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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.

Just One More Minute

We have a dog. He is getting older and with his aging comes changes. Baxter has always been a little different compared to our other dogs.

animal-animal-photography-black-and-white-113883Our previous canine companions were attention hogs. The first dog, a terrier mix, was a committed face licker and was most definitely a people person. He always just wanted to be exactly where we were, preferably on us, especially if it meant he could be on both of us at the same time. Our second dog bud was a little more standoffish initially – he had clearly been an outside dog and had not been treated well before us, but it didn’t take him long to decide that he, despite the fact that he weighed in at over 100 pounds, was in fact a lap dog. It was only when I got into my 8th month of a twin pregnancy that Gus had to give up having his head and torso on me. I had no lap for his giant cow head anymore.

animal-breed-canine-544269Baxter came to us as a five year old rescue. He was trusting from the beginning, but from his extremely matted and overgrown hair and allergic flea-bitten skin to his lack of interest in physical affection that our other dogs loved, it was pretty clear that his care had been spotty. He was never hostile, has never growled (even if you messed with his food), but he just didn’t seem to enjoy our attention the way our other pals did.

It has been a slow process for Baxter, but he has become a dog who LOVES physical attention. He went from a dog who would walk away while we were petting him to a dog who will lean on you so hard while you’re petting him that it can knock you over if you’re not firmly planted (he’s kind of big). He’s been hanging out in that space in a committed way for about two years and we’ve been relishing it.

And recently things have begun to change again. Baxter hasn’t been joining us on the couch as often. He is more hesitant to jump up on the bed, even if it’s storming (which is the only time that behavior is encouraged as he really is sort of pony-sized). He doesn’t seem to enjoy his walks for such a long time anymore. He’s aging. He’s getting a little uncomfortable. I see the pain in his hind end when he stands up.

I’ve seen those changes and have changed my own behavior in ways that make things easier for him, but I didn’t think of everything. I didn’t add it all up and find ways to give him that physical contact even though he is not as interested in getting up WITH me anymore. I didn’t catch on until he began walking up to me and making a request when I am on the couch (in my usual position). I always invite him to assume his previously usual position next to me. Sometimes he takes me up on it, but oftentimes he just puts his face in my lap.

He does this when he returns from bus stop drop off with my seminarian. I am usually already on my laptop, doing a little writing, preparing for my day, working. In our previous arrangement, this was fine. He would get up on the couch next to me. I would type and occasionally rub his head while it was on my lap. I would multi-task and we would be together.

It is far more difficult to multi-task when he just puts his big old head on my keyboard. And I didn’t see what was happening. I didn’t see that this was what he could do right now. I didn’t see that this was the opportunity for both of us to have the connection that we’ve had these past few years. I gave him a little rub and then encouraged him to lie down.

IMG_6593This morning I caught myself. Just as I was about to ask him to lie down, I stopped and wondered how long he wanted me to rub his head, how much longer it would “take” for him to be the one to end the moment. I closed my laptop. I put both of my hands on his big sweet head and I just dug in to love in that moment. I did all of the things I know he likes best. I scratched right behind his ears. I rubbed his lower jaw. I rubbed his ears. He leaned into it as he does. It was wonderful. His pleasure was palpable, and I felt him relax. After what couldn’t have been more than three minutes, Baxter had enough. He backed up, found his new spot on the floor and lay down with a big sigh.

Everything changes so fast. So often I don’t see it as it progresses. And then I hit a moment where the changes become more obvious. And when I’m paying attention I see that. But even then I don’t always have the presence to give that change the extra moment that is sometimes required to figure out how to proceed with love. But what I know, thanks to my super zen teacher dog, is that more often than not figuring out how to proceed with love really only takes a pause, a breath, just one more minute. And if I can give that change the moment it deserves, I get to experience all of the richness, all of the love, and all of the connection that this life has to offer.

Masks Off, Feel the Love

I’ve been sick. I’ve mentioned it a few times because honestly, it has taken me quite by surprise. I don’t get sick very often – at least not in a way that’s worth mentioning and this spell has been a lulu. The migraine I’ve been struggling with may well be the worst I have ever experienced, and I’ve noticed as it persists, how it is impacting my mood.

alone-daylight-female-883441That sounds silly and obvious right, when I’m in pain it bums me out. But the obviousness of it all doesn’t really penetrate when we think about how many people are in pain all of the time, and how that pain begins to chip away at your sense of who you are, who you can be, what you’re here for. YES, it can get that dark.

To be fair I was not in my best headspace when this bout of crap kicked in, so there’s that as a shitty foundation. But I really think it’s more about the persistence of the pain coupled with the inability to do the things that I want/need to do, like think. It is tremendously frustrating, and this morning my tears were about all of that darkness rather than about the pain.

And so I did something I don’t usually do. I talked about how bad I was feeling on social media. I don’t just mean I talked about my skull splitting headache – I have no problem revealing physical pain. I talked about how I am feeling so poorly in my heart, how being mentally and physically confined has taken a toll on my spirit, my spirit that was on the low side to begin with. I shared all of that and then, gulp, I asked for help. I asked for affirmation. I asked for validation. I just straight up asked people to let me know if I have helped them because I’m just feeling kind of useless and alone. And then I pressed “Post” and almost threw up – not because of the headache, although there’s been a fair amount of that. I almost threw up because I knew I had just stripped naked on social media in a way I don’t usually do.

I share a lot of how I feel, in measured ways, with my beloved words. It’s not like I’ve never let anybody see my pain before. But I’ve never done it spontaneously like that and I’ve never (at least I don’t think) asked you all directly to be part of the solution in such a specific way. I’m pretty sure I’ve never asked anyone to tell me something good about me so I can feel better. Yep, that feels foreign and it was scary as hell.

And right after that moment where I almost threw up my brain punished me. “So what now, you need to ask people to tell you you’re good so you can feel okay? Nice, good work. Way to show off your mental health.” There’s more. I have a gifted bitch in there. She’s just as good with words as I am and nowhere near as careful before she hits “Post.” My inner critic explored all of the possible ways that my vulnerable stance could come back to bite me in my flat little ass.

I could be ignored and would then have to deal with feeling even worse. I could be SEEN, which is obviously worse. I could be SEEN and cringed at. I could be SEEN and thought to be cracking up, losing it, coming completely unglued – also therefore obviously not someone to turn to in times of trouble. There’s more here, but I think you get the point. My inner critic came up with lots of ways that this was a huge mistake.

So I got in the shower. It was what I had planned to do anyway to try to just make my body feel better even if my head and my headspace would not comply. And when I got out of the shower, know what I found?

beautiful-hands-heart-5390I found responses. I found kindness. I found validation, affirmation, and people reaching out to lift me up when I’m feeling low. The cringers, if there were any, kept quiet. And everyone else saw it all for what it was: a friend having a really bad day, well a series of really bad days, who needed a little support. And wow what amazing support was delivered.

I am so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. And I am so grateful to be learning to be vulnerable in the tough times so that I can feel that connection, so that I can let people in even when it’s hard, so that I can love and be loved, right there on the inter- webs.

Learning Surrender

I’ve been sick this week. I struggled to type that because what I’ve had is a migraine, and for whatever reason, in my mind that is not the same as “sick.” I didn’t realize had a separate category for migraines until just now. This is kind of a tangent, but maybe not. Bear with me. I’m loaded up on caffeine (helps with the headache) and a little addled.

adult-alone-black-and-white-551588I felt this beast coming. I can usually tell a migraine is coming. As early as Sunday I was getting signals. Persistent headache, geographically different than other “regular” headaches, which honestly I don’t get many of anymore. As we move into Monday I noticed that my teeth were starting to hurt. I don’t know how to describe this any more specifically, because it’s really weird, but it’s also a sure sign for me. When all of the teeth on the top of my mouth hurt, we’re talking migraine either on the way or here. I ignored these signals. When I mentioned the possibility to my stepmother, who also suffers from migraines, she said: “You know it’s better to just take the prescription if you know it’s coming.” I mumbled some kind of agreement at her, knowing full well that she was right, and didn’t do it anyway. I didn’t want to have a migraine. I didn’t want to take migraine meds (that can sometimes leave me feeling a little loopy and deflated). I didn’t want to allow the whole thing. I had plans for the next several days. I was going to fight this migraine in a super passive-aggressive “wait and see” kind of way, even though all of the signs were there. I was going to keep my commitments.

And so it came, and it came like a freight train. Tuesday morning I could barely get out of bed and was clinging to counter edges and furniture to navigate the lower floor of the house. The prescription was unearthed. I retreated to my bedroom, and read in the semi-dark until I feel asleep again, hoping for relief. It was not to be found and it became clear that this migraine was going to a be a medication maximum situation. I added the second dose, found my darkest sunglasses, donned a baseball cap to block more light and cancelled everything for the day, something I pretty much never do. I had no choice. the pain was so bad I was sitting on the couch just crying – quietly so as not to aggravate my headache further.

I looked at my calendar with some remorse about the day. I looked at Wednesday’s schedule and thought about the appointments and end of the year choir party I knew I was likely to miss. I felt the discomfort of needing to miss things I really wanted to do. And then, for the first time maybe since I was pregnant, I fully surrendered.

I stopped trying to see if I could maybe be well enough to get something done. I stopped hoping I would be well enough to make an appointment or an engagement. I stopped worrying about tidying up after myself. I stopped wondering if maybe by the afternoon I could work. I surrendered. It felt like I didn’t have a choice, and really I didn’t, but there was still a moment of consciously acknowledging that and giving up the internal debate, acknowledging the need to do my body this kindness, seeing the peace available to me if I just stopped wondering if I could do more and rest.

bed-bedroom-blanket-1097116And so I did. I figured out what I could to make myself as physically comfortable as possible, and adjusted according to how that changed throughout the day. I listened intently to my body when it said “no food” because of the associated nausea and then what specifically it wanted when the wave of nausea subsided: “bell peppers? OK, will do.” I proceeded gently, quietly. I read and napped and occasionally hopped on line to communicate for a few minutes and then hopped off to save my eyes from the screen light. When TV became an option, I watched whatever I wanted with no guilt or remorse for wasted time. When I’d had enough of the stupidity, I turned it off again and rested and read and made myself tea.

In short I did exactly what I try to help my kids do when they are sick. I took excellent care of myself. I let go of expectations and judgments about being sick and about what I “should” be doing and I gave my body what it needed.

Here I am two days later, not completely recovered (this is usually a multi-day phenomenon), but significantly better off and free of the sense of dread that can come with facing what we’ve missed. I missed nothing. Clients have been rescheduled. Plans have been changed. Everyone understands and it will all be okay.

That struggle not to surrender? I think I do that a lot. I find myself going halfsies on lots of things – and there can be a benefit to that. Halfsies can be helpful (when you have twins sometimes it feels downright necessary), but so can wholesies. Going all in, not because we want to reinforce feeling sick or whatever it is, but because that feeling we’re fighting or avoiding by staking out the middle ground really just needs to be felt. There is a peace in surrendering to it. There is a peace in allowing it. There is a kindness in acknowledging what is really true and then making it as comfortable for yourself as you can. Where could you maybe use a little surrender? Where are you straddling the line and suffering for it? What would happen if you just let go?

Feeling Better or Just Meh?

As I’m sitting here deep in migraine recovery mode, I’m reminded how many gradients of feeling there are between “the worst” and “the best.” In honor of that multitude of grey, I thought I’d share this post from last November. Anyone who’s selling you sunshine 24/7 is missing out on something pretty important – like feelings… here are my thoughts on The Limits of Feeling Better.

I’ve had a lot to say here about feeling better, seriously many, many posts. And in all of that talk I think I might have created the wrong impression. I’m afraid I might have inadvertently suggested that it is possible to feel good all of the time. And saying that will make half you roll your eyes and turn away because “Yeah, right” and half of you will be so relieved because all you’ve wanted your whole lives is to feel good all of the time. Okay, maybe let’s get rid of the “halves” in that equation and just say that while people might not believe that’s possible, it is very much what we all want.

How do we know we want to feel good all of the time? We know because of all of the things we do to try to make that true. We overeat; we over drink; we over Facebook; we over TV; we over whatever it is you do to avoid feeling bad and to try to convince ourselves we feel okay. I’m going to say it even though I know you know this; none of those things actually make anything better. They may make us feel a little better for a short time, but they don’t change anything externally or internally and many of them have negative consequences.

What would happen if instead of all of that running that we do, because that’s really what it is – get me away from this discomfort ASAP – what if we decided that discomfort is a normal part of life? What if we decided to just allow ourselves to feel bad once in a while? What if we decided not to self-soothe, distract, or cheer ourselves up? What if we didn’t numb it, stuff it, or ignore it? What would happen?

feel your feelingsI can tell you that in my personal experience, one thing consistently happens when I do this – when I allow the “negative” feelings, a whole lot of tension falls away. Because when I’m dodging that stuff, when I’m telling myself I shouldn’t feel bad, when I’m desperately searching for ways to make myself feel better for just a few minutes (hangover or sugar crash be damned), there is tension. There is physical tension and psychological pressure. There is tension because I am fighting myself. I am fighting how I feel. I am fighting my natural responses. I am fighting who I am. Fighting, fighting, fighting. That stuff takes a lot of energy and has a cost. What would happen if we just stopped fighting?

“Well then we’d feel bad Julia.” Yes, you will. But does what you’re doing feel good? Does numbing out feel good? Does spending hours on social media feel good? Does overeating and over drinking feel good (that question is harder for me than the others, but maybe it’s the opposite for you)? When we chase the bad feelings away with momentary false pleasures, they don’t go anywhere. We just try to drown them out, suffocate them with a food, booze, media blanket. We fight ourselves.

What if feeling bad could help you? What if sitting with it could give you answers to questions like: “What do I really want to be doing in my life?” “What am I missing out on?” “Who do I want to be?” “What do I need to work on to feel more whole?” What if ALL of your feelings are part of a finely tuned navigation system that’s trying so very hard to help you be your best and most fulfilling you? What if ignoring that stuff is pretty much ignoring the best advice and direction you could get anywhere? What if feeling all of your feelings makes the good times even better? What if it turns out that the bad feelings aren’t as bad as you fear? What if it turns out that feeling sad for a few minutes WON’T mean feeling sad forever (wouldn’t that be good to know)? What if feeling badly every now and again (or like 50% of the time) is part of the human experience, part of what helps us grow and learn, part of what makes our lives uniquely ours? That’s an awful lot to miss out on.

Missing out on lifeYou are here. There are experiences. They are not all good. No matter what you add or change or adjust your vibration for, they will not all be good. The fact that everyone has bad days and bad feelings suggests something kind of basic there. This is it. This is the deal. This is being human. Do you really want to miss out on half of it?

If you’re tired of fighting yourself, but aren’t sure how to really let yourself feel all of the things, I’d love to help.

A Glimpse Into Softer Grief

Just over a year ago my sister hosted my Mom, stepfather, and my stepfather for lunch. It was the first time I was in the room with all of those people at the same time since my Dad had died the previous January. It was a little subdued and awkward, but still nice. And at that lunch, I received a bag that presented me with what we coaches like to call an opportunity.

close-up-eyeglasses-eyewear-261869The bag I got was full of my Dad’s glasses, like 10 pairs of glasses. Dad’s vision was terrible. He was shot in the eye with a BB gun as a kid (so it’s not just “You’ll shoot your eye out,” it’s “Someone will shoot your eye out”). He had detached retinas as a middle-aged man. He also was suffering from some bizarre form of macular degeneration that was causing changes in his vision on a daily basis. It’s really quite a miracle of modern medicine that he could see at all.  He was also an artist, so his changing vision (and the threat of it degenerating even more significantly) was particularly troubling.

In the last few years of his life Dad’s vision varied from day to day so he spent some time in the morning figuring out which pair of glasses were the right ones. All that is to say that when I say I had a bag of glasses, I mean I had a full bag of extremely strong glasses that variedy from one to the next to a great degree. We were told to see if there were readers or frames we could use in the mix (seeing as all four of us wear glasses, it was a sgood bet).

When I first got the bag, I set it aside, unable to look inside after I first opened it and smelled my Dad. A few months later I opened it again and pulled a few pairs out and broke down in my grief. A couple of months later the space where I had stowed the bag became necessary for stowing something else I didn’t want to deal with, so I pulled the bag out again.

It’s a strange thing to try to sort through, a bag of glasses. And as I looked through them (not through them, I should say at them), I could see each pair on my Dad. I could see him in the 80s and 90s. I could see him two years ago. I could see him painting. I could see him reading the newspaper, or sticking out his tongue and trying to fix something with small parts. I remembered him reading, tilting his head back to make his eyes cooperate for just a little while longer before he went to bed. I could see him SEEING. I could see him moving through the world visually. I could see him engaged and alive.

We donated most of those frames to organizations that distribute them through eye doctors that serve folks who could use a hand. Dad would have liked that. We only kept a few pairs, some strong magnifiers which we have used when we are repairing really small bits. And when we need them, I’m awfully glad to have them. And when I’m not paying attention I stick my tongue out just like he did because wiggling it helps to get those tiny screws just where they belong. I wonder if, when I’m wearing them, I see things like he did. A lot of times I think I probably already do that.

berry-cake-chocolate-461333As I move from one stage of grief to the next, I find myself welcoming these moments, these strange moments of communion brought on by things as strange as glasses. Sometimes it’s a song. Other times it’s food or something I read that I know he would just love. There are so many books I wish I could share with him now; as I grow we seem to have more in common than ever before. The shock of his passing has dulled (although I still get caught by surprise every now and then). Picking up his insanely strong glasses feels like sitting down with him for a few minutes, trying him on, being together. It helps me remember and it helps me imagine that he is with me still, that we can chat about books and eat a dessert together (ice cream for him, pie for me), and that feels awfully good.


Our National Wound

back-bus-education-159658There has been yet another school shooting here in the United States. As the facts emerged, I moved quickly from a moment of shock and horror to anger. Not anger at the shooter. Not anger at the institutions that are failing to address this scourge. My anger was directed at the news outlet that I rely on the most because it didn’t spend much time on it. The coverage of the situation was wrapped up in the quick hourly update. They didn’t want to interrupt their regular programming, which was focused on the Royal Wedding. I was livid.

And I spouted off – on Facebook, there was no letter-writing involved, but I spouted off nonetheless. And in spouting off I garnered some response from friends that brought me to the heart of my suffering. I ran to anger because it is easier, but I skipped some essential steps.

children-cute-drawing-159823Every time this happens, and yes, there have been enough of these incidents that I can comfortably make generalizations about my own behavior, I have to raise the question of whether or not I should be homeschooling my children. I ask myself if this is the only way to keep them safe. I ask myself what that would look like and whether it might address some other lesser concerns I have about their educational experiences. I ask myself if I could actually take that task on without losing my mind. And THEN I ask myself if it is fair for me to remove my children, if that isn’t a demonstration of the depth of my privilege. It gets messy really fast and it’s all confusion and anger, bile and swirl. They are all real questions; they are all real issues, but it feels like any other spin. And there’s a good reason for that.

It feels like spin because what I’m doing is avoiding how I feel every time this happens. My mind immediately goes to how not to feel that way any more. I don’t want to be afraid – not for my kids, not for anyone else’s kids, or for my country. And I am. I am afraid for all of us. I don’t want to feel the grief course through my body as I hear about the children who have lost their lives to our ineffectiveness. I don’t want to see my former students in those faces or imagine the lives that could have been and imagine the pain their families must be enduring. I don’t want to do any of that.

beach-boys-children-939702And yet when I skip past it, everything else becomes an impasse. All questions lead to “I don’t know” and “I don’t know what to do.” The spreadsheets alone won’t get me anywhere, even if it’s just that I need to realize there is nowhere to go.  The thinking about it won’t inspire good decisions or action or the kind of robust citizenship that is required in times like these. The thinking about it won’t sustain my resolve or make clear which path is the right one. The thinking about it won’t fuel me and propel me to use the gifts that I have to help shift this world. All of that – the resolve, the fuel, and the clarity and action – starts with the kind of honesty that comes with letting the wave of feeling happen.

I have no shame about running to anger first. There is plenty to be angry about, and feeling how I feel won’t stop that. What it will do is to allow my heart what it needs to find that path, take the next step, and to release a small piece of the grief we endure on a weekly basis. And so, I am allowing it. And I thank you for you holding this sacred space with me, as you surely are by having read this far.

I wonder what would happen if we all allowed that feeling. If we all stayed with the moment of the loss for longer than it takes to create a policy statement, if we all decided to allow the sorrow to touch us before we squared off. I wonder if we might find it easier to make progress if we were just honest with ourselves and allowed the national wound that this is to penetrate our individual and collective consciousness.

children-girls-kids-50581In all of it I find it important to remember that I can be in sorrow and still be strong. I can be sad and still be motivated to act. I can grieve for our losses and our larger community and still demand better on every level. I can honor my heart and still work toward the kind of transformation our children deserve, and perhaps this is the only way forward.

So be it.

Humiliation and Other Choices

A few days ago I stepped in it with a friend. I inadvertently hurt her feelings, and after she expressed that to me, I apologized. In explaining why I had upset her so much, she told me that she was COMPLETELY humiliated. I tried to put my coach ears away (they are often not helpful when interacting with friends and loved ones) and simply offer my regret at the way things went down. My intent clearly was not the same as the impact here.

adult-alone-beautiful-808711When the conversation was over, however, I had to cycle back to that feeling that she had, humiliated, and to consider what it has to tell us about our thoughts and our feelings. Let me start at the beginning. A lot of folks think that their feelings come from an external event. Something happens, and then we have a feeling about it, and then we have thoughts that come from those feelings or are about those feelings or something like that. But that model has the steps all mixed up. Truth is the feeling about an event comes from our thoughts about it, what we make it mean. The event is facts that we could all agree on. And then we think things about it. And then we have feelings because of those thoughts…. Yeah, okay Julia, so what. Who cares?

Well, I care, and if I tell you why, you might care too. The notion that our feelings come from our thoughts means that we have some say in how we feel. If we are simply reacting to external events all of the time, there’s not a lot we can do. We often can’t change external events; we certainly can’t change other people, so if we’re reacting to them all the time, we don’t have much wiggle room. But the thoughts that we have about things that happen? THOSE we can change.

So if we feel humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed – there is a sort of family of feelings here – are we simply reacting to the event? No, we are reacting to what we think about the event. Stuff happens and then we think, what? For humiliation, maybe something like: “I look like a fool. I look like I don’t know what I’m doing. People think I’m not good enough.” It’s all about how people perceive us. And maybe, if we’re really practiced at humiliation, embarrassment or shame, we skip the other people part and go right to some ugly thought about ourselves: “I’m not good enough. I’ll never get it right. I always mess up.” The bad feeling comes from the thought.

In addition to being a life coach, I am a musician. I know a lot about that humiliation/embarassment business. I used to be a total perfectionist about preparation and performances because I was terrified that I would make a mistake, that I would look foolish, that I would be not good enough to perform in front of other people, much less get paid for it. I was sure that the level of scrutiny they were giving my performance was similar to my own, that they were judging each note, each phrase, every strum. I was sure that their attention was solidly focused on what I was doing, rather than on their food, their drinks, their date, their friends.

guitar-music-musical-instrument-34074.jpgWhat I found over time is that if I allowed myself to relax into it, if I stopped worrying so very much about what they thought about me, if I released my version of their assessment of my performance, I could actually enjoy myself much more. This is the moment where making music for me becomes about more than the actual music. It becomes magic and it involves the way that I feel, the way my singing partner and I feel together and the way I see THAT experience float out into whatever audience might be there. It feels entirely different. When I make mistakes from that space, they seem such a small thing, a brief millisecond that passes almost as soon as I notice it. When something doesn’t go as planned, it’s within the creation of this new thing, this new moment that will never happen again.

And here’s the really cool part, when I stop worrying so much about what everyone thinks of me, I feel more joyful and THAT makes everyone have a better time. I am humiliation-proof AND I create an experience that everyone can enjoy. THAT is the magic of paying attention to what you think. That is the magic of minding your own business.

Do you. Engage with it. Be there in the moment. What they are thinking about it is none of your business, and likely is nowhere near as bad as you think it is. What moment could you make if you stopped worrying about it?



Where Does Your Energy Go?

I can’t even put a number on how often people tell me that they are tired. It’s almost like this is the assumed first part of the answer to how they are doing, and then we get to the rest. We are a nation of exhausted people (I’m speaking of the U.S., although I’m fairly certain we are not alone here). I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

First and foremost so many of us don’t get enough sleep. If you’re about to argue with me, ask yourself if you’re feeling argumentative because you’re tired, and then google sleep deprivation or sleep deficit and you will find all of the research you need to accept the reality that a huge number of Americans simply don’t get enough sleep. This is something I struggle with.

pexels-photo-269141-2My husband is a night owl. We have children. I need quiet time. These three circumstances don’t always play nicely together with the idea that more sleep is good. I HAVE, over the course of the last couple of years, taken the time to notice my own sleep patterns. My conclusions: the amount of sleep I usually get is not enough – period. How do I know this? When I have the opportunity (and an eye mask and ear plugs, yes I am high maintenance), I will sleep longer than my usual allotted time by at least an hour. I also know because I feel tired a lot. That’s a pretty good indicator.

Now, I have a lot to say about why I don’t get more sleep. Some of it is cultural, some of it is micro-cultural (my family), and some of it (probably the most important part, duh) is what’s going on in my own head, the messages I send myself, the stories I tell myself about my priorities and how I should be using my time. And those messages don’t just impact how much sleep I get. They also set me (dare I say “us”) up for fatigue in other ways.

There are other bits that are making us so very tired. I was reminded of the rest of this equation when I was reading an article that mentioned James Clawson’s book Powered by Feel. The premise of the book is that we spend a lot of time doing things that actually make us feel drained, tired, just plain BAD.

What?! Who would do that?

I do. Yep, I do. When I’m not paying attention I most certainly do. Extended time on Facebook makes me feel bad. Certain television shows (well, whole categories of television shows) make me feel terrible. PTA functions… yep, you guessed it.

How did I figure this out? After all, it’s not like these things make me feel straight up sick. For the most part the impact is more subtle, but cumulative. It all piles up to one big lethargic ache. So what would it look like to figure out what activities are draining the life out of us?

It would look like checking in on how you feel as you go through your day.

As you finish activities, take 5 seconds to notice how you feel. Keep it basic; are you sad, mad, glad, tired, frustrated, energized? Check in on the body and the heart. Take 2 more seconds and make a note of it.

Why all of this data collection? Because the way you feel is telling you something. It’s begging you to consider how you are spending your time. When you actually notice for a few days or for a week, you can sit down and really see where your energy is going. You can really see what your choices about how you spend your time are getting you.

Can you eliminate all of the stuff that doesn’t make you feel amazing? I don’t know. Maybe not. And so often that’s where the conversation ends, right? Well, adults just have to do ___________. Yeah, maybe. But do YOU have to do all of those things? What is flagging itself as purely obligation without payoff? What is making itself known as an activity that makes you feel crappy and yet you continue to do it? Is that time you are spending helping you feel the way you want to feel? When you are honest with yourself, you have the power to make some adjustments. When you are honest with yourself, you can tweak pexels-photo-595747things without tipping the whole adult responsibility apple cart. When you are honest with yourself, you can actually address the choices you are making that are draining you of your precious energy. When you are honest with yourself, you can pursue the feelings you WANT to feel.
What’s the use in that? Some of that is pretty obvious, but there is another layer (I love layers). When you choose and pursue activities based on the feeling you get, the outcome – your ability to win, score, be the best – becomes less important. Life really does become more about the journey, the moment you are in, your connection to everything that makes you undeniably, inimitably YOU. And THAT feels amazing.

The Year of Yes AND No

Many of you may not know, but once upon a time, I was an environmental policy analyst. I was then a high school history and civics teacher. I am a mother of twins.

I have spent a LOT of time saying no.  

If I could calculate it, I suspect I have spent years of my life saying no in countless varied and creative ways. There are realms in which I, quite frankly, excel at saying no. Malcolm Gladwell says 10,000 hours brings mastery and I’m pretty sure I am a NO master if that is the criteria. 

But here’s the interesting thing, my capacity for saying No has always been narrow and deep. 

we say no a lotMy music partner will tell you I easily reject music and musical opportunities. My husband will tell you I readily reject movies, books and other artistic expressions that don’t interest me or suit my taste. My children, well, that’s a long list, but still somewhat focused – on their health and well-being.

By contrast, there have been huge areas in which I have, at least until recently, been completely incapable of saying no. 

  • I was incapable of saying no to demands for my time from friends, family, tradition or obligation.
  • I was unable to say no to suggestions about my professional career from people I respected.
  • I was unable to say no when credit for my work was co-opted by my male colleagues while I worked for a government contractor.
  • I was unwilling to say no to professions that drained me of my life force and made me feel terrible. 
  • I was incapable of saying no to old family stories about who I am and who I can ever be.
  • I was unable to say no to my own impossible vision of motherhood.

During this time of failing to say No to so many fundamental things, I said yes, either directly or implicitly, to far too many things.

 And my days grew full and tiring.

And my energy waned.

And my zest for life fizzled.

Years ago, a counselor I saw after a nearly fatal miscarriage asked what it would take for me to stop. What would it take for me to slow down, be more discerning about what’s necessary, put myself in the equation, take care of myself on a fundamental level? My sessions with her were short-lived. She had the right message, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. So, I didn’t. Instead:

  • I trudged on in a degree program that I didn’t want to actually complete.
  • I volunteered to be the matriarch for my in-laws.
  • I organized people, things, events.
  • I prided myself on holding impossible standards even as I felt the wound of failing to meet them so regularly.

Because that whole time, I thought I was saying YES to life.

I thought the more yes I could say, the more “good” I was being, the more “good I was doing. 

It turns out I had my yeses and my nos all mixed up, and sorting that mess out took some real soul searching.

It took taking the time to identify the old family and personal narratives about my character – calling them out: “I see you. I hear you. But I think you are lying to me. I’m saying no to you

It took getting really clear about what kinds of messages, what kinds of requests actually made my life feel fulfilling not just full. It took new tools. It took new perspectives. It took me learning to say yes to my own wisdom and to the truth of my heart and using that as my guide rather than the old storybook I had so carefully constructed. It took a lot of work, this shuffling of my responses to life.

Because I really want to say yes, a lot. But I want to say yes to the things that will nurture the best parts of me, that will help me to grow, and that will allow me to share whatever gifts that I might have with the people around me.

And so I want to show you a trick. And if you’re anything like I was, this may seem a little weird. But as a current expert on Yes and No, I’m going to ask that you bear with me.

If you are comfortable doing so, place your feel flat on the floor and close your eyes. For a moment I’d like you to just check in with your body. How do you feel physically? Any tension? Any discomfort? Just notice it but don’t linger on it. Deep breaths.

Now I want you to think about a moment in your life that was decidedly bad – don’t worry I won’t leave you here. Just think about it and then see how you feel in your body. Notice anything? Maybe upset in your stomach. Maybe tension in your throat or shoulders? Notice how it FEELS to you. Make a mental note that THIS sensation, this is NO.

Now shake your head or your hands and take a breath to clear away that memory. And now, think about one of the BEST moments you’ve ever had. Something that was truly great, with no lasting consequences or ill after-effects. Something that was clearly and unarguably good. Notice how THAT feels in your body. THIS my friends, this is yes. That scare-cited tingle in the chest, that feeling of expansion, that warmth in the belly and that relaxed open throat. THIS is yes.

THIS is what you want more of.

Maybe you’ve never noticed this information before. Maybe your yeses and nos have been distributed in a more rational way.

So, why turn to the body? 

Because our brains get caught up in the story and get distracted by shiny objects. It’s not to say that our brains can’t be trusted at all, but other data sources can only help.

What I’ve learned is that using the guidance of my heart, and my BODY, I’ve been able to say YES to the experiences that I seem to deeply require. And I’ve been able to apply my NO to things that just don’t serve me, or, at least don’t serve me anymore.

What to say yes toAs we part, I’d ask you to consider where you’re currently applying your YES and your NO. What story are you letting in? What heart evidence are you denying? Are you full but not fulfilled? Saying yes to life often means starting with a few Nos and then learning to utter a YES directly from your heart.