Quaker (Not the Oats)

It started yesterday. A need to reconnect, to recenter. As someone who grew up attending church on a regular basis, I find that every now and then I have a deep longing to join with a community for spiritual connection and  contemplation. However, it has been years since I felt at home in a church setting and in the current political climate even less so. This has been both liberating and disconcerting. It’s difficult to rewire the pathways in the brain and painful to come to terms with a changing landscape of your views on the past and how it shaped you. Knowledge and experience will teach you many things but they will also rattle you to the core and demand that you face your demons by not shying away from the truth even if it hurts, even if it makes you question everything you ever “knew” to be true. 

The need to find a place for quiet contemplation and connection led me to a Quaker meeting. I have never attended a meeting before. Instead of being greeted boisterously or not at all (yes this has happened) as has been the case in most churches I have attended, I was greeted quietly and led into a room where other people were sitting silently. There was no altar, no pulpit, no band playing music. Instead, there was silent reverence. It was peaceful. 

During a Quaker meeting, there is no leader. All are welcome, all sit quietly and if anyone feels led to share they do. No one is allowed to speak when someone else is speaking. No one is allowed to debate another person’s point. Less is more. 

I sat quietly in a pew, my head leaned against the wall, a beautiful breeze blowing through the window next to me. I closed my eyes. I was prepared to be in this space of silence. I had left my cell phone in the car, no distractions. 

Nature had a different idea though. The building we were in shares the space with a local Montessori school and they have chickens they care for outside in the yard. The chickens decided that this time of quiet contemplation was the best time to be as loud as possible. I laughed a bit because it was comical. I was frustrated a bit because my goal was to find a place of peace. Then it occurred to me that just like a mantra repeated to clear one’s mind, that if I focused on the noise the chickens were making my mind was clear of all other wandering thoughts. So I settled in and did just that and by the time the chickens finally gave up their incessant chatter, I was calm and relaxing into the new space I was in. 

We all sat together quietly for an hour. Some people spoke briefly, some said nothing at all. Each person who shared said something simple yet meaningful. One woman sang a song and asked those of us who knew it to join if we would like to. The song was one I had known since I was a small child, in some ways so familiar and in other ways like a far away place I used to live. It was oddly comforting to sing along though, “… prepare me to be a sanctuary.” 

Reflecting on the meeting today, I was struck by how often we fill the void with noise to avoid discomfort. It’s foreign to us to sit together quietly and not find it necessary to speak. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about “holding space” for people in my life and what that really looks like. Today, I found that concept so beautifully expressed. Holding space is sitting with someone, literally or figuratively, quietly and without agenda other than to be a place of peaceful sanctuary. In a world so full of noise and chaos, sometimes your silent presence is what’s needed most. When we offer a place for others to land gently and without judgement, we are holding space for healing, connection, and growth. 

Come in she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.

xo

Leah

If you’re local to the Merrimack Valley and would like to know more about the meeting I attended click here, Friends Meetinghouse

(Title inspiration goes to the witty and creative Christine Green)

Fear, it’s holding you down

fear

ˈfir/
noun
  1. 1.
    an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Fear is caused by “belief.”However, belief does not mean that what you are thinking is actually true. But we get stuck, so stuck in the belief aspect of fear that we become paralyzed, unable to react/act rationally. We isolate ourselves, we minimize ourselves, we miss out on living fully alive.

These past few days I have had to deal with a lot of things that I am afraid of. A lot of emotion has come to the surface and as I contemplate the source of a lot of my pain and confusion, I am becoming aware of how often I react and respond out of fear and not from a place of courage. I am learning; I am able to stand my ground far better than I was a year ago but it is a process and I still fall into the fear trap.

There are many ways that fear can cripple us if we allow it to.

Boundaries – When I operate from a place of fear I do not allow others the proper boundaries nor do I protect myself by maintaining the proper boundaries that I need.

Expectations – When I operate from a place of fear, I need to be in control and so I place unrealistic expectations on myself and on others.

Self Preservation – When I operate from a place of fear, I do not believe that I have enough or that I am enough so I cling tightly and don’t allow myself or others breathing space.

Blame – When I operate from a place of fear, I do not want to be wrong so it is easier to blame or deflect than to take responsibility for my own actions.

Excuses – When I operate from a place of fear, I try to justify with excuses for my behavior because it is easier than taking ownership and responsibility.

How can we combat the demon of fear? By facing it head on. By admitting that we are afraid, that we are wrong, that we don’t always get it right and loving ourself and others through that process. By letting go of unrealistic expectations and the need to cling on to others in an attempt to feel whole or validated.

 

The opposite of fear is bravery; it’s not the absence of fear but the answer to fear. Bravery is being afraid and moving forward anyway. Bravery is standing up and doing the right thing not the easy thing, not the comfortable thing. Bravery means that I am able and willing to admit when I am wrong, own it and begin taking the steps I need to take to change.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
– Nelson Mandela

Reframe It

I appreciate structure, I feel at my best when I have a plan and know what is going on. But that’s not life. I am reminded on a an almost daily basis that despite best effort, there are no guaranteed outcomes.

Life has a way of stretching me past my comfort zones pretty consistently. Sometimes I handle this well and just “roll with the punches,” still other times, sudden and unexpected change throws me into an emotional tail spin.

I firmly believe in the power of positive thinking. I read an article recently on the concept of Reframing. Reframing is a way of looking at events, ideas, concepts and emotions that could be viewed negatively and instead changing the perspective to a positive one. Finding the good. “Positive thoughts give rise to happy, contented emotions and negative thoughts result in sad and depressive emotion. These emotions than affect biological changes in the body. Basically, the quality of our thinking affects the emotions we experience  and the state of our physical health”

When circumstances do not go the way that we hoped, intended, or wanted them to, it is easy to slip into a negative headspace. But what is the benefit of that? Sometimes we get so caught up in what “should” have happened that we miss the real meaning of what actually did happen in all of the chaos, beauty and pain. All of our experiences in life hold value, even those that make our heart hurt when we think of them. “Regardless of what’s going on in our lives, we can always ‘reframe’ our situation. So – no matter how bad everything appears to be, we always have the choice to make ourselves feel better by changing the way we view our problems or situations.” There are no guarantees in life. For someone, such as myself, who likes structure and order this often creates a sense of anxiety and stress. However, I believe that there is a strong coorelation between the ability to reframe your thinking and a heart of gratitude and forgiveness. When I find reasons to be grateful for the good in any situation, I am then able to deal with the negative aspects of the situation in a healthier way.

“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”
― Oprah Winfrey

We have to make a concious decision to choose happiness and find the good. We have to actively choose to reframe our world view. We have to make the choice. Our quality of life depends upon it.

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”
― Seneca

 

Pause … Step Back … Breathe …

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Pause … Step Back … Breathe …

I am by nature, a very sensitive person; I care deeply, I feel deeply, I love deeply. However, I have a hard time staying calm and composed in the face of disappointment and difficulty. Right next to my sensitive side stands my Type A side – so basically, I am a sensitive control freak. Lovely … I know.

I am intense. very intense but this doesn’t always serve me well. In fact, sometimes I end up tripping over myself because I don’t take the time to step back, calm down, and assess the situation for what it really is. Instead, I am quick to jump to conclusions and assume things that are not true and you all know what they say about assuming …

A good friend recently challenged me to focus on taking the high road in emotionally charged situations. This has been a huge mental shift for me – it is not about making my point, it is not about being right, it is not about controlling outcomes, instead, it is about doing what is right even when it hurts. Right doesn’t always mean it is going to feel right for me or that I am going to like it in the moment. Sometimes I have to do what is right for someone else.

It is easy to remain calm when all is well and things feel certain. It is far more difficult to stay calm and composed when you are facing challenge and uncertainty; but, that is when you need it the most. Every day, we are faced with challenges we can not control.  The only thing that we have control over is our reaction.

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It is not easy, I am still learning, I still fail, but my hope is that over time,

I will learn to Let Go and Trust the Process.

I hope that soon it will become second nature for me to,

Pause … Step Back … Breathe.

And to move forward from a place of Peace rather than a place of fear …

Love & Peace to you! 

xo

Leah

Beautifully Imperfect – Happy New Year!

Today I have been contemplating the ending of a year and the beginning of a new one – In a similar way, one chapter of my life is ending and another is beginning. I committed to authenticity this year, it was my “one little word” for the year. It required deep soul searching, gut wrenching life decisions, and drastic changes. Now that sounds kinda awful and in some ways it was/is. However, along the journey, I also found true courage, moments of joy, unexpected grace, and new beginnings. It has not been easy but it has been worth it.

The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself. ― C. JoyBell C.

In a conversation I had recently, it was pointed out to me that I am currently “under renovation.” This is something that I am holding onto in many ways. If you have ever been through a renovation, you know that things never go as planned and that the process always takes longer than projected. Despite the chaos and mess involved though, the end product is always worth it; a new and improved version of what was there before. I have often heard the phrase “the house has good bones;” to me, that has always meant that a home has great potential for beauty, given some time and attention. I think life is like that; every life has “good bones” and the potential for beauty, it’s just a matter of being willing to embrace the pain of “renovation,” while holding onto the knowledge that it will all be worth it in the end.

I am reminded of the Japanese philosophy, wabi-sabi – the art of imperfection.

Wabi-sabi finds beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, accepting the cycle of growth, decay and death. It’s slow and uncluttered, and regards authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not laminate. Minimalist wabi-sabi respects age and celebrates humans over invulnerable machines. It finds beauty in cracks and crevices and all the marks that time, weather and use leave behind. It reminds us that we are transient beings — that our bodies and the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which they came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the impersonal sadness of liver spots, rust and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.  – Robin Griggs Lawrence

Wabi-sabi, creating beauty from imperfection and brokenness.

ImageI am thankful for so many blessings throughout this journey of life, but most of all I am grateful for those who have willingly and still willingly, stand by me in moments of joy as well as through moments of breakdown. They are somehow able to see that there is still “beauty in the breakdown.”

“So, let go, let go,

Jump in.

Oh well, what you waiting for?

It’s all right,

‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

So, let go, let go.”

Imogen Heap

Wishing you a Beautifully Imperfect 2014!

xo

Leah

http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/wabi-sabi-zm0z11zvau.aspx?PageId=1#axzz2oiFKmaQY

The Happiness Choice

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Some one commented to me the other night that I laugh a lot, I agreed. I love to laugh and I don’t hold back. When it comes to happiness, I am all in. I have learned though that I choose happiness, it’s a decision I make every day to focus on the good and let go of the negative. In the moments when life is kicking you down and your emotions are in overdrive, that’s when you have to focus your mind, breathe, and let go. There are so many reason to be happy, to be grateful, and to find beauty all around you. I am not going to pretend that I don’t have moments where I am shaken to the core and feel like collapsing on the floor; however, it is in those moments that I let myself have a good internal scream or “phone a friend” but then I move on. Life is meant for living fully alive and yes, sometimes that is going to be extremely, gut wrenchingly painful, but the emotions will pass and the season will change. I’d rather ride out the waves with a smile on my face then to let myself drowned in self pity and fear. Happiness is choice I make every day to control my emotions, let go of the things I can not change, and trust the process.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Choosing Happiness is liberating! When you realize you determine your own happiness, you are set free to live a life of joy that is not determined by anyone but yourself. People change, circumstances change, and nothing goes according to plan but that doesn’t mean you have to give in and give up. Maybe the path of brokenness you are on is leading you to more happiness than you ever dreamed possible. We like to plan life in a nice, neat, and straight line and when it zig zags off the mental map that we have created it tends to send us into a panic. Take a moment, let yourself panic, but don’t stay there! Pause, and find a place of happiness in the midst of the mental chaos. Choose to fight for your own happiness, whatever that may be.

  • Find things that promote your happiness
  • Lose the negativity
  • Surround yourself with positive people
  • Take pleasure in the simple moments
  • Breathe out toxic emotions
  • Let go

“I’m choosing happiness over suffering, I know I am. I’m making space for the unknown future to fill up my life with yet-to-come surprises.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

XO,

Leah

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Authenticity – That One Powerful Word

When I chose the word “Authenticity” as my word for the year, I had no set plan. I went forward blindly and without thought. At some points, I even forgot that it was my goal for the year. However, life did not forget. In fact, life seemed to think it was a pretty funny joke to play on me. You get what you ask for let me tell you! Just last night, in conversation about my chosen word, I said, “Why didn’t I pick a word like “Peaceful?” Yes, indeed. Why didn’t I? However, I am sure that no matter which word I had chosen, I would have been challenged in some way because that is how growth occurs and that was after all, my ultimate goal.

What I had never considered before I started this journey is that Authenticity and Vulnerability walk hand in hand. You can not have one without the other. This is both a deeply rewarding and deeply painful journey at the same time. I am always convinced though that the benefits of growth far out way the discomfort and pain that precede. As a fellow blogger wrote:

A big part of my journey has been to become better at expressing myself. At sharing my thoughts, feelings, and honestly bearing my whole heart and soul sometimes. Vulnerability has been a biggy for me too … This is me. This is how I feel. This is how I feel about you. I love you. You’re beautiful. You’re perfect. You’re awesome. I’m not afraid to hug. To cry. I want to feel life and all its emotions. Good or bad, how else can I grow? What lesson is this teaching me? I face plant regularly, but each experience makes me a better person. – Brittany Paulin

Yes, exactly, how else can we grow? And if we are not growing, than we are not fully living.

I grew up trying to be anyone but myself. I wanted to make everyone happy even if it was at my own expense. I thought that being “good” meant keeping my thoughts and opinions to myself so as not to rock the boat. My need for affirmation and acceptance was greater than my need to be true to myself. I was willing to live without freedom because it seemed so much easier to pretend that I was fine, everything was fine, and everyone liked me. I would like to say that I no longer care what people think; but, I do. When you choose to be yourself and stand up for what you believe to be true, not everyone is going to applaud you for this choice. In fact, you may lose people in your life that you thought would always be there because they don’t like the “new” you.

Let’s examine the options though … You can continue to be a people pleaser and never live fully alive, never grow any deeper, and never change or you can step off the ledge and learn to fly. The learning curve is deeply painful and at times feels like it costs more than it’s worth; but, trust me, you will actually begin to like yourself, be yourself, and eventually love and trust yourself.

You are enough. The Authentic you is Beautiful and expressing your self wholeheartedly and unashamedly is the Bravest choice you could ever make.

And so …

I wish you joy in the pain and and hope in the darkness of your journey. BE BRAVE!

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