Quality not quantity.

My son is here. Here is the two bedroom apartment in Chicago where I moved over a year ago with my husband, my eight-year-old son, the two dogs and the cat. Here is not where my middle son lives but here is where he visits on school vacations, and a few long scattered weekends throughout the year. Before he arrives I make sure he has his own toothbrush in his bathroom, I buy him shaving cream and a razor and the 2-1 shampoo he likes. I buy his favorite cereal.

Last spring, he had his junior prom and I was not there to take photos with the other moms. His dad sent me the photos via text. Look at our boy! He texted. And there he was in a tuxedo with a red vest handing a rose corsage to his prom date— a girl I didn’t recognize. When I received this text I was at a friend’s house for dinner and I showed the picture to my husband. “Look!” I said. “Look at him,” and he did and smiled and went back to his conversation but for me, the ache of not being there for this lasted well into the next week.

Every day I have to get used to not having my son live with me full time. Some days it feels okay enough. I justify me being here and him being there by telling myself it is good for him to live with his dad, to live in one place for his last two years of high school. He spent most of his entire life living in two homes. His dad and I divorced when he was barely three and while he and his older brother were shuttled back and forth, I practiced adapting to time away from them. After dropping them off at their dad’s, I would eventually appreciate returning to a much quieter house for a few days. By Sunday afternoon, I would be ready for them to come barreling into the house with all their noise and sports equipment and backpacks and boy smell.

There are days where the weight of not living with my boys hits me hard. When I fill out certain documents or school forms I hesitate to write that my son’s’ primary address is not my own. A low point: I once lied and refused not to write my own address on the line that asked for “address of primary caregiver” or “permanent residence of child.”

When a student or new friend asks me about my other sons’ whereabouts, I say they are in college which is only half true. It feels more reasonable to admit out loud that I moved to a different state at the same time that both of my boys went off to school. It feels less complicated than having to explain that one still lives back east with his dad.

When I speak with my friends and their young children whine for them to get off the phone and pay attention to them, I hear my friends’ frustration for having to get off prematurely, but they do not hear my slight envy. It’s the middle of the day and my apartment is as quiet as an ashram.

When my son was little I did all the mom things. I sat with my mom friends in big backyards while our children played on jungle gyms and swing sets and I huddled over my son while I cut up his hot dog and squeezed the ketchup onto his plate and wiped his hands and face and deposited him into the bath with his bath toys and soapy water and read him Caps For Sale and kissed him goodnight. If you would have told me that this mother would be the same mother who 13 years later chose to pack up her home and live away from her children I would have said, not in a million years. When people ask why I moved, I look off into the distance and wistfully repeat, “It was just time.” The past few years of heartache and money issues and poor choices come flooding into the air. Perhaps my boys who watched me struggle more than thriving, perhaps they understood in their own way that it was time for me to make a change before it was time for them.

The weeks leading up to my move my son would come into my room and sit on my bed. “This is really happening?” He would say not sounding upset, just in mild disbelief. I stopped with the bubble wrap and tape and looked at him. “Mom,” he said over and over again those weeks, “I will be fine! It’s you who I am worried about!”

The day of the move I met both my boys for breakfast. We went to the same local diner where I used to carry a portable high chair in my arms and attach it to the table where my son’s legs would dangle from the leg holes and we would play tic tac toe on the paper placemats until his pancakes arrived where I would stuff huge forkfuls into his mouth and hand him his sippy cup from my bag.They were planning their day — Going off to the gym later that afternoon. I was relieved that the magnitude of me leaving did not hit them hard enough to distract them from their basketball game. That at the time they laced up their sneakers I would be crossing state lines, following my husband who drove the Uhaul which housed the entire contents of our life now. At this breakfast I handed the boys some of their winter coats and sweatshirts that had been hanging in my front closet; and despite trying to convince my husband we should have some of their stuff at our apartment in Chicago, he looked at me sympathetically and explained that the boys actually might need and want these things at their dad’s for the coming season.

I hugged my boys goodbye in the parking lot and held them longer and tighter than I usually do. They were smiling and shuffling me off like two normal teenagers who needed space from their mother’s coddling. “We’re fine mom!” And it seemed that they were as they walked together to their car already onto their future day.

It’s been almost two years since the move. I FaceTime weekly with the boys. I sit in my living room and watch their faces pop on the screen. I see the posters in their room hanging above their head. Often they are multi-tasking while we talk — but I don’t mind. For me, it’s less about the content and more about just being there with them while they are living their lives. They have both shared on occasion that they miss being able to just come to my house. “Why are you a plane ride away now?” My son asks almost hypothetically. We are still getting used to the way our family feels. I have to ward off the expectations I used to have about what now defines me as a good mother — a definition that certainly did not involve leaving. I have to stop comparing myself to other moms. I I put my hand on my heart most days to offer myself a little compassion.

The days leading up to their arrival my mood elevates exponentially.  My oldest couldn’t come this time but my middle arrived on Passover. It’s his third day here on a seven-day visit. We sit on the couch most of our first day together watching stand-up comedy, something that has become a kind of ritual for us. Inside my mind I hear my mother’s refrain, it’s the quality, not the quantity that matters. She worked full time when I was growing up and when I would lament to her about not being there when I got home from school she would offer me that line with a hug. Now, it is one of my mantras.

I absorb my son’s visit into my bones. The weight of his legs resting on my lap. He is now the entire length of my sofa. The sound of his phone chats drifting into the living room. His size 12 high tops by the door and the extra plates in the sink to be cleaned. My mothering — distilled down to the absolute essence, redefined, transplanted but no less of a calling.

I am no longer breathy or belabored by the physical presence of young children but now find solace and beauty in remembering even a sliver of what that life used to be.

Feedback

When I first moved to Chicago a friend asked me to give him feedback on his yoga class. I considered him asking a compliment. I was new to the community and was still realizing that runners stretch in Connecticut was a low lunge in Chicago. I took my friend’s class and was happy to oblige his request. Though, from the get go I realized his teaching was different from anything I had practiced before. In fact, that was true of many of the classes I sampled when I moved here. I was learning a new dialect.

For years I was schooled in a particular way of doing yoga. I was convinced that my practice was the only way, the best way, the absolute holy grail. Had my friend asked me a few years ago to give him feedback on his class I might have leaned his approach up against my model to point out ways it was not measuring up to what I believed was the best technique for teaching the best yoga class.

As I am writing this I am squirming. I was passionate and confident about my content and that was all true for me at that time. It is only in these past years where I find have no idea or strong opinion about what makes a great yoga class truly great other than the willingness a teacher has to know herself and stand in that to the utmost. Something that must steer clear of public opinion.

I took my friend out for coffee. He looked at me for guidance and I thought about his class. He wanted me to tell him something concrete about his instructions or his sequence or what he could possibly do better. But I couldn’t. I no longer considered myself an authority. I kept saying the same thing. “Are you teaching what lights you up? Are you able to share that from that place?”

I thought about how much my opinions had changed over the years. I thought about the recent workshops I taught. How vulnerable I felt showing up with my stack of poetry books leading a whole weekend without having the security to rely on any system. “We just want you!” they said and how much I questioned if that would be enough. My experience now has taught me that teaching has nothing to do with making students invest in what I think but more to do with finding the language and holding the space for students to invest more in what they think.
How hard it was for me to deem that worthy enough for a weekend workshop but then again. . .

A week ago I received feedback from students who were subscribers to a certain new phenomenon called ClassPass. Despite the perfunctory advice to take the feedback “with a grain of salt,” something no human can ever really do, I took a breath and read the twenty public opinions about my class. (I will preempt this to say that many were lovely but of course my fixation rest solely on the few reviews that stung).
Tracy overcomplicates things. Fair, enough.
Teacher talks through the entire class, I mean the ENTIRE class. This one had a sad face next to it. One star.

By the time I finished reading the reviews I worked out some ego stuff, and picked myself up by the collar. Sharon Salzburg has famously said. “We are not meditating to become better meditators. We are meditating to become better people.” Parker Palmer reminds me that what we teach is not as important as who we are when we teach. Presently, as I drift further away from any brand or prescribed system of yoga or movement preference I am left to do what perhaps any practice has intended all this time – to trust myself more than anything else and go with that.

Dream of being invisible

     I am writing this from a cafe where I have spent the last few days working on an overview for a book I just wrote. Every time I hear myself say that I wrote a book, I feel like someone is going to come out from behind a dark corner and call me out. I think who the hell possessed my body for the past four years and willed me to sit down and complete something I never imagined I would do. Forget about what was even going on around me at the time. “The book wrote itself”  is what I have heard authors say about how some of their most personal projects got written. I totally get what that means now. 

     I wonder now how many of us are sitting down in coffee shops trying to squeeze their life work into a one-page overview making sure it includes the perfect “hook.” The overview is for a proposal they tell me I need to do if I want my book to be seen by anybody outside of my circle of friends and family. I thought I could avoid it. Or that somehow I would be immune which is probably a naivete still left over from a life credo I used to carry with me where I fully believed in my bones, “everything will work out” no matter how much shit was hitting the fan. It was a mindset I inherited from my mother and my grandmother who for them, optimism was an orthopraxy. Or maybe it was just a way of disguising rampant denial.

     The day I knew I finished the book which I imagine is not unlike what a jockey must feel like as he gallops across the finish line, there was a part of me that thought that the book would find itself magically lifted from the confines of my Macbook Air and sent through the ethers to the powers that be who would ring my doorbell and grant me access to the world of professional writers where I would be carried away from my current career (something for a period of time I might have even referred to as being saved) and dropped into my new identity with artists whom I idolize from afar.

     Of course, no such thing has happened yet. Even though I waited like a child waiting for the tooth fairy to appear.

    Not that I am calling myself a writer. I have been told by professional writers whom I adore that it is important to “give yourself permission” to say you are a writer. Life coaches speak to this kind of thing too. They call it manifesting. The first or even second time I decided to do this I was sitting next to someone on the plane and when we struck up conversation and she asked me what I did, I hesitated enough with my response to having definitely left her skeptical – I swallowed back “yoga teacher” and said with a directness that surprised me, “I am a writer.” Inside parts of me perked up and shouted from somewhere north of my gut, who said that? Aside from it feeling like I was undercover and at any moment I would be caught with a microphone taped in my bra, I was embarrassingly unprepared for her to follow up question. “What do you write? Anything I would have heard of?” By the time I got through explaining how I spent the past years writing a memoir that hasn’t been published, nor have I written anything that I ever got paid for, I decided that I would have to use that line sparingly.

     The fact is that writing a book was unexpected. I never set out to pursue writing as a vocation just like I never set out overtly to arrive at teaching yoga. The yoga pulled me along like a rip tide and carried me into an identity I loved. It brought me to places and community and conversation and I was happy to turn into an actual job. It was part luck. Part timing. And part not thinking about it all too much. At the time I arrived at saying I was a yoga teacher, there was no Instagram or platforms or strategic ways of branding my body, my viewpoints, my systems of choice. It was just me teaching and happy when students selected to come to hear what I had to say and they made me better at thinking more critically about what that responsibility is.

     Lately, amidst what I can only describe as a long-term transition, a softer way of saying I might be enduring a midlife crisis or that I am right now relating more closely than I want to be to that feeling Jack Nickelson’s character had in the therapist’s office when he looked around at the other people in the waiting room and quipped, “Maybe this Is this as good as it gets?”

     For me to ward off that momentary sigh, I recall a recent teaching. The teacher explained during a meditation that this journey involved three stages. In “this journey” she was referring to yoga, which I have come to see as just another way of saying this life, or this life where your eyes are finally opened. She told us the first stage was to listen to your heart. “Be unwavering,” she said. I was happy I was at a place where I no longer rolled my eyes at that bit of wisdom. Now when I hear the instruction “listen to my heart” I picture diving down within myself, shutting out the noise of the world, and cuddling up with my heart itself – which is there to hold me and tell me what it has been waiting patiently to say.

     “The second stage is to follow your heart no matter what the outcome.” My eyes were still closed but his one made me lift my head and look up at my heart with mild panic. No matter the outcome? Ya mean, I listen to you and I might not get what I want, but do it anyway? Reflexively, that made me want to cling onto my heart and squeeze out a better, safer more comfortable option. The option that said I will listen if my heart promises me I will get a book deal with a big publishing house.

     “The third,” the teacher said with her hands in prayer. “Make it all an offering.”

     Follow your heart. Regardless of the outcome. Make it all an offering. Carolyn Myss once advised, “Don’t dream of being famous,” she said, “Dream of being invisible.” Make it all an offering.

     “It” I have come to learn is the quieter invisible work. The work that incrementally brings me closer to why I am here. This has nothing to do with likes and comments on Facebook or numbers in a yoga room or book hooks or publishing deals. This work gets done in the quiet corners of cafes or yoga rooms or classrooms or playgrounds or in kitchens and living rooms churches, temples, woodsheds. The book that writes itself. The hat that gets knit. The class that gets taught. The invisible work is not caught on film nor does it go viral. This is the trembling, often barely audible work that lives within – it’s a more secret life that is burgeoning, and finding its moment of revelation – it’s the one that lights the way for me to write anything at all.

Money, yoga and hair color.

        Another lifetime ago, I used to get my hair colored and cut at a coveted salon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The place itself was on the top floor of a trendy boutique department store which meant that getting my hair done also coincided with me doing some emotionally necessary shopping.

         My stylist looked like a cuter version of Alec Baldwin and was gay which did not stop me from having a massive crush on him. “It’s never going to happen,” my best friend told me once when I squealed and told her I was meeting him at the Four Seasons lobby for a drink. We were past the client/stylist relationship. We were family friends. My parents went out with him socially. I think they met for dinner when they were all in Miami one winter.

        I sat in his chair which might as well have been a therapist’s couch and we bared our souls over our respective relationships, pet care, our favorite art films, and shopping. That chair, similarly to my yoga mat, had seen me through the best of times and the absolute worst. My stylist knew every squeamish detail of my suburban life and he primped and balayage and we stared at each other in the mirror and sighed. He was a recovering alcoholic and referenced his meetings often. When he did he put his hand on his heart and said, “Honey, we could all use a little meeting in our lives.” I alternated between looking at him and my own reflection. Then he said something which I never forgot. I can’t remember what phase of my life I was in at that point. I was getting my hair done so it must have been a time when I was still in denial about money and matching my lifestyle to affordability. I would guess I was halfway out of my first marriage and living out some post-adolescent splurge which involved other men and lots of yoga. Or it might have been when I was already out of my first marriage and well into owning my own business, (which I would leave behind years later) owning my own home (which I would short sale years later) and having a lot of fun teaching and practicing intricate yoga poses which was still happening to the point of obsession.

        “The last relationship in recovery that you reconcile,” he told me as he brushed the cold purplish goop on my head, “is your relationship with money.”

        I myself was not in recovery but I had this sense when he said that at some point this reconciliation he spoke about would have to happen for me. That at some point money would want me to get to know it’s not so fun side. It wasn’t then. I was still too comfortable to make massive change. I was still justifying ripping tags off purchases and hiding them in my closet. I was ok with letting other people take care of the numbers.

        It’s only today as I sit midday in my apartment in a city that I still consider unnervingly new that I understand the weight of what he meant. If I had spent less time in my stylist chair and more time taking care of my life in other ways, then I would not be sitting here thinking about how I allowed myself to squander what I had earned. I was born with a famous knack for choosing partners and husbands and parents who took great care of me and I spent a lot of time not involving myself in the fiscal realm of my life. I was not the girl you handed the check to figure out the tax. I was not the one who kept receipts. I was not the one who could tell you what the milk costs or what the price of gas was in my town. I was the creative. Whimsical. Good at other things. For a girl who prided herself most of her adult life on waking up and paying attention I am facing what I think is probably my darkest hour. Not dark bad, but dark as in never having had to shine light in that direction until now with no seat of the teacher to hide behind and no rich husband to pay the credit card bills. I have to look at what I stuffed deep into the corners of my life,  unattending, and at least start to do some folding.  I had opportunities. Lord, knows I have. But, the light was always so much nicer over there.

     I hear you life coaches: Money is energy. Purpose and Paycheck. Know your Worth. Know your Why (and by the way, thank you for calling me gorgeous). Turning over the proverbial new leaf involved my most recent decision (and one that I am still convincing myself was a good idea) -signing on to become an affiliate marketer for a company I respect in the hopes that this would be my chance to turn this ship around and start keeping track and building networks and writing lists and doing what business minded people do in their sleep. This for me feels like I am wearing someone else’s outfit that I would never wear. (My mom is my biggest fan though she still isn’t a customer). It’s like mindset deadlifting. My mental muscles don’t seem to want to move this way. I listen to power points and motivational speak from women in red blouses who tell me in a few months they are financially free and the boss of their own lives. I feel like I am looking into a storefront window but I cannot figure out how I am supposed to get in. I also think that I have no idea how to make a power point presentation.

     I have adopted a new mantra “I will figure it out.” Which when I do, when I manage to sit there and not ask my husband to help and refrain from calling my old graphic designer who just had a baby who was the queen of figuring shit out (and is quietly my hero right now); and I finagle around with my own files and avoid shoe shopping and start planning over dreaming, I have a mini celebration. Yay, me. The coaches online tell me I only have to believe.

     I have recently succumbed to box coloring my hair which I see as both a contribution to my family’s lifetsyle budget and as a weird kind of DIY project. (I can tell you the “cherry pie” red is not going to happen if you are dark brunette.) I have accepted a part time managerial job at a yoga studio. (Past students, you can close your mouths now). “Don’t you think it’s ironic?” My husband asked when I told him about my job responsibilities, “that you never learned to take care of your own businesses but now you will with someone else’s?”

    Call it karma. Call it irony. I just see it as it being about time.

Just don’t kill us

     I am writing this from my bedroom in Chicago. It’s a little after ten in the morning and there is nobody home other than the two dogs and the cat curled up inches from where I am sitting. The laundry is folded. The dishes are put away. The kids are out of the house. The only sounds are the cars rushing by outside my window. I hesitate to admit that I have yet to get dressed. For the first time in forever, I have time to slow down. You would think this would be a welcome indulgence.

     I spent years never having enough time. I raced from my kids to my work to my mat to my home without giving much thought about slowing down. I talked about it a lot. My practice certainly gave me a small taste of stretching time long enough to feel my feet on the ground, only to offer a quick namaste and off to the races again. I know I am not alone. Recently, a friend after he was told to take it easy because of an injury he sustained responded with, “I am not good at resting.” Once I was teaching a class and after asking for any requests a student piped in, “Just don’t kill us.”

     Sigh. When did our practices become another part of our day where we beat ourselves up for not working harder? Doing more? Why do we expect that to produce the greater result?

     Not too long ago I would have killed for time off like I have now. It took a while for my nerves to stop twitching and cowering from the glare of doing nothing. I remember my first silent meditation retreat. I spent the first three days obsessively checking the message board at the front entrance of the retreat center. It made me feel like I was doing something even when my only job was to do nothing, to go nowhere.

     I am no stranger to pushing through pain or discomfort. I question, have I spent all these years using my practice as crisis management? A place to replicate “getting through the tough stuff?” Admittedly this worked for a while. I was good at crisis. I was good at seeing how our struggle is our opportunity.

     But what of being soft? Of lowering the pressure gauge? When did it get more uncomfortable for us not to do so much? How is that we put our hands in front of our hearts and wish for space only to treat our practices like another task to check off of our to-do list? What is all this busy-ness we call living?

     I get up and walk into the silence of my kitchen. The sun changed position in the sky and its rays stream through the window onto the floor. The dogs are smart and impressively fold their bodies in a perfect coil and lay down in what is now the warmest spot in the house. There are less cars passing by and as I stand there feeling strangely out of synch with the world racing around me, it does not go unnoticed that this stillness, this aloneness is probably the most nourishing time of my life.

Six years ago

Six years ago this weekend I sent my son to a wilderness program. I was reminded of the significance of the day when I saw an article in the NY times about a new theater project written by a mother who also sent her son to wilderness around the same time I did. Wow, I thought, her too.

There were a few years this exact date had come and gone without me noticing much. That was the gift of time, always ushering us along. But this year I was in my kitchen in Chicago and looked around as if taking inventory of the exact place I was standing and it was remarkable that none of my life resembled where I was six years ago.I texted my son who is now in college to remind him. He texted back, “What do you think of that?”

It was such a good question.

I suppose my pull to mention the significance of the day was innocent and even celebratory. It didn’t trigger me the way I knew it did my husband who saw value in only forgetting about it. I wondered if my son preferred I not ever bring it up again which is something I have been contemplating since for the last three and a half years I have been writing about it and reliving six years ago.

Last week I saw a film about a man who after suffering a tragedy was compelled to take apart anything in his life that didn’t work. The refrigerator had a constant leak so he took apart the appliance piece by piece until he got to the source. The door creaked too loudly. He unscrewed every hinge and laid them out on the floor until he resolved the origin of the noise. And so on and on. As a yoga teacher I used to scrupulously break down a pose bone by bone, to get at some nagging insight or break through some portal of wisdom about the universe. Except I might not have known that I was intentionally trying to “get” at anything. And now, as I find, when I write I am pulled to disassemble pieces of memory and lay them all out on the page as if I am trying to put the pieces back to some whole.

Some say forgetting is a blessing. Mother’s forget the pain of childbirth so they will be able to choose it again. My husband is happier forgetting the pain of the past. But for me, it is the pains of my past that when held up against the light of today where they no longer hurt anymore.

A quality of listening

I am writing this on my way home from visiting my son in college. It was a last minute trip I made after he called me sounding more stressed than he had been in a long time. He never said, come mom or I need you mom. I imagine at nearly twenty, he might have trouble admitting that. I practiced my best listening skills on the phone with him.  I was silent. I was validating. I said things like, “I am sorry you are having such a tough week, honey.” I kept my impulse at bay to want to fix things for him. I knew that impulse well.

As a parent of a child who is now an adult, it’s a delicate balance knowing when to dole out the tough love and expect him to do things on his own with recognizing that despite his size and stage in life, there will always be moments when he needs me there. I mean, at nearly 46, I still turn to my mom sometimes.

In my attempt to uphold my efforts to cast myself out of the category of helicopter-parenting; I muted hearing what was coming through my son’s mood loud and clear. “You have to go to him,” my husband finally said. Yes, of course.  He needed more than a pep talk over the phone. I needed to be able to distinguish that reality from my theories about what healthy parenting assumes itself to be.

It reminds me of something I read about months ago regarding the work of an acoustic biologist, a woman who spent her life listening to the way elephants communicate with each other amidst great distances. She sat and observed and leaned in to catch hold of a frequency that exists outside of the realm of the human ear. She described it as  a new level of hearing life that involved the whole body.

I spent two days with my son helping him slow down and sift through the relatively expected challenges of his college life. He was in front of me, but had I only listened to what I expected of him or of myself, I would have missed the delicacy of being right there. I would have limited our communication and diminsihed a whole understanding of the big picture. A frequency that exists outside the realm of the human ear.  As I located the openings within our conversations where my guidance or my comfort was possibly needed or not, a quality of patience and presence emerged and so did the eventual arrival of calm and clarity. “I am so happy you came,” my son told me more than once. “I am glad I listened,” I said.

There is a quality of listening that is our most precious offering. A listening that when it is not intercepted by our own agendas and ideals, or skewed by an unwillingness to bend, it takes us to a whole new space of being and delivers us completely whole and available for each other.

To listen in this way is to hear the world as it is not as we think it should be. To listen to each other is a way into hearing  our own selves, and if we are tuned in that way love will be the sound we recognize.

Make yourself deserve more

            My youngest son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome last year. (Nowadays they call it Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder). Either way, for the past year my husband and I have taken to the books, the internet, doctors, healers, and angels to find the best course of treatment that would serve our son and help him thrive in every possible way. Talk about our children being the gurus.

             I have always been good at trying to find the lessons in my life. From the muckiest muck, I found a way to clear the smudge from my eyes and see that there was something bigger I was being pointed toward within myself. I worked hard at that, not realizing that effort alone had it’s own cost on my system, and in a strange way a kind of delusion that I was in control. With regard to my son, as our children often encourage, it was time for me to learn new ways of communicating, and different ways of spending my time.

             I often look at my move to Chicago as something which held more significance than leaving an old life behind. I got here and had time to look at what in my life needed the most tending. I had the space to contemplate how I can be better with my family, my finances, my time, my health. I had space to listen to where my interests were being pulled. I had time to live the patience I often spoke about.

            This year I have learned more resolve than I ever thought was possible. I could feel that was happening evidenced mostly by how much softer I was responding to certain truths of my life.  A few months ago, I wouldn’t have necesarily admitted that. I was staunch on protecting the power of my victimhood. There was a certain satisfaction in being angry at my life, my husband, the world for me not being where I thought I should be in life. But like all things, that truth shifted for me and I stopped. I was tired of that stance. I was tired of rolling my eyes at every motivational coach speak about what it was like to “not live in your true purpose!”
I was also just tired.

          Meantime, there was my husband on the other side of the kitchen table taking these things from glass bottles. Minerals. Supplements. Super powerful foods. I watched him from my seat at breakfast. He seemed exuberant and lively and sometimes I wanted to strangle him (in a loving way). “Supplements are vital to strengthening your spiritual body,” I have heard him say, and watched him chug ounces of silicia and ocean minerals and nitro oxide and deep purple liquid from clear pouches. I had to admit, he did seem great. Softer. Clear eyed. Loving. Patient. Energized. Happy. “It just helps your healing when you are feeding your body these things it longs for.” 

                He started giving our son these supplements under the guidance of a very special healer. I watched from the side lines and saw that in a weeks time there were behaviors my son demonstrated that had been a struggle his whole life -more eye contact, more social curioisty, more go with the flow. This was enough to make me stop and wonder about my own spiritual body and the layers of connections that were possibly short circuiting due to a lack of replenishment. I thought I replenished. But my fatigue and low level anxiety said otherwise.

               I was never a supplement girl. If I tried in the past, it lasted a week at most. I had yoga and tried to drink more water and eat less sugar. In the wake of my son’s newfound aliveness, and my husband’s undeniable vitality, I have come to make them part of my daily ritual. In fact I have come to love this period in the morning. My coffee sits to the side and I swallow this life food and feel like without any effort at all I am doing the best thing for myself I have done in a long time. And it is so much easier and gentler than some of the yoga classes I sometimes force upon myself.

             With self-care being such a current topic in the field at which I have been a part of for most of my life,  I ask myself how is it that I am applying that level of care? Is it possible that I always thought it couldn’t be that easy? Is it possible I never thought that I could boost the potentcy of what  practices intend to do  simply by strengthening my wiring witin? Could it be that I just needed the right supplementation?

          I have approached some close friends and family about my newfound love of these products which I believe at the heart are pure goodness. Yesterday I received some messages like, “I am so happy for you, but this isn’t for me.”
I got it. I never thought I would be that girl who walked around talking about how a food or a drink changed her life. (I may have talked about how tee shirts could, or poetry). My own skeptism was quickly overided by my body’s messaging.
I slept better. I thought better. I choose better. I am so much better. (Not to mention that I looked better).

        I winced at the my friend’s resistance, a doubting that I recognized. It didn’t matter how much I wanted her to have what I was having. It mattered more that I could hear her as I could hear myself.  I  realize that on this path of healing ourselves, we hear and see and feel what we need to at the exact time we are ready.

 Make it easier on yourself.  It should be. 

 

This is your brain. This is your brain off Facebook (for a week).

       Seven days ago I took myself off Facebook and Instagram. I was sick of myself checking my phone for absolutely no apparent reason a billion times more than anybody needs to check on anything.

       This was after several complaints to my close friend about how bad I felt after I spent time roaming around on my feed. How stuck I felt in my life compared to the innumerable successes and parties and vacations and workouts and yoga poses and adventures that my peripheral social circle of Facebook friends seemed to taut. It’s not that I wasn’t happy for my friends’ new homes or babies or marriages or puppies or haircuts, but there was something about Facebook that dimished my ability to have sympathetic joy. I would log off and would feel more isolated and despairing than was warranted.

      I know I am not alone.

       My close friend has taken herself off social media for this very same reason. She is a stay at home mom of two very young children and finds herself aimlessly roaming her feed (while probably) sitting in a living room strewn with toys and a sink filled with dishes. I asked her once what did she think was underneath the need we have to reach for our phones and check? “Probably escapism” she said.

       It was funny that she said that since during the week of my break, I felt like I was on vacation. Gone was the impulsivity, the low level anxiety, and the subtle malaise that would drift into my belly after a moment of weakness when I would be looking to cause myself trouble like a junkie looking for a fix. Why the urge to look up old friends I don’t speak with anymore? Why the need to scroll through pictures of an old life? “Why would you invite that karma back into your life?” asked my husband who has never had a personal profile page on Facebook.

       My other friend who has a very popular and engaged page equaits her Facebook responsiblity to a kind of stealth mission. “I just move in and out as quickly as possible.”  And still another has told me that she feels bad about herself and her life when she spends more than ten minutes on the thing. And she is a very successful therapist and yoga teacher. It’s like a substance. We know it’s not good for us, but it’s hard to resist whatever weird part of our pyche it is stroking. Sure, there are beautiful things about social media and there are people doing beautiful things and connecting in beautiful ways, absolutely. I am not writing this to round up a global Facebook boycott (nor would I ever delude myself into thinking that I had that kind of influence). There was a time not to long ago, when I didn’t know a thing about how to use Facebook or how or when I would. I had a friend sit with me at my kitchen table and instruct me on the basics. That was maybe five, six years ago.
Somewhere between then and now, my ignorance turned to appreciation turned to probably a low level addiction. It was time for either a Facebook break or a psychotic one.

       In the absence of the time suck of Facebook and Instagam voyerism here’s what I can say:  I feel better being off of it. “You are not missing much,” my ninteen year old son told me. I smiled and thought, true. I was missing a lot a more of life before  thinking that I had to keep up with informing people (what people?) of things that seemed more self-important than important.

       Since imposing these strong boundaries for myself I have had more ideas come to me and more space to cherish that make me go, “ahhhh.”
I have just about finished my first working draft of my memoir.
I have finished three competitive games of Monopoly with my family.
I have cooked three new delicious meals.
I have walked the dogs without putting my head down.
It’s not as if these things would not have happened before my self-declared break.              It’s more about how the life in between these things feels now. Somehow, they have become more precious to me than ever.
Mary Oliver writes, “I know I can walk through the world, along the shore or under the trees, with my mind filled with things of little importance. A condition I can’t really call being alive.”  Pablo Neruda too has written, “If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves…”

       Today would be the end of my Facebook/Instagram fast but, I will do without it for another month. I will be here living my life in Chicago. Going to the grocery store. Signaling left on the highway. Folding laundry. Walking my dogs. Feeding my cat. Exercising. Practicing. (Hopefully) buying new shoes. Thinking up fun new things to teach. Travelling. Writing in my journal. Reading with my newly purchased readers from Whole Foods. You won’t see selfies or fun hashtags about any of these things but that’s ok. I will do what my practice reminds me to do —  Trust that there is always something greater that keeps us connected.

Wait until the boys are here

       Yesterday I dropped my nineteen year old son off at the airport, wrapped my arms around his no-longer-a-boy- body and said goodbye. Tonight I will do the same with my nearly seventeen year old. He will have his head phones on and his back pack on one shoulder and he will be fine. I never thought I would pine for the days when he used to make of himself a human anvil and attach himself to my lower leg and keep me from dropping him off at Temple pre-school.

       Sixteen years later, my son who stands several inches over me with a cute five-o’clock shadow and broad shoulders and feet that look like they belong to a giant, is now perfectly content to give me a gracious hug and a thank you for a great week and make his way toward the plane that will carry him miles away. Now, I am the one who wants to wrap myself around his leg and wail at the top of my lungs “Don’t leave me!”

       Of course, I won’t do that.

       Instead I will stand there and watch him until I can no longer see him and will try and brace myself for that undeniable pang that rises up within me every time I have to say goodbye to my children now. Somehow the pang reads more significant than ever. I find myself more nostalgic when I watch parents stroll their toddlers around the city or wipe their faces during meals when I seem to have more idle time than I may have ever had in my life.

       A week before they arrived here I must have said a hundred times, “Wait until the boys are here! They will love this!” I said that about the days I spent on the lake, or walking downtown in this new city, or eating the best taco of my life. “Wait until the boys are here!” I would say to my husband and my friends and their younger brother who waited eagerly for them to barrel into the house the way they do. I couldn’t wait to share my days with them.

       And when they arrived their man/boy energy filled our home with a largeness that had less to do with their size and more to do with their charisma and place in their lives. They were funny and animated and were the best company even when I still had to remind them to flush the toilet or pick up their wet towels. My house had that boy-smell and there was never enough food and they slept past eleven and they left their dirty socks everywhere and I was giddy and more alive than I had been at the chance to be their every day mom again. Saying goodbye to them now hurts more because I am also saying goodbye to this role more and more in their lives. I think about my own mom, who is turning 75 and in the twenty plus years she has lived without all of her children under her roof, I wonder if she still gets those same pangs when my brothers and I put on our shoes and pick up our things and walk to her front door. Does it still ache when we hug goodbye and get on with our respective lives, no longer living with parents nor needing them in the ways we used to?

       My sons’ step-mom said something to me years ago. She said, “We raise our children to leave us.” At the time, my children were still young and demanding in the ways young children can be and I remember smiling and saying, “I can’t wait!”  While I am writing this, my son is in his room on the phone. I can hear his deep voice from where I sit. I look at the clock. In two hours I will be dropping him off and saying the goodbye I have been dreading for days. I can already feel the pang. I try to grab onto the feeling of him being in the next room and ward off the sinking feeling I know will possess me when I return home to a much quieter (albeit cleaner) house later tonight. Perhaps to ease this ache which seems to announce itself every time my boys walk in and out of my daily life, I can say with a kind of disbelief, I did that. I played a big part in making it possible for my son to turn around and with an easy going smile on his face say, “See you soon, mom. I love you.”