Post #8 – Selfcare

(Kevin)

In my last blog, I wrote about the need for balance in life.  To quote, “Light and dark are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.”  While it is true that since losing Kristin, I have spent a disproportionate amount of time in the dark.  It is equally as true that it has been without exception the most painful experience I have ever endured and that there have been many dark days, but there is light too, so much light!

Light was perhaps Kristin’s greatest gift to me.  A light that comes from the joy of complete, unconditional love shared between two human beings.  Through years of triumphs and tribulations, my life guided me to Kristin at the most perfect time in both of our lives.  We loved without regard, without restraint, and with conviction.

Kristin didn’t just love me though, she taught me about love.  She taught me how real love, the purest and most enduring love, radiates from the inside, out.  You see, Kristin taught me how to channel all those life lessons and personal growth into a self-love that had always eluded me.  They say that love is not a noun, but a verb, it is an action word. So too must self-love; it follows then that the active expression of self-love must be self-care.

What are you doing to love yourself right now?  What are you doing to take care of yourself right now?  We all know it’s important, we all know that wells run dry if they aren’t replenished, yet, far too often, when we need our own love and care the most, we neglect it.

I want to thank each and every person who reads this blog, because you help me in my self-care.  Writing is a perhaps the single greatest element of me taking care of myself and without your readership, I’m not sure that I would always feel motivated to sit down in front of my keyboard.  I am a talker by nature, so writing is a way for me to talk through life’s ups and downs and eventually arrive at some kind of good place.

The other component of my self-care is meditation.  That is a pretty recent development for me, but stopping, breathing, and just being quiet and listening has proven to be invaluable.  Maybe it just comes back to the principle of balance again? I spend so much time talking and writing, maybe in order to feel balanced I require quiet time where I shut up and just listen?

Both the writing and meditation help me to keep my inner life in good health and in balance, but I can easily neglect my physical self.  For a stretch of time in my life I turned myself into a runner, then a weekend warrior triathlete, but that took a toll on my back, knees, and every other joint I have.  Swimming though? That is the last magical pillar of my trifecta of self-care. The pool is a place where I can exercise my body, my cardiovascular system, and not be riddled with pain afterward.

When I can consistently engage in all three of those activities, life hums along pretty good.  It’s not that if I meditate, swim, and write everyday the dark days won’t come. Nope, those are just part of the deal as human beings.  But, by actively engaging in self-love I am better prepared to weather them.

What do you do Jen?  How do you show yourself love and appreciation for the magically unique individual that you are?  I wonder what our readers do?

(Jen)

“If you don’t value yourself, how do you expect others to?” If I have an achilles heal, then I have hundreds. Self love, value of oneself just happens to be one of them.

I remember standing at home plate, my wooden bat raised behind my head, my elbows up in the air. I looked over at the bleachers beneath the large shady tree and recognized faces, judgement, and disapproval. I looked down at the dust covering the white pentagon and my grey sweatpants loose around my ankles and simply waited for the next pitch to come.

I knew that I would most likely get on a base. I knew that it would be a walk or a ground ball that happened it’s way through the shortstop’s legs as they looked over at third base. I knew that I could strike out if I reached too far and swung too hard trying to hit the stars, a place beyond my reach. So inevitably, I listened to myself and bet on getting on first. I patiently waited as pitchers took their time finding their stride warming up on me, the lead off batter. I was young, but I knew getting on base was just enough.

At an early age I learned and believed that I was just enough. I was just enough to make the team, find myself in the advanced classes, and get invited to the sleepovers on the weekend. I knew that I wasn’t the mvp, the valedictorian, or even close to being the most popular but just enough felt okay to me growing up. It kept me in the thick of things without having to reveal too much of who I was or worse draw too much attention to who I should’ve been. Just as I waited for bad pitches to be thrown, I waited for people to value my effort, my work, and my being in order to decide where I fit best. I managed my way through life waiting to see how much of my light I should shine in each and every situation depending on who I was with and where I was. I allowed others to determine my place and what role I would play. I spent my time figuring out what others wanted and needed instead of allowing myself the space to be who I was and wanted most to be.

Kevin, always cutting straight to the chase, asked me above what do I do to self nurture, self love. He of course assumes that I love myself and consciously choose to do things that will show myself love and appreciation. When I read his question I drew in a huge breath and held it, held on while I searched for an answer that would seem uplifting and inspiring to others reading this post. Nothing came at first. I exhaled and took in another breath as I encircled my thoughts and tried to connect to my feelings but I felt empty. The vast wasteland of self doubt, and self loathing left over from my childhood begged to be called on. It reared its ugly head in the most subtle way letting me know I still hadn’t fully let it go.

What do I do to nurture and love myself? Maybe if I ask the question here to you and let my fingers feel the tapping sensation of the words as they strike the keyboard, the answer will seem apparent. I write. I write when I feel crummy, when I feel calm, when I am uncertain, and I write when I am inspired. Writing is my self love. YES! It is something I have done since I can remember. What else? What else do I do to show myself that I am worth it? I read. I pile books on my nightstand and give myself hours upon hours of sitting with myself and providing my mind and heart with endless journeys to places and thoughts not easily found here. I give myself time and space to wonder what if. I give myself the opportunity to wonder what would happen if I did swing hard and far enough to hit the ball out of the park. I allow my mind to create what that might actually look like and then I sit with the image and believe that I’ve already done it.

I don’t run, walk, swim, or bike. Once in a long while you’ll find me on the beach, in the woods, or digging in the dirt but not often enough to say it’s something I do. Maybe Kevin’s right, maybe when you’re not loving yourself the darkness seems more formidable and tenacious and harder to take. Maybe if I were to simply choose to be and do the things that I love, life would be filled with a simple sense of ease and consistency. Maybe if I choose each and every day to do the things, be the person that most resonates with who I am and not with who happens along,  I will shine a little brighter and be a little more authentically me.

I am happy and peaceful for the most part. I have found a place in life that feels comfortable and kind but in my heart of hearts I know that I am only getting started. In some way I am still looking for that validation from others to say, “Go” take your mark, get set, and Go! It’s this part of me that continues to wait, the young child in me asking for permission to create my own reality, that holds me back most from being in the brightest light each and every day. Or, maybe just maybe, all of the experiences I’ve had, emotions I’ve felt, darkness I’ve weathered has really just provided me with a knowing of what it is in life I don’t want and provided the knowledge that there is a part of me that is waiting for its day in the sun.

If I have learned anything in this life I call my own it is the knowing that there is always something else up ahead of us. We are never done creating experiences, meeting new people, growing into the next better version of ourselves, or feeling the best possible emotions after enduring the most challenging tragedies. Each morning when our mind first speaks, our bodies stir, and our eyes wait to open we are given an incredible opportunity to choose how we want to start the day. Before we stir, roll over, and place our feet on the floor, we have the ability to choose how we intend to make our way through the day. It’s our choice and that’s incredibly powerful to acknowledge and to fully understand. Most days I will choose to wait for the pitch, the right pitch to ensure I will get on base. But then there will be those mornings that something inside of me stirs and feels just a little bit different. On those days, I will be ready to swing hard and far just to see what might happen.


 



  • Post #7 – The Darkness

    Author Jen Parker(Jen)

    I remember someone once said to me, “I don’t know how you do it. How can you stay so calm and have so much patience?”

    I smiled and changed the subject. Darkness is a funny thing. Once you’ve been exposed to it for a prolonged period of time, you simply adjust. You adjust to the silence, the unpredictable screams, and the tempest that comes on in an instant and blows off when least expected. When you grow up in darkness, it is your familiar. You know how to find comfort amidst its shards and volatility. The heaviness of its air becomes your blanket, your comfort if you will.

    It’s all well and good until that one unforgettable day when you get a glimpse of the light. Normal shows up on your doorstep and knocks, begging to come in. At first you breathe in deep. It is a whiff of fresh air, exhilarating and motivating. Then after a bit of time it becomes your unknown and you find yourself waiting for your normal to return, for the darkness to fall again and fill your life with all that is familiar.

    These past few weeks have been surprisingly challenging for me. There has been a raw gnawing at my bones, begging me to sink between the sheets and hibernate for a  while. I feel as though there have been weights attached to my limbs, making my daily schedule challenging and body set at a constant state of ready and alert. My mind spins in circles, searching for a reason why. Life is calm, settled, and filled with predictable love. Why then would my body be reacting in such a tumultuous way?

    I bumped into a friend this evening at the local market. We share one of life’s horrors in common. I blurted out that I’ve been off and she began listing off community, national triggers. I’ve never taken the time to go beyond myself. My ego can be strong when my spirit is week. I felt relieved in a way. We’re just past 9/11, our community is marking the one year anniversary of some major losses, and our country feels incredibly divided. How could I feel certain, secure in my stable home, when there is so much a foot kicking me into familiar territory of division, hate, grief, and uncertainty?

    CompassionThen Kevin sent me a meme after I messaged him saying, “having a counterpart who has survived the same life trauma’s is reassuring in a strange sorta way.” When I read the quote, I let it sink in and then smiled silently to myself. Having to put on a face, to be stronger than you feel, is exhausting. Having to fake it till you make it, leaves you wondering if you are a poser and often all the second guessing ends up with your insides tied up in knots. Trying to explain your reactions to certain life situations feels very much like you’re embracing the role of victim, even to the person you love more than the entire world itself.

    When you have the opportunity to connect with others who have traveled similar paths as yours, experienced the darkness in the way in which you have, there is a moment that makes space. It’s in this moment you find solace and knowledge that regardless of how many times you thought you were going crazy, you really are just finding your way into the light out of the darkness. Connections in life are invaluable and build bridges out of despair into joy. Look for these connections and embrace building the bridges.

    Kevin St Onge(Kevin)

    “Only when we know our own darkness well, can we be present with the darkness of others.” This is a portion of the quote that I sent to Jen last week. I sent it in response to her asking if perhaps we should be developing a goal for our blogging adventure, and if so, what would that be? Ironically, it is the very same question that I had put to me recently about another writing project of mine. You see, good writing should have a point. A writer should be able to easily articulate why someone would want to read your work. Since Jen and I sort of stumbled on to whatever it is we are doing here, we didn’t really spend anytime thinking about why we were writing. But through our process, our writing seems to have revealed the “why” for us.

    We are human beings. And as divided as our country is, as many screwed up things that fill our daily news feeds, the human condition is universal. We all experience darkness in our lives. We have all been touched by sadness and pain. We have all struggled. And, we all asked ourselves, why?

    So, I sent Jen that quote because I think our goal in blogging is to share our individual experiences with the human condition. To write with an implicit wish that others may find solace, comfort, and hope when they may find themselves in one of those dark places; to know that they are not alone. There are many others who have been there before and have found their way out. In fact, there are many who will go into the darkness with you; they will sit with you, hold your hand, and stay in the dark for as long as it takes for you to make peace with it.

    Light and dark are just two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. Every ancient civilization not only understood this, but celebrated it. It is only in our modern, western society that we somehow think that we should be exempt from the dark and live only in the light. The result is over diagnosing, over prescribing, addictions, and disorders. The fact that others have been there is little comfort though when the darkness falls and it completely and totally engulfs you. Darkness is disorienting, isolating, and often, panic inducing.

    I learned how to surf almost 10 years ago. It was one of those “bucket list” things for me and I was fortunate to have made friends with some guys I was teaching with who were avid groms. I honed my skills from May to August on the “ferocious” surf of coastal New England. Feeling like I was now an accomplished and seasoned surfer, I ventured out into the break with them during a tropical storm that had pushed up the coast in early September. Having successfully paddled out through the break, I was soon staring down the face of the largest wave I had ever seen this up close and personal. Needless to say, I did not survive the drop with my feet still on my board. I wiped out hard and I was in the “wash” cycle of the wave. At first, I felt panic. “I am going to drown,” my thoughts screamed! I wasn’t even sure which way was up. I just kept getting spun around and around, tossed, tumbled, completely disoriented, and running out of air. Not dissimilar to the darkness.

    But then, somehow, I gained control of my thoughts just as they were running away from me. The prevailing cognition being, “slow down.” I told myself, “you’re ok.” As my mind began to quiet, even more encouraging words began to form: “You’re a strong swimmer, you’re smart, relax and think.” Panic makes it very hard, if not impossible, for us to think rationally and problem solve our way through the difficulty: the darkness. In relaxing my mind, my body had no choice but to follow suit. A relaxed body slows the heart rate which in turn utilizes less oxygen. In all of this calmness I had cultivated, it occurred to me that I still had a massive stick leashed to my left ankle. And then…I felt it. My surfboard had floated toward the surface and was tugging on my leg, showing me which way was up.

    So you see, if we can learn to cultivate our minds to remain calm in the midst of a storm, or when our darkness descends, we can find our way out. We can find our way back to the light either through serendipity, the help of others, or on our own accord.



  • Post #6 – Living in the Struggle

    Kevin St Onge(Kevin)

    Hello friends, hello Jen. It is my turn to initiate our writing and I am struggling. It is not the infamous “writer’s block.” No, I have plenty to say, too much actually. You see, I have had a bumpy week emotionally. I feel like whatever is going to come out in this latest blog entry is going to meander a bit, but, hopefully, eventually arrive somewhere of substance. Here it goes…

    Ever have a crisis of faith? Whatever your particular faith is. Whatever truths you hold close in your heart. Whatever it is that gives your life purpose and meaning. Ever lose faith in that?

    I think that I had one this week. In order to protect those in my life that I love and care about, I am not going to share the particulars of my life’s events right now. Suffice to say that in the last week or so, I have seen a meaningful friendship end, had a close family member drift away and disappoint me, experienced setbacks in business that have caused me once again to question what am I really supposed to be doing with my life, and someone very dear to me faces uncertainty in a potentially very serious health matter.

    I am just in one of those places where it feels like everything is going to shit. Where it feels like I just can’t catch a break and get on a roll. When I get feeling like this, I ask out loud to any god, or higher power, or whomever will listen: “What the fuck”!!!??? I truly want to give up or, at least stay safely tucked in bed with the blankets pulled tightly down over my head.

    Over the last year and more, since Kristin died, I have been engaged in an epic battle to get up off my knees and embrace this odyssey of self-discovery and growth; trying to figure out who I am without her and what I am meant to be doing with the rest of my life. I have tried to not feel the victim, as I have written about before. I have tried hard to expect that love and happiness are meant for me and are on their way. When they start to arrive, I have try even harder to accept that I am worthy to have them in my life.

    faithI have placed my faith in my power as a spiritual being who, as we all are, is connected to all of the universe’s infinite energy. I truly believe that not only are we solely responsible for the joy, or lack thereof, that we have in our lives, but we possess the power to create it. Our ultimate happiness is not out there somewhere, it resides within each of us. I have come to really believe that all I need to do is to live my life with integrity, pure intentions, in alignment with my higher-self, and trusting that my life’s journey will lead me to the best possible places and outcomes. But, when your life’s experiences do not seem to be reflecting that ideal, it gets awful hard to maintain such a rosey spiritual perspective.

    I can recall with crisp precision the crisis of faith moment I had when Kristin was sick. I was talking, more like yelling, to whomever, or whatever, it is we talk to in those moments. I said, “If you want me to believe in you then heal her”! That, of course, did not happen and yet somehow I didn’t lose my faith, but rather, I have been transformed into a more spiritual, faith based person. It is as if my pain has been the fire in the forge, and I the stubborn, unbending, obstinate chunk of steel that has been smithed into a far more useful tool. (Yes, I just called myself a tool.)

    So, where does all this spiritual growth leave me when when life gets hard and I’m doubting the very foundation upon which I am trying to rebuild my life? Well, I freak out! I mean really lose my shit for a minute, or longer, and I write something like this in my journal to Kristin:

    You know what? You were right! This IS it! You live and die, and that’s it! There isn’t more! You’re fucking dead! You’re gone! Your spirit didn’t live on, there is no point to any of this!

    We just make all this shit up in our heads because for most of us, life sucks so bad that we need to believe that enduring the suck will get us somewhere. For others, we just can’t fucking comprehend how insignificant our lives actually are and we need to believe that there is more. We need to believe that “love conquers all.” When? Show me! Show me when love has ever conquered. It doesn’t. Greed, self-centeredness, anger, and hate, that’s what conquers all.

    You’re fucking dead! You aren’t with me, you don’t “watch over me” you’re fucking gone! Someday, I will be too. People might shed a tear, but then they have to move on, they can’t linger too long or else they will come face to face with their own mortality and that scares the ever loving shit out of them.

    So, we cling to our Neighborhood of Make-Believe. An elaborate fantasy world where no one really dies, our energy lives on, we are in another dimension. Fuck that!

    We develop further fantasies about how we can be in charge of our own happiness through the power of intention. Well, my intention was for you to not die; how did that work out?

    All of this New Age Bullshit is just that, bullshit! It makes you weak so that life’s inevitable hurts just sting all the more. Fuck that!

    We demonize the “I got mine” attitude in our society, but that’s because most of us aren’t strong enough to go make it happen; it’s like spiritual Darwinism.

    I have swallowed people hurting me and letting me down for long enough! Fuck them, and fuck this shit! They are weak mother fuckers! Not me, I am going to embrace my anger and use it’s strength to go get mine!

    I love you Baby, but you’re dead. Just like you believed. I tried to convince you otherwise, but you were always smarter than me. This is it, this is all we get. So fuck it! Fuck everybody! Life wants me to be angry and be an asshole, you got it!

    Well! That was something, wasn’t it? I really hesitated to share it but my goal for myself, and this blog, is to be real and authentic. That journal entry is as real as it gets. My pain, and crisis of faith, put into words.

    I have friends whom have many different talents and creative outlets, I wish I could play an instrument and write a song, or maybe paint or draw a picture, but those aren’t where my talents are, and they don’t serve me well as an outlet. Writing does. I seem to be able to tap into the rawness and complexity of my emotions and through sharing my words, I’m told that people are touched and find value in reading them. And so, I offer you this blog.

    Writing helps me to purge myself of the flood of negative, angry, hopeless, despairing feelings that build up when life starts to turn to shit. Writing helps me return to my center, regain my balance, and embrace my faith in the power of love and all that is good.

    Despite my earlier outburst, I don’t believe that it is fake and I don’t think that I blindly believe. I feel the truth of it, that a divine white light burns in each of us. We are all connected if only we would allow ourselves to be.

    I called this a crisis of faith, but what is faith if we only believe it and trust it when life is great? There is a tremendously motivating video by Inky Johnson making its rounds on social media. Inky was a star college football player who suffered a career ending injury just 8 games before he would have been drafted into the NFL. In the video talks about commitment, I believe that one could easily substitute the word “faith” and his message would still ring loud and true: “Commitment is staying true to what you said you were gonna do long after the mood that you have set it in has left. You see, people think commitment is saying yes, I’ll do it on days when it feels good.” If faith is to be the bedrock of our lives, if I am going to build a new and improved version of Kevin on set of beliefs, then I have to trust them in my darkest hours.

    So, why must we struggle? Why is there so much hurt? Why is life just so hard sometimes? I know for me, it’s because I’m learning, healing, and growing. The intensity of the pain, the degree of difficulty, the level of challenge, is always in direct proportion to the lesson, the wound, or the skill I am acquiring.

    How do I know all this is real and true? Because my love for a woman endures. I am as in love with her, if not more, as the day we said our last goodbyes. So you see, love does indeed conquer all because it endures.

    Crisis over. What’s next life? I’m ready!

    Author Jen Parker(Jen)

    I found a small little book years ago when I was in the midst of one of many personal crisis. I was in a chaotic downward spiral, wearing an anchor of uncertainty, shame, and guilt. The book was so small that it could rest on my hand with its edges barely moving past the outline of my palm and fingers. Its vibrant colored hard cover and simple title made me pause. The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz presented itself to me in a time I needed it most. I picked it up and made my way to the cashier. I hadn’t even looked inside to see what it was about.

    I’ve lived my life in a sea of apologies. With a strong sense of self buried under years of people pleasing, and unwillingly starting off life in the role as a child victim. I’ve spent most of my time walking a tightrope of activism for change and smoothing of feathers. There were years that would go by when I would fall silent, finding it much easier and calmer to sail through if I didn’t stir up the waters around me when something just didn’t feel right or add up. Inevitably against my own better judgement, my gut would win out and I would act impulsively. I would find myself speaking out against something that wasn’t recognizing all the participants, or worse keeping some out of the game. These moments found me bringing my hands up to cover my mouth, wide eyed and frustrated that I couldn’t keep my own voice down, I felt vulnerable and sympathetic to those I may have opposed or worse offended. This is my achilles heel, the incessant need to apologize and smooth over words or actions taken in favor of ideologies I very much believe in as my own truth.

    It was one of those times that I found it most difficult to just simply float along that I turned the key in my new front door, carried the small book up the stairs to our living room and collapsed on our couch. It had only been a month or so since I had left my home, having made a major declaration that I was no longer going to take part in a loveless marriage and was ending what most likely should have never been started. I pulled the small book from the bag and sunk into the corner of the sectional. The book was divided into four easy to read chapters. There was a brief bio about the book and author, explaining his journey and how he came to write The Four Agreements. I felt my body relax, my wrinkled brow ease as I allowed myself to breathe and somewhere deep inside know that everything was okay.

    Here is the magical little book in a nutshell:
    1. Be Impeccable With Your Words.

    Speak with integrity.
    Say only what you mean.
    Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.
    Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

    2. Don’t Take Anything Too Personally.

    Nothing others do is because of you.
    What others say and do is a projection of their own dream.

    3. Don’t Make Assumptions.

    Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.
    Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.
    With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

    4. Always Do Your Best.

    Your best changes from moment to moment.
    Your best is different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are sick.
    Simply do your best in any moment to avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

    The book offers a logical explanation of why each of these agreements will exert a positive force unto your life and help get you to a place of balance and ease. Having returned to it many times over the past ten years, I realize that one of the most important attributes each of us may possess is compassion for ourselves and others. Compassion brings patience, kindness, and understanding. It gives us space to make mistakes and allow others to do the same. Compassion knows that we are human and will make mistakes, it holds our hands when we are loneliest, it lifts our spirits when we feel downtrodden, and it melts our hearts when we see adversaries suffering and allows us to be multidimensional.

    I am human. I make mistakes, some days a lot. Just like you, I feel. I feel joy, sadness, love, and fear. I am trying to do my best in each and every moment but some days I come off as a hot mess and I feel as though I’ve washed ashore without hopes of being rescued. When Kevin so eloquently shared his moment of feeling as though he had lost faith, I could only nod my head and agree with every emotion he allowed to pour out onto his keyboard. We all live in the struggle of life but without the struggle we wouldn’t know happiness. Compassion for ourselves and others is what allows us to wake up each new day and start over, hit the reset button and be on our way to self discovery of what truly makes us happy and allows us to be fully present in the moment.

    There are days that my faith is stronger than myself and then there are days that I question if all of this love, compassion, and kindness is just another line that we feed ourselves to feel better. I choose to have faith in love not fear, but if I can’t and fall into fear, I allow myself a second, third, and fourth do-over.

    Do I lose faith like Kevin? Yes. I would add to his incredibly authentic voice that for me, it’s never really that far from where I am, I just need to reposition myself back in the sunlight sailing on waters I choose, and headed for places I want to be.