DIANE GOTTLIEB

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The Stillness Beneath the Surface

Transitions are hard.   I look around. There are kids in the pool—it’s school vacation week. There are men with baseball caps sitting and chatting in the shade, and there’s a blond woman, whom Steven and I have affectionately nick-named Stormy—because she looks like what we imagine Ms. Daniels might look like 40 years from now. Her gravity-defying DDs (I borrowed the “gravity defying” concept from a passage in John McPhee’s book Draft #4) are being held in place by her hot pink bikini top. And while I don’t think hers is a look that I aspire to, I do admire her moxie. More power to her is what I have to say!   There’s an older man in a Speedo. (Whenever I see any man in a Speedo, I can’t help but wonder … should moxie have its limits?) He’s getting ready to hit the lap lanes. They’ve been fully occupied all morning—proof that living in an “over 55” community doesn’t mean “preparing to curl up and die.” I’m inspired and hopeful!   This week marks the beginning of the second half of the first year of WomanPause, and I am already looking back. It was not too long ago that an author website and a weekly blog was just a fantasy of mine.  I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to share my thoughts, ideas, learnings; to have corresponded with so many of you through comments and emails; to have interviewed so many amazing women, many of whom have suffered great losses and have not only lived to see the other side but have grown in spite of their pain.       Loss.   Some of us have experienced great loss when we were young. All of us will experience loss as we age. I hear, as with most other things, we get better at dealing with loss as we have more practice with it. Strangely, that offers some welcomed comfort.  

“One cannot step into the same river twice”

  This June I will be graduating with an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and I am experiencing a bit of anticipatory nostalgia and expectant pangs of loss. I have met so many wonderful writers and mentors, listened to so many inspiring speakers, and have myself grown and blossomed. Anticipating the transition to life without school feels a bit scary—even though I’ve done a similar transition several times before. (This is my third—but maybe not my last—master’s degree.)  I will miss the Antioch community dearly. And although I know many of us will keep in touch, it will not be the same.   The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus has a lot to teach us about the nature of transition: “One cannot step into the same river twice,” may be his most famous quote.   One cannot step into the same river twice. What an amazing concept! For, while a river may occupy the same physical space today as it did yesterday (and as it will tomorrow), the waters within it are never exactly the same. Waters are continuously flowing, moving, never constant. But so, according to Heraclitus, are we.  

In other words, “The only constant in life is change.”

  We can count on change with certainty. It’s just one of life’s beautiful ironies.   I am getting ready for some big changes in the next several years. Right now, I am deep in the throes of writing a book of nonfiction that I hope will someday soon see itself in print. The subject is very dear to my heart, as are the men about whom I’m writing. Their names are Chris, Ed, Frankie, Jason, Ra’Shaun and Ronald, and they have all served many years in prison after being convicted of violent offenses. And … I am honored to call each of them my friend.   Over the past year, they have been extremely generous with their time and their stories. I am committed to doing those stories justice and to helping to open up some difficult conversations about social justice, forgiveness, and second chances.   Talk about transition and change! About loss and growth and the undying nature of the human spirit! “My guys” have taught me so much about our common humanity and about courage in the face of great change. They serve as a reminder to me that I must always open my eyes to our similarities, rather than be blinded by our differences.   Yes. We are all connected. To 80-year old “Stormy,” to the gentleman in the Speedo, and to people whose life paths have been very different than our own.

New York is just a short plane-ride away.

  As I get ready to pack my bag to go back tomorrow to face the cold, I know that February—the most difficult month for me—will be over when this piece posts on Friday, March 1. Spring will be here before we know it, then summer, and then I’ll have one more year in New York before I move down to our place in Florida for the next life chapter. (Steven and I plan to move in the summer of 2020.) I know that I will miss New York—I’ve lived here most of my life and am a New Yorker to the bone.   And I know that I will miss living so close to my dear daughter. I keep reminding myself that New York is just a short plane-ride away.  

A Meditation for Bumpy Times

  I’d like to share parts of a guided meditation called “Lake” that I listen to from time to time, especially during bumpy times of change. It’s in the collection Guided Mindfulness Meditations Series Two led by Jon Kabat-Zinn. https://smile.amazon.com/Guided-Mindfulness-Meditation-Jon-Kabat-Zinn/dp/1622031202/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1551187052&sr=8-2&keywords=jon+kabat+zinn+meditation+cds   In this gorgeous meditation, Zinn asks the listener to imagine a lake of her choice: “… a body of water large or small … The lake you are invoking may be deep or shallow, blue or green, muddy or clear. With no wind the surface will be flat, mirror-like … It reflects trees, rock and sky and clouds … When wind stirs up waves, reflections distort and disappear, but sunlight may still sparkle in the ripples and dance on the waves in a play of shimmering diamonds.”   I am a sucker for beautiful imagery, so I am sold by now—I’m totally in Zinn’s flow.  

“Isn’t having a rippling or wavy surface part of being a lake?”

  He then asks the listener to take that image inside and to become that lake, to hold all energies, thoughts and feelings “in awareness with openness and compassion for yourself as the lake is held by the accepting basin of the earth.” Sometimes, Zinn tells us, we will have clarity and be able to see straight through to the bottom of our “lake.” At other times, however, “the surface is disturbed, choppy, stirred up. Reflections and depth may be lost for a time.”   He asks, “Do your own feelings disturb the surface of the lake? Do they muddy the waters?” and then adds this important question: “Isn’t having a rippling or wavy surface part of being a lake?”   Isn’t that gorgeous?!?   Next, Zinn offers the listener the real challenge: “Might it not be possible to identify not only with the surface of your lake but with the entire body of the water, so that you become the stillness underneath the surface as well?”   Yes! When our lives are feeling choppy, can we not touch our deeper selves, the parts of us that remain in stillness? Can we not access the voice inside, that voice of wisdom, that knows, without a doubt, that “this too shall pass,” that change, and calmer, clearer times, are just around the bend?  

Rediscovery, my friends, is not for the faint of heart!

  But we can move through transitions and difficult times with grace.   We can meet whatever lies ahead with a sense of curiosity–if not excitement–and with a desire to learn and grow.   Writing this piece has helped me move into that space.   Writing is my go-to when an attitude shift is in order—or when I need to spend some quiet time with the more difficult feelings that come up, as they often do, when a person is living her life.   It’s helpful to remember your own go-to (and then go there!) when you enter that melancholy place. That way, you’ll never feel quite so alone.   Next time life feels choppy, can you ask yourself to “identify not only with the surface of your lake but …become the stillness underneath the surface as well?”   I would love to hear your thoughts! What is your go-to when you need to shift your attitude or sit with a challenging feeling? Please leave a comment or shoot me an email! And if you like a post, please share!   And, thank you all again, for a wonderful six months of WomanPause! Please, as always, let me know if there’s a topic that you’d like me to explore in a future post–I’ll do my very best to meet your reading needs!   Have a wonderful week, and happy March! I, for one, am thrilled to be putting February to bed! Diane Diane Gottlieb]]>

6 Comments

  1. Sue Matthews on March 3, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    Diane, you put so many things in prospective for me. I will akways remember your line … “ the only constant in our lives is change.” A hard concept to grasp as I like some kinds of change but feel much more secure when things are the same and I know what is coming next. I will force myself to accept change and transition more.
    I loved the mediation… breathing and meditation are places I find inner peace. When something comes up where I need instant relieve closing my eyes and deep breathing is very calming to me.
    Im in the over 55 crowd and laughing about the bathing suits you mentioned… to each his own.
    Thanks for a great piece. Stay warm

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 3, 2019 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks, Sue! I think most of us feel better when we know what’s coming next, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to be open to all the possibilities? I’m glad you enjoyed the meditation–such a good suggestion to close your eyes and breathe deeply when you need relief! I will have to remember to do that–it’s so simple but hard to remember in the moment.

  2. Nicky Mendenhall on March 1, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Diane – Reading your post this morning was like having a nice long visit with you. I am learning that feeling & expressing & honoring all the feelings that you expressed is healthy. I used to think that I had to rise above pesky negative feelings and take care of others and just be grateful for what I had. Transitions are challenging for me too and I’m glad we will be talking about them.

    Three master’s degrees! That is impressive. I think one was in social work – right? What was the other?

    Thanks for your courage. I will play around with the meditation – thanks for sharing. I like thinking of water and the prompts you gave helpful.

    I look forward to the next 6 months of womanpause!

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 1, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Thanks, so much, Nicky! Those pesky feelings–love how you put it! Sometimes, we need to sit with them and honor them, as you say.
      I have a masters in social work, in secondary English education, and soon to have my MFA in creative writing.
      I love meditating on water and this one has been particularly helpful for me.
      Thanks for being a loyal reader, and I, too, look forward to what the future brings for the blog!

  3. Denise Polis on March 1, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Your writing and wisdom is inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 1, 2019 at 12:52 pm

      Thank you, Denise. That means so much!

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