The power of letting go

It was receiving some unexpected news from one of my children that tore me from my comfy spot in midlife to shove me into the real world of motherhood again. Apparently, I had become too complacent; or rather, I’d become too comfortable in my unchallenged life. I was planning, I was achieving, I was thriving in the mindfulness of the mundane. I had found a moment of peace as all my family seemed to be working their plans and coming to family Christmas. I was happy. I could deal with the extra few pounds from the quarantined routine. I could cope with the change of wearing a mask and the new grocery store layout. But every once and again, like now, something reminds me that I am no longer a mother managing her matriarchy. I am, for moments like these, a supportive sideliner of the family tree.

Times like this are becoming more frequent. Fearing for what might happen to those I love. Somehow, if they had just listened to me the world would be right. If I had just said the right thing, moved the right way, spoke in the quiet voice that screamed the answer, life would be different. The outcome would have been for the best. The world would have been perfect. It is so hard to be rooted in the moment, yet respectful of my children’s lives to leave the past where it belonged, and walk along side them rather than lead. My heart cries mama tears when I land in this spot. How can I be strong for the both of us? How can I fix this? How can I love you enough to make this go away?

This may sound foolish to some who have not lived this motherhood. My children are wonderful and unique and at times perfect and sometimes broken and I know this. What I am learning is that with my midlife I carry a new kind of strength. I love a new kind of love – one that is tough and resilient in ways I never knew. I no longer carry my babies in my arms, or shelter them in my shadow. I now have to watch them as the walk ahead of me, breathing life into their own world. Trembling in my heart, my mama tears soon cease as I find the strength to release my fear. I am finding the power to let go and it terrifies me. I will not be the same, but different. And my children will be better because I did so.

The right to be grateful

For several years, my renewed path to mindfulness included my focus on gratitude. As I became a parent, it became even clearer that the comfortable life in which I was raised was what I wanted for my children. I wanted them to not be spoiled, but free from worry about being in a safe neighborhood, free from concern about whether we would be able to pay the utility bill, or have enough money for the basic meals AND snacks. While today’s teens assume a cell phone and computer is a basic right, I wanted my family to be able to go to the doctor whenever there was a need. Being fully insured, fully fed, and fully entertained was our goal. Being fully educated was the underlying theme at every family discussion. At least it was for me. Having all these things meant my family was on their way to success, and I was grateful to be able to provide this for them as it was provided for me. So there was little doubt that when I became an empty nester, my attention should be directed in showing gratitude and being thankful for the grace I’d received.

Many of my enlightened friends were also at this point in their lives. We considered it a test of our faith or moral character. Acknowledging the ability to live free from most worries allowed us to be humble. To celebrate our personal freedom of no longer being the maniacal mother of teenage tyrants, but now living the life of respectful humility. We’d made it. If our children were still around to tell the tale and visit us on an occasional weekend, it was all good. However, my meditation on the benefits of being grateful took me down a thoughtful turn I had not expected. Was being grateful enough?

The basis of gratitude implies that you exist within a world that provides. That you are seen. That your voice is heard. And that you have succeeded. However, after much thought, I have concluded that the richness of one’s comfort is not earned by hard work. It seems, in part, that the privilege of being grateful is due to being born into circumstances that grant you the right to have. For all of my life, I have looked to my parents as they worked and struggled and then as my spouse and I worked and struggled to provide for our family. Little had I realized that my privilege did not just come from my hard work, but that my ancestors were able to own their home. That my parents shopped freely without fear and provided me things many others did not have. When my children had scrapes with the law, I could rescue them without further recourse as I was not second guessed as a bad mother or worse, judged as less than human. Gratitude had become my evidence of privilege.

I cannot begin to share with you how this troubles me. Being grateful, recognizing that I could have lived without but did not, was part of my midlife commitment to peace. Learning that this peace came at a price that I did not pay is overwhelming to me. How do I reconcile the future I want to provide my children, with addressing these inequities so that all mothers can be grateful and provide for theirs?

I do not have the answers to this, but like a pebble in my shoe, each step I take on this journey is a painful lesson that peace often comes at a cost. How expensive it is will be determined by how we share our ability to be grateful with others.

The fragrance of yesterday’s flowers

This spring and all the rain has made our community extremely green. In the cool mornings working from home, I have made breathing in the scent from my herbs and flowers I have planted a part of my ritual of mindful meditation. While we have all read or heard about how smell can evoke memories that have been associated with particular scents, I find that my mornings often transport me to places unexplored. Unexplored, yet ready for me to uncover the promise of tomorrow. Somehow, the growing life that fills my garden not only takes me back but holds me in a space that is quiet and new and purposeful. I have found a connection between the past, present, and the future in these gifts from my garden.

My maternal family has always loved roses. I’ve learned that our body chemistry and our ability to smell differs from person to person. However, despite the color or fragrance, the scent of roses evokes my past in a way that is more powerful than I could have imagined. I am reminded of the football-sized roses of all colors that lined my grandmother’s drive in the country where dirt roads were commonplace. I think back to my childhood where we knew we were close to my Grammy and Granddad because we saw the drive and even smelled the richness of the blooms as the tires from our car crunched over the gravel and dirt circular path. My mother continued this appreciation as her driveway in the city was also lined with roses, carrying on the sensory tradition of the anticipation of being home. While my roses do not yet grow in abundance, the fragrance of my Mr. Lincolns takes me back to a past that was simple and filled with home.

This spring, in particular, has been wonderfully fresh and I have planted mint and rosemary (ah! that rosemary!) and catered to my few growing flowers. Working the soil in the morning sun, I converse with myself about the need to wear a hat. At times, I must spend time recovering from my worshipful seat on the ground. I will occasionally stop and listen to the birds. Sometimes, I will smell the earth and my trusty canine companions and the evidence of a day at play. These moments, these scents, spur my imagination of the world to come. Retirement is too far away, but the peaceful repose of my midlife gives me hope for growth. Just like my herbs. Just like my roses. While my garden keeps me grounded in the moment, the fragrance of yesterday’s flowers allows me the gratitude of what was and excitement of what is to come.

My cup runneth over…

It was on my weekend getaway a few months ago, traveling by myself, that I took the time to understand the value of a moment. You may be thinking, “What’s a moment in the big scheme of things? Why is just a minute so important?” These days, in the time of sheltering in place, I find myself revisiting the value of time spent alone with little to do.

It had been clear that my life was taking a turn down the path of “living like I was dying”. Packing every moment with items on my bucket list: enjoying my favorite foods, seeing my favorite people more regularly, and even searching for adventures in the great unknown. As I approached midlife, I struggled with feelings that I wanted my life to count – and that I wanted to live with no regrets. It had become easy to get caught up in the planning instead of the actual living my life in these moments. It was when I finally had my “Aha” moment just recently that I took a step back from this breakneck pace and TYPE A goals (as the planner I am) to understand how my living in the moment was the perfect example of quantity over quality. My goal of paying attention had evolved into make each moment count. Little did I realize that the lesson I had to learn was that making each moment count was about finding the little joys in the moment, not making the moment “explode” with life. Somehow, I had lost the ability to see and appreciate the little things, not for what they were in connection to the big picture of my crazy days, but appreciate them for the bits of undiscovered joy they were. Reminding myself that my midlife goal was to incorporate mindfulness into all that I do, I reexamined my routine and in the process, made some improvements to my tiny world.

As a holiday gift, I received a subscription to a monthly box with samples of tea. The purpose: to provide a taste of something you might consider for future purchase. This is not a new concept – but as my mood for tea varies greatly, I took the plunge, completed the enrollment and waited for my first box. It was unclear what kind of tea I’d be receiving – white, green, black, oolong, matcha, or other flavorful combinations. I had answered questions about how I drank my tea, how I normally prepared my tea, when I drank my tea, and I even provided details about my preference on flavors. This monthly box was soon to become a pleasant surprise in an otherwise busy schedule. But what arrived at my doorstep was much more than just a box. It was truly an adventure in mindfulness.

I opened my first box to find colorful packets with foreign names and flavors. There was a description card for the teas, as well as instructions for how to make the best cup. Making a good cup of tea required attention; something I had not ever made time for in the past. The phrase, “a watched pot never boils” took on new meaning for me as I adapted my busy life to the art of making tea. By the arrival of the second box, I had carved out time for my tea. It became an adventure as I unwrapped the packets and packages of loose leaves. I became an explorer as I discovered new tastes of what I had transformed from a dry packet of leaves to a hot, sweet beverage to savor. I was taking time to enjoy the quiet moments with a full cup.

It was upon receiving my third monthly box that I realized how I had been brought to the peak of mindfulness as I had filled the kettle with water and waited for it to boil. Standing at the stove, I focused on preparing my cup and laying ready my spoon, honey, and my teacozy. Hearing the burbling sounds of the kettle, I’d taken hold of the handle as the water was boiling away, feeling the rumbling energy of the water as it was brought to the perfect temperature. As I poured the water into the teapot, I savored the wafting scent of my creation. My cup of tea had mindfully brought me to a place I had long since forgotten.

Since this time, I have learned that I must work at being mindful. I’ve decided that for me, clarity and peace of mind comes with the goal of looking for something and finding nothing. Not a task for my list, not a project to be completed, but being open to the joy of drinking a full cup of tea and what it took for me to find it.

Who will tell my story?

Just recently was the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s been six years since she passed away in my home town. We had lived apart, almost 2,000 miles apart, and while technology made it seem closer, it was not close enough. She had become unable to travel and I was still in full-time parent mode. However, as she had more time to visit with me in her retirement years, I was able get to know more about her time as a mother of girls and even a little as a young girl herself. Between the stories of aches and pains of senior life and drama she lived with distant family and her residential facility friends, she occasionally shared a recollection of a time I knew little or nothing about – her youth.

After her death, my sister and I took time to study the few remaining pieces of her life she’d left behind with us. Since moving to an assisted living facility and having to sell her home, it was clear that she had to let go of the identity she had once created for herself as wife, teacher, mother, homeowner, and grandmother. In this new setting and for the years that followed, my mother evolved – or maybe devolved – into the life she led until her death. Now, in a few boxes, what remained of her was given to us to discover.

What we found in these boxes was a woman we barely knew. Instead of the conservative woman who shied away from risk, we found an adventurer. Someone who was a leader, a success within any community she engaged. Someone who, as a young girl from a tiny farming community, fished and camped in the Redwoods. As a teacher fresh out of college, she went to the Far East to travel and teach to young children with military families. We discovered lapel pins and class photos and evidence of her travels to exotic places. We felt sad that the woman we had come to know in death was not the woman we knew in life.

Those of you who follow this journey of mine into midlife have heard my stories of decluttering my life and focusing on the present. Instead of what had become a routine of schedules and sacrifice, I am focusing more on enjoying my life as it unfolds and living an authentic life built not only on the past but the present. As I read between the lines of my mother’s belongings, I was saddened to conclude that we, as a family, had been unsuccessful in helping her tell her story. Instead of celebrating who she was with us, she had put it in the past and lived a life she felt she should – a life of obligation. Where was this carefree girl fishing in the river? Exploring her world? Leading the charge of those around her? Why were we left with a feeling that we didn’t genuinely know the wonderful person she was? How different would our lives have been had this woman had been more a part of our lives?

My father, who had become estranged from our family after the divorce, led a very troubled and lonely life. In death a couple years later, he left no one behind to share his story. My decluttering of my parents belongings and other collected items allowed me to reminisce through the artifacts of my personal history. This gave me pause to think about my life and how I want to be remembered when I am no longer here to tell MY story. Some will ask, why does it matter? You will be gone and it will no longer affect you. After much reflection, I have concluded it matters to me because I want to be remembered. I want my story to be woven into the fabric of my “people” and their collective hearts. Being remembered gives your love and the life you lead purpose.

Nowadays, with social media, people who really don’t know you well may only know what you share via your streams of posts and tweets. The duality of crafting your public story versus living your private one has become the reality of today’s generation. I wholeheartedly believe that we owe it to ourselves to tell our own story. I derive my strength and inspiration from the string of events that are mine and mine alone. All the good and the bad moments have made me who I am and I want my people to know every bit of it. What about you? What of your life gives you purpose? How will others tell your story?

What lies at my altar…

In a time where it is easy to lose one’s faith in humanity and the simple gratitude for life, I am reminded of the many ways we celebrate our faith, our belief in goodness, and the power of this universe to shelter the evolution of our love for one another. Some find purpose in making time to help others. Others find fulfillment in prayer or solitude. Nowadays, I find myself restless and unable to focus what gives my life meaning. I look for things to clean and people to hold, to support, and to talk to. At times I worry that the periods of quiet in my life foretell of my becoming irrelevant and unnecessary.

As an empty nester, I feel like a parent in absentia. As a spouse, I’ve become an explorer into my self discovery. As an American, I’ve become an activist in the battle between privilege and achievement. My life these days seems full of planning and checklists. What do they say? Life is what happens when you’re making plans. However, even among the checklists and the schedules, I strive to live my life in mindfulness. Even in midlife, I still find myself caught between the lessons of the past and the planning for the future. It is for this reason I build my personal altar. It is here that I can maintain the focus on my life, the important things, and my daily midlife journey.

I am not a church goer. I do not pray at an altar or kneel in reverence at temple. I have, however, found great peace in creating a personal altar of sacred things. My things. My mementos. Periodically adding items of value and meaning to me and lessons in gratitude they represent in my life. A button from my father’s jacket to remind me of how a negative memory of someone close to you can change over time and become the good thing you need it to be. A sand dollar collected from the beach in the city I love that reminds me that I can simply close my eyes to remember the wet sand and cool breeze of my youth. A sandalwood scented candle placed in front of me is ready to light with the intent of breathing in my joy and breathing out my gratitude.

This altar tethers me to the choices I make in my life and how I want to matter. I don’t like feeling lost. I don’t like feeling angry at a cruel world and at he ignorance of others. At times, it is difficult to remain hopeful when there is so much ugliness and misfortune. However, in spite of it all, I find myself swinging between the times of awe and thankfulness for the moments of wonder and beauty I encounter in my life and the sorrow at the inevitability of the destruction of our planet and all its creatures.

At this altar, I have my candle to light my path when it has grown dark. I have my dragonfly to remind me that natural beauty is appreciating the individual, not always comparing one to the brilliantly colored butterfly. I have mementos of my family that keep me focused on my love for them and how I can strive to always be a teacher, or a friend. All these things, and more, allow me to not become overwhelmed in the abundance of things. I live in the acknowledgement that while I am not responsible for the lives and actions of others, I can be humble and grateful for what I have. I can strive to make a difference in my midlife that will be just as good as making a difference as just a parent or wife.

How is your journey and what do you do to make your life matter? What lies at your altar?

A wrinkle in my twinkle

My life has not always been easy. Ups and downs and things that scared me to my core took me to places that forever affected me. Now, I laugh more. I smile more. Less bothers me because I know that it wastes precious energy to sweat the small stuff. However, it has recently come to my attention that in my efforts to remain youthful in both spirit and smile, I am starting to wrinkle. Not in the cute creases of my twinkling eyes, but in the sag of my sagacity.

As a mom of former teenagers, I’ve often taken a discerning view of what life puts in my path. I trust, but am not always trusting. I am happy, but not always joy-filled. The direction I’ve taken in my life comes with qualification – with details, and with explanation. I’ve learned to take the good with the not-so-great. While I believe that life is what you make it, it is never perfect. Lessons one learns often come with a price. If you’re lucky, the wisdom that comes with experience shapes you in ways you’re proud of. Every crease, every fold, every dip into the unknown takes you to a new place. Being mindful of my steps, I focus on where I’m going. I measure my effort. I breathe in the gratitude of knowing that while each day is a gift, I am making the most out of my walks through this life. I couldn’t always say this but I appreciate that I can now.

Looking in the mirror, I see my life shaping my face, my physique, and my joy. I feel I must look past the wrinkle in my twinkle and relish the passion that has put it there. I must work hard to continue my walk down the path of mindfulness. Remaining in the present and not trying to plan my way out of midlife has been difficult. I don’t want to be stuck, but the mirror reminds me that there is balance to every choice I make.

I’m enjoying my midlife journey, and trying not to focus to hard on the lines and turns that shape my midlife. As long as I am guided to a clear path, and sunshine lights my way, a little wrinkle in my twinkle reminds me this trip has been worth it.

The fabric of friendship

When I was a child, making friends was as simple as telling the other your favorite color, food, and favorite television show. If you had things in common, you became friends. There was no complexity to the genuine nature of being a child. You were guaranteed a friend to play with a recess and someone who would come to your birthday party. No drama or politics to consider. You would share the latest events that took place over the weekend with your family. For me, it was stories like the one from a second grade friend about obtaining strawberry flavored lipstick, and the subsequent heartache when another friend tried to eat it. I have often wondered how life could be if adult friendships could be just as simple. We could have pre-printed business cards with our favorite food, favorite color, and a picture of us in our favorite outfit on a good hair day. No fuss, no frills and a friendship could be made.

Of course, life goes on and friendships become more complicated. Making time for important people is more difficult as work demands our time and children demand our attention. As adults, we engage in screening the people in our lives to ensure they match our values and our schedules. It is not surprising that quality friendships became difficult to develop and keep. At times when my nerves were frayed and my life unraveling, I often didn’t have the network of supportive friends I had also hoped to have a young professional and mother. As an introvert, it was lonely. Weaving the intricacies of a fulfilling and authentic life seemed to be more difficult without connection of kinship.

Considering this point caused me to step back and really think about what this blog was going to be about. It was difficult to focus on the point in writing this piece. Close and lasting friendships were difficult in my younger life and the lessons from that chapter in my life gave me lots to consider. What was it that I was trying to say? What did I really need to learn from this process? Nowadays with social media, many define friendships by connections – perhaps an electronic version of what we knew as children. I had plenty of those, connections I had made over the years. But how many of them would reach out regularly? Who would be there if you needed them? I have family and friends who are really looking at their networks, only to discover that it is still possible to be lonely in the midst of hundreds of “friends”.

It was only in my later life that I was able to appreciate how my life had become stronger with friendships that have lasted me for years. Not the casual acquaintances that are good for a chat at a local bar every once in a while, but true and deep friendships. Friends who wanted to add me to their lives and play a part in mine. Some friends developed into and remained friends, other wonderful people came and went. Some I had to let go of because I was hanging onto them for the wrong reasons. Good people come and go in every life, but a good friendship requires more that can’t be forced. Aspects like genuine interest, respect, timing of one’s life journey. My friends’ lives didn’t always match mine. Some were married and some were not. Some had children and some did not. Even now, I understand that that weaving these friendships in to my life was a difficult but worthwhile effort. The color they brought into an ordinary life made me an even better person that I could have been alone. As my midlife unfolds and I continue my focus on the moment, I can only look forward to weaving more threads into my fabric of friendship.

Reel to Real Life

I can’t recall when I exactly I became fascinated with the movies. I would regularly lose myself in the technicolor drama and my imagination exploded with potential. I became the characters I watched. I was the heroine from a foreign land. I was the adventurer from space or the pioneer woman on the wagon train. When I was old enough to attend the movie theater by myself, something inside me must have clicked. I finally understood that despite the cinematic separation between on and off screen life , each person can pick and choose the influences in their world and create their own life movie. The romance we aspire to, the friendships and family we hope for, and the adventure we seek in an existence which can often be lonely, scary, and full of challenge. Even today, I escape to the movies to what I call my reel life.

Becoming enamored with characters for their wisdom, their ingenuity and their heroism inspired me in ways nothing else could. I had no heroes growing up. As a parent, I can’t say if I was ever a hero to my children. I am, however, a role model. Someone who lives their life in the face of adversity. Someone whose individuality does not waver in a culture of conformity. Someone whose bravery hopefully shines to others in my life during times when it is easy to surrender. I am inspired by the Luke Skywalkers of my reel life. I was inspired by all the role models I did not have but found in the movies.

I think everyone goes through a period of uncertainty, insecurity, or loneliness. My favorite stories brought to life in the movies always seemed to give me solace. Whether it is as a child or as an adult, we grow and cling to what gets us through. For me, the potential of an awesome life is what I found in my youth and what I brought to my midlife. Now, I feel like I have made it to the other side. The challenges of my early life are still there but no longer as crippling. My children have been encouraged to find their own way and to seek inspiration in their worlds. Worlds that I have had a hand in creating. As a mother, I have often worried about the journeys my children are choosing to take. Hopefully, they are finding good things in both typical and unexpected places.

You may wonder why the inspiration and escape I’ve found in movies has remained so constant in my mid-life. Surprisingly, I have found I am not alone. I have learned about networks of others who have been so inspired by their reel life they have cultivated communities of their own whose passion exceeds the confines of national boundaries or age. These people read fan fiction, celebrate fun through cosplay, and join others in their escapism only cinema can provide. While one might argue that movies are not real, they are not a healthy way to perceive life, I argue that for me – they do not dictate what people should be but provide me the framework to explore my own imagination. I am free to believe that I am the master of my own life and I alone can choose how to what I aspire and how high I can reach.

I am fortunate that I can now spend my time worrying less about finding my heroes and more time about being one to inspire someone else. I can find the time to share the stories that will stir others to be bold, to take big steps into their real life. Some are lucky to find these people close to home. Others, like me, found mine in the movies. I may no longer need my virtual light saber, but the soundtrack to my real life still sounds pretty darn good.

Garden of the god(dess)

It was in the throws of late spring and now past summer solstice that I find myself shoe deep in the mud of our yard. Clumps of clay and weed and dog paw prints like fossils changing from mud to dried artifact. I am filled with caffeine-fueled hope that I might master the art of gardening in the potential oasis I call my home. Spring does this to me, affects me in ways that stir me to my maternal soul.

There is something fulfilling about providing the care and nurturing that a garden requires. Something about the control of the new growth, claiming responsibility for the beauty, and the shame in a failed result that reminds me of motherhood. Many of us have heard the analogy of our children being the flowers in our family garden – delicate and in need of nurturing in the beginning, exposure to the elements of the world to help them grow into a strong and beautiful creation, and the occasional requirement of extra fertilizer to boost the balance resulting from growing in the wrong place exposed to toxic elements. Tending a garden is not easy, no matter what kind of plants you choose to raise.

While the mornings are still cool and I can successfully prune and weed, I think fondly of a childhood story of The Secret Garden. Discovering the fragrant trail into the abandon of a special place in nature. Developing everlasting bonds of kinship with those whom I can keep my spiritual secret. Establishing oneness with my world and feeling inspired by the nature growing around me permits my imagination to run wild. In my attempts to remain mindful and live in the moment, I can state that the garden is just that – a spot in the midst of the chaos – where I can meditate on the moment.

I have to wonder if my daughters are also become a part of my midlife Garden. My mindful flowers keeping me rooted in the moment to enjoy the meaning of my Saturday mornings. This is where I do not worry about the things I cannot control. I can only respond to what I am shown that moment. I can water, weed, and sit to enjoy the stillness. While I can claim to be the reason why my Garden flourishes or not, I really know that it is up to the ultimate Mother, the Earth. It is up to the sun and the wind and the rush of mystical sense that sweeps me up into a mindful moment of this inspirational wonder. I am but the goddess of my tiny Garden. A temporary caretaker. It is in the bigger field that my flowers will eventually grow and thrive. Each unto their own time to blossom.

In the meantime, I will continue to dig and weed and work around the clay-like soil filled with “paw-ssils”, thwarting the curious canines that serve as my entourage as I trek into the jungle that is my garden. Focusing not just on what I can do for my Garden, but what it does for me. Like I expect most gardeners believe, I would imagine the success of their cultivated and nurtured secret Garden to be like the sunflower – continually growing, always facing the light, standing tall for others to see. I can only hope that mine reseed and continue to bloom where they are planted.