Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Best Friend I Never Met

There is a somewhat obscure movie called About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson.  In the film Nicholson plays a recent widower who has to find a life and identity for himself, after a lifetime of being reasonably disengaged.  Prior to her death, he had predominantly relied on his wife to execute any responsibility of personality.

One night after his despondence began increasing, he finds himself up late watching TV and sees a commercial soliciting money for poor children in a third world country.  By donating one is assigned a specific child to begin correspondence with.  The remainder of the movie includes letters he sends to the child on the subject “About Schmidt”.   As he introduces himself presumably to give the child a sense of who is making a donation, he is simultaneously introducing himself as his own life is evolving.

Shortly after becoming pregnant with my first son, some form of communication came to us, I don’t remember exactly how it began.  It was from a friend named Maureen who had shared the same dorm floor with my husband in college.  Ben and Maureen stayed in contact loosely over the years, usually through a Christmas card.  But somehow, that particular communication introduced Maureen to me and we realized we had much in common.  We were both pregnant with our first child; I was due with Alex in January, she was due with Bella in April.  Maureen also had a Master’s degree in Social Work.

Over the years, we have exchanged many letters and emails.  I next had Andrew, she next had Sarah.  We shared tales of motherhood, challenges and joys of being older moms.  We talked about growing older, family changes, work and occasionally the state of the world.  We offered and still do offer mutual support and reminders of a shared history as we both traverse this stage of life.

But the irony as you’ve probably already guessed is that Maureen and I have never met.  It almost happened one time when we were going to be in Kansas City, but unfortunately our travels there were always short stays and already over packed with family obligations.  Somewhere along the line, however, Maureen and I have figured out that seeing each other across the table at Starbucks is not a requirement for us to have a meaningful friendship.  (I’m pretty sure she is reading this now with a bit of surprise).

I think this kind of a relationship is not necessarily common or easy to find.  Historically, I’ve often found it hard for me to stay connected with people I don’t see often.  Perhaps one of the things that makes this work more easily is that neither of us has expectations of the other.  If too much time passes between exchanges, one of us asks for something at that point and the other grants it, or at least lets us know when we can.  And regardless of how much time passes, we seem able to pick right back up in step and move from there.

I’m sharing this post as a way to think about how important it is to have support in one’s life and that it isn’t always necessary that it come from traditional sources.  Schmidt found writing to an unknown child when exploring his unfamiliar parts.  I write to someone I clearly think of as my friend, having never met.  The similarity in both cases is the willingness to share honestly and to give mutually. 

Perhaps the most important ingredient in finding support is the willingness to seek it out, or the willingness to accept it when offered.  Schmidt could  have changed the channel.  I could have acknowledged Maureen simply as Ben’s friend and let it drop there.

That type of willingness comes from a belief that you have something of value to share and/or a belief that you deserve to have your thoughts and feelings heard.  If you aren’t in that place yet, I encourage you to reach out anyway and let the response of another teach you that it’s so.  Perhaps just focusing on giving the gift to another will help you find it within in yourself.

And to Maureen- maybe someday… but until then- Thanks for 16 years.

 

Chasing Rabbits

There’s an Old Russian proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”

I suppose this jumped out at me because it succinctly captures a dynamic I hear so many times over the course of my work week.

I want to lose weight, and I want to eat whatever I want.

I want to be healthy, and I want to ignore self-care.

I want a loving and satisfying relationship, and I want to ensure my needs are all met.

I want to be financially secure, and I want to be able to purchase whatever I want.

Of course, people don’t usually say those statements so clearly to me.  If they did, they might hear them and begin to question themselves.  Instead, we utter the first part of the statement, and then act out the second part.  It’s human nature.

Neither part of the statement is inherently right, wrong, good or bad.  But both parts of the statements are in direct conflict with each other.  Thus, trying to achieve both is like two rabbits one is trying to catch.  Both options require considerable energy moving in opposing directions.  But the rabbits have the advantage.  Each has to move in only one direction while we have to move in two.  They outrun us and we lose both.  One of my favorite examples of this is the original Bridget Jones’ Diary.  She began each day focusing on and recording her weight.  Then she lived out the day ruining her diet.  By year’s end, she had gained and lost about 100 pounds (up 3 down 2), finishing at relatively the same weight as when she began.

Are you chasing two rabbits?  Or more rabbits?  That’s the thing about rabbits; they seem to multiply pretty easily.  Where is your focus?  Do you have a clear set of goals?  Not a wish list, but actual, defined goals?  If you do, they include time tables, and plans for how to achieve those goals.  Without a path towards achievement your ideas are merely a wished for fantasy of something you someday hope, will somehow happen.

Another important step in goal achievement is building in accountability.  Ask someone to check in with you about your progress.  Make commitments to knocking off steps along the way.  Use outside resources to help you figure out when you get stuck how to work around or through the obstacle instead of simply giving up in frustration.

And finally there is the importance of letting go.  You may have to spend a little time deciding and acknowledging to either someone else, yourself or both that, you are going to let one or more other rabbits go.  Let someone else chase those or let them simply be free.  You weren’t going to capture the anyway.

 

 

A Beautiful Monkey Mind

If you’ve been reading for a while you might wonder why I have been referencing old movies.  We’ve been trying to introduce our kids to them over time.  We want them to know the origin of some of the catch phrases and slangs that still linger, and we want them to enjoy some of the old stuff.  Not long ago we watched A Beautiful Mind, which still remains one of my favorites.

One of the parts which sticks out for me in that movie, is when John Nash realizes that the little girl never gets any older.  One of his recurring hallucinations involves his former roommate at college and the roommate’s young niece.  Although neither the roommate nor the child ever actually existed, they frequently appeared to Nash.  After treatment and medication Nash begins to realize that no matter how much time passes, the little girl never gets any older.  This epiphany helps him to realize that she isn’t real, despite his feeling her real in those moments.  In delusions, fantasy and imagination they can remain the same, but in real life, children age.

It made me think about a variety of things that we as humans cling to in an attempt to bring order to chaos, and comfort to our aches.  Feelings come and we develop stories out of our imaginations to cope with those feelings.  But those actions often require more details to make the story more real and sustainable for us.  Let’s say I’m having a party today.   I notice a feeling of discomfort.  Perhaps I’m merely tired.  But the chatter begins.  “I don’t feel optimistic that many people will come.  I can look outside and see some clouds.  I tell myself that it will probably rain.  Remember that other time you planned a party and it rained and the guests all got wet coming and going and it made everyone crabby?  And some of them left early because they didn’t want to get caught driving home in the rain.  It’s still early enough, I can just cancel the party now.  But then people might be mad at me because it spoils their plans.  And then….

This is brain chatter.  Buddhists call this “Monkey Mind”.  It’s the constant babble that plays incessantly in our brain.   We talk to it, and it talks back to us.  None of it has to be particularly “real”, but it can certainly occupy a lot of our time and energy and influence our actions and feelings.  One of the biggest dilemma’s I see with Monkey Mind is that just like Nash’s child never getting any older, our stories never progress.  While the subjects may vary, the process of the continuous loop stays the same and never really matures into anything useful. It can’t grow up because it is not informed by the present moment.  It lives in the past and the future, but not in the present.

To be in the present is to, as Carolyn Myss says, “Call your spirit home”.  It means to consciously choose not to give the Monkey Mind power to ramble on as much as it likes.  Being in the present is to notice where you are and what you are doing at any given moment.  This isn’t a permanent state to achieve, but rather an ongoing effort to keep bringing yourself back at the point you become aware you’ve left.  Like breathing, you don’t simply do it once and then you’re done.  You do it over and over, day after day. While breathing is automatic, you can also consciously alter your breathing if you choose.  You can speed it up, slow it down and break the automatic cycle.  The same is true of your thoughts.  They are yours, not the other way around.

Meditation is of course, the best way to practice developing this skill.  But its lack of appeal and difficulty turn people away from trying to practice.  So instead of saying, “Oh I can’t or don’t want to meditate for two hours a day so I won’t do this”, let’s consider another approach.  How about trying mini meditations in whatever it is you are doing.  So if you are washing dishes, stay present with washing dishes.  Don’t allow your mind to drift back into how dinner was, or shift forward to what you need to do when the dishes are done.  Instead, notice the water, how it feels on your skin.  Notice the movements you employ one step at a time to wash the dish and to hand it off. Engage your other senses, sight, touch, sound.    And since you probably do many tasks over the day, you probably have many places where you can practice this skill building even in short spurts.

I’d love to hear how this works for you.  Pay attention as to whether or not you start to see a reduction in your Monkey Mind, and if so what that is like for you.  You may notice an overwhelming sense of relief, fear, sadness, or any other emotion or combination.  Whatever comes up, ask yourself if Monkey Brain as the alternative ever makes those feelings any better in the long run.

 

Forgetting to Remember

Forgetting to Remember

In case it isn’t obvious to you already, let me confess that I am in fact a Pinterest Junkie.  In addition to my craft interests, I also enjoy the funny entries and quotes.  One I’ve seen with some regularity of the latter category is: “What would it be like if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?”

On more days than I care to admit, my life would be pretty awful if this happened.  Like most people, I seem to forget to remember often enough to take stock in what I have to be grateful about.  The end result of this is probably not that, God will open the heavens with a lightening curse and take everything away.  That doesn’t make the result any less dramatic.  Because what happens when I forget to remember is that, I distance myself from the joy of truly embracing all that I have.  It’s there for me to experience and when I fail to recognize its true value, I get less joy.

There is a pretty funny old episode of the TV show Friends in which Alec Baldwin plays Phoebe’s new boyfriend Parker (you can check it out on YouTube).  He is over exuberant about everything to the point that it drives everyone in his path crazy.  His need to comment jubilantly about every small detail and experience causes Chandler to utter “Somewhere there is someone with a tranquilizer gun and a huge butterfly net looking for that man!”  I’m not suggesting we all become a slightly less annoying version of Parker.  But I am thinking that there is a substantial impact on our mood when we regularly remember not to forget what is around us right now in our lives.

I also have a word of caution.  Sometimes I notice that people remember to appreciate what they have by way of comparing their lot to what others don’t have.  An example of this is “Well, at least I’m not like that person I saw in the wheel chair.”  Another is “There are people starving in some third world country and my belly is full.”  While I appreciate the effort to be grateful, it comes at the cost of finding value only as a measure against someone else having a worse set of circumstances.  This approach is more likely to produce relief at best, guilt at worse, and in either case, not much joy.

It’s admirable to notice the less fortunate but not as a means to bolster one’s own circumstances emotionally.  The way to feel good about what we have is to simply focus on what we have whether or not anyone else has or doesn’t have the same.  Authentic value comes from owning the voice that bestows it, as opposed to temporarily renting it from an outside source.  As long as we depend on something outside us to determine what we find valuable, our happiness is subject to whether or not that outside source wants to continue to validate our need.

The new year is for most of us, off to a robust start.  We are back to our routines, normal schedules and responsibilities.  To avoid having the conversation with yourself in December of 2016 about how much of the year seemed to escape without your notice, this is a perfect time to begin incorporating some “taking notice of what is around you” time.  All it takes is the willingness to remember that this is all you know that you have- right now.  Acknowledge it and if possible, be grateful.