My First Valentine

It’s almost Valentine’s Day.  Growing up, my mom always made Valentine’s Day a special day for her only daughter.  Even when I was in college, she would send me a little care package of gifts filled with girly things:  a pretty nightgown (red, of course), a pink bear, hair accessories, fun jewelry, and chocolate.  Always some chocolate.  It was something she did just for me, her little girl, and I’ve never forgotten that.  I do the same for my little Valentines, but there isn’t as much pink.

Mom has been on my mind a lot lately.  It’s been thirteen years since she’s passed, and I’ve aged from 39 to 51.  A lot has happened in those thirteen years:  kids growing (Turner was 7 and Jackson was 4 when she died) and leaving, life-changing accidents, milestone birthdays, career changes, friendships gained and lost, deaths, births.  

Her not being here has gotten “easier;” that is, it’s become more the new normal.  But in many ways, it has gotten harder.  At 39, with two young boys, I pretty much had my adult life ahead of me.  I was secure in the knowledge of my place in the world.  I didn’t have many limitations, physical or otherwise, money was good, being a mom was still relatively new.

Thirteen years later, I don’t have her here to talk about how it felt to say goodbye to me, to watch me grow and leave home, and how she coped with that new normal.  She’s not here for me to apologize to for not being more aware of how painful that likely was, as it is for me.  

She’s not here for me to ask how she dealt with becoming older.  Yes, my hair is, by choice, gray now, but there’s so much more.  It’s coming to terms with life going on despite that, despite feeling more tired, gaining weight by thinking about food, not sleeping, hot flashes, regrets, and realizing that for certain things, the time has simply passed and they are out of my grasp.  

It’s going on in spite of all this and having the energy and positivity to do it.  Some days are harder than others, and I miss having that woman, who loved me more than anyone ever will, tell me it will be okay, that I’M okay.  I miss not having the opportunity to hear how SHE managed it:  the empty nest, marriage to my dad for the majority of her life and the difficult later years due to his alcoholism, the aging, the regrets.

I have a feeling that if I did have the opportunity to speak with my mom, her response would not be especially insightful or earth-shattering, but it would be this: “Sometimes it sucks, but you go on.”  You keep going, you keep looking for, and finding, opportunities to laugh and be grateful.  You keep loving and praying.  You be with what is.  And you always send valentines on Valentine’s Day.  And eat the chocolate.  Definitely eat the chocolate.

Thank you, Mom, for being my first and Valentine, and for always making me yours. Thank you for showing me love in all the phases of your life.  Even now.


A Little Bird Told Me…

Funny things happen when you stop. Really stop. Like when you have a concussion and can’t read, use your phone or computer, watch TV or deal with noise.

One morning while sitting outside doing not much more than sitting (see above), a robin landed in the grass in front of me. I watched her as she proceeded to walk through the yard, quickly starting and stopping, patiently waiting for the movement of a worm beneath her. After traversing almost the whole yard, she suddenly and swiftly poked her beak into the earth and pulled up a worm. According to various studies, robins use a combination of primarily visual and auditory cues to find their meal. Imagine being still enough and able to hear a worm moving through dirt!

It was amazing. She stopped, she listened, she felt, and she kept going despite several failed attempts. And in doing all this, she was fed. What a lesson for all of us.

When you truly can’t do anything but listen and be still, you hear a lot. You hear your inner dialogue more clearly. Truth be told, that inner dialogue was not so pleasant the first few days of my “confinement.”

In the Hatha Yoga tradition we strive to practice Ahimsa, both on and off the mat. Ahimsa means non-violence, or “do no harm.” This can have many meanings, and is most often associated with vegetarianism, but it actually is the idea of complete and total absence of violence from one’s body, mind and spirit.  One of the ways we can practice Ahimsa is showing compassion towards ourselves. Violence can come in the form of self-talk, much of which, lets face it, can be negative. And, when you’re laid up after a concussion, plentiful.

There is a discussion going around the internet that we have on average 70,000 thoughts a day, some estimates going as high as 600,000. If you go with the former, that amounts to almost 49 per minute. Considering where my head’s been this week, that number seems exceptionally low.  And imagine if the majority of those thoughts are negative.  That’s a lot of violence.

Jon Westenberg, founder of Creatomic, says this: “When you start to consider how finite your existence and your time and the processes of your brain actually are, you can see how precious the level of mindfulness that requires us to sit up and pay attention really is.”

As fortune would have it, I came across an article (blessedly short – the reading thing, you know) in a Buddhism magazine about love, specifically self-love. In the article the author suggested a meditation that goes something like this:

“This is a moment of suffering.

Suffering is a part of life.

May I be kind to myself at this moment.

May I give myself the compassion I need.”

These words can be altered to fit your own experience, but basically each sentence brings to the forefront that yes, you are in pain – This is a moment of suffering / I am having a hard time right now – that suffering is part of the human experience (no one escapes it, folks) – Suffering is a part of life / Others have been through this – all while keeping you in the present moment – May I be kind to myself at this moment / May I be present with this feeling without judgement –  and setting an intention to be self-compassionate – May I give myself the compassion I need / May I speak to myself as I would speak to a good friend.

As I sat with these words, and breathed them into my heart, I felt released. I didn’t have to beat myself up for my injuries. I still had my faculties. I was worthy of compassion. This would pass.

Then another question arose: When this does pass, what will I have to show for it? What is the lesson? Because there always is one, if (and this is key) you look for it.

I’ve heard it suggested that you are closer to “you” in the time you meditate than in all the other minutes of the day. Those minutes when you are working, serving, rushing and planning aren’t really you, your essence. Your essence is what you touch when you’re still. It’s always there, the light is always shining, but we allow the clouds to cover that light. We allow our busy-ness, our self-talk to take center stage and we lose sight of “you.”

So I have decided to be like that robin. When my soul needs to be fed, I will still myself and listen. I will open my heart, breathe in and speak compassion over and over and over again, remembering the “you”  I really am. I will remember my light.  I will rest in the knowledge that wherever I am is exactly where I need to be. And if all this doesn’t work the first time, I’ll do it again, and again, and again.

I draw the line at worms, though. You know, Ahimsa.

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy.” ~Victoria Moran, Author of “Light From Within: Tending Your Soul for Lifelong Beauty”


Buckling Up

Sipping coffee, on a beautiful fall Sunday morning, overlooking a still lake that reflects the beauty of the season.

Just had myself a good cry.

My oldest recently turned eighteen and will be heading off to college next year. We have already had a few “last’s:” last first day of school, last Homecoming dance, last football game.

He is having a ball and enjoying every minute of this time of life. I’m thrilled. After all, he is young, surrounded by great kids I respect, he is grounded and comfortable in his own skin. He is happy.

It’s not him I’m crying for.

It’s me. It’s this getting older. It’s losing something I had, if only for a moment. It’s for regret for things not done…or done, but not recognizing the blessing it was.

When I look at photos of myself holding my boys, I wonder, did I waste time? With them or for me? What have I done with this life? Have I used and appreciated all the gifts and blessings God has given me?

Mind you, my boy growing up and leaving the nest is just one reminder of getting older. There are others all around, ones that I’m sure fifty-something women who never had children experience. It escapes no one. And despite what our culture suggests, the difficulty in getting older involves more than a mirror.

It involves loss. In my case, my parents, who left me far too soon and who, as I age, aren’t around to share these discoveries with. The landscape of our life changes. Friends leave us or we leave them. Our spouses grow older, too, changing with or in spite of us.

My son’s leaving, however, is like a New Year’s Day, or a milestone birthday, shaking me up. A date coming that heralds a big change. And I have to face it, prepare for it.

So for now, I cry when I need to. I’m grieving, I know. And grief takes time; it must be experienced. As Pema Chodron suggests, things fall apart and they come back together. Then they fall apart and come back together, again and again and again. This life is filled with endings and beginnings. I guess getting older means learning to expect this, to strap yourself in and be fully present for all of it.

Even if that means strapping yourself in to a comfy rocking chair and warm socks, sobbing into your coffee on a gorgeous fall morning. And not looking in the mirror.

Dinner for One

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, and private; and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” ~C.S. Lewis.

If you want peace and rest, you need look no further than yourself. All you need for rejuvenation is within. The trick is to be quiet enough to hear.

I was granted the opportunity to spend the past four days completely alone in our home away from home; the cards just fell that way with schedules. I balked at the opportunity at first, mostly because I felt a sense of guilt. Not for leaving my kids or husband, but, sadly, for actually being able to do it. I know it’s something most people can’t have, and it felt so selfish. I thought about inviting a friend for a day or two, but in my heart of hearts I knew solitude was needed.

My days were spent doing various things needed when running a home and getting it back to order after renters: cleaning, rearranging, restocking, and organizing. A labor of love, really.

But I also meditated. I slept (a lot), spent time on the water, did some yoga, rode my bike, watched movies, and read. I ate when I was hungry (one dinner consisted of pretzels and cheese, toll house cookies, and a cold IPA), I moved when I needed to, and stayed put when my body told me to stop. I listened to the rhythm of my body and responded to its needs. I looked back and reflected on what’s brought me here, now. I expressed gratitude.

During this time of quiet, I remembered a sermon delivered by our minister several weeks ago, the topic of which was the importance of a day of rest. The Fourth Commandment, he suggested, is the Rodney Dangerfield of commandments, because it’s the one that most of us, in this crazy, open-24-hour world, tend to ignore: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” His lesson was not chiding, not one of you-must-attend-church-every-Sunday. It was to remind us of the importance of stopping, of reflecting, of being grateful.

For my time away, I brought a stack of old magazines with me from the studio where I teach yoga.  As providence would have it, one of the articles I came across was titled, “The Forgotten Pleasures of a Day of Rest.” Someone is clearly trying to tell me something. The author of the article grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood and her family, although not stringent Jews, observed the Shabbat every Friday. It is a tradition that she still savors, not solely for the religious observance but also the opportunity to stop, slow down, and just be, alone or with family.

Now, I realize, most of us aren’t able to take several days to ourselves (we have had our home for over ten years and this was a first for me), but we can regularly carve out a day or even some finite chunk of time from our busy lives for solitude. It’s that important. And it shouldn’t be something you reserve for your summer vacation, once a year. You need to make me-time a priority, regularly and often.  And no guilt for being “selfish.”

Set a time on your schedule to unplug the phone, step away from the keyboard, and give yourself the gift of reflection. The laundry, the worries, the pressure will be there when you return, but you will be rejuvenated, approaching them from a state of gratitude and energy. Look back and ask, “For what am I grateful this week?” “When did I feel most alive?” Most importantly, create a distinctly separate time for “Being” and “Doing.” Treat it as sacred. Because it is.

The yoga tradition teaches that we are all endowed with our own inner light and inner teacher. We simply need to stop and listen. You can call it God or Jesus or divine spirit or whatever resonates with your heart. The key is to pay full attention. Treat it like a friend. Sit down for coffee and talk. Once a day or once a week. For an hour or for an afternoon. Even ten minutes of paying attention to your own breath will do. Feed, nourish and discover yourself.   Toll House cookies optional.