Aging ain't for sissies.

What is an interior life? Our interior life revolves around our spiritual core, what we believe, how we connect to the divine and how we manifest that in our lives. I have possessed a vivid, active interior life my entire life. It has helped me experience things I can’t explain as well as cultivate my instincts, intuition and empathic ability among other things.  More than anything else it has been instrumental in developing and sustaining my relationship with the one who created me. The one who created all.  Some might call this “one” Divine Intelligence, God, Creator or the Universe.  Whatever name we use, it is the Beginning of which we are all a part.

I’ve studied different facets of the metaphysical and spiritual world for decades and never have I seen more interest than in current years.  It’s exciting but it’s also easy to get caught up in too much at once. There is a drawback if we are not careful – a trend that I myself followed for a little while and see many others following as well. It is the dismantling of the mysteries of our interior lives.  In the human quest to understand and control everything, we have let go of that which the ancients knew was so important…not knowing.  Mystery.

What does this mean? Our interior lives are our connection to the Divine, God, the Universe.  These mysteries of life are vital.  We need them in part because without them we would lose our innate tendency to enjoy, play and search for wonder.  Without these there is nothing left to discover and no way to grow.  Ours would become a stagnant existence and when emptiness sets in, and it inevitably will, we might find ourselves looking for something else to fill the void left behind by the destruction of that which kept us intrigued and excited.


I was trying to think of an analogy that would help me make sense of my thoughts. It came to me this morning when in my jewelry box I noticed a little ring I haven’t worn in a long time. It is sterling silver and shaped like a sunflower.  In the middle is a cabochon made of Baltic amber.

Baltic amber formed over 45 million years ago – it is a fossil resin produced by pine trees and other plants which grew in the southern regions of present-day Scandinavia and lands near the Baltic Sea.  Baltic amber can contain any number of organic substances including sand, dirt, water bubbles, pieces of leaves, bark, twigs, plant seeds and insects.  I love Baltic amber not only because it’s beautiful but it has a history that goes back further than I can wrap my head around.   What I love most is that all the little bits inside are a mystery to me.

What if I could solve the mystery of all those little bits and pieces? The first thing I would have to do is destroy the 45 million year old resin that has held these mysterious pieces in place.  The foundation would have to crumble. If I could manage to extract the little pieces and actually identify them then I would have all the answers I needed. But then what? Basically I would have a pile of ancient bits of organic matter in one hand and a pile of empty 45 million year old Baltic amber in the other.  The excitement and intrigue captured within the amber would be gone, replaced with the knowledge I sought but absent of the emotions and excitement its mystery evoked.

As I thought about it I realized something – that inside those tiny little pieces of broken Baltic amber would undoubtedly be many more unidentified organisms that cannot be seen.  They are there but I would not be able to see them.  So just when I thought I had solved the mystery, I discovered there were many more mysteries hidden in the ruins of the amber.  That is the way of spiritual mysteries. They do not show their hand and give away all of their secrets simply because we pick them apart looking for answers.  There are layers upon layers we cannot see.

I believe we can be easily sidetrack trying to find all the answers. We can study every symbol and analyze each experience looking for signs and messages that will give us answers and meaning but in doing so we lose sight of the mystical side of an interior life.  The mystical side is where the magic is.

I’ve read countless books, websites, blogs, listened to YouTube gurus and more and in doing so I found myself getting further away from that which drew me towards a more spiritual life to begin with. I got caught up in the words of the experts and forgot to listen to the sound of my own intuition.  I became convinced that I was doing it all wrong because I didn’t fit into what was being projected in the spiritual media.

I find that the more I try to explain things that I know through instinct and flashes of inspiration, the harder it is to do so.  There are those who don’t want to hear about the knowing that is a product of the unexplained. It seems as if the trend has become to focus more on which life mysteries might be proven and solved than to appreciating them and experiencing the excitement of not knowing.

The mysteries of life, and life beyond, seem to be losing their value in some spiritual circles.  In trying to follow the status quo I began to doubt myself and would find I was being very careful in what I said. I was so concerned with rocking the boat and going against the spiritual norm that I started to implode at my core.  I had lost sight of what brought me to the dance.

Mysteries give us a reason to be excited but they also give us hope. We may not find the answers we seek in this lifetime but we know instinctively we will find them someday and that’s exciting. I rob myself of the anticipation and excitement of meeting these mysteries inwardly when I spend too much time trying to crack the code.

No one way is the right way for everyone.  We all have a unique road set before us and each road contains mysteries to be discovered as well as mysteries meant to remain shrouded until we arrive.

“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to be solved, it’s a reality to experience.”  Frank Herbert

(c) Copyright Terri Onorato.  All Rights Reserved.

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Middle Age Limbo

I noticed today that I haven’t written an entry in my blog since June 20, 2017.  Inspiration has been in short supply but then again maybe I haven’t been looking in all the right places.

I am 57 years old and will turn 58 in a few months.  The ages of 57 and 58 are like the middle children of middle age.  They aren’t 55 and they aren’t 60. They are the in-between ages of which we’re not really sure where we fit in society.  It’s middle age limbo.

It’s that period of life when the world tells us we are too young for some things and too old for others.  It’s a time when we can still handle staying up late but pay for it the next day. We can get down on the floor but getting back up requires a certain finesse abandoned in our forties. It’s a new wrinkle or gray hair making an appearance every day and we’re like what the what?  It’s an adjustment period if nothing else.

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But all is not lost because it’s also the beginning of a different phase of existence.  A liberation if you will.  It’s when we become less afraid to tell society to screw off because age is a number and how we feel is what really counts.  We stop caring what the norm is because it’s the norm that’s been holding us down for so long. It’s when we realize that what other people think of us is none of our business but what we think of ourselves really matters.

And might I be so bold as to declare that we have the best music of any generation.  Bar none.

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Time spent in middle age limbo brings with it insight.  It reminds us we’re not as wise as we want to be but we’re wiser than we think.  We discover that by sharing our life lessons with others we come to understand those lessons even more. As Marie Von Ebner Eschenbach so aptly put it, “In youth we learn; in age we understand.”

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As we get to this in-between age we begin to pay more attention to what or whom we’ve wrapped our hearts around and wonder if it was worth it.  We find ourselves more interested in authenticity than acceptance.  It’s that slightly uncomfortable little place inside where joy and sadness feel oddly similar.  At times we might notice our wisdom and advice become more welcome in some circles while our forgetfulness and clumsiness are ripe for comment.  We appreciate the respect of being called “ma’am” or “sir” while at the same time cringe because we’re not used to it.  Wasn’t it just yesterday we were so young?

I think the best part of the in-between stage is we realize we are the authors of the rest of our story and it’s ours to write any way we choose.   We take our wisdom, history, our experiences, kick-butt attitudes and creaky knees and we write a brand new chapter.  One that doesn’t follow societal norms or rely on the opinions of others.  We finally come to understand that rules are meant to be broken, even the ones we created.  Especially the ones we created.

Francis Lear said, “I believe the second half of one’s life is meant to be better than the first half. The first half is finding out how you do it. And the second half is enjoying it.”

Here’s to the second half.

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Portable Magic

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”  -Stephen King

As a kid, learning to read was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  A good book became an immediate best friend, making it easier to deal with a difficult childhood.  Books offered an escape when real life became too much and they offered friends when I struggled to make any on my own.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”  – Charles William Eliot

One of my fondest memories of books is when we moved to Kentucky.  I was in the fourth grade, new and afraid, and I didn’t know anyone. Then one day a vehicle rolled into the neighborhood that changed my world.  It was a bookmobile. I had no idea such a thing existed and I was over the moon!

I can recall the feeling of walking into that incredible rolling library and seeing nothing but books from stem to stern!  Stories of all kinds waited for me, ready to take me to places I’ve never been.  I remember how it made me feel to know my summer would not be as lonely as I’d first expected.

As I entered the bookmobile little did I know the best was yet to come.  I was told I could check out as many books as I wanted, or more accurately as many as I could carry, and keep them for three weeks.  Jackpot!  It was like Christmas in July!  It only took my first experience on the bookmobile for me to realize I needed to bring a BIG bag next time so I could fill it to the brim with books.


One of the first books I read from the bookmobile was Charlotte’s Web and it still holds a special place in my heart.  So many books followed and each one brought a new world with new adventures, new characters and the kind of excitement a little girl couldn’t find in the real world.

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”  – Jane Smiley

It is now a few decades later and even though technology has given us apps to read from, I still love the feel of a book in my hands.  I’m one of those readers that feels a slight panic if I don’t have several books waiting in the wings for when I’m finished consuming whatever book I currently have my nose stuck in.

You kindred spirit readers out there know what I mean when I say that books are thieves.  They steal time.  You sit down for a chapter or two and the next thing you know an hour or three has disappeared.  And let’s not forget the lack of sleep caused by books.  It’s not unusual for me to stay up at night to “read for a few minutes” only to look up and realize it’s 1:00 am.  But it is so worth it.

In a world full of noise, books offer a quiet refuge.  Words on a page act as shade from the glare of a life that can be far too loud and overwhelming.  For many, many of us, reading isn’t just fundamental, it’s as necessary as the air we breathe.

Read on.

Weight a Minute

As a woman of a certain age I struggle with my weight. In the interest of full disclosure I don’t go overboard trying to control it but I’m not a total slacker either. In my attempt to juggle middle age and fibromyalgia I now juggle a third ball and that is weight management or better yet, mismanagement.

In my quest to control my weight without actually having to make an effort I stumbled upon the perfect routine. It’s called “I Forgot What I came In Here for” and it’s the best exercise you will ever get.  All you need to get started are middle age brain cells.  (In my case I have the proper aging cells in addition to fibro fog, a byproduct of fibromyalgia.  It offers a wide array of cognitive difficulties such as short term memory loss, difficulty carrying on conversations, attention problems, misplacing objects (and people and dogs if one is not careful), mental confusion and more.)


The exercise routine works like this: let’s say you’re in the kitchen and realize you need a paper clip from the office which is at the other end of the house. (Why you need a paper clip in the kitchen is beyond me but who am I to judge?)  So off you go and as you enter the office you suddenly realize you can’t remember why you are there in the first place and that your need for something from that room has been replaced with a sizable but empty thought bubble.  Sighing loudly, you go back to the kitchen but upon your return you remember what it was you forgot (aha!) so you head back to the office only to arrive utterly clueless as to why you are there instead of in the kitchen where the spaghetti sauce is boiling over.

Lather, rinse, repeat.  Several times every_single_day.

If you really want to get your heart rate up and burn some carbs try this same exercise when you are upstairs but what you need is actually in the basement.  Thirteen steps and a landing later you cannot remember why you are in the basement.  Try as you might, the something you needed from this little corner of your world is not coming to mind.  Back up you go!  And then back down again because finally you remember what you went down there for in the first place.

In my attempt to not be an over achiever I’ve learned to use the reminder method to prevent too many extra trips in one day.  I repeat out loud exactly what I’m going into the other room for until I get there.  “Paper clip, paper clip, paper clip.”  As long as I go straight to the paper clips I’m fine.  If I deviate one iota of a second from my goal to retrieve what I came in there for I have to turn around, go back where I started and do another set of reps.  It’s all in the planning people.

So if you’re like me and need to let go of a few pounds this summer don’t use your body, use your middle age brain.  It will let you down every time.

I’ve had fibromyalgia for over 20 years. The pain began almost immediately after I received a series of Lupron injections for endometriosis. I was in my mid-30s when it started.  It took two years of specialists, tests, poking, prodding, zapping, biopsies and participating in a study at Johns Hopkins to get my diagnosis.

My pain has progressively gotten worse. In my late thirties into my forties, I would experience plateaus, periods of time where I would have my “daily pain”, a constant but fairly manageable pain that involved severe but less frequent flare ups than I have today.  There would be times back then when I could rest and get some relief but those days are now part of my past.

As I’m hitting middle age the manageable plateaus have become shorter in length and the flare-ups more intense and longer lasting. The pain is often relentless and I have more flare-ups and breakthrough pain than ever before.

This is nothing new.  I’ve been down this road before.  It’s the fork in the road between when things physically worsen permanently and when I finally accept it as my new reality. It’s what I think of as my in-between place, my internal battlefield where I go to war with my thoughts and feelings about what’s happening and how it’s going to affect my life.

I usually start out silently lamenting that things have indeed changed and are not going back to the way they were.  I allow myself to mourn what these changes extract from my life but not without appreciating that I am still upright and capable of doing many things even while in pain.


I also go through a period of feeling worthless and unnecessary but thankfully there is a part of me that acts as a motivator reminding me I can’t let the pain take me down or I won’t get back up.  I don’t know where this part of me comes from but she’s getting older and much more tired.

The internal struggle continues for a while, raging like wildfire in that in-between place, yelling, cursing, crying, bargaining and then, almost without notice, surrendering until finally, exhausted but better equipped to move on, I hit the acceptance stage.

The thing about chronic pain is it’s not just about pain.  It has many offshoots – sadness, frustration, a pinch of self-pity, anger, worry, bad moods and feeling different in every aspect of life.  But wait, there’s more!  People who suffer chronic pain are also brave, resourceful, limit pushers and somewhat chameleon-like in that we learn to quickly change and adjust based on how much pain we are in at any given time.

At the end of the day we do what everyone else does, we keep going because we have to but sometimes it takes a dreaded trip to that in-between place before we can settle in to what we’ve finally accepted.

Surrender and acceptance doesn’t mean giving in, bowing down or giving up.  It means doing the hard soul work, going inward and searching that in-between place and seeing what we are capable of even during our battles.

Illness does not define who we are.  Our strength, stubbornness, courage and cranky warrior attitude does.  Chronic pain may be our weakness but it is also the reason we become stronger.  And with that we fight on.

I’ve been pondering things.  Specific things.  For instance, things which can bring something positive to our lives but are also capable of bringing something negative as well.  For me, I consider things like the four elements, animals and Harry Potter a good place to begin.

The four elements… let’s start with fire shall we?

I don’t know many who would reject the comfort that comes from a kick ass blazing fire on a cold night or the fun and companionship of sharing a bonfire and s’mores.  Staring into a fire can elicit calmness and introspection but fire can also bring destruction. Forest fires, house fires, brush fires, just to name a few, can create terror, fear and heartbreak.


Water.  Ahh water. The relief from a hot shower for tired, achy muscles or the relaxation of a dip in the pool can extinguish a bad mood.  Is there not a certain awe and mystery toward ocean waves lapping at our feet knowing they may have touched distant, foreign shores and washed over some of the most magnificent finned creatures on earth?  Beware, water can be terrifying as well. Floods, drowning and the ruination of vast amounts of property is devastating.

Air.  Oh how I love a gentle breeze!   My dogs love it too as it brings scents from far away that only they can detect. Perhaps they silently wonder why the aroma of home cooking passes gently on the breeze from other houses but rarely their own.  Air, as necessary as it is for life, can take life as well. The angry relentless wind of hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons can destroy everything its path.

Chilli and Willow ~ so that’s what home cooking smells like!!

Earth.  Mother Earth.  Holding us in the palm of her earthly hands she keeps us grounded and reminds us that we are in her care.  Make no mistake, she gets angry and reminds us we have much to lose. Her cries go unheard and she rumbles, shakes and spews out fire in an attempt to get our attention.


When I ponder things in my life that can be both wonderful and/or scary, guess what pops into my mind first?  Learning.  (I know right? How can learning be both wonderful and frightening?) I love to learn. It’s one of the most important parts of my life. It feels good to learn something new but it can also be quite unsettling because it forces change and growth and this can be destructive to old ways of life.  This does not mean everything has to go to hell in a handbasket but it might seem that way at first.

The bottom line is once you learn something you can’t unlearn it and this can change we mindlessly enjoy into something painful.  What we learn changes us.

For instance I can’t unlearn the significance of bees to our environment and that we are losing them at an alarming rate and in devastatingly huge numbers.  For the longest time I had no idea about this problem but once I learned I couldn’t go back.  It was time to stop looking at dandelions as the enemy and also lay off the pesticides and other poisons that are destroying our bees.  This knowing has drastically altered how we handle pest control on our property.  Simple yet dramatic lesson.  Bees are da bomb.

I can’t unlearn what I’ve discovered about animals in factory farms. I can’t “unknow” the agony, terror and confusion they suffer and this has changed me and how I look at the food I eat.  Painful learning but necessary.

I can’t unlearn how soul crushing it is to keep animals captive for our entertainment.  I’ve said it before, animals should not be forced to carry the burden of entertaining us.  That is not why they are here.

On a more positive note, I cannot unlearn that animals have souls. They have the spirit and wisdom of the ancients and they know far more than we can grasp. It is fascinating and awe inspiring.  They are here to journey beside us and teach us, not to pad our wallets or perform on demand (don’t get me started.)  One of the most beautiful things about animals is not only do they have so much to share but they are willing to do so with the very species that exploits them.  And it’s not just four-legged animals; it is fish, reptiles, birds and bugs oh my!  Every living thing has something to teach us and these wonderful lessons cannot be unlearned.

On a final note (you were wondering when I’d get to the Harry Potter portion of the program weren’t you?)…I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with waiting over a decade to watch your first Harry Potter movie.  It’s okay not to know how Voldemort breathes through that nose or what in the name of Hogworts a muggle is.  What I can’t unlearn is that these movies suck you in until you watch every_single_one of them and now you’re excited about this Harry Potter phenomenon and everyone else has moved on.  Bloody hell!

Lucky for us the magic never dies and neither does the learning.

 

You can’t believe you did it. You knew it wasn’t right but you did it anyway and people got hurt. You’ve tried but you can’t stop beating yourself up. Just when you think you can let it go the memory rears its ugly head and reminds you of your transgression. An error in judgment you made years ago. A mistake from which you are still carrying the heavy burden of guilt.

I hear you. Been there, done that. What stops us from forgiving ourselves for the less-than-savory things we’ve done in the past? Do we feel we are not worthy or perhaps that deserve to suffer? I’m here to tell you friend, this is not the case.

I believe there are other equally important questions we need to ponder. For instance, what good has come from our unwillingness to forgive ourselves? Has this lack of forgiveness toward ourselves made us better people? Has it given our life purpose? Has it been of great benefit in any way?

Most likely the answer to all these questions is the same. No. So what is the alternative? For a lot of us forgiving ourselves is the hardest thing we will ever do. We’re convinced we are the worst of the worst so forgiving would be akin to letting ourselves off the hook. Irresponsible. Selfish.

But we would be wrong. On the contrary, forgiving ourselves would be an act of mercy. A gift of compassion. We’re not going to forget what we did and we’ll do everything we can to never let it happen again.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard for self-forgiveness is this…forget the mistake but remember the lesson. Forgiving isn’t the same as condoning. It doesn’t mean we lack regret or we aren’t sorry. It means we recognize that we have done wrong, we are sorry and have learned what we needed to from it and are moving on. Staying immersed in guilt and continually beating ourselves up robs us of peace.

We aren’t perfect. We are human, flawed and fallible, and we make mistakes. We do stupid crap without thinking. Sometimes we do stupid crap while we ARE thinking but we do it anyway. But if we have done what we can to make amends and taken to heart the lessons learned, why continue to beat ourselves up?

We are not defined by our mistakes. We all have a light inside that connects us to each other and to something greater than we are. Forgiveness, not only of others but of ourselves, makes our light shine brighter and the brighter we shine the lighter the world becomes. Never have we needed this more than now.

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