Connection

The urge to write is unbearable, yet the words, the arc, the pretty package is escaping me. So today, just the raw words. Credit card points are a beautiful thing. We thought we were clever when we paid for IVF with our hilton honors card, joking that we would use the points one day to sneak away for a night or two in chicago after our second baby was born. It is one of those things we have been fully committed to since Henry was born, we would find time for just us, preserve our marriage, our foundation. We wouldn’t look at the calendar one day and realize it had been 2 years since we got away. And thanks to my amazing mother in law and brother, we do get that time. We were certain we would have another baby and committed to preserving our time as a couple. Weeks later, we got the news we were going to have twins. The hotel would have to wait for a while.

We were thrilled and scared out of our minds, and we laughed, and we cried, tears of joy and absolute terror. Adding one baby at a time is daunting enough, how would we possibly prepare for two. We needed to buy a new car, make some changes to the house, and mentally and emotionally prepare and pave the way for extreme love and chaos.

As the months passed Twin A and Twin B transformed to baby boy a and baby boy b and then to Jackson and Finn. And we met them and held them and loved them so fiercely so immediately that my heart was bursting from my chest, and as they clutched our fingers with their tiny hands we whispered in their tiny ears that they were perfect and we would never forget them. And just like that they breathed their last breaths in our arms and were on to the next life.

A year ago today we did find ourselves in that luxurious hotel in Chicago, paid for with IVF points. We were home to celebrate my sister’s wedding, and to bury our baby boys ashes next to their grandfather and great grandparents, to be looked after, to honor their short lives in the place we both grew up. We sat in the hotel wrapped in each others arms, in a cloak of heartbreak, beauty and simplicity, in pure indulgence, just 54 days after our sweet boys passed away in our arms.

Amanda went for a run, desperately trying to transform her postpartum body back to the way it was. Sitting on the balcony, drinking my coffee and sleepily overlooking the city street below, my phone rang. It was my brother Mat, his voice shaking, “Hey, what’s up, I have Kristin here too. I don’t know how else to say this. They found dad. He’s dead. I love you.” Dead silence….”No. Way. When did he die, where did they find him?” “They found him dead in bed, covered in bottles of booze, in an apartment in Bangkok. Suspected suicide.”

I couldn’t breathe, my mouth agape, i shut down. “Ok. Are you ok? I love you both. I am so sorry.” It was his 63rd birthday, almost 20 years to the day that he disappeared.

We all have those moments in our lives, before and after moments, where things change forever, anchored by an event. While most of my life had been marked by the disappearance of my father, the birth and death of our sons marked an almost unbearable new line.

Most of my childhood and early adulthood years were spent in survival mode, and to accomplish that I shut down emotionally, compartmentalizing my life. To let any of the pain in would have shut me down, so I moved forward, head down, got shit done. My compassion and empathy for others overflowed, crying walking by a homeless person on the street. My empathy and compassion for myself was non existent. Marrying Amanda was the beginning of my exterior cracking, real vulnerability showing its face, slowly breaking down. Then Henry was born and my heart oozed, the foundation crumbling.

After his first 17 days of life, in great health, he almost died. 6lbs 9ozs and he had rsv. They told us to prepare for him not to make it. And I broke open completely, like i had never done before, feeling the full blast of all my emotions. Aching for the life we were going to have with him, that after 2.5 years was finally here and now we were losing him. And we stayed strong and let our friends and family in, to love us and care for us and help us believe he would be ok. And then suddenly he took a turn for the better, and he lived. He is our miracle baby, no doctor could explain his quick recovery, inches from death to a healthy, happy, nursing baby.

Jackson and Finn’s death ripped my heart out, i felt like I was walking around inside out. The depth of our love for them in the short time they lived was astounding. We held each other and were cradled and loved by all of our friends and family. And I was open, and in touch and not putting up the walls and the facade. I didn’t hold it together and I didn’t need to. I was finally the vulnerable person I teach others to be.

Somehow, the death of my father triggered me back to being 13 years old again. Feeling unsafe and compartmentalized. All the opening I had done, all the undoing of those habits, all the work, one instant shut me down again.

So hear I sit in our small town coffee shop, on the heels of my Dad’s 64th birthday and anniversary of his death, watching 9 month old twins scream in their stroller, yearning for that chaos. Tapping into my practice, my heart, my family, my foundation, trying to find my way back to connection, to wholeness.

Cracked Wide Open

Truth, vulnerability, love, loss, envy, fear.  We play the highlight reel, even with those closest to us, rarely talking about what is really going on in our lives, our hearts and minds.  We grin and bare it, keep our tragedies and sad stories to ourselves, quietly suffering, quietly overcoming.  Living in deceptive collusion.  And we are alone roiling in our pain.  We share our successes, and our love, and our happy moments forgetting that without suffering there is no happiness – we are all human, none of us immune.  And one day you whisper, you leak, you share, and find you are not alone.  Here’s to love and pain and heartbreak and vulnerability – we are not alone, you are not alone.  You are just like me, and I just like you.  Maybe not in this, but in some suffering.

All hospital rooms are not created equal. This room left us feeling dirtier just for being there. Left wanting for assurance that everything was going to be ok. The white board across from the bed below the clock was mostly erased remnants of the previous patient’s doctor and nurses names. Scratched and cracked, mostly blank, it gave me the eery feeling that no one was taking care of us. We moved across the hall, the cleanliness was luxurious. No longer under observance in the Maternity ward we were back in labor and delivery. Liz, Betsy and Jodie had just left, a small smile still on your face from the laughter. J arrived from Chicago and the mediocre indian food delivery was a feast. All was quiet – the nurse loved us and moved us to the biggest room. We all had room to rest, your chromatic bed with extra blankets just out of the warmer, me in the chair next to you, J across the room, curled into a tight ball, snoring lightly. I yearned for the filth and neglect of the maternity ward. There was no going back, we were in it for the long haul, 90 more days or 1 more hour.

As I drifted I heard the soft closing of the bathroom door – your constant urge to pee, the easier part of this pregnancy.

Too much time had passed, even at 3:30 in the morning, it felt too long, you couldn’t still be peeing. Peering through the door, your were quivering, white faced. I knew it was time. I woke J, told her to get the doctor.

They arrived in a flurry, prepping the room and you for birth. I sat by your side, holding your hand, prepared to be the best partner I could through the births. Trying to match your strength and support when Henry was born. I am good under pressure, this is my strength, and yet I couldn’t shake the fear that I would let you down.

And then all of a sudden you were pushing. You were so brave and so strong. the words “push push push… push, breathe” came out as the tears rolled down my cheeks. Your strangle grip on my hand gave me strength, this was for you, for Jack, this was our family and our path. There was no going back. After about 10 minutes of pushing, there he was, head crowning, he came out peacefully. There was no screaming, no Apgar, his eyes were closed. The rush of the NICU team hurrying him to the warmer, cleaning him off, checking his vitals. and there it was, his first, ever so slight, breath. his beating heart visible through his delicate skin. 4:48am – Jackson Vincent was alive. I carefully cradled him, taking him from the doctor. we held him, and in an instant loved him so deeply – weeping. taking in each tiny detail of his perfect face and body.  So tiny, yet so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Our perfect moment abruptly interrupted by the attending physician. The contractions had stopped, your cervix stopped dilating, there was hope for Finn. A fleeting moment of hope. But Jack’s placenta hadn’t delivered and was torn. If it didn’t deliver in the next hour you would be induced. The Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor confirmed that their was no decision to be made, if the placenta didn’t come out you would die.

We drank up every second we had with Jack, snuggling, kissing and loving every little bit of him. His short life so peaceful and so full of love, until his last breath in our arms. Your mom held him so gentle and firm, so protective, no longer breathing forever alive. and we waited. no placenta. Finn was still kicking and moving when they started the epideral and pitocin. Tears streaming, no turning back. Your life on the line, your body refusing to budge – refusing to let go of the beautiful life moving about. Your eyes empty, your body strong – your soul exposed. 4 hours later – the contractions finally started, our worst nightmare coming true. How do you push when all you want to do is hold – knowing that each painful contraction and push means coming closer to losing our sweet Finnie boy.

But you did it, you did what you were told, i held your hand and coached you again… to push, push push…almost there, push…and there he was -10:06am Finnean Mathew, bigger than Jackson, rounder, more muscular. Sweet love, mouth open, tiny little breaths. Deep love and adoration, It was over and yet it had just begun.

“Sometimes I feel like I never been nothing but tired.. Sometimes I lay down, no more can I do, then I go on again, because you asked me to. Some days i look down, afraid i will fall. and though the sun shines, I see nothing at all. and I hear your sweet voice, oh, oh, come and then go, come and then go. telling me softly, you love me so. The peaceful valley just over the mountain. I may never get there in this lifetime, but sooner or later, it’s there I will go. Sooner or later, it’s there I will go.” Patty Griffin – Just over the mountain, MLK’s song

The moment

that you feel that just possibly you are walking around naked, exposing your heart and mind

and all that exists on the inside

showing too much of yourself

that’s the moment you are getting it right

that is living an authentic life

if you wish to connect, not control, respond, not react, start from here.

All we need

I recently had the honor of contributing to the naming ceremony and bris for dear friends of ours. While I found many beautiful buddhist prayers and writings, none resonated like the heart inspiring yet simple words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Adapted by me and read by my heart centered friends to their newborn son;

“We will love and support you to be aware of your innate goodness.
The seeds of love, compassion, generosity, patience and wisdom already exist in your heart and mind.
We will help you to cultivate this aspect of your true nature.

We will cultivate a self confidence in you that is not based on transient, superficial factors, but on a deep awareness of your own inner goodness.”

If only every child could start out in the world with parents that start from here.

Jewel in the Poop

I love buddhism, I really do – discovering it and learning to meditate saved my life, more than once. The problem is it gets a bad name- some people, who aren’t very familiar or show some interest, assume that it’s not for them because they can’t do it, they can’t sit still for hours or clear their minds. They perceive the practice to be for a special few who are able to experience flowers and sunshine – they think that when buddhists meditate their minds spontaneously clear of all thoughts, TA DA! Rainbows appear!! The term “the jewel in the lotus” gives the impression that meditators are somehow surrounded by fields of lotus flowers and hit the jewel lottery jackpot, all blissed out. It is an image problem, a PR problem, a communication problem in general. The other perception seems to be that it is all doom and gloom, suffering, and lots of long talks about dying and emptiness. It sets the wrong expectation on both ends of the spectrum.

For me, the cultivation of self awareness and awareness in general is much more akin to trudging through a sewer and tripping over a boot only to have my face smash into the poop, as I put my hands down into the gook to push myself up I happen upon a diamond ring that fell through the sewer grates. And lucky for me, now that I have taken my head out of the proverbial crap I can see that the ladder to get out isn’t far.

Ok, maybe that is a little dramatic, and even misses the point a little…after all, the point of practicing is to uncover your own jewelry in all that poop, not someone else’s. It isn’t all fun and games, and it isn’t all doom and gloom.

The beauty of Buddhism is the idea that your perfect buddha like self already exists, it is not outside of you, someone else can’t find it for you – you have to work through your stuff, cultivate awareness and hopefully get a glimpse of reality, just as it is. Not all rosy and pretendland, but imperfect and real, and the “jewel” is learning to see what is really going on – in your head and outside of it. To let things/people/time/money etc…come and go, just as they are – for we all know we can’t change other people, and we can’t make bad things that happen unhappen. We also can’t make the good things that happen last forever. Ebbing and flowing, the way life does – watching the waves wash over you and there you are, still standing – or at least getting back up.

Obviously, there is much more to the study and practice of buddhism and to the cultivation of uncovering the person you want to be (and already are) – for just this moment, in my mind, it is about uncovering the jewel in the poop, and maybe being lucky enough to take a shower after.

“No one can save us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

~Buddha

Do your shoes fit?

It is January 6th, the true first day of the new year for me. For three years I contemplated quitting my job, dreaming of working for myself, doing the work that I was confident would really make a difference in peoples lives and in the success of organizations. The constant lists of pro’s and con’s, the time spent shopping my ideas around, looking for validation some days and rejection others. My wife patiently rode the roller coaster with me, cloaking her fear when she knew I needed reinforcement that it was a real possibility. Fear and desire. If I strip away all the peripheral emotions and feelings that motivate my behavior I can sum it up with these two beauties. As time passed I realized I was looking for someone to make the decision for me, to tell me it was all going to be ok, that I would find clients who wanted real change and would pay for it so I could avoid putting our young family in the position of going into foreclosure and eating ramen noodles. I trudged through my job, day after day waiting for the answer. If you have read this blog before you already know how this ends, or in a way, begins. I left my job and started my own Company, today, is my official first day self employed. This however, is not the point.

I began to reflect on how I arrived at my decision and why I was waiting for others to make it for me. I found it was a habit of needing validation and recognition. Of not trusting my intuition. In a way we all do this – we look for someone or something to tell us what to do – our bosses at work, tv ads tell us what to watch, commercials tell us what to buy, magazines tell us what to wear and what to listen to. We even base our New Year resolutions off of what we ought to do rather than what we truly want/need to do. I realize I am generalizing a bit, but think about it…do you really want to lose weight or are you doing it to fit in? Do you really want to stop eating sugar or does it seem like something you should do? Are you really motivated to stop drinking starbuck’s everyday and instead make your own coffee? The answer may be yes. But what if the real change we wanted to make was a little deeper, a bit more vulnerable? What stops us from making those changes could be we don’t want to say them out loud, and so we say all the other peripheral things and we allow the perception or judgement of others to influence our livelihood. Or maybe we really do need and want to lose weight, but we don’t take the time to dig deep to understand what led us to being overweight to begin with. What emotions drive our behavior?

As my teach Lama Surya Das says, “no one can tell you if your shoes fit”. No one can tell you what will make you happy, what you need to change or what you are afraid of. Dig deep inside and trust yourself, make a decision and don’t look for recognition or validation, know it in your heart. Feel scared, embarrassed and excited. And commit to yourself.

My new year resolution is to admit that I want recognition and I want to have the answer in order for others to think I am smart and competent. Admitting those things will help me to work on shutting up once in a while, not having the answer, not trying to prove what I know and trusting myself. This will allow me to be kinder, less competitive, less defensive and a better listener. I may even learn something. The work is looking into where those habits come from.

Take a minute, look at your new year resolution, is it the change you really want or need? Are you expecting someone to tell you if your shoes fit?

Step back to step in and look at things as they are.

with love.

www.spark-shift.com

Moths to a flame

We are all like moths to a flame, looking for happiness. Tempted by the feeling of fleeting relief only to further embed our bad habits. My tongue is all too pleased with the sting of a hot, salty french fry, satisfying in a primal way. The trouble is the next bite isn’t as good as the last, but I believe in the promise of the possibility, so i burn my tongue and add to my girth with another. And on I go, chasing the familiar relief of the first bite that can’t be matched. Only to further embed the habit loop, the well worn path in the deep recess of my brain that tells me this is going to provide relief.

Less obvious are relationships. A relationship begins, the intensity of the courting, the lust, all the firsts, they enrapture us and we are in the pleasure vortex. The phone rings and our heart races, we can literally feel the adrenaline coursing through our veins. Researchers say that falling in love is akin to being addicted to a drug, in the way our brains respond. Dopamine is released and that state of pleasure feels endless. And this goes on, in some cases for as long as 2 years. That is the point at which scientists say we have psychologically adapted to that state of being. We are an adaptive species after all, and are hard wired for variety. The first kiss, the discovery of all we don’t know thrills and drives us, and when the passionate love transitions to compassionate love we mistake it for loss of connection. The spark is gone, we feel like the relationship is “work,” sex changes, is more predictable. Somewhere along the way we were told that true love is easy – or at least I was. The key here is to stick in, to create variety and surprise, in order to stimulate our brains and keep the relationship fresh. It would be impossible to maintain the state of being of the first six months of a relationship, we would never get anything done much less be able to raise families. After all, it will be the same adventure with the next person, it is biologically determined that the lust will wear down, if not off. So revel in each moment accepting that feelings ebb and flow – where there is compassionate love there is a future. You just have to work at it a bit more.

For most of us this state of being is relatively harmless as long as we catch ourselves. At least it is relative to drug addicts and alcoholics, however it still gets in the way of our general sense of happiness.

So what? Is life then hopeless and happiness not a realistic goal? I don’t think so, for me it has been about accepting what comes at me, knowing that the pain and suffering, the crappy tasting meal or the bad cup of coffee all allow for the next moment to be appreciated. Without contrast we cannot feel happy or content.

The key for me has been awareness, cultivated through meditation. Catching myself in the moment, of chasing the pleasure and recognizing its futility – fully being able to appreciate an extraordinary moment for what it is and letting things come and go.

The next time you have a bad meal or are bored with your partner, let it be the foundation of contrast in order to enjoy the next moment.

“When any situation is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution.”
~ Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Standard Edition

Bigger than this

I often live my life in a bubble, bumping around into other people’s bubble’s. My world is saturday morning pancakes and the smell of coffee breath tainted with last nights one too many beers and cigarettes from the commuter next to me, little dump trucks and dirt boxes, big city offices and the hum of white collar workers with low morale, toddlers crying because underwear must be worn and there hasn’t been time to practice liking the sound of the vacuum yet, hands in flour water and yeast yielding warm bread and hot garbage stuck to my shoe.

Maybe you are like me in that you float around in your life, mostly seeing things from your bubble, feeling the grind of your job more than the person next to you, your back pain hurts a little more than your neighbors, the rain even makes you a bit more wet than everyone else? And we all bump into one another, holding our breath and hoping the bubbles don’t break. Comforted by illusion of safety and warmth of the blanket of our self deception.

And then, if you are lucky, there are moments when your bubble bumps into someone else’s and you are breathing the same air, having to look at things from the space of their bubble, and a glimpse of real life tip toes in.

Life is bigger than this, we are bigger than this. My bubble had the opportunity to collide with so many at once that my reality exploded in an instant. Nothing makes this reality more clear than moments of birth and the process of death.

The danger is, that the moment trails away, the grief lessens it grip, the joy of birth turns into sleepless nights and spit up and the bubble slowly starts to reform. I am a better person, better off than I have been before for this moment that has lasted longer than the others. Suffering is universal, and it is experienced in degrees, if we can see suffering as a collective ailment, share in the pain, we can share in the glory, in the breath of life, it gets a little easier. There is so much more space and air in a bigger bubble, more room for freedom and happiness and for sharing in the unavoidable pain of life.

It takes practice, you may not be ready to burst your bubble completely, maybe start with joining one or two other bubbles, share in their pain, see life from their hearts, and slowly expand. The key is to be aware as often as possible as to where you are in relation to the rest of us – and make a choice, don’t float in your bubble obliviously.

Stolen with love from Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun” and words changed for the purposes of my intentions:

When I walk beside them
I am a better person
When I look to leave them
I always stagger
Once I built an ivory tower
so i could worship from above
when I climb back down to be set free
they took me in again

there’s a big
a big hard sun
beating on the the big people
in a big hard world

There’s a big hard love
that is bigger than us
in this big love world

Go on, go do it.

Intersection

my mind turns inside out and my heart unravels, an invitation to let go and just be – she is there and then gone, so willing to see – the truth that is exposed, warning and free – leaning in i hold her, whispering all i know – follow your breath, in your nose and out, follow it all the way, don’t look back, you will be ok. The pain will stay behind and the love will follow, lightness and ease – she relents and resists, banging her fists, tears streaming – why are you doing this to me, you promised.

Its ok baby, you can go now, don’t let the burdens of the past hold you here

the pain can flow like wind through the trees

the cancer overtook her – no hope for a cure, no treatment, just left to live the last moments void of pain. This beautiful woman, strong, gentle, vibrant mother of two – The intersection of suffering and pleasure is life, you can’t escape the reality. We sit with her, breathing and hold space for weeks…

5 bright sunny days pass and the rains began…

Fight club

Cancer, the one thing we all love to hate. The unifying enemy that brings us all together, despite our differences. It covets us and looks for any small microscopic opening to mutate, to turn good cells into bad and to grow and cultivate itself into a big hairy monster, it does not discriminate, we are equal opportunity carriers.

I have cancer on my mind, and not because I have it, but because I am surrounded by it. In this very moment I have three lovely thirty something friends who all joined the same club, a club they never expected to join, one they had spent their lives doing all the things that would ensure they never were accepted. Seemingly healthy, young vibrant women, one on each coast and one in the middle. No one had a family history of cancer. All just like you and me, spouses and mothers to young children, sisters, and someone’s best friend. Each one of them woke up one day, and were hazed, accepted into a fight club they didn’t rush, signed up for the heavyweight championship fight of their lives, only they were welter weights, and they want out.

That sneaky little hazing bitch. I sit here and I try to think of what I can say or do to help, how to encourage each of them, to strategize some way to counter attack, because there has to be a secret weapon, a way to sabotage and eradicate – fight yes fight, love harder love, chemo and radiation and raw food and cottage cheese, no meat, yes meat, flax seed, bone broth, just fish now and acupuncture and reiki, massage, gluten free, weed yes weed, ok cannibas oil now, prayer beads and mediation, chaplains and brain lesions, tumors and insomnia, nothing where something used to be, skin hanging onto bone for dear life, its beat and its back stronger than ever, smoking and fighting and winning and losing – its chemo’s fault, fuck the radiation it ruined everything – it all worked and none of it worked. Is it working…

We can’t let go of what we can’t accept. Acceptance doesn’t mean surrender- if you hold something tight it can hold you back tighter, stick to you like glue- so maybe in all of this letting go is the answer, accepting things as they are – not being the cause and not being the solution, but flowing in and out. Cancer is the ultimate loss of control and yet it fools you into thinking that if you hold tighter are more sure of the remedy, control more, it will be beat. Our nature is to control, to drive and navigate and we are fooled into thinking we know where life is taking us, where we will end up. After all we run marathons and take vitamins and eat vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten free alcohol free, we do yoga and sleep 8 hours a night and love our families and yet yet, still wake up one day and the story has taken a turn.

So maybe this isn’t about cancer, but life. None of us are immune to anything, including cancer. It is about loving ourselves and each other the best we can, fighting and making up, finding a middle way, rolling in the grass with our kids and our partners – making fools of ourselves, losing and winning, getting promoted and fired, dancing and laughing, laying in bed moving or unmoving, and crying and taking deep breaths and living in the moment -accepting that we can only be right here right now, and not just saying it, but really, breathing just this breath, because you can’t breathe tomorrow’s breath.

To all of you who have cancer or know someone with cancer or have lost someone to cancer, you are doing all you can – just love and breathe and let go, it will all be ok even if its not.
with love.

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