Category Archives: Acceptance

My idea of surrender, and why I need it

I think about surrender a lot, because I am over forty and have learned how to control quite a bit of my life.

Something happens when a person reaches that age group. As a twenty-something I would often remark on how bitchy forty year old women were. They just seemed angry and bitter about everything. Well, it’s amazing how the life journey can give you some perspective on that.

To my twenty-something friends, you aren’t wrong about that observation! I’ll tell on myself a bit there. :-). Here’s why that bitterness tends to rear its ugly head at that time in a woman’s life (men too, I imagine). Since I can only speak for myself (others are undoubtedly wiser than me), I will cast this information in light of my own experience.

1. I’ve been working really hard in my career without sufficient regard to my other life needs…when I really need to work smarter.
2. I think I can keep the house clean all the time, even with four teenagers and animals and a full time job.
3. I fail to fully consider how I spend my commute to and from work.
4. I overlook the mathematics of the value of my time and give away too many hour of work to my employer.
5. I have been responsible for everything so long that I have forgotten how to be irresponsible – how to delight that inner child.
6. I stay too wrapped up in what didn’t go right yesterday and what I’m worried about for tomorrow to realize that in this little moment called NOW, there is a sunbeam and the coffee is awesome and the og is less than five feet away.

From my atheist / agnostic upbringing as a child, my concept of surrender is more practical than holy, although it certainly works to have a holy idea of surrender to God.

Surrender = acceptance of a bigger idea or plan than I cannot know all of at any one moment.

It also involves letting go of the idea that I can control what happens to me, and opening myself to serendipity that can move me forward spiritually. Even writing this line, I feel resistance within myself. Sometimes someone I care about makes a suggestion for something fun to do. If it wasn’t already in my plan for the weekend, maybe I will say no to it because I might see it as a distraction or predict it is not going to give me the contentment I am after.

But I also must acknowledge the truth that when I spend my weekend in exactly the ways I intended, the probability of feeling dissatisfaction by the end of the weekend is about the same. So what’s really going on here?

Lots of stuff, most of which I call ’emotional static’ that’s a result of not centering down enough. Emotional static is caused when there is a lack of discipline in my mind. I might be wrapped up in ‘shoulds’ about others in my life (i.e., things I cannot control) – cleaning up meal dishes without being asked, not leaving socks under the couch, not sticking toast with peanut butter behind the couch, not eating all of the cereal in one sitting.

It makes me tired just thinking about it! And just so you know, I still haven’t learned what the perfect balance is to living with teenagers, and I am still exhausted when I spend more time at home, and I am still relieved to send my days in a more predictable office environment.

Emotional static also comes from sensing others’ moods without being consciously aware of them, being mad at myself for lack of action or too much action, and nervousness over something that still needs to be done (like bills or taxes).

I can describe the problem of not surrendering in great detail – what I need to do next is describe the process of surrendering in great detail. I see it as a series of many decisions throughout the day to let go of things.

Sometimes it’s impossible to let go of a particular moment, but maybe it’s better then to say, well, that’s one moment, let’s try for the next. Maybe some days are so bad that I am doing great if I can just snatch one innocent, happy, expectation-free moment in the entire day.

If any of you also have this challenge (and fighting for survival in New Jersey seems to make this more prevalent), I suggest a few starter activities that won’t require too much of your time and energy (and thus will be harder to blow off).

While taking one of these little moments, remember to stop your thoughts and take a few deep, slow breaths, focusing on one pleasant thing about it at a time – the simpler the better. On returning to the routine, practice a little emotional discipline and avoid letting negative thoughts slam back into your mind – refocus on the pleasure of that moment.

Here’s the thing I noticed about these practices – they will not appear to be worthwhile when you first think about doing them. You will slowly get more joy from them as you continue practicing with the intention of contentment.

First thing in the morning:
While waiting on the dog to do her business or the child to eat, find a sunbeam if you can, listen to birds singing, or take a sip of something delicious like coffee or juice.

On your way to the office:
If you drive, play songs that make you happy and sing with them. It’s hard to frown while doing so. Or listen to stories to take your mind elsewhere.
If you take public transportation, sit someplace that’s a little more pleasant if you can. I walk all the way down the train to the quiet car on the end and sit on the east-facing side so the sun shines on me.
Also when on trains or buses, watch the people. if they don’t make you smile, go sit or stand somewhere more entertaining. It’s okay to have fun and notice other human beings in a crowded place.
If it’s cold, wear your softest, warmest, happiest scarf and hat even if they look funny. Especially if they look funny because others will smile at you.
If you walk, play tunes on your headphones that make you happy.

You get the idea – there is one of these moments in every part of your day – give it a try for a week and see if it helps!

Shall we expect questions to lead to answers?

For the past three years, I have been sitting with the idea that it is the questions that are important, not the answers.

Today I realized I have been waiting for an answer about joy and sorrow. I had the question in my heart, is my involvment with the Quaker community my answer to the sorrows that life brings us? Is it THE answer, i.e., just about the only thing that will help balance the sadness of losing loved ones to sickness and tragedy and working in a job market that seems to separate us from our humanity?

What then is my question?
And also, is this a signal that my focus is shifting back towards answers rather than questions?

Then I realize with a laugh that, in the process of exploring this, I have just asked four very important questions.

It is not enough for me to simply place more trust in questions than answers. I think that I must also ASK the RIGHT QUESTIONS.

So then I am exploring whether trying to ask the rights questions just brings me back to an ‘answers’ mindset. How could this be the case? Well, it all depends upon my intentions when I am selecting the ‘right’ questions. If I am trying, in a well meaning way, to ask questions that maybe more likely to achieve a specific desired outcome, then do I understand what that outcome is?

And if that is the case, how shall I value that outcome against other outcomes? If the outcome seems to solve a problem in an area of my life where I have decided I have a lack, then that is one way of prioritizing the outcome.

Do I truly understand which aspect of my life needs work most? When I look at the various parts of my life which I usually feel need work, again the question comes up, how can I fairly and with my highest good in mind choose one area over another? In priorizing and ranking them, do I risk solidifying my thinking too much about something which is constantly changing?

When I sit in silence among my Quaker friends, I often have lots of prayers ready in the front of my mind. They are kind of like a wish list for Santa, although a bit less materialistic. Still, I am noisily (in my mind) asking for specific, tangible, measurable objectives – ha ha! The business mindset creeping into spirituality! If your intention is to sit in expectant silence, is it not just as materialistic to pray for a full time job in a certain field with a certain salary as it is to pray for an Xbox 360?

If this is happening during prayers, and when deciding upon the best questions to ask oneself, then what space does this leave for divine intention to be understood and/or made real in my life?

How can one human being possibly come up with something they want to pray for which serves their higher good better than that which God can come up with? Even if you don’t believe in a god which knows what you need at any given moment, perhaps in your life you’ve sensed some sort of subtle guidance from time to time in the form of seeming coincidences, and you felt that those coincidences had some kind of greater meaning (or, as I felt as an agnostic a few years ago, there were random happenings from which I chose to take meaning for my life, thus leading to some of the same blessings).


Being Human, First and Foremost

This is a tough topic, because we have deadlines, priorities, family needs, personal goals, and lots and lots of obstacles. When these obstacles get especially tricky, sometimes our response can be to become callous, abrupt, thoughtless, cranky, and more.

Christmas season is tough for me anyway, with memories of my mom’s final decline (she died three days after her birthday, on Dec. 28) and doubts about the over-wrought complexity of American-style Christmas. A visit with my family was two years overdue and they were all living in Oregon for the first time in years, so I made travel arrangements to take Jim to meet my dad and stepmom before we get married. I combined some time off that I had saved up, plus company holidays, so that I could be off the last two weeks in December.

The company had planned in January to move me to the Internet group, a better fit for my skills and a way to make me more of a shared resource to all groups. I was excited about the transition and feeling optimistic about the strategic direction this was taking.

Going into Christmas season, one of the kids developed some pretty serious health issues and had to be hospitalized, which worried the whole family. At the same time, my dog Sophy was dealing with a recurring bladder infection and one vet had said we might need to check for bladder cancer. The last week before Christmas, I got some wonderful news on both fronts as both were feeling better and back at home with us – it seemed things were beginning to even out for us and I was full of gratitude.

Seeking to embrace hope, we managed to get the Christmas tree set up, plans went forward for family visits, and we purchased a few gifts.

A few days later, I was laid off from my job because of budget cuts related to the economy. Lots of people have gotten laid off during this economic downturn, but I have never been laid off or fired from a job in my life, so this took me by surprise. I made two decisions that day after filing for unemployment: I wouldn’t let this stop our plans to visit my father and family, and I wouldn’t let this discourage me about my own professional future.

I would have been off the week of Christmas anyway, but my time at home took on an almost feverish urgency as I began to do all I could to make sure my name was “out there” – I got my resume updated on three career sites and began applying for jobs that were suited to my skill set. I started thinking about contract work and freelance email marketing work, and this led me to realize something important: I was out of health insurance coverage. I either had to get COBRA or get added to Jim’s health plan.

Because he and I had planned to marry as soon as we could arrange it, deciding to move up those plans was easy, but figuring out when to fit in a marriage was the hard part. We’d be in Oregon for the last week of 2010 but we needed to do this right away – sort of a “shotgun wedding,” if you will! I did some research, and we ended up getting married in one day before a county clerk in Newport, Oregon, with my dad and stepmom there as witnesses. One I am employed again, we can plan a nice reception here in New Jersey.

The new year has brought with it some signs of hope. I’ve had several job interviews already and I am getting calls every day. I think it won’t be long before I am working again.

These challenges are opportunities for frustration or patience, despondency or hope, anger or humor, and so on. In other words, the important thing is to remain a human being, first and foremost.

I see so many people in New Jersey that are caught up in the grind, working hard and not really happy with their circumstances because the cost of everything keeps them from really having the freedom to explore in their lives. Many residents of the part of New Jersey I live in have families and all their decisions are in support of family needs and activities, understandably.

It’s hard for young people to strike out on their own in this state, because of how late they have to wait for driver’s licenses, the competitive job market, and the cost of rent and gas. They end up staying at home with their parents longer than they had planned, which can cause more frustration.

What I am seeing these days is examples of how people are still striving to be human, and to treat others humanely. They may still have gruff exteriors, but grocery checkers are occasionally unexpectedly kind and considerate, postal workers smile from time to time, bartenders remember my favorite ale flavor, and clerks of small shops still find the time to carry my purchases to my car. In fact, in the last month, a former employer recommended me on LinkedIn, many friends where I worked reached out to me to help me look for work, a family member sat with me in gentle conversation, another family member made us a wedding cake, former coworkers invited me to lunch, a toll booth attendant let me through without paying when I failed to exit in time, and recruiters gave me helpful advice on my resume.  There are so many more examples I could include.

You can get wrapped up in your life circumstances and start asking “why me?” but the fact is, there are examples of grace being offered to me (and you) every day. When others are human with me, it’s an opportunity for me to stop, take a breath, and reset my emotional condition. Chances are, I wasn’t being human with myself. Maybe I was judging myself, trying to push myself too hard, or commit other unkindnesses. This just makes me frustrated and cranky with others, too.

A very wise man told me once to give myself more grace because we are all imperfect. Through his example, he taught me to keep placing myself back on my intended path even after I mess up. I don’t really want to be perfect – what I really want is to be human.

Echoes of Mom’s suffering

My mom died at the end of 2006, just after her 60th birthday. She died of a rare kind of small intestine cancer, but actually she died of kidney failure as a result of starvation after her innards refused to pass food for a while. She died in the manner she chose; no feeding tubes, IV lines or other heroic measures; the DNR (do not resuscitate order) was signed and posted on the side of the refrigerator. At the very end, she was living on oxygen, whipped cream and morphine.

I find that her journey, and the role I played in it, have colored my relationships with all the people I care about. I began to ask myself, how would I respond to my loved ones’ choices about what they want out of life? When should I sit quietly and try to just be a good companion and when should I take an active role in trying to bring about healing? It is so hard to watch people suffer and not do something, and yet there are times when there really is nothing we can do.

One of the hardest things I had to learn with Mom was how to just be there for her while she went about the process of dying. I wanted to FIX her, I wanted to SOLVE something that had gone so terribly wrong. She couldn’t take in food, something was blocking the way, I had to find a solution…and then again, I couldn’t. I read piles of books and scanned Web sites looking for answers; I mentally checked off a list of things that could be done for her to make sure nothing was forgotten. The surgeon had done what he could. The hospital did what it could. Her regular doctor visited her home and did what he could. They were in charge of cutting, medicine, therapies. What role did that leave me, the untrained and unprepared daughter?

Deep in my bitterness, I realized I could stand there and wring my hands, I could watch her puke and waste, I could try again and again to serve her food and drinks that might, this time, make it all the way through to nourish her body. And yet that was the only role I could have – it was uniquely mine, as her daughter. She didn’t seem concerned about what could be done for her; she seemed to accept the situation as it was in each moment. When I finally confessed to her that I didn’t know how to help, that I wanted to be of service but didn’t know what to do, she smiled and said just by being there with her, I was helping. I did precious little during my visits with her that year; and yet she said how grateful she was that I did so much. Mostly I tried not to scream and cry and tear out my hair every minute of every day that I witnessed her being squeezed dry by this relentless cancer that had her in its grasp. Meanwhile she said gentle words to me and squeezed my hand.

Now someone close to me wants to be skinny so badly that she has eaten almost nothing in the last two weeks. She ended up at the emergency room with dehydration and signs of kidney stress. For a completely different reason, she had been eating almost nothing; and yet it felt to me the same. If you give up on food; if you tell your body that it doesn’t need food, eventually it will believe you and you won’t be able to feed it any longer. I don’t know at what point this happens, but the very thought scares me so much. Here I am again, standing by helplessly, once again in a minor role of providing occasional comfort. I know better than to think that I can FIX this. Healing can happen, but it has to come from her and won’t be instantaneous. But why would she take her life so lightly that she could risk it this way? How could someone so beautiful to me think of herself as anything less than?

Still, as I try to settle in to wait, I wonder if this is the same situation or not. Before, Mom was clearly dying and had come to terms with that. In that case, I rightly accepted her choice and helped her stay comfortable. In this case, this young lady is not my daughter and I have no decision making responsibility for her. I must accept that this is true too. My prayer is to gradually understand how I may help with this; not from arrogance or false desperation, but from a true desire to be of service if my service is beneficial in some way. To feel this way, and be standing outside looking in, is the most painful thing I have ever experienced. This is life – there are so many things we are unable to change, such as illness and death; other people’s minds, the laws of our society, who our bosses are, and the weather.

My personal challenge is to find a way to accept those things and do what I can without succumbing to the temptation to give up and run off. That’s the faulty logic that if I can’t fix it, then I am going to get as far away from it as I can so that I might ignore it. But I  cannot ever escape my own desire to make something better melded with my knowledge that there is very little I can actually do. That will follow me everywhere I go, because it’s embedded in my personality, my soul, my life’s path. I will encounter these helpless situations again and again as people and creatures I love suffer hurts and illnesses; what then is my role, and how will I be content with it?

On expectations and blessings

This morning while sitting in silence with the Quakers, I began to explore the extent and impact of expectations in my life. What are the kinds of events/things/people/relationships we expect in our life? How do they steer our daily existence and our opportunities? Do they give us hope or do they limit our happiness?

We are a goal-oriented society; we all must to some extent have an idea of what we want, or we likely won’t get it. At least this is true for material things like jobs, cars, houses, or fitness. But is this the right frame of mind for experiences like relationships, people, and opportunities?

It seemed to me that the more detailed and complex my vision for my life was, the less space there would be for surprises (otherwise known as blessings) to occur. I explored that for a long time, thinking of each expectation, goal, or plan I had for my present life.

To me, blessings are a stealthy thing. They sneak up on you and wait for you to notice them. They probably won’t impact your life for the better unless you see them and let them in. And if you’re focused on the script for how your life is to play out, maybe you won’t see them at all. I visualized myself at the center, sitting cross-legged on a folded towel on a packed dirt surface. Blessings and love shone toward me from all sides, but between me and them was a round brick wall tightly encircling me. Each brick was actually an expectation of how my life should proceed, as in:

I will work for a marketing department.

My house should be clean.

There should be plenty of food in the fridge which everyone in the family can eat.

I should have friends.

My dog should behave herself.

My car should always work.

My man should treat me well at all times.

I should be a healthier weight.

My hair should not be gray.

Each of the kids should have a nice birthday with a cake I bake myself.

My cat should not puke on the floor or meow too loud.

The kids should always help clean the house.

New Jersey should be nice to me.

I should get over my mom’s death.

And so on – try this exercise yourself and you will begin to see how many you have too! I was amazed. It became clear to me that every expectation I had could obscure a blessing waiting to come to my life. And some of those blessings might actually help me with many of my goals and dreams, but what they required was serenity and trust.

I’m a type A from way back, so this is not an easy task for me. In fact, I immediately began to think of new goals that would help me get more blessings into my life. Aha. More bricks in the wall, not fewer. Okay, breathe, Sylvie.

Lacking in answers, I did a little positive visualization. I imagined myself punching out those bricks one at a time, after visualizing the expectation first. I give up my attachment to a constantly clean house. Kaboom. A little ray of sunshine sneaks in and bathes my shoulder with warmth. Another one – I give up my expectation that my man provide me with attention at every opportunity. Crunch. A little bird flies in through the opening and sings a pretty song to me.

I visualized punching out every brick and walking out into the world to be buffeted by chance and opportunity. I realigned my view of the world – now I was a leaf in a stream, spinning and swirling downstream past rocks and other obstacles, sometimes floating with other leaves and sometimes rushing past. Now it’s a journey and you take the impermanence of it along with the joys. I read that the Buddhists say change is the only constant. Also: If you can accept that inevitability, you can begin to be content.

So have I completely transformed my existence from this exercise? Heck no. That would be too easy. But this gives me some more information and some more questions to work on.

January progress report on my life

I feel as though I am waking from a long and troubled winter’s sleep. Christmas was a hard time for me though I do feel I injected some hope into the season which will help me have a better holiday next year.

I was not suicidal and I don’t need antidepressants, but just going through a catharsis about Mom being gone from my life. Her birthday was Dec. 25 and she died 3 days after her birthday in 2006. Christmas is just not the same for me. Plus the shallowness of the holiday really wears on me – it has no real meaning anymore. Just an occasion for giving people stuff they don’t need anyway. We all have too much stuff and it pulls our focus away from more worthy endeavors.

I had a sore back around the same time and decided to go to a chiropractor /  sports doctor. I am feeling so much better and now doing exercises to avoid reinjury.

I restarted my yoga practice last week with Yoga for Restoration class. And just before Christmas I began visiting a nearby Quaker meeting, though I am not a Quaker (yet). I love their silent worship and how anyone can speak out of the silence. There is no pastor and the ugly issue of money hardly ever gets mentioned – they value simplicity as do I. I am meeting some kind souls there including one amusing older man who has invited me to a writer’s group at his house in Morristown.

There is a drum circle that meets once a month at the Quaker meeting house – not affiliated, just uses the space. But I intend to check that out as well. I am working to bring more positive energy and positive people into my life. And Jim and his family are a wonderful benefit for that.

I do have a new job as of Sept 09 and I am working to manage job stress better. It’s a pretty hectic scene sometimes. Sometimes I feel that I am actually an editor in a marketing manager’s clothing, LOL. I’d love to also have the chance to do more editing, esp. something related to my new life journey like health, spirituality, kindness, whatever.

And in the back of my mind is the comforting idea that I have with a friend from SEG – her name is Spring. We want to write and record meditations for podcasts. We are working on ideas and will be corresponding with each other about this as it develops. I hope to jump in and try one sometime in the first quarter.

I miss my friends and family who are scattered across the country – I am grateful to still be in touch with Dad, Lisa, Aline, Diane, Valerie and Julie and many others. I often get distracted and time slips by before I reach out again, but I always feel better when I do reconnect. I think about them all with gratitude and love.