Tag Archives: perspective

I will remember you

 I met a man once who said he wanted to get rich enough to sustain a fund that would enable his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on to be able to go to Disney World once a year.  He felt that they would enjoy themselves and remember him fondly.  I wasn’t very optimistic.  I thought a generation or so down, people would not remember him, but remember that there was some relative who had created a hopefully fun experience for them.  They would perhaps, enjoy the thought of him at best.

Do we remember John Wayne or Steve Jobs?  We remember what they left for us.  We enjoy their achievements.  But who were they as individuals?   Most of us never knew them, and so to miss them seems peculiar to say.  Is it enough to be remembered for what we did?  Or does it matter who we did it for?

Earlier this summer my father in law passed away.  Russell was not quite 93.  He fortunately had not been sick for very long and I believe was ready when his time came.  His two youngest children, one of which is my husband, were with him when he died.   It was evident by his last words that he knew they were with him and I believe he took great comfort in that knowing.

My in laws were not special, but they were as extraordinary as I understand the word to be.  They were ordinary, somewhat simply lived people, but they did everything to their fullest capacity.  They were kind.  At my mother in law’s memorial a couple of years ago, so many people shared stories of how Russ and Marge had helped them over the years.  They fixed things, baked things, drove people where they needed to go, lent them a dollar or two and even housed people who needed housing on occasion.   Upon Russ’s death, grandkids posted stories on Facebook about their memories.  These included fishing, hunting for mushrooms, sewing, cooking, making S’mores and watering the pecan trees at the farm. 

The elder Young’s will not be remembered by millions or thousands.  They might not be remembered beyond another generation.  I wear my grandmother’s engagement ring.  My children never knew her and were young enough that they barely remember my own mother.  But remembering and knowing are two different things.

My children know their great grandmother because so many of her qualities still reside within me.  My love for cooking undoubtedly was passed on by her to me.  I can still remember how she taught me to bake bread when I was only seven or eight years old.  And I share my love of cooking and baking with my family, not just as something I do, but something that is at my core.

My husband has so many fine qualities that are linked to his father.  I see many of the same traits in our oldest son as well.  Our youngest son sometimes has his grandfather’s laugh.  Likewise, my husband’s five sisters all possess some of the same gifts as did my mother in law.  And I see many of these traits passed on to their daughters as well.  They are crafty and creative just as she was, but each in their own way.

I suppose what I’m really trying to convey here is that our lives are less about our own stories and more about seeing them as chapters in a larger book.  Once the chapter closes, the book continues to build upon what was just conveyed.  The value in our lives is perhaps more contingent upon the simplicity of the subtleties we leave behind in the people we love rather than the notable achievement others who do not know us will attach to our name.   If that is accurate, then living well, being extraordinary and nurturing the growth of those around us, are our best hopes for immortality. 

 

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

No you didn’t fall of the email list.  I just didn’t do a blog last week.  I decided to try my hand at decorating sugar cookies instead.  Why?  Why not?  My son was performing in a cello recital and I wanted to bring some fun food.

I watched a video and thought, Hmmm this looks easy enough.  So I gave it a try.  Wow, was my experience a lot different than the one of the woman in the video.  My entire kitchen and my body were covered in flour, icing, icing dye, utensils.  It was a major mess.  As of this writing, I still haven’t mastered the skill but I haven’t given up.  I heard Mark Cuban say the other day that he spent 10 years becoming an overnight success.  So if and when I achieve cookies designs that are magazine worthy beautiful, I’m going to tell everyone it was easy. 

Years ago I used to give a lecture with a slide show that contained a slide of a young woman sitting on the back of a lawn chair at the beach.  I used to ask the audience if they wished they could look like the perfect model featured and many said yes.  Then I let them know the model on the magazine probably wished for that as well, because the photo had been digitally enhanced to make her look the way she was portrayed.

Despite knowing this, so many of us deplete ourselves by trying to achieve the look that we feel someone else has, even if we have no idea how authentic their success is or isn’t.  Is it any wonder that we are a nation functioning in large part due to antidepressants?  How can we foster happiness when we live in a perpetual state of feeling as if we are incapable of achieving what we believe others have, in a system that is basically rigged?

I’m not playing the victim card.  Anything but!  I’m playing the “use your critical thinking skills” card.  I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad idea to try and achieve a goal.  But the goal should be realistic and personal rather than as a way to mimic another that you hold in unrealistic esteem.  Even if that person has genuinely achieved a particular goal, you can’t possibly have all of the same predispositions and life conditioning experiences to achieve exactly what they have done.  And they aren’t you.  You have gifts that they can’t or won’t achieve.

So here is what really happened since I started this blog post.  The first batch of cookies looked really horrible.  Picture a kind of “Picasso” cello where none of the parts line up quite right.  And they didn’t taste very good.   So I gave it my best shot and made a second batch.  And they looked well, slightly less horrible, but they tasted really good.  So I took those to the recital.  They were to be eaten, not hung in a gallery and thus, I deemed them “good enough”. 

I’m still planning on taking a live class this weekend because I still want to learn.  But I don’t feel badly about not knowing how to decorate beautiful cookies.  I’ve had no practice, I’m not particularly artistic, and frankly, I have virtually no idea what I’m doing.  The woman in the video made beautiful cookies, but I’m going to guess that she wouldn’t make a good therapist.  And even if she would, I suspect there are still other gifts that I possess which she does not.

This week, instead of looking at something that someone else has that you don’t, try focusing in on your gifts.  This may require that you look at yourself a little differently than you do normally.  If you want to take a real risk in growth, tell someone else about something you do really well.  Celebrate yourself!  And if you need any decorated cookies to help you celebrate, call me.  I just can’t guarantee you’ll recognize them as what I say they are.

True Confessions

I’m a mom.  Mom’s have a way of becoming somewhat psychotic or at least neurotic when it comes to defending and protecting their children.  I am no exception.  I remember when my eldest son Alex was about 3 years old and I dropped him off at the play yard of his preschool.  A couple of 4 year olds came along and wanted to take a little tricycle away from him.  I had to hold myself back to keep from wanting to beat up his 4 year old school mates.

Fast forward to today where I’ve reached a supposed level of maturity, which I have actually but not always when it comes to my kids.  Recently there was a situation involving my younger son Andrew.  I felt like he wasn’t getting the kind of recognition I felt, or rather I KNEW he deserved.  I found myself behaving in a less than attractive way uttering unfortunate descriptions of his competition.  Even while I was doing it, I knew it felt wrong, but I let the criticism roll off my tongue.  At least I had the good sense to do it mostly in private.

And then I went back to reading Cheryl Strayed’s book “Dear Sugar: Advice on love and life”.  While I don’t agree with every single piece of the book, I found it to be generally lovely.  Strayed is a wonderful writer, an old soul and is a human being with more compassion in her bones then should be allowed.  I stumbled upon the following passage that had nothing to do with protecting your kids or permission to be a momma bear.  But here it is:

“When I feel jealous, I tell myself to stop feeling jealous and to stop being a jealous person.  The cure for feeling jealous is to stop being a jealous person.”

Profound rocket science right?  It is incredibly simple, and yet the key is not to simply utter magic words and the behavior stops.  It means to ACTUALLY CHANGE the behavior and then the feelings will stop because there is no behavior for them to take root within.

When I thought about what I was really feeling, I was behaving in my own child (me as a little person- not Andrew) voice.  I was feeling the many times that I didn’t win the prize or get picked for the team.  And by projecting that on to Andrew in that moment, I wasn’t thinking about teaching him that he could not win the prize and still be okay.  More importantly, I wasn’t thinking about how many times I DID win the prize, and did get picked by the team and someone else did not.  I don’t recall times when I got picked and I started feeling how unfair it was that someone else did not.

This realization allowed me to realize that to stop feeling jealous, I needed to stop looking at what the other kids had done or not done.  I needed to consider that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  To not win doesn’t mean that you are a loser.  It simply means you didn’t win this time.  To stop being a jealous person, I needed to focus on Andrew’s many accomplishments and to realize the joy that those bring to both him and me.  With that in mind, it’s hard to behave in a jealous way, because there is nothing to be jealous about.  Jealousy is not a flattering emotion on anyone.  It speaks to a sense of lack, which is a condition created entirely from within rather than externally.

Our little selves are alive and well inside all of us.  We want them to be because they contain many wonderful memories, vulnerabilities, innocence and raw emotion.  But those parts of our selves also need to be parented by our more mature and wise self.  They need to be protected and treated with compassion and they do not like to have their left over wounds ignored or pushed away by our adult parts.

Any time we find ourselves operating in an irrational or overly emotional way, I believe it is our child self that just took the driver’s seat.  Rarely does this prove to be a good strategy. 

If The Shoe Fits

A number of years ago a woman came into see me because she was incredibly frustrated with her husband.  She sat down and began telling me that her husband recently told her she was crazy!  She obviously found this very hurtful.  I agreed and asked her to provide some context.

She went on to explain that they had been eating dinner at home.  When he finished his meal he pushed his plate forward a bit, stood up from his chair and began to leave the table.  She quickly told him that he needed to put his plate in the sink and that is when he told her she was crazy.

I asked her if this was an unusual act for him and if he normally put his own plate in the sink.  She quickly responded saying “NO! That’s the problem.  For twenty years he has been leaving his plate on the table for me to put it away.  But on that night I had had enough and told him he needed to do it himself.  And that is when he told me I was crazy!”

I looked at her and told her she was crazy!

I’m not usually so blunt, but this was so blatant, and yet she was unable to see what was happening.  For 20 years she had been teaching her husband that she would take care of his plate.  She may not have liked doing it; she may have thought it unfair, but she was actively maintaining an expectation for 20 years.  And then one day she changed the rules and became angry with HIM for not jumping on board when she changed her expectations and his.  She never considered the possibility that he may have some surprise, much less aversion to the new rule.

Everybody knows that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.  But another definition is abruptly changing the rule that you have personally contributed to designing and maintaining.  So is expecting everyone else to acquire the same level of motivation and commitment for that change by osmosis.

I am seeing a number of women in particular right now who seem to be struggling with getting their husbands to accept new rules because dynamics have changed for these women.  Some have gone back to work, others have started a family.  In some cases these women have simply matured in their needs. As they get more pressured for time, or simply grown tired of continuing to do for their husbands what they may have eagerly signed up for in the past, they want their husband to “want to change” in the way their wives want them to change.  What many women (and some men as well) fail to consider is that their partner was in part attracted to them because of the very behaviors they now want to abolish.  Imagine that you go to a store that gives you free stuff for years.  You love the store until one day they say no more free stuff, and let you know that you are greedy because you keep coming in and expecting them to continue the practice.  Maybe the store has a very good reason, like it can’t make a profit by giving away free stuff anymore.  Regardless of the rationale, you’re likely to feel a bit cheated or at very least surprised by the change in policy.  (If you want proof, talk to someone who is this week absorbing the new Starbucks rewards policy!)

At the start of this type of discussion with me, a woman usually wants me to help her figure out how to get her husband to change.  It doesn’t take long for me to help her understand that the only one who she is capable of changing is herself.

I’ve made this discussion gender biased for the sake of expedience, but the reality is that the dilemma is gender neutral.  We all begin teaching others what our rules for engagement are from our very first meeting.  If a pattern is embedded in our relationship that no longer works for us, it is up to us to take responsibility for how it began.  Our partners (romantic or otherwise) can always introduce a behavior to us, but we are the ones who give it permission to stay in place by what we do in response to the introduction.  When we make room for it to stay, stay it will.  And when we are the initiators of a behavior because we want the other person to think about us in a particular way, then we alone are the ones responsible for maintaining that behavior.  We are responsible for coming come clean about our motives and make recommendations openly and honestly about having changed our willingness to continue the practice.  We also have to be willing to accept the consequences of changing expectations for both us and our partner.  If I have always been willing to work overtime off the clock because I wanted my boss to think I’m a great employee and I elect to stop that one day, my boss may change his opinion of me, or even worse.  I have to be willing to accept that possibility.

How about taking a look at some of the patterns that, you may be less than thrilled with in your relationships?  Can you identify how you either initiated them or made them possible to stick by your behavior?

The young, the old and the truth

Last weekend we went to visit my father in law who is now in an assisted living facility.   Our son Andrew took along his cello and played a mini concert for the residents just before their lunch.  Now that my father in law has been living  there a few months, my sister in law Cristie has become a staple in their community as well.  She introduced us to all of the other residents, clearly knowing them each by name and story.

In Tuesday’s with Morrie, there is a point in which Morrie realizing his condition has deteriorated to the stage where he now needs help in the bathroom to wipe himself.  He says to Mitch that we come into the world needing help wiping and we go out the same way.  The only difference in between is that we have the illusion that we don’t need the help.  The point is we all need relationships including those where we are vulnerable.

Morrie’s wisdom came back to me again this weekend as I watched the residents.  While I’m a proud mother, I realize objectively that Andrew is not playing at the level that should have garnered the excitement and praise he received from the residents.  But like little children excited about someone dressed up in a dinosaur costume, the residents were delighted by Andrew’s performance.  And I don’t think it’s because they are losing their faculties and lost the ability to discern.  It’s because they are now not encumbered with all of the gazillion tasks that those of us in between childhood and aging call life.  We are focused on getting the dog to the vet, cleaning the house, mowing the grass, getting our nails done and working to support all of those privileges.  So often, we prioritize these tasks over relationship.  And more often, we complete them to show we are competent, and sufficient without the help of others.

Younger people see old people as a group different from themselves.  Older people see themselves as the same as they always were.  They know their bodies have aged and they may perhaps even feel a bit wiser, and possibly more content.  But they don’t see themselves as “old”.  More specifically, they include an identity of the young men or women who hung out with friends, danced at parties, liked a particular kind of music.  They reminisce about the things they once did not as something long ago forgotten, but as a part of themselves they still know, and more importantly part of themselves they still want to know. 

I watched the residents form into social groups over the course of the visit and remember similar observations from when my own mother was in a nursing home.  The women still group together in little clicks.  They talk about relationships, updating each other on who is who and what “who” is doing now.  The men are more likely to couple of in pairs or remain single.  They watch TV or read.  But if you look at the same gender distribution of a gathering of younger people, you would probably see similar patterns. 

A little later in the weekend Bens father asked my brother in law about a recent handy man project they had previously discussed.  My father in law wanted to know where his bucket of tools was so he could join right in.  The reality is that his bucket has been gone for some time; it was sold with his house.  But in his mind, he still sees himself as capable, ready to grab a screwdriver and do what he has always done when the need arose.  He wanted to put into motion the feeling he has in his mind’s eye.  He sees himself not as a man hanging out in a “home” until he dies.  He sees himself as productive, useful and resourceful and still important to his son in law.

Children make a picture with their hands and they too feel productive.  And most of the time, we encourage these feelings through our praise.  We hang the picture on our refrigerator and say good job. 

But in the middle of our lives we have the illusion that we have only so much time to “get it right or get it done”.  We rarely stop to recognize that we are the same as we were as children.   We need the same encouragement and permission to allow relationships to take precedence over accomplishment.   We ignore this fact out of fear that our significance will fade into old age where we will be relegated to the home of productive lives passed.  We defend against the fear that our vulnerability might be exposed.

Perhaps the alternative lies in seeing ourselves less as separate entities that shift from one stage to the next measured by our achievements and milestones.  Perhaps there is value in retaining the child and younger parts of ourselves in our current states.  Doing so would surely increase our vulnerabilities, but it would also afford us a proportionate amount of authenticity.

Enough is Enough

Someone asked me yesterday how a person ever knows when they are enough.  I thought I would use this post to try and tease out a more thorough answer.

This much I think I know.  I know that for a long period of my earlier life I did not think I was enough.  I thought I wasn’t smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough, thin enough, and probably a whole host of other things, had I thought about them for very long.  How did I know this?  Because there was always someone around me who appeared to be enough and I was different than them.

Today I’m still different than people around me in a variety of ways.  That much hasn’t changed.  But what has changed, is both how I interpret and measure others and myself.  In fact, the gap itself is no longer the measure of anything except difference.

When a person is pretty, they simply are pretty.  It doesn’t make them better or more, it just means they are pretty.  Being more pretty is not a measure of their enoughness, or mine.  Even if they are extremely pretty.

But to disassemble a system of measurement, something else has to take its place.  I think the new system is based on truth, acceptance and having a much wider lens than I previously used.  Let me try and take these one at a time.

Truth:  So often I deluded myself into thinking that acquiring something, be it a physical item like clothing, or less tangible like an achievement would afford me a sense of completion and grant me permission to whatever status group I wanted membership.  Of course every acquisition only left me more depleted and feeling still more illegitimate.  So truth means to see symbols for what they are and to not chase them at the cost of authentic self- development.  Truth also means to search inward to determine whether or not I have truly put forth an honest effort with pure motives.  If I have, it is enough.

A wider lens:  Maturity is largely responsible for adding this tool into my toolbox.  Like many people I too was prone to what I call snap shot thinking.  I only saw life in small snippets, a moment in time.  When I see a beautiful person and think their life is beautiful based on that moment in time, I am severely limiting my view point.  I don’t know if that same individual has financial, emotional, spiritual, physical or relationship challenges.  I don’t know how much effort went in to achieving that beauty and at what cost.  In fact I know nothing about the person.  But if I give them a winning score and compare myself to that winning score, I am not enough.

To widen the lens does not mean to find fault with the other person.  It means to find humanness within both that, other individual (or circumstance) and my own.  Otherwise, it’s like measuring two things, one with English and the other with metric.  They won’t match.  Widening the lens also means for me, to include faith in something much greater than the constraints of this world and my own humanness.  The dilemma with relying only on this world is that it is all so fragile and fleeting.  It’s truly like building a castle in the sand knowing the tide’s arrival is but a few short hours away. It is easier to see one as enough when you strip away the layers of triviality and build on something wider.

Finally there is acceptance.   To accept that I am enough is an active act of willingness.  It is a willingness to ACT.  It means to live with that knowledge and to make choices accordingly.  If I am enough, then it means to live as if that is true.  It means to no longer invest all of my energy into the pursuit of what I think will make me more.  It means to speak more kindly of myself and to not withhold rewards until I reach some higher earned level of wholeness.  And it means to not hold back my efforts with the excuse that they are not important or won’t matter.  They matter. 

This is personal and based on my path.  And please let me be clear that I have no illusion that this is a static and fixed level, but is rather, a work in progress that I need to frequently remind myself about.  I hope there is something useful for you to take while developing your own sense of enoughness. 

 

The circle of life

No blog last week because I was on vacation.  My family and I went to Disney World once again. I can’t remember which number trip this was, but it’s been a lot over the last 10 years.  Neither Ben nor I had ever gone to Disney as kids, but we took our sons in 2005 as the first time for all of us.  It was Disney’s 50th anniversary, the year of magic or some cute slogan to announce the wonderful new array of changes.  We had a blast on that first trip which began our Disney love story.

After that we went a few more times, mostly enjoying each of them.  There was a point in which I noticed that we would start to move towards a particular familiar ride and my oldest son would say “nah, I’ll ride it next time”.  That’s when I began to realize we were going too frequently and the boys had begun to take the privilege for granted.  We stopped going for a few years.  Last fall we planned a trip and the boys decided working on their grades wasn’t important to them.  Much to their chagrin, we cancelled the trip about 2 weeks out.  So this spring break adventure was the follow through of a carrot we used to encourage their academic efforts.

We knew in advance of going this time that, there have been some changes at Disney.  For the first time ever in my adventures there are Starbucks at the parks.  We also got these really cool bracelets in advance that are programmed as your park ticket, your hotel key and for “convenience” your credit card.  We knew that a couple of our favorite rides were down for renovation, yet we boarded the plane with familiar enthusiasm and anticipation.

This experience at Disney however was sadly, not so terrific.  A few months back one of my many brilliant clients commented that there is a life cycle to everything.  His words came back to me quickly as I realized that for us, Disney was now in hospice.  I got my first clue when I entered the hotel room and there wasn’t a towel origami creature on the beds.  I love Disney towel origami and always look forward to the surprise that waits at the end of the day.  I simply noted that it wasn’t there but didn’t see it as a harbinger of things to come.

And come they did.  Another of our favorite rides closed the day we arrived.  Several other rides broke while we were on them.  The park was insanely over crowded not simply because it was spring break, but because with a water park also closed and fewer rides, people crowded to what remained available.  I could lament about a number of other annoying experiences but you can read plenty on some of the blogs about Disney complaints.

But this blog entry is anything but a Disney rant.  My message today is really about the experience as a metaphor of life.  As my client said, everything has a life cycle.  The problem isn’t that Disney is cost cutting at its customers expense.  The problem is that I wanted it to stay the same as it was 10 years ago.  Back then I could better tolerate long walking and lines because the newness and excitement sustained me through frustration.  I wanted it to stay the same as when my children were excited and dazzled by every character and parade buying the magic that Disney was selling.

And speaking of my children, something more important happened on this trip.  Our son Alex, now 16 kept ditching us.  I found it frustrating because it didn’t fit my expectation.  I also found it irritating that he would leave us, and then call me 10 times, insist we come meet him at a location and then essentially ditch us again.  It felt selfish and rude until my mature mind came back online.  I realized that my confused expectations were again at work.  The reason Alex left us is because he is 16, not 4 and he needed to be away from us to do what he wanted to do.  The truth of the matter is that we too needed to be away from him because we wanted to do other things.  At the point that I realized this, the trip became considerably more enjoyable for all of us.  He stopped calling me every 10 minutes, and when we did meet back up he was in a great mood willing to share what he had experienced.  Life had moved further around the circle.  Regardless of what Disney does as a company, the experience has changed as it should and will never be what it once was for us as a family.  But there are other experiences which lie ahead for a family with two young men which will undoubtedly contain a different kind of magic.

Perhaps I would have figured this out sooner in the trip if the “Circle of life” ride at Epcot had not already been closed before our arrival.  Or perhaps I would have thought this through had I not been clinging to my expectations.  But, it’s like the Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  I wasn’t ready until our last day.  And just for the record, I never did make it to any of those Starbucks!

 

Be Extraordinary

Be extraordinary

I love the word extraordinary.  It has a fun and almost whimsical ring to it.  But I realized recently that I had not really been using it correctly.  In fact, I don’t think most of us use it accurately.  Usually when using the word extraordinary, we are referring to something that is amazing, a stand out, over and above.

But if you look at the word, it is literally EXTRA Ordinary.  It means to take that which is ordinary, and make it even more ordinary.  I am not a linguist or a scholar but this got me thinking in a different direction.  What does it mean to be extra ordinary?

If I am washing the dishes and that is an ordinary task, does it mean to wash more dishes?  I don’t think so.  I would consider that it means to wash the dishes with as much presence of mind as I can muster up.  It also means to appreciate and experience as much EXTRA in the task as is humanly possible.  It means to feel the water against my skin, the smell of the soap, the shine of the dish, the awareness that there is clean water easily accessible to wash the dishes, a cabinet to store them etc.

I realize this is a corny example, because it’s unlikely that you or I are going to run to the sink and break out the dish soap just to have a mindful experience.  If I could convince you to try, I’d start first by trying to enhance my children’s joy by getting them to do the task.  But if you transfer this mindset into the other zillions of “ordinary” experiences that happen each day, there are probably many opportunities of where missing joy might be lurking.

How about a meal?  Instead of making small talk and zipping through your evening meal which is ordinary, how about making it even more ordinary?  How about taking a few minutes in this everyday task and making it last a bit longer with a little more meaning?  What about the commute to work?  Are there ways to take this ordinary event and make it something even more than it is most days?

Most of us have no trouble making other events that are outside our ordinary routine special.  We put something more into them and call them special.  While that’s great, they are also things that may occur too infrequently to sustain us.  By taking the everyday opportunities to experience “extra”, we increase our capacity and opportunity for more contentment.

I’d love to hear your experiences in taking joy by expanding your ordinary into extraordinary.

Floating in a sea of insecurity

Sixteen years ago I became a mother for the first time.  I was 2 months shy of my own 40th birthday.  Obviously I am a late bloomer.  And 13 years ago I became a mother for the second time.  And so I have enjoyed saying that I am the mom of two kids for quite some time.  But on Friday my youngest son Andrew will turn 13, meaning I will for the last time, be the mother of children and will instead become the mother of teenagers. 

I would be lying if I said it was not bittersweet.  On the one hand I am delighted to watch my boys grow and become people in their own right.  It is fun to have the freedom that comes with the untangling of childhood needs and demands.  We have the luxury of not attending to their every need.  And I miss soft skin; baby smells (the good kinds) and coos.  Even though these have actually been gone for quite some time, there is still a way of defining one’s self that changes with an official transition of stages.  It’s neither cool or welcomed to remind a teenager of the things he did when he was a toddler.

But perhaps more than rearranging the child memories out of the forefront of my brain is the awareness that my own identity is once again cast out onto the open seas, unmoored from the dock of supposed security where I had been storing it for a time.  This is what we do as a people.  We link our identity to some safe haven so that we might know ourselves and have a way of introducing ourselves to others.  The dilemma is, of course, when we delude ourselves into thinking that our identity claim is anything more than arbitrary and or temporary.  I chose the identity of mother of children; some choose more exotic names like executive or entrepreneur, while others go for more personal descriptions like thin or beautiful.  In the end, they are all mere snapshots of who we are, and fleeting.  The only thing constant about our lives is that they change.

I am continuing to learn that genuine peace comes not from finding a more solid identity defined by my current circumstances, but rather increasing my awareness that who “I” am, is in fact, none of these adjectives or roles.  I am “I” who has participated in many of these over the course of my years and will hopefully continue to participate in more still to come.  I am “I” when I was not a mother of any children just as I am “I” today.  “I” is a solid and constant, and is the only thing that is solid and constant.  The lesson is to not get too attached to the ways I try to box “I” in.  It is not the boxing in per se that is the problem, but rather the attachment to the limitations of that box.  In other words, if I only feel present and solid because I am the mother of children, then once they become teens, it will be hard to know how and what to be the next day.  It will also be hard to know what they are the next day as well.  This is the case with folks who experience “empty nest” and depression from other kinds of life transitions like divorce, loss of a job etc.

This is deep, philosophical convoluted and truncated for the sake of space in a way that might not make it very clear.  If you want to do more reading “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer is a good primer.   This is predicated on the strategy of engaging in more eastern rather than western thinking.  In particular, it means to be mindful of not becoming attached to culturally or familial definitions of our self and using those definitions to insist on their legitimacy.  Failing to do so means we forfeit the right to choose anything not on our predefined path, and we require everyone around us to support our identity through their behavior as well.  Unfortunately, they usually don’t receive the script in advance and they keep mixing up the lines.  And when they do, it is us who falters.  We don’t receive the right cues, we get agitated and we become the director who now focuses on everyone around us to get their lines right as we want them performed.   

Nobody wants to work with a diva.  Not in show business, not in life.  No one wants to alter their behavior or their life trajectory so that we can feel safer in our comfortably created little identities.  The alternative is to let ourselves drift as the fleeting souls we actually are and enjoy the waves as they come along.  It means accepting that some will be gentle and some not but neither condition is ours to control or claim.

Life in the fishbowl

I read what was for me, a rather moving book last week.  Though, as much as I loved it, I recommend it with quite a bit of trepidation.  I listened to the book on Audible and I must say until the last two hours, it was pretty dull.  There was a lot of philosophical rambling.  I nearly quit, but I held on and I was well rewarded by the gems contained within.  I don’t know how well these will come through without the context of the book, and I have to be somewhat cryptic in order to not spoil the story in the event you might wish to read it for yourself.  The book is titled “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”.

There are two concepts that I want to share here that do not give away the story.  The first is the idea of the fishbowl.  This theory is put forward by 12 year old Paloma, an intellectually gifted French girl who lives with her family.  At the start of the story, Paloma is working out her plan to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.  As an intelligent child, she deduces that life is nothing more than the struggle to fulfill a great lie that our parents have thrust upon us and therefore, not worth the effort once you know the truth:

“Apparently now and again adults take the time to sit down and contemplate what a disaster their life is.  They complain without understanding and, like flies constantly banging against the same old windowpane, they buzz around, suffer, waste away, get depressed then wonder how they got caught up in this spiral that is taking them where they don’t want to go…And yet there’s nothing to understand… “Life has no meaning and we grown-ups know what is” is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe.  Once you become an adult and you realize that’s not true, it’s too late…. People aim for the stars, and they end up like a goldfish in a bowl”.

Thus, her planning suicide is to suck out what few joyful moments might lie ahead and then save herself the agony of ending up in the fishbowl.

The second thread I want to share is something that Paloma learns at the end of the book.  While we all use the word “never” quite freely, it is something that none of us truly understands until we are faced with a condition in which we experience no ability to transcend a limit regardless of our means and abilities.  A real never occurs when the illusion of our control is shattered beyond repair. Everything becomes clearly defined without the fantasy of “if only or when this, then that”.

The irony however, is that in the midst of Paloma’s “never” experience (I must be vague here to keep from spoiling the book), she experiences a moment in which time as she knows it to be in its linear form gets “interrupted” for lack of a better word.  In her words:

“I have concluded, maybe that’s what life is about:  there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same.  It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that has come to us, an always within never”.

In short, life is filled with so much beyond our control.  The idea that we can and should do X Y and Z and we will be guaranteed the magic answer and life without sorrow, is in fact a lie perpetuated upon us by our parents and our culture.  Most of all it is perpetuated by our childlike naiveté and wish to have a perfect life with a happy ending.

Paloma begins with the understanding that the wish is a lie and attempts to resolve it by quitting the game.  Despite her advanced intelligence, her immaturity and surroundings prevents her from knowing that there is an alternative to both wrestling to live the lie or dying to avoid trying.

That alternative is also known as life.  But it is life that willingly accepts our limitations without shame, fear, denial and insistence that we and others transcend them.  It is life that is open to the moments of beauty that allow us to step out of the Never of time for brief moments and to allow those moments to nourish us and hold us until the next one comes along and to let them go as naturally as they came to us.  It is life that sees its end, not as a failing to hold on and thus succumbing to the fishbowl, but rather the transformation from this existence into something else, even if that something else cannot be definitively determined by the human mind.  And most of all to be open to those moments of beauty in a variety of forms rather than to predetermine allowable examples conjured up by our own ego.

 

 

It started with a penny and turned into a fortune of wealth

 

I met my husband through a personal ad.  Yep,  honest.  Our first face to face meeting was at the St. Louis Science Center.  We met there to watch the movie Everest at the OmniMax.

After enjoying the movie,we walked around a bit and talked.  Okay okay, since it was 17 years ago this month, I can say we walked around and began the process of falling in love.  But while we were there Ben walked over to the squished penny machine and purchased a commemorative Penny.  (Big spender right?).

The next smashed penny we purchased together was at our wedding in Sedona, Arizona.  He made me close my eyes and he guided me over to the machine that he had previously spied.  And since that time we have made a habit of getting a smashed penny on pretty much every adventure.    I don’t know how much money we have spent on smashed penny’s as each one costs .51 cents.  But it’s  been a very wise investment.  Each serves as a reminder not only of the event where we make the purchase, but of the way it all started.  The way building our fortune began.

So let me tell you about our fortune.  Shortly after I had our first son, I was ambivalent about going back to work.  I was concerned that it would be problematic financially if I stayed off for an extended period.  Ben told me at that time in response to my worrying “Mary, we are the wealthiest people I know.”  He was referring of course, to the immense joy that had just come into our lives- a healthy beautiful baby.  We were both healthy, we had a roof over our heads and not much to complain about.  He was right.

Our fortune has continued to grow- both with our second son, and our lives in general.  We have relationships we value, the opportunity to laugh often, and Ben and I are both lucky enough to have work that we both feel passionate about.  Are we lucky?  Sure we are.  And we work at it; somedays more than others.  But more than the presence of any of these gifts, or the absence of any significant tragedy, is the presence of an attitude we both work towards embracing as often as we can.

Whatever is or isn’t we have control only over that, which we think and conclude about, what is and isn’t in our lives.  Every event that occurs is subject to interpretation.  You can feel victimized by events or blessed by them.  It’s always a choice.

Easy to do when the good stuff is happening.  Harder to do when its not.  But growth occurs in BOTH circumstances, and again, good and bad are relative terms, often arbitrarily determined by our own personal filters.  Bad is determined by “I’m not getting things to happen the way I want them to”.  But when we let go of insisting that life result in very precise circumstances as we deem appropriate, we position ourselves to just open up to whatever life actually is.  By removing the pre-determined outcome, we need not be thwarted because something didn’t turn out the way we planned.

This post is redundant if you’ve been reading for a while.  It’s not that I don’t have other things to write about, but rather this is an idea that I feel we all need frequent reminding.  The world is bombarding us minute by minute with the opposite message and so this one is easy to ignore.  Unfortunately, doing so results in our ignoring the tools for creating our own contentment.

I don’t always like Ben and he doesn’t always like me.  The house is often messy, something breaks, I lose my keys.  The kids fight with each other and skip out on their homework.  I don’t think anyone wants to make a reality TV show about us.  We aren’t that interesting.  That said, we are still, as Ben declared “The wealthiest people we know” and it began with one penny.

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.

 

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.

 

Happy Holidays

This is my last entry for the year.  I’ll be back the first week of January.  I just want to wish everyone a joyful holiday season, whatever your faith, including a hopeful new year.

The world is in a precarious state these days.  There is a daily barrage of bad news, potential threats, and looming concerns.  There is also joy, hope, and reasons for gratitude.  Sometimes in the wake of the former, it is difficult to find or focus on the latter.  Regardless of the difficulty, the choice remains ours.

To make the choice in favor of a more pleasant view of life however, is not to try and create a Norman Rockwell painting of upcoming events.  Rather, it means to simply focus on and appreciate what works, rather than to dwell on what does not. 

In his book “Conversations with God”, Neale Donald Walsh explains that we choose relationships based on what part of ourselves we wish to experience.  I would extend that thought as a statement about our lives in general.  What part of ourselves are we wanting to experience when we encircle ourselves with drama, chaos and hardship.  Is it a desire to feel punished, incompetent or inferior?  Is it a desire to see ourselves as a great rescuer?

And by the same token, when we surround ourselves with joy and plenty, are we bringing our self that is capable of richness and connection to God into the mix?  Neither of these questions is a simple yes or no, but are worthy of self-reflection.  What better time to do that than over this holiday season.

Once again, I want you to know how much I appreciate your dedication to reading, and value your feedback more than I can express.

Whatever you choose for this holiday season and the year ahead, I hope that you gain from it the knowledge you seek to make your life the best for you.

 

Happy Holidays

Let the Wobbling Begin

Let the wobbling begin.

I’m going to attempt to create a visual experience for you.  Try and imagine yourself in this scene as you read along.

You are a toddler about 12 months old.  You are used to crawling around when you want to get to somewhere other than where you are.  Your view of the world is predominantly at ground level looking up at everyone.  While this has been fine for a while,  you now realize that others around you are doing things differently.  You also notice that your hands and knees are getting sore.

Everyone around you seems to be getting around on their feet instead of their hands and knees.  Hmmm you think, perhaps I can do this too.  You inch your way over to a table or chair and using all your might, you pull yourself to an upright position.  “There! You exclaim. “That wasn’t so hard.”

Full of confidence and wonder you lean towards the direction you want to go towards.  First your right foot, followed by your left and boom!  Down on your bottom you land.  It looked so easy when you watched others complete the operation, but it doesn’t seem easy now.

Of course you eventually learned to walk, but not without a few good drops to the bottom and perhaps your head as well.  It’s the natural evolution of learning to walk without the conscious processing that I describe above.  Yet, if we were conscious, I don’t think my description would be too far off base.  It might include varying degrees of excitement and fear depending on our nature and our success rates. And of course, there are many other milestone achievements of which we partake as developing children that have a similar structure.

I submit that, to some extent, we retain our childlike approach to change and development throughout the life span.  The differences however, include that 1) we are often more conscious and 2) we are often filled with judgment and fear, both of which, are founded on information we have collected over the years.  That information not even need be accurate, but it still influences our decision making capabilities.

In application, this means that if I had to learn to walk today, I might say to myself “No, I’d rather not, because I don’t want to risk falling.”   Or “I don’t think I’ll take up playing the piano because I don’t ever stick with things.”

Thinking about this topic reminds me of a quote I like very much:

A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because the trust is not on the branch, but on its wings.  (author unknown).

Perhaps my argument is lost if your position is that you don’t trust your own wings.  But even the most confident will at times lose faith in our selves.  It is during those moments that we can trust that even our baby selves were once brave enough to take the risk towards change.  We can know that sometimes we have to fall a bit to make progress and our boo boos and ouchies will heal.  Wobbling is a sign of progress towards success rather than a prediction of our failure.

The baby in us has the desire for something more.  It remains focused on the goal rather than the limitations.  It is not necessary to recreate a state of unconsciousness to achieve this skill.  Because we now have the ability as adults to exercise choice and reason,  it is a matter of prioritizing the goal we want over indulging the fears, some of which are irrational, so that we might move towards the direction of our goals.  We need not employ denial or ignorance, but rather the confidence that we are strong enough to tolerate the necessary wobbling and sometimes falling as a means to our achievement.  And  to consider that wobbling isn’t a sign of our failure, but is evidence of our willingness to grow.

Limitless

There is a new show this year called Limitless.  The premise in case you haven’t seen it, is that an ordinary guy Brian Finch,  takes a pill (NZT) every day which allows him to access every single part of his brain.  This makes him the smartest man alive.  While the pill is active, Brian is capable of figuring out pretty much anything and absorbing endless amounts of information.  This ability makes him quite valuable to the FBI.  The pill does, however, wear off at the end of each day and also has some pretty grave side effects for Brian Finch.

I have a similar pill.  It’s called Google.  But it too, is not perfect or without its side effects.  I can quickly learn about events in history, medication interactions, even how to solve mathematical equations.  The latter is something I couldn’t do before Google with any other kind of aid.  Now I can find a recipe, learn how to wire a wall switch, and find out which movie stars have the highest IQ’s.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  He thought the world was flat.  He and the rest of us were pleasantly surprised to find out it is not.  We didn’t understand the basic endocrinology systems of our bodies until the mid 1900’s. (Society for Endocrinology 1946).  And the calculator wasn’t invented until 1967.  We’ve come a long way in our understanding of how the world works.  Or rather, we believe things about the world and ourselves today that are very different than what we once believed.  But remember, that which we used to believe felt very much as TRUE to us then, as what we currently believe is true now.

We all function on individual systems of truth for things both big and small.  There are some assumptions we operate under because we always have.  We assume they are true because they are familiar or culturally accepted.  It doesn’t require much of our brain cells to operate within these because we are on auto pilot.  But there are others practices we will defend to our death.  We have deemed them true from our vantage point based on information available to us.  It is however, information obtained from only the limited availability of our brain’s capacity.

While our access to information is limited, information itself is not limited.  We can’t possibly acquire it all, which means, we always run the risk of having some part of our argument which, is indefensible. Today I hear a report that wine is bad for me.  Don’t drink wine.  That is true.  Tomorrow I hear a study that wine is good for me.  Drink the wine- that which is true has changed.

I’m not suggesting that we not adhere to truths or fight for them.  I’m merely suggesting that we consider the possibility that our truths are in fact, are just that—ours.  We come by them honestly enough, but so does another person whose truths are different than our own.  When we are compelled to try and change theirs, we expend enormous amounts of energy, often with little if any success to show for the expenditure.

I’m also suggesting that we take the same tactic with ourselves.  Engaging in patterns of behavior that leave us depleted or unfulfilled because we insist that a truth requires us to do so, may deserve a little dose of critical thinking.  Perhaps the information you once used to develop your stance has changed over time and your conclusion needs revisiting.

Statements (or commands) that begin with words such as I must, I should, It would be better if, may be fertile ground for challenging why you do what you do.  While many of these items may in fact, survive the scrutiny, it’s possible that some may not, making it a worthwhile exercise.

I’ll leave you today with a quote from Steve Jobs:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary,”

Please take a moment to leave me a comment- I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Hallowthankmas

Happy Hallowthankmas

This weekend is Halloween.  And the next day begins the official time where it’s legitimate to start the barrage of holiday ad campaigns.  That’s not to say that others haven’t already intruded into the not really legitimate time to begin because they have.

Come Saturday night doorbells will be rung by ghosts and goblins scarfing up as much candy as they can carry.  They will take home whatever doesn’t get eaten along their route.  Tired, and wired they will drift to sleep and awaken to parents who realize that it’s November and game day is in sight.  Short sight of only 7 ½ weeks and a mere five weeks for my Jewish friends.  Thanksgiving is just a means to an end; a kind of speedbump on the route to holiday shopping.  And with more stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, it’s not a very big speed bump anymore.

Maybe you are one of the wise men who have already done your shopping.  I doubt this makes you immune to the hustle and bustle which lies ahead.  There are outfits to buy, decorating to compete, parties to attend and a whole host of other unplanned for activities including family dynamics to wrestle with.  ‘Tis the season.

I’d like to propose an idea for you (and me) to think about this year.  I’ve noticed in the past that when I try to plan better I don’t get particularly great results.  For example, if I buy my kids gifts early, I usually end up buying a lot more because as the time grows close, their list gets longer.  I feel compelled to get the thing they now know they “really want” in addition to the things I thought they wanted back in August.   If I plan out my schedule, it often doesn’t include all of the spontaneous things that pop up. But there is also an element in my traditional approach to planning the holidays that contains the inherent quality of building expectations that will ultimately yield disappointment when they, are inevitably, unfulfilled.  I might picture in my head the perfectly decorated house because I’ve planned it.  Only to find that the light bulbs for the tree need replacing once it’s all done and putting new ones on after the fact doesn’t give me the look I had imagined.  Or the gravy turns out lumpy.

So my proposal is simply this.  Use this week before the insanity sits in to take a few moments and think about what you want the holidays to mean to you and how you want them to feel.  Write out a different kind of holiday list this year.  Here is an excerpt from mine.

I want to watch a great movie or two with my family over our time off.

I want to spend at least one lazy morning sleeping in and hanging out with my (3) boys in our pajamas.

I want to look at some old photographs from holidays past with them and share stories about their childhood and reflect on how much they have grown.

I want to try and focus more on remembering to be aware of the millions of things I already have to be grateful for, instead of looking towards what I don’t yet have in my life.  I especially want to try and practice this when I want to purchase things.

I want to celebrate that this is the time of year when I met my husband and started down this path of the life I so love.

My list doesn’t include shoes, or jewelry, or even a new toaster.

My list is still in progress.  What I want may be very different than the things you want and I encourage you to make your list a true reflection of your wishes.

So before your dreams of ghosts and goblins turn into sugarplums and fairies, take a little time out while time is still available.  Unplug from the cultural madness that is ready to pounce upon you and armor up with thoughts of a life designed by you rather than a marketing agency.

I’d love to hear some excerpts from your lists.

 

 

 

Power Struggles 101

When my eldest son Alex was a baby and also when he was a toddler,  he was the easiest child in the world.  He had a period of about two weeks after he turned two,  during which he got somewhat feisty.  My husband and I looked at each other and concluded, “Oh this must be the terrible twos.”  It lasted about two weeks and we thought “Hmm, I guess that’s over with”.  Life went back to easy.

In contrast, our second son had a temper that was obvious from the start. He apparently takes after my side of the family.   I don’t recall a time when Andrew ever went into time out without having to being restrained.  He would rage about it being Monday or any other thought that came to mind.  He would rage for not having a reason to rage. When I tried to discipline him, he would hit me.  Flabbergasted, I would hit him back.  He would hit me harder and I would get a little firmer with my slap back.  Then he would haul off and smack me. And I would…..

Nope- here is where the story changes.  Somehow I knew to pull him in close and put his cheek next to mine and that would almost always calm him down.  Okay, the reality is I knew I could not smack him harder and perhaps out of not knowing what else to do, I tried the cheek thing and it worked so I went with it.

I learned from that strategy something about power struggles which, I try and remember still to this day.  As much as I want to stay engaged and make my point louder than the person I am power struggling with, the smartest and most effective thing I can do is counter intuitive for me in those moments.  It is to try to do nothing or find a way to join them.  I don’t choose this out of defeat, but as a way to keep the ball moving down the field.

Everyone knows the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Continuing to engage in the same behavior of whatever I’m doing to keep the struggle active is therefore crazy.  Participating in such a way to enable the other person to keep doing that, which keeps the struggle active is crazy.

Even though I say I try to remembering this, I usually remember it AFTER I’m locked into the power struggle.  Then I remember it and try to implement it.  But the other night I had a cool experience, at least from my point of view.  My eldest son (no longer the easy toddler, but a hormonally charged Aspergian 15 year old boy) asked me for something that he was pretty sure I would say no to.  Of course I said no, as I was prepared for this.   He went to the next level of debate and yours truly said…

“NOTHING!”

Those of you who know me can appreciate the Herculean effort it took to keep my mouth closed.  I just sat there while he looked at me.  A few moments passed and he repeated himself with a bit of a twist in another attempt of engaging me to spar.  I calmly replied that, “I had nothing to add as I had already stated my answer.”  With that my son walked away.

What Alex saw was a resolute, immovable parent that was not going to argue with him and wonder into new topics or pull out my litany of reasons to defend my response.  I must tell you on the inside of me, there was a giddy cheerleader type character high fiving myself that this actually worked.  But once I settled myself down, I realized that it worked because I had ended the crazy power struggle—not by winning, but by refusing to repeat the same behaviors that lock it in place.

One small step for parenting.  One giant leap for my own sanity.

Do you find yourself locked into power struggles with people?  How often do you notice that it’s the same argument over and over?  Is there anything you are willing to do differently without the focus on attempting to change the other person’s behavior?

 

Time savers

My son asked me today what blood is made of.   Of course, I didn’t know the answer so I did what I always do.  I went to consult the great wizard known as google.   In case you’re curious, the answer is plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets.  But as I went to find the answer, I thought about how if I had needed to know that answer when I was a kid, I would have had to get someone to take me to the library so I could consult an encyclopedia.  Boy, have times changed, and it’s amazing how many time saving tools we have available today.  These gifts are not just limited to information gathering.  We have modernized and improved every aspect of our world right?

So that got me thinking about the things I now have available to make my world improved.

After I got divorced I lived in a 560 sq. ft. apartment.  Now I live in a 4K plus sq. ft. home.  Of course it used to take me about 45 minutes to clean what now takes about 4 hours to achieve.  But I have a lot of sweepers, cloths and specialty products to make it “easier and faster”.  And each of those gadgets needs batteries or filters or bags that must be replaced from time to time but…

Transportation.  I can’t imagine how people used to get around in a horse and buggy, much less on foot.  Obviously they didn’t travel often or very far.  But we are so lucky because we have jets to go around the world if we choose.  On a smaller scale I have a car that will take me anywhere very quickly.  Now that is a huge time saver over walking to the grocery store.  The interesting twist though is that I seem to spend a LOT of time in the car.  I pick up kids; drop off kids, tote kids to and fro a variety of places.  I pick up food, dry cleaning, household items.  I make a lot of trips to Starbucks.  I drop off a prescription at Walgreens and then go back to Walgreens.  All because I can.  I have a car to save me effort and time.  It just seems to use a lot of that time.

Communication.

It must have been astounding when the Pony Express began delivering mail.  People who had been cut off from loved ones and even substantial news information now finally had a systematic way of being able to communicate from afar.  My maternal grandfather came to America and wrote letters to his future wife to keep her abreast of his plans for their ultimate reunion.  It must have been grueling for her to wait for his words to finally reach her.

In contrast, I can communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world instantaneously with only a click of my mouse.  Sometimes, I have to wait a few hours because of the time zone differences, as someone in Russia may be sleeping when I send my email, but that is about the limit to my hardship.  Since I no longer have to spend time waiting for replies, I can often make plans or decisions much more timely.  However, I have begun trying to reduce the amount of email I receive because I get overwhelmed by the abundance.  I find myself becoming slower on replies, to even important requests because, there is often more in my inbox that requires my attention than there is attention I have available.

Food

My kitchen is well stocked with pots, pans and utensils for faster and improved baking and cooking.  I also have no shortage of gadgets that I’ve never used.  These are for foods I was going to make, but haven’t had time for.  Mostly these days we eat a lot of take out.  That of course, is why it’s so great that I have the car I mentioned above to help me save time.

Personal care-

Boy I shouldn’t even start on this one.  There are 3 products for my hair and an anti-frizz towel, two different contacts, glasses, hearing aids that require frequent batteries.  I have products for softer feet, smoother skin.  I own anti- wrinkling cream and I don’t even wear makeup.  That would require another whole bathroom vanity.  The current one is filled with mouthwash, toothpaste, a rechargeable toothbrush and charger, a water pick.  It also has a magnifying mirror, hair dryer, assorted tweezers, and nail files and…

So all of this is to say that life is what life is.  We can try and “solve” problems, streamline and minimize efforts and there is nothing “wrong” with that approach.  The problem comes in with philosophy of solving or rather illusions of solving.  Some things simply can’t or don’t need to be solved and its okay to live with them the way they are.  Often our efforts to “simplify” a process results in a far more complex system of maintenance our “solving tools”.  Another approach is in learning to let some things go.  There are some areas of life that can’t be made simpler.  They are difficult and we may need to accept that the effort required to have them in our world is significant.  It’s okay if we choose those things, but we have to become willing to let something else go to achieve a balance in the amount of energy required.  In other words, we can’t give 100% to two tasks simultaneously.  The math just doesn’t work.  I know this, because I looked the answer up on google when I couldn’t find one of my three calculators that purchased.

 

 

 

You Must Rock!

The political season is in full bloom and many ads will soon be bombarding us with “Gotcha- politics”.  Regardless of your political affiliation, both parties use this technique which is simply, to catch someone doing something that is going to hopefully make would be voters turn away from their opponent.

You don’t have to spend much time on the internet to discover a video of someone doing something incredibly dumb.

We walk into our boss’s office when he or she calls and expect to be told what we’ve screwed up.

How easy is it to walk in the door of your home with an expectation that something will be completed, or waiting for you, only to instantly know that the person you counted on let you down? (This asked by the mother of a teenage boy).

Tonight on my way home I picked up takeout food for my family’s dinner.  I was instantly annoyed when I noticed, as I was driving off that, the person who bagged my order had missed about ¼ of the order.  We are trained to catch others and ourselves doing something wrong.  Many of us have finely tuned radar that can scope out failure in a nanosecond.

What would it take to train ourselves to catch people doing something right?  Better yet, how about catching ourselves doing something right?  Why is it okay to notice the wrong, but to dismiss the right as the norm with little regard for the effort to secure it?

I’m not suggesting that we walk around issuing press releases every time we or someone else ties our shoes correctly.   Greg Behrendt has a pretty funny (comedy routine called “You must Rock”.  Unfortunately, the language is pretty vulgar, so I’m not going to put the link on my site, but it can be find pretty easily in a google search if you are curious.  One example he give is the comparison of how we treat rock stars.  They perform, while the crowd holds up signs and yells “We love you!”  Behrendt asks his listeners to consider what it would be like if we treated the person who makes our morning Latte or drywalls our kitchen, with the same level of excitement when they do their job in an amazing way.

So if you don’t want to hold up an “I love you sign” for your barista and chant his or her name, you can certainly do that with a tip, which is always appreciated.   But the tip goes in the jar and is split among everyone including the person who did not put in any extra effort.  How about taking the extra step and saying “Hey, thanks!” in a personal way like “You always do that so quickly!” or “How do you manage to stay so cheerful every day?”

Better still, are you as likely to call and recognize an employee for good service, as you might be when they mess up your order?”  This is something I really like having the opportunity to do.  Usually the manager comes to the call braced for a ripping and is so incredibly grateful to hear that I am complimenting their establishment or employees that it is great fun for me.

This week make it a point to catch someone doing something right.  And if you really want to have fun, catch yourself as well.

Even the Experts Fall Down

Last night was the final showdown on America’s Got Talent. The little guy who scales the tall ladders is clearly not going to win. Last week he took a nasty tumble off of the high ladder. He was saved on the show,  I suspect somewhat out of curiosity and mostly out of sympathy. Even though he was given another a chance to perform last night, he had a very mediocre showing that can’t possibly win him the grand prize. He did his best, but it turns out he was taken to the hospital last week by ambulance after the show. He obviously sustained some injuries that made it far more difficult for him to perform anything strenuous or risky in his final performance. Unfortunately, that pretty much sealed his fate on the show. He may be a professional, but even professionals fall sometimes. And they fall not just in practice, but during peak performances as well.

I describe myself throughout my life as someone who had a few hard knocks along the way, bummed or sad from time to time, but never as one who was “officially depressed”. Until my second pregnancy that is. I pretty much spent 8 months throwing up daily and in general not having a good time despite the fact that, it took me nearly a year of trying to get pregnant with Andrew. I very much wanted a second child and was elated when it finally happened. It also occurred at a wonderful time in our marriage and while I was enjoying toddler years of my eldest child Alex. However, the pregnancy itself was pretty miserable. And over a few months I became clinically depressed. I found it difficult to do anything except get to work and get home. I had to force myself to find joy in Alex at the time, and often would sit and cry for no apparent reason just to get it out of my system. I remember once watching a movie, putting it on pause, taking a bath and crying in the bathtub and then returning to the movie as if I could finally concentrate.

I spoke with my doctor about it at the time and he suggested I try an anti-depressant. He gave me samples that I brought home but elected not to take. I had hoped to nurse Andrew and the antidepressants would have been a no no. I decided to try and get through the remainder of the pregnancy and then decide but I was certain if I continued to feel the way I did after delivery, I was going to take medication. Lucky for me my mood lifted almost immediately after his birth. I remember having a similar reaction but to a lesser contrast, after my first delivery so I was more relieved than surprised.

But this experience taught me first-hand the difference between I’m unhappy and clinical depression. Since that time, in fact I have gone on medication. It seems that my hormones have a mind of their own and don’t always play nicely in my body. Heading into menopause I again talked with my doctor about my less than optimal mood. I didn’t feel blue that time, but I sure was cranky. Very very cranky even though again, my life on the outside looked pretty good to me. And while I’ve tried a couple of times to wean off medication, I think I’ve finally accepted that my body no longer makes on its one whatever it is supposed to, in order for me to not bite the head off of an inefficient bank teller without the help of a little jolt of Celexa.

So I would say for the most part I’m a pro at this mood thing at least certainly in comparison to my non-medicated (or untrained as the metaphor goes) self. But that said I still have my moments. This past week I had my days. I found myself feeling uncharacteristically blue for a few days. I didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of work. I had little motivation to do anything and subsequently got little done. I didn’t want to hear the radio or a book on tape. Ironically, I had been listening to Dan Harris’s 10 percent happier when it hit. And I slept a lot which is very unusual for me. I scanned my life and feelings to see if there was anything unchecked that might be dragging me down. I considered several possibilities and tried to assess if there was something that I needed to attend to. While my life isn’t perfect, I just couldn’t settle on anything specific that felt particularly out of whack.

So I went with it. I let my husband know that I didn’t think anything was wrong but that I was on a mental time out. I slept more, cleared tasks from my calendar and just tried to be as gentle with myself as I could be. Last night I stayed up ridiculously late and predicted I would pay for it with an even lower mood today. But to my surprise, while I did wake up deprived of enough sleep, my mood has clearly lifted. I am myself today ready to tackle projects and be with people. Apparently somewhere along the way I fell down, but I took time to heal and I’m ready to perform at my best again.

I will fall again. It might not be next week or next month. Perhaps I will fall because of something besides my hormones not working well and I will have to heal by taking action other than just time. What I have learned along the way however is that, when depression grips people, no amount of picking oneself up by the bootstraps can wriggle it loose. It’s kind of like Thor’s hammer. It takes the right arm, not the strongest arm to break it free. (Sorry non Avenger’s fans).

For me, the right arm is self-nurturing and self-care. It means to not beat myself up or push myself to do more than I can during those times. It also means to work harder at finding joy wherever I can and having a well- stocked tool box to choose from. Tools like classical music when I can’t tolerate voices talking at me. It means beading small jewelry projects to have a place I can focus and get a quick sense of the ability to complete something. These are just two examples.

What is in your toolbox? How do you behave with yourself when you fall down? Are you too embarrassed to let yourself acknowledge the injury and get it the treatment it deserves?

Don’t spoil the ending… if there is one

Don’t spoil the ending… if there is one!

The other day my son Andrew was listening to the news as we drove along in the car. There was a story about stem cell research and Andrew commented that he hoped the endeavor was successful. I asked him why, because I wanted to know how much he understood. He said it would be cool to be able to grow a new arm if you lost one. Then he asked me if I thought it was a good idea. I told him that if I was the one missing the arm I would think it was a very good idea, but that I sometimes worry that, we are trying to take medical advances to a point of believing we can avoid death entirely. At some point we just have to let it go. No one will ever accuse me of sugar coating things for my kids.

I’ve been reading “The Martian” by Andy Wier. (Side note for anyone thinking of reading this, the first chapter is brutally dull unless you’re an astronaut, but if you’re not, read on it gets better.) I’m not going to spoil the ending because I’m not finished and don’t actually know how it ends. The premise is that a mission on Mars has to be quickly aborted due to a sand storm and one astronaut Mark Wadley, is left behind. The rest of the crew thought him dead but it turns out he is alive and has to figure out how to survive and get home. Calling a cab is not an option.

As the story unfolds, the whole world begins to join in the effort to bring Mark Wadley home safely. I have found myself rising and falling to the triumphs and failures along the way in these efforts as other book reviewers suggested would happen. And while I hope he makes it for a happy ending, there is another part of me that thinks “Wow, what happens if they spend 100 billion dollars bringing him home and find out he has terminal cancer or he gets hit by a car the next day. Will everyone still think it was worth it”?

Call me morbid. And again, if Mark Wadley was my husband or son, I ‘m sure at least part of me would want to be stand on the corner begging for money to fund the “bring him home” campaign. But Mark Wadley is a fictitious character. He is only brought to life on the silver screen when played by Matt Damon in the upcoming movie version. And so because of that, coupled with the fact that this is my blog, I get to philosophize over the deeper questions of how much is enough and how much is too much?

We are largely a Type A nation, believing we are capable of doing just about anything we put our minds to. There is plenty of evidence to suggest we are accurate. But we are also people who are burned out, insatiable and sometimes disillusioned by the realization of our achievements when they either fail to satisfy us or we can’t stop long enough to enjoy them because we are on to the next challenge.

I saw a T shirt the other day that said “I never finish anyth” I thought it was funny when I saw it, but now I’m thinking it might be profound. What if there are things we simply don’t finish because they are no longer worth finishing rather than chastising ourselves for failure? What if we let something go because we have had enough or simply because we are willing to recognize that all things have a season or a life cycle. What if we didn’t put in a heroic effort just because we know we could?

For years I wouldn’t allow myself to stop a book or a movie once I started. No matter how much the experience lacked satisfaction I hung in there hoping for an eventual payoff. Finally, I began to realize I was wasting a lot of life doing something that I didn’t benefit from, just because I could or thought I should.

I do not profess to know where the line is. I think it varies from person to person and depends on each situation. I do know that feeling perpetually exhausted is an indicator of when I’ve crossed the line too frequently.

Two other great movie scenes that exemplify this concept come to mind. The first is Forest Gump when Forest, after having run hundreds of miles across the country, just one day stops. He has had enough and it was something from inside of him, rather than outside that told him when to stop. The other is Regarding Henry. The character played by a disabled Harrison Ford, learns over time that he can no longer live the life he had before his disability and learns to say he has had enough of trying. He learns to say when it’s time to let go of what was and embrace his life for what it has become, limitations and all.

How about your movie? Are you perpetually exhausted and out of time because you’re giving it all, your all? Are there somethings that you might be willing to experiment with to not finish? I probably have more to say on this but

 

Is everyone dying?

My son introduced me to a campaign on the internet that he had recently found and was trying to implement for himself. I’m reporting this second hand without checking sources, so forgive me if I am a little off. The premise is to “Treat everyone like they are dying”. As Andrew reported, when you think of someone as dying, you might try to be a little nicer to them and even consider holding back criticism you might otherwise have leveled. Andrew likes this idea as a goal for himself, with the exception of treating his older brother this way- but that is another story for another blog.

In our discussion, we both agreed that in reality, everyone is dying and so the thought process really doesn’t require much of a mental leap. This concept is another great example of how a small shift in perception can have a significant impact. However, Andrew and I tended to disagree a little, as to what degree we interpreted, which party is the point of focus. For Andrew, the significance is seeing the other person differently. For me, the emphasis is seeing your-self differently. Neither of these is right or wrong, nor better than the other. The end goal is met in both cases and it makes for a happier world.

I suppose I was predisposed to my position because of the strategies I often take with couples. These are the steps that are elucidated in the book “Managing from the Heart”. In particular, this strategy of seeing others as dying parallels the step “See the other persons loving intentions”. When you can see another person as having a positive intention for choosing an action, it is a lot harder to stay angry and/or defensive with that person, even if you disagree with the action. By aligning with their potentially positive intention, it gives you a more open and willing stance from which, to negotiate alternate behaviors for you and them.

But the reason I want to point out the emphasis on self rather than other, is that it reinforces the concept that we only have control over ourselves. Again, while the outward goal in the moment may produce the same result in behavior, there is a difference in the use of our energy. When I choose a kind comment because I see the other person as dying or lovingly intended, I still choose a kind comment. But when I choose a kind comment because I see myself as, one who strives to choose the kindest comments in situations, I believe there is another level of pay off in personal satisfaction and sense of agency. It is consistent with a mindful approach of awareness of what I have control over. Moreover, if the other person seems hell bent on proving their intentions were, in fact, not loving, or they don’t seem to be dying soon enough, it doesn’t have to change my behavior. In other words, what the other person does or doesn’t do does not have to determine how I choose to behave. More importantly, I don’t even have to try and create a story about them to get to my final position. My final position is the same as my starting position with this strategy.

Again, I’m not condemning the “see the other as…” approach. I like it and I teach it when possible. But it is a starting place or a falling place when the mindful of one’s own posture is either undeveloped or weakened. In the end, the only person we can truly directly impact the thoughts of with any measure of accuracy is ourselves.

I’d love to hear your feedback and comments, as well as, any experiences you have with this approach.

 

 

Damn I broke a nail and other impending life challenges

Regrettably, many of my conversations begin with the words “I saw this on Pinterest”, but here I go again. Recently, I saw a meme satirizing our “First world problems”. Some pinners have entire boards devoted to these. Here are five that I saw:

 

  1. I have more clothes than I have clothes hangers
  2. The phone rang in the middle of my song
  3. My laptop is dying and the charger is in another room
  4. I had to get a new phone and lost all of my Angry birds progress
  5. I ordered a Coke and the waitress asked me if Pepsi would be okay

 

But if you’re not a Pinterest addict (and hopefully you aren’t), I’m going to share with you five of my own that I have said (probably more than once).

  1. The air conditioner isn’t keeping the house cool enough on these hot days
  2. I spent a lot of my summer driving my son to camp
  3. I forgot to pick up dog treats when I went to Walmart and will have to make another trip
  4. I have too many bathrooms to clean
  5. The backup camera on my car isn’t working properly

Now, in my defense, it is HOT in St. Louis and it’s muggy as all get out right now. But there are people in far more physically demanding circumstances from Africa to those living homeless on the streets not all that far from where I live. These folks would never waste energy to think about any air conditioning, much less its efficacy.

Don’t I deserve your pity for 1) having a son (that I was fortunate enough to get pregnant with at age 43), a son that has the ability to have a talent of cello playing, to have the funds to send him to camp and the reliable transportation to get him there. Not to mention a job with the flexibility to take him to and fro. The unfairness of it all.

On a trip to the Bahamas earlier this year our guide mentioned some astronomical number that I’ve since chosen to repress that represents the number of stray dogs that roam in Nassau. There isn’t enough money for the people to have treats, much less the dogs. And while I’m pretty sure they have a Walmart, I doubt dog treats are a big seller.

Okay few people like cleaning bathrooms and I’m on the top of that list. But again, my house is too big? I imagine there are at least a handful of people in the world (including many who still use outdoor plumbing) who might enjoy having a bathroom to clean.

And the final tragedy I’ve listed in my life is the backup camera. I especially like this one because I’ve had my car with a backup camera for all of three out of my 55 years. And while I would like to enjoy the benefit of that for which I’ve paid, I think I can still remember how to back up the car without a camera if I put in just a little effort.

I suspect I’ve said enough to make the point of this blog clear, but just in case it’s simply this: We spend a lot of our energy on “problems” that in fact are not. Yes, they may be things that require a little more time than we might have planned, but they are simply tasks to knock off in a sub-list on the main list called life. They don’t need to be announced, grieved, overwhelmed by and certainly not immobilized by. Everybody else has theirs and they go on about the day of getting them done and many people find a way to do so without complaint, because they realize they have a choice to feel content and satisfied or depressed and deprived. They live by the motto espoused by the great philosopher, Larry the Cable Guy: ‘Git R done!”

The good news is that our brains are malleable and with a little practice, we can change the pathways or ruts we often get into and build new circuitry formed on a more positive outlook.  The practice helps to make this thought process more natural as our “go to “position. I’m not suggesting that I or anyone simply ignore frustrations, but rather that we keep them in perspective that they may not be as big as we sometimes make them out to be.

 

 

Commas save lives

As a Craftaholique, I’m always looking for funny T shirt sayings. One of my favorite finds is

Let’s eat Grandpa.

Let’s eat, Grandpa.

Commas save lives.

 

 

Such a small thing can change the meaning of an intention so drastically.

 

Communication can be a tricky thing. It is so often the presenting item for which, people come into my office asking for help. And, like the comma shift above, very often the solution they are looking for isn’t a major change, but rather a tweaking of smaller behaviors.

 

Two of these we can easily focus on are intent and tone.

 

Can you recall a time when you intended to ask someone a question, but it came out like a declaration? Often, you know that is what has transpired because, rather than answering your “request”, the other person goes into a defensive mode. You might reply with, “I was only asking”, which falls on deaf ears as the other person is walking away frustrated and mumbling “It sure didn’t sound like a question!”

 

I am so familiar with that one personally, that I often hear myself prefacing my speech with “This is meant to be a question, regardless of how it may come out!” I have found that doing so clarifies my intent and prepares my listener if I feel a little confused about how to get the question out. More often than not, my listener is more receptive and forgiving of my fumbling because my intent is deemed genuine.

 

There are many other examples where clarifying your intention upfront can be very useful, but your intent has to be sincere. In other words, saying , “I don’t want to hurt your feelings but….”, does not let you off the hook. Most likely, you know you are about to say something hurtful but you’re trying to get a pass.   Sometimes we feel we have to say things that will be uncomfortable for the other person to hear. If we choose to do so, then we have to acknowledge that there will be a reaction.

 

Another communication game changer is tone. Some people are lucky to have a more steady tone throughout most of their dialogue. I am of Italian heritage. We don’t have that genetic make-up. My tone goes up and down like a two year old playing on a xylophone. And, I’m lucky enough to have the facial and body movements to support the rise and fall so there is no denying what state I’m in when expressing myself. Helen Keller can read me loud and clear.

 

As a result, I have to work a little harder to make sure that my tone is expressing what I hope for it to. In other words, if I’m in a frustrated mood about situation “A”, and I try to express something to someone in situation B without making an internal shift, I’m likely to use a tone (with supporting features) that conveys an unrelated frustration. An easier way to say this is, man gets mad at boss and comes home to kick the dog!

 

Tone, however can creep in and wreck a discussion in far more subtle ways.

-asking a question with a tone of suspicion or disbelief?

-offering a compliment with a trace of sarcasm or feigned enthusiasm

-providing support while distracted with something else.

 

In any of the examples, the way to improve our skill set begins with mindfulness and expands with practice. An exercise in mindfulness includes noticing the reactions others have to our declarations, and even asking for feedback when we aren’t sure. Obviously, those around us don’t want to be our constant communication coaches, but when asked with sincerity, our request for feedback may also be viewed as a genuine interest in knowing the other person’s experience communicating with us. They may even appreciate our desire to improve our skills in interacting with them. However, even when we don’t ask for feedback, we can step back and notice whether their responses to us indicate clarity of understanding what we thought we were attempting to communicate.

 

Practice means to start with clear intentions and be thoughtful about our speech rather than to give license to whatever we want to say when we want to say it.   The following quote* sums it up:

“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”

 

So, while commas may save lives, a little extra care in communication may save relationships!

 

*There is a debate as to the origin of this quote. It may be Rumi, Buddha or someone’s Aunt Ruth who stitched it on a pillow, but it is clearly not mine.

 

 

 

 

Who am I?

Most of you know me as a therapist; some as a relative, a neighbor, to others; a friend. The people who spend the most time with me know me as a wife and mom.

When I’m working as a therapist, I have an uncanny ability to remember minuscule details of people’s lives and stories. I sometimes file a piece of seemingly innocuous information into some complex storage system in my brain and can readily call it to the surface without even trying. But, when my alter ego of wife or mother takes charge, I can’t remember where I laid my keys down five minutes ago or which names I originally designated for each of my children.

As a relative to my husband’s family, I can often see things with a kind of clarity not available when viewing my own siblings. As an acquaintance, I’m more detached to various circumstances than I might be with a friend.

When I dress for work, I at least make an effort to put some thought into whether or not my shoes match, or if my hair has been at least touched within the past 24-48 hours. Going to the grocery store is another matter. If you run into whichever personality of mine that shows up there, it’s anybody’s guess. The best you might hope for is that I’m fully clothed and have shoes on as the store requires.

I suspect your many personalities have their own definitive characteristics as well, separating one from the other, and at times blending as beautifully as a Monet painting. I don’t imagine I’m all that unusual in my distinctions, nor do I suspect my own “ multiple personalities” as I describe them, would line up with the DSM. So my purpose in babbling about this isn’t to highlight the fact that these dichotomies occurs but rather to illuminate the notion of whether or not these personalities are congruent with a center core. And, to increase one’s awareness of what degree to which the balance of their presence or absence in the bulk of your day is satisfying to you.

I remember a time a few years ago that I found myself spending what seemed like an awkward amount of time in one of those cheap import jewelry shops. It seemed awkward in that I seemed to have a sudden need to buy a bunch of “bling” when I’m not really a bling kind of girl. Yet it seemed at the time, imperative that I get the junk so I went with the impulse. Upon further reflection, what I realized is that my mommy self had begun to obliterate my girl self. At that point in time, my boys were moving out of toddler stage to becoming, well… boys.  Meaning, there was a sudden surge of testosterone in my household, leaving very little hint of anything girlie around and I was feeling the absence. If I had figured out this need a little earlier I would probably have saved a few dollars and some closet space.

Life can often take twists and turns that result in some of our parts being thrown around carelessly, and in some cases, they are even sadly discarded. And the result can range from mildly disturbing to near terror. I’ve met people who were knee deep in relationships with others before they woke up and upon further reflection, realized that they had nearly suffocated some part of themselves at the first encounter.

Fortunately, our parts tend to remain intact—even when we try our hardest to obliterate them in the service of others. Almost like weeds that pop up through the cracks in the sidewalk, they yearn toward the light to be known to us. And they try to get our attention through behavior.

The next time you find yourself engaging in behavior that doesn’t seem to make sense to you, its time to ask the question “what part of me is trying to find a voice.” But it’s probably a good idea to have that conversation with yourself when others aren’t around. 😉

 

 

Fleeting emotions

I want to share an insight this week. Actually it’s a revisiting of a lesson I learned several years ago when my first son Alex was a baby. Most mornings Alex would wake around 4 or 5 and I would pick him up from his crib, bring him to our bed and nurse him back to sleep.

On one such morning, I went through the same routine not unlike so many others. What was different however, is what happened next. As Alex snuggled up to his father, I lay there watching the two of them and became overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I looked at them both slumbering and thought “This is the most perfect moment of my life! I have everything I could ever imagine right in front of me!” And so I watched. And I watched trying to soak up all of this perfect joy.

And that lasted about 15 seconds.

After that, I got up and went on with my day a little dumbfounded as to why the sensation of reaching nirvana seemed to occupy my attention span for only about 15 seconds before becoming “over” it. Well, not over it exactly, as I still remember it very clearly. That said, it wasn’t something that entranced me to the point of choosing to gaze on.

So the lesson I learned was this. Emotions; all emotions, positive or negative rarely, if ever seem to have the power we ascribe to them. We are simply incapable of sustaining them. That is both the bad news (when we want it to last) and the good news (when we fear they will overwhelm or destroy us).   I suppose this coping mechanism is built in to our species DNA for survival the same as needing to pee is.

The reminder lesson came this past week with child number two. Andrew was at cello camp in Bloomington. It was his first time away from home and the camp lasted two weeks. Okay, it was my first time away from Andrew that long and it was excruciating for me. When I went up to visit, he stayed at the hotel with me instead of the dorm. So this idea I’m about to try and describe to you happened a couple of times over that visit.

I noticed when I first got to hug him, I hugged really hard. There is that sensation when you first make contact, that is new and fresh and seems to touch parts inside of you; even parts that aren’t making physical contact with the other person like warmth in your toes or joy in your heart. But it dissipates quickly. And if you try to hug harder or longer, the feeling doesn’t increase. Then, I noticed at other times, when I went to kiss him that, if I pressed my lips against his cheek the same thing occurred. The “reward” came in the first few seconds of the kiss. After that, pressing harder or longer just seemed weird or mechanical, like lip skin touching face skin, rather than the adoration of a kiss.

So I came away reminded again of the gap between our desire for wonderful things to last forever and the disappointing reality that they don’t, or maybe “can’t” is a better term. But like most things, the disappointment comes from expectation and ignorance rather than the events themselves.

If we could feel that level of joy all of the time, would it really mean the same to us? Remember the wisdom of the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial that tugged at our heart strings? The commercial featured a song by the group Passenger, “Let Her Go”. While it played, a man ultimately feels such joy reuniting with his horse after the two had been separated for a time. It was the absence that made his heart grow fonder.

The following excerpt from the lyrics are relevant:

Well, you only need the light when it’s burning low, Only miss the sun when it starts to snow, Staring at the bottom of your glass Hoping one day you’ll make a dream last But dreams come slow, and they go so fast

If we don’t expect the good to last forever, and can instead, appreciate it for what it is in the moment, we can greatly reduce our disappointment. And the flipside is that if we can remember that pain too, will not last, we can greatly reduce our fear.

How about practicing this week a willingness to let feelings come and go naturally without having to either hold on tightly or push them away.

I’d love to hear your stories about your experiences in this area.

 

 

 

Shhh I can hear you

Shhhh I can hear you.

My mother wore hearing aids. She got them when she was about 80. Her hair didn’t turn gray until about age 50. My hair started streaking at about 28. And my hearing started to slip a couple of years ago.

I was in good company. My sister doesn’t hear well,  nor does one of my brothers. But they are older than I am. A couple of years ago one of my nieces had to have surgery on an ear that she was having trouble hearing out of. And did I mention that I had an aunt and an uncle who were born deaf? There was no blasting of the jambox. I come by hearing problems honestly.

I was becoming painfully aware over the past year that I was often asking people to people to repeat themselves. “Darn mumblers”, I would tell myself. The TV had to be up extra loud to accommodate me. “Too much noise in the house”, I would say. I started to notice people who wore hearing aids. I wondered what it was like, trying to get used to the idea for some day when I would need them. You know, when I got older.

At Easter I sat with a group of women and noticed that I was really not hearing the conversation. I kind of checked out and smiled as if I was hearing, but just didn’t think what they were saying was important enough to chime in. Perhaps it might have been, if I had heard them.

And a few weeks ago, I realized in a session that not only had I not heard something someone had said, but I had just gone on as if I had. And an alarm bell started ringing in my head. I heard that: Loud and clear.

I went for a hearing test and came home wearing hearing aids the same day. The first thing I noticed is that I could hear. I could actually hear things I didn’t even realize I had missed. I had become so used to not hearing things, that I no longer knew they were there. The squeak of my shoe against the break pedal of the car. The rustling of a wrapper coming off of a piece of gum. The sound of my own chewing. Life is not incomplete if one can’t hear their own chewing, but there are other experiences of the same sound level that are awfully nice to be able to hear and I wasn’t aware of them until I got the aids.

The second thing I noticed as that… no one seemed to notice. No one began looking at me like I was either a Martian or in need of a handicap sticker for my car. I suspect if anyone who knows me was looking at me, it was only because they noticed for the first time in a long time that I wasn’t asking them to repeat themselves.

My husband is happy about the hearing aids because he no longer has to yell to me from upstairs, when I’m one room away from the kitchen that, the oven timer has been going off for 5 minutes. My kids are a little less thrilled because I’m now asking THEM to turn their electronics down a notch or 6. My youngest son asked me if I feel like an old person now. I told him I feel “older”, but I’m not quite ready to claim the title of old person. He said old people where hearing aids and glasses. I reminded him that sometimes young people do as well.

The only negative feeling I have at this point, is the regret that I didn’t do it sooner. I’ve been missing out on a lot of sound because my vanity got in the way. And the real irony is that once I put them on, the vanity piece disappeared as quickly as the speed of sound. It just didn’t matter.

Most people know the story of the boiling frog. It’s of course, the metaphor of how we often get injured by situations gradually because we fail either to notice changes as they occur, or fail to respond to them if we do notice. The latter is what I did with my need to hear better because I tried to compensate for my decreased ability to hear.

Are there any situations in your life where the water is getting hotter, or the sound is getting lower and you are not responding with the appropriate actions?   What are you willing to lose and what holds you back from taking care of what you need?

 

 

 

 

Let’s be honest

I’ve referred to a book before called Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. It’s an old book that I still highly recommend. While the exercise the authors prescribe is annoying and tedious, it is incredibly illuminating. It will make you take a hard look at how you spend your money. I mean really spend it, rather than how you think you do and equally useful, how much of your life are you giving up to support those expenditures.

I did the exercise formally a number of years ago. I was divorced, going to and paying for school. I discovered that I was spending about $2400 per year on Starbucks. Yes $2400 American dollars; that was not a typo.

Now, truth be told, I’m still spending that on Starbucks. In fact, now that I’ve bred a couple of little green label addicts in my own home, the dollars may be a little higher. But here is the difference: I can actually afford to spend that now. Starbucks is about the last known major vice for me and I have no plans of giving it up soon-Although there have been a few windows of time in recent years when for a number of reasons, I’ve done without it for a few weeks or months at a time.

In my earlier life, I really didn’t think about what it was costing me. I only saw the 4.00 expense in the moment and thought it wasn’t “that bad.”

But this post isn’t about money or Starbucks. It’s another about time. From recent posts you can conclude I am feeling pressured about the lack of enough time in my day, as I’m confident, many of you are as well. So I started using the Robin and Dominguez approach to look at how I was spending time.

I have been aware for a while now that email is a major drain on me. Along the way I had subscribed to a number of crafting blogs. I’ve since eliminated all but one. I’ve also become far more efficient with using my Junk mail folder. I can now scan in a few seconds what used to eat up minutes at a time in my day. I’ve started planning meals a month in advance to try and reduce both shopping time and the waste that comes from a lack of planning ahead. But this is the interesting find for me:

There is a little word game app on my phone. While I did succumb to candy crush back in the day- I escaped at a much faster rate than most do. I’m generally not that susceptible to game apps in general. But word games can hook me. I used to play 7 little words. It took about 3 minutes of my day to do the daily puzzle and I was done. I learned a lot of words that way. It was under control- I was content.

And then along came Word Scramble.

It takes only 2 minutes for a round of Word Scramble. I started playing it while I was in line waiting for something. Then I started playing it at night just before drifting off to sleep. Then I started playing it…. Well you get the picture.

One feature of the game is “stats”. So I recently looked up my stats. I don’t know how long I’ve been playing Word scramble, but I know that I’ve played nearly 1200 rounds. I’ll do the math for you- that equals 40 hours. Sure, it’s only 2 minutes a time but its 40 hours of my life gone. Just like a measly 4.00 cup of coffee turns in to 2400.

And this is how a life gets away from us. It’s easy to see the big things that come into our world. They come with a large announcement and a party. But it’s the accumulation of all the little waves that take us further and further adrift into a sea of chaos.

How about taking some time this week to look at the little ways that you may be unproductively losing time. If, like my Starbucks decision, you are okay with the consequence and you know where it fits- enjoy. On the other hand, if it is causing you to feel like it wasn’t worth what you spent, consider a change.

 

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

 

I had an unexpected complication in my first pregnancy. What started out as a nagging backache in my 11th week turned into a pinched nerve. I was getting ready for work when the pain literally dropped me to the ground. I somehow hobbled to the bed where I called my husband, barely able to speak and ended up going to the hospital by ambulance. I stayed in the hospital for 3 days while they tried to figure out what to do with me. Eventually a pain management doc started me on steroid injections which lasted several weeks outpatient.

In the first two weeks after the hospital the pain was really intense. I never slept more than 2 hours at a time. Frustrated one night I asked my husband “What if it’s like this the whole time?” He replied “Then it will be like this the whole time.” It was as if I expected him to come with an different answer because I wanted one. On another night in a sleep deprived stupor I exclaimed “I’m an American! This can’t be happening to me!” Brilliant- I guess only 3rd world countries are expected to have pain. Eventually the pain subsided. I was lucky.

A few years ago I met a young woman who had chronic headaches. I don’t mean take two aspirins and call me in the morning kind of headache. Rather, they were headaches that left her debilitated. Any kind of fluorescent lighting or screen light from electronics caused her considerable pain. She was forced to drop out of school.   After a couple of years she began to have some success with a variety of new treatments. It was hard to find hope when no one understood the cause much less the cure.

More recently I met Joyce who came to see me at the suggestion of her physician. Joyce has been coping with an excruciating pain which, at its peak left her housebound. She has tried every treatment she can find, both traditional and non-traditional. For the past several months Joyce has received relief through a medication intervention that has made the pain bearable, but it is far from gone.

Unlike my own experience of believing that if I could just use my national status or reason my way out of pain, Joyce, a very spiritual woman says that the pain has only strengthened her relationship with God. It has been educational, enlightening and frankly, beautiful to watch Joyce process her experience.   While it has been a journey for her, I will fast forward to the present resolution in the interest of brevity for this post. To state it succinctly, Joyce has moved from praying for the pain to be gone, to praying for the strength to use the pain as a tool to do whatever it is that God would like her to do in this world. Joyce has expressed that this reframe has enabled her to feel more empowered and less victimized by her circumstances.

I’m fairly confident that no one will read this post and hold up their hand to say “give me some pain please so I can grown stronger.” I think Joyce would really appreciate a vacation from her pain so she could get a good nights sleep that she hasn’t had in a very long time. But like many things in life, we don’t choose circumstances or pain that comes at us. Sometimes we do, but often we don’t. What we can choose is what we will do with it when it arrives.

I chose to become indignant. My first client chose to be focused on searching for a cure. Joyce tried both of those routes, but settled on a third posture. To find a way to keep living even with her pain, but even more importantly, to see it as purpose rather than ­­­­­persecution.

There is a wonderful little book called “Intoxicated by My Illness by Anatole Broyard. After learning he had terminal cancer, Broyard decided to use the metaphor of drunk as a way to describe how his illness afforded him the opportunity to fully live with whatever time he had left, without any inhibition or prohibition. In essence, he became “intoxicated” by the illness allowing him to do and experience every ounce of life in his remaining time. Broyard’s wife had to finish the book for her husband as he passed prior to its completion.

As author, Geneen Roth writes “Real people feel some kind of pain every day of their life. Living hurts, dying hurts.” And the Buddha says “Pain is inevitable, suffering is extra.” Which will you choose when pain, physical or psychological knocks at your door?