I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Love

The Beautiful Subway Singer

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Finding Love Right Where We Are

Monday, instead of walking across town in my usual commuter bubble to catch my train home, I decided to take the subway. It was hazy, hot, and humid and the sky had turned ominously black while all our cellphones were sirening the alarm that a storm was near. I’ve been caught in that 5:30 pm summer downpour.  Not today.

I headed down the tunnel below ground and just missed a shuttle. In my bubble, I headed toward the next train. Everyone was standing, crowded in the entry way, even though there were plenty of seats in the middle. I made my way through the crowd to sit by myself in my bubble. When the train started moving, the beautiful woman next to me started singing. Well, at least I think she was beautiful because she gave off a beautiful vibe. Beautiful energy. I didn’t actually look at her. I didn’t actually make eye contact with her. After all, I was in my bubble in the city where I was taught not to make eye contact with strangers. Somehow connecting with others was threatening and could incite danger. This was understandable advice to the young single woman I was many many years ago, but it doesn’t really serve me that well any more. I am capable and savvy, unlikely to be accosted by strangers, and far more inclined now to make a warm connection with someone who could use a smile (and usually that someone is me).

I was startled out of my bubble. Listening. She started out tentatively, a little out of tune. It was a hard song, Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud. I certainly couldn’t sing it. I certainly wouldn’t have the nerve to burst into song in the subway. I don’t even sing at home if anyone else is around. I just listened. She gained confidence and strength. I suppose she does this all day long and this was just another iteration for her, but it was magical for me. It is such an intimate song. Her timing was impeccable, singing the climax “We found love right where we are,” just as we pulled into Grand Central. One of the more exuberant souls on the train exclaimed “Beautiful!” And it was. She was.

I went back today to the same shuttle train to see if she would be there again. Of course she was not there. That anonymous, ephemeral, magical moment could not be repeated. Imagine, finding love, all around, on the subway – in this stormy time.

What Can I Do?

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Ever-Widening Circles of Love

The news is bad. Frightening. Each new crisis pushes yesterday’s crisis below the surface. What about the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram 2 years ago? How are they doing? What about Ray Rice’s wife, Janay Palmer? I heard she was pregnant with their second  child due this Fall. I wonder how she is doing. Is she happy? Is she safe? I wonder.

After skimming (I seem no longer able to read, really read) the latest awful and bizarre highlights from the newspaper, I get hit with an onslaught of more of the same awful and bizarre highlights on my Facebook feed, peppered with articulate and impassioned rants from a variety of people I respect and read. I wonder how I can add value to the fast and furious conversation. It moves too quickly for me to react thought-fully. They are too smart. I am too sad and overwhelmed. I understand why the rants are interspersed with pet videos and yoga poses. Really, how much despair can a person take?

After Orlando. Feeling a mixture of anguish, outrage, and numbness. The most eloquent post popped up. Simple. Not long. “How do we end the hate?”

Well, that’s it, isn’t it? It’s not about terrorism, gun control, or cogent posts. It’s deeper than that. I shut off my phone and reflected. What can I do? Really. I am one person. Busy busy busy in my world. What can I do? Differently. I am not an activist. I am not particularly authoritative about lots of political facts and policy implications. I am quiet. Sensitive. A mother, a marketing executive, a yoga teacher. What can I do?

And then I remembered. My new year’s “resolution.” The one I forgot around January 25th. Greet each person with enthusiasm and joy. Curiosity. Love. That’s it. Simple, right? Look them in the eye, welcome them into my world and open my heart to them.

But it’s not simple. I forget. I get annoyed. I get anxious. I get overwhelmed. I snap. I send off a vibe of “I’m busy busy busy! Leave me alone!” Or worse, I get judgmental. I’m so judgmental. And competitive. You know. I’m more important than you. Or I’m better than you. Or I’m smarter than you. Or I’m more right than you. Ugh! It’s exhausting. And not true. So. Not. True. Being judgmental is a sign that you need to prop yourself up. I don’t need to do that any more. I am good enough.

So, like a meditation practice, when I notice that I’ve forgotten and gone off in some unintended direction, I bring myself back. Maybe gently. More likely with frustration. And greet each person with enthusiasm and joy. Curiosity. Love. Especially my family. They get the brunt of my bad behavior. And maybe, just maybe, if I act with more love and less hate, then maybe, just maybe, the people in my life will also act with more love and less hate. And maybe, just maybe, like water rippling into ever widening circles, there will be a little more love and a little less hate.

That is what I can do.

Image Credit: Lake Ripples by Rosemary Craig

You’re Still The One!

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On the Vastness of Marriage

It is our wedding anniversary. Twenty-two years. It seems like yesterday that I greeted him at the altar and met his eyes. And felt so much emotion. The same thing happened on the day we met. And again this morning. Overcome with love, honesty, awe. I turned away – too intense – the passion that I feel for him. Too busy, too embarrassed, too embedded in our daily habits to act on that emotion.

I could complain about him. After 22 years, there’s a lot to complain about. He doesn’t dance. He’s stubborn. He makes me look like an extrovert. He votes Republican (but not for Trump, have no fear!).

But then, he could complain about me. That would be a long list.

We could have given up. We’ve had our share of fights. Though I avoid conflict and he tends to be unyielding. That can be a bad combination and I have been known to stomp away with frustration and fury.

We could have sought other mates, someone who shared more common interests. Would he be happier with someone more outdoorsy and adventurous? Would I be happier with someone who was more interested in dance and theater?

Maybe. There are always what if’s. You can spend your life wondering if you should have taken the other path.

But we haven’t given up. We haven’t sought other mates. We choose each other. Still.

What makes us stay? Loyalty? Commitment? The mortgage? The children? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And friendship. And love. And respect. And unshakable passion. Not the I-want-to-rip-your-clothes-off of the first phase of infatuation. No, it’s a slow and steady burn.

Pride plays a significant role. I am proud of my husband and proud of our marriage and proud of our family. I think he’s the most intelligent person I know and the most capable. When I am clouded and swayed with weighing the pros and cons of every (every!) decision, I appreciate his decisiveness. He’s funny, a good cook, reads more than I do, and likes to play. He has set good life priorities: Love a few good people, have a good time with them, and appreciate every day. It would be easy for me to get distracted by pursuing other people’s dreams and goals for me, but he is a beacon of clarity.

Appreciation plays a significant role. You can wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else. Or you can marvel at how good you have it. My husband is rock-solid in his love and pride for me. And for our children. I have it good.

Forgiveness plays a significant role. We all make mistakes. We all are a little weird. We all need our space. He says one reason he fell in love with me is that I laughed at his jokes and forgave him his bad jokes. Well, I’ve made much bigger mistakes and he has forgiven them. Shared reciprocity.

We joke that my husband embodies impatience. Smarter, faster, more determined that most, why wouldn’t he be impatient? He pulled himself out of a destructive youth and put himself through college, why wouldn’t he hold others to as high a standard? But he is gentle and patient and forgiving of the people he loves. Deeply compassionate, he will sit by us as we try and fail and try and succeed, cheering us on.

Marriage is a dance, with each taking turns and supporting the other.  Marriage is a partnership where we inspire and encourage each other to be better. Marriage is vast. Filled with shared history, shared dreams, shared pain, shared joy. That it’s been twenty-two years stuns me.

With appreciation, forgiveness, patience, and love, we meet each other in the middle, at the altar of marriage, an intimate bond, a sacred bond, between you and me. Abiding love and deep passion ignite when our eyes meet. Still. After all these years.

Happy Anniversary.

Sankalpa

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May I Be Open

Thank God Christmas is over! Too much food, too many people, too much to do. The austerity of cold and bracing January beckons. Hunker down and resolve to achieve. After all, disciplined effort is where I excel.

Funny though, how all those years of new year’s resolutions haven’t made me happier. I am still the same person at my core. Intense, curious, anxious, becoming happier, more relaxed, more generous and loving and confident. My cuticle-picking has improved slightly. (Good God, I remember resolving to not pick my nails back in college. I’m DONE with that resolution!) I don’t need to lose weight (disciplined effort is where I excel), and I’ve cut out all the meat I’m going to cut out.

So, what’s on deck for 2016? Goals? Teach more yoga! Become a Reiki Master! Take my blog to the next level! Meditate, every day! Learn to sing a new song every month! Write more thank you notes! Yes, good goals. I will work towards them. But they are still outward-facing, achievement-oriented goals with tasks attached.

What if, instead of deprivational lifestyle changes or ambitious goals that imply I am not good enough or have not achieved enough, I started with the premise that I am good enough? Just as I am? Perfect in my imperfection? What would I do?

What if you are good enough, just as you are? What would you do?

Maybe I would smile more. Laugh more. Be more open and inviting to other people. Worry and complain less. Judge less. Compete less. Say Thank You more. Forgive.

Maybe I wouldn’t need to gossip or provoke other people to gossip in order to feel good about myself. Maybe I could simply accept other people for who they are and where they are on their journey, right now, instead of wishing they were different or would change. Because maybe they are good enough just as they are. Imperfectly perfect.

What a relief!

There is a fragile moment of choice before acting. It’s a choice between being open and shutting down. Making eye contact or looking straight ahead. Saying yes or saying no. Choosing to scorn with judgment or empathize with compassion. We rely on habitual patterns of behavior and thought and expectations of what we should do or should think. But what if, at that moment of choice before acting, I checked in with my heart and gut and listened. Choosing compassion, honesty, joy, love. To decide to do the right thing, for me, not the expected thing.

There is a girl. She is painfully introverted and socially awkward. I see her walking in her bubble with her earbuds. She’s odd. Perhaps her parents are odd. It’s easy to judge, to laugh, to scorn. I’ve been that girl. With the odd parents. Afraid to make eye contact. Hoping no one notices me. They will think I’m weird! Maybe they are dangerous! How much happier I would have been if I had worried less, feared less, and smiled more, greeting my fellow humans with openness. When I put myself in her shoes, I want to smile and wave, somehow convey to her that she is okay. But she looks down and I keep my safe distance.

There is a yoga concept, Sankalpa. It means to make a promise to yourself. To resolve to act. Act on your most innermost desire, according to your life purpose. It honors that you are imperfectly perfect just as you are. That you will make mistakes. Like meditation and yoga, you will come back to the breath and try again. While it might involve breaking a negative habit, like nail-picking, or creating a new habit, like meditating daily, it comes from a deeper place of resolve from within, to love and be your best you. You need to be very still and listen to your soul to determine your sankalpa.

So, this year, instead of wishing I were something other than I am, I will pause in that fragile moment. Remember that I have a choice. I will listen to me, not what I think others expect. I will reach out to others more and worry about myself less.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is as simple as what my friend posted about what she has learned from her dog. (Thank you Kirsten.)

Life Lessons from Beau

Wake up each morning convinced it’s going to be the best day EVER. Become giddy with excitement each time someone you love enters the room. Go for as many walks as possible. But don’t growl at the cat, because that’s not nice.

Oh, and when I forget, I will be kind. Kind to myself, kind to others, kind to my family. (It’s so easy to forget to be kind to one’s family – when really, we should greet them with giddy excitement every time we see them, like Beau.) And when I forget, I will try again.

Credit:  Heart of Gold 2, by Shannon Grissom

All The Single Ladies

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Hey Romeo, Don’t Post Naked Pictures!

The other day, a young woman in my life posted a photo from an online dating site of a mostly naked man opening his door to potential girlfriends. I mean potential sexmates. The young woman’s caption was a sarcastic salute to the pitfalls of online dating. She got me wondering. It does seem difficult for young people to forge deep and committed relationships. Of course, if all the guys are immature and unattractive and think posting a naked picture of themselves will entice a mate, then, well, whatever, I have no words.

I feel for the beautiful, smart, funny, ambitious, adventurous, deeply caring young women in my life who would like to be in a relationship.  There really is no one good enough for them. Wait, what? How can that be? Surely my son will be a good, honest, sensitive, loyal, loving young man. Someday. There must be some good men out there! Have they buried their goodness under pressure to showcase their sexual prowess? Online? It’s difficult to let your personality shine when you have to sell yourself with a fabulous photo or catchy caption or impressive profile.

I met my husband on a group skiing trip. The group was a bicycling club in my area that skied in the winter. Although I spent 10,000 hours in grueling ballet classes as a teen, I was not a sports-oriented athlete. Discovering outdoor activities as an adult was a bit of a revelation and a fun way to be social. I met a variety of congenial people. And I met my husband. There was the shock wave of eye contact and the frisson when we shook hands and more body language and subtle contact when I maneuvered a seat next to him at dinner. We were able to get a sense of each other in the company of mutual cohorts doing an activity we both enjoyed. It was very conducive to romance.

Of course, in my day, I suppose the common way to meet people was at a party or at a bar. This too can inspire that eye-lock across the room and lead to romance, or a one-night-stand with an immature Romeo looking for just a sexmate. Maybe things haven’t changed very much. I certainly had better luck meeting people through friends and activities. Luck in the sense that it was safer, and the other person was generally a potentially good fit.

I caught a tip in a men’s magazine counseling guys on how to meet a woman at the gym. The advice was to go slow. Identify a woman who was open and smiling and not just intent on her workout. Then make one comment about the gym and go away. Then, next time, bring up a movie and see if she responds in a way that invites dialog. Then, next time, invite her out on a date. Slow, gradual, over several encounters. The magazine explained that men tend to come on too strong which turns off the woman and shuts her down. Yes! Hey Romeo, don’t post naked pictures of yourself!

Out of curiosity, I started asking people I know how they met their significant other. A few had stories of friends who had met online, but most of the people I spoke to had met their mate through a friend or on a trip or through an activity. We all expressed relief that we did not have to figure out online dating and deal with the anxiety around what to post and how to meet someone compatible. Some of the young women say that online dating has been a fun way of bonding with other young women, laughing at the ridiculous options. The men have buried their goodness under pressure to showcase their sexual prowess or financial success or intellectual achievement or whatever is trending at the time. Honestly, the women have too. Buried their real selves. Under a protective layer that they think is worth presenting to the dating world.

I hope the young people I love form deep connections with lovers and friends. Most of the young people in my life were brought up with parents in traditional and committed relationships and strive for that themselves, or think they should strive for that. They are all quite capable and independent and, I hope, happy. It is possible a traditional marriage with children is not going to happen for them. Certainly not with Romeo and his ilk.

Let’s face it, marriage is hard and not for everyone.  But there are so many ways to create a loving life with deep connections. There is more and more support for single people embracing their autonomy. 44% of adults over 18 are single and many prefer it that way. More and more co-housing communities are being created. But it can be difficult to go against traditional social norms, especially if that’s how you were brought up. And if you want to have children, it really is smoother to embark on that adventure with a partner.

How to find that mate? Well, not only do you need to be yourself, but you need to be open to another person’s self. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to get off social media and take up some social activities.

Cartoon Credit:  Rob Cottingham

I Want Stained Glass Windows!

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Awe

Around about now, I wish I belonged to a church. It seems like such a meaningful way to spend the holidays. You know, Christmas and Easter. Holidays that I celebrate. Secularly. But the sweet baskets of chocolate and the spring tulips and the nice family dinner don’t seem like enough. I want Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. Stained Glass Windows. The Word of God.

Every decade or so, I wonder about joining a church. The obstacles are many. I was brought up by cerebral scientists who were not necessarily atheists (neither would commit to believing nor not believing), but who were damn sure they did not want to go to church. And, probably not surprising, I married a man with a similar attitude: not quite sure about God but convinced that church is not for him and angry, angry, that religion is the root of so much persecution and conflict in the world.

I am not sure about God, but I don’t believe that Jesus is any more divine than you or me. I am not Christian, but that is the religion to which I’ve been most exposed. I definitely don’t believe that you need to follow a religion and its rules and its mythology to be a good person.  In fact, I am suspicious of those who follow a religion’s rules without questioning.  How can you be so sure? And why is one religion more worthy than another?

But in stillness, the stillness of savasana or meditation or a Reiki session, sometimes – just sometimes – warmth spreads throughout my body. My body tingles with energy. I see colors and images. I am both hyper alert and deeply relaxed. Usually, in my daily life, I am too busy busy busy and too determined to achieve something to be still. To feel. To listen. But in stillness, it happens. Sometimes.

I am sure there is a scientific reason for my very physical, very dramatic, very strange, very powerful, very real experiences. I am equally sure that people who are more comfortable than me with the mysterious and the mystical will claim this as an excellent example of the unknowable. And that I should get myself to church or synagogue or temple without another moment’s hesitation.

When my mother died, I was determined that we would honor her in a church. Unlike our disappointing and unsatisfying nods to Christmas (presents!) and Easter (chocolate!), this life passage needed more meaning. We found a Unitarian minister and church who guided us to create a lovely memorial service. It helped. It made a difference.

I like the Unitarians. They tend to be liberal and intellectual without a lot of strictures. Good God, they hardly even mention God in their beliefs and principles! That’s my kind of religion! I must say however, that their churches hardly seem like churches to me. The church where we had my mother’s memorial service was an ugly building from the uninspired 1960’s. I Want Stained Glass Windows. A Breath-Taking Sanctuary. Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. The Word of God. A church should define the notion of Awe-Some.  Like the cathedrals that inspired me while I was traipsing all over Europe when I was 20.

I suppose the physical space should not matter. Any space can become beautiful, and sacred, as you spend time there, in stillness. It’s not the stained glass windows that are sacred, but the people who make the stained glass windows and sing in the choir.  Or chant in the yoga studio.  Or pray for peace.  Or act to build peace.  What matters is the community of people and the holiness of love and support between the people and a sense of sacred purpose. Faith that life and love matter.

I will spend some of Easter in stillness, being grateful for the hope and optimism that is Spring, and reflecting on love. I believe that what is holy is love. Love is what is Awe-Some.

Photo is the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral.

Crying With Strangers

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Beautiful Tears

According to the buzzy factoids that bombard my FaceBook feed, there are three types of tears: basal, reflex, and psychic, the emotion-based tears. Psychic tears have a chemical composition that includes protein-based hormones that function as a natural painkiller. That is why it is such a cathartic release when we are able to cry.

Beautiful tears

I cried a lot when my mother died. I was so sad to see her die. I was so honored to be with her when she died. But it was and is my father’s overwhelming grief and anguish that breaks my heart. This from the awkward and undemonstrative man who never cried. Like the Swedish farmer joke, he loved his wife so much he almost told her.

Stop the tears

After she died, I had to return to my busy busy life, making lunches, pleasing clients, doing laundry. You know, the important stuff of life. My family, my friends, my colleagues offered genuine sympathy, hugs, love, and support. I was surprised and so, so moved at the outpouring from all walks of my life. But I didn’t cry. Even though I was sad, it felt like it was time for her to go. Even though I felt her loss, it was a relief.

Stranger tears

Then one morning on my way to work, I ran into a casual acquaintance on the street. When I told her that I had recently lost my mother, she wrapped me up in a big bear hug. I cried. I hardly know her! Somehow the spontaneous hug and this sense that she knew deep in her soul what it was like to lose your mother brought out the release. After that, everything set me off. Arranging for donations to my mother’s alma mater, I cried speaking to the young woman on the other end of the phone, a stranger who was probably a current college student, as I told her the story of  how extraordinary my mother was, earning her Ph.D. in 1950.

No tears

I am still holding it together when I’m with my most loved ones. Why? Too embarrassed? Afraid of judgment? Am I not allowed to cry? Afraid I will fall into an uncontrollable abyss? After all, my days of being depressed are behind me. I am not going back there. But. Shouldn’t we be able to cry with the people with whom we are most intimate? Why do we put up our guard? The risk of vulnerability is greatest with the people who know us best. If we didn’t have good emotional role models then there is even more reason to perfect that suit of armor. It is through writing and journaling, yoga and meditation that I feel I can peel away the layers of armor and reveal my hidden self, emotions and all.   When I reveal what is hidden, I connect.  It is these moments that remind me that we are all connected and that the love between people can occur anywhere. With all the complicated bonds and history behind family relationships, perhaps it makes perfect sense that honest, emotional, spontaneous connections are easier with strangers. Maybe the delineation between family and friends and strangers needs to soften. How can we change the habits and patterns grooved into family life so that honest, emotional, spontaneous connections can happen with family and friends?

Allow the tears

This Christmas, I want to be more open and emotional with my loved ones, showing them my heart and giving them my love. Love is what is sacred and holy. Merry Christmas. May you shed beautiful tears.

Photo Credit:  Deep thanks to Rose-Lynn Fisher for the use of her beautiful photo of beautiful tears, Tears of Grief.

 

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