What I Have Learned So Far
Certain life experiences are shattering: death, divorce, serious illness or injury. They are the wake-up calls in life that suddenly intensify and hone your focus like nothing else. They send you reeling as you try to adjust to the seismic shift in change. All emotions are intensified and the grief period is so great that sometimes it is all you can do to just be quiet and be with yourself.
I often compare it to an earthquake where you have the main catastrophe but then you have aftershocks that rattle you again that you must learn to adjust to. But just as it is darkest before the dawn the dawn does come and with it comes hope and growth and a new life.
It is human nature to want to stick to the comfort and the familiar, instead of face the fear and insecurity in the unknown. Yet life is always changing. Children grow older each year often changing in miraculous ways. Change can be wonderful if we embrace it and learn from it and are open to all of the challenges that bring us good.
The recipe testing emails were always a sort of on-line diary for me. I wrote to all of you directly from my heart. I almost never edited them. They always kind of wrote themselves. Because of the private nature of divorce I couldn't write everything I wanted to and that is why I haven't written as much as I used to to all of you. But I wrote in my journals often and used them as tools for learning and growth. During the divorce I saw my therapist every other week and then worked closely with a dear friend who also has her PhD in therapy. I was so open to learning every lesson and found that my greatest weakness is patience. I hate to wait. I'm such a doer. I have this sense of urgency that is positive when you want to accomplish something but not good when you try to rush the natural order of life.
Divorce is so similar to the process of grief you go through after a death. And truly it is a form of death. Your old life has died and your family as you once knew it has also died. You must create a new family and a new life. I am beyond blessed to have had the enormous support of my extended family as well as dear friends. I've always thought of myself as a strong and confident person. I've had my hobbies and interests from a young age and always had a strong sense of independence and self. I knew what I liked and was always happy to voice them. Yet even with the support and confidence I had my life was still shattered. I can't imagine how hard it must be for people who don't have the support that I did. Hopefully, I can pay it forward to those in the future.
In December I decided I had given the divorce it's full year and it was time to begin the second chapter of my life and begin dating. Thankfully I have a number of dear friends who have been through divorce and kind of told me the "road map" of what it was going to look like. The one friend explained that you are on "emotional narcotics" and every feeling you have will be amplified to an almost dizzying state. As I said, during the divorce I saw my therapist every other week because she knew the main healer would be time. During this dating phase I'm seeing my therapist every week so that I stay centered, stay balanced and understand all of the transitions. I realize I'm lucky and that I have insurance that pays for a therapist, but I will lose that when the divorce is final. If you can't afford a good therapist then I would recommend some good therapy books and connecting with a good friend to learn your way through.
What I also noticed is that even though I was going through the extreme sense of emotions and feelings that many of my friends who were just going through daily life sometimes had feelings of "something missing" or "needing a spark" or "being bored with the way things were." Anyone who has been through cancer or divorce or death would say "please bring on boring!" We didn't really want to be forced to "come alive" so acutely. When I was describing some of the joys of dating various friends they said they missed those butterflies at the beginning and the excitement and fun of something new. A few started to envy my position. I said please don't. I said please be grateful for your loving husband and family. If anything make a date with your husband. Try to put the spark back in your own marriage by doing something special together. By treating each other as rare and precious. And while I clearly understand that some marriage cannot be saved and that some people do indeed have happier second chapters, there are plenty of people out there with wonderful first marriages that just need a little time and reigniting of the flame. Her comments reminded me of when Katherine saw Jeanette getting so much attention for having cancer and getting to do so many things and she said "I wish I had cancer."
There are many great books that I'm sure will be helpful but the two books that have been transforming to me are Mark Nepo's BOOK OF AWAKENING and Julia Cameron's THE ARTIST'S WAY.
I just want to stop writing what I was for a moment to tell you HOW HARD IT IS FOR ME TO FIND THE TIME TO WRITE ON THIS BLOG. Even though it is a school holiday Melissa Madeline needs me and wants me to make crepes. She is frustrated that I'm at the computer writing and not paying attention to her. My sister called because Brooke and Katherine are on ASB President and Secretary and there is a school dance tonight and Katherine needs to help decorate and I need to drive her over there. Granny has declined substantially and we've had to interview caregivers and take care of her constant needs. And usually it is impossible for me to write because Melissa Madeline and I now share a desk because of the divorce and she is often on my computer and at my desk and I rarely get my turn. Then in true Murphy's Law when I can FINALLY get on the computer the internet is down. The Blessing in all of this is that it has forced me to do a lot of journal writing that has been intensely personal and transforming. But I do want to tell you that any parent, single or not, has a VERY hard time carving out an hour of personal time whether it is to write, run or do whatever fills them up. Children and work are very demanding. My mother always said it is the busiest time of life as weekends are filled with sports, dance, plays, birthday parties and children's activities. I know my first duty at this time in my life is to be a mother. And I do try to find the JOY in all that entails. And thankfully my girls are growing more independent each year and helping with laundry and dishes and being part of the household.
Now back to completing this and trying to write through the constant interruptions. Recently there were two readings in Mark Nepo's book. One on urgency and one about these traps for monkey's. I'd actually like to paste them at the end of this because I thought they were really terrific. Then Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way literally gives you the stepping stones to DOING what you need to do to get to where you want to go. Her recommendation of the daily pages is TRANSFORMING. I find that if I'm even a little down in the dumps or not feeling right that just reading one random page of her book is electrifying to my brain and it into this wonderful productive creative place. You don't even have to read it in order. I've found huge benefit from just skipping around. This morning I opened to the back of the book and was just reading some questions and answers and was completely inspired.
Ninety percent of my life right now is taking care of my kids. We've made this transition with Melissa Madeline to a hybrid of specialized classes at the public school here combined with the best of her homeschooling. I'm Blessed that we have this opportunity of having these services offered to us at this particular school but it has also required even more driving on my part. I'm in the car what feels like constantly between the morning school needs of both children and then the afternoons of Katherine's five dance classes, piano lessons, Melissa's tutoring, Knit Fit and Valley Broadway. But they are thriving and I'm grateful.
So in the remaining ten percent there is a little cooking:-) I'm working now on getting that back into my life. I have a stack of clipboards with recipes that need to be typed and tested. I'm hoping to get a lot of work done during the downtime in the summer. Thankfully, Hollye Jacobs put my most recent testing recipe on her Silver Pen blog for me. The recipe is for Lentil Salad. Delicious, quick, healthy and easy.
Another thing that has been wonderfully helpful for me during this whole period of growth and transition is Oprah's Thought for Today Newsletter. Once I signed up they just come to my email and have a quote at the beginning and then links to wonderful articles including some of her Lifeclass articles. (if you go to the very bottom of the page on Oprah.com under subscriptions you can sign up for the free newsletters.) Otherwise, you can just go to her web site. But I find getting the email in my inbox REMINDS me that there are links to all these wonderful inspirational articles that I would forget to go on otherwise. The one this morning was so powerful and if it hadn't come to my email than I would never have read it in my busy day. It had 12 quotes to quick-start real change.
I'm going to write a list soon of some of the key things I've learned that have helped me the most. But the quick list I will say is: take a walk, say gratitude prayers, call a friend, write in a journal, read something inspiring. Sending grace and peace to all of you as you search for the JOY in the challenges of life. Maili
March 7 from Mark Nepo's Book of Awakening
LET GO OF THE RICE
In a world that lives like a fist
mercy is no more than waking
with your hands open.
So much more can happen with our hands open. In fact, closing and stubbornly maintaining our grip is often what keeps us stuck, though we want to blame everything and everyone else, especially what we're holding on to.
There is an ancient story from China that makes all this very clear. It stems from the way traps were set for monkeys. A coconut was hollowed out through an opening that was cut to the size of a monkey's open hand. Rice was then placed in the carved-out fruit which was left in the path of the monkeys. Sooner or later, a hungry monkey would smell the rice and reach its hand in. But once fisting the rice, its hand could no longer fit back out through the opening. The monkeys that were caught were those who would not let go of the rice.
As long as the monkey maintained its grip on the rice, it was a prisoner of its own making. The trap worked because the monkey's hunger was the master of its reach. The lesson for us is profound. We need to always ask ourselves, what is our rice and what is keeping us from opening our grip and letting it go?
It was upon hearing this story that I finally understood the tense ritual of rejection that exists between my mother and me. Like any child, I've always wanted her love and approval, but suddenly I realized that this has been my rice--the more it has not come, the tighter my grip. My hunger for her love has been the master or my reach, even in other relationships. I have been a caught monkey, unwilling to let go.
I have since unfolded the grip in my heart, and humbly, I can see now that the real challenge of surrender, for all of us, is not just letting go--but letting go of something we yearn for.
The truth is that food is everywhere. Though the stubborn monkey believes in its moment of hunger that there is no other food, it only has to let go for its life to unfold. Our journey to love is no different. For though we stubbornly cling, believing in our moment of hunger that there is no other possiblity of love, we only have to let go of what we want so badly and our life will unfold. For love is everywhere.
Sit quietly and meditate on what is the rice in your fist.
Breathe deeply and try to see what is keeping your from letting go.
Practice opening the fist of your heart by actually making a fist while inhaling, and then opening it as you exhale.
February 24 from Mark Nepo's Book of Awakening
BEHIND THE URGENCY
"When feeling urgent,
you must slow down"
I learned this, over and over, during the many crises of cancer. Unless someone is bleeding or can't breathe, unless there is some true physical requirement to act swiftly, a sense of urgency is a terrible illusion, a trick that happens, again and again, because life inside our skin and outside our skin are forever different.
It is as hard as it is humbling. When feeling like I can't sit still, I need, more than ever, to sit still. When feeling like i will die if I don't have your approval, I need, more than ever, to die to my need for your approval. What we need is always harshly and beautifully right before us, disguised in the wrapping of our nearest urgency. We just refuse to accept this, because it feels so difficult to face.
The doorway to our next step of growth is always behind the urgency of now. Now more than ever, when all feels urgent, you must cut the strings to all events. Now more than ever, when the weights you carry seem tied to your wrists, you must not run or flail. Now more than ever, when each decision feels like the end, you must believe that each question is a beginning. Now more than ever, when you fear that being who you are is a knife to those you love, you must be strong inside where no one has seen you, for loving from there can only make those you love grow. Now more than ever, when feeling that you are the source and recipient of all pain, you must bow your head till the ancient channel from sky to heart can reopen, till you remember that you are a blessed piece of spirit-dust in spirit-wind. Now more than ever, you must breathe till your ounce of breath becomes the sky, again and again.
In this way, pray to know your place in the human family like you've never known it. In this way, pray to have your true self inch through your turmoil. In this way, love yourself the way you love the emptiness of time. Love yourself the way you love your children or your dog or your dearest friend, without reservation. In this way, today with all its hardships will spill into tomorrow, and decisions will become as clear as streams thawing.
Center yourself and feel the urgencies that pull at you.
Feel the tension of each like a string stretched taut.
With each breath, untie yourself, one urgency at a time.
However briefly, breathe freely, even for a moment, untied to any urgency at all.