Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

This is a tale about a New Story and Three Miracles.

Yesterday, Troy and I had to make yet another trip to the appeals court in downtown L.A.. (If you are new to my blog and haven’t been following the long saga of our fight to keep our dog Stitch, the story is here.) We are currently in year three of a ridiculously drawn out battle that has been rife with jaw-dropping errors and bumbling ineptitude. The latest is that on January 3rd, we filed our appeals brief. The plaintiff had 30 days to respond. He did not. We were waiting to hear what the court would decide. And waiting, and waiting…On Monday we were notified that the plaintiff filed a response three months late.  In line with the dazzling list of injustices that have occurred in this case, the court accepted it! Three months late!

Our attorney needed copies of this new response, so yesterday we set out for the courthouse with a pit in our stomachs. We anticipated the traffic, the expensive downtown parking ($24 for one hour), the incompetence of underpaid court workers. Documents would be lost, wrong case numbers would be filed, clerks would stare back at us with lack of concern. We knew the drill.

At the court, we asked for copies of this new, three-months late document.
“We don’t have your file,” an apathetic, goth clerk told us.
I turned to Troy and threw my hands in the air. “Of course they don’t have our file! Every time we come here it’s one problem after the next and blah blah blah…” and suddenly I stopped myself.
Just the day before, I had posted this blog, listing things I learned from Deepak Chopra, my favorite quote being: “The story you tell yourself becomes your experience in the world.”

“Wow,” I said to Troy, “Listen to me, anticipating the worst. I need to tell myself a new story.”
“Okay,” he said, “what’s your new story?”
I took a deep breath and centered myself, “The new story is…we are going to have a good experience in court today. We’re going to get the files we need, the clerks are going to be competent and friendly, and we’re going to get out of here before our parking meter runs out.”

And that is exactly what happened. Another clerk found our file easily, was smart and friendly, gave us the copies we needed, didn’t charge us (at 50 cents a page) and told us to have a great day. And we made it back three minutes before our parking meter expired. That has NEVER HAPPENED for us before. So that was MIRACLE #1.

Driving back, I worried about traffic, as we had to pick Evan up from school. As soon as we pulled onto the 405 onramp, we came to a dead stop. Bumper to bumper traffic. Ugh, we both groaned. This could take hours…
“New story!” Troy exclaimed, “I’m driving 90 all the way home!”
We both laughed heartily at this one.
“Good one, Honey!” I said. I mean, this was the 405 on a weekday.

But within moments, I kid you not, the traffic dissipated and we drove, not 90 but 70, all the way home to Chatsworth. If you live in L.A., you know that is MIRACLE #2.

And then, starving, we pulled into In N Out Burger, which has a long line at nine in the morning, at one in the morning, and three in the afternoon. In my entire life I’ve never been to In N Out when there wasn’t a long, long line. 
We pulled in at 12:30p.m. and laughingly said, “New story- no line at In N’ Out!”
And I know none of you Californians are going to believe me but I SWEAR- there was no line at In N Out Burger! NONE! At lunchtime!
That was a miracle of almost biblical proportion. That was MIRACLE #3.

Now I can’t say that all those things weren’t just coincidences, but what is the definition of a coincidence, anyway?

Coincidence: the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection.
(Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Hmmm…I told myself a new story. My circumstances changed. In that case, yeah, I guess I’d call that a coincidence.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Karma's a Bitch, but Here's the Good News...

Are you people watching Oprah’s Lifeclass on OWN like I told you to? Are you, are you? I can't stress enough the importance of filling your mind with positive life-affirming information. ( Remember: garbage in=garbage out.)  But just in case you’re not watching, I’ve been taking cliff notes for you.

Last night was a great two-hour class with Deepak Chopra, who spoke about spirituality and karma, or, if you prefer- the Golden Rule. The class was live in New York City, where they packed Radio City Music Hall.

Here are the gems I picked up from last night:

“Problems come from a contracted state of awareness. Solutions come from an expanded state of awareness.”

How can you improve your state of awareness? Meditation. Even for a few moments each day. Slow your breathing. Slow your mind. Feel your heart. Get in touch with gratitude for what is good in your life. Even if your life is hell right now, you have food, running water, shelter….all things to be grateful for. Not everyone in the world has that.

When persistent negative thoughts plague you, here is what Deepak suggests:
Stop the thought.
Take deep breaths, and feel a smile in your heart, spreading through your whole body.
Observe how this feels
Proceed with love and kindness.

With regard to karma, here were the lessons:

“The worst thing you can say about another contains some truth about yourself.”

“You can never feel good about yourself by bringing someone else down.”

“Everyone does the best they can with where they are at in their own spiritual awareness. Hold them in compassion, for when you judge, you are also judging yourself.”

“The highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without judging.”

“The story you tell yourself creates your experience in the world.”

“If you live your questions, life will lead you to your answers.”

“If you want love, be love. If you want change, be change.”

“Change yourself first. No social transformation can take place without personal transformation.” (peace begins with you…)

And here’s what I loved most of all. The Hindus believe (and the Christians do, too) that even if you have some karma from the past to work through, you can pay off some of that karmic debt by doing good in the world now. By being kind, loving, charitable, some of that debt will be forgiven. So in other words, Karma is a bitch, but she’s at least reasonable and willing to strike a good bargain.

Have a great, good-karma, non-judgy kinda day!

for more info on Oprah's Lifeclass, or the other wonderful life-affirming shows on O.W.N., click here:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Beware the Joy Vampires

Vampires, vampires…they’re everywhere these days. I’m not talking about movies and make believe. I’m talking about the real ones. They don’t look like this guy. Oh no, they’re much scarier than that. 
They are stealth. 
They will sneak into your life disguised as friends and family members, and then when you least expect it- ZAP. You’re drained of all your joy and life energy, and you have no idea why or how it happened.

A vampire will suck all the joy out of a room before you know what’s hit you. Every time you see her, you leave feeling depressed and tired. You no longer want to share good news with him because it seems pointless. But go on a rampage about someone or something and the vampire taps right into that vein with you, until you both are spiraling downward. Beware…for if he bites you, you become like him.

Years ago, I had a friend*- well, I thought she was a friend because she was there during a dark period in my life. But as I got stronger and began pulling myself up out of the muck, she turned on me. I was so hurt and confused. My therapist said this to me: A true friend is not someone who only stands by you when you’re down, it’s someone who stands by you when you’re up.

This friend wanted me to wallow in misery with her. This friend didn't want to see me happy.

A true friend wants to see you at your best, is happy to see you strong. True friends celebrate their victories together. True friendship gives a symbiotic energy that both people benefit from.

Joy vampires thrive in fear. They don’t have the emotional courage to stand up for their own lives, so when they see your strength and happiness, they’ll want to suck it right out of you.

I used to want to save the Joy Vampires. They were so damaged and sad. I must not be alone in this sickness because our culture romanticizes vampires. But if my own Joy and Purpose were to survive, I had to think about self-preservation. What did I want my epitaph to read one day? How about this: 

“She lived an authentic life and spread joy in the world.”  

If I’m going to live that life, I have to guard my positive energy. If I allow Joy Vampires in, I won’t be able to do it. And I’m not just talking about them being in my life physically, I’m talking about allowing them space in my head as well - that is where they are most stealth. Vampires you haven’t seen in twenty years could still be sucking your life’s blood simply through your thoughts.

I have a personal remedy for ridding myself of vampires, and its simple, really.  I release them.

I’ve held vampires captive in my head through my own anger- an anger that sunk its hooks in and wouldn’t budge.  But here is the garlic, the stake through the heart, the silver bullet that finally worked: I wished them peace, healing, and I let them go.

I also added a ritual, because I’m a concrete thinker, and like to do something physically to make clear what I’m doing. I write the vampires names on a piece of paper. I hold the paper in against my heart and say a loving prayer, letting them go. Then I burn the paper in my fireplace, and watch the wisps of smoke go upward, out the chimney, away from me.

“I wish you peace, I wish you peace…” I say until the smoke is gone.

I need to do this from time to time, because, as I said, vampires are stealth. They’ll sneak in through an open window, riding on the tails of anger, through a crack in my armor. And once again, with love and peace, I send them packing.

No one comes into this life wanting to be an emotional vampire. They were bitten by someone else and didn’t know how to free themselves. I know they need peace and healing as much as I do. I also know it’s not my job to save them, and I’m no longer sitting around waiting for anyone to save me. I make the choice to save myself. I make the choice to live a good life, because maybe if I do that, maybe, just maybe, someone else will witness it, and want to step out of their own dark shadows.

* Because I've already had two friends call and ask who the above referenced friend is (be assured, it's none of you, my darling ones!) - I'll just say it was 16 years ago. This woman spiraled downward so far she sadly became an addict and overdosed. A very tragic story. Ultimately, she turned on herself. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Metamorphosis and Metaphor

Spring, my favorite time of year, is a time of rebirth, a time of awakening, of new growth. A hopeful crocus pokes it’s head above the snow. Fields of flowers appear overnight, seedpods burst open. A caterpillar emerges from its chrysalis as if to say- “Look at me! I begin again- I am alive!”

Two weeks ago, Evan and I adopted a caterpillar from Kidspace, a local children’s science center. It’s been quite an exciting experience for us to watch “Tiny”, who started out smaller than a grain of rice, rapidly outgrow his name, becoming a pudgy wriggling 2 inch caterpillar. Yesterday, we awoke to find Tiny encased in a chrysalis. Inside, his former self melts away as a new being is formed. In a matter of days, he will emerge from his Chrysalis and unfurl his wings.

Every stage of Tiny’s short life has been fascinating for Evan, and metaphoric for me.

Our traditions at this time of Spring equinox, from the biblical tales of Passover to Jesus’ resurrection, to symbols of birth and new beginnings (rabbits, eggs) remind us that it’s time for our own new beginnings. It’s my time to find redemption for the ways I was broken, to emerge from my own self-made chrysalis and stretch my wings.

For the first thirty years of my life, I hid the story of who I was: the daughter of a convict, raised by a single mom who worked nights in dark, smoky nightclubs. I was the little girl lost, the runaway, the bird with a broken wing. In my forties, I wrapped myself in the chrysalis of introspection, immersed myself in my own unraveling. I wrote a book embracing the truth of who I was and where I came from, allowing the old me to melt away with every word.

As Tiny sheds his chrysalis, I, too, want to shed what I have wrapped myself in for so long.

I want to see what color I am now without that old story wrapped around me. I want to let my true self emerge, the self that has no scars or history, the self that embraces all possibility. I want to leave behind the cocoon of limiting beliefs and self-defeating patterns. I want to let go of my past and let my wings unfurl.

Like Tiny, I want to be light, like the butterfly who rises above, spends her days moving from flower to flower, pollinating the garden, helping new things to grow.

My heart is ripe for a Spring awakening. During this time of rebirth and redemption, I open myself to new beginnings full of possibility.

I wish the same for you...

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring to all!

UPDATE: Today, April 14th, Evan's caterpillar Tiny emerged from the chrysalis!