Thursday, January 25, 2018

BIG ME, little me

Buddha said to wear your ego like a loose-fitting garment.  The ego, that “me” we each fabricate over a lifetime to present to and interact with the world, serves a purpose, but it's not real. Okay…it’s real, but it's not real real.

I’m in my 6th decade now, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ego, loss, and letting go. It’s true that we all face loss throughout our lives. Relationships end, people we know & love die, we lose jobs/houses/pets, tragedies happen. These losses are a natural part of living. And loss, especially in midlife and beyond, does something else besides make us suffer—it also chisels away at the ego by chipping away at our created identities—the things and people from which we have each built the story of ME. It was always a fiction, but I’m learning lately how comforting and safe that fiction has been for me, and how bare, how raw, it can feel to let it go, to strip it away.

The Jung Center says, “Aging means more than just staying on the physical plane while the years pile up. It includes activities like unifying the opposites...In these years we can work on individuation, as the ego experiences a host of realities that incline it to give way to the Self [my emphasis]. Submitting to the direction of the Self can foster the ‘gradual spiritualization of consciousness’” (

The layers of my garment—musician, student, mother, partner, daughter, grandmother, teacher, friend, etc.—come and go. I resist the going, because I’m human, and humans don’t like change in spite of what we say. And because our garments become familiar, protective, and cozy, we want to leave them on. Some of us even forget they’re garments at all; we don’t wear them loosely anymore—we live in them like skin.

Stripping off a layer (or having a layer unexpectedly stripped off) can be painful and confusing: You have a stroke, the stroke takes your voice, are you still a singer? The band breaks up, are you still a musician? Your kids grow up, they leave and turn into adult humans (even really cool humans), are you still a tiger mother? You lose a job, your friend commits suicide or gets hit by a car, your mother gets cancer, you graduate, you get old and infirm—are you still a bank teller, friend, daughter, student, wild woman? When the layers come off, it can feel like you’re under attack, losing yourself, coming undone, lost, invisible, no one.

It took years of meditation, inner work, waking up, a willingness to be honest about what I feel and believe, and a willingness to SEE my own misconceptions, but I’m finally getting it through my thick head that none of this was ever ME. (And, by the way, we all put on and take off layers all the time—I’m still tightly wrapped in teacher, daughter, grandma and other delightfully comfy, cozy layers—it’s knowing they’re only layers that matters.)

I believe that the spark & truth & love that is our true nature, our connectedness within all TRUTH, has never been and can never be altered, diminished, taken away, or lost. Once I figured this out (remembered it?), I could breathe a little easier through life’s inevitable chiseling away. I won’t lie and say I always smile peacefully through loss now, but it no longer completely undoes me. 

I’m not crazy about the word “annihilation,” but this quote from Jack Kornfield rings true for me: “Only to the extent that a person exposes themselves over and over again to annihilation and loss can that which is indestructible [my emphasis] be found within them.” 

That’s how it can feel—exposed—when layers come off. So now I like to think of my layers as scarves…filmy, silky, sheer, loose, beautiful scarves that at least keep the wind off my face. My scarves come and go, there are an infinite number of ways to wear them, and I never leave them on in the house (ME).

Monday, January 1, 2018

Cabin Fever


South Dakotans are a practical, innovative people. Take today, for example: It’s -23 degrees here this morning. That’s REAL temp, folks (the wind chill was -35 when I woke up). The dogs went out this morning and tried to pee standing on one foot. The outdoor thermometer froze at -10 and refused to budge. Needless to say, there’s no going out in cold like this—in under 10 minutes, frostbite can turn skin to blue glass.


When you’re stuck in the house for a few days, cabin fever is an ever-looming possibility. And unless you live alone, two or more of you are facing a WHOLE LOT of togetherness. The novice will experience the typical stages of cabin fever: Stage 1: You’re delighted to be able to reconnect with each other. You have conversations. Stage 2: You enjoy some “us” time, then you each wander off on your own for a while. Stage 3: You avoid a room with anyone else in it and only grunt if you pass someone in the hall. Stage 4: Nerves are like stripped wires. Sparks fly. Fires start. There is no Stage 5.


But because cabin fever is an annual risk for prairie people, we’ve come up with ingenious ways to hold it off until help (temps above -5) arrives:


1. Nap. Several times a day. In fact, since it’s hard to tell day from night when you’re snowed/frozen in the “cabin,” all your sleep should now be naps. If you’re not actually napping, pretend. Make snoring sounds.

2. Eat. This is a favorite strategy for Midwesterners. Bake. Cook. Eat. Experiment with what you have on hand: red hot candies, marshmallows, potato chips, Jell-O, 5 jars of mayonnaise, 2 power bars, cheese, pickles, dark chocolate, frozen hotdog buns, canned jalapenos, garam masala, truffle salt, croutons. Eat some more.

3. Make an elaborate hanging, moveable swing for your African grey parrot, because on Day 3 of this, you binged documentaries, one of which was Bird Brain, and now you NEED to move your parrot from room to room with you.

4. Go through the bin in which you’ve been saving makeup you’ve collected since 1975 (including the ice-white, sparkly Pot ‘O Gloss lip gloss you bought when you were 15). Throw out at least 3 things (but not the Pot ‘O Gloss).

5. Clean/organize your fridge. Clean/organize your pantry. Clean/organize your cupboards. Then see #2.

6. Wash every rug in the house.

7. Sort out your yarn and knitting projects. Shelve 17 half-finished projects, individually bagged and including patterns and appropriate needles. Shelve your yarn stash, organized by weight, color, and fiber content. File extra patterns in a 3-ring binder with transparent sleeves.

8. Start a NEW knitting project, and knit while you binge-watch British cop shows or documentaries on whales, birds, or elephants.

9. Take a shower at least once. Don’t bother with shaving, nail-trimming, chin-hair plucking, etc. You can do that someday when you can leave the house again.

10. Start a new batch of kombucha. In fact, turn your dining room table into a kombucha factory. Start a batch with each of the 23 scobies in your scoby hotel. Spend an hour or two making adorable labels for kombucha bottles, with cute names like Stir Crazy Strawberry and Gone Bonkers Blueberry.

11. Stay hydrated. Water is good, but Bailey’s and coffee is more practical: It will keep you awake to tackle projects, and it will soften those unfortunate run-ins you have with other humans. Also, see #10.

12. Build a new set of shelves out of an old plank table and some crown molding. See #7.

13. Blog.


These are just a few ideas to get you started. One last tip: If the weather doesn’t break by, say, Day 7 or 8, put on EVERY stitch of clothing you own, wrap your feet in plastic bread bags under fur mukluks, and make a break for it. Because any more togetherness than that, and it won’t end well…