We are sicker than sick on this day of gratitude. The kitchen is a cluttered and unclean mess. The boy lays low in his tent, entertained by the screen. I'm under an afghan, nursing an earache, waiting to feel better. And we are home. That feels so good to me in a way that all this gooey achey irritating illness cannot touch. Our home. A tiny apartment that holds all of our worldly possessions and we're in it, held by it, resting and relating to each other in our home. I am grateful.
Ms. G and I have known each other since we were little girls back in Boston. This photo was taken 11 years ago on my wedding day (of my doomed marriage...). Since then we've had children, I've gotten divorced, she beat a rare blood cancer.... It's been months since we had a good long visit and Sunday night she came over and we caught up on everything. (sigh)
I'm grateful for my dear friend who has seen me at my best and worst, ordinary and ornery. I'm grateful for time with her on a given evening and the time she's been in my life. I am grateful.
My mother is visiting from North Carolina, so I thought we'd do a hike that's been on my list for a year. Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island. It was gorgeous! Totally worth it, to me. For mom... a little too strenuous and brisk. I'm sympathetic. I find that much of my life, these days, is a little too strenuous and brisk. My days are exhausting and I experience physical and emotional pain regularly. But on this hike - I felt free. Little N and I took the lead on a narrow, muddy trail along the bluff and down to the ocean. The views were bright and expansive. The air was fresh and blustery. The sun and sea gleamed. Sigh.
I thought about calling this post "part 1... of infinity" because I think that there are that many opportunities to catch a glimpse of and understand self-care. Because I think that there is that great of a spectrum of what self-care means. For now, I'm starting with what I'm learning in therapy sessions, naturopath visits, and my inconsistent, fumbling practice to take care of myself.
For a long time, I believed that this is what self-care looked like - the gentle drowsing in a hammock. Decompression. Rest. Recovery from the work-week or workday. Checking out from responsibilities, roles, and relationships.
I still maintain that going slow, for me, is part of self-care. And... my work with the naturopath tuned my ears to hear something else. Self-care is also doing the good, even challenging, stuff that I don't feel like doing. It's taking action now, and again, and keeping it up, using my calendar, smartphone, gold star stickers, rewards-along-the-way, falling-off-the-wagon-&-getting-up-again to develop the healthy habits that care for my body, mind, and heart.
Weekly sessions with my new counselor harmonized with the naturopath's voice in my head. My counselor calls it, "a life worth living." It's a concept I've been toying with for years. I even own a book titled Creating a Life Worth Living. I've been moving this book into every new apartment, setting it on the shelf, staring at the title, and not reading it. I so want a life worth living. I haven't any faith that I can have it nor imagination of what it looks like.
Until, maybe, now.
When my counselor talks about a "life worth living" he's referring to a life that embodies my values. He points to "self-validating" actions that make me feel good just for doing something that embodies or reinforces one of my values. Then he requires that I get concrete in my answers as to what those values and actions are.
For example, I was recently diagnosed with "metabolic syndrome." It's the All-American coexistence of truncal obesity, high cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, and pre-diabetic levels of blood sugar. I'm a stroke waiting to happen. It's discouraging. But! I value health, vitality, active longevity. So! I commit to and practice the new habits that align my body with my value. That means taking on some challenging and occasionally boring new behaviors that I don't always (or maybe ever) feel like doing. In fact, right now, at the starting point, they feel like more work and not like the lounge-y self-care of my daydreams.
Fortunately, I have a smart, supportive care team - the naturopath, the counselor, a nutritionist, and even my son and my ex-husband. Together, these folks provide me with the information, accountability, and motivation to get my actions in line with my value. With their help, I'm exercising to a sweaty degree, refining my diet to cut sugar and increase fiber and nutrition, drinking gallons of water, and generally incorporating daily habits that demonstrate and embody the value of my health.
Today, it's a heavy lift. Change is hard. Change that requires me to plan and adopt new activities within my limited schedule - feels impossible. I'm already worn out, how can I possibly be expected to plan meals, cook new recipes, log a food diary, work out... and not reward/appease myself with sweet treats and vegging out! How can I truly care for myself and inhabit a life worth living if I don't make these changes? I dust off my calendar and find the time to take care of myself in new ways. I practice mindful breathing during my bus commute. I prepare and pack healthy meals to eat at the office. I pull on my gym clothes as soon as I get home and start moving along to the work-out video that makes me sweat heavily and laugh at myself, too.
Change isn't just repopulating my schedule with healthy activities. It's also reassigning value to different things in my mind. What's a sweet treat in the post-sugar lifestyle? What's relaxing after raising my heart rate to a beet-red-face level? These are new delights to discover and enjoy. Even the idea of work as self-care is a new idea for me to unpack and understand. And that illuminates other areas of my life and other values I say are important to me: creativity and play, connection and compassion, community and service...
I still love the feeling of being held in a gently swaying hammock. Maybe in six months (or two years...) I'll love the feeling of a hot work-out after a day at the office. For now, I'm clumsily, reluctantly, grateful to my care providers for the gift of a new-to-me way of doing self-care.
The landlord raised my rent this summer and I needed help financially. So L moved back in with me and Little N. He's paying me rent to share a room with his son. It's an unconventional arrangement, though I hear it's not as uncommon as one might expect, and it's given my bank account a little breathing room. Much appreciated!
The new living arrangement also initiated some rearranging of the physical space. I've moved into the smaller bedroom and turned it into a bright cozy nest. My little sanctuary of self-care.
There's more to say. About the work it took to get divorced and how I feel. But for now it is enough to recognize it and even celebrate an end, a new beginning.
In addition to being a time to recall our Beloved Dead, Samhain is also referred to as the "Witches' New Year." This really works for me. I appreciate the cohesion of a year ending while the earth is going into a cold, fallow state. In fact, I see the time from Samhain to Imbolq as a period where the year is dying. When the light and the plants start to rebound in February, I perceive the new year beginning.
This year, I've approached Samhain with a mind of letting go. A whole dark cold season of letting go. A time to compost, mull, and brew. No resolutions for January 1 - they will wait for February's light.
I am letting go of my marriage as I complete final paperwork and prepare to stand before a judge for the final decree of dissolution. I've been preoccupied with doing the work of this process and the emotions have faded from my perception. In this dark season I will pause and say goodbye to married life. Lay it down, with all its expectations and disappointments. Let it rest.
I am loosing my desire to lose weight, right now!, and slowly surrendering to my emotions. I may need the entire dark season and the entire new year to learn this practice. Where in my body do I feel my feelings? How do I experience my emotions? Time to lay down the perfect body and inhabit the one I am today.
And somewhere in the back of my mind I'm wrestling with our culture's prescriptions for age and timing and worth. That by X years old one should have achieved, purchased, defined Y, Z, and Q. I'm 40. I have a job that is neither a career that defines me nor my heart's work. My job is low paid and my heart's work goes unpaid. I have a home that I rent. Purchasing a home is not in view, despite my age. I have no partner. I am mother to a young child with special needs. I am short and fat with greying hair and no make-up on my face. My life is out of sync with the culture's preferred order and significance. This year has surprised me with the realization of how much those guidelines mean to me despite how little I've consciously subscribed to them. I will lay these down, too, and sit with the life that I am living.
The promise of spring lingers in another segment of the Wheel of the Year. There will be a fresh season for incantations and invocations. Part of me very much wants to skip over the slow still dark and rush into the bustling of resolutions and new habits. But a deeper hunger rumbles, calling my attention to the value of this current season.
Autumn has always been my favorite season. As a child it meant apple picking, apple cider doughnuts, and pumpkins! Pumpkin selecting, pumpkin carving, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin pie. Every year we made a little trek into "the country" to pick out our pumpkins at a farm stand. We hauled them home to the suburbs for all the ways we enjoyed them. It was looked forward to, even as teens, and served as a sure sign of the season.
While there's plenty of country, farms, and farm stands to be found in Washington, Little N and I are urban dwellers these days. And kiddo doesn't take much delight in long drives to unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people, sounds, and smells. So we took the city-dwellers' approach and I picked up a couple of orange beauties at the grocery store next door to our apartment. We invited a friend over and commenced carving.
Little N wanted a "happy" pumpkin, so Miss A delighted him by carving exactly what he had drawn for her. I went for a spookier approach, which also allows allows a lot of candle light to shine through, and cut a cyclops from my pumpkin. Kiddo does not like my creepy monster and sequesters it to a different part of our deck, away from his happy creation.
From a Pagan perspective this season, like each season, holds sacred meaning. By now we've noticed the days getting shorter, the darkness enfolding us, and in Seattle the cold and rain have started. We inhabit more time indoors. We reach for creature comforts of hot beverages and hardy foods. We are embracing the darkness as best we can and listening for the messages it offers. It's a time for composting that which doesn't serve us, as well as the dreams that have not come to fruition in the time we granted them. New life will be cultivated from their detritus in another season. It's a time for giving thanks for what we have received and that which we have learned. Our lives are stronger and more vibrant for these things. It's a time for drawing near to the folks we love. We are all connected.
Little N doesn't really understand seasons yet. He is puzzled by our dark mornings as I rustle him up for school. He plays out on the deck in dark evenings within the glow of the overhead lights. I don't know if that's due to being a child who hasn't seen as many seasons change as I have, or if it's related to his Autism and not perceiving sequences. I'm hopeful that his comprehension and appreciation will develop as he grows up. To that end, I have the job and the joy of sharing what I perceive in each season. I'm trying to become more intentional in my parenting around this topic and Autumn calls me to it more than any other season. I string little twinkle lights up in our apartment to warm the darkness of our evenings. I make a place on my altar to host the photos of our Beloved Dead, his grandfathers. They have a special place in our hearts and minds at this time of year (more on that and Samhain coming soon).
I want Little N to perceive the turning of our little blue planet in our solar system, in our galaxy, in our universe! Our lives are tiny, precious, and changing with our own seasons in this magnificent space. We humans are all connected to each other in various ways and I wonder how to teach him about that as well. I want Little N to experience connection to traditions I grew up with as a link to a family he is part of, a family that loves him, but who he barely knows, rarely sees. I want Little N to be familiar with the emotional and material meanings of entering the dark. We needn't fear or dread the darkness. We can work with and within this season. I want Little N to deeply know all of these things and have fun living with it!
So I drag home the pumpkins from the grocery store. We carve them and giggle over the slimy orange goo we pull out of them. We light them and watch the candlelight flicker inside of them. I plug in the twinkle lights. I make room on my altar for the grandfathers. And I try to draw Little N's little-boy-attention to the darkness and what it can offer.
On Sunday afternoon my Pagan circle celebrated Mabon, the holiday of the Autumn Equinox. Mabon is the second harvest festival we recognize, this one for later crops like squash and apples. We gathered to give thanks for the light that has sustained us and the bounty of the land, and to prepare ourselves for the coming darkness and cold. Already we observe darker evenings and cooler temperatures.
This new season we are entering is referred to as the time of the Dark Mother. She is the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. Marked by her sickle and scythe, she comes to reap what has been sown, in the land and in our lives. She has many names in many cultures including: Demeter, Inanna, Kali, Tiamet, Hecate, Nemesis, and Morrighan.
The story of Demeter and Persephone is particularly relevant to Mabon. Demeter, the goddess of grain and harvest, loses her lovely daughter Persephone to Hades, the god of the underworld. Either abducted or perhaps descending voluntarily, Persephone is resigned to six months of each year with Hades. Demeter grieves the absence of her daughter and the land is barren. That change, from lush to loss, begins at Mabon.
For our ritual, we decorated the altar with garden fresh vegetables and fruit. Bright Mums and Oak leaves stood out in a vase. We crafted candle holders from apples and placed them on the altar to note the four directions and god and goddess at the center. Our meditation focused on seasons of our lives – which season are you entering and how are you preparing for it? We used a Talking Circle to shape the individual sharing and later group discussion around our altar.
I’m entering a season of partner-less among the partnered. Now, more than ever, I feel like our culture places heavy expectations on us to have a partner. The expectation peppers our popular culture in music, television programs, and even commercials. The love-interest. The love unrequited. The love lost.
I started dating when I was 13, and while interspersed with solo phases, have usually had a partner or some love interest in my little sphere. Even in those times when there wasn’t a partner, and they were good for me once I adjusted to them, I assumed that there would be again. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve drawn some (a lot?) of my sense of worth from being partnered and possessing partner potential. Not so these days. Who wants to date an overweight, 40-year old, divorced mother of a child with special needs? The culture tells me the options aren’t good. So I look ahead and assume a long season of singleness. A season of belonging to myself. I’ve grown to like the idea. I’m choosing how to live in that season and claim it as my own.
I think it starts with treating myself as I would a good friend, in my thoughts, words, and actions. I tend my close friendships with time together, authenticity, listening, fun, sharing, patience… and so I will treat myself. It means developing personal practices for my body, mind, and spirit. It includes returning to my dreams for 2014: improved health and weight loss, feeling and expressing my emotions in healthy ways, hosting mini-retreats for women, cultivating a good divorce and co-parenting, and returning to my creativity – especially writing. It stretches to imagine new dreams of confidence, good work, and community.
So where I previously experienced loss and confusion, facing this season of living partner-less, I now feel excitement and anticipation. I am a true companion to myself. Composting the distractions, lies, and cultural hubbub, to tend something true, vibrant, and vitally my own. This is my season.
Note – The Fall Equinox has only recently been named Mabon. It received the name in the 1970s from Aidan Kelley as he wrote Crafting the Art of Magic. He deemed it a useful tool in helping modern Pagans to conceptualize Pagan religious ceremonies. This is interesting to me because it speaks to how contemporary Paganism is both an old religion of ancient myths and symbolism and a young religion that is still being created. I think about that seeming dichotomy a lot as I imagine all the little circles around the country, or around the world, gathering and recognizing the symbols and seasons of the year in their own unique ways, borrowing from the past and infusing it with their own personalities, creativity, and desires. I appreciate the malleability and personalization of this religion because it allows each person to honor Spirit in his or her life in his or her own ways.
ready and waiting for my guests
10 of us gathered and played with 13 decks of Tarot and Oracle cards
I drew "Risk"
the 40th card of an Oracle deck
on my 40th birthday
delightful devoured food and drink
(1 piece of cake remains for Little N)
birthday flowers all around
such a lovely little party we all enjoyed!
we sat in a circle in my snug living room and everyone was included
stories shared, connections made, new friendships formed
I am so happy
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
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Out of the Attic.
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