Archive for February, 2012

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tarnished

February 27, 2012

Yesterday, it was the vacuum that saved me.  Or more precisely, it was vacuuming that saved me.  For I had officially entered the Doldrums.  In fact, I probably have been here for some time now, but the condition became acute enough over the weekend to finally be self-diagnosed.  The Doldrums arrive every February – as if my internal ship crosses into the Intertropical Convergence Zone near the equator and my once filled sails become useless yards of canvas in a location where the water is flat.  Dead calm.

When I am in my Doldrums, nothing is bright, nothing feels light.  My outlook withers.  My patience shrinks.  My….you get the drift.

I knew I had firmly arrived in the Doldrums on Saturday when I couldn’t muster the energy to engage with Cole.  We’d argued and I had left the room.  I knew I should be the adult, go back in, own my part in the conflict without blame, then reach out to make amends.  The thing is, I just didn’t want to.  Not even a little.  The Doldrums.  My diagnosis was confirmed on Sunday when getting Eleanor into the bath was a monumental struggle, and all I could think of was all the other places I rather be.  I tried returning to being.  Breathing deeply.  Surrendering to the present.  Being in the Now.  Nope.  Nada.  I wanted to take the Now and shove it off the deck of my bow.

The worst part of the Doldrums is looking across the vast horizon and seeing no relief in sight.  No fresh air to clear my head, fill my sails, change my course.  A similar effect occurs 30 -35 degrees North of the equator and is called the Horse Latitudes.  Folklore holds that the name was born from the desperate actions of explorers sailing from Spain to the new (to them) world.  When you are really and truly stuck, when you cannot see the way out, you have to lighten the load.  Throw something overboard that will make a difference in hopes that with the next puff of air you’ll be able to move forward.  And the horses…you get the drift.

Right Being usually directs Right Doing, but this time of year things get twisted inside out.  While I am not at all suggesting jettisoning anything valuable, it is a reminder that when we have done everything we can for our state of being and nothing is working, it is time to change our state of doing.  Use the jumpstart of motion to shake loose that which is lodged in an uncomfortable and unpleasant state.

The day before yesterday motion = writing.  I wrote about the conflict and shared it with Cole.  I wasn’t making amends – I knew I was side stepping that – but it did push me forward.  Out of deadlock and back into communication.  Yesterday motion = vacuuming.  During the standoff vacuuming made me progress.  Lift furniture.  Create patterns in the beige rug that reminded me of Zen sandboxes.  What followed was 90 minutes of splashapalooza.

And today?  So far, my weekend of doing has propelled me out of my tarnished state of being.

And for you?  Do you ever hit the Doldrums?  How do you lift yourself out?  How do you return to warm, balmy breezes?  What horses do you throw….well, I’ll get your drift.

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Stop Signs

February 15, 2012

My dear friend (she of the three points of contact)and I were standing outside.  On her driveway…or maybe it was mine.  It was right at the end of the school year…or maybe just as it was about to begin.  The day was warm and filled with a bright blue sky, that much I know, but obviously my memory of the other details are foggy.  What I do clearly recall are the words spoken, specifically hers.  ‘How do we know when is enough?  How do we know when to stop?  How do we know when we have dedicated enough time and energy and resources to our kids’ schools and activities and lives? WhenAreYouGoingToWriteAboutTHAT?!?’  Followed by, not a glare, but a look that held a level of exasperation and end-of-my-rope-ness.  For she had just finished explaining that each night that week was filled with coaching or planning or organizing or doing.  And for one evening she’d even had to hire a babysitter so that she and her husband could split and cover all of the meetings they needed to lead or attend that surrounded said events and activities.

For months now, maybe six…or maybe nine, her question has echoed about in my mind. But I didn’t have the answer.  I had an answer, or I had half an answer, or I had thoughts that skirted around an answer, but not the answer.  Today I do.  Or, at least, I have the answer that resonates for me, and I hope points to an answer that resonates for you.  And, as answers often do, it appeared when I wasn’t looking for it, in a place I least expected.

I found the answer in a pair of kindergarten-sized ballet shoes.

Eleanor’s class begins with all of the little dancers sitting in a circle.  Then, one by one, they stand, walk to the center in relevé with arms held wide in second position, curtsy, and in a strong, clear voice say ‘present’, then return to their place.  What is the subtext?  Each child stands up – she stands for herself, apart from the crowd.  She walks to the center- she claims her space as being an important and integral part of the whole.  She curtsies- acknowledging her respect for those surrounding her.  And announces ‘present’.  Where was the answer?  Right there in that one word.  Each little girl does not say ‘here’, instead she declares her presence.

That’s it.  That’s my answer.  What state are we in?  Are we just here or are we fully present?  What is the texture and rhythm of the day?  Are we rushing along our check-list at break-neck speeds?  Does one red light throw the flow into chaos?  We are well-meaning parents who cram our calendars full of worthwhile yet time sucking commitments.  And the balance between much and too-much is individual to us all.  So the answer to the question is, actually, a question:  what is your state of mind-  here or present?

For if we are only here, our thoughts are already on the next task.  If we are only here, we are not listening to the spoken words or unuttered feelings our children are expressing.  If we are only here, then we are actually no place at all.  Because if we are too busy thinking about the future, we are worried about a place we will never reach.  For future becomes the now, and the to-do list never ends.

If these are the signs we see, how do we stop?  Eckhart Tolle writes about the ‘high quality No’.  A no that has no guilt, no excuse, no roundabout reason, no evasion.  A simple no.  A high quality no returns us to a higher quality of life.  And a high quality no offers the opportunity for someone else to say yes.  Someone who has been waiting for the invitation, someone who will rise up and find new talents within themselves, someone who will be present.

Stop Signs.  They invite us to get off the merry-go-round, to take a hiatus from the whirling, dizzying pace of our lives.  And from there we can choose another ride, maybe the Ferris wheel, where we can quietly sit by our child’s side, watch the world, talk about all that we see, and be fully present.

Thank you, dear friend, for asking.  I hope it resonates for you.  And to everyone, what are your questions?  What topics bring forth a feeling of WhenAreYouGoingToWriteAboutTHAT?  I promise to think, mull, consider and wait for inspiration, whenever and wherever it finds me.  And then I’ll write.  And when I do, I’ll keep you posted.

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One Love

February 11, 2012

The evening stroll into town, a book tucked under my arm, was slow in deference to the muggy heat of New England summer days.  The meandering journey home was even more leisurely, as I stalled until the moment when, as if by magic, the fireflies would appear.  Bel Canto’s, a tiny Italian restaurant nestled in among the other independent shops along the main street of Wellesley, Massachusetts, was my destination.  It had a cozy feel with wooden tables, votive candles in red glass bowls, brick walls, and wine glasses hanging from the ceiling over the bar.

I loved to sit by myself in the restaurant, floating innocuously through the conversations around me. I was surrounded by an archipelago of people, each table its own island of humanity.  Some would self-consciously glance in my direction, wondering if I was listening to their conversations; some would peek pityingly, assuming I had been stood up by a mystery date; one older couple even offered me a place to join them.  But I politely declined.

For while I was sitting alone, I was not lonely.

I was full of ideas and thoughts and reflections.  I was consumed by the big questions in my life.  Who am I?  What do I want to do?  What do I want to be?  What is my heart’s desire?

And then life picked me up and pulled me along on its ever-flowing tides and deposited me at new tables, with new people.  Some of whom laughed, ate dessert, and lingered long into the night.  Some of whom threw their napkins down, stared with stormy eyes, and abruptly left.  Some of whom reached across for my hand, smiled, and stayed.

Over the years we make reservations; the cumulative pauses created by the voices in our heads.  Slowing us, anchor line tangled around us, dragging us under.  Where did those influences come from?  They arose from the cacophony of characters that have been seated at our past tables – it might have been an alcoholic mother, an absent father, a bullying brother, a scornful lover.  Or a coach, teacher, peer, roommate whose words and intent have created discord and disbelief.  Why did we allow them to be seated with us?  Because their painful comments were mixed with messages of love, and sometimes separating the emotional wheat from the chaff is not simple.

And now as parents, our tables are over-crowded.  For in addition to the Dickensian ghosts of meals past, we have accumulated a lifetime of spouses, co-parents, children, extended family, and friends.

And Valentine’s Day presents us with the opportunity to, in romantic fashion, yank the tablecloth out from under the place settings and to reset a table for one.  So put on your best dress, your favorite tie.  Invite yourself to dine alone.  Open your heart and fall in love with the person you are, right now.  Discover how witty, charming, bright, strong, dedicated, wonderful you are.  See that you are the sum of amazing traits, not the subtractions voiced by your internal detractors.  Have the maître d’ (who bares a striking resemblance to Jacob Marley) escort all of the ghosts out of the establishment, so that you can no longer be poisoned by their voices.  Then lean in and listen for the answers to the questions of long ago:  I am.  I do.  My heart is.

Once we recognize that life is not prix fixe, but an à la carte affair, we can invite our children to examine their own menus.  For a year of Valentines, consider creating a circadian custom.  Each morning, as you break your fast, express out loud one trait you love about yourself, and have your children do the same.  Teach them to be the voice in their own heads, filled with messages from their own hearts.  It is the upside-down inverse of the dinner conversations sharing one good and one bad from the day.  Instead of slicing the day’s events into labeled categories of things that happened to us, it is an opportunity to open the day with things we love about us.

It all begins with One Love.  One heart.  Let’s get together and feel all right.

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