Sunday, December 27, 2015

12/28/15—Blooming in Winter

Tonight I was going to write my annual summary and choose my word and/or inspiration for the coming year. I was going to brag about how significant last year's word, "healing", was and my inspiration to "hold myself to a higher standard." Then I was going to declare my intentions for 2016, along with some advice on how to do this for yourself. But this isn't that post. So you'll have to wait. Or read last year's post. 

Instead, I'll tell you about today, a perfect spring day in the middle of winter. We have had a lot of spring days. I think it's only been what might be called "cold" once or twice this December. Which is what caused this beautiful rose to bloom in my front yard on Christmas Day. Crap is blooming everywhere right now. While we've had a lot of springlike days, none have qualified as perfect days like today, though. 70 degrees, livable humidity and a breeze strong enough to set all the wind chimes singing.

It's one of those rare days I regretted sleeping in. So I opened all the windows and spent the entire day outside. I thought since it was a spring day, I'd do a spring activity. So I weeded and cleaned up all my containers on my deck. There are maybe 35-40 containers, so it takes some time. It seemed to go faster than usual and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm always so far behind on stuff around the house that it felt great to get ahead on something. Even at my sickest, this is something I made sure to do every year.

Anyway, there was something about the breeze that evoked something in me. You know what I mean? The way the breeze felt as it touched my skin...the temperature, the humidity, the strength of the breeze...brought up a distant memory. The only thing is, I can usually put my finger on the memory at some point, but it eluded me this time. I sat out there with my hand in the dirt feeling this breeze and having this memory evoked, but I never figured it out. 

So I wondered if a breeze can evoke a memory from a past life or a parallel life. And I liked the thought of that. It felt like another, possibly better version of me. Or maybe I was remembering the memory I was creating...sort of like deja vu. All I know is that I was very peaceful and content. And I felt "normal" for the first time in a long time. Maybe today brought me back to where I left off before I spent years weighed down by sickness. Maybe I got through all the containers in just one day because it wasn't a chore for the first time in years. Maybe that breeze was a promise of more "perfect days" to come.

As I look around this year, I see roses, irises and azaleas blooming out of season. I see hardy annuals thriving in the middle of winter. I see my perennials poking their heads out early. Some may not bounce back from this after the freeze comes. And it will come, though maybe not as bad as usual. But that rose bush and my azaleas will do just fine. And today I got some positive signs that, even though I'm also blooming in winter, I'll do just fine, too. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

12/21/15—Decorating the Tree

Growing up, we always had a big, live Christmas tree. In fact, for a good part of my childhood we had more than one tree. There would be some sort of formal themed tree. It might have white lights and all gold ornaments or something like that...something very tasteful. And then there would be the family tree with the colored lights, tacky tinsel and all the mis-matching ornaments, each of which carried some sort of story. One of my sisters is so into trees that she does five every year. So I guess it's a thing in our family.

I only do one tree. And for the past four or five years, I didn't do any trees at all, primarily because it's hard for one person to set up a 6'-7' live tree all by themselves. And since I felt like crap most of those years, the tree never got done. It has now been almost a month since I started feeling better, so I put up a tree. I decided to be nice to myself and just get a cheap artificial tree that doesn't shed needles or need water or anything. As a result, for the first time ever, I had a tree set up in the first week of December.

I have a lot of ornaments. More than you can tastefully fit on a big, fat, live tree and way more than you can tastefully fit on a $30 pre-lit artificial tree from Target. My ornaments are more or less organized across a handful of boxes. There are three boxes with ornaments deemed "desirable" and a box or two of ornaments that are on the B Team.

In the B Team box you might find ornaments I once thought were nice, but now think are ugly. There might be a couple that are a little broken. And there are a few I don't even much like to look at. But I don't throw any of them away. They are pieces of my autobiography.

One of the best parts of having a tree, in my opinion, is putting the ornaments on. Because each has a story. My mother used to sit there as her six little slaves would unpack ornaments for the family tree and show them to her, one-by-one, so she could point to where we were supposed to put it on the tree...haha. And she would provide commentary like, "oh, that's the one you made me in second grade. Put it over there." Or "that was the one Winnie sent us." Each ornament held a piece of our family autobiography and its position on the tree indicated just how big a piece it held.

There have been years that I've purposely put ornaments on my tree that have sad memories attached to them. Maybe they were from friends and the friendship ended badly or something. But I would put them up because they were part of my autobiography—from a time and experience long passed, but still part of my makeup. Every year is a different combination of memories based on my whims when setting up the tree. And, of course, new ornaments enter the rotation yearly.

But, like I said, the decoration had kind of stalled for a few years. And I could see how much I had changed because I decided not to torture myself with any ornaments that held bad memories. Many of those ornaments are very pretty and were once favorites. They have sentimental value, but nonetheless make me think negative thoughts. 

Because of the circumstances around my father's death, very little as far as old family ornaments still exist. One small tin of my father's childhood ornaments are all that are left and one of my brothers has those. I had them for safe keeping many years back and was too afraid to ever hang them because they're glass and, with dogs in the house, you have to be careful how you hang your ornaments. 

So my personal "tree autobiography" starts with my adulthood. Every year I hang at least one of the ornaments from my first adult tree. They are all crappy little ornaments—crappy because I couldn't afford to buy nice ones and little because, back then, I always got a tabletop sized tree. Those ornaments remind me how far I've come, but they also remind that having more money now isn't making me happier. Then there are some that were gifts or remind me of others. So my sisters and a few old friends are represented on my tree and I think of them when I hang "their" ornaments. Then there's this one ornament I thought was so beautiful that I went to four different department store locations to track it down. That one reminds me of when I had the energy to actually go to malls during the Christmas season. 

And while each ornament tells a story or marks some part of my life, the whole says something about me, too. Most are handmade and unique—no plain balls on my tree. So I clearly value handcrafts and art. Some ornaments are elegant, some are bordering on tacky (a mix of the two trees we had as kids and a mix of different sides of my personality.) And many of them are fragile and require extra care when hung, lest they be knocked off by chaotic animals. Just like me. :D

When you think about it, our "family" trees are a deeply personal item. And if you're like me, you probably see the tree in someone's home and just register the basics—the size of the tree, live or fake, the overall look of the decorations, the overall impression/style/taste—then you move on. We don't tend to stand at another person's tree and wonder about the stories behind any of the ornaments. Maybe if it's a really unique one, but not usually. And it's likely the stories are a snooze-fest for anyone but family anyway. 

And yet, when you stand before someone else's tree, you're nonetheless standing before these intimate artifacts from their lives...things with the power to evoke things long forgotten. "This was from our first Christmas together" and "I got that the year I moved here from Denver" may be what you say to someone who inquires, but what it evokes within you when you say it is often a story kept to yourself. So many clues to your life hang on those branches, right out in the open for everyone to see. 

Anyway, it had been years since I'd taken that stroll through my life and I'm so glad I put up a tree this year. I also bought a number of new ornaments that will one day evoke memories of this year and this stage of my life. This year's tree was a symbol of new hope for me and when I pull out the vintage ceramic bird light covers I found on eBay or the carved red cardinal, I'll remember this feeling. What does your tree this year say about you?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

12/14/15—Choosing Love

When I was a little girl, I had a secret fantasy. While other girls dreamed of princes and weddings and happily ever after, I dreamed about being so rich that I could have a room with nothing but stacks of fine china and walls to throw it against. 

So many things made me angry. We moved every two years. I was bullied for being overweight. I had a big family, but often felt alone. I had a lot of responsibilities at a young age. My mother and I would lock horns a lot. I often felt misunderstood at home and in school. In high school, my mother became terminally ill. Personal accomplishments were expected, so they weren't celebrated. And I never felt I had a voice in any part of my life. I learned not to complain about anything. 

So there was nowhere for all that anger to go. There were times as a child it would overwhelm me and I would have "breakdowns" that nobody ever knew about. I had plenty of alone time as a child to come unglued with nobody noticing. It scared me, but telling anyone would be fruitless. I was already known for being dramatic and, like I said, we really weren't allowed to complain about anything. My mother was either working and couldn't deal with it, being an Air Force "first lady" and couldn't deal with or dying of cancer and couldn't deal with it. It was never a good time to have a problem. 

As I got older, a lot of things changed. First, I had a lot more control over my life and how many times I moved and how much my life would be disrupted. I got called names a lot less. I had a measure of professional success and felt noticed and appreciated. And, by the time I was 25, both of my parents were dead, so I created my own support network that would give me the affirmation or whatever it was that I needed. But more importantly, I found something bigger than myself to believe in and have faith in. 

At one point I realized that a lot of my anger came from things I had zero control over. And that anger was fueled by the fear of all the things that would be out of my control due to all the stuff I had no control over. And that made me feel very vulnerable. And, feeling alone as I did back then, I couldn't afford to be vulnerable. 

I reckon everyone reading this recognizes that last paragraph in some form or another. 

As we move along our spiritual path, we learn that life will always throw us stuff we have no control over. We learn that there is no situation where we don't have a choice, even though our options may not be options we can abide. And we learn to cultivate a practice of letting go and having faith. We learn how to transcend much of our anger and fear. Which doesn't mean it's ever fully gone. I always make monks an exception...haha...people who don't have to live in reality and can devote 24/7 to their faith and trust. But for most of us, fear and anger are things that are going to suck us in from time to time. 

I'm mentioning this because I'm seeing a lot of fear and anger these days. Ban Muslims! No refugees! Don't take my guns! You're threatening my rights! You're threatening my way of living! What they really mean is "I'm used to things the way they are—even though I'll concede it's not really working this way—and I am afraid of how things might change!" But they'll never say that because they're too busy being angry to see it. They're too afraid of change to even consider compromise. They feel vulnerable and don't feel like they can afford to be vulnerable. 

In a previous blog, I wrote about how I believe our behaviors come from one of two places—love or fear. There is value in both. But I find my life is lot happier if I make the lion's share of my moves from a place of love. And love includes trusting in the universe. Embracing change. Letting go and letting God. And trusting that our prayers are being answered, even if it doesn't look that way. There's a difference between "letting go and letting God" and just laying down and letting the world walk all over you. But fearful people don't know that, no matter how much they say they have faith, because they're not Actually letting go. They're not actually trusting. Instead, they're holding on to fear. 

Lately I've been feeling a lot of anger and, yes, fear over the way people have been talking in our country. I feel like I'm being pulled down into that vortex that so many in this country choose as their life. And I know this is about fear, because I'm angry. That's my clue. And I know I feel out of control, because what if this wonderful country I live in becomes overcome by fear and hate? There's nothing I can do to stop it. Because fearful people can't be reasoned with and they bring such darkness and alarm to any hint of change, that we can't ever seem to try anything that could make us happier. 

You wouldn't know it by observing us, but we're #15 in the world in terms of happiness, which is measured by things like economy, life expectancy, freedoms, etc. Number 15 is pretty good. It puts us in about the top 5% of the countries and regions covered by the poll. But I think if you measured it in terms of a love/fear quotient, we'd land much lower. 

And the thing is, we have so little to be afraid about. The last war that took place on our soil was 150 years ago and we fought ourselves. We've never been invaded by anyone. We've always been the invader. Historically, we've known no famine. Our economy is on the uptick. There's very little foreign terrorism or violence in our country—almost all of it is Americans killing Americans. At various times in history we were warned about what the Italians and Polish and Germans and Asians and Mexicans would do to our country if we let them in, and nothing ever happened. And yet so many in this country are terrified. In fact, we act like such assholes because of it that it's a wonder Canada and Mexico haven't joined forces to smack us down. We haven't gotten nearly our share of things to legitimately be afraid of based on the way we've treated others in this world. We are fortunate beyond our means. 

I know what I need to do to get myself back on track. I need to disconnect from the sources of fear and move back towards sources of love. And if you're frustrated and pissed off, maybe you could do the same. It begins by asking yourself simple questions, like am I making this decision out of fear or love? Am I entering into this conversation out of fear or love? (hint: most debates come from fear) Am I doing what I'm doing out of fear or love? The more we move toward love...toward God or Jesus or the universe...the more blessed we become. I know this from personal experience. Living from a place of fear isn't freedom. It's not constructive to yourself or those around you. And it's really just barely living. 

This isn't about people who have different opinions than me. It sounds like it to the defensive and fearful...haha...but it's not. We all have opinions and preferences. And we could all make up stories about where ours come from. I could say my obsession with sweets is about love. I love sweets. But if I'm honest with myself and look deeper, there's a lot of fear in my "love" of chocolate, because I usually crave it when I'm angry, stressed, bored or unhappy. So that's all I'll say. Ask yourself whether what you're doing, saying and thinking is coming from love or fear, and put your knee-jerk "I'm perfect and everyone else is imperfect" attitude to the side long enough to let the truth shine through. 

We only get this one chance to live. Let's do what we need to do to live it from a place of love. There is no law that can be made, no president that can be elected, no circumstance that you could come across that could MAKE you live in fear and anger. It's an internal thing that only you have power over. You can choose love or not. You see it all over the globe in places where war, famine and poverty reign and there are still people choosing love. It is your mightiest power. It's your security in times of uncertainty, if you let it be. Know you have the power and choose love. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

12/7/15—Sharing Five Things About Happiness

Odd piece of trivia: people tend to like enumerated lists of things. So if you get an email with a subject line that says "Five Things Weird People Do," you're more likely to open that than an email that just says "Stuff Weird People Do." 

Before you protest and tell me all about how you'll read any email with "stuff" in the subject line, there are, no doubt, exceptions. And you, a board-certified snowflake, may be one of them. But it's just one of those things the advertising industry does research on, then pumps into my head. So I thought I'd share it with you. Because tonight I'm really tired. And instead of writing a brand new post from scratch, I'm going to share a classic one with you—Five Things To Know About Happiness. 

1. Happiness Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be. You very well may be happy right now and not even know it. It doesn't necessarily come with a balloon and streamers attached. It's not necessarily something you get in exchange for something good you've done. It's merely a feeling of remarkable wellbeing in body, mind, emotion, and/or soul. And by "remarkable", I'm not talking "rare". I'm talking, "hey, I'm remarking that I'm happy!" (Notice the lone exclamation point?) So it's not quite joy or bliss (which *do* come with streamers...AND a few extra exclamation points). Happiness is just a nice smile that comes from within. :) 

2. Happiness is Not a Destination. It's part of the journey. There's never going to come a day when you're "Happy. Period." We all have ups and downs. We may be happy in one area of our lives and less than happy in another. It's not a place to land and plant roots. Nor do you want it to be. Because happiness should never become mundane. If it's how you felt all the time, it wouldn't be such a gift. 

3. Happiness is a Choice. In most moments, you can choose to be happy. You can choose to see your situation as a gift. Sure, if the bad guys are chasing you with guns, it's hard to be happy. Unless you like that sort of thing. But most of us lead pretty tame lives. And we can choose to let some inconsiderate person, for example, ruin our day. Or we can choose to focus on the positives, see how good we've got it and let our bodies and minds flow with gratitude. Now, chemicals in our body can make our moods shift. But even those, we can choose to improve through exercise or pharmaceuticals or whatever. But still, we're all human, so there will be times it won't be a choice. But many times it is. And since I promised you only five things...

3a. Gratitude is a Direct Route to Happiness. Want to be happy? Count your blessings. We are all so incredibly blessed and we don't even realize it half the time because we're looking at all the areas where life has fallen short of our expectations. Well what about the vastly larger number of areas in which it has met and exceeded...or at the very least mirrored the effort we put forth?

4. You Can't Know Another Person's Happiness. So stop looking over the fence and thinking that person is happy! C'mon...think about all the times you walk around with a smile on, even though you're less than happy. Well, newsflash. Everyone else is doing that, too. In fact, some people are significantly better at looking happy than you are. The Dalai Lama is probably the happiest person on earth (that I know of, at least) and even his moods modulate. Besides, he's waited on hand and foot, worshipped far and wide and hugely respected. He was literally born to be a leader and a holy leader. But he was a leader in exile most of his life and his people were oppressed...all this happening to a very compassionate man. You want his problems? I didn't think so. So be careful what you're wishing for. 

5. Happiness Shouldn't Necessarily Be Your Goal. Contentment should. See, the ultimate goal in life is supposed to be balance, right? Well, happiness is weighted to one side of the spectrum. It's not in the center. And the things beyond center are harder to maintain. Not only that, but in order to have balance, things that are weighted to one end eventually have to be mirrored by things weighted at the other end. But contentment is at the center. It's satisfaction. It's upturned lips and a relaxed brow, but not quite a full-on smile. With contentment, there may be things in your life that are less than hunky dory, but you'll take it. Because it's pretty good overall...pretty good for a Wednesday. It's the wellbeing without the exclamation point. And it feels really nice. And, with the right mindset, you can maintain it longer. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

11/3015—Becoming a Badass

What I'm about to say is very important for me to say. But more than that, it's very important for anyone who has a chronic illness or who is suffering from a "mystery illness" that hasn't been diagnosed yet.

For the past three years that I'm aware of, and including incidents that go back maybe seven years or more, I have been living with untreated asthma. There are three components to asthma. One is that your airways swell, making it harder to get oxygen in your body and distributed to muscles, your brain, your heart, your blood—all the places we need oxygen. That's one part of the disease. Another part is that, on top of that, your swollen airways constrict...the muscles tighten, making the airways even smaller. Then you start making phlegm and you cough and wheeze. I never had the coughing and wheezing part, but I had the other two. 

Just one of those two things—swelling or constriction—can make your life miserable. When you have those two things together, you have a full-blown asthma attack. People die from untreated asthma attacks. And when you don't die from it, you're slowly being choked to death. If you can't get enough oxygen into your lungs, every other body function suffers. If there's not enough in your blood, your heart has to work harder to move what you do have around. If your muscles can't get enough, your body is weak and doesn't bounce back very fast. Your metabolism slows. If you can't breathe when you're sleeping, you don't get enough rest, nor can you get quality rest.  And if you don't have it in your brain, you can't think. Simply put, we need oxygen to function. Most people's blood oxygen levels are in the 95%-100% range. We have no idea what mine were since 2013, but in the hospital, under care, recovering and pumped up on steroids, I was lucky to hit 85%.

I'm explaining all of this because everything is different today, a week later. EV. ERY. THING. I mulch mowed my leaves yesterday. Normally, that would be all I could do in a day. I'd collapse and it would take at least 24 hours for me to get up enough energy to, say, rinse the dishes in the sink. That sounds dramatic, but it is absolutely what my experience was for three years. Some days I would be awake only long enough to do work for my clients and I would sleep the rest of the day, because I couldn't get enough sleep. But yesterday, I got tired, yes. But I bounced right back and had energy to cook dinner, build a fire in the fire pit and do some cleaning. Holy crap! I couldn't have accomplished all that in a week some weeks!

Of course I complained to my doctors. My trusted doctor...I held on to him for too long. I would go in and he would tell me that of course I'm exhausted, I'm morbidly obese. And I am. I'd love to pawn that off on some disease, but the truth of the matter is that I have a) unfortunate genes in regard to my metabolism and, here's the real reason, b) an unhealthy attachment to chocolate and sweets. So if it sounds like I'm excusing my weight at any point, I'm not. But I have been working with a nutritionist for years and I changed my diet and couldn't lose a pound. I would exercise more and couldn't lose a pound. I would tell my doctor this and he would say I have to try harder. I'm just not pushing myself enough. He said I was depressed and suggested I might be a hypochondriac. And hey, I get that. That's one way to read to read the situation. But that wasn't the case. So I would try harder and still not get results. 

What I didn't know then that I know now is that I would go into a full-blown asthma attack almost every day trying to exercise for my doctor...trying to do the right thing...the thing my doctor told me...the very thing that, but for the grace of god, could have killed me. There wasn't a day in three years that breathing wasn't hard for me. There wasn't a week that would go by without full-blown, untreated asthma attacks, each of which, if as bad as what ended me in the hospital, could have killed me. Hindsight is 20/20, but my doctor was giving me deadly advice, because he wasn't willing to look past my weight. And I got a new doctor. 

And here's the deal...any doctor that looks at me is going to see the obvious. I'm nearly 6' tall and over 100 lbs overweight. I'm a huge woman. Any doctor is probably going to rule out asthma, because I never coughed or wheezed once in all those years, despite having smoked for half my life. So I wasn't presenting the way I should. And, to a degree, any doctor is going to question the veracity of my complaints because of my size and that damn needle on the scale that would not move. So I get it. 

But the thing is, my complaints were never different over the years. I can't count how many times I said to doctors "there is something else going on here beyond weight. Something else is wrong." And, oddly, the week before I went into the hospital, my primary care doctor said "let's just try you on albuterol (an asthma inhaler) and see if that works for you when you're having trouble." And one thing led to another and I never got that prescription. My new doctor was looking for answers, but in the nine months she's been my doctor, things were a little better. I wasn't having full-blow attacks very often. I don't know if my body adjusted or maybe my new thyroid medications helped alleviate enough that, while I was still having trouble breathing, I wasn't having attacks day after day.

Anyway, now, with all that background, I can get the point of this post. For years, I was told I was lazy. Not trying hard enough. I was fat shamed. I was called a hypochondriac. I had a doctor throwing antidepressants at me because I would cry about how much I was suffering and how he wasn't listening. Outside of that guy, I know how society in general looks at a woman my size. There is absolutely no one who can look at me and not say "I wonder if her energy issues have anything to do with her size." I get it. I really get it. But add that up and pile it upon someone who has been merely surviving for years, and it takes an emotional toll. 

So I wouldn't complain as much as I wanted to, because the overall consensus was that I was a fat, lazy whiner. And I started asking myself "can I try harder? Have I just become lazy? Is it possible I'm depressed? Is this just normal for people over 50?" And I started doubting that thing inside me that kept saying "something else is wrong here. There's something really wrong." I knew I wasn't able to do the stuff I should be able to do, and I gave in to the belief that I was weak, lazy, a complainer, in denial about my efforts at weight loss. I lost or was losing my ability to believe in myself.

While the spiritual part of me was probably in the best shape of my life, keeping me positive and seeing blessings, my self definition and self esteem was at a low point. As a writer, I've had a successful career, imo. I'm able to be self employed doing something I love. I win awards. And on top of that, I'm a published author, an expert on tarot, a tarot teacher, a blogger. I'm not lazy and I'm not a loser. In fact, my ambitions reach beyond what I have already accomplished in my life. I believe I can do big things. 

But I was beginning to believe that those ambitions were beyond me. I was beginning to believe I'd lost my chance to accomplish what I came here to accomplish in this lifetime. This goes beyond depression. Maybe I was depressed, I don't know. But this went to the very core of my self beliefs and my mission here on earth. I can't tell you how upsetting, demoralizing and sad it is face having to put your dreams for yourself to the side, possibly for the rest of your life. It attacked everything I believed in about myself and how the universe moves through people. It was more devastating than the disease itself. 

Now, in the wake of last week's hospitalization and FINALLY being treated for this disease, everything I thought about myself and worried about myself is out the door. I'm not a fat, lazy, complainer. (Well, I am overweight, but I wasn't sick because I was fat. You don't get asthma from being fat.) What I am, instead, is a fucking badass. 

Really. You put a 100lb suit on any human and take away their ability to breathe for years and I'd wager few would come out of this as well as I have. There is no amount of words that can express the constant pain, exhaustion and fear I've been managing, all while serving my clients, writing my blogs, staying positive, maintaining relationships and keeping things like mowing and dog care and the everyday chores of life done. In fact, I didn't even know until I felt the absence of it, but I've been in a state of low level panic/fear for years..."what if I have an attack? Will I be able to make from the car to the store? WTF is WRONG WITH ME???" I get why I doubted myself. I think anyone would. But all along, I've been a fucking badass.

I have had a lifelong flirtation with allowing others to define my reality. I think it's one of those things that comes from being human. Right now I know someone out there is beginning to doubt themselves and starting to believe the things someone else is saying. Maybe it has nothing to do with illness. Maybe you have an abusive friend or partner. Maybe you've just been rejected for a job. Maybe you've bought into society's stereotype of a fat person. Or a black person. Or a disabled person. 

Whatever it is that has you doubting yourself, hang on. Someone or something is counting on your total submission in order to control you. Don't let it win. Keep believing in yourself. Keep trusting what you know is true. You are not alone. Either a solution is at hand or the problem that leads to the solution is forming. Don't give up. Take care of yourself. Keep yourself safe. And don't stop believing in yourself. A week ago I was in an Emergency Room situation. Now I'm on top of the world. Things can change quickly and suddenly for the better if you're not able to change things for yourself. Your time is coming. 

During my story, I began to believe I was weak, lazy, depressed and unworthy. But now that this particular volume of my life appears to have come to a conclusion, I can see context and have perspective. And it turns out that I was fucking awesome and amazing through every single chapter. I just couldn't see it. I couldn't see all I was doing. I was in survival mode and my perspective was skewed. I think anyone would have been challenged by this. And, realizing that, I can't go back to the insecure, unsure person I was before I got sick. I now know what I'm truly capable of. And that is the gift of these crises in our lives. 

We can become trapped by our stories, and many people choose that through victimhood or giving up on ourselves or just not letting go and moving on. Or we can mine our stories for their gold and use them as a launchpad for the best ever version of ourselves. It's purely our choice. So the good news is, if you're currently in crisis, you will have an opportunity to rise above. The bad news is that you have to be willing to choose yourself first—before choosing your story, before choosing another person, before letting others define you—until. I now know how hard that can be, especially when you stop believing "until" will ever come. In retrospect, I can't believe I survived the past few years in such a way that, a week later, I can be ready to move forward and not look back. But I know if I could hold on long enough to get here, you can too. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

11/24/15—Getting What I Asked For

Last Sunday I wrote that I needed some new inspiration to make some of the changes I need to make in my life. On Monday, I got my fresh inspiration. It was a "be careful what you ask for" moment, as I had a severe attack of being unable to breathe. I tried to "just get better" until Thursday, when it became clear I had to see a doctor. I then ended up in an ER and spent the next three nights in the hospital.

This all goes back to my year and a half issue with breathlessness, weakness and exhaustion. I've written about all that before, when I ended up having to get a new doctor because my one at the time seemed insufficently concerned about my situation. I never got an answer to that problem, but it abated and, pretty much all of 2015, I've been healthy. Or healthier in that regard. 

But last Monday I had my most severe attack yet. And it came with body aches and a fever. I thought of it simply as a reprisal of the situation my doctor wasn't concerned about, so I didn't run to the doctor. And, sure enough, it started getting better. Then, on a whim, I googled "breathlessness and fever" and saw, over and over again, "get to a doctor." So on Thursday I did. And I was admitted into the hospital through Sunday, taking tests, getting poked and the like. 

My diagnosis is asthma, Not the heart attack, clogged arteries, lung cancer and other deadly diseases I'd feared. Asthma may not be the end diagnosis, but I'm going to live with it and an inhaler for a few months and, if it's cured, it's cured. But the important thing is that I finally got doctors who listened and so I finally found proof through a CAT scan that there really is something wrong. And so now I can find answers. 

A side blessing is that I also know for sure that the problem is not my heart, nor is it anything else more serious in the cardio and pulmonary worlds. I have a couple of smaller problems with my heart, but nothing that needs treatment...just yearly tests to make sure they're not getting worse. So all of that is a relief and a gift for someone who has spent the last few years fearing heart attack on a daily basis because of my "mystery disease" with symptoms that could indicate anything from depression to heart failure. 

But going back to the point of the post, I will say that the care of my body and home have been slowly going downhill for many years. A recent "theme" for me has been the realization that I've beccome comfortably numb, like the Pink Floyd song. I'm numb to how far the problem has gone and now I have a big hole to climb out of. Which is why I need inspiration to change. And this is the blessing of landing in the hospital. 

As I laid in my bed Monday night, getting out of breath every time I tried to turn over as if I had just run a mile, I was terrified I was going to die. Today I feel better than I have in maybe a decade. And not just physically, either. For at least ten years, I've thought the fog in my head was menopause, depression...whatever. 

Turns out, that's what happens when you can't get oxygen into brain cells, just like the physical weakness is what happens when muscles and organs are getting oxygen in the 85% range, vs. the 100% range most humans get. It's very emotional to realize really how MUCH I've been suffering for so long and I was just accepting it as age or menopause or obesity or whatever because the people I relied upon to know that part of my life, my doctors, weren't too terribly concerned. To be fair, most people with asthma wheeze and cough from time to time and I never have, so that's why it eluded diagnosis before. 

So anyway, what this is all leading up to is that, in the hospital, I went "code gray"—a patient who has disappeared and can't be found. I was gone for 2.5 hours and everyone was looking for me. I, of course, knew I was being irresponsible. I was on a wireless heart monitor and I figured I had gone out of range. I knew I was missing my regular pokes and blood checks and whatnot. But the universe was infusing me with the inspiration I had asked for, and I had to drink it in. 

See, I have had a long love affair with walking. I lost 100lbs back when I was 30 through that love affair and kept that weight off for nearly a decade through that same affair. I would find long hikes in guide books and do them all. I would challenge myself on difficult mountain trails. I loved pushing myself to walk faster and farther. I powerwalked five miles a day in less than an hour...every day for 8 or 9 years. That's walking an 11-minute mile, which is pretty impressive. I was THAT girl. 

But, and this is all on me, my life changed and I wasn't so regular with my walks. I gained weight. And that was reflected in the clutter of my house. And then I started having trouble walking, which I now know is probably the asthma. Then it got worse. On a walk, one house length would look and feel like a mile. I'd only go out with my dogs on occasion and then rest each time they wanted to sniff. It was the only way I could get through a walk...resting every half block or  every few house lengths. I dreaded, hated, avoided walking. And that was emotionally painful for me. It was also physically painful as it would take all my energy for the day. My love was becoming a chore to avoid. My head was fogged. And all this affected my mental state and the state of my home. This was the situation I said I needed to change last week. 

So, pumped up on steroids, I was feeling physically better than I had in years—better than even before I started noticing an issue. And I wanted to go out for a walk. And I did. I walked around the entire hospital without needing to stop to rest. I went out of range of my heart monitor and I knew I probably had. But I didn't care. My precious love had returned to me and nothing could tear me away from being with it and being outdoors. I wandered back and forth on the hospital property, meditating, enjoying the fall foliage and wandering about, something I had been robbed of for so many years. And I finally rested in the parking lot that held the best view of the sunset. I drank it all in. I knew I needed to return, but I couldn't tear myself away. And then I was found by security and carted back to my room...haha. 

But what I found as a "Code Gray" patient was hope. A lost love. And, most importantly, inspiration. My heart had already been declared "healthy-ish". I felt like I had tons of energy. I knew I wasn't in danger, but of course my team didn't. They didn't know where I was or what I was doing. Also, it was cold outside and they were worried about that. But what I was finding in that walk was something far more important to my health than being upstairs, warm (I wasn't cold anyway) and getting poked and prodded. 

Of course being poked and prodded was what got me to this day. It's important. But in that moment I needed to drink in the inspiration that could carry me forward to the rest of my life. The inspiration I had asked for. The inspiration that could keep the small issues found in my heart from getting larger. The inspiration that could propel me to weight loss, both in my body and home. And it needed its due. It was too important to rush away from so that people wouldn't be mad at me or worried about me. It was the answer to a prayer I'd been having for years. It was my spiritual charge. It was a prescription given to me by a higher healer. 

Normally I'm all about following rules, being the "good girl" and doing what I'm told. I always end up feeling too guilty to go rogue in "official" situations like this. But a larger authority was moving through my life. In those couple of hours, I gave my will over to something greater. It was an out-of-body experience during which time I was no longer tethered to this form that had been broken for so long.

I've been home a day now and I can tell the air in my house is not healthy. I have three dogs, an XL order of dust and a lot of clutter that is spiritually choking me. I've known that for a while. But up until today, I didn't have the mental clarity or readiness to address it. I've been "comfortably numb" for years now. And I'm hoping this doesn't wear off before I get around to addressing it. When you've been sick as long as I have, it's hard to trust that you're actually well. I've had so many "false starts" on this journey where my health cleared for a day or two and then I was right back where I started. But now I have healthcare professionals who can't pass it off on my weight or age or female status anymore. If I were good enough to be my own doctor, I'd be a doctor. But I'm not. So I need that support. 

It's interesting. Knowing myself, I would have normally been restless, worried about my dogs, annoyed at losing my freedoms—a whole list of embittered responses to ending up in the hospital and losing so many days. But that never happened once. Because I saw it for what it was. It was the best thing that had happened to me in years. It was blessing directly from God and in quick response to a prayer. I've written here before that the answers don't always look like you'd expect them to. I asked for inspiration and ended up in an ER. But by staying open to the way grace is moving through my life, I'm seeing the breadth of beauty and eloquence of the reply. The universe's answer to your prayers could be moving through your life right now, similarly disguised. How will you turn to greet it?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

11/23/15—Being Late With My Blog

For the first time (I think) in Daily Draw history, I'm going to be late making a post. I've been in the hospital since Thursday and just can't manage to pull the blog together tonight. But I do have one in the works and can get it posted tomorrow. And that's when you'll get the story about what I've been through this past week and the amazing gifts I've gotten from it. See you tomorrow!

P.S. I'm fine. Nothing to worry about. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

11/16/15—Cutting the Tree

My tree has been a topic of worry and conversation lately. But there's an aspect to it that I haven't yet revealed. 

For those who don't know, I have a massive silver maple in my back yard. Near as I can figure, it's 65 years old, which is middle aged for a silver maple. But the thing with these trees is that they grow quickly and, if they're not properly pruned when they're coming up, they get gangly and then the limbs can snap. 

Over the 17 years I've known this tree, there have only been a few incidents. The tree overhangs three yards and each of the three of us has seen some sort of large something fall in our yards. I've cut the tree back before, but now "the short branches" have grown so much that they're overhanging two houses. I've always worried about this tree, but now it's a concern that could cause some real damage to property. So I'm taking it down. 

I'm kind of into things like trees and, over the years, I have "seen" different things in the bark or the tree. There was this incredible "owl" that showed itself in the bark when I trimmed a limb once. And, for the past few years, I have seen, if you were to cut the tree just right, its trunk as a torso, the right and left branches as arms and the middle branch as a head. There is a man in my tree! Possibly a tree god or something like that. 

As crazy as it sounds, I can't help but see him every time I look at the tree. And as time to cut the treegrows nearer and nearer, I grow more and more anxious to let him out. So with every estimate, I've had to explain that I don't want the tree removed. Instead, I want to leave a sizable trunk that looks like a man flailing his arms like one of those inflatable air sacks you see along the roadway to catch your attention. They smile politely and nod, but I get the sense they think I'm punking them. 

Anyway, this past week, the power company had to come out and cut the limbs over the power line in preparation for the tree service I'll be hiring. It was an impressive show. But I found myself getting really emotional, partly at the loss of the tree and partly in anticipation of "letting the man out". And as I was looking at the tree, it occurred to me that I sometimes feel like that I'm locked within a me that is no longer appropriate to me, and I'm having trouble getting out. 

There can sometimes be a long time between the first thought of change and the change itself. I'm somewhere along that length, hoping for some sort of inspiration that will coax me to white knuckle my way through...if I have to go the hard way, that is. It's not that I've had plenty of things to inspire me. It's just that none of them have taken yet. So I'm guessing I'm not ready yet. I'm certainly not done making excuses for why I'm not making changes, that's for sure. :D

So as I looked up at my tree and cried as I saw Phase I begin the process of removing limbs, I also cried a little in relief that the man would finally come out. Like me, he's been somewhere along the length to change since I first saw him, maybe 10 years ago or more. And the thing is, he's always been in there, I just didn't see him. So that's progress for both of us. Recognizing you want change is the first step toward getting it. 

As far as the tree is concerned, I have officially turned the corner from "am I doing the right thing?" to "I hate to see the tree go" to "ok, let's get that guy out of there". Usually once I get to the "let's get that guy out of there," things move fairly quickly. As for changes I want in my life, I'm somewhere in the corner's curve, looking for some meaningful impetus to help me gain enough momentum to complete the turn and break out of the tree that's held me so long. 

It's a good tree. A tree that has served me well. But one with a potential to do damage if I keep from cutting it much longer. My process has begun. It's a slow process, but I can't contain myself forever. I know that much. I feel this thing with my tree is happening now for a reason and I'm soon to start making the tough cuts that will change everything for good. 2016 may just be an interesting year. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

11/9/15—Letting Go

A. Reaves Photography
Spirituality. Personal growth. Oneness. Transcendence. All the stuff we talk about on this blog comes from one thing. Letting go. 

Now, granted, it's far more complex than that. But pretty much everything you want to achieve, can be achieved by letting go.

Say, for example, you want to become a published writer. The list of things you have to let go of could include fear, excuses, limited ideas of what you can be, a relaxed work ethic, some outdated definition of who you are, naysayers, expectations...the list could go on and on. 

If you want to change a thought, you have to let go of the old thought. If you want to open your heart, you have to let go of the fortress you've built around it. If you want to be at one with others, you have to let go of the notion you're in any way different from them. If you want to move closer to god, you have to let go of needing to "know" and just trust. 

If there is something eluding you in your life right now, ask yourself what you have to let go of. There is something you're holding on to—an attitude, dream, goal, outdated notion, belief, emotion, stubbornness, resistance, fear, concern, excuse, knee-jerk reaction, insecurity, thought pattern, paranoia—something. Of course, you have to be self aware enough—and honest enough—to recognize the things you're holding on to in the first place. Ultimately, the only thing that ever stands between us and the things we want out of life is ourselves. 

If you've ever had a massage, meditated, practiced yoga or done any sort of relaxation exercise, then you know that your body holds on to tension in places you didn't realize. And you also know how hard it can be to let go of certain muscles...or to even know if you've let go of them...or to even know those muscles are there. Then, when you're "fully relaxed", you find another level of holding on beneath that. And you loosen that. And then, eventually, you're satisfied you're fully relaxed, even if momentarily.

This is the same process that happens on our personal journeys of growth. The more you let go of the muscle of the ego, the tighter wound you realize it is and the more places you see you're holding on that you never knew existed. And then, if it's even possible to reach a place where you think you've fully let go, you become conscious of a whole other nuance of holding on that you never knew existed.

If you're angry with someone, you're holding on. If you're sad or lonely, you're holding on. If you're stressed, you're holding on. If you're pursuing a goal, you're holding on. Even if you're happy, you're holding on. In fact, if you're alive and conscious, you're holding on...haha. Even monks hold on to their practice and devotion. We get glimpses of letting go, but we can't stay there, partly because trying to stay there would be holding on and partly because our journey on earth counts on us holding on to something. Holding on is our gravity. It's what keeps us tethered to this reality. 

As you begin a practice of self awareness and letting go, you also begin to see what's working for you as far as attachments go. A wise friend once told me "move toward that which makes you feel larger" and that principle applies here. If something is keeping you stuck or making you feel small, it's time to let go. 

For a different perspective, Buddhism believes that attachment is greatest source of suffering amongst humans. They define attachment as seeing the thing you're attaching to as separate from yourself. In their way of seeing things, it's possible to transcend attachments by being united with all things. So, in that way of thinking, letting go is actually the opposite of non-attachment. In non-attachment, there is nothing to let go of because there is unity in all things. In essence, you let go of your resistance to accepting this thing into your being. So that's another perspective on the situation. It doesn't make our journey as spiritual seekers any easier, though. It's just as hard to come to a place of non-attachment with something as it is to let go of it. 

I estimate that some of my letting go is letting go and some of it is non-attachment. I know that the more I understand and embody something, the less impact it has on me. And I also know that I frequently feel like I'm fighting upstream with some struggles and I often visualize letting go and letting the current take me...surrendering to it. Two sides of the same coin, really. 

For the vast majority of us, there's never going to come a day when we'll be here on earth without having countless attachments or things to hold on to. But we can lighten our loads, which is what the spiritual journey is about. It's about being as clear a channel as possible to transcend suffering or to receive and transmit grace, God's light, universal energy, the goddess...whatever speaks to you. Whatever your beliefs, however, the path to God or happiness or whatever you're trying to reach, can never be found by reaching toward something outside of you. It can only be found by clearing a pathway toward it within. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

11/2/15—Getting Comfortable With Loneliness

There is something that keeps coming up as a topic of conversation, but I have never gotten around to writing about it. Today I had some thoughts about it, so I decided it was time. 

It's about feeling lonely. Specifically feeling lonely on the spiritual path. I have a handful of friends that you would call "spiritual leaders"—they teach, coach, write or otherwise have a trusted voice. And all of them/us feel lonely on the path. 

There are a lot of reasons for this. We're mostly solitary seekers, so we don't have a group that we delve into these questions with. Or, if we do, we're the leader of that group and that makes us different in group dynamics. And, also, the further down the path you seek, the fewer people are out there. And, sooner or later, you seek in realms where there are no guidebooks and few road markers to help you on your way. 

Those are the more "flattering" reasons, and all are true. But there are also other possibilities. 

The fact is, being a human, period, is a lonely, uncomfortable row to hoe. The further you travel along your path, the deeper the realization of this may become. You may realize how far, by being a separate individual here on earth, which is the mission you agreed to before you came, you have disconnected from source, despite possibly being more connected than others. And by source, I mean God, the universe or whatever you feel is larger and more vast than any entity here on earth. 

When you boil it down, life is a solitary thing. Sure, there are people who support you through this difficulty and that. But as people come and go from our lives, experiences get cobbled together and nobody else has been exposed to your blend of experiences. Nobody else has your unique way of looking at those experiences. We might have good people and great relationships all around us and yet, in the still, quiet moments we'll all experience loneliness at one time or another. 

For some, those moments will be comforted by faith in a higher power or a connection to the oneness in us all. But life will always intrude and bring us back into our humanness. It's inevitable. 

I'm not going to claim to have all the answers, so maybe I'm wrong. But I see people who feel lonely and think it's because they don't have a mate or they don't have enough friends. And I believe mates and friends are distractions that make you feel less lonely. But they don't cure the loneliness. 

Nothing cures the loneliness. Because the fact is, each of us is alone. We're born alone. We die alone. And in between we distract ourselves from loneliness, but we're still alone. And feeling sorry for ourselves or comparing ourselves to people we perceive to be less lonely doesn't really help. 

What helps, I think is knowing why we feel alone. Much of it is our ego telling us we need to be affirmed by others and if we're not affirmed enough or often enough, we feel alone. But when you move past that level of loneliness, I believe it's because you're "clear" enough to feel the weight of the solitary task you've taken on here on earth. You're clear enough to see how irreparably alone you will remain as long as you have human consciousness. 

The human consciousness is what you came here to experience. It's a totally unique and complex way of learning and growing that you can't find anywhere else. But that part of us that is universal can never quite forget it has to be separated from source in order to make that possible. We have to feel fear. We have to feel loneliness. We have to experience discomfort. We have to have ups and downs. That's what we came to do. We can't do that unless we separate from that which feels no fear, loneliness, discomfort or imbalance. 

Your soul may be part of something larger, but the individual you came here to be is on a solitary journey. Which doesn't mean you can't have companions along the way, but only you can come here to do what your unique individual part of the whole came here to do. Rather than your loneliness and discomfort telling you you're doing something wrong, they're actually indicating you're doing something right.

Because it's such a solitary thing, it's also really hard. And the more you let go of the distractions—social gatherings, alcohol, TV, reading, work, whatever—the harder and lonelier it becomes. Because you're left alone with your inner work. You're left alone with your mission and wherever you might be on that trail. Or, because many people feel they don't know what their mission or purpose is, you're left alone with that. And all of it is painful and/or difficult and/or uncomfortable for a human to face. 

I do believe, though, that there is a way to reframe all of it. First, if you have a cooperative and loving relationship with your soul, you actually are never fully alone. Because the individual you came here to be and your soul are separate, but connected entities, one of which dies and the other which is everlasting. And if you can feel the way your soul is there to comfort you lovingly during those moments of loneliness or exhaustion, you can get a different take on it. Sure, your ego will always tell you that another individual is the answer to the problem, but really, everything you need is inside you. 

I wrote about spiritual adulthood in a previous blog. In that blog, I defined spiritual adulthood as having three core components—awareness of yourself and your own consistencies and inconsistencies; personal responsibility and the ability to fess up to your consistencies and inconsistencies; and the will to break free from the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that keep you from having a deeper relationship with your soul or higher self. 

Spiritual adulthood is a massively hard role to undertake, one only taken on by those souls and individuals who are willing to make the tradeoffs necessary to go exploring off ego-paved paths.  And here's the kicker...there's no confetti flying once you finally reach your destination, because there's no destination to reach. Just more journey. The second you realign one inconsistency, another will become apparent. And then you'll have to come around to addressing that one, too. It takes a lot of staying power. 

And, then once you've crossed over the threshold of spiritual adulthood and become conscious of yourself and your soul and how you're both connect and disconnected from source, there really aren't any good places left to hide. You can try to hide, but once the lights are turned on in your consciousness you're pretty much screwed. So you just become more and more raw in the face of the loneliness and difficulty and have to learn to come to peace with that, too. 

As everything on the spiritual journey, it comes down to trust. You have to trust that the soul that chose your body, personality and path has a higher wisdom and is guiding you correctly. As humans, we tend to gravitate toward that which makes us comfortable and we tend to cling to the ego mindsets we perceive hold value. As seekers, however, we tend to gravitate to that which makes us uncomfortable and that which requires we shed things that once held value, because that's where the higher wisdom is found. And wherever higher wisdom is found, that's where we can meet with our higher selves and our god-selves in the most meaningful ways. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

10/26/15—Enjoying the View

I was giving a reading the other day and said something so wise I surprised even myself! :D I may not be the first to say it, but its worthy of repeating and reconsidering even if you've heard it before. Plus, I've been living it and considering it for a few days and it's a great thought to carry around...

At this very moment, your dream has come true and your future dreams are coming true. Today was a day you dreamed of. 

Think about it. THIS was a moment you dreamed into fruition. And even though it may feel like a "flawed moment"...or not as perfect as the dream you is nonetheless the moment of manifestation for you. A moment to cherish and celebrate. 

Consider that everything that happened today and will happen tomorrow is in response to a prayer you put out. We're always making dreams of the future...always working toward a future dream that continually expands ever further into the future as we meet goals, take unexpected turns and live our daily lives. And because of this, it seems like today is just never good enough. But today is the answer to a dream you had not that long ago. Rejoice in the answer to a dream rather than poo poo it as not as good as the revised vision you have now. You couldn't even have that vision if you didn't once dream the dream you're living today. 

A year ago I dreamed I'd be more mentally clear and more physically capable. And I am. And yet it's not good enough. I want even more now. And a curse of being human is that we don't know how to exist without a dream of something more. So we're never satisfied with what we have. The thirst for more serves a purpose in moving us forward. But with all these mountains we climb, we really should take the time to enjoy the view. Living a life of purpose that doesn't account for appreciating the beauty of the process is missing the point, imo. 

Part of the challenge of taking personal responsibility for having dreamed this and every day of our lives—whether consciously or unconsciously—is realizing that the things we dreamed of, in the reality we actually live in, have upsides and downsides. For example, I dreamed of having dogs. So when I carry three sacks of poo with me for a mile on a walk, that's a day I dreamed of. Because that's part of the reality of dogs. 

Say that, years back, you dreamed of the day you'd be married to the spouse you have now. Or say you dreamed of getting the job you have now. And now you're unhappy with that situation, whatever it is.  Dreams, when translated into reality, have upsides and downsides. So this is a day you dreamed of. 

And so imagine that today you're dreaming of being free of that job or marriage. Then, in reality, things are probably going to get worse before they get better, because most of us need to be pretty miserable to take on changes like that. Therefore, the miserable times are all days you dreamed would happen. And now imagine that you're free of that situation, at last. But you're feeling lonely on Friday night or are unemployed or maybe having trouble settling in to your new job. Those are all days you dreamed of, too. And if you want to change that, it's likely it will all get worse before it gets better, so those are the days you're dreaming of now when you dream of changing the situation. 

And the same goes for all the happy and neutral days we all have, too. I just didn't mention them, because it's easier to imagine the good days being days you dreamed of. We'll readily take credit for having brought those into fruition using our powerful dreaming abilities...haha.

So consider taking your head out of all that you want to accomplish before next month, next year or the end of your life and spend some time appreciating the powerful fact that you created today. It is an answer to a prayer. You are that good. So good, in fact, that all the dreams you have for tomorrow are unfolding effortlessly as we speak, just as today unfolded from yesterday's dreams. 

By the time we fulfill our intentions and reach the places we dreamed of yesterday, it's too late to enjoy the process. And, besides, we already have a new dream in mind that we're focused on instead. The only time to really appreciate and enjoy the striving is not when we've reached our destination, because we never really do. It's day by day as we're experiencing it. 

Today is the day you once dreamed of. You are magic. You are literally living the dream. Celebrate the beauty of this moment. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

10/19/15—Blogging from Between the Layers of an Onion

One of the things about the spiritual journey is that each time you peel off a layer of the onion, and each time you think you've nailed a particular lesson, you just end up discovering new layers and lessons to learn. 

Judgment is something I've been working on for a while. Or perhaps I should say non-judgment of others. Fact is, every time you look at or see another a person, you make a judgment about them. Oh, that's my *good* friend, Ken." "That's a *tall* woman." "Oh, he's got *great* hair." All of those are judgments.  True non-judgment is being of neutral mind about all things good or bad.

I don't think there will be very many of us that will choose to go so far down the path that we stop quantifying others altogether. That's monk-level non-judgment. But what most of us need help with is the everyday judgments of what is right and wrong about the things other people say, believe, want and do. That's where I feel I've made good progress. 

But I still catch myself making those judgments or making judgy comments from time to time. The hard part, really, is not just to stop saying those things, but to also stop thinking those things. Of course, one leads to another, but I do notice judgy thoughts seeping in from time to time. Far less than I used to, but they're still there. And that led me to a realization. 

While I'm far less judgmental, what I'm really far MORE of is accepting. In other words, I still might make that judgment—"what an ass he was for doing that"—but I'm less likely to mete out any "punishment" or take on any stress over it. So if, say, someone screws me over on something, I might judge them as an asshole, but then accept the situation for what it is and move on. What that does for me is it disconnects me from the toxic rehashing of the situation and the desire for karma to visit upon them. I'm far more able to lift things up to the universe and trust, though I admit, from time to time, I do get stuck on something. 

There are two essential truths critical to moving past judgment and toward acceptance. The first is that everyone has their own path to walk and what they do on their path is none of our beeswax. We don't even know what's right for our own path half the time. We have no business sticking our nose into the paths of others. So if they have had multiple affairs, if they own an arsenal or if they've been to jail, it's none of our business. Not ours to judge. It's part of their journey here and we're not in charge of their journey. We have laws that keep order within society and, within those laws, live and let live. Nobody says you have to invite them into your home. I'm just saying tend to your own crap and let others tend to theirs. And if you're judging others, then simply put, you still have your own stuff to work on. Because the person who has healed enough to be in a position to judge wouldn't judge. 

The second truth is that people who create drama, tell lies, cheat or otherwise do things where they knowingly hurt others—as well as those who do crap unconsciously to hurt others—they're doing it because of who they are and not because of anything having anything to do with you. Regardless of what it looks like. Regardless of what they tell you. It's about who they are, not about you. And it usually comes from a place of deep anger and hurt within them. It's because of things they can't face, not things they're trying to make you face. 

Which isn't to say the crappy thing they've done isn't hurtful. But because it's about them and not you, then you get to *choose* how to respond to it. It has no power over you. Only you have power over you. So you can look at it as an opportunity to learn something about yourself, rather than an opportunity to hurt. If you want to. When you feel hurt, it's just the universe showing you where you still need to heal. So again, instead of focusing on the other person, focus on your own stuff. 

If you tell yourself often enough that "it's not my path, so it's not my business", you'll find yourself judging less. And I'm not saying if you see someone about to jump off a bridge, you just leave them to their path. This is about judgment. You wouldn't judge the person for wanting to jump off a bridge. And so you might be able to approach them and start a compassionate conversation, rather than one that starts with, "hey, asshole, don't jump!"

And if you remind yourself often enough that the other person's asshattery comes from a place of pain and anger within themself, then you can have compassion toward them. Because you understand pain and anger. And while you might have the tools to deal with anger and pain without hurting others, this person does not. And that's worthy of compassion and acceptance. You understand them and you accept the situation as it is because you've felt the same way before and, however you dealt with it, you probably haven't dealt with it perfectly every time around. And, besides it's not about you anyway. So all "the asshat" is guilty of is something you've been guilty of in the past. And you can accept it for what it is.

So while non-judgement may be the path, acceptance is one of the nuances of that path and can be a deceptive mile marker along the way. For some time I saw my acceptance of a situation to be the same as not judging it, and it's not. And so the plot thickens. 

The clarity between layers of the onion is fabulous and a great indicator of how far you've come. But it's not the destination. And you can only hang out there for so long before you also see how much further you have to go. And so you enter a new ring of the onion, not knowing for sure where you'll come out. But knowing for sure that, no matter where you come out, you'll never quite reach the end.