On the Precipice of Thirty

In just a little over an hour, I will turn thirty.

Three decades. End of my twenties. The beginning of the second third of my life.

As these occasions occur, I think it’s helpful to look back and reflect on how we’ve changed, where we’ve come from, and how we’ve grown.

Ten years ago today, I was living in Los Angeles. I had just completed my sophomore year at Northwestern University and was pursuing an internship at Warner Brother’s Studios, while simultaneously practicing skydiving on the side. I had begun to develop an interest in yoga and adventure travel – and wanted to cultivate a connection to more types of extraordinary events in my daily life.

I identified as straight – had never been kissed – and went to Methodist church once or twice a month. I very much planned on being a successful director/actor combo. I pushed myself to my physical limits, burned the candle from all ends, and preached that sleep was for the weak.

Ten years later – much has changed.

I got my thrill for the unusual sated by living in an ashram for nearly seven years and meditating in an Eastern tradition. While I no longer go to church, my connection to spirituality has increased thirty-fold. I meditate twice daily, practice yoga, and no longer jump out of airplanes.

I have been kissed many times now – have come to accept my orientation as queer – and am marrying the most amazing man that I’ve ever met in just a few months.

I spent much of that decade as vegetarian – and am now not. I gave up the relentless muscle building regimes that I attempted in my teens and early twenties – and have adopted a vantage of body positivity, health, and acceptance of being whatever I am. I strive for downtime, friend time, and excellent work/life balance.

I worked in the Chicago theatre scene continuously before moving to Los Angeles …where I realized that if I were being true to my spirit, the ethos of the entertainment industry ran crosswise to my desires, ethics, and code of conduct. I surrendered a long-held dream of being a movie-star in favor of a life filled with loved ones, community, and trust.

These have been some big changes over the past ten years or so. In reflection, I can say with certainty that I am a much better man and fellow human-being for the experiences and the growth I’ve shared.

I’m far happier, healthier, open, stable, loving, accepting, uncritical, peaceful, and genuinely kind than I was when on the brink of age twenty.

I really feel that I’ve eked out a tremendous amount of maturity and growth from this time.

I wonder what I shall say ten years from now? How will I have spent my thirties? I hope the growth and satisfaction increase exponentially from here onwards.

I once met a man who shared with me his philosophy of life. He divided his life up into thirds. He said that he viewed the first thirty years to be for study of one’s self and the world. The next thirty years are for work and changing the world for the better. The final thirty years are to simply enjoy. Live it up, share love, and enjoy the life/family you’ve cultivated.

I like this outlook on life. As I enter into this middle third, I’m ready to use the skills I’ve developed to make the world around me as positive as it can be.

I’ve spent many years now in meditation and self study. I’ve been learning great depths about myself and the experience of coming to terms with one’s true nature. I’ve been accepting the scary bits, the fears, the darkness. I’ve been expanding the beauty, the brightness, the joy.

I’m ready to use this next decade to continue to grow – and to do my small part in making the world around me a better place to be.

So, here’s to thirty, Everybody!! Mozel Tov!

By Kaelan Strouse

Experiencing Our Shadow – and Not Running from the Darkside

Sometimes I hear it.

Like a cellar door creeping open, but only from a distant room.  Like the “Schlop” of a tentacled beast mounting the stairs, “slurping” past the door frame, to “slush” its way into the kitchen.  The noise of the monsters of my subconscious creeping out of my basement, ready to engage me.

The thoughts that are so dark and horrible, I generally think they don’t exist within me.

But they do.  And most of the time they stay hidden – and I hardly believe they’re even still in there.

But when they do emerge, I have two choices:

1 – I can grab the broom, shuffle them back down the corridor, down the stairs, and lock/bolt/chain/padlock the basement door so they can never resurface.

2 – gently, reach out my hand, and ask why are they there.

When I do the later of the two choices… sometimes the monster’s tentacles fall away, and what is left is a little, eight-year old boy with round glasses and scared eyes.  A boy who’s classmates just tormented him for the umpteenth time that day… and he is all alone, scared, and crying.

That monster was me in an earlier time.

Sometimes it’s a nineteen-year old college junior, so afraid of the world and jealous of his peers’ spontaneity and apparent freedom.  Wishing he could be as uninhibited and open as them: going to parties, laughing, going on dates.  Instead, he’s hiding out in his dorm and pretending that he didn’t want to go out tonight anyways.  He always has way too much work to do.  And he’s terrified to imagine what it might be like to kiss another person.

Sometimes he’s that twenty-four year old, young man – flexing in front the gym mirror, trying to puff out his chest to look more like the models in the fashion books and in the auditions he is forcing himself to go to.   He’s chugging a third protein shake for the morning, with a vat of fat-free yogurt in his bag, and five-thousand more high-protein calories awaiting him later that the day.  All the while, he is pretending that he really doesn’t care all that much about how he looks.

All the trauma, pain, anguish, and denial that I never faced earlier in my life, grows into monsters in my subconscious that I must face… one by one.  And even though they are terrifying to behold, I can either continue to run from these bad feelings, or I can finally listen to them and see what they’re here to teach me.

I feel like deep imbalances can occur when we overly-identify with our bright side and deny our shadow.

We all have our shadow sides.  We all have those dark feelings and thoughts that seemingly emerge randomly.  Thoughts to which we say: “That’s not me!  I’m a good person!  I don’t think those kinds of things.”

But those thoughts ARE us.  And we DO think them.  And it’s okay.

Last week, I had a bunch of feelings pop up about feeling unsuccessful, unattractive, and untalented.

And that’s okay.

Most of my time – I genuinely don’t feel those things.  But by rejecting those contrary thoughts when they arise, I am limiting the healing that can happen in my mind and spirit.

There are times where little, baby Kaelan pops up, needs a desperate hug, and to be told that everything is going to be okay.

And if I just try to shove him back down into the basement again, it’ll just reaffirm his feelings of abandonment, to which I will eventually have to atone.

So I am really striving to let my dark thoughts and feelings surface.  But I neither cling to them – nor worship them.

But I do say to my current-day self: “Huh.  How interesting.  How interesting that part of you feels this way.  And it’s quite alright for your to feel that way.  Keep experiencing it – and let it pass when it’s done.  It’s just another bit of information – another experience to process.”

I feel like deep imbalances can occur when we overly-identify with our bright side and deny our shadow.

For then, we deny the full experience of living.  We deny the important learning that happens through the process of “Death” – when we continuously demand experiences only of “Rebirth.”  Everything in life is cyclical.  Everything in life flows round.  We have to be willing to admit and to stand witness to our Darkside, as well as our Light.

To deny the Netherworld is to ultimately deny the World Up Above.

And just as when water can not flow, so too our emotions and awareness can stagnate.  Fester.  Turn rotten.

I’m continuing to discover that by trudging through both the muck and also the sunshine that we are then able to achieve wholeness.

So, while I am all for positive self-talk, I think it’s equally valid and important to realize that other voices exist within us… and we must listen to them.  They don’t need to become our closest friends nor the voices playing on repeat in our heads… but they must be heard.

Because poor, little, fourteen-year-old Kaelan has spent enough time hiding in the closet – and shoved in the basement.

It’s time to let the light shine in.

BLESSINGS for Everyone!

I recently had a conversation with a friend.  She – unlike my parents who have said something like this to me for years – was finally able to get through to me an idea that I have never before been able to truly take in.

It’s about comparison.

She pointed out to me how much of my life I spend evaluating others – and by extension, myself.  This person is highly attractive – this person not so much.  This person is successful – this person is less than.  This person is talented – this person is a want-to-be.

And, more or less the same, to me too.

I’m attractive – or not.  I’m successful – or not.  I’m talented – or not.

And over the years, throughout my spiritual quest, I have managed to consciously manipulate this pattern so I believe: “Well, that person may be rich, but that doesn’t give them happiness.  That person may be homeless – but they could still be able to find contentment.  That person may have killer abs, but does that really make him sleep better at night in the arms of a person who loves him unendingly?”

I would and do remind myself that nothing in this world guarantees joy – and in the end, we will loose everything physical and tangible to age, decay, and time.

So I’d say: “Yeah – they’re hot… but so what?!”

But what my friend pointed so eloquently out to me is this:

I’m living in a contestant state of “better than.”  Even if I’m reminding myself that their gifts may be temporary and lacking deep satisfaction, I’m still evaluating.

This mindset is one of lack.  One of insufficiency.

There’s only so much beauty – and it’s a competition.  There’s only so much success – and it’s a competition. Or, even, there’s only so much enlightenment – and it’s also a competition.

Instead of just blessing them and feeling grateful for them, and myself, wherever they/we are.

When I see someone with many riches: I bless them.  When I see someone lacking: I bless them.

I bless everyone.  And love them.  And thank the heavens for their gifts.  Love them for what they have.

And let go of the last shards of envy I still carry with me.

It’s so easy to build up a self-perception by one’s many attributes.  To define one’s self by one’s successes and failures.  Best features and ugly distractors.

Instead of just being thankful.  Instead of just being grateful.  FOR EVERYTHING.

So this is my new goal:  Just be deeply grateful.

Celebrate others’ gifts because they’re worth celebrating.  Instead of measuring myself up to them, just say: Bless them.

Love them.

Send them light and happiness and joy from the heart of the universe.

I’m not sure this’ll be easy – but I think it’ll be heartily worthwhile.

I want to find this non-dualistic, this non-better-than outlook.

I want to embrace the beauty of all.  The grace of all.  The light in all.

It’s going to be a monumental mind-shift.  And I invite you to join me on this journey.  See if we can both reprogram our minds to just see what light there is in others.  And not decipher who burns the brighter.

To just let life be as it is – and give thanks.

This is my opportunity to grow.

Care to join?

Sometimes You Love People for the Person They Could Have Been

I have an old friend. We were friends in high school.

I remember him as being so poignantly alive – so full of character and spirit. He inspired me and wowed me – and I really think a deep part of me truly loved him.

After high school we went our separate ways, as people tend to do. And then a Christmas or so we reconnected….

And I was appalled. He was so constricted. So tight. So not full of life, or truth, or passion, or all the things I remember him as being.

He was bloated, and blind to reality, and slowly suffocating from his own fears.

I knew another man. And this one I definitely loved. He was the first man I ever fell hard for.

The kind of passion that made me cry when I got within half a mile of his apartment – even two years later – because I was so deeply affected by him.

He was smart, and kind, and spiritual. He was clever and caring. He was a beautiful man, inside and out.

And I saw his potential. I saw what he could grow into being.

But he wasn’t ready to embrace that part of himself. He was not ready to face his truth.

He’d rather hide, and escape, and not confront the reality of life’s most challenging – and often growth filled – moments.

In both of these instances – I cared for these men because who they had the capacity to become – and not who they actually are/were.

And this is so hard to acknowledge and accept.

For those of us who have the capacity to see the potential within another human being (and I believe there is a lot of us), it’s very easy to get caught up in assessing them as the person they might become.

And this is why so many of us stay in unhealthy relationships.

Or forgive abusive friends.

Or endure hostile relatives.

We know – deep down – they are capable of so much more.

But the truth we must learn to acknowledge is this:

They Are Not These People.

These individuals are only so good as the person they are in this moment. They, in actuality and totality, are not just these gems buried inside.

And I can’t love someone for who they might be.

This is why I keep that high school friend at a distance and don’t reach out to him very often. While I love the memory of the boy he was and the man he might have grown into, I cannot abide the man he currently is.

Similarly, I cannot hope that my first real love will come round, face his fears, and acknowledge the capacity to learn and grow that lies between us.

I cannot love him for that – because that is not where he currently is in his psyche.

So – I delete his number from my phone. And I wish my old friend a happy birthday – and that is all.

I send out a prayer and blessings to the universe – thanking them for the light and inspiration that they brought to my life – and wishing them well on their journeys.

And I stay grateful for having the capacity to see beneath the surface – and to see another’s deeper truth.

And keep reminding myself to not get caught up in what another might eventually achieve.

Because they are just not there now.

Namaste.

Letting Go of Needing to Be Extraordinary

I remember in high school being quite taken with the not-quite-so-authentic-or-inspired lyrics of Avril Lavigne:

“I want to know that I

Have been to the extreme

So knock me off my feet

Come on now give it to me

Anything to make me feel alive

Is it enough to love?

Is it enough to breath?

Somebody rip my heart out

And leave me here to bleed

Is it enough to die?

Somebody save my life

I’d rather be anything but ordinary please”

Like I said, not entirely the most inspired bit of song writing ever penned to paper… but it encapsulated a desire that was beginning to pressurize in my chest; a desire to do great and extraordinary things in my life.

An excerpt taken from my daily journal around this same teenage-time reveals my own, modest ambitions towards achieving greatness:

Sept 16, 2002

Life Goals:

  • President of the United States
  • Prime Minister of Britain
  • Be knighted
  • Win at least two Academy Awards for Best Director an Actor
  • Win a Tony Award for Best Actor
  • Win a Nobel Peace Prize

…the list went on from there with at least fifteen more items of a similar nature.  Although I am relatively confident that my fourteen-year-old self was cognizant enough to realize that  A) Several of the items in that list would be tactically impossible due to different laws and regulations, such as nationality; B) Would take multiple life times to fulfill, if at all; and C) Would require substantially different skill-sets and life orientations – and yet, I am not so certain I was fully aware of the unfeasibility of such.

The craving within me to achieve something “Great” was profound beyond measure.  I recollect lying on a heap of crumpled comforter, on the floor of my parent’s master bedroom at sixteen, having my first-ever legitimate panic attack due to the fact that should have already attained something publicly noteworthy and profound in my already advancing years of age.

Long story short: I was a nut-job, hellbent for glory, and totally disconnected with any deep sense of self-worth.

I wanted the profoundly extra-ordinary to manifest in my life and convince me that I was merely good enough.

Sound like a current President we all have the misfortune to be currently acquainted with?

At that time in my life, I really did not have a lot going on to teach me my inherent worth.  I had few (if any) real friendships, I was scared of most everyone I encountered, I was bullied horrendously, I was totally disconnected from my sexuality, and so repressed that I considered myself “broken” because I could not feel what other normal teenagers felt.  I felt really worthless.

And I wanted something glorious beyond measure to tell me I had worth – because I could not find it in myself.

And so, going to college shortly thereafter, I decided to become a professional actor – because assuredly Hollywood and the thundering applause of a raucous crowed would give me that fulfillment.  And, if it wouldn’t be tangibly possible to attain all of those checkpoints on my high school to-do list, at least onscreen I could play a President, King, Physicist and Astronaut and achieve some feeling of that attainment.

Well, life, as she has a way of doing, has kicked me in the gut and pulled the rug out from underneath me, knocking me down, enough times since that point that I began to question that longing.  Why did I want to be a movie star?  What was I afraid of in starting to date other people (something I did not attempt until I was twenty-five years of age)?

Long story cut very short: I eventually started to develop sincere self worth.  I started to learn my “size.”  Learn to know what I had to genuinely offer and what was mere aggrandizement.  I started to genuinely connect to who I truly was, what I wanted, and what I had to give.

A large step in that process for me was discovering meditation.  I truly credit it for giving me my life back.  It taught me to start removing the layers of facade I had unintentionally fabricated, to uncover my truest self beneath.

And – it simultaneously connected me with the mystical – the ethereal – and the divine.

I moved into a meditation ashram right after college – where I learned that I was “special.”   I had unique karma to encounter this practice.  I was blessed.  And that I had a chance to go beyond what normal humans experienced – and live a life that was truly “extraordinary.”

Wait… Sound familiar?  … somehow I traded one dream of self-aggrandizement for another.

In hind sight, I do see there was a dangerous mentality to the tradition I entered.  A promise of specialness. A guarantee of life being more than normal humans (outside the practice) could understand.  And that gave me purpose and a feeling of divine grace.

And then, as all false-idols must, my sacred imaginings shattered to the ground.  The leaders that promised this mystical and otherworldly ideal were revealed to be more human than they presented themselves to be.

And I ended up parting ways from that tradition – heartbroken and distraught.  But still much more alive and authentically myself than I encountered it, thanks to the still-excellent teachings I received.

But in wake of that leaving, I once again have found that craving inside me to be “extraordinary” resurfacing.

Now, I no longer want to be a movie star, or famous, or a figure of social importance.  I actually now desire the simple things: a loving home, a gracious partner, good food, sturdy friendships.

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But there’s part of me that wants something so much more – something that I am now beginning to call a connection to the divine.  My experiences in the ashram started to illuminate some glimpses of that for me.

And if I am totally honest with myself – that longing for something more than what we associate “normal” to be – is indeed a spiritual longing.

A desire to return to a state of pure-bliss, pure-awareness, pure-truth that the ancient rishis and “seers” have articulated existing within each and every one of us.

That the longing for the “Extraordinary” is nothing more than a longing to return home – to my Soul.

Spiritual traditions across the globe have articulated that the Earth is just one place conscious beings reside – and that there are other places that we might be more akin to.  That we are “spirits having a physical experience.”

My question is now for myself: how can I truly appreciate and relish the ordinary – while striving for the extraordinary within me – and not through outer glorification?

How can I cultivate the magic, love, light, and prosperity I feel in glimpses in my meditation in the rest of my waking life?

How can I live a life fully empowered, aware, enheartened, and steadfast?

How can I live in truth?

These are my current questions.  Questions to which I am unsure there are solid answers.

What do you think?  Please share your insights and inspirations below!

Namaste,  Kaelan 🙂

Sharing a Piece of Love

Recently, it was Valentine’s Day.

This year – I decided to go all out.

I wrote and performed a song for my beautiful partner, and made a music video to go along with it.  Our nicknames for each other are “Panda” and “Monkey” …and this is our story… even down to how we met on OKCupid.

I hope you enjoy this little piece of love that I’m sharing with the world.  Peace to all!


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/204227024″>You and Me (the Monkey and the Panda Song)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user31740900″>Kaelan Strouse</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Getting Naked

I’m ready to get naked.  How about you?

Shed my fears, my inhibitions, my shame.

I’m beginning to realize how much shame each of us carries.  Shame of our bodies.  Shame of our desires.  Shame of our needs.

Shame is like a pack of rank, moldy critters scurrying around in the dark crevasses of our subconscious.

Shame causes us pain; shame causes suffering; shame causes us misfortune.

More over, shame keeps us from our truest and most authentic selves.   If we are ashamed of parts of who we are, how can we ever love ourselves in our totality?  Can we learn to accept the beautiful and the terrifying parts of ourselves as one holistic unit?  Can we love our love-handles, our proclivities, our relationships to food?

For if we cannot accept all part of ourselves, including the scary bits, how can we ever love another human being in their entirety?

These are the questions that have been running through my mind as of late.

Like many Americans, I grew up in a very sex and body negative environment.  I grew up in a society where bodies should be covered at all times.  Affection generally isn’t publicly displayed between couples – even in the home space.  I notice that I have never really watched my parents kiss romantically or even spontaneously hold hands.

In gyms, we dress as quickly as possible, dancing behind towels to keep our bodies hidden from our peers.  On social media apps, we only share the most carefully curated, filtered, and photoshopped versions of ourselves to present the most flattering images of our white-washed lives.

And this is so gross and unfortunate.

Our messy parts are beautiful.  Our unrefined and unglamorous angels make us human and relatable.  If our minds and bodies are born to act and look a certain way – these qualities should be celebrated.

This shame in regards to sexuality is as logical to me as a shame of walking.  Imagine a society where it’s shameful to walk.  Feet are to be subjugated.  We must only roll on wheels from destination to destination.  Do not use your feet for their designed purpose.  How dare you highlight the fact that you even possess feet.

Why are we like this with other parts of our bodies and psyches?  Perhaps its partially due to our Puritanical heritage as Americans.

The Ancient Greeks used clothing to highlight the natural lines of the body.  They didn’t cover areas for modesty – but utilized accoutrement-ization to highlight their best assets.

Why is there so much shame in our culture for exposing a breast – even when feeding an infant?  Or a bulge in a man’s pants?  Why have we become so sterile?  Europe certainly isn’t this way.

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I have recently begun to realize how much shame I carry regarding my own sexuality.  Although I came out as a gay man several years ago, much of me has still felt dirty for admitting that I actually like sex. Now, I’m discovering how “vanilla” my relationship to sex has been.  I realize that in my mind I’ve been holding biases: like believing that someone can want or like sex too much.  Or that one should only have it in certain ways.  Or that it is acceptable only in certain contexts and relationships.  That we shouldn’t be horny.  Or be raunchy.  Or express …all those desires you buried inside that you might actually, really want.

And this means that I’ve not been been expressing my truest version of me.   If we deny our deepest impulses, if we deny our bodies’ innate truths, we are living inauthentic lives.

In Jungian psychology, they have a concept called “The Shadow Self.”  We have the normal, socially appropriate self that walks around everyday.  But hidden behind that is The Shadow Self.  It’s comprised of all the things that titillate you, inspire you, excite you – but your conscious mind feels is forbidden.  Maybe that drag queen caught your eye – and maybe you feel angry that you want to look.  Maybe that extra dessert lures you fantastically – but you can only think about your already too significant waistline.  Maybe that person in the blue jeans, of a different gender than you are usually attracted, entices you – and you suddenly feel unexplainable frustration towards them.

These forbidden desires exist within all of us.  And they have to be resolved.  As long as they seem interesting and yet impossible – they will pull on our subconscious, and we will build shame around our unacceptable impulses.

Instead, if they can be healthfully acknowledged and expressed, they can be integrated into one’s regular self.

And it’s not that, suddenly, you will find yourself every Thursday night at the local drag bar, kicking up your spangled heals (although, that might be possible – and that’s totally okay – if it is); but it by opening up to your fear and shame, you might heal a very deep trauma in your psyche, perhaps keeping your from deeply integrating your masculine and feminine qualities.  That forbidden curiosity might be a symptom of some deeper issue that needs addressing and bringing back into wholeness.

Shame causes disease – it’s been proven by healers and health psychologists again and again.  And there’s so much that American society says to feel shamed about.  Our weight, our food, our bodies, our desires, our partners.

So this season, I’m blowing the lid off my basement of creepy, shameful creatures.  I’m letting my full shadow self dissolve into the light.  I am healing – and allowing myself to accept all aspects of this beautiful and contradictory human experience.  And this takes guts and bravery – and a willingness to accept that not everyone will understand it.  Others may question or judge me for my choices.

But if there is any source of inspiration to counter that judgement, it is this:

“This above all: to thine own self be true

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou cans’t not then be false to any man.”

As Shakespeare said it like no one else ever could – when we are truer to our actual, authentic selves, we become truer citizens, lovers, brothers, sisters, parents, children, friends, and human beings overall.

If I can fully love and accept every aspect of who I am – I can thereby accept all other walks of life.  If I can hold no judgement or blame of myself – I can accept all others openly and with compassion.

So long as I resent my deepest self – I will resent others too.  This is the truth – and the crux of the issue with shame.

I’m moving further towards the light – shedding my inhibitions (and my clothes) – and asking you to join me.

Please share in the comments section below how you are working to share your “Naked Truth” – your most vital, uninhibited, and joyous celebration of your truest feelings and desires.

Learning to love ourselves for who and what we are – free of shame.

Love and peace to you all!

Namaste, Kaelan  #nakedtruth

5 Lessons My Puppy Is Teaching Me

’Twas the week before Christmas, and in through the door, 

I set down my bags, and heard paws scratch the floor.  

My partner had planned his surprise with much care, 

So I’d arrive smelling pet dander and barks in the air.

Five days before Christmas and I arrived home to my first holiday present from my fiancé: a three-month old puppy.  We had talked about a puppy for several weeks leading up to this date.  But ’til that point he had been adamant that we should wait until spring and the conclusion of the harsh Chicago snow and ice festivities.

So, I was shocked.  And it’s taken the past few weeks for my dog parenting self to catch up with the requirements of this fluffy and lovely new addition to our household.

I had a dog growing up, so the responsibilities of pet ownership weren’t entirely new to me.  And I had done some refresher work, reading some acclaimed dog-rearing books to prepare.  The thing that has caught me most off guard has been this:  the intelligence and insight of my three and a half month old pup.

I’m amazed at his keenness.  I’m surprised by his adaptability and eagerness to learn.  I’m shocked by his ability to clearly demand what he wants – and his willingness to retaliate if he doesn’t receive it (“Oh, really?  You won’t give me that food? …how do you like it if I just pee over here?”).

There have been a few takeaway points that he has taught me about my own behavior, even as I try to school his.

1.  Stop, Watch, and Listen

My puppy, Galileo, is a rescue.  His mother, who was about to give birth to her litter, was in a high-kill shelter in Kentucky.  A rescue group in Illinois got her out on the final possible shuttle before she was scheduled to be euthanatized.  So, Galileo and his sisters were born and raised in foster-care in Des Planes.  I am so glad he had a happy home to live in for his first few months of life – but Des Planes is a very different sort of place from downtown Chicago.

The first several days we took him outside to the busy, city streets, Galileo would shake heartily.  He was scared by all the people, cars, and buses.  Since then, he’s gotten much better; but the city sights are sometimes still a bit overwhelming for him.

In those instances when things are a little much, he always does the same thing.  He sits down wherever he is, gets very quiet, and looks around steadily.  He takes in his surroundings.  Once he’s evaluated the scenario, he will get up and start walking again, regardless of how long it takes him to comprehend and feel safe.

I love this response.  Taking a moment, getting very still, and simply observing.

How often, when things get scary and chaotic do we rush to react?  I know for myself that I tend to immediately dive into “problem solving mode.”  And time and again, I observe that I would have served the situation better by taking some time before responding.

My furry son naturally does this.  He’s wary and patient.  And this ability to stop, watch, and then decide is a skill I myself would like to acquire.

2. Deep Sleep and Good Food Are Critical

Our first two days of puppy ownership were marked by a constantly awake critter.  He never slept at all.  I looked up online that puppies are supposed to sleep fifteen to twenty hours a day, and our little guy was only getting seven.  This wasn’t nearly enough.

We started to find ways to get out little guy to relax and snooze.  Super long walks and play times with other puppies became a must.  We had to tire him out so he could reset in sleep.

Without sufficient rest, he becomes a holy terror.  With regular naps, he’s a loving little guy.

And I’m the same way.  It’s reminding me how much rest and down time I personally need – especially during this time of year where the season is naturally encouraging time for reflection and hibernation.

Similarly, the food our foster mom had been feeding him was dry and he was really disinterested in eating.  When we brought him to the pet store, they noticed his skin was dried out and he already had dandruff.  They recommended a new pet food with fish oil – and Galileo just devours it.  He is eating so well, the dandruff is mostly gone, and his behavior is more stable.

I know for myself that I feel more balanced and at ease when I’m eating nourishing food.  Today, for example, I ate four-day old leftovers for breakfast; and I don’t feel as exuberant as I normally would.  I need to pay clear attention to what I’m putting into my body and how that affects my mood.

 3.  We All Go Through Rough Stages 

My dog is teething.  A lot.  When I peek into his mouth, I see these tiny teeth erupting from his gums.  I’m sure it must hurt him quite a bit.  And to assuage that pain, he wants to chew on everything.  Hands, couches, ribbons, toys.  You name it.  We try our best with chew toys and frozen carrots to numb the pain – but it just sucks right now.  It’ll suck for another two months, and we just need to put up with his incessant need to chew until then.

How hard is it to have that same compassion for one’s self?  When I’m having a rough or painful time, how often do I say, “Kaelan, get over it!  Move on!” instead of giving myself the time or grace that I need.  I feel like I constantly expect resilience and health and grace from myself, and have little enough compassion when I falter.  Can I learn to say to myself, as I say to my dog, “things suck a little right now – and I’m sorry – so do what you need to do and I know it’ll get better in a little while.”  Cultivating compassion for the here and now – and allowing myself to do what I need until things get better.

4.  When Things Don’t Go Your Way, It’s Natural to Retaliate

Our new son is a foodie, like his dads.  He LOVES food of all kinds.  And he gets super pissed if we don’t share what we are eating with him.

Separately, he’s doing really well with potty training: he’s learned to go to the door or scratch on the window when he needs to be walked outside.  But often, after a petulant thirty minutes of begging for our food, he’ll walk over to one of those spots and relieve himself without asking to be let out.  It’s almost as if he’s saying, “I know you can’t be mad because I’m in the area I’m supposed to be at to be let out – but I’m not giving you any warning.”  He plays us – and gets “some of his own back,” as they say.

It’s a normal reaction.  But how willing am I to accept that reaction in myself?  When I feel betrayed or disappointed, I often get upset at myself for getting upset or pissed.  I expect myself to take it in stride and not react.  But I do.

I need to have more compassion for myself for the normal, animalistic responses that happen when things don’t work out.  I don’t need to scold myself for not being perfect – just as I wouldn’t scold the little guy.  I need to let myself feel whatever I am feeling without judgement.

5. Intelligence Can Come in Any Age or Form

My little guy has been in the world for merely a couple of weeks.  Yet, already, he is so intelligent.  He learned his name in a day, to sit in a day, and to lie down in two days.  He figures out patterns and ways of commuting through the world at a lightening pace.  He already understands numerous commands and has developed a non-verbal language all his own.  And all within a hair’s breadth of time!

I am a huge believer in learning taking a tremendous amount of time.  Want to learn something well?  Study it for a decade and then get back to me.  I tend to assume that if someone hasn’t taken many eons to explore something in depth, they are a poor steward of that knowledge.  But here I am, babysitting this little, smart dog, who truly understands and can manipulate events within a brief span.  How can I reconcile these beliefs?

I have to start accepting that people may have tremendous insights and knowledge into subjects, even if they’ve only had brief opportunities to interact with them.  Sometimes profound learning happens all at once.  Sometimes learning takes a lifetime.  I need to accept the possibility that I can learn a great deal from those for whom a topic may be quite new.  I need to allow myself to learn from the proverbial children.

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I’m sure that there’ll be numerous other lessons that start piling up over the next several months of dog-parenting.  I’m grateful for what I’m already beginning to learn, and for the lessons yet to come.  Here’s to many more happy and fur-filled months in the home!

5 Steps to Survive the End of Your World

It happened last month: Something that seemed indelible, everlasting, and endlessly-nourishing came abruptly to an end.

We’ve all had it happen: a death of a partner, the sudden cessation of a relationship, the irrational loss of a job, etc.

For me, it came from my spiritual community forsaking me.

For people who have been reading my blog for a while, you know how devoted I have been to my meditation practice.  I had lived in an ashram for years, attended weekly classes, mediated twice daily.

I felt content; I felt sure in my worldview; I felt powerful.

Then, surprisingly and suddenly, my tradition said they didn’t want me to be a part of them anymore.  I will refrain from blabbing about the details of who said what, why this happened, and whatnot.  Suffice it to say that I felt heartbroken, entirely abandoned, and grieving a very dear part of my life that I never expected to see go away.

How do we survive those heart-wrenching, gut-punching, and thoroughly world-shattering events?

When nearly everything you thought you knew and trusted about the world gets pulled away – like a child’s play things kept too close to the shore that get dragged out to sea – how do you continue on?

How do you take that next step?  How do you even breathe?

I’ve had friends get broken up with via text message (from multi-year relationships, none-the-less), I’ve seen friends shunned from synagogues, I’ve known friends to unexpectedly loose stable employment while simultaneously caregiving for someone else.

How can we heal?  How can we continue to grow with grace?

I’ve watched over the past several weeks as certain mainstays in my perception of life have melted away, notions that I felt certain were rock-steady and steadfast.  My worldview disintegrated, and now I’m shuffling through the debris to find the gems with which I can rebuild.

As I’ve continued to struggle through this process, here are some returning thoughts to which I keep cycling back:

1.   Realize that Nothing in Life is Ever Really About You

Roads collapse, bridges burn, tornadoes rip apart communities.  Forces of nature have no will or intent; they just move, and blast whatever happens to be in their way.

We expect that people have a little more intention than a storm, but they seldom do.  They are being pushed and pulled by their karma, their demons, and their own tensions.  We ultimately have little say over how others treat us – all we can choose is how we respond.

So, even if the attack that shattered your world seemed highly intentional – realize that it wasn’t.  It was just someone or something going through their shit, and we were the innocent bystander;  and our lives were the collateral damage.

It really wasn’t about you; it was all about them.

2.  You Have The Power to Let Go and Move On

Once you feel the truth in the fact that you had only a small part to play in the whirlwind, it becomes easier to truly forgive, move on, and rebuild.  We have to let go – and accept the new reality – in order to go on.  Clinging to the shards of our previous life will do no good; all we will build is a Frankenstein-esque mockery of the whole life we once led.

Find the jewels; find the pieces of the previous worldview that still feel true, take them, and go forward.  Let go of the debris.  Much of the broken remnants are perceptions you don’t need anymore.  Let them go with love, find your new truth, and keep going.  Forgive the people that injured you.

3.   Have Patience With Yourself

Allow yourself to have stages of grief and grieving.  Get mad, be surprised, become indignant.  Be sad, lonely, afraid.  Find joy, laughter, and surprise.  Realize that the assembly of your new life will take time to coalesce.  Try to be patient with yourself and others around you – and acknowledge that you won’t feel quite right for a while.

You’re going to have to go through a process of reexamining everything you previously believed, so try not to rush to any assumptions.  Let the process of healing take it’s time and be natural.  Seeds can only sprout out of the soil at a given rate.  There’s no hurrying the process.  After a field burns, it’ll be a bit before new sprouts resurrect out of the ashes.

4.   Use This Time to Discover and Explore

You are at a crossroads in your life journey.  There are a multitude of directions you could go from here.  Take some time to explore them.

Maybe there was a hobby you always wanted to begin.  Maybe there’s a group or class that has always intrigued you.   While your worldview is reforming, you have the capacity to change some fundamental beliefs about your life and the world around you.  So, set out on an adventure to uncover what some of those unrealized dreams might be.  Rediscover your child-like curiosity with the world.

I sometimes like to reframe world-destroying moments with the image of a chrysalis.  At some point, that transforming butterfly inside will become too confined by its self-constructed enclosure; and it’ll have to break out.  The world that it has known for many days, suddenly has to be ripped away in order to allow the butterfly to enter the expansiveness of the wider world.

Moreover, if a butterfly somehow get to be spared the struggle and agony of trying to claw its way out of its chrysalis – if someone cuts it open for him, for example – he will be unable to unfold his wings.  It’s through the struggle of escape that a butterfly produces enough chemicals to allow his wings to fully spread.

Maybe you are like the butterfly and needed your world to break open to make space for something so much better and happier.  Go out and find what those better options might be.

5.  Treat Yourself Kindly – and Surround Yourself With Love

Find those people and experiences that truly nourish you and draw them into your sphere.  Spend lots of time with loved ones and people who bring out your best sides.  Laugh a lot.  Eat chocolate and take bubble baths.  Take hikes and to spend time convening with nature – I personally find time in the forest or by the sea to be so healing and spiritual.

What are other activities you could undergo to make yourself feel good?  The more you focus on the experiences and people that enrich your existence, the greater likelihood that your new outlook will prioritize them.  If you put effort into sustaining good friendships, it’s likely those friendships will play a greater role in your new life.

Find what inspires you, enriches you, and brings you pleasure.  Let those be some signposts to direct the road ahead.

It’s an incredible journey to grow through the total annihilation and resurrection of your worldview.  It’s a harrowing but character-building experience.   For it’s during these times of transition that we truly see who we are, what we are made of, and what is truly important.

I can assure you that this will not be the solitary time your life dissolves; it will happen again.  And, again, you will have the opportunity to choose – how do I want to live?

We get to choose.  We can grow and live with love and compassion; or we can shut down from the heartache.

The choice is yours.  I’m choosing love.  How about you?

Art & Words: Kaelan Strouse; Background Photos by: Dan Machold & Kit