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What if There’s a Refuge Built Right Inside Every Human Being?

This week I listened to an episode of the On Being podcast that made me reconsider how we humans survive trauma or hardship.

Krista Tippett’s interview with poet John O’Donohue was profound. I found myself rewinding and replaying segments that rang through my body like an ancient song of wisdom. I’d like to share with you what struck such a resonant chord with me.

Here’s the transcript excerpt of O’Donohue talking about the thirteenth century mystic called Meister Eckhart:

…one day I read him, and he said, “There is a place in the soul that neither time nor space nor no created thing can touch.” And I really thought that was amazing. And if you cash it out, what it means is that your identity is not equivalent to your biography and that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.

This simple thought made me feel like rewriting the story I’d been telling myself about my own life. See, lately I have been reclaiming the idea that none of us are our past, or “our story.” I think for so long I held on to the idea of figuring out my past in order to find answers to my identity. Years into researching and writing my own memoir, I now see that while my past has served to form me, I am so much more than my story.

Let me explain.

Years ago, there was a moment when the course of my life changed drastically. It was 1995; I was fifteen and engaged to be married to a man I wasn’t in love with (long story). Between my fiancé’s absolute joy, my parents’ financial investment in the wedding, and my people-pleasing mentality, I didn’t have the nerve to call things off. I told no one how I felt, but squirreled away my truth into a place so deep within my soul that I soon forgot it was there. I told myself I could do ‘this’—for everyone else’s sake. All it required was some denial and muscling through.

The new me continued in the forward motion of life, getting married at sixteen, pregnant at seventeen, and again at nineteen. I moved across the country with my then husband and children, and was a good Christian wife who submitted to him, and followed where he led. From time to time, my natural verve broke through and I’d challenge him on theological or philosophical assumptions, or what I believed to be my one area of expertise—how the children should be raised. But for the most part, I lived with eyes half-shuttered, ears muffled, and head down.

As the years passed, though I had an eternally deep well of love for my children, I grew numb to most everything. Soon the simple act of continuing to exist became painful. I slipped into a depression and then slipped back out (sort of) while taking Zoloft.

Andrea and kids in Europe

Me at 22, with my kids in Europe; daughter covered in chocolate, son passed out. Summer 2002

About six years into that murky time, we compiled student loans, a little savings, and a lot of credit card debt to fund a twelve-week trip across Europe with our four-year old and nineteen-month-old. It was there in Europe, exposed to a vast expanse of life, history, and culture that I realized there was more to life than how I’d been living. My head raised, eyes snapped open, and my ears suddenly heard what they couldn’t before.

But the problem with understanding that there is more is realizing that you don’t have it.

I began to see that my melancholy was caused by a slow bleeding-out of everything I once was before I got married. And because I had married so young, I had been losing my identity before it had had a chance to fully form. My soul was dying in the marriage we had constructed of silt and toothpicks.

But that secret part of me I’d hidden away almost a decade before began to crackle and glow within me and do its work to bust apart the layers of murky malaise I had lived in so long.

I’ve been working on a memoir for several years now and have always interpreted that “me nugget” I squirreled away at fifteen as a vestige of my former self—the girl I used to be. Through the fifteen plus years since that fateful Europe trip, my children and I have been through multiple serious hardships (more on that another time).

Lately, I’ve been wondering when I’ll run out of energy to weather the next life challenge, when or should it arrive. I have been looking at myself like a damaged warrior. As anyone who’s been through a marathon of personal battles will tell you, what doesn’t kill you doesn’t always necessarily make you stronger. Sometimes it drains you to within inches of your life.

And then this thought came along on the podcast—through the centuries, through Meister Eckhart, and John O’Donohue: what if there is a part of me that is untouched by fear or trauma? What if there is an island of solace in the depths of each of us? What if there is an eye of the storm we can come home to when our lives are whirling in chaos?

What a relief. I don’t have to worry about being strong enough if I can retreat to my untouched soul when I need to regroup.

After I listened to the podcast, I discussed this idea over lunch with my son and daughter, now nineteen and sixteen. They brought up Eastern philosophies which teach not only a sort of untouched place in your soul, but that it is a communal space we all belong to. It is a central universal consciousness where we find refuge and connection with the entire human race and maybe all of earth itself.

We all have our own private struggles, some in the hard work of pursuing our dreams, some in the push of birthing beauty into this world, and others with massive health, economic, cultural, weather, or societal events that threaten to crack us open and bleed us out.

I’m not convinced there’s always a reason for when bad things happen. I mean, tell that to the child imprisoned as a sex-worker, or to the countless families who’ve lost their homes in Hurricane Harvey and Irma, or the refugee who lost his family.

I’m not saying there can’t be purpose in tragedy. But that line of reasoning has only ever comforted me when the stakes are low. Otherwise, it reeks of bullshit.

Still there are some of us who weather tragedy and hardship better than others. Maybe this unwounded soul thing is why.

I like the idea that there is an inner holy refuge built right into each of us, that it is something I can cling to when the storm is raging all around me.

O’Donohue went on to mention that the most direct way to connect with that part of ourselves (and our interior life) is through beauty, whether it is an impeccably performed song, a well-crafted book, the exquisite dance of nature, or a lovingly prepared meal. These corporeal pleasures fast-track us from fear to home (the home inside ourselves).

So maybe I never actually squirreled away that part of me like I thought I did. Maybe that untouched part of me was always there, waiting for me to reconnect. And perhaps that Europe trip came to me at the exact right time, when seeing masterful art at the Louvre, sipping beer in a German beer garden, savoring chocolate in Belgium, and standing in the Roman Forum connected me not only to that stalwart part of me, but bound me to the consciousness of my sisters and brothers throughout history as well.

I felt this while I was there, but never had the concept to wrap around the feeling. Until now.

Maybe that sureness is what has sustained me through my own personal hells. Maybe that is the super power we all have and we all share and need only access.

I choose to believe the beauty we see, the beauty we are, and the beauty we create has the power to truly change the world.

>> Listen to the John O’Donohue episode of On Being. <<

Namaste

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Feel Wonder Again

A walk in the park.  Our busy lives make it seem so difficult.

I’m making the simple act of walking more of a priority in my daily life. And boy howdy, does it change my mood. It was good to just be in the moment. To feel the wonder again. Here are a few photos from my stroll this morning. (I’m no photographer, but hope these bring you some peace anyway. )

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start admiring the little things again.

 

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The Push

First, I want to just give a shout out to all of the wonderful people in my life who’ve encouraged and supported me through this first year – especially my soul mate, my boyfriend, Derwin. Thank you all! And thank YOU, for actually reading this! I’m humbled and honored that you’d even want to read it. I hope it inspires you in your journey. 😀

I started this blog one year ago, today. I’ve been wracking my brain for days/weeks trying to figure out what to say, how to update you on this past year’s progress. I’d love to tell you that I’m now a best-selling author and I’m touring the world inspiring others. But of course, real life is so much more complex than that. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m decidedly not a best-selling author, yet. 😉

I’d like to share a story with you.

When I was 10 years old my family threw a party at our local water-park, Windsor WaterWorks. It was an uncharacteristically gloomy August day in Sonoma County. Gray clouds covered the sky and threatened rain with occasional random drops here and there.

“It’ll clear up,” my dad said, as we packed our car and piled in. It was a special occasion, a joint 6th birthday party for my cousin Vincent and my brother, Luke. We were not about to let a few clouds get in the way of the celebration.

The clouds began to dissipate a little as we arrived at the park. Before the adults could set down the bags of party supplies at the picnic tables under the oak trees, we kids started begging to go on the water slides. I was so excited. We had driven by this freeway-side water park so many times and now there we were, about to actually glide down the water slides into the pools below. Vincent, Luke, Aunt Victoria, my Mom and I headed toward the first tower of slides. At the bottom of the wooden staircase an attendant handed us flimsy, blue foam mats.

“Which slide do you want to go on first Andrea? Level 1 or Level 2?” my aunt Victoria asked, her hand on my shoulder. Mom stood just behind her, an inquisitive smile on her face.

“Let’s do Level 1 first and then I want to try all four slides!” I bubbled excitedly. I could picture myself sliding down, feeling the wind in my hair, the rush of the water splashing my cheeks. My mom and aunt followed close behind as my cousin and brother hurried up the stairs ahead of me. As we crisscrossed back and forth, going higher and higher, I looked down. My heart jumped up into my throat. Oh, god what had I gotten myself into? We were up so high. The wooden beams didn’t seem so strong now. As we walked under the blue fiberglass slide it would shake and sway a little as the shadow of a person slid quickly past. When we reached the top I could see the twists of the blue tube and the small pool below. It didn’t look nearly big enough to catch a person flying down the slide at those speeds.

At the top, my cousin and brother flung down their blue mats with ease; one after another sitting and scooting themselves off into the tube slide. It was my turn. I stepped into the little pool of water at the top of the slide. I could feel the water pulling, rushing past my legs and down the slide. The attendant waved for me to put my mat down. I looked back at my mom, eyes wide, face contorted with utter dread.

“It’s ok hunny, you wanted to do this, remember?” she attempted to reassure me, with a smile.

“It’s ok, Andrea, just sit on your mat, you’ll see it’s not that bad.” my aunt said. She stepped into the pool beside me. I laid my mat down on the platform carefully and held my aunt’s hand as I positioned myself on it.

“I can’t do it, I’m too scared,” I squirmed, realizing the error of my ways, as the water rushed past my hands.

“C’mon, Andrea, if Luke and Vince can do it, you can too. We’re coming down right after you.” Mom pleaded. The attendant grimaced at us and impatiently asserted for me to go. The line was backing up behind us. I looked down at the tube again.

Unbeknownst to me, Mom motioned to Aunt Victoria to just go ahead and push me, that’d I’d be fine.

“Trust me,” she whispered to my aunt. All of the sudden I felt a firm push on my back and I was sliding into the tube. I screamed, flung my legs out to the side and slowed down a little. I hung on to my little blue mat with a white-knuckled, abalone grip. Taking a breath, I realized I was actually having fun. I splashed into the little pool at the end of the slide. Surfacing, I blew the water out of my nose, and swam to the side.

“What took you so long?” my brother whined, hand on his hip, smile stretching across his face. His white-blond hair swept back by the water.

For the rest of the day I rode that slide, and only that slide, nearly non-stop. Mom knew best.

Last year I was able to push myself to start pursuing my dream before I was ready to. (Thanks for the lesson, Mom) It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I flailed about in the beginning, trying to get my bearings. But let me tell you, now, I am having such a good time! I am so excited and fulfilled, knowing I am actively participating in crafting my dream. I don’t have the guilt nagging away anymore. That “I really should start that book someday” feeling is gone because I started it, and I’m doing it, day by day, making my dream come true. Every day is not a cake-walk, but it’s so much better than before.

Here are just some of the things that have changed since I committed to following my dream, one year ago:

  • The universe has aligned in ways I can’t be specific about yet, but I am blown away by how things have fit together and worked out this year. I feel like I have a new life.
  • I left two jobs that were no longer right for me.
  • I started going back to school –and I LOVE it!
  • I did several personal writing challenges – writing every day for 30, 60 & 90 day increments
  • I met some amazing new people who share the writing lifestyle
  • I started reading and doing the exercises in The Artist’s Way, as well as other creativity-building activities.
  • I write every day, except weekends. (But sometimes those too)
  • I feel happier, more peaceful and more fulfilled.
  • I have learned so much about writing, and how there is so much more to learn. Ha ha.
  • My relationship with my children has deepened – no easy task with teenagers.
  • My relationship with my boyfriend has deepened.
  • My children are happier and more actively pursuing their dreams.
  • I started actively writing the memoir I have wanted to write for the past decade.
  • I can now see the vision of my dream coming to life in vivid lines and color. And boy, is that a good feeling.

So, I’m not telling you all of this to toot my own horn. Far from thatI want you to know that no matter who you are and where you are in life you can start making your dream come true – today. But the key is you have to START and fully COMMIT to it.

For some it might be baby steps and others may have tons of time to devote to it. But I share this with you to show you that it’s not necessarily going to happen in an instant. It’s a hard, fantastic road, and you may, like me, not make it all happen in the first year (or more). But that doesn’t matter. It will happen. When it is meant to. But know this, even if things aren’t going great, when you’re doing all you can to pursue your life’s purpose, there is a peace and happiness that transcends the fear.

If you haven’t started yet, consider this your push!

(Oh & hey, if you still aren’t sure what your dream is that’s ok, keep exploring, it took me years to finally realize what my dream was.)

Hugs y’all,

Andrea

[Curious how it started? See my first post.]

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Writing Peace

The window near my desk is fogged up against the cold and rain outside. The drops cling to the dirty window screen like tiny crystals.  I’m sitting here in a coveted state of alone.  The whiz of cars on wet streets, the gentle hum of my laptop and the muted clack of keyboard strokes are the only sounds.  It’s lovely.  I feel the quiet fill me.  The space between chaos, to-do lists, shopping, cooking and work is here.

“I love you,” I almost say aloud, to this peace.

Of all the bustling I do in order to set aside a time of calm, is now worthwhile. To feel like I’ve run around like a chicken with its head lopped off and then to lie down and just bleed out, feels good.

As I sit here, it strikes me how much my love affair with writing is growing.  Writing is like that special someone from the past–that crush you wonder what could have happened with.  I’ve had friends who, after dating around for years, ended up coming back to an old high school flame.  Writing is like that for me, an old crush I never pursued before.  Now that we’ve found each other again, as worldly wise adults, we’re so meant to be, it’s ridiculous.

Sure it’s like any other relationship, hard to get enough quality time together; sometimes we fight, or don’t communicate or feel like we have nothing in common anymore.  But when I’m back here, at my keyboard or with pen and pad, I remember why I fell in love in the first place.

This is my home.  From the depths of my soul, to the inappropriateness of my jokes, this is where I can truly be me.  From emotional shit storms to oases of peace, I get to wrench out my guts and throw them down on the table, oozing and floppy, to dissect and cull, prod and discover.  And it doesn’t even matter who cares.

We’re all gloriously messy humans, sad, happy, conflicted or numb, but when we read someone who has been through it too, it becomes more than words, an alchemy of souls.  On the flip side, when you write and someone reads, then emotes, what you had set out to explore (and sometimes even more than you intended to share) – Oh my God, what a feeling!

Those were the connections I made, in my first Creative Nonfiction writing class (which ended this week).  People from all walks of life, being brave, shared the inner workings of their memories, their pains and joys.  People unafraid to explore the emotion of our lives, these are my people.  At 33, I found them, people who feel so deeply, think so expansively, strive so luminously to tell the stories that make sense of our lives:  Writers.

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My Personal TOP 5 Get Sh*t DONE! Tips

get-stuff-doneI’ve recently been given the gift of more time (hope it’s not temporary)!  Now, that’s pretty much a miracle, especially for a single mom.  So how is it that I feel like I get LESS done now that I have more time?

It’s amazing how many “To Do” items keep cropping up now that I have more ‘free time.’  From laundry to doctor appointments to bills, there’s always something.  Have you ever felt this way?  It’s like none of these things seem really important in-and-of themselves, yet they had to get done.

I’m going to confess that I have a compulsion to get shit done.  It started when I became a single mom without child support.  I pretty much feel like I always need to be productive, except during my designated relax times.  But I get distracted too (one of my biggest distractions is the internet).  Keep me away from Facebook or reading articles online because a “quick minute” turns into hours, fast.  

So how do you keep the momentum going if you’re trying to get ‘er done?  

Here are my TOP 5  Get Sh*t DONE! tips (some from 4 Hour Work Week)

#5.  Limit interruptions.  Turn your phone off, close your email program, log out of Facebook, tell everyone you can’t talk right now, shut your door, escape to the library, whatever you need to do.  Interruptions are the devil!  You can always check your phone, email etc. once you’ve completed your task.

#4.  Dress for success.  I know this sounds silly, but for some reason you just feel more professional & focused if you prepare for your day/work – even if you work from home.  So go ahead, take a shower, do your hair and wear a nice shirt – you’ll feel more prepped for your tasks.

#3.  Create a sense of urgency by using a timer.  Think about how much more productive you are when you know you have a limited amount of time to do a given task.  (For example, cleaning up your house when a last minute guest is about to stop by)  If you’re working on your computer, use http://e.ggtimer.com to set a timer that will interrupt you when your time is up.  (I like to set a timer for each specific task, i.e. check Facebook, write an article, etc.)  This also method also gives you that bonus warm, fuzzy feeling of completing something before the timer buzzes!

#2.  Plan Ahead.  Create two things:  a To Do List and Calendar for your week ahead (I like to do this Sunday nights).  Make your To Do List first, then see where you can fit the items in to your week.  Remember to allot some “free time” for unexpected events and relaxing, and always overestimate how long things will take you.  If you can’t fit everything from your list into your calendar, then prioritize & either bump these items to the next week or see what you can remove from your existing calendar.  Knowing what lies ahead helps create peace of mind and a clear head means better, more creative results throughout the week.

#1.  Get RID of CABLE TV!  A few years ago, when I was operating two businesses, raising my kids and acting VP of Marketing for a women’s business organization, a colleague asked me “How do you manage to do all of that at once?”  “I don’t watch TV” was my answer.  Think about how often you watch TV – 1-2 hrs a day or more?  That’s at least 30 hrs per month.  Just think what you could fit in those wasted hours (Hint, hint: achieving your dreams)  Now I’m not saying never watch, I enjoy a good movie or even a TV show sometimes, just scale back and see what you can accomplish.  [If you’re more of a gamer than a TV watcher…this more than applies to you as well!]

Hope these will help in your quest to get stuff done.  Please share your tips below as well.  I’m all ears!!

 

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Trust

My reason/ excuse is that I worked two jobs today – my reason I’m not writing much tonight.

So I am working on trust in a certain area of my life, therefore I thought it apropos to share this quote:

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway

🙂

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This Moment – It’s all we have now

Today I watched my infant son for the first time in about 10 years. I’m in the process of converting old home videos over to DVD. Today I received a couple of my converted DVDs and I watched nearly 4 hours of home video this afternoon.  From my brother’s eighth grade graduation to the birth of my first child and a little bit into his toddler years, it was a blast from the past.   Of course at first I was laughing at my brother’s antics, then envious of how thin and tight my body was some 14 years ago.  Ha Ha.  But more than anything I was so blessed to see my little boy, sweet and toddling around, for the first time in over a decade.
live-in-the-moment

There was a segment where my son, my brother and I were playing in a pool. My son, a little over a year old, his head chock full of golden curls, ginormous brown eyes filled with curiosity, was not particularly fond of the cold pool water. My daughter said, “Mom, you look like you’re my age!”

The moment though, that made me melt and prompted me to right this post, was when my son did something he hasn’t done much in his teen years – something we moms treasure.  After flirting with the idea of getting back in the pool he finally came to me and I held him in my arms in the pool. And then, he looks up at me and lays his little head on my shoulder. His arms are tight around me and I gently rest my head on his and rub his back, a big, contented smile on my face. After a minute or so, with his head still on my shoulder he lets one of his arms go and waves it back and forth in the water. My mom (the camerawoman) zooms in on his sweet little face.  That moment was so fleeting, I don’t even really remember it, but thanks to that video it’s back in my heart.

Life is so fleeting, my friends. In our efforts to be better people and strive to live our dreams let’s not forget to live fully in these moments we have right now, because once they are gone we can only reminisce.

 “We are always getting ready to live but never living.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Space to be

It’s a busy life, but I try to carve out a little time each week for just me and a little open space.  Whether its a park or a nature preserve I need a little time to myself.  This is so essential to me.  When I don’t get it I start to wind up tightly.  We forget, in our modern lives, how to get back to the way things should be — surrounded by our natural way of life.

John Muir, whom I am pretty sure I would have had a big crush on if we were contemporaries, said it best:

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
-John Muir

I hope you can get a little space to just “be” this week.