Being in the Moment

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I reached an afternoon lull at work today and ventured outside to get some fresh air. It was gray out; the clouds a large crumpled blanket below the faded periwinkle in the distance. I welcomed the rain to drench me or the sun to burn me, the roar of the train to rumble through my veins. I wanted to feel anything but the mundane sensation slowly decaying every last bit of creativity in my body. This shouldn’t be how your job makes you feel.

Though I wanted to pop into a bar and get a drink, I opted for a vegan juice from the convenience store and walked over to an empty bench by a nearby fountain. Once settled, I began to write. What came over me was nothing short of fascinating.

The sun broke through the clouds and suddenly there was wind blowing through the branches above me, my hair, across my skin. I closed my eyes and listened to the water splash inside the fountain. A little bird chirped as it hopped around my feet. I was taken back to a time when I was interning in Washington, D.C. In the mornings before I went into the office, I’d get coffee and sit by the large fountain behind the congressional building. It was peaceful; there were beds of flowers and open grass and best of all, it was hidden. People seldom visited the space while I was there, so I could use it to write, reflect, meditate and just be free.

I wondered if this feeling is what mindfulness is–being able to transport your entire being into a peaceful state while simultaneously allowing chaotic emotion to flow through you without moving to stop it or quell it from existing.

Feelings are transient. Sometimes they can feel so overwhelming, but breathing them in and then out, can help lessen their intensity. In reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step, I’ve been able to slowly adopt some of his teachings and remind myself to let the feelings flow through me, observe them and breathe them out. One moment at a time.

On Being Free & Grounded

I’ve been practicing mindfulness today and this idea of being free and grounded keeps circulating in my thoughts. I imagine a bird flying in a bright blue sky with an anchor around its torso, weighing it down as it struggles to soar. Then I realize I’m projecting and really what it means to be both free and grounded is having the ability to fly but landing whenever you need or want to. Having a deep sense of self that allows you to know who are and what you’re capable of. And not letting anyone or anything get in your way.

It’s too easy lately to fall into this irrational state of being where even my imagination has been influenced by the negativity in my life. As I strive to rid this toxic energy from my life, I remember this line from Sylvia Plath:

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Rain

It’s half past midnight and I keep staring out the window at the bare swaying branches glistening beneath the orange lamp post. I close my eyes and a moment with my daughter earlier in the day replays in my mind. We’re walking in the rain and singing the “rain rain go away” song. Despite the meaning of the song, it’s clear that neither of us want the rain to go away. It’s cold, but soothing and kind of amazing if you really think about it; the way water nourishes the earth, but can cause growth and destruction simultaneously.

She extends her arms out to catch the raindrops in the palms of her hands and tilts her head up to watch them fall. I smile, “You are so brave, little one. You are the ocean in a tiny drop.” Somehow it feels natural to recite poetry to my near 2 year old daughter.We walk inside and she says goodbye to the rain. A testament to her recognition and gratitude in something bringing her joy. I think to myself I will do anything to make sure her spirit is never broken.

When I was younger, I used to watch the rain from the living room window. It would pour down into the street, cars would drive by with their wipers on, people scurried by underneath umbrellas like the rain was something to fear. Water would build up on the side of the road, drops of rain diving into the puddles with lightening in the distance breaking through the clouds. I’d listen to the pitter patter against the awning, feel the thunder rumble inside me and remember that I was still alive.

Unpacking

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I’m striving to become more aware of what my body is telling me and making sure to not only notice what’s happening inside me, but also around me. I’m constantly being reminded that I have to trust my gut and follow my heart. What I’m realizing through overdue introspection is that I do neither of those things consistently and if I’m being completely forthright, I rarely do them. This needs to change.

All that to say, there’s something significant about these 3 things that kept recurring in my mind today–I’m not sure how or why yet, but I can feel it. I’m still unpacking what they might mean, but very much welcome these “signs” and the creative energy flowing through me.

  1. Humming the Sesame Street theme song most of the day. Kinda weird, I know.
  2. The stories that hands tell and how they show love.
  3. My favorite poem by Li-young Lee, “Early in the Morning”

 

 

The Revival

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When my grandmother passed away several years ago, I salvaged a few dusters from her boxes of belongings. Dusters are basically Filipino “house dresses” or in American terms, muumuus. I wanted to repurpose them, use the beautiful fabrics that use to adorn her silhouette and bring new life to my space. As I was leaving, my uncle says to me with one eyebrow raised, “What are you going to do with them?”
He was the guardian of all things she and my grandfather left behind. The eldest living son of 9 boys, his face softened, “Take care of them.” I was cradling the stack in my arm, the way I would books when I was about to check out at the library and said, “I will.”
I’ve held onto them cautiously, with the intent of being mindful of how altering their original form may diminish their value, somehow strip away her memory. What I realized today is that not doing anything with them at all has hindered me from accomplishing the very thing I set out to do.
To repurpose is to “adapt for use in a different purpose” and when I looked it at that way, it felt wrong, not meaningful enough. My intention all along wasn’t actually to repurpose, but to revive the pieces, to “restore to life or consciousness.” In doing so, I imagine her spirit transcending the limits of my memory, her strength and power continuing to inspire. And that brings me joy. That makes me feel whole.

Let It Flow

Last night, the sun was so vast and breathtaking as I was driving, I had to stop, get out and try to get some shots of it melting into the lake.

A flock of geese started to “honk” (just learned that sound they make is called that–I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t just google that) when I approached. So I didn’t get the shot I wanted because I wasn’t sure if they were going to attack me, but I did learn that geese “honk.” I am also reminded that capturing these beautiful moments and appreciating them for what they are, gives me so much life and allows one of my favorite poems to flow through me:

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Still I Rise

The first book I ever purchased was “Poems” by Maya Angelou. I brought $10 to school that day because I had been looking forward to the book fair for weeks–I must have been in 5th grade. I circled the aisles and something drew me to this book with the teal cover and photo of a woman of color that resembled my grandmother. She looked sassy with her short volumized hair and red lipstick, gold jewelry. Her smile was gentle, but fierce.

I picked it up and flipped through the pages, reading a couple of the poems–I was captivated. I wanted to be as strong as she was; I wanted to grow up to be phenomenal and always rise. This poem reminds me that, even at a young age, we can trust what our bodies are telling us and connect what’s in our heart to our mind. That despite the distractions and darkness that blur our focus, we are always capable of rising. Again and again.

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou1928 – 2014

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Listen to the Whispers of your Heart

It will not lead you astray.

I’ve been determined to silence the noise and just listen to what my soul feels/what my heart says. (It’s amazing how the body instinctively knows what you’re feeling before your mind has even begun processing anything.) And it’s been going something like this:

Live life in a big way

Let it all flow through you

Every breath is proof that you’re alive

But not evidence that you’re living

The sum of me is not dictated by you or you or you

I am the sun piercing through hidden spaces

Revealing that light and darkness can coexist

Accepting that sometimes the universe conspires to make you see

That when we begin to hide the parts of ourselves that are dying

It’s when we most need to set ourselves free.

Transforming

On mornings when I wake up just before my alarm, I feel at peace. My eyes flicker slowly, adjusting to the light creeping in from the window. To maintain the stillness, I don’t check the time right away, instead I allow my body to take direction from the soft light peering in from the hallway. It must be just past 7 a.m. Olive, my near 5 month old, slept through the night. I smile from this victory. I am grateful for the extra sleep. I am blessed to have a healthy, wonderful baby.

No one could ever picture me being a mother. They all joked that I took after my late grandmother–a cold and stoic mother of 9 boys–someone who cringed at being shown affection. She proved her love through hours of sweating over a hot stove and little gifts from time to time from her outings–a testament to her selfless nature and dedication to her family. Wherever she was, everyone else was always on her mind and she wanted you to benefit and share in her experience through this small token–a bottle of Arizona iced tea or costume jewelry she got with her points from the casino. Every item, a treasure she bestowed onto her family, a myriad of tokens, each one carefully handpicked and dispersed. Her love, though at times unrecognizable, was spread wholeheartedly across generations. As the number of grandchildren began to multiply, it became harder for her to resist the hugs. Eventually, if you were lucky, when you reached into kiss her on the cheek, she’d turn, grab your face with both palms pressed firmly against your cheeks, and give you a sprightly kiss on the temple. Then you’d see her grinning ear to ear in her own amusement, the shock of her letting her guard down was disarming.

I, too, feared how I would be as a mother. My insecurities of loving another in a way they needed to be loved surfaced tenfold throughout my pregnancy. I filled my arsenal with books on parenting to ensure I was prepared to take care of this new human prior to her arrival. I didn’t want to fail, but most importantly, I wanted my child to thrive and know that she was loved. I predicted that knowing how to do this would not come naturally to me. As someone who subconsciously compartmentalizes and detaches from the world in order to maintain a sense of security and happiness, I wanted to relinquish these bad habits and give my love freely and openly to my child. Doing this made sense; not only would it make me a better mother, but a better wife, friend, relative, overall human being. If this meant opening my heart and letting it explode a thousand times in pain just so that I could experience overwhelming joy, then I was ready to take that leap. Even if that meant this version of myself was only available to a select few, I would be this version and hit the ground running.

I had this revelation last night while engaging in couch talk with the hubby. (Couch talk is the equivalent of pillow talk, only it happens on the couch and I’d say is just as intimate.) My whole life I endeavored to make everyone around me happy to the point where I surrendered my own happiness to achieve this dead end. When my parents were over the other day, I sort of felt like I was having an outer body experience. My mom was super happy to see Olive as usual and if I recall my dad’s mood was decent as well. I saw myself interacting with them from a distance and was completely detached. I go into this subdued neutral mode around them as a defense mechanism. I’m certain I’ve been this way for a long time, this trance like state, in order to protect myself. I realized that their presence is so volatile that I can’t bring myself to be normal around them.

Though I’m digressing, I think it’s important to elaborate. Over the course of time, if you put my relationship with my parents on a graph, there would be much more low points than high. Ultimately I became resistant to the high points because they would get so diluted by the low points. I eventually built up a tolerance for the low points and it became my default demeanor with them because I could not tolerate the sudden drop from positive to negative in an instant. It became too devastating for me to handle so I put up a protective barrier to shield myself from the pain that consumed me whenever their marriage was on the rocks or whenever their personalities became too demanding and overwhelming. I like to imagine a “normal” life as healthy heart on a graph. There are high and low points with steady intervals in between (I’m not in the health field so this description could be entirely inaccurate). When the heart beats at a syncopated rhythm for too long, then that means it has stopped beating aka death. Somewhere down the road, I started functioning in this syncopated rhythm with them and though I’m oversimplifying, it’s like being dead.

All of that to say, I don’t want to be so contrived. That’s not who I am or who I want to be and it’s never been more apparent to me than ever.

Sometimes their world is made of paper mache. The surface has been painted nicely with a range of colors and textures. If you lean in and look closely, you can see the surface is misshapen, there are cracks along the circumference. And if you’re me and walked along the roadways of this world, you question every step for the fear that the slightest misstep, will puncture its very foundation. One clumsy step and you’ve fallen through. Before you know it, you’ve been sucked in and you’re gasping for air. Its inhabitants are the most loving people you’ll ever meet and they’re happy you’ve joined them. They’ll offer you food and help you with whatever you need. But on the condition that you follow their way of life and understand them even when they’re hurtful or disrespectful towards you. Speaking out automatically means you’re undermining them rather than searching for the truth and finding harmony in spite of the chaos.

This was my life with them for so long and I cannot live this way anymore. While I’d love to have a more open and honest relationship with my parents and my brother for that matter, I cannot be part of their world in that way anymore. I must view it from a distance, only meeting at the periphery.

So how do I go about maintaining a relationship with them while in this dead state? I have made strides to escape their world and created my own world. I know now that my life is more peaceful with this distance. I have to compartmentalize them in order to be happy because the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn is that I don’t need their approval in order to live my life and be happy. What’s most important is that I’m doing what’s right for me and my family–whether or not that’s acceptable to other people is their problem, not mine. I must own this and know this with every step I take in my own direction. There’s this quote about being careful with what you say to your children because it becomes their inner voice. I’m living proof that no matter how hard you try to tear yourself away from wanting your parent’s approval, their voice will emerge from the dusty corner of your mind and try to influence your decision. There comes a point in your life when you just have to turn it off and stand firm and confident in what you want and what will make you happy.

All I can hope and pray is that my hubby and I create an environment in our growing family where everyone feels safe and empowered to speak the truth in their hearts. To love openly and to freely be themselves. This has all come up in a flurry as I move to conquer and expel that which makes me unsettled and imbalanced. As I move toward having more open and loving relationships with all people, I must thwart and be careful with those that are toxic and/or bring toxic energy into my life.

Going back to my morning, minutes after I had awoken, I could hear Olive beginning to fuss. I got out of bed, excited to greet her good morning. She flashed a gummy smile as I scooped her up. I cherish these few moments I have with her before I leave for work. Whether it’s through feeding or changing her, singing an off tune original or dancing with her, I have never felt more present or overwhelmed with joy than I do now. Becoming a mother hasn’t just opened up my life to new meaning, but it’s redirected the way I feel and think about the world, myself and relationships with others. I feel more open to the world than I have in a long time and allow pockets of light to shine through. When I feel the warmth from the light coming in, I feel whole and grateful for all of the blessings in my life–a thriving, beautiful baby, a supportive and ever loving hubby, family and friends who are there for me, my health, a job I’m becoming more passionate about and the list goes on. Counting my blessings has really made me feel more at peace with myself and less inclined to become paralyzed by the things I cannot change.

Yesterday at mass, we were standing in line waiting for Olive to be baptized. I was holding her and my hubby asked me if I wanted him to hold her. I asked him why and he explained that when the water gets poured over her head and she begins to squirm, he knew that she would look to me for comfort. As Father Gene scooped water and poured it across Olive’s head, her arms began to flail and as she was about to cry–she turned to me and I looked at her softly and told her it was okay. She calmed down. In that moment, standing next to to the love of my life, holding our daughter, surrounded by family and friends and the spirit of loved ones, my eyes teared up from the abundance of emotion flowing through me. I was so proud of her; I was so happy and full of grace.

I believe that this process of transforming has transcended into other parts of my life and slowly, I am becoming the best version of myself. My hope is that one day I won’t have to compartmentalize and everything can just be. I’m too much of a realist to know that isn’t possible in the near future, but perhaps, one day it will be.