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Saved from Perfection

adult-annoyed-blur-133021I’ve been beating up on myself pretty hard lately. Judging my business efforts, judging my personal efforts, judging my parenting efforts – it’s been pretty all-encompassing – which is usually a pretty good signal that it’s not really about any of that.

I have been measuring myself anywhere that I can and bemoaning, scolding, raging at the disparities between what I think SHOULD (oh, that word) be happening and what IS happening. I didn’t even really realize I was doing it. A few coach friends and my seminarian tried to tip me off, and I kind of got part of it – the ease up on yourself part, but I missed the point. This is the way that it works sometimes. Sometimes we need to hear a message many, many times before it really gets all of the way in. Those of us who are layered up (oh yes, like an onion) can take even more time.

This Sunday my minister preached on the promises and perils of utopianism. And while he was discussing perfection as a goal for society, he quoted another minister and the message got through. He quoted Elizabeth Nguyen who works for the Unitarian Universalist Association who said: “We are already saved from perfection.”

Now Ms. Nguyen was talking about our society, our culture, our country, our world and the point is that perfection is really probably not possible, because humans. Being who I am, I heard it on the personal level as well.

YOU, you are already saved from perfection…

Especially if what we’re talking about is a perfection that cries out for good behavior, excellent manners, well-dressed children and a spotless home; a thriving business and an engaged community presence; a committed adult relationship that is always supportive, nurturing, and fulfilling.

You are saved from perfection because humans.

Humans are messy.

Humans are complicated.

And so often, humans are scared.

Scared about what will happen when the jig is up and our imperfection is made plain,

Scared about what will happen when we don’t achieve the things we are striving for,

Scared that we will be left lonely and heartbroken when people see what’s inside.

But friend, you are already saved from perfection.

See, I know that you aren’t perfect like that. And really, if you think about it, you know I know it. We ALL know it. There are no secrets about any of us being “perfect” like that. We’re all onto all of it. And that endless effort to get closer to that kind of perfect, sometimes shoots us straight past the realization that we are already good, great even, that the “imperfect” way that we do things brings gifts that are unimaginable in a spotless house with clean children and an overflowing work schedule. When we keep aiming for that magazine perfect, we fail to see all of the ways we are already doing good, being blessed, having opportunities all around us.

How do we get there? How do we get to see all of that goodness? We have to stop being blinded by the perfect. How do we do that? We become, as Christina Pratt calls it, unseduceable. We become so grounded in our own values, our own sense of what is important, and so clear about who we actually are that we cannot be taken in by the glowing perfectionism that gets sprayed at us everywhere we look.

Sounds pretty good, right? How might you do that?

The first step is almost always the same. The first step is breathing. Breathing in and out slowly and letting the stress of chasing the perfect flow out of your mind and out of your body, releasing it. This is a really great step and can make everything a lot better, so it is quite tempting to stay there, especially because the next step is not quite so comfortable.

adult-close-up-eye-946727.jpgThe next step is to see what IS, to see ourselves, to know ourselves – to see who we actually are, which is glorious and perfect INCLUDING all of the flaws, idiosyncrasies, and individual quirks and tics; because of and including the “mistakes” of the past, our bad decisions, the things we’d love to go back and do differently; even with our scars and sore hearts and insecurities. We have to be willing to see all of that and stay with it long enough that we move from discomfort to acceptance, from self-loathing and self-criticism to self-love (or at least self-like).

And I say this is a step as though you do one thing and then you do the next and then you will be done with that, but those of us who’ve been active participants in this particular game know that cultivating self-acceptance and self-love is not a one-time deal, not a one stop shop. It is a practice, a devotion, a way of being in the world that becomes easier with time, but may never become completely reflexive.

back-view-backlit-city-847483But doing that, becoming more accepting of who you are will allow you to see what is important to YOU, what you actually believe in, what you want from this life, and how you want to be in the world. When you can accept yourself and figure out what you really want, the magazine version just really doesn’t matter anymore, at least not very often.

You are saved from being perfect, or at least you can be, if you choose it.

 

Letting Go

Letting go of the chatter,

adult-art-artist-133170Letting go of the measurements,

Letting go of the certainty that I know either the ways or the means,

Letting go of the notion that my worthiness is in any way dependent,

Letting go of the hope that I can be good enough,

Letting go of the need to prove, to show, to demonstrate,

Letting go of my agenda, my goals, my plans,

Letting go of the barriers to my attention,

Letting go of the fear that I use to distance myself from things that feel good, do good, are good,

Letting go of the need to have proof, evidence, and demonstration that all will be well.

adult-beautiful-close-up-773371Letting all of it go, releasing that which no longer serves with intention and ease of heart, knowing it may return and visit but in feeling its absence, I have the chance to glimpse how my true nature and peace.

I am enough and

All is well.

Amen.

Break Down or Break Open

I recently gifted myself with Oprah Winfrey’s book The Wisdom of Sundays.

blur-book-book-pages-415061Everything about this book was made for me (or people who are a lot like me LOL). The linen cover feels good. The pages are thick. The images are sumptuous. Each page a finely-tuned balance between text and graphic. It’s really exquisite and that’s without even getting to the content. On each page there is an excerpt of a conversation Ms. Winfrey had with some modern luminary. They are organized by theme and are just the right length for a quick dose of inspiration or insight. I’ve been reading a little every morning. It has been delicious and enlightening.

Today I came across this quote from Elizabeth Lesser: “You can either break down and stay broken down and eventually shut down, or you can break open. It’s a decision you make. It’s a commitment.”

Whoa.

The idea of breaking open wasn’t new to me, but that decision bit, that was something I hadn’t given a lot of time. I got it intellectually right away, and it fits with my take on the world, our reactions, our choices, our power, but it felt big enough for me that I had to take a few minutes to think about those moments of breaking down and breaking open in my life. I could see the difference. I could slot those moments into their respective categories. And, with the gift of retrospect, I could see the choice.

I could see the choice to stay broken after my parents’ divorce.

I could see the choice to shut down when my college didn’t heap praise on my acting and music skills that had been honed in high school.

I could see the choice to stay broken after losing a baby in a near fatal miscarriage.

I could see the decision to shut down as an overwhelmed and unhappy stay at home Mom.

I could see the decision to break open as I addressed that overwhelm and unhappy after a few years in.

I could see the decision to break open when my Dad died a year and a half ago.

I could see all of those choices. I honor them. There is no judgment because I can also see how in each of those moments I didn’t feel like I was choosing. I felt like I was doing the best that I could do, and perhaps given what I knew at the time, I was. It’s okay. The lesson about the choice isn’t a tool for looking back with scorn or praise. The lesson about the choice is the tool for seeing the present while I’m in it. The lesson about the choice is the way to bring to consciousness the decisions that have been automatic in the past.

I’ve had a bit of a dark night of the soul lately. Some of it was medical, as I’ve explained over the last week, but some of it most definitely was not. It was backlash.

You see a long time ago I had a pretty active spiritual life. The idea of faith was something I openly engaged with. Sometimes this happened in religious settings, churches and the like, but oftentimes it didn’t. I explored these ideas on my own from early days and my interest and dedication to that discussion with myself ebbed and flowed as it does for so many. And then it just broke.

I can’t tell you the exact moment that happened. Looking back I think it was more of a series of things that made it too hard to believe, too hard to grapple with the notion of a benevolent omniscient force. The extent of the shut down for me was made clear one night at a party. It was not long after my nearly fatal miscarriage. I was struggling: struggling to go to grad school, struggling to want to see friends, struggling with just about everything. But we went to this party because our closest friends were hosting and attending and that’s just what we did. I drank too much, which was also what we did at that time. And then one of our friends, I know in an attempt to be compassionate, started in with the: “It’s all part of God’s plan” routine. I don’t think those were exact words, but it was one of those sentences from the list of stupid shit people say to grieving people. I might have gotten heated. I had some things to say about God. They were loud. Another friend joined in and began playing the role of mediator. I wanted nothing to do with a God that let this shit happen to me and that sentiment devolved into a brief survey of tragedy and horror in the world at top volume. Case closed. This is, at least, the way I remember that night.

That night was a LONG time ago. About 15 years I think, but it seems like even longer in so many ways.

And I snap back to the present and what feels like a bit of a break down that emerged after what I can only describe as the return of some glimmer of faith, of hope, of belief in the unseen, the impossible, and in the power of love to manifest miracles on earth. My curiosity and relief quickly turned to fear as I chose to stay broken rather than inhabit that exquisite space. Understand that I am not suggesting that not having faith, particularly my ill-defined and inconsistent faith is the same as being broken. What IS broken is me choosing to believe and feel things that make me small and unhappy. THAT’s the brokenness.

This latest turn towards faith feels a lot like a break down and a homecoming. When I feel the grace of it – the peace, the joy, the connection – it is homecoming. When I feel the fear of revealing who I am, when I focus on the human consequences I’m afraid are inevitable it’s break down city.

adventure-back-view-beach-185801I can see that the moments when I am in-between as a choice. I can see my attachment to the outcome in my practice – the fear of the other kids not liking me, my lack of trust, my fears about money and success as choices and yet when I make them the feel so effortless they go unnoticed. Perhaps this is the point of prayer, which is really just a spoken declaration of where we are – to bring the broken choices into the light, to name them in order to see their form so that a different choice becomes possible. If I am correct in my understanding that choice need be no more than trying to be open, to allow, to be willing.

Curiosity, action while afraid, trust: these are the tools of commitment. These are the paths of devotion. This is how we break open when we are breaking down.

So be it.

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.

What’s In Your Attic?

I’ve been reading a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She is a Lutheran pastor who is down to earth, funny, and unapologetic about all of the ways she doesn’t match the stereotype or the idealized version of a Christian minister. I find her work funny, meaningful, and incredibly inspiring. One of the reasons I like her so much is that she always makes the connection between the theological or the biblical and every day life. Now, I’m not going to do the same here as I have no interest in schooling you on the Bible or claiming any kind of theological authority, but this idea that Bolz-Weber put forward kind of stopped me in my tracks (metaphorically, I was reading on the couch, already stopped).

She’s writing about Advent, and I won’t go into it in too much depth (I do talk about Advent here, if that’s of interest to you), but she and a congregant begin discussing an idea about a practice for Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. She proposes to her friend that they make lists for Advent, you know like a Christmas list, but so not. A Christmas list includes everything you want to bring in, to add, to receive. An Advent list, on the other hand, includes everything that you’d like removed, everything (in her words): “we want Christ to break in and take from us. in the hopes he could pickpocket the stupid junk in our houses, or abscond with our self-loathing or resentment…” I am completely in love with this idea. I am so in love with it I needed to share it with you when the holiday season is half a year away. Patience has NEVER been my thing.

background-bags-bows-1050244This whole idea of the Advent list really got me to thinking about how we see “better.” When we think about things getting better in our lives, we often focus on what would add to them: more stuff, more space, more vacation, more clothes, more shoes, more good food, more time and always ALWAYS more money (me too, yes please).

In my own personal development and growth these last few years, however, I’ve seen that my greatest happiness, my biggest joys, my clearest leaps forward have all been as a result of removing something rather than adding something new. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all minimalist on you because anyone who’s seen my house knows THAT’s a laugh. The point here isn’t about the stuff, the cars, the house, or even the shoes (no, not even the shoes).

The point is that when it comes to our selves – our souls, our personalities, our essence(s) – it is rarely an addition that is needed.

Alright, WTH am I talking about. Let me share a little story.

Years ago, when I began to see my coach (yes coaches have coaches), I had a specific goal in mind. I wanted to figure out what to do professionally. The kids were growing up and I wanted to get back to work in some capacity. It was clear that the previous plan (me returning to the classroom) would not work when I began to feel nauseous (not in a nervous but more like a oh please no kind of way) every time I thought about it or got a call to substitute or did work towards renewing my certification. Every time. I decided to listen to the old God pod and explore other options.

My coach listened intently to my conundrum, the background story, the questions, the circular thinking, the distrust of my own preferences and she said, brilliantly: “I know you have a really specific goal here, but sometimes before you can deal with life on the first floor, you’ve got to clean out the attic.”

I laughed and shook my head, having known this was coming and not wanting anything to do with it. And yet, it was time. It was time to find the way forward by removing the impediments. It was time to find the way forward by dropping the shield. It was time to ask the questions WITHOUT having pre-scripted answers to run into. I needed things to be taken away. My relationship with religion has been somewhat spotty, but I do know miracles from humans when I see them. The work that my coach and I did together was nothing short of magical. She helped me find the junk that was in the way. She helped me clear the road, unclog the pipes, and clean out the attic. How’s that for whole lot of cleanup in a mixed metaphor?

agriculture-box-container-5841If you measure my life in material terms, it’s pretty darned good, and has been for a long time. Since my seminarian and I embarked on our mid-life crises simultaneously, that material reality has changed. We have less. But what we’ve really done is changed the internal landscape so dramatically that the shift in our income matters far less than it would have years ago. We have less in the attic: less self-doubt, less resentment, less certainty about what can’t be, fewer fearful voices, fewer rules, less need to fit in, less desire to compete, less need to buffer ourselves against the dissatisfaction we created. We have less. Those boxes have been sorted through, the gems moved into places of prominence and the tattered dregs tossed to the curb.

We have less, and so we find that we are able to be more, and that’s all we ever wanted.

What’s on your Advent list? What do you want taken out of your head, your heart, your life? You have several months to answer that question. If you’d like, I’d love to be part of your decluttering team.

 

Being Home

I’ve just spent most of the weekend with friends. Because it’s a long weekend here in the U.S. we accepted invitations to parties on both Saturday and Sunday nights. Whoa – I know, pushing the introvert envelope a little, right? There was some overlap to the guest lists too, so we saw a whole lot of some folks.

alcohol-bar-blur-313715Both parties were really lovely. The weather, which was threatening to bring us monsoons, held off in our little area so we were able to enjoy our hosts’ decks and slightly more country than where we live vistas. My daughter got to feed my friend’s chickens, and that was really fun to watch. Overall it was a lovely time.

So, what? The so what for me is that in the past this would have been exhausting. Completely and thoroughly exhausting, not just because of the wine (which was definitely present and I am a little slow for it this morning), but (in my understanding) because of all of the people. I am a self-classified introvert and all of the signs suggest that I am absolutely right about that. And so in the past I assumed that it was that introversion that made these gatherings tough for me: difficult to be at, hard to enjoy, a struggle to engage in, so really attended out of obligation rather than enjoyment. So THAT’s the so what. I really had a lovely time AND when my seminarian woke from his lie-in this morning I asked if he wanted to try to schedule something with friends. He looked at me a little askance and I asked: “Peopled out?” he grunted yes into his coffee.

I am an introvert. I still need alone time to recharge. I still need quiet time to feel my best. I still have to balance my group scenes with my solo flights, but something is different and I think it’s actually a big so what.

I think the difference is in the amount of work I had to do to be there.

You see, in the past I would have started worrying about these events well in advance.

I would have worried about what to wear.

I would have worried about what dish to bring.

I would have worried about who else was going to be there and if there were enough “comfortable people” for me to cling to.

And as I cycled through these worries, I would have doubled back and worried about them again.

I likely would have changed my mind about what to wear a few times ahead of time.

I likely would have changed my mind about what to bring a few times ahead of time.

And then I would have gone through those changes again while actually getting dressed, while actually cooking.

I might have tried to time my attendance to ensure I would be there when someone else was or wasn’t.

It was a lot of mental effort.

And I think ALL of it was because I just wasn’t comfortable being myself, at least not with any old body. I had my safe circle, and that was it. That circle was very small. And so when I was with people outside of the circle, it took a lot of work. The work was in checking myself. Checking myself for fitting in. Checking myself for not saying too much or the wrong thing. Checking myself for not coming off in a way that I wouldn’t be happy about later. More often than not this meant me not saying very much, because let’s face it, that’s a whole lot easier than all of that checking.

alone-clear-sky-clouds-691919Now, now I fit in. I fit in with myself. I’m not sure when it happened, but I know there was a lot of coaching to get there. And all of that work, all of that rethinking, all of the stories I rewrote, they have finally all added up to being at home. I am at home in myself. I am at home in all of the rooms. I am at home with all of the people. I am not just allowed to be myself, but obliged and ready to do so. And while that is scary sometimes, it is now so much less work and so much more rewarding than the other way.

I want to invite you somewhere. I want to invite you home, to the place you will always belong. If that sounds really appealing but you can’t find that spot on your GPS, I’d love to help you create a roadmap. Home is calling. Are you ready to go?

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.

Make Room

I am hearing it as a clarion call this morning: “Make room.”

I have been making room in my mind – through clearing out old thoughts, adding spiritual practices that encourage a peaceful, and sort of minimalist outlook.

This call is, I think, one to make room in my heart and in my home.

What is taking up space in my heart and in my home? Old junk, old junk that doesn’t serve me anymore.

Now just to be clear – that stuff that’s taking up the space, it wasn’t always junk. It was hurt because of loss. It was anger at the violation of a boundary. It was a gorgeous dress that fit just right and was needed for a wedding. It was fabulous shoes for non-arthritic feet. It was facial and skin products for younger face and skin. It was all either necessary as a signal from my soul or wonderful and helpful for the rest of me at some point (well, okay, except for the occasional bad purchase, but I think that goes without saying). By saying it’s junk now I am not categorizing it as junk eternally and shaming myself for having it. I am not judging myself for having this heart and space junk. I am simply recognizing it for what it is.

art-blur-close-up-580631How do I know it’s junk? I know it’s junk in my heart if it keeps rearing up and getting all mixed up with current problems. I know it’s junk in my heart if it escalates other hurts and tries to make me create bigger arguments out of small ones. I know it’s junk if I don’t really want to look at it, but I can feel it. I know it’s junk when it feels old, heavy, and like something I thought I’d dealt with before. I know it’s junk in my heart if increasing maturity has helped me to recognize that the problem that junk came from was never really mine to begin with (don’t worry if that sounds alien, it will come).

I know it’s junk in my space if it makes getting to the things I’m looking for difficult. I know it’s junk in my space if it’s gathering dust from disuse and disinterest. I know it’s junk in my space if I feel bad when I look at it either because I’m judging myself for acquiring it or judging myself for not making use of it or judging myself because it no longer fits, helps, or serves me. I know it’s junk in my space if it keeps surfacing with no real purpose, asking me to get rid of it and get on with things.

And friends, I’ve got a lot of junk.

There was a time I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see the individual pieces. I couldn’t see the contours because there was so much that it just took on immense proportions. I had so much old hurt in my heart that addressing any piece of it felt like a way to open a Pandora’s Box full of gut-wrenching devastation. But slowly, I found some edges. I was able to identify some pieces. I could start to get purchase – find a hand or foothold so I could move forward with just a little bit of it. I could heal those old hurts… but first I had to feel them.

I had to stop stuffing them in a closet because they were inappropriate, inconvenient or just too big to handle. I had to stop ignoring them because I had things to do, people to attend to, piles of laundry – ANYTHING to not actually feel. I had to stop deciding that I couldn’t handle feeling my own pain. I had to learn that I, in fact, CAN deal with how I feel and that when I do that, I actually feel better. You see allowing some of that stuff out of that closet lets all of the other stuff shift a little and suddenly it’s not a mountain of pain, but a structure built of individual bricks and stones that can be dealt with in pieces. The important thing here is that it’s not a one shot deal. No matter how much you deal with these things, well human experience says there will be more and if you don’t deal with those, they will become junk.

What do I do when I know I’ve got heart junk? Well, after I admit it to myself, which can take a very long time, I actually set aside some time. I make an appointment with myself to feel it. I know that sounds nutty, but that way I can deal with it when I feel most safe to do so – when I am alone, when it is peaceful, when I don’t feel like my reaction to that pain will spill over onto the little empaths in the house. They can see me in pain, but they don’t need to see it all of the time. It is mine to feel when I am ready and to share as I wish.

What do I do when I’ve got space junk? I ignore it for a long time. LOL. I wish this were not true, but it is. And then when I can’t take it anymore, when I feel like the stuff is starting to be the master of the house, I whip out bags and boxes. You know it: donate, trash, gift/rehome, put away. And I try to be really honest about those categories. I am a firm believer in reusing and repurposing, but some things really are just done.

abstract-blur-bubble-612341Just like in my heart, some things really are just done. I don’t need to give them to someone else. I don’t need to reuse them for current problems. It’s time to feel it and imagine that the water from the shower is washing it off of me. It’s time to say out loud: “I now release this pain and seek healing for me and for anyone else involved in it.” It’s time to get rid of the junk. It’s time to make space.

 

Not Selfish, but SelfFULL

Those of you who know me know I love words. I love to write. I love to play with words (the sounds, the meanings, the options). My love of words is not just based on play, but on the power of words: the power of words to instruct, to share, to create community, to heal. I cannot acknowledge that power without also recognizing the shadow side of that power, the power of words as weapons, the power of words to limit us, to harm us, to wound us.

The words that have wounded me the most in the past are the ones I chose for myself.

ancient-antique-armor-339805More often than not those words were also supplied by fellow humans, but it was my decision to consume them, to make them part of my own self-talk that did the most damage. One of the words I ate was selfish. It was tossed at me by someone who, in retrospect, didn’t really know me at all. But it must have been offered at just the right time because WOW it landed. I took the hit. I ate the word and made it part of my internal dialogue, the place where I could categorize my flaws. Selfish. I am selfish.

Believing that I was selfish was incredibly powerful. It explained why I wanted things, AND why I shouldn’t want them. It explained why thinking of myself happened and why it shouldn’t. And as I got older and had kids, my selfish diagnosis explained why I should put all of everyone’s needs before my own all of the time. It explained the perils of bad parenting. It explained the difficulty of raising twins. It even explained the pain of watching parents age while taking care of small children. I was just selfish. If I had not been selfish, all of that would have come easily, right? I ate it. I ate that word. I grabbed that linguistic sword and used it to cut an ever perilous path towards selflessness.

Selflessness, the hallmark of people like Mother Theresa and other icons of generosity. If only I could cultivate selflessness. If only I could not want or think of myself or need anything. THERE. There’s the answer. I should just not need anything, ever. I should shrink my desires until they are practically nothing, until I am practically nothing (have you seen a picture of Ghandi?). I should shrink. And so I did. I said all of the yeses and I did all of the things. I paved the way for an amazing childhood for my children and filled the gaps for my poor overworked husband. I did all of so many of the things in an effort to prove that I could defeat my selfish core.

And then came a day when the urge to have something of my own, which may well have first demonstrated itself as the simple desire to pee in private – without child or dog in the room, became to great to suppress. The desire to have something, ANYTHING, actually be about me overrode my ability to shrink. It felt like a total failure in one moment and like a glimpse of freedom in the next. And that moment allowed me to really question this whole setup – this selfishness nonsense.

This selfish story was based on some pretty important assumptions. It relied on the belief that it is not possible to take care of yourself AND take care of other people. This selfishness story was grounded in a fundamental flaw being the most important thing about me rather than the idea that there are plenty of important things about me, who I am in this world, that may actually need to see the light of day. The selfishness story is based on the idea that my needs didn’t have anything to do with goodness and light and the unfolding of a stunningly miraculous human as I actually satisfy those needs and imagine wants that take me to new places. The selfishness story is a load of bull.

birthday-bow-box-264771So I’ve developed a new word, a new goal: Self FULL ness. Unlike selfishness, selfFULLness rests on the idea that taking care of my needs is actually important. SelfFULLness acknowledges that I am unlike anyone else on this planet and that I deserve to be here, be well, be peaceful, and nourished, and growing. SelfFULLness looks not for a glass that is half empty or half full but a cup that is actually overflowing.

I didn’t just think of this as an idea. I’ve done it. I’ve arranged my life so that there is actually the possibility of me feeling MORE instead of LESS. I’ve set things up so that I can actually allow myself to want WHILE I acknowledge and appreciate the abundance with which I am surrounded everywhere I go. I’ve rewired my brain to notice my pleasure, my joy, and to follow those. And now my cup fills up and overflows. It overflows in all of the necessary care-taking ways (so good news you need not come save the children), but you know what? It overflows with joy and affection in ways it hasn’t for years. It overflows with warmth and openness that selfish me couldn’t dream of. It overflows with good things for all of us. My cup overflows all of the time and I fully intend to keep on pouring what I need in there.

I have laid down my sword of selfishness. I heard it clank as it landed with all of the other swords I’ve dropped over the last few years.¬†Selfishness as a word, and as an idea, and as a soul meal, it really doesn’t work for me. SelfFULLness is a feast we can all enjoy.

When We Start to Fall

Last night we watched an episode of Planet Earth II with the kids. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend. It’s a series by the BBC, narrated by David Attenborough, and has some incredible footage of animals doing their thing. Really stunning.

Last night’s episode on mountains featured a group of Nubian ibex. I’m going to go with ibex as the plural of ibex because I can’t bear to say ibexes. I hope I’m right because I really should be. In any event, the point is not about the word, the point is about the animal.

Juvenile_Nubian_ibex_(50822)The sequence showed how these ibex live at altitudes of about 8,000 feet on cliffs that offer little in the way of easy travel. They are safe from predators at those heights, but need to descend to get water, and that’s where things get hairy, especially for the ibex kids. We were on the edge of our seats watching a red fox stalk the ibex kids as they nervously and inexpertly navigated the craggy cliff face. If they moved to safer ground they were at risk of being caught by the fox. Climbing further up moved them away from the water that was their goal and from the parents in the herd who waited for them on the bottom (a little Mom judging there on my part I confess).

The ibex kids ran just far enough for safety and then found themselves cornered in a spot where the next ledge down was 30 feet below and the fox was working his way up to them. And they began to slip, lose their footing. We were all holding our breath (except for my son who had his fingers in his ears, his eyes closed and was chanting: “Tell me when it’s over. Tell me when it’s over.”).

And then you know what those ibex kids did? Are you ready for it? Just as they were starting to slip and it looked as though death was certain in one way or another… they leapt. They jumped right into that 30 foot space and flew down to the ground. They were so young that they likely hadn’t used their ibex jumping skills yet, but on this day, they got the lesson swiftly. They felt themselves falling. They felt themselves in peril. They were terrified (the noises made this clear), so they turned to instinct and they jumped.

And they made it!!! We all cheered as they jumped again and again and evaded the fox and caught up with the herd. Go baby ibex!!!

It got me to thinking about the amount of time I’ve spent on those rocks. When I’ve backed myself into a corner through inexperience or uncertainty and I look around only to find that it seems all of my possible roads are full of peril. I look around and see only impossibility. I look around and become paralyzed, bleating and wishing for a wiser human to save me. Paralyzed by my fear. Paralyzed by my perception of inexperience. Paralyzed by all of the what ifs. So much time and suffering on those rocks.

And then I think about the times I leapt.

Twelve years ago Scot and I were on year 6 of our “infertility journey.” I almost threw up in my mouth saying that. We seem to think if we attach “journey” to words describing a shitty time in our lives it will be less awful. That may work for some people – not so much for me. At any rate, we had pretty much given up because our previous attempts had been so heartbreaking and, in one instance, nearly lethal (that’s a story for another day).

We were considering adoption (everyone referred to this as “just,” as in why don’t you “just” adopt – as though that is a small thing, again a story for another day) and we were also wondering just being the aunt and uncle who travel a lot and give great gifts. And it made for a great story. Even now, that’s a life story I can get down with. But I didn’t really buy it. I wanted to be a Mom, and I wanted to have kids with Scot. The struggle that we went through to make that happen was dreadful. And one New Year’s Eve, when I’d had too much to drink and was sitting with a trusted friend, I told her I was standing on the rocks. I confessed that my great travel and gift-giving plan wasn’t working for my heart. I admitted what I really wanted and cried because it seemed impossible.

And she said the thing that my own instinct was no longer able to say: “What if you just try one more time?” We talked about a doctor she had heard of, a miracle worker. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly how things went after that, because it’s all a bit of a blur and it is a blur because I leapt. I stopped letting my fear STOP ME and put myself in the hands of the miracle worker. I put all of my learning into action and made the rest of my life work along with this final attempt. I minimized my stress. I even changed jobs in order to do that. I did the whole thing.

In this case, my leap got me the result I wanted, twice over. I have 11 year old twins who are most definitely my and my husband’s kids. But the point here isn’t really that my dream came true. Because this dream, of being parents, has perils of its own as so many of you know.

child-costume-fairy-127968The point about the leap is that it ended the self-imposed torture of standing on the rocks and trembling in indecision. Even if our final attempt had failed, I think I would have felt better having finally gone to the miracle worker people were talking about. I would have felt like I had given it my all and that I needed to check in to see if there was a new dream I could sink my teeth into. It was the sitting on that rock that was so, so terrible. And my guts knew I wasn’t ready to give up, which would have been a perfectly acceptable choice really – a leap of it’s own in releasing that desire in favor of building something new.

So I guess I’m just wondering how sure your footing is these days. Do you feel yourself slipping? Do you feel like you’re on the rock? What would a leap look like for you? I’d love to help you fly.

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