Sunday, August 4, 2013

limits to love

Sangham saranam gacchāmi
I go for refuge in the Sangha

there are three jewels of practice. the buddha, dharma and sangha.

sangha, community, support network... I find that the more that I morph, the more challenging it is to keep a strong support system around me.  and the more I grow, the more distant I become to a life that once defined me.

last night, I had a glimpse into the heart of someone who chooses self-destruction.  it was a repugnant place, and I'm not interested in going there ever again myself or vicariously through someone else.  he expressed that my inability to accept him in his tortured and painful state was unfair.  the truth is, I'm not totally sure he was wrong.  it seemed like a recurring theme last night, all these people I call friends focused on the conversation of a lifestyle that seems like decades behind me.

in the past six months, I've shed many skins.  this has been one of my greatest spiritual growth spurts in many years.  I can't say it was all positive, not at all.  in this latest effort to peel layers, I shed many people out of my life.  one of the many lessons I discovered was, people that I've supported aren't really equipped or prepared to return the favor.  if I was to go forth in this raw new layer of skin, I would have to define a new support system to rally around me.

there are people who arrive in my life and I believe them to be those kinds of friends that are going to be there forever.  because I love my pals unconditionally, I make the deluded assumption that this unconditional love will always be reciprocated.  but it isn't, that isn't our nature as people... my ability to accept people and all of their flaws isn't a shared trait among human kind.

the buddha teaches us to love everyone unconditionally as one would love their own child.  in no way am I remotely capable of this, but yet there are certain people who scrape the surface of my heart who seem to make this kind of metta practice very easy.  just because I'm able to offer them metta, doesn't mean they can give it back in the same way.

as I continue to dedicate myself to consistent daily practice, I'm going to have to continue opening up space for sangha.  this may seem to look easy for me on the outside in, but I confess, transitioning from the comforts of isolation to opening myself to new friends has been frightening and challenging.  instead of quickly closing off, I've been reaching out, making connections, sparking plans, and getting myself back into life with people that share my curiosity for practice and growth.  I'm putting effort into reigniting the friendships that have supported me, and cultivating new ones.

but what do I do with the friends with whom I can't be around anymore.  how do I detach for survival without causing them the pain I've felt plenty of times?  I'm working on this.

I've been torn on how to communicate effectively.  people have their issues with emotional intimacy, trust, and creating time in the real world.  without question these things are tremendous challenges for me too.  I don't want to just pull away from someone who needs to be supported.  sadly, I don't think I'm strong enough to carry anyone who's headed in a downward direction, when I've got myself to press onward and forward on the path to ______________________ (fill in the blank). it feels hypocritical to need to detach from friends who are struggling, but our priorities are so clearly different what use is support when the end goals are somewhere far away from one and other.

right now, I'm focused on practicing metta on myself more than anyone else.  I sit, observe and say the phrases during meditation over and over just to me.  this could quite possibly be one of the hardest things I've ever had to take on while on the cushion.  I mean, I can sit with just me... but sit with me and send metta to myself with no one else?  wow, man this is freakin hard!

I'm also fervently cultivating new sangha, a group of people who are dynamic, working towards bettering themselves and the world around them.  people who have the capacity to care and love me the way I deserve to be loved, and make it so very easy to love them more.  Making room for human interaction in the real world isn't easy.  It's something that takes tremendous effort on my part, one that I'm willingly putting a lot of energy into.

To be able to love people unconditionally, sometimes we have to create boundaries, distance and space.  It sucks having to push and pull in this way.  It almost feels manipulative.  It's self preservation that motivates me, I think.. like when your'e supposed to put that oxygen mask on yourself in that emergency flying video... before you put it on your kid.  If I'm not properly supported by the right sangha, how can I be of service and support to friends and people I love?


Cutting the ties with the people who can't give me the oxygen I need only opens up space for people who can give me so much more... and from afar I'm going to have to pray to the god that doesn't exist that the people I need to distance myself from find their way to joy, happiness and freedom from the fetters that drag them into the hells of darkness.

Dayum, it's way too early to be writing... I need a cup of coffee ASAP.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

the little gorilla loves himself

"Everybody in the forest loves the Little Gorilla,
But like all little gorillas, he begins to grow,
and grow, and grow. Until one day, Little Gorilla is BIG!"

each year, at my son's birthday party I go around the table of his friends and ask the same question, "what do you like best about Zoren?"

this year, his little group of pals answered; he's the wild card, he's like a labyrinth, he's crazy, you never know what to expect....

maybe I had already doled out too much sugar and junk food before posing this annual poll to his pals, but I found their responses fascinating.

to me, he's just this kid, my kid. he's the side kick who makes me laugh incessantly, who stands up for himself with valiant "No"s when I tell him to do things and snuggles up next to me at night and shares his greatest secrets and hugs me without conditions.

as he embarked into school age, around his kindergarten years, he began to take on a self-awareness of being odd and different. I've often written about the bullies and meanies who've tortured him, and his amazing vigilance in overcoming those challenges and remaining true to himself.

ok, my kid is a nut but he's also great in school and 'normal' and 'above normal' according to the State of NY Education system.

the study that has fascinated me about being his mom is his struggle with his self-esteem and how he's learning to be at peace in the skin he's in. unlike my parents, I've taught Zoren to just be himself, to be weird, creative and live life out loud. my lessons have been all about embracing all the great things he is and my mission is to ensure that he walks out of this house every day knowing that he is loved madly by not only me but all the people in the world who matter.

when he was little, I used to read him a story called the 'Little Gorilla' who was born and everyone loved him, all creatures, even as he got older and bigger and changed... everything and everyone still loved him. I believe Zoren is very much like this little gorilla, an adventurer who ventures forth to meet all kinds of creatures and desires to belong and be loved wherever he goes. heck, isn't that what we all want? who doesn't want to be taken care of by a giraffe or an elephant from time to time? am I right?

despite my best efforts to prove to my kid that he is amazing, he still struggles with self-judgement. he was traumatized by the fact that all of his select group of friends didn't come to his birthday and often sobs when he gets home about how he just doesn't belong. he can't see what I see, he feels what all of us creatures feel.... a need to fit in. I've done everything different than my parents, instilled him with a place to play freely, to be himself, to express himself however he feels he needs to and to know that he will always be heard in this house. I love him even when I'm mad, and when I scream with my icky mommy voice I manage to get in there, "and even though I'm pissed as hell, I still love you little gorilla."

my experience of growing up was very different from his. I didn't have an affectionate mom who knew how to love me, and was placed in a competitive world where I didn't fit. I was a novelty to my upper east side friends and the punk rock weirdo at my boarding school. designed for alternative art school life, I spent most my of my life believing there was no place for me until I turned 18 and moved away to Vermont to be with 'my people' at Bennington.

that's what life is really... finding our people. even in my forties, I'm still seeking and looking for my tribe. as we've gotten older, gotten married, moved away, gotten divorced, moved the other place, had kids... we drift, we explore and I the nomad... wandered off into the woods... looking for my new people all over again.

like Zoren, my friends would probably see me in this enigmatic sort of way, wild, fun, creative, free and funny. we are very similar he and I. if I sat my friends of 'right now' down at a dinner table, what would they say? how would they describe me. over the past couple of years, I've been a bit of a labyrinth too... challenged, changing, morphing, difficult to reach... a little out there for even the closest of buds in my circle of pals.

seeing self-judgment through my child's eyes is really a reflection into my own self-judgement practice. no matter what our surroundings, nothing and no one is responsible for how we see ourselves. we are the makers of our own confidence. no matter how many times I assure my kid he is amazing and loved, he still needs to find his own way through to seeing himself as the brilliant and fabulous human he is. I can't do it for him.

after spending the past two years digging deeply into this very question, am I lovable? am I deserving? it is my 11 year old son who has taught me the truth isn't coming from out there, but inside my own citta.

I don't need anyone to answer these questions for me now... there's been this tremendous shift in my practice. my right view has once again shifted, and I see the self-judgment for the hindrance it truly is. that view has been most altered by the view through my kid's eyes. it is with that innocence and that pure emotion that I've finally learned to understand how we self inflict the negative effects of these stories on ourselves.

"Who will love the little gorilla now?"

there is nothing external I need. no validation, no award. it's not a quantity of friends, or praises, or something that is going to arrive from outside of me to resolve that 'feeling' of emptiness we all try to fill in our hearts. it isn't god. it isn't booze. it sure isn't a man or people. there's no real hole. it's not taking in that solves this complex question about fulfillment but quite the opposite.

the joy comes from letting go of the attachments. the expectations. the things outside that we don't have. the joy lives in this moment. the feeling of self worth comes in the place of being fully present and mindful and being with what is. sitting with the uncomfortable and accepting it as part of my life experience can be peaceful because it opens me to the present experience. by embracing everything that is in the now, I can accept everything in my life as it is.

as for the Zman's journey through self acceptance, I'll just keep loving him unconditionally and letting him have his adventure ... because he too has his own path.. and hopefully he can let go of self-judgment better than I ever did, or at least a lot sooner.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

this guy was meant for me.....

I’m going to tell you a story so personal, only a handful of people know it. A story about me that reveals more than most people know a story I was trying to spit out over dinner yesterday with a friend... but couldn’t... because I’m better at divulging myself more eloquently on "paper" than with my mouth...

If you could see a younger version of me... the one that was twenty nine, you would meet a woman who commanded a certain power and leadership. Independent, smart and rising in the ranks of the NYC agency scene, I was racing to the zenith of something with a wake of broken hearts behind me. My vigilance spread across every aspect of my life, gym 7x a week, yoga 5x a week, work 24/7, sleep optional and a pair of leather pants for every occasion. My trajectory consisted of one thing... get to Executive Vice President by 30 (this did happen along with partnership). Consequences of how I got there were irrelevant, my effect on others inconsequential. I cared about one thing... winning.

I was never one of those girls who played "house" as a kid or imagined a wedding or a baby. In fact if I saw a pregnant woman on the street it would send me running, because I was afraid that somehow she might be contagious. While my other girlfriends and sister may have been on that mission, I had my eye on one prize, increasing my success and trampling anything that got between me and my ambitious goals.

When I met my now very ex husband, I did what I always used to do in those days... walk into the room, point at the guy with whom I'd be with and 'win' him too. I will forgo the "love" story and get on with what hopefully will be the point of this missive.

When Randouche Mastelbate proposed to me... I laughed. Yes, I looked the love struck man in the face and laughed. Me? Married? Engaged? That convention for those other people sure, but me? F@#$CK no! It may sound cruel, but I really did laugh, I thought he was playing some kind of prank. But he wasn't, he was being totally serious.

Something came over me, I let go and I looked into his pained eyes. I did love him... and something happened... I surrendered... (one of many times I have surrendered in my life) and ... I got married. My wedding was one of the greatest events of all time, we exchanged vows under the BKLYN bridge, had a reception in a DUMBO loft with Superfine food and Organic Grooves.

... and I had a new mission, to make us 'the' coolest power couple ... I opened him an art gallery in DUMBO, my agency based in the back office was raking in real dollars and my staff did my bidding while I went right back to world domination, we became increasingly popular in the arts circles and scenes of choice, we moved into this gorgeous duplex loft, meals were sourced all over town, entertained fabulous parties, at art openings we would laugh at the whispers, "omg, are those the Mastels? yes, yes, it's really them" we ... we... had it all and...

then.. 9/11... I lost all of my business in 4 days and then... how this happened is a miracle... I GOT PREGNANT.

We didn't want kids. But remember I didn't want to be married either. I made being married "cool" somehow, that it would be different but now... aching, confused, plagued... I got pregnant. I never wanted children. For a million reasons and rants, I was not going to have kids. I didn't believe it, peed on multiple sticks that instantly reverted to plus signs, blue lines, pink dots (I peed on a lot of sticks).

I told my parents I was pregnant at dinner, they were floored. Their response felt like what I would have gotten if I were a teenager. Cowering in my seat, I knew... this wasn't really happy news. My sister seethed with jealousy, this was her plan to get married and have kids, not mine. I'm not "mom" material, this is going to be a wretched disaster.

Days later, I'm sitting in my father's car. He's not an affectionate guy, but he was holding my hand. "I don't know what to do dad, I'm so scared."

"If you want to get rid of it, I'll go with you," my father said, "we'll save your marriage, it's the right thing to do."

With that, I made an appointment.... I was going to terminate the baby. In my Elissa Jane style... I made the appointment for 2 days before my 12 weeks were up. This would not be an impulsive move. I'd read whatever I could read and research before making a "choice" I had fought for years to have the right to have. I believed that doing due diligence here would be important and that before I went ahead and made this drastic decision, I'd plan and give it proper thought.
The eve of my appointment, I choked.

I had a check up around 9 weeks and heard the baby's heart beat. I thought I didn't care...that my mind was made up. Something tweaked in me... I took 'responsibility' for the life inside me and chose to take this on. I cancelled the appointment... and well.... my son turns 11 this week.

My pregnancy was a total drag, nothing like the movies. My birth was also one of those crazy stories riddled with extra trips to the emergency room, some RN freaking out that I had placenta previa (I didn't), 11 hours with my legs up, all sorts of drugs to make the baby come out (he wouldn't).

I had a birth plan. Did I? Do you know me at all? Yes I did. My birth plan was close to 8 pages long with instructions on just about every detail. I brought 10 copies which I distributed to nurses, RNs, etc... and also put one in my chart and on the door. I had every detail mapped out. At the hospital, I had two bags full of "gear" to get me through from special pillows to a stack of CDs so I could DJ through my experience with the perfect tune for every stage of the opening of my cervix. None of this happened. My naturally planned childbirth was moved to an emergency special monitoring area where I was unhappily drugged up with labor inducing cocktails, monitors and an overall feeling of failure.

Nothing about this was going as I planned. It was time for a C-section, there were no other options. As they rolled me into the table, my compassionate DR ordered Randouche to go get my boombox and put on my requested soundtrack. This would be Future Sounds Of London "LifeForms" and in less than 10 minutes ... they cut, oh wait, the baby's head is bigger than we thought, they cut again... ok... we can get him out now... Zoren was pulled from me and displayed to me in a grey and red messy ball of tiny human with thick black hair.

There was no turning back now, the baby was here.

In the years that have followed I've learned patience, letting go of expectations, acceptance and what unconditional love really is. I've done my best to make Motherhood 'cool' although there are times this has to be the most mundane uncool typical life on earth. Don't ask me how many times I've cooked "circle pasta with butter." We don't eat at a dining table or keep a schedule. I had to go to a counselor to learn how to 'discipline' my kid. I don't do well with PTA or school authority. At one point I took on the role of Den Mother, that lasted six months. I could care less if my son tests well, although he's in some 90-something percentile for awesomeness and tests well without much effort. He is smart, loves to read, gets great grades without trying, kills it at every sport he tries and has the insight of a very old soul.

I haven't told this to too many people for a myriad of reasons. Guess if I'm blogging it, it's no longer a private story is it?

Somehow, over the years, I've forgotten all about that era... because it feels like there is the life before I was a mom that is fading deeper and deeper into the annals of my memory banks... and the person you see now is a result of acceptance and the gifts I've gotten from the lessons being Zman's mom. Let me tell you … being his mom is the easy part, it is LIFE that is freakin hard!!!

You see, what I think I'm trying to say is... getting married, having a kid... that wasn't "me". But now I cannot imagine loving myself more than I do now... as the person who has learned and grown over the past 11 years.

If 29 year old me looked at 44 year old me... she'd spit, barf, chastise, berate and decimate me for what I've become. I'm everything I said I'd never be. Trust me, there's much I'm grateful for... my 20s were a selfish wonderful time, I saw the world, traveled with bands, had an apartment in Amsterdam, lived out of suitcases, made gobs of money and spent it unwisely, I lead my universe.... and had I not been through all of that, I may have resented my son.

Look... life doles out all kinds of stuff we can't control. Like... I was on the pill and I got pregnant. Life is full of surprises. What if I didn't say yes to Randouche? And we didn't have Z? And I didn't take that job? And I didn't get on that plane, or sign that deal or ....

There's no way to carve out or control the expectations of what we think life is supposed to look like. I am learning every day that all I have is what is in front of me.

When I look at the Zman, I see the world through his eyes, learn lessons about attachments, being reactive, the challenges of being different and carving out a self esteem, being socially awkward and that catching crayfish in the stream in front of our house can be really cool!

I get that loving me on my own is no longer an option, that if someone wants to be in my life they need to love 'us'... because we are this unit that can't be compartmentalized for very long. It's a blessing and a curse I suppose, to realize that I can't separate myself as an individual chick anymore, that I have this person tethered to me regardless of what I do.

It's really amazing that Zoren turns 11 tomorrow. That 11 years ago today I was strapped into a bed with all kinds of drugs and monitors I didn't want, in pain, in fear, in panic.... but he arrived, a perfect bundle of awesome ready to reinvent me in ways I could have never imagined.

Happy Birthday lil buddy...

Monday, May 20, 2013

Green Grass of Home

Originally Published in HOUSE Magazine in 2007...

Green Grass of Home
A former New Yorker discovers the joy of mowing a jungle.

I’m the quintessential city girl. I grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. So when my son was born almost five years ago, I thought the ideal place to raise him was New York City. The city had all the amenities, activities, and culture I could want. But as he grew, I realized I’d not only had enough of listening to my then-husband complain about urban life, but that it was time for us to own our own home and have our own yard for our son to play in.

Moving upstate wasn’t my first choice. I wasn’t interested in what came with it: car culture, big supermarkets, malls. I didn’t want to leave my hometown. Plus, I was used to being a tenant. Whenever something broke, when junkies trashed the front of the building, and when my crazy neighbor threatened me with a knife, I called the landlord.

However, reluctantly—after discovering that homeownership in Brooklyn would cost over $1 million—I turned my attention upstate. Friends of friends who’d moved to Beacon and raved about its burgeoning art scene piqued my interest. I drove up and met with a realtor, but I couldn’t picture living up there until she showed me a gorgeous 2,400-square-foot Victorian house on over an acre. That house captured my imagination and my heart with its stately entrance, grand wooden staircase, original moldings, and marble fireplaces. “This is like the dollhouse I had as a child!” I told the realtor. All I wanted from then on was to live in my dollhouse for real.

Little did I know what I’d have to endure to fulfill my fantasy. That fall, right after we moved, Dutchess County experienced its highest rainfall in over 100 years. Our basement flooded. What did I know about flooding? When it rains in the city, you break out a $2 umbrella from Chinatown and hail a cab. I had no clue what a sump pump was; I’d never even had to contend with a basement. Now, for three weeks, we took turns at pump duty. When my husband left at 5am to teach in the city, I headed to the basement wearing my Descamps robe and Ugg boots and stood on cinderblocks, sweeping water into a hole and manually operating the sump pump every 30 minutes. That was just the beginning. I couldn’t call the landlord. I had become the landlord. So that winter I found a plumber to fix the torrential rain shower in my kitchen, retiled the bathroom, shoveled snow, and fixed my own appliances. I amazed myself, but every time I learned something new, I’d wonder what I, the city girl, was doing.

When spring arrived it was beyond fantastic. I had spent the winter fixing things and making the dollhouse my dream house. As the weather warmed, I opened windows and read outdoors. My neighbor’s garden was famous throughout Beacon. Our property was equally incredible. Dogwoods bloomed. We had yellow forsythia, pink blossoms, blue birds, and green, green, green grass—lots of it, growing thicker and taller by the minute.

Never in my life had I experienced spring in this way, like a magical onslaught of flowers, leaves, and grass—over an acre of grass. I hadn’t thought about grass when I’d fallen in love with the dollhouse. Having never had a lawn, we hadn’t thought about lawnmowers. I left it to my tool-obsessed husband—who knew enough to swear by the Bosch Drill and Dewalt Router—to find us one. We went to Lowe’s, ready for the purchase. But after 45 minutes, my husband was still staring at the display models and our son was going bananas. An hour later, having run out of ways to amuse our son, I returned to the lawnmower aisle to find that my husband still hadn’t decided. He said he needed to think about it. We drove home confused, exhausted, and empty-handed.

For a week, we read every lawnmower review online and debated ride-on or push mowers. Meanwhile, dandelions sprouted. Finally Saturday arrived, and my husband—whose school year had ended—returned to Lowe’s. Hours passed; finally he called, asking me questions I couldn’t answer. “Come on, pick one,” I said.

Instead, he came home and went back online. On Sunday he headed off to Lowes again. I spent the day with our son, playing in the yard, pretending we lived in the jungle. My neighbors stared, aghast at our lack of care. It’s okay, I thought, we’ll fix it. But my husband reappeared at dinnertime empty-handed. “Oy vey,” I said. He needed me, he explained, to help him decide. So we packed our son into the car and returned to Lowes.

My husband had narrowed it down to two lawnmowers—both of which were out of stock. The salespeople suggested another. But I had my heart set on the self-propelling one with bigger wheels that was good on hills. I pointed to the lawnmowers on the top shelves and, in my city-girl tone, insisted, “Can’t we buy one of those?” The salespeople rolled their eyes.

A big production was made on my behalf. The aisle was secured with orange caution chains, and salespeople were stationed as guards at both ends. Someone arrived with a cherry-picker. Finally, they handed us the big box holding our very own lawnmower.

When we got home it was too dark to mow, but I went to sleep happy. The next morning, I got up and left for work wearing my favorite attire—black skirt and blazer, and John Fleuvog open-toed heels. When I got home that night, my husband was outside, mowing the lawn. I was so excited I jumped out of the car and ran that Carrie Bradshaw high-heeled run over to him. Watching my husband in action, my heart swelled. He looked like a guy who owned a house, who was painstakingly taking care of his big, gorgeous property. I didn’t bother going inside to change. I took the lawnmower’s handles and finished mowing the lawn in my black suit and fancy shoes. As the sun set on that beautiful day, I was the happiest, most stylish city girl who ever mowed a lawn in the whole Hudson Valley.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fear We Go Again

There we were, my dharma punx buddies and I sitting around the campfire a few years ago at a campground in the Berkshires.  We were laughing, joking and talking when our friend Pete asked, do women find men who are spiritual attractive or do they see us as pussies? or something like that.  A passionate conversation erupted between the group about relationships, love and spirituality.  Evenly distributed between men and women, the details of romantic relationship experiences were exposed over crackling flames of the campfire.  I dont remember much more of what was being said I had a different experience than my contemporaries under the star filled summer sky. 

Sinking deeper and deeper into my camping chair, literally clinging to myself for dear life a darker emotion was taking hold.  I couldnt speak or move because this debilitating emotion was paralyzing.  There were words and tones I could hear, snippets of discussion but my experience went somewhere else.  It was gripping. 

A moment of silence fell among the group and in that moment I took my opportunity to force out this sentence through a few small sobs, I am afraid. 

My friend Paul responded, of course you are, youre allowed to be, youve been through a lot.

There it was.  Validated by a close friend who truly understood this layer of suffering that was enveloping me.  I was allowing myself to admit to this deep rooted fear, and the beginning of an exploratory journey in clarity where I allowed myself to dig deep into it and practice letting it go. 

Some people are afraid of spiders, or heights, or fire, or the dark.  Me? I have a fear of love.  Its not the loving part that is the issue, its the pain that befalls me when it ends in heartbreak.  One would think that age and time would have taught me to be able to get though these romantic failings more easily, but the blows Ive endured to my precious heart have left irreparable scars.  In my years of practice, Ive cleaned up much of the blackness, the scar tissue that Ive let become a protective layer.  In my other kinds of relationships, Ive learned to be vulnerable and open.  Yet with romantic love, I continue to suffer this feeling of tremendous trepidation.  My fear tells me, of this I am certain another heartbreak will kill you.

It was a mommy time weekend this week, I took the Zman and his buddy snowboarding at a little local mountain.  Bathing and makeup seemed optional, so I passed making the effort for comfy baggy snowpants and a tee shirt.  As usual, being done well before my gaggle of little boys were done with their riding, I went into the bar for one post-ride beer.  There I met a guy.  It wasnt much of an unusual entry to a conversation, amusement about my beer snobbery, chatting about the area, how neat this secret HV treasure is and such.  I could have been sitting there for hours or minutes time in that moment seemed to not really take hold.  What did surprise me from this chance meeting were three things one, that he actually asked for my phone number and two.. how unusually bummed I was that they left so soon and three how incredibly aware I was of the magnetic sparks manifesting in our first meeting. 

There was no waiting time he texted, I texted back and a hang plan was set.  Me, the jaded ice queen hermit was going to embark on a real life date in the real world with a real guy. 

And the date was the best date Ive been on since my divorce.  I wont kiss and tell, but I can tell you, I still feel those unmentionable kisses in my toes.

and now the game of dating begins and all that fear that arises with it.

The spiritual warrior me wants to be true to myself, to say what I want to say or do what I want to do.  No games, no illusions or delusions.

Unfortunately, the mature 40 something chick I am knows better knows that I have to now play the game filled with rules, the sport where Im supposed to be a surprise, mysterious, aloof.  What sucks is, Im really none of those things.  Im far from mysterious, jeesh I must be the least mysterious lady on the planet.  Pretend?  Follow protocol?  This rebellious feminist finds all this so very contradictory to my beliefs. 

One of the reasons I hate dating the most is the sport of it the rules that are going to shape how the relationship will be moving forward.  Im supposed to suppress all the characteristics that make Elissa Jane me? 

More perpetuators of this debilitating fear, having to be something else, someone else or I am going to blow it somehow. One of the greatest parts of my personality is my fearlessness.  Im afraid of nothing well almost nothing.  When people recoil at the site of a daddy long legs or the view from the edge of a tall mountain I unintentionally judge them, like really whats the big deal?  In the presence of this gripping fear of heartbreak and inauthentic game playing that is all encompassing, I realize that I can relate.  If I hadnt learned what I did in my Year to Live practice, I would do what feels safe and walk away.  Thats what people in fear do run from the very thing that ignites the trigger. 

Trust me all these little fabulous sparks are blowing up the powder keg and I am reminded that this thing will lead to that pain.  I can see the dots connecting.. the tape play out.. or can I?

The scariest part of all is while the fear is still there the delusion isnt.  I cant see the heartbreak or the end, I cant even see past dinner time later tonight.  It is my enlightened and rational self that hears my friend Gary say, right now, its like this.

I really have no idea what is coming next or what will happen, if well go out again (I hope we do) or if we dont.  I dont know what anyone else is thinking, and frankly its none of my business what other people are thinking about me.  The only thing I have control over is this aversion Im feeling triggered by memories of a pain that Ive endured from other dating scenarios in my past.  Am I going to give those relationships that didnt work out my happiness?  No. 

For today, in this moment, Im grateful for feeling this way again, romantic, hopeful, curious and even vulnerable.  Im ok with all that is arising because, well, Im ok with me.

Human nature is filled with fear, and I guess just like people who are filled with phobias of other kinds, I need to be compassionate to myself and give myself the same understanding Ive learned to give others. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

how well do you know a person?

a month ago, a friend of mine from college died.  like so many deaths and other important news, I found out about this unfortunate passing of this contemporary on Facebook.  comeon.. who needs another news source?

in the minutes that followed the initial post announcing the passing of Spencer Cox, the outpouring of sentimental comments began.  certainly, as I always do, I was at the head of the pack to say... how sad and sorry I was.   in a matter of an hour, a memorial service date and location was announced, news unfolded, gossip ensued and articles were crafted in honor of Spencer's life.

today, the memorial service took place.  it felt like there were 1000 people in the room, and the eulogies were funny, heart felt, sentimental and honest.  there were a few lines today at the memorial service, that resonated.  one of Spencer's best friends from high school said in her eulogy, "I had not idea that Spencer was such a big deal." in all honesty, neither had I.

throughout the room were people with whom I shared equal amount of time with at school, designing dramatic sets for plays, building sculptures, analyzing literature and getting high at parties.  we are all friends on Facebook these days, liking each others' pictures, and keeping up with the happenings of our lives.  I was surprised how my life seemed to actually be interesting enough to my fellow former school mates that they remarked on our adventures that I share online.  what could I say back?  I wasn't sure.

here I was, in a room full of people who felt this immense connection to Spencer, but as one of his friends remarked in his eulogy, everyone has a time where they have been disconnected from him.  I hadn't really seen Spencer since college and our friendship of late was really rekindled electronically on Facebook.  this is where so many of my "relationships" flourish.  I related all too easily to the idea of being disconnected from people I love.  I have my long laundry list of friends with whom ties were severed.  sometimes just by life circumstances, and sometimes by some fight or altercation or... I just couldn't deal with them anymore.

I had no idea he was such a big deal.

I had no idea she had kids.  I didn't realize he was living here, she was doing this, he had written that, she had worked here, he was working there, she had lost 100 lbs, he had remarried... I didn't realize they were such a big deal.

all too easily, I let the ties that connect me to others fray and inevitably separate.  how can this possibly be the mark I have on others.  is this my legacy?

there were a number of eulogies at today's service; a former partner of 8 years who sobbed, his Act Up compadres, his younger brother and mother, friends and more friends.  I listened intently, and thanks to these people who were close to him, I discovered what a big deal Spencer Cox truly was.  I had no idea.

as I reflect back on my own life since those youthful years, if my life were to end today... what would my legacy be?  would people get up and speak about me?  have I had a profound mark to leave upon the earth?

I've lived a very full life with adventures and experiences.  lately, I've been depressed and down in the dumps.  well not just lately, like for the past couple of years... feeling useless, unworthy, saddened by my own deterioration. I've lived with an attitude that I've lived my life, there's nothing else except to raise my son and live to nurture him so that he can be the special person he is destined to be.  I've mistaken complacency for a sort of serenity, but that's not what living life is all about.  is it?  no.

watching this man's life unfold into a service in this way presented the usual cliche responses one gets from these kinds of things.  I need to live every day like it's my last kind of yadda.  but I think there was something more in it for me.  I've become so settled in my isolation that I've removed myself from the human connections that give me so much joy.  how well did I know Spencer?  not well at all really.  how well do I know my friends right now?

how well do you know a person?

if today taught me anything, it taught me the value of really knowing someone.  of being a part of their lives beyond the electronic facade that eludes to human contact but doesn't authentically define a friendship the way a phone call, a coffee date or an act of kindness can.  this has been a recurring lesson of the more recent months (and years) of my life.  I've made more of an effort to call people I care about, to lean in and listen but am I doing enough?  no.  I can't hide in my lil cabin forever.  I need to get out there, make those sparks fly between me and others and make my mark.  because one day, as we all do, I am going to die.  when my turn comes, I don't want to regret the idea that I didn't get to really know the people who skim the surface of my life.  I want to dive deep, form those lasting connections and know love in all its forms.

how well do I know the people in my life?  the wake up call for me is to cultivate more quality time for the relationships that make up the life I lead.  if Love is the ultimate answer, it cannot be nurtured without authentic real-time relationships.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

got some Sandy got in my eyes

one of my favorite things to do is to go out at midnight and take a walk to the wooden bridge across the street from my house on Ideal Park Road.  I stand there, in the moonlight, watching the Esopus run by. this ritual has become a way for me to release thoughts, let out ideas, scream, or be quiet... that spot across the street from my house is one of my favorite refuges.

tonight... in my pink nighty. Ugg boots and the long black puffy winter coat that has been patiently waiting for a frosty night to make it's seasonal debut, I wondered under the waxing moon with the dog in tow.  I walked slowly down the gravel driveway, looking up at the stars and the moon that was once full.  the crisp air lightly pierced my exposed skin, a sensation I relish because it's telling me that winter is coming.

when I got to the bridge, I began to ramble aloud.  I know no one is technically listening, but it feels good to just get out what's on my mind.  in the summer, the fireflies are listening, now that the cold weather is upon us, I imagine I'm sharing my ramblings with hibernating bears or the moon itself.  tonight, my heart slowly split as I walked down to my favorite place.  looking up at the billowing clouds that danced around the moon, the stream rumbling fiercely with the continued run off from the storm, I cried.

after 4 days of powerless cabin fever, we emerged to a changed world where people we actually know are missing, suffering, challenged, displaced.  it's not like Katrina and NOLA, where it seemed so far away, this storm ravaged NYC, my home town.  somehow, this one feels very personal.  I feel powerless in a different way tonight, because I can't figure out what to do next, where to go, who to help or how to fix it.  there's panic, marshall law, looting, vandalism and friends being challenged by the ravaged city.

the effects of this tragedy, which I wasn't sure of for days and days, is all being revealed to me now that I have my beloved internet access again.  the images, articles and stories are graphic.  women losing babies in a tidal wave, people gauging each other for gas, streets filled with drifting beaches, cars washed up onto people's homes and reports of neighborhoods I love destroyed.

I've thought about how I tried so desperately to move back to NYC this summer, how I was determined to live on the waterfront of Brooklyn.  now, with a sense of some relief, I'm selfishly glad that plan misfired.

as I reach out to friends, we commiserate on the challenges of things... bits of my heart feel as though I'm shredding it with a giant cheese grater. large chunks of my soul just pulling away uncomfortably from the very flesh it should be attached to.  and ... I confess, I am immensely sad right now.

it was impossible to nurture myself while being a mom, caring for the kiddo, and worrying about the world.  tonight, on my bridge under the moonlight, I let it out and I cried. alone, as I always am, I swelled with the pain that the world has been forever changed, my home town, my friends, and family I care so deeply for are struggling.  somehow I can literally feel the very darkness and suffering others are going through, and wish so badly I could figure out how to make it better.

the greatest challenge for me is thinking about the what ifs.  what if we had it bad up here, who would come to our aid?  who would help me?  it is moments like this, as much as I know that I have such a strong network of friends, I am very isolated, there is no emergency somebody who would check on me.  no one to help, or just be here with me.

these are the times that it feels as though there is a giant spotlight on the sheer fact that I am alone, doing all of this on my own with no one to come to my rescue.

I wonder how many NYCers feel this same way.  if I've learned anything, it isn't geography that defines being alone, it is a lifestyle.  a choice we make to save us from having to do the tough stuff, share our vulnerability and 'need' for another person with anyone else.

the power came back on at my house last night, and with it I stayed up for hours on my Facebook and cruised the web fumbling to reconnect with my electronic connections that fulfill my sense of being connected.  if the black out taught me anything, I can live without this electronic dependency, the issue is, I don't want to disconnect from the false sense of security I have in knowing there's this network of people who take up the space that I've fostered so that I can be detached from the world.

yup, the tears are flowing.  my heart is wrenching.  and I know the answer to kill this pain and loneliness, there is really only one solution . be in service to those who need help.  I'm going to find a way to volunteer this week.  if I offer myself ... the ability to give to those who need ... will be the nurturing and replenishment I truly seek.

To learn more about how you can get involved in volunteering and helping, check out Occupy Sandy Relief

Saturday, August 18, 2012

tales from the Ashram...

For the past two weeks, I've been formulating my next blog post in my head... trying to put together the words to describe the dismal private pity party I've been hosting for myself.  This summer has been a wild roller coaster to put it mildly, and many of the things I carved into expectations didn't come to fruition.  Once again, I went out there a gutsy warrior, and failed by making some really bad choices.  Where did I end up?  Right back where I started.  Or did I?

There's something cyclical afoot ... each June, as my birthday comes, I make a declaration that I'm going to make things very different.  I put plans into motion, and set an intention to radically change my life... and each year, those radical plans end in "disaster" and "failing."  Inevitably, I end up crawling back to my life, humbled.  

This summer has been no different.  Once again, I've repeated the quest that ended in failure.

I can't say that I feel royally defeated, because of the clarity I have about the imperative to have a certain quality of life, I haven't backed down on myself.  In fact, I've picked up the pieces and quickly got back into my upstate swing of things.  A year ago, heartbreak was the catalyst for a year long crisis of faith and, well, I totally gave up on me.  I don't feel this same defeat right now.  Just a bump in the path, a big crazy speed bump and a pot hole that literally dislodged some things.

I'm writing this post from Ananda Ashram.  If you haven't been here before, the best way to describe it is... a yoga camp for spiritual seekers with a magical vibe and chillaxed atmosphere.  I came here once before, last year just after hitting a large life sized pothole that left me broken.  I wasn't really planning on coming here this weekend, in fact it was a spontaneous last minute decision ... literally, I booked this trip on Thursday night.

On Friday, I ended my harrowing week emotionally exhausted.  Complaining to anyone who would hear, "I'm fried, I'm beat."  I wasn't sure I was really up for coming here.  I knew I 'd be surrounded by a bunch of yogi's getting their dose of hari krishna vibes and I wasn't entirely sure I was up for the woo woo chatter.  So if I wasn't in the mood for the hippie dippie new ageness... why come here?  Because I lead this choice with my heart rather than my mind, and my heart knew I needed a moment of retreat and renewal.  To concede, I needed a good helping of what these people have... a little bit of crazy, and a bunch of answers to life's big questions.

The highlight of the weekend thus far, is the amount of quality time I'm having with older women.  While I'm feeling immensely let down in my relationship with my mother... the universe has decided that I needed a bunch of wacky old ladies to share their wisdom, guidance, love and stories about their journey.  While I've tried to keep to myself, the universe has made it a point to put this fabulous woman in my path.  In my dorm room, I share dwelling with a woman who has experience great love and the loss of her great life love.  At lunch I sat alone, thinking I would dine in silence, instead I was joined by a woman who insisted on sharing her journey of 40 years on the path.  A lady sat with me and shared her vision of love for me, that she saw my struggle and advised me how to open my heart to possibility.  On my way to yoga class in the afternoon, I met another woman who spoke honestly about her relationship with her daughter and gave me a rendition of her greatest lessons.  At dinner I met a woman who is a spiritual therapist who shared her story of loss and renewal after Hurricane Irene.  While writing this blog, two different women came to talk to me about their journey.  All of these woman in their senior years have been imparting their wisdom, their openness, and their love upon me, some stranger.  It's like they were put in my path to give me what I need, the love of an elder.

I don't feel like I've been filling the expansive hole left by not having a parent, but more like I met the right teachers I needed to meet this weekend.  Lay women with life wisdom.  The work hasn't been in the classroom, or on the cushion or the mat... but in the company of women who felt compelled to share bits of their journey with me.

So a few lessons I got from them:

  • Expectations will never serve you, when you let go of your preferences, you'll enjoy life more fully. 
  • Meditation (quieting of the mind) is essential for mental and physical health.
  • When you truly love yourself, you open your heart to possibility of being loved by others in all capacities.  
  • Everything and everyone you meet has a lesson for you.  (one said everything happens for a reason but I don't totally prescribe to that philosophy.  however, I like translating this as there are lessons to be learned and connections to be made with every human being on this earth)
  • You can always start again.  It's never too late to start over.
  • The practice never ends, there are always new lessons to learn. 
I still have one more day here, to chillax and enjoy the delicious vibes of this place, and for that I am grateful.  The most important thing I need to take away from here is the value of taking good care of me, because when I do, I can feel like 'this'.  Rested, refreshed and capable of showing up for my life.   Honestly, it has been months (since my mom's stroke and maybe more) since I felt like I was showing up for myself.  I deserve to be accountable to myself, I deserve to be well cared for by ... myself.