I choose to shine.
I wake up and think a positive thought
before opening my eyes,
ride that wave for a while
and choose another
then get out of bed
and make time for self-care
by drinking warm lemon water
and speaking loving words
into the mirror.
Then I take a walk and gather sunlight
before going to work
because today I choose to shine
one day at a time
because shining feels better
Today I turn off my phone
and silence the voices of others
until I have connected with my Self
and can hear where love and soul
call me forward.
I choose to release what is not
in alignment with that
and to heal myself
for my own sake and so
I can be more helpful to others.
I open my ears to birdsong
and the beating of a great blue heron’s wings
as it lifts into the air.
I listen to my footsteps on the path
and inspiration — tune to that channel
and away from obsessive thoughts and worries,
naysayers and critics.
I open my eyes
to beads of dew on sunlit ferns
and goodness in the world around me.
I feel the cool morning air on my skin
and joy and hope and wonder
and gratitude — such gratitude
for even the smallest,
most wondrously ordinary things.
I taste my food
and the deliciousness of the moment
and smell spring and blooming
in the air.
I affirm that all is well in my world
no matter what is on my plate
or in the news
and know I can handle
whatever comes my way.
Today I make friends
with the present moment, Eternal Now
and make love in so many ways:
by listening closely,
offering a smile or kind gesture,
and feeling my connection
with all living things.
Today I will not let anyone
dim my sparkle or snuff out my light.
I open myself to the blessings
that are trying to reach me
and attune to yes and love and light and spirit
and true intimacy.
I express what is in my heart
without holding back
because today I choose to shine.
No matter what transpired yesterday
today is a new day
and I choose to shine.
When my mom was alive, before any holiday or birthday she would ask me what I wanted. I almost always answered that I don’t need or want anything. My mom liked material things, and I tended to rebel against that and distinguished myself from her through my response to that question.
But it was true: I wasn’t interested in things or clothes. Never went on vacation. Didn’t watch TV. I bought the wedding dress for my first wedding off the rack at Macy’s for $70 only a week before the big day, and I just wore my favorite outfit for my second wedding. I was content where I was, with what I had. My maternal grandmother would comment that she and I were very much alike because we didn’t need fancy things. Give us the wind in the trees, and we could be content. In fact, the last time I visited my grandmother at her home before she fell and went into a nursing home for the last couple months of her life, we sat on her front steps appreciating the sight and sound of the wind in the late summer trees. I loved that, at the end of her life, she found contentment in something so simple and ordinary and that I could join her in that space.
It seemed my mom always wanted more. She loved going to the mall, even if only to look (which I totally didn’t understand because the only time you could get me into a mall was if I had a specific, unavoidable purpose). She grew up poor and was determined not to live that way as an adult. She started working right after graduating from high school and, with the exception of taking some years off to raise children, kept working until a few years before she passed away – at which point she retired from what many would consider a rather glamorous job at a performing arts venue.
She was so generous every Christmas and experienced obvious joy in giving gifts to everyone. Anytime she’d give me money for my birthday, Mother’s Day, or just because, she would tell me to make sure to get something for myself and not spend it on household bills or anyone else. She wanted me to treat myself. Occasionally I would, and more often I would intend to, but inevitably somebody would need something, and I would pass on getting something for myself because the gift was needed elsewhere.
A year or two after my mom died, I was downtown and walked past a shop that had something in the window that captured my attention. Normally, that doesn’t happen because I couldn’t be less interested in shopping. (Retail therapy is not in my self-help repertoire!) I can’t remember what the object was, but when it caught my eye, I felt sad that my mom wasn’t around to ask what I’d like for Christmas…because she was the only one who ever asked, and this time I would have had an answer. And it would have made her so happy that I had an answer!
I spent two full months this year decluttering my home completely. After getting rid of all the stuff I didn’t love or use, I focused on making my home a sanctuary aligned with my authentic Self. I looked around the house and received clear insights about what could make it feel more like I wanted it to. I had received some insurance money after my dad passed away in October and bought some things to elevate the energy of our small, 1840s rental home: a couple Japanese shoji room dividers to create closet spaces where none existed, several plants, a standing desk converter, a digital photo frame loaded with hundreds of my images – things like that. I also finally did something I had wanted to do for many years, which was to wrap some silk vines around the railings on the stairs and weave fairy lights through them. So magical! Now, everywhere I look in my house, my eyes rest on spaces and objects that are beautiful, useful, and/or intentional and that bring me joy. Everything else is gone! It’s an amazing feeling.
However, as I mentioned in my last post, there was one final thing that needed to be upgraded: my bed. The bed I had been sleeping in was tiny and uncomfortable, and when we moved everything out of my parents’ house, I claimed the bed from their guest room, which seemed like an improvement. But it, too, was small and didn’t feel quite right, and eventually I discovered it was more than 20 years old, which was at least twice as old as the bed I previously had been sleeping on. A few weeks ago, I was lying on my bed looking at my vision board hanging on the wall and was drawn to a picture of a large, comfy bed. That’s when I convinced myself to let go of the hand-me-down beds and buy a new one. And with that purchase, my home improvements felt complete.
This morning (Mother’s Day), I got out of bed and created a Mother’s Day altar, which I’d never done before. I clipped some lilacs from a tree in the yard and put them in a vase my mom used for lilacs she clipped from our yard when I was a child. I also placed on the altar her funeral candle and a Mother’s Day card I’d just made, along with a crystal heart and a small turtle with the words “Live with joy” on its back.
Living with joy is my Mother’s Day gift to my mom, wherever she is. Isn’t joy what mothers ultimately want for their children? It’s what I want for mine.
Two years ago, grief felt enormous, as if it penetrated all the way down into my bones. I can’t remember ever feeling sadder than I was during May two years ago when my first Mother’s Day without my mom and the anniversary of her passing were complicated by additional losses. But time really does heal. And having the energy to finally take charge of my home and make it beautiful, uplifting, and joyful was both a big deal and a milestone. It felt like stepping out of the dark forest I had been wandering in since my mom passed away.
I have to believe she would be happy for me because the journey I have been on since February is one of learning to love and value myself and ramp up the joy by creating a sanctuary to support my vision of my best self and who I want to be moving forward. In other words, it’s a process of reclaiming my life. I have created a joyful, uplifting infrastructure from which to create my future. That infrastructure includes details such as:
an elegant, crystal pitcher of local spring water on a small table in my bedroom (found when clearing out my parents’ home)
red, silk roses in a vase next to my bed
a bed tray for having tea and reading a nourishing book before falling asleep
an aromatherapy diffuser for creating a lavender-scented bedroom to facilitate sleep
a comfy pillow that wraps around my entire body
And that’s just the bedroom! At night, I look forward to “lavender and rose” time with lavender aromatherapy and rose tea while reading or listening to something nourishing so my last impressions of the day are positive and empowering. That’s important because they are what my unconscious mind will marinate in for the next eight hours!
None of these items would have crossed my mind back when my mom asked me for gift ideas. I didn’t think of them until I cleared my home of clutter and reflected on what would make me feel comfortable, joyful, and loved – which is exactly how she wanted me to feel and was the intention behind her gift question. As I decluttered the objects and spaces in my home, a powerful, parallel process took place inside my head that rippled into other areas of my life. The work I have done in my home this year is an act of tender, loving self-care that grows from my mother’s love, for which I have immense gratitude.
The special touches in my home feel like what you would put in place if you were expecting an honored, beloved guest. Throughout the course of decluttering and uplifting my living space, I have become my own honored guest and best friend, which is no small thing coming from someone who used to have a strong inner critic. What parent wouldn’t want that for his or her child?
So, Happy Mother’s Day to my angel mom! My light is bright again, and I think it’s the best gift I can give you because it’s what you always wanted for me.
The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.
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.
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!
On these hot summer days, there is only a small window in the morning when the air is cool, and it’s not too hot and humid for outdoor activities. Therefore, I have to plan my “magical morning power hours” carefully, prioritizing exercise and other outdoor activities because if I don’t do them first thing in the morning, they probably won’t get done at all once the heat of the day sets in. When I wake up late (as I did this morning), the window is much narrower than when I wake up earlier – let’s say 5:00am, which is my goal. There are so many benefits to waking up early. It feels amazing to experience the morning air, the sunrise, and to feel aligned with the fresh energy of a new day. But today I had to really prioritize morning self-care activities.
I started by walking the labyrinth. I left the house this morning with the Omega Institute 2016 catalog on the kitchen table opened to the Energy Psychology page. As I walked the labyrinth listening to the late summer sounds of crickets and cicadas, I wondered: Is it too late to do what I love? Do I have to choose one thing to love and do? I’m still drawn to the same interests I was drawn to when I was in college 30 years ago. When choosing a grad school, I was aware of some very intriguing schools and programs. But I played it safe, stayed close to home, and pursued a Masters in Social Work, which I found incredibly dry and ultimately didn’t finish. My real interest was in transpersonal psychology. But I sought the quickest, safest route to a private counseling practice. At the time, a four-year doctoral program seemed too long, and graduate programs in expressive arts therapy or transpersonal psychology without a more conventional base (such as an M.S.W.) felt too risky. Ultimately, I found that not going with my passion resulted in rapid burnout – which is why, when I came across the following quote in the Omega catalog, it went right on my vision board:
“Your wildest dreams are not frivolous. In a changing economic climate, true passion is your greatest job security.”
Back then, everything I was truly drawn to seemed too progressive and pioneering. Alternative. Risky. I took the boring, safe, generalist route, which in the end proved to be neither safe nor wise. I did that in my 20s, and I did it again at 40 when I pursued a career in public education because it felt like the safest path since it paid more than teaching in a private school and offered an attractive retirement benefit…if you stayed in the game long enough. Which I didn’t. Because it was not the right path for me. And I knew that was the case from the start but let practicality convince me otherwise.
I didn’t have the confidence to take the risk and study or pursue something that didn’t seem like a safe bet, and that is one of the greatest regrets and lessons I have learned during this lifetime, for sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing we can do. Had I stepped out of my comfort zone and gone to a new place to specialize in something I really had passion for, I wonder what alternative path my life would have taken. I imagine it would have involved less poverty because I would have activated something within me that is incongruent with poverty mentality. I didn’t take the path less traveled – the path I suspect would have made all the difference.
Is it too late now? Too late to follow my bliss in earnest without compromising too much due to my current life situation? Did I miss my calling? Did placing greater importance on relationships earlier in life compromise the focus and depth with which I followed my vocational calling? The answer to the last question: Absolutely.
But maybe the path of relationship was part of my calling and every bit as important. Maybe it was planted in me with a reason and purpose. Perhaps relationship has been my primary learning laboratory, and establishing right relationship with relationships is part of my work. To reconcile someone else’s life situation and energy with my own calling and integrity, without compromising what lights me up..
Work. Relationships. Does it matter how you do your inner work as long as you do it? I have learned through experience (including two marriages) that the shiny illusion of The Other eventually fades, and I have learned by following through with my calling to be a teacher that shiny illusions around vocation can fade, as well. Relationships and vocation feel like the same basic work. Both point us inward, where the real work and awakening await. Ultimately, it is not about anyone else or any specific pursuit. And it’s certainly not about the shininess. It’s about cultivating inner qualities like peace and authenticity, which are available in every moment regardless of life circumstances.
Whether it’s bhakti yoga (path of love) or karma yoga (path of work), the question is the same: What flavor of shit sandwich do you prefer? Because it’s not all lovey-dovey awesomeness. After the initial attraction wears off, there’s work to do. How deep down the rabbit hole do you care/dare to go? The work is the same, whether it’s vocation or relationship – just a slightly different flavor. The work is the same whether it’s this person or that person – just a different flavor. The work is the same whether you are here or there. Whether you are involved in this vocation or that. All roads lead inward, where the outer details don’t make that much of a difference. Not as much as we tend to believe anyway.
Maybe I have lived long enough in this lifetime, and there are more parameters in place now. Maybe we have a certain window during which infinite options exist, and as we make choices and proceed along our life journey, some options fall away, and our available options narrow. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Because we can do the work whether we are here or there. Location, vocation, relationship: Ultimately, it’s all the same.
Maybe we can do our soul work better or more efficiently by not resisting where we are right now by convincing ourselves that we need to be somewhere else or do something else in order to be fulfilled. Maybe in the lifetime of the soul, what we accomplish in this human life isn’t make-it-or-break-it because we have eternity to expand and evolve.
Maybe it’s not as complicated as we try to make it. Maybe it’s really more about becoming less by shedding the unnecessary layers we’ve accumulated by living in this world, rather than trying to accumulate more – so we can embrace our original Wholeness (enhanced by new experience and awareness) and respond to each moment with greater intuition, love, authenticity, groundedness, etc.
And on the other hand (which is really the same hand), if you really want to manifest something, then go for it! There might be something we need to experience from the process of manifestation, and I believe the universe needs us to express our unique nature and talents every bit as much as we need to express them. But no particular outcome is the be-all-and-end-all. No pursuit, place, person, or anything outside of yourself ever is. But we can play – and see what we can do! We might just amaze ourselves!
What if we can’t go astray after all because everything we need is inside us, and it’s not about the scenery or the details but about cultivating, growing, and expanding the Self, which also expands the Universe? What if the path is like the labyrinths I walk, with one path that leads to the center, rather than a maze in which we can get lost – and each of us will arrive eventually? Even as we make certain choices – and sometimes in spite of our choices – we continue to walk toward the center?
Vocation, location, relationship: It’s all kindling for your soul fire. This work or that, this place or that, this partner or that: It doesn’t matter so much to our greater Self. But we owe it to our human self to choose wisely because at the level of personality, some options might be more distracting or draining, whereas others might be more compatible with our own energy and our vision of how we want to experience and express ourselves. Ideally, we make choices that allow us to use more of our precious time and energy in service of expanding and expressing our greater Self than in putting out one fire after another of unnecessary drama.
What if there is a soul map, and before incarnating we mapped out where we wanted to go? And what if I’m nowhere near where I wanted to be?
Well, what would happen if I had a geographical destination in mind that I wanted to get to – like the Bahamas or the Grand Canyon? And what if I got lost along the way, ran out of gas, broke down, missed my flight, etc. and ran out of time and had to return home before arriving at my intended destination? Then what?
Well, I’d hope I could at least make the most out of where I did go. Hopefully I experienced and appreciated the sights along the way, learned more about my world and myself in the process, and reflected on my experiences, including what I might have done differently and what I could try next time (based on a greater understanding of what might get in the way) to get closer to where I ultimately want to be. Live, learn, and make the most of it!
But I am still alive and hear the voice of intuition in my head more clearly than ever. I am open to inspiration and create quiet spaces for inspiration and creativity. I have stared down fear and taken courageous action. Raised two children. I have reclaimed some of my own power that I’d given away to others. I am learning more about who I am and how to navigate through life despite whatever setbacks or obstacles I have encountered, especially those that are inside me. I am still traveling through space and time in this body. There is still hope.
What if I didn’t fit in aerobic exercise this morning before the heat of the day set in? What if, after walking the labyrinth, I composed these words instead?
I have to believe it’s all good. That we keep moving toward the center in spite of everything.
This morning, I woke up to a supportive text from someone who loves and cares deeply about me and realizes it might be a difficult day. I’d awakened early this morning feeling worried about how the day might go but managed to get back to sleep for a couple more hours, and receiving that text, literally within two minutes of waking up for good, made a difference. It was comforting to begin the day knowing that I am not alone and that someone truly cares.
In order to get back to sleep a couple hours earlier, I focused on releasing my thoughts and replacing them with thoughts that brought relief, and I scanned my body to become aware of and release any tension. I told myself it’s okay if I don’t fall asleep and had a Plan B (yoga nidra meditation) if I didn’t. And then I fell asleep and awakened to that wonderful text.
Through half a century of living in this world and being dedicated to personal and spiritual growth, I have developed an well-stocked toolbox to help me regain my sparkle when I’m feeling down. The toolbox is filled with resources that empower me to embrace my wholeness and shine my inner light. I’m sure you have such tools at your disposal, too. Each of us has our own toolbox, though the contents will vary from person to person according to personal preference and what gets the job done. Personally, gratitude is one of my power tools that yields consistently effective and amazing results, and I have many specialized, go-to tools in the mindfulness compartment of my toolbox, as well.
And thank goodness for that because July has been an emotionally tumultuous month here on the Hudson! For example, I took my son (my youngest) to college orientation for incoming freshmen, and it hit me that he really will be going away in less than a month and that I will have an empty nest for real. Not just practice, like when he’s seven minutes away at his dad’s house, but for real. I’ve also been witnessing the decline of a close friend’s mental health and feeling there’s nothing I can do to help. My dad’s physical health is suffering, and another friend is dealing with an alarmingly heavy load that life has served up.
It’s worthwhile to open our toolbox and do maintenance and improvement on a regular basis because the greatest gift we can give one another is our whole, loving self. It is that wholeness I strive to cultivate so I can give those around me the gift of my best self rather than a smaller version of myself that depends on them providing me with the relief that ultimately comes from me taking personal responsibility and doing the inner work only I can do.
But there are times when our energy and resilience are low – perhaps from exhaustion or overwhelm (which can happen when we’re not using our daily maintenance tools) – and encountering a great loss or challenge leaves us feeling needy, vulnerable, and incomplete. We might not even have the strength to open our toolbox and might forget we have a toolbox in the first place.
That’s when a kind and caring communication from someone who truly loves us can make a difference and give us that burst of strength and positivity that makes a difference. So surrounding ourselves with people who are naturally kind, loving, and supportive is a great tool to have in our collection. And it’s important to maintain our toolbox by discarding what doesn’t work for us. Life is too short to waste time sifting through our toolbox to locate useful tools in a pile that includes tools that are broken or never worked for us in the first place, even if others swear by them.
The other night, I felt very sad and lonely. It was an uncomfortable feeling that I realized I probably should sit with even though I wanted to flee from it. I sensed that if I ran from it, it would lodge in my body, whereas if I sat with a witnessing presence, it might dissolve or transform. But the idea of sitting and “being with” the uncomfortable sensations felt daunting. I wanted a distraction to whisk me away from the acute discomfort I was experiencing.
It was a clear indicator that life was offering me a tremendous opportunity for healing and growth…disguised as pain.
And then the image of a water lily came to mind.
I’ve been drawn to water lilies even more than usual lately and have spent hours photographing them on the river. There’s something about their energy and form that speaks to me. So when a water lily appeared in my mind during a moment of acute anguish (aggravated by being overtired), it inspired me with a simple movement that helped me to inhabit my fullness again and expand beyond feeling tattered and diminished. I call it “water lily pose,” and I made my first-ever guided meditation video to share with you. It’s simple and brief, and it’s the newest addition to my spiritual toolbox that can be useful when you are feeling disempowered in the face of personal or world events and long to return to your whole, sparkling self. Water lily medicine.
My youngest child graduated from high school today!
I had intended to bring some tissues to the ceremony, and when I arrived at the venue without any regretted the oversight. However, it ended up not being an issue – for, surprisingly, I didn’t shed a single tear. The graduation ceremony didn’t move me emotionally – maybe because it was nearly three hours long, which seemed about twice as long as it needed to be. And I’m not keen on formality to begin with.
It wasn’t the graduation ceremony that got me. It was watching the movie, Boyhood, with Cianan the night before that did it. We had watched the movie together about a year and a half ago, but watching it again felt like the perfect way to prepare for his graduation, especially since we have a history around film, and he is going to college in the fall to study film.
If you aren’t familiar with Boyhood, I’ll summarize it by saying that it was filmed over a period of 12 years, so throughout the course of the movie, all the characters reallyhad aged that much. At the beginning, the main character was in kindergarten, and his mom had a talk with him about why he put stones into the classroom pencil sharpener. (Because he had an arrowhead collection and wanted to see if he could turn the rocks into arrowheads, of course!) The film ended with him – now an aspiring photographer – arriving at college and connecting with his new tribe of kindred spirits. The high school graduation party scene got me, as I knew it would – especially when his parents (who had split up before the movie even began) were having a harmonious, reflective moment in the kitchen. And the scene in which he was packing to leave for college, and his mom became emotional about that chapter of life coming to an end. And the damn “Hero” song that played as he drove himself to college. (That song triggers tears every time I hear it.) There’s something about the main character that resembles Cianan. He even has the eye and passion for photography that Cianan has for film – which intensified the realism.
Before starting the movie, Cianan pleaded, “Mom, please don’t cry too much.” I was fine during the first half, but toward the end, I fetched the box of tissues and tried my very best to cover my face and control my breathing so he wouldn’t realize how much I was crying. The movie was awesome – so real and honest.But even bigger magic came after the movie was over, and my tears had dried.
Cianan and I have had so many heart-to-heart talks through the years about film, philosophy, psychology, spirituality, music, and relationships. He is an old soul and a deep thinker. Our talks have been a source of great joy and satisfaction, and the one we had last night was perhaps the best yet. The events, relationships, and dialogue in the film were a springboard for Cianan opening up about how he perceives himself, what high school was like for him, how events from his childhood affected him, ways in which he wants to grow and change, and how he longs to connect with his tribe at college – with people who share his passion for filmmaking and truly “get” him. We talked openly and honestly about relationships, drugs, feelings, and the joy of finally finding your tribe. We talked for a long time, and it felt exquisite and holy. It felt like our own private graduation ceremony. After he left, I cried again because, for the first time, his graduation felt real. It wasn’t so long ago that his world revolved around his Thomas the Tank Engine trains and his beloved frog pond. This milestone came sooner than I could have imagined back then. And I have so loved our time together.
Although he’s always been deeply loved, Cianan has not had what I would consider a particularly carefree life. He’s experienced some challenges and family drama, despite my best intentions and efforts. When I was pregnant with him, his dad (who I was married to at the time) applied for a position with Disney World. Moving 1,200 miles away from our family and friends in upstate New York was the last thing I wanted to think of while preparing for the arrival of a baby, but when Cianan was two months old, we were on our way to Orlando to begin a new chapter that would end up lasting for two years. I wondered and sometimes worried about how the stress and upheaval of the move would affect Cianan. But he was the calmest baby! His aura was pure peace, and his gaze was deep and penetrating. When I nursed him to sleep at night, if my mind wandered to anything other than the present moment, he would become restless and squirm. He was like a tiny Zen master who kept bringing me back to the present moment, and I’ve always felt that, if there is such a thing as past or parallel lives, he must have been my spiritual teacher in another lifetime.
Cianan has had a passion for filmmaking since he was four or five years old. Around his sixth birthday, he was interviewed by the local newspaper because he’d helped compose the lyrics for one of the holiday songs his musician stepfather had been commissioned to write. When the reporter asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, “A movie maker.” His passion for film has endured for 14 years now. I’m excited to see where it leads him and am grateful for how his art and writing have helped him to channel his emotional responses to life situations and events and cultivate a wisdom and compassion beyond his years. I expect that someday he will make a movie that caricatures the adults in his life and that doing so will be cathartic for him. When he’s experienced bumps in the road, we’ve often reframed them as material for his future movies and talked about how he might put a humorous spin on them.
I remember taking him to the movie theater when he was young and feeling it was a very important thing to do. It felt like more than just a fun and entertaining mother-son activity. He’d cue in to the music and know when a scary part was coming up so he could either close his eyes or bolt out of the theater (which he often did when his dad took him to movies, much to his dad’s frustration). I’ve often joked with him about how, when he makes his autobiographical film, there will be a montage of him bolting out of one movie theater after another.
Even when he was a preschooler, he responded to seeing a movie or reading a book by making a movie poster of it, which was often followed by a book (the further adventures of…). Early on, he’d dictate the text to me and create the illustrations. Then he’d script plays and eventually movies. He’d pace back and forth in the back yard with a tape recorder in hand, dictating his ideas for stories and movies and humming soundtracks. (I saved all the cassettes!)
When I was decluttering the house last month, the sweetest find was a letter from Cianan’s closest friend when they were in either first or second grade. It read, “Dear Cianan, I would like to be in the movie. What part will I play? Tell me about the movie.” That note was concrete evidence that the movie director was already ignited in Cianan at that young age. Although I remember that being the case, holding such an artifact in my hands reinforced how strong it was.
Recently, Cianan’s dad shared some old family movies with me. There was one in which kindergarten aged Cianan was directing and co-starring in a movie with his older sister in the living room. They were acting out The Letter People Come to Life, a story he’d previously dictated to me and illustrated in book form. (When he was in kindergarten, his teacher used balloon “Letter People” to teach letter sounds. So he created a story about the Letter People coming to life.) It was clear, even at six years old, that directing movies was his passion. When his sister did something that wasn’t in the script, he’d look directly into the camera and ever so seriously and authoritatively say, “Cut that part.”
He also loved to create a dinner movie theater at home, which included a menu that he wrote up. While I prepared the food, he’d make tickets and set up the chairs, covering them with silks to make them look fancy. He was so excited! By the time the food was ready, and it was finally time to watch the movie, we were often tired, and sometimes he didn’t have the turnout he’d hoped for. But the thrill seemed to be in the preparation.
It’s amazing to have given birth to someone who has such a clear purpose! I can’t do anything but encourage him because clearly, filmmaking is his path. He and I have had several conversations about the blessings, curses, and challenges of being a creative person and how you really have to be honest with yourself about what is most important to you. If you prioritize materialistic rewards, then take some time to consider whether a vocation in an artistic field is the best path for you. But if creativity itself is as vital to you as breathing, then you must find the courage to go for it.
As long as he maintains his passion and determination, is resilient, and can handle competition and criticism, I think he will do fine as an artist. Driving home from graduation, his dad and I talked with him about that. Earlier in life, I was a pianist, and he was an actor, but neither of us followed through because we felt intimidated by the competition and our fear of failure. We advised Cianan to learn all he can from his fellow film majors and not compare himself to them. The world needs creative people to express their unique voices and not allow fear and doubt to silence them.
As much as I will miss him when he begins college two months from now, he’s so ready to move on to this next step. He’s prepared me for the empty nest over the past two years, during which time he’s lived mostly with his dad after having lived primarily with me until then. During his senior year, he’s been involved with lots of film-related work, such as: interning with a local, independent filmmaker; founding and organizing a film festival for young filmmakers; being the theater manager for the local film forum; and working on his own screenplays and films in addition to assisting other young filmmakers with theirs. He was too busy with activities outside of school to act in school plays or get up at the crack of dawn to attend Vocal Ensemble, so both of those activities slid off his plate. High school seemed to get in the way of his next step, which he already was embracing.
Cianan is a young man with a mission. He hasn’t allowed other people, situations, or limitations to deter him, and I pray this will continue to be the case for him. Recently, when there was a question about whether he’d be able to afford going to college this year, his sheer determination made me feel that I would do everything in my power to support him however I can. I was ready to move mountains. You don’t argue with determination like that. You just have to bow to it and do what you can to support it. His English teacher told me that Cianan’s passion for making movies inspired him to return to writing short stories. That’s the kind of enthusiasm I’m talking about. It’s infectious. May it endure.
When I look back at what classmates wrote in my high school yearbooks, many of the comments referred to piano. One person wrote, “You have a great talent, and you’d be crazy not to let it take you as far as it can!” Well, I guess I was crazy, then – crazy enough to allow fear and self-doubt to snuff out my passion for music. Unlike Cianan, I didn’t have anyone in my life assuring me that rejection, failure, and mistakes are natural parts of the process, rather than conclusive evidence that you’re not good enough. Or that cultivating resilience and developing thick skin is every bit as important as artistic talent and sensitivity. Back then, books like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Pema Chodron’s Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better hadn’t been written yet.
I gave up too easily. Sometimes I still regret that and wonder how my life would have been different if I’d kept going with piano and considered failure a stepping stone, rather than a roadblock, to success, as Timothy Bradberry advises in an article for The Huffington Post. But regret is a waste of time and energy, and it’s more worthwhile to apply that wisdom to my current pursuits. Do what you love to the best of your ability, and enjoy the process. Have goals, but don’t get caught up in outcomes or comparisons. Each of us has a unique voice and perspective, and we contribute to the evolution and expansion of the universe by expressing our unique talent(s). And if your passion for one thing ends up fizzling out and igniting a new passion, then so be it. Follow that. Follow your calling, even if it compels you to head in a different direction than what you generated student loans for. Above all, don’t let fear, a relationship, drugs, or enslavement to any kind of addiction (which can include all of the above) snuff out your light and steal the gift that gives meaning and purpose to your life. May you believe in yourself and have the courage to follow your passion and talents as far as they can take you, dear son, so you can be amazed by what you are capable of.
Who knows: Maybe you will be the next Steven Spielberg or Kevin Bright. Or maybe you will simply enjoy doing what you love at whatever level you do it and will cultivate a happy heart and gratitude for your precious life and for not giving in to the temptation to trade your talents for something much smaller by playing it “safe” (which, I’ve learned from experience, is the riskiest thing you can do). After all, a peaceful, contented heart is a state of mind and way of life that many outwardly “successful” people would trade their BWMs and mansions for. That comes from being true to yourself, doing what you love, and loving what you do. And that is what I wish for you, my son: To go forward and shine your light in this world, no matter what. I have been amazed by it since the day you were born, and now it is time for you to know it, grow it, and share it.