Life Lessons from a Baby

I was having a difficult time of it a week ago. I would be trying to do something, accomplish something, have fun with something, and I would get interrupted by the baby or my son would be having none of it and I would have to have my husband step in to finish cooking or clean up a mess and I would feel guilty about it or I was getting frustrated at feeling like I couldn’t get anything done, even keeping myself clean. And my husband had to give me a talking to, which I could tell he was unsure how I was going to receive it. He told me that I was trying to do everything I did before having the baby plus take care of the baby, and I had to stop because I was driving myself crazy and he could tell I would start taking it out on everyone else soon. And he was absolutely right. So I had to take a step back and rethink my approach. I took a week to only aim at generic goals and not specific ones, and focused on trying to enjoy everything more fully. And it’s worked – my brain has been modified, and I started watching my daughter more and am applying the lessons to my life.

  • Take joy in basic things. My daughter, now six weeks old, will sometimes pause as she is about to latch onto the breast and make eye contact with me and smile a huge smile, then start eating. Like she is so excited that food is on the way and that I’m sharing the moment with her. Eating is a necessity, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t savor it and the company we find ourselves in when we do eat.
  • Be amazed by the world around you. Like bath time, which the baby  gets so excited about. When was the last time you really enjoyed your bath or shower simply because of the feel of the water? Now, as a creative, I love using and exploring my senses, but there are times I get too caught up and forget, and I’m sure many of you do too. But if we’re able to experience the sensations, how better can we then describe them if we’re writing or express them in our artistic endeavors? The feel of the wind on your face, the smell of food cooking, the way velvet or grass feels beneath our fingertips. These are sensations we should take the time to enjoy. Don’t take the good things for granted.
  • Celebrate small victories. During tummy time, my daughter pushed herself over the tummy time pillow using her back legs (she’s very strong), and she looked so pleased with herself after the fact. It’s still not what she wants, which is to be fully mobile, but it’s a step in the right direction, and her infant brain knew that. For me, maybe my work space isn’t coming together as quickly as I’d like and maybe I’m not making as much progress on creative goals as I’d wanted to while on maternity leave, but I’m chipping away same as I always do, and progress is getting made nonetheless. So breaking things down into smaller steps (empty these three boxes today in my workspace, etc) and really feeling accomplished for doing that much has been very helpful to my psyche.
  • Never underestimate the power of a nap. This may be the most important. If the world gets to be too much and you’re feeling overwhelmed or cranky, take a little nap. We all mostly lead very overstimulated lives, and giving our brains a break to process is a good thing.

Let Yourself “Be”

I’m tired… the kind of tired that comes from working hard physically and mentally, that comes from carving out time to hike and play outside, that leaves you collapsing into bed at night and sleeping so soundly that nothing can disturb that rest. I’m tired, and I’m happy in the exhaustion. I’ve got so much going on at work and in life right now that my head is spinning, but I’m enjoying the dizziness for the moment.

But I almost self-sabotaged. Not six hours after finding out the details of my new position (as well as my new official salary and benefits), I had this horrible fear suddenly grip me. That I wasn’t going to thrive, that instead it would become an abusive situation of giving more than I felt capable of giving, of having too many expectations thrust on me, of not being able to maintain any semblance of a work-life balance. This was going on while I simultaneously was experiencing deep inner spiritual/creative growing pains that shook me to my core and had growing pressure put on me regarding certain “big decisions” that have to be made. And I started feeling trapped by it all, like a big cage was descending over me that would bind me and hold me against my will.

It was a difficult week adjusting to everything. I asked myself “why can’t I just let myself be happy?” I had to dive deep and experience the fear and the pain, and then I let it go. And I found that I could let myself be happy. I can find joy in my life, in my work, in the path I tread. But I wouldn’t have been able to maybe if I hadn’t had everything rising up at once.

Life is of course not perfect. I do miss my son horribly working these long hours, but the way he greets me as I walk through the door every day and the way he holds me so tight as we cuddle is worth everything to me. And there is still some things that need working out in the realm of inner growth, a lacking that could fill me with despair if I dwelled on it. But I’m so busy right now that I can’t worry at it, which is a blessing at this point I think. I was ever one to worry ahead of time, and this is not something that will be rushed. So for now it is just a single black drop in my crystal-clear waters that I am mindful of, and, if anything, it only helps me see how fortunate I am in every other area. Which maybe is the point for the frustration right now.

Anyway, life is good. I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time because I am allowing myself to “be”. I’m experiencing each emotion as it arises and then releasing it, and I’m finding joy in both the small and large moments in my life. After feeling a week of being trapped, I feel freer than I have in a long, long time.

The Cult of “Me”

I read this rather beautiful essay by Umair Haque entitled Youtopia last week, and I’ve kind of been mulling it over off and on ever since. We really are searching for ways to authenticate ourselves and our individuality by giving in to the game that society has us playing. We’re looking for meaning in our lives while sometimes we’re barely able to lift our head to acknowledge that there are other lives doing exactly the same around us. We’re all looking to create and sell a public self that is unique and vital and often so far from what we actually feel. We have a difficult time experiencing the here and now because we’re all already concerned with how many likes or comments a post will get. And it’s sad.

I am someone who firmly believes in the practice of true self-love and self-nurturing because you have to take care of yourself before you can then have the strength to care about others. But you can’t let self-love become narcissistic and shallow because then you never reach the stage where you are giving back. In thinking about this, I kind of envision it like a prism, where each individual is channeling very focused energy in and then refracting it out to spread out over others.

I don’t know if I’m phrasing this the way I mean to. I’m feeling a little stuck communicating how I feel lately, like thoughts are only half-formed in my brain or they aren’t able to be shared. It’s unusual and frustrating for me to be unable to put words to thoughts and feelings. So I’m attempting to work through it and get back on a regular schedule with this blog despite the complications. I never promised anything beyond my own Truth here anyway, but thanks for sticking with me thus far.

The Things You Love

Painted Polymer Clay Heart Pendant by Shing Yin Khor of www.sawdustbear.com/

Painted Polymer Clay Heart Pendant by Shing Yin Khor of http://www.sawdustbear.com/

I began working with Deena Metzger’s Writing For Your Life again as part of my effort to reconnect with my self. And the exercise I was up to was to create a list of the things I love. It was incredibly easy to write, and the list kept growing over the next few days.

Deena Metzger writes – “How we care, what we care about, what we care for are the qualities that reveal character… it is not by one’s sins that you know someone but by what the person celebrates. We often make a fetish out of our failures, losses, and inadequacies. As a consequence, we rarely come to know what gives us joy, what we love, what and how we celebrate. And yet, at the core, we are our passions and our commitment to what we love.”

So, I’m going to share my rather long list with you, and it’s in no particular order.

The Things I Love

  • My son, my husband, my family, and my soul friends – each deserves a list of their own for their individual traits and significant moments that make me love them
  • The animals that have been a profound part of my life
  • Water – waves crashing, water falls, calm ponds, long soaks in the tub – love it all
  • The laughter of children
  • Cuddling babies
  • Autumn in all its glory – the color, the smell of the leaves and people turning on their fireplaces or burning brush, the first frost, the bite in the air
  • Wearing twirly, swishy skirts and spinning to make them swirl
  • Making friends with animals and calling every dog I meet “sweetheart”
  • Seeing the moon huge and orange in the sky and seeing too many stars to count
  • Watching flames move in candles and fireplaces and bonfires
  • Watching thunderstorms
  • Dancing and playing in the rain
  • Running and skidding across slippery, slushie sidewalks, arms out to hold my balance like I’m surfing
  • Frolicking in the snow
  • The smell of tomato sauce cooking and a bold, red wine
  • The smell of drying grass
  • The feel of grass beneath my bare feet
  • Walking barefoot on a beach with the water lapping over
  • The breeze playing through my hair
  • Hands playing with my hair, human connection
  • Hugs that are strong and last almost a moment too long
  • Sleepy lovemaking, when kisses start before you are fully awake so you feel like you might still be dreaming
  • The feel of fine fabrics between my fingers
  • A book or work of art that makes me think or allows me to escape
  • Music so beautiful that it moves me to tears or makes my body dance
  • A witty, effortless conversation
  • Creating – the process of creating anything – feeling the connection within and without as I make – music, art, writing, cooking, even carrying and birthing my son – feeling that spark of inner divinity through creation is so profound
  • Recognizing that creative spark in other people and trying to get them to recognize it within themselves

I’m not sure what kind of portrait this paints, but feel free to let me know if you have an opinion. Also, please share with me some of the things you love most in life, if you are so inclined. I would enjoy reading them.

Skating the Edge of Darkness

So, I haven’t been posting much the past couple of weeks. I have old sketches and poems I could be posting, that I had earmarked to post, and I haven’t because I’m fighting that old voice of doubt again.

When I finally was able to play the piano last week, I felt so at peace, but immediately after, all this self-negativity started rearing up. Probably everything I had bottled inside in recent months began making its way out. In the past, I would sometimes get hung up on the nasty things my mind would come up with, berating myself for being less than perfect at anything I do, and then obsessing over my physical or mental flaws because when I feel bad about myself inside, I feel so ugly outside (which I suppose is better than the opposite, maybe?). This past November, when I was going through massive growing pains and dealing with some mental anguish, I had to fight against myself to stop from deleting all of my Facebook photos from my personal site because I just hated the sight of myself. I’ve mentioned before that I feel intensely, right? :-p

Anyway, this time, when I started going on about all of my supposed flaws to my husband, who rolled his eyes slightly but listened nonetheless (he’s used to having to go through this every few months, and he’s learned that other than listening, he can’t really do much for me because I have to get through the feelings myself, hence the “here we go again” eye roll), I had to start laughing in the midst of my complaining because I sounded so ridiculous. I think the moment was after I went through how I couldn’t do anything professionally enough and was moving on to a catalog of my physical flaws and how I’m not really attractive, and even if people DO find me attractive, it’s only because I’m fooling them with the force of my personality – but duh, personality is part of attraction anyway – that was the moment I burst out laughing at myself. And laughing broke the cycle that usually grips me. I’ve still been fighting the negativity for the past week and 1/2, but I’m letting the thoughts pass freely rather than clinging to them and allowing them to freeze me up. Which is a huge improvement. But still, I’m left feeling a little bit fragile at the moment, so posting old work is difficult for me at the moment.

The other thing that has helped me immensely this week is that I am so insanely busy right now. I took on that extra project, which has pushed back some of the work I’m doing for that shop, so I probably won’t be caught up until the middle of next week, and then I have to start immediately prepping for the Small Press Book Fair in Buffalo, and my son’s birthday party still needs planning, and I’m still waiting on my final tax sheets from my retirement fund to get our taxes sent out to our accountant, and there’s still a list of personal projects a mile high, and our house needs cleaning, and… I’m exhausted, but I’m thriving on the chaos. Keeping busy makes me get out of my own head and lets me not trip myself up.  And I was SO happy to have taken on the extra project, to work with someone who has spent time out in Los Angeles too so we could talk about our old favorite haunts, to be getting my hands in doing the work that I used to do, some of it dirty and annoying, but it felt good nonetheless. I’ve made a new friend and some extra money of it too, always a good thing.

So anyway, why am I posting this here? Because I know a lot of other creative people fight self-doubt. The inner critic is the worst one there is, at times, because that critic knows all of our weakest spots. Laughing at how ridiculous the critic was helped me last week. Maybe it can help you?

A Strange Mantra

There have been so many thoughts and feelings going through me lately. I am feeling buffeted by the recent violence, both domestic and abroad. I’m feeling a certain futility in allowing myself to follow any dreams lately.  The task seems almost herculean at this point. How much easier would it be to just give up and become numb like so many others? If it’s true that life is fleeting, and we are transient, then what’s the point? Why bother trying?

So last night, as I meditated, I felt that truth, the transience and frailty of human life, and I asked again, “Why bother trying? Why attempt to be happy? What right do I have to chase rainbows and to pursue dreams and to have ambition when there is so much suffering and unhappiness?” The answer I got back was “Why not?”.  If life is fragile and tenuous, only a brief moment on the scale of the universe, then what point is there in not trying to live a life of fulfillment? And I couldn’t answer the “why not”.

Unbidden, with a growing urgency, I started repeating internally “May I be strong. May I be grateful. If I must bend, may I bend without breaking.”  Over and over and over, until it transformed into simply “May I be enough”, and that continued repeating until I almost cried.

Then I got myself together and painted for a couple of hours, working on a portfolio piece that has been unfinished since 2007. I’m finishing it for an interview I have next week. And when I finished, I realized that I had been enough, at least for last night.

From now on, when I start to ask myself “why”, I’m going to start responding “why not”, and if I don’t have a really good response for that, then I’m just going to shut the negativity towards myself off.