I Loved You First

It’s dark when I wake up. I mean that in more ways than one.

I feel his whispers in the darkness and I open to his love that is nudging me to let him in. A familiar energy slips itself inside of me. Joy. I’m what we call alive, whereas moments before I was living elsewhere, dreaming.

Another day full of minutes and hours remembering him awaits. I look for evidence of him everywhere, all day long.

I feel him on the floor beneath my feet and drop to my knees to thank him for the ground I walk on.

I walk into the hallway and hear him in the soft thudding of eight little kitten feet trying to catch up with me, and he reminds me as I switch on the hallway light that he’s always there, following me around, illuminating beauty and truth as it shows up in things like the stairs I am about to descend.

I see evidence of his visit the night before strewn across the living room, and as I put the chaos back in order I hear his giggles and see his joy played out on couch cushions and rugs rearranged to make ramps and forts.

The kitchen smiles back at me, and in a shared sigh shows me all that was done for my family. He was there in every bite and swallow, glad to fill bellies large and small, making sure that crumbs were left for the tiniest creatures to enjoy at their leisure.

In the quiet I make room for him beside me in my comfy chair next to purring babies. I feel him fill me up and strengthen me as I tie broken thoughts to the ends of their beginnings that dangle from heaven. They will anchor me in his love before the waves and the whirlwinds catch me off guard.

And then he sends me the sun – the crowning moment of new beginnings. And as the rays of light meet my gaze through the bay window, there is an exchange – one that I must understand and remember if my day will be meaningful and happy:

“I am the source of all light, God says, whether it be from the sun that warms the ground you walk on and dig in to sustain life, or the light that is in hope and joy. I am in the dark clouds and stormy days. I’m always there. See me first before anything else and you will never be alone in the world. I’ll wrap my arms around you and share the journey with you like nobody else. That is why I gave you the morning – to remind you that I loved you first. Thank you for remembering me. Carry on.”

Happy Valentine’s Day tomorrow!

God DNA

I woke up at 3 am this morning because my new little kitties willed it to be so.

I walked through the darkness and made my way downstairs as they followed. I was on automatic again, doing my routine stuff when I opened the bathroom door and there they sat waiting for me. They looked up at me with big green eyes and I stopped and looked back at them. We made our way to my overstuffed chair in the living room and got comfortable – Onyx at my neck, Noir curled up at my feet. I listened as the slow purring started and immediately melted into the day. What a gift they have become. A gift of awakening in many ways. Their presence opened up my heart and gave me a few thoughts to share with you:

What if today you knew who you really were, where you came from, and what would make you feel connected and alive?

What if everything inside you shifted and your eyes were opened to see things as they really are…who YOU are?

What if you found a way to never be shaken from your center again – to feel so secure in the world that no matter the strength of the whirlwind circling you, you felt steadfast and immoveable even if you had to sit still with arms wrapped tightly around bruised knees, sitting on cold ground every once in a while?

I feel that way all the time.

I have a knowing inside that tells me I have “God DNA” and so do you. I’m made of the same stuff and come from the same place as joy and light and love. I am connected to all things and everyone as you are, too.

My gift is that I know it.

The ocean, the trees, the wind – they all know me, I think better than I know myself. I can feel it. On my walks or swims or even driving, when I open my spiritual eyes – the ones that have a veil over them that I have to consciously part – the world becomes a different and more real place. Everything in it is a teacher, a friend, a gift that reminds me of who I really am and why I’m here. I remember how precious and perfect each moment is, how incredible and unique every soul I meet or pass by is, and that I can deepen my joy as I choose to experience all of it as the spirit whispers how.

My challenge is that I forget that sometimes and I’m not sure how that happens. Maybe it’s supposed to be that way so that I’ll treasure remembering?

But when I remember, I feel it again. I feel the life in life. I see the beauty in the simple things. I once again know who I am.

And heaven smiles.

What I Didn’t Expect…

Me and Meg Hansen in November 2013. Her expression is priceless! She makes me laugh so hard!

52.

I was 52,  so I chose that number as a goal.

52 Polar Plunges from November 2013 ’til June 1, 2014. And once I get a thought in my head it’s hard to ignore it or change it’s mind. I just go where it leads me and have fun with the adventure, knowing I’ll learn something along the way.

I knew something about the committment I’d made – cold water, cold air, laughing, etc. I knew about the 15 minute drive to the beach and how anxiety would sit on my lap and get heavier, the closer I got to the shore. I knew that there would be a lot that I didn’t know, like what the weather would be like on any given day, or what it would be like to walk through snow and over icy steps to get in the frigid water. I found out that life hands you the opportunity to face many “firsts”, introduce yourself, and see what you’re made of all the time, and when you least expect it.

The hardest part of this challenge (besides getting 52 dips in – that goal had to be changed to Saturdays only.) has been following through after the newness of the experience wore off.

I can handle adverse weather conditions.

I can calm my heart down so that I don’t die of a heart attack just thinking about the cold.

I have overcome my fears of being seen in a bathing suit, on camera, in video.

I’ve managed to push through the discomfort of feeling like a “pain” by sharing these weekly plunges on Facebook. (You might not “get” that one, but that’s huge for me.)

I’ve even kept to a schedule: every Saturday at 10 am, at Chappaquoit Beach. (this one is huge, too. My kids are used to me telling them that we’ll be leaving for somewhere in an hour and 10 minutes later saying, “Everyone in the car!” They hate that!) Schedules are good for things like trains, planes and classes. I like to know when something that someone has planned is going to happen. I just like the freedom of coming or going as I please. That can be annoying to some people.

I could go on, but I think I won’t. Instead, I’ll let you in on something that I didn’t expect – something that touches my heart so deeply it makes me a bit teary to think about. Something that gets me out the door every Saturday when I don’t see a reason any more, or when I just don’t feel  like going. I’ve noticed a pattern: when the newsness wears off it’s easy to forget the underlying joy that is embedded in the activity. It’s easy to say, “been there, done that, don’t need it.”

I didn’t expect to have a constant companion to come to the polar plunges. I didn’t expect there to be another person who’d depend as much on me showing up as I would her.

Every time I imagined the eight months the plunges would span, I pictured myself alone. I knew my best friend, Lisa would come when she could to cheer me on. But I never really thought anyone else would go in the water with me. And that didn’t matter. I don’t count on people to do what I do. I have fun by myself. That’s how I lnow I’m being true to myself.

But then Meg Hansen said that she wanted to try a plunge. She said she’d always wanted to try it and, “once would be enough, thank you very much!”

I will never forget that day. I sat in my Beetle at Nobska Beach with a new bag of Dove chocolates and was so nervous that I unwrapped and read all 36 messages wrapped around chocolates I didn’t eat! I sorted the messages on the wrappers into piles and finally saw her coming down the lighthouse hill, signalling my need to get out of the car and head for the water.

After answering her question, “So how do we do this?” with, “Just don’t think about it and run!” she ran and dove in with me.

(We’ve since stopped diving in because the cold is too much for the head and neck! We dip under instead.)

We had a blast as her husband looked on and captured the experience in a few photos.

And she kept showing up!

And getting in the water!

And screaming and laughing and learning with me!

I did not expect that.

This was MY “crazy”. Now it’s OUR “crazy”!

I not only had a friend in Meg, but I had a friend who seemed to sense a reason to be on the same path that I was on. There was no convincing her. She chose it and shows up because  it’s important to her in a way that only she could explain.. She’s not “supporting” me. She’s not “taking care” of me. She’s not worried about me. We are just enjoying an experience TOGETHER.

I think that there’s a lesson there. Don’t you?

Do what you love and the unexpected will blow your joy out of the water and into another realm…in whatever way it does.

For me, the unexpected was companionship, camaraderie – attracting a like-minded soul.

Don’t you just LOVE surprises?!

What If Today…You Were Addicted?

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Photo by juliedemellophotography.com  Julie is a new friend I made at the beach yesterday who just happened to be there doing what she does best – photographing nature!

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”  Buddha

I knew the feeling. My heart had started racing as soon as I woke up yesterday morning and remembered that it was Saturday,  a polar plunge day. I sat at my desk for hours, drawing and thinking. I wasn’t scared, just anxious. But I had expected to feel that way. I had always experienced a nervous rush of emotion before I went onstage when I was a dancer, and nothing I did back then had helped alleviate those feelings that were connected to thoughts of failure – what if I trip? forget the steps? fall off the stage?. New thoughts taunted me: What if it’s too cold? <actually that was the only one I had! Looking at my phone at 4 am. and seeing that it was -4* (it eventually reached the 20′s) wasn’t helping!

When I finally got in the car at 9:30 I was on automatic. All I had to do was drive there, get in, get out and warm up. But half way to the beach a new thought came to me, “If you never got to the beach (flat tire, etc.), what would you have remembered of your morning? What’s more important, the event or the living that leads up to it? Will you always need a polar plunge?”

Hmm, I asked myself. Could it be that I could move to the next level with this experience?

So, for the rest of the drive I studied shadows and snow on trees alongside the road. I’m an artist-in-progress so I’m always trying to see things that I think I understand in a new way. Light and the way it falls on things is fascinating. So, I absorbed and learned about light…and noticed how calm I felt! And I loved it!

That’s when I KNEW… I’m not addicted to adrenaline. I’m addicted to joy and living deeply in the moment. I love getting to the place inside of me that’s calm,and full of love and awareness of what’s going on. I realized that for years, when I was going to do something stressful, I’d project myself into the future as if I was already doing that thing, and as if I’d feel all the feelings I thought I would feel doing it (we do that when we are asked to speak in public, perform, publish a blog post, show someone something we’ve created, say ‘I love you’, etc). But the truth, I found out, was that I could manage my emotions and thoughts and never go to the future again. I could stay in the moment, calm my heart down, and live with the truth of what was going on. Does that make sense?

I haven’t mastered it yet. It was a new one to me yesterday – one I had right before reaching the ocean for another cold dip. But I watched the video and saw a new me in it – a slightly less nervous version of me. I was calmer than I had been ever before.

I never know what I’ll learn from these plunges. But this lesson was powerful for me. I’d lived my life believing that I’d HAVE to take the adrenalin rush WITH some chosen experiences. CHOSEN is the key word. But that’s not true! When you choose the experience you have the power to choose your experience of it. That’s not the case when there’s an emergency OR when you aren’t aware of or care about why you’re doing things like bungee-jumping, or even polar plunges. It’s easy to become addicted to an adrelalin rush. But I, my friends, am on a path to uncover, loosen, and get rid of things that are negative and block joy. These plunges area a tool to do just that: to look closely at my thoughts and feelings while following through with a commitment to do something difficult, and to learn about how I’ve let those thoughts and feelings run my life instead of the other way around.

To wrap this up, like a body fresh from a frigid ocean, I’ve learned that adrenalin has it’s place, but in order to feel deep joy one has to find the calm and look for beauty in life to truly experience it. Adrenalin is a powerful “drug” and can actually slow down one’s journey to joy if you can’t learn to master it.

That said, the PLUNGES ARE AWESOME.

(link to the video: Jan.4, 2014 Polar Plunge  )

What If Today…You Just DID Something?

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Photo by Suzanne Demello Livingstone, Photos by Suzanne

“So, do you want to do a Polar Plunge with me on New Year’s Day?”

“No!” she said as she continued to tread water in the warm, salt water, indoor pool.

I remember the thoughts I was entertaining like it was yesterday. But it was exactly a year ago that I was days away from joining my son at the beach at 5:30 am, New Year’s Day morning. The wind was blowing very cold and made the bare-footed walk on an icy parking lot very difficult. A friend joined us to take pictures, but all we really did at first was to laugh with and at each other because of the absurdity of what we were facing – a dark and churning ocean that seemed to be telling us to “Just go home already!”

A friend said to me over 20 years ago, “Betsy, you have a very small gap between thinking a thought and following through with it. I’ve never met anyone like you.” I wasn’t sure that was a compliment, but I became very aware over the years that the gap was widening and I justified every inch of space I’d allowed. I’d started to believe the illusion that my thoughts were actions. But they weren’t. They were just thoughts. Inside of them I was still an artist and a lover of life. Outside of them I was surviving, not really living. But I thought I had been. I felt happy enough. But I wasn’t really excited about life. I wasn’t really joyful. I was sort of sludgy. You know? Do you ever feel sludgy? Like everything’s fine but there’s this gnawing feeling in the back of your head that you’re not a kid anymore and that’s NOT a good thing?

And then came the struggle of wills on the beach.

That’s when I woke up.

We were tired, excited, scared, nervous, laughing, giddy….and paralyzed. We wrapped our towels tighter and shouted through the wind at each other.

“Come on! Let’s go!”

“NO WAY! It’s too cold!”

That’s when I knew who I was.

I was going in by myself because the torture of living with a thought that hadn’t been given wings was not an option. Not that day. And the ocean welcomed me,  punched me in the arm for laughingly cursing at it for licking me with its freezing waves, and thanked me for playing for a second, gently depositing me back on shore with a slap on the back for good measure.

And then I walked out to a new world where everything was possible again.

I was alive like I never had been before.

Colors, sounds, people, stuff – everything was richer. And I felt so calm inside. It was as if I’d fought a dragon and we’d both come away unscathed but stronger and happier.

Once a month I continued the plunges and waited for cold weather to return this November to resume them after a long stretch of lazy summer days. Starting in November I’ve been dipping every Saturday morning. I’ll continue my weekly plunges ’til June 1st, 2014.

I still hear about how cold it is and how I must be brave.

I’m not brave. I don’t know what brave is.

I was given the gift of a thought that was triggered by a memory that I decided to listen to.

So, I guess I’m grateful.

I’m grateful to have in front of me the gift of time to greet the cold water and colder air every Saturday until June 1, 2014.

I’m grateful to know that nothing about the experience will change, but I will be growing with each plunge as I follow through with the thought to “just do it.”

I’m grateful to live near the ocean, for cold wintry days, for bitter winds, for snow and ice – all the things that show up consistently to remind me that they are being themselves and it’s time to go on a spiritual journey of sorts and to see that….

under the fear

under the excuses

in spite of my tiredness, stress, and questioning attitude

in spite of all that and more, nature keeps doing what it does best…

to let me experience IT so as to better know who I AM. It’ll be interesting to see what we find. Don’t you think?

  • I’ll be posting on my Facebook page regularly (see the Facebook “like” box to the left of this post). If you’re in the area on Saturday mornings, I (sometimes we) dip at 10 am at Chapaquoit Beach, in West Falmouth, Ma.  It’s a great time and I’d love to share the experience with you!

What If Today…You Named Your Fear?

For as long as I’ve had children I’ve had a fear. But there was no way I was going to name it because I didn’t want to give it any power. But it was always lurking, waiting for me to remember. I’d watch a movie, and there it was. I’d read a book, and see it again. I’d listen to the news and lo and behold, my heart confirmed that it could happen to me and there was nothing I could do about it.

So I never said it out loud.

But when it comes to swimming in the frigid winter ocean (we don’t swim, we dip. You can’t swim with no feeling in your arms and legs) I’ve named my fears and watched them disappear one by one. I’ve also laughed with friends who’ve faced their own demons of the cold water, and cheered for their success in conquering them.

That’s why I swim in the cold water. I HATE it. But the ritual is so important because it reminds me that life can be fraught with demons that are in our heads but control our lives. And yet WE are the rulers of our minds!

I almost gave up my year-long weekly polar plunge commitment that ends June 1st 2014.

I almost gave them up because my unspoken fear collided with them on Saturday night at a Christmas party of friends and acquaintances. One of the attendees has chosen to take some very limited information, mixed that with her personal insecurities and fears, and has, unbeknownst to her, become my greatest kick in the butt to live a truly free life, even though I think she secretly thought she would destroy my spirit and family.

She decided that my polar plunges were evidence of a woman who isn’t “living in reality” and who is “in denial of her circumstances.” Better yet, I must be “suicidal” because cold water can kill you! If she thinks I didn’t know that, she should come to a plunge sometime! Add to that two little boys in shorts at a Christmas party and there must be problems that Child Protective Services should be able to “help” with. So she filed a report with them, and they’ll be coming soon.

For two days my spirits have been deflated. I’ve been confused. But today I have an answer. I know what to do with all of it and what the gift in the mess of it is. First, I’ll continue my weekly Saturday plunges. I’ve taken my life back from the thought of a woman whose power and influence scares me, but who I know could choose something different to accuse me of next week if she’s determined, and she is.

Second, I found the answer as I applied what I’d learned about myself and my fears and about living a life from my polar plunges. The beauty of this process is that it can work with anything you do consistently that makes you face a fear and do “it” anyways. I used to have to go onstage when I was a dancer even though I always felt extreme fear and anxiety while waiting in the wings. I learned to see the pattern – that those thoughts and feelings accompanied every performance no matter how skilled I became, and they always morphed into joy as I went forward with them as my companion into the lights and the music and the audience.

So, what was my long-standing fear concerning my children, and how has that changed?

I always feared that they’d be taken away.

I didn’t believe there would be just cause. I believed it would happen “to” us/them.

But as I looked deeper into my fear, I saw something else. That always happens after a swim as well. We say it’s the cold, a possible heart attack, etc. But the real fear is our lack of resolve, maybe our laziness, being seen in a bathing suit, crying like a baby, screaming like a crazy person, LOOKING like a crazy person, OR….

….someone believing you really are a bit off your rocker and unfit to care for your children, and having said person set in motion visits that could determine that to be true and have your kids taken away? Dramatic? Yes. Possible? Could happen. But honestly, folks, that same scenario could play out in your life with different triggers, just as ridiculous as mine. And it still brings me back to , “what are you so afraid of, Betsy?” If I know in my heart of hearts that my children could be taken from me for any number of reasons, most of which would have blind-sided me and left me feeling helpless, then where and how was I to focus to get any peace.?

How did I overcome that fear? Answer: the same way I do a plunge. I just run forward and bring the fear with me. And as I let it play out in my mind as a “what if that really happened?” kind of thing, I knew what I was really afraid of:

I was afraid that my children couldn’t handle it and it would destroy them.

But the thing is, as far as swimming in frigid water goes, I always know that my partner will be okay as long as they are relatively strong and have no underlying conditions that would make the experience dangerous. I always know that they’ll go in as far as they feel comfortable and safe and maybe a few steps further. And even THAT creates a change in thinking and being! Even that little bit of effort!

Once I saw what I believed I realized I had some work to do. I could prepare my children to find gifts in any experience they might have. I could reassure them that there are no mistakes in life and that what “was” still “is” and that their journey will always be a rich and rewarding experience if they can stay calm and hang on for tomorrow, for sunshine, for beauty and for friendship. They can always be a light. That’s a lot to ask of a 5-yr.-old and an 8-yr. old, never mind the 11, 14, and 17 yr. old. And I truly believe that they are stronger than I “know” them to be. So, sometimes just making it a possibility in someone’s mind is all they need.

And with the thought planted you run with them into the cold ocean water and see seconds later that you all not only survived but feel more alive because for a moment you were brought to the depths of humility….and you rejoice together that darkness didn’t win.

And that was the plan all along. Just to see THAT.

Broken

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We are so careful. We set them up high, behind glass, away from clumsy fingers – appendages dangling from Innocence and Wonder.

We wrap them up tenderly and tuck them away for Important Times, Celebrations,Parties, and Worship.

We teach the Little Ones with curious and clumsy hands that these  things are Special; they mean something. They represent what we value and hold memories that we cherish.

Don’t touch!

Just Look.

Breaking HAS to be avoided!

And once in a while, when there is opportunity in the quietness of her little world, she touches and sometimes breaks the beloved thing. Wedged right between the moment before and after it shatters mercilessly on the floor at her feet, there is truth.With eyes wide open in awe, she sees it and feels it.

Where once it was whole and beautiful, it is now shattered and reflecting light from hundreds of scattered shards that expose a reflective inner beauty that was imperceptible before the fall.

But no one else sees it.

There is sadness, anger, and a flourish of sweeping away, and an explosion of lament instead. She forgets  the truth and spends her life being careful so as never to break anything ever again. But when the inevitable happens, she doesn’t remember to look for the truth born from getting closer to the beauty.

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She comes to you in tears and questioning, feeling broken and shattered herself:

“He said I’m stupid….

….an idiot

….weird

…unlovable

…ugly

…you name your pain.”

And you ask her how that feels and why? Her tears say the words that she is too inexperienced to share. Those things can’t be true, they say to her heart!

But she still wonders…

“Perhaps your heart was broken on the outside,” you suggest, “so that you could see the beauty of who you are on the inside. Where once you thought you were whole, now you can really see how much light and beauty shines out of you without even trying! Where once you were beautiful, now you’re magnificent!”

Just a thought.