my youngest son, "Thing 3," uttered "Grass Oil" to describe what i once made for dinner. what is the Grass Oil blog? my observations about life from my cheap seats where everyone looks like ants. i'm funny, candid and i try to be nice, with some snark for flavor. Grass Oil: simple. random. elegant. there it is. ps – "Things" is a moniker to keep my kids off search engines.
My youngest son woke up this morning like a rocket. Today his class is taking a field trip to a natural landmark about two hours away.
I said to him, “You should go on field trips more often; you’re so ready to face the day!”
He said back to me, “I just like the idea of getting away from the regular. I’m excited to be on a charter bus, and use the bathroom if I want when the bus is rolling along. I’m excited to sit with my friends or read a book or play ‘yellow car’ or ‘alphabet signs’ on the trip.”
“Yes, it’s nice to change things up.” I agreed.
“I am sad for the world, Mom,” he said. “Finnegan and I got into a fight last night; I couldn’t take the news. I went to grab the remote and I accidentally scratched him and then he got mad and put his hands on me… It was scary, but it was my fault. I should have just walked away.”
“WHAT? Where was I when this happened?”
“Teaching yoga,” he said.
“Oh. Dad was with the dogs?”
“Yes. We stopped almost right away, but I know we are both sad about Baltimore and the earthquake and the drones…”
He is eleven.
When I was eleven, I don’t think I knew who was president.
Let’s see… it was 1939 …
Earlier on that day, my older two came through the door from school very concerned about the riots in Baltimore. Confused, angry, and scared. Their sadness turned to apathy which turned to antipathy not long after watching CNN.
“This solves nothing. This isn’t about equality. It’s about violence. It’s about intimidation,” one of them said.
“It’s scary and it’s wrong. It’s also mis-channeled rage. This is also completely missing the point,” the other added.
The words and fear and sadness and fear fear fear were flying at me. I was overwhelmed with how to tone them down, how to get them to feel safer. How to get myself to feel safer.
I had just spent the afternoon watching “The Road” on video — a movie adaptation based on a beloved book of the same title by Cormac McCarthy. The Road is about a post-apocalyptic America. It’s also a love letter from McCarthy to his son. It’s about “keeping the fire” and “being the good guys, not the bad guys.” The world envisioned by McCarthy’s words is not a world I want to live in; the world envisioned by the director of the film, John Hellcoat, is gray, smoky, dark, fiery, inhumane, dirty, gritty, smelly, dead and terrifying. I don’t think anyone wants to live there.
I decided that silence was the answer. Only silence can tell us what we need. So I asked them to turn off the TV, the screens and to open the door and listen to the birds and hear the breeze rustle through the newly sprouted leaves. To look around themselves and to see what we have left — to appreciate it and to be grateful for it because as we woke up to on Saturday, it can be snapped apart like it was in Nepal, vaporized by earth; or it can be destroyed by choice as what we’ve seen far too frequently in Baltimore, Ferguson, the Bronx, North Charleston… and that’s what happens to make the headlines.
I often say to my sons that I don’t believe in hell. I believe that we can do a fine job right here by our little ol’ selves creating hell in our minds, on earth and in our thoughts. There’s no reason to fear an afterlife — what could possibly be worse than the sadness and fear we inflict on ourselves and project upon others –wittingly or not– on a daily basis?
So last night, I dedicated my yoga class to Nepal and Baltimore and all the corners of the world — privately held internally because we are all suffering at one moment or another and publicly known — because stopping, breathing, listening and putting our hands to our heart, and our heads to our heart, and praying and intending peace and compassion — FOR THE SELF FIRST as well as for the world — is to me, the only way to stop this train of suffering.
It absolutely must begin within. If you harbor dark thoughts and feelings toward yourself, there is NO WAY you can authentically extend compassion and peace for anyone else. It’s just not possible.
It’s in the mirror. The answer to all of this is in the mirror. Love yourself, accept yourself, and then you can share that with the world in thought, humor, deed, and spirit. It’s the first tenet of yoga: Ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-violence, which means it must absolutely begin in you. You don’t have to be a yogi to do this. You just have to be aware, sentient, and humane.
You’ll drive a little softer, speak a little kinder, smile a bit wider, laugh a little longer and love more sincerely.
I have some really smart friends on Facebook. While I will post the occasional cat meme, I am blessed with cogent debates about things that matter to me. My primary interest in life is what I call “Advocacy of the Self.”
Which to me means to live life with health, awareness and self-regard while also considering others. It’s not always easy. I stumble a lot.
Today, I opine on the harm of “Let it Go,” our new emo-national slogan.
I don’t know the slightest thing about the movie “Frozen.” Nor do I know the lyrics of “Let it Go” and obviously, I have no clue about the plot line and the song’s meaning (having three boys, the youngest of whom is 11 will ensure that I will never see a female-geared animated film).
I posted on my Facebook wall a blog post written about “Letting Go of ‘Letting Go’.” My appreciation of the post was found in the penultimate sentence, when the writer gave herself permission to essentially take her time in “letting go” of things:
My new catchphrase is, “Let go of your need to let go, pay attention to what is happening now, and life will move on, you cannot stop it.” Not as pithy as “Hang in there, baby,” but much more useful.
Somewhere along the evolution to our current emotional pop culture schema, we have been told that anger is bad. No. It’s not. Anger is a strong emotion, and it often tells us that something is wrong with our world. When anger morphs into violence or self-harm, then it’s dangerous, but as its own organic thing, anger is extremely valuable, useful and healthy. It tells us to be aware, to be on the lookout and to plan for survival. This concept of “Let it Go” in order to avoid anger, reminds me of valium. Be angry, allow it. Let it motivate you to a healthier place (but that takes guts). Just don’t be a dick to other people because of it (it’s so much easier to act out than to go within isn’t it?). I’m guilty of that.
Even giving ourselves permission to Let Go of Letting Go of things, reminds me of a Escher Drawing or a hall of mirrors. I suppose the mantra I used to have, “Fuck it” is the same thing. It never worked for me. I had a friend who said it all the time and her adult life has been much more chaotic and disturbed because to me, in retrospect, she lacked the interest in navel gazing. I’ve always been interested in what motivates us.
So “Fuck it” doesn’t work.
It begs “Fuck what?”
Fuck that. The thing that’s bugging you. Fuck it. Throw it in the trash.
Okay. Now what?
Live your life. Don’t connect the dots.
Connecting the dots only makes trouble. Trust me.
But what if what happened to me shows up in others ways? Have I learned from what was bugging me?
What if it happens again?
Then you haven’t learned.
So then what then?
Learn from it.
But you told me to Fuck it. To let it go, to move on… But it happened again.
You did. I did. We decided together. To fuck it… move on. But here we are.
Here YOU are. You’re supposed to go through it again, apparently.
But I don’t want to.
Then you need to learn from it.
What does that mean? To learn from it?
To process it, examine it. To look at it, take it apart, smell it, hold it up to the light and other things –people, stories, patterns, experiences– in your life, stretch it out, throw it against a wall, rinse it out and leave it in the sun to dry. Accept it. Take it in. Try it with a nice cabernet or maybe a broiled salmon and dill sauce. And then see if it comes back or if you’ve processed it and you have had your fill of that.
Well, you won’t know until you know, you know?
Regardless of whether you accept it, you do have to go on. You can keep looping, wearing that same thing all over town, saying the same thing, all the time about the same thing, or you can accept it, eat it with some cabernet, as suggested and see what happens. Because LGO: Life Goes On. Look, you have two choices: keep looping or accept it so you take it in as a part of your reality and then let it go. You can’t let go of what you’ve never accepted and denied in the first place. Right?
Well, I can fight it.
That sounds familiar. Sure, fighting what is. Fighting, denying your reality. Do you like gravity?
Or the sun? Do you like the sun?
I like certain parts of gravity, that it keeps me from floating away, but I don’t like what it’s done to my boobs or that it’s given me arm flags.
But that’s not how it works.
Gravity. You don’t get to like just parts of it. You have to accept all of it. Look, accepting it doesn’t mean you LIKE it. But so far, if you don’t accept all of it, you’re denying all of it. How’s that worked for you so far?
Not great. My arms still wave. I could get surgery, I suppose.
WHAT? Are you daft? You know you will die one day, right?
Yes. I do. But I don’t like it.
Don’t like what? Death? Who does. But do you accept it?
Well, I have no choice.
Yes, do you.
You have a choice, all the time. You can accept this is how it is, or you can by all means: deny it. Because it’s worked so well for you so far, so, by all means keep doing it.
Keep denying. Or … accept it, process it and learn from it.
But isn’t that wallowing? That processing and learning?
No. Wallowing is wallowing. Processing and learning are processing and learning. Wallowing is like … maybe just as bad as saying “fuck it.”
Hmm. I guess I didn’t process it. I guess I wallow.
Do you loop?
Loop. You know, repeat the same story? To yourself, whomever will listen, the cat? That’s wallowing. You’re just blah blah blah… mew mew mew, but no real action or acceptance?
Yes. Definitely. I’ve done that. But not about my arms.
You just thought you’d be fit and trim and perky-boobed until you were dead at 90? That gravity would just keep your body on the Earth but not pull your chin along with it? You do know your chin IS part of your body… so are your boobs. So are those difficult challenges in your life you keep seeing in different clothes.
I didn’t really learn from it. I still experience the same people in different iterations, I still fall for the same stupid stuff. I still have these things happening to me.
Well… Does it hurt?
Then fuck it or accept it. This is about physics, Newton’s cradle, emotion-style: “Fuck it” is a kick upward. And what goes up must come down. The other, acceptance is a pull in. Per physics, once you take it in and allow it, it can only do one thing: go away.
What if it’s anxiety related?
Breathe. Process through what has you twitching and all the while, remember to breathe.
But isn’t that “staying in the moment”?
Good catch. Sometimes it is. Sometimes that “living in the moment” shit can cause serious confusion.
Right. Because if I stay “in the moment” in which I’m freaking, then logic would dictate that I would stay there. So then what??
When that happens, breathe it out. Take a look of what’s around you, assess if you are in danger or are actually threatened, and see if you can breathe yourself to the Next Moment — the one where you can rest and know you’re really OK.
People don’t like to hear us complain all the time, so we feel a need to put on a pretty face, to “fake it until we make it,” as they say. To get arm flag surgery. My jury is still out on the value of “fake it until you make it.” Sometimes bootstrapping and moving on is really the answer because staying and sifting through ashes and destruction makes no sense. Other times, if we don’t take an assessment of what the hell burned down around us, we are doomed to revisit it.
Sifting through emotional stuff is a personal experience, even if we all share it — like 9/11. We all experienced it, but we all have our own reactions and everyone has a different rate of distillation. As illustrated through the scary visit to my brain above, the answer really is acceptance to what is. (Another catchphrase.) What might take you a couple hours to accept that what’s bugging you as not just a fleeting phase, could take someone else six months or six years. That what is bugging them is major — to them (often it snags on a deep wound they themselves don’t quite have their finger on — and that the rest of us who suggest, encourage, propose and ultimately urge people to move the hell on is coming from not a place of love but one of exasperation.
Sometimes “let it go” is akin to a request I used to hear from my father (sorry Dad) often as a child, “Oh, geez, come ON… just… Will ya? Will ya let it go? Will ya?!” I can not tell you how many times that phrase and its essence, its urge to get the hell over yourself, was uttered. In the white-collar 70s, emotions were verboten. My memories of my parents are that they were often like George Costanza’s: often talking over each other, lots of rushing and not much empathy or patience for one another. I often heard “Will ya?!” from both of them toward each other and to me upon expressions of what was considered to be “harping on” and looping of emotional tapes.
I remember as I aged and got married and had children of my own, that when my mother made her frequent requests of me for a “real and kind woman-to-woman relationship” between us, I would have to (there was no way around it in my book because real means real) approach her alcoholism and how it affected me and our relationship. To me, this wasn’t a new friend I met at the bookstore (as I think she wanted to pretend our relationship was). This was my mother.
Inevitably, upon her numerous often heavy-handed requests for a relationship and my eventual broach of our past, she would groan. Often she would tell me to move on, to just let it go. It was often mere breaths before “Will ya?!” flew from her gut, through her duodena, up her esophagus, pass her tonsils, glide over her tongue, and press out her lips. She wanted no part of that part of the relationship whereas to me, getting real was what it was all about between us if there was ever a future. She never apologized. Not once. Often I was told that I was too emotional or that my expectations were unreasonable or that she was sorry she “wasn’t the perfect mother…” which was often a slap against any sentiment of mine wishing that she were a healthier person. That’s where my anger always stepped in. I would become enraged and she would patronize me. So I didn’t accept her as she was and she pushed me to let it go. We were the definition of a Newton’s cradle, the balls smacking back and forth again and again and just keeping time.
Often, when we suggest / plead / beg / urge / insist to others that they let it go, I have found that it’s to benefit the requestor (witness) and not the person going through the gauntlet. Witnessing someone go through the juggernaut subconsciously stirs up all sorts of feelings of vulnerability and no one likes that. So they tell them to get over it, or let it go or move on. A healthy empathetic response is to see that person’s release and simply hold a space for him, to let that person emote.
Often, we want to stop this stuff. It makes us feel all oogey inside. Our stomachs turn or our throats seize up and then our eyes well up. We don’t like that. “Now you’re going to make me cry…” (How often has someone been shamed by another person who blames the first person for making her cry… It’s okay people! It’s just salt water and emotions! You WILL survive this! I promise!) Case in point: I was told by my therapist that when people / witnesses reach out to very upset person with a hug or a tissue to stop or put a pause on the grief. That tissue or hug isn’t necessarily empathy, sometimes it’s a repellant.
It seems that this concept of pushing people to get past things has become something of a national pastime.
One of my friends on that FB thread said “Let it Go” reminded her of our obsessive cultural pursuit of happiness. Whatever happened to just letting shit happen and giving each person his or her own pace and time and method for dealing with life’s ups and downs? Whatever happened to contentment? Why must we be HAPPY all the time? It’s exhausting.
As the thread progressed, I had decided that “Let It Go” has created some strange form of emotional socialism. That everyone needs to be emotionally dressed in muted gray or beige and that equanimity (which to me is like an opiate of the masses because let’s be honest: sometimes shit sucks) is ranked with godliness.
I used to really believe in equanimity. I used to drink that Kool-Aid. I even wrote about it. But over the years, and since my mother’s and my father-in-law’s deaths and watching my sons grow up and all the emotions that has stirred up, I think equanimity works best for the monks in the caves and mountaintops.
You can’t Live Life, in all its richness if you simply let everything go. You cheat yourself out of lessons, out of experiences, and out of triumphs when you do that. You rush acceptance. In fact, you skip right over acceptance when you are pushed, per someone else’s emotional deficits or clock, to let it go.
We can’t let go of anything we’ve never truly accepted. And even then, even after we accept it, we still have to get to know it, this new awareness, a little better. Try it on for a few days. Take it for rides in the car. Go shopping with this new awareness. See how it interacts with our friends and family. See how we feel with it as we rest at night. See if it tugs at us as we try to sleep or if it simply lets US be.
I hope this post didn’t suck. I’ve already let it go.
Today in yoga, when I got to have svasana, I meditated on compassion and the only word that came to me in response was “unfolding.”
Being on the web, with a blog, assures a certain vulnerability. My words are here for anyone to denigrate and yet I find myself buoyed by the kindnesses and trust of strangers.
Christmas is in a week and I miss the idea of wondering what my mother would give me as a gift. Would it be something I’d want? Would it be something she liked and she gave to me? Would it be something she’d give to everyone else or my sisters-in-law too?
I sit here, just a bit more than a year after her death and I feel emotions ranging from pure confusion about death to sadness that people, all of us, die; from deep guilt that I wasn’t a better daughter, to pure anger that she wasn’t a better mother; from a proud awareness that we are each others’ teachers to a sheepish allowance that we are each others’ pupils.
The human ego is such an odd, strange thing. It’s there to protect us from emotional harm, but for me, in the end all it does is delay the eventual pain when it protects too much. It elevates us, falsely, above and beyond our threshold of “value” so that we are uneven with that which hurts us. When we come down, to the reality that we are all connected, that we all breathe the same way, that we all eat with a mouth and chew with our teeth and fart and cry and poop and sneeze … it can be a lot to bear.
It’s a cold reality sometimes.
When I was a child, I held my parents to a godlike status. As I’ve aged, they did / are too and I see their humanity. I use the present tense with Mom, even today, because my perception of her humanity is ever emerging even though she has moved on.
I shared a dream, the only one, I had of Mom after she died with my father yesterday and it made me weep to share it. Not because she’s dead, but because it’s really a gorgeous message.
She was on a shoreline on a familiar Canadian beach on Lake Erie where we swam often. Her sylvan hair was in a chin-length bob. She was wearing a navy blue knit cashmere suit, her red cashmere sweater, a cashmere black, white, red and navy plaid scarf and these little blue leather loafers she loved but I hated for the same reason: because they were so shapeless. She was in her healthy early 70s. She was about one hundred feet from me, walking along the shore, just at the point where a receding wave leaves the sand still slick and wet and shiny. She stopped and looked over some tiny spiral shells on the shore. Her hands were clasped behind her back and her hair would sweep down over her face, I couldn’t see it perfectly, but it was her. The lake’s tiny waves were lapping at her shoes. She didn’t care. She bent over and inspected closer. Her fingers were glancing along the sand, turning over a little shell here, or a rounded, ancient pebble there. The sun had set behind me, behind the trees bunkering the white tent where a festive party was going on behind me, and I called out to her, “Mom! Mom! C’mon! You’re missing the party!” and she turned to me, and she said nothing. Her hair was clear off her face now. Stars were starting to show in the periwinkle sky. She beamed at me, this gorgeous wide smile she had. Her lips were red with our favorite lipstick she bought because I loved it so much. She swept up her arms as the wind swept up her scarf and her hair around her cheeks and she turned to the water. Her face looked up to the heavens and she looked back at me and shook her head “no” and instead lovingly and theatrically gesturing at all the glory of things I’d never understand in this lifetime as if to say, “No. You’re missing the party.”
I turned back to the party, to reference it, to say, “NO! It’s happening here! Mom!” and I turned back to her, and she was gone.
This is the Mom I never allowed. The one who bucked the system yet wore cashmere anyway. The one who I wanted fiercely to somehow morph into a rule-follower. The one who I wanted to tell me when to be home and to punish me when I wasn’t. The one who I needed to help me with my homework when I lied and said there wasn’t any. That one wasn’t there.
It’s hard to have so many conflicting emotions about the woman who brought me into this world. I loved her the only way I could, the way she let me. She used to say to me, “Maaaally, you’re conflicted. You’re ambivalent. You can’t ‘hate‘ me without loving me first.”
I hated it when she said that.
Because even though I used to tell her she was full of crap, she was so right. I loved her like … a child loves its mother; with a fierce, fearful, perfect and abiding love. She could do no wrong when I was young. It wasn’t until I was much older, that I saw her humanity … and I hated it. It broke me apart; her fragility broke me apart. She lived on a different plane; where there were no rules and that all of them could be broken. I was brought here to learn that.
I was going to make it with or without her; I laugh at that now. She was instrumental in hardening me for this world I inhabit now. So at this moment, while I miss her, and I miss the idea of wondering whether I would feel rejected or loved by the Christmas gift she would give me, I realize that the gift she gave me, all along, is life. With all its ups and downs, my mom gave me life.
If your mom is around in your life still, and you are in communication with her, tell her thanks from me for giving us you. And if you’re not in communication with her, well … say something nice about yourself because she helped make you.
We do not live one day at a time; we live one breath at a time. This is the ‘unfolding.’ This is the message from svasana. When we are still, things change.