vulnerable path

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Be at peace

“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.” — Buddha

Peace.  We use this word so often.  Yet peace is illusive.  Buddha’s quote makes me ask myself, “What one word brings me peace?”

The word that immediately comes to mind is forgiveness.

Eckhart Tolle, whose book The Power of Now was one of my most engrossing reads this past year, made me think about forgiveness when he talked about Resistance.  He says that all resistance is negativity.  And this, of course, leaves us sitting in suffering.  This is an inevitable part of life.  We resist the death of a parent, the betrayal of a friend, the loss of a love.  We go as far as to identify ourselves by these things:  I am the person who had her heart broken, the person who was betrayed, the person who lost a loved one.  It becomes part of our sense of self and colors how we relate to everything else going forward.

This, I’ve realized, is why we suffer.  Because we hold onto all these negative experiences and continue, everyday, generating resistance.

It’s exhausting, being so negative all the time!  Let’s be done with that!  What is it accomplishing?  What is it that I have been able to reverse because I resisted it?  Was I able to change someone’s heart? Nope.  The only heart I can change is my own.  Which brings me to forgiveness.

To let go of a grudge — to let go of anger, resentment, hostility, jealousy, guilt — is freeing.  It lifts a very heavy burden from our shoulders.  It’s the exact opposite of what we might think — to forgive is not weakness or defeat.  The act of forgiveness is the manifestation of our own inner strength and power.

Let go.  Free yourself.  Forgive yourself and others.  Be at peace.

© Vulnerable Path, 2016


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An Overwhelming Sensation

Do you ever get that overwhelming sensation?  It’s not a physical one, like exhaustion or hunger.  I’m talking about an emotional one.  It has been happening to me a lot in the last few years.  It’s the emotional response that rises up inside me when I hear about a young person’s success or when I read an article about how someone has improved their local community.  I am overcome with the feeling that I must help make the world a better place.

Alan Jennings knows that feeling.  He is the executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, an organization he has been a part of for more than 30 years.  I don’t know Jennings personally, but I can certainly relate to him.  He was featured recently in an article in The Morning Call, saying that he had the “overwhelming sensation” as a young child that he was “born to save the world.”  Jennings joined CACLV fresh out of college.  He has been instrumental in not only saving it from shutdown, but growing it into an organization with a $20 million a year budget.  CACLV is the engine behind numerous neighborhood improvement programs, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens throughout the Lehigh Valley.

Few of us are fortunate enough to realize our calling at such a young age.  For some, it may take 50 years.  For others, it may never come.  For me, it’s finally arrived and has been transformative.  I believe this passion was born out of my role as a parent, to help my daughter become the best person she can be.  I have seen this evolution taking place, that my hope to improve people’s lives has grown beyond just she and I.  If I make this effort for my child, I can take many others along on the journey.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, advertising a “speed networking” event geared to help local non-profits find volunteers.  I had barely finished reading the first few lines when I knew I needed to participate.  This was an opportunity that I simply could not pass up.  It was a way for me to act as a liaison — to bridge the gap between Girl Scouts and the larger world of service organizations for the girls and adults that I work with.  Because if I am to support the mission of Girl Scouting, which is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place, then I have to help girls to connect to the community and world beyond Girl Scouting.

I was utterly overwhelmed at the speed networking event.  There were about 25 organizations represented, and I had to choose five to meet with.  It was difficult to narrow it down to five!  I chose Community Bike Works, The Center for Humanistic Change, The Lehigh Conference of Churches, the Third Street Alliance, and Gress Mountain Ranch.  I was able to meet the executive directors of all of these organizations, present them with my resume, and talk about the passions that we have in common.  My goal now is to get to know these groups better, introduce others to them, and find ways to help them expand their own missions.

Clockwise from top right, the ceiling of the parlor, one of many stained glass windows, a close up of a tile surrounding the fireplace in Mr. Simon's office, a mosaic in the lobby.

Clockwise from top right, the ceiling of the parlor, one of many stained glass windows, a close up of a tile surrounding the fireplace in Mr. Simon’s office, a mosaic in the lobby.

I began last weekend by taking my daughter for a tour of the Third Street Alliance in Easton, PA.  They are based in the Simon mansion, a beautifully restored building in the heart of downtown Easton.  You cannot tell by looking at the French revival façade of this building that it houses a homeless shelter for women and children.  Additionally, this dynamic organization provides the community with a Keystone Stars accredited child care program and an adult care program for seniors with special needs.  It’s a stunning mash-up of art, architecture, and social service.  We learned that they need help to sort donations, to make care packages for clients, and to garner additional funding to make their swimming pool ADA compliant, just to name a few.

I left there with my mind reeling, mulling over the many possible ways to help them.  And I could see that it made an impression on my daughter as well.  She’s 13, and yet she wasn’t underwhelmed, as is so often the case at this age.  She was intrigued by the interior design and the art work, and listened intently to our tour guide’s stories.  There’s a world outside of herself, and she’s beginning to open her eyes to it.

Our next stop will be at the Community Bike Works.  We are visiting them this week, donating an old bike and taking a tour.  I can’t wait!

I have tremendous respect for the individuals that serve at the heart of these organizations.  They often dedicate many hours of overtime and accept less than adequate wages.  They are all “saving the world” in their own unique ways.  Jennings states in the Morning Call article, “Let’s face it, I’ve been at this a long time and the world is still really screwed up. I’ve failed a lot.”

I have to disagree.  Mr. Jennings, you have not failed.  I am certain that you have changed the lives of many individuals for the better.  In fact, even if you have only changed one life, you have still left the world better than you found it.  That’s accomplishing your mission.  That’s leaving a legacy.  That’s making lives better beyond your own.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  That’s my new motto.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 

 

 

 


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Welcome to May

It’s been a long 5 months.  Back in January, I was sending up my wishes for the new year in bird seed, peanut butter, and pine cones.  Let’s see — I wished to embrace my failures.  Check!  It feels like that’s all I’ve managed to accomplish since New Year’s Day.  All the other wishes — well, life got in the way.  But there is still hope! Welcome to May!

bush 2_editedMay makes me happy.  The days are getting longer.  It’s warm enough to get outside and take a walk, go bicycling, or head to the trail for a hike.  Thank God for May!  It had gotten to the point where I could not set foot in the gym and bear that treadmill one more time.  I NEEDED to get outdoors!

I finally had the opportunity to break open the shed and dust off my bike last weekend.  I missed her so much!  “You and me, Bike, we are going to have a really nice ride today!  Let’s get you spiffed up!”  Put a little air in those tires and we are ready to roll.

Until I was out there, cruising down the road, I had not realized just how much I missed this activity.  It’s the way I keep my sanity.  It restores my balance.  It clears my head of all the gunk of everyday.  I was so thirsty for a bike ride.  And it quenched my soul!

cherry blossom 3_editedI feel so blessed to live in a community that has such a wonderful network of recreational trails.  We have the Delaware and Lehigh Rail Trail running straight through the heart of our area.  It’s actually a 165 mile trail system that runs from Wilke-Barre, PA all the way past New Hope along the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers.  I haven’t ridden the whole trail — yet!  You can read all about it here.

May ushers in the downhill run toward the end of the school year.  And this is a good thing for me.  Not because I’m a teacher, and I look forward to my summers off.  Actually, in some respects, I am a teacher.  I’m a Girl Scout leader, and we teach lots of things.  At least we try to.  And while I love my volunteer work more than my paying gig, I’m still ready for a break.  Summer re-charges my batteries.

White hearts_editedMy plan is to get re-connected to nature this summer, and in the process, re-connect to those wishes I made on January 1.  Maybe I will explore a new section of the Rail Trail.  Or perhaps I will brave a kayaking trip on the river.  It would also be awesome just to sit on my back porch, under my umbrella, with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other.

The explosion of new life in springtime is revitalizing.  Gone are the browns, grays, whites of winter.  The trees burst with blossoms and colors.  Things turn GREEN again!  I had to take along my camera and capture nature showing itself off today.

violets_editedI’ve noticed that not all wild plants are weeds.  How can you argue when you find these delightful violets popping up in your grass?  When I was a kid, I always looked forward to finding violets in my yard.  I would carefully pick them, place them in a tiny vase, and present them to my Mom.  Being a Mom myself now, I know that is the best gift!  I also picked Dandelions, clover, butter cups, and wild strawberries.  Did you ever hold a butter cup up to your chin?  A yellow reflection is supposed to indicate a fondness for butter!

bleeding heart_editedRalph Waldo Emerson said that a weed is a plant whose virtues have never been discovered.  Maybe this is true of ourselves sometimes too.  When we are unsure of who we are or where we want to go in life, we doubt our virtues.  But they are waiting to be discovered.  When we are criticized or bullied by others, we may feel as worthless as a weed.  But weeds are survivors.  Pulled out, cut down, poisoned, yet somehow finding persistence, power, roots, and new growth again.  Perhaps the weed sees the beauty in itself, refusing to let go of it’s wild confidence.

I’m refusing to let go of my New Year’s wishes.  I still wish to grow in spirit, strengthen my will, change those failures into opportunities, and improve my forward fold.  There is still time.  There is always a new day and a new chance to blossom.


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Where are you at this moment?

Sometimes the ongoing chatter in my mind is like a constant whir of a fan, a muffled, incessant hum. Like white noise, I’m used to it. It’s always there. It keeps me company when I have no other distractions. Or more aptly, it refuses to leave me alone. And sometimes, when the chatter is all about my problems or worries, it’s easy to become consumed and overwhelmed.

I had an appointment with my massage therapist yesterday. After a stressful week, I was looking forward to the chance to relax and take some much needed time for self-care. As I lay there, my thoughts wandered to all kinds of places. It raced into the future to the problems I will need to solve at work next week, and to the plans I’m making for an extended trip with my Girl Scouts. As my therapist’s hands attempted to find and relieve the tight muscles in my shoulders and neck, I realized I wasn’t present on her table. I wasn’t in the moment.

I have been using massage for more than a year to help reduce muscle tightness and pain. When I first visited Susan (who is also a wonderful yoga instructor), I had a huge knot at the top of my left shoulder. I had pain in my neck that stabbed me whenever I turned my head to the left. And I had tightness across my left pectoral muscle that caused constant discomfort. I had been ignoring all this for about six months before I decided to do something about it. That was my New Year’s Resolution in 2014.

I felt some immediate relief with a stretching exercise that Susan recommended for the pectoral muscle. Hallelujah! But the shoulder and neck were stubborn, so I decided that I should rule out any kind of injury. I visited an orthopedic doctor and had X-rays and an MRI of my neck. After examining the images, the doctor could find nothing more than minor arthritis beginning to form between the vertebrae in my neck, which is normal for someone my age. She recommended physical therapy. So I worked with a physical therapist for about six weeks. I faithfully did the exercises she gave me. I saw very little improvement.

But I kept up regular visits with my massage therapist, who was able to explain more to me about how my muscle groups are all connected and affect one another. She warned me that it can take a long time to “re-train” muscles that have spent so much time in a contracted state.  We also talked about how stress can manifest in the physical body. After ruling out everything else, it was clear that I was experiencing a physical reaction to emotional stress. This realization was part of what motivated me to take a hard look at where I am at in my life. It was also the impetus for starting my Vulnerable Path blog.

I am happy to report that, with Susan’s help, I no longer have a huge knot in my shoulder, and most days are pain free.  Yet after more than a year of serious work to improve my mind, body, and spirit, I still haven’t figured out how to just “be in the moment.” It sounds like the simplest thing, yet for me it is actually a struggle.

I wrote a previous blog post about Pema Chodron’s advice to take three breaths. This basic principle of meditation, to focus on your breathing, is a tool to use whenever we feel overwhelmed, stressed-out, worried, or scared. It’s a way to push out the clutter in your mind. It helps to even visualize it, imagining all the junk being blown away with your exhales.

I have read and re-read Brene’ Brown’s book about wholehearted living. I connected with her guideposts about cultivating calm and stillness, authenticity, self-compassion. Yet it is an ongoing process to let go of perfectionism, to be slow to judge myself and others, and to choose a mind-set of sufficiency.

So there I was, physically on that massage table, but my mind wasn’t even in the building, let alone the room. The good news is that I realized it. And I immediately shut down the chatter. I took a few deep breaths. I focused on the soft music playing and the physical feeling of the massage. And I also realized one other thing in that moment. I couldn’t remember the last time I was bothered by that stabbing pain in my neck. A second Hallelujah!

I’m making progress. I feel more in touch than ever with my own consciousness and the way I want to grow and transform. I want to work harder at being in the moment, to appreciate fully the here and now, rather than waste any more time worrying about the past or the future. I’ve had a book on my shelf that I’ve intended to read for many months: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. In the introduction, Tolle says that people come up to him and say, “I want what you have. Can you give it to me, or show me how to get it?”  And his response is, “You have it already. You just can’t feel it because your mind is making too much noise.”

I think Tolle and I are going to become good friends.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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Reflections: looking back at the path

While everyone else is making resolutions, I decided to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learned on my journey this past year. This blog has been a major accomplishment for me. Not only a creative outlet, it’s also been a way for me to share my personal journey. It’s helped me to solidify my own feelings about the things I’ve been through, take responsibility for them (good or bad), and take action toward spiritual growth.

Reflections on acceptance: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I discovered this quote from a Leonard Cohen lyric while reading Brene’ Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. I used this quote in my very first blog post that you can read here. As many of my blog followers know, this was a life changing read for me. It provided confirmation of what I knew in my heart for a long time. That I am OK just as I am. I’m imperfect, and I am able to accept myself that way. My life has been full of cracks. I’ve made bad choices. I’ve allowed myself to fall into life’s pit of quicksand where I get stuck on stupid. I’ve been ashamed of many things I’ve done and of things that have happened to me. I bet you know the feeling; I am not alone in this! So this year I made up my mind to let the light shine on all my bumps and bruises and to use them to become a better person.

Reflections on failure: “Sometimes when things fall apart, that’s the big opportunity to change.”

My daughter watches a cartoon called Adventure Time. One of the characters is a dog named Jake who profoundly states, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” The cartoon inspired me, and I have repeated that quote to my daughter many times during cross-country practice, or violin practice, or algebra homework. I’ve sucked at many things too, especially in my relationships. Some of these failures have been catastrophic. Like a nuclear bomb going off, my life has been leveled by heartbreak. Yet somehow I found the hope and the strength to dust myself off. I wrote about how acknowledging failure is the first step to healing in a blog post you can read here. Pema Chodron points out in her book When Things Fall Apart that our tough times are there to help us grow.  This is a constant in life. It can apply to any struggle. Sometimes we need to lean into our pain in order to get closer to our truth, which brings me to my next point.

Reflections on vulnerability: “The most courageous thing we can do is allow ourselves to be vulnerable.”

In yoga class we practice poses called heart openers. These are particularly good exercises for me because they force me to put my shoulders where they belong: back and down. I carry all my stress in my shoulders and neck. The muscles in this area of my body always seem to be contracted.  I’m like a cat who’s just been surprised, walking around with my back scrunched up.  I am always working to correct my posture and focusing on ways to soften and relax.  This contractedness is a physical manifestation of what I have felt emotionally many times. I put the guard up when I’m afraid. It seems natural. When we have a bad experience, we want to protect ourselves from having that happen again. So we set limits with ourselves and with others. But the truth is, we need to do just the opposite. We need to open our hearts. Vulnerability isn’t a topic I’ve written a specific blog post about, but it’s a theme that runs through everything here. We have to be brave to conquer our fears, brave enough to be vulnerable. Because otherwise we are blocking ourselves off from our future happiness. In order to love and be loved, we must take a chance on possibly getting hurt – again. In order to accomplish new things and express ourselves creatively, we must risk being judged.

So I will set forth into 2015 with these reflections in mind. To accept myself, to embrace my failures and take them as opportunities for change, and to open my heart to my own future happiness. May our journeys be blessed in the New Year!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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Everyone has a first post

We all have to start somewhere.  So let me just jump in.  I’ve dilly-dallied long enough.  It’s time to just do it.

I’ve had something to say for a very long time.  In fact, there are pages upon pages already written in my head, accumulating there since I graduated from college, which was 27 years ago.  But for some reason, they haven’t often made it onto paper, or into a computer file.  So I finally asked myself, “Why?”  What’s holding me back?  What am I afraid of?  So, here I am.  Finally.

I’m currently reading Brene’ Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection,” and it’s created the impetus for this.  Though my soul-searching has been going on for much longer.   She quotes the lyrics of a Leonard Cohen song, Anthem:  “There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  It struck a chord.  As did so much of what she has written in this book.  I have plenty of cracks.  And Brene’s advice is to stop spackling them.  Stop trying to be perfect.  There is no such thing as perfect.

I interpret the quote in another way too.  Cracks are heartbreak, disappointment, failure, anxiety, stress, fear.  When we crack open from these things, we have a choice:  to grow or to whither.  I say grow.  Let the light in.  Use all that fertilizer.  That’s what’s going on here.  I hope you’ll stay with me as I begin to let the creativity flow onto the page.