The Growing Pains of Growing Up

I wonder about a lot of things many minutes, most days. But most often I wonder, how do people grow?

So far it has taken me…

time
patience
humility
rejection
heartbreak
laughter
love
spirit
surrender
loss
wisdom
friends
losing myself
hugs
poetry
nature
leaving home
solitude
travel
finding myself
dancing
tears
reading
insecurity
facing fear
taking risks
falling down
failing
letting go
forgiving

And I still feel – no, I know – I have so far to go. Sometimes it’s overwhelming.

“Turning on yourself is betraying what made you.” -Sabrina Ward Harrison

Yet it feels so easy to do
especially when
life doesn’t show up the way we imagined it would be or feel or taste

sometimes it’s bitter sweet.
sometimes it requires us to step it up.
most times, it asks us to relax
loosen up
lighten the load.
love a little deeper.
laugh a bit more.

well, maybe not all life events appear to say that on the surface, but the heart of something bigger and wiser does! If you listen, you can hear it as a whisper in the trees when the wind blows, and see it as a kiss of peach in the clouds when the sun sets, and feel it as a soft hand patting yours, years of experience decorated by wrinkles, saying “you’re doing just fine.”

and i know it’s a shame to worry all the way through the days. it feels like a crime to wrestle with thoughts when you really want to just be here.
breathing
awake
present
living

a moment of surrender

a moment of surrender

but i’m beginning to think this worrying is just part of being human.

and maybe the ache of questions unanswered
and the sting of inadequacy
are too.

lately, I’ve been realizing that if nothing else, a life well-lived is a life that asks us to be more loving…to learn to love ourselves and others more wholly.

why does that feel like such a tremendously difficult task?
because it isn’t meant to happen overnight.
this is what a life can be spent discovering and practicing again and again.

it isn’t easy work, but it’s the only work, and it calls to us through many forms, in every language on the planet.

“It is alright. This. Right here. This mess…these anxious questions. Doubts. Answers and waiting. This is just as it is. Right now; taking me on my way. Don’t run. We all suffer. There will be understanding sooner than you think and later than you expected.” -Sabrina Ward Harrison

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When It Stinks: Thoughts for Hard Times

The storm grabbed ahold of everything and turned the world sideways and then upside down outside my window. Sheets of rain whipped at the panes, and the treetops howled in the wind. But inside it was warm and I sat protected by firm white walls and a sturdy roof.

Amidst the noise, I heard a knock at the door and when I opened it, I saw a pale face emerge from the dark. It was a young woman. Her dark hair was soaking wet and she was afraid. I looked into her pleading eyes and saw something eerily familiar.

I quickly ushered her in, and removed her wet coat, placing a reassuring hand on her back. She seemed to relax once inside the safety of my house. We stood there for a moment, looking at each other pensively. She smiled, and then I woke up.

This dream came at the tail end of an excruciating experience – three weeks of insomnia.

People stop sleeping for lots of reasons; physical, chemical and hormonal imbalances, stress, a change in lifestyle or excessive use of stimulants can all buck us off the Z’s. What was beneath my insomnia was anxiety. It gripped my throat at unpredictable times and forced me to stay in high alert, worrying about everything. The longer I went without sleep, the more my mind ran ragged with awful thoughts and the tighter my throat felt. Sleep (or lack thereof) became such a fearful experience for me that I’d dread nighttime. Long before the sun would set, I’d get pangs of panic in my stomach just from knowing that in a few hours I’d have to face another night of agony.

If you’re going through a hard time right now and especially if you’re having trouble sleeping, I want to tell you that this is TEMPORARY. I didn’t believe it when my doctor and loved ones told me this, but I wish I had, because they were right.

Around week two, I started having some irrational yet very real thoughts. I feared that I’d never again be the carefree and grounded person I once was. I wondered if I was going insane. I worried that I was broken and as my insomnia carried on, I worried I was becoming a burden to my loved ones. I’ve never felt so far from everything sacred – the people I love, my dreams, my work and most of all, my confidence.

Needless to say, boy have I learned a lot in the past few months!

In case it wasn’t obvious, shit’s been going down. One of the (tough) joys of being human is learning how to make shit into all sorts of useful things like poems, and artwork, and lasting relationships, and breakthroughs, and maybe even a special tonic that heals the deepest parts of yourself over a long period of time. The good news is that I’m currently in the metaphorical kitchen trying my hand at making all of these. If you are too, I want to give you a fist bump AND a hug. It takes courage, and you are a warrior for sticking with it! 

Here are some thoughts about things I’ve been learning lately:

1. Shit stinks, but it’s totally worth the stink if you can trust it’s the fertilizer growing your future (stronger, wiser and more powerful) self.

2. It will pass. Everything – every feeling, thought, fear, doubt and painful experience – will at some point pass. But we rarely have control over when it will pass. Trying to control when it will pass is when things get really messy. Which brings me to #3.

3. Control is overrated. Give in. Admit defeat. There are higher powers at work, and sometimes that’s god (or the universe, or your soul, or whatever you look to that is bigger than your ego self), and other time’s that’s your body. Let them work it out on their own time, and try to let go of it all needing to be a certain way (right now!).

4. If someone offers you a shoulder to lean on during your darkest hours/days/weeks/months, say yes please, thank you, and I love you! Trust that they wouldn’t offer it if they didn’t mean it, and let yourself be taken care of for a change. This means you have to BE VULNERABLE. In doing so, you will be taking one of the most important steps to getting back to wellness.

5. Did I mention vulnerability heals? Talk to your friends and family. Reach out to other people who have been through something similar. Be honest and let them know what you’re struggling with. I was blown away by how many close friends of mine had been through periods of sleeplessness and severe anxiety, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t opened up to them about my own. Just knowing they could empathize was incredibly comforting, and they had awesome advice! More on vulnerability here.

6. Something will work eventually. Keep researching and experimenting. Never give up! What has worked for me has been a combination of meditation, exercise, supplements and acupuncture.

7. You don’t have to be in mint condition in order to have fun. My boyfriend and I took our first trip together after I hadn’t slept for two weeks, and surprise – I had a ton of fun! Even though I was still very anxious and very sleep deprived, continuing with our vacation plans was the right thing to do. The trip gave me the boost of positive energy I needed and reminded me that life is still a verb even when shit’s really hard and you want to just sit down and not move for a very long time.

8. Actually, it turns out that sitting down and not moving for a short, focused amount of time is really, really good for you, especially if you’re prone to anxiety, depression or sleep difficulties. I’m currently taking a mindfulness meditation class, and it’s helping me tremendously. Here’s an article on the health benefits of mindfulness meditation, based on a study conducted at Northern Arizona University.

9. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. I’ve been learning that everyone has painful or fearful thoughts but whether or not you listen to them is the key differentiator between a person experiencing anxiety and someone who isn’t. If a thought isn’t helpful, then it can be labeled as just a thought, not THE TRUTH. I’m told this takes a lot of practice to master, but it’s worth the time and effort to come even remotely close to that. Just imagine if you could hear your thoughts and let them drift by without the struggle of analyzing them or worrying about what they’re telling you every minute of every day. Not to state the obvious, but it would feel really, really good.

10. In order to feel joy, you must be willing to feel discomfort. Resisting and avoiding discomfort or pain shuts down your ability to feel all the good stuff. Flex new muscles and sit with the icky feelings. They will transform you and then move on, because that’s what they were meant to do.

I started this post with a description of a dream I had because I think it holds important symbolism. In the dream, I am both the person running from the storm and the wise one who opens the door and provides a safe shelter. You are both of those people two. So the question is, how can you encourage your wise self to open the door and comfort your fearful self? And what would they say if they could speak to one another?

“Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.” -Isak Dinesen

 

The Tiniest Motions

There are many roads we travel just once, and there are others we visit again and again. This afternoon, like so many afternoons before, I heard the sound of a voice abandoned. And as I headed out the door to walk in the park, I felt that familiar tingle of a road I recognize. It is such a good thing to remember it – the call to pay attention and abandon the self. To be absorbed into something greater and to make note of the world unfolding, transforming itself into something new every moment.

I’m reminded that we can also be transformed.

This I know to be true: no matter how far I run, or fly, or hide from the work, it’s always there waiting. The pen calling to be used, the imagination painting meaning, the heart saying, go deeper. How did it become so difficult to record? And so difficult to be still enough?

No matter; this is a post about returning: changed, but ready to work again.

Author Anne Lamott writes, “It is easy to sense and embrace meaning when life is on track. When there is a feeling of fullness — having love, goodness, family, work, maybe God as parts of life…”

And when life feels off track, it is just as easy to lose our way. We can run in circles searching for what has changed, and how to fix it, but that rarely leads us home. Oftentimes, we just have to be patient, and forge ahead a day at a time until we can see the light again.

“Most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it… Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice…”

As Lamott writes, it is by the tiniest motions that we can find the road again that leads us back to our whole selves.

Meanwhile, I’ve been attempting to leap and sprint, or build a new road altogether. And let me say from personal experience, it doesn’t do much good to take arms against your life like that. Sure, there’s always a time for fighting the good fight, but not the bad one. Not the self-defeating one that demands “change now!”

“If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching,” Lamott wisely points out.

Wouldn’t life be sweet if we could trust that gentle, slow hand that threads the needle, drives it into the dark fabric and brings it up again, changed and refreshed? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to forget the need of knowing how it all turns out? The truth is that moment by moment, we have the opportunity to be amazed and to stay awake.

So in honor of the tiniest motions, here is a very tiny poem, and with it, the recovery of a stitch:

What more am I
than the observer
of mottled sunlight
casting amber waves
across the kitchen cabinet,
and a bowl split open,
bleeding pink,
revealing the tender ribs
of the sky?

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