I won’t be going to Europe this year …

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… or anywhere exotic … or expensive … or requiring a passport … or airline connection … or any of the trappings I once considered myself so fortunate to be a part of.

My travel bucket list — at least for now — will have to wait until the Universe thinks I’ve learned the lessons She is trying to teach me by keeping me grounded.

Because being temporarily grounded may be frustrating, but it guarantees the safest passage to the final destination She planned when She deposited me where I find myself at this very moment.

You don’t have to travel far from home to embark on your greatest journey.  But that journey is the most difficult one of all — one most of us are too fearful to take …

A journey within. A journey that begins each time we take a breath.  The journey into the self.

Eighteen months ago, my life, my travels, and my dreams were forever changed.

Until then, I lived an amazing life, living the dreams Destiny had planned for my life partner and me.

Those dreams included trips to countries around the world that formed the foundation of memories that solidified our relationship. No destination was too close or too far.  We were always grateful for the ability to live the dream, realizing how blessed we were.  And we never took anything for granted.

But then, Destiny sent us a ticket to a journey so rough, the turbulence was unlike anything we had ever experienced.

First, my dad died.   Then our dog died.  Then we lost even more loved ones on both sides of our family.  Then my denial that my almost 90-year-old mom was slowing down hit me in the face so hard I began a downward spiral into self sabotage.

But despite the challenges, something deep down inside never changed.

Then I lost my job.

With that came The Shift.

I started focusing not on what I had lost, but on what I could never lose.

And despite my futile attempts to go back to the place I once felt so comfortable in, Destiny wouldn’t let me move forward until I came to terms with reality, and the peace that giving in to that reality would offer.

I’m a dreamer. Destiny is the realist who keeps me grounded.

It’s both a blessing and a curse.  But pretending reality doesn’t exist won’t exorcise the demons we refuse to face.

Denial is the first step to going nowhere.  And so, accepting the curse of reality as a blessing in disguise is the only choice to moving forward.

Change is the greatest catalyst to magic.

Magic …

… like paying attention to the “accidents” and “coincidences” that are arrows pointing us in the direction we’re meant to go.

I’ll be 59 soon.  (Holy bat poop Batman! How did that happen?)

An age that once seemed so old is now a springboard to possibilities so endless they make me giddy.

I choose to move forward, and to have faith that the Invisible Arms that have always been there to catch me will catch me again.

My friends, planning a trip abroad is easy.

But hotel suggestions in the depths of your soul aren’t found on Booking.com.  No airline is safe enough to fly there.  And the baggage you try to bring with you will never make it past security.

I won’t be going to Europe this year.

That’s because I’ll be continuing my journey to a destination I’ve been postponing far too long …

A journey to my purpose … my peace.

Will you come with me?

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I lost my job, but I don’t have cooties and it’s not contagious!

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A few months ago I received the proverbial pink slip from a company within the business I’ve called “home” for my entire career.

It’s time for me to come out of the closet about it.

Not only for my sake, but for the sake of the hundreds of people who lose their jobs every day and are too embarrassed to talk about it.

Call it what you want … being laid off, downsized, eliminated, fired.  It doesn’t matter.  The bottom line is, one day I had a job and the next day I didn’t.

Did it suck?  Of course it did.  But wailing, gnashing my teeth and inviting friends over for a pity party were never my style.  And wallowing in self pity because I no longer had to get dressed come Monday morning seemed … well, uncool.

So, here comes full disclosure.  Any similarities to people working or unemployed is purely intentional.

I’m not angry or resentful.  In fact, I’m quite the opposite.  It’s taken a few weeks for me to get to this place of peace, but it’s that very peace that has given me the courage to write publicly about it.

That, and the fact that a couple of weeks ago a 33-year-old former colleague passed away.  He was a talented, courageous man who once took the risk to come out of his own closet and publish it to a national audience.

Then, just a few hours ago, I attended the wake and burial of a neighbor who was closer to me than some of my family members.  He was just two years older than me.

Suddenly, writing about losing my job no longer seemed scary.  In the big scheme of things, it was no big deal.

Emancipation Day

First of all, not having a job is not the end of the world.  In fact, if truth be told, the day I was “let go” felt like an emancipation.

I love my life’s work and career.  But I’ve lived long enough to know that there’s a Higher Power to whom I’ve entrusted my purpose.  And if She thought it was time to move on, then who was I to question Her.

Three days after Emancipation Day — my first Monday where I had nowhere to go, or any reason to rush to take a shower — my new reality began.

It didn’t take long to realize that there’s a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” philosophy around people who lose their jobs.  (There’s that closet thing again.)

For the most part, people ignored me. Even on social media, those who knew I had lost my job pretended it didn’t happen.  I received three messages from former colleagues, saying they were sad they hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye.  A few others had wished me well as I walked out of the building that Friday a few months ago — in the nanosecond it took for the news to spread like wildfire.  Other than that … nothing.

Being unemployed isn’t contagious, but some people treat you like it is.  It’s as if by staying away from you, they won’t catch your cooties.

So, I started to call a few close friends and former colleagues to tell them what had happened.

“I’m so sorry!”was the most common response.

“Don’t be,” I’d say. “The door to possibilities just swung wide open for me.”

Stop talking about it like it was some cruel injustice.  It happened.  Move on.

At worst, it was strictly a business decision.  At best a Universal gift pushing me in the direction of a higher calling.  Not that I hadn’t been on purpose during my career. It’s just that the groundwork had been laid for the greater accomplishments for which I was created.

I was very much alive.  Condolences weren’t necessary.

Finally, there were those who insisted on inviting me to happy hour to keep me up to date on the latest drama for your mama at my former workplace.  Many complained about how unhappy they were.

“OMG, stop whining and quit,” I would tell them.  It seemed much more civil than throwing the dirty martini with three olives in front of them in their face.

“Well, it’s easier to find a new job when you have a job,” was the most common response.

Translation: I get a pay check.

“OK, then,” I  would think.  “If I have to listen to your whine, then you get to pay for my wine.”

And so it goes.

Cootie Lessons

It’s been four months since my job left me.  I’ve learned quite a few things since then.  Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the lessons … lessons I hope will guide you, no matter on which side of the unemployment line you stand.

Lesson 1: Be grateful for everything you have and everything you haven’t lost.  Most of all be grateful for the time you’ve been given to do the things you’ve been too busy to do.  It’s those things that will guide you to the next chapter in your life.

Lesson 2: Be humble. A week after Emancipation Day, I attended my 40th High School reunion.  It was the place where I had meant to brag about what I had done for the past 40 years.  Suddenly I couldn’t do that.  Yet the overwhelming support I received when I shared what had happened to me made me realize that what I did for a living had no impact whatsoever on what my true friends thought of me.  My favorite comment:  “If I were laid off, I could do so many of the things I feel too trapped to do right now!”  Think about it.  Why wait to get untrapped?  What guarantee do you have that you’ll ever get to do those things.

Lesson 3: Trust … in a Higher Power, in yourself, in your family, in the Unknown, in the moments that put a smile on your face.  Know that letting go and getting out of the way of destiny will bring you one step closer to the fulfillment you seek.  Notice I didn’t say the job you seek.  Jobs aren’t necessarily fulfilling.

Lesson 4: Be patient. There’s no better time to trust the Force that’s been guiding you since birth than when you have no other choice but to do so.

Lesson 5: Practice being positive around those who are negative.  Trust me, there will be plenty of negativity around.  Get that picture of yourself living under the Interstate and eating cat food out of your head.  Close your eyes. Envision a dirty martini with three olives in it. Then see yourself throwing it in the face of the doom and gloomers.

Lesson 6: Don’t Settle.  It’s easy to take the first job you’re offered.  Don’t do it.  Don’t let fear trap you back into what you left behind.

Lesson 7: Focus. Get clear on what you don’t want so you can focus on what you do want.

Lesson 8: Persevere in finding your next opportunity, but remember to ride your bike, write your novel, have lunch with people you’ve been meaning to have lunch with, play your guitar, walk the dog in your pajamas, go to the naked beach and check in on Facebook.  Most of all, waste time doing the things you love. Because the things the world tells you are important really aren’t.

Lesson 9: Stop treating yourself like you’re contagious.  The minute I opened up to people and let my guard down, opportunities  began to open up for me.  No one can help you if you don’t ask for help.

Lesson 10: Pay your positive attitude forward to those who are not quite as positive about their situation as you are.  It’s in giving that we receive.

Remember, you’re not unemployed.  You’re working to put fear aside so the next chapter of your life can begin.

And that, my friends, doesn’t suck so bad.

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Please Don’t …

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… mistake my lack of engagement in your argument as a sign that I don’t care — or don’t understand — your point of view.

Please don’t think that just because you speak louder than me that you will convince me that I’m wrong and you’re right.  The louder you speak, the less I listen.  If we agree to disagree, we’re both right.  And peace wins.

Please don’t use my faults as weapons against me when you’re feeling scared and vulnerable.  Accept your own misgivings, and know that your human foibles are the very things I love most about you.

Please don’t think you can hurt me with your perfectly crafted mental arguments.  Those may work in a court of law, but in the courtroom  of the Queen of Hearts, the pain you hide from behind those arguments will ultimately be exposed.

Please don’t think that my unconditional love for you gives you permission to deny my unconditional love for myself.  I’ve been told to love my neighbor — in this case you — as I love myself.  And though it may sound selfish, it’s only by putting the oxygen mask on myself first that I can save both of us.

Please don’t think our challenges are meant to tear us apart, because if they were, we would not have survived as long as we have.

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White Trash Wardrobe

barb-pedicure

I hate shopping.

I shop for things only when I need them.

Today, I needed only four things:

Dishwashing liquid, bananas, asparagus, and almond milk.

For some reason, known only to the gods of life lessons and comic relief, my record-breaking dash down the aisles of my neighborhood Winn-Dixie supermarket was interrupted only by the sudden realization that I might run into someone I know.

And my nanosecond decision to take a break from my writing to buy those oh-so-important items, would turn into a Facebook-haunting, lifetime-regretting moment on social media.

Now, I’m not a celebrity — nor do I play one on TV — but my wardrobe of choice as I stood in the dairy aisle would leave any publicity-seeking celebrity salivating with envy. And her profit-seeking paparazzi would be well paid for being at the right place at the right time.

As I reached for the container of 50% more calcium than dairy milk almond milk, I realized I’d left the house wearing this: A pair of camouflage capris, a bright orange T-shirt from my trip to Croatia, a black Nike cap, and white flip flops.

In my defense, my pedicure looked quite hot in those flip flops.  Otherwise, I was quite the hot mess.

It was quite possible that I might run into someone who might use my shoes and wardrobe of choice to judge me.

But you know what?  I didn’t care.

A few days earlier, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a few months.  She gave me a great big hug and told me something that sums up how I’ve been feeling …

“I love your Facebook posts,” she said.  “You look so happy!”

And for the first time — in a long time — it dawned on me.

She’s right.

I am happy.

I can go out in public knowing that what’s inside will more than make up for what’s outside.

Real happiness speaks louder than whatever distractions we use to cover up our doubts and insecurities.

I can’t wait to see what I’m wearing tomorrow.

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Passion’s precipice

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Lima, Peru: Photo by Barb Besteni

 

Sometimes inspiration comes to me in the form of an article’s title.

It happens so much, I no longer question this somewhat backwards way of following my muse’s calling. But I’m often stuck for days staring at a blank page, trying to find words that support the title.

I was sitting at a red light the day after Christmas when “Passion’s precipice” jumped into my head. I waited for more, but nothing followed.  Realizing that my muse was leaving this up to me, I turned to her cyber counterpart.

This morning, Google came to my rescue.

At the very top of a Google search for the meaning of passion, I found this:

pas·sion

  1. strong and barely controllable emotion.
  2. the suffering and death of Jesus – crucifixion, suffering, agony, martyrdom

“This is going to be interesting,” I thought.

Think passion and — let’s be honest — you think sex.  Indeed, sex is all about strong and barely controllable emotions. But passion is much more than hormones.  Passion is meant to color every part of our lives, from our careers, to our relationships and everything in between — and, of course, sex.

Fulfilling our purpose on this planet depends on injecting passion into everything we do.  Remove passion from the equation and routine sets in. Apathy soon follows, leaving you unfilled, bored, depressed and cranky.

If you’re experiencing these feelings in any area of your life, chances are you’ve lost the passion that was once the guiding force behind it.

How do you regain passion for something — or someone — once you’ve lost it?

First and foremost accept that you can never go back.  You can’t force the excitement and feelings you felt the first time around.  That’s the mistake most of us make, longingly looking at the past, comparing it to our present, and wondering what it means for our future.

Perhaps a better question is: How do you keep passion alive?

Passion is an emotion that stirs parts of your being — sometimes dark parts — that you didn’t know you were capable of.  Those emotions can be deliciously overwhelming.  But they can also cause you much suffering.

Welcome the darkness … the unknown.  Embrace it.  Break bread with it.  Let it guide you to the deepest depths of your soul.

In “Dark Nights of the Soul,” Thomas Moore refers to the emotions that passion stirs — jealousy, envy, fear, rage — as “temporary insanities.”  But are those emotions the result of passion?  Or are they the byproduct of suppressing the passions that stir within our soul?

Those who chose to live lives of quiet desperation dabble only in passion’s positive side.  They will never experience the sense of purpose that lurks deep beneath the surface of offering themselves completely to passion’s pain.

Sadly, when going beneath the surface gets too scary, quiet desperation seems the better alternative.  And too many choose the safety of the known over plunging into the unholiness of the unknown.

But the unknown holds the key to the sacred.

Only if we’re willing to suffer, be crucified, suffer pain unlike anything we’ve ever known, and offer ourselves as martyrs to passion, will we ever hope to become what our Creator expects us to be.

When standing on passion’s precipice, there really is only one choice.

Jump.

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The Zen of Christmas tree decorating

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It happens every year.

I procrastinate about decorating the Christmas tree, mostly because of the overwhelming sense to “get it right.”

Decorating the Christmas tree is a tradition I’ve never missed.  It’s a tradition I picked up from my mom … one that always brings me back to a place of innocence and trusting that lives deep within my heart, safe from whatever disappointments life throws at me.

It’s a symbol of hope, no matter how hopeless things may seem.

Last year — two days before her journey to the Rainbow Bridge — our beloved Queenie lay in her little bed next to the tree as I decorated it.  My dad’s spirit was right there with her.  He had continued his journey into eternity a few months earlier.

Each time I glanced at Queenie, our eyes met.

We both knew it was the last Christmas we would decorate the tree together.

Christmas past …

Christmas mornings had always been magical for me.

They became even more magical after Queenie came into our lives.

There’s nothing quite like watching a 10-pound mini Dachshund forage under the tree to find the gifts Santa brought her — Her human moms pausing long enough to open our own gifts, taking turns to throw the latest squeaky toy our “daughter” brought to us — All the while delighting in the precious, blessed — and oh, so fleeting moment.

It’s a fleeting moment that all parents share … no matter how many legs our children have.

I am blessed to have found a partner who treasures Christmas as much as I do.

She and I have quite the array of ornaments and decorations that we’ve collected — both at home and during our world travels — throughout the years.

Each year, the process of decorating the tree gets more complicated as I attempt to add as many of our ornaments as possible.

Everything is placed on the tree in a particular order.  The bows and balls, the poinsettias, the garland, the gold and maroon splashes of color that are the foundation upon which the magic is built.

The ornaments are last.   cuba-ornament

They are the most fun to place because they conjure up so many memories.  Most are grouped by the country in which we purchased them — the ones from our latest trip always go front and center, near the ones that started it all for us — the ones from the trip to California when Queenie was just a puppy.

But now we have so many ornaments, that we could fill the tree at Rockefeller Center and still have a few dozen left over. monterey-ornament

And that’s why the process has become more and more daunting.  And it’s precisely why my procrastination grows with each passing year.

A few years ago, we stopped buying a real tree and opted for a pre-lit “fake” one that looks pretty real.  At least it saved me the frustration of getting the lights “just right.”

Two weeks ago, I took the tree out of its box and put it together.  But there it sat in front of our dining room window, only the lights coming on each night.

Christmas present … 

My procrastination this year was so intense that I even considered leaving the tree naked, with only its lights as decoration.  It has both colored and white lights from which I can choose at the click of a switch, so even “undecorated” it looks pretty awesome.

But in my heart of hearts, I knew the Dachshund angel looking down from the Rainbow Bridge — next to her grandpa — were rolling their eyes and laughing at my naked tree idea.

And then, one night I simply began.

I let go.  I asked the tree to tell me how it wanted to be decorated.  (No, the egg nog was not spiked.)

I released the outcome (a lesson I’ve been getting good at learning these past few months.)

I stopped trying to decorate the tree the way I thought it was “supposed to be decorated” and just started placing the ornaments where they led me to place them.

And, in record time, the tree was done.

Christmas future …

As I stood back to survey the finished product, I said a prayer of thanks to the One for whom I celebrate the Season.  That One may be different for you and me, but the Spirit of the Season is the same, no matter how different our beliefs may be.

This year, my Christmas tree reminded me of the value of surrender — a theme that’s been the undercurrent of my life lately.

It’s by letting go — by getting out of life’s way — that we attract the things we most want for ourselves.

The secret is to place the ornaments we are given to decorate our lives wherever the Spirit guides us to place them.

And when we stand back to survey the finished product … it will be perfect.

 

 

 

 

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Never assume …

Sunset June 16

… that someone is happier than you are.

Just because they look happy doesn’t mean they are.

Don’t judge someone’s inside by what you see on the outside.

They may be faking it as much as you.

They may be envying your life as much as you envy theirs.

Never assume …

… that just because someone doesn’t take your advice that they don’t value it.

Trust that they know their journey better than you do and they’ll use that advice when they’re ready … when the Universe guides them to follow — or not follow — what you had to offer.

You’ve done your part by speaking your heart.

Release it.  Let go.

Hard as it may be for you to believe … the Universe is smarter than you are.

Never assume …

… that just because you don’t do big things in life that you’re not living on purpose.

Nothing is small in this perfect Universe.  Every piece of the puzzle fits together perfectly.

Don’t compare.  Trust the Universe’s wisdom.  Surrender to It.  Listen.  Follow Its guidance.

You may be more on purpose than those to whom you compare yourself.

Never assume …

… that a Dark Night of the Soul will last forever.

What you seek is closest when you’re about to quit.

Don’t quit.  Surrender.

There’s a difference between quitting and surrendering.

Meditate on that difference.

Pray that you can recognize the moment when you’ve done enough and when it’s time to let go.

Never assume …

… that just because you don’t see instant results that you’ve failed.

Patience, release, and trust are the seeds of success.

When God says, “I’ve got this,” know that you have succeeded.

Never assume …

… your life doesn’t matter.

You are a child of an ever-powerful, ever-loving God.

And God isn’t done with you yet.

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