Tag Archives: thoughtfulness

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Now that I can hear, can you?

First, another thanks and round of applause to the wonderful comments I’ve received the past couple of weeks.  My readers are incredibly awesome and insightful people!  Not everyone posts their comments publicly- but they are all fantastic!

I learned a new word this week. I mean really learned it instead of just having heard it before and tried using it in a sentence. The word is “ineffable”.

Maybe you already know what it means. The dictionary says “too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.

But I realize now that it is the word I haven’t been familiar with enough to describe the experiences people often share with me. A feeling, a condition, an experience so great or extreme that they find it difficult to capture in words.

In a blog a few weeks ago I tried to describe someone’s physical pain. This week someone described the tragedy of losing a loved one far more prematurely than expected. Others try to describe to me a fear of a situation looming, the dread of lingering past betrayal. Sometimes they try to describe a longing for something that seems out of reach, a lover or a child to name a few. For the record, the longing for chocolate is not ineffable. Rather, it is well documented by many including me.

My job is often an attempt to help people describe in words that which is indescribable. The goal is to help them feel understood, to share, if only for a few minutes that someone understands the weight of their burden. No one asks me to take the burden home with me, only to be heard and quite possibly to find a way to manage the feelings with a little more ease or at least grace.

I recall back when I worked in residential eating disorder treatment, the residents were often anxious around fat people. Some were disgusted, others literally terrified. It was as if, sitting next to someone fat put them in danger of catching the same. I find people’s reactions to intense feelings much the same. They grow impatient when listening to another, or worn down when they have to hear the same thing more than once. I believe this is most likely due to either not wanting to have to think about the same situation potentially occurring in their own lives like a contagion. Others may have a sense of inadequacy from not knowing how to respond appropriately. Of course, there are situations where we simply don’t care about the person or the subject, but these are not the ones I’m thinking about in this blog.

It is our human nature to want to be understood. Words; the construct of language is perhaps our best attempt to unite us. But what happens when words cause us more distance because of their inadequacy? What happens when the experience is ineffable?

Maybe the simple demonstration to not speak, but rather just to stay with another is an alternative. What might happen if we allow someone to describe something so ineffable to us and we don’t leave? What if we simply reached out our hand to theirs or put our arms around them. Maybe the best we can do is hand them a tissue. Don’t underestimate the value in simply being present with another who is in pain. Sometimes the value lies in the fact that they can see us sitting in our own discomfort and our willingness to stay as a model to help them tolerate something within themselves. Maybe it simply will make them feel less alone.

Someone recently introduced me to a video called “It’s not about the nail”. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s worth the 2 minutes or so watch. It’s another way of addressing the power of listening. And maybe, through the practice of listening to others with compassion, we will become more willing to do the same for ourselves.

 

and More Spring Cleaning

In my last blog I talked about spring cleaning. Hopefully you had a chance to either get started, or at least think about things that you hold on to for perhaps less productive reasons than is useful. In that same vein, I’d like you to take this thought process a step further and think about the clutter more broadly. Cleaning out closets is useful in making more room, either to find stuff, or for different stuff. I’d like to propose that there are other ways that our lives can get significantly cluttered and could use attention. The two that come to mind most quickly for me (from personal and professional experience) are time wasters and unproductive relationships.

The easy bandwagon to jump on is electronic drains. Whether it’s a night lost to Facebook, Pinterest, others social networks, video games or merely web surfing, people can lose a lot of time and receive little if anything back for their time. But those are obvious. What is more subtle, yet equally if not more insidious, are the things we spend time on that, fail to add real value to our lives, and rather, suck away precious time. What makes these items harder to identify is that it usually isn’t the “task” that identifies it as a problem, but rather the way we feel about the task. For example, if I made pasta from scratch because I loved doing so, I was putting healthier options on my table, saving money, my family felt valued when I did so, or any one of these reasons, then it might be time consuming, but there is a payoff. If on the other hand, I made fresh pasta from scratch for my toddler, who was going to eat 3 bites, and my husband could care less about the quality difference, then I should question whether or not this was a good use of time and energy. I’m not sure this is the best example, but I’m pretty sure that we all engage in some pretty questionable activities, and often they have a smell of “perfectionism” to them.

The other category of relationships is something near and dear to my heart. I’ve noticed that a number of my relationships have changed over the past few years and it has largely been my own doing. I’m not feeling angry, but rather more willing to let people go then I once was. That at times, has also included some pretty terrific people. But at the end of the day I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that every day is limited by time, as is the entirety of my life. Out of that awareness, I accept the responsibility and the opportunity to make the most of what is available to me. So, terrific or not, I’m more willing to let people go in favor of spending the time with either other people or activities that are helping me to create the best experience of this thing I call my life.

Personally, I would tell you that if someone had said the paragraph above to me 10 years ago, I would have thought that person to be cold, friendless and void of the capacity to have meaningful relationships. So please, don’t think as a result of one reading, I would expect anyone to make such a radical change. It has been a work in progress and still continues for me. But that said, I find that the quality of relationships I do keep, continues to improve, because I come to them more available, more willing to honor the work of maintaining them. It’s because I know they are mutual, and with less resentment. In turn, I feel more rewarded and valued by the people in those relationships, as well.

I hope you’ll take another look at clutter in your life and see if there are mental closets that need a little combing through as well.

 

Sand Castles

Between the reports on the recent tragedy in France, and some personal stories of loss that I’ve recently heard, I am again reminded of the fragility of life. Most of us walkabout our everyday lives with the naïve sense that tomorrow will come and go according to plan. We hear about an event where that was not the case for someone else and we stop, give pause, and pick up right where we left off.

There is certainly nothing wrong with this. It’s what helps us get through the day. One of my favorite comedians Karen Mills has a funny bit about the absurdity of not taking that approach. Mills said she tried once to take Oprah’s advice and live every day like it was her last. The problem was it made her family too depressed because she ended every phone call with a dramatic “Goodbye, I’ll miss you”.

So how do we instead, find the balance between telling everyone goodbye as if it is the last time, and not living with such obtuseness that life won’t last forever? I appreciate the following quote from Pema Chodron:

“We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.”

Not only is the quote beautiful, but instructive. Chodron suggests that we should play to our fullest ability, but not cling. These are the thoughts I try to remember when I crab about the shoes my boys leave in the foyer or the mud on the carpet left behind by the dog. It doesn’t always make me feel 100% better, but it does make me at least think. And when I force myself to think about the value I place over one set of my choices (children and a dog) over a things that I have (a clean or not clean house) then, I am by definition, engaging in the act of mindfulness. Regardless of what I ultimately choose, it is more likely done from the position of self- choice rather than numb reaction. I can only hope that when it is time for my sand castle to wash back into the sea, there will be a comfort in knowing I built it myself, it was the best castle I could have built, and I enjoyed it fully.

 

Who is the chief architect of your sand castle? Do you recognize the work? Are you enjoying it?

 

 

Nice guys and gals just finish

 

 

 

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f you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may remember that I had a different career prior to becoming a therapist. The job efficiency was largely measured by a matrix of conditions, all of which could be measured by percentages. Each month one of us was awarded darling of the month for coming the closest to our numbers. At the end of the year, the person with the best success was darling of the year.

I think I won one month. It probably had little to do with my effort, and more to do with good fortune that something in my department had become a high demand item that was short lived, and thus not repeated in another month. And this was often the case for most of us in the department. Some were harder workers and received a little more prestige, and others got lucky from time to time as I had. But the interesting part of this for me is the progress of my friend and co-worker, Julie.

Julie, who was smart and a very hard and conscientious worker, never won her 15 minutes of fame at the monthly meeting. She was always a runner-up, but never the queen. And so, all of us were shocked, as Julie, when the coveted Distributor of the year title was bestowed upon her. At first, all of us scratched our heads and then we realized, while she didn’t have peaks… she also didn’t have valleys and therefore, her numbers averaged out to a much higher total than did anyone else’s.   This story isn’t too far off from the tortoise and the hare.

I often think of this memory when I’m at a place in life trying to figure out my own goals and how much I should be achieving at any given moment. In my youth, I was very much the hare- rushing to get as much done as I could. I ran a perpetual race in search of affirmation for my competence and validity. But the older I get, the more I realize the need for a steady pace that is focused not on recognition, but on dependability, consistency and the value of finishing the race in a comfortable position. Comfortable enough, to not be so exhausted, that you can’t enjoy the sense of accomplishment.

Sometimes I have patients who come to therapy expecting that every session will produce an “aha moment” for them. I can appreciate their wish.   Therapy is expensive financially and emotionally. But the aha moments are not actually what therapy is about, any more than vacations are what life is about. Vacations are special because they don’t happen every day. They need everyday life around them in order to stand out. The relationship built in therapy, session to session, is the context needed in order to make an aha moment useful.

But I digress, because this post is more directed at life in general than it is therapy specific. How many people long to be the YouTube discovered star? How many people are playing the lottery? How many people are searching for the latest fashion, the biggest house. How many people stood in line to get one of the first new iphones? The cost of scurrying to be the best is dangerously lethal, yet coveted and promoted in our culture.

When is the last time you saw more than a cursory news story about a little old woman who dies with a million dollars in the bank because she saved and lived a frugal life? Or about the couple who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary still living happily together, working as best as they can to take care of each other? Or the millions of people in middle America who go to work every day, pay their bills and tend to their responsibility? It’s not exciting news, but its still the standard that many of us could well consider ourselves lucky and fulfilled if we can achieve. It’s also doable and doesn’t require the exhaustive push of trying to be the one who stands out for 15 minutes of fame. Nor is it likely to cause the life of profound disappointment if it doesn’t result in those 15 minutes.

It’s easy though to blame society. What’s harder to remember is that we are society- you and me. We have the choice every day to let mass opinion impact us, or make decisions, one person at a time that impacts society. But be patient, because it takes longer than 15 minutes. And chances are, no one will remember to cite you with the credit.

 

 

 

Truth or Story

 

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There is a well circulated story that takes place on a subway. It involves a man sitting, seemingly oblivious to onlookers who watch his young child act repeatedly obnoxious to other passengers. Finally, one annoyed passenger says to the father “Mister, your child is out of control, can you attend to him”. The man looks up as if awakened from a stupor and says “Oh I’m sorry, we just came from the hospital where we lost my wife; the boy’s mother. I guess he is probably reacting to that the only way he knows how.”

 

No one is to blame in the story. The passengers have a right to be bothered by the child’s behavior. Yet, once they put his behavior in the context of a larger story, they are most likely willing to develop a stance of compassion rather than judgment. Supposedly, Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s television host, carried a quote from a social worker in his wallet. It said “Frankly there isn’t anyone you can’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”

 

We all have our stories. But that means that so does everyone else. People can’t know that we are cranky because we are experiencing loss of someone important to us, crisis in our financial lives, are have recently learned of a downturn in our health. They can only see the outward symptoms, a shortness in our tone, a snarl in our voice or our seeming indifference when they speak to us. And its similarly difficult for us at times to find consideration for another’s valid story underneath their poor behavior towards us.

But perhaps the most effective tool is not actually trying to develop a better moral stance, but rather to take a selfish approach. Perhaps instead of trying harder to be a better person who will listen to others, it may be more useful to listen to yourself and work from there outward. Work on why you feel resistant. Work on why you feel the need to be penetrated by another’s foul mood. Work on the shortfall of staying true to yourself and your own thoughts when someone else is ranting around you.

Is it possible to stay in a good mood when someone else is not? Is it necessary to put people behaving in a certain way in a neatly packaged category in your mind so you can dismiss them as not worthy of your time? Is it easier to say “that person is uneducated or a b#@% or associated with the political party you despise”, so you can eliminate them from your attention? Focus on what affect you perceive them to be having on you and see if you can learn something about an area that may be causing you fears you are not aware of. Fears that may be directing some of your own behavior.

 

 

 

 

 

Which Way is North?

 

 

 

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This morning I had to run some errands before work. I tried to leave myself enough time. But I was day dreaming and I, unfortunately, took a wrong turn. I was actually on a familiar road, but that road had nothing in common with my first destination. However, since it was familiar, I drove pretty far down the path before I woke up and realized I had to turn around.

But turn around is what I did. It cost me enough time that I cut it close getting my tasks done while still arriving at work on time.

This is similar to the feeling I have when people tell me about their life not being on the right path. The dilemma is that, often they are afraid to turn around and take another direction. The road they are on may look familiar, so they stay, even when they know it won’t lead them to where they ultimately hope to go. They may stay the course because they feel safe knowing which twists and turns lie ahead. Another thing that keeps people stuck is the feeling that sometimes it may feel like it’s too late to turn around. They’ve lost too much time. So they concede to live the remainder of their life going where they don’t really want to go, rather than risk ending up some place else in between.

My first career illustrates this challenge. I fell into a line of work and then kept doing it because it fulfilled financial needs. I hated it, and knew my growth was pretty limited, but taking another path meant I had to get an education. For awhile, that seemed unsurmountable. I shudder now to think how miserable I would have remained, had I not turned around and gone in another direction. Now I love my job and have for 23 years.

When I contemplated a divorce in my first marriage I was scared of the unknown. I remember thinking what if I leave in hopes of something more and end up with everything less. I recall a friend who said to me , “It’s true, that if you leave, you might not get what you want. But if you stay, you guarantee that you won’t.” That advice helped me make the decision and I started down a new path.

Please be sure that as I describe these two major turning points in my own life, neither of them landed me on a shiny road made of gold with clear painted signs and beautiful flowers along the perimeters. Sometimes my car stalled, I got lost, it rained, sleeted and snowed on my journey. But each new day, the sun rose and I resumed my travel. I had to learn to remember that the sun is still present even when I can’t see it through the clouds.

One of the things that helps a traveler is having a good map. So often, we forget to ask ourselves at the start of our journey, where is it we really want to go. Many of us end up going where others suggest. Perhaps well meaning others, but in the end, no one can really know where each of us needs to go better than we will. It’s personal. The answer needs to come from within.

Another useful tool is the ability to stop and ask for directions. Though no two people will experience the same journey in an identical way, others can still help you seek out and recognize milestones.   They can let you know at least some of the pitfalls ahead to expect, or caution you about detours or construction. In non metaphor terms, this can mean someone with a lot of marriage experience teaching you that marriage happiness ebbs and flows. Another example is a career mentor who might tell you the pros and cons about a vocation with honesty.

But probably the most useful tool for a traveler is willingness . You have to be willing to stay awake at the wheel and not daydream like I did on my morning adventure. And in that state of attentiveness, be willing to ask yourself if you are going where you want. And if the answer is no, be willing to turn around, no matter how much time you have invested.  Because even if you don’t ultimately end up there, at least you’ll know that you were headed towards your happiness, rather than going further away.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this entry. I’d love to hear your comments and I hope you’ll pass it on.   Until net time- take good care.

 

Life below the surface

 

 

 

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I took a fairly hard stance when Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose. I tend to be somewhat unsympathetic about stars and drugs. And yet,  I find myself with a mixed reaction to the death of Robin Williams. Actually, it seems incomplete to say the death. It’s more accurate to include the phrase suicide in the death of Robin Williams.

After prolific musical artist Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, Don McClean wrote his classic melody “American Pie”. The chorus lyrics include “the day the music died”.   Given the widespread media coverage on Williams, it seems August 11 is a day many people will associate as the one the laughter died. Although I personally sometimes failed to appreciate his comedic talent, Robin Williams was truly a genius. He was also an outstanding dramatic actor. I wrote a post a while back that I will publish at a later date about his role in Good Will Hunting.

Robin Williams was also a man. One I know little about, other than what he puts in the public eye for us to interpret. He was vocal about his chemical dependence and struggles with depression. And despite what he now has taken away from us to enjoy, the reality is he never owed it to us. It wasn’t ours to keep.

Depression is a complicated thing that we sometimes over simplify. Many people use the word with an almost flippant regard. “Oh that was a depressing movie”. Or, “ I’m so depressed about this”. People that suffer from migraines understand there is an enormous difference between a headache and a migraine. People who have experienced clinical depression understand it is not like the feeling of being “bummed out” or sad.

I was a therapist treating “depression” for a number of years before I fully understood what it was. Or at least my version of it. I have had loss and less than optimal times in my life and always managed to “pick myself up by the boot straps” and move along. Until my 2nd pregnancy that is. I attributed my mood shift to my hormonal havoc, but I experienced a full fledged clinical depression. My intellectual functioning and emotional state simply would not line up. I was happy to be pregnant. I was relieved to be pregnant after nearly a year of trying. But I found it impossible to feel joy, or much of anything beyond a jagged numbness. Fortunately for me, the depression lifted almost immediately after giving birth.

Most of what I recall was the inability to feel motivated to do much of anything. Every action seemed labored and unworthy of the effort it required. The promised payoffs provided little to no incentive. Even my beautiful toddler at the time could not propel me to be excited about anything.

I once had a client who attempted suicide. Her description included a firm awareness that she would take her life at the end of a particular evening. She had dinner with a friend, and reported that, all the while she carried on a normal conversation, she was calmly thinking in her own head “only ___more hours until I kill myself”.

Depression hijacks your brain. The things you want to think, the things others tell you to think don’t have much impact. It’s kind of like the flight attendant yelling at the hijacker “You know, if you just put down that gun and take your seat, we’ll all have a much more enjoyable flight”. The hijacker isn’t interested in what the flight attendant has to say.

Medication is kind of like an Air Marshal. It can step in with authority that none of the other passengers have the skills to use. But even medication doesn’t help everyone. Some hijackers are resistant to even Air Marshals.

Therapy? Yes it helps. But not just the therapy that takes place in someone’s office. Depressed people often find themselves curled up in an emotional ball protecting their vulnerability from the world. Yet, what they most need is to be touched by as many supporting structures as possible. Ironically, the thing they feel least like doing, “talking” is the most helpful during depression. And they need to be “doing”, even if it just begins as going through the motions. At very least, doing, keeps you from drowning in the sea of one’s own negative sense of hopelessness.

Doing allows for the world to be a little larger than the black hole of one’s own depressed mind. And similarly talking provides not only an unburdening, but also a way to feel some sense of another person’s non depressed energy to remember what it feels like, during times you feel zapped of vitality. It can also be a way to see one’s value as worth more than a depressed person might be able to conjure up on their own.

Part of the dilemma however, is that non depressed people don’t usually want to hang out for very long with depressed people. This is usually painfully obvious to the depressed. And so Instead of seeking contact, they are more likely to retreat behind a façade or to their private hell where they can suffer silently.

Being with a depressed person doesn’t require us to solve their problems. Nor, does it require us to take their problems on as our own. More often than not, it harkens us to just be there in that space with them for a few moments without judgment or insistence that they change. Think of it as providing just one glass of water on a long path for a weary traveler. You don’t have to be an endless fountain and quench all of their thirst, simply provide enough for that leg of the journey. The traveler may still elect to end their journey prematurely, but they will do so with the knowledge that someone tolerated them as they truly are before they leave.  Sometimes that is the most needed and effective gift we can provide to another human.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  I’d love to hear your comments.  If you found this helpful, please pass it on and suggest someone you know subscribe.  Until next time- Take Care

 

Ginger Blah Blah Blah

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The question is what are we hearing? We all have a tendency to hear the parts that make the most sense to us. We hear the parts that fit in the story we are writing for our lives at the time. This is true when we are having a dialogue with others by the motives we bring. It can also occur between the voices in our own head- the difference between what our eyes experience,  and what our ears hear.

 

Let’s say I really want my husband to take me to Europe this year.

Hubby: Guess what honey, I got my bonus this year. That means we’ll be able to put the new roof on comfortably without touching our savings.

Me: Or take that European vacation we’ve always wanted to

Hubby: I don’t think we can do both.

Me: You’re right, your bonus isn’t that big. We can just wait until next Spring to do the roof with your next bonus.

Hubby, well I was planning on doing the roof this year. I mean Europe isn’t really a necessity, and the roof is important for keeping our investment in the house solid.

Me: You never want to do what I want. I’m just not important to your list of priorities. I’m always last.

Now in case you’re wondering if this is about me, we actually have a new roof on our house and I don’t want to go to Europe. But in the example, the wife hears stuff that simply isn’t in the dialogue and doesn’t hear stuff that is. Unfortunately, if the husband’s motives are pure, he is potentially trying to show his wife her value by making smart money decisions and protecting their investment.

Here is another example:   If I’m writing a story about a great guy who is going to fall in love with me, take care of me forever and grow old with me in the rocking chairs on the porch, then my hearing filter goes like this:

Event                                                                                My filter tells me

He is drinking excessively                                            wow- he just likes to have fun.

He is working at McDonalds                                        he is so humble, titles aren’t what matter

He is yelling at his mom                                               he is a really emotional guy.

And this works the other way too- If my story is I’m a piece of crap and no one values me- my filter works like this:

Event:                                                                                         My filter:

Nancy invited me to go with her and her and         i’ m sure she felt like she had to because

her friends.                                                                                I was standing there

Ginger’s owner believes Ginger is hanging on his every word. Ginger on the other hand, is only hearing the parts that seem relevant to Ginger. And why? Because most likely, Ginger came to the exchange with a motive. In her case, get out of trouble, and get her owner to play fetch with her.

Are you aware of any motives you bring to conversations? If so, think about how they filter what you hear. If the conversations are ones that take place in your own head, think about how your pre-conceived ideas about yourself or what you are doing color what you hear back from yourself in the moment. To be a really good listener, means to be attuned to what the speaker is saying, or present in the moment of what you are observing without past judgment attached.

 

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Steven Covey

Plugged In

 

 

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In my last post I talked about how I discovered a great quote from Steve Jobs that was delivered by Ashton Kutcher. Sometimes guidance comes from unlikely places.

What is this guidance and what do I mean by it? Some people call it merely coincidence. Here is a funny little coincidence. While I was writing that last piece I didn’t even know a movie called “The Butterfly Effect” existed. Actually, I remembered the Rad Bradbury story from when I was a kid. When I shared it with my Brainiac husband a few years ago, he linked it to the term butterfly effect.   As I started writing this, I Googled “Butterfly Effect” to verify when the Bradbury piece was written. The first entry was the Butterfly Effect, a movie starring none other than Ashton Kutcher. Weird huh? But it ironically validated my point that Ashton wasn’t the source of the inspiration, only the messenger.

Have I lost you yet? I hope not, but I’ll bring it a little more into focus now. Simply stated, I think guidance is simply the way that God, or the Universe or something greater than us, collaboratively comes together in ways to help us grow. And that guidance can take many different forms. I don’t exactly have an operating manual of how this works. And I don’t have any illusion that there is a little man behind the curtain orchestrating every detail of our lives and experiences to achieve a pre-planned outcome. It’s just how my mind attempts to make sense of things that happen along the journey of this thing called life.

So now I’ll introduce you to another person’s theory and how it has shaped some of my thinking. Carolyn Myss is an interesting thinking. Some of her ideas persuade me into thinking she is a genius while others make me wonder if she needs to have a medication assessment. I’m going to just highlight one of her ideas for you now.

Think of yourself as having a certain amount of energy available to you renewable each day. Let’s just call it 100 units to make a point. You start the day with 100 units, but once you are up and about, it starts to get used. It gets used on whatever you spend energy on both mentally and physically. Things that are past, unresolved issues are big energy users. But so are places where you are heavily plugged into cultural ideals and expectations. These items very often require a lot of energy to maintain. The reason for this is simply that they are driven from the outside and so you have to align your inside in order to get them done.

Here is an example. Let’s take sisters Jo and Flo. Jo is a simple dresser. She goes for what is comfortable. She can usually be spotted in a pair of yoga pants and a t shirt. Her feet match with sneakers or slip on’s. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. She is clean, comfortable, and expends little energy trying to reach anyone else’s prescription of dress.

Flo, on the other hand, wants to keep up with the latest fashion. She first has to invest time to discover what that is, how to find it, afford it and finally wear it. If it is not the best for her figure type or age, she needs to adjust and compensate— more energy drain. And she has to spend more energy still monitoring the changes as someone else dictates the next signal to change.

So guidance works like this. It “comes to us” through the flow of our energy. It starts where we start in the day and gets up to the present moment. If it has to spend a lot of time circling around inside of you on a bunch of “stuck” places, it doesn’t find its way to the present moment that you are sitting in.

Again, here is the example.

Flo is driving down the street. She asks for a “sign” left or right at the next turn. Guidance comes, but spends its time wiggling around the places she has dispersed it within her psyche. By the time Flo hears a “little voice” or sees a sign, her car is already past the intersection. She has driven through concluding that no guidance was available. Although it actually was, she couldn’t hear it at the time she needed it because she no longer had enough energy/power operating in the present moment.

Something similar to this happened to me this week. I was working with a client of mine that I know really well. We were discussing her future as she is trying to decide what her next move will be in her career. In all likelihood a change in jobs will probably mean a location as well. I felt unusually blocked as I listened to her. In fact, I almost always have very strong and clear feelings when I work with her. I acknowledged this out loud to her during the session.

A few days later I was driving along and she popped into my brain. That in and of itself was not unusual as I generally process my sessions throughout the week in my head. But this time, I could see so clearly that what she needed was to slow down. I could so easily see how she was attempting to ask of herself, too many hard questions all at the same time.

I can’t say exactly what role my own energy delay played in this confusion. But I am sure that the session time we settled on was particularly late on Friday afternoon even though I had willingly agreed in advance. Sometimes that is not a problem, but it was on that day in retrospect. I was physically tired from the week and especially so on that day. My reduced energy level could not overcome her lack of clarity at that time.

So the take away from today is this. I am suggesting that guidance is available to us from sometimes unlikely places. But in order to access that guidance, it requires us to be aware of what we are plugging into, and how much it costs us to do so. We need to keep our energy (again, both physical and emotional) available in the here and now in order to access that guidance in the moment we need it.

 

Love me tender

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If you have been in a relationship for a while, this one is for you. If you are newly in a relationship, this one’s for you. And if you are not in a relationship but hope to be at some point, this one’s for you.

Boy meets girl. Boy is excited about girl. He thinks about calling her and imagines her on the other end of the line happy to hear from him. He feels good. They go out, have some fun. He goes home, thinks about her and feels good a while longer. Repeat, repeat, repeat.   He picks a daisy for her and brings it to her. She smiles. He feels good.   He leaves a little origami bird on her windshield. He tells her things he hasn’t told other people. He is a happy camper.

Girl meets boy. Girl is excited about boy. She waits hoping he will call, thinking about everything they talked about. He calls and she is happy. They go out, have some fun. Repeat Repeat repeat. She gets to know his preferences. She cooks a meal for him. He likes it. She is happy. She knits him a sweater, thinking with every stitch how happy she is to have found him.

Boy and girl get married. Its good. They have kids. Its better. And then… its not. He has more demands at work. Boy comes to girl looking for relief from the outside world. Girl has been taking care of kids all day. Taking care of boy is not the next thing on her agenda. She wishes he would notice her workload and help out. Frustrated, she zones out, maybe a glass of wine, and a couple of hours of bad TV. After a bit, he stops looking towards her and instead gets lost in hours of internet surfacing to relieve his stress. She wakes up from her numb and sees only that he ignores her every evening.

Inevitable? I don’t think so. Maybe they didn’t have a good foundation. Maybe they weren’t ready to get married. Maybe a bunch of things.

Or maybe something much more simple. When I work with couples, I frequently use an exercise that I borrow from Harville Hendrix who wrote “getting the love you want”. It goes simply like this:

This week do something nice for your partner. Even if you don’t like your partner very much. Do something that you know would make them happy.

Often people will initially resist because they don’t feel warm and fuzzy about the other guy (or gal). But the real target of the exercise is the doer-not the receiver. Because it works like this: when we think on our own about doing something for someone that we know is going to make him or her happy, we have a good feeling about OURSELVES during the anticipating. We like ourselves because we feel powerful and/or effective in knowing that we have the ability or creativity to impact another person in a meaningful way. We fast forward our mind to anticipate the other person enjoying our efforts. We make our selves feel good.

Unfortunately, many of us get settled into a relationship and we stop thinking about how we can make the other person feel good, and instead begin expecting them to meet our needs, usually leaving us disappointed, or even disillusioned. But the real tragedy is that we lose a vital part of ourselves in the process. It is the part of us that we ignited to make our own self feel good and effective. We blame the sense of loss on a shortfall of the other person. Some partners confuse “completing a checklist of tasks assigned by our partner to avoid getting in trouble” as trying to make the other happy. While that may avoid an argument, it does little to make us feel good about ourselves, because there is no “original thought from within to promote feeling good about our own nature—- except compliance which doesn’t have much gusto.

Let me make the argument another way. When we have a new baby (or a puppy), we love it immediately. It hasn’t yet done anything to deserve that love except show up. We don’t really know its personality or potential yet, but we bestow good feelings on to it. We voluntarily make a huge deposit into an emotional bank account that, has their name on the title, and see them as rich—- even though its with our emotional money.

So, if you are a boy, or a girl who isn’t feeling quite so yummy about your relationship, I want to challenge you. When is the last time that you made a deposit in the bank of your partner? Not for his or her benefit, but so that you can feel rich yourself? That’s what you did in the beginning. When our boy made the origami bird, he imagined himself as effective and it felt good. When our girl knitted the sweater she felt significant to another person, long before he knew the sweater existed, or she saw it worn. They weren’t waiting for the thank you certificate to arrive before the feeling good started. We have the capacity within us to feel good about ourselves and our connection to another, long before the receiver of our efforts acknowledges them. In fact, their acknowledgment is only icing on the cake. Don’t make it the cake or the reason to do something.

If you are still new in a relationship or aren’t yet in one, then consider this for future reference. There is a saying “a smart man knows that the things it took to get a woman, are the same ones needed to keep her”. I would suggest that smart partners know that the part of yourself you engaged and enjoyed when you begin a meaningful relationship needs to be nurtured by you throughout the relationship if you want to continue feeling satisfied. That responsibility remains with you, not your partner.

 

 

 

 

Run to Nebraska

I used to love watching movies, but since having my kids, I haven’t seen many that aren’t animated.  It’s hard for me to justify in my mind the time to just sit still for two hours when there are a million other things I could be doing.  But this weekend I indulged in the movie Nebraska.  When I saw the academy award lists, the description intrigued me.  I had not spoken with anyone who saw the movie, so I had no recommendation to watch.

Let me start by saying I LOVED this movie.  I watched it by myself (while making cards).  I fully intend to watch it again and get my husband to watch it with me.   But this post is less about a movie review and more about why I loved it and who I think would also enjoy watching the film if you haven’t seen it already.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but it’s basically about a man who decides to take his father on a long road trip to claim a sweepstakes prize.  Along the way they stop in the town where they used to live, and where relatives still live.  Everyone in the town has some sort of reaction to the man and son.  The father is also suffering from some dementia and is an alcoholic.    But the real essence of the movie for me is the relationship between the son and the father.  While dad is looking for his sweepstakes earnings, the son is looking for a way to love his father and in the end is clearly successful.

At the start of the movie the son seems to be operating from a scared child part of himself.  He wants to do the right thing, but he really doesn’t know what the right thing is.  He is lost, and reactive.  But he works towards finding his courage by taking a leap of faith, even when others tell him that, doing so is a stupid idea.  His character develops throughout the film, and clearly by the end he has become a man.  He responds to his father actively out of a sense of love and generosity.  There was for me, such a confident sense of him operating out of pure and selfless love.  Love for his father, love for himself of knowing he was doing the right thing at the right time.  And in so many ways, I suspect it was the first time the father ever truly experienced it, but its highly unlikely his father really absorbed the effort.  The best part is, that didn’t matter- the son still did it.   He ended the story with being able to see his father as a dignified man, rather than a pitiful drunk.  Talk about the power to create our own reality.

While the circumstances are not remotely the same, watching the film reminded me of my last day with my own mother.  I knew she was days if not hours (as it turned out to be) away from death.  That morning when I went to be with her she had not eaten any of her breakfast.  I pulled out some chocolate and said in a singsong voice like one does with a child “I have chocolate”.  I remember still how her face lit up like someone had just given her a magnificent gift.   In truth, she could only nibble on a little bite.  But for a brief moment, she and I were able to bond in a sense that the world was exactly as it should be and all was well.  Sometimes, that is the most magnificent gift we can give to another person.

Don’t underestimate the power that you just being where you are at any particular moment might provide for another person walking the earth.  You might think you just held the door open while the person walking through sees that someone finally noticed they needed help.  You might think you’re just chatting about the weather, and the other person felt invisible until that moment.  I realize this probably sounds trivial.  But remember, I have the experience of listening to the person who describes to me feeling unseen, unheard, undervalued.  I hear the stories of people who tell me what it is like when they receive a kindness, even from a stranger and how it impacts their world.  So my observations are not merely a Pollyanna wish of what I think could happen in the world.  They are informed by years of sitting in the same chair.  And if just a random act has power, think of how much more powerful you are by actively reaching out.

 

“We are treasure chests with more jewels inside than we can imagine.”
? Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha