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  )

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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!

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.

****

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.

Searching For Christmas Gifts

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I listened to the conversation – the one that always comes up this time of year, the one spawned by the desire to connect, to share love, to let someone know that they matter in this season of giving.

We want to let each other know that we care and that no one is forgotten.

So we visit with gifts and inspiring messages. We hope to inspire and to lift the spirits of those who we think are lonely or invisible, homeless or forgotten by family members. Our hearts crave that feeling of having done something that makes another smile.

But I had a thought as I listened to the brain-storming of how to “do that” this year. In the conversation, buried just below the surface was an assumption – a belief that people are lacking and we can fill a gap with our giving. I did a quick exercise of putting myself in the seat of the receiver and suddenly knew what was “lacking.”

For a second I went back to the story of the Wise Men that is retold many times during this season. They arrive with gifts for the Christ child. But he had no need of those things. Instead he had a gift to offer them.

He wanted to be known. Their journey brought them face to face with him. The gifts were actually a prop -an excuse to give the more import exchange room to grow.

If we take that story and apply it in our lives this season and year round, we’ll be giving the greatest gifts.

When we walk in to a nursing home bearing treats we’ll learn to sit and listen to life stories, looking for the gifts that a person brought to the world personally. Who are they really? What did they come here to do? What did they do with their gift? What stories do they have to tell? We’ll anxiously probe until we find that gift, drawing it out of them until they feel like it has been seen and received.

We will sit with a child after giving him a gift and wait. We’ll follow his lead and talk about and do what he wants to do during our time together and look for his gifts. Hopefully we’ll tell him what he means to us and how he brings us and the rest of the world joy because of who he is.

And because we go to them and others with the intention of finding their gifts they’ll receive our real gift: true love.

Love that says:

“I see you.”

“I value you.”

“Thank you for being here.”

“I love who you are.”

I hope that we turn Christmas around this year and instead of just giving gifts we actively search for and receive each others’ gifts.

It makes all the difference.

What If Today… You Understood Freedom of Choice?

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There were so many people there, and they were all as different and special as the next. Each was engaged in studying something. Some were flitting from one thing to the next, excited by the discoveries they were making, anxious to apply them in physical form. All things had to be learned spiritually first. That they knew. But someday they’d be born and have that chance. For “now” – even though forever doesn’t have a now and then – they were absorbing whatever it was that they were attracted to.

“That’s how it works,” He whispered, noticing my wondering about how freedom and choice and individuality came together to form a life – then and now.

“I know,” I said. “But how will I remember that and not blame you or thank you for things that you didn’t do?”

Freedom to choose, he said, was an eternal principle. It doesn’t get activated at birth. It has always existed. If that weren’t so, then everyone could blame God for things because he would have chosen for them, assuming that he knew better. Of course he would know better, they’d argue! He’s God! Well, he said. I trust my children more than you trust each other or me. I understand how spiritual growth works and why. It’s wrapped up in freedom and light.

I sat and reflected on what I’d witnessed forever, ’cause a lot goes on in the eternities before you’re born. You see a lot of patterns unfold, and I saw some that were starting to make sense.

Betsy, he interrupted, why do you like the things that you like – dancing, drawing, writing, swimming? Did I plant those “likes” in your heart? Am I responsible for those gifts, talents, loves? Or could it be that I am actually just watching you and supporting and guiding you? What’s your role in the acquisition of  and growth in those things?

There was a common thread, or ingredient, I had to admit, in all of my experiences there – light and the freedom to move toward it or away from it. Whenever I was attracted to something it was because I was either searching for the light in it or it was calling to me with a brightness that connected to my heart – I felt joy with and in the expression of it in such a way that I stayed with the study and mastery of it in its spiritual form.

The things that I couldn’t understand – things whose light was less discernible by me and more difficult to understand, I’d study here on Earth because everything was important even if I couldn’t understand it. I’d started my education of things like compassion, forgiveness, worry, doubt, fear and the many faces of love there and then, and I’d search out ways to continue that education here and now. God’s only role was and continues to be supporter and guide towards the light of the truth of those things.

I find him when I find the light because he stands still in it. He’s steadfast and immoveable. It’s that simple. I’m not compelled to learn by loved ones’ suffering, natural disasters, illness, or financial struggles. My one and only “lesson” is to see the light of God in all of those experiences so that I can feel peace and love in them regardless of the outcome. I’m the one who started those lessons and they dissolve peacefully as soon as I see the light in them – when the part of them that has light in it becomes a part of me – when I have no need to resist it anymore.

When it comes to talents and gifts, I know that I’m responsible for those, too. I wasn’t given a basket full of things that God thought would do me well to try on and play with that didn’t fit my nature. He knew that only I could do that. He knew that by not getting in the way of my freedom to choose to follow what I’m attracted to was the only way for me to learn to find pure joy. It could not be forced on me or on anyone else. That way there would be room for  applause for my brothers and sisters as they remembered and continued their studies here on Earth – there wouldn’t be any jealousy or comparing. There would be no desire for any of that because I’d be so in love with who I am, what I love and the freedom to spend my time uncovering truth, light, and God in everything that I’d be too happy.

With that perspective I’d be comfortable with who I am and the life I’m choosing (complete with problems that are the ones that I chose to get a master’s degree in!) and be a better cheerleader for my brothers and sisters.

*****

maybe this is good example, maybe not….you decide:

James and Kenny were playing a video game and the competition was getting heated. Kenny is three years older than James, but he’s also very attracted to everything that games offer whether they be in the form of videos or sports. James can’t keep up with him half the time, but what’s funny is that he doesn’t really care. He just really loves hanging out with his brother.

The “problem” is that Kenny needs to “win”. He’s a finisher. He’ll work on the skills related to sports and games until he’s so frustrated I think he’s going to pop. But the joy that emanates from his face when he finally succeeds is overwhelming. That, whatever it is, is one of Kenny’s gifts or talents. Nobody gave him that gift. You can tell that it comes from a spiritual place by the look in his eyes when he gets lost in what he’s doing.

“My teacher said that no one should win -that it’s better to play and have fun. So, James, let’s just play. NO LOSERS!”

I was drawing in the dining room and I couldn’t help myself.  I didn’t know if I was right or wrong, but something in Kenny’s statement rubbed me the wrong way  – he was stifling his gift to make someone else (James) feel better, so I jumped in, “No! That’s the thrill of the game, Kenny! Someone has to win and someone will lose. But here’s the fun part: the loser gets to clap for the winner! They get to be happy for him and then play a little harder themselves!”

I wasn’t sure how they took what I’d said, but they were quietly playing and I went back to drawing.

Seconds later James squealed, “You did it Kenny! You won!”

Kenny smiled and laughed, “Yeah! I’m really good at this game.”

“Yeah, you are.”

*****

And God watched, listened, and smiled with them. Kenny was comfortable with something he loved and James was loving him as James has a gift for doing. Someone just had to see and point out the light of the truth for them and it unfolded naturally.

They could have chosen a different way ’cause that’s the way freedom is.

This time they chose light….and it really made a difference.

Moral of the story ( there are many more, but I’ll get you started): Play your game full-out. You chose it.

What If Today…Our Life Was Lived as an Occasion?

“There are a million things one might do with a block of wood.

But what do you think might happen if someone, just once, believed in it?”

It didn’t matter what was on tv at the moment. All I really wanted was something to entertain me while I sanded my feet  – a semi-regular task for flip flop wearers around the world. I was a bit miffed that what was on was Mr. Margorium’s Wonder Emporium – a movie I’d watched a million times with my children. I almost changed the channel , but that little voice that knows better  whispered, “There’s a reason. Watch it.” It was half an hour ’til it ended. so I watched. Here’s a trailer:

I studied Mahoney – her depressed mood after Mr. Margorium died, and how the toy store he’d bequeathed to her mirrored her darkness. All the magic had gone out of it. Everything was black getting blacker. She’d given up because she didn’t believe that anything would be the same without him.  All of the magic was on the outside of her. She didn’t know how to access her own magic.

Then, near the end, the store’s accountant witnessed the power of her passion triggered in her defense of what appeared to him to be an ordinary block of wood. She insisted that it wasn’t ordinary, and he insisted that it was. The block of wood responded to her belief in it by coming to life, and, here’s the fun part,  the awareness of who she is in her world started to grow. Her friend the accountant saw the “sparkle” in her eyes – the one that had been missing for so long. He is mesmerized by the “magic” that she allows to flow out of her and into the lifeless store, breathing life into all of the toys.

The transformation was remarkable.

**********

I told you about “being an artist” in one of my previous posts. Once I’d said it to my boss it was as if I’d opened a door to a new path for both of us. Her excitement was unleashed and there was no reigning it in. In the short time since that announcement she has had a dumpster delivered to empty out a basement to make room for a studio, and not 24 hours after its delivery, found “us” a studio to work in. She texted me to be at the studio at 10:45 yesterday morning, saying she would be late and I needed to bring my artwork to show the owner. I put my shoes on and gathered my stuff and raced off in my little yellow Beetle wondering what she was getting me into….

“Our” studio? When had that happened? What did it mean? Those thoughts were quickly dismissed because there was no life in them. I found the place easily and climbed the stairs to the most beautiful studio apartment that matched every one of the daydreams I didn’t realize I’d been having until I saw them in real life, all rolled out in front of me.

It sits on a pond and is seconds from the beach that you can see beyond the pond from the deck. And all I can think is….swimming!

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What does any of this mean? For you? For me?

Right before Mr. Margorium dies he says to Mahoney,

“Your life is an occasion…….rise to it.”

I sat still at the end of the movie and tried to connect the dots from “I’m an artist” to yesterday’s acquisition of a beautiful space to continue doing what I’d started doing seriously once I’d said it – drawing. What had happened? All I can relate is that there was a shift in perception of who I am and how I spend each day. I’m doing what comes to mind. I accept with gratitude the time I’ve been given. And I’m becoming masterful at not caring what people think about me….’cause I like who I am….

I swim in the cold because…

I draw because…

I smile because…

…because it’s all so wonderful.

I truly live a magical life.

One of the things I noticed as I sat and pondered the lessons from the movie was the connection I have to some beautiful people and their joy and generosity to be a part of the unfolding of my life, however unaware of it that they are. We are more connected than we think. When we live our lives joyfully (and that will mean different things for each of us) something magical happens. What we radiate sparks a flame in another and the whole world is eventually brighter.

This is a glimpse into my world as an example:

My son sparked an interest in doing Polar Plunges and I did my 1st one on New Years’ Day this year, 2013… and I remember that I can do the impossible and scary….

I’m asked to paint portraits on potatoes by a friend who’s passionate about online gaming…and I start to remember that being challenged and supported for what and who I really am is important in relationships for me….

An old friend invites me to Rose Island Lighthouse for an overnight… and I remember what real joy feels like. I start noticing the joy in people because of that one night and my life feels fuller, richer, happier. I feel more alive…

A new friend follows a desire to work in Alaska and comes home with some amazing photographs…. and I remember what it feels like to be inspired. I ask permission to draw them and show them to my boss when I finish them… and she remembers who she is….

I ask the local art supply shop for a reference to a printer. I meet another new friend (the printer) with whom I can talk passionately about light and art things and he gets it and spends time teaching me all about his passion for digitally enhanced artwork for which he is world-renowned. He waives some fees for me because he wants me to succeed…. and I remember that miracles do happen in the form of kindness and support and shared vision…

My boss hears and feels my love of life in the Polar Plunges and the creation of my artwork and rents a studio for us yesterday to keep the dream alive…. and I remember that like attracts like.

Who knows what today will bring. One thing I know is that it’ll be magical because we’re in it together. Sparks need something nearby to spread their energy…

I’ll end with a snippet of a conversation from the movie. You do with it what you will. To me it means throw your own life party and be the first one to show up. Design it from your heart and live it with eyes open and grateful for those who are placed in your path as gifts.

(I missed this part of the movie. It had something to do with clocks and maybe coordinating them to chime as one?)

Mr. Edward Magorium: 37 seconds.

Molly Mahoney: Great. Well done. Now we wait.

Mr. Edward Magorium: No. We breathe. We pulse. We regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. 37 seconds, well used, is a lifetime.

Have an extraordinary day, whatever you choose to do. I’m going to clean my new art studio… 🙂

You’re Complete

“Everything you need you already have. You are complete right now, you are a whole, total person, not an apprentice person on the way to someplace else. Your completeness must be understood by you and experienced in your thoughts as your own personal reality.”

Beverly Sills

 

Trees were one of my earliest teachers, and continue to reveal patterns of life when I slow down long enough to reflect. Today I  want to share a teeny thought about Autumn leaves because they’re on my mind. I see them every day and listen to how much people enjoy them.

Brightly colored leaves are evidence to me of our perfection – our wholeness, The colors – reds, oranges, purples, and yellows – were there from the beginning of the leaf’s life. Nothing was added to make them appear. Actually, and of course you already know this, the cessation of chlorophyll production allows the hidden colors in the leaf to come out from their comfortable and secret hiding places. So, something was actually taken away to reveal their beauty.

Life is like that to me – I come to Earth complete and spend my whole life, however long or short, remembering the truths I knew before I came, learning how to live those truths as I remember them in a body and a world full of people that bring their own unique challenges.

I love that.

I’m in the Autumn of my life.

I’ve experienced the tender and simple stage of Spring where everything is new and exciting, green and fresh, where I’ve lived very close to truth because of my innocence and openness. I’ve passed through Summer where I’ve planted, and for the most part spent a lot of time nurturing and weeding on my hands and knees in the beating sun, wind, and rain.  During that phase of my life I forgot who I was, on and off, and wrestled with the distractions that having a body can bring. Life at that time was lived “outside” of me, thinking about and caring for other people, much like a large oak tree whose expanse of leaves shades and protects the “small” from the elements.

And now it’s Autumn –  a time of full expression of my spirit, where every part of me is enjoyed openly and without fear, allowing passersby the privilege of a vicarious joy that emanates effortlessly.

I’m not becoming anything new or better. I’m not achieving any form of perfection. I came to this world complete, but unexpressed in physical form, just like the seed of a sunflower is complete but unexpressed until it is put in the earth and nourished with sunlight and rain. I came to work out how to live as a complete being in a body subject to weakness and frailties, and elements that try my stamina and belief that I’m okay. What’s still being worked out is the ongoing struggle between body and spirit to stay true to the truth and not forget to what end I’m expressing what’s inside – to make manifest the love of God that is inside of me – the joy that comes from living the truth as my heart knows and understands it.

Do I remember who I am and why I’m here? Do you?

Have you embraced the different seasons of your life?

Are you fully expressed as YOU so that when the cold air of Winter settles in you have colorful memories of every phase of your life? Can you say that you are ready to let go as a leaf must at the end of Autumn, and fall to the ground becoming rich and life-giving mulch for future generations?

I’ll take another walk today as I do almost every day. I’ll look at the leaves along my way as I do the people who cross my path and hope that they, like the vibrant Autumn leaves, are finding it just as effortless as they do to show who they really are and what they really love.

…because it’s all there inside, waiting to be uncovered and expressed.

(Hitting “publish” because the printer just called and I’m off to pick up my newest piece of art! Have a good one!)