smiles

veru12_15_18Smiles are pretty awesome.

They generally come to us spontaneously, a happy, observable expression of joy or pleasure or contentment. A genuine smile touches anyone on the receiving end, too, usually evoking a similar response of happiness or pleasure. Good for everyone!

Even alone, perhaps reading a book or working on a project, when a smile comes to us, it is a small moment of transformation or illumination – an irrepressible flow of goodness that expresses through our face.

My best friend cat smiles at me. I don’t quite know how he does it, but he does. When he smiles at me, I just kind of melt with my own smile of love and happiness.

A dog that I visit regularly smiles, too. It is a ridiculously goofy, extravagant smile and simply wonderful to receive. There is no being down in the face of that smile.

Out and about, we come across strangers, some of whom acknowledge us with a smile, and many remaining aloof. The smilers change our day for a few moments, just lifting the spirit for a little way.

I have a couple of acquaintances who are big smilers. They smile all the time. There’s nothing fake about it, either. Their smiles are an expression of their personalities – positive, forward-looking, accepting, generous, fun. Their smile is kind of a habit. It affects everyone around them.

That’s not to say that people who don’t smile all the time are not all those things. I know plenty of non-smilers who are warm and fun and generous, too, and their smiles are all the more precious to receive.

I remember sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office years ago. I was kind of miserable. An older woman came and checked in. She was smiling. She took her seat in the waiting room, still smiling. Time passed, she smiled the entire time. I have no idea who that woman was, and I never spoke to her, but all these years later I remember her simply for that constant smile. I marveled that her inner state of being expressed itself outwardly like that. Even though we did not overtly communicate, she brought some peace and reassurance into the room with that smile.

No one likes a forced smile, nevertheless, I’ve been working on being a little more conscious about smiling. As a ridiculously introverted, overthinking sort of person, I don’t think I am much of a smiler. I tend to rather seriously and intently listen to other people – I am trying to remember to smile more during those times. That would be a true reflection of my feelings, too, because I am generally very appreciative of others and all that I learn from them.

Even when I’m alone, I’ve noticed I can change how I feel by smiling. Tasks are a little easier to do with a smile. I can make myself feel more optimistic or adventurous by smiling. I encourage myself when I smile.

Hey, it’s free and it’s easy. Why wouldn’t I?

Maybe I will have to tie a little string around my finger, just to remind me for awhile, while I develop my practice.

lessons

veru12_11_18I am ever and always becoming.

I may reach a plateau and coast for awhile, but apparently this is just the universe’s way of giving me a little breather. Then, the next lesson starts.

Except it’s not a new lesson, even though it feels fresh every time it starts. No, it is the same lesson I keep having to learn over and over again. The universe is absolutely persistent that I get this, once and for all, exactly right. It must be a pretty important lesson, eh?

And, why, pray tell, am I so resistant to it? Why do I flunk over and over again? And why does the universe not just kick me out of school?

The thing is, I actually know the answers to most of my own questions about this now. So apparently I have actually made progress in the curriculum. Maybe I’m not actually flunking anymore, I’m just getting C’s.

Why not finally go for it? Why not do all the homework and try for an A? Be an honor student? Be ready to graduate?

Yikes, what happens then?

Well, no fear, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned – the universe does have my back. And it’s all – every single bit of it – about love. I can trust that.

I am safe, if challenged, in the loving arms of the universe that is the absolute champion of critical thinking, innovation, embracing the arts, practical experience, fearless exploration, and radical education reform.

Confidence. I am good enough. I am smart enough. I can stop judging myself. I can do this without thinking. All I have to do is bring all of me to the party.

Okay. Pencils are sharpened. New notebooks in the backpack. No need for new text books, hehe, I’ve got them all.

Here we go again. 

overcoming creative resistance

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I have a difficult relationship with creativity.

Creativity seems to be absolutely essential to my wellbeing, to making me all of me. I feel an almost constant and fierce desire for creative efforts.

And yet, I confront my own incredible resistance to it. The resistance wins, more often than not.

Sometimes, I think of the problem as a matter of being able to allow creativity. That, say, conditions must be just right for my creativity to emerge and flourish.

I think that maybe I need daylight hours in which to do my creative work. Or I need a particular environment that is somehow unavailable to me. Or I don’t have the right materials. Or I’m not skilled enough. Or the planets are not in alignment. Or the Muse is absent. Or. Or. Or.

Kind of sounds like excuses, eh?

And then I think that it’s not really a matter of engineering conditions to allow creativity. The problem is really a matter of eliciting creativity – calling it forth.

This involves setting the intention to do my creative work, committing to it, and forcing myself to carry through despite conditions.

I managed to prove to myself that this is possible. And fruitful.

Still, such commitment takes both courage and self-compassion.

I am not whole if I am not creative. If my creativity is suppressed, part of me is missing – a pretty important part.

I have looked long and painfully at the reasons my creative soul hides. I have learned a few things.

The world is a pretty scary place for that corner of my soul.

She is not at all convinced of her own absolute legitimacy and worthiness. She has no assurance whatever that she is loved and wanted and safe. And she just knows it’s totally not okay to get messy.

It is a matter of compassionately taking her hand and showing her it’s okay to come out. Indeed, showing her that the world is not whole without her.

It gets better with practice.

Intention, commitment, action.

lone vegan attempts to cook again

veru11_24_18aEven though I have a lot of interest in nutrition and eating healthy, I struggle to make myself cook. I’m fine with breakfast and lunch since I long ago established go-to meals that are easy and quick to make, without actually, ahem, involving much cooking.

Dinner is another story. By the time I get to dinner, I have exactly zero interest in preparing anything for myself. I am so disinterested in cooking for myself that sometimes I just skip the whole thing altogether or eat something that’s really not ultimately good for me just because it’s there and I don’t have to cook it.

This dinner thing has been bothering me. So I decided recently to make the effort to learn a few recipes for dinner meals that could be prepared and served for two or three dinners, or for entertaining.

Little did I know exactly how rusty my cooking skills had gotten!

My attempt this week was inspired by the vegan Neatloaf I enjoyed in San Diego at the delightful Jyoti-Bihanga restaurant. That neatloaf was awesome. With mashed potatoes and gravy, it’s the perfect winter comfort food, too.

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I found a recipe on A Virtual Vegan’s website, including both the loaf and the gravy. Perfect!

The recipes aren’t too complicated, the ingredients are reasonable, and she gives detailed instructions and great photos.

It was my own lack of cooking habit that had to be confronted. I cooked for many years, and certainly had the tools and the expertise to put things together. Years of disuse, however, took their toll.

My first problem was pretty basic. I had gotten so bad about cooking that I never unpacked many of my cooking supplies when I moved into my current location. Hence, I had to root around in boxes looking for some elementary items like: a bowl and a loaf pan. I never did find either one, but I improvised. 

Then, there was the whole thing of actually, you know, preparing the dish. This is fundamental stuff. Chopping onions, garlic, mushrooms. Cooking lentils. Measuring spices, etc. (It took awhile, but I found my measuring spoons, yay!) We’re talking routine kitchen activities here; nevertheless, it was as if I was doing it all under water.

At any rate, I was not deterred. I actually did make the loaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The only thing I tweaked on the recipes was that, not having a blender around, I just used the chopped the onions and mushrooms for the gravy without blending – and actually, that is the way I would do it again.

Results? Awesome! It really turned out great. And it really is the perfect comfort meal for those wintry days.  The texture and moistness of the loaf are just right. And it really tastes yummy. If I tweaked anything, perhaps it would be just a little less thyme.  The recipe made enough loaf that it’s going to take me awhile to eat it up – which is exactly what I was hoping.

The gravy is the perfect addition, too. The flavor is there, along with the color and consistency that invites.

Thank you, A Virtual Vegan!

It was a worthwhile exercise, and I had fun doing it. I admit, though, I would never find myself doing this at the end of the day. So cooking ahead is the way to go.

So far, so good. Yum!

a gentle hug

veru11_20_18So, Thanksgiving. I can tell because when I went to do my shopping, the store was positively throbbing with people and angst. Oh, and there were a lot of frozen turkeys.

As we launch the whole holiday season, I cannot help but think of those for whom this is a difficult time. Persons who have suffered loss or separation, or who experience poverty or strife, may find the season can bring additional pain.

I lived for a number of years emotionally struggling to get through the holidays. It was a very, very depressing season for me during those years. It was also a very lonely time.

Simply being an onlooker as all about you is the happy hustle and bustle, family gatherings and traditions, that are lost from your own experience can heighten sad and separate feelings. There’s no explaining it if you haven’t experienced it.

Well-meaning folks tried to draw me into their own family traditions, but that just somehow amplified my feelings of loss and separation. When I finally settled on following my own path, it worked a lot better for me.

The advice to start your own new traditions is fine – when you’re ready. The six weeks or so of the holidays do not have to be defined by what everyone else is doing or has always done, or what’s big in the stores or media. It is unfortunate that so much of the beautiful meaning in our holidays is sucked up by a focus on obligated consumption.

I ultimately found my own holiday path, and I’m finally in a good place with the season. 

I am writing this because I know there are others out there who suffer with the holidays for various reasons, and I am sad for that. I know how rough that can be.

It is part of the human experience to know sadness. We try hard to push sad feelings away, but sometimes, we just have to fully put our arms around the sadness and be with it before we can heal. And, eventually, we can see the path taking shape before us again.

There can be peace and happiness on the path. I know, and it is what I wish for you if you are one of those struggling right now.

Please consider yourself gently hugged.

remembering who you are – the toolbox

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I still struggle against unhealthy patterns learned early on in life and in a long-term abusive relationship. The objective is always to remember who I am, and to honor that. That’s not always as easy as it might sound.

veru10_18_18aThere’s been a tremendous amount of work and education sorting it out. Along this journey, I’ve realized there are a few essential things that facilitate the process in a practical way – my tools, if you will.

My toolbox contains six go-to items that reliably help me remember who I am. I try to ‘touch’ my tools every day. (As a quilter, I remember a maxim that one should at least touch their current quilting project every day. The logic was that if you took time out to stop and touch your project, you couldn’t help but be drawn in to working on it no matter how busy or crazy your day was.)

So here are the tools in my toolbox right now:

  • Write

Writing is essential to me, whether I am journaling or writing for publication. The act of writing helps me to process and organize thoughts, to explore issues, and to connect. I write lots of different ways. Even when I am not writing, I am making notes. Writing also relates to photography, making me more aware of what I see in a day, and what matters to me.

  • Run

If I’m not running, or at least walking, it is a clear signal that I have shut the door on my self. Running is an amazing gateway to remembering who I am. It is a meditative process which engages my body and all its memories. When I run, I am very present. I am able to quiet the noise of the inner critic, and to just see what’s there. I am so grateful to have discovered this tool. It is indispensable.

  • Make

Creativity is at the core of who I am. This relates to writing, but it also relates to hands-on, tactile creative acts. I learned to sew when I was 12 years old, and the process of creating things from textiles has been a part of me ever since. Pen and ink is another medium to which I am always drawn. Building things, using tools, always satisfies. I love to express and to give through creative acts, but this is an area into which it is often very difficult to allow myself.

  • Nature

Oddly, it took me awhile to recognize my real need to be in nature. Nature is absolutely restorative. It brings me back to one. All of my running and walking is done outside, which is part of the reason it is such a profoundly centering experience. I love to feel the wind, the rain, the snow. I love the trees, the birds, the wooly bears, the Monarchs. When I am in nature, I am home.

  • Nourish

If one honors one self, this most basic act of properly nourishing one’s self must be addressed. I have noticed that, like running, when I stop eating and hydrating well, I have turned away from remembering who I am. It is, obviously, fundamental. This is a far more complicated topic than it might appear, because it touches on so many big issues from physical to spiritual, environmental, gender, ethics, and more.

  • Connect

Given the destructive patterns established early on for me, I struggle with connection. I do find ways to connect through all the other tools in the box, though. For example, at times, when I may have difficulty actually connecting with other people around me, I may connect by writing and/or publishing. I recognize, nevertheless, how important it is to be connected with other folks and with my self.  It is something at which I must consciously and deliberately work since my self has learned so well to simply hide. Running, creating, hiking, food are avenues to connection. I stay mindful of this. I am gentle with myself about this, though. This tool is not always easy to use, but it’s essential. Spiritual connection is also integral to, well, everything.

There’s a lot more I could say about each one of these areas.veru10_18_18c

One of my little ‘grounding’ reminders is to sort of count off my first five tools on the fingers of my hand – write, run, make, nature, nourish. Then, I put my hand against my heart to remember: ‘connect’. My little mantra helps to remind me that I have these tools, and to look for ways to employ them each day.

When I honor who I am, I am the best I can be for others.

What’s in your toolbox?

stand in compassion

When we are not standing in compassion, we are standing in shadow. And sadly, I see a lot of darkness around me at the moment.

So many of our problems can be traced back to matters of compassion, whether personal or collective. When compassion goes missing, problems arise or fester. And in compassion, we find solutions and solace.

Gary Zukav reminds us, “Love liberates. Fear imprisons.”

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If we allow ourselves to feel our compassion, it changes how we live – because compassion is not a passive thing. It acts. It is interactive. It always occurs in relation.

The lack of compassion constitutes an action as well, sometimes expressing as a failure to act. All too often, of late, it also translates to adult bullying, hostility, and cruelty.

If we allow ourselves to feel our compassion, it compels us to change the things we can, not simply to wait for the powers that be to solve things for us. They’re not planning on solving them anyway.

When one person acts with compassion, it is powerful. When many act with compassion, it changes the world.

Compassion does not simply look on as injustice is carried out, as children sit in tents without their parents, as bombs rain down, as voices are silenced, as poverty exists, as harsh words demean and distort. It does not quietly make room for suffering.

We make a choice to be compassionate – to honor the best of ourselves.

This is a time to be radical in our compassion, to fully feel it, and to be fueled by it.

discipline, and the lack of it

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Running makes all the difference. Running, for me, is not merely exercise, it is meditation, restoration, prayer, and creative inspiration. All that is not to mention fresh air, community, goals, and accomplishments. Nothing but good things come to me from running, aside from the occasional sore knee.

And just imagine if I was a fast runner, because fast I definitely am not.

So why is it that I periodically fall away from it? I’m going along, keeping track of my times and miles, maybe with a 5K in mind somewhere. And then one day, poof! I just stop. And I have no idea why.

veru9_17_18aOf course, once stopped, it’s a bear to get going again – even if it’s just been a few days. I might have a false start, or several of them, as I attempt to get back in gear.

I feel guilty when I’m in one of these spells. I’m embarrassed even though no one knows or cares. I feel ashamed of myself for not having enough discipline.

I cast around thinking maybe a new pair of shoes would do it, or that I seriously need to find myself a coach – one with the express purpose of kicking my butt out the door.

I study the calendar, and figure if I just set up a schedule, maybe that would do it.

veru9_17_18dMeantime, it’s easily observable that whilst my running regime languishes, everything else does, too. Creativity goes into sleep mode. Anxiety soars. Even eating becomes problematic – too much or not enough. Everything is just off, out-of-kilter.

I just lately saw this happen. As I type these words, I am laced up in my running shoes. Procrastinating. Almost scared. Why? Why? Why?

Is this a simple matter of discipline? Or does it have to do with the planets? Or is it the result of a triggering experience that is suppressing and exacerbating things of which the lack of running just happens to be the most obvious symptom?

I am inclined, actually, to think it’s the latter. My inability to get myself out the door and down the road during these times reflects an unrecognized emotional reaction. Having the complicated wiring we humans do, the very best thing I could do for myself in the case of said reaction would be to get some miles under my feet. But, you know, self-sabotage.

Sometimes it is very difficult to be good to myself.

Nevertheless, it has to happen. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. It’s essential to my well-being, on every level. It is a matter of self-compassion, taking good loving care of myself.

OK now, one foot in front of the other.