Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Re-Routing My Brain by Not Walking This Way

Shaking Up the Same Old, Same Old

Walk this way no longer.
Eighteen years of stepping out the door onto the deck end abruptly when the deck no longer exists. The weathered, beaten, and bleak-looking deck is being replaced. The manly guys living here spent hours wrestling with crowbars and ripping out the past-their-prime planks in preparation for the new, improved version.
During the first several hours of deck nonexistence, I still walked through the kitchen toward the deck door. As soon as the planks came up, I had wisely locked it, knowing that old habits die hard. During the daylight, it was easier to avoid the door because it’s easy to see through the glass that there is no deck. At night, well, it’s good the door is locked. It’s been three days since the planks were removed, and I’m more accustomed to the lack of a deck. However, the first few days were hard. My brain had eighteen years of practice, so its memory pathways from the kitchen to the deck are well worn and on autopilot. No longer. The deck will be completed in a week or so, but in the meantime, I have re-routed the part of my brain that says “out the kitchen door and onto the deck.”

Out the kitchen door and onto the deck is no longer an option.
It is an interesting experience. I feel like part of my brain is reawakened. Instead of walking on autopilot out the door, I had to think—to pay attention—the first few days. The French door is most often used to take out the trash and recycling, so I had to reconsider what door to use.
Coordination has never been a characteristic of mine, so it’s unfortunate that my only key is to the deck door. I have been playing balance beam walker to get to the door without falling onto the ground between the support beams and gouging myself on extraneous nails. I am locking the doors less and less as I leave the house.
One habit that likely won’t change over the next week is where we put the recycling. We are so accustomed to putting it near the door that we continue to place recyclables on the same counter we’ve used for years and years. It’s fine as long as no one decides to take said recycling out the same way we have for years and years.
The recyling will go out, but not through this door.
Having to give some attention to where and how I walk has made me consider how much of what I do is on autopilot and how often I don’t think about what I do, where I go, how I get there, where I step. Like most people, I take the same route to the store, where I buy the same things I usually buy, I walk the same pathway to the mailbox, I drive the same way to the beach, I go to the same beach. Most of my daily life involves little thinking, little planning, little plotting. I don’t think that’s such a good thing.
Going a different route, tasting a new food, taking the long way to the beach, and even going to a different beach will shake up those neurons and forge new pathways in my brain. That doesn’t mean I’ll take a route other than I-95 when I drive back to Florida in early September, but it does mean that I just might stop when I near those places I have always sped past on the highway. (I will not, however, stop at South of the Border.) It means I just might pull into one of those rustic-looking restaurants on U.S. 1 on the drive from Sebastian to Melbourne. It means I might read a book outside my preferred genres—maybe one on history. Waking up and watching my step also means taking some new, different steps.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Verbal Assault—Détente, Defense, Depart

Capturing light after dark situations is difficult, but it can be done.

Verbal assault is nasty stuff. On a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, myself and a few others were enjoying the peace and pastoral environment surrounding us. Like most successful assaults, this one came out of the blue, all the better to wage a successful battle, I suppose.
Friendly words were exchanged, and then came the surprise attack. Mea culpa: I fessed up and requested what I needed—a photocopy—to remedy the situation. The assault continued with a mocking, denigrating tone. I continued to practice defense. I explained the reasons for my error and offered to remedy it post haste. The mocking and denigrating continued. When the continued degradation failed to produce an anticipated, much-longed-for negative reaction from me, the assaulter took another jab, this one unfounded, but nonetheless cutting and borderline cruel. Spoiling for a fight, he was, and until that time his efforts had been thwarted. I counterattacked, but with a valid assertion.
As battles go, this one began to escalate until someone stepped in and firmly advised me that the battle was futile and ordered me to depart. My commanding officer was correct: it was time for retreat.
Following my successful retreat inside my house, I still felt bombarded, my peace was disrupted, my pastoral environment tarnished with vitriol. I spewed my own frustration in the safety of my walls and worked off the hot steam of anger that had been forced into my psyche.
I had begun my day with abundant energy and optimism for a productive Saturday and anticipation of a relaxing, spiritual, and pleasure-filled Sunday. I was so consumed with anger and righteous indignation that I felt like abandoning all my plans and spending the rest of my life—or at least the weekend—plotting and carrying out sweet revenge. Ah, revenge: its taste awoke long-dormant sensations. Yes! I will…
However, a few moments of scheming turned that sweet taste into bile. All I could think about was how to rid my being of the entire experience and especially the foul feelings with which I was left. My energy was sapped, my optimism was deflated, and my anticipation crushed. I examined my present state and my thoughts and realized that was not how I wanted to spend my weekend. I decided to spit out the bile, calm my psyche, and refocus the balance of my day—the balance of my weekend. I knew my efforts would not change what had transpired earlier in the day, but I also knew I didn’t want to spend a moment more of my life cogitating on the situation.
I did all I could to remedy the initial excuse for the assault by spending about 45 minutes on the Internet. Taking care of practical matters relevant to the initial assault reenergized me. I had done everything I could. I whipped up another batch of optimism and anticipation and carried on with my plans for the day. I’m grateful I had the presence of mind to do so, because my earlier vision of a productive Saturday and a relaxing, spiritual, and pleasure-filled Sunday became a reality.
It’s not easy to refocus after being assaulted verbally. It’s not easy to let things go and carry on with one’s life. I have too often been the champion of being so devastated by experiences that I’ve wasted days spitting and spewing my own vitriol. I cannot say with full confidence that the next time vitriol comes my way I’ll be able to confront it, surpass it, and move beyond it into productive, relaxing, spiritual, and pleasure-filled hours. However, surviving such an assault once and, most important, not giving in to revenge, and, next important, not spending too many precious moments trapped in a vicious cycle of he said/she said, he did/she did, you did/I did and now I’m going to get you back is a victory well achieved and one for which I will strive in the future.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Intuition's Distorted Face

Intuition’s face, the only time I saw it, was so frightening that memories of it continue to haunt and disturb me.  Intuition appeared to me years ago during a women’s spiritual study group. Several weeks into our study of Women Who Run With the Wolves, Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD, not every woman was thrilled with the book, but I was. Within its pages, I explored deep-seated beliefs about being a woman and my role in the world as I examined my spirituality, my relationships, and my path as a woman, mother, writer, and gardener.

On the surface, life was good. I attended a church I loved and I was committed to my walk as a Christian. I exercised daily. I wrote daily. I gardened. My creativity and sources of inspiration were wide open. I was deeply committed to my family—my husband and my children, as well as my extended family. I was deeply committed to and involved with my friends.
Beneath the surface, however, other events over which I had no control were transpiring. A sense of unease often nudged me from below that surface, but I pushed it down and continued to live a life I was living well.
Intuition continued to nudge that unease to my conscious mind, however, especially because the focus of a few group meetings was a story about intuition. Pinkola Estés’s book relates a Russian fairy tale about Vasalisa and a doll she receives from her dying mother. In the tale, the doll’s magical powers help Vasalisa and guide her in her quest for fire for the family hearth. Vasalisa keeps the doll tucked in her pocket, and, at times, the doll jumps to signal a certain path to follow and to signal danger, much like a guardian angel. Estés relates that the doll represents intuition in women’s lives and that often, intuition jumps around in our pockets, with increasing vigor because we tend to ignore intuition and its message. We might think, as I did during those weeks that stretched into months, that something in life is awry, and we also might dismiss our intuition as imagination, negativity, worry. As I did, we might even voice our concerns, only to be advised that our apprehensions relate to selfishness, imagination, negativity, worry.
Intuition doesn’t allow dismissal. Intuition speaks and jumps, and even though we might look away, intuition sometimes stares us in the face. Intuition was telling me about betrayal, yet I refused to acknowledge, much less believe in, such a betrayal. Betrayal is an ugly concept and an even uglier act. During those group hours of friendship, sharing, and spiritual quests, someone committing betrayal sat across the table from me. Vasalisa’s doll jumped in my pocket, stood on its head, pinched me, yet I ignored it. One day, I could ignore it no more.
Intuition can change a face, just as emotions can change a face. A friend’s face has a different hue, a different shade, a different substance. In such a face, we see caring, truth, wisdom, love, compassion, support. I believe that when we care for someone and they care for us in return, regardless of scars, illness, disfigurement, wounds, a friend’s face reflects love to us and we in turn reflect that love. I cannot be objective about the beauty of those whom I love and who love me in return. I cannot be objective about the face of someone who was once a friend.
I also cannot be objective about the day when intuition changed a face. I sat across the table from a woman whom I considered a friend. I don’t remember the exact conversation that day, but I know Women Who Run With the Wolves was the topic. I looked up and gazed across the table at my friend, and as I did, her face morphed into something twisted, frightening, distorted. Unlike her former appearance, her face changed and was ugly, so ugly. Scared out of my wits, I closed my eyes, shuddered, shook my head, and reopened my eyes. I was relieved to see her face had returned to its former appearance. I don’t know if I was visibly shaken, but the memory haunts me and I feel shaken as I recall that day.
I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, and I don’t hallucinate, so I have no valid explanation for that eerie incident. Intuition—insight, cognition—is how I answer the question of what happened to my perception. I know I never looked at her the same way after that day. In days to follow, the betrayal became known, and I knew the reason for my unease; I knew my intuition—the face of my intuition—spoke the truth.
I don’t know that acknowledging the nudge of intuition would have changed the events that transpired so many years ago. Clichés exist in abundance about hindsight. Foresight, however, has no attached clichés, so since that time, I listen to the prodding of intuition, feel the doll jump in my pocket, and pause to give attention to the way in which I am directed. I cannot precisely define intuition, but I know it exists within and without me, and it exists for a reason. Giving intuition its due changes the face of my life.


The Ralph Waldo Emerson writing prompt on intuition was sent June 23. It has taken me several weeks to confront my fear about sharing my experience and muster the courage to write about intuition’s face. In the end, I faced my fear and wrote this piece because it might help someone recognize intuition’s face and heed the inner voice we so often ignore, brushing it away like so many breadcrumbs scattered on a tablecloth...

This blog post is part of participating in the #Trust30 30-day writing challenge from The prompt for June 23, 2011 can be found here:


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Forgiveness: Seven Sentences—August 2, 2011

     Seven days and up to seven sentences and I’m bored with forgiveness. Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive his brother—seven? Jesus answered, not seven, but seventy times seven, which equals four hundred and ninety. Forgiving seven times is beyond my grasp in most instances. Seventy times seven looms as an impossible task. The number is four hundred and ninety, but I don’t believe it is literal in intent. The aim is to stop counting and keep forgiving, even when tired, frustrated, angry, hurt, afraid, and, yes, bored.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Forgiveness: Six Sentences—August 1, 2011

PostSecret publishes secrets of confession every Sunday. Often, someone longs for forgiveness because they committed cruel, insensitive acts in middle school or high school. Other secrets tell of ongoing, life-altering pain resulting from that cruelty. What does the face of forgiveness look like when it looks back over the years and confronts the meanness too often inherent in adolescence? Can our older, adult selves release us from the bondage of angst-filled adolescent memories and forgive those who inflicted pain during those years? Can our older, adult selves step forward, face any pain we inflicted, ask for forgiveness, and live a life that abstains from cruelty and insensitivity?

Pompous Pontificating and Flexibility

Saturday and Sunday, the week-end, was much more this…

than this…

I intended to take time off, to lie in that hammock, and rest, regenerate, relax, recharge. Friday, I was having the best of silly times laughing and carrying on during my night out with my buddy when a phone call at 8:39 p.m. changed everything. My realtor had someone who needs a place, in two weeks, four at most. He wanted to show the not-ready house on Sunday. I wanted to continue laughing so hard that bits of my Panera sandwich were flying across the booth. Arrgghhh….I didn’t want to think about cleaning, clearing, dusting, mopping, scrubbing, yard work, and laundry.
I agreed to show the house but warned the realtor it wouldn’t be ready. The prospect would have to hear about everything I plan to do in the next month, and imagine what the finished project will look like. I put my groaning to-do list in the back of my mind because it was still Friday night and I was still in hyper-giggle mode. I had until Saturday morning to dive into spending my week-end working nonstop.
Dive-in I did. I cleaned, I cleared, I scrubbed, I sorted, I did laundry, I moved and removed clutter. I took a few ibuprofen and crept into bed late Saturday night, thinking about how much I still needed to accomplish Sunday—after church. After church didn’t happen, because when I woke up it was too late to go to church. I couldn’t even publish my Sunday blog post, because its subject was church.
Worse, I felt guilty because last week I had focused on taking a Sabbath, on having a week-end. Rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation, were all off the table. I felt false, and said to myself: “There I go again, not walking my talk.”
Sometimes, however, I have to choose which talk I’m going to walk. I decided my weekend walk was about flexibility. Life doesn’t always happen as planned. Good intentions go awry. Often, it’s more relaxing to have the flexibility to go with what is presented to me, rather than have a tantrum because life isn’t going how I planned. More important, I also realized that the stress of paying for two houses has severely minimized my rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation for the last three years.
Next Sunday, we are having a cookout—after church. Three adults live here, so I will not have to spend much time cleaning beforehand—it’s already done. I look forward to eating good food, laughing, playing badminton, and taking some time in that hammock. If it doesn’t happen quite the way I plan, I’ll remember to be flexible.

After note: The woman who looked at the house really likes it. Practicing flexibility will be important in the next four weeks as we pack up everything and clear out of here.