Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lady Podcasts and Smooth Jazz


One of the real pleasures of blogging is meeting folks on the internet. This may seem like a one-way highway, a masturbatory, navel-gazing activity, but it's not. It's actually quite social. You see, we don't just blog to shout into the black emptiness of the universe only to have it echo back our own words at us. We actually engage in dialogue. Nice folks like you sometimes comment.

*Clears throat*

*Looks meaningfully at the comments section*

Sometimes those comments turn into conversations, which evolve into online friendships. Those online friendships can become real-life, live-and-in-person friendships. And so the blogosphere permeates our lives and becomes so much more than these silly words in cyberspace.

That's a rather lofty way of saying, I make friends on the internet. And sometimes I meet those friends and do stuff with them that might interest you. 

Two such friends are two hilarious women from Ohio. If you don't know, I'm from Michigan and our states border one another. Sometimes we fight over our football teams, but mostly we have a lot in common. Particularly the Rustbelt cities of Detroit and Toledo. You could call them sister cities. Brittany Gibbons and Meredith Soleau are two of my sister bloggers from my sister city. They were kind enough to invite me down to Ohio this week to step in as a guest on their weekly podcast, Girl's Girls. 

I love the concept of Girl's Girls. Both women feel strongly that we as women need to lift each other up rather than tear each other down. We also need to day drink and talk about a lifetime commitment to therapy. 

I spent a few hours in the lovely Ms Gibbons' home with a pair of headphones on and my lips pressed against an enormous fluffy "mic." That's what you say in the biz. "Mic." Because now I'm in the 'biz. The ladies also noticed what a "low voice" I have on air. My husband also noticed this the first time he spoke to me on the phone after we'd met on an online dating site. He used the exact same phrase. 

"Wow, you have such a low voice."

Which I always thought meant I sound like a man. It was especially disconcerting coming from a man who could give Barry White a run for his money.

But Brittany and Meredith dubbed me "Smooth Jazz" so now that's my Radio Personality Name. I want to start my own podcast and call it "Smooth Jazz with Mandy Fish" and play absolutely no jazz whatsoever because I don't really like jazz, to be honest. I do like the blues, if that counts. And Ella Fitzgerald. Hey, I'm trying to save myself here from the wrath of the jazz lovers.

I want everyone to like me.

Which may be the cause of many of my mental health issues.

If you'd like to hear three Midwestern women discuss therapy and mental health, check out this week's edition of Girl's Girls on iTunes. I'll be back with the girls next week too to talk about sex gone wrong. 
    
And let me know how you like my low voice in the comments! You can also feel free to ask any questions of me, Brittany and Meredith. I'll make them come over here and talk to you. Because that's what girl's girls do.





What’s a girl’s girl? Click here and Brittany will tell you. 



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Slices of Happiness and Non-Attachment

Last week I read about the concept of "Slices of Joy" by the former Happiness Ambassador at Google, Chade-Meng Tan. I also went to temple on Sunday, where the guiding teacher explained the concept of "Detachment," which always seems to be problematic for people. What could these two things have to do with each other, you ask? Lots.

I like the concept of "Slices of Joy." Tan, a former mindfulness instructor at Google, teaches us that our attachment to our own thoughts and slights keep us from noticing all of the "Slices of Joy" that the world offers to us. A golden burst of color on the fall trees. A sudden text from an old friend. A moment of sheer delight on our children's faces. All of these moments can be missed if we're too wrapped up in our own thoughts.

On Sunday the guiding teacher of my temple, Koho, spoke about the Buddhist concept of Detachment or Non-Attachment. This almost always freaks people out. They think it means Buddhism makes you not give a damn about anyone or anything. As though transcending into some unfeeling, unruffled saint is the whole object. Which it's not.

The concept of Non-Attachment is the concept of not attaching ourselves to the stuff that's not important. The stuff that robs us of our happiness. If we were to live fully present in each moment, we would find bliss. It is bliss to breathe in and out. It is bliss to feel a breeze flowing carelessly across your cheek. It is bliss to watch children laughing in the park. And bliss to see the sun play across the grass and light each blade with fire.

But alas, we let all those thousands of moments slip by as though they were nothing. Instead, we spend the majority of our time lost in thought. Thoughts about other people. What they said or did. Thoughts about what we said or did. Thoughts about what we might say or do. Things we might have done wrong in the past or may do in the future. Money we might save or spend. Chores we might get done. Chores we might blow off. Micro aggressions hurled at us from other drivers on the road or from our spouses. Children. Friends. Family. Such a litany of suffering. Such a litany of irritation.

If you attach yourself to all that, you're missing out on all the slices of joy.

Not big joy.

Not overwhelming euphoria.

The majority of life does not offer us that.

What it does offer us is tiny moments of happiness. Tiny pleasures. Pay attention. Seek them out. Smile. Recognize them. For they slip past so quickly, it will be as though they never happened.

But if you pay attention, my god. You may suddenly realize that your life is chock full.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Letter to Self of Years Past.

Dear Self of Years Past,

People who are lost often don't know they are lost. This is the worst kind of lost to be. You don't even know you've gone off the path, let alone how far off into the woods you've stumbled. The thing is, Self, you've been lost before. You've struggled to find a clear path to a decent future. You've had your heart broken and you've let bills go unpaid. You've drank too much, slept with the wrong people and made unfortunate fashion choices. But even amidst all that, you still knew who you were and retained the Essence of You.

But now you've arrived at the point where the Light of You has extinguished. You're so consumed with trying to make this relationship work that you've completely forgotten who you are. You're still the plucky kid you were all along. You're the child of an alcoholic who refused to go unloved. You sought out neighbors, teachers, friends, friends' parents and therapists. You never stopped seeking shelter and love. You didn't stand in the rain.

Today, you're drowning. You stand behind Him at parties. You're the quiet girlfriend in the corner. You're meek. You're mild. And you're terrified it isn't going to work. You think he lifted up the earth and hung it among the stars. What you don't know is that he's all bully and bluster. You're ten times more interesting and 100-fold smarter. Only everybody knows it but you.

Yesterday you had an old friend over and the two of you sat chatting on the couch. He walked through the room and said something you barely registered as he went out the front door and closed it behind him. You kept talking to your friend until she stopped you.

"I don't know what shocks me more. The fact that he talks to you that way … or the fact that you allow it."

I know it hurt to hear that. But Self, listen to her. She's not being mean. The people who love you the most are trying to tell you.  You need to listen.

"I don't even know you any more," your mom said on the phone the other day.

The comment still rings in your ears and makes your heart beat faster with a rabbit panic. You think they're wrong. You think you can fix it and make everything work. Once everything is fixed it will all be perfect and then they'll see. You can fix anything. You're determined. You're special. You're hardworking and hell-bent. It has to work. Just this once it has to work. You want the fairytale ending and you're willing to destroy yourself to get it.

Here's the truth. Trying to make it work is only working to destroy you.  And if you don't get out soon, you might lose yourself forever. If you leave, it's going to hurt. You'll burst into tears at a red light and the car behind you will honk while you sob into the steering wheel. It'll hurt so much you'll be quite convinced that it will break you. It will hurt so much your skin will prickle and your stomach will fold itself into such a tight little knot that you'd rather starve than go without love.

But you'll eat. You'll start to drink from the cup of life once more and then you'll take big greedy gulps until you make yourself sick. But you'll get past that too. And then you'll start to be yourself again. Your skin will fit the way it used to and the ground will meet your feet as you walk. You'll smile and pay bills. Friends will call. You'll get a new job and redecorate. You'll buy new shoes and go out on dates.

In fact, you'll not only get back to the girl you once were, you'll become the woman you always wanted to be. You'll be better. You'll come out the other side and your heart will be even bigger than it was before. Your life will expand. You'll reach out. You'll listen. People will call you and heed your advice. You'll find it in your heart to forgive. You'll just keep expanding until you're bigger than the world you knew.

Now start packing. It's time to start living again.


Love,

Self of Years Present





This is a response to a writing prompt hosted by the indomitable Brittany, Herself. To participate in the August Writing Prompts, click here.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Back to Zen

Grace is the physical manifestation of my usual state of mind.

I started a new job in March, which is wonderful. I not only love what I do, I love the team I'm working with. The three of us have become quite close. As much as I love the job, it is a job and as such, it does take up a lot of my time. And then I've got those two kids. And the spouse. And a lot of friends. And hobbies and working out and going grocery shopping. So as you can imagine, I am pretty busy just like everyone reading this post.

But busyness can be a burden. I mean, sometimes it's great! I have so much amazing stuff to do and so many awesome people to do it with! And my kids make me laugh! And my husband spoils me! And I have a personal trainer and a therapist and a writing coach! I mean, damn, everyone should be so lucky to be busy in the way that I am. I totally get how extremely fortunate I am.

But still.

So.

Busy.

Busyness can become a state of mind in addition to a physical state. I'm running from work to day camp to hockey practice to working out to appointments to the grocery store. And while I'm running all over doing all that, I'm thinking of what just happened or what's about to happen or what I need to happen later that day, tomorrow, a week from now and next December.

Busy.

Busy.

Busy.

It's all good busy, don't get me wrong. I mean, crap, I have a housekeeper. So it's not like I'm busily scrubbing toilets. I'm busy doing a lot of things I love to do and a lot of things I'm happy to do for my friends and family.

But the mind can only take so much.

At one time does it rest? When do you stop all that and just Be? When do you came back into your own? I read a lot. I tend to think that's my "me" time and it is. But reading is another form of busyness too. It keeps my mind preoccupied.

The other night I went to yoga. I hadn't been to yoga since I don't even know when. Yoga feels like a luxury. Yoga isn't fast. Yoga doesn't fit in to my prioritized list of THINGS I MUST DO. Yoga fits into THINGS I'D LIKE TO DO IF ONLY I HAD TIME.

But I did it anyway. I carved out a space in the evening and just laid claim to it. I said to hell with putting the kids to bed or picking up kids from hockey or letting my husband go work out. I put all of their needs aside and said OKAY LOOK I THINK I ACTUALLY NEED THIS.

Though I didn't have to yell it.

I just had to ask.

Sometimes I think I'm bad at asking for what I need.

So I went to yoga after a very long absence from it and I stretched and sweated in the dark. I let the music fill my bones and resonate through my body. I stretched and moved until the sweat ran in my ears (SWEAT CAN RUN IN YOUR EARS?). I moved my body and felt the white hot sting of muscles and tendons that had not moved or stretched in this way in many months. I held the pose even if I was on fire. I held the space even though it was hot. I moved even though I wasn't quite sure what the next pose was supposed to be.

And in all that (perhaps another form of busyness too?) my mind became very still. The music pulsed and resonated through my body, the sweat trailed down my arms and spilled onto my mat. I stretched my hip and let the pain radiate until it became a pin-white spot of focus. I closed my eyes and the heat, the dark and the vibration became the womb. Whether I was moving or still, I was present in the thick warm air of the studio.

I imagined the heartbeat of my mother. I imagined a life completely sustained and all of its needs met by one convenient tube pumping your sustenance, your oxygen, truly your life blood, through it. I floated and calmed. I was just there with me. My own heartbeat. My own thoughts. My forehead resting on the mat, my breath coming back up on me. Hot. Wet. Dark. Pulsing. Calm.

Then the door opened and a cool sweep of air passed over me.

I breathed deeply.

I was one in that room with the other moving bodies. With the yoga teacher reminding me, "To let that shit go."

And it was good.

All was still.

It was the opposite of "busy."


Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Lifetime Sentence

Twenty-eight years ago I was raped. That may seem like a long time ago, a lifetime perhaps. But it's not. It's not when you are inundated with news articles and social media posts about rape. It's not when twenty-eight years later we are still trying to figure out a way to blame women for being raped. It's not when we discuss how a young rapist shouldn't have his life ruined because of "twenty minutes of action." That twenty minutes will echo and reverberate through that young woman's life. It will echo in her memory twenty-eight years from now, when you and I have forgotten this particular news story. Twenty-eight years from now when that young rapist has a career, a family and an entire life that has enabled him to forget the twenty minutes that he preyed on an unconscious woman behind a dumpster—she will not be so fortunate. That twenty minutes will resonate every time that she is in a situation where it feels as though something is being done to her against her will. It will resonate and come roaring back at the most unexpected moments. In meetings at work. In conversations with friends. In disagreements with her husband. When dressing her six-year-old daughter and she is suddenly seized by the fear that someday, someone will seize upon her daughter's unconscious person and violate her in a way that will haunt her and stalk her and prey upon her for the rest of her life. Her precious daughter. Her precious, fragile body. Her wiggly, joyful person. How could somebody do that to her? To me? To you? To any of us? No, twenty-eight years is not a lifetime ago because it comes roaring back to me all the time, at unexpected moments. I am seized by a fear so visceral I feel it in my guts. My hands shake as I reach for the Xanax that will calm me and help me to not cry, or scream or run. But twenty-eight years is a lifetime. It is a lifetime sentence. One that I pay every day and one that my rapist will never know.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day Forgiveness


On Mother's Day I give myself a little gift of namaste. My thought process is, "What a relaxing way to start Mother's Day!" I figure I'll be nice and chilled out for the day and that will make me a truly pleasant mom for the whole entire day while my family is forcibly nice to me.

(Just kidding. They're always nice to me.)

The yoga teacher plays a bunch of mom-themed songs and it really doesn't mean much to me. I pretty much cut myself off emotionally from any over-the-top mom sentimentality. I try to be pretty cool and unemotional about most overly treacly mother stuff because I have mom issues. 

I know, who doesn't? 

Maybe the difference is that I've been in therapy since I was 14 years old. I don't know whether to be proud of that or ashamed. I've never claimed to be a quick learner. I've taken those emotional intelligence tests online and basically I'm emotionally impaired. So cut me some slack. I'm medicated and in therapy. 

I'm a work in progress.

There I am, in yoga, with 50 other people jam-packed in a tiny room, listening to soothing sentimental songs about mothers, listening to the yoga teacher talk about moms and all of the sacrifices they made for you, and I'm totally focused on the physical aspect of it all.

It's the first time I've tried a regular Vinyasa class. I'd been doing slower Vinyasa classes during the week because I'm new at the whole yoga thing and my kinesthetic intelligence comes second only to my emotional intelligence. All 5'10" of me does not communicate smoothly or harmoniously. The head does not know what the heart, arms and feet are up to. 

It's potentially comedic.

But I'm doing it! I'm keeping up! I'm touching my toes and going in the right direction! Everything is so cool! I kind of roll my eyes at some of the over-the-top mother stuff because I'm still working through "My Mother Was an Alcoholic" even after 30 years of therapy. I'm medicated now, so the learning seems to come quicker. But I'm a hard girl with walls. I rarely if ever cry in therapy. 

I'm basically a badass.

But then: Eminem.

Motherfreaking Eminem comes on and he's rapping all angry and spitting out words about his mother like he always does. I usually don't pay much attention to Eminem save for the rhythm and energy and whole force of the thing—but I'm in yoga. It' dark. I'm sweaty and exhausted. I've built up emotional walls from all the sacrificial mother talk and I might be in a weakened state.

Suddenly there's Eminem wrapping about forgiving his mom, about being too old to cry about this, and even though the tone and the music are angry and driving, the words are wrapped up in pain and forgiveness and goddammit all, I'm crying for the second time in this new yoga studio.

"And I'm way too old to cry, the shit is painful though
But, Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo
All you did, all you said, you did your best to raise us both."

Fortunately it's dark and hot, everyone's body is running with sweat. No one is going to notice silent tears running down the sides of my sweaty face. I'm doing everything I can to not start sobbing. Like ugly crying. All I want to do is to go out to my car and rest my head on the steering wheel and cry from the depths of my soul, I want to cry so hard my throat gets raw and whatever nameless hurt in me is finally excised once and for all. 

"And as you left, I had this overwhelming sadness come over me
As we pulled off to go our separate paths
And I saw your headlights as I looked back
And I'm mad I didn't get the chance to thank you for being my Mom and my Dad"

But I'm in a yoga room packed with people on Mother's Day. I'm a civilized person and I keep my shit together. I'm really good at keeping my shit together. Finally we all lay on our mats, palms up, eyes closed, and the room is filled with a new song. I keep pulling it together and then those rebellious tears run down the sides of my face but I'm in the back row and I'm silent. I'm so good at being silent. So good at remaining unnoticeable. I blend into walls, I blend into carpet, I blend into the hallways at school so no one notices how bad everything is at home. 

My god, can I blend now please?

I blend and bleed into my yoga mat and suddenly: hands on my face. Hands stroking my forehead and hair. Sympathetic hands that soothe and rub out the pain and I'm torn between mortification and gratification. I hope the teacher's hands have moved to every one of those 50 faces in the entire class. I hope it's not because she saw that the water running down the sides of my face wasn't sweat.

And then a cool cloth on my eyes. Gentle hands that press it down on my eyes. I accept this kindness. I accept this love. I let go of the fear that she notices my pain.

Then class is over and I remove the cloth from my eyes and see that everyone else has a white washcloth over their eyes too.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How To Meditate When You're Too Damn Busy To Meditate


Life is stressful. Relationships are stressful. Kids are stressful. Jobs are stressful. It's all so much sometimes. I do a pretty good job of staying calm. Staying even. I'm a pretty patient mom even until about 8:00 p.m. And then I am done. Patience gone. Irritability up. Way up. And I get growly.

My husband has a demanding job. He's a lawyer but I suspect that even by normal lawyer standards he works a lot. He's just go go go. Sometimes he really can't stop. I admire what a machine he is. He can work for eight hours, ten, twelve, sixteen. He forgets to eat. He forgets what time it is. He forgets everything on the planet except for that one luminescent Goal. Deadline. Argument. Twist.

Sometimes I wish I could be like that. I would have written twelve novels by now.

But it takes a toll. The human body can only take so much, and the human mind perhaps even less.

Lately he's been practicing mindfulness of a sort. A sort of walking or sitting meditation. He's been walking his mind away from negative thoughts. When he notices them bubbling up and appearing, he walks himself away. Each time. Over and over again. The stress burbles up, he feels it in his bones, and then he remembers to walk away from it.

I've been practicing this noticing and walking away for many, many years. For me, Buddhism and psychotherapy have worked hand in hand. I went to my first therapist at 14 and my first good therapist at 15. I started practicing Buddhism at 18. Learning to recognize my thoughts and to move away from the destructive ones has been a long and steady practice.

It's like a muscle. You've got to work it. You've got to do reps. You do it over and over again for days upon days, weeks upon weeks, months upon months, years upon years. It simply must become a daily practice. A part of your life. The norm.

So last night, we sat.

My husband asked for my help and to be honest, I'm sort of zen and spare about my approach to meditation. I don't think you can teach it. I don't think you can read about it. I don't even know that you can take a class about it. Sure those are all well and good—good starts—but none of them do a damn bit of good if you don't do the work.

So I suggested we sit.

I turned off most of the lights in the house. Our daughter was upstairs sleeping. Our son at hockey practice. I pushed the coffee table aside and we sat in the dim light of the house.

Our house became a temple.

I heard the old lady—the house built in 1924—creak and groan as though getting up from her own mat. I heard the low rumble of a car about to lose its muffler. The furnace kicked on and I felt the warmth flow over my legs.

I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

Every time my mind wandered, I went back to my breath. The simple in and out. The sound of the passing car.

And it was all good. The simple sounds of the house breathing. The movement of the world outside. Sitting with my husband in a quiet room. Feeling his presence but not talking.

It felt good and safe to be alive.

I forget about that. I forget how quiet it can be. Everything is such a constant noise in my head. My brain narrates the Internet, the text messages, the emails, the status updates. All of it noise, clamoring for attention in my head. All of it distracting me from the presence of ... me?

And everything around me. All around. Outside. Inside. In and out. Deep breaths and the pulse of life.

It was a good reminder to unplug from the frenetic pace and to plug-in to the inner self. The inner being that resonates with what's real and natural and silent. With the pulse of life. The pulse of heart. The breathing in and out of love.

Presence. 

Once a night. On the rug. On the mat. Let this night be our daily practice. Let this moment be its own.

Just sitting. For fifteen minutes. Ten minutes. Seven. Five.

Whatever you have.

Just sit. And breathe.