The Power of Know

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Know your limits; this applies to most things in life. If you are going swimming in the ocean, know how far you can swim so that you don’t end up exhausted and unable to swim back to shore.

Know how much irritation you are willing to tolerate so that you know when to walk away.

Know your strengths and weaknesses; your strengths will be needed to help with your weaknesses and your weaknesses can be changed into strengths, given enough time and attention. Note that these will be ever-changing, as you age, grow and mature.

Know your enemies. They need not be human; think of greed, vanity, delusion, ignorance or pride.

Know your friends. Think humility, kindness, love, empathy, compassion and grace.

Know your source of faith. God, Goddess, Zeus, Buddha, Allah, Jesus Christ, or Lady Gaga. Catholic Church, Church of Scientology or Church of the Ever-Lasting Gobstopper…whatever you draw on to help get you through each day.

Know your heart’s desire, so when it is presented to you, you will know to hold on to it and treasure it for the gift that it is.

Know when to offer help and know when it is time to step away.

Know your Self.

Know your Past Self, to see how far you’ve come,

Know your Present Self, to chart the course and adjust the sails when storms try to take you off that course; and

Know your Future Self, for you are creating it with each and every thought and action.

Know that you are more precious than you will ever know, imperfect and flawed as you may think you are, even in this moment.

Know that you may never get the answer to the question “Why?” but also

Know that you should never stop asking it.

Know not everyone will agree with the choices you make, but also

Know that it is your life you’re living, not theirs.

Know that before you can obtain forgiveness from others, you must first forgive yourself.

Know that sometimes our worst fears become our greatest victories; our darkest, most dismal times become the catalyst for our greatest transformations and reinventions of self.

Know that no matter what you are going through, this too shall pass. Remember the good times because they will pass just as the bad times. Each has a lesson, a gift for you so recognize it as such.

Know that it’s not the getting knocked down so much as the getting back up that counts.

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Hey Tough Guy

I see you on your bike, leather jacket on and sunglasses hiding your eyes, those windows to the soul. You sit as a king sits on his throne, powerful and revered. You appear to be fearless, strong, as masculine as a man can be. Your arms are strong with muscles built from lifting heavy things and doing manly stuff. You are a tough guy, a guy who has seen some things, been through some times, made a few scenes. You are a bruiser, a ball buster and a badass who is truly bad to the bone.

But wait….there’s more.

There’s the son who calls his mother every day, ensuring she’s taking her medication, eating and being good to herself. The son who stops by with groceries and provides instructions for the hundredth time on how to work the VCR/TV/cell phone, etc.

There’s the brother who fights mental illness, the soldier whose waking nightmares are a true horror show with no end in sight; he goes to therapy, talks with others about his experiences and actively seeks to heal and to be of service to others like him.

There’s the man who was once the boy who witnessed unspeakable terrors and grew to help others face their fears, all while facing his demons, day in and day out. The struggles of mental illness and addiction, the battle to maintain sobriety and sanity in equal measure.

There’s the son whose father wasn’t around and he had to raise himself and be the man of the house, all well before his time. The man who had no childhood, no role model or no man to emulate or understand what it means to be a man. He made is own family on the streets and now helps those who cannot help themselves.

There’s the boy who swore he would make a difference and he did.

He’s you, he’s your brother, your friend, your husband, your worst ex-boyfriend and they all have one thing in common; they appear to all the world to be a tough guy. This means no tears, no emotions other than anger, rage and various shades of violence because violence means power and power is what makes a man, right?

WRONG. OH SO FREAKING WRONG.

A tough guy is a guy who lets the tears fall. Like a pressure relief valve, emotion needs to be vented. He understands this and while he may not shed these tears on Instagram or make it a group event, he lets it happen. He mourns his losses, his heartbreaks, his frustrations and dreams lost. He mourns the state of the world, wonders if it will be different for his son and decides unequivocally that it will.

A tough guy loves kittens, helps a stranded motorist, opens doors for anyone, male or female, young or old, white or not white. He believes that one person can make a difference and will not let anyone tell him otherwise.

He wears tutus and sits in a tiny pink chair and drinks tea with his pinky out when he has tea parties with his little girl because that’s what daddies do. He is fiercely protective and will make sure he teaches her how a man should treat her, talk to her and respect her, above all else. He’ll be there when her heart gets broken and he knows that day will come, even though it makes him heartsick to even contemplate it.

He is a man of principles and a student of the school of hard knocks; he has experienced suffering and takes nothing for granted. He seizes each opportunity to learn and recognizes the hardest lessons bear the sweetest fruit. He works hard because that’s what it takes to make dreams come true.

He has his faith and values his family, works hard and tries to make things better for others around him. He doesn’t pretend to be anyone other than who he is and owns his scars, his shortcomings and knows that the story is far from over.

He may wear leather and he may appear to be rather scary, but don’t let all that stop you from meeting a Real Tough Guy. You’ll be all the better for having met him.

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Thank You for the Music

Ever since I can remember, I have loved music; from my Dad’s 8-track of Patty Page singing Mockingbird Hill to my first concert of Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. Playing the piccolo in kindergarten, then moving to the flute once my fingers could reach the keys was one of my earliest memories of the magic of music and the joy in making it.

Music has been there for me through the absolute darkest of depressions to the highest high of mania and every moment and mood in between. Music takes me completely out of myself; I join the beat, become the rhythm, the cadence and the mood of the piece. I cannot hear a gospel song without thinking of the time spend in Biloxi, or of my grandma Jo-Jo’s slow southern drawl “Come over here and give your grandma some sugar…” I’m there. Again. Bugs and brilliant skies, heat and humidity, the Baptist church on the corner with its window open, pouring out the love of God along with the heart and soul of its people. The notes carry along their prayers, their hopes, their troubles and their declarations of faith. I can feel it in my soul and it feels electric and alive.

Lately, I have been feeling a little dragged down by Life (it happens to the best of us) but today I decided to sing my blues away. I put on my very favorite playlist, the one that I simply cannot sit still when it’s playing and can’t keep a smile off my face if you gave me all the Botox in California. This is the solid gold, get you feeling good playlist.

I can tell you that it feels like I have gotten those negative feelings out of the forefront of my mind and locked them away, starving them of any attention that would encourage their growth. It seems like such a simple thing to do because it is. It’s not going to get me out of a deeply depressed state, but it may shine enough light into my soul that I can believe I will survive. Music motivates me, calms me, inspires me, reminds me of people and places, memories and imaginings. If the eyes are the window to the soul, music is the road that takes you there.

I’ve been relying for too long on my intellect and my logic to unravel the mysteries of the mind and I know believe that my soul, my intuition and music will be the missing link in my understanding.

Musicians and songwriters, singers and band leaders and all those who create the magic and share it with the rest of us, feeding our souls and soothing our hearts – thank you for the music! Keep writing, keep playing and singing and telling your stories, our stories. I’ll keep listening, I promise!

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Anger, Revisited

“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha

I had seen this quote before a long time ago and it really spoke to me. I had been holding anger against so many people, situations and just angry in general. There was no other emotion that made me feel so alive, humming with emotion and intensity. Anger is like battery acid, eating away at anything it comes into contact with and it wasn’t long before it began to eat away at my self-esteem, my outlook on life and how I dealt with the world in general. I was like a walking furnace of rage, radiating negative energy all around me. People instinctively pulled away from me, as if they knew that getting too close would be harmful to their well-being.

Anger has a seductive pull to me, the absolute power of it. It made me feel as though I could fight the world and win. I could blaze a path through a crowd, scare the Hell out of any fool who had mistaken belief that they could make me feel better. But, at some point, the anger turns inward and the acid eats away at me. I had managed to wound myself seriously, push away all those who care about me and put myself in a position of great unhappiness. This would be the time I would go out and drink until I blacked out, trying to numb myself to the entombing sadness and utter aloneness of it all. The unhealthy behaviors gladly jump to the forefront of my consciousness when I’m weak and vulnerable and before I knew it, things had gone from bad to worse.

It has taken me a great deal of time and not a small amount of introspection to fully understand where this anger came from and why I felt justified in blaming others. More importantly, how to undo or heal from the anger I’ve inflicted on myself. It’s very easy to blame others for my feelings and my failings and oh so difficult to turn that critical eye inward. Accepting responsibility for my choices, my thoughts, and my actions is the only way that I believe I’ll ever find a measure of peace, much less happiness. Forgiving myself, loving myself and learning from those unhealthy behaviors are the tools by which I’ll heal and grow in a healthy, honest way.

I recognize that a lifetime of behavior cannot be undone in one day and that I will more than likely spend the rest of my life adjusting my thoughts, pulling back the reins on my anger and finding healthy ways to cope with the consequences of my actions that are not self-destructive or destructive to those around me. I believe that anger comes from a place of powerlessness, of feeling as though fighting back is the only option. I no longer believe that I am powerless; I know that I have no power over others’ actions, but I do have power over how I respond to them. Rather than judge them, I need to have compassion and understand that they are driven by things that I cannot see nor can I understand. But just like me, they are doing the best they can with what demons and doubts they carry with them. It’s hard work, though. The force of anger is always right on the surface, while forgiveness, compassion and understanding are further down and take effort to access.

I cannot expect things to change if I continue to follow the old behaviors and thought processes. I am no longer the victim, the wounded child or the misunderstood manic-depressive. I am just me, a child of the Universe searching for my destiny and my own self-realization. The people I meet along the way are on their own journey and when our paths cross, I believe we each give something to the other. My gift will no longer be red-hot, scalding, soul-killing anger; I have many gifts to offer that are healing, understanding and loving. I will do my best to change my default setting to gratitude, empty the gun that fires the bullets of rage and put that beast to bed, once and for all.

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The Winds of Change

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

I came across this quote a while back and wanted to write a post around it but couldn’t figure out how to convey what it says to me, specifically. I’m going to try now, so bear with me.

I’ve long believed that I was powerless over circumstances, that I was like a leaf in a storm; at the mercy of the wind, with no say in where I would go. I went along with whatever the group mentality was, never questioning whether it was what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go or who I wanted to be with. By doing this, I set myself up beautifully for great disappointment and the role of the ever-suffering victim. I gave away my choices, my voice, my power and then couldn’t figure out why I was always so unhappy; why I had no sense of self, no idea who I was. It has taken me many years and a great deal of wrong turns, heartbreaks and utter despair to realize that no one had made me a victim, I did that all by myself.

Now, that’s all find and good, but what could I do with that great revelation? We’re talking a lifetime of identifying as a follower; how could I un-learn all those behaviors? How could I reclaim my voice, my power? I had no clue, but I did know that if I didn’t try, nothing would ever change, except to possibly worsen. There is another saying regarding a very long journey and it beginning with a single step and that is exactly what I had to do. One step. One different thought. Turning left instead of right, speaking up instead of suffering silently; making one decision to change one thing. They all add up; just as a bad habit is formed over time, the same is true of a healthy one. I had been living this way my entire life and I would have to have great patience and equal amounts of determination if I wanted to be successful in making this change.

Now, a few years later and I have found my voice; I am slowly realizing the extent of how much power I gave away and am in the process of getting it back and then some. I have a greater sense of self, of purpose and of value. Needless to say, every day isn’t like a scene from some ridiculously happy and upbeat musical, but it’s honest and real and in that, it’s good. The challenges will always be there, although their form and delivery may differ, I will still have to find the strength to make good choices, while allowing myself to be human and to learn from my setbacks.

The words “victim” and “failure” can never be used again when I’m thinking about who I am, what I am. I am a fighter and I will fight the good fight until I can fight no more. I am looking forward to each next day, each new lesson learned and victory celebrated. I will keep steady on my course, my mind focused on my destination, eyes open for whatever beauty appears and gratitude in my heart for all the people that have loved me through thick and thin, fair weather and foul.

If the seas get rough, I’ll adjust the sails.

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Checking Out to Check In

Every once in a while I just want to disconnect from the outside world and have some quiet time. It’s the time I take occasionally to just check in with myself to see how I’m doing. I haven’t taken one of these days in a while and I can tell because I have this unsettled feeling that just won’t go away. I feel as though there is something I should be doing, but I can’t put my finger on what it is. I can almost figure out what it is but then the phone rings or the traffic signal turns green or something else interrupts my thoughts. I know that this means I need to turn off the phone, turn off my computer and turn off the music, the noise and just listen. Listen to my thoughts and feel my feelings and try to do nothing but just be. Be still, be aware, be in the moment; be thoughtful, be introspective and yes, be all about me.

Sometimes it’s not so much what I do that makes the difference, but what I don’t. Don’t get online as soon as I wake up, but have my coffee on the patio, watching the sun rise and listening to the world slowly wake up. Don’t keep my phone by my side 24 hours a day, waiting for the call or text that may or may not come in. Don’t spend two hours watching yet another movie on Netflix and instead go out for a walk. Life is too short to rush through it unseeing and too long to live regretting those lost opportunities.

This is one of the times I need to distance myself from all of the hurry-scurry of the world, the rushing about, the company of others, the entertainment and escapism of movies, TV, internet and all other outside forces. For this is the only time I can truly hear and feel what is important; my physical and mental states telling me what is going on with them and what it is they need to function, to thrive and to heal and be whole. I haven’t taken enough of these days for some time now, but I feel as though it is now being demanded of me.

FULL STOP UNTIL YOU REST.

You see, my mind will always take care of itself and even if that means shutting the body down for days at a time until things are dealt with that have been ignored for too long, that is precisely what it will do. Additionally, if there is any danger of unpleasant thoughts becoming regretful actions, this is also a great method by which to avoid an unnecessary tragedy. Sleep is a balm to the weary soul, sanctuary for the unquiet mind and direct connection to the Divine.

The mind drives me crazy and the very same mind protects me from itself. Weird and beautiful; God really does have an insane sense of humor.

I’m off for a walk on the beach to fill my ears with sounds of timelessness; waves crashing against a shore they’ll never hold, but trying just the same. Children giggling, finding joy in seashells and seagulls dive bombing the beach, the simple things of worth in the world we call reality.

Checking out of the “real world” and seeking solace in Mother Nature’s world is really powerful healing magic for anything that ails the human spirit, as Lord Byron knew so well.

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This One Time at Band Practice

I had been in marching band since kindergarten, starting out on the piccolo, then graduating to the flute when my fingers grew long enough. This was another one of those things that my father insisted upon for culture and probably peace and quiet for him. I resisted, submitted and even enjoyed it eventually. The best part of band was that I was pretty good at the flute/piccolo thing and our band leader, Mr. Tulga, praised me with great enthusiasm and encouragement. In all honestly, he did that for everyone, but I took it as a personal, God-given, real and completely unadulterated gift that was nothing short of a miracle.

So if I was given this talent by God, that meant He wanted me to play in his band, march in those crisp white pants, white shirt and shiny black shoes! He wanted me to create music, as sweet as a songbird, which is why he chose the flute for me. Nothing about me was delicate or sweet; I was rough and tumble, was too loud and asked too many questions, didn’t behave like a lady, little or otherwise. I always thought I was more brassy than woodwind, but that’s why I’m me and not the Creator.

On one otherwise unremarkable evening, a new girl came into practice. I had never seen before but everyone in the room was immediately aware of her presence. She was a girly-girl, gorgeous chestnut hair spilling down her back, those really cool jeans that they don’t sell at K-Mart encasing her ridiculously long legs and on top of all that, she had these bewitching green eyes that reminded me of my cat. I think we must have been around 10 or so, but I couldn’t swear to it. We were not really little bratty kids, but we weren’t yet cool teenagers, either. The term limbo seemed to be a good fit; one foot in childhood, the other stretching for puberty, but not yet able to set even a toe down yet.

She really did remind me of a cat; no haste in her movements, no anxiety or restlessness to give away any nervousness; if anything, she was slightly bored with it all. She gazed around the room while her mother talked to Mr. Tulga and I was absolutely transfixed. I was also more than a little bit afraid that this green-eyed girl was going to take my place of honor and along with it, all the praise that was like a drug to me. For that possibility alone, I didn’t like her one bit.

Maybe she would play the clarinet and that would remove any comparison between the two of us. No, she was going to play the flute! The final insult to my imagined injury was when Mr. Tulga told me I had to teach her the scales!! How was I supposed to talk to, much less teach, a princess that looked like Brooke Shields with eyes that remind me of my cat and are possibly magical?

Thankfully, I did attempt to teach her scales and stopped looking at her like she was from another planet and instead just gave her the down-low on the whole band situation; walking in parades when the asphalt is so hot your feet stick to it, playing the same stupid song over and over again until your fingers are moving in your sleep. I also made sure that she didn’t learn too fast, otherwise we wouldn’t get to come outside and do our thing. I admit it, I was hooked on this intriguing creature I  imagined was only masquerading as a human being. I wanted to know more about her world, where she came from and how she got to be in this less-than-stellar cow town and would she please take me with her the next time she goes?

From the outside, you couldn’t find one thing about the two of us that would indicate we were destined to duck out of boring things and find our own adventure for the next 40 years or so, but that’s pretty much what happened.

Today, we are a long way from Mr. Tulga’s marching band and learning the musical scales on flutes we play because we are living the dreams our parents had for us.

I have loved, lost, married, divorced, found my mind and lost it again many times over. I have lost my reason for living, rediscovered and redefined it again and again. I have learned to love my uniqueness and am starting to appreciate the simpler things in life, like a good conversation with no pretense. I am farther on my journey than I’ve ever been but I’m nowhere near the end. I have mourned many a loss, said far too many good-byes far too soon to those I love too much to let go. I have walked away from everything and rebuilt from nothing.

She is a mother, a grandmother, a wife and a career woman who loves fiercely and unconditionally and she continues to amaze me. She has reinvented herself more times than I can count and with each new manifestation, she’s stronger, more focused, more powerful.

She flings open the curtains and brings the light in when I’m content to sit in the darkness and let life pass me by; she knows where to look to find the best parts of me when I believe they have been lost forever. She’s my champion, my keeper of secrets, my twin flame and my true north.  She’s born witness to my struggles, my victories, as well as my shameful sins and my glorious amends. She’s taught me that love is magic and as such, is stronger than hate. I have learned that time is of no consequence when you’re dealing with the heart and neither time nor distance apart will ever break these bonds.

We have let months go by without calling, we have moved away and returned, found and lost love, argued and disagreed, got our feelings hurt and pride wounded, but have never given up on the other. Maybe that’s the beauty of it; we made a promise to each other and to ourselves a long time ago and even though we were young, we were wise and recognized a kindred spirit in the other.

Or maybe it IS magic, something about those eyes….

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