Live Today

Live Today

Live Today

Live Today.

Those of you who follow my blog know that 2013 was a very difficult year for me. I began the year on top of the world, excited for my daughter who was about to graduate high school and embark on the excitement of life as a college student. My excitement was cut short when she ran away, moved in with her boyfriend, and decided not to go to college.

What does that have to do with living today?

Everything.

See, my world crashed around me that Thursday night she didn’t come home. I felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest. Everything around me seemed surreal. My blood thudded in my ears so loudly I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t stop crying. How could I possibly go on?

THAT is what living today is all about. Learning to survive. Everyone goes through horrible experiences at one time or another. We had already been through bad times, my husband and I, when our baby was born extremely prematurely. We didn’t know if she would make it. We didn’t know how we would go on if she didn’t. But I put one foot in front of the other. I went through the motions – forcing myself out of bed when the alarm went off, driving to work in a daze, eating because I had to. And when she left home, I found myself going through the motions again. My therapist suggested mindfulness training, so I explored and found great comfort in the words of Buddha and various Zen blogs. The one that made the most sense to me was on ZenHabits, simply entitled Breathe. I can do that, I thought. Tiny Buddha also helped a lot.

And I could. I turned my focus inward, pictured the cleansing oxygen coursing through my body, the dark hurt being exhaled with every breath. My world began to open again. My husband and I found ourselves getting to know each other again, learning to live as a couple – and learning to enjoy life and all the blessings that we have.

Stop. Right now – stop. Close your eyes and focus on the act of breathing. Know that in this moment, this brief blip of time, you’re okay.

Live your life to the fullest each and every day. Find something that brings you joy. Let go of the hurt. Release the anger. No regrets. No looking forward. No dreading the future. No waiting for tomorrow. Simply live.

Live today.

Namaste, my friends.

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Mindfulness

Callaway County Sunrise

Callaway County Sunrise

As 2013 draws to a close, I think back to what was easily one of the most difficult years I’ve ever experienced. It went from a top-of-the-mountain high to a deepest-depths-of-the-ocean low. The year dawned with hope and excitement. My daughter was in her senior year of high school, and was showered with scholarships, awards and good wishes. I was so proud of her, so excited for her. Four days after the party we threw her to celebrate her high school graduation, she left. No explanation. Horrible accusations. The pain I felt was beyond what I ever imagined, and I seriously wondered if I would survive. It seemed a hurt that deep would leave wounds that could never heal.

But they are healing. I saw a therapist, I journaled, I researched, I sought answers. Most importantly, I ALLOWED myself to begin healing. The most helpful thing for me has been MINDFULNESS. If you are dealing with a difficult situation, try this:

  • Breathe. That’s right. Breathe. In. Out. Feel the cleansing air come in through your nostrils and let it fill your lungs. Breathe out, expelling darkness and hurt. Breathe in healing, and breathe out hurt.
  • Be. Just be. Allow yourself to sit quietly. Let your mind flow where it will. Listen to your surroundings. Feel your heartbeat.
  • No expectations. Recognize that whatever you are feeling is valid, but recognize that what you are feeling is just that . . . what YOU are feeling. If you release your expectations of others, and focus instead on what you are feeling, you will begin to heal. The only thing you can control is your reaction to others. (that was my mantra for the holidays “no expectations” – and I ended up having a wonderful holiday season)

Take a moment to look back over 2013, the good and the bad. As you enter 2014, live each moment fully and completely. Appreciate it.

“Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” Dalai Lama

Accepting Help

Sea gulls hitching a ride on the Fort Morgan ferry

Sea gulls hitching a ride on the Fort Morgan ferry

One of the most difficult things for me to do is accept help. I’m a bit of a control freak (give me credit here . . . recognizing the problem is the first step towards fixing it, right?), and I often have a hard time accepting assistance from others. At work, I hate to ask my co-worker to do anything because I know she’s got enough on her desk without taking on my tasks. At home, I DO nag my hubs to help, but most of the time I just do the dishes, the laundry, the cleaning and inwardly rage because he doesn’t recognize that I have no clean underwear.

When my daughter left home under less than ideal circumstances, I felt I had to deal with it on my own. I hid my tears, pretended everything was okay, and forged ahead with life. But here’s the thing: Sometimes it’s OK to hitch a ride and let someone share your burden – just like the sea gulls that hitched a ride on the ferry. They wanted to get from Point A to Point B, and the ferry was there, willing and able to give them a lift. Once I opened up and began to let people see the hurt I was feeling, I immediately felt their support and encouragement, and didn’t feel quite so alone in the world. Others told me about their experiences, good and bad. And I began to heal.

So, if you find yourself trying to fly and are having difficulties doing so, take a cue from the Alabama gulls above and let someone else carry some of the load. There’s no shame in accepting help, and by opening up, you just might help someone else who is also suffering in silence.

Creating my Path

My life is in transition now. I thought I was doing a good job of preparing for the Empty Nest, but when my daughter moved out unexpectedly, I was forced to transition sooner. That got me to thinking about the Path each of us takes during our lifetimes. It’s not about forging a path. “Forge” isn’t really the right word. Forge indicates a forceful manufacture – I picture a blacksmith holding a blazing red chunk of iron in a roaring fire, then pounding that metal into shape with every swing of his heavy hammer. Clang-clink! Clang-clink!

That is not what we do. Instead, it is a more organic process. We create a path. It zigs this way and that, occasionally backtracking. The Path may be fast and swift, through a clearing, but more often it is slow-going, over and around obstacles.

DSCF2719

Creating my own Path has been difficult at times, and as I look back over the years, I realize that there were many, many crossroads where I had a decision to make. According to string theory, each of those crossroads created a new universe. In another universe, I may well exist as a canoe-paddling explorer out to chart new waters in the Boundary Waters along the US-Canadian border (trivia: I took a bunch of Girl Scouts on a 3-day backpacking trip in the BW area. It was an exercise in patience and survival.). In another, I may be an Olympian guiding my hunter-jumper over spine-tingling jumps. But in this world, I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, paralegal, writer, animal lover.

What was an important crossroad for me? Going to the World Affairs Seminar comes to mind. At that seminar (thank you, Centralia Rotary Club, for sending me!), I suddenly realized that there was a whole world beyond my little hometown. Talking to students from all over the world was an eye-opener. My weekly thoughts were “What movie am I going to see with my boyfriend?” and “What color should I paint my nails?” It was mind-boggling to talk to other kids the same age as me, who were thinking things like “Is Mutual Assured Destruction really a smart foreign policy?” and “Should the US government be aiding rebels in Central America?” After listening to folks from the State Department and talking to other teenagers who actually cared about more than themselves, I decided my own future deserved a little more attention. Although I was tired of school, I went to college determined to earn my degree and do something worthwhile with my life (which is why I decided to go into education).

Creating your Path is an individual thing. When you reach a crossroads moment, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where do I want to end up?
  • What are the directions I can take?
  • What will it cost me to take each direction (“opportunity cost” will be discussed in a future post)?
  • Which path will take me towards my desired destination?

Please share below the crossroads that have had an impact on your Path.

Empty Nest: Is this really happening?

Lori at Lake Minnetonka

Lori at Lake Minnetonka

Although there’s a ton of information out there for Empty Nesters, there’s very little info about Sudden Onset Empty Nest (more commonly known as What-the-Hell-Just-Happened). For those of us who had a teenager leave home with no warning – and, really, if you were planning to move out, wouldn’t you take clean undies? – it’s not all happy and cheery and cause for celebration. It’s horrible. Like your heart was ripped out, suddenly and with no drugs. Really, drugs should be involved in this. At least a good dose of happy gas.  Your first thought will be, no way, is this really happening?

Yes, it’s happening.

And there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. Unless your kid is young enough that you can drag him/her home.

So, how do you cope?

You get through it, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Keep Kleenexes handy. Eat well (peanut butter ice cream is a mood enhancer). Exercise (nothing beats doing lunges until your thighs are on fire to get your mind off things). Take care of yourself. After all, you can’t control what your of-age child does, but you can control your response.

There aren’t many resources out there for those whose teenagers move out unexpectedly. I found an interesting blog post, which you can read here. Not the same situation, but similar in ways. And like this mom, I’m not going to go into the details. Suffice it to say, I thought my kiddo and I had a great relationship. <SHRUG> Obviously, I was wrong. I have the same fears this mom did. Will she be okay? Have I prepared her for life on her own? Yeah, yeah . . . I know. I did the best I could for the past 18 years.  And I was kinda looking forward to the Empty Nest. Just expected it to be coupled with happiness instead of grief. Maybe it would help to have a name. Sudden Onset Empty Nest? Acute Empty Nest Syndrome? Abandoned Nest Syndrome? Flown the Coop? I’ll have to think on that for a bit.

Your turn. What do you call it when Empty Nest Syndrome doesn’t fit the bill? Any tips for coping?

Surviving the Empty Nest

An Empty NestThe empty nest. It looms out there in front of us, from the time our children are born. At first, we are busy changing diapers, timing feedings and worrying about ear infections. Soon, we are talking to the Parents as Teachers representative about milestones, worrying about whether or not our child is on schedule.  We put our children on the school bus for that first day of school, hoping they can find their way and will make new friends. In my case, I fretted and worried, but my little girl put her right foot up on that first step of the bus, turned to look at me and said, “See ya!”

Subaru commercial: first bus ride

And she was gone. The next few years fly by . . . school programs, PTO meetings, school carnivals, sleepovers with friends. Soon they transition to high school and get their permits (my, oh, my . . . those should really come with blood pressure meds for the parents) and start dating. Before you know it, you are sitting in the high school gym watching your baby walk down the aisle in a black gown while Pomp & Circumstance plays in the background. Photos are snapped, tears are shed. But your sadness is tempered by the excitement for your child, knowing that they have so much promise, that so many great experiences lie ahead of them. Whether they choose to attend college or pursue work, you are proud of your baby.

But there’s more. So much more. Your life is getting ready to change. Your nest will soon be empty, whether your child is moving into a dorm or getting an apartment. How do you handle your baby leaving? Here are some tips to help you make the transition, in no particular order:

1. Independence is the Goal. Remember that your goal has always been to raise an independent person who is a happy individual. Parents have a unique job – our job is successful when we are no longer needed. We have to transition from controller to supporter.

2. Be supportive. Your child is still transitioning, and still needs your support, even if he or she is no longer living with you. Be there to offer guidance when requested. And remember – your child may make different decisions than you do. And that’s OK.

3. Let go of responsibility. This is the only way a teenager can learn responsibility. You must let go of responsibility (gradually!) and let your child make decisions on his or her own. The hard part for us parents is that the teenager may not always make the decisions we would make for them. But once again, that is OK. Let your child know that you love him or her, and let them make decisions – and accept the consequences that come with those decisions. I read an Psychology Today blog that really explained this process of “letting go” well. Check it out here.

4. Shift focus. Raising a child is consuming. Many parents find themselves so wrapped up in their children that they lose all sense of self. Personally, one thing that was important to me was teaching my daughter that a woman is capable of pursing interests and being independent, so I tried to maintain some of my interests (writing, scrapbooking) even though I didn’t do nearly as much of either as I would have in a perfect world, I hope I taught her that women are capable of working, being a mother and still being an individual. If you have put your life on hold for your child, start thinking about what interests you want to pursue before your nest is empty. This is a great time to get back into those hobbies that you used to find joy in. Hobbies are also a great way to meet other adults who share a common interest.

I hope this helps. What things did you do to help ease Empty Nest Syndrome? Or if you are not quite there yet, what questions do you have?