traveling notes, AZ-NM

For more than a week, my daughters and I explored parts of northern Arizona and New Mexico. We rented an RV for some days and we stayed in hotels for the rest. We saw the Grand Canyon (below is a picture of us at Oak Creek Canyon on the drive from Sedona to Flagstaff), went to Four Corners Monument, and made several other stops along the way.

IMG_0073

As we made our way back home to Maine, I’ve thought a lot about how to share our experiences with our friends and family. Long gone are the days when we might sit around the living room with the loud slide projector seeing “pictures from our vacation.” I’m not sure yet what the modern equivalent will be. It feels like it needs to be more than sharing pictures on Facebook or on this blog.

Traveling as the only adult turned out to be a pretty big deal. As we drove — for hours and hours at a time — I’d be gasping at the landscapes on my own. Both of my daughters have a greater capacity than a lot of children for awe and wonder at things like mountains or rock formations, but they tired of the views a lot more quickly than I did (I didn’t tire of them). Add to that the sheer exhaustion I felt from being the only grownup on duty as the parent, and there wasn’t a lot of “vacation” in my week.

That said, oh my gosh. Wow! I’m in my late 40s and while I have seen some of southern New Mexico, I got a real taste of what the southwest looks like on on this trip. I feel like I’d never really seen anything like it. I resisted the urge to take photographs at every gasp, but I did take a few and some of them effectively remind me of what I saw.

IMG_0230

Photographs, of course, don’t actually come close to doing it any justice. I can see why Georgia O’Keeffe was struck by the need to capture what she experienced out there. Just driving across the landscape was emotionally overwhelming. I wish we’d had a geologist and a botanist traveling with us. I didn’t do any research in advance and had no time/energy to do it as we moved along. Someday I’ll learn about how and why the land looks like it does.

That’s it for now. I’ll share more later when I figure out just how I want to do it. (Photo below is me at (I think?) the Petrified Forest.)

IMG_0205

 

held in the Light

Today I touched mind space with no thoughts. Nirvana, god, the Light. Pure peace. I know I was there because swimming floating breathing through thoughts (awareness) into the freedom and back to awareness (thoughts) was effortless. It was a brief but pure connection in the Ultimate.

It was at Meeting for Worship at my spiritual community, my Sangha, Portland Friends Meeting, that I touched this fresh and clear essence; a spaceless space without thoughts. During the same hour, I also felt sadness and loneliness. I knew those feelings have been trying to be heard, but I have been running away. They have felt like too much. I sat, breathing in and breathing out. Practicing being fully present in that moment.

Sometimes at Meeting, I feel moved to speak out loud. Not frequently, which is notable for me (I’m a talker). Today, I knew I wanted the community to carry me, to comfort me, to help me be present with my sadness and my loneliness. I don’t want to run anymore. My eyes filled with tears a few times. I felt scared the sadness, now that I was mindfully present with it, would consume me. I considered speaking. I thought of mentioning I would like to be held in the Light when it came time during Meeting to make such requests.

Then I thought about why I don’t often tell people I’m hurting; the people I know are loving and caring and generous and they would want me to know they care — what a wonderful “problem!” So much love! But, when I feel this tender I need to be mostly alone. I knew Meeting was the perfect place for me just then. I needed the Meeting to carry me while I felt this sadness and loneliness. I knew I didn’t need to ask for anything. We were all there together sharing that spiritual space.

When people did speak, there were powerful messages. I was able to be fully present in myself while witnessing the Light in others.

At some points my mind did wander, of course. I thought about the feeling that the meeting was carrying me and marveled at how different my life is these days. I thought of a post I shared on here some years ago about being carried by a crowd at a concert. A very different kind of carrying. A very different kind of trust — mostly misplaced trust in the case of the music event. My idea of a good time now compared to then couldn’t be anymore different.

Tonight I’m going to get together with a bunch of alcoholics who are in recovery. Similar to Friends Meeting, tonight we will spend time as a group together in meditation. It is another community where if I wanted to say “I am hurting” I could do it and I would receive comfort from people who truly care. Again, comfort in such a direct way isn’t what I need. Meditation with my spiritual communities, listening to what other people say (“getting out of myself” as we in the 12-step communities like to say), and staying connected to the present moment is how I will walk through this sadness. The sadness, the loneliness, and the despair will all grow smaller as I care for them and tend to other aspects of my life that bring me gratitude and comfort and peace.

when I wanted to be Martha Stewart

In the early 90s, I wanted to be Martha Stewart. This was before she was a terribly famous person, before she went to prison, and before there was FoodTV. Living in Minneapolis with my beautiful boyfriend in his beautiful house, I was certain I could have a beautiful life. There were many reasons that wasn’t going to happen. Foremost among those reasons was my belief that I could be “perfect.” I remember preparing an Easter feast for us and his family that included a leg of lamb stuffed with goat cheese, and… honestly, I’m tiring just thinking of the work that went into making everything hand craftedly “perfect.”

Today, I feel great pleasure making our home a comfortable and warm space. I do enjoy making food from scratch. I might even stuff a roast if it was a special occasion. But the idea that I can do, or would want to do, anything “perfectly” has left my world. I may not like it when our apartment gets cluttered and messy (as it often does) or when I don’t have time to prepare foods as I’d like, but I never feel like I’m missing the mark. It’s not only that I’m aware these days of the staging that made the Martha Stewart show; these days I live comfortably in the knowledge that all of life is “progress, not perfection” and the way I care for my family is much more than sufficient.

(The idea for this blog post came after watching a video my friend Cyndee shared on Facebook. It’s an example of something I might’ve aspired to create back in the early 90s. Ha! :-) )

19 years ago today I was drunk and high

Nineteen years ago today, I was stoned and drunk. I was chatting on AOL. I was sort of house sitting, but really I was crashing at my parents’ friends’ home in Minneapolis/St. Paul. It was hot. No air conditioning. I’d gone to a St. Paul Saints game with a guy I met in a chat room earlier in the day. He was nice, as I recall. I was arranging to have another AOL guy come over later that night.

The night before, I’d celebrated being not an alcoholic at a bar in Uptown by drinking vodka lemonades. I’d stopped drinking—easily it felt—for three months. It didn’t feel difficult to quit, so I must not be an alcoholic, right? What better way to celebrate than getting hammered?

I’ve written about my experience as an alcoholic, a person in long-term recovery, many times. Here, here, or here, for example. In fact, I see now that I certainly repeat myself (the AOL guy and the baseball game shows up at least twice).

One of the reasons I find it so important that I continue talking with other recovering alcoholics about being recovered, or recovering, is that I’ve forgotten what it was like before the desire to drink was lifted. I don’t remember what it’s like to live without hope. I don’t remember what it’s like to wake up in the morning wondering how in the heck I got where I was or what did I do last night?

If I don’t actively talk about my recovery and do some other key things that I’ve learned over the years, my disease—and if that term needs to be defined loosely, that’s fine, it works for me—will use the faded quality of my memories to sneak in and make me think maybe I can drink normally.

There’s an interesting piece in The Atlantic (h/t to my Bangor Daily News editor, Matt Stone) debunking 12-step programs as irrational. It’s funny, because irrationality doesn’t bother me. I think it’s over-rated. The article has some great points and some misguided ideas. What I like, though, is that it’s being discussed in public.

When I got sober (entered recovery, I guess is the best way to describe it these days) in Minneapolis, everyone I knew was sober. Everywhere I went, people were in recovery. It was almost a badge of honor to be in recovery, really. They call it “land of 10,000 treatment centers,” don’t they? (They do.)

After moving to Houston, and then to Maine, I regularly forgot that not everyone finds it completely no big deal to be in recovery. It’s such a natural part of my life, it feels not at all controversial. When I watched Anonymous People—I highly recommend it, especially if you are in recovery—I realized that my casual attitude was sort of radical.

As I think about where I’m going with this blog post, I’m reminded of the amazing lesson I learned in recovery: my foibles can benefit others. I can be “all over the place” with an imperfectly formed essay that rambles around and touches on some points but doesn’t really make one major point and it’s okay. My life is and will be—if I keep doing the things I’ve learned are most helpful for me—all about “progress, not perfection.”

(edited to add: 19 years ago tomorrow, I hadn’t had a drink or drug for 24 hours and haven’t found it necessary to drink or drug since then…)

be still.

We sit. Quiet. Breathing. How loud loud loud my mind. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast fast fast fast fast thoughts. So full and busy and I can’t hear anything because so much is going on in my mind.

People sneeze, cough, shift in their seats. What is it like, at meeting for worship?

meeting room

Portland Friends Meeting

Settling in to a comfortable position. Aware of my posture, my legs, my arms and hands. More aware of my body as the chaos of my mind’s voices chatter away in the background. Noticing new aches and pains, behind my left eye, throughout my jaw, my spine, my lower back. How my jaw clenches tightly over to the side. Becoming aware. Gently reposition my lower jaw so my teeth rest not quite touching, but in line. How awkward the rest of my face feels. How I notice my spine more now. I lift my head lightly as if a string comes from my spine up through the top of my head. Lifting.

New people enter the room, finding seats. Some have loud shoes on the wood floor. So much shuffling and adjusting. The room’s sounds flow in waves. More than the clicks and hums of human sounds, my anxiety comes from thinking of people who might be bothered by those sounds. I notice that about myself. I breathe. I return to my body. Someone’s stomach gurgles. Someone may be snoring. As the sounds mingle I notice. I notice I can find quiet even in the middle of the clutter careful accidental necessary noises of these friends. My mind is slowing. As each of my to-do items flashes in I welcome it and say, not now, and say, goodbye. As a new column or blog post begins forming, I enjoy playing with the words for a while, then notice my distraction away from the moment. Each moment of distraction, when I am not mindfully resting and seeking the space and light I know I will find in the silence, I don’t fight. I don’t fight the distractions, I only notice them.

Inside me, like the quiet sounds of the other humans around me, there are waves of noise and quiet. Again, a flowing.

As more space opens in me I notice I’m feeling sleepy. Oh, how tired I am. I begin worrying this will be one of those meetings where the struggle to fight sleep is so miserable, I consider leaving (I did leave once). Instead, I adjust my legs and my arms. I bend my head to one side and then the other. I imagine my blood flowing from my heart through my body, especially along my spine, and back into my heart. I catch myself in a deep and possibly loud exhale. It’s okay. We are all here to find the light. The space. The peace.

.