Finding What You Didn’t Lose

February 23, 2017

Finding What You Didn’t Lose

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.
When someone deeply listens to you,
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind’s eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!
When someone deeply listens to you,
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

– John Fox

 

How to Build an Unbreakable Human: An Open Letter to My Bully

November 16, 2016

Dear Bully,

You tried to break me. Thankfully resilient people are hard to break. They get knocked down just like everyone else, but have a tendency to soldier on – more often than not – a little bit stronger than before. I’m not saying it’s been easy. Fear tactics work for a reason.

It helps to have an ace up the sleeve. Mine is in the form of my young son whom I regularly teach to defend against bullying. So despite the desire to slash your tires, I knew I had to find a healthier way to persevere if I’m asking him to do the same.

The thing is, suffering is inevitable. Why you force it, I’ll never know. There seems to be enough to go around in this world already. What I do know is that from pain can come wisdom and from suffering can come strength.

I also believe that we come by our way of being in the world honestly, as our “best strategy” to meet the challenges of life. You learned to play on the defense. I suspect you’ve been hurt one too many times so you come out swinging, expecting the worst from people. I’m sorry for that, but it’s not a reason to torment others.

Resilience is a skill that, more often than not, is built through enduring hardship. When practiced, it helps buffer life’s challenges and enables us to live with greater purpose and joy. When I heard you bought the house next door, I saw an opportunity (tinged with an uncomfortable amount of irony) to model for my son just how to build more of this precious quality.

Breathing down my dark thoughts, I turned to my little boy and said, “What do you say we cut the prettiest flowers from our garden and go welcome our new neighbor?”

He knew the pain you caused me over the year and with the pureness of heart that only a child can posses, happily agreed to the task. In that moment, it was no longer clear who was teaching whom. His readiness to forgive reminded me of how much we sacrifice on our way to maturity. Imagine how different the world would be if we all treated each other with that same degree of kindness?

Walking over to your house, the old conditioned fear returned. Am I stirring up more trouble? Will she see this as subterfuge? I stopped and was about to turn around until I looked down at my son, walking happily with our makeshift bouquet. I realized it doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what he thinks.

To be ruled by love instead of hate is the last of the human freedoms and I’ll be damned before I let you take that away. I’m teaching my son not to cower in fear but to rise strong in the face of doubt and uncertainty. The following tips can also be helpful in building the resilient qualities of an unbreakable human being:

Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Assisting others in their time of need also helps.

Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting what cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can.

Focus on what matters. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”

Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching, wishing they would just go away or collapsing in hopelessness.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength (even while feeling vulnerable), increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.

Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.

Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

In peace and health,

Your Neighbor

 

 

 

Where Is Our Anger?

October 9, 2016

The language around Donald Trump’s behavior is exhausting. He’s a sexual predator who represents a larger number of our population than we want to admit. Chances are we all know someone, or have been on the receiving end of unwanted, sexual contact and for some reason it’s being talked about like “locker room banter.”

Humans are meaning makers and we learn who we are in relationship. When a strong emotional response is coupled with a traumatic experience, it sears a message into the brain. During such times, it is normal for the limbic system to temporarily drives thoughts and beliefs into the nonverbal realm. The problem is that these ideas get lodged without question and go on to unconsciously control our way of being in the world.

While the rate of sexual assault and rape has thankfully fallen 74% since 1993, every two minutes someone is still being sexually assaulted in this country. In fact:

The statistics are vital for a number of reasons. Most importantly, they tell the unspoken story of the prevalence of sexual violence in our society. So instead of arguing over points in the polls, we need to be asking ourselves why Mr. Trump’s behavior isn’t more galling. Where is our anger?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the detrimental effects sexual violence has on the development of one’s identity. What we need to understand is how often this is happening and find the courage to support one another through the process of rewriting our personal narratives to accurately reflect the whole story.

 

Statistics courtesy of RAINN

Mirror of Humanity

October 6, 2016

Our humanity is the most unpredictable and frightening aspect of our existence. Collectively and individually human beings are capable of a startling array of behaviors, from the most loving and altruistic to the most cruel and destructive.

Although the behaviors of others scare us, the most unsettling awareness is that we carry within us the ability to act out all aspects of human behavior. We want to believe, given the same circumstances, that we would respond differently. This belief insulates us from the anxiety-provoking truth that we are equally capable of destruction.

The more we negate this truth, the deeper our awareness will recede into the unconscious and along with it a chance to know ourselves more deeply and completely. Carl Jung referred to the disowned aspects of ourselves as the shadow.

It’s inevitable to have a shadow. It comes with the territory of feeling and thinking. Learning how to recognize and integrate it is the work of being human.  The process of integrating our shadow in healthy ways is what makes us feel whole and at peace with ourselves.

Our shadow has the potential to become a problem when we fail to acknowledge it. As a general rule, the more rigid our sense of self becomes the larger our shadow grows. The classic example is someone who vehemently denounces the behavior of group while secretly exhibiting such behavior behind closed doors.

To build and sustain our personal integrity we need to dig deep and find the courage to understand and accept all parts of our personality. Our personal integrity must be large enough to include all of who we are, or our shadow will expand and seek expression – often times out of our conscious awareness.

The Importance of Practice

September 14, 2016

Mindfulness changes the way we respond to things by strengthening the prefrontal cortex. Different types of practices activate our thinking centers in different ways, similar to muscle use with exercise. No matter the course, all forms of mindfulness practice strengthen the attentional circuits and reduce fight-or-flight responses.

Carving out a time to practice is key to integrating it into your life. For people just starting out, aim for five minutes a day. The first challenge is establishing a practice. After that a practice has been established, incrementally increase your time. No matter how skilled at mindfulness you become, you must remain committed to practicing for a prescribed period each day.

How to Exercise Your Mindfulness Muscle

August 24, 2016

Few of us have been taught how to sit with our thoughts and feelings. As a result we are vulnerable to getting hooked and triggered. Awareness, attention and curiosity allow us to take control of our thinking and respond by choice instead of reactive habit.

Lack of awareness keeps us in a state of autopilot, often without our knowing. While your body and mind may go along for the ride, your spirit knows avoidance is not a solution and will wait patiently for you to return.

Most people are familiar with Henry David Thoreau’s quote that “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and will go to the grave with a song still in them.” It’s a powerful, bold statement about living out our fullest potential.

People who practice mindfulness find more joy, peace and clarity in their lives. They learn the meaning of genuine happiness which comes from accepting life as it is. Learning how to do this can help free you from the chaos and stress that seems endemic to modern life.

Thankfully there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to mindfulness. You may find you enjoy some practices more than others. It’s important to try a variety of practices. To get started, a simple practice is to follow your breath. That’s it.

Expect that your mind will wander relentlessly. It’s just doing what it’s supposed to do. No blame, no judgment. Simply note “thinking” and bring your awareness back to the breath. And take comfort in knowing that the act of returning your mind to the task is exercising your mindfulness muscle.

Thoughts, Beliefs and Multiple Me’s

August 15, 2016

Much of life is spent trying to manage our self-images. Closely related to our self-images are our identities – how we define ourselves according to the roles we play. Both our self-images and our identities become part of the stories we spin about ourselves.

Our stories are almost always a skewed version of the truth based on what we tell ourselves and have been told by others. The problem with these unchecked narratives is that they prevent us from living authentically.

We believe our thoughts without question, forgetting that they are relative, flawed and limited. The idea that who we are is limited to a single self is blown apart when we remember that we are filled with many differing and, at times, conflicting thoughts and feelings.

As if letting go of our unchecked beliefs wasn’t hard enough, we live an image-driven culture that supports false pretense and encourages narcissistic behavior. Wanting to be seen and to belong is a normal human need. Being held hostage by that need is not.

In order to experience the freedom of living a more authentic life, we must drop our stories and illusions. Most of our convictions, ideals and “shoulds” are just mental constructs born out of conditioning anyway.

As we see through our illusions, identities and stories, they lose their power over us. This is what it means, in part, to live authentically – no longer fooling ourselves with self-deceptions. More than anything, this requires the willingness to face the things we’ve never wanted to see. This includes our fears of rejection, unworthiness, and uncertainty.

An excellent question to ask yourself is, “Who would I be without this story? This belief? This identity?” The questions work as a key into the unconscious. Once we see the thought/feeling/behavior and are able to name it – which we may have to do this 100 times – our identification with it diminishes.

As an example instead of saying “I’m furious!” or “I’m afraid,” we note “There is anger” or “There is fear.” When we do this repeatedly with our emotional states, a transformation takes place that lifts us from our small sphere of limited beliefs into a larger experience of reality.

This labeling process helps us become less invested in or identified with the thoughts. It also helps distinguish the belief from reality. The second step is to bring awareness to the experience in the body, staying with it long enough to actually feel it.

It can be terrifying at first. If I’m not my anger or fear (doubt, sadness, etc), who am I? The answer: a natural, freer you. It’s like keeping all the good stuff while getting rid of what weighs you down.

We are so much more than sum total of our stories and the energy it takes to sustain them is, well, unsustainable. The art of self-study is your ticket to deeper and more lasting happiness. Once you get a taste of living from this more authentic state of being, anything less will be unacceptable.

 

Thanks to Ezra Bayda for inspiration.

Living Small In A Big World

August 8, 2016

“Since my house burnt down,
I now own a better view
Of the rising moon.”
– Basho

I’ve been on a quest to make my world small. It all started when I went big.

I had a tiny house before they were vogue because it was all I could afford. I lived within my means and my means were often slim. I didn’t label myself a minimalist back then. I favored clean lines aesthetically and by virtue of necessity.

When I got married, I moved into three-story Victorian that could’ve eaten my little house for breakfast. At first it was exhilarating to have so much light and space. Cathedral ceilings! Where have you been all my life?

It didn’t take long for the stuff to come pouring in, filling empty spaces with the domestic label “home.” Along with it, came a sense that I had finally made it. While there is nothing wrong with having house pride, without realizing it, I started allowing it to define me. By turning away from my humble beginnings, I lost touch with an important part of myself.

Our worth is not determined by our belongings, no matter how much Wall Street would like us to belief otherwise. Remembering this, I set out on a quest to make my world small again.

Detaching from stuff requires psychological fortitude. It takes courage to trust that you have enough – that you are enough. But once you feel that bone-knowing, your life will never be the same. Integrity becomes a North Star that shines a guiding light into all aspects of life.

It’s what I like most about the minimalist lifestyle. It’s deceptively simple, yet profoundly impactful. A friend asks if you’ve read that ‘Tidying Up’ book. “You haven’t? Well, here, borrow mine.”

You read it and a light goes off. This is the decisive moment. Some will feel overwhelmed and toss it aside with a wishful sigh. Others react with the zealous of a recent convert, shoving stuff into bags while happily chanting “Do I love it? Is it useful?”

For those who fall into the latter camp, the life-changing art of minimalism is a breath of fresh air after years of tumbling around in the consumer cycle. Embracing it is to give permission to slow down and remember why we are here.  And the answer will be different for everyone. That’s the beauty of it. One size does not fit all.

That’s because minimalism is a mindset. It’s about living intentionally. Master therapist Irvin Yalom said that the work of psychotherapy is to remove the obstacles blocking the patient’s path. Minimalism is like that. We remove the extras to make room for what nourishes us.

This lifestyle is not new, nor is it a cult, trend or form of fanaticism. It’s a way of being in the world and its current popularity is simply a sign of the times. We now know that the one who dies with the most toys doesn’t win.

Fact is, the true riches of life cannot be bought. They’re created through experiences and connections with others. Period.

Think about it this way. If you were to disappear off the planet, what would your surroundings say about you? What would your kitchen, closet and computer reveal? Are you living in alignment with your best self? Or have you fallen prey to being who you think you should be?

Minimalism is about clarity. When we turn down the noise on the shoulda-woulda-coulda, the musicality of life comes forth. Conversely, when we feel overwhelmed it’s hard to appreciate what’s in front of us.

Without a doubt technology has made our life better. We can travel the world from our home and access information at click of a button. On the other hand, a compelling argument can be made that technology has made life more complex and chaotic.

Thankfully, I’m not here to decide. My job is simply to share a few helpful ways to live small in a big world. The following are a few ways I’ve learned do to this:

Originally published at No Sidebar

What Tee-Ball Taught Me

July 29, 2016

Storm Team Volcano Jaguars

I have fond childhood memories of going to the Angel Stadium with my dad. He loved baseball and his enthusiasm for anything was contagious. So naturally when spring season rolled around, I enthusiastically signed my son up for Tee-Ball. Swept up the memory of a simpler time, I happily checked the volunteer box.

I was thinking kale chips and cookies. So you can imagine my surprise when I got a call asking if I’d to be a Head Coach. “I’m sorry. What?” Long story short, I saw a golden opportunity.

My son will only be six once. And I know enough about baseball to know coaching Tee-Ball is my only chance. His dad’s the athlete, not me. In the blink of an eye, my son will out run, out throw and out swing his middle-age mama.

This was my precious moment.

According the Official Guide Book, the goal of Tee-Ball is to “have fun, try hard and be a good sport.” And for ten weeks I had the pleasure of doing just that, playing the best game in the world with the best team ever.

As fate would have it, a funny thing happened on my way to being a coach. I learned something. Here are the Top Ten Things I Learned While Coaching Tee-Ball:

  1. Don’t keep score. This one is straight from the playbook, but it applies to life off the field. There are many ways to keep score such as comparing yourself to others, holding onto resentments, or silently noting the failings of your partner. The only sensible answer to the question of “Who’s right?” is “Who cares?” We’re all fumbling and learning in equal measure.
  2. Get in the game. While I would’ve been happy as the Snack Girl, there’s nothing like getting in the game. Being “game” is a mindset that has little to do with natural talent or skill. Besides, not being good at something is a terrible reason not to try.  Getting in the game is knowing that good-enough is good-enough.
  3. Say Yes! Saying yes to experience is a powerful way to live. It encourages acceptance, fosters flexibility and, ironically, often begins with saying “no.” That’s because saying “no” creates space and in that space, “Yes!” opens the door to possibility.
  4. Use your gifts. By our second tee-ball game, it was clear that knowing how to play was an advantage other coaches had over me. I decided then to lead with what I know. While it’s true that my boys may “throw like a girl,” I guarantee you won’t find a more enthusiastic or supportive group of players in the league.
  5. Prioritize. The minute I agreed to coach, I wondered what I had done. How was I going to pull off this off when time already felt limited? That’s when I remembered that the trick to doing it all, is that you don’t. We do our best and let go of the rest. From there it was just a few deep breaths to focus on what mattered most: connecting with the kids and having fun.
  6. Keep it simple. Have you ever tried to herd cats? It’s similar to coaching tee-ball. I learned quickly to keep instructions short and to the point. Too much of anything boggles the mind. Simple and deep is infinitely more sustainable than shallow and wide.
  7. Shake it off. Dwelling in misfortune is a waste of energy. We’re all doomed to make mistakes. It’s how we learn. Getting that message across to the boys was my greatest achievement. Instead of rehashing blunders, ask yourself “What did I learn?” and move on.
  8. Slow down and connect. I kicked off our first practice with a game of tag. Unfortunately seeing me joke and play with the other boys was too much for my only child. After a particularly epic melt down (his, not mine), there was a brief moment of calm. Only then did I catch what was needed: connection. Each time I remember to slow down, I’ve been rewarded with greater calm, clarity, and, of course, connection.
  9. Stay present. I find the speed of life overwhelming at times. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for today’s kids. Moments of quiet seem few and far between. Being out on the field with no phone, computer or book to distract me, I was more present to their world. Kids have no concept of time. They are all present moment. Being experientially reminded of that was a tremendous gift.
  10. They’re all precious moments. This is as true as we can allow it to be.

The Sacred Start

July 20, 2016

Our understanding of love has been hijacked and beguiled by its first distracting moving moments. We have allowed our love stories to end way too early. We seem to know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it might continue. p 15

Love means admiration for qualities in the lover that promise to correct our weaknesses and imbalances; love is a search for completion. p 17

Love is also, and equally, about weakness, about being touched by another’s fragilities and sorrow, especially when – as happens in the early days – we ourselves are in no danger of being held responsible for them. Seeing our lover despondent and in crisis, in tears and unable to cope, can reassure us that, for all their virtues, they are not alienatingly invincible. They, too, are at points confused and at sea, a realization which lends us a new supportive role, reduces our sense of shame about our own inadequacies, and draws us closer to them around a shared experience of pain. p 18

Excerpts from Alain de Bottom’s book The Course on Love: