Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Eating, Praying, and Loving (Part I)

There’s a fine frenzy about this book... You might have heard of it.

It goes by the name Eat, Pray, Love (and yes, the movie’s out right now too). And I can tell you that this book… Well, it’s pretty darn good!

I laughed. I cried. I had my “ah-ha” moments. And then I did it all again. I learned what’s good about eating and praying and loving. Much of which I already knew, but sometimes we need someone to come along and remind us. And if you're like me, sometimes we need life’s messengers to walk right up to us and tap us on the forehead and say, “Hello? Remember?”

But I have to be honest, at this moment I can only think about one tiny part. And in that one part, it is just one quote that won’t leave me alone. It’s on repeat in my mind, and since I traipsed through Italy, India, and Indonesia, it’s all I can think about when I think about Eat, Pray, Love.

I feel like this quote was meant for me. And don’t you just love it when an author is so talented and so timely? It’s as if they knew the future "you" almost intimately, and they decided to sit down and write to your life.

Amidst the journey from her spiritual breakdown to her spiritual epiphany, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, looked in the mirror. And what she found was something most unexpected. And what she found is what I needed to hear:

"So tonight I reach for my journal again. This is the first time I’ve done this since I came to Italy. What I write in my journal is that I am weak and full of fear. I explain that Depression and Loneliness have shown up, and I’m scared they will never leave. I say that I don’t want to take the drugs anymore, but I’m frightened I will have to. I am terrified that I will never really pull my life together.

In response, somewhere from within me, rises a now-familiar presence, offering me all the certainties I have always wished another person would say to me when I was troubled. This is what I find myself writing on the page:

I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long. I will stay with you. If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it—I will love you through that, as well. If you don’t need the medication, I will love you, too. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and Braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.

Tonight, this strange interior gesture of friendship—the lending of a hand from me to myself when nobody else is around to offer solace—reminds me of something that happened to me once in New York City. I walked into an office building one afternoon in a hurry, dashed into the waiting elevator. As I rushed in, I caught an unexpected glance of myself in a security mirror’s reflection. In that moment, my brain did an odd thing—it fired off this split-second message: “Hey! You know her! That’s a friend of yours!” And I actually ran forward toward my own reflection with a smile, ready to welcome that girl whose name I had lost but whose face was so familiar. In a flash instant of course, I realized my mistake and laughed in embarrassment at my almost doglike confusion over how a mirror works. But for some reason that incident comes to mind again tonight during my sadness in Rome, and I find myself writing this comforting reminder at the bottom of the page:
Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a FRIEND…

I fell asleep holding my notebook pressed against my chest, open to this most recent assurance. In the morning when I wake up, I can still smell a faint trace of depression’s lingering smoke, but he himself is nowhere to be seen. Somewhere during the night, he got up and left. And his buddy loneliness beat it, too.”

I can’t get this part out of my mind. And those bold words come together to make the quote I can’t stop thinking about: Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a FRIEND….

It’s the crux of the novel. It’s the heart of the message. It’s the crème de la crème. It’s the—Well, you get the point...

We should never forget that in every moment we are our own best friend. There is beauty and power in self-love. Whether we are in the midst of sitting atop a golden mountain or whether we are knee deep in the muck of the darkest valley, it is okay to stop and love ourselves.

In fact, it’s a necessity that we put our arms around ourselves, in the form of a hug, a reminder, or a welcoming. It’s vital we find the things to love about ourselves and ignore the messages of a superficial culture. Because it isn’t until we learn to love the pieces that makes us who we are that we can let genuine outside love in from our God, our lover, our family, and our friends...

And when we let that love in, it multiplies. And when we let that love in, it becomes home.

And isn’t that what this journey is about? Don’t we deserve this intimate friendship? Don’t we deserve to hear the words, “I’m here. I love you. I’ll stay with you” from our own voice?

If you can know just one thing, know this: You are worthy to be loved, and that love starts with you!

Please come back to The Universal Soul for Part II of On Eating, Praying, and Loving…

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

That Childlike Wonder

Do you remember when you were a kid and the smallest thing made you happy? You couldn’t wait to shout, “Mommy, look!” or “Daddy, guess what!”

Think about those memories for a minute… I know you’ve got some great ones way back in the corner of your mind…

Are you thinking about it?

I bet it took you a bit to access the feelings you associated with that childlike wonder, and I bet you started to wonder when you stopped feeling that way.

It’s so easy to be consumed by the adult world and its ability to be ridiculously mundane, while in the very same breathe, the adult world has the uncanny ability to be ridiculously exhausting. It’s mundanely exhausting! Or is that exhaustingly mundane?

So what do we do about it? How do we access that childlike wonder?

I think that the key to loving life (the way we did as kids) is to pay very close attention to the details and then revel in them at every turn. We’ve got to forget about the whole “But I’m adult!” rationalization we so frequently use to excuse our stress levels and set ways. We’ve got to make room for loving those little details again.

Where is that childlike wonder?


I must humbly admit that I haven’t been keeping in touch with my inner child as I should. As I type this admission, I realize that I need to be more cognizant of all the awe-inspiring things that surround my senses. I need to be more aware of the tiny celebrations that pop up everyday. Because lately, I’ve been letting my little mind get a little crazy, and I’ve been worry about things I can’t control. And since my mind can only house a given amount of neurotic thoughts at a time, it’s about time I kick them out on the mean streets so I can make room for the thoughts that make me happy, the thoughts that make life grand.

So what did I love today? What are those awe-inspiring things? What are my tiny celebrations?

(But more importantly for you, what are yours? What brings you joy? What keeps the childlike wonder alive?)

First of all, I love the first sip of a cold drink on a hot summer day. I love how I can feel that cool bubble of liquid travel from my lips, to my tongue, to my throat, and down into my belly. It’s a perfect feeling.

Secondly, I love the way my little white dog wiggles her butt when she runs down the stairs. I am laughing right now because I can see her in my mind's eye. She loves to smile too. So there she is in my memory, wiggling her butt and smiling as she runs down the stairs to greet me with a wet puppy-dog kiss.

I’ve got one more... I love my red couch. I wanted a red couch for years, convincing myself that it would be my muse. Turns out I was right. After a long day at work, I open the window blinds and plop down of my red couch. That late sun comes in, bathing my skin with a light dusting of warmth, and I am extended on my slice of Heaven.

Doesn’t get any better than that.

Reminding myself of those things prompts me to realize that I had a good day, and that no stress is worth diminishing these things. No bad thought is worth entertaining.

So I’ll ask you again... What are the little things you love? What are your tiny celebrations? How do you keep that childlike wonder alive in this mundanely exhausting adult world?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beyond Front Doors

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” ~Flora Whittemore

Doors are like people.

I don’t know all the reasons why I think this, but I do. I’ve always been fascinated with them, just as I am infinitely fascinated by people. No matter how many people you've met, you can never say you've known them all. The same thing goes for doors.

Perhaps I'm drawn in by doors because of what they represent.

Perhaps it’s because I am nosy, and I am curious; I can’t help but to wonder what’s behind them. Or more specifically, who's behind them...

When I travel, I love to walk around looking at doors and snapping photographs of my favorites. I find myself imagining whose life was led behind them, fully knowing each life is intricate and different from my own. The secrets behind those closed doors are secrets I will never know.

Here are two photographs I took in Charleston, SC.

Each door, especially in homes that have stood hundreds of years, has seen many lifetimes. It has known many people. And each is different from the next. The doors say so much about the time, yet say so little about the lives they protected.

I wonder what my mother's front door says about her... I wonder if it says she loves to garden. Or that she's a cancer survivor. Or that she loves her country and the country mountains.

I wonder what my front door has seen and what it says about my life... Does it say I'm still figuring things out? Does it say I get lonely? Does it say that I'm a dreamer?

Doors are complicated and as unique as we are... They are great secret keepers and protect the dwellers inside like the good friends that they are.

Doors are like people.
But not just any people.
Doors are good people.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pictures from the Road...

There's nothing more beautiful and inspirational than being in nature. So naturally, one of my favorite hobbies is photographing nature wherever I go. I just wanted to share some of the many photographs I took on the road this summer. I figured that if they bring me peace and inspiration, then maybe you'd enjoy them too. Also, I will be sharing some of my other journeys in future posts along the way as well.
Wedding Blues- wedding ceremony floral arrangement at Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod... My husband and I were blessed to witness our childhood friend marry his best friend this summer on the beaches of Cape Cod.
First Promise- a beautiful miracle appearing across the majestic mountains of North Carolina...
The rainbow was so bold, perhaps the most pristine rainbow I've ever seen. My family and I all smiled, and then we enjoyed an amazing home-cooked meal thanks to my talented father.

Keep Off Rocks- a sign that can be found on the beaches of Chatham in Cape Cod...
The weather was beautiful, and I have to admit that though I am from Florida, I greatly enjoyed so many beach days in a row with my hubby and friends. And as you folks up north know, the beaches are very different up that way.

Solitude- simple, throwback lifeguard chair on the beaches of Cape Cod...
We came across this spot as we walked the beach that evening after driving home from Province Town. I liked how it looked with the high sand dunes behind it so I snapped this photo.

Sphere- residential trellis right off the beaches of Chatham...
I loved the shadows and the contrast of the blue and white. It was a beautiful day on the beach, and we were now off to get the best lobster rolls in town.

On the Shoreline- taking a break from walking the beach on Chatham to capture the smooth pebbles and shells that washed to the shoreline...
I love this photo because I can see my hubby on the shoreline enjoying the waves as they splash across his feet.

Stairway to Heaven- a bridge so that homeowners could travel over the rocks and onto the their private beaches...
I love this photo because of the angular lines of the bridge and how it looks against the rocks and clear blue sky. Cape Cod, along with its beaches, is a photographically stunning place.


In My Mother's Garden- The last three photographs are my favorite photos I took in my mother's garden. Every summer I photograph what she's been working on, as her garden is her heaven on Earth. She loves sharing its beauty with others.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Art of Letting Go

If I am certain of one thing, I am certain that the mind is a suitcase. And in it we carry around the day's events. We fold up memories and tuck them into the corners. We hide our unmentionables at the bottom, stuffed underneath a stack of less incriminating articles, like our trusty blue jeans and white t-shirts.

And this suitcase travels everywhere. Some things we unload. Some things we hold onto for the next trip, even if the journey doesn’t call for them. Some articles are helpful, while others just weigh us down or hold us up. And when the day’s journey has come to a close, the suitcase of our mind can become overwhelming because we can’t find what we’re looking for because it’s buried underneath a pile of junk we stopped needing years ago. And that pile of junk becomes a real problem.

We start to lose our minds because of the chaos. We’ve complicated our travels because we just can’t seem to let some things go. And because of this, our load just gets heavier and heavier.

You get the metaphor...

I think we all have a list of things that haunt us, packed deep inside our minds. Perhaps they’re should haves and could haves. Perhaps they’re what ifs. Sometimes we stew over a relationship that came to an end. We wonder what we did and why it didn’t work. We play the blame game. We torment ourselves over what was said and what wasn’t said. And then there’re the relationships we’re all in now. We love these people. But they drive us crazy. Why don’t they listen? What were they thinking? We wonder why they do this or why they do that.

The list of mental preoccupations can go on and on and on…

And they do. They keep us up at night. They are the object of our obsessions. They are the catalyst for our bad moods. If we’re ranting and raving… they’re probably what got us started.

I won’t deny I’ve done this… and a lot. But something I’ve recently learned in my quiet time and meditation is that as a simple human being I have very little control over anything other than my own mind. I can’t control traffic lights, my family members, or the state of affairs. Heck, I can’t even control what others think of me; that’s their doing, inside their mind.

And it was with this small epiphany, in which I was reading Wherever You Go, There You Are, that I felt a huge release of tension escape from my chest. I felt relieved! All the things I’ve been packing into my suitcase so that I could analyze and fret over them later shouldn’t be in my suitcase at all! I can kick them to the curb because all that worrying is for naught. I’ve got to let go... and that's OKAY!

And you should too! So what I purpose is that we all make a list of five things we know we’ve been obsessing over, and choose one to let go of today. And if it works, we’ll let go of one more tomorrow… and so on and so forth.

You can do this through prayer, meditation, contemplation, writing, or action… Do whatever suits you. It might take a minute or a day; it may take the month, but that's okay. Just be sure you're letting go of that certain something...

Let go of its torment.

Let go of its weight.

Let go of your expectations and your need to understand and control whatever it is.

We can’t control anything but our thoughts. So let go and revitalize your mind. In return, you’ll be rewarded with a greater sense of peace and wellbeing because if we purge our suitcase of these unneeded articles, we can make room for the things that matter, things that we could actually use in this journey.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn explained, “Letting go means just what it says. It’s an invitation to cease clinging to anything… It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding. To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are… It’s akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to…

So open your hand, release your clutched fingers, and let the things you've clung to the very most go, and let them ride out on the wind. Then sit back and welcome that smile of peace as it crawls across your face, as you watch the fear and regret and anxiety that once gripped you disappear into the air as well.

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