bipolar

Why I Quit Facebook: Confessions of a Social Media Addict

I did the unthinkable yesterday.  I deactivated my Facebook account.  And you know what?  It felt really good.

A year ago, you would have found me on Facebook for hours at a time, scrolling through my feed and messaging friends while claiming to be hard at work on my next book.  Several times during these “work” sessions my husband would pop in and tease me: “Have you beat Facebook, yet?” as if I was one of our kids, compulsively attached to their newest video game.

I may not have won, but I must admit over the past eight years, I got pretty darn good at the Facebook “game”. As a writer, I know how to engage folks and pull them in. I know how to elicit responses. But being a decent writer is not the key ingredient to succeeding at Facebook. Like many of us, I have the tendency to believe that I’m a rather important sort of human. Couple this notion with a mild need for approval and a dash of narcissism and I am the perfect candidate for advanced level Facebookery.

About three years ago, in the midst of my Facebook fascination, I started meditating regularly, listening to the likes of Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, and Thich Nhat Hanh.  As I did I noticed a change in myself.  I was still acting in all my silly, neurotic ways, however I was now finding that I was able to step back and gently observe all these quirky habits. I was starting to see the whole me. Gradually, as I acknowledged my weaknesses, changes inside were happening. Meditation was forcing me to look at the parts of me that needed work (which are many!).

About this time, I started taking morning walks on the beach by my house and snapping pictures of the sunrise. Without knowing it, this little morning exercise became a form of meditation as well.  As I walked, reflections about life percolated.  I began entering my life observations down into my phone and posting them with my photos on Facebook. It turns out the people liked what I had to say.  Pretty soon I started a small following of people who looked forward to my introspective sunrise posts.  It became sort of “a thing”.

However pleasant and insightful my thoughts were, Facebook wasn’t going to let me get away with simply sharing my messages. Instead it did exactly as it’s designed—to get me and my friends to engage and respond.  And that they did. Friends responded with comments, hearts, laughy faces, surprise faces and in turn, me, the latent attention seeker, watched with secret glee.

As the ‘likes’ blossomed… so did my ego.

So, there I was, like a lab rat, tapping the lever to see who applauded my insights of love, the cosmos, and humanity.  I knew something wasn’t right about this picture. I could feel it nagging at me every time I tapped that little blue “f” on the phone, but I kept on doing it, with the hopes that my meditation practice and those Youtube talks I watched about the perils of ego attachment would neutralize my distraction, but it wasn’t working. Turns out, I’m still purely human—an absolute sucker for that little, computer generated thumbs up.

Then just a few days ago something happened. I was hanging out with an acquaintance who decided to give me her brash opinion about my presence on Facebook.  She told me that she thought my posts were exhausting.  She said reading them was like watching a bipolar person. She then proceeded to go in depth about how much I overthought things, pointing out how I needed to ‘just be’—the exact thing I had been striving for in all my spiritual work.

I drove away from her that day feeling a whirlwind of shame, doubt, and anger. On one level she was right. After all, I am bipolar. I live a very intense life, and I’m not afraid to share it.  And yeah, I am all about self-reflection.  However her critique showed no kindness, no attempt at understanding who I am or why I act the way I do.

But something good happened from this woman’s remarks.  It forced me to look at myself. My reaction to her abrasive statements made me realize how wrapped up I had become in people’s opinions. I had been making myself sick trying to get approval. Everyone loved me online, but as soon as someone showed disapproval I was crushed.

Stepping back I could now see my behaviors in their rawest state. I could see that I was seeking love from others, while simultaneously preaching peace, mindfulness, and self-forgiveness in my posts. I was living a dual life. I was both a radiant, wise being and a hungry little girl dancing for applause. I decided then that it was time to give that little girl a break.

So, after that car ride home, I decided I wanted out. I no longer wanted to wait around to see how many likes I got on Facebook.  Nor did I want to be the one scrolling through other people’s posts judging them or enabling their own ego trips.  Although I can see the many benefits to Facebook and may return at some point when I have a healthier perspective, right now I need to get away from the machine designed to awaken my narcissistic self.

I was (am) an approval addict, and though Facebook is not the root of my addiction it was the fuel. Facebook may not be the heroin, but it’s the needle used to stick it in.

If I have learned anything on this journey, it is that love is not out there. It’s not going to be found in a little blue icon at the bottom of my screen, or in any human being for that matter. I can seek the opinions of others day in and day out, wait for them to pat me on the back, but in the end, that is empty. The love I found on the beach all those mornings or on the meditation cushion didn’t come from my eager fan club awaiting my words; it didn’t even come from the rising sun, or the rolling waves.  It came from me. I chose it. I chose, in those moments, to be free.

Social media is not inherently evil.  Facebook creates lasting friendships, it connects people across the world and functions as a wonderful community builder. However as users, it’s important that we understand the reason Facebook exists. In the end it’s not there to make sure you’re having soulful engagements with other humans. Facebook is there to make money and we, in all of our positive and unhealthy behaviors, are the tools it uses to create revenue. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it simply is what it is, but it’s important to see it for what it is.  Just as you wouldn’t place full trust in the guy selling you a car, we need to watch carefully and be conscious of what social media wants from us.

The key to social media (and anything, for that matter) is to be mindful. Watch how it affects you.  As you go about your day, observe yourself in different environments: work, hanging out with friends, alone in a place of peace, and then look at how you feel as you scroll through Facebook.  See what it does for you, what it doesn’t. For me I learned that not matter what I did, I was unable to not be seduced by the game.  It always left me feeling ill.

This morning I walked on the beach at sunrise and didn’t post any pictures, nor did I stop in my tracks to tell all my friends on Facebook about my deep reflections.  As I strolled, a smiling woman approached me. I had seen her several times on previous walks, but we had never talked. Today as she came up to me, she formally introduced herself.  We chatted for a bit and laughed at our shared, quirky perspectives on life.  She then looked at me with a beautiful, warm smile and said, “Hey, let’s do coffee, sometime.”  My first impulse was to pull out my phone, so I could immediately look up her name on Facebook to friend her, but I stopped. I put down my phone and simply said, “I’d love to do that, very much.”

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Buddha Under the Big Top

How Meditation Changed my Life, One Circus Act at a Time

My dad was a psychiatrist—an old school one who believed equally in the power of medicine and talking things out.  When I was a teen and started showing signs of anxiety and depression the natural course of action as prescribed by my parents was drugs and psychotherapy. These methods helped a great deal early on, but as an adult I found myself overly dependent on tools that no longer empowered me. So, four years ago, seeking something different I found a therapist who introduced me to meditation.

I began a practice as she directed, meditating for ten minutes a day, but it didn’t go as I hoped. I was fidgety and distracted, wanting anything but to sit in that chair. On day two I declared to my husband, “I suck at mediation.”

I returned to my therapist frustrated, and embarrassed.

“Hmm…” she said, thinking for a moment. “Why not try just meditating for a minute a day instead?”

Well this should be easy, I thought.

But about a week into my one minute practice, I still felt itchy and dissatisfied. There was no bliss, no joy, just total frusteration. It had become clear in my mind that I would never be a candidate for Buddhahood. So I quit.

However two years later, still plagued with discontent, I decided to try it again.  I ordered a book from Amazon: Journey of Awakening: A Meditator’s Guidebook by Ram Dass.

The instructions for sitting meditation were simple: Set aside time each day to be alone in the quiet, keeping the length of time and location where you meditate consistent. Then sit yourself in a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe. There wasn’t much more to it than that. Ram Dass suggested at first focusing solely on the air going in and out of your nostrils and nothing else. Every time your mind wandered, bring it back to your breath.

This time I started a practice in a different mindset. I went in to it knowing that a wandering mind was part of the game.  I understood now that there was no such thing as a good or bad mediator. Knowing this completely changed my experience.

So, for the past two years, every morning, I have sat cross legged in my special chair, eyes closed, timer set for twenty minutes, simply breathing.

Usually the first few moments of mediation are quite lovely.  I’m fresh and ready. I’ve got my mind focused on my breath. Life is good.  But then inevitably, a thought wanders in. If I’m going through something rough, this will be the time that that murky, uncomfortable feelings rear their ugly heads and I notice negative thoughts come to the foreground.

But I’ve learned to not give these thoughts or emotions any energy. Like Ram Dass instructed, I simply bring my awareness back to my breath. My thoughts inevitably wander again, so I do the work, bringing them back again, gently, with love. This back and forth may happen ten, twenty times in a sitting, but I’m learning that it’s not the “sparkly” movements  that are important, it’s the returning. I see meditation sort of like going to the gym. Every time you lift that weight, or do another sit up, you’re making yourself stronger.

On some days as I sit, I’ll admit, I feel really good, connected to everything, but lots of times it’s just me with my monkey mind in high maintenance mode. On those days I become convinced that there is in fact a three ring circus residing in my head. Not a real one of course—but some days I wonder.

The trick with my inner circus however is in the awareness. I remind myself that I am in the stands, not part of the show.  On these days, the key is in knowing that the fate of the world is not dependent on whether the tight rope walker makes it to the other side or how many clowns that day will get sprayed with seltzer. It’s all just a show. So, as I breathe I remind myself (no matter how hard those clowns are working to bring me into their antics) that I’m just the observer.

The tigers of my mind may be jumping through flaming hoops and a multitude of mental clowns may be trying to fit into a tiny car, but I gently, through my breath remind myself that what happens down there does not need my immediate attention.

During meditation this morning, in the center ring of my mind was a doozy of a performance. Right there (dressed in a sparkly leotard) balancing on a high wire was a looming thought:

How am I ever going to survive summer break with the kids home?

In my primary reality where I see myself as a writer and a mother, thoughts like this hold a hell of a lot of weight. In this realm, not only do I have a book to write, but I also need to make sure the kids don’t drown each other in the pool or spend the next three months eating nothing but Hot Pockets.

Important stuff, right?

But the truth of the matter is, in the realm of meditation, as I breathe slowly, the identities and jobs I subscribe to are not even real. In the moment I am nothing but my breath, a quiet observer in the stands of an otherwise chaotic big top. How liberating it is to be able to let go of all my worries, even if sometimes it’s only for a moment.

I’ll be the first to admit, lots of days my meditation doesn’t end in sublime moments of rainbows and bliss. Some days I’ll check my meditation timer three or four times, fighting the urge to get my day moving.  As with everything, some days are harder than others, but I am learning that the effort itself is what is key.

In spite of the “work” required for mediation,  good things have come from my practice.  I’m not sure outsiders would even notice, but it seems that I don’t linger on negative thoughts quite so long. I forgive quicker, love stronger. And more often now, when I’m on my morning walk and the light hits the leaves just right, I find myself pausing, quietly watching, wrapped in an effervescent sense of joy.

Don’t get me wrong, I can still be cranky, obsessive, jealous, and moody, but somehow these circus acts don’t last quite so long. Problems arise, but now I’m not as frequently a victim of my own circus mind.

The number one thing I’ve learned with meditation is compassion for the self. For those of us who tend to be self-critical, perfectionists, or fixated on deadlines and time, mediation provides an absolute freedom, as it trains you to forgive and let go. Like a mother gently guiding her child away from trouble, when we wander, we gently bring ourselves back to a place of safety, over and over. In the moment of the breath, there are no standards, no anger, no judgement, just a loving, subtle sense of calm.

I used to take all that noise in my head very, very seriously, but now, during meditation I often find myself smiling at thoughts and ideas that used to be seem like a really big deal. Believe it or not, the pageantry of my own mind is quite amusing. These days, when I see an image of Buddha smiling, I can’t help but wonder if he grins, not because he has reached the pinnacle of self-awareness but because he is also a witnessed of the “Greatest Show on Earth”–I don’t know, maybe these are one in the same.

Many of us put this notion of spirituality on a pedestal. Enlightenment is a serious thing, right? I used to think in order to find inner peace I needed to be solemn and only the right books, the right mediation cushion, and the proper string of mala beads, blessed by the Dalai Lama himself would bring me salvation.  I believed that whatever this ‘bliss and oneness thing’ was, it was far from my reach. But it’s not.

Happiness is always just a breath away. It resides in all of us, in that precious moment of finding our center time and time again. I now mediate when I’m peeling carrots, sweeping the floors, listening to music, kissing my kids goodnight.  All it takes is the awareness that you are not the circus of your mind…just a happy observer, finding joy in the moment of being you. All you have to do is breathe.

Secrets of a Professional Snake Charmer

Seated safely behind glass, an audience of  twenty-five onlookers watch as Carl and Anne Barden mindfully bring out six plastic boxes to a well-lit table. Each one is labeled respectively: cobra, coral snake, cottonmouth, rattlesnake.

Carl removes an angry five-foot long creature from a drawer labeled “monocled cobra” and lets it loose on the table. Instantly it rights itself, “standing” with its tell-tale hood flared, its eye on the crowd.

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Carl moves about like a Kung Fu master, shifting gracefully, fearlessly around his “opponent”. Then with nothing but a modified golf club, he secures the snake to the table, just below the head. He then grabs it by the throat and brings the snake to the window for the crowd to see up close. Mouth open, fangs displayed, the snake is clearly pissed off.

That’s exactly what Carl wants.

When he knows the cobra is sufficiently worked up, Carl dips it’s fangs into a glass jar. Onlookers gasp as the yellow liquid is excreted into the vial. Carl swiftly returns the snake back into its warm little drawer, tucks it away, and pulls out another snake. According to Carl the snake has “paid its rent” and won’t be asked to perform for another fifteen days.snake coral milk

The Reptile Discovery Center, in Deland, Florida is home of Medtoxin Venom Laboratories, where Carl and Anne educate audiences on the nature of poisonous snakes and allow guests to watch as they collect venom samples for research and anti-venom purposes.

My family and I have seen this venom extraction here five times now and honestly, it never gets old. What impresses me more than the snakes themselves is the gentle, fearless dance that this “snake charmer” and his assistant do time and time again.

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After the “show” Carl was asked about the number of times he’s been bitten.

“Eleven, but every time it was my fault, not theirs,” he said, making clear that snakes aren’t the bad guys. He explained further, “All the snakes want to do is curl up safe and cozy in their warm boxes and then I come around and bring them out into this bright room…” Carl clearly feels deep compassion for his venomous friends.

This last time we were there, as I was watching these snakes ooze venom from their mouths I was struck with a realization…

This relationship Carl has to his snakes is not unlike our own relationships–both with the people around us, and more importantly with our own “snakes” within.

Like the charmer’s snakes, each of us is simply trying to get by with the tools we have been given. When we are not mindful of our actions, we are animalistic in our behaviors, reactionary. Most of us do not go seeking trouble, however if we are prodded, our snake-like emotions emerge and we behave in ways that can hurt others, as well as ourselves.

But as our friend the snake charmer showed us snakes are not inherently evil. They simply are what they are: Snakes. He expects nothing less, nothing more. Treating a rattle snake like it was, well, let’s say a kitten would simply be foolish.

Our own snake-like tendencies can be brought to the surface merely by the complications of day to day life. When this happens our dark-side emerges and sometimes, when it gets bad enough, we strike. For humans “striking” can be lashing out at others, but it can also be lashing out at ourselves, acting jealous, greedy, needy, or hopeless. We each have our own personal snakes. There’s no reason to be ashamed, angry, or afraid of these parts of ourselves. We are what we are.

The trick however is to recognize is that we are also the snake charmer.

It is our job to keep our personal snakes in line. How is this done? Just like Carl does. Understand the implicit behaviors of our own inner snakes and those around us. When we can learn to do the dance of the snake charmer, our serpents are kept at bay.

A good snake charmer knows all about his snake’s venomous dark side, yet is not scared. He shows up and does his work every day. He loves his snakes, for they are his life and livelihood. The secret? The more he charms them, the more balanced and mindful he becomes…and the less he is bitten.

The greatest part of the snake charmer’s journey is that as he develops the skill of taming his inner snakes, he also acquires the greatest skill of all—the ability to transform the most toxic of venom into something that has the power to help and heal.

Now that said, the snake charmer will make mistakes. Of course he will! He is only human. Errors happen. All the time. In fact, the other day, I watched a cobra lunge uncomfortably close to Carl’s leg. But Carl did not falter, instead he reacted with kung fu deftness and gently corrected for his error.

The goal is thus to keep learning, dancing, and developing our skills and in doing so we are able to “extract” wisdom from our errors and eventually heal ourselves (and others!) along the way.

Listen closely to the calling of your own soul and the dance of the snake charmer will be yours for the keeping.

Peace and love,

Becky

What Do You Want?

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I stumbled on a funny little exercise in “The Way of Mastery”, a book my meditation group is reading.

In the chapter they suggest meditating for just five minutes, clearing the mind, and then asking yourself “What do I want?” The authors tell you to write down what comes to your mind for seven days of this and then on the seventh day reading through them all.

“Ha!” I thought when I read this. “This will be easy!”

So I sat down and quieted my mind. I tell you, before I got the breath number two, those wants were rushing through my head in full force.

“I want a hot tub,” I thought.

“I want that cute dress I saw in the store.”

“I want one of those sugary “morning buns” I had when I was a kid…the ones my mom used to buy us as a special treat, that were slightly crisp on the outside and hot and chewy on the inside…yeah, I want one of those.”

“I want a new motorcycle. Ooh yeah…I shiny, red one. A Harley!”

“I want to be able to get on my motorcycle and ride wherever I want to…be gone for a week…or no! A month! Without a concern for money…or any of my responsibilities”

This thought made me pause.

“I want freedom.”

“I want to respect the path that each and every person is on.”

“I don’t want anyone to suffer.”

“I want to know Love.”

I noticed then that I felt a shift in my heart. No longer was I dreaming of buttery cinnamon rolls, or fast motorcycles, no longer was I grasping at the air for things that are untouchable. Instead I was yearning for something within me. And as I did this, I could feel this deep desire well up, radiate through my body, release through my pours.

This feeling wasn’t fueled by needy wants, or those unfulfillable dreams that only lead to more desires. This was something fiery, laden with passion and heat. It was alive.

This feeling was the desire for connection, not on the material level, but on a deep soulful level. I wanted then a contact with something beyond the mundane…something so real, I physically ached for it. This was Love…right there in all its shining glory. Right there.

Turns out the one true thing I truly wished for had been with me all along.

This doesn’t mean I don’t want that morning bun…I really do! But it means that I understand those sort of things are fleeting. A morning bun leads to needing a cup of really good tea, which leads to wanting a brand new thermal insulated mug for my tea to go in. And on and on…

In truth, I suppose, it’s not the actual morning bun I want. Maybe it’s the pleasure, the joy, the happiness that that little pastry brings me.

One of the goals of this exercise is teach people that there is no sin in wanting good things. We are no less spiritual because we dream of winning the lottery or buying ourselves a sports car. Wants are wants. The first goal is to love who we are…and that includes what we yearn for.

Love the pleasure a cinnamon roll gives you. However don’t think that that cinnamon roll or that Lexus is going to be the answer to your prayers. They are moving targets that dissolve in your arms when you hold too hard.

Go ahead! Yearn, want, cry out for what you love. There is no shame in passion…just don’t forget to recognize its source is something deeper…something that’s been with you all along.

Morning buns, hot tubs, and motorcycles are all temporary.

Love is eternal.

Catching Sunbeams: The Delicate Art of Stopping Time

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This weekend I went to a symphonic concert featuring the music of one of my all-time favorite bands-Led Zeppelin. Hearing the music performed live was intense and wonderful, perhaps one of the highlights of my decade.

As I sat there in the darkened auditorium and watched the violin bows moving in a synchronized dance, beneath the lights that poured on the stage, I felt as if the music was rushing at me like a wild wind, sometimes forceful, sometimes delicate. Two hours of perfection. When my favorite song, Kashmir played, I listened mesmerized. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted sit there into the night, just soaking in the continuous rolling, luscious sound.

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Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook that made me think of this previous night. A friend was talking of the inevitability of change and reminded me of one of my favorite aphorisms: “This too shall pass.”

This saying works great when things are bad, but what about when things are really, really good? Like that moment during Kashmir. I didn’t want that to pass. I wanted to hold on tight to it and not let go.

Time is a tricky beast. It is slippery and the more you try to hold on the quicker it slips away.

I experience this a lot in life. I try to grab onto time, but it never stays, in fact the harder I grab, the faster it slides from my hands. I want constancy in my life. I want to preserve the magic, the goodness, maintain in those perfect moments.

The other night my eight year old twins were lying on the bed with my husband and I all wrapped up in the blankets, when my sixteen year old son came in and jumped on the bed too. In a rare moment we were all there rolling in bed, laughing in one big tickle pile. It was ridiculous and wonderful. I was laughing so hard tears came from my eyes.

However moments later, as these things go, someone got elbowed, another got tickled too much and the crying began. That precious little sliver of time was gone, as quickly as it came.

It seems just as we get a hang of things, they change. It’s incredibly frustrating. Some days all I want to do is yell out “Wait! Wait! Please stop. Can’t we rewind a minute?” Yet this life of ours is tenuous. It is a beam of light pouring in through a window. It cannot be caught. It can’t be held. And no matter what you do that sun will drift past your window, in its continual dance forward.

I’ve learned a little trick that I use from time to time in those good moments. Rather than worry about losing time, I take it all in, breathe and smile and love it for what it is, not for what it should be or might be tomorrow. When I allow for this perfect balance, it feels as if I actually become the moment. I cease to be the woman who is obsessed with preservation and become one who just is.

When I sat in the concert hall I tried this technique. I refused to give into my desire for control and power and I simply listened. I closed my eyes and let myself feel that music fully…so when it ended it was okay, because I knew there was another moment to come, and another and another, and they were all good.

Eventually the show was over and my husband and I with our two friends walked over to my favorite bar for a drink, and that was perfect too. Every moment was different, brand new…and every moment was perfect in its own beautiful fragility.

It feels as if we have little control over our lives…but I sometimes wonder. What if in fact we have absolute control? What if we treated these moments as if they were just a tiny feather resting lightly in the palm of our hands and opted to not hold on? If we did this, I mean REALLY did this, would those moments…or even life itself…. become timeless?

I think yes.

Change is necessary, loss is inevitable, but when we sit back and just let the music play, everything works out just as it should.

The Reason I Keep Falling off of Chairs

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Me standing on a chair circa 1973

My mom has a story she likes to tell.

I must have been about one and half. I was wandering about our little two bedroom house when I discovered my little rocking chair in the living room. Being new to the whole world of furniture and my toddler capabilities I decided I would climb it.

So I pulled myself up, got my chubby feet on the seat and stood. Ta-da! I could see the world from a whole new perspective. Now, keep in mind that was probably one of the first times I had climbed a chair in my life, so this was a Mt. Everest achievement.

My mom clapped and I smiled at my victory… I then proceeded to fall off, right onto the floor. I laid there and cried and cried, and then as the story goes, I picked myself up and climbed again.

But the show wasn’t over yet . After doing my little victory dance at the top once again—I fell a second time and cried, of course.

My mom says this cycle went on and on, over and over.  Climbing…victory…tears…crying…climbing…victory…tears…

I can only imagine this must have been funny—if not heartbreaking—to watch.

I tell this story because I feel as if I am that child again. Over and over and over I fall back into old patterns, heart broken, aching in confusion and doubt, yet here I am standing up again, climbing, climbing, climbing. I keep doing it no matter how hard…or how many times I fall. And let me tell you I want to give up. Many times I want to go running back into my mom’s arm and say “I quit. I can’t do this anymore.”

However what I instinctively knew as that toddler was that everytime I climbed that chair my muscles got stronger, my coordination got better, and I grew as I person. I became more of who I was supposed to be. And in spite of the bumps and bruises and the seemingly futile activity I pursued, I was going somewhere—somewhere big—not just to the top of that chair, but I was paving the way for the real mountains I would climb, for the miles I would run, and all of those other insurmountable tasks I would achieve in my 43 years thus far.

I keep “climbing” in my life now because I know in the depth of my heart that there’s purpose to this madness. Honestly I’m not even sure of my end goal, but I’m going to keep trying and eventually master the art of the fall.

I understand now that that the act of failing, suffering, and hurting are as important as the victory on the hill. These are the times we stand back and say “whoops, maybe I need to take this next climb slower” or “maybe I should try a different approach.” The power is in  process, not just the victory.

Ultimately I know my life is about more than just standing high to see the world, its about the bruises as well. . Maybe someday I’ll look back at to where I am now, and be able to say “look at all those marvelous times I fell….and climbed again.”

May your falls be graceful, your victories grand.

Peace to you.

Becky

P.S. I wrote this blog post and went into my photo files hoping to find a cute baby picture and lo and behold there’s me standing on a chair. I don’t even recall ever seeing this picture before. How weird is that?