Be

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Sometimes you wait.

Sometimes you let the situation be what it is without judgment or storytelling.

You do not try to control it or add to it, but simply notice the feelings and let them wash away like waves on a white sandy beach.

This is not a perspective that I’ve be able to harbor in most situations in my life, but as I start to understand my own life and the things that cause me pain and joy I’ve been able to notice some of my self-sabotaging behaviors. Controlling, accelerating, analyzing situations is quite the nasty habit.

This time though, I feel the top emotions and the deeper ones. I notice them all  and decided not to do more than that. It is what is, a statement I never thought I would be able to use as justification, seems applicable here.

“Be careful,” my friends say. “You’ve been here before and the outcome likely won’t be different.”

I do not know how it will work out. I do not know all the details. And I can’t guarantee that I won’t jerk in reaction tomorrow, but right now I feel stillness.

Hours later, I am full of emotions. “I am shaking,” I tell him as we walk out and find our normal route to the train. Our meditation group tonight talked about being with our anxiety and, although I’ve tried that all day, it’s hitting me not like a wave but like a freaking tsunami. “I am so full of emotions.” He laughs. I want to cry. But then I breathe. I stare at the wintery sky. It’s supposed to be a burden after such beautiful springish days, but now I find it reassuring.

This moment, full of so much energy and emotion, here I am meant to be. I am meant to use it up and let it propel me forward, because all I need is right here. The rest is details and stories I simply don’t need. It will all unravel but as long as I hold on to the present then I will not only stay above water but I will soar.

cheryl

The grass is greener

Myheart

Sunday mornings at coffee shops with bottomless roasts from Kenya and Guatemala and the temptation of croissants and cupcakes frosted in bright greens and pinks to match the anticipation of spring. I sip from a ceramic mug as I transport my emotions onto a word document.

Friday evenings that begin at a near by bar. We buy pints that seem inappropriately large but are excused with the notion that the weekend is now upon us. We take a cab to a far off neighborhood where we drink wine at a friend’s art show and match creative influences to our travel experiences. I forget to censor myself and I blurt out my dream as if I am clear that it is what I want.

Saturdays with runs long the beach and then grocery shopping. I pick out flowers and a few types of cheese. Friends come over later and we eat homemade dishes around candles and take turns picking out our favorite songs to share.

A play after work. A movie at the end of a long day. Yoga in white, clean studios. Clean sheets. Showers. City lights that never tire.

For two years, as I sipped herbal tea that I always felt guilty about buying because it was more expensive than the rooibos and therefore felt like a luxury, these images were my dreams.

My mind went to these thoughts when bleating sheep and screaming bo-ntate woke me up at 6 a.m. When my failure as a teacher was apparent to my students as well as myself. When I had to choose between rice and lentils for dinner for the umpteenth time. When I doubted my decisions to follow this path.

My time in Lesotho came with a very clear end date and I could anticipate the change because it was inevitable. It’s hard now, I thought to myself, but soon I will create the life of my dreams and I will be fine then.

Now, that I have most of what I dreamed of during those lonely nights in my rondaval, I stare off into space thinking of walking along the dusty road to my village. I dream of walking into my school grounds and seeing those faces again. I want to sip tea from my porch and watch the village from a distance. I crave the hustle and bustle of the taxi rank, the odd comfort of zoning out in a comvee and the satisfaction that comes from a huge plate of papa and mereho.

I’ve always wanted what I don’t have. It’s one of my greatest downfalls as a person, but I think it’s something we all do as humans. “The grass is always greener” is not just a nursery saying but a trap, an obstacle from our happiness.

To appreciate what we have when we have it is actually vey hard. Very difficult. It’s hard to be thankful for what we have when our minds tell us that we should have more. It takes a lot of courage, honesty and acceptance to look at your life and see everything you have as all that you need.

The idea that something better is out there is likely the pumping organ to my restlessness. I am constantly afraid of missing out and that I will be “better” if this happens or that comes into my life. I chase dreams and ideas but give up on them quickly because I am not convinced and want more.

But this is exhausting. Life is about achieving and accomplishing to find happiness rather about being content and resilient as life moves and shifts. One blog reader commented that I am so hard on myself and my determination to get the life I believe I should have that I forget all the blessings and miracles that already exist.

So how do you change your perspective? How do you stop looking for the fence and enjoy all that is in front of you? Gratitude.

Gratitude should feel incredible and humbling, but it’s scary. It’s terrifying to admit that what you have is enough because what if it isn’t? What if you are settling for less than you deserve? What if you are using gratitude not to chase as an excuse to stand still and not go after what you want?

The thing is, though, things will come and go from our lives. Sometimes we will be happy and sometimes we will be sad. We will have what we want and we will have what we don’t want. We can’t control what life brings us but we can control how we react. When we are present and thankful for all the current things in our life, we are living the moment just as we should.

I constantly feel like I am lurking backwards and stretching forward and in doing so I feel like I am reacting out of fear and habit instead of living from love and with intent. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I don’t want to keep searching and struggling for the thing that will fix everything, because nothing can. I want to be in the moment and grateful for all that it contains as if I chose it myself. I want to see my past as beautiful memories that have brought me to now and my future as hopeful but not a thing to agonize over.

I want to be thankful.

I want what I already have.

I want to be where I am.

 

 

Don’t Surrender

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I used to only listen to country music.

I used to be a meat eater.

I used to be a full-fledge peaches hater.

I used to be a Republican.

I used to be a Democrat.

I used to be bulimic.

I used to be a reporter.

I used to be a Peace Corps volunteer.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this quote from Cheryl Strayed and wondering what I am still hanging on to. I don’t just mean things from five years or ten years ago or even a year ago, but yesterday, a moment ago. Who am I convinced I should be and who am I really?

I used to be so many things, so many versions of myself that have simply faded with time and experience, some so far removed that I can’t recognize myself in the memory. Yet, all the people I used to be led me to the person I am today and they they need to be gone so that I can be her.

It’s a courageous and brave journey to discover your truth and it changes, but it’s the best thing we can give to ourselves and the world. Our joy, our life is awaiting on the other side of the true and we owe it to ourselves to go find it.

What are you holding on to that isn’t true about you? Come, let’s let go together. Let’s be us in all of our messy glory. I want to be me now because of all the hard work I’ve done to get to here, and I want you to be you now. Come, let’s go.

 

What does it mean to love yourself?

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Before, I said loving myself will be the great love of my life. But what does that even me? This week, this is what it means to me:

It means leaving a concert on Friday night because it’s 9:30 and you and your friend are tired.

It means calling an old friend when you have had a shitty day.

It means staying out till 3 a.m. eating eggs and talking about futures.

It means saying the words pounding in your chest.

It means watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother while laying in bed on Sunday.

It means giving yourself a second to believe in Prince Charming.

It means letting go of the person that all the people close to you say is wrong for you.

It means surrounding yourself with people who you want to support and who support you back.

It means forgiving yourself each time you fail to let go.

It means allowing yourself to cry. And then cry again.

It means eating chocolate before dinner but then dinner is full of vegetables.

It means stretching your body through yoga poses, allowing the energy to wash over you.

It means putting on lipstick.

It means putting your all into your work, but then leaving you work at 5 pm.

It means listening to someone and letting his pain hit you because it’s actually a gift.

It means allowing yourself to need and be needed.

It means loving those that love you and disregarding the rest.

It means not refreshing your inbox.

It means sleeping in and waking up early.

It means letting the dishes sit an extra day.

It means choosing not to hit replay when you walk by his bus stop.

It means finding people that love you where you are and letting them love you.

It means recognizing silence as freedom.

It means being late and lost but putting your phone away to enjoy the falling snow in this great big city.

It means loving the fact that your life is full of crazy stories and people who love listening to those stories.

It means silently telling the stranger that you hope she is OK and you want her to know she is loved.

It means picking the book with the most beautiful writing to be your companion for the next few weeks.

It means leaving the house without a plan but knowing the universe will bring you what you need.

It means taking time to hear the laugh that is like a blanket on a cold day.

It means watering the plants.

It means letting them apologize.

It means allowing your mother to worry about you.

It means listening to “Giants of Illinois” on repeat.

It means realizing that you are too good for that person, and then treating yourself that way.

It means remembering what is part of your higher good and then choosing that time after time, even though right now it is excruciating.

 

 

Shining

Sometimes you are going to give your heart to someone and she won’t take it.

You are going to be the good, kind person that you are and he won’t react.

You are going to extend your hand only for the person to look at it and then walk away.

You are going to show up for someone but will find yourself standing on the street corner alone.

This is not about you.

This is not a testament of your worth.

Not everyone will take what we have to offer, and that’s OK.

How many days does the sun shine without us ever paying attention to its glorious light? Yet, it shows up day after day.

I am a master at holding out hope for the people who treat me like an option, a background figure. I am not talking about just romantic connections, but people who’ve come into my life in all kinds of facets and I work so hard to prove to them that I am worthy just so I could prove to myself that I am worthy. What I have seen is that, every single time, while I put one person on a pedestal, from which he never looks down, there is an entire army of good, courageous people beside me. When one person treats me like I am insignificant, the universe sends me hugs from all the people who actively choose me to be in their lives.

It happened this weekend. After a storm of shaking sobs and doubt, I walked out into the Saturday morning sunshine. While I focused on the one who didn’t need me*, the universe reminded me that many others do. There was a friend to tell me that a tumultuous journey is a beautiful one, a 17-year-old Burmese girl who told me that the people who hurt us on are not worth keeping, a friend who chose me to call when her life upended itself, a friend asking me to come visit, an inspiring devotion that made a friend think of me, a message from a friend saying she bragged about knowing me, my mother’s loving voice, the friend who I want her to know her worth, and then a small living room with friends, music, candlelight and good food.

These are the people to focus on. These are the people that inspire me to keep giving my heart, my goodness, my all.

The others, who won’t take what we offer, are actually a huge blessing. They are not sorrow, but blessings. They remind us who matters and give us the opportunity to hold on tight to those that do.

Instead of staring at the back of the neck of the person who didn’t choose us – whatever choosing us means – let us turn to the eyes of the person who was always there. She wants your heart. He needs your goodness and kindness. She will take your hand. He will stand on the street corner with you.

Don’t let one’s ignorance of you define you. Instead, keep giving. Appreciate the darkness and shine because the people that matter need you.

 

What matters

Several years ago, a friendship of many, many years died. It had been on its way out for some time and I knew that it was no longer healthy for me, but I was still very sad to see it go. This person had meant so much to me – held me when I cried, encouraged me to take leaps, cheered me on when I finally did. Overtime, the friendship wasn’t serving either of us and it slowly faded away. I don’t think ill of this person, and I am sure that the person has well wishes for me, but we really don’t have a relationship anymore.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not good at letting go. I hold on to men who don’t care about me; I obsess about friends who treat me poorly; I spend days thinking about the mistakes I committed. Even happy memories become painful ones because I know they are gone.

I am attempting to make major shifts in my life, including letting the things not meant to be to be that. My instinct is to think and obsess, to replay memories and decide where I went wrong, but I am working hard to fight that urge. I want someone to hand me a formula for the most effective way to do this, but there isn’t one. The best I can come up with is a lot of love, gratitude and compassion.

I recently watched The Forgotten Kingdom, a movie made in Lesotho. It’s funny how a place can look completely foreign and just like home at the same time. It brought a flood of memories – walking underneath the big blue sky, faces of my daily life, nights watching the stars outside of my house, the first time Lesotho felt like a place I belonged. I cried body shaking tears and then I stopped. I looked outside my window at the Chicago sky and understood my place, even if I don’t truly understand it.

One evening, as I was sitting down to write about something else, I received an email from a friend about accepting and embracing the lives put in front of us. He said the things that aren’t apart of our future matter just as much as the things that are. “Breaking up is hard to do, whether it’s with a person or a place, but sometimes the time has come to move on, and we can’t let our attachment to the past limit our possibilities for the future.”

This hit me so hard, because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last year.

Although it often triggers me, my past is not checkered or riddled with struggles. It actually contains a lot of blessings, but all of them are no longer part of my future. As my friend continued to say, “So let us celebrate! And let us appreciate! And let us honor the people and places that have made our lives wonderful, whether we speak of these people in the past tense, the present tense, the future tense, or some combination thereof!”

Today I woke up feeling lonely and struggling with what is gone and what’s not present. As the day progressed, love started to pop up and I realized I have so many amazing things in my life. I just needed to stop looking back or forward to see them.

Let’s honor our lives. Let’s thank the people that broke our hearts and the people’s whose hearts we’ve broke, the friends that faded away and the employers that rejected us. Let’s celebrate the places we once lived on and the people we used to be.

Our lives are specific and we are where are meant to be, even if those reasons aren’t entirely clear. We don’t need to find the answers and dig out the meaning, but we can be grateful. We can be compassionate.

Honor your life. Live it fully and cherish the good that exists. We can’t undo what’s been do and we can’t predict what will happen now, but, my goodness, we can seize the now.

I want to move on. I want a limitless future. I want to seize.

The people we let into our lives

Before I move on to this post, I want to share the beautiful moment that just happened to me. I was walking home from the train while listening to the podcast Invisibilia. In the episode “Thoughts” there is a story about a bright young man that falls ill and becomes essentially a vegetable. His organs keep going, but he is unresponsive in every other part of life. His family, for 12 painful years, takes care of his body thinking he is completely brain dead. But he is not. He is actually very much aware and through a miracle – and lots of hard work, determination and love – he begins to regain movement of his body. He gets a job. He fixes a computer. He communicates through a computer. And, eventually, he falls in love with a woman. Before I reach the part about his wife, I thought of something someone told me – someone people are not meant for relationships. I assumed that, given this man’s condition, he would likely never marry. What a shallow mind I have. As I listened to the man’s wife talk about how hard she fell for this man, I looked up at the sky, dropping large snow flakes, and felt a huge sigh come from the universe. Maybe some people do not want a life-long relationship, and that’s OK, but most of us want love. We tend to think we can’t have that big grand love because something is wrong with us or there is no one who will love us or most people want something we can’t give them. That’s bullshit. If you want love, it is there for you. Because we live in a vain and conditional world, you may have to search for it, but it exists. Do not let your limiting beliefs and fears stop you. You deserve it. OK, all done. Love to you.

I once went on a few dates with a man who I was unsure about it. He wasn’t a particularly warm individual and didn’t go out of his way to get to know me, but he was a someone. We talked through text message nearly every day and all day, but one day it just stopped. I didn’t see much of a future with this man, but I wanted a companion and became anxious in his lack of communication. I reached out to a friend about this who said, “If he likes you, he will show you. But you have to let him show you.” She knows me well.

Even after years of living on African time, I am still not a super patient person. I would rather poke and prod to discover something than wait for it to be shown to me. This idea works in some situations, but when it comes to people and their relationships with us, we have to trust what is given to us.

In my current project of self-love, I’ve become more aware about the people I chose to put into my life and the idea that a person has to earn his or her way into it. We should be vulnerable, as Brene Brown says, but only with people who have earned our trust. That may seem egotistical, but we do ourselves no good by keeping crappy company. To be good people, we have to be around good people.

What I have learned in the short amount of time on this journey is that people will show you what you mean to them. They will ask you about you and what matters to you. They will be willing to go through scenarios and calm your anxieties. They will be there to support and encourage you. And these are words or empty promises; they are actions. These connections aren’t always pretty but they are built to withstand the ugly.

There is also the other side. The people who say they want to be in your life but do not act that way. They talk about themselves and care little about your feelings or even who you are. We can’t beg or wish them to be more; they are what they are. We have to accept that and move on and believe in the notion that those that truly love us will make it known.

It’s not easy to examine each connection this way, because letting go is hard, but I understand it’s how I can show up for the people I love. We can be thankful for all the people in our lives, but let us move forward with only the ones that lift us up so we can lift them.

Forgiveness

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The gray winter light was streaming through my window, an invitation to embrace the day, but I pulled the covers over my head. I did not want morning to come. Morning meant a thrashing.

For several months I’ve been aggressively saving for a big trip in May. I shop at the cheap grocery store, I do not buy new clothes and I’ve reluctantly said no to concerts and shows that I’ve wanted to attend. It’s OK because I am good at skimping (Peace Corps skill for life) and this overseas trip with great friends will be worth it. Yet, it’s not easy.

Last night I spent a little excessively while with a friend. At the time I was angry with myself but I knew morning would come and I would be even harsher. How could I be so careless?

Under the covers, not ready for the guilt trip I would give myself, I looked at the time. 7 a.m. OK, an hour to wait this out and then call my mother. As much as I love my mother and as amazing and encouraging she is, and she very much is, she does not need to be awaken every Saturday with my made-up problems.

What if, I thought, I forgave myself? What if I said ‘Oh well, do better next time’ and then made a cup of tea? What if instead of seeking outside confirmation I gave it to myself and said ‘I am OK’?

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, whom I should forgive and who I want to forgive me. I suck at forgiveness. I want people to know that they hurt me and to be sorry, and like most people I have a hard to admitting when I have hurt someone. I’ve been going back through situations where I have felt slighted – situations where I was sure that I was the victim – with a new perspective and often seeing that I am not blameless. I was in the wrong, too, and I want to acknowledge that. In some cases, instead of waiting for an apology I offer one.

There is one particular relationship that has haunted me for quite some time and I could not figure out why it lingered. The person and I gave up hope for a real friendship long ago and if we saw each other today we would be amicable, even if slightly forced. It wasn’t one thing that drove us a part but a string of judgments, backstabbing and disrespect. I was definitely hurt, but I also know that I was not a good friend and I hurt this person. This person didn’t get the best of me and that makes me really sad.

I have forgiven this person. We are in different lives and have moved on. If I did see the person, and I do hope our paths cross again, I would not want to dive into the muck of the past but to start fresh, even if we could never get back to where we once were as friends.

So, why did this failed connection trouble me so? Because I had not forgiven myself. I was still beating myself up for being a terrible person and I hated that that is what the person knows of me. Only recently did I realize this and I have been able to scoop myself up like a loved one and remember that just because I was not a good person in this situation doesn’t mean I am not a good person. I am human. I make mistakes. It’s how we grow.

Only in forgiving myself have I’ve been able to move on. Forgiveness is powerful that way and I am using it in other relationships that gnaw at me.

Forgiveness of ones self doesn’t need to be saved for big things like the end of relationship but we should practice in all aspects of life. It’s OK to forgive ourselves when we forget the keys, ate that extra slice of cake or, even, spent a little too much at dinner.

As humans, we will never not make mistakes. That’s part of our beautiful design. Yet, we’ve been given this great gift of forgiveness so that we can see our mistakes as blessings. It’s remarkable when we forgive others but it is astonishing when we can forgive ourselves. It’s the glorious acceptance of who we are and that who we are is enough.

What is plaguing your heart this beautiful Saturday? It’s likely that some forgiveness could help. So, sweet one, go and forgive. Give yourself that deserved peace.

Mistakes

When I was in pre-service training for Peace Corps (the first time), I made specific personal development goals for my two years in Niger, an emotional checklist. I wanted to run more than I ever had, read all the books I didn’t have time to in the U.S. and rebuild my spiritual life. I also wanted a new outlook on failing.

Throughout PST, I really struggled with learning French and I felt so behind in exploring the culture and building relationships because of my poor language skills, all of this on top of being in a foreign place and having to relearn basic chores, such as bathing and washing clothes. I did not regret my decision to go to Niger, but I was ashamed that I was so bad at it.

One day, while discussing an upcoming language test with another volunteer, she mentioned that she strived to be better at failing. Before that moment, I had run from, haphazardly fixed and awkwardly avoided failure. In this role, though, I would have to embrace it.

And, as a foreigner living in an unknown place, one fails. A lot. I repeatedly failed in Niger and then in Lesotho.

Then I came back to the U.S., and I was fragile again. I refused to let myself believe that I could make mistakes and that I should. Every small decision came down to making the best one. Do I take the job in D.C. or Seattle? Should I live alone or with a roommate? Should I eat a salad or a burrito? Should I stay in or go out? Should I take the bus or the train? These questions, both big and small, tortured me because I needed to find my purpose again, my destined path. All those ideas of failing gracefully were gone, because this wasn’t two years in Africa. This was my forever life, and I didn’t trust my internal compass.

One morning this week, I woke up to a flipping stomach. I knew I would have to make a decision about something – and honestly, not a big or life-defining one – but I didn’t want to, and I didn’t want to admit the reason why this decision was torturing me. When it was time to say yes or no, I went with my gut, which was definitely based off of fear and that made me feel guilty. The ‘should’ haunted me and I agonized about it all evening.

When I called my mother about it, she was empathetic and gave me room to talk out all sides of the situation. She understood why I wanted to say yes and why I wanted to say no, but she also reminded me that this is just one little thing, that it doesn’t determine my life or who or what will come into it. I can see the feelings I have and use them to make a more informed decision next time, she told me.

Later in the day, someone posted this video:


And I remember this video that someone shared with me when I was deciding on what job in what city to take:


Failure and making mistakes are not our enemies. They are lessons. They are guideposts. They are exactly what we need.

When I was in the Peace Corps, I knew that I was going to fail and that allowed me to do so vulnerably and without shame and guilt. My life is not defined but what I do or where I live or whom I spend time with but by the grace that I chose to live my life each day. That includes making mistakes, which I do because I am human.

I am sometimes not a good friend. I make errors at work. I am sometimes a pill and not fun to be around. I date the wrong men and lived in the wrong places. But, I am never lost. All of those things are a part of my grand path, which is full of love and joy, and as long as I live fully and compassionately I will know when to make changes and move in different directions. There are no mistakes, just living.

So, let’s mistakes. Let’s celebrate them because they will always guide us to where we want to be, if we allow them.

Stillness

Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity – Lao Tzu

There was a seat between all of us in the circle.

Her. Seat. Her. Seat. Him. Seat. Me.

The First Her was telling the Second Her that she should treat Chicago as if she was brand new and to rediscover it as if she had just moved here. Yes, the Second Her said, that’s a good idea.

Him them inquired about the situation and the Second Her explained that, while she was from Chicago, she recently returned to the U.S. after four years spent in South Korea. She’s been home, what seven months, she said, burring her head in her hands.

Seven months of pent up emotions started to spill. She had me at, “I am not sure who I am anymore. I am not the person I was before, but I am not the same person I was there. I don’t know who I am.”

Yes, I said. I know, I said. I’ve been there, I said. I told her that it feels like someone yanked the meaning and purpose out of you and all you’re left with is your nearly bearable loneliness.

I met the Second Her at the weekly meditation group I’ve been attending for a few months. We both came to the group to find something we just weren’t finding in our normal lives – companionship, inner peace, something we can’t describe but know we need. She told me how hard it’s been for her to re-transition back into life in the U.S. and I told her that I just came from a very brutal year where I was doing that very thing. I explained that while I still have hard times, which I do, hitting that year mark definitely made a difference. With time, normalcy comes.

This rejuvenated her. She hasn’t met anyone who experienced this before, so she was elated to find someone who could say, Oh, yes, I know those emotions well. She gave me a bit more credit than I deserve in my ability to bounce back, but I wanted her to know that it does get it better. And I shared something with her that a wonderful woman named Madeline told me: you will never stop processing what this means and your story will continue to have chapters throughout your life.

But, at some point you have to be still. I told her that I constantly want to run away, that I want to get on a plane and go somewhere for my next adventure. I don’t, though. First, I’ve already broken my mother’s heart enough. Second, I need to be still. I need to accept the things that come into my life, what’s here and what’s not. I want to be comfortable in just being because I know it’s what my soul needs. Joy doesn’t come from escaping; it’s in us and we must cultivate it.

It’s what Second Her needs, too.

Sometimes taking that great big leap into fear and uncertainty means staying right where you are, accepting the still and believing it has all that you need.