Aug 192013

Being a parent for the first time can be a steep learning curve. We don’t quite know how to “do it right,” we lack confidence, we don’t know what our little one’s messages mean, certainly not at the beginning. Being a sort of new parent to my mother is kind of like that. I am learning things like, she has forgotten how to eat a taco or a tostada, or that I must remind her to wipe and flush the toilet and wash her hands after using the restroom. Sometimes I fall short in taking care of her well because I simply don’t know how to.

This week, on the way back from her medical visit, I stopped by an outdoor mall to drop off something for repair. In the Temecula Valley this time of year, temperatures run in the very high 90s. My mother, who uses a walker, was overheated quite quickly. I sat her down outside the mall under the direct sun in the blistering heat while I jogged the 200+ yards to the car anxious for my mother’s discomfort and feeling badly that I had put her in such a position. As I was driving the car back, a UPS driver jumped out of his truck and ran over to where my mother was seated in her walker, then handed her an ice-cold bottle of water which he had opened for her, then quickly ran back to his truck. I pulled up to my mother and got out of the car as he was jumping back in his truck. One hand on my heart, another in a wave, I gave him my silent gratitude. He smiled warmly as he was putting his truck in gear and quickly was off.

I suspect I will remember that small act of kindness forever. He did not judge my ineptitude. He was clearly rushed, but not too rushed to offer a kindness, to care for an elder, to step up where I had fallen short. In spite of being rushed, he noticed, and then he acted. And that, my dear friends, is the true essence of the spiritual warrior.

Having walked a variety of spiritual paths, I have seen so many seekers who confuse the practice for the essence. That is, to orient towards practices like meditation or yoga as if they are the Something Bigger, when they are only practices to help us open and experience the Something Bigger. The purpose of meditation isn’t to be a great meditator, to sit for hours at a time without moving, it is to notice – To be mindful in our daily lives when we are in relationship to others and to our environment, then, to take that noticing and become mindfully engaged, to take action. To do what that UPS man did, because, as Jewel sang so sweetly, “in the end, only kindness matters.”

May we be mindful in our daily interactions. May we be of service to others in need, even in the small ways. May we remember that, when it comes to kindness, there is no small act.

clip no small act of kindness

Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Aug 132013

Humans need belief systems. They give our world order and structure. It’s not really important what the belief system is, but it is in our nature to need one. That’s just the way human psychology works. My belief system is that everything that comes across my path has the potential to serve my higher good; However, my participation is required for that good to come to fruition.

My move back to California was motivated by a need to be closer to family, and in particular, to help in the care of my mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. I suspect that as I return to writing, more of my posts will be about this process. In some ways, it is not the Alzheimer’s that is the important thing here. What’s important is my capacity to love, to be mindful, to sit with difficulty, to be of service, and to surrender to the path that is laid out before me.

This is no small thing as I, by nature, am not a caretaker. I am a lover, a helper, and an educator, but not really a caretaker. It’s part of the reason I chose not to have children. But, as a child of a parent with dementia, I have now become a parent to my parent. None of us can fully plan out our lives. We are given what we are given and there are many unexpected stops along the way. It’s been my experience that those unplanned stops are what make my life interesting and/or make me more fully human.

Today I arrived at my mother’s assisted living home to find she’d been crying for the last four hours. My first response, like any good parent, was to feel very protective and hold them accountable for not calling me sooner. Then I set my anger aside to be what my mother needed me to be – soft and loving.

I entered the room and bent to kiss my mother’s blotchy face. I sat next to her, touched her shoulder with one hand and held the other in mine. I looked directly into her bloodshot and watery eyes and said, “tough morning, huh?” Her face collapsed as she nodded, her eyes hooked on mine. I did not look away but sat present with her suffering. “Are you feeling lonely, mom?” She squeaked out a, “yeah.”  “I’m here now” I said, along with some other soothing comments – along with soothing touch. My mother looked at me with such trust and openness in her rawness. I am unburdened by her need for me to make it better. I know that I cannot fix it all, just as a parent cannot fix the emotional state of a five year-old. But, we hold, soothe, and stay present to ride out the storm. I think of all the times my mother has been there for me in the chaos of my childhood and the emotional wreck I call my 20s. I consider myself fortunate that I have the opportunity to help my mother in her long transition out of this world.

When I told my sister about my mother’s crying and loneliness, my sister said, “yeah, but she refuses to do things with others and just stays in her room,” as if my mother has the capacity to make wise choices at this point. I do not judge my sister. I know she is in pain. I know that it is incredibly difficult to see your own mother’s dramatic change from someone who was once so solid, independent, and rarely cried, into someone who cannot even manage her own hygiene – into someone who easily cries. Watching my own mother suffer is truly one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve known. It is also terrifying to think that one day we may follow our mother in her dementia path. Fear, loss, pain and frustration – these are the difficult emotions that come with caring for a loved-one with Alzheimer’s.

We all have our own tolerance capacity. For my sister, the frustration is more tolerable than sitting into the loss and pain, which are simply too big and overwhelming for her. My nature, on the other hand, is to dive deep. And if I am honest, I have far less tolerance for frustration than I do to sitting present with loss and pain. So my path with my mother is different. I bear her pain with her, and hope that in sharing her pain that her suffering will be diminished. Perhaps it will not, but this is what I know how to do, so this is what I offer.

What is it you have to offer? What is it that you carry that may ease the suffering of another being, even if just for a moment?

Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Aug 092013

It has been a month since my last blog and within that time I have packed all my possessions into a cargo van, moved back to California to assist with my ailing mother and moved in with my sister and her family. Instead of a 3-bedroom home, my possessions now occupy one room and ¼ of a garage in about 25 plastic bins. This all started over a year ago when I had this sense that a big change was coming. I didn’t know what it was, I just knew I had to prepare for it, and the largest part of that preparation was letting go of anything that makes my life too complicated, too burdensome, too heavy. I severed friendships that weren’t supportive; I sold or donated about 75% of my possessions; I scanned pictures and documents and tossed the originals.

The questions I have repeatedly asked myself are:

  • When was the last time I used this?
  • Could someone else find this more useful than it is to me?
  • Is this currently still serving me?
  • Does this represent a me that I no longer am?
  • Do I need to own this or can it be borrowed when needed?
  • Do I own this possession, does it own me, or are we in harmony?
  • Is it essential?

What I have discovered is that there is far less I need that I once thought. For example, Why must I have a tea-pot or a rice cooker when I have a pan that can work just as well? Why do I need the sewing machine that I use once a year do mend a seam I can do by hand? Why am I hanging onto clothes that fit me 15 pounds and ten years ago? So I let it all go with a blessing that someone will find it of more use than I.

Like spiritual growth, we often never really arrive at full simplicity. We live in a society that begs for complexity and cultivates a desire for more. Simplification is an ongoing process that often requires tapping into psychological material. Issues of deprivation, greed (which is really just the shadow side of deprivation), fear, status, ego – all show up in the simplification process. Simplification requires a letting go, not just of physical possessions and a way of being in the world, but also it requires letting go of old stories and old ways of relating to our self that limit our connection to our Bigger Self and the Greater Something.

May your life be simple enough to live into the Greater Truths more clearly. May you have what you need and relinquish what no longer serves you.

clip simplify fettered details

Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA