This is surfing…

IMG_3573I keep an embroidered bracelet I bought in Costa Rica on my nightstand. It’s a token of our recent 11-day family adventure, infused with the balm of sandy kids, surf lessons and seaside meals. This trip we did not just take the show on the road. Costa Rica felt like a true vacation; one that reminded me of who I was before 2013. I sniff it every morning when I wake up to remind me of being there.

Arriving in Costa Rica was our own personal miracle. The week before our trip my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and spiraled into depression so deep we hospitalized him. My brother flew in from L.A. and insisted we go. The night before leaving, two out of three children threw up. We went anyway. We were dropped off at the airport with 4, not 5 passports; a near miss. Within hours of arriving in Tamarindo we were informed that the Pacific coast was being evacuated for a tsunami. Hardened against the other shoe dropping, we waited it out in our bungalow.

2013 had rolled that way. We lost my Uncle, we lost our dog, my mom had a stroke, my son broke a vertebra, we moved my mom and dad out of their thirty-five year home after both endured multiple hospitalizations. I hadn’t realized how maladapted to stress we’d become until we spent some time at peace.

IMG_4580The genesis of the trip was our inner knowing that we needed to refocus our attention on our kids, revisit the baseline of our stress levels and release our fears of what wicked was to come next. In January, on our way home from cross-country skiing with the boys, my husband suggested a cheap and easy vacation in spring. In my post-ski glow, I looked at my surfer-husband and wondered what it would feel like to have left behind a skill that lights me up, for decades? Landlocked, he’s only dabbled in an hour’s surf here or there every few years. We had been talking about “surf camp” since our 9-year-old was travel-worthy. It was time to go big. I offered Jason the vacation reigns and he gleefully, skillfully planned a family surf trip to Costa Rica (read: he picked out a beach and bought plane tickets). Once we arrived, it took me about a week to stop asking what we were going to do next and had he really not planned ANYTHING other than the flight. After about a week of detox from our harried life at home, I could see the ABSOLUTE WISDOM to his plan; we were there to catch a good wave. Nothing else.

Continue reading

A Change of Pants….

IMG_2616We woke up at our friend’s cozy cabin in Ely, Minnesota to -35 degrees outside. My nearly 3-year-old extracted himself from the warm space between his dad and I to express, “I am just a big boy. You are a big gorl. You are HUGE,” then disappeared under five layers of blankets, pillows, and brothers. I got up and wrapped my body in animal, plant and petroleum products; wool, feathers, leather, silk, rubber, polyester and vaseline. I am huge. I step outside into the crystalized, silent cold. Squeak, squeak; very cold snow is loud under foot and too frozen for footprints. My eye lashes freeze together. Half my breath catches in my throat; the part that makes it out freezes on contact with my scarf. I am in my element.

This act of exposure suggests a hearty commitment to my continued, or rather, reinvigorated practice of daily outdoor meditation. November was amazing. I gave up on December at 3 or 4 days in. The contrast in my state of mind between December and November has me clawing my way back. January 1, 2014, seemed a poetic day to begin again. Going outside today, January 5, is not the extraordinary effort it appears. I love the vice-grip of negative temperatures under dazzling blue skies. Light fractures off every crystal of snow like a zillion tiny disco balls. The humbling cold squeezes my head thoughtless. It takes skill to be out in cold like this, and I love the challenge.

IMG_0001_3I can’t sit; my toes won’t make it through 15 minutes of inactivity. I watch for animal tracks in the fresh snow and in contrast to the balmy 15 degree morning yesterday, I see none. Not one snowshoe hare, squirrel, mouse, pine martin, deer. None. It’s time to stay covered, hidden, warm. I am gloriously alone; a spectacle for smarter bunnies as I squeak, steam, and grin down the road. The northern winter’s temperature, wind, snow, ice and glare; none of it is gentle upon its inhabitants. But with enough preparation, protection, togetherness and patience, it is a more peaceful, beautiful, serene and affirming habitat than I have known from Chile to the Yukon.

At dinner on New Year’s Day I told my kids that a friend recently asked me to describe each of them in one word. I chose, from oldest to youngest: inventive, creative, and delightful. Tenny decided each boy should do the same for me. From youngest to oldest, I was: poopy pants, author and busy. “Poopy pants” I accepted from the youngest of 3 boys. As to be expected. “Author” made me feel good, though it’s a stretch. Other than grad school research, newsletters, birthday cards, my journal, some op eds, and this blog, I have never published anything. Apparently I now have a goal for 2014, presented to me by my precocious and puzzling middle child. “Busy,” for all of its accuracy, however, made me very sad. I know that little look. I know his inner wisdom. I know he found his moment to say what he needed to say.

This year has been nuts, and being with my children has not been enough of what made it busy and challenging. I already see the climate of the coming year and it looks a lot like January. I have three aging loved ones. My Uncle will leave us much too soon and it already hurts. My parents will need more support than ever and I already feel at capacity. I’m attempting to return to work and apparently, to publish something. THEN there are these very important boys. Their paperwork alone makes me manic. Add in some potty training and glimmers of puberty and I am what my children see. Most of friends would say the same of themselves; we wear huge, busy pants.

IMG_3943

I recently asked my dad, a psychiatrist, how to slow down time and feel less busy. He said in 40 years of practice, he’s only seen one thing that appeared to work, and it wasn’t eliminating obligations, or balancing schedules, saying “no” more, or working less. He simply said, “notice more details in your everyday life.”

I cannot change the climate of the year to come. Like so many of you, I long for more ease in 2014. The fact is that every year, no matter where you live, there will be a January, a deep freeze, a record low. But in the love of winter there is also a lesson about endurance if we have the skills, support and protection to survive, or better yet, enjoy it. It’s hard and it’s beautiful. It’s audacious and it’s exquisite. It’s challenging and it’s invigorating. Step outside in the woods and you will hear…nothing. You will need layers and tea and baths and snuggles. Neighbors will shovel each others’ walks. Friends will bring soup. Strangers will assist each other over snowbanks. Someone will give their mailman a gift card for hot coffee. Snowmen will dot the tundra. The beautiful details of a long, cold winter are infinite.

I want a better word to describe me in 2014. Ideally my word would reflect, like a zillion snow crystals, the light that is essential to get us through the darkest days. But I would take something more mundane, like “warm.” IMG_0078In the middle of January, I can wrap my kids up in all that earth offers. If I carefully eliminate thermal aperture at wrists, ankles, and earlobes, they will make snow angels. They will sled gleefully. We can toss a cup of boiling water to the sky, freeze an egg in snow and watch our spit freeze midair. And for heaven’s sake, there will be a thaw; a day that everything drips and we expose our collective skin again. I can show them we will also have: Spring.

Does God Send Trucks?

Image

If I were to launch into my recent self-discovery, my meditations, would you cringe? I feel a need to qualify sharing this with some excuses and jokes. I have always been pragmatic and scientific; one who blushes when asked to exhale audibly into a room. I like my religion grounded in hymns and history; and it takes effort to believe in that. I have a master’s degree in evidence-making. I like proof. Don’t get me wrong, I also like hugs and cards and deep conversations. I like sharing and caring and children’s books and Sarah McLachlan. I actually named my dog after a Norsk ruin stone. I like it when my intuitive cousin reads my cards. I like tears, other people’s tears, to flow freely. I just get uncomfortable when I am asked to let down my own guard. A friend recently told me I should try to be a little less tough. Pppff. Whaa? Me? Tough? That is so not…well…ok. I was raised by a psychiatrist and a teacher in a Lutheran family. Lots of communication, love, campfires, singing of songs we all knew. How I ended up valuing “toughness” and “evidence” is a topic for another day after a few more years of therapy. But, I decided she was right and I am going soft. Its soooo uncomfortable. And yet it feels so good (Blechy blechy). So I am launching…

I started an exercise a week ago called “Sit Spot,” suggested by personal coach Michael Trotta, from Sagefire Institute. I asked a panel of coaches in an online discussion for advice on how to quiet my busy mind and listen to my heart. Michael suggested sitting in nature for 15 minutes per day for 30 days, taking inventory with all 5 senses, which resonated. I trust nature. Its old. Historic. Deeply rooted. I think having static-in-the-attic is a fairly universal problem, so I am sharing a weekly update this month in the hope it will be helpful to some of you, too.

Day one: I picked the only 15 minutes out of every 2 weeks the recycling truck comes. Beep, beep, beep. Trying to hear dam bird. I had to work so hard to hear every squirrel for the shattering glass that I was actually distracted from my thoughts. Apparently I needed a serious challenge.

Day two: Bull dozer loading bricks. For real. I went through my senses over and over, switching every time thoughts crept in (which was often) but the constant kaboom helped, again. Does God/god/nature/Universe/whatever send noisy trucks?

Day three: Nighttime experiment under the stars. Very still. Distant roar of tarmac. Geese fly south at midnight?? The creek. Its so loud and lovely–how did I miss that before? Sleepy. Wee small voice says, “get more sleep.” Woah–was that The Voice? Wisdom? Heart speaking? Nah, probably chamomile tea.

Day four: I brought a mentor; Gebo the dog is a serious expert in sitting outside doing nothing. He is also a soul mate of mine, age 15, and dying. We need quiet time together. Someone walked past me, saying “I believe in the Universe. It sends lessons and then…” Huh. I am feeling more open to this whole nature/God/Universe/spiritual thing.

Day five: First thing in the morning, I ran out of gas on the highway at rush hour. Trapped. I knew the car was on empty. I didn’t take the truck. Didn’t stop to fill up. Too rushed. Suns coming up–the light in the car is beautiful. I decide this is my 15 minutes with “nature.” Cars and trucks speeding past me are terrifying. A MnDOT man comes and gives me gas. I stand there watching him step into traffic to fill my tank–his life at risk for my error. That would have been my husband had he not shown up first, less adept and not wearing a flashing vest. I’m here, tank empty, demanding someone else fill it, rushing to an appointment it turns out is tomorrow. Analogy is quite clear; “Fill your tank.”

Day six: I sit in sun for 5 minutes and then suddenly jump up. Behind me, coyote, 40 feet, happy and bounding. Coyote 20 feet, eye contact. Calm. Coyote 10 feet. Stare. Heart. Racing. Instincts say leap into tree! She recoils. I fall, she runs. Breathe. Laugh. Breathe. Adrenaline. The difference between the coyote and I glares at me. She wasn’t scared until she felt threatened. She owned urgency and fear and employed them like tools–I saw them enter every inch of her body as she turned coat and ran. I, however, put on my jeans, some fear, a shirt and my favorite urgency every morning. She trusted her instincts to stimulate fear at the right time rather than wearing it all day long. I have instincts. I stood before I knew she was there. A talk with a friend later helped me face there is a constant voice in my head saying “something is coming. Be ready.” Time to thank that voice for teaching me so much and giving me skills; I am not conflict avoidant. I operate keenly when distressed–eg: awkward painful leap into tree. Thank you for your service, fear voice, you may leave. Urgency; I have worn holes in you.

Day 7 (one week): Me and the mentor. Gebo can sniff one leaf for over a minute. 100 thoughts circulating. I even check my phone. Argh. Start the timer over. A voice inside says, “you’ll get better at this.” Again, is that THE VOICE? So unfamiliar and calm. Lots of sunlight and warmth; scent of last night’s backyard fires. Its loud out here. I cover my ears. Its sad in here. Vision of my mom in a hospital bed. I feel a little of that day months ago–ouch. Vision of life without Gebo. Double ouch. I do an inventory of my hurting family and friends. So many right now. I send them all love. Well, well, Universe. No motor vehicles or wildlife today?

IMG_3227 - Version 2Week one and I felt something new; I felt pain that I did not resist. I felt comfort. I felt pending loss. I felt safe without my armor and cloak. We all have a little warrior in us. But I’d like my warrior robes to be something I don when necessary, like the coyote, not a daily wear. I can’t say that after one week my mind is any quieter. And I certainly haven’t removed all of my armor. But I have realized it will take much more bravery to disrobe than it ever did to start wearing this tough-girl costume.