Butterflies & Bridges

A friendship survives transformation
& discovers unconditional acceptance

two butterflies

 

When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.

—Dean Jackson

Transformation can be as small or as big as you are prepared to undergo. If you want it to, any manner can have a positive effect. A new hair color. Cutting back on meat. Five minutes of meditation every day. Smiling at your child and telling them you love them the next time they do that thing that drives you up a wall for the seventeenth time. If you sit differently, your dodgy hip will feel better after eight hours in front of the computer. No one else may notice a thing, except that you seem less cranky at happy hour.

When the changes become more obvious, when you begin to see and hear and function differently in the world, the first people to notice are those nearest and dearest to you. When you shift, you shift everything and everyone around you, so they’re bound to notice, even if unconsciously. These are the people who have invested time and energy into understanding this person they’ve known for years, even decades, and into building a relationship with them. The new you, the more authentic you, the you that speaks your truth, as happy and comfortable as you may be, can appear to be a stranger.

Those around you are suddenly faced with an unanticipated grief, an opportunity to mourn their loss, and a choice. Do I embrace the transformed person before me, or do I let them go?

Often they let you go.

I’ve lost more than a few friends over the years, even though I’ve never considered myself a controversial character. I was never the most popular or influential in any clique that would have me. I never stole anyone’s boyfriend or snitched on them to the boss. I’ve spent entire social occasions talking to only one person and sneaking out before anyone else noticed I was there. The only controversial thing about me is my Truth Teller. She is spirited and wily and sings like a bird when she sees that scar, that bright red button flashing at her ripe for pushing. She knows it’s waiting to be pushed. It needs to be pushed. It can be my own or someone else’s. It doesn’t matter. The Truth Teller arises, puts on her cape and boots and third eye tiara and has to push it. Well, I don’t have to, but I usually do.

When The Truth Teller speaks, sometimes people go away.

Even after the losses, I have a small but treasured, time-tested and forgiveness-ready group of confidantes scattered near and far. They are a diverse lot, and I don’t speak to some of them more frequently than once a year. But they are my extended tribe. I have walked through the fire with all of them. They have heard my true voice and been on the other end of the truth sword more than once. I brought one to tears over breakfast a few years ago. She eventually asked me not to blurt out stories from her tragic past lives any more. Despite many incidents like this, my tribe accepts and loves me, and I am grateful for their loyal friendship.

All of them know we are meant to witness each other’s transformations and see that our souls are happier, glowing, more comfortable in our skin. We recognize the natural blossoming of someone who’s been masked for years. When you’re meant to share this, you feel each other’s delight and reach out a relaxed but strong hand when the tectonic plates start to shift beneath our feet.

Those who were meant to be part of our past, but not part of our continuing evolution, painfully peel off and out of our lives. My hope always is that our paths will at some point meet again, but we all know this is usually not the case. If we are awake in our lives, and sometimes when we’re not, we are able to recognize when our relationships no longer nurture one or both participants. If we listen, the universe, our higher selves, our heart and anyone or anything else with a valued voice on the subject tells us when it’s time to let them go, or when it’s worth hanging on.

One dear friend—let’s call her Zoe—and I have known each other for thirty-five years. At the ages of seven and eight years old, we chased each other around the church parking lot during vacation bible school. Around the same time, we discovered we took piano lessons from the same little old lady in our neighborhood. Zoe was the musical savant of the group who never practiced, and I was an average pianist who thought I could get away with never practicing but was reminded every week about hard work being my path if I ever wanted to be great.

We drifted in and out of each others’ lives for years, but we didn’t become good friends until junior high school when, both knee-deep in adolescent hormones, we dated brothers. Her boyfriend was the older, blond, handsome high school senior who played trumpet and the lead in the school musical. She was beautiful but also funny, eccentric and intentionally individual before it was popular to be such things. She loved the offbeat icons of the time like John Waters and Prince and wore hot pink pants rolled up to her knees. The best singer in our performing arts school with the charisma to match, she was clearly ahead of her time and distinguishable from miles away.

When she started dating the older brother, survival of the fittest demanded that me and my beau get shoved into the seatbelt-less back seat of his pea green Chevy Nova on the way to the movies or peeling away from church on the Sunday nights we all played hooky from church youth group. Technically, Zoe was the outsider in the car. The brothers’ family and mine had been good friends for years, but seniority had been established, and Zoe did not want to be an outsider in her boyfriend’s car. Luckily, she was good enough to never throw it in my face that I clearly wasn’t any competition for the honor, and we became fast friends.

I was her Angela Chase and she was my Rayanne Graff.

Long after the brothers tapped out, our friendship remained. Our lives diverged but our evolutions always were something at least vaguely familiar to each other. We sent crazy postcards and wrote hysterical letters to each other throughout college as she pursued her singing career and I dreamily contemplated what kind of journalist I’d most like to be. We almost always ended our winter breaks by sharing a crockpot full of processed cheese dip on New Year’s Eve and kissing each other at midnight after we kissed whichever boy was in our lives that year.

During an impromptu post-college visit, I found her red-faced and waiting for a mental health hotline callback from a psychological counselor. He later diagnosed her with the chemical imbalance we’d suspected for years. Not long after, she gave up singing professionally for good. As she was trying to figure out what her new life would look like, mine also was suddenly stalled by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Still our friendship remained.

One Christmas, she showed up on my parents’ doorstep with a large, smiling man in tow.

“This is my fiancé,” she said. “Will you be my maid of honor?”

“Of course!” I said.

Four years later, I called her from New York. “Will you be my maid of honor?”

“Of course!” she said.

She was thrilled when Larry and I “finally” moved back to Ohio and, for the first time since high school, we lived in the same city.

“I’m having a baby,” she said.

“How exciting!” I said. Her beautiful, quirky daughter was born, and we both cried happy tears filled with joy and fear. Considering her history, we braced for the likelihood of postpartum and tried to laugh as she walked bravely through it and began to recognize all wasn’t well in her world.

“I’m moving away,” I said a year later.

“I know you’re unhappy here,” she said. “I’ll miss you. I understand.”

“We can stay in touch over email and the phone!” I said enthusiastically in response to her grimace.

“Sure,” she said.

At first, we sent detailed emails, and even caught each other online for an occasional live chat. She congratulated me on our adoption decisions and eagerly helped in a myriad of ways. She always asked lots of questions about our life in California, so foreign in many ways from what she knows as a life-long Ohioan.

Soon the questions came less frequently and it became clear that our often deviating but somehow recognizable paths were becoming too…divergent.

I could feel her energy leave me as I described some strange or beautiful aspect of our life–a day spent writing on the beach, a celebrity encounter at one of Larry’s work functions, weeks of nearby wildfires, eighty-degree weather in February, my massage therapy clients. I could tell she was trying to listen as a supportive friend, but often she didn’t respond to significant parts of my emails or found a quick reason to end our instant message chats when my opinion on something veered off her reservation, especially when it came to religion or spirituality.

A life-long devoted Lutheran, she and I have differed in our spiritual perspectives most of our lives. Both our childhoods were largely shaped by time spent within a strong church community and in families who valued religious connection. She happily remained a church-goer in adulthood while I began to drift toward less definable views. In my twenties, I described myself as an agnostic. Zoe called me an atheist, and I always corrected her.

“In the constant pursuit of truth and understanding,” I said as I told her about this new Unitarian church I’d visited and smiled as she rolled her eyes. “I believe in God, or something like God, just not in a way that’s ever been described to me before.” My searching made her uncomfortable.

“I just know what I believe. Doubt is for those who just can’t figure it out,” she said, looking at me through her eyebrows and hoping for a reaction. Unlike Tolkien, she believed all who wander are lost.

She admitted to me over time that as the years passed and the freedom of youth gave way to utility bills and relationship challenges, she found solace in the perceived clarity of “right and wrong,” “good and evil,” “fact and fiction.” She couldn’t understand why it was taking me so long to stake a claim and stick a label on it. She wanted to know what to call me, what box to put me in and how to filter what she heard. Like her, I’ve never fit perfectly into any one box in my life. Her life was so different from what she’d imagined. She began to rely upon the stark blacks and whites she knew and could control more vigorously. She couldn’t see the beauty in her multitude of gray areas any more.

I feared she wouldn’t be able to see any in mine, either. Descriptions of my explorations certainly would help her ascribe more labels, but not any I was comfortable with. Never one to judge folks quietly, I’d born witness to her sharp wit and even laughed heartily at it over the years. Those she didn’t understand were first to feel its point and, to her, folks with a metaphysical sensibility might as well have been sitting around a cauldron on brooms wearing pointy hats. News of my evolution—a new energy healing practice, formal exploration of my own and everyone’s inherent clairvoyance—went untold.

Our regular phone calls became about work stories, family dramas and news about friends from high school we’d reconnected with over social media. One such friend was her high school love. He was a charming, popular, boyishly handsome chap whose notoriety combined with unexpected life choices made him a hot topic on the high school rumor mill for more than a decade. At one point during college there was a rumor he was gay, which eventually was discredited, ultimately because everyone realized we didn’t give a flying fig if he was or wasn’t. Then unsubstantiated stories circulated about weeks spent in the wilderness, meditating with gurus, joining a commune. He eventually decided to study Chinese medicine and start a healing practice in Colorado, all using the middle name we’d teased him about throughout high school.

The years had transformed the goofiness of his youth into optimism and the openness of his spirit into a healer’s life. When we reconnected over social media, the confusion about his changed appearance and name quickly became recognition of a kindred purpose and familiar voice. Years before, he experienced the cracking open that results in a more authentic life that I was still in the midst of, and for that I admired him. In a strange way, and only in the non-patronizing way you can feel toward those you knew well when they were young, I was proud of him.

I cringed as Zoe spoke of this mutual friend, her adoring beau and silly Snoopy of old, wondering if he’d somehow lost his way. She didn’t see the opening up and settling into himself that I did. Instead she was concerned that his whimsical nature had transformed into a hippy-ish, ungrounded lifestyle she didn’t recognize. What on earth is she going to think when I start to tell her about me? Would she be able to hear me? It became like a bandage I just had to rip off.

The perfect opportunity arrived. After years as a preschool teacher, and after riding the bumpy rollercoaster herself, she understands young kids and parents on a freakishly intuitive level. When an early adoption referral fell through, she was ready with emotional support and unqualified empathy for our heartbreak. She braced for months of grieving, a general disillusionment about the process and turmoil over whether to go through with it at all. When we decided so quickly to move forward, she was confused and skeptical.

“How?” she asked.

“Do you really want to know?” I responded, then I spat out the whole story before waiting for the okay. I told her my spiritual opening played a key role in moving through this strange time. My developing skills as a clairvoyant reader helped me see the long game—this situation’s place in the larger arc of our parenting story. It provided immeasurable relief and hope.

Silence.

“You’re a clairvoyant now?” she said. “What exactly does that mean?”

I told her about chakras and how we’re all just balls of energy masquerading as bodies and healing is as easy as releasing a lightning bug and clairvoyance is as easy as being ready to see and how important it was to heal my heart so I could be my authentic self. I finished my soliloquy and gasped for air.

Silence.

I could feel her confusion, and it went at least seven layers deep. There was no outright judgment expressed, but the lack of questions, the lack of curiosity, the quick dismissal. I believed they revealed her discomfort and a doubt of my sincerity.

Determined to fully be my authentic self now that I could, I forged ahead with the friendship with a fresh attitude. If this life is about manifesting the divine here on earth, about speaking your truth no matter what, I want to do this in every part of my life, I told myself. My language became more the words I used around the house and less the ones she was used to hearing. I stopped omitting the stories about Henry laughing with his dead grandpa after we leave the room at night and how Larry and I can communicate our grocery list telepathically. Most of all, I happily told her how I thought everything in our lives happened because we chose it somehow.

There it was. It took a few phone calls, but The Truth Teller finally found the line and crossed it. Zoe reminded me she cared for too many people she believed to be victims of all sorts of terrible things.

“God would not choose such pain for us,” she said with absolute certainty.

“God doesn’t,” I said. “We have free will. That’s why I’m saying suffering, to some extent, is our own choice. Our world, our lives. They are our own making. It could be an intuitive choice made out of sacrifice, protection or love. It could be a deeply spiritual one to ensure that the greater good is served. But it’s still usually a choice.”

She reared back and lobbed what she believed would be the nuance I hadn’t considered yet. “So, you chose to get cancer?”

Without hesitation, I replied. “Yes.”

Back in the day, even years after I wrote my first memoir, I’d refused to look at how or why I’d gotten sick. Blame is pointless, I told myself. Indeed it is, but an unexamined cause is a repeated effect. If I didn’t learn all that I was to learn from that particular challenge, I was certain to repeat it until I did. Uninterested in more chemo, I chose to use my newly acknowledged clairvoyance to find the roots.

I found them. Many of them. But Zoe was gone before I could explain.

There was nothing for months this time, and her silence became my anger. Why should I have to change who I am so she’s more comfortable?

“You shouldn’t,” I heard. “Just be prepared for whatever comes.”

Out of desperation and a lot of frustration, I ignored this wise advice from my higher self. The Truth Teller, fully unprepared for what may come, picked up her pen and wrote an email explaining in detail every source of my anger. I am still a reasonable person. I’m still her old friend, I said. I was confused why she couldn’t see I’m not a nutcase. I’d like to be able to talk about my life honestly and openly. If she can’t handle it, if she can’t respect my beliefs, then maybe we shouldn’t be friends.

The minute I sent it I regretted it.

The gist of Zoe’s response: “Maybe we shouldn’t.”

The chasm between our basic philosophies about the world, life and the source of all things couldn’t be enough to keep us apart, could it? The fact that our transformations didn’t match threatened to crumble the bridge of understanding we’d built. For a short time we both feared our long friendship forged on the slippery seats of a green Chevy Nova was over.

I’d fallen down a dark and lonely cave of pride and issued an ultimatum I had no intention of substantiating. Meanwhile, my ego—an awkward cousin of The Truth Teller with a penchant for cruelty—laughed and laughed. I was so sanctimonious, so angry at her for not listening to me, so eager to jolt her into some measure of acceptance of my truth, I’d stopped listening to hers. And I stopped listening to my higher self, who now was yelling at me over the din.

“Why does it matter so much what she thinks?” I heard. “You be you. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s why you’re here.”

There’s a deep satisfaction when witnessing the natural cycle of life and death, the shedding of snakeskin, the fall of autumn leaves, a discarded cocoon, the moment a wound’s scab is no longer needed for protection. It’s all just change. It hurts when friends depart your life, but when you no longer serve each other the falling away happens naturally.

Everything about this felt unnatural.

When I sensed I’d lost Zoe, when I looked with clear eyes and listened with an open heart, I knew our lives were meant to intersect a while longer. My own insecurities and doubts about the ethereal energy I now put my faith in had come rumbling to the surface. Instead of trusting what I knew, I risked a life-long friendship to prove a point.

My heart screamed with regret and visions of shared tears and joyful celebrations to come, and it just kept screaming. Luckily, hers was screaming too.

It took less than a week of our individual panic attacks before we realized our bridge was worth repairing. I reached out, we both apologized, and over time we both discovered what we were meant to…

If we fill the chasm with love and a desire to meet each other in the echoes bouncing between its cliffs, we can weather any perceived differences. If we are comfortable in our own skins and brands of spirituality, it doesn’t matter what even our most trusted confidantes believe about them. If we tame our egos and open our hearts, whatever the butterfly’s wings look like once the transformation is underway will be gorgeous in our eyes. If we recognize it’s not the beliefs and the labels we respect but the soul with whom we share a beautifully complicated connection, we will always be okay.

I started self-editing just enough I didn’t feel I was hiding, but I wasn’t knowingly making her uncomfortable either, and she started asking questions again and often saved her jokes about crystals and wizard hats until after she hung up the phone. We allowed the other’s individual evolutions to continue at their own pace, in their own way, and we learned to admire each other’s singular colors and light.

It wasn’t (and isn’t) perfect. We continued (and continue) to work on our friendship, but knew (and know) we are true and dear friends. Perhaps we needed to walk through this particular fire together and learn where our conditions lurked before we knew that.

Two years later, Zoe called. “I’m getting a divorce.”

“I’m here,” I said. “What do you need?”

“Can you give me a reading?”

om

Advertisements

A Writer Lets Go: Knowing When It’s Time to Move On

Floating Books by Fanny Brennan
Floating Books
by Fanny Brennan

Writing is a turbulent journey. When you do it for long enough, you attempt nearly every kind of piece imaginable, all with varying degrees of success. Writers learn to discern quickly when something meets the need of the moment, the client, the assignment, the vision, the expectation, the expression, even the higher purpose when a greater objective is at stake.

It can be difficult to see when it doesn’t, and even harder to let it go.

Most of our work is so personal, filled with love and pain and secrets we wouldn’t tell unless the story benefited. They are that friend who demands attention at the least convenient moments, who forces you to see and make peace with the thorn in your heel you pretend you don’t feel any more, who leads you by the hand through tearful memories and makes you laugh at your own ridiculousness.

A book is a stimulating, even if infuriating, confidante. The one you need right then. Some are not meant to be with you until the end.

I wrote a book. Another one, that is. Another memoir — this one named Laugh at the Sky, Kid, inspired by the Buddhist saying. I took my time. I wrote a draft, worked on it, sat with it, offered it to both professional and trusted amateur editors, revised it, honed it, fed it, talked to it, gave it time to breathe, then took the big step of adding FINAL to its filename and my address to the cover page.

It is challenging and joyful, full of jagged truth and flowing hope. It is an invitation to anyone lost and searching in the beginning of their personal spiritual journey, as I once was. It lights one path toward greater grace and purpose, and therefore illuminates the limitless number of paths available to everyone.

I love it. Most of the people who have read it love it. Friends and family, of course, but even the writers and influencers who I have shared it with have been enormously supportive. It’s one of the reasons I hung on to her for so long.

The publishing industry, not so much. The book is difficult to place neatly in a category, making it seem tough to market despite my willingness to travel non-traditional marketing paths on my own. But right now publishers don’t have patience for noncompliant, even if enthusiastic, writers.

No bother, I said. And I meant it. I was committed to this work’s message. It had something to say beyond words and I believed it was created to be shared.

I’m smart, I said. I know people. I’m willing to spend the time and money to do this “right.” I can do it myself, get creative with distribution models. Start beneath the soil and nurture a beautiful independent commerce blossom, bright enough to be seen by anyone who needs to see it.

And so, in 2014 I committed to self-publishing in 2015 if no publishing deal was struck by then. By mid-2015, I changed the date to 2016. I believed it was because I was saving enough money to do it professionally and in a manner reflecting the purpose of the book. As the second half of 2015 arrived and self-publishing seemed more imminent, I decided to re-read this beloved manuscript that had been sitting in my laptop untouched for months.

Hm.

It needs…something, I thought. It doesn’t speak as clearly as it once did, I admitted. I’d evolved as a writer, and to revise it accordingly would require a significant amount of work, but that wasn’t it.

I’d evolved as a person and a spirit. The book, forever fixed in time, hadn’t.

This invitation I issued from my heart and soul back in 2014 doesn’t speak the same language any more. The words are identical, the ideas and stories unchanged, but everything around them has shifted, including me. Especially me. The story doesn’t resonate the way it once did. My life continues, my perception of it changes as it goes, and the world turns and evolves faster with each passing moment. Our collective human tale has transformed just enough that this particular version of mine no longer contributes to it in a way that is meaningful, or at least meaningful enough for me to spend the time and energy to publish and promote it.

Forcing it would only shove something into the world simply because that was the plan all along. If it doesn’t resonate with me anymore, it won’t resonate with anyone. If it feels compulsory, that’s how it will read.

So, through tears I concluded it’s time to make space for something else.

I will miss her, but I have no regrets. I’m glad I wrote it. It accomplished what it was supposed to. I am a different, more aware, more confident, more conscious human, parent, writer and coach for completing it. I am stronger for having struggled through the tough days. I am wiser and happier for what the process revealed. The days I soared and swam and scampered through the literary wilderness, my eyes widened with wonder, I remembered why I do this at all.

Without this piece of writing, I would not be in this place and time, open to what is to come. I will always love it and always be grateful to my dear friend for walking with me for a while.

Thank you for everyone’s interest, support and help over the last few years. It is not wasted energy. I carry it with me moving forward. New ideas are bubbling up and old ideas are showing up in new clothes. I’m just going to pause a minute before I take the next leap. It’s a big step, and I’ve learned over the years to choose my friends wisely.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, visit rebeccagifford.com or email her at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

Happy Holidays: A Ho Ho Ho Meditation

hooooooThe hustle and bustle leave my mind and body as I sink into this chair, reserved for this time and this way. My heart opens. It knows what it needs to do.

I take in a deep breath of pine, cinnamon and family. I breathe out obligations, worry and shipping charges. I close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today I welcome abundant Santa, warm menorah candles and the unconditional love of a boy born in a manger. I choose the sparkly silver that fills the car as my son and I sing about cows and sleigh rides on the drive to school. I free the jaggedy chartreuse of world events and bizarre violence becoming too frequent to be shocking.

Seeing where it came from is worthy. Playing a role in where we’re headed is imperative. But right now is nothing more than space. And the space I occupy is loosely wrapped in tinsel.

Today my heart is bright red and green and tinged with laughter. My holiday table is overflowing with love and abundance. There is plenty to share. It flows out peacefully, covering the earth. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the spaces in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch. A smile. A soft jingle of a bell.

Happy holidays, world.

om

Except for the gray

fogToday I walked

In the gray

In the quiet

of the fog.

 

It was my usual path.

Twisted oaks,

golden grass,

steady breath.

 

But the road was obscured,

The path unknown.

Nothing

except my feet,

the autumn chill.

 

A rustle,

a distant engine,

a whisper.

They weren’t with me.

They were not mine.

They couldn’t see me.

 

All I saw was me.

Except for the gray.

It stayed in the shade

waiting for the sun.

 

There is much I don’t know.

And much I do.

 

Right now

the strength of my legs,

the openness of my heart,

That there are still surprises

beyond the fog.

 

What you cannot see yet,

It is as beautiful

and as valuable as

What stands before you

bathed in light.

In gratitude for the darkness

spiral fallPerhaps it’s the seasons shifting and dusk arriving earlier that remind me to thank those who have offered the greatest growth. Now is as good a time as any. Better, in fact, since I need to get it done before the sun goes down.

Thank you to those who have generously shown me their dark places, whether they were also able to show me their light or not. I saw it anyway.

Thank you to those who directed their energy my way and lit up the hidden fractures I was unable to see before. I can see them now.

Thank you to all who did things they believed required forgiveness, asked for forgiveness and therefore showed me all the ways I needed to forgive myself.

Thank you to all who never asked for forgiveness and showed me even more clearly all the ways I needed to forgive myself.

Thank you to everyone who withheld their love and taught me that love for myself is the only love that is required.

Thank you to those who have judged, ridiculed, diminished, feared, patronized and ignored me. You make it easier for me to see when I do this to others.

Thank you to the people who behave hurtfully because they are mistreated, overlooked, misunderstood, confused, abused, depleted or sick. You remind me that everyone deserves love and compassion, simply because they are. But you need it more than most.

Thank you to everyone who has emerged from their own darkness, embraced their vulnerability and shared even one small moment of it with me. You have taught me we are all made of beautiful shade and light, and we live in the complex gray areas in between.

Autumn is about fading and shadows, endings, and the loss required for rebirth. It is a path to night and winter’s quiet. That’s why it is beautiful. It offers an opportunity to see and embrace even those parts that are most shaded, knowing they will lead once again to the light.

I am profoundly grateful to those who have shown me, guided me to or walked with me through the darkness.

Have a peaceful autumn.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and services, visit rebeccagifford.com.

Using technology to connect to ourselves

Laptop on stumpTechnology is not the devil. There, I said it. Whew.

What a relief to admit that I don’t believe that email, the Internet, smart phones, Bluetooths, social media, YouTube, online news, television, radio, podcasts, blogs and vlogs portend the end of civilization. That they are so interwoven into our daily lives does reveal that civilization is changing extremely and quickly. So, perhaps it reveals the end of civilization as we know it and that we are smack in the middle of a massive paradigm shift most of us feel in our very cells…but not the demise of all.

Perhaps what makes us feel sometimes like the end of the world is nigh is that we are still struggling with the balance between embracing the new—innovations that help us connect, evolve and expand—and continuing to use and learn from the old—indigenous cultures, nature’s wisdom, naturopathic medicine, long form storytelling, human contact, the art of conversation and, most importantly, the spiritual connection and self-awareness that brings profound healing.

I believe it’s possible, and vital, to embrace both. (And, between you and me, this is the major theme of a novel currently in the works.) So, nothing thrills me more than when I discover a “new” use of technology that serves as a bridge to one of the less concrete qualities of the “old.”

I believe that’s its truest and highest purpose.

Reply All is a podcast about the Internet produced by Gimlet and hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It tells poignant, weird and funny stories about how people use and react to the Internet. It produced its eighth episode in January, but as I’ve just discovered these 15- to 25-minute audio nuggets I just listened to this one about Paul Ford. He is a writer and programmer who creates Web sites to address most of his life issues, including a site to remind him of things decades away and a weight loss site only he and his therapist have access to where he records his daily calorie counts.

Healing through technology innovation, and a little humor

Paul also struggles with paralyzing anxiety. As he describes on the podcast, he constantly hears that niggling, negative voice in his head telling him he’s weird and bad and in danger, no matter what is really going on. His reaction, create anxietybox.com.

Here’s how it works. The site—or, more accurately, the bot inside the site—essentially outsources his anxiety’s voice. He can add as many anxieties as he likes and his email address, and the site sends him messages from his anxieties.

The horrible, negative things he used to hear in his head—e.g., “History will forget you because history forgets people who are unable to finish anything.” Or, my favorite, “People on Facebook look at your picture and think ‘in possession of a weird nose.’”—are sent to him throughout the day. They’re funny, but ruthless.

As I listened to the examples Paul read, I cringed. The host was similarly skeptical. Why would anyone subject themselves to these negative reinforcements? How could that possibly help? He was losing me fast.

But then Paul described his reaction, and I changed my mind completely.

Because he externalized his anxiety’s voice, he was able to look at it. Laugh at it. Even reply. He could see it for exactly what it was: his mind and ego, trapped in a cycle of anxiety and self doubt, intelligently crafting ways to make his true self feel badly.

Once he saw it, everything shifted. He understood the pattern of suffering and its source, and he was able to put it all into a broader perspective that helped him minimize its effect.

In Paul’s words: “It’s so ridiculous to scream at yourself all day long… Seeing it actually externalized as 20 messages in a Gmail inbox, it was so much like what my brain was producing. It was like, oh my god, I’ve been wasting so much time with this son of a bitch.”

Because of this simple technology, created by him, he was able to see the anxiety as something separate from his true self, soften it and eventually stop having anxiety attacks altogether.

He reminded me of a critical but tough lesson: awareness brings healing, and eventually peace. Once we are willing to acknowledge and truly see something or someone for what it is or who they are, their power over us diminishes. In the light of our gaze, it can only be exactly what it is. With the clarity of truth, we see ourselves for the perfectly flawed and mighty beings we are.

Truly looking at the things or people in our lives that we have created unhealthy patterns around is difficult. But once the truth has been seen, it can’t be unseen.

Anxietybox.com. Genius. Counterintuitive at first glance. But truly moving in its simplicity. Paul intuitively used what he knew—technology—to build a bridge to what he needed. This time it connected it to himself.

It doesn’t get more old school than that.

om

To find out more about Reply All, go here. To find out more about anxietybox.com, go here. To subscribe to updates on Rebecca’s upcoming memoir, Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go here. To find out more about her writing and coaching services, go here.

A Meditation for Dealing with the Crazy

swirlImages and thoughts surround me, circling around and within. But I can feel it already. That familiar spot in that quiet space. They all slow down, waiting to see if I will set them free.

My heart opens. I see the world and so many of its inhabitants continuing to spin, too fast to be able to see anything but a blur. We are distracted by comb-overs, county clerks, rivers of refugees and hashtag movements. We are overcome by life. But our hearts know it is only a dream. My mind tries to recreate memories, pictures and lingering pain—my own and others’—but I remember: my center is always calm, always open, always connected, always available.

I take in a deep breath of joy. For being alive in this tumultuous, confounding time. For knowing my place in the shift. I breathe out confusion, fear and the judgment that can only come from feeling separate. I close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today I welcome the silliness of a playground, the warmth of a bowl of homemade food, the laughter that comes when someone truly sees you and still wants to be with you. I welcome the ability to watch closely, speak carefully and create change without revisiting the anger.

Simplicity is healing. This moment is all there is. Connection is real. Love is the truth.

Today my heart is filled with a desire to help and heal, to slow the merry-go-round long enough for everyone to just be. It is overflowing. There is plenty to share. It pours out resolutely, covering the earth. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the places in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

My mind opens, and all that churns within is released. It rises to the sun, explodes in fireworks of transformation and rains pure gold upon us all.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch. A smile of relief.

I wish you peace, world.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and services, visit laughattheskykid.com and rebeccagifford.com.