Always a sucker for a sale, I am in the midst of a Week of Transformation, a special package at the gym I just joined. Now, every time I turn or walk or even breathe, I get a sharp reminder that although I exercise religiously, there are always muscles to enhance and strength to build.
It has made me look at things differently. I used to think of transformation as being explosive, kind of like the Transformer superheros my children once played with...you know Boom! something happens and suddenly you change course. Some transformations are like that: mother or fatherhood for example, with their responsibility for a new and helpless life. And with weddings all around us, we see the beautiful couples take their vows, full of promise and with anticipation of the multiplicity of changes that are in store.
Other transformations are ones we expect, either marked by decade birthdays or the passage of those dear to us; but the little things, like the sudden tweak of a new muscle, also deserve our attention. Too often we find ourselves only looking at the big transformations - the ugly ducking to the graceful swan. If it doesn't have pop, do we even take the time to notice it?
It has taken me years to recognize that transformation is more about paying attention: feeling at home in your body, slowing down, being present and relishing the gifts we find around us. It's also about recognizing the deepening bonds of selflessness, caring and support that we put into our relationships with others and with the world. These are the things that become truly transformative, in the steady stream of moments strung together in our lives...and in the epiphany that occurs when suddenly we recognize, I am different.
My aching muscles remind me that change always has to come from the inside. As Martha Stewart would say - and I would now agree- "That's a good thing!" (Joan)
I have been creating a garden lately, tearing out the old patio, gopher-proofing, and replanting for the drought. It's been a long time since I've had such pleasure digging in the dirt, enjoying the sun, the breeze and the sound of the birds. Like the ancients, who celebrated the seasons in Ephesus in honor of the goddess Demeter, I am celebrating, for I think the Spring in me has returned.
Along with the joy of planting and being in the nursery among living, beautiful things, I am also acutely aware of a true sense of loss. I am grateful for this respite in my life; having this space of time to plant also means time to feel things, think about things, assess the past and let go of what I cannot change. As I plant my nasturtium seeds, imagining how they will look in July, I think about how the juxtaposition of loss and death with growth and rebirth is so clearly a part of life. When I plant the new, I am aware of what went before and can never return. There is loss and grief associated with that. I tell myself that Life Truth and feel what was too hard, or too frightening, for me to feel before.
But the regret and grief doesn't stay. The woman I was then, when whatever happened, happened, deserves my love and respect. She was brave, she tried very hard, and she did her best.
I sometimes get up early now to hear the world wake up. Watching how the sun dispels the darkness underscores that I am alive for another day of possibility. My friend, Patty (the one who was really and truly hit by a bus), also reminds me that every day is a chance to live. My friend, Jack, is fighting cancer and is being reborn this moment with stem cells. And yesterday, I discovered this amazing young man while reading the Huffington Post on Religion. I was moved by his wisdom and ability to seize the moment. Shalin Shah's last wish, that people treasure life and see all the sunsets, has gone viral. You can read what he has to say at: http://www.huffingtonpost.
Like Shalin, we all have a bucket list - those things we hope to achieve or do before we die. But living our life purpose should be at the top of that list. And what I have come to understand and believe is that it is in living each moment that we fulfill our part in the unfolding of God's creation. So be present, be joyful and treasure the moment. Forgive who you were and love who you are, because right now, you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Much of the last several months I have spent on airplanes crisscrossing the country. From CA to MA, WY to FL, CO to NY, it has been a blessing and a privilege to spend so much time with my mom, mother-in-law and an assortment of others: a veritable feast of family, restoring our souls as well as frail bodies chilled by the harsh winter. I have gotten to see Spring reappear in all of its glory and felt the grace and restoration that comes with laughter, fresh air, beautiful scenery and a renewed outlook on life. Like most of us, I have experienced moments of frustration where my patience has worn thin, moments of anxiety about choices that are made and even moments of pain with yet another fractured bone in my foot. The faces of spring, a generosity of spirit and finding joy in the moment is where I have found life's small, yet powerful, miracles.
I wonder if perhaps I am finally on the road to understanding the notion of finding God in all things. This belief is at the root of the Ignatian spirituality I struggled with so many years ago as an undergraduate at BC. If so, Thank God, better late than never... (Joan)
On a winter evening a few weeks ago, I disembarked from a cab on the south side of Central Park on my way to meet three friends. The snow had been coming down all day and had finally tapered off. Before I turned to cross the street, I was struck by the way the snow seemed to settle into a wondrous evening light. The street lamps had just come on and a steady and clear calm had descended.
I had been home for a week from my mother's funeral and the immediate aftermath, duties of unwinding a life. When the late afternoon emails started, "Are we still up for this?" followed by three confirmations, my relief was palpable. No mere snowstorm could keep any of us away. I hadn't realized how much I needed this connection; how much I needed to get back among the living.
Once inside, at a table overlooking the park, wine in hand, one of my friends told us about a series she was watching from Deepak Chopra and we got on the topic of transcendence. Had any of us had moments of transcendence? The two of us who had, referenced experiences as simple as digging in the garden when the air suddenly stilled and a window into the depths of existence seemed to open or as exhilarating as a feeling of oneness while alone at the top of a mountain. Even though our two friends looked at us in mild bewilderment, I was sure these moments are not just for the few. I am convinced we are all able to go beyond the limits of ordinary experience. Is it about being open? Aware? Lucky? Or, is it about Faith? And if Faith is the answer; faith in what?
Personally, I seem to have stumbled into the rare moment of transcendence even as I struggle with the faith part. And yet, Keep the Faith became my default book inscription when autographing copies of The Miracle Chase. Beyond the notion that I am referencing a 60's vibe and not any particular form of faith, maybe I wanted it to rub off on me, while hoping to free everyone else from the struggle. After all, Keep the Faith covers a lot of bases. It can mean faith in ourselves and manifest itself in resilience, tenacity and the fulfillment of dreams. It can mean faith in something or someone bigger or beyond ourselves, a place where transcendence springs forth or God "...by whatever name" is found.
Coincidentally, the priest saying my mother's funeral Mass repeated one of my favorite quotes, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." (Teilhard de Chardin) This would mean we all originated in a state of transcendence and, presumably, could check back in once in a while, if only we knew how.
Maybe, what struck me that evening, truly stopped me in my tracks at the end of a deeply winter day, was the way the light played on the dormant trees, how the calm after the storm seemed so full of promise. In the midst of feeling distracted and detached these last several weeks, the scene caught me by surprise and offered reassurance. Wishful thinking? I say, Keep the Faith.
I have never been a quitter. I suppose you could say that I have never been good at letting go either. When I was growing up, there was no room for just flopping on the floor in a bundle of tears and saying, "I give up; I can't do this anymore." It wasn't that we said we Cahills weren't quitters. It was more subtle; you never admitted to weakness of any sort. The way to survive was to think bigger, better, smarter, faster and stubbornly stick your chin out and bear it. A kind of Martyr meets Superhero approach to life.
Sometimes you just can't give up or give in. As with the case of making sure Liz, my daughter who is blind, was able to receive an education just like her sighted friends and her sighted brothers. I never gave up on making sure she had access to the best education she could get. Until the bitter end, I refused to give up on my marriage, even though it had been in Marriage Hospice for years and I don't regret sticking to my vows until they didn't exist anymore.
Wise therapists have said that dealing with really painful and traumatic events in our past by walling them off so you can get by, creates a situation where you cannot feel the pain, but you cannot really feel joy either. I have been able to stay afloat in my little life raft of existence in large part by focusing on the future; working to make things better, hoping that later will be better than now. While this sounds super great in a sort of change the world way, it also means that I am not living in the now. And so I've missed a great deal of today while working toward tomorrow.
This last month has brought some wonderful changes for my family. My oldest son is getting married. My youngest son was asked to take a full-time dot.com job that allows him to go to school and live on his own. My daughter has turned in most of her dissertation and hopes to graduate in June. I was sought out for and accepted a great new job where I can have more time for myself and still make a difference.
These changes have prompted me to look under the rug and I am starting to appreciate that underneath this "hang in there until you hang yourself" mentality I seem to have is probably something a little more insidious. I've started to ask myself the question of whether or not I have the RIGHT to let go and move on. Do I deserve something more than survival and getting through it? Is it really part of life to sometimes call it quits? Moving on means I have to let go of the past. For happiness sake I need to move towards my future and bring my whole self with me. Which means I have to face those walled off feelings, forgive and let the joy back in.
Leaving anything is messy. There are always things left unsaid and things left undone. As my children take their giant steps into their future, there are all the moments of their childhood that I didn't get right or that I wanted to do more of; the things that I thought I'd get to tomorrow. And while I have more to contribute to the friends and colleagues I've made in my current position, leaving means I can bring my gifts to another possibility. Sometimes whether it's in relationships or jobs, holding on isn't what makes you strong; sometimes letting go can make you stronger.
At last, I have begun to realize that Joy is not the opposite of sadness. Joy is what you feel when you are living the life you were always meant to live. Your whole being knows it and sings. I take a deep breath and sing the song of my life, a song of gratitude and amazing possibility.
After all, don't we deserve happiness? We would love to hear your thoughts.(Meb)