A Practice of Presence

Let’s talk control. It would appear that against all my best efforts, I can control very little. What a blast to the ego!

Our systems and big picture human connections are sick. We are reaching critical level. Before, we could more easily deny and ignore, but now we are squaring off with this painful reality as individuals and communities. Both the reality and the perceived free-fall is terrifying.

Last week I shared part of my defense to this pain is feeding my mind, body, and soul with experience. I crave more and new and different experiences as a lifeline, as a connection to earth and others and creation, and a way to stay tethered to truthful goodness.

After six weeks of looking fairly ridiculous (but showing up anyway) to an urban/world beats cardio dance class, I finally settled into the attraction for me. (Let me remind you I grew up in a state where we were graded on square dancing and hip hop was resolutely implied as not for white kids, so reread the importance of that ANYWAY.) Sure, I’d like to reclaim some energy levels mamahood has zapped from me, and sure, I love the variety of people there. But those are all the flavor drizzle to the main event.

It is still about control; my ego-driven desire to white-knuckle it conflicting with my soul-driven desire to open palm it.

Once you cross the threshold into the studio, the world and all it’s beauty and brutality and present political shit-storm are left outside. There is only the floor and the sweat of your body, and the beats reverberating in your bones.

It’s a practice of presence. 

You cannot pretend to control moves you do not own yet. The only way to move forward is to learn. The only way to learn is to be completely present in your body and let your mind relax into that third-eye state of being. Dance cardio, then, isn’t about my body image or burning calories or building endurance at all.

For someone like me who spends a lot of their day floating between envisioning the future or escaping the present, this practice of presence is the muscle being worked. I recognize and do it often with my kids. Now it’s time to do it for myself.

Being present in the dance is an act of total disclosure to being in union with the flow of creation.

How perfect is today’s meditation by one of my favorites, Richard Rohr? Sure, he’s probably speaking metaphorically, however, I’m learning this through the application of trading control for presence in literal dance.

God is in us, because we are in Christ. As members of the mystical body, Christians actually partake in the divine nature of the Trinity. We do not merely watch the dance, we dance the dance. We join hands with Christ and the Spirit flows through us and between us and our feet move always in the loving embrace…

The Trinity is a participative mystery and all creation is invited to participate! But hand-taking, embracing, and breathing-with aren’t often immediately attractive to us. Vulnerability, letting go, total disclosure, and surrender don’t come easily.

Being present in the dance is an act of being present in creation. 

…the flow of presence that is the universe is a constant arising, a continuous act of creation. Creation of the universe, then, did not occur at some moment in the distant past, since time is not relevant on this level of things. Creation is a constant; the universe is constantly being created in the immediacy of the now. The world is arising endlessly anew. – Maitri from The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram

What a beautiful reminder. Just dance. Be in total disclosure to the process to remain present in the unfolding and continual arising of creation – including the restoration, celebration, and renewal of you.

As Rumi succintly put it…

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. 

 

 

 

 

More Kids? “More” Kids.

We have walked our family to the ledge again. This time we did it in full awareness of the cost. On Wednesday there was a text. On Thursday I was driving a two year old and two month old to our home. For the past month we’ve been at full go.

For a question marked length of a meantime we are a family of seven. They will definitely be with us until December. They will possibly be with us longer, depending on how healthy their parents can set up a home and how their court dates progress.

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I have been using up all my emotional reserves developing relational boundaries with the birth parents. Even so, we are still for the birth parents. We are rooting for them to figure it out. Generational poverty and subsequential lack of education is not a reason on its own to dissolve a family. When they know better they can do better. In the meantime, we are here.

You have more kids?

I like to think of it as we have “More” kids. Foster kids are normal kids. They’re also “more” kids. Because of their trauma background everything is more. Feelings, triggers, emotions, reactions, redirecting required, self-soothing strategies needing to be taught, body-awareness, food organization, every little thing is MORE. Parenting a “more” kid is physically exhausting and requires a deep well of emotional capacity and a good amount of general creative problem solving.

Honestly if it were just the infant our family schedule probably wouldn’t change our day-to-day that much. Nothing would feel drastically different.

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But it’s not just an infant. It’s an infant and a two year old  and our four year old and our six year old and our eight year old and we peel ourself into strips to pass out to each child to meet a need, wishing that strip wasn’t quite so see-through-thin to give. 

The days are hard and isolating since our one fun friend outing ended in a double-stroller underboob sweat up the canyon from the farthest netherlands of the zoo to the car and our other outing was a rushed drive to the emergency room. I have talked to the produce guys more than actual friends face-to-face this month. Raise the roof hands for our unlimited text upgrade so I can keep my humor with potty-mouthed real-time updates to my bestie.

These are bunker down days.

Except for the daily drives as my cheat to simultaneously get three tired tinies asleep for naps, we stay home. I am a non-stay-home, stay-home-mom. We are usually out taking in our world. I am not a homebody. My four year old is not a homebody. We are learning to be homebodies because we are needing to be homebodies for these little ones who have so much to learn and need a safe, predictable space to learn it.

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These are strawberries and quesadillas are good-enough days.

These are Jesus take the wheel days.

These are days when it’s not only okay that I am not enough, but preferred. I don’t want to be enough for this. Everything broken or hard in our scenario right now is layered physical and spiritual. I don’t want to be responsible for the energy and the healing. I only want to be faithful to be there and allow God to bring in everything else required. I don’t want to be enough for this but I choose to believe we live in a universe where all things will be provided for restoration. Therefore we can respond in generous abundance instead of have our actions tied to a mentality of lack.

We’ve seen improvement with the toddler, and growth with the baby, and bonding with all, empathy and sacrifice and generosity from our kids, and all the hard stuff in between and it all comes back to time.

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The hard part about hard work is the time required. There is no way to maneuver around it and the consistency needed in coaching and engaging with the kids. We have to put in the time, which means letting go of a lot of things. Our house is significantly messier, all flat surfaces covered in sippy cups and empty Coke cans and diapers and crusted cereal. RSVPing “no” to evites is my new intoxicator. And each child, except the oldest, is held to sleep because more than anything they individually want to know there is time for them alone.

We are exhausted. We are good.

 

 

The Body Never Lies

The body can’t lie. We can avoid, deny. Deal with, list out. Arrange, re-arrange, anticipate. Organize, re-organize. Adjust or face a stress-induced situation head on, but the body never lies.

The body cracks. Scales. Itches. Bleeds. Tangles. Constricts.

Metaphysical representations of the psychological within. Even when it feels dealt well, not just dealt with.

Plate tectonics of scalp shift and lift. Headaches squeeze eyeballs against brain. Shoulders touch earlobe.

Reminders that while I am Monica Gellering the hell out of whatever life obligations require me to manage, to check back in with myself.

Ask my husband. Slow down is not my auto-pilot. Obedience is not my strong suit.

I attribute this need to be a part of everything to my little-sister-syndrome. I peg this distrust of authority in part to the code of conduct characteristic of my no-man’s-land generation straddling the X/Y gap, in part to my family, but mostly to my general stubbornness.

Like, intense stubbornness.

It should not come as a surprise, then, that when I heard the bell-whistle of a voice in my gut called God-Wisdom to quit the job I love doing, it took a struggle to obey.

Excitement in change. Power in subduing chaos to order. I like these things.

Work. I actually like working, even though (or maybe because) I don’t know how to do it any other way than putting my very heart and soul into the work. Beating, bleeding out of my chest into the work.

The line between product and performance is easily blurred for those of us who enjoy working, especially in roles like church staff or teacher (examples of my actual adulting life) where the purpose of the work feels important. It requires a hyper vigilance and self-awareness to recognize when I am resting in my worthiness simply by existing as a child of God and when I’m tap dancing for that worthiness by presenting a product of my effort to others.

My body is telling me to rest. My soul is telling me to rest.

Do you know what mental work it is to rest?

The moment I slow down, the shame spiral, like vertigo sets in. Disorients and spins. The not-enoughs and would-coulda-shoulda lies abound and I’m doing the mental work required before true rest can ensue.

All to say, I am walking away from my part time gig in ministry. I am thrilled about the space this is creating for our family to reclaim a nothing-on-the-calendar day during the week, about the possibilities of more creative energy, of attending or not attending a church service again with my spouse, and the freedom to say yes to more fostering gigs. Ministry is the full-time gig of our lives anyway right, not a position on church staff.

It’s work to exit a job, work to claw out of a shame spiral, work to not allow the projected perceptions of others about why I’m leaving matter, work to not become scared about how the last time full time stay at home mommydom drove me a little bit batty, and work to not fill up my dance card of commitments before I’ve actually left this one.

I feel so good and true and confident in the decision that an obedience to not work right now is the actual heart and soul work I am required to pursue. I am grateful. I am joyful. Even so, my body is the truth-teller highlighting the inner tension. It struggles on the outside while I struggle with obedience on the inside. The body can do many things for us, but it can never lie.

Weakness

“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.”
Mary Oliver, House of Light

“This lotion smells like a barn.”

For someone who loves words, I certainly have a hard time putting them together in real-time. By no means a compliment, I neither meant it as a criticism. Somehow smelling both earthy and synthetic, I was five years old again, twirling on hay in my uncle’s barn, watching him feed a splotched-skin calf with a botte Jack must have tossed down the beanstalk.

No cows. No barn. Just me, a massage table, and my neck in a vice-hold by the physical therapist. Did you know I’m going to physical therapy? I think you’re supposed to go for a legitimate reason like “post-car-accident” or “surgery-recovery” or something with the phrase “rehabilitation” in it.

I am there simply because I’m weak. I ignored and gagged my inner alarm and when it still wouldn’t shut up, I just disconnected the battery pack. You healthy, regulated people know how this ends. The only thing stronger than my stubbornness is my body’s primordial demand to be listened to.  Eventually, more draining than feeling perpetually weak and tired is continually trying to outrun that feeling.

Here I am at physical therapy, shoulders looped to a machine, having to face the reality of my weakness. It’s not pretty. I am a proud, proud person. My body has always been strong so when three (count them one, two, three, that’s it) pounds cause my back to spasm during an exercise I don’t recognize myself. When an excruciating neck-stretch is interrupted by an aid because it looks from afar as if I “wasn’t doing anything and just waiting” (yes, someone said that to me),  I have a mini existential crisis.

Weakness is the battle. Weakness can be defined as a lack of vigor, a feebleness, an inadequacy. My day feels bound by the deficits. Deficit of time. Deficit of energy. Deficit of vertebrae that don’t reverberate with numbness. When I feel feeble, inadequate, lacking, I find myself waiting. That’s my true enemy. I begin waiting for a better time to begin. A time when there will be more time. When I will feel better. When I can start pursuing these ever-shifting dreams. Why are we waiting for a time we know is not coming?

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness. (2Corinthians12:9)

I don’t understand these words. I just keep reading them because I trust it is true and at some point I will internalize this truth. For now, I have stopped running. I have turned and faced the looming wave of weakness. I am allowing it to crash cold and wet and powerful and shocking against me.  I’m ready to do the hard, disorienting work of building back my strength. I don’t want to outrun. I don’t want to wait.

I want to be dazzled. I want to stare into the mystery and yes, to maybe even float a little.