Change

I awoke today to a message from a dear friend that I have not heard from in quite some time. He is someone that represents in my mind all that is good and beautiful from another time and place, another life. Although this other life was a mere four years ago, it seems like another lifetime entirely.  In his message he reminisced about those days and all the good times we shared, and there were many. His words made me smile, and they brought a tear. A good one. So much has happened from that time to now. Since then we have both been through intense, sometimes gut wrenching heart ripping, relationships. We have both weathered the incomparable storm of break ups from them. Our lives now have new sights and sounds. They have new rhythms. We have new friends. We have moved. And we have moved on.

As I read my friend’s words today, I was transported back to that other life we shared, one so far removed from my here and now. And then, I was taken back further. I was taken to a time in my childhood, to a day I sat in my school desk and watched my fourth grade science teacher’s time lapse reel-to-reel film of a growing pea plant. She had made the film for us over the summer and treated us to it on our first day back to school. In that moment, one that would impact me in many ways throughout my life, I sat riveted. I watched in awe as this tiny seedling sprouted and stretched upward, its contours changing as she moved it toward and away from the sun. My little ten year old mind was blown away. I was struck by the action and reaction of it all. For every new condition presented to it, this little life responded.  For just a few intimate moments that day I had panoramic vision into an aspect of life that escapes our every day micro view of it. I was watching time lapse images of growth, and I was also watching time lapse images of change. They were one in the same. While not all change necessarily involves growth, by its very essence, its very nature, any process of growth IS change.

I was reminded of that today. Like that reel-to-reel of the pea plant years ago, as I read my friend’s words I replayed a similar time lapse video in my mind. I watched the last four years of my life sped up to just fleeting seconds.  In fast motion I saw the process, the growth spurt, we have both been through these last few years. I smiled. Growth is good. And I thought, not for the first time, about how all good things come at a cost. Sometimes that cost is no more than a trade off of some kind, one that is easy, even welcomed. But at other times, the cost is a little discomfort. Sometimes it’s a pain down to our bones. But eventually, because change is the only constant, our discomfort passes, as it evolves into…….something else.

My friend and I have both experienced growth pains of Change. Or, as I prefer to see it, we have both been through change pains of Growth. Like the pea plant we must sometimes writhe and twist through change pains as we grow, as we reach, as we become. Reading my friend’s words today reminded me of this. And through a little tear, I smiled, for all is as it should be.

 

 

Desert Dream

The last time I drove through West Texas was in 2005 as I was in transit from Berkeley to San Antonio to begin my new life, post post-doc. My car was doubling as a moving van and was crammed full with personal belongings, leaving little to no daylight between the ceiling of my car and all that I deemed valuable enough to squeeze in there with me. I remember grumbling around east of El Paso at the radio stations, or rather the lack of them. The landscape to me looked barren and dry, completely lacking in life, and I wondered how anyone could live way out there. I don’t mean how could they make a living, although I questioned that, too. I mean I wondered how in the world a human being could live so far out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but lifeless silence surrounding them? I shuddered at the thought and I couldn’t wait to get back to civilization.

Something in me has clearly changed since then. A few days ago I succumbed to an overwhelming urge to get in my car and drive, of all places, West. I had been itching to get out on the road ever since I finally sent my old Corolla, running on three cylinders, to Car Hell (May it burn there. Sorry. Don’t mean to be bitter). To take its place I chose a happy lady bug of a car, a new cherry red Toyota Yaris. It not only runs on all four cylinders, but it has AC, that works. Since that day I drove away from the Toyota dealership with my new wings I knew that it was just a matter of time before I would launch out on to the open road. Three weeks later, I woke up and said “now”.

What is it about a road trip that is so liberating? I’m going to have to think on this and get back, but for now, I just want to say that something about this trip out West has either seen a new me, or the same me has seen in a new way. Or both? I am in love with the West Texas desert. It is not barren, but chock full of life, and not just any life – life that can kick butt.  And it’s beautiful. The bursts of color that can crop up from what looks like the most inhospitable terrain are beyond amazing to me. The skies at night are enormous, dotted with the  billions and billions of Carl Sagan stars that are just not visible back in ‘civilization’.  And the silence. How did I ever think of the silence as deafening, as unwanted? The silence of the West Texas desert is one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve never heard.

I have to hit the road again, this time to head back to home. But I will return, and I can’t wait. I’ll be back as soon as I can to kick up the dirt, watch the ants, wonder at the peace and calm of the desert night, and feel ever so small beneath the West Texas night sky.

My Voice, My Choice

I have been asked on a number of occasions by now why I would want to go public with such an intimate experience. Why, Colleen, would you share this journey ‘back to center’ with strangers? Isn’t that so personal? Well….yes, it is. It is about as personal an experience that I can conceive of to write about in the public sphere. When I was first asked this question I didn’t have an answer.  I just knew that I felt a moving need to speak out, to say out loud what I am feeling and thinking and doing. I just had to. The ‘why‘ at that time was unknown to me.

Not surprisingly, my journey has been one of discovery as well as recovery. Since it began some five months ago now, I have uncovered the ‘why’ for my public voice. The answer lies at the root cause of why I had lost my Self in the first place, and this has to do with my voice. For reasons that are for another time, and are beside the point anyway, I had silenced it. Completely by my own volition I had chosen to be silent in a large, sweeping swath of my life, and I maintained this silence for several years. I did this as an attempt to keep peace and harmony in my life. But what I have come to see is that while I might have kept the peace at a given moment, for a length of time, the chronic silencing of my voice had devastating effects.

The first of these unintended consequences is ironic. I had chosen to silence my voice in the first place for the sake of peace. But while I might have achieved a veneer of peace in my surroundings as a result, the repression over time subverted my peace within. Like stagnant waters without flow, my inner peace became infested. Undesirables grew within it. It became an ugly place.

I know now that I can never ever silence my voice again. No matter the immediate cost, I must always allow it to be heard. I must let it speak, even if that means conflict, disharmony, or the expression of hard truths that are easier to conceal. At least, in that moment, my voice unfettered and free, will be true and authentic, not some distorted dysphonic version of itself.

This brings me now to the answer to the original question. Why, Colleen, do you choose to make public something as intimate as a personal journey ‘back to center’? The answer lies in a second unintended consequence of my actions, which is this.  Silencing my outer voice had slowly, over time, led to the quieting of my inner voice, the voice of my Self. And with no voice, as without a compass, it became lost. Releasing that voice, setting it free, is recovering the only thing in life I can really say that I possess, the one thing that cannot be taken from me but only surrendered, my Self. That voice deserves retribution and it deserves its freedom to speak and express whatever it damn well wants. After all I have put it through, I owe it that.

And so I am here. And that voice is here, and it is what you are reading now. It is back, and it wants to yell and sing, cry and laugh, to celebrate and lament. It just wants to be heard. I am here now to make sure that it can, and I’m giving it center stage.

Thank you for listening…..

Letting Go

The hardest part of my ‘return to me’ has been in having to let go of those things in my life that impede my journey. The identification of these things has been relatively easy. The reasons why I need to let go of them are sound, and they more than justify the need.  Yet, the process of letting go of has been unreasonably difficult.

The reason for my difficulty came to me today on the running trail. In a flash of insight (or more like a flash of lightening), it hit me. And when it did, it nearly knocked me off my feet. What I realized out there on the trail was that In order for me to let go of certain things I must first be willing to admit failure. I must admit that there are some things in my life that I simply cannot accomplish. There is such a thing as a personal goal that I cannot reach. There is such a thing as a challenge that I simply cannot overcome, no matter my level of determination. There are things simply beyond my control, my abilities are limited, and failure is possible.

This revelation is tantamount to a crisis of faith for me, for it has shattered a belief I have held my entire life.  I have always fervently believed that if I really put my mind to something and I applied myself one hundred percent, that I would achieve my goal. Period. The concept of failure is completely absent from this mindset, not because it is unacceptable, but because it simply does not exist as a possibility. And because failure is not a possible outcome, also missing in this mindset is the notion of quitting. For me, to quit means to fail. There is no such thing as failure, ergo there is no such thing as quitting.

Belief in this myth has served me well in life. My belief in my infinite abilities is how I made it through my undergrad as a single mother, a grueling PhD program, an equally challenging post-doc, and a whole string of marathons. So, to grant that failure is possible shakes the very foundation of my worldview.

This is why it has been so difficult for me to let go. In order for me to do so I would have to first recognize that the notion of failure does exist. There is such a thing.  Secondly, I  have to admit that not only is failure possible, but that I have, in fact, failed.

Mid run this realization hit me. Hard. Right between the eyes. Surprisingly though, it was not followed by feelings of shame or disappointment. It was a relief. One can grow weary of trying to hold on to something that can not be. And by granting that I have tried and failed, and that this is okay, has left me feeling empowered in a paradoxical sort of way. It allows me to give in, in order to give up. It gives me the permission to do the forbidden- to quit. To admit that I have failed is not demoralizing. It is liberating.

Tomorrow I think I’m going to go fly a kite. I’m going to launch it into the air and let it soar. I’m going to watch it dance and dive in the wind. I’ll admire its beauty and celebrate its freedom high above me, away from me.

And then I’m going to cut the string.

On body place, mind space, and cleaning

This weekend I am cleaning out, organizing, and restoring my garage to a better place. It was once where I practiced my yoga and it was a place that I felt peace and wholeness. But over the years things have accumulated out there. My once tidy space has become messier and messier. It is now so bad that I can hardly walk through it. I can’t distinguish one piece of junk from another. Everything is so thrown together and entangled.  I am feeling the need to right that, to return it to a space I can thrive in once again.

And like so much in my life these days, this task is symbolic. Restoring my garage space reflects my ‘return to me’ journey that I have written so much about of late (most of which will be here in time).  In my mindspace, as in my garage, I have accumulated a lot of clutter, and things need to be sorted out and organized. There is much that needs to be thrown out. Some things will be more difficult to part with, but for the sake of my greater goal, I will need to let them go. As I part with each item I will honor the purpose that they served. After all, even the most useless of ‘junk’ in my garage has, at least at one time, served a purpose. Even the worst of the bad in my mindspace has done the same, even if only to have taught me a lesson.

My goals over the next couple of days are two-fold.  First, and by far the more straightforward of the two, is to finish the weekend with a beautifully restored space wherein I can enjoy my yoga practice once again and feel a sense of peace and wholeness. My second goal is to sift through, sort out, and organize my mindspace. I hope to have the wisdom to keep what is good and valuable, the strength to let go of what is not, and the spirit to honor everything for the purpose it has served, regardless.

On finding a way

I’ve recently taken up an old passion of mine. Gardening. It’s one of those activities that completely consumes me. As I dig, plant, cover, water, I get lost in my thoughts. Today, as I was planting the last bursts of color in my new garden, it occurred to me how there are times in our lives when we are like the spring flower. Life events, if taken as opportunity, can spawn growth spurts. They fertilize our roots and stimulate their growth, causing them to branch and spread. Epiphanies come like new stems and flashes of insight like sprouting leaves. The outcome of this new life growth is a magnificent blossom – or maybe, with the grace of the cosmos, several new blooms.

I completed my labor of love today on this note. With mulch laid and after a little indulging in self-satisfaction for my hard work, I turned to the much less pleasant task of weeding. I had spent the last couple of weeks establishing my new garden and, despite my best attempts to keep them away, those unwanted critters had cropped up in and around my beautiful flowers. After dealing with the undesirables properly, I turned my attention to the sidewalk that framed my precious space. There they were, too, in each and every crack of the sidewalk. I knelt down and went on the attack. But, unlike the weeds that surrendered easily from the soft soil of my garden, these guys were putting up a fight. I pulled, picked and pinched at them, only to get the tops of them out leaving behind what mattered the most, their roots. Without getting up the roots they would be back in full swing within a couple of days. I continued on in my mission using a spoon to try to get at them where it counts. Despite my best efforts, I was not enjoying a lot of success.

As I became aware that I might be on the losing side of my battle, I paused to assess my opponent. I put down my weapon and got off my knees to my feet. As I stood looking at the cracks in my sidewalk, and at their stubborn inhabitants, my frown softened as annoyance gave way to a feeling of awe. In that moment I was struck by just how truly amazing the Life Force is. Life. It finds a way, always -in the most unexpected places and under the most inhospitable circumstances. Here before me was its testimony. Regardless of a lack of soil, nutrients, and even water, this life had still found a way. And not only, against all odds, did these life forms come to be, they were refusing to leave.

I stood there marveling at the miracle of it all. And in that moment I felt an immense respect for those weeds in the cracks. I admired their determination and perseverance, their resourcefulness in finding what they need to survive amidst total lack. I looked down the sidewalk at the whole lot of them. There they were, in every crack. Squeezing, twisting, reaching, just to be.

I left them there, all of them. They deserve their place in the sun, even more than my beautiful flowers. After all, my flowers had life handed to them in a silver watering can. But those weeds in the cracks, they are survivors. And their tenacity holds a lesson for me, one that I want to be reminded of each time I tend to my garden. I will always love my flowers, their beautiful colors, and their sweet, sweet scent. They bring me so much joy. But while I admire the flower, I think I’ll emulate the weed.

Back to Center

I recently got back together again with an old love….My Self.

Me and my Self. Without meaning to, I had let circumstances, life situations, and a host of unintended consequences come between us. It was a slow disengagement, so slow that I wasn’t even aware of what I was losing.

But recently, circumstances, life situations, and a host of intended consequences have brought me back to my old love, my Self. It’s been hard. Painful. Punishing at times. I had betrayed her, and I have to forgive that. The responsibility for my betrayal is mine and mine alone and the reasons are for another time, after perspective grants more clarity. For now, this doesn’t matter. My Self and I are together again, and we’ve decided that as long as we are stronger, closer, after having strayed and returned, then we’re good. We are getting reacquainted again, and it feels wonderful. It’s like coming home. It’s comfortable and familiar.  It’s nourishing and intimate.

In the days and weeks to come I am going to chronicle my return to me, here, in my little virtual corner. I want to share my journey back to center. I do this for no other reason, but for me and my Self and our rekindling flame.

 

 

 

Still

Today I saw a beautiful youtube clip set to Peter Gabriel’s Book of Love. The video was a collection of images of old couples. They were sitting on park benches, crossing streets, drinking coffee….just being. It was a moving collage of lives well spent. These couples were together, not because they didn’t believe in divorce, or because they had grown too old and tired to opt for the alternative, but because they were in love. Still. You could see it in their eyes, in the way she held his arm, the way he touched her hand. I was moved. These people, these beautiful melded souls of God knows how long, are they a dying breed? I wonder.

I hope not.

Getting back into training

I’ve done more half and full marathons than I can remember. If I have learned anything from them it is that you have to adhere to a strict training schedule to succeed. And you have to make sacrifices. Lots of them, But, if you really want to feel that adrenaline-endorphin cocktail at the finish line, this is what it takes. The pay off is well worth it, not so much because you actually did make it to the finish line, but because you proved to yourself that you have what it takes to reach a goal. It is definitely more an accomplishment about the means and less about the actual end.

I have in the past been able to translate this mentality to my personal life quite well. It was how I made it through my grad program, which is definitely more about going the mile, not finishing it. But that was some years ago and I find that I have, somewhere along the way, lost a bit of that. Just as in running, you don’t use it, you lose it. I have before me a whole new direction in life, a new chapter. Once again, I need to get serious. I need to make the decision to do it.

And I need to get back into training.

The first thing I need to do is to trim the fat. This means watch my diet of what I take into my life each day. Get rid of the useless distractions. The internet is famous for stealing your potential energy. I need to limit my intake. Certain people can also be a source of empty calories,  providing little nutritional value while draining your energy. The old saying of “don’t make someone a priority if you are only an option for them”. Following this old adage is an easy way to skim the fat off of the social life. In the place of these bad habits of diet, I need to be more mindfully selective of what I am feeding my soul. Seek out that which spurs growth and helps to sustain me for the long haul.

These are my thoughts for the day. They’re not deep, not especially insightful. That’s not the point. I’m setting an intention for myself this day to get back into training, training for life and its next chapter. Gather all that I know from my long endurance physical feats, and what it takes to succeed, and apply. The metaphor is spot on.