Shell

 

August 17, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

When house shopping, people ask you — “But did the house have good bones?” I love metaphor but I have a really hard time seeing the bones of a house when they are covered up. Let’s say the bones are the things that hold the house together; they create a structure to wrap the sinew of our lives around.

This week, after months of laborious work alongside of loving friends and family, our spacious home emptied completely over a three-day period.

Movers came and carried out our boxed-up and wrapped possessions.

Mom came and helped me re-purpose (more) items to Goodwill and to random strangers.

We loaded a truck of all the miscellaneous crap and recyclables that were no good to anyone and headed to the dump. (This was the fourth and final trip to the dump over the months long process.)

We took two car loads of stuff to a friend’s garage so that I can fill the kitchen and organize the office in our new house next week, before the moving truck arrives.

And all through these three days we cleaned. I touched each and every surface of the house as if preparing a daughter or son for marriage. Tender loving care.

Yesterday my mom and I careened through every room—touching up and making sure we had everything. Our remaining goods poured out the front door, draining the house  of our essence.

I met my first hermit crab years ago when my kids went to preschool, guided by the creature-loving, animal whispering Mrs. Dobler. Hermit crabs are crustaceans but have a soft and vulnerable abdomen that they need to protect – at all times – by carrying around and living in a vacated seashell. As they grow they abandon one shell and move to another. Theirs is a physical growth but I would suggest that we humans need to do this too, change shells as we grow.

As our house moved from a living home to a shell that had held us, the sound inside changed from whispered memories, to creaks of relief as the burden lifted, to the hollow echo of a seashell.

It reshaped under my hand like a sculpture that takes its own form. Not my plan, some master plan.

Late in the day we walked through the house with our realtor before closing the doors for good. I felt pride in the care I had taken to prepare this shell for the next hermit crab. I felt sad walking through the emptiness with the person whose life I had shared there. Leaving the house was like the ending to the end of our marriage; a waxed seal irrevocably sealing our separation.

There can be no doubt that the waxed seal, empty shell, and strong bones signify an ending. It hurts and I think I will stay here for awhile. But my new home is being transformed into a shell right now, and soon we will fill it up and rattle the bones of it.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

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Spirited

August 7, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

Sometimes traits that are valued in others are the hardest ones to live with when they show up in your significant other. It could be said that I am a challenge to live with.

When my siblings and I were young, the word spirited referred to a plucky horse, a full-swing party, or a lively debate — but not to children, especially a shy one.

The term “spirited child” was coined in 1992, with Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s eye-opening book, “Raising Your Spirited Child”. In 1997 I married a man with two children, at least one of whom was spirited. I would graze the words in Kurcinka’s book as if they were the appetizers I needed to make it through to supper.

The word spirit comes from the latin word spiritus, which means:

breath,

spirit,

soul,

courage,

vigour.

Sounds like something to aspire to, doesn’t it?

However, “the word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is the word more. They are normal children who…..possess [certain characteristics] with a depth and range not available to other children.”  –Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Raising Your Spirited Child

Spiritedness has to do with temperament—an inborn (not learned) behavioural style. It conveys MORE in the areas of activity, intensity, irregularity, moodiness, perception, persistence, sensitivity, and adaptability to change. I don’t remember what I was like as a child except that I did get sent to my room for my big emotions . . . on occasion.

As an adult, I am MORE in almost all of those areas.

A few nights ago I played a rousing game of cards with my cottage neighbour and her daughter, my daughter, and their friend (two adults and three 15-year-olds). A night or two earlier my teenagers had said, “You don’t even like cards, do you mom?” HORRIFIED, I  stared at them, and then in my Minnie Mouse voice I said, “I love cards.” Then, I went to bed.

But the next time they asked, I showed up. Big time. (Embarrassingly BIG)

Adults who have known me since my twenties would immediately recognize the arrival of my spirited self at the card table, or on the dance floor, or in the kitchen. But the more recent additions: my children, their friends, and my new friends have rarely seen the intense side of me. She has been hidden for a long time, which brings me (finally) to the point of my letter Cherished Heart.

For what feels like A Hundred Years I have justified the self-imposed gagging of my MORE in the name of being GROWN UP. Hear me loud and clear . . . That Was A Mistake.

Through working and being a responsible employee; through marriage and being a loving wife; through parenting and being a dependable mom; through friendship and being a reliable friend—I gave up the essence of myself.

WHY?

I thought there was something wrong with me; and I tried to make it right.

Sometimes we change so slowly, it is as if we are only losing dead skin—but then the pain of walking around without skin finally hits and we must make a change.

My partner-in-marriage seemed completely able to accept my flaws and imperfections over our many years together; it was my gifts he had a harder time with. And so I behaved in ways that were MORE tolerable.

Sometime in the last decade I watched the movie called, “A Walk on the Moon”. It was set in 1969, the period of history which claims Woodstock, and also the first moon landing. In the movie, the female lead—a married woman on summer holidays with her family—has an affair with the “Blouse man”.

There is much going on. Love. Risk. Faith. Family. Rules. Change. Loss. Reckoning.

The husband finds out about the affair. Eventually, the wife chooses to stay with her husband. There is a scene near the end that sticks in my head (I purposely did not check the internet for accuracy)— The wife is trying to explain her actions to her husband on the porch of the summer cottage. The radio is playing. When she tells him how much she has had to change herself within the marriage, I could feel the pain on the edges of her words. The husband says something like, “But I never asked you to change.”

Those words hit me hard.  Are we supposed to change FOR others; are we supposed to live to an IDEAL the other holds; are we supposed to be THANKFUL for all that we have, and bury the dead?

I knew I had changed; I could see and feel the missing parts like apparitions in-waiting.

What I realized after the card game, and as I slowly see the spiritedness return throughout my life, is that he never asked me to change, but he also didn’t welcomed all-of-me to stay.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

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

Composting Death

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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

Dancing Dream

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Feb. 17, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

Happily. Ever. After . . .

doesn’t always look like you think it will.

I have loved to move-my-body-to-music ever since I can remember. But I didn’t realize there was a beat until my much cooler sister Tobi helped me to find, and feel it. She sat with me on the near-royal blue shag carpet in our living room listening to the radio. She clapped out the beat for me and I imitated her, in the same way I later copied my french language teacher, “Écoutez, et répéter”. 

It may sound straight forward, but I had particular challenges in the area of clapping or moving to the beat of any song. My sister took it back a notch. We went onto the driveway, or maybe the sidewalk, and she stood in front of me like a mirror. As she stepped with her left foot, I stepped with my right, and we practiced step-together-step until I could synchronize with her. Then we added music.

My memory tells me I was around ten years old, and she therefore, eleven. I shadowed her dance moves all of my teenage life; sneaking into clubs with her when she came of age. My sister moved on the dance floor in a way that made EVERYONE feel the music. She continues to be the most expressive, hip, and in-and-out of sync dancer I have known. Fully committed.

We grew up with music. My parents played in a dance band when we were young: my dad on guitar and back-up vocals, and my mom on keyboard and voice. The whole band practiced at our house in a specially designed, fully carpeted room. I mean floor-to-ceiling gold shag carpet.

Music and movement pervaded my life, and it continues to lead me to places that breath and stillness cannot. I have grown into a satisfactory, if not fine, dancer.

On December 21st I went to a fundraising concert that my friend Carolyn organized in support of Discovery House. I had a few of my bestest and most favorite people with me: my mom, Kristin, Faven, Laurèn, and Yohannes. While listening to Tenille, a Canadian singer and songwriter, sing and tell stories, I felt certain that each member of my family would be as moved as me. They enjoyed the concert, the stories, the bake sale, and our time together—but it was a spot-light moment for me. The light of wisdom in that twenty-two-year-old singer fell upon me. I felt the pivot of the moment like a sharp turn, but I had no idea what it meant. I leaned forward and listened as she sang “Dare to Be”. I cannot remember her exact words after she finished, but the essence was to follow your dreams no matter what your age.

Enter La La Land. I want to tell you about the whole movie but I can’t—you need to see it for yourself. It might be fanciful, or it might be brilliant. You will love it, or hate it. I don’t know. For me, musicals are my all time favourite…add dancing, romance, and comedy, and I’m happy.

The female lead, is (among other things) a story teller—like Tenille—and like me. It is stories that create the fabric of our lives, regardless of vocation. The pivotal moment that occurred at the Tenille concert continued at the movie, not surprisingly, in a song. “Here’s to the ones who dream / Foolish as they may seem / Here’s to the hearts that ache / Here’s to the mess we make”⁠1

I am all that.

Happily ever after cannot be found in a person, a place, or a thing. But as we create stories with other people, they are woven into the fabric of our lives. The people and the experiences are not the most important part of the dream. It is courage and belief in one’s own strength that propels a person toward what they seek.

I had a dream that included love, and marriage, and family. But it is not the only dream I’ve had, nor the only story I am here to tell.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

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1 La La Land

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

Who Am I

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January 29, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

It is easy, if NOT accurate, to figure out who you are when you are immersed in an activity-defining role.

I was a child.

I became a teenager, a student, a girlfriend, a high school graduate.

In my twenties, I changed into a respiratory therapist, a clinical instructor, a supervisor, a policy maker, an advocate. I lived with independence. I protected my heart. I hurt others.

At thirty-one I got married. I became a wife without even feeling a shift; I had been heading there the whole time.

Through twenty-one years in relationship I believed I had maintained my independence despite shelving many elements of my self. But the moment we separated—unhitching my person from my husband’s felt like an emotional amputation. My heart split, my lungs compressed, and my mind—a silent soliloquy of blame, sadness, and confusion—burst with thoughts. The what-ifs and the Oh-my-Gods swept through me like stolen breath.

In a single moment, I no longer knew who I was or what my purpose in life could possibly be. So resolutely had I attached myself to my role as wife that nothing seemed possible without the anchor of marriage. Nothing.

I felt as though I had single-handedly broken up the dream we ALL had of family. Sitting in the melodrama of failure and shame is not an ideal place from which to recognize truth, opportunity, or strength.

Months later, THIS month, I arrived in California for my annual seasonal break. Through reading, writing, and walking I hoped to refresh myself, and maybe reboot my system in order to get in touch with who I AM now. It’s strange to be so uncertain at this age and stage of my life. I have focused on the needs of my family for a long time. My role as parent is intact, but changed. While my husband’s life goes on, mine seems to have paused…not pleasantly, but uncomfortably—in the midst of Triangle Pose or Warrior 3.

I brought the book, “the untethered soul” with me to California. The initial sections dealt with the exact question I had: Who am I? It reads like a philosophical conundrum—“Who hears when you hear? Who sees when you see? Who watches the dreams? Who looks at the image in the mirror? Who is it that is having all of these experiences?⁠1

The answer of course is ME. Moreover, we cannot define ourselves as wife, mother, worker, or friend because to do so would be to say that we can not exist before or after marriage, children, and so forth.

That’s a little esoteric for me. I yearn to know myself in order to live more authentically—I want to be true to myself, so that I can show up. In. My. Life.

The role of wife was something I long imagined fitting into. When I chose to step away from it, I inadvertently lost my compass point. I don’t know where true north is. I still feel the magnetic pull to connect with my husband when we are apart. Text. Call. Check in. Problem-solve. Talk. Align.

I am a runner with no finish line, a boat without a moor, a person without her person.

The magnet has merely moved. The ocean. The beach. The hills. Nature.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

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1 Michael A. Singer, the untethered soul