Thursday, January 21, 2010

If You're Young at Heart

This evening I was thinking about some of the vacations I’ve taken in the past, places I’ve gone, sights I’ve seen, and came to the decided conclusion that the very best time I’ve ever had was in Orlando. I booked 5 days at Disney World for Liam and myself, for his 10th birthday and now I wonder if was as much for him as for me.

When I was a child my family never took vacations, never went away. I admit to being envious of some of my classmates who took vacations in various exotic places (to my young impressionable mind) all over the globe - France, Germany, Egypt - their parents being professors and such at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where I grew up. But my family, being of the working class and only marginally educated, took day trips. Well, I think there were two at most, one to the Bronx Zoo and the other to someplace called Freedom Land, wherever the heck that was.

So in 2000, an entire lifetime later, I had an opportunity to give Liam something special, something that I’d never had … an honest to goodness vacation. And since he was 10 and we lived on the East Coast, Disney World seemed like the logical destination for him to really enjoy himself. Yes, I keep saying it was for him, don’t I?

We rode all the fastest rides and sat in the front cars and screamed our heads off. Well, I did anyway. We took photos with Mickey and Goofy, climbed on dinosaurs and rode spaceships; I wanted Liam to experience everything. And then there was the Big Show – Fantasmic! – an exciting fireworks and water show featuring all the best Disney characters. We queued up early because I wanted to get a decent seat. But we ended up with the very best seats of all – front row center! It was my Karmic destiny, no doubt. I ooohed and ahhhed and grinned and tingled - pure childlike joy!

And then it happened. I flashed back to the age of 6 and sitting in front of our black and white television in the living room of our home on Cross Street watching The Wonderful World of Disney on a Sunday evening. Donald Duck and Goofy; Mickey and Pluto; Cinderella and Snow White; Evil Queens and Wicked Stepmothers. I re-experienced the way I had felt at that young age, the hope I held in my heart and, most of all, the magic that I didn’t simply believe in but truly counted on. It was all so easy then - just wish upon a star, simply be pure and beautiful, never tell lies, fill your heart with love and all will be right with the world in the end. You’ll see.

The feeling I had at that show was so powerful that I felt it again this evening, more than 9 years later. And some days I become disenchanted and cannot find the strength to believe in magic or the heart to be pure and beautiful. Other days I don’t care to embrace the world of grown-ups, responsibilities, worries and have to’s. So then I go looking for my magic wand and once in a great while, when I am very, very good and hold love in my heart in the purest way I know how, when I become 6 again, my wish comes true.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vulnerability Shared

He spoke quietly as we stood in the Co-op, unveiling his pain and confusion, neither embarrassed or guarded, but simply embracing the reality of his vulnerability. It was immediately connecting as well as frightening. Yes, I thought, this is it, this is what I’ve been looking for and talking about, this is how I want to be with people and how I want others to be with me, standing right here in front of my eyes, bearing witness to the reality of my vision. It was palpable and enveloping and I was drawn into him.

But why was it frightening? Why did I want to run away and hide my eyes, hide the emotion that was rising up in my heart? Why could I not embrace it with all my being and dance for joy at finally realizing the dream? Why did my heart ache with the sum of all the loneliness I’ve ever felt?

Four days later, I believe I’m beginning to know the reason for my fear and to understand the ease with which I professed this desire, this lie, for intimacy with all beings. I never really believed it was real, never believed that other people were up to it. I had no problem bemoaning the lack of deep connection and profound communion between myself and others and would loudly proclaim my need for this shared vulnerability with all because I believed it was impossible. I felt secure in knowing that people just weren’t as open as I pretended to be because no one else had the nerve to call me on it or prove me wrong. Or so I believed. I wonder now how many of my friends saw right through my facade? Now, at some previously unplumbed level I’ve begun to see through myself.

So here was this man, completely safe and secure in his own pain, so willing to love his anguish that he cared not who else saw it or what they’d think. He was being as I’d always wanted to be; he showed me how to do it. Having witnessed this I can no longer hide behind my lie and, yes, it is frightening, but I’m willing to go there. I do want to be that open and vulnerable - it’s a choice I made long ago. All these years I thought I’d been practicing but, in truth, I’ve only been pretending. Now my life begins again.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Brain, My Self

My body doesn’t always do what I want it to do; it has some challenges that are pretty much out of my control right now. But, even as depressing as it can be not to have the grace, power and ability I once knew, it’s something I can accept. It isn’t frightening, it’s just frustrating.

But the same condition which has affected my physical self has begun to take its toll on my thinking processes. I’ve noticed lapses in comprehension, loss of vocabulary and the inability to express myself articulately, sometimes, in the middle of a sentence, forgetting what I was saying. It isn’t just frustrating, it’s frightening. Deeply frightening.

For me, my ability to think, perceive and understand is the one aspect of myself over which I have absolute control. My brain is my command center – it’s where I live, my one true domain, my home. I may not always have power over my body but I own my brain and I can make it do what I want it to do. If I don’t know something, I can learn it; if I don’t understand, I can gather all manner of information to figure it out. This is my comfort zone. Or rather, it was.

So what will happen to me now that my brain has begun to betray me? If I can’t control my thinking, speaking, understanding, does that mean I don’t control my self? Does it mean that I am not who and what I believe my self to be? Who am I if not my ability to think, perceive and comprehend?

Having been part of a David Hawkins* study group for about 9 months now, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around his contention that we are, in fact, not our thoughts, perceptions and knowledge, and that these are the means through which we are separated from who and what we really are: an aspect of the All That Is. If this is the case, maybe I ought to be grateful to have my mental faculties slowly taken away. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen it. Yet, losing brain function is not quite the same as overcoming the ego, nor is it synonymous with realizing my god-nature. It simply feels like the deterioration of my very being, as there is no blissful oneness moving in to take its place.

I think that’s what I really fear – losing my self without having found God first.

* David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. is the author of Power vs. Force, The Eye of the I, and many other books.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Looking Glass Eyes

I noticed something last night, something that surprised yet pleased me. I had gone out to attend the ArtWalk here in Bozeman, Montana with the specific intention of meeting the sculptor who had created the angel wings pendent and earrings that I wear nearly ‘round the clock. I'd purchased the pendent last October, after my son moved out of my home, when I found myself living alone for the first time in my life and wondering how to begin living for myself once again. This very beautiful wearable art is titled Naissance, rebirth. Very fitting for the next phase of my life.

I soon began an email conversation with the artist asking him to create the matching pair of earrings I now wear and thus felt as though we had a connection that I wanted to honor. So off I went last night, in the rain, to meet him - a very nice gentleman, unassuming and friendly. We chatted for a few moments as he showed me the other work he’d sculpted using the earring design he'd created for me and then thanked me for the impetus to create the pieces. He then went on to show me other new artwork and that’s when I noticed it … the self-judgment. He called his work “weird” with a wincing that showed on his face. I was bemused by this display of self ridicule.

Being an artist myself, and having more than my share of self-judgment, I’d always put other artists up on a pedestal, or at least on a step-stool. Above me. “Real” artists, those who make a career of their calling and who support themselves with their art, who have gallery representation, and who, unlike me, have talent and visible success. This had been the internal self-dialogue I'd heard for many years. Not the truth, mind you, just my own self-judgment and recrimination. So this sculptor stood, in my mind, upon a pedestal of endorsement and accomplishment. I, on the other hand, have only had one solo show, three invitational shows, three juried shows, one third place award and was a guest lecturer, but only once. Obviously not enough to justify calling myself a “real” artist. Like I said, self-denial and censure, lies I told myself.

It was through the More to Life program that I’d learned the truth about who I am, the truth about my abilities, talents and character. And it was the more than two years of truth-telling that led me to the next point in my conversation with this “real” artist. I whipped my business card out of my back pocket and handed it to him stating that I am a photographer. I didn’t say “I want to be” or “am trying to become” or “dabble in” as I frequently have said in the not so distant past. There was no framing of it, no qualifying or explaining, no down-playing and minimizing. “I am a photographer,” I said and smiled. It was owned right down to my toes and it showed in my demeanor.

It was only after walking out of the gallery that I noticed the absence of shrinking in myself. I stumbled across it while reflecting on the flinching I’d witnessed as he spoke of his “weird” art. I had seen my former self on his face, a self I am happy to leave behind. And isn’t it ironic that it was this wincing man’s artwork, this Naissance that I wear daily around my neck, that bore my intention along this very self-affirming journey from purpose, through vision and into reality?

Perhaps he saw himself, too, his true self, in my looking glass eyes. I can only hope.

Monday, July 6, 2009

For Billy

I realize that this may not make sense to many people who know my story, but the day my ex-husband died I was heartbroken. In fact I was thoroughly inconsolable. At the time, many people were surprised - they thought I should be happy. But instead I mourned loudly in my consuming grief over the death of a man who had once tried to take my life.

I don’t want to dwell on the why’s of this most ancient of betrayals; I know who he was and how he suffered. I also know that he loved me dearly, even when his hands wrapped tightly around my throat. Today I recall his tenderness, his sense of humor and his love for our son. I remember the tears he shed as he held me after learning of my mother’s death. There were times when he was light and fun and caring. But he was a tortured soul who wrestled with demons I could only begin to imagine and so his darkness overwhelmed him and, at times, locked me out.

How can I not love him still? He was my friend, my lover, my mirror. In his eyes I saw truths that only he and I understood; we had the same wounds and the same dreams. Yet perhaps, tough as he was, he did not have the courage to look within. I wonder if he ever saw in himself what I saw in him, if he ever dared to believe that love was real, that his heart could trust and that he would always be safe. How can any human being live without hope? He tried for so long.

Three years after our divorce he called me on the telephone. He wanted to talk, to cry and to be consoled; he asked if I could ever love him again. I regret now that I answered “no.” It was a lie - I always loved him and always will. Then he asked for feedback, my advice on what he could do to get his life back together, how he could be happy again. I told him what I saw, not in anger or blame, but from the heart of a women who longed to once again see him be the man I had fallen so deeply in love with many years before.

He responded like a little boy and his gratitude was obvious. He told me that I was one of the best friends he had ever had. My heart was full and I carried those words with me for the next ten days - right up until the moment when I heard the caller on the other end of the telephone line tell me that Billy was dead. Massive heart attack, age 46.

How could I not be heartbroken?

Dedicated to William Charles McCormick, November 12, 1953 – April 7, 2000.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sometimes Great Healing

Sometimes great healing springs from the simplest moments in time, when fate conspires with memory to catch me off guard and bring grief into full view with a sudden shiver, no chance to push it away or cover my eyes. A touch, a look, a song - all can tap me between my breasts and beckon my purest self to comfort and rock, to hum and coo, to stroke my aching heart as it cracks wide open. That is how hearts are meant to be: wide open.

This time it was a moment of tenderness and satisfaction after watching "The Secret Life of Bees" that delivered this divine rupture. Yes, a movie. I had identified with the young female lead and her self-loathing as she declared aloud that she was unlovable. I have done that. But then she was shown a photograph of her mother holding her as a toddler, looking at her with obvious and complete love. The fissure in my chest started then, but I quickly sewed it back up – “this is only a movie, repeat after me, only a movie.” I didn’t recall ever feeling my mother’s love and I’ve longed for it all these many years, but I was not going to allow that thought to ruin a perfectly relaxing evening.

The movie ended, as all good movies should, with love and compassion and hope. And so I went to my desk to further distract myself from the sorrow I had shut off, when suddenly another young girl appeared before me. She was about seven years old, standing in the front yard, missing a front tooth or two. Her blond hair was pulled away from her face to reveal a smile that was both broad and uneasy; her dress was a teal and purple plaid, with lace edging sewn around the hem. It had always been my favorite dress.

As she came full into my mind without being invited, I saw her nervousness, her fear, her questioning eyes – why don’t you love me? It was then I burst into tears and began my chant, the prayer of Ho’oponopono: I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you. Over and over again, the words loudly shoved their way through my pleading throat, guttural and pitifully howling: I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you; I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you; I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you. My mind was aware and yet not in control, as the chant continued on, also uninvited. It did not stop nor even subside and my childhood self stood before me unwavering, looking at me with my own eyes, simply receiving this prayer pouring out of me.

And then there was a moment - she shifted, her expression changed from fearful to compassionate and she moved in, towards me. I watched as she began to spread her arms and embrace me in the most tender hold I have ever received. My prayer continued, I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, but now it was directed not at her but at my grown self, the woman sitting at the desk. I sobbed more deeply, not breaking the prayer for even a moment: I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you. Still the words made their way past my choking throat, flowing out of me with a will of their own. I wanted to embrace her back but I could not lift my arms. I needed to be held, to be held like that little girl in the movie, to be loved by the very self I had rejected nearly fifty years ago. My arms hung motionless by my side as I felt her head on my chest and her love in my heart. She forgave me. It was then my heart broke open and I knew that I could love myself.

With forgiveness, I slowly brought my hands up and placed them around my own body, circling my upper arms. Still the prayer continued through my sobbing: I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you. I held myself tightly, crying and now rocking. And then someone else came in and I felt her arms also holding, comforting, loving me, both the young me and the adult. All my life I’ve longed for my mother’s embrace and now, twenty years after her death, I finally know how it feels.

I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you. How could I ever have believed that she didn’t love me? How could I ever have not loved myself?

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Open Letter to My Son

Dear Liam,

What does it mean to me to be a Mother? There are so many responses clamoring for expression ... some of them contradictory, opposing, ambiguous & indistinct, but I'll try to sort them out here.

As parents, society tells us we must be caretakers, overseers and authority to our children. And the only way we learn how to do this is through our own parents, regardless of how successful or unsuccessful they were in raising us to be happy, healthy & wise. The blunders flow down from generation to generation, but so do the successes, hopefully. My father always told me that I could do anything I wanted to do in life, but my mother told me that I couldn't. She told me that I shouldn't expect anyone to love me, or to think that I'm pretty or smart, and she told me that I can't have what I want in life. These are some of the messages that were passed down to her from her own mother, and then down to me. That's how it goes, but I'm hoping my father's words will win out before I die.

As far as mothering, the problem for me was that the caretaking and the authority got all mixed up together. I thought taking care of you meant that I shouldn't allow anything bad to happen to you - no falling down, no pain, no mistakes. I tried to take control of your life in ways I had no right to, all in the name of mother love. I was scared, not just for you but for myself, too. It got worse after your father died - I was holding on to you for dear life.

The truth is, I experienced fear, self-doubt, confusion, anger, guilt, frustration and anxiety on a daily basis (well, almost daily). Why did I have to pretend that I had it all figured out? Why did I worry about what other people thought? Why do I still feel so guilty for divorcing your father? The divorce was necessary. I did not deserve the treatment I received and I also did not want you to grow up thinking that the insanity that he and I had created was what love & marriage is all about. I wanted you to have a chance to see what real love is and not recreate your parents' marriage the way I had recreated mine.

And now that you're 18 and having a child of your own, I find myself afraid of losing you. I am all too aware of the mistakes I’ve made with you over the years. Please know that I have never wanted to cause you pain and I regret that you have suffered as a result of my fear, anger and confusion. I am very sorry.

As a parent, I believed it was my responsibility to handle it all and keep you from seeing how scared I really was and how truly difficult it was to keep all the balls in the air at once, to never let you see that I am more like you than you will ever know. I thought I was supposed to make you believe that I am wise, to make you understand that I was in control for a good reason - I have experience with life. Ha! You see right through it and you have for years. That's a myth only another parent could believe.

And I thought that if I didn't stay "strong" and maintain control, it would undermine my authority. But, I've recently learned that by trusting you and your choices, by allowing you the freedom to fall down, to experience pain or make mistakes, I earn respect, which is something that authority does not guarantee. Liam, I would much rather have your respect than your compliance. Damn, some days you seem to be so much clearer than I am, I should be asking you for guidance. Some days I feel like the student rather than the teacher. And I'm OK with that, because of my belief that we are Spiritual beings having a human experience. You were born into my care as a child, but I believe that you are a Master. And many of your friends have wisdom beyond their years and have come into this world to lead, to make changes for the better, to be part of creating a new Earth. That's why I love them, too, and I stand in awe of all of you.

We are all One - that is what I know to be true. Because I know this, I struggle with what it means to be a Mother in this 3-D reality we live in. I know that spiritually I am no better than you, no wiser, no higher, no more advanced. But, in this game of life, I'm supposed to pretend that I am. I'm not sure I want to play this game anymore. I want to be rid of the guilt and the judgments, but it is a challenge for me - "society" is a vigilant dictator, always throwing rules and regulations at me. I must do this or that, I must take control of my child, must make him "behave," I must make sure he has a "good" education (by what definition?) otherwise I will not be a GOOD parent. I want to say screw it all. Sometimes I feel as though I'm blazing a new path through the jungle without a map or a compass and I'm completely lost. And you know what? I bet there are other parents like me out there, but society needs us to maintain the illusion of control, otherwise it all falls apart.

But when I put the fear aside, I realize that it has been my greatest joy to watch you grow and come into your own power. You have so much Love to give. I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it. Love creates Unity and Oneness. That is what you want more than anything else - I see it in your eyes and feel it in your hugs. Life is so much more than we can wrap our limited human brains around. It requires fully engaged hearts and souls and I see a Mothers spiritual job as encouraging that engagement.

So, back to my original question - what does it mean to be a Mother? It means to give birth to a unique being, an expression of life and Spirit separate and apart from oneself. It means to nurture that life in a way that ensures growth and individuation, that encourages and allows that person to become fully empowered to be All that is within his or her potential. And it means knowing when to let go.

Liam, I know that you will rise to meet your challenges and achieve your goals. I have absolutely no doubt of that. Yes, you are my hero.

I love you,


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

To Ask or Not to Ask

I’ve spent the better part of this evening running various scenarios through my head in an effort to decide on a course of action - if only I can figure out which one has the least potential to end in pain and humiliation. All the while, the question, “But what do you want to do?” was snaking itself around the inside of my skull. When I finally noticed it, when I heard it for what it was, I was struck by the fact that I was unable (or unwilling?) to simply do what I wanted to do without all the planning, hypothesizing and second-guessing. This has been the way I’ve run my life.

I can clearly see that fear is at the root of all these mental gymnastics; it always has been. And I also see that fear has been one of the worst advisors I’ve ever had, so why do I keep using it to guide my decisions and actions? For once I’d like to speak out clearly and without hidden agendas, to simply stand up and say “I want …”.

Wow, I just got a rush when I visualized doing that, a powerful surge rather than the usual debilitating angst. In my visualization it didn’t matter what the outcome was because standing in my power isn’t about getting what I want, it’s about asking for what I want, without judgment. And since it is human nature to want, unadulterated asking is all about letting myself be human.

Letting myself be human – as if I needed my own permission. Sounds schizophrenic, huh? :-)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Choice, part two

Over the course of the last twelve years there have been several, if not many, challenging situations through which I persevered, even though I believed that I had no strength left to be summoned and nothing more to give. It was during those times that impossibility, survival and obligation fueled my every step and, until recently, I commended myself for these apparent triumphs over such staggering adversities.

But, to say that I picked myself up when I had no strength is a lie. I am not superhuman, but an ordinary woman not very unlike all other women. Obviously I had the strength - it was willingness that I lacked. I was driven by the belief that I had no other options, that I must, that I HAVE TO prevail, if not for myself then for those who were dependent on me. Ahhh, such a martyr.

I now find myself wondering what it would have been like to meet those challenges from a place of choice rather than being driven by "have to's." And I wonder how much more strength might have been available to me with willingness at the heart of my "persevering."

So what about the present? Certainly, for every day that my feet hit the floor, I will be gifted with similar challenges and many more opportunities to choose how to respond to whatever life delivers, but now with awareness and fully comprehending that there are many possibilities. And I do not know what will happen or what can possibly happen - all I can do is take my best shot. I am not God.

There, I said it: I am not God. What that means (to me) is that, for me, there are possibilities rather than absolutes. For me, there is free will and the gift of choice. Hallelujah!

I'm so relieved.

Honor in His Heart

As time goes on, this photo still remains my very favorite and, as a prizewinner, it's the one I'm most proud of.