EMOTIONS

I have a long list of emotion words in my notebook. It’s divided into two parts: one positive, and one negative. The negative feelings are usually the ones that give me the most trouble. One of my goals in this Third Act of life is to connect more fully to what I’m feeling~ and to identify, feel, and express whatever it is. I’ve shied away from doing that all my life~ often to avoid conflict, but probably more often to look good. Also, feelings can be very scary. However, I’m tired of living under a rock and losing out on lots of the really Good Stuff. So, everyday I pick 3 emotions ~ just go through the list and pick 3 that jump out at me. Then I write about how they feel, and what I do to respond to each one. Here are the lists:

Today was a rough day. I felt annoyed and angry and hung up on a friend feeling furious. I realized she caught me at a bad time, when I was already feeling unsupported and overwhelmed. As I reflected on the behavior, I know that’s not how I want to respond.

Yesterday, I felt encouraged, understood, and appreciated by 3 different friends. And admired and supported by the one I hung up on today. Whew. Time to take a break and remember that I can survive emotional upheaval. And get better at navigating it 🙂

That’s it for today. I’m taking a much needed break. But in closing, I’d like to direct you to a wonderful speech written by one of my students at Kookmin University in Korea some years ago. It’s quite moving, and you will be inspired!

LIFE CHANGES, Part 2

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Susie and her wonderful daughter, Karina

I’m crying at the moment – listening to moving music, and letting the tears fall. I realize that tears are often an important part of life changes. They don’t need to be dried or hid from view, as there is nothing to fix. Allowing them to flow is part of the process. I’m here again after all this time, with another story about another change.

My sister Susie died 16 days ago. She was 68 – one day less than a year older than me. That makes us both Aries, although I never felt her fire the way I feel my own. She was so much more placid and serene in her approach to life, but she could be stubborn, and I think that’s what I loved most about her.

What I’ve been missing most since Saturday, December 15th, 2018, is the opportunity to call her like I always do. I’m walking down to the seaside, and I’m carrying my phone. It’s such a beautiful day – let me call Susie! I’m driving up to MA to visit Em, and I’ve got 2 hours – good time to talk to Susie! I’m sitting on my couch wondering why I feel so lost – I can call Susie! I know she’ll be there, I don’t need to ask permission to call, and she’ll be glad to hear my voice, and happy to listen to whatever I want to say. There aren’t too many people I feel confident to say that about. And I can’t call her now.  The shock makes me realize that she’s really gone.

I pulled out my phone remembering suddenly that I had saved some of her voicemails. And there she was, laughing and blowing me kisses and calling me ‘Sweetheart!’ and telling me, ‘I love you so much!’ When I listen to it again, she’s alive and strong and I feel so relieved. That voice. Preserved in time. Like a living presence.

Susie, I didn’t feel any sorrow when Karina called to tell me. Just relief. Good timing, Sue. You didn’t waste any time lying around being an uncommunicative burden. It was hard to see you unable to talk that last time on Facetime. It was even harder to know what to say. I felt so awkward. I saw your face, and I knew you knew there was no turning back. You were hanging your head, and I could only imagine what you were thinking.  I felt foolish chatting about this and that, as if we all didn’t know death was just around the corner. We just didn’t realize how close. I wonder if you did?

Suddenly, aware that you’re gone.

Grieving takes different forms for different people, and is a process just like everything else. When I realized I couldn’t talk to you anymore, I felt a sort of panic replace the rationalizations I had been thinking and telling everyone about your death – that it was the best thing blah blah. Suddenly I felt something, somewhere in the heart region. LOSS. Looking at this picture taken only a few days before your last breath, I suddenly saw you looking back at me, and realized you were smiling on the one side of your face that still could. My big sister was still giving her strength and kindness to me. This is my favorite picture now, and looking at it makes me happy, although I’m sad. I’m crying tears of joy, and tears of sadness. Isn’t that just like life. I miss and love you, my sister, Susie! What a gift to have had you in my life. And to still be able to hold you in my heart. I’m sorry you had to go so soon.

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Smiling for the camera

“When Things Fall Apart~ Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron

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My latest guidebook, and the one I turn to for ‘heart help’ in this Time of Trouble, is a book given to me recently by a friend of my mother’s. It fell into my hands at exactly the moment I needed it, as usually happens to me with books. The day before, Mom and I had watched Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday program and Pema Chodron was her guest. It was the first time I had ever heard of her. Mom had never seen or heard her speak. We were both enthralled.

The next day, Sheryle brought the book over for me to read, and I was thrilled. The day after, when I was being turned down for the CPE internship, Miquel Santamaria gave me a slip of paper. “You may want to read this,” he said~ “When Things Fall Apart.” It was the third time in as many days~ I knew it was a book I was supposed to read.

I carry it around with me, and open it up whenever I find myself in the space to receive. I’m reading Chapter 8 today, about the Eight Worldly Dharmas, which are four pairs of opposites: pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame. Basically, when we are caught up in any of the eight worldly dharmas, we suffer. In each of the pairs, there is one we like and one we seek to avoid. The fact however is that none of them is permanent, and all of them fluctuate back and forth continually, out of our control completely. As Pema says, “We have all kinds of mood swings and emotional reactions. They just come and go endlessly.” She suggests that when we find ourselves hooked by any of the worldly dharmas, we can let ourselves “feel the energy, do our best to let the thoughts dissolve, and give ourselves a break. Right there in the middle of the tempest, we can drop it and relax.”

Today, I was unable to get up and go about my day as usual. I woke up wondering who I am and what I am doing in my life. I was feeling alone and scared, and I couldn’t seem to move so I just lay there in bed and tried to focus on my breath, saying, “I’m alive. Thank you,” an affirmation I took from HJN. I use it whenever I need to relax, and especially when I feel a great deal of fear~ in the dentist chair, for example, or in a scary relationship. It has never failed to be a comfort. I admitted to myself that although I was in emotional pain, it wasn’t excruciating, and I could bear it without the help of an anxiety pill. That gave me a measure of satisfaction, as I want to learn to experience my pain rather than medicating it away or eating it into oblivion. I want to become less terrified and more familiar with my loneliness and fear, and eventually be able to embrace them as any other part of my life.

I’m at Patty’s house. She’s my other spiritual guide, in the flesh. She arrived last night unexpectedly. Neither of us was expecting the other to be here. I came out into the living room, hesitant and fearful after hearing a soft swishing noise. Was there someone in the house? The sound was coming from her room. I called out, “Patty???” and was deeply relieved to see her bright cheerful smile when the door opened.

I couldn’t get to sleep, and came back out to find her still awake and willing to listen. She sat on her desk chair and gave me the big stuffed armchair, with a blanket between me and the cool leather, and I began to tell her the story of what’s been happening since I arrived here in September. Part One was about Mom and the family drama. I asked her if she had time for part 2 the next day, and she did. We went out for breakfast to Papa’s New York Diner, and I told her that I needed guidance about what my next step is. I feel like I’m in some kind of sticky syrup and can’t get myself out. These are some of her words of advice:

“Listen. God knows. There will be a sign. You won’t have to worry. You need to pray. And you don’t have to pray perfectly either! God is so merciful~ you only have to turn a tiny bit in His/Her direction to get an answer. Divine Guidance is there for the asking. Pay attention. Rewrite the Headline. Ask, Who’s in Control here? Don’t ask for tomorrow. Think only about NOW. What is this moment intended for? Fear paralyzes right action. Be still. ‘God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil.’” That last was a quote from Mary Baker Eddy. Patty is an avid Christian Scientist.

I dropped her off at the bank and came home to her house still feeling lost and not sure what to do with the time available to me. All I have is TIME, and so often it feels like we’re killing each other. I could call Laura. I could go sit in the sun. I could go eat something. All the usual. I was still trying to run away, to avoid the pain I was trying not to feel. Wait, I told myself. I lay across the bed and looked at the ceiling. Be still. Listen. That’s harder to do than I thought. It’s so much easier to just make myself busy. Old habits die hard. I told myself it was OK not to have anything to do but be with myself. Hand on heart, I let myself just be.

The day is almost over now. I am sitting on Patty’s couch, and she’s in her office eating her dinner and working on her computer. It’s 7:57 pm. I spent some time swimming and talking to Edna in the pool, a little time in the sun, and a little time with Judy hearing about the latest updates. I noticed I wasn’t as engaged or interested as usual. The emotional element has definitely taken a back seat to the concerns of the moment NOW. I took care of some shopping for both Judy and for myself, and came back here to Pat’s, walking down to the water’s edge and sitting on one of the benches looking out over the bay while I listened to some of my recent recordings. Tired, I came back ‘home’ and started to write.

I’ve been struggling and suffering terribly lately. I don’t like pain. Who does? And I’ve been caught up in lots of it~ feelings of loss, criticism, blame, anger, and fear. I’ve felt attacked and insulted by a member of the family, who doesn’t see what a good job I’ve been doing taking care of my mother for the past 9 weeks. I’ve been accused and raked over the coals for next to nothing. My emotional reaction has been to run and hide, and try my best to avoid contact in any way possible~ like a man resisting entering the lion’s den knowing the sharp claws that await~ but that has only made things worse. I’ve been clinging to a concept of myself that has been continually called into question, and I’ve been responding with anger and a desire for revenge (“Let them all just go to Hell!”) But Patty said all the pain has been my own doing. You mean there’s no one to blame but myself??

We all respond with habitual patterns to praise or blame, pleasure or pain. We puff up with pride when someone notices and comments on our contribution, congratulating ourselves for all the goodness we embody. We withdraw when an aggressor steps up and screams into our face, or lash out with our tongue when we can find the strength. If we perceive that something has been taken away from us unfairly, we often resort to a tit for tat like children fighting over a toy. I can see that I’ve been childish in my responses to the eight worldly dharmas. Rather than try to eradicate these feelings of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace, Pema advises us to “get to know them, and see how they hook us…Then the eight worldly dharmas become the means for growing wiser as well as kinder and more content.”

I wanted to call my sister today and ask her if there was anything I could do to help~ but it seemed so scary, and the coin said no. I still toss it sometimes. Yesterday I wrote her a birthday card but was scared to deliver it. My habitual response to being attacked is to crawl away and hide, hoping to be unnoticed and left alone. But it doesn’t feel any better over in that dark corner. It’s lonely.

Today I tried and was moderately successful at letting go, dropping the drama, and relaxing. As Pema writes, “We want to know our pain so we can stop endlessly running. We want to know our pleasure so we can stop endlessly grasping….We want to know about loss so we might understand other people when their lives are falling apart. We want to know about gain so we might understand other people when they are delighted or when they get arrogant and puffed up and carried away…When we become more insightful and compassionate about how we ourselves get hooked, we spontaneously feel more tenderness for the human race… If we don’t look into hope and fear, seeing a thought arise, seeing the chain reaction that follows~ if we don’t train in sitting with that energy without getting snared by the drama, then we’re always going to be afraid.”

I was able to look at myself a bit more clearly today, and stay with the difficult feelings a little longer. I didn’t do my usual and give into my panic, running blindly into the comfort zone of eating, talking, or jumping into the car and going somewhere, anywhere, just to avoid the pain of my discontent. I stayed on my bed and let myself experience it, breathing through it with my hands over my heart, simply saying, “It’s OK, Robin.”

Pema writes that as our practice evolves, we “start understanding that, just like us, other people also keep getting hooked by hope and fear…Our motivation for practicing begins to change, and we desire to become tamed and reasonable for the sake of other people.”

I love those words ‘tamed’ and ‘reasonable.’ I want to be around people who have become masters of themselves. Tonight I feel better, and more connected to my inner strength. I know Patty would say it’s not my strength but God’s. I feel less shaky and desperate, and more whole and like myself.

As I listen to Patty’s stories of listening to the guidance of divine law, not limiting ourselves to our human expectations, and then discovering God’s ‘over-the-top’ abundance, I don’t feel as out of touch with that kind of experience as I did this morning. I have been there, too, and I know I can get there again if I let go of what I think should be happening here, and let God show me what She has in mind. She has an intention for me this very moment, right NOW. I have to pay attention and listen. It is a big work, and no one promises that it’ll be a bed of roses, but as Patty said when I left, “It’s worth the effort.”

LIFE CHANGES, Part 1

I’d like to write about what’s going on here. It’s a long story,
which begins with a change of address from Belgium to Florida.
To make things easy, I’ll start with something very clear and simple, Box 21.

Life Change, PART 1: Box 21

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The view from BOX 21 is unbelievably perfect. You find yourself looking directly down over the orchestra, able also to look out at the audience without turning your neck in the slightest. Seats #1 and #2 are the best, of course. Once you’ve tried them, they are the only seats at the Mahaffey Theatre that you’ll ever want to sit in again. I’m absolutely sure of that. And you’ll definitely feel like royalty when your usher guides you along the back corridor that leads directly to your seats. It’s perfect for someone with a walker or a wheelchair because there are no rows or crowds to negotiate. In our case, there was no one else in the box with us when the lights went down and the choral strength of O Fortuna jolted us to attention.

My mother was enamored immediately by the conductor. Unfortunately, we were told that taking pictures was forbidden. We could easily watch his face as he was conducting and were fascinated by the range of expressions there~ friendly, stern, euphoric, urgent, placid~ we were glued to it as he cajoled, pushed, and commanded musicians and singers through the fantastic and raging energy of Carmina Burana. He knew every gut-wrenching lyric. We watched mesmerized as he mouthed them, eyebrows raised, head thrown back, and wand flourished mid-air, pointed at this section or that. Sometimes I was certain that he had glanced our way, stealing a quick peek up at us. It made me feel so close, and I worried that we might throw him off if our eyes actually met. Ha ha. What illusions we entertain in Box 21! We couldn’t understand how the orchestra followed his cryptic gestures, as the downbeat seemed only to be a visual cue, followed immediately by the inexplicably timed unleashing of sound. It was like a secret code of hand signals that no one but the performers could read. Electrified by pounding drums and lamenting voices, we gripped each other’s hands in the darkness, and listened raptly.

BOX 21, seats 1 & 2 is an allegory for the new life mom and I are carving out for ourselves. Yes, she has been declining, but still loves getting all dolled up and going out to a good show. And yes, I have been grieving, but I too still love getting dressed up and going out~ both of us still alive and yearning to be surrounded with the beauty of the living creative world. Yesterday when she heard there was a class nearby, she announced, “Let’s go! I really want to do Tai Chi!” I had to agree. “Me, too, MOM. I’ve wanted to do it for years, but never quite got around to it. Why don’t we both go!”

We missed it today because of a painful stomach upset she got last night, but it’s twice a week, so now it’s on the Friday calendar. We have a pool date with Dana and Judy on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a lunch date with Murph on Wednesdays, and if all works out, Tai Chi on Mondays and Fridays. Monday at 4pm is happy hour at E&E with the Team (me, Mom, Dana and Judy), and Sunday she goes arm and arm with our neighbor Dianna to church. In between are 3 tiny meals a day, and a growing cookbook to document the creations coming out of our kitchen. Weekday evenings at 6pm we have an appointment with Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart. We’re also regular viewers of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, which is one of our spiritual ‘nouritures’ for the week.

With Judy at E & E

Mom (on the right) with Judy at E & E

We like our little glass of red wine at about 4pm, with cheese and crackers and some humus if we have it. It’s usually served out on the back porch where we can watch wispy clouds moving across blue sky, and feel the late afternoon sun on our legs and faces. Calli the cat takes the sunniest spot with the biggest cushion, but we make do, and wouldn’t have it any other way. We both look forward to a quiet evening after the Daily News is over. Mom steals my book sometimes, and I steal hers. Or sometimes we read out loud together, taking turns. One night we sang~ I had Glad’s guitar at the time~ but usually we just sit and read, or talk, winding down along with the sun.

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Callie

I know. This all sounds too idyllic. You’re right if you were thinking so. I’ve only shown one side of life here at my mom’s place in Florida. There are definitely others. But today I have committed to 24 hours of no complaining, so I have to be careful. If truth be told, there really isn’t much to complain about, but I can always find something, and I usually do. The reality is that stress builds up when I don’t ask for help, explain my needs, or take care of myself. When I allow negative thoughts to run rampant through my mind I feel bad, and unfortunately I’m all too used to doing that. As a caregiver, I have to remember that one of the biggest challenges is to make sure I give myself the same valuable care and attention that I’m giving to my mother. It’s like giving yourself the oxygen mask before you try to put one on your child. Everyone knows that it would be foolish to try to do it the other way around, but we often do it anyway. Burnout is a dangerous reality in the world of caregiving, and I have been teetering on the edge of it ever since I got here, 7 1/2 weeks ago. Self-care! It’s become a mantra. That brings me round to the big question: What are my needs, and how can I satisfy them? And what are Mom’s?

Every day we take a step closer to answering those questions for ourselves. One thing I know for sure, there’s more to life than eating, sleeping, and not falling☺ Mom has fallen 5 times since I got here, so prevention has become a daily, moment by moment concern. She’s not really the one afraid of falling~ that’s the caregiver’s big burden, and my number one stressor. It’s easy to get into a red-alert mentality 24/7. After recovering from the jolt of a recent fall, Mom felt good enough to go out with Judy to one of their usual haunts, E & E Steak House, where they like to sit at an outdoor table and sip margaritas. I noticed when she came home that she was fresh and excited and EXPANSIVE. She practically sailed through the door, feet barely touching the ground. The transformation was shocking. I had been overly protective, motivated by fear, and her spirit had started to wither. I felt guilt mixed with happiness when I saw how happy she was. Likewise, when Dana came over and dressed her up in all kinds of form-fitting spandex, and coached her through some deep breathing knee bends, I was surprised how young mom looked, and how girlishly she admired herself in the mirror. Going to see a performance by the Florida Orchestra was the same. She was relaxed, enthusiastic, and fresh, and I had to take another look. Where did the aging parent go?
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I know we all need to be spiritually and emotionally energized by doing the things we love to do, and being in the places we feel most alive in. And it’s not enough just to preserve life. Living life to the fullest is our challenge now, and every day we take a baby step toward more joy, more satisfaction, and more life. Knowing the time is limited helps.

For me, the pool is an important part of my Self-Care. I never was much of a swimmer in my life, but I’ve discovered since coming here to live with Mom that I love how I feel when I’m in the water. Especially when it’s 87 degrees (the water) and only a 3 minute walk from our front door. I like that I can be alone AND public at the same time. Little by little I’m meeting the regulars, and a few of us know each other by name and it feels good to wave a welcome. I also learn things here and there from random conversations. Last week I found out that the pool gets cleaned 3 times a week. The day before I had found out that living here in this complex entitles us to a free membership at the spa nearby. Being friendly pays off.

Moving my body in ways I never do when I’m on dry land also pays off. I know I’m releasing stress with each stretch of my hand, and I feel as close to being a dancer as I ever have~ gliding through shimmering liquid turquoise, each stroke a work of art. Sometimes I imagine Michael Phelps, and pretend I’m a former Olympic swimmer. People keep telling me what a beautiful stroke I have, and if it looks anything like it feels, it certainly must be.

I’ve been gathering a pool wardrobe since arriving here. The thrift stores are part of my self-care because I feel so good when I find something I love and only have to pay a few dollars for. I have 5 bathing suits now, and they’re all pretty. Even though I’m overweight, I don’t feel like it when I’m walking across the patio or stepping out of the pool like I always did in the past. I feel good about my body, and unconcerned about what anyone else might think. Maybe it’s because most people here are older and more out of shape than I am, but I think it’s also because I’ve finally grown out of all the body-shaming that most of us go through as young women. I did it to myself, but no more!

What else nourishes me ~ physically, spiritually, emotionally, or mentally?

1. Meeting and talking with people~ the owner of Papa’s Diner, for example, and advertising his new restaurant to my neighbors here.
2. Getting advice from Mom’s friends~ who are healthy and still active, and who know and love her.
3. Spending time at the pool~ I know about 8 people by name there now, and I often learn something new about life here when I get into conversation with one of them.
4. The good books that keep coming to me.*
5. Taking pictures of everything beautiful and inspiring. Documenting my cooking.
6. Getting involved in something bigger than myself~ (like IWK, or KMU). I just signed up for a volunteer training program at the Suncoast Hospice Center the first week in December. Looking forward to meeting someone I can make friends with, like Lina, or Linda, or Lia.
7. Having a good talk with Mom over breakfast, or Dana at her pool. Getting an email from Maja, and writing to Anna, or getting a call from Emilie.
8. Singing~ it’s always been a big part of my self-expression, but recently I don’t sing often~ maybe I should find a guitar and take it to an open mic.
9. Mailing a gift package to BonPapa, Jean and Delphine (and buying the things to send them that I know will bring them all joy). I am waiting to hear from them when it arrives.
10. Buying nice things for Mom (the bib, the tickets to the show)
11. Being creative in the kitchen, and mom’s continued appreciation. She thinks I’m a gourmet cook, and I’m beginning to feel she might be right! I would like to get some help putting a cookbook together in a beautiful website, or book format.
12. Recording my thoughts and feelings on my phone as they come up ☺
13. Getting out of the house and going for a walk or a drive (often to the thrift store, and sometimes to the beach.
15. Training the cat to be picked up and held…She’s getting used to my heavy-handed ways, and doesn’t run away anymore when she sees me coming for her.
16. Opening the windows, feeling the fresh air, and breathing.

Mom also loves the pool, but she hasn’t gotten into yet. She calls it ‘the beach,’ and I do to. She likes to wear her suit and bask in the sun, and watch me do all the work. I’m pretty sure though that when she finally does get in the water, she’ll be a convert, just like me. She always wanted to be a dancer, and she’ll find out that she still can.

The 'beach' at Imperial Palms

The ‘beach’ at Imperial Palms

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She gets most animated when friends visit. Also when she meets new people on our walks around the gazebo across the street, or the neighbors passing by. She loves to stop if she spots Jim driving by in his golf cart, or the bus driver slowing down to wave. Everybody around here seems to know and love her. “Hi, Marilyn! I hope you’re not getting into any trouble today.” ☺IMG_1547

She reads the daily paper, does the crosswords, and loves reading a good novel. Her friends keep bringing over books for the two of us to read. Most of them are about the spiritual journey. I’ll have to write more about that in another post.
In the exercise department, Mom loves brisk, in-sync walking, arm in arm with a friend. We link arms, start out on the same foot~ left, right, left, right~ and off we go. We made it to the beach only once since I’ve been here, and that’s too bad, because she truly loves to watch the clouds at sunset. But she get’s tired more easily now. That’s a change I’ve noticed just since the summer. She doesn’t go as far as she used to, but she still exclaims about how good being out makes her feel. She can’t do it alone without a cane or a walker though, and that’s one of the transitions that she has had to adapt to. More about all this in my next post.

The I love my Walker Pose

The I love my Walker Pose

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Life Change, PART 2: The UnderBelly (to be continued in the next installment ☺)

Tea Talks #35~ The Secret Life of BOOKS

If you’ve ever had your life changed by a book you’ll be able to relate.

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Fasting: the ultimate diet~ This books tells of the virtues of fasting. It helped me through a tough time in my life, when eating less and reflecting more was what I needed to do to get my life back on track. I began a 7-day fast that would change my life and set me off in a whole new direction….
I read it in 1978, but it’s just as applicable now as it was then.