Making Love on Valentine’s Day

“All sorrow can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.”  Isak Dinesen

From Derek

From Derek

He called me about 5 p.m. on Friday just as I was leaving my office to join some co-workers at the company’s end-of-week cocktail gathering.  “I left something for you at the house.”  I laughed.  “What, a Valentine?”  “Yes,” he said.  “I left a Valentine for you.”

When I got home, there is it was, wrapped in white.  A huge, beautiful heart with chocolates inside.  Just like the fantasy that Valentine’s day is supposed to be.  I’d been clouded in sadness for a long time, which doesn’t at all mean that I wasn’t content or happy in my life.  You see, no matter how necessary, divorce carries with it a residue of sorrow.  Seeing that Hallmark-esque heart, I realized how hard I’d been holding on to it.

The frightening dreams had returned and I’d asked my therapist why they were back.  “Because you are ready now,” she told me.  I protested.  “But why the dream about him killing me?  Why is that one back?  It’s horrible.”

“He did kill you,” she said.  The stillness hung in the air.  It seemed like an eternity before she spoke again.  “The person you were is gone.  You are having the dream because you are now in a place where you can process it and let it go.  Make no mistake, though, emotionally and psychologically, he killed you.”  I’d been playing that conversation back in my mind for a week, thinking about its truth and the power of acknowledgement.  The dream had miraculously stopped.  Then, of course, there was the sadness.  So many things happened in such a short span of time after the divorce, including his criminal indictment.  Add to that, he paid child support for only four months, then began sprouting fanciful arguments about how he had overpaid and that I owed him money.  There were so many other pieces too.  Thinking about it all made me profoundly sad.  Watching it is a raw and ugly spectacle.

But here in front of me stood a delightful, red roses-decorated box of chocolates.

In the last year, I needed so much help managing a house, two children and of course, myself.  Derek The Handyman had patched walls, tuck-pointed the bricks, shoveled the snow, added handles to doors, unclogged toilets, cleaned out garbage, swept floors and did so many other things, the majority of then unasked.  When I mentioned to him one day that I wished I had a place to put my radio in the kitchen, he built a shelf for it.  I had been so grateful to Derek that I never thought he might be grateful to me.  His Valentine’s heart assured me he was.

A little bit of love and inspiration come in unexpected packages.  This heart motivated me to make some love to add to this Valentine’s Day and to the next of days.  It feels good to think of adding love and letting go of sadness.

There is a manuscript of poems on my desk today.  A friend sent them asking for thoughts and comments.  In turn, he said he would take a look at my manuscript.  It has been a long time since I worked on my book.  It’s time to open it up again.  Wish me luck, send me love.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Quartz When You Least Expect It

Open roads in South Dakota

Open roads in South Dakota

Driving along I-90’s wide expanses in South Dakota, the highway meets a horizon of clouds.  Grasslands and the sky, bright green and blue merge together and stretch out as far as the eye can see.  There is a feeling of freedom there, the pressures of life falling away, thoughts turn to the beauty of nature and the stillness of the land.

We were almost 1,000 miles away from Chicago on our “girl’s road trip,” my daughter and me, along with another mom and daughter.  School ended weeks ago following a flurry of pre-teen drama for the girls.  They were exhausted and bewildered.  As their mom’s, we were both frustrated and disheartened with the situation as well, not knowing the right way to respond.  There was a big ‘let-down’ feeling as we began the trip.

Months before this developed, however we had planned our get-away.  Now, the idea had ripened well, better than we could have imagined — there would be lots of downtime driving, conversation in the car and maybe even new understandings as we moved into the long summer months.  Our goal was to drive west and reach Mount Rushmore though our plan was not particularly strict or time-sensitive.  We had a lot of ideas and only one initial hotel reservation booked in Minnesota for the first night.

Driving from Minneapolis, we spent a night in Mitchell, South Dakota, and reviewed our tour guide books.  Gassing up the Land Cruiser on Day 2 of the trip, we planned a stop at an 1880s town en route to Rushmore.  Here the girls could dress up in period costumes and dally at buildings from a reconstructed bank to a one-room schoolhouse.

After paying the admission fee, it was Ann who noticed the rocks just past the check-in gate, loaded unceremoniously in a dusty bin in the corner.  “Look at those,” she said and we sauntered over to a box of large, pink-hued rocks.  “Let’s get one before we leave,” she said and I nodded in agreement.  “If you like those rocks, then you’ll really like the big one in the town.   It’s over a ton,” Jake the ticket-taker commented.  Jake looked like a friendly old man, dressed in period costume, smiling broadly and offering us helpful tips about the town’s history and sites.  “Be sure to get to the saloon for the live music show.  It starts in 15 minutes.”  Since we were the only visitors at the time, he seemed to want to make conversation.  “The pink rocks are South Dakota’s state mineral,” he added.  “Be sure to come back.”

Rose Quartz, South Dakota's State Mineral

Rose Quartz, South Dakota’s State Mineral

Hours later, after touring the town, we returned to the box.  Ann lifted out maybe a dozen of the rocks and arranged them neatly on a table by the ticket check-in so we could examine them more closely.  They were weighty pieces, some weighing a couple of pounds, each of varying interest in their size and color.

Jake, the ticket taker, talked with us as we undertook our inspection.  “I’ve been working here about six years and I enjoy all the people,” he said.  “You know, I used to be one of those type A people and it took a couple of heart attacks for me to learn about what’s really important.  Now, I’m content, happy to focus on the simpler things in life.”

He continued, “My wife is someone who collects rocks, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve paid in extra baggage fees when she packs the big ones in her suitcase.”  He chuckled.  “But it doesn’t bother me at all, I have to say.  She enjoys it and says the rocks have something special in them.”

After about 15 minutes of inspection, changing our minds about which one we each wanted, we selected our stones.  Mine looked something like a pink marbled ham but I kept coming back to that particular stone, the largest of our loot.  Our raw minerals were bulky and heavy but we were pleased.  “Do we pay for these with you Jake?” I asked.  “Nope, you have to lug them over to the main gift shop check-out.  They only let me take tickets,”  he laughed.

We carried the rocks across the room to check-out and plopped them up on the counter.  “These are beautiful ones,” said the kindly woman at the cash register.  “Did they call to you?” she asked.  Ann and I laughed.  “Well, we usually are not so good at following up on our ideas but we actually came back for these so yes, I guess they called to us.  It took us a while to pick out the ones we wanted,” I answered.

“That’s how it is with rose quartz,” she said.  “They aren’t just regular stones, they touch your heart.  You picked nice ones.”

I am sure we looked puzzled.

“Do you collect rocks,” we asked.

“Why yes, yes I do,” she replied.

“Do you happen to be married to Jake, the man who takes tickets?”

She laughed.

“Yes, that’s true.  Jake is my husband and I’ll tell you, he worked a career at U.S. Steel and was a very focused man for a long, long time.  I used to work with the rose quartz to calm him down.  And one of the things I learned is that the rose quartz helps the heart, especially the heart of a hard-hearted man.  He’s a different person now.  One of the things I learned about the rose quartz is that if you feel a lack in your heart, put your hands on it and it fills you.  But definitely do not throw it at the person who is causing you the problems,”  she laughed as she said it.  “Now, let me wrap these up for you.”

Rose quartz it seems ” is all about delivering kindness, patience and gentleness to others,” among other meanings, such as opening the heart.

We packed our quartz crystals in the car and began the drive to Mount Rushmore.  I thought about the girls and their end-of-year dramas.  Maybe we could all use some rose quartz in the car.  There was something very nice about driving along the open roads with open hearts.  This was going to be a good trip.

P.S.  Ann and I did also visit the ton of Rose Quartz at the old village.  It was as Jake said, a big stone.  See below.

Sun Setting in South Dakota

Sun Setting in South Dakota

A Ton (or more) of Rose Quartz at the 1880 Village

A Ton (or more) of Rose Quartz at the 1880 Village

Presenting with Heart

Presenting on Presenting in Los Angeles.  Fall 2012

Presenting on Presenting in Los Angeles. Fall 2012

In this modern world of ours, we purportedly Google each other.   Today I learned that my 12-year old daughter Googled me.

It was Gigi’s first day of summer vacation and I promised to spend the day with her.  But I had a voice audition due at noon, so while she slept in, I crept over to my recording studio, Studio X, and voiced the audition.  It wasn’t until we were driving to pick her brother up from basketball practice in the evenig that she mentioned it to me.

“Mom, you are good presenter.”

“I am?  What do you mean?”

“I saw your presentation.  It was good.  I liked it.”

“What presentation? What did you see?”

“This morning.  When you were out, I decided to Google you and your presentation is on YouTube.”

“What presentation is on YouTube?  You Googled me?  What were you doing this morning?”

“I was waiting for you so I went on your computer and Googled you.  Your presentation on presentations, on communication.  It’s on YouTube.  You know, where you say that good presentations aren’t here (she points to her head) but here (she points to her heart).  I watched the whole thing.  It’s about 15 minutes.”

Good Lord.  I knew what she was talking about.  My presentation is on YouTube?  Good Lord.

Clicking away, I found it.  Indeed she was right.  It’s posted on YouTube.

Writing this blog, writing my story these last several years made that presentation uniquely important to me because it was the first time I shared information about my burn in a public presentation to a business group.  When I received the invitation to speak at the Los Angeles Legal Marketing program last Fall, it came with a stipulation — my submission on Extremely Effective Communications was accepted but would need to be re-packaged in a “Ted Talks” format, meaning it had to be 20 minutes or less in length.  My original submission?  90 minutes.  Essentially, the format required me to completely re-jigger the presentation, re-creating it as something wholly new and different.

It made me think.  A lot.

I know when I got burned, I learned how to “compartmentalized” like an expert.  How to put things that hurt into a file folder in my head and make them go away.  How I could download them at will, if and when I wanted to.  How life made me understand that living in your head all the time wasn’t really living at all.  How the best way to live was with your heart, and that when you did that, even the bad hurts weren’t so bad.  How the best way to connect with people in business (or life) was when you were doing so with heart, with passion, with yourself sort of out there.

I worked on that Los Angeles presentation for a long time because I wanted to incorporate what I’d learned about great communication and being an effective presenter.  I worked on that presentation for a long time because it had to be 20 minutes or less, which was no small feat.  I worked on that presentation for a long time because I wanted to share a little bit of my experience, a little bit of my heart.  I had never done that before.

In the months since that presentation, I haven’t thought much about it.  But today, my daughter Googled me.

Here it is if you would like to see it.  LMA Presentation — Extremely Essential Skills.

August 5th: When Memories Remember You

Driving across the Indiana border into the country today, the Queen Anne’s lace and yellow coreopsis ran wild in the fields along the road.  The sun beamed into the car and a soft warm breeze blew in the window, opened just a crack to bring some summer air in.  When I wiped my face, I felt warm tears and wondered if the breeze made my eyes water.  With a tap to the automatic control, I closed the car window but the wetness still puddled in the corner of my eye.   Now that I’d noticed it, the tears seemed to slightly increase their pace.  The drive was pleasant and I had no reason to cry.

I’ve had enough mystical experiences to know that when the body overrides the mind, there is something I’ve missed that set off a physical reminder.  And then it hit me.  Of all the days of the year, August 5th is the one that started my journey into Anne on Fire, though I didn’t know it at the time.  On August 5th, 1996, my mother died after a six-month battle with liver cancer.

I glanced at the car clock and it showed 12:30, within an hour of the time my mother died on that August 5th morning, a morning much like today with the sun streaming in to the windows of her bedroom and the flowers blowing softly in the breeze outside.  Can the body really remember what the mind choses not to?

That morning I sat with the hospice worker and held my mother’s hand.  It had grown frail and bony like the rest of her body as the cancer withered her athletic frame.  Her breath rattled and I gave the morphine pump another squeeze to ease her pain.  When the hospice worker told me we were close to the end, she suggested I make a couple of telephone calls to let the family know.  I slipped out of the room and into the kitchen, dialing my aunt Mary — my mother’s only sibling.  I had begun to tell Aunt Mary the news when the hospice worker hurriedly appeared before me and whispered, “It’s time.”  I told Aunt Mary I’d call her back shortly and strided into the bedroom, grasping for my mother’s hand.  One breath.  Then another.  Then silence.  Her grip faded slowly from mine but I grasped even more tightly.

And then the most amazing thing happened  Her spirit seemed to separate from her body.  A transparent mirror image floated upward in excruciating slow motion.  I gasped loud enough to startled myself.  Then I realized my hands were hot, feeling intense heat in each one so much so that they began to tremble.  I watched immobile as the transparent image of my mother floated up out of the room.

She was gone and at the same time I knew she was with me.

Awe-struck I turned to the hospice worker, who quietly told me, “You have been given a gift from your mother.  Treasure it.”

“But what just happened.  Tell me?”

“Death is as precious a gift as life.  Not all of us are allowed to witness it.  Your mother gave you the gift of being with her for her journey.  We all choose when to die and who will be with us,” she said and I knew then this woman had witnessed many deaths and was a very special person to share this with me.

The rest of the day dissolved in a blur of activity.   Aunt Mary arrived as did my brother Jim and sisters, Kathleen and Susie.  Funeral people were called; arrangements began to be made.

Something unique had happened and I watched the activities unfold as if in a trance.  Something had changed in me as well.  I couldn’t put my finger on it but everything was different.  In the days and months and years that followed, I began to receive signs from my mother.  These were the signs that set me on the Anne on Fire journey.

More to come.

Eileen Gertrude Stark Gallagher.   1930-1996.  Rest in peace.

Moving to the State of No Karma

When I met my yoga teacher Cynthia at the local Starbucks on Sunday, it was ostensibly to help her start her blog on yoga and meditation (www.thespiritedcorner.wordpress.com).  Nagging in the back of mind however was her comment during Saturday’s yoga class a couple of weeks back about reaching a state of ‘no karma’.  Good karma, bad karma — those seem straight-forward but I’d never thought about “no karma” and hadn’t the foggiest idea what it meant.

As she sipped on her shake and me on my non-fat latte, I asked if she had a minute to explain the concept.  Her eyes sparkled as smiled, sighed and said, “How much time do you have?”  We laughed.

“We are all here traveling through time in the dimensional world, having experiences as spiritual beings in a human experience.  We all work on our life lessons due to the karma we brought with us.  The idea is to have no karma so we can evolve away from the physical plane.  When we get to no karma, we have no need to return and we reach the 8th limb of yoga called Samadhi, which is bliss or enlightenment.”

“This seems perfectly understandable but how do we get there?” I asked, feeing that I had a few lifetimes of of good karma and bad karma that needed to balance themselves out. 

“When you finish with life’s lessons, then you are finished with karma.  That, of course, is the difficult part for us,” Cynthia replied, which instead of ending my inquires only made me think of another set of questions.  I was feeling very Socratic with it all.

“Well, then how do we know we have learned any particular lesson?” I asked.  “Like burning my leg.  How do I know that I’ve learned whatever lesson I’m supposed to learn?  Did it mean something I missed?”

“What if it doesn’t mean anything?”  Cynthia socratically replied.  Then she paused.  It added a dramatic effect to the conversation and helped me not to wonder why Starbucks keeps their stores ridiculously cold.  My fingers were starting to feel like ice cubes.

“It can mean everything and nothing.  It can spark something positive or something negative.  It’s all up to you.  What helps us evolve helps us grow,” she continued.

I thought quietly for a minute, rubbing my hands together for warmth.   “I think I”m fine with it, have always been fine with it.  But then I still feel compelled to write the story of it.”

“You think it’s enough but the question is, do you feel it.  To learn any lesson you have to connect the thinking and feeling.  The bridge between the two is the throat, or the 5th chakra, called vishuddhi, which is our communication chakra.  If we are holding back in some way, the gate is closed.  when you open up the energy in some way, it brings the energy from the mind to the heart.”

Vishuddhi Chakra

“The fifth chakra (Vishuddhi) is the chakra of diplomacy, of pure relationships with others, and of playful detachment. It removes all our guilt and remorse when it is opened by the Kundalini, and gives us a kind and compassionate voice. The tendencies to dominate others or to feel dominated by others, the feelings of superiority or inferiority and all jealousies are removed when this chakra is nourished by the Kundalini.”

Subtle system of Ida, Pingla and Sushumna (center) nadis

“So, are you saying that for me, I have to write about the experience to complete the lesson of it?” I asked.

Only you know that but it could be the case.  There are all sorts of ways to process an experience, to get to the heart of the matter so to speak.  I will tell you it’s okay to be stuck on the bridge.  While you are there, be sure to look out and enjoy the view.  You may see and discover something you didn’t expect so don’t be so quick to get off the bridge.  Sometimes we are where we are because that is where we need to be.

When I am experiencing something, I am immersed in it and can’t make sense of things.  That’s when I know I need to be there because I am learning to be there.   When I am aware and awaken to the lesson in it, I am no longer attached to it.  Non-attachment lets the feelings flow and with it, the lesson.  And when we start to see the lesson, we don’t have to have the experience again because we have grown from it.”

I looked up as Cynthia talked, almost forgetting I was sitting in a Starbucks.  She had the ability to package my very situation with a bow on it, even though I had not told her all the details.

“How does meditation and yoga fit in to this all?” I asked, glancing at the clock and knowing I had to leave shortly.

“Through yoga and meditation, we get a glimpse Samadhi, of bliss.  This is where hope lies. When we meditate we find ourselves immersed in feeling and no thought, we are in the no karma zone.  Yoga means union, and when we do yoga we bring the body, mind and spirit together.   Said another way, we get little sparks of what it is like beyond the earth plane,” she said.

It seemed to make sense.  My own experience of moving from mind to heart is indeed stuck in the communications realm — the writing of it all.  If nothing else, our conversation confirmed that I had to continue to trickle along the path of writing and be content to see where all of this goes.