Facing Fear

FullSizeRender 9Outside the window prairie stretches for miles in every direction, wave upon wave of grass blowing in the breeze. In the distance, a large lake rimmed by trees reflects the sunlight, its ripples just barely evident from where I stand. On the horizon, the sun sinks below a cloud, streaming beams of light in every direction. A hawk flies by, its speckled feathers highlighted as it passes through a sunbeam. The beauty of the moment, of the place, takes my breath away. It settles my heartbeat, slowing its rhythm.

I relax my hand; suddenly aware I’ve gripped my papers so tightly they’ve crumpled into a mess of wrinkles. Chatter filters up from downstairs, a blend of female voices as they gather in the kitchen, the soothing cadence of their conversation occasionally broken by peals of laughter.

Outside a car door slams, signaling another participant has arrived. On the driveway below I see her reach into the backseat, pull out a striped bag and a pillow. Juggling both, she locks the car and heads towards the house. Soon after I hear the main door open and a series of greetings as she joins the group.

I look down at my papers, smooth them on my pant leg, read the opening lines printed there. Closing my eyes, I recite them to myself, trying to recall those that come after.

I’ve been invited to speak at a women’s retreat, to share bits of my story, and to talk about the freedom that comes when you build an authentic relationship with yourself and conquer fear. While I was honored to be asked, as the time approaches I realize the task combines two of my greatest fears: public speaking and groups of smart women.

“What have I gotten myself into?” I whisper to myself. “Who am I to speak with any authority about anything? I’m just a woman muddling my way through life, writing bits and pieces here and there to help process my thoughts. I’m certainly not an expert in anything. What if I bumble it? What if they reject what I have to share? What if I forget what I’ve planned to say?”

 My inner critic is alive and well, ready to jump in with her two cents. Ten cents really.

And yet, I find as quickly as the negative thoughts come, I catch them. This journey to be brave, not perfect hasn’t eradicated the thoughts, but it has taught me to catch them faster. That awareness allows me to fight back, minimizing their damage.

“Shhh. You’re not welcome here. My story helps others. My willingness to share it vulnerably is rare. It seems to inspire people, encourage them to do the same, to dig in and live more authentically. Be quiet so I can do what I came here to do.”

 Though they never disappear, the negative voices do fade to the background, something impossible even a few months ago. I return to the memorizing task at hand, picking up where I left off.

Before long I hear footsteps on the stairs as the women climb to where I am, journals in hand, settling into chairs and couches loosely grouped in a semi-circle. With a quick whispered prayer, I move to the front, as ready as I will ever be to share my story and what it’s taught me.

I focus on my breathing as I’m introduced, humbled by the words shared about me. I look around the room at the women assembled, curious what brought them to this place this weekend, what doubts and shames they keep hidden inside. I wonder if what I share will be enough to crack their careful facades and inspire them to welcome what the weekend will bring. I hope so. My pulse quickens as the introduction ends.

“Be brave, not perfect,” I whisper to myself as I stand, face my fear, and begin.

Morning

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 9.30.59 PMMorning sounds different in South Carolina.

Sitting on my grandma’s porch drinking coffee, the new sounds captivate me, pull me into the beauty of the morning.

In the canopy overhead, a symphony of unfamiliar bird calls, each more interesting than the next. There’s a persistent high pitched trill, repeated over and over with such determination and dedication I think it’s owner is desperate to communicate his message. On the opposite end of the scale, a low quacking rumble, coming from somewhere in the lagoon nearby. Understated and quietly riveting.

Hidden among the leaves of a nearby bush, a songbird sings a song resembling a contented whistle. I can’t find its owner but the upbeat nature of the tune makes me smile as I picture a line of dwarves heading off to work.

Occasionally I hear a sound I do know; the caw of a crow as it flies overhead, the happy chirp of the chick-a-dee as it flits from tree to tree.

And underneath it all, a quiet, subdued coo. So faint I almost miss it. Audible only if everyone else is silent. I wonder briefly how that bird will ever find a mate when he’s so hard to hear. Does she have ears only for him?

Each one, unique. Interesting. Unfamiliar.

I tense as I hear movement in the undergrowth that covers the forest floor below me, certain an alligator is about to emerge. The sound grows louder. Closer. I breathe a sigh of relief as a resident squirrel bounds into sight, busily sorting through fallen leaves for breakfast treasures.

As I relax and close my eyes, a power saw whines, joined by the beat of a hammer as construction begins on the house next door, evidence that life goes on after a hurricane. Down the street a leaf blower starts as a landscaper gets to work separating the fallen pine needles from their grassy beds. Manmade machine sounds blend with the natural creating an interesting orchestra that fills the air.

I sit, taking it all in. Separating sounds from one another. Seeing how many I can hear.

Even the wind sounds different as it moves gently through the trees instead of across the open valleys of Montana. It’s more of a whisper, just a hint of its sound back home. And yet it’s still able to create both a fine white noise, and a host of individual sounds. The subtle rattle of leaves, the clitter-clack of a pinecone tumbling through the branches to the bed of leaves below, the tinkle of a wind chime at the neighbor’s house.

It’s been three sips of coffee, but it feels much longer.

Out front in the driveway a car door slams, my signal it’s time to engage with the world.

Reluctantly I open my eyes and take a last sip.

Questions flutter through my mind as I stand, collect my things, move to the door.

Does every place in the world have its own unique set of morning sounds? Would I recognize my set of sounds? How long would I have to live in a place for its morning sounds to become those I associate with home?

It never occurred to me I might be able to identify my home by the sounds of the morning; sounds I didn’t realize were familiar until they were replaced by others.

It makes me wonder how often I actually stop and listen.

How often I stop and notice the world around me.

How often I stop and hear what a place has to share.

How often I stop and marvel at the living things I share the world with.

How often I stop at all.

Blank Canvas

Outside the window, sun filters through the trees, shifting from the bright light of day to the softer light of dusk. A slight breeze filters through the window, blowing a hair that’s slipped free of my ponytail so it tickles my cheek. I glance down at my palette, pausing my paintbrush over the brightest blue.

My instructor’s voice lifts and falls in the background as she moves seamlessly between students, giving an idea here, a bit of encouragement there. Her voice calm and soothing. I reconsider, move my hand to hover over the magenta. Pause. Uncertain.

A song plays quietly, a broken soundtrack to our class as it cuts in and out following the whims of a satellite signal. Right now it’s a light jazz that somehow perfectly fits the mood.

Little BighornI glance again at the landscape photo I’ve chosen for my project, one of my favorite places in the world. I want to get this right, somehow capture how it makes me feel, what it’s like to be there. An ambitious task for my first attempt. I move my paintbrush to the yellow. Hesitate.

A sharp crunch breaks into the quiet as someone nearby bites into a carrot. Chewing, she steps back from her easel, putting her work in perspective. She tilts her head, takes another bite, assesses her work. Her eyes zero in on an area. She sets the carrot down, takes up a paintbrush and delicately steps back to add a swish of color here, a dab there.

Refocusing, I pick up a glob of blue, mix in a touch of green. Then some white. My paintbrush moves smoothly through the paint as the colors swirl together, blending to become a color found only in the biggest box of crayons. For a moment I soak in how it feels, my gaze hypnotized by the kaleidoscope of changing colors. Forward and back. Round and round.

I take a dab of paint, move to my canvas. Digging for a confidence I don’t have as a virgin painter I take a breath. Ready myself.

“I don’t know,” a sharp voice fills the room, a stark contrast to the subtle mood. “I just hate it. I’ve made such a mess of it. Ruined it.” I look up. It’s Diane, star student, mouth turned down, brow furrowed. On the easel in front of her is a painting she’s been working on for weeks. A stunningly accurate representation of the photo taped beside it. She’s captured perfectly the soft yellow shades of trees in fall, the mountains in the distance majestic in their detail. She’s woven empty branches of trees that have already lost their leaves into a tapestry of trees alive with fall’s colors.

A perceived imperfection of a bush in the foreground has caught her attention, invisible to the rest of us. “It just has no dimension, looks so flat. I’ve tried everything. Everything I do just makes it worse. I’m so frustrated.”

“Take a step back. What do you like about it?” our instructor asks patiently, moving to her side.

“Nothing. I don’t like anything. I can only tell you all the things I don’t like about it. I need to start over.”

I try to tune her out, refocus on my own work. Yet every time I go to make the first stroke, her criticisms ring sharp in the air. Around me, no one else seems bothered. A couple students offer feeble comments of encouragement as they work, others appear unaware of her, lost in their own worlds. The instructor seems unfazed, patiently soothing her. I alone seem unable to move forward while she’s talking, the biting criticism of herself harsh, demanding, relentless. It’s distracting and consuming.

The music jolts back on in the background, a loud jazzy blues song that underscores her criticisms, sharpening them. They weave together into a crescendo, persistently demanding my mind’s attention.

“Why is this bothering me?” I wonder. “Why can’t I tune her out?”

 And then it hits me.

The sudden realization creates a vacuum, leaving an air of deafening silence around me. So still I can almost hear my heartbeat.

She is voicing thoughts nearly identical to those in my head.

Thoughts that keep my hand poised over my canvas, instead of painting freely.

Thoughts that keep me afraid to try.

Perfectionist thoughts.

Identified and exposed, the vacuum recedes taking the binding thoughts with them.

Slowly the noises of the room creep back into my consciousness. Diane has quieted. She’s refocused, already putting our instructor’s suggestions to work. The music shifts to something quieter, fading in and out.  Another breeze wafts through the room. The soothing mood returns.

Familiar.

But I am not.

Suddenly free from the thoughts that held me captive, I make the first stroke, a brilliant blue streak across the sky.

Painting freely in defiance of perfectionism.

painting little bighorn

A Question by the Sea

view of Italian roadThe cursor blinks tauntingly at me. My page is blank. On the horizon, the sun is rising over the Mediterranean, beginning another impossibly beautiful day. In the distance a woman calls to someone in a language I can’t understand. A man yells back a curt response. On the road below my balcony, a scooter flies by, nearly colliding with a semi-truck that is much too large for the road space. The sky and the sea stretch endlessly before me, competing with one another for the prize of “most brilliant blue.”

I close my eyes, feel the sun warm my face. “I can do this,” I tell myself.

It’s 2014. Despondent and in need of drastic action to correct my life’s course, I’m on a three-month sabbatical from work. I’ve traveled around the world, visiting new and familiar places, working my way through a writing program designed to help me uncover past patterns so I can use them to outline my desired future. Things had been going reasonably well, I was nearing the end. Through weeks of emotional exhaustion, brutal honesty with myself, and an intense commitment to writing, I had completed every piece of the program with the exception of the question that troubled me, “Describe your ideal mate.”

With another sip of coffee, hands poised to type, I let my mind wander back in time, three years earlier, to the darkest period of my life. The time that makes this question hard to answer.

“I want a divorce,” he says. “I don’t see things changing for me and I can’t keep you in limbo as I try to figure out my life.” The words hang in the air. I hear a clock ticking in the distance, mocking as it marks this moment in time. “How odd,” I think, “I don’t remember owning a clock that ticks.” I let go of the breath I didn’t know I was holding.

Part of me knew this was coming. We had danced around the topic for a year, always stopping just short of a decision. We’d had this exact conversation before. A few times.

“I’ll figure out the paperwork, get it to you to sign,” he says standing and moving towards the door.

I nod once, staring into the space he just left. I focus on the grime on the window, visible now that he’s moved. Willing myself not to cry, I pick out the shape of a rabbit, then a clown.

“I’m sorry. Really. This isn’t how I expected life to go,” he says softly.

“I know,” I whisper back.

I can’t turn and face him. It’s too hard to watch him walk away. I straighten my spine, using my last ounce of strength to stay upright as he leaves.

I hear the basement door close, his truck start, and the motor’s acceleration as he pulls away. I listen as it retreats into the distance, wanting to hang on to the last familiar sound before facing the new world around me. In its absence a thick silence descends. The window grime clown changes back into a rabbit. A tear slips free. Then another. “Is the rabbit crying? Wait. No, that’s me.” The thoughts tumble, each one odder than the next until I let the truth in.

It’s really over.

I collapse on the couch, letting the sobs long held inside flow. Their escape allows space for the darkness to descend.

Darkness that will stay with me for years.

balcony tableBack on the Mediterranean balcony, I let my mind wander to that memory. I relive the way it felt, the details somehow unmarred by the passage of time.

My thoughts drift to a time one month later when with a final signature, I sign away my marriage and with it my sense of self-worth, ushering in three years of listless drifting as I struggle to rediscover who I am.

Moments from those years flash in and out in quick succession. I let them run free, seeing where they take me. I journey through times I turned to God then alcohol, cycling between the two as I sought answers or relief.

To moments I cried myself to sleep, crumpled in the fetal position on the floor, certain I had no strength left to continue another day. To days when I couldn’t get out of bed, overwhelmed by the energy it would take to fake my way through the day so the world felt comfortable around me.

I relive moments under the vast Montana sky as I lay in my hammock, hummingbirds fluttering about my head, strangely interested in the sound of my tears.

I reluctantly follow my thoughts to the face of a man I dated after, desperately seeking evidence I was lovable. A man I traveled to the other side of the world to forget. A man who reinforced my belief I deserved nothing more than to be used, cheated on, and left behind. A man who kept my heart broken.

Ideal mate?” I ask myself, “Is there such a thing? Love causes so much pain.”

I scroll past the question, slightly uncomfortable leaving a portion unfinished.

I hesitate.

Scroll back up.

Stop.

The cursor blinks in the space where my answer should be.

“Yeah, but…what if?” The question filters up from the farthest corner of my heart, lingering. I gaze out over the sea, spot a couple of birds flying by. I’m torn between self-protection and hope, at war with myself.

I’m tired of being sad. I’m tired of love hurting. If I avoid it, never let anyone in, I can ensure that won’t happen. It’s safe,” argues my mind.

“Yeah, but…what if?” whispers my heart.

The question catches me off guard. My heart had recently joined forces with my head on this issue, what was happening?

“What if?” my heart persists.

 “What if what?” logic snaps back, “You know, whatever. It’s your funeral. Besides, it isn’t as if by writing it you actually have to do let anyone in, it’s just a silly exercise.”

 With little to draw from, I start. Grudgingly at first, describing someone the complete opposite of everyone I had known.

My ideal partner would love me unconditionally. He would care about the things that are important to me just because they were important to me. He would love to travel with me. He would share a compassion for the poor and have a strong sense of justice.”

“Be more specific,” my heart chimes in. “What do you want? No one will read this. Tell the truth.”

I dig deeper and continue on, describing someone so perfect for me I would have to be in a Disney movie for him to exist.

He would open doors for me and help me with my coat. He would be tender and affectionate. He would treat me as though I was the only woman in the room, having eyes only for me. He would have a healthy relationship with alcohol. He would be comfortable with people and also alone. He would be smart, able to engage in intellectual conversation. He would be successful in his own way. He would be comfortable with what he contributes and not be threatened if I make more money than him. He would not take advantage of that either. He would admit his flaws and what he has learned from hard times in his life. He would be honest, real, raw, and confident.

I write. Then I forget about it.

I return home from my sabbatical and find myself sucked into the same behaviors, repeating the same patterns, unable to maintain the clarity of my time away in the midst of real life’s expectations. My friend despair creeps back in as I work hard to convince myself I’m happy. Despite a profound life experience, nothing feels different.

With one tiny exception. On that balcony, I let my heart write what it yearned for.

Maybe that’s why, one year later, while most of me worked overtime to keep Kris at arm’s length, one small piece looked out from behind the wall I’d carefully constructed around my heart and recognized him. Recognized him as the one I had written about. The ideal man I didn’t believe could possibly exist.

He was real. And he had found me.

Life hasn’t been all butterflies and roses since then. I continue to struggle with feeling unworthy of unconditional love. A sharp word of criticism spirals me into dark places in my head, where I easily beat myself up for perceived failings. My history and the scars attached to it travel with us as we build a life together, part of the baggage I carry.

But as we work together to heal my wounds, I begin to see my baggage and that season of time differently. Instead of being the end, it provides a stark contrast to this happier season, making its brilliance brighter and sweeter.

Recently I stood on a mountain roadside with Kris and his kids, twisting a decoder ring they claimed to have found. Its message actually written for me, “I love you. Sara, will you marry me?”

For the briefest beat the last six years replayed in my mind, moments and memories flashing in quick succession. Overhead a bird sang as I looked at the man who waited so patiently while I healed my heart, tenderly nurturing me along the way. I realized over time I had sewn all those painful moments into a beautiful tapestry. Into the woman I was designed to be.

The years hadn’t defined me, they had refined me.

“Yes.”IMG_9757

Hardest of Goodbyes

duck swimming awayA friend committed suicide this week.

My heart aches. I can’t stop thinking about it. Morbid thoughts. Sad thoughts.

I wonder about the person who found him. Whether or not she will ever get the image out of her head, if it haunts her dreams. I wonder about the people closest to him, whether or not they will ever be free of guilt and the “what ifs” that must keep them up at night. I wonder about his children, what their lives will be like going forward, if they will ever again feel innocent or safe. I wonder what his last moments were like, what he was thinking, what he was feeling.

I wasn’t close enough a friend to have had a direct impact on him, helpful or hurtful. And yet, I wonder if that truly frees me of any responsibility.

Most of our interaction was through social media. I read his posts, I imagine he read mine. And for some reason that plagues me.

In the world of social media, where life is filtered to perfection, what responsibility do I have for the impact my posts have on others? And recognizing that my posts are just a tiny part of anyone’s full feed, does that let me off the hook completely?

If someone I know is full of enough despair, enough depression, enough self-doubt to contemplate suicide, do I own any responsibility if I rarely post a picture that isn’t happy and perfect? Am I at all to blame that none of my posts would indicate I struggle too, that he’s not alone, that I too sometimes feel down? Did I make it worse?

More importantly, could I have made it better?

I have traveled the world in my lifetime. I’ve been to the wealthiest countries and the poorest. What I know for sure is every single person worldwide has known suffering. Not everyone has experienced love. Not everyone has experienced success. Not everyone has experienced joy. But we have all suffered some way.

And that matters.

Suffering is the one thing we have in common, the universal human condition we rarely talk about. Instead, we hide it. Choosing to put on faces of perfection, to mask dark feelings behind shallow smiles. Out of fear of appearing to not have it perfectly together, we put on a show, capturing our lives in Instagram-worthy snapshots.

I certainly do.

I can’t count the number of times people have said to me since I met my boyfriend, Kris, that it’s so great to see me so happy. And I am happy. But I’m also sometimes frustrated. I’m also sometimes dark and depressed. I’m also sometimes lost and uncertain.

And I am always imperfect.

And we are happy together. But we are also sometimes disconnected. We are also sometimes mad at each other. We are also sometimes withdrawn.

And we are always imperfect.

I don’t put that on social media.

I don’t show our fights; I show the happy selfies when we’ve reconciled. I don’t show our challenges; I show the triumphant moments when we’ve survived them. I don’t show the days we are too lazy to shower and change out of sweats; I show the days we are dressed up and put together. I don’t even show the blurry snapshot taken at a bad angle; I show the best one and apply a forgiving filter to ensure its perfection.

Like everyone, I fall victim to the temptation to appear perfect. I know I’m not, but social media allows me to tell a different story to the world. It allows me keep up with the lives I conclude are behind the pictures I see on my feed. It allows me to create an illusion.

It’s lonely to feel you’re the only one who is falling apart when everyone else you know appears to have it all together. It’s exhausting. And at times, it feels hopeless.

I wonder if that’s how my friend felt.

And I wonder how life would be different if instead of perfection we were all brave enough to show the ugly parts. Would we feel less alone? Would there be less despair? Would we feel more hopeful?

I know the answer. So do you.

It’s why I started writing this blog. Because my journey is far from perfect. While it is filled with happy moments, successes, and growth; more often it is filled with missteps, self-doubt, challenges, and questions.

I am tired of living an illusion. So I’ve started to write. The truth. In its brutal imperfection. And I’m sharing it with you, so we have conversations that matter, conversations that help us feel less alone in life’s challenges.

It wasn’t enough to help my friend. But maybe one day it will help you.

Body Shaming

IMG_9676“Ok, you can do this,” I tell myself.

I’m standing in my closet. Naked. It’s a rainy Thursday. I open my eyes and look in the mirror.

I’ve struggled with mirrors since about eighth grade when I first realized my appearance affected my acceptance. We didn’t have the money for the latest and greatest fashions, I had crazy poofy hair, and no idea how to apply makeup. What I saw in the mirror differed drastically from the magazine covers of the day, it still does.

Of all the ways the perfectionistic voice in my head torments me, it is cruelest about my body. Whether I’m a size 2 or a size 12, it’s insatiable, rattling off imperfections with ease, finding fault with each lump, bump, or ding.

My hair? Too thin and curly.

My skin? Too bumpy and pale.

My teeth? Too crooked and dull.

My face? Too wrinkled and old.

My thighs? Too big and flabby.

My arms? Too weak and undefined.

My stomach? Not flat enough, never flat enough.

At times I’ve rebelled, over-indulging on chocolate and alcohol, defiant in the face of perfectionism’s unrelenting criticism. Other times I’ve over-exercised and counted each calorie, carefully tracking each morsel, whittling my waist to an unhealthy size as I tried to appease it. I’ve avoided mirrors so perfectionism didn’t have material to use, and I’ve studied style to find the best ways to camouflage perceived areas of imperfection. I’ve followed every fad diet and then disregarded them altogether seeking normalcy.

As the years passed, my pendulum swung wildly through behaviors, diets, and strategies as I tried to escape the pain the voice causes. To get one moment of inner peace and acceptance.

None of them worked.

Each one has failed to quiet the body shaming voice in my head. It is relentless. It is cruel. It uses evidence on the newsstands to back up its claims. It continuously compares me to my friends and strangers I don’t even know, always finding me lacking. It says things to me that I would never say to another human being. Biting, cutting things. It preys on my deepest insecurities.

When I started this journey, I didn’t think being brave would mean actively loving myself. And yet, it’s the only option left.

For I realized recently that in 30 years, I’ve never questioned the validity of the voice. I took its thoughts as gospel, the undisputed truth, and acted accordingly. But what if they aren’t? What if I can create a new truth, change their message?

This January, those questions led me to a new resolution. Not to lose 10 pounds. Not to get healthier. Not to fit into size two jeans. But to fight back.

Instead of quieting the body shaming soundtrack in my head, I’ve decided to put it to work, giving it something different to say.

So here I stand, about 90 days in, naked in front of my mirror, looking for three things I like about my body today. My new morning ritual. I write them down as I find them, collecting compliments to read another day. Some mornings the task is easy and I embrace things I’ve long hated about myself. Other mornings I struggle, managing only to write down that I have a nice earlobe or a well-placed freckle.IMG_9677

I often take two steps forward followed by a step back. It’s a process to undo the habit of self-criticism. A hard process, much harder than I thought it would be.

But slowly the soundtrack in my head is changing, inching closer to acceptance. And I find the closer I get, the less satisfying that ending is. For on the horizon, far beyond the acceptance I thought was my finish line, I see the true prize.

Self-love. Lumps, bumps, dings and all.

I’m determined to get there.

Restoration

yoga“Nestle up next to the bolster, almost straddling it. Now lean over it, turning your head to one side, resting your cheek on the pillow while allowing your arms to fall to each side as you lower yourself down.”

I’m in a candlelight restorative yoga class. The instructor’s calm instructions leading me slowly through unfamiliar poses.

I’ve suffered from anxiety my whole life, bound by worried, negative thoughts cyclically repeating in my head. For years, night after sleepless night, anxious “what if…” scenarios have cycled through my mind.

And over the last six weeks as I try to puzzle out who I have been, who I am, and who I want to be, they’ve twisted themselves into a giant ball of knots at the base of my neck. Repeated trips for chiropractic care and massage therapy failed to provide relief.

In a last ditch effort, I’m attending a restorative yoga class – a practice that uses props to make poses easier. It’s designed to realign the body, relax the body, restore the body. All while calming the mind. I came hoping it would help my neck.

The room is dim, lit only by small candles. The instructor’s voice calm and soothing, “Sink into the bolster, it is there to support you. Feel it’s presence. Trust it. With each breath, relax a little more.”

I take a deep breath. We are past the halfway point of the class and I’m finally starting to relax. To quiet my anxious mind, get in tune with my breath. I lean heavier on the pillow, allowing it to support my weight.

You can’t relax,” interrupts my mind, “we haven’t figured out what’s next. You don’t have time to relax. We have to do more, be more. What are you even doing here?”

“If you catch a thought slipping in,” the instructor’s voice breaks in, “acknowledge it. Thank the thought for coming and let it go.”

Humph! You can’t let me go. I’m what makes you who you are. Who else is going to push you to get things right, to work harder, achieve more? You are nothing without me,” perfectionism cuts in. It’s by far the loudest and most critical of the voices in my head.

I shake my head to dislodge the thoughts, refocus on my breath. Gingerly, I turn so my other cheek is on the bolster, wincing in pain as I twist my neck.

“Our thoughts distract us, disconnect us from our breath and our physical body. Make us less aware of the present. They are busy, always demanding more,” the instructor continues, tiptoeing barefoot around the room as she speaks.

“What does she know?” perfectionism cuts in. “I do it for your own good. Don’t you want to be the best version of you? To be that, you have to exceed all expectations set for you. Parents. Bosses. The church. Co-workers. Friends. We all want the best for you, we are only trying to help.”

I squeeze my eyes shut, try to refocus.

And then…

“We are human. We do the best we can every day. That is enough,” the instructor says.

Maybe it was the comforting cradle of the bolster. Maybe it was the candlelight. Maybe it was the quiet cadence of the instructor’s voice. Maybe simple exhaustion. But in that moment listening to her words, I felt a single tear slip down my cheek.

“We are human. We do the best we can every day. That is enough,” the instructor repeats.

No one has ever said those words to me. In 42 years, never once have I felt I was already enough. Just as I was. A human doing the best I can every day.

Her words stir my soul as another tear slips free.

Can it be true?

I allow my spirit to respond to the question. It sighs in relief.

“Now gently roll the bolster away, lay on your side, and bring your knees to your chest, wrapping your arms around them,” she whispers.

I do.

And there, curled up in the fetal position, I hear the words of the song playing in the background, “There is one sacred river, one sacred song, one sacred breath, one sacred heart beating.” I breathe in as I listen. Breathe out. Another tear escapes.

Time seems to stand still, unmoving. I feel suspended in the moment, part of the one sacred thing the song speaks of. My soul whispers its quiet comfort. My thoughts still. My neck pain eases.

I breathe in.

I am human. I am sacred. I am enough.

And out.

I am human. I am sacred. I am enough.

In.

I am enough.

Out.

I am enough.

I am enough.

I am enough.

Stillness

early morning snowThere’s a beautiful stillness to the early morning. I find that’s especially true after a snowfall, even if it’s just a light dusting like this morning. The world seems so peaceful and unblemished. I’m up early today, unable to sleep but relishing the feel of the morning now that I’m up. There’s a dog barking far in the distance and the rumble of the coffee pot in the next room as it too starts its day. But in all other ways there’s a deep, quiet, comforting stillness. I wonder how many people are up right now with just a dim light or two on, drinking in the quiet of the morning as they wait for their families to wake.

This morning I came across a bible verse that caught my attention. It tells of Jesus’ disciples fishing after his death. After fishing all night with nothing to show for their efforts, early in the morning they saw a man standing on the shore who called to them asking how their fishing was going. The disciples yelled back that their efforts had been in vain, they hadn’t caught any fish. In response, the man told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They complied and hauled in more fish than their net could handle. In that moment, they realized the man was Jesus.

I had a restless night last night. I’m a light sleeper and the shuffling of my dogs, neighborhood sounds, and the thoughts in my head kept me awake. I’m standing at a fork in the road in my professional life, searching for the answer to what’s next for me. After nearly 20 years in sales and management, climbing the corporate ladder chasing the American dream, I’m craving something different. Something simpler. Something that feeds my soul.

Those things I know, but what job that actually is remains uncertain. My default is to sort it out, use my experiences and my intelligence to forge a path forward. To make something happen. So I try. I wrestle with with idea after idea, forcing them to fit into some semblance of a plan. It keeps me up at night, the searching for the answer. And in the morning, I find I have nothing to show for my efforts. I have no fish in my boat.

When I give in to the sleeplessness and get up early, cracking my bible, seeking connection and solace from my thoughts, I’m met with stillness. Quiet. There’s something peaceful about it, so peaceful it stands in stark contrast with the last eight hours of restlessness. It’s soothing. Restorative.

Perhaps that’s how the disciples felt that morning. After a long unfruitful night, in the stillness of the early morning, Jesus appeared. And gave them the answer. “Throw your net to the right side and you will find some fish,” he tells them. They immediately hauled in an overflowing net full of fish.

I wonder how often I’m like the disciples, sitting in a boat over a huge school of fish but fishing on the wrong side. How often do I cast my net in vain, trying to make something happen, to force answers to my questions rather than waiting for Jesus to guide me?

Too often.

I don’t think it was by chance that Jesus showed up on the shore in the stillness of the early morning, after the disciples had exhausted their own efforts. Perhaps that is the only time they would have been receptive to suggestions from a man on the shore, when the weariness of an unsuccessful night made them less guarded or prideful.

And I think there’s a message for me in that. Get some sleep. Don’t waste time forcing answers and plotting my course. Rest. Then seek Jesus in the stillness of the morning and cast my net where he directs me. For only there will I find my abundance of fish.

Truth

me hawaii black and white“Ok Sara, what do you hope to get out of this?”

“Ummm…to be honest, I’m not even sure what you do.”

I was on the phone with an energy shifter, an acquaintance of mine who had offered a free session with her after watching a video I posted. And I was way outside my comfort zone.

I am wired to be a thinker. I come from a long line of thinkers. I love to solve problems, create new things, and set goals to achieve. I was labeled “gifted” at a young age and praised for my intelligence early and often. Thinking comes so easily to me and I love it so much, more often than not I prefer to be alone with my thoughts, puzzling out problems. It fits my introverted nature. I have been a classic Type-A, left brained person my entire life.

As such, I put stock in all things logical and scientific. I believe in western medicine. I trust my thoughts over my feelings because they are safer and easier to control. More predictable.

Most of the time.

Until they go haywire and turn goal setting into perfectionism, analysis into self-doubt, problem solving into problem creating. That’s what I managed to capture on video that day; she had reached out in response.

A year ago, when I first read her invitation, my immediate thought was, “Umm…what? Shift my energy? What does that even mean?” Followed closely by an involuntary eye roll. I didn’t intend to be disrespectful, but I had poo-poo’ed all things feeling, creative, and eastern medicine for so long it was my go-to response. Well that, and polite dismissal.

Recently, something reminded me of her offer. And this journey reminded me to be brave. So I reached out and she graciously honored her invitation.

“What do I do?” she asked. “Well, I’m an intuitive, someone who is sensitive to the energy in the world and the energies surrounding people. Most people come to a session with a specific question in mind, a decision they’re facing, and I read the energy around it. It helps bring them clarity. Sometimes I do healing work, clearing bad energy to make room for growth and movement,” she explained.

“So, I need to ask a specific question?” I replied. “Dang, I should have reached out a few months ago when I was trying to decide whether to quit my job. But I’ve already made that decision.”

As I spoke, I began to panic. I didn’t have a question, I was unprepared. My thoughts raced as my words stalled. I felt my old friend perfectionism begin to creep in, ready to berate me for being less than perfectly prepared.

“Umm…”

“Take a deep breath,” she said. “What’s on your mind? It sounds like you’ve made a big decision recently. Are there any questions that linger as a result of that? We just need a place to get started, there’s no pressure.”

I found myself relaxing into the sound of her voice. “Well, I guess now that I’ve let go of the management portion of my job, I’m wondering about the sales portion, should I keep it? Focus elsewhere? The decision I made was right, but I’m left with the question of what’s next for me.”

So began a conversation that would last an hour and a half. We did answer my question, but not the way I expected. Not directly. Instead we talked of things that on the surface felt unrelated, things she sensed about my life, about me. We spoke of members of my family, of letting go, of standing at the precipice of the next phase of life and sinking into that moment instead of fearing it. We talked of making space for creativity, of sorting through which voice in my head is actually me and which voices need to go. We talked about the church and its effect on me over the course of my life, whether or not I would have been a good mother had I chosen to have children, and of finding the question behind the question.

As time passed, I realized we were tackling topics that stand as a barrier between me and the answer to my question. To any question I could have asked. They are all thoughts, voices, pressures, experiences that contribute to my inner dialogue, creating so much noise I cannot hear the answer that matters: the one my soul is whispering.

With each topic, each part of my story she sensed, we stripped away another unnecessary voice in my head. Unwarranted responsibilities and guilt I’ve carried for years lifted. One by one the voices in my head quieted. And in that process, as my thoughts silenced and my energy shifted, I met my soul.

It had something important to say.

“You are enough. You are already perfect,” it whispered.

“What?” I whispered back.

“You are already enough. Feel that truth.”

I nearly missed it. Wanted to dismiss it. My thoughts had never said such a thing to me, so surely that can’t be true.

But then my energy shifter said something that will stay with me forever, “Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s your thought Sara, or even your voice. Not all thoughts are true.”

“Wait. What?” I asked.

I’ve lived in the world of logic and thought for 42 years because somewhere along the way I learned it was safer, more predictable, less painful. And the tangible nature of thought and logic convinced me of its truth.

But now…

“Not all thoughts are true,” she said again.

“Yes. Feel that truth. You are already enough,” my soul whispered.

In that moment, I felt it. Really felt it. Something clicked. I didn’t just know it in my head, I wasn’t trying to convince myself; I just felt the truth of it. It’s as if a veil lifted and I could see clearly for the first time.

I cannot be both. I’m either already enough or I’m not.

There is only one truth.

Barkley

img_7920My dog loves to play in the snow. His aging golden retriever body transforms into a fur ball of joyful frolic with each snowfall. This time of year, the snow is less than fresh. It’s a mess of dirt, street grime, and neighborhood pet markings. And yet, his joy remains the same. If he can find even one small adequate patch he instantly goes to work on his next snow angel.

Recently I took him to the groomer for a bath and a haircut. He emerged fuzzy, clean, and smelling of lavender. He looked every inch the purebred stunner he can be. Money well spent.

He looked so perfect, in fact, I followed him outside the next morning, yelling no with my stern mom voice every time he got ready to jump into a dirty snow pile. He obeyed as he always does, but with a look that gave me pause.

Barkley is 14 ½. As with many large dogs, he is riddled with arthritis. He hasn’t been able to jump in two years and now needs help getting off the floor. He is on anti-inflammatory drugs, pain management drugs, and antibiotics for a constant infection he has in his nose. He spends his days laying in one spot, assessing whether what’s going on around him is worth getting up for. Odds are he won’t live another year.

Maybe that’s why his look stuck with me.

In telling him no, I realized, I stole the few pain free moments of joy he has in a day. And because he’s a good dog, he let me.

But wasn’t I justified?

I tried to be. I told myself I was. I had just spent $45 after all. Surely one day of clean wasn’t too much to ask. Right?

Yet as I watch the snow piles melt a little more each day and am presented with evidence this will likely be his last winter, stealing that day’s joyful moments weighed on me.

Why was it so important to me he stay clean? Why was my instinct to say no that morning?

Had perfectionism crept back in? And if it had, did it really just steal my dog’s joyful moments in exchange for a perfectly groomed and clean coat?

Sadly…yes.

Despite my quest to eliminate perfection seeking from my life, no area of my life is untouched. It remains my default setting. And it wants my dog to look clean and perfect.

It also presses me to beat myself up even now, weeks later, for that one lost day. Because stealing joy from another is never the “right” or “perfect” response. I should do better. Be better.

But as that voice, always so ready to jump in with judgment and criticism, gears up with its next lecture, I find I have the power to stop it. And that makes me proud. Perfectionism may remain my default, but at least I now recognize it and fight back.

Last winter I likely unknowingly stole many moments of joy from Barkley in the name of a clean, perfect coat.

This year? Only one.

And today I’m taking a moment to revel in that progress, to celebrate my tangible growth as I watch Barkley emerge from a dirty pile of snow with a face filled with joy.