alignment

the reality of this moment

Yesterday I had one of those days that chews you up and spits you out. I got all caught up in multitasking on a bunch of complex and somewhat frustrating projects at work, as well as reading the news, as well as trying to get everything ready for my upcoming vacation. By the end of the day, I could tell that my fuse was much shorter than usual. I went home and sat down with some marinated mozzarella and a small tot of bourbon, all riled up but still aware that in order to be OK, I needed to recharge my batteries. After 10 minutes, I felt calmer and more at ease. I could laugh at my reaction to the day’s events. But I needed enough self-awareness to pamper myself first.

Now is the only reality we know. If it’s stressful, if it’s blissful, it’s all we’re capable of being fully aware of. It’s distracting and all-encompassing—even while it’s utterly transient. Now never lasts for long. Even hours of jury duty, even the worst date, the worst relationship, ends eventually. It might take time, months or even years, but ultimately the state we’re living in will change, end, transform and bring us to another state. More often than not, states last less than a day, to the point where we could look back in five days, five weeks, five months or five years and not remember what happened.

When I look back at the worst times in my life, drenching and awful as they were, I clearly see how they were also transient. They passed, though I couldn’t see the future at the time of their passing—they did pass. Most of my early adulthood was worst times and all-right times. There weren’t a lot of best times. Now that I’m in a better place, and can look back on the last four years as really, really good times, I don’t see it in terms of bad and OK. I see it as my life, with temporary periods, mostly days or partial days, when I’m not at my best, when I fight with my partner or fight a cold, when I’m cranky at work or things just aren’t going my way. But the baseline is good. The status quo, the reality of now, is good. I feel at home with myself, I feel free to create my life as I need to, I feel aligned with what matters to me.

This wasn’t always the case. And I have endless empathy for anyone struggling with a baseline, with a whole series of days or weeks, which doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t bring them joy, doesn’t open them up to greater understanding or compassion or gratitude. Which instead brings them pain and suffering—which they survive, like a post-apocalyptic Earth, scrambling for basic needs and hoping for a release. I lived through that with my ex-husband, who didn’t feel like he would ever measure up to thew world and decided not to try, eventually embracing the soothing torture of Oxycontin addiction to ease his pain. I lived it even more with my ex-boyfriend, a manipulative ex-addict who created drama for drama’s sake, stole from me and used me mercilessly to achieve his own ends. I lived it within myself, a person confined and smothered by the expectations and approval of others, unable to truly see or acknowledge myself.

Life will never be perfectly easy or purely delightful. No matter what we do, how much money we have, who we love, what we value, life challenges and irritates and surprises us. But we can live aligned with our values, and feel centered in that.

We can stand in our own truth, surrounded by those who support us, keeping at an emotional or physical difference those who don’t, and feel strong.

We can ride the news of each day with a balance of attachment and distance, recognizing that change is possible, that hope is not foolish, that united we are stronger, and each small step is valid—and now is not forever.

Now is our reality. Our consciousness only exists in this moment, for better or worse. We can’t go back, we can’t fast forward. Life is now, as we build it, as we create it, as we submit to it.

We can’t control it. But we can control the self we bring to it. We can determine how we act in it—not our reaction, necessarily, but the choices we make, what we say, what action we take.

The only way to thrive is to see, feel, and honor yourself in this now. Not to live only for now, because now leads to an endless series of nows, and one now’s impulse can create a lifetime of consequences. But to live within the now. To understand that it’s both transient and forever. To be self-aware enough to recognize the options and actions we’re presented with, to give ourselves the time and space to think through the consequences and sit with our inner wisdom.

It isn’t always possible, but there’s always another opportunity coming, another now, to practice in.

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40 things i’m giving up

As I contemplate turning 40 in two weeks, I’m ready to give up a lot of things. Things that have taken up time, energy, attention and ROOM in my heart and mind in my first four decades. Things that helped me become who I am today, but might not serve me any longer. By finally letting go of these behaviors, patterns and beliefs, I hope to create space for more of what really matters to me.

40 Things I’m Giving Up as I Turn 40

  1. Allowing others to disrespect, demean or devalue me. Been there and done that. It left its scars. I don’t need to try to convince anyone that I deserve to be treated better. I just won’t accept being treated without respect or consideration.
  2. Putting up with manipulation of any kind. Guilt trips, pressure, emotional abuse, games, steamrolling over my thoughts or feelings, tantrums. None of these are acceptable between adults, I won’t engage in them or play along ever again.
  3. Talking down to myself. I’m my best friend, strongest ally and partner for life. Rather than using angry hate-speech in my own mind, I’ve consciously started to speak to myself with a respectful, positive, loving honesty and treat myself with kindness.
  4. Negative filters. Viewing anything—relationships, situations, work, the world at large, other people, myself—through a filter that only allows me to see the things that might be negative, problematic or “wrong,” ignoring all the extraordinary things that are positive and right.
  5. Having expectations for how things will be. Getting attached to an idea of how something “should” be, setting myself up for disappointment when it doesn’t turn out that way, assuming that I know in advance how something is “supposed to” happen. It’s far healthier to commit to intentions and let things play out as they will.
  6. Believing that I should be anything other than what I am at this moment: skinnier, healthier, richer, more fit, more successful, more ambitious, a mom, a homeowner, married… more, different or better in some way.
  7. Feeling like an ugly duckling that never quite became a swan, like I somehow missed my “blossoming.” I’m blossoming RIGHT NOW. Every minute of every day I get to blossom, physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and in character, until my last moment on earth.
  8. Being self-conscious. My extremely draining, awkward self-consciousness peaked when I was about 18 to 25. I’ve been on a downward trend lately, feeling less insecure every year, and find it incredibly relaxing. I’m ready to give it up for good and enjoy the same steady self-assurance that I had as a young child.
  9. The need to be RIGHT. It doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t serve anyone else. My truth is my own, and I can stand centered in my truth, but in the end it doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. I can drop my cases against others, drop my grudges, and give that energy to compassion, forgiveness and learning.
  10. Overwhelming, debilitating self-doubt. Listening to that negative voice of doubt telling me I’m going to fail has never helped me achieve anything. My inner wisdom tells it to me like it is and inspires me to work for my goals, all the while making me feel loved, encouraged and appreciated. That’s much more productive in every way.
  11. Not trusting my gut. Until recently, I did what I thought I was supposed to do or was told I should do, rationalizing away or outright ignoring the voice inside telling me “this is not OK.” It led me to making some terrible decisions and caused a lot of suffering. Now I trust my gut for everything. From the smallest reactions to the biggest decisions, my instincts will lead me exactly where I want to go by the best possible route.
  12. Compromising myself for the love, affection, attention or approval of others. I don’t need to earn love. I’m worthy of being loved exactly as I am, and anyone who expects or demands otherwise will not be trusted with my heart.
  13. Judging myself for not spending my time or energy a certain way. I could be giving more time to helping others, and I hope I will in the future, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong for spending my free time in the ways that feel right to me right now.
  14. Worrying about looking foolish. Honestly, what does it matter? There are so many other things that I could be giving my attention to, rather than feeling embarrassed or worrying that other people are going to think I’m stupid or silly.
  15. Not speaking my mind or standing up for myself when it really counts. I try to be impeccable with my word and conscious of what I do and say, not speaking out of anger or to hurt, but I don’t have to hold my tongue out of politeness or fear when something deeply affects me. If the other person doesn’t want to hear it, that’s OK, but I’m allowed to say what I need to say.
  16. Not taking care of myself—neglecting myself and subverting my needs for the needs of others. There are times when other people are going to require more of my attention and energy, but my own health and happiness are always going to be my first priority, even as I honor the needs and take care of others.
  17. Overspending, under-saving and getting into debt. I didn’t manage my money for many years, and ended up in deep debt because of it, wasting a lot of time and energy being anxious. From here on out, I’m committed to carefully managing my money as well as enjoying it.
  18. Living in my old story. I’m no longer the person who believed that story or needed to live it in order to prove herself. I know what’s really true about myself and who I am today.
  19. Not giving myself credit for all the truly amazing things I am and do every day. All the things I do right. All the things I accomplish. All the ways I’m generous and loving and kind. I know I can always improve and learn and grow, but I also get to celebrate everything I’ve achieved so far.
  20. Endlessly spinning my wheels about something that won’t matter in 5 days, not to mention 5 weeks, months or years. I know I’ll still sweat the small stuff sometimes. I’m just a lot faster and better at reminding myself that life is short. This is it. We don’t have forever, we just have right now. Worrying isn’t productive or useful in any way. If I can do something about whatever’s bothering me, then I’ll do it. If I can’t, then I’ll find a way to let it go.
  21. Skimping, short-changing and playing small. I’ve spent a lot of time focused on lack, and it’s only led me to feeling insecure and pessimistic. When I focus on abundance, knowing there’s enough for everyone including me, I can accomplish so much more with my time and resources.
  22. Judging others. I can’t help but have my opinions sometimes, but they aren’t necessarily true. My truth is just that—mine. I can dislike and even disapprove of what someone is doing and still not righteously condemn them or believe that I know best.
  23. Comparing. My journey is my own. My mistakes and successes are my own. My timeline is my own. My body is my own. It’s all perfect and perfectly unique, and won’t benefit by being compared favorably or unfavorably to the journey, body, timeline, or choices of other people.
  24. Challenging others over trivial things. Having opinions is fine, I can speak up if I feel that someone is being offensive or abusive or I want to calmly share my views, but otherwise it’s a waste of energy and goodwill to get heated about sensitive issues or differing ideas, especially in casual conversations.
  25. Surviving on autopilot. Living day to day just barely making it through, overwhelmed and consumed by lack and fear, that’s something I never want to go through again. I commit to finding the deepest fulfillment and highest happiness for myself, whatever that might mean, and not accepting anything that stands in the way of it. I commit to thriving, and making the most of each day I have left.
  26. Shame. Feeling ashamed of who I am, what I’ve done, all my mistakes. I can take full responsibility for my choices without being weighed down by a load of ugly and useless shame.
  27. Over-apologizing. I’m accountable when I make mistakes, and will sincerely apologize for any hurt or inconvenience I cause. But I don’t need to use apologies as my gut-check response to everything. And I certainly don’t need to apologize for being myself, being human or having needs, wants and feelings.
  28. Taking things personally. In work, relationships, dating, family, it just isn’t worth it to take anything personally. Even when my initial response is to feel hurt, if I can just take a tiny step back and see that it’s not about me, I can see the truth of the situation much more clearly.
  29. Toxic people in my inner circle. By my definition, toxic relationships are those that suck my energy, bring negativity to my life or require more of me than I’m able to give. I now allow myself the freedom to end friendships, cut ties or just separate myself emotionally when I don’t feel the interactions are a source for good for either of us.
  30. Playing roles I’ve outgrown. Many of the ways I’ve defined myself in the past aren’t true to who I am now. Words that I used to describe myself and traits that were assigned to me or adopted by me at different times no longer apply, if they ever really did. Either way, they’re not authentic to my life today and can be left behind.
  31. Unhealthy boundaries. After living without boundaries and suffering for it, I understand how important it is to establish and enforce my personal boundaries. I’m now comfortable speaking up when my boundaries are crossed and relaxing them when I’m ready to adapt to a new situation.
  32. People pleasing. It’s a wonderful feeling to make the people I care about feel valued and loved. But it’s not so wonderful to swallow my anger or deny my hurt because I’m afraid of disappointing or upsetting anyone. It’s a codependent tendency that I learned early on and am finally ready to start unlearning for good.
  33. Bad habits. I challenge myself to continuously notice behaviors that are unhealthy or unhelpful, figure out what’s behind them and create healthier habits in their places.
  34. Making assumptions and believing them. Barely listening when someone is speaking because I assume I know what they’re going to say, jumping to conclusions, becoming attached to my ideas about how something is. Letting go of the clutter of assumptions will leave a lot of empty space to learn from others and challenge my preconceptions.
  35. Saying yes when I don’t really want to. I’m allowed to say no. I didn’t believe that for a very long time, but now that I know it’s true, I’m prepared to face the consequences of refusing when it’s right for me. It isn’t the beginning of a negotiation or the chance for someone to manipulate me into a different answer. It’s just no.
  36. Meeting other people’s expectations. Even if I helped create them at one point, as long as I’m clear about myself and the choices I’m making today, other people’s expectations are not my responsibility or problem to solve.
  37. Using old ways of measuring “good.” My mind still echoes with voices from my childhood instructing me on how to be good, how to impress authority figures, how to present myself best, what rules to follow. But none of that applies anymore. I’m the authority figure. I’m the person who decides what defines good and successful for me and what’s necessary for my growth. NO ONE ELSE. Every time I hear those echoes, I remind myself of this.
  38. Acting out of fear. Withholding love, suppressing my desires, subverting my needs, not taking necessary risks, missing opportunities, avoiding failures, hiding. You can either be brave or safe, you can’t be both. I trust my inner guide to help me face my fears with awareness, compassion and strength.
  39. Waiting for “someday.” There’s no magical ideal future waiting for me. This is it. This is all I’ve got. There are things I want to accomplish that aren’t priorities right now, but I’ll never again wait to be happy until my ship comes in and everything I imagine comes to fruition. I want the life I have, right now, exactly as it is today.
  40. Not living as my authentic self. I know what it’s like to feel like a stranger in my own mind, to be constantly off-key, constantly working to make it all fit somehow. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. The key to my happiness and fulfillment is knowing my core values and living aligned to what matters most to me in every single aspect of my life.

 

the opposite of survival

I still remind myself often of the stark, manifest differences between my life without my abusive ex-boyfriend and my life with him. The strain so overwhelming I had to numb myself against it. The gut-wrenching dread that I was going to lose him—and lose myself somehow in the process. The shrinking from his anger, his moods, his neglect, his icy rages, never knowing what emotional blow was coming next. The inner knowledge pushing against me all along, telling me any way it could that this man was BAD FOR ME, which I dismissed and fought. The ache to be loved and wanted, which he never managed to fulfill but always somehow promised to in a way that I believed. The thrill of being noticed and petted, and the emptiness of being dismissed, devalued and manipulated. The cycles I could feel myself spinning in, unable to step out.

It was every kind of wrong way to be in a relationship. To be asked so much, and to say yes to it. I know I was looking for more in him. I was looking for the kind of belonging I’d shared with my ex-husband, which I was still grieving so intensely when this man landed in my life. I was bereft and unable to determine what boundaries were worth enforcing, and so I basically had none. I applied my own good intentions and kindness and integrity to him, because I wanted him to have it. It was entirely projection, and entirely free will. Though he was very good at manipulating me, and very capable at being charming, and very perceptive and adaptable, none of his techniques would have worked had I not chosen to be prime for the plucking. I walked freely into that trap and helped him to shut it behind me.

I have to wonder sometimes if I’m being that misguided about anything else, walking shortsightedly and unconsciously into situations that don’t serve me or align with my values. It’s totally possible, it probably frightens me more than anything else. Probably the stressful and anxious and irritated moments I’ve experienced over the past few years have been due to something very similar, and probably they’ll happen again. Uninformed or inflated expectations, autopilot, ego-driven and lack-founded thinking, fear of abandonment and disappointment. They’re part of my makeup, part of my humanity. I can’t ever turn them off for good, or cease to be aware of the danger they present to my well-being.

I hope that the difference now is that I am much more aware of them. My triggers, my spirals of doubt, shame and fear, my lack, my story. I enter them as easily as I ever did, but I now have more tools and resources to STOP, think, listen and make different choices. I’ve empowered myself to consciously CHOOSE, and choose differently, rather than simply to carry on down the well-beaten paths. Each time I learn something new, gain new perspective and experience on how to live a more aligned and positive life.

The experience of being with my ex was mostly about survival, suffering through a wasteland and struggling to stay strong and whole while being invaded and exploited and torn apart from the inside. It taught me what I never want to feel or be or live again, and was valuable in its extremes of sadness, loneliness and pain. But since the day we broke up, each challenging emotional and mental episode has lifted me further along, given me greater access to my inner wisdom, empowered me to make the choices I want to make, shown me how to trust myself and emphasized the value in it, taught me the true meaning of thrive.

My thesaurus lists the antonym of “survival” as “death.” But I believe that the true opposite of survival is well-being, the experience of more than merely existing, of thriving. If the opposite of being alive is being dead, than the opposite of continuing to exist or staying alive with endurance, persistence and fortitude is living joyfully and consciously with light, love, health and happiness—flourishing, prospering, creating. The antonym to “thrive” should not be “fail.” If you’re not thriving, it may have nothing to do with failing or diminishing, but rather with sinking into numbness, negativity or grim determination. One can be ill physically and thrive in every other way—it’s a spiritual, emotional and mental state of abundance.

I know I didn’t thrive for one second once I’d twisted myself around the trunk of a narcissistic man, by my own free will. I made choices that were good for me, I protected some boundaries, I allowed myself whatever room I could find for healing and peace. But still, it was basic survival. My finances didn’t prosper—they didn’t unduly suffer, but they didn’t grow in wealth or abundance. My health didn’t suffer unduly either, and I did begin to improve my strength in boot camp—but I was sleep-deprived and anxious, constantly on the alert. It couldn’t have been called flourishing. My relationships with others didn’t change for the better or worse; they didn’t fail, but they didn’t become more loving or nourishing.

The moment I woke up the day after our relationship had really and truly ended—as far as I was concerned, since I knew I wasn’t going back—my entire body felt different. My mind was lighter and clearer, my anxiety was almost nonexistent, my soul felt peaceful, all for the first time in more than two years. I only cried once more, and very briefly, because even in my mourning for what I felt I’d lost, I sensed the breaking of a new, powerful, beautiful, revolutionary dawn in my life. I began to thrive that day, continuing into the weekend and following week, and on and on until today. My memories since that time have been filled with golden light—even the dark and embarrassing ones, even the cloudy days shine with subdued brilliance. I know what it means to be whole and aligned. To be free of self-doubt, to fall back into my own arms in loving trust. To be empowered and validating, to take back what was yanked out of me and restore what was lost. To detoxify, release, forgive and heal. To openly address, examine and learn from my patterns and failures of the past. To take risks when my instincts told me to, and to step back when they told me to.

I don’t know what the future holds. But while with my abusive ex I felt held hostage by the present, by the sheer act of getting through each day without losing my shit in a crunch of anxiety and overwhelm, today I feel opened and unafraid. Whatever the future holds for me, I’ll find a way to celebrate it, to grieve losses and to be grateful for everything I receive. I know I won’t ever have to live through self-imposed years of strain, suffering and worry again, whether caused by financial mismanagement, addict spouses, sociopathic boyfriends, codependency, disrespect or following shoulds and guilt trips over my instincts. I won’t choose to serve others over honoring myself. I won’t choose them over me, or doubt over trust, or fear over love, or survival over thriving.

It’s unthinkable now to imagine giving one second of my time or one joule of my energy into a man who treats me without consideration, care or thought. I don’t know how or why I put up with it. Why I chose to—felt I had no other choice than to—give up my needs, wants and feelings in order to sustain a relationship with a man who wasn’t good to me. I can’t imagine living in toxic sludge ever again, feeling unsafe or neglected or invaded in my home, accepting abuse as a matter of course, dealing with someone else’s drama and solving someone else’s problems. I can’t guarantee myself a future of only happiness and no challenges, failures, loss or sorrow, but I can guarantee that I will never, ever choose to compromise myself so pitilessly, or betray myself so brutally, or live in such lack and strain, or accept overwhelm and paranoia as my lot. Whatever I do from now on, I will do it out of self-love and self-respect, trusting my inner guide, honoring my needs, and giving and receiving in balance. It serves no one to give endlessly and receive nothing—even the taker loses in the end.

However and whyever I chose to suffer through the darkest parts of my past, I know better now. I will trust myself. I will never let a tortured, twisted soul into my innermost sanctuary of love and trust. I will never subjugate myself in order to earn someone’s love.

blasting a crater in the rut of life

My life is in the process of changing, as our lives constantly change, and at the same time I’m witnessing the major transitions of several close friends. I’ve started a new relationship for the first time in four years—an exciting, gratifying and slightly unsettling addition to my life, while a few of my friends are struggling through distressful challenges and facing some difficult decisions. We’re all supporting and encouraging each other through the good, bad, ugly, thrilling and impossible, and it’s reminding me how important times of upset and upheaval are.

I’m lucky that my transition is a positive one, but I’ve known the other side as well, and am convinced that those negative experiences were crucial to getting me where I am today. I believe the most disturbing and jarring events have a critical purpose for us, as we struggle our way through: to open up the very roots of our lives and reveal our true selves, who we really are, who we need to become.

Life transitions are never easy or particularly pretty—not even the ones we want to happen, much less the ones we don’t. And the ones we don’t want, the ones that we’ve been fearing and avoiding, are even more riddled with jagged parts, snags, pitfalls, shame and anxiety. We’ve been existing in the same paradigm for months or years, safe if not exactly happy in the known, barely daring to imagine what the unknown might sound, feel, smell and look like. We might long for another path, another kind of life—long to be truly aligned with ourselves and what’s most important to us, but we’re focused on surviving. We might want change, we just don’t necessarily know what change, or how to consciously make that choice.

And then something happens—something we were unconsciously calling in, or waiting for, or terrified of, something that knocks everything sideways. An explosion rocks our lives, whether one massive impact or a series of small yet life-altering earthquakes.

Because the hard truth is, there’s no climbing out of that rut without blowing a big gaping crater in it first. Otherwise we just keep trudging blindly along in our comfortable dissatisfaction, aware that there could and maybe should be more, but unable to see it for the high walls around us. Suddenly things blow up, and we’re thrown backwards and left flat and breathless. Once we can get back up, let the dust settle, dry our eyes—the world is all around us, strange, unfamiliar, full of possibilities. The light may be too bright, we might be more horrified than gratified at what we’re seeing, but it’s too late. There’s no going back into the rut.

I feel like that happened in both of my previous long-term relationships. I couldn’t see how unhappy and disconnected my ex-husband and I were or how unaligned I felt—I was secure, deep in my rut, even though it wasn’t the life I truly wanted, until a catastrophic eruption blew everything to hell. As for my last relationship… Who knows how long I would have stayed with a manipulative sociopath, convincing myself that I was OK, that it was worth it, had someone I loved not died and shaken my foundation to its core. Blasted a huge crater in my rut, allowing me to climb free.

Of course, what I’m experiencing now is a very different kind of life event, one that I consciously called in. But even this wanted, appreciated transition has shifted things, requiring me to work to keep my balance. As I and those I love experience the anxiety and disorientation caused by changing paradigms, it helps to remember that all transitions are complicated, all are challenging, all bring some measure of loss and fear along with the pain or pleasure. And all require us to bravely face the new life ahead of us, to step forward into the chance to live in greater alignment with who we truly want to be.