Stepping into Silence

Stumbling into Silence

Arrival was abrupt.  Unpacking my car and starting the klutzy balance of suitcase, duffel bag, yoga mat and other “essentials” into the building that welcomes you more like a prison and less like a resort.  Three steps up into the foyer (very loose concept) and realizing it is 100 degrees inside and there are no elevators would be my first reality checks, this was not intended to be a vacation.  I walk down the hallway to check that the “2” before my room number “200” would suggest that I am on the second floor, secretly hoping that these ground floor rooms were not numbered like hotel rooms. It is confirmed, I am on the second floor.  Lugging my luggage (ironic the two words…ha!) up the stairs and down to the last room in the hall I find room 200 and I am not sure if I am relieved or reticent to see what lies behind the door. 

I open the door to my room I am hit with a more intense wave of heat and am reminded that the website said there was no a/c but “there are box fans for your comfort”.  I immediately open all of the windows and doors and find that luxury item, box fan, that I would power up on max.  As I look around the room I am almost giddy with the realization that this is far from the luxury hotels that I sell for a living.  It is vanilla and nondescript.  This would be the last time I would recall anything about the décor of this room and instead would regard this space as a respite from the intense work we were doing.  It would become a “retreat” indeed allowing me to ground myself and center myself once again. 

The views were absolutely stunning and once the windows were open it was apparent why no a/c would be needed.  The fresh air blowing in from the tops of the trees was magnificent and would have been missed otherwise. 

I set up my laptop and iPad and put all of my notebooks and journals on to the desk as if I was getting ready to work.  That would be the last time I would visit that space.  As it turned out there is much to do in silence and none of it involves a desk, a laptop or books.  Wow, what was I in for, this was going to be an experience for sure.

Here we go…

On day one I wake early and start searching on my Uber Eats app for Starbucks.  Yep, there is one, but there are no drivers.  Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!  I get up and get dressed and decide I will drive down the mountain to get my two cappuccinos.  This would inevitably become my new morning routine for the week.  As with everything that has happened thus far, I would come to realize the gift of being able to experience the drive down the mountain and back up again.  The familiarity of the winding roads and silhouettes of houses as the sun would rise brought me back to the many visits to my mom in Virginia.  I would wake up in the coming days looking forward to this drive.  The gratitude in places I was not seeking would become a familiar theme of this experience.

I would start my mornings with that drive, those cappuccinos a sunrise every morning that reminded me that there is always a reason to rise again. New beginnings and new horizons are always ours for the taking; every 24 hours.

As I make my way down the stunning walk to the place we would practice silence for the week I was joined by 36 other silent-seekers and one eclectic couple that would become our spiritual guides. The room was brimming with anxious energy as we all sat pensively on our yoga mats.  I realize now coming out on the other side how naïve I was on that first day.  As I sat there staring at our instructors I had no way of knowing how hard the next three days would be and the range of emotions that we would go through.  In hindsight, I find the courage of our instructors to be inspiring as they were the only ones in the room on that first day that knew what was going to happen…and they did it anyway.  

In it

After orientations and breathing practices we were partnered up with a “buddy” that had been chosen for us based on proximity.  Our first introduction to our “buddy” would be to tell our life story in ten minutes in the third person. What. The. Heck! My initial response was fear of telling my story to someone that surely could not understand where I came from, how was I going to tell a complete stranger my choices and consequences in this life and still be respected? It was decided that the person in the pair with the longest hair would go first, whew, I was off the hook, at least for ten minutes. She (my buddy) began to tell her story in the third person and I was wholly impressed at how good she was at this and then her story started to wash over me and I found myself sitting, paralyzed by her words. How could this be? Her story was so similar, yet so different. Could it be that this person that had been chosen for me was more like me than different? This would become another proof point that I was exactly where I was supposed to be; on that mountain, in that room, on that yoga mat, sitting in front of her; another moment of divine intervention as my buddy was surely chosen FOR me.

All of this chatting created a cacophony of voices, laughter and nervous energy that of course would lead up to the announcement that we were going to step into silence. We had been in session for 24-hours and now were presumably ready to be thrust into silence as the session was ending. We walked out of our class into silence with little instruction outside of “stay in silence”.  There were hints during the day of the more obvious “rules”, no talking, no phones, no tv, but we were mostly left to our own devices, or not.  I walked back to my room in the dark, wondering where in the world I was that I could be instructed to walk the half-mile up the mountain to my room alone. As with previous themes, this would be the last time I would worry, let alone think, about walking alone in the dark. This mountain was washing over me like a security blanket and in safety, vulnerability is allowed.  As I entered my room I was immediately aware of the sounds around me.  We had only started this journey and it seemed as though everything was amplified.  As I turned on the water to brush my teeth I was acutely aware of the faucet and powerful flow of water.  This heightened awareness of sound would continue throughout my time in silence, at times revealing nature’s wonders and other times annoying the shit out of me. 

I would go to bed without tv as I had done the night before only as a trial and now as a sentence.  These would be my first victories as I have always fallen asleep to tv as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, I remember there being a black and white tv in my room that had no reception, I would fall asleep to the sound of “snow” every night.  I am not sure what my parent’s attempt was in that added “amenity”, but it set a habit in stone for life. 

When I woke in the morning, still in silence, I would begin to see the range of emotions that would become a roller coaster ride as warned that it might.  My trip to Starbucks was uneventful.  Our mornings would always start the same with yoga and then breakfast with some alone time in between the break until our 10a session would start.  Somewhere in that “break”, the emotion of the few hours of silence realized and the days of silence pending in front of me hit like a ton of bricks.  As I sat on the side of the hill in front of our classroom I would completely lose it, crying until I was sobbing.  I was grateful that we were in silence as I could not explain where the emotion was coming from or why I was crying.  I just was and at the moment I knew I was “in it”.

Buckle Up

As the days would go on the meditations would as well.  We would meditate for hours on end.  Meanwhile, emotions were on a roller coaster that ranged from the rockiness of a wooden coaster to some, few, that was as smooth as silk.  When you sit in meditation you are doing the “work” you are inevitably here to do.  You are training the mind.  Sit, close your eyes, take a deep breath in…and we’re off!  I would spend hours fighting back the thoughts that would flood in like a tsunami of randomness, contemplations and plans for the future.  I would try to swat them away like the flies that they were but realize that when the flies are in the ointment your swatter is defenseless.   

I would find that range of emotions at its height on Day Two as I was ready to quit. Was this normal or was it my typical “MO” of always finding an escape hatch when things got uncomfortable? I was pissed that we were going to meditate again and again and again. I would submit a question for that night’s Q&A asking why we were meditating so much to which our instructor would offer his wisdom after reading the question out loud. His answer was, so appropriate, “Well, you did sign up for a meditation retreat.” HA!!! I would find the ridiculousness of the question and his answer the comical break I needed to let it happen. As the meditations wore on I would come to realize that this is the process of finding the “self”. It does not happen in a few meditations. It happens from the constant practice, one right after another, of quieting the mind. This realization would happen days after this Q&A and when it did it was existential.

Embracing the present

One of the things that became very clear early on was the amount of control that one has to turn over to truly be taken (sometimes dragged) into this process.  The only way to get to the “self” is to allow yourself to be guided by trusting the process.  For many of the people in the room, this was an effort in itself.  “What are we going to do next?”  “How, why, when…”  “What do you mean I cannot go to the bathroom when I want?”  Control; is a bitch.  You come to realize (or you don’t) that you have to relinquish it because all that you are wielding in your own hands prevents you from seeing what you can become. 

To be present is sometimes not knowing what will happen next.  You are aware that there is more on the horizon and you pick your head up for brief checks to make sure you are still on the path otherwise you keep your head down and focus.  This thought of keeping my head down occurred to me many times on my journey into silence.  When I went on hikes, which is one of the very few things we were allowed to do, you had to keep your head down to avoid tripping on a rock or a root, and would only look up to make sure you were still on the path.  Head down = Good. When I would walk around the grounds I would keep my head down to avoid eye contact, since simply pleasantries would threaten my silence. Head down = Good.  Keeping your head down became a “good thing” and as with all things in life what is good is also bad, but in these moments “head down” equaled “focus” and that was “good”.

Breaking the Silence

As the final moments of the retreat had arrived we were prepared to “break the silence” in a ritual that would bring value to the first words that you would speak. It would be ceremonious because after all of the silence surely you would have something to say that deserved to be heard. We gathered in a circle and were asked to say one word that would break our silence.  This would be the most powerful moment in what had already felt like millions of powerful moments.  As we went around the circle each person would reveal their voice in a word and then share why they had come to the silent retreat.  The last part of sharing was not asked of us but something that seemed to come as a release and felt natural after spending hours of silence together.  We had gotten to know each other through wide eyes hidden on masked faces, passing each other back and forth between breaks, finding safety in our silent numbers.  Now we were hearing the voices of those that had come to be our brethren and felt a responsibility of sorts to share.  As the stories came flowing into the circle it created a centrifugal force that was apropos for the roller coaster to come to a final stop. 

My “word” changed numerous times as the emotions of their stories came tumbling out in front of me.  “Acceptance”, “fear”, wait…no, the words, every one of them said by the 22 people that stood in the circle before I applied, how could I choose one?  When it was my turn, I stood up holding on to the column beside me and said the only thing I felt at that moment “OVERWHELMED”.  It is not only what I was feeling at that moment but inevitably what brought me to that circle.  Overwhelmed by my thoughts and my emotions now in front of these warriors and ironically also the reason I had driven up the mountain originally.  I was overwhelmed by life, my life, thoughts that had no longer become a choice to act on but instead, had become a directive summoning emotions and reactions at a dizzying pace, literally as I was suffering from vertigo brought on in silence.

There I stood and spoke my testimony.  “My word is “overwhelmed” because that is how I feel right now.  I am brimming with energy feeling a tingling sensation throughout my body.  My word is also “acceptance”.  I realized I was in good company on Day One and that allowed me to be vulnerable to this process.  My word is also “responsibility” because I owe it to myself to carry everything I have learned into my life and I take the responsibility of each and every one of your stories as mine to keep in solace.  My final word is “fear”.  Fear is what I felt when I was driving in and realizing that the last time I was in silence was as I sat at my mother’s bedside the last three weeks of her life until she took her last breath.  I did not know if I could ever sit in silence again, but I did.”  …and then I sat down into a puddle of my own tears. This must be the definition of cathartic…

This word has always fascinated me and at this moment of release, I fully came to understand not only the definition of the word but the weight of it.  This word would become a defining word for the “silent” retreat to be used for me and only me. It is not a word I would repeat or use to describe my experience to others but acknowledge deep within.  We use “heavy” words to express our emotions, to place emphasis on our stories without ever truly understanding the true meaning.  I realized in this moment of “catharsis” that there were very few times in my life that I had been here, truly.

yOUR Story

Everyone has one, a story, your story, our story.  All of our stories begin with “Once upon a time…” and inevitably we spend all of our lives seeking our “…happily ever after”. 

So many themes revealed themselves this week as a final conclusion to a novel that had more ups and downs than a harlequin romance.  Your story is my story and my story is yours and by telling my story I share OUR story.  We have all been through something, everything and ironically nothing.  Every single one of us can tell a tale of tragedy in our lives as easily as one of victory.  The degree to which that story affects us is personal.  Your story is no less tragic, better or mundane than mine, it is simply your story, which is ours collectively. 

“When all you have is eye contact, devoid of speech you see yourself through the eyes of others.” – Lori Kiel, silent retreat revelation. 

I saw myself in the exuberant girl so full of energy she could barely contain herself in silence.  Her giggles, moans, grunts and loud motions drew the attention of the room.  At first, what felt like a distraction soon came to be a mirror of myself.  I recognized myself in her “bull in a china shop” persona and immediately knew why she was there. 

I saw myself in the woman two yoga mats over from me that would look at me as if she could see into my soul.  She was just a bit older, a tad wiser, summoning me with her gaze that told me “she saw me”.  As we broke the silence she would come to me to sit and share, of course, she would because surely she felt that energy as well.

I saw myself in the “buddy” I was assigned the day I first laid eyes on her on Day One.  Tattoos, gorgeous skin, long flowing hair and a fierceness to her eyes that let you know, she was not to be messed with; just like me.  As we were tasked with sharing our life story (in the third person, in ten minutes) her words would flow so eloquently from her soul revealing a life that was shattered, shocking and leaving me absolutely speechless.  It would be my turn to tell my story and I would fumble for the words, not even sure of my name in the third person.  What she could not know is that as she told her story, it was mine as well.  How could that be?  I am immediately reminded that we are all more alike than different.  She was as shocked as I revealed that I too had walked a similar path.  Her assumption of me, my appearance, my demeanor, never let on that I too had seen life like hers, we were safe, together. 

I saw others, those familiar to me my mother, my friends, my kids, in those warriors that surrounded me in silence.  I saw my friends in the eyes of three others as we were tasked with a “gazing exercise”.  We sat in front of three people and could only stare into each other’s eyes to reveal if we were ready to come out of silence.  The first two people I sat in front of were new to me.  We had not come into contact during the retreat and in gazing into each other’s masked faces I recognized their eyes.  The first was younger, scared, kind eyes that were holding back.  So familiar to me and reminded me that the kindness behind those eyes should not be confused with weakness, I know her and she is fierce.  The second was familiar.  She looked like me, 35 years of me.  Round, soft, sweet, flowing hair and a gaze that seemed to create compression on my heart.  It was physical.  I could feel her squeezing my heart, how, what was this…later when she spoke her final word I would come to know her name.  Of course, it was that of my childhood best friend.  Of course.

Driving Down the Mountain

I thought a lot about what the departure from silence would look like, would I talk, would I stay silent, turns out much like life, it just happened. When you are in a cocoon, enveloped in silence, safe on the top of a mountain, the idea of driving out of that space is daunting. I had been warned before going that how you come out is as important as the work you do during the retreat.

As I got into the car to take the 9+ hour drive home, I was incredibly energized.  This again was to be expected, or not, as expectations are “the thief of joy” as one of the many lessons I have learned this last week.  Having experienced the range of emotions and feelings I had come to know I was grateful that today I was energized where days before I was exhausted. 

GPS set, water in the cup holder and let’s roll! 

I call my husband first to tell him I am out of silence and find my first attempt to explain what I had just experienced.  I had already decided that I would not share, at least not verbally, this experience with many others as putting it into words would only fall short.  He of course knows why I went and was ready to listen and of course support the changes I am coming away with.  He is relieved to hear that my resolve is much of what he has told me, begged of me and offered in wisdom through the years.  Ironic that it takes a silent retreat to get it to sink in. 

The next phone call comes in from my youngest son interrupting my husband and I’s call to tell my husband that he has locked the keys to his car in the trunk.  AND HERE WE GO, cue the song “…back to life, back to reality” – Soul II Soul.

After solving his crisis my youngest son, who is now driving the long ride home from his friends, calls and just wants to talk.  This is golden.  As a parent of three sons, you come to learn that conversations like this one are precious.  They are not the “What are you doing today?” calls, they are not trivial, these are the ones that when they happen you cherish and stay present.  This time I am present on an entirely different level, good for him, awesome for me.  This is a gift. 

The last call on my drive home is my oldest son and his wife to “check on me”.  They are always light-hearted and make it easy to share without effort.  As he is the quieter one in our family his first question is if I made it through the silence without talking.  We share some laughs about my experience and I am left feeling loved, as always.  He is so gentle with me.  This word “gentle” is one I would hear many times throughout my meditations and would remind myself again and again.  This is a tattooable word…not that I would…but noting in the case I ever get the itch. 

She’s SAFE, Sliding into Home

In between the calls from my family, the best call I had on my drive home was from the one person I had just experienced this retreat with, Jill. 

She and I met 15 years ago when working for the same company.  We came fast friends and long after going our separate ways and career paths we have remained close.  We have an affinity for wellness and Buddhism and we are each other’s “go-to” for retreats.  When this idea of going on a silent retreat came to me she was the first one I called to see if she wanted to join me.  Of course, she said “yes”. 

It’s interesting going through a period of silence with someone as you cannot communicate verbally yet you soon realize that knowing each other is all the communication you need.  The energy, the eye contact, the moments…are as comforting and telling as the words you cannot say.  We would hike the mountains around us every day using sign language and caveman-like grunts to communicate. We laughed, a lot! We would even get into a bit of trouble as we accidentally wandered off of a trail and onto the land of a very disgruntled man and his two very loud dogs! Uh Oh…

As we were not able to speak until the very end of the retreat we had a lot to talk about in downloading our shared experience on our long drive home, she back to DC and me to Orlando.  Jill had left before me and had already experienced “life” in her new mindset.  She shared her few experiences with me as a warning of what was to come. 

As we downloaded it was a resolve in closing the experience and unexpectedly necessary.  My very wise friend and fellow meditator dispelled her wisdom and takeaways with me with her best advice being…

“You can now access silence anytime you want it.”  Ironically I always could. 

As it turns out silence was always available to me.  Accessing it was not.  I have now been equipped with tools to truly access that space in which the quiet can resolve and ready my mind for the noise as I decide to allow it access.

What I am taking away

There were many lessons through stories that were told to us throughout the retreat. Again the facilitators had a captive audience; we sat like kindergarteners on the floor looking up at them as our teachers. We were captive indeed, voices silenced and seeking wisdom by the two that seemingly knew how to find peace. I would later tell them (when granted my voice again) that I was in awe of their courage to take a group through this process as the emotions that would bubble up would sometimes be focused on them; anger, disbelief, love…yes by end of this retreat I would come to love these two courageous humans.

While we were not able to use pad and paper during silence I would have to remember the lessons I learned based on what resonated and “stuck” versus what I voraciously consumed in notes. This as many that know me is tough. I rarely sit and do anything without a keyboard in front of me allowing all that enters to produce on the page in front of me. Again, another blessing in disguise as I realized that much of that notetaking was more about keeping “busy” so I did not have to simply sit within myself. Lessons learned. One at a time. Here are some that were taught and others that I came up with within my own observations of the “self”:

  • When the water hits the rock, the water is not interrupted, it is not harmed by the rock, it remains unfazed.  It simply splashes back unto itself and proceeds to flow around the rock. The rock does not stop the flow, it changes it ever so slightly but it still flows.  Be the water, not the rock.  I am the water.
  • When you walk like a flame everything you come into contact with becomes fuel. 
  • The body is the wick and the mind is the glow.
  • What we resist persists.
  • Vicious cycle involves thought that evokes emotion that elicits reaction. Allowing the thought to present itself dismiss itself without emotion or reaction is the key to peace.

Jill’s favorite story of wisdom is that of the “empty boat” and I have been regarding it since coming home as well so I share it here as taken from the web for better clarity:

There’s a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down the river toward him. At first, it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to yell, “Hey, hey, watch out! For Pete’s sake, turn aside!” But the boat just comes right at him faster and faster. By this time he’s standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it’s an empty boat.

The other boat is always empty, even when there’s someone steering it. There is never anyone to get angry with. Even if the person steering the other boat deliberately rammed our boat, his behavior had nothing to do with us. Anything anyone else does is done for their own reasons, and much of the time they don’t even know the reasons. When we see life as it is, rather than our thoughts about it, we see that every time we look for an enemy, someone to hate, someone to blame, there’s never anyone there. Just an empty boat on a foggy lake.

My own epiphany occurred on the final sunrise. Of course, it did. As I was sitting at the very top of the steps of the main meditation hall, two cappuccinos beside me, shivering from the 40 degrees of cool air blowing I took these pictures and the following came to me…

As the sun rises we can see more clearly what was always on the horizon. The clouds that were there don’t go away they are just part of the scenery not the scenery, itself. Clarity is not removing the clouds all together but instead seeing that there is more to see if you step back and center.

Life as I live it – L.

Take it back!

Photo by Zhanna Fort on Pexels.com

Here we are post-pandemic and forever changed by so much more than a virus. We are changed by how we interact, who we interact with and when we interact. We have found yet another “line in the sand” as a country where “we decide” for ourselves. I will decide if I vaccinate; the most obvious of all decisions in this moment. How about all of those decisions that we are making quietly, personally, publicly without a declaration?

We are deciding:

  • Who we will spend our time, how and when. Long gone are the days of social pressures that forced us to be with people we don’t want to spend our time with or working for companies that made decisions for us. We are deciding; collectively and independently. We are no longer driven by the pressure of having to make social “appearances” for the fear of ____________.

I find this revealing and refreshing. It is revealing for us all to see who chooses us and who we choose. Who has “written us off” using the pandemic as the acceptable “Exit Door” on a friendship that had long seen its end? Who have we “moved on” past using “self-isolation” as an acceptable reason to end it? It is refreshing (after the sting) to be left with true quality relationships that are “worth the risk”. Relationships on our terms.

We are deciding:

  • Who we will work for, with and where. I am inspired by those that are taking back their freedom to decide and take the risk (while it is low) to move on from an employer that does not align with their values. The test of independence will be to see how those making the change own it when the roles reverse and employers are able to pushback again. Do you stand on your morals? Are you holding true to you when the ball is not in your court and you have to take the risk of holding the line?

It is refreshing to see people live their lives the way they decide; choosing for themselves. In order to make this stick, make sure you set it up for the long haul and not as supplemented temporarily.

Last but never least are those that inspire us to take notice of the freedom to “Take it Back” when we don’t notice that we have given too much. I was inspired by a conversation first with a dear friend that helped me to understand the power afforded if I would just exercise the value I have recognized but not afforded myself. This was further reinforced by one of “The Aunts” that reminded me to define it, protect it and DO IT.

I am “paying it forward” by reminding you that this is the season to “Take it back!” as there are “hall passes” and “escape hatches” everywhere. Open your eyes and your mind to the new possibility to redefine what is not working of you.

Life as I “Take it back!” – L.

Unresolved Midyear?

Photo by Monica Turlui on Pexels.com

Who’s to say what is right for you? I am learning that all of these lessons we learn along the way are simply ingredients to a classic recipe that we bake to represent our lives. The brands that work for us. The regimens that give us wellness. The jobs that bring satisfaction and reward. The friends that give as much as they take. Respect for our wants, likes, and dislikes is a way to define our lives.

With so many “rules for life” on the shelves and in our ears it is important to remember that what works for us is simply that “about us”. All of those “rules”, recommendations and regimes are not a “one size fits all” and it is our attention to pay to bring with us what works and leave the rest.

As relative as the choice is the time in making those decisions. Time is inevitably what we cannot get back. Time is ticking and wasted in every “second” thought. When you know what works, work it. Don’t contemplate it. Don’t do “it” again and again and again to simply return to the place where you knew it all along. Don’t let others’ contemplation of the “thing” you have already resolved to pressure you into re-contemplation. It steals away the time you should be practicing what you know or learning something entirely new.

Equally important is before starting something new make sure you have gotten everything out of the current effort with full resolve. We start new when the current path is taking too long or seems too hard, knowing that we will have to return to it. That path now looms over us as unfinished business taking the joy away from the new venture, path, or effort. Resolve it, don’t return to it.

What are your mid-year resolutions? Are you resolving to finish your New Years Resolutions? What is the unfinished business and what has already been deemed as “resolved”? Define it and allow those decisions that need to be made to be given the focus deserved by saving time on all that has already been decided. Resolve to leave resolved the decisions already made; that is true respect of your time.

Life as I resolve it — L.

A Place for Silence

Silence. The word elicits a response regardless of the emotion. When said out loud in exclamation it will quiet a room. When said in a whisper it will quiet the brain. It is something we long for and in other times something we run from. It is a word, a state of being, an emotion, it is powerful.

I have been longing for silence in its many forms for years. I long for it in my brain that is overactive and relentless at times. I long for it in my day to simply get away from the chatter of life. I long for it in my demeanor to provide restraint in my personality and sometimes I long for it after too much has been said.

The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.

Paulo Coelho

The quote from Paulo Coelho sums it up. Be what you want the world to see. Don’t state it, don’t talk about it, just be. If you want to be a runner, run. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be successful, succeed. Stop talking about it, do it. In my case, I aim to stop talking. Not in the literal sense but I find that my conversations tend to be on repeat. I say the same things I said before, I state the same goals, themes, opinions…yes opinions…but why? Am I convincing myself or others? I feel confined in these conversations that are on repeat and offer little in the drive to move forward, or even sit still, they hold me back and keep me in a place that is meant to be left behind.

By practicing silence we can resolve those things that nag at us, define us, and create angst. By practicing silence we get the gift of taking in more around us; hearing, listening, and simply being. It is when we stop announcing what we will do that we actually become.

No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.

Agnes De Mille

When I think back to the most impactful times of my life they were decisions that were made internally. They needed no external support. When I think about it, it rings so true, it is only those things that you are not resolved in that you put out for the world to weigh-in on. Those things that you KNOW and do not question you DO without applause, accolades, or validation. When I made the decision to change my life or better said every time I have made the decision to change my life, I did not ask, I did not state it, I just did it. I did it because I did not want anyone to thwart my efforts or convince me otherwise. There is not one of those life-changing decisions that I regret. This is to say there is great resolve in silence.

A close friend of mine once told me that she learned the most about silence from a mentor who when in the Boardroom would say very little, however when he spoke, the room would hush and all ears would be on him. Everyone knew that when he chose to speak, he would bring value, he would bring wisdom, and that power in his silence spoke volumes in his contemplation that was as loud as his voice. I long to be this man.

As I fall silent on this blog, I think about how to put this into practice as it is not as simple as just not speaking, that is not silence, that is something else entirely. The silence I hope to explore is what I believe it is to be wise. To allow others to share their experiences without you adding on. To allow others to try it their way if you know it will create the same result or better yet if it will cause no harm and instead stands to serve as a lesson.

The silence I hope to create for myself is to find my own resolve that will lead to contentment. The silence I hope to create will make me MORE not less; allowing me to shut down one “sense” to peak the others. The silence I hope to create will allow me to accept more, resist less, and resolve.

Silence…nothing left to say – L.

Previous post on “Silence” almost a year ago https://alwaysstarting.com/2019/07/25/silence/

Seeking Normal – Day 25

Day 25 prompt:

We perceive “normal” in the context of our own experiences. Someone who grew up with domestic abuse thinks that’s normal until someone who experienced a life without abuse shows you that the state you are in is not “normal”.

What about your normal have you come to realize isn’t or wasn’t “normal”?

My answer:

This prompt is too similar to ones before identifying the fact that normal for everyone of us is about our current condition, state or environment. What one calls normal another calls strange. The real-deal is living the life you want to live, how you want to live it and owning it. That does not mean that you are subscribing to norms or defined by anyone else’s normal it means that you ultimately decide what you want, how you want it and go get it.

It is our human experience and sharing those experiences that can create new norms for each other. It is sharing what we “know better” to those suffering unnecessary circumstances to help pull each other, not only out of a situation but one entire step up in your own life and others.

It doesn’t always have to be a tragic event. In my case I am finding a writer inside of me that years ago I did not know existed and then when exploring this new passion and coming to know other writers that make me realize that writing and being a writer is a norm for others. This realization means that it can also be a norm for me. I just have to give it the time.

Every single blog post has one common theme and denominator; YOU DECIDE. Every single cell in our bodies and moment in our lives exists because of a decision we made to eat, exercise or not, go to the party or not, welcome a new friend or not…it is all about decisions that we make along the way. If you are accepting a normal that is not serving you, you are deciding to live in that unfortunate state and likewise you can decide to change it. You decide.

Life as I live it – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 19

Day 19 prompt:

Author Janet Mock noted, “None of us should reach for normal. Normal is so basic.” What is your opinion?

My answer:

Well this is a fun prompt. I am not sure how I feel about this as I have tried it so many ways and normal feels resolved, normal feels calm, normal feels less resistant. I find lately that I actually prefer normal over those reaching to be above-normal as I have never been someone that follows the crowd and in today’s world the crowd is doing anything but normal. It is normal now for adults to be athletes, competing in Ironman competitions so frequently that completing such a fete no longer seems “special”. It is normal now to go to college at any age and achieve educational degrees at one-time meant for the purpose of expertise in career. It is not uncommon in today’s world for someone to achieve a Master’s degree for the sake of saying they have achieved it.

It is ironic and maybe hypocritical for me to cite abnormal as unappealing as I have lived much of my life working to breakthrough norms or expectations. I have reveled in much success in my life that would not have been considered “normal” for my upbringing or capabilities. While I do not take for granted any of these achievements the efforts were exhausting. Worse is the pressure to do it again and again for the sake of doing it. This is where my “want” for normal exists. I want to be happy with what I have, not wanting for more, enjoying where I AM. This, I am finding, takes as much work as achieving a place where contentment can live. Hoping that my normal is as basic as I can make it.

Living life as I see it – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 17

Day 17 prompt:

How has your normal changed or are you living the life you experienced as a child? Re-creation or Recreation?

The prompt is a long-one this morning so I set the question above and offer the entire prompt here.

  • Tara Westover said, “There is a way you experience life as a child, and then as an adult you have to look back and decide how you are going to think about it”.

My answer:

This prompt is very similar to Day 16 so rather than go through my own experience of changing my life as an adult as a result of not wanting to emulate the life I experienced as a child I would like to expound on some of the thoughts that Tara Westover shared in her interview on Super Soul Sunday. These are the highlights as I recorded them and how I perceive them.

  • There is a way you experience life as a child and then as an adult you have to look back and decide how you are going to think about it.
    • This is all about perspective which is gained when you realize that what you think is “normal” is challenged. For me this occurred as I observed my friends lives and families as a child and teenager.
  • It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.
    • Incredible statement. While I did not experience this negatively, I have observed it in others and I think it occurs when you allow other people’s belief’s about you to matter more than your own beliefs of you.
  • They have to invade your reality and they have to distort it and they have to change how you see yourself and have mind-control.
    • This is the greatest statement and helps me to understand why I am so resolved to let go of the ways in which “she” attempts to victimize me by making me at fault. I know my reality better than anyone else in the world and if that reality makes YOU uncomfortable; well that is about you. #Word
  • That’s my view of it and I am not going to change that to make you more comfortable. 
    • I have fought to get to the place where I am in life, a life that makes sense to me, and I am not willing to compromise those views, perspectives or observations that are most definitive, for me.
  • It’s not a question of whether you love them it’s a question as to whether they belong in your life.
    • I will leave this right here. #Word
  • You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye.
    • Yet another truth that is so simply and so eloquently stated that it needs no more explanation. Yes, I have made those choices and stand behind them as way to protect myself. 
  • I think we do love a great disservice when we make it about control and change.

Tara Westover’s book “Educated” is profound. I highly recommend it as a read that you will have a hard time putting down.

What I know as an adult is that we have all been through the trauma of childhood because regardless of how it is defined it is your normal for the first 18 years and it is only after you are removed that you understand the true meaning and how it has set you up for your future as it will now be defined by you.

Live as I have lived it – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 14

Day 14 prompt:

How do other people affect your normal? How do you control those affects? Do you choose who’s in your life and what role they play?

My answer:

Other people affect our lives in all roles we play. While we would like to believe that we can control everything, we know better, and in this case there are too many external factors that ultimately limit out ability to control who is in our lives. For example, you cannot choose your family, your coworkers, your neighbors or even the most remote of interactions like who gets behind you in line at the grocery store. For this reason the effort and practice that we need to deploy is about controlling how we react and what we tolerate.

In my life there are people that have and do ultimately affect me negatively however I have made a concerted effort to remove those people from my life. Where I don’t have the freedom to choose I have chosen to limit my interactions and ultimately to control my reaction. I have learned that people will show themselves without my assistance and my intervention can appear to be part of the problem versus a solve. I have also learned that saying nothing at all, or in this case not reacting, makes more of a statement than words ever could.

The reason this prompt is important in the discussion of “normal” is that if you do not take steps to control your reactions or continue to allow people in your life that do not serve you well, your reaction becomes your normal. A normal over time makes you a victim of those people. Becoming a “victim” in any sense of the word is never okay especially when you can control and deny the victimization.

The more I write about this topic and others the more I realize that the common denominator is ALWAYS your ability to DECIDE. You decide everything in life. You decide if you stay, if you go, who you go with, how you go…YOU DECIDE. It is the power of that decision that ultimately affects everything. This is a topic for another day but I must say that it is where I have seen people NOT decide for themselves that they play victim to their environment. NOT deciding is also a decision and if that is the choice you make, own it, don’t make excuses, don’t blame others, own it and where you don’t need to explain, don’t, just decide.

Life as I decide – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 8

Day 8 prompt:

Is wanting control in every single aspect of our life normal? Control over every emotion, person, stressors, etc. that are in my life…

My answer:

I could not have known a year ago when writing this prompt journal that it would be put to the test in a pandemic that has taken our entire idea of normal and turned it upside down. Control is what we do not have right now and it is truly showing the character of a nation. We cannot go outside of our homes, or shouldn’t, and that is where the control in our lives exists. Controlling our exposure to the virus means doing our part to stay isolated.

I don’t know if “wanting control” is normal but it creates comfort because when you are “in control” you are not a victim of other environments. Having the choice is a pivotal characteristic of control. When you can choose, you have control. It is where we don’t have choice that we find ourselves victimized. I don’t want to be anyone’s victim and that has as much to do with how I react to those things that I do not have control over as having control. I guess it is fair then to say that having or wanting control over all things is “normal” because ultimately no one can take away your control.

Ironically outside of this time in our lives where everything is about the virus that is holding us prisoner as a nation you always ultimately have control. Taking control is about responsibility. Where do you assume responsibility? Where do you surrender? Ultimately you decide and that is control regardless of environment.

Life as I control it – L.

Self-Conclusion…Live NOW

An interesting response came the other night from Gary. I was sitting on the couch watching TV and working on my laptop. As I was shutting my laptop down and closing the recliner to get up I said to Gary “I really need to get my life together!”. To this Gary literally laughed out loud and said, “If you need to get YOUR life together we are all in trouble”. He actually made me laugh at the ridiculousness of the statement! To this brief, comical encounter I offer you the last of the Self-Series.

I often pontificate on the life I have and if it is indeed the life I want. I do this because I am of the belief that we are the ultimate creators of our life through our choices. We come into this world alone and we leave it presumably alone and yet how we live is so frequently dependent on others. Seems an oxymoron of statements. The reality is that even as we live with others we are on our own in defining life as we live it.

We are all so busy making it happen for everyone else. But what about the canvas that is your own life? As Oprah says, “You alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-true-love/201910/what-i-learned-being-oprah

I feel that I have become an expert at creating the blueprints that define the life I want to live and then creating or architecting that existence. Unless I am tired, distracted, happy, sad, content, etc. You name it and it has the ability to throw me off of the plan and leave me with all of the pieces and parts that I attempted to set in motion lying around me. Pulling from my recent “Self-Series” it would seem that self-discipline, self-motivation and a bit of self-control could solve for any distraction, yet here I sit.

My ability to summon the self-discipline/motivation/control can certainly push beyond my mood or state of being in the short-term. It is the long-haul that is put to the test when the only consequence is yourself. If I am not letting anyone else down then why does it matter if I don’t run, write, read, sleep, _____________. But the reality is that letting myself down is the worst thing I could do because I matter and what matters to me, matters.

The life I want requires many things from the “self” but most importantly the result of the life I want is to feel satisfied with what I am doing, who I am and how I live it. The only way to do this is to not be dependent on others or situations. You have to be willing to live despite it all. I used to say “I will be happy when_________”, “Things will be perfect when_______.”, you fill in the blanks. And then I got to __________ and nothing changed relative to my happiness beyond what it already was prior to the condition I was summoning.

Today, this weekend and even some of last week, I was living my “best” life. Life fulfilled with those that matter most, doing the things that matter to me and finding value in that simplicity. Don’t make it harder than it has to be, live it simply. Live it without conditions and live it now, right where you are…today, this minute…now.

Live as I see it – L.