Transition

White Walls

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I recently participated in an online collective care workshop run by Becca Bernstein. Over two months, fifteen of us joined as strangers on Zoom to tap into possibilities of what it means to show up as fully human while tending to our needs, wants, and desires. How do we come together to help our healing?

This work, designed to nurture the human heart, lit a fire of hope within me. There are people craving connection, combatting loneliness, and equipping individuals to be an world in a more compassionate way. I get to be one of these beautiful humans, longing for different ways of being in the world.

Last night, in our closing session, one of the fellow participants shared how what she needs now is completely different than what she needed when we started gathering at the beginning of September.

Are needs allowed to fluctuate as such? Are humans allowed to adapt and evolve, constantly reassessing what we need at any given moment?

The myths of linear living I was fed as a student and young professional suggested otherwise. Figure out what you want to DO and all of your needs will be taken care of, right?

Wrong.

Whether we’re slowly chiseling away at the notion of arrival, or our clear roads have crumbled to dust as a result, of well, life, of course, our needs, wants, and desires have permission to change. They ought to.

Who wants to be the same person you were two months ago? Or even five years ago.

In April of 2016, Dylan and I stood in our tiny bathroom upstairs with paint rollers in our hands and a can of Monterey White at our feet. It was a Saturday a few weeks after we lost Dad, and I remember thinking we needed to do something. This was the first room we were going to tackle, covering up old paint in an effort to make our house our own. I stood with baref eet on cold tile, looked at Dylan and said, “I miss my dad.”

“I know” he said.

The missing, of course has grown, and shifted and changed and with the passing of time. So have my wants, and needs, and desires. Of course they have.

This weekend, Dylan again stood in the tiny bathroom, with a roller in hand and a can of White Veil paint at his feet. This time, instead of helping, I’m supervising.

While we’ve painted every room in the house since that year of loss, this return to the upstairs bathroom is different. This painting is a cleansing of sorts, but not of pain. It’s a scrubbing of old stains, and an attempt at refreshing for what’s coming next. Sprucing up in the spirit of improvement and possibility weighs differently than the covering of trauma and triggers.

As Dylan painted, I felt my grief gremlin climb out of my heart pocket to watch our original efforts get rolled over. She nibbled gently on the edges of worn fabric, wondering what was going to happen next.

“I miss my dad” I said to Dylan.

“I know” he said.

The missing hasn’t changed. The paint is one shade brighter. And what will come next remains to be unseen.

But the spirit in which we paint has changed and transformed. What I need is different. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Making Way

Standing at the back door, with a bit of wind blowing on my face, I turned to Dylan to say, “It’s happening!”

Seemingly overnight the trees in our backyard have begun to change colors. The tree with the little leaves always goes gold first, scattering quarter inch crunchies across the deck. The remnants track into the house with the dog, tuck themselves into outdoor couch cushions, and find themselves carried into the living room on stocking feet. The tiny ones are always the first to fall.

I asked Dylan when we went to Europe the other day. Three years ago this weekend we were in Paris, and I remember wishing, just slightly, that I wouldn’t miss our larger tree turning red in the backyard. The views of Parisian rooftops surely surpassed those in my backyard, but the nostalgia for the changing of the seasons lingered within me.

This is the second fall where we haven’t traveled. Our sources of excitement and stimulation have slowed to glacial pace, and I find myself staring out the back door, again waiting for magic to happen. We don’t have red leaves yet, but they are coming.

It’s easy to feel nostalgic as September turns to October. There are quotes and memes about letting the dead things go as our flowers wilt and sources of shade crisp and crunch. I’ve been talking to mentors and friends about the pruning in their own lives. Many feel purpose wilting, unsure of what will happen in the next season of hibernation. We thought we’d be over this by now, right?

I’ve spent the last five years writing about death and grief and loss. In these reflections, lessons of hope and wondering and recovery have unfolded, giving me, and hopefully others, comfort. As the days grow shorter, and I put my face upon cool glass.

Will this be another dark hole of a pandemic winter? Will looking for the light feel as difficult as it did last year?

In the pruning back, the raking up, and the setting to bed of our gardens, we get to choose what we will prepare to grow. Ann Voskamp once shared how she plants bulbs with her family this time of year, intentionally tucking something hopeful into the dirt to arrive in the spring.

I can relate to that wanting. To believe that good things will come, even as the dark days descend.

So for now, yes, enjoy the gold and the red and the mystical light reflecting off of trees and blue skies. Find your sweaters. Make a cup of tea. Rake and sift and shift the soil, knowing the work you are doing is sacred. Tuck a bulb in the dirt and wait. The preparation and making way, perhaps, are beautiful things.

Just How Lovely It Is

photo-6

I saw this picture today. Somebody posted it on Facebook. Is it a picture? It’s not quite a meme. I don’t know. It caught my attention. I’ve always been a lover of Fall. The pumpkin spice lattes, the crisp leaves, the perfect temperature with brisk mornings and sunny afternoons. October is my favorite month. I’ve got the pumpkin carving planned, and the chili in the crockpot even though it’s still over seventy five degrees. Stereotypical white girls get made fun of for their pursuit of coffee and scarves and boots and the delightful crisp air. No one really mentions death. Then I came across this picture. It speaks shocking truth. Sometimes, things have to die, and we have to let go, and that process is beautiful.

Ahh, here comes the extended nature metaphor. Really though, I’ve been thinking about change and how it sneaks up on us, and I’ve been reflecting on where we’ve been and where we are going. This week, I celebrated one year at my current job. One year of stability in location and yet, a year of amazing change in an organization. Good change, but at times emotional, and challenging, and questioning change. I can’t believe a year has passed since my tearful days of a nightmare job and extreme anxiety about what I was going to do with my life. I can’t believe I’ve been living back in my hometown almost eleven months. I can’t believe we planned a wedding, and I got married, and the single version of myself has died.

I’ve had to embrace the discomfort and I’ve found by letting go of what was, I can be more immersed in what is. What is continues to be good. It seems extreme to say that old ways of understanding my position in life have died – that word, death, has really strong connotations. It’s true though, isn’t it, how sometimes I have to let how things used to be die to become the next version of myself. That makes me sad, especially when how things used to be included some of my favorite people on earth, and a sense of self that I was very good at settling into. The end of a chapter, so to speak.

And rebirth, I believe, comes from the ability to say to myself, ‘Wow, I’m rather sad that chapter was over, that piece of my life complete, that death has occurred’, but isn’t that really where life lies? So complex and yet so simplistically true. What beauty lies in those flaming trees of color, in the promise of loveliness in such a tragic process.

From that mountain drive I mentioned last week

From that mountain drive I mentioned last week

This week, when I stopped to think about beautiful things, I was struggling to come up with one specific thing to write about. Except for the leaves of course, but honestly, I just came across that a few minutes ago. Here are some moments I enjoyed as well. I feel wrong leaving you to ponder beauty in death. Perhaps beauty in transition that sometimes requires us to admit that things end, chapters close, and life as you know it, may die. That doesn’t mean death has to be final. That seems more appropriate.

– My friend from college got married this weekend. What a joy it is to have a reunion with five girls so central to my life as supports in friendship and in prayer.

– I saw a bystander call an ambulance for a homeless man who was struggling. People do care about one another when you stop to take a look.

– Dylan bought me flowers for our one month anniversary. It was sweet. I like being a newlywed.

– I got my wedding pictures back. Holy schamoley, these things are gorgeous. If you need a wedding photographer, I strongly recommend Jamie Fischer, out of Boulder. Check her out here

What things are you having to let die to move on. Does this process feel excruciating, or maybe, just a little bit lovely?

Incomplete

I’m feeling insecure. Is the pursuit of beauty cliche? Does looking at leaves on a Saturday constitute as a hum drum, expected, yawn of a post? I could spend tonight writing about the Colorado Aspens in September. Or maybe, even, the beauty of access to cold medicine because my head has been stuffed to the brim with gook. It happened, the wedding melt down and stress let down led to a stuffy nose and a brain full of fog. It happens to me at the end of something big. I could count on it during the end of finals week in college, at the end of any major accomplishment. The bog of a cold snuck up on Thursday and hasn’t quite left. That doesn’t feel beautiful – actually quite the opposite.

Tonight, I suppose, I want to talk about the beauty of reclaiming unanswered situations. This is a theme I talk about because I think it helps my sanity. It helps me feel grounded, and makes me feel that I have some semblance of control in my life when change happens. Like I’ve said, I don’t like change. Dylan and I were talking at dinner about some next decisions we have to make, and we said maybe, as you grow up, you get more comfortable making decisions individually, without worrying about all of the pieces being in place. Get more comfortable, not get better at putting together the whole puzzle perfectly. Dang it, I wish it was the other way around.

I feel incomplete right now. My to do list at work seems to be growing rather than shrinking. There is ambiguity in a new job title, and new responsibilities, and the realization that having a job as an adult means having responsibilities where the buck stops at me. Thats new, and I don’t know how to completely fill that space. I feel incomplete in changing my name – there are so many pieces of an identity I have to get straightened out. I feel incomplete in knowing where we are going to live next year, and which commuter town we should go to to make life more fair for my spouse.  I feel incomplete in sharing money with a new person. I feel anxious that I have waves of acceptance that I’ll probably never feel complete either. I mean what does that mean, because like I predicted before, achieving one goal often leads to the opening of another door and new opportunity. Overall doesn’t this lend to a circle of ‘incompleteness?’

So tonight, I sit in this in between space, and reflect on this meditation, and know that God will continue to bring us good things. That maybe clarity will develop, and maybe it won’t, but we have been given the grace to make good decisions in the mean time. Meditations are beautiful and being nice to myself, even when feeling incomplete, is quite extraordinary.

CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS

written by Jon Kabat-Zin

1. The real meditation is how you live your life.

2. In order to live life fully, you have to be present for it.

3. To be present, purposefully bring awareness to your moments – otherwise you may miss many of them.

4. You do this by paying attention and non-judgment to whatever arises.

5. This requires a great deal of kindness toward yourself, which you deserve.

6. It helps to keep in mind that good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, the present moment is the only one in which you are alive. Therefore, it’s the only time to learn, grow, see what is really going on, find some degree of balance, feel and express emotions such as love and appreciation, and do what we need to do – even in the face of pain and suffering.

7. So it is a gentle love affair with the present moment.

8. We do that through learning to rest in awareness of what is happening inwardly and outwardly, moment by moment– “being” rather than “doing.”

9. Formal and informal meditation practices are specific ways in which you can ground, deepen, and accelerate this process.

10. Realize that this moment is already very special – because you are alive and awake in it.

11. You have a lot of moments so treat each one as a new beginning — there are always new moments to open up to if you miss some.

12. We do all this with a huge amount of self-compassion.

13. You are not your thoughts or opinions, your likes or dislikes. They are more like weather patterns in your mind that you can be aware of – like clouds moving across the sky – and so you don’t have to be imprisoned by them.

14. Befriending yourself in this way is the adventure of a lifetime.