Loosening the Ties That Bind

I have made a conscientious decision to stop writing about and talking about my fears and anxieties.  I know that by being raw and vulnerable and opening up those wounds and exposing them to those of you who read this blog especially has been like a balm for some of you.  It’s good to learn that others have fears similar to ours.  It makes us feel less alone in this world.  It comforts us to know someone else out there is struggling and if that person can overcome their fears and push through them, so can we.  Brave heart warriors  willing to dance with these darker emotions are needed to help us navigate through our own emotions and help us evolve.  However, I am putting aside my warrior ways for now.  I have fought the good fight by standing in the trenches of the dark emotions and facing them head on.  And a lot of wisdom and magic have come out of those moments and have prompted me to grow and change.  A lot.

To quote one of my favorite authors and creative mentors, Elizabeth Gilbert, “Fear is boring, because fear only ever has one thing to say to us, and that thing is ‘STOP!'” It’s time to push on through to the other side of fear.  It’s time to shed the old skin of the badass warrior woman.  Time to take off my Wonder Woman bracelets and slip into something a little more comfortable and lighter.

big-magic-fear

What prompted this decision to stop focusing on the fear was because I suffered three weeks of physical chronic pain right before and after my last blog post and am just now coming out of that.  I have started seeing the old biological patterns of fear in my body that have been there since I was at least 16:  the achy pain in my right side and outer hip/buttocks region; the wobbly leg syndrome; the tight calves; the low blood sugar and erratic sweating that makes me pass out (which thankfully I haven’t done since I was a teenager).  My parents and doctors never really could figure out what that was all about.   I’ve had bouts of this freakiness since then in various forms which culminated in pain a few weeks ago where I could barely walk up my stairs into my living space.  Prior to this episode, I had not experienced even a small degree of that pain for over 4 months.  That was immediately after I made the freeing decision to begin this journey.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that part of the chronic pain is from asymmetry in my body (my hips are a little “wonky” and an X-ray once showed my knee joints are slightly misaligned).  We are also a society that sits a lot and weaken our muscles and I’ve been sitting more than usual these past few months.  I also must face the reality of being 41 and I’m more than likely starting some perimenopausal symptoms where muscle and joint pain is caused by shifting hormones. And I’m aware that sometimes my diet and the wrong type of exercise (like hiking up and down over 500 stairs at a state park and then driving home and falling asleep instead of stretching out my muscles) can exacerbate it.

All of that scientific stuff set aside, I know in my heart-of-hearts this chronic pain is also a result of old biological patterns in my body that have been prompted by some fear-base mentality I have carried around nearly all my life.  I’ve lived a good portion of my life being “stressed out,” worried about the future, or always believing something bad was going to happen even if everything is good and pleasant at the moment. In the past three weeks, I have become aware of the fact that I clench my jaw any time I feel too happy or excited about all the possibilities before me.  I sit watching TV with my inner thighs squeezed together so tightly that I am sitting up on the knots of my butt muscles.  I drive down the street and feel my rib cage is so tight because I have shallow breathing.  And every time I take notice of these bodily sensations, I scan my mind and find that without a doubt I am living some part of that moment in fear and panic.  I even get afraid of the thought of being in pain that I seize up and don’t want to move.  Then there’s the flip side:  I move too much and overstretch because I’m trying to shake out all the antsy feelings within me.

What was I afraid of?  It couldn’t be some big bad predator like a saber tooth tiger out to get me, (although my body was reacting like that was the case).  If I examine my fears closely, I can say I was afraid of being too powerful.  Too beautiful.  Too sensual.  Too creative.  Too loving.  Too free spirited.  Too much.  So, I shrunk myself down to stay in the game of living a scripted life.  When, in reality, every part of me was longing to be free of 35 years of schooling.  I’ve been living that life since I was 5.

So, today, I decided enough of following that script.  Enough of living completely in my mind and strategizing my next move (although, let’s face it, I’ll probably always be somewhat of a strategist and planner.   Those are some awesome skills to have as they set me up to make the bold move that I did).  Enough of worrying about people telling me they’re envious of me.  Enough of feeling like I’m being selfish for making this lifestyle change.   It’s time to live directly from my body.  From my heart.  From my spirit.

Every single day for three weeks now, I have softened into my body, meditated, accepted the moment, and given thanks for at least three things that have happened to me, no matter how big or small.

IMG_2516Today, I focused on sweetness.  I asked my body what it wanted to do today.  What did it need in order to feel whole and happy.  It asked for a strengthening yoga practice followed by longer, softer, gentler stretches and holds.  I gave that to my body.  I asked my spirit what it needed.  It asked for 20 minutes of silent meditation and prayer and to be in nature by going to the University of North Carolina’s Botanical Gardens.  I gave that to my spirit.  I asked my heart what it needed.  It asked for a day’s outing to eat a sweet meal, go to my favorite store “The Bee Charmer” in downtown Asheville, and to people watch.  I gave that to my heart.

Yet, my fear wasn’t about to be left behind.  It flared up in the form of a shaming voice that told me that I really shouldn’t eat the Challah French Toast stuffed with honey cream and blackberry sauce with two strips of bacon.  I became aware of the masquerading fear and silently said a prayer of gratitude when the waitress brought my meal.  I ate it with reverence and a sense of pleasure.  Fear’s voice said, “You shouldn’t eat sugary things.  This is bad for you.  It could hurt your body and you could get a cramp in your leg.”  I smiled and took another bite, savoring the creamy texture, the sweet and salty mix of blueberry and bacon.  Silently I let my body speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This meal is eaten in gratitude and with pleasure.  Your opinion no longer matters.”

When I went downtown, I heard my fear speak in the form of guilt as I purchased some local honey, a t-shirt, and a necklace with a drop of honey in a small amulet.  Fear’s voice said, “How dare you buy anything for yourself.  You don’t have a job anymore and you should not buy anything that isn’t for mere necessity.  You’ll regret this when you’re on the verge of being broke and you might go homeless.”  I smiled as the sales clerk handed me my lovely purchase and silently I let my heart speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This purchase was made in gratitude and with pleasure.  I will use all of these things as a reminder that my life is so very sweet.  Your opinion no longer matters.”

I arrived at the Botanical Gardens, which is on the UNC campus and right near a busy road.  I started walking over the bridge and down to the creek and could hear the traffic through the pines, the sycamores, the ashes, and the laurel trees.  The chirping of the birds was competing with the whir of the engines.  I again heard my fear speak, but this time in the form of judgment.  Fear’s voice said, “This place is terrible.  How can it be beautiful when there is so much urban traffic flying by?”  I smiled as I climbed over moss covered stones to sit near the creek and watch butterflies and dragonflies dancing with one another.  Silently I let my spirit speak to my fear.  She said, “Please stop.  This time outside is spent in gratitude and with pleasure.  The birds, the bees, the butterflies, and all the other creatures are perfectly content living here.  In fact, they’re thriving.  And these flowers, plants, and trees, give shelter and a loving touch of Mother Nature to remind us to stay connected.  I think all of this is beautiful and natural.  Your opinion no longer matters.”IMG_2517

I squatted next to a Red-Spotted Purple butterfly as it opened and closed its wings on the creek bed.  My spirit felt so much love to be watching a beautiful creature up close.

I walked in the sunlight across the lawn to a small trail that led to a gigantic sycamore tree.  I placed my hand on the trunk and looked up and suddenly memories of being a child flooded my mind.  I saw my cousins, my little sister, and me playing on the old tire swing that was hanging from the large sycamore tree in our grandparents’ backyard.  We were so happy and carefree.  My heart filled with love.

I climbed a set of stairs built into the dirt and tree roots, and my footing was secure and I had no pain.  My body was at ease and in its element.  That’s when I realized, I had left my fears behind.

No more will I allow fear to control my days.  This will take mindfulness and some level of self-discipline.  Yet, all I wish to share right now are moments of beauty and love. Of awakening to a higher sense of purpose.  Sweetness and joy.  Insight and gratitude.  Pleasure and easiness.  And from these things, I choose to bring forth all of my creativity and set it to work:  playing, growing, living, writing, drawing, teaching, listening, being, loving, and most of all finding pleasure from the mystery of the unknown.

IMG_2521

Advertisements

A Permission Slip

permission-slip

I’ve been institutionalized now for 35 years.

It all started when I was sent to kindergarten at the sweet age of 4 1/2 (before the cutoff dates started).  And it has lasted up to this point as a 40 year old adult teaching English at a public high school.  Throughout these 35 years, I have felt at times like I was in a straight jacket – mostly because I chose to be the straight-laced kid who followed the rules, got good grades, did as my teachers and parents asked, and strived to be the best student in the whole entire school, or the state, the country, the world, nay, the universe.  And I put that burden on myself as a teacher, too.

Stirring inside of me, however, was (and still is) a rebellious, free-spirited, creative soul longing for self-expression and connection.  A longing to live sensually.  To touch, taste, smell, see, hear the bounties of the earth and then artistically share the experience with others.  To tap into emotions and open the heart and feel everything as deeply and fully and passionately as possibly and then release it to the universe with gratitude so as to keep experiencing the richness of the inner and outer world.  To tread lightly (and preferably barefoot) on moss covered earth.  To sink into the muddy earth on a hot summer day and let the mud squish and smear all over me.  Then to dip into a cool stream after the sun has baked me and feel the weight of the mud (the weight of the world) slip off of my skin as the water cleanses my body.  To dance like a wild gypsy.  To sing and play like a child.  To laugh like a cackling old crone who then tosses off her cloak to reveal a goddess.  To draw.  To write.  To create.  And to steal from my hero Henry David Thoreau: “. . . to live deep and suck out all the marrow in life.”

Yet, I chose to play it safe.  Forces within me and forces outside of me kept telling me “Not yet” or “You’re creativity and ideas are too much for others to handle.” “You’ll be laughed at.”  “You’ll be taken advantage of.”  “People in our part of the world don’t act or think or talk or dress or express themselves like that.  Hold it in and one day you can release it.”

These safety measures are no longer working for me.

I’m re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear.  The woman doesn’t mince words, and I’m grateful for that.  One of the chapters is titled “Permission” and she mentions how it is our God-given write as human beings to be creative and live in a way that best supports that creativity.  That is our permission slip.  No need for validation.  (By the way, creative living doesn’t only apply to self-proclaimed artists, writers, musicians.  It’s for anyone who wants to march to the beat of their own drum and do what lights them up and follow the threads of their own curiosity.)  She writes about creative entitlement in a positive light:  “Creative entitlement doesn’t mean behaving like a princess, or acting like the world owes you anything whatsoever.  No, creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that -merely by being here- you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”  Now that’s some powerful stuff.  I want in on that.  I’m taking the sentiment of her words as my metaphorical permission slip from the universe to get busy living a life I’ve always imagined.

A good friend told me once that when you free yourself, you free others.  That may be true, but I honestly believe that when you free yourself, when you give yourself permission to be a creative force in the universe and to unearth hidden jewels buried deep inside of you, then your life becomes a playground, a treasure hunt, an epic quest filled with adventure, a life worth living.  If it inspires others, so be it.  But, I’m starting to learn you don’t have to live for other people’s sake.  You don’t truly need permission to tap into who you are at your very core.  You’ve been meant to discover that all along.  This post isn’t about asking for permission from others.  It isn’t even a way to reassure myself (or convince myself) that I am allowed to listen to my inner voice of strength, of intuition, of love. (Ok, maybe it is just a little bit.)  If this post inspires others to begin unlocking hidden doors within themselves and following their path of creative living, then I’m really lucky to have been a part of that.  And finally, this post isn’t about showing how I’m no more or less worthy than any other person.  It’s just my time that’s all.

It’s my time to breathe fully and release what is no longer serving the person I’ve transformed into.  My time to take off the tightly woven, itchy sweater of my life that is constraining and blocking my creative, sensual, earthy, talent-filled flow.  And that’s scary because what I’m saying to the universe is:  “Destroy so I can rebuild.”  The earth is already quaking under my feet and all those inner and outer doubting voices are getting louder in my mind and in my daily encounters.  But, so is the urge to destroy so I can rebuild.

I’ve decided to give myself permission to let it all crumble down, burn up, shape-shift, wash away, dissolve.  For, there really is nothing to be scared of.  (In theory.  In practice I’m still a scaredy-cat some of the time.  But that’s Ok.)  When we pull weeds or cut back old growth in our garden, new and glorious living things arise and flourish.  When we clean out our closets we open more space for new things to come in. When we toss things on the compost pile, organic material later nourishes our flower and vegetable beds.  When blossoms scatter to the winds, fruit ripens and glistens in the sun.

I want to glisten in the sun.

FullSizeRender

I Need an Eat, Pray, Love Moment

This was going to start out as a funny blog about dating; but truthfully, I am tired of writing about that right now.  Why?  Well, so far match.com and my own “mojo” aren’t working so well.  Lately, I’ve only encountered pathetic men who aren’t putting their best selves out there.  One man I met online had the looks and the right information on his profile.  “I’m looking for my best friend,” he writes.  “Someone to share all of life’s exciting moments. . .”  When we talked on the phone, he propositioned me for sex.  And not in a smooth manner neither.  From his apparent drunken or stoned state, he said to me, “Where do you go to meet men?  Let’s say you’re dating like 5 or 6 at a time, like, one young gal I’m talking to meets them at a place around the corner from her apartment.  If she doesn’t like them, she can leave, but if she does. . .well . . .well. . .uh. . .bada-bing, bada-boom, ya know?”  And even though he didn’t get to finish his conversation with me, he had the nerve to send out mass text messages at random times to me and a few of his other lady loves with words like, “Good morning to you,” and “Happy Valentine’s Day to you.”  I never responded and debated blocking his number, but I tried the upfront tactic instead by texting him:  “Please don’t text or call.  I’m not interested.”  Immediately he texted back, “Oops.  I thought I deleted you. . .I am not interested either.”

So, where is this blog going, you ask?  I’m not sure.  I just know I need to be shaken out of my self-doubt and worry about the future.  I’ve lost faith in myself to a certain degree, and in return that’s causing me to lose faith in the whole belief of “Everything happens for a reason.”  In the book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, she goes through a series of life changes that lead her to Italy, India, and Indonesia -each place and the people she encounters teaching her lessons and showing her all the different ways we love one another and ourselves.  All of this travel, and insight and life-changing events occur in the course of one year.  Yet, if you’ve ever read the book (or watched the movie starring Julia Roberts) you may forget that Elizabeth retells the moment of being in great despair over whether to get a divorce or not.  One night, she falls to her knees late at night and begins crying on the bathroom floor.  She was waiting for a “sign” from the universe on what she should do so the specific changes she thought she wanted would automatically fall into her lap and she could be happy.  She retells the moment when she heard a voice, possibly her higher self, telling her to get up, go to bed, and stop thinking about things.  It was a gentle nudge that got her back into bed.  Nothing in her life changed over night.  I sometimes forget that part of the book when I demand a change from all of my daily stresses, anxieties, and over-analysis of my personal situation I’m currently in:  being 36 and single.

I know what you’re thinking:  get over yourself.  I would like to, trust me.  I know I have a beautiful house, good job, supportive friends and family, nice clothes, cool pets, and the list goes on and on.  Yet, I can’t help seeing myself as a failure in one aspect of my life:  the dating world.  All my life, from preteen to adulthood, I’ve wanted a boyfriend.  And every time I got one, I didn’t like being “tied down” to him.  And, then there was the period in my late 20s and early 30s where I simply chose to shut myself off completely or date only douchebags who broke up with me via email or the silent treatment.  Let’s not even go down the road of dissecting and analyzing broken relationships.  It’s not worth it.  I’ve moved on.  What I haven’t moved on from is how to please others who want something so badly for me because I want it twice as much.  This dating world I’ve entered into has turned into a personal competition and pressure-cooker on my biological clock.  Once I got back into the dating zone, I thought it would be all fun and games.  But, it hasn’t.  It’s been me falling back into my old cycle of fear and anxiety on what I am lacking in my life.  My “What if. . .?” and “If only. . .” and “Maybe if I. . .” internal chatterbox phrases have been in high gear every time I step outside of my house to go somewhere and now echo in my brain even when I logon to the computer dating site.

Friends have told me to move away from the area because there just doesn’t seem to be the right kind of man for me here.  One always asks me, “How are you still single?” Another friend said she walked into a cafe by herself the other night and thought about how I must feel all the time.  Others have brainstormed an idea that I should use this blog to help raise money for an expensive dating service in the area that pairs you up on a lunch date with well-to-do men.  Only 1 or 2 others have commiserated with me over the trials and tribulations of their dating lives as well.  While all of this advice and venting has either made me laugh, ruffled my feathers off, or made me want to sink farther into despair and hopelessness, I rally and crack jokes and look at everything with a skewed perspective.  I know that they all have good intentions.  They hate seeing their friend stuck in this repetitive state of angst and annoyance.  They’re trying to solve my problem, cheer me on, and empathize.  I in turn, keep holding out hope that maybe in a few weeks, months, or early this summer I’ll find “the one” and then all of us will celebrate and be happy and my life can move on.  These are all my pressures, by the way.  No one has ever told me this.  It’s just what I’ve internalized through the course of living my particular life and dealing with being single in a society that emphasizes coupling as being the way to a satisfying, happy life.  (Think about how excited we were to watch Britain’s “Royal Wedding” even though Prince William & Princess Kate have been living together privately for years, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

Thoreau once wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  We get ourselves into  negative thought patterns or habits; and like a broken record, our thoughts just keep spinning around and around in our brains creating deeper grooves of desperation and limitations in our lives.  Sometimes these thought patterns lead to addictions.  Mine are perpetual worry and coffee.  We’ve been comfortably uncomfortable with not changing these patterns for so long they become as familiar to us as our favorite sweatshirt or blanket.  They’re ripped and torn and don’t work so well, but the thought of giving them up is too difficult to do.  Side note:  I actually put away my ripped, threadbare college sweatshirt a few days ago and got a little panicky that I did the wrong thing – even though it is up on the top shelf in my closet.  Trying to physically and mentally break old habits is rough on the old heartstrings. I hope my “woobie” isn’t too lonely without me.

Honestly, I can’t carry this mental burden of searching for and finding my “perfect match” any longer.  It’s too heavy and it’s holding me back from living.  What I’m struggling with is how to let go of those addictive, negative thoughts that pressure me to feel like I have to live my life a certain way in order to find my happiness.  I guess acknowledging the fact that I need to let go of this worry and revive my faith and trust in the universe and myself is a start.  Oh, and the fact that I put good ol’ “woobie” on a shelf as a gentle reminder that turning “a-ha” moments into a life-changing story has got to be as good of a start as any, right?