Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Butterflies

            I'm procrastinating today.  Last night's full moon shone through my bedroom window after midnight, waking me from a dream-filled sleep.  I spent the next few hours laying in wait...waiting for the churning in my stomach to calm down.  Waiting for the gentle breeze flowing through the open window to cool the room.  Waiting for sleep to come.
            It seems my whole life I've been waiting for something:  a job, a paycheck, a day off, a publisher, a sign that I'm doing the right thing with my life.  Inevitably during the waiting period,  butterflies come and flutter through my belly, making me ache with anticipation of when they will stop, when I will finally reach the finish line of whatever endeavor I'm experiencing.  

            This morning it's been a long journey to the computer to work on the memoir.  For two months I've written diligently and it's nearly halfway finished.  But today I have to write a pivotal moment, an hour of my life that occurred over twenty years ago that reframed who I thought I was....who I thought I was going to be.  I cannot leave it out of the story, for in essence, it is the story in and of itself.  It's the story of an awakening so profound, it would take nearly a decade to integrate.  And even now, I've yet to find an epilogue to that moment in time, a lifetime in the making.
            Here I am...waiting for the words to come, knowing they will pour through me in due time.   And yet, truth takes time, as all things do.  This one truth in particular has allowed me to heal in ways both mundane and profound, so I must once again reveal this sacred transformation.
            But this time, I'm older and wiser.  I know the gifts in breathing in and breathing out...of holding on and letting go. 

            Yes, I may be experiencing butterflies today, but recognize the deeper meaning behind the discomfort.  After all, butterflies can never return to that which they once were.  The caterpillar is forever transformed into a thing of beauty and grace.  What once had tiny legs, now has wings and can fly, unfettered by what came before...free to travel the world from a higher perspective.  Free to light on flowers and drink their sweet nectar.
            Free to experience the joys of independence from all that had once held it captive.

            Free.  


Monday, July 15, 2013

Call me crazy

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress
can be judged by the way its animals are treated. "
Ghandi

            I am not a crazy cat lady, but I am crazy about my cats.  That said, with the exception of some very tasteful paintings in my office and a darling cross-stitch picture my mother made for me many Christmases ago, you won't find cat kitsch in my house.
            I'm not that kind of cat lover.
            Surprisingly, when I was a kid, I was terrified of them.  Growing up with Schnauzers, there wasn't room for a furry feline in our family.  When I was ten, I wore a woolen skirt to a birthday party of one of my friends.  Sitting in her living room, I arched my own back as a big, orange cat casually walked across my lap.  Hands on my shoulders, I refused to touch it and demanded my mother wash the skirt before I would wear it again.
            "It's wool, Kate," she said, shaking her head.  "It needs to be dry cleaned and it's not dirty."
            "It is," I insisted.
            "It is not," she replied.
            Mom won.  The skirt did not go to the cleaner's. 
            And yet, I won too, as it hung abandoned in my closet.
            I never wore it again.

            It's still amazing to me that, thirty-odd years later, I'm like Snow White, but in place of the seven dwarves, I've had seven cats...but not all at the same time.  I recently adopted ten-week-old Aditi (rhymes with "sweetie" and means "Mother of the Sun" as she was born on the day of a solar eclipse).  My little sprite has a lot of spunk and loves to play with Forest, her older cat sibling.  Due to his gentle, accepting nature, Forest quickly became her surrogate mother, protector, playmate and all around "go to guy."  Aditi's boundless energy is amazing as she darts through the house, chasing toys and getting into mischief.  There's no sleeping through the night with her nocturnal naughtiness.  Still, this will only last a few more months and we'll all settle into a "new normal." 
           
            But last week was anything but normal.
            Forest caught something from our new little one and by Thursday was so sick, he had to be hospitalized.  Kady Flowers and the techs at Spring Meadows Animal Hospital were incredibly kind and careful as Forest had his blood tested, X-rays completed and prepared for an overnight stay.  They couldn't get a reading on one of the tests and Kady thought he might have swallowed a toy or piece of string, but to me, his illness felt all too familiar.
            When Forest was a baby, I had been a foster volunteer for abandoned kittens who passed around a parasitic virus that he eventually caught as well.  At only twelve weeks, Forest had to be hospitalized and put on IV fluids.  The vets couldn't decide if it was an infection or if he needed exploratory surgery.  I agonized over the decision to have them operate.  Not only would the expense be immense, I didn't want him to have an unnecessary procedure.
            My heart was already broken as less than a week previous, I had to make the difficult choice to have Carley, my red tabby, euthanized due to kidney failure.  As the vet gave her the injection, I held her in my arms and thought about the other two cats I had been with at the time of their deaths.  I've learned it doesn't get easier...it just gets more familiar.
            I wasn't ready to let go of little Forest as well, so I gave the emergency vet authorization to do the surgery so I could be sure we did everything possible for him. 
            "He's scheduled to go at 10:30," the vet told me.  "I'll call you when we're done and let you know how he did."
            I stayed awake with my cell phone nearby until midnight and then, exhausted and overwhelmed, tried to get some sleep.  An hour later, I suddenly woke up and checked the phone.  No one had called, so I dialed the vet's number with shaky fingers.
            The vet tech answered and when I asked how Forest was doing, she replied, "We've been running late and he was up next, but seems to be doing better.  He's playing with his IV line and is walking around his cage."
            "That's great news!"
            She asked if I wanted them to do the surgery anyway and I said, "No...let him stay on the fluids overnight and we'll see how he does in the morning."
            As it turned out, he was fine.  The infection was clearing and despite needing to be on antibiotics for a while, you'd never know little Forest had been sick.

            Last Friday when Kady was working toward a diagnosis and suggested he spend the night, I drove back to the hospital and sat with Forest for a while.  He smelled of urine and bile as he was nervous and had relieved himself outside of the litter pan and although the techs cleaned him up as best as they could, a bath was not imminent.  My sweet little stinky boy sat quietly in my arms (a sure sign he wasn't feeling well as Forest is a cuddler, not a lap cat). 
            Except for a mystery kitten wrapped in a blanket next to Forest's cage, the convalescent area was empty.  Kady gently removed the kitten from the blanket and I was horrified by what I saw.  He was black and looked to be the same age as Aditi, with the exact same markings.  His jaw had been broken and was slightly bloody.  While Kady splinted one of his paws, he lay like a limp rag as one of the techs held him.
            "I'm sorry I didn't warn you about this kitten," Kady said.  "He was hit by a car and whoever hit him used a dustpan to shovel him out of the road and fling him onto the grass.   But he came in growling and hissing...so he's got some spunk."
            My face registered the horror of wondering how anyone could do that to a small helpless animal.  "Who found him?"
            "A rep from Planned Pethood saw it happen and immediately called us."
            "Thank God," I sighed, gently petting Forest's head.  "Do you think it will survive?"
            "I'm not sure about the internal injuries, but we'll see how he does overnight."
            An hour later, I left Forest in the hopes that, just like before, the IV would work its magic.  And unlike before, I wouldn't have to say good-bye to a cat simultaneous to adopting a new kitten. 
            The next morning Kady called and laughingly said that Forest was ready to come home.  In the middle of the night, he had knocked over his litter pan and water dish, escaped from his second tier digs, pulled out his IV and went exploring.  The tech said she found him hiding in a closet.
            "He must have learned that from Naughty Jhoti," I smiled, relieved and lighthearted.  "When can I get him?"
            Later that morning, Kady had gone home to rest and Dr. Brent was working.  He had been with me when Carley died and had taken care of Forest a couple of years previous when he had a fever.  We chatted about Forest's antics the night before and I apologized for any damage he might have done.
            "It was nothing...anything that was broken can be replaced," Brent smiled.  "Forest can't."
            As I waited for the techs to bring him out, I noticed the little black kitten was being taken home by a Planned Pethood volunteer.
            "Oh, that one is all vinegar," one of the techs smiled. 
            "I'm kinda glad," I replied.  "He'll need it to survive what happened to him."

            Ghandi's words ring true to me, now more than ever.  For the past twenty-five years, I have cared for my pets in ways both mundane and profound.  I made sacrifices when my oldest cat had diabetes and needed insulin shots at twelve hour intervals for over three years.  When I moved to California, I needed to leave two of my cats behind in the care of a good friend until I could make the transition more permanent.  I was told eight months later that my cats would not be welcome in the community where I worked although others could dump their cats by the side of the road and they would taken in and cared for.  I looked long and hard at the community's politics and decided I would rather move back to Toledo in order to take responsibility for my animals' care than remain in a place that had an unspoken rule:  "It's better to ask forgiveness than permission." 
            No one needs permission to be loving or compassionate, only the desire to do so.  Call me crazy, but I believe that the way each of us treats any living thing is a direct reflection of the care and respect we have for ourselves.  And in caring for those who are the smallest creatures in our world, perhaps we reveal a bit more about how we have been treated...or have always wanted to be.
           It's an incredible responsibility to care for those who cannot speak with words, but whose language of love goes straight to the heart.   Forest knows this intrinsically.  I'm so very thankful he's mine and I get the pleasure of watching him embody this blessing for Aditi.  By example, he will be her best teacher.
           Forest is Ghandi in a cat suit...and then some.
           
           
Forest....home and healthy again...and of course,
watching over Aditi

           
           



           
           
           
           

            

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The three p's

In my twenties I had my heart set on "The Three P's" --  publishing, partnering, and parenting.  For over a decade I painstakingly paved a yellow brick road that I hoped would lead to my own personal Oz.  Always wanting to invite them in from the outer world, I lived in a "Field of Dreams" mentality where my mantra was "If I prepare for them, they will come." 
            I had been writing children's books since I was twenty-five, but all roads let to rejection from the publishing world.  Every editor said I needed to find a literary agent, but nearly every literary agent said I needed to be published before they would consider my work.  It was a catch-22, but I kept on writing.
            And I kept on hoping that by getting my own life in order (i.e. buying a house, earning a Master's Degree in education so I could secure tenure, and taking care of what was mine), the perfect relationship would present itself.  Marriage would follow a couple of years later, and then eventually, a child or two.  I even quit teaching in part to create a life that would allow more time to devote to a partner and my writing projects.
            For years, I filled my time with work:  teaching yoga, tending gardens of a dozen clients, cleaning houses, and doing odd clerical jobs.  I wrote four novels and three children's books.  I sent hundreds of query letters to agents all over the country.  I was set up on more blind dates than I care to remember.  I moved to California and back again.
            No matter what I did, a bountiful harvest always seemed to elude me.

            In the spring of 2009, dejected and depressed, I was struggling to find my feet after hitting an emotional, financial and creative rock bottom.  Again, I worked long hours, then came home and collapsed in a heap on my bed.  I had no energy to do much of anything but tether myself to the end of a rope I had been clinging to ever since my return from Big Sur.  I was sick and tired of my life as I had known it.  Tired of the unattainable yardstick on which I calculated my life...tired of never quite measuring up. 
            On top of all of this, I was living next to heroin dealers who kept me up at all hours, hauling their wares and their young children after dark to places I don't want to imagine.  They received stolen goods day and night and had a plethora of unsavory customers park their cars in front of my house.  There was a SWAT raid in early July which was fruitless and the neighbors continued their dealing in earnest.  I was terrified and anxious.  I knew through certain channels that they were also gang members and was fearful of a stray bullet coming through my window while I was teaching yoga in the living room.  It was overwhelming to instruct my students to be calm and open to the moment when my guts were constantly churning and there was a perpetual gnawing in the back of my throat. 
            Eventually I moved my yoga studio upstairs and everything else to the other side of my home to avoid seeing the never ending string of drug deals and shady people who moved in and out next door.  I felt helpless and homeless, not wanting to be in the one place that was mine, what had once been my sanctuary.  I endured panic attacks and months of sleepless nights.  My life seemed as if it were on an endless track of misery.      
I no longer cared about The Three P's...I was simply trying to survive an existence that seemed hopeless.  But it was then that I finally turned the corner.  Instead of focusing on what was not evident in my life, I began to steep myself in reality, no matter how uncomfortable or terrifying it was.   Somehow I found the courage to face my fear and move beyond it.  I stood up for my neighborhood, and by Thanksgiving, the drug dealers moved on to places unknown. 
            For nearly ten years, I had been living next door to seedy people of all kinds.  A man who beat his wife and children followed by a couple of alcoholics who rampaged nightly in front of their baby daughter...and with the windows wide open so I could hear every word, including the night the man threatened to kill his girlfriend.  There was a stripper and a suspected prostitute and a couple of people who were evicted.  Tired of the mayhem, I set the intention that the duplex would remain empty until kind, clean, law-abiding, and quiet people could move in.  I was fierce in my request, and stalwart in holding that mindset. 
And so it was.
I had no idea how oppressive it had been to have one side of my house feel like a torture chamber, only to have it magically disappear.For five months I lived in peace and silence.  I opened my north windows and breathed in the delights of freedom.  I spent hours enjoying my "new home," for that's what it seemed to be.  

            This afternoon I'm sitting in my office window, my little kitten tucked into the screen, watching for my neighbor, Tyler, to walk by.  His brother lives upstairs and for over three years, I have felt safe and happy to be home.  It was long overdue and not a day goes by that I don't thank God and whatever grace ended my long and arduous passageway to this place of peace.  
I've asked for many things that I've never received, but the most important things in life...well, those are always there for the asking.  I no longer wish for the Three P's.  Parenting won't be a reality in this lifetime.  The idea of partnering and the reality of publishing are still floating out there in the ether.
Now I embody another set of P's:  peace and patience and productivity and endless possibilities.  These are always available and when I ask for them, they gently land with compassion and grace into my open hands. 



      
           
            

           
           
           

            

Monday, July 1, 2013

Power point

            I've had a busy day today, but running in-between the raindrops while running errands hasn't taken the shine off of all I've accomplished.  I read an interview with a songwriter who said one of the happiest moments of his work is in the day after he finishes a song, even more so when the album is complete.  Yesterday I passed the 100 page mark on a manuscript I've been struggling with for months and for the first time, can feel the momentum building.  It's exhilarating and that energy and joy has flowed into this day, this moment.
            And that's always where the real power lies.

            "Be here now" is a phrase we may often hear, but what does it feel like to be fully present?  Can we be aware of how much of our mind/body/spirit wants to stay trapped in the past or wander into an unknown future?  I begin every yoga class guiding my students through an awareness exercise that allows each person to tap into that question.  Our bodies represent the past, so every experience we have had is stored in our cell tissue.  The mind represents the future, for what we think and believe, we become.   Since the moment of our birth, the breath has been the one, true constant in our being, so it represents the present moment.  I often remind my students that the main purpose of practicing asanas (poses) is to free up the body so the breath can be more open and dynamic and we can become more present not only on the mat, but off of it as well.

            I've spend two decades working with healing modalities of all types:  talk therapy, massage, meditation, chakras, Native Amercian studies, and acupuncture.   I've discovered that each one has allowed me to be more in the present moment.  But perhaps the most compelling avenue toward healing has been my experience on the Rolfing table.  For fifteen years, my friend, Tony, and I meet annually for an adventure into the unknown that indelibly changes my perception of the past, integrating it in the present and often slingshots me into the future with a greater sense of determination.  This afternoon I finished an advanced three series and, as always, left Tony's office feeling more whole and complete.  I've come a long, long way since my original series in 1998.  Yes, I used to be a piece of work, but now I'm more than delighted to work for peace...within myself and to help others discover that which is always accessible, if we truly want to experience it. 

            Writing in the midst of teaching yoga and doing my own healing work has been instrumental in helping me strip off the layers of the past, those places, people and circumstances that taught me many things, but are no longer in my life now.   My mind used to loved to dance around in memories, replaying them over and over again until I was dizzy from the dervish.  Then it would change gears and spin out into the future, wondering and hoping and also dreading what might come so much so that I was tangled up in knots.  
           Putting words on paper (or on the computer screen) allows me to find my authentic place of power and purpose, to release both the past and the future so that I can stand in this moment and allow emotions or experiences to come forth in order to be recognized and integrated.  Staying present isn't easy.  We can be overwhelmed in the swirl of others' opinions and actions.  But the more we know ourselves and truly understand that which lies deep within, the more we can be open to what is happening in our lives -- moment by moment. 
            It's an incredibly heart-opening experience to write a memoir and I've often said that everyone in their mid-forties could benefit from more than a glace backwards into the choices they have made over the years.  In sifting through my own, I've seen patterns that no longer serve me, behaviors I want to change, feelings I want to follow.  Every day when I sit down to write, some memory bubbles up and surprises me with its clarity and tenacity to be explored.  I've laughed out loud and cried tears of mourning over the things I've seen and heard, done and not done, imagined and experienced.  I only hope that when I reach the end of the manuscript, the past forty-six years will dissolve and I'll be on my way to an ever-expanding, creative life.
           
            Nature reminds me not to rush, that there's a time and place for everything.  This rainy summer is very different than last year when the Midwest was overcome with intense heat and drought.  I spent most of May, June, and July trapped inside the house, longing to tend my flowers.  Now it's sprinkling outside my window and when I gaze at the green grass and lush flowers blooming everywhere, I stop and notice the appreciation I feel for the gardens that have been nearly effortless this time around.  I feel the power in the rainfall to feed the earth and bring tranquility to this evening.  I feel the peace that surrounds and dwells within me.
            May you all be just as you are in this moment and be at peace.