On Strike

Sometimes, life is too hard.

I mean it. Sometimes, I just have to give up.

Not permanently. Not in a dangerous or devastating way.

But yes, I am saying that sometimes you just have to say, “Enough.”

Do not get me wrong. I am all for positivity.

If it were not for having learned to watch my thoughts and understand that I am not my thoughts or feelings, I would surely be dead today. My thoughts have a tendency to the dark side. The side that urges me to death. The side that has had enough of pain and sorrow and wishes for me a return to the void as soon as possible.

I have come to respect and have compassion for that dark side tendency of my mind. It is, its own way, trying to help me survive. But I have put it in the back seat of my psyche as a passenger on this ride through life. I do not let it drive. It would drive me off a steep cliff, like that last scene in “Thelma and Louise.” I observe it. I am not it.

Back to positivity. I thoroughly believe, after much personal experimentation, that there is, indeed, a tremendous power in our thoughts. Choosing life on a daily basis and choosing  how to respond to life and the thoughts and feelings that arise as a result of living moment to moment are a crucial key to my having a fulfilling existence with some degree of serenity.

I have learned I can direct my thoughts. I can see when they are in a groove, an old, habitual, familiar song. I can pick up the needle off the record (remember those?) and set it on a new groove. I can literally rewire my brain over time with consistency and commitment.

I believe in and have benefited from the power of mantras and affirmations.

These are all tools I use to co-create a rich and full life each day.

Yet.

I also believe, after many failed attempts to do otherwise, that there is a value and a necessity to having times where I can throw my hands up, literally and figuratively, and say to the Universe, to God, and, perhaps most importantly, to my Higher Self and all of my selves: “I give up!”

Somehow, for me, exercising my ability to say “Enough, I cannot go on another inch, I am done, that’s it!” has been very important.

Some part of my spirit, deep down inside, perhaps very young, very formerly traumatized, needs me to heed her desire to say, “No more.”

I tried to push away her voice for many, many years. First, I drowned it in food and alcohol. Later, I drowned it in positivity and recovery. Finally, I stopped and listened. Really acknowledged and listened.

I had to truly stop snd listen. Once I could hear her voice, it was very easy to find compassion for her pain and her suffering.

She did not trust me at first. Understandably, she had no reason to believe that I had any interest in her needs whatsoever. I get it. I’d neglected her for so long. Denied her existence, or worse, judged and bullied her. At first, I didn’t trust myself to be able to help her, make her feel safe.

But I made a commitment to her to always be there for her. To listen and help her. To make her the priority over anything else, as a matter of fact.

To parent her. And as a parent, I do not let her run the show. She is too young. Too raw. Too wounded. But I do honor her needs. I take them seriously. I give her attention, affection, acceptance. I give her my love.

And when she says “Enough,” we stop.

Not forever. Not in a dangerous or permanent way.

But we stop. I stop.

I unplug from the striving. The adult-ing. The New York City drive-ing.

I go on strike. I take a pause. I withdraw from the world.

I take a beat. I let her relax as fully as she can. I hold her hand and say, “I know. It is hard. I hear you are weary.”

And then, when she has had my attention and has been given a rest, when we both feel that it is time, I get back into my life and the world again.

She snuggles back into my heart, and lets me enter fully into the moments of my life.

And so I enter back into my life again. Awake. Ready to strive. To pursue. To stretch and grow.

Whole.

How to Move a Mountain

Every time I start a new project, I am terrified I will not be able to do it.

Every. Single. Time.

This terror is not my initial response. My first response is elation. Excitement. Passion. Thrill.

This is a delightful and short-lived phase of my process. Much sooner than I would like, the excitement and celebration morphs into abject doubt and fear.

Suddenly, I am overwhelmed by the work ahead of me. My mind makes it all seem like an enormous mountain that I am at the base of, seemingly without any equipment or wherewithal of how to surmount it. It is like some weird fog of “forgetting” comes over me and seduces me into believing that:

  1. I do not have any business embarking on this endeavor, and
  2. I do not have a clue as to how to do anything.

I am grateful to have a partner in life, my husband, who very fortunately has borne witness to my process over and over again. (He was actually the first person to point it out to me.)

While his reminder to me that this is “just a part of my process” does not in any way change my process, it does allow me to find somewhere within the knowing that “this too shall pass.” The knowing that this is not the end of my process. That this is actually letting me know, in a way, that I am on my way. As in, the fear and doubt kick in because I am entering into my creative process. It is a sign I am doing what I love.

That knowing makes moving through that phase a bit easier. Then I can recall, if need be, that I have felt this doubt and fear every time in the past. I can reference back and remember that every time in the past, I not only survived, but that I even succeeded in accomplishing what I took on in the end.

Awareness is everything, they say. That I have found to be true. If only awareness erased the anxiety! But I have found that only action alleviates the anxiety (to some degree.) I am lucky to have learned that as well.

My antidote to the fear and doubt is this: when it sets in, as it always will, I make sure to start the work right away. I begin the work NO MATTER WHAT, and as soon as possible, and I continue to work at it daily. I do it in chunks, and in this way, I navigate the treacherous waters of the part of me that wants to interfere with my creative endeavors.

The part of me that Steven Pressfield writes about valiantly fighting. If you are not familiar with his work, do yourself a favor and check him out. His books have been invaluable to me in my learning how to work with myself and my resistance.

And so I prevail. Not in spite of the resistance, but alongside it, through it, with it.

I am writing this as a reminder to myself as I have just begun a new project and after being very excited about it for a day or two, just about an hour ago, I got really scared and filled with doubt.

What the hell was I thinking? I cannot do THAT! I am not equipped. I cannot handle it. Reasons flood my mind as to why it was a bad idea. Dread filled my gut.

So what did I do? I took two actions in support of the project before I could fall into paralysis or start dreaming up ways to get myself out of the commitment. And I am writing this. And I am feeling somewhat better.

The jitters and the fear are still there, just waiting to take over. But for today, I have held them at bay and given more attention to my work. And somewhere in the mix I feel inside, there is a knowing.

After all, this is all just a part of my process. I am right where I supposed be.

The man who moved a mountain was the one who began carrying away small stones.

Ancient Chinese Proverb

Inspired by The Daily Post Word Prompt June 10, 2016: mountain

Do-Be-Do-Be-Do

Somewhere along the way, I learned to value efficiency over my own sanity.

I mean, I can multi-task something fierce. Today, my day began at 7 AM and had been straight through from meeting to class to rehearsal to workout to an hour and a half with nothing planned.

I had intended to relax and have a shake and chill until I needed to leave for the next thing, a class that would go until 10 PM. But no, I ended up doing other things, and all at once.

I ended up troubleshooting with an Adobe support person while making a shake with my Nutri-Bullet, and helping a friend in need on the phone through a rough time. My hour and a half quickly dissolved into a remaining ten minutes to get out the door and on to the next thing, and I still hadn’t rested or had my shake.

It was crazy! And thank God, the better part of me knew it. I was not with any one of those fully. I at least had the presence of mind to tell my friend that while I was glad she called and that I could absolutely make time for her, that I couldn’t give her my full attention, and I wanted to.

The truth is, I have to make a concerted effort to stop myself during the day to drink water, go to the restroom, take a breath.

It is hard for me to not see “downtime” as inefficient.

When did I begin to de-value just “being”? Why the frenzy to always fill every possible slot of time with actions and tasks?

It doesn’t really matter. I could blame it one the world today. This digital age. That I live in NYC.

All I know is that after several days like that, I will crash. My system will revolt.

I need those pockets of doing nothing. To refill me well. To daydream. To be blank. To breathe.

I practically have to schedule them. They are still not second nature. My second nature is to get into the frenzy.

But, today aside, I am getting better. Awareness is all, right? And action.

Or should I say, inaction!?

How do you get yourself to remember to do nothing?

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word prompt: inefficient

No Trace

“Hmmph,” she said to no one in particular as was her proclivity as she looked down at the lipstick mark her lips made after the first sip of her first cup of coffee of the day.

With a little too much force, she wiped away every trace of Eldorado Red from the rim of her cup before taking the next sip.

And thus began her morning routine, sipping, swiping and then sipping again, which oddly gave her a feeling of extreme self-satisfaction every time.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: proclivity

A Stitch in Time

When my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001 and was going in for surgery to have it removed, I immediately knew I wanted to fly down to be with her.

But I was 6 months newly sober, so it was daunting to fly across the country, leaving behind my support system. But more frightening than that was the fear that my mother would die while on the table, or that they would find more cancer than they could treat.

It was a challenging time.

I knew that I would be experiencing many emotions as I navigated her illness and surgery, and I really wanted to deal with them in healthy ways, not fall back into old coping behaviors.

Someone suggested to me that I take up knitting as something to occupy my hands and eat up some of the extra energy (aka anxiety) that I would be experiencing.

Thankfully, I took their advice, bought some knitting supplies and took them down with me. And as I waited for her to come through the surgery, I began to knit.

My mom had been the one to teach me how to knit in the first place, so it felt really right to sit and knit, waiting for those awful hours to hear how the surgery went. Anyone who has gone through it knows how difficult that waiting can be.

I only remembered one stitch, but that was enough. I had no pattern, so I just started knitting a row about the width of a muffler and took it from there.

Thankfully, my mother came through the surgery very well. I moved back into her hospital room, and the knitting came with me. In fact, it would continue to be my sober companion for the rest of her hospital stay and afterwards as she recovered at home, because I ended up staying longer than I had planned.

My mother had her surgery on September 10, 2001. We were both sleeping in her hospital room that next morning, when a friend of hers called my mother and told her to put on the news. We watched together as my adopted home city was terrorized.

In shock, I immediately did two things: I went to a meeting and then I went to donate blood.

Then, I went back to the hospital, where knitting became a lifeline again as my world was rocked from its axis a second time.

I was so desperate to get back to NYC, but could not leave until they allowed flights again. I knitted with fervor through those days following 9-11, as I helped my parents take my mom back home and settled her in.

And then finally, I was able to return home to NYC, and my knitting accompanied me on the plane and through the weeks as our city began to heal.

Eventually, I stopped knitting…though from time to time I will pick it up again when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan or I feel that I need it as a way to stay calm under duress. I guess that is just the nature of my relationship to it. I am grateful it is there for me when I need it.

I still have that piece of knitting from that time when my world was rocked to its core. It is a very, very long muffler-type knitted piece that is a bit misshapen and not at all suited for anything. But it stands as a reminder to me that there is always a way to show up and consciously move through even the hardest of times. That I can survive anything, be of service and even be creative even as my world is falling apart.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: knit

Exhalation

How can I release this grip

This clinging on to everything good

As if my life depended on it

It feels so dangerous to release

All that I’m attempting to control

It is exhausting to hold on so tight

But it’s all I’ve ever known

Learned early to clutch and grasp

At what little good was parsed my way

If I loosen my fingers, if I let go my grip

Will I slide into the Void

Disappear into Nothingness

Or will I float into better climes

And find out what Life really feels like

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: clutch

Nesting

With a blog named “Life on the Skinny Branches,” you might surmise that I have a thing about birds. And you’d be right.

I have always felt drawn to birds of all kinds. I think the connection began when I was young when I was first introduced to the great poem by Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

The free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wings

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of the things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn

and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

Maya was speaking of many things, experiences that I do not pretend to know about. But also, for me, she spoke about something that I knew firsthand: feeling locked in a cage, grounded, longing for freedom. You see, I, too, know why the caged bird sings. (Maybe in some ways we all do.)

Perhaps that set up my lifelong affinity for and sense of connection to birds, and flying.

In 2016, my words for the year – for what I was calling in for myself – were: Emerge/Celebrate/Express/Reveal. It was a year all about self-expression, growing confidence in myself. And it definitely was that kind of year. I started this blog last year — it was a big deal for me to begin to share my words in a public way. I began intentionally living on the skinny branches, and it has been thrilling.

This year, when I soul-searched for the words to guide my year, they were: Daring Greatly/Stretch/Curious/Creative/Depth/Credibility/Courage. So I expected to be soaring, having jumped off those skinny branches. I expected to be flying high.

And the year started off strong. I was in a play. Then a play reading. I did a short film. Took an incredible trip to Spain.

And then, in March, I was suddenly grounded.

Literally. My whole system shut down.

It was if my body went on strike on behalf of my spirit and said “No more, sister. You are gonna stop and sit for awhile.”

I was forced to stay home. A lot. This was not easy for me. I have always been driven. Have always sort of hurled myself through life, a bit desperate to make up for lost time.

It was humbling to have been so completely drained of vitality that walking down the street was a challenge. But that was my reality.

So I had to stop many beloved activities. And somewhere along the way, I began to listen to whatever it was that my body and soul needed me to hear.

(I also sought professional medical help, and received it. I made many changes in what I was putting into my body and began to look at how to approach my life better, aka how to lesson the internal stress I create for myself as I interact with the external world.)

I am realizing now that it was in this being stopped, it has been in this time of recovery and healing, that I have learned to appreciate the nest.

When I got stopped, I got quiet. I had a great deal of solitude. I have been depressed before. This was not that. It was…me with me. (It was awful at first because a part of me feared I was “losing” more time. That part of me fears it is already too late. That part wants me to run around like a chicken with my head cut off. That part is misguided. I help it along today with a firm but loving hand. No more shoving myself through the world.)

In time, I began to see that this being stopped was helping me to ask new questions and to also really listen to the current answers of old questions. The answers have changed since the days I first asked them. Who knew my body was so very wise? She made me listen. She made me pay attention. She had lots for me to re-cover.

And slowly, I began to heal, and my vitality began to come back. I can say with joy today that I am almost 100% back. But I am not the same.

I cannot run around like I did before. I could, but I do not want to. I am finding new ways to do the things I want and need to do. I am giving myself more time to do these things, to process, to absorb. I am nipping stress in the bud — I simply do not want to waste my precious life energy on certain things any more.

It is a new day. It is a new me. I am finding out all sorts of things. I have much to do, but it will be on new terms. I think they are much better, frankly, than the old ones.

I appreciate the life force that calls me to soar, to live life on the skinny branches and beyond. It is a huge part of who I am.

But every bird also needs some sort of place to call home. A place to hatch their young. A place to refuel.

And so, it is so very clear to me now, do I.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: nest