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Category Archives: Clarity

Owning It

Here’s a difficult epiphany:

I am responsible for all of my actions, past present and future.

Ouch.

It stinks to recognize that sometimes I’ve been a bad guy, or done the wrong thing, over the course of a lifetime.

I’d like to think of myself as being Nice and Sweet and Lovable.

I’d like to think that other people, or challenging situations, made me do this or that. Oh how I would love to hand this messy ugly stuff to someone or something else.

I hate the fact that I have become aware that blaming is lame. I used to love passing the buck. It was so much fun and brought so much relief.

I was a lovely, touching victim–especially when I was young, tremulous and tearful from a surfeit of hormones, and painfully thin.

Not only did I think other people were responsible for my lapses in conduct. I believed that I was responsible for other people’s behavior. This created some interesting dynamics in intimate relationships. I spent a lot of time exchanging blame with my significant others, feeling guilty and responsible for their actions and laying guilt trips on them, and ultimately engaging in attempts at mutual control and suffocation. Small wonder we parted–and I was left alone and lonely.

OK, I do know that I can attribute a few of my worst qualities and behaviors to my genes. There’s a good scapegoat. I can also lay a tiny bit of blame on My Childhood and the traumas I endured as I was coming up in the world.

Here’s the bummer, though. Here’s the joke it took me decades to get.

Once you leave childhood and home behind and you’re on your own, you become responsible for your actions, no matter how scarred and crippled you are as a result of your genetic material or the way you grew up.

I sure wish I had known that about 30 years ago. I think I would have watched my behavior a lot more closely.

There is, however, an up side to all this. Recognizing that I am responsible for my own actions also means that I have some say over what I do. No one else gets to control me or my behavior, although I hope that God will weigh in early and often. I am in charge of my actions. The same is true for others. I don’t have any control over what they do nor should I try to exercise it.

And that means:

I’m off the hook. I can concentrate on tending my own garden.

Tending it mindfully and well.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Clarity

 

Stillness

I am frightened by life’s open spaces. I clutter up silences with chatter, rush around pretending to be busy. On the rare occasions, however, when I quiet myself sufficiently to allow stillness, wondrous things happen:

In silence I am able to really sense another person.

In silence another person is able to see me for what I am.

I have never been kissed without a very deep silence occurring first.

I have never had an intelligent thought without silence preceding it.

I have never solved a problem without stillness.

I have never had a moment of clarity without stillness.

I don’t know why I feel the need to fill every space. My guess is that making noise and getting busy are things I do when I’m afraid.

It seems the more I long for something, the more I fear it. I long to be close to others. I long to be open and vulnerable enough for miracles to happen. I am dying to unclench my hands and abandon the illusion of control. I yearn for someone else to pick up the thread: another voice, another hand.

I am also terrified of these things.

Filling spaces with noise and activity appears to be a defense against anyone getting close.

They say human beings are made up mostly of water. I think we are comprised mainly of defenses. Defensiveness is a wonderful trait for survival, not so good for intimate relationships and everyday miracles.

I am aware that in order to connect with other human beings and with life experiences, I need to be undefended in silence and open spaces. I fear, however, that if I remain unguarded for too long, I will be scorched or trampled or feel the need to flee–or at least get behind a solid barricade.

Perhaps the secret is to develop accordion-like instincts, or the rhythms of a fish…a fluid ability to be open one minute, and closed the next.

It requires tremendous emotional flexibility to do that, as well as a lot of courage.

I think it would be worth a try.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Clarity, Essays

 

Open Heart, No Hands

By now the Old Me would have scattered her entire wardrobe around the room looking for the Perfect Outfit to attract Him in an understated way. I would be panicking as I realized that I don’t own any Hoochie Couture and would have to settle for leggings and the best of my light and summery but not cheap looking blouses.

Next would come the anxious process of searching for physical flaws using every mirror in the house: the full length one on the bedroom door that has a bloating funhouse effect, the fluorescent lit bathroom one that makes me look like an Ancient Alien, the softly flattering wall mirror which always reflects a lovely glowing woman in her prime, and the final reality check in the small but deadly mirror that magnifies.

Then, sweating in the 100 degree heat whilst trying to figure out how to control the egress of water from my pores, I would grab my purse and anxiously head for the door and the place where I know He goes for lunch or coffee or to hear music at night. Or perhaps I would cruise down His street to see if I could spot Him. Could I park and hide behind a newspaper?

Today, however, I am not doing any of that. Instead I am relaxing at home, writing this and trying a new approach to handling the extreme emotional and physical discomfort known as Romantic Attraction.

I would describe my new strategy as Getting Over It. Call it preventive medicine for the broken heart. The way I see it, if I can get over the guy (and my own Big Feelings) on Day One, then I will save myself a lot of suffering later–starting with the disappointment I will experience if the frisson of attraction fizzles.

Getting over it means having a realistic approach to pheromonal urges from the first warning thumps of my eager heart. It means taking the fuzzy filters off my eyes, removing the chick flick script from my brain; not planning the wedding from across a crowded room nor breaking up with Him in my mind before our first friendly chat.

It seems to me that a lot of the pain of relationships comes from getting too far ahead of myself. A healthy love affair is the ultimate Twelve Step exercise in present-moment living without forcing anything or trying to race into the future. You are just there dealing with it as it unfolds, neither inflating nor deflating it with your imagination and projections.

I am not sure why I feel the need to rush a relationship. It could be an urge to control, to move rapidly out of the uncertainty that is part of new love into the later more secure stage of things.

After all, nothing is more ambiguous than a new attraction. True amours, lousy love affairs, crushes that crash, and one-sided infatuations all start out more or less the same way. I’m talking about the very VERY beginning: the idyllic fantasy-fueled interlude before red flags, epiphanies, disappointments, hating, blaming and heartbreak.

The fact that you cannot tell where something is headed at the outset means you have to endure uncertainty, unresolved feelings, fear and fretting if you want a relationship to develop. For control freaks and anxiety junkies like me, living with the unknown is agonizing. Sometimes I think I would rather wreck a potential partnership than wait to find out of it is a go or a NO.

In fact, I have done that very thing–more than once.

Some of my airbag-popping strategies for racing into romance (and crashing) have included:

Doing IT too soon in order to get IT over with and become instantly intimate (guys mistook me for a garden implement and tended to not call again–apparently nothing has changed in this regard since the 1950s).

Cultivating a passionate relationship via email before the first coffee (we got so emotionally involved that we had a huge cyber fight and broke up before meeting).

Really opening up on the first date, and sobbing uncontrollably (this is terrifying to a guy…a romantic buzz kill for sure).

Treating the hopeful like a husband by displaying all my worst personality traits in a single email: a paranoid, petty, possessive, jealous Gynormous Beatch Manifesto. This is the sickest way to lose a dude. Yeah, it’s instantaneous.

That is why today you won’t find me driving slowly down the Street Where he Lives (while singing the Broadway tune of the same name) nor surreptitiously scheming to get his email. If you pry into my brain you won’t find a single fantasy about the banging body I plan to have before He Gets to See It.

This time, I am dousing my flaming imagination with cold water, giving up on all hopes and plans, surrendering my will to God and the Universe. I am over him before I start, before I get a chance to ruin it.

Over him but at the same time completely willing, optimistic, and eager to see what develops.

Heart Open, Hands Off. I think it’s a good plan.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Clarity, Essays

 

Life Lessons: Opening

My serendipitous encounter in the coffee bar may not have led to romance but it got me thinking about the idea of opening oneself up to love–and letting God do the rest.

Deepak Chopra refers to this as putting one’s desires out into the Universe and trusting that an answer will come. It takes faith and patience.

To illustrate by analogy, I will quote my wise friend and singing teacher, Sidra.The most useful piece of advice Sidra gave me–and it applies to much more than vocalizing–went something like this:

“Never TRY TO SING. Use your technique to prepare–open the mouth and throat, breathe, widen the eyes, drop the larynx, tuck the derriere–and then allow the note to happen.”

I have heard sports coaches describe athletic technique in the same way. Whether it’s a golfer’s swing, a skater’s leap, or a swimmer’s dive, the secret is always in the preparation. If you set up your moves correctly, chances are you will succeed.

Relationships are no different. Forcing, controlling, manipulating, striving, denying or drinking your way into a connection never works. Instead, you position yourself for a friendly encounter, and then allow your Higher Power to do the rest.

Sometimes you think you have set it up and it doesn’t happen. You try again. You ready yourself, you act “as if” to quote a popular catchphrase, and you allow the Universe to respond. It helps to try to relax and find ways to be happy in the interim.

This approach even works in the parallel universe known as internet dating.

Matchmaking websites, as you may know, are based on the premise that dating can be as easy as shopping. You pick the shape, size, style and color you want and then order your love from a website the same way you’d order a club sandwich from room service.

The problem with this add-to-cart approach is that it doesn’t factor in your Higher Power. You can demand–and even receive–the age, hair color, and body type you dream of but for magic and chemistry you need the Universe. At some point in your online dating process you have to loosen your grip, open your heart, allow space and mystery, let Spirit play a part.

It’s a simple idea, in a way, but not easy to pull off.

Staying open, trusting, happy and calm while awaiting your tardy Prince or Princess can be tough.

Sometimes I miss being in love so much that I swear I am losing my sanity. I feel so alone that I have to yell OWWWWWWWWW in the painful silence. I want to pick a fight with God and screetch like a petulant child: “Hey No FAIR, MY TURN, YOU PROMISED, When Are We Going to BE THERE?”

The following moves help me stay on course:

Breathing.

Centering myself.

Remembering this: Alone is where I am right now. I’ve been in the loving place before. I can be there again. If I stay positive and trust my Higher Power, something good will happen.

In the meantime, I will marvel at the process.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Clarity, Essays

 

The Man in the Cafe

It always happens this way. How could I have forgotten?

The Universe sends you people.

You can drunk dial all your exes. You can fire off a thousand emails on dating sites. In the end, though, you have to admit that the best people never come into your life as a result of stress, straining or hyped-up campaigns.

The folks in your life, whether pleasant brief encounters or serious partners, always arrive serendipitously.

So it was that on a recent morning as I was reading a novel in the coffee bar on the Queen Mary II, drinking an overpriced cappuccino and celebrating another day at sea without a hangover, a big tall handsome friendly British business man came and sat down on the adjacent stool.

We said hello, engaged in ordinary chatter. It was amiable and a little bit awkward. I took mental notes: pale blue eyes in a big square face, gruff manner masking kindness, oversized in a nice way. Eventually we said goodbye. He winked, which almost made me blush. It’s been a long time.

I thought about it once or twice during the day. My heart did not pound. I did not obsess.

The next morning, same time, I was in the coffee bar, and he showed up again. This time, he made a point of squeezing into the only seat next to me. Seemed an awful lot like a second date.

We talked more and longer this time. Eventually he left. There was interest but the time was not yet right for either of us to suggest dinner or a rendezvous in the night club later. It was what it was: pleasant, brief, just right. Perhaps there would be a third encounter that would spark a romance.

I did not see him again. I felt a twinge of disappointment but it was nothing like the heart-sinking ruminations I have experienced after those depressing exercises in mutual appraisal and rejection known as bad dates.

To the contrary, I was delighted to discover that it was possible for someone to take an interest, and for me to feel a bit interested myself. More than that, I was grateful to be reminded that finding a person is not an agonizing slog to the summit.

The Higher Power will send us friends. Our part is to let go of control, try to quiet our fears and put ourselves in situations where others congregate, allow people to enter our lives.

The qualities to cultivate are patience, faith, openness, and receptivity, and, most importantly, the ability to be happy in the interim.

The Universe will do the rest.

I am so grateful for the man in the ship’s cafe–not for being a prince made in Hollywood but for bringing a simple life-affirming truth to my attention.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Clarity, Essays

 

High and Low

Last evening, as I headed up the alley with my dog, I had one of those moments when the Higher Power puts you in your place. Thank goodness for such instances!

While my canine paused to munch on tender blades of grass, I looked up and saw a vista I had seen only in paintings: There on the horizon was a large thunderhead out of which streamed perfect rays of white gold light. It was a visual cliche but also so transcendent that I felt awash in inspiration and happiness.

I said to myself: “Life is perfect and I have found God and I love everybody and everything and I will feel like this forever.”

Not so fast, quoth my Higher Power, but I was too caught up in my Moment to hear.

Alas, my Moment was brief indeed.

A second later, rounding a bend in the alley, I spotted a neighbor whom I did not know. He was just behind his fence, kneeling in his flower garden, weeding.

It was one of those “I see you and I think you see me so now what” encounters that are commonplace among neighbors. At such times one has to choose between the friendly greeting or the sneaky brush off. We both chose the latter. He lowered his head and focused a bit too intently on his plants. I tugged on the leash and stared ahead robotically.

I do not know why he chose to ignore me. My reasons for cutting him could not have been pettier: I didn’t like the cut of his mustache, I was suspicious of his dress shirt and his large fancy house. Most of all, I was insulted that instead of calling out to me, he ducked away. What a horrid man.

Well crash boom bah. Down came my epiphany of universal love. I was, I realized, as lame as a fallen angel. I had failed the first test of my reborn spirit. How shamefully low I had stooped. How vain I had been to to think I could turn clay feet into wings on a single walk.

Only one option remained: to be grateful for the humbling and start my heavenward climb once again.

I was grateful indeed.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in Clarity, Essays

 

Crutches

I am sitting here with a broken leg and a pair of crutches thinking about the irony of my situation. I have crutches and at the same time I have none. Without the use of my leg I cannot lose myself in the familiar tasks and distractions that shore me up daily. I cannot depend on exercise to release happy hormones into my bloodstream. I cannot bond with my dog on jolly romps through the ‘hood. I cannot engage in any aspect of my life as an ambulatory person in a two-story house  that is strolling distance from stores and cafes. I cannot amuse nor distract myself. There is nothing on which I can lean.

Well, almost. Being temporarily immobilized makes you think hard about what your basic necessities are. In front of me, on the coffee table I am using as a leg prop, are  the pillars of my survival kit: A computer, a cell phone, four bottles of pills (two daily, one as needed, another for pain), a large strong cup of coffee.

I look at these things and see exactly where I am in my spiritual evolution. I recognize that it is, alas, mediocre mainstream middle age circa 2011. I should, I chide myself, have a few bowls of spartan, perhaps vegan, treats, a volume of prayers, a bottle of really good water, a pile of important work due immediately.

The prayer book is a real oversight. Were I to have a collection of profound pithy words on which to meditate, I could use this painful experience as a path to spiritual growth. I could stay in the present, perhaps even reduce the vicodin capsules that are essential every few hours if I am to avoid screaming pain.

My mind turns to measuring where I am in my life with other people: family, friends, lovers. There are no crutches there. Loving relatives hundreds of miles away; a promising date that morphed into a misunderstanding; a beastly collection of old boyfriends that look like so much wasted energy; good friends whom I feel too shy to rely on because they are so insanely busy with husbands, kids, careers; a sweet shaggy yellow dog who naturally does not wish to be mistaken for an ottoman.

Does all this make me gloomy? Well, maybe at first. Then, after a while, I begin to find my situation enlightening, even thrilling. To be crippled with so many crutches stripped away is of course a grand opportunity to become more self reliant, more in synch with one’s Higher Power.

Earlier this week, before I fell on a muddy stretch of snow, I felt very much in touch with the part of me that so desperately wants to rely  physically and emotionally on another. I was oh so in tune with my girlish sensitivity as I strolled beside my new gentleman acquaintance, relieved that I could shake off, if only for a few hours and in fantasy, the androgynous persona of the single woman fending for herself. Afterwards, walking home alone, I blasted Whitney Houston’s, “I want to RUN to you” on my MP3. I was shamelessly self indulgent. I enjoyed being a girl.

The princess persona continued after my fall. I was delighted to show off my pedicure and lovely leg wax to the doctor examining my ankle. I had never felt so full of feminine wiles at the emergency room. I fancied the way I looked in my short skirt and boots, hair fetchingly mussed by the tumble, tears falling gently. What a picture of sweet brave femininity! It was divine being wheeled around, crying just a little, wincing in a ladylike fashion until they got the hint and gave me the meds.

Now, alone in my house  with my metal crutches, essential belongings scattered on my coffee table, dog sleeping warily at a distance, I have a new wish. I would like to be as strong and self-sufficient as my new heroine and fantasy BFF: the delicately fierce intriguingly androgynous Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Having recently watched all three movies in the Dragon series, I recall with awe the scenes in which this pierced and persecuted, gunshot-wounded orphan (played with smoky vulnerability by gamine Noomi Rapace) works out in her  jail cell until she is strong enough to fight her opponents one last time and win.

Self reliance, I realize, is the beautiful lesson here. Not running to anyone, at least not for now. Sit ups and weight training. Twelve step prayers. Respecting the dog. Healing.

Then, when it’s time to lose the crutches, standing up bravely, joyfully.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Clarity, Essays