The Frame is Everything

I had a conversation with a client recently.  It was a great session for both of us. I share some of it here not to tell you about him personally, but to use him as an example of a fundamental principle of what I coach about, what I teach about, and what I try very hard to live.

beard-cap-elderly-162547You see, this client of mine is an older man. He is retired and has been having some health issues. He’s been spending a lot of time reviewing his life: looking back at the past, examining and evaluating the contours, the relationships, the activities and events. And the result of all of this examination and evaluation has not been pleasant for him. He concluded at some point in there that he has wasted much of his life. He wanted to meet with me to figure out whether some early childhood traumas were the cause of that waste. His pain was very real and my heart ached for his sorrow.

And as my heart ached I began to ask questions, because that’s what coaches do.

I began by explaining that there’s no way I could legitimately answer the question of whether or not a specific experience was the cause for the mistakes he had identified in his life. I further explained that I wasn’t sure the exercise of pinpointing a a single event as cause was really a valuable exercise if what he wanted was to feel better.

I asked him how things would look if he believed that his life had been a good one, if he was good enough, had done enough.

He sat with that thought for awhile and conceded that he would feel better with that thought.

I asked him if there were things he needed to forgive himself for. He came up with some choices and decisions that have clearly nagged him over the years.

I asked him what things he HAD accomplished in his life. He had a big list.

I asked him what he had done that he was proud of. He had a big list.

I asked him what parts of his life he feels good about. He had a big list. These lists didn’t overlap, mind you, so there really was a lot there.

I asked him if he thought my perspective on his life might be different than his after hearing all of this. He thought it just might.

And then we talked about the brain, and the power of a thought that creates a frame for our understanding.

At some point my client had inherited, created, deduced the thought that his life was not valid, that the things that made him unique were not valuable. This became his frame for the portrait of his life. If we want to talk about it in writing terms, this conclusion about his own worth was his thesis. Each review of his life, his choices, the events that have made up his days was sorted through with the purpose of proving his thesis. This is what the brain does naturally. It likes to help us be right. I mean really, who doesn’t like to be right?

So his brain understood that he believed he had little worth and so it was constantly working on providing evidence for that idea. The brain is incredible. It is powerful. It is efficient. It LIKES to work for us. It likes to sort, categorize, evaluate. It wants to work. The thoughts that we choose are assignments for that amazing machine: “Here, go prove this. Thank you.” It will do it.

And this is how our stories become so entrenched, so convincing, so compelling. The brain will find the evidence for that assertion, no matter how damaging it might be.

Because: human.

We are complicated. We make mistakes. We make choices that in retrospect seem less than brilliant. Human. And for most of us, that’s not a one shot deal. We keep learning our whole lives, so that’s a whole lot of opportunity for choices that could easily be interpreted as mistakes rather than being seen as a moment of real growth. There’s plenty of evidence in everyone’s files for some kind of statement about them being rotten or screwed up or less than worthy. Yes, I mean everybody.

And just as all of us have filing cabinet drawers full of things we might not be proud of, we also have good things we’ve done, moments of rightness/goodness/kindness, excellent choices and graceful recoveries. We have fleeting moments of tenderness. We have times when we felt loved and connected. We have days of wonder. We have moments of pure inspiration. Yes, I mean everybody.

Because: human.

So what makes us able to access those good drawers (and that felt awkward to me because my mother calls your underwear your drawers)? The frame we choose, the big belief about ourselves, the story we have about who we are at the core – that’s what helps your brain decide which files to dig into. And THAT my dear friends, is a choice. The frame that we give our lives, the story we tell ourselves about who we are, the labels we put all over ourselves – those are all choices.

I’m not saying it’s easy to make that choice. Your mind will fight you. It wants to stick with what it knows. Efficiency is highly valued up in there. But consciousness and practice really will do it for you.

I see what I am thinking about myself. I see what it does to me. I KNOW there are likely other possibilities (that might be the part you’ll need to take on faith for the moment). I am willing to try on a different story, even if it is only a teeny tiny bit better.

adult-beautiful-face-774866If that feels like maybe it would be a huge relief, if there’s a little internal happy voice/a little tickle/a sort of weird bubbles in your chest feeling as you consider that possibility, I want to offer you this thought: “I am glorious.” Try it on. Try it on without the smirk or the eye roll or anything else you reflexively do to diminish your value. Think it on purpose with a deep breath in and a gentle exhale. “I am glorious.”

How does that feel?

I’d really love to know. Let’s talk about it.

Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Back, Baby

Yes, I know that’s not how the song goes.

I REALLY do know because I used to sing that song, in front of humans, on a stage, with beer.

And that’s the song (minus the beer) that came to mind when I thought of this pretty high woo concept today…

You see every now and again I draw a card for myself, from an oracle deck. If none of that means anything to you that’s OK. Oracle decks are illustrated cards that allow users to explore an idea, a choice, a decision. Cards that are well-written contain a pretty substantial share of wisdom. I find them useful. Let’s leave it at that for now because it’s not the point. We can talk more about these cards later if you want.

The point is I pulled a card this morning called Soul Retrieval. Whoa. Right? I mean no matter who you are and what you believe, that phrase seems like a kind of big deal. And it’s not the first time I’ve gotten this card. It’s not even the first time this season I’ve gotten this card, so I decided to really give it a good read.

art-asia-candle-751077The interpretation for this card taken at its most WOO assumes reincarnation, and the idea is that you may have parts of yourself, your core being, or at least some energy, stuck in another time or place and you need those parts here and now.

Yeah, like I said it’s high WOO. But really, the idea, if you break it down, isn’t so very woo and has some widely applicable elements that I want to take a look at.

The core suggestion here is that we can get stuck in the past.

And yes, you’ve heard that phrase “stuck in the past” so many times that it is trite, a cliche and at least in this case, the reason the phrase is part of our common parlance is because it’s a thing that happens.

It is entirely possible to get stuck in a moment, in a conflict, in an argument, in a trauma, in an event, in a temporary role, in a version of yourself, in a pattern… Are you picking up what I’m laying down or do I need to keep going here – because if you’ve been around for a while you know I can keep going.

attractive-beautiful-beauty-594421We can get stuck in the past in a way that makes the way we live today more difficult, less engaged, less wholehearted than we could be. I’m pretty sure we can all agree to that point. We’ve all had relationships that make us act differently with other people with whom we might consider having a relationship. Those of us with siblings have likely noticed a little age regression when we gather together. Those of us who’ve experienced personal tragedy can likely recount the ways that things have been different from that time on.

And this isn’t all to say that you shouldn’t be changed by your experiences. Because beloveds, we are definitely here to be changed by our experiences. BUT are we here to continually be drained by something that is over? Are we meant to prevented from having new experiences by the old ones? I don’t think so.

So what do we do?

We have to reclaim that energy. We have to redirect our focus. We have to retrieve our souls.

Sometimes this means some forgiveness. I’m not going to tell you it always does because I’m not comfortable being that strictly prescriptive, but… Let me just add here that forgiveness is not for the person who wronged you. It is for you, pure and simple. It doesn’t mean you will forget what was done or that you will decide it was okay. It simply means that you are willing to let go of the poison you sip every time you drink from the well of anger you have about it. Your attention and your energy will no longer go towards that moment, that conflict, even in being right about it.

Sometimes reclaiming that piece of ourselves just means realizing that that moment, that interaction, that situation is in the past and you are not. I have at times said: “That is not happening right now. That already happened. It is over. I am here, now,” to remind myself of who I am and the fact that I already made it through that moment, that conflict, that tension. I don’t need to do it again. I don’t need to perpetuate it in any way. I don’t need to relive, rethink, reconsider, re-do it. The feelings I had in that moment are the result of thoughts I had at the time that I don’t need to continue to choose today – aye, there’s the rub.

In reclaiming our energy, in redirecting our focus, in retrieving the soul, there are choices to make, simple choices that can feel really BIG.

Choices like: 1) I am choosing to be present, to attend to and notice what is actually happening and how I am reacting. 2) I am releasing my need to be right about something that has passed. 3) I am releasing thoughts and emotions that were based on one moment that has passed and that are hindering my progress, and 4) I am redirecting my energy to who and what I am today.

beach-heart-love-161002There. Simple. Right?

I know. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is entirely possible, and wouldn’t you like to be here now, all of you, all of your energy, all of your resources?

What would be different if you weren’t stuck in time, if you could gather up all the little pieces of your heart and hold them all inside your chest right now? Who would you be then? I’d love to help you find out.

Connection and Cupcakes

baby-beautiful-bed-266061I have a secret.

I’ve been cheating.

I’ve been cheating on my children.

I’ve had the biggest Mom crush on a little girl at church for the longest time.

I’ve watched her since she first appeared snuggled in her car seat.

I’ve watched her as she moved to crawling, to standing, to walking holding hands, to running (everywhere), and now to dancing without reserve.

I have cooed to my sister, squeezed my husband’s hand and encouraged him to watch too.

We have all been on the sidelines of her experience, cheering her on without her even knowing we existed really.

It has been kind of lovely.

And could only be topped by finally getting in.

My little friend came to a party at our house last night and through the magic of a few American Girl Doll accessories and Littlest Pet Shop figures, I got to have a conversation with her at long last.

We spoke in hushed tones about the ribbon on the fox’s head and the fact that everyone loves cupcakes. Shen entrusted me with a story about her day. I assured her it sounded spectacular. And then the moment passed.

But this morning, I saw her again in church and when she stopped in the middle of a twirl, she made eye contact, danced a little in my direction, gave me a big smile and a wave. Just like that I am part of her world just as she has been part of mine. Just like that we are connected.

It got me to thinking about how simple and small connection really can be. It’s finding something in common (even if it is your daughter’s toys). It’s asking about the events of the day. It’s assuring people that they are having as much fun (or not) as they think they are. It’s making eye contact, and saying hello in the way that is most assuredly you.

cupcake-delicious-dessert-917302We have so many opportunities to connect and yet so many of us feel disconnected, sidelined, lonely.

Sometimes all it takes is the willingness to have a quieter conversation about cupcakes, because really, who doesn’t love cupcakes?

What’s in the Way of Better?

accomplishment-ceremony-college-267885When I was younger (said in my geezer voice), I had all of these ideas about when things would be better. First they would be better when I graduated high school. Then they would be better when I graduated college. There was some stuff about boyfriends and relationships all during that time as well – that would definitely make things better. THEN there was the things would be better when our band finally got noticed, when I figured out how to make a living, when I could get my own place (okay that one was TOTALLY true). Sprinkled throughout there was still more better when I don’t have to deal with so and so or better when I can tell that person what I really think.

The point is that place of better was always out there somewhere and the things that were getting in the way were everything. Time and age was in the way. Lack of money was in the way. Other people’s behavior was in the way. So many things that were in the way of my feeling better. Didn’t they all know that I deserved to feel better? That’s a whole separate branch of this tree and it deserves its own post.

This habit of delaying better and tying it to something I had no control over continued on well into my adult years (wait, that’s right, right? I am well into my adult years… holy crap). When I was struggling with infertility, everything would be better if I was pregnant. When I was pregnant everything would be better after my twins were born. When my twins were born everything would be better… yeah, I don’t remember what I thought then. Sleep deprivation is a killer. When my twins were toddlers, everything would be better when they were potty-trained, able to dress themselves, etc, etc, etc. Now my husband is in seminary and I’m sure everything will be better when he’s done. Except for all of the countless ways it will be exactly the same and all of the new ways it will be challenging.

There’s some sort of cliche older person talking to younger person lesson in here. Something about the more things change, the more things stay the same. Wherever you go, there you are. The grass is always greener… There are more of these but my caffeine hasn’t kicked in enough to access more of them. They are right on the money, but they also miss something crucial.

What we miss when we point out that the grass is always greener is that when we make that comparison, we’re spending a whole lot of time looking at someone else’s lawn. It’s not just that it seems better over there, it’s that we’re not looking at here at all. If we spent more time looking at our own yard, we might notice a few things we didn’t see before.

beautiful-flora-flowers-83118We might see the tiny flowers that pop up in the earliest Spring.

We might see the shells in the flower beds that we brought home from a trip to the beach with beloved friends.

We might notice the pair of mockingbirds that nest in the bush.

We also might see that we’ve let the weeds get out of hand. We might notice that some of those come up rather easily.

We might notice some vines are threatening the small trees on the border.

We see the details. We see the “good” and we see the “problems.”

We see it all and can get real about what’s in the way of what we think of as better.

Is it what we’re not acknowledging and celebrating?

Is it what we’re choosing to leave unaddressed?

Is it what we define as better?

When I think about it “good” can only really happen right now, in this moment. When it’s in the past, it is over and when it’s something we are predicting, it is not ours to experience it yet. Good is now and better is here, if only we can see it behind all of the things we’ve let get in the way.

 

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.

We Get So Attached to the How

I have been, historically, a very goal oriented person. It has served me well in many ways. I did well in school and got letters and accolades to reward me for that. I have some degrees. I landed roles in plays and sang in bands. I got jobs and finished projects. I became a homeowner and saved for retirement. Check. Check. Check.

calendar-checklist-list-3243Looking back, I would say that only a relatively small percentage of that time, when I was checking off so many boxes, did I focus on what I thought that box would get me. I thought my education would get me a good job and the good job would make me happy I think. I think that’s how it went, although I suspect “happy” included some other more complicated dark stuff like “prove I was worthy,” “show what a good person I am,” “make other people approve of me,” but I digress because if you can actually believe it, that’s not what I want to talk about today (WHAT?!).

The point here is that in deciding what was going to deliver the desired state of mind or being, I became exclusively focused on the HOW. This is how I’m going to get THERE, instead of remembering to look for the THERE here. What? I know, too many vague words. I’ve got you.

I have heard this story a few times, and I don’t really know where it originates, so if you told it to me and you wrote it, I am super sorry for not crediting you. Shoot me a note and I will fix that. The story is about two fishermen.

One of the two starts his day at sunrise, catches as many fish as he can all day long, often until dark. He keeps the fish he needs for his family and sells the rest to friends and neighbors. He saves the money so that he can buy a boat to expand his fishing territory and hire some help.

He notices (and shakes his head at) the second fisherman who usually arrives at their secret fishing spot at around 10 am. The second fisherman fishes for a few hours and usually packs up when he has enough fish for his family plus one. He then, by mid-afternoon at the latest, packs up his things and returns home.

One day, the second fisherman surprises the first by asking what he does with all of the fish. The first fisherman explains that he has nearly saved up enough for a boat and he hopes to hire a second fisherman so that he can catch even more fish. “And what will you do then?” The first fisherman explains that he will then buy a bigger boat, and then maybe a second boat so that he can catch even more fish. He will increase his profits and expand the business as much as he can. “And then what?” asks the second fisherman, as he slowly reels in one of the four fish he will likely catch that day. The first fisherman explains that if he grows his business enough he will then be able to save enough money to retire and spend time with his family.

The first fisherman is pleased with his plan, and glad the second fisherman asked because maybe hearing about his ambitious plan will help the second fisherman realize how much more he could be doing. The first fisherman is very curious about the second and asks: “What do you do when you’re not fishing?”

action-beach-brother-749079The second fisherman explains that he wakes up and takes a walk first thing in the morning, eats breakfast with his family and then walks his children to school. He returns home and he and his wife spend some time together before he gathers his equipment. He fishes and when he is done, he returns home in time to play his guitar for a while before he meets his children after school. He plays with them and then he and his wife cook together, experimenting with all of the different ways they can enjoy the fish he has caught. Sometimes in the early evening, the family will walk together or even go down to the shore and swim before retiring for the night.

The second fisherman smiled, enjoying his own vision, his own story, his own reality now.

The second fisherman never lost sight of what he was trying to create, what he craved, what he wanted. He looked around and found that happiness, ease, and community were all already available. The only “HOW” in getting them was being clear enough to see what was right in front of him so long as he did not fill the time with some other how.

It is so easy to get attached to the how. It is so tempting to create that list with all of the check boxes. It is REALLY satisfying to check boxes (I know I’m not the only one). But what if you’ve made the HOW the goal? Worse still, what if your how is getting in the way? What is it that you really want?

Personally, I think I am going to need to schedule a check my HOW meeting with myself. What do I want? Am I sure that what I’m doing is about that? What would happen if I let a solution present itself? What would happen if I believed that being happier, feeling better, being connected and awake could just be easy?

Fish for thought.

With so much love,

julia

In a Tower, Like a Flower

This past weekend I had the pleasure of helping put on a (hugely abbreviated) production of Into The Woods at my church. I hadn’t seen the movie that came out a few years ago and to be honest, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the music for a good long while. Sondheim is hard y’all.

For those who aren’t familiar, the musical takes several fairytales and sort of puts them in a blender and adds music. Having ultimately enjoyed our short version, I will now watch the longer movie. Throughout our production, our minister interjected thoughts about the lessons in the fairy tales and it got me paying attention to those old themes.

pexels-photo-620315One of the fairy tales that is woven throughout the play is Rapunzel. It caught my attention especially because I just read a retelling of it last year (Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, I recommend it). It also caught my attention because of the haunting and extremely repetitive line that Rapunzel sings over and over again. The prince who is in love with her is driven mad by the singing as he attempts to climb her hair.

The whole thing got me to thinking of how Rapunzel’s plight plays out for many folks. In our modern and non-fairy tale world we are not locked away in towers by a vengeful witch. We may be confined by circumstance and society. And we may also be constrained, limited to towers of our own making.

For many of us fear is the witch. Fear of being bigger: fear of being bolder, fear of being more real, more vulnerable, more easily hurt. And so we choose confinement. We choose solitude, isolation, sameness, predictability and routine. We choose these things because it feels safe. The witch acknowledges that there is good stuff out there in the big world, but that it is not worth the enormous risk we would have to take to get there. “Don’t you know what’s out there in the world? Someone has to shield you from the world. Stay with me.” And over time, we forget that our tower is of our own devising. We forget that we created it with choices, thoughts, and assumptions. We think that location (or job, or spouse, or whatever other circumstance you think it’s all about) is the problem and if we could just change THAT, but we can’t change that, so…

So just like Rapunzel we occupy ourselves with maintenance of the tower. Rapunzel’s prince laments the amount of time she spends maintaining her hair, her hair that is both magical gift and the key to her entrapment. The witch uses it to gain access to Rapunzel knowing that Rapunzel cannot climb down her own hair: her hair that makes excessive motion too difficult to think about, her hair that suggests that she must be saved rather than that she could escape on her own, her hair that has magical healing powers. She takes care of it. She preserves it. And waits.

How Rapunzel’s story goes from there depends on who is telling it. In the retelling our young captive has varying degrees of complicity, courage, pluck, and brilliance. What happens to the witch also depends on which version of the story (“original,” Disney, Kate Forsyth) you encounter.

pexels-photo-274886But none of that really matters for the real story here. None of that really matters for your story. None of that makes a bit of difference if you look at your life and you feel trapped. I’ve had that trapped feeling, and while I can’t say it’s the absolute worst, because whatever awful feeling you’re having in a given moment is usually the absolute worst, but trapped ranks up there for me. Feeling like I have no ability to change the circumstances of my life is a killer. Thinking that I can’t change the one thing that would make me happier is so demoralizing.

And then I remember that that is a thought. That notion is like a single stone that I used to create my own tower. That idea is one that adds to the wall every time I have it. And working to change those thoughts, rather than caring for them and carrying them around is the way out. I work towards a thought that allows me to believe that I can change things and that if I believe that, the way to do it will become more clear. I don’t aid and abet those who would help wall me in with limited notions of my capacity. I don’t assist by bowing to convention or tradition. I choose which of my gifts to nurture. I choose where to put my time and energy. And I DON’T wait for rescue.

That Time I Forgot to Have Fun

It’s been a rough time for me the last couple of months. We hit the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, the holidays (which I still haven’t pared down to where I need them to be, but I’m making progress), and then my husband’s month long trip to Chicago for January term. I thought I had a handle on it. I lowered my expectations for work a little (at least in my planner if not in my head, which would have been a really important extra step to take), despite my sense that January is a REALLY important month for life coaches. I called in some backup with the kids so I could have a little adult time. I hired a neighbor girl to watch my kids on choir practice nights. On paper it looked pretty good.

pexels-photo-366063And now my hubby is home, which is nice. But I’ve been really grouchy. I’ve been whipping out old and reliable complaints to argue about. I’ve been feminist ranting in my house while I tidy up. I’ve been snarky and sarcastic and generally less pleasant than I could be. I’ve also been SO unbelievably tired, some of which makes perfect sense, but it didn’t seem to be letting up. My body was speaking to me, but I was paying more attention to the angry story in my head.

And it finally overwhelmed me, that angry story. So I reached out to a coach friend. And she questioned. She gently prodded. She questioned some more. And as we talked, I felt my old angry arguments step to the side like the distraction that they are (they matter but weren’t the point). As we talked, I found the hurt under the anger. And then we talked about the hurt, because that’s what a great coach can do for you.

And what came out is that with all of this work: my business, my parenting, my husband’s seminary, I just haven’t been having very much fun. I’m not saying I haven’t had any, I’m just saying I’m not having much and given the difficulty of the last few months, I could have maybe benefitted from a little MORE fun than average rather than less. She laughed and said she was picturing that moment in The Shining: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy….” Yeah. Seriously. HERE’S Julia!!! If you don’t understand the reference, Youtube that scene so you know what really not having fun and listening to angry creepy stories can do to you. My lovely coach friend and I talked about a way out. We figured out exactly what I was thinking, how it made me feel, and created a path for something new. I am so grateful to her.

pexels-photo-341520-2I talked to my seminarian about our fun-less time and he agreed. We’ve sort of lost track of planning fun as a couple and neither of us take much time for fun for ourselves. It is draining. It is wearing. It feels like a grind and I KNOW the life that I’m building doesn’t need to feel like a grind. I’m in love with the things I’m doing, but no matter how much you like your job, sometimes you just need to be completely immersed in the fun zone with the people you love the best.

So I’m putting my creative thinking cap on to come up with some options and later today my seminarian and I are going to put some things on our new shared digital calendar so we can make sure we’re making time for that. We will honor our calendar. We will honor our fun and we will both be better for it.

How’s it going for you? Are you remembering to have fun? If you’re not, what are you going to do about it?

Is Happiness the Wrong Goal?

“I just want to be happy.” I hear it ALL the time. I read it everywhere. It’s like a moaning mantra. It’s an interesting sentence in many ways. What does it mean to be happy? How different would that definition be for different people? Does this mantra suggest that you mean you want to be happy ALL the time, for five minutes, for some percentage of the day? And how about that JUST – is it ONLY or is it as though this is a small thing to want?

Our dogged pursuit of happiness as a goal has taken us in so many different directions, it seems pretty clear to me that the definition of happiness, or at least what is believed to be necessary to get there, is REALLY different for different people. And I think the thought of being happy all the time, no matter what your definition, is kind of funny. How would you even know that you WERE happy if that was all you felt? There’s a lot of trust there that your mind wouldn’t find SOMETHING to be bothered about, something to mourn, something to struggle with. Maybe your mind is cleaner than mine, but I’m pretty sure that no matter what my circumstances, I’m not going to be happy all the time. And so as for that “just,” if we’re talking all the time, being happy is no small feat. It takes work. It takes mental work. And when we have to do that… well, we’re not always happy. See what I mean?

How to be happy is the wrong question
All of the baggage that surrounds this notion of “just being happy” makes it worth considering that maybe happiness isn’t the best goal. What could we strive for instead of happiness? There’s another question that we’d likely get a variety of answers to, but I want to share what I learned from Sebastian Purcell over the summer. He’s a professor of philosophy who studies the Aztecs (as mentioned in this previous post), and it would seem that the Aztecs thought the proper goal for our striving was, rather than happiness,  something they called “rootedness,” becoming deeply tied to and nourished from several sources. I was immediately intrigued by the idea, and that grew when I heard just HOW the Aztecs suggested one become more rooted.

In Aztec philosophy, the way to achieving the good life was marked by becoming rooted in four different ways: 1) rooted in one’s own body, 2) rooted in one’s own psyche, 3) rooted in one’s community, and 4) rooted in the universe. Oh, okay. Easy. Done. Yeah, no. That sounds like a tall order, so what are we really talking about here?

I have to say I absolutely LOVE that the first principle is becoming rooted in one’s own body. In my work with clients attempting to lose weight, I have seem so many people who only address their bodies with negativity, who have stopped listening to their own bodies’ language, and who don’t even want to look at their beloved spirit shells. For the Aztecs, the body was a source of sacred connection and nurturing. They emphasized this importance by recommending that people do something like yoga every day to be in tune with their bodies and balance “competing energies” within the body. For modern westerners at least, I think we could go a little more basic with some body awareness: cultivating the ability to really feel how your body feels, to pay attention to those signals (hunger, pain, fatigue), to pay attention and be fully present when we do something that feels physically good, to find ways to eat and move that are not just enjoyable for the chattering brain, but that make our bodies FEEL good, so we can become rooted, grounded and nurtured through our bodies.

The second principle is also really interesting in that the Aztecs saw becoming rooted in the psyche as an act of balancing desire and longing with judgment. The believed that good judgment is learned and tempers or informs, but does not destroy, our desire. Boy does that sound healthy! I can attest to the way that some of us use our “good judgment” to completely overwhelm, override, and dismiss our desire. We rely on our good judgment alone to take us toward our goals, losing sight of where those goals were born in the first place. If they are not born of desire, that’s a long row to hoe. To be rooted in one’s psyche, desire and judgment work together to inform our actions and allow us to be both grounded and nourished, rooted.

Thirdly the Aztecs believed that rootedness is cultivated in the community. Social cooperation is critical to the growth and health of a community AND to the rootedness of the individual. In other words, the roles that you play in society, the tasks you take on, are not only for the benefit of others, but for our own individual benefit. We become nourished by participating. We become grounded by interacting and working together with others. It sounds obvious when I say it, but in our 24/7 culture it is all to easy to let these kinds of things fall by the wayside. It is all to easy to let community involvement fall to the end of the list, forgetting that it is part of who we are, that it’s not just part of serving others but in being our best selves, rooted.

Finally, the Aztecs believed that rootedness can grow by developing a sense of being part of the larger energy of the universe. For them, the way there was either through religious drugs or through the study of philosophy. In my experience, there are other ways. Meditation has, for me, always been an inroad to a sense that I am part of something greater. Standing at the edge of the ocean has the same effect. When I look around at a large gathering of people and take the others in, see them as individuals and see the group, see the purpose they are there for, take in their connectedness I also feel a touch of the divine. It would seem that my willingness to slow down, to be present, to notice my place in the physical world and in my community is a way to be rooted in the universe.

Real happiness comes from being rooted.
The interesting thing about all of this, is that as I think about it, even as I type it all out, I feel pretty happy. Maybe it’s just my definition of happiness, but being that in touch, that connected with myself and the people around me, that sounds pretty great. Maybe the Aztecs knew something we didn’t. Maybe by taking our sights off of “happiness” as a goal and developing our sense of “rootedness,” we get to be truly happy a lot more of the time.

Looking Back at Happier Times…

This weekend we joined a small but loving group in bidding a final farewell to one of our closest friends. He had passed away 6 years ago, and his parents had been thinking about where to spread his ashes for a few years since. They then did a bit of a tour to friends and places that were sacred to their son so we could all lay him to rest exactly where he’d want to be, near the people he cared for the most. It was hard, but peaceful and we were delighted to all be together in his memory and then making new memories as we shared an evening together.

The whole event, predictably, made me think back to our time together. We were friends long before my children were born and we formed a group of 4 couples who had a whole lot of fun together. We traveled. We celebrated. We played. We drank and ate with abandon. We stayed up late and had absurd conversations. We talked quietly about things that mattered. And we laughed, a lot.

It is bittersweet to look back now, having lost a core member of that group. The whole thing got me to thinking about how I often used to look back at some “happier” time, a time where things were less difficult in some way, or perhaps where I, in retrospect, think I had something going that was RIGHT. In my conversations with people, it seems a lot of us feel this way, that there were certain eras in our past where things were just better.

Lots of folks in the personal development world will tell you that looking back is a huge stumbling block, that the present and the future are the proper place to set your sights. I get why they’re saying it, because there can be an awful lot of murk and muck back there to get our feet stuck in. There can be a lot of regret and self-blame and other-blame and family complications and deep sticky tarry complexity. But what about when we think back on “happier” times?

Here’s what I think. Sometimes those times just seem happier because our minds are selective and not so great at saving the whole roll of film (yes, I am old, it used to come in rolls, because there was film… oh never mind). So that’s one thing, but I also think there is a valuable way to look back at the past, at your happier times, even if your memories of that tie are incomplete. This kind of backward gaze allows you to figure out what you’re missing now. Huh?

When we look back at our happier times, we so often focus on the circumstances that surrounded us: a job, a relationship, people, maybe even a different town or city. We mourn our inability to recreate those circumstances and feel defeated, maybe even feel stuck or trapped in our current situation. But looking back at the circumstances is keeping our view restricted in such a shallow way. It’s like looking at one snapshot of a family gathering and thinking you understand the whole event.

I was happier then.
So what’s he best way to look back at happier times? The view that will really help you in your current situation is to look back at how you felt. If you are thinking those days were so much better, it’s time to figure out how you felt then. What kinds of things did you think about? How did you feel that you don’t feel now?

Let me demonstrate. I can look back on those days with my gang of 8 and remember some of how I felt, what made it so special. I felt accepted. I felt included and cared for. I felt a little wild sometimes. I felt free. I felt safe. I felt at home.

So if I’m looking back with longing, the question is, what is the feeling that am I longing for? What feelings am I missing? What am I craving? Which of those feelings could I use a little more of today? Truth is I’m a really lucky woman, and I’ve done a lot of work over the last several years to get a whole bunch of those feelings back. I feel accepted (by myself most importantly). I feel included by friends and family. I feel cared for (again, more so by myself than in the past). I feel safe. I feel at home.

What are you missing?
So, if I’m missing those days of yore, it mostly has to do with wildness and freedom, and hey, I’m working on it. I’ve been challenging myself, my current older/wiser/parenting self to feel out what freedom looks like now. I don’t need to recreate my freedom and wildness from then; it won’t fit me now. It won’t feel good. I need to just use the feeling as the target and figure out what I need to think to feel that way. My 30 Days of Freedom Challenge that I’ve been doing for the last twenty-something days has shown me perfectly that I can feel so much freer today WITHOUT turning the clock back, WITHOUT changing my circumstances considerably, even WITH my current responsibilities, because freedom is what it has always been, an inside job. It is all about what I’m thinking. When I think differently, I find those feelings. I feel better. I feel more free.

When you look back on an earlier time, what do you see? Do you imagine yourself happier, stronger, more creative, less encumbered? What feeling do you crave from your past, from your youth, from other times? Leave the circumstances as they are. Find the feeling and think your way right into it. I can show you how.