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 the Leaves Fall: Loss, Grief & Facing Tomorrow

It was almost a typical Monday. I woke up, drove to work, sat down at my desk, and sipped a cup of hot coffee. One thing that was definitely different than the previous Monday was the weather: dark gray clouds, ominous with the smell of rain, hovered outside the window. It was the Fall Equinox after all, and nature was fittingly showing off her punctuality.

I felt as if I had gone to bed the night before still in the dreamy arms of summer, only to wake up at fall’s feet a day later. But that wasn’t the only thing that caught me off guard. That morning, a message from a friend in Europe was waiting in my inbox with a request I couldn’t have anticipated.

She asked me to write a love letter to a family member who needed something to hold onto — a reason to keep going after the sudden death of her best friend had turned everything painfully inside out, and upside down.

I was stunned first, and then sad second, and then I got down to business. I spent two days thinking about what I’d write. What could I possibly say that could help?

I don’t have the answers; that’s the first conclusion I came to. And although I’ve been wracked with grief myself at the loss of several friends over the past few years, and most recently, my beloved writing mentor, I’m aware that loss touches us in such different and personal ways. There is no “one-size-fits-all” advice to give when it comes to grief. And yet, I was being asked to offer something to a stranger that would somehow encourage her to keep moving forward and still find the beauty in living.

This is not the only person that has been brought to my attention who is currently experiencing loss and change. At this time of year especially, it feels as if a hand has silently grasped the veil of summer’s illusions and pulled it aside, revealing a plainer, much harsher truth. Relationships are ending. Paths are shifting. Souls are departing. But just as there is no problem that exists without a solution, the shadow of life cannot exist without light. These illusions are being shaken loose so we can reconnect with our most primal existence and remember that life is a yin and yang of life and death, love and suffering.

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” -Khalil Gibran

It goes without saying that it’s a tough time for many. The only salve I know of is to take hands with those you love and share the load. We’re in this together.

And in that spirit, I sat on my blue and white bedspread and wrote my 28th* love letter, which I promptly sent through the internet to a country approximately 5, 298 miles away.

With the permission of my friend, I’ve pasted it below. Please note that I’ve changed the name of the letter’s recipient in order to protect her privacy. My hope is that if you are reading this, and you too are suffering a loss of great proportion, this helps ease some of the pain, if even for a few minutes.

Birds Flying

Dear Anna,

I met your sister in a hostel just over a year ago. When I saw her from across the room, she was a glowing mass of passion and energy – a force of spirit. And I am so glad I got to travel with her. Out of her love for you, Anna, she asked me if I’d write you a love letter, because she tells me you are going through a very difficult time — an unimaginably painful time.

I’ve been thinking about you for the last two days, wondering how I can possibly comfort you with my words when you must be feeling as if the world has torn a piece right out of your heart. Darling, I want to tell you that the only beautiful thing that comes from loss is this: you feel your beating heart, albeit its being full of sadness and grief, it’s yours, and it’s beating for a reason. There’s a purpose for your soul here on earth, and this immense trial in your life may be a part of it. Perhaps now some comfort will come from reading other people’s stories of loss. Look to those who have been torn open, but somehow made it through to the other side. Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild” is one of those people. She writes matter-of-factly about the process of grief:

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” -Cheryl Strayed

My advice is to let the grief exist. No need to fight it. This is your experience, and it’s real, and it’s valid. It’s also 100% natural. There’s no one way to feel grief, so don’t believe the books that tell you about the stages and try to estimate how long it will take to move on. This isn’t a matter of logicality; it’s a deeply personal matter of the heart. The process of grief is one of the core experiences that makes you human and connects you to people all across the globe who also know what it feels like to have lost someone they loved very much.

As difficult as it feels now, one day you will wake up with a little less pain than the day before. Gradually, after many days and months, and years, you will gain a strength you never knew you were capable of. And that strength will guide you to put one foot in front of the other and practice living again, until one day, you’ll feel love bloom in your heart, and you will risk caring about another person as much as you did about your friend. This is how you will know that you’re healing.

Until then, darling, there will be a lot of very difficult days. Unfortunately, no one can protect you from them, so you just have to hold onto what good things you can (like your family, a big oak tree, a walk by a stream, your favorite music, etc.) and ride your emotions like the brave woman you are. You are surrounded by people who love you and want to be there for you. Take their hands when you can. You don’t ever have to do this on your own; although no one can take the pain away, sharing your thoughts and feelings with others will help a lot.

Eventually, after an unknown amount of time, you will find a way to make peace with your friend leaving too soon. But in order for acceptance to come, you’ll have to do some soul searching and reading, and deep thinking about what you think life and death are about, and find a way of making sense of things for yourself. This might take a very long time, and understandably so. It’s okay to ask god, or friends, or family, or yourself the same questions over and over again, and not have any immediate answers. Humans spend their lifetimes trying to understand why things are the way they are.

Still, it won’t change the fact that they are the way they are. And that’s why sorting it out the best you can by establishing your own philosophy will give you a very important pathway to navigate your sadness by. This is what spirituality and religion exist for – they provide a light for you to walk beneath when you are lost in unimaginable darkness.

And on that topic, the universe cannot exist without light. What that means is there will be good things to come for you, Anna. This is not the end. It’s just the beginning of something different. You will get through to the other side.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to you. You are experiencing one of the most difficult aspects of being alive, and it fucking sucks. That is undeniable.

But the light is still all around you and within you, and someday soon, you’ll be able to see it again; of this, I am 100% certain!

Love to you,
Abby

This is what I imagine the landscape of healing might look like before plants break through and bloom in your heart.

This is what I imagine the landscape of healing might look like before plants break through and bloom in your heart.

10 Ground Rules for Dating & Staying Sane

Life is for...

Between the ages of 16 and 23, the longest I was single was 6 months. I was in love with love. And then I hit a (very healthy) breaking point, or rather, my heart got broken for the third time, and I needed a lot of healing, years in the making! I entered the longest stretch of time that I’ve been alone – three-in-a-half years. During that time, I discovered new passions and found deep joy in unexpected places. I carved new pathways. I quit my soul-sucking corporate job. I learned how to blues dance. I attended festivals and concerts by myself. I rode a train across the country. I launched this blog, and many other writing projects, including my own magazine, The Queen Bee Collective. I lived in a co-op. I became a world traveler. And recently, I moved to a new city.

After all that time of getting to know myself better and learning more about what I need in a relationship, I felt ready to put myself out there again. I’ve spent the last 7 months in Portland going out on dates and meeting lots of new people. That hardly makes me an expert, but I’ve definitely had enough dating experiences at this point to have learned a few things. There have been good dates and bad dates, failed starts to relationships, and successful ones, but I’ve walked away from both with a deeper understanding of myself, and that’s made it all worth it.

Choosing to be vulnerable and looking for the right person can be exhausting, even discouraging, which is why I’ve come up with some ground rules that have helped me navigate the world of dating. With the help of these rules, I’ve managed to stay true to my core values, and after a lot of perseverance, find a man who is worth investing time and energy in.

I hope these help you too!

1. Be 100% Unapologetically Yourself

If you show up to a date and pretend to be someone you’re not, you’ll never know if you and your date are actually compatible. What’s the point in entering a relationship in which you have to be someone you’re not? Falsehoods will never be sustainable. Honesty is the only true foundation for a successful relationship. Be true to who you are, and you will attract someone who likes you for you.

2. Make Decisions From Your Core Values

Do you fundamentally disagree with your date’s outlook on social issues? Are you opposed to kissing on the first date? These sorts of questions and the way you answer them hint at your core values. By making decisions based off of your core values, you attract someone with similar viewpoints, and uphold your standards. Compromising yourself to attract someone or keep them interested serves neither party. Trust that your values serve a purpose and have helped you navigate a myriad of situations to get you to where you are today – living a life you’re proud of. Stay close to your values, and they will steer you in the right direction!

3. Wait to Jump Into Bed

There will undeniably be pressure (both from your date and society) to move quicker in the bedroom than you probably should. For example, I recently read that many men expect intimacy by the third date. However, in my experience, waiting to jump into bed is a really smart decision. It gives you and your date the opportunity to get to know each other and develop a mental/emotional attraction, rather than the focus being solely on the physical. It also helps you weed out the game players and trophy chasers from the true blue. If a man is truly interested in being in a relationship with you, he will be patient. Moving slowly also protects you from making decisions out of lust, and allows you to make a more grounded assessment of a person’s character before getting too invested or becoming vulnerable before you’re emotionally ready.

4. Respect Yourself First

This is an obvious one. If you don’t respect yourself, how can you expect someone else to? Respecting yourself means acting in alignment with your values, staying true to your standards, sticking up for yourself as needed, and knowing (and protecting) your self-worth.

5. Keep a Balance

By tending to all areas of your life and balancing where you place your energy, you stay centered. This is the best place from which to seek and start a relationship. You should never feel like you have to sacrifice your hobbies and friendships for a romantic connection.

6. Know Your Deal Breakers and Act Accordingly

Take the time to acknowledge what you cannot tolerate, and if those red flags show themselves in your date, either address the issue right away or determine that you won’t be seeing that person again.

7. Believe in Abundance

There are lots of people out there. When you have faith that love is in abundance, you are more likely to be honest with yourself about whether or not someone is worth seeing, and to uphold your standards.

8. Stop Over-thinking

We all do it from time to time. I am especially guilty of this! But try your hardest not to think too long or too hard about a new relationship. Give it time to blossom, and trust that your feelings will become clearer with more time and experiences with the other person. Thinking too much can breed worry and create mountains out of mole hills.

9. Follow Your Dreams

You must follow your dreams. Period. It doesn’t matter who you date, or who you don’t, you won’t be a whole and happy person if you aren’t pursuing your life passions, so keep at it! By following your dreams, your confidence and ambition will attract like-minded people. Plus, you’re a lot more interesting and attractive when you’re chasing your aspirations.

10. Communicate

Don’t hold your tongue if there’s something you need to communicate about. Talk it out. All of it. Whatever you need to say, say it! If your date can’t work through things with you, they aren’t the right fit for the long haul.

Last but not least, this quote speaks volumes:

“Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”
― Brené Brown

You have a precious allotment of energy. Share it only with those who reciprocate, and treasure you for the wonderful, imperfect and unique human you are. Kiss the game-players goodbye, and move onto greener pastures!

Greener Pastures