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Another Look at Choosing Stillness over Action–and What Happens Next?

I first published this piece in February of 2019, a little over one month before our lives forever changed in the face of Sean’s diagnosis. I wanted to present it again now, in May of 2020, as we both celebrate Sean’s wellness, and also discern how to manage macro and micro fear and anxiety in the face of global pandemics.

As I write this introduction, I experience a kind of almost inexpressible strangeness. It’s somehow ominous, reading the words I wrote a year ago about worry and adversity, literally on the brink of being hurled into suffering I had never even imagined would touch my experience, let alone shape it. It’s the kind of feeling we have when we’ve been in a car accident and recall what we were doing or saying or what music we were listening to on the radio just moments before everything changed. This is an eery, strange sensation. Maybe we look there to try and make sense of the trauma. Maybe we are trying to control our reaction. Maybe we are even trying to change the outcome–as if that were possible.

What I am able to understand now, though, as I revisit what I was pondering on the eve of Sean’s diagnosis, is that the movement towards greater clarity and discernment is the very essence of life. We break open, fill the emptiness or the wound with salve, heal, and then break open again. And we do this, not at the same place, not at the place of the most recent wound, but at a different one. It might feel like the same one, but it’s not, for we have grown since the last breaking open.

When I wrote these words, searching for clarity and understanding in 2019, I of course, had no idea of what was to come. But what I am able to see now is that I was, even then, undergoing this continual reaching and leveling up, breaking open and healing. When Sean was diagnosed, I wasn’t prepared for adversity, but I was ready for it. In a strange, beautiful, mystical way, I was indeed ready. And as Abraham says, living an awakened, conscious life is the willingness to “be ready to be ready to be ready….”

That’s all we can really do, isn’t it? And so this is what I commit to everyday: staying open, living open- and whole-hearted. I’m not always successful and don’t actually want to be. The contrast is the seed of evolution. So we continue to face forward and choose alignment whenever possible. Who knows what will come of that?

I have been thinking a lot lately about how to manage my desire, and feeling like I need, to act in the face of adversity versus just being. Sometimes I call this surrendering. Sometimes I call it just accepting the “as is.” Regardless, though, of what I name it, the ability to be still in the midst of chaos comes from embodying the essence of the “I am.”

To be able to rest in the “I am” is to identify with Divine oneness, God, Source, light that lives in all of us. From here, we can choose to take action, which is sometimes warranted, or we can remain still and silent.

The latter choice is the one I’m pondering now. The desire to react and even respond in the face of an attack or criticism or unkind deed by another is so strong. We want to retaliate, to speak up, to be right. But here’s the thing; just because we’re right, or feel we are, doesn’t necessarily mean we should take any action at all. And this is the tough part, because we live in a world in which we are defined by our doing, not by are being.

In light of this desire to further understand stillness in the presence of chaos, this passage shown here from the Tao resonates deeply with me.

“Because [the Master] doesn’t display himself, people can see his light.” The one who remains still is enlightened. Even in the midst of others’ loud or aggressive egos, the Master rises above the din, not because he is louder, but because he is quiet.

“Because he has nothing to prove, people can trust his words.” Again, when he acts or speaks out of his essence rather than ego, he is trustworthy, because he accepts the “as is;” others’ approval of is inconsequential.

“Because he doesn’t know who he is, people recognize themselves in him.” In other words, because he is not fixed to any dogma, belief, or institution, others can easily identify with him and thus feel an intimate connection, a oneness with him.

These passages are elegant and deeply inspiring. As I continue to evolve into my own wholeness, as my triggers lessen, as my desire to be right and to react diminishes, the Tao comforts and inspires me. This is the way.

Self-Care Revisited

I first published this piece in May of 2019–two weeks after Sean began radiation treatment for medulloblastoma. Every day for six weeks, Sean and I drove an hour each way to and from Philadelphia. Once at CHOP, after we checked in and Sean was prepped for his treatment, I used the 90 minutes or so during his radiation to meditate or write or catch up with a friend on the phone. Most times, though, I used that time to go for a run by the river.

At first, I was self-conscious about exchanging my clogs for running shoes, putting on my knee braces, and strapping my running belt around my waist. By the time I walked through the revolving doors out of the hospital, having added my baseball cap, sunglasses, and earbuds to my ensemble, I looked pretty goofy. But once I reached the running trail, I not only didn’t care, I felt great. I felt like myself. I felt free.

Taking the time to get outside, run, and listen to podcasts became my time for learning, for educating myself about all sorts of things: nutrition for cancer, meditation, conscious parenting, spirituality and Catholic mysticism. I have learned so much since I wrote this piece a year ago. I have so much more to share and to explore with you. But I hope these thoughts will encourage you to find ways, however small, to care more for yourself–now and always.

Self-care, self-love, conscious attention to spirit, whatever we call these practices, are essential to maintaining our alignment with Source and abundance. They are not optional. Living a rich, conscious, connected life requires this kind of attention to self. All wisdom teachers and mystics emphasize the importance of finding quiet in our lives–time apart from the noise and business of the everyday. These are the times we focus on looking and going within ourselves. Only by consciously connecting to this interior spaciousness will we then be prepared to re-enter “ordinary” life. Only when we have witnessed, touched, and calibrated to the serenity and expansiveness within ourselves are we able to be fully present with, and manage, life’s daily activity and struggles.

Find ways to honor yourself both for yourself and for those around you, who might then follow your example. Imagine what the world would be like if we all gave ourselves permission to love, care for, and curate the Divine spark within us. The world would shine brightly indeed, and we would feel truly free.

The term, “self-care,” has become almost trendy now, right? It’s strange how such a basic, essential concept now seems new or alternative. Alternative to what, exactly? Martyrdom? Self-abandonment? Here’s why it’s so vital.

Of course, especially when a sick child or loved one needs us, we need to attend to our own health and wellness; if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t care for others. This is obvious. But there are more expansive, even karmic, reasons to mind our minds and our bodies.

When we attend to our emotional, spiritual, and physical health, we are not only literally caring for ourselves, but we are also caring for the energy we emit, the atmosphere we create and offer others. We can’t fool the universe, saying, “I’m fine! Really, I’m great,” when we know we feel empty or sad or are suffering inside.

In the same way, our kids and those close to us know, too, when we’re just putting on a happy face. We cannot hide the energy we carry with us. The electromagnetic field of our heart (5,000 times stronger than that of our brains) communicates the authenticity of our energy.

And perhaps most importantly, when we attend to ourselves, we are also sharing with others, including our kids, that we value their own self-care. When my children see me taking time to exercise, meditate, learn, and create (all activities that are essential to my daily happiness and sense of purpose), they understand that they, too, are autonomous, independent, and worthy of participating in the activities that fill up their souls.

So, is self-care selfish? Yes. Yes, it is. And it is also life-sustaining, liberating, and actually the most loving action we can take to create an optimal environment of love and compassion.

Ah, Self-Doubt, You Are With Me Again

We are often too hard on ourselves.

We are journeying towards greater consciousness, self-awareness, and understanding of ourselves and others. We acknowledge the triggers, the hard things, the contrast (as Abraham Hicks calls it), and then we shift and grow and level-up (as Martha Beck refers to it). We begin to evolve, perhaps even change–not in our fundamental nature, but rather, in our ability to discern that the very core of our humanness flows from the Divinity sprouting in the very depths of our hearts. Source, God placed it there. It existed before our form took shape around it. Like the energy that birthed the essence of our souls, we, too, are eternal.

So, why are we hard on ourselves? We struggle, because this evolution is not a linear progression. Rather, it mirrors the spiral of the sacred nautilus. We begin in the center, and as we gain experience, both painful and joyous, we follow the turns of the spiral, moving further away from the central point. We don’t however, lose sight of that beginning place. It is always in view, as are the turns we have already traveled.

Inherent in this journey, then, is our ability to witness our trials and mis-steps among our joys and successes. And when we witness them, like weeds sprouting impertinently among our carefully curated flowers, we feel sad and frustrated. We might even lose faith and hope. We are experiencing self-doubt.

We wonder, why we are here again? We ask ourselves, didn’t we learn this already? And then we self-chastise for all the things: we’re not good enough, smart enough, evolved enough, worthy enough. If we stay here too long, we lose our way. We slow our pace within the spiral. We are looking so intently on the lack and what we are calling failures that we cannot continue the journey with faithful clarity.

However, once we discern where we are, when we are able to see the “as is” of our reality at any point in time, we can choose to reshape these thoughts. We must remember that even though we can see these “faults” or shortcomings in our past, we are able to witness them with compassion. We view them for what they are, because we have moved through and past them. We can only see these elements of ourselves, because we have journeyed further up the spiral. As if on a tall stairway, we are looking down at these parts of ourselves that constitute who we were earlier in our travels. We feel “less than,” because we can still see and perhaps even feel these pinched parts of ourselves. But we are not the same as we were earlier in the spiral. We are actually not at all in the same place. We have evolved. And we will continue to elevate and grow.

Self-doubt will indeed reveal herself repeatedly on our journey. We will notice her, perhaps even say hello. We need not hold her hand, however. We don’t need to sit with her for hours. We can if we wish, maybe when we take a break on the journey and rest awhile. But that’s all.

And in discerning that it is we who decide how often to gaze at or walk with self-doubt, we ultimately acknowledge that we are free. That our journey, however, long, is our own, and we alone will decide how to take the next right step.

On Mothering, part 4

I have been trying to get to this post for about a day and a half. I now sit at 7:54 PM, tired and uncertain that I have anything interesting or helpful to say. And so, this is the theme of today’s post.

Ironically, I was trying to finish dinner and housework by 7:00 PM to attend a live call about essential oils and self-care. I have to laugh as I write this; the extent to which I am lacking in the self-care department today is testament to how much I need it. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

These days, how many of us are doing even more mothering than usual in all areas of life? Work outside the home has diminished or stopped altogether. Kids are homeschooled. Extra-curricular activities are no more. And yet, I believe most mothers (and fathers) would agree we are busier than ever. As parents, we are now full-time teachers, creative directors, technology managers, kid-friendly household-job creators, spiritual directors, and counselors, in addition to non-stop domestic servants and large and small animal pet caretakers. It’s not that any of these jobs is completely new; it’s that they are now constant with very little down and alone time.

I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m not even complaining. I’m simply stating what is. And as I have presented in my previous posts, our refusal to witness and confront what is, as well as our constant self-emptying without refilling, are not only exhausting, they are also unsustainable. Feeling overwhelmed or tense or constricted in service to everyone else all the time is NOT a requisite for mothering. The socially accepted declarations, “Now that I have a husband and kids, it’s not about me anymore,” and “it’s all about what’s good for them, not me,” are tired and incredibly damaging. Indeed, too often feeling and behaving as though we matter less than anyone else will cause us to turn against ourselves. And worse, we will be unable, truly unable, to hold and reflect the compassion and love our children require from us in order to form their own autonomous, healthy, self-possessed spirits.

So what to do? When we have days like the several in a row I’ve had (which I know you all have also experienced), how can we return to ourselves to refocus and refuel? A friend of mine posed this very question to me today. “How do I pay attention to myself,” she asked, “and manage my own state of mind when my kids are yelling, the dog is barking, and I have to make dinner AND fold laundry?” Yup. That’s about sums it up. Not easy. But not impossible either.

In discerning how to answer, this quotation from modern-day mystic, writer, and Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault, came to mind. She writes, “When the field of vision has been unified, the inner being comes to rest, and that inner peaceableness flows into the outer world [as] harmony and compassion.” In order to move towards a place of peace and wholeness, then, we must find a way for our “field of vision” to become “unified.” How do we accomplish that?

The answer is simple, but hardly simplistic. We must first learn to practice stillness and centeredness before the contrast and chaos and noise arrive. If we are moving through life often feeling barraged with negative stimuli and experiencing the momentum of much that is unwanted, we usually are unable to slow down sufficiently to turn toward the direction of what is wanted. It’s like making a sharp turn driving at 80 miles per hour. It’s very challenging, quite dangerous, and if you drive a big car, you’re likely to tip over and roll. It won’t end well.

However, if we are practiced at calling on, and sitting with, serenity, we are more likely to recover it in the early stages of being triggered when the chaos visits. This is the purpose of daily meditation, contemplation, and breathing exercises. We practice finding and resting in quiet and stillness in order to recalibrate our energy. We can also experience these moments by paying attention to, and appreciating, when conditions make it easy for us to feel relaxed and focused–when the kids are quieter, when the dog is resting, when there is no dinner to prepare, and when the laundry isn’t screaming to be folded. We learn to be unconditional in our ability to self-regulate, and at the same time, we are able to see and feel and have gratitude for the moments when the conditions reflect back to us our inner stability.

One day last week, I was trying to help all three kids start their school day. They had Zoom meetings, work to do, and tests to take. As I stood in the kitchen, attempting to corral the cats, so to speak, one asked, “Can I have some eggs?” Another declared, “I’d like some tuna.” And another requested a smoothie. I took a breath, and said, “Sure,” frustrated not that they were hungry and wanted to eat, but rather, that our morning start felt like wading through a muddy, rain-soaked steeplechase course at Radnor Hunt in Wellies with no tread. We were slipping and sliding and could not get any traction to get to our destination.

And then it started. Each child, in a different part of the kitchen and family room, started humming a tune. Not the same tune, mind you. Three separate ones at high volumes that were anything but harmonious. The playful rogue cats image returns readily here.

For a moment I thought I might just lose my mind. Cacophonous noise on top of the already pear-shaped work schedule? Seriously? But then… I grabbed on to the tail of that cranky momentum and yanked it back. I gazed at my three children, each singing untethered and with joy, and my spirit joined them. I saw them and the whole scene for what it was–fun, a little wild, and free. This is the good stuff, I thought. This is what we get to experience at home on a Tuesday morning with our kids. In other words, I experienced, as Cynthia expresses, a “unified” “field of vision.” My restless “inner being” came “to rest.” And as a result my “inner peaceableness flow[ed] into…[my]…outer world [as] harmony and compassion.” I experienced clarity and calm and profound love.

The question before us right now isn’t, when will this all end? When will life get back to normal? The question, rather, is, what are we doing right now to be present to life with all its moving parts? To witness the messy living room, the kids’ loud music, the breakfast room table full of half-finished crafts, and even the periodic grumbles and complaints.

Yes, fellow mothers, we have a lot to do everyday. A lot. And yet, it is in this mix of frustration and ease, challenge and joy, that we can find purpose and meaning and clarity. Every experience is an invitation to evolve and consider more deeply who we are and who we want to be. To be a mother is to know, almost daily, the pain and the ecstasy of life. This is the ongoing journey of mothering.

On Mothering, part 3

If love doesn’t feel like benevolent light, it’s not love, it’s attachment. If you’re afraid of losing something and are grasping it tightly, that’s not love, it’s attachment. Love has no grasping, wanting, need, or fear of loss. It exists in a sea of itself. You can’t lose it. (Martha Beck)

When we speak of motherly love, it would seem to be quite straightforward—simple even. We all share a basic common understanding. Motherly love is self-less, forgiving, undying, and constant. Yes. Mostly. Often. Usually. But there’s more.

Martha Beck, with her inimitable grace and poignancy, reminds us that love (and I would emphatically include a mother’s love) must remain detached to be healthy and true.

How this contradicts the paradigm of motherhood most of us have come to accept! A mother who doesn’t cling or hold tightly to her children doesn’t really love them, we are told. A mother who doesn’t empty or martyr herself often enough isn’t worthy of the title. We have been socialized to believe that needing and grasping and fearing make us good mothers. Loving mothers.

How misguided we are. For the love, the truest, healthiest, most compassionate love, we have for our children emanates from open-hearted freedom, not constricted anxiety and fear.

The highest form of motherly love comes from our knowing that first we must love and accept and have compassion for ourselves. In order to love the child who is distinct from us, not a mere reflection of us, we must become love and allow it to flow through us without judgment or anxiety. Without needing the child to fill and define who we are.

This, then, is the motherly love I aspire to express and share. As I connect with the love of Source, of my true self, I both receive and then emanate it to my children. I share it freely with no expectation and no demands. I cannot lose this love, because I am one with it. And in this oneness, my children and I are complete.

On Mothering, Part 2

I first met Shelly Lefkoe, renowned parenting expert and cofounder of The Lefkoe Institute, two years ago when she gave several presentations at Dr. Mark Hyman’s Feel Good Summit. Her humor and passion and wholeheartedness were inspiring and infused the information she shared with warmth and wisdom and compassion.

I listen to Shelly’s talks wherever I can find them. During one of her presentations at Mindvalley, she offered the following thoughts about conscious, mindful parenting. They resonate with me deeply. They remind me that, as a mother, I am only capable of supporting my children’s autonomy and self-possession to the extent that I can also do the same for myself.

Your number one job is to parent your children so they conclude positive beliefs about themselves and life.

Every child needs to know:

I am good enough.

I’m powerful.

I’m important.

I am worthy because I am here.

What makes me good enough is I believe in myself.

To learn more about Shelly’s work, go to:

empoweringthenextgeneration.mykajabi.com

On Mothering

Mother’s Day is in seven days. Many of us have conflicting feelings about this holiday, varying from the cynical to the sentimental. On the one hand, it’s a marketing campaign to sell cards and increase restaurant revenue. It’s a means of seducing or guilting us into buying more stuff. On the other hand, it’s an annual opportunity to acknowledge our mothers or mother figures. Maybe we don’t thank them enough for all they do, so at least on this day we can buy a nice gift or take them out to lunch.

Any combination of these positions is possible and acceptable, of course. For me, though, the approach of Mother’s Day is an opportunity to more deeply contemplate motherhood itself.

Simply writing these word gives me pause, though. After all, the ubiquity of motherhood (we all have or have had mothers in some fashion) seems to, by definition, undermine the need to call attention to this life choice or station. We get married (or not), have kids, do the best we can, and life goes on. Women have been mothering for millennia.

Still, even those of us who proclaim we don’t care about a day set aside for special acknowledgment can get caught up in cultural sentimentality. We can say we don’t want flowers, cards, and gifts on Mother’s Day, but we most likely do appreciate them. Perhaps we even secretly expect them. (“Seriously, is it so hard to buy a card?” we might say under our breath, or maybe out loud if none appears by noon on the designated day.)

As I contemplate larger themes associated with mothering, though, the holiday itself doesn’t much inspire me. I don’t care much about the pastel-colored-card expressions of motherhood with their rhyming verses printed in swirls of calligraphy.

I am, however, deeply intrigued by, and devoted to, the much more profound and influential idea of mother—how she is shaped; how she influences, and is influenced by, macro and micro culture; and how her sense of herself almost inevitably determines her children’s understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

With this in mind, I offer a quotation, which presents the idea of mother, not as a loving, self-less caretaker, but rather, as an emerging, empowered force. By birthing children, she is not only offering something, someone, new to the world, but she is, just as significantly, birthing and re-birthing herself. She, too, is made new. She, too, becomes an expression of new energy and creativity. Somehow, we have lost or ignored the implications of this profound co-creative process. We have been socialized to see motherhood as worthy and significant only when a woman empties herself to such a degree that she is weary and worn. And from what? From loving? From supporting and helping others? From assisting others in experiencing joy and becoming themselves, while she loses her own sense of truth and value?

It is time, way past the time, to reject this notion and see mother as strong and creative–an ever-renewing force of power and abundance. Not just because she is giving life to a new human, but because, in so doing, she is also being born again.

Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers–strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.

Barbara Katz Rothman