Follow the Joy

Those were the words I heard last year, over and over. Follow the joy. It was that simple, so simple that it boggled my mind at times. Really, that’s it? Follow the joy? But where is it leading me and then what and what about after that? Listen, I’m an INFJ and if you know about myers-briggs you know that the J stands for judgment. It might as well stand for “Just watch me control and plan and assess and judge and achieve goals.” Follow the joy is so . . .fluid.  Where is the road map?! Oh right there isn’t one. Because it unfolds every moment of every day. 

As I enter 2018 I’m not making goals or resolutions, other than to continue to follow the joy. To suspend judgement. To sit in the mystery. To drop ideas and attachments. I’ve reached the place where I know that I don’t know much at all. Or at least, what I knew is no longer relevant to where I am now. I’m not going to throw out the yang with the yin, not at all. But I’m going to find a balance of being that honors the mystery, the dreaming, the intuiting as much as the assessing, the planning and the creating.

Where it takes me is likely beyond what my small mind could ever have dreamed. When I look back at 2016 to 2017 that is most certainly true.  The ego had plans and the universe laughed. Thank goodness because the universe brought so much joy and beauty with its plans–I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

 

Shonda Rhimes can keep her Year of YES. 2017 was my year of NO!

This past year was like the cleanup after a hurricane. (Which incidentally I also lived through.) If 2016 was the hurricane, 2017 the now what? after the hurricane.

After the real hurricane–Irma–I was surrounded by so many blessings. I saw them everywhere I looked. My house was still standing! The flood waters stopped short of entering my front door! (Barely.) The palm tree went down, sure, but it missed hitting our roof! And electricity, blessed electricity I so-take-for-granted–it eventually came back on!

That’s the thing about living through a hurricane. If you survive it mostly intact, it has a way of distilling what matters. For instance, living in a home with more than one room becomes a wonderful gift. (My daughter still to this day wants to play “hotel” because nothing was as amazing as having her mom and dad with her 24 HOURS A DAY, EVERY DAY, DAY AFTER DAY AFTER DAY AFTER DAY, IN THE SHARED SPACE OF ONE HOTEL ROOM. She’s most definitely not an introvert like her mother, who to this day does not know how she survived the experience without totally losing her ish.)

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The year 2016: when I finally got tired of my own bullshit.

If 2017 was cleaning up after a hurricane, the year 2016  was the hurricane. I could say it was a year of deep surrender, unveiling of truths, healing wounds and rediscovering joy.  But really it was the year I owned my bullshit. (See Elizabeth Gilbert quote.) After that epic year of owning my shit, in 2017 it became very clear to me that experiencing joy was not compatible with duties that sucked the joy from my life. Shonda Rhimes may have had her year of yes, but 2017 was my year of no.

Yes, this past year was all about Does it bring me joy? No? GOODBYE FELICIA. Does it take time away from my ability to experience joy? SO LONG, WON’T CATCH YA LATER. Are my choices leading to burnout and fatigue, therefore limiting my energy to create art and experience joy? DON’T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ON THE WAY OUT.

This of course was more complicated than I’m making it sound. In one stretch of weeks this past fall I remember collapsing while sick (likely due to lack of sleep) and crying in a puddle of tears. I CAN’T DO IT ALL, WOE IS MEEEEEEE! Well of course you can’t do it all, foolish woman! I had the startling realization that there was still a LOT more no to be said. I faced some major Catholic guilt…”but i promised these people I would volunteer with this project! I can’t possibly quit!” Yes you did, and now you must pay the piper and admit you over-committed. Suck it up buttercup! Time to say no!

I said no. . .and I survived. It felt good actually. I nurtured my yin — the feminine energy fueled by rest, introspection, creativity, and deep glorious sleep. I asked for a sleep mask for Christmas and I wear it with glee. I go to bed early, really early. I even (GASP) went off coffee for a long while so I could rid myself of the addiction to caffeine. It wasn’t needed now that I wasn’t trying to do more in a day than was humanly possible! Such joy and freedom in saying NO. For calling bullshit on the inner dialog that said “this is how it is, I work fulltime and have a child and blah blah blah here are alllll my excuses for why I should be permanently frazzled and fatigued.” Facing the truth–that my time is precious indeed, so how can I use it to fuel joy?–was LIBERATING and EMPOWERING.

Where does this leave me as I say goodbye to 2017? The trash has been taken out. The roles and responsibilities have been winnowed down to essentials only. Now I need to step into my truth. No more excuses. No more distractions. 2018 is where it becomes manifest. Ultimately it will mean living my truth. Time to take the plunge, baby. 

Are you ready? I am. Well, mostly. I’m sipping a coffee as I write this (some habits are hard to break) BUT I did sleep soundly for eight hours with my beloved sleep mask. No more excuses, no more hiding. Let’s do this.

A list of 20 things I am grateful for from the hell that was 2016

2016 WENT LOW BUT WE WILL GO HIGH!

Yesterday I started a list lessons from the little bastard teacher that was 2016.

Numbers #1-10 were posted yesterday.(My spirited child hindered efforts to finish this in one fell swoop.)

And now, I present #11 – #20.16, Lessons, gifts, and gratitudes (is that a word?) from 2016:

#11. SWEATY PALMS. Lot’s of sweaty palm moments. I’m not talking about gratitude for my generalized anxiety (though I do have lot’s of love for Paxil….) No, I’m grateful for all the SWEATY PALM moments that seemed to culminate in Summer-Fall 2016. Those scary but good moments when I pushed a lil’ bit outside my comfort zone with people I trust to support me. That’s right, I decided to share my writing publicly not just with strangers but with people who know me. (!!!) I started by sharing  a piece I wrote about my grief and healing journey. It discusses fun topics like the loss of my mother and miscarriage!  The reception I got from family and friends was incredible. This paved the way for me to write and share some other pieces – see item #20.16.

#12. A greater appreciation for family in all shapes and forms. I miss my mom. I miss my extended family that lives 1200 miles away. But it makes me savor the moments I do share with them that much more.

#13.Peppa Pig— because without her I could not be writing right now. As my husband says, turn on the child pacification device!

#14. Loving my kick-ass body. The year started off really crummy – I had a miscarriage. And what I did not expect about this experience was how hard it would be on my body image. Every ounce of extra fat reminded me of the fact that my body had been pregnant…and lost a pregnancy. I wanted all reminders gone (as though that would magically make it all better). Well, I finally decided to change the script. I’m not saying it was always sunshine and roses but little by little I have morphed the ways that I view my body. I started swimming and found myself in a flow experience a lot of the time. And now that pool temps have dropped I have started running. I used to hate running. Now I love – and I mean love- the feel of my thick muscular legs, my strong arms pumping, the wind in my hair. I don’t look remotely like I did at the start of 2015 but dare I say I am in awe of this bigger, stronger body?

#15. It’s getting a little serious on this list. I am grateful for ambient music even though it won’t put my kid to sleep. I am grateful for dark chocolate even though it kept my kid up very, very late. My child’s refusal to sleep came up again and again and again. BUT GUESS WHAT. We have instituted new routines and last night my child was down, in bed and left to her own devices to sleep in 20 minutes flat. <—- CoNTACT the PONTIFF cuz THAT THERE IS A MIRACLE!

#16. Sharing my healing journey with Sound of Music gifs.Because if you can laugh instead of crying, or heck, even while you are crying, it makes it all a little bit better.

# 17. Slinkies.Apparently the cheaper and simpler the toy the more it keeps my kid entertained. (And the plastic kind doesn’t bend and warp like those old metal ones we had did! Brilliant. And it comes in rainbow colors. Hoo-ya!)

# 18. Blogging friends. Which are simply friends in my book. Thank you, dear readers and fellow bloggers, who have supported my writing and my journey. I am beyond thankful. (Also, you need to read these blogs asap: One Blue Sail, Plainmama, Dana Schwartz-Writing at the Table , Kimberly Harding Soul Healing Art, 20-20 Spiritual Vision and more I’m sure I’m forgetting. 

# 19. Coffee. I stopped drinking it for a cleanse and I subsequently wrote about it nearly every. single. day. that i was without it. Coffee, my dear friend, I love you. And clearly I cannot live without you.

# 20. Peppa pig playing in one continuous loop in Amazon video streaming. Bless Peppa for still keeping my kid entertained so I can write.( Also, factoid, did you know the Brits pronounce “Zebra” as “Zeh-bra”?!)

and. . .because I am a dork who wanted 20.16 items, here is 

item # .16!

#20.16 This number is tiny,  which is perfect because I am only .16 grateful for this one. I’m grateful for the awakening that has resulted from Trump’s election. See, I didn’t say I was grateful FOR Trump, that would be going a tad too far. Here’s the deal. Trump’s blatant misogyny–seeing patriarchy laid bare–compelled me to break my own silence of surviving sexual trauma. It has compelled me and so many others, too. I am hopeful that the pain of this election will lead to an awakening and a stirring of voices who have remained silent for too long. Or who have been silenced for too long. Change starts with ME.  

That about sums it up. Tonight, join me in dancing on the ashes of the fire monkey year from hell.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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A list of 20.16 gifts from the year 2016. No for real, I’m done bashing 2016. (For the moment.)

I have decided to take the high road with 2016. I’m done whining. Here is my attempt to make peace with the worst year ever.*

20.16 lessons and gifts from 2016

[amended: this is only parts 1-10 because my kid is mixing paints and that spells trouble.]
  1. A YEAR of this blog!

  2. Discovering the show “Jane the Virgin.” (A true blessing indeed.) yiyjlx05aq0fo

  3. Continued health for myself, my husband and daughter. (Wow, that is a big one. Probably should have put this before Jane the Virgin.)

  4. My husband watching my daughter so I can write right now, which involves keeping her and her toy drill out of trouble. It is much harder than it sounds.

  5. ALL OF YOU READING THIS. Because for real, the greatest joy is when people care about what you write and then, to blow your mind even more, care about you the human too. Which you do. Which is freaking amazing.

  6. Rediscovering my artistic passions and painting lot’s and lot’s of birds.

7. Singing in my church choir with the greatest bunch of people you could ever meet. I am surrounded by wise, loving elders who cheer me on and lift me up. I LOVE IT.

8. My husband who is still entertaining a child who is now trying to make potions out of toothpaste and dear god I think I’m going to have to split this into two posts.

9. Using my writing to heal.

10. Muddling through the year with tears and laughter– including surrounding myself with Peter Gabriel hugs, by taking cathartic swims, swinging from palm fronds, and leaning on the kindness of strangers like Jeanine.

Items 11 through 20.16 will come tomorrow because my kid is causing ruckus!  

*but also I can’t wait to burn this list. Come Saturday night I’m doing a ritual I just learned about. I will write on slips of paper all the things from the past year I want to leave behind. And then I will burn the papers. (My favorite part!) And then I will write on slips of paper what my intentions are for 2017. I will put them in an envelope that I can open in six months or so to see where I’m at. I’m told my mind will be blown.]

The Winds are Slowly Filling our Sails

Solstice came! It occurred to me that while I am rejoicing the return of the light, others are like really Sarah?!  This means winter has started. In Iowa that means the frigid below-zero temperature winds will make it undesirable to leave your home. Not that it matters because the nearest Starbucks is AN HOUR AWAY. (Oh, I have so many great Iowa stories. Another day.)

So yes, solstice. A slow creep toward light, with cold winds thrown in for some of you. I promise to send you some Florida sunshine okay?

Yesterday I sat in my therapist’s office and despaired. About how horrible this year was, how everything in my life is so uncertain, and all hope was lost. I think that maybe, just maybe I saw my therapist’s eyebrow make a tiny movement upward as if to say, for real Sarah ALL HOPE LOST? but she caught herself and later we laughed when I pointed out that perhaps I was being a bit…dramatic? Yeah.  Just a tad. (I love when I realize it even as the words exit my lips but I hold on to the story I’ve created in my head, not quite ready just yet to let it go.)

But I need to tell you about the sailing ships. There is a point to this post you see. I told her how it feels like a great large ocean liner in my life is slowly changing directions but it feels so damn slow and laborious. And then her eyes lit up and she said, have you ever sailed? (Maybe once? A very long time ago.)

She told me how when sailing, when you go to change directions you must get the sails adjusted (I am forgetting all technical sailing terms) and there is a moment where you are jostling around getting it just so, and there is a pause. You must wait for the winds to fill the sail, which can be jerky at first, before you can move into the new direction. But once the sails are full of wind, WHOOSH you are off!

But that isn’t all. To change direction, you don’t just take off with those sails full of wind and zoom in the direction of your liking. No, you zig-zag back and forth for some time, forward and back. Forward and back. And little by little you go the intended direction, hitting your stride after just a bit.

We both agreed that this wonderful analogy should be tucked away for future reference for any and all clients. I mean, it is pretty brilliant right?

She told me: your sails are slowly filling with wind. I can feel it. I can too.

But there is more! Last night I read a post on Facebook about how winter solstice is a pause–not here or there just yet–like when suspended in that one moment at the top of a roller coaster where your stomach drops before the moment you rush back down again. Or, the post continued, how it is like a dead calm sea between gusts of wind.

Well, I’ll be. I love when themes and symbols pop up again and again my life.

There you have it folks. I reckon we are all in that pause right now. Heck, our country most certainly is. The world most certainly is.

Remember: our sails will continue to fill and we will soon be off to the races. It might take a little bit of backtracking at times–but don’t despair. It is necessary to get where we need to go.

 

 

Gratitude (kind of) for the darkness

Friends, solstice is upon us. Tomorrow. That is right, the days of winter darkness shift toward the light. I don’t want to speak for y’all but damn, it is time for the dark days of 2016 to exit the building. 

The church I attend had a lovely solstice celebration this past Sunday. We toasted “wasail” (apple juice) to the new year coming and the the turn to light. And there was an urging to think about darkness not as something “bad” or “evil” as it is often considered in our culture, but instead as a gift. What if we met it with gratitude? We couldn’t have 24 hours of sun – everything requires a period of rest and darkness. What if we look at the darkness as a womb capable of creating and birthing life anew?

Never before have the themes of winter solstice resonated with me so much.

This year brought lot’s of darkness for me. Not in the form of “bad” or “evil” but in the form of letting go, release, and being left with emptiness and not-knowing. The not-knowing is SO HARD for me. I am not a patient person when it comes to just sitting. (I get this from my mother. The woman moved ALL DAY LONG! She would be sitting folding clothes at midnight while watching tv.) So yes, sitting, waiting in the stillness, not knowing, and knowing that it isn’t time for me to know just yet? SO FREAKING HARD. I wrote about this in September and it still resonates with me — how it feels like frog swimming and let’s just say that is not a pace I like.

Yes, if I am grateful, this year brought many gifts that did not feel like them at the time: the release of pain and loss, more pain and loss, and shedding of that which no longer served me. The dissolving of identities and patterns and masks that are no longer needed. I feel as empty as the northern wood, stripped of leaves, all life burrowed away and hiding in hole.

It was a year of pausing. It was a year of rest.

But if I am honest with myself, it was also a year that showed me hints of what can come out of the darkness and chaos. Creativity in the form of Art! Writing! Music! Wow, amiright?

It was a year of embracing the unknown and unexpected, of holding on to faith and hope that eventually the wheel will turn, the axis of the earth would slowly and eventually move its position in relation to the sun and the days will grow longer. They will — at last — tomorrow!

On Solstice Eve, value the dark. On this longest night of the year, before the light overcomes the dark, sit in the dark (alone or with others) and think about the importance of darkness. Bless mushrooms that grow in the dark and honeysuckle that sends its luscious scents into the night. Be grateful for the darkness that soothes us to sleep, the darkness that animals require for hibernation. Give thanks for sheltering dark places: the rich earth where seeds germinate, the caves that harbored our ancient ancestors (and where some of our sun gods were born), the cellars that keep us safe from tornadoes, the wombs that provide our first nourishment. Acknowledge the darkness of suffering, which can deepen our appreciation of life and strengthen our connection to one another.


From a post at http://www.uuworld.org/articles/celebrate-winter-solstice and Excerpted with permission from In Nature’s Honor: Myths and Rituals Celebrating the Earth (Skinner House), copyright 2005 by Patricia Montley. Available from the UUA Bookstore (see link below).


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Starting the New Year(ish) with a Gratitude Practice

Anyone want to join me in starting a gratitude practice for 2016?

(And yes I know it is January 4th. It is ok! I give us permission to start on whatever damn day we feel like. Isn’t it fun pissing off the inner perfectionist?)

Last year I started a daily(ish) walking meditation practice and I am STILL hooked. (By the way, walking meditation is just a fancy way of saying that I took a walk, breathed in and out, and paused to express gratitude.) It has become integral to my mental health. I’m more centered, calm, and I certainly yell less at my kid. Win-win-win.

I wasn’t thinking of adding an additional gratitude practice this year…but then I saw Elizabeth Gilbert with her big ol’ jar of gratitude (see below). Sweet Moses, how fun would it be to read through those at the end of the year?!

It got me thinking that there might be other neat ways to practice gratitude. Here is a round up of some simple ideas I came across. As for me? I think I’m going to do a variation of the gratitude jar. Needless to say mine will not be made of glass. (Oh, just imagine how quickly my kid would shatter that lovely jar!)

FUN GRATITUDE PRACTICE IDEAS:

1. Gratitude Garland

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Photo from http://www.wildfeatherswellness.com/the-gratitude-garland/

Wildfeatherswellness provides instruction for creating a Gratitude Garland. You write thoughts of gratitude, remembrance, inspiration or refelction onto your garland and hang it where you can see it and be reminded of it.

What a beautiful way to remember a loved one or simply make visible the moments that fill your heart.

2. Gratitude Jar, courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert:

3. Gratitude Journal

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Raven + Lily’s Uzma Recycled Cotton Travel Journal (Available Here)

Simply write down your thoughts in a journal as you see fit. (I like this one, this one, and the one at left from Raven + Lily, a company that helps employ over 1,500 marginalized women with the goal of alleviating poverty among women.)

Or, if you prefer modern convenience, consider using a gratitude app for your phone!

Any other gratitude practices you want to share? Please feel free to comment below or on Twitter or Facebook.