Finding Stillness

Learning to be still is a skill. It’s not something we can think ourselves into. Stillness is a state to be experienced, felt, lived. It’s a choice. No matter how chaotic the world is around us, we get to control what happens inside of us. And stillness is a decision.

Our culture doesn’t really support stillness. With technology, we speed up instead of slowing down. It feels like we go against the grain when we work at a quiet interior space. But it’s so healthy for the soul. It’s similar to cleaning a clogged and dirty filter so that everything functions again the way it is meant to.

Meditation is a part of stillness, but I find it challenging. I love it when I’m doing it, but it seems to get pushed aside in favour of other things. A friend just shared a meditation app she uses called Headspace. I’m planning to give it a try to see how it works.

stillnessGetting to a place of stillness requires concentration and effort. If it’s not a priority, it won’t happen. Breathing is an excellent path to inner calm. The more we can slow down each individual breath, the better our physiological response will be. Long, deep, relaxing breaths recalibrate our inner rhythms, helping us return to our true selves.

We are so much more than our schedules, our anxieties, our regrets about the past or our fears for the future. We are now, we are here, we belong to this moment only. It’s far too easy to miss this ideal present. We can be pulled in so many directions at once, feeling fragmented and lost, but the task at hand is to gently return to where we actually are.

I know I’m on the wrong track when the squirrels get running in my mind and I forget to anchor to here. This moment is the one that matters. Other people and specific circumstances can churn and stress and grind ahead, but I can choose to slow down and search for stillness inside of myself.

I know that the benefits of this are well worth the cost, but yet I wait too long to get intentional about serenity and peace. It’s an area for me to grow into. I believe that when we move toward stillness for ourselves, other people sense it and benefit from this radiated calm. It offers permission for them to slow down and move in the direction of stillness.

I want more of this quiet. More of GOD (either a higher power or simply Good Orderly Direction). More of the certainty that I am enough, that I have enough, and that in this present moment, I lack for nothing. Worrying is a dead end street. Stillness is a healthier choice. Inching toward it is preferable to not recognizing it at all.

Perfect Peace

My relationship with my dad was thorny, messy and difficult. It didn’t start out healthy and then deteriorate, nor did it flounder initially and then improve later. It was simply a brewing storm from the day I was born until the day he died halfway through my twenty-ninth year of life.

He’s been dead for thirteen years now. This May, I went to a friend’s house for a workshop on intuition. At the end of this perspective-shifting day, we did a group meditation where my dad appeared beside me. He handed me a note that read, “I’m sorry.”

IMG_1758Those words did not pass between us when he was alive, at least not in any meaningful way, but to hear them in that meditative setting seemed entirely right. They sewed up a wound that needed attention since I was a very young girl. In that quiet, contemplative place, something special, healing and transformative occurred for me.

I came home from the workshop and allowed myself time to let it settle. Soul work has its own rhythm and schedule. Thirteen years is nothing when it pertains to the soul. When we are ready, healing comes to us, with no amount of cajoling, forcing or urging on our part. I didn’t know it when I walked into that workshop, but I was now in a place to reconcile with my bipolar, alcoholic, lost father. And he was ready to return to me.

In one of his final letters to me, a few years before he died, he said that he would like his tombstone to 11709605_10153167002714613_9150352348049121802_n read Perfect Peace. This request seemed at odds with his turbulent life, but I’ve come to see that my dad never stopped searching for peace. It may have eluded him while he was alive, but a part of me feels at rest when I dream about him finding it at long last through death.

It’s always bothered me that there is no physical marker anywhere of my dad’s life and death. In the last few years, I have come to understand that most of my core character attributes passed to me directly from my dad. It was hard for me to claim these while he was alive, but now, with a daily reminder in the form of my son, I see evidence of my dad’s DNA in me and around me. And I feel so grateful.

The older I get, the less I demand of myself or of others. We are all doing the best that we can, on any given day. I think it would be quite different if I could sit down with my dad today and have a conversation. After my profound experience at the intuition workshop, I wanted to give something back to my father; to show that his time here on earth was valuable and important. It mattered. He mattered.

IMG_1760Because of him, I am who I am, and those same character qualities exist in William. We are a chain of DNA, stretching out into the future, and I wanted to say to dad, “Look at what you have done. I love you, I have no more hard feelings, and I think you would be proud of me, my husband and my kids.”

I ordered him a bench plaque and chose a picturesque spot in our hometown that holds special meaning for both of us. It was a healing experience to visit the bench with Jason and the kids on a beautiful summer day. I cried when I thought about dad, in that beautiful spot, and I experienced the perfect peace he spent his whole life pursuing.

Unicorn Expectations

I’ve had a rough start to my summer. I couldn’t seem to figure out why I was feeling so tightly wound, irritated and falling behind until I had a conversation with a friend about it.

“Like most moms, I get so tired in June and just attempt to limp over the finish line,” I heard myself saying. “As each commitment wraps up, like music lessons or board meetings or school events, I heave a sigh of relief and think, ‘now I’m done and won’t have any more stress for the next two months.'”

As soon as these words left my mouth, I started to laugh. How ridiculous is that? But it was a revelation about my own secretive messed-up thinking – the kind that lurks in the basement of my psyche and trips me up again and again.

unicorn“An expectation is a premeditated resentment.” I love this wise tidbit from the recovery movement. When we establish a set of expectations, especially impossible ones like having a pollyanna summer where everything comes up unicorns and rainbows, we are ensuring defeat before we even get going.

I’d like to think I know this by now. Magical thinking is a hallmark of growing up in an alcoholic home. It was sewn into my DNA along with good manners and a raging inferiority complex. I have trouble shaking this iron-clad belief that some future “there” is easier/better/happier than this present “here”.

I know with certainty that “the grass is greener” is the road to doom. It doesn’t work. It’s never worked, and yet I fall for its seductive charm time and again, like the badass in the leather jacket who catches your eye in spite of your many and reasonable misgivings.

Falling into magical thinking is a child’s response to a set of very adult circumstances. Unicorn expectations are not compatible with a vibrant, healthy, responsible life. When we want everything to be clear-cut and easy, and it’s anything but, we are pissed off and disillusioned before our foot even leaves the starting block.

I”m really grateful for the conversation I had with my friend. It opened my eyes to why I have spent the last two weeks sullen and resentful. Real life doesn’t match up to fairy-tale expectations. It’s better to expect some bumps and roadblocks than to assume it will be smooth sailing because the calendar turns to July.

Disconnected

Is it a hallmark of being human to feel disconnected from time to time? Adrift, from oneself as much as from another, off-kilter and irritated?

I must say that these vague and shadowy elements of human nature tend to piss me off. No matter how close I get to genuinely accepting the many unknowable mysteries of this existence, at my basest level I continue to long for stability. I prefer certainty to doubt, even though the latter opens the spirit and the former tends to close it down.

Perhaps the issue here is specificity. When I’m talking about human frailty and loneliness in the abstract, I understand its value and the lessons it teaches. But when my life is running smoothly, stacking up peaceful and happy days in succession like Lego bricks, I don’t want to be derailed by this ethereal loss and a gnawing discontent.

Especially when there is no damn reason for it, other than my own stupid expectations. I may have abolished my paper to-do list, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still draft one in my brain. To-do lists equal expectation. They generate that rat-on-a-wheel sensation of picking up the pace while not actually getting anywhere. And it feels miserable. It takes my joy and sucks all the air out of it, like those machines that prep meat for the freezer.

disconnected

Life is what we make it. We all have certain obligations to meet, which rev up our stress level, but I tend to forget that my reaction is squarely under my control. I can feel as if I’m failing and behind, or I can celebrate the accomplishments I’ve achieved and let go of the rest for this one day. That choice belongs to me.

I’m lost when I start projecting into the future. What I have is this moment, in the middle of this day. As Victor Hugo put it, “The rest is only the rest, and comes afterward.” Borrowing ahead brings a churning mental and physical stress, with the added kick of removing the pleasure you could have felt today. I am so unbelievably awful at staying in the moment when future deadlines loom in the distance.

I can see now that this is a big practice area for me. The summer is particularly difficult because I long to relax with my kids and simply play, making memories that will sustain me later on. And yet I worry I’m falling behind, not meeting my own expectations, or worst of all, being lazy.

I have no bloody idea how to strike this balance, but I do know that pretending to rest when I’m actually worried about future projects is not a sustainable plan. It brings about this sense of disconnection within myself, extending to those I love, and I’m going to have to find another way to make this work.

Welcome!

This is my first post at my new WordPress site! I started my author website in the summer of 2011 but now I wanted something with more elaborate designing options. So I picked a WordPress theme and I’m excited to be in a new stage of my online adventures.

I was hoping to bring my 2011-2015 blogs over to the new site, but the previous host has proprietary software and it’s not going to be possible. So I get to start from scratch with fresh writing over here. But I’ve saved all of those posts and will be releasing some curated essay anthologies in the coming months so that work will not be lost. Welcome to my new home online and I welcome your comments on the new look!

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