Recommended For You

It is no secret that I love books.

Mind you I prefer actual, physical books to electronic books. Call me weird, but I like my books to have weight and take up space on bookshelves. They don’t need to be recharged, they don’t have issues with sun-glare when I’m reading outside, and my reading is not interrupted by notifications from whoever it is that is trying to reach me by email or messenger. Most of all, I prefer to know that the book I am reading will still be mine to read when I wake up in the morning, and not have been removed from the library due to some sort of publishing rights squabble. (that has happened to me twice).

I also love that you can use books for so many other things besides reading. If you own enough books and shelves, your house pretty much decorates itself. You can use books propped under your computer if you need to raise it up, or wedge a book in the window to keep it open. Physical books provide an actual physical barrier between you and anyone around you and project an aura of “I’d love to talk but, as you can see, I’m busy at the moment.” However, I will read books online in a pinch and I have several apps that allow me to read books on my phone when the need arises.

One of the most annoying things about e-books are how the apps always want to get involved in what I should be reading next. “Books Recommended for You.” Reads one list. “Books like (insert the title of the last book I just read) reads another. “Books we think you’ll like” says a third.

Seriously? You think that you can assume you know what I like based on the last few books I’ve read? I mean, sure, I’ve just listened to the whole of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series again. Does that mean that all I want to read next are Stephen King novels? Or Horror fiction? Yeah, that is a big nope. Today it might be Stephen King, tomorrow it may be a travel book by Bill Bryson, a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, a book on quantum physics by Michio Kaku, something sweet and magical by Sarah Addison Allen, a graphic novel or a Dan Brown adventure.

I do not read because I enjoy a particular genre. I read to be awed by an awesomely told story, or to learn new information on a topic that intrigues me. I read for the pure joy of it.

I still remember the joy that filled me up like a hot air balloon as a little girl, when I realized that my newfound ability to read had opened up incredible vistas of possibilities; whole worlds of wonder. I was sitting on the floor of my grandfather’s office which was lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves. I was waiting for him to get off the phone so I could tell him that grandma said it was time for dinner. Out of boredom I pulled a book off the shelf and thumbed through it, looking for pictures I could look at while I waited. Except that this time the beginning of the text caught my eye.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

It was the first line from Charles Dickens classic “A Tale of Two Cities”, though I had no clue who Dickens was, nor did I care. What astounded me was that I could read! There were words in this book, a book I had never opened before. I had opened and it and found words I knew!  Words that I could read! Of course, there were words in the books my first-grade teacher had been using for us in reading class, but this was a big person book; a real book. I remember looking up at the walls of books that lined my grandfather’s office and realizing that each and every one of those books had words in them. Each book had words that could be read. The thought that there were so many books to be read was simultaneously astounding and overwhelming. When my grandfather got off the phone and asked me why I was crying, I was startled to find that my face was wet with tears. But they weren’t sad tears, they were happy tears. So many stories, so much information, just in this one room! I couldn’t wait to get started.

Even before I had learned to read on my own, I had always loved having my mother, grandparents and aunts read stories to me while cuddled on the couch, or when they were tucking me into bed. I adored the stories on records too (yes, there were books on records before there were books on tape, CD, or available to stream/download) where a man or woman with a lovely warm and rounded voice would read stories out loud to you if you put the arm of the record player down on the record just right. But being a child, I wasn’t in charge of the books and records that were chosen for me. Once I was able to read for myself, however, that all changed. I could read anything! I wanted to read everything. And so, I did.

Of course, I didn’t read everything. No one ever has. But that day in my grandfather’s office marked a turning point for me. I began reading everything I could get my hands on. At first it didn’t matter if it was a well written story or not, or if it was a story at all. I had no preference for one kind of book over another. I was like a dry sponge, soaking up all the information I could get my hands on.

I learned fairly quickly that while my grandfather did indeed have a large collection of books, at least 70% were medical texts of one kind or another (he was a doctor) and most of those were well beyond of my reading level at the age of six. But on his shelves, I did discover books on the Titanic, Great Fires of North America, Architecture of the 20th century, WWII, various stories by Dickens (he had a leather-bound set of Dickens’ complete works), a history of Great Britain, poems by Edgar Allen Poe a book of short biographies of US Presidents through Nixon, and a “complete history” of Native American tribes, all of which I puzzled through, looking up the harder words in the dictionary so I could understand what they meant.

In my Grandmother’s bookshelves I found all sorts of Christian “mission” stories and literature such as “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” a complete series of “Signature Lives” books that ranged from Edith Cavell and Clara Barton to George Washington, Nikola Tesla, Amelia Earhart and George Washington Carver, as well as an illustrated “Foxes Book of Martyrs” which, when read at the age of eight gave me nightmares for months.

Once I had exhausted all of the books in our house that were not medical texts, I moved on to the town library, where my mom would take me once a week and let me pick out a stack to take home. Initially, I read more non-fiction books than fiction. This was not because I preferred non-fiction, but because non fiction was the only genre that my conservative Christian family would allow me to check out of the library. Sometimes I could convince them to let me check out a fiction that was based on a true story, but only if I could prove that it was based in fact.  

It always seemed odd to me that the mom and grandparents who had read me Winnie-The-Pooh, Blueberries for Sal and the Ugly Duckling as a little girl were so opposed to me reading things like the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Wrinkle in Time, the Phantom Tollbooth or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase on my own.

It didn’t get any better as I got older. Though I was allowed to go to the library on my own after I turned 12, my library selections would be reviewed by my family when I got home to make sure that I was only reading approved items. If I was caught trying to sneak in a fictional story, I would lose my library card for a week.

When I became a teenager, and a little more subtle, I would try to take out a few fictional books here and there and stow them in my school bag, away from prying eyes. Of course, this technique was discovered and my family would go to the library and request a list of the items that I had checked out. If there was anything on the list that was not considered appropriate. I would lose my library privileges for a month.

All of this scrutiny did absolutely nothing to dampen my need to read – and to read more than non-fiction. Luckily, I befriended librarians both at school and at the town library who were sympathetic to my situation, and would “hold” a book I was reading behind the desk without me checking it out and let me read it in installments at the library. Needless to say, the library became one of my favorite places to hang out both at school during study halls or free periods, and at the community library on weekends and during the summer holidays. I would always check out a couple of non-fictions to justify my visit to the library in case someone had seen me go in and mentioned it to my parents.

Of course, I found ways around this. I managed, in addition to the non-fiction books I legally checked out, to work through at least a novel a week during the school year by reading them in the library, and 2-3 novels a week during the holidays.

My insatiable need to read more – to learn more, always more – worried my family, and they would routinely provide me with stacks of young adult religious stories, biographies on “appropriate” historical figures, encouraging me to read those if I was going to read and discouraging me from even asking questions about anything that didn’t fit their definition of “acceptable topics” and I grew to resent their suggestions.

Which explains why I find the “recommended for you” suggestions so annoying. Don’t try to manipulate my reading choices dude, I have had more than enough of that.

The Banner of Busyness

For once she allowed herself the luxury of doing absolutely nothing. And when she was done, she apologized to herself for the misunderstanding. It hadn’t been doing nothing after all, she had been resting her heart and feeding her soul”.

~JustSteph

Our society has a thing about being busy. We all complain about it, but simultaneously most of us take a weird, twisted sort of pride in it, as if, once we die, we will be able to wave the banner of busyness at the pearly gates and be guaranteed immediate entrance.

We all know the refrain; “I am so sorry, I’d really love to be able to help/go to/ see you with/at (fill in the blank) but I am really so busy, there is just no way to fit it in right now. Maybe next time?”

Most of us don’t take offense if someone uses the busy card. After all, we’ve all said it. We’ve all heard it. We all understand what it means. We know exactly what is going through someone’s head when they say it in a certain tone of voice. We might be a little hurt that they are too busy for us but really, we totally understand.

Yes, we all know what it feels like to be crazy busy; so busy that we hardly have time to brush our teeth, let alone floss. So busy that instead of sitting down for breakfast, we grab a muffin or bagel on our way out the door so as not to be late to work and then curse at the crumbs or coffee stains that get dribbled down our front. We spend out lunch break scarfing down something from a vending machine while making three different phone calls and checking our personal emails and bank deposits. We combine six errands on our way home from work, and, after eating a quick fix supper that we eat balanced on our knees while watching the evening news, we drop exhausted into bed at night with a whole list of things we wanted to do and never got to and feeling slightly guilty that we have to actually take time to sleep at all.

Weekends aren’t much better, especially for parents. Most times Saturday mornings are full of karate, dance or music lessons, afternoons are for soccer or football practices or games, Saturday nights are spent ferrying kids to parties, picking them up or dropping them off at movies or friends houses or hosting said parties and get togethers. Even those without kids end up most Saturdays running all the errands that couldn’t be done during the week and cursing out any business that doesn’t have Saturday hours because how on earth are we supposed to contact them when their business hours are the same as our working hours? (I’m looking at you doctor’s offices!)

And then there are Sundays. For those so inclined, Sundays may include Sunday School and/or church, which precludes any sleeping in and may go so far as to include pot lucks or afternoon services, and there goes your day.

For those not so inclined, it may be the one day of the week we get to actually sleep in, unless of course you have kids, or cats, in which case you will be getting up at the same time of day as the rest of the week unless you want to be jumped on or poked awake with carefully calculated claws. Maybe, just maybe you will have time to actually get some housecleaning done, or run the car through the car wash, do some yard work, or maybe get a start on cleaning out that closet. Or maybe not. Maybe you will just spend Sunday afternoon in your pajamas, binge watching some show that takes you away from all the stresses and ridiculousness of the week. But sooner or later on Sunday, usually just after 3 p.m., you will get that sinking feeling that tells you that you only have a few precious hours left until it is time to get ready for the new week and start the whole routine over again.

Why do we do it?

Why do we insist on keeping ourselves so busy that we never seem to have time for anything that truly rests or refreshes us? When did we forget what it is like to simply take time for ourselves to rest and recharge our batteries? Why is self-care so rarely on our list of priorities?

It is easy enough to say that we are too busy to take time for ourselves. We can even justify it by saying that our obligations to our work, our families, our church or whatever other groups we are involved in, preclude us from spending any time on frivolous self-indulgences.

The real problem is in our determination to insist to ourselves that any time spent on self-care is “self-indulgence.” Oh sure, we might find that we can justify a daily trip to the gym (have to be able to fit into those pants!) or a once-a-month trip to a hair salon (can’t be looking shaggy/have my roots showing at work!) But how long has it been since you truly did anything for yourself; anything that can in no way be justified as necessary, but which makes you feel absolutely amazing?

It is said that the Italians have a saying; “Il dolce far niente”, which can be translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing”. While there is some argument as to whether it is actually an Italian term or if it was devised by English speakers of the 1800’s in describing what they saw as Italians’ laid-back approach to life, the fact remains that the idea of “doing nothing” or, more accurately, taking time to unwind and recharge, has a distinct appeal, an appeal that is backed up by psychology.

“Taking care of yourself means compassionately accepting yourself for who you are instead of burning yourself out trying to be everything to everyone all the time. It’s living your life in a way that doesn’t leave you needing to check out or take a break just so you can have a bath, read a book, or sip tea.”

Psychology Today, April 23, 2021

The problem is, our society is so focused on busyness and accomplishment that if we purposefully slow down our pace (let alone taking time out altogether) we get hit with a wave of guilt over all of the things that we could have been doing; of all the time ‘wasted.’

But time spent on recharging your personal batteries is never time wasted. After all, you can’t get any mileage out of a car that has no fuel, and you feel no guilt over spending the time to pull into a gas station or hook up to a recharging station. Neither should you feel guilty over taking the time to refill your own inner battery. In fact, if it feels better, tell yourself that by taking time every day to recharge you are being proactive, because it is a known fact that if you refuse to take time to rest and regroup, eventually your body will break down and force you to rest. It will give you no choice.

So don’t wait to be forced into taking care of yourself. Find the time now to recharge. Do it today. Do whatever it takes to replenish your battery; Stop and smell the roses. Take a walk in the forest. Sit on the beach and watch the waves come in. Plant a garden. Go cloud watching. Splash in the mud puddles. Dance in the rain. Stare into the eyes of your cat. Whatever makes you happy; whatever makes your soul smile and fills you with awe and wonder, make time to do that. You will be happy that you did.

Will the Real Writer Please Stand Up?

Just like the concept of working from home, creative writing gets a bad rap. I can’t count the number of times I have told people what I do for a living and watch as they fight to keep from smiling.  Some don’t even try to fight it but just flat out laugh. It’s a joke to them; a poor excuse for someone who just can’t find or keep a ‘real’ job. 

I still remember one lovely person who, when I told her that I was a writer said “are you serious?” and then laughed as if she had never heard anything so funny. When I asked her what it was that she thought Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts did for a living and she wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes as she said “but sweetie, those are real writers.”

Well, she’s wrong. I may not yet be a popular writer (note the use of the qualifying word “yet” as the key part of that last phrase). I may not have my books on the best seller list. But they are published and they do sell. I may currently make the bulk of my writing income by writing blogs, giving creative writing seminars, creating newsletters and informational eBooks or by providing creative writing coaching to those who find the written word challenging, but that does not make me any less of a writer than those who are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars per book contract or who are getting assignments that pay thousands of dollars a pop. 

Unfortunately, this is a concept that many aspiring writers find distinctly difficult to grasp, and, when confronted with those who would belittle or criticize their claim to be a writer they become depressed over their seeming lack of recognition and sometimes even give up writing altogether.

Perhaps they give up because, in the back of their heads they have the expectation that their talent will immediately be recognized and that they will go from being a total unknown and unpublished writer to an overnight success at the top of the New York Times best seller list. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is quite a bit different.

Yes, there are a few rare individuals who have extraordinary talent and who are in just the right place at the right time and get recognized immediately, but most writers have to work at their craft. Like any other talent or skill, writing has to be honed, practiced and refined and this means writing on a daily basis. 

Most writers start out by honing their writing skills while maintaining a day job. Those who are truly addicted will make a point of trying to find a way to work on improving their writing skills in whatever way they possibly can, writing on lunch breaks, weekends or late into the night.

Personally, I got started in writing for a living by helping fellow college students refine their papers. At first I would sit down with them for free and go over their reports and papers, helping them to tighten up their prose or making suggestions as to new ways to approach the subject. Then someone made the suggestion that I could actually make money by offering my services for a small fee. As your standard starving student, that sounded good to me! And sure enough, there were enough fellow students who were desperate to make suggestions for improvements to their papers that they were more than willing to pay a small fee to have me go over their work, especially when most times it resulted in a jump in letter grade.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a writer since I learned out to write. As a kid I scribbled stories in my spare time. I was on the newspaper staff in both high school and college. As a young adult, I submitted bits and pieces to local newspapers and local writing contests, but I didn’t realize that I could actually do this as a regular job until I actually was.

For years writing was just a second job; a secondary source of income that helped to ‘fill in the gaps’ so to speak; gaps left by my “bread and butter” day job. Now writing and helping others improve their writing is my bread and butter, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do I still have my eye on the New York Times best seller list? Of course, I do! I have great hopes for my current in-process novel. Doesn’t every writer? But in the meantime, I write. I write because I can’t not write. And that need to write, to tell a story, that is what defines a real writer. By that definition, no matter what that long ago lady once said, I am very much a real writer, and if you love to write, you so are you!

Consume This!

stuffWe live in a messed up world.  No, let me rephrase that, we live in a messed up society.  No, let me be even more specific.  We are messed up because we live in a consumer society which throws the natural balance so out of true that we actually think that this is the way things are supposed to be.

Do you know what a consumer society is?  It is a society that has been designed to (drumroll please) CONSUME.  Everything about the way that society works is tied to the purchasing of more stuff.

That’s right, our entire society is based on the concept of consumption.

Now don’t get me wrong, consumption is a necessary part of life.  I mean, everyone has to eat, so food needs to be grown or purchased.  Everyone needs shelter so houses are built and bought or apartments are rented out.  We have to keep warm.  We have to keep the lights on.  We have to keep the water running.  We have to keep ourselves clothed.  But these are necessities.

What I am talking about when I say a consumer society is a society where the purchase of unnecessary surplus stuff is the end game.  It is why buy a car we can’t afford to drive to a job we hate to be able to afford to buy stuff we don’t need in order to impress people who couldn’t care less about us.

We are bombarded daily with advertisements and marketing ploys that try to coerce us into buying yet more stuff.  We are encouraged to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous and are subtly (and not so subtly) exposed to the notion that the latest fashion, the newest upgrade, the coolest gadgets or the largest big screen TV will  somehow, magically, bring us happiness.

Thanks to our continual cultural immersion in the concept of “buying” happiness most people’s first instinct when they are feeling down is to go out and buy something.  For those who find themselves consistently unsatisfied in their work or in their relationships, this can translate into a serious problem with binge shopping taking the place of getting right down to the heart of the underlying issues.

I was once just as hooked into the idea of buying happiness as anyone else.  I was stuck in a loveless marriage and working a dead end job.  Shopping gave me a temporary boost that always drained away as soon as I got home and unpacked my bags.  And then, 18 months ago, I was given a gift; a chance to start over again; a chance to re-create my life from the ground up.

I found myself with a single car load of clothes books and personal items 600 miles from where I had lived for the previous 12 years, signing a lease for a totally unfurnished apartment.  My first night spent on an air mattress and eating standing up at the counter made me feel a bit like a college student in her first apartment.  But as I looked around at the gorgeously bare rooms I knew that, at the age of 46, I was being handed a once in a lifetime opportunity; the opportunity to create for myself exactly the kind of life that I had always wanted.

The first order of business, of course, was to furnish my apartment.  I needed everything, from  furniture and linens to kitchen items, lamps, rugs and everything in between.  And it was then that I made my first rule I wasn’t going to have anything in my apartment that I didn’t absolutely love.  In fact, I was in the middle of making a list of things I needed for my apartment when it dawned on me that I needed to be using this same rule of thumb for everything in my life whether it was things or people.

I began weighing everything – and everyone in my lift by one those two simple guidelines; did I absolutely love them?  And, did they make me smile?

You’d be surprised, or maybe not, to see just what a difference these guidelines made in my life. Instead  of just letting everyone in; instead of spreading myself too thin doing things for people who were only concerned with how much I could do for them, I had surrounded myself with those who truly cared, not just for what I could do for them, but for who I was, as a person.

When it came to things I also found that when you are dealing with things you absolutely love you find that there is a natural limit in the amount of things you can have in your life before you reach your saturation point.  And so, because I didn’t need more than I had, instead of just buying to make myself feel better, I had to find a new way of dealing with unhappiness in my life.  And you know what I found?  I found that experiences trump things every time.

Doing thing with, going on adventures with the people who mattered most made for a far more satisfying life than just accumulating more things because the “getting” of them felt so good.  Taking long walks, having long talks, playing games, making memories, that was what life was all about.

Who knows, maybe in some small way I am, by choosing not to engage in unfettered consumption, contributing to the downfall of our economy, perhaps even our society.  But I’ll take that risk.  The satisfaction I get from accumulating experiences and smiles and laughter and love far outweigh the temporary satisfaction to be had from stuffing myself and my home with non-necessities.

 

Isn’t it Just Ducky

duck“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

This, my friends, is called “the duck test” and it is one of the biggest pieces of crap advice in existence.

The duck test implies that anyone – you, me, that guy on the bench over there, that any of us can identify a heretofore unknown subject by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics; that by perceiving its form we can make an educated guess as to what it is; what it is for or (and this is the part that really ticks me off) its motives and thought process.

Now mind you, I won’t argue that a quacking, paddling, feather wrapped avian with a bill and webbed feet is probably a member of the Anatidae family, but I have just enough common sense to realize that it might be something else entirely, perhaps a species of bird I have never seen before, or even something totally non-duck, like a decoy, an animatronic creation or even a holographic image.  And I am certainly not going to assume that just because it registers with my brain as a “duck” that I know the first thing about WHY it is doing what it is doing, or what it plans on doing next.

It all comes down to the fact that when it comes to perception and understanding, most of us are lazy.  We would rather glance at the object, register it as a duck, then quickly tuck it into the pigeon hole in our brain labeled “ducks and duck-like behavior” and simply forget about it.  Not important.  We are now free to move along to more important things.  Like what we’re going to have for supper and the most recent celebrity drama.

While the duck test may be useful when it comes to sorting through not so important things, thus freeing up the brain for more important matters, it is far too often used by those of little understanding to explain why it is that an individual has chosen a particular course of action.

Instead of stopping to consider all of the possible reasons and giving the individual the benefit of the doubt, the duck test allows the one sitting in judgement of the person’s actions to make broad, sweeping assumptions based on that person’s past behavior or even assumptions of their past behaviors.  They use these assumptions to give their world definition; to make certain that everything inside of it is neat and tidy and precisely categorized.  The end result being that the person whose actions are being judged gets labeled a duck when really they are a wolf, or a dolphin, or even a lion.

Of course when the individual passing judgement is presented with the truth of the person or thing their preconceived ideas tend to get in the way and prevent them from seeing it (or them) as anything other than what they have convinced themselves it is.

Far far better to take the time initially to see a thing – an idea – a belief or even a person for exactly who and what they really are than to be rudely awakened latter on.  It will of course when you’ve convinced yourself that the lion penned up in your barnyard is really a duck it comes as a great shock when it suddenly shakes out its mane, lets out a roar and eats your ducks for lunch.

 

The Curse of the Zombies

American-Gothic-zombies[1]Have you seen them?  Have you seen the soulless ones that go about their daily routines with focused footsteps and empty eyes?  For all that they walk and talk and eat and sleep and take their young to little league games, they are, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than functional zombies.  Reverse zombies actually, for instead of feasting on brains they crave the type of activities and entertainment that drain the brain from any sort of normal functionability.

Have you seen their single-minded determination to glorify war and the ease with which they dismiss violence, whether it is the killing people or animals, as just a natural part of life?  They are of course, egged on by the governments that maintain their economies by dreaming up more wars and then sending off young men and women to die in the name of capitalistic patriotism.

Have you listened to the mindless blithering of their news pundits?  Oh they make it sound important; they gloss their words with self-importance and urgency.  But when you sit down and take the time to decipher what it is they’re saying you discover that they really aren’t saying anything at all.

Have you felt the fear that they generate whenever they encounter anything that isn’t part of their normal world view?

Have you felt the anger that radiates off of them whenever someone or something doesn’t act the way that they have been taught that they should?

Now, have you ever wondered how it is that they got this way?

I can tell you what happened.

You see, once upon a time these were normal, everyday, ordinary people who loved and laughed and lived.  But one day they stopped listening to their hearts.  They got so wrapped up in building their villages and towns; in creating their societies where everyone had a place and a purpose, that they forgot what it was to truly be alive.

They got so focused on planning  how to make this world  that they had created run better and more efficiently, that they stopped enjoying the moment they were living in.  They became so obsessed with making sure that everyone and everything followed the regulations that they had enacted that they stopped thinking for themselves, becoming instead a mindless horde of zombies; zombies intent on creating the entire world into their image.

And so it is that the the soulless ones grew in numbers until it was simply an accepted part of life that you lived out your days according to the expectations of those who had raised you and the society in which you lived.  And it didn’t matter if you were dead inside, as long as you learned what you were expected to learn and worked at what you were told.

And every now and again you will find that one of the zombies stops shuffling to and fro as directed.  Instead they stop quite still and look around them with the kind of shock and awe you would expect if you found yourself waking up from a Matrix-like dream.

Of course most of those who find themselves being shocked by the true nature of their lives easily succumb to going back to the way things were.  A little fear; the mention that jobs are about to be cut; it doesn’t take much.  The fear of losing what they have is greater than the desire to break free.

And then there are those who, when the attempt is made to heard them back into the fold; back into compliance, simply throw back their heads and laugh.  They wouldn’t go back for the world.  The curse of the zombies is broken.  They have finally re-discovered their souls, and it is time to truly live free.

HALFWAY TO DEAD

“Most peoveilple die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”  -Benjamin Franklin

It was the damndest thing.  I was at the mall, eeling my way through a school of teenagers when I heard a snatch of conversation between two boys that stopped me dead in the water:

“Dude, she’s like 40 years old!  That’s like halfway to dead!”

Mind you, they were talking about a pop singer, but for some reason his words resonated in my brain like John Donne’s proverbial bell.

To be perfectly honest, at first I couldn’t believe what I’d heard and my initial reaction was simply to brush aside the comment.  After all, what did it matter that a fifteen year old punk thought that a singer over forty wasn’t worth listening to because she was “halfway to dead?”

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that this one random piece of overheard conservation is indicative of everything that is wrong with our culture; of the prevailing attitude regarding anyone or anything that doesn’t provide instant satisfaction and gratification; of the tendency to view anyone over the age of forty (or anything that hasn’t been written, produced, published, aired, designed or conceptualized in the last 24 months) to be irrelevant; of the “me first!” mentality that has turned our society into a self-centered, ego-centric parody of itself.

We live in a take-out world of fast food, quick fixes, one minute makeovers; a world where if you either learn to adapt to the rapidly changing social structure or you get left in the dust; a world where old age is seen as a curse, education is seen as a joke and the answer to all of life’s problems lies in drinking from the fountain of youth and being able to fit into our skinny jeans even after we’ve had two children. And it is this youth-obsessed, egocentric culture that has generated the idea of the mid-life crises as joke; as a desperate bid by those past their prime to hold on to the glory of youth and try one last time to make their mark on the world.

Everyone has seen the characterization of the aging middle-aged man combing his hair over his bald spot, buying a sports car, and trading in his wife for a younger, perkier model.  For women this same time frame is portrayed as the 40-something year old woman or “cougar” getting plastic surgery and headed out on the prowl for a younger, virile man, because don’t you know, it’s all about the sex and, in a youth-obsessed culture – it is understandable (if laughable) that older men and women would be so scared of getting old that they would do whatever it takes to make themselves desirable once again.

The Mid-Life Re-Evaluation

You see, what it really comes down to is the mis-use of the term “crisis” for what happens to so many people at the mid-point of their lives is not so much about fearing death – about trying to regain their youth or proving their virility by taking on younger lovers as it is about the realization that they are at the half-point of their lives and have not yet begun to live.

Most people in western society settle down in their mid-twenties.  They acquire a full-time job, a spouse, and, over the years, children, a mortgage, credit card bills, social standing in the community and even positions of responsibility and respect in their churches.  But while for all intents and purposes they appear to have a “good life” too many are just going through the motions.  Far too many people are dying inside.

For their whole lives they have been living for the weekends, for vacations, intent on getting the next promotion, the bigger house, getting the kids out of school and into the right colleges, for retirement, convinced that eventually they will reach a plateau of happiness where they can finally draw a deep breath and where their lives will finally have meaning, where they can finally relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The only problem is, it never arrives.  There is always another bill, another event, another concern, another upcoming event; a web of responsibilities and obligations that keep them tethered to the soul-less job and the loveless marriage.  And so, many people “break out” of the mold in an act of almost teenage rebellion.  Having been immersed in a consumer society where the acquisition of things is equated with elevated happiness, most of those who hit this crises point do something stereotypical, like quitting their job, taking a younger lover, buying a flashy car thinking that these things will somehow give their lives meaning.

energy2And then there are those who instinctively understand that there is more going on than meets the eye; that this isn’t about things.  This isn’t even about reclaiming their youth.  This is about stripping away all of the layers of veneer and varnish that society insists that they wear in order to be considered acceptable.  This is learning how to reconnect with the authentic self.  This is about moving past what religions and governments and even friends or family expect from them.  This is about remembering who and what they really are while there is still enough time to experience life; while there is still enough time to appreciate the wonder and mystery that surround them.  This is nature’s wake up call.  This isn’t about being “halfway to dead.”  This is a clarion call to those who hear it and who have the wisdom to understand that it is time to stop going through the motions and truly start to live.

Toothpaste and Mud Puddles

puddles_380x220_1436058a[1]

Have you ever had a moment of such incredible happiness that you found yourself wondering “what did I do to deserve this?”  I have.  And that one question my friends, is a clear cut example of what a twisted culture we live in. You see, happiness is not something that you deserve.  It is not something that you can earn or that you acquire either by earning enough brownie points with a qualified deity or by collecting the appropriate number of box tops.  Happiness is something we are.  In fact, it is our default state.

Don’t believe me?  Spend some time around small children some time.  I’m not talking about school aged kids who are already knee deep in learning how to envy those around them for the things that they don’t have or for getting the ‘good’ seat on the bus.  I mean small children; babies and toddlers.

The average toddler has a better grasp on happiness than most adults on this planet.  Of course they haven’t yet developed reasoning or social skills and have more energy than the average power plant on a high production day and sometimes still have to wear diapers, but if you spend any length of time around them you will notice that when it comes to happiness, they’ve got it nailed down.  Their whole being radiates with happiness because they are entirely focused on whatever it is that they are doing; watching a caterpillar balance on a twig, jumping into mud puddles, watching a kitten play, squeezing all of the toothpaste out of the tube.

We have forgotten how to do this.  We have forgotten how to be happy.  We have forgotten how to radiate happiness with every particle of our being.  We have forgotten the joy of watching all that toothpaste curl out onto the counter.

We go along, day after day, year after year focused on our education, on our work, on providing for our families and on juggling bills.  And while that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, when we begin putting aside our own happiness in order to better focus on these “more important” things we lose the knowledge of what it means to be completely and blissfully happy.

Humans are social animals.  They want to fit in.  They want to belong.  For millennia like-minded individuals have created villages and towns and cities and religions. They have created clubs and teams and organizations so that they could come together and socialize; interact; share their experiences as humans.

In a world that is marked by suburban sprawl and almost wholly bereft of any sort of social or cultural opportunities that you used to find regularly wherever there were large groups of people. This is why the concept of social media is so very addictive; it allows individuals all over the world to “belong” and to interact with other individuals.

While the concepts of “belonging” and “fitting in” are natural and part of the nature of things, it comes at a price.  The price can be steep, for many times a group or religion or organization has strict rules and regulations, things that you have to or cannot do in order to belong.  And so, in order to be accepted we give up pieces of ourselves; our individuality; pieces of who and what we truly are in order to conform to the acceptable standards of the group or organization.  Many times we give up the things that made us happy in order to be accepted by others.  We then have to spend years – sometimes entire lifetimes attempting to understand why it is that we are so unhappy and attempting to find happiness again, albeit within the structures of our adopted social group, which of course means that many people have and will continue to die unhappy and unfulfilled.

So how can we be happy again?  How can we possibly regain that selfless joy, that innate wonder of the world around us; the supreme happiness of jumping in the mud puddles; the sheer bliss of watching that toothpaste curl out onto the bathroom counter?

The first order of business is to accept that happiness is not an “earned” condition.  You are happiness.1

The second order is to remember what it is that makes you happy and do it.  Have you always loved the color and texture of paintings?  Pick up some small canvases and paints at a craft shop and try your hand at putting images on paper.  Playing in the dirt?  Try digging up a small square of yard for a garden, or plant flowers or vegetables in a pot if you live in an apartment.  Playing in tidal pools?  Try setting up a small aquarium.  Rainbows?  Hang prisms in any window that gets direct sunlight.

Thirdly; don’t apologize for being yourself.  Don’t beat yourself up if others laugh at you for going out in the rain without an umbrella, for blowing bubbles on the bridge during rush hour, for dancing madly to your favorite song when it comes on the radio, or laying out on the hillside to see the shapes in the clouds.

And finally, if you find someone with whom you can be completely and totally yourself, who not only enjoys your myriad facets but is aware of their own and who is not afraid to be themselves, cherish them, they are a rare gift, and believe me, the happiness that you will take in seeing each other’s total authenticity will be so incandescent that whenever you are tempted to think “what did I do to deserve this” you will instead find yourself thinking “what on earth took me so long to realize the truth?”

How to Heal a Broken Heart

broken heart“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

My heart was broken long ago.  The details don’t matter.  What matters is that instead of admitting that my heart was broken; instead of admitting that I was in pain and dealing with the trauma right then and there, I made a series of decisions that threw my world into chaos and that impacted my life for a very long time.

Mind you, the decisions that I made (one in particular) in response to the heartbreak were a way of protecting my heart from further injury; of insulating it against the pain that I had incurred.  But what I didn’t realize is that by denying the pain; by choosing to delude myself into thinking that I was all right, I was ignoring an injury which, when left untreated, never healed.  In fact, it began to fester, poisoning everything else I did.

And so to escape the pain of infection I wrapped myself in layers upon layers of mundane is-ness; sinking into a depression so complete that I was not even aware that I was.  I only knew that there was something wrong; something that continued to eat at me and that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As crazy as it may seem, six months ago, just as I was ready to give up altogether, it was the very one who inflicted the original injury that pulled me out of my despondency; enabling me to see exactly what I had allowed my life to become due to the choices that I had made and gave me the courage to acknowledge what I had done, accept where I am, and  to face the future without fear of what it might bring.

Knowing what might have been – what I have lost – what I will never have because of the choices that I have made – makes my heart ache as it has never ached before.  It is like peeling off the scab to clean out an infected wound; a throbbing ache that reaches right down to my soul.

Accepting that I will never have what might have been; accepting where I am and who I have become because of the path I chose to follow stings like alcohol poured into a cut; intensifying the pain to the point that it doesn’t feel as if I can take it for even one more second.  But it also kills the bacteria of despair and despondence and is the first step to healing.

Acceptance leads to an understanding of why I made those choices.  And understanding is like a soothing balm; a balm and a soft cotton bandage that covers the cleaned wound, protecting it from further damage.

But knowing and accepting and understanding is not enough.  I must also have wisdom; wisdom and courage to prevent any more trauma to my heart; not by burying it where it cannot be touched, but by leaving it exposed and choosing instead to make those decisions that will strengthen it.

I must have the wisdom to learn from my experiences and the courage to listen to my heart and, from now on, to make each decision based on what feels right to my heart – to my soul –not based on my fears; not as a reaction to pain that threatens to tear me apart, or in response to the pressures and influences of what those around me expect from me.  And once I have made the decision, the courage to move forward without fear, knowing that if I am acting from my heart – and for my heart – that I will be making the decision that is best for me and that will help me to become who and what I was meant to be.

~SSHenry~ March 2, 2014.

All Beginnings Are Hard

butterfly“All Beginnings are hard. . . . Especially a beginning that you make for yourself. That’s the hardest beginning of all.” ~Chiam Potok

 

It is not unusual at this time of the year to see dozens of posts touting an individual’s New Year’s Resolutions; posts about losing weight, finding love, getting their dream job.  The list is endless. And while I know plenty of people who scoff at the idea; people who say that making New Year’s Resolutions is pointless and meaningless, the concept behind it is really quite lovely; you are promising yourself a new beginning; choosing the turning of the New Year as a convenient marking point for tracking their progress.

The sad part of course is that most people renege on their promise to themselves fairly quickly.  In fact, the same people who will move heaven and earth to keep a promise to a spouse or a child; a parent, an employer or a friend will dismiss their promise to themselves with no more than a shrug and an amused chuckle.

Do we really have so little respect for ourselves that we can shrug away our chance to finally create the life we have always imagined?  Because when we fail to keep our promises to ourselves that is exactly what we are doing.  We are trading in those things we desire most in the whole world in exchange for convenience, or security or acceptance by those who don’t understand what achieving our goals would mean for our authentic selves.

I have no room to judge the person who gives in to those around them; who gives in to the demands of convention or of society and gives up their dream, for I am guilty of the same thing.  In fact, I am more guilty than most.  I gave up my dream.  I gave up my dreams willingly in the hopes that by doing so I could forget who I was; that I could bury my true self in normality and create a life for myself where I would not only not be hurt any more, but one where I would no longer hurt anyone else.

For a few precious years it seemed to work.  I was happy, or at the very least I was content.  But it didn’t last.

It was inevitable that one day I would wake up to the fact that burying my authentic self was the biggest mistake that I ever made.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret the life I lived; it gave me two beautiful daughters and hundreds of lovely memories that I will cherish forever.  What I do regret is that I gave up my true self for the illusion of security and belonging.

It has taken me a quarter of a century to come around to acknowledging my mistake and in taking steps to rectify it; to unearth the true me that has been buried for so very long.  Unfortunately she has been kept under wraps for so long that no one recognizes her.  Well, no one except those who knew me before I buried her alive.  Her resurrection has resulted in any number of problems as I try to explain to those around me that this is who I am.  That the person they thought I was all this time was nothing more than a façade; a mask worn to prevent those around me from see who and what I truly am; a choice I made because I was afraid of hurting or being hurt ever again.

Some have supported me in this excavation.  Others have fought it at every turn, trying their hardest to convince me that going back to the self they always knew is in everyone’s best interest; especially their own since that person was the one they were comfortable with.  But going back to the person I was pretending to be is something I will not do.  And if becoming myself means turning their world upside down, well then, so be it.  I have kept myself buried for far too long.  It is time.

And so it is that I make my own New Year’s Resolution.  This year I make a new beginning for myself – for my true self.  I will take the steps necessary to free myself from those people and situations that would keep me from being who and what I truly am.

Of course this means that there will be some tough decisions to be made over the next 12 months; some very difficult choices and overall upheaval for myself and those closest to me.  But like childbirth, once the process has begun, there really is no turning back.  I have made myself the promise of a new beginning, and it is a promise that I intend to keep.

Chutes And Ladders

“It doesn’t matter how bad things get.  It doesn’t matter how dark the clouds are.  You have to believe, deep in your heart, that the sun is still shining, even if, right now, you can’t feel anything except the continual downpour.” ~ SSHenry

There are times in each of our lives; moments, days, months even; when we feel like giving up; when we feel that going through the motions of daily life are just too difficult and it would be easier to curl ourselves into a small ball and just wait for it all to end.

I’ve had one of those years.

The details don’t matter.  Suffice it to say that a year ago something happened to me that turned my world upside down.  It began with a single event and cascaded (as single events tend to do) into a thundering waterfall of circumstances that swept away nearly every aspect of who and what I was.

If you don’t believe me, go ahead and look at the dates on my writing here on the website.  You’ll notice that since a year ago the entries became fewer and farther between.  There would be months between entries.  That is because I was spending every last ounce of energy keeping my head above water; trying desperately not to drown in my own tears.

I was left clinging tenaciously to one thing and, oddly enough, it wasn’t someone or something outside of myself that I found myself clinging to.  It was an inner knowing; an understanding that even though it felt as if all of my insides had been torn out through my chest and kicked about by people in very dirty and heavy work boots before being randomly stuffed back in, it was going to be ok.

Somewhere deep inside I knew that even though it felt as if things would never get better, that this was just one of life’s weird twists.  It wasn’t the end.  It was more like the square on the Shute’s and Ladders board where you plummet back to nearly the beginning before picking yourself up and beginning the climb all over again.

Mind you, that didn’t make it any easier to handle.  That didn’t make the days any easier to face.  What it did was enable me to use my meditation and mindfulness skills to focus on the right here and now, as painful as it was; on getting through today.  Not looking towards tomorrow.  Not planning for the future;  just on getting through the day; through the morning; through the next hour.  I survived moment by moment until the hole in my heart scabbed over and reduced itself to an aching throb.

And after nearly a year’s worth of mornings where the alarm would go off and I would groan in disappointment at finding myself still alive and at the prospect of having to deal with yet another pointless and meaningless day; after nearly a year’s worth of days finding myself bursting into tears for no particular reason; one morning I surprised myself by waking up with a smile in my heart.  I could feel the sun again, and see colors.

Sure enough, when I checked the scab that had covered the hole where my insides were torn out had finally fallen off, leaving new pink skin underneath.  Mind you, it’s still very, very tender, and painful when exposed to the air or vigorous rubbing.  But it’s whole.  And I can feel my insides carefully rearranging themselves.  I think there may be a few pieces missing, for there certainly seems to be an emptiness inside that wasn’t there before.

Or maybe there is nothing missing.  Maybe during this last year, while I was focusing on getting through the day; maybe I grew.  Maybe it is not that there is something missing.  Maybe instead it is that there is now room inside of me; room for more; more of everything.

Excuse Me, My Life is Waiting

walk“Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

 

Does purposefully surrounding yourself with people who will lift you higher; people who encourage you and strengthen you sound like a selfish thing to do?  Can you imagine the alternative?

No, most of us don’t have to imagine the alternative, because most of us live it.  I know I do.  Or, rather, up until now, I have.

When I was little it was family members who would discourage me from my dreams, telling me that I really didn’t have the talent or skill for this or that endeavor, or that what I was attempting was not something that a “good Christian girl” would do.  If I pursued my activities I would then have to put up with the disappointment of those same family members and see the hurt and pain in their eyes that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  And so I would sigh and tuck away my dreams.

When I was older it was my teachers, friends or boyfriends that would discourage me from attempting what they saw as ill-conceived or inadvisable options.  And what did I do?  I would go ahead with them anyway, until of course someone looked at me again with that pain in their eyes, and then I would crumble. OK, ok.  I’ll fold.  Just stop looking at me like that.  I want you to LIKE me, to LOVE me, not to be disappointed by me. And then I got married and the whole process started over again. 

So why am I speaking in the past tense?  Because I have decided that I am finished with the negativity.  I have to be.

You see, the negativity of those who discourage, demean or belittle me and my desire to become the truest version of myself are not serving me.  And there – right there – is where I usually get a twinge of guilt.  The very term “not serving me” just reeks of self-centeredness, doesn’t it?

But there comes a point in your life where you realize that as much as you care about the people in your life; and as much as you want them to be happy, there is something that is more important, and that is that you be true to your real self no matter how others feel about it.

This isn’t selfishness; at least it isn’t selfishness in the traditional definition of the word.  No, this is taking care of what you need in order to learn and grow and become, and let’s face it, without growth things tend to stagnate and grow stale. That includes everything from your personal life to your relationships with others, so no matter what, there really is no point in spending your energy trying to maintain the status quo.

Of course those negative individuals in your life who encourage you NOT to change would be glad of change IF (and only if) you were to change in the direction that they wish to see you go.  What scares them is that you are changing in ways that make them uncomfortable, which is why they fight against it so hard. But a moment of reflection should show you that change to make someone else happy is actually counterproductive.  Yes, the other person may rest easier knowing that you will not break out in ways that they cannot or will not allow themselves to understand.  But you will be just as unhappy having changed into something that you are NOT as you were unhappy to remain in a stagnant or stale situation.

Actually, you will be unhappier having changed in a direction that is at odds with your soul purpose; even unhappier than you would be simply staying put and resisting the urge to become who and what you really are.

No.  The truth of the matter is that you HAVE to follow your instincts and intuition if you are going to truly live your life and not simply treat it as some sort of spectator sport.

At the risk of sounding cliché, you have to follow your heart.  If it leads you in a direction that others find uncomfortable enough, they will move on or move out of your life to a place where they feel more comfortable and where the people and things live up to their expectations.

So when I talk about surrounding yourself with those who will lift you up (and not pull you down) I’m not talking about walking away from people or situations that do not serve you.  Instead, what I am saying is that you need to stop giving those people and situations that you find energy draining or negative to the point of depression, your attention.

Just stop.  They are not worth the effort of either fighting their negativity or the effort of changing yourself in order to please them.  They do not serve you.

So focus on what does serve you; on those things that bring you joy and that fill your life with the wonder and mystery that feeds your soul.  Focus on those things that encourage you to grow and become who and what you truly are, and watch your life as it changes for the better.

The Dyslexic Mayan

 

You know, the first thing that popped into my head when I saw today’s date on my calendar was that maybe the Mayan’s got it wrong.  You know, maybe whoever was creating that great count calendar had a case of dyslexia and wrote down 12/21/12 instead of 12/12/12. Hey, stranger things have happened!  Translation errors happen all the time.

Note:  Yes, for those who are sticklers for details, I know that the Mayans didn’t use our numbering system and that the date 12/21/12 is due to an interpretation of the Mayans numerical system.  That doesn’t change the fact that the idea of the date for the end of the world being mistaken due to transcription errors isn’t (at least to me) amusing.

Actually, I don’t believe that the world is going to end on the 21st of December.  Maybe it should end.  Maybe humanity is sick and twisted enough that it would serve us right if reality came crashing down around our ears next Friday.  Maybe we’ve done enough to rape and pillage this planet that it would be in Gaia’s best interest to shake herself free of us once and for all.  With the atrocities we’ve committed over the millennia it wouldn’t be at all surprising.

No, next Friday will dawn as every other day, and when the sun sets we’ll still be here; some of us still in front of our computer screens.  The only difference (or at least the only visible difference) will be that the Mayan Long Count Calendar will have reset itself.  Again.

Yes, that’s right.  Again.

You see, the Mayan Long Count Calendar has reset itself before.  In fact it resets itself every 5,125.36 years.  Each of these time periods is referred to as a “Great Cycle” but there is nothing that states that simply because we’re at the end of a Great Cycle that it is the end of the world as we know it.  It is simply the end of the calendar – and the end of another age of mankind (much like our Gregorian calendar turning over from 1999 to 2000 and marking a new millennium).

Yes, there are other claims regarding December 21st 2012.  There are claims that it marks a galactic alignment (it does – we align with the galactic center every December actually).  There are claims that there will be some sort of cosmic blackout due to a planetary alignment; that there will be a crustal displacement/shift thanks to this alignment that will cause devastating earthquakes and tsunamis.  There are claims that solar flares will fry the planet (or at least all of our technology) that we are about to be hit by a comet or meteor, or that we’re going to be visited by aliens from planet X (Nibiru).

Then of course there are those who say that December 21, 2012 isn’t about actually physical earth changes so much as it is about energetic shifts and spiritual alignments.  There are those who claim that it will mark the beginning of the tribulation, of the antichrist’s reign on earth (the fact that a katun – part of the Mayan calendar – is marked by 144,000 days – a number seen in Revelation seems to feed this particular series of rumors).

Did I miss anything?

Perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about what COULD happen and ask yourself this; why are you so anxious for the world to be ending?

Think about it.  When someone tells you that the world could end by (insert a cause) and they have “proof” and a rational explanation, don’t you get just a little bit excited thinking that maybe, just maybe, they could be right?  Doesn’t the idea of the mundane repetition of your daily existence being turned on its ear turn up your adrenaline a notch?

Of course it does.  That is why anything from a localized emergency (work or school cancelled due to a devastating snowstorm or a tree falling on the power lines) to a regional disaster (hurricane Sandy) to a national or global catastrophe all send us spiraling into a frenzy of excitement.  It gives us a chance to interrupt our regularly scheduled program.

So here’s an idea.  Why not create a life for yourself that you wouldn’t WANT to end?

Yes, I know.  You have to make a living.  You have to pay your bills and provide for your families.  But there is nothing that says that you have to do this by selling yourself short; by working at a job or living in such a way that the idea of society (or life for that matter) ending actually excites you.

Yes, there are ways to make a living that doesn’t entail working at a job you hate or living in a location that sucks your soul dry.  It may not line up with the kind of job you are supposed to have, or with you living in the kind of location (or having the number of things) that society says you are supposed to.  But if it is happiness that you are looking for; if peace and contentment are high on your list of needs, you can find a way.

Why not live the life you’ve always imagined; a life full of inspiration and love; a life full of joy and wonder and mystery?  Why not live a life so packed with beauty and peace that you laugh at the idea of wanting it to end; that when someone asks you why you aren’t anxious for the world to end or for a messiah to come that you say thanks anyway, but you are focused on each day that you have been given.  That you will take what the universe has to offer you as it is presented and not give a moment’s energy to worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow.

For more information on the Mayan Long Count Calendar and how it works, please visit:  http://people.howstuffworks.com/mayan-calendar.htm

For the official NASA response to 2012 ‘end of the world’ claims, please see: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012.html

Joy to the World and Pass the Eggnog!

 

I don’t know about you, but this time of the year can be stressful for anyone who celebrates the season.  In fact, there are days when I feel that Ebenezer Scrooge had it right before the spirits ever got a hold of him, particularly the part where he tells the gentlemen collecting for the poor that “I wish to be left alone!”

Just think of all of the things that you are ‘expected’ to do.  There is the holiday decorating and the baking, the gift buying and wrapping and party planning.  Then there are the concerts and end of school performances and recitals and drama productions and work parties and neighborhood celebrations, church celebrations and the addressing of about a million greeting cards and all of this in the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

With so much to do and so little time to do it in (not to mention even less time to actually kick back and relax) is it any wonder why so many people get so stressed out?

Here is a question for you.  With all the expectations attached to the holiday season, is it possible to live authentically; to be exactly whom and what you are in spite of everything that you are expected to do?

The answer, of course, is yes.

No, this doesn’t mean that you have to become a Scrooge and lock yourself away behind walls of cynicism for the duration of the holiday season. What it does mean is that you take a good hard look at those responsibilities and activities that you have agreed to take part in and ask yourself whether or not they bring you joy.

If they DO bring you joy, then by all means keep them!  Yes, I know that baking four dozen cupcakes for your child’s end of school winter holiday party may not be a joyful experience in and of itself, but the look on their face when you walk into their classroom with the cupcakes may be worth every moment you spent in the kitchen.

On the other hand, if you find yourself dreading the very thought of attending one more Messiah sing along, then don’t go!  There is nothing that says that you have to say yes to every invitation issued during this time of the year.  There is nothing that says that you have to bake all of your sugar cookies from scratch.  There is nothing that says that you have to reciprocate every gift you receive with another of equal or greater value.

What it takes is weighing each agreement that you make; every invitation that you accept against how much joy it will bring into your life.

Does that sound selfish? Perhaps in a way it is.  After all, at this time of the year especially we are encouraged to think of others first; to put our own wants and needs aside in order to provide for the needs and wants of others.  But what never fails to astonish me is how anyone can expect that a person can keep giving and giving without every running out of energy.  It can’t be done.

In order to care for others we must first take care of ourselves, and one of the most effective ways to do this is to pay attention to our joy.  If everything that we do comes from our heart and brings us joy and happiness then each thing that we do for others – which we WANT to do for others – each thing we do for someone else that brings us joy will be magnified tenfold.

It won’t be how much we do, but the quiet intent; the joy inherent that will fill up our lives, and our hearts this holiday season and every day of the year to come.

 

 

Too Much Love and Not Enough

“I can only Love. That is all I can do. That is all I can be because that is what I am.  I AM Love.  I am what encompasses you; moves through you and allows you to be everything and experience everything that makes you who and what you are; everything.  No exceptions.  It’s all here; all a part of the totality that makes up existence; that makes up life.  It all exists inside of Love.  And all of Love exists inside of Me.”

~ SSHenry

Does that sound like something out of a new age self-help book?  Does that sound like some sort of sentimental clap-trap? Perhaps it does, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Before you throw up your hands in frustration and decide that I have indeed gone over to the dark side, let me get one thing straight here.  I’m not talking about generalized love; you know the kind of love that a person refers to when they are talking about “loving” a certain kind of soda or brand of clothes or sports team.  That is such a watered down and punk-ass version of the real thing that it really doesn’t deserve to have the same word applied to it.  Come to think of it, we do use that word an awfully lot, don’t we?

Forget just the generalized over-use of the word “love” in general conversation.  There are so many other uses for the word that it is no wonder that sometimes it feels as if it has been spread way too thin.

We use the word “love” not just to express intense like in an object or for an experience, we also use the word as a way to describe everything from intense romantic desire (falling in love) to the sexual act (making love) to the intensely deep and protective feelings for a child (paternal love) the abiding camaraderie of friends (platonic love) and even the all-encompassing acceptance/salvation/forgiveness attributed to God in whatever way you define him (divine love).

And any way we slice it, the word “love” has come to be associated with certain expectations.  Think about it.  When we talk about “loving” a product or an experience, that ‘love’ depends on the product or experience continuing to produce the same feelings in us as it always has or by producing the same result that we find so awesome.

When we talk about romantic love, falling in love or making love we assume that the other person in the scenario is going to return our feelings or that we are at least going to get some sort of physical satisfaction out of it.  The same concept holds true for parental love, filial love, the love of friends and any other sort of love that you want to define.  There is always some sort of expectation; always something that you get in return.  Even divine love has its expectations.

Yes, in spite of those who claim that “God is love” and that is his love is unconditional, there is still the problem of why it is that the rewards of his love (eternal life) are dependent on the one receiving his love accepting and returning it or showing their appreciation for it in an appropriate manner, otherwise you don’t benefit from the love (at least not in the long term).  I hate to say it, but that is not unconditional love.

True unconditional love knows no limitations and has no expectations.  It not only loves everyone unconditionally, it also bestows the benefits of that love on everyone regardless of whether that love is appreciated, returned or even acknowledged – ever.

There is no differentiating those who accept the love from those who do not.  There are no special rewards for those who acknowledge or return the love as opposed to those who do not.  One simply LOVES.  Not because there is anything in it for you, not because you are obsessed with the people or things that you love, but because you have no other choice.  It is simply who and what you are.  It is what you do.  You get to the point where you cannot NOT love even if the people do not appreciate, return or even acknowledge the love that you give them.

It may seem as if it happened over night.  In fact, you may wake up one morning with this love in your heart and wonder how the devil it happened.  But chances are if you look back at your life, you’ll be able to see its progression; how opening and re-opening yourself up to love (in spite of the pain of rejection), how focusing on the positive even when it seemed that the negativity was suffocating, how reminding yourself over and over again not to become attached to people and outcomes all paid off.

But let me tell you something; in spite of the fact that when you get to this point; when you find that you cannot NOT love the people around you (regardless of how stupid they behave or even if they ignore you completely); that you want the best for everyone (even those who have hurt you), it can almost be lonelier than it was when you could compartmentalize; when you could put people into categories of those you loved, tolerated, ignored or hated.  Because in order to love at this level; in order to love at all, you have to open yourself up to that love; including being loved (or not) in return, even if the amount of love you receive is not equal to that which you are giving out.  And there WILL be those who love you in return, even if it is not with an unconditional love. On some levels, that can be the scariest thing of all.

Why?  Because when a person returns your love; when they acknowledge the unconditional love that you are sending them and reflect it back to you, it can be so delicious that it can be addictive.  And you will be tempted to become attached to what it is that they are offering; to feel as if they are supplying you with that love when in truth it is only a reflection of what is there in your own heart.  If you can remember that; that there is nothing they are giving you that you do not have access to yourself, then you will be okay even if they decide for whatever reason that they no longer love you.  If you can’t remember that, you are opening yourself up to a world full of hurt as you slip back into the addictive and painful world of love that is wrapped up in attachment and expectation.

But if you can resist the urge of attachment; of looking to one person or experience that you crave; you will have found that in every person; even those who do not acknowledge or return the love that you give out without question; that there is a reflection of the love that you give out without prompting; a love that is then reflected back to yourself threefold enabling you to become even more than you already were.

Indeed, loving unconditionally will not only be your biggest challenge, but its own tremendous reward.  And even though this may not make complete and total sense to you now, it will.  Oh yes, in time it will.

Always In Joy

Do you remember when you were a teenager; when there was a guy (or girl) that you really liked and who you wanted to notice you. Do you remember how you reacted?  Do you remember what you did?  Do you remember finding out everything you could about them and then getting interested in it yourself?  Sometimes you’d give up your own interests in order to pursue theirs in the hopes that by insinuating yourself into their world; by showing an interest in their interests, they’d be more likely to notice you.

Maybe it even worked.  Maybe they did notice you.  Maybe you hooked up and had an awesome time of it.  Perhaps for a while you felt like true soul mates; perfect for each other in every way.  But chances are that somewhere along the line something went horribly wrong.  There came a point when you realized that it was all about them.  Everything was about them; all of it; everything that you did together; everything that you talk about; everything that you ‘share’ is really all about them.  Well, of course it is.  You created it that way.   And chances are that you started to feel shorted; slighted even.  You may have even attempted to start introducing your own interests into the relationship in the hopes to correct the imbalance.

Then of course there were probably misunderstandings and miscommunications due to the fact that the other person simply could not comprehend what was happening.  Weren’t the pair of you happy?  Didn’t you both enjoy the same things; enjoy talking about them and spending time together doing them?  Weren’t they the same as they had always been?  Why was it suddenly that what they were giving you was no longer enough?  Why have you suddenly become so demanding and dissatisfied?

And that of course made things worse didn’t it?  Because how do you tell someone that your entire relationship was based on your desire to get them into your life in whatever way possible?  How do you explain that you were never entirely open with them; that when you met it wasn’t on equal terms because you didn’t want them to get scared off or to lose interest?  How do you explain that what you really wanted, more than anything – what you still want – was and is to have a relationship of equals; where both of you were interested in what made the other person tick, even if you didn’t necessarily share all of the same interests?

I know, I know, it seemed like the natural thing to do at the time.  After all, how could you possibly have known that you were selling yourself short in order to get their attention and bring them into your life?  It’s a very easy trap to slip into.  In fact, it’s so easy that chances are, if you stop and take a good hard look at your life right now and at the people in it, you will find that one or more of the relationships that you are currently in are based on the exact same principles as those high school relationships.

It doesn’t matter which side of the equation that you are on; whether you are one of those people who gave up their own interests in order to capture the attention of another person, or whether you were the one who was enamored by the person who seemed to fit your life so perfectly in every way.  Be honest with yourself – is this truly a relationship of equals?  Is it?  Because if it is not, a relationship of equals you need to brace yourself; you see, there will come a time when one or both of you will realize that the relationship is lopsided and will want to correct that imbalance.

Better to take the time now to find out what makes the other person tick; to make sure that you are giving – and receiving – equally then to wait for things to fall apart.  Hopefully you will find that openness and honesty with your partner are enough to clear things up and to recreate your relationship as a partnership of equals; individuals who are truly interested in each other and in where your personal and spiritual journeys are taking you.  If not, well, it is never too late to become the person that you were always meant to be; to take the steps you need to put yourself firmly on your own path to authenticity.

If your significant other chooses to join you, or at least support you in becoming that authentic self, fine and good, you have nothing to worry about and the journey will be a joyful one because you will have the support and company of the one with which you share your life; a choice that true soul mates (or soul mates destined to work together for long periods of time) will do.

If they are not interested in joining or supporting you, do not allow their incredulity or anger with the changes in you to halt your own development.  Do not force them.  Do not feel that you have to hold onto them.  If it makes them too uncomfortable, they will leave (physically or emotionally).  This is not a reflection on you, and it is not your fault if the relationship disintegrates.  It is their decision whether or not they wish to include the person you are becoming;  your authentic self;  in their own view of reality.

Who knows, your authentic self, your path, may not be the one that is right for them and they may feel that to join you or even support you is undermining their own integrity.  Do not fight this if it happens, and do not allow it to influence your own becoming.  If another person’s path leads them in a way that does not bring you joy you do not have to follow out of loyalty for the joy and purpose that you once shared.

Move forward in joy.  Always in joy, and always in the direction that makes your heart smile.

I Surrender to Me

“The concept of surrender is foreign to me.  The idea of giving up control, of ceasing to be myself; of turning my autonomy over to someone else – regardless of how wise or powerful is anathema.  It is only when I remember who and what I really am that I realize that there is only one person to whom I ever need surrender, and that is myself.”  ~ SSHenry

If you are anything like me the idea of surrender; of surrendering control of your decisions or your life to anyone or anything else is intolerable.  Seriously, you can quote Bible verses at me until you turn blue in the face, but the fact remains that the majority of us will cringe and squirm every time that the word is used.

Perhaps the reason that we dislike the word ‘surrender’ so much is because of what it has come to mean in our own culture.  Think about it.  The English word ‘surrender’ has come to be inevitably tied up with phrases of war; with the ideas of admitting defeat, of laying down your weapons.  Even when it is not used in a military reference, we see it as an admission of giving in or giving up and admitting that there was something you could not do or someone who was better than you.

Even the mildest meaning of the word “to submit or yield” puts our teeth on edge.  Why?  Because it by surrendering we let someone else get ahead of us; that we let someone else take the lead; that we weren’t good enough or fast enough or brave enough to remain in the lead.  And that is the real problem, isn’t it? We weren’t enough.

To surrender means admitting that, somehow, we weren’t enough.  We didn’t have what it took to get the job done.

Blame it on the early American settlers if you will; on the spirit of survival that came from knowing that there was no one else that you could depend on; no one to turn to if things went wrong.  Once you landed on these shores, you were on your own. There was no infrastructure or support system to catch you if you fell.  You had to succeed or you died.  Later the pioneers who headed west encountered the same mindset; it was all or nothing.

Maybe it’s ingrained in our DNA or something, but it is definitely ingrained in our culture.  You never admit defeat and you never give up.  This is probably why, even when the term “surrender” is used in a religious context it is viewed with not a little skepticism and definitely some raised eyebrows.  In Judeo/Christian based religions you admit that you are not “good enough” to be saved.  You don’t have what it takes (you CAN’T have what it takes) and so you “surrender” to someone who can make up the difference; someone who can ‘save’ you from your sins; who can serve as the go-between with divinity and plead your case like some sort of cosmic lawyer.

This view, however; this need to ‘surrender’ to a higher power; to admit defeat and to give up control over our own lives and actions to them depends on a person’s believing that ‘God’ as a being that is ‘above and beyond’ so to speak; a completely separate entity from us. But what if you believe that you ARE divinity (or at least a manifestation of divinity here on earth)?

If you believe that you ARE God, or at least a manifestation of God (or your higher self) here on earth; then the concept of surrender becomes something far different than what is traditionally (at least in western traditions) seen as an admission of ‘not being enough.’

I personally stumbled across this not so long ago.  I found myself at an impasse.  I had reached a point where there was nothing else that I could do in a particular situation.  Indeed, I had reached a point where no matter what I did or decided I was simply making the situation worse.  But somehow, the idea of surrender – even to my higher self and my knowledge that she knows exactly what needs to be done in order to bring things back into alignment – still grated on my sensibilities.  “Why should I give up?”  I asked myself – and then sat back and started laughing uncontrollably.

You see, I was attributing the cultural definition of “surrender” to my particular situation.  I was raised in a western society and within a traditional Christian religion within that society, it was only instinctive that my first impulse on hearing the word surrender would be to assume that I had somehow fallen short; that I hadn’t been ‘good enough’ to do it on my own. But that isn’t the case, is it?

You see, I AM good enough.  I am strong enough.  I am powerful enough and wise enough to do anything; to BE anything.  I have the understanding to make anything happen; to bring any set of circumstances into being; to manifest whatever sort of life my heart truly desires.  There is just one problem; I end up getting in my own way.

Yes, while I (my soul – my higher self) may be all powerful; all knowing; all compassionate and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, she’s sort of limited by the fact that she is, at least in this particular physical reality, dealing with (and through) a physical human body with all that entails.

These bodies are not only limited by the laws of physics and biology; by chemical impulses and fight or flight instinct, they are also limited by the overwhelming emotional responses triggered by all of these; responses that can cause us to believe things and do things that interfere with the higher self’s goals and purposes.

And sometimes it takes doing something stupid to remind myself of this. ”  You react or respond in spite of yourself; instinctively as urged by the body; gumming up the works and making things far more complicated than they needed to be. It is then, when I’m standing there feeling ridiculous at how complicated I have just made things or wondering how the devil I got this particular foot all the way up into my mouth, that I remember that the concept of surrender is not as bad as all of that.

You see, when I finally understood that it really is me who is in charge of my own destiny (albeit ‘me’ on a level that I’m usually not actively thinking about) I understand that by surrendering to my higher self I’m not surrendering to someone or something outside of myself at all.   “I” am still in charge, I’m simply getting out of my higher self’s way as an expression of trust that she really does know what she is doing and will do whatever it takes to bring my life and soul purpose into alignment.

 

 

 

One Perfect Life

There is no ‘one perfect life’ out there waiting to be lived.  What there is are a series of moments, each one complete and perfect in and of itself no matter if it contains joy and wonder or sadness and sorrow; each one lived fully and completely and in total awareness.  That is the definition of a perfect life, and that is the life that I am living.”  ~SSHenry

I don’t know about you, but there are definitely days when I feel as if I am spinning my wheels.  I’m not just talking about not being able to get anything done (though that may be a symptom of the larger issue).  What I’m talking about is the feeling that there is something I should be doing in order to bring the life that I was meant to live into my reality besides just visualizing the life that I want to have.

Oh come on, don’t tell me that you haven’t considered how your life could be better!  Most everyone has a picture in their heads; a picture of the ‘perfect life,’ the one they would be living if only things were just a little different.

When I close my eyes and focus I can actually see that life.  I can see the house that would perfectly suit me.  I can walk around and touch the things I’d have in it.  I can see the people that I would be sharing my life with.  I can laugh at the conversations and the experiences and the humor that fill our days.  I see myself in a position of being able to make the world a better place through my words and my example and the feeling of knowing that I am living my life to the fullest.  I can feel the peace that is in my heart and the love that weaves itself through every moment of this life like a bright and glittering gold thread unobstructed and unimpeded and stretching off into an infinity of tomorrows.

I’ll be honest.  The picture of that perfect life is seductive.   It calls to me at the oddest times; tangling me in a lover’s embrace; whispering words of undying devotion in my ear.  It is what I want most; my heart’s desire; and there are days when my heart cries at the thought of having to do without it for even one more minute and when I look around at the life I have and see just how far from perfect it is.

I told this to a friend of mine once, and they said “okay, so now you know what you want, so go out and GET it! Make it happen!”  And I tried to explain it to them – at the time I failed miserably.  Maybe I’ll do better with the explanation today.

You see, while my heart has set its goals; while it knows where it belongs and what sort of a life it would best be suited to, there are still aspects of my reality that I have to deal with right here and now due to decisions that I made yesterday (or years ago) that were not in alignment with that vision for my perfect life.   Those decisions have created situations and have brought people and circumstances into my life that may not be part of that picture of perfection, but they cannot simply be tossed aside either.

Yes, there are some people, who would drop everything to pursue their heart’s desire; who would drop all of their responsibilities and obligations to pursue that perfect but elusive life.  But that is not something I can do.  Not yet.  You see if I did that; if I dropped everything and went out looking for it; once I found my ‘perfect life’, it wouldn’t be perfect any more due to all of the pain and drama I had to go through and that I put other people through in order to get there.

What I can do is to stop being something that I am not.  I choose to be exactly who and what I am at every moment of every day.

This is perhaps one of the hardest things to do; ever.

Go ahead, try it.  Close your eyes and picture that perfect life.  Feel the love and the joy that course through you when you imagine yourself immersed in that life; the places, the people, the experiences that fill you up.  Imagine how you respond to the people and things around you.  Now open your eyes and take a good hard look at the life you are living.  My guess is that most of it doesn’t match up at all.

Now, instead of moping about what you don’t have in your life; about what you are missing, instead of sighing and saying “I’ll just have to wait for heaven,” there is, as I said, just one thing that you can do to change it right here and now; one thing that you can do to bring that life that you were meant to live into existence and that is to change the one thing that you do have control over; yourself.

How?  That’s easy. Stop trying to be something that you are not.

You’ve seen who you really are; that person that occupies that perfect life.  You’ve felt how passionate and enthusiastic they are about life.  You’ve experienced (if only in your heart and mind) the fullness and richness of the life that they lead.  Now stop pretending that you are not capable of living that kind of a life right here and now and start making the kinds of decisions and taking the kinds of actions that they would take in the same situation; actions and decisions that would support and encourage that perfect life and not a continuation of the life that you are currently living with all of its drama and angst.

It’s really not as difficult as you may think.  Actually, it only requires one thing; Attention.

Start paying attention to yourself; to your thoughts; to the beliefs that you incorporate into your life as a result of those thoughts, of the decisions that you make because of the beliefs that you hold and the actions that you take as a result of those decisions.  Are these the thoughts and beliefs and decisions and actions of the person in your perfect life?  Is this how your higher self would act in this situation?  Is this a belief that would support that life that your heart yearns for?  Is that a decision or an action that the person living that perfect life would make?

If yes, then go ahead; entertain the thought, accept the belief; make the decision and take the action.  If no, then slam on the breaks.  Do a 360 if need be and choose something entirely different.

Yes, you may get some astonished looks and some frustrated people who expected you to behave in the same way that you always have.  But remember, this isn’t about them.  This isn’t about fitting into their expectations or about maintaining the guise of you as the person they always thought you were.  This is about being exactly who and what you are in order to manifest your perfect life.

It will not be an overnight transformation.  Most of us (myself included) have far too much baggage stored up to be able to simply change things overnight.  It is going to take time; time and infinite patience and the ability to see that baggage drop to the side of the road and not do the instinctive thing and pick it back up again but to let it go.

As you become more and more yourself you are going to lose things.  You will lose the respect of individuals that you thought were your friends (but who obviously aren’t).  You will lose influence with people who liked the fake you; that persona that you cultivated and who find your authentic self to be absurd or irresponsible.  You may even find that relationships with people close to you crumbling because you are no longer living up to their expectations.

But remember, it is all a part of the process.  And in truth, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about the process – all of it.  Because even though your heart feels the pull of that perfect life, even once you find it, it is not something you simply have.  It is something that you do; something that you are; something that you continue to be, voluntarily, on a day to day basis.

Yes, there are days when I become impatient; when I think that the life I was meant to live will never become a reality.  Then I have to laugh, because I am LIVING the life I was meant to live.  Each moment – including the impatient ones – is part of the process.

Each desire for something more; each longing, each yearning that spurs me on to thoughts and beliefs and decisions and actions that lead to change to bring those things into my life, each new person and experience that brings me another moment (or series of moments) to savor- it’s all a part of the life I was meant to live; the life I AM living.  There is no ‘one perfect life’ out there waiting to be lived.  What there is are a series of moments, each one complete and perfect in and of itself no matter if it contains joy and wonder or sadness and sorrow; each one lived fully and completely and in total awareness.  THAT is the definition of a perfect life, and THAT is the life that I am living.

The Empty Shell

“You can’t ask a butterfly to scrunch herself back into her chrysalis or to go back to being a caterpillar just because you’d gotten used to her like that.  What’s worse is when you try to get her to go back because you fear the freedom given to her by her wings.”  ~SSHenry

There are some experiences; some moments in time; that change your life forever.  Perhaps for you it was a major life event such as the birth of a child, the death of a loved one or a close call that shook you right down to the foundations of your soul.  Or maybe it wasn’t a large event at all.  Maybe it was something much more subtle such as a kind word spoken when it was most needed; the touch of a lover’s hand or a breeze that not only ruffled your hair but stirred up something deep down inside you that simply could not be contained.

I’ve had many life-changing moments.  All of us have.  Sometimes it seems as if these moments come so thick and fast that they threaten to overwhelm you.  At other times you feel as if your entire life is on “pause” and all of the moments having stepped out for a drink or something.   At some points in your life it is as if the moments of realization and wonder and change are so few and far between that you’ve pretty much forgotten what they are like before the next one begins to play itself out and have to remind yourself what exactly it is that you are dealing with each time you encounter it.

My most recent (and not surprisingly most profound) life-changing moment to date came the moment that I walked into my house after a two month absence and realized that there was no way that I could go back to being the person I had been when I walked out that door eight weeks earlier.

The details as to why I ended up gone for two months (illness in the family) or what happened while I was gone are not important.  Yes, I had some interesting experiences while I was off on my own for two months dealing with unexpected issues and meeting people I might not otherwise have encountered. But what really matters is that for two solid months I was detached from the life that I had been living up until that moment.

For two months I was separated from all of the small niggling everyday details that we label “reality” and which demand our attention and catch us up in layers upon layers of drama and expectation; layers that we gladly pull around us like a cloak and call “life.”

For two months I was free of those layers.  Getting rid of them was not pleasant. They got stripped away from me rudely leaving me rather raw and feeling as if I had been flayed alive and then washed down in salt water and I felt as if was being completely inundated with issues and problems and responsibilities that I really didn’t want to deal with at that moment in time.

But the point is that for two months I was not just a wife.  Nor was I just a mother or a daughter taking care of her own mother.  For two solid months – I was me.

Just me.

I was not free of obligations or responsibilities (caring for a sick family member brings with it its own responsibilities and expectations).  But for two months I was free of the obligations and responsibilities and expectations in which I had wrapped myself up for the last 22 years; those responsibilities and expectations that come from being a wife and mother and homemaker extraordinaire.

For two solid months was completely and totally myself.

It dawned on me as I was driving home, to wonder just how I would ever be able to go back to living my old life.  But when I pulled into the driveway and saw my house for the first time in eight weeks; when I walked through the door and took one look around me, I knew that it was patently impossible.

I can’t go back to the way things were; ever.  The person who lived that life is gone.

I could feel the shell of her; that old me; waiting for me around every corner.  “Come on” she whispered, holding out the old life as if it were a soft but comfortable pair of sweat pants. “Don’t you want to slip back into this?  This is where you are comfortable.  This is where you belong.  Life doesn’t get any better than this.”

“Oh yes it does sweetheart” I whispered back “you have NO idea!”

You see, the old life has a lot going for it.  There are many things that I would like to keep and incorporate into my new reality, but not if it means having to go back to being the person that I was.  The person I have become cannot possibly fit into that old skin. Not without giving up who and what I have become.

It would be like asking a butterfly to scrunch back into her chrysalis.  Or better yet, to turn back time and become a caterpillar again.  It’s not going to happen.  I could pretend, but I’m tired of pretending.

I am simply going to be myself.

My whole self.

I will start again.  Here.  Now.  As myself.  If that is not enough, or more likely if that is too much, then so be it.  I have wings now baby. There’s no reason for me to go back to crawling when I can fly.

Soul On Fire

“What is your passion? What is it that consumes you and fills you with wonder? What is it which, while you are doing it sets your soul on fire? Do you know?  Good.  So what are you waiting for?” ~ SSHenry

Have you noticed that there are some things that set your soul on fire?  I’m not talking about the warm fuzzy feelings you get when you do something well or the low smolder of contentment when someone tells you how much they appreciate what you do or what a good job you’ve done. I’m not even talking about that glow that comes from connecting with someone or doing something that you find truly fascinating.

What I’m talking about are the full-on forest fires of passion.

The kind of intense heat that sears you from the inside out and fills your heart up with such wonder and awe and joy that you feel as if there is no possible way to contain it, only instead of spontaneously combusting the fires that fuel this passion sharpen your focus and bring out the very best of who and what you are.

Musicians will know exactly what I am talking about; the way that the music grabs you and pulls you in and fills your head and you know that you are playing the best you ever have but you couldn’t explain why or how – it just happens. You become the music.  You are the music.  There is no way to separate yourself from the rhythm; from the notes; from the melody that works its way into every particle of your being.

Artists too understand this passion, and writers; the way that you get caught up in the colors or shapes or words and how it is almost as if you are channeling something outside of yourself.  You are no longer in control of the brush; of the keyboard; it comes to life through your fingers. You look up from your canvass or computer screen to find that hours have gone by without your having the least awareness of it. For a brief time you become your work and when you emerge and look at what it is that you have done you can see your very soul worked into very brush stroke and woven into every word.

I’m not just talking about the zone; the moment described by many athletes where everything falls into place and their performance become effortless.  I’m talking about soul fire; about something which, while you are doing it, energizes you in a way that is impossible to understand unless you have experienced it.

But this feeling is not limited to athletics or the creative arts however.  It is just simpler to describe since artists physically channel this feeling into something tangible that can be appreciated by those around them.

In truth anyone who is in alignment with their authentic self and with who and what they really are – even if just for a moment – will feel this.  They don’t feel it just because they have worked hard and have acquired the skills needed to do the work but because this is who they are.

In spite of what you might think – you’ve felt this.  Even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body; even if you wouldn’t know how to hold a guitar if your life depended on it, you’ve felt it.  You’ve felt it in the sheer exhilaration you get when you are doing something you absolutely love; in the glory of a sunset or the feel of silk against your skin or when you lose yourself in the arms and heart and mind of someone close to you.

So think about it.  What is it that captures your heart and mind so completely that you forget who you are or what you are supposed to be doing?  What is it that sets your soul on fire?

Now, find a way to include in your daily routine; to work your joy into the life you have created for yourself and watch as your existence ignites into a wildfire of joy and passion beyond your wildest dreams.