Friday, May 31, 2013
Being alone and being lonely are not the same thing. That's a concept I've explored throughout my adult life because, even if I grasped it intellectually, I didn't always feel it viscerally. There have been periods of time when solitude has been my most welcome and treasured friend, and other times when it was all but intolerable.
As children, it's natural, effortless and genuinely pleasurable to be alone with ourselves, making up games, letting our dreams play out on the stage of our imagination, innate creativity simply pouring through us. We live for ourselves, we live authentically and in our true state of grace. It's divine. Then we begin to develop attachments to people and external distractions and stimulus, and for some of us, a dependency forms. We take on the standards and ideals of others as our own. We forget how to be alone and the joy it brings, and as a result, we fill our days and our lives full of things and people that don't necessarily fill us up in a meaningful way.
But meaning is subjective. Each of us, a unique soul living a unique earthly life, finds meaning in different pursuits, experiences and relationships. And in the course of that life one's own definition of meaningfulness is likely to change. What once thrilled us no longer ignites the same spark. The love so warmly felt toward another grows cold. Goals that seemed to worthy of all our efforts just to reach them suddenly lose their importance.
Lately I've been reflecting often about what and who I fill my life with. Why am I doing what I'm doing? What do I really want, and who do I want to be? My definition of meaning has evolved radically, especially over the last few years, even the last few months, and it has prompted me to look hard and deep within.
I've been balancing what, by most standards, is a very successful career with the pursuit of my passions for yoga and travel. I'm about to have my eight-year anniversary with my employer. I earn a respectable salary, especially for a single woman with no children, and I get to do a corporate job, with its benefits, from the comfort of my own home and rack up personal airline miles from all my business travel. I teach and take multiple yoga classes a week. I've been able to travel to beautiful, far-flung destinations and have amazing experiences thanks to all my job has afforded me. I've even been able to slowly nurture my side business, Ocean Om, to the point where it is really gaining traction and growing. Not a bad deal, right?
For a long time I certainly didn't think it was. I thought it was a great deal! I considered myself so very blessed to strike that balance and live such a full life. Especially after my divorce, it was gratifying for me to see just how awesome of a life I could provide for myself all on my own. I thrived. My social circle expanded exponentially. My passport got quite a few new stamps. I'd never been happier.
Then began the shift. It started slowly, making brief appearances, bringing on the hazy veil of a funk or the nagging urge to shake things up. So I'd take a trip or I'd start a new project or I'd find myself newly enamored of my latest flame. And that would clear the fog and the funk away, for a while anyhow. But it would come back. And I'd repeat the same remedies. You can get the gist of the cycle. And perhaps you've heard what they say: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different outcome.
I'm not insane (or so I think!) but living that way certainly was. Then a light went off for me, and suddenly I realized I was living a life dictated in large part by priorities that were no longer current or meaningful to me. I began my career as a young newlywed who unfailingly wanted to start a family. I was determined to have a stable, lucrative professional life so my future children would have whatever was within my power to give them. I hadn't fully tapped into my spirituality, heck I'd barely scratched its surface at that time of my life, and I was so afraid of being lonely that I couldn't fathom the thought of being alone.
That is not the woman who is writing these words right now. This woman has reconsidered her ideas about marriage and family, taking a much softer and broader approach to the many shapes they can come in and the timing involved. She is deeply committed to her spiritual path and practice, and knows living fully and authentically in that faith, letting her every offering be one to the greater good, is what she really wants to work toward. She has learned to embrace and enjoy the pleasures of being alone, and to distinguish loneliness from solitude, honoring her desires for connection, intimacy and partnership alongside her need for private space and time.
That woman is me now. I know who am I and where I want to go. I know what holds meaning for me. And I know there is a major leap of faith on my horizon in order for all of this to fully align, in order for me to feel full and fulfilled by each aspect of my life. While our definitions of what is meaningful might be very subjective and change along the way, the end game is the same for us all. We seek nothing more and nothing less than happiness. That is our true nature. We are all on a journey back to that place. And if we can get clarity around the self-imposed fears, limitations and attachments that stand between us and our happiness, it is ours to be had.
Monday, May 27, 2013
There seem to be two competing schools of thought on the matter of returning to the place from where you came: you can never go back and you can always go home. I'd always put myself in the former, practically speaking because I don’t have my happily married, aging parents living in the sunlit house where I spent my formidable years. That house never existed. My parents weren’t happily married though they did manage to last more than 35 years together. My father passed away almost four years ago, and since then my mother has moved four times, most recently under my roof and then to share a home with my brother.
If a tinge of cynicism or resentment came through when I described my familial situation, you read right. My feelings about it all are the hard truth that I just recently came to acknowledge during the two and a half months my mother and I shared a home for the first time in fifteen years. As someone who intellectually understands that looking at the world and living from a space of lack is simply not good in any which way, it was a pretty devastating blow to come to grips with when I recognized that, emotionally, there is a child within me who is in pain over a perceived sense of lack, and I have much healing and growing to do in this area.
For as long as I can remember, I have been independent and self sufficient to an extreme. Couple that with intelligence and a “wise beyond her years” persona, and I never had trouble advancing in life or holding my own. When you’re known as the smart one, the strong one, the one who gets things done, people start to forget that you might need someone to be smart and strong and get things done for you from time to time. But more importantly, you yourself can start to forget that. I’d have moments of feeling this way, but they were always fleeting, and then I’d draw on my resolve, my spirituality, my firm knowledge of the fact that no one is responsible for my happiness except for me to keep moving forward.
Then my mom came to stay with me temporarily, and the game changed. It was an interim period between her moving out of the nearby apartment I’d set her up in a little over a year prior to now moving across the country to be a full-time grandmother to my brother and sister-in-law’s tiny little miracles. This was an exciting time for our family as a whole. They were buying the sort of dream home you raise a family in that their kids might look back on one day as adults and recall backyard cookouts and neighborhood shenanigans. My mother was finally going to have a sense of purpose in her role as “Bubbee” (grandmother in Yiddish) after years of struggling hard to find steady ground and meaning. And I was going to have the freedom to travel more, maybe relocate and live my life the way I want to as a single, early 30-something without concern over mothering my early 60-something mom.
My initial enthusiasm for mom coming to stay under my roof wore off quickly. My house is setup for one, not two. And for every ounce of self-sufficiency I possess, she possesses an equal if not greater measure of need. Her life long battle with severe and chronic depression and anxiety has left her far less competent as the years have gone by than she was when I was younger. And even the little things, like a trip to the grocery store, preparing a simple meal, cleaning the house, became tasks that required detailed instruction and hand holding. All of a sudden, mothering my mother wasn’t a metaphor, it was a reality, and I wasn’t dealing with it anywhere near as gracefully as I’d imagined I would be able to.
Here I was, established in my yoga practice, a regular meditator, a proponent of conscious, healthy living, non-judgment, kindness and compassion, and the person who deserves the best of me, the person who brought me into this world, was getting my dark side. In response to her near constant need and genuine confusion over things I deemed so basic, my fuse was short, my patience ran thin, I’d snap too quickly and then find myself feeling terrible for having been so short on grace and compassion toward her. And yet she showed such tremendous grace and compassion toward me. She didn’t snap back. She was endlessly considerate of the fact that I had a million things to do and her needs and tasks were just a few among them. She simply tried her very best to give all the love she could, help in whatever small ways she was able and whether consciously or not, was patient while I worked through the wounds of my inner child that were being revealed in order that they could be healed.
One morning just a few days before her departure, I had a massive breakdown. Sitting at my altar, chanting mantras to the Divine Mother, I was overcome by tears. There was no gentle trickle happening there. This was my body racked by sobs, breath gasping and heaving in my chest, hot tears spilling down my cheeks onto the prayer shawl wrapped around me for protection. This was crying the way a despondent child cries for her mother. I was that child. I still am. Only now, I know why she is hurting, and I can help her heal. I can bring her to her mother.
I realized in those moments of grief and sadness that I was refusing to accept my mother’s love, grace and compassion because it didn’t come packaged in the way I thought a mother’s love should. At some point throughout the years I created this perception of lack and alienated myself from my mother's love. I’ve carried the pain of that separation inside for all this time. The emotional scars remained even as my intellectual understanding of these things changed. And now it was as if a dam had burst open in my heart, the darkness flooding out and the light flooding in.
My mom may not have what it takes to take care of me in the traditional sense, but she has more love for me than anyone on this planet. She is my cheerleader, my teacher and my confidant. If I’d let her, she’d bring nothing but that light into my life, the Divine light she carries within that I was refusing to see. Sure, she’s still going to need me a little more than I might want to be needed, ask questions that I think she really ought to know the answer to, and do things that might cause a mother to get on a daughter’s nerves. But I can choose how I perceive her and our relationship, I can choose to see that I do have someone I can count on for love and support, I do have a home I can go back to, and that home lives in her heart. My mother gave me that gift, and will continue to give it for as long as we live. For that I am so very grateful.