Finding refuge in tough times

I have been in the midst of a pain flare-up and haven’t been able to do much on the computer 😦 I miss blogging and communicating with all of you! I just cheated a little and found this Q/A from Tara Brach. She has a wonderful book called Radical Acceptance, and this was on her Facebook page today. It speaks to where I am–in the midst of struggling, yet trying to lean into the struggle, not fight so hard, and most of all, trying to find the presence of mind to remember self-compassion. I hope to be able to write more soon!

Okay, this is Tara “talking” below:

Question: How can we remind ourselves of what refuge is when difficult times come to life?

Response: There is a deep and powerful question you can ask yourself: How can this situation serve the awakening of my heart and mind? Then let that be your prayer–that whatever is going on in your life be part of what truly can free your heart and spirit. If this is your question and your prayer…then you will be guided home to an inner refuge of peace and freedom.

Sometimes the heart has to be broken open to be free, and the process can feel like a huge confusing, frightening mess. Please trust that within you is the love and awareness to awaken through all situations. The key is to take refuge in presence over and over, with tremendous self-compassion. The more you turn toward presence, the more you trust the process…the more fully you will discover an inner sanctuary of peace and freedom.

Hearts Set Free

The Self-Compassion Bill of Rights

Today, this fourth day of July, year two thousand and twelve, I, Barbara Ellen Gerth Markway, do solemnly declare these inalienable truths and freedoms for myself, and for my Self-Compassion Project friends.

We shall be:

Free to try new things without fear of failing (and if a little fear creeps in, we do it anyway).

Free to not judge ourselves harshly when we become frightened, avoid, and hide under the covers for awhile.

Free to love others with hearts wide open, even when it hurts like crazy.

Free to close down for a little while, heal, and then love all over again.

Free to carve out our own unique niche in the world, and gently quiet the voice that says we never quite fit in.

Free to experience and celebrate our bodies as wonderfully complex, mysterious, sometimes painful, sometimes pleasurable, always beautiful, and usually faithful in getting us where we need to go and doing what we need to do.

Free to honor all our thoughts and feelings as valid, and free to explore when they are useful or not useful, helpful or not helpful.

Free to non-judgmentally reflect on the past, envision the future, always as a way to inform and live in the present.

Free to tell our stories, not tell our stories, change our stories, maybe even surprise ourselves with a new story…or just drop the story and breathe.

And perhaps most liberating of all, the freedom to begin again.

Be sure and follow me on Facebook!


A few more photos for you…I know I said in my last post that I was going to try to do my own photography, and I still have that as a long-term plan. But this picture was too hard to get with the low lighting and all– I needed Greg’s expertise. I knew what I wanted. I could see it in my mind. I already had the glass, star-shaped candy dish and made a quick Hobby Lobby run to get the floating heart candle. We had fun working together on our deck and took about 50 pictures. The stars shone above us,  fireworks exploded around us, and we even heard some cows mooing in the distance. 

Protecting the Tender Heart

Photo by Greg Markway

I don’t want to dare greatly*.

I don’t want to speak dangerously*.

I don’t want to tell my story*.

When I wrote my last post, Busy Be Gone, I thought I had turned a corner in my self-compassion project. I was loosening the connection between my self-worth and being productive. But I think I jinxed myself. I soon lapsed into a cynical malaise where I didn’t care about anything (well, I still enjoyed Ben and Jerry’s ice cream). I found pretty pictures and inspirational sayings on Facebook annoying. The usual blogs I read sounded sappy. I couldn’t pick up a pen to write. I worried, maybe I’m doomed to feel “tortured” as I described in my post on January 1st. Maybe that’s just my personality. Is there going to be a tortured personality disorder in the new DSM-V?

I thought to myself tonight, if I don’t write something soon, it will be over. This blog will follow the fate of many blogs before–it will wither away and die. And I really don’t want that to happen. So I picked up my pen and spiral notebook, my Kindle loaded up with my favorite books, a bottle of water, and sat out on the patio with my beloved Bichons, birds, and a few annoying bugs.

After skimming through some things, I found a section of Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, that seemed to describe what I was experiencing. She says it is normal that when we start letting go of our defenses, and when our old ways of coping don’t work anymore, we can get even more neurotic. (Oh my, that does not sound good.) But she reassuringly says that this is okay. This is when we need need to develop “compassionate inquiry” into our moods, our emotions, our thoughts. We need to be curious about our “personal myths” and the way we are “divided against ourselves, always resisting our own energy.” She describes it as an ongoing process that takes years (Okay, so my year-long “project” may not be just a year…Somehow, I already knew this.) And I especially love this part, which jumped right off the page screen: “With precision and gentleness, we surrender our cherished ways of regarding ourselves and others, our cherished ways of holding it all together, our cherished ways of blocking our tender heart.”

Yes! I have been blocking–protecting–my tender heart. I have been afraid. I’m not sure of what, but I sense that fear is behind all this.

That’s all. It’s just fear. It’s not that I’m doomed to be tortured for the rest of my life. It’s not that I’m going to quit writing. It’s not that I’m never going to speak dangerously, dare greatly or tell my story. I’m just letting go of defenses and having a momentary, even predictable lapse, into old patterns of self-protection.

My heart feels so much better now.


*Daring Greatly is the title of Brene´ Brown’s forthcoming book, which of course, I’ll buy and love.

*Speaking Dangerously is a reference to Susan Cain’s best-selling book Quiet, and her “Year of Speaking Dangerously”. Susan is an inspiration to me.

*Telling Your Story (or Your Story Matters) is something I see frequently, but I mostly attribute it to Kelly Rae Roberts. If you follow this blog, you know I’m obsessed with her work.

When It’s OK (even advisable) To Quit

Recently, a friend of mine took a full-time job, and then had to resign soon thereafter due to a number of factors. I know she struggled with the decision. I understood her angst. I have taken on too much of late, and I’m having to rethink some of my goals. It feels like such a failure I can’t do everything I set out to do. But how many of us set unrealistic expectations for ourselves? My husband says I do (and he’s usually right).

When I googled quitting, there were literally pages of inspirational quotes about why quitting is bad. (You know, quitters never win, and all that stuff.) But I did find a Chinese Proverb that took a different view: “Of all the strategems, to know when to quit is the best.”  Yea!

But how do you know when is when? When is it okay to quit and when should you tough it out?  These are some very loose guidelines I came up with for myself:

It’s okay to quit…

…when you’ve gathered new information that makes the original plan unworkable;

…when the timing is wrong;

…when you thought you could do more than you can;

…when you’re changing directions;

…when to keep going will deplete you of energy you need for something else (or allows you to regroup your energy);

…when you made a mistake;

…when quitting is the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself at the moment (my personal favorite).

This is the shortest blog post I’ve ever written. I really thought about developing each and every point above, and giving more examples. But sometimes you have to know when to quit…

(Note: This is an old post from a different blog, but someone I care about is going through a rough time with a decision, and I think this may speak to her.)


Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.

-Gail Sheehy

I was feeling a bit blah this morning. My second appointment for accupuncture didn’t go according to plan, but I don’t feel ready to write about it yet. I perked up when I clicked on my blog and found some comments that made me smile. Sara, from North of Chicago, was researching the word “surrender” and she found my blog. How cool is that! I just googled “surrender” and mostly found links to bakery shops and references to a song by Cheap Trick called Surrender. I did find the quote above, that I really like. Anyway, she read several of my entries and suggested I listen to the song, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. The lyrics are lovely.

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothin’ seems to fit
Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’

So I just did me some talkin’ to the sun
And I said I didn’t like the way he got things done
Sleepin’ on the job
Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’

But there’s one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me
It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red
Cryin’s not for me
‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’
Because I’m free
Nothin’s worryin’ me


It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red
Cryin’s not for me
‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’
Because I’m free
Nothin’s worryin’ me

If you want to listen to B.J Thomas performing it live, click here.

Coming to My Senses

I see darkness.

Dark as the inside of a coffin,

Or dark as ten feet of dirt.

You say certain things glow in the dark,

Even grow in the dark.

You see light.

I need your eyes.

I hear my words and they sound crazy.

You hear my words and say I’m sane.

I need your ears.

This is a part of a poem I wrote a long time ago for my husband, Greg. I don’t remember what prompted me to write it, but I was probably in one of my weird, moody moments.

Since the day we met, Greg has listened to me, reassured me, and accepted me. He has loved me like I cannot fully love myself.

I wonder, though, what if I saw myself through his eyes?  Maybe if I did, I’d see my beauty. Maybe if I did, I’d speak my truth. Maybe if I did, I’d own my power. What would it be like to live that way for even one day?

Okay, prepare for the tone to switch. Greg just read over my shoulder and said if I saw myself as he did, I’d be insufferable. He also joked that I wouldn’t need this self-compassion project anymore. Maybe I’ll just have to give it a try.

Queen for a Day

All I can say is WOW! I didn’t know it was possible to feel so much joy all in one day! Just wanted to share a few highlights from the big  5-0. And get prepared, I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of exclamation points.

Folks know I love decorating. I got to my office at 7:00 a.m. and found not only the usual black balloons, but a HUGE stuffed buzzard with spectacles on it and a sign saying, “Happy Birthday Ya Old Buzzard. Keep on Moving.” Everyone in the office heard about it and visited all morning. I’ll include a picture of it at the end of this post. No one had ever seen anything like it.

Flowers, food, and fun!

There was food at work. I was on a sugar high all morning. A good friend from out of town sent me flowers. I love getting flowers! My sister-in-law, Jerri, spent three hours in the car to deliver my Birthday gifts! (I told her to just mail them but she insisted on making the drive). She hand makes her cards, which are the best! All the gifts tied in with the theme of turning 50, and each had multiple quotes attached to them. One of my favorites: “I’m not 50; I’m 49.95 plus tax.” I also wish I could have videotaped her presentation of the gifts. She has quite a flair for the dramatic, which is more than half the fun! We went out to dinner at a really fancy restaurant, treated by my parents. Not my usual style (and just a smidge of German guilt about the expense), but a friend convinced me I needed to go someplace really special, and I’m so glad she did. Oh, and my mom wrote me a poem!

It’s the thought that counts. My brother, Bill, overheard me say (although I was joking) that I wanted a Flash mob for my birthday this year. (I had just seen an episode of Modern Family in which there was a Flash mob scene and I loved the dancing!) My 20-year-old niece told me that she received an out-of-the-blue phone call from her dad asking her, “So what’s a Flash mob?” and “How could we make one of these happen for Barb?” I am so touched that my brother, who has insanely busy workdays, seriously thought about this and took the time to call my niece at college to try to fulfill my birthday wish.

To every thing there is a season. Here’s a bit of random weather trivia for you. Last year there was a blizzard (20 plus inches of snow) on my birthday. We were housebound for days. Yesterday the weather was  unseasonably warm, sixty  degrees, and sunny.  I took Lily and Larry for a long walk. I think they knew it was my birthday (or maybe they were just excited to get outside), because they had an extra bounce to their step.

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. -Robert Browning” I am so lucky to have the best husband in the world to celebrate with. Greg knows my favorite new artist is Kelly Rae Roberts, and he gave me a journal with her artwork that says “Fearless” on the cover (much too pretty to write in), as well as a large picture that says, “Tell Your Story.” How totally thoughtful and appropriate.

An extra special thank you to my self-compassion blogging friends for following me on this journey. Although I also write on Psychology Today and get thousands of “hits” for each post, this blog feels so much more personal.