I used to live in an underwater cave waaaaay out in the middle of the ocean….and since I was too little to know how to set an alarm clock, when the sun came up a school of baby sharks would circle around me and rub against me with their slippery bodies until I woke up….then I would grab onto one of their fins and he (or she) would take me to a special location where a gigantic whale 🐳 would open her mouth so that I could climb in…..she would swim and swim and swim for soooo long that sometimes I would be asleep again by the time we got to shore and when she would open her mouth hundreds of little baby crabs would emerge from the sand and climb into her mouth and tickle me until I woke up….I would climb out of her mouth (say thank you and have a nice day! of course) and walk along the beach collecting the driest driftwood I could find so that I could sit under the boardwalk and make a little fire 🔥 where I would stay until I was warm enough to continue on my journey….then I would walk up to the boardwalk and stretch my arms up to the sky, which was the signal that let the seagulls know to lower a magic carpet down to the boardwalk….I would sit on the magic carpet and it would rise higher and higher, above the clouds, and glide through the sky to a special tree where I would climb off the magic carpet and onto one of the branches….I would climb down the tree and waiting under the tree was a baby unicorn 🦄 that I would ride to school…when we were about a block away from the school I would say to the baby unicorn “you can drop me off here”, and the baby unicorn would say “are you sure? I can take you to the entrance.” and I would say “no thanks! I’ll be fine!” and I would climb off…I’d close my eyes and imagine my desk in my classroom as vividly as I possibly could and teleport myself to my seat….I would always get there in time for roll call and the teacher would always say, “Priscilla! I didn’t even see you come in!”
Relinquishing the Chase
There’s this thing I’ve heard of before, but I’ve never experienced in the flesh. People have told me that when you are “OK being just OK” that’s a wonderful thing in its own right. I’m sure there was a time I didn’t believe it for a second and I viewed it as a self-consolation used by people for whom happiness was out of reach.
The past couple of weeks I have been fighting some sort of a virus (not COVID). The kids and I have all been fighting this thing off actually. None of us have been deathly ill, but they did each throw up one time and I called in sick a week ago today, which I rarely do. I’ve also hardly been exercising (although I do have to give myself credit for going to a 6am kickboxing class this morning despite not feeling 100%). The cumulative effect of all this illness and lack of exercise has been a definite flatlining of my mood that has been persisting for at least a week now, as I get more and more tired of not feeling like myself.
Today, however, for the first time I can recall (ever), I was cruising down the highway, windows down, 60 degree sunny afternoon, delicious gentle breeze, a few unexpected extra hours off of work, kids in the backseat behaving nicely, my favorite smooth tunes on the radio, and I was feeling “just OK”…… AND THAT WAS TOTALLY FINE WITH ME!
This is a serious deviation from my lifetime M.O. I’m admittedly greedy when it comes to happiness. I always want more and it’s never enough. Being “just OK” has always been highly unacceptable in my book. Until today. I have to admit it was pretty awesome. I felt kind of more mature than ever actually. I noticed a distinct dip in my level of anxiety/fear (which I was previously unaware I even had) about the future. Why? Because the majority of our days (if we’re lucky) consist of “just OK” moments, and if WE are OK with that, well then life has a pretty good chance of meeting our expectations. The kind of happiness I’ve always demanded of life has been elusive and constantly chasing it down and trying to stop it from slipping away is a lot of work. Maybe getting older has the potential for longer, more stable periods of pleasantness than I’ve ever experienced before….
Becoming a Life-Ninja
On my way to McDonald’s for my morning iced coffee, stopped at the traffic light, it occurred to me that I am very grateful for all the life challenges I am currently experiencing for one reason above all others. With every challenge that I have the opportunity to wrestle with, examine up close, and eventually gain mastery over, I have just put in my toolbox another life lesson that I can later pass on to my boys for them to avail themselves of if they so choose….which they better!
These life skill advantages may even be multiplied in utility by becoming the treasured heirlooms of wisdom of future generations of my family. What a beautiful Godly gift it is for each problem and challenge to hold within it the potential to be transmuted into an eternal gift of love that transcends time and space.
When Life Feels Scary
It happens exceedingly rarely, but every once in a blue moon I find myself paralyzed in a state of horror at the naked recognition of all the potential for pain and suffering that life holds each and every second of each and every day. I don’t wind up at that place on my own. My mind resembles a meadow of colorful daisies much more so than this dark and daunting alleyway. There are times, however, when the material for this kind of bone-chilling realization collides with a moment that my mental/spiritual guard is down and I find myself in a place like that.
When my client sat across from me this afternoon drawing a vivid picture of every horror after unspeakable horror he has had to endure throughout his life, I had no defense against thinking, “When will it be my turn?” The best I could do in that moment was turn down the volume on the voice asking me that question. I could still hear it, but I got it down to a faint whisper for the remainder of the session. He left my office not long ago and I sat down to write this post. I want to leave behind some advice for my future self to heed the next time I find myself in a similar state of mind…
Ask yourself this, Priscilla: “Will fearing future pain and suffering keep it at bay? If so, continue. If not, you may as well think about what’s in front of you right now since it’s all you can be sure of the existence of.”
Being a Responsible Grown-up
Right now I’m sitting at the desk at the meditation center I volunteer at. (The boys are sitting in the lounge area behaving beautifully by the way!) This meditation center is run solely by volunteers. There are usually other volunteers here with me on Sundays but today, everyone else but the teacher was out. The teacher had to lead the class and I had to man the front desk. When the class ends, everyone comes out to the lobby and mingles and enjoys snacks that are put out by one of the volunteers.
It’s never been officially my job to be the “snack-putter-outer” but today I found myself in a new predicament. Here I was, sitting at the desk, when I looked at the time on the clock and realized that the class would be ending shortly. Being that there were no other volunteers here today, there were, obviously, no snacks put out.
Here I was, at a crossroads. Do I allow the class to end and the students to pour out into the lobby only to find a snack-less void? Or do I take it upon myself, knowing very well where all the supplies are kept, to prepare what must be prepared in the absence of the usual preparer?
As you can probably imagine, I grabbed the bull by the horns, took matters into my own hands, and stepped up to the plate of my own volition, without needing to be told what to do, and it felt really good. It felt like I was real-life responsible grown-up…. like the kind you see in the movies. 🙂
Goodness of God
Since returning from my first trip to Jamaica I have been playing a song called “The Goodness of God” in the mornings as I get the boys ready for school. I think it’s a combination of me being home again after being away for 5 days and the beauty of this worship song, but I have noticed a definite difference in the mood at home during our morning routine. Both the kids and I appear to be much less stressed out and everything feels like it flows more smoothly and there is a palpable feeling of harmony, gratitude and joy in the air.
This thing we call “God” is such a powerful mystical energy that seems to pervade everything around us when we are plugged into it. I would like to keep this spiritual high going as long as possible and reach new depths of spiritual connection that I’m able to sustain for longer periods of time.
This trip to Jamaica was conceived as a primarily social experience, and it turned out to be a profound spiritual experience above all else. I’m not the same person that left New York and I’m very glad for that.
New Year, New You (FOR REAL!)
Every now and then I, like most people, start to feel really bored and burned out at work. Once in a blue moon though something transformational will happen in a session with a client and I will be filled with a sensation that I can only describe as awe. As corny as it may sound- awe of the power and resilience of the human spirit- sometimes theirs, sometimes mine, sometimes both.
In the days since just before New Year’s, a series of events started to unfold that culminated in a therapy session I had yesterday. A few weeks before New Year’s, I started working with a new client who just sort of rubbed me the wrong way, which is actually pretty unusual for me. I like to think of myself as landing on the high end of the tolerance and open-mindedness spectrum. This guy, though, was hitting some nerves from the start. I kept my cool, of course, but whenever I would see his name on my schedule it would trigger my cringe-breathe-pray-on-my-way-to-the-waiting-room response.
I’m skipping over a lot here, in the interest of time, but the gist of it is that for my ENTIRE life (39 years as of today) I have been EXTREMELY sensitive to one particular topic. I have developed strong coping skills over the years to face many, if not most, things life has thrown at me – except for this one thing. I couldn’t find a way around it. Didn’t think I would in this lifetime. In fact, I KNEW I wouldn’t, it would be the thing I’d have to work on ‘next time around’…… And then The Universe presented me with this client. This person whom I was being tasked with helping to bear the huge emotional burden he had been carrying around for the past 50 years. This client, in two sessions, laid on the table in front of me a play-by-play of what I never had or even imagined having the heart or the stomach to endure listening to before. I not only allowed, I invited. I saw the grief in his eyes and I knew in that moment that God had already buttressed my soul with the necessary inner resources to relieve some of this broken human’s burden and put it voluntarily onto my own heart, where it would be transformed into peace, faith, acceptance, and forgiveness… and so I invited him to share his painful ugly burden with me. I even held his hand and looked squarely into his eyes all the while that he was telling me through sobs what I had been ducking and hiding from all my life.
Three days prior to this, on New Year’s Eve, during an AA Zoom meeting, one of the members volunteered to tell each one of us there (it was a very small group that night) what messages she could retrieve for us from the spirit world. I don’t know about everyone else, but when it was my turn, her words were like a guided missile aimed right at the center of my heart. After everyone else had left the meeting, she and I kept chatting, I shed some tears, and I made an off-hand remark after she said “2023 will be more of the same. I don’t mean for you personally; I mean in a global sense”, to which I replied, “I wouldn’t mind at all if 2023 was more of the same for me. 2022 was the best year of my life.” She paused and listened to the spirit (who I could feel in my gut was my grandmother), and she said something that, at the time, didn’t sit well with me- “You’ll be fine.” (Pause) “Yes, you’ll be fine. That’s all I’m getting.” Well. ‘You’ll be fine’ is just another way of saying ‘Something real bad is gonna happen but it’s not gonna kill ya.’ (Gasp!)
When I was holding the hand of my client – my deepest longest-held fears in the shape of a human – and was aware of the MIRACLE of compassion that had already transformed my soul to prepare it for this very moment – those words rang in my ears – “You’ll be fine.” ‘You’ll be fine in the moment you have always been running from. You’ll be fine facing the demons you fear the most. Don’t worry. You are ready. You’ll be fine.’ That’s what my grandma meant.
How to Stop 🛑 Thinking About Nothing
So, today I attended my very first silent retreat at the Buddhist meditation center I volunteer at. I have to confess that I didn’t spend the time as instructed by the nun, contemplating ethereal things and stuff. I just kind of puttered around the center, drinking coffee and listening to people’s chewing (not by choice).
There was one point, however, where I had a new and beautiful moment of clarity. I was sitting by the front door, staring out through the glass at the street scene outside. For a brief period (it ended as soon as I became aware of it) I was sitting there existing outside time and had the odd sensation that I could sit there for an entire day doing just that and be perfectly content. I could see, for the first time ever, how people (usually in movies) can sit on a sidewalk in a sleepy fishing village in Europe or South America somewhere simply watching the world go by and not feeling like there was someplace else they had to be or something else they should be doing. It had a very different quality from times I sit in intentional meditation. I was experiencing the difference between forcing my mind to “think about nothing” and simply existing without thought, soaking in the universe. It was awesome.
After I “came back to reality” I examined the experience to see how it had come about. I realized that after enough time has passed without externally-supplied psychological stimulation, the self-generated psychological stimulation will eventually quiet down. This is extraordinarily difficult to do when overwhelming worldly concerns pound on the brain, of course. It makes perfect sense that in AA it is only after we have, in a sense, made peace with the external world that our soul is freed to taste real inner peace. When these conditions of an untroubled mind exist, there’s something particularly sweet about being “alone” (no talking, no eye contact) while simultaneously being “among others” that creates a sense of comfort and security from which bliss and contentment can easily flourish.
If for nothing more than those few seconds of timeless time, the entire day spent devoted (well, sort-of devoted) to quietude proved to be well worthwhile!
If I Can’t Find God, I Guess I’ll Take a Boyfriend….
It’s always been interesting to me how in some religions the priests, nuns, monks, etc. are forbidden from entering into romantic relationships. You could argue that it makes sense for purely practical reasons. Who has time to devote to prayer, service, studying and preaching when diapers need to be changed and little bodies and mouths and ears and hands and hearts need constant tending to? But there’s another element of distraction. It’s so much easier to worship a flesh-and-blood being than it is to worship a being whose existence we can never be entirely sure of. How can God compete day-in and day-out with the allure of your lover’s scent? Even the most devoted theist would get worn down eventually. We are spiritual beings here for a physical experience after all.
In AA we have a common piece of advice given to people in their first year of recovery (to avoid getting involved in new romantic relationships) that is predicated on the same idea – that it’s even harder to get a handle on what God means to you when you just can’t get your new honey’s adorable laugh out of your head.
But what does this all really boil down to? What instinct is fulfilled by both God and new beau? It’s the instinct to worship. We feel at our most content when we are in awe of God’s handiwork – when we are beholding the majesty of the stars in the night sky or the perceived perfection of the object of our desire. Why would it feel so good to feel small and weak in this way? Because it reminds us that we’re part of something infinitely greater than ourselves and that just being alive is an adventure.
I’ve been postponing posting until I had something to say that aligned with the way I would like to see myself. But the only voice in my head these past few days has had nothing particularly optimistic, helpful, or interesting to say. (In actuality, I’m quite bored of the inside of my head at this point. There’s no new raw material coming in. Everything’s recycled and predictable….I need to start reading more….)
Why do I put these blog entries through such a rigorous vetting process?… Because I write each post for the future men that my boys are, who will one day (hopefully) be reading these words. And I must confess that I have been inadvertently using this blog to answer the question, “Who do I want my boys to believe I was?” because when the voice in my head doesn’t endorse the persona I am trying to project, I tell it to take a seat and zip it. But that was not the ORIGINAL intention of this blog. The original intention was to leave behind a record of the real me, not a curated version of me, so that my boys would be able to feel closer to me, not more distant.
The pact I’m now going to make with myself is this – to write every day. No matter what I have or don’t have to say.