I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Lisa Romeo, one per day for the month of October as a way to keep myself honest and make sure that, even as I work on selling my manuscript, I am continuing to write every day.

Generally, the things I write about are very much present in my daily life and they come to the forefront of my consciousness when I walk the dog or shower in the morning or meditate. But sometimes, I find myself in need of some new inspiration and since I’ve also signed up to take a writing class from Lisa, I decided that maybe this would be fun.
When I checked my email this morning before dashing off to yoga, I saw that today’s prompt was “past the halfway point.” Instantly, my mind went to thoughts of traveling a difficult road and the relief that comes when you know you’re more than halfway there, but I was having trouble crystallizing a moment from my life that felt compelling enough to write about. I closed down my inbox and gathered my yoga things, figuring something would either come to me or it wouldn’t.
Much to my chagrin, but not altogether unexpected, in the few quiet moments before class started when the instructor asks that we focus our attention away from the mind and into our bodies, letting ourselves come squarely into the yoga practice, my mind honed in on the writing prompt like a laser targeting device.
I’ve been struggling with anxiety over the past couple of days and I asked myself whether I could safely say that I felt as though I was more than half of the way back from that to my “normal” self. Nope. But this anxiety is different. Not because of its nature – it still has that impending doom flavor to it and it threatens to swipe the rug out from under me – but because of what exists in its void.
Thanks in large part to the Positive Intentions class I took in September with Kristine Leon, the bulk of my recent days have been spent in a state of quiet calm and happiness. I have found myself smiling spontaneously for no good reason at all multiple times per day. Really, authentically smiling – the kind that leads to crow’s feet around your eyes and accentuates your cheekbones until friends begin to wonder if you have had some sort of plastic surgery. I am able to shrug off most of the small annoyances that pelt into my skin on a daily basis and spend a few minutes bookending my days by experiencing one quiet, intentional moment and grounding myself.
As I closed my eyes and waited for class to begin, the picture in my mind was of myself sitting in the middle. Half in and half out. Straddling a balance beam with one leg immersed in Anxiety Soup and the other bathed in the golden glow of peace. From time to time over the past several days, I have certainly found myself “past the halfway point,” leaning much farther into one realm or the other and I found it interesting to note that my goal seemed to be on the side of peace. There was a huge part of me that really wanted to hop off that beam, turn my back on the feelings I don’t like and sprint for the finish line. I suppose that isn’t surprising, but I think I need to spend a little longer sitting here and examining this dichotomy.
Generally, when I think of a mid-point, the words that come to my mind are ‘medium,’ and ‘middle.’ Neither here nor there. The dead point in the swing of a pendulum where it hits the bottom of the curve and is centered. Not exciting, not extreme, just existing. This is a new kind of “halfway” for me. Existing between and simultaneously in two extremes. I’m fairly certain that this isn’t exactly what Lisa had in mind when she came up with this prompt, but then, neither did I when I first saw it. I guess I owe her a big THANK YOU!

This summer in Hawaii I made a promise to myself to get up and go to the yoga classes offered on the beach every morning. Bubba hung out with the girls, playing in the sand, and jumping over waves while, 50 yards away, a group of 20 or so of us stood on hotel towels in the soft, dry sand and followed a yoga instructor.

Because of the mix of abilities, the class itself was pretty low-key and, while it wasn’t the sweaty, intense hour and a half I’m used to at home, even at 7:30am it was 80 degrees outside and the instructors each brought their own flair.
The first morning, our leader was a man somewhere in his 50s or 60s who peppered his poses with anecdotes about boxing (seems he was a boxer in the military), ballet (took classes as a teen), and meditation. Truly a renaissance man, he had moved to Maui to semi-retire and find a new relationship with the natural world. Many of his quips were groan inducing and I rolled my eyes more than once, but some of the things he said were so simple and true that I find myself recalling them often.
“The word yoga literally means ‘union.’ This is the union of your body and mind. That doesn’t mean your mind dictates and your body follows – that’s not union. Your mind listens to what your body is saying. Not judges or bosses. Just listens.”
“Breathe. Relax. Align. Do this over and over again. Yoga is more about breath and feeling than movement and exercise. Start from the base and build up. Build a strong foundation. Breathe. Relax. Align.”
He wasn’t kidding. Yoga on soft sand is all about alignment and having a strong foundation. It turns out it isn’t about pushing yourself to stay up when you think you will surely collapse. It is about listening to your ankles to see if your feet are aligned before you move up to your knees. I found myself setting and re-setting my foundation, seeking a strong, solid base and looking in my mind’s eye to make sure that both feet were pointed forward, my hips were on equal planes, my knees weren’t twisted. I can’t say that my body was pushed much during these classes, but the calm grounding that comes from truly listening to my body and making sure it has what it needs was more than I thought I would get.
I think about how often I expect my body to put itself into positions that aren’t comfortable in order to accomplish something on my mind’s agenda. The years I wore high heels to work (not a chance you’ll find me in them now) punished my hips and lower back. The hour or so I sit working at my laptop in the front seat of the car without enough room to rest my wrists because it doesn’t make sense to go home and come back to get the girls from school mean sore shoulders and tingling fingers at bedtime.
Since that class I find myself occasionally closing my eyes to check in with my body. Breathe. Relax. Align. Hips? You okay? Feet? Where are you now? Shoulders? Do you need to let go? It doesn’t happen as often as it should, but I’m certainly more aware that my body has spent an awful lot of time catering to the whims of my mind and I’m trying to even the score a little.

“When a book and a head collide and there is a hollow sound, is it always from the book?” Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Not when it’s my head. The trouble with learning to be present and mindful is that it illustrates just how often I am not present and mindful in my daily life. When I find my mind wandering as I slice carrots for the curry and sip my glass of wine or when I arrive home after driving the six-girl carpool on Wednesday afternoons and don’t really recall any details of the drive itself, it is pretty clear to me that my head was the one thumping hollow.
I am truly in awe of how many tasks I can perform without really thinking about them. I often find myself disappointed in my girls for choosing the path of least resistance in their daily lives (doing a quick, sloppy job on their homework, dropping their plates into the dishwasher without rinsing them and tossing clothes in the laundry bin without removing the notes and rocks and house keys from their pockets first), but it occurs to me that my brain does the same thing. It has become so attuned to taking the same path time after time that I don’t even have to be aware in a conscious way to put a salad together or drive home from the supermarket or fold the laundry. Our brains are wired to be efficient and effective which is why it is hard work to stay present sometimes. I am so accustomed to typing and petting the dog and listening for the UPS man simultaneously that to try and focus on just sitting with the dog and giving him my undivided attention takes real effort.
I’m pretty sure that I would not get much done if I tried to remain present in everything I do, but I am trying to find a few moments every day to stop and truly immerse myself in one activity at a time. Even if it is just smacking myself in the forehead with a book and listening for the hollow sound…

This week’s positive intention class was focused on identifying and honoring the little victim within. We all have one (mine is a little green gremlin with warts and pointed ears who is so ugly he is cute) and their job is to continually warn us of all the dangerous things out there that we need to watch out for. He doesn’t forget anything and has this way of linking every negative experience to a few major traumatic events in the past and worrying that if we dare to set one big toe out the door again, we will certainly be run over and squashed flat.

The meditation for this morning involved acknowledging his presence, listening to his fears and reminding him that he is safe and heard. The goal is to disarm him and keep him from ballooning into an enormous source of energy and reactivity whose whiny chatter causes us to do and say things that aren’t authentically us. I can recall many instances in my life where I allowed him to take over and I began feeling entitled and pathetic, blaming anyone and anything around me for the situation I found myself in and giving away my power to control my own responses.
After that, the instructor asked us to recall a time when we felt victimized. Observe that moment and think about what that felt like. What emotions does that moment prompt – anger, frustration, fear, sadness? The ultimate goal is to be able to separate those feelings from the person you are now and recognize that that moment no longer has any power over you. Release the negative energy, forgive the perpetrator(s), and truly feel free.
True to form, I didn’t choose a squabble between myself and my mother or a time when Bubba sprung a business trip on me out of the blue. Nope, I went straight to the heart of things. In my defense, I didn’t actually mean to; it was just that when I sat down to do the meditation, my mind and body went to the most visceral place it could. I was instantly eight years old, lying on a dingy mattress on the floor of a dark, dank bedroom, being molested by my babysitter’s teenage son.
I couldn’t finish the meditation. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t get past the fear and hatred. My fingers began to go numb, my sacrum felt made of cement, and my jaw tightened. I can’t forgive him now. I can’t let go. It’s clear to me that I have to and I want to, but right now, today, it isn’t going to happen. Nothing like jumping in with both feet!

I’ve learned some new ‘exercises’ in my positive intentions class and am diligently attempting them daily. Some are easier than others and I find that there are two that consistently find me struggling to focus and complete them.

The first is called “Shower.” In this exercise, I am supposed to find a quiet moment and visualize myself in my ideal shower, covered with a grey, sooty mud. This muck represents all of the negative energy I’ve picked up during the day, from witnessing a stranger’s struggle to helping the girls settle a fight to hearing bad news from a friend. None of this ‘mud’ is mine and I simply need to wash it away and restore the golden glow to myself, acknowledging that my love and light sent out to anyone and everyone who is struggling is the best I can do.
I am fully in favor of this exercise, but when I find myself standing in my shower (a wooden affair in the middle of a gorgeous green pasture with a rain-shower head and a view of the hillside) under the spray, my mind immediately begins to catalog all of the things I’m washing away. Within seconds, I’m bogged down in the minutiae of the negative energy and it stubbornly refuses to rinse off of me.
At the suggestion of a friend, I tried a different approach. She calls it the “cheesecloth.” I simply run an enormous piece of cheesecloth up through my body, catching all of the negative particles and packaging them up in a tidy bundle which I then discard. I can even tie the bundle at the top with a gold ribbon of love. For some reason, this is much more effective for me, not to mention faster, and when I’m done, I feel literally lighter. The cheesecloth is full of little black, sticky bits and I am free.
The other exercise is called “Eject and Replace.” Essentially, it gives you the opportunity to observe your reactions throughout the day and when you have one you don’t particularly like (snapping off some sarcastic comment to the girls when I’m rushed and annoyed), you simply tug on your earlobe. This has the effect of ‘flushing’ the nasty thought out of your mind and leaves a space for you to replace it with love and light. My problem is that my mouth is faster than my mind and once those words are out, it’s too late to flush them. I have discovered that these negative thoughts come much more often when I am doing seventeen things at once and I resort to habitual responses. Ultimately, I suppose that this is the entire point of the positive intentions class – to slow down and be aware of what I am saying and doing and INTENDING instead of just reacting.
Guess it’s a good thing we meet again tomorrow.

Quiet morning. Girls both at school and Bubba’s off to California. Dishes done. Laundry put away. Email answered. Dog walked. It occurs to me how long it has been since I sat in a quiet room and meditated, so I head upstairs, settle down on a cushion, cross my legs and begin breathing.

The cat, however, has different ideas. This cat, who is very aloof and has never sat in anyone’s lap in the six years we have had her, has decided she needs to be touched. I can hear her soft pads as she makes her way across the carpet toward me, and I hear her begin to purr just before her silky head crashes in to my left hand. Eyes closed, I am determined to ignore her until she goes away. This is one more distraction – a chance to practice focusing on my breath and letting everything else slip away.
She paces between my hands, angling her head so that the soft space between her ears bangs into my knuckles as she walks in front of my folded legs. Back and forth. Insistent.
The longer I ignore her, the pushier she gets. Now she is stopping for a second at a time in front of each hand, pushing and nudging and purring and as she makes her U-turn to walk to the other hand, she rubs her flanks against me.
I can’t help but smile. She knows what she wants and she is going to get it. For what ever reason, at this moment, she needs to be touched. I open my eyes and indulge her, scratching behind her ears and underneath her collar as she melts into me. If I don’t see this as a power play, if I don’t resent her for ‘winning’ or ‘getting her way,’ I can simply acknowledge that she knew what she needed and set about making it happen. I can stand in awe of her ability to make this the most important thing right now. I can wonder about my own self-awareness in a quiet moment and whether I am able to pinpoint that one thing that would feel the best to me and go after it.
I am grateful for this lesson and this quiet moment. And the truth is, even though I didn’t meditate, this touch is fulfilling for me, too. Feeling her thick fur fill up the spaces between my fingers and listening to her pure purring pleasure is satisfying and grounding. It gives me hope that the next time I am in need of touch I can let someone know.

I heard someone say once that the reason we get defensive when someone insults us is because there is a part of us that believes in the veracity of the insult. Think about it. Don’t we usually come back with, “No, I’m not!” or some such defense or proof that we are not, indeed, guilty of whatever our accuser has said we are guilty of? I know I do that. Once someone says something about me (unless it’s my kids – I long ago figured out how to let go the slings and arrows of being told I’m the meanest mother there is), I am immediately driven to prove them wrong. I see my girls doing it with each other, too.

“She called me a butthead!” Lola shrieks.

“Well, are you one?” I ask.

She is offended. Until she realizes that her bottom is most definitely not on her head and giggles. I remind her that just because Eve is older than her and flung the insult with a great deal of passion, does not mean that Lola is, indeed, a butthead. And if she were one, is that something under her control or not? If not, then it isn’t much of an insult, is it? That’s like calling the dog a dog. No matter how loudly or indignantly you say it, it’s just the truth and not derogatory. It isn’t his fault he’s a dog. He just is.

Like most of my parenting tactics, however, it seems that I must repeat this speech for both girls somewhere between half a million and two billion times before they actually either recall it on their own or think long enough to apply its actual meaning to this particular situation.

Why is name-calling so effective? Who first discovered that it had the power to stop another human in their tracks? Name-calling is like the sound bite of relationships – rarely accurate but effective at grabbing attention. I know that when my girls descend into “jerk” and “idiot” they have simply stopped attempting to solve whatever misunderstanding they are having and are simply trying to get the point across that they are MAD. I’m pretty sure the names are designed to hurt feelings, too, although neither of my girls would admit that they purposely wanted to hurt her sister. When we all sit down later to discuss the issue, sometimes I ask them for a character sketch of a jerk or an idiot or a butthead and, once we have all of the traits down on paper, it turns out that neither of them fits the description. So why is it so much easier to label other people with mean names than it is to say we are simply angry or frustrated or hurt?

I wonder if it is because calling someone else a name puts all of the blame outside ourselves. If we admit that we are upset, not only does that make us seem vulnerable, it somehow invites personal responsibility into the mix. If you are a jerk, however, it must be all your fault and I am teflon-girl. Certainly when I am accused of being a jerk or an idiot I have a moment, however fleeting, of panic. Is it all my fault? Did I make a huge mistake? What have I done?

I suppose that if I remember to think about the fact that I am probably not really an idiot (or the worst mother who ever walked the face of the planet), I might see that I have hurt or confused this other person inadvertently and, by not becoming defensive, maybe I can find a way to solve the problem without hurling some insult back first.
Easier said than done, but this is one of the opportunities having Eve and Lola has afforded me to look at my own behavior. Hopefully, it won’t take me more than half a million reminders to do things a little differently.