Swimming Upstream

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I pulled the Salmon Medicine Card this morning. I couldn’t find the card reading to share with you this morning, but I did find another website with information on salmon medicine.

My book club just read a book about a woman who was raised by a Native American and who was deeply steeped in their ways. Her father was a psychopath, but he taught her a lot about living off the land and learning from the animals. Our world is full of different kinds of animal species who each have lessons that can teach us to survive and thrive in different situations. One of the greatest sadnesses I have right now is the consistent loss and suffering of our animal species due to our over-consumption and lack of compassion for the earth. They teach us and give us much. We should appreciate and fight for them more.

Salmon are the epitome of determination. But the lesson from salmon is much broader than that. They live much of their life swimming in ocean waters before they make the arduous journey back to the place of their birth to spawn and then die. They do this with an undeniable instinct and inner knowing that what they are doing is in their best interest. Predators, boulders, dams, and lack of water kill many but the most determined and hardy of them will make it back to the calm waters where they were born.

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This journey is a celebration. It is a celebration of their life, and it is the celebration of the lives they are meant to spawn. They leap over waterfalls, jump over rocks and press against the current. They play. Salmon tells me that I should have fun and celebrate with child-like energy and enthusiasm as I manage the obstacles in my path. It is also obvious from the journey of the salmon that the destination is not the place to celebrate as the destination is my death. It is the journey that matters.

Salmon are masters of the water and water symbolizes emotions and change. Salmon reminds me to let my emotions ebb and flow and to follow the river without judgment or fear. My inner knowing and instincts are my compass. The river of life may take me on many twists and turns and erect barriers to slow my progress, but the pursuit of learning for learning’s sake is worth the effort. Salmon tells me this morning to delight in the obstacles of my life. He also reminds me that the journey is short, and I need to be awake and energetic to get the most out of it.

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If I were a salmon this morning, I’d know nothing except the present moment. Breathe in…. breathe out… I’d find food for my hunger, swim against the current if necessary and enjoy the sunshine. I’d trust my strength and my instincts for each obstacle even if I’d never encountered it before. Breath in … breathe out…. I’d steer clear of bears if at all possible, hang with my shoal and linger in cooler water when I’m hot. Most of all, I would have some fun. My instincts tell me that life in the stream is short, and I have much to do. Breathe in … breathe out…

Happy swimming, fellow swimmers! Make today a day of strength and ease. 

Seeking Comfort: It’s Monday

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In the January 22nd reading of Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart, she provides a perspective on comfort. She keeps one of her favorite blankies in her Jeep. She doesn’t use it to sleep with because she doesn’t sleep outside, but she throws it in her vehicle to remind her of how important it is to seek comfort.

Our collective obsession to “be the best we can be”, “live out our passion” and “stay positive” has become a new way to push ourselves.  It seems softer than having to work ourselves to death for The Man, but it can have the same effect of driving us to succeed. We are not machines.

Even Elizabeth Gilbert realized that she was passion shaming people when she spoke about the importance of finding your passion and committing to it. After a confrontation from a fan about how shamed she felt after hearing her speak because she couldn’t name her singular passion, Gilbert realized that her path might have been different. She found that most people grow into their passion by the choices they make. Not everyone has the same driven life experience that she had. And both approaches are completely normal.

Gilbert says there are two kinds of people. There are the jackhammers and the hummingbirds. I like to noodle things. I try out new things to see if I like them. I see a shiny object, and I totally dig getting distracted by it. This kind of lifestyle brings me comfort. Yes, I feel a little unfocused at times. I give in to my depression on occasion. There are days when I’m not being true to myself. I wasn’t always this way. I was taught to power through and excel. I was raised on the mantra “be the best at something, or don’t do it”. And it about killed me. I am NOT a jackhammer.

I’m approaching Monday by easing into it. I’m curled up with my kitties and Ashok under my favorite blankie. I’m sipping green tea instead of coffee. In a moment, I will have some greek yogurt and granola with fruit. These are some of my favorite things. And I will probably be a few minutes late for work because I hate dragging myself out of my house in the morning. Luckily it’s not too cold, and I don’t have to shovel snow. I have time to seek comfort this morning, and I believe I will.

What brings you comfort? Do you spend time seeking comfort, or do you drive yourself? What feels better to you? Are you a jackhammer? Or a hummingbird?

 

 

The Power of Gentleness

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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.

 

Sundays in Saugatuck: Listening to Dragonfly

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I thought I might head out for a hike today, but, alas, it is raining. So, for the third week in a row, I headed up to Saugatuck for my seat at Uncommon Coffee Roasters. The cushy chairs were waiting for me. I plopped my stuff down and ordered my mocha in a real coffee mug. Let the new Sunday tradition begin.

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Ashok looks cute but had to wait in the car anyway.

The dragonfly card popped up in my spread of my Medicine Cards today. As usual, dragonfly delivered a message that directly applied to my world. I actually called my friend Jessica this morning and spoke almost the exact words in the reading. Native Americans say that dragonfly was once a dragon, and he flew around transforming things with his fiery breath. One day Coyote played a trick on him and transformed him into a dragonfly. Dragon ended up losing his power because he allowed someone else to change him.

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After our run yesterday, Ashok rolled in the tiny bit of snow that was available.

The reading tells me that I am holding on to some illusion that is restricting my actions. I’ve been struggling with my people-pleasing tendencies lately, and that’s what prompted my call to Jessica this morning. Trying to twist myself into something or somebody that other people will like is not working for me. And, honestly, if they don’t like me, they don’t like me. In this particular situation, the change expected of me is not behavioral but personal. I am who I am with my own set of unique gifts and faults. And I honestly think if I could change, they still wouldn’t like me anyway. It’s about them. It’s not about me.

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Oddly enough, I have on my dragonfly earrings today. “Misery is a prime clue that you lost your will and personal validity when you bought into someone else’s idea of who or what you should be,” says dragonfly. “Who am I then?” I ask dragonfly, knowing the answer somewhere deep in my soul. I spent so many years of my life following someone else’s rules that misery was my constant state of being. But the soul never gives up trying to breathe. I can stuff it down as far as I want, but the soul never dies. It wants to BE who it is … no matter how long it takes.

I know I am still evolving. I know I am not perfect. I know that I continue to work on my personal challenges, and I see progress slowly but surely. I also know that I am talented. I am funny. I am courageous. My friends say that my special gift is helping others see how wonderful they really are. I actually sort of like that person that can help others love themselves. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

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The holidays are upon us. I’m excited about spending some time in Chicago and plans with friends. I’m looking for a 5k to run in December to cap off my successful running season. It’s been years since I’ve been able to run uninjured. Jessica has been coaching me since July, and I’ve been running a 5K every month. Yesterday Ashok and I ran a 5-miler in South Haven, and it felt great – albeit cold. I could run the Speedo 5k in Chicago or the Whoville 5k in Grand Rapids or a New Year’s Eve run. Hmmm … they all sound kind of fun. I’m just very grateful to be running. Along with all the other stuff that my souls longs to be, I suppose it likes to run.   Not sure about the bikini in December though… 

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Randomness: Be Unforgettable

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They say that memories are burned into your brain in direct correlation with the intensity of the emotions you felt at the time. If an event happens that doesn’t affect you at all emotionally, there is little chance you will remember it in much detail. If you are abused or afraid or intensely angry or even joyful, you will remember every tiny detail. And in most cases, the emotion will bubble up or even sideline you with a similar intensity when you remember it later.

One of my favorite books is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. He says if you show a genuine interest in people by asking them questions about themselves and really listening, they will tell everyone they know what a great conversationalist you are. The words we speak don’t make the difference. It’s the way we make people feel that makes us memorable.

That knife cuts both ways, too. How do you want to be remembered? Who do you remember because of the way you made them feel?

 

Randomness: Feelings

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When I was going through my second divorce and all of the grief of my life was cascading over me in a relentless torrent of pain, it was all I could do to get through the day at work without falling apart. When I think of hard things, I think of those days. Because I only knew how to repress my feelings, put on a positive face and push through my life, I had let years and years of grief and pain build up inside me.

With the loss of that dream of being happily married, I felt like my world had come unhinged. What in the world was wrong with me that I couldn’t do the simplest of things as to keep a partner? How would I function being single in a world where couplehood is golden? What would my lonely-ass life look like as a single gal? Did God hate me so much that he created me to be an unloveable mess of a person? Was that my journey on this earth? The grief… the fear … the loss of everything I wanted … the rubble of my dreams … the pain of my inadequacy … it was all ….. too …. much.

I broke. The dam that was holding back the losses of my life cracked wide open. The cascade of hurts and fears and insecurities of a lifetime literally knocked me off my feet. Sometimes I’d hold it together at work. Some days I wouldn’t. My life was work, 12-step meetings and weekly sessions with my therapist. I’d trudge up the stairs to my apartment and start crying before I hit the top of the stairs. Locking the door behind me, I’d lay on the floor or on my bed and cry. I thought the crying would NEVER end.

Oddly enough, I look back at that time as one of the best in my life. I was forced to feel. Humans are meant to feel. We are not meant to cram feelings behind a dam of expectations. The pain was so scary because I thought it would never end, but I had people around me that told me to trust the process of grieving. Everything else I had ever believed turned out to be a lie, so I believed them.

So, today, whatever you are going through, know that you are on the path. Trudge that walk you need to trudge. Trust the process. And if all you do today is hold it together, know that I am proud of you. This walk … your unique trudge … is your walk of greatness. Real joy is somewhere on the other side. But for today, enjoy being a feeling, breathing, awesome child of God. Your feelings will lead you out.

 

Celebrating the Decade of Me

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Today is a celebration.

Today is the 10 year anniversary of me learning to say “when” in a committed, pronounced, impactful way. I won’t get into the details since the story doesn’t matter,  but suffice it to say that what I did ushered in the best decade of my life. In fact, I’d say it’s the only decade where I learned to be Sharon, to stand up for myself and to differentiate my wants and needs from other people’s demands. In some ways it feels like it was a selfish decade, but a part of me says that doesn’t matter anyway. Learning to say no is a selfish act but one that ushers in great freedom and creativity. The energy I spent trying to be what another wanted is now directed toward what I want. And it feels very, very good.

 

So, I looked up my Shiatsu massage therapist from 15 years ago and booked a delicious session. Annemarie is amazing. Shiatsu is a type of massage that uses acupressure (similar in nature to acupuncture but without needles). When I was here before and struggling with depression, one session with Annemarie would shift me out of depression immediately. Now that I’m not plagued with depression, the session offered a lovely big hug that that told me I was loved unconditionally and inspired me to continue on a path that is uniquely mine.

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She recommended a visit to the Valparaiso Farmer’s Market and then suggested I try a unique coffee shop called Dagger Mountain. The coffee roastery is located in an industrial park. Thank goodness for GPS or I would have never found it. The cute little cozy shop is entered by walking through the open garage door. Inside it is just like the best little coffee shops I’ve ever visited.

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They are serious about their coffee. The single origin black coffee is served black only to showcase the flavor but they do have some espresso options. I opted for the Miel coffee drink which is espresso, steamed milk, honey and cinnamon. It is absolutely divine. I have finally – after being here just short of a year – found my coffee home. It’s just too bad it’s an hour away. But I can drive.

I lived in this area from 2003 – 2006. In fact, I worked part-time at a little sandwich shop not a mile away from Dagger Mountain for awhile. This is where I attended Purdue and earned my Masters degree. It is also the place where I got sober again after relapsing. Not unexpectedly, drinking didn’t improve my second marriage, but getting sober improved me. It was here that I began my journey to regain my strength and resolve to do what I needed to do to improve my life. Returning here today was a good idea.

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So, I’m celebrating. It’s a full moon this weekend. I feel amazing after my Shiatsu massage. I’m going to clean my house literally and do some smudging to clear my house energetically. I think this is a great time for me to make a choice for me again. I have a new decade beginning, and I’m excited about what it might bring. I wasn’t so sure about the beginning of this last decade on July 8, 2007, but I can see that we don’t always see the gifts clearly except in hindsight.

Where will I be on July 8, 2024? I can’t wait to find out!

 

 

Channeling My Inner Icelander: Longings

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Day 1: Freedom

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So, yesterday was my first full day without Facebook. I took a break for several months years ago, but this was the first time in awhile that I didn’t check posts, post my thoughts or spend time scrolling through a news feed. It felt really good, actually. I do miss my Virtual Boot Camp group, and I guess I’ll have to text them to give my updates, but overall I’m happy with my decision.

I explored Instagram a bit and even interacted with a few friends that have long been absent from Facebook. I read some blogs, and I did some research on some issues that concerned me. I even had time to talk with my friend Laura on the phone. I should have taken my dog for a walk, but I didn’t. I just wanted to relax and create some new habits. The world, all of a sudden, feels like a nicer place to be.

I want to get out of town this weekend. I was booked for a winter camping trip with a Meetup group, but after someone posted on Monday that the camping area was really wet, I decided I didn’t want to drive less than 25 minutes from home and camp in a mud-hole. I’d save it for a better time. So, I’ve been asking around for good places to go for the weekend. I can’t decide if I want an outdoor adventure or if I want to go somewhere that has some great coffee shops and shopping just for a change of pace.

I talked to my friend Effie from Baton Rouge last weekend. She said it looked like I was really loving it up here. I confirmed that I was, but I feel the urgency to build my community and hate that I don’t have a group of best girlfriends yet. She said that maybe I should just take time to enjoy the quiet. “I think God gives us times when it is quiet so we can just relax,” she said. I felt the sweet comfort of God’s word filtering through the noise to land in my ears.  Ah, yes… I think that’s exactly what I will do. With all the struggle of my time in Louisiana, it’s time to enjoy a time of peace. The job is good … the house is perfect for me … my 401K is growing rapidly … Michigan is drop-dead gorgeous … I feel good physically … and it’s going to snow again today. Life is good.

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I pulled the Eagle card this morning in my Medicine Cards … AGAIN. The fox was my ever-present messenger in Louisiana. Now the Eagle seems to be hovering in my sphere. “Focus on the broader view,” she urges. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details and the challenges and my “to-do” list.

What is the bigger picture? To focus on that, I think of the concepts of expansion and elevation … expanding my sphere, elevating my perspective, and opening my heart and soul. As I write those words, I realize how different that energy feels than the energy in isolating, building walls and closing doors. The Eagle asks me to shift my energy in opposition to the current pull. I see an Eagle on a Great Lakes perch, eyes blinking, scanning the horizon. Freedom is her domain.

Eagle asks you to give yourself permission to legalize freedom and to follow the joy your heart desires.

~~Jamie Sams and David Carson in Medicine Cards

 

“Welcome Aboard,” The Conductor Said

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Some of my friends do not understand why I would ever come live in a place with a northern winter. I get a lot of flack from them when I post pics of this beautiful Michigan season on Facebook. I’m sitting here looking out my window at the snowy scene at the first glimpse of daylight. Frost etchings in the corners of my windows make the most delicate frame for the winter scene.

Why am I here … at this time … and in this place … AGAIN?? I’ve asked myself the question numerous times – each time for different reasons. Sometimes it’s in angst from the effort of moving. Other times the pain of loneliness begs to know why as I struggle to get connected. And just as often, it’s asked in a sense of anticipation and wonder. Why am I here? 

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I moved when I was younger out of a sense of adventure laced with some sort of searching urgency. I was looking for something. I’ve described midlife as a time of waking up for me, and, in this time, this relocation business has reframed to something else entirely. I’ve learned over the years – and the lessons – that everything happens for a reason. The urgency for answers has gone, and I find myself relaxing into the questions.

When I was first contacted about this job, I pulled the Eagle card. It is the first card in my Medicine Card deck, and it represents a strong connection to the Great Spirit. Eagle medicine urges me to look at things from the eagle’s perspective, a perspective much broader than a human perspective. My friend Ann reminds me of this when things get tough. Sometimes I’m happy to be reminded. Other times I ask, “But why, dear God, am I here?”

Loneliness is my greatest teacher. Being an extrovert, I have a high sensitivity to loneliness, but I also have this really strong need for solitude. Achieving a balance is critical for my well-being. I’ve gotten so much better at understanding my needs, but when events like a relocation happen in my life, the challenge increases.

This bench was at the top of a dune at Grand Mere State Park, and this was the view!

I had some energy work done with my friend Lexlee the other night because I was feeling lonely and low after the holidays. During my session, she said the Eagle came to her. It was a reminder of my purpose here, and she reiterated the assurance that ‘Every step has a reason.’ I pulled a card the next morning to see how I could “step into” Eagle energy because right now it seems a bit unreachable. Wolf appeared to me and reminded me that I am a teacher. And right in the middle of the reading for the card, wolf medicine urges me to “seek out lonely places that will allow you to see your teacher within. In the aloneness of a power place, devoid of other humans, you may find the true you.”

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I still don’t know the answer to “Why Am I Here?” I may never know the answer. But I do know that there is a reason I am here. I have learned that God does not send me anywhere for a job. He sends me to places because I need to be in a specific place with a certain group of people at a certain time. I imagine myself boarding this Southwest Michigan passenger train at this moment in time,  and none of us really knows where we are going or why we are aboard. We could be riding together for a long time or a short distance, but when I think of how this all came about there is no doubt that I landed here on the wings of eagles. So, I’m just trying to step into my own best self and contribute what I think is mine to give.

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Last week I hiked in Grand Mere State Park. Like Warren Dunes, it is a beautiful place with woods and enormous sand dunes overlooking that jewel Lake Michigan. I stood on the top of a dune and looked around. “Why am I here?” I said aloud. Without even knowing that I would later that evening brush wings with eagle, I felt her presence. The view was incredible, and I was literally on top of my world. The sting of loneliness ebbed beneath the surface of my heart, but the magic of this transition held me captive emotionally. “You know why you are here,” eagle answered back as she descended upon me playfully. My soul resonated with the knowing that this is a spiritual journey that led me to the top of a dune in a very cold place alive with a warm and inviting spirit.

“Welcome Aboard,” the conductor said. “Enjoy your ride.”

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