Miracles Big and Small

“Shhhhhh,” I say.

“We’re right here,” I remind.

“Maybe you could hum a different song?” I suggest.

“Alright, alright, take a breath and then tell me; it sounds awesome,” I interrupt.

You don't have to fit inI hear myself making them small.

I hear myself asking them to shrink for my comfort.

I hear myself limiting them, insisting that they be aware of how others feel, asking them to read the room.

I hear myself asking them to mind other people’s business rather than relying on other people to tell them when enough is enough.

I hear myself making them fit in better.

And then I stand back and I just look at them.

They are miracles. They are miracles of science. They are miracles of nature. They are miracles of stardust and happenstance, extraordinary timing and good fortune. There will never be another like either of them, much less both at the same time but two minutes apart. “I see two butts Julia. Which shall I take out first?”

They will never be again. They will never be just as they are in this moment again. Perhaps I can do more to face my own discomfort, to inquire of it and release it so that they can just be and grow strong in trusting the universe to hold the magic that they are in every single minute.

I will try harder to let them be as big and miraculous as they are, even if sometimes it takes my breath and makes me cry in the best possible way.

I will try harder to show them that it’s okay to be big. It’s okay to fill a space. It’s okay to trust that others will be themselves. It’s okay to feel like a miracle.

It's okay to be bigAs for you? I want you to know that you can be big too. You can fill a space without shrinking or apologizing. You can repeatedly sing the theme to The Pirates of the Caribbean if that’s your thing. You can pirouette across my kitchen and land on me with a hug because you are a miracle. You will never be in this moment, just as you are, again. Trust me with your bigness and I’ll try to do the same; we’ll spray glitter all over the place.

xo,

julia

When We Fail

Sometimes we fail.

How to fail wellWe do.

The thing we try to do doesn’t work.

The job we thought we’d love is really awful.

The marriage we so wanted to work out or fix ends.

Sometimes we fail.

 

The question is not whether or not it’s going to happen.

It’s going to happen, that is if you make any attempt to grow, reach, stretch, be more – failure will happen.

The question is not if, but what you will do with it.

The motivational crowd will tell you to get right back on that horse.

I’m going to ask you to check your course.

“But wait,” they say: “You can’t get mired in self-doubt.”

I say this is a reaction.

I say our fear of getting stuck in self-doubt after a failure or a less than stellar outcome is a dodge, a deflection, an extremely sophisticated way to get out of feeling the failure.

Because that’s what I think we should do.

I think we should feel it.

I think we should sit with the failure and let it be with us, cry if we need to, destroy a pillow if that’s better, but be with that feeling of failure.

Why? Why on earth would I want you to do that? Am I just a sadist?

No. I’m really not.

That feeling part, the part we dodge and weave to avoid, the part we look for quick fixes, buffers, distractions for? That’s our most delicate and informative equipment. That’s our navigational hardware. That’s how we really stay on course. If we avoid it all of the time and just get back to forging ahead we’ll be going in circles or headed to a destination we don’t really want.

So what do we need to do? We need to feel the failure.

Does that mean we need to change course? No, maybe, I don’t know for you. Only YOU know for you and the best way to access that knowing is to be honest and the way to start being honest is to feel how you feel, get through the peak of that and then have the conversation with yourself, check in with your internal navigation, after you’ve given it a moment to recalibrate.

what will you let failure teach youYou may then decide to get back on that horse and just try again. You may try again with a variation. You may decide it’s time for a new horse. The point isn’t always whether or not you persist in what you were doing, but in what you learn and what you allow with the failure. The point isn’t always getting up and trying again, but in trying better, trying different, maybe even trying new.

Failure will happen.

If you risk anything worth risking, if you step beyond where you are at all in hopes of reaching something more, failure will happen.

What will you make from it? What will it teach you? Who will you become after that?

 

How Much of Your Action is Reaction?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about action and reaction.

I guess it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been taking the time to notice the difference between them and to notice when I’m doing which.

what drives reactionIt seems to me, at least based on anecdotal evidence and the horribly skewed version of our lives that Facebook represents, that a lot of us (and I say “us”, not “you”) spend a great deal of time on reaction, meeting an event or a piece of information with exactly what Newton’s third law predicts: equal force, opposite direction. In fact, I think there may be a a modern adjustment to Newton’s law that predicts greater force in the opposite direction. We meet new information with vigorous opposition.

Before I go any further, I shall note, with great force, that I often believe that vigorous opposition is exactly appropriate. There is an awful lot going on in the world right now that deserves full force rejection and reversal. With that said (and I may be speaking only for myself), I sometimes feel as though I’m losing my non-reactive skills. Sometimes I need reminding that reacting is not always necessary and that, in fact, it can be harmful.

Let me explain a little. One of the pitfalls of being in a “helping” profession is that it is very easy to constantly slip into helping mode with everyone around you, whether they’re interested in that help or not. It is easy to become a helicopter friend. When you have a great set of tools that you know make people’s lives better, you can (without being really mindful) find yourself constantly pulling your toolbox out and seeing where that wrench is so you can help someone tighten a bolt. You may find yourself in the position of reacting to your friend or family member’s pain (hey! here’s a great thing that will pull us in the opposite direction) rather than mindfully choosing an action or no action.

We all do this, we just do it in different ways. We all react to one another – sometimes in anger, and that’s the one we recognize the most readily, but we all react. I’ve noticed that oftentimes when I react, out of help or out of anger, the reaction is ALL about me and my discomfort. I’m uncomfortable with friends and family members suffering, so I incautiously whip out some tools that might help. I’m uncomfortable when people reveal truths about the world (or THEIR truths about the world) that don’t match up with my experience or ideals, so I incautiously whip out some really great political rhetoric and a statistical study to really seal the deal. I’m uncomfortable with the stupid conflicts I hear between my children and so I incautiously intervene in a way that is designed to SHUT IT DOWN rather than help them learn how to handle conflict. When I react in these ways, it is based in my discomfort. It is based in me feeling bad and wanting to change that right now.

All of this learning is a bit of a surprise, because I thought I had this lesson down. When I revamped my professional life, I made a big move from a habit of reacting into the realm of mindful and intentional acting. My work life is pretty non-reactive. I choose what I want and need to do. I choose how and when to do it. I work hard to keep other people’s emergencies from de-railing my cherished plans. I guess I thought all of that mindfulness would just spill over into everything else. I guess I thought my personal life would morph on its own.

Yeah, not so much.

You don't have to reactAnd so I am making a pledge to myself, to continue this investigation: to continue to notice when I am acting and when I am reacting, and perhaps more importantly to notice where that reaction is coming from. Is it coming solely from my momentary discomfort rather than out of a place of a larger concern? Is my choice coming from a desire for little quiet rather than big peace? What would happen if I just sat with my discomfort? What would be revealed? What could be learned? What safe space could be created for others and for myself? What would deliberate action look like in the face of those questions?

Every action has a reaction equal in force and in the opposite direction, unless we decide it need not be so.

Where in your life could you use a little alteration of the laws of physics?

When Something’s Not Working

I get a lot of advice in my Facebook feed and in my inbox. This is what it’s like to be in the self-help industry. The algorithm bots have me all figured out and there’s mountains of well-intended advice, guidance, and helpful tips coming my way all of the time. And I’ve noticed something really interesting.

Failing and Persistence

Many acknowledge the importance of failure as a learning tool and as a measure for the fact that you’re actually doing things, trying new stuff, taking risks. The idea is that we need to stretch ourselves to really find out what we’re capable of and sometimes that means failing.

Doing big things sometimes means failingWhen I was about 6 my Mom enrolled me in swim lessons at the local YMCA. I had some experience swimming (the youngest of 4 can’t really opt out of the pool successfully for long), but really wasn’t to the point where Mom could relax at all, so off to lessons I went. I struggled. I didn’t like the water in my face. I didn’t like the water in my ears. I didn’t like the sounds of the pool when underwater (still don’t, really). I struggled to follow instructions. I struggled to make my limbs (already long and gangly) do what I wanted them to do. But I muddled through the class (having no option). When we tested at the end, the instructor told my Mom that I should not advance to the next level. I was livid. Even at that young age, I had already experienced the joy of making the grade and I was furious that my efforts and struggle had not earned me the rank I believed they deserved. I didn’t really care about the results. I had worked really hard. I had taken a risk. And, at least in my eyes at the time, I had failed. I informed my Mother I would not be taking any more swimming lessons. My mother chose to let that stand. (I can swim, today, just so you don’t worry.) I had stretched. I had struggled. I had failed. And really, except for being angry that afternoon, I was okay. Learning to swim that way, or maybe at that time, or maybe in that timeframe was NOT working for me.

Go Get It!

If my mother and I had followed another constant theme that comes tumbling across my feed, we would have persisted. There is a continual drum banging for persistence in the self-help community. If things aren’t working, you need to keep trying, stick with it, check out your thinking and get back into the arena. Rest for a minute if you absolutely must, and then get to it. Go get it. Do it now. Do it all. Just do it!

Get back in the pool.

Ignore the pounding in your eardrums from the water pressure.

Force a level of physical coordination that is currently not available.

Think positive thoughts!

Stick with it!

What To Do With Failure

Thinking about these two concepts together makes me want to scream at all of the persistence pushers: “What if this is one of those moments you said I would have where the risk I’m taking isn’t working out?” What do I do?  Do I decide that those are all just thoughts I’m telling myself and I need to jump back in, get busy, go get it?

Maybe it’s not the right thing. Maybe I made a bad choice. Maybe instead of going and getting it, I need to take a breath and take in the failure. Maybe I need to acknowledge that this wasn’t the right moment, the right path, the right decision and figure out what there is to learn. Maybe in all of my frenzy to go get it, I forgot to see if “it” was what I really want and need right now. Maybe I ignored signs that were trying to point me in other directions. Maybe I forgot to listen to my feelings, my joy, my inner-most compass in my desire to just do it. Maybe it should really be okay to fail.

When I do decide that some effort of mine is a fail, maybe it’s okay to feel that, to be sad, to acknowledge that I feel foolish or incompetent or far more like a novice than is even remotely comfortable. Maybe when I fail it’s okay to just admit it and breathe and just be as alright as I am or as I’m not without even trying to figure any of it out. Maybe it’s okay to declare what I will or won’t ever do again and slam my door. Maybe I don’t need to do anything.

It's okay to failIf failure is really okay, if it really marks a growing capacity to take risks and stretch our boundaries, we need to accept it when it comes and stop pushing to make it something that it’s not. We don’t need to keep striving to turn it around. We don’t need to go get it. Maybe what we need to do is just don’t “it” for a minute. Just be.

In all of our desire to be better, to do better, to have more, to succeed, maybe failing is a way to take a moment to breathe. And after we’ve caught our breath, we can see what we’ve learned, check in with our hearts, and choose the next big thing. When we’ve taken a moment, we can decide how and when we want to get back in the pool.

 

Sometimes You Need a Little Distance

Years ago I was teaching at a charter school in Washington, DC. The school was struggling with some powerful challenges and I was not very good at keeping my head down and focusing solely on my own business. As a result, the stress was really taking its toll. I was beginning to have physical symptoms from my stress and was averaging about 5 hours of sleep per night.

The lack of good sleep just made my inability to manage my stress worse, increased my reliance on caffeine to wake up and wine to slow down, which interfered with my sleep. It was a vicious cycle. I began to have heart palpitations from the stress. And then my fertility doctor said something that really shook me: “There is no way you will get pregnant like this. You’re going to have to change something.”

When the problem is unsolvableI was completely freaked out. We had been trying to have children for almost 7 years and had identified this as our very LAST attempt. If this didn’t work (there was also adoption paperwork in progress), we said, we would just be the aunt and uncle who traveled a lot and gave great gifts (it was a really good plan). We really wanted to be parents. And I was incapable of seeing or thinking a way out of my problem.

I was talking it over with my Dad one day, as I often did, and he asked if there wasn’t some way I could continue to work, but just not be quite so involved, if I couldn’t have a little more distance between me and my students, between me and the administration, between me and the neighborhood violence (he only knew about some of that and would have had other things to say had he known about all of it), between me and the world so that I could continue to teach without it bleeding into everything else. I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at him (we were on the phone) and said: “Yeah, Dad, I’m great at that.”

As is so often the case, the wisdom we get from our elders (maybe especially from our parents) takes a while to really sink in. It has to marinate, and we have to hear it from at least 12 other sources, with three of them being deemed infinitely more in touch with our circumstances. I heard it. I read it. I saw it in action, this “getting a little distance” idea. It turns out that, as has all too often been the case, my Dad was exactly right. I DID just need a little distance. I needed a little distance from all of it.

I needed to be able to be involved in a pursuit and not be consumed by it. I needed to be able to experience mishaps and mistakes made by other professionals and not feel the need to address it at the systemic level EVERY TIME with FERVOR and OUTRAGE. I needed to be able to be aware of my students’ academic and personal struggles and not stay awake all night wondering if they’d made it home safely or if their parent had returned or if they would show up to school the next day. I needed to be able to interact with the world without reacting to it ALL OF THE TIME. I needed a little distance. At the time I got the distance I needed mentally and physically by leaving my job. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

Since then, I’ve learned how to get a little distance without changing my circumstances. It took a long time. Some of it was maturing and mellowing, but the majority of it was a concerted effort on my part to learn to manage my mind a bit, to be able to watch how I think and how I feel, to feel compassion for myself when I was struggling and hurting, but to not be consumed by that experience. I learned how to do that, but I still struggle. I still have to remind myself that the things that I think and feel are leaves floating by on a stream and I can just allow them and then choose how to act rather than reacting. I still have to remind myself that I am in charge in there.

I wonder, when I think about this skill set that I’ve developed, how the last twenty years might have been different had I gotten on that lesson a little sooner. I sift through decisions that I might have made differently, not with regret, but with curiosity, as though I’m watching a movie and smiling a little at the inexperience of the heroine.

Distance Doesn't Mean ColdnessWhat’s done is done, as they say. What I know for sure is that the decisions that I’ve made since I’ve been able to get a little distance have all felt wholly different, deeply satisfying. I feared that if I wasn’t so reactive it would mean my heart wasn’t in it, but I think I had it backwards. When I’m not so reactive, my chattering monkey brain gets sidelined and makes room for my heart, for the core of me that’s connected to the core of all of you, the stillness and the peace that lives in the knowledge that we are all but a part and that each moment is ours to witness. When I get a little distance, I can choose peace and love and integrity. And boy does that feel good. Thanks Dad. I miss you.

A Passport to Your Best Life

A friend shared with me that he is in the process of renewing his passport. He shared that he was being particularly careful as some of the rules regarding travel, even with passports, have become more strict, more complex. He also reflected on the number of people in the world who can’t travel freely. It all got me to thinking about this idea of a passport.

What does a passport do? It allows you to go to places that are otherwise unreachable for you. It allows you a measure of freedom that would not be available without it. It also marks a plan, even if it’s only a vague desire, to move – to travel – to change and be changed.

emotional maturityWhat do passports communicate? They say that we are who we say we are. They authenticate our identity (yup, we checked, it’s her). They indicate that you ARE (at least in your home country) free to move about at will. They suggest that you are not a known threat of any kind. And they give a sort of unofficial nod tot he idea that you can be trusted in a new territory. No official would ever suggest that the passport does that – it would be claiming far too much in the way of responsibility should something awful happen, but that’s pretty much what the assumption is. You have a passport, you must be okay at some basic level and you can be trusted to be in a new place.

I love to travel (not the the actual act of the travel, which I detest, but the being in new places). I like to make lists of places I’d like to go and occasionally re-order them according to something that has shifted for me. I like to imagine the circumstances that would make it possible for me to check one of those boxes. I like to experiment with the idea of being in other places, of being the curious and willing foreigner.

When it comes to my own life, however, my imagination and my curiosity sometimes fail me. When I imagine being in new circumstances and spaces, I often draw a blank (which I think is just total brain shutdown). I talk myself out of the appeal of those possibilities. I don’t even get to the point of imaging the circumstances that would make those new spaces habitable, enjoyable, as exciting as a foreign city.

Being BraveAnd I think, really, it’s because I haven’t yet administered myself a proper passport. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to new experiences in life, we are the ones who administer our own passports. I hear you arguing with me, well at least some of you. I didn’t used to believe this either. I put my parents in the uncomfortable position of being the passport office for a long time. I sought their approval (and they are very different, so pleasing all 4 is no small feat) for each plan, every idea, all of the notions that I experimented with. I wanted them to make me strong enough from the outside that I could be brave on the inside. I wanted their approval to form some sort of exoskeleton that I could use to shield myself from the pain and difficulty of trying new and hard things.

stop people pleasingThis version of me, the one who was not yet ready to write her own passport, didn’t meet the criteria. I could not be trusted in new territory. I was not read to administer and sanction my own great adventures, so I didn’t take many, and the ones I took were pursued in a pretty random fashion without any confidence or self-assurance. I never committed fully, and so never achieved the things I set out to do. I was not who I said I was because I was always trying to be the person I thought someone wanted to have around. I was not free to do anything because I was paralyzed by self-doubt and loneliness (because of never being myself). I was a known threat, at least amongst the young men I tried on during this period. I could not be trusted in new territory. If only there had been a guard at the beginning of each adventure checking my criteria and sending me back to improve my game before I got started.

But this is how it goes I suppose. We just keep getting to the edge of the nest and hoping we’re not so high up that it kills us when we don’t fly so well. I think emotional maturity is our internal passport office. When we take responsibility for our own happiness, when we pursue our own goals in order to please and satisfy ourselves, when admit what we want and commit to it fully, then we get a passport.

Then we are who we say we are.

Then we are free to make changes and move at will.

Then we are not a known threat to others, or even to ourselves anymore.

Then we can be trusted in new territory, because our capacity grows as we learn to meet our commitment.

What new lands await you?

Are you ready to give yourself a passport?

When You Don’t Want To Be Right

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be human.

Yeah, I just do stuff like that; let’s move on.

Some would say our feelings are part of humanity, but I’m not sure we can make an exclusive claim there, just based on how my dog acts when I come home.

Some would say our ability to have compassion and put the needs of others before our own is uniquely human. I could take the low road and point to counter-examples, but I’ll stick with my animal companions as evidence that this is not true.

Some would say our ability to think is what makes us really human, but really? Animals hunting in groups, animals figuring out how to get at the hidden food, animals creating hiding places. Yeah, that’s not all ours either.

Having said all of that, I can’t even be 100% sure that this next statement is true, but it seems to be the “last man standing” when it comes to what we can claim as being a fundamental human characteristic: our ability to think about what we are thinking. Maybe they do it too, but the communication gap seems, for now, to allow us to exclude animals from this claim. So a big part of being human is thinking about what we’re thinking about.

How to Feel BetterHow do we use this particular and peculiar gift? Usually, at least in my personal and professional experience, we use it to beat ourselves up. We notice what we’re thinking and feeling and give ourselves a hard time about it. “Feeling blue? Of course you are. Get it together!” “STILL grieving? Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with you?” “Insecurity, still? You should have been done with that years ago.” I think of it as double torture. We load judgment onto feeling bad, and that’s how we use our uniquely human gift. Yay!

And now I’m going to tell you the really amazing and kind of awful part. Once we have these thoughts about ourselves (that we pretty much stink for feeling how we feel, that we can’t handle adulting, that we’ve learned nothing, that there’s something wrong with us – whatever version your brain gives you), we look for evidence. We constantly scan the horizon (and our bounty of data from the past) to confirm those assertions. What?! Why?!

Because our brains get a dopamine rush when we confirm our beliefs. At least that’s what researchers Sara and Jack Gorman tell us. It feels good to have our beliefs confirmed and to stick to our guns, dig in with our position, even if plenty of available facts don’t support what we believe. We actually get the same neurohormone rush that we get when we have sex, do drugs, eat sugar (no, those are not all of a piece for me – no worries). This research points to a number of interesting discussions about politics and science, but it also tells us something about ourselves as individuals.

Once we decide something about ourselves, it can be very difficult to change that belief. If I believe that I am spoiled, for example, perhaps because it was part of my family story about who I was as a child, I will more readily see and accept evidence that supports the idea that I’m spoiled. And my brain will reward me for finding that evidence even though thinking that thought will ultimately NOT reward me. Our biology puts us at risk for hanging onto beliefs about the world and about ourselves that are harmful, destructive, and on a personal level, that create barriers for creating the kinds of lives that we want to lead. Now, the brain isn’t just doing this to mess with you. There are evolutionary theories as to why this occurs, but that’s not what I want to focus on.

I want to focus on the simple fact that believing things that are helpful and productive for you can be life-changing. Why? Because your thoughts create feelings and feelings create energy for your actions. When we’re thinking crappy things about ourselves, the actions that come of that usually serve to make us feel worse. Attend ANY of my classes if you want more info on that.

Why it's not workingSo what does all of this mean? It means that in order to get the results you want, you’re going to have to take a look at what’s going on in that amazingly powerful brain of yours. You’re going to have to see what you’re thinking about who you are in the world. You’re going to have to reset some thoughts so that you can stop collecting evidence that you’re worthless or fundamentally flawed or that there’s just something wrong with you. You’re going to have to replace those thoughts with something else. It doesn’t have to be a positive affirmation. It doesn’t have to be all unicorns and glitter. It just has to be maybe a little more neutral. It just has to allow you some space to see yourself more clearly. It just needs to allow you to take in more of what you’ve done and who you are in the world so you can see more than just that selection of data that proves that you’re no good.

Because friends, you’re not right about that. And your brain will reward you for proving it once you decide to believe something new.

You are here. You are valuable. You have unique gifts (even if you don’t believe it and haven’t found them yet). You are worthy.

If you can’t believe any of that, maybe just start with “I’m okay,” and see if you can find some evidence for THAT. I bet you can.

If you’d like a guide on your journey through your thoughts, I’d love to help.

 

xo,

julia

Whose Battle Are You Fighting?

There have been a lot of hard things lately.

The news has become excruciating.

Some of our relationships are strained by p

olitics.

We’ve got problems and we can’t seem to even agree on what those problems are.

Our thoughts create problems

And that’s just the big stuff.

That doesn’t even get down to the every day hard, the busyness, the job, the elusive work-life balance.

It doesn’t even cover our romantic (or not romantic) relationships and our parenting.

It doesn’t even cover our chronic illnesses and hurts.

Things seem really hard.

And saying that there are difficult circumstances doesn’t begin to account for how difficult they can become due to the way we think about them.

 

How We Make Things Harder

During the last few months my husband and I have been attempting to renegotiate the division of domestic duties. Let me give you a little background. 10 years ago I decided to stay home with our twins and the I made that choice, I assumed most of the domestic responsibilities (because raising twins was clearly not enough). My husband became the breadwinner and I became the bread maker. We plugged along like that for some time. And he got busier, adding a side hustle (out of love) and eventually adding grad school (also out of love). I also added work (out of love) and eventually he whittled his way down to two occupations (side hustle moving forefront and grad school). As I began to nurture my practice and continued being the everything to all people, we felt the need to redistribute the burden.

Our acknowledgement of that need, however, didn’t make it easy to do.

We stalled.

We delayed (him I think because it was not top of mind for him and me perhaps because it seemed easier to just do things than to have a hard conversation about them).

We bickered about the bits that were falling through the cracks.

And I felt resentment growing, like an invasive weed.

And as my resentment grew, I thought of my mother and the women of her generation, so many of whom nurtured a garden of invasive resentment weeds because they felt that they had no choice. I thought of how much my position FELT like that. I thought about how things SHOULD be. And I fumed, growled, and cried, and left things undone out of spite. I grew short with him and with the kids. And I buried all of that in getting busy doing all of the things that poor me HAD to do. No time to be polite. No time to really engage. No time to have a real conversation.

And the a friend said just the thing I needed to hear. Actually 3 friends said similar things on the same day, which even I must concede sounds a little like divine intervention stepping in. All of these wise women asked me to reflect on my husband’ nature. “Is he an old-fashioned guy?” “Does he think you should have to do everything?” “Is he so swamped that he can’t even see what’s happening?”

Leaving the Story Behind

Arguments about HouseworkTheir wise questions pushed me to step out of the argument that I had created and to step back into a conversation with my reality, not my mother’s reality, not women’s reality, not a previous generation’s reality. I suddenly realized that a big part of what was making this so hard was me. I was turning a problem, a challenge, into a full-on ideological issue. I was defending women everywhere.

There was no need for me to do that in THIS particular case.

And when I stopped arguing for everybody’s reality, we were able to have a conversation, a real conversation. I was clear. I was heard. I was acknowledged, and now there’s a plan. When I stopped dragging all of these other people into the issue, when I stopped thinking it was bigger than it really was, when I adjusted my story to account for the reality of who my husband is, who I am, and how we operate, I was able to articulate my needs and my feelings and they were met with exactly the kind of reaction that I would have hoped for. It turns out I didn’t have to fight the power this time.

Why does that matter? Am I suggesting we all stop fighting for the big ideological issues? Absolutely not. Anybody who know me knows better than that.

What I am suggesting is that some problems, some challenges, some issues are just not that complicated or that hard. We get it all tangled up together. We come to the problem with our politics, our feelings, our baggage (and usually a few other people’s baggage as well) and we make it so complicated. Some problems just aren’t that hard.

Rest Into The Problem

I got a little e-mail from one of my mentors, Martha Beck, earlier this week that suggested that when you are stuck and things seem difficult, maybe it’s time to rest into the problem, to stop pushing so hard. And this feels like THAT to me. “Renegotiating” our domestic division of labor was something that I was pushing very hard on, not just because I wanted it done, but because there were principles at stake.

When I rest into the problem, when I get quiet, when I quiet the clamor of ideology, culture wars, activism and outrage, I see things differently. I don’t become a Stepford wife. I become the me who KNOWS how committed my husband is to equality. I become the me who KNOWS how hard it is to take on domestic tasks when you’re out of practice. I become the me who honors the scope of the work I’ve done for these 10 years by not imagining someone could just scoop half of it up and do it efficiently at the drop of the hat. I become the me that KNOWS that we, individually and together, are okay.

Rest can bring truth
When things get hard, what can we do? Rest into it. Get quiet. Reduce the clamor from the outside world. And from THAT space, learn what to do next. Learn what feels like ease and clarity and love and freedom. Learn what feels like truth that is only YOURS.

 

What To Do When You’re Too Busy

I remember seeing a couple on a TV show (or maybe a movie) scheduling a time to have sex. I remember nothing else about the show, the context, anything else. I just remember my horror. I remember thinking that was crazy. I remember rolling my eyes at how people could let their lives become that busy, rigid, regimented. I remember all of those feelings. I think I was around 23. And now I shake my head at my own darned self.

Adulting Can Be Extremely Busy

My family has entered an extremely busy phase. I thought we were in this phase before, but it turns out that the previous phase was just a very busy phase; THIS is the extremely busy phase. The exact circumstances aren’t that important, but I will share that my husband is a full-time seminary student on top of working, so if you have any experience with some version of that, you may have a sense of what things are like here. I am also nurturing my fledgling business, and oh, right, the kids. I won’t go on and on, because like I said, the circumstances aren’t that important. What is important is the way that we handle this phase. We’ve been bumping around a bit, trying to get to the place where we can actually observe ourselves so we can make adjustments. It has been a rough couple of months, but we reached meta this morning – we took a look at ourselves and realized there was a lot to improve on.

How are we going to make this crazy whirlwind better? The short answer is that we’re going to schedule things that are important to us. This will now be a mark of the level of priority – if it makes it on the calendar, it is important. I realize, however, that that is a short answer indeed and that it is not very helpful if you’re not already good at the whole scheduling thing. So, let me break down some other things we’re doing.

8 Steps to Fix “Too Busy”

  1. If it’s a triage situation – like you’re emotionally bleeding out/exhausted/freaking out: Get Real Clear on What’s Not VERY Important and eliminate it. I was going to say “scratch it off your list,” but ELIMINATE feels better right now. Get rid of it. My husband and I are both crossing one thing off our respective lists this morning because we realized he is leaving town and we needed to talk about all of this AND just see each other for a few minutes. I’ve been sick, and oh, yeah, the kids. We each found the least important part of our respective days and are eliminating them.
  2. Feeling better when you're overwhelmed.Stop allowing yourself to be “overwhelmed.” Overwhelm makes us spin, which is incredibly unproductive. The thoughts that create overwhelm are usually some version of: “It’s too much. I can’t possibly do it all,” or the classic circular: “I’m so overwhelmed.” Spinning won’t help that feeling. When I get that spin feeling, I try a thought like: “I need to figure out how to do this day/week/month” so that instead of feeling more overwhelmed, I feel determined to get down to business. That always feels better and is far more productive than the “I don’t know” freaking out that comes with overwhelm. This is particularly difficult if I am tired, which leads naturally to…
  3. Recognize the importance of, and schedule self-care. When we are extra-busy we have a tendency to make cuts in the worst places. We stay up a little later to finish one last bit of work or to have 10 minutes to ourselves. We get a little less careful with how we eat because we think we don’t have time to cook and eat proper meals. We skip taking a few minutes to just breathe because we’re sure we just don’t have time for that. I say all of this without scolding because I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else. I am especially guilty of the sleep part. And my body lets me know. I get less productive. I get WAY more grumpy. I get SO tired of it all. And if I keep pushing, I get sick. Usually not terribly sick and not for very long, but my body lets me know. Want to go from busy to totally UNPRODUCTIVE? Push hard enough that you get sick. Make your body force you to stop. The benefit? You may get some rest. You may recognize that you’re doing yourself in. The cost? All of that stuff you had to do just gets moved around more. Being busy does not get solved by being tired, poorly nourished and stressed out. It’s really that simple. If you don’t take care of you, it will all get worse.
  4. Sit with your goals/plans/big list for a few minutes each day. Check in. What is it you are trying to accomplish? What takes priority this month/this week/today? What steps do you need to outline for yourself to get from where you are to there? When are you going to do those things? Write it down or type it in – whatever your planner penchant is – do that.
  5. Make planning a part, but not a terribly LONG part, of every day. I’ve talked here about my morning meeting and how invaluable I find it. Every day I move from looking at my goals/plans/objectives to actually planning out when I’m going to do those things. I allot very specific amounts of time, not depending on how long I think it will take, but based on how long I want to spend on each item. 90% of the time I actually finish in that amount of time (which is always shorter than I think it will “take”).
  6. Check in with involved parties on a regular basis. We have in the past, and will begin again, having the Sunday evening meeting. This is when we review what’s coming up in the next month and in the next week so we know who’s going to be where and when. So we identify gaps (oh yeah, kids) in case we need to enlist childcare. So we don’t get caught off-guard by someone else’s meeting or travel. So we can prepare for events rather than constantly reacting to them. AND so we can thank each other for picking up one another’s slack.
  7. If it’s important to you, schedule it. And yes, I mean everything, including haircuts, naps, walks, extra long showers because you have a cold, trips to the drugstore because someone’s prescription is ready, lunch dates with your spouse. If it’s important, treat it like it’s important. Schedule it and honor your schedule… which leads me to….
  8. You can handle it all. Learn to trust yourself.Honor your schedule. If you MUST make a change, be conscious about it. Think it through. Recognize all of the implications. Review the rest of the day and see what impact it will have. Never do it because you don’t “feel like” doing what’s next on the schedule. Honor your commitments to yourself and the overload gets a lot less stressful because you will know that you can count on yourself to meet your obligations. You will know that you are reliable and capable. You will know that you are trustworthy with your own time.

You Are In Charge

There’s a lot more I could say, but I’m looking at this like an emergency room situation. These are the basics for moving from insanely and overwhelmingly busy to just plain busy – but busy that is directed, goal oriented, planned, and all-inclusive. This is busy that assumes taking care of oneself in all of the ways. This is busy that allows for productivity skyrocketing because you actually feel good AND feel able to do it all, and you can, OR you can make some decisions that make it all work.

You may fight me on this but you really are in charge. I know, I know, we’re not all self-employed, BUT we are all able to make can keep commitments to ourselves. We are all able to adjust our level of effort so that we can actually complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time. We are all able to use calendars and timers. We really are, and if you are where I was, if you scoff at the use of such tools to mark the time in your day, that’s okay. Just call me in a few months when you’re EXTREMELY busy and I’ll tell you how I do all of that.

 

When We Are Hurting

Learning Self-LoveAre you hurting today? I am. And so are so many people I know and love. Even in times of lesser tragedy and hardship, there are always people hurting. It is so easy to get lost in the analysis of it, to get paralyzed by the horror, to get stuck in the outrage. On Sunday my minister reminded us that one of our values is an ever-widening circle of compassion. Cultivating that circle may require a break from analyzing, being outraged, and being paralyzed. Nurturing our compassion is a practice.

I’m not sure where it started, but there is a bit of a mantra in the self-help world that says that we have to love ourselves in order to love others. We would have to feel compassion for ourselves in order to feel compassion for others. I get the sentiment, and agree that deeper levels of love and compassion are easier to reach when we have love and compassion for ourselves, but making those things a bar to entry to love and compassion for others? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure any self-loathing parent will tell you that you can love your children despite how you feel about yourself. Suggesting to that parent that they must start with themselves seems like a great way to stall that growth altogether.

How to Grow Compassion and Love – Even For Yourself

What if, instead, we saw the practice of compassion as one of simply widening the circle, with the center being exactly where it already is naturally for you? Where is the focus of the compassion and love that you feel easily? Is it kids? Is it animals? Is it victims of tragedy or circumstance?

If you’re not sure, ask yourself what gets to you? What makes you well up? What makes you angry? What makes you sad? What makes you feel things even when it’s uncomfortable to do so? Are there news stories or fictional stories you find it difficult to watch, read, or listen to? These are the key to finding the center of your compassion – the place where your heart meets the world. Find that center; this is step 1.

Find Your Edges; Stretch Your Borders

After you’ve figured out where your compassion lives, feel out the edges of that group. Imagine the people on the borders. If you naturally feel compassion for kids, consider teens , mothers, and parents. If you feel compassion for animals, consider animal lovers, nature, the earth. If you feel for people struggling with physical medical problems, consider people with mental illness, consider caretakers. Find the folks on the edges of the community that you already feel compassionate about.

Step 3? Imagine those border folks. Imagine being them for a moment. Imagine part of a day for them. Imagine that they are just people with all of the insecurities, uncertainties and challenges of the group you already feel compassion for. Imagine that they are as capable of love and affection, joy and courage as those who move you. Imagine those border people in pain. Imagine them laughing. Imagine that your loving focus might, even in some small way, be helpful. Believe in the power of your own affection. In your mind’s eye, surround this growing group with light, a glow of whatever color pleases you. Breathe deeply and continue to stretch the edges of that light to include others.

Self-Compassion

Here’s where things can get tricky for a lot of folks. I hear a lot of people talk about how others don’t have compassion. That’s not what I see in my universe. I see plenty of folks who are serving up compassion for others, but who are unforgiving and unkind to themselves. Learning to serve up some compassion for yourself can be an extension of the love you already give to others.

Think about that group you’ve been growing in your mind. Find the way that you might be like them. Where in your life do you feel like a hurt child? Where in your life do you act like a wounded animal? Where in your life do you feel limited or misunderstood? Where in your life are you called on to rise to challenges you’d rather not have to face? How can you connect to the recipients of your compassion?

Learn to Love YourselfFind that link and then return your attention to your mind’s eye – the big glowing group. Draw the edges of your circle of loving focus out so that you are included. Let the light envelope you. Let it connect you to others. Allow yourself to bathe in the light you so willingly shine on others.

Place your hands on your heart, and say: “I hear you. I know. I love you.”

Widen your circle and make sure that eventually it includes you.

Namaste.

 

 

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