Tomorrow already began

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Each one of us must come to terms with our past, and the only way to do it is through reflecting, feeling, contemplating.

We all have a past, as we should. It can be a place of comfort or a source of pain, or often is both. Whatever it is, we have no option other than to keep moving forward, and it is wise to look back and see what landed us exactly where we are right now.

The choices we have made yesterday set in motion successes and failures of today. It’s the small things: a late night that results in lack of sleep and cripples the ambitions of the next day; extra $50 spent on something unnecessary, and thus stealthily and insidiously building up debt; the fifteen minutes you could have spent straightening up the house but didn’t feel like it, and by the weekend the chores swell up to take most of the day… There are the bigger things too, of course: relationships that ought to have been history long ago; our health (salad, anyone? No thanks, please pass the steak sauce!); too many to list…

And what if–what if–we made a commitment to making better choices? Right now. Today. What if we were to recognize the impact our choices have on those around us, those closest to us? When you don’t do the dishes, does your wife have to? When laundry piles up, does mom step in? When you rack up debt, does Senior write a check? Imagine how much lighter everyone’s load would feel if we–you, me, that guy–were to start making better choices? Today, so that tomorrow would feel a little easier, a little smoother, a little less of a shock to the system? What if?..

The only prerequisite is coming to terms with one’s past. Made poor choices? Who haven’t! Bad relationships? Say goodbye and move on! Spent too much, drank too much, ate too much? It didn’t bring happiness, did it…

So acknowledge it. Own it. Be responsible for it. Yup, made mistakes. Made poor choices. But that’s in the past. In the present, you, I, and that guy can finally make better choices. By reflecting on the actions that have brought us to the present, by probing within, by sitting with our feelings, we can identify our past pitfalls. Our shortcomings may not change, but being aware of them creates change.

May tomorrow be a better day!..

An ode to insomnia: It’s not that serious after all…

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Here is an ode and a belated hello to Insomnia, five nights in the making. You’re obviously here, and I might as well acknowledge it. You are wearing down my body and my emotions, leaving me weary and with a warped sense of reality: Things that have no lasting value seem more grave than they are, and those which are important become neglected because of exhaustion.

And yet I am enveloped in equanimity, which feels a little surreal under the circumstances.

Maybe I finally have the wherewithal to recognize the impermanence of it all. This insomnia will eventually be washed away with the passing of time… Maybe I have finally learned to discern the difference between fatigue and sadness–and although, for the record, I feel lonely, which I do rarely–this discernment keeps my mood on an even keel.

More interesting still is that my mind feels clear. I toss and turn, but the thoughts that illuminate my nocturnal struggles are worth writing down.

“Your past comes flooding me…”–a future contemplation of the path of relationships…

And with this leaden fatigue, I retreat into myself. My senses turn inward, and I become insulated from the noisy, overstimulating world around me. A blessed retreat of sorts, and I listen to the thoughts and voices living inside me.

I realize how grateful I am to be able to appreciate this experience. There were times when I’d silently curse the night as I tried to will myself to sleep. Now, I am able to relax into being awake. I let my thoughts run their course, and eventually, like children, they settle, and I find myself at rest (albeit only for the next three or four hours).

The morning brings an urge to write. The only evidence of the sleepless night is the crossed-out words on the pages of my journal (a departure from the usual neatly beaded lines). It is perhaps ironic that insomnia drives me to one of my favorite things: waking up into a quiet, still house and setting to writing, a hot cup of tea at my hand, my breath flowing smoothly and synchronized with my being.

I, all of me, am finally at one place at one time: my thoughts, my breath, my body, my desires, and even my fears. Fully aware. Nowhere to run–and no reason to run. I let the ink flow onto the pages, adding to that work in progress–the book of my life…

A Saturday morn

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I wake up alone in my cold, darkened room. I see the daylight trying to make its way around the edges of the curtain, but the shade is drawn and I cannot tell if it’s sunny or overcast.

I close my eyes again and watch the onslaught of thoughts, first from a distance, not unlike a tsunami, the ungodly wave about to crash ashore; then it makes contact, and I feel myself getting swept off, rushed to places I don’t want to go. I breathe. And again. I know this will pass, and soon it does, albeit leaving some sediment in its wake. I am back alone in my bed.

It’s been ages since I woke up alone on a Saturday. Hamilton looks at me with his plastic eyes from his perch atop the dresser.

“What?”

I used to say good morning to him, but that was a lifetime ago…

I miss another in my bed as I linger another few moments in my cold solitude. Saturday mornings are supposed to be different: filled with tenderness, warmth, love, and the infinite, electrifying joy of having the one I love right there by my side…

Decidedly now, I throw off the covers. Let the day begin.

Confronting and confronted by our past

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We are all confronted by our past at one point or another. Even when we’re not, there are persistent reminders of the past… The real trick is to let them be, without engaging, without getting mired. But easier said than done.

I seem to be having a lot of conversations on this topic lately–with strangers, with friends, and most certainly with myself. A near-stranger asked me for advice about someone he’d dated a while back and thought was out of his life for good. Then, a friend confided that her relationship was crumbling, making her question the choices she’d made that led her to that point; and another friend, being constantly reminded of his past and his choices by an ex-spouse and their child. No longer together yet never quite severed, the ties linger painfully…

I am reminded of my own past frequently enough. No longer a “Mrs.,” I still get letters addressed to me that way, and it makes me wince in pain almost every time. The smartest thing is, of course, to let the pain go, and yet somehow it is not so easy.

I am also reminded of my past at times of stress, when I find myself reaching for a tried-and-true habit, that which is neither nourishing nor healthy, no longer serves a purpose, yet would be so easy to follow. I am grateful that I have the self-awareness necessary to keep me from going down that path, but the mere appearance of that vestige can bring the past into the present.

What is it that brings us–them–coming back? Most of the time, it is seemingly random. Other times, though, someone from our past reappears, unexpectedly and disruptively, and it is precipitated by whatever is going on in the other person’s life, and has nothing to do with me, my stranger, or my friend. An important distinction, I realize…

So what are we to do? How do we disengage from that which can keep us from moving forward? I know what works for me: taking a deep, conscious breath while becoming aware that the chances are, nothing is happening right now–only my thoughts running wildly. If there are other people involved, asking, probing, wanting, then my breath allows me to separate their desire to engage from my need to keep things moving.

I have to accept that I have no control over when, why, or how the reminders of my (or someone else’s) past will pop up, so I better brace myself for the inevitability of it. Armed with the awareness of my breath, I can watch the past arise, abide, and dissolve. Keep it moving, brush it away, let it go. Repeat as necessary, and soon enough I find myself free from the past… until the next time.

Fears and loathing in the land of Oz

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I have been thinking about my fears lately. Not intentionally or strategically; the fears, large and small, are a part of one’s everyday existence, at least for those brave enough to admit it. Most of the time, fears come and go, largely unnoticed by our consciousness and obscured by techniques we’ve developed in dodging direct interaction with those fears. At other times, though, when the daily demand on our time/energy/resources becomes too great, fears make their insidious appearance in the stream of our thoughts, disrupting the flow and disorienting the internal compass.

I am not one to wallow in helplessness; in fact, my response to a crisis is to immediately stage a tactical assault on the culprit, to dismantle it, systematically, logically, to talk myself through it or out of it. I gather facts, I outline, I make lists of pros and cons and of potential remedies. I look through my books, returning to trusted sources for advice, seeking new ones; I revisit my old journals; now and again, I talk to a friend (or, more often than not, my mother), I write, I do some yoga, I go for a run. Problem solved. Fears conquered. Moving forward.

This time was different. I thought I’d seen it all before: fears would well up, I’d work through them in my own established way and then watch them dissolve–a trusted pattern, been there, done that. But this time–this time was something else. Maybe it was the autumnal cold, or the crazy pace of my professional life and its demands, or the lack of rest, or maybe the aftermath of the hurricane. Unaffected, I found myself worrying about my loved ones, about strangers who have lost everything–or anything, about people I used to know in places I have visited. Are they OK? How are they holding up? and somewhere in the middle of this whirlpool of concerns about others, I realized that I wasn’t holding up at all.

That was unexpected, and I found that my trusted techniques were no match for the intensity of my feelings and the depth of my fears. They seemed so great that I could not even bear to open my eyes, figuratively speaking, and assess the issue. I muddled through my days, feeling the grit of anxiety just beneath the surface of my Self yet unable, unwilling, incapable to even breathe into it. I felt choked up on my run; I felt agitated in yoga; I felt my shoulders around my ears, creeping up slowly until there was pain. I felt incapable of opening my journal and picking up the pen, lest a monster appear. I felt paralyzed.

One thing I know for sure, and that is the impermanence of things. I knew that eventually fears would crack under their own pressure–that they would explode and rain on my head, and that I would have no other recourse but to acknowledge their existence and get better acquainted. I did not know what I would find in the debris.

Somehow, a pen found its way into my hands, and then the journal. I opened to the last entry and wrote down the date. And then: “I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” asked something inside me.

“I’m afraid of… I’m afraid that…”

And slowly, the words started to flow onto the page. I surprised myself with the extent of honesty: I did not realize just how much I’d been avoiding thinking about a particular issue. The issue itself is not important. Important is the fact that I have managed to avoid articulating the whats and the whys for as long as I have. Yes, I’ve identified that issue and have even shared it with a few trusted friends… Actually, I take it back. I have never shared it with my friends as a fear, but always rather as a “choice I’ve made.” Not quite the same thing, is it?

But today I took the opportunity to have an honest conversation with myself. I wrote of my Fear, in all its gripping details, in the words I would not share with my closest confidante. Unedited, raggedy, stream-of-consciousness words. Suddenly, I was overcome with compassion. It is as though I’d stepped outside myself and saw a person in need of comfort, of reassurance, a need for acknowledgement that yes, these are rational concerns that are something to consider and address. This alone made me feel more at ease, and suddenly still, I realized that I was less afraid. At least I now know what I’m dealing with; and although there are deeper layers of details to work out, at least now I’m in a position to get the facts and to ask the right questions of myself and others, when the time comes.

The tidal wave of words started to retreat, and with it, my sense of uneasiness. My fears, some fears, will always be there. I’m OK with that. I feel very lucky to be able to contemplate these things, to be able to write about them, and now that I know how, to be able to honestly finish the sentence “I am afraid that…”–if only to myself.

Moving forward.

Driving forth

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A long, late drive home always puts me in a contemplative mood. In the darkness, the only things in my line of vision are the lane markers flying by and the occasional tail lights. The road curves but feels mostly straight, and my thoughts start to organize themselves in a more linear fashion.

Moving forward. Driving forth. I think of how strongly I push myself to keep on keeping on. Sometimes, I push myself almost unkindly–keep it together, I say to myself; keep moving no matter what the cost. The journey continues… And yet…

And yet. I realize I haven’t slowed down in a while–slowed down enough to allow for the thoughts other than what’s on my to-do list… for the thoughts I would want to write down and carefully consider.

The very realization is a revelation–an instance of awareness and an opportunity to think and write, right now.

I recall a conversation I had with someone recently, in which I shared being acutely aware of others’ pain that I observe. That feels overwhelming, I said. “I have my own pain–” to which my friend pointed out, “And your own joy.” How very true!

The truth is that I do have much joy in my life. I take stock of it every chance I get; I revel in it, I linger in it, I live it. And the joy and the pain can and do coexist, and when I pause to reflect, it is very apparent that this is exactly what gives my life so much dimension.

Dimension is one thing, and motion is another. Yes, I can act more kindly toward myself as I drive myself forth–and the forward motion is as important as the many dimensions of joy, pain, and everything in-between.

And just like that, the sense of clarity and equilibrium is restored. I look at the road before me–the literal highway–and I smile, knowing that this is exactly where and when I need to be.

Safe journey to us all!

So many thoughts, so little time

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My thoughts percolate, germinate, grow, bloom, play.

There are remnants of old conversations and seedlings of the new ones. There are so many: dancing, swirling to an unseen choreographer’s hand and an inaudible melody. They come together and pull apart, locked in a Viennese waltz of a sorts, until one takes center stage…

So many thoughts: Inspired by love, stained by pain, scuffed by doubt; informed by past successes and failures; refined and in the rough–all welcome and appreciated. Some are so deeply private that I dare not articulate them to even myself. Those exist on a visceral plane, in the realm of somatic experiences. Other thoughts, more audience-friendly, ready and longing to be shared with others. And the many of the “I hope I don’t talk in my sleep” variety… not ready to share with the one on the pillow next to me.

But I have nothing to fear. All is revealed in due time.

A gift of a chance meeting

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You never know where you lose or where you find.

You look into another’s eyes and suddenly lose yourself–and find a connection you did not expect to find. This is akin to losing your footing and finding yourself in a free fall: it feels surreal, exhilarating, scary, exciting, and completely unfamiliar. As your head spins, you question reality, your own judgment, and wonder if this is all a dream–how will it unfold? and what if you suddenly wake up?

But there are things left behind: music, a book, leftover Thai food in the fridge, a t-shirt, and echoes of remarkable conversations. And the brand of damaged comes full circle, to its own conception: yes, we are all damaged in one way or another. Our shortcomings don’t change–but being aware of them creates change. We are not defined by our faults but by our ability to see them and, when faced with a situation, make a better choice.

I choose to be awake, present, alive, fully in this moment. What a gift!

Thank you, my chance meeting, for helping me refine my words and my brand.

Things we do to each other (without really knowing)

We capsize each other’s lives–sometimes in a very obvious way, and sometimes without really knowing it. I’ve become acutely aware of the moments when I realize that yes, I am leaving a wake–or else I’m caught in someone else’s.

Not much we can do to avoid it. We fade in and out of love, and there is no way of getting around a broken heart and a broken dream. These moments are obvious, and everyone learns to deal with them in their own way.

But there are other moments when you realize that someone rejected you: not out of malice or dislike, but because their life is moving at a different speed and in a different direction; they are simply too busy or stressed or confused by their own existence to contemplate yours. And when you feel that void in your life, the void of friendship that could have been, you sometimes encounter a tide of emotions in yourself that you didn’t know existed. And yet the would-be friend likely has no idea of the turmoil he or she caused in your life.

We have all done it to each other. And the only way out is by taking a really deep breath and surrendering to the forces of your own emotions. Eventually, the waves even out, an on we sail.

Until the next big wave, that is.

How to get a fresh perspective in three easy steps

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Step 1: Go to the fragrance department of an upscale department store. The fancier, the better.

Step 2: Buy new perfume. It needs to be boldly and strikingly different from what you’d usually buy, and completely free from associations (i.e., it should not remind you of a friend, vacation, hopes of a rosy future, or that time you broke up/fell in love/got a new job… you get the idea: this new fragrance cannot smell like “you.”) Be brave. You can do this. Give yourself a good spritz for the road.

Step 3. Wear the new fragrance for at least a week and enjoy a fresh perspective on life.

Why would wearing this new unfamiliar (and possibly uncomfortably disturbing) scent give you a fresh perspective, you might ask? Elementary, my friend. We seek a new perspective when the current one is no working, when we need a different, creative solution, or when we try find options and possibilities that have not occurred to us before. The best way to inspire that process is by introducing an element of novelty (trust me, this is good for your brain!). Finding that new perspective requires getting outside your comfort zone, and what better way to step outside yourself than to become a different person by smelling like a different person? Every time you get a whiff of your new self you, will be brought back to the present moment (“Who is this?”), and the creative wheels will start to turn. You will want to behave and think like someone other than yourself, and voila! before you know it, you’ve come up with an unexpected solution. You are no longer stuck inside yourself.

So go ahead, try this on. You might like it. You might even like yourself better as this new character: braver, more inclined to take some risks, more inspired. And if you don’t, oh well. It’s just a week of your life. At least you tried.