The Small (Powerful) Quiet (Patient) Voice Within….

I visited the Dark Place again this weekend. I never know when another visit to this place will happen….it is unpredictable and sometimes sudden in its appearance. It has many faces.

The face this past weekend was the face of self-doubt, self-recrimination, dark thoughts and hopelessness….a place of grief and sadness and pain. It is a familiar place, and one that is never far away. It is a type of home, one that is not comfortable or cozy to go back to, but back to it I must go when the call comes.

The call this time came about relationship issues and loss. Relationships lost, hopes of relationships lost, friends lost, fur babies lost, youth lost, opportunities lost, a huge segment of my life gone already and a questioning of myself and wondering just what I have done with my life and what do I have to show for it….

The voices in this dark place are relentless and loud. Negative, critical, shaming, judgmental, catastrophizing, predicting a bleak future, however long of a future that I may have left at this point.

Looking in the mirror from the Dark Place is painful. The names and judgments and self disgust can be overwhelming.

And yet…..and yet….even in the midst of this version of a personal hell….I am aware of a quiet voice within. This voice waits until the most recent rant is over about whatever the fault of the moment is that the voices choose to focus on. It waits….and then, quietly, says….”You know that is not true.” The Dark is relentless, attacking, storming, engulfing….and yet…the small quiet voice is there, waiting patiently until the quiet interlude comes again. And again, this quiet voice of sanity and balance says…”You have made mistakes…yes, You are human. But you are not a mistake. And you do not deserve this attack on you.”

And on and on it goes….until the Dark becomes tired….Until the voices are fatigued. And the quiet voice is still there…..” You are ok. This shall pass. You are ok. You deserve to live and to love and to be loved. You deserve to be here…..”

That, I believe, is the Voice of God (Universe, Spirit, Higher Power, Presence, Higher Self, Soul) within. The part of us that knows we are doing the best that we can, with errors, and that we are human, and lovable. And forgivable. It reassures me that even during those times of visiting the Dark, that it is always still there…waiting….never leaving…..and that it will speak in its owntime.

I cannot feel that Essence as much when I’m in the battles of the Dark, but I am reassured, that even in those times, I am aware of this other part of me that I have worked on, have struggled to get to know, have delighted to find, have claimed and lost again temporarily, but found again.

We can remember, I think, that we have this other part that is always there, though quieter at times. That quiet voice is more powerful than the rest, as it prevails and never leaves…accepts that there are dark times, but does not accept that this is all that I am.

I hope to remember that about others as well, when they are struggling with their own version of the Dark Place. And I want to remember that about myself. And I invite you to remember that part of yourSelf….that has never abandoned you (even if it has been quiet for long periods of time). And, to, as we continue on this journey of aging and life, to honor that part of us, that quiet voice – to know that there is all the power that we need right there…and it will wait patiently…until we come home to it….until we come home to ourSelves.

“Time Has Not Been Kind” ???

Have you ever read the articles, with photos attached of course, about various movie stars with the line “Time has not been kind to …….”? What does that even mean? Are we supposed to look at these human beings who we have put in impossible positions of having to keep up a certain look or physique or standard and now see them with horror, disgust, and disdain for how they have changed over time?

If they don’t have plastic surgery, there are remarks about time having been cruel to them. If they get plastic surgery, there are also plenty of comments about how that is not working out so well, either. It’s a no win situation.

And,, although I am pleased to see the revolution of some older women now being seen as models and the articles talking about their beauty, I am also aware that these women that I see also often fit the societal standard of what is beautiful I do not mean to take away from their beauty and am glad to see different and older ages now being shown – but I am also aware that most of us are not what they are, in terms of beauty (as it is defined in our culture)….so we have yet more images to compare ourselves to and come up short against in comparison.

We all age, if we are lucky enough to live that long. And aging brings lines, and for many of us, extra pounds….it brings skin that doesn’t bounce back like it once did. This is the reality.

I wonder, though, is there a way we can begin to see this and ourselves with kindness and love and appreciation and even admiration for the strength of the survivors that we are? Must we be told to be horrified that “time has not been kind”? Can we ever learn to see those lines and less than perfect bodies as signs of lives well and fully lived?

And what , I wonder, do all these messages about how we are to react to aging do to us when we look at our own evidence of time passing as we gaze in the mirror? Are we to judge ourselves harshly for not looking as we once did? Are we to then quietly sink into invisibility and the background so as not to offend others or be found as less than? Are we to love ourselves less?

Some of the messages about aging are blatant and I am glad to see that we are naming them more and beginning to refuse these deathly labels. Yet I am also aware of how insidious and buried and unconscious many of them may still be….and how we have learned to not even see them, to accept them as truth and to learn to see with the eyes that judge, ridicule and condemn. And, do we do that to ourselves when we look at our own image?

Is looking at aging in the face (literally) too frightening an acceptance of our mortality and slow walk toward our own death? But, if this is true, must we die before we actually die? Can we not live more fully, loving ourselves each step of the way, and learn to embrace who we become and what the becoming looks like on the outside?

These are not questions that can be easily answered. But, maybe, we can continue to ask more of the questions, become more aware of the messages on how we should see ourselves, and begin to perhaps say “no……I will not minimize myself, will not sink into the invisible background, will not see myself as less than or someone that needs to be cast aside.” We have earned the right to fully live, to see ourselves fully – including all the feelings and passions that older people are sometimes seen as no longer having.

It is not time that has been unkind. It is all the judgments that we make about it.

We are still alive. Let us not die before our time.

Kind Attention – The Unsung Hero/Heroine of Super Powers….

Years ago, I think I scared the living daylights out of a shoe salesman. As I began describing what I was looking for, he stopped what he was doing, looked up at me, made eye contact, and said “Go ahead. I’m listening.” I was stopped dead in my tracks. I smiled, and said (sometimes my filters don’t work so well…..) “I am not trying to come on to you. But let me tell you, when you say that to a woman, you’ve got her!”

I thought it was funny at the time, but indeed, it was true. How rarely we are really deeply listened to.

I had another experience just the other day. I went to my Ob/Gyn …I will spare you, kind readers, of too many details except to mention that estrogen rings are not always easily removed, depending on one’s anatomy….enough said about that. So, here was this young male doctor, and he was so attentive to what I was saying. He listened, validated my experience, and was kind in his responses and treatments, telling me all along the way what he was doing to help the situation…..which he was, thankfully, able to quickly take care of. He listened to my problem, asked questions to clarify, did what was needed, validated that this was indeed an issue and that we needed to change to a different method of treatment, and asked, at the end, if there were any other questions or issues that I needed to ask about. I felt, in those few minutes, completely heard and taken care of. How little it can take to do that….not to minimize what he did, but to acknowledge that it really did not take much time to help me feel heard, listened to, and also given permission to ask any questions that I might have. I hope that this lovely young doctor does not ever lose this quality as time goes by and pressure to produce and proceed more quickly increase.

This is what we need. To be seen, to be heard, to be validated as the human beings that we are. I did not feel, in that appointment, treated as any less significant because of my age, because of my gender, because of anything. I was simply heard and paid attention to. I felt the glow of appreciation of that the rest of the day, and still do…

Can there be classes in medical school about this? Indeed, why aren’t there classes in school in general about this and how to treat each other? How to really hear and see each other? How to proceed in our interactions as if we are not enemies, or numbers, or annoyances to be dealt with? Why aren’t there movies about this great super power (of kind attention and presence ) that can, in my opinion, move mountains and melt hardness and fear? (I do think of one movie that showed this – the one about Mr. Rogers……a true hero in my eyes….)

And as elders, we have much that we can share….that we can teach…..that we can touch….in others. It would be a shame to not dive into that while we still can. To share this human experience, to talk about all the incredible feelings along the way, to help each other perhaps feel a bit less alone for a few moments.

Go ahead…..I am listening……

The Quiet Wee Hours of the Morning

There is nothing quite like waking up in the wee hours of the morning, looking in the mirror, and facing yourself. No distractions (unless I am quick to try and provide some), no noise, no pressure yet to attend to the relentless errand list….just me…..looking at the reflection of my face….and quietly staring into my eyes.

I look older, of course. But, I wonder, how did that seem to happen so quickly? I feel a bit stiff when I wake up…..I notice that I don’t jump quickly out of bed these days, but take a few moments to get the joints and body moving…. I look into those eyes and still wonder….Who Am I, really?

I had a career as a social worker, and am now retired. So that was a way that I tried to define who I was – but no longer…

I love to write and paint and take joy in having more time to do both these days….but does that define who I am? It doesn’t quite fit – I is what I do, but who am I?

I didn’t have children, so I am not a mother. I am divorced for many years now, so I am not a wife. I am not currently in a relationship with someone special, so I am not a partner. I don’t have family around, so I am not part of that group…..what does that leave?

I am an aging woman. Does that define me? Only partly.

I am a friend to some……is that part of a definition of me?

When we strip away all the roles and definitions and structure that society gives us (and some of those can be helpful, if not taken as the whole answer to the question of who we are), then what is left?

I am a part of this Universe, of nature, of the earth – what else?

I am a woman who tries to be kind and helpful as best as I can….sometimes more successfully than others. I am a flawed human being (I guess that those two words go hand in hand….flawed and human…). I am an expression of a greater Being/Universe….a tiny pinpoint of light (on my better days)….I am quietly here, quietly breathing, quietly living, quietly questioning this life as I move ever steadily toward whenever the end of it will be….

What is my purpose? What have I accomplished? What matters, if anything?

I go and visit my parents at the mausoleum and wonder as I look around at all the “residents” there….Who were you? Will anyone wonder who I was when I am among you? Does it even matter? What matters? Do I matter? Have I ever mattered?

These wee hours of the morning can be a tricky time….questions with no answers…..thoughts with no direction…..feelings with no place to land….

And so today….I will write a bit….I will paint a bit….I will walk on the earth a bit and feel my connection to it…..I will make eye contact with another human being and feel my connection to them….I will breathe, I will think. I will feel. I will be. I will live while I am still among the living. I will keep asking questions. And I will keep on going until it is time for me to stop. And I will try to be kind, including to myself…..as I wander on this road of life with my fellow beings and creatures….And I will love. And maybe…..that will be enough……? Maybe that will express what I am and can be? To connect, to love, to express that, to share, to hold hands in our fear and questions….to be the human beings that we are? To see how we are not all that different from each other as we each walk our path. To maybe see how false these divisions are that we create among us…..that we have much more that unites us than divides us, if we open to it. Maybe that can be one of the lessons of this very special sacred time……these quiet wee hours of the morning……

A Letter to the New Year

Hello New Year,

Here I am, again. Grateful to be alive to see you. Struggling with the internal nagging thought of resolutions. But, here is the truth of it….

I will make no resolutions, for I set myself up for failure that way – and that is no way to approach you, this new year.

I will realize and accept that I come to this new year with everything that I carried (and maybe a few more pounds….) last year. There it is and there I am. Human, flawed, struggling, but still here. I still have the grief that I have been processing and feeling from all the losses as of late that also remind me of all the losses in my life. I still have the sadness. I still have the hopes and wishes and dreams. I still paint and I still write, although not as much writing as I would like to do. I still feel the loneliness that comes with living alone and aging, and yet I still also crave the solitude and quietness that allows me to listen to my soul.

I still procrastinate, still have not seriously begun de-cluttering, and still have a list of chores that I resist daily.

I am still afraid at times, in grief and sadness at times, joyful at times, and grateful always….for all of it (although some of it may be more pleasant to feel and experience, certainly).

I still acutely feel the pain of the earth….its creatures and plants and air that we have hurt so deeply.

I still feel the pain of this pandemic and all the suffering and fear and shock at what our world experience has become. I still feel the sadness and disgust at the politics and how we have moved away from basic human compassion and kindness with so much of the insane politicization of things that have nothing to do with politics.

And I also still see human kindness and compassion and striving to do better, to be better, to care for each other and for our planet. I see babies being born and they give me hope, although I worry about their future and the legacy that we are leaving them. And I still pray …. a lot.

And so here I am. No resolutions. Simply the desire and will to keep on going on, to keep living while this body is still capable of it. Still wanting to express myself to others with my words, with my paintings – to share what is inside me to anyone who may relate and thus perhaps feel a bit less alone. I am still among the living. I am still breathing. Still loving, which, after all, is the point of it all….Welcome, New Year. Let’s do this.

The Gift of Holiday Sadness

I want to write to those of you that may be feeling sad during this holiday season…..to let you know, to let myself know (for I always am writing to myself as well as to you) that it’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to feel whatever is coming up for you. It’s ok to feel the grief, the loss, the emptiness, the pain that may be more intensified this time of year against all the images of what the holidays should look like and should feel like and should be like. As they say in the language of recovery, we need to “stop shoulding” on ourselves. Enough.

You are sad. You have good reasons. I am sad. I have my reasons. And it’s ok. It does not mean that I am not grateful and that I cannot experience moments of such joy and tenderness, even in the midst of the grief and sadness. Life is not black and white. We are not all one feeling or another. We are complex, and we can contain all the feelings. Every last one of them. Even the oh so painful ones.

So during this holiday season, I wish you the space to feel what you feel, to be who you are, to experience life on your terms. And I want to sit beside you quietly, with my words here on this page, and let you know that you are not alone. Your sadness is a sign of the depth of who you are and the depth at which you can love and become attached. Your grief is a sign of the love you are capable of. Your pain is a sign of your humanity, and of your ability to connect with others and understand them and offer them some comfort and support and quiet companionship, Your complexity is a sign of the depth and growth of your tender soul and all that it has gone through and endured….and become richer from.

I wish you understanding and self compassion and self love and tenderness….Whatever you are feeling is ok. Let it be – give it space – and breathe. It is one of the gifts of life. There will be enough time for deadness when we are no longer here. But, for now, let us be alive….let us feel it all. I am right here, quietly beside you.

The Healer Within – Messages From Your Soul

There is a therapist and healer within us that calls us to do what is needed to heal ourselves. Of this I am convinced. We need only to learn to recognize that voice and respond.

I have been going through some struggles as of late, and have been back with my old and familiar friend, grief. I have written previously about how aging seems to bring this companion by more and more frequently, and this really does seem to be true.

My most recent struggle has been, on the surface, about relationships with others – but, on a deeper level, about the relationship that I have with myself. I observe, yet again, how easily I can take the road of self sabotage, self condemnation, self blame, self punishment. Perhaps this is my feeble attempt to try and feel some control in my life over things which I really do have no control over. Like the reactions and choices of others. Like someone not wanting to talk about something so that we can work it through. Like how life can be unfair. How loss is inevitable. How aging brings losses and changes that I cannot control. How death is the final inevitability.

In the midst of all this, I notice that I am drawn to do things that I loved to do when I was younger, but had to abandon in order to survive in this world, make a living, listen to what I was taught was important and what I needed to pay attention to. I have written before that these parts of us are still there, for which I am so very grateful. What I now realize even more is that these long neglected parts of us are not only still there, but are there to help heal us and bring us home to ourselves, home to our Selves. Who we were, who has been inside us all along, who we still are, who we can still be.

I have been painting a lot lately….I am lucky enough to now be retired and able to devote time to this. And I notice that the process of painting brings me quiet and calmness and takes me away from the ever present ruminations of my mind. It calms me. It takes away the illusion of time. I get lost in it….and, ironically, I find myself. I marvel at what can show up on a canvas, really have no idea where it comes from ……but am so grateful that it does. The painting seems to flow through me from somewhere else…..and that is totally ok with me. It’s not from me, but through me. And I feel at home. And ok with being me. Flaws and all.

I wonder, if I can allow this space and surrender to apply to painting the canvas of my life. To allow what is to flow through me. To allow myself to develop on that canvas, flaws and all…and in fact, to appreciate that the flaws actually make the painting more unique, believable, able to be interpreted in so many different ways by others, depending on their own experiences and ways of seeing the world. Can I allow myself to step away and simply be quiet when I need to allow myself to be able to see the canvas more clearly to know what my next step is? Can I allow myself to try different colors and palettes to see what fits and what needs to be changed? Can I allow myself the time to simply paint and know that this is enough, that this is all that I need to do in this moment, that in fact, this moment of painting is perfect in and of itself?

Some paintings bring up joy, some bring up sadness ….but they all touch on things within that need to come out. My inner therapist speaks to me through painting, through writing, through walks in the redwoods….

How does your inner therapist try and reach you? What did you love to do but have forgotten? What were your natural tendencies, abilities, talents, desires? What made you smile and laugh with delight? What is trying to get your attention? What is inside you that needs to be heard, and seen, and attended to? I hope that you can stop and listen for a while….and that you can begin to hear the whispers coming from your soul.

I’m Not Cranky…..I’m Angry!

There are a lot of labels that seem to come with aging…

I am not “cranky”.. I am angry …sometimes enraged.

I am not “cute” when you see me being affectionate with a partner …..I am a passionate, vital woman expressing herself with enough wisdom and experience to still ignite flames…

I am not “too sensitive” ….I am expressing a lifetime of experience of observing pain and suffering and how we humans can inflict that on each other, to other beings on this earth, to this very earth itself…and to ourselves..

I am not “over the hill”….I am still climbing that hill and learning and living..

I am not someone who is no longer a productive member of society…I have much still to offer, and indeed, the time now to offer it more than ever….

I am not simply waiting to die……I am embracing each moment of life more and more passionately….

I am retired from my job, I am not retired from life…

I am not feeble minded or slow – I am still present and thoughtful and aware…..and bring years of experience to the table…..if you take the time to listen and to hear me…..

I don’t “look good for my age”….I look good.

I am not “outdated”…I bring rich history to the conversation…..

I am not in denial of age related changes….I know that I may move more slowly, take more time to do things, sometimes forget names, get lonely for so many people and beings lost and more to come, get lonely to be really seen and heard. These and more are part of aging, as is facing mortality with much more reality. Estate planning, making whatever final arrangements that I want done, letting go of things more and more as I see how much they clutter my life and my mind, having some of my senses decline (now wearing a hearing aid in one of my ears)…..these all come with the aging experience and process. I can laugh at some of the changes, but I will not laugh at myself or allow that from others at the cost of my soul…..

These changes are only part of what is happening to me….they do not define who I am. They are not the totality of me. They do not give anyone permission to categorize and then discard me….including myself. Perhaps that is the most tragic of all, to have internalized these diminishing labels and apply them to myself as a way of pushing myself to the periphery of life…

I am still a very complex human being, a woman, a member of this tribe here on this earth. I have much fire within, and much that I can share and offer, to those who are interested and those who have the courage to look into my eyes- the aging eyes that reflect what will be their truth in time- and see…..and hear…..and be together with me during this time…. our oh so brief and precious time on this earth.

Will you look into my eyes with their crow’s feet and laugh lines? Will you take my hand with its wrinkles, thinner skin, and now more prominent veins? Will you have the courage to see me, knowing that if you are lucky enough to live longer, you will one day be where I am now? Will you acknowledge that I am still so very much present and here? Because I am….still here….still alive…. I am not dead yet.

The Resiliency of Self

Who you really are never goes away…….and I am so grateful for this.

As a child, I loved to draw. I loved to write. My parents didn’t quite know what to do with this, as they had grown up in such a time of struggle and focusing on surviving, making a living, and getting whatever job that you could to make that happen. I am grateful for all that they gave me and for their struggles to give me a better life than they ever had. The drawing and art and writing talents, however, went into hibernation. I learned they were fun thing to do in my spare time, but that I needed to focus on how I was going to make a living, how I was going to survive.

My father was an immigrant who worked so very hard to give my mother and I all that we needed. We never wanted for anything. I felt safe in knowing that my needs were taken care of, that I didn’t have to worry about the basics.

My mother was also an immigrant who worked hard to make a good and loving home….she was a great cook, she would sew clothes for my Barbie doll, she would hold my forehead when I was sick, nauseous….and be there.

I was an only child, so I have no experience with siblings, and also had the full attention of my parents (which could feel like too much at times….!)

I grew up, studied hard, picked a career ….I was a social worker for my entire career. And I am grateful for that experience and career, and hope that I did some good and made some difference for a few people along the way.

And then I retired. Who am I now, I wondered? I have been focusing on my writing and my art once again, wondering if there was anything still there…… I enjoy this blog and hope to write a book at some point. And I have been painting.. To my ongoing surprise, several of my paintings have been accepted into online magazines and exhibits. I am thrilled, humbled, grateful….beyond description.

The young girl who loved to draw and write never went away. In fact, she has shown up when I most needed her. I had a health scare when I was close to turning 50- and she showed up in my intense desire to start drawing again. I was home, off from work until we could figure out what was going on medically, and I drew constantly. It helped me get through the three months of unknown diagnoses until all turned out well, thankfully. A very scary time, with the comfort of my little artist within to be with me. I wrote many journals during that time as well….giving the flood of feelings a place to simply be.

I am going through some grieving at the moment, and I have been writing and painting more again….. It is a form of therapy for me and comfort once again from parts of me that have never left me, but have waited patiently for me to once again pay attention to them, to see them, to validate them in a way that others could not.

I live alone, have been married and in other relationships in my life, and am grateful for each and every one of them They got me to where I am today. I find that I feel lonely at times, even though I am a woman who very much enjoys her solitude. I don’t know if I will ever have another partner or not….am open to it, but also fiercely protective of my solitude and aware of my pattern of easily giving myself away to another at the cost of my own spirit and soul. I can sometimes react out of protective fear about this pattern and push others away……an ongoing project and issue for me that I continue to work with.

What strikes me lately is that the major relationship that I need to focus on is that very special relationship with myself. With all parts of me….even the not so pretty parts that can react out of fear and unintentionally hurt others. I truly need to learn to accept all parts of me, acknowledge all parts of me, see and hear all parts of me, allow expression of all parts of me (hopefully keep working on doing this in ways that do not hurt others). And love all parts of me….all the very human parts of me. And allow the pieces that have not been heard, have not been given space to express themselves, have not been seen……allow them to come out and be.

And so I write. And so I paint. And so I come to know in a deeper way the therapist within that connects me to God…..Higher Power….the Universe….the me that was meant to express herself…..and realize that there is yet time enough to let these part of me out….I am still alive, so there is time……I am still here.

We don’t have to give up …..rather, this is a time where perhaps we can give ourselves complete permission to fully live, to fully inhabit our lives, to fully become all that we can be….I am here. You are here. We are not dead yet, so let’s come alive fully…..it’s time.

The Gentle Brutality of Self Honesty

I am working with being more honest with myself these days. I realize how much I actually withhold from others at times, out of fear of offending them or being rejected by them. This has been a a lifelong pattern for me, learned early on and reinforced along the way until it took over. And it has not served me in living my best life.

So here I am, in my late 60s, looking at this pattern yet again. If I am honest, I don’t always tell the truth. I don’t always let others know when something that they said or did may have hurt or offended me in some way. I tell myself it’s not a big deal and to just get over it. Now there are times when something small is really not all that offensive, but, I think that some of these perhaps not so little things can build up inside, eventually creating a wall between me and others. A wall that I have used to protect myself. But, as I now am realizing more and more, a wall that has also separated me from my own truth and inner integrity.

I do not mean that I need to be brutal or harsh with others…..and I am beginning to also realize that this can also apply to being honest with myself. Yes, I can be brutally honest in realizing that I don’t always tell the truth. The next question can then be, rather than the self condemnation and proof of further evidence against myself….to ask….why? What is going on that I feel that I have to hide who I really am? For me, one of my fears is that if I show who I really am and what I truly feel, that I may be rejected, condemned, left completely alone and unloved.. Pretty harsh judgment, yes? The truth is, the person who has been doing this the most to me is myself. By not speaking who I am, by not allowing myself to tell my truth, I have abandoned me – reinforced the belief that I am not good enough, don’t deserve to speak up, will be seen as the bad person that I really fear that I am inside. Again, pretty harsh judgment. And sometimes, because I have held things inside for too long, when they do come out, they come out much more forcefully than necessary…..and may push others away, thus confirming the fear that I will not be accepted. Self fulfilling prophecy.

So…how to work with this. How can I finally really be more completely who I am for whatever life I may have left to live? How can I show you who I am and risk losing you,, or take a chance that we may grow closer still? And how can I allow that inner self to come through , finally, into the light? Flaws and imperfections and all….but still a worthwhile human being who has the right to be here and be who she is.

I find that I can somehow do that more easily with the written word, in this blog….and now the task is to learn to take the chance and risk to do that in person, face to face…one small risk at a time, one hesitant step….one breath at a time. I want to die having fully expressed who I am, and allowed that self to be seen, perhaps loved even. But, most of all, to see and love myself…..

I wish the same for each of you who may relate to some or any of what I have written. You deserve to be seen and heard and loved……and you so very much deserve to give this to yourself. Come along with me on this path….this path of gentle brutality…..with compassion, understanding, room for mistakes….and love.