This was the last morning of September. I woke easily and early, did yoga, and prepared breakfast. Deladis, my oldest daughter, woke before I had finished my yoga practice. She turned on the light in her room and began making a music video for her YouTube channel. She's 10 and very into movie making. She's learned the technology on her own. Rarely does she ask for help.
After breakfast, I offered to help her fix her hair. She agreed and we chose a wooden and leather hair piece that I've had since high school. I took my time, feeling her thick, sandy hair between my fingers. Somehow, we had extra time this morning. I made her a lovely little bun. The clasp accentuated it beautifully and set off her navy shirt. She looked so grown up. For a moment, I glimpsed the young woman she will soon become, and I wasn't the least bit nostalgic. I was proud.
In 24 days, I will turn 37. I'm less than 5 years to 40, and according to some standards, in the midst of middle age. If I'm still waiting to reach the pinnacle of adulthood, I'm out of luck. I don't think there's a such thing. That's fine with me. I'm satisfied here. No one could convince me to turn back the clock and moving forward has to happen in its own time.
My great Papaw Johnson owned the Cowshed Trading Post in Isom, Kentucky. I spent most of my early childhood there tending the store with him and keeping my Mamaw company. Papaw was one of the wisest people I will ever know. One day, while we sat at the kitchen bar, he told me, "The seasons of the year are like life. In the spring, you are born. In the summer, you mature. In the fall, you grow old; and in the winter, you die." I may have been 7 when he shared that analogy, but I knew exactly what he meant. I knew too that he was the winter to my spring.
In that case, when looking at the totality of a life span, I'm existing in late summer. Yet, in every phase of life, I think there are cycles within cycles. Time isn't linear. The theory is complicated, you can take Einstein's word for it. You can also consult the Doctor.
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.” -Steven Moffat (for Doctor Who)
This passed spring began a time of radical transformation for me. Feels silly to admit it. It felt sometimes like I was losing my grip and would drift away in some random state of magnified chaos. I felt out of character, but I was in the process of acceptance. I was accepting who I am in relation to the life and relationships I was experiencing. Dare I say, I was opening the door to the possibility of peak maturity. Pretty laughable. Some might even call it a mid-life crisis. The process continues, though it is more peaceful and grounded these days.
Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that makes great use of mantra (sound vibrations) in all aspects of the practice. It is my chosen practice on most days. One of the mantras used often is Sa-Ta-Na-Ma. Birth. Existence. Death(Transformation). Rebirth. You can also see the mantra as one of the many names for the God/Source. In its essence, it is the same idea my Papaw shared with me thirty years ago. The difference is Sa-Ta-Na-Ma forms a complete and perfect circle. Birth and life are familiar to us. It is death and what, if anything, comes next that intrigues or terrifies us. We naturally resist death as we resist change. We fear it. Stepping into the unknown is risky. There's so many questions that can't be answered until you are in the midst of the action or transformation. Old patterns, concepts, relationships, habits, and rituals fall away as they no longer serve us. What will there be to cling to for comfort? Who are we if not familiar?
Winter can be a cold and bitter time. We tend to dread it. It's difficult to keep the inner flame lit when all seems so starkly contrasted as snow against skeleton, dark trees and gray sky. Yet, because the spent leaves gave themselves over to new form, earth, literally becoming our foundation, new life springs forth. The cycle begins again. Ma - the mother. Rebirth. The next step. The death of anything is nothing more than a Divine renewal. It is the force that brings form, experience, or wisdom. Like birth, death opens the possibility of creation. No matter what our belief in afterlife, we can agree this is a transition from physical form to energy. We know energy cannot be destroyed only transformed. Sarah Bernhardt said, "'Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich."
I remember when Oprah Winfrey turned 40. She had an on air birthday bash. She talked about how 40 was the new 20 or something like that. The theme regardless was her readiness and openness to experience the fullness of life. It was 1994. I was almost 16. I understood that the struggle and hang-ups of her younger years were refined and she was moving forward in a spirit of freedom. She was unapologetic. A goddess. I remember thinking when I watched the program that getting old was relative and not something we have to do.
In times when we can either let go to make room for our truth and grow, or continue to cling to the things that have arbitrarily kept us going, we must choose to be courageous or give up our meaning. Lately, I'm doing my best to be brave and honest with myself. Saying it is hard is understating. Deladis isn't a baby or even a little girl anymore, but there's so much to look forward to as she grows. I will never stop being a witness to her beauty, laughter, creativity, fire, and tears. I'm always the birthplace and the place she can come to be safely reborn. I can hold her and give her space. I am the energy. As my life becomes more truthful, and able to reflect the light I hold within, I recognize further that time is a formless container, meaning nothing more than a context for our history. What we do with it matters.
In the last few years, I've noticed that there appears to be a "gratitude movement". At least, social media, television, podcasts, and blogs would have us believe it. With Thanksgiving coming up, I'm sure we'll all see the 30 Days of Thanksgiving posts on Facebook and Twitter. In the past, I couldn't help but feel somewhat cynical at the thought of people asking me to stop focusing on what is wrong and the problems of life and instead dwell on the things I can be grateful for. I resented it because it felt as if they were saying because I was upset, sad, angry, or really wanting to fix things that I was in my essence an ungrateful person or a whiner. Of course I was grateful, I have three beautiful daughters, a long lasting relationship with my partner, family and friends who love me, food on the table, and a roof over my head! Why were people insinuating that negative aspects of our lives should not be given as much attention as the things for which we are grateful? To me, being grateful was a given. If you weren't grateful for something, you had a big problem for we all are blessed. It was the problems that needed my attention. Being publicly thankful felt like bragging. I don't like to brag.
It's been over the last two weeks that something inside of my being has shifted and I understand what it means now to live in gratitude. I've been a fighter all my life. I've always had a crusade, a cause, a depression, or something to overcome. In always approaching my life with the fighter in me, I had grown accustomed to feeling the cloud of gloom behind everything. I couldn't rest. I couldn't experience myself for trying to fix myself, my situation, or some injustice befallen someone/s I care for. I carried the world on my shoulders and I could never be enough. I grew tired. Lonesome. Invisible. Eventually, my fight began to fizzle and I wanted the darkness to win so I could just stop. I didn't have the faith to think I'd ever have a victory. There would be always something else to fight and my principles wouldn't let me give up.
We every one have and will have hard battles in this life. Somehow, we have to become aware of our own strength and how to utilize the love we have available to us during times of trial. It refines us. It heightens our sensitivities and brings forward the areas in ourselves and our lives that need attention. However, we don't have to let the battles define us. That is what I had done. In becoming the embodiment of the battle, my "self" was caged away. I had become a thyroid problem. A migraine. The lonely wife. The scary and sad birth story. The warrior victim. The thing that just won't die for all the pain it's in.
A month ago, I went completely grain free (all gluten free, of course). I gave up nuts and most cheese. I cut way back on all other dairy. I went soy free. I, also, gave up chocolate! It's recommended for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disorder to try eliminating common food allergens and foods that can cause digestive upset. For the first week and a few days, I felt like CRAP. I was angry and sure it wasn't going to work. I have a rock gut. It wasn't food that was causing my issues to worsen.
I think I was wrong. While I haven't gone completely toward the autoimmune protocol paleo approach to nutrition, I have noticed a tremendous difference with these small adjustments. I'm still waking and going to sleep very tired. At this point, you'll have to pry coffee out of my cold dead fingers. But... I'm not having huge emotional ups and downs. I'm not having any pain or headaches. My face hasn't swollen in a month. I'm still having some digestive issues, but I have a plan for that. Keeping up with a hectic schedule doesn't stress me out nearly as much as it did before. I have heart palpitations regularly, but they don't seem to be brought on by stress or anxiety anymore. Truly, the difference in my ability to cope emotionally has increased 100x.
About three days in, I was about to call it and go back to my normal whole foods diet which included all food groups aside from processed foods and refined sugar. A friend encouraged me to stick with it. I had been complaining of the lack of food options, meaning my favorite foods. He said, "You won't know unless you try." Curious me, I have to know, and I have to be able to say I tried. It was a challenge and I took it. Here I am. It's like I've emerged from a fog. As cliche as that picture is, it is true.
Now, my heart is filled with gratitude for things I didn't even notice before. It hasn't been a effort on my part. It is like it has happened along with this emergence. At the same time, so many things are falling into place. My spirit is being freed from the fighting and allowed to be and do with all the strength it once used to fight endless battles. My dreams are revived to be chased and earned. I'm realizing that I will be okay in whatever path my life takes as long as I am remaining compassionate, open, available, aware and caring of my body, and embracive of my truth by actively knowing and living it.
This week gratitude has taken the form of finding tremendous joy in being welcomed into a new yoga community through Evolation Yoga Kentucky in Pikeville where I am teaching yoga. Enjoying a 7 day a week yoga practice and having the ability to practice/teach up to 3 hours of yoga on 4 of those days. Hearing the new expressive vocabulary my three year old, Gwen, is adopting. She's so full of spunk. The 100% my oldest daughter got on her math test. Seeing the excitement that she and my middle daughter have when going and coming from their school every day. I'm finding myself growing more and more thankful for the time several of my friends take in their day to send me little messages to laugh at, poke fun at one another, or to share burdens and triumphs. I'm wonderfully thankful for my husband being willing to coordinate his schedule with mine and the childcare my friend has been willing to share with me, so that I can take a few hours every day to follow my bliss as an adult woman.
I could go on. It's easy to be grateful when you are feeling good. It's easy to notice the joy filled moments when you aren't managing with pain or feeling muddled. Right now though, I feel like I'm breathing in gratitude. The scary part is that a little voice in my head tells me it all could be a fluke and the next debilitating headache is around the corner, the next big crisis is imminent, loneliness will overwhelm again, or another tragedy will be brought upon a friend or family member. There are some who I know would tell me to ignore that voice, or to actively direct my thoughts to the good. However, I know good and well that it is more than very probable that any or all of those things are true. What I think I've learned with this go around is that I don't have to go into the ring punching and kicking with all I have. I simply have to have my gloves on, my guard up, and be there. Present. Alert. Knowing where my heart lies, what I am capable of, and that winning or losing is nothing compared to the process and the time we take to be there in it.
Will living here rightly prepare my daughters for being in the world?
How do I ensure that my children see the bigger picture of culture and a more accurate representation of the variety of people in the world while living in a largely homogenized location?
Will they be able to raise a family here, or make a living for themselves if they desire to remain in the mountains?
Could they develop resentment and contempt for being here if they are aware of what is outside of these hills?
I can ask these questions with a type of hindsight, as I was young in the mountains once. While I had a deep love for the landscape and culture, I longed to experience more of the world. I was endlessly curious about other cultures/peoples. I often didn't feel like I fit in well in my community, and because of that, a place where I could be more anonymous appealed to me. As soon as the opportunity arose to leave the mountains, I took it. It was also something I had been prepared for by the adults in my life. As they noticed my interests and the way the economy was turning, they encouraged me to find a place outside of the region if it was made available. They wanted more for me than what they thought I could find here. It was made clear to me that at the time I was considered the youth, it wasn't good to be young in the mountains. In fact, I was taught by several of the elders in my life that it is best to keep where I am from hushed when outside of the mountains so I won't be judged and have opportunities taken from me based on the stereotypes promoted about our home.
The conference was well attended with youth and those supporting them from throughout and outside of the region. The vibe was very upbeat and the conversations seemed energetic. I attended a workshop on applying for grants through the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and I sat in on a panel discussing whether or not it is worth it to pursue higher education if you plan to remain in the mountains. It seemed that even though we are all still very unsure about where the future in the mountains leads, we are hopeful. As a parent, I'm more hopeful than I have ever been about the increasing opportunities for my daughters to broaden their outlook and express themselves to the world while being right here at home. There was a time when we were considered an isolated and backward people, but that is quickly changing. Our young people are making themselves known in a larger sphere.
What I saw at IG2BYITM was dedicated youth. The Ghandi quote that we always see in memes and even cheesy home decor - "Be the change you want to see in the world." - sums up what they are embodying. If our youth want opportunities, they must create them. With the support of those of us who came before, they will clear a path through this dense underbrush placed in their way by previous generations who latched on to mass culture and the perpetuation of misconceptions through the rest of the country. Will we take on the mantle of the stereotypes and allow them to stand outside of the context with which they were bred, or will we use our uniqueness to bring about a time when mountain youth will be proud about their heritage and hopeful about their future here?
As neat as that scenario sounded, it never really happened as I pictured it. It wasn't long before my husband was deeply involved in making a more cemented career in art and music, while also spending his free time doing both. Those were his dreams. I found myself gardening and tending animals mostly alone. We never got to the point where grocery and department store trips were only a few times monthly. Then, it became difficult to travel with small children. Sleeping in a truck bed for days at a time makes for irritable babies and mothers. John started travelling alone. After awhile, he opened his tattoo shop in effort to create a more steady income, and we all know that having a business requires an incredible amount of time. Homesteading alone while mothering three little girls and homeschooling them as well was just too much. It wasn't at all what I had dreamed.
There isn't a place beautiful enough to trump the necessity to create a day to day life that works for you and brings you joy. When I chose to live in this lonely holler, I didn't think I'd actually be alone most of the time, meaning away from other adults. I didn't know that often I'd be literally trapped behind a swollen or frozen creek, unable to get out with my children without much difficulty. I expected a shared experience. A dream built by two. Through no fault of either of us, it just didn't come to be. The idea was great, but the application wasn't for us to do together. I realized this year, in part due to the severity with which the Hashimoto's had changed my ability to cope with the emotions and stress I was experiencing, that it was time to make adjustments. For my well being and vicariously for that of my daughters, we had to change what this dream had actually become. I've written quite a bit about my inner process on this path here.
This summer was spent drawing up a plan for the girls and I. How could I give them a kind mommy who felt joy, a rich and stable childhood experience, prepare them for independent womanhood, and also give myself a fulfilled life? I knew it was going to be tricky and look nothing like I had planned our life to be for so long. This past week, the oldest two of my girls began going to school away from home for the first time. They are attending a small cottage school on a family farm. This idea had only been a few months old, but it fell together with ease, and they both enjoyed their first week immensely. They are very happy about going to school. Over the last few weeks I have completed freelance writing work, began teaching yoga at Evolation Yoga in Pikeville, and applied for a couple of other interesting work opportunities. My plan is coming together. It is intimidating and freeing all at the same time, but it seems to be affirmed by the Universe, and that is all I need to move forward.
Someone who advises me spiritually told me this spring that my spirit is like a penned up wild horse. I had a hard time believing that at first. I felt so dull and uninspired. Once I picked back up the dreams that were personal to me, just as my husband had always pursued his own independent of our marriage, I realized how much I had become stifled by limitations I had put on myself regarding what I thought I had to be as a wife and mother. I didn't want to fail at homesteading and homeschooling. I had thought it would be such a joyful life for all of us. I still think it would have been. This isn't a grass is greener thing. As nothing happens in a vaccum, I had to adjust what I allowed for myself to be in order to see my spirit freed. It has been imperative that I change my definition of what it means for me to be a good mother and drop any guilt associated with what I had always thought it should look like for me.
Honestly, this whole time, even as I was making these changes, I had felt as if I was failing as a mother. Not failing or neglecting my daughters, but failing to find everything I needed to be fulfilled by being a mother. It was as if I was somehow defunct in comparison to women around me who seemed so satisfied in the role. I've learned motherhood is so very different for all of us. There isn't one of us doing it - right. In loving and providing for our children, putting their needs first, and considering our own well being and fulfillment as an essential part of giving them the childhood they deserve, we are each doing it very well. I read an article on the Brain Child Magazine website that helped me put what I am trying to do for my daughters in perspective, the way I am choosing to do it now.
After all, isn’t this movement away from us and toward independence the central goal of parenting? Isn’t this what sets parenting apart from gardening and cat ownership? That we want our children to leave us? That we don’t want to be number one in their lives forever?
I'm still okay. I'm still a loving mother. I am also working very hard at making myself a more emotionally available and present mother. A mother that is alive and not simply going through the motions. A mother that has dreams and acknowledges their validity. I'm a mother who doesn't need permission or approval to seek a varied and colorful life for myself or my daughters. If we believe we have one go around in this world, then right now is the time to be alive. I can't wait any longer to grow if I am going to raise bold women capable of growing as individuals and nurturing a planet of sacred situations and souls. That takes a goddess in the flesh. That is what we are. I am a warrior mama. I'm fighting for my free and wild spirit. I'm fighting this disease for my health. I'm fighting the fight for the full expression of all women for the sake of my daughters. And... I got a faux hawk today in order to mark my realization that I'm a warrior and a rebel at heart... always.
Breathe and be more alive. - Ravi Singh
This week is huge for me in terms of possibilities for the future. I'm interviewing for work I can be passionate about on Thursday. I am preparing to send in a grant proposal for further opportunities with my writing. I've taken the girls school shopping as their first year of schooling away from home will begin next week. I shared my yoga practice with nine people as the instructor in my class on Monday at the recreation center. It was a beautiful energy. I have also taken some steps to adopt an autoimmune paleo diet and lifestyle. In all this effort, it is so easy to simply get caught up in the momentum, but sometimes we must pull back and take the time to notice the details of the doing rather than focusing on an end goal.
Today, I'm reminding myself to move one step at a time. I'm not taking anything off the plate. I'm taking the time to savor each bite and notice how it nourishes my body and mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Do the thing and you will have the power." Rather than wondering if I will get the job, the girls will be happy in their new school, the diet will improve my Hashimotos symptoms, or I will get the grant, I have to take a moment and credit myself for doing the thing. In order to be alive, I must remember to breathe right now.
This is part of teaching myself patience. Patience with myself, my daughters, situations, and those around me. Einstein said, "Time is an illusion." Mario Benedetti reminds us that, "Five minutes are enough to dream a whole life, that is how relative time is." With our breath and mind, we can slow down time or speed it up. How we perceive a happening determines the brevity or endlessness it is made of. It is this moment that matters now.
Einstein also helped reveal to the world that energy isn't created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another. What must I do to change my experience of this life? Change the form of the energy I devote to it. My efforts will be rewarded regardless of the outcome of the effort because the energy I am spending cannot be for naught. It is a real and tangible force more ancient than time. However, it is the intention and the process with which I expel this energy that will guide me to the outcome that is right for me. It is right now that matters.
I have one more week to spend as a completely stay at home mother. I have right now to bring myself back to self care so that I can nurture mind, body, spirit into a condition that allows me to properly share my gifts with others. I have lunch and supper left today to take the time to feed my body nourishing food to gain strength for tomorrow. It is today that I should express my heart to those I care about. Today, I come to my yoga mat with reverent and light energy, ready to learn from Source.
Homebase is right this moment.
I have to say that I'm proud of myself over the last month. I've done the work I need to do to know where my center lies and how to get back there when the wind of my hopes and dreams takes me here, there, and yonder. I wonder if those close to me notice it. I've chosen to focus in the process. I've chosen to do and be patient with the rest. I wonder if I appear grateful, or new. I feel like I'm becoming new.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.