Balance

In seminary, students were asked to incorporate some kind of daily spiritual practice into their lives. Many complained that they were too busy to do so. While I agreed that I was too busy, I also realized that life isn’t going to get less busy post-seminary. I needed to start figuring out how to make room for what matters regardless of how little room there appeared to be. I wasn’t great at doing so then. And five years later I’m still not great at doing so now. But I know it’s up to me to figure it out. I know that life is probably never going to make it easy. If I want my life to be balanced and full and meaningful, it is up to me to figure out how.

What I have managed to learn so far is what is meaningful for me. That includes some things I would like to do daily: reading, exercise, meditation, writing, eating well. Weekly, I need quality time with my family and close friends (preferably on multiple occasions), time spent outside, and an ongoing project which gives me an sense of accomplishment (which is important because so much of my work is ongoing and not necessarily with measurable results). These are the aspects of my life that bring me joy and contentment. They help remind me that I am more than what I do for a living. They are the components that keep me sane when everything else seems to be falling apart or am falling apart. These are the elements that help keep me grounded and balanced.

By balance I don’t mean equal parts in time. There are weeks where I have minimal time for those daily activities. But I do mean equal importance. While the work must get done, if I don’t eventually figure out how to incorporate the meaningful activities, I will suffer for it. And that means eventually my work will suffer as well. This awareness brings great clarity when I am at my wit’s end and see a house in need of cleaning and realize, yes I will clean for an hour because something has to get done. And then I will sit with a friend on my porch with a glass of wine because I also need to know how she is doing. I need to put my feet up and laugh. The work can wait. More cleaning can be done tomorrow.

There are seasons when balance is nearly impossible. But knowing that my balance is my responsibility makes the possibility of balance in my life grow. It allows me to think creatively about how to seek balance, rather than blame my schedule or my boss or my circumstances for the lack of it. The awareness of what I need allows me to periodically add them in small doses here and there, guilt-free. And the more I add them, the more time I make for them. I’m convinced that even the busiest among us waste more time than we realize. I’ve observed it in others and I’ve experienced it myself.

These days, the amount of imbalance I have been feeling in the universe makes my pursuit of balance all the more needed. Balance gives me perspective and hope. And perhaps most importantly balance gives me peace. The peace comes, I think, from that realization that I am not the center of the universe (something I believe we are all prone to think unless/until challenged) and I do have say over my little part of the universe. When I feel more balanced, I find myself to be more patient and understanding. I feel less of a need to control what is outside my control and focus instead on what I can control. I feel more balanced which makes room for more balance.

May we all find a sense of balance that gives us a sense of contentedness and connectedness.

Dis/Connect

I have done many things over the course of my 47+ years of life. I have played many roles. I have held a variety of jobs, some paid and some not. I have lived in many places – 11 states to be exact. In many ways, I think I have spent most of my adult life responding to my surroundings, as opposed to initiating what I want and pursuing that. Up until 2000, I lived a gypsy’s life and enjoyed the experiences. With as much as I appreciate my life, I have at times missed having a specific calling. I wondered, if at 20 I was encouraged to explore my heart’s desire professionally, what would I have chosen and how would I have worked towards that?

I suppose this is why with my two kids, I have been intentional about daring them to dream. Dream specifically, I said. Dream big. I have countered the world’s wisdom by encouraging them not to think in terms of paychecks and financial security, but rather to explore their passions, talents, and how they might help make this world better. I have wanted them to live lives that they are proud of, lives that inspire others. I have heard parents say, “I told my kid that (s)he has to think more practically, to have a backup plan.” I cringed every time I heard this. Why the fuck are we telling our kids to dream a little smaller? <sigh> But I digress.

While I may not have spent much of my adult life dreaming in specifics, I realize that there has been something underlying the bulk of my pursuits. I have been passionately driven about connecting. There is potentially nothing worse than being disconnected. Feeling alone leads to a significant and overwhelming sadness at times. Disconnectedness can cause some to self-medicate. It can drive others into deep mental illness. And it takes some to the point of no return through suicide.

I see evidence of disconnection everywhere I go. I see it in our eyes. I hear it in our conversations. I sense it in our non-stop-busy lives. And I want to tell you that there is great power in connecting. I connect with God through nature, with creation through gardening, with myself through meditation, with others through meaningful and fun conversation. These experiences and many others contribute to my wellbeing. They make me more certain of who I am in the world. Connection brings contentment. And when I struggle with someone or something, connecting helps. Connecting might not be the solution, but it helps me work towards the solution.

Connecting has been instrumental in maintaining my sanity. Sanity can be hard sometimes. Very hard. Disconnection is like a cancer that invades our bodies, often silently at first. And if untreated, can become deadly to our minds, bodies, and/or souls. But connecting can be difficult. We can be surrounded by people we love yet feel utterly alone. And often what initially might feel like connection turns out to be a superficial substitute. Connection requires work. And some of us are clueless about how to do that work.

Maybe that is why what I do has rarely been my priority. Whatever my role – mom, neighbor, friend, chaplain, pastor, administrator – my goal is connection. Connection occurs on a variety of levels. It might be person to person or it might be person with resources. It could even be as simple as connecting a person to his/her own thoughts and feelings. We experience disconnect in so many different ways. And the opportunities to connect are equally diverse.

Perhaps this all started coming together a few years ago when I first encountered the idea of shalom – a hebrew word that is translated “peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility.” The concept in a religious context suggests a fullness of peace that God restores through connection of self to all else. When I first learned about shalom, I discovered a “salvation” that inspires me. Up to that point, salvation had often been reduced to my own sin. But that is one small part of the larger problem of disconnect. I know plenty of “righteous” folks who are significantly disconnected. Shalom is far more expansive and what my heart has longed for. Connecting is my path for its pursuit.

May we all feel a sense of connection today. And may we all be a connecting point for another.

The Perfect Dog: an epilogue

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The Perfect Dog struggled to stand up. I helped and held her while she found her footing. She stumbled outside. When I tried to slow her down, she would only move faster, stumbling all the more. We reached the back yard and I sat nearby. She promptly relieved herself. She then walked a few steps and stopped, staring off into nowhere. I wondered if confusion had set back in. I continued to watch. She stayed there for several minutes, not moving. Then it struck me. She wasn’t confused. The Perfect Dog was soaking up her surroundings. The wind was lightly blowing, bringing all kinds of scents to her. I could see her nose twitch like it was tapping out a melody. The trees rustled, as if to suggest birds and other wildlife were just beyond reach. Her ears moved to capture as many of those sounds as she could.  There The Perfect Dog stood. There the Perfect Dog stayed. She was still but alert. Did she know? She must. She stayed until her legs began to wobble. She wagged her tail a few times as if to say thank you, then slowly and happily headed back toward the house. What a moment to experience. My heart was bursting with pain and gratitude to be its witness.

~~~~~~~~~~

Days have past since that occurred. I got Lucy inside and settled down, and immediately wrote about what I had just seen. I didn’t know what kind of time I would have with her, but I knew what I had witnessed needed to be remembered. I had never seen her stand that still for that long in such an alert state. I couldn’t help but think she was taking this in – her yard, her life – while she still could.

My Perfect Dog has passed away. She had three days of struggling, some hours where death seemed imminent and some hours where she actually seemed to be feeling better. Part of my sitting with her included reading to her The Perfect Dog, parts 1, 2 and 3. More than once, she would lift her head and look at me as if to say, “Stop blubbering on so.” But I couldn’t help it. I wanted her to know how much I loved her. I couldn’t expect to adequately convey my love for her in words or in such a short period of time. It’s a cumulative thing. But the compulsion was there nonetheless. The compulsion to make sure, to be crystal clear, to avoid any regrets down the road because you recognize that each minute counts.

As difficult as it is, I think it’s a privilege to be with one’s pet for his or her last breath. While I’ve been through this several times, this is the first time I noticed the last physical breath. Maybe it’s because each breath of hers was labored and therefore obvious. But there it was – one breath she was with us, and then she was gone. I held my breath wondering if there would be one more, but I already knew the answer. She would not breathe again.

I still head to the pantry to feed her. I still go to the door to let her out or in. I still look for her, listen for her, wait for her. I imagine that will be the case for awhile. Fourteen years of these habits don’t die as quickly as the ones who inspired the habits do. Yet I find myself grateful for that. I like to think of her as often as I do, even when it makes me cry. I am thankful that for over 14 years she was happy and healthy, and for a mere three days she was not. What a tremendous gift that is. Thank you, Perfect Dog. I love you. To the moon and back and then some.

Finding Peace in the Past

The problem with being reflective is that you eventually encounter the long-buried, unresolved shit in your past. Just when you think you have made great progress and acquired some wisdom, you are smacked in the face with a realization so significant that it nearly brings you to your knees. It is a reality that has become so intertwined with your thoughts and actions that at first it is hard to tell where IT ends and YOU begin.

For me it was a hurt of sorts. It wasn’t a traumatic event; those are easy to recognize. This was a quieter sort of thing. Not one event but something that unfolded over time and took its toll. If I told you what it was, you might just shrug your shoulders in confusion.

I am now seeing clearly all that has been impacted over the years, like the ripples in a lake after you have thrown a stone into it. As the ripples keep rippling, knowing it is too late to take back my stone’s throw, I am left with only one choice. I have done too much work to deny its effects any longer. And so I sit by the water’s edge, figuratively speaking, and watch the ripples grow. I feel the feelings that come with those ripples and I cry as I realize the impact. I cry for the years I had tried to protect myself. I cry for how ineffective that protection really was. I cry for what would never be. I cry for what I had lost…

I suspect some can relate. Whether it is a hurt, a regret, a lost love, a do-over you would give anything to have, there is a similarity among the experiences. It is either deeply embedded within, so subtle that its presence is hardly known, or it haunts and never lets one forget. Or maybe it is a bit of both. The ripples keep coming whether we watch for them or not. And when we periodically get a glimpse of a ripple that we intuitively know is connected, we close our eyes or look away. Or we rationalize. Or we reinterpret to suit our logic.

I was aware for a long time of the hurt I held, although I would not have called it a hurt. I had a very rational, reasonable explanation for what had happened way back then. But I irrationally denied its impact. And thus I was shaped by it far more than I realized. I can now see the hurt that was caused by outside forces. But what is both freeing and horrifying simultaneously is how the lasting impact of that hurt has been largely my doing. My rationalization might have satisfied my mind, but the little kid in me still continued to seek healing. Thus I carried the hurt with me like a heavy carcass, which impacted nearly every step, nearly every turn, nearly every perception. And I did so subconsciously.

Now I sit with it as it is. And although I am watching the ripples, they seem to be smoothing themselves out. By bringing the hurt into the light, or simply by naming it for what it is, I am disarming it. I can feel it losing its grip on me. It’s like the space between the unknown and the diagnosis. You hold your breath anticipating what will come. As soon as you know, it doesn’t go away, but you now know what you are dealing with. I hold my breath for just a moment, whisper what I have been feeling all along, I make peace with myself and my past. No more excuses. No more reframing. No more denying. It happened. It is part of me. And I am going to be okay.