Raving About Raves

Image courtesy of ponsuwan @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ponsuwan @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m known for many things, but mostly for being frequently inappropriate. I, at the age of 40, single mama to two, held my own at a rave over the weekend. Yes, I am old enough to be the mother of many of the other attendees. But I refused to relinquish my spot from the dance floor. Stone sober, I danced for over four hours in ridiculous 4″ stiletto glittered heels to the most fabulous EDM and techno music my suburban ears had heard in years.

Had I known I would end my night at a rave, I would have worn more appropriate shoes. But as it was, I was happy to be out for dinner with friends. We do this periodically, Ladies Night. Moms from the ‘burbs–we eat well, we drink well, we laugh well. And we come home before their husbands retire for the evening.

But this night was different. One friend suggested we go dancing after dinner. I always knew we’d be good friends. She said she knew of a rave that night. I said Hells Yeah. I miss my days of youth, of sneaking into the city and hitting the dance clubs underage. I try to go dancing several times a year now, but it’s hard to find like-minded friends who want to go, who are comfortable letting loose on the dance floor with abandon.

So we drive into a warehouse district, and the rave happened to be in a nondescript neighborhood corner bar. LED hula hoops, white light-up gloves, furry hats and fairy wings greeted us. I was completely over-dressed, and over-aged. But I danced my feet off until they blistered, I danced my heart out until it sang.

I looked at one of my friends, and said, “You know why I’m so happy right now? Yes, there’s the dancing I miss so much. But look around. Everyone is so happy. Everyone is so full of life. Everyone here is alive.”

Granted, some people were drunk, some people were high on drugs, some people were both. But not all. There were all ages and ethnicities and styles there. But one thing united us all–we were alive. We all danced in our own styles, we danced with each other–as friends and as strangers. In this dark, dingy corner bar, we were all so full of life and light. There was no comparing or judging of others. There was no posturing of who we wanted others to think we were. Everyone was just there. In a simple state of being. Everyone was there to move to the music, however it moved them.

One of my struggles with living in the suburbs, working a stable job in a large bureaucracy, is that I am surrounded by people who mostly are not living, are not full of life, and certainly not full of light. I am surrounded by people who did what they thought they were supposed to do–get a good job, get married, have kids, get a dog, buy two roomy cars, mow the lawn, vacation in the Outer Banks, buy toilet paper in bulk, and compost food scraps.

Don’t get me wrong, those are all responsible things. We all have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill. But so many people I know lack passion, lack a sense of spontaneity, lack a well-fed soul. So their posture is a little stooped, their pallor a little gray, their smiles a little tight. They don’t emit joy.

This rave–this rave was so full of joy let loose in the swaying arms and fast footwork and undulating hips. The heavy beats kept time with our heart beats. I have not seen so much life that was so alive in one room in a long time. Being surrounded by such vibrant life is what made me so happy.

I’m well aware that some of you may judge me to be irresponsible or a bit absurd or asinine, to be a middle-aged parent attending a rave. To that, I say I am sorry you may be constrained by society’s expectations of proper behavior. To that, I say you are missing out on witnessing such a love-fest that is so full of life. To that, I say you’re welcome to come join me next time, because I am most definitely going to wear more sensible shoes to get down with Skrillex, and if the DJ is really talented, some AC/DC will be mixed in again too.

Posted in Empowerment, Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Drama Queen

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Drama. We hear people talk about drama with disdain. They’re drama-free. They hate drama. Dramadramadrama.

But really, what is drama? My friend fell into a rough patch with his girlfriend, and he rolled his eyes about her drama. I asked him what the definition of drama really is. He told me: “Getting upset over something that’s not real. Arguments that are created out of thin air. Getting upset over nothing. Anyone truly that sensitive must surely collapse when something real happens.”

Ah. I see. So I agreed that resiliency is good. We want to be, and we want to be with, people who can problem solve and recover from adversity. Perspective is good. And then it’s at this point I had to disagree with him on the rest of his definition.

See, everyone’s “real” differs. We all come with different upbringings and worldviews and strengths and weaknesses and preferences. We cannot all agree on what makes us tick or what makes us smile. What is very real in my life oftentimes isn’t even on your radar. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that makes the world so colorful and fun and interesting–the sharing of different perspectives.

So can it be instead that one can respect another’s feelings and perspectives about something, without agreeing with it; and we talk about how best to address it so it’s more of a communication issue than a power struggle of if something ought to rightfully bother someone else? Oftentimes the person just wants to be heard and validated.

This requires true empathy. It requires validating that someone’s feelings are real–and they are. Because if you tell someone they don’t have a right to feel a certain way about a topic, you’re invalidating a part of who they are. And that doesn’t feel good. You’re not really seeing who the person is then. Any parent can tell you this is true. Is it ridiculous that a child denied ice cream for dinner throws a tantrum in public with tears and fists flailing and feet kicking and howls of despair? Yes, yes it is utterly ridiculous. But is it real? Yes, unfortunately you are the asshole who has to deal with these feelings and behaviors being thrown at you. Try to tell that kid his feelings aren’t real. Try to dismiss that kid as “just being dramatic.” Try telling him to just get over it.

There’s also blame in using the word “drama”–we accuse someone of overreacting or that their feeling is not valid. When that’s not helpful nor kind. It may not be your reaction, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valid or real. If we want a different and more useful outcome, we ought to acknowledge a relationship takes both people to make or break, and blame only breaks. Kindness, compassion, and empathy allows for both people to decide to do another day together.

The dictionary definition of drama is: “a piece of writing that tells a story and is performed on a stage.” So in this stage of life, can’t we choose to create a drama that is a love story instead of a conflict? You are the director of your own stage, after all.

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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 , , , | 13 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