So hard to believe, but it’s been three months since last I wrote here. In mid-December I did write my annual Solstice/New Year’s letter to send out along with this year’s gift-from-the-Grandmothers New Year’s card. Alas, I never went ahead to post both on the websites at what would have been my (fairly usual) six-week mark, sigh. I’ve included the card at the end of this post.
The big news since I wrote at the beginning of November is that the Journaling book (Tenderly Embracing All the Ways that I Feel and Am; Journaling to Kindle Gentleness and Compassion for Our Precious Selves) made it to print on November 20, the day before I began my annual birthday retreat. There was a bit of a glitch about the cover that got handled by Barbara, my amazing collaborator on this book (and everything else you could imagine connected with the Compassionate Ink Facebook and website pages as well as the forthelittleonesinside.com website). She and my dear cousin Steve (who designed the cover) dealt with the fix so that I could descend into the 12 days of solitude for which I felt so starved.
At that point, it had been a full 13 months of high gear: getting the first book from completed manuscript to ready-to-print (endless proofs to be carefully reread) by last February; sending out over 350 complimentary and review copies over the next two months; then beginning the intense and creative collaboration with Barbara that took us to the November birthing of this journaling workbook that both stands alone and serves as a companion workbook to the original Go Only as Fast as Your Slowest Part Feels Safe to Go book.
Those 13 months asked me constantly to surrender into random and persistent calls for my attention to the endless details involved in the publish-on-demand version of book production. For all the magic and excitement that came with the enterprises, there was also a pervading sense of life moving faster and more complexly than it has for a long while. Though I’ve been quite pleased and amazed with my flexibility throughout the process, it’s been a joy to have gone back to my more normal-for-me slow-lane life since we finished mailing out 150 complimentary copies of the new book in early mid-December.
All the book-busyness last winter required that I let go of most of my year end/year beginning tasks and rituals. I managed to changeover my files, ready my taxes and prune back the garden but, it wasn’t until April that the annual going through and winnowing all my stuff (closet, drawers, cupboards, shed) could get addressed. What a delight the past two months have been as I’ve leisurely and uninterruptedly been able to immerse in all these preparing for the year ahead chores-become-rituals. I love rediscovering what (and where) I’ve stashed odd bits of stuff for just-in-case and discovering what no longer seems worth keeping. Bringing things to the thrift store or to the curb (where things disappear within the hour) gives me such pleasure. Because I do this annually, there were only three and a half shopping bags of recycling and one bag of trash to take away. I was so pleased.
As part of the annual making space for newness to come in, I replaced a couple of rickety bookcases with more spacious ones and replaced the cardboard chests of drawers in my one closet with a larger wooden one (the only currently available cardboard chests were atrocious looking). I loved how perfectly all three replacements fit in the old spaces and I reveled in being able to do the assembly involved in putting these items together. Though I worked slowly and carefully, the aging/thinning skin on my arms and shins shows bruising wherever I’d leaned any of the pieces against my body as I worked. These senile purpura (as they’re called) have become a part of everyday life for me as I putter around the house and garden even when I’m not doing assembly work. They always fade in a few days but while they’re new it looks like I’ve been battered or in an accident, sigh! Alas, just as I get excited about one crop of these fading into invisibility, a new batch happens. So far, this is the main symptom of aging I have to deal with. So, although I bitch and moan about them as they happen, the challenge of them is pretty insignificant.
This past week, moving in organic time rather than pushing my self to get through my remaining annual to-do list, I very carefully climbed my eight-foot ladder (wearing a passport pouch that held my cell phone in case of a fall) and vacuumed each of the 21 fiber masks (my Spirit Mother Totems) that live on the high-ceilinged walls of my cottage. Then, one evening a few days later, I groomed and wiped all the leaves of each of the twenty houseplants (one of them 30 years old!) that surround me, thriving in the amazing light that fills the cottage. I love that my way of living gives me the time and room to devote to tasks like this at this time of year. I sorely missed that space last year.
I had a week and a half late in November that let me see just how far I’ve come with letting go, with having transformed/defanged the Hatchet Lady (my once virulent inner critic) and with recognizing the magic (Spirit’s hand) in any moment of life.
The first of the three incidents happened on a Tuesday when a couple of unexpected client appointment cancellations freed me to drive down to the See’s Candy shop in the Ventura mall. My intention: to redeem $200 worth of Costco discount coupons for my yearly purchase of 14 boxes of See’s truffles. These are my annual between-Halloween-and-Thanksgiving giveaway to thank all the folks who serve me in various ways through the year (chiropractor, masseuses, the women at the post office, bank, veterinarian’s office, library, stationery store, Ojai’s-mini-department store).
After I’d parked and taken the coupons in hand, I saw that my car was in a yellow zone. I got back in and moved to a better space then walked into the mall. Halfway to the See’s shop, I realized I didn’t have the coupons with me. Walked out checking the floor on my path back to the car. Only to discover, once at the car, they weren’t anywhere to be seen. I scoured the yellow zone space I’d been in and all around where I was now parked: no coupons! My immediate thoughts: first, that Spirit/the Grandmothers just made a happy holiday for some lucky soul and then, that there was time enough (and money enough at this point in my life) for me to head south to Costco, buy a new set of coupons and come back to See’s. No trashing my self (as once I would surely have) for “being careless, distracted, stupid.” No distress of any sort. They were gone and that was that.
Amazed with my self as I drove to Costco, I was also feeling immensely grateful for the blessing of having enough money to absorb a $200 loss without batting an eye. I was so aware of how much more upsetting/challenging such a loss would be for anyone who hadn’t had so much abundance in their life. Yet, I also recognized that, even with the money not being an issue, the me-of-the-past would have had to deal with the merciless lashing of my now-defanged inner critic.
The next episode came two days later in the Santa Barbara Trader Joe’s parking lot. As I was pulling into a parking spot, I noticed that rear end of the car on my left was over into the slot I was entering. Though I thought I had allowed enough space for it, I felt the press as my front bumper rubbed along its rear quarter panel. I sighed, got out to investigate, noted the scraped paint and slight dents in both our cars and retrieved paper and pen to leave a note on the other car’s windshield. As I was sticking my info and apology under its windshield wiper, I saw the woman owner (unaware of the damage or me) loading her groceries into her trunk. I took my note to her and told her how very sorry I was to have damaged her car and to be causing her the inconvenience of having to deal with repairs.
Gloria, a woman probably close to my age, was a delight. It was all no big deal to her, she wasn’t in the least upset. She assured me that she knew her car was over the line into my space. She explained that, while trying to park, she’d had to move hastily to get out of the way of another car speeding toward her in the parking lot. Calmly and good humoredly she said, “Well, I guess we’ll need to exchange insurance information.” I told her I’d rather simply pay for the repair costs my self without involving our insurance companies and the rate increases likely to result from doing that. She was concerned that it might be quite expensive for me but, since I assured her that whatever it cost would be more okay with me than having my rate increased, she was agreeable.
As we exchanged names and phone numbers I checked with her about whether we were, as I suspected from her surname, “landsleit” (both of Jewish heritage). Turns out we were and once she had my card and also got that I was a psychologist, she engaged me in a hilarious discussion of her efforts (as yet unsuccessful) to engineer a good match for her still unmarried adult daughter. She had me in stitches. We parted with an agreement that she’d call me early the next week with an estimate she’d get for the repairs. She did and though it was several hundred dollars for which I needed to get a bank check made to the repair people, she cracked me up again assuring me she had talked the guy into giving us a significant discount since she was such a good customer! (Perhaps this accounted for her equanimity about the damage: she’d been through this before.)
So much magic in this experience: My first response to having damaged our cars: “oh, well,” – not one bit of the caustic self-recrimination that would once have been the immediate response of my now-transformed Hatchet Lady. Having the person whose car I damaged turn out to be this incredibly funny and dear woman whose own attitude toward the unfortunate incident was so like my own. Having what, with some irate, blaming, nasty person, might have been a disastrous, jarring interchange be, instead, a hilarious, warm and light-hearted connection. Feeling grateful and blessed to have enough money in this season of my life to afford to simply pay the several hundreds for the bill without feeling any financial stress (that so many people struggling financially would have felt). And, again so aware that even with the money to ease the way, had I not done all the healing with my inner critic, I could still have excoriated my self.
The third incident came a week later. At the water-dispensing machine getting filtered water for my hummingbird feeders, I hooked the stem of my sunglasses over my tank top between my breasts, something I do with them all the time. What I didn’t think about was how, when I bent over to pick up the filled containers, the weight of the glasses would pull them out of the tuck and they’d wind up on the concrete sidewalk. Although they’ve fallen to the pavement at other times without getting damaged, this time the nosepiece cracked in half. At first, it was once again an, “oh, well” reaction. Amazingly, no self-criticism; it was just another unfortunate accident that again simply (for me at this moment in time) needed some money to fix. Once I got home and searched the web for a replacement frame, it got a bit more challenging. The frames are old ones, the kind that house quite large lenses, that are hard to find in these days of very small-framed lenses. Still, all was quiet on the self-critical front.
At the optometrist’s office the next morning, they found that a slightly (3mm) smaller lensed frame of the same color/manufacture was still available through their sources for just a little over $100 dollars. Word was that if the lab could shave those 3mm off the existing lenses, replacement of the frame would be the only expense. Two days later I found out the lab could do just that. Again, the miracle of absolutely no self-condemnation, the blessing of having the money to handle the replacement and the magic of the lab being able to shave the existing lenses to fit these slightly smaller frames.
There’s no question, through all of these three challenging events, that having more than sufficient resources was a powerful part of being able to deal with what had happened/what I’d done with so much equanimity. I was painfully conscious that there are many people, these days, who don’t have that kind of financial breathing space and poignantly aware how awful such a series of blunders might be under those circumstances.
Though I’ve known for several years, now, that the Hatchet Lady had hung up her fangs, these three experiences were profoundly confirming of how easily letting go/surrendering into what is so can happen when self-criticism is no longer part of the experience.
Yet a further awareness that came with each of these episodes was how life feels when one recognizes the moments of magic in the midst even of less than pleasant experiences. That I had enough time to go to Costco, get more coupons, get back to See’s and home in time for a next client while also knowing that someone was being blessed (by the Grandmothers) for their holiday with what I’d lost. That it would be someone as delightful and funny as Gloria whose car I damaged rather than some irascible codger. That a replacement (albeit slightly smaller) for my ancient frames was not only still available but that the lab could shave my old lenses to fit the frames. And, that I have enough money available to me at this time in my life to make the costs of my blunderings no issue.
Just as I have trouble with the hype around forgiveness, selfishness and procrastination, I’m intensely reactive to the whole cultural and New Age flap around gratitude. All too often – despite the research evidences that indicate having “an attitude of gratitude” has a positive effect emotionally – I find that the pressure on us to list what we’re grateful for when we’re feeling in pain or put upon can be just one more way for us to stop our selves from feeling our upset/distress/anger. Feelings that are better felt through safely than shut off by shifting to so-called positive thinking/attitude.
Rather than buying into the hype around gratitude, I find it much more healing to invite my hurting, angry, distressed self to immerse those parts of me in these feelings until I’m done with them for the moment. Then, I look around for the magic, the teachings, the wisdom that may have been a part of my having the challenging experience. Or, as was the case in these three could-have-been-awful-but weren’t incidents, I simply stay open to seeing/feeling/being grateful for the magic that feels like Spirit/the Grandmothers having a hand in what’s unfolding in my life.
Part of the wonderful magic of this moment is watching my recently (late December) crew-cut garden-in-containers jubilantly sprouting new leaves. I’m daily tickled by the grinning of my winter planting of pansies-with-gremlin faces that bring cold-resistance color and cheer to my frost-decimated garden. Once again, both my almost 30-year-old beanstalk (split leaf philodendron) and equally ancient jade plant, fried by a few December nights of in-the-low-twenties frosts, are being reborn. I watch them daily sprout new growth. The lettuces and steaming greens survived the frost but a whole bountiful crop of baby Meyer lemons was, sadly, destroyed (along with a good part of the Ojai Valley’s citrus crops). I’m enjoying the leafless trees sketching their designs against the lush clouds and brilliant blues of the winter sky.
The hummingbird population in my yard hasn’t declined as much this year as last. Three hawks (probably red-tailed) are living just a few yards over, spending their days swooping and calling to each other over the meadow here. Their calls always stir my grin. There’s a great-horned owl hanging out in a tree over in my near neighbor’s yard that, most nights, calls to a companion down the road a piece. And, some young possums frequently visit the patio to munch the birdseed spilled from the feeders hanging from the ramada at my front door. I miss the frogs that, by now, are usually making a nightly racket in neighborhood puddles and ponds; they’re quite absent in this year of almost no rain.
Life is amazingly sweet, gentle and slow (for now) in my corner of the Universe. On the horizon: Barbara (my amazing-collaborator-in-charge–of everything) is inching me toward doing some short YouTube talks. She’s already mentored (nudged) me, at the Grandmothers’ behest, into writing rather short pieces/essays for the Compassionate Ink Facebook page (that also get put up on the two websites –compassionateink.com and forthelittleonesinside.com). Check them out at the Facebook page or the websites. She’s also been creating and posting some wonderful combinations of her photo images with short quotes from various writings of mine. They’re seem to resonate with a growing number of people who come by weekly to catch her every Sunday postings of these pairings and/or my shorter pieces on topics dear to my heart.
I suspect that writing the shorter pieces/essays has been moving me away from more frequently writing these longer journal-like pieces. I still like doing these longer ones from time-to-time so, I’ll be back whenever it happens again.