Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


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Unwinding the Month

Days 30 and 31:  One month in.  I wrote nothing yesterday because I came home from work and spent the night being ill.  (I will spare you the Technicolor and sound effects associated with this.) Weirdly, it kick-started a memory for me.  When I was about 7, I figured out that if you throw up the adults will stop fighting with one another. Inventive and disgusting all in one move.  This journey of being content in the here and now, tossing out clutter and past hurts, is not a straight line for me.  It’s a little more like following an unwound bit of yarn that’s been had by a cat. You follow it from room to room, forward and back.  And, occasionally, you find a hair ball.  Life.

I know that this journey is going to be a balancing act.  First there is the responsibility to be patient with myself and not beat myself up when I fail.  However, I cannot dress up avoidance and excuses in a costume and try to convince myself that I just need to be patient. Avoidance and excuses are the Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum of well–avoidance and making excuses.  Ownership of my actions is unavoidable.  Owning less stuff is better than organizing all of the stuff.  And maybe that’s where the inner person and exterior life come face to face.  Organizing my feelings and memories and experiences, making a neat list doesn’t really solve anything.  Better to let them go–gaak up the mental hairball if you will.  In the interior and exterior spaces, just be present with the emptiness (or is it open space?) and silence (or is it just quiet?)  and the relief.


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Ownership

1.26 through 1.29:  Well, I’m not being too successful at this write everyday-thing.  I suddenly realized that all 6-10 of you reading this are reading some things I don’t talk about and that in order to explain my silence I would need to explain that I am one of those people who get silent when they hurt.  Writing about the assault stuff was more difficult than I thought it would be.  I needed to just…be present with it for a couple of days and ask myself if I’m really letting it go.  I want to.  I think I am.

I’ve been making notes on things I’m reading along the way and there is a big empty space below a question I jotted down for myself:  What are your priorities in this?  At this point, I know one–ownership.  This means owning those physical things that are useful, meaningful, and/or just beautiful according to me.  I cleared my clothing and feel better about that.  But today I cleared the refrigerator and spent time muttering to myself about what a strange thing it is for me to buy groceries and household products for one person. I told myself I was doing a two-fer by tossing out moldy, nasty leftovers in the plastic containers because I need to reduce the Tupperware drawer by about half. I will buy quarts of milk from now on. I will buy the smaller packages of Milano cookies that cost more than the Oreos because I’m the only one here to eat the Oreos. I have to figure out how to own shopping for one.  Interior ownership is a thing, too. A friend asked me for some help researching ideas that may help his family. He also needed me to listen to his frustrations.  It wasn’t until the third time that he teasingly called me ‘Mom’ in the conversations we were having that I realized I had easily put on my powder blue twin set and pearls  and was treating him like a kid. That’s not who he needed or who I want to be.  To borrow one of Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s ideas, I want to be courageous enough to sit with pain, mine or another’s, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.  I want to be strong in the way of a crone instead of a mommy.  

I did find some real joy in the past few days.  I was able to celebrate both of my 20-somethings making some successful choices and transactions without me. I gave minimal advice only when asked.  I celebrated their success without feeling the need to reflect on successful parenting.

And then there was the round of robins in my Chinese maple tree.  They, along with some blackbirds and doves, were giving me side eye because the bird feeder needed to be reinstalled.  I filled a long plastic container with seed and peanuts and leaned it against the rain gutter on the garage.  On Saturday my son helped me reinstall the bird feeder.  The doves and flickers and robins were happy enough but this morning I saw a disgruntled sparrow sitting empty gutter waiting for a turn at the feeder.  I can’t figure out courage, ownership and contentment all at once but I do know how good it feels to watch a sparrow jump feet first into a plastic container of birdseed in the rain gutter.


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Behind the Wheel

Today was pretty much about just turning the wheel.  Alarm. Snooze button. Be alarmed by oversleeping a little. Work. Blah. But there was one thing that was really wonderful.  My drive to work is in the first peep of dawn. And I almost never notice whether or not there are people driving poorly. I have discovered the cure for restless driving and road rage. Really see your surroundings. Appreciate the sky. Use the time for some quiet and list off things for which you are grateful. I try to do gratitude navigation a few times a week. Today was one of those days.


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Isn’t It Ironic: Part 2

Days 23/24:  The blog didn’t stutter.  I didn’t manage to write yesterday because I was all wrapped up in the past and not doing a very good job of being Here and Now.  I was expecting the call back from the state troopers so that I could have my say and be done with it.  All that I learned from it is that people going about their daily work have no idea how hard it is to be the person waiting for a phone call.  I had endometrial cancer about 7 years ago.  If you want to know what death by a thousand paper cuts feels like, wait 2-3 days for test results about your cancer screening.  The thing is, I did get a phone call–from the people doing the lower-my-rate refi on my mortgage.  Lots of excitement telling me that I would close on within 24 hours and skip a mortgage payment.  Now there are words you want in a phone call, “Hi!  Skip a mortgage payment!”  And instead of letting that be a 10 on my joy scale, I treated it like a 6 while waiting for a call that didn’t come.

I went to sleep thinking about it. I woke up thinking about it.  And I decided I was done thinking about it.

After two misdirects, I was instructed to leave information with my local state patrol instead. (Isn’t it ironic?)  I told a Colorado trooper about a bitter cold night in December, 1981, when Pennsylvania State Police refused to help me with my flat tire and instead a guy in a red pick-up stopped, changed the flat, and refused the money I offered for his help. He assaulted me on the road in front of the police barracks.  The Colorado trooper was apologetic and told me that a report wouldn’t do much.  I told him I didn’t expect it to–that I just wanted to tell the story so that I could let it go once and for all.  He said he would like to tell it one more time in a news bulletin that goes out to troopers–that it could serve as a reminder about how their actions impact lives every day.  So, I am releasing the story to them as a teaching tool.  And I’m releasing it to the guy in the red truck.  He may be dead or just living with the knowledge of his own actions every day. That’s enough.

One of the great things about reaching out for contentment, actively and mindfully practicing contentment, is giving up all hope for a better past.  There’s no fixing it or fading it.  Putting on a fresh coat of paint doesn’t make it leave.  You have to stop clutching it tightly in your fist, expecting it to shape shift into something new.  And here’s another truth:  When you release it, it’s not going to float away like a balloon. You may be able to wipe it from your hands like soil. But if you’re like me, it will feel like knocking the dried muck from the soles of your shoes, putting them back on, and noticing a new lightness in your step.

 


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Blue Prints

22nd Day – Today the football team I cheer for lost.  Miserably.  They fought long and hard all season and played with passion to get to the opportunity to go to the Superbowl and then like 4th of July sparklers they burned bright and just fizzled out.  And what I thought about is if they were afraid of the step beyond the success.

I’ve been procrastinating some of the work with this project because as much as I want to succeed, it’s been a goal that used to be far off.  Now it’s not just a fuzzy shape in the distance anymore. It has form and substance.  And it requires something of me.  At the risk of ticking off people and their various deities, I will tell you that I don’t ascribe to the whole thing about doors and windows closing on their own or by an unseen hand and some other unseen hand opening a different portal.  I take responsibility as my own architect.  If I build a wall, I’m the one who has to add a door or window or knock it down and recreate what I’m building.  Succeeding at practicing contentment requires actions on my part–having enough courage to close the door to some chapters of my life, deciding where to put some windows for illumination, surveying the landscape ahead.  Time to acknowledge the scary truth: whichever door I choose is the right one.


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Grrratitude

Three minutes until the end of Day 21:   Avoidance is a choice.  Making excuses is a choice.  I have no excuse.  I avoided working on anything around the house today.  I had great intentions going to bed Friday night about rising early and getting a lot done early in the day.  Early this morning I hit the snooze button and spent 3 more hours hugging my pillow.  The only reason I got up was because the boxer/pit was slurping me, the golden retriever was poking at me and the miniature dachshund was threatening to report me to the ASPCA if I didn’t get up and give them food now!  Nobody survives the wrath of a mini wire-haired dachshund, trust me.  So I got up, made excuses until noon and it went down hill from there.

On the up side, I am able to own up to being a slacker, forgive myself and remember that it’s important demonstrate some gratitude.  So–Here’s gratitude for fuzzy socks and warm tea.  Gratitude for getting past a potential impulse purchase.  And gratitude to my rowdy dogs who scared off a neighborhood thief/creeper when he tried to visit my house.  (The sheriffs who arrested him later in the week get some applause, too.)

It all reminds me that gratitude is supposed to be an action not just a warm feeling or a quickly written note.  A demonstration of gratitude requires honest acknowledgement of the goodness others bring to us.  It could be something like, I dunno, spending the afternoon on the floor massaging the cranky dachshund, rubbing foot creme into the paws of the pit/boxer and full-out grooming the retriever.

Day 21: Did not clean out the fridge or a closet.  Did rediscover the joy of a smiling 90 lb. dog sitting on my lap and how much they all love it when I throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball.

 


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It’s Ironic, Don’t You Think

The 20th Day – Even though I’m on the do-not-call-to-solicit list, I still calls.  I am able to deal quickly and politely with people offering me a new whatsis or subscription to Thingamabob Monthly.  But when the state police foundation for something or other to help the officers’ families and fund for treatment of PTSD calls me, I routinely snap the guy’s head off and tell them to stop calling.  I did it two days ago and I have been thinking about why.

……….xxxxxx………xxxxxx…….

Okay, staring at the screen isn’t working and I knew that if I said I would write this it would be honest and I would say some things that I just don’t talk about.  Here goes: I have a lot of mixed feelings about anyone who says they know what’s best or right for me simply by virtue of their view of the world or the badge in their wallet.  One of my earliest interactions with police involve stealing a dog from the officer next door. At 14 I couldn’t stop the guy from thrashing his wife and kids, but I could help find the dog whose leg he broke and beat on a place to live safely. I’ve seen the dark underbelly of their rules and behaviors more than a few times as an adult. I’ve got a tidy bundle of old aches, anger, misgivings and scars that generally live on the back shelf of the closet in a box labeled Failed Heroes. This year, however, is about cleaning out the closets and cobwebs and replacing them with clear space and contentment.  I misread something today that said ‘the mitigation of pain is fairly impossible; therefore, contentment is a fictitious goal.’  Thank you, Mary Sunshine.  Fortunately, my slightly dyslexic brain read migration and I could envision my bundle of discontented feelings making a long, leisurely flight to a destination far away.

So I did two things:  I called the 800-number for the state police foundation and politely asked them to remove me from their dialer list. Then I stared at my phone for about half an hour, found the number for the PA State Police and dialed. The female trooper was patient as I told her that this was about a previously-unreported incident from 1981. She was polite when I told her I had been assaulted in front of the state police barracks after troopers inside refused to let me use their phone or help me with a flat tire. She said she will have a trooper call me back. Sigh. Somebody cue Alanis Morissette singing I2017-badgeronic.