Tag Archives: relationships

Non-Attachment: An Update

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I have friends who know the intention I set for 2017: to practice non-attachment as “best” (ha!) I can.

They ask me from time to time, now that it’s May and we are more than 1/3 into the year, how it’s going.

I tell them, “it is what it is,” and laugh. Because that’s all there is and yet, there is so much more.

My beloved older brother and I were together in February on a 75˚ sunny day that made us feel like we were in Florida in February — when the angle of the sun is so distinctly “winter” that you know the experience is novel — when we weren’t. We were running an errand and I drove with the top down. I was thrilled to have him all to myself for that special hour. He’s a busy man, husband and father and we were all together as a family again to celebrate our “Second Christmas” because we are all in different places on actual Christmas.

We started talking about life in a way we hadn’t in years. It was just us. We got around to “new year’s resolutions” and I spoke of my new year intention. He is a really smart guy and he’s read a lot of amazing books and philosophers so he’s willing to go down the rabbit hole with me at times and I love those talks. I summarized up saying that “non-attachment” feels like a trap because I end up wondering if I’m “doing” it right. “Like, how do I know if I’m doing it the right way? If I try to stay in my own zone and let go of shit my kids or other people do, isn’t that like not caring about my own standards and personal space and boundaries? Do I stop caring about my family and dogs and just let them figure it out on their own? What if my not caring about something means that someone could get hurt or be negatively affected? Say, if I see a toddler walk into the street, of course I’d stop my car… when is non-attachment not good? Do I just keep driving and say, ‘well, he had it coming…’…”

I continued as rainclouds gathered above us on our way home and I wondered about whether I should close the top but decided to keep it open… it’s just rain… I can always pull over…

“Am I good at non-attachment??” We laughed.

Then I said, “Ah, fuck it.” We laughed louder and the rain began to gently fall around us amidst a sunny sky, and we were moving fast enough to stay dry.

The truth is that it’s hard. It’s hard to be soft when the world wants you to be broken instead. It’s hard to be aware when the world seeks to numb you. It’s hard to be open when you would rather clam up and turtle yourself in.

I have the true gift and blessing to host a “restorative / yin” yoga practice. This class centers and restores me in a way NO physical practice can. I have to be centered, or near-centered in order to give it fully. Sometimes that is easier said than done. I’ve been caught up in traffic or arriving on the heels of a disagreement with someone.

“Fake it ’til you make it.”

My therapist once mused about 10 years ago when I spoke of the crushing feelings I had about my mother and my father; about my childhood in spite of being a mother myself. A family event was on the horizon and I was a bit raw from the Work he and I had been doing in my head and heart. I didn’t want to attend but he said “fake it ’til you make it…”

I so dislike that phrase. I can’t fake it until I make it, because what if I never “make it”? And then, of course, what if I’m already there? What if the “what if?” is really “so what?” Because I dislike that phrase, teaching restorative classes means I can’t share what I don’t have, so I have to “rally” to let go. I realize it’s as much for me as it is for them.

I begin by inviting everyone to sit and to “soak” in their space. I propose a slow breath in. I suggest a flowing, peaceful breath out. I suggest an awareness of the heart rate and a connection with the energy in the room… after the first two minutes, I’m centered. I’m present. I’ve made it.

In those restorative classes, I talk about the poses and their effects on our bodies’ systems: circulatory, immunity, digestive, pulmonary, lymphatic and more… I read poetry, quotes and essays by Rumi, Chodron, Emerson, St. Francis of Assisi, Thoreau, Mother Theresa, Buddha, Lammott, Brach, Jesus… sometimes the stories are ancient and sometimes they are contemporary. Sometimes the readings are fresh to the class and sometimes they are repeats.

My sense of “non-attachment” means to me that it doesn’t matter if the quotes are the same, because every time I read them, it’s a new day for the listener and for me. It’s how our day shapes up which leads us to how we hear what is being read. For some people it might be the first time they’ve heard it and for others it could be the sixth. The point is, that life throws us experiences that shape HOW we hear those readings.

I remember going to Mass and being irritated by having to hear the story of Lazarus or Jesus Calming the waters, or of his curing a blind man by spitting in the mud that he rubbed in the man’s eyes, or of the woman at the well, or … or … or … until I realized: oh… this isn’t about repetition… it’s about lessons. For me, now in retrospect, it was about choosing to be irritated or choosing to NOT be irritated and listening.

Why am I harping on repetition? . . .Wait for it. . .

After a recent restorative practice, I was told that a new student loved it, but that the readings were the same as the week before. I got the impression that it felt stale to this person. It didn’t affect the same way as the first time.

NON-ATTACHMENT BREAKDOWN. BITCHY DEFENSIVE YOGA TEACHER BREAK-IN.

What is ironic is that I was also told by another student that what I read in that very same class was EXACTLY what was needed. People tell you things in these spaces. They feel safe in their vulnerability. A marriage was dissolving. Sobriety was new. Children were raw and wary from years of hurt and neglect. A rebirth was taking place right in that studio; right on that mat; right before us all in a private, silent, and beautiful way. This student found the readings both soothing and buffeting and it was all very needed.

As an adult child of alcoholics, I could identify with the children this practitioner had injured. I rested my hands on my heart and bowed to this yogi who is boldly stepping into the light, no matter if one reading is exactly the same as the week before. No matter if one pose is repeated.

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The whole point of a yin practice is to “get down” with who you are. To get close to the discomfort of being in your own skin and letting the feelings well up and breathe them out so we can let them go. The whole point or a restorative is to let stuff ride through you and try to practice non-attachment, to truly BE “it is what it is.”

So the conflict: Do I change what I do to please the one person who itched that night when I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing and people tell me this class is like their church? That they wait all day for it? That they count the minutes until class? That it’s a form of body prayer for them? That it’s their sanctuary from the world? That it lets them go soft when the world insists they stay hard? I’ve been teaching this type of class this way for three years and I’ve never heard a “it was great, but…” and maybe because that’s people are too nice? Mmmmmmmnnnnope. Not around here…

“It’s not me it’s them.” Isn’t that a fun line? The truth is, it’s all of us. The insight for me, however, is that I’m keenly aware of my own shit and that any reaction I have to anything is mine, including this person’s reaction to what I did. Carl Jung said basically that when we don’t like something or someone, to pay attention to it because it gives us insight into ourselves. I used to really dislike that concept because it was right. It means “work”; it means we look in the mirror and parse out what we are and grow up and stop being little babies.

Are we judgy? Are we reactive? Are we irritated –in a restorative yoga class?! REALLY?!– breathe, molly . . .  by a repetitive reading SO MUCH that we are going to talk about it, or are we going to do some digging and wonder why we are so irritated…? So attached? What are the expectations of this person? Levitation?

NnnNgnnn. Breathing. . .     

So ok.

I love feedback and I am all for mixing things up, and frankly, some of the readings have felt repetitive for me. That said, I feel strongly that I must be guided to read what I read; that if I “preselect” what I’m going to read, that it’s not authentic, it’s “planned” and when is life ever really that way? As a yoga instructor, there are times when you think you have the best idea ever and then you get to your place of practice and you “read the room,” and your initial idea vaporizes. The moods of the people or the events of the day or the week DO NOT mesh with what you had in mind at all. That happens more than I’d like. In that way, I have to be responsive.

I remember a power vinyasa class I was preparing to teach. I had a whole line up all set. And as the people streamed in, the mood was SO unlike what I’d prepared to experience. I had to think on my feet; I had to find a way to ease into the place I wanted to bring us because while the tone of the room might’ve been heavy, the truth is that people come to that class to revive and to work, so I had to steer the ship.

But I’m attached. I don’t like what I heard about that restorative class and the readings. Do I say “fuck it” and do what I’ve done? Not if you know who I am I won’t. I will roll up my sleeves, do some digging about my reaction and serve the class to the best of my abilities. I could decide to blend both my worlds: write my own essays for the class that I teach, and maybe that has traction. I could write essays based on a reading and that would blend it all together. It’s a consideration. It’s got legs, actually.

And so RIGHT NOW, as I previewed this post, I find myself bowing in gratitude to this person who spoke up. I find myself utterly awake: I can change this, I can write up thoughts. I can share myself in a way that will never be experienced again. Why buy or read other writers’ works when I’m a writer myself…? Why not share me? Weave me into the readings?

Holy cow.

My prescription for non-attachment: lean in to what chafes you. Roll in it. Get its stink all over you. Decide if it’s worth learning from or letting go. There is no right or wrong answer, and my experience has been that if I can’t let it go it’s because I’m supposed to grow from it.

Thank you.

New Year’s Intention & Perimenopause

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It has been almost seven months since I last posted here.

I can not say I don’t know where the time has gone, because I actually do know where a great deal of the time / bandwidth has gone.

It has gone toward my new year’s intention: practicing non-attachment. Non-attachment to expectations, to people, to projects, to myself. It’s really hard…  and it’s like a paradox: who says when you’ve achieved non-attachment? Is it ok to be non-attached to your non-attachment? Does that count? And what is the balance? (I’ve likely already failed.)

It has gone toward me applying my best intentions toward practicing detachment from my eldest son’s college experiences. He is doing well, learning lessons that only life can give. Learning academically of course, and doing quite well, but he is learning things in the way that I wanted for him to learn: that you can’t unring a bell.

It has gone toward a near-obsession with the American political landscape. I believe it was around the time that I last posted here that our official presidential candidates were nominated. I won’t go into details or great depth here as this blog is my refuge from those energies, but I will say that I believe I’m finally coming out of the fog from all those days.

It has gone toward a reinvestment of myself into my yoga teaching. I have almost doubled my adult teaching gigs and dropped two children’s yoga gigs. It was both difficult and easy to make those decisions. A part of me wants to help children and teach / inspire them but I have to let go of the notion that I am going to make a difference for some of them. We are all here on this planet in a season which matches our mission(s). I have realized that my mission here is to not try to appeal to all people and those people needn’t appeal to me. The doubling of my teaching time has had an effect on my body: it’s tired. I have learned that I needn’t demonstrate nearly as often as I used to and while I’m physically relieved from wear and tear, I’m a bit bummed about it because some of my teaching cues come from being actually in the pose with the yogis.

It has gone toward hands-on mothering of two sons rather than three. While my eldest still needs me in a philosophical sense, he doesn’t need me to make him dinner, to wake him, to take him for haircuts or dentist appointments. My younger boys still need me for that and believe it or not: the reduction in demand does take some getting used to and head counting. It’s almost the reversal of “Did I leave the baby in the carseat in the front hall?”

It has gone toward not writing. I sure do miss it.

It has not gone toward my laundry practice.

My husband turned 50, and that was a low-key big deal here. I gave him a nifty band for his Apple Watch and took him out to dinner with our younger two sons, his brother and his wife. Connor later snuck home with his girlfriend to surprise his dad with some favorite gelato and a cozy fun time was had by all.

I turned 49. I unfriended some people on Facebook who no longer contribute to the fullness of my life. One is a relative. I am really ok with this decision. The entrenched victim narrative surrounding this person’s every behavior had corrupted our visit over summer to such an extent that when I made the choice, it was not a Newtonian reaction. In fact, I paused for several weeks. I can say confidently though that the distancing from this and the other persons has resulted in stability, actually. I’m tired of feeling as though my every thought was being monitored. And I was tired of monitoring them… (if we are going to be honest here…).  I hope everyone is doing well, but I don’t care enough to ask. Sometimes you just have to close the door, y’know.

I am experiencing shitty perimenopause on a daily basis. This hormonal experience is not for the psychotic… because it already has moments of psychosis and sleep deprivation and knee-jerk reactivity built in. Do you see the middle graph? (Don’t even fucking look at the first one or the last one until you look at the middle one first.) That second / middle graph has been my life for the last 10 years. I started perimenopause when I was 39 and it was all cute and curiosity at first: “Oh, I wonder how long that badger will live in our yard?” but after five years, it has been nothing short of a fucking mystery and I don’t know how much longer I must endure its caprice and coquettish ways.

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This is not my personal pattern, but one from NIH or something like that (I give up trying to divine the exact source and so should you:  I’ve had that graph for at least a year).

Let’s look again at that middle graph which ostensibly covers a six-month period and copy it 20 times and run it linearly (as in a timeline) to cover a 10-year period and then you will have a SNAPSHOT of WHAT MY LIFE HAS BEEN LIKE.

I look at that graph, like it’s yearbook. And I suppose it is to a certain exent…

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Those premenopause years: from BIRTH to my 39th year, were all: Let’s go to the beach, then the movie and then dancing and frolic all in light-colored and white clothing, go to camp, learn to swim, play an instrument, have a crush, lose a friend, gain a friend, watch your parents fight … then one day in puberty do those things in those clothes except for XYZ days… and then let’s learn to drive, go on a trip, play some soccer, go for a run, fall in love, dance in the rain… pause….. then let’s have some friends over, and go to a mall, fall out of love, lose a friend again, gain another friend, stare at cute guys, go to college, apply for a job ….buy a car… get a place …. pause….. then let’s take a cooking course, stare at more cute guys … maybe date one… then marry one and then buy a house, have kids …. pause…. another kid (or years go by) ….

Then in my 39th year, this….

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I’m flying without radar here and as you can see, from that graph above, that flight plan is fucked up. Would you get on that plane? Go ahead, look at it again… it’s worth the laugh. And that’s what most of this has shown me: that I have to laugh. That’s not to say that I can’t cry (because I do, believe me) but crying over this (that image above) is unnecessary.

I’m not looking for a trophy or a badge or a pat on the back. I’m looking for an end to this stage of my life.

My mother is dead, and she was the only woman (just like her paternal aunt was the only woman in two generations) in her sibling pool, so I don’t have an aunt. And her being gone means there’s no soft-focus “Summer’s Eve” moment for me when I could walk down a misty, dusky beach with her (not that there ever was that kind of vibe to our relationship) and gently query her for finite honesty about her cycles and her reproductive history… that would require things she could not deliver.

The fun part about all this is that in order to be considered a member in the postmenopausal populace:

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you must be without a period (that bleeding stage) for at least a year. I have to say, I can’t help but see all those flat lines as… shitty. The very hormones that I’ve grown accustomed to, estrogen and progesterone, are leaving me at the party. No, they are taking the party away and leaving me there to clean up after the party.

But I’m nowhere near that, yet the eggs I’m spitting out are likely capable of creating life that would not be sustainable. I like to think my eggs, if they could be an emoji, would be this one:

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Let’s see… what else… I learned that I have two basal cell carcinomas scheduled for removal in a couple months. It’s the glorious results of misspent younger days under the sun with my then bestie whose parents were Puerto Rican and Greek. I am 71% Irish (thanks, big bro for getting the Ancestry.com DNA test). This friend would invite me over to her house and I’d go. I’d wear my royal blue with black piping one-piece LaBlanca swimsuit. We would “lay out” under the Virginia sun, in July, covered in baby oil and USE A SPRAY MISTER TO KEEP US SHINY! and she’d walk away like a Bain de Soliel model and I’d need paramedics to carry me away on a stretcher because I could not move my smooth muscle tissue beneath the exoskeleton I’d created in those four short hours in her backyard.

I joined a new studio to teach yoga (I touched on this earlier) and I’m really enjoying it. The owner feels like someone I’ve known all my life and I’m grateful to help her further her dream of providing a haven in the community to practice yoga, learn pilates, build strength and sometimes, just sit and be.

I directed a 660-boat rowing regatta the first weekend in November. The weather was sublime and glorious. I was in my element of serving people as well as protecting and reestablishing the brand of our rowing club after a couple years of inconsistency. I have offered to do it again for this fall. People think I’m crazy, but they’re right. But I’m really good at it — I am in a zone when I’m managing chaos with a smile on my face. (That was a scary sentence.)  I walked almost nine miles that first day. The second day was almost six. I was utterly wiped out. But I was really gratified too because it was such a rewarding experience. I bought myself some expensive Adidas shoes a week later.

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I do need a megaphone sometimes; it didn’t cut through the fog, but it helped me keep the coxswain’s attention.

 

The next night I taught yoga and two days later, still riding the regatta wave, we all woke to some really historic news: a woman was NOT elected president of the United States and instead, a man who strategically went after the electoral college (so: with an actual plan to win, not a hope to win) votes, attained more of them than the other people running for office. That was an ASTONISHING DAY for me. The night before, we had my brother and his wife and kids over. My dad too, to watch the election and just sort of huddle as if preparing for an apocalypse. We used the hot tub and had a really lovely night. My brother left around 10:30, glued to his iPhone. I decided at 11 that I was going to bed; I had to teach yoga the next morning. Some of the results weren’t in yet and the west coast had only recently begun to get later tallies. I remember clearly still that my husband came up to me to gently wake me the next morning in the pre-dawn darkness. He said, “It’s unbelievable. Trump won.” I was mildly shocked. I didn’t like Clinton, but I honestly thought she would win. I voted for Johnson.

I taught three yoga classes, as I always do on Wednesdays, and I witnessed a three-generational fog in those classes. In the morning, I teach women my age and they were all … quiet, sort of blown away. In the early afternoon, I teach mostly seniors or people older than I am and they were all subdued. The children I usually teach on the afternoons were simply stoic. Little girls openly cried in front of me, “My mother said a bad man is going to be our president…”

I felt as though I HAD to openly discuss the election because they were so affected and because they are children and are not savvy to the nuances I employed in my earlier classes. One of the little girls, who is usually a game show host in my classes, who likes to co-opt what I teach and preempt me as much as possible asked to stay in “child’s pose” the ENTIRE class. She didn’t even want to play “musical mats” (which can usually get any kiddo out of a funk).

I don’t have an inflated sense of who I am to these people, but in a sense, especially for the first class, this was likely the first social gathering of their day. I didn’t feel compelled to speak to the election, but I also wasn’t ok with ignoring it. I can’t remember what pearls of wisdom I may have imparted other than to suggest what I always do: “Whatever you’re feeling is OK.”

On Christmas Eve, we went to dinner at a restaurant in Georgetown. The buildings are historic and their floors are uneven. I slipped down the steps but managed to stop my fall by grasping one of the spindles on the landing I was escaping. I had just taught a power vinyasa that morning, so I was still “worked” from that but I did hear a snap. I didn’t tear my rotator cuff, but I definitely strained it. I believe the “snap” was from the heel of one of my brand-new Frye Boots smacking the riser as I stopped my fall.

When I returned to the table, after announcing to the numerous wide-eyed diners and the freaked-out expression of the maitre’d rushing to my aid, “I’m good, I’m a yoga instructor!” (I do NOT know why I said that other than to spare myself some embarrassment [it didn’t work] but more likely shame [ditto] and more likely to spare any discomfort on the part of the restaurant staff), I had immediate tingling in my arm, and almost near-immediate numbness. I raised my arm above my head, I did some classy yoga moves with it at the table (with some wincing, so I knew the nerve was OK) and the sensation returned within five minutes. I could move my arm on its own.

That night was the last time I colored my hair. (Nice transition, huh?) I’d been dancing around the concept for awhile, but I’d like to see how I look with my natural hair color and I’d like to spend the rest of my life not sweating my roots coming in. So far, so good. I don’t have the chutzpah that some people have: going cold turkey, so that’s not happening. I am getting a chemically assisted transition or detox. My tactic has been to wear my hair pulled off my face as often as possible because it shows people what’s coming in and what to expect. It also helps me deal with the choice, which if I can say so myself, is pretty damned gutsy. I don’t believe that I need to adhere to an unattainable standard based on artifice. I’ve long struggled with my own “lie” of coloring my hair while being someone who is SO WHOLLY INTERESTED and devoted to alignment and truth.

To spur me on, I joined a Facebook group “Gray and Proud” which is a supportive and empowering collection of humans (mostly women) who know that this choice “to be the way we were born” can be hard. I do not mean to imply that I know the struggles of those who’ve chosen to live a cloistered life because of fear of coming out as their true selves, but I do believe I share a kinship with them. We are all afraid of being judged and sometimes, truth scares people. Sometimes, people like to live their lives and their narratives. I’m cool with that. Sometimes other peoples’ truths upset another person’s narrative. Well, that’s not the other person’s problem.

The previous time I tried to go gray I was 36 (I’ve been coloring since I was 20) and it didn’t look right. I wasn’t feeling quite as confident and as “fuck it” as I have been lately. Don’t get me wrong, “fuck it” does not mean I’m “letting myself go”; “fuck it” means I’m letting you and your standards go.

It means I’m trying to walk my intention for the year. I’ll post pics on my progress, but not yet; there’s really not much to see here.

The dogs are doing great: Charlie, now three, and mellowing a bit is a sweet and loyal boy. He still barks at things that are not there and tries to take down Murphy at every chance he has when Murphy is standing up (which isn’t terribly frequent these days as he’s now nine, AND he’s a dog).

Well, there is always lots more to say, but I’m at almost 2900 words and I’m a little tired. It’s nice to be back. I’ll come back sooner, I promise. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments and let me know how you’re doing.

Thank you.

Inadequacy and the Cleaning Ladies

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They’re back. I re-hired them after I let myself decide that it was ok to not give a damn about letting someone else clean my house. That if the funds are there, and the stars align,  I reasoned that I was keeping these women employed and I didn’t have to sweat my sons’ bathroom toilets and bed-making. They know my home, they know where stuff goes and in the future, I will likely employ them to help me purge.

So the funds are there, thanks yoga teaching, and the stars have aligned. The ladies have been back for months. What has returned with them, along with a lovely surprise I’ll get into shortly, is the sense of inadequacy and the reminder of my flagging mindfulness. At times, I’ve simply laid out the sheets on the beds to be changed. I’ve left my clean folded clothes in piles — it’s like I’m a transient in my own house: I don’t always put away my clothes. I live out of the familiar piles of cleaned shirts and undies and jeans and sock twins that are like small indicators of unfinished projects. They’re cotton archipelagos of inadequacy. What I need to do is vet out my t-shirts and gut about half of all my clothes. I have too many pairs of yoga pants.

“But there will be a funeral and I’ll need that dress.” “And that sweater to go over it.” “And those boots because I know we will go out to a bar again, one day, maybe after the funeral.” “There’s a wedding this fall…”

Lots of clothes I don’t wear anymore are tied in my former identity: corporate shill of corporate messaging. They were pricey then, nice wools, beautiful blends, “status” labels and now… I don’t wear them. I can still fit into all of it, but there’s this part of me which simply won’t move on. This part of me SO GETS MY MOTHER: that she would hang on to her gorgeous classic-hewn clothing because it never went out of style, and she was right.  Mom could rock a camel-toned cashmere sweater in May like NO ONE, other than Lauren Hutton.

I also know that clothes and books and things were important to my mother. I sense that after all her kids pushed off for lives of their own, and my father pressed on in his career, her drive to fill our rooms with things she’d never use, but things which sated her fears and sadnesses beat any fleeting sense of mindfulness or rational objective in acquiring such things. I’m sure it’s a combination of her numerous anxieties and predilections as well as a sincere interest in reading that book, or giving that gift, or using that purse, or wearing those boots that over time simply became too overwhelming to deal with. So instead of purging, she acquired more to quiet the noise. More things to hide the things she never used.

I can feel the sensations in my body: quickening pulse and a shallowness of breath when I look around my accumulation of unused or once-used items and shame myself internally for having them. I think of landfills and waste. “It’s a lot,” one of the cleaning ladies once said to me when I sighed at the house. And I think I’m relatively organized!

I don’t need 52 multicolored Sharpies, but there was a time when I did. The kids use them for school, still, but there’s this nagging sense of “USE THAT ALL THE TIME OR IT’S WASTE” mentality. I blame Costco. I’m mostly serious. You can’t buy three pairs of socks there, you have to buy six in a pack. You can’t buy 12 Sharpies, you have to get 52 — because if you buy 12 a la carte elsewhere, it’s almost as pricey as buying the bargain pack at Costco.

But the cleaning ladies come, and when they do, the house must be “in order” to a certain degree because they can’t access the table to clean and dust it if it’s covered in 52 Sharpies. I mean, they will put the Sharpies somewhere, but often their choice of placement is like a planter or a silverware drawer because they’re just here to get shit done and move on.

So here’s the surprise I’ve finally allowed myself to enjoy: when they come here, for at least the first afternoon, I will enjoy and revel in the quiet, the order, and the essence organization that reigns and it’s ok if I didn’t do much of it myself. I know I can; that’s not the point. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to let someone else do it and that I’m ok with it.

Even though I know and YOU know what’s really going on in that junk drawer, that for the moment, everything is chill and my home makes me look like I’ve got my act together. When they’re here, quietly tending to my home in a way that I certainly can, but I’ve basically abdicated, I do feel less alone. My heartbeat slows and my breath becomes mine again. It will get done. That’s the gift.

I read with great vigor A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. It’s a collection of short stories. Many of them are memoir, some are written with disdain for the client / employer, and I shuddered a little upon reading Berlin’s observations about us, knowing when we’ve had our periods, or the last time we had sex, what we’re reading, what we’re still not reading, how we’re sleeping, or if our children eat in their beds, hoard candy in their rooms, and the secrets they have, but I get that. Other stories are deep, wandering tales about love, the oceans, sex with near strangers, and marriage. It’s a wonderful book as Berlin is masterful — both succinct and dreamy — and real. You can’t hide from her, she has found you.

I think often about these women who clean my home, Flora and Linda. They are sweet and obsequious. They banter in Spanish and usher tender giggles to each other upon encountering our dogs and marveling at how much my children have grown. I’ve worked with them for eight years. I wonder about their lives, about what keeps them up at night. Shortly after my mother died, they came to clean and I thought I was going to be OK. I hadn’t let the house get too bad between their visits. But Mom had died and I was a mess.

The moment they came in the door, my eyes welled up and Flora (the older of the two) saw my face. She knew something had gone horribly wrong between our last encounter. “My mother died last week…” and I wailed and bawled and cried heaving sobs into her neck as she held me and rocked me in her arms. She’s not that much older than I am, but I have an affection for these women that goes back to my childhood as I was basically raised by my cleaning lady, Betty Sortino.

Flora’s partner, Linda came in to help soothe me. And we stood there in my front hall for about a minute until I composed myself and told them what happened. Three weeks later, Linda’s husband also died. He fell off a scaffold at his worksite and died in the ambulance. He was 36. He and Linda have three children. She took a couple weeks off and then came back to work; she has no choice as she has to feed her children and her husband is dead. I wonder about her children. When I give away clothes, I give Linda and Flora first rights of refusal. Over the years, I’ve given them clothes, desks, dressers, books, and toys.

About a year ago I learned how much these women earned from my payment to their broker. $20 per house. I was paying many times that for the fee. If clients kept their appointments, they would clean up to four houses per day. They only got paid if they cleaned and I used to flake out on their employer all the time because I couldn’t get my house ready. Each house takes about 2 hours for them to tackle.

One day, I asked them if they worked on their own and that’s how we do it now. I’ve increased their rate and I believe that my paying them outright and directly rather than through the company whence we first found them does make a difference. When I pay them directly, I am less prone to cancel because I don’t have my act together because the house wasn’t tidied in time or appropriately. They don’t judge. They are eager for the work and I am eager for the respite from the visual chaos. It’s become more of a relationship which transcends the work and I trust them completely. I respect them and they get to keep the money I pay them instead of only take home a sixth of it when I paid them through their broker. I give them extra cash for Christmas.

Each time they are here, I promise to myself that I’m going to go through my things and really sort and donate. Lighten my load. I have a neighbor who’s moving this weekend. She’s more than a neighbor, she’s become like a cousin to me. She’s leaving for Florida and I honestly hope I go see her. When she put her house on the market, I helped her straighten up — I was literally a third pair of eyes added on to her own and her young friend who’s got a real knack for spatial placement of things.

She asked me to come view and give pointers. I admit I felt a little like a white-gloved Marine Corps officer running quarters inspection, but my advice, adjustments, and insight were helpful. I was impressed by how austere her home had become. It felt like a resort property. It felt like a rental on a beach and I envied that — the lack of shit crowding everything. Yet she felt it was too sterile, too antiseptic, no “life” or “personality” in her home anymore. She was right. The house had a “tone” now, not a feeling. We all agreed that the powder room needed to feel like a “spa” so I filled her glass vases that hung on the wall with neutral tone rocks, some branches from the wispy white pine tree in her backyard and clips off the rigid birch tree in my front yard and voila. Spa.

It sold in three days. For the asking price.

I will miss her a lot. More than I think either of us realize. She has quietly supported me — unconditionally — for our entire relationship. She has never passed judgment and has been a true cheerleader in everything I’ve ever ventured. It hurts that she’s leaving, but everything was in such utterly perfect cosmic alignment — like the kind of alignment you read about — that her staying here meant spiritual coma. You don’t get the kind of opportunities, conversations, situations and challenges thrown at you the way she has and keep things as they are.

She used my cleaning ladies before putting the house on the market. They provided her with the calm and ease they provide me every time they leave my home. It’s quiet. It’s clean. When they are here, I am forced to let them work, to stay out of their way. To leave with the dogs. When I come back, things are where they belong. Or at least they’re not in the way. The inadequacy ebbs and I don’t feel like such a failure. I know I perform a lot around here, it’s in the ways you can’t often see. At the very least, I have participated in readying the house for them.

In three hours my three boys will be home. I will be teaching little kids yoga, teaching them to learn how to calm themselves, center their minds, and know they are enough. I will not think about my friend moving to Florida and I will thank Linda and Flora.

Thank you.

 

How To Be a Better, Smarter, more Balanced You

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2016 is looming: it’s an olympic year, a national election year, and a leap year. because everyone else out there is telling you how to be a stronger, fitter, faster, taller and more beautiful you, i’ve decided to focus our work on the inside.

these tips won’t make you slimmer, but they will help you unload crap that isn’t yours in the first place and then maybe you can start to see your real value and you’ll feel lighter on your feet and in your heart.

let shit go: will what’s bugging you matter in 6 minutes, 6 hours, 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years. as a bazillion philosophers have stated, often what’s bugging us is not the situation but our attachment to the situation: expectations, narratives, and old stories which shape our appreciation of the situation. once you can name the hook, you’re released, it’s crazy awesome. apparently socrates said, “the secret to change is not to focus on fighting the old, but on building the new.” try it.

can’t let shit go? try EFT tapping: http://www.emofree.com/eft-tutorial/tapping-basics/how-to-do-eft.html — i recently had a situation that really bugged me, someone called me negative and it hurt a lot because i’ve worked very hard to overcome lots of that. thanks to the resulting introspection (always seek a silver lining) i relearned: 1) that what i was called was a projection of the person who said it; 2) that courting bad feelings is as powerful as a drug*; 3) that running a moral inventory of the good i have done and the people who admire me is the best proof there is of my value in the world; and 4) we are all a little messed up. “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”

*Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens. Interestingly, pride is the most powerful of these emotions at triggering activity in these regions — except in the nucleus accumbens, where guilt and shame win out. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves — they’re activating the brain’s reward center. source http://time.com/4042834/neuroscience-happy-rituals/

stay off social media if it makes you feel like crap. the actual, rainy, sunny, snowy, arid, warm, cool, hilly, flat, leafy, barren world is always more beautiful than the screen version. getting out is good for your heart (physical and metaphorical). bring garden gloves and an empty trash bag on your next walk, and clean up as you go along. you’d be surprised how much trash is out there. (as for that last sentence, the same can be said of social media.)

you can’t please everyone, so don’t try. work on you and your life will unfold before you.

practice gratitude: it’s everywhere. it’s proven. taking stock of and being grateful for all that has happened in your life will help you see how far you’ve come. and believe me: you’ve come far.

don’t do for others the things they can (and need to learn) do for themselves: sure, i’m better at it, i’m faster and i’ve got more experience, so yes, i can drive my 17-yo son everywhere, but if i do that, he doesn’t learn to drive, does he? and then i get stuck taking him everywhere.  you’ll see this theme repeat itself elsewhere through this post. the best teacher is encouraging and allowing others do their own thing — remember toddlers: ain’t nobody gonna help them with their pants until they ask for help.

organic interaction / engagement: if all of a sudden you find yourself hot under the collar about something someone else told you about, chances are you weren’t supposed to know about it in the first place. TEST: if you have to be told something to get wrapped around the axle about, consider this: you’re hearing about it from someone else’s perspective and it’s quite likely you’re not getting all the facts, nor the other sides of the story. and trust me: there are ALWAYS other sides to a story. especially stories which don’t concern you. one word: YIKES. if you like that drama, you’ve got other problems. (i speak with experience, see immediately below.)

more:

fight your own battles: filters filters filters. man, if i had $100 for every stupid thing i got involved in which had nothing to do with me, i’d have about $12,000 and I’d be writing this on a beach somewhere. but the fact is that i’m on my couch at home and my getting involved in dynamics that had nothing to do with me did me absolutely NO favors whatsoever. it stretched my ego, it inflated a false sense i had of myself, and it set off recurrent shoulder pain.

more:

check the mirror: when you point at someone else you have three fingers pointing back at yourself (try it, i’ll wait). you can’t accuse someone of something you aren’t already experienced with already. in other words: you can’t project what you do not have. you think someone is stubborn? you are too, otherwise you’d just let it go. think someone else is negative? you are too, otherwise you’d just let it go. accusing someone of talking about you behind your back? don’t look now, but you just won a hypocrisy sundae. think someone else is mean? you are too, otherwise you’d just let it go. that said, it’s ok — we all do it. learn to be cool with that discerning side of yourself, the one you would rather not talk about at cocktail parties. why? because it has helped you avoid potentially irksome experiences, but never go on someone else’s opinion of anything. i’d never have eaten a Reuben if i went on my friend’s advice.

altruism gives to the giver too: everyone has a talent. serve others only for the sake of serving them and seek nothing in return. volunteer once a month for at least four hours somewhere, but ONLY in a place where you can do your highest good. are you skilled at accounting? see if there’s a shelter that could use your help. do you like public relations? find an organization struggling with outreach. are you an amateur carpenter? check out a local church. they are always building amazing things for other people. i can bake, but i prefer to write. so i volunteer to help others to love writing, i’d rather do that than make lasagnes for people. (even though my lasagnes are awesome.) i love to give the gift of yoga too.

no pedestals: don’t put people on pedestals. here’s why: 1) you’re equal to them in many ways or else you wouldn’t idolize them, so own it; 2) they will screw up and disappoint you and when that happens they will need a soft place to fall, so be that for them; and 3) it’s really unfair to them and you’re just hiding in their shadow.

consider the source: are you hearing things third-hand and getting all hot and bothered about it? are you being insulted? is someone saying something in a back-handed way to you? “consider the source,” is what my mother used to say to me.  again: “those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”

speak authentically with others: let it all hang out. everyone pees and poops; everyone has fears (trust me). if you can’t be who you are, and if you have guards up to protect yourself, your relationship will be set upon those parameters: mistrust. own your weaknesses and your strengths and be cool with it or else it all just end up in your face. it happens. that said, know when to flush the toilet and move on. if people can’t handle your sincerity, it’s them.

keep an open mind: nothing inspires growth more than being confronted by and working with an uncomfortable truth, for truth is the greatest teacher. it’s the hanging on to old beliefs and inflexibilities which causes the most trouble. if you like to blame other people for all your problems, guess what? the problems will still happen because you’re giving the other people who cause all your problems all the power. grab the keys and unlock the doors.

more:

end the victimhood, it’s just really sad: do you want pity or support? ian mckewn, author of Atonement once said that he dislikes speaking about his older books when promoting a current one. his answer was brilliant: he’s moved on and doing so makes him “an employee” of his former self. that struck me. when we keep telling our old narratives: traffic at the airport, a horrible boss, a tough childhood, or a traumatic experience without noting the blessings we’ve been given to live days without those experiences, we are totally missing the point. i’ve done all of that and i wish i hadn’t (see, i’m doing it now).

more:

get to the essence of what’s really the point: you’re not mad at what you’re mad at. i’ve written about this a lot. short and sweet: if you’re bothered by something or someone else, it’s likely NOT the other person / event, but a deep feeling inside you triggered by the situation (going back to that socrates quote). for example: if you’re cut off in traffic, it’s not the cutting off, but the possibility that you feel invisible and diminished. (that’s deep. so work with it…) this stuff is insidious, so it’s important for you to address these things because they will be triggers for subconscious and really random behaviors.

don’t enlist others to fight on your behalf: while at times it does “take a village,” don’t set your own hut on fire to get people to help you put out the fire. another aspect of this is economical: no one else can make the points you need to make, nor can anyone else stick to the points you need to make. only you know your story. strength in numbers, sure, but let people have their own perspectives, even if they don’t align with yours.

ok, but what if you’re a rescuer?: if you do get involved, chances are you might agree with the person you’re defending, but stick to what makes the most sense for you. also, beware of people who like to stir up stuff just to be the hero who shows up in the nick of time to fix it? do you know someone like that…?

sprinkle all experiences with a sense of kindness and optimism: no one likes the DMV, or Verizon customer service, but it’s a part of modern life. if you’re at the DMV, maybe remember the truth that your being there keeps someone employed and that person’s employment is bringing home money for a family.

time is a human construct: everything unfolds and happens as it should. consider this: the sun doesn’t rise and set, it’s the earth which turns away. the people you meet, the situations you encounter, they were all meant to be so you can step onto your true path… humans are the only species who’ve wrapped their arms around space and time. do you see dogs wearing watches? only that rabbit in Alice in Wonderland wore a watch and we all know what happened then… everything else acts on a boundless continuum. stop wondering if things are flowing: they are. trust it. it might not be sunshine and roses, but everything we experience: “good” or “bad” (also human constructs) present an opportunity for growth. those who exist in the past and make decisions based on judgement and comparing, they are the ones who are stuck in a rut. they are the ones who can’t move on. the universe flows without them…   Thomas Merton wrote, “You need not know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need, is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”

the lessons will continue until you master them. while the road to hell is paved with good intentions, do you wonder why the same things keep happening to you? do you keep having the same arguments? do you still befriend chaos? are you throwing glass on your path? do you get in arguments which aren’t yours? do you step into situations, thinking you’re advocating when in reality you’re holding back the real people who desperately need to step into their own power? how much of that “helping” is your ego? and then you wonder why it all feels so yucky and familiar? this is the Universe telling you to MYOB. leave it to the professionals. remember what happened to Dorothy in Wizard of Oz? she spoke up for everyone but herself and she got zip out of that black bag AND she was deserted. Just. Like. That. talk about road to hell. don’t be Dorothy: know what is yours and what’s not. Dorothy got swept up because of her own resistance to be accountable for her actions and boundaries: she wouldn’t curb Toto (don’t get me started on terriers)… then she got all upset and ran away. pick your own battles and you will indeed find there’s no place like home.

people do all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. who knows why you did what you did, who knows why percival did what percival did. you have to take care of yourself. it’s that air mask on the plane analogy we know is true yet we might consider passé. the more you concentrate on percival, the less you’re taking care of yourself. you can’t save percival, change percival or persuade percival. this is well-documented: 95% of all our behaviors are subconscious based on experiences we were exposed to during our first five years of life. until we realize that, and until we understand that we’re already preprogrammed / conditioned to behave a certain way, there will never be change.

letting go is the same as letting in: clenched fists can’t make way or hold onto changes which are definitely coming our way. do you want to keep your fists and fight off the changes or do you want your hands ready to grasp the opportunities which have been trying to come your way…? if you’re slipping off a mountain shear, having your hands ready to take hold of a new anchor is the only thing which can save you.

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. –Marcus Aurelius

Happy New Year! It’s happening!

Thank you.