Life is short … and other clichés

This year seems to be one that is determined to make me think about mortality.

January started with the profound and intense experience of being with a close friend, and his wife, as he passed away from cancer at the too-young age of 48.

More recent events of a  friend undergoing life critical surgery, others battling cancer and those dealing with the shock of loved ones who have died suddenly and unexpectedly  have made me realize that so many of the clichés we use about life and death have probably become clichés because they are so true. I am reminded that life is short and that we all will die. Including me.

But the knowledge that has really settled into my bones and blood is that none of us know how short, or how long, our lives truly are.

What motivates me, and what lights a fire in my belly, is not that I will die someday. But that I could die tomorrow. Or today.

And I could die with things left undone. Words that have not been spoken. Places left unvisited. Time still wasted on actions without heart or passion.

I am finding myself becoming wildly determined to not to wait to do the things that are important to me.  After all, what am I waiting for? Last year’s journey of “fierce” has combined with this year’s journey of “stretch” to urge me forward on my path leaving behind the “I should’s” and moving toward the “I want’s”.

Two weeks ago an opportunity came up to buy a condo in an area of town in which I’ve always wanted to live. In nine days, I bought the new condo, got my place ready to sell and accepted an offer.  Nine days. And I took Sunday off to visit with friends!

My initial thought was “it’s too fast, I’m not ready, I can’t do this”.  But as the Committee in my head began the bickering process of why it wouldn’t work, I could also hear the insistent whisper of my heart saying, “this is what we want, what we’ve dreamed of, we can do it”. But is my blood and my bones that are new to the conversation and who are speaking up and saying “We are doing this and we are doing it now. So get it in gear and figure it out”.

So with help from friends, a good real estate agent, and an amazing mortgage broker, I made it happen. And, with the bit of money left over I am starting my travel fund to finally travel to Africa on safari. I want to see elephants in the wild.

I don’t know how long I have left. So I am doing it now. I am not waiting any longer.

As the cliché says, “there is nothing like death to make you appreciate life”.

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Out here all alone

Recently, the following quote appeared on my Facebook feed –

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While likely not ever said by Albert Einstein, it nonetheless got me thinking.

My first thought was that it’s a pretty scary looking picture with the grey mist, the old bridge and that crow waiting for you to try and pass.  And that is sometimes how it feels when you break off from the crowd and are all alone. Scary. And lonely. And dangerous.

So much of my life feels like a break from the crowd. Or at least from what they tell you you need to be and do in order to be part of the crowd. I’ve never been married. I don’t have kids. I’m not interested in climbing my way up the corporate ladder (and working 60 hours a week). I don’t want a house. I’m not thin. I don’t have cable. Or a TV. I probably haven’t seen the latest episode of, well, anything. And, I don’t much care about the big game. So sometimes it’s lonely and scary and I feel like I’m not doing it right.

But then my next thought was how awesome it is to be out here on my own traveling through my own landscape. I’m living MY life and not the “supposed to” life constructed in my head from too much advertising and not enough self-worth. And the more I inhabit this space, far from the maddening crowd, the happier I am and the easier it is to make decisions about my life and my path. Even the hard decisions are becoming easy to make if still somewhat harder to implement.

Not that I’m becoming a hermit, although I am sometimes tempted to escape to the woods to a cabin all by myself. It’s just that making my decisions about my path without worrying about what everyone else is doing (or thinking) means that I really am going places that I’ve never been before.

So here I am crossing the bridge and heading into the misty unknown.  And finding it pretty damn exciting.

(side note – have you ever noticed the large number of internet quotes attributed to Albert Einstein?!)

The war is over

In 2014, I picked the word fierce as my word for the year and it was a damn fine word.

I wanted to be fierce about the decisions in my life. To stand up for my needs more and compromise my happiness less. To live my life fully and not let my fear of not being liked (or loved) stop me from doing what I really want to do. To be visible and courageous and unflinching in my authenticity.

Did I succeed? For the most part …hell yes I did! Not always, of course. And I’m sure I had my clumsy and inelegant moments in which I inadvertently hurt others. But mostly, I loved being fierce. I made some really hard decisions and then hoped my friends would understand. Some did and our friendship is strengthened and more deeply valued by me. Some didn’t and the loss of that connection brings sadness but few regrets.

I tackled some big physical challenges and made it over the damn mountain. Twice. I spoke some hard truths and I tried to do it with love, compassion and thoughtfulness. And I walked into the darkness to poke at what hurts in the hopes of healing the wounds.

Now that it’s 2015, I’m not sure I want to let my fierce word companion go. I think I might keep that fierceness tucked in my back pocket and just keep on keeping on.

subversiveBut as 2014 came to a close and I began thinking about a word for 2015 one thing became increasingly clear. The most troubled area for me in living fully is still my physical relationship with my body. I’ve put on weight (again). I never feel like I eat healthy or get enough exercise. But July’s experience hiking the Quiraing planted the seed that I needed to get along with my body more. I couldn’t force it to do what I wanted; I needed to support it.

And then, at the end of 2014, I had the incredible experience of being with a dear friend in the last days of his life as he passed away from cancer and his spirit was released from this world. As I watched his body break down and stop working, I realized that I have spent a lot of my life at war with my body.  Hating it for being too fat, blaming it for the things that haven’t gone the way I wanted them to (hello rejection and heartbreak), yelling at it to be in better shape like some kind of abusive coach.  Faster! Stronger! Not Good Enough!

The fact is, though, that my body is working pretty damn well.  There are a whole lot of things going right each day that mean I am mobile, not in pain and able to do the things I want to. It has done its best and stuck with me even with the negative self-talk and the crap I sometimes feed it.

Perhaps instead of being at war with my body, I could instead be at peace with it.  Maybe instead of yelling I could celebrate my body and all the amazing things we can do together. Perhaps if I loved my body more then this idea of self-care would become less of a battle and more of a partnership. If I could take the fierceness with which I have tackled the outside world in 2014 and turn it inwards into celebration and partnership then I might be much happier and waste less of this precious life.

IMG_1270And so I have chosen the word stretch for 2015. To stretch my body fully and gloriously and revel in all it can do. To expand my body and my spirit together in partnership to explore the potential of my life. To physically stretch my muscles to allow for free movement.

If fierce was the word that acted as a backstop to keep me from eroding myself away in compromise and people-pleasing then I hope stretch is a word that helps me join hands with my body and reach forward towards my goals and dreams and desires.

It’s time to make peace with the enemy.

The war is over.

Let the parade begin.

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Invisible Cleaning

I spent this weekend doing the kind of cleaning that only I am likely to notice.

I moved furniture and chased down a whole burrow of dust bunnies.

I went through drawers and cupboards and got rid of things I don’t need. Even that stuff way at the back where you have to get down on your hands and knees to reach.

I took care of tasks I’ve been putting off … cleaning the window sills, sorting through the treasures that had turned from “a few highlights” to “a pile of stuff”.

I said goodbye to energetic anchors, remants of projects long done or never to be finished, gifts from old lovers or friends that chain me to the past, clothes that will never be worn again.

I can tell I did good work. My body is pleasantly sore and I can look around and feel proud at the tidying up. I look around and I am happy.

But if you knew my home and had visited me here, I doubt you would notice. It’s subtle and it’s easy to miss.

It strikes me that self-care is a lot like that. The time spent sweeping the cobwebs from my mind, sorting through emotions to clean up the yucky mess, the sifting of memories to keep the good and move past the bad. Breaking energy connections that leave me sad and forging ones that highlight the treasures of friendships. And the sometimes heart sore feeling at the end of the process.

It’s easy to forget in the mess of the big things in life. But the invisible – or maybe just hard to see – cleaning brings and equal sense of quiet contentment at the end of the day. Peace of heart and home.

You might not notice if I didn’t tidy and if I didn’t work at self-care. But I sure would.

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Counting my fears

Today, I headed out on a hiking journey in Scotland but instead of counting sheep, I ended counting my fears.

Part of the reason to sign up for this week-long hiking trip was to face a challenge. To stretch my body and my mind and to experience new adventures. But today was far more challenging than I ever expected.

We hiked an area of the Island of Skye called the Quiraing. A giant landslip in the northeast part of the island, the Quiraing has large jagged cliffs with a slope that falls away into the green valley below. Our path wound is way up and through the cliffs, rocky face on one side and steep drop off on the other. Rocky and muddy, the path topped out at a windy and misty summit.

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While I knew some of the hiking trip would be difficult, I was not expecting the steep slope or the rocky terrain. It was probably the scariest thing I have done in a long time and most of the four hour hike was spent battling the trail and my fears.

Some of the fears were easily dismissed. The fear of not keeping up? Whatever. The terrain was a challenge and was going at my own speed. The rest of the group could deal.

Fear of physically being able to complete the hike? Well, I could stop and rest when needed. After all, frequent stops for photos was clearly warranted and gave a good chance to catch my breath.

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But the one fear that left me paralyzed and struggling to breathe was the fear of falling. About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with a type of vertigo and while I have had a few bouts of room-spinning, this was entirely different.

My body physically felt like it was about to fall. Panic flooded my systems, I couldn’t breathe and my body would not move. Not a step. It was like my body was saying, “we are about to fall to our death, so I’m not moving from this spot in order to save us from that”.

What is frustrating is that my mind knew better. I knew I was okay. There were other people on the trail, I had a climbing pole and I could go as slowly as needed. But my body was not listening.

But since I couldn’t stand on that hillside forever, somehow I had to figure out how to go forwards, despite that fact that it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had no choice but to try and unparalyze myself from the fear.

Since I’m back at the hotel room writing this, you will know that somehow I made it. I talked gently and lovingly to my body, respecting how it felt while trying to keep it moving forwards. My sister helped me, talking to me the whole way, telling jokes and stories to keep me distracted and she even took my camera and took photos so I could see them later. I watched only the path in front of me although I did manage to look up a few times, if rarely down.

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This was my second experience with whatever you call this kind of vertigo panic attack. The first was on Glastonbury Tor last year. From that experience, I learned that sometimes you just have to move forwards through the fear because there is no other choice.

What struck me this time, once the adrenaline had cleared from my system and I was having a nice cup of tea at the end of the walk, was that people say that one of the worst fears is the fear of the unknown.

I’m not sure about that. If I had known at the first upward turn of the path today what was ahead of me, I would not have continued. After struggling through the first of river crossings and down-up that first slippery slope, if I had known that it was but the first of many heart-pounding, breath stealing, panicky stretches of trail then I would not have been able to continue. Hell, if I’d known what that hike was like, I would not have left the carpark!

Perhaps when we face our fears, it’s best not to know what is ahead so we can do it one tiny step at a time. Focus just on the challenge in front of us and not worry about what is next. Perhaps the whole path ahead is too intimidating to think of in its entirety. It can only be traversed one challenge at a time.

Did I have fun? No. Would I ever do it again? Not willingly. Am I glad I did it? Meh, maybe give me a few more days to recover. Am I proud of myself? Hell yes!!!! And I am grateful for everything that my fears and that path taught me today.

And as I take my tired body to bed, I’ll be happy with just counting sheep.

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Half Way Fierce

It’s the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere and a good time to choose where to put all the awesome solar energy.

Being mid-way through the calendar year, it seems like a good idea to check in on my word for this year and see what has manifested and grown. Using Sas Petherick’s Solstice Six questions, here’s how I think it’s going …

1. Did you have a word for this year? How has it manifested itself? If you didn’t have a word, what is the theme that has played out in your life so far this year?

My word for this year is FIERCE! 

To be fierce about living my life to its fullest. Fierce about allowing myself to be seen and heard and not silenced by fear. Fierce about protecting my creative time and nourishing my passion. Fierce about my self-care, treating myself with respect, exercising my body and feeding it well. Fierce about my friendships. Fierce about my connection with nature and the Sacred.

Fierce has absolutely manifest itself in my life. To be more accurate, I feel like I have manifested IT in MY life. I have made so many decisions in the last six months that put my needs and my life first. Choosing to travel where I want to go, even if it means going alone. Choosing to not attend events that I really don’t want to go to, even if I disappoint people. Saying no bullying and drama and gossip even under peer pressure to participate. Choosing to not sacrifice my own needs to help others with theirs. Making decisions for me even when I know it’ll affect other and might cause them hurt.

It still feels really selfish but I am learning that subsuming my needs to others just makes me unhappy and resentful. And an unhappy and resentful me is not able to be who I want to be in this world. It leaves me less able to be a loving and compassionate friend, less able to focus at work, less able be fiercely fabulous, less able tone brave and less able to get a peaceful night’s sleep.

In some ways, being fiercely me is the hardest and scariest thing I’ve done. It is also gives me peace and serenity and is helping me love myself.

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2. What are you most proud of?

I am most proud that I am better able to love myself and to forgive myself for not being perfect.  Especially around my physical self-care. I still struggle to eat well and to exercise my body. I still have days when I all I see is failure and not-good-enough. But, I am proud that I am slowly learning to not beat myself up about it. To do my best each day and accept what is. After all, treating my spiritual self poorly is not going to help me treat my physical self any better.

3. What have you chosen to let go of? 

I have chosen to let go of a number of obligations in my life that were not feeding my soul.  I still have lots of obligations but they are things that I am happy about doing and that make me feel good.  I am excited about them. Whenever I am forcing myself to do something or go somewhere, I have tried to stop and ask myself, “why are you doing this?”. If the answer is “because I should” then I am rethinking my actions. No matter how scary and overwhelming the consequences might be. On the other hand, if the answer is, “because I want to” then I ungrump myself and enjoy the moment.

4. What has been your greatest joy or surprise?

My greatest joy and surprise has been how wonderfully supportive my friends have been. While they might miss me at some events I’ve chosen not to participate in, they are always enthusiastically cheering me on for the things I am doing. It does make  me sad that some friends seem to be dropping away and seem to judge me without talking to me but the quality of the relationships with my friends who have stayed in touch fills my heart with gratitude and joy and love. Hashtag blessed.

5. What book, movie, exhibition, tv programme, play, concert, article, photograph, or website has been your favourite find? 

This year, I’ve discovered Rebelle Society. Full of amazing poetry and writings and articles that reach in and connect to my heart and open my mind.  As it says in their creative manifesto, “We are editors of life. We cut and paste its daily beauty and pain with the sharp scissors of our minds on the canvas of humanity.”  It’s a fierce site!!

6. What three things do you want for yourself by the next Solstice – 21st December 2014?

This is a hard question. I tend to not try to want things. I feel like my job is to keep showing up and working hard, and the Universe gives me the most amazing gifts. My thank you is to actively practice gratitude.

If I think of three things I’d like to have achieved by the Winter Solstice, I would say that I’d like to have a healthier, stronger body in order to do the things I want to do. I’d like to be back in a groove of daily spiritual practice especially meditation and journalling and I’d like to take my creative endeavours, either my photography, writing or glass art, to a new level.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep being lovingly fierce and let the Universe take care of the rest.

Happy Summer Solstice!!

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