The Best is Yet to Come

 

10155634_10152148017008978_3272808796417336039_nKarma, baby. Karma.

Karma’s been on my mind a lot lately. Unlike the popular interpretation of the term karma, literal karma is not just bad stuff. Instead, it is a sort of life ledger sheet — sometimes you’re in the black and sometimes you’re in the red — depending on what you say, think, and do.

Everything’s recorded and everything counts. There’s no such thing as a free pass.

What goes around, comes around.

So.

What got me thinking about all this is this experience of taking my mom in, after the whole thing she set up with my sibling fell to pieces.

I won’t say more about that, than that. I am actually thinking more about what’s up on my end — because this situation is obviously something I’ve called into my life (through actions, words, deeds) — in order to grow as a human being. Perhaps my sibling called this loss into his life to do the same.

One can hope, but I can’t know for sure. That’s his work, not mine.

The only thing I know for sure is that this stuff is my stuff, and I am responsible for handling it with grace and strength.

Unpacking Loss. Unpacking Sorrow.

Two weeks in.

We are sailing along, knee deep in mess and boxes, with packing tape sticking to our shoes. Mom’s been great — a real trouper — in the face of unpacking everything she just spent three months packing and shipping down here. So far, there’s no breakage and no loss — except all the loss that preceded her move to Arizona. My animals have moved in to comfort her, gathering in a tight bunch on her bed as she naps, exhausted from her trip through hell. The dog burrows under the covers and snuggles up to her, sighing with absolute delight at finding another sap to rub her belly.

We move furniture and open boxes. We weed and feed critters. We trade off cooking meals.

I go up to school to teach. My mother stays home with my pet people, giving them more attention than they have the right to expect.

I know she grieves while I am away. Her face changes as the days pass, sometimes it’s lighter, sometimes, darker. I know she’s swimming in a dark river now.  However, I cannot traverse those currents.  They’re hers to sort out and make sense of.  As much as I would like to be able to comfort her, this is something she must work out, without me.

We’ve contacted Social Security and her annuity provider and set up a bank account.

The list of things we still need to do is a long one. The process is exhausting and often irritating. We waited for fifty-minutes yesterday on hold for Social Security. My phone had started to beep the death beep by the time their rep finally answered. Luckily, we were still able to get her squared away before the phone gave up the ghost.

Ghosts and Ruins.

“Your father told me he’d always loved me.  At the end of his life, he told me that,” she says, wiping away tears.

“I know, Mom.”  My parents remained strange friends — of sorts — until the end of my dad’s life.

She holds a carved geisha he brought home from Japan after World War II.

“Grandma didn’t want any of the stuff he brought home,” she says, turning it from side to side. She didn’t want the paintings done on silk in sumi ink. She didn’t want any of it.

We talk as we run across photos of my father I’ve framed — one in particular of him in his fifties — posing with my grandmother.

“I’ve never seen this one,” she says, marveling at his ridiculous perm and big mustache. Not the best look for him, but I love the photo because they both look happy.

Daddy is almost thin — not long after his first heart attack — wearing dark jeans and a turtleneck sweater. Grandma was still several years away from a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease that would ravage her brain and body. They’re standing in the backyard of the house on 125th in Seattle with the greenness of the lawn and tall evergreens as a backdrop.

He was younger than I am now, then; grandma was younger than my mom is now.

Time Machine.

I open boxes I packed two months ago, and find a whole set of books by Leonard Shlain, Octavia Butler, and George Chesboro. I find Pooh Bear and a doll-sized chair, a carving of a horse, and one lithe deer.

I open boxes and my whole childhood spills out.

In the kitchen, I unpack boxes of spatulas and scrapers, mixing bowls and coffee mugs. There’s a huge set of black, octagonal dishes, bowls and cups, as well as a set of cornflower blue plates shaped like sea shells.

I told my mom to pack up anything that would make her feel at home. It is likely that even though she got rid of enormous amounts of stuff, she still has too much to shoehorn into my tiny house, but I am determined for her not to ‘get rid’ of anything else, just yet. It may need to live in the storage shed for a bit, but we will find a way to ferret away what she’s brought with her.

I think about this culling process my mom’s navigating and I wonder what it will be like for me in thirty years: a childless woman who is, as yet, unmarried. I realize that if I am surrounded by friends (and I am rich with astonishing, beautiful, kindhearted friends) I will be OK. I realize that I will likely cull and give away much of what I have by then, so I can travel lightly to the next world.

Life Is Beautiful: Don’t Waste It.

Our attachments make us human. As a Buddhist, being a humane human being, a soft, openhearted, humble human being, is crucial. Maybe what I am tasked with learning alongside my mother, is to walk softly on this earth. To enjoy what there is to enjoy and to suffer what there is to suffer (as Nichiren stated in his letter to his followers over 700 years ago).  There is much we can squander in life — that we can fail to see until it is too late — in particular, the ephemeral nature of our connection to our parents and families. We often spend our time — these incandescent moments that we cannot ever hold onto — complaining or fighting or measuring out what we didn’t get. Instead, we should be measuring how grateful we are — to be alive, to have a roof over our heads, to have food in the cupboard.

Life is, in lots of ways, very simple. We’re given this specific allotment of days in which to express our creativity and joy and humanity. We will likely have sorrow and get pretty banged up along the way. We will also see butterflies and bats and the river Thames. We will read Shakespeare and comics and instruction manuals. We will listen to Elton John and Devo and Elvis Costello. We will learn to cook. We will fall in love. We will bury people we deeply love.

We can muck it all up or we can make the most of it.

It’s up to us.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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Brave New Girl

10172567_608795129237181_3946268527008921821_n

“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”Abraham Lincoln

Life as I know it, is about to change.

As I write this, my 79-year-old mother is on a flight to Phoenix to come live with me. She’s worked tirelessly these past few months to get ready. The move involved not only culling and letting go of most of her belongings, but also euthanizing her 22-year-old cat, Zap. (Zap was failing in her final days, but I know my mom would have preferred that she decide when to exit.) The preparation has been brutal and illuminating. I learned a lot about my mother through this process: about her resolve, her strength, her grit. I learned how boundlessly brave she is.

I also learned a lot about myself.

I made a space for her, cleaned out and moved my office, cleaned out the extra bathroom and rearranged the house to (with luck) accommodate the few pieces of furniture she’s bringing with her. I did this without a moment’s hesitation, saying ‘yes’ when she called and said her current situation had become untenable and she needed to move. (I’ve been offering this option for quite some time now — but my mother wanted to stay put for the grand kids.)

What changed?

I think she realized that where she was living was toxic, and if she didn’t leave there, she would not live much longer.

It’s now or never.

So, even though the responsibility this entails is humbling (and pretty scary), we are moving forward. It’s moving day. She’s on her way.

I wonder if I have everything ready, even though I know I do.

I wonder if I could have done more for her, even though I did everything I could.

The child in me bristles in fear at the thought of taking this on, but the adult is ready, willing, able.

I’ve long wanted my mom to come down and live with me, if for no other reason than to offer her the chance to live someplace peaceful, where she is welcome and wanted.

She’s spent the past eight years living in a house where she was treated like a squatter — even though she’d paid a substantial sum to live there, ostensibly for the remainder of her life.

While there, she nearly died three times, due to neglect.

“As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart. I cannot now imagine a life without her.”Kristin Hannah, Summer Island

So, it’s time do something else.

For all of my life, I’ve been the type of person who embarked on adventures impulsively. I flew to London because I wanted to meet Elton John (and I did). I moved to NYC to chase my singing and songwriting dreams. I moved to Los Angeles to learn to write. When opportunities arose, I grabbed them, whether doing so made sense or not.

At times, I’ve lamented my mis-adventurous nature. But generally that happened only after I’d already left the safety of solid ground.

“Shiiiiitttt,” I’d scream, as the air rushed past me, and I fell headlong into this or that set of muddy brambles at the side of the road.

Bruised and bloodied, I would brush myself off and occasionally wonder if such madcap activities were a good idea.

Oops, I did it again…

Because I leap first and look later, maybe I should have paused when making this choice.

However, I had no doubts about doing this.

This is the right thing to do. This is the only choice.

“A good mother is irreplaceable.”Adriana Trigiani

My mother. My heart. 

So, my mom will stay with me for the rest of her life. She will have a home surrounded by the desert where she was born. She will have a circle of animal people to keep her company while I work.

My mother’s still in relatively good health and is quite spry for someone nearing 80. It’s time for her to have adventures.

I look forward to seeing what sort of creative ideas bloom for her, as she sits in the quiet of this house, watching grackles and song sparrows and desert wrens drink and bathe in the back yard.

I look forward to collaborating with her on some of those creative projects.

What I know for sure…

This is a healing house. This is a house of solace, of sanctuary, of retreat.

Now, we will share this space: As friends. As confidants. As artists. As collaborators.

We will navigate the coming years as mother and daughter, even if our roles eventually reverse.

Perhaps I will learn some of her secrets and she will learn some of mine.

This is a big day.

Today, a new life begins.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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A Mixture of Bitter and Sweet

Missing You by Christian Schloe

Missing You by Christian Schloe

For C & L

Perception = Reality

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

~ Mary Oliver, When Death Comes

In lots of ways, this was a dark week for me. A friend called to say she’d gotten a devastating diagnosis. I went out for a fun evening with another friend and the person we went to see (a poet) chose to use her renown to reinforce racial stereotypes and share her deeply entrenched bitterness, rather than inspire and hearten the audience.

On the way home, we hit a feral cat. We tried to find it to help it, but couldn’t.

I cried for half the night.

This week, the cracks in the veneer of my family that have largely remained hidden over the past few years, became glaringly apparent. Suffice it to say, we’re not a particularly happy bunch right now. I have every faith we will eventually be happy again, but right now things are sort of terrible. One family member has done things that other family members find reprehensible and a long simmering, now blazing, war has broken out.

In the middle of it, my mother, whose whole life has been dismantled by this rift, is packing and readying to leave her home for my home.

It’s a big, teeming, ugly mess.

It was the kind of week that makes you hit your knees and start to pray.

It was the kind of week that makes you wonder what you’re doing wrong.

It was the kind of week that makes you reassess everything.

Turning the Wheel

And, maybe, that was the point.

I can focus on the terrible news.  That’s easy.  Everybody’s doing it.

I can mourn a precious being that likely lost its life.

I can lament the ways in which my family’s forgotten how to talk to one another.

Or, I can turn the wheel and head this thing in a different direction.

Choose Light

So, when I look back on the events of the week, I can instead choose to see everything — not just the dark bits.

This week as a teacher, I felt inspired. The students engaged with the course materials and we had wonderful, far reaching discussions of business ethics, the public good, the changes that need to happen. I reminded them they’re the ones who will lead the fight to implement change.

I went out for Thai food with the good friend who was driving when we hit kitty; we unpacked our challenges and comforted one another.

I reminded myself that I have money in the bank to pay my bills and cover my rent and feed myself and my animals.

When I talked to my friend about her illness, we ended up laughing through much of the conversation.

“Well, I’ve always said the one truth of life is, if you are born, you are going to die.  No one gets out of here alive.”

We screamed with laughter and she told me a really awful (but still funny) joke. We talked about what might be next (surgery, other treatment options), and she sounded hopeful.

Still.

And that’s something.

Choose Transformation

When a whole crew of my high school drama buddies (people I’ve known since the 1970s) and one Buddhist Facebook friend went over to help my mom pack her relocation cubes yesterday, I remembered that the world is full of good people doing good things. When my friend, J, came by and we went to see the astonishing Richard Linklater film, Boyhood, I remembered the multiple instances of incredible kindness I experienced from her and others all week. When I recalled looking into the wide open faces of the freshmen I am teaching — seeing their hope and their longing — I realized that I cannot allow myself to fall into bitterness like the poet I heard this week. I never want my work to exclude or depress or insult.

I want to live from a place of true integrity.

I learned a lot this week.

I learned a lot about how I want to move through the world and what I would like my eventual legacy to be.

And I learned a lot about who I do not want to be.

Yep. I learned that even in all this darkness — all this difficulty and despair — everything harbors light.

Everything.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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Wonderland News: 50,000 Reasons to Celebrate

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

About two weeks ago, this blog quietly crossed the 50,000 page view mark.

I noted it on my Facebook page with much shouting and glee, but I realize I forgot to mention it here. I want to offer a profound and heartfelt thank you to each person who visits Wonderland – whether by accident or because you’ve read my work elsewhere and come here to see what’s up. This blog has been a place of solace and growth for me over the past two-plus years. I come here to reflect, ruminate, wonder, ponder, and find out what I know.  That may sound strange — but the writing process actually helps me sift my thoughts and feelings — and allows me to see a pathway through these dark woods. I find out what I know and what I think and what I feel as I write.

That said, these ruminations will soon become a book, and likely, a writing workbook as well. To start that process, I have put together a new website and will be adding products, workshops, online courses, and books to the mix there, as well as posting regularly in Wonderland, on tumblr, on twitter, and in The Writing Life, a new microblog that I will be sharing every Wednesday starting in November. The WordPress site that is Wonderland now, will continue to exist, at least for a while. However, I encourage you to visit my new website and sign up for my Song Sparrow newsletter and all the latest from the blog through the Contact Me page or the Subscribe block for the blog, so that we don’t lose touch as I make this transition. Everything that is here in Wonderland has already migrated over to the website.

Consider it the ‘new and improved’ version of my vision as an artist. I am excited and extremely proud to share it with you!

More Changes Coming.

Although I pride myself on getting this blog out every week, the past couple of months have been challenging due to changes in my life. I am about to start caring for an aging parent — my mother — and as a result I have been busily (frantically) preparing my house for her arrival. It has been quite a job. If you’ve read this blog much, you’ve met her here many times as I’ve navigated my relationship with her as she ages. She’s due here in a couple weeks, and after that things should settle down with regard to my usual weekly posts. I may switch the day to Sunday, but one way or another, I’ll choose a deadline that works for my current schedule and get back on this horse!

I currently have a very heavy teaching load (until December) so the new classes, workshops, editing and mentoring I plan to offer will likely roll out just after the first of the year. If you are interested in taking a writing course from me (online) or a local (Arizona) workshop (or a workshop gathering in another city), absolutely contact me! I will be setting up my schedule for all of 2015 in the next couple of months. I am also available to do short editing gigs and to mentor writers who want to develop their voice and style.

In the meantime, besides visiting me on my website, feel free to peruse my work on The Anjana Network (three posts per month), Be You Media Group (two posts per month) and Rebelle Society (two posts per month). My work is also available on Paperblog.

OXOXOX

Thank you again for finding whatever electronic or spiritual or emotional breadcrumbs that brought you to Wonderland.

Fall in. I am so glad you’re here.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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Talkin’ about Revolution

1656175_658505090879416_2080627691_nQuit Yer Bitchin’

Is it just me, or have many of us mistakenly formed a loose, rag-tag nation of whiners, complainers, catastrophizers and bitchers?

Wha-wha.

How did that happen?

How did we go from the ‘grateful nation’ of my childhood to one filled with grubby, reflexive whiners? Why do we perpetuate the problem – compound it, actually – by continually focusing on what’s not right, what’s not there, what has left us, what has let us down, what doesn’t work, what doesn’t measure up?

It’s like expecting to regain your health by ingesting sewage; or thinking that if you hit yourself in the head with a hammer, you’ll feel better when you stop.

Better than what?

Start Your Human Revolution

“A great revolution of character in just a single person will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of all humankind.” ~ Daisaku Ikeda

Many human beings tend to take the easy route. There is this (totally mistaken) perception that ‘others have it easy’ or ‘others don’t have to work as much or as hard as I do’ or ‘others make money for doing nothing.’  And while that may be true for a small number of inherited wealth, one-percenters — most people have a life that is built to the exact specifications of their thoughts, words, and deeds. In other words, your environment is a reflection of you. You cannot change your life by changing jobs, partners, or expecting others to change.

You change your life through inner reformation.

You change through embarking on the tough spiritual work involved with washing the filth and muck off of your inner life, and polishing it until it shines.

In the Buddhism I practice, this inner reformation is called ‘Human Revolution’. The terms was coined by a Japanese educator named Josei Toda when he helped to build the Buddhist lay organization in Japan in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. By looking only at inner reformation, humanity can transform society by focusing on the one thing we can change: ourselves.

So, how do you exit the negative bitch-fest?

Well, it ain’t easy, but it can be done.

How do I know?

Because I did it. And because I continue to remind myself not to backslide into thinking that complaint has any inherent value. It doesn’t. Complaint just calcifies your negative situation. It hardens around you and makes it even harder to break free.

Boarding the Grateful Train

When how you perceive your life changes, what you perceive changes.

It is simple, really.

Tell yourself a new story.

Tell yourself the story you want to live. Tell yourself the story that most makes you feel alive.

Stop focusing on what’s wrong.

“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” ~ Jack Gilbert, A Brief for the Defense

Start focusing on what’s good, instead.

See, no matter what condition your life is in, there is always, always, always something good to enjoy.

A perfect cup of coffee. Your dog’s sigh while she sleeps. Clean sheets. Grilled cheese sandwiches. The crescent moon.

Appreciate the most minute good details, the smallest slivers of light.  

That will allow those things to multiply.

  • Start a gratitude journal and watch your whole life change.
  • Keep a gratitude jar, and drop in a note every time someone does something kind or helpful.  Take those notes out at year’s end, and write thank you letters to each person you mention.
  • Write letters to the people in your life who matter and tell them why.
  • Think about what people might say if you died tomorrow. Would it reflect the best possible version of you? If not, it’s time to make a change.
  • Say thank you, turn off your cell phone and focus on your meal and conversation, give people your undivided attention.
  • Be kind, knowing that we are all ‘fighting a hard battle’ now. Assume that we are doing our very best, because we are.
  • Watch the stars at night and marvel at the light show.
  • Kiss those who matter most to you and tell them how you feel. Longevity is never a guarantee for any of us.
  • Tell people about your struggles, but keep the focus on what you are learning from each experience.
  • Know that if something is pulled away from you, there is a reason for that wound. Trust that you will live your way into an answer.

Remember: we often don’t know why things happen until much later, if we ever do.

Rather than worry about the question why, think about what you’ve made of the life you were given.

Did you add to the light of the world? Did you make a difference?

Did you use your voice and contribute to this collaborative conversation called life?

If so, you did good.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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Love is Sacred Surrender

Love is a Tango by Catrin Welz-Stein

Love is a Tango by Catrin Welz-Stein

“Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.”Marianne Williamson

Choose Love.

One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned about love is to just let go, to let it take you.

You can try to outrun the longings of your own soul, but eventually you will need to turn and face the possibility that everything in life is about love.

There is nothing else.  Just love.

And if you do not allow the jaws of life to rip open your chest and do surgery on your small heart, enlarging it and stretching it beyond what you think is possible, you will miss out on the tastiest, most juicy parts of life. You will plan the most wonderful party and forget to go. You will arrive just in time to clean up the mess and take out the trash.

The fact of the matter is, you will be half the person you were meant to be, if you don’t surrender yourself to love.

But.

It hurts.

It scares me. It reveals parts of me I don’t want anyone to see.

But.

It calls me out in my smallest moments.

It requires that I stand for something. It means I must step up and walk my talk.

But.

I am uncertain I want to be that vulnerable, that raw, that tender.

What if I give my heart to you and you hand it back to me, without comment.

Or worse, you look me over and say, “No thanks.”

What if I let this great rush of water take me, and I land on your doorstep, muddied, with sticks in my hair and half my clothes washed off?

What if you take one look at that hot mess and think, damn, I could do better than that.

But.

What if you don’t?

What if you take one look and say, “It’s you. Migod. You’re here. You’re finally here.”

***

What I know about love.

It’s the honeyed-water of life.

It makes everything softer, lighter, and more open.

I also know it takes a courageous heart to even attempt to walk into its currents. It’s not for the faint-hearted or lily-livered or for those who like remaining stuck inside the life raft, wearing their orange vests.

If you open to love, you’ll get wet.  If you dive in, you’ll be soaked.

Love is messy; that’s what makes it a cake you want to bake. 

Love is thumping your head against the wall and waking your neighbors and starting all the nearby dogs barking. Love is bumping and grinding and falling apart afterward and thinking, God damn! What was that?

Who left my hair matted and my heart pumping and my toes curled?

Oh, yes.

You, love.  You.

***

Walking Away by Gabriela Insuratelu

Walking Away by Gabriela Insuratelu

Love is also quiet. Angry. Bored. Spiteful.

Love can be a troublesome little f*ck.

Often, it will stand on your last nerve, just for shits and giggles.

It will ask you for more than you ever thought you could possibly give.

Love is the ultimate self-improvement course. It is continuing-ed and life-long learning rolled into one. It is trial by fire and poop patrol and ‘I-can’t-believe-I-have-to-do-this’ spiritual practice.

Love is sacred surrender.

Love will shape you into a vessel that can withstand anything.

No matter how difficult your journey toward love is, it is something you do not want to miss.

It will forge a version of you that you could never become without it.

Risk it.

Risk your heart.

Risk everything and be glad.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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Little Altars Everywhere

kitty altar“A sacred altar in your home can serve as a focal point for meditation or simply a refuge where you return when you need a spiritual boost.  It provides the space to lay down the burdens of your everyday life and just BE.  By dedicating space in your home to spirit, you coach your mind…and your loved ones… to believe that peace, serenity, and connection with the Divine is an ever-increasing priority.” ~ Ramdesh Kahr, Spirit Voyage blog

Refuge from the outside world.

Earlier this month, I started my 29th year of Buddhist practice.

For nearly three decades, I’ve had a sacred space in my home which allows me to practice Buddhism, morning and evening. I go to a couple of meetings held in other peoples’ homes about twice a month, but the roots of my practice are in my home. My altar serves as a place of peace, meditation, solitude, connection and joy. I plug into the golden stream of life force and my own inner wisdom when I am seated in front of my altar. I can hear my heart there.

I sit down and converse with my soul every time I chant.

The way in, is within.

When I was a kid, it was a curiosity to me to think that one needed to go to church to connect with God (or higher power, spirit, mystery, goddess). Why go anywhere when that great glowing light exists inside each one of us? All we have to do to find it, is quiet ourselves and become still. Then we can hear the multitude of luminous messages life’s sending our way.

To me, a home doesn’t feel safe (or like a home) without a place of spiritual grounding and solace. I can’t imagine not having an altar in my home. As a woman, it is a place where I can not only pray but also receive guidance.

It’s a place of sustenance and light. It feeds and sustains me as I go through my life.

Sacred Altar

Sacred space.

To create your own altar, first consider the purpose for which you will use it. Then collect things that you love and that remind you of what you are working on accomplishing through caring for your spiritual life.

Some altars contain vision boards or personal photos.

Mine has the last birthday card my father wrote me, which we found next to the bed where he died. It also has an autographed photo of Elton John that one of my students got for me when I was hospitalized last year, as well as other family photos.

Some altars center around candles, feathers, crystals, carved bowls or cut flowers. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altars are typically dedicated to the life of a loved one or several loved ones. They often include photos, mementos, flowers, bread, beer, sugar skulls, and hand written notes and letters. Every one I’ve ever seen was completely unique, though often filled with splashes of bright color.

Some people use statues of the Buddha or Christ or Mary or Kuan Yin as centerpieces.

For others, perhaps they have photos of a beloved pet or a child they’ve lost.

Truly, it depends on your sensibilities and what is important and sacred to you.

An altar is a reckoning place.

The point is, your altar should reflect you.

There’s no right or wrong way to create a sacred space in your home. There’s only what feels right to you.

A peace beyond price.

So, cover your space with small treasures. Find that perfect table covering or piece of lace or tie-dye. Fill a vase with sunflowers or eucalyptus. Smudge the house with sage or burn sandalwood incense. Light candles, ring a bell to clear the air and chase away anything you do not want to share space with. I had a friend who does energy work put a red thread around my entire house so that only supportive entities and beings and my angelic guides are allowed in.

Once your altar is ready, christen it by reciting a prayer or a portion of a poem, a sutra, or a selection from your journal.

This is a place of sustenance for you.

When there, feather your nest. Quiet your soul.

Step out of life’s chaos and soak in silence.

This is where you do your heart work. This is the place where you can deep-sea dive, swim, or just float.

Here, you are both the oyster and the pearl.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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A Gratitude Prayer

dulyposted_infinite-gratitude_quote

Let Yourself Off the Hook.

It’s OK to unplug and disengage from the news of the day, from the horror, genocide, war, poverty and sickness that seem to be everywhere. We aren’t terrible people if we need to sit and look at the sky, silently counting clouds, feeling the wind as it shifts. We aren’t selfish or awful or lacking compassion if we take time to care for ourselves, as best we can.

What’s Good? What’s Right About the World?

No matter how bad we feel about what’s happening in the world, feeling bad will not make others feel good. Only by making small choices to focus on what’s good, what’s right, what’s important — moment by moment by moment — can we ever hope to change things. Only that will foster the kind of life condition that will allow us to energetically shift and shape our future.

Use a balm of Patience and Kindness.

It won’t happen in a day or a week or a month. However, it will definitely happen. It will happen when enough people acknowledge and give thanks for the simplest pockets of joy they experience. Even on dark days when nothing goes right. Even when surrounded by madness. A heartfelt conversation. A good book. A purring cat. A bowl of ripe strawberries. A chance to tell someone you cherish them while he or she is still here to hear those words.

Each Day Fill Your Cup with Blessings and Gratitude.

For these and so many other blessings, I give profound thanks.

***

I posted a slightly shorter version of this on my Facebook page this week, mostly to encourage myself.  However, I was surprised to find it shared and re-shared all week, so perhaps many of us were feeling despair and needed a reminder.  Thanks to those of you that wrote to me and re-posted and reflected on these words. XOXOX

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues

Robin Williams 1

 For Robin Williams.

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”David Foster Wallace

Girl, Interrupted

I spent much of my late twenties and early thirties in agony. Sometimes, it was low-grade dysthymia; sometimes full blown clinical depression. I am empathic and highly sensitive. I had plenty to be happy about, but I wasn’t happy. Everything looked beige. Everyday was overcast.

Oddly, for me, sadness felt normal. It was the landscape I lived in. I didn’t know what it was like to not feel sad, to not cry at poignant commercials, to actually feel like getting out of bed, or changing my clothes, or showering. I wore the same pair of leggings and underpants for weeks. I would change my top so no one would notice.

I ate my anger, sadness, and grief.

I packed on the pounds and insulated myself from a world that burned at every turn. An intuitive, I could sense the sadness and bullshit others were masking. I wasn’t buying their song and dance.

Their eyes told another story.

The Family Tree

My grandmother was an impressively cowed depressive. My father had the blues more often than not. So did my aunts (on both sides of the family) and several of my cousins.

I joined the cement boot brigade in full regalia after I broke up with my high school sweetheart in 1991. Astute at pretending everything was just fine, I continued to work part time, going through the motions like a good soldier.

However, inside my head, the wind howled ceaselessly. I railed and wept and cut myself down to size.

That room in my head – with the black walls and the pin hole in the locked door – settled around me. For years.

The changes were subtle. I slept. First a little. Then, more. Then, pretty much any time I wasn’t at work.

I don’t remember what prompted me to seek therapy. Maybe it was the fact that my ex was a radio disc jockey and, seemingly, whenever I went anywhere in my hometown, his god damn show was on. Imagine hearing the voice of the person you loved most, everywhere you went.

Still, if memory serves, Caytie, one of my closest friends (and a co-worker) was the one who suggested I use my health insurance to, well, take care of my health. (And, god bless her for that intervention.) I made some calls and interviewed a couple of therapists. I chose the one who didn’t want to sign me up for psychoanalysis for the remaining years of my life.

Once I landed in said therapist’s office I learned that just because I still recognized the sublime ridiculousness of my predicament, and could occasionally laugh about it, didn’t mean I wasn’t supremely fucked up. (My terms, not those of my therapist.)

What’s up with the weather?

Up to that point, I assumed that a bleak landscape in life was a given. If you live in hurricane alley, you sort of expect it to storm.

However, my therapist informed me that there were possible treatments for what ailed me. Color me surprised. Not a single soul in my family believed in therapy (or in asking for help of any kind).

We’re a stalwart, stubborn, stoic bunch. We bootstrap our way through life. After all, we aren’t a bunch of pussies.

Down the Rabbit Hole

As you can imagine, therapy itself was a big step for me.  A huge step.  Sort of like drinking the Pacific Ocean with a straw.

Actually using medication – well, that was going too far.

So, I white-knuckled it for another year before I would accept help.

Who Turned On All The Lights?

In 1993, after two years of darkness, I started taking medication.

Within about ten days, the whole world lit up. I swung my feet over the edge of the bed and started my day without two pots of coffee and a round of blasting caps. The light around me was blazing and beautiful. Everything – everything – glowed.

Clear-headed and hopeful, for the first time in years work and exercise appealed to me. I stopped drinking diet soda and eating a dozen donuts a day.

I slept at night, but didn’t need to nap all afternoon. My brain fog and lethargy virtually disappeared. I lost weight.

It was a miracle.

And for a while it was the lifeline I needed.

Eventually, though, I needed to understand the mechanics of the subterranean gunk that caused my depression. So, I read everything I could about the illness. I even went to work for a mental health advocacy agency prior to going to grad school. I screened people for depression in Seattle, and helped those who needed it, find help. I read memoirs by Kay Redfield Jamison, Jennifer James, and Martha Manning. I worked on discovering what triggered my depression.

For me, it turned out to be a confluence of things like genetics, poor gut health, allergies, and eating foods that made me sick.

I need exercise – and in particular – I need to get enough sunlight, or my mood plummets precipitously. So, I moved to the Southwest, got off of gluten, lightened my carb intake, stopped drinking alcohol (except at Thanksgiving and Christmas), and – most importantly – I stopped postponing my life out of fear. If I failed, so be it.  At least I would have tried to actually live.

Living the Life I Imagined.

14 years ago, in a great leap of faith, I left the corporate job that was killing me and I started to write, teach, edit and create.

I allowed myself to exist as a sensitive, intuitive, empathic weirdo. As the person I’d always hidden and sheltered and starved.

I built an authentic, crazy, creative, truthful life.

In fact, my messy, unfettered creativity saved me.

Yesterday, when I heard about Robin Williams’ suicide, a tidal wave of sadness hit.

In tears, I searched for images of him to look at his eyes.

It was difficult to find a single photo where he didn’t look completely bereft. He’d made millions laugh, but he himself was clearly in agony and had been for quite some time. He masked it well with his antics and his mirth and his extraordinary talent. But as anyone who has walked the halls of hell knows, it’s easy to recognize a kindred, troubled, fellow inmate. His eyes reminded me of those days when I’d look at myself in the mirror with a single-minded self-loathing that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

I saw hell there — and even though I felt such grief over his death — for me, there was solace in the knowledge that his agony had ended.

“Let us be kind, one to another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.” ~ John Watson

So let’s start treating mental health issues like illnesses, instead of character flaws. Let’s stop the shame spiral associated with being awake and incensed over the bullshit going on in the world. Let’s stop pretending that ‘being normal’ is something anyone should aspire to be.

Let’s stop blaming people who hear voices or feel acutely the very wrongness of most of what’s considered acceptable and inevitable and OK. (Things like genocide, war, starvation, greed, ecocide.)

Let’s stop assuming that the status quo is worth preserving.

Being sensitive, empathic, and caring is a gift. Those of us who refuse to drink the Kool-aid are actually acting from a heightened sense of awareness, not complacency.

The fact of the matter is, the world needs us. It needs our gifts, our voices, our very essence in order to heal.

We are change-agents because we are awake. Sometimes that’s a gift, and sometimes, it’s a curse.

Robin knew that all too well.

May he rest in peace.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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As You Close One Door, Another Opens

doorway

“Buy experiences, not things. Spending on experiences makes people happier than spending on things. Things get broken and go out of style. Experiences get better every time you talk about them.” ~Jean Chatzky

THE UNRAVELING.

So much is unsettled right now. So much is unbound and unclear and uncertain.

At night I am restless and dreaming of seeds sprouting. My joints ache from moving boxes around in my mother’s house as she sorts and culls and throws out the material things she has spent decades collecting. What was all this for? What is the meaning of all this mess and loss?

Right now, I admit, I do not know.

I am just trudging through the days, organizing, sorting – trying my best to help her navigate the grief of the changes she’s going through.

She imagined a different sort of ending. She imagined that she would live in this tiny, crooked, cramped little house until she died. She paid for that to be so. It hasn’t worked out.

Instead, it created a rift, a tear in the fabric of our family that we cannot seem to mend.

LIFE IS MESSY.

So now, Mom’s got the dry heaves. She can’t eat. She’s sick with sadness.

Packing to make the move to Arizona where I live, she’s consolidating her two bedroom house into a small guest room and bathroom. 75% of what she owns cannot make the journey with her. There simply is not room for it in my home, and I don’t see the point in keeping things that you are not actually using on a regular basis.

CHOICES AND STILL MORE CHOICES. 

We stand together and sort, discuss, pack and cull.

“Which of the Santas do you want to keep?”

She is torn. She wants them all, but in the end, I sort it down to five.

We sort the Easter ornaments, the Halloween ornaments, the linens, the dolls, the dishes and pots and pans. We sort books and cloth napkins and baskets and clothes. We choose a few pieces of art and a few of the items that make her feel like she has a nest. We pack the seashells my father gave her and the cloth dolls she has had since her girlhood. We choose some of the videos and coffee table books, some of the spiritual books. I sort books, looking for anything I already own. We set those duplicates aside, to give away, sell or donate.

I know this process is different for me than it is for her.

For her, this is a death.

I am a witness, but these are not my things, my dreams, my sense of myself.

EACH THING REPRESENTS A MEMORY OF A PERSON OR A PLACE, LONG GONE.

To my mother, these things are a source of pain, of solace, of remembrance. She handles each item with nostalgia, remembering what prompted her to purchase it, save it, put it away. For years she collected and saved baby clothes for the child I never gave birth to. She only recently let those go, despite the fact that I am in my fifties.

I imagine it was bittersweet for her to realize that the daughter she imagined I would become, was not the person who showed up.

Instead, my writing became my creative life. My essays and poems spilled out, bloodied and squalling, wondering what the hell had happened to them, how they’d arrived in all this burning light and clamor. However, I produced no human babies for her to dandle, dress in little sleepers, or watch as they sucked their thumbs. My mom still feels disappointment over that loss.

She doesn’t know that I was inconsolable about it at one point, too. That I resigned myself to it by the time I finished graduate school at the age of 38. It gutted me to realize it was unlikely that I’d be a mother. However, to be a mother, you must have a father handy.

I didn’t meet any father material while I was actually fertile. Instead, I met divorced men who’d had vasectomies. I met men wrecked by other women. I met men with unresolved sexual abuse issues. I met men who needed mothering, rescue.

And, the thing is, I didn’t want to be a single parent. I wanted a partner who was whole and ready. Otherwise, children were not an option.

So, that aspect of life whipped past, searing me with dust and grit. I know now, we trade off – one sort of life experience for another. There are no gilded choices in life. There are always costs.

CLOSING ONE DOOR, OPENS ANOTHER.

While I work, box and clean, to clear and shutter my Mom’s house – I see her grief, up close. I see her pride and her sense of the unfairness of this.

It’s a sobering lesson in letting go. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right.

Still, the fact of the matter is, we can’t take our crap with us when we leave this life.

And our attachment to those things that belonged to our Nana or Granddaddy or father only lives in us. The things themselves are just things. They are meant to be enjoyed, but held lightly.

UNPACKING SHAME AND RE-IMAGINING WHAT’S NEXT.

“You think you are the biggest crap collector ever, Mom? You are total bush league in comparison to most people in this country,” I tell her as we eat salads at the picnic table in the front yard. “You don’t have a tenth of what many people do. And they just keep buying more and renting larger and larger storage lockers to keep it.”

Then I relate the story of a mutual friend who was featured on Hoarders.

“They took away 25 garbage trucks full of stuff from her house. 25 truck loads. You have nothing, in comparison.”

I see it’s dawning on her that she will live through this process and, perhaps, even see something better on the other side of it.

***

LEARNING TO TRAVEL LIGHT

When I left Seattle a week ago, I’d set up a schedule for her so she could just pack and sort and worry less about the end game. I set up donation pick-ups and took pictures of her furniture. I plan to list and sell what we can, and then she’ll donate or give away the rest.

I came home and immediately started to go through my books and clothes and dishes, searching for things I no longer use, love, or need. I filled four boxes effortlessly. My plan is to do monthly donations of four boxes until next June. After that, I will do donations twice a year for the rest of my life.

I look forward to streamlining my possessions and living in a home that is clutter-free.

My hope is that when my mom arrives at the end of September, she’ll see the value of living without all that stuff. The people and moments and memories that matter, live inside of her. She carries them in her blood, her DNA, her cells.

I hope that eventually she’ll remember this process as the beginning of something good. I hope she’ll see this smoothing and sanding of her soul as a benefit, a gift.

Experiences, not stuff. I never want to mortgage my life again to buy stuff.

Instead, I want to make memories. I want to eat wonderful meals, drink lovely bottles of wine, or take unforgettable trips to Africa or Japan or Australia.

Those are things to savor. Once in a lifetime things.

We can’t take any of it with us, so we’d best learn to travel light.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey.