It has been cloudy and rainy for the better part of ten days here in North Carolina. This is usually my favorite time of year. I have to fight with myself to keep working as I’d rather be out, camera in hand, tramping through Duke Gardens, just breathing the air. Instead, as each day went by my mood plummeted and before long I was in a serious funk, feeling half sick with allergies and malaise, and pretty sure I was dying of something.
When I’m in such a frame of mind it doesn’t do any good for someone to tell me or for me to tell myself that “everything is exactly as it should be” or “live in joy” or “just breathe” or any of the millions of upbeat sayings that we see all the time on the internet. ”Hog wash!” as my mother used to say, and her father before her. During the down times I get particularly annoyed with posts on Facebook (mine included) that want us to believe that it’s easy to be happy.
Despite what I may write here and post on Facebook, and I do truly believe what I write and post, it’s almost never that easy or that simple to be happy or even to keep going. It’s a challenge to rise above the pain of the moment and embrace the positive, particularly for those of us who are, as Dr. Estes would call us, members of the “scar clan”, who carry wounds that run deep and wide.
But, as often happens after a rain storm, the sun came out today, and along with it, my mood lifted. Yes, in spite of my allergies, my stomach ache, my angst about life, I felt upbeat. Happily, for the first time in days I looked forward to my morning walk with Rowdy. I let the sun beat down upon me as I hiked up the hill in front of my house and then hung a left, watching the crazed, super fit neighbor woman with her two dogs and pooper-scooper hang a right to avoid me (or my dog; for that, I don’t blame her!) Yep! I was still a wee bit irritated by life, in spite of the sun.
Once on the straight away I picked up my pace. My heart was pumping and I was enjoying the feel of my muscles as they worked. I could almost feel a lilt in my step and a wee bit of joy around the edges. Then it happened. I stepped on a rock and down I went in a silent and unsightly heap. I scrapped my hand and knee on the pavement and that fall-off-your-bike-stinging that always brings back childhood memories, began…and the embarrassment, even though no one was watching…at least no one that would admit it.
Before I knew what hit me, last week’s mental leftovers spilled forth in earnest. “Great! That’s what you get when you start to feel good! You don’t get to feel good. You don’t get to be happy and light-footed. You’re too much of a clutz! You’d trip over a feather given the right opportunity! You know you look really stupid don’t you?” Wow! The mean girl came out in force. It almost took my breath away…again.
But, do you know what I did? Yep, you’ve got it. I turned to her and I said, “Excuse me missy, but will you please SHUT UP!”and the warrior arose from the pavement. Back on the road, around the corner and up the hill I went. The spring made its way back into my step and the pounding of my heart drowned out the stinging of my hand. It was not a catastrophe, just a bump in the road. Literally.
Just like life. We fight through the hard times; talk to ourselves; cheer ourselves on; brush ourselves off and walk on with joy in our hearts when we can and when we can’t, we put our nose to the grindstone and put one foot in front of the other. If we can’t do that, we cry perhaps, we wait perhaps, we muddle through anyway we can until the clouds lift and the sun returns, accepting that we only have so much control over all that we are and all that we have; the rest is simply a matter of finding the courage to go on.
©Dorothy Sander 2013
Everywhere I go I encounter people complaining about getting old, and if they’re not I generally have the feeling they are biting their tongue. I am as aware as the next person that age has its problems and presents us with a new set of obstacles, but I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t encounter problems and obstacles. Can you?
No matter what our age, if we are living life with a modicum of awareness we are grappling with one issue or another and wondering what we can do to improve our lot. Perhaps, after all these years of living without attaining heaven on earth we might consider embracing our challenges as what is rather than allowing ourselves to feel like victims.
The real issue underlying our victim mentality is the belief that we are powerless. When presented with the end result of aging it’s pretty easy to feel powerless! But, are we?
Like many of you, one of my favorite prayers is the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
We cannot really slow the hands of time to any significant degree. We cannot choose the moment of our death. Healthy living and plastic surgery can only go so far. They cannot stop fate from having its way with us. We also cannot change the past. We cannot undo what we have done.
But, we do have within our reach the power to take everything we’ve learned and experienced thus far and put it to good use. We can make changes in the way we live and the way we think about ourselves and our lives. We can use our power of thought to look at the positives in our life and we can choose not to stop ourselves when we start to go down into the dark hole of self-pity and despair.
As long as we have our wits about us, we can choose to “practice” joy, one moment at a time, one day at a time, one year at a time. Joy does not just pour down upon us and sweep us up in its reverie. True joy is a choice, an exercise that does indeed take practice. And at this moment we do have time to practice!
© Dorothy Sander 2013
I woke up this morning thinking about the wedding I will be attending later today and the family that comes along with it. I am more at peace than I have ever been with the oddities of the family into which I was born and moving in that direction with my husband’s family. Both have been the source of much angst over the years and a small amount of love.
Our family of origin, for good or ill, has a profound effect on the choices we make and the paths we take. Too often we are influenced as young people to move in the direction of family and cultural dictates and away from our own heart’s desire. During the midlife years as shifting roles and changes in our family structure stir up a natural dis-ease, we have an astounding opportunity to see ourselves, and the choices we have made to date, more clearly than we ever have before.
Becoming aware of and challenging the erroneous beliefs we acquired in the first five, ten, fifteen years of our life can provide us with a profound opportunity to remove the fog from around our self-perception and let the sunlight shine upon the person we were born to be.
Family dynamics shift radically when a parent dies. I remember so clearly the change in perspective that came on the heels of my father’s death and then again in the wake of my mother’s passing. I could see my father with clearer eyes and a more balanced perspective. Life and all its details seemed to cast a shadow over who he was when he was alive and those who loved him could not see all of the gifts he gave us. We were so caught up in what he didn’t give us and who he wasn’t that we paid little attention to his strengths.
My father was an exceedingly quiet man, an introvert of the first order. He did not shape my life through his words, in fact, for most of my life I was pretty sure he didn’t know I was alive. Even now I can’t say for certain whether he did or didn’t, but I have come to see the many things I learned from the way in which he lived his life in. My father was in the details of everyday life. He’s in the details of my everyday life.
My father taught me that life in the world is uncomfortable and difficult. One must pretend to be something one is not in order to survive financially and socially. One cannot rely on their natural creative gifts to prosper but should instead rely on hard work, determination and knowledge. These beliefs kept my family in food, clothing and shelter, but no more.
The truth that eluded my father during his lifetime, was that he had an endless well of creativity which he did not believe was of value and dared only let out in bits and pieces in his spare time on weekends when he wasn’t fixing the car, the plumbing or being dragged to church activities by my mother, or during is one week a year vacation.
It wasn’t until my mother’s passing that I was able to begin to recognize his erroneous beliefs and to see which ones I had acquired. My mother made certain we both held on to this belief system, because she lived in fear of going without and made my father promise he would follow the practical route to security when they married.
The death of our parents is often a heartbreaking, tumultuous time when it occurs at midlife, not only because of the loss of a loved one, but because it simultaneously stirs up all sorts of unfinished business and unsettles our belief system. But therein lies the magic, for it is out of the chaos that our true selves will ultimately emerge.
So, I am off to another family gathering, this one occurring on the heels of my mother-in-law’s death. The family is in disarray. The dynamics are shifting rapidly and everyone is unsettled. Feelings are intense and sparks will likely fly, if only with dirty looks and cold shoulders. It’s an intense, volatile, and passionate family given to fits of laughter, rage, fast alliances and broken bonds. Everything takes place a notch or two above sanity and definitely outside the norm of my upbringing. It’s what attracted me, precisely because they don’t just think and feel in silence, they shout it to the world. It has also been my greatest challenge.
My hope is that this chaos will prove fruitful for everyone, though more than likely only one or two will emerge a more clarified person when things settle out. It’s the way of the world. Not everyone can or wants to take on the hard work of unearthing themselves from the rubble and the shackles of the family into which they were born. For those who do, those who dare to enter into the fire of change, the gift is theirs. They will be transformed and their true selves will emerge from the ashes. They will be re-born into a person that more closely resembles the person they were born to be so many years ago.
©Dorothy Sander 2013
Twenty years ago, when we bought our house, I had no intentions whatsoever to settle in and call it my forevermore home. It was not my dream home, but a step along my planned path to a more perfect destination. We bought the house because it was a good financial move and afforded our children the opportunity to go to better schools.
My husband and I were knee deep in the home improvement business and had energy and enthusiasm to spare for fixer uppers. This was the perfect fixer upper. We could see the potential in every corner. It had great curb appeal, decent neighborhood, and most importantly, it was structurally as solid as a rock. Little did I know the path our lives would take thereafter.
Life is rarely what we expect it to be if we are living with any creativity. That’s putting a positive spin on things. One could just as easily say life is rarely what we expect it to be when we are living with blinders on. Both are equally true, both are equally important.
Up until the time I turned fifty, I believed that I could make anything happen if I wanted it enough. If I worked hard, did all of the right things and made good choices, the world was my oyster. What I have come to discover as age begins to provide a new lens on the past, is that it is our unintentional beliefs that guide much of our choices, the beliefs that lurk in the shadows and that we refuse to allow to come into our consciousness. Sometimes these beliefs are positive and sometimes not so much.
My parenting style was driven by those things that were missing in my own childhood. In spite of considering myself “self-aware” at the time, I had no real comprehension of the power that these hidden beliefs had over me. What I experienced were vague convictions such as “I will pay attention to my children and listen to what they have to say. I will be there for them when they need me.” I did not want my children to suffer the loneliness and isolation that I had experienced as a child, but because I did not dig deeply into that injured place within me and heal myself, my dealings with my children were out of whack. As a result, I sometimes feel that I instilled more fear in them than is healthy or desirable. Had I been more conscious of the nature of my own issues I might have been able to provide them with more balanced guidance.
We are very imperfect creatures and I no longer harbor excessive guilt for my blindness or my children’s shortcomings. They are living out their destiny just as I have been blessed to live out mine. I also no longer long for a dream house. Where I am is exactly where I am supposed to be.
Our home has given us everything we need, and then some. It was affordable through all of the ups and downs of our vagrant economy, it provided stability for my children as they faced the uncertainties of a chaotic world, it is in my favorite part of town both topographically and in proximity to the crazy, busy part of town. We have enough land for me to garden, enough sun for flowers to bloom (and for me to stay sane), a few good neighbors, no home owner’s association to drive us crazy, and minimal crime. Time has paid us back in spades as perennials multiply and trees grow tall. When once I was dragging home plants by the trunk load, I now give away more than I buy.
The older I get the more I realize I have everything I need, and then some. Time and age, if we embrace them, will give us a perspective that is both rich and beautifully simple.
For most of my adult life, I fought against my natural inclination to live a simple life. Rather than resting in who I really am, the little girl who longed to live on a farm and spend her days walking and dreaming in the woods, I beat myself into climbing ladders that I borrowed from outside of myself. I attempted to force myself emotionally, psychologically, and inadvertently physically, into a version of myself that was not my own, and wondered why I always felt out of step.
In my formative years, I looked around and saw no one quite like me; no one who I could model my life after or who inspired me to grow into myself rather than away from it, and as a result I came to the erroneous conclusion that who I was, was not someone of value. I borrowed my family’s, friends’ and my culture’s version of who I was and incorporated all of their messages into my dialogue with myself. It took control of me and my life as if these messages were my own.
To live “right” I must do this, this and this, whether I liked it or not. Some things worked temporarily, but my true self fought my fabricated self with a vengeance. I tried and failed. I floundered and believed myself flawed. I gained and lost weight a hundred times and relationships came and went with heartbreak in their wake. Some part of me refused to succumb. Some part of me refused to relent. Now, so many years later, I have come home to me and to the simple life, because life indeed is simple and easy when we know the truth about who we are and choose to live it.
Are you somewhere along this path? Do you feel slightly out of kilter with the world you have created? Do you feel like you don’t “measure up” or fail every time you try? Do you feel like who you are doesn’t fit in the world? You’re not alone. External forces are powerful ones and they are tricky. They sometimes feel like our own and they want us to believe that we are wrong, not them.
It is never too late, to begin to walk your own path, to seek the company of others who are able to see the real you and who will affirm and support choices that will work for you. Being known by another who sees the real you only reinforces the simple life. One by one, you can discard the beliefs that keep you trapped in a life that is not your own. Your true voice, your true self resides within you and is just waiting for you to take the first step, to give it permission to come into being. Prepare to be amazed. You will see how simple life can become.
A few steps to get you started, or move you along your path toward simple living:
- Tell the truth, every minute of every day for one week. If you don’t dare speak it out loud, write it down.
- Stop doing one thing you don’t want to do. Start doing one thing you really do want to do.
- Make a list of the things you believed about yourself or belief or value you held when you were three, four or five. Do you still believe these things now? Are you living as if you believe them?
- Get rid of one item in your home that you hate. Add one item that you love; something that makes you smile or feel all warm and fuzzy inside when you see it.
Dorothy Sander ©2013