It’s never too late to be happy. Don’t ever give up.

For most of my life, I think I have appeared to have it together. I was always near or at the top of my class; I graduated summa cum laude with a master’s degree in writing. I had my own business that paid my bills for 14 years. I did my best to give back to my community.

But something was missing deep down: belief in a future that was kind. My brother died when I was 15. But my anxiety started years earlier, when I realized his having epilepsy could kill him. That scared me. I didn’t want him to die, and I didn’t want it to be my fault. So I was always on guard, ready to jump to the rescue. And so began a long trend of controlling behavior and codependent relationships – without any real belief in a positive outcome. When I was on my own, I felt pretty good; as soon as I got in a relationship, I lost myself in that other person. And so it ended, one way or another.

In late 2017, now 45 years old, I was drowning in uncontrollable emotions, in a relationship with a wonderful man who had deep wounds of his own. He tried to suppress his pain with alcohol; I used sugar. We loved each other intensely and were doing the best we could, but we were hurting each other and ourselves, because we had not healed our own wounds.

And then I found Danette May’s New You 30-day challenge and other programs — and yes, I lost 30 pounds, but more importantly, I found self-compassion, peace, and hope. I found the strength to stand up for myself: to both set healthy boundaries and be accountable for my own behaviors. The growth this past year has been phenomenal, and I know this is just the beginning. Am I excited about the future now? You bet I am!

~ CW

Posted in Matters of the Mind | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Art of Listening: Creating Space

I heard a talk by Tara Brach about listening a while back, and some of it really stuck with me. She recommended coming to a conversation with no personal agenda, only the intention to create space – space to really hear the other person.

The trick is if we are preoccupied with our own life and struggles – whether they are related to this other person or not – it can be difficult to put our thoughts aside. If we can’t quiet our own minds, we need to be aware and admit that we don’t have the listening presence to offer that person in that particular moment. Half listening does no one any good.

As I find myself in a time of transition and varying emotions, I am 100% in self-care mode, which for me is a mode primarily of solitude. Curious as to why I am being drawn to communicate (or not) with certain individuals right now, I realized I want to interact only with those I believe are currently able to offer a sacred space. It’s not about whether I like those people more or think they are better friends. It’s not about whether I think they can relate to what I’m experiencing. It’s their ability to listen or just be with me – to not question or offer advice, but simply offer a loving, nonjudgmental space – so that I can be however it is that I’m going to be in that moment. For that is exactly what I need (and what we all need, I believe).

I am blessed to have multiple people in my life who have cultivated this ability, and I am trusting the Universe to prompt me to reach out to the best choice for each moment. If I don’t reach out to you or accept an invitation from you, please do not take it personally. I still love you, but I do not have the capacity at this moment to be a listening presence for anyone but myself. I am doing the work and the healing I need to do to move forward an even brighter version of me, and I’ll be glad to show up for you when I can.

To all my friends, thank you for understanding that I may not be too social for a while, but know that I am sending my love to all of you while I take good care of myself.

And when I am able, I will do my best to create a sacred space to hear you the next time we communicate. ~ CW

Posted in Matters of the Mind | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Vulnerability

Vulnerability. It’s a word I’ve heard and seen a lot lately. A friend recommended I read Brené Brown’s writing about it. I haven’t done that yet, but I will, one day. Today, I have my own thoughts on the subject.

Vulnerability is difficult. Seriously, it’s a tough act. But that’s the thing: it’s not an act at all. Vulnerability is the exact opposite of an act: it’s being 100% yourself, no matter what. It’s not saying “to Hell with what everyone else thinks”—and, let’s be honest, you do care—what people think of you, how they interact with you. It’s caring about all that and still being true to yourself. It means honestly facing the rejection, the hurt, and the fear and carrying on, no matter what.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to put up walls. I want to act as if I don’t need anyone, as if I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I used to think that fierce independence was strength. In recent years, I have realized that it was simply denial. Because eventually the reality of caring reappears: the reality that we are not creatures that are meant to live in isolation, that, to flourish, we require the support of a community, whatever that community may look like. And truly feeling and benefitting from the support of a community requires us to show our authentic selves.

In other words, flourishing requires you to be vulnerable: exposing your true self, your soft, unprotected underbelly, to whatever dangers lurk out there in the big scary world. And sometimes, the world cuts you open. You feel as if your insides are lying on the ground for everyone to see, and it seems impossible that you’ll ever be whole again. And so you put yourself in a little fortress, behind a protective wall, to allow yourself to heal. But eventually, it’s time to take down the wall and repeat the process—because when nothing can get inside to reach you, nothing happens: no new growth, no new joy, no real living.

Let me be completely honest here. Some days, tears stream down my face because I am terrified of never being truly seen by that “one special person.” At those times, I am tempted to fiercely say, “It’s fine. I don’t need anyone.” I may believe that, for about 20 seconds, and then I have to admit that it’s not true. Because while I am certainly capable of living happily on my own, and I have plenty of friends and a wonderful family, I have always known, without a doubt, that my truest beauty, my best gift, is my heart. So for me to give the world my best gift, my journey is to continue being open to all the hurt and disappointment until that one person sees me and cherishes my heart. And that will be the beginning of a beautiful and joyous new chapter (which I’m sure will come with its own challenges and lessons). My current challenge is to be brave enough and strong enough to continue showing my true, vulnerable self without those self-protective/self-destructive walls, knowing that I can and will heal whenever I need to.

That’s just my story: perhaps your challenge is something very different. But I have a feeling that this theme of remaining vulnerable and not putting up defenses may hold true in many ways. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Regardless of what you’re facing, keep this in mind: There’s nothing wrong with being scared; just don’t let the fear prevent you from living. Being scared, recognizing the dangers, and yet still going after what you want and living your life to the fullest: that is bravery. That is strength. And that, my friends, is beautiful.

Wishing you strength, vulnerability, and a beautiful life ~ CW

untitled-0345

Posted in Matters of the Mind | Tagged | Leave a comment

Embracing honesty, on and off the mat

Yoga. You’ve probably heard me mention it before. You’ll definitely hear me mention it again if you stick around for future blog posts.

Everyone has their own ideas regarding what yoga is all about. I’m not going to sit here and say I know everything about it. In fact, quite honestly, I still have very little actual knowledge of yoga: its history and its many physical and philosophical tenets. But that lack of knowledge hasn’t stopped me from reaping some serious benefits from practicing yoga.

Obviously, there are physical benefits to being stronger and more flexible. But what about being stronger and more flexible mentally and socially? What about being more balanced in life? Yoga isn’t about being able to stand on one foot. As I’ve heard at least one teacher say, it’s not about whether or not you fall out of a balance pose; it’s how you handle the fall. Do you curse yourself for not being better? Or do you gracefully accept that some days things just don’t go as you may want them to and smile?

There are many lessons learned on the yoga mat that carry over to real life. For me, practicing the postures and attitudes of yoga—especially when surrounded by other people who are striving to be more giving, happier human beings—leads to an improved sense of well-being, a better life. And I’m pretty confident that when my life is better, that carries over into the lives of those around me. Improvement starts within and ripples outward.

One of the aspects of yoga that I’ve found truly critical is the ability to observe and be completely honest with and about myself. So when I heard one of the Kenyan women in this video from the Africa Yoga Project say she is “achieving big things” in her life now because she’s being open and truthful with herself, it hit home with me. For anything to change, we must start with the truth.

Watch the video. Catch a glimpse of the kind of self-empowering change a new attitude, a new approach to life, can have, even for those living in circumstances we can’t even imagine.

P.S. If you’re interested in supporting the Africa Yoga Project, let me know. I’ll be participating in an event on February 18 to raise funds to continue its life-changing work. And if you ever want to join me for a yoga class, let me know that too!

Posted in Matters of the Mind | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Finally inspired to write … by a shoe?

I am a writer and an editor. It’s what I do for a living, and I’m good at what I do, according to my clients. But I have never been a creative writer. Quite honestly, I’ve never desired to be a creative writer.  Writing the next great American novel? It never entered my mind. Long days at the computer? Yeah, I do that now. No guarantee of getting paid for them? Um, no. Not my kind of gig.

So I didn’t take poetry or short-story writing in college; instead, I focused on what I thought were practical pursuits (as far as writing was concerned, anyway). I enjoyed analyzing other people’s creative writing and writing about that, but I was never inspired to create something original of my own. I can count on one hand, one finger actually, the number of times I’ve been truly inspired to write: as in completely overtaken by the creative impulse, without my mind trying to take over, as it almost always does.

It finally happened this fall. The inspiration? A high-heeled shoe. Well, more accurately, a painting of one. Hollie Chantiles’ Carnivore: Foot Fetish No. 3 was on display at YorkArts as part of the Biological Aesthetics: Investigating the Art in Science exhibit that ran September through November 2011. I stood there and studied the floral shoe on its wine-colored wood backdrop, intrigued for several minutes, and then I went on about my gallivanting around town.

I had no intention of writing anything that night, certainly not a poem, and yet, around midnight, it began. The concept happened on the paper in front of me, and I ran with it. When my brain took a look the next day, only a couple of words needed to be changed. I didn’t write this poem: this poem happened. I was merely the transcriber. I’m just glad I was open to the moment with a pen handy.

Jimmy Choo vs. Downward Dog

Piercing stilettos wobble on unsteady ground.
Calf muscles threaten to shorten permanently,
arches aching, lumbar crunching.
Toes are squeezed into submission.

Life shifts on us, throwing us off balance.
Fear contracts us into inertia,
self-confidence faltering, willpower failing.
We are enslaved by invisible walls of the past.

Bare feet solidly connect to the floor, heels (almost) down.
Calves and hamstrings stretch with every breath,
hips rising, spine elongating.
Toes luxuriate in unlimited space.

Circumstances change, but the soul is constant.
Love expands us into courage,
heart opening, spirit soaring.
We are freed by each moment’s infinite possibility.

Posted in Art, Matters of the Mind | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Finding yourself in a song

Do you have certain songs that you reach for when you’re looking for support? And no, I’m not talking about slow grooves by Barry White or Marvin Gaye when you want help getting your significant other “in the mood.” (Not that I have anything against that, mind you.)

Rather, I’m talking about songs that you find helpful when you need emotional, psychological, or spiritual support—songs that lift you up, songs that make you feel like you again.

Perhaps it’s a tried-and-true hymn, something you’ve heard your entire life. Or a silly pop song that was all the rage when you were in middle school and makes you smile every time you hear it…  or start singing it in the shower. (Come on, you know you do.) Or maybe it’s “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” from Disney’s classic movie Song of the South. That’s one of my sister’s favorites.

In an earlier post, I talked about the jazz song “Start All Over Again.” Well, another song I find myself reaching for at times is Peter Cetera’s “One Clear Voice.” When I’m feeling off-balance or lost, this song’s words bring me back to knowing who I am and feeling more secure in my ability to navigate life’s sometimes tricky waters.

Of course, I’m not 100% positive what the lyricist had in mind when he wrote these words, but for me, this song is about finding one’s own inner voice. (Or maybe it would be more accurate to say uncovering that voice, as it is always there, in the same place.) Our inner voice, or our intuition, always knows the right answer, the right path to take. We need only stop all the commotion long enough so that we can hear it.

Of course, that’s not always easy. Often the hardest commotion to quiet is the chattering in our minds. That’s my experience, at least, and I’ve heard the same from many friends. You can find a quiet room somewhere, at least for a few minutes. The challenge becomes how to quiet your mind. Maybe it’s spending some time on your yoga mat, taking some conscious breaths, or just giving the right song your full attention.  Whatever works for you, find it—and use it, often. In the stillness, you will find yourself, your truth. And while the truth isn’t always easy, it will lead you down the right path and to peace of mind.

What song do you reach for when you need to find yourself?

One Clear Voice
The whole world is talking
Drowning out my voice
How can I hear myself
With all this noise
But all this confusion
Just disappears
When I find a quiet place
Where I can hear
Chorus:
One clear voice
Calling out for me to listen
One clear voice
Whispers words of wisdom
I close my eyes
‘Till I find what I’ve been missing
If I’m very still, I will hear
One clear voice
I’m always searching
For which path to take
Sometimes I’m so afraid
To make mistakes
From somewhere inside me
Stronger than my fears
Just like the sound of music
To my ears, I hear  (Chorus)
Posted in Matters of the Mind, Music | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Feeling legendary

First, my apologies to those of you who have been waiting for my write-up of the concert that David Crosby and Graham Nash gave at the Strand Theatre in York, Pa., on May 8. What can I say? Life happens; other things take priority; yadda, yadda, yadda. Anyway, enough with the excuses and on with the show!

Throughout the show, I had the distinct feeling that I was witnessing, or perhaps being part of, American history. There was something legendary about these two. I’ve been to a lot of concerts, but this feeling was a first. So what was different about this show?

Was it their social commentary? They commented on corporate dishonesty, perceived unfairness in tax structures, religious war. They talked about issues with nuclear power plants and waste disposal. Quite honestly, I usually find social commentary quite annoying in the middle of a concert. The first person that comes to mind is Bono, who can be heavy-handed and long-winded when he talks about societal issues. Unlike Bono, however, these two restricted their commentary to fairly short matter-of-fact prologues or epilogues and let the songs (such as “Don’t Dig Here,” “In Your Name,” and “They Want It All”) do the majority of their speaking. It struck me that these two men probably had been committed to the same or similar causes for decades. It really didn’t matter whether or not I shared their convictions; they obviously cared about them intensely and consistently, and that’s worthy of anyone’s admiration.

Was it their rapport with each other and the audience? They were definitely funny. Near the beginning of the show, Nash announced they would be playing a lot of music that night. After all, their basketball team, the Lakers, had just lost a game and was out of the NBA championship, so what else did they have to do? They also sincerely expressed their preference for small venues, such as the Strand, where Crosby said they can strive for their best work, compared to the “blimp hangers” they play “with the other two guys,” where, as Crosby said, they have to work “in broad strokes.” They laughingly provided echoes of themselves singing and talking in the big arenas.

When introducing “Cowboy Movie,” Crosby said, “This next song: I have to confess, they made me do this: they ganged up on me, even my family.” Nash commented, “We would love to see you f**k up.” Nash explained that Crosby had not performed this particular song on tour in 40 years. Crosby then played and sang the long narrative with all the intensity and inflections needed to effectively “tell the tale,” as Nash complimented him afterwards. The desire to see each other screw up seemed to be mutual. Later in the show, Crosby giggled with pleasure at a mistake Nash apparently made. (I missed it.) “He almost never makes a mistake. This is a deeply frustrating thing for me. I make frequent mistakes: huge ones, publicly huge ones. So when he makes even the teeniest little mistake, I get great joy,” Crosby explained, sounding very much like the Wicked Witch of the East.

These two men obviously care about one another. Perhaps the length of their relationship was a big part of it for me. It was joyful to watch two men who had known each other for more than four decades, who obviously are very different but still share so much beauty and fun. The fact that Crosby’s son, James Raymond, was playing keyboard with them added another layer of love. When Crosby revealed his relationship to Raymond, his comment brought tears to my eyes: “He’s my son … and three or four times as good a musician as I am.” The love was palpable: the theater was full of it.

Or was it simply the artistic talent represented on the stage? To be truthful, I didn’t know a lot of the songs. I’ve never closely followed the music of CSN/Y. I knew (and loved) several of their more popular ballads, but that was the limit of my exposure, I thought. I enjoyed those songs, of course: “Our House” was the one song that brought tears to my eyes. And then there were some familiar songs, like “Marrakesh Express,” that I knew but had not previously associated with the group.

I learned that I was more familiar with Nash’s songs. Perhaps about a third of the way into the show, Crosby said, “By way of explanation, it’s Nash’s job to write anthems that everybody in the whole world wants to sing: ‘Teach Your Children,’ ‘Our House.’ That’s his job. It’s my job to write weird shit. To each is suited his purpose.” This comment preceded a brand new song by Crosby: “Slice of Time.” Weird shit? Perhaps. But wow, that was some beautiful, creative weird shit, full of layers and phrasing perfectly suited to the musing nature of the lyrics.

There were quite a few songs I was hearing for the first time. Being a music lover, I’m not bothered by seeing a show where the songs are unfamiliar; in fact, sometimes I prefer it. In this case, I think the unfamiliarity added to the magic. I was continually amazed by the quality: of the diverse creativity, honesty, and sincerity in the songwriting; of the musicianship displayed by Nash and Crosby. I guess having decades to hone their talents helps, but really, that level of talent still blows my mind.

The other musicians were no slouches either. Nash explained that he and Crosby stole bassist Kevin McCormick (coincidentally born and raised in York, Pa.) from Jackson Browne’s band. On the other hand, the drummer Steve DiStanislao (“Stevie D”) had been stolen from them by David Gilmore for a while but returned. And then there was the guitarist (or “multi-instrumentalist” as Nash called him) Dean Parks, as featured on many Steely Dan songs.

I think my favorite “new” song of the night was “Camera” (1994). I loved both the song and its introduction. Crosby revealed that Nash is a “superb photographer” who has contributed greatly to the advances in the printing of digital photography. (Nash’s printer is on display in the Smithsonian.) Crosby said his own father was a camera man and made movies but preferred taking still photos. Nash pointed out that one of the movies Crosby’s father shot was High Noon, one of the American classics.

With that kind of legacy in the room, no wonder I felt part of America’s cultural history.

Posted in Music | Tagged | 2 Comments

The beauty of just being you

A while back, a dear friend posted something on Facebook about appreciating the people in her life who are not afraid to just be themselves, flaws and all… for one reason, because it allows her to feel better about her own flaws.

“I appreciate the fact that as I get older I have come in contact with people who are willing to be honest about who they are, flaws and all.  Makes me like them all the more. [It] also gives me courage not to judge myself so harshly. Courage… because it is sometimes easier to just assume I should be a better person than I am.”

The very next day, I found myself thinking about my friend’s post again as I was listening to World Cafe Live on the public radio station. Brandi Carlile and the Indigo Girls were the featured artists. I found myself tearing up a little—because of the raw honesty when they spoke and when they sang. Carlile described her first songwriting experience with one of the Indigo Girls: how nervous she was to be working with someone she admired so much. She, after all, is just another person dealing with self-doubt and self-criticism. Hearing her laugh and poke a little fun at herself was refreshing. (Wow, other people—accomplished, talented people—really do have the same insecure thoughts I do!) And then the two women sang the song they had written together. Beautiful.

It occurred to me that this is what I cherish most in people and what I miss (often without realizing it) when it’s absent. When people aren’t trying to sell something or convince someone of something, when they are just themselves, there is something so utterly beautiful about that. You don’t have to like what they’re doing or saying or creating or singing, but if you can tell that it is truly from the heart or the soul, whatever you want to call it, it is magical. It is pure. And that is beautiful.

So, how about we make that our goal for the day? Just to be 100% ourselves and accept that as a beautiful thing. My guess is that other people will see the beauty too.

I find that it is often easier to accept myself just as I am when I am out in nature.

Share

Posted in Matters of the Mind, Music, Nature | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Surviving the heat and humidity

When I walk outside my house in July and August, when both temperatures and humidity are soaring, I tend to wilt a bit. Like me, most of the flowers around my house are geared more toward spring and early June. However, there are a few hearty individuals who are thriving in the summer heat. Here are some snapshots from the last few days.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Yes, this is thistle, a weed. But before I ripped up a whole mess of it that had taken over one of my flower beds, I had to admit the blossoms were kind of attractive in a funny sort of way.

 

Posted in Nature | Tagged | 1 Comment

Super talented, beautiful soul

I am thrilled. I just discovered that Alicia Keys’ June 30 concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, which was broadcast online live by AOL, is now available—at least bits of it are—for those who missed it entirely or in part. I fall in the latter category, as I very happily witnessed most of the performance on my computer after missing the first several songs. You’ll have to sit through a few ads to watch the recording, but trust me, if you appreciate music from the soul, it’s worth it.

This is Alicia and her piano: that’s it. No backup singers, no instrumentalists, no dancers. Just wonderful piano playing and a powerful, perfectly nuanced voice, presented naturally and with a beautiful spirit.

Alicia Keys Live at the Beacon Theatre

Turns out the first few numbers were covers of songs that inspired Alicia. In my opinion, after the lovely piano solo introduction, her passion really shows up with the last of the beginning covers—Brian McKnight’s “Never Felt This Way.” (If you’re looking at the site, that’s one click on the right arrow and then the second frame in that group.)

Just keep watching from there. There’s no reason to skip anything. It’s all good, to be understated about it. (Some of the songs are cut short, giving you only excerpts, but it’s better than nothing.)  Here’s how the rest of the playlist flows:

  • Butterflyz
  • Trouble Man – OK, this one’s a cover too, but it’s definitely worth your time: it’s Marvin Gaye, after all, and she commits to it.
  • Troubles – Gorgeous. This is where I started watching the live broadcast and was immediately hooked.
  • How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore – She included her version of this Prince song on her debut album, Songs in A Minor—released 10 years ago, the reason for this celebration—and she rocks this performance.
  • Goodbye – Beautiful, heartbreaking.
  • A Woman’s Worth – And the audience participates: “Baby, you know I’m worth it.” Damn straight.
  • Girlfriend
  • Why Do I Feel So Sad
  • Caged Bird –Short, but oh so powerful.
  • Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# Minor
  • Fallin’ – The song that started our love affair with Alicia, right from its very first amazing notes.
  • You Don’t Know My Name
  • Diary
  • Karma
  • If I Ain’t Got You Full version of this one… Yes!
  • Unbreakable
  • Like You’ll Never See Me Again – A shortened version, but enough to produce some chills.
  • Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart – Heartbreaking rendition … More chills.
  • Un-thinkable (I’m Ready) – The leap of faith she’s describing really comes out in this live performance. Feel the love.
  • New York State of Mind – Yes, Billy Joel’s song.
  • Empire State of Mind, Part II – “Broken down,” as they say…. and it’s the best part of the song, in my opinion.
  • Sure Looks Good to Me – Inspiring. Life isn’t always pretty, but “don’t rain on my parade; life’s too short to waste one day.” So keep on truckin’ and keep those spirits up.
  • No One

I feel badly for those of you who missed the live broadcast, not only because you didn’t get the whole uninterrupted concert, but also because you didn’t get to witness most of Alicia’s interactions with the crowd. The beauty that pours out of this 30-year-old woman is incredibly inspiring, even before she puts fingers to the keys or mouth to the microphone. I think you’ll get a feel for what I mean when you look at the faces of the audience members as they sing along on the last song. You may want to hang around for a few more minutes and watch the interview. Again, feel the love.

I, for one, am putting Alicia Keys on my “must see live” list. I hope you enjoyed this even half as much as I did.

Share

Posted in Music | Tagged , | Leave a comment