens when you follow those nudges of intuition and take some time to pause, reflect, and listen.
I realize that if all these endings and challenges hadn’t happened at the same time, I probably wouldn’t have gone as deep and been able to work on some firmly rooted programming from way back when that no longer serves me. I trust the role that pain and grief play and am filled with gratitude and astonishment.
At the end of this chapter – the one in which I had parents and a home in which I grew up that is now empty space and memories – I have learned so much about love, on so many levels and in many different contexts: What it is and what it isn’t, where it comes from and where it doesn’t, why I am capable of loving and caring so deeply, and how to love better, including loving myself (which might sound like a selfish thing but couldn’t be further from that). It’s amazing what you can discover standing in a huge dumpster filled with memories. You might find you are surrounded by more love than you ever imagined possible – and that you always have been, even when you convinced yourself otherwise.
In the end, I realized the Eastern Airlines box was quite small relative to everything else. I remembered that I am Nancy and Ed Meyer’s daughter and my grandparents’ granddaughter, and I am worthy of love, no matter how I look or what I do or don’t accomplish. I need not spend my energy regretting or being ashamed of paths taken or not taken or berating myself (or allowing anyone else to berate me) for my perceived shortcomings, mistakes, and failures. And because of that realization of my inherent worthiness (and yours, too), I resolved not to settle for any less going forward – from another person or myself.
I am also Jasmine and Cianan’s mother and Ava’s grandmother, and the better I feel about myself, the better I can love them and support them in their journeys. As the above picture of Ava suggests, when one door closes, another one opens. Life is for the living.
Even though our lives are interdependent and interrelated and ultimately united at the core, a week and a half after the closing, it feels like I’m finally returning to my life and goals, after several months of attending to sooo much else. Back to that business I was trying to develop last year, that book I am intent on publishing, decluttering my house, getting more and better quality sleep, and filling the empty spaces with my own dreams and goals. And so…onward, feeling a bit more whole and shining a little brighter.
Onward to the grocery store, for I have a birthday cake to make for a wide-eyed, one-year-old girl.
Happy New Year! I hope 2017 is off to a bright and hopeful start for you.
It’s been a month since I’ve written a blog post because immediately after publishing the last one, we accepted an offer on my parents’ house, and the world started spinning faster than ever! We accepted the offer on December 7, which included agreeing to close by December 30.
Well, on December 7, everything my parents owned was still in their house. To say the house has generous storage space is an understatement, and their belongings filled up all that space. We had on our hands the accumulated possessions of a lifetime – and not only their lifetime, but my grandparents’ lifetimes, as well. There were boxes upon boxes of my grandparents’ things that appeared not to have been touched since the day they were brought into the house. It became obvious that my parents saved everything. And that made for a ginormous job for us, during the holiday season, no less.
There was only one weekend available before the projected closing date to have an estate sale: the weekend of December 17. I had met with a woman who organizes and runs professional estate sales, and she told me to get back in touch with her when we have a buyer. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about staging the house for showings anymore and could organize for a sale. However, given how soon the closing would be and the time of year, that option was out. So I researched how to run your own estate sale, took copious notes, and researched values of things, while working around the clock hauling items and boxes out of the far reaches of my parents’ storage spaces to see what we were dealing with. I had no time to price things, so almost everything was “make an offer.” And in the midst of that inhuman workload, I came down with my first cold in at least four years, and it was a bad one. I was sick for 12 days straight, including the weekend of the sale, when I could barely talk above a whisper! AND there was a snowstorm that weekend, which made driving perilous. And of course, it was the last weekend before Christmas, as well, so people had lots of other things to do besides help with or attend an estate sale. However, a few angels showed up and helped me organize for the sale and were on hand during the sale for moral support. I couldn’t have done it without them – or even come close!
Needless to say, the outcome of the estate sale was disappointing. If we had more time to work with, or if it were a different time of year, it would have been a completely different story. At the end of the weekend, aside from getting rid of some furniture, it looked like we had as much stuff left as we had begun with. So then we started bagging and boxing donations. My sister rented a dumpster, and I rented a self-storage unit to literally buy some extra time to sort through things at a more leisurely and mindful pace.
Let me tell you: They were the craziest weeks of my life. I intend to write more about the whole experience because there is so much to say about it. But for now, I want to focus on the piano.
The Mehlin & Sons 1954 spinet piano was my mom’s first big purchase when she was working at her first job at General Electric after graduating from high school. She was passionate about music and taught herself to play. When I came along, she bought me a toy piano (pictured partially below) that I adored, and I became fascinated with “the big piano” and couldn’t wait until I could learn to play it.
I started taking lessons in third grade, and piano quickly became not only my passion but also my identity. My mom was delighted. She worked at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and arranged for me to interact with dozens of classical pianists and musicians through the years. When she thought my motivation to practice was waning, she asked Andre Watts to have a little talk with me. I met Liberace more than once and babysat for Emmanuel Ax’s son, which involved interacting with Mr. Ax both before he left for the performance and when he arrived back home.
In high school, I was piano accompanist for school choral groups and played piano (and marimba) in jazz band. I accompanied vocalists outside of school, played for weddings, and even competed on piano in the local (county level) Miss America pageant at age 19 and won the talent competition (which was the only reason I was in it). Piano was the first Great Love of my life.
It turned out I didn’t have the confidence or resilience to pursue a career in music or even major in music in college, and that is something I still regret. And stage fright was an issue, too – because I was playing for the wrong reasons. I was more focused on impressing people (including pleasing my mother) and doing it “right” than on expressing the music in me. I think I also was not playing the kind of music that resonated most with me – which I know now to be more meditative, flowing, and New Age. I remember how I dreaded being called on to solo in jazz band because improvisation felt too personal and vulnerable. It felt safer to play the notes on a printed page – someone else’s music.
I went to Ithaca College, a school known for its excellent music program, where I majored in psychology. When I took a piano performance class with music majors, I felt like I was out of my league and dropped the course. I’ve continued to play now and then through the years, but just for fun and relaxation and almost never in front of another human being – although there have been very occasional jam sessions that felt really good. However, when I’m playing (often with headphones so nobody can hear me), there’s no feeling quite like it. I feel totally in the flow and joyful. It feels as if, in those moments, I am doing the thing I came here to do (i.e. be my authentic self), especially when I have no music in front of me and play from my heart. So I guess you could say that I’m quietly picking up the broken pieces of my abandoned talent and putting them together in a more authentic “Zen and the Art of Piano” way. I have other Great Loves now – namely photography and writing – but piano remains my first, and first loves can be especially powerful and hold a special and enduring place in our heart.
So I married a man with a music degree, and after we got divorced, I married a professional musician who doesn’t read music and is all about improv.
My daughter took piano lessons (which my parents paid for) and played my mom’s piano, and my son taught himself and played it, as well. One of the most poignant memories during the last few weeks of my mom’s life was on Mother’s Day, when the house became quiet and heavy with the realization that she would be gone soon. My daughter broke the heaviness by going to the piano and playing “Hallelujah”, and my mom made her way to the living room with her brand new cane, to sit close and listen.
So that Mehlin & Sons spinet piano means a great deal to me. It was my first Great Love and possibly the deepest connection my mom and I shared. It filled her with such joy to hear me play it and to fall as deeply in love with it as she had. I wished I could keep it, but I couldn’t because I don’t have the space or any kind of storage area for it. So it became important to find the right home for it. And when the right person approached me and expressed interest in buying it for her son and granddaughter, I could not put a price tag on it. The personal value was too great to be measured, and it felt better to give it away to a good home.
Two days after Christmas was the Big Day when the piano movers were scheduled to take the piano to its new home. Although I hadn’t planned anything beforehand, I woke up early that morning knowing exactly what I needed to do before going to work. I jumped out of bed and into my car and drove to my parents’ house to play a final, private concert for my mom on our piano.
All that remained in the living room that morning was the piano, a lamp, and an easy chair – which was perfect for such an occasion. The piano needed to be tuned but always had such beautifully weighted action.(I will miss that familiar touch so much.) And I knew exactly what song to play: “Flying Free”, a choral arrangement with a simple, flowing piano accompaniment that I hadn’t played in many, many years. When I asked what I should play, that song came to me so clearly and instantly that I didn’t question it. It was neither challenging nor impressive – in fact, I considered it “easy” when I played it back in seventh grade – but it was a song that always felt soulful and uplifting to play and that I could play through inevitable tears. Even the lyrics (though I was too choked up to sing them) were perfect on so many levels.
After all, discovering and expressing my soul is what my relationship with piano has been about all along. It’s a path that wouldn’t work if it was based on comparing myself to others rather than being truly inspired. It needed to be authentic and include music and mentors who stirred something in me and led me to the threshold of my soul, where my own music resides. Improv, the thing that scared me most, is perhaps what I needed most to learn, to take me to another level where I could feel and express the music flowing through me more authentically. And that’s something I can still work on when I’m alone with my keyboard and headphones – although I yearn to ditch the headphones at some point and not give a damn what anyone will think or whether I’m “good enough” to be heard.
Playing this farewell concert was what I needed to do to honor my relationship with this piano and with my mom (who gave me the gift of music for which I am so grateful) the best way I knew. I cried a lot as I played, but it wasn’t because I was sad or depressed. It was because I was expressing what was alive and real in me, rather than pushing it down and denying it. When you are able to risk being emotionally open and vulnerable, you can go to some incredibly beautiful and transcendent places and flow with the music within you that longs to be set free.
It was like making love to a cherished lover for the last time.
As I played, I imagined for a fleeting moment that I was back in high school, practicing piano while my mom was in the kitchen making dinner after getting home from work. The house was filled once again with love, light, warmth, cozy furniture, framed art on the walls, and the comforting aroma of my mother’s cooking. Even though she didn’t particularly enjoy cooking, my mom was happy listening to my pre-dinner music.
But mostly I allowed the music to flow through me like a prayer. A somewhat out of tune prayer, which was actually a lovely testimony to the instrument being played and loved through the years.
When I closed the cover over the keys for the last time before leaving for work, it was like closing the lid to a coffin and saying a final farewell to a dearly beloved person. I caressed it, patted it, gave it a kiss, thanked it, thanked my mom. Two hours later when I was at work, my sister texted: “Piano is gone.” I blinked back the tears that would flow like a waterfall after I got out of work and was alone.
At least I know who my beloved instrument has gone to and feel that it has found its way to its next rightful home. I hope that if the new owner ever decides he no longer wants it, he will contact me, and maybe I will be in a position then to take the piano back. But if not, at least I got to say goodbye to it for real and play a last concert for my mom. A friend suggested that perhaps my dad was there, too, and they were dancing in the room as I played. I love that idea. I hope they danced.
A few days later, on New Year’s weekend, the new owner sent me an email expressing his gratitude for the piano. It included a picture of him and his young daughter sitting “at the helm of our new treasure” with their hands touching the keys. The little girl was beaming. It was the perfect closure for me and the perfect ending to a very difficult year. That piano was the most cherished of all my mom’s possessions, and she would be so pleased to know that a young girl will be able to enjoy it now and learn to play on it, just like I did. And so am I.
P.S. Since I very rarely let anyone hear me play, it was terrifying for me to share online the humble, imperfect recording of me playing my mother’s piano for the last time!! However, a voice from deep within insisted that I must. So I did. And it felt like recovering a very significant part of myself that had been banished for a very long time. It felt like healing!