Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dear Sugar: Acceptance is a small, quiet room

I'm feeling raw.  I watched President Obama speak on Biden's advice for new gun control, and I cried when he said "we are responsible for each other." I read about two parents and the day they learned that their child was one of the 20 killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, and how their son was found wrapped in the arms of a teacher's assistant trying to protect the children. I should feel raw in the face of these things.

And then I read something beautiful, and I cried. Again.

From Dear Sugar to Seeking Wisdom.  Seeking Wisdom writes:

"Dear Sugar,
I read your column religiously. I’m 22. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early 40s. My question is short and sweet: what would you tell your 20-something self if you could talk to her now?"

Parts of Cheryl Strayed's response will hit home for you more than others.  For me?

"Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet."

"One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do."

Admittedly, I've never been "ridiculously tangled up with heroin."  But I've been tangled in horrifying webs of depression, of living in scarcity mode, of fear and self-doubt.  And for me, it's when I see a little girl dressed all in red, including sparkly shoes and a red top-hat, board the bus and smile at me. And hear her tired, bedraggled mother remember to tell her to thank the bus driver at her stop, before she leaves. And to see her throw her little 8-year-old arms around the driver's waist, look up into his surprised expression and say, "Thank you!" bright and loud, before gripping the handrail to take that big, giant step down to the curb.

It's hard to re-post the mother/daughter advice Dear Sugar gives, without becoming a weepy mess. I'll let you read it here.

"Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."  (Cheryl Strayed, Dear Sugar)

Read it. Be thankful for all the life lessons you've learned so far. 

(Thanks to City Sage for directing me to read Dear Sugar's letter.)

We are responsible for each other.

Kashmiri Muslim girls enjoy a ride set up outside the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Naqashbandi in Srinagar, India. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims congregated at the shrine on the death anniversary of the saint and offered prayers in a three-day festival. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP

Hindu priests perform during an aarti ceremony on the banks of the Ganges river during the Maha Kumbh Mela. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
A sadhu prays as he sits on the banks of Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during the Maha Kumbh Mela. The Maha Kumbh Mela, believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth, is held every 12 years on the banks of Sangam and attracts over 100 million people. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

(Photos courtesy Guardian UK: Picture Desk Live)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Coffee, happiness, numbing, and chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness

View from Christie Cabin


coffee and aspen



It was a last minute hotel reservation, to stay one more night in Cambria, a magical coastal town. The hotel's breakfast was surprisingly delicious for the price of the room - fresh fruit, fluffy scrambled eggs, lightly seasoned and perfectly cooked potatoes. The coffee brewed for the masses and percolated in large metal urns was delicious, with no hint of that bitter, burned church coffee of my childhood. We took our plates to the outside tables, eating quickly while the fresh ocean air cooled our food, agreeing to get a second cup o' joe to go, it was THAT GOOD.

So, why does that second cup always disappoint?  It's so frustrating, that I can't capture again that moment of the perfectly brewed/steeped cup of coffee, steam rising from a white ceramic mug, the taste mingling with my morning breath, or a poached egg and spinach. I want it to be just as good, so I can continue to savor a moment that was clearly fleeting. 

I'm reading Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly.  I nearly skipped the section about numbing as a shield to vulnerability.  Because I like to numb. I don't necessarily want to stop. Brown obviously knows this, because she begins the segment with "If you're wondering if this section is about addiction and you're thinking, This isn't me, please read on."  She continues further in, "I believe we all numb our feelings. We may not do it compulsively or chronically, which is addiction, but that doesn't mean that we don't numb our sense of vulnerability. And numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn't just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can't selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light."

To put it in similar terms that I can relate to, Brown quotes someone talking chocolate. "In her book The Life Organizer, [Jennifer] Louden writes 'Shadow comforts can take any form. It's not what you do; it's why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness — a real comfort — or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself — a shadow comfort."

It's not what you, do it's why you do it.  I'm trying to put that in to practice, to be mindful of my first cup of coffee, so present that I'm aware of the painful experiences as well as the joyful ones, the difficult along with the sense of creativity.  The second night in Cambria was worth it, it was part of the joy of being in the present moment. The second cup of coffee rarely is. I'm not sure what the metaphor is, there, yet.  But I don't need the second cup.  I'll be busy stuffing an entire bar of chocolate into my mouth.  Baby steps of awareness.

(Coffee shot: Flickr by Meeganz, Mountain cabin shot: Flickr by justparts54)