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


“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!”?