Seeking Solitude

The world is a noisy place. I don’t mean that in purely an auditory sense either. Everything that bombards us and pulls at our attention creates “noise”, in our minds and hearts, that slowly drains the energy reserves that we need to keep us grounded and focused on what really matters. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m “running on empty”, and in doing that I put myself at  risk of breaking down on the side of the road in desperate need of mental, emotional and spiritual fuel.

Solitude is essential. Without it, we don’t allow ourselves the chance to recharge and heal; we don’t rest. I’ve been observing how I use my time, where I spend my energy, to determine if I allow myself to get charged up and healed, and I’m finding that I don’t. On a typical day, I get up in the morning and scurry around to get out the door. When I get to work, I jump into the tasks and interactions that need to take place, I break briefly for lunch in a bustling cafeteria  and then it’s right back to work again.  After work, I get home, fix dinner and do some chores. Or I zone out in front of the TV because I’m just too drained to do anything else. (By the way, it’s nicknamed the “boob tube” for a reason. For you youngsters, boob used to be slang for an ignorant or stupid person). Before I know it, it’s time to go to bed so the cycle can start all over again the next morning. There has been absolutely no pursuit of solitude in my day.

An initial look at my day would suggest that there is simply no opportunity to seek the solitude I so desperately need. That is a lie perpetuated by our “if I’m busy, I’m valuable” culture and other forces that work to keep us from being complete and healthy human beings. I can choose to make room for solitude in my day, every day. I can get up a little earlier so I’m not so rushed. I can go find a quiet place during lunch to sit or walk. I can choose to find a quiet corner in my house at the end of the day instead of tuning out with my TV.  I can even choose to drive in silence to and from work instead of listening to the radio or my iTunes library. If I chose all of these things, there would be room for hours of quiet reflection and rest for my mind and soul. But that’s the thing, I have to choose it. In order to benefit from solitude I have to embrace it’s value and be willing to sacrifice something else for it.

It isn’t necessary for me to choose all of those things either; one of them would be a step in the right direction. Even just 15 minutes to get alone, take a deep breath and focus on how I want to live and the person I want to be, would make life so much better. I would be giving myself the opportunity to be who I truly am instead of being what my busyness makes me. I need solitude, we all do; and from now on, I plan to be deliberate in seeking it out everyday, for my sake and for the sake of the people around me.

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Guns have always made me nervous. I am not against guns, in fact, I have always lived in homes where guns are present. They have always been handled responsibly and I was taught at an early age to respect their power and the inherent danger of carelessly handling them.

This weekend, I shot a gun for the first time ever. I actually shot two; a 9mm pistol and a 20 gauge shotgun, and it was kind of fun. I am glad I tried shooting and that I know how to use them, but I don’t think it will ever become a hobby for me.  And it’s not that I don’t appreciate their value, I know that they serve many important purposes. I just don’t like the grave responsibility that comes with using that kind of weapon; you can wound or even kill someone if you aren’t careful.

Many other things in life come with grave responsibility too, and sometimes we use them so carelessly. Our words, choices and actions (or reactions) serve valuable purposes, but all to often they are used without much thought given to the consequences. They hurt and wound people. And maybe they don’t kill our victims, but they can kill something inside of them. We shoot off our mouths, and BANG! Down goes that person that annoyed us or made us angry. We explode out of hurt or anger and BOOM! We take out a loved one in the process. Because of this carelessness, we are all walking around with bleeding and festering wounds that make us less than what we really are. And wounded people wound other people, so the vicious cycle continues. It’s like a mental and emotional nuclear war, complete with radioactive fallout.

Maybe if we stopped to imagine that our words, choices and actions are tangible items that we hold in our hands; feeling the weight of the responsibility, knowing that it is up to us how we use them, we could end the cycle. Or at the very least, we could drastically reduce the fallout. If we thought of those emotional and mental injuries we inflict like actual physical wounds that we could see bleeding and infected; if we could actually see the pain they cause, perhaps we would be more careful.

What would life be like if we used proper care when handling ourselves? What if we appreciated the grave responsibility that comes with being human? What would happen if we put down our weapons, and instead of continuing to inflict pain, we chose to help heal it? What if we just stopped the war?

Stalled

My efforts to become a minimalist seem to have stalled lately. I’m not back-tracking, there have been no shopping binges to replace all of the crap I cleared out, I just haven’t made any progress lately. I think I have some pretty good reasons for the lull, by I am anxious to get things rolling again.

As I’ve mentioned before, I work at a university, so I was home for 8 weeks this summer. It was a great opportunity to jump in with both feet and kick off this minimizing journey I’ve embarked on. But now, I am back to work, and with my commute I spend roughly 50 hours away from home each week. This has made it very difficult to get motivated to purge and simplify. My time is so limited. I mean, I still need to clean, cook, do my laundry, blah, blah, blah; you get the idea. The last three weekends I have been out of town, so there was no time to work on it then; who wants to do chores on the weekend anyway? Also, my kids are in the midst of packing for their return to college, so there are dorm room supplies everywhere! It’s hard to feel like you are becoming a minimalist when it seems like the piles are growing up around you. I know it’s temporary and all of that stuff is going to campus, but it doesn’t feel temporary. So I find it a bit frustrating and slightly depressing to be in my living space right now. All of this lack of time and focus, makes me realize how very important this journey is.

I need to keep pressing forward, I have tasted the freedom that minimalism offers and I want more. I want more space and more time. I want less stuff to maintain and store. I want less so I can have more; more life, more freedom, more adventure. So in the next day or two, I hope to start small again. Maybe I’ll tackle my sock drawer, I have so many socks! And I’ll try to remember that the piles are leaving in a couple weeks, with my children, so that I don’t mind them so much. I will continue to remind myself that it is a journey, there is no deadline or expiration date to worry about. As long as I keep working towards minimizing I’ll eventually get there. I will embrace where things stand today and hope for more progress tomorrow.

And now that I’ve had time to think about it, I wonder; if I keep the piles, will the kids stay as well? Probably not, but it is a nice thought.

The Masks We Wear

mask

I think most of us live our lives like everyday is Halloween. Just like trick-or-treating children who scurry after candy; we run around, identity hidden, trying to get the things we desire. But unlike those children, who dress up for a night of fun and turn back into themselves before bedtime, we stay disguised. We use our masks to hide who we truly are. The regalia changes often; day by day or even hour by hour. We have different masks for different moods, people and occasions. Some of us wear so many masks, so often, that we aren’t even sure what we really look like anymore. We get lost in a wardrobe of costumes and props that we originally collected to protect and hide our true selves and now even if we want to wear our real identity, we can’t. It is nowhere to be found.

I use these disguises for many reasons.  Sometimes, I wear mine to be liked, accepted, or loved; to “fit in”. Other times I wear them to appear strong when I don’t necessarily feel strong. I wear my defensive mask to guard against being proven wrong about something. I put the “happy” mask on to keep people from seeing that I feel like crying, because I don’t want to be perceived as weak. And if the happy mask isn’t cutting it, I use the tired one; it’s a pretty good cover for my real sadness. Needless to say, I have a lot of masks.

I’m trying to clean out the costume closet, searching for the real me; but it’s so scary. It makes me vulnerable, and I don’t like to be vulnerable; I have a costume for hiding that. I am terrified of this process. If someone doesn’t like me when I’m wearing a mask, I can blame the mask, but if I show them my true self (if I can ever find it) and they don’t like me, it will be the real me that they are rejecting. However, I’m discovering that the opposite is also true, if they like me and I’m wearing the mask, then they like the mask and not the real me and I still end up feeling bad about myself. So as frightened as I am, the costumes are going; slowly but surely.

I’m certain that it will be a struggle; just like a little kid pulls the blanket over his head when he’s scared, I will most likely grab one of my masks in a moment of doubt and try to hide. But I hope, that in time, I will have shown the real me to enough people to feel confident that she’s okay. I’m going to embrace the truth that some people will like me and some people won’t, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to my worth or character. Everyone has different tastes; if someone doesn’t like me, I’m just not their flavor. And if you catch me playing dress-up with my costumes and masks, go easy on me, old habits are hard to break.

Sanctuary

UK Trip 830

My youngest daughter recently went on a trip to Great Britain with her grandparents; she had a wonderful time. It was probably the biggest adventure of her life, so far. When the trip was still in the planning stages, we made arrangements for her return home. She was to stay the night at her aunt’s house and then ride the train home from Chicago the next evening. I was a little nervous about her travelling alone, but she is growing up so I agreed to let her do it. However, on the day she arrived back in the States, plans changed.

They had been gone for 10 days. She was tired, travel-weary and homesick. She sent me a text message that said she wished she would have agreed to let me come pick her up instead of staying another day and riding the train. She was ready to come home. So, because I’m her mom, I got in my car, drove to Illinois and picked her up. I’d like to point out that she never asked me to come get her and her text message was not a form of manipulation; she doesn’t operate that way. She was simply being honest about her feelings. It took quite a bit of reassurance to convince her that no one would be upset about the change in plans and that I didn’t mind driving down to get her. Once the decision was made, her relief was evident. The only thing that has bothered me in this situation are the unsolicited opinions of other people.

Since my return home, I’ve been told by a few people that I shouldn’t “baby” her; that I need to toughen her up and prepare her for the real world. And my initial and correct response to this is: No. No I don’t!

If I truly babied her, maybe they would have a point; I don’t. This is my child who chose to leave traditional high-school and enroll in a virtual school so she could graduate a year early (while also taking some college courses). This is the young women who, at 17 is entering her freshman year of college and already has a job on campus. She is not babied. As far as “toughening her up” for the real world; I have a pretty strong opinion about that too.

It is not my job to make her tough. The ugly side of this world will try do that all on it’s own. There are plenty of people that will take advantage of or use her. She will face failure and disappointment. She will have to try new things that make her a little fearful or nervous. That’s how life works. What she needs from me is sanctuary. A soft place to land in this tough world; a place where you are taught about the ugly side, but not a place you experience it. A refuge where you learn to be strong, not tough. (There is a difference.) I want to show her the beautiful side of life. I want to be the one to bandage the scraped knee, not the one who pushes her down. I want to comfort her when she cries, not break her heart and make her cry. My job is to help her rest and recover when the world beats her up, so she has the strength and courage to face it again.

Would she have been okay if  she had to take the train home? Absolutely. Would it have been an opportunity to try something new? Yep. Do I regret going to pick her up? No way. She will have plenty of opportunity to ride trains and try things on her own, but my opportunities to be her sanctuary are dwindling; I’m going to seize them whenever I can. And do you know why they are dwindling? Because she’s no baby.

Beautiful Scars

Recently I read an article by a young mom who was ridiculed at the beach, because of her stretch marks, and it made me both sad and angry. I have stretch marks. Actually, I have A LOT of stretch marks; my abdomen is covered in them. And visually, they are not much to look at, they are bumpy and shiny; even if I was in top physical condition, I wouldn’t look “good” in a bikini. They feel weird too; paper-thin skin stretched between ropey silver scars. I could probably do a pretty good impersonation of a raisin. But I still think they are beautiful.

I have accepted and embraced my stretch marks. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I love them, but I’m trying to. You see, they are reminders of who I am; of one of the most important roles I play in my life. I am a mom. Those scars and that too thin skin are physical reminders, that I carry with me everywhere, of love. I have carried love inside my body, I experienced it’s growth and movement everyday; anxiously awaiting it’s arrival into the world. And I have had the privilege of witnessing that love grow from a flutter in my stomach into a beautiful young woman; twice.

I have two daughters. They are amazing. One of them is an incredible artist, and the other is a talented musician. (and this isn’t just “mom talk” I can offer proof if necessary!) They are both beautiful physically, but more importantly the are beautiful on the inside; where it really matters. They are kind, and compassionate. They are silly, and funny. They make the world a more beautiful place.

My girls

So, when I look down at  those marks, instead of grieving the loss of my smooth tummy, I try to remember to celebrate all that they represent; and I hope other moms will do the same. We earned those scars, so instead of being embarrassed by them or ashamed of them, let’s celebrate them. They are beautiful.

Uncomfortable Skin

itch

My seasonal allergies have been terrible this year. I cough and sneeze, my nose runs and my eyes water; worst of all, my skin itches. It drives me bonkers! I’ve tried medicines, lotions, creams and natural oils; none of it helps for very long. A few minutes or hours later, the itching returns and the scratching resumes. The only way to find complete relief would be to eliminate the root cause, but I can’t get rid of nature, so I must simply endure.  At times, I can’t even think about anything else. I scratch so much, that it often looks like I was attacked by an angry cat. I’m just utterly uncomfortable in my skin.

Struggling with this issue has made me think about other ways I can be uncomfortable in my own skin. Sometimes, I just don’t feel okay with who I am. I question my choices; things I do our say. I wonder about what other people think of my personality and appearance. I worry about whether I’m smart enough or have a quick enough sense of humor. I’m afraid of looking stupid or uninformed. And when someone tells me I’m smart or funny or beautiful I question the sincerity of the words. It is exhausting. It makes me feel sad and lonely, it makes me defensive, and I’m sick of it.

I’m not always aware of this discomfort and sometimes I don’t “itch” at all. I do have many moments where I am genuinely proud of an accomplishment or I feel really loved and appreciated by the people in my life. But it’s always there, under the surface, and it distorts the truth and reality. It’s a lot like the times I go to sleep and I don’t remember my legs itching during the night. I don’t recall scratching but, the fresh marks on my skin, make the truth evident. So, being ill at ease about who I am is a constant itch that I continually scratch, resulting in temporary wounds and over time, permanent scars.

I do things to try and treat this ailment. I tell myself, “If I get that job, then I’ll feel confident in my professional ability.”, “If I take that class, I won’t feel so stupid when I talk about _____.” “If I buy that new shirt, I won’t feel so unattractive.” and none of these things in and of themselves are bad. There are often very good reasons to make a career move, take a class, or buy a new shirt. It’s never bad to want to grow and improve, but using these things like I would use creams and lotions for my itchy skin, is a terrible idea. Just like with those allergy treatments, the relief is temporary, the “itch” returns and I’m left trying to find something else to soothe it and provide more temporary relief. It becomes this never-ending frustration and it  robs me of the ability to be content and at peace.

I know that all of this sounds pretty dreary, but don’t feel bad for me. This is a story of hope. I have finally realized that I’ve been treating the symptoms and not the disease. And unlike the situation with my allergies, I can get to the root cause and eliminate it; just not alone. I need to go to my Source and learn how my skin is supposed to “fit”. I need to hear the truth in the words people speak to me. I have to drop my defenses and learn to just be me, however that looks to other people. I must stop giving the actions, opinions and viewpoints of other people  power over my identity. I need to embrace my uniqueness and that I bring things to the table that no one else can.

I know that this won’t all happen overnight. There will be ongoing treatments and consultations with my Physician. I will probably have relapses that must be addressed, but I am hopeful because I know that there is a cure. The road to recovery is long. There will be rocks and other obstacles. At times, it may look over grown and I’ll have trouble finding my way. It will probably have steep hills that I will struggle to climb. But, despite all of that, I’m certain that the final destination will be worth the journey.

One last thought; I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m pretty sure this is an ailment of epidemic proportions. So, if like me, you have uncomfortable, itchy, ill-fitting skin; won’t you join me on this journey and find the cure that you’ve been looking for? I’m already imagining what a world, where this disease has been eradicated, would look like.