Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


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Some Truths

Days 86-92:  It’s been a longer break in writing than I expected but there has been some amazing stuff in the interim.  Here are some truths, because I say it is so (how about that!):

If you begin to take any steps at all, the Universe/Great Whatsis will have your back:  I spent some time breathing and visualizing getting some of the decluttering done rather than telling myself that I need to be organized and pick the correct place to start so that it will all work like clockwork and la de freakin’ dah.  What works is Pick Something.  Pick anything and just start doing it.  I started with my cookbooks.  I have one book case filled with cookbooks.  I used to have an obscene amount of them and in a post-cancer moment gave away 2 large bookcases worth of cookbooks.  What?  I told you it was an obscene amount.  I gave them to a budding chef, a giggling young woman wearing a hijab, and an unemployed man whose wife collects cookbooks.  Some of these are being shared with friends, being shipped off to my daughter, and heading off into the ARC-shaped sunset.  With that in motion, an event popped up that afforded me the opportunity to unload, er, gift in donation all of the purses I’m giving away.  Two stacks of magazines that I was saving to read on Someday Isle are living happily with other people.  Every day I’m doing something to address this–one drawer, one shelf at a time.  This is not a race against the clock (well, it kind of is); it’s a race against my own procrastination and right now I feel stronger somehow.

I began setting aside regular time to breathe, visualize, and play with some herbs.  I used a mix of orange, patchouli and geranium oils to create a happy wake-me-up scent. Which brings me to another truth:  Once things are in motion, in the right direction, don’t be surprised if it starts falling into place like dominoes.  I am finding lightness in simple tasks–monthly bill paying, cancelling my DirecTV, seeing the widening eyes of the paint store clerk as I foraged for paint chips.  All she said was, “Really? What are you painting?”  When I told her I was painting my walls, she was kind of speechless.  And then I said it–“There’s not one f*cking white wall in my house now and there never will be.”  I started laughing at the names of paint colors as I picked them up.  The clerk was SO grateful to go help the guy who wanted white primer.  My paint chips have names like Raucous Orange, Forward Fuchia, Blue Mosque and Glad Yellow.  One of the first gifts I received while recovering from cancer was the epiphany that if I pay the mortgage on this house, it’s mine! I don’t have to have walls painted Apt. 202 White.  People have told me they wish they had the courage to do it.  There is no courage involved, just rollers, brushes, and a visit to Home Depot.

The final truth, and the one I am sitting with, examining carefully, is this:  Sometimes just being yourself is the most awesome feeling of wholeness and a reminder of how frequently we reduce ourselves to fit our surroundings.  I was invited to lunch in the mountains by someone who prefaced the invitation with the words ‘because I want to get to know you better.’  I was incredibly flattered and at the lunch found myself with a mix of friends and strangers.  We laughed and talked and I felt myself relaxing and simply being the person I consider my best self.  I actually had something to say and some things that people really wanted to hear.  I learned some things, too.  It was magical and I came face to face with the person I enjoy being and the way I love most to interact. Later in the day I was reminded of how infrequently I am able to do just that.  It is not the first time this issue has come up but I know that I want to solve this riddle once and for all and just be. An old friend told me a very long time ago that the most difficult things in my life would not be the experiences of leaving one life for another, changing careers, or even raising my kids.  He said the real challenges would be Just Be and Let Go.  And so in my year of wanting to be content and practicing simplicity, Just Be and Let Go appear to be holding hands and skipping toward me at a rather steady pace.

 


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Not What If

Day 85:  I noticed something today.  I have gotten rather good at not worrying about ‘what if.’  It’s that part of being that rises up when things are going well and reminds you of what happened the last time or ten years ago.

In the past I had one of those life-altering events that leaves, as a friend of mine says, scorched earth.  Not just everything upset but everything destroyed.  While I carry some scars from those events, I can tell you that I foolishly spent time creating my own chaos when things began to become good again.  I have a theory about this that is part medical, part psychological and part me having a bit of an epiphany.  When we are faced with crisis or life-altering issues, our bodies produce a big push of adrenaline and our brains tell us to use it for fight or flight. If the crisis is ongoing, we get used to that constant feeling of being energized and on the edge.  Then things begin to settle down.  And here is where the choice comes in.  If we want to continue on that adrenaline high, we need to create new chaos, stir up new drama, fuel some tiny problem until it’s raging.  Otherwise the spotlight disappears and life change must occur. I’m not sure which is more difficult, looking yourself in the mirror and telling yourself to stop or having someone else pointing out that you are doing it.  It requires some thoughtful determination to stop the drama wheel from churning and discovering what your new norm can be.   I do know that when we stop creating our own drama, it becomes easier to believe that there can be no more pianos falling from the sky to squish us or be haunted by the ghosts of past failure.   If I am going to imagine my future and conjure some ‘what ifs’ then I choose to imagine that all the drama in life is on HBO and that my problems are short-lived, minuscule critters who are highly allergic to my breath of calm.


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Growling Hope

Days 78 & 79: It’s raining big, splattering drops here and I am mulling things over.  I am nearly 80 days in and I’m not sure if knowledge and progress are weighing evenly with failures and unbridled whimpering.  At this point, here’s what I think:

Compassion and anger are able to be partners–even if they make me uncomfortable.  In Chapter 6 of Crones Don’t Whine, the author talks about how even the meekest among us finds and voices her outrage more easily as an older woman. She adds that the choice to go down one path ultimately means we have chosen not to take a different route.  (I am not sure I wholly agree with her about this.)   I have notes that say compassionate anger, well-intended outrage, growling hope and radical empathy–can you make your self-interest the center of this decision-making or will this always work by putting others first and self last?  This becomes a pretty important point as I go forward because I have apparently been living some of it backwards. So much of what I have read about contentment and fulfillment in this part of life is about becoming an activist, a volunteer, a voice for those who cannot always speak for themselves.  And evidently in our 60’s is when all of this is supposed to flourish.  For me, my first interaction with rescue dogs was feeding strays as a pre-schooler. I was 12 when I hid a neighbor boy in our basement because his father was intent on killing him. For years I spent every waking moment of every day being an advocate for my son, abused children, families with mental health crises, as well as women battling social and educational illiteracy.  I am finding no guidelines to say what a person who has done this from youth to 60 does from 60 on.  I don’t think there will ever be a time when I am not somehow involved. But there has to be balance. And there has to be something to do when I do choose self.

I must get some sleep.  I have to be up early to take my golden retriever for his Spring spa day at the groomers where he will be bathed, clipped, and have a chance to romp and play with his friends. Maybe I need to take a cue from my dog.

 


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Semi-colon

Day 77:  There is such power in words.  A practiced speech may sound important but simply be well-rehearsed.  Those words that are spoken in staccato rhythms that sound like hail on a tin roof and pile up on the ground, causing you to look for ways to step around and over them.  Those words have unrestrained power.

I heard so many of them today.

I’m tired of dealing with this. I’m tired of dealing with the complaints and all of it. How about you take it over completely?  All of my practice saying yes to things I want and no to things I don’t want to do stuck in my throat.  This is a friend with his head in his hands.  I replied with something that got him smiling and nearly tap danced my way out of the conversation.  He was able to clearly express his needs and desires and I managed a flimsy maybe.

My son told me he was going to go live with his step-dad and get rich selling drugs with him. I told him he’d just end up in jail.  And I told this person they won–my employed son who pays his bills and goes to counselling and is struggling toward a life is a prize by comparison.  When I asked them if they believed parenting ever eases up when you have a struggling young adult, they looked me straight in the eye and said No. I don’t think it does. But we’re built to endure more, too.  I told them that sometimes I wish truth could always be served with a side of wine and chocolate.  They nodded and we hugged one another for a while. I mentioned a couple of resources she might use and we both went back to work.

Why do we feel like we need to pull people back from the edge when they say they want to commit suicide?  This world is nothing but a pile of shit. What are we pulling them back to?  The shit?  Or just so we have company in the shit?  I felt like he sideswiped me.  It was the first time all day I remembered to really breathe.  It’s nearly noon and I’m in a meeting room with these words clanging in the air.  I told him this: Not all of the world is shit.  The world that I work to create for myself every day is not shit.  It’s a good place.  And if I pull someone back, it’s to that good place–even if only for a while and I remind them of something I learned long ago–good things grow with only a little nurturing and the layer of shit is just fertilizer.  I am unapologetic about this. Anyone is worth the effort and ultimately everyone sooner or later makes their own choice.

It was exhausting.  At the end of the day I came home and showered off the grit but saved what I believe may be the beginning of a map.

 


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Day 76

Day 76: I have been looking at the computer for about an hour trying to figure out how not to write this.  I could not come up with a viable excuse and I want to honestly journal this journey.

The question becomes do I convince myself that I am content with something, do I visualize what content in a situation would mean for me and then work at shaping that into a reality, or do I just fold?  And into this mixture of questions I must add the additional ingredients of my own belief system:  everything is a choice (I don’t get to blame/credit someone else) and the idea that somewhere, somehow I chose to live this particular life.

Yesterday I chose to address some feelings I had about things going on with my son.  He reminds me of the pines and cedars that grow in Colorado on the face of granite slopes.  No protection from wind and weather, not a water source in sight–growing out of stone in its own fashion.  I have chosen to be his safe place–the person to whom he can express his issues without rejection.  Have you ever seen that old footage of a nuclear explosion at a distance and then the people, homes and lives are leveled by the invisible shock wave that follows?  It’s like that.  I’d like to say that I can just deal with it some aging incarnation of Wonder Woman.  And I do when it’s grenade-sized.  But other times I am reminded that I have PTSD. (Did I mention that?  Yep, I do.)  And when the shock waves hit my surface of contentment and hard-won layers of peace and inner quiet, it feels like they melting and I am left with a puddle of self to rebuild.

And that brings me to the end of this day that I spent wrapped in mental band aids having cheese corn for both lunch and dinner.  I visualized this phase of life and of parenting much differently.  Does the perfect parent make sure they are there indefinitely?  Does it make me the worst parent ever and most selfish person to want to choose my own health and calm and structure ahead of another’s?  I don’t know.


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Visualizing What’s Not

Days 70 & 71:  I continue to revel in what’s not.  I smudged the house and let the wind sweep though the rooms.  Things here feel lighter and changed.  The house is not suddenly, magically organized and simplified.  However, it looks as if I have managed to set up a Spring clean-up for my neighborhood of about 400 homes.  Not my kitchen cupboards.  Not the office/craft space closet.  No.  None of that.  But I spent hours making it possible for our non-HOA’d, unincorporated village to have Spring clean-up.  Someone print me a sign that says, ‘Really?  What were you thinking?’

I have not heard about my car’s transmission issues and I am just not worrying about it.  I do have a sign that says ‘Worry is a misuse of imagination.’  It reminds me that worrying about the future is about as useful as trying to change the past.  It doesn’t get you a step further.  As a former champion worrier, I assure you this is true.  I enjoy visualizations and this is something that works for me.  Did you ever get a song stuck in your head and nothing turns it off.  Close your eyes.  Visualize the person/band performing the song on a stage.  Imagine yourself turning off the spotlight, pulling the plug.  Then say ‘The show’s over’ and visualize the dejected performer(s) exiting stage right.  It works for me.  And I am working on one that has to do with worries that crop up or old memories that don’t do any good.  I bid them farewell and tell them to have a nice trip.  Then I see them stacked onto the deck of a boat (or walking on board with a suitcase).  The boat moves away from the dock and I watch as it sails off into the sunset. Gone. It requires a little faith in yourself and practice but it can work.  If not, there’s always sangria and chocolate chip cookies. Exhale.