Sometimes It Takes A Little Courage

Here we are, one day away from a new year.

2018. Part of me sees that number and just goes: “Wow.”

As in: “How did that happen so quickly? When did we get to 20… anything?” And there’s a little calculation of my age in there too.

But when I interrupt all of that, which is standard new year’s fare, I really can marvel.

When I interrupt all of that and think about what has changed for me in 2017, I am more in WOW than usual.

In my last post I suggested a way to do a mini year in review, and I’ve been playing along as well.

And in some ways the results are predictable. There are big parts of 2017 I will be delighted to let go of. But there are also big parts that I just kind of stare at in wonder. I’m amazed at the changes I see in myself. I amazed at the changes I see in my business. I’m amazed at the changes I see in my relationships. Wow.

chase your dreamsAnd so I enter this arbitrary restart point that is new year’s eve with the confidence and courage that really pushing yourself can bring. I’ve been doing the work (inside and out) and things are changing. And I’ve noticed that even when they don’t work out just the way I expect, they still get better. I see my own growth. I see my own progress. I can note how my learning, effort, planning, and time have changed my life for the better.

So I can come to my vision for the next year with some sense that whatever I’m dreaming up IS possible. I’m coming to this moment with a whole lot more “YES” than I’ve been willing to give in the past. I’m willing to take risks, work hard, and possibly even fail because when I do those things, my life is better. I feel better. Everything gets better.

It was not always this way for me. At some point in the not so distant past, I had to face this moment without the confidence that experience can bring. I had to face having a vision, a new idea for my life, a new hope with huge uncertainty in anything but my inability to accomplish what I imagined. I faced that moment with tremendous fear and a sinking feeling that it would never work.

If you feel that way when you look into the future, if you see no chance for change in your year to come, I want to tell you that you are wrong. And I’m going to ask you to take action anyway.

I get the impression that a lot of people think that courage is the absence of fear. We think that we need to somehow conquer our fear, banish it, overcome it. I’m going to suggest to you that courage is simply acting even though you are afraid. That’s it. That’s all it is, a decision to do it anyway.

There are lots of ways to go about this. You can imagine that your fear is a small suffering animal that needs you to be compassionate to it before you act anyway. You can imagine a chair where you can tell fear to go sit while you do the scary things. You can imagine that your fear can just exist and that you can notice it and allow it to be without doing anything at all about it. Or you can just be absolutely terrified and just proceed.

Finding courage to chase dreamsAnd then you will be acting, with courage, and creating the confidence you need to do it again simply by making that choice.

What would you do in 2018 if fear wasn’t driving the bus? What would you say yes to? What action can you take today that will give you the confidence to take another action tomorrow?

If you need some help creating courage or acting on your vision, I sure would love to help.

In the Post-Present Quiet

One big last hurrah for 2017!

Or maybe it’s not a hurrah for you.

Maybe you’re totally ready to get rid of 2017.

It’s a mixed bag for me. There are parts I would prefer to never do again and parts that make me excited and proud.

Making 2018 greatI find that the time after all of the present and food madness is a really nice time to take a few minutes to reflect on the year that has passed, well before that moment of resolution-making rears its annoying head.

I like to think about what went well this year, acknowledge my growth and my accomplishments. I like to take the time to see the changes I’ve created in my life and, by extension, in the lives of people around me. I make a note of steps I’ve taken, things I’ve done (even if terrified while doing them), and impacts I’ve had. I also like to take a tour through the precious moments that deserve a second showing.

And then, feeling pretty well-buoyed up by all of that goodness, I give some air time to the things that didn’t go so well. Mistakes I made, things I failed at, stuff that didn’t work out, plans I abandoned, battles with myself (lose-lose). I review the heartache and the sorrows. And I ask if there is anything more I need to learn from those moments. I ask the sky, the universe, anyone who might be listening if there is something more to gain from all of that, just on the off chance they might just tell me so I don’t have to sort it out myself.

My review of the past year complete, I do my best to have a vision of the next year. I picture myself on a regular day, perhaps before all of the holiday madness next year. What will I be doing? Where will I be? Who will be there? How will I feel? What parts of my day are exciting? What will have changed? And I notice.  I notice what parts of that vision feel good. I notice what parts of that vision are scary, but still good. I notice what parts of that vision I am perfectly ready to discard as impossible (and I question that thought). I notice what parts of that vision show me the work that I have yet to do.

Making next year betterAnd I use that vision. I use the feelings of the future to guide my present. I set a flag firmly where I want to be and begin to navigate a path with thought, word, and deed that will make that destination inevitable.

So when that moment comes, and someone asks me, I will answer that IF I have a resolution, it is only this: to act on my vision in 2018.

XO,

j

Let Them Be Wrong

A lesson for the holidays and everyday…

In my last post I talked about ways to rewrite our family stories. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. For many of us taking a look at those old family stories is absolutely critical to emotional adulthood, to clean functionality in the real world, and to having a shot at really creating a life we love. There are all kinds of stories that are dream life and peaceful holiday killers.

TODAY I want to talk about a particular kind of story.

TODAY I want to talk about the kind of story that involves you knowing what someone else thinks of you.

TODAY I will admit that I used to spend a lot of time in this particular kind of story.

I was pretty sure I knew what lots of people thought about me and I spent a LOT of time and energy trying to either repair/change those thoughts or prevent bad ones from emerging. It was totally exhausting AND it was really lonely because about 85% of the time in that scenario I was not being myself. I missed out on genuine connection with folks and friends, I missed myself. There is nothing quite so lonely as missing yourself.

Over the last few years I’ve stumbled into the necessity of examining what I was believing about how others felt about me. It was not pretty. And it was wrong on a lot of fronts. For example:

  1. when people judge youMany of those beliefs were based on old data. One of my old family stories revolved around me being spoiled. I was the youngest, by a bit of a stretch, and as happens with many families my parents’ financial circumstances improved over time. I was dubbed the spoiled one (and yes, it was said, often with good-humored ribbing but on more than one occasion as a character evaluation – here’s what’s wrong with you kind of thing). I’m 48 now. My parents don’t buy my stereo equipment. Old data.
  2. Many of those beliefs were based on the idea that other people’s opinions of me are static. They said it once, they must always believe that to be true. Yeah, because everything I think has stayed completely the same since I was 12…
  3. Many of those beliefs assumed that people spent a whole lot more time paying attention to and judging me than would really be reasonable. Why on earth was I under the impression that they were so interested in what I was up to?
  4. Many of those beliefs were based on the assumption that if other people thought something bad about me, I had to do something about it.

My spoiled story shows all of these things. What’s interesting about this story is not that I took that assessment in, but that I got real clear on the fact that there were family members who saw me that way and I made that their permanent opinion of me. I never worried that I WAS actually spoiled, but I hated it that they thought I was. And I thought that they thought I was spoiled on a continuous and regular basis, as though they were doctors assessing an injury for healing or further damage. I interpreted so many interactions through this lens, and I was determined to do something about it. I thought that I needed to be good, or make it right, or let them see how I really am – surely they would change their minds if they knew me better. They would feel better about me, and I would feel better about myself if I just let them see the right stuff.

when people are meanAnd then one day it dawned on me. I could choose to stop doing anything about this belief. Whether it was true that they were judging me or not became irrelevant if  I could just decide to let them be wrong. That’s it. Because what they think of me doesn’t do me any harm at all if I don’t agree and I don’t get into their business. If I don’t put time, energy, and worry into what’s going on in their hearts and heads, I can just let them be wrong. And let’s just say they ARE judging me… who loses in this scenario? Not me. Because I’m staying out of it. If they want to miss out, so be it. “Who’s opinion of you matters the most?” I ask my daughter whenever some toxic mean girl crap arises at school. “Mine Mommy, my opinion matters most.” That’s right girl. If my opinion of me is okay, then what they think or don’t think doesn’t matter. If my opinion of me is not okay then THAT’s what I should be spending my time on, not trying to figure out how other people feel about me. I can just let them be wrong.

And when I do this, when I let other people be wrong, I am freed from the tyranny of proving myself. I am freed from the push and pull of faking it the right way versus being myself. I am freed from the endless tension that getting in other people’s business inevitably creates. When I do this I am free to relax and just be, and that sounds like a pretty good recipe for a better holiday, or any day.

What would change if you could let people be wrong about you? How much time, energy, and sleep could you reclaim? Maybe it’s time to find out.

 

Rewriting Your Family Stories for the Holidays

There are so many great things about the holiday season, and for many folks that includes spending time with family. For many, that particular part of the puzzle is more complicated than just straight-up joy. There may be a variety of reasons for that complexity, but I guarantee that if there’s baggage there, there are also stories.

A friend of mine likes to say that one of the reasons that our family is so good at pushing our buttons is that they are the ones who helped sew them on in the first place. Our families of origin are co-creators in some of our worst stories. The negative things we tell ourselves are sometimes just echoes of things we were told as kids. The negative ideas we have about relatives may have been formed on the basis of one particularly bad interaction, or a pattern that held 20, 30, 40 years ago. Those stories don’t age well. Our stories get more entrenched the longer we let them stick around, and our ability to see evidence that suggests that we’re wrong diminishes over time.

have a better holiday with your familySo there’s the holiday dilemma for many people. There are still these stories about who we are, about who they are, about the way “we” do things, and then we’re all supposed to get together and have the best time we’ve had all year, which I’d like to point out, is also a story.

Here’s the thing. All of that stuff is optional. All of it, from the bottom to the top. Getting together with your family is optional  – and I hear all of you saying: “but you don’t understand, you don’t know my family. I could never get away with that because….” Yeah. Optional. You can choose not to participate. Might there be consequences? Yes, but it’s still optional. And the way those consequences impact you? Also optional. But I realize that kettle of fish might be too big to consider just this minute.

Let’s assume that you still want to get together with your family, just without so much tension or anxiety or whatever form your holiday complexity takes. You can totally choose to do that. It may take some practice, but it is totally do-able.

First you’re going to need to become a keen observer – not of what everyone else is doing wrong or saying wrong or being rude about – but of what’s going on in your own head and how it impacts your heart. You need to notice what you are thinking about these people and about yourself. You need to notice what assumptions you are making. You need to notice how you are interpreting what they say (even when you have tons of evidence from the past that points to your interpretation being absolute truth). You need to notice what you are thinking that is hurting you. Examples of family stories you might want to pay special attention to: your “role” in the family, how you’ve “always” gotten along or not gotten along with so and so, the way so and so REALLY feels about you, anything you need to prove to anyone, your level of responsibility for the happiness of others – am I hitting anything for you yet?

Here’s the secret about this first step: if this is all you do, it will still help SO MUCH. When you become an observer of your thoughts and feelings, you are far less likely to get caught up in them and react/act impulsively/co-create drama. When you become that observer (the watcher), you give yourself a little emotional distance and it becomes infinitely easier to allow multiple interpretations, to see other perspectives, and to simply allow other people to be wrong, rude, or hurtful without it having to mean anything to you personally. Watch yourself with curiosity and compassion and your family gathering will be a whole different ball game. Notice how things change. Notice the amount of personal power there is in how you respond and react (or don’t).

If you want to take it a bit further, you’ll need to acknowledge that the things that you are thinking may not be actual facts. They may be opinions and you could be wrong. They may be assumptions that you’ve been making for years. They may be someone else’s garbage that you’ve decided to lug around. If you’re like me the idea of just being wrong doesn’t really help, but it sure does when I realize that means I get to decide to think and feel something different. I’ve talked a lot about this thought changing business, but it’s rarely as transformative as it can be when we decide to take on our family stories, those carefully sewn on buttons.

 

So what can you do once you’ve decided that maybe the things you are thinking aren’t serving you? How do you think something different? You choose and practice new thoughts.

And here’s where you think I’m going to hand you a bunch of really sunshiney affirmations – no worries on that front – like, at all,. When you choose to believe something different, you don’t just decide to feed yourself a really pretty sounding lie – even though to be fair you may have been feeding yourself an ugly lie before. When you want to change how you think, you need to choose a new thought that is better than the old one, but still believable. Sometimes you need to give new thoughts a test drive – is this something that’s going to cause me to constantly argue with myself or does it bring a little relief, a sense of possibility, a little compassion to myself or others. You have to choose to actively practice a thought that will improve your situation but that maybe isn’t quite the rainbow glitter unicorn of a thought you’d really LOVE to believe if it wasn’t so incredibly outlandish.

When you feel your old story rearing up, remind yourself that it’s a choice, and actively think that new thought. Remind yourself that you aren’t responsible for everyone’s holiday or that you have no idea what they think of you. Remind yourself that you don’t have to revert to your 14 year old self. Remind yourself that you get to decide who you will be both within and outside of the family.

Reduce your family dramaAnd then notice how you feel. And notice what happens to your complex family gathering. Notice as your ability to enjoy increases and your stress level decreases. Take heart in your capacity to change yourself and, oftentimes, everything around you, just by changing your mind.

 

I Feel the Holiday Swirl

As much as I try to maintain my groove, the holiday season is catching up with me. Maybe it was the announcement by child #1 that clothes that were said to have fit for the piano recital but then were actually put on to reveal a young male gibbon in a white button down. Maybe it was the daily announcement by child #2 of exactly how many shopping days are left until Christmas. Maybe it was the realization that taking that week off means getting more done now. Maybe it was actually looking at the calendar and seeing what I’d done to myself despite having said NO several times. Maybe it was just staying up too late too many nights in a row to have a time of blessed quiet with the reverend. I’m actually willing to put a fair amount of money on that last one.

peace at the holidaysIt’s getting to me.

I’m feeling harried and disorganized.

I’m starting to feel that sense of inadequacy creep in.

I’m starting to wonder what will happen if I don’t do ALL of the things.

I’m starting to panic.

And I feel myself see that panic and immediately lash out with resistance. No! I know better! I can do this better!

And so I answer the panic with repression.

Which works internally about as well as abstinence education does externally.

So I reminded myself tonight, I remembered, that I can feel the panic.

I don’t have to be afraid to feel it because it’s just a feeling.

It’s just a vibration in my body that needs to express itself.

It’s just the scared primitive part of my brain freaking out because if I don’t do Christmas right, I’m going to get voted off the island.

Sometimes to settle that brain, we first just have to let it say its peace.

So now I’m taking a big breath. Go ahead brain. Panic. You are allowed to be here fear. I’m sorry you are so scared. I know you’re going to be okay, but I can see you don’t know that yet. And that’s alright. So just go ahead. Get it all out. I’m going to just sit here and breathe while you do that.

And then, when you’re done with this anxiety tantrum, I’m going to be in charge again. And we’re still not going to do all of the things. And we still might disappoint some people, but I will make all of those decisions consciously so you don’t have to worry that I’m just screwing it all up.

It’s okay little lizard brain.

Just breathe.

And look at the lights.

And know that you are and will be loved even if you don’t make Christmas perfect for everyone.

And know that you are okay and will be loved even if you don’t manage to work as hard this next 12 days as you thought you would.

Feeling lovedAnd know that you are okay and will be loved because you are enough no matter what you do or don’t buy, make, or create.

You are okay. You are loved. You are enough.

All is well.

Feel THAT and you will have a holy night.

In Peace,

j

 

 

Yes You Can

My son had his first piano recital yesterday.

He is NOT someone who relishes being in the spotlight, on stage, watched intently in any way.

It was a big deal.

As I watched him and the 24 other students perform, I found myself overcome with emotion many times, not just maternal pride, but something deeper, something that wasn’t just about me and my boy.

It think what I was sensing is all of the ways a GOOD recital reflects the best parts of our world, and I don’t know about you, but I could use a little reminding right about now of some of the best parts of our world, not so I can ignore the bad, but so I can remember WHY I care about the bad, so I can remember why hope and effort matter so much.

Life Lessons in the Recital Hall

1. Community Matters. We all know this, but sometimes we get so involved in our own stuff that we forget. We forget about the people who make some of our own stuff possible. When we arrived (early so he could see the room, get comfortable, maybe even run through his piece), the performance space had been completely rearranged and decorated to provide the best experience for performer AND audience. Tables were set up and decorated and treats arrived with each family so that everyone could enjoy something afterwards. It was festive, and it took work. Community matters.

2. There will most likely always be someone who is better than you. When we arrived yesterday, my son walked into the sanctuary of the church where the recital was held to find a very advanced student warming up on her piece. He had hoped to sit at the grand piano for a minute to see how it felt, but quickly lost his interest in playing anything after she was finished. He didn’t want to be compared to her AT ALL. He was already doing enough of that himself. He didn’t tell me so, but I know he was afraid that all of the other performers would be more like her and that he would be the only beginner.

There is no shame in being a beginner3. You are never the only beginner. What he discovered when a family friend (who also was there supporting a performer) clued us in to the other piano in a more private location where he could practice is that he was far from the only beginner, and perhaps more importantly, he was not the oldest beginner. The recital featured students of all ages at all stages in the learning process. It is much easier to be kind to ourselves as beginners when we remember we are not alone.

4. Everyone makes mistakes. Of the 25 or so pieces that were played, I think there were 2 in which there were no mistakes I could discern. All of the students made mistakes – different levels of mistake, but mistakes nonetheless. And you know what happened? Not a darned thing. Nobody asked them to step away from the piano. Their teacher did not get frustrated. Their parents did not shame them. They had the grace of the group to handle their mistake and finish the piece they had prepared. The audience cheered for everyone because everyone makes mistakes.

5. A corollary: being perfect is not the point. When students prepare for a recital, they are sure that the point is to play the piece flawlessly, but I am pretty convinced that this is not the point at all. The recital offers an opportunity that is far greater, far deeper, far more important for the development of the self and the soul than playing a piano piece perfectly. The point of the recital is to share yourself, and to do without being deterred by fear or flaw. The point of the recital is to take a moment to acknowledge growth, development of skill and to grow and develop as a human by keeping fear at bay and getting to the finish line no matter what. Being perfect was never the point.

6. It is never too late. My son was so sure he would be embarrassed by his beginner status ate the ripe old age of 10. Amongst the students yesterday were several adults. Some were very advanced. Some were not as advanced, but they reminded us all that it is never too late. It is never too late to try something new. It is never too late to improve a skill. It is never too late to spend time on something that fills your heart. It is never too late to share yourself. It is never to late to have another chance to put fear in its place and go through with your plans as you made them. It is never too late.

7. The audience wants you do well AND wants you to feel good. They want you to do well, but not really because they don’t want to listen to poorly performed music (although there might be a little of that). They mostly want you to do well because they want you to have a good experience. They want you to feel proud of yourself. They want you to have concrete evidence of the growth and courage that they see when you walk to the front of the hall. The audience even loves you, not just your parent. They are all holding you in hope and compassion as you take that risk.

I know that a recital is not the world at large, that a smaller group of people with similar interests might be different, kinder to one another, special, but isn’t it possible that these things are or CAN be true everywhere, especially if we look for it, if we don’t imagine that they’re not true or only notice when people behave badly?

Just do youIsn’t it possible that there is a safe space in the world for you to share yourself, to acknowledge what you’ve been up to, to give of yourself, to set fear aside and just do the thing so we can all cheer for you?

I’ll be the one in the front row with an inappropriate noise-maker and glittery signs.

Go do that thing.

Are You Aware of Your Mastery?

 

She said: “I’m not an expert” and then told me, as an aside, how she was quickly able to answer a potential client’s question – no hesitation. Her client walked away from that exchange with information that could change her daily life. And my client walked away without the confidence that her training and years of preparation should afford her.

There’s a thing that can happen with mastery. When we study something deeply, or at least repetitively for a long time, it becomes part of who we are. We can act on that mastery without thinking about it. And THAT can get us into trouble.

Acknowledge what you're good atWomen are not always encouraged to reflect on, celebrate, and talk about their mastery. They’ll even give credit for their work away to others (especially to male colleagues at work). So even though they achieve these levels of ability and skill, they don’t share that with others and after a while, they sort of forget that there was mastery involved at all. Let me give you a few examples.

Example 1: This is about yours truly, but I KNOW it applies to others because I’ve heard it. I stayed at home with my twins for 10 years. I did do some part-time work in there, and the amount of work time increased in the last several years as I pursued my coach training and established a practice, but for all of those 10 years I was the chief cook and bottle washer. I was squarely in charge of our entire domestic scene. This was a job I took on willingly, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t wear on me. As our employment picture has shifted, we have worked toward rebalancing the domestic load, my grad student and self-employed husband taking on more and entrepreneur and musician me casting off tasks. And for some time this shift caused a great deal of discomfort. He didn’t do things right. He took forever to complete tasks I could whiz through. He didn’t see the messes and the problems that were screaming out for attention. And it drove me crazy, until I realized that this whole domestic scene was an area in which I had achieved mastery. While I didn’t love a lot of it, I had become extremely efficient. These tasks were second nature. I could execute them quickly, without even thinking about it most of the time. My irritation with him both shortchanged him of the room to grow and learn AND failed to acknowledge the amount of learning and skill that went into my handling of these tasks in the first place. I had achieved mastery. My execution of that role had become intuitive, could be in flow, and was a demonstration of hours and hours of practice.

Example 2: I have a friend who has always been interested in health. She is constantly reading about nutrition, alternative therapies, anything she can get her hands on that describes things people can do to take better care of their bodies. (I actually have a handful of friends that fit this description now that I’m thinking about it). She is also a nurse by trade and is in graduate school. I turn to my friend when I have physical and medical questions, which as someone with an undiagnosable joint problem, I do with some regularity. And I can see the wheels in her mind turn as we discuss whatever I’m asking about. I see her accessing all of those cerebral files. I see her deciding what’s relevant and what’s not with lightening speed. I take her recommendations seriously because they have not yet failed me. And yet, she regularly tells me that she is not as smart as _____________. Her mastery goes unacknowledged internally. Her ego doesn’t even get the boost of feeling proud of all of the value she offers the world on a regular basis, because she doesn’t recognize her own mastery.

Example 3: I have a new part of my practice, helping coaches and other service professionals to create a signature program so that they can serve their clients in deep and meaningful ways. This development is a mastery story in two way. First of all, I had to acknowledge my own mastery of curriculum planning – my deep understanding of how to teach – in order to offer this as a service. It struck me during a conversation with a fellow coach that I had knowledge and skills, mastery, that might be helpful to others. The second way this is a mastery story is that this process requires my clients to acknowledge their own mastery. What do you know about/know how to do that the people you want to work with don’t? Where is your flow and who needs that? Who do you want to work with and what can you offer them? These questions always remind my clients that they DO have mastery, that the skills and knowledge that they take for granted are taken for granted because they’ve mastered them. When they acknowledge that mastery, our work together takes off like a rocket.

How to feel more confidentAnd I say all of this to give you a moment, a chance to pause and really take a good hard look at yourself. Because I’m betting there’s some mastery there. There’s something (probably many things) that you do and do well without even thinking about it, and that you’ve done well for so long that you think everyone can do that (or knows that or thinks that or makes that). You’ve forgotten that your mastery is, in fact, YOURS. You’ve forgotten to remember the ways that you shine, and by ignoring your mastery, your sparkles have grown a little dim. Nobody can see what you can do and learn from you, be inspired by you, find courage to shine themselves when you extinguish your light.

What are you a master at? What can you do without really breaking a sweat? Take a moment and see it, see your own mastery, your own unique blend of skill, learning and intuition. See it and remember that you can shine and others will bask in that light.

If you need some help polishing your glitter, please do get in touch. I’d love to share my shine with you.

Are You Skipping the Hard Parts?

I’ve mentioned a few times here that I have had a shaky relationship with the holidays in the past. This year, even as we approach the one year anniversary of my Dad’s death on December 23rd, has been fundamentally different.

In the past I resisted the hullabaloo of the holidays altogether – partly out of Grinchly attitudes and partly due to being a highly sensitive person in an increasingly loud and lit-up world. It turns out, now that I am reflecting on it, that my resistance to the Christmas hullaballoo (waiting to put the tree up, delaying Christmas music, holding off on the treats) was also a remnant of the Christianity of my childhood. Now, don’t get all skittish on me, this isn’t a piece about religion, so just hang in there. I’m going somewhere that applies to all of us, I promise.

In the Episcopal church of my childhood, the season of Advent was well-attended. Advent  is made up of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and is seen as a time of preparation, of expectation. Most folks would assume that meant getting ready for Christmas, but Advent demands something deeper, as is reflected by the hymns that were saved specifically for this time of year. Advent is a time of quiet, of inward reflection, of questioning, of facing the dark (externally and internally), and of preparing for something new. This changes the whole Christmas and holiday scenario quite a bit.

Living ConsciouslyThese weeks before Christmas can be reserved by anyone of any faith tradition as an opportunity to engage in the deep inner-work of creating new life, because that’s what this holiday season is about. Christian or not, we can all appreciate the notion that there is a time for acknowledging what is past, releasing what is broken, asking ourselves what will be required of us next, and then consider the possibility for change. We can claim the time, space, and quiet to examine the life that IS and then consciously create something new.

The rush to the sparkly parts of the season push us past the dark work of the soul that can be so difficult but so transformative. The rush to the physical preparation for the season and the intensely over-scheduled calendars leave no time for examination, for contemplation, for internal preparation. It is all about the wrapping paper. Just as we rush to the celebrations of the season (and the retailers push the start date earlier and earlier), so too do we try to rush to the trappings/accessories/feelings of a better life without doing the personal and contemplative work that actually promotes the change that is available to all of us.

The Holiday Frenzy Hides an Opportunity for GrowthSometimes the need for change requires action, don’t misunderstand me. I have several digital feeds that keep me on top of political actions I should take without the benefit of deep and lasting contemplation. But the work of the soul, the work of creating an internal and external world that we want to live in, the work of recreating ourselves and our lives? THAT requires more than a cheerful song and a sugar cookie, and in our hustle bustle world, the opportunity for that kind of work must be created by individuals who desire it.

How do we create those opportunities? We say no. We say no to being totally overbooked. We say no to filling all of the space with music and decorations. We say no to filling every minute of our day with the physical preparations for the season and reserve some time for the quiet work of self-examination and the self-inquiry that creates the space to create new life.

I’ve already put my tree up, as it is perhaps my very favorite part of the holiday season. The beauty of it makes me catch my breath. And it makes an excellent companion as I sit, in the darkness of December, and turn my thoughts to what is to come.

xo,

j

BODIES In the News and in the Mirror

I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship with our bodies. Having 10 year olds enrolled in a sexuality education class and listening to NPR a lot really leaves me no choice but to think about bodies a lot.

alienation and lonelinessOn the one hand I consistently find in my clients (and in others I just ask nosy questions of) a negligence of the experience of the body, how they feel (emotionally and physically). We can talk about how we think we feel. We talk about how we ought to feel, and supply plenty of great reasons for whatever conclusion we come to for that “should,” but we don’t spend all that much time actually feeling it. This is so true that people are often befuddled when I ask them how they actually feel, without all of the thinking around it. We are cut off from our physical experience of ourselves except when illness or injury overwhelms our ability to maintain that disconnection.

On the other hand, we are the gatekeepers of our bodies and our ability to watch and guard that gate varies with our beliefs, our self-esteem, our age, and our physical size, our strength, and it seems our capacity for earning a living. This fleshy container from which we distance ourselves apparently needs our watchful eye, our clear-headed awareness, and our protection. We are in the strange and uncomfortable position of guarding something with which we have little real connection.

And that brings me to the third hand (yes, I know but wouldn’t it be useful?). In the absence of a perpetrator doing violence to these bodies, we will weaponize ourselves against them. We need not be concerned with how these bodies feel but we darned well better be concerned about how they look. We had better heed the call to shrink, to get smaller and more meek, to sit down, to be quiet, to discipline ourselves into a secondary stature, to scold ourselves into submission through the deeply wounding power of hostility toward that which is our first and most personal property (because this is the language we all understand, property), our bodies.

This treatment of the female form, this obsessive self-disciplining based on either disconnection or self-loathing, is oppression embodied. The refusal of how we feel is submission. The shrinking for the purpose of pleasing and matching the model is obedience. The setting of impossible standards and punishing ourselves for failing to meet them is collaboration.

A radical act for the new year? Learning to be embodied love – not for our partners and children, not for parents and cousins, not for community and congregation but for ourselves. Imagine each single body a physical manifestation of pure love that radiates from a foundation of self-cherishing (not just acceptance) and proceeds with self care that is deep and multi-dimensional. THAT is healing. Healing for you. And healing for you WILL BE healing for your family (especially your daughters), for your community, for all of us. As our capacity to love and care for ourselves grows, so too do our demands to be treated with dignity and respect, so too does our fervor to participate in ways that ensure a safe and supportive community for all.

diets don't workSome say that our bodies are temples, but in my estimation this lacks life and dynamism, growth and gloriousness. I say your body is a testimony, a living proof of the power of individual strength, perseverance, and cosmic and biological miracles. I say your body is a demonstration of all that is possible, and often of the nearly impossible. I say your body is a compass, a guide, a healer, and a knower. I say your body holds the treasures of the universe for you while you are making other plans.

What would your body whisper to you if you stopped and listened? What could it tell you if you left a pause in the conversation and the self-abuse? What does your body need? What does your body want? What feels like love for your body? What could you do today to take one small step in that direction? What’s stopping you?