rambling recap

Dear Friends,

It is true, I have not been writing a lot here on these pages. I have been doing some recording of my experiences in Algonquin on my other blogsite http://www.analgonquinaffair.wordpress.com but while it chronicles the travels of my life in a certain way, it does not explore the whole of my soul’s journey in this life. Then again, I’m quite certain it is not at all possible for me to even see, let alone begin to express, what it is that I am up to in this place, where I have been and where I am going, but this is at least a broader glimpse.

The end of a new decade offers a natural window through which to glance backward, to take stock, if you will, at where/how you have travelled over the course of the past decade, at how your life has unfolded, evolved, become, grown.

So, I guess I could call this my annual ‘New Year’s Day letter’ rather than the more traditional Christmas letter, to you, my friends. Mostly, of course, this is a letter from myself to myself (as journaling, after all, is) So read if you will, but be warned, its rambling recap of my life’s journey may not make sense to any other than my own soul. And that is ok. I have begun to let go of that too, you see… the being seen and understood, remembered even. I think I’ve grown pretty okay with being mortal, finite.

Human.

So, here goes.

This year, I continued to struggle with being ‘enough’, and with comparing myself to others who I perceive as being more loving, more generous, or more devoted – somehow, at least less selfish than I. On the contrary, it continued to be difficult for me to give myself permission to make choices for myself.  I continued to feel the angst of guilt when I fell and I failed, which I realized I seem to feel most when that failure surrounds something precious to me. (although that feeling has also helped me to identify those things that are indeed precious to me and to name them as such rather than mislabeling them as other’s expectations of me, to notice how it was that I also failed myself).  This year, I continued to struggle with striking a wholemaking balance, as I continued to struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed, burntout, and with feelings of not-enoughness. and I continued to feel manipulated/bound by my feelings of shame around that.

This fall, however, several deeper awareness seem to have converged, or come forth, that feel like the beginning of healing some of those wounds.

One is an awareness that came up around one of my granddaughters. It seemed she had been struggling with the intensity of her feelings — frustration, anger, powerlessness— and had begun rubbing her forehead against the carpet, giving herself rug burns, in order to, what seemed to me, release that inner pain in an outward expression? What I noticed was that my own response was to help her learn ways to soothe herself, rather than hurt herself. Later, though, I wondered at that response in me. Could it be my own discomfort with, or fear of, intense feelings – in myself and in others, my own need to quiet/suppress those feelings rather than express them?  Maybe what she needs might be different than what I need, after all. Maybe learning to go inside and silence the chaos is not always a good thing. Maybe she needs to scream or to run or to punch a few pillows to release those feelings from her body. Maybe that’s ok too. My love for her (something about a grandchild allows you to step outside the fear of getting it right…her feelings and behaviors are not my ‘fault’, after all..and to purely see through eyes of compassion ) allowing her needs and her personality to be different than mine (she is not, after all, an extension of me), lent to me some subtle permission for my own needs, personality, and coping mechanisms to be just right for me too. It opened the door to a vast room of compassion in me where there is space for all of us, in our pain and self-inflicted wounds, with our unique gifts and life experiences, to feel and respond differently to life, releasing me from the bondage of right and wrong. There was space in that room for me to be ok, for you to be ok. There was breathing space for me to be utterly wrong- without self recrimination- and to acknowledge that I probably messed up in not understanding someone else’s needs or responses along the way. In not empathizing correctly. My own children, for instance. Maybe I silenced them when they needed to be heard? Maybe I misinterpret their feelings and responses even now, based upon my own projections.

I can’t really explain how/why this hit me the way that it did. Perhaps I was ripe to fall. Perhaps it was one of those ineffable glances of grace, stripping me of judgments or right or wrong. It was a great healing dose of humility, as well. I don’t need at all to know what is the right way, response, or cure – for myself or another. Perhaps there is no cure needed at all. Simply Love. I also was reminded that it’s ok to be wrong, to change my mind, to look from the other side, to mess up. It’s been good to walk around realizing that everyone walking around her with me is coping with their feelings, their traumas, their learnings, their perspectives and their life in the best way they know how.

Second, was the reading of a book, a few year’s old now, entitled The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. The story revolves around two sisters surviving the traumas of occupied France during World War II.  One of the sisters resists and rebels. The other keeps herself alive by being ‘good’ and seeking security. What I felt rise in me as I read the book was the understanding that each of these sisters’ responses to life was formed not only by her unique personality , but also by her earlier responses to the shared childhood trauma of a mother’s death and father’s abandonment.  Each woman’s particular response to subsequent life experiences, during the traumas of war, for instance, then was totally understandable, relatable, and lovable, expressed compassionately so by the author. The author also deftly described those secondary traumas and griefs—one of which was the miscarriage of several infants and the grief which engulfed the ‘good’ sister  afterwards. 

Soon after reading the book, I was having a casual conversation with a young woman, who happens to be a NICU nurse. I asked her what gestational age they are saving babies these days (24 weeks seems to be a strong, almost certain survival, though there have been some as young as 22 who survive. My own miscarriages occurred at 20 weeks. I’d felt them move inside of me, filled my heart with dreams for their lives (which was full of the hope I’d desired for myself), labored and delivered their small bodies into the physicians hands. I still have clear images of one of those girls…long long fingers, cradled in the hands of a delivery room nurse next to my head…I also recall the guilt and grief that swallowed me afterwards, although the details are lost in the fog) The conversation with the NICU nurse circled around to the bonds (traumatic?) that are forged between NICU nurses, babies, and moms. My later preemies, who survived, were each in the hospital for 11 weeks, and I acutely remember those relationships. The loss of them too. I also recall the feelings of emptiness, leaving the hospital with my arms empty, the feelings of numbness. The young woman told me that PTSD has also been identified as a symptom/response to a NICU experience for parents.

I remember also being told so many times how strong I was. Of course, I went into give-me-the-facts, no nonsense, survival mode. That was already my learned coping mechanism. Shut down feelings. Be strong, resilient, self-sufficient. Use your wits. Be competent. No warm arms to fold into for comfort, no breaking down, no coddling allowed. No receiving of empathy or compassion or help….. Years later, after delivering my last child, an 8+ pound son, I was commended by the labor and delivery nurse for how easy I had made childbirth seem. She wished she’d “have filmed it to show how its done”. Yes, pain is something I have learned how to quell and to silence. She chalked it up to experience. I suspect it was a different kind of learning from experience altogether.

And so, getting back to this idea of looking back to take stock…. Suddenly, I was filled with compassion for the young girl I was between the ages of 16-21, dealing first with the traumas of 2 miscarried 20 week infants and the grief that overcame me, and then with 2 infants struggling for life in a NICU, and how she survived, with her unique sensitivities, needs, courage, strength, childhood abandonment wounds etc. Without comfort. I was able to somehow forgive her for her fears of failure, her ways of adapting, and to honor her gifts/ love her for who she became. 

A friend had a grandchild in NICU this summer. I’m afraid my response to her experience was colored by my own. I hope I offered comfort/empathy/strength …. ‘trust me. I’ve been there. It WILL work out in the end. She will be fine’. I’m afraid I offered coldness and toughness, invalidating her fears. I honestly don’t know. Her response will be different than mine…

Observing myself, I wonder. Am I intolerant of others fear and pain? Of their unique responses to life’s traumas? Did I somewhere along the way become a “buck up” presence? Strong is a word that others use about me. Is that a compliment? Does my strength offer safety or does it invalidate the others fear?

I absolutely thrive in the wilderness. I come alive, feel vibrant, free, and connected, where some others find challenge — both physical and mental. I do not seek adversity, however. It is not adrenaline or conquest that fuels me, but beauty, silence, wonder, spaciousness, freedom, remoteness. Still, I led a trip this summer where a few of the women were incapable of coping with an environment that stretched them– both the human personalities with whom they were journeying and physical realities of the trip. At the time, I felt troubled by their complaining and betrayed by their negativity, perhaps taking it too personally. One of the women began to employ passive aggressive tactics – complete with eye-rolling and feet dragging (I half expected her cross her arms and stomp her foot)– her own learned responses to discomfort? But I also wondered at how I was responding. How difficult it was for me to stay grounded in a state of grace in the presence of that negativity, when the gift I was sharing seemed to be being rejected. How easy it was to slide into an an us vs them mentality, to look down upon/negate/judge another when their response was different than my own.

Looking back in my journal, I find these words in trying to sort out what occurred. “Here’s the thing though. I must remember, I am not responsible for the other’s experience or their responses to the uncontrollable. I am responsible for providing an opportunity, which the other can choose to enter into or not, and into which the other will undoubtedly bring and experience themselves. I cannot control their experience or their response…any more than I can control personality clashes, bugs, or weather and water conditions. I understand this, and still feel deeply affected and saddened that they are not able to let go and enter into the beauty and the gift that is here’

More recently than that, however, was a response to my daughter’s year end accounting of her life. She took stock of the last decades of her life, beginning in 2000, with bullet points from each year, and asked what were some of the things others remembered from the decade. What I found myself noting was  this

“A decade ago, several life-changing, transformative events converged in my life. My youngest son graduated from high school and flew from the nest, my first granddaughter was born, and I was invited to co-lead my first trip to Algonquin. (I’d visited just once before, in 2001, but this was the true beginning of the love affair, where I came to discover a wild self I’d not known before) Each of these momentous events exposed my heart to new terrain and broke it open to previously unfathomable depths of love, often rending it into opposite directions, stretching it always to hold more.….Feathers and stones”

(What I didn’t note in that response was that Don retired just a year afterward, we sold our home and moved.)

Seen from this distance, I realize what a striking convergence that was. Seen from this distance I can witness that tug and pull with compassion, I can validate both the freedom and the mooring of my heart, I can observe with one glance that precipitous change in the landscape of my life … like falling off a cliff and landing in an entirely unfamiliar terrain. With fondness, I see how the discovery of a self separate from the role I performed at home, the undomesticated, authentic self I discovered and fell in love in the wild as much as I fell in love with the wildness of the place (in truth, probably the reason I fell in love with the place was because of this free-to-be-me feeling I experienced there, after all), unencumbered by shame and feelings of not-enoughness, free to simply be happy, clashed with the self I also experienced at home. For, on the other hand, the real sense of grounding in love I feel for my children, and now my granddaughters, keeping me tied to home, anchored by love, is also authentic and true. The invitation extended to me at this decade’s end is perhaps to reclaim an old tired role by polishing it and seeing the precious gem that it is.

Feathers and stones.  Both valuable to a life here on earth.

Another granddaughter came into the house last weekend with a bag full of stones she had tumbled  until they were shiny and smooth in her rock tumbler along with a jar full of feathers. She has noticed that I also have collections of them both. I have baskets of them in my house,  mobiles made of them hanging about on my porch. As with my life, they are tricky sometimes to get into balance… the rocks pull the arrangement askew, the feathers slip from the knots and the structure loses its ability to catch the wind and dance .. but when it works, it is a thing of beauty, reminding me that feathers are necessary for grace and stones for grounding in love.

So, here I sit at the crux, which is my heart. Not a bad place to be seated, after all. Whenever I envision this space inside of me, the dream rushes up from my memory… you know the One. The BIG One, the One with the deep voice beckoning,  and the light flooding.  The One I didn’t want to come back from. The One that instructed me on the way I am to live and to love… to let myself be loved. The One that bid me to just stop, to gaze into that light, to notice the shape of the cross is like that of a tree, with light virtually pouring into it from the top, flooding it with love,  filling it deep into its roots, then flowing upwards into the trunk.  The One begging me to notice the way that the light flowed outward naturally from that filling, horizontally into the outstretched limbs.  The one imploring me to simply ‘do’ that, let myself be filled, that there was nothing else I need do, but let myself be loved. And the love that I am would flow forth from that.

Which love is the feather? Which is the stone? Which one fills? Which is the overflowing?

This fall, after returning from Algonquin, I spent a lot of time exploring in my journal the most recent shift in me that I’d been noticing this year. This summer, in the midst of the busyness of guiding canoe trips, I identified that perhaps a source of my burnout (manifesting as a  cranky intolerance and lack of compassion) was living too much out of my masculine-doing nature, with all of the organizing and leading, taking charge and taking-care of in which I was engaged, unbalanced by times of simply receiving, and being-with. No space or time to refuel my drained feminine soul. This fall, I recognized that energy was not perhaps masculine after all, but maybe a resuming of the mother doing-for (domesticated?) role in those wilder settings, a role in which I quickly become fatigued now at this stage of life.

I also noticed how grateful I felt when my boys took over a lot of that role on the Granddaughter-Son (they call it Daddy-daughter, lol) camping trip this year. The way I was freed then to BE with them in a new kind of way, a presence rather than a provider. I also noted the difference I felt in the canoe trip with Don, where there was more of a mutual sharing of the experience, a BEING TOGETHER.

When I came home this fall, I noticed it here too… my fatigue and exhaustion, the way I just couldn’t seem to ‘DO’ things the way I once did them, along with a deeper desire to BE a presence rather than perform a role. I thought about the natural rhythm of the days during our 2 week canoe trip, which I felt so very much with Don, and wondered if I’ve ever really experienced my own natural rhythm before… what with raising all those kids with their own needs and demands and schedules pulling me out of myself and into them.

This fall, though, I also noticed how exquisitely deep is my love for my children. If I am to continue the metaphor of my love for my children being like the stones in my life, anchoring me in love, then on the day that my son was married, that stone revealed itself to be a diamond. The overwhelming feeling of encompassing love I experienced for him on that day was so profound, and flowed from me without contrivance or effort, self-consciousness or shame. It simply was Who I Was.

From this vantage point, I can see how this last decade has perhaps been about making the shift fully into this 3rd stage of life – call it crone, call it forest-dweller, call it what you will – with its undeniable longing to live differently, to be freed from the ways of the previous stage of life, with its soul call to move into a quieter place, a still place, a place of presence, a place of honoring my rhythms, my needs, my weaknesses AND the gift of my wisdom (NOT stepping out of myself, sliding back into an earlier stage of life/development in order to fit in, feel valuable, or be understood but staying seated in my own knowing, the knowing of my own experience, and the knowing of my body, and trusting in its wisdom).

And so, in this rambling letter, I come to where this end of the year reckoning brings me. As I move forward into the next decade of my life, my hope is that I can find peace to Be who I am – warts and all, as they say–and to trust in my goodness wherever I am, however that looks. The surface desire is to live with less anxiety about whether or not I am okay or loved, but I realize that the deeper one than that is to trust that I am Love, as I am. To stop performing and Be who I am, in freedom and grace.

And so, this morning I wrote my ‘goals’ for 2020

To dwell in beauty, to look for beauty, to know that it all is beauty.
To dwell with ease, to be easy-going, to know ease in my heart, my body, and my mind
To dwell in curiosity, to gaze with loving curiosity, embracing mystery, humility, unknowing, and wonder
To dwell in grace– immersed in compassion, trusting all is well, allowing all to be as it as
To dwell in pleasure and peace at the wonder and joy of life, practicing deep sighs and internal smiles

To dwell in Love

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