vulnerable path

Make yourself a stronger woman.

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Defying Gravity

Today started like most workdays. I rolled out of bed at 5am and headed for the coffee pot.  I packed a lunch, watched the weather report, and hit the shower.  I dropped my daughter at school and reached my desk by 7:15am.  Another workday filled with lots of “have-to-dos” and not nearly enough “want-to-dos.”

At my workplace, we begin every day with a stand-up meeting. We gather in the reception area and chit chat about last night’s football game or our kids’ antics.  Then the gathering is called to order by our boss who leads us in prayer.  This practice goes back years and is rooted in our boss’ deep faith in God.  We pray for guidance in the decisions we make throughout our day.  And we pray for a list of people who may be sick or burdened in some way.  Some people have been on this list for years.  It’s always changing and growing.

Today’s meeting was interrupted by a phone call from a co-worker. His son had stopped breathing in school and needed to be revived with an AED device.  The gravity of it weighed on us.  We stared silently at each other.  Suddenly the work that had brought us together seemed inconsequential.  We paused again in prayer for this child and his parents.

It was a smack in the face, a jarring moment of realization when we were forced to stop ignoring our humanity and mortality. It brought a screeching halt to the constant rush-hour pace of our to-do list-driven lives.  Wait a minute.  What am I doing?  Am I focusing my life on what’s really important?

Pema Chodron writes, “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing? You know you will die, but you really don’t know how long you have to wake up from the cocoon of your habitual patterns. You don’t know how much time you have left to fulfill the potential of your precious human birth. Given this, what is the most important thing?”

Her answer to this question is simple but not always easy for us to put into practice. She says we need to leave a gap.  Take a pause in your day.  Do it frequently.  Take three breathes.  Consciously stop the cluttered discourse going on in your brain.  It gives you a chance to re-assess what’s really important to you.  You can take these pauses by the coffee pot, or in the car, or by the copy machine.   Stop thinking about what has to happen ten minutes, ten hours, or ten days from now, and bring your full attention to this minute.

IMG_0404This is, of course, the most basic of meditation practice. To breathe, empty the mind, and pause in stillness.  Feel the sensation of your breathe going in and out of your nose or throat.  Listen and focus on a sound or a smell.  Step out the door and look up at the sky.  Perhaps choose a mantra to repeat to yourself that helps you clear away all other thoughts.

Meditation and prayer make good partners and are a part of many faiths. In one of her Super Soul Sunday interviews, Oprah Winfrey asked Deepak Chopra to explain the difference between meditation and prayer.  He said, “Prayer is your speaking to God and meditation is allowing the Spirit to speak to you.”  He went on to explain that, through an ongoing meditation practice, the Spirit’s words will come to us through our intuition and manifest as inspiration.  I think, in many ways, this is exactly how the Spirit answers our prayers.

Taking time throughout your day to pray or meditate can reduce anxiety and stress can bring perspective to those questions of “what am I doing and what is really important.” It’s an anti-gravity device, lifting the weight off your shoulders.  It may inspire you to change the balance between those “have-to-dos” and “want-to-dos.”

It creates the opportunity for you to remember the blessings and beauty of your surroundings. It’s a time to perhaps express gratitude for having enough.  It may inspire you to hug your kid and tell her she’s your favorite person.   It may remind you to call a friend who is suffering and tell her she is loved.  At the end of the day, you might look back and realize that was the most important thing you did today.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

To read Pema Chodron’s entire essay, click here.



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Just Dance

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”  — Ann Lamott

So this little tidbit jumped out at me today.  I was reading a blog post about writing.  Yes, writers write about writing on WordPress.  And it’s pretty darn inspiring sometimes.  The challenge of the blog post was to just write.  Just start typing and don’t stop.  Don’t edit.  Just get the words out onto the page.  So that’s what I’m doing.

I love this quote — “don’t look at your feet.”  I am so guilty of this, always wondering if I am doing it right.  Is it perfect yet?  No, silly.  You’ve got to stop worrying about that.  Ann Lamott’s quote is kind of like the “Just Do It!” slogan of the writers world.

I am a runner.  I love to be out on a trail somewhere, just chugging along.  I’m not a very fast runner.  I’m usually pretty happy if I can log a 10 minute mile during some portion of my workout.  I don’t concern myself much with speed.  Running is a great way for me to find some peace and clear my mind.  But guess what I do when I run?  I stare at the ground.  I watch my own steps.  Recently, I have started making a concerted effort NOT to do this.  When I catch myself, I straighten up my posture, raise my head, and look at where I’m going.  The view is beautiful!  The leaves on the trees are changing colors.  The trail is carpeted in yellow and brown.  Walnuts, acorns, and a rare Osage Orange litter the trail.  Squirrels rustle above my head.  The river churns by.  Ducks chatter to each other.   The earthen musk of what the river reclaims wafts up from the river bank.

IRT_trail-editedHow about that?  When I’m not staring at my feet, wondering if I’m doing it right, I can actually appreciate the beauty in what I’m doing.

I wonder how much of our lives we spend like this, worrying about every step we take.  We can get so caught up in what we are supposed to do, who we are trying to impress, and what we are trying to accomplish.  We impose perfection on ourselves.  We have turned exhaustion into a status symbol (as my current favorite writer says).  We are in such a rush that we miss the Now.  We hurry past the current moment, racing to get to the finish line.  News flash:  God is not standing there with His stop watch to congratulate you on finishing fast, or perfect, or with the most stuff.

When I look back on the most meaningful and joyful times of my life, I see my family and friends.  I remember special holidays, and trips to new places, and exciting new learning experiences.  Its not about how clean my house is, or what’s in my wallet, or what’s parked in the driveway.

Maybe it’s because of this mid-life spiritual epiphany I’m going through.  I realize that it’s so important to slow down.  Rest.  Play.  Laugh.  Dance.  Breathe.  Invite balance into your life.  Take time to savor the simple joys that we so easily take for granted.  Step back and re-assess once in a while.  Like an artist has to step back from his painting; that’s when you can see and appreciate the beauty in what you are creating.  You might trip over your feet once in a while.  So what?  Dance with abandon.  It’s so much more fun than dancing with perfection.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014



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Fitting in, falling down, and finding true friends

Define Journey.  In simplest terms, it means to go on a trip; to travel from one place to another.  The purpose of this seems clear.  But how do we define a spiritual journey?  And what is its purpose?  I believe we undertake spiritual journeys when we try to understand our choices and our emotions.  This is a life-long process.  Spiritual journeys serve to help us develop character, strengthen our faith, learn new things, bounce back stronger from adversity, and step out of our comfort zone.

I love that Girl Scouts has created “Journeys” for girls and young women to help them work through their feelings, develop strong values, and make good choices. We didn’t have “Journeys” when I was in Girl Scouts. But I’m thrilled as an adult to be bringing these programs to my own daughter and her Girl Scout sisters.  This year, we are taking a Journey called aMAZE.  It’s about navigating the twists and turns of friendship and how to deal with peer pressure, stereotypes, jealousy, gossip, and all those kinds of things that get in the way of having healthy relationships.

This got me thinking about my own Journey through friendships.  Here’s my story.

I attended the most rural elementary school in my district.  Most of my classmates lived far away from me in the countryside.  I did not have friends who lived right next door.  I couldn’t walk to their houses.  So I was a bit of a loner and had to find ways to entertain myself after school.  I spent a lot of time outdoors, climbing trees and wandering around the woods and fields behind my house.  I used my imagination and created my own world in my backyard.  I had a tree house.  It was named the Blue Goose.  I played with my dog and my cat.  When I did socialize with friends, it was through church, or Girl Scout meetings, or making special play dates to go to a friend’s house.  I don’t remember ever feeling like I didn’t fit in with my elementary classmates and friends.

All that changed on the first day of seventh grade. My rural classmates and I were merged in with kids from two other elementary schools that were in more suburban neighborhoods.  It was culture shock.  I was mortified.  I looked nothing like any of these kids.  I didn’t dress like them, talk like them, or act like them.

seventhgrade_editedI was barely off the school bus that first day when I began to rebel against everything my parents were providing for me. Because, all of a sudden, I was keenly aware that I did not fit in.  I was not going to be accepted by anyone if I showed up again wearing knee socks with a skirt.  (Yes, that’s a photo of me from the first day of seventh grade.  And that’s my dog, Skamper.)

I wanted a Farrah Faucet hair style. But I had a, um, I’m not sure what you’d call that!  I wanted designer jeans with fancy embroidery on the back pockets.  The kind like Brooke Shields modelled.  But I didn’t own a pair of jeans at all.  My mother sewed most of my clothing by hand.  My personal style was just not going to change overnight.  So I had to accept my plight.  I had to deal with it.

Two of the most popular girls in school were in my class. Compared to these girls, I saw myself as a big nerd.  I desperately wanted to fit in with them.  So my strategy was to befriend these girls.  I was somewhat successful – accepted, maybe, but not really one of them.  They were not mean to me; I wasn’t bullied by them.  Eventually, I did become better friends with one of them and hung out with her outside of school a few times.

But I was friends with the nerdy kids too. The geeky, awkward, not so pretty, not so skinny ones.  I could relate to this.  I treated them the same way I treated anyone else.  I managed somehow to get along with just about everybody.

Yet, like most teens, I kept trying to fit in somewhere. I was never really sure where that was for me.  I wasn’t a cheerleader, I didn’t play sports, and I didn’t play an instrument in the band.  My high school years were a battle ground of social standings – I was standing in one place and aspiring to another.  I never really felt like I made any progress.  I didn’t have any real strong friendships in high school.  Because I never got too close to anyone, I wasn’t betrayed by anyone.  All that would change soon enough.

I couldn’t wait to go off to college. I wanted new freedom and the chance to make new friends.  And a college dormitory is certainly a good place to get to know people.  That’s where I met Maura.  She was the most outgoing, crazy, fun person I had ever met.  She was beautiful too.  And she had a girlfriend, as in female intimate partner.  But I didn’t judge.  She was a free-spirited art student.  I was an uptight English major.  We were yin and yang.  We rented neighboring apartments in the same building downtown.  We hung out all the time, cooking meals together and partying.  I idolized her.  To me, her life was perfect.  She had great clothes, and she let me borrow them.  She was always happy.  Things always went well for her.  And she spread this effervescent energy everywhere she went.

Eventually, her same sex relationship ended.  And I introduced her to my boyfriend’s brother, Bill.  They fell madly in love with each other.  I was so happy for her!  I imagined us graduating from college, getting engaged to our boyfriends, and becoming sisters-in-law someday.  The future was bright.

After graduation, Maura moved in with Bill. But my relationship became long-distance — like, over-seas long distance.  My boyfriend moved to London to start a branch of his family’s business. I spent almost a year racking up expensive phone bills, trying to keep our relationship going.  Then I quit my job, packed up everything I owned, stuffed it into my parents’ garage, and flew to London to be with him.  But we were still doomed.  We never got engaged.  I moved back home with Mom and Dad.  He broke up with me right after Christmas.

I was distraught. I had no idea what to do with myself.  I would come home from work each day and curl up in my room and cry.  My poor Mother did not know how to console me.  I could have used some comfort and reassurance from Maura.  But I didn’t get that.  Instead, she made it clear that she needed to choose her man over our friendship.  She was planning her wedding.  It would be too uncomfortable to have me around now that my relationship with her future brother-in-law had ended.

I’m not sure which one of them hurt me more. Now, I knew betrayal.

So, here’s what I learned on my journey, and what I hope my daughter learns too.  Good friend don’t need to be pretty, or popular, or have cool clothes you can borrow.  It doesn’t matter what sport she plays or what grades she earns.  She doesn’t have to be your Facebook friend or Instagram follower.  You can probably count a lifetime of true friends on one hand.  She is rare and precious.  She gets you.  She likes you in spite of yourself.  But the most important thing I hope my daughter learns is that she needs to BE the kind of friend she wants to have.

Eventually your friends will prove themselves to you.  You won’t know your true friends from the fun times.  You will know them when they are still standing next to you during the bad times.  A good friend will prop you up, lend a shoulder, and be a good listener.  She is the one who will say, “Hey, I get it.  This sucks.  But I am here for you and we’ll get through it.”

© Vulnerable Path, 2014