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Posted by: cara | February 11, 2014

Life, bittersweet

Photo by Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself lying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, “Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?”

There are times when I experience an intense empathetic state. I have a simultaneous awareness of both connectedness and suffering in the world. Yet, I don’t simply feel others’ pain. I feel a deep sense of guilt and responsibility for their pain. All at once, I fully grasp my indirect complicity by just living in this modern world, within our affluent country.

Every choice and action has millions of tiny threads attached. They pull at my skin, creating thousands of invisible wounds. I ache, uncertain of the source. If I settle here, in this reality, I become frozen. Even taking no action is painful because it creates its own consequences. 

I have always interpreted this “experience” as the true reality. I accepted that if I faced it, there would be anxiety and depression. When the practicalities of life pushed me forward and I was able to blunt some of the intensity, I saw it as hiding from the truth, even if I did feel better. What most would term “coping” felt like acquiescing to a cruel, unfair world. I became another mindless human, trampling others in my efforts to create a comfortable bubble for myself.

However, I was pondering the butterfly story recently. Is my perception of reality accurate? 

Our time on earth is a journey toward remembering our wholeness. A butterfly has no sense of individuality and implicitly knows this truth. I have viewed the world as the dreaming butterfly, experiencing a human reality where a sense of separateness creates pain, and believing it is true.

If I switch perspectives, I become a lucid dreamer. A human who can access this primal memory of being a butterfly, unencumbered by the burden of individual suffering. I can see that this pain is temporary and serves a purpose. My role in both feeling and causing pain is part of the process.

I am caught within this dream, yet aware. I can now act.

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Posted by: cara | February 2, 2014

Rebirth

Photo by Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

A birth chart captures the exact placement of the stars and planets at the moment of your birth. Astrologers view this information through the metaphorical lenses of each house and zodiac sign to interpret your personality, key challenges and life path. Astrology of this kind is a much more nuanced version than the watered-down daily horoscope.

My knowledge of this ancient art is limited, yet the layers of metaphors are appealing. I see it as another means toward understanding myself, not a way to see the future. It forces introspection because there is no right answer, only interpretation.

I had a birth chart prepared by a trusted teacher several years ago in January 2011, just as my marriage began to unravel. Recently, I came across a set of haiku I wrote about the experience — a summary of the interpretation — my life story in a few lines.

I look forward to clarity and conviction. Love without losing myself.

Came into this world
Above me, planets circle
Auspicious timing

Pain everywhere
Humid earth, suffocating
Unbearable…stop!

Turn outward, away
Fires build, flare up, die down
Must tend to this now

Lost and cannot see
Mirage appears; is it true?
Grasping, it is gone

Climbing, reach apex
Cool mountain air fills my soul
Fog lifts, vision clear

Cupping hands like bowl
Reach deep, gather clear water
My own baptism

Posted by: cara | October 30, 2013

Upside Down View

Photo by Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

In a popular book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, one of the first lessons is to turn a picture upside down and use it as a guide to draw the same object. The lesson demonstrated that when you look at something recognizable, your mind interferes by telling you what it “should” look like. It’s almost like having a template on top of the picture, which is deceptively similar to the original. On the other hand, by turning the drawing upside down, it becomes a grouping of lines, abstract and undefinable. Once the object’s label is gone, you can truly see it. I was amazed by how much more accurately I was able to recreate the picture.

I wondered if I could apply that concept in another way. Let’s say the picture represents my true self and the act of drawing is how I express myself in the world. If I look at the picture upside down, it would allow me to take action (draw) in alignment with my true essence (the original picture). At the end of my life, when I compare the original drawing to the one I created, I would hope to find a match — demonstrating that I lived in concert with my higher self.

Over the past few years, in my attempts to identify the best way to earn a living, I have traced a template of what I should be instead of drawing who I am. For example, I have applied the template of “responsible” to my picture. All sorts of adjectives come along with it — safe, practical, self-sufficient. Each one affects the choices that seem available. My job is stable, pays well, provides health insurance, allows me to work from home. I use my skills as a writer, I have built a career in this field. Why do I want to leave? Why doesn’t the drawing match?

The template was covering up the signals from my body. This same job makes me physically and emotionally ill. It affects my quality of life in a myriad of small ways — sleeplessness, depression, poor eating, anxiety, stomach aches, migraines.  I ignored or downplayed how much the job affected these symptoms, looking for a way to keep my template intact. Being responsible is a socially approved template, after all, stamped by authority figures.

Using the template felt safe and familiar. It was so close to the original. I kept hoping with a few tweaks, it could work. But I don’t fit inside it.

Instead of following a template, I will turn the picture upside down. This approach requires a lot of erasing and fixing to get it right, but with the template gone, I can see who I am, in all my confusing but beautiful entirety. Drawing free hand is quite liberating.

Posted by: cara | September 3, 2013

Songs for myself

Photo by Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

Unrequited love is like performing the grandest aria for an empty opera house. Your voice carries the most beautiful melody, echoing against the high ceiling. When you finish, the lights go down, as does your spirit.

You hope that tomorrow, the seats will be filled. Your audience will listen, rapt, to the gorgeous emotion held in each note. They will appreciate the hours of practice, the passionate delivery and heart-felt dedication.

So much energy, so much beauty, so much emotion — lost, gone as soon as the song ends. No one is there to listen or remember.

I will no longer perform for the VIP who never appears. I have songs to sing for myself. I will sing for the sake of singing.

Posted by: cara | July 9, 2013

Lost Hope

Photo by Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

I know your language
I sense the hesitation
I brace for the pain

interpretation
skewed perhaps, though I think not
the time will come soon

sixth sense alerted
and so I keep my guard up
watching and waiting

his interest wanes
interactions grow colder
and he drifts away

I am not a fool
I have seen it all before
I’m still not ready

Posted by: cara | July 7, 2013

Face(s)book

This represents my confusion/frustration in trying to please everyone – a million different roles/faces, none of them my own.

Face(s)book by cara

Face(s)book by cara

I am one among many
You looked right at me
I thought
But rather right through me
Lost in a sea of faces
And voices
I become nothing

Posted by: cara | July 4, 2013

Standing Up

Sorry

When my internal critic’s voice reaches a shrieking pitch and I can’t bear another judgment, sometimes I imagine myself in a fetal position, making my body as small as possible, willing my cells to disappear. As if the silent prayer “sorry sorry sorry” will be enough to make the words stop. They die down, but the pain reverberates through a sudden migraine or wrenching stomach ache. My mind has no defense and so my body must take the beating.

My natural response is to shrink away from the painful words, cowering and apologetic. Just like when I feel the hot sharp pain in my eyes from a migraine. I retreat to a dark bedroom and try to sleep, to feel the heaviness of the drug and let it take me to oblivion.

I think recent efforts to assert myself have intensified the self-criticism. It feels like my internal voice is realizing that I am evolving — and wants to snap me back into the familiar as quickly as possible. The only way to do that is to cripple me with insecurity and depression. Therefore, the words are cutting deeper. They are getting at wounds that hurt most.

I am admittedly very tired. Lately I want to give in, step back and let the hurtful words take over. Writing all this in the drawing above was an effort to get it out of my head, where it has less power. Even though I keep hearing “shut up!” here I am, sharing this, speaking my truth. I might be bruised and wobbly, but I’m standing up.

 

Posted by: cara | April 9, 2013

Path of Least Resistance

Photo by Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

I know this pain.
I can trace its path.

Memories wind through the curves of my brain,
Smoothing river rock over time.

The grief sweeps me up
Like debris over a waterfall.

I know this pain.
I am caught in its current.

Posted by: cara | March 6, 2013

Reconnaissance

Photo by Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

Nuance, tic and mannerism
I watch in taut concentration
Scope the setting
Profile my target

Tone, delivery and context
I look out through your eyes
Hear the words I speak
Choose my angle

Stop, pause or go
I contemplate my chances
Calculate my window
Wait for the signal

Life or death
I brave annihilation each time
Hold my breath in fear
Speak my mind

Posted by: cara | February 25, 2013

Center of Balance

Photo by Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

I have felt out of balance lately, trying to find security in a rapidly changing mental landscape. I could feel myself constantly grasping and hanging on for dear life to anything that gave me some momentary sense of stability. As life-long ideas about who am I snapped like twigs beneath me, I felt like I was falling from the top of a redwood, crashing through branches, wildly reaching for something to catch me.

This past week, I was consciously searching for a metaphor that captured the sensation and gave me some direction on how to manage these emotions. Although I am the furthest thing from a rock climber, I imagined myself dangling from a precarious position on a high mountain, scrambling for footing.

Within this metaphor, I began looking for a way to calm my anxiety, sadness and fear. Here is what I have worked out –

Knowing your weight and center of balance on a climb enables you to maneuver the environment safely and efficiently, evaluating your next move with a clear sense of your strength and the capacity for each step to bear your weight.

In the same way, knowing and accepting my inherent value as a person gives me a sense of being centered and in touch with who I am. Instead of having my value rise and fall as defined by outside opinions or circumstances, I have a static value — just  like my physical weight on a climb. With this stable base of perception, I can make better choices, more aligned with my true self — safer steps more likely to hold and carry me forward.

I can finally stop saying there is something wrong with me when I experience failure, loss or rejection. I just made the wrong choice because my center was off-balance or I didn’t evaluate the situation clearly. This does not reflect my value as a human being — that never changes.

So when I feel myself grasping and unsteady, I will remember –

  • Just because a limb is close by and seems like the logical next step doesn’t automatically mean it will hold me if I am too heavy. Even if I grasp tightly, it will still break — probably faster. Reaching for something that is not right for me, even if I really want it and use all my strength to hold on, will ultimately result in a fall.
  • Breaking a limb does not mean I am too heavy. It just means that my weight is more than the limb can carry. There is no judgment necessary.
  • Sometimes a step seems impossible or too risky, yet it really just means I need to build my strength. Once rested, I may find that the foothold is safe. I have to stop pushing myself to exhaustion to please or impress others or because I am impatient. I might be on the right path after all, yet the timing is off.

And when I fall, I will tell myself — Falling is okay. I took a risk. I have a harness. I’ll try again. Nothing has changed. You are the same person.

 

Posted by: cara | February 12, 2013

Sight Restored

Brief poetic thoughts in haiku on moving grief out of my way so I can see the future without the bias of past hurts.

 

Eyes slowly adjust
Dimly, a world forms ahead
See what you could haveeye

Light floods my vision
Shield my blinded eyes so bright
Basking in wonder

I grieve the time lost
Comprehending what I’ve missed
Will darkness return?

When I blink my eyes
The world does not disappear
I can see my way

Posted by: cara | November 29, 2012

Sailors & Faith

Heather Hanson

Photo by Heather Hanson

Yesterday was a difficult day. I attended my cousin’s funeral. Although I visited him in the hospital a few weeks ago and could see that he was very ill, it still came as a surprise. I suppose every death is, no matter how “prepared” we are. He was in good health just two months ago and died too young at 66.

As a graduate of the Annapolis Naval Academy and veteran of the Vietnam War, I always associate him with his military career. Both his parents, my great-aunt & uncle, are Navy veterans. They met and married in the service. He was proud of his Navy background — it was a huge part of his family and personal identity.

During the service, the Lutheran Pastor of his church recognized this life-long affiliation, as he knew my cousin well. He read a passage from the Bible, I believe it was St. Mark 4:37-40.

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

The Pastor spoke about the sea’s unpredictability — one moment calm, the next moment terrifying, as in life. Sailors needed faith that God was with them at all times. My cousin was not a “fair weather” believer. He had faith not only in day-to-day life when he attended church each Sunday, but during the times his life was in danger — when he was at war and when he suffered this recent, debilitating illness.

One of my family members told him just before he passed, “We’ll take care of your mother. She will have everything she needs.” Unable to speak, he raised his hand, acknowledging that he understood and appreciated the words. He was calm, more so than in recent days. His faith told him that God would care for his mother through our family and her large group of friends.

I relate this story because I saw the power of metaphors at work. The Pastor chose his words so well. He knew that my great-aunt, sitting in front of him, needed more than just the words “have faith.” He knew that a sea analogy would honor my cousin and comfort my great-aunt. Her ability to process the words required a narrative that represented her son and resonated specifically for her, within her Lutheran faith.

Although I haven’t identified as a Lutheran in a long time, I saw today that regardless of my beliefs, the Bible holds powerful stories that can help others navigate their life experiences. Jesus spoke in parables for a reason.

We each find meaning in different stories, but they help us manage the same difficult emotions.

Psalm 107:23-30

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.

 

Posted by: cara | November 21, 2012

Dark Rooms & Perspective

I love these quotes! This is a perfect example of exploring metaphors to gain insight and perspective. Same metaphor, different interpretations. If you know of others that fit this central idea, send them along in the comments.

If you know where these quotes originated, let me know!

Posted by: cara | September 10, 2012

Searching for Purpose

I feel like my life is an enormous word search, rows and rows of random letters. I was given this puzzle to solve, but no one provided me with the list of words to find or even a theme to guide me. I must find the words on my own and piece together a story of who I am and what I’m supposed to accomplish in my life.

Through the years, words have emerged from the chaos. Perhaps a personal strength or interest, a clue to the direction I should take. These clues were mysterious and confusing, but I made the best choices I could. I’ve also searched in vain for words that just weren’t in my puzzle, no matter how much I wanted them to appear.

However, in all my searching, I’ve never found a word that gave me a true “aha!” moment. Something that spurred me to immediate action and gave me a sense of purpose. I find words that resonate, but I don’t know how they fit together. They are not magically forming into a sentence that says “Here it is! Personal fulfillment ahead!”

Maybe that’s too much to ask.

I remember my favorite assignment in elementary school was when we were given a list of vocabulary words and told to create a story. The words usually had nothing to do with each other, which was the challenge I loved.

Well, my puzzle has given me a challenging list of words. Time to get creative. I need to stop searching for “the word” and instead place the ones I have into the context of a story I write for myself.

 

 

Posted by: cara | September 3, 2012

Let’s Call a Ceasefire

Mortal enemies? More like BFFs.

Have you ever noticed that weight loss is always described in military terms or as something to win?  A few clicks on Fitness magazine’s website quickly provided me with many perfect examples. Take a closer look at newspapers, magazines and commercials – the war theme is everywhere.

 

  • “Beat the odds, and your genes, with these strategies to lose weight and keep it off for good.”
  • “For years you’ve been told that saturated fat is public enemy No. 1 in the battle against obesity and heart disease.”
  • “Researchers now believe that it’s best to tackle exercise first.”
  • “Losing weight is a precise numbers game, so you can’t really afford to loosen the reins too much.”
  • “The story of how she conquered her emotional eating habit.”
  • “Daily weighing is a winning weight-loss strategy.”
  • “Gaining more than five pounds over a week is a red flag.”
  • “Score a stronger core.”
  • “Burn calories and blast fat fast.”
  • “Tone your trouble zones.”
  • “Fit women whose flab-to-fierce successes will inspire you.”
  • “Don’t let these 12 bummers sabotage your spring or summer fitness plans.”
  • “The Seven Day Fat Fighting Menu.”
  • “Expert advice on how to fight your body’s natural chemical slowdown.”
  • “Battle to the finish line with our head-to-toe top picks for performance running gear.”

Common metaphors shape the way we perceive the world. By using these terms, we imply that weight loss is a struggle, one that requires you fight your own body to win. It also dictates the solutions we think are available. If losing weight is a battle, we choose strategies like obeying superiors (fitness experts), relying on willpower to fight obstacles (cravings and fatigue) and dehumanizing the enemy (berating ourselves for being fat). In our society’s war paradigm, we only view self-care as a means to stay motivated and have the energy to continue the fight.

At first, I wondered if I could use conflict resolution terms and techniques to create new positive metaphors. However, I realized that by doing so, I am acknowledging that a conflict existed in the first place and that it may arise again in the future. I settled on a completely different metaphor.

I am not at war; instead, I am caring for a newborn baby. Look at how drastically this changes my approach:

Discerning over Obeying
Instead of relying on external experts to tell me how to win the weight loss battle, I listen to my own body’s cues. Babies cry when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. They know the exact amount needed to feel content. I will remain mindful while eating and alert to my body’s sensations rather trusting the latest fitness industry leader or shocking media headline.

Health over Weight Loss
Instead of making weight loss something to win or lose, I remove it altogether from the priority list. Babies are seeking contentment, not a certain physique.  By listening to their body, their weight will fall where it should for optimum health. If I place health and contentment above all else, my weight will naturally fall to its intended number, which may or may not fit society’s standards. It is a side effect, not the goal.

Support over Coercion
Instead of using willpower to push through discomfort, I will pay attention to what is causing the discomfort and tend to it in a positive way. When babies cry, it is usually one of four things – they need food, sleep, cuddling or a diaper change. Before parents begin to tell the difference between these needs, they try each one until the baby is content.  I will try all of my self-care options (more sleep, time with friends, more exercise, etc.) until the issue of willpower resolves itself.

Natural over Processed
Instead of choosing modified diet foods, I will choose unprocessed and organic as much as possible. A mother’s milk has what a baby needs; the closer to its original form, the better. However, it is not always practical. Mothers may pump breast milk or supplement with formula, depending on the situation. I will be flexible in my food choices, yet strive for pure, natural forms of food.

So, although the title for this post is “Let’s Call a Ceasefire,” from now on I will remove aggressive military terms from my vocabulary when talking about my health. I am not attacking, fighting, battling or trying to win the war on my weight. I am nurturing, nourishing and caring for my body. YAWN. Time for a nap!

Posted by: cara | July 3, 2012

Change

Trembling to the core
Jarred by an unstable earth
The ground shifts beneath our feet
We spin in the sky
The universe expands
Standing still is not possible

Posted by: cara | June 12, 2012

Letting Go of the Magical Answer

Photo by cara

Imagine you believe that a fountain of youth actually exists. Wouldn’t you be tempted to forgo taking care of yourself physically in favor of searching for that fountain? All the obsessive time and effort would be worth it — if you find it. If not, with each passing day, your ability to age gracefully slips away. You’ll look back with regret at all the time wasted in your brief life.

For a long time, I believed in a similar fountain — one that was equally tempting and destructive. I believed that my depression was caused by certain problems in my life and that if I solved them, depression would never return. 

But what I haven’t realized (up until now) is that it’s often the other way around. My depression skews my perspective and makes formerly manageable challenges seem impossible. The problem hasn’t changed, just my brain’s perception. It seems so obvious now.

So what does it look like if I give up the idea of  “the fountain?” The next time I feel depressed, instead of trying to immediately solve the problem (whatever I think it is), I will try some simple mindfulness exercises. Hopefully, these will create just enough of a shift to tilt my brain back to balance so I can see clearly. Then if there really is a problem, I can address it without depression clouding my judgment. It’s the millions of small decisions that ultimately make the difference — just like making healthy choices every day is better than searching for a fountain of youth.

I want to bring myself back to the present and create a sense of connection — to my body, others and the environment. This will take me out of my head, where thoughts about the past and future conspire to overwhelm me. Since it’s difficult to get motivated when I’m in the midst of depression, I will do easy things like stepping outside to the balcony, listening to a guided meditation, calling someone, taking a shower, walking in the park or playing with my cats.

I am consciously choosing to be mindful of my illness — not constantly chasing the dream of a life without depression. There is no magical answer that will solve all of my problems and cure my depression. I need to do the hard work every single day of staying aware and catching myself before I fall too far.

Posted by: cara | June 6, 2012

Redefining Strength in Each Moment

Photo by Heather Hanson

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
– Mary Anne Radmacher

I have chronic depression. There, I said it. I’m not just going through a difficult time, transition, stressful month, or whatever I’ve told myself. Of course, all these things are true at various times. But not for the last twenty years straight.

My denial story went something like this: If I get a meaningful job, pay off all my debt, get settled into a permanent place to live, lose weight, exercise and create the perfect relationship, I won’t have these episodes of depression. I can get off this medication, stop seeing a therapist and have a healthy routine to maintain my changes. It’s just a matter of taking action. Fantastic. I am GREAT at that. Let’s try to do all these things at the same time so I can get there as soon as possible. I’ve got a plan. I feel better already.

You can probably see where this is going.

A week later, I wake up feeling…different. Suddenly, everything is inexplicably more difficult. I feel foggy and tired. I don’t feel like working, cooking or seeing anyone. If I could stay in bed — that would be perfect. My plans dissolve slowly.

This has occurred over and over — sometimes the cycles are short, sometimes long. But it’s always the same. I begin with enthusiasm and optimism, with a sense of control. Yet that same belief in control is what fuels the harsh criticism when I fail. I realize with horror that there were no external factors that derailed my plan — just my state of mind. But wait, Cara can push through anything with enough effort, right? That’s what she does — everyone knows that.

This has always been my definition of strength — willpower in the face of anything, never veering from the plan. When depression blocked my path, I viewed myself as weak.

Last week, I finally took enough steps back to see my pattern in its totality – instead of coming up with the next great plan. I needed a metaphor to guide me to a solution that transcended the problem. Fortunately, I am in the midst of a wonderful set of meditation classes. I began to see a connection to my struggle.

I am not meditating with the expectation that if I practice consistently enough, I will reach a point where I have complete control over my thoughts.
I am not planning my life with the expectation that if I try hard enough, I will reach a point where I have complete control over my depression.

Meditation is not about the final outcome, it is about the act itself — the millions of internal nudges to redirect your focus back to the breath.
Mental health is not about the cure, it is about coping – looking at where you are and making the best decisions you can at that moment. 

Meditation is best practiced in a quiet, comfortable environment.
Depression is best managed by surrounding myself with positive, supportive family and friends.

It is the aim of meditation to view thoughts without judgment and not get swept away.
It is the aim of mental health to view depression without judgment and not let shame and anger pull you further down.

Any amount or form of meditation has value. There is no shame in a shorter sitting or modifying your pose because of a physical issue. 
Any amount of positive action has value. There is no shame in doing less than planned or modifying your plan because your state of mind has changed.

This last point was especially hard to accept. I need to change my internal story. But damn it, I liked that one. It had a happy ending and I was the heroine. It will take time to let go.

I will continue to meditate and keep these parallels in mind. If depression gets in the way of meditation, I will do the best I can in the moment — that is my new definition of strength.

Posted by: cara | April 14, 2012

Rising Above Anxiety

Photo by Heather Hanson

I have a lot of free-floating anxiety these days, most likely because I think I’ve successfully transcended some significant emotional crutches. Yet after relying on them so long, I feel a void; I don’t know what to do with the mental space it created.

When the anxiety takes over and I can’t identify the cause (or there are many causes weaved together), I noticed that I rely on a particular visualization – an out of body experience. I began doing this almost unconsciously a long time ago, but recently started to pay closer attention when I realized it helped release the restriction in my chest and slow the swirling thoughts.

To bring it to life a bit more, I tried to capture the feeling in words. The more vivid the sensation feels, the faster I can calm myself.

Flash of life and death,
Pins and needles climb my scalp.
Expectant silence.

Limbs braid, spin skyward.
My heart dissolves in
a radiant burst of light.

Compelled to let go.
Body cast off like snake-skin;
No lungs enclosing my breath.

Stretching, expanding
I fade; the final notes still
reverberating.

Posted by: cara | March 2, 2012

Crossword Clues

crossword puzzle

Puzzle by gajman

“They say Confucius does his crossword with a pen.” — Tori Amos, Happy Phantom

When I do the occasional crossword, I start with the Across clues and see how many I can answer before moving to the Down column. Usually, when I go back, clues that stumped me the first time are more obvious with a few more letters. In some cases, I realize that I had the wrong answer.

My crossword puzzle “strategy” serves as an apt metaphor for an epiphany I had recently.

For as long as I can remember, losing weight was the prerequisite to any other important goal in my life. “Just get your health in order and then you can begin.” I thought this would give me the confidence, discipline and energy to pursue other personal developments and dreams.

In other words, I wouldn’t let myself move to the Down clues until I’d answered all the Across ones first. Even though “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” I earnestly tried so many times. But without any new insights, it was pointless.

This week, I attended a yoga class for the first time, something I’ve wanted to try for ages. Usually, many fears stop me. What will I wear? What will other people in the class think of me? I only have so much time in the day – shouldn’t I be doing something that would help me lose weight faster?

Yet after the class, I realized that I’d finally switched columns. By getting in touch with my body and relaxing my mind, I will gain new letters to help me work through the entire puzzle. The Across clues (or weight loss) won’t be as difficult or feel as impossible to solve. Each column informs the other; they aren’t separate and linear.

When I’ve exhausted all resources and have those last boxes left, I can ask for help. Every crossword puzzle has those last few that you just don’t know, no matter how many clues you have.

Where else am I stopping when I don’t know the Across clues? All of my professional jobs have led to stress and burnout. What can I do to switch columns and help me see this issue in a new light, with higher level insights from myself or others?

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