Playing ’til Dark

A Garth Brooks fan since day one, I’m enjoying his new album, Man Against Machine. A line from the song “Send ‘Em On Down the Road” lassoed my imagination today. The line is “And when that girl broke my heart, we just threw that baseball back and forth ’til dark.” The song is about how parents want to shield their children but they have to practice letting go at each stage of the children’s lives for their children to thrive.

Sallie in life jacket & towel on dockThe thing that caught my attention, though, was the scene of tossing a baseball in the front yard until dark. Playing until dark. It’s something that we did as children from the first warm spring days until autumn cooled off. And if there was something interesting enough outdoors in the winter, like playing in snow, we had that till dark. And if we were just having a blast, my dad would let us extend the time ’til “dark-thirty.”

Coming in at dark, smelling of child-at-play sweat and grass, was always bittersweet. It meant outdoor play was over and time was short till bath and bedtime when the day absolutely had to come to an end. I’ve never wanted to give up the day. The hours between supper and sleep are the shortest of all. But playing ’til dark teaches children discipline. It teaches us that there are cycles to each day and each season. It teaches us to tolerate disappointment as well as tolerance for the inability to control nature. And it gives us the gift of anticipating a new day. In fact, nothing quite grounds a soul like playing outdoors till the sun goes down.

Teenage girls in standing swing at TLA square danceAs is perhaps true of most of us, these days a lot of my “play time” happens on devices. I’m especially fond of Instagram. There I can load up a photo from my phone and then scroll through the posts of those I follow till I reach the last picture I posted. Where Facebook and Twitter are agitating, Instagram is calming. All three plus email are such an easy way to check out. But checking out isn’t the real goal of play or recreation. Play and recreation, whether invigorating or relaxing, are meant to connect us to ourselves and others  in ways that refresh, restore, and renew. Honestly, nothing I can do on my phone, pad, or computer refreshes, restores, or renews (not even writing!).

“Playing” on devices doesn’t need dark-thirty to bring it to an end. If anything, playing (or working) on devices can keep us up ’til all hours of the night, disturbing our circadian rhythm, thereby damaging ourselves at the cellular level. It’s dangerous fun this innocuous cyber connecting.

Turning my attention away from my devices, even getting my nose out of a book, and turning instead to life going on around me has become a spiritual discipline for the level of opening, deepening, and grounding it provides. It also creates opportunities to connect with others. I think I’ll add to it creative ways of playing ’til dark that ground me in my humanity and my relationship to nature…

wrought iron Butterfly dusted in snowFor years now on snow days the days begin and end out there in it – hunting down photographs. It’s fun, it’s sweaty, it’s work and play. I love it!

Before we have a generation of adults for whom playing till dark seems archaic, let’s reintroduce ourselves, our children and grandchildren to the past time of outdoor fun that we hate to see come to an end at the close of day. It will ground, connect, enliven, restore, refresh, and renew us and them.

Happier Than I Have Ever Been

have noticed that I’m happier and funnier than I’ve ever been in my life. It so surprises me that I sometimes wonder if I’m lying to myself. Are these expressions of happiness and humor covering up something dark and shadowy? I routinely stop and ask myself that question and the answer is always, “No. I think you’re genuinely happy.”

dogwood leaves 2014I find it odd to be as happy and content as I am because these days I have less with which to work to make happiness happen. For instance (and for me), post-menopause is accompanied by health issues that, while not life threatening, do threaten to shorten my life. I don’t have the energy, stamina, or oomph I once had to get done the things I set my mind to. These days my body has to catch up to my thoughts, which happens a couple of hours into the day. And my body needs to slow down and begin preparing for bed earlier than I’m used to, which means I have a less flexible body and fewer hours in the day with which to work.

Pompas grass Instagram Heart Shape almost in center Lit from behindAnother thing I experience as “lack” is the discovery that I am no longer relevant to much of society. On the basis of age alone and unless they are family or friends; people in their twenties, thirties, and possibly early forties don’t give a hoot about my opinions or experience. Sometimes even when I am giving a young adult my full attention and verbalizing appreciation for their opinion or experience, what I have to offer to the conversation falls flat because my attention isn’t required in their lives.

And then there are commercials. In addition to commercials targeting a younger population, when someone my age pops up in a commercial it’s either an ad for fiber or the female my age is a hippy grandma who is apparently the bane of her children’s existence. Living as sustainable a lifestyle as possible in Asheville, NC, I find that particular satire does sting a little.

So with these age related minuses, why am I so happy?

1.)    Because my friendships are golden, I no longer spend time with people or organizations in order to be considered a nice person. I spend time with people I want to spend time with who want to spend time with me because we love and care about each other.

2.)    The health issues put age related things like laugh lines, wrinkles, and age spots in perspective. Youthfulness isn’t about looks, it’s about how you feel. Putting attention on increasing flexibility and ease of movement makes me fret less about things like silver in my hair.

dogwood berry shadowed on leaf 20143.)    In 1997 the stars aligned and grace poured down bringing me spiritual teachers who helped me understand that I didn’t need to be afraid of my feelings. They taught me how to embrace them without being a victim and without blaming others for them. For the past seventeen years, taking responsibility for my feelings has been a constant contribution to my happiness.

4.)    PMS is OVER! I no longer spend two weeks out of every month monitoring my emotions and emotional responses to people, places, and events for fear of overwhelming others (or myself) with needs and limitations that flare half of every month. And I no longer suffer for three – five days with debilitating cramps that pain relievers barely helped.

5.)    The best part of PMS followed me through post-menopause. Those two weeks every month were when I was most aware of needing to set boundaries. Having a supportive personality, I was a “doormat” to too many people and organizations throughout my young adulthood, I am no longer anyone’s doormat and I no longer “suffer fools.” When someone is rude, condescending, or manipulative with me, I stop them in their tracks without remorse. I’m very clear that if someone’s relationship with me suffers because of their arrogance or immaturity, that’s their issue. My issue is setting healthy boundaries. As a former doormat, this is huge in the happiness department of life.

fuzzy weed in autumn off white, rust, gray colors6.)    My relationship with extended family members is in a real good place. Less and less do I need to work out childhood issues with anyone. And when I catch myself projecting my stuff onto others, I catch it pretty quickly and process it on my own so the current relationship can be healthy.

7.)    I’ve always lead an active life style, but this past spring I finally embraced weight lifting with Super Slow Weight Lifting personal coach, Abby Cain, at Rock-Bottoms, Inc. – a Super Slow studio here in Asheville. In spite of various health issues, Super Slow weight training increases my strength every week. It is awesome!

8.)    My spiritual path is a big reason I’m happy. My relationship with God has always been the ground of my sense of connection to others, to myself, and to the earth. It sets me up to be spontaneously grateful for every good thing, person, circumstance, insight, and expression of love and grace in my life. I am most comfortable in my own skin when I feel gratitude and my spiritual walk keeps me there.

salmon colored leaves a bit of sky9.)    My step-children are doing well. I don’t have my own children but I remember the summer I knew I’d become a mother. When we entered each other’s lives, having been a step-child (and step-grandchild), I knew how I wanted to be with them. I wanted to be their friend and a caring, compassionate adult in their lives on whom they could depend. I did not need, nor did I expect to be a parent-figure. As both were young adults, friendship was a real possibility. And it worked. But there was one year when I discovered I’d crossed a threshold becoming a full-fledged step-Mom. They each courageously faced challenges that year that meant late night and middle-of-the night calls caused heart-stopping breath-holding till we knew they were OK and/or how we could help. Their safety and happiness matter to me in a way I’d have only known had I had children of my own. And now there are grandchildren to love!

10.) We’re downsizing. Joseph and I have decided we can wait for the day when we have to let stuff go from our lives or we can be proactive now and benefit from the lack of attachment. Downsizing isn’t easy. It is slow-going and challenging. Every item we pick up and consider giving away or selling is something that has meaning and memories attached to it. I doubt we’ll opt for a complete Zen decorating makeover; but making life simpler, in the long run, makes our lives happier.

11.) Professionally, I am embracing my desire and need to create with the written word. I’ve set aside personality assessments and what I “should” do based on gifts and talents and, instead, have given myself permission to follow my heart’s desire, which is to write.

Yellow leaves Bokeh effect Tender in center12.) Of course, my husband, Joseph, is the biggest and best gift in my life for the past sixteen years and he will continue to be that gift for as long as we both live (and likely beyond that). Our love, friendship, and shared spiritual path give our lives meaning and create the space for happiness and humor to play between and around us.

Getting to this place of happiness didn’t come overnight. It isn’t a guaranteed aspect of aging. I spent about five years being quite anxious about this aging process, fearful I was feeling much older than I should and what that implied for the future, hating the wrinkles, age spots and the changes in my hair, struggling with existential angst and a dark night of the soul that lasted a good couple of years. Somehow, those twelve things listed above fell into place in such a way that grace was able to move and lift the anxiety with which I’ve struggled.

Now that I’ve thought about it and made the list, I sure will attend to these things, though. Perhaps at any age but for me right now, happiness boils down to healthy relationships and letting go of attachments. Happiness has found me and I intend to continue to make her feel welcome!

autumn mountain road wlow lying clouds

Health Issues Require the Kind of Attention I’m Not Used To

(c)2013 Sarah Elizabeth Malinak

(c)2013 Sarah Elizabeth Malinak

Post-menopause and a variety of health issues have conspired to force me to take some time off and get some much needed rest. Rest is the most important commodity and the hardest to come by as a many years’ struggle with insomnia threatens to undo me.

So. I’m taking time off to focus on taking care of me. And I kind of hate it. It’s crazy to hate it because I happen to have the luxury of being free to take time off and slow down. The problem is it makes me feel purposeless.

The fact that it makes me feel purposeless is also kind of crazy because what’s more important than our health? Without it life gets stripped away – perhaps forever! With our health we can accomplish anything we set our sights on, or so we’ve been told. It’s a good idea. It keeps the hope and energy going to accomplish things. So why isn’t accomplishing better health, even if it requires slowing down and focusing on my needs and desires for the time being, something meaningful to be accomplished?

(c)2012 Sarah Elizabeth Malinak

(c)2012 Sarah Elizabeth Malinak

While processing my discomfort with all this freedom and seeming purposelessness, I found myself contemplating how I’ve spent my adult life barreling through it. I reckon it’s natural to barrel through life. Certainly barreling through childhood and youth is a natural outpouring of all that youth and energy.

Barreling through life can also be tied up in dysfunction, though. Being a supportive personality type I spent years barreling through the self-imposed requirement to make my beloveds happy, meeting their needs, desires, wishes, whatever-it-took-to-make-them-happy-so-I-could-be-happy. This included not only family and friends but employers, preachers, teachers, spiritual leaders, transformational leaders, and even pets. Hmmm…was I barreling through my life or theirs?

The hardest question you can ask me, the one I cannot answer, is “What do you want?”

I don’t know.

Tell me what you want and then I’ll have something with which to work.

Some people ask themselves what they want every single day – every hour –  even most of the minutes during their waking hours! I can’t fathom that.

I can give you a long list, a very long list, of what I don’t want; which a therapist once told me was a very feminine way to be. That’s never helped me figure out what I want, though. The list of what I don’t want just gets longer and dearer.

(c)2012 Sarah Elizabeth Malinak

(c)2012 Sarah Elizabeth Malinak

I’ve decided that I believe the question, “What do I want?” is best asked in silence. It’s best asked in silence because the best answer to it must come out of the silence.

So with this processing and musing over the need to slow down and focus my energy on myself and getting well, I decided I needed to give me permission to embrace solitude, creating the silence from which the answer to any question might arise. I am, after all, not only a supportive type but I am an introvert and I love to be left alone for at least a little bit every single day. Also, embracing solitude, rather than feeling purposeless, is a viable spiritual discipline and that helps me come closer to accepting what presently is – and that is it’s time to slow down, focus on me, and get well.

Embracing solitude, welcoming silence and casting questions into it, waiting for the answers; these things are not done in a hurry – not accomplished while barreling through my own or anyone else’s life. Nor are they a waste of time. In fact, although this is not how I’m used to spending time, it is likely some of the best use of it.

Window in Barn at TLA reflecting Pink Sky and bare tree Branches

Downsizing Downright Hurts

Downsizing is painful. It’s no wonder people sometimes put it off until it becomes someone else’s responsibility.

Christmas Angel beige Mom's

Following the loss of both parents last year, I got inspired to downsize – to simplify my lifestyle by beginning the process of letting go of as much of my stuff as I could bear to so that getting rid of the whole of it would never become someone else’s responsibility. I don’t have my own children to pass my things down to; and though my step-children might like a few things, this collection of stuff that I’ve made sacred in the collecting of through the years shouldn’t have to be theirs to dispose of one day.

More painful than letting go of my own stuff is Mom’s. As much as I love her, I can’t keep holding on to her childhood tea sets, for instance. I’ve had moments of overwhelm going through her various collections, art work, craft work, clothes, jewelry, pots and pans, trying to decide what I want to hold onto, what can be given away, and what needs to be thrown away. Sometimes it feels as though I’m throwing away and giving away pieces of her. And with what I choose to keep, the choice for those things doesn’t adequately express her value in my life – the woman who gave me life.

Cybis bust shotAnd then there’s my own stuff. This downsizing of the things I’ve collected – much of which she contributed to through the years on birthdays and at Christmas – represent the various decades (epochs) of my life. I really don’t need to continue to hold onto everything but letting go of any of it feels like a stripping away of identity. If this collection of books, that collection of prints, and countless knick knacks go out the door – even if they might bring pleasure to someone else – won’t part of me, part of my heart, expressions of me and who I believe myself to be and to have been exit with those things?

I’d love to procrastinate this job, never actually getting it done, except that the thought of leaving it for someone else to handle bothers me. And my modus operandi is to not be a burden on others.

I will admit I sat down to write this essay in order to take a break from packing up a certain amount of my stuff. (A “certain amount” that is – I’m not giving everything away!).

It is true that there is a plus side to reducing the amount of stuff in my life – something for which to be grateful and that is making life simpler – emptier of stuff but fuller with living.

Between beginning this essay and editing it, I took a load of stuff to a local charity and while there chose to bring back one of the things I was going to give away.  (For clarity’s sake, the thing I brought back would neither feed nor clothe anyone. It is something of sheer sentimental value.) I told myself, “I can do this in stages. It does not have to happen all at once.”

windchimesIn other words, I don’t have to prepare right this very minute for my eventual demise…I can tackle it in stages, every stage making it easier for whoever comes after me to undo what remains.

Perhaps with each successive stage I will unravel less and less as I get used to this shedding of self, of ego, of the things outside myself that I have made sacred.

Why put myself through the pain and hurt of getting rid of any of it? Because I know how it feels to be left with a loved one’s countless belongings to make decisions about and because with the spiritual path I’m on, why not? Why not embrace another and an especially large opportunity to allow the ego’s hold on me to soften and weaken. And finally, I never did need the number of things I’ve collected, held onto, and made sacred. It’s time. If not now, when?

Gratitude on My Awakening Path

one peach flower full faceI am at my best when a sense of gratitude permeates my being. No matter the circumstance, when I feel gratitude I feel comfortable in my own skin. (My happy place is my grateful place.)

For me the opposite of gratitude is either feeling sorry for myself or feeling resentful. The two are closely related as reasons for self-pity, if not resolved, lead to resentment.

I find anger is not the opposite of gratitude because it comes and goes quickly. Feeling sorry for myself and resentment, however, hang around and around and around. Nor is grief the opposite of gratitude as it serves a purpose, even a sacred purpose, especially when it does not lead to self-pity. Grief well spent has a cleansing quality.

Eckhart Tolle and other enlightened teachers would point out that feeling sorry for oneself and resentment are evidence that a person is focused on and living in either the past or the future. Those two emotions clearly come from the past because they require a list of wrongs suffered to even exist. They can also come with focusing on the future when a person expects to receive similar bad treatment in future situations.

salmon colored flower dripping water

They say, and I have personal experience of this, that imagining a worst case scenario can flood a brain and body with stress hormones every bit as real and damaging as actually living through the experience. For those of us who use imagining worst case scenarios as a medicine against future stress, I believe we do it because, for instance, if I make myself feel the worst possible outcome for a future circumstance, then whatever outcome occurs in reality, I’m assured I’ve already felt as bad about it as I can feel and the real thing won’t be as bad. The ego loves that logic but the body, and perhaps the soul as well, is damaged by that seemingly harmless activity.

Thistle in the BudOn the awakening path I have discovered that neither feeling sorry for myself nor resentment can exist in the present moment. Whenever I feel sorry for myself or resentful, no matter how badly I feel, I am hands down living either in the past or the future.

On the other hand, if something is going on that makes me sad, being present means I feel sadness, not self-pity. If something is going on that brings up anger, I feel anger, not resentment. Then as I deal with those present tense emotions circumstances and relationships shift and change, bringing me back to a state of balance and gratitude much more quickly than simmering in resentment or being stuck feeling sorry for myself ever does. When a relationship is involved, balance and gratitude may be several hours away from occurring because, well, relationships are messy. But balance and gratitude arrive more swiftly nevertheless.

One thing I’m learning about the awakening path is being on it does not lead to bliss and happiness 24/7. In fact it rarely ever results in bliss! On this path God uses absolutely everything – even us at our worst most stuck selves crawling through the ego’s mire – to help wake us up. Nothing is out of bounds.

Dove Cross Lissa & Paul gave me On bricks with a little bokehWhen I was younger I thought feeling sorry for myself and resentment were “better” feelings than sadness and anger. I mean the former two can get really lit up with righteous indignation, something religion is prone to approve of. Sadness and anger are raw and in-my-face emotions. They can have me questioning my character, feeling uncomfortable about myself, and judging myself quite harshly. But God uses all of it to wake me up to unity with God and with everything and everyone around me. Not in a punitive way – again, that idea comes from the influence of religion that says we’re “bad” if we’re not all light and goodness. I don’t know how it works I just know that when I am in the present moment, especially if I am grateful but even if I am angry as a wet hen, there is this clarity and a felt sense of unity and unconditional positive regard.

04-dark purple flowers (trio) with blue centersFor many years (for decades) I used my religion as a measuring stick and whipping post in an effort to keep me in line. Somewhere in the past decade, before I understood that I’d begun this awakening journey, I realized (woke up to the fact) that I was most comfortable in my own skin whenever I felt grateful. It could be gratitude for something specific or just a general sense of gratitude that felt like ease and peace, but it was clear that this was the only way I felt comfortable.

Back then, whenever I felt sorry for myself or resentful, I would work really hard to find something to be grateful for to combat those feelings. Now I realize that this was an exercise in duality as I made gratitude a “good” state to be in with self-pity and resentment “bad” states to be in. Then there were the years where I tried to cathartically find and heal the deeper underlining reasons for the resentment and self-pity – but that didn’t work either. Since then psychologists have discovered that, though catharsis can feel good, it doesn’t really heal anything.

Daisies 1960's filterThe real deal is being honest and present about whatever emotions occur within the self, no matter how ugly or uncomfortable those emotions are. That present tense welcoming of what is true and real in the moment opens the gateway for the Self – that divine part that is already one with God and all that is – to come forth. When that happens, unconditional positive regard and gratitude swim to the surface.

These days one of the simple pleasures of my life is when I notice that in a moment that may consist of any number of things – laundry, writing, involvement in a home improvement project, puttering around the house – that inside my body and spirit where the soul resides all is well and I feel grateful.

Grateful for what? I don’t know. In those moments it seems to just be gratitude for nothing in particular. Or, perhaps, it is gratitude for no-thing because it is gratitude for being, for life, for life moving through me.

What happens next is more gratitude because it just feels good to feel good.

One thing I do know is gratitude for no reason at all or just because it feels good to feel good is heart and soul filling.

08-great big Daisy face