I had a great therapist for many years. It only took me like forty years to find her – after lying to pretty much every other therapist I ever had. I mean, seriously, was I really going to open up and show some stranger with a fifty minute hour rule that I was not all pretty and smart and capable and god knows what else. But then I found this incredible counselor. As I was trying to climb out of a deep hole that had sucked me down and sucked me dry and left me thinking that I better be done this time around because I am so not coming back again in some other life where I have to deal with this shit again.
This therapist I found, she was honest. Straightforward. Kind. And she challenged me. All the time. Our sessions were like really great intellectual debates. Well, not at first. At first they were me huddled in a corner of her couch, arms wrapped around tight, legs crossed over and tears of shame and pain and grief mixed in with fleeting moments of joy and acceptance as I made my way back up and into my life.
And then, when I was again a functioning member of society (whatever the hell that looks like) she and I got to really spar. I would come in with my deeply ingrained belief systems and she would raise questions. Not to make me agree with her. Never was her intention to convince me I was wrong. But to make me see my choices, see my beliefs. See them clearly. And then mindfully choose what worked for me. I was retrying everything on. One item at a time. Outfitting my internal closet. Keeping the things that still sat in my body beautifully while discarding those things that no longer fit.
It was a long process. Many years. And then one day, I didn’t need her anymore. We both knew it. I had a wardrobe that worked for me. I was ready to walk my life on my own. But I can still hear her voice in my mind when I am faced with difficult decisions or challenging situations or tormenting moments. She is not telling me what to do. She is telling me to go through that closet I created and pull from it something to put on that will get me though what I am facing at that moment. I have many different outfits. For many different occasions.
From this incredible interaction and truly life saving relationship I walked away with a great wardrobe. Now, I am not saying that my sense of style – my best life practices - are necessarily right for you. But I do feel blessed that I have created some really great ways to be in the world. Here are three favorites:
1. Life is not fair. Let me say this again. LIFE IS NOT FAIR. That crap we were fed, and our kids are being overloaded with, that everyone gets a trophy and we’re all winners and everyone is treated equal and is supposed to be treated equal, this is not true. Life is not fair. And it’s not pretty. It’s messy and complicated and doesn’t go the way we want it to. And it is a huge disservice that we are perpetuating this myth that we’re supposed to be happy all the time and things will be nice and fun and fair (that word again.) So what happens is that we have no skills to deal with the hard stuff. The tough stuff. The really lousy stuff and the stuff that is just uncomfortable too. And so one of my favorite outfits - I learned to sit in my discomfort. To see how it feels. Feel how it feels. And be ok with it. I learned to sit in it rather than trying to numb it or ignore it. I learned to sit in my discomfort and to honor it. To nurture it. The beauty that is being human often times lives in the struggles and the lessons we are able to learn in the process. So I try to love the lessons life is teaching me. And then I learn to move on. Not to fix it necessarily, but to let it go. This is not easy and I am not always good at it. But I practice every day.
2. Don’t lay your unhappiness on someone else. It is no one’s responsibility to make another person happy. Or to fill up their empty spaces. Yes, I love my kids and they fill me with joy. And my husband is a wonderful man. And I have deep, good friends and a very full, really lovely life. And yes, I am happy in these relationships that I have. But being happy is the blessing, not the purpose, of these relationships. And my responsibility to these relationships is to take care of them. By practicing self-care. And practicing self-love. By not needing input from others but rather meeting others in my life as a full, complete, person. Again, not easy. But I have learned to feel the difference – when I am engaging because I want to give to a relationship and when I am engaging because I am looking to get something from it. The latter does not feel good at all.
3. Own your shit. I try very hard to not put blame on other people or circumstances when something bugs me, or upsets me or makes me really mad. Because it’s usually not about them at all. It is about me. And the answers are right there, deep within me. And deep within you too. Truly, they are. So I ask myself: what am I supposed to learn here; why does my sister’s nasty mood, my kid’s messy room, the neighbor’s flippant stare, effect me? What is truly going on here? What are my triggers? And I become aware. It is not really about the fact that my daughter does not put her clothes away. It is about something deep within me. Maybe I don’t feel respected because I bought those clothes for her. Maybe I am not able to be my best self when things are messy around me? I try to figure out what is truly going on, inside me, and then communicate that with those I love and who love me. I do not tell them that they are wrong. Because usually they are not. They are doing their own thing just as I am doing mine. And so I figure out what I am struggling with and then I let them in, and share how I feel. And once they understand me, it is then their choice whether to honor me or not. Chances are the people in my life that love me will honor the feelings that I have. I am pretty sure the people in your life will do the same.
So there you have it, three good outfits. I have many more but these are my favorite. I thought I would loan these three outfits to you. Feel free to try them on. In fact, keep what fits. That’s how it works.
I am learning to play the cello. I am not great at it. This I know is true. But definitely better than when I started. When I started I sucked at it. When I started it sounded like an alarm is going off in my home when I played.
At first I was overwhelmed.
I come from a piano trained background, where I play with five fingers – the thumb being finger number one - and so I have theoretically lost a finger. My second finger is now my first finger and I have only four. Four fingers. And down is up on a cello. On a piano, up is up. I move my fingers up the keys and the notes go up the scale. On a cello, to move up the scale I need to move my fingers down the strings. So I’ve lost a finger and down is up.
But that is not all…
My cello has a wolf. This is a real thing. All cellos have wolves. And my job, as a cellist, is to tame my wolf so that he does not howl. My wolf is very aggressive. But we have come to an understanding and he is quieter. Somewhat quieter. Occasionally quieter… so maybe we don’t have an understanding…
What I really need to do is work with him more, this wolf of mine. So that he stops howling all the time. He really is howling because he wants attention. And I really do want to give him that.
Because I really want to play well. That deep resonance that comes forth from the strings of this beautiful instrument settles deep in my soul. I love this sound. I hear it in the background of any piece of music that is lucky enough to have a cello in it. I hear it and I see myself moving to it. And I want to play like that.
Now I am not a natural musician. I am a trained one. On the piano. And a not a very well trained one at that. I cannot sit down and jam with you. But give me a sheet of music and I can sight read pretty well. And give me a few hours and I can pull off a pretty fine attempt at playing what I learned.
And I fake it great, too. Give me that right hand and I can pull the left one out of my ass and onto the keys and chords will come forth as if on their own. But everything kinda sounds a bit the same.
I have not been playing the piano lately. Basically because I don't have one right now. So it makes it difficult to play. And when I am lucky to come across a piano, when I am out or at someone's home, I can not play much because I am not a natural musician and don't carry my sheet music around with me and so my repertoire is limited and I sound…trained…not spontaneous.
This is frustrating for me. As someone who loves to create, I want to create this music that is in me. I think I must have been a musician in another life before this one. Or in many lives. Because the music is in there. I just don't have those natural skills that allow it to come up in that truly inspiring way.
But this got me thinking about the gifts that I do have and reminds me to settle into those and not drag myself down wishing for the ones that I do not have.
I am an empath. And am also a bit psychic. A receiver of information. These are great gifts. A burden at times, too. Until I learned the self care that comes with these abilities. Until I learned to let the feelings and information that flowed into me flow thru me and out again. Until then, taking all this in was overwhelming. Now it is enlightening.
I am a great writer. I was going to write “a good writer”. But today I feel great. Some days my writing is good. Some days, not so good at all. But other days great. Today I am feeling great even though this specific writing is really only good. But good enough. And that is great, too. So I am a great writer.
I am a really good person to the people in my life - my friends, my family. I am loyal and honest and supportive. I am there in an instant if you need me. I do not judge. I love unconditionally.
I am a fucking awesome mom. Truly. Nothing else to say here.
And I have great clothes and shoes. Is that a gift??? Regardless, it belongs on this list.
And these gifts that I have, the common thread in all of them is that I use them every day. I nurture them. I practice them.
I practice my skills as an empath and a receiver of information. I practice by being aware. I am mindful of these gifts and allow myself to be open and to recognize the power in them and to see how they enhance my relationships and allow me to give back to others from a place of knowledge and understanding.
I practice my writing by writing. Writing comes naturally to me (unlike music) and so is easy for me in many ways. But I still practice it by doing it. And every time I write I get better at it. More aware of language. Of the rhythm of my words. Of the images that I am able to bring forth.
I practice kindness and compassion in every interaction I have. I stay self-aware. And when I feel that bubbling of anger or annoyance or judgment come up from inside me I practice the art of self-examination - of why these feelings are coming to the surface and what they mean about me. Because that is really what it is all about.
I practice my mothering. Because this role is ever changing. And now I am a mother of three adult children and so must learn again the skills to navigate this time in their lives. To be supportive but allow space between us. To be critical in a neutral way when they ask for advice so they can hear another perspective but not feel stifled. To be loving and proud of them and hold them close in my heart but still let them soar into their own lives.
I practice all these things every day. They do not feel like practice. They feel like life. And so actually, I am practicing life. And so living my best life.
So back to my cello. I want to play my cello the way I play my life. The way that I am able to do these things I have written about above. It is good that I wrote about all these gifts above. It reminds me that I actually practice these gifts every day.
I will practice my cello every day. Even just a little bit. And I will become better and better at it. Will I be a musician in the way that other musicians just blow me away? No, I will not be that.
But my wolf and I will settle into a true collaboration and my best music will come forth.
Or am I?
Now I have been an empty nester in a way, already. My oldest is done with college and out on his own. And recently got engaged. Engaged!!! I am going to be a grandma!!!! Ok, not yet, but soon. Like maybe a few years soon but sooner than before soon. A grandma! Like, how awesome is that!
And my middle child has been out of the house for quite a few years, too. Finishing her senior year of college. She comes home for vacations and the summers but is truly a separate and strong and capable adult.
And my youngest actually went away to boarding school. And has been independent in that deep, responsible, non-age related way that some people are able to grasp way ahead of their time. So for the last two years I have really not had kids at home. You see, this empty nest thing… I’ve got this covered. I have been doing this already. I have my mojo on.
But my youngest actually going to college… leaving this past fall to drive to college. TO COLLEGE. This feels big. This is big. I am in this place now of truly redefining myself. And I don't have a plan.
And it feels great. Like truly outstanding. Like fucking incredible.
I wake up each day and it is just that day that I think about. I am healthy. Incredibly so. Strong. Vibrant. Capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. There is the lilt of possibility in my choices and a grounding in the truism that I really have nothing that I have to do.
But something is trying to join me here. An unsettling. A wondering, imbalancing, questioning. A dis-ease.
A disease of well-being. An imbalance of heart. A questioning of mirth (Yes, I meant to use that word). A looking within and a wondering. And try as I might to find some deep hidden meaning to it all that is complex and unique and will make me special it really all comes down to the fact that my youngest has left for college.
And though I think (want, wish, pretend) that I am above this, that I will not fall for the everyday trappings of stereotype and cliché, this is exactly where I am at.
So I look up dis-ease on the Internet. Do a bit of Googling. Think a concrete definition will give me some stability. A solid place to ground. A point of landing. Or of launching from.
Disease comes up first: a particular abnormal, pathological condition with specific symptoms or signs (that would be this unsettling, imbalancing, questioning) that affects part or all of an organism (that would be me). It may be caused by factors originally from an external source (that would be my youngest going to college, my closing my law practice probably has something to do with this, too). Diseases usually affect people not only physically, but also emotionally, as contracting and living with many diseases can alter one's perspective on life (that would be how I have been feeling… like what the fuck, with a pinch of tears)
Then I scroll down a bit in my Google search and get to dis-ease: a hyphenated variation of the word "disease." The term dis-ease is used by individuals (that's me) and healing communities who are aligned with wellness, choosing not to empower health issues by focusing on a particular ailment (that would be this unsettling, imbalancing, questioning). The intent is to place emphasis on the natural state of "ease" being imbalanced or disrupted (um….?).
I like this second explanation much better. I am very grounded in this more alternative mindset (as you can tell from my mindful choice of the word grounded… and my mindful choice of the word mindful) and usually stay far the hell away from conventional medicine. But a “natural state of ease?” (like who really knows what this is).
So I sit in this a bit, twirl these definitions around in my mind but soon realize that what I am reading are not catch-alls and be-alls and I am really over all of this.
Because it is ok to feel unsettled and imbalanced. What I am feeling is what a gazillion other moms have felt since like caveman times when their little caveboys and cavegirls went out to either kill the wild bore with the cavemen or pick herbs and plants and berries while the cavemom (that's me) stayed home and tended the cave floor and mourned the loss of her law practice.
It is ok to feel that things are different, because they are. Like a new haircut or washed pair of jeans, where I am right now will take some getting used to because things don’t quite fit yet.
But they will.
My nest, worn lovely and smooth from many years of nurturing and joy, is perhaps no longer filled with my baby birds, but their spirit lingers here with me, embracing and supporting me as I journey into new space that I am discovering. A space of deep reflection and abundant possibility.
So this writing, that has been brewing inside me over these last few weeks and is just now coming out clearly, conveniently coincides with the birth of this, a new year. Perhaps a subconscious choice or perhaps just the timing of life right now but still it is quite lovely that I can mark the changing of the calendar with this really cool idea about change. Or rather, how we change. Here goes…
There is this image, I cannot remember who shared this with me, but it has stayed with me and is such a great image.
The idea is that I am a cup.
And I spend my life filling myself with love and knowledge, with challenges and successes and finally, my cup overflows and this is when true change takes place. This is when I feel that shift. When I can then see something more clearly. The world becomes different because I evolve into this new place I have been moving towards.
And then I start again, my cup now empty and ready to be filled with yet more to help me grow.
Now, quite often I fill my own cup, but just as often others fill my cup for me. I meet someone and they say something that resonates with me, and my cup fills up a bit more. And a bit more still with the next conversation I have. A constant filling until I overflow.
This does not necessary mean that everyone I meet with fill my cup or that I am adding to theirs, but there is always that chance that any encounter consists of a pouring. And so as my own cup fills, so perhaps do the cups of all the people in my life. We fill our own cups and perhaps we fill each others and in this way we help each other learn and grow. And that is a really lovely thing.
Though sometimes it can be frustrating. Sometimes we feel like we are filling another’s cup but they act as though their cup is still half empty. You know who I am talking about, those people in our lives who just can’t get out of their own way. We all have those friends, family members, workmates. They struggle along, and along and along. And we find ourselves giving advice and advice and advice. And….. nothing. They are stuck. And – ironically – they very likely will sometimes say this very same thing about us.
And it's frustrating because we give really amazing advice, we should probably heed some of it ourselves, and they are often sharing incredible words of wisdom with us and still sometimes they and we, can’t move forward. No matter what we hear from each other.
But think if this, we all don't have the same size cup.
And so, who am I, or you or anyone really, to say when your cup should be full; to say that the time is right for you to change and grow. To move forward. Just as I don't want anyone telling me that I have a time frame on my own evolution, I certainly have no right to rush you along on yours.
But I can help you, by filling your cup.
It's a nice way to think. A loving way to help each other; a way to give to others without an agenda. Which is a great way to give. And a way to not feel frustrated that perhaps I am not doing enough for you. Because any kindness I show or knowledge that I share fills your cup some.
And even if my small pouring does not seem to do anything, I remind myself that perhaps I filled your cup a bit. As you likely did mine. So maybe that next person that comes along, their input will take our cups to full and overflowing.
Mother, Wife, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Dog and Cat lover.