Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On the Cusp of Great Things

I love New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Even though my celebration has changed dramatically over the years (this year, I am spending this evening either carting my older daughter and her rock band to a gig, or staying home and wringing my hands while Coop does the carting), I love the ceremony attached to wrapping up the old and beginning the new. I love doing silly symbolic things to commemorate the ending of this hard year-- it was a hard year --and the passage into the next one: full of hope and promise and memories yet to be made.

I don't make resolutions any more, but I try to set my intentions for the year. This year, I am doing a juice cleanse over New Year's Eve and New Year's Day to symbolize my intention to continue to eat healthier and (even) more raw foods. To be mindful of how I treat my body, and to celebrate all it can do, rather than its limitations.

I'm thinking about doing a yoga practice for the hour spanning both years. Because I know with full certainty that whatever 2014 holds of me, it will hold a LOT of yoga.  Hopefully a deepening of my practice of all of the eight limbs of yoga, as well as a large dose of the asana (physical) practice.

And I'm writing this blog post, because I hope that 2014 will signal my return to writing --real writing.  I want to write my story, in hopes that it might help someone else stuck in the inexpressible misery of chronic pain.

I guess that's it: Health/Nourishment, Yoga, Writing.

And love. May I have the opportunity and strength to sow it wherever I travel.

Happy New Year.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pain and Gratitude

Today was such a good day.

It's World Kindness Day, for one thing. So I had a fantastic new play list for yoga this morning.

THEN, I got to spend an hour with a new student who came to me after having surgery a few years ago. She lives with chronic pain, although not as bad as before the surgery. She came just to see if there was anything for her in yoga.

I think you can imagine my answer.

We spent some time rolling around the floor of my studio, checking out the ways her body moves now and the limitations --some immoveable because of new hardware in her body and some that I think will disappear over time as her body gains strength and opens up. I'm designing a yoga practice just for her, based on Dharma Yoga. I got so excited, I forgot to offer her tea afterward! My head was already full of potential sequences.

And there it was, see: An answer to a question I'd been asking for a long time.

I always wonder why I had to endure those years of pain. How was anyone served by that? The indignity of it --why was that necessary?

But today, what I realized is that I had to endure those years so I could really get inside of that pain. So I could really feel what it feels like to inhabit a body that feels completely foreign. So that I could loathe myself, and then learn to love myself. So that I will never, ever forget what that felt like.

I remember how angry I was, how really deeply enraged I was at this betrayal by my body. I punished myself. I withheld things I loved from myself. Over time, though (and it took a lot of time,) something in my perspective shifted and I began to see how valiantly my body was trying to cope with this pain. And I began to nourish it in a different way, like I would a sick child.

When I stopped fighting myself and grieving over all the things I couldn't do, when I started to celebrate the things I COULD do and to feel grateful for those, it made space inside of me for joy to bloom again.

Which always makes me wonder if I had been able to release my emotional pain sooner, would my physical pain have dissipated sooner, too?

Anyway, because I had that experience with truly dreadful chronic pain, I am uniquely qualified to help others who come to me in the midst of their own pain.

Before every class I teach, I pray that I might be a channel through which healing and health comes for those who come to me. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at the thought that I might help someone in the same way I was helped.

So, I had this huge, enormous, heart-filling joy today.

AND...then I won a cool t-shirt from Yoga Inspiration, who had posted a question asking how yoga had changed its readers' lives.  I wrote, "After three years of excruciating chronic pain, I took my first yoga class. It triggered my healing and now, three years later, I'm a RYT and have opened a small studio. Yoga has been a miracle for me and I'm pretty sure when you get a miracle, you're supposed to share it!"

I'm pretty sure when you get a miracle, you're supposed to share it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mistakes and Gratitude

Yesterday was One Of Those Days.  I didn't post, because I was slogging through the muck of my own mind for much of the day. Normally, I would have taught two yoga classes, but events conspired and I ended up not doing any yoga at all and then beating myself up over it for much of the day instead of just getting on my mat.

I get in my own way.

The day was unsatisfactory in other ways, and I was deeply grateful when it was time for bed.  Grateful for new starts--every morning is a new chance to start over. To do better.

I had scheduled TODAY as a day with my Jane (13.)  For some reason, I thought she had today off from school, so I rearranged my schedule so that she and I could have a fun day together. Alas, it was not to be.  (I know what you're thinking--I could have kept her home anyway.  But we're in a new germ pool AGAIN and she's already missed some school due to a stomach virus and strep so she has to go as long as she's healthy.)

So, I have this day stretching out ahead of me with no appointments, no fixed schedule.  I can't remember the last time I had a day like that. 

Which kind of makes me wonder if today was a mistake at all.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Space to Listen and Gratitude.

I went to yoga this morning.  Sometimes I take this class on Sunday because two of my friends take it regularly, and I don't get to see them enough.

So anyway, I went this morning.  There was only one person working the check-in and a line developed.  But because this was a YOGA line, and in Austin, to boot, no one got testy. We just started chatting.  I was eavesdropping on the guys talking behind me and then said something and the one guy said, "Are you eavesdropping?" and I said, "Yes, I really am.  I'm sorry.  I'm a writer and it's kind of an occupational hazard."

And then we talked writing for a bit and he said if I quoted him, I had to use the name Ron Wonderful.  Which made me laugh.

And then we went to class, and the room was overheated, which gave me a headache and reminded me why I don't go to this class EVERY Sunday.


See what I did up there, though?

I introduced myself as a writer.

But the TRUTH is that I don't know if that's the case anymore. I'm not really writing much right now.

I don't introduce myself as a yoga teacher all that often either, for reasons I am not in touch with. Seriously, I need to meditate on that.  I remember how long it took me to introduce myself as a writer.  I think I already had a book out before I could do it without qualifying it in some way. Maybe after I do my 500 hour training, I'll feel legit.

(My brain...I don't understand it either.)

Really, though, I think what I am right now is a Listener.

I'm listening for what it is I'm supposed to be doing.  Am I supposed to be writing my story?  Am I supposed to be deepening my practice? I'm clearly transitioning into a very different stage as a mother.  (From Keeper of the Fingerpaints to Keeper of the Car Keys.) It's a time of huge flux, but very slow.

I'm so grateful for the space just to listen and see what's next. I'm so grateful to be at a time in my life when I'm content to let that unfold as it should --to reveal itself to me when I'm receptive and open. I'm sitting in this gratitude and I'm really patiently listening.

After class, Ron said, "Come with me.  I have something to show you." So, I went, thinking that because we'd been talking about polar dinosaurs,  he was going to show me a fossil or something. It turns out he wanted me to meet his dogs, Ruby and Lucy Lisa.

They were adorable.

When I'm in listening mode, life tends to give me Valentines like that.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Gratitude and Sobriety

I've been wanting to write about sobriety for a while now, but I haven't done it. It's a hard subject  --it tends to polarize people and I'm not really about that. I like to write about inclusive things.

I'm a firm believer in this:

I've never really spoken about getting sober much, but of all the changes I've made, it's possible that this one affected the quality of my life more than any other. It's a hard subject, though, because again, people feel judged when I say I don't drink --as if my very existence as a non-drinker means I'm judging them. Note that I'm not suggesting THEY stop drinking --everyone has to find his or her own path --but people start apologizing to me for their own alcohol consumption. I try to say that people have to live their own truths; this is mine.

So, anyway, I stopped drinking about three years ago. I've detailed before how I was going through a period of time when I made a lot of changes in order to align the way I was living with my value system. One of the those changes was getting sober.

I stopped drinking for a lot of reasons.  For one thing, once I was free of pain, I didn't want anything to take the edge off of my joy. Alcohol is a depressant. I've fought depression on and off for most of my adult life. I've always known that it was a depressant --even when I was drinking and taking anti-depressants.  (Yes.  I did that.)

But at any rate, I stopped wanting anything to tamp down or filter my emotions. It's that whole thing that we've talked about before: you can't selectively numb your emotions. I didn't want to live anesthetized in any way. Even if it means that I have to feel the lows, I don't want to miss out on any part of the highs.

I used to think I had to be drinking to be any fun.  Because I'm shy, I bought into the whole idea of alcohol as social lubrication.  In my case, though, I just FELT more uninhibited --but I wasn't more witty or gregarious.  I know this because I have spent a lot of time now as the only sober person in a room full of drinkers and y'all, NO ONE is more fun when they are drinking.  It's an illusion. Alcohol just magnifies who a person already is. If a person is fun when they're not drinking, they're fun when they're drinking.  And if a person is NOT fun sober, chances are that they are obnoxious when drunk.

It's taken me a long time to work through the issues I have associated with drinking. I think I thought that because giving up drinking was so easy for me, it meant I didn't have a dependence on alcohol. But it wasn't always that way. I had tried to give up drinking before, and with the exception of pregnancy, I'd never been successful. I may not have had a physical dependency of alcohol, but that habit was deeply ingrained. And I had other issues --I felt awful most mornings, I had migraine headaches, my depressions were worse, I was bloated and unhappy --that I can relate directly back to drinking.  Not to mention that every bad decision I've ever made in my life can pretty much be traced back to alcohol.

I feel like getting sober was one of the best things I did for my quality of life and my mental health. That's not to say it's a universal truism --I'm sure a lot of people can use alcohol moderately and remain happy and engaged in their lives.  That's not the case for me --moderation is not what I do best.

If you're wondering about the role of alcohol in your own life, try giving it up for a month.  It doesn't have to be a major event --you can say you're doing it for health reasons --and just see how it feels. Do you feel better or worse or the same? Is it hard? Do you feel like you're thinking about it all the time, taking up valuable bandwidth in your brain that you could be using for creative endeavors? At the end of the month, you'll know whether or not alcohol is an issue for you.  And then you can take steps to deal with it, or not.

I also feel that I want to model a different choice for my daughters. We've moved back to Texas, which is a hard drinking culture.  I want them to know that they have a choice in that regard. Studies say that the earlier an adolescent begins drinking, the more likely it is that he or she will be unable to enjoy themselves without drinking later in life.  I know from watching the people around me that this is true. And my girls have alcoholism on both sides of their family --I want them to know they run a higher risk of having issues with alcohol, but that they are in control of what they put in their bodies. I feel so strongly about giving them all the information they need so that they can make conscious, mindful decisions for themselves.

I guess that's what it all comes down to for me.  Being mindful. Being present. Cultivating awareness of why I do the things I do and whether or not that increases my joy. What choices have you made that increased your joy?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Here, Look at This

So, it was a crazy day today at the Cooper's and I ran out of time to write the post I was going to write. So, here are my two new favorite songs and some baby platypuses in fedoras.  You're welcome.

The Wood Brothers - Luckiest Man from Mason Jar Music on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Habits, Discipline and Thankfulness

Today I'm very grateful for discipline and sacrifice.

Lately, I've slipped up in living in true alignment with my best health.  I've gained a little weight by not being mindful of how I eat, and I have developed some bad habits.  My coffee consumption is creeping up. The number of yoga practices I do in a week is less than it was. I've been grazing (snacking) all day instead of mindfully planning out my meals.  I've been eating chocolate after every meal, rationalizing it by saying that I deserved it because there are hard things in my life.

But here's the thing, though: all of those things make me feel bad, physically. What I actually deserve is to feel GOOD in my body.

So, on my Yogaversary, I gave up candy and chocolate, because I really want to live feeling the best I can possibly feel inside this body. (Note that I had to make a distinction between candy AND chocolate, because I know myself and if I just gave up candy, that left the door open for chocolate cake, chocolate sorbet, etc..  My brain is clearly a litigator.)  (But I'm on to me.) Giving up candy and chocolate turned out to be surprisingly hard because I had developed a HABIT of having a tiny piece of vegan chocolate every time I ate.

It turns out that I must have done this quite a lot, because now I walk into the pantry about thirty times per day and I stand there, staring blankly at the shelves, until I turn around and leave. (Sometimes, I help myself to a raisin.) Repeat throughout the day.

It's only been three days, and each day has gotten easier. It doesn't really take a super-human effort to break a bad habit--but it does take persistence.

Now I'm trying to throttle back on my coffee consumption.  I'm up to two cups (mugs) per day and I'm going to cut back to one. Not today, though.  I tried to have a cup of decaf last night while out to hear some music and whatever I drank, it WASN'T decaffeinated. I got to lie awake, counting my blessings, as I watched the hours tick by.  Counting my blessings is an awesome exercise, but not so good for functioning the next day. Maybe I can cut back on the coffee slowly enough to avoid some of the more dangerous parts of the withdrawal this time.

Because I eat a fairly clean diet, I also had a realization that every time I eat wheat, I have inflammation issues in my body.  So, today, I began a trial period of living wheat/gluten-free.  I'll keep you posted on that one.

Anyway, I'm grateful for the discipline I need in order to maintain my health.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Gratitude and Daryl Hall

Back in the 80's, I went through a huge Hall & Oates phase. The guy I was dating had all of their records and I just loved them.

Until, that is, the 1985 Rolling Stone interview with Daryl Hall that revealed him to be a narcissistic arse-hat.

I stopped listening.

Just like that, my one-woman boycott of Hall & Oates was ON, y'all.

Until recently, when I was reminded of a song and ended up buying an entire Hall & Oates retrospective.  I mean, it's been 28 years.  (Lordy, I can hold a grudge.)

Their music hasn't really stood the test of time, for the most part. Bad 80's synthesizers and production, and some schlocky, cliched writing makes much of it unlistenable for me.

Except for this song, which is authentic and from the heart and still (I think) the best version of it going.

I've been driving along, happily belting this song out into the Universe.

This little shift in perspective started me thinking about aging and the passing of time.  It made me really grateful for the wisdom that comes with age.  The kind of wisdom that softens the hard edges and opens the heart to compassion. The wisdom that creeps in, questioning the hard and fast damning judgment of a person's character based on an article in a magazine.  The wisdom that says people learn and grow and change, just as *I* have. The wisdom that reminds me that people make mistakes, and those mistakes shouldn't define us. The wisdom that looks for reasons to keep people in my life, rather than looking for reasons to push people away.

So, yeah, Daryl, we're good now.

(Seriously, though, lay off with the comparing yourself to the Beatles. Just... Just don't go there.)

Monday, November 04, 2013

Gratitude and Sourdough

We synchronized our watches.

We arranged our schedules, double-checked the details and then dialed in the plan.

I was to meet her after teaching my morning class.  She was coming from another appointment.

I managed to move my class up 15 minutes so we arrived at the meeting place at the same time. She recognized me.

She looked around carefully and then handed me the item in a brown paper bag.

Yes, it's exactly what you're thinking: A sourdough starter from the 1700's. (Seriously.  How cool is that?)

Well, WHAT?  What were YOU thinking?

Long time reader and Facebook friend, Stacy offered up some of her legendary sourdough starter and I jumped at the chance.  It's kind of like having another pet, but this one you only feed once per week and you keep it in the refrigerator. (IT doesn't stand and yowl at the back door all freaking, freaking day without cease until you're ready to go smack OUT OF YOUR MIND, not that I'm bitter, THOMAS.) I'm stoked to try making English muffins and bread with it, and if that doesn't happen, I'm going to give it to my mother, who has been on the quest for a sourdough starter for as long as I've known her.

Anyway, I got to meet someone I really connect with online IN REAL LIFE.  And we ended up sitting and talking for, like, more than two hours without even noticing how fast the time went.  (I know you're concerned, but the starter was fine.  I was late to everything for the rest of my day, but it was totally worth it. All good here.)
Yes, that's what I look like after yoga.  And BEFORE yoga.  Pretty much all the time, actually.  WHAT? (Also?  I have no idea why it looks like I only have three fingers.  I just counted--there are four and a thumb on each hand.)
So then, despite the fact that it was a drizzly grey day, as I was driving around, I got that...kind of expansive feeling I get when I'm feeling all blessed and happy.  You know that feeling? And I realized that I'm starting to meet my people --people who totally understand the need to adjust the yoga schedule so I can adopt some sourdough, and people who turn out to be EXACTLY AS YOU HOPED THEY WOULD.

Good day today.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Yoga and Gratitude as Big as All the World

At the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City.

It turns out that three years is both a very short time, and an entire lifetime.

Today is my Yogaversary.

Three short years, and an entire lifetime, ago, I took my very first yoga class at the martial arts studio where my older daughter took Tae Kwon Do. I'd spent the previous three years in a lot of pain, some of it excruciating, that was the result of surgery I had in 2007 to reconstruct my left foot.

I'd been to many doctors, but no one was able to figure out the source of my pain. I'd gained a lot of weight.  I was lobotomized on anti-depressants and drinking far too much --anything to dull that ceaseless, horrible pain.  Some days I lived fifteen minutes at a time.  "I can make it the next fifteen minutes."  I looked into elective amputation.  (We don't do that in this country.)

I was in some space beyond misery, beyond seeing what possible contribution I was making to my family, to the world, to the collective consciousness.

Still, I don't know why, I got up off the couch and I went to this one class.

I couldn't touch my toes, nor lift up into a back bend.

But something happened to me.  I knew it even then.  Something PROFOUND had happened.

Some sort of mindfulness had been ignited in me.

I remember standing in the kitchen that night, cooking dinner, and reaching for the wine and then putting it back. I reached my arms up over my head, inhaled, lengthened through my ribcage and then gently arched backward. Exhaled my hands back to the center of my chest. Closed my eyes and stood there, just filling my body mindfully with my breath.

Y'all, I was SO HOOKED.

The next time I went to class, I had another really earth-shattering experience. As I lifted my hands up into Warrior I, I felt like I had LIGHT shooting out of my fingertips.

I know how that sounds.  I really do.

I looked all around, wondering if anyone else had suddenly turned into a creature from a sci-fi movie.  Everyone else looked pretty normal, doing the pose, concentrating. I dropped my arms, and lifted them back up again.

Same thing.  Light shooting out of my fingertips. Joy flooding throughout my body.

Weh-heh-heh-heh-elll, now!

After that, I went to every class I could find.  I was the first person to sign up for an unlimited yoga pass at the studio and I just...I never missed class. But Chris Gates, my instructor, ran a thriving martial arts center and wasn't able to offer classes more than about three or four times per week.  I went to all of them, but still felt that I needed more.  I was so smitten.

I tried another studio in the neighborhood, but it wasn't a fit for me.  The yoga that spoke to me the most was Dharma Yoga, based on the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra. Chris had completed his 200 hour training with Sri Dharma.

During this time, I also went to acupuncture, and that, along with the yoga, triggered the healing of my foot. It became a rarity for me to have days on the couch as long as I was practicing yoga and going to acupuncture.

After almost a year, recognizing that I had moved beyond what he was able to offer me, Chris took me to another studio, YSL Power Yoga.  The owner of that studio, Yvonne, was also trained by Sri Dharma Mittra. I can't say enough about the generosity of Chris that he would take me to another studio--at no profit to himself at all--simply because he saw I needed more.  This one act epitomizes the spirit I've found among the people trained by Sri Dharma.

At YSL Power Yoga, I found my yoga home. Under the guidance/mentorship of Yvonne, I became strong physically and began the spiritual awakening that is (big Y) Yoga.

I lost a lot of weight.  I became vegan and remained sober --I just didn't want to do anything that would take the edge off of my joy.  I met an entire community of like-minded people, whose support eventually led me to attend the Life of a Yogi teacher training with Sri Dharma Mittra in February of 2013, and in June, I graduated from the program.

We moved back to Texas and I opened my own small studio, and here I am, three years after that first class, hoping to bring Dharma Yoga to anyone who needs it.  To anyone who is struggling to live fifteen minutes at a time. To anyone who might find something more than just the physical healing of yoga.

I still have moments when I feel filled with light.

I can take steps now without consciously thinking about them, but I never take my mobility for granted. Not ever.

I also have a very heightened awareness that every day, people are living lives of quiet desperation, in chronic pain, in suffering beyond imagination.

As I wend my way through this joyous day, I'll be dedicating all of my steps and energy to those people.

Namaste, y'all.  I hope you do something today that fills you with gratitude and light and a joy bigger than the whole world.


Saturday, November 02, 2013

Thank You and Yoga

Thank you.

Thank you for the outpouring of support after yesterday's post about depression.  It just means the world to me --knowing that I've been heard, that you've been there, that you understand where I'm walking right now. I've kept the emails and the comments and reread them all again and again. Thank you.

Somehow, I'd forgotten what an amazing group you are.  Such a smart, loving, non-judgmental, positive group of people. I'm not sure how I got so lucky to have you as participants in this blog. Throughout the years, I have, at various times, felt your collective good wishes/energy and I've often remarked to my kids that they have an entire audience of people who are invested in watching them grow up --but I just forgot that I could come to you when I was down and you'd feel me. Thank you.

I have other blogger friends who are routinely savaged in the comments of their blogs. Do you know that I have NEVER experienced that? You've created such an amazing environment here! Thank you.

Thank you.

So, one thing I forgot to say yesterday was that I'm coming out of my slump.  Also, that I'm not clinically, horribly depressed --I'm just kind of flat. I'm in that place where everything feels like a huge, hard chore. I'm doing all the things I know to do that make me feel better--random acts of kindness, gardening, connecting with friends, and, of course, yoga.

Yoga makes everything better.

One of the great blessings of my new house is that it has space for a yoga studio, and I've opened that space up for classes.
Rasna Yoga

I've started very small. I'm currently teaching  on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:00AM and Monday evening at 6:00PM (because, you know, MONDAY) --a Dharma Yoga inspired vinyasa flow class.  I wanted to offer Power Yoga, too, but I don't have a lot of Power Yogis yet, so, I'm, well, MAKING MY OWN. Seriously, my advanced beginners are coming along like freight trains.  It's simply amazing to see them grow and stretch and get stronger. I'm so grateful to get to be a part of that.

The studio is called Rasna Yoga. Rasna means "sweet-voiced, " which is pretty fitting if you've ever heard me speak --at least judging by the number of callers I get who ask if my mommy is home (not that I'm bitter.) The name was chosen by my New York yoga community, so I feel like they're here with me--isn't that nice? The website is under very slow development (see: "everything feels like a huge chore" above,) but you can like the Facebook page for it if you want to follow our progress.

AND, I've finally started on a quest to find a yoga community here to support my own growth.  So far, I've been taking classes at various yoga studios around Austin, but haven't found my people quite yet. There are so many different styles of yoga! I'm trying to be receptive to different styles of teaching, but I do have a serious preference for the teachings of people trained by Sri Dharma Mittra. All of my teachers in New York were trained by him, and I was lucky enough to have done my teacher training with Sri Dharma himself.  As far as I can tell, I'm the only Dharma Yogi in Austin, but I feel certain I can still find an asana class that speaks to me, and I will just continue to train in the other limbs of Yoga online with the Dharma Yoga Center and through self study.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Cardinals and Mental Health

We have a deranged cardinal.

He came with the new house in Austin.

He spends a significant amount of time each week fighting his own reflection in our windows and nothing we have done can dissuade him.  I've researched the issue--we've put up reflective decals, we've lowered the blinds, I've explained to him that this behavior is not even SEASONAL --but nothing works. (Here's a great article about the issue.  We haven't covered all of our windows, but we've tried most of the other things.)

Maybe it's just a habit of self-destruction, but I'm worried he's going to do himself some serious harm. I think he's been fighting himself so long that there's a chance he's done himself permanent damage.

Which is pretty much the perfect metaphor for my own mental health issues.

I've been depressed recently.

I think there are some extenuating circumstances --like the move away from my healing yoga community in New York, away from the ocean and the seasons that match the cycles in my heart. But, you know, depression doesn't actually need a reason.  I tried giving myself hundreds of examples of good things in my life right now, but you just can't reason with depression.

And, you know, part of me is so dismayed to find that I'm still susceptible to depression after all the yogic work I've done on being present, unfiltered, unattached, etc.. On not letting other people affect my own path. (If you're new to the blog, here is my story in a nutshell.)

I'm still such a work in progress.  I think I thought I had moved beyond certain struggles and then here they are again.  I haven't even been able to write. I've just been creeping around my house, feeling invisible. Change is hard, and not just on the teenagers among us.

It's just hard.

I was so focused on making my family's transition as smooth as possible that I forgot to take care of myself. But I did find a new acupuncturist, who is BRILLIANT, and slowly, I'm building a community of Love Ninjas.  It takes time--I'm trying to give myself time.

I'm going to try to blog every day during the month of November, focusing on gratitude.  Today, November 1, I'm grateful for that time --time to heal, time to recharge, time to adjust to a new environment, time with my kids, time to grow and stretch and change.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Finding Home

 I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself. --Maya Angelou

So, um, I think I am feeling at home now.

It's been a bit of a struggle.  For one thing, I think my concept of home was flawed. I'm such a...

Well, honestly, I don't know what I am.

But the concept of home was always an illusive one for me.

My definition of home is also hard for me to articulate, but I think what I mean by "home" is a place where I feel as though I belong completely, without having to do anything to deserve it.  Where I can breathe. Where I'm happy in my skin. Where, when I speak, people hear what I'm saying, beyond the words I choose.

Where I feel that kind of unbroken awareness of joy and connection.

I'm back in Austin, now.  A place I lived for 24 years before moving to New York. We Army brats don't put down roots easily, but if I have roots anywhere, it's right here. I went to college here, I had at least two careers here, I met my husband here, both of my children were born here...

And yet, I'm not sure I ever felt completely at home here.

Not in that "unbroken awareness of joy and connection" way. I felt flashes of that, but they were fleeting, like fireworks. I always felt like I was missing some essential part of the language.  Like, I'm not really a native speaker.  Austin is my second language, I guess.

Then, I moved to New York. During those first three years, I can tell you this: I NEVER felt at home.  What I felt mostly was pain. I was in a lot of pain, which trumps all positive feelings and prohibits the formation of close connections with people or place.  Y'all, I GREW MY OWN TOMATOES and still never really felt it.

And then I found yoga and found acupuncture and began my transformation back to health and joy. I had moments of feeling DEEPLY at home, especially at the Dharma Yoga Center where I completed my yoga teacher training, but overall, home was still an illusion--a place I thought I could get to if I made enough friends or got more involved in the community. I understood the language in New York better --because New Yorkers are notoriously blunt speakers--but I never really spoke New York fluently.  At the end, though, I think I felt more at home than I've ever felt before, nestled into that loving community of fellow yogis, and within a train ride of my spiritual home.

This should have been a clue.

We moved back to Austin, which provided yet a different perspective on "home." People keep saying, "Welcome home!" which makes me smile. Because, you know, I LOOK like the same person who left here five-and-a-half years ago, but I am completely different. Having prolonged exposure to chronic pain changes your very DNA, not to mention the transformation that occurs as you leave that pain behind. It's a bit surreal to be back where things look familiar, but I am seeing them through different eyes.  

And THEN, you have to take into account the changes in this city in the time we were gone, which are substantial. Downtown has been utterly revitalized and there are now 30,000 people living in vertical neighborhoods who weren't here before. The traffic is world class--people honk here now. (So far, no one has screamed the f word at me, though, so that's nice.)

Anyway, all this is to say that I've been thinking a lot about the concept of home, lately, and how easy it is to feel lonely and adrift even among scads of people.  Even among scads of people who know your name.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I went into the yoga studio to practice.  (Did I mention I have a yoga studio?  Much more about that in my next post.) I was thinking about how much fun it is to practice with other people, but essentially, a yoga practice comes down to just me and my mat.  Wherever I live, wherever I travel: it's just me and my mat. I could be doing yoga in the middle of Times Square on International Yoga Day with thousands of other people, and the only thing that would matter would be me (breath, body, heart, mind) and my mat.

And then it came to me: y'all, home is inside me.  I am at home whenever I am at peace inside of me. Whenever I feel connected and still, centered and calm. Home isn't a place, at least, not a physical one. As I work to stay grounded and connected and serene and in touch with the joy within, my feelings of being at home increase proportionately.

I keep expecting everyone around me to make me feel at home and then being disappointed when I feel lonely and disconnected. I've been searching in the wrong direction. Like most of my questions, the answer lies within.

As a completely joyous aside, I was meditating on this during that solitary yoga practice and the answer came.  AND, just as it did, I lifted up from headstand to forearm stand, something I've been working on for MONTHS and been unable to do.  It made me laugh out loud. The Universe conspires to enlighten me, even when I'm stumbling along.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

So, I Live in Austin Now

For almost four days, actually.

It, um, wasn't as easy as it sounds.

I understand now why people live in one house for all of their lives, or at least the same town, or maybe why people become agoraphobic, or refuse to make connections with their neighbors, or become hermits and move to tiny caves in the middle of nowhere.

Because goodbyes?  Are just unbelievably painful.  Even when you know you'll see each other again, even when there is Facebook and email and free long distance and Skype, there is just no way to make saying goodbye easy.  I walked around for two months on the brink of tears and then, during that last week, as I took my last yoga class in Northport and saw my acupuncturist for the last time and our vet and Elmer and said goodbye to the things I love and hold dear in New York, I was just wrecked.  Just WRECKED.  I stopped sleeping. I cried a lot. I held my girls as they said their goodbyes and cried. Change is hard.

And then we packed all of our stuff and moved.

Which, um, wasn't as easy as it sounds, either.

For one thing we had to figure out how to get all of our cars and stuff and all of our people (furry and otherwise) to Texas. In July. As I write this, Coop and Jane are finishing the final leg of their car trip here from New York with the dogs. This was not as easy as it sounds, because Scout is INCREDIBLY car sick.  But we got tranquilizers for the poor dog and he's done just fine.  Look:

It was captioned: "Yes, his eyes are pointing different directions. But he still plays fetch and everything."
(I laughed so hard I was ashamed of myself.)

Later, the update said, "Scout is handing out flowers to the National Guardsmen and staring at bright lights." 

Kath and I flew down on Thursday with the cats.  Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me, Thomas is ALSO very car sick. I was covered in cat vomit before we even got to the airport. But nothing further happened that was traumatic unless you count the fact that when we went through security, where they made us get the cats out of their carriers, Edward pooped while I was holding him. Poor little guy was so freaked out. It didn't help that the TSA attendant had clearly never seen poop before because she kept shouting, "WATCH WHERE YOU STEP" while I, still holding Edward, cleaned it up.  Then I had an encounter with a drunk and incontinent woman in the restroom and by the time we got on the airplane, I was smelling pretty good, as you might imagine. This worked in my favor though, because the guy who bought the seat in between Kath and me changed seats before we'd even left the gate.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, except for Thomas's yowling, but by that point, nothing could have embarrassed me. We landed in Austin, took a Taxi (which took a wrong turn but since we're from here, I could totally help the driver get back on track) to the new house to find that my beloved husband had set the place up for us during an earlier visit at the beginning of the month.  He'd had the new washer and dryer installed, filled the fridge with vegan treats for me and Amy's ice cream for Kath. He even set up cat boxes!

I unrolled my yoga mat in what will be the yoga studio and just like that, we were home.

A few pictures from our first 24 hours here:
These were waiting in the house for us.  My brother-in-law accepted shipment of our van, drove it to our house, unloaded it and then left us this gorgeous bouquet from his family.

I went to the grocery store the morning after we got here to buy fruit and other perishables.  This, um, might have happened.

Our Realtor sent us a welcome present!
This was the balloon attached to it.

Tacodeli Freakin' Vegan breakfast taco for the win!

Cats settling in.

Girl settling in.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stages of Grief and Hummus

I've reached that stage in the move where I'm noticing all the things I'm doing for the last time in New York. We're in the final countdown before our move back to Texas --the movers arrive on July 22nd to start packing and by week's end, Kath and I and the cats will be settling into our new house in Austin. More or less.

(Coop and Jane are driving the dogs.  Pray for them.)

Anyway, it's a curious mindset to be in.  I find that everything has this undertone of tragedy.  Like, "This is the last time I will buy cereal in New York." "This is the last time I will hunt for a competent pet sitter in New York." "This is the last time I will make black beans in New York." "This is the last time I will clean up Scout's urine...oh, who am I kidding?"

It's particularly upsetting when I know I'm seeing someone for the last time. There have already been some tearful farewells when we said goodbye to friends who left for the summer and who won't be back before we leave. They've been just...well, REALLY PAINFUL.  As you know, I've spent the better part of three years trying to eliminate the things that mute my emotions--trying to live in the world unfiltered.  So, my friendships with people are deeper and I get to feel all of the joy of that --but the downside is that I don't have much in the way of protection from feeling the pain of saying goodbye.

Take, for instance this past week, when we travelled to Massachusetts to visit our landlords for the fourth of July. Remember how I told you that we'd become good friends? They're really just amazing people.  Just...amazing.  Wonderful, kind, smart, creative, funny.  I really love them.

We knew we had reached our destination when we drove onto their property and saw this:

The landscape is an art form --each tableau composed like a painting. (If you're curious as to why this seemed very familiar, go follow that good friends link above.  I'll wait.)

Anyway, the whole visit was magical and I had the oddest feeling of coming home.  I guess that makes sense--it's the same feeling I had when I first walked into THIS house, which was created by the same people.

In addition to just loving the heck out of our landlords, we met the rest of their family.

Our landlords breed bulldogs and had EIGHT bulldogs on the premises.  They were unbelievably adorable and snuffly.  This is my favorite, Elsa:
I loved ALL of the bulldogs, but Elsa is the youngest and has that puppy thing where she just topples over and waves her legs in the air while you rub her soft puppy belly.  I'm a sucker for that.
Sam.  The Coopers LOVE Sam. Sam LOVES tomatoes.
Is that a great face or what?
Here are the chickens.  And their incredibly mean pimp rooster. The incredibly, um, ACTIVE rooster who is pulling out their feathers in the discharge of his duties.
Julius.  (Who is orange.  Get it?)
So, then there were assorted fish and more turtles and an iguana and a frog we found in the yard... and then this guy stopped by:

So, I could go on and on about our landlords and the kind and interesting people they invited to meet us, and the idyllic village in which they live, and how they made both regular eggplant parmesan and VEGAN eggplant parmesan which was incredibly labor intensive (
Parenthetical photo.  I still got it!
) and how their animals are sort of a symbol of how much love they have to give and share, but this is making me incredibly sad as I write.  I love them. I've asked them to adopt me as a sister, they've agreed, and I'm going to go on faith that these tears I have dripping down my face are just because we are widening the physical distance between us.  The distance between our hearts? Closer than ever.

(Had I been thinking, I would have had them buy our house in Austin and then rented it from them. But now maybe we'll have a chance to return their hospitality.  I'm SO looking into getting a turtle.)

So, I've probably made you sad now, too.  Here, I'll share Harry's amazing home-made hummus recipe with you. (Well, you know, more or less.)

First, buy these.  Or some other brand.

Next, take about a third of the can out and place it in the food processor.

Like so.

Add garlic.  This is how much garlic I added.  Divide yours by half.  This was WAY too much garlic.
I would have added fresh garlic (one or two cloves) but my garlic cellar was full of shallots.  Damn them.

Blend until smooth.
Add about three tablespoons of tahini.  More or less.

Add about three tablespoon of olive oil.  You may need more later to get the consistency you want, so don't put it away.

Add kosher salt, a good heaping teaspoon, and the juice of half a lemon. Add the rest of the chick peas in the can and process until still a bit chunky.

Blend. Taste.  Realize that you've used more garlic than anyone in your family will ever forgive you for using. Open another can of chick peas and add most of it to your batch in the processor.  Now add the juice from the other half of the lemon, and some more tahini and salt and olive oil.

Realize that you've made more hummus than you can eat in the next week before your move.  Realize that it's the last time (well, and the FIRST) that you will make hummus in New York.  Try not to let your tears fall into the hummus as you text Harry that you made hummus, just like he showed you.

More or less.

(Edited to add: Harry says I left out the red pepper. This is probably a blessing to those who have experienced my Love of All Things Spicy (and who are still hopeful that the skin on the roof of their mouths will grow back eventually,) but anyway, add a tiny dash of cayenne pepper.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Losses, Necessary and Not

So, while we were in New York City attending my yoga teacher training graduation, part of our house caught fire and burned down.

Well, okay, it wasn't really our HOUSE, but it sounds really dramatic to say it that way.  It was actually our bar-b-que pit area.

And it wasn't actually OUR house, but the house we are renting.

Still, it was a really dramatic and unsettling end to a wonderful day.



As you can see, it could have been much, much worse.  And we have insurance (can't say enough about the importance of having renter's insurance.) 

Our landlords are just...so incredible.  Get this, we were in New York City for the graduation. I took a yoga class with Sri Dharma Mittra before the graduation ceremony, while Coop took the girls to the Natural History Museum.  When I got out of class, I had several texts and voice-mails, including one from my landlord that said, "Call me ASAP."  When I texted back, he said it was nothing important and to enjoy my day.  So I texted my husband who said that he'd talked to our landlord and not to worry, everything was fine.

The two of them had colluded so that nothing would spoil my day!  Isn't that amazing and thoughtful and sweet??

Unfortunately, there was a voice mail from the Fire Chief of our village that told me our cabana was on fire. 

Which...I just...  Y'all, I FREAKED THE FRAK OUT.

A screen-capture of my text messages to my spouse:

You can tell I'm distraught by the missing apostrophe on Scout's name.  (As it turns out, there was no poop. Thank goodness Coop had run the dogs that morning and Scout was relatively calm.)

Anyway, it's been a few weeks and Coop and I are beginning to not see everything as a fire hazard anymore.  Our beloved Elmer came and did a lot of clean-up, Coop and our landlords have been dealing with the insurance claim and our landlords even arranged for a new grill for us to use while the other one is being replaced. We've used it and nothing has caught fire.  Life is returning to normal.

Well, you know, as normal as things get, given that we are moving back to Texas and are in the process of saying goodbye and wrapping things up. It seems that my heart is perpetually sore as we do things for the last time.  Yesterday, Katherine took her last final and I found myself choked up as we walked out of the school for the last time.  That school has been such a blessing for us.  It was very, very hard to say goodbye --so hard, in fact, that I couldn't bring myself to say that word to the founder of the school on the last day. "We'll keep in touch," I said. 

I hope we will.

Goodbyes are tricky, though.  When we moved from Austin to New York, several of my good friends just, kind of...disappeared from our lives during those last few months. At the time, I remember being hurt.  But the same thing is happening up here as we prepare to move back to Texas --people I've considered close friends have retreated. One of my friends even broke up with me on Facebook.  (Gasp!) 

Part of this is probably due to my own frantically busy schedule as we try to fit everything in in this last month before we go.  (Hold on. Hold on a second. Have to put my head between my knees as I contemplate that the move is in a MONTH.) We had my graduation, the unscheduled fire, my mother-in-law's visit, Kath's School of Rock shows (they deserve their own post), the awards ceremony for the school (both Cooper girls brought home various trophies), Kath's graduation from ninth grade, finals, teaching yoga (still teaching through the end of June,) trying to get bids from movers, and oh, yeah, finding and buying a new house in Austin (pictures soon, I promise.)

I've been a little scarce.

So, I understand.  I really do.  It is easier to cut ties than to say goodbye. I get it.  

But I just want to say...even when I'm not here physically, I am HERE for you.  And the door to my house, in whatever city it happens to be, is always open to you. I mean it. 

(Just be a little careful walking in, given that Scout is a little jumpy.)

Friday, June 07, 2013

Not TRYING to Make You Cry...

Honestly, I'm not TRYING to make you cry.  And maybe you WON'T cry.  Maybe I'M the crier.  (Well, okay, I am DEFINITELY the crier.)

I graduated from the Life of a Yogi yoga teacher training this past Sunday, laying to rest forever my chronic pain odyssey.  The gratitude I feel knows no bounds.

Here is Sri Dharma Mittra bestowing the diploma upon me, surrounded by the love of my family who have walked every step of this miraculous journey with me.


Note that I am the only person crying.

(In my defense, I was a little rocked by the news that while we were all in New York City, our BBQ area in our backyard was on fire.  More about that later.  It was a big day.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Quick Note and Happy Mother's Day

This week I am finishing up the requirements for my graduation from the Life of a Yogi teacher training offered by the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City.  I'm writing papers and teaching classes and taking classes and trying to assemble all of the paperwork necessary in order to hand it in by May 20th.  Graduation is June 2.  I would really like to be able to attend because we're moving.

(Did I mention we're moving? Did I mention we still haven't found a house?  Did I mention that THIS house has already been rented? Oh, I'm sorry, did I scream out loud?)

Anyway, I have so much to tell you about--I have a list as long as my arm --but I need these five days to get my act together so that I can become certified and be a real yoga teacher.  I'll be back in five (ish) days to tell you all about stuff.

Meanwhile, here's a stunningly beautiful video of a mother practicing yoga.  I love everything about this video.  For me, it's a very tangible reminder of how yoga IS life.  See how serene she is, how loving to her kids as they wander in and out of her practice.  How graceful and strong she is. And how her practice continues, exuding love and calm and focus in the midst of life itself.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Among Other Blessings

The Dharma Yoga Center, where I did my yoga teacher training, has a blog and I have a post up on it right now! It's an article about yoga and healing.  Go check it out...I'll just be over here, beaming and feeling all of the gratitude in the world.

Then, if you feel like it, come back and tell me your story of healing.  I'm beginning the very slow work of shaping my book about finding healing in today's world.  I'd LOVE to hear yours. (If you'd rather, you can e-mail it to me at barb@sothethingis.com.) If I use your story, I won't use it with your name and details unless you give me permission.

Thank you!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Some Bad News and Some Good News

So, the bad news is that I'm totally addicted to caffeine again.

The way this happened was that I went to yoga teacher training, which was just...almost beyond description. More about that soon.

So then I got home on a Sunday night. Monday: I started teaching yoga, Tuesday: my husband closed the deal on the sale of his company which meant that he is unemployed and we are moving back to Austin, Wednesday: my parents arrived for a ten day visit.

It was either coffee or heroin.

No, I'm kidding. (Well, not about the coffee.  That part was real.)

But all of the other stuff was just a set-up to deliver the real news, which is that, after five years in New York, the Coopers are moving back to Austin, Texas.

As you might imagine, emotions are running high, and in my case, conflicted. Coop is ready to move back--his business network is there, his beloved cycling group is there, his brother is there and he does better than anyone in the climate there.  He's NOT a cold weather person.

Kath doesn't want to move. She would have had to change schools anyway, because her school only goes through ninth grade, but she is really grieving leaving her School of Rock community here.  Plus, she hates the heat. And also, she's fifteen.  Fifteen is hard, no matter what, but especially moving.

Jane (12) thinks we should have done this a LONG time ago. In fact, why did we make her move in the first place?  And oh, can we buy our old house on our old street so she can run down to her best friend's house at a whim?

As for me, I'm all over the map.  The Austin we left is not the same Austin welcoming us back. I went last month for a flying visit to house hunt and heard someone HONK in traffic.  (I almost got out of my car to see who it was.) And oh, the house hunt!  The market in Austin is so hot that we are trying to discover properties before they even go on the market.  (Luckily, our realtor is a genius at this.) Something like 80 people PER DAY are moving to Austin.  It's crazy.

But, you know, I'm not remotely the same person I was when I left Austin, either.  I've had this very devastating experience with chronic pain, and then a total transformation through yoga.  When I left Austin, I was kind of a party girl --I was your go-to girlfriend when you needed to sit down and have a glass of wine. Now I'm a tee-totaling, vegan yogi.  I'm your go-to girl when you need to drink a green juice and talk about the Yoga Sutras.

So, anyway, that's the big news.  I know I haven't written in a while, even though I have so much to tell you. But Coop asked me to keep things quiet until he had wrapped up a number of work-related issues and I kind of felt like the news was burning a hole in my pocket.  Like, if I talked about other things, I was HIDING the real news. (Look, I don't make the rules in my twisted little brain.  I just report them.)

I'll keep you posted on the struggle to give up the coffee.  I know what you're going to say about how  a little coffee never hurt anyone, but y'all, when I drink it, I can hear my pulse IN MY EARS.  This makes it hard to hear the still small voice.

Let me know if you hear of a house for sale in Austin in the Rollingwood area, preferably before it goes on the market!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Katherine Turns Fifteen

(Yes, I seem to only be writing blog LETTERS these days.  I don't know either. But I kind of like it.)

Dear Katherine,

Today you turn fifteen years old.

This past year has been something of a struggle for you. I guess I had hoped somehow that you'd bypass all of that teenage angst and stress--but now I see that it's a rite of passage we all must go through in order to become the adults we want to be.  You are such an amazing person, though, and you've weathered it as gracefully as anyone could have. I think things will continue to get better from here on out.

It's just that this is a hard, hard world in which to grow up.  You're bombarded by negativity unceasingly-- it's really relentless these days. Your peers get bored and resort to creating drama (as if there wasn't enough drama inherent in trying to figure out your place in the world.) There is a lot of pressure on you to perform in school. There is pressure to conform to societal standards, but not TOO much conformity.  Be an individual!  But not so much of one that people can't understand you! Come to terms with your sexuality--but don't have sex! Make a statement--but not so much of one that it impedes your chances of getting into a good college!

The whole world is schizophrenic.

If I could sum up the world of hope and love I have for you, it's this: all I've ever wanted for you is for you to be happy and well-adjusted.  I'm not invested in what you do for a living, nor how you dress, nor what music you listen to, nor the color of your hair.  I'm willing to support your passions, knowing that they may change over time.  I find YOU endlessly fascinating, so I'm interested in YOU.  But I'm not interested in controlling you, or forcing you on some life path that I deem good for you.  I know sometimes it looks like I have a vested interest in your performance in school, but I think that's really because I don't want you to place limitations on yourself and I know that a little effort now will save you heartache later.  Plus, in all honestly, you're one of the smartest people I've ever met and I can't wait to see what happens.  I can't wait to see what you do.

I've given you a lot of advice over the years, some solicited and some unsolicited. Now I just want to remind you that I am here for you --that I will ALWAYS be here for you-- in any way you need me to be.  You're good to go, Kath.  Listen to your still small voice--all of the values and guidance you need are already inside of you. There will always be people who want you to conform to their agenda, who are threatened when you take a different path.  It's up to you to decide if those people should have a voice in your life.

I read a great quote yesterday by Chris Hadfield, who just happens to be an astronaut, which made me laugh given your obsession with space in your earliest years.  He said:

"Decide in your heart what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that." 
 "Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you'd be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in.  
"Don't let life randomly kick you into the adult you don't want to become."

I'm taking this advice myself.  It's never too late to become the adult you want to be.  And I guess that's my final reassurance for you: although the decisions you are faced with now seem overwhelmingly huge, really, most people reinvent themselves several times over. If you can beat back the pressure long enough to find what you enjoy and then pursue THAT, the world is yours for the taking.

Happy birthday, Katherine.  I love you more than I can say.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On My Forty-Eighth Birthday

Dear Barb,

So, that feeling you have right now?  That all-encompassing feel of gratitude so strong that it's making you cry?  That's your birthday present from the Universe this year.

Enjoy every little bit of it.

In a way, you've earned it.  You've taken the steps necessary to free your mental state from being dependent on the people and events of your life. Not that they don't bring you joy --especially those people you had a hand in making --but your happiness is no longer dependent on how people treat you. Your happiness is no longer dependent on having a clean house or money in the bank or feeling seen and heard by the people who surround you. Your happiness comes from deep inside of you.

Good job.  I know that it takes work to stay in that place.  Keep at it.

But understand, too, that it's a gift. Not everyone gets to find that place inside that is a well of serenity, immutable no matter the political climate or the amount of barking by one insane cow dog.  Not everyone is free of pain. Not everyone feels at home in their skin.  You may have done a lot of work to get to that place of self-acceptance and gratitude, but understand that not everyone has the luxury of doing that work. It's a gift.  It's a miracle.

And I don't know, Barb.  I'm pretty sure that when you are on the receiving end of a miracle, you're supposed to share it.  I'm pretty sure that's how it works.

So, when you leave on Thursday to begin your ten day yoga teacher training immersion experience in New York City with Sri Dharma Mittra, remember to take them with you.  Remember to take those people suffering from chronic pain, remember to take those people who are in abusive relationships, remember to take those people who don't have enough to eat, or warm shelter or orange tabbies to cuddle. Take them with you, all of them, in your heart.  And with every breath, every sacred offering of the physical practice of yoga, every moment of quiet reflection and meditation and learning --offer them up for healing and comfort and kindness and compassion. Try to be a conduit for these things for them.

Don't let me catch you comparing yourself to the twenty-something bendy people who will also be at this training.  Just as people can't look at you and know your story, you can't look at them and know theirs.  Keep your eyes on your own mat, dear. Focus on the infinite gift you've been given.  Try to channel it to those who aren't as lucky. Breathe.

This past year has been a revelation in growth and change.  Now, you are on the cusp of an experience that will change you forever in ways you can't foresee. Go with your grateful quiet heart.  Be receptive.  Find your truth and come back and share it with the world.

You need that. The world needs that.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Letter to my Niece on the Day of her Wedding

(Edited to add: If you would like to use my words, please email me for permission at barb@sothethingis.com. I'll probably say yes, but I like to be asked.) 

Dear Michelle and Quentin,

When I first heard about the book Quentin's sister was putting together for your wedding --full of advice and anecdotes and stories--I honestly thought I didn't have anything to add. I've always felt like I have this great marriage because I got LUCKY--and not because I was particularly wise or understood what made a long-term relationship work. I think I just got lucky that Coop and I found each other.

But then I started thinking about it and I decided that there was something to the idea of feeling like you're incredibly lucky to be married to your own husband. There's something about that kind of attitude of wonder and gratitude that serves a long marriage well. So, there it was, see, a little bit of advice: Remember every day how lucky you are to have found each other. So many people search all their lives for someone to spend their lives with and here you've found each other. You're lucky--try to remember that.

I don't think I was the best wife when we first were married, but I think I've become a better wife over the years. I've learned a lot. The practical reality of day-to-day marriage rarely looks like we think it's going to-- and usually, that's actually a good thing. For example, I've learned that expecting to agree about everything is unrealistic and something you wouldn't really want anyway. One of the best things about marriage is how our differences grow to complement each other.

One of the big things I've learned is to choose my battles. When we were first married, I tended to look at each argument as a deal breaker –I mean, I was willing to go to the mat over how we folded towels. Now I try really hard to only pursue the things I think will matter in five years. In five years, will I care how we folded towels? Nope. Will I just be happy that anyone besides me is even folding towels at all? Why, yes. Yes, I will.

Having said that, arguments are still going to happen. It’s just a natural part of two people trying to live together. So it’s important to establish some rules of engagement, so to speak. In my own marriage, Coop is very, very quick on his feet and he can out-argue me in a heartbeat if we are face to face, because he’s faster than I am and also, he's not crying. It not only puts me at a disadvantage, but I also feel unheard and bulldozed. So, we have, for the past seventeen years, fought via e-mail. We’re both strong writers, writing things out tends to take the heat out of the exchange AND, most importantly, we can edit out anything unkind. I think it’s important to stick to the issue at hand and not start bringing up things that happened years ago, or slinging personal accusations. Find the communication device that works the best for the two of you. Above all, be kind.

Here's another thing I've learned: sometimes when a woman gets together with her female friends, or a guy gets together with the guys, there's some spouse bashing that goes on. It's under the guise of girl or guy bonding -- a little good-natured fun poked at one's spouse. Here's the thing, though: there's a little edge to it, and in my experience, it opens the door for discontent to creep in. We can ALL think of things to complain about—and I think once you start, it creates a HABIT of complaint. What I try to do when the male bashing starts is to offer up something I think is adorable, because that opens up the door for thinking of MORE stuff that is cute. (As I was sitting here, I was trying to think of examples that I could list that wouldn't embarrass Coop and one thing led to another and then I had to send him a little love note listing things I love about him.)

Which leads to two other things I've learned. One: try to not embarrass your spouse. To anyone. It's not okay to expose him or her to ridicule, not even to your own family. We do enough to embarrass OURSELVES –people need to feel that their partners have their backs. Don't fight in public, don't undermine each other. Present a united front to the world. (This is especially important if/once you have children because those little suckers can SMELL division and will exploit it every time.)

And two: think of something you are grateful for about your spouse every single day --big stuff, little stuff --and then tell him or her. You don't have to buy a card or make a big deal of it. Sometimes I just send a quick note to my husband as I'm thinking of him. Sometimes I call. Sometimes I grab him and thank him for this amazing life he's given me. Sometimes, I make sure to thank him for something really small just to show that I've noticed. Practice gratitude for each other. Live in the wonder that this amazing person loves YOU. Wow. How great is that?

Probably the best advice on marriage that I ever got came from my mom, your grandmother. She said, "Keep a sense of humor." It's served me well over the years. Humor diffuses tense situations and unites us with our partners--there is nothing as intimate as a shared laugh. See the absurdity of life together and laugh yourselves silly. Own up to your mistakes, big and little, and laugh about them. Try not to fall into the trap of self- importance. When you do, it doesn't leave any room inside you for the other person.

Always, always feel like you are giving more than your spouse when it comes to your relationship. Marriage isn't 50/50. It's more like 90/90. The more you give, the more you get. Try not to keep score.

Keep a little magic. There are plenty of undignified moments that your spouse is going to observe --you can't live together for decades and never get a stomach virus --but be careful how familiar you are on a daily basis. Nobody wants to see you going to the bathroom. Nobody wants to see you plucking your eyebrows or treating your raging case of athlete's foot. Just keep a little mystery --it sends the important message that you care what your spouse thinks about you.

Get interested in something your spouse is interested in, even if it's not really your thing. Learn about it and support your partner in pursuing this passion. By doing this, you actively create shared interests and you'll never run out of things to talk about. Plus, your spouse will feel supported and heard and like you CARE what he or she is interested in.

I guess that's the real secret to a happy marriage: stay interested in and focused on each other. In each other's well-being, in each other's opinions, in making your partner laugh. Be grateful for each other. Don't give up on each other.  Love each other hard. Give a lot.

With many wishes for a long life of happiness together,

Aunt Barb