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Five months later: A life lived

IMG_2279Summer is coming to a close even as school has already begun and the 100 degree weather rages on with smoky air lingering from local fires. I pressed the reset button again in June. I couldn’t sustain the life I was living at my previous job. The term “quality of life” has been ever-present in my lexicon since working in hospice nine years ago. How do I want to spend my days? How do I want to live my life? These past few months, as I complete paperwork for my new job, I’ve realized how little patience I have for tedious, seemingly unnecessary work. I have no guarantee that this new job will be better than my last. That’s been my life, changing jobs in search of the better one. I keep coming back to the question, how will I live my life differently this time around? How will I balance home life and work as a therapist? How do the two become integrated into my one life I am living? After seven different jobs in two decades, maybe the answer is that there is no balance for my life as I am living it. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I was listening to the Rewind Yourself Podcast #151 Ancestral Amnesia and the Village Mind with Stephen Jenkinson yesterday, which really stretched my brain in thinking about my life. I won’t summarize the interview, but challenge you to listen to it. It was a bit like listening to a foreign language, trying to comprehend something just beyond my reach. A friend in her sixties said to me yesterday that she didn’t know why she was here, meaning her purpose in life. From my viewpoint, twenty years younger than her, I was shocked and surprised. How could she not know after 6 decades? In my naiveté, I assume that wisdom will come in 10, 20, 30 years from now, but the truth is, we are all just living our days trying to figure this life out. I think that is part of the poverty that Stephen Jenkinson speaks about.

Zoey often will ask Stephen and me to share a story from our childhood. There aren’t too many I remember. And then I started thinking about how the stories we could be telling her and Zane would include not just stories of one generation past, but also the stories of her great-great grandparents and who they were and what their life was like.

So I come back to that question of how do I work differently this time around? The truth that I have lived again and again is that work is hard. Work is tiring and draining. It can be boring and tedious. And sometimes it can be fulfilling and inspiring. We live in a time when we’re always looking for the next best thing, trying to avoid where we are. That’s my story anyway. So maybe this time around I open my hands and welcome it all in. The difficult and the easy, the sorrow and the joy. That’s a life lived, right?

 

 

 


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Living in Between

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This morning I slipped out of the house while Grandmom was reading Charlotte’s Web to Zoey. The boys were down by the shed. I walked over to the lake, sat down at the picnic table on the dock, and watched the wind moving across the water. The sun was shining, there was blue sky, and a cool breeze. Time appearing to stand still or at least passing more slowly.

The last time I wrote on my blog, I wrote about my struggle to survive the demands of my job. I was reminded of the constant change of life as I watched the wind blow across the lake, seeing the ripples expand. There is much to do when you are young, and I imagine the meaning of the doing becomes less important as you age. Doing my paperwork, doing the laundry, vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen, etc. All that truly matters now and ever matters is the being. As I look at nature all around me, the lake just is, the flowers just are, the trees grow where they stand. Nature teaches us what we have forgotten as we advance our minds and forget our bodies and spirits–we are living and breathing beings–we are of nature and a part of nature. Our greatness and value is that we are, not that we do these amazing things that set us apart from other creatures on earth.

There is such beauty in life. I need constant reminders and moments like this morning to reawaken to what it means to be human. I have not yet been able to welcome and embrace suffering like the flowers and trees who accept the fading of their days with grace. We humans may be smart but we are often foolish in spirit, forgetting the wisdom of our ancestors and fellow earthly creatures. I think to be human is to be one with the earth. We who are capable of deep knowledge, we all have a call to service and to care for one another and the earth we live on. But we too must rest and follow the rhythm of the seasons. As I near my middle years of being, doing takes up much of my time, balancing family life and work life. And somehow living in between. And I hope as I advance in years, the wisdom of the flowers and trees will stay with me and teach me how to be more as I am able to do less. And that I will recognize the value of my being even as my spirit and body fade back into the earth.


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Finding My Way

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I find myself in a state of listlessness or of acedia as the Christian monks would have called it. My inner rhythm has been thrown off since returning to work. For quite some time, I held on to the vision that I would be a runner and enjoy running, but I never did. I would get stomachaches every time I tried to run (except perhaps when I was playing soccer because I’d have rest periods). And then I discovered yoga a little over 10 years ago, and I fell in love with the slower pace that let me breathe deeply but also got my body moving and stretching in challenging ways.

I realized the other day that my present work feels like I’m running everyday. And it only dawned on me after going to Zoey’s school for a parent meeting in the middle of my day. We sat down around Zoey’s circular lunch table to felt little mice for our children for Christmas. We talked and shared ideas and thoughts about gift giving and there was a sense of stillness and rest. And then I returned to work and felt the difference in the energy at my office. We should be a place of healing. We work with children who are traumatized, yet the energy feels frenetic, agitated, and restless. What kind of healing place is that?

About a week after Thanksgiving I was called to my supervisor’s office to explain why I was late on several reassessments for clients which resulted in lost billable hours (meaning our agency lost money). Last month was rough. I got sick for about a week, Zane was sick for a week. I took almost a week off for Thanksgiving. And as much as possible, I try not to do office work at home. As much as I would like to think I could turn my office work into a yoga rhythm, the truth is that I would just fall further behind in my billing, and would feel the need to keep running to catch up.

I recently finished reading Circle of Stones by Joan Dahr Lambert. Towards the end of the book, she writes this paragraph that seemed to sum up how I feel, but on a larger scale seems to also reflect the condition of our world: “There will come a time of imbalance when the dark will blot out the light, when the strong will brutalize the weak, when men will rule over women, force Akat upon them and make them bear young they cannot feed. In all that I have created, there has been a balance, between strength and weakness, between predator and prey, between that which is female and male, between the coming of new life and the resources to nurture that life, between the joy of birth and the release of death. But when the Mother’s ways are lost, the balance will die with them. So terrible will be the imbalance that the earth will no longer be able to renew itself but will strangle in its own decay. All of you to whom I have given life will be trapped in a chaos of your own making.”

I think it comes more naturally for women to be more in tune with daily rhythms and monthly cycles, but often women, too become disconnected from those rhythms. To work non-stop from morning to night without breaks feels more like imbalance to me than balance. My inner Wild Woman called out to me, so I started rereading yet again Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. She writes: “Don’t be a fool. Go back and stand under that one red flower and walk straight ahead for that last hard mile. Go up and knock on the old weathered door. Climb up to the cave. Crawl through the window of a dream. Sift the desert and see what you find. It is the only work we have to do. You wish psychoanalytic advice? Go gather bones.”

The bones I’m gathering tell me what I’ve already known–the best part of living is talking to others, soul to soul talking, sharing meals/breaking bread with others, digging down deep in the earth, moving my body, making something beautiful with my hands, breathing deep, sitting still, and listening. This is what I want–in addition to some really good loving–I mean body on fire, tingling loving.

I haven’t found my way yet, but I’m hunting with my nose to the ground.


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A Perfect Rainy Sunday

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After breakfast this morning, we headed out for a Sunday morning walk, before the rain came, which turned into a long hike around our property. Zoey and I stopped to eat some ripe, red manzanita berries while Stephen was up ahead carrying Zane. All of our mud boots/rain boots earned their name today with all the mud we trudged through. I had to pull Stephen’s rain boot out of the mud on one hill because he had his hands full with Zane, and I could barely pull it out with two hands.

I made zucchini bread after lunch. Here’s the  zucchini bread recipe I found. I didn’t eat it because it has flour, and I didn’t put the chocolate chips in it, but the kids seemed to like it. We all took a nap except for Zoey, except she did lay down for about an hour reading and singing to Zane from the book Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Once Zane finally fell asleep, Zoey and I did yoga together in the living room while the boys slept.

I’m waiting for our beef stew to finish cooking for dinner. I made these biscuits. I haven’t been writing much on the blog or just in general perhaps because my work week is spent typing on the computer when I’m not seeing clients. Documentation for Medi-Cal can be brutal. I try to avoid spending time in front of the computer as much as possible at night and on the weekends. But today I felt like writing again. Yesterday the kids and I went to the children’s museum that is an hour away because I had to pick up my glasses from Costco. They played outside climbing the cedar tree (anyone good at tree identification?) while I ate my lunch.

I’m taking Friday off for my birthday, which is Saturday. I’ll be 39. Zoey keeps asking–“which is older? 65 or 39?” Maybe depends on how you feel? I’m not sure how 39 is supposed to feel, but I’m happy to be alive to enjoy Sundays like today.


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Breaking the Rules to be Kind

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Earlier this week at work I was struck with sorrow for a co-worker who had experienced a traumatic death in her family, someone very close to her. Her world was falling apart, yet she showed up to work because that is what she had to do. Did we embrace her with gentle, loving kindness? We who work with children who have experienced trauma, did we embrace this co-worker who was in our midst drowning trying to stay afloat and manage the details of her life while showing up for work? No. We didn’t. We failed to support her through the chaos of her life. Sure we signed a card for her and said, “we’re sorry for your loss.” But we expected her to follow all the rules the next day. Act normal. We thought to ourselves, “what do you mean you have to take care of personal things during work hours? What do you mean you can’t keep it together and not cry?” I wonder, if we can’t break the rules sometimes to be kind, we who experience trauma everyday through the eyes of our clients, who can? And where will there be kindness in the world if we who are helpers can’t even muster the ability to do it? And then I heard this poem on an  OnBeing podcast by Naomi Shihab Nye and found hope again. Because kindness begins with you and me.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
by Naomi Shihab Nye

 

 

 


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Blackberry Pie Take 2

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Remember that blackberry pie I made last year when I omitted the sugar because I thought the berries were sweet enough on their own? Well, we went blackberry picking on our ranch this morning, and I thought I’d redeem myself by making a sweet blackberry pie today. The verdict? Zoey and Stephen liked it. Zane spit it out. If you know anything about the Cowan family, know that if a dessert is not sweet enough, they would be able to tell. So I count this as a success because my dear husband said it was sweet. And in case you’re wondering, I used Marilyn Batali’s Blackberry Pie recipe from Food & Wine. I didn’t have shortening so I used butter, but otherwise I didn’t make any other substitutions. Too bad I couldn’t eat any of it (gluten, dairy, white sugar!).

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Memories to Sustain You

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We took a mini-vacation over the weekend to go camping on the coast. We escaped the 100+ degree weather to experience the coastal mid-50 degree weather that chilled us. I love the beauty that surrounds us here on our land, but I am drawn again and again to the coast.

I think a lot these days about the work I’ve chosen to do. I was listening to Dr. Aviva Romm’s latest podcast Natural MD Radio and heard this quotation I wanted to share because it sums up my desire to change my attitude towards work.

“What if the word work was changed to dance with life? And instead of being viewed as an alternative to fishing or a way of paying our dues, it was seen as our own chance to meet creative new friends, discover your own untested potentials and unpolished gifts and open avenues for abundance to come pouring into your life.”

What if work was no longer a burden but a gift waiting to be unwrapped? Each day a surprise waiting to be discovered? I’m not sure I’m there yet. Meanwhile, I hold on to memories of our camping trip hoping one day I can feel that same sense of buoyancy at work that I feel when I’m sleeping under the trees.

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