Tag Archive | peace

“Give Up All Hope”? Nah.


“Give up all Hope.” This was the provocative opening to a recent post by my dear friend and burgeoning life coach, Molly Larkin. I was instantly hooked. I found her words insightful and inspiring. But also frightening. I began to question my own dogma. At first, this unnecessarily “worried” me. Have I been wrong? Have I been influenencing others negatively with my words? In large part because I agreed with Molly’s thoughts and at first they seemed to be in contradiction with my own.

But the beautiful thing about debate (even an internal debate!) is it gets the self to think deeper—to think broader.

And I realized: 1. There is definitely more than one way to skin a chicken and 2. Words mean different things to many different people. That’s why even Merriam Webster lists multiple alternate (and sometimes opposing) definitions for an individual word.

So let me back up a bit to the beginning…

Molly’s post that got my mind a’spinning explained that she has had such “hope” for so long that if she only parented differently, her son would be/behave differently. And recently it was brought to her attention that this may just be the way her son is. “What if it’s always this hard?” her friend asked (what a great question!). She realized she was bringing herself unnecessary suffering by always “hoping” that things will change some day.

“And the hardest part, I came to see, was the belief that things should be or were about to be different. And that it was up to ME to figure out some way to fix them.”

Hence the “Give Up All Hope” post-it.

Expounding on this idea, she brought it full-circle to the roots of human suffering… we spend so many moments waiting for the next moment (the “better” moment) to happen that we completely miss out on the life we are given.

And this is where I got turned on my head. Hope has been the cornerstone of my faith (before I even had faith) over the last decade plus as I have faced medical challenge after physical challenge after personal challenge.

BUT  at the same time, and this was my conundrum, I agree 100% with her assessment of suffering.

So, how can both be true?

It all comes down to reaction instead of action.

For me, I realized, it is not the idea of hope that causes me suffering, it is the attachment to a specific outcome of hope that causes suffering. When I start defining what hope should look like or feel like in my future life, that’s when I get into trouble.

Hope for me is truly: Hang On Peace Exists… internal peace.

It’s remembering that “this too shall pass.” It’s actually the process of not forming an attachment to the present situation.

Hope for me is a personal journey. It is knowing that I am powerless over external forces in my life. That includes friends, family, my husband, my illness and the doctors, the freezing cold weather (!) and many, many other things. But I can also have hope that each day I’ll wake with a little more acceptance about what is. A little more grace and gratitude for what I do have.

Instead of trying to change myself to “better fit” into my environment, I hope only to see a little more clearly each day that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be. And that includes myself.

And that when I hope or pray that “this too shall pass,” I am not hoping that the situation will pass or change but that my attachment to it will. When I start to let go of my attachment to outcomes, it frees up an enormous amount of “heart space” to live and just be, in that moment.

I know this to be true. Because I have experienced it. And because I have experienced it before, I can hope that this feeling of true peace with what is will come again.

This is how I came to terms with the dichotomy of feelings I initially had towards Molly’s post.

I won’t give up hope. Because that to me is giving up any chance that each day can be a little bit better. And by that, I mean, I can be at a little bit more peace. Hold On Peace Exists.

To me, just by writing her brave post, Molly showed hope. Hope for acceptance of who she is as a mother and who her son is as a unique person.

Just imagine if we all hope for a little more of that peaceful acceptance in our lives… we would each begin to walk around looking others in the eyes and being able to fully look our own selves in the eyes, with the truest sentiment of “Namaste:”

“I honor the spirit within you as I honor the spirit within myself.”

So, now read the definition of Hope:

1. “To want something to be true and think it could be happen or be true.” And
2. “to expect with confidence”: TRUST

and look at it in a different light. If the thing you want and think could be true is no longer a specific outcome that will change the current situation of your life but rather that you now “trust” that the thing that is true is yourself, doesn’t it change everything? Have hope and trust that the truest thing is who you are, where you are, and what you are already doing. Now the hope lies in the peaceful acceptance of these facts.

For the other part of “Namaste” is the acknowledgment that god/goddess/spirit resides in all of us. It is the humble removal of ego. It is the awareness that we are all one.

And at that center of that oneness is a perfect creation.
I hope that today you can look yourself in the mirror and wish yourself “Namaste.”



“I Have Arrived. I Am Home.”

white lotus by Tamara P.These three simple words have changed my life dramatically.  I first came across this straightforward mantra: “I have arrived” in a novel by Paulo Coelho.  In this compelling text, he discusses using it daily as a reminder that each of us, in each moment of our day, is exactly where we belong.  “Let go of the idea that the path will lead you to the goal. The truth is that with each step we take, we arrive. Repeat that to yourself every morning: ‘I’ve arrived.’” (The Witch of Portobello).  I followed this suggestion and now use it as a tool at the end of my morning prayers-reflection-meditation.  I pause, take a deep breath, open up my arms to the world, palms up and say, “I’ve Arrived!”  I say it with gusto.  I say it with conviction.

I didn’t begin this practice feeling overly confident about these three words.  Could they really make that much of a difference?  But, at the same time, I realized that it couldn’t harm anything by trying.  Now, after some 40 odd days of this daily practice, I can see that it has clearly made a difference.  It is a not so subtle reminder that my only “job” is to be fully present in each moment.  We’ve all heard this before, in one form or another.  But it’s an abstract concept, one that’s difficult to grasp in the rush of everyday living.  They are words that can easily be said, but are not often truly felt.  I have now crossed this barrier and in doing so, have developed a deep desire to share this technique with others.  I encourage you to try it, even if you feel silly or cynical.  What do you have to lose by giving it a go?

The concept behind the mantra “I’ve arrived” is a deceptively simple one.  By stating these words, you bring yourself, mind, body and spirit back to the present.  It’s almost impossible not to.  In the beginning, it may only be for that one moment after the words leave your lips.  But after repetition, those moments become minutes and then hours, until this thought fills your days.  I now find myself walking through life with an inner smile; I feel like I have my own little secret.   And when I find my mind drifting into the future (which it naturally will do) I remind myself to repeat the mantra, “I have arrived.”  I think there is a key in repetition; in not changing the words or the format, always repeating the same mantra until it becomes your own calling card.

As I was sharing my “revelation” with a friend, she said she was familiar with this practice, but from a different source: Thich Nhat Hanh.  I researched this and discovered he takes this process a little deeper and incorporates it into the daily activity of walking.  He speaks of walking meditation as a way to connect body and soul with the here and now. Through intentional, mindful walking, “We generate peace within our body, our consciousness. We embrace and heal the pain, the sorrow, the fear in us, and that is the ground for helping peace to be a reality in the world.”  He takes two natural processes; walking and breathing and adds a third element, the mindful mantra.  His suggestion is to measure your breaths to your gait, pacing as such; breathe in, take three steps; breathe out, take three steps.   As you get the rhythm going, add these two mantras:  on the inhale: “I… Have… Arrived.”  And on exhale:  “I… Am… Home.”  But what does this all mean you may be wondering.  By saying “I’ve arrived,” you are reminding yourself that you have arrived in the here and now, the only time where life is fully available to you, which is you one true home.  I like to think of it as bring my soul home.  And whenever I think of the word “home”, I think of solace, peace, comfort, and love.  This is the gift you are giving yourself.

This practice, in just over one month, has helped me with my fears and anxiety with my physical pain and mental burdens.  If I have already arrived, then I have nothing to worry about!  The future doesn’t matter, as long as with each step, or each breath I take on this earth, I arrive.  I am naturally going in the direction I am meant to be.  I am keeping my focus and attention ”where my feet are.”  And my feet are always right there, in my present space and time.   The Buddha said, “the past is already gone and the future is not yet here.”  Thich Nhat Hanh likes to remind us that we have an appointment to keep with our life and that appointment takes place in the present.  When we separate ourselves from the present, by either dwelling in the past or projecting into the future, we create a space (a chasm, really) between ourselves and the here and now.  This “space” fills up with fear, pain, anger, grieving, and despair.  But when we bring ourselves back, to live fully in the now, we fill up that space with peace.

“I have arrived.  I am home.”

As these words become practice, you may want to add more lines to the mantra, just one line at a time.   There is no hurry.  We’ve all spent many years far away from “home,” now that you’ve arrived and come back to your Soul Home, there is no rush.  Time is endless.

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

The Gift of Illness: A Re-Invention of Self

"See simplicity in the complicated Achieve greatness in little things." {Lao-Tzu}

“See simplicity in the complicated
Achieve greatness in little things.”

There are two ways I can look at my illness: 1. “It was the end of my world” or 2. “It was the start of a Brave New World.”  Today, I choose option #2.  The option of Hope, hope for a new world, a new beginning.  I am in no way trying to profess that this was an easy choice!  I lived with both perspectives and took time before making a final decision.  I don’t think I would be in the place of peace I am today if I hadn’t lived with both the Paths of Despair and of Hope.My hope lies in the recognition of an opportunity to reinvent my life. 

I can actually have gratitude for my chronic illness today (imagine that!).  Because when I look objectively at my life “in the now,” I have been afforded opportunities to discover and develop parts of myself I didn’t even know existed before.  In saying “before,” I mean the time before my autoimmune disease (Polychondritis, Fibromyalgia, Migraine, Chron’s) stopped me from working, and let’s be honest, engaging in most of my previous activities.  In this “T.B.,” I was a Type-A, “go, go, go girl!” I was (egotistically) proud of my ability to multitask and juggle all parts of my life, during all parts of my day.  No breaks! Believing all that “idle hands make idle minds” crap. I mean, really, what was I constantly rushing around for?  Sure I received accolades and “atta girls” from all facets of my life.  But, in the end they were just words; words with no real meaning because they didn’t originate from within me.

Lately I’ve begun to look at this change in my life differently…

I’ve started to celebrate the fact that I was given the gift of reinventing myself!  I look around and see most people on the same path for 40+ years of their adulthood.  And many are content with their journey. But few, too, are afforded the luxury of stepping off the established path and taking side-trails until they re-discover a new route that fits for the next phase of their life.  Luxury?  How can I call chronic-illness a luxury?!  Well, for as much as it has taken away from me (which is plenty!) it has returned, just in different forms than I was used to.  It would be (and has been) easy for me to overlook these new “gifts” ahead of me because I am spending my time looking back at all the things that have been stolen from my life, on a constant hunt to retrieve that which has been lost.  It’s not atypical to be stuck on what once was and is now gone; because trusting in an unknown future is a far scarier prospect.  But this approach only caused me constant emotional pain, regret, sadness, and emptiness.

Then, one day, I decided to look forward. I picked up one of these “new gifts” lying in my (new) path and opened it.  Inside I discovered an opportunity to awaken my inner artist.  It came in the form of a night nurse who suggested I begin beading to pass the time during my lengthy hospital stays.  I was quickly hooked, finding this quiet, meditative activity deeply soothing to my mind and pain fluctuations.  In a short time, I was selling my creations out of my “hospital room storefront” (no joke!) to all the staff.  This first step on this Road to Artist boosted my confidence and helped me to feel productive again.  The best gift was the positive energy I gained and shared with the influx of visitors coming in and out of my room, nurturing my own Soul Beacon of Hope.

After veering off what I thought was going to be “My Path for Life,” which I blamed my illness for taking from me, I realized the first step was the hardest.  I’ve taken many breaks along this new way, some chosen by me and some chosen for me by my ailing body.  But when I reflect on the anguish I first felt at “losing” all the things I thought made me “me” and then I fast forward 7 years to today, I discover that I am now an artist, a writer, a truly present friend and wife, a seeker of peace, a role-model of hope and acceptance, and a Survivor!  I started to look at all things I’ve gained.  No, none of those things would be placed on a resume.  But for me they are far greater accomplishments than all of my professional and schooling achievements.  They are my re-invention of self!

Just the other day, in the midst of painting, my husband commented, “You know, in a strange way, you getting sick was a blessing.  You would never have become the artist you are today if you had continued to be so consumed with work.”  And he’s right!  It used to be hard for me to recognize that a blessing of this magnitude could arise from such severe, sudden illness.  Oh, I’ve always had a hopeful heart and been able to recognize small, daily gifts of gratitude, from a helpful friend to a stunning sunset.  But, again, this was gratitude for all the things outside of me.  To have gratitude for what’s within me?. . . now that’s a truly miraculous discovery!

I was able to pursue a solid career in early childhood education for 15 years.  Now, I am on Re-Invention Phase Two: becoming both a Creative Person and a Beacon of Hope for others. Herein lays the miracle: I can reinvent myself again at any time! It may be self-directed or Universe-directed, but either way, I am staying open to the change. And am embracing the NOW… where I can truly find gratitude in being sick!

Battling The Post-Vacation Blues (and a few odd bruises too!)


Why does the first day after returning from vacation hit like a ton of bricks?  All the physical reserves of energy and stamina I greedily tapped into are now depleted and I feel every ounce of my chronic pain rearing its ugly head at me; mocking me with an “I told you so.”  I’m now walking around like a bleary eyed, stiffed limbed tin-woman, marveling at the marked change between how I felt just yesterday with today.   Parts of me I didn’t even know could experience pain do so anyway, like the tip of my tongue. How crazy is that?

Not to mention the emotional let-down that occurs following such a satisfying event.  Mid-way through vacation, I find myself cheerfully commenting to my hubby, “Why, we still have half of our vacation left! It’s already felt so long and satisfying. I can’t imagine wanting more!”  Ha! Famous last words.  Then the second half goes by twice as fast as the first and by the time we’ve reached our final day at hyper-speed, I am digging in my claws; determined to hold on to the fading remnants of this break from reality.  We even start the “bargaining process”: “Well, maybe we can rearrange things so that we can stay just one… more… day.”  But, let’s face it, one more day is never enough!

There is just no way of avoiding the dreaded Post-Vacation Blues!

There is something magical that can happen on a vacation.  It truly can be a break from reality for me; the reality of my illness, my pain, my lack of abilities, . . .  I’m not saying I feel no pain on vacation, it’s more like I can take that pain and put it in a little satchel I carry with me.  It’s always there, but I’m no longer wearing it like a cloak.  This was one of those blessed times.  We spent a week at the place I reverently call my “Sacred Space.” It’s a family cottage that we have spent many a time at over the last 21 years and it is the place I let my soul travel to during meditations.  So it’s not surprising that it acts like a healing tonic to cure that which ails me! This phenomenon hasn’t always happened to me, but when it does I want to fight tooth and nail to keep it going.  But, alas, even fairy tales have to end at some point.

So why can’t I just feel satisfied with this gift I received?   There have been (many) times I have not been able to fully enjoy a vacation: either feeling too sick or in pain to fully engage in it or, even more distressing, being rushed to some remote hospital for an emergency situation. We used to joke that most people research “points of interest” before going to an unknown vacation locale, while we would research hospital and urgent care locations.  Humor is sometimes the best defense, right?  Then there have been those times I wish I could erase from our history.  Times trips were planned and had to be cancelled because the doctors told me it was too risky for me to travel.  This includes a trip to the Riviera Maya in Mexico to renew our vows on our 7th wedding anniversary.

Put in this context, I am willing to sacrifice days after my vacation for the days of respite and renewal I experienced while on vacation.  And although I did “over-do it” (hard not to with physical limitations such as mine!), I did make conscious choices to keep my activities within my reach.  Most of our days were spent sitting water side, drinking in the sun’s Vitamin D, reading, painting, playing games and musical instruments.  It’s a little depressing to think that these mild activities wiped me out.  That today, in reaction to a week of this, I am swollen, stiff and sore!  Not to mention the strange bruises that have bloomed across my body! But the fact that I sustained daily activities for 7 days is truly a miracle.

And the biggest blessing of all?  This time, on our 14th wedding anniversary, we did renew our vows (a promise we made to each other when we married on the date of our 7th year dating anniversary… to recommit our love to each other every 7 years thereafter).  It wasn’t barefoot on a beach in an exotic locale.  But in its quiet way, it was more intimate and allowed us to freely share our love that has come and is yet to be.  We sat by the Great Lake Ontario, which in this location looks as mighty as any ocean, and read all parts of the ceremony we wrote together.  We were in awe of the words we had chosen then, so many prophetic of the challenging times that were yet to come.  I was able to express to my husband how truly grateful I am for his support, love and encouragement in difficult times and in joyous times.  I thanked him for always choosing to run towards me instead of away.  All of this was exchanged, outside, our bare feet on Mother Earth with the sounds of the waves and steel drums in the back ground (a recording of the steel drum band we had perform at our wedding- the best gift we every gave to ourselves).

It’s no wonder I never wanted this vacation to end!  There is a re-connection that happens in times like these that rarely happens in the daily hustle of life; a reconnection to each other, to our own selves and to nature.  I got in touch with my intuitive voice, heard loud and clear without the interruptions of traffic, obligations, ringing phones (another unique gift: no internet or cell service to be found!).  It’s a rare treat to be cut off from the outside world for a week.  To have a break from the incessant worries chronic illness brings. So what if I’m having trouble walking today!  I have a lot to show for this “price of admission.”  (read HERE).  And, going forward, I plan on trying to weave threads of vacation-ease into my daily living.

Embrace the Journey, Not the Destination

forest pathThe Journey is Your Future… Your Have Already Arrived

So often we have our eyes firmly affixed on the “prize.”  We spend hours, days even, imagining what it will look like, what it will feel like, what it will be like to achieve whatever goal is in our future.   The goal becomes the sole destination:  Welcome to “Pie in the Sky,” U.S.A! 

Yet, what truly happens when we focus all of our energy, thoughts and actions on reaching for this, many times elusive, destination?  We completely lose sight of the journey unfolding right in front of us; blossoming and growing with each step and action we take.  We get so focused on the product of all our hard work, that we can feel depressed by the end result. 

We try to manipulate our lives, our surroundings, people, time; anything that will hopefully contribute to a satisfactory outcome.  We can over analyze ever aspect: if only I had done x, y and z, it would have been better!   We can live in fear of what may happen; setting up contingency plans for all the “possible” outcomes: if A happens, then I’ll do B; but if C happens, I’ll do a combination of B and E; and if P happens, then…  We may feel shame over what happens; falling into the mental trap of the “should ofs,” the “could ofs” and the “wish I hads.”

But what if we decide to do differently?  To stop right now.  Try and focus solely on what is in front of you at this very moment.  So, you’re reading my blog.  Embrace it.  Don’t think about what you’re going to do next, how this blog will serve you in your future, how you would have written it differently, etc.  Just embrace each word and let them settle into your mind and spirit in whatever way they may.

Our one true purpose on this earth is to go with the flow of the process of living… fully: to be completely in the now.  This is what brings true peace.  For most of my life, I spent (and wasted) so much time thinking about the future.  I was always waiting for the other shoe drop, and when it did, I was determined to be prepared!  Then I couldn’t get hurt, right?  Then I would avoid fear and uncomfortable situations.  Then I would I have the power and be in control of my own destiny.  But no one knows their own destiny.  None of us have control over the outcome.

Our futures are already written in the stars!

And instead of feeling a sense over loss over this, look at this as the greatest gift of all.  The gift of freedom.  The gift of letting go.  Permission granted to just live your life and be.

And if this is the case, then why do we expend so much energy trying to manipulate the future?  For me, it started way back in childhood, when I thought my “little self” had the power to make my dad angry or to keep him calm.  So I tipped toed around and tried to constantly be on guard for whatever the future would bring.  And I kept on tip-toeing right into my adulthood.  I measured my actions and behaviors to the people around me, thinking I knew what their reactions were going to be.  I prepared myself for whatever next health challenge would come my way.  I had contingency plans for every “possible” scenario (emphasis on possible!).  I was armed for anything; I was a Girl Scout, after all!

But, all this created was an internal state of constant anxiety.  And when you’re anxious, there is no way to just be… in the moment or with yourself.   Then I was blessed with being shown a different way of living and I decided to do differently.  This has changed my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined!  I now feel truly at peace.  I don’t have to worry about the future, that’s already taken care of.  For me, I know the loving energy of the Universe is guiding me in the direction I am meant to go.  For, you, it may be trust in God’s hands.  Just as long as you believe in some power or force greater than your own.  It’s called “turning your will over.”  When we hold onto to our will, we make ourselves into God.  We think we can control the outcomes, the end product of our hard work.  That’s exhausting!

I read recently that you can think of the word “will” as “faith.”  And in that context, if you think of the phrase “Thy will be done,” it is now transformed into “They faith be done.”  Let go… have faith.  Your life will turn out exactly as it is meant to be.  Stop keeping your eyes on the prize, and instead realize you’ve already received the prize. The gift of life is right here, right now, unfolding before your very eyes.  Each step you take on your journey presents you with an opportunity to be fully present (hmm…sounds a lot like “gift,” doesn’t it?). 

Once you take your foot off the pedal and turn on the cruise control, you are still moving in a forward direction, heading to your life’s goals.  But you can now enjoy the scenery as you drive past it, be focused on the conversation that is occurring with your loved one right in that moment, feel the energy of the radio’s music pouring into your soul.  You are now completely embracing the JOURNEY.

You’re alive… believe in that.  Let go of the idea that the path will lead you to your goal.  The truth is that with each step we take, we arrive.  Repeat that to yourself every morning:

I’ve arrived.

(Excerpt from The Witch of Portabello, by Paula Coehlo)

Today, I Choose Peace Over Chaos

"God, grant me the serenity"

    “God, grant me the serenity”

A friend and I were having coffee yesterday and she asked me how I’ve been… the old, “So what have you been up to?”  And I didn’t know how to answer.  It’s not that I don’t have plenty (and I mean plenty!) of things that have happened in the last several weeks.  I could have told her tales of adventure and peace, fear and pain, unexpected sadness and unplanned joys.  But as soon as I started to dip into the memory well of my mind, my ladle came up empty.  Why?  All I could think of was that I haven’t had any time to process one event before the next one has come at break neck speed my way.

Chaos used to be my default mode.  I prided myself on “thriving on chaos.”  And I did.  But, more so, I think it was a way of reassuring myself; of saying I choose to live this way not that life is dragging me along for the ride.  I learned a lot of coping mechanisms by being able to react quickly to the ever changing landscape of my life.  I think a lot of us with chronic illness in our lives (personally or with close loved ones), learn these coping skills.   But when you live at such a heightened state of awareness all the time, it’s hard to ever come back to center.  You get stuck in a constant “fight or flight mode.” And that’s what happened to me.  I was so used to getting by, juggling multiple balls at once, that I was always on alert for the next shoe to drop.  I could never relax.  And, as a result, I stopped surviving and only focused on thriving.

Then, almost 3 ½ years ago, I came to a crossroads in my life.  I decided to reevaluate all aspects of my life, both those within my control and those I had no control over.  I couldn’t change my diagnosis or the course of my illness, but I could (and can) change the amount of stress and negative influences in my life.  A major negative was the use of substances to somehow make everything feel better.  I thought it made me feel more ”normal;” I thought it was a salve to the stress and pain.   And perhaps it helped some, but for the most part it only added to the stress, on my mind, body and spirit.  So I decided to live a sober life, but I also realized I needed a support system in doing so.  I joined some amazing 12 step women’s groups, which are still a foundation of my daily living.  And over the years, I’ve learned healthier coping mechanisms in those rooms and also a lot about myself, my needs, my limits, and my abilities.

That change in my life 3+ years ago, was a turning point for me:  One where I took the “road less chaotic!”  I now consciously make choices that will lower my exposure to chaos and increase my reserves of peace and stability.  But what to do when I have no control over the chaos coming my way?  How do I control a situation I am completely powerless over?  The simple answer is, I don’tThe only thing I have any “power” over is my reaction to the non-stop stimuli.  Do I allow it to infiltrate my every waking moment, to consume my thoughts and actions?  Do I respond to this influx of unplanned events by fortifying myself for whatever may being come next?… putting up walls of defense, preparing for the other shoe to drop?  No.  I’ve tried that, actually beaten those ideas to death, and the result is always the same.  No matter how many contingency plans I come up with, my future has never turned out the way I’ve divined it!  I used to think that if I could only be better prepared, I would be able to handle the chaos.  But, the best gift I ever gave myself was to sit back and just take each thing as it comes… one day… one hour… one moment at a time.

Instead of coming up with my multiple “chaos exit strategies,” I now just make sure I have a full tool box that is well-stocked for whenever I need it.  Once it’s stocked, I don’t have to worry about.  It’s there, just like a first aid kit; I don’t have to constantly take it out and re-check the contents.  I can trust that the right tool will be at my fingertips in the right moment.

So, what’s in my tool box?  The easiest one to maintain is “prayer.”  It’s always there; I just have to remember to use it.  It doesn’t have to be complex or a “top of the line tool,” sometimes simpler is better: “Please give me the strength to get through this next moment,” “Please help me to remember I am not alone,” “Please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”  The last mantra (from The Serenity Prayer), I will say over and over and over again when I am experiencing unremitting pain (for me this is physical, for others it could be the pain of anxiety, loss, fear…) ~ it becomes a lullaby that soothes me.  I get lost in this chant and the next thing I know I’ve made it through the rough patch.  And the best thing about the prayer tool?  You can use it anytime and no one has to know when you are implementing it.  You can silently use this technique in a crowded, over stimulating, room.  How great is that?!

Other tools?  I have a solid circle of friends and supporters; those people I can call anytime and I don’t have to start from scratch with my entire story, they can tell just by the sound of my voice that I need someone to listen.  Going back to my life of chaos; I used to think that there was strength in “going at it alone.”  I used to (foolishly) pride myself on doing things independently, and I didn’t want to drag anyone down the rabbit hole with me.  Thankfully, I’ve now learned that strength lies in vulnerability, in the ability to ask for help.  And that others gain energy by helping me, that it is a gift that goes both ways.  The friendship tool is the Leatherman of tools… many tools in one.  Not only do my friends take on many roles and provide a multitude of “services,” they also come in a variety of forms; from an acquaintance that is ready to help in a moment of distress to various support groups (12 step, spiritual, illness related) and now all of you, too, my blogging community.  To feel connected is to know that each one of us is not alone… that each one of us does not have to go at this alone, if we so choose!

Another well applied tool is a mirror.  I use it to take a close look at myself, an inventory of my patterns of behavior.  Those born both from how I was raised and from behaviors developed in the midst of illness and pain.  Many of these coping mechanisms were a necessity at the time.  But then when life carried on, I forgot that I no longer needed them, that I could now choose to react differently to a situation.  But with awareness, comes growth.  So I have worked at defining my own individual character traits (some call them defaults) so that I can recognize them when I put them in to play.  And I can ask myself, “is this the right tool right now?  Is there a better/ healthier way I can deal with this situation?”

And that leads to my most often used tool: Acceptance.  I accept the all of me, both my strengths and my weakness.  I accept when I need help from others.  And most of all I accept when I am powerless over a person, place or thing.  I accept that no matter how hard I try to change the outcome, I can’t.  All I can do is be accepting of what the situation looks like today.  “It is not always going to be this way; I am not always going to feel this way.”  All I need to do is put on foot in front of the other and focus on what’s directly in front me at any given time.  I don’t have to worry about the future.  I can let that go!

Today I picked up the tools of meditation, prayer, journaling, and friendship.  And by using these resources, I now have peace with where I am right now.  My last couple weeks have been intensely unpredictable.  And I have not been able to process one event (good or bad) before the next situation is coming at me head on.  So that when my friend asks me what I have been up to, my mind is too overwhelmed to come up with a clear answer.  And that’s okay.  It makes sense that I am overwhelmed!  Instead of trying to change the facts, I need to look at what I can do in this moment to nurture myself; to recharge my body and spirit.  Because I am feeling depleted.

The biggest change between my current trajectory and that past one that would have me cannon-balling directly into the path of chaos? Today, I realize that I need to pause, relax and refuel before I am sputtering on empty.  Today, I don’t have to run on fumes.  Today, I choose peace over chaos. Today, I choose to reach into my tool box, pray and meditate, and ask for help from my friends.  Today, I don’t have to face life as an “Army of One.”

hugs, exponential

Several months ago I was at a Unitarian Universalist service where the meditation reading was about making physical connections.  The sermon was about following in the footsteps of role-models who have lived before us from as far back as Jesus Christ to the most recent losses in each of our individual lives.  I hesitate to bring theology into my blog and there are many different views and individual opinions as to whether Jesus is the son of God.  But one thing almost everyone can agree on is that Jesus was an influential figure who has positively impacted people with his compassionate ways for thousands of years.  This day, the focus of the sermon was on the historical facts, so that each individual could take away their own interpretation and, in turn, motivation to “live differently”from the example of this man’s life.

I, personally, feel strongly about the ways to carry his message on in my own life.  To me this means:

What can I do in each of my interactions, with both people known to me and those who have yet to be known, to spread a message of love and hopeHow can I look beyond external qualities to see the energy of the soul that lies beneath all of us?  How can I recognize when someone else is in need and reach outside of myself to embrace them, support them, lift them up, hold their space, help them to feel loved?

It doesn’t have to be a “grand gesture,” sometimes the smallest package carries the biggest present: a kind word, a reassuring smile… a hug.

While the pastor was encouraging us to “think compassionately,” I started to hear a small, insistent voice in my head.  It whispered, “Lean forward; give Erin a hug.”  I tried to shush this increasingly louder refrain and refocus my attention on listening to the remainder of the sermon.  The voice continued, becoming more and more demanding.  I attempted to quiet my mind, “Stop it!  I’ll give her a hug after the service.  It’s not appropriate right now!”  Now mind you, we were sitting in front of the entire congregation, second row, with Erin seated in the front row.  As well, this women I was being “encouraged” to reach out to, I know only as a social acquaintance and had no idea how she would receive my “spontaneous hug.”  Let’s face it; I was overly concerned about social decorum (completely missing the mark on this opportunity to practice compassion)!

But, I soon realized that this voice wasn’t coming from my head.  It was coming from my heart.  And not only was I trying to quiet an idea born of love, I was directly being willful in the eye of an opportunity to live like Jesus, to carry on the love of those who have died before me.  For me, I was reminded of my father, and the hugs he would so freely share with others.  I was ignoring a direct calling to spread that love out to someone else in need.

So, I embraced this request, subtly leaning forward to touch Erin on the shoulder.  I was just in the middle of quietly saying, “I don’t know why, but I am supposed to give you a hug right now”   when she turned towards me, tears silently streaming down her face.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the sermon had sparked an emotional response of personal loss.  And she was holding all of these feelings alone.  If I had not trusted my intuitive voice, she would of never felt held… felt the love I had to share with her at that moment.  She would have stayed abandoned with her pain.  The hug was brief and even a bit awkward.  But her shoulders relaxed, my mind quieted, and we both felt… at peace.  And after the service, she sought me out for a deep, enveloping embrace, where we just held each other.  Nothing had to be said.  But we both left with a quiet “thank you,” because each of us had been uplifted by the exchange of loving energy.

That same night, I couldn’t get these thoughts and feelings out of my mind as I was going to sleep.  I knew I had to write them down and I proceeded to document one of my infamous “blind poems” (random thoughts written across a found scrap of paper, sans light).  That poem was so organically “right,” I never made a single change to it.  And there is something powerful (I think) in hearing it spoken aloud.  So above is the video creation of that poem, “Hugs, Exponential.”

May it inspire you to listen to that deep inner voice… to reach outside of yourself to embrace another… to be vulnerable, and to reap the multitude of gifts that comes from this openness.