Wednesday, February 26, 2014

100 Days of Kindness: Has it already been a 100 days? Wow...

When I decided over 3 months ago to start this project I wanted to find out how things would be different in my life if I treated myself more kindly. I wanted to bring more people in as "experts" on the topic but as the project evolved it turned into a more solo pursuit.

A number of things happened over the last few months that helped with the process. The biggest of these has been my ending one job and starting a business. Starting something new is raw. There is a whole lot of "what the hell am I doing" going on inside but also the internal knowing that you can't really go back to the way things were. And of course, the gap between the old and the new. But where does self kindness come into this mixture?

First off I had to discover what self kindness actually meant to me. I know what it doesn't mean (but doesn't necessarily exclude). Pampering. There was no deluge of trips to the spa, facials, pedicures, cocoa with marshmallows etc. I like those things but they weren't my go to things when I contemplated being kind to myself. (I will never write for Cosmo that's for sure)

Mostly it meant looking at myself as a limited physical resource and being very selective about what I chose to engage in. It meant resting a lot more too. It meant saying no to certain people or just not engaging in the first place. It meant saying yes to other things and then investing in setting myself up for success. It also meant giving myself the benefit of the doubt when things went wrong but then picking myself up just as surely without recriminations to move forward.

Kindness meant working on my new business instead of blindly running to a new job.

Kindness meant keeping engagements that I was looking forward to instead of canceling out of fear.

Kindness meant risking making friends with people who I otherwise would be to shy to open up to.

Kindness meant taking things in tiny bites and moving slowly forward.

Kindness meant avoiding news streams and conversations that were bound to upset me. 

Kindness meant more poetry writing and more honesty.

Kindness meant cleaning and decluttering for no one's company but my own.

Kindness meant joyfully watching the Olympics because I love them and because I love Russia (even if it doesn't love me very much).

Kindness meant being relentlessly on my own side while simultaneously expecting the best of myself.

I baked a lot of cookies because its fun to bake cookies (and almost as fun to eat them). I then kindly drank kale and chia seed shakes for breakfast. I joyfully drank firewater from the craft distillery and then kindly drank lemon water to wash it out.

It was 100 days of a whole lot more yes. A 100 days of trembling too.

Last week Miss Keri and I popped over the hill to take a hot tub because my thighs were aching from doing squats. As I sat in the hot water sipping tea I thought this was exactly the kind of relief my body needed. It also felt very kind. The sort of kind that looks good in magazines articles with photos of women draped in white towels surrounded by smooth stones and cedar planks. I'm not above it. I love the visual as well as the implied calm. The trappings matched the feeling in my heart.

There are days when I feel perfectly held in the hands of G-D. On those days I try to hold my insides still to feel the buoyancy of the great All. Other days I wake afraid and must tell myself I'm safe, recalling all the evidence around me that I'm supported by unseen forces and can rely on manna to come even when the old is gone.

Kindness has been a mother that gives me a book bag and raincoat and then lets me walk to school in the rain knowing the water won't melt me but DO ME GOOD. The warm school-room awaits with the teacher, the friends and the learning always.

If you've been following along these last 100 days I would love to hear your reactions, about your kindness experiments and anything else you would like to share. Writing is my way of connecting with the world--feel free to send some words my way.

On to the next adventure!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

100 Days of Kindness: my marriage as a house! (post Valentine's issue)

January 1, 2014--my wife Keri, myself and a very close friend of mine were sitting in Peet's Coffee with post it notes and journals writing our intentions for the coming year. In the space of less than an hour Keri decided she needed to quit her job--the very next day. This was a realization that I had already had. I won't go into details (it is her story to tell) but no person should show up to be abused--even for a paycheck.

Quitting without a plan was a ballsy thing to do. I had just finished a job and had nothing certain on the horizon. But we had some money--enough to get us through a couple of months. Despite the risk, we both decided to let go of the trapezes we were holding onto and reach for the one we had to believe was swinging toward us.

This is one of the things you can do in marriage. Take risks for each other.

This is the longest, mostly uninterrupted period of time we have been in each others' presence with out the distraction of jobs or anywhere specific to be. I remember when my father retired from his career as a programmer and all of a sudden was home all the time. My mother cherishes solitude so this was hard for her. I too cherish solitude so it took some adjustments to be at home with Keri so much.

But after I got over my internal monolog about "my routine" and "my space" being disrupted by another being, my vision cleared a bit.

When Keri and I got together I had an intention for my life. I wanted a life partner or no one at all. I didn't want a "wait and see" if this works out relationship and I didn't want an affair. I wanted one last try at having someone to link arms with through life.

Luckily that's what Keri wanted too. And what a good thing that resolve turned out to be.

Before we even got through our initial relationship blush, Keri's mother was diagnosed with cancer. Not long after that my own mother announced to me she was losing her eyesight.

Our original plan was for Keri to move to San Diego and come live with me to start a life. What happened instead was that I chose to move back to San Jose and move in with my Mother until I could buy a house close by.

I would love to say my Mother was happy about this development. She was not!

Despite the fact that I was a grown woman with a career, moving back in proved just how quickly relationships can regress--once again I was the naughty teenager sneaking out to partake of the forbidden fruit, Mom was the stern authority figure and Keri was in the terrible position of being my luscious apple of temptation.

Living at home wasn't working out--stress from that and my job led to me not being able to sleep at night. I knew I needed a big change to my situation and decided to start looking for a house to buy. High prices be damned, I was so desperate to get out I was willing to buy an expensive closet if it meant some personal peace.

Keri helped me look and held back commentary with my unrealistic budget (I was $100K under the market in what I was willing and able to spend). I was happily oblivious to my lack of realism! Action, no matter how futile, felt like progress! I had direction!

Keri hinted around buying with me but I wasn't willing to go there--too many of my friends bought houses together and then split up. As I watched huge legal and financial volcanoes explode for both parties I repeated the mantra "keep it simple". Keeping it simple meant going it alone on buying a home.

In the meantime, Keri's mother went through peaks and valleys with her health, I found a different job closer to where we lived (but just as horrible) and I simply grew a thick skin for criticism and sarcasm at home. Things were going ok. I felt a shaky, grumpy kind of control in my life. Not exactly happy but I could manage.

Living with Mom, having my new relationship close by, and Keri's mother's frail health threw all the complications of human connection in my face. Love (love of Keri, love of my mother, love of my new family) wasn't making my life simpler.

Alone was so simple. My apartment in San Diego, empty and a temple to my sovereignty seemed a distant past. Faced with my current life I didn't remember the loneliness of that time at all--I only remembered my couch where I could have solitary cups of coffee and the easel next to it where I did pastel portraits out of my copy of Crazy Sexy Cool. But these thoughts reminded me of the $300 phone bills I racked up because I couldn't keep myself from the treasured evening phone calls with Keri or how I stocked my cabinets with the foods she liked for the first time she flew down for a weekend visit or how I ducked under the ropes at the airport to meet her on the gangway as she came off the plane.

So much for my fantasies of ideal isolation.

On a June morning, laying alone in my room a still small voice said "why not buy a house with Keri?" All the reason and sensible thinking about simplicity and solitude fell away. The sky was clear and blue and I felt the world open up inside me.

I called Keri immediately. That evening we met with a lender.

In the coming months many things happened. We looked at house after house. All the ones we could afford were shitty cracker boxes. I flopped along in Keri's energetic wake. Refusing to be overcome by my despair of finding something she made every appointment, kept the communications with the realtor and lender alive and pushed us forward. It was an evening ritual that we capped with visits to Starbucks or late dinners at the all night diner.

While all this went on, Keri's mother's health degenerated. The cancer was behind her but she became unexpectedly ill and entered the hospital again. After a couple of weeks, eventually sending her to intensive care, she passed away in the night with us surrounding her bed singing her to the afterlife. I returned to my own home at dawn to change my clothes to support Keri's family while they made funeral arrangements.

I would like to say my Mother was sympathetic and supportive, but her own anxieties were at a fever pitch (tragedy doesn't always bring out the best in us). On the day of the funeral, Mom ordered me to sit with her at the back of the church far away from the family--the place she expected me to occupy as a child and now as an adult.  People bustled in semi-quiet between the chapel and the viewing room. I asked my friends to steer Keri away from all the little propaganda posters in the hallway speaking of "real marriage" and the threat people like Keri and I were posing to their vision of normalcy and dominance.

As people filed into the chapel, Mom looked at me with stern expectation. My heart twisted hard ("not now" was all I could think). With a deep breath, I sat Mom with my friends and walked to the front and sat in the front pew next to Keri--the position of spouse.

Keri was a beacon of strength and composure all that day but I knew she was tired in every conceivable way. 

In the aftermath, I was certain Keri would want to put looking for the house on hold to rest and mourn.

The real truth was that I wanted to rest and mourn. Keri wanted to move forward with her life. A couple months after the funeral we were putting offers on houses. Early in the new year we started the process of moving in to our first (and current) home.

In the thirteen years we have lived here we have never undertaken the massive home love and care ceremony that we have since we have been reaching for the next trapeze. I've learned somethings about myself as a homeowner and as a spouse.

I always looked at the house as being a temple of my own individuality--a place where no one "can tell me what to do, have or be". Sharing the space with another person as invested in it as myself really challenged that ideal. My original thoughts about buying a home were really all about me. But my home didn't happen until I opened my heart to it being about an Us.

Over the years we have both attempted to be the guiding voice in our home aesthetic and design principles without much luck on either front. In the decluttering exercise Keri and I recently undertook (and that is ongoing) we transitioned away from the thinking of just making the house more organized and usable to being a place of harmony, peace and regeneration for BOTH of us--a place to support our mutual goals and desires. 

Us--Miracle Hunting Jan 22, 2014
I stepped back from my initial preferences (especially anything that I crusaded against stylistically) and started listening more deeply to Keri's input and ideas of how the house could be arranged (she really took Amanda's coaching to heart and has become a nascent feng shui student). In the listening I started seeing Keri in a far deeper way than I have in a long time. It's easy to become used to people and to sense only one flavor of their personality. This time alone with her has given me the gift of experiencing her creativity, intuition and solid sense in a far different way than when we are both handling full time jobs (our heads full of our own individual clutter and psychic static).

As I look into Keri's face I see the qualities I fell in love with over and over again--compassion, strength and solidity--the stone in the river smoothed with time, changing the direction of things by her unadorned presence. The same stone I can cling to, mark my position by, and to rest upon. I don't have to do everything alone anymore--I have someone whose intelligence, kindness and strength I can rely on. I have someone to make a home with.

That's a pretty worthy risk to take.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

100 Days of Kindness: I'm not good enough and I don't know where I'm going and that's ok

This week I heard that a something I didn't want didn't want me. It was shiny and impressive and I still didn't want it. It caused me to have a near tantrum not wanting it so bad and then it up and doesn't want me.

I realized I didn't feel free hearing this. I felt something really base and false--it brought up insecurities that have been brewing under the surface for almost a full year.

This is called "dirty pain"--pain that isn't because of something real such as breaking your arm, losing a loved one or something genuine. This is pain because of a story I've had rattling around in my brain that I haven't been able to let surface. It's been there and I've done a hell of a job denying it.

Dirty pain is all about the screaming, petty ego getting kicked hard in the nads.

The big shiny something offered to dance with me and I accepted the dance even though I didn't want to (so big, so shiny) and then I felt offended because it didn't want my phone number to ask me out.

Not good enough for big shiny.

Ouch (but not really because I'm not bleeding and as far as I can tell my life is completely intact).

So what do you do when you aren't good enough? You just love not being good enough--love it hard, love it long. Love it because it is. Love it because it is.


I spent the last two days in the company of masterful horse women learning the art of "horse whispering".

After weeks of dry weather it finally decided to rain. I stood in the arena chilled and stiff with an equally wet, cold horse that politely accepted my company but just as politely refused to go around the arena.

I coaxed, I asked nicely, I modeled what I wanted. At a certain point I even tried bribing the horse with the promise of getting to go back to the dry and somewhat warmer barn if she would just amble around the ring. My coach Christine Erickson observed that I was going through every strategy to get compliance that I already knew wouldn't work.

"Keep trying things. Get creative."

"Ok, just to make sure...there isn't some right answer to this, right?"

"I'm not holding out on you...this isn't a test."

I looked at the arena next to mine and saw my sister being followed by her horse like they were best friends. I stood next to the horse with my hand on her shoulder joint. We stood there at an impasse for what seemed like an eternity. I then decided to do the one thing I knew would work but that I didn't want to do.

I stood back about 10 feet from the horse and swung my arm at the horse's hind end.

At first she didn't move. I swung some more.

"Try bigger, keep going!" Christine encouraged me across the fence.

I swung my arm with more energy and the horse shifted forward. I focused my eyes at her shoulder and continued to swing. The horse started to walk, slowly at first but then with a purposeful pace, matching my own speed.

It felt like I worked very hard at something that normally should be effortless. It didn't feel good.

Right now I feel like I'm trying to force something that doesn't want to come--maybe not now and maybe not in the form I wish for it.

To let go sometimes means letting go of the picture of the outcome you wish for and everything associated with it. A true surrender and acceptance. A kind of death as well.

I don't know what to do next. I can keep swinging my arm ever more forcefully but it's not what I want and neither is it what this horse called my life wants. For the first time in weeks I feel ok with that and ok with not knowing what comes next.

Are  you trying to whisper something into your life but find yourself swinging your arm instead? I want to hear from you! Please leave a comment or send me a message.