Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Letting Go Vs. Staying the Course – How to Balance the Two?

Lately the theme of letting go and dealing with change and uncertainty has come up for me againThis is not the first time that I have dealt with this theme in my life and in this blog, and I doubt that it will be the last.  According to Pema Chodron in her classic book, When Things Fall Apart, Impermanence (the Buddhist word for the endless stream of beginnings and endings in life) is one of the three key jewels of human experience. 

I must admit that there is something magical about life’s continual evolution; however, I don’t let go of things easily, I don’t initially adapt easily, and I hate saying goodbye or giving up on a dream.   When I decide to commit to something, whether it’s something big like having a baby or something small like a weekly Biodanza class, I commit fully and give 110%. Some would say that is a virtue.  

Yet, if we cling too tightly to the familiar, we don't leave room for growth and change.  Luckily, life doesn't always sit and wait for us to let go.  Sometimes it forces change upon us.  In those moments, when life (or God) forces us to let go of one dream and close one door, it allows room for another one to open.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is well known for her theory of the grieving process – which is most applicable for men, women, and children who have lost a loved one or are experiencing a terminal illness but is also applicable to other situations which call us to let go or accept unpleasant realities. 

The Kubler-Ross model states that there are 5 key stages of grief or loss which often come in order but don’t necessarily have to – it is also perfectly normal for a grieving person to alternate between the 5 stages:

Denial – pretending that the loss isn’t really happening; ignoring the change that is coming or has already come.

Anger – feeling frustration that the loss has come to them; having angry feelings directed at oneself, at others, at God, at the situation.

Bargaining – the hope that one can somehow fend off the loss or grief by negotiating, giving something up, making an extra effort, or making a deal with a higher power.

Depression – starting to accept that the loss is coming or has come but feeling great sadness and a heavy heart about it; feeling the urge to withdraw, give up, or not go on any longer.

Acceptance – feeling a sense of calm and peace; acknowledging that the loss has happened or is going to happen but life is going to be okay.

While I have been lucky enough to avoid experiencing a major loss of a loved one or major illness thus far, I have noticed myself go through these stages while experiencing the ups and downs of life.  I seem to have the most difficulty accepting my feelings of anger and sadness.  Instead, I spend a lot of energy in my life denying that change is coming and doing everything in my power (bargaining) to plan ahead and try to fend away disappointment. 

For a while, my extra effort and planning seems to work and I am lucky enough to maintain a pleasant existence and cruise through life.   Life stabilizes, and I become more confident that I can control my destiny.   But then, just when I least expect it, changes come up, and I am humbled.  Life is full of examples.  For instance, I can make every effort to plan lunch with someone weeks in advance, but if they are sick or have a change in schedule on the day of, the plans fall through. 

In Sleeping Beauty, every effort is made by Princess Aurora’s family and supporters to
help her avoid Maleficent’s proclamation that she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into eternal sleep.  The kingdom's leaders had all spinning wheels destroyed; the family had Aurora raised as a peasant by three fairies in the wood; and Aurora was watched over closely for many years.  Still, it was not enough – as the princess snuck back into the kingdom on her sixteenth birthday, Maleficent created a spinning wheel and led Aurora to prick her finger on it just in the knick of time.

Life is like that sometime.  You do everything in your power to make something happen, and it doesn’t happen.  Or, you do everything in your power to prevent something from happening and it happens anyway. 

So what is one to do?  Give up or fight?

I’ve been reading several books lately about worlds very different from my own which provide perspective on this question. 

In Octavia Butler's book Kindred, the main protagonist, Dana, is called from modern day California back to antebellum Maryland and forced to work as a slave while she interacts with two of her great-great ancestors, one black and one white, who need to survive, connect, and procreate in order to produce her family line.   One of the key themes brought up in Kindred is whether the slaves in the book should refuse to accept their lot and run for freedom or accept their lot and do their work on the plantation.  At first, it seems that running away is the obvious choice, but after Dana sees runaway slaves brought back half-dead, beaten, and bitten (and after she runs away and is caught herself), she starts to understand  why accepting the status quo might be the safest choice for now – and why both choices require great courage and strength.

In Xinran's book China Witness, the author, a journalist, interviews numerous elderly men and

women throughout China who have experienced the dramatic changes in China from the
Japanese war through Liberation, the Cultural Revolution, and Reform Through Opening. 
Many of these interviewees were devoted to improving China or their lives, but experienced great personal hardship.  There is one story of a man in his seventies who is almost singlehandedly working to keep lantern making alive in his area of China.  There is another story of a shoe mender, whose dreams of attending university were dashed because her family was considered to have a “bad family background” due to a paperwork error that was not properly corrected.  That shoe mender went through the stages of grief and finally decided to make it her life’s work to put her children through university and graduate school by living a life without basic comforts and saving every dollar of her shoe mending proceeds for tuition money.  The courageous men and women featured in China Witness devoted their lives, relationships with their children, and every comfort in order to fight for what they believe in.

As I reflect on the many stories of great courage that I have read lately, I find myself wondering – how does one balance these two different energies – of fighting hard for what you want or a cause that you believe in and of letting go and accepting what life brings you?  Is persistence and determination a virtue?  Or, it is it just a sign that you are stubborn and unwilling to change? 

The world needs people who will commit to groups and causes and stick with them – otherwise there would be no consistency or stability in life.  I believe that loyalty and faithfulness are virtues.  Staying in one place can be a positive choice.  But, if you are standing still and everyone else is moving around you, eventually your space or your group is going to change anyway – there is nothing you can do to prevent that from happening.  When the winds of change start to blow, how quickly do you welcome them in?

Anyone who has been trying to conceive for more than a few months will soon be inundated by well-intentioned stories of people who finally had a baby once they stopped trying to do so.  There are many varieties on this theme.  Some planned a long vacation; some stopped fertility treatment; some took a break before moving on to the next phase of fertility treatment; some started adoption proceedings; some gave up the dream of having a child altogether.  Having been trying for more than a year now, I am well familiar with these stories and this encouragement to “Let Go.”

I believe that there is some truth to these stories and that the concept is a good one.  But, what does that look for me?  Our fertility doctors say that I do not ovulate on my own, so every cycle I need to manage several medications over the course of my cycle.   Also, science and my doctors say hat there is a peak fertility time during the month to get pregnant, so I dutifully take my temperature every morning and faithfully time intercourse during the right times.   So....given all of those constraints, what does letting go look like for me?

Deep in my heart, I feel that I am meant to be a mother.  When I think of forty or fifty
years ahead of me having never raised a child, I find myself unwilling to accept that possibility.  I know that my husband would be alright with that, but that is not a life that I want to live.  Our doctors say that there are many more things that we can try and that we are only in the early stages of our fertility journey.  There is also the road to adoption available as an option.  So giving up on trying to have a baby doesn't seem like the right approach to me - at the very least, it seems like a premature approach.

Lately, I’ve revisited the No Doubt song, “Simple Kind of Life,” partially written and sung by Gwen Stefani when she was about my age.   She says:

I always thought I'd be a mom
Sometimes I wish for a mistake
The longer that I wait the more selfish that I get
You seem like you'd be a good dad

Now all those simple things are simply too complicated for my life
How'd I get so faithful to my freedom?
A selfish kind of life
When all I ever wanted was the simple things
A simple kind of life

When I listen to the song, I hear the same longing in her voice that I feel in my heart.   In her words, I hear her doubts and her desires about embarking on the very difficult journey of parenthood.   Yet, I am encouraged because the song was written over ten years ago and Gwen now has a loving husband and three lovely children.  Unlike in my own life, I can fast forward into the future and know that ultimately her dream came through several years later.

If I could trust that God (or an angel out there) is looking out for me and that I will become a mom someday, would that allow me to let go and enjoy the last of these lovely unencumbered, newlywed days that I am experiencing now? 

I recently read a book about adoption titled, Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption by Dr. Jane Aronson.  The book contains numerous stories about families and their paths to adoption – from the moments that they decided to do so to the moments that they welcomed their new children into their lives. 

A running theme in the book is the idea that for each parent, the child that ultimately came into their lives was meant to be theirs all along.  In fact, some would say that the child chose that family when it came into this world.  There is a quote from the book (p. 241) that says, “When the time is right and the children are ready, it will all fall into place and not before.” 

Another mom, Sarah Edwards-Schmidt, reflects (p. 65), “…we have little control in life, other than in the way we choose to go about tackling problems.  It is the grace and good humor we can bring to the process that saves us.”

I know deep down that I must make peace with uncertainty and learn to relax and let go.  While I know I am experiencing legitimate hormonal challenges, many of those challenges can be improved through stress reduction.  Also, whenever I do get pregnant, that is the just the beginning of a long path fraught with much uncertainty.  Risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, medical problems, accidents, financial problems – you name it, parents experience numerous ups and downs throughout the course of their pregnancies and children’s lives. 

If I want to be the kind of parent that I would like to be, I need to learn to relax and roll with my continually unfolding life. 

In The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, the
authors encourage readers to continually ask themselves, “What is the One Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"  They assert that by steadily focusing on that one thing, you can set up a domino effect of actions that will eventually lead you to your dreams. 

So…what is the One Thing I can do right now to help me achieve my dreams of becoming a mom, raising a family, becoming the most self-actualized person I can be, and experiencing all the life has to offer?   What is the one part of the equation that I do have control over in this maze of uncertainty?

The way I see it, the one thing I can do right now is RELAX and learn to embrace uncertainty with faith and trust.   Not as easy task for me, but very worthwhile.  If I keep working on relaxing and am able to achieve success, the benefits could be lifelong.  So, consider that my new quest!  

In the meantime, here is a video of the Simple Kind of Life song in case you are interested – may you all have a relaxing rest of your day or night!

Friday, May 9, 2014

On Reaching for My Ultimate Dream and Honoring Mothers

The other night in Biodanza class, our facilitator led us in a vivencia of breaking down walls (figuratively) to “Reach” by Gloria Estefan.  The song came out around the 1996 Olympics to honor the athletes who had spent their whole lives training for that very moment – to compete in the games and fulfill their dreams.   Among the many powerful lyrics, Gloria sings:

“Some dreams live on in time forever
Those dreams, you want with all
Your heart

And I'll do whatever it takes
Follow through with the promise I made
Put it all on the line
What I hoped for at last would be mine

If I could reach, higher
Just for one moment touch the sky
From that one moment
In my life
I'm gonna be stronger
Know that I've tried my
Very best
I'd put my spirit to the test
If I could reach”

I too have a dream, and I was listening to the song and throwing myself into the dance I found myself really motivated by her words.   In my work as an Academic Success Coach, I deal in dreams every day – my life’s work is dedicated to helping students discover their dreams and achieve them.  My life is dedicated to helping students break down whatever walls or obstacles are in their way so that they can go out into the world and make it a better place.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, she aims to fire up a new generation of women leaders by asking, “What would you do if you were not afraid?”  I often ask my students this very same question.   Answering this question helped me years ago to transition from a cushy corporate job to serving students in higher education. But lately there is something bigger calling to me – my ultimate bucket list item.   My ultimate vision quest.   My ultimate feat of bravery.   Something that frightens me to the core but from which I cannot turn away.

The past few months, I’ve been reading a lot of books that deal with courage and vulnerability and determination.  I too feel like I am training for my own personal marathon – or for a long-distance hike like the one my new guru, Cheryl Strayed did and wrote about in her critically acclaimed memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown (p. 1) encourages us to stop standing in the sidelines and get in the ring.  She reminds us of Theodore Roosevelt’s words:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who face is marred by dust and sweat and blood: who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

So…what is it that I want to do?   What is my ultimate dream?   To climb Mt. Everest?   To backpack through Africa?  To sacrifice everything for my art?   These are all noble dreams, but none is as important to me as this:

I want to become a mom.   I want to bring a new human being into the world and nurture it and care for it and support it through its journey into adulthood.   If I’m lucky, I’d like to bring two new human beings into the world and shape them and my husband into a family.   That may not sound like a big deal, but to me that is huge – that is one big, hairy audacious goal.

My Vision Board
My husband and I have been trying to have kids for a year and it has not happened yet.   Some days I think that it will never happen and some days I think our time is right around the corner.   Only God knows that answer to that. 

As more time passes, my desire and fear grow neck and neck.   The sleep deprivation factor scares me; the never-ending nature of parenthood scares me; the heart-wrenching emotional exhaustion scare me.   

Yet, I am fascinated by parenting and kids and human development.  When I’m around a baby or little kid, I can’t keep my eyes off of him or her.   I love to play with my friends and relative’s kids, and I try to help out moms and dads in whatever ways I can.  A new acquaintance asked me recently how many books I have read about babies and parenthood, and I told her about 50.   She seemed shocked, but I actually think that that was an understatement.  

The more I read, the more profound respect I have for all of the parents out there in the world.   I was fascinated reading The Mommy Brain:How Motherhood Makes Us Stronger as the author described how your brain and body shift when you become a caregiver to make you better prepared for the task.   Your senses become sharper; you become able to endure more; you need less sleep.   Like the Olympic athletes Gloria Estefan was singing about in “Reach,” moms (and dads) actually grow stronger. 

Motherhood is the ultimate invitation to confront our dark sides, to confront the ugliest parts of ourselves, the things that we would rather forget and push aside.  In Laura Gutman’s Maternity: Coming Face to Face with Your Own Shadow (p. 27), she writes:

   “With a mother’s soul exposed in the body of her baby, we are able to see more clearly the crises that have been kept inside, the feelings we have not dared to admit, the knots which continue to entangle our lives, the items which are still pending solution, what we reject, what we feel is untimely.”

While I love to be around kids, I am acutely aware that I have never babysat for a child overnight.   I know in my head that it is excruciatingly hard to raise a child.  I know that when I babysit for my little friend Dmitri that I get to unwind and read a book or watch TV after his mom picks him up while she probably has many more hours of work ahead of her.   I know that my husband and I have life pretty good right now.  I recall my friend Brooke writing on Facebook soon after she had her son:

“3 things I have learned about parenting: 1. It is the babysitting job that never ends!!! 2. You have to really love your career [because] that is the only long break you get during the day. 3. Getting a smile from your baby makes all the poopy diapers, spit up and crying all worth it!!”

So why do I want to do it all?  Why be a mom?  Why not continue my life of cocktail parties and reading books and sleeping in and doing whatever I want whenever I want to do it?   That would certainly be the easier way.   Maybe that’s what God is trying to guide me towards by not granting my wish to conceive.  Even so, I just can’t let go.  For me, motherhood is the ultimate adventure, the ultimate long-distance hike – it’s a journey that would take me to the absolute end of my ropes…but ultimately be the best thing that I ever did.  

Cheryl Strayed writes about the joys of motherhood in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (p. 122):

  “…you’ll have a baby.   An amazing little being who will blow your mind and expand your heart and make you think things you never thought and remember things you believed you forgot, and heal things you never imagined you would heal and forgive people you’ve begrudged for too long and understand things you didn’t understand before you fell madly in love with a tiny tyrant who doesn’t give a damn whether you need to pee.  You will sing again if you stopped singing.  You will dance again if you stopped dancing.  You will crawl around on the floor and play chase and tickle and peek-a-boo.”

The front book jacket for Cheryl’s book Wild says, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.”  That’s how I envision raising a child would be.   That’s why I want to do it more than I have ever wanted to do anything else in my life. 

If I don’t have kids, I may interact with children and love them, but I will never ever be someone’s mother.  Only a mom (or sometimes dad) has the privilege and responsibility of being someone’s key source of love and security in the world.   Only a parent serves as someone's main anchor in the uncertain seas of life.  I love watching little kids go off to play and then run back to their parent for a mommy or daddy refill. I want to be that refill.

Without becoming a mom, I will stay stuck in my ways, stuck in my own small world, stuck in the world as a grown woman child.   To die that way in forty or fifty years would be the ultimate waste of my life (in my opinion), no matter how many countries I saw or books I wrote or classes I taught or fancy titles I got.  

Almost everything that I have been working on for the past five years has been in preparation to be the best
Me and My Cousin Emma!
possible mom that I can be.  I’ve read books, I’ve meditated, I’ve exercised, I’ve done my best to eat healthy, I’ve made friends, I’ve saved money.  I have tried to be the best woman that I can be – and I still fear that it is not enough, that I am not strong enough, that part of the reason I am not a mom is because there is something wrong with me – something about me that is not qualified enough for the big leagues.   Hopefully that is not the case.

Cheryl Strayed writes (in TinyBeautiful Things, p. 246-7),


“The sketches of your real life and your sister life are right there before you and you get to decide what to do.  One is the life you’ll have; the other is the one you won’t.  Switch them around in your head and see how it feels.  Which affects you on a visceral level?  Which won’t let you go?  Which is ruled by fear?  Which is ruled by desire?  Which makes you want to close your eyes and jump and which makes you want to turn and run?"

As much as it scares me, the idea of having kids does not make me want to run.  It doesn’t even make me want to close my eyes and jump. At this stage in my journey with fertility, it isn’t a matter of closing my eyes and jumping, it is a matter of reaching.   Reaching with every fiber of my being, reaching in the way that Gloria Estefan expresses in her song.    As she says:


“…I'll do whatever it takes
Follow through with the promise I made
Put it all on the line
What I hoped for at last would be mine.”

Hopefully my dream will come true, and I will have the chance to rise to the challenge and step into the ring – to give motherhood the very best shot that I can.   I hope with all of my heart that that is the case. 

In the meantime, while I’m waiting for my chance to join you, I wish to honor all of the mothers in my life and in the world – my friends, coworkers, aunts, cousins, in-laws, my grandma, and no one more so than my own mom, who raised me with all of the love in her heart and every strength and bit of energy in her being.  

Mom - I Love You - Happy Mother's Day!

To mothers who are right in the thick of it and mothers whose children are grown, you all have my deepest respect and admiration.  To me, you are Olympic Athletes, Amazon Women, and Fearless Leaders in a world that desperately needs the courage and vulnerability and strength that you demonstrate every day.  You inspire me and you give me courage and hope for the future.  I hope to walk in your shoes someday and you have very big shoes to fill.  

 Happy Mother’s Day!  

Here are the full lyrics to Reach - and the Youtube video:

Some Dreams Live On In Time Forever
Those Dreams You Want With All Your Heart
And I'll Do Whatever It Takes
Follow Through With The Promise I Made
Put It All On The Line
What I Hoped For At Last Would Be Mine

If I Could Reach Higher
Just For One Moment Touch The Sky
From That One Moment In My Life
I'm Gonna Be Stronger
Know That I've Tried My Very Best
I'd Put My Spirit To The Test
If I Could Reach

Some Days Are Meant To Be Remembered
Those Days We Rise Above The Stars
So I'll Go The Distance This Time
Seeing More The Higher I Climb
That The More I Believe
All The More That This Dream Will Be Mine 

If I Could Reach Higher
Just For One Moment Touch The Sky
From That One Moment In My Life
I'm Gonna Be Stronger
Know That I've Tried My Very Best
I'd Put My Spirit To The Test
If I Could Reach

If I Could Reach Higher
Just For One Moment Touch The Sky
I'm Goona Be Stronger
From That One Moment In My Life
I'm Gonna Be So Much Stronger Yes I Am
Know That I've Tried My Very Best
I'd Put My Spirit To The Test
If I Could Reach Higher
If I Could If I Could
If I Could Reach
Reach I'd Reach I'd Reach
I'd Reach' I'd Reach So Much Higher
Be Stronger

Friday, March 15, 2013

On 2013 - My Year of the Friendship!

This will just be a short post today - I may write more on the topic of friendship later on.  I have done some reflection over the past few weeks and decided that now that excitement of my wedding has passed, my "Friendship Muscles" need some flexing.

As I've written in past posts, I've found that maintaining strong friendships through divorces and break-ups and moves has been very difficult for me. Some dear friendships that I've made over the years are hanging in there - but they've definitely suffered from my move from the Midwest to the West Coast and a 3-hour time difference. Other friendships that had the potential to develop into stronger connections withered when our common group or context was lost due to a break up or life change.

I always thought that I'd make some of my strongest life friendships when I become a mother someday, but I'm starting to think that it is silly to wait for that phase of my life in order to expand and deepen my social circle - I should put in the time and energy to do it now and develop the habits and practices and traditions that will sustain all of my friendships through sleep deprivation and grueling car pool schedules and the other trials and tribulations of parenthood.

Luckily, I did a little research the last few weeks and discovered that I am not alone in this struggle, and that there are resources to help me strengthen my friendships and friendship skills - in particular, there is a new book out called, Friendships Don't Just Happen!: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends by Shasta Nelson

I just bought the book and joined her online social community,  In addition, I have taken an even bigger leap of faith and created a new Meetup group - SF Girlfriends Book Club & Social Group.

I'm hoping that facilitating this group will inspire and energize me in my own journey to make 2013 my "Year of the Friendship" and also allow me to help other women in the San Francisco area do the same.  Please check out my new meetup site and consider joining or spreading to word to women who you think might be interested - this a whole new adventure for me, and I could really use your help!

In the meantime, I would also appreciate your insights as readers across the globe on the important and challenging practice of making and maintaining friends.  What has worked well for you over the years?  What pitfalls have you encountered and had to overcome?  What recommendations do you have for me and other readers who may be embarking on trying to bolster their friendship circles?  Please add your comments below and let us know what you think!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Friendships Across a Lifetime

My Wedding - Big Transition!
I haven’t completely given up on this blog, but it has been a while since I have written - apologies to my readers!  Today I am feeling nostalgic and figured I’d share some of what has been on my mind lately.   I’m currently in the process of moving across town to live with my new husband and am also part of a new office and department at work – in almost every phase of my life, things are shifting and changing, mostly for the better.

My AGD Girls in College!
One side effect of all of this change and transition is it is reminding me of the phases and people and memories that have come before this current one.   I find myself pondering a line from Nelly Furtado’s song, “Try.”  It goes, “I have lived so many lives, though I’m not old…”  That quote really resonates with me – as I think back over the years to my childhood and high school days in the Chicago suburbs, undergraduate days in Indiana, post-undergraduate days in Cincinnati, grad school days in Columbus, Girly Girl days when I first moved to San Francisco, then my Geek Love days in San Francisco, and now my Biodanza days in San Francisco.   I’ve also had many wonderful colleagues come and go throughout that time.

In addition to the friends and acquaintances that I’ve made through activities and other things directly related to me, I’ve also formed relationships over the years through people that I’ve dated – my first husband, my post-divorce relationships, and now through my second husband. 

On one hand, I feel blessed and grateful for all of these friendships –and I’m still friends with many of these individuals on Facebook and through other virtual means.  I enjoy catching up on what they are up to and cheer them on as they get new jobs, new relationships, and now as many of them become parents.  

But, I am also aware that as I have moved around and across the country and as I have moved out of these various phases and love relationships that my connection with many of these friends has weakened over the years.  Most of the fault for that lies with me.  I am unfailingly bad at maintaining long-distance relationships – and often have trouble picking up the phone and calling people who even live in the same city as me. 

I suspect that I am not alone in this quandary – or at least I hope I am not.  In this day and age, it seems to be not unusual to have wide networks of acquaintances and online connections but few deep, lifelong core friendships.   I don’t quite know how to fix this – it seems to take up most of my energy just to make time to go home and reconnect with my family in Chicago each year – I worry even that those relationships suffer from my distance away.

I saw a cartoon on Facebook the other day that showed someone’s wake with only one person there in the audience discussing how surprised they were to see the place empty because the person has so many friends on Facebook.  I laughed – but I also secretly cringed wondering if that will be me someday.

Do you think this technology that we have is a blessing or a curse?  On one hand, it is a lifeline for me because I still keep up with friends around my phone on my smartphone on the bus, but maybe it is also a curse because it lulls me into a false sense of security – it gives me a false impression that I am “keeping up my friendships” when really I am missing some deeper, more authentic way to do it. 

My husband is a master at calling his friends frequently – he is constantly chatting with people on the phone and making plans to see them and talking about what is going on in their lives – I am really inspired watching him and suspect that he is on to something, but also exhausted watching him.  When I come work at the end of the day or am relaxing after a long work week of working with students, the last thing I want to do is pick up the phone and call someone.  Yet, who has more close friendships?  Who has friendships that have lasted a lifetime?

Someone passed me a quote once that said something like, “Friendships are there for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”  I really like that quote – and I also like that you can’t predict in advance which of the three will be true for your relationships.  I do hope to make some close friendships with fellow moms when I have kids someday and have heard that those can be some of the closest friendships. 

Still, how do you make and keep those friendships that do last for a lifetime?  And, how do you know where to even start?  Which phase of your life do you pull from?  Should you focus on the people that you click the most with?  The people who are available the most?  The people who live closest to you? 

My Wonderful Bridesmaids
So many people over the years are near and dear to my heart (hopefully some of you reading this), and it is not for lack of love that I don’t keep in touch better.  I wish I was stronger at maintaining friendships and I do get lonely sometimes.  I was just listening to the song, “Now and Forever” by Carole King and really teared up – somehow this latest round of transitions is really bringing up old memories and making me miss my friends near and far more than usual - even as I'm busy organizing and packing and taking care of logistics. 

My Wonderful Family
I do think about moving back to the Midwest, too – and maybe I will someday.   I spend my life feeling torn between two coasts.  I love my job and the work that I do out here at the University of San Francisco, I love the weather out here (esp. when it’s not foggy), and I love the culture and opportunities available out in San Francisco.  But, I miss being closer to the people I love in the Midwest and being able to drive to Bloomington or Louisville or Cincinnati for a road trip.   I miss being able to really be there for and with my friends who have kids – to experience more than just the pictures or an occasional visit.   I miss casual get togethers with friends – birthday parties and potlucks and holiday celebrations other than the big ones.  When I have my own family, I desperately want them to experience the kind of love and camaraderie that I grew up with.

What will the future hold?  I don’t know – I suspect that this problem isn’t going to go away and that I will be torn between two coasts for more than a little while.  After all, even I did move back to Chicago, I would be missing the life and the connections that I have out here.

My Wonderful Mom - She Is My Best Friend!
I don’t have any easy answers – but I try to be open and honest on this blog.  And, this is what is on my mind today – and has been for a while now.  For those of you that I know personally, I miss you – and I hope that we get to connect more soon.  You are very important to me, and I cherish the memories that we have together.  

For those of you that I don’t know personally, hopefully this has raised some questions or made you think more deeply about a predicament that I believe is emblematic of the age we are in – as life flies by and connections come and go, how you make and maintain friendships across a lifetime?   Are Twitter and Facebook the answer – or is there something more that we are missing?

Nelly Furtado - "Try"

Carole King - "Now and Forever"

Now and Forever Lyrics
Songwriters: KING, CAROLE

Now and forever, you are a part of me
And the memory cuts like a knife
Didn't we find the ecstasy, didn't we share the daylight
When you walked into my life

Now and forever, I'll remember
All the promises still unbroken
And think about all the words between us
That never needed to be spoken

We had a moment, just one moment
That will last beyond a dream, beyond a lifetime
We are the lucky ones
Some people never get to do all we got to do
Now and forever, I will always think of you

Didn't we come together, didn't we live together
Didn't we cry together
Didn't we play together, didn't we love together
And together we lit up the world

I miss the tears, I miss the laughter
I miss the day we met and all that followed after

Sometimes I wish I could always be with you
The way we used to do
Now and forever, I will always think of you
Now and forever, I will always be with you

[ Lyrics from: ]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On Routines - and Cherishing Life Moment by Moment

The other night, I starting thinking about all of the different phases that my life has held.   I have only been alive for three decades, but it feels like I have lived so many lives in that time.   I was sitting on the chaise lounge in my studio apartment, playing around on my computer, and my boyfriend was snoozing on the bed.  This is a peaceful and comfortable scene that has recreated itself a number of times in my near future and is one element of the routines and settings that make up my life right now.   Yet, all of a sudden, and it occurred to me that this will not always be my routine and setting – someday I’ll be in a different time and place and look at back on this time in my life remembering this particular chapter.

Once I started thinking along that path, I started to recollect various chapters in my life…what my pre-bed routine was like in other apartments and other relationships.  What it is like getting up and getting ready for work in this apartment – and what is was like doing so in other homes and with other partners at other times in my life.    On that note, I started thinking about what my experience is like going in to work now – and what it used to be like – who I would see during my day, what my office was like, and what the rhythm of the day was like.   I also thought of what activities and places I go to now after work – and other activities and places I used to go at other times in my life – yoga classes, dance classes, Jazzercise classes, happy hours – and how I would get there – listening to music in my car or listening to my Ipod on the bus – even walking through the city as I did in Seville, Spain to get home from class after school.

The only thing that unites each of these varying routines is while they were an integral part of my life, I didn’t really notice them at the time – every once in a while, I came up for air, looked around, and observed what was around me (thus why I still have recollections to ponder).  But, most of the time, I didn’t notice much at all – to me, that time and place in my life wasn’t very notable – it seemed that that routine would last forever, so why bother paying attention to it?  Sometimes, I even felt bored or frustrated with the monotony of it.  Yet, somewhere along the way, that chapter and that routine came to a close – never to come again in exactly the same way – except in my memories.

Lately, I’ve thinking about motherhood – what it would like to be a mom, what would be necessary to be a mom and a loving wife, how I would manage all of the stresses and tasks that come with raising a child, and how having a child would change my life forever.   Right now, I am blessed to have many moments of solitude and reflection in my life – time to clear my head, listen to music, take a bath, meditate, look up information on the computer or plan for a future possibility.   I certainly enjoy those moments now – but I am also realizing that someday those moments could be few and far between – and I could back wistfully at the freedom and independence that I have now.   Right now, I am also blessed to have plenty of time in my life to go to Biodanza classes and yoga classes and meditation groups and on various retreats – someday, if I have a child, I know that I would have to be much more choosey about what I do with my time when I am not at work and not with my family.   Finally, right now, there are so many tender moments of cuddling and sleeping in and connecting that I have with my sweetheart – without a baby or toddler in between us.  Someday those moments could be more difficult to steal way and our time together could be interrupted and strained by over-exhaustion.

Knowing all of those things doesn’t convince me not to have a child – although it does make me think carefully about whether I’d want to have more than one child.   Knowing all of those things make me think how important it is that I prepare myself for eventual motherhood – and really soak in all that I possibly can about this time in my life – about the routines and the dreams and the special moments that I experience day after day.  The sunny walks to the bus, the tender cuddly mornings, the enriching classes, and the wonderful moments of reflection like I’m having right now as I write this.  All of those moments are so tender and precious – and if I don’t take the time to see and smell and taste and hear and feel every detail, before I know it they will be gone.

Even if life doesn’t have it in the cards for me to have a child or marry my current partner, the change of routine and setting is still bound to happen one way or another – because that is the nature of existence – change is the only constant in life.   Someday my office will change again at work – or my coworkers will shift or my entire job will shift.  Someday the place where I go to Biodanza class will change or my teacher will change or people in my group will stop coming and new people will take their place.  Little my little, our routines shift until one day we look back and realize that various parts of our life are no longer there.  Sometimes the change is dramatic – with a big move or breakup or layoff.  Other times, it is more subtle and sneaks up on us.

I’ve been reading this book lately called Hand Wash Cold:Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life.  It is written by a Zen priest named Karen Maezen Miller who is a mom and housewife and writer and who grew up in typical American existence.  I’ve been reading it at lunch and really like it – it always seems to bring me out of my planning / ruminating mode and back to the present.  On the back cover of the book, it says, “Fall in Love with the Life You Already Have.”  How wonderful is that?  Thinking about it, I really do love the life that I have right now – and I suspect that if I had taken the time to notice what was in my life at various times in the past, I could have found stuff to love in those “life’s,” too. 

Two passages of Ms. Miller’s book about time really stood out to me today. 

She says (p. 130, “I tell people about how much time and effort it takes to be a wife and mother.  About how it occupies my whole life.  I say I can’t imagine a time when I’ll have more time, when my life will once more be my own.  In truth, I struggle daily to give even one measly minute of undistracted company to my family, and I’m here all day.  When do we actually have the children we say we have?  When are we actually in the relationships we’re in?  What portion of the years, the days, the hours of our lives do we spend being the people we define ourselves to be?  Fulfilling the roles that we have chosen?”

Although I am not currently a wife or a mother, I can totally relate to this passage.  I am often feeling like there is not even time to do what I want to do – and focused on getting to a magic, future time when I’ll feel like I’ve “arrived.”  But, the idea that that time will come is a myth – the only time we have is now – right now.   And, the idea that that place will come is a myth as well – the only place we have is here – right here. 

This Thursday, my horoscope said that I was to have an excellent career day – that I would be really successful and unbeatable and all of the stars were aligned to support it.  When I read that horoscope, I pictured giving a “knock’em dead” presentation to some higher-ups or receiving news that I’d been promoted or given a raise – some dramatic demonstration of career success.  I was a bit puzzled, though, because all I had planned for that day on my calendar was a bunch of student advising appointments and a webinar.   As it turned out, I had a string of really meaningful conversations with students that day.  Conversations where I was able to be fully present and ask the right questions and help students find their way.  Conversations where hopefully I made a difference and inspired "a ha" moments that will help students change their lives for the better.  

Along the way, as I was reflecting that day at lunch – it occurred to me that that is the success story – that is the moment, the arrival that I’ve been striving for.  To be doing my lives work and make a difference in some student’s lives – that is what I have trained for and what I strive to do better and better each day – to have some success with that is truly something to cherish and celebrate.  This is my life –and my work legacy – one student at a time, one presentation at a time, hour by hour, day by day.  Blink – and I’ll miss it.

Ms. Miller also said, (p. 139), “I’m sure it can seem to some that all they have to do is work, leaving all the other priorities to languish on the periphery.  I hope for your sake that when it is time to work, all you do is work.  But in those hours when the choice is truly yours, what do you choose to put in front of you?  Where do you cast your enraptured eye?  Where do you lose yourself?  Where do you invest your time, your life, and your love, knowing whatever you pay attention to thrives?”

I want to strengthen these habits of mind of paying attention, being present, and appreciating the moment so that at each stage of my life, whether marriage, motherhood, or whatever life has in store for me, I will truly be there to experience it.  I want to be the mom who puts down my computer or phone and gives full attention to my kid.  I want to be the wife who truly sees and appreciates her husband and lets him know it every day.  I want to be the daughter and granddaughter who really cherishes each moment with her loved ones as they grow older.  And, I want to really be there – with friends, with students, with my Biodanza group, in nature – to really experience my life, moment by moment as it unfolds.

Lately, in Biodanza class, I’ve been feeling our moments of beginning and ending in the circle very strongly.  We dance holding hands in the circle – and often start moving counter-clockwise together to the music.  As the circle gains momentum, I feel a wondrous sensation when I relax and surrender to the movement – letting my self get pulled around and in and out by the circle – and simultaneously pulling those around me.   If I heed to the call, I can let go of the needs to cling or control and focus my energy on just being – on hearing the music, taking in the gazes of my fellow Biodanzeros as they go around the circle, and feeling their touch and the ground beneath me, supporting me and holding me each step of the way.

Life is that way, too – a continuous circle of movement – cycles –  beginnings and endings – we go around the circle and end up back where we started – like a merry go round.  If we stop straining to see what is ahead of us in the circle and just surrender to the ride, we can use our focus and energy to just be – to “fall in love with the life we already have” – moment by moment, step by step, breath by breath.

To close, I’m attaching below a video promoting Ms. Miller’s book, “Hand Wash Cold” which I highly recommend – and a song I heard the other day that reminded me of this idea – the importance of staying present and remembering each moment as it happens.  Finally, an inspiring image / poster I stumbled across recently - called the Holstee Manifesto.