vulnerable path

Make yourself a stronger woman.


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

Everyday ceremony

Something extra special happened to me this New Year’s holiday.  I was able to spend it with my daughter.  That might not seem like a big deal to you.  But it was for me.  In the four years since my divorce, she has always spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s with her Father.  She wanted this year to be different.  She was not interested in spending a whole week with him.  Ah, welcome to the teen years!  Well, I’ll take her any way I can get her!

To honor this occasion, I wanted to celebrate the New Year in a unique way.  I thought about taking her to one of the many events we had going on in our community.  There are beautiful light displays, sweet treat festivals, concerts, and fireworks.  Yet, neither of us was very motivated to leave our nice, warm house.

Then inspiration came to me!  During a break from my cleaning frenzy last Tuesday, I sat down to scroll through Facebook.  I follow Elizabeth Gilbert.  She is the author of one of my favorite books, Eat, Pray, Love.  She spent several months in 2014 as a speaker on Oprah’s The Life You Want Tour (YouTube it!)  She posts inspirational messages and stories everyday in her funny, down-to-earth style.

On December 30th, she posted about making her own ceremonies.  She describes several that she has made up and carried out.  I thought this was so simple, yet so genius.  I should know plenty about ceremonies.  Girl Scouting is full of ceremony.  Miriam-Webster defines a ceremony as “a formal act or event that is a part of a social or religious occasion.”  Ceremonies can elevate the everyday to the sacred.  And why shouldn’t we do that?  It is often the everyday moments that we come to cherish the most.

Gilbert described this ceremony:  “One year, I got some friends together and we made bird feeders out of pinecones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed, but before we put the birdseed on the pinecones, we swished the birdseed around on pieces of paper that had all our wishes written on them, so the birds would eat our wishes and fly them up into heaven.”   Perfect!  I had a plan.

During the cleaning frenzy, we had taken down the Christmas tree.  Instead of putting it on the curb for the garbage men, we propped it up on our deck, hoping the birds would enjoy it for the winter.  Now we could have a ceremony AND decorate the tree for the birds.

The next morning, I took a plastic shopping bag with me on my way to yoga class.  I knew there were big pine trees outside the studio.  I collected some beautiful pine cones.  Then I stopped at the grocery store for bird seed and peanut butter.  I warned my daughter that I had something special for us to do on New Year’s morning.  But I didn’t tell her exactly what.  We did not leave our nice, warm house that night.  I made a potful of seafood chowder.  We watched a few movies on TV, and we napped in our favorite chairs until right before the ball dropped.

wishes_editedWhen she stumbled out of bed on New Year’s morning, I explained the ceremony to her.  She liked the idea, but wasn’t sure what to wish for.  She settled on a wish for a “great rest of the school year.”  Being at an unfair advantage, I had put a little more thought into my wishes.

It was a fun and messy project.  We covered the table with newspaper.  We had peanut butter, pine sap, and birdseed everywhere.  I tied twine loops onto each pine cone while my daughter gooped them up with peanut butter.  Then we rolled them in the seeds.  I used seed that contained hot pepper flakes; this will supposedly deter the squirrels.  I think these will be the best tasting wishes the birds have ever eaten!

 

 

pinecone_collageI’m not sure how much my daughter really appreciated the ceremony.  It was a fun craft project for her.  To me, it was so much more.  It was a moment to share between just the two of us.  It was an opportunity to raise to sacred the first day of a new year — a year with no bumps or bruises yet.  A year awaiting us with infinite possibilities.  Maybe someday she will look back and cherish that ceremony.  Maybe she will realize what Elizabeth Gilbert noted about family:  your family members are the greatest spiritual teachers of your life.  For better or for worse, there is something for us to learn from every moment with them.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

Use Resources Wisely

What is our most precious resource?  Many would say it’s water, or clean air.  One might argue that it’s our farmland.  Some might say oil.  My daughter would say it’s the sun.  She is fascinated by science and found a You Tube video about what would happen if we lost our sun.  She has told me all about it more than once.  It’s scary stuff!  There is no doubt that all of these natural resources are very important to our well-being.

If you are familiar with the Girl Scout Law, you know that one of the commitments we make in the Law is to use resources wisely.  We teach our girls to care about this and take action by conserving water and paper, by not wasting food, and by practicing the guidelines of “Leave No Trace” when we spend time in the forest.

But there is one resource that’s been on my mind a lot lately.  It’s time.  No matter how hard we try, many of us find it very difficult to save time.  We certainly can’t slow it down.  It just keeps going like that Energizer Bunny.  The older we get, the more important time becomes to us.  As kids, we have no concept of it.  Oh, those were the days!  Now I find that it’s December, and another year is almost over, and I’m still wondering what happened to summer!?!?

I mull over the list of all the things I wish I had time to do.  Remember my earlier blog post when I talked about the “have to do” and “want to do” lists?  Now that it’s the holidays, those lists are longer than ever.  I have a Christmas shopping list with 15 people on it.  It’s important to me to wish everyone a Merry Christmas by giving them some sort of present.  There are cards to write out and send.  There are cookies to bake.  There are craft projects to finish.  There are charity events and volunteer activities to plan and attend.  There are additional responsibilities at work.  And all of that is on my “have to do” list!

What do I want to do, you ask?  I want to go for a run on the trail.  I don’t care how cold it is.  I want to go to a yoga class — at least once a week.  I want to begin a consistent home yoga practice.  I want to set time aside each day for meditation.  These things are on the “want to do” list.  But I think they are things that I NEED to do, just like eating a healthy diet every day, or getting enough sleep.  I am not taking care of myself if I am not creating time in each day for rest, play, calm, and stillness.

Two of Brene’ Brown’s Guideposts are:  Cultivating Play and Rest and Cultivating Calm and Stillness.  Reading her arguments for the importance of these elements in our lives validated what I knew in my heart.  But seeing them on the page also made me feel better about raising them up to the top my personal priority list.  If the things we “want to do” are stressing us out, maybe it’s time for an adjustment.  It’s OK to question whether or not the things on your list are actually adding joy and meaning to your life or simply overwhelming you.  Her advice?  Take something off the list; add “take a nap” instead!

Brown explains that some of us respond to anxiety by “over- functioning.”  Hello!  That’s my middle name!  These people will advise, rescue, take over, micromanage, and get into everything rather than look inward.  She points out that, “If we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us.”

I’m beyond this already.  I have the truth of my life nagging at me internally almost every minute of the day.  And I must heed to it soon.  I need time in each day to listen to that inner voice and nourish my soul.  The over-functioner in me needs to step aside.

So I am making “Time” my most important resource.  That’s my New Year’s resolution.  To use my time more wisely.  To make an effort to create space in my daily life for the things that will nourish my soul and to remove from the lists some things that just stress me out.  I am going to take some of that over-functioner’ s spirit and direct it at ways to cut down on the items on my lists.

But first, I’m going to take a nap.  Please, wish me luck!