my sober year

cultivating my own voice

I was journaling today about how I feel as though I am going through a process of unwinding when I received an email from one of my brothers about vocation. Serendipity at its best. I was writing that I feel as though I am unwinding from what society expects of me and that I am moving toward what the life inside of me requires to thrive. I equate the process, in my mind, to that of a vine unraveling itself from its anchor point, withering, and then becoming what it was meant to become. In my case, a tree (metaphorical of course). The link that my brother emailed out was a Richard Rohr blog post about allowing Life to lead you to your vocation. Which may or may not be what earns you money. The post was totally on point for what I was writing about and feeling on this chilly, rainy day in Utah.

In writing about unwinding, I was also contemplating choice. On one level it often feels as though I don't have much choice, (in order to keep my home I have to pay my mortgage on time) and on another level I have too much choice, (which loaf of bread to buy, what to paint on the next blank canvas, what story to write next?), and the realization that the creative process is all about choice. I also realized that there is a whole litany of people, an entire movement, telling me that because I have this ability to choose that I am in charge of my own outcomes. But that is not exactly true, is it? Because if it were, I would be winning the lottery every week or getting rich off my art. Really, all that I am in charge of is how I choose to respond to the outcomes Life hands me. The choice is in the curl of the wave - resist and struggle OR, accept and surrender - and also when the wave lands on the beach. Once I'm on the beach, do I choose gratitude or grief or anger? And then the questions become: How do I live my life with greater intention and purpose? How do I surrender to what is and still move forward without apathy? And I think the key lies in finding joy in the service of whatever it is I choose. And I thought, what am I willing to give up to experience that joy? What am I willing to let go of to live the life of my dreams? Abraham was willing to give up his son Issac in service to God. Am I willing to give up my art, my writing to God? Am I willing to sacrifice my creative spirit to the service of the Divine? I don't know how that would actually serve Life, but yes. Although I struggle with the being willing part! Maybe what Life is asking me to surrender are outcomes. How do any of these questions help me cultivate my own voice?

During this unwinding it has become clear to me that I would like to simplify my life. Simplify my processes and expectations. And simplifying not only the expectations that society holds for me and I have for myself, but also the expectations that I have for Life. And by doing so create more clarity in my voice and vision for my life. While I was thinking about how and what exactly I could simplify, (I mean I already konmaried my house!), it occurred to me as an aha! that maybe my lack of vocal / creative clarity doesn't stem from having too much choice. A more accurate statement might be: I like what other people are doing so much that instead of appreciating and basking in the creativity of others and allowing it to inspire my own voice,  I try instead to mimic whatever they are doing. Admiring the loud and true voice of other creatives and also feeling a bit jealous, I often abandon my own true voice and copy them hoping their vision will ring true for me as well. But when it doesn't ring true for me, (as inevitably it won't!), when it falls flat, I feel defeated. I feel defeated in large part because deep down I know I could have used that time and energy listening to my own heart, cultivating my own voice.

There have been flashes - moments in my life where I allowed Life to flow through me in ways that were unique to me. And in those moments I thrived. But society always found a way to hook me back in. Whether through playing to my insecurities about "fitting in", the desire to be popular, or the simple need to have a roof over my head, I continually found myself copying the much stronger voices of others instead of strengthening my own. And it was during those times of not living my own life that I would drink in an effort to silence the despair of my heart. But now, choosing conscious sobriety, having vowed to sit through the discomfort that self awareness brings, there is a feeling of relief as my own truth emerges and a deep feeling of gratitude that comes from recognizing and cultivating my own voice. And by doing so I am able to surrender in bigger waves; to trust the process and allow Life to lead me to my true vocation.

photo by: moi hiking the peak of highland bowl / ski season 2011

photo by: moi hiking the peak of highland bowl / ski season 2011

follow your heart

When I was a child I knew without knowing how I wanted to live life. I knew that I wanted to feel the freedom of my own heart. That I wanted to explore and write and draw and color. And for a long time as a child I was able to do those things. It was a benefit of being the youngest child of a large family; in hiding amongst the masses, I could go undetected. But at some point, I am not sure how or when, it all happened so slowly, so subtly, I was domesticated out of my true purpose, (as most of us are), and was told in order to be loved I had to conform. In order to be loved, I had to live how society wanted me to live - demanded how I live. And for a long time I lived that way.

In my youth, I rebelled against these new rules for living and loving as much as I could. I slept a lot as I didn't see the point of getting out of bed if I couldn't live a life of my choosing. I smoked, I drank, I did drugs, I defiled my body. So, yeah, I was pretty miserable. But so was everyone around me so I didn't think much about it. It was "normal". But then in my early twenties I landed a job that helped change that. And for a while I was able to balance the demands of the world with the demands of my heart. And during that period I think I was happy if not totally fulfilled.

Then, once again, for the "sake of love", I abandoned my heart for the whims of society. And for many years I traveled back and forth between listening to the gentle whispers of my heart and hearing the loud clanging of the world. Until one day I could no longer hear my heart. And when that happened I experienced such tremendous feelings of loss. My heart literally broke. I was filled with grief and longing and my health began to decline. During this time, I foolishly thought that the grief, the pain, was caused by something outside of myself. That what I was feeling was related exclusively to the loss of relationships and job stress. But I realize now, I felt that way because I had stopped listening to the beat of my own heart.

It has taken time, 5 months of conscious sobriety, hundreds of hours of quiet meditation, and dozens of hikes to craggy, mountain peaks for me to be able to once again hear the near silent longings of my heart. And along the way, crossing valleys and forging rivers, one of the most salient lessons I have learned is true love will never ask me to betray my heart. And when society says, "no one will love you if you act like that", I now know that statement for the lie that it is. Because when I follow my heart, only true love flows to me. And when I listen to and then follow the promptings of my heart I always feel loved.

So, that's what I finally did. I took a gamble on my heart. I left my well paying but abusive job in retail (where it's all about the money, money, money...) without a real plan, without much of safety net, for the sole (soul) purpose of writing a book and reacquainting myself with my heart. And while somedays I feel a pinch of anxiety, most days I feel free and filled with gratitude. I finished writing the book! I have my health back! I have authentic and loving relationships. I wake up each morning early because I have a sense of purpose. I am in the flow. All because I decided to listen fully to my heart. And it's the best decision to date that I have made.

photo: moi 

photo: moi 

grief

I had dinner last night with a dear friend and amazing human being who is also on the sobriety bandwagon for similar reasons as myself. I was realizing after dinner how much easier it is to fraternize with people who are not imbibing because none of the questions about "why aren't you drinking?" and "how long until you're drinking again?" ever come up. So there's no reason to make up a socially acceptable excuse like, "I'm on a cleanse" or "I'm taking antibiotics" in an effort to not feel awkward. 

During dinner we were discussing how when you quit drinking your social circle changes and at first, rather dramatically. In the beginning of conscious sobriety all of the people with whom the only commonality was going out and drinking, fall away. Then, a tad more slowly, the social circle continues to shift as your attitudes about life and love evolve. The people who are stuck in blame, negativity, and resentment begin to fall away as well. Then there are the people who have stuck around seemingly to test your commitment to yourself and your truths as they subtly and repeatedly try to tempt you to live against your own integrity. And when you consistently stand up for yourself, they too eventually fall away. The handful of people that remain in your inner circle of life are the ones who have been supporting you and not passing any kind of judgement. And it may surprise you who the people are that you have allowed into your inner, sober, sanctuaries. In my experience they have been the most unlikely people that were living on the peripheries of my life, cheering me on from the sidelines. The happy and successful people who danced on the edges of my social circles. And now they've come to take up space near the core. And I have caught myself wondering at times how I could have missed their beauty and intelligence. 

One of the things I have experienced though conscious sober living is the grief that shows up around months 2-3 1/2. When this happened to me, I was confused. I was feeling so good physically and my mind was clearer than it had been in a while, so why was I feeling kinda down? I didn't recognize the grief as grief at first. Just an awkward discomfort and the anxiety of not knowing. But after sitting with the discomfort and being curious about it I had an aha! and understood that of course I was feeling this way; my life was changing. And while that is exciting and uplifting I realized there also needs to be a space to say goodbye to the people and actions and beliefs that no longer supported who I was becoming, who I am becoming. That I needed to say goodbye to the people and things that no longer served my higher purpose. And I realized I needed to acknowledge those empty places. Really sit with them and feel their emptiness because only then could I begin to fill them with people and actions that supported my journey.

While grief is uncomfortable, it's such an important part of the life process that we can't ignore it. Grief can cause us to become hermetic and retrospective. We may feel tired, bewildered, uninspired, and shy. We may feel very far away from ourselves and who we used to be. And we need to grieve that person too. The person who we once were. That person who loved and was loved differently than today.

It's ok to wallow for a while in your grief. Your heart will tell you when it's time to move on. Prayer helps as does exercise and finding a creative outlet. And binge watching Netflix never hurt anyone either. When you are ready, you'll step confidently and lovingly into yourself while saying goodbye to the past. And you will carry forward all the aspects and memories of yourself that will sustain you on your journey.

 

words to live by

Yesterday a dear friend of mine invited me to attend an event at her kids grade school (K-5). It was short and sweet; an open house for all the important adults in these children's lives. I was honored to have been invited. It's a good feeling to know that I'm making a positive difference in someone's life.

As part of the program for the day the students were invited to share excerpts from their individual biographies projects that they had been working on throughout the year. There was an impressive amount of information about each student that was being shared in the most creative ways: from self drawn maps of their neighborhoods, to timelines. There were self portraits and handprinted family portraits alongside collages of their favorite things. The item that drew my attention and inspired me the most was a Top 10 wisdom for life list that they had  titled, "Rules to Live By". I was intrigued and fascinated with the things these 11 year olds came up with and thought to myself, "Who is this wise at 11?! I certainly never was!" And then when I was asked to contribute to the list, it took me a moment. I have "rules" I live by (I prefer to call them words of wisdom), but in that moment I realized I had never really consciously strung them together in my head or my heart. So after being caught off guard and responding with an off the cuff "Do unto others", (which by the way is still very relevant!) I thought long and hard about what my words of wisdom list would contain and why. While what follows is certainly not a complete list, it is definitely populated with my most frequently go to aphorisms.

  • Trust the Process - I learned this during my first 10 day Vipassana retreat. It rang through me so loud and clear, I immediately recognized it as truth. We don't always know the how or the details of the how, and often we don't know the why either. But if we want to enjoy life, we need to trust the process.
  • Follow Your Heart and Let Nature Take Care of the Rest - This is similar to the adage, "To Thine Own Self Be True". Which is also a good one. They both speak to taking care of yourself first because only then will you have love and energy enough to give to others. Your heart knows what your purpose is and it will never lead you astray. And really, if you do follow your heart and don't allow yourself to get caught up in the constricts of society, nature really will take care of the rest. But you have to trust the process.
  • In order to follow your heart you must first Know Your Heart. Plato taught that knowing thyself was the most important education a person could undertake. For it is through knowing thyself that one gains the knowledge to help humanity. So spend as much time as you can getting to know yourself, accepting yourself, and loving yourself. Then you may go out into the world loving others, confident of your purpose.
  • Trust Yourself - This comes from knowing your heart. When you know your heart you become incapable of living without integrity. Your heart would never allow it. So, follow your heart and trust the process.
  • In the BIG PICTURE you can't make a mistake. So, GO FOR IT! Audentis Fortuna Iuevat.
  • Be Kind - Always. You never know what is happening in someone else's world. Besides, kindness feels better in the body than judgement so in being kind to others you are also being kind to yourself. And being kind to yourself automatically helps you to be kind to others. See how that works?
  • Be Grateful - Gratitude goes a long way to healing a heart and a soul. Gratitude can overcome even the most negative thoughts and experiences. So find something, anything, maybe even everything, to be grateful for each day.
  • Be Generous - If only for the reason that generosity feels better in the body than hoarding! Be selfish with your generosity. That means, do it because it feels good. :)
  • Hold Yourself Accountable for your own thoughts, emotions, and actions and don't own the reactions of others, It's none of your business.
  • Control Your Controlables - See above! You really can only control yourself; your emotions, your thoughts, your actions and reactions. You can't control the market, your neighbor's dog, the lady in line in front of you nor her crying baby. So take care of you and trust the process. Everything else will work itself out.
  • Get Outside and commune with nature. If only to calm your nerves. The fresh air will do you some good.
  • Love and Life are More Important Than Money - Remember this and you'll always have enough.
  • You Always Have a Choice - Really. You do.
  • Your Dreams Matter - Water them. Love them. Spend time cultivating them. Allow them room to grow.
  • Spend Time Every Day in Silence - Even if it's only 5 minutes. For your dreams to blossom you need to be able to hear your heart. And your heart often speaks in whispers.
  • Appreciate Your Body - Without it you wouldn't be here. You wouldn't have the ability to appreciate the awesome adventure that is Life.
  • Take Inspired Action - If your actions aren't inspired, it's just labor. And laboring for labor's sake is no fun at all! (unless you're a masochist, which I am not) If you must labor for labor's sake, do yourself a favor and find the gratitude that may be hidden like a pearl in the action.
  • Like a snowstorm, thunderstorm, windstorm, any storm - This Too Shall Pass. The Buddhists refer to it as anicha. Knowing this too shall pass will help you stay calm in any situation. Knowing this too shall pass will help you stay present for the joyful and peaceful moments of life. For just like storms, they also pass.
  • And really -Trust the Process and Enjoy the Journey!

If you are just getting started with knowing your heart and this all seems a little overwhelming I recommend reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It's a well written practical guide to help you on your path to finding your own words to live by.

Namaste

image credit:  studio glow

image credit: studio glow

recess

Living in mindful sobriety has its surprises. Today while doing yoga I was caught off guard by a sudden waterfall of tears. Not knowing from where they sprung, I just let them fall. After yoga I felt an onslaught of anger reminiscent of a temper tantrum. The kind of anger where I just wanted to break something. Anything! And thought I really need to see someone about hormone therapy thinking, "Could this rush of emotion simply be symptomatic of being perimenopausal? Part of it for sure. But all of it?

I found out later when my inner 5 year old erupted demand equivalent to a volcano erupting that the answer was no. The emotion pendulum is not all related to hormone imbalance. My inner child was calling to me. Asking, nè demanding! that I stop adulating so hard and spend some quality time with her adventuring in Morocco.

I had a difficult time listening to my inner 5 year old, certain that somehow I am supposed to transcend this corporal experience of Life. That to reach enlightenment I need to deny myself the simple pleasures of life, of play, of being childlike. But I realized I have this body for a purpose. I am meant to live in this body; really live in it. Not above it, or below it, or around it, but really in it! And not just live in it but enjoy it! Life is meant to be enjoyed. And this body and all that comes with it is meant to be loved.

So today, because my inner child and me aren't able to physically fly to Marrakesh, we are pretending to be in Marrakesh by enjoying the daily simple pleasures of coffee and food, reading and writing, albeit with a slightly different perspective and quality use of our collective imagination. And amazingly, I feel much better because of it.  It really is true that recess (along with nap time) is the most important part of the day.

photo courtesy of moi. hanging out with my dear friend's daughter at the park.

photo courtesy of moi. hanging out with my dear friend's daughter at the park.

mindful sobriety

I am going on my 5th month of not drinking and I am noticing all of the small changes in my body and in my life that occur when abstaining from alcohol. I have more motivation if not exactly more energy, (I am 50 after all and perimenopausal). My mind is more focused and clear. I have a great deal less anxiety. My skin looks great! (that could be attributed to the gallon + of water I drink daily) I sleep through the night. I remember my dreams. Any most importantly I am listening to my heart. Which means, I'm doing more things that are more important to me and fewer things that are important to society. And while I still have some fear around following my heart all the time, I have taken some risks and gone out on a limb (liking quitting my full time job) and those actions are reaping their own rewards. I heard a quote today from an artist that spoke to this: "You can't follow your heart until you know your heart". So, I am both reacquainting myself with my heart and following my heart.

I didn't decide to stop drinking for a year because I had a problem with alcohol. I don't. I stopped drinking because I noticed the small yet pervasive ways alcohol was negatively impacting my life. Mostly, I wasn't feeling good. One glass of wine would leave me with a crushing migraine.  I wasn't sleeping well and I didn't seem to have the time nor the motivation to do the important things in life, like make art and write and play outside. That's why I chose and am choosing, daily, to spend the year sober. And it's why I'm calling this a journey of mindful sobriety.

Mindful because I've embarked on this road with curiosity and purpose. I want to be awake and present for all of life's gifts and blessings, and enough curiosity to see what those might be. I'm walking this road with the understanding that nothing substantial or of significance will change or that everything will change. And I'm remaining open to all possibilities.

It's a beautiful thing to walk with mindful purpose. For in doing so I am releasing my need for specific outcomes. I am releasing blame and accepting responsibility. I am becoming more generous as I gain wisdom that comes from suffering, sitting through difficulty, and being fully present for joy. And I am more fully open to the mysteries and beauty of life.

So, really, this one small thing - this one small action - really is changing everything; quietly, subtly, and is helping me live the life of my dreams. 

pando forest -  cecilia anthony  - charcoal on handmade paper - 5x5

pando forest - cecilia anthony - charcoal on handmade paper - 5x5

being present

There is magic in being present. I know that sounds like such a cliche and the phrase is so ubiquitous that it feels like a cliche as well. But, personal experience has taught me that there is magic in being present and that it is anything but a cliche.

These last couple of months as my bank balance dwindled and I have relied more and more on my stellar credit I would jokingly tell people that my nest egg had sprouted wings and I needed to make sure it didn't completely leave the coop. Since I haven't had any practice until now being a full time creative, that meant (and maybe means) getting a job. And with all of that weighing on me - the money, the job, the feeling that I am somehow abandoning my dreams - I would find myself in the throes of crippling anxiety. Anxiety about an uncertain future or a harry past. What ifs clouded my brain: What if I couldn't find a job? What if I don't sell any art? What if no one likes my book? What if I have to sell my house? Nearly paralyzed with fear over non-existent events, my mind had trapped me into inertia. I couldn't write. I couldn't paint. I couldn't move! All I could do was cry. It was at times like these that I would often turn to alcohol for relief. Thank God for my meditation practice! It allowed me to refocus on my breath and recenter myself in this world of now.

Staying present is hard work. Especially when we are bombarded with information. Social media, TV, radio, our friends & family, our senses become overwhelmed with too much, often impertinent, information. It takes real effort to tune all of that out and focus on what is happening in the now. And while our electronics can get in the way of our ability to be present, the biggest culprit is really the mind. Our minds have been trained to be anywhere but here. The mind travels to the past with longing, regret, or shame and then jumps to the unknown of the future where anxiety and uncertainty live. To throw a leash on that and make it heel to the present moment is a daunting task. Training the mind to heel requires a level of awareness; awareness that the mind is even rambling out of control in the first place. When you can get the mind to heel then peace has a chance to take root and blossom.

Well, I know my mind wanders. I have that awareness. I just didn't realize the extent it roamed until I stopped drinking. And because I no longer have that distraction, or the distraction from friends that I used to drink with (that's another story), and because I have so much more time with myself and no place to hide from my current circumstances, I can either choose to stay present or drown in anxiety caused inertia over events that I can't change or LIFE that hasn't yet unfolded.

To me, it's a no brainer. I would rather be present to the glorious unfolding of this life. And therein lies the magic. Because LIFE really is glorious in all its messiness and all its beauty. And when I am present for it I see how blessed I really am. I have realized that most of the anxiety and fear I experience is a. learned, knee jerk reaction to life; a habit. Because I know it's a habit I know it can be replaced with the healthier, more pleasant habit of being present. Being present is an invitation to experience what is real. Being present reminds me that living does not happen in the past or the future, but right now - in this moment. And it shows me beyond reasonable doubt that right now, in this moment, I have everything I need and am surrounded by love. And that knowing, fills me with a deep sense of gratitude. Because LIFE, when given the opportunity, will do anything to support us. We just need to stay present for it.

original art by  cecilia anthony

original art by cecilia anthony