My Sangha of True Love

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I’ve deleted one of my online dating site profiles. Another one I’ll leave up simply because I paid a discounted price for an entire 6 months from the start because I’m cheap, but I won’t really be participating in this second site. I’m not a bitter soul. I’m a passionate, energetic, optimistic, loving soul. And it’s precisely because I am passionate that I’m done with this online dating experience.

I came home last night from yet another date, and texted some friends, “Ugh.” One friend replied, “Wow, that bad?” No. The problem wasn’t that the date was horrible. They’re rarely downright horrible. The problem is they tend to be “Meh.”

Underwhelming. Fine. Tolerable. Meh. I don’t want “Meh” in my life. I want someone I look forward to seeing and spending my time with and sharing my accomplishments with. I want someone who makes me laugh so hard I pee just a little bit if I don’t cross my legs first. I want someone who makes me think long and hard about life issues and difficult decisions. I want someone who inspires me to be kinder and more gracious. I want someone who makes me feel alive.

“Meh” doesn’t do any of that for me. These men are certainly dateable. But see, they’re not worth the cost of a babysitter. They’re not worth taking time away from the other things that fill my soul with fire and music and laughter and mercy. My beloved friends and family fill my soul. Drumming fills my soul. Running and working out fills my soul. Writing fills my soul. Reading fills my soul. Cooking and baking fill my soul. Even duckpin bowling with cherished friends and Sutter Home minis have been known to fill my soul.

In Buddhism, Sangha is your community and True Love is the ability and execution of offering joy and happiness, to lighten sorrows and transform suffering. I’ve come to realize my friends and family, my meditation group and my understanding of my Church, my blog readers and my fellow bloggers whom I follow, are all my Sangha, my tribe, my community, my love. These are the people I’ve surrounded myself with that provide me joy and happiness, and that I work to provide joy and happiness to. These are the people I provide gentle loving kindness and love to, through my writing, through my support, through my cooking, through my company.

When I was younger, I accepted and tolerated a lot from the men I dated. At this point in my life, I know I’ve set a higher bar and am casting a much narrower net. I make no apologies for that. I know what I want and don’t want in my relationships, both friendships and intimate ones. And I’ve come to realize that right now, I’d prefer to devote my time and energies and money and self to providing my True Love to my Sangha. Because this is what makes me feel alive and fulfilled. Dating “meh” people is draining and exhausting, when dating should be fun.

The Sangha I’ve built is life-giving for me, and I really enjoy giving life to them, giving meaning, giving compassion, giving love, giving wine and baked goods to them. I have come to realize I have already found my True Love.

Posted in Dating, Empowerment, Meditation, Mindfulness, Relationships, spirituality | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Normal: Only a Setting on the Washing Machine

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My friend has had a very unexpected family crisis. She was living her life, a good life at that, and one day, in one moment, her entire life as she knew it was something else. We are taught certain facts in life. If you’re of a certain generation, you were taught Pluto is a planet and brontosauruses are dinosaurs. You are taught that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. You are taught certain laws of physics and the law of gravitation. You are taught good sportsmanship. You are taught that life is hard, but with hard work, anything is possible.

But see, life is funny. And when I say funny, I mean it brings people to their knees crying, and not in a laughing sort of way. Turns out Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, and brontosauruses never really existed. Let me tell you, I am still all sorts of pissed off about those two changes in “facts.” In fact, I still get pissed off about discovering that the way things are supposed to be, usually are not. My friend has stumbled onto this discovery as well, and she is all sorts of pissed off.

She said all she wants is to be normal, to have a normal loving family, to live a normal fulfilling life. I mean really, she certainly deserves that–she was minding her own business, recycling, contributing to the economy, doing her part in social justice issues, volunteereing a lot, raising a good family, supporting her friends. She understood relationships are hard; she worked at those things that make them hard. But see, we’re taught that relationships are hard AND there’s a happily ever after. That’s what we’re taught is normal.

She’s grieving many losses right now. She’s grieving the loss of the life she once knew. She’s grieving the loss of the structure and rules and the resulting rewards that life is supposed to be about. She’s grieving the loss of her understanding of who a loved one was. She’s grieving the loss of her projected future as she understood it. She’s grieving the loss of her 40-plus years of life as she knew it. She’s grieving the loss of trust and faith and safety and love. She’s grieving the loss of the concept of normalcy that buffers us in life events, that guide us in life’s decisions, that provides a comfortable safety zone.

She is discovering in her heart and soul that there is no normal. That’s another “fact” that is in fact a lie. Normal doesn’t exist. Messy exists. Complicated exists. Nuances exist. Shades of grey exist. Humans are messy. Relationships are messy. We’re all on a spectrum of messy and complicated and vagaries, and we move along this spectrum through life, and that is in fact normal. But normal as an end point? No such thing.

There is stumbling and bumbling along. There are paths paved in uncertainty. There are many moments of fear and betrayal and dread and anger and grief. There are moments of grace and empathy and compassion and mercy. All of that jumbled, bumbled mess is normal. But there is no one normal path paved in good deeds and hard work with occasional potholes of crises that get patched up neatly.

There is a happily ever after that is possible. It’s not the one we were taught as youngsters. It’s one we each need to define for ourselves as we stumble down our own individual paths of uncertainty and struggles in our messy pajamas with hair all askew. Our paths never lead us where we expect–we don’t get pre-programmed GPS directions. Our destinations change, oftentimes without our input. It would have been nice if our tour guide in life warned us of this at the beginning of our trip; if we knew that Normal is the place where Supposed-To-Be’s reside, and that in fact this town is actually fictional.

But never mind. We’ll make do. My friend, she is resilient. She has struggled with her own demons through the years, and she’s bravely done her own hard work of facing her Truths. She knows despite the pain and fear and uncertainty, she is brave and strong and resilient. She has had good practice with doing hard things,; she is a Warrior in every sense of the word.  Despite being burdened by this current mess that is reminding her there is no normal, she is realizing messy is not an indictment of who she is or what she deserves. It just is. Messy.

Posted in Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Does Your Bullying Make Me Look Fat?

Image courtesy of marin @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marin @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I had a very disturbing conversation with my friend’s tween daughter the other day. Daughter mentioned she was fat. My ears perked up, and my heart tugged. I looked at my friend and said “We cannot raise another generation of women like this.” And so Daughter and I sat down and talked. She indicated she didn’t eat anything yesterday because she is afraid she is fat. Her mother said Daughter has been counting calories.

Daughter bravely admitted that she fears being fat because she’s seen what the popular kids do to bully others. She’s seen them taunt and ostracize others because they’re “fat.” She doesn’t want to be the target of these bullies and their judgments. Who can blame her? She’s at the age where she’s figuring life out and who she wants to be. Words hurt. Being excluded hurts even more. I asked her what the descriptor “fat” means about a person’s heart and soul and insides. She said “I don’t know.”

Normally I don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer. Because it’s not an answer. But I realized she’s struggling–she truly doesn’t know right now what “fat” means about a person. She wants to believe it doesn’t say anything about a person’s worth as a human being, but she’s torn because she sees that people do in fact treat “fat” people with judgments about his or her character. She sees daily how society treats “fat” as a character defect. So if I tell her that what the bullies do and say doesn’t matter, we both know I’m lying.

Here’s the thing, I won’t even describe to you what Daughter looks like. Because it doesn’t matter. And telling her she’s beautiful or not fat will not help the core issue she’s grappling with now. Because then she’ll get addicted to wanting to hear that she’s pretty or skinny. Which feeds her current fears now and reinforces that external messages matter more than her internal compass. We need to break this cycle so that she understands not to personalize the bullies and what the media/society says about her. We need to teach her how to strengthen her own sense of self so that she understands even if her BMI indicates she is overweight, it doesn’t matter.

It’s a continual process and message that she will have to hear from multiple sources. But reassuring her she’s not fat or that she’s pretty is not an effective tactic. Teaching her who she is inside and to take pride in that is what will eventually break this cycle and allow her to own her self in all her glory.

We talked about how bullies will bully. That if you change the one behavior or thing that the bullies identify, they will move on to another aspect of your personhood  in which to make fun of and torment you. We talked about how there will never be an ending to their taunts, and that you will never be enough if you go down this route. We talked about realizing what is important inside of you–your kind heart, your generous nature, your brilliant brain, your courageous soul.

She was unconvinced at the end of the conversation. One discussion cannot erase 12 years of society telling her that skinny has worth, that it’s a coveted status that affords better treatment in life. I understand that, oh boy do I ever understand that. I told her some days I still have moments where I drink this poison punch of Skinny Means You’re Likable. It is one thing to go through years of self-loathing about your body and realize after many wasted years it was all for naught. It’s another thing to step up to the precipice of life as you individuate and believe what society has been telling you all this time isn’t true. That takes faith and strength and courage. When really, all she wants is to be liked.

She and I need to talk about what makes someone likable. She and I need to discuss what’s important in life and in people. She needs to know that her beauty comes from the inside, and I tell you, she is beautiful. So she’s agreed to hang with me every now and then to talk. I think we’ll do it over ice cream.

Posted in Health Issues, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Shadow of Myself

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Recently, several people have asked what happened in my marriage, why I got divorced. People ask me this like they’re asking me why I chose that particular Keurig model or why I no longer use Milton as my hairstylist. There is no easy, pat answer to this, and it never occurred to me to create an elevator pitch to this question. Because there are so many nuances and reasons why and how, that some moments I’m not entirely sure after all these years if I know all the reasons. The answer shifts through time and reflection and understanding and compassion and growth.

I understand people ask the question hoping for a quick answer that assigns blame. It’s more convenient to wrap your understanding around a bad guy. I think some people also want to know concrete reasons why, so that they can avoid making those mistakes themselves. But relationships are messy, even on good days. It stands to reason then that uncoupling is just a veritable shit show.

The short story is that we’re both flawed human beings, we did the best we knew how at the time, and it didn’t work out. Very generic, very non-blaming, yet very true. If you were my therapist at the time, you would have so many more details to flesh out this story. As it takes two to couple, it takes two to uncouple–we were both to blame. The nitty gritty details you need not know–the hostility behind cold stony silences, the fear behind passive-aggressive decisions, the disagreements of just about everything. But the general contributing factors are ones that most people share:

How I had internalized society’s pressures to be coupled without even knowing it. How I was replicating generations of dysfunctional family dynamics. How my communication and coping skills could have been improved as well as his. How his failings and his flaws and how he coped with them had turned my love for him into resentment and anger. How in the end, no matter what we did, this was never meant to last–it was ultimately not a good fit.

So much so that I was dying in that relationship. I had, through the years, made decisions to remain in the relationship; and those decisions faded me like the sun fades upholstery. Through time I had become a faded shell of who I once was. I was but a mere shadow of myself. Survival mode eventually kicked in, and I had to save myself. I had to save my children; I could not be an effective parent when I could not be an effective human being. I could not continue to drown under the weight of being someone I no longer recognized nor loved.

So I learned to swim out of the rip current that had taken me away from shore. It took years of reclaiming who I was, and then trying things on to see what sticks and what doesn’t. It took years of creating who I want to be. How I want to navigate the world. How I want to love. It took years to define the parameters of who I am, instead of being defined by society or a relationship.

At times it was exhilarating and fun, but most times it was terrifying and overwhelming. I learned how to interact with myself and others differently. I learned to change my expectations of myself and others. I learned that what people do to you is oftentimes what you’ve asked them to do.

And I will never forget once, my therapist told me that one day, I would no longer feel such anger towards my ex-husband, even after he had conducted himself poorly or did something not in the best interest of the children. I rolled my eyes at her. I understand now that our enemies keep us imprisoned in the past if we feed them anger and resentment and bitterness. I’ve learned that to act in the best interest of my children, and myself, I needed to authentically accept and actively give compassion to my ex-husband.

As with everything in life, some days are better than others. I have come to appreciate (most days…ok, some days) the continuous opportunity he provides as practice for me to be compassionate and empathic and kind. Even on the days I don’t see any logical reason why I ought to. But between you and I, that inability to do so contributed to the unraveling of our marriage. It’s easy to be compassionate and kind to nice people, agreeable people, even strangers. But it is the hard work of being truly compassionate to those you are not naturally inclined to feel favorably towards. It is the hard work of remembering I am not to judge who is worthy or deserving of compassion and redemption. It is in these hard places where Truth resides.

So today my shadow stands tall and strong. I am no longer a mere shadow of myself. I stand tall in my unconditional love and kindness to cast my shadow in this world. I don’t think you can summarize that in an elevator pitch. And I sure as hell can’t be contained in an elevator.

Posted in Empowerment, Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged | 16 Comments

God, Vivienne & Lightning Bugs

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Oh, the difference a season makes. The last time I went on a silent monastic retreat, it was the winter of this year. A snow storm was heading in as I drove away from the quiet solitude at the end of the weekend. I was ambivalent about religion. I was nursing a broken heart.

Now, it is summer. The terrain looks so different as the grass and weeds and leaves and flowers have all come in. Butterflies dance, bees buzz about, birds play tag. God and I are squared away now, He and I are good to go. And I’m on solid footing in my life, as much as possible.

My beloved bovine were conspicuously missing. I prefer to think they summer in the Florida Keys. Shhh…please keep your thoughts to yourself. But my feline escort was there. The first day, as I walked up to the Abbey for Vespers, there Vivienne sat; like she had been waiting for me all these months to return.

Last time, I learned God comes to me. I wondered what would come to me this time. I didn’t search for anything. I just took each moment as it came. It is easy to just Be there in the Shenandoah Valley at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Everywhere you turn, you encounter splendor. It is easy to be grateful every moment there.

I realized God has come to me again. Being there is like living in an IMAX dome–the blue sky envelopes you as it stretches from here to there. And sometimes the blue is punctuated with wispy paint brush strokes of white clouds. At 3:30 in the morning, it’s like God hung tons of star ornaments in the sky. Just for me, as I’m pretty sure I was the only one walking through the night at that time.

It’s easy to go hours during the day without encountering another soul. For an introvert like me, this is heaven on earth. Because when you do finally cross paths with another human being, you’re not supposed to say anything! I win!

Attending the five services throughout the day is voluntary. I chose once again to attend most of them. I wondered why, because honestly, I attend more services in one retreat weekend than I do at my home parish throughout the year (Shhh…do NOT tell Msgr. Luca). I found something very comforting about the days being punctuated with prayers chanted in hypnotic Gregorian tones. And I realized it’s about practicepracticepractice.

In my mindfulness meditation practice, living is practice. These moments throughout the day, each day, remind me to do the Next Right Thing. Reminds me that I am Beloved. Reminds me to Be Love. Reminds me to Be Kind. Reminds me to Be in the Moment.

And I am reminded how much my meditation practice intersects with Catholicism. In my daily living, I am practicing acceptance of the idea that I am right where I am supposed to be at any given moment. Fr. James and I had another wonderful, life changing conversation. He talked about accepting the potential of the here and now. Holding on to what is most important, and letting everything else go. And what is most important, is doing the Next Right Thing. He is reminding me to just Be. We talked about so much more–perhaps that’s for another post.

I was so grateful for the opportunity to converse with Fr. James again. He is a wise, kind soul with an infectious laugh that originates from the belly and soft eyes that exude grace and love. I was reminded how grateful I am also for this opportunity to meditate, to reflect and contemplate, to bask in the wonder of the moment. And I realized life is about opportunities.

Yes, these generous, kind monks have opened their hearts and land to guests. They provide an opportunity. It was up to me to make the most of this opportunity. And this is life. Life is not about rigid rules to be followed, social norms to abide by, goals to be met. No, life is about seeing doors–they’re everywhere. And it’s about each of us taking the opportunity to open the doors. I’ve learned that for me, Catholicism is an opportunity for me to know God. It’s not about doing exactly what I’m told to do for redemption. Another example is the Boy Scouts; I was weary of my son bridging over to Boy Scouts for fear of over-committing and failing. I see now it’s merely another opportunity to experience life and have access to people and experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have. Opportunity. What will you do with all the doors before us? Open them. That’s what doors do. They open.

There’s one more thing I learned from this weekend: my desired super power. Our recent scout camp theme was Super Heroes. Sometimes we also play a game with the kids where we ask them to choose what super power they would prefer: Invisibility or flying? Laser eye beams or superhuman strength?

Lighting bugs. That would be my super power. It was mesmerizing to see so many lightning bugs through the vast fields at dusk. Their light–so delicate, so fleeting. Like life. I would want to fly around leaving a trail of lightning bugs in my wake–who isn’t happy with this sure sign of carefree summer nights? And I would want the ability to sprinkle lightning bugs like fairy dust on anyone and everyone. Giving delicate and fleeting life, kindness, love. Look too hard and it’s gone. Grasp too tight and the light is extinguished. But let it be and enjoy it.

At the end of the weekend, I am reminded again that God comes to me. He was everywhere I turned–in the awesome nature surrounding me, in the kindness of the monks and staff at the Guest House, in my fellow silent retreatants, in the butterflies and bees I stared at for hours. In the laughter of my children back home, in the love and support of my friends, in the difficult people at work who provide opportunities for practice and growth for me. All this love: fleeting, delicate, everywhere.

Posted in Meditation, Mindfulness, religion, spirituality | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Dating Really Is a Headache

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You may have noticed I have not written much of late. If you haven’t noticed, I won’t be offended. A little sad, but I understand. I haven’t written because I can’t. My head injury has flared up again such that I literally cannot think. All I can do is rally to show up where I’m supposed to be for work and social and kid events, sometimes smile, and try to be appropriate. I go home having blown my wad, and struggle to do the next day. What I can do is barely tolerate unrelenting headaches and continuous nausea until I vomit. Rinse. Repeat.

So when I say I cannot think, not only can’t I think of a topic to write about, I literally cannot string together a coherent sentence. I can’t even sign my kids into camp without writing gibberish. Thank goodness the teen camp counselors don’t check the sign-in sheet or they’d surely think I was drunk at drop-off. And I assure you, regardless of what my reputation is around town, I am not an alcoholic.

I have seen two neurologists this week and have an appointment to see the surgeon next week. I am on a boatload of meds so I have moments of being able to think now. They’re not even moments of clarity, but it’s so much better than before, when I was hoping to stumble upon a packet of heroin someone may have dropped just for some relief. And I am not a drug addict.

Seeking medical care, and choosing the doctor and course of treatment is a lot like dating. I don’t believe there is one soul mate in life. I believe there are people that you click with and you can have a wonderful long-term relationship with. I believe in deep long-lasting love. But I believe there is the potential for more than one person to fill that role in our lives. I don’t believe there is one right person.

As I navigate the health care system, I realize there also is not one right doctor, not one right treatment modality. Each clinician comes to see a patient through his or her theoretical lens and training, which dictates the treatment plan. So when I seek a second opinion, and the diagnosis and treatment options are at odds–surgery vs no surgery–it’s not that one doctor is wrong. I believe both are right. I just need to listen to my gut as to which doctor, and which theory and plan, resonate with me. They can each be a little bit right. This can be a little confusing, but I think this is Truth.

As such, there is no one Right Man for me. Many men have things that are positive for me, but lately not have resonated with me. They are mostly kind men doing the best they can, also seeking someone they click with. They view the world and choose their behaviors and preferences based on their worldview and upbringing. If I don’t agree with that, it’s not that they are wrong. Just different. This can be exhausting with so many conversations and first dates, but this too is Truth.

I tell my doctors I am seeing other doctors for now–that I’m not ready to be exclusive just yet. I want to be honest, because a guilty conscience weighs heavily on me. For example, I feel horrible when I cheat on my hair stylist. If he or she is a good doctor, he/she will understand. I am weighing my options and letting all the data I’ve gathered settle into me so my gut can guide me. I’ll be ready to see one exclusively soon.

In the meantime, I’m grateful I’ve been underwhelmed by the men who have crossed my path lately. Throwing up on a date doesn’t resonate with anyone.

Posted in Dating, Health Issues, Relationships | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

Endless Summer Lessons

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We just returned from a week down the shore. It was as fabulous and relaxing as you might imagine. It’s a week of unplugging and hopping off the grid, of working hard on tan lines, walking up and down the boardwalk, lining up for amusement park rides, and spending the majority of waking hours on the sand or in the ocean. This week is an annual tradition for the kids; they’ve spent more years than not on this island as their annual vacation. So much so that they have created annual rituals of where to eat, which ice cream parlors to frequent, how to maximize gorging on fudge samples, and their own pace for browsing for the perfect hermit crab.

It’s a meaningful week for us as we spend quality time together and create memories as each year brings new developmental milestones. This year, I’m reminded of life lessons:

-We just need one trusted friend to help us put our Brave on: La Chica is a timid soul. She usually spends her time yelling at the waves, and only wades a few feet into the ocean, and only for a few minutes at a time. This year, she met a lovely girl, and they hit it off early in the week. We bumped into her and her family everywhere we turned. God works in mysterious ways, and we soon realized we were all kindred spirits meant to start a lovely friendship. La Chica and her Friend built mud castles, dug to China, and shared trail mix and grapes and boogie boards and their love of the movie Frozen. Her Friend is a Brave Fish and loves to swim in the ocean. La Chica understands what it’s like to feel safe, to trust in someone who shares and is kind. She ventured far out into the ocean and spent her days splashing in the waves with her Friend’s encouragement and friendship at her side all week. She tucked this Brave into her soul,  because she ventured into the deep ocean by herself even after her friend left before she did. When we’re feeling scared or shaky, or want to take a risk, all we need is one trusted friend to help us with our Brave. It just takes one person to believe in you.

-You’re lucky enough: Through the years, we have become good friends with the hotel manager and his brother as they have watched my children grow up and we have witnessed our own life events unfold. They laugh that inevitably, if there is bad weather, a handful of guests demand their money back for a less-than-ideal vacation. I couldn’t believe how entitled and miserable some people can be. We must always remember regardless of the weather or life circumstances, if you’re lucky enough to be at the beach, you’re lucky enough. Be grateful for where you are in life, no matter what season you’re in.

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-Sometimes it’s best to just walk away: Years ago I had the most divine fresh homemade peach ice cream on the boardwalk. I’ve since dreamed of it often, but they have not had it available the last few years I’ve been down the shore. This year I was giddy when they scooped it into a cup for me. Until I tasted it. It was nothing like I remembered it. I don’t know if their recipe has changed, or if I’ve built it up to be something it never was. But it was not what I remembered it to be. I suspect it was the latter–that I had idealized it over the years. Sometimes, it’s best to relish in the memories of something or someone, rather than going back to it.

-Just because everyone’s doing it, doesn’t mean you should too: Spending time in a town that is happily billed as “America’s Greatest Family Resort” means a week of being surrounded by couples with children. It’s a sunny, sandy microcosm of life at large. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like everyone is coupled. And has a tattoo. Or four. And I am neither coupled or inked. I am reminded that I don’t necessarily want their significant others or tats. It’s easy to assume everyone is happily coupled or inked with no regrets. I could easily get either, but I don’t because I haven’t found the right one yet–boyfriend or tattoo design. I am reminded I don’t really want what others have.

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Posted in Mindfulness | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments