Archive for the ‘Personal Growth’ Category

The Skin’s the Thing

Friday, July 26th, 2013

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Am I the only person on this planet who has an ongoing, intimate relationship with my complexion? Our daily interaction involves working together, enjoying successes and enduring failures together, playing and sleeping and fighting together. To be honest, though, we struggle, fail, and argue most of the time, so the relationship is basically dysfunctional. I wish it weren’t so, but alas, it’s my skin that’s the thing.

It all started with an enormous, smack-dab-middle-of-the-forehead pimple I got when I was 14 years old. How many people remember one pimple? I do. It was front and center, refusing to heal or be concealed without looking terrible regardless. In my desperation to get rid of the thing, I picked at it, caked it with Clearasil (beige-colored to hide the spot…yeah, right), and obsessed about how ridiculously hideous it was. But as we all know, the more attention you pay to these pimples, the more power they draw from your futile efforts, like energy-sapping body snatchers from the Planet Z (for zit, of course).

Experiencing this major blotch at age 14, when self-consciousness around peers is at its lifetime pinnacle, was traumatic. Any shred of confidence I had was wiped away like the dirt and oil those Stridex pads promised to remove from my face.

My brand of acne was not evident to a casual observer, but to me it was obviously the first thing anyone noticed. I agonized over the “invisible” whiteheads, millions of tiny blackheads, and the occasional face-engulfing whopper of a zit that would become the focus of my world for days on end.  And the very instant one monster blemish would begin lying down, I could feel another gearing up to make its ugly debut. It was hell, but at least I would outgrow it, right? Wrong! The pimple that ate New York City, which lived comfortably on my forehead for months (years if you count the red mark it left), was only the beginning of my ensuing lifelong sentence to “adult acne.”

It wasn’t until I had moved away from home, and was attending graduate school, that it occurred to me to go to a dermatologist. Where I was raised, adolescent skin problems were not important enough to actually warrant medical attention. Acne was just “part of growing up.” So what if it was causing enough personal turmoil that, when added to my other insecurities, made me question whether I wanted to live long enough to reach adulthood anyway? Going to a dermatologist was a big step, therefore, and a positive one. Finally I was reaching out for help with this shame-producing problem.

Unfortunately, though, like any condition affecting the human body, medical treatment results vary and are often not ideal. I know this after literally decades of tetracycline, minocycline, erythromycin, clindamycin, benzyl peroxide, salicylic acid, Retin-A, astringents, hydrogen peroxide, scrubs, peels, and microdermabrasion. The cost involved with all these remedies and procedures would put a chink in the national debt! Not to mention all the time involved…likely years out of my life. But even with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, so to speak, I was far from entirely spared the torture of acne in all its obnoxiousness: painful, swollen, and ugly blemishes; the seemingly endless healing process during which they come to a head, drain, and bleed; the flaking skin from drying out areas around the spot; and the major makeup sessions trying to conceal these suckers. One time, I actually had to go to my doctor and have him lance a humongous cystic pimple that had developed inside my nose! Talk about pain. I don’t know which pain was worse, though…the pain inside my nose or the humiliation of having this happen to me. Of course, then there’s my true favorite, when I worked for probably 20 minutes to conceal one awful spot with makeup because I was meeting a guy I liked. In a magical moment, he kissed me, but his romantic gesture brushed up against and ruined my painstaking cover-up, after which he looked at me and said, “What’s that on your face?” I wished for enough magic to disappear at that point.

In my “journey” with this particular demon, I have learned a lot I’m willing to share. For one thing, don’t let clever marketers convince you that a certain “premium-quality” skin-care line will heal these problems, unless you have a very mild case of acne, because you’re in for a costly let-down if you buy into this. Not to disparage all the wonderful and healthy products available – in fact, I use an excellent Swiss botanical formulation myself – but acne is a foe that goes way deeper than clean, properly-moisturized skin.

Also, dermatologists and estheticians alike will rebuke you if you squeeze your pimples, the basis of their admonitions being the ever-prudent idea that for the lesions to heal without scarring, they must be left alone. However, I’ve tried the “no-touching” rule, and even pimples I’ve white-knuckled to not pick left marks that took months to fade. I contend that skin specialists who dish out this advice with such condescension have never had a significant problem with acne, have never had a throbbing, pus-filled splotch sitting on the end of their nose, looking ready to pop for weeks. Trying to get that thing moving faster in the direction of non-existence is only natural, for heaven’s sake!

The only significant periods in my life I didn’t have to worry about zits taking over my face were during my pregnancies. Something about those pregnancy hormones apparently offends the tiny buggers that cause the problem. However, I wouldn’t suggest being knocked up as an acne remedy, considering the mind-bending expense and contribution to overpopulation.

The curse of acne takes a huge toll. But hey, it’s all part of character development, like dealing with any obstacle to joyous and serene living. It would have been nice if this particular personal growth opportunity had lasted maybe a few months or years instead of a whole freaking lifetime… But my continuing struggle must mean I haven’t learned the ultimate lesson in this hellish experience. Now over 50 years old and still breaking out, I hope I do soon.

The truth is, as much as I’ve grown in loving myself for exactly who I am, I still become manic over my complexion. In fact, I’m so familiar with the pores on my face, they should really have names. Right now I’m thinking of some very creative names for them, all four letters in length. There simply must be a positive take on knowing every square millimeter of my face like the map of a minefield. Perhaps this battleground keeps me away from more destructive types of conflict. Or maybe it keeps me humble about my physical appearance. I don’t know the answer, honestly, but I’m popping my truth about this on any of you who might relate. Carry on, fellow Pimple-warriors. You are not alone!

Pig at a Party: A Story with a Moral

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

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A woman heard that a fabulous party was going on in a swanky club downtown. Anybody who was “anybody” received an invitation to this extravagant soiree, which featured live music, comedians, an open bar, and a gourmet-prepared, eight-course meal.

Hearing the sound of happy laughter, singing, dancing, and celebrating, nearly everyone in the woman’s neighborhood wanted to be there, as did the woman herself. She and many people she cared deeply about went to the entrance of the gala, but were turned away because their clothes were not elegant enough, and none of them were popular or powerful enough. All who were turned away felt sad and ashamed at being rejected.

The woman soon found out, however, that all three of her daughters were at the party! She was delighted they were part of such a splendid affair, but now more curious than ever. She decided to take a risk and sneak in to see them, which she managed to do by hiding underneath a cart of hors d’oeuvres being brought to the guests.

Well, the party was everything people had claimed it was! The décor, the 40-foot buffet table, the guests adorned with diamonds and gold…everything was a picture of wealth, success, and joy. The woman, amazed and overwhelmed, looked around for her daughters. But while looking, she noticed something so odd, that she had to rub her eyes to make sure she was seeing correctly. Sure enough, there was a fat, hairy pig sitting on the couch! This was no ordinary pig, though. Besides a sapphire-and-emerald tiara on its head and blue satin hoof-covers, this pig wore medals around its neck to show the many awards and degrees it had earned from renowned institutes of higher learning. The woman could only stare in wonder…

She began to turn to the people around her, pointing out the pig on the couch, which by now had carelessly pooped on the dessert tray. The others only looked at the woman coldly, because they knew that the pig was of great importance and that the party would end immediately if they said anything derogatory about it or even hinted that the pig might be better off outside. To make matters worse, the woman saw her youngest daughter go up to the pig and start playing with it! It looked like her little one adored this fancy pig.

But nonetheless, what was a pig doing at an elaborate party? The woman saw her middle daughter just then, and she went to her and embraced her. She told her daughter that she did not think it loving that so many of her dear family and friends – some of whom were also the daughter’s family and friends – had been turned away from sharing in this celebration because they weren’t rich or powerful enough. Also, why was there a pig here? As a mother, the woman felt compelled to remove her daughters from this strange and snobbish gathering.

She went to her youngest daughter, who was still laughing with the pig, and pulled her toward the door. After all, since this daughter was barely fourteen years old, the woman had the legal right to remove her from the premises! The young daughter was surprised and started crying, as she still wanted to sit with the pig, who had offered to share a French éclair. But as the woman was about to drag her daughter out of the room, she suddenly heard her cell phone ring. It was God.

God told her to leave the party immediately…alone.

In spite of her anger and fear for her daughters, the woman obeyed because she knew that God loved her and was never wrong. She let go her young daughter with a hug and kiss, and walked out.

There are a couple morals of this story, both of them simple.

  • No matter how expensively a pig is dressed and groomed, it is still a pig.
  • When you try to force others to do something they are not ready to do, you start looking like a pig yourself.

Journal and Grow

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Journaling is not simply writing. It is a journey, a touchstone for personal growth. Think of your journal as a friend, one to whom you can tell your secrets and reveal all that burdens your mind and heart. You’ll never be met with rejection or impatience by your journal! Because of this, you have complete freedom to say it like it is, allowing discovery of thoughts and emotions you may have never known were inside you…

There are no absolutes for this type of writing, no “right” or “wrong” ways to keep a journal. Your journal is for you. Write in it as often as you want or need. Here are some suggestions for making the most of this marvelous tool:

  • Always journal in an undisturbed, quiet place that feels comfortable and “safe” to you.
  • Instead of writing about the events or people in your life, focus on expressing your feelings about the resultant situations or relationships.
  • If you believe in God or another spiritual Source, address your writing directly to this “power greater than yourself.”
  • Your journal is your private confidante. Be completely honest, knowing that what you write is for your eyes only. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling, and if you need to use four-letter words, that’s alright too!
  • If you are writing about troubling feelings, explore what aspects of the situation or issue are actually within your control. Regarding the parts outside your control, how can you change your attitude to restore peace and serenity to your mind?
  • End your writing session with a few minutes of silent meditation, during which time you try to focus your mind on just one calming object, place, or idea.
  • If you’ve written about problematic emotions, and these do not ease after journaling, share this part of your writing with a person whom you trust.

Parents and the Teenage Years…Count on Survival

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

While flailing about in the midst of any troubling situation, some deranged part of my brain always attempts to quantify my misery. I have no idea why. But currently, I’m in the throes of “raising-a-teenager” hell, so naturally the question occurred to me, “How many times do you have to tell a teenager to do something before they actually comply?” And I’m not talking just chores, but nitty-gritty things like taking care of their new camera, not leaving their underwear where the dog can get it, not T.P.-ing the neighbors’ homes, and not drinking or doing drugs. Is there some average range – say, between 15 and 20 times – a parent needs to repeat their plea to an adolescent whose mind is far, far away, perhaps at the mall or with their latest crush or weighing weekend party options, before congruent action follows? Maybe there is an even more precise value for this answer. I’d love to know it, because even though I’m basically surfing the tidal wave of teenhood with the last of three daughters, I still have no clue. Of course, I can only draw on instances where my teenagers actually complied eventually, which limits my data considerably…

Take my oldest daughter. Please. (That’s an old one. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.) But really, this one hasn’t spoken to me in over five years, ever since I left her father after nearly 20 years in a codependent and abusive marriage. Now, granted, this was an extreme situation, since she was “vulnerable” during a very difficult period for our family. Nonetheless, five years and counting of parental alienation? Please, honey, turn out better than that after all my long hours and hard work! Ugh, I say. I suppose I should’ve known which way the wind was blowing when at age 12, she was excitedly anticipating her first apartment.

Okay, I’m sure you’re probably forming judgments of me at this point, but stop! I was an über-momma. You know, that overly-sweet, overly-sensitive, overly-forgiving, overly-generous, overly-responsible type. I guess this is how I taught my oldest to walk all over me. Ugh.

My second daughter is something of an angel by relative standards, my “easy one,” as experienced mothers predict there always is among multiple children. The biggest problem encountered with her has been keeping her alive growing up within a community not always wholesome…yes, you guessed it, she went through the California public school system. Fortunately for this one, she is so easy-going that she makes friends with a wide variety of people, some of whom aren’t even law-enforcement-designated gang members. Ugh.

The jury is still out on my last one, who’s still only 13. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say she has invented her own particular brand of issues for me to fret over, which are no doubt training me in the art of detaching and letting kids go through their “stuff” without holding a gun to my head while they do so. Thank goodness, however, once she makes it past, say, 18 years old – or doesn’t make it past, as my obsession goes – I’ll be done with all this crap.

Guess I’m more naïve than I thought, huh?

I figure somewhere along the line, there must be a lesson for me in all of this. But what could that be? That life sucks and then you die? That relationships = problems = struggle = misery forever? That I should never have had children? I suspect, though, that the lesson might be something a little more self-responsible, like that kids are only one area that cause people problems, so if it wasn’t them, it would be some other weird shit freaking me out. I am finally realizing that the answer to all of it is my attitude (damn, I was afraid I was going to say that), the changing of which requires daily personal effort. Ugh.

Since neither lesson in living looks particularly appealing, however, I might as well work on my way of thinking about challenges, thus increasing my statistical chances for happiness. There I go with my numbers again, but somehow they are so calming. Am I mad? By the way, the answer to my initial number question, the one about talking to teens, is infinity. How’s that for a specific and exact numerical response? Say it with me this time. Ugh.

When We “Lose” In Love, Have We Really Lost?

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Most of us have had our hearts “broken” by a failed romance, some of us many times over. That special someone – the person with whom you shared your secret self, your problems and successes, your dreams, your feelings, your body, maybe even your living space – is gone. What we thought would never, ever happen while we reveled in the ecstasy of deep love and trust, has indeed come about and ripped us away from our beloved. It seems surreal, like a nightmare being played out in front of us. We think, how could this have happened? I thought he or she loved me! How could this person betray me, hurt me, and worst of all, abandon me, for reasons I can’t control or even understand?

In our grief, we cry and ponder what could have been. If only… she hadn’t cheated with someone else, he hadn’t been addicted to drugs, she hadn’t been afraid of commitment, he had treated me better, she hadn’t had baggage from her past that prevented us from getting closer, and on and on. With tightly-closed throats and stinging eyes that finally burst tears, we feel immersed in acute pain that seems to come from some unknown space between our brain and heart. What we had is gone. Something precious has been lost to us, something we wanted and believed in and were grateful for, even if we didn’t realize it before. Loss. Its sadness is unmerciful, its longing for a different outcome overwhelming and unrelenting. How, we think, can we possibly go on?

Terrible as this experience can be, we can and will survive. Fortunately, we have a safety net that is always there, one which never, ever abandons or betrays. God. For those of us aware, God was the One who created our loving feelings in the first place. What a privilege, what a “piece of heaven” to feel that much love for another! It is time to be grateful that we were able to experience this, no matter how it turned out in the end.

Romantic love and intimacy are special gifts from our Creator, a tiny glimpse of the ecstasy we will find in trusting Him with all our needs. Graced with the close, wonderful feelings, the joy, the sense of communion with another, we need to remember that these sensations existed within us. They were and are part of us, whether or not their target was able to return them.

In thinking about relationships, spiritual and emotional maturity demands that love not only be expressed in words, but in actions. When our partner’s actions don’t match our instinctual sense of the supportive, nurturing, gentle, thoughtful nature of real love, we are aware of this on some level. It may take awhile for us to become truly conscious of the lack of consistency between our partner’s words and actions – our own emotions can blind us for awhile – but eventually, the pain catches up to us. No one of us wants to face the possibility of a loss of love, the possibility that the other person either cannot or will not be able to reflect our love back to us in its original, intense, selfless, beautiful form.

But in the end, and no matter how long we try to push it away, the limitations of our partner and their effects on the relationship become undeniable. This is the point at which we are forced to make an agonizing decision. Can we live with our beloved’s shortcomings, whatever they are? We absolutely cannot change someone else, and trying to negotiate their limitations is basically fruitless. Ultimately, the choice to be in the relationship – or not – is our responsibility. What do we want for ourselves? Conflicting feelings of pain and longing can make this decision seem impossible. At this point, think about that safety net: the sure guidance and comfort of God, Who has been loving and helping us all along (whether we knew it or not). By turning to this Source of all love, we are strengthened to take care of ourselves. There really is no earthly hurt or dire situation that cannot be handled for you by God.

Nothing happens by accident. If your “romantic ideal” lets you down in a way you cannot accept, try to see this as an indication that something better is planned for you. Be grateful for “better,” which means something more fulfilling and more satisfying is waiting for you. The door is open now. All that caring, happiness, physical and emotional ecstasy, closeness – they are not lost when their particular object disappears for some reason. They are still there inside you, part of your wonderfulness. You do not have to grieve their loss, because they are within you like a light that shines no matter how dark it is outside. Remember this!

Loving helps you to grow, but losing love can help you grow even more. If you can understand this on a deep level, with the awareness that an ever-caring God is handling all the details of your life, you will walk forward with courage, faith, confidence, compassion, and forgiveness. You will love again.

Losing A Daughter

Monday, April 9th, 2012

It’s not a case of death taking her from me. She got just old enough to decide she didn’t want me in her life. Old enough but not mature enough. She didn’t make this decision on her own. She had help from someone who convinced her that I am despicable, ruthless, and hateful. It was the surest way for her father to avenge my leaving him and reassure himself that I was again, as always, in the wrong. Vulnerable in the midst of adolescence and her parents divorcing, my daughter was likely an easy sell to his way of thinking. But five years later, it’s still the same. She’s still gone, still lost to me.

The hardest part is that each time I try to reach out to her to no avail – hear news of her through her sisters – think about her on holidays we used to celebrate together – I get visited by my old friends, grief and tears. I don’t like it when those two come to call, but they show up anyway. Somehow their mission must be essential. While they’re here, I am a bit slower, more tired, and would prefer some of my day be spent curled into a fetal position inside my closet. I look around and notice that God is nowhere in sight, leaving me to entertain these exacting guests all by myself. Or so it seems.

The loss of my daughter was collateral damage from other, previous losses which cast their domino effect on various parts of my life. When I was just a child, I lost certain things, certain birthrights – trust, security, and self-esteem, to name the most critical – that led to bad decisions as I got older. Unfortunately, one of the most devastating of these decisions was my marrying a man who guaranteed the impatience and unkindness that hurt yet was comfortably familiar to me. I don’t blame myself for this choice – how could it have been otherwise?

Thank God, literally, this is all history now, and I’m finally a grown-up who’s learned to take care of herself. And let go the past. But the wreckage has remained to haunt me. In these years since my daughter’s rejection of me, I’ve been left to wonder… Did she ever love me? Will she ever want me in her life again? Who is she now? Will she ever be truly happy if she has been brainwashed to hate? Like her father, are there portions of her stuck in a black-and-white world, incapable of change? How will her loss of me – even if by her own choice – hurt her in the end? And how will it hurt others whom she loves or who love her?

My thought was to persist, to never give up. But after five years of separation and no response to the letters, cards, gifts, emails, and text messages I’ve sent, I am tired. So tired that I’ve finally decided to release her to live in her way, without me. We may or may not have a relationship in the future, but finally and with some relief, I will let God decide about that. Like all our children, she was only mine on lending basis for a time anyway – too short a time, I feel.

I do recall, and very clearly, spending years throwing my love into people who were like dark and bottomless wells. The love disappeared into the blackness, gone forever, and still there was no water in the bucket to quench my thirst. It has been nearly impossible to think of my daughter, once so joined to me, as such a person. But the years of grieving have changed me, given me perspectives I couldn’t grasp before. This may sound like gloomy resignation, but it is not. It is acceptance of reality, and once again I thank God for it. I set her free, and I am freer myself to give love to people who can return it. Life will have its way with her and with me. Change is good.

With humility I realize that finding some serenity about losing my daughter was always within my reach, but I was not ready to see it. “Send them love everyday,” said Pearl, a 77-year-old friend whose daughter returned to her life recently after a 12-year absence. How simplistic, I think to myself at first. Then I see. How willing have I truly been to work on forgiving my daughter and my ex-husband, as I’ve done before with my parents and myself? Not very, I’d have to respond. But therein lies the key to peace and freedom about this heartbreaking loss, I feel certain.

So now I’m saying those words – “I send you love” – each day, liking it or not, meaning it or not. Experience has shown me that with willingness and persistence, someday I will be fully sincere as I repeat them. Someday very soon, I think. Maybe I already am… perhaps since the day I started doing it. It’s so simple and yet the last thing I try. Forgiveness. The balm for wounds of any sort, including even the profoundest, losing a daughter.

Being Sensitive in an Insensitive World

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Do you sometimes think you get your feelings hurt too easily? Would you describe yourself as a little – or maybe a lot – sensitive? If so, I can relate! Well do I know the agony of having someone hit me with cruel words or reckless criticism, watching much-anticipated plans fall through, being let down by a friend, or not getting something I was hoping for or thought I deserved. Ouch! I want to back away, isolate myself, get angry, cry perhaps, and lick my wounds. Then I berate myself for taking things so hard, for being “so damn sensitive.” After all, sensitivity means weakness, right?

Being touchy like this certainly makes a person prone to getting hurt by others and the world, at high risk for suffering pain in all its excruciating extremes. And who wants that? I have learned from my experience as a fairly thin-skinned person, however, that I make things infinitely harder when I criticize myself for being that vulnerable in the first place. Wishing my eyes were blue instead of their actual hazel color doesn’t change the fact. And in the same way, wanting to be less sensitive than I am is nothing more than an avoidance of reality.

When I’m harsh and judgmental with myself about this personality trait – sensitivity – honestly looking at my reactions and feelings is nearly impossible. The brutal inner critic takes over… Why do I have to get so emotional about that? I shouldn’t care so much. I’m overreacting. I’m being childish. This doesn’t bother other people, so there must be something wrong with me because I’m upset. And on it goes, with my peace of mind spiraling downward.

It’s enough! These kinds of thoughts just sabotage me by pulling me away from acceptance and from taking responsibility for myself. Now when I sense myself going down this road, I pause and take a self-caring breath. What is bothering me, and why? If I do some self-examination about the source of my hurt feelings, I can learn a lot! Sometimes I am reacting to something in the present that subconsciously reminds me of a troubling situation from my past. Or perhaps I’m exploding over one issue, but my melt-down is just a “symptom” of difficulties I’m having in one or more other areas of my life. Sometimes I need to look at what my expectations were regarding whatever is bothering me – were they reasonable? In every instance where I find myself disturbed, I’m either losing something I have, or being deprived of something I want. Trying to identify what was or is at stake leads me more quickly to accepting my feelings.

Digging a bit to get to the root of my “hot buttons,” if you will, is a compassionate approach that gives me new information about myself. Not only that, it’s the first step to healing from the pain. Taking a close look at and becoming aware of why certain people or circumstances affect me so strongly can give me insight, help me notice patterns, and hopefully lead to talking about what I uncover with myself, God, and someone I trust. By being gentler with myself, I can lessen my distress immediately; and if I’m patient, it’s possible for me to stop reacting negatively altogether. It takes some work, but wholeness and calm will ultimately replace the angst.

Over my many years of being a sensitive person, I’ve come to see that my reactions – particularly the upsetting ones – present opportunities for personal growth. Obviously no one likes pain, but I’ve learned that until I’m able to really feel it and take an honest look at it, it keeps repeating itself in situation after situation, and with person after person.

Ironically, by acknowledging and being more tolerant of my vulnerable side, I’ve actually become less sensitive. But I know I’ll probably always have this tendency; it’s a part of my nature, after all. Changing my attitude towards this trait has helped tremendously, though. Stop and consider that sensitive people are some of the most loving and creative individuals in the world! With the ability to experience all of life with extra “intensity,” they perceive themselves and the world around them with greater depth and awareness. And because they have generally suffered more, sensitive people possess greater understanding and compassion towards others in pain.

My lesson from being sensitive is that the more comfortable I am with this part of myself, the less it presents problems in my life. I believe this generally holds true for most characteristics we wish we didn’t have. The more quickly I can accept myself right now – with my positive traits as well as my defects – the faster I can move past the issues that cause me misery.

Be cautioned, however, this kind of growth – which is really the process of developing a healthy love of self – takes courage and the willingness to feel some discomfort. In my own case, I’ve never been able to do it by myself. It’s way more than my ego can handle, I’m afraid. So I rely on a Source that has far more power, One whose strength and love are basically guaranteed every second – God. With help like that, things about me that once seemed like total liabilities turn into blessings of self-discovery and growth. After all my struggles in this area, I am rewarded by seeing miraculous improvement in my attitudes and behavior. Truly, I’m even beginning to think being sensitive is one of my best qualities!

Soul Hunger

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
Evening comes early on this gray, cold, and rainy day. I can hear it. The steady, hushed patter of raindrops hitting the pavement outside. Some are lightly slapping the leaves of trees near my window. It’s a comforting sound, quiet and consistent and natural. I imagine sitting under the eaves, wrapped in a warm, dry blanket. I am listening to the drops; feeling and breathing the cool, moist air; smelling the fragrance of the soil and plants and pavement mixing with the water. I could sit for hours like this…

Except that I cannot, because life’s demands and responsibilities don’t allow such immobility for long. Or perhaps I don’t allow myself this time – I am programmed to complete, to accomplish, to produce, to resolve.

This robotic state of productivity, however, can only continue for so long until my soul becomes tired and hungry. Hungry for union with my mystical, ever-present, ever-caring Source. The One that makes the rain and earth it falls upon; including the small birds that hide cleverly under leaves and intertwining branches. I know they’re there. I want to sit with them and be as they are: silent and watchful as God speaks in the gentle language of the rain. It is, for me, a compelling invitation to think; to be embraced in security which the world can never provide; to be part of a goodness more vast than even human love.

We are all like those little birds and animals that bow to the larger forces, taking shelter from the rain and hopefully listening for the eternal.

It is in these soothing, peaceful, warmly-wrapped moments that my empty soul is fed. Connection to the spiritual is as vital to me as rain is to all life’s creation. Let me dwell here until I am full, and thank my Creator for His bountiful whispers of love. They are always there, waiting for me to become quiet enough to hear them. Hunger feels raw and bleak and painful, but I know it is a true gift. If I did not have it, I would not seek the only thing that can fill it.

Where Does Love Go?

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Ah, love. Sweet, pure, healing, spiritual…we can’t see it with our eyes, we can’t touch it with our fingertips, and yet it is unquestionably there. It stirs somewhere between my head and chest when I see a fellow human suffering – hold my baby in my arms for the very first time – watch the figure of my lover walking toward me smiling – behold a problem solved or pain erased without my effort.

Such a beautiful and real thing is love. Probably its most wondrous quality is that it usually is focused on another person or object, seeking to bless the other as much as it does me. Thus, love is a gift that spreads outward and can transform both the giver and recipient. Precious and seemingly so fragile, but able to withstand and endure great strain, great sacrifice.

Sadly though, the gift of love – the source of which can only be God – can cause great pain. We give our love to the wrong person, who spits it back because they can’t or won’t embrace it. It seems to disappear into a bottomless pit, fruitless and unreturned. The daughter who rejects my love because she is lost on her own journey. The friends who can’t appreciate it because they’ve never truly recognized it in themselves. Those people who accept my love, but cannot reciprocate because of their slavery to other forces like drugs or money or sex. Tragically, we have all had our love declined at times.

Having my feelings be rejected is traumatic, certainly. Depending on the intensity of affection I’ve given or tried to give, having it refused or misused is capable of rendering knife-like damage to my emotions. Unreturned love is not a new phenomenon to me, yet on every occasion it occurs, the pain feels as fresh and keen as if I were a baby being slapped or hollered at for the first time. Sometimes the agony feels so overwhelming, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to love again.

But I know also that to love or not is my choice.

After each debacle in this regard, the same question comes into my mind: what happens to the love I feel – so intensely sometimes, it almost is palpable – that is rejected, unrequited, spurned? Does it simply die like unpicked fruit withering on a vine? Or does it live on somewhere in my soul’s deep recesses, out of view and out of thought? Does it drift upward, back to God, who created it in first place? Where does all this “wasted” love go? Is there some emotional stock-pile where it’s “archived” for posterity? Or is it deposited into a spiritual landfill of sorts, where it’s layered over with denial, anger, and fear, until it can’t be seen or touched without some in-depth digging? The question comes to me, back and back and back.

Obviously, this is one of those questions with no answer… Or perhaps everyone’s answer is different. For me, I like to believe that no love is ever wasted. Every time I love someone or something, regardless of what happens or does not happen as a result of that love, I am changed in a positive way. My emotional range is widened; my soul expanded by this miraculously selfless feeling. I become a more understanding and compassionate person. To know love is, to me, getting a glimpse of God. And if I am hurt as a result of that love, God sends His grace to soften the blow, as well as another big portion of love to keep for myself this time. Because at that point, I need it to heal my own wounds.

This is why, no matter how many times I’ve “loved and lost,” I’ll not shut down my heart, nor close myself off from loving again. It’s always worth it, whatever the cost or consequence. In fact, for me it’s a necessity to stay alive as a whole human being. I know that ultimately, any love I can feel – even if it doesn’t come back to me from a person – has somehow made me better, made me just a little bit more of a reflection of its Source.

Vanity Sanity

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

I think I’m beautiful. But maybe I’m not. What’s beautiful to some is not beautiful to others. The very worst thing to do – which I just did – is to say you’re beautiful, because then people will really come down on you. No you’re not! You’re bragging about yourself! I’ll bet you think you’re better than me! Whether or not they say they’re beautiful, good-looking people get a lot more flack than they deserve. They are judged by others as superficial; so “into their looks,” they don’t care about anybody else; narcissistic; “stuck” on themselves; vain; and arrogant.
Unfortunately, in some cases, this is true. But like any prejudice, condemning all on the basis of a few is simply ignorant.
I’ve always deeply appreciated beauty in any form, having been born with artistic/aesthetic sensibilities. As young as six or seven, I can remember how I admired the shining yellow locks and enormous violet eyes of the Goldilocks pictured in one of my favorite storybooks. My image of feminine beauty was likely taking shape even before that age. Always I preferred my blond-haired dolls to the brunette ones (my own hair was disappointingly brown). As regards body size, it was pretty obvious that Nancy Drew, Cinderella, the girls in The Brady Bunch, and the most popular girls in my class at school were not overweight.
Society’s beliefs about who is beautiful are evident even to the very young. At that tender age, we absorb what we see and hear, along with related qualitative judgments. With all the outside influences, it seems impossible not to equate particular varieties of hair color, body size, and skin quality with health, beauty, and ultimately, goodness and success.
Every single one of us struggles with aspects of the physical ideals. We’d like to have a clear, smooth complexion, but are plagued by chronic acne. We’d like our bodies to be thin, toned, or curvaceous, but aren’t willing to change our eating or exercising habits. Our noses are too big, our hair is thinning, and our teeth are crooked. The number or degree of our aberrations from the ideal seem so overwhelming at times, many of us give up trying to address them and simply accept them as part of who we are. Or maybe we are fortunate enough to never feel self-conscious about any of our personal attributes, or lack thereof, in the first place.
The extent to which we care – or don’t care – about our physical appearance is yet another trait, but a character trait instead of a bodily one. If we have concerns about how we look, we’ll put time and effort into modifying what we can. Obviously it follows that those who don’t put stock in physical beauty will be unmotivated to make changes. Caring and not caring about physical appearance are two different attitudes, and one is not necessarily superior to the other.
People who are truly comfortable with who they are – including those who accept themselves whatever they look like – will not criticize or judge someone who possesses more of the features society considers beautiful. It never fails for me that the more critical I am of other people, the unhappier I am with something about myself. Taking a hard look at why I’ve ever held a negative attitude toward someone because they were attractive, I’d have to admit that much of this was simple jealousy on my part.
Therefore, I might as well put my focus in the right place: on me. Sometimes all I can do about the parts of me I don’t like, is change my attitude toward them. Accept them. This also applies to unattractive character traits like jealousy, by the way. In my experience, once I air out the “ugly” and hard-to-accept facets of myself – physical or attitudinal – they begin to lose their power over me. This clears the way for addressing them, perhaps even ridding myself of the troubling ones.
I used to feel very guilty about the fact that after turning 40, I decided to get Botox injections to combat the ever-encroaching wrinkles on my face. My early programming caused me to condemn this practice as vain and unnecessary (even though I did it anyway). After all, shouldn’t I be using that money for something more meaningful or important, like household upkeep or décor, buying my kids better quality clothes, or future college tuition?
It took me a long time to get rid of the martyr mentality and change my view on investing in my appearance. Now I trust myself enough to realize that putting a reasonable amount of money toward things that help me feel good about myself is a form of healthy self-care, not self-absorption.
I treat myself to cute clothes, too, because they make me feel attractive. And by “cute,” I mean form-fitting. Since I’m blessed with the willingness to run over 20 miles per week for exercise, feeling good about my body size is a perk accompanying the bigger rewards of fitness and health. Admittedly, sometimes looking good (and eating more!) are foremost in my mind, but why over-analyze my motivations if the end result is healthy?
Self-care is a privilege for which I’m grateful, not the selfish demonstration of vanity I used to think it was. Beauty often is a by-product of self-care, but so are health and vitality. For me, “it’s all good,” as they say, so I don’t waste time with guilt about it anymore.
If I had a flourishing garden in which I took great pride because it produced a paradise of flowers, would I not invest effort into maintaining it? You bet I would! If I didn’t, I’d lose something I valued, including the pure joy of seeing those blossoms. So it is with me: if I truly appreciate the parts of me that are beautiful, I will do what is needed to maintain and nurture them. And if that means hair-coloring, exercise, Botox, and regular examinations of conscience, so be it! Because I think that beauty, like life itself – is nothing less than a gift intended for our free and limitless delight.