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Whenever I have a ‘bad’ dream, it’s never about things like being in a car accident, giving a poor presentation, or getting mugged. Strangely, those situations don’t seem to antagonize me (although I’ve experienced the first two and remain vigilant against the third).

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Sleeping through a wake-up call and missing a flight does. During recent travel I heard the 3:30 a.m. Call as if it was part of a dream. At the end of my trip, I was completely exhausted and, having finally adjusted to my new time zone, was in Deep Rest that felt like a coma. I finally woke at the second call, but was so disoriented that I’d confused my shuttle-departure time and barely made it to the hotel’s lobby, where I was literally shoved onto the shuttle by two bellmen.

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Last night I dreamed I was in northern India, traveling with two friends and our guide. When we arrived at our new city I realized that I’d left my travel bag (passport and money), as well as my cell phone, in the previous hotel – a two hour drive behind us.

As a rule, awareness and sensations in my dreams feel visceral:  heightened or exaggerated. Even my physical abilities get amplified. (I used to dream – a lot – about being able to swim and breathe underwater, like a fish. In another dream, I could fly like a bird.) When my dreams are pleasant, they feel like an amazing escape into another world. When they’re fearful, however, the same rule applies and the terror is something that I want to escape from.

Last night’s dream about having forgotten my travel essentials was crystal clear and so real that its intensity woke me with a pounding heart and breathlessness. When faced with the travel-horror of ‘no documents and no money’, my Reptile Brain simply reacts and recoils:  there’s no reason or logic.

I’ve come to recognize (with resistance and resentment) that fear-based dreams are helpful indicators of what still lingers in my subconscious mind. I picture geology lessons from my childhood schooling on volcanoes:  that stream of molten lava, lying horizontal deep in the earth until a seismic event buckles the layers of rock, pushing liquid fire to the surface. Exposed to the air, it eventually rests and cools. But not before causing mayhem. So it is with the fears that still linger deep below, in the most primal regions of my psyche.

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Like many people, I’m engaged (most of the time) with the Personal Work to address and rid myself of my typically-irrational fears. It frustrates me that I continue to review and re-hash themes that echo with vulnerability and powerlessness: they present themselves in such contrast to who I think I am in my waking hours.

The every-once-in-awhile (not often, thankfully),  nighttime-jolt of how my Reptile Brain  really perceives things – despite what my Intellect might be telling me, on the surface of my Life – is a stark reminder. Not to think, but to feel into what I’m still afraid of, and why. It may be that I really don’t want to know, because my fears don’t fit with the Image I have of my Self at this moment in time.

Spiritual teachings remind me that I embody the essence of Light and Dark, the Lion and the Lamb, Yin and Yang. Instead of seeing Fear as an enemy to be vanquished, maybe it’s time I just let it be what it is, and do what it needs to do. Maybe it just wants a seat at the table, inclusion and harmony, as a natural part of Who I Am. Can I be the Gracious Host and allow it?

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Moments ago I was packing my carry-on for my flight (just hours away now) to Montreal, then Casablanca and beyond, when a long-ago memory flashed in my mind. I was a little girl, with friends at a community swimming pool, being goaded into climbing the high-dive:  about 10 meters, or 33 feet above the pool’s surface. Most of my friends were excellent swimmers and divers, but I wasn’t. Nevertheless, I climbed the metal ladder to the diving platform. My friends below laughed, pointed, not believing I’d go through with it. On the platform I was completely terrified. My internal organs felt like jelly – which I was sure they actually would be, once I hit the water. The audience below, now, also included most of the kids and parents at the pool that day.

All my life, as I think about it now, I’ve been taking ‘dares’ to do what others said I was incapable of:  too young, too old, too weak (read, a female). Or, what others said was too risky (read, ‘stupid’). Why, I wonder, have I always embraced fresh dares enthusiastically ? Those patterns were set as a child. Motherless at age 11 and living in a full household of males, I quickly realized that I was going to have to toughen up, fast. Being the baby (read ‘runt’) of the family didn’t endear me to my male tribe in terms of protection. I was expected to fight my own fights – literally.

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One day at school that same year, a boy at school – a very big, heavy kid in my class about three times my weight – started talking trash about me. With the recent death of my mother, my father had gone into complete shock. Ever the little trooper, I dressed myself and made my own breakfast before school. Most of the time, nothing I decided to throw on that day matched, or was even appropriate for the weather. Who cared? I had bigger concerns on my mind.

So this boy started talking and I set him straight with some smart talk of my own. He backed off, but later on that day, I was playing with friends in my neighborhood and he – for some reason – was there. He approached me, pushed me to the ground and then…sat on me. Laughing. His weight made me feel like a bug being squashed. I, of course, was screaming and cursing like a banshee, scratching and trying to bite (he eventually let me go). On that exact day, at that exact moment, I realized that fear was not going to squash my spirit – ever. Despite the odds, despite the risks, I was going to ensure that every single day would involve something just a little bit out of my comfort zone.

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In one of Deepak Choprah’s books (I can’t remember which one), he urges us to “Look to this day:  it is the very life of Life”. My trip to Morocco will be new territory for me. Making the dive from 33 feet above the water was a game-changer for me. Making sure the school bully got his come-uppence after “teaching the little skinny girl a lesson” ? That was just pure, sweet icing on the cake.

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Yesterday I was literally down on my hands and knees cleaning my floors, feeling so pleased with the results. But a few hours later, as the afternoon sun streamed through the glass storm door at the front of my house, I saw tiny little paw prints trekking figure-eights in the polished glow. How, I wondered, did one of my cats come in without my seeing it, to dance on my floor while it was still wet? I thought that cats were averse to anything wet, never mind sticky, as the floor wax is. Sneaky. Unexpected. Yet there the prints were, proclaiming ‘territory’. That’s how cats are. What did I expect – really? As I grow older, I think of a similar metaphor that’s been present throughout my life. Ideas and beliefs that were fulfilled, and those that were crushed to bits in the process of living.

Starting pretty early-on (I think it began when I entered school), I’ve always had expectations for myself; and soon afterwards, for others. To be honest, the bar was set pretty high for a long time; the pressure intense, for me and anyone I was close to. How did this develop? As I look at my own upbringing, it’s clear that my parents and grandparents drove much of what I thought was my own initiative. Turns out, it wasn’t. Still, I can’t say that their expectations for me were out of whack. Most of what they asked (make that, quietly and subtly demanded) turned out to be helpful.

But being shaped by our elders is a kind of an expectation in itself; the method doesn’t always translate so well when we try to shape others, so that their attitudes and actions conform to what we want and need. How much influence do our expectations have on the people we say we love? And how do we ‘put them – what we expect to happen — out there’ — as demands, and even ultimatums? Or, do we go into what I call ‘stealth mode’:  our expectations are very specific, but we don’t share them overtly. We alone know what they are; we  sit back, waiting for others to intuit what they are. Disappointment and resentment lurks, then grows.

Entering into relationship – especially the kind that is deep, heartfelt and crucially important (we feel) to our wellbeing – we bring expectations. They’re driven by our needs and our desires. As I think back, and look forward, I’m learning from experience how my expectations are sometimes unrealistic, ego-driven, and completely impossible for another to fulfill. It stands to reason, then:  either I’m trying to make someone into the version I want, or, my expectations are a reveal of my own faults (read unresolved fears or insecurities). Perhaps I’m basing my expectations on what others around me use as a measurement of Success and Happiness? Are they even mine?

That would be just as silly as waxing a floor in a household full of cats, believing that not a single one will go dancing on the wet floor.

We’ve heard it, read it, or said it:  “The only Constant is Change”. A man named Heraclitus was apparently the first to make this observation, in his writings around 500 BCE. Let that sink in, and nurture your spirit for a minute:  we’ve been stressing over changes in our lives for a while. As long as there’s breath in our lungs, change is coming: ready and welcome… or not.

A certain kind of change is particularly tricky for a lot of people; I’ll definitely include myself in the group who struggle with endings, and new beginnings. For about four straight years (I’m out of that period for the moment), the endings in my life felt like freeway pileups. Instead of twisted steel it was emotional wreckage.

When endings come – whether they’re expected or a total surprise — they can wreak havoc. The ending might be the loss of a life, a job or lifestyle; a friendship, marriage or significant relationship. It can be a choice, or something imposed on us. Even in the most positive scenarios, endings force us to adapt to new feelings and circumstances. There’s a process we go through, at our own pace, in our own way, according to what feels right for us.

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As I grow older, most aspects of Life seem to have gotten so much easier. Maybe clarity and wisdom have just made me more patient and tolerant! But change is always lurking. When a major ending turns my world upside down, I turn to survivors of life-altering shifts. I want to understand. I want to feel that All Will Be Well; that an ending will always be followed by a New Beginning. I want proof, in the version of someone else’s story. Author William Bridges and his book “Transitions” is one of my trusted guides. Not only does Bridges reassure with “Here’s why you feel what you feel,” but he describes the process without sugar-coating it. I appreciate that.

Following a big life change the body, mind, heart and spirit need a period of quiet time known as the Neutral Zone. A  friend and I were sharing stories recently about our dogs. She’d lost a beloved Huskie she’d had for 15 years and went into a months-long funk. Her adult kids immediately began urging her to get a new pup.

But Mary pushed-back; she needed time to process her loss. The Neutral Zone is essential rest, and also preparation for a New Beginning. Even if an ending feels more good than bad, it’s still disorienting: it’s detaching from what was, and preparing for what comes next. Whatever and whenever that gets revealed to us.

We’re encouraged to “roll with it”, “walk it off”, and “go with the flow” when Life’s changes upset our inner balance. But Bridges says, that isn’t enough. “…it’s important to do more than simply persevere. We need to understand what’s within us that might be undermining our resolve…” and allow it to surface in our minds and hearts. Let it tell us what we need to know, before we move on.

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As I travel about my city running errands, I notice what many people also see – so many businesses laying out change-of-season reminders, enticing us to buy the decorations that help everyone enjoy the seasons and holidays more fully. That’s the idea, anyway. Not that we need reminding that, here in the Northern Hemisphere, kids have gone back to school, the weather is (or soon will be) changing, days growing darker much earlier. It’s definitely a change I believe we all intuit. For some, the feeling heralds a slow slog to Holiday times they’d really rather leap-frog over entirely. For others, the frenzied Holiday season can’t come soon enough.

As I go into a craft store for a few sewing items, I hurry past the Styrofoam pumpkins, pre-made wreaths and  heavily-scented piles of pine cones. Not that I’m a grumpy “Bah, to the holidays !” type of person. I just don’t want to be rushed into changes before I’m ready.

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It varies from year to year, but I always notice that as our summer season winds down, the light coming through the trees in my yard changes. It becomes softer. Maybe not as cool as I would like it to be (this is California), but definitely a different color and intensity. Buttery and diffuse. The shadows in my yard have a different slant to them somehow. They’ve grown longer and their edges are blurred.

I enjoy living in a place where I can see these subtle differences slowly coming. From the leaves on my Pistache tree blending from green to gold, to the giant Live Oak leaning over my bedroom shedding its acorns that sound like small, hard bombs as they hit the roof.  (A crack on the head from one of those really hurts.)

The new season ushers in changes in me, which is why I like the process to be leisurely and peaceful. I just had my birthday. I’m taking stock of ‘where I am’ in terms of Living My Best Life. Whether or not I’ve written down the goals I’ve had for myself throughout the year (which I measure by birthday-to-birthday, not December 31 to January 1), I know in my heart where I stand. I look at the half-finished redo of my rose garden (it suddenly got too hot and I lost interest). I look at the recipes I’ve torn out of magazines but never tried (as I opted for one-skillet meals while finishing my dissertation).

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The lists of projects that seemed exciting in late winter and early spring were over-taken by complicated personal relationships and family members needing so much more from me this year —  for some reason. As the days grow shorter, I feel quieter in my soul. I feel “ok” with what I did, and didn’t accomplish in My Year. I look forward to the cooler, darker fall and winter months as a time of rest, integration, and renewal. I ease into this time, sensing that it’s meant to be slowly savored, just as the tasty morsels of lovingly-prepared food delights, as well as nourishes. All of the Distractions that hover nearby will need to wait just a bit, while I watch the bright yellow finches scuffling at the feeder, to fatten themselves up for winter, charming me with their odd little voices

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