Tuesday, December 27, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

I watched The Wizard of Oz with my daughter the other night and ever since I have not been able to stop repeating the words: There's no place like home.

At first I thought it was the holiday blues. I would not be seeing my parents or my sisters this holiday. That was part of it. But something else was making those words stick. While my daughter watched an episode of Giada's cooking show (her favorite), I sat in a patch of sunlight on my bed and let myself feel what was welling up inside. There's no place like home. What home? Eventually the tears and the answer came.

I cannot count the number of times I have been told “Don't be so sensitive" or had someone explain away my behavior with the words “Oh, she's just sensitive.” As a child I didn't have permission to feel what I was feeling. I didn't yet know that those words were not about me at all, but about other people's discomfort with what I was feeling. Nor did I have a role model or teacher to show me how to make my sensitivity work for me in the world. So I internalized the word “sensitive” as something negative, something shameful, a weakness that I needed to make go away. Sensitive was what was wrong with me, and if I could only eradicate that part of me, then I could get on much better in life.

"Pelican Shadow"
Photo by Kathleen Keagy
Lately I've been thinking that the reason I have never been able to to eradicate sensitive from my identity is that sensitive is the heart of who I am. It's the gift that I use to hear the words that I write and to see the images that I manifest into my life. My sensitivity has allowed me to find my own path in spite of the pressure around me to be someone else.

When I look at the opportunities I have had in my life, I could chalk them up to what my husband calls "stepping in it." But it's not just good luck. It's my sensitivity to energy. I don't make logical steps. I don't follow a linear path. I feel my way in the dark, sensing if the energy feels true to me, and I leap. And because there is no yellow brick road winding its way between the two locations, it looks like luck. But it isn't. And it isn't as easy as it sounds. It takes courage and strength to follow the bread crumb path when the yellow brick road goes the other way.

Strong and sensitive? The idea perplexes me. For most of my life I have been under the impression that sensitive equals weak. But no where but in my own mind was it written that sensitive and strong could not exist together. It makes me feel like Dorothy when Glinda tells her that she had the power to go home all along. I did? I had the power to see myself as strong all along?

On the one hand, it makes me sad to think that my picture of myself has been so skewed. But maybe my story is a bit more like Dorothy's than I think. When Dorothy asks, puzzled, why Glinda didn't tell her before, Glinda replies, “You had to find it out on your own.” Yes, I had to travel away from myself in order to come back with an appreciation for this home, this person that I have always been. And I find myself repeating with satisfaction those iconic words that accompany Dorothy back to Kansas as I imagine my internal Auntie Em waiting, warm bread in hand, to welcome me back to myself.  

People who know me well have probably told me that I am that strong woman I have always aspired to be. But now I can see it, too. There's no place like home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Flight

A few weeks ago I found myself in a situation that elicited a gut reaction so intense that I actually got up and ran. Everything about the situation made me feel like a cornered animal, and everything in me said: Get out! Get out now! And without hesitation, I did. It was a triumphant moment for me—a triumph of trusting my gut—of giving my intuition seniority in my life.

I went to see a dental specialist to have some old root canals checked out. I first sensed that something was off when I called to make my appointment, but I decided to go anyway. Maybe the woman who answered the phone was just having an bad day. But it didn't get any better.

When I opened the door to the office, a wave of claustrophobia washed over me. I stepped onto the mustard yellow industrial carpet and past the black chairs and particle-board tables to reach the office staff who were huddled behind a glass sliding window. No one looked up to acknowledge me for a long while. When someone finally did look up, the face was filled with the same heaviness I felt the day I called to make the appointment. They were supposed to have my x-rays, but they didn't. They had to call to have them emailed over.
Photo by Kathleen Keagy

I filled out the requisite paperwork and waited, almost laughing under my breath because I knew what was coming. I could feel the energy revving around me. The door next to the sliding glass window opened, and I was led back to an even smaller (was that possible?) treatment room flooded with cold florescent light. It was set up for x-rays. No wonder they weren't concerned that they didn't have my x-rays. They had no intention of using them. When I questioned it, the dental assistant said, "Oh, yes, I've worked with Dr. X for fifteen years and he always wants his own x-rays." I told her that I wasn't having any new x-rays taken that day since the ones that were emailed over were only a week old. She seemed flabbergasted. Had no one ever questioned this?

The air was tense and just getting more so. I was sitting in the grey leather dental chair with my back to the door when the specialist entered the room. He didn't even step around the chair to look me in the face, but sat half-obscured talking to my back. I sat up and turned myself sideways to face him. He had silver-grey hair with the tanned skin typical of a generation of doctors who spend their free time playing golf or tennis at the club. Then he started asking questions in a patronizing tone. I tried to hear him, but I couldn't stop looking in disbelief. There was nothing in his eyes. He couldn't see me. When I mentioned something another dentist had told me a year before, this specialist disregarded it saying, "I've never heard of that in my whole life."

There it was. That voice of authority telling me that I couldn't possibly know anything. The same voice of authority I have heard my entire life and thought knew more about me than I did. The voice I heard at twenty-years-old who told me that the bleeding I was experiencing five days after minor surgery was normal, when in reality a suture had broken a blood vessel causing me to hemorrhage. I knew something was wrong, but I let a doctor's authority call my own authority into question. I still remember my older sister grabbing the phone and yelling at the surgeon when hours after being told it was nothing I sat bleeding on the bathroom floor. In fact, the situation was so serious that I was brought to the hospital and put under general anesthesia so they could surgically stop the bleeding. I still remember that surgeon's face the morning after--so full of apology that he hadn't listened. But the damage was done.

How many times have I not trusted my intuition?

Not this time. I got up and left mid-consultation. Went out through the claustrophobic waiting room and into the freedom of the air. In the past I might have made excuses for that specialist--stifled my feelings, questioned my reading of the events and convinced myself that there was something wrong with me. But I didn't. I even went back into the office a few minutes later to get all my paperwork. "You won't need it. I won't be back," I told the receptionist.

A week later I was sitting in a different specialist's office: no glass partition, richly-stained wood chairs, natural light, lush landscape paintings on the walls and a smiling face that greeted me by name. Someone had put thought into the experience patients would have while waiting. This specialist had my x-rays up on his computer before I sat down in the chair. He met my eyes immediately and listened when I spoke. The overall experience was so far from the one I had the previous week that it felt like I was being rewarded. I heard the voice in my head saying, You see. You can trust yourself.

Yes, I really can.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Late Night Story

I stay up too late. I love the quiet of evening. My golden hours are between ten and midnight. It used to stretch until one or two in the morning, but now my alarm clock has a five-year-old child's face, and she doesn't have a snooze button.

I think the magic of these hours is two-fold: I don't have a back-stop—I can continue to work into the wee hours of the morning if inspiration strikes—but mostly, in these hours I don't have to feel guilty for what I am neglecting. No errands to run, no phone calls to make, no family demands to answer. Email traffic dwindles. And even my eyes have less demands placed on them, as the world shrinks to what can fit into small pools of light.

I have always had trouble settling down for sleep. Afraid I would miss something. Nights are when I go inside—into my cave. I didn't honor this until I saw my reflection in my daughter. While other children may be able to “go, go, go” all day long, she self-assessed in the first week of kindergarten that she needed to come home to her own space after school each day, rather than fill her afternoons with a list of activities. After I pick her up from school, I watch her get lost in dramatic play, creating a world to process all that she has absorbed that day. And I believe she sleeps much better than I ever have.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
Those evening hours are my dramatic play. Sleep is supposed to provide the opportunity for the subconscious to work through the events of the day, but for me, if I go to bed without traveling inside first, I wake up exhausted even after many hours of sleep. With no direction as to how to process the experiences of the day, my mind simply whirls in circles. I am often left choosing between tending to my emotional health or getting enough sleep.

What's a girl to do?

I suppose it's a question of balance...and boundaries. I'm still carrying around a misconception from childhood that if I go inside and focus on my needs, I might miss something more important “out there.” Blame it on a society more in tune with extroverts who are inclined to recharge through activity and interaction. As an introvert, the only thing that truly recharges me is to sit in a quiet space and tend to my internal story.

Is there a way to replicate that late night quiet and focus during the day so I can sleep at night? I don't know. But I think the first step is believing that I won't be neglecting anything if I choose to spend more time looking inside during the day. And then learning to set boundaries to protect that time. If I do, I will not only be taking better care of myself, but also modeling this self-care for my daughter. And creating a space in the world for others to honor their own needs.

Want to make plans not to have plans with me?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Flawed


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“When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” says the old Buddhist proverb. I didn't think my teeth had the potential to teach me anything, but I'm learning to listen.

I am not a person who harbors regrets. I don't walk around wanting to rewrite my life. But there is one day I would change if I could: the day I fell off my bicycle and chipped my front teeth. I was eight-years-old. If I had only been able to get my hands in front of me, I would not have chipped my teeth.

The first time I looked in the mirror after it happened was traumatic. I remember thinking: I'm broken. I'll never be perfect again. And as if to fulfill that vision, the story of my two front teeth involves faulty bonding, unnecessary root canals and two sets of improperly fitting crowns. I have not been able to smile with ease since the day my teeth met with the gritty pavement and left pieces of themselves there. Thirty years of trying to hide the evidence that I was broken.

But it was all my creation. Only lately can I see that when I chipped my teeth, I manifested physically what I already felt about myself. So that I would never need to explain that I was broken on the inside, I made it as plain as the smile on my face.
"Moonset 7am"   Photo by Kathleen Keagy


Over the next few months, that will change. After an arduous search, I have found a dentist, Dr. Carly, to repair my teeth who is both skilled and compassionate. She is connecting me with a lab technician who considers making teeth to be an art. Rather than cookie-cutter Hollywood veneers, his trademark is creating teeth that are as individual as the person he is creating them for—with striations and color variation and small imperfections he calls “beauty marks.” Ultimately, this dentist and this technician want me to look in the mirror and see myself.

See myself. But I have to be willing to do that.

Before now something was blocking my ability to see myself clearly, but that something has moved aside. I could say it was the recognition that nobody's perfect, but I think that is doubly wrong. Reaching for the ideal of perfection is the flaw. Seeing the things that make us different as imperfections is the flaw. I am not broken. I arrived in this world exactly as I was meant to—with "beauty marks" that make me who I am.

Like when a cataract is removed from an eye, the dark shadow of shame is lifting from inside me. And soon it will be lifted from my teeth, too.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Length of an Hour

I don't generally wear a watch, not if I can help it. Not even before I started walking around with a cell phone as a de facto time keeper. Watches make me nervous, reminding me of how late I am or how little time I have left to accomplish a task. But I'm considering wearing one.

Why the change of heart?

Today I set my kitchen timer for one hour. One hour. One hour of sitting with my notebook—writing, thinking, looking at the horizon. One hour in which the only rule was that I should sit and be. Within fifteen minutes I could feel the effects taking hold. How much of my day do I spend outside myself, my focus split, refracted through the prism of my life? 

I read the words on the page, but I remember nothing. I am off in the future feeling frustrated by the slow pace of the progress I am making on my creative projects. I'm in the grocery store thinking of the argument I had with my husband that morning. I'm worrying about replying to an email while driving my daughter to school. And right in the middle of my creative process--right as I am writing my blog--I'm off wondering what people will think of it after it is done. 

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
"You are where you put your attention," my meditation teacher reminds us often. If that is so, then how often am I not in the activity I'm doing, not in the present moment, not in my own body?

For Christmas last year, my husband gave me a watch. An old-fashioned style watch filled with miniature gears and machinery—the kind you need to wind. On the face of the watch is a glass heart that reveals the gears of the watch below. Through this window, the miniature machinery flutters like wings and measures out time like the heart that reveals it. The gift of time. That's what I thought when my husband gave me the watch. But we can only have the gifts we are willing to receive.

One hour. I'll start with one hour. One hour on that watch to center myself in wherever I am and whatever I am doing. One hour to heighten my awareness of time, but not time shrouded in fear and anxiety. We only get to experience time when our souls inhabit a body, and I want to be sure to enjoy the phenomena while I can. Instead of a symbol of the time I don't have, I want the watch to remind me to experience the joy of time--to receive the ephemeral gift of being born.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Funny Business

So there I was in downward-facing-dog at my favorite yoga class revving up for a panic attack, feeling that familiar adrenaline rush creep into the solitary space of my yoga mat. That's what happens when I stand still after running myself in circles with my “to do” list. Or maybe it was the fact that this was the first week in a long time that I was able to get lost in my own space. And that freedom caused panic to set in.

Taking the advice of my yoga teacher to listen to my body, I curled up into child's pose and started to ground myself using the mediation techniques I learned in my pyschic mediation classes. Heart-rate still rising—fighting the fight-or-flight response that I was having to myself—it hit me. What if I didn't fight the panic, but gave in? What if I stopped resisting? Could it be any worse than my fear of losing it? 

So I decided to do it. Go ahead, panic, I told myself. Go ahead and jump into your fear, I urged myself. I dare you to feel what you're afraid of. And then things got funny. I expected a cold sweat, hyperventilation, or at the very least, some tears. But it didn't happen.

Photo by Shawn Keagy
There was something rising up slowly from inside, but it wasn't panic. It had a loopy feeling—like when I haven't had enough sleep and get slap-happy. Laughter approaching! part of me announced, the ends of my mouth rising up and my head turning side-to-side in disbelief. The short, rhythmic exhales of a chuckle arrived next. I put the perfect picture of myself as a woman with discipline and self-control into an imaginative bubble and popped it, watching the bits of its soapy circle splash out into the air.

So serious, that voice inside whispered with a wink. Not anymore, I told myself.

My Father always said that the greatest thing I could learn was to laugh at myself. I'll take that one better, Daddy. I don't want to be outside looking in at myself with laughter. I want laughter to be my essence. I could say that I knew this as a child, but I was a very serious child--carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. Over the last few years I have unloaded much of that weight I was carrying, but the habit of strain and pain endures. It's time to rescue my amusement.  

Anyone up for a game of “Ha!”?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Caterpillar Wisdom

Caterpillars follow me. When I lived in New York City, I lived in a first floor apartment near Times Square and had the luxury of a back door that opened onto a small wooden deck. With my access to the "outdoors," I planted some basil and parsley in a window box so I could clip fresh herbs when I needed them. My hopes were dashed by fuzzy green caterpillars who devoured every last leaf of the plants. In fact, the single tree that grew in our courtyard attracted so many of these caterpillars that when they weren't eating my plants they would have races on the power lines that ran between the buildings. And on some days the caterpillars would rain down on my head when I was trying to enjoy some fresh air.

Our last home had a great space for a garden, so I planted my basil and some green bean seeds so my daughter, then a toddler, could watch them grow. And, of course, the caterpillars arrived. My daughter and I watched them crawl up walls, counted chrysalis hanging from the eaves of garages and marveled at the orange butterflies that arrived soon after. Let's just say we did not have a banner crop of beans that summer.  

Photo by Shawn Keagy
So when we arrived at the beach, I thought maybe I could escape having my succulent green herbs eaten before I got to them. But the tiniest of green inchworm caterpillars have turned my basil into Swiss cheese leaves.

I mentioned it to my sister. “You know, caterpillars are a symbol of transformation,” she said, sharing in the humor and trying to give meaning to the phenomena. I could hear her smiling on the other end of the phone. Yes, that would describe me—in a constant state of transformation. I don't dock my ship for too long in any introspective location--always diving for the next oyster to see what pearls might be hiding inside. Swimming against the current to find the places where I became what I am.

I imagine that living with me is both a fabulous journey and a continual process of trying to catch up to the place I have just departed. Lucky for my husband that these locations are internal. Or maybe not so lucky. Because they are not usually sunny locales, but dark places where I need a pick ax and a head lamp to find my way. Cavernous and womblike—just like that caterpillar's chrysalis. And just like the butterfly—the moment of flight is glorious, but short-lived. Soon eggs must be laid for the next generation of transformation. Back inside I go.

So I've decided to take a different approach to my garden. I read in a local newspaper that the milkweed plant is a primary food source for monarch butterflies and that many monarchs have already laid eggs on the milkweed plants in local nurseries. So I'm going to plant milkweed in my garden and embrace my affinity for caterpillars. Maybe watching their life cycle can help me appreciate my own. Right now I've got the munchies. Just like those caterpillars, I'm hungry to explore. Soon I'll be going inside to digest what I've been eating up. And then something in my life will transform. But until that butterfly moment arrives, I'll have the milkweed plant to remind me of what it takes to get there.   

Friday, September 16, 2011

Empty

It's been an emotional transition to kindergarten for both my daughter and me. Yesterday I took a walk on the beach to try to wash away the look in her eyes as she announced in the morning that she did not want to go to school. I remember that feeling all too well. Leaving the comfort of my mother's knowing gaze and her arms that when wrapped around me made the world melt away. I ended up standing in the surf of the Great Mother, my pants wet up to the tops of my legs. She wrapped herself around me just like my momma did when I was a little girl.

I found one of those places on the shore where the shape of the sand causes the waves to hesitate for a moment and wash sideways before rolling back down to the ocean. I had waves rolling in behind me from both sides, the weight of the water almost knocking me down. I was grateful for that little nudge, which brought amusement to my morning.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
But what struck me most about those waves was the hesitation. Before they accelerated back down to the ocean, the waves luxuriated in a moment on the sand. That's how I feel these days. Like it's time to luxuriate for a moment and reap the rewards of the work I have already done to let go of what is not mine and what is no longer useful.

I have a tendency to fill my days with doing, but some of this has been about running from what I knew would creep out if I allowed myself to stand still. Lately I'm feeling a little empty. I've felt empty before, but this empty has a magical quality to it. This time I am not a balloon. I can hold my shape without being filled from the outside. This time I feel like a classical urn, my curved walls rising to define me whether empty or full. And I'm not sure I want to get filled up yet.

There are projects brewing in the background. Stories to be written. And I still have a 5-year-old who wants my attention. But for now I'm feeling okay with taking time to feel the sand between my toes. To sit and watch the sun arc over my head minute by minute.

If I allow myself, I think I will learn a lot from empty.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Is Buried

A storm surge caused by weather off New Zealand brought waves up to ten feet high last week to our little piece of the Pacific Coast that normally sees less than three foot waves this time of year. It brought water nearly to our doorstep while the impact of the surf pounded the sand like a bass drum, reverberating through our home. The churning exposed a striated rock-face of ancient tar compressed into black stone and tossed two inches of fine black sand--so soft and springy that it felt like walking in the clouds--onto the shore.

The beach is recovering—the black sand washing out to sea and the black rock-face disappearing under the sand. But there is something significant in this revealing of what is buried. It is much like the emotional landscape of my world over the last few weeks. Something long-buried was dug up and exposed. And it came up with fury, as if it had been trying to make its way to the surface for many years and then thrust itself forth at the smallest relief of the weight that had buried it. 

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
That passion has eased and the regularity of daily routines is slowly covering up its raw face, but for a few weeks I caught a glimpse of the anger that I am carrying that is so old it has been compressed into stone. Anger from lives so long ago that I would need to dig like an archaeologist to understand the culture that informed its creation--using the shards of memory around it to date its origin.

What I do know is that at the heart of this anger is fear. And with September 11th approaching, this fear is poignant. I was walking east across Midtown Manhattan from our apartment in Hell's Kitchen to my job near Grand Central when the first plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. And I was angry. Seething would be a better term. Caught between the demands of my relationship and my job. Fearful of losing both if I didn't figure out how to appease both my boyfriend and my boss, who were having a tug-of-war over my time. What I didn't see then that I see now is that my preoccupation with satisfying the demands of these relationships had caused me to neglect the relationship that should have been my primary concern. What was seething that morning was my self rising up and lashing out at what I thought was chaining me.

What I thought was chaining me. Somewhere below this victim mentality is buried a pattern from long ago. From a time when my survival was subject to the will of another—a wife dependent on the goodwill of her husband, a daughter whose future stood at the hands of her father, a servant who had to obey to be sheltered another day, a slave whose defiance would mean death.

This feeling of oppression is not consistent with my current reality. In this lifetime, I have the opportunity to experience tremendous freedom. How do I chip away at that layer of buried oppression when I can't see it? How do I set myself free from the old patterns when I don't know where they came from?  Or is it enough to recognize that the rock exists—a touchstone to set the past in relief--so I can transform my choices in the present.

I'm not sure. This one feels like the work of a lifetime. So I guess, only time will tell.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Loss of Hearing

There is something I am trying not to hear or something I am hearing that I want to deny. At least, that's what my body is telling me. 

Over the past three weeks I have had the most unusual illness. Nothing truly debilitating, but strange. It started after I visited my chiropractor and learned that all seven vertebrae in my neck needed to be set right. The day after having all those compressed vertebrae realigned, I experienced a flood of energy along the back of my head. Then the mother of all histamine reactions turned the skin on my sternum, neck and ears red. So I went to see Linda, one of my most trusted health practitioners, and after some muscle testing, we determined that the symptoms are related to a virus, which will have to run its course.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
Throughout this viral adventure, all I keep thinking is...what is it I'm not hearing? I get sick when something gets stuck. And some emotion is stuck around my ears, head and neck. I could blame a myriad of recent stresses for my susceptibility to this virus, but I keep feeling that something much deeper has yet to surface. And until it does, the virus will linger.

Or maybe it's more simple than that. Maybe I'm listening too hard. I hear a lot of things. Maybe what I'm hearing has nothing to do with me, and I'm just picking up a lot of static. So much static that it's overloading my circuits. Or maybe my body is tired from straining to hear. Maybe I need to do less craning my neck to hear and allow whatever needs to be heard to make itself known in its own time. Did I really just write “craning to hear,” as in twisted, like my neck? Could be that I have been so focused on hearing something outside of me that I have forgotten to listen inside.

When I need it, my body is a miraculous storyteller. I guess it's time to sit still and listen to the story welling up inside. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Soul In My Shoes

Lately I have become fascinated with reality talent competitions. I'm not usually a big fan of reality television, so it's made me reflect on the reason why I am so drawn to them. Okay, I admit that shows like So You Think You Can Dance appeal to me because dance is one of the great loves of my life, but since the season ended I have moved on to other competitions. The last time I got one of these television fascinations it was for home shows, and a few months later we moved into our new home. So, what am I researching now?

Although I am inherently a competitive person (just ask my husband who says that the first time he played a board game with me he was not prepared for how serious I was about winning), something keeps me from going after what I want. I walk all the way up to the starting line, but I don't run when everyone else does. It's my Achilles heel. And I wonder what am I carrying around that makes me so hesitant to try.

"16 Hands & Feet"
from community art experience led by artist Michel Groisman 
I spend a lot of time in comparisons--measuring whether or not I have anything unique to offer--that I lose my focus, I lose my vision, I lose the things that got me to that moment in the first place. It's like I'm waiting for someone to find out I'm a fraud. So I hide in the background where it is much easier to save face when it doesn't work out with the excuse that I need another class, another skill, another person to get me there. But what if being me is enough? 

I think watching these reality shows is a study in what it takes to get past that starting line. And what it takes to stay in the competition. What I see celebrated on these programs is contestants revealing themselves to the world, even if they reveal things that might otherwise be perceived as limitations. Over and over the judges encourage the contestants to show who they are, go below the surface, be authentic. Any contestants who try to glaze over who they are and blend in with the crowd are gone from the competition sooner rather than later. Why is this? I think we are hungry for authenticity. The world is so full of commodities that we are drawn to the real thing, the individual creation, anything that has a stamp of soul.

Maybe that's the key to getting over that starting line--remembering that the best competitors run their own race. I think I knew this at twelve when I stepped on to the Waldorf Astoria stage to compete in my first national dance competition. I was probably not the best dancer in the competition, but it didn't stop me from entering. I put on my ballet slippers and won third place.

Time to remember what it felt like to put my soul in my shoes.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Heaven and Earth

My Father and I have developed a running joke about astrology. He used to roll his eyes when I would talk about the sun, moon and stars. He still rolls his eyes, but now he also laughs and quotes Hamlet:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (1.5.166-7)

I think Shakespeare was on to something.

I get a lot of rolled eyes when I talk about astrology, but I get just as many expressions of relief—relief when I describe some planetary transit that sums up the current conflict in someone else's life. I had this experience the other day while sitting in a cafe having tea with a friend on the eve of a full moon. My friend was relieved to hear that the pressure she was feeling might have its origin outside her. Our conversation also seemed to bring relief to the woman listening in from the table next to us who exclaimed, “Oh, it's a full moon!” and seemed to exhale for the first time since she sat down.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
For me there is no question about the power of celestial bodies to impact our lives here on earth. I can feel it. No one has to tell me that the moon is full, my body and my emotions swell up like the tides. And when Mercury is in what is called retrograde motion (passing between the earth and the sun while orbiting), it feels like I am walking around with a blind spot, causing all my perceptions to be slightly off.

I find it freeing to see my life through the lens of these cycles. Astrology reminds me that what I feel is not necessarily originating inside me—that I am always responding to energy from other people, the earth and even the movement of celestial bodies millions of miles away. When I pay attention to cycles like the phases of the moon, I can unclench my teeth and release the need to be in a good mood with the same patience level and the same level of optimism every day. With the gift of perspective from the map in the sky, I point my surfboard in the direction of the wave I'm on and get the best ride I can instead of wishing for some other wave, or worse, paddling against the wave as it crashes on top of me.

Surfing the celestial waves. My sport of choice these days.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mommy Days

“Tomorrow is Mommy Day,” I whispered as I kissed my little girl at bedtime last night. Not Mother's Day, but Mommy Day. Mother's Day is about celebrating mothers. Mommy Day is about trying to recapture for just a moment the kind of connection my daughter and I had when she was a baby--before the outside world meant anything to her and when nothing meant as much to me as holding her in my arms.

For the past two years my daughter has attended preschool three days a week, leaving the other two days open for other adventures. Together we dubbed them “Mommy Days,” our days to stay in our pajamas if we wanted for as long as we wanted. Or to see our neighborhood friends and play in the park. Or to run errands holding hands down the aisles. Or to go out to lunch, one of my daughter's favorite activities (as much for the people watching as the food). It doesn't matter what we do as long as we do it together.

Photo by Shawn Keagy
Well, I have Mommy Days five days a week for the next month. Since her preschool was year-round, I haven't had that experience for two years. I have to admit that dread set in as the reality approached. How would I ever get anything done with her under foot for a straight month?

But a strange thing is happening. I am enjoying the freedom of not having to sprint out the door to get to school in the morning. I like that we can stay up to read that extra story. And most of all I am enjoying seeing her so clearly as we explore places we haven't been in ages or fold laundry in the hallway. I was worried that we might drive each other crazy, but what I am realizing is that most of our arguments are about time--trying to get where we need to go and do what we need to do. And that over the next five weeks, we are being given the gift of time just before the time-clock of school presses in between us. Sure, it won't be all whim and whimsy, but without the required interruption of our time together, there is room to breathe and to be.

Here's to being five-years-old all over again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Knowing What I Know

I am psychic. There, I've said it. In fact, I grew up in a house of psychics. We just never identified ourselves by that name. But we knew things. We knew lots of things we never said. We knew things and pretended that we didn't. There is power in knowing and that power scared me away from my abilities. I am afraid to be powerful. I am afraid to know what I know. Because when I know the truth, I have to live it. I have wasted a lot of energy trying not to know what I know. Pretending for the sake of acceptance, which by the way, never came.

I grew up profoundly lonely because of my clairvoyance, but I was never given permission to feel my loneliness because there was nothing apparently broken about my childhood. I had a stable home life with enough to eat, a roof over my head and opportunities to grow. And I have always known that I am loved profoundly by my family.

But knowing things as a child is really painful when no one believes you. When they write you off as too sensitive or too young to have a grasp on the more complex pieces of life. My family likes to tell the story of my father having to turn me upside-down at the back of a church at a wedding when I was four-years-old because I was choking on a lifesaver. The groom turned out to be an alcoholic and child molester. Coincidence? When you read energy, it sure has a way of expressing itself.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
Friends were a challenge. I vibrated on a different frequency and could only pretend to be like them. Until I entered college and found myself among artists, I didn't fit at all. And when I entered the relationship phase of my life, clairvoyance nearly drowned me. Nobody wants you to see what they are hiding, and it wasn't the best use of my talents to try to be clairvoyant for my partners. I gave away a lot of my energy trying to nuture them.

I have kept my abilities under wraps for a long time, but when my daughter was born five years ago my ability to see things turned up a notch. Well, to be more accurate, my ability to hear things (since I tend to hear words rather than see images) expanded after developing a sensitivity to her energy inside me. I started reading books about being highly sensitive, but they made me feel broken, confirming all the garbage I had internalized as a child about something being wrong with me because I felt so much. And I spent a lot of time on the Internet researching the phenomena I was experiencing and looking for affirmation. 

After struggling in near silence for three years, I found a good teacher who is not only a trained psychic, but one of the most grounded people I know. (That's one of the stereotypes about people with psychic abilities--that we don't have our feet on the ground.) Found her intuitively, of course. And sitting in Kris Cahill's psychic meditation classes, I no longer feel alone or unusual. So that's why I'm making the point to say it publicly. I am clairvoyant and psychic. There are so many voices that want to make you feel bizarre for being sensitive to energy (because that's really the heart of being psychic), but I'm not falling for it anymore. As a friend once told me, “There's nothing really special about it. There are a lot more of us than you think.”

So go ahead and add me to the tribe.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Writing My Voice

The other night I was sitting in a meditation class led by Kris Cahill, a psychic who works in the Los Angeles area. She asked us to imagine our life as a movie. Easy enough, right? Nope. Just as I began to create my movie, it got tricky. Kris asked us to identify the writer and director of the movie. I was shocked by what came up. Although I was surely the director, I was not the writer. Whatever could this mean? I'm a writer, but I'm not writing my own life story. Really? Who, then, is writing my story?

That night when I got home, I stayed up for a long time processing that piece of information. But when I sat with it, it became obvious. No “one” has been writing my story. It's been a collaboration between all the voices I have ever encountered. They have had more to say about the writing of my story than I have because I'm still looking for her. I'm still looking for the writer of my story. It's not that I haven't taken the reins every once in a while and written some beautiful scenes, but I don't have the confidence to take full hold of the story. Why? What holds me back from writing the story that is mine?

Writing my own story implies great creative and destructive power. What if I start to write the story and I find out that I am truly powerful—that I really can manifest what I desire in the world? What do I do with that? What do I do if I find out that I am not what I have presented to the world—that I am not generous or kind or good? What if the story takes me away from all the people I thought I loved? What if I fail? What if?

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
I've been sitting looking out at the sea every day since our move, and every day I hear laughter rising from the waves. That great big mama ocean is laughing—laughing at the meekness, laughing at the fear, laughing at all the worry I have let others write into my script. Laughing, not judging, because then she would be the writer of my story. Because hasn't it been the judgments of others that have had more to do with my story than my own desires?

So it is with her laughter ringing in my ears that I step in front of the typewriter because, yes, my story is written on the old electric typewriter that sat in the basement of my childhood home—back when I wrote stories and put on shows with abandon. With the gentle, encouraging voice I used to foster every writer who stepped into my classroom, I entice myself to become the writer of my own story: "Don't worry about getting it right; you can edit later.” “The story is already there, you just have to get it to paper.” “Just write." I had no preconceived notions of what their stories should have been, but sat open to what showed up. I focused on process, not product. And celebrated their journeys.

So with the encouragement of my inner teacher, I'm going to try it. I no longer want to be on the sidelines watching the pages go by. I want to be running alongside those pages typewriter in hand, laughing at the spray splashing in my face. And lying down on the beach every now and then to catch my breath.

l'll see you out there.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eight-Legged Love

The move to our new home has eaten into my writing time this week, so I am calling up an older piece to stand in for my regular blog. Since it was inspired by the home we just left, it feels appropriate to share it now as a way to say thank you to the place that nurtured my family and me for the last four years.  


I have grown to love spiders. They are creatures of immense fascination for me. I used to cast out their webs with abandon. I used to cast them out as intruders to my home. I didn’t yet understand what they could teach me about the creative work I do every day.

It started in college when I lived in a first floor dorm room with a wall of windows overlooking an arboretum. My bed ran along those windows, and on occasion, a majestic daddy long legs would make its way across my bed and sometimes my pillow. It was a little startling to have this visitor, but since it was back east in New Jersey, where there are no poisonous spiders, I had little to fear.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I discovered the black widow spider. She was first introduced to me as she climbed the leg of a chair in which I was sitting. My husband, having grown up hunting for lizards and snakes as a child in California, identified the predator immediately and saved me from my foe. I became leery of spiders after that and had my most panic-filled encounter when I discovered a black widow on the wall of my bedroom as my daughter (then 7-months-old) played nearby on the bed. Without any sense of calm I removed that spider from the house with a pair of plastic-wrapped tongs, killing it in the process.
Photo by Kathleen Keagy

When we moved to our home in the Village Green, I discovered that it was not only a grassy, tree-covered oasis, but also an amazing spider playground. I began a quest to identify the spiders in my yard. I learned that the glossy black spider that lives under the leaves in the corner of my patio is a false black widow, a harmless, non-native spider that is thought to be driving down the population of black widow spiders in the area. She looks like the black widow but without the trademark red hourglass. I learned about the cellar spider with its slender body and long legs. These spiders like damp spots and reside under my kitchen and bathroom cabinets. And my favorite, the wolf spider, a creature who doesn’t spin a web but catches prey using its great speed.

My research led to a fascination, and I began to befriend my eight-legged friends, leaving them under my kitchen cabinets or safely transporting them out of the house if they made my daughter uncomfortable. I began to joke with myself that they were telling each other about our home, a place they would be allowed to stay for awhile in safety.

In the weeks prior to Halloween an orb weaver spider took up residence just outside my front door, spinning the most exquisite web between the door and the hedge beside it. At night his web would shine in our porch light, and by day we would squeeze out our front door so as not to disturb the handiwork. After weeks of watching I found the place my orb-friend would hide when not on his web. At the back of the hedge, he had done a little spinning around a leaf and retreated to that spot during the day when his presence would have given away his webbed trap. He and his web were our Halloween decorations, and he stayed with us until just after Halloween, as if he knew his work was done.

In the spring, Charlotte visited us. Outside the jam of our dining room casement window, Charlotte, a cobweb spider, made a small web and was spinning a nest. My daughter and I would watch Charlotte from inside the window. One day we found the outside of the nest covered in hundreds of baby spiders so tiny they were like grains of sand. Days later they were gone. But we protected Charlotte making sure that we didn't spray the window when watering our plants, and she rewarded us with yet another nest and yet another scene of springtime renewal and birth. We never asked her to leave, but I assume that after her role as mother was complete she, like Charlotte of the famous story, moved on.

One of the things I learned in my research is that traditionally spiders are symbols of creativity. Intensely fragile and resiliently strong, spider webs are works of art. And when their webs are broken by life, spiders recreate or create somewhere new. Their work reminds me so much of the creative work I do every day. I cook; the food is eaten. I clean; the floor, the table, the pair of pants are dirty within minutes. By the end of a day there is often little physical evidence of the creative work I have done; and yet, the work has fulfilled the most basic needs of my family. Most days we walk right by spider webs or get annoyed when we accidentally walk through them. Every once in a while, though, we take the time to stop and admire the immense creative effort and functional beauty of their art. So now when I see spiders, I feel different. Their amazing webs remind me that my domestic work is a vital creative art. And so, I have grown to love spiders. Together, we make art to survive and survive on our art.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Emotion in a Box

I am surrounded by boxes. We move to our new place in two days, and all around me are boxes of things that define me. My books, my clothes, my kitchen gear and hidden away in a brown leather box is my past. Letters—written to me, and written by me and never sent—from a time before I hid myself behind layers of efficiency, organization and reliability. Most of the letters are from elementary and high school, and at times are embarrassing to read, but the letters are also honest and courageous. Back then, I didn't ask for permission to feel or to say what I felt.

In college, I found a haven for my feelings in literature and theater. To be successful, I had to dive into the emotions of the characters that showed up on the page or the stage. Then I entered the working world and found that although there was a lot of talk about feelings, most people didn't really want anything to do with them. Feelings are unpredictable. They are confusing and they take time to sort out. So I started teaching, a profession I found more welcoming to feelings. And I burned myself out on feeling. I treated my students like they were my children. I burned myself out on feeling responsible.

Photo by Dennis Keagy
I remember when I put her away—the girl that felt so much. A relationship had gone south—deep south—and I started questioning whether I could trust my emotions anymore. So I decided to take that part of me underground. All those feelings were beautiful and powerful, but not ready to be worn on an everyday basis. I packed her away because I didn't know how to feel and function at the same time. And survival being paramount, I focused on function.

It's not that the years since have not been filled with emotion—I met my husband, I moved to Los Angeles, I taught at a great school and I gave birth to my daughter. But with the emotion came fear. Fear that I would open the valves measuring out my emotions too wide and destroy everything I built in the flood. The unexpressed emotions took up residence in my body, and when the weight became too much to bear, they would manifest themselves as illness. Illness allowed me an acceptable way to withdraw from the world to go live in the world of that brown leather box for a while. Sometimes I would actually open the box and read something from it, but most times it was more about giving myself time to feel, to cry, to be.

When I first started packing for this move, I thought about getting rid of that box. Getting rid of the past. My past. But now I see that the box has been holding a piece of me that I did not feel safe wearing on the outside until very recently. And I have nothing but gratitude for that box and its faithfulness. So the box is coming with me. But I look forward to the day when I no longer need it. When I can own all those feelings out in the daylight.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Rewards of Showing Up

On Tuesday morning, I went to my weekly yoga class. This would not be significant except I'm in the middle of moving. I'm sure I could have used the extra time to pack, but after spending the holiday weekend in a flurry of cleaning out, packing, selling items, shopping for new furniture, and worrying over silly details, I was sleep deprived, drained and spinning like a top. The old me would have skipped the class. I would have skipped the class because I wasn't really prepared to do the class well.

It's an old habit, but an entrenched one—walking away from experiences because I won't be perfect at them. Go ahead and laugh. I laughed as I wrote it. It all stems from caring too much what other people think. When I look back, I feel a wave of regret for the times I decided that unless I could show up prepared, I wouldn't show up. And for all the times I deprived myself of sleep or the company of friends and family to get it right.

Photo by Michael Guidice
The idea that someone else is keeping a scorecard on me seems ludicrous, but not so ludicrous when I put it in perspective. The world works that way. Someone was always keeping a scorecard on me at school. I was much happier before I entered first grade. That's when it all changed. Instead of enjoying learning, someone was judging my learning. I responded by ensuring that there were few holes for anyone to point out and kicking myself for any imperfections that slipped through. And then, of course, there was my good Catholic upbringing. I took the whole sin thing way too much to heart.

It continued in my work life. Holding my breath, hoping no one would see what I had not been able to accomplish. And it continues in my life as a parent—in the way I wonder if I am any good at this mommy thing when I lose my cool and scream at my daughter. Or when I see the look on another parent's face when my daughter does something true for her, but not in accordance with what others think is appropriate.

Tuesday morning I went into my yoga class wondering if I would spend the entire time in child's pose, but I went. I showed up, assuring myself that I would get something out of it even if I did spend the entire class curled up on the floor. And I got a present in return. I had a great class. I left energized, centered and relaxed.

Too many years I have not shown up for myself. But here, in this blog, I am. I am showing up every week, and I am not doing it for the grade. Last week I almost didn't get a blog written, but I just kept showing up to write it until an idea arrived.

So go show up for something you don't think you're up to this week. Go knowing that you don't have all your ducks in a row and that there is no way it could work out well. And let me know how it goes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Power of a Picture

If you paint a vivid picture in your mind for long enough, can it become a reality?

When I was twenty-five, I got on a plane and flew from New York to San Francisco. I was figuratively lost, and I decided to get literally lost. I wanted to leave behind all the baggage of my identity and be someone else. My plan was to drive down the coast to Los Angeles and on to Las Vegas. I never made it more than forty miles south of San Francisco.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
I got derailed by an enchanted home in the town of Half Moon Bay. It was an old train depot that had been nurtured back to life by a physicist and an artist who had propped it up on stilts and replaced its foundation. I spent a month taking care of the two dogs and the cat that resided there while their owners traveled in China. The house sat on top of a bluff overlooking the ocean, the kitchen sink where the old train depot ticket counter used to be. I watched the sunset each evening while doing the dinner dishes. I walked with the dogs every day on the bluffs. My time in the train depot helped me to find my footing again and to repair some cracks in my own foundation—something I had not been able to do back home in New York.

In a few weeks, we are moving to the beach here in Los Angeles. I feel like I am going home. When I left Half Moon Bay, the realist in me didn't think I would ever get the chance to live that close to the ocean again. But I never stopped watching those sunsets. I never stopped painting the picture in my mind. In two weeks, I will be able to watch the sunset over the ocean while standing at my kitchen sink.

If you paint a vivid picture in your mind, can it become a reality?  Yes, I believe so.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Out of Service

I have a problem with the word service. After looking into the word's origin, I now understand my aversion. The word "service" derives from the Latin word servus meaning slave. That's exactly how I feel toward the needs of others. I am a slave to them. Wired to answer every call for help and feeling responsible for the outcome of events I can't control.

Where does this tendency come from? I could blame it on my family, who are themselves a tribe of rescuers and fixers. I could blame it on being an artist—that I'm just so tapped into feelings that it's difficult to turn off the radar. I could blame it on being a teacher—encouraged by the profession to try to change the lives of others. But the seed was sown much earlier.

Photo by Shawn Keagy
As a child, I felt that I had to be good, to do good—as if I had to atone for something. But what could I have done that was so terrible? I didn't understand this unconscious drive until I was thirty years old, when I discovered I had been a twin. It was like a veil had been lifted, and I could finally begin to heal the wound I couldn't name. My twin died in the womb, and I was helpless to stop it. I have spent my life trying to undo that feeling of powerlessness. Because I couldn't rescue my twin, I took on the world as my responsibility.

One of my fellow healers calls this tendency “doing someone else's homework.” As a former teacher, the analogy is particularly meaningful. I remember how angry I would get when parents would do their kids' homework. But maybe parents do their children's homework for the same reason I feel the need to rescue: it's painful to stand by and watch someone struggle. But when I try to solve someone else's problems, I rob them of their journey. And I rob myself of the opportunity to work on my own lessons.

So for the time being, I am out of service. I'll be taking some time off from my knee-jerk help reflex to reroute my energy to the work I want to do. I won't be surprised if my work ends up helping others, but this time I'll be offering my gifts freely. I will no longer be a slave.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hanging Up the Phone

This week I got a call from a friend I haven't heard from in a long time. There wasn't anything extraordinary about the actual call. What was new was how I felt after it was over. I didn't replay the call. I didn't lament what was said or not said. I didn't question that I spoke what was true for me. I didn't feel confused about where my borders were when I was done. What changed? When I hung up the phone, I also remembered to disconnect the line of energy between us.

Artwork by Kathleen Keagy
Saying goodbye has never been easy for me, even when it would be better for me to say goodbye. I carry people and conversations around with me long after our communication is over. The exchanges take on a life, an energy, of their own leaving me tethered to a moment that has passed, and the people in it. I walk around feeling responsible for the outcome of relationships. This is normal, right? We're supposed to be tapped into the people we care about.

I don't see connection as the problem. It's the connection being in the “always on” position that is the rub. It's exhausting—like I've left my lights on and allowed my battery to be drained until it doesn't have anything left to keep me running. And these "always on" connections create clutter that makes it difficult for someone new to enter my life, even if it's someone I want to get to know.

When I hung up the phone with my friend the other day, I didn't just hang up the call. I switched off the energy current that was connecting us. Since then I've started putting energy switches in other areas of my life including my work, so that I can turn down the energy I'm sending when it's not really needed. It has taken a bit of faith for me to trust that the connection will be there without me investing in it all the time, but when I've tested it over the last few days I've been able to reconnect pretty easily. What I've noticed is that when I don't have all those low-level currents continuously running, I have more current—more energy—for me. I am more vital, healthy, creative, grounded in my body and available to receive whatever is right here in the moment. And that feels really good.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The More You Are

The other night I watched a friend perform in a new dance work, but it would be more apropos to say that I watched him dive into every cell of his being as he moved across the floor. My friend Greg is the most embodied person I know. He lives in his body without the shame that so permeates our culture. And he is one of the bravest artists I know.

After the performance, I got back to my car and couldn't turn on the ignition. So much was spiraling through me. I just kept thinking, "I want to be brave like Greg." I picked up my notebook and the words poured out in a poem.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
I sent the poem to Greg that night, and he wrote back saying that it made him cry. And it occurred to me that maybe I am brave. When I write poetry, I am not afraid of anything. I dive in. Instead of trying to untie the knot of what I'm feeling, I keep going in until I come out the other side. And maybe the reason that I so admire the way my friend Greg dances is because it affirms the artist I am...the artists we all are.

What if the most inspiring thing I can do every day is to embody who I am? What if I weigh every choice on the scale of “Is this me or not?” What if I conduct my life believing that the more I become myself, the more others are allowed to be themselves?

Greg says the reason he creates the art he does is so that others know they are not alone. So here is the poem I wrote for Greg. Yes, I want to be brave like that.


The More You Are
(for Greg)

I am the better for watching you dance
from the sweat of your heart
I learn
how to be
unafraid to be
what you know
to be known

I am the better for knowing you now
having lost
the energy to pretend
I am fragments
but you see the whole

I am the better for knowing your shadow
until my legs
found fire
until my voice
found silence
and heard herself

the more you are
the better I am

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Half A Smile

I looked in the mirror a few days ago and was startled. I was smiling with both sides of my face. Now this may not seem much of anything except the day before I had only been smiling with the left side of my face. What happened?

There was an event that generated the physical change, but the realization that only half of me had been able to smile for I'm not quite sure how long caught me off-guard. Only my left side, my female side, had the freedom to smile. The muscle and sinew of the right side of my face was locked, gritting its way through life and turning the simple act of smiling into a chore. The same right side that was subject to sinus pressure, toothaches, earaches and eye strain over the last few years. My right side, which holds my liver and gall bladder, the seats of anger and frustration. And lately, I have been particularly angry. So what brought about the change?

Photo by Shawn Keagy
When I purchased my latest yoga class card at the wellness center I adore, I was given a complimentary cranial-sacral therapy session. A gift of healing had arrived. I have looked into cranial-sacral therapy in the past as a complement to the non-force chiropractic work I get every few months. Cranial-sacral therapy addresses the cerebral and spinal fluid in which the brain and spinal cord float, and the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles and holds other parts of the body together. Using touch, a cranial-sacral practitioner helps your body to remove blockages to allow for better communication and as a result, healing. I found the session to be a cross between the light touch and structural alignment of non-force chiropractic work (no snapping or cracking), and the deep relaxation induced by massage.

Before the session, I picked up the Angel cards that were sitting on the waiting room table. From the deck I selected a card that said, “Time to let your past go.” Uh-huh. That would work very well as a theme for the session. There was a lot of grief about the past in the anger that had been rising to the surface recently, and it wanted to be seen, acknowledged and let go. I repeated the words “let go” as a mantra while Lucien, the practitioner who facilitated my healing, worked on my body. I wanted to encourage all the cobwebs of tension that were no longer useful—not in the present tense of my life—to exit. What I didn't expect was to get my smile back. But I did.

My face looks different. I think I look younger, like the girl I remember before I started carrying the world on my right side like a warrior. And when I try to remember that girl, I have to reach back, way back to a picture of a toddler in a high chair with a grin as wide as the ear of corn she is eating. Before I began connecting with others by offering my help rather than just by being me. Was it possible to retrieve the freedom to be myself by retrieving my smile?

Since my cranial-sacral session, I have noticed a difference in my ability to weather the bumps in the road as they come along. Over the weekend, I found myself dancing in the surf with my daughter on a day too cold for most grown-ups to enter the water, and I really enjoyed it. It was not my usual mode of experiencing the joy via my daughter's smiles and giggles (which are pretty wonderful, by the way) but jumping and dancing in the surf for the simple pleasure it gave me. And these healing modalities just release physical tension, right?

Looking at my new, old smile, what startles me is how the physical limitations of my face were limiting my expression and not just my ability to smile. Research supports that the simple act of smiling can change your mood. What if over time the pressure in my life made it physically difficult for me to smile? And if it was difficult to shape my face into a smile, was that limitation in range of motion limiting my ability to experience humor and joy—limiting my ability to laugh at myself and to let things roll off my shoulders?

When I smile now, I see two definitive dimples. I feel my right ear rise up just a bit to match my left. And I breathe in, deeply. Lucien says that there is room for more release. A bigger smile? I'll take it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Grace of Friendship

It took becoming a mom to make my first “best” friend since college, someone with whom I could relax and be myself. But I didn’t know it until I had to face the reality of her moving away.

I don’t know exactly how our friendship began or the moment when she moved from acquaintance to friend. When did I begin to trust her with the pieces of my life that were confusing, revealing my deep insecurities and idiosyncrasies? Maybe it was every time I agreed to sit in the park while our children played in spite of feeling exhausted, vulnerable, and downright grouchy. I remember being surprised at how she didn’t seem to mind, never taking it personally but rather accepting it all with an ebb and flow I have yet to master.

It helped that our children liked each other—requesting to play together, wrestling with each other on the living room floor or holding each other’s hands across the backseat of the car as we set out on our latest park adventure. It didn’t hurt that our husbands genuinely liked each other, too, talking easily and looking forward to family get-togethers and Sunday mornings playing volleyball at the beach.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
When she went back to work part-time months before she moved, this wrinkle in our rhythm began to show me just what would change when she moved away. And then, as she began making serious plans for her move, there was still less time for our friendship. But it wasn’t until the day after she left when I found myself sobbing in my husband’s arms that I began to understand how lost I would be without the grace and ease of our friendship. Would we still be friends across three thousand miles? Sure. But it would not be a friendship that easily mirrored the rhythm of our days, but a squeezed-in conversation on the phone or a trail of email across the digital world.

She taught me to call when I was feeling crazy, not just to share the good days. She let me in her home when it was dirty, making my dirty house an okay place to gather, too. She listened without a note of disbelief when I shared stories of past lives I remembered and even asked questions about how it all worked. She was my sounding board for the story I was writing and edited my first published pieces. She motivated me with her sense of creative possibility and with her daily diligence on projects. She inspired me to stretch my notions of mother and artist, showing by example that it was good to set aside time for me in the midst of the demands of being a wife and mother. She taught me through friendship how to tend to my life first—to hold my ground, to fill my well and to honor my personal truths. In all, I had been my authentic self with her, and in the process, learned who my authentic self was. She was my friend through a period of significant transformation, and now I had to hold this space for myself.

There was a piece of me that wanted to close down after she left. It felt like breaking up with a boyfriend—as though I'd never find someone like that again. No, not like her, but someone different, I told myself. Someone who would fit in the life to which I was arriving now that I had the gift of her friendship. Now that I remembered how to foster a friendship. And I am lucky enough to have her still on the other end of the phone line, still near enough to remind me with her sass and humor just how far I’ve come in case I forget.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What We Carry

I used to imagine that babies were born free of the kind of baggage I carry around with me, but then I met my daughter. I never saw a baby when I looked at her. Not even the day she was born. I saw a complete soul with its very own agenda for this world. Agreements with other souls she made before she was born. Ancestral stories she carries in her DNA. And the sum of all the experiences of previous lives. Now I think babies just don't know that there is anything standing in their way. But then they have this experience of the body, and I am sure it rocks their world. Layers are added to the existing story. And for many of us, the question “Who am I?” becomes more and more obscure after each layer is added.

Photo by Shawn Keagy
How do we become aware of what we are carrying with us? How do we recognize and honor our history, and let go of what does not serve us? How do we shed the weight of others' desires in order to pursue our own? How do we stay present right here, right now?

I have found no instruction booklet, but I have found maps and tools in dance, theater, music, art, writing, relationships, nutrition, alternative healing modalities and meditation. As a perpetual student of the process, I never saw myself as an authority on any of it. But when I share stories about my journey, I am often told that I should write a blog. When I look back, I am reminded of the individuals whose stories inspired me along the way and of how important their camaraderie was when I was reaching along the edge. So here it is: my exploration of the physical, emotional, behavioral, environmental and spiritual tools that help me to express myself authentically in the world. I add my voice to the discussion.

Here's to finding freedom together.