trust, connection, and the long walk home

I recently set an intention to work on trust- more specifically, trust that the universe is always bringing me whatever knowledge or experience I need. So this morning when I was emailed an article about relationships serving as a mirror reflecting parts of our soul, I wasn’t surprised that these words were perfectly what I needed to read, and at the perfect time. I haven’t blogged in a while, but as I remember the interconnectedness of our human experiences, I’m reminded the importance of sharing.

I’ll be honest and reveal something I’m not particularly proud of… lately I’ve found myself complaining A LOT about behaviors in my partner; “Brian is this, Brian does this, I wish Brian were more this.”  What I’m really not proud of is that with this has also came an irrational blaming him for my own challenges. I’ve found myself putting a lot of energy into ideas of “if Brian were more this, then my situation or my behavior would be more that”, and not taking responsibility for my own behavior or choices.

As I read this article, it hit me that every time I’d pinpointed a behavior or quality in Brian that I disliked or felt like rejecting, what I was really doing was taking a quality I’m not particularly pleased with in myself, or something I’d like to shift away from, and putting it on him. It’s a lot easier to reject the qualities of another person because we can distance ourselves from them, but it’s impossible to escape those qualities in ourselves. Instead we have to witness them, sit uncomfortably with them, and do the hard work to grow. I don’t know about you, but for me complaining about another person’s behaviors is a lot easier than taking a hard look at myself, and it takes a lot less courage.

Even as I realize that part of me has been really pushing against making internal shifts by trying to control the external, I’m realizing something beautiful. If we are open to seeing it, we’re drawn to people who if can show us the next step in our soul’s journey, especially if we shift from rejecting behaviors we don’t like to being curious. As they say, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”. In every human interaction, we are offered an opportunity to expand. When I slow down to trust the perfectness of each moment, I realize that each person that comes in or out of my life served a higher purpose- and I hope that some quality in me offers them the same opportunity. We are drawn to others who embody qualities of ourselves we are ready to work with, and usually at the exact moment our soul needs them. I love this, because it reminds me that even those who ‘rub me the wrong way’ are serving a purpose, and that the relationships that end do so because I and they have learned the divine lesson that our interaction served.

I think it works in the opposite way as well- not only do we struggle with judging the behaviors of others that reflects our own inner challenge, but I feel like we are drawn to those who embody who we’d like to be- for example, we are drawn to a dare devil because we’d like to start taking more risks, to the artist because we’d like to open to our own creativity, or the free spirit because we want to learn to let go. We are able to see our own abilities and undiscovered strengths in this person, and suddenly we want to spend as much time with this person as possible.  Maybe we hope in being near them we’ll absorb those qualities through osmosis, but the truth is… all of these things are already within us,  and it’s up to us to bring them forth. This person is here to show us not who we could be, but that even if it’s buried under a few layers, who we already are.

My friend recently shared a Ram Dass quote, “We are all just walking each other home.” I love this. Each encounter we have is an opportunity for our one soul to meet itself, to remember our wholeness, and to shed the layers that disconnect us from one another and return to the divine energy that we are made of. To everyone I’ve met and will meet, the souls I share the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of this human life with, thank you for walking me home.

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The Greater Yet To Be

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The greater yet to be…

As I write this, I’m sitting at a place called Weirs Rapids, a spot alongside the Maumee River where, when the water is at the perfect level, it creates a series of gentle water falls, and a magical mist that creates a series of faint rainbows on the surface of the water.  On this particular day, it strikes me that this place and I have a rich history together.  We first found each other eight years ago, when I was feeling overwhelmed, and took a random drive, searching for answers to questions I didn’t yet have the courage to ask.

I’d thought I’d taken a country drive simply to clear my mind, yet as I drove, I found myself desperate to find something. As I took turn after turn, it felt like I was trying to get lost, losing all sense of where I’d started, seeking any point of interest I could find in what had become a monotonous Midwestern landscape.  I had a sense of anxious yearning, thinking, there has to be more than this.

As much as I was looking to find something new outside myself, I later realized I was also seeking an internal change; at the time my life felt as flat and ordinary as the farm fields stretching in every direction.  Nothing lit me up anymore, I was tired and uninspired.   Maybe because I expected to find very little on this drive, I let go of all sense of logic and let my intuition take over, sometimes seeking points on the horizon that felt right, other times letting myself be pulled by the way it felt when I read the name of a road. Eventually, I turned down a tiny road that led to the rapids, and the small spot on the bank where I’ve come time and time again.  Driving without a destination led me to find this incredible hidden place, so when I come here, I am always reminded of the beauty that I find when I feel free enough to let myself wander.

Sometimes years have passed before I return, sometimes only months, and this time I am returning for the second time in a week, needing a moment of centering in the midst of necessary chaos before I pack my life into a small suitcase and begin a nine month adventure.  Surprisingly, though I was here only three days ago, today the spot where I laid a blanket out and enjoyed a sunny, warm spring day is underwater and the river, lazy only days before, is a powerful force, tugging at tree roots, debris rushing by as rainwater angrily tears away anything in its path .

Maybe that’s another reason why this place holds meaning to me; no matter how short the period of time between visits, the river always changes.  Sometimes I find a muddy bank covered in skeletal winter trees, struggling not to be pulled downstream, and other times a dry sandy shore, an entire river bed exposed and a perfect path of stones laid out encouraging a lazy stroll from one bank to the other.  Likewise, there are never the same sounds; some days I’ve been enveloped in a howl of cold wind and other warm days the rumble of motorcycles has faded into the distance revealing the noisy proclamations of flying geese returning for Ohio summer.  Some days I’ve been here alone, and other days the rapids were full of fisherman, laughing and shouting to each other, standing knee deep in the flow.

The philosopher Heraclitus once said, “You cannot step twice into the same river.”  I love this, and it’s so true- the natural world brilliantly and repeatedly reminds us of the inevitability of change.   Sometimes it’s through the gentle change of seasons, change barely discernible in each moment but constantly occurring nonetheless.   Other times we are violently shaken awake to the force of change as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes sweep away humanity’s invented sense of security.   Whether quiet and gradual or loud and abrupt, nature never fails to open my eyes to something I’ve easily forget, that I live in a dynamic universe.  Sometimes I try to hide from this truth, and other times I think I’ve often tried to create change in my life in an attempt to beat nature to the punch; irrationally hoping that if I seek out change it won’t be able to catch me by surprise, that I’ll somehow be in complete control.  Yet here I sit, feeling incredibly aware of how little I can know about what lays ahead, a blend of fear and excitement rumbling in my stomach. It’s paradoxical, because while I don’t want to say goodbye until I know what it is I’m saying hello to, it’s also the mystery and the intoxicating unknown that have always moved me forward, and allowed me to embrace new experience.

I found this written in the back of an old notebook today; Half of the human life is saying goodbye- don’t be at war with half your life.  I don’t know where I heard it, but the reminder was welcomed.  What a battle I’ve often waged trying to prevent my life from shifting, to escape the inevitability of and perhaps ignoring the blessings that are inherent in change.   I don’t think I’m alone in this, we all have this tendency to cling to our favorite moments, wanting them to last forever, yet on some level recognizing their impermanence is what makes them magic.

The happiest moments are of course the hardest to let go of when they end.  Sometimes we stick around too long, hoping for a repeat.  I’ve often found myself clinging to relationships, jobs, and situations that have reached their expiration date, only to realize that whatever magic I was seeking has already passed, feeling sad that I didn’t recognize the meaning of those moments while they were happening.  In the midst of a period of great change, I’m trying to embrace the knowledge that any seemingly inconsequential thing that is happening right now might be the memory I cherish in a year, and to appreciate each accordingly.   I’m embracing change by breathing deeply into each moment and staying open to the possibility of more magic moments that are just around the corner.  I think Heraclitus is right, we can’t step into the same river twice… but we can choose to step willingly into the ever flowing river of change, allowing it to carry us the greater yet to be.

impossibility, terror, and taking flight.

I was having coffee with a friend last weekend, talking about the future, careers, and the often terrifying prospect of following our big dreams. You know the ones; the dreams that we decide not to follow because they are so huge and so scary that our rational brain tells us they are impractical… or my least favorite word of all… impossible

As we were discussing this idea of dreams vs. practicality, he reminded me of a personal truth that I try to live by. He reminded me that it ALL has a purpose, even what seems like confusion or misfortune in the present will make sense when we look at it down the road.  The truth he reminded me of was that even when it’s not clear, everything that happens fits together perfectly, that it’s all part of a path we are meant to be walking.

Someone once explained this much more gracefully… “it’s the path off the path that leads us to God.”  The idea that there is no such thing as a misfortune or mistake is a truth that is easier said than lived, especially when we are in the middle of tragedy or personal crisis, or really even when we just have a bad day.   It’s like we get so focused on what we want to happen, some goal we want to achieve, or some dream we can’t wait to be living, that in the moment we forget that it’s those twists and turns that are the real journey.

As a self-acknowledged accomplishment junkie, I am often guilty of  being so focused on my long term goals, the cause I want to champion, or my next big dream  that I get tunnel vision that prevents  me from seeing the beauty and divinity of the now. This is especially true right at the moment, as in a couple weeks I fly into California for grad school and visiting family and friends, and then fly from there to teach in Thailand for nine months.   Having a one way ticket to SE Asia has made living in the present more of a challenge than ever, my brain is a mess of future and past.  When I’m not distracted by  a mental  list of trip preparations, I find myself reflecting on the past, and the winding, unexpected paths that have led me here.

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So, I’ll indulge myself by lingering in the past for a moment, because as I look back over the last three years, all the pieces seem divinely orchestrated.  There were things that had to fall apart and come together, lessons I was meant to learn, friends I needed to meet, and places I needed to be in order to take this journey.   I feel like the last six months tested me in a necessary way.  Did I really want this?  Could I let go of the life I was used to in order to embrace a new adventure and perspective?   Most importantly, my gut has been telling me that going to Thailand is what I should be doing, but I’m not really sure why…so could I follow my heart when I didn’t know what it was leading me to?  When I answered those questions with commitment, and put my faith in the same higher power that continued to point me in this direction, I began witnessing each obstacle falling away.   I stalled on this dream for two years, avoided the signs, pushed forward on the practical career path I had chosen … until now. And now is perfect timing; had I not faced some of the challenges I did, I might not feel as strong, inspired or supported as I do.  I might not have the faith in my dream that I do now.

My experiences in the past couple years have granted me the ability to travel without seeking something out there, but rather stepping out of the known to see ordinary things with new eyes.  In this way, while I have no idea what the next step will be, I  know that coming home next spring will be just as valuable an experience as leaving.

Taking this trip represents only a first step; in doing the thing that no one thought I could or should do, I’m achieving my own impossibility.  Which is both exhilarating and terrifying, because suddenly I realize that the only thing that has ever limited me was the scope of what I believed I could be.  The way I see the world will change, because the things I ‘can’t do’ will suddenly be the things I choose not to do, and perhaps I’ll see doors where before there were none.   While this seems like a small step, I realize I am taking one more step towards letting go of fear and living the life I am meant to, whatever that ends up looking like.  So, thank you to all of the people who remind me to live fully and burn brightly, especially those who have loved me enough to let me take flight.

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heart shaped glasses, hoarding, and infinity.

I’m sorry to be a Valentine’s Day cliche, but I find myself thinking about love.  I imagine this is what you are thinking… Ohhhhh, love as a topic in February, how VERY original, ughhhhh Jenny, c’mon… but before  you think I’m high on sugar from chocolate hearts, let me say… today I’m not thinking about the romantic, “I want to run off into the sunset” kind of love.  I’m thinking instead of the Namaste “the divine in me honors the divine in you” unconditional kind of love.  The love that lets us recognize the soul connection we have with all others.  This love is the love that transforms, that invents us, that sets us free… and we don’t need a greeting card or chocolate to give or receive it.

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A student gave me these last year on Valentine’s Day; heart shaped glasses made of construction paper and red saran wrap.  I’m not embarrassed to say they are one of my most prized possessions; worth more to me than any expensive gifts I’ve received, because as I look at them, I remember how much I learned about love from that class of 4th graders.  My heart grew about 40 sizes bigger during the time I worked with the youth in East Dayton; every moment was an opportunity to understand what it meant to live in my heart.

Don’t get me wrong… last year the week before Valentine’s day, I think my internal dialogue went something like this; “Oh NOOOO, I’m single and it’s awful because I don’t get flowers!!!   WHO is going to buy me something made of chocolate? Waaaah, boohoo, I’m lonely, waaaaaahhhhh. ”   And instead of wanting to give anyone sweets, I jealously listened to the person I had feelings for talk about his girlfriend and felt an almost uncontrollable urge to nail him in the eye with a candy heart.  In other words, I was feeling neither loved nor loving.   

But a funny thing happened when I walked in the classroom at work the afternoon of Valentine’s day; I watched as the kids exchanged cards not with one person but with everyone in the class, and then they started showering me with cards too.  They filled each other’s desks with Sponge Bob valentines, Disney valentines, Justin Beiber valentines…cards, candy, stickers, and love.    I was blissed out not only because they had filled my purse with the same tokens of affection and decorated my arms with some super stylish temporary tattoo hearts, but because watching them love each other had woke me up.  My silly adult brain thought I needed to have a Valentine, and these brilliant kids reminded that love isn’t reserved for one person, it’s a way of being.  Love isn’t a thing we do, or a word we share, it’s a fire that’s bright and alive in each one of our souls, and we are all here to fan each others flames.

When we were kids, we didn’t scramble to find a date on Valentine ’s Day, and we didn’t give a card to just one person.  Instead, we bought a box of our favorite cartoon or TV show character themed cards, and we shared that thing we loved with every single person we knew.  Whether it was a piece of chalk flavored candy that said “Call Me” in almost illegible red letters or a lopsided construction paper heart, we gave a token of our love to every kid in our class, we gave one to our teacher, we gave them to our parents… we showered everyone in our kid-sized universe with love.  We realized that love wasn’t something we give in small amounts to a select few, but something that we can and should share with everyone.     

Then we got older, and we started to only share that love with ‘special’ people, with the people we were most fond of.  Eventually, maybe we started believing that we should probably only use the word love with our boyfriend or girlfriend and family.  That love was something we could only share if it was returned, we certainly didn’t offer affection to people we didn’t know, nor did we share love with those who hurt us.   We started believing a myth; that love is something we have a limited amount of to give, and that we should hold onto it until we found the right person to share our love with.  We became love hoarders!

So when my student gave me these glasses, I think he was on to something.  We used to see everyone through heart shaped glasses, and we gave our love freely.  This morning, I went to a new spiritual center, in a new place, and I was that stranger, the lonely person who didn’t know anyone.  Yet, at the end of service, we sang Love is All There Is, and as I looked to my left and my right, I realized that I wasn’t a stranger, nor were these new people beside me, but that we all had one thing in common; the ability to love.  And in that moment, I loved those ‘strangers’ as much as I love my family, my friends, and my boyfriend.  And all day I’ve been buzzing, nourished by the unrestricted love that allows us to look at a stranger a someone we know as ourselves, the love that allows us to not just know on a cognitive level, but to feel in our soul that separation is an illusion.  

And not to discredit my lovely boyfriend, who I’m sure will do something creatively romantic for me on the 14th, but I think he’s going to have to share.  Because, I’d like to be everyone’s Valentine, and while I can’t send over 7 billion cards (with adorable puppies on them- my 4th grade valentine of choice!), I can share my words and act each moment from my heart.  As one of my dear friends reminded me today, infinite and unconditional love like that has to be shared, because the love that reminds us how connected we all are…  that is love that will change the world.

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To see myself in everybody, and everybody in myself, most certainly is love. – Nisargadatta Maharaj

car engines, loud noises, and truth.

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While anyone who knows me will share that I am rarely lacking things to say,  when I’m writing, I struggle every time with the first sentence. I sit down, concepts forming, phrases swirling, but those first few words… I freeze. Next, I start writing awkward phrases, slamming the backspace key like I’m trying to give myself carpal tunnel, and wonder how I’ve communicated a single idea to anyone ever.

Instead of beating myself up for losing my entire grasp of the English language nearly every time I begin writing, I’ve decided to honor the process & start thinking of it like when I warm my car up on a winter morning. It makes this angry squealing noise for about a minute, a noise that upon first impression doesn’t indicate forward motion. It rattles me every time I hear that noise, for a split second I wonder if this will be the morning I don’t make it out of the driveway? Often I notice a neighbor staring, maybe wondering what on earth I think I’m doing relying on a car so obviously needing a tune up. Yet I get behind the wheel, and by the time I drive a block or two, the awkward noise turns into a healthy engine hum. I’m on my way.

It’s like that with writing. As I’m warming up, as I’m dusting my words off, sometimes I feel like all I’m doing is making noise. Awful, awkward, in-need-of-a-tune-up noise. Then I write a couple messy fragmented sentences. Stop. Start. Write a few more. Eventually I warm up, my thoughts no longer hit the page like an engine ready to explode, they come out like the soft hum of forward motion. However, in the same way I feel a pang of anxiety when I see the neighbor staring towards my driveway, confused by the god awful noise coming from my rusty car; “Uh oh, does that girl need a mechanic?!”, the anxiety still exists that the means of transportation I’m relying on is so god awful rusty that I should just take the bus.

The reason I choose to move past the “noise”? I’m as familiar with it as I am with the sounds of a car engine I’ve listened to for eight years. Just as I know which sounds are everyday noises my engine makes, I know that I always am able to write once I get beyond that first hurdle, quieting the noisy rumble of self doubt. And, although some mornings, that noise is almost deafening, the sentences and phrases screeching out like the engine of a decade old Hyandai, I’ll know as soon as I get behind the wheel and let my truth carry me forward, I’ll find the words.

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I once read somewhere that the average person speaks about 15,000 words in a day. That’s over five million words in a year, the equivalent of fifty full length novels! We are all story tellers, sharing our story every moment we are awake. Every novice writer is given the advice; “Write what you know,” yet if we speak novels worth of words, why does no one ever tell us, “Speak what you know”? In a society that too often encourages us to conceal ourselves, can we challenge ourselves to use more of those 15,000 words to reveal our story, to share who we are underneath? What about using those words to discover who we are to begin with?

As I was discussing my own errors in communication with a dear friend last week, I was reminded that an important part of communicating compassionately is knowing that I am speaking from my own truth, and from the heart not from fear. It’s only when I come from that place of authenticity, of who I truly am, and what I truly mean, then I can let go of others’ reaction. In that moment, communication becomes about showing up and expressing the unshakeable truth of who I am.

Of course, this isn’t easy to do… actually, it’s exhausting and terrifying! Communicating my truth means… yikes… people are going to see who I am, flaws and all. But in doing so, I choose kindness. In accepting and revealing myself for all my insecurities, fears, and fragility, I hope I am giving others around me permission to love their own perfect imperfections. In being vulnerable, I make the statement that I reject the societal norm of concealing my humanity.

And it’s so easy to make excuses…  There are so many ways we learn to rationalize speaking from places other than truth. Sometimes we hold back our truth in an attempt to be kind, afraid that our truth isn’t what someone wants to hear. Other times we are afraid to share our truth because we think it is wrong, unacceptable, not good enough. Sometimes we don’t speak our truth because we simply haven’t embraced it ourselves; recognizing our truth can be scary, especially when it might shake things up, it might shift a situation, it might create change that we don’t feel ready to face. Yet despite the rationalizations, even when it feels uncomfortable, or unnecessary, what I’m starting to recognize is that unless I communicate from a place of openness and authenticity, something feels incomplete, disconnected…

I also recognize that writing for me has always been the way I recognize truth in myself, and for me starting this blog a first step in sharing that with others. However, I’m not going to pretend to be unafraid, have no self doubts. I struggle with communication, I’m a work in progress. Not only am I still working on “speaking what I know”, I’m just working on knowing what I know. As easy as it is to conceal how I feel from others, I can hide it from myself. I keep uncomfortable personal truths wrapped up in layers of self protection, and maybe the biggest part of my journey is removing those layers one by one to find my true self underneath. I think that’s a large part of the human experience, removing all those layers of defenses until we can truly connect with others.

Thus the title of my blog, “Almost open book”. I couldn’t be a completely open book if I wanted to, because I haven’t read all of the pages. What I recognize is that the more able I’m able to recognize my own strength, and ground myself firmly in my own truths, without personal judgment, the more I’m able not only to speak my own truth with kindness, but to listen to others’ truths with acceptance. And while I can’t share what I don’t know, my resolution as I continue opening my world to those around me, is to share the pages I have read, and even when my voice shakes, even when that first sentence comes out as a jumble of awkward noise, to speak my truth.