Living in Possibility

When I hear those words: “living in possibility,” it sounds pretty grand and floaty and rainbow unicorn-y.

child-girl-hands-6191And yes, that’s partly my cynic responding, but I think it’s also because in order to dismiss the idea of living in possibility, my brain wants to jump right to the outcome, to see what that looks like as I move through the world doing things I’d never thought possible, doing things nobody ever thought possible, leaping tall buildings in a single bound…. see there it goes again.

But the truth is that living in possibility starts in a way that really isn’t about leaping buildings or leaving a trail of glitter in your wake.

Living in possibility starts small, quietly, and internally.

Yeah, sorry. There are some steps before glitter and unicorns and that’s why we dismiss them, because we’re not sure what those steps are and we don’t know how to do them, and internal – yuck. I’m so with you.

As a life coach I spend a lot of time on the internal, mine and everyone else’s, and sometimes I just have to remind myself to look at the rest of the world because it’s tough in there. Those things on the inside can be pretty dark and full of spiders, but that’s exactly why the notion of possibility can be helpful. Possibility is like a little beam of light breaking in through the canopy into the darkness, encouraging the spiders to continue being helpful and eating pests, but not just run amok everywhere.

When it comes to living in possibility, the only real way to begin is to start thinking in possibility, which means taking a look at what we think when nobody (including ourselves) is looking, examining those underlying, unconscious assumptions about ourselves and the world to see if we’re boxing ourselves in. This has been an… erm… growth area for me.

For me beginning to think in possibility, as a conscious intentional project, began as a practice of noticing when I reacted negatively to positive things people said about or to me, something I did consistently and reflexively.

When praised after a speech or on a piece of writing or after singing somewhere, I would  do my best to dismiss that moment: in the early days by diminishing the praise somehow (revealing that I thought I did poorly or I should have been more prepared). As I started to see that, and to see some articles about how frequently women in particular do that, I made a conscious effort to NOT say those things any more. The next step was to begin to just say: “Thank you,” without extending that sentence with excuses and self-deprecation. This didn’t necessarily change my thinking, but it did bring my attention to my pattern and helped me to stop reinforcing my own unhelpful thinking.

Then I began to just really notice how I would recoil, turn away, internally dismiss those personal comments, and even passages in the many self-help books I’ve got stacked up around here. If I didn’t agree, if what they said was TOO good about me, I would skim past, breeze over, or even dismiss the speaker or author. Wow. I would essentially insult them so I could keep on insulting myself. True commitment.

The next step, after that noticing, was to begin to question myself.

An author and thinker named Byron Katie provides one of the most useful sets of questions I’ve encountered; all of those questions are based on reacting to our thoughts with some version of: “Is it true?” You’d be amazed at how many horrible stories about ourselves we can begin to unravel if we just take a deep breath and ask ourselves: “Is it really, absolutely true?”

So I began to apply that tool to my responses to the good stuff being thrown at me, but did a little wordsmithing, as I do, to make it immediately helpful: “Am I sure it’s not true?” My recoil instinct was clearly due to me thinking that whatever good thing was being said was not true, was demonstrably false, and maybe even demonstrated a little disdain for the speaker. I mean, after all, what would have to be wrong with you to have such low standards? Yes I’m shaking my head at myself too.

And so I began my practice of asking about the truth of that reaction, about my certainty that I was not whatever good thing was being acknowledged.

Sometimes that question was all it took, and I found ease in responding to praise about singing, about writing, about good deeds. The trick was when I got down to the internal worth. The trick was when I dug into some spiritually bent self-help books that wanted me to believe REALLY good things about myself like: “I now declare myself to be whole, holy, perfect, and complete.” (Iyanla Vanzant)

It has never been okay to declare myself perfect or complete. The notion of me being holy would defile holiness because of the mistakes I’ve made. I also assumed that if I believed I was perfect I would stop trying to be better and would naturally become selfish and complacent.

Well, that sort of lays the insides bare, doesn’t it?

And all of that shows the ways that old wounds and improper words diminish my living in possibility. Those thoughts create the cage for what I can do, my estimation of my capacity.

What would happen if I let go of the words and wounds that get in the way, or if I kept them in safekeeping but decided they need not get in the way?

Here’s what happens when we step out of certainty and into possibility:

“I cannot trust” becomes “I find it difficult to trust but would like to learn.”

“I cannot love or be loved” becomes “I am willing to begin to allow myself to open myself to love in all forms regardless of my past.”

person-road-walk-1605411“I can’t surrender” becomes “I am open to the idea that surrender creates both ease and action and is strength rather than weakness.”

“I am not enough” becomes “I wonder how I would feel if I decided that I am exactly who I should be right now.”

All of that by asking: “Are you sure? Is it absolutely true?”

Thinking in possibility leads to living in possibility. Glitter and unicorns to follow.

 

Branching Out: Building Confidence

“If only I had more confidence, then I could do things like ______ and ________. My life would be more _______. Things would be better,” said plenty of people lots of times.

It was a theme for me too, for so many years, and it is a place I still occasionally find myself. I can still look back and see all of the ways that confidence, a shift in my temperament, would have helped me. It would have helped me in graduate school – seeing myself as just as deserving as my peers of my place in my program. It would have helped me in college and high school in trusting friendships and not needing so much affirmation through romantic entanglements. There is no question in my mind that more confidence would have changed my experience as a professional musician.

But I did not develop that confidence until much later because I had a fundamental misunderstanding about how confidence would come. I thought that at some point, someone in a position of some authority would recognize something good in me – would tell me that I was great at whatever. I would be acknowledged for the good things and THEN, having earned the needed recognition, I could be confident. The stories of Hollywood starlets being discovered at the lunch counter sounded just about right to me. Someone was going to find/see/acclaim my good qualities and then I could act with confidence, do things I dared not do otherwise.

It took me a long time to discover that my thinking was absolutely backward not on one, but two, counts.

In the first place I came to understand that true confidence has nothing to do with anyone else’s recognition of your gifts and good qualities, but lies in your own ability to see, claim, and appreciate those qualities.

bar-blue-business-533347Childhood lessons on humility made it difficult for me to recognize, claim, and celebrate my gifts. It was good to be good at things but not good to make too much of a fuss (or expect too much of a fuss) about them. The fantasy of someone else “discovering” me would let me get around the moral minefield of bragging – my genius would be pointed out by someone else. Aside from the obvious drawback that lunch counter discoveries of talent are rare indeed, they also put all of one’s sense of being enough in someone else’s hands. They put a tremendous amount of personal power in the hands of strangers.

The other thing that I had all wrong was the relationship between confidence and doing the things I wanted to do. I thought the confidence had to come first. It never occurred to me that I had the capacity to develop that confidence by taking action on my own behalf while I was still unsure, unsteady or even scared to death. I didn’t understand that waiting until I was “ready” to do the things I most wanted to do was really just me delaying BOTH those experiences AND the opportunity to develop my sense of confidence by taking risks, by taking action.

All of those steps I was delaying seemed too big to me, too scary. I was all caught up in a story that I didn’t have what it took to complete them, that I needed something else first. What I really needed first was a belief in my value as a human (worth conferred at birth by the way) and the willingness to act while afraid.

I needed the strategy of breaking big steps forward into tiny micro-steps so I could build confidence in my capacity and trust that 1) I will do what needs doing and 2) I will be okay even if those things don’t go well or create the results I am looking for.

adult-beautiful-close-up-936065-2I have those tools now. And I know I will be okay. I see that I have something to offer and I am building confidence every time I act in courage – taking steps when I am afraid. The fear doesn’t really go away if I keep reaching and growing but my increased confidence allows me to gather that courage and do it anyway.

Taking those steps, no matter how small, feels like reaching out with root and branch in a burst of self-supporting growth and bloom. It seems to me that the best parts of our life do this; they look like expansion and nourishment at the same time, and they are holy, sacred, and available to all of us. Even me. Even you.

Navigating Growth: Extending Your Branches

I have always liked maps. I love to look at them, to imagine traveling with them, using them to find new and more interesting or pleasing ways to get somewhere. GPS is seriously useful, but not the same. There I said it; judge away. I like to hold and touch and SEE the big picture.

adventure-beautiful-bright-243597.jpgAnd I see that I have always believed that having that big map – the big picture with all of the details for how to get there – for all of my decisions was absolutely necessary. I mean how can you decide which direction to turn if you don’t know where you are going?

My recent experiences fly directly in the face of that idea and all of its conventional wisdom. It has thrown me for quite a loop.

You see, I’m building a community. The idea for my private FB group came to me in stillness (that’s meditation for those of you not allergic to the word – allergy sufferers forget I said anything). I got more inspiration on a walk. I got other pieces in the shower but it didn’t all add up to a map, a detailed plan. It was a little more loosey-goosey than that. So I held onto it, wanting to get the destination firmly in mind, perfecting the path.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think there’s good to be found in working on your vision, but sometimes we (I) can get stuck there, moving pieces around mentally and never getting to the trip. It’s like planning a dream vacation your whole life and never actually packing a bag. For many of us the dreaming is the safe space. It is where we can try to imagine how it should be without taking any of the risks associated with trying to make it so.

The dreaming space is where my son hangs out in preparation for Halloween. He LOVES Halloween and he spends months thinking about his costume. He wants it to be whatever he wants it to be: one year scary, another year clever and literary, this year I think he’s going for political satire (yes, that’s my kid) and he works at that vision. He sees the big picture – him going to the door, the adult GETTING it, the candy, the pride. He sees the impact he wants to have. He begins to think of the details associated with the costume. We talk about those details and invariably when we get to about 2 weeks out, he begins to have doubts. He begins to think maybe his idea isn’t so great after all. This year his big worry is: “What if they don’t get it?” Oh honey, I know. Then he moves into the familiar. Maybe he should dress up as something easy, something that comes in a bag with all of the pieces, something everyone will recognize right away. Maybe he’s got the destination all wrong. It is only the time pressure (and maternal nagging) and the siren call of the candy payoff that forces his hand, that moves him out of dreaming and self-doubt into action.

I began to feel this same thing happening with the idea of this community I wanted to build, but with no candy payday to push me forward. I was sort of sitting still fondling the vision, and the longer I looked, the more I noticed the self-doubt that was creeping in around the edges. I began to hear internal message and all of those messages boiled down to some version of “Who are you to do that? Who do you think you are?”

I began to wonder if maybe I needed some training. I began to compile a reading list. I thought of some other things I would probably need to do before getting started in order to be “ready.” Let me interrupt myself (again) by saying there’s nothing wrong with training, reading, or otherwise preparing yourself for a new venture, unless you are doing all of that as a way to 1) delay action indefinitely OR 2) feel good enough to pursue something to which you feel called right now. That’s exactly what I was doing.

The fix wasn’t in more school or a more specific vision. The fix wasn’t in reading the “right” books. The fix wasn’t in preparation. The fix was in releasing the need to perfect the big vision long enough to take the next small step. The way I chose to do that was to change the conversation in my head from “What do I want to do?” which is a super important but LONG conversation that gets all of those internal naysayers in full screech mode TO “What small step should I take next?”

WHOLE different question, right? Reflecting on what small step to take next is far less daunting and while it tends to generate its own mental obstacle course, that tends to look more like confusion than self-abuse which I would argue is easier on the spirit.

“I don’t know” feels better than “No you can’t” AND it can be answered by a question perfectly grounded in possibility and shared with me by a friend who learned it from Iyanla VanZant. “Well, what if you did know?” Pretend you do know what to do next. Now what’s the answer?

It’s such a wonderful question because it sidesteps the fog that our brains use to keep us still. It’s a wonderful question because it brings us back to stillness, to what we DO know, what we can know, what we ARE capable of and out of the hunting and overwhelming picture of the perfection we’d like to create.

I believe the answer to that question, the question of what to do next, is usually quite simple. It is almost always something we already know how to do, and if we can quiet our minds enough, we can access it – either right there in stillness or sometime after like on a walk or in the shower.

It is tempting, when we get an answer, when we see a step that is as small as writing an e-mail or making a phone call, to make it bigger, to turn it into more, to consider everything about it, another brilliantly executed stall tactic by the safety monitor in our minds.

child-costume-fairy-127968If instead, we accept that simple step and execute it, we build trust in ourselves, trust in the benevolence of the universe, and trust in the possibility that we can be enough right now. If we just get the costume we envisioned,  create the props that give costume clues, wear the long johns if necessary, the KitKats and Twix bars will flow and MAYBE next year we will remember that it is okay to do it just the way we want.

I Will Not Be Shamed

Someone tried to spank me on Facebook yesterday. I had posted a picture of myself after a haircut, something I do pretty much every time I get a cut as a way to celebrate doing something nice for myself and to continually work on the fear of being SEEN, real pictures of the real me at real (although admittedly well-styled, at least on my head) moments in my real life. I guess there were a lot of posts on my page yesterday, because I gave a sermon at my church and provided the music on Sunday, and folks had posted pictures and recordings of that. At any rate, the spanking…

artist-circus-clown-476Someone commented: “Wow Julia for someone who seems so private you seem to need a lot of attention.” It was followed by the obligatory: “LOL,” as a way to say I’m not really insulting you. Other favorite FB devices that serve this b.s. purpose include: “Just saying…” and the ubiquitous winky emoticon. This digital attempt to use humor to diffuse criticism is something I am VERY well versed in. It’s dishonest. It’s dishonest to pretend it’s a joke and it’s dishonest to believe you are NOT being critical when you do it. Mini-rant over; back to the larger rant.

So wow. Yeah. And I felt it for a minute, because let’s face it, the LOL, the “just saying,” and the winky face don’t really do anything about the words, do they? I felt that accusation. It fed right into old stories of mine about bragging, being too proud, trying to get the spotlight, things that were actively discouraged in my home.

Those stories are things I’ve worked on, but they’re still there, so when I received the FB spank, I had to take a few minutes. My initial response (internally) was not very friendly to the speaker, but it was also tinged with self-doubt. You can tell this is true because I DID go back and look at what I’d been posting that day. Was I asking for attention? Was I showing off? Was I shining too bright a light on the good things that had happened over the last 48 hours? ALL of that is spin, nonsense, garbage, old stuff that’s meant to keep me small.

My retort was sassy, but unnatural. I hid how it made me feel with false confidence: “I don’t actually need it at all. People just keep giving it.” I thought that would be adequate. He persisted. “I almost believe you… Sorta. It’s all good. You’re a babe regardless. LMAO.” Oh, thank goodness he thinks I’m good looking. I continued to respond with my put on self-confidence and he eventually surrendered, which I confess is my goal in these situations, BUT it left a mark AND it reminded me of some things.

It left a mark because it brought up old stuff that I’ve been working on but didn’t particularly want to dance with on a particularly good day. It also left a mark because dammit, can’t a girl just be happy about haircut? Can’t a girl just share the good things that are happening? Can’t a girl just be proud for a minute? Would it have been a problem if a man had posted photos of his recent speaking engagement, his golf score, himself all dressed up for a special night? WHY is this a problem?

It makes people uncomfortable. And to that I respond with a resounding: “Sorry. Not sorry.” I’m sorry if you are not comfortable sharing the wins in your life and if you were raised to believe that you should not crow when something has gone right. I mean that. I really am. That’s the part I’m sorry about.

What I’m not sorry about is that my newly found lack of shame and conscious decision to stop playing small makes you uncomfortable. You can challenge me if you really need to, but I won’t be pushed back into the closet. I won’t.

And I want to ask you to do something, which I acknowledge I have no real right to do, but if you’ve read this far, maybe you’ll be game.

alone-boulders-idyllic-426893If you get uncomfortable when people share their best bits, I want you to take a minute and think of something you are proud of, and even if you don’t feel ready to share it, just sit with it. Feel what it’s like to congratulate yourself, to revel in the good thing you are or did or had or made for yourself. Bathe yourself in praise for just a moment. It’s really okay. Nobody can stop you in your head. Nobody can ask you who you think you are or tell you you’re too big for your britches. You get to just enjoy it. If you’re ready to take it a step further, share it with me. Send me a little note so that I can read it and then say: “That’s awesome. Yay you!”

This is how we rise. Not even a little bit sorry for that friends.

They Don’t All Like You

There’s something that’s been sort of swirling around in my personal sphere lately – in myself and in several people I’ve encountered online, in person, on the phone, pretty much everywhere. So I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to feel it out, give us some space to look at it.

I’ll start with me, not just because I’m self-centered, but because that’s the story I know best. Many of you probably already know that I have a mailing list and that I send out a missive pretty much every week (summer has its own calendar and while my intentions are pure, they are not always timely). In the past my weekly offering was accepted either with enthusiasm or neutrality. Some folks would write back with questions (LOVE) or praise (SUPER LOVE – I’m not immune people). Others would just tacitly approve by staying on the list (YAY!).

alone-away-back-view-274712Lately, things have been different. I know my writing has been different. Some of my offerings have been different. There’s been a more spiritual bent more of the time. There’s been a little more cursing here and there – a strange combination for some, but hey, this is me. And lately when I send out my message in a digital bottle, I’ve been getting a little wave of unsubscribes. Like that language? “A little wave,” the wording shows you exactly where I am with the whole thing. I want to be okay with it, so I call it little, but I feel every single one, so it’s a wave.

It’s perfectly natural that as what I’m doing changes, there will be people who no longer dig it. It’s totally sensible that as I become more myself, there will be people who find that I’m no longer a good fit for their selves. It’s reasonable that with crowded e-mail inboxes those who don’t LOVE what I’m doing should unsubscribe. My wise and practical mind knows this.

But that girl inside? She’s 12 again and all she wants is for everybody to like her. I bring this up NOT to get you all to sign up for my newsletter, but but because this happens to all of us. It especially happens as we change and become more honest, more whole, and more authentic. THIS is what Brene Brown means by vulnerability. When you are real, you take the chance of finding out that not everyone likes HER. We so want to be liked and we so want to be real. And so we juggle and which of those balls we pay the most attention to depends on so many factors.

No matter how we slice it though, we’re going to come across people who just don’t like us or don’t like what we do. My response tends to be: “Wait a minute. What did I do?” I want to investigate to see exactly what was different this time. I want to know why they are leaving. I want to be able to ask them why they don’t like me anymore – and that’s all coming from the 12 year old.

And she only asks for one reason: she asks because she is willing to change in order to keep all of those people. She is willing to be someone else in exchange for approval. She is more concerned about what everyone thinks of her than what she thinks of herself. She actually NEEDS them to like her because she thinks if enough people like her, she will then finally get to like herself.

Ugh. Brutal.

I see it. I see it in a way I was not able to see it in the past. I see it because over the last few years I worked really hard at reversing that direction.

I started with liking me, no not just liking me, LOVING me.

I consciously began to notice the things I love about me – and I mean that on ALL of the levels: in my head, in my heart AND on my body. (I have an amazing décolletage by the way.) I also began treating myself with love. I sat down and figured what that looked like and while I worked on developing the feelings, I began taking the actions. It has changed everything.

And yet, that 12 year old is still around.

That’s right. She’s still there, because here’s the thing about dragons. You don’t have to slay them to make peace.

I know what she’s about. I see her emerge. I catch myself before it all gets so serious that I make someone else’s opinion of me WAY too important. I check in – am I cool with what I said/did/created? Am I proud? Was it me? Yes, yes, yes.

And as I check in with myself, I realize how very okay it is that not everybody likes me.

Truthfully, I don’t like everybody either.

And that’s not what really matters anyway.

What really matters is how I feel about me because even if everyone else thinks I’m great but I don’t like me, I will feel no better. I will feel like a fraud. I will feel lonely and empty.

blur-body-care-161608When I love me, I get to feel real. I get to feel full. I get to feel better. They don’t like me, and that’s okay because I love me (cue the Megan Trainor song now).

If this message was for you today, I hope you’re hearing me, that I’ve found the right words. If you have children, especially teenage girls, I hope you’re hearing me.

If you stop reading my stuff five seconds from now and never come back, I hope you hear me when I say that you are worthy. You ARE special. You do have something to contribute. YOU are the only you we have and if you aren’t doing you right now, maybe it’s time to try to find her, ever so gently, and with great love.

So be it.

 

Brave Enough

I do a lot of talking about fear and getting past it, working around it, not letting it make your decisions for you.

boy-child-clouds-346796And I think sometimes that makes it sound like I want to just see you being super brave all of the time. Like, we identify the fear and then we just leap tall buildings in a single bound kind of brave. Sometimes when I’m listening to another coach or an inspiring human, that’s my reaction.

Like, “Well, I’m glad you figured out how to be brave enough to swim the English Channel, but hells no I’m not going to do anything like that or be that brave EVER.”

My relationship with fear is old and it likes to tell me that I will never be brave enough to do anything worth talking about.

And when I think about bravery and being myself and taking risks as something that I need to don a superhero’s cape to do, it is so much easier to give in to that belief that fear wants me to have. It is so much more tempting to shrug off my preferences and dreams and just stay with caution, nice sweet status quo occasionally soul-sucking caution.

But there’s this thing, something Cheryl Strayed reminded me of this morning.

You don’t have to have the courage of an entire platoon of people liberating a European village in WWII. You don’t have to try to leap a tall building in a single bound. You don’t have to decide to swim the English Channel to take a step forward. You just have to be brave enough to take one step forward.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what’s going on with you.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want in your life.

You have to be brave enough to keep wise counsel as you make these considerations and not let other people’s opinions hold TOO much sway.

You have to be brave enough to listen to yourself: not the nattering voice that wants you to grab a bag of chips and the remote because it’s scary out there, but the voice that is calling you into integrity, that is encouraging you to be more yourself. You have to listen to what that is.

You have be brave enough to act on what you discover in the realm of soul truth.

You have to be brave enough for those things, but you don’t have to do them all in the same moment.

beautiful-calm-coast-358480You only have to be brave enough to take one step, whatever that might look like.

Maybe it looks like writing without ceasing for 10 minutes about whatever’s going on in your head.

Maybe it looks like talking to a trusted friend about the things that you’ve been afraid to reveal.

Maybe it looks like getting really, really quiet so you can hear.

You don’t have to take all of the steps at once beloveds.

You only need to be brave enough to take one.

If you need some support, I’d be delighted to walk with you.

XO,

julia

Recital Notes – A Fine Example of Living

My daughter had a violin recital this past weekend. She has studied the violin for two years. Thank you, your sympathy is gratefully accepted. I am happy to announce that we ARE definitively reaching the stage where some music is happening and it is not always challenging to listen to. Bless her.

concert-music-musical-instrument-111287The violin is a tough instrument. It is exacting in terms of your finger placement – just the slightest bit off and you’re off pitch. It is demanding in terms of your bow action – this is the reason for the screechy scratching sound that so many young students demonstrate for so long. It is also tough because it doesn’t get a lot of play in popular music (Thank you Lindsay Sterling for bucking the tide), so it is difficult to “play” with in the ways that students of piano and guitar might do. The violin is the instrument that the family studies together because it is loud and takes substantial time to gain even enough mastery simply not to offend others. Am I laying it on a little thick? I am LOVE with the fact that my daughter plays this incredibly difficult instrument. I chose the easy ones and gave up on the violin in a few months as an adult. She really does seem to love it. My swooning over that fact makes the test of endurance possible.

Back to the recital. If you don’t have a child, niece, nephew, beloved neighbor for whom you’ve attended a recital, I would recommend that you seek one of these students out. Recitals are a wonderful way to experience some music, but also to see young people striving, learning, and growing. It can be really touching.

I’ve shared observations from my son’s piano recital and the community that exists in these events here and all of those same things are true in the strings community. I do have some fresh observations from this weekend’s event that I’d like to share.

  1. The Impact of Fear Diminishes with Experience. The biggest difference between the younger students and the older students was not just skill and difficulty of music as I expected, but the ability to perform without looking like you are going to vomit at any minute. My poor baby (who is 11 and still on the young side of this crowd) cracked nary a grin and really was kind of green by the time she was done, despite playing her piece better than she ever has. An older student complimented her playing and then asked if she was okay “because you looked like you were going to puke.” He was actually quite kind, and given the caliber of his performance, his compliment counted double.
  2. You Get to Decide How to Continue from Here. Accompanists always follow. When you are playing with one and you freeze or forget your part or foul up, they will wait. You get to decide how to proceed – whether you march forward or back up. Your accompanist will find you and help pave that road.
  3. Work and Artistry are Both Needed. When playing the strings it seems to me that one hand chops wood, the other turns it into art. The bow hand and arm moves almost constantly, for more advanced players that movement is fluid and doesn’t even necessarily seem to reflect the rhythm of what they are doing. The hand on the fretboard determines what the notes, and the quality of those notes will be. I know there’s a lot more nuance to this analysis, but this is how it struck me on this day. One hand chopping wood, the other carving the statue. It is critical to remember which hand is doing what AND to recognize that both must be done well for success.
  4. Doing It for Yourself. The performers that were the most enjoyable to watch barely seemed to notice the audience after their required entrance bow. They commanded the stage and the space naturally by doing THEIR thing. They allowed themselves to dive in and just play the music AND to experience the moment.
  5. Your Body is Part of Every Experience. Music is meant to be embodied. With experience and a growing comfort level, these students were able to leave the standing as a statue in an approximation of perfect string playing stance into one that allowed for a little more flow, a little more interaction, as thought the whole body was part of the production of sound.
  6. Creating Something Amazing Requires Leaving Worries Behind. No one is troubled by the wardrobe malfunction of a 17 year old violin phenom. One young woman’s blouse became slightly more revealing (not insanely so, but she noticed it and had a moment of concern) when she donned her instrument and began to play. Nobody reacted. We all just listened. No one would want to risk interrupting the amazing thing that was happening. I just wasn’t important in the face of what she was creating.

achievement-adventure-brave-6629I admit that I thought that attending these events would be hard, and it is at times. It is a long to sit still for those of us who are not native sit stillers. But the joy in it for me is ALL of the things that are going on: all of the music, all of the learning, all of the growth, all of the opportunities to watch young people being afraid and doing it anyway. What a fine example of living.

No Matter What They Think

Yesterday my fifth graders participated in a Living History Museum at school. It was a project they’ve been working on for some time that started with a question: what historical figure (who’s had an impact) would you like to know more about? They did research, prepared display boards about their chosen person, and then they were tasked with writing speeches to deliver AS the historical figure.

blue-sky-camels-desert-71241My daughter chose Marie Curie. This is not a surprising choice for her as she is quite the scientist. She was excited to play an important female scientist for her project. My son, who has always been really into ancient history, chose Ramses II (sometimes called Ramses the Great), an Egyptian pharaoh. Again, he stayed true to form in his choice.

I watched them both struggle with finding the information they needed. I quietly observed as they tried to find stories that would make their presentations particularly interesting. I listened to them practice their speeches (from afar – no peeking allowed). Everything was going swimmingly, until we got to the costume phase.

My daughter had no problem. She looked at a bunch of photos of Marie Curie, noted that in all of them she was wearing a lot of black, that she wore dresses and that she wore her hair in a bun. She was able to abstract an idea of what she should wear that would give the overall effect, and that she already had in her closet. Easy peasy. You have to know what’s coming…

My son didn’t seem to register that costumes were part of this whole thing. He caught on eventually as his classmates began to talk about their preparations. I kept approaching him for a conversation about what he might wear. The problem with an ancient historical figure is that there are no photos. There are guesses, approximations. My son really doesn’t like guesses and approximations. He also wasn’t thrilled to discover that much of what was available to us in the way of guesses looked like dresses to him. Being an 11 year old boy can be a rough road.

After he rejected a few of my homemade notions, we ventured out to our local Party City, the only source for costume type items when it’s not Halloween. He was visibly horrified by his options. I attempted to logic him out of that. He became downcast. I got impatient. His sister played helpful clown for us (and I mean that in the best way) by demonstrating some truly ridiculous options. As he withdrew, my daughter and I assembled some pieces that we thought would reasonably approximate the ancient ruler. He finally rallied a little to examine what we’d chosen. He agreed that we had done the best we could with what was available and was even enough of a sport to try some things on before we left to make sure it would all work out, but the energy about the project had left the building. He was visibly upset about the whole thing.

Later, when his sister was elsewhere, I asked what was bothering him, why he’d gone from SUCH enthusiasm about this whole thing to seeming like he’d rather do just about anything else. “It’s the other kids Mom; they’re all going to laugh at me.” And I saw it in his face, the fear that idea creates. The sentence sort of echoed in my head. It really is at the heart of most of our fears, isn’t it? “They’re all going to laugh at me. They’ll hate it. They won’t like me. Nobody will want to be/play/spend time with/work with/marry/date me.” Rejection. Dismissal. Humiliation.

So we talked. We talked about why he chose Ramses II. We talked about his character. We talked about how excited he had been. We talked about the historical figures the other boys had chosen (“All of their people just wear suits. They all picked famous businessmen.”). I reminded him that he chose someone interesting to HIM. I reminded him that he chose someone he wanted to know about. I reminded him that he gets to be who he is and be interested in who he is. And then, just for good tween measure, I threw in the fact that probably most of his classmates would feel awkward and silly in their costumes too. They would all be nervous about giving speeches. “Did you like learning about Ramses?” The answer was a resounding yes. He liked learning about ancient Egypt. He liked the historical figure he chose. It was all about the laughing.

I comforted him. The Mom in me nervously assured him that people wouldn’t make fun of him as they would likely look silly in one way or another, but I knew that might not be true and that it also wasn’t the point. It was just that moment.

So I tried my best to do the other things he needed me to do. I tried to let him get it all out – all of the fear, all of the worry, without talking him out of it the whole time or making him feel silly for having it. And then I tried to make him feel good enough, wonderful even, for being exactly who he is.

It worked well enough. He put on his full costume (which I’d show you but both of my kids have recently banned us from sharing pics). My seminarian and I went to school at the appointed time so we could see the presentations. They were great. All of the kids were dressed up and had obviously worked very hard.

When I went to my young man and pressed the button that was supposed to animate his historical figure I was delighted to hear a fact-filled and really funny speech. I was so proud and he was all smiles. I asked later who his favorite was (he said: “You mean besides my sister?”. He replied, of course, King Tut.

acid-citric-citrus-997725He was who he is. He got scared. He was afraid people would not like it or him and would embarrass him, humiliate him. None of that happened (although it could have). But he got to the end of the day proud of himself and thoroughly engaged in his learning. It was a thing of beauty and a great demonstration for this light worker that the fear is never enough reason to stop being who I am, no matter what all of the other kids might think.

The Secret to Belonging

Thirty-one years ago I was deep in the throes of a big decision. I was in the middle of choosing where to go to college. My father was REALLY REALLY excited about the fact that I was getting ready for this step, I suspect at least in part because I was the last of four that he had promised financial support for; his light at the end of the financial obligation tunnel. As part of his excitement, a journey was planned. We would take a tour of some of the top contenders for my attendance. He and my stepmom would drive me all over the place so I could see some of these places in person rather than just rely on the glossy pics (in brochure form because there were no websites yet – WHAT?!).

Dad’s excitement was through the roof. The poor man wanted to see me excited about college so badly. He also wanted to return himself, something I thought he was joking about but I now know he actually did desire and was just waiting to need to make a little less money. We hopped in the car, bags packed for a several day sojourn. I don’t remember how we chose the places we would actually visit in person. I do know that we decided we would visit a great aunt as part of the trip and that at some point her location became part of the calculus, but I’m sure it wasn’t the only factor.

activity-adventure-blur-297642A route was planned. Bags were packed. We hopped in an early model SUV and headed out for the great unknown, Dad’s enthusiasm erupting in pronouncements about the wonders of fast food (he was serious) and the joy of the open road. Looking back now I think it sounds really fun. But I was 17, and he was driving me crazy. I solemnly donned the headphones attached to a Discman that Dad had thoughtfully brought along (it played CDs and you could take it with you – gently). Barbara Streisand’s Broadway album stood between me and the barrage of excitement.

We visited schools. We visited private schools (women in pearls and skirts on Monday morning, no I’m not making that up). We visited public schools (SO big, so many people). We drove past the school in NYC that I wanted to see and Dad pointed at the jersey wall with graffiti all over it: “There it is. There’s New York; isn’t it beautiful?” Not his finest moment, but understandable given a whole separate story that is for another time. We toured campuses and asked questions (at least he did). I just kept feeling my way through. “Nope, I don’t feel right here. Nope, not here either. I wouldn’t fit in here. I clearly don’t belong there.” The whole trip was pretty disheartening for me, but allowed Dad to choose his preferred school.

After that trip I was invited to visit a small liberal arts college for a weekend. I would stay in a dorm with a host student, get to see campus life through her experience, really get the feel for the place. I excitedly signed up for the weekend. And when I went to this school, this historic institution that espoused all of my values AND was a great school for music on top of everything else, I looked around and thought: “I think I could fit in here.” And then I kept looking around. And over the weekend a sense of unease developed. I noticed that here at this liberal bastion, there was an overwhelming sameness. It was a sameness that I enjoyed more, but a sameness nonetheless. I joked when I got home that I just KNEW someone had penny loafers in their closet that they were too afraid to wear.

All of this searching for a place where I could belong ended up with me feeling pretty sure there was no place that I could belong. Ultimately the choice about college had a lot more to do with my father than with me. And I sort of spreadsheeted my way through it rather than feeling that I knew where I wanted or needed to be.

The truth was that what I was seeking so desperately was a place where I felt accepted, a place where I felt like I belonged. I wanted to fit in and still be myself AND (because I am complex) I wanted to know that I could change and STILL fit in and be myself. I was looking for some kind of super flexible wildly accommodating Nirvana as an education experience. I had a great college experience, but it wasn’t that. And more importantly it didn’t teach me the thing that I most needed to know then and for many years after.

I didn’t know that I would never find a place that felt like belonging until I allowed it. I would never find a place where I believed I fit in until I was able to know and accept the parts of me that felt so ill-suited for so many corners of my world. I would never find a group of people in which everything I thought or did or said would be okay – like ever – and that that would be alright because I could still know I was okay. I just kept looking for the right room to be in instead of just deciding I was already right wherever I was.

backlit-dawn-foggy-697243It was a mistake I made in other arenas, and I suspect I still do it from time to time, forgetting that I really am okay, pretty wonderful in fact, regardless of my reception in a particular space – digital or otherwise. I start to seek out that external validation, that confirmation, the folks who seem most like me. And that’s okay. It’s good to have a home to return to when we are weary and depleted, a place to fill our cups so we can take all of the best of who we are out into those larger spaces so we can be the lighthouses for everyone who’s still out there searching for the right place.

If that’s you, if you keep opening doors, trying to find that room, I want to tell you something.

You are okay.

You are enough.

You are, in fact, quite miraculous.

And I love you.

XO,

j

Building Trust

This weekend I did something that was really hard for me.

I took my kids to the march on Washington.

My husband is out of town, and couldn’t be with us, but my church chartered fancy buses and when I realized I could be with a big group, I decided that we would go. The kids wanted to go. They felt strongly about it (although in retrospect they really didn’t know what that being there would look like). I wanted to support their participation and I certainly felt that it was important for myself.

pexels-photo-93490But the crowd thing. That’s a tough one for me. I’m an introvert by nature, so really groups of more than like 50 are really never on my short list of great places to be. I also am SERIOUSLY sensitive about noise, people accidentally touching me or bumping into me, and just the energy of ALL THOSE people. This is just me. I completely and totally accept all of my unique unicorn-ness.

Knowing these things about myself helps me make good decisions, AND it helps me to make difficult situations just a little bit better.

Because let’s face it, I could have just decided not to go. I could have decided that it would have been too difficult for me to provide good parenting for my kids when I would be a little energetically impaired. I could totally have decided that. OR I could have decided to just gut it up. I’m going to just do it and be miserable and push through.

Thing is, I didn’t do either of those things. I decided to go, but to make sure that I was making that just a little bit better. How did I do that?

It started with that decision to ride the chartered bus – no long drive and parking nightmare in DC, no mob scene on public transport, no traffic jams. I then made sure I was going to be on the same bus with my sister and her family. More adults who love my kids in a mob sounds like a perfect setup. We also joined forces with another family while we were there and it was so HELPFUL. Huge high five to Elaine Gleaton who co-navigated the whole getting the kids to the port-a-johns and then losing our group and finding our way back to the buses thing… tangent.

That wasn’t all I did. I made sure I wasn’t going to be cold, because I really, really hate to be cold. I also made sure my kids dressed reasonably so they would also not be cold and whiny because I am not always super compassionate in response to whining. I wore clothes that made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I wore a little jewelry that made me feel plugged into myself. Bits and bobs that had special meaning, like talismans of connection and protection. I packed a lunch so that we wouldn’t have to add to whatever else might be going on by relying on street food and whether it was easy to get to or whether or not they would have ANYTHING my daughter would actually eat. I packed water bottles and snacks, and a deck of cards because I always pack a deck of cards.

I attempted to get a good night’s sleep, but was foiled. I also took a little bit of a supplement that is calming to me as we got onto the charter bus. I did everything I could think of to make myself as comfortable as humanly possible. I took excellent care of myself and my little people.

And doing all of that made it all a little better. I discovered some more tricks that I will remember for the next major crowd scene. I do best when I face the other people I love in a crowd, so instead of facing the Jumbotron, I just listened to the speeches. Really, that was more than enough and it felt good to me to be looking at my people instead of the screen and the backs of hundreds of thousands of heads. This also allowed me and the other parents to create a bit of a circle that we put the kids inside of so that they would not be bumped into as regularly. Adults are better at holding the physical space claim than slim 11 year olds.

It sounds like a long list I’m giving you, like I’m prepping you for your own protest with kids, but that isn’t really what this is about.

blur-body-care-161608What this is really about is me making a decision and then being really honest with myself about what parts of that decision were really going to challenge me, me honoring my own tendencies and my own needs in as many ways as were humanly possible. What this was really about was both not allowing myself to miss out on something really important AND actually doing what it took to make it okay to be myself in that situation. It was okay to be an introvert and stand with nearly one million other people. It was okay to take my kids to an event like that. It was okay for the whole thing to jangle me a little bit because I can and DO take care of myself. I can and DO treat myself as one of my loved ones.

See how that works? Being honest about what the challenges would be and taking care of as many of them as possible was like a signal to my sensitive self that she is heard, she is cared for, and there really is an adult up in here who will make sure she is okay. There is someone who wants things to be just a little bit better, even when it’s not an ideal situation. That message is so calming, so soothing, and so confidence-building. I can trust myself. I can trust myself to take care of myself and my kids. I can trust myself to do what’s right and not let it kill me. I can trust myself to make good decisions small and large. I can trust myself and that scared girl who’s in there and gets rattled by events like the rally on Saturday, she sees that and takes a deep breath and says: “Thank you.”