personal growth

Lesson of the 36th Year

“The time is a critical one, for it marks the beginning of the second half of life, when a metanoia, a mental transformation, not infrequently occurs.”(on being 36 yrs old)
C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation

Thank you Carl Jung, for so many things, but above all, for helping me feel a little less crazy about the maelstrom that’s engulfed my life. Or, at least, crazy in a good  way.

People look at me sideways or brush off the sentiment altogether when I mention the 36 year mark as transformational. “Wait until you’re 40,” they say, missing the point altogether, as if I’m complaining about getting older. That’s not it. What recently hit me like a bucket of water in the face is this: I am halfway through my life.

For so long, I’ve crawled, hopped, and sometimes skipped through this one, precious life of mine. Sure, I knew I was going to die, but that was a long way off. And then, suddenly, towards the end of my 36th year, I see death waving to me, like an old friend in an open doorway. Though still in the distance, he is near enough that his silhouette obscures the horizon.

 

“Firstly, there is no such person as Death. Second, Death’s this tall guy with a bone face,

like a skeletal monk, with a scythe and an hourglass and a big white horse

and a penchant for playing chess with Scandinavians.

Third, he doesn’t exist either.”

 Neil Gaiman

 Friends and family have argued the point, offering reassurances that I’ll live past 72. Or they try to cheer me up, as if I’m somehow “sad” about the notion. Nope. Whether I live to 97 or am carried away by flying monkeys tomorrow, is irrelevant. The important thing is to allow the notion of death into my concept of “self” to a significant enough degree that it propels me forward for the remainder of my life.

How will I leave a mark and what will that mark be? What do I want to be known for? Who do I want to have been? They are not the kinds of questions most of us are comfortable asking ourselves. But the answer to those questions is the place where the truth lies, secreted away, waiting to show us our authentic selves, who we truly wish to be. We think we can wait for some “right” time in the future when we have more time to muddle through such things and ponder such questions.

I have news for you. There is no “right” time looming in the future. The time is Now. Do it Now. Begin it Now. Whatever it is, whatever you dream, bring it to life in this moment, the only one you can be sure of. What are you waiting for?

 

Standard
personal growth

Avoiding "Psycho Kitty" Syndrome

“I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path.”
Dalai Lama

My cat is crazy. Wait. I’d better restate that. My cat has illuminated one of the many ways in which we are all crazy. Let me explain:

The other morning – 5 a.m. to be precise – I woke to find Sagan purring on my chest. How sweet, I thought, petting him for a moment. The next moment – Damn, now I’m really awake and have to pee. Not wanting to disturb the tranquility, I scooped him up and carried his sweet, purring self down the hall with me. When we reached the bathroom, I started to gently lower him to the ground, half expecting him to curl up at my feet in feline bliss. Nope. As soon as his back paws touched the floor, he sprang up as if it were hot coals, lashing out with his claws, trying to hold onto anything he could find. His claws found my hand. And my foot. Double Damn.

I ended up throwing him into the hallway and he ran away terrified, leaving me bewildered and bleeding. What just happened? I wondered, now totally awake and in pain. The answer presented itself almost immediately. The bath mat wasn’t on the ground, it was draped over the bathtub after one of Katie’s more adventurous mermaid bath times. The floor was bare – its hardly ever bare – and it wasn’t what Sagan had been expecting.

Seriously, though. Is that any reason to go all psycho kitty on me? Apparently, it is. I would like to tell you that the following realization took me days and days to discover, that it was such a psychological leap I couldn’t identify it at first, but that would be a lie. The truth is, I go all psycho in my own way, for pretty much the same reason – things don’t go the way I expected they would.
 
Apparently, I have all kinds of expectations – high ones and low ones: about how others should behave, how much traffic there should be, and whether or not I should be able to do various challenging yoga poses on any given day. There’s really no rhyme or reason to it. Pick a topic, I’m sure I have an expectation about it. Trouble is, I’m not generally aware of my expectations. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Which left me wondering: how much frustration is generated by forming expectations about things we have very little control over? A great deal, is my guess.

So today, I’m going to try something new. Instead of forming expectations about what the world will bring, I will set an intention about what I will bring to the world. My strength. My flexibility. My balance. I hope that will prepare me to face whatever expectation is shattered before my eyes. But please forgive me if I go a little psycho kitty from time to time. I’m still getting the hang of this.

Peace.

Standard
personal growth, yoga

Finding Your Threshold

Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view, That stand upon the threshold of the new.
Edmund Waller

I don’t know if it was one-too-many sprints up the hill in high school soccer practice or just general wimpiness (I suspect the latter), but I’ve always associated the word threshold with pain. As in: “I’ve reached my threshold, I can’t push any further.” Now that I’m exploring the world of yoga, I find myself using the word threshold to describe the place I’m trying to find – the outer reaches of what I can physically and mentally handle without giving up. As with any practice, the more I do it, the stronger I become and the longer I can stay in positions that drove me to cursing and collapse just a few short weeks ago. But its not just about physical strength. My mind and spirit are stronger too, so that even though it hurts as much as it did weeks ago, I am getting better at sitting with the hurt. In fact, I find it helps not to think of it as “hurt” but as some nebulous something that soon will pass.  I know that sounds like a pile of new age crap, but its true. Try it and prove me wrong.

With all of the focus on pain and discomfort, imagine my surprise when I looked up the word “threshold” and found it defined as: “An entrance or a doorway, the place or point of beginning; the outset.” Huh. So I’ve been associating doorways and new beginnings with pain. That sounds like me. I’d just never seen it so clearly before. What I have seen are the words “Pain! Fear! Stop!” flashing across my brain when I’m presented with the new, something I really want, my heart’s true desire. Perhaps I’m the only one, but I suspect I’m not. Newness can be terrifying. It shakes you up. It shakes you down. It strips away your artifice and sends you naked on a new adventure. Sure, you may get your dream come true. You also might get eaten by a dragon.

But I’ve come to realize, the dragon gets all of us in the end. It makes more sense, to me, to find the adventure while its there for the finding. The grand doorways of life require an almost heroic crossing of a threshold, but you become stronger each time you push up against it.The unknown might be scary and uncomfortable at first, just like a yoga pose that asks you to balance your body in a new way, often head down, very close to crashing into the earth. But with practice, it becomes the new normal and you have grown past boundaries you never realized you’d erected for yourself.

What are the thresholds in your life and how do you reach them? The next time you find one, instead of running away or pulling back, maybe try stepping a little closer and sitting at the edge. Put a toe in the water – your future is waiting for you on the other side. And while you’re there, look for me. I’ll be the one splashing around in the water.

Standard
nature, personal growth

Perseverance and Abundance

“Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.”
Julie Andrews

Acorns blanket the ground this time of year so that I have to step carefully in certain spots on the playground so my feet aren’t carried away on some mad-scientist-squirrel acorn conveyor belt. Trust me. Its a riot. As I found myself tiptoeing through the piles the other day, I wondered why the trees have to make SO MANY. Wouldn’t a hundred suffice instead of thousands? Apparently not.

Of course, the squirrels need some, which is abundantly clear as they embark on near-suicidal missions into preschool territory to claim their nutty stash. But surely the trees aren’t really concerned about the welfare of the squirrels – its ultimately about the trees creating baby trees – and it seems to take a lot of acorns to make that happen.

Long story short, this got me thinking about ideas and perseverance. If you’re like me, you’ve been told all your life about the benefits of sticking with things, seeing them through to the end, fighting the good fight, etc. etc. etc. That’s usually the point in the conversation when I gaze out a window and start wondering how I’d survive the zombie apocalypse. But when my mind finally rejoins the discussion, I know the good-advice-givers are honestly trying to give good advice. Only problem – its half the story and doesn’t apply across all situations.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is make more seeds. Acorns. Ideas. Paths. Make lots of them. Its like brainstorming your life. Sometimes the best thing to do is to let your leaves go and put your energy into new ideas (seeds) for the future. Its difficult to know when to hold on (spring and summer) and when to let go (fall and winter) but they are equally crucial parts of the cycle of growth and abundance.

The acorns also show us that in order to truly create something new in your life, whether it be a job, a relationship, or anything else under the sun, you need to generate lots of ideas and try many new things in order to find those few that will root and grow with the ravenous energy of new life. Are there areas of your life which are stagnating? Which areas would you like to transform? How can you start generating seeds for your own life, today, that will grow into beauty tomorrow?

Standard
nature, personal growth

Be Like The Tree

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” ~ Anatole France

On the playground where I work, there is a tree in bright orange leaf right now. I’ve never noticed the tree before, but this week its putting on a show and refuses to not be noticed. In a few more weeks, it will be a skeleton of itself, bare and hunkered down for winter. It leaves me thinking about how quickly and elegantly nature changes. The trees pay attention to the length of the day by registering the amount of sunlight falling on their leaves. Once the days begin to shorten, the leaves pull in their chlorophyll, revealing the brilliant oranges and yellows that have been a part of the leaf all along. Knowing the leaf won’t survive the winter, the tree pulls back to protect itself, but not without its own unique display of beauty. It makes me wonder what we can learn from the trees.

How do you approach change in your life? If you are like me, do you sometimes resist or ignore the natural cycles in your life until you find yourself in the dead of winter wearing shorts and a tank top? You look up and say “Hey! What happened?” By that point, you have frostbite and often lose more than you would have by shedding your “leaves” at the appropriate time and strengthening yourself for the changes ahead. You’re much more vulnerable when the change is thrust upon you.

Of course, there are events in life that seem to happen from out of the blue. But there’s another lesson the trees have to teach us: pay attention. You are more intuitive and wise than you think. Signs abound if you are only open to seeing them. And once you begin to notice them, you can start to make decisions about change in your life. You start to see it coming from farther away and you begin to accept it before your life reaches a critical mass and you’re forced into a change of last resort.

Take strength from the tree. Look up as it showers you in glorious color, preparing to take the long, solitary plunge into darkness. It knows the light will come again, so now it rests, pulling strength deep within. Soon, so soon, it will emerge from its winter cocoon with a burst of new growth and abundance.

You will too.


Standard
dreams, personal growth

Elevator Dreams

The other night I had a dream about an elevator. I was on the ground floor with two friends, waiting to board and ride up to my home near the top of the building. Two women joined us. One was the nurse for the other. The nurse pulled me aside and with gesture, more than word, explained that the other woman was almost a complete invalid and may even wet herself if frightened.

When the elevator doors opened, everyone boarded except the nurse, but I didn’t realize that until the doors closed. “Wait,” I wanted to call. “Who’s going to take care of her?” But the lift was already rising and began to shake violently. For a moment, it occurred to me that we all might fall to our deaths. The incapacitated woman looked completely terrified so, reluctantly, I embraced her and told her she would be okay. We would all be okay. The dangerous rocking continued but as I held her, I knew it really would be okay. As frightening and erratic as the ride was, I knew we would eventually reach home.

When I think about the metaphor of an elevator, I realize that there are many, many elevators in life. You need to take journeys to get to the next levels of your life. I remember as a child, I preferred to ride escalators but that never got me further than the third floor. The safe route won’t get you further in life either. What are the elevators in your life? Change and growth are frightening, even if we are moving on to broader vistas, higher heights. It often feels as if we will plummet to our deaths at any moment (if you’re taking the big chances and really testing your wings.)

Do you have the compassion to embrace yourself — your terrified, inner child, helpless self — with loving arms? Do you have the courage to remind yourself it really will be okay no matter what happens because when you embrace your whole self — even those parts you dislike — you’ve already come home?

http://vimeo.com/30288013

Standard