Category Archives: acceptance

I’m Part of the Problem

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Social media certainly has its positives but it also has its gross distortions of reality.  Article after article has been written about the decreased happiness levels of those who use Facebook on a regular basis.  Studies claim that this may be due to the comparisons we make to the fictional personas of our online “friends”. It’s hard not to feel blue when one is inundated with pics of tropical vacations, stories of perfect, high-achieving children and spouses, love stories, modelesque selfies, posts about promotions, fast race times, pics of new houses, cars, gourmet homemade dinners, etc etc etc.  All of these posts true but not fully true.  Smoke and mirrors.  Facebook becomes a place of glorified and amplified brags. We begin to put others up on pedestals of perfection while drowning ourselves in an envious reduction of “everyone’s life is better than mine” mentality.

I’m a FB user, so you see, the problem is, I’m part of the problem.  To continue in this journey of Living Out Loud, I’d like to be honest here and present the full truth vs the pedestal truth my FB posts may have led you to believe.

IMG_2318I have been getting my hair colored for as long as I can remember and have always had the funds to do so.  The last two years, I have not had the funds to do so yet continued to color my hair.  When I posted this pic, I loved the way my hair looked so much that I was literally denying the facts that my budget does not allow for this.  I just wanted to feel pretty.  It took two years but I have finally accepted that this was the last time for a long time my hair would look that great.  I am now currently growing out my gray and accepting my reality that I cannot keep up with my FB envy of hair, pedicures, manicures, lashes and all the other beautification pics I see on FB.  My reality is gray, unpainted, and all natural. And that’s okay.

10449970_10152112336166493_337380212490761156_nThe truth behind this picture (left) and others from this day is that my family was judged harshly throughout our visit.  We were visiting family that criticized my parenting because my son has long hair and talked to me about how I’m not raising “real” men of god.  I was not only judged for the looks and behaviors of my sons but I was also judged on my tattoos and my choice of clothing.  When I asked for water, I was told I could not go in the house but rather that I could fill my water bottles with the yard hose. Yeah, not quite as happy-go-lucky as the pictures make that visit out to be.

When I posted motorcycle & meditation pics from Tucson in March, the t2014-03-14 10.39.48ruth is, that I was in Tucson trying to find any way to manage dealing with my broken heart.  It was my 17 year wedding anniversary and Adam and I had just separated two weeks prior.  I spent my wedding anniversary hiking Sabino Canyon alone and seeing a therapist.  Hardly romantic.

While Adam and I were coaching little league baseball together, every person believed that we were a happy, unified family. We were selling a lie.  The truth was that I would cry before baseball practice and after.  I longed for those two hours when I would have some connection with Adam. The truth was that I was madly in love with the man on the baseball field but our relationship had become toxic.  Games usually ended with us arriving together but leaving to our separate homes.

IMG_2205When I posted pics of Adam and I taking a motorcycle trip to Smith Rock in May, the truth is that this was a trip to burn, bury, and bathe our old relationship so we could move forward.  We burned our marriage license and goodbye letters we wrote to our 20 years together.  We buried our wedding pictures with other mementos from our wedding day.  And we bathed each other in tears and rivers.  While it was one step in our reconciliation, I was still neck deep in torment and pain.

10608297_10152200302131493_8594048053955087003_oI received a lot of praise for how “thin and wonderful” I looked in some of my summer pictures and the truth is I was as thin as I’ve been since my early 20s.  And the deeper truth is that I became that thin, not because I was healthy, but because I was unhealthy.  I was not able to stomach much food, I was vomiting, I was running miles on an empty stomach, and I was experiencing deep levels of heart break.  I was literally starving emotionally and physically. Because of the praise, when I gained 10 of those pounds back, I became extremely tempted to stop eating again for fear of being “fat” or unattractive.  Now I see those 10 pounds as 10 pounds of happiness.   I am only that thin when I am in pain.

I hid my separation from all of you for multiple reasons.  One, it was not only my story to tell and I did not have Adam’s permission to share.  Two, I needed to process the changes on my own.  I knew whatever decisions I made needed to be mine and mine alone.  I am the only one who needs to live with the choices I make.  Three, I knew there would be judgement and I had zero room for judgement.

I have posted on FB that I haven’t finished my children’s book because I was waiting to change my name and obtain my CVT license so that my book would be more respected if it is authored by a professional in the field.  While that may be partially true, the real truth is that I’m scared to death that the book will be laughed at and a waste of my time and the illustrator’s time. I now have my CVT license and an illustrator I want to use, so there’s no more excuses.  I’m finally willing to take the risk of failure.

10622945_10152218221426493_6321856964184099964_nWhen I posted pics from a brilliant, summer day, it looked like all fun and games.  Joy and happiness.  But the truth is, it was a day that both broke me to a new low and, at the same time, allowed me stand a lot taller.  On this day, I found my truth.  I stood up for myself.  On this day, I also decided that I no longer wanted to try and reconcile my marriage.  I knew I was finished with the way things were.  I’ll write more about this in another post.

When I posted about my home finally selling, I was celebrating a lot more than just a home sale.  What I have not admitted to many of you (and to myself) is that our family has had real financial hardships.  Since the whole CFA thing (which I’m finally ready to live out loud about too), we have not had positive cash flow in over 2 years.  Our ENTIRE retirement is drained.  This is the first month in 2 years that we have made enough money to cover our basic costs.  Just two months ago, we were in a position of deciding if we were going to move the six of us in to our RV or in to my mom’s garage.  I have not wanted to admit that we’ve gone from our dream home on 3 acres with a dream job to applying for food stamps, accepting free handouts, exchanging clothes, and having to turn down fun events because of budget constraints.  It’s been a challenging, humbling two years and I’ve been embarrassed to admit the whole truth.  I am no longer hiding.

IMG_2177When I post happy pictures of my family, the chances are that one or more of my boys just had a huge mental breakdown prior to the picture.  For example in the picture to the left, I had to introduce a swearing bubble because the family was full of negative energy and we needed an ice breaker.  My boys are far from perfect.  My parenting far from perfect.  Our family FAR from perfect.  But when I scroll through my FB posts, we sure look perfect.  We look like we are always having fun and out having adventures (which we ARE having lots of fun and adventure…I mean, life is pretty damn good) but nobody on FB (me included) is posting tantrum pictures, pics of their thieving child returning a stolen stone to the World Affairs Council, soundbites of their child screaming “I fucking hate you, Mom” when they are about to have their finger pricked in the Dr’s office, or pics of the cereal the boys’ are eating for the 4th meal in a row.

I’ve posted pics of my sister’s baby shower that fail to show that I was really missing one of my other sisters because there’s a riff in the family.  I’ve only posted my best workout times and not my slower runs.  I’ve deleted plenty of pictures saving only the “best” for FB.  I never said anything about being separated or my dating life or Adam’s during that separation.  And because I never shared with you my separation from Adam, you wouldn’t know that we recently decided to recommit to our marriage and I am once again madly in love with my best friend.  Because I sometimes live in fear, I don’t post anything specific about the journey we are currently taking with the CFA incident. You wouldn’t know that I still struggle with rage when people tell me that I am lost or need god, that they feel sorry for my kids.  You wouldn’t know that I like my new job but incessantly think about the ways I’m failing and could be better.

So you see, I, too, have painted a picture of perfection that is so far from the truth that you may have put me on a pedestal. You may have thought things about me that are not true because I presented you with a half truth.  I am tired of contributing to the perfection myth.  I am not perfect.  You are not perfect.  Your life is not better than mine and mine is not better than yours. I am hoping that by Living Out Loud, we’ll start to see we’re in good company no matter where we are in life.

What half truths are you selling on social media? What pedestals have you built?  Care to tell the full truth and step on down? It’s liberating down here.  Join me!

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I Choose to LOL (Live Out Loud)

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imagesAbout a month ago, I was in a real slump.  I was feeling inferior to other people (particularly women).  I was feeling insecure and questioning my worth as a human being.  I was feeling ugly and negatively judging my body.  I was feeling self conscious in my old mini-van and it’s lack of cool.   I was resenting my role as a mom.  The boys, they too, had stolen my cool factor.  I was doubting my ability to go back in to the work force and contribute quality work that others would value.  I began to become dissatisfied with the size of my home, the style of my clothes, the color of my hair, the small number in my bank account.  I was comparing, judging, and sitting in the ugliness of the stories my mind was creating and buying. The lies began their sneaky little job of creating this web of madness within me.

Once I realized that this funk was turning ugly and affecting the way I was viewing the world and treating the people around me, I decided I needed to take a hard look at what had changed to cause such unhappiness.  Adam had been out of town during this period of downward spiraling and I had engaged in a lot of, what I believed to be, harmless fun.  I watched Bachelor in Paradise from beginning to end.  I watched the Kardashians.  I lazily browsed on Pinterest and Etsy while watching music videos.  And I was on social media much more frequently…even adding the FB app to my phone.  Media was actually affecting my view of the world.  My view of self.

And there it was, the answer was that simple. I am sensitive to what I view and can easily fall victim to the solicitous agenda of media. I know that not everybody will be as sensitive as I am to overt sexuality and portrayals of what women should be.  Some of us are more sensitive to violence or consumerism or the top ten lists of how to be perfect in some fashion of life from parenting, religion, or home organization. We are all comparing ourselves to a standard sold to us. We are always “failing” at something according to someone. Even if that someone lives inside an electronic box selling a non-existent one-size-fits-all-perfection-solution.  I bought in to the lies, sold to me by the people inside that box, that my 36-year-old female self was all washed up. If I don’t look like the Kardashians, sell sex like JLo, have the same perky body of the women competing for “love” on Bachelor in Paradise, if I’m not as perfect as all my “friends” on FB, and if I’m not buying or wearing the latest/greatest…well then I’m not worth anything. I’m not attractive. My husband won’t want me for much longer. I need to make changes. Run faster. Workout harder. Get a six pack. Make more money. Eat less. Dress sexier. I’m clearly inadequate. I need to be better. Lie after lie quickly building a foundation of self hatred. I wanted to hide my insecurities from all of you. From my friends, my family, my husband. I wanted to appear stronger and more secure than I was. And so I hid. I had been hiding other areas of my life and just added my insecurities and self hatred to the dark corner of other secrets.  The longer I hid, the more insecure I felt. I was now living a false truth. Another mark against my clearly flawed self.

Lucky for me (and those around me), I was quick to recognize that my thoughts were turning into an ugly infestation and I was able to reflect quietly enough to identify the culprit. That damn media had its grasp again. I immediately turned off the media inputs, reached out to my girlfriends and was open about how I was feeling and I soon found myself worthy again. As I rid my life of the noise shouting at me who I was, who I wasn’t, and who I should be, I found who I really am.   In the silence, I found that I am me. Perfect me. And you are you. Perfect you.

 

One way that I have found my center time and time again is to be vulnerable in sharing. I find great healing in sharing in this blog. I become connected to those around me when I let down my guard and show vulnerability in sharing my struggles. I find that others open up and share too. We build a safe community where we can be real and genuine no matter where we are in our journeys. I recognized in this time of disliking myself that I had stepped away from my purpose of living out loud. I had started to hide for fear of being judged. I had gone inward and become alone. I had lost some of my integrity. I needed a good kick start to getting back to a life of vulnerability and authenticity. I was given that good kick-in-the- ass a few weeks ago when I had the pleasure of attending an event in which Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, wa10174916_10152050667061493_5333993137919276168_ns speaking. In that forum, she spoke about Radical Honesty. Cheryl’s belief was the equivalent of my belief of living out loud. Here was a woman who was baring her life in a truly authentic way and I, along with so many others, connect with this type of vulnerability. I felt the pull and encouragement to come out of hiding and begin sharing again.

 

I’ve started by sharing my deep, dark, scary secrets with my best friend, my husband. He’s held such a safe space for me and encouraged me to share whatever my heart needs to share. With his encouragement, I am ready to restart the practice of Living Out Loud with Radical Honesty. I hope that you all will continue to hold a safe space for my sharing, for the sharing of others, and find your safe spaces for vulnerability too. Start by sharing one secret with someone you find trustworthy. Or even begin by writing down the scariest secret you can think of sharing and burn it or bury it. Just writing it down is one step toward healing and letting it go. Freedom from the lie that secret has sold you.  I think you’ll find the more you share the less scary it becomes. And you’ll start to love you a helluva a lot more. Others will gravitate toward you because your energy will be absolutely pure. And, before you know it, you’ll not only be your own safe place but a safe place for others to practice Radical Honesty.

 

So who’s with me? Who’s ready to LIVE OUT LOUD? Journey with me, Friends! Let’s change ourselves, our circles and our communities with a little bit of Radical Honesty!

 

 

 

 

Starting Overs

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I read about this wonderful project in Oregon,promoted by Oregon Humanities,called “Dear Stranger.”  Participating had a pull on me and I immediately knew I wanted in.  The very thought of exchanging a letter with a stranger fluttered my heart.  I was excited to find my own truth in this project and I am equally excited to hear my stranger’s story or remembrance, his/her  interpretation of what ‘start’ means.

Below is the letter I wrote to my stranger:

We were told to write about starts.  First starts, second starts, good starts, bad starts.  Naturally I began to think about my starts.  It caused me to pause and examine the “starts” I remember.  What was significant about them?  What emotions were present?  How did I grow and what was gained?  Lost?  I’m not yet 40 and, yet, my short life has seen its fair share of starts.  An abundance of starting overs.  Some by choice.  Some be the choices of others.  Some in which I felt empowered.  A trailblazer.  An adventure seeker.  Others in which I felt powerless, helpless, and bound by fear.

As I write this, I’m recognizing that I was never powerless.  I was never without choice.  I have always had choices in how I responded to forces beyond my control.  Forces sometimes so mighty, so loud that the only choice was to start over.  But I got to choose how that starting over would look.  What path it would take and whether I would choose to hate it, resist it, allow the power to jade me.

I have certainly resisted at times.   I have suffered deeply for not accepting what is.  I have suffered for trying to protect and cocoon all I owned and what I believe I owned.  In these starting overs I have seen that ownership, control, safety…these are illusions.  We never truly own, control, or create safety.  We simply believe we do.  I don’t say this out of bitterness but quite the opposite.  I say this because I have seen freedom in the letting go of all I wanted to possess physically and emotionally.  I’m free to acknowledge life circumstances for what they are.  Mostly outside of my control. Oh!  The freedom in that knowledge.

I have found that ‘starting overs’ are gifts.  If we welcome them, move with them, invite the lessons that lie within.  Stop wrestling with them. Surrender.

Truly each and every day is a starting over.  Each day we can choose how to flow with new beginnings.  Right now, if I fully invite my starting overs into my life, I believe I’ll continue to grow in empathy, love, and kindness.  And, so, I do just that.  I invite starting over in my career.  In my husband’s career.  I accept the challenges with my children and choose to love them deeper tomorrow.  I accept the financial struggle and uncertainty that comes with two years of unemployment.  I acknowledge my feelings and emotions and I appreciate the opportunity to know them more intimately.  I cherish the starting over with my husband.

Daily starting overs.  Each day new opportunities.  New growth.  I guess I’m truly grateful for this life, for the ability to choose, for the endless days of beginning again.  This breath always new, therefore each breath is, in essence, starting over.

*Deep Sigh*

Embrace the Suck

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We have to face the pain we have been running from.  In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us. ~Charlotte Joko Beck~

SUCK-METER-PATCHYears ago one of my husband’s cycling buddies turned him on to the mantra, “Embrace the Suck”.  While never having served in the military, the power of this mantra played out in the many miles we challenged ourselves to suffer through while training for century races and marathons.  When I thought I could no longer put one foot in front of the other, I would repeat

Embrace the Suck
Embrace the Suck
Embrace the Suck

and I would find my strength amidst the immense amount of suffering my mind and body were enduring.  These are powerful words of acceptance.

Fast forward a few years and I have to admit that I have been suffering again but this time on an emotional level.  I have suffered heartbreak and challenges that have seemed larger than my finite capabilities.  There have been moments that I literally thought I would not survive the wounds.  That my chest would simply explode from the intensity of pain if my heart did not simply shatter before the explosion.  I had forgotten about embracing the suck and my mind spent too much time fighting against the truth of what was.  Fighting to avoid the suffering.  Fighting against the suffering was only causing me more suffering.

At some point, I made a conscious decision to plunge in to the suffering.  My mind eventually recognized that there was no changing the course of what was happening externally so our only choice for survival was to accept the suffering.  I made a commitment with myself to avoid distractions as a way to cope because distractions would mask for a time or possibly even make my suffering worse.  I refused to use alcohol, weed, television, relationships, anxiety drugs, painkillers, shopping as ways to numb.  I vowed to feel.  To find healthy ways of dealing.  I started meditating, took an MBSR course, journaled, deepened friendships, invested in my boys, read books about healing, vented to a therapist, and started sitting in silence discovering who I am.  Who I am in my darkest moments.  Every time I was tempted to medicate and drown (which I wasn’t perfect…sometimes I chose the unhealthy), I would ask myself, “who do I want to be?  Is this in line with my highest self?”  Most of the time, I was able to choose suffering…hoping there was something to be learned at the end of it.  In those crushing moments, I would simply name out my  experience.

Pain
Pain
Pain
Lonely
Lonely
Lonely
Afraid
Afraid
Afraid

The simple task of identifying what was happening within allowed space for acceptance.  Pain, loneliness, and fear were no longer overwhelmingly powerful.  They were a small portion of a whole experience.  This moment pain.  This moment loneliness.  This moment an abundance of fear.  This sucks…I want out.  I want to numb.  No, Amy, Embrace the Suck just for this moment.  It was a constant battle to outwit my mind.  My mind was in survival mode.  My spirit wanted more than survival.  My spirit wanted growth even in the midst of suffering.  When one chooses to Embrace the Suck, they choose growth over fear based survival.

I practiced sitting in pain for 6 months.  Some periods were extremely challenging.  At times I failed my goal of acceptance.  I was too uncomfortable or too weak to accept the challenge.  I distracted.  Other times, I came out the other side of pain feeling more whole, stronger, super proud of the person I was becoming. comfort-zone-300x206

Two months ago I attended a one day silent, meditation retreat and I was in immense psychological pain.   A pain that manifested itself both emotionally and physically.  I cannot remember another time in life when I felt so low.  So beat up.  The entire day I was plagued by the incessant processing of my mind.  A rerun of hurtful events played over and over again.  A running stream of stories about my future.  It refused to be quieted. My body reacted with chest pains and vomiting.  I could not find any enjoyment or purpose in this practice of acknowledging my truths and accepting suffering.  I even suffered through my lunch, resenting every forced bite of food that my stomach wanted to reject.  I was finished with nourishing myself.  My mind was going to win.  How’s that for truth?!?   I was a pissed off woman, filled to the brim with pain, suffering through a zen retreat.  At the end of the retreat we did a loving kindness meditation and I could not even offer loving kindness to myself.  I was too broken.  A shell of nothingness.

In spite of what felt like a complete failure of my first attempt at a retreat, I continued my mediation practice.  I was determined to see this suffering through to the end.  I wanted to see who I would be when the blanched layers of my former self were peeled away.

IMG_2415Last weekend, I was able to see that woman in full form.  I understood the importance of suffering for the very first time in my life.  I received this gift at the same retreat I had reluctantly attended two months prior.  My external circumstances are still painful and challenging but I’ve come to accept them.  To find my voice and declare my needs in spite of them.  In the past few months, I have started growing stronger, deeper, more certain of my convictions.  I am understanding what it means to be me rather than a form of me that has been painted by others.  I’ve learned to be my own mirror.  To name my experiences both positive and negative.  I’ve sat deeper and deeper in suffering and, at times, have even welcomed it to sit with me.  I’ve been able to identify my Mara, shake her hand and rather than chase her out, I’ve welcomed her as my teacher.

During my meditation retreat, each meditation offered me a fullness and spaciousness that I hadn’t had room for 2 months ago.  I began to realize that I had been budding, growing in the wisdom of all that I was being taught.  Still a sapling but beginning to grow leaves and even a bit of fruit.

I had an awakening during my silent lunch.  I found a little bench hidden within a wall of flowering bushes and I allowed myself to be fully present and open to whatever would arise.  I had no expectation beyond mindfully eating my colorful peppers and tofu (which was a sensory experience in and of itself).

The first awakening I had was noticing the overwhelming, sweet scent of a new bloom near my bench.  I inhaled with my eyes open.  I inhaled withpavonia-emperor-moth--thomas-marent my eyes closed.  Its seductive fragrance was a smile upon my being.  A gift given to me and I was receiving.  I later tried to breathe in that sweet fragrance again and no matter how hard I tried, I could not find the scent again.  I began to connect this experience to studies I’ve read about our brains.  My brain processed this scent when I first sat down and at some point it decided that the scent was no longer necessary to process.  It was no longer useful.  I then began to wonder how many things my eyes had seen when I first walked in to this garden that my mind decided were no longer useful.  How many things exist (sounds, smells, sights) that my mind identifies and deems unnecessary and then blocks them from registering?  It is then possible for two people to sit in the same space and have two very different experiences.  Both of them equally true.  Neither one right or wrong.  This opened me up to the possibility that I could be more empathetic in my relationships.  I can accept that my reality and another’s reality may be concurrently factual and different at the same time.  Wow!

87791820_XSMy second awakening arrived as I became an observer of nature.  I felt as though I was privileged to be among nature’s world not as a participant but as a quiet spectator.  I noticed a tall weed that had pushed up through the crack of a cement driveway and I thought, “That weed was not provided ideal conditions for nourishment and growth.  I bet it was an immense struggle to reach toward the sun.  I bet that weed suffered.  But maybe, just maybe, through its suffering it has a better life than the weed that was without struggle.  The weeds that grew in the grass (ideal conditions) are likely mowed over or eradicated with weed killer.  This driveway weed suffered and because of that struggle has life.”  This is, of course, the story I have applied to the weed but it began the process of bringing full circle my understanding of suffering.  IMG_2364

Next I saw a fly become entangled in a spiderweb.  There was a part of me that desperately wanted to free it but I remembered a parable told to me in my meditation course.  It’s the parable of the Emperor Moth.  In this story a man comes across a moth trying to free itself from its cocoon.  He feels sorry for the moth and its struggle so he opens the cocoon to free it.  The moth dies soon after because it required the struggle of breaking open its cocoon to strengthen its wings for flying.  In the attempt to free the moth, the man instead stole it of its opportunity to gain strength.  The removal of the moth’s suffering caused its death.  In suffering there is opportunity.

With this reminder of the need for suffering, I began to understand that the fly needs to suffer.  If the fly does not suffer, the spider will not be able to spin another web.  I began to weep.  An abundance of tears came flowing freely because I could see.  Suffering is necessary.  Without it, we are robbed of the opportunities to grow.  We are stagnant and dead.  In this moment of being an observer, my understanding of suffering had come full circle.  I recognized that I had painfully stumbled through suffering and made it to the other side.  The side of freedom.  I saw who I am.  I am a woman who has arisen from the ashes.  A woman who walked through the flames of suffering and allowed them to lick away the layers and layers of unnecessary fear.  I am the beautiful emperor moth with robust wings that fly.  I am the weed that found a way to reach for the sun.  I am the fly that needed to suffer to feed the spider.

I am life.
I am life.
I am life.

I embraced the suck.  I accepted suffering.  I held hands with my Mara.  I answered the call of darkness with a conscious and deliberate choice of light.  I am learning the form of my highest self.  Suffering has been my greatest gift.  May you, too, find the gift in your suffering.    I’l leave you with the words of Christina Rasmussen.  This quote gave me the nudge to surrender to suffering.
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Death of Ego

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I am in the process of dying.  It’s a slow, agonizing death.  One in which ego dies first but ego is fighting to remain.  It is not weak and it battles. Each moment I have to consciously slay the beast that has defined me.  It arrives challenging me to lose this moment.  It threatens me with stories of the future.  It weighs me down with a past that I cannot change.  Ego belittles me with destructive thoughts about me.  About the one I love.  It taunts me with the lies that I’ll never be good enough.  It whispers to me in its seductive voice, “you’ll never be good enough.  Be better.  Be more.”  It steals The Now.  At times, I give it freedom and I allow Ego to distract me from The Now because my present is too painful to sit in.  Fantasies of future and memories of past are more comfortable than present.  But even those distractions do not remain for long because Ego destroys any peace.  It does not like to co-exist.

What Ego does not realize is that I am in control.  I am dying and Ego is dying with me.  I have taken a mirror as my weapon.  A breath.  An inhale.
I breathe in.  I see Ego reflecting back at me.  I am aware.  Ego slithers away from awareness, retracting back in to the shadows.
I breathe out.
Death
Peace
I am me.  Present.  Pain.  Capable.  Empowered.  Aware.  Goddess.

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