What It's Like to Write a Novel

I set a goal to finish a novel during the month of November, which is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Most people set a goal of 50,000 words, but I thought, "I'm not most people. I'm going to write the whole dang thing in 4 weeks. Yeehaw!"

This afternoon I am taking a break to reflect on the process (and because I am seriously frustrated with my work).


Days 1-8: 

I can find inspiration everywhere. Often, I'll be talking to someone and I'll run away in the middle of the conversation to jot down a note. I am filled with hope and fire, locked into the golden chain of writers through time. I am doing this.


Day 9:  12,884 words of 85,000 word goal

I am agitated. My skin is crawling and my head is full of contradictions.

The golden ratio, government, biblical parables, language, and the art I am trying to produce are all a result of human brains seeking patterns, order, comfort, entertainment, validation, and reason.

Man                           Woman
Visceral                     Intellectual
Spiritual                     Evidence-Based
Child                          Adult

These are all relative terms based on the reality each of our minds have mapped by pinging thoughts repeatedly against cultural norms, history, politics, religion, pop culture. It's exhausting to know what you think about something. Are these polarities just an illusion?

We are self-aware specks, each educated and shaped to different breadths and depths, at unique points in the space-time continuum.

Here I sit on my front porch like a grain of sand on a beach trying to draw out some universal truth and to tell a story about 2 other grains of sand which are purely imaginary, but still a reflection of my deepest desires and fears.


Day 10:

Now that I have written all the words I don't want in my book, I can start writing the real story.



Word Count - 4  :)

A Saying That Bugs Me


This phrase floats around social media a lot:

Don't look to the past, you can't go back there. 
Look ahead. That's where you're going.

Or you might have seen:


Looking backwards is pointless because you can't change it.



I had trouble identifying exactly why this didn't sit well with me at first.  

I look into the past All The Time. It's where I remember old loves, regrets, obsessions, and victories. My history makes me who I am. Even though it's jumbled and twisty, if I don't look back and honor it, I'm missing the chance to learn about myself. 

(The past is where I dig up juicy details for my fiction, too!)


I think if you don't look back, and with the right lens:



  • You can't recognize destructive patterns in your behavior.


  • You won't see how you broke generational curses, habits, and cycles.


  • You can't honor the people who supported you even though you didn't know it at the time.


  • You might be walking forward, but your life isn't what it could be because you haven't allowed yourself to heal and forgive.



Everyone has the closet full of " mental junk" (mistakes, victimhood, deceit, etc.) It might be well hidden, or even neatly organized, but it's there either feeding your fears and guilt, or defining your smart choices.


I realize that if you are focused too much on the past or too much on the future, you can't be fully present now. So if I'm going to put my own description out there:




Time is tricky. The words "past, present, and future" imply that our lives are linear. Instead, imagine you're floating above the landscape of your soul in a hot air balloon. You can see hills and valleys and various stories attached to each of them. The stories were recorded through your innocent childhood, this moment, or in other times we can't yet grasp. Together they form who you are, no matter when in your education you experienced them. They have meaning only because we assign it to them. How we choose to view our experiences- is life.




I'm guessing there will also be a time/place in our soul's existence where we have a greater understanding of what things actually look like, and my hot air balloon analogy will not suffice either.








One Year Ago

My brother died almost one year ago. I wrote this open letter a few months after his death because it helped me put words to the heartache.



An Open Letter to the Pet Store Guy:

On a cold, rainy evening in February I left the house needing to escape little voices and the four walls that I see all day.  My husband walked in from work with a content Friday evening smile.  He saw that I was itching to go. He dropped his lunch box on the counter and said, “It’s okay.” I slipped into running shoes and a hoodie, grabbed my purse and slammed the door to the garage before anyone could say goodbye. 

It wasn’t until after I backed out of the driveway and took a deep breath that I decided to go shopping. When I pulled up to my strip mall of choice, I spotted the pet store just between the craft store and Target. I was drawn in through the automatic doors to the smell of dog shampoo and grassy animal food products. 

My old Chihuahua needed a new bed and I could have just grabbed the fluffy red one with paw prints on it, but I didn’t. I wound my way around the other pets, hands trembling, mind racing. Birds?  Pretty, startling and noisy. Rodents? Not happening. Fish? Buried several of those already. Gecko?  Probably not. Tortoise…? 

I couldn’t leave without asking to pick him up. I realized how strange it must have sounded that I wanted to nuzzle the tortoise. They aren’t snuggly. This one was handsome, though. He caught my eye and I couldn’t tear myself away. I didn’t even have to break eye contact with him while I waved over the nearest pet store employee. 

“Hi, I’m Dylan!” you said.

“Hi, can you tell me more about this tortoise?”  I asked. 

You pretended not to notice that I was probably manic, distressed, and wild-eyed. You just lifted the tortoise out of his tank and introduced us. 

“He’s really social. I even like to let him walk around at night while I’m closing up the store. 
They’re pretty smart. You’ll be able to tell that he recognizes your face after a while.”

I gasped a little gasp, took him from you, and talked to him like a baby. You did not even make fun of me. That totally made my night.

 “I don’t think I can leave without him,” I decided.

“Okay, let’s get you set up!”

Not only did you kindly support me in my need to fill an empty place in my heart, you were genial and funny, too.

I know that your work in the pet store means you probably love animals. Your job description most likely doesn’t include providing sanctuary to someone who doesn’t know what life is supposed to be about sometimes.

You couldn’t have known that I had lost my little brother a few months before, and that it had been long enough after the funeral that people weren’t expecting me to be grieving anymore; or that I desperately wished I could go back to the time when Paul and I sat and played with our turtle feeding him strawberries and watching his tiny little beak open and chomp down on them.

You couldn’t have understood that after that time together our parents divorced, Paul was caught in the middle, and I wasn’t there to help him. Since I had left for college, I felt like I had abandoned him and my sister.

In truth, after Paul and I giggled over the turtle that afternoon, we only saw each other a few more times. He had a son. He joined the Marines, got married, and then moved to Texas. Something between us had been disconnected.

You certainly couldn’t have felt the acute pain I felt when I saw on Facebook one afternoon in October that Paul had been in an accident and that everyone should pray for him. I didn’t know how serious it was until my dad called to tell me that Paul was gone. He had been working on cable lines over a busy highway and called in an emergency. He and his co-worker had noticed one of the lines was dangerously frayed. They had done all the safety checks. Still, the wire that bundled all the other wires together snapped while he was holding it with both hands. The circuit was completed and his heart failed instantly.

Mr. Pet store guy, you guarded my heart. It was a chance to remember my brother as a happy, unburdened young man, before so many regrets, judgments and finalities. Don’t ever underestimate your kind smile and your acceptance of broken people who walk into your store with empty arms.

Not only were you my hero that night, I was the hero of the family when I brought home a cardboard box with air holes and the words “LIVE ANIMAL” written on the side.  For a moment my husband had fear in his eyes and the kids were all jumping up and down waiting to see what I had brought home in the pet store box. 

I never would have guessed that my sons and daughter would have sat right down and fed him some big crunchy romaine lettuce leaves together, giggling and unburdened.  That was the best kind of healing.

Sincerely,
Rachel (the lady who was pretending not to cry in the reptile aisle a few weeks ago)


P.S.  We named the tortoise Digger.  He loves to walk around in the garden with me and eat the weeds while I pretend to be doing “gardening things.”  Really, I’m just watching him amble around rocks and plants, giggling and unburdened.

Tolerance for Uncertainty






Transmutation: changing the state of being into another form


Transcendence: rising above usual limits


Transcription: making a physical copy of spoken words


Transliteration: writing words in the characters of another alphabet


Transfiguration: changing into an exalted, glorified, spiritual state





As a child I was certain that I was one of Heavenly Father’s chosen souls.

When I broke with that belief, I was certain that "God" was a concept people used to give their minds structure and ease their ego’s need for boundaries, and nothing more.

Victor Frankl, Carl Sagan, Nietzsche, Simone Weil, and so many great thinkers have talked about a human’s tendency to assign meaning. I am detached from dogma, but still have a need to believe there is a miraculous unifying force beyond my understanding. 

This is an antidote for a broken heart and depression's poison. It is the burning in my chest when I release the need for structure and rely only on my instincts. I step beyond my everyday awareness and constructed reality to find expansive light and healing.

Now I am comfortable in my uncertainty. I have hope for things unseen.


Become as little children

To have a child's attention is a special thing. They only give you their attention if you deserve it. They are intuitive, direct, and hilarious to us hemmed-in adults. This refreshing behavior can get them into trouble in the wrong settings, but I think they are divine little poets most of the time.

In the same way, to write something people want to read, you have to think like a child, unburdened by ego. You have to tune your antenna just right so you can find the heart of things.







Scribe

I talked to two old friends this week who made interesting comments about the blog. It reminded me how far I have come in my understanding of the writing process.

One friend (a literature-lover and a person who is impeccable with her word) said she hoped to get to a place where she felt like she could write as openly as she wanted. I know there is a masterful novel in her. I will patiently wait until her thoughts "compost" as Natalie Goldberg would say. It is absolutely true that you have to write through several layers of ego and pain and victimhood before you can allow the good stuff to channel through you.

Another friend hadn't talked to me in years and stumbled across my blog. He admitted that he was startled by the openness. I said, "Oh, right!" and I laughed at the thought that I was making people a little uncomfortable. Sometimes I forget that I have shared deeply personal pieces of my story and worked through big life questions right on this blog. 

To be honest, I still sweat and second-guess myself a little each time I hit "Publish". Sometimes I will reread a story later and feel incredibly happy that it was mine. Other posts are really just compost, but they are just as valuable. They are part of the process and...

I am a real person to whom writing is as important as breathing.

Writing is how I tell people I love them. It is also how I remind myself that I am worthy of love.




"I feel good because I don't care that she sees how I really am. I'm glad. I want someone to know me. We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us." 

                               -Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Pa's Little Queen

Memaw and Pa lived in an old house at the end of Honey Lane. Pa’s old Cadillac was always parked in the grass near the shed. Their dog King was the first to greet visitors. He'd run up to the car so fast, you'd worry he'd be dead when you opened your car door.

Every old country house in Coffee County, Tennessee had that kind of dog - the kind of dog that lived outside, killed animals, and bayed for 15 minutes before anyone else could hear the tires coming down the gravel road. This also gave Pa time to put down his Bible, get out of his recliner, put on his hat, and walk out to meet you.

Holidays meant that we all gathered at their house. After hours of being trapped in the car, I would tear up the path to hug him. He would say nothing. He would put his hand in the pocket of his Wranglers and pull out a bunch of change. He’d look at me in the eyes to see what I’d do. After considering which coin was the shiniest and prettiest, I’d reach into his over-sized hand with both of my little hands and scoop up all the money.

He would hoot with laughter and say, “That’s Pa’s Little Queen!”

He loved this role play as much as he enjoyed the fact that I had won the title of Beauty Queen at age 4, 6 years before that when we lived in Tyler, Texas. I sang "Jesus Loves Me" for my talent. Apparently, it was the clincher.



Their large covered porch looked out over their crops, the watermelon patch, more hills, and large sweeping trees. Since my dad and many of his siblings drove in from other states, we would all sleep there and wake up to biscuits, gravy, sausage and eggs. You could eat in the steamy, cozy kitchen with Memaw in her dressing gown, her stove, and her boisterous laugh. This meant you would get first pick of the food. 

Or you could eat on the back porch and watch the mist disappear over the hills. I think I hovered over the threshold between the warm kitchen and the back porch because they were both so inviting. After breakfast the kids would find mud to stomp in, dig around in the basement for dusty board games, or try and convince Pa to take them fishing.

When I’d normally be doing homework in my room back in the Chicago suburbs, riding my bike to the 7-11, or be on my way to and from gymnastics practice, in Tennessee I touched worms, went barefoot, ate constantly, and laughed until my guts hurt.

There was always so much pie. I’m sure there were other kinds of wonderful food, but I loved all the pie. Unrestrained, giggling, and breathing heavily I would sneak under the bar where all the desserts lived just asking to be eaten. I’d slowly work up an innocent smile and ask for a piece of this or that. My Aunt Sherry who was always nearby would look at me like I was the hungriest saddest child on Earth and declare that I must have some pie. This was the same aunt who saw my little brother eat one bite out of every donut in a fresh box and loved every second of it.

After a day of talking and cleaning up from one meal and starting another, we would all gravitate to the back porch. With full bellies, the adults would sit and tell stories. The older kids, who weren’t on their mommas’ laps would scramble for seats near the door. After a while of hearing the regular stories, there would come a rare silence. I would hold my breath and wait.

The pregnant pause was followed by Pa’s thunderous voice. It boomed and crackled. It was rich and powerful. When Pa launched into a sermon you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. He had been an evangelist for most of his life.  He had traveled far and wide with his children singing behind him. Like any good Southern preacher he would sweat and wipe his brow with a handkerchief. That’s when you knew it was about to get really good.

His Bible was a part of him. He stood on it. (He loved to talk about standing on the Word of God and the congregation nearly exploded with Hallelujahs when he did this.) He pumped it up over his head toward God and waved it around in the air. His presence filled any space no matter the size. So one can imagine that the old house at the end of Honey Lane would brim over with the Holy Ghost pretty quickly.  He shouted and cried. He was magnificent.

One of my favorite sermons is mostly lost in my memory. On this particular evening, my cousins and I had stolen away down the gravel road while the adults started their prayer meeting. When we wandered back to the house, we could hear the speaking in tongues and feel the vibration of all the voices shouting “Amen!” to Brother Glen’s sermon before we could even see the glow from all the lights on the back porch.

As we crept into the house, it was strangely quiet. I slipped in behind a recliner and listened. Something Pa said stuck with me. He talked about having a dream of an eagle soaring over a mountaintop. He called it Monteagle. At this point in my life, I was already pretty sure that Pa talked to Jesus. When he started telling the story, it sounded like a beautiful poetry reading more than a pro-wrestler shouting down his opponent.

Pa’s voice was hushed and his eyes filled with tears. His face was turned up to the ceiling as if he was seeing the eagle above him as he told the story. I wish I could remember the words, but perhaps they were not as important as the truth I felt. Pa lived in his own beautiful world ruled and protected by a terrifying and redeeming God. The only thing he could have possibly done with his life was share that vision with anyone who would listen.

When monotony or lack of passion threaten to put out my light now as an adult, I think of the eagle flying overhead. I am immediately drawn up into it – able to see the entire landscape of my life as a beautiful story unfolding. I feel infinite peace and remember that I am Pa’s Little Queen.

Glensel Edmon Siler, a.k.a "Pa"

What does it mean to "Expect Joy"?


After talking with a reader recently, I realized that the definition of "happiness" differs from person to person.  As a seeker of joy and how to live in it, I wanted to explore that more.

To me, joy means being able to flow with what daily life brings you with relative evenness.


Living in Joy does not mean:
  • You will never face challenges.
  • You will always be smiling and zen.
  • You will handle every situation gracefully.


In my life, Joy is:
  • Understanding that when bad things happen, it isn't personal.
  • Not holding grudges against myself when I mess up.
  • Not holding grudges against other people when they mess up.
  • Digging underneath ugly emotions to figure out why I have them.
  • Always growing in lightness, and if I can't quite get there, as my Kundalini Yoga mentor puts it, "Leaning in the direction" is good enough.

  • Finally, joy is not always about fun. Sometimes joy is the result of something incredibly challenging.




You may have noticed that "Execting Joy" is the most repeated tag phrase throughout this blog. That is purposeful. Everything I share is born out my expectation that it will somehow grow joy.

"Expecting Joy" is a mindset.  It is a matter of trusting yourself to act from the centered truth.

The Flow, the Spirit, and the Teacher's Mantle

I got the call that every family tree keeper dreams about:

"Aunt Rachel, will you tell us about our family tree?"





I dropped everything and started shaping their particular branch of the family tree into a visual that would help my nieces understand their family through the last few hundred years.

It is no secret that I adore old photos, old stories, and the connections they reveal. I have learned that I am mostly German/English with the tiniest sliver of Cherokee (1/512 to be exact). It's even more illuminating to see how the patterns of world history related to my ancestors' immigration.

As I sifted through timelines and details, I pulled out a few individuals to highlight in our discussion.

I also put together a very "school-teachery" packet of all the printouts so they could have something to take home.

In trying to summarize the stories, I pulled out a common theme: people seeking religious freedom.


When I sat down with the girls, I showed them a zoomed out picture of all the people that came together at just the right time to lead to them.  With an arrow inserted at the time of the Civil War and the American Revolution to place their relatives in our country's history.

We talked about the Mennonites that stood against the Catholic Church and were expelled from country after country when they wouldn't agree to fight in wars. We tried to imagine together something that was so oppressive and important to them that they would pick up and move to a different land.

I also mentioned that when they were talking to their own nieces in 30 years they could mention all the sacrifices our ancestors made for their freedom.

Never before had I felt so distinctly the teacher's mantle come upon me. Ancestry research in general, and sharing my findings with others in particular put me right into the flow*, but this feeling was something greater than both those states of being.

It was the essence of my spirit and The Spirit singing the meaning of life. I envisioned an enormous wedge of family since the beginning of family, all pointing at my beautiful nieces. In the same breath I saw their own descendants stretching out infinitely from them. This meeting of two vast triangles come together at this moment in time.

Just like the lower chakras and the upper chakras can be represented as two triangles touching at their tips right at the heart center, or even as the Star of David (the poetic representation of our connection to God), these sweet children are the heart of our family right now.

Family is Now.






*The Flow - term coined by Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi referring to the state of being where time passes without notice because a person is so engrossed in their task

BLOGS!


When I hear: "Everyone has a blog now." I nod my head and say, "Yes!" in an excited way because this is a good thing.



5 Reasons Blogs are Important


1.  Blogs are the democratization of writing. 

2.  They represent an independent spirit.

3.  It means people are brave enough to put themselves out there.  Bloggers either believe in their message enough to craft it into art, or they want to celebrate their families and share their special moments with others.

4.  They can awaken both writer and reader to a better life.

5.  Some blogs are the needed boost to push a writer on to something greater.





     
For me, writing is essential to every part of my existence. I write to function in basic ways -- to balance out unpredictable mood swings and primal outbursts. It helps me to know my own mind. It is a meditative practice in which each feeling and urge is broken down into its tiniest components. This helps me overcome brutish instincts and feed the more enlightened parts of myself.

        I write to stop time and for the safety of my memories.  I take comfort in the ritual of preserving the agonizing or joyful moments that stand out to me.  Anxiety and paranoia force a mind to repeatedly endure trauma and magnify its pain. Writing helps me look deeper into the scene to perceive it differently. I can bring greater focus to happy milestones that seem to get fuzzier each time I recall them, as well. In this way, recording the tiniest details of an event creates a work of art to be appreciated later in life.  It can also pinpoint precise moments in time that a person’s life shifts.

I write to use my voice. I cannot  and should not try to control other people. Loved ones who shrink from conversations and hide from pain may not ever change, speak, or listen. I will most likely never have the chance to ask them crucial questions and convey my outrage, or compassion, or love for them. Writing these feelings takes them out of my mind’s treadmill and releases them to angels whose job it is to carry away such burdens. I write to be heard and understood on my terms. The act of writing allows me to create my own sense of belonging regardless of how my family may treat me.

        I write to remind myself that my brain is capable of intelligent thought. A well-planned grocery list is a beautiful thing, but it is completed out of necessity. My writing is not for anyone else'e nutrition, cleanliness, or safety, but it feeds the parts of me that keep me both grounded and connected to the divine. It is just for the original me, not the wife, or the Mommy, or the "me" I put on sometimes as a front. It reminds me that even though I have sacrificed a traditional career for my children, I still have all the raw materials to be an inspiring woman outside of my family.

         Most importantly, I write to more purposefully shape the world into a loving place. I  choose to reveal the light that is here instead of shrinking into the darkness. The best way for me to make that light known is with carefully chosen words. Arranged in just the right order, those words can wake people up and wrap them in a loving embrace.



"What is God's Religion?"

This was a question my daughter asked me.  I hugged her tight and said, "Exactly."


She had been watching me hunched over scriptures, watching documentaries, and researching Christianity for quite a while.  We discussed some history, but of course she wanted to know: 

"Who's right?"


My answer to her was, "You are."



I have so many questions about religion, spirituality, and people's picture of God. I'm not troubled by the questions or not having the answers, because I will always seek truth and listen for it. 

These are some of the fascinating tidbits I picked up in my research:


1)     Did you know that some people believe that Yaweh has a wife, Ashera? It is written on ancient scrolls found in the Egyptian desert in the 1940s.  These stories also suggest that the divine masculine and divine feminine together form God.

Scholars guess that this picture of a Heavenly family was commonly accepted in the early days of Christianity, but since it didn't fit with the message the men in power at the time wanted to craft, those scriptures were left out of the canon. It would have been easier to maintain control over the masses by painting a picture of a wrathful God to be feared, and by marginalizing women.  Those sneaky females already bore children and beguiled men.  They must have seemed pretty scary to the men in charge.

Did you know that it has been hard for me to accept that there is one Heavenly Father and that's all? Because who am I then, but an offshoot, or an "other"? In my mind there is definitely a Heavenly Mother.  She is a missing piece from my story.



2)     The Greek translation for Armageddon is "a revealing" or "an unveiling"?

Beautiful.

How It Really Felt to Send My Kids Back to Public School

At first I thought there was no way I'd post anything about the first few weeks of school.  I knew what an intensely emotional time it would be.  Then I remembered that this is what I'm good at.

I show people my "crazy" so they can understand themselves.  This is the reality of sending kids to school in our culture.


Day 1:

8 AM -  I am sick-to-my-stomach nervous as I walk the kids to their classrooms.

9 AM - My dog is very confused because I am pleading with him to get out of his crate and let me hold him.  He lays his old gray snout in my hands while I cry a little.

9:30 AM - I am overwhelmed with emotions, so I decide to write this.

NOON - Several people call and text to ask me how I'm doing.  Sometimes I tell a white lie and say, "Pretty good!"  Sometimes I say, "I am freaking out!"

1 PM - I play Wii for an hour in the basement because I can use the good remote and I don't have to share.

2 PM - I am sweaty and decide to stick my head in the freezer.

2:15 PM - I have eaten a carton of ice cream.

2:30 - I realize that I can watch t.v. shows...on the couch...uninterrupted, but it feels strange to just do one thing, so I simultaneously play on my phone and start making a list of things to do tomorrow.

3:15 - I begin to wonder how long I will wait for the kids to get home before I call the school, or police, or National Guard.

3:30 - I see them walking toward the house and I shout in an unnaturally high tone, "You're Home!"

3:30-8:30  My head spins as I try to take in all the stories and papers and new rules.

9 PM - Michael and I sit down and hold hands and just breathe.



Day 2:

This is awesome!  I have so much stuff that I have been wanting to do!

I go to the grocery store by myself.

I see all our old homeschool books piled up on the shelves and it stabs my heart.  I stuff it down.

I paint some walls.

I relish the clean, quiet space that my house can be.

The day seems to pass very quickly.

The kids get home.  They bicker and jab at each other for hours.  I want to cry because they are tired and they smell weird and I can't believe how much they've changed in 2 days... And I don't want any of these people in my house.

Josie tells me that she got reprimanded on the playground for sitting near a door.  The monitor said, "You should know better.  You're in 5th grade."  She had no idea what she had done.

I can see that she is beginning to lose trust in the adults around her.  I imagine her smoking cigarettes in 7th grade, sneaking out to party in high school,... This was a HUGE mistake.  I traded away our freedom and happiness and bought into the MAN's evil plan to indoctrinate our children.  I will lose my children to the hateful world!

Michael gets home and his look says, "Are you riding the runaway train in your head again?"

We laugh and I realize it has only been 2 days.  We will all need more time to adjust.




The First Week of School

Our kids have been in school for several days now. 

During the day it has been blissfully quiet in the house, and strangely empty, too. I wring my hands a little and my stomach ties itself in knots, but then I breathe and remember they will do great. I have reorganized and labeled precisely 4,000 objects in our basement, done hours of yoga, and baked a grain-free raspberry tart, homemade fruit leather, and fruit gummies. My Chihuahua is also confused by all the attention he is getting now.


Here is the rundown:

Mornings and evenings are spent talking, checking lists, and packing bags. 

My fifth-grader said some of the girls in her class “looked 14 and wore high heels!” She has made friends with several girls and boys and has already asked to join a club. It took exactly 4 days for a group of girls to call Josie “a Baby” and give her a mocking hug while laughing in her face.  I realized that she has forged a beautiful armor of lightness because the way she described it - she just tilted her head and looked at those girls in the face with no anger.  She read their group dynamics and dismissed them.

My third-grader has gotten lost 3 times, forgotten a PIN number, a workbook, and his snack, and learned about the moon. He has realized that his highly intellectual mind struggles with ordinary daily tasks.  He is mostly even on the surface and loves that he finds his homework easy, but he has erupted a few times.  I nearly lost my composure when Josie told me about the end of their first day.  All the kids met in the gym to find their siblings at dismissal time.  When Charlie spotted her, he shouted, “Josie!” and ran and hugged her tight.

My first-grader has recorded his teacher’s outfit in minute detail each day and describes it to me first thing when he gets home.  He delights in his classmates’ names. He says them over and over.  He dumps out his backpack and waves all his papers in my face, re-enacts several events from his school day, playing the parts of every person with intense drama and precise body language.  Then he reminds me that he is still really mad at me and his daddy for making him go to school.  He says, “I have to be there for an HOUR!”

Nights are spent revealing new fears and confessing that they aren’t sure they can do this. 

My prayer is that my children’s hearts are protected in the face of challenges -- that they accept themselves and others, and that they forge stronger love and confidence.

To my surprise, I figured out that our goal as a family is the same whether we are homeschooling or not:


Grow your light. 



We did it! Back to School!

In Kundalini Yoga there is an intensely beautiful meditation called Long Ek Ong Kars.

Ek is chanted powerfully and quickly drawing the navel point in.

Ong is chanted through the nose as a long, sustained vibration.

Kar is chanted through the mouth for an equally long time until the end of your breath.

The first time I practiced this meditation I was delighted by the feeling of my breath and heart opening up in the transition from "Ong" to "Kar".  It's difficult not to smile when chanting it.


Mirroring my spiritual journey with yoga and meditation, I recently decided that the scales had tipped in favor of sending my kids back to public school. We had spent a few years huddled up, learning who we were, and loving each other without distractions. That time was over.
                                                                   
                                             "Ek!"

We enrolled them, bought supplies, prepared them mentally, drilled multiplication facts, and said prayers.  And then we waited for several weeks.

                        "Onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng"


Today I walked each of my kids to their classrooms for their first day of school -- no longer my students in homeschool, but still my beloved children -- knowing that they are loved and protected, but also confident to break out on their own. 

                      "Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar"


After I released my third child into her classroom, I found myself standing in the middle of the finite and the infinite on a single grain of sand, which is the only place for me.  I can only be myself.  I am I AM.



Perfectly vulnerable, but also powerfully protected.

Perfectly loving, and perfectly loved.

Inhale. Exhale. Move your feet, Sach Indra. It's time to go.



I met a good friend in the hallway as I walked back to the entrance alone.  She was sending 3 of her 4 kids to school today, too. We both had red, watery eyes and big smiles. 

I watched lots of other parents releasing the gifts that God gave them into the hands of people who will care for them in an equally important, but different way.  It was moving.

Parents brimmed with pride, snapped photos, and waved goodbye to giant backpacks waggling on the backs of little bodies.



When people ask me why we decided to make this change, it's hard to answer, but I know that I sent my kids back to school today with a renewed ability to accept imperfection, hurts, and changes that bring uncertainty.  

I also understand that I will remain the biggest influence in their lives if I choose to be.  Although my oldest will soon look to her peers more than me, I will be doing and loving and speaking in ways that model love for her.



The most exciting part is that "Ek Ong Kar" is only the first line of the Long Ek Ong Kars meditation.  There are more mantras to live and many repetitions.


Sat Nam.  Siri...   

Wahe Guru!






P.S.  A cool thing about the word "guru" or teacher:  In Gurmukhi it translates as "one who brings light to the darkness."  I think we should start calling school teachers "dispellers of darkness".


Hello, Older Self

Heroes are agents of change on a quest. The hero is the ultimate altruist, sacrificing her life for the greater good. She is warrior and lover who slays the dragon of the status quo, so to speak. She enacts the ultimate in sacrifice in her quest to change the world (and/or herself).
                                               
                                            - Scribophile.com


Maybe I played a little too much King's Quest (early 90s computer game) as a kid, but I have always loved the romantic notion of heroes and quests. I like to think of myself as a hero on a journey.

And I definitely love the idea of "slaying the dragon of the status quo."  Writing my autobiography forces me to imagine the end of the book.  It's a scary idea to write the end of your own story, but also kind of awesome.




Since I can't know what's coming, I'm going to aim for an ending where the Dragon of the Ego is defeated:


Dear Older Self,

I love your open heart.  You have been showing people that love and spirituality can color your life and make it vibrant.  Your words and example help other people realize they can be more.  Seeing the divinity in yourself is contagious.  

That was some crazy stuff we went through, right! (Remember the New Mexico truck stop?)

You are still working on yourself, clearing away obstacles to get to the original you.  At the same time, you're nudging others toward their own inner perfection. 

It would have been easy to fall into polarizing, thinly-veiled rejections of people who disagreed with you.  You stood in God's light and radiated truth instead.

Thank you for nurturing our compassion.  Sat Nam, Sach Indra Kaur. Sat Nam.


P.S. I can't believe you still look amazing in a swimsuit at 115 years old!

My perfect little teachers


I have written several times about how parenting has changed me for the better here, here, and here.  I have also linked to one of my favorite writers Eilat Aviram whose work centers around growing and healing through parenthood.

This is why I say I have three teachers.  They are relentless, demanding, and also just what I need.

In the most tense moments as a mother I remember I am being given a chance to learn.  I can act from a place of balance and neutrality or I can shout and feel like a complete idiot.  (There is no in-between with me.)

My Kundalini Yoga mentor Nam Joti Kaur opened one of her recent classes with a question: "What does it mean to be a yogi?"  When a few of us fumbled some half-answers, she said, "To be a yogi is to live on the diagonal."   

Since I have bipolar disorder, this sounded like a laughable, un-achievable goal. At my worst I am all to one side or the other, either acting from: 


  • an overdeveloped Negative mind (also called the protective mind = "Ooh scary, Not gonna try that! Better cut that off right now.  Where is the chocolate?")
  • or a purely Positive Mind (Yay! Nothing can possibly go wrong here!").   


Both can be dangerous when not balanced.

Then it struck me that meditation and yoga may be my best chance at taming the two-headed beast, by developing my neutral mind and applying that to parenting.


It is easy to hear a truth and difficult to live it, to embed it deeply into your heart and mind. The Neutral Mind opens the gate to that deep remembrance of the self and soul...The Neutral Mind lives for the touch of vastness. It lets all other thoughts be without disturbance to your constant inner light." 

-from The Mind: Its Projections and Multiple Facets, 
by Yogi Bhajan, Ph.D. with Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, Ph.D.



Sounds glorious, doesn't it?

As a mother and a woman dedicated to developing my neutral mind, I wanted a spiritual name to mark this change in me.  




After a couple weeks, it arrived. My spiritual name is Sach Indra Kaur, which means "the Princess/Lioness of God whose divine consciousness is immersed in truth." I read that and cried a few quiet tears and then chuckled and thought, "Ok, I'll have to work up to that."

I will get there because I am worthy of joy, and even bliss.

Well said

Know that love is there, 
but not felt until you clear away the noise. 
Pain is loud, peace is quiet and subtle. 

Embrace exactly what is. 
Shift the power into your hands.

Stop striving. Stop begging. 
Beggar asks others for love. 
Master provides for herself.



From Breaking the "Hallmark" Trance by GuruMeher Singh


Soul Friend

Anam Cara, the title of a popular book in the 90s, is Gaelic for "Soul Friend."

This phrase was bouncing around in my head for several days, and I couldn't remember where I'd heard it.  Google was kind enough to provide a definition, but I already knew what it meant to me.

The person you meet who just gets you, who is kind and open-hearted, but will call you on your crap...This person is your anam cara.  You have an inexplicable connection and automatic trust.  

It's possible that your husband will roll his eyes when your back is turned when you say, "Well, Mary thinks...."  Mary is probably not the only soul friend you'll have in your lifetime, but until you've learned enough to progress to another, she is of central importance to your decision-making.

Somehow, she immediately sees the real you and also the potential you.  My first soul friend was Jane in high school.  I was a clean cut über born-again Christian and she was a punky, theater genius with a nose ring.  Even so, we talked a lot.  She challenged me and made me laugh, and then left me after saying that my lies and masks were hurting me and her and everyone around me.  I am so grateful she did.  

At the time, of course, I was too submerged in unhealthy habits and was not ready to take off the blinders and look at my heart.  

My next soul friend was in college. (Incredibly, he is still my friend.)  Jeff thought I was hilarious and I loved to make him laugh.  He was a gentle truth-teller, and modeled an authentic life for me. 

Professor Canfield was one of my favorite French teachers, and also a soul friend.  He stepped into the classroom and shook the hand of every person in the room.  He'd stop, take your hand, and ask, "Comment ça va, Rachelle?" He, too, modeled how to live a life with passion and gusto and sincerity.   I felt like I could stay in college and in his safe orbit forever.

My next soul friend, was in graduate school.  I signed up for a mandatory, "Foundations of Education" course, not really knowing what I'd gain from it.  Professor Woodhouse walked into the room in all white clothing, and Birkenstocks, with a rush a fresh air, and looked right into my heart.  She taught me everything.  We started with breathing (no joke).  After 3 minutes of proper breathing, I was crying.  The tears were escaping and it felt great.  She had us ask ourselves a series of questions like, "Where does your water come from?" and "Who were your ancestors?"  She taught me to take an interest in my story and in my surroundings.

My current soul friend lived right across the street from me for a time.  Kelli and I still talk regularly and about once a week she will ask, "Have you heard of the book...?" She is plugged into the collective consciousness.  I love our conversations because we are talking on one level and simultaneously communicating on another. 

Kelli, I love you with all my heart chakra, friend. 


When open, the Heart Chakra allows one to feel connected to others.  It is the transition between the lower 3 survival-related chakras and the upper 3 chakras, which are more spiritual and "other-oriented".


I am grateful for the role these people have played in my awakening to truth and to the others whom I didn't recognize. Thank a soul friend today.


Full Circle

There is a surprising thing about homeschooling that you may not believe:  the more time you spend with your kids, the easier and more enjoyable it is to spend time with your kids.

To people who say: 

"I couldn't homeschool. I just need a break from my kids!" 

I say: 

"Trrrruuussst me - I need a break, too."  


In our house, we spend some pretty focused time together in the morning.  By 1pm, we have been debating, reading, eating, whining, encouraging, crying and laughing for several hours together.  The kids don't want to see my face for a while. And....likewise.

One of the reasons this works, is because there is no principal's office to keep little Johnny if he throws his shoe at your head during the math lesson.  You can't say to the state officials, "Well, I had a really big headache that morning, so we just didn't cover long division." If Sally is going through a phase, you are the only person who can help her move through it.

It is the same with meditation and yoga.  The more time I spend with myself, the more I like who I am and the more I trust and enjoy the process.

Instead of your children as students, you are your own student and teacher.  You are accountable to yourself.  If your discipline is lacking, you will not progress as quickly.  

In both homeschooling and my personal spiritual journey, I have started to recognize and appreciate the rough, awkward situations that I have to face.  It makes me feel like I am watchful of my thoughts and actions.  

My Kundalini Yoga mentor, Nam Joti Kaur, warned us recently that we would should expect to face "our stuff" throughout our mentorship.  As a published author, blogger, and respected yogini, she chooses her words carefully.  This was no exception.  "Stuff" is the best way to describe those secret little/big parts of ourselves that we hide from the world.  Fear, embarrassment and so many other darker emotions tell us to hide it.

We are even afraid to name it sometimes, right?

I have a blog dedicated to naming that stuff already, but I'm guessing other "stuff" has taken its place when I wasn't aware.

One of my favorite readings in recent weeks was about yoga practitioners who stopped at the frame of each door they passed through to ask themselves, "Am I awake?"  This sounded useful to me.  When I started doing this, the release of tension in my core and the deep inhale that followed reminded me how easy it is to be lulled to sleep by routine.  We have to consciously choose to enlighten ourselves and stay awake.

In the last few weeks I have slowed down in my writing to reflect on how different I am from the person I was 2 years ago.  It was the understanding that there is nowhere to run from yourself that led me to start unpacking all the stuff I had been carefully hiding.  The neurotic habits I had, and the trapped feeling that suffocated me were actually a good thing.  They were my heart shouting out, "Hey!  There's a bunch of SHIT in here you need to deal with!"

So here's to looking at your junk and dealing with it.

Weeds

I have been surprised to learn that keeping my family functioning and happy usually doesn't require many things or activities.

It is more about keeping out things we don't want.  

In the same way, keeping close to God (and therefore remembering peace and wholeness) usually means actively filtering out unhelpful information, distractions, and even insidious antagonists.  It means tuning into universal truths.

I believe that goodness will always win out over evil, light over darkness, love over division, in every hero's journey, real or imagined, but I believe the darkness also comes in innumerable forms while the light is really one sacred truth.  It takes time, experience, and courage to discern between those things that are revealing light and those that are favoring darkness. 


Here is another classic quote close to my heart from Le Petit Prince:


Now there were some terrible seeds on the planet that was the home of the little prince; and these were the seeds of the baobab. The soil of that planet was infested with them. A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces . . .

It is a question of discipline," the little prince said to me later on. "When you've finished your own grooming in the morning, then it is time to attend to the grooming of your planet, just so, with the greatest care. You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rosebushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth. It is very tedious work," the little prince added, "but very easy."




 

One afternoon early this spring, my boys and I were pulling weeds and trimming plants, when I heard a question many moms have answered: 

"But why do we get rid of the dandelions?  They're so pretty."

"Dandelions are weeds."

"Why is it a weed?"

"Let's go look that up."

Dandelions are non-native plants that crowd out native plants, reducing biodiversity.  They proliferate quickly and randomly.  They are very hard to get rid of.  

Things like...

  • judging other people
  • trying to control every situation
  • forgetting to take care of ourselves the way we need to
  • and letting others determine our worth as people  

      ...can run rampant, just like dandelions.

When we pray together at mealtime and when I meditate each day, it is our family's way of "attending to the grooming of our planet, just so, with the greatest care."