Tag Archives: hope and fear

August Break: Day 25

On our walk this morning, Dexter reverse sneezed. He saw another dog and got excited, then a while later, did another. There was no blood, and it had been almost a week without him doing it at all, but it still made me sad, shaky, scared.

The stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening are so powerful. If I had some kind of certainty that Dexter “just” had allergies, that he would do the reverse sneezing with the occasional bloody nose but that’s all it would ever be, I might view such an episode as “no big deal.” If I knew for sure he had cancer, that this was the beginning of the end, the best it would ever be, that our time together was going to be short and some of it would be really, really hard, I’d have a completely different experience of it.

But certainty, a definitive answer, a concrete diagnosis most likely won’t come (until/unless he gets worse, has other symptoms), so for now, I am trying to not let the story get in the way of the moment we are in, the one where we are still together.

And yet, I swing wildly between both extremes. Part of why I was so upset by the reverse sneeze this morning is because it had been enough days without that I started to hope, to think that maybe he really would get better, that things would work out okay. Yesterday, he ran a little on his morning walk, sniffed whatever he wanted, played and played, took a second walk, and rested comfortably in the moments he was still–breathing clearly and easily through all of it.

But either extreme, hope or fear, is no way to live. Both of them pull you out of the moment you are in, the only place where there’s life, to either promise or threaten you about something that might happen. Both of them rob you of this moment, the only thing that is real.

Living in this in-between is so uncomfortable. And yet, the opportunity to practice is there, making me stronger, getting me closer to being able to comfortably cope with whatever arises, to stay with what’s happening, to keep my heart open, to not run away or numb out or resist. When my chest tightens and the tears come, when the voice inside my head chants “I’m so tired, I can’t do this” over and over, all I can do is try to stay present, to relax, to surrender.

After our walk this morning, Dexter “asked” to go pick tomatoes. This is one of his favorite things. He tries to pick them himself, as evidenced by the collection of smashed green tomatoes scattered on the ground and his head that smells like tomato blossoms. This morning, he made sure I was coming with a bowl, and then ran out to the raised bed, put his front feet up and stood on the edge, burying his head in the bushes. Then he looked back at me and wagged his tail, nudging my hand with his nose when I got closer.

Later, when I was petting him, he put his foot on my arm, curling his toes, pressing them against me in his version of petting back. It was that same foot, the one with my favorite toe, the one with the black spot. He closed his eyes and sighed, relaxing but not letting go.

Every one of my dogs has taught me something different, but the one thing they will all eventually do is show me how to let go, practice non-attachment, allow me to once again experience the reality of impermanence. I will never be ready, it will never be okay, no matter how or when it happens. This is a lesson I will keep learning, a practice that will continue with every one I love, for as long as I’m still breathing. Every time I open my heart, it will get broken.

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Let Go and Come Back

In meditation, when you get lost in thought or a daydream, or caught up in a strong emotion and forget to focus on to your breath, the instruction is to let go and come back to the practice. Let go and come back. The letting go isn’t harsh, there’s no rejection or pushing or running away or resisting, but rather a simple and gentle letting go. To notice, be with the thought, with the feeling, to acknowledge it, to watch and soften as it dissolves.

To feel what that feels like, clench your fist, hold it as tight as you can manage for a few seconds, and then let it go, relax your fingers and open your palm. Do you feel that release? How ease replaces tension? There is such relief in letting go.

As does so much of my meditation practice, this instruction finds it’s way into my life off the cushion all the time. I struggle with being a “better” person, with improving and becoming and doing. I get so focused on changing, on fighting with who I am now in this moment, on self-improvement, that I forget I’m enough already, and that who I am right now is the gift, that there is no destination, no goal, nothing to win and no finished or done. There will be no summit I’ll reach where I’ll finally and permanently be happy and safe and well. As Pema Chödrön suggests, we should just go ahead and “abandon hope.”

Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, not to run away, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on. If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death. ~Pema Chödrön

One place this instruction keeps coming up for me is around my relationship with food. I’ve mentioned it briefly before: depending on when you ask me, I am either a highly functioning food addict or a recovering one. It’s gotten so much better in the last year, the obsession and the smashing myself to bits. The swing between rational and compulsive behavior is relaxing its grip, my wisdom in relation to food and eating is developing into something that can often look like health, and I go for long stretches of time where I could even say I’ve left it behind me.

Then something triggers me, and I’m right back in the thick of it. The stress of being an introvert and highly sensitive person at a party, or in the presence of people I admire and adore, or in a room full of 1000+ other people, or having to go in to my paid work when I’m supposed to still be on vacation.

The month we spent at the beach left me feeling relaxed and hopeful. I was getting enough sleep, spending enough time resting and playing, and was feeling so good about the opportunity I had to clean up how I eat and take better care of myself, so happy about how I’d “changed.”

Then I had to go in to work for half a day. I had been getting lots of emails about what needed to be done, what was coming up, pulling me back into that space, rushing me into fall. The night before, after eating so happily and healthy for days, I got out a bag of caramel corn and my ipod and ate and numbed out until I made myself sick, first my stomach aching and then my head hurting from sugar and tension. I thought when I went to bed that night how much better I’d feel if I could throw up, but I’ve never been good at that, ever since in grade school when a friend tried to teach me how by sticking the eraser end of a pencil down my throat. Back then, no one talked about Bulimia, so I had no idea and told no one.

I don’t talk much about my food addiction, even with how open I am about everything else. It’s because I’m ashamed and embarrassed by it, upset that I can’t control myself, shy about sharing the details of how low I sink, how gross it gets. And there’s the added bonus that in a thin obsessed culture, where your worth is measured literally in terms of your size, that I get to also feel guilty and ashamed of the extra weight I lug around as a result. I love to exercise and eat healthy food, but coupled with this compulsion, they can only keep me from becoming obese, not overweight. Add perimenopause to the equation, and I’m screwed.

This feeling bad about “failing” and what I look like robs me of joy. I get to go to this fabulous World Domination Summit prefunction party at Kelly Rae Roberts’ studio, with all of these women I adore and admire, and when I start to show up in pictures of the event on their websites, I can only feel happiness and gratitude for having been there for a split second before the disgust and despair kick in: “my stomach looks so fat.” I can’t even appreciate how amazing it is that I was at this event and there are pictures to prove it, on some of my favorite blogs even, can’t say “hey, look, there I am!” with any kind of excitement because all I can see is how fat I look, and am so sick in that moment that I actually think “maybe people will think I’m pregnant,” which is quickly followed up by a nasty voice that says “that doesn’t necessarily explain your arms or double chin.”

I can’t tell you–no actually I can tell you how much, how badly, how desperately I want released from this thing. Not the weight, but the obsession and confusion that is underneath, the self-loathing and despair that comes after. It’s not about the weight at all, it’s not even about food: it’s about hunger.

Rachel Cole did a reunion conference call for those of us who attended her Well-Fed Woman Retreatshops this past year, so I’ve been thinking a lot about hunger. Typically what is happening when I am obsessing about food or eating too much or making unhealthy choices, it’s not about food at all, certainly not about physical hunger. I am hungry for self-care, but I keep feeding myself food.

I was thinking about this in terms of taking a shower. It is important for me, unless I am planning to take the dogs on a walk or go to the gym, to shower in the morning as soon as possible. If I don’t, I won’t put on clean clothes, because I’m not “clean,” which means I’ll stay in my bathrobe or put on the kinds of clothes I wear to do messy chores, like painting or cleaning the bathroom, and this isn’t uplifting at all. These clothes, worn for that reason, make me feel depressed, dull and down, which leads to behaviors that are triggered by such feelings, like overeating or numbing out on the computer. I feel disorganized and discombobulated, stuck. Nothing sane or healthy happens and it’s hard to move on.

Taking a shower is one way to truly feed my hunger for self-care. Sometimes I am feeling unworthy, maybe my blog stats are low and I haven’t meditated for a few days and I’m comparing myself to others, beating myself up for not measuring up, comparing my blooper reel to their highlights. Sometimes it’s overwhelm, so much has to get done, so much I want to do. Sometimes it’s taking care of the should and have to work, the paid work, and the energy it takes, how much I’d rather be doing something else but can’t yet afford to leave that work, and that can lead to depression.

I have been feeding these real hungers with food, always with food. What are the real needs, what am I really hungry for? Physical tiredness needs rest and sleep, pure and simple. Unworthiness needs connection and a reminder of my basic goodness, of the real need for my voice, my light. Overwhelm needs to have permission to only do what can be done, and then to practice self-care, to rest and play, experience joy. Depression needs to exercise and reconnect with nature, be in the body and the world.

When you are in the grips of something so old and deep, sometimes you give up. You look back at the struggle and then ahead to your future, and you can’t imagine it will ever leave you, fear that you’ll be stuck in this cycle of obsession, swinging between control and crazy, gaining and losing the same 20 pounds forever, trying and eventually giving up on every new system, method, or plan, feeling the rise of hope and the sink of despair, like Sisyphus and his rock, never finding a way out. But you can’t divorce yourself, can’t leave or move out, get any kind of legal separation, split your assets 50/50 and wish each other well. You have to stick it out, are stuck, have to live with it, with yourself and your confusion.

When I really look at it, really think, trust myself, I’m pretty smart, pretty sure about what to do. I know the hunger, but still tend to feed it the wrong thing, still fall into the old habits, the discursive patterns, the way of being when I am tired, and I am tired a lot. But that’s okay, if only I can remember to let go and come back. This is what practice is, falling down and getting back up, falling apart and being whole, trying again, continuing to show up, again and again, time after time. This is what all of life is, isn’t it?

Let go and come back.

Three Truths and One Wish

1. Truth: You can’t do everything. For starters, you have a body that has real limits, edges and absolutes, a soft animal form that needs breaks for rest, nourishment, and maintenance. Your mind cannot insist this frame, this figure, this shape do more than it can do–that only invites illness and collapse. Your mind needs breaks too, to revive it’s creative energy, to day dream and play, to get quiet and still, even though it doesn’t like to admit it. And your heart, bless your heart–it will let you break it over and over again with your bullying and demands, it will forgive you for each and every abandonment, but the unhealed grief that comes from that process will one day knock you flat.

Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drowned your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. ~Steve Jobs

2. Truth: It’s okay to stop, to rest, to say no. In fact, it’s more than okay–it’s essential. The good work you imagine, the love you long to manifest, will never be fully realized unless you take care of yourself, stop smashing yourself to bits. You will shred yourself, turn to ashes if you don’t lie down and let go, calm down, slow down, surrender.

The love and good and the wild and the peace and creation that are you will reveal themselves, but it is harder when they have to catch up to you in roadrunner mode. ~Anne Lamott

3. Truth: Enough. It’s enough. There is enough. You are enough. You are doing the best you can, can’t do or be any more than that. Even if you never do another thing, it’s enough. You are already light, you are already wise and kind, you are already loved. You are. There’s no test, no goal, no should or have to, no destination other than here–there is only breath, and only this moment. You are medicine, magic, love manifested, precious and brilliant.

We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. ~Anne Lamott

One wish: That we can all slow down, stop pushing so hard and insisting on so much, and that we, once and for all, finally know that we are enough, already and exactly as we are.

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you–just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
~Shel Silverstein

Day of Rest

mock orange, peeking through the fence

For the past two days, I have been listening repeatedly to Jason Mraz’s song I Won’t Give Up. It’s like a love letter to yourself, to the world. I love the lyrics, the message. This morning, I imagined my higher self singing to the self that is on the ground, the one that struggles and suffers, the one so confused, still smashing herself to bits, and tears streamed down my face. There is so much love, so much courage in that promise, “I won’t give up.”

Often, in our confusion and fear, we cling to hope. This can temporarily make us feel better, but it still is a wish for things to be different, pretending that if we could just be somewhere else, if things were only something other than they are, everything would be okay. This is so tempting when things are bad, hard, scary. And yet, it is just a further denial of the present moment, and without that, we are nowhere.

In the past, I’ve let hope take me away to a safe, happy place, only to later discover that it robbed me of the present, took from me the opportunity to say “fiercely loving and bravely tender things,” say goodbye, look in her eyes and tell her to her precious face how much I loved her, say I’m sorry, things that now I will never get the chance to.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that the opposite of hope is hopelessness. I think that rather than fear or hope, which both make us run and hide from reality, make us believe in something that we can’t know for sure, there is love, right here and now, for certain and for real.

I won’t give up, “Even if the skies get rough, I’m giving you all my love.” This is a promise to stay, to stick around, heart open, no matter what. That has power. I will stand my ground, be here with you, come hell or high water.

How many of us have been able to do that for ourselves? Not me. I’ve abandoned myself, over and over. I judge and reject those parts of me that I consider weak, shameful, problematic, unworthy. Just last night, I got an order of tshirts from Cafe Press, and when I tried one on that didn’t work, I automatically blamed my body. The shirt didn’t fit, didn’t look good, and somehow that was my body’s fault. This kind of rejection, abandoning of pieces and parts, makes it impossible to be whole.

But you know what? I won’t give up.

I won’t give up.

When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up

And when you’re needing your space
To do some navigating
I’ll be here patiently waiting
To see what you find

‘Cause even the stars they burn
Some even fall to the earth
We’ve got a lot to learn
God knows we’re worth it
No, I won’t give up

I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use
The tools and gifts we got yeah, we got a lot at stake
And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend
For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn
We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not
And who I am

I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
Still looking up.

I won’t give up on us (no I’m not giving up)
God knows I’m tough enough (I am tough, I am loved)
We’ve got a lot to learn (we’re alive, we are loved)
God knows we’re worth it (and we’re worth it)

I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up

Wishcasting Wednesday

from Jamie's post

What do you wish to rise above?

Blocking my feelings. Running away, refusing, numbing, avoiding, dismissing and denying the truth of how I feel, my real experience.

Rejecting my truth. Being stuck in old habits of trusting others over myself, looking to them for validation, searching for external answers, methods, strategies, techniques, permission, love, and approval. Resisting my wholeness, my worth. Denying the path, the experience, the practice, the purpose, the calling. Stubbornly walking in the exact opposite direction of true north, refusing to see or accept myself as I really am.

Self-hate. The petty, hateful, critical voice and behavior of ego. The smashing myself to bits.

Attachment. Clinging, resisting, practicing too tight, collapsing into grief, resisting the truth of impermanence, rushing after, reaching for, and grasping at what I want rather than being with what is.

Hope and fear. Both keep me from being fully in the present, which is the only place I can relax, be content, find joy–be fully alive and awake. If I am afraid, I am not in the present but rather am rejecting it, and if I am hoping, I’m reaching for some other time, some other circumstance, rather than connecting to reality.

Judgement and aggression. Inability to forgive, to let go, to relax. Attraction and aversion rather than acceptance. Desire for vengeance, retribution, justice, and punishment.

Discursive thinking and habitual patterns. Obsession with and attachment to things that no longer serve me. Things sticky, stuck, deeply rooted, old, moldy and musty, rotten and wrecked.

Ego. Dissolving this is most likely the key to rising above everything else.