While reminiscing with an old friend this week he mentioned memories falling into "oblivion."

He was referring to particularly painful memories.  Your brain feels attacked and hides things from itself for protection.

I could relate to this.

In fact, my writing process (for one of my books or this blog) is akin to reaching a hand into the large bag full of hidden memories in my mind.

Resurrecting humiliation, pain, or confusion is exhausting.  After I re-examine and redefine these stories, I feel like they are much less powerful and not as terrifying as they once had been.

I am so grateful to have this forum to help myself heal.

Orb-Weavers and Wholeness

This morning when I looked out onto the garden in front of our house, I spotted a spectacular dewy web strung from one lilac bush to another.  Its size was impressive, but the real beauty was in the architecture and precision.  I was also a little nervous to know what size spider could have woven this web.

I shuffled to the back of the house to open the shutters, as has become my morning routine, and was awed to find three more glistening webs, each as symmetrical and lovely as the next.

This time of summer orb-weavers have matured to full size and will be displaying their work in every corner of greenery and fencing.  Since this is our first summer in Missouri, every change in the outdoors has been exciting to watch.

I choose to see the appearance of these spider webs as a symbol to be interpreted, enriching my life and adding fun to it.  Some believe that the spider as a totem represents the ability to weave one's own destiny.  These spiders were teaching me to weave and engineer what I need in order to capture what I want.

In other words, I design my own web, including my family, my writing, my higher purpose, and how I choose to spend my time.

For the longest time I felt it wasn't okay to be me.  So that's what I do now -- I be me.

Just Walk and Write

When my thoughts are cluttered and frenzied, I rely on the simplest things to get my head above water again.

I tell myself,

 "Just walk and write."

Walking is not hard on my body.  It's doable almost every day and being outdoors is therapeutic.

Thrusting myself out of the house and leaving the noise of my brain behind can be day-saving.

Writing, especially for an audience, is a way of breaking down the most difficult and desperate things into small digestible pieces.  I reorganize these pieces in a way that makes sense to me and then share the results, or release it into the wild.

Then I don't have to hang on to it anymore.

Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle

"We were never designed for the sedentary, indoor, socially isolated, fast-food-laden, sleep-deprived, frenzied pace of modern life" 
                        - Stephen Ilardi 
                          "Depression is a Disease of Civilization"  

If you have read Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, by Robert M. Sapolsky, you may already know that constantly activating our fight-or-flight response is toxic to our bodies in the long term.  Stephen Ilardi, a depression researcher, points out that this toxic response can go on for years at a time in our Western world.  It is disruptive to neural circuits and can actually damage the brain over time.

The fight or flight response triggers an inflammatory response throughout the body.  

"An inflamed brain is a depressed brain."

We are animals, in the sense that we do not completely control our instinctive responses.  We are machines in the sense that input determines output – (food, activity, stories).

This is why Ilardi argues that "depression is a disease of lifestyle."  Our bodies are really well-adapted to the Pleistocene era lifestyle and diet, but we are living in a radically mutated world because of the Industrial Revolution.

Ilardi, Sapolsky, neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter (an author of Grain Brain) and many other researchers have begun to draw connections between common diseases that plague modern humans and inflammation caused by our diet and lifestyle.

In so many ways, homeschooling has allowed my family to lead a more primal lifestyle. 

We have more face time, more sunlight, better food choices, more physical activity, and better sleep.

It's certainly not a cure for depression, but it helps us focus on what's most important.

What Makes a Great Education?

If you had been a fly on the wall of our kitchen this week, you would have seen me hovering over my five year old son practicing writing his letters and numbers every day.

He would start from a random spot on the page, write the tail of the y first and then the short piece.  Right to left, Backwards!  He was so proud of his backwards 3s and 5s.

On the third day, within minutes I was getting tense and discouraged and my husband walked in just as I was hoarsely shouting a sing-songy mnemonic device through gritted teeth in a high-pitched voice to hide my frustration: "Always start your letters from the top!  Dah, duh dah!"

He approached me slowly like I was an explosive device at a crime scene and offered to take over. 

After I realized how impatient and embarrassing my behavior had become, I decided to be the fly on the wall.  My husband had helped my little one for a while, but soon after I could hear my 7 year old son giggling and cheering his little brother on as they wrote words together.

                        This was the perfect time for me to
            go back and read my own post on
        lessons coming back to slap me in the face. 

While I have been desperately trying to cram this sweet five-year-old into the box that all Kindergartners must inhabit, he just wants to play like his big brother and sister.  He thinks it's fun to write!  I was in the process of methodically killing that fun.

When I examined the fears beneath my desperation, I recognized my desire to prove to myself that I could continue to homeschool, and be absolutely sure that it's the best thing for each of my kids.

I have never appreciated the expression, "Just relax!"   So instead of telling myself to "just relax" I'm going to say, "for the love of peace and fun and intellectual pursuits, stop letting your fears limit what you do as a mother."

                                 Sometimes the best thing I can do
                  for my kids is get out of their way.

Fight to the Finish

The ART OF PEACE is not easy.  It is a fight to the finish, the slaying of evil desires and all falsehood within.  On occasion the Voice of Peace resounds like thunder, jolting human beings out of their stupor.
                                       The Art of Peace, by Morihei Ueshiba

To me, the "evil desires" in this fantastic quote include the tendency to easily slip into self-condemnation, to stray from the path that is best and healthiest for each of us individually, comparing our lives to someone else's, and either judging them or putting ourselves down.

After all, we are each living a unique masterpiece, complete with plot twists and supporting characters.  We cannot expect that each story will be the same as the next.

I view the collective choices we have made as a family as an ongoing effort to resist the chaotic pace that life can bring if we forget to keep at the center what is most important to us.

On a recent field trip to Laura Ingalls Wilder's farmhouse in rural Missouri, our tour guide helped us catch a glimpse of her daily life while we stood in the hearth room and sitting room of Laura and Almanzo's last home.  He said that their happiest evenings were spent together reading aloud from books, sharing popcorn, walnuts, and apples.

The house that Laura and Almanzo's daughter had built for them near the original farmhouse.

Aside from feeling like I was visiting my own personal mecca, this portrait of a family's closeness and the simplicity of their joy was enough to bring tears to my eyes. 

Before we left for our trip, my daughter had asked, "Mom, are you going to cry when we get there?"

I laughed and said, "You know I probably will."

Me in front of the farmhouse where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her novels.

We both knew that I would, at some point, become overwhelmed with joy and just shed a tear or two.  That is my watery way of acknowledging divine truth.

I figured it would be when I saw the desk where Laura wrote all the Little House on the Prairie books, with a shawl that Laura crocheted herself draped over the desk chair.

If it wasn't that, I thought surely when I heard that Laura loved dishes, just like I do...  Very cool, but no.

In fact, I held it together completely until I was standing amongst her books hearing the story of how she really preferred to just be with her family, sharing stories.

In that moment, it hit me that my daughter knew why this place would be so special for us to see.

She has been learning that being together as a family, knowing where you come from, and speaking your truth are all vital to happiness.

Excuse me while I get some more tissues.

Life as a Masterpiece

If you have ever watched a French film and thought, "Nothing is happening in this movie!!!" you were probably not yet aware of the beauty of negative space.

As a French language student, I watched my fair share of French films.  For a long time, I struggled to understand the silence and the lack of movement or dialogue.

I had studied the "holes" in great literature and negative space in design.  I had experienced the excitement of a pause in music or rhythm that implied something significant was to follow.  It took me a much longer time to apply this concept to movies, and then to my own life.

Viewing a lifetime as a perfectly composed work of art gives us an equally interesting perspective.  For example, sometimes the most exquisite parts of life are made up of what is not said, goals not achieved, and the moments in between breaths and heartbeats.

In my early 30s, when depression was choking me, I was given a moment of inspiration.  I imagined myself 50 years in the future looking back on my life.  How beautiful I would seem to my aged self -- How exciting  it would be to know what adventures lay ahead -- How lucky I would feel to have those moments with loved ones again.

I would easily be able to define periods of reflection and relative calm, crescendos, pinnacles of joy, decrescendos, and the times when I lost sight of this varied landscape and had no hope.

The marvelous richness of the human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome.  The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse. 
-Helen Keller

Compassionate Detachment

This term is one I wish I'd applied my entire life.  It would have given me a way to care for people without getting emotionally tangled up in their messes.

One of my least favorite expressions has always been, "Don't take things so personally!"  It seemed cold and uncompassionate.  I would think, "How could I not take this personally?"  I did not have proper boundaries separating me from people I loved and even from people I had just met.  

Yet compassionate detachment is one of the most important things to know and practice as a teacher, a parent, or in any job that involves caring for others.

When I was a middle school teacher, a colleague sensed I was burning out after only 2 years of teaching.  She gave me advice that I have only recently come to fully understand.

She said that she saw my enthusiasm and my desire to teach authentically and show genuine care for my students.  She was a woman whom I greatly admired --a little mysterious, a magnificent and graceful presence.  She paused, took my hand in hers and looked me straight in the eyes.

She said, "You need to share your light 
without giving them your oil."

Either I couldn't have comprehended the meaning of that advice or subconsciously, I was protecting myself from realizing that I had been giving away my oil all along, and suffering needlessly because of it.

I left that job at the end of the school year.  It pained me.  It was a wonderful place to work full of people I respected.  I wanted to start a family and knew that if I was already spreading myself too thin, there was no way I could do both and keep my sanity.

I could say that I regret that decision, but truly -- I have spent every moment since I left that job growing up and learning how to be.

For more on learning how to be:

                               Did you know the Dalai Lama has a webpage?

The verses of "Training the Mind" can be found there.  A humble summary follows:

No sentient being is above another. 

Caring for others is a divine source of joy.

"We also have strong love for these people, but often this love or compassion is grounded in self-referential considerations: "So-and-so is my friend," "my spouse," "my child," and so on. What happens with this kind of love or compassion, which may be strong, is that it is tinged with attachment because it involves self-referential considerations. Once there is attachment there is also the potential for anger and hatred to arise. Attachment goes hand in hand with anger and hatred. For example, if one's compassion toward someone is tinged with attachment, it can easily turn into its emotional opposite due to the slightest incident. Then instead of wishing that person to be happy, you might wish that person to be miserable."
                            from the Eight Verses of Training the Mind, and commentary by His Holiness the 
                            Dalai Lama that was given on November 8, 1998 in Washington D.C. 

So, when I run across a caregiver burdened with guilt, sorrow, and anxiety on behalf of others, I can hope that he too will stop giving his oil.  Instead, may he keep his oil to let his light burn even more brightly.

To Heidi:      Thank you for planting that seed.  I will always be grateful.