Life as a Labyrinth

7125995_origThis is Holy Space/ God is here – you are welcome/ This is your space to be with God/ And God’s space to be with you/ Make yourself at home/ Be yourself/ Be real/ There is no rush/ Let God love you

Just over a year ago, I began my walking meditations in the morning. I went outside and “walked” my prayers, because I needed to remove my head (read: my ego) as the primary operating system for my spiritual life. My mind, intellect and will had taken me about as far as they could go on that journey. I had knowledge; I had discipline; I had something to show for all my hard work: hundreds of pages of prayers and journals and an annotated reading list a mile long. But the fact of the matter was that little to none of this “spiritual” work was actually reaching my spirit any more. So when I had an opportunity to ask a wise woman how to change that, she told me to take a hike, literally. And so I did, every day, for months.

And my head was happy, because she still got to be in charge of directions and my heart was sad, because she had to actually feel what I was feeling. Instead of watching from a distance, my heart experienced disappointment, frustration and sadness. Sometimes, she felt lonely and confused. Previously, I could direct those emotions to my head where my ego would take over, fix the glitch and reason it all away. Our hearts have no such tools. To contain the paradoxes of our lives, they must soften, expand and adapt. In our hearts, we discover that our lives are not something to be solved, but rather something to be lived. By placing my head beneath my heart, I knew pain, but I also experienced authentic joy, connection and wisdom.

Switching the GPS for my spiritual journey from my head to my heart had some unexpected fall out. Simply put, I felt lost. All the maps I had used were obsolete; my best shortcuts took me to dead ends and dark corners. I could no longer get where my ego had been telling me I needed to go for the first forty years of my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my final destination had changed.

I had always thought of my life as a journey. The ultimate destination was heaven, but there were a lot of stops on this side of the grave. I witnessed the lives of my parents and their friends. I watched TV shows and movies; I read lots of books and they all seemed to say this: Life is about having a goal. Make a plan and make progress. Go to school, get your degree, get a job. Fall in love, get married and have kids. Raise your kids, work hard and retire. You’ll die, but you’ll rise again on the other side, better than ever. In this schema, life is about forward motion. You could expect some ups and downs on the journey, maybe even some detours, but you always knew where you were headed, because you had a plan. “Life as a journey” looked something like this.

mappa_via_francigena

If Rome is the birthplace of Western Civilization, picture Canterbury as heaven. For a scholar of British literature like myself, it’s not such a stretch. Can you see how it works? Though the way may be far, the journey is all mapped out for you. Anytime you get sidetracked, you can just get back on the road and head to your next destination. There are lots of people with you, safety in numbers and all, so you can never truly be lost.

But over the last few years, between the Great Recession, career changes, teenage children, and a dark night of the soul, the way disappeared. However, I didn’t know how to travel any differently. Even though I had switched operating systems, I just kept trying to make “progress.” It’s what our culture expects us to do. Make something happen. Keep something from happening. Set a course. Stay on course. Find a new course. Move on!  I had done it pretty successfully too, but as I listened to my heart, I finally had to admit that the “life as a journey” metaphor just wasn’t working for me any longer. It’s hard to move forward when you don’t know where you’re headed. So instead of a map, I found this image to rely on.

labyrinth1

In the center of my labyrinth is God and somewhere in the midst of the maze, I am. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you where. I don’t have a map, or a plan; I have no idea where my next stop will be, or how long I’ll stay there. However, I am also no longer plagued by the question, “Am I making progress?” In a labyrinth, who can tell? When it seems like you are at the furthermost point, you can take one more turn and walk right into the heart of it all.  When you’re confident you are almost “there,” you can pretty much count on being wrong and finding yourself back in the outer ring once again. It is the way a labyrinth works.

Though the image would have terrified my ego, “life as a labyrinth” makes perfect sense to my heart. I may not be able to see where I am headed, but I know I’m never lost. There are simply no wrong turns. There is only one winding path and it leads directly to the heart of God. I cannot go astray as long as I am heading in the right direction. If I ever wonder what direction that is, I simply sit in silence and stillness until I find myself pulled in the direction of Love. And if I ever get scared, turn my back and start walking the other way, all is not lost. The labyrinth is my life; I can never walk out of it. I’ve just made the walk home a little longer.

*The poem is an excerpt from www.labyrinth.org.uk. The heart image is from talented artist, Whitney Krueger.

Lessons from the Wild

My book group just finished reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I found it disturbing, frustrating and beautiful, in that order. Wild is an autobiography of a woman who does a solo hike across the Pacific Coast Trail. As Cheryl nears the end of her journey along the PCT, she encounters Crater Lake, whose creation story is a perfect metaphor for what has happened in her life and so many of our own.

Mount Mazama was located in the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon. At one point it had reached almost 12,000 feet high. It was a natural skyscraper: beautiful, majestic, impressive. Only the ancient Klamath tribes of that area ever witnessed how it towered over its neighboring peaks, like Mount Washington, Jefferson and Hood.

Up until 8,000 years ago, the presence of Mount Mazama was a fact of the skyline, a place you could count on to be there, like the Pacific Ocean, the Rocky Mountains, the nose on the end of your face.

It was there for hundreds of thousands of years, and then one day, it wasn’t.

Underneath its purple mountain’s majesty was a seething mass of heat, a cauldron of change, an eruption waiting to happen.

Mount Mazama wasn’t just a mountain after all. It was a volcano and when it erupted, what had been permanent was gone. What had been high was made lower than low. It wasn’t just leveled. It was cratered out.

The native peoples must have wept and trembled for what had been, for what they had seen, and for all that had been lost in the cataclysmic change.

How long did it take their eyes to adjust to the emptiness that had once been something? How long did it take them to pick up the pieces? How long did they look with disdain at the wound that had once been their mountain?

But the death of the mountain isn’t the end of the story, not for Mazama, not for Cheryl Strayed and not for you and me.

Invitations keep showing up in my mental mailbox these days to see changes in my life with a new set of eyes. The pattern of Mount Mazama keeps repeating itself over and over again.

What we think is the ending, is just a new beginning.

What we think is destruction is really a transition.

What we think is broken will be made whole again – not in the same form, but in some different and life-giving way.

The real bummer is that it takes longer than we want it too. We have to be patient. We have to wait. We have to hold on.

In my spiritual tradition, we talk a lot about the three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Even Rob Bell, who I saw at a conference this last week, emphasized how much patience and perseverance it takes to get from Friday to Sunday.  But I am not talking about three days here.

While “three days” are a great scriptural metaphor, they are a lousy model for how patient we actually need to be.

What changes in our lives actually resolve themselves in three days? For most of us, the disruptions in our lives take a lot longer than that to heal. For Cheryl, for you and me, it usually takes more like years to acknowledge and accept that what we thought was permanent was actually a passing formation.

But if it takes years, we’re still lucky. It took centuries for Mount Mazama to become Crater Lake.

When the holy mountaintop blew up, all that was left was a sharp-edged, gaping crater. But season after season, year after year, the caldera started to fill with rain and snowpack and spring melts. Centuries later, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America at 1,900 feet and one of the deepest in the world. It is so deep that it absorbs every other color but blue.

I have never seen it, but I will take Cheryl’s word for it as she gazed upon the silence and stillness of the water, that it is a beautiful, sacred center, found in nature, in her and in all of us: “what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turn into after the healing begins.”

Rainy Day Wisdom

I went for a walk in the canyon this morning after our first precipitation of the fall. It hasn’t rained since last spring and in my walks I’ve watched the progression of the canyon from lush, damp and green to dry, brittle and dirty. I’ve watched the little creeks and ponds dry up and disappear, leaving pathways and piles of round stones, their colors fading from mossy brown and green to faded rust and grey. A film of dust covers everything. In the late summer, nothing is beautiful in the canyon, even though it’s the time of year I love best. I still walk there, but with less eagerness and only in the early morning. When I inhale the scent of the summer canyon, I feel the sharp bite of the dry heat and not much else.

But today, when I woke to the sound of rain, my first thought was to get out and go. As soon as the sun peeked through the clouds and the kids were off, I headed to the canyon. Before I even reached the entry, I could smell the difference. The eucalyptus, the sage, the water, the smell of rain, damp earth and mud are a powerful elixir. I breathed it in with delight, as I walked down the squishy slope before me.

The difference was incredible. An hour or two of rain had transformed the canyon into something new. The aridity was gone.

The streams were back, at least temporarily. Paths I had walked yesterday were no longer available to me. I had to fix a little footbridge that had been washed out in the rain (It may only be a 10-foot-long 2×6 from someone’s yard, but still, I had to go dig it out of the weeds where it had floated). And even though it was no longer raining, every step I took brought water to me, from the treetops overhead, the bushes at my sides, and the puddles underfoot. Every step I took brought me another sign of love. Like the rest of the canyon, my #signs of love had dried up this summer, obscured by a coat of grime, but today they were washed clean. They were vibrant in their natural state. I took a few pictures to share with you. There are more on the #Signs page.

 

I know it’s a cliché to talk about how the seasons of our lives parallel the seasons of the year. I know it, and yet, I have to say it again, because I saw something new today. The season I like best, the summer, does nothing for the canyon (biologists – work with me here. I am sure it does something, but I am talking about aesthetics here). The season I like least with its rain, cool air, and short days makes the canyon beautiful. Hmm… There’s some logic to apply to my life. I need to welcome each season, and each rainy day, no matter how much I would like to avoid them. I need to remember that they will bring something beautiful to my life. Today helped me see that the season I love most fiercely, the season I wish would last forever, will do the most damage if I cling to it for too long.

With that in mind, I say bring on the rain; bring on the fall. I’ve got scarves and jackets and polka-dotted galoshes to keep me warm and dry. I’ve got memories of summer to last a lifetime. And if it turns around next week and we get 85 degree weather, like I’ve been told it might, I will enjoy it, but I will also let it go when the time comes.

Falling Back Together

A couple of you have seen me since I posted my last blog about fear and loathing in the afternoon. You kindly gave me an extra long hug and asked with raised eyebrows how I was doing, an obvious indication that you are fully aware how not fine I was doing a couple days ago. I’m not complaining; compassion is a beautiful thing. But it did make me think that a follow up post might be helpful. I often want to go back and add a post-script to the stories I tell. The lessons are never over, at least not for me.

So this week, I had planned to publish a blog about the first fear I mentioned – growing older, but then I came across a passage from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. She recently published a book with her son Sam, called Some Assembly Required about his first year of fatherhood. While reflecting on her days, she said

Life is mostly okay right now, sometimes lovely and peaceful and when it’s not, it’s hard and weird… and the scary parts feel like they could break you, but then those parts pass against all odds and then things are mostly okay again, temporarily, until they get hard and weird again and break your heart. It’s not a great system. If I were God’s West Coast rep, I’d come up with something easier, something you could bank on.

I read Anne’s words and I smiled, because that is exactly how I feel. One day last week, things were really hard and weird, and I sat and cried because it felt like it was breaking my heart, but by morning, things were okay again and by the weekend, they were really, really lovely. I checked out of reality and went to the beach with my kids for about 7 days straight. We surfed and swam, played with our little primos (cousins) and ate ice cream every day. If I had my own personal dictionary, that would be the definition of lovely and a whole host of synonyms, like bliss, and awesomeness and joy.

But school started for Kiko today; the others follow in a week and then I start a new teaching job. (Did I mention that I am going back into the classroom to teach at a university again? That’s a post-script for my blog on vocation I might need to write.) Everyone will be experiencing busyness and stress and the pressure to perform, so I can almost guarantee that after last week’s loveliness, hard and weird are just around the corner. But I want to do what I can to not get to the heartbreak stage too quickly again.

Instead of going in blind and coming up shocked like I seem to every fall, I am working on a strategy to keep me from going down the rabbit hole of fear and all that entails. I am going to start by being extra diligent about getting up early to walk. The rest of the day is dedicated to going really, really fast, so G (my personal endearment for the Big One upstairs) and I are going to go really, really slow. (God is an old soul after all and doesn’t like to be rushed.)

And what I am going to feel is this (I know that sounds awkward but thinking does me no good at all. My “thinking” is what gets me in trouble in the first place.) For those 20 or 30 minutes, I am going to feel loved. I am going to be God’s beloved. I am going to forget all the ways I fall short of the idea I have in my head of who I am ‘supposed to be.’  I am going to repeat the mantra I learned from Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk and child of God, “Dear One, I am here for you.” I am going to say it for myself; I am going to say it for my children; I am going to say it for my students, my family and friends. If I can bring it to bear in my life, it encompasses all that true Love is – a kind, compassionate, joyful presence that brings freedom, not fear to all who experience it.

Now, that’s my plan, but we all know how plans work. We make them and then life breaks them, which was Fear #2 on my list – The Unknown. The only thing I really know is that things fall apart, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small. I can count on the fact that things are going to be hard and weird and then okay and then lovely again. Saint Anne may not think it’s a great system, but I do think it’s something we can bank on. Even just knowing that’s how it works can help a little bit.

I also know that the more I can believe in Love, stay in Love, allow myself to experience true Love from the Love that never leaves, the more lovely things will be and that sounds pretty good to me.

So to all my readers and friends who are wondering if I’m okay, I am. I am breathing deeply, trying to be present in this moment, fearless and free and in Love.

 

Fear of Writing?

I’ve sat down to write this blog many times over the last weeks. I still don’t know if I’ll get it right, or not, but I thought I’d try again.  I’ve been struggling with writer’s block lately. Half-formed ideas haunt me, but the words won’t come. I’ve been hard pressed to complete a single thought, much less string together a series of intelligent ones. There have been saving graces – an episode of Project Runway, the death of a beloved author, a strange request from my husband – but those happy (?) accidents seems to have slowed.

Last week I thought I had finally created that perfect writing storm in the midst of my busy summer day: a few hours alone in my cool, quiet house, my work completed, the chores done. There was nothing to distract me. Surely, I would be able to write now. But I couldn’t focus. I fidgeted; I got up and down; I checked email; I about to jump out of my skin. Ultimately, I knew what I needed to do. Despite the 100-degree heat, I went out on a walk to reacquaint my head with my heart and soul. When my head is in charge, there are things my heart finds it impossible to say.

By the time, I got to the end of my street, the truth had already bubbled up to the surface and I was able to admit what had been bothering me. In hindsight, it seems obvious, but sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s right in front of us.

For the past several months, I have been writing about Love: the power of love, the joy of love, the signs of Love – all the things that keep me going, but what I haven’t written about is the shadow side of Love.

Fear.

I have been trying (with some success) to keep things positive. There is nothing wrong with ‘positivity,’ except when I use it to mask other truths. If “perfect love casts out all fear” as Bono and the Bible like to say, why mess around with anything else? The Love I have been writing about is that perfect Love. If I know that Love, as I have been claiming to, then it shouldn’t leave room for anything else in my life.

Except that it does. There is plenty of room for the flip side of love. My fears are still here. I am utterly and completely human, so even perfect Love has to go through my filter. I process it imperfectly and end up with something infinitely less than I began with. Somehow, I fooled myself into believing that this perfect, cosmic Love would leave me fearless. I discovered on my walk that it hasn’t, which is why I found myself sitting at the end of my street in the middle of the afternoon, crying my eyes out.

Quite simply, I’m afraid.

Andy Rooney once said, “A writer’s job is to tell the truth” and as I sat there, I realized that I can’t write, because I’m not telling the truth. I’m telling some of the truth – the truth about Love and what it can do. I’ve been holding something back too – the truth about what happens when Love doesn’t win, because let’s face it, sometimes our humanity simply won’t let it. Bono never mentioned that our fears could cast out that perfect Love as well. I kind of wish he would have warned me.

We embrace our fears just as often, if not more so, than we accept the Love that is available to us. It doesn’t mean that Love gives up, or that Love isn’t there. It just means that fear has the upper hand for a while. Fear doesn’t give up either. My life is a dance between Love and fear. Love has been on center-stage and fear wants to have it’s day too.

So for the sake of transparency and to get over my writer’s block, I thought I would share some of my fears with you.  It’s a short list. I only included three of the biggies.

I am afraid of growing old.

I am afraid of the unknown.

I am afraid of failing God in some critical way.

There they are.

Whew.

No, wait, not whew.

More like Aaaahhh! What did I just do?

I thought I would feel better, laying them all out there, but I don’t, not really. Unlike Love, fear doesn’t bring freedom. Basking in fear diminishes us and the possibilities for our lives, but maybe you already knew that. Deep down, I know it too, but sometimes fear just gets the upper hand.

My dear friend Joyce said to me recently, “Don’t make a decision based on fear. What would you do if you were fearless?” Maybe her question is just another way of asking, “What would you do if you were in Love?”

What would you do if you were in Love and it made you fearless?

I don’t think I can answer that question today. Fear is hogging the dance floor. However, Love is waiting  patiently in the wings. She knows her turn will come again soon and I know she will leave me breathless with beauty and wonder. Personally, I can’t wait for our song to come on. Fear is not my favorite partner.

Is that Any Way to Answer a Prayer?

Last week as I was walking I had a really hard time getting rid of Patty – you remember her – my “neighbor” who haunts my morning walks. If you missed that story, you can catch up here.

So there was Patty, just yammering away – I can’t even remember exactly what she was worried about – but she was digging into the past, projecting into the future, finding the most minute and gruesome details to chew on and the more I tried to leave her and my ego, my mind, and my worries behind, the less I seemed able to do so. I resembled nothing so much as a dog gnawing a bone.

I tried to breathe in and out, to place myself in the present moment, to enjoy the nature around me, but I was barely taking it in. I felt like I was simply a brain, walking around on my own two feet. Does this look familiar?

And so I began to pray that I could move out of my head and into my heart– that God would help me to truly feel something. There are so many things I think I know, but so few things that I truly feel. And so as I walked I asked God to help me feel, to soften my heart, to give me an experience of real emotion. But after praying for feelings for a minute or two, I started to get nervous. I chickened out and began to backpedal. I know what it feels like to feel things, and I don’t particularly like it.

I said in effect, “Just kidding about that God. I don’t actually want to have a heart that feels things deeply. That hurts too much, so here’s my new and improved prayer. I pray for the feeling to want feelings. I pray that you give me the desire to desire feelings. Someday I will want things to touch my heart, but I’m not there yet, so let’s just go slow. Give me the courage to feel things and then I will pray for things to feel.”

Whew I thought, that was a close one. Baby steps really are the way to go when it comes to these kinds of things.

I continued on with my walk, thinking I had dodged a bullet, and relieved that I had made it quite clear to that I wasn’t up for the challenge yet. I went back to Patty and my old self and walked on home.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t see any ‘#signs of love’ on my walk that day.

But a funny thing happened when I got home. I started getting everyone ready for school – smoothies and bagels and 6-course lunches for four, and then Keara remembered to do something important she forgot, which made a major mess in my kitchen where I was already making a mess and suddenly, wouldn’t you know it, I felt something! Standing there in my kitchen, I felt something ghastly rising up inside me, something like rage, something like judgment and frustration and bitterness! And wouldn’t you know it, I acted on those emotions, because in my experience, that’s what you do when you feel something. And I raised my voice, and I grabbed her project and I finished it for her – the right way of course- and tossed the finished project at her and asked everyone to please get out of my kitchen, thank you very much and I would just handle everything myself and deliver everything they needed if they would just please go away and be quiet!

So that went super well.

And I barely had time to make my apologies before they had to leave for school, but I did. I gave them kisses and hugs and said I was sorry for losing my cool and for acting crazy. I told them they were lovable, sweet, kind children who didn’t deserve the temper tantrum their mother just had. Keara also got a quick reminder that it would really help me out if she would try to remember to wrap up messy projects sooner rather than later.

And Tim, who missed it all because he was upstairs, shot me a quizzical look on his way out the door, which I just waved away, with a “Have a nice day!”

And when the house was silent, I could hear God laughing and I started laughing too, because really, what else can you do?

Apparently, God has selective hearing, just like my husband who tends to be good at hearing what he wants to hear and really good at tuning out the rest. God listened when I asked to experience genuine emotion and ignored me when I took it back. Within minutes God gave me real emotions – they just happened to be really negative emotions. Perhaps I wasn’t specific enough.

I don’t believe in unanswered prayers. I believe that much of the time, we just don’t like the answer, so we put our heads down and pretend that we don’t see it sitting there the whole time.

Obviously, I got the answer to my prayer that morning. God listened to the brave part of my prayer – the part that admitted I was ready to grow and change, and be free of the prison of my mind and the safety it affords me. I also believe He heard the second part of my prayer, where my courage failed and I asked to be left a little bit longer in the cell of my comfort zone.

Is it any wonder that He gives more credence to the prayers that align us with His will? The ones that make us more loving, more compassionate, more fully human and therefore more divine? Is it any wonder that He ignores the rest?

While part of me wanted to say, “See! Don’t give them to me; I don’t know how to handle them responsibly,” the other part of me knew that I was one failure closer to success. Next time I could, and perhaps even would, do better. Next time, I might even experience feelings of deep joy and excitement and what might my response be then? I don’t know, but it might be wonderful to watch.

So I will keep trying to say that brave part of prayer over and over again. I will keep trying to stay open to Love and how it makes me feel and if I respond like a two-year-old, that’s okay.

I’m working on it.

#Signs of Love

Dear Readers,

Don’t worry! It’s still me, still Ali! Still writing, and hoping that you are still reading!

Yes, my blog has a new look and a new name, but in all the important ways, it’s the same old story.

I read something, hear something, see something, or feel something and it turns my world upside down just a little bit and I immediately think, I have to write this down. And so many of you generously take the time to read it. Thank you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me.

I decided to rename my blog #Signs of Love to reflect my growing understanding that Love is everywhere. Eight months ago when I started to write these stories, I didn’t know that, not the way I know it now.

I knew that Love could be anywhere, in theory. I knew for a fact that Love lived in my heart, in my home, in my relationship with Tim and the kids, my family and friends. I knew that Love was found in hugs and kisses, laughter and loyalty, and sometimes even in loss, pain and tears.

The rest of it, I took on faith. I had been taught well that God is Love, but when I look at where I thought Love lived and what I thought it looked like, it was a pretty limited image of the Divine Spirit. Love looked like a Happy Days rerun.

Alas, even the best shows have to end someday and so did my personal fantasy of Love. Don’t get me wrong; I still get to watch it in syndication every day. My home is still full of Love and so is my life, but I’ve also expanded my viewing repertoire.

A few months ago, I shared the story of the first Sign of Love I sawwritten in the stone beneath my feet. You can check it out here, if you forgot what it looked like.

When I wrote about my friend M, I shared a few more Signs of Love that I had found on my early morning walks.

Just last week, while meditating in the canyon, I saw another Sign of Love, reminding me that in Love, we are always enough.

But those are just a few of the Signs of Love that I see on an almost daily basis. They really are everywhere and almost every one of them has a story.

 

This one showed up when I consciously asked Jesus to join me on my morning walk. Yes, it was a little awkward, but I thought he would surely be better company than my “friend” Patty.

 

 

This one showed up when I thought of my friend who has cancer, the one I wrote about in “This Isn’t Hard.” I prayed extra hard for her to feel Love that day. Her heart looked a little skimpy.

 

 

This one was in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s after a disastrous trip to the market. I was stomping out of there, late and huffy and there it was. How can I stay mad when a Sign of Love literally shows up at my feet in the cracks of parking lot sealant?

 

No matter where I turn these days, Love is there.

think God is trying to teach me to let go of my preconceived notions of what Love looks like and how it behaves. I think God is trying to teach me that even when I am not “in Love,” It’s still there. I think God is trying to teach me that even when I am convinced that Love has abandoned me, that Love is not living up to Love’s side of the bargain, I am wrong.

Signs of Love are everywhere.

Or maybe, as Tim has suggested, I’ve just gotten in touch with my inner-hippie, and that if I don’t stop this nonsense soon, I will lose all credibility as a thinker and writer. I’ll simply be lost in my own cosmic world.

But I hope you’ll stick with me. I promise I won’t be posting all the Signs of Love that I see, but if you see any, I hope you’ll share them with me. That’s what the # sign is for at the start of the blog. You can put post them on Twitter, using #signsoflove and I will see them. Put them in a comment, or friend me on Facebook and show me there.

Your Signs of Love don’t even have to be in nature – I’d just love to know where you find Love when you aren’t really looking. I am coming to see that sometimes, it really is the best place.

Enough Already!

Rachel Held Evans wrote a great blog recently about the concept of being ‘enough’ and it got me thinking seriously about what that would actually mean – to feel like you were ‘enough,’ simply by the fact of your existence.

I’m not talking about being enough because I work hard, or prepare meals, or work out at the gym, or read good books, or go to church or do laundry, or get paid. I’m not talking about being enough, because I do anything right, or of value.

I am enough, simply because I am.

Talk about a radical idea…

Last week I made a hand-written sign to put above my desk where I sit and write. It said, “Things don’t have to be perfect. Good enough really is good enough!!!” If you’re familiar with my blog, you know that wanting things to be ‘perfect’ is one of my vices.

It’s something I’m working on, with imperfect results, of course.

Case in point, the first sign I made wasn’t just right and I was about to make a new one to improve the spacing and color coordination, when I caught myself. Apparently when I created the sign, I hadn’t actually meant it. I considered it a minor victory that I stopped myself and said, “This sign is good enough.”

I apologize to my kids frequently for putting them on the wrong side of the column – the side where I put things I can make perfect, things that I can control. Don’t ask me why ANYTHING is in that column at all. It’s a fantasy, but it’s especially insulting to other human beings when you make them your own personal perfection projects. My kids don’t deserve that! No one does. Tim, by the way, was off that list about 15 years ago, which I think is the reason we’re still happily married today.

Ah, but back to my sign. By creating the sign, I was trying to remind myself not to obsess over my writing, my work, my kids, my finances, my house, my life. I was trying to encourage myself to see that things really are okay, and that okay is okay.

But after I read Rachel’s blog, I saw that my signs didn’t go far enough. By telling myself to let things simply be ‘good enough,’ I was still saying flat out that they could be better, that they probably should be better, but that forgiving myself for not making them better was the best way to go.

But Rachel’s point is this – we are enough. Simply by the fact of our existence, our birth, our presence in the world, we are enough.

If I get the dishes done before Tim comes home, I am enough. If I don’t, I’m still enough. If I make a healthy, home-cooked meal, I am enough; if they eat McDonald’s, yep, I’m still enough. If I smile at my neighbor, work in a soup kitchen, and turn in a kick ass assignment for my boss, I am worthy and even when I don’t, I am enough.

And honestly, I don’t think feeling like I am enough would let me off the hook. It doesn’t mean that I can lay around the house all day, watching reruns, eating Cheetos and feeling good about myself. Well, sometimes I can. But for the most part, I imagine that having the sense that I am enough would give me the desire to treat other people as if they were enough – my kids, my spouse, the annoying checker at the supermarket. If I am enough, so are they, and so how in the world could I treat them as if they left something to be desired? However they are, they are enough to merit my love, my respect, my time and for the checker at Vons, at least a smile.

I went walking on Saturday morning, with this radical concept of enough-ness, rattling around in my head. After reading her blog, I got why she says we are enough – at least in theory. And I started to reflect on how I can know something is true and yet have that knowledge barely scratch the surface of my heart. And then I laughed, because of course, for me, knowing something is very different from feeling something.

I know I am enough, but do I feel like enough?

Not by a long shot!

So that was my task as I walked that morning. I prayed that my heart, this hard little shell that I have lodged deep in my chest, would crack open just a little bit, and allow what I know in my head to drop down into my heart, to give me just a glimpse, just a taste of what it feels like to be enough. I would have loved a rush of emotion, a complete transformation, a ‘born again’ moment, but alas, no such miracles were forthcoming.

But at one point under the balcony of trees in the canyon, I stopped and I just breathed in and out, trying to be present to myself, to my heart and mind. I lifted up my insecurities, my perfectionist impulses, my ‘to-do-to-be-perfect’ list and I dismissed them. I just said, “Here. I don’t want them. Take them and don’t give them back.”

Of course they didn’t really go anywhere. I talk a good game, but apparently my well-trained compulsions are on a short leash. They always come back to me, even when I don’t call.

So what I hoped for didn’t happen, but this did. After a minute or two of standing there, wishing like crazy that I could feel something that felt like being enough, I opened my eyes, and this is what I saw.

heart nature

And I knew that my prayers, my desires, my longings were heard. Somehow, the request had gone out. I did not get the answer I wanted, right when I wanted it, which would have been perfect, but I got a sign of Love, of Presence, and of Grace.

And it wasn’t just good.

It was simply enough. 

Fast or Slow, It’s Okay.

Occasionally on my morning walks I run into my friend M.  We tend meet at the same place every time, at the top of a very long hill, finishing up our “work out” routines. I’ve walked; she’s run. I’m about to go down; she’s made her way up.

Usually, I’ve just come out of the canyon wearing my Ugg boots and beanie with an empty coffee cup in my hand. My heart rate probably hasn’t surpassed 90 bpm. In contrast, she’s just run several miles up and down the hills of our neighborhood and stands there – a 6 foot tall, glistening, blonde goddess.

It’s lovely to see her, to give good mornings smiles and high fives, but sometimes, I sigh as I continue to walk down the hill. She’s just so beautiful, and fast, and disciplined, with her boys and her husband, her job, her schooling, and her fitness. Whew! I know she would never want me to feel that way, but sometimes, I just can’t help it.

But most of the time, I know this is true: if I didn’t go slow. I wouldn’t see this.

Rock 1 Or this.

Rock 2

Or this.

Rock 3

And if I didn’t see those things, I wouldn’t be be able to share them with M on Facebook, or a text message, or on my blog.

And if I didn’t tell M about them, she might not see those things.

And if she didn’t see those things, she wouldn’t be able to say nice things like this.

“Wow Ali you are awesome!!! Thanks for the reminder. I don’t think I tell you enough what a blessing it has been to read your blogs.”

And this.

“I love your writing. I hope your book will get written soon. I’ll be first in line to buy it:)”

And if she didn’t say things like that, then I might not see things like this:

It’s okay to go slow.

To find Presence takes a certain kind of discipline as well.

That in our weakness, others find strength.

Everyone has their own path and their own gift, their own way of finding meaning in their lives. And the best we can do is share those gifts with one another and say thank you when they are shared.

Thank you, M, for making my day.

For some reason, this was my theme song as I walked in the canyon today.

Enjoy!