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I Choose to Dance

January 16, 2017

Today I took my dog Charlie to the beach. Despite the fact that we are smack in the middle of January, it feels more like April or May. That’s life in Charleston. I really had to push myself to pack up Charlie’s leash and tennis ball and thermos of water. It would have been so much easier to stay home and finish the laundry, organize my closet and relax on the couch catching up on my taxes and writing this post. But a voice deep inside of me propelled me to go. My inner voice; the true wisdom of the soul.

As I strolled along the soft sand with Charlie in tow, there was slight chill in the air. It was low tide and I was thankful for this, because it allowed Charlie and I lots of space to roam and play without approaching the water line. Charlie, like most labs, loves to swim and I love to watch him jump and bounce over the waves, consumed with unbridled joy and passion. But it also means he will inevitably make a huge mess in my car and require a shower later. Selfishly, I hoped he would spare me the trouble of an 80 pound smelly and salty and sandy wet dog. But despite my hope of leaving the beach with a clean, dry dog, I was prepared to embrace the alternative. Because Charlie’s life is exceedingly shorter than my own, and swimming in the ocean makes him so intensely happy. And because time in general is so elusive and fleeting, and my new year’s resolution is to try and go with the flow.

With my baby’s arrival rapidly approaching, I have been consumed with household tasks and projects. Like organizing all the photos my husband and I have taken throughout our 3 years together and arranging them chronologically in albums. Like filing my taxes earlier this year. Like eliminating unnecessary clutter and cleaning our up our living space to make room for baby. My rational mind urged me to stay focused on these practical goals and disregard the non essential leisure activities that threaten to distract me. My heart reminded me that I might feel regret if I fail to hit the pause button and embrace the present moment, however messy or inconvenient it might seem. After all, is this not a skill and a practice all parents must eventually learn to master? And with parenthood lurking right around the corner for me, what better time is there for me to lean? My true inner voice- the wisdom of my soul- pleaded with me to stop and breathe and play with Charlie. As soon as I felt the sand beneath my feet and the cool breeze caressing my face, I knew I had made the right choice.

In between ball throws with Charlie, I paused to fill my jacket pockets with seashells. I selected only the white and pink shells to match the colors of my baby’s future nursery. From the time I first moved to Charleston over 16 years ago, I have made a habit of filling glass vases with seashells and scattering them around my home. When I look at the shells I am reminded of the ocean. And when I remember the ocean I feel quiet and still, serene and free. I have a treasured painting in my office; it is a young woman at the edge of the shore with her long dark hair blowing in the ocean breeze and her cotton dress billowing gently around her ankles as she bends down to collect seashells. The painting caught my eye a number of years ago at the Farmer’s Market in downtown Charleston. I was going through a divorce at the time and the woman in the painting reminded me so much of myself that I just had to buy it. Because I was in emotional pain and turmoil at the time and I was struggling to find my true self again. Because the one thing that has always remained constant in my life despite the constantly shifting tides of time and circumstance, is the power of the ocean to comfort and heal me.

Charlie and I made our way slowly along the shore, finding our own special balance and rhythm. I throw the ball. Charlie chases the ball. I pause to collect a shell. Charlie runs back to meet me. We walk together for a moment or two. Charlie releases the ball. And the cycle begins again. Throw. Catch. Pause. Release. Like the waves meeting the shore and receding again. Like the shifting tides and the changing seasons and the rising and setting of the golden sun.

I realized today that despite my incredible joy and gratitude for the gift of this child, I have also been scared. I have feared losing a part of myself. The part of me that likes to collect shells on the beach with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. The part of me that remembers to trust my inner voice despite what higher logic and reason might suggest. The part of me that fights for my dreams however unlikely or inconvenient they might seem. What if the business of parenting overwhelms me to the point where I forget who I am? What if I lose touch with my innermost child and the joy that comes from just letting go and being free? I felt this fear so strongly today as I walked with Charlie in the afternoon sunshine. Yes, I acknowledged this fear on the beach today and then I released it and set it free. Alongside the ocean and beneath the sky, with the warmth of the sun and the wind in my hair and the sand beneath my feet, I felt my fear and I set it free. I am reminded of a song by Lee Ann Womack now, a song I danced to with my father at my wedding nearly 3 years ago.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger

May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you dance

The words to this song remind me that the choice is mine to make. What type of wife and mother will I be? Will I hang onto the core essence of who I am after this child is born or will I lose myself completely? Will I remember to sing and laugh and love and play despite the many pressures and demands of life that will inevitably press against me? Will I still be me? The answer to these questions is a simple one. The choice is mine. The choice has always been mine.

Becoming a mother will certainly challenge me to the core in ways I never thought possible. And there will undoubtedly be days I will want to collapse in a corner and cry. But motherhood does not have to change the core of who I am. Not unless I allow this to happen. My inner voice will still be here to guide me, as reliable and constant as the sun and the sky. And if I find myself feeling lost and confused or overwhelmed by life, there is always the ocean and the sound of the waves. The choice is mine for today and the choice will be mine again tomorrow. And for today at least, I choose to dance. How about you?

On Being Mindful

January 9, 2017

As my husband and I prepare for the arrival of our baby girl this coming spring, I am reflecting quite a bit on becoming a mother. It stirs up a boatload of emotions from joy and exhilaration to fear and anticipation; curiosity and amusement and periodic doses of intense disbelief. My rising belly and the glory and wonder of her spontaneous movements, the chronic heartburn and indigestion and the fact that my jeans no longer fit, are all testament to the undeniable reality of her pending arrival. With every week that goes by, knowing she has grown just a little stronger and more resilient, I am overcome with fresh waves of relief and gratitude. But despite these daily reminders of the new life growing inside of me, I still find myself fascinated by the miracle of her conception. And I cannot help but wonder if this is all just a dream. There are bittersweet moments when I say to myself, I cannot believe I nearly missed this. I cannot imagine never having this chance. And then I remember to thank all the forces that helped me to get here. God. The universe. My wonderful husband. My body. I reflect back on my relentless courage and faith and years of perseverance, and I remember to also thank myself.

My emerging motherhood is the culmination of a long and painful journey, one I am grateful to have experienced because it brought me here today. And right here, right now, is exactly where I am meant to be. There is no place on earth I would rather be. Several years ago when my husband and I traveled to Florida to visit my grandma at the senior living facility where she spent the final decade of her life, we enjoyed a late night cocktail at an open air restaurant on a warm, balmy night under a star filled sky. There was a reggae singer performing that night; an older man with long weathered dreadlocks and dark, soulful eyes. I shared with him my regret that we arrived so late in the evening and therefore missed his earlier songs. This was a metaphor for my feelings about my very new marriage at the time. I was saddened by the fact that my husband and I did not find each other much earlier in life.

We had a number of conversations during our first several months together when we speculated on where we might be in our lives today, had our paths crossed much sooner. I imagined we would have 2 or 3 beautiful children by now, and a lifetime of memories to share. I pushed away thoughts that reminded me of our ripe middle age and all the “firsts” we would never get to share together. And I dreaded the thought that our time left on this journey is limited, due to our age and the passage of time. My mother likes to refer to the moment when my husband and I met as serendipitous. I consider it a stroke of really good luck that came our way just in the nick of time.

Getting back to that balmy night in Florida when we sat sipping our late night cocktails under a star filled sky, the wise reggae singer with soulful eyes took my breath away with a single sentence. You were not meant to be here any earlier, he said, with a clarity and conviction that sent shivers down my spine. And from that moment on, whenever those old feelings of loss and regret threaten to creep back in and remind me that my life veered off course for a long while, that I was hijacked by circumstance, that I was distracted and derailed from so many important milestones and dreams, I am able to ground myself in a deep sense of knowing. I was not meant to be here any earlier. I am exactly where I am meant to be.

As I embark on a brand new season in my life as a woman, the season of motherhood, I am keenly aware that every moment counts. A dear friend of mine gave me a beautiful book recently called True Love, A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh. The book suggests that a state of mindfulness, or deep connection to the present moment, frees us up to practice the act of self love, which in turn deepens our capacity to love others from a place of freedom, joy and authenticity. In the absence of mindfulness, we tend to miss what is most important. We lose our connection to the here and now.

A number of years ago when I was mired in emotional turmoil in the midst of divorce, I attended a Buddhist meditation circle and I will never forget the words of the wise young Rinpoche. In the midst of a death meditation he stated, death is a certain thing. It is only the timing that remains uncertain. This undeniable truth has helped me through countless difficult moments. We never know when our time here is up. We must celebrate the gift of each and every moment. And if we remain stuck in the past, pondering what should have been, or in the future, contemplating what might still be, we lose our connection to the present. And the present is the only place we can ever hope to live authentically, from a place of freedom and joy.

What type of mother do I aspire to be? The answer is simple. Above all else, I aspire to be a mother who lives right here, in the present moment. A mother who is mindful. My journey has taught me that time is fleeting and life is short. I spent a good part of my life aching over lost experiences and opportunities and weaving colorful tapestries of future fantasies and dreams. When the sunset was in front of me, I longed for the sunrise. When the tides inevitably shifted, I raced for the shore. As I approach the final chapter of my 4th decade of life, a chapter that will finally deliver me a child, I am dedicated to the practice of mindful connection. It is far more difficult than it seems, but well worth the effort.

When my daughter finally arrives, I want to really see her as the truly unique, one of a kind person I know she will be . When she makes a mess of things, I want to find beauty in her chaos. When she colors outside of the lines, I want to celebrate her fantastically flawed humanity. When she challenges my patience, I want to remember how many years I waited for her and how quickly she will grow up and leave the nest, like sand slipping through my fingers. And when she comes to me in sadness, I want to help her explore her pain and learn from the struggles rather than immediately trying to fix it or push it away.

I know I will mess up on all of these things, but I will never stop trying. And I realize that before I can be these things for my daughter or my husband or anyone else, I first  must be them for myself. It all starts with self love and connection to the present and the ability to find peace and stillness within. It is a work in progress and a lifelong practice; a practice that reminds me to stop and breathe. After all, what is the rush anyway? It is the present moment that counts, and the present moment is a gift worth experiencing. When I feel myself slipping backwards to old thought patterns and self destructive beliefs, I pause to remember the words of the reggae singer with the soulful eyes. I was not meant to be here any earlier. I am exactly where I am meant to be.

I believe

January 1, 2017

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With the start of a new year I resolve to resume my writing. My writer’s voice has been silent and buried for way too long and I am ready to reclaim my passion. Why now, after more than 2 years of silence? Because life is short and time is fleeting. Because I miss this. Because I am worth it and I owe it to myself. Because I owe it to my husband, who often asks my why I never write anymore. And because I want this for my daughter; the tiny miracle steadily growing inside of me. This morning we laughed as we felt her kicking and shifting around in my expanding belly. With every day that passes the reality hits me just a little bit more. She is real. She has finally manifested. Just as my precious grandma Rae predicted in one of my dreams several years ago, I have nearly crossed the bridge to becoming  a mother. She will soon arrive to join us; this tiny little soul growing stronger every day. It is clear from the photo I posted along with this blog entry, I took me about 7 home pregnancy tests to finally convince myself I was really and truly pregnant!

So many sunrises and sunsets, so many shifting tides and changing seasons have brought me to this point. There were moments of heartache and sadness so profound I wondered how on earth I might ever recover. There were glimmers of hope and optimism that propelled me forward and forced me to grow. And despite the many storms and roadblocks and challenges along this journey, I always knew I must keep my faith and hope for a miracle. I just could not allow myself stop believing. I simply had to believe.  The external/social pressure to abandon this path felt nearly paralyzing at times. Are you crazy? Why would you want to have a baby? I am so happy my children are grown and out of the house! You simply have NO IDEA what you are asking for. Babies change everything. They are so much work. There goes your life and your freedom. If you really want a kid, you can borrow mine anytime!  Why don’t you adopt an older child? Wouldn’t that be so much easier? Isn’t it selfish to have a child at your age? There were times I felt as if the entire universe was fighting against me. My body, science, time, space, finances, society……..everything. And during those times I felt angry. Bitter. Empty. Cheated. But despite these many discouragements and constant voices of doom, I never surrendered. I always believed.

There are many reasons for how and why I landed here, in my late 40’s and pregnant, standing on the precipice of becoming a first time mother. Some of the reasons are products of random chance and circumstance while others are results of pivotal life decisions I made at crucial points along the way. Life is a complex labyrinth of crossroads and detours and it does not  matter so much how or when we land someplace, as long as we finally arrive. In the late summer of 2013 I met my husband at the company where we both worked at the time. We were placed together to manage an employee crisis and from that moment onwards my life changed forever. It was love at first sight and we married 8 months later on a beach at sunset surrounded by family and friends. In the vows I wrote for our wedding I stated:  I now understand why I had to endure so many losses and heartbreaks along the way. Because I could not possibly be ready for a man like my husband, until I first learned  how to love myself and embrace my own fantastically flawed humanity. As we enter 2017 I am inspired to thank my husband, my very best friend, for loving me so fully and unconditionally and supporting me through some extremely vulnerable times. I know I would never have arrived here in this moment, without him walking beside me.

Daylight has faded and night is approaching and the holiday season has officially closed. Today I pray for a little girl with sparkling eyes who smiles and laughs in the sunshine; a child who understands how badly she was wanted and how deeply she is loved. I pray she will love and honor herself and others the same, and pause to recognize the beauty and light that always surrounds her. I pray that even when her heart feels broken and the universe seems to resist, she will continue to trust in herself, move beyond her fears and fight for her dreams. I pray that no matter how many obstacles she might encounter, she will keep pushing forward and she will always believe.

What is home, exactly?

October 24, 2014

One of my favorite bloggers, Angie Mizzell, posted a recent video to her website at http://www.angiemizzell.com In the video Angie challenged her readers to consider when and how we feel most at home in our lives. Angie’s video reminded me of why I started this blog in the first place and the ideas and concepts that have always inspired me as a writer. Because my writing is my home. Because when I felt lost and adrift for so much of my life, it was my writing that healed me and set me free. Because the concept of finding my home in a physical and spiritual sense has been a primary theme in my writing for so many years now, it has become as much a part of me as the blood that flows inside of my veins.

In my early twenties following college graduation, I resisted the shackles of routine and convention and dedicated myself to living a regret free life. Through those turbulent and restless years of young adulthood, the concept of home defined my existence. My search for a spiritual home with life affirming roots and a sense of belonging was a painful journey with so many twists and turns. I wrote the following words before I even started this blog, long before I fully comprehended their full meaning: You cannot find home anywhere and you cannot feel at home with anyone until you first find home inside of yourself. In the heated turmoil that defined my youth I understood these words intellectually but I did not live and breathe them. I embarked on grand, solitary adventures in search of something spectacular only to return feeling more lonely and adrift.

What is home really; and when in my own life do I feel most at home? How can we construct our lives in such a way that we feel positively connected to our passions and dreams; thereby living authentically in alignment with our true inner voice? For me, the answer to these questions did not manifest until my fourth decade of life. I had to travel full circle through heartbreak and pain before I learned to be still and fortify my roots. Because you cannot find home anywhere and you cannot feel at home with anyone until you first find home inside of yourself. I cannot say these words often enough; they have become a mantra that guides me through life.

Home is quiet and stillness and trusting the self. It is a fantastically flawed woman in her fourth decade of life who celebrates her humanity and imperfections with pride. Home is learning to love the self without condition so we can love those around us without losing our way. It is truth and forgiveness and loss and rebirth. Home is not the bells and whistles and accolades in life, it is the joy that comes from the most ordinary things. A quiet morning on the back porch with my husband; drinking our coffee and sharing our thoughts. Helping a client to access the endless reservoirs of strength and wisdom that live within each of us; yes these are the moments that set me free. The exquisitely simple pleasures and familiar rhythms of life are the grounding forces that bring me home.

Remember the Moon

June 29, 2014

My beloved grandmother was content to sit on a porch for hours engaged in storytelling, while I struggled to remain still long enough to listen. Deeply aware of the special gift of her healthy and vibrant presence in my life, I promised myself to spend more time with her, listen more attentively, and put my own agenda aside in order to enjoy her company. Caught up in the rhythm of daily life and the intricacies of my youthful self-absorption, romantic woes, building a business and searching for Mr. Right, the years flew by and grandma’s body began to break down. I now find myself missing her hugs, her unconditional adoration and the sound of her laughter with a longing that stings my soul.

During our weekly drives together to the traditional Sunday family suppers at my mother’s home, grandma would delight in the details of my private life. “Darling, whatever happened to that nice fellah you were dating?” She would ask with eager anticipation, and I would brush aside her heartfelt question, feeling like a fly under a microscope and yearning to be alone with my thoughts. I knew she could see straight through my eyes into the depths of my soul, and this feeling of transparency filled me with the urge to run and hide from her knowing glance.

One hot sunny day in mid-summer several years before she died, I decided to surprise grandma with an impromptu afternoon visit. I found her sitting at a public swimming pool next door to her apartment building trying to ease her loneliness by watching the children swim and play. In that rare moment of connection I was overcome with feelings of love and empathy for her. I now ask myself, why was it so difficult for me to sit still with her, to truly listen, to cast aside my own schedule and quiet my mind in order to enjoy those precious moments together?

My mother fought her own demons in the final years of caring for grandma. “Can you believe I drove to 10 different stores trying to find the right kinds of onions and pantyhose?” My mother would moan to me during one of our many gripe sessions involving grandma’s highly specific requests. “Well at least you didn’t have to spend 45 minutes at the supermarket while she examined every single potato”, I would reply with a snicker. Usually these conversations ended with laughter, but beneath the lighthearted banter was a shared understanding that grandma would not be with us forever.

What are the deepest voices of a woman’s soul, and why is it so difficult for us to stop the noise for long enough to listen? My work as a psychologist has taught me that none of us are immune to the struggles of life. We all have a mountain to climb. It does not matter so much how long it takes us to get there or what path we choose, as long as we finally arrive. And it helps to stop and breathe along the way. When we take the time to embrace inner stillness instead of clinging to chaos and mental clutter, we find wisdom and answers we might have otherwise missed. Life’s most important treasures can be found in the most unexpected places, like an afternoon visit with a beloved grandma.

With the quiet wisdom of middle age I am better able to accept the inevitable passage of time and the many storms I have weathered on this journey. In my fourth decade of life I continue to reach for the stars, trust my own voice and explore new horizons. So many lost dreams scatter behind me like dust in the wind as new dreams emerge and move me forward. Despite our greatest efforts and best intentions, some stories veer off course and head in strange new directions that we never could have anticipated. This is the journey of life, and a universal truth we must all come to face.

As a small child I marveled at how the moon would follow the car, always appearing directly overhead. “The moon wears a seatbelt”, my grandfather explained, and I would try to visualize the glowing sphere fastened securely into a car seat, riding along a parallel interstate in the sky. My grandfather was a creative and playful man who understood the magic of a child’s perspective. Perhaps the pain we all experience stems from faulty perspective brought on by a sense of misalignment, or alienation from the voices of our own soul. In order to act genuinely and authentically from or deepest core, we must allow ourselves to remain still for long enough to hear the answers that already lie within us.

The child in my heart reminds me that stars in the night sky are diamonds, moons can wear seatbelts and relationships can be reborn. The image of the woman I see in the mirror reminds me that it is not the final destination that matters rather, it is the journey that counts. As I am becoming more mindful in the present moment and releasing my ties to the past and the future, I find myself finally ready to live deeply and wholeheartedly and claim the joy and fulfillment my grandparents left behind. Sometimes when I drive alone at night I remember to find the reflection of the moon in my rearview mirror. Memories of my departed grandparents come rushing back and I swear, the moon still follows me all the way home.

Crossing Over- Just in the nick of time

May 15, 2014

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On a stormy night last year when lightening sliced across a summer sky and fear exploded inside my chest, I navigated by car across a familiar bridge. The storm and the bridge are metaphors for my life at the time; harsh and relentless and fantastically real.  In the first few years of my fourth decade of life, I worked my way through a grand implosion and rose like the phoenix in the space between.  The space between is a place of transformation and healing where the former self fades away and a new self is born. When the storm raged around me on that fateful night I made a conscious  decision to abandon the fear. It was the beginning of my crossing over from the space between to the warmth of the sun. The very next day I went to work and met the man I will soon be marrying. Our paths intersected through a crisis at work where we were both called to assist and support our people. I did not understand this at the time but now it all makes perfect sense- why it took me so long to find him and why I needed to feel the pain of the implosion and the space between. His eyes are the color of the Caribbean sea and whenever I see my own darkness he sees only my light. There was a time I feared my love would destroy me; there were seasons of love so cold I felt a wind in my soul. Now with him I am grounded in sunshine; I am warmed and healed by the light of his love. Several years ago when I felt such a deep longing for my life to transform, I had a dream about crossing a bridge. My dear departed grandmother allowed me to ask her a question so I asked her if I would ever get to experience the joys of motherhood. “I am proud of you” she said, and then she continued; “you are almost there, you are crossing the bridge. You will find your way; just in the nick of time.”  Perhaps we all must learn to cross ourselves over and find our way in the nick of time. Some of us cross early while others cross late; what matters is not so much how or when we get there but the lessons we learn along the way. I stand here today in a healthy place with my self intact and a once in a lifetime kind of love that shines like the sun. Just in the nick of time like my dear grandmother promised  I transcended the grand implosion and the space between and landed exactly where I am meant to be.

Oh Sweet Wanting

July 9, 2013

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I was driving home from work the other evening when I spotted a bright yellow golf cart parked on the side of the road with a “For Sale” sign posted on the front. On impulse I dialed the number and left a voice message for a man named Mark. Then I went about my business of seeing evening patients; eager to wrap up my day and proceed to indulge. I knew without knowing that the golf cart was soon to be mine. I cannot explain this phenomenon. Did I need a golf cart in my life? No, I certainly did not. Did I plan to purchase a golf cart? No, this idea never even crossed my mind; at least not in recent years following the grand implosion of my personal life. Did I want a bright yellow golf cart with a super cool marine radio rigged inside? You betcha I did! It was really that simple. I saw. I knew. I proceeded. And I never looked back or questioned my decision.

I call the yellow cart “Charlie’s Car” in honor of my precious dog. When we ride around the neighborhood together, Charlie’s ears flap in the breeze and I swear I can see a smile on his face. We like to ride at dusk in the twilight; the shadowy space between the sun and the moon where I always feel melancholy and wildly free. Sometimes in life things happen this way; smoothly and naturally without a hitch. We sense or we know something without quite understanding how or why we know. We just know and we proceed and it is really that simple.

I saw a movie once where the main character referred to the “physics of the quest” as a life altering moment when all the stars are aligned and self doubt and fear melt away. I like to call it the voice of the soul; the always reliable intuition that never leads us astray. There have been times in my life when I agonized and struggled. I stood frozen at the crossroads for years at a time, paralyzed by ambivalence and self doubt and fear. I struggled and pontificated over issues far more important than a golf cart. My life is forever altered by the decisions I made.

We all reach the proverbial crossroads at some point along this journey. It does not matter how long we remain stuck there, as long as we finally find the strength to break free. It took the grand implosion and years of heartache and pain for me learn to say; I want this. To say it without shame or guilt. To say it with confidence and conviction and certainty and pride. To say it in a way that brings it to fruition and makes it real. I might not need it; it might not be practical; and perhaps I don’t even deserve it. But do I want it? You betcha! Like the glass of French wine I had with my lunch today just because it came with the special and I never do that. Like the vacation I keep postponing because it costs too much to take time away. Like the big dreams I chase and still hope to capture like fireflies in a jar on a warm summer’s night. Yes it sure feels good to know what I want; to grab onto something wonderful and carry it home.

No Turning Back

July 2, 2013

My previous post focused on my work with a large corporation and an employee accident that resulted in the tragic death of a healthy young man. He left behind a wife and children and there were multiple individuals who were traumatized by the loss. It was a tragedy that required me, the onsite psychologist, to organize a large scale CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debriefing) effort for senior level executives and their work groups. In my previous column I described my anxiety and self doubt when faced with this extenuating circumstance; a situation that challenged my outer limits of training and expertise. In sharing my story about how I ultimately managed to bust through the paralyzing shackles of self doubt and fear and rise to the occasion I stated the following:
I abandoned my agenda of formal professionalism and instead I found an inner light of love and compassion. I was just me; human and flawed and ready to help. Instead of concerning myself with outer appearances and superficial acceptance, I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to connect. I reached out to embrace people and hold their hands. I looked into their eyes and tried to know them; everyone from the entry level worker to the highest paid executive. And I noticed a striking difference. My fear and self consciousness and internal doubt were gone. I was focused more on them than I was on myself. As my fear faded into an ascending light of love and compassion, I was transformed. In that moment I experienced an emotional and spiritual shift. A shift I believe has changed me forever.
Without a doubt, I am forever and irrevocably changed. When I reflect back now on the events that led to my emotional/spiritual transformation, beginning with the grand implosion of my personal life and culminating with the magnificent expansion of my professional career, I can see it all with such amazing clarity. It was only when I finally learned to love and embrace my own fantastically flawed humanity that I was truly able to connect with others in deep and meaningful ways. When I released myself from the emotional burden of my own past mistakes and vulnerabilities and shortcomings, the world seemed much brighter and the future appeared more promising. The guilt, shame and regret I once harbored finally diminished and faded from view. Through the grand implosion and the vast expanse of grief that followed, I emerged on the other side with a solid and unshakable sense of self.
I reflect back now on a pivotal moment when I found myself facing a senior level executive; a man of confidence and poise and years of authority. He asked me for guidance on how to better connect with his employees; how to truly know them and earn their trust. He longed to use his grief and despair as inspiration for helping others through his personal growth and change. At first, I was stuck inside my head and doubting myself; frantic for some type of logical roadmap or formal response. What if I sound stupid or panic or make a total fool of myself? What if I am not qualified to show him the way? My internal voice of self doubt and fear threatened to paralyze me and lead me astray. In analyzing the situation through the fog of intellect I nearly missed the entire spirit of this important exchange. For as long as I intellectualized the experience and doubted my competence I was completely and totally unavailable to help.
And then I knew I was faced with a choice. I could offer reasonable and logical answers based on the years of education that resulted in my advanced degree. Or, I could roll up my sleeves and prepare to connect. I could sit alongside him instead of rising to the podium. I could reveal my fantastically flawed humanity and display my battle scars with pride. Fortunately, I recognized this in time and in doing so, I transcended the limitations of my own ego. The conversation expanded, the universe applauded and since that moment I have never looked back.
I am convinced that the key to all success in life; the true path to emotional and spiritual wealth; the secret to authentic and unshakable joy; the answer to all of these things is the inner light of kindness and compassion and love. It all starts with self love and acceptance and the courage to be human and it radiates out to the world from there. And so it goes like the wise old expression, when god closes a door he opens a window. Through the tragic and untimely loss of one precious life; through my grand implosion and the grief that followed; through a senior executive’s desire to make a positive difference; I am enlightened and transformed with compassion and love.

Thoughts on Compassion and Love

April 14, 2013

I work for a large corporation and we experienced a terrible tragedy several weeks ago. There was an occupational injury that resulted in an untimely death; a healthy man in the springtime of his life left for work one day and never came home. The man who died was highly regarded as an upbeat, positive and caring person with everything in his favor and a bright future ahead. He was a husband and father of two young children; a hard working man with so much to live for. Events like this call to mind memories of 9/11, the Sandy Hook shooting and similar tragedies that remind us to stop and give thanks for the people we love. With the blink of an eye and for no good reason, life as we know it can irrevocably change.
I was called to the scene as the onsite psychologist . My role was to provide crisis intervention services to the employees and managers who were impacted by this tragic event and organize a team of mental health care providers. There were hundreds of people involved who were grieving the loss, and it was our responsibility as the crisis care team to support and reassure them through this terrible ordeal. In the midst of grief and loss people’s reactions can vary quite significantly. While some are angry or enraged by injustice, others grow sad and tearful or quiet and stoic. There is no particular reaction that is right or wrong; in times of extreme grief we are all the same. Human and flawed. Frightened and vulnerable. Suddenly and keenly aware that our time here is limited.
At the beginning of the day when the sad news was first delivered, I was invited to introduce myself at an emergency meeting of senior executives. They needed to hear about details and logistics; an action plan for how people would be cared for and supported that day. As I rose to address the crowded room, my mouth went dry and my palms started to sweat. I was beyond terrified. My internal voice of self doubt and fear was chattering away at record speed; informing me that I was ill equipped and way out of my league. “I am just a private practice psychologist. These are high level corporate executives. What if they think I seem nervous or stupid? What if they don’t like me or ask me to leave?” My eyes wandered towards a middle aged man seated at the head of the table. A senior executive. A man of power and self confidence and years of success. I scanned his face, the lines around his mouth and the look of deep pain and sadness in his tired eyes. He looked lost and forlorn and my heart ached for him. As my fear faded into an ascending light of love and compassion, I was transformed. In that moment I experienced an emotional and spiritual shift. A shift I believe has changed me forever.
I abandoned my agenda of formal professionalism and instead I found an inner light of love and compassion. I was just me; human and flawed and ready to help. Instead of concerning myself with outer appearances and superficial acceptance, I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to connect. I reached out to embrace people and hold their hands. I looked into their eyes and tried to know them; everyone from the entry level worker to the highest paid executive. And I noticed a striking difference. My fear and self consciousness and internal doubt were gone. I was focused more on them than I was on myself. I felt like maybe I wasn’t doing enough, and I plotted and schemed for a way to do more.
I must have clocked 10 straight hours that day without a break but despite the promise of a healthy paycheck, I would have done it all for free. When I collapsed on my living room floor much later that evening, I could not shake the image of the senior executive with the grief in his eyes and the workers who lost a friend. And I knew I was a better person for having been there. By pushing against my outer limits and facing my fear, I found my authentic self and my spiritual home.
These days, anytime I face a challenge or hurdle I remember the lives that were taken from us way too soon. When I crossed the finish line after the Cooper River Bridge Run last weekend, I remembered them. When I returned to my yoga mat and resumed my familiar poses, I remembered them. And each and every time I press against my outermost limits physically, mentally or emotionally, I remember them. I remember the senior executive with the grief in his eyes, the children who perished in Sandy Hook and the victims of 9/11. When I start to doubt myself and my worthiness and the old voices of fear and self doubt kick in, I remember so many innocent souls who left this world with the all of their music still inside of them. I remember them because they did not have the chance to complete their journey. I remember them because they remind me that time is fleeting and every moment counts. I remember them because I want to be a better person. A person they would have been proud to know. A trusted friend and a devoted companion. A person who sees the good in others. And if I am lucky, I just might make a tiny difference and better this world with compassion and love.

From Grand Implosion to Bird of Paradise

March 17, 2013

I am solitary and still in my life today but I cannot say that I am totally fulfilled. However I can say that I am Grateful and Humble. Restless. Ready to spread my wings and fly. (Me, 2013)

As many of us learn on this amazing journey, life does not always proceed according to plan. What matters more than the hardships we face is whether or not we learn from them and allow ourselves to grow. When we find ourselves faced with an unfamiliar landscape, we must take time to breathe and reclaim our balance. The past several years have been exactly that for me; pausing and reflecting in the space between. It is a space for healing and understanding and quiet reflection. It is a space where anything is possible and new dreams are born.

Life transitions and unanticipated outcomes present ideal opportunities for self exploration and growth. We may encounter parts of the self that were previously buried or not yet discovered. When I reflect back on my younger self, I remember how spontaneous I used to be. Last minute plans and unanticipated adventures were the things that inspired me and brought me to life. But then, somewhere along the way, I grew up. My quest for excitement and intrigue gave way to stillness and balance and practical endeavors. And I suppose my life became more complicated as well. These days I find myself missing that carefree young woman; free and unencumbered like a bird in flight.

As I moved through my thirties and into my fourth decade of life, the stakes were higher and there was less time to waste. I grew to understand better my deepest needs and my urgency to fulfill them and I felt a new kind of pressure that I never knew before. Next came external resistance and a series of rude awakenings culminating in what I now refer to as the grand implosion. When my life veered off course several years ago and my most treasured hopes and dreams rapidly faded from view, my first impulse was to run away and reinvent myself and my life. But I did not run. Instead I remained still and fortified my roots. I dug my heels in deep and committed myself to finding my own special brand of ordinary. I found it through every day simple things like grocery shopping or working outside in my garden. And in doing so, I transcended the grand implosion and I found my way over to the space between.

Memories of my former life now rest inside dresser drawers, storage bins and cardboard cartons. Crinkled photographs and tear stained pages tell the story of a naive young woman who soared high and free until she flew straight into a spider’s web where everything fell stagnant and nothing blossomed or grew. Then there was the grand implosion and finally, the space between. A space where glimmers of promise for a better life and future were found drifting through open windows, hiding inside empty rooms and dancing across golden beams of sunlight. A blank slate. A fresh, clean canvas. A chance to find fulfillment through solitude and stillness.

I recently attended my very first heated vinyasa yoga class, and there was one particularly challenging pose called the bird of paradise. It basically involves standing on one leg while the rest of the body is twisted up like a pretzel. It was a pose that I sensed I could probably master, with a little bit of a struggle and pushing against my outer limits. I can do this; I told myself as I inched my way gradually, one breath at a time, into the pose. When I finally got there, panting and drenched in perspiration, the others in the class started to applaud. It was a beautiful, life affirming moment that I will never forget. My form was far from perfect and there were plenty of people in the class who did it better than me. But it was real and it was mine and it was fantastically flawed.

I have often underestimated the limits of my own strength; the unbridled potential of my physical and emotional endurance. I am both humble and proud; vulnerable and strong. A fantastically flawed woman and a graceful bird of paradise. Through the grand implosion and into the space between; I shed my younger skin and discovered a new way to fly.