Learning from Anxiety

IMG_0B1BF78381DB-1

I woke up this morning before the alarm. My jaw was clenched. My eyes felt wild and panicked, searching for something to fixate on. The back of my neck gripped onto itself. I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep. My animals started to stir, reacting to my movement. Anxiety, dammit…. Damn IT! 

I’ve been practicing meditations for anxiety when I wasn’t anxious so I could be prepared the next time this happened. I have a list of interventions that I know with some certainty work to ratchet down the relentless grip of tension. Practice yoga … no coffee or sugar … let myself cry … meditate … take a walk …. listen to Gregorian chants… there are many solutions at my fingertips. There is no need to panic. But anxiety screams, “OMG… PANIC … PANNNNIIIIIICCCC!!! This will never end. Today will be HORRIBLE!”

I got out my 10% Happier app and pressed play on the “Before Getting out of Bed” meditation. It helped a little, but when I opened my eyes I could still feel the tension in my neck. I gave myself a little neck massage and it relaxed a bit. I had to get to the gym, so I went, and the anxiety ratcheted up again. I found myself hating my workout. I tried to talk myself down and stay in the moment while I worked through my reps, knowing that I needed the workout even if I was anxious. It was not pleasurable. I hated virtually every minute of it, but I did it.

On the way home, I was really uncomfortable. Instead of falling into the trap of blaming myself for my anxiety, I reminded myself that this was like a headache for me. It’s not because I’m overthinking. It’s not because I don’t trust God enough. It’s not the result of eating anything bad. I just have a headache, and, for me, the headache symptom is a relentless attack on my body by my anxiously-wired brain. Beating myself up only exacerbates the problem. And latching on to any of the crazy, hateful thoughts my brain is tempting me with is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Just let them go and do the next right thing.

IMG_2077

I got home, made myself some herbal tea and chose the Working with Anxiety meditation from my app. She had me focus on my feet – like really, really focus on my feet. Oh my, that felt comforting. Next we focused on my hands, and the anxiety was loosening its grip. Then we moved to my stomach and on to my breathing. I followed her instructions, and like butter oozing off a sweet potato, my anxiety slipped away.

By the time I opened my eyes my anxiety level which was definitely at defcon 8 when I started was probably at a baby 3. Wow! I’m still at a 3 right now as I sip my herbal tea, and it could still go back up again as the day goes on. But the more I just let it be and take care of myself, the less it seems to impact my mood. I’ll just keep it simple today.

 

 

Wrestling Anxiety… I Win

I jolted awake. I could hear Buster throwing up in the next room. “Dammit,” I said. Poor Buster. I got up and took care of him and cleaned up the mess.

I hopped back in bed only to realize that I was wracked with anxiety. “Dammit,” I said more loudly. First I was pissed at Buster for waking me up. A flash of fear told me that I would never go back to sleep. I already felt the drag of the long day ahead with little sleep. My body railed against it. My brain assaulted me with fears of growing old, of not being able to pay my bills and of my imminent death. Living alone, my animals will die a horrible death of starvation because there is no one here to feed them. (I read that story in the news yesterday. My anxiety has a new toy.)

I thought of one of my girlfriends who has been losing sleep lately. I promised her that I’d send her some links to a yoga nidra to help her get back to sleep. I forgot. Surely she thinks I’m a horrible person, and her life is going down the drain, too, because I forgot to send her the salve for her wound. Now I’ll be friendless, too. The familiar tense muscles and racing mind carried me away on a runaway raft of fear.

I finally grabbed a limb. “This is not real,” I told myself. “This is anxiety.” It is a physical problem which manifests a cascade of mental bullying. Nothing had changed since I went to bed. And everything will be fine when I wake up if I ever go back to sleep. “Jesus, help me,” I whispered. “I’m in anxiety.” I gave myself a long hug and a reassurance that I loved her and would take care of her. Anxiety said, “Dammit, I was having fun.”

Once I named it, I was able to let go of the torrent of thoughts. If I don’t stop interacting with them, sleep will elude me. I didn’t want to do it, but I launched my Calm app and did a 25 minute deep sleep relaxation meditation. I was so tense it took the full 25 minutes for my muscles to release. I realized I might not sleep but I could always rest, and that was okay, too.

This is my anxiety. I can go through the list of things I’ve eaten this week that probably set this off, but it doesn’t really matter how I got here. I have to dig myself out. I didn’t feel anxious when I got up, but I know I could stoke that ember pretty quick.  So today will be a no sugar, no coffee and no white flour day. There will be no news until later in the day, and I’m listening to sweet Enya. I will meditate frequently. Breakfast was a whole-grain breakfast porridge with plenty of relaxing healthy carbs. A glass of kefir and a bit of yogurt coated my gut with probiotics. It was probably diet that got me into this mess, and diet will bring me out.

93fca358-12f5-4961-9c9b-bf3c77400118-fbd405d2-cbdb-4f7c-b209-e2ed54d0b8ba-v1

Thank goodness it’s Friday, and I have a connected weekend ahead. There’s a chili cook-off in Saint Joe tonight, and it sounds fun. I think a night out on the town might do me good. Y’all have a good weekend. I hope to visit a new coffeehouse or two this weekend!

Resources:

Oh yeah, and if you struggle with anxiety, here are some things that work for me. You can also check out a lot of resources on this search. Share your favorites with me. Kick your anxiety out the door!

Sundays in Sawyer: Dancing With Darkness

IMG_4805

The house across the street when I left this morning.

It was dark when I left out this morning at 8 AM. Christmas lights sparkled red and green against the soft luminescent snow. The Winter Solstice is this week – Thursday to be exact. I love Solstice celebrations. When I think of the significance of lightness and darkness in our lives, it makes sense to me that the days with the most light and the days with the most darkness should be marked in some way. And what would Christmas lights be without the long interplay of darkness in December?

IMG_4572

I’ve always loved the dark. I love seeing the stars at night, and I love the long nights of winter. They are times of rest and reflection. I don’t sleep as well in the summer with the long days of sunshine. While I feel more energetic during the summer, I don’t think it is good for us to be revved up all the time. There is a reason for the season, and I believe the reason is rest and rejuvenation – of our bodies, our souls and our lives. Our ancestors felt these seasons were so important, they were the biggest celebrations of the year.

IMG_3203

Part of my plan for getting through the winter this year is to be open to doing something different. I signed up for an 8-class yoga pass at my old yoga studio where I completed my teacher training. And, I decided that I would start doing my Sunday blogging at Infusco Coffee in Sawyer since it is on the way to the Sunday yoga class.  When I visited their website last night, I read about their mission. This is much more than a coffee shop. They sell “relationship coffee.” It makes the coffee taste much better when there is such a good cause behind it. If that’s not a light in the darkness, I don’t know what is. So now my Sunday blog will be called Sundays in Sawyer…. until I do something different.

The mission and history of Infusco ….

A sign on their counter said their eggnog latte was divine, so I ordered one. Ashok was out in the car waiting like usual, and I thought to ask if they allowed dogs. They do! Ashok can now hang with me instead of waiting in the car. I set down her blanket, and we both enjoyed the Christmas tree and the quiet setting of this comfortable and welcoming coffeehouse.

The darkness of depression is still lingering with me this evening. But I got up and made myself a nice, healthy dinner. A task so simple feels overwhelming when I’m depressed. But, I have to say it made me feel a tad better to put some effort into taking care of me. I think I’ll turn off this computer now and go read for a bit. Surely I have something light and humorous on my Kindle to ignite a little lightness in my spirit. If not, I can always fall asleep and get some rest. Either way, tomorrow will be another day.

We got out for a hike today at Warren Dunes State Park. That helped my mood a bit, too….

 

The Power of Gentleness

205221-Be-Gentle-And-Kind-With-Yourself

I chose a meditation this morning from my 10% Happier app that promised to provide focus. Sharon Salzberg was the teacher, and she promised to help me focus on the space between the breaths. I noticed my breathing was labored. I struggled with pausing between breaths. As soon as the exhale ended I was gasping to inhale. My body was reacting as if I would die if I went a second without oxygen. I know from experience this is a symptom of my anxiety.

My anxiety’s creator is what I call my drill sergeant. He literally has a whip that he uses to keep me on the right track. “Do it right,” he screams and cracks the whip. “You can’t stop now,” he admonishes when I stop to rest. His goal is to keep me on track, to shame me into sticking to a standard is always be elusive. And when I’m meditating, he rails at me to “relax …. stop thinking … quiet your mind … breathe smoothly and easily …. you’ll never get this right”. What actually happens is I can’t do any of those things. I just get scared that I’ll never do it right, and I lunge at my breath to help me feel safe.

“Be gentle with yourself,” I tell my friends when they are lunging after their breath, their eyes wide with anxiety and fear over something that they can’t seem to accomplish or make right. I see their drill sergeant and can almost hear the crack of the whip as he admonishes them to meet an impossible goal. It’s not infrequent that people tell me that they can’t be gentle with themselves. If they are not harsh with themselves, they will fail.

When I recognized what was happening this morning, I stopped trying to follow her instructions, and I said, “I love you, Sharon”. I gave myself a big, imaginary, long hug. Immediately my body relaxed, and in a few minutes my breathing and my mind settled into an easy, relaxed cadence. I love the lessons of meditation and yoga. They are so subtle, and they only come when I pay attention to my internal drama. I think the drill sergeant is my internal voice, but he’s not. He’s an external structure built by a lifetime of experiences, demands and uninformed authority figures. He is not what is within me.

Yoga, meditation, therapy, 12-step recovery and other spiritual practices quiet the unhelpful voices that cause us to lunge after our breath or material goods or addictive substances of any kind. These safe practices – and if they are not safe, they are not healthy – provide a different structure that provides a soft spot to land and an absence of expectations. We all have enough goals and demands and expectations that drive us nearly to our death. The inner voice of the spirit is so gentle and sweet in comparison. It’s only when we meet it with gentleness that it becomes audible.

Ms. Salzberg echoed my experience this morning when she said that we can only improve and succeed if we lovingly support ourselves. Want to stick with a diet? Need to stop drinking? Is your life not working? Don’t listen to the drill sergeant. He’s what drove you to this place. Listen to your inner voice that tells you what you need and want and who genuinely adores you just the way you are. In my experience, it’s in the safety of sweet gentleness that my spirit ignites. The human spirit is infinitely more powerful than being driven from the outside…. and a lot more pleasurable, too.

Be gentle with yourself. See how powerful you really are.

 

Finding Laughter in the Darkness

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 7.01.07 AM

I was searching for new podcasts a couple of weeks ago. I wanted something that was not political, informative and thought-provoking. I listen to one called Women on the Road about women who live in campers and travel all the time. One of my favorites is How I Built This about entrepreneurs who made it really big. They have featured the builders of Eileen Fisher, Five Guys and Starbucks. I thought humor might be a good addition to my library, and I found one called The Hilarious World of Depression. Hmmmmm… really? Hilarious? Not my experience of depression, for sure.

I had some windshield time yesterday, so I plugged in and listened to a couple of episodes. So far, they are interviewing comedians who struggle with depression. They are somewhat funny, but the focus is their journey with depression. A friend of mine asked if that seemed odd that comedians would have depression, but, as a sufferer of depression, it makes perfect sense to me. Who can articulate the wildly insane world of mental illness better than someone who writes or performs? And since depression separates us from reality, we see all of its quirks and ironies.

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 7.05.49 AM

Depression is more of a numbness for me. Sometimes I feel sad, but mostly I just feel down and hopeless. I describe it as feeling like I’m in a box or as if I’m a small child hiding in a corner. There is a heaviness in my heart that I can only describe as weighted weariness. Moving around feels monumental. I watch the world disconnectedly as if reality is a movie where I didn’t get a part. The hardest part is feeling disconnected …. disconnected from my emotions, my relationships and from my hopes and dreams. The landscape is a movie screen. And it’s not even a really good movie. Is this all there is? 

Listening to these comedians talk about their darkest days and their journey with depression has been very comforting in an odd sort of way. People tell me that I often describe what they are going through in my blog, and it helps them to hear it described in prose. Sometimes – they say – it gives them words to describe their feelings. That’s exactly how I feel listening to this podcast. Even people who are famous and successful and wildly funny have periods where they sink into the dark hole of depression. Often, their inner world is at its darkest when they are at the peak of their success.

So, I just thought I’d pass this on. If you suffer from depression, it could be a warm blanket on a dark day. If you live with someone who suffers from depression, it will most certainly provide some insight on why they can’t “snap out of it” or use positive thinking to shift their mood. Most of all, I hope it will provide the perspective that depression doesn’t limit you unless you don’t get help. There is help available, and there is success and laughter and hope after – and even during – depression.

 

I’m Not Weird… Just Highly Sensitive

sensitive

I always knew I was sensitive. But I was surrounded by people who thought it was a fatal flaw. Toughen up…. don’t be so sensitive … you need to learn to cope with life … you are weak … insults around my sensitivity engulfed me. As I tried to process things like anger, sarcasm, violent movies and interpersonal drama, I struggled immensely.

I became depressed for the first time in my teens. All I wanted to do was hang out in my room, paint my nails and listen to my record player. Something was wrong with me, I told myself. How will I ever cope with my life? Why did God make me like this? Didn’t he know how hard this would be to live like this? I knew I couldn’t stop the “incoming” that was pushing my buttons everyday.

I eventually found alcohol and marijuana and started self-medicating. Of course that didn’t help either, but it helped me check out from the pressure of my overwhelming sensitivity to the world and its impact on my psyche. When I got sober in my mid-twenties, I found myself back in a world where I felt assaulted continuously. I really didn’t know how I would manage. It was just hard to be alive.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 6.07.13 AM

I don’t remember when I found the book The Highly Sensitive PersonI’m pretty sure a therapist recommended it to me. I finally recognized myself, and there was nothing wrong with me. I was just sensitive to my environment. Anger overwhelmed me. My feelings drowned me. I needed lots of downtime to decompress from what others might describe as day-to-day drama. And the author offered tools for self-care and living a normal life.

I don’t know about other countries, but our culture doesn’t accept sensitive people as an asset. If we aren’t tough and in your face, we are considered weak. If I am empathetic to others, I’m a snowflake. I had a coworker tell me once that he couldn’t even have a conversation with me because I didn’t watch TV or violent movies. I feel out of step with society at times because of the way I have to “lock down” the intrusions upon my world. In order for me to show up at work in a demanding job, take care of the many tasks that single people have to handle and manage the many personal relationships that an extrovert craves, I have to be really clear about my needs. I don’t function well when I’m overwhelmed. And I know my limits.

I think I’m a good writer because I’m sensitive. I notice little things that others don’t see. I find the words that describe the smallest details that make life special. I’m a good teacher because I sense when others don’t understand. I’m a good strategist because I see connections everywhere. I anticipate problems at work way before anyone else can see them because I’m always asking questions and trying to understand the needs of others. My affinity for being immersed in my inner life makes me unique … not weird. 

If you think you might be a highly sensitive person, here are some resources for you. If you love someone who is a highly sensitive person, take a look at this material. Understand that there is nothing wrong with them, and they don’t have to “toughen up”. They just need to learn how to arrange their world so that they feel safe contributing. Our world needs more sensitive people. But we are often hiding under mushrooms. Make it safe for us to shine.

Resources for highly sensitive people can be found on this website. There’s even a quiz you can take. If you answer yes to 14 items on the quiz, you are highly sensitive. I had 23! And some areas have Meetup groups where you can meet others like you!

senschild

Meditation Rocks

fullsizeoutput_1d4f

In one of my favorite movies, Hoosiers, the basketball coach was battling heart disease. When the main character Norman enters his new boss’s office, Cletus is sitting in meditation. He said he was “floating”. His doctor had told him he had to manage his blood pressure, and meditation was his choice of medicine. In 1986 I knew nothing of meditation, but the scene stuck with me. Who would think some Indiana coach would be meditating? Wasn’t that just for yogis and girls?

Since then, I’ve become more interested in self-care, met many world-class athletes who use meditation for enhancing performance, and I have experienced the spiritual and physiological benefits of a regular yoga practice. I have, of course, from time to time meditated after a yoga class or practiced yoga nidra when I’m under a lot of stress or suffering from insomnia.

In 2007, I was experiencing high anxiety and relentless insomnia for months while under a stress from a failing marriage. I had never meditated regularly, but I was trying all of the herbal treatments I could find. Regular exercise and my yoga practice alone were not working. I read that meditation might work. I sat in meditation for 15 minutes every night. After only about a week of doing this, my insomnia abated. I slept. There is nothing more powerful than sleeping after a long stretch of sleepless nights. I continued the practice until I got out of the worst of the stress and then I forgot about it. Necessity is certainly the best motivator.

I started meditating in April with the Calm App. Several friends mentioned it to me in a short period of time as a panacea for the stress they were feeling. When three people mention something to me in a short amount of time, I take it to be a message from my Higher Power. My rule is I have to try it whether I want to or not. Well, I got hooked immediately. Even the short 10-minute meditations that I used in the beginning started to make a difference to me, and they contained great learning content on how to live mindfully.

I’m three months into this journey, and I feel like a different person. Well, I take that back. I still feel like the same person, but I feel like a lovable, grounded, well-rested, and valuable person. That is a very different experience than my previously insecure, frazzled, exhausted and somewhat confused experience of life. I know there is lots of science to back up the power of meditation, but what motivates me is how different I feel. I am now meditating 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening most days of the week. It’s the best investment of time I’ve made in awhile.

Screen Shot 2017-07-07 at 6.46.05 AM

I recently found a podcast made by my former college classmate Robin Roberts called Everybody’s Got Something. The first one I listened to was a chat with two of her colleagues from Good Morning America who talked about their life struggles and what they learned from them. Dan Harris was an anxious, adrenalin-seeking recreational drug using journalist who had an embarrassing panic attach on the air. He started meditating, and it literally changed his life and career. In addition to his journalism career, he is now a crusader for meditation. He has his own podcast and website called 10% Happier which has a short course on meditation, meditations for all kinds of situations and teachings from master teachers of meditation.

Screen Shot 2017-07-07 at 6.52.16 AM

Yesterday, on the 10% Happier podcast, Dan interviewed a Democratic congressman (Tom Ryan, podcast #87) who holds meditation sessions in D.C. that are attended by bi-partisan staffers regularly. In fact, in his opinion, meditation is a pretty conservative activity. It is a “help yourself” solution, no cost and wildly effective in changing your life.

If you are struggling with stress or insomnia or would otherwise just like to strengthen your brain “muscle”, you should open your mind a little and try meditation. Meditation is the new black, and, if just 25% of the population started meditating and seeing results that bring out the best in themselves, just think of how we could change the world. Athletes have known for a long time that meditation helps their performance. Their job is to perform, so they aren’t going to waste time on BS.

Cletus modeled meditation for us back in 1986 – long before I even knew what it was. His doctor knew that meditation lowered blood pressure and reduced stress. He probably got better sleep as a result. I suspect Norm could have benefited from meditation with his flashy temper and anger issue. Those things make for good drama but they don’t make for a good life. Like Dan Harris says, it won’t solve all of your problems, but it may make you 10% happier.

 

 

Channeling My Inner Icelander: Longings

fullsizeoutput_17f5

I spent another day yesterday riding the sugar roller coaster. “Just stop eating it,” you say. “It’s bad for me,” I say. “It’s poison,” say the books that proclaim sugar as the downfall of our health as a country. “It’s an addiction,” say the psychologists and substance abuse counselors. “It keeps you company when you are lonely,” says the addict on my shoulder. “It hugs you when you are scared,” says the devil. “And it’s just so, so sweet,” says my addicted, pleasure-seeking brain. Sugar’s energy sucks the life out of me. Its initial calming effect leads to an unrelenting anxiety. No matter what, I always end up laying awake at night in the middle of a blood sugar crash cursing myself for my dependence.

Today, I vow, will be different. For some people, I assume sugar is not what it is to me. But, for many, I can see that they struggle with the need to eat it for stress relief and comfort. I can see it because it literally shows up on us in anxiety, inflammation and weight gain. As stress levels rise during this time, you can literally see people “puffing up”. I feel helpless in my own spiral. But I know that it is not hopeless. I have been here before.

Girl sitting on the rock by the peaceful sea at sunset.

Yesterday I read an article in the Atlantic about the stunning success Iceland has had in breaking the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse in its teenage population. When the country became alarmed at the addictive spiral of its youth, the country decided to get to the root of the problem instead of trying to manage symptoms. You can read the article here, but the goal was to teach teenagers to handle stress in proactive ways by working with their bodies’ natural body chemistry. As humans, our body chemistry helps us relieve stress if we “lean in” instead of “numbing out”. Some of get stress relief by increasing our energy and soaking in our endorphins. Others need to slow down to quell anxiety. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Meditation works as well as dancing all night long. It just depends on who you are.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-6-37-29-am

I actually know what works for me. It’s a combination of meditation, exercise, eating right, real connection with others and reading spiritual material. So, when I got up this morning I made my tea without sweeteners and cracked open Ronald Rolheiser’s book Holy Longing. In the introduction, he talks about this longing that we have inside us as humans that is never really satisfied. This desire drives us. It drives us to seek God. It drives us into an anxious state when we are unoccupied. It drives us into all kinds of addictions and modes of escape. We are always in a state of unrequited desire. We have moments of peace. We never have a lifetime of it.

Twelve step groups say addictions of all kinds are an attempt to fill a God-sized hole with something else. We just keep trying and trying to find comfort but it never works. We need more and more to keep that elusive peaceful feeling. We all have different “solutions” to our anxiety. While I pound sugar to get that “high” I like so much, another engages in angry arguments to help them feel smarter than others. A credit card buys all of the things that comfort others. A momentary comfort is experienced in the numbness of substance-abuse. The credit card bills come due, our relationships unravel from the arguing and substance abuse, and my blood sugar crashes from the sugar. We are always left with the remorse and the emotional fallout. Peace – from those things – is elusive.

Writing helps me reframe my thoughts, and I think I’ll approach today differently. With the awareness that I’m feeling a God-sized hole right now for a variety of reasons, I’ll fill it with time with Him and engage in my spiritual practices. I’ll abstain from sugar and let the withdrawal take me. I’ll find a way to connect with others tonight and express my true feelings. I’ll eat something healthy for breakfast and do a yoga nidra… BEFORE reading the news. For today, I’ll pretend I’m an Icelander and deal with the root of the problem.

 

Whatever Happened to Kindness?

sadness

The other morning I got up to do yoga. My yoga space has a small window that looks out into the street. It’s on the third floor, so I get a bird’s eye view of the area. I was standing in Tadasana, and I saw what I first thought was a dog. I realized in horror that it was a deer. It was walking down the sidewalk in my neighborhood headed toward the street. What is happening to our animals? And why doesn’t anybody care?

I feel really sad this morning. It’s the first morning I’ve woken up in tears in a long time. I thought of the deer walking through my neighborhood. Tucked in my bed with my animals, I thought of the animals on our planet. In all of the hiking I’ve done in the last few years, the animals seem to be gone. There are few birds twittering. A sighting of an animal is now a complete rarity. Sure, in Louisiana there was evidence of wild hogs, and I see squirrels here. But where are the animals that I used to see with some regularity?

I texted one of my friends in Memphis yesterday. She admitted that she was worried about herself because she is so depressed and crying all the time over the state of the planet and, in particular, the political scene. She’s even thinking of seeing a counselor to help her deal with it. Another one said her anxiety is at an all-time high, and she doesn’t know what to do about it. All of my closest friends are struggling with fear about the state of the world, and I am, too. My only advice is to grieve the loss of what we think it should be.

tears-quote-for-word-press-skinny

I feel this huge sense of loss that people really don’t care about human rights, the wilderness, animals and – most of all – kindness. Somehow we have lost the desire to be kind. Maybe that desire was never there, and I was just oblivious. That’s the major reason I got off Facebook. I don’t like the disrespect and meanness that is surfacing. I can’t stand to look at it. I never could watch violent movies, and I feel like our society has turned into one. It hurts, and when I say it hurts and saddens me, I get insulted by insensitive people who see kindness and sweetness as a weakness.

I’m further confused that this behavior is somehow getting lumped in with Christianity. Christ is so different than that. He held people accountable, but his overwhelming teaching was about love and kindness to others. And it seems so ironic that this “majority” wants everybody to become Christian, but this need to politicize their agenda turns people off the Christian religion. I just don’t believe that cramming a belief system down people’s throats does anything for attraction.

Words like sadness and kindness and compassion are treated with disdain. Fear and anger have become synonymous with strength and power. Name-calling and bullying are encouraged, and arguing is now a favored form of entertainment. For empaths like me – and there are many of us – words like torture and bans and power and gag orders hit our bodies with the effect of violence. And nobody cares.

kindness-1

Our political system has become reality television. For 8 years, we watched as one party dug their heels in like 2-year-olds and wouldn’t play even though this country badly needed their assistance to pass policy that would sit with everybody. The scene now looks like a bunch of incompetents who don’t know how to do anything but grab power for themselves. Who is caring for our constitution? As long as we can have our guns, we don’t need the First Amendment anymore. We’ll just shoot the dissenters. If the law doesn’t suit us, we just change it so we can slam our policy in place. Power is the new black. Billionaires are the new public servants. And kindness and respect have been deemed useless.

I don’t know what’s going to become of us as a society. I am very fearful of what is going to become of our animals and fellow creatures that are struggling to survive. I am worried about the carelessness with which we regard our planet. I am totally confused about our culture’s willingness to mock and set aside the poor and the disabled. I am saddened with the way people are discarded or treated with disgust because they have different beliefs and viewpoints. The losses I’m feeling right now are overwhelming.

I don’t want to be on a soapbox this morning. I just want to ease this huge gaping hole of pain. I’m tired of being called names because I want to see a world filled with kindness. I want to live my life in compassion helping others realize their dreams. I want to enjoy nature and make a decent living. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want to take advantage of other people. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. I crave safety for everyone. And I’m afraid that dream – just like democracy – is just a fantasy imagined by fools.

 

 

 

The Raw, Frozen Shelf of Sadness

img_1513

I had lunch with a friend today. We both admitted we were feeling an undercurrent of sadness. My underlying low energy keeps me on the verge of bursting into tears. But, then I exercise or go for a walk or go to bed, and I’m fine. I think it’s the holidays and the expectations and newness of the landscape here. It could also be eating too much sugar which tends to spiral me into a low as well. I don’t know what it is. But, whatever it is, it’s there, bubbling beneath the surface in a slow, spiky ebb.

img_1536

Yesterday, I took a hike at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Once again, I was surprised at the number of people out hiking in the snow. One of the guys from the Meetup group in Grand Rapids met me, and we headed through the woods ending up on the beach beside Lake Michigan.

img_1528

Because of the waves and the surf, Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze in a solid piece of ice. The waves wash over each other, and tiny droplets freeze slowly. The freezing starts in the shallowest spots and builds until there is a very deep and wide ice “shelf” leading out to the lake. It has been warming up for several days, so I was surprised to see so much ice yesterday. The “shelf” which resembles a large iceberg covered in snow ran about 40 yards into the lake for as far as I could see on the lakefront. We even climbed up a large dune and took in a great view on down the shore. It was so beautiful and raw. Unless we had hiked that trail, we would have never gotten that vantage point. Such is the reward of hiking.

img_1524

Today, the sun came out, and the temperature rose enough to melt almost all of the snow around my house and down the street. Last night when Ashok went out, she had to wade through snow. This morning at 5:30 AM, she was walking on grass. She looked confused as she’s spent several weeks with no view of the ground. I felt sad that it was melted, but it was nice to feel the sun on my back and wear only a sweater when we took our daily walk. For the first time in awhile, I could wear tennis shoes, and we could walk on the sidewalks clear of snow and ice. It was easier, but it sure wasn’t as pretty.

img_1529

This reaction that water has to the Northern winter is so interesting to see. The ice and snow are tangible evidence that the temperature is rising or falling, and the form of it all is dependent on the winds that blow it around. And as quickly as it forms, it can just as quickly dissipate. It provides an ever-evolving landscape in the backdrop of my life.

img_1515

I really wanted to walk out on that ice shelf yesterday, but with the warmer temperatures, it was way too risky. You can’t see it in the pictures, but the “cliff” side of the ice on the water was probably 4 – 5 feet thick. I wanted to walk to the edge and look down into the water. Near the shore, the ice, snow, sand and water sculpted these beautiful patterns that were constantly evolving as the temperatures dipped and rose. Frozen boulders of sand and snow lined the bank. Ashok drank from the water in one spot and was surprised when she licked ice in another because she could see the water running freely below.

img_1525

My sadness feels a little like that today. It is sort of running gently underneath the surface. I don’t really feel a need to express it, but I don’t want to hold it in either. So, it trickles for a moment – surfacing before it ducks back under my emotional shell. I could pick at it or stick a stick through it, but I think I’ll wait. Maybe the writing will melt the ice, and I can freely touch its cold embrace.

img_1517

It helped to talk to Nancy today. There’s really nothing to do about sadness. At this point in our lives it is inescapable at times. Looking back provides context, and looking forward provides hope. But in the present we feel the formations caused by the collision of outside elements with our inner makeup and wounds. Sometimes it’s tastefully drinkable. Other times our emotion trickles gently under the surface with no reason to escape. Some days its rawness can be downright stormy. My heart searches for the beauty in all of it. For in every moment, the only truth is that “this, too, shall pass.” It would be a shame to miss a moment of it.

img_1521