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.

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

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…

Stay

Escape, it is what saved my life, whether through thoughts or actions. I grew up in a house where each moment was unpredictable, my father was an alcoholic, my mother a pill addict, and they were young. They did the best they could at the time, they were both broken. I am the oldest of three kids and took on the parental role early on. My father externalized his anger and moods, screaming, yelling, our house was like one giant land mine. Though it wasn’t giant, it was a tiny bungalow that we all packed ourselves into, my brother sister and I all sharing a room, there was no where to escape in the house. We typically found ourselves outside, wandering the prairie path, climbing trees that weren’t ours, playing at friends’ houses, anything to escape the terror that was our house. We also learned to escape emotionally. I developed a habit of walking outside and counting my steps, it took me out of the moment of pain and suffering, I never stayed with an emotion for more than a few minutes before I transported myself to another world. I would walk through the neighborhood and look into other people’s homes. I created a perfect reality for them, their warm cozy house, dinner in the oven, mom and dad helping the kids with their homework and the dog curled up on the rug in front of the fire. Laughing, smiling, a sense of lightness, ease and safety. I imagined what it would be like to be in their family, live in their house, sit and have dinner, be hugged and loved and tucked into bed feeling safe and secure, unafraid.

I started calling my father Jeff at the age of ten, unapologetically telling him he didn’t get to be called dad unless he behaved like a dad. And then I would cringe, close my eyes and wait for the explosion. He just walked away. I was scared to death, but wouldn’t let him see it. I often would gather my brother and sister and leave the house when arguments would start heating up – his thundering voice trailing after us to get back in the house. We found our peace and our quiet, outside of the home.

My tactics served me in that I survived, I didn’t give in to drugs or alcohol and I lived my life as if I was just like everyone else. Sports saved my life, I lost myself in basketball, volleyball and softball year round. I balanced school and sports with taking care of my brother and sister, leaving no room to feel any of the emotions that come with living in a house that if it could, would swallow you whole and spit you back out into pieces. And I kept a damn good secret, I thought that no one in my Pleasantville like town (other than our immediate neighbors who heard the screaming and saw the police cars) had any idea what our reality was.

The trouble is, while the escape and the emotional Berlin Wall served me well and sheltered me through adolescence, I don’t need it anymore, but it still pops up. I am in a healthy place in my life, years of therapy later, happily married with a lovely son, a great job, and I have excellent boundaries with those in my life that are destructive. It is a constant battle to stay, when something comes up, big or small, not to smooth over it or move on, but to stick in. Whether we are talking about a small disagreement with my wife or trying to get my mother into rehab, I am trying to stay in the sticky discomfort that is life. And trudge through, going around just gets me back where I started. And after all, my house is the home I dreamed of, where it is warm and cozy, where we laugh and smile and hug and are safe and happy.

Pema Chodron captures this beautifully:
““The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic…getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.”

Excerpt From: Chödrön, Pema. “When Things Fall Apart.” Shambhala.

So that is what I am leaning into these day, staying with the shakiness, big and small and accepting life, love, feelings as they are, not as I want them to be.

What are you escaping from in your life? Is there a spot that you could stay, even just for a moment and open your heart – allow things to just be, as they are?

with love.

20130802-075326.jpg

Fetal Adult

disclaimer – this is my memory as I can best summons, a few words here and there may be off…

I am lying down in the fetal position, eyes closed but not asleep in the standard issue gown on the standard issue hospital bed surrounded by three roommates that weren’t there before I was wheeled into surgery. Suddenly a cold sweat breaks out all over my body, the kind of cold sweat that makes you feel simultaneously freezing cold and instantly sweating through your clothes, hot. “you don’t look good, are you ok?” asks my wife, Amanda. That’s all it took, I sit up and open my dry cracked mouth and instead of the usual heaving and loud vomiting, blood just pours and pour and pours out of my mouth, most of it landing in the hospital issued cardboard puke tray – it fills to the top and Amanda quickly grabs another. I barely heave again and blood flows into the second tray. “Hello, is there a nurse around? We need some help in here” yells my wife. I feel instantly relieved of the clammy cold feeling but am having that feeling that I am not quite of my body. The nurses come in and force me to swallow five gulps of water so icy cold I didn’t know it could be that cold without freezing. “five?!! “I barely manage to whisper. “yes, we need to be sure you stop any bleeding” – it felt like swallowing razor blades followed by cups of salt – “you must have had a small vein bleeding after the surgery while you were still out, your stomach knew to get rid of it.”

The pain of the raw gaping holes in the back of my throat was like nothing I had ever felt before, even compared to natural child birth. My tonsils had become the size of large figs, barely enough space for air to get through. I had been sick for nine months and my body was unable to fight the infections and inflammation – a tonsillectomy was the last resort. I was 35 years old and living in Amsterdam. The gaping holes in the back of my throat were the result. While laying in the hospital bed I scribbled a note to my wife, “can they please give me something for the pain?” When Amanda asked the nurse they told me all I could have was a paracetemol suppository (tylenol without codeine). While marijuana is legal in the Netherlands, they don’t actually believe in pain medication. As a result they don’t have a pill addiction problem. So I suffered. Had I been home in the US I would have been given morphine.

At 5:50pm I had gone 15 minutes without vomiting blood. “Ok, you go now” says the nurse in her broken english “we are close”. I was in an outpatient hospital that closed at 6:00pm, apparently regardless of whether you were vomiting blood or not. Amanda went down to the lobby with her Euro coin and brought back up a rented wheel chair – they managed to get me into the chair and my wife wheeled me down to the car. I don’t remember much of the next five days, other than delirious pain and hunger.

On day six I thought I would feel improvement, at least be able to eat something, it had been seven full days since I ate. The pain was excruciating as I laid on the yellow womb chair in front of the garden and listened to Amanda and my 2 year old son Henry laughing and playing.

Even a joyful life has pain and suffering – and I had dealt with more than my fair share of suffering. I grew up in a house of addicts, my father an alcoholic, my mother a pain pill popper. I sat there remembering the last time I felt so desperate, both physically and emotionally. I was 12 years old. After years of verbal abuse, explosive yelling matches, walking on egg shells afraid to laugh at the dinner table or be sent to our bedroom, two week long disappearing acts where we thought he was dead, we staged an intervention with my dad. My mom told him he was coming for marriage counseling, which he begrudgingly agreed to. It is just like it is on TV, the family and close friends all get together and learn about the disease of alcoholism. Each and every one of us old enough had to write a letter and read it. My brother was only 8 at the time, and my sister just 9. We write heart wrenching letters to my dad telling him how we love him and how “the disease” has hurt us, bringing up happy memories to remind him of how it used to be, in those brief moments of sobriety when things felt relatively better. Then, we slowly crack open the deepest most vulnerable parts of our little hearts to ask, please oh please will you get help and be my daddy again. When it was my brother and sister’s turn to talk all they could say between their sobbing was “i love you daddy, don’t be sick anymore”. Together, we all cried, for lost childhoods and painful marriages and hurt feelings and vacations where we had so much fun we laughed until we peed and then laughed some more. Then came the moment of truth. We all closed our eyes as my mom reads her letter, describing how they met and fell in love and the life they dreamed of having together. She talked about the yelling and abuse and the deep sorrow and their three beautiful children that they made together, and then she asked “Jeff, please from the bottom of my heart, for your sake and the sake of our family, get help so we can be a family again. If you get help we will be with you the whole way and waiting for you with open arms when you get home. There is a van outside waiting to take you to rehab, I love you. But, if you refuse, we will be gone, and you will lose us forever”. We all slowly open eyes to see what he will say. He closes his eyes, and starts to laugh, softly at first and than maniacally, his face turned so red I though he might burst, and then he suddenly stops and says “you thought this would work, you would ambush me with your sob stories and manipulate me? Fuck all of you, this is not my problem, this is your problem.” He then walked right out the door. I ended that day babysitting for our neighbors, which as an adult realize my mom should never have let me do. I was fine until I wasn’t. I put the kids to bed and called my friend, and told her about my day. She responded by telling me that I just told the story like it was out of a book, not like it had happened to me. We hung up and I suddenly had a raging headache, like no headache I had before. I was nauseas and seeing double and felt like I was dying. I can’t remember if I called my mom or not, but I do know I stayed, I stayed until 2am and they were supposed to come home at 11pm – it was before cellphones, so all i could do was lean my head against the cold window and cry myself to sleep, all the while wishing it would all go away.

This was only really the beginning of the suffering we would endure as a family. It was the catalyst for slow self destruction by most everyone. For another time.

As I listened to my son giggling, the memory washing over me, I sat in the fetal position, in our womb chair, and felt nothing and a smile came over my face. Maybe it was the combination of the memory, the extreme physical pain and the fasting that caused the moment, tears started running down my face and I realized that this was it, it doesn’t get any better than this, there isn’t anything else. We all experience pain and suffering and joy and happiness. We break and put things back together again. We take the whole apart and look at each piece but all that is there is a part of something bigger. Life is a series of events, minutes, days, weeks, breakfasts, diapers, friends, joyful surrender, working, mourning, parties, laughter, birth, bills, death, cleaning, stress, finances, broken bones and broken hearts. The searching for the next thing is over. This is what we have and the moments will change, the location will change, the people may even change, and i am the same, i am always there and i am nothing and everything and the rest will not go away, it will just shift and change. I took a deep breathe, it was over.

Acceptance asks only that we embrace life as it is, not life as we want it to be.

“this is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”

~Rumi

with love.

Inside out

Who are you that they are that? How do we contribute to the behavior and reactions of others?

Yesness

Pain is not punishment, and pleasure is not reward – both are equal parts of life as it is. The more we accept things as they are and work to become more responsive and less resistant the easier it gets.

20130606-094814.jpg

Light in the shadow

In the light of emptiness we are all one (borrowed from the Prajnaparamita) And yet it is so easy to see ourselves as set apart either in the shadow, unequal, unworthy or the beaming light, out-shining all beings around us, creating the shadows and blinding the seekers.

I had the great fortune to learn a valuable lesson this weekend. One of light and love and room for all. I invited my teacher, guru, learned friend, lama, whatever you want to call him, to my house for lunch. He is quite a famous guy in the world of western Buddhism, so I never expected him to agree as I thought he may not find little me worthy. But he did agree. And as the big day came closer I sent a confirming email, assuming he may need to back out, and didn’t hear back. And so I sent another, the day before the big lunch. And didn’t hear back. So as my mind filled in the blanks and created a story I told myself this was bound to happen and he’s very busy with more important things and people. So I didn’t prepare for his arrival. I worked and played with my son and gardened on the sweltering 90 degree day. And then sat at the kitchen counter dripping sweat, cooling off with a beer when a little voice in my head said “what if, just what if he still comes?” Ignoring it I chatted with my mother in law visiting from out of town and my wife – as I casually checked my email to find an email from said guru. “Beam me in Scottie- I am 20 minutes from your house and need directions.” Shit!! I hadn’t made the promised lunch, beer and chips were on the counter and he was minutes away.

We managed to clean up and throw a blueberry tart in the oven just as he pulled into the driveway. When I greeted him and mentioned that I didn’t think he was coming he was perplexed. “I said I was coming, why wouldn’t I come?” I explained the email exchange and of course there was some technical issue with his email and his responses didn’t go through. But that isn’t the point, the point for me is two fold – what my mind does when something seemingly goes awry, the story I concoct is usually not a positive one. In this case I assumed something/someone more important came up. Which leads me to the second point, Lama embodies equanimity – to him I am a person, just like him. He doesn’t differentiate between beings, he sees the inter-being of all of us.

It was a lesson for me in seeing the light and the shadow as two sides of the same, one not better or worse than the other, not more or less worthy.

If we shift our thinking of light and of shadows and of emptiness we can see it is all one. You cannot have one without the other – thus we can learn to ebb and and flow and make space for the great equanimity of life.

Namaste my friends

Running

Stop running, for a moment. What are you hiding from? What feeling, experience, deed, relationship, obligation, responsibility, reality are you currently escaping? We are all doing it, in this very moment, even you, even me. Write down the first thing that came to your mind, even if you don’t want it to be that thing. Especially if you don’t want it to be that thing. Look at it, hold it in your hands, in your mind, in your heart. Feel the fear, shame, love, resentment, anger – where do you feel it. Look at it closely. Turn it over, look underneath. Peer into the tiny cracks and holes and ugliness and stunning beauty.

Are you still there? Good. You made through the first step – looking yourself in the eye, even for just a moment can open up the possibility of softening to the pain or fear.

See what happens with the rest of your day. Come back tomorrow for more.

Slowly crack the shell, one bit at a time and just be. Right here, now. There is nothing else.

Breathe.

With love.

Promiscuous Intelligence

Andrew Fitzgerald's blog

Blog - Capes Coaching

Uncovering the idiocyncracies of life and living each moment, one at a time

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

allaboutmanners

Just another WordPress.com site

Pollock of Light

Twitter: @lluisbusse

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

MindMedicine Blog

Professional Golfer & Mind Coach in Life & Professional Sport...

MindfulVision

My tribute to life with all its curiosities and miracles

Playing Your Hand Right

Showing America how to Live

Gotta Find a Home

Conversations with Street People

Grevillea Corner

Archive Writings of Stephanie J Mohan (Australia)

floreakeats

Food Writing. Fun. Home of The Food A--hole's Dilemma and other delicacies

cancer killing recipe

Just another WordPress.com site

The Adventures of Fanny P.

...because life is just one big adventure...