Two heads are not always better than one

When I was 4 years old (I actually remember this), soon before starting preschool in my native Belgium, I told my mom I did not want go to school, “like, ever”.  I wanted to stay home and play with my toys. I wanted to be like her, always home, quiet, and with no homework assignments (all this in age appropriate language, of course).

Fifty years later I am well aware that it’s not because one does not leave the house that one does not have home work, like my mother immediately set out to explain to me.  She ran a household of 8 with no hot water in the kitchen (she had to boil a kettle each time she did the dishes), one bathroom, and only a semi-automatic washing machine. Things are very different today and each time I think of how hard my mom worked I say a quick thank you, especially if I’m unloading the dishwasher, my least favorite chore.

One thing has not changed, however: I still long/love to be home alone. Self-help experts often advise that we reconnect with our young selves and do what s/he loved to do at the time. For me my friends it’s definitely being on my own. No demands, no questions, no explanations. I can smell the roses, the tulips, or the stew on the stove, and feel good about it. How daring is that?

As a stay-at-home mom I felt into the trap of endless activities in an unconscious then, and conscious now, effort to prove that I was busy and, more importantly, worthy. Despite countless attempts to grow our gregarious side, I find I have raised two young adults who also need alone time to recharge and stay grounded. They are now facing what I struggled with for decades: the notion that wanting to be alone is somehow unhealthy, antisocial, or simply weird. Since my mother’s days the focus, in affluent communities, has shifted from looking at social busyness as a temporary pleasure or necessity to regarding it as the optimum way of life.  Success is not only gauged in terms of career or money but very much in terms of social connections and interactions. How many likes you get on a post or pictures. How many times a week you dine out with friends. How heavy the traffic is on your website. The more the merrier we are led to believe. And if it does not hold true for you, something’s wrong.

Here’re my two cents: if being alone stems from a deep need to connect with yourself, with your journey, with the challenge of living a fruitful life, do not let anyone tell you it’s not “normal”. Not all of us are cut out to thrive through social encounters and people stuff. It’s not that we’re afraid or lack self-confidence; it’s about being honest about how we can be our best and making sure our needs are met. It’s about protecting our true self from outside domination so we can offer it to the world in its most potent yet kindest form. There’s power in aloneness. And there’s love too. Love for ourselves, for life, for others. Choosing solitude is a valid and strong choice in a world that often seems to be socializing out of control.

I leave you with a recent photograph I took of Easter colored tulips. Go ahead, pause and smell them. And if you’re happier running out the door to meet your busy, that’s ok too. I’ll stay here and change the water.

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Words and photograph – Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

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A Human of All Seasons

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As I photographed this glorious butterfly sipping the last nectar of summer, its invitation to focus led me to also take a shot of my inner landscape. Only a few days ago the excitement of biting into my second spring was filling me with excitement and anticipation, and yet I now found myself adrift in a blurry picture of sorrow mixed with gratitude and joy. There I stood, newly confirmed in the community of empty nesters, feeling both elation at my children’s independence and sadness at their absence, swinging between the highs of mature freedom and the lows of returned aloneness. All. At. Once.

The Bible tells us, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance…” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-5).  As wilting flowers easily yield to the fiery shades of autumn, I’m wondering what we, transient beings, are supposed to do when we come to realize that all times, all seasons, move upon and through us at once. We laugh and cry in the same sentence; in our hearts flow both hope and grief; our lives sing the songs of the dead and the living. Everything is right now, in this instant of potential and regret, in this breath of opening and closing.

Like winter’s ice protects the triumph of summer’s blooms, like fall’s bounty feeds the promises of spring, we each harbor every one of life’s seasons. When we open to them with acceptance and reverence, without forcing their presence or wishing for their retreat, we get to feel there’s enough space for them all. Always.  Pain doesn’t negate joy. Bliss is not meant to erase heartache. Emptiness doesn’t cancel the wonder of belonging. Together they shape the true form of human experience at any given time. Together they gift us with a depth of perception and a longing for more. When we finally choose to own the richness and echoes of this truth, we are offered a chance to taste what it means to be whole, authentic, and without end.

“He has also set eternity in their hearts…” – (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Maryse Godet Copans © 2015

Wildly,Horribly Irritating Mind (WHIM)

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Back in the corner you go. You know the one. That’s what you get for deciding to write on a whim. Look at the lines on the wall and listen to those playing in your head: “Who needs another writer? What do you have to share that hasn’t been said before? Who do you think you are?” You love your mind, I know you do, it’s a beautiful tool and it’s saved you a few times from falling feet first into mouthfuls of embarrassment. And today is no different. It’s keeping you safe, aren’t you grateful? You’re not ready to show yourself. Don’t you feel better knowing the corner is there with its right angle?

It’s the wrong angle, you say? You choose to turn around and face the sky? You know who you are and it’s not your mind? You are bold!

You want to create with your Wonderfully, Happily Imaginative Muse. You want to let the voices in the corner speak and invite them to look at the view on the other side. You want to paint your walls all the colors of your experience and create a picture that others will be inspired by. You want to be seen and own your space, not to push others to seek refuge into their corners, but so that both your strength and fragility can become beacons of encouragement for all.

This is the perfect angle. For me. Right now.

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Maryse Godet Copans © 2015

As of August 18, 2015

This piece is not mine but my son’s. It is about his spiritual and healing journey. If you feel it can help someone navigate a chronic illness, please feel free to share. Thank you.

Last December, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. For those who don’t know, ulcerative colitis is a chronic illness for which there is, as of yet, no cure. What it means is that if you are a little too stressed out or you eat the wrong food, you will have to deal with an inflamed colon, which is as bad as it sounds. At the time of the diagnosis, I was 17 years old and midway through my senior year of high school. Like many high schoolers, I thought I had life all figured out: social media, party, lift weights. I was cruising through my last year in high school with all my friends and I knew life was going to be smooth sailing into college. So it posed a few problems for me when I learned that, with ulcerative colitis, I could not drink, I would have to take time off from the gym, and, as I would later realize, I did not have life figured out at all. As it played out, I wasn’t well enough to go to school for a while. I stayed at home recovering for the second half of my senior year. I slept, ate the same low-inflammatory foods all day long, played video games, and repeated. I was a kid who wanted to party and get other people’s approval who couldn’t party or go out to get other people’s approval. So aside from beating a few challenging video games, it was not what I’d call a good time. A part of myself that I seriously valued could no longer exist, something that took a few miserable months to come to terms with.

But sometime, months later, a part of me realized that if I was willing to give up my high school ideals and commit myself completely to getting better, it was possible to not live the rest of my life as a victim of some disease. I didn’t know it at the time, but this idea would completely change the way I live my life. Around the time of my 18th birthday, my parents finally got me a dog, which I had wanted my whole life. Walking out of my room every morning to find a little animal celebrating my arrival always put a smile on my face. Those small, happy moments gave me the energy to start getting myself back together over the next few weeks. I started accepting my new diet and lifestyle. I began exercising lightly and stretching daily so that I could slowly work my way back into the gym.

One day, one of these stretches left me in a position where I was looking at a bookshelf upside down. There directly ahead of me, upside down, was a book I had never seen before: Courage by Osho. It seemed interesting, so I read it over the following week, hoping to find out what someone could possibly say in a whole book about courage. In the pages of that book, written by an Indian man who passed away in 1990, were the same thoughts that had been running through my head for the past few weeks. He described the thrill of the unknown, exactly what I had been feeling since I had committed myself to changing and accepting myself. He was someone who knew exactly what I had been through, yet our lives had never even mutually existed. This book, written by a spiritual guru, inspired me to explore what spirituality and religion actually were. For the first time in years, I had a deep sense that I was on the right track in life, which was the only thing that mattered. Shortly after, I found a book by Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that compared every myth and religion and showed that they all shared a common structure. They were all the same story, written in different ways by different people since the beginning of human civilization. Reading Campbell’s work helped me truly understand the significance of spirituality, because for the first time, I could personally relate to myths and religions. Their messages made sense to me. Viewing religion in this way was liberating for me, and it changed the way I saw life itself. I began to see and feel an underlying order in the chaos of life. I was no longer afraid of failure, because I realized that in every failure there was a lesson to be learned and room to grow. I felt like I had the power and freedom to do anything, and, more amazingly, that I’d had it all along.

I’ve always liked science, so testing this new mindset, this new hypothesis about how life works, was my next step. I couldn’t do that alone in my house, so I first had to get better and get back out into the world. From then on, instead of feeling sorry for myself and worrying about how this illness could ruin my life, my thoughts and attention stayed in the present moment. Instead of getting upset about them, I recognized any symptoms or problems as temporary challenges to overcome, and focused on staying calm and not letting them control me. It took one month of thinking this way, after 6 months of little progress, to get back on my feet, out of my house, and back into school in time for final exams. I now knew that my new view on life could guide me through being sick, but the real test was when I finally got to test it outside of my house. And it worked. In every situation. Every time. The night I successfully graduated high school, a night that hadn’t been guaranteed just a few months earlier, I sat on my deck and watched the sunrise. In this moment I realized I was a completely different person from the kid who left high school in December. That kid could never have done the things I had in those short few weeks. I felt like a new person, but I had never felt more like myself. It didn’t seem real or possible; it felt like I was living in a dream. After having pulled an all nighter, I fell asleep on my deck at 6:00 AM, as my dad was preparing his breakfast. Later that morning I woke up to the same dream. From that day on, my life wasn’t about getting out of bed and getting through the day anymore. I realized that my life is temporary, and feeling like it is a dream is not crazy, it is the truth. Every time I woke up I was ready to put myself into new situations from which I could grow stronger.

Now, as I sit writing this, months later, I believe that attitude is the essence of really living. If you can find a way to see every day, every month, every moment as a new adventure with a new lesson to teach you, it will completely transform the way you live and set you free from all the limits you consciously or unconsciously place on yourself. When I realized this, what I wanted the most was to share my new excitement for life with everyone. I quickly realized that it wasn’t that easy. Telling people to live in the moment and follow their hearts is anything but effective. I know if someone had told me those things when I was in high school, I would have responded with “I don’t know, yeah, sure.” I came to understand that everyone has their own unique way of finding this state of mind, where anything is possible. Every life is a story that can only be written by the person living it. The common theme being that every great story includes facing fears or overcoming challenges or slaying dragons. Without these struggles to break us down, there is no room for greatness to grow out of what remains. Life can be heaven and life can be hell. But every time hell is at your doorstep and you choose to say “try me” instead of “why me?” you develop something that nobody can ever take away from you: a deep sense of purpose and the knowledge that you’re living your own life on your own terms, and no matter how horrible things seem to be, it is always worth fighting until the end. Not for some reward, not because it feels good, but for what you will learn and who you will become. I have found that this idea has been around since the first civilizations, and is at the core of what makes us human. My invitation to anyone that reads this would be to honestly try and figure out what makes their life an adventure worth living. Right now. There is no tomorrow or next month or next year, there will only ever be a right now. So go out and seek your adventure. It isn’t easy, success is never guaranteed, and no, everything won’t always be fine and dandy, but if you can own and accept your life, you’ll never doubt whether or not you’re worthy of living it. Life is one mysterious eternal moment where there will always be good and bad, pleasure and pain, light and dark. I believe that every individual has the capacity to accept it and dive in head first. If an 18 year old from Westchester can do it, so can you. And by doing so, you will realize the significance of your life and the true freedom and power you hold in any situation, and that sense of purpose will guide you through anything life throws at you.

Jonathan Copans © 2015

A LIFE WISH

“The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite.” – Eckard Tolle

In a few days I will be flying out to Belgium to be with my brother and his children as they mourn the passing of my sister-in-law. 2012 opened with a death –my husband’s beloved mom- and now closes with another one. Like most of you, I’ve learned to navigate the grieving process as the passing years have forced me to say goodbye to both my parents and my in-laws, a couple of friends, my niece, and now my brother’s life partner. Every single death throws me off balance and brings in a new wave of past sorrows. Quite a downer on this upcoming New Year’s Eve. But does it have to be? In the same few years our family has welcomed nine new little ones, bundles of discoveries and giggles. My daughter has grown into a college freshman eager to learn and taste campus life. My son is counting the days to his learner’s permit as my husband and I laugh (mostly) while adding up our wrinkles. We’ve all made new friends. We’ve all grown and blossomed in our own way. Life has been good to us. And it’s been really tough too. It’s simply been Life, birth and death side by side in a never ending succession of smiles and tears.

The Holiday Season brings the fragility of life to the forefront, from the innocence of the baby in the manger to the absence of our departed loved ones. Surrounded by twinkling lights and presents most of us also unwrap our broken hearts. I am writing today, dear friends, to remind you –and myself- that the champagne flute or beer mug you will raise at midnight tomorrow never stops bubbling with the potential for joy, and to invite you to drink up the possibilities that lie in the mere fact that you’re breathing. I believe that death turns into the opposite of life when we rebel against it and let grief engulf us. When we lose track amidst the darkness of what drives us in the light. On this New Year’s Eve, let’s accept that while death may be the opposite of human life but it does not signal the end of Life. Because Life is our love shining through tears and shared memories. It’s our decision to savor every day and our desire to make a difference. It’s our ultimate choice to embrace birth and death as perfect partners of an imperfect journey.

We’ve all been challenged by Life. All of us. The how doesn’t much matter. What counts is the depth of the wound and, in time, of the healing. I propose a toast, my friends, to our resilience and our willingness to let love touch us, hurt us, and above all, make us whole again. May 2013 bring us the strength to face Life as it is and the blessing of loving it no matter what. From my heart to yours: our combined spirits know no opposites.

 Happy New Year!

Maryse G. Copans © 2012

Breakfast Hook

Nothing like a juicy epiphany in the morning! It’s tastier than a waffle with berries and more powerful than an energy smoothie.

“It’s not because I’m good at something that I have to like it or want to do it. And it’s not because I have no apparent talent for something else that I have to dislike it or not want to do it”. There. Liberating. Don’t you agree? Don’t we all have things we love to do and that we do not excel at (like painting for me) and others that we’re not that keen on and yet do reasonably or really well?

When a few years ago I was told that I had a talent for weaving pictures with threads of clever vocabulary, I took the hint and explored the gift. Several writing classes and blog posts later I came to the forlorn conclusion that I did not love my new talent. But I kept at it, so used was I to pushing through resistance and doubt. Surely, if I had a way with words it was meant to be perfected and shared. But as practicing and publishing continued to drain my joy, I decided to put a stop to my writing ambitions. No need to tell you that any relief I felt was plagued with guilt and a sense of failure.

Today’s breakfast treat has changed all that. I don’t get any pleasure from broadcasting my thoughts on the Internet? Fine. Putting random dabs of color on a piece of paper is thrilling? Why not? It’s ok for me not to like what I have a knack for and it’s cool to enjoy what I’m not great at.  The human journey is not just about sharing gifts and talents but about the joy we glean and spread while doing what we choose to do. Don’t underestimate the impact of what is performed with love and pleasure. And don’t question your right to turn your back on what does not bring you joy. Even if you’re very, very good at it.

This post may not be my finest but it was fun to ponder and create. That’s no small deed for a writer at heart who does not love to write. I invite you to partake in this healthy dose of breakfast wisdom so that your lives may be infused with the wonder of doing what you  enjoy and may inspire others to do the same.

Maryse Godet Copans © 2012

And to all, a merry God-mas!

I knew God through the stories my mother read when I was a little girl: Jesus walking on water or helping the Samaritan woman. I knew God when I prayed the Hail Mary before falling asleep, when I sang “Silent Night” while holding a sparkler in front of our Nativity Set on Christmas Eve. On Confirmation day, when the dark brown cross around my neck threw a shadow on my white robe.  I stood, a red rose in my hand, symbol of God’s unconditional love. I was too young to understand. All I heard were the priest’s lectures about sin, redemption, and human unworthiness.

 

I avoided God through countless hours spent in cathedrals and monasteries all around France listening to my parents’ depiction of devotion and sacrifice in the Middle Ages. I preferred the safety of the postcard stand in the narthex and the timid lights of candles, 10 cents for a prayer heard and received…”Get me out of here!”  I avoided God while practicing with the church choir and dreaming of mass-free Sundays and late breakfasts. The sound of the guitar in those icy walls never warmed my heart to His presence.

 

I swapped God for the race to success and the whirlwind of London’s financial markets.  Professional achievement filled my heart with pleasure and left my soul unsatisfied. I swapped God for the careless attentions of men who never tried to know me, for the mirage of a carefully decorated interior that never reflected the wildness of my most secret hopes. I spread my wings away from home and yearned for the wind that would lift them to new heights. I did not know that it had to blow from within.

 

I heard God whisper in the generous smile of my future husband, in the giggles of my sweet children as a mighty wave of love changed me forever. I heard Him whisper as I held my father’s hand on his hospital bed, and watched in wonder as four days of closeness erased years of discipline and distance. I said goodbye on a freezing January morning finding comfort in the belief that he would remain by my side,  proud witness of my uneven steps towards Grace.

 

I cried to God when the images sent by my battered brain frightened me more than the roaring in my ears, when the endless spinning made me wonder if the world would ever be a safe place again. I cried when I lost Myriam and Maman and woke up at night surrounded by shadows that painted my future in a pallet of anger and despair. I could not make sense of the blows that left me utterly broken. I didn’t know then that tending my wounds would allow my spirit to start talking. My tears did not fertilize a desert. They gently moistened my soul and let hope find a corner in which to rest.

 

I thanked God for the relief of walking unsupported. I thank Him for the opportunity to find out who I truly am, and for the loved ones allowing me to follow my heart. For showing me how illness and struggle open onto creativity; onto words and the journey to write them. I thank God every day for the miraculous world around me and the love that I receive with every breath I take. For the chance to spread it like a cloud of endless energy reaching the ones in need of what I can give.

 

I know God when my eyes are closed and my body is filled with golden trumpets, when the song in my heart explodes in a harmony of fulfilled desires and renewed joy. Or when the wave of grief floods my inner light with doubts and blame. She is with me when my unanswered questions threaten to shatter my heart, when I meditate, or when I wrap Christmas presents. I know God because I choose to feel His gentle touch in my every moment. I know God because I’m alive and I pay attention.

And may you feel too that you belong in the Light. Merry Christmas to you all!

Maryse G. Copans © 2011