Monthly Archives: December 2013

Being “Different”

My high school drama teacher (at one time the sole distributor of life altering wisdom I paid any attention to) said that one of the biggest mistakes most people make is believing they’re the only one who feels/thinks the way they do.  Time and time again I’ve found this to be true… and it’s comforting to take solace in the company of being known, heard, or understood even if it’s just by someone who isn’t in the same room (or maybe someone you don’t even know yet).  Shared experiences and being able to see ourselves in others contributes more toward the goal of world peace than anything else I can think of.

In recent years I’ve become acquainted with the second cousin to this life lesson…  that, another of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that everyone thinks the way we do.  When we send a card to someone who would love to have lunch with us, they may not be receiving the love we sent.  Instead they’re focusing on the lackthey feel from the non-existent lunch date.  When we have a great plan for the way a project is going to go at work, the person we’re presenting it to (who has the same exact goals) may not see the “greatness” we’ve devised.

I forget this lesson a lot.  Many of us probably do.  The holiday season is a common time for me to be confronted by it again and have an opportunity to circle around it, look at it from all sides, pick it up and toss it around, get to know it better, and start to understand it.  Besides serving as a reminder to not make assumptions about what others need, feel, or think… this phenomena seems to be what creates cultural expectations or societal norms.  It’s the huge space taking energy that leaves little wiggle room for those practicing outside the traditional.

Earlier this week I posted on Facebook about my partner and I exchanging rings.  We had been “string married” for fun at a kid’s birthday party months before and found out we loved wearing our “rings” (so much so that they got rather worn out and nasty by the time we took them off for good).  As an interim solution to meeting the desire for symbolic commitment without wanting to be “engaged” to be “married” (because we simply haven’t decided yet if that’s the path that matches our desires or practical needs) we decided to get silver rings engraved with a quote from a favorite movie.  Photos of two, wide silver bands brandished with “because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible” and their background story accompanied a Facebook “life event” reading “Got Ringed.”

I was expecting a lot of excitement and fawning about how adorable the idea (read: we) is and was surprised instead by a flurry of congratulations.  The reaction felt like we had announced an engagement, which wasn’t the intent.  It was lovely… there’s not much better than your friends and family celebrating your love… but it felt off.  I wondered if I needed to clarify.

It took me back to planning the wedding to my now former husband.  We wanted it to be picnic style.  We didn’t rent chairs.  We asked people to dress casually and prepare to sit on the ground.  There were many questions about it, challenges of it, and lots of prodding/reminding from us that this would not be a typical wedding… still, not a single person arrived in anything less than their Sunday best, expecting a chair.

Somewhere along the way we’ve invested so much in the guarantee of sameness that I fear we’ve begun to rely on it as a way of validating our worth.  Even I, who encourages people of all walks of life to live as their authentic self, got a little down in the dumps and insecure feeling about the modest, intentional Christmas we had while looking at pictures of piles of gifts pouring out from underneath trees.

I have felt different my entire life.  As a child I acted it out on purpose with mismatched socks, bowler hats, and neckties (wow, I was a hipster before it was cool) hoping someone would see and appreciate it.  Then I learned to squash it when that plan backfired, and now I’m back to acting it out again… in a more digestible way.  And encouraging others to do the same.

It can be lonely though…  when I realize that not everyone thinks like me after a long time of forgetting, the first reaction is an old familiar ache.  Being different isn’t easy.  Still, every time I think I’m different, or alone in being different, I find out I’m not.  Thank goodness for that.  May the cycle continue to push and pull on all of us until we’ve stretched into the fullest expressions of ourselves, living lovingly, side by side with our most similar and different neighbors.

Happy New Year!

Give Up Sweating the Small Stuff

I judge people.

We all do.  It’s part of the human experience.  And while some might say that the goal of a mindful life is to live free of judgment, I like to remind them (and really, myself) that living free of judgment includes judgment of the judgers.  So, I judge.  I notice.  I correct… rinse and repeat.

This week I’ve done a lot of judging other people for what ruffles their feathers.  Really?  You’re upset about food spilling on your sweater?  Or that you can’t get moving done today that movers are coming to do tomorrow?  Or that you’re not going to get to have dessert after a day of eating every sweet thing you could get your hands on (that one was my son)?  And it wasn’t even that I couldn’t understand why these things were upsetting… it was more that people held on to their upset when they were clearly in situations they couldn’t control.  The sweater was covered in sauce, the moving wasn’t going to get done today no matter how badly you wanted it to, and eating your weight in goodies for lunch is a reasonable substitute for dessert.  Let it go.

I started to interpret their distress as “they are letting stupid stuff upset them” because although I was aware that I sometimes let things upset me they’re definitely not stupid…  And then I watched myself.

Things I have “let upset me” for longer than 2 minutes this week:

  • Tablecloths that didn’t arrive at a party on time
  • Not getting to arrange the fake snow drape on the table the way I had envisioned
  • Being asked to fill up hot water bottles to warm the bed
  • People asking me questions they think I should know the answer to
  • Being asked to know my 2014 vacation plans
  • Dinner plans changing from Vietnamese to Thai
  • Ill fitting pants
  • I could go on…

We all have a thing, sometimes things… big things… That thing that triggers us no matter the circumstances because it’s tied tightly to our core issue–that main lesson we’re here on this earth to learn in this lifetime.  And, as it turns out, we have a lot of small things too.  And none of them are stupid, they are all reflections of our feelings and needs and every emotional experience we have is valid.

The thing about that big trigger is that it’s trying to get our attention to give us information.  It’s trying to tell us which direction to go, what to watch for, and how to begin the process of healing.  And the small stuff, well…  it’s distracting us.  Yes, every conflict is a lesson.  Yes, noticing your responses to things (even the small ones) can give you insight into yourself, others, and the world.  And if we can stop, take note, and move on we are building up our resilience as learners to take the big trigger head on.

But when we get all wrapped up in the small stuff and are constantly being triggered, without  pause for evaluation or self inquiry, we can’t tell the difference anymore between the little helper lessons and the GREAT BIG LESSONS!

I encourage you to give up sweating the small stuff (and it’s not quite all small stuff) so you can notice when the big stuff arrives and have the time, energy, and focus to work with it.  Your life, even when it feels like it isn’t, is working with you to help you become the best version of yourself.  It isn’t always easy.  It isn’t always painless.  But it’s worth it.

See Yourself Ignite

Tonight as I was watching and tending to the fire in my fireplace I sat in quiet contemplation (well, really I sat half listening to an episode of Curious George and zoning out while staring into the flames hoping for an extra dose of prana for my tired body).  And the longer I sat there and  stared the more I realized I was watching my life play out in the fireplace.

The mortared bricks, built specifically to safely house a roaring fire have a distinct purpose on this earth and although they could certainly be effectively used to display candelabras, transport mythical gift giving beings, and even just sitting empty increase the market value of a home… the fireplace is meant for fire.  It’s meant to be piled with wood.  Not so much that all the air is crowded out, but enough that the pieces work together, feeding off each other’s energy until the roaring flame takes over.  It’s  meant for this one job.

Lighting the fire isn’t easy.  Sometimes the wood is wet, or so hard and dry that even after igniting it burns out quickly leaving a thin layer of char behind.  It requires a constant source of ignition to get going.  Fiddle with it too much and you can literally smother it before it even gets started.  It needs room to breathe to really set ablaze, and when it does, oh wow, does it feel like it could go on forever.  The power that’s evident in the sounds, colors, patterns, and vibrant heat coming off of it… it seems unstoppable.

Until it starts to wane.  More fuel is always needed.  A log can’t burn forever.  And as it burns it splits apart, pieces that are no longer serving the burn fall away and may even ignite something else on their way down or from their new resting place in a last burst of life.  New wood must be added to keep the power roaring and careful attention must be paid to the when, where, and how new fuel is added.  Some pieces will burn bright, hot, and be charred quickly, others will be slow to catch but burn deep and slow giving more warmth throughout the night.

photo 2Eventually the fire will start to die down.  Without feeding it the burn will slow and soften until it’s nothing more than an orangey glow, crackling and glistening while still giving off the heat of life.  At this point it takes nothing more than a quick burst of air to turn glow into sparks and see flames rise again.

The fireplace is me (and all of you).  We’re here for a reason and while there are many things we can do, and do well, we have been designed for a specific purpose.  Unlike the fireplace that never questions its role and ability to hold fire we get distracted by thoughts and fear of getting burned.

The logs are our life’s work… the wet ones are taking us away from our intended purpose and the fire is refusing to light, refusing to give any energy to something so far from what’s meant to be.  The one’s that are so hard and dry that they’re perfect for burning are so hard to get lit because it takes all of our energy focused on a goal to begin to live fully in our masterful design.  When we question and try to overwork ourselves and our lives we may end up interfering with our own success through sabotage or simply trying to control too much.

The kindling and matches are the people, places, things, and experiences that move us closer to our whole selves.  They’re our healthy relationships, our self loving practices, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and anything that allows us to let go of the cold that doesn’t serve us and receive the warmth of catching fire.

A roaring fire is us living as we’re meant to.  We still need more logs… self care is essential and burn out is real.  Left unattended the fire will quiet and soften but it will take a long time to completely go out.  With just a little more attention, care, and fuel it will quickly reignite.   The fire wants to keep burning as much as it is inclined to go out.  It’s a delicate balance kept alive by the care and consideration of thoughtful tending.

The fire is going to go out at some point… luckily the one in your soul works on a longer timeline than the burning wood, but in either case you can always come back to it.  You will always be the fireplace and so with fuel to burn and a spark to start it  the fire has a place to show up and burn bright.  Sometimes you will live without your fire for a great length of time… years even.  One day you might realize you’ve never lit a fire in the home of your soul.  It’s never too late, it’s never been too long.  When you find yourself cold, disconnected, in need of comfort… it’s waiting for you.  It’s waiting to let you see yourself ignite into the fullest expression of your powerful purpose.

 

Give Up: Holding On

Every life story has the moment (or momentS depending on the tragedy level of the cards you were dealt) where everything completely falls apart…  Your husband gets sick (and I’m not talking man-cold although we know how devastating that can be), you lose your job, you find out about your partner’s infidelity, your best friend/parent/dog dies.  And in those moments are invitations to the greatest version of your life you could ever imagine living.  In those moments are opportunities to realize that everything you’ve been holding on to as your safe reality is gone and you are still standing.

theresstilltimeYou’re still breathing.

You’re still you.

You survived!  It’s a miracle!

I have people in my life right now who are living in this moment.  Each one has a different version of the falling apart story.  One, in particular, is dealing with the discovery of infidelity, reality of addiction, and ultimately the pain that comes from a relationship ending… and in doing so I am struck by her incredible bravery.  This is the perfect opportunity for her to sit on the couch for days, eat cookies, watch movies, cry, sulk, blame, and let her bruised ego take over (and believe me, a healthy dose of that is a welcome part of recovery from this kind of pain).  But instead of adopting those as a primary coping strategy she is completely recognizing and fully accepting the invitation to soften and let go that came in the form of her life falling apart.

Because she’s choosing to.

These moments of crisis don’t come with automatic enlightenment.  Accepting the invitation is not the easy road to choose.  These events rip us up by the roots and throw us into the great unknown and it’s most aligned with our brain’s desire to maintain same-ness and together-ness to desperately scramble for bits and pieces of what was and using lots of glue, tape, and string put it all back together again.  It doesn’t matter that most of the pieces aren’t there…  some part of us is convinced that there’s some way to assemble what’s left and have it look the same as it always did.  It takes bravery to turn away from what was to start to receive what will be.

The unknown, the “what the hell am I going to do with this pile of remnants”, is one of the scariest places to be.  And when we find ourselves there (because that part isn’t optional) we can choose in that moment to give up on holding on or to grip on to the little bits that are left.  In the choice of gripping, our despair will likely deepen.  Because the longer we hold on the longer we are nose to nose with the reality of our lost life.  In letting go, we widen our perspective and can grieve what we’re saying goodbye to while seeing the next great thing coming around the corner.

This friend said to me, words that felt like echoes because they resonated so deeply in my soul where the seeds of my transformation are still sending off new shoots and leaves: I don’t want to stay small.  I am more powerful than I’ve been letting myself be.

Wow.  How beautiful is that?

It is not easy to let go.  It is not easy to stop holding on.  But I can promise you, that on the other side of doing it… just beyond the initial heart softening that comes from surrender, is peace.  Peace in knowing that you can live as your big, brave, beautiful self from that point forward.

Go ahead and give up on holding on.  You’re worth it.

Go Ahead and Give Up

If I was a literary figure my tragic flaw would be that I give up too easily.  Hopefully without sounding too full of myself I have to tell you that for most of my life I’ve had enough things come easily to me that I haven’t had to work hard for much (I know… I know… I know how it sounds.  Really, I do).  And as a result, I don’t have much grit.

Grit is that thing that keeps us going.  It’s perseverance and stick-to-it-iv-ness.  It’s essential to success and conversely related to intelligence (chew on that, eh?).  I’m working on becoming more gritty.  My six year old son is a model of grit development and I’m following his lead on this one.  But, before I go and get so gritty that I can’t even remember not being this I want to impart some of my giving up expertise.  So I’m debuting a series of posts, right here, right now about giving up.  T

First thing you can go right ahead and give up: People Pleasing.

billcosbyEarlier this week I did a presentation at a conference.  It was a new workshop that I had created specifically for the occasion and I was curious to hear what people thought.  So curious, that I dismissed all offers to help clean up and once the last participant was gone gathered up all of the evaluations and hunkered down to read them.  Most were good, several were great and then there was one that said I was being preachy, they felt talked “at” instead of “with,” and that my voice lacked passion.  OUCH.  It stuck with me and may have for the whole night if lower on that pile of evaluations hadn’t been one that said “too much group discussion/activity, more lecture.  we came to hear from the expert.”

What could I do but laugh?

It hurts when people don’t like something we’ve done.  We tend to jump right into them not liking “us” and that’s where the hurt really starts to grip us.  For some reason, their opinion can feel like it’s strong enough to knock us off the foundation of our own self worth.  But only if we let it.

If we are intent on the goal of people pleasing then yes, it will be like a wrecking ball plowing into a paper doll balancing on a needle…  but let go of the need to please anyone but yourself, and you’re you–your human form–standing on a mountaintop and the opinions of others are like soft breezes brushing by.  Do you feel them?  Yes.  Might one blow some dust in your eye every once in a while?  Yes.  Do you get blown off that mountain into a valley of doubt and shame?  No.  You stay where you are, strong footed in the stance of your worth.

Go ahead and give up on people pleasing.  And stay tuned for more things to give up on!

Flying High, Falling Fast

Lately I’ve been having a fair amount of those “it’s all worth it” parenting moments.  Keep in mind (I’m talking to those of you who still haven’t decided whether to take the plunge), it took six years to get here.  Sure, there were a few before, but not until now do I stand the chance of getting several in a week…  Worth the wait?  I’ll get back to you on that (right now I’m leaning toward yes).

Yesterday my son and I decorated the house for Christmas.  The heart warming began when he helped me (moaning and groaning the whole way while I giggled and simultaneously validated his dramatics) haul the tubs up from the garage downstairs, and then made a big showing of valiantly moving things out of the way so I could carry in the final load on my own.  He made it through 75% of tree trimming before his “hip was killing him” and he needed to rest, and before that he was joyfully exclaiming “I love decorating for Christmas!  It’s my favorite part!”

I can’t even begin to describe (although I’ll probably try) what it feels like to experience these moments.  When I realized last year that he was suddenly a kid and not a baby anymore I was freaked out to all hell… I didn’t know how to be a kid-mom, I had gotten really good at being a baby-mom.  I didn’t want a new job!  Ah!  Without noticing when it happened we must have successfully transitioned into our new roles, because now when I see my six year old son express his humanity my heart feels like it’s going to explode, I get tears in my eyes, and my skin feels frosty and tingly warm all at the same time. It’s a little a lot like falling in love.

A whole lot of Christmas cheer and an unusually small amount of whining made it no surprise that I found myself grinning from ear to ear on the couch that evening.  I turned to my partner, still grinning, and said “I’m happy.  I love my family.  Really cool people live here.”  Heart warmed.  Flying high

Then I learned, via Facebook, that someone I went to elementary (and middle, high, and even some college) school with died a few days ago.  And within moments I felt myself falling fast.  I was aware enough to watch it happen, but felt helpless to the drop.  I tried holding back the tears, unsuccessfully… and when I couldn’t hold those back I worked on holding back feelings of embarrassment for my reaction.  I hadn’t spoken to this boy (more accurately a man) since… he was a boy-quite literally, but even without a present day relationship his death brought up so much in me.  What do I do now?  Do I reach out?  Do I go to the funeral?  Do I post on Facebook?  Should I have reached out sooner?  Does my sympathy matter?  Why am I so upset?  He was my first crush (back in 4th grade) is that a good enough reason to feel so devastated?  Am I sham for having all of these feelings?

And I fell all the way down into a mush pot of doubt and fear.

Suddenly the heart warming nature of parenting felt like the heaviest oppression: oh my god.  i am responsible for another person’s life.  shit.  My appetite was gone and the the thought of another slice of pumpkin pie nauseated me: still, I found a way to polish off half a bag of reese’s peanut butter cups.  I had been out that morning doing errands and making smart financial choices: and all I wanted was to go back out and buy everything.  EVERYTHING.

It was amazing how quickly everything felt different.  It was amazing how real both felt.  And it was amazing how helpful reaching out and writing about it was.  And how different it felt to look at my family through a lens of gratitude rather than fear.

It’s hard to understand why young people die.  Beliefs in higher power, fate, karma… all get tossed front and center and challenged with “whys?”  I don’t claim to know why this young man left this earth.  But I know for me it created another opportunity to realize and remember… it’s all real.  The joy AND the fear and everything in between.  A human brain can only handle so much at once, and what we give attention to is what we will feel.  I’m going to choose joy today.  I can feel the fear behind me still…  eventually my awareness of it will fade.  Until then, I’ll just work on learning to fly again.