Saturday, January 18, 2014

Cultivating Happiness

It was the middle of the morning and I was doing the dishes. 

You know, scrubbing the cereal bowls, reheating my cup of coffee for the third time and trying to catch up on my "Moth Radio Hour" listening while simultaneously paying attention to my three-year old who is the perfect mess of a ballerina endlessly twirling in and out of the kitchen screaming, "MAMA...mama, I want chocolate milk...A, B, F, Q, R, S...Twinkle, Twinkle, Glory to God in the Highest, Itsy Bitsy..."

My life is loud and its forever full of multi-tasking.  I'm dead in the water if I try to do one thing at a time.  Raising three little ones and managing the daily in's and out's of it all is loud, busy, and incessantly messy.

And then she called.  My friend.  I love her.  I sort of feel like we were separated at birth.  She's smart.  Beautiful.  Sacrificing for her kiddos at every turn.  And always making time for my stuff.

And about once a week, she does her dishes or cleans her bathroom or vomit off the rug and I do mine and we fancy ourselves mini philosophers taking on topics that enter our consciousness and won't let us fully digest them until we've garnered the input of the other.

On the docket the other day was happiness.  Do you luck into it?  Can it be chased? Pursued?  Or, does it organically emerge?  If you force it, is it ultimately, illusory and bound to fall through your finger tips?  And what if you're unhappy, is it okay to reject your current life station and pursue another, even if there's residual collateral damage along the way?  What is happiness worth?  Is it a worthy pursuit or is it just an ethereal notion?

Post our conversation, I stumbled upon a quote from one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. 

"Someday, somewhere - anywhere, unfailingly, you'll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.”

And I think his words sum it up.  We're all searching for purpose, meaning, a sense of belonging, an authentic knowing of ourselves.  We want to know that we're where we're supposed to be.  And when something feels amiss, whether it's in our interpersonal relationships, our workplace, our career, our health, our spirituality, or in general, the quiet moments when we're real, brutally honest with ourselves because no one's looking over our shoulder...we realize that it does matter.

Happiness doesn't emanate from the collection of things.  It emerges when we're being who we're supposed to be.  And the journey affords us multiple opportunities to decide, is this right?  And when we gut check, we find instantly whether we're joy filled or just getting by.

So, as I shared with my friend, being a full-time stay at home mother is fraught with exhaustion, frustration and isolation.  It's not easy to do the same routine day after day after day knowing that your children are not going to provide you with a performance appraisal, a raise, an annual bonus and a promotion.  Nope, but what you will get is time.  Time that you can't get back.  Time that involves story telling, singing, baths, parks, bikes, painting nails, and lots of hugs. And, I'm also hoping (most importantly) that you get staying power.  The memory and the belief that my children know that I was there and I always will be there for everything from the banal to the extraordinary.

And that for me is happiness.  And when I gut check, I know that there is no paying job that would be worth the loss of any of that for me.  Which is why Neruda's quote is day, while doing dishes watching the craziness emerge around me, I realized, I'm happy....just not in the ways that I thought I would be...but joy filled I am.  The real cultivation of happiness.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You Only Live When You Feel Like You're Dying

I read once or maybe heard in a song, or maybe remembered in a dream, or maybe all three...the phrase...

You only live when you feel like you're dying.

And this has stuck with me.

I don't take the concept literally as when you're given a terminal diagnosis or the plane is going down, although, many people have shared those sentiments when they've been inches away from their own mortality.

No, for me, the words feel real when I think about the times that I'm most uncomfortable, hurting, unsure of how to get out from the rock...that unknown place where its raw, fragile, brittle, incomplete.

At least for me, that's when I've grown the most, carried the experiences with me viscerally to the point that I can recall the way something tasted, and felt with every fiber of my being that I was alive.

Last weekend, I went for a 9-mile run.  It was one of the first sunshiny days in January and I felt compelled to bundle up and soak it in.  Three miles into the journey, I hit a patch of black ice crossing a major thorough fare and watched myself go down.  Bracing for the impact, I threw my hands in front of my body, twisted, and landed my weight on my right hand and right foot...all within an instant.  It hurt and all I could think was...fuck.

I decided that if this was my last training run due to injury that I would run until I couldn't anymore hoping to complete the 9-miles.  Ridiculous, I know.  But in the grand scheme of wanting something, I didn't want black ice to stand in my way.

I ran the remainder feeling a sore foot, a bruised ego, and a fearful heart.

Over the course of my run, I gave pause and time to a few friends I've been praying for who are going through surreal, unbelievable, and painful times.  And when the miles got hard, my breathing labored and I wanted to stop, I kept thinking of them, hoping for them, believing that through the pain, life would undoubtedly emerge....and with each mile, it all seemed to feel more hopeful.

And the fall and the phrase that I once heard or made up or something...helped to harness both the rawness and the richness of life that finds me frequently when I think I can't give anymore.  And just when it felt like I couldn't make another lap around the bend, my heart took me where my feet didn't want to go and suddenly, a cold, sunshiny January day reminded me that I am alive and all is well.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


This week, I embarked upon week two of marathon training.

The race is scheduled for the first week of May and by the time I get to the coveted date, I will have ran (in theory) 462 18 weeks.

I cannot wrap my head around this.  It's 500 miles to Chicago from here.  500 miles to Denver.  Not far off from how many miles my legs will take me this winter gradually building the endurance necessary to run 26.2 miles on marathon day.

And so, while I'm care taking for my three littles, folding laundry, making beds, preparing meals, supervising thoughts take me to this place...

"What the hell were you thinking?"

"That's $80 bucks and a shit load of time that you could be doing other things with."

"What if you can't hack it?"

"Stop posting this shit on will be that much more humiliating when you can't deliver."

And then I stop, take in a breath and remind myself of my new years resolution...fuck fear.

I'm tired of it.  What a worthless feeling.  Instead, I'm embracing me.  The me I know can do this.

It's good to be scared, don't get me wrong.  It's a phenomenal motivator.  It's also a beautiful feeling on the other side when you nail that which has nailed you for so long and you realize that you are stronger than that ridiculous voice inside of your head questioning your every move.

And so, the alarm goes off at 4:30am...and believe me, it sucks...make no bones about it.  It's early.  It's cold.  My body aches.  I don't want to go.  But then, I lace up my shoes, Eminem comes booming into my ears.  And I go.  And I am better for it.  And I slowly, patiently, hopefully, tick away at the 462 training miles staring me in the face.

And each day, each time, I am changed.  For the better.  And fear is put back in his proper place.  And later as I'm pouring coffee into my cup, icing my foot, I remember that at least for today, I could and I did.