Tag Archives: Freedom

Homecoming

Living at my Grandma’s former home, where I spent so much time as a child, I have a lot of moments where I’ll be going about my business and suddenly be transported into memories of the past. I’ll be walking by the green pole barn and suddenly I’m 5 years old and helping grandma put the pets to bed there, or running around on the dusty, straw-smelling floor and climbing up on the farm equipment while dad works on one of the cars, or sitting on grandpa’s lap as he let me “drive” the tractor out of the big back door.

I will be down by the old wooden barn watering trees and suddenly be eight years old and watching my little brother attempt to scale the silo ladder (he fell, and got zapped pretty good by the electric fence). Walking by the big trees on either side of the walkway up to the house, and then I’m four and using the hose to make little pools in the bowls created by the giant old roots. Playing ball with the dog on the drain field, I’m often brought to the oddly silent fort provided by the long, thick branches of the willow tree that’s no longer there, nothing but my nine-year old self, the sound of cicadas and the concentration of weaving willow branches into crowns or bracelets. There are thousands of this type of mental snapshot here.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

There are also a lot of moments of just being stricken by the weirdness of carrying out my daily adult life here. I’ll be laying on my couch watching TV and suddenly feel like it’s just too bizarre that I’m watching Family Guy in the same place where I used to watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the Golden Girls with grandma and grandpa. Sometimes while I’m cooking it will hit me that I’m walking the same floor, carrying out the same motions, that grandma did while making every meal for 50 years. The weirdest is having fires out in the pit that we made in the pasture, enjoying a couple of drinks, and thinking “what am I doing here, drinking beer and carrying on like the ghosts of my childhood aren’t hanging around?”

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

The feeling is a strange mix of deja-vu, amazement, and disorientation that bring to mind the Talking Heads song:

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

The snapshots of childhood remind me about wonder, freedom, and the joyful creativity of being a child left to herself in an expanse of nature.  I can remember exactly what I was feeling or thinking about in a lot of those snapshots. They are amazingly pure visions back into the essence of who I am when all the stress and pressure, failures and semi-mandated accomplishments of my adult life are peeled away.The moments of plain adult weirdness about the overlap of history and present are little shocks of “who am I and how did I get here? What the hell happened?”

Sometimes these moments will make me feel sad, mournful for the perfectly formed little person I was, and for how far she has been buried. Or sad because I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions about what to do with the gift of this place, and the fear of doing things wrong; especially with the knowledge about everything I’ve already done wrong in my life. Other times, and these are the ones I am really trying to focus on, I am inspired to tug that little girl back into the present and get to know her again. To use her joy and love and fearlessness as a guide for correcting all the things I’ve screwed up while making decisions out of fear. To know that the sudden feeling of elation that comes with that inspiration is what it feels like to do what’s right for my soul.

Even with such constant and intense reminders, it is hard to make the minute clicks in behavior towards more personal authenticity. Frequently I’m lonely and scared and running back towards approval-seeking and all of the other things I do to soothe the unsettling feeling of free-falling into the unknown that being authentic represents. But the moments of heart-bursting “rightness” are increasing, and they are inspiring many subtle shifts in how I interact with the world. I am still very, very tentative, but I am also deeply grateful for whatever currents brought me home to the farm where I can hear myself again after so much time spent thrashing around just  trying to stay afloat. 20140831_220347

Renewal

I have recently been feeling a big pull towards the concept of renewal. It makes sense. It’s spring time, and the winter sucked really hard this year. But I am feeling it in a way that is a little more intense than the norm. I think a lot of it comes from living on a farm, and just being more generally in touch with what nature is doing. Living here forces me to take a more active part in the cycles of the seasons. During the winter I had to learn to just sit with myself a little bit more than I’ve been used to. When big snowstorms came through it could be days before the roads were reasonable for driving into the city. There were several times where we had to cancel plans with friends because, even a couple of days after the storm, it would have taken us hours of stressful driving to connect with them. No plan, no matter how longstanding, is completely within my control out here. When nature has other plans, I simply need to relinquish my will to her.

Being forced to let go has changed me. I have a long-term habit of trying to control my environment in order to feel O.K. I have done this with my behavior and also with my thoughts and judgements. I know that most people do this; it’s what we call “ego.” This strange idea that simply having consciousness means that we also have control. Over and over again in my life I have made careful plans to try to control “my” world, and over and over again the real world has said “fuck you, chicky. This is not how I want it to go and I’m bigger than you.” The point of this blog was, as the name implies, to document my roadmap, my plan, to gain further control over my world. What I’ve learned is that I don’t, and can’t, have control. Trying to wrest control from the universe has actually been the biggest cause of distress and backwards movement.

I wish that I could say that over the long winter I took advantage of having so much unfettered time to myself (true to the story that I always told myself “I just don’t have time to write, exercise, meditate, etc.). What really happened was that, while having to sit with myself, I spent most of my time trying to escape myself. In the absence of my old city-living mode of escapism,hyper-socialization, I turned to higher levels of solo escapist activities: unhealthy and excessive eating, too much TV, too much drinking. Even reading novels can take on an obsessive quality for me. For a couple of months I was in the midst of the deepest depression I’ve had since I nearly lost it at the tail end of completing my master’s degree. I was dwelling a lot on everything that I have not accomplished in my life, and on how my life seemed to just be happening to me in ways in which I didn’t want to participate . I felt hopeless and dead inside, and as usual, couldn’t seem to conjure up the energy to do anything about it.

I’ve known for awhile that I am an escape artist. I can look back at my life and see a clear road to “anywhere else but here, with anyone else but myself,’ wildly zig-zagging and wrapping around and through the hard lines of control that I try to draw for myself. It is the counter-balance to the part of me that wants to control and be too perfect to ever really accomplish or create anything of value because life is messy. After being forced to hang out with myself more, I know more deeply than ever before that the escape-artist in me is there to keep me from seeing the things about myself and my life that I don’t want to see. In it’s most recent incarnation, it has been padding me from the whole idea that I have no control, when the truth is that taking one’s hands off the wheel isn’t the same as being a victim.

I started to come out of the depression in February, and have since been actively poking at the things in my life that scare me. I am still scared, but am coming round to the idea that in order to get past some things, I have to actually go through them. When your hands are off the wheel, your vehicle can go in any direction. It can go to places that scare you, or it can go to places that exceed all expectations of joy. Either way, if you jump out of a moving vehicle you are going to get hurt. The point is that I have to step into my various roles in life. That doesn’t just mean the parts that I “like” or feel safe in. Being able to observe myself a bit more closely than usual out in the country, I didn’t just see what I was doing via my escape-artist, I felt it. In the past I have beat myself up over returns to deep escapism. This time I have some compassion for the fearful parts of myself. However, I feel like the winter was a death-rattle of a lot of self-destructive parts of me. It was a final tantrum of the escape-artist. Now, little by little, I’ve been stepping back into my life. Even the scary parts. It feels like a revival, and even though I’m still uncomfortable, I’m grateful for it.

The Experience of Change

It seems like a lot of people that I know are currently going through big changes in their lives, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how change is experienced (well, and I’ve been experiencing my own changes, too!). Change, whether it is self-imposed or imposed by the universe, can feel very scary. I think change is scary because it feels lonely. Even if it’s a positive change. Even if you have a lot of support. Even if you feel cared-for. Even if you know that you are loved. The experience of change is very personal, and nobody can know how it feels to you. Depending on where you are at, or what the change is, your perception of the situation can make the responses of others feel very thoughtless and mean when they are actually quite innocent. Also, you know that nobody can really know how you feel, because they aren’t walking around in your head. So, even if people are trying to give you support, your mind can twist away from it, just because you know that they don’t really understand how it is for you. Finally, change is transformation. It is moving away from what your loved ones, and sometimes society in general, expect from you, and a lot of us have a very hard time tearing ourselves away from what other people want from us.

For me, the changes that I’m intensely trying to make in my life are imposed by me. They are only loosely dependent on my relationships. Nothing catastrophic or sad has happened to me. The process is, for the most part, under my control. I feel lucky for that: not only do I get to choose own perceptions about my results, but I am also the instigator of the change in the first place. However, it can be a little bit confusing sometimes. I get frustrated or sad because I feel isolated. But I’ve been isolating myself deliberately, so I can’t really go shaking my fist at the sky! I chose to take it easy on the social front because I needed some space to get into a new groove before putting myself in situations where I’d be likely to derail myself. When I look at it that way I am forced to acknowledge that feeling sorry for myself is silly and unhelpful and not a real problem but one I’m creating in my head. And then I feel like an asshole and immediately make myself feel better by laughing at what an asshole I am being. Problem solved!

Another side to the loneliness of change is that my default is still, though much less so than at other times in my life, to want to put the desires of others before my own needs. I struggle with guilt, and feel like I have been a terrible friend/daughter/granddaughter/sister/etc. But, as cheeseball as it sounds, I’ve grown to really believe that you can’t really love others fully if you don’t love yourself – kindness isn’t as kind as it could be if your acts of kindness are, deep-down, about self-validation. This concept is totally self-help 101; I’ve frequently heard it on The Biggest Loser, for god’s sake. But for some reason it’s a hard one for a lot of people to grasp.  Ultimately the thought that helps me get through those moments of guilt is that I want my relationships to be about mutual love and support and happiness. Not about validation or control on either end (I realize that there are some relationships that are dependent by nature – they have to be! But I am not a parent yet, so now is a good time for me to get a grip on these concepts!).

Are you experiencing a big change in your life? How are you feeling about it? Is it scary? Lonely? Exciting? Invigorating? All of the above?

No Regrets?!

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with my cousin and she brought up how she hates it when people say they have “no regrets.” No regrets! We decided that people who really believe that are either a.) really shallow, and/or not self-aware enough to realize the consequences of decisions, b.) pathologically optimistic, or c.) super egotistical (ie., “everything I do turns out golden, regardless”). O.K., O.K., I get why people say “no regrets.” For some people it is a mantra, a kind of “seize the day” sort of thing, so they don’t end up on their deathbeds regretting too many things that they didn’t do.  For others it is to convince themselves that everything happens for a reason, and it all turns out for the best. And for others it is to convince themselves or justify to others that it is alright that they acted like a total shit, because everything turned out for the best.  In some circumstances it simply means that whatever the outcome of a specific situation is was worth the hell someone had to go through to get there. But do people really believe it when they say it?

Personally, I think that as a mantra the phrase is a set-up for disappointment. I understand that the point is to live life to its fullest, but why wouldn’t your mantra simply be “seize the day,” or “live every day like it’s your last,” or something? Even when things turn out well, you will probably regret at least some things.  As far as the “everything happens for a reason” argument: I guess I do believe in fate, destiny, or whatever you want to call it. BUT! I don’t believe that we don’t have a choice in how it affects us. So, if you go through hell, and the outcome is ultimately positive, that’s all fine and dandy. However, often times you could have chosen a path that wouldn’t have put you through hell, may have had a different outcome, but the outcome could still have been positive. If someone says it about a specific goal; well, I guess I can understand that, like, “I went through hell to stop smoking (or lose weight, or whatever it is), but I have no regrets.” Although I do think that in a lot of those situations the hell we go through is the hell we create for ourselves, so it is still a choice. Obviously I’m not going to bother refuting the whole thing about using that phrase to justify being an a-hole.  There is no excuse for being a jerk. Everyone acts like a jerk from time to time, but there is no goal that justifies it. Sorry.

For your entertainment, here is just a small sampling of things I regret (despite the fact that they had some positive outcomes):

  1. Starting to smoke. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! (However, I may have never met some of the people who are my best friends now!)
  2. Paying so much money to go to a private liberal-arts college (With a couple exceptions from high school and being related, I would definitely not have met any of the people who are my best friends now!).
  3. Paying so much money to go to a private liberal-arts college. Again. (No particularly positive results thus far…well, I guess I know what the edge of sanity looks like now! And I did meet one person I’m still friends with. Otherwise, I’m not using my expensive MA at all!)
  4. Caring too much about what other people think of me. (Results: Eating Disorders. Lots of mental anguish. Lack of confidence. Fear of failure Etc.. But, I guess it could have saved me from doing lots of stupid things, too. I will never really know!)
  5. Having Credit Cards. Well, I guess I got to go on a couple of trips thanks to these. Too bad the most recent trip that I can attribute to a credit card happened 6 years ago! Also, my hubby and I put some stuff for our wedding on credit. I had a pretty kick-ass wedding day; so I’d say that was worthwhile. Otherwise, there is nothing that I have used credit for that has been particularly memorable or necessary.

And those are just things that I regret doing! I won’t even get started on things I regret not doing!

I guess there is one possible way that “no regrets” is meaningful to me: that regret is a waste of time and life. Whatever choices are in your past are already in your past. They’re done, so there’s no use thinking about them.   So, “no regrets” could just mean “The past is over. Live in the present.” I can get behind that. But I still think it would be more accurate to stick with the wisdom of the Beatles :“Let it be,” or just “let it go.”

What do you think of the phrase “no regrets”? What are your major regrets? Did they have some positive outcomes?

An Unusual Time for New Awareness

David and I are now nearing the end of phase one of the detox/elimination diet. If I would have been thinking carefully about timing, I might have considered that I was still going to be in the most difficult phase of the diet on the one day each month (well, the one reliable day, anyhow!) that I go batshit crazy. A day that has been known for years in our household as “Crazy Thursday,” though this time it arrived one day early. In case you haven’t figured it out: “Crazy Thursday” ushers in my “time of the month.” Don’t worry, Gents, this isn’t going to be terribly graphic (unless you are one of those guys that likes to pretend that periods don’t happen at all).

Typically on my day of PMS, I am a cryer, not a fighter. I don’t get irritable (unless some jackass is foolish enough to say “whatsa matter, that time a the month?”) I have meltdowns. Like, everything that I have been frustrated, sad, or angry about for the last month wells up and I just have to cry it all out for about two hours. This is best done by myself. In fact, David doesn’t even react to it anymore (we’ve been together nine years – I give him a pass. After it’s over, of course. While it’s happening he is a total asshat in my head for not trying to comfort me!).

When the sadness hit me on Wednesday, I thought “uh oh. Without any of my usual self-soothers, am I going to go totally nuclear?” Strangely, I did not. Rather than having an epic meltdown, I just maintained a certain level of blue all day. I didn’t even shed any tears! So weird! I almost felt robbed! “WHERE IS MY MELTDOWN?!”

Then it hit me. My obsessive thought is gone. I haven’t been turning and turning the same thoughts over in my mind for a few days. Without the obsessive thought, there’s nothing to fuel a meltdown. The reasons for being sad or angry or frustrated occur to me, and I feel down, but I’m not beating them to death enough to sit and cry for two hours. Reason sets in at a normal enough pace so that my brain is going “huh, that sucks, but your whole life doesn’t suck.” Wow.

So, I guess that’s positive detox result #1! Of course, I have no idea what it was that was contributing to my racing mind. I won’t know that for several weeks (if ever I can get that specific – elimination diets are a limited tool of measurement)! But it’s pretty cool to check in on my brain and find that it’s thinking about whatever it is I’m doing at the moment, instead of obsessing about a million things I can’t do anything about!

Whoooo Aaaare Yoooou?

Yesterday I addressed some identity issues that I’ve been having related to detoxifying. I have written a bit about who I have wanted to be, and who I have been, but I haven’t really addressed who I want to be now. The truth is that I have been hazy on that point, and that’s been a problem. I have said something about who I don’t want to be: I don’t want to be a sanctimonious health nut, and I don’t want to party my spirit away. So, perhaps it would be helpful to me to further dissect who I don’t want to be?

To me, the definition of the sanctimonious health nut is a person who is not open to further explorations in how to live and does not respect where others are on their journey. So, I guess that tells me that I want to do my best to remain receptive to different ways of doing things, to be non-judgmental about opinions that differ from mine, and to be compassionate towards those who are struggling on their path. God knows that I have been grateful for the kindness I’ve been shone by some others on my path. If I’m in a place where I can be helpful to someone else, I definitely want to do it. But I don’t want to be preachy; I intimately know how feeling judged can contribute to derailment. Furthermore, I don’t want to be culty, subscribing to a rigid set of beliefs about the right or wrong way to live.

I don’t want to submit to the false belief that being healthy is synonymous with being boring. I live in a neighborhood that is chock-full of artsy hipsters. A lot of partying happens here, and a lot of the glamor that I fell victim to in my twenties is all around me. As I’m walking around the neighborhood, I often wistfully observe my neighbors and wish that I was still young and in that exciting go-go-go phase of life. I feel like a dowdy old lady in my yoga pants and sensible running shoes. There needs to be an adjustment made in my perception of excitement and balance being mutually exclusive. I’m not 22, I’m 32, and I have had a painful time of realizing that the go-go-go lifestyle does not work for me. I need to be O.K. with that. But I also want to be sure not to grind to a halt and live my life in the past-tense of shoulda-coulda-didn’t.

O.K., so I need to strike a balance between partying like a has-been rockstar, and being too rigid. Good, that’s a start. Essentially, I want to be a person who is still fun, silly, crazy, weird, and joyful while also being observant, sincere, loving, diligent, and kind. I know that I have all those things in me because that is where I started from in my late teens. I just have to remember that all of those things are in me without having to involve any “props.”