What You Think You Want Versus What You are Given

My yoga teacher always said that you must “digest your experience!” By this she means that it is essential to take time to fully digest the events and feelings of our days. Process. Integrate. Digest. And then, let go and move forward. In a culture that sways towards a fast-forward pace, this is good advice. So much happens in a day (or over weeks or months) such that undigested experiences can accumulate and form repositories of stress, tension, angst, anger or sadness – left  untended in our bodies, hearts and minds. If we don’t return to sift through what lingers, the flow of our energies and emotions can be thwarted. For me, writing helps with this important digestion – and not only to sort through difficulties but also to clarify lessons learned as well as to revisit what has been beautiful, significant. As Anais Nin says, “we write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

In my own retrospective process, I have been through one hell of a month. There was the flood. There was selling our home and all the surrounding logistics. There was packing. There were home repairs. There was new house searching. There were long late night conversations with my husband about our life vision and what is next. There was the ever-present wall of financial limitation. There was finding a rental along with the thousands of displaced flood victims. There was moving into the first rental we could find. There was a trip to Nashville for work and giving a presentation at a conference. There were tantrums. There were fevers and illnesses. There were cavities to be filled. There was a contract signed on a new home. My husband turned 40. We found out we are having another son!

All of this adds up to a very condensed experience of life – with major life events and transitions all culminating in one short span of time. There were emotional breakdowns amidst holding so many moving parts together. And finally, we are settling again. And now: true digestion where insights can emerge.

Amidst all of the on the surface descriptors of life’s changes and happenings, there are also the undercurrents of life doing its work on me in deeper ways. While flying back from my work trip I randomly sat next to a former co-worker I hadn’t seen or spoken to in over five years. At the end of a three hour flight he told me he’d been reading Sri Aurobindo and asked something along the lines of how I rectify what is seemingly predetermined versus what we can control in our lives; how I make sense of the mysterious forces at work in the world versus what our will can effect. At first I laughed and said “I have no idea!” I was exhausted. I didn’t feel up for dissecting Sri Aurobindo. And then I slowly felt into my answer. Thanks to his question I was able to relate the seeming conundrum to my own life and clarify an insight I might otherwise have missed. I shared that actually he was pointing to what I was ultimately grappling with on deeper levels with my huge life transitions underway: the impending birth of my third son, and the impending move into my next home. I said I was used to feeling empowered by moving towards what I want in this lifetime with willfulness and clear intention, but that with the revelation that I am having a third son I was profoundly humbled in the face of what I ultimately can’t control. I had been desiring a daughter. I always thought I would have a daughter – and yet, here I am: life dishing up my third precious boy. I had been wanting a home with outdoor space to garden, have chickens, create magical playscapes for my children. And yet, again and again we were confronted with financial or distance conundrums that made fully realizing what I thought was my deepest vision elusive. Instead, life was handing me a different plate. A home full of sons. The opportunity to take the leap and buy a new home that looked very different from what I had been imagining and ‘wanting.’

Then I said, “I don’t look at it as an either/or situation. There is both will and mystery. I experience it as swimming in a sea of conversation with the Divine. I can move towards what I think I want, and when I don’t get it, I can relax into what is being given to me. There is nothing to be done. There is nothing to do. I can be humbled in the face of what is ultimately beyond my understanding or control. And then, the next layer after relaxing into what simply is: to really love it, despite reality looking different than what I was expecting or desiring…”

I realized that the major lesson of this time is to rectify moving towards my desires with intention while also being humbled again and again by those numerous moments when reality is utterly out of my control. There is nothing to be done about anything – just be in a conversation with what feels Divine in this Life. No moving towards anything graspingly, but rather relaxing into reality and embracing what is. Then loving what is. Right now life is serving up this lesson: the key is to let go of attachments to what I think “should” be any particular way – and instead embrace (again and again) what is arising in the form of presented opportunities. Relax! Settle into a new place and form! And then, find and feel the perfection in what is. Find fresh eyes that know how to live outside of previous attachments.

IMG_1523It reminds me of forward bends in my yoga practice. There is the willful gesture of reaching towards where you want to go, while also surrendering into exactly where you are. There is the gesture of letting yoga do you rather than you doing it. There is the interplay between being and doing. First be, then do. There is the energy of reaching while also simultaneously surrendering. And what needs to be the greater force at work? Surrender. (*Angst arises when our resistance to reality attempts to override the capacity to surrender…)

During transitions of any kind we can practice surrendering into accepting the blessings of what is being given to us. We can exercise the power of our capacity to choose our perspective: how we place our attention dictates what our experience becomes. We can count our blessings or we can pile up the complaints. We can make friends with the new places we find ourselves in (both literally and figuratively). Life is full of surprises and it serves us to befriend new, unexpected surroundings. In this, we can slowly find ourselves freer to relax fully into letting go of what we think we want, or how we think things ‘should’ be, versus unabashedly embracing what is being given to us.

What to Become, Now?

The years tick by like minutes on a clock. Something about birthing a second child this past year has sped up the reflection process around letting go of the past, the transition more fully into motherhood, the doorway to middle age. A recent yoga practice had me clarifying that it is time to let go of yearning for what was, while more fully welcoming the newness of what is, now.

Age 37 feels like a gateway to the middle kingdom: middle age, middle of life, middle of personal story. My children have been born. My parents are aging. The lines on my face have become a mainstay. I’m stepping across the threshold of middle age: one foot planted in the Summer of youth, the other foot lifted and moving in slow motion to the other side of the doorway into Fall’s, and Life’s, middle kingdom of inevitable aging. I find myself in a great moment of pause, asking more and more often, “What to Become, Now?”

As I muse on this question, the glimpses that emerge are about the simultaneous loss of what I used to relax into while also stepping into a new, more fluid identity: a re-birth into Mystery. I grasp for something ‘solid’ amidst what is ultimately a period of loosening and non-knowing. Just like what is true of the Winter turning into Spring, a seed in darkness doesn’t know yet what the light will bring. And yet, I can feel the calling to root ever deeper to place, to let go of past attachments, to face squarely the emergent resistances to change, and ultimately to surrender to a complete transformation.

In The Middle Passage, author James Hollis says that “the realistic thinking of midlife has as its necessary goal the righting of a balance, the restoration of the person to a humble but dignified relationship to the universe.” He goes on to mention that some experience midlife as a sort of defeat, while others will be moved to ask “What work, then, needs to be done?”

My mother, too, asks these questions. What work, then, needs to be done now? During a recent visit she said to me that her current guiding question is “Who am I, now?” She stands at the doorway to 70, having spent the last few years steeped in care-giving her mother. Together, we tend the hearth: attending to the full spectrum of Life. She tends to my 97-year-old grandmother, the realm of life’s end all too present. I tend to an infant, taking his literal first steps in life. We both are tasked with continually rediscovering ourselves as we swim in the middle kingdom, holding the pieces together for life’s continual beginnings and endings. What work needs to be done now? The care-giving, the tending, the keeping of hearth, yes. But also, the work of Becoming (and already Being), Right Now, a spontaneous and clear expression of feminine grace and beauty, regardless of age. The work of embodying the creative, shifting energy of the feminine form. The work of staying dedicated to the important questions. How are we living and loving? What imprints are we making on this precious world? How are we embodying a humble yet dignified relationship within the order of life? What is the texture of our conversation with the Divine?

As Christiane Pelmas says, “Perhaps now is when we are meant to stop caring whether we are found attractive by other humans, allowing ourselves to answer to something much greater, like the final question – did we lead relevant lives as fierce lovers and servants of this world? Did we hone our skills as love makers, body and soul, in this lifetime, finding an ever-bolder beautifully unapologetic expression of our gratitude and longing? And did we trust that here, in this place, we would become the most beautiful version of ourselves?”

Yes. There is nothing else to become other than this: the most beautiful version of ourselves…


40 Weeks Pregnant: A Thin Veil Between Worlds

After the birth of my first son, my midwife said to me, “Don’t you think ushering new life is going to bring you to your knees? It brings me to my knees every time…

We’d been talking about my struggle for several hours to push Rowan out into the world, and how the pain literally brought me to my knees, over and over again for four hours of pushing in the middle of the night. Those brutal hours from 1:30 to 5:30am were unlike any other: A threshold, a portal, an unmistakable glimpse into the vast power of the mystery that is life – beyond my control, vexing yet awe-inspiring, bringing me to my knees in a gesture of humility so all-consuming it took my breath away again and again. There was no way out but in. No turning away or back. The threshold had to be crossed.

And here I am again: standing at the gateway to Birth, which is akin to inhabiting a thin veil between worlds. The word ‘liminal’ comes to mind: Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process, occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. The space in between. I rest in this liminal realm where I’m called this time to lay down the desire to know what ultimately can’t be known. Already I’m being taken to my knees: reminded by the powers that be that there is nothing to do other than trust a process far greater than oneself. All I have to do is be available, surrender… And yet, here I am, spinning conjectures and betting odds on when and how baby will come…

It strikes me that instead of inhabiting the familiar world of intellectual odd-betting and grasping for what is “known,” being 40 plus weeks pregnant is a time to settle into the mystery of liminality. We can choose to hang in the spaces in between. We can swing freely in the balance of the inner and outer, the inside world and outside…much like the womb contrasted by the vast space of everything else. We can walk the thin lines between darkness and light, mystery and the known, fullness and release, contraction and expansion. Even if not pregnant with new life, perhaps there is a lesson here that we can all access, for the womb is our origin and we have all made this journey from breathing water to breathing air, most of us having hung upside down in our mothers even as the rest of the world was so-called “right side up.”

For this brief moment in time, a pregnant woman holds the sublime reminder of a passageway between worlds. She is the circle of yin and yang holding a small universe of life inside. Herein lies a blueprint for living: remember the mystery from which you sprang and to which you will return. Learn to bask in the not-knowing. Trust forces at work beyond your control and let yourself be humbled by what it can take to bring new life onto this Earth. Relinquish all desires to know and control. Only then, resting gracefully in the liminal realm of mystery, will you enter into the fertile plains of free-flowing unbridled creative synergy: that which truly does propel forth new life and make the world go ’round…