It had been overcast until the last few hours when the sun re-appeared to add its touches to the evening. I had just finished my dinner in the room with sky-high windows. Taking the last bite, I turned toward the mountains for a fuller view, dessert if you will.
The landscape had been scrubbed clean from the last few days of downpours. Now, with a bright nod from the setting sun, the colors below and beyond the mountain ridge turned especially dramatic.
But something felt different than usual…
There was, yes, the standard backdrop of mountain midnight blue, deepening as evening approached. And tonight the blue was so strong, I closed my eyes to invite the depth of that blue into the center of me.
This is the blue I welcome when I most need reassurance and strength. Confidence. A strong foundation.
Some days the mountains offer deep sky blue or dark slate blue. Other days, Dodger blue, cornflower blue, steel blue. There’s plenty of blue in these mountains and these mountains share.
Across the valley, each blade of grass, every tousle-headed bush and tree was dressed for the evening in a favorite spring shade of green. And thanks to the generous sun, the green finery was awash in spectacular light.
As the sun slowly descended to the mountain ridge to my left, a colossal pile of brilliant white clouds moved in with unusual speed and accuracy, setting the stage for a possible grande finale, a last call for luminosity.
The process seemed faster and showier as if to say, pay attention! So I stood and waited. And watched.
There was a bright tension developing.
Cloud after cloud moved swiftly in front of the dropping sun, harnessing the light, holding it back, reigning it in, creating a light gate — one which began almost immediately to strain mightily at the seams.
There was, after all, unlimited light pushing from behind.
I wondered about capacity. Did the light gate have its limits? Would it burst? I noticed I was holding my breath.
Then, when it could hold no more, without announcement or fanfare, the light gate simply yawned. Or opened to speak, I’m not sure.
Through the gaping cloud mouth shot so much light! Over the valley it careened, worlds of light, galaxies of it — pouring, pouring — a breathtaking, awe-inspiring light slam!
The light did not spread evenly over the valley. Instead, the open gate sent one bold blast of blazing light through a single line of poplar trees, pouring so much light into them, they glowed with green fire.
The poplar leaves, light-drenched from every angle — top, bottom, sideways — became fluorescent green, radiant from within. I wondered how they felt being so loaded with light!
Taking a deep breath, I thought about humanity and how we might relate to the pouring of brilliant light. We humans can, after all, focus streams of love and light from our own eyes and heart out to the world. We can direct our light. Our love.
What if we did that — more? What if we waited to communicate until we were bursting with light? What if (then and only then) we opened our light gate to speak? What would change on the world stage? Or at home?
On other days, we’d be a poplar tree, drenched in light from another. We’d let the incoming light infuse us, inspire us, light our way.
I put my hand on my heart, running for my phone to see about a picture. But in the seconds required to reach for my other eyes, the cloud gate closed its mouth and that was that.
Light across the valley softened instantly. Tall trees relaxed. The soft greens below pulled a dark, cool sheet of midnight blue over and settled into the quiet of the evening.
Gradually, night came.
Witnessing the light shot, feeling the power of that much focused radiance has changed me. I’m not quite sure what happened to my understanding of life, or to my heart, or my soul, but I can tell you I (and those trees) will never be quite the same.
What I can say is that a deeper understanding of the power of light went into my bones. Light speak is more clear to my heart-being. My belief in our human connection to nature has never been more pronounced. Could there be a better partner for humanity than nature? I don’t think so.
That nature goes to the trouble of arranging a sky full of clouds and light to make a point, to show a truth — I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand the enormity of that kind of love.
A few days ago, I opened the relationship book I wrote before Eric died. The book is for women who have been married multiple times.
I had completed the book and given it to my editor. She was working on it. Not long after, in December of 2016, her husband’s health took a sudden and unexpected turn for the worse and he passed away.
Around the same time, Eric went to the hospital several times, and finally hospice. He died on March 25, 2017.
Needless to say, my editor and I abandoned all work on the book. We gave ourselves time.
Since then, I never once went to my computer to open it. I just couldn’t do it. I’m not sure why. In fact, I hadn’t opened the document since December 6, 2016.
A couple of days ago, I decided to take a gander at what I had written. Much to my dismay, I didn’t like the introduction or the first chapter. At least, it wasn’t what I would call a “hell, yes” or two enthusiastic thumbs up.
That was was slightly upsetting, mostly because of the work I imagined ahead.
I texted my editor and gave her the bad news. “I finally looked at the book I’ve written and so far, I don’t like it.”
She texted back, “Oh my. I don’t know what to say! Let me know how it goes and what you want to do. But take your time and be gentle with yourself.”
(What a good editor she is. What a wise and wonderful person she is. Such good advice to a panicked author.)
I had finished texting her while out on a mountain road walking my 12 lb wonder dog, Jackson. I tucked my phone back in my pocket, ready to continue walking.
Looking down at the ground, directly at my feet was a most striking feather. I am not a person who generally comes across feathers, even out here in the forest on a mountain road where there are plenty of birds — and therefore feathers.
It felt like a gift, a message, so I picked it up.
Out came the phone again. One source said feathers are symbols of freedom, inspiration and travel. That felt good and it helped me calm down about my book.
Everything’s gonna be OK, I thought to myself, and the book will surely need some editing and re-writing. That’s natural. After all, look what’s happened since I wrote it. What an amazing experience to realize how much I’ve changed since March 25.
Fast forward with me twelve hours.
That evening, there I am lying in bed reading a good book. I’m engrossed.
Something moved in the upper right corner of my eye, and it wasn’t a “floater.” (No, nothing to do with my aging eyeball!)
Something whisper quiet and the size of a bird was flying — in my bedroom!
It didn’t flap, so I knew it wasn’t a bird…
Oh, gosh, a bat! That’s what it is!
Goodness, another message about flying! Mother Nature has clearly gone out of her way to speak to me today.
I got out of bed and headed into the great room to (hopefully) call Mr. Batman to me. Thankfully, he followed me.
I closed the bedroom door so he wouldn’t go back in. It’s way easier for a trapped bat to fly in the great room where the ceilings reach the sky.
I employed several totally made up bat removal theories involving lights and darkness, windows with no screens, and wide-open doors to the deck.
He was having none of it.
Well alright, then. I can take a hint. I stopped trying.
Instead, I stood in awe of this beautiful flying creature as he silently circled the room in the same perfect pattern. Was he talking to me about something? Was he communicating? What am I supposed to understand here?
My thoughts wandered to Eric. Eric is a night guy. Maybe Eric was saying hello.
Mostly, though, I wondered how in the heck Eric The Bat had gotten into my house. (Where’s that secret, never-before-seen video when you need it most?)
We had had a bat in our house a long time ago and I tried to remember how Eric got him safely out of the house. (My cat Bella brought him in, holding him gently in her mouth. She wanted to show us her new play thing.)
But I was doing other things that day, and didn’t see the “get the bat out of the house” process. Eric handled it.
Since I didn’t know what Eric did, I thought I’d sleep on it. Maybe Eric would remind me while I dozed.
And no, I didn’t worry at all that a bat was flying around in my house. I figured he’d need sleep sooner or later, too, and then he’d fold up those beautiful wings and all would be quiet in my wonderful house.
(And honestly, Mr. Bat seemed quite sweet. He wasn’t scary or weird. I’ve never spent up-close and personal time with a bat and I rather enjoyed it.)
As a Native American animal symbol, the bat is a guide through the darkness. They say bat medicine releases us from our old self and opens the doors for something new and healing. In other systems, bats symbolize death and rebirth. Sometimes, they are known as the “Guardian of the Night.”
Well, chose any or all of that interpretation and it couldn’t be more perfect.
I felt touched that he had visited, reminding me that I’m being guided through the dark. Heaven knows I need a little help with the dark.
In the morning, I woke up with a picture of a ladder and a jar in my mind. I figured Eric couldn’t catch the flying bat, either, or guide him out of the house with a broom, as the internet suggests.
With the help of this mental picture, my best guess was that Eric waited until the bat landed on a low ceiling, got a ladder and put a jar over the bat. The bat fell into the jar and Eric carried him outside.
I did it! Worked like a charm!
Luckily, Mr. Bat was sleeping on a low ceiling where I could reach him — not the great room, thank goodness. Such a partnership!
At the right, you can see the rescue ladder and (barely, barely) the mason jar sitting on top.
Mr. Bat fit perfectly in the jar.
Holding this jar of wings, I thought, “Oh, honey, you’ve been in my house for far too long, let me get you out of here. But thank you for visiting me. And thanks for the message.”
(No, I didn’t make him endure a bat photography session.)
Taking him outside, I carefully poured him onto soft dirt in a tall planter. He wiggled to his feet and flew gracefully away, making a wide turn to the left.
Fast forward another few hours.
Walking my dear Jackson boy later that morning, I was thinking about re-reading my book and how much I’ve changed since Eric’s passing.
Just as I was wondering about that, asking myself exactly how I had changed, there was a ruckus above me — two squirrels leaping from treetop to treetop. They were up there, so high, flying from branch to branch without a net.
Oh, there’s my answer!
Thank you squirrels!
I’ve been leaping. More freely. From treetop to treetop.
I’m more direct in my communication. I’m more aware of my own BS and willing to give it up. The fear of moving forward without my long time friend, Eric, is slowly dissipating. I feel more confident. Freer.
Thank you, Mother Nature, for helping me in so many ways. I never feel alone or confused for long. When I have questions, you dispatch the perfect creatures to drop in, say hello and help me in some way. My heart is very happy about that.
Grazie mille, la mia Mamma! (Thanks a thousand times, my mamma!)
Note: Because the upcoming conversation is substantial, I’ll break it down into bite size pieces. Here we go with PART 1.
A couple years ago, I read “Talk Like Ted” by Carmine Gallo, about the qualities of great Ted Talks. Mr. Gallo helps corporate executives craft unforgettable presentations.
His book was a little daunting (so much to know, so many ways to go about improving), but I read every page, sometimes studying carefully, sometimes flying through. I learned as much as I could absorb. I read things that made perfect sense to me. I read things I know.
I also realized how much I didn’t know. There were details I had never considered regarding coming up with a great 18 minute talk. As it turns out, not surprisingly, there was a pretty big bushel (or two or ten) I didn’t know.
After reading his book, I found myself thinking about how people most likely feel the first time they see me about their relationship. They are “dears in the headlights” (yes, spelled that way on purpose).
They have no idea what to do about their relationship or how to start or why things feel so awful.
Or they think they know how it should work, and the one who knows how it should work has often dragged the other along to get my assistance in convincing the partner. (Always a revealing discussion!)
Some simply want relief. Help. Extra chocolate. Something! They want something sweeter than what they have now and they have a sense that what they want is possible, albeit a mystery as to how to get there.
In beginning sessions, after concerns and wishes are raised, there is usually a defining moment when at least one of the individuals begins to realize how much s/he doesn’t know about getting along.
This moment marks the dawning of all good things.
There is a point where it is realized that getting along requires something entirely different than once thought, which causes a tiny brain explosion. (I’ve watched this hundreds of times.)
Sitting back in their seats, they wonder quietly if they are up for focusing on themselves and making changes in (only) themselves.
(They were hoping to avoid that.)
But you know what? It only takes one person who is willing. If both people jump on board, that’s a bonus, making the process easier, and also truly something to behold.
A “no turning back” point for couples is when they have the same dawning realization I had upon reading “Talk Like Ted” — there’s a different approach or angle to the story than they thought, and any changes made will be completely up to them!
HOLDING HANDS DURING CHANGE
There are advantages to holding hands with an expert while learning something new, that’s for sure.
There were many times I wished Carmine Gallo would leap out of the book (in a superman cape, why not…) and tell me personally how to zero in on information that applied specifically to me and my style of speaking.
It would have been nice to have his one-on-one guidance coming up with a great presentation instead of fumbling a bit clumsily with what he knows. Could his hand perhaps come through the veil of pages and present me with three easy steps to get started? How does one begin a multi-faceted, multi-level change or learning process in a maize of so many improvement trails?
(Cue Julie Andrews singing “Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start…”)
SURE, START AT THE BEGINNING — BUT WHERE IS THAT?
Every board game has a clear starting place. When players place their game pieces in a precise spot, the game begins. It’s easy!
Maybe it’s true with relationships, too, that starting on the same page is helpful. If so, what’s the beginning square in the board game of relationships?
To answer that fully, I’m going to talk about closets. (Don’t worry, we’ll get there!)
THE CLOSET METHOD
One way to improve something in the absence of a mentor is to apply what you know in an area of your life where you’re successful to an area that could use a little help.
Let’s say I was a good closet cleaning student. Now I know how to clean my closet and keep it that way.
Could I apply simple closet cleaning principles to improving my love relationship?
Yes, most likely. Let’s see how that would translate.
Learning to tidy my closet successfully, I discovered, is a game-changer.
Because I had been so sure that cleaning my closet was just, well, cleaning my closet. You know, clean it up! Move things around. Make it look better.
(That’s also what people try to do with their intimate relationship.)
But as it turns out, until recently, I actually had no idea how to clean my closet because I never seemed to be able to clean it in a way that would keep it naturally tidy. My cleaning methods didn’t maintain the beauty or functionality of my closet.
That was frustrating. Tiring. It got old.
(Similarly, the way many people attempt to maintain their relationship doesn’t work, either. Most relationships tend to be a little on the messy side, and people often use duct tape methods to try to get things back in order.)
WHERE YOU START MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE
By reading a simple, short book with a clear approach, I learned to start in a different place. Marie Kondo taught me to take everything out of my closet, handle each item and put back only what sparks joy.
That’s a different idea for sure! But I found it to be simple, straightforward and something I could do.
And most importantly, I did it!
She taught me three easy steps.
Notice what I have in my closet.
Get rid of items that don’t spark joy.
Organize what’s left.
In more detail, to tidy my closet I learned to:
Notice each piece of clothing in my closet. Take everything out of the closet. Handle each item. Become fully aware of every single thing that’s there.
Sort/purge. As I pick up each item, I ask myself, “Does this item of clothing spark joy?” If it does, I keep it. If it doesn’t, I set it aside to give away or sell.
Then, and only then, I organize everything that remains.
Now it’s easier to get dressed. My closet feels good when I walk in.
Also, my choices are clear. There is no thumbing through to find something acceptable because every piece of clothing was deliberately and consciously chosen by me. What’s there makes me happy, so any choice is a good one.
My clothing is hanging freely (it’s not crowded) and the line up of what I’ve got is easy on the eyes. It flows by color. I have room left over, too, and I enjoy the feeling of breathing space.
What’s most amazing, is that I find new combinations that I’ve never worn. It feels like I have a new wardrobe. Never in a million years could I have predicted that.
How would this translate to my relationship with my husband, let’s say, if I did the same process?
First, a sidebar hint.
Don’t start improving your relationship with your partner by practicing with your partner. Start with someone else, preferably with someone you don’t know. It’s easier.
(Similarly, it’s easier to clean a friend’s closet than your own.)
To take what I know about cleaning my closet and apply it to getting along better with my husband, how would I use the three steps I learned? Here’s the overview.
Today, I become more aware of my interactions with other people (not my husband) — what I say, do and think.
Sort and purge. As I speak, I filter my words through my heart, noticing how my words make me feel. Does what I’m saying feel good? If it does, I keep speaking. If it doesn’t feel great, I change course if I can. (There is much more to this step, which I’ll cover in another blog.)
I organize what’s left. (Again, more about this step in another blog.)
Eventually, I weed out assumptions, interpretations, and responses from me that don’t result in a more joyful me. I remove them from my available choices. I simply “don’t go there.”
Then, because I’ve got fewer (but more enjoyable) choices, I have room to breathe. More clarity. Less clutter. I am able to make better choices for me (not for anyone else).
This causes a “holy-moly” moment.
I notice a pattern of mine begin to change.
Instead of defending myself, I pause before responding. Instead of yelling back, I breathe and consider.
Instead of speaking so much, I listen more. Instead of telling or preaching or talking over someone, I ask questions.
Instead of repeating my past or reciting what I’ve been taught, I am curious. I learn new ways of being.
I take a road less traveled.
As much as possible, I consciously set aside what I used to say that caused stress in me and take a moment of breathing space to see what else I’ve got instead. I sit in the wide open field of possibilities and learn about myself.
I practice curiosity.
SOME GOOD NEWS
After eventually completing the first two steps, what remains practically organizes itself and what’s there makes me happy. My available responses also match, blend easily and create a natural flow from me to others. I feel freer. Because I’m more natural, my relationships brighten.
I know, easier said than done.
(Here’s where we all need someone leaping out in the superman/wonder woman cape to help us with the hard parts…)
To be effective and real and authentic, every cell of my body and soul must come along for the ride, not just my mind. Changing a habit of response is not a “one and done” decision. It’s a process and often it takes longer than I might prefer.
Compared to cleaning my closet, cleaning up my role in a relationship is a graduate course for sure. Working with my relationship is deeper, more complicated, and more multi-faceted than the simple act of removing a pair of shoes from my closet that I don’t wear and giving them away.
(But go ahead, start with your closet! It’s good practice and prepares you for something bigger.)
STEP ONE, I NOTICE
“I’m reacting strongly here.”
“This conversation makes me tired. I want to go to sleep.”
“I’ve lost my patience.”
“I think he needs to change his ways.”
“I don’t like you…at all.”
“I’m mad as a wet hen about this.”
“I want to quit. Give up.”
For Step One, I don’t do anything about what’s hanging in my relationship closet. I simply start to notice what’s there — the “good, the bad and the ugly,” as well as the compassionate, the loving, the open-hearted.
Everything. Notice everything. Make notes.
In upcoming blogs, I’ll talk more about noticing what’s in your closet.
I’ll also talk about the game-changing twist to the tidying principle that messes up relationships fast. And, oh by the way, understanding this twist is no small thing — it can single-handedly save a partnership, work relationship, friendship, or family connection.
Alright, everyone, put your “noticing” glasses on, and begin to be more aware of your reactions, responses. This includes words, thoughts and feelings. Don’t worry about what to keep or what to throw away.
Have fun with Step One and feel free to ask questions or report how it’s going.
PS There’s always more to the story. At this point, there are 3 more installments to this story, but it depends on what you say back, what questions you have, what you want to know. Keep me posted if you’re willing.