Which one shall I feed?

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April 20, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I chose separation over marriage. It was a decision that took months or maybe years to make. Therefore I assumed this would be easier than that.
I imagined I would handle the change with internal grace.
External grace? Yes. Nearly always.
But internally—there’s a freaking war going on.

I am reading the third book in the “All Souls” trilogy—“The Book of Life,” by Deborah Harkness, which is an historical fantasy novel depicting a life where creatures (vampires, witches and demons) live alongside humans. While reading, I was reminded of the legend of the Two Wolves.

Native American Legends: Two Wolves: A Cherokee Legend
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

In “The Book of Life”, one of the characters asks, “What if I can’t stop feeding the bad wolf? What if I fail?”

What. If. I. Fail.

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I have heard and seen the story of the two wolves many times, but the message has always been the same. Feed the good wolf; starve the bad wolf; maintain order. How does one actually do that when the vibes of the bad wolf are so strong? My life seems messy and out of control at times. It’s a feeding frenzy.

The message in the Two Wolves story seems a bit too tidy to me…it reads well and it’s logical, but it hasn’t resonated. So after reading it again in “The Book of Life”, I did another search and found this by Teaching of the Ancients.

“In the Cherokee world, and in the original story of the two wolves that has been passed down through Native American tribes, the story ends this way:

The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right they both win.” And the story goes on. 

“You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities: tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong will and great strategic thinking that I have need of at times and that the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength, and the ability to recognize what is in the best interests of all. You see son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will soon become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. 

Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention, and when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing. How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.” 

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Later that week I read a post on “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta entitled, “Find Beauty in Every Freakin’ Moment, No Matter What.” He writes about the human habit of “rejecting the experience”.  This is me. I don’t want this to be happening to me, therefore I am going to push it away and dream of something better. I’m going to HOPE for a different past, and “what if” myself to death. 

Babauta writes, “The problem isn’t the situation. We’ll always face difficult situations in life, some dire and drastic, others small and irritating, but we can’t rid our lives of difficulty, pain and struggle. The problem is that we reject whatever we face. It’s not good enough, it’s not wanted, it’s not welcome. I don’t want it that way . . . I want it that way.” (Zen Habits)

What is the answer in all of this? What wolf should I feed? How can I find beauty when life sometimes looks like a sculpture carved out of shit? How can pain reflect goodness?

For me, it is nature, it is yoga, and it is a community of “yeah, me too” people. Pause…Be honest…expand…be mindful…and then accept this life, in pieces, one at a time.

“The future is completely open, we are writing it moment by moment.” Pema Chödrön

“When we reject pain, sorrow, anger and loss . . . We are saying we don’t want all of our lives. We only want the good parts.” (Leo Babauta)
The white wolf.

“What if I fail?” (The Book of Life)
We won’t let you.”

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Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

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Composting Death

IMG_7024March 23, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I have suffered an emotional death. That sounds so melodramatic. And no such thing even exists. I have not died, for I still  breath. But . . .

If you could see me—really see me—you would see a hole right through my chest. How can that be explained?

The day we got married was filled with sunshine, love, laughter, and promise. Something inside of me opened up to a soul-filled kind of love. I leaned in. I am on a search for that blessed day, the one where we created affirmations of love and authenticity, and an intention to be together for a lifetime. Our people filled the pews and cheered for us as Handel’s Hornpipe, Water Music Suite,  danced on a breeze.  Hornpipe for God’s sake: optimism amidst playful banter.

But what was my point Cherished Heart?

Oh yeah. Living and dying simultaneously. Waking. Cooking. Driving. Crying. Walking. Loving. Eating. Aching. Washing. Buying. Petting. Playing. Flailing. Talking. Listening. Smiling.

Can I not curl into a ball on a feather-bed and sleep until the edges of the pain have softened?

Can I not be held up by others and shuffled through life like cattle in a chute—moving to a rhythm outside of myself?

Can pen and paper not manifest a set of agreements that are fair to all, and written with kindness and lingering admiration?

Can I let go and float wherever the current is meant to take me?

How can emotional death compost and support growth, when I am rooted to it?

When will the weight of it ease up? I am strong but weary.

Who am I outside of this grief and felled marriage?

Beside my writing chair sits a solid wood table holding the accoutrements of writing. Coffee. Candle. Cross. Cards. I had pulled a card earlier, which I immediately disregarded as bullshit.

I’m taking a second look.

You can recover from anything. You can heal from anything. There is nothing that has fundamentally damaged your spirit, your will, and your heart, no matter how broken those parts of you feel at times. They have only ever been broken to heal stronger. They have not been broken beyond repair, and never will be. You are breaking out of something, rising above it, trying to transcend a pattern within yourself, or one in relation to another person— and you will succeed. Focus on your integrity and truth. Be yourself. If you have forgotten who that is, don’t worry—that true self has not gone away, and never will.  It is ready and waiting to rise up, in original gorgeousness and glory, and be alive. It is never too late for you.” Wild Kuan Yin, Alana Fairchild

It is with utmost relief that I learn I am not going to die or be permanently broken by this experience. My soul will compost my pain, and that is a slow process indeed.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

Ripple

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February 26, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

What is next?

A good friend of mine forwarded a blog post to me, by Renée Magnusson. I love the ripple effect. She has a different story to tell; we are not experiencing the same manner of loss; and yet, some of the characteristics are the same. Living in the midst of struggle can rob you of your essence, your spirit, the things that keep you whole and make you quintessentially you. Grief is not only about the loss of a person, a dream, or an environment; it is, at its core, about a change to, a sacrificing of, or a burying of self.

The blogpost, “Sunday Sin: I saw the light and didn’t die…”, held sage wisdom for me, and maybe also for you. Read it. No adult exists who hasn’t known loss; we are connected to it, and by it.

I may have mentioned before that I feel stuck, welded to the onerous process of grieving. Every direction I turn toward seems to hold more sadness. When I contemplate “what is next” for me, it looks a lot like a grown woman stumbling and falling flat on her face into quicksand. Slow. Steady. Suffocating.

But after reading “Sunday Sin”, I wonder if falling apart is the only option? I wonder if there are other paths that intersect with the falling apart one—and I could, at some point, step over to that path. The imaginary doing of that fills me with breath and air and lightness, and the pressing emotional fatigue simply drains away.

Now, I’m just wondering how to take that first step.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

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Good Grief

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February 5, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

When my husband and I decided to separate, it could be said that I felt more ready than him. He followed my lead through a trial separation, counselling, date nights, and then full separation as if he already knew the whole dance pattern. Once we actually separated, he took to it better than I did—or perhaps that is just how it looked.

I leaked emotion. He sealed his gates.

I became paralyzed. He worked harder.

I isolated myself. He played badminton.

I baked cookies. He bought a FitBit.

This week, he moved out of our family home. Up until this point we have been “bird nest” parenting: each one of us moving in when it was our turn to be with the kids, and moving out when it was the other’s turn. It’s a child-centred way in which to deal with the transition of separation, and all-in-all it has been good for the kids.

We own a cottage just outside of the city, so we had two homes to rotate through. Prior to our separation, the cottage was a place of retreat and rejuvenation for me, which I used monthly. We spent holidays and most of the summer there. I loved the cottage space. However, continuously shifting from home to cottage and away from the kids, created a rollercoaster of emotions after separation. I plummeted toward despair with every arrival, and even though I bolstered myself with music and positive self-talk, I could not stop the descent. At the cottage, the alone time that used to refresh my soul, became a continuous reminder of the failure of my marriage. There was nothing to hide behind; no task large enough to camouflage my pain.

By the end of December, I knew I needed to advocate for my mental and emotional well-being, and I asked my husband to find a place in the city to rent, so I could stay home during his parenting time.

With each new change to our lives, I feel body slammed into denial. This isn’t really happening. To me. 

A couple of months after separating, the depth and breadth of my emotions along with experiencing conflicting feelings made me wonder if I were going crazy. Not crazy though . . . just grieving.

Almost eleven years ago, we adopted our son from Ethiopia. I had been single-minded in pursuing adoption. It would be fair to say that my heart felt like it would break if we didn’t adopt. However, after the adoption became final, and we had our energetic and engaging son in our lives, I became depressed. That confused me just as much as this. How can sadness, grief, irritation, and anger enter my life when I am striving toward something I desire?

According to an article in “The Guardian”, giving yourself time to grieve is one of the most important parts of surviving separation or divorce. “Perhaps you have not just lost a husband, but a lightbulb changer, a chauffeur – or someone who brought danger into your life. You may also have lost your sense of identity and aspirations. […] You may have had an unhappy relationship, but you have also lost a dream: the idea that you would be together forever. Never try to stop your grief – it’s a necessary reaction. Grieve with a friend that you trust – the best time to cry is when there’s someone there to hand you tissues. Not to reassure you it’s OK, but to help you get past your grief.”⁠1

Acknowledging that grief is necessary, normal, and healthy doesn’t make me feel even one iota better, but at least I’m not going crazy. Hand me a Kleenex, will you.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

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1 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/09/ease-pain-of-separation