Are You Skipping the Hard Parts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xo,

j

The Sting of Rejection

“No, thank you,” she said and even though I know better, I STILL felt a little sting, that sting of rejection. When I think about it in my wise brain, I know that not everyone will like everything I do. In fact, I’m quite sure there will be plenty of people who won’t like anything I do and my wise self tells me that’s okay. That last bit there, that’s the part I struggle with sometimes.

And I think that struggle is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that, just like most humans, I want to be liked. I want the things that I do to be liked, and I want to please the people around me. I am a recovering people pleaser (with the caveat that there are some people who I’ve never once tried to please and I’m sure they would have liked a little more than that). I think I’ve moved steadily from wanting to please others, be the good girl, shine like a little star sticker in a piano music book TO just wanting to not be actively disliked (like it’s okay if you don’t think I’m the bees knees, but please don’t hate me or be mean) TO realizing that how you feel about me is your business and I and everyone around me are best served by my staying out of that and being the best me I can be. Sounds like a nice steady progression, right? But just like any growth, the motion is not always purely linear. We can be mostly mature about something and still have flashes of 7 year old. I really still would like a gold star every now and then.

The second reason I think my reaction to being refused is interesting is because in that reaction I show that somehow I’ve made everything I do/create/write/make the same thing as me. If someone rejects, dislikes, doesn’t LOVE something I’ve put out in the world, they are rejecting ME (in this way of thinking). That’s ridiculous. When I turn the tables, I can think of plenty of people who make/write/create/share things that I’m not wild about even though I really like the people. I’m sure they have an audience for their stuff; I’m just not a member.

So given that my wise self knows better, why the sting of rejection?

How to not be hurt so much by rejectionAnd THAT is when it really becomes intensely personal, which is to say that it is ALL about me and what’s going on in my head. The sting of the rejection has nothing to do with the other person, and everything to do with what it triggers in me. What do I make that rejection mean?

“I knew it wouldn’t work.”

“I was afraid of this.”

“Nobody’s going to want this thing.”

Those are just warm-ups; hang on for the big guns…

“Why can’t I get this right?”

“Why did I think I could do this?”

“I’m nowhere near good enough to pull this off.”

“I think I’ve made a huge mistake.”

“Maybe I should look into grad school…”

And still better…

“Nothing I do works out.”

“Everyone else has it all worked out. I never will.”

“There must be something wrong with me.”

“I am not enough.”

If I let it, my brain can go from offering someone my work to crippling self-doubt in three steps. And the most important part of that sentence is the first part, the “If I let it.” A mentor of mine refers to the unobserved brain as a toddler with a knife. That brain will think and think and think and think, and it will think you into very safe corners that you most likely have no desire to inhabit, if you let it. If you choose to let your brain interpret the world as it chooses rather than the way that you choose.

When I choose to observe my descent into self-doubt, I can see it with compassion. And then, I can challenge it. “Really? One ‘no’ is evidence of your lack of worth?” I get a little loud with my brain sometimes. Other times: “There, there. I see you’re upset and I know this all feels big and real, so go have a cry if you need to and then we’ll talk about what’s actually going on here. Just take a minute. I’ll wait.” There will be plenty of opportunities to use both of these approaches.

Rejection is not deathBecause rejection comes in so many shapes and sizes. And it can mean everything or nothing. It is so rare that the person who delivered it is still thinking about it at all, because to them, it was just a “no,” a “no” that they have a right to deliver, to express, to use to dole out their time and talents in the way that is best for them. It was just a no.

You’re okay.

On This Thanksgiving Eve

So here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Many people are traveling. Some have already traveled and some will wake up early to travel with less crowd in the morning.

Some are cooking. Some are buying.

Some are telling old (and largely mythical) stories about Pilgrims.

Others are using the day to honor the Native Americans displaced and killed by the European advance.

Some will be working while other visit and dine.

No matter what you choose to do, when you choose to do it, or who you spend your time with, I hope that you will allow yourself a few minutes of holiday, holy day, sabbath.

I don’t really mean that in the religious sense of the word, although if that works for you and is what you need right now, by all means, get to it.

You have to choose to rest.I mean sabbath, an old idea that seems particularly helpful in this season of rush and scurry. Sabbath, the practice of choosing a time to rest, to avoid creating anything, to be.

Years ago I was having some counseling after a life-threatening miscarriage. I was in graduate school at the time and the recovery from my surgery combined with my singular focus on my studies had me all tied up in knots. I was not able to work to my usual standard, and my heart was not up to the hard-driving scholarship schedule I had been accustomed to keeping. I saw a therapist and after our time ended she referred me to a pastoral counselor.

I had a lot of spiritual questions about what I had experienced, and I had a lot of hurt and anger. I just kept pushing in spite of all of that. I kept working hard. I kept exercising hard. I kept hosting events. I kept doing all of the things. And Holly looked at me, took one hand in hers, and said: “What would it take for you to allow yourself to stop?” It was not the first nor the last time I would hear a version of that question. Sometimes we need to hear things a few times before they really sink in.

She recommended a book (understanding intuitively that this was likely the best way to reach me – give me an assignment). It was called Sabbath. I have since misplaced the book, but it planted a seed. The tree that grew there is the one that now allows me to remember to allow myself to stop.

Because there is so much going on, and we tell ourselves that it is just this time, this immediate time that we’re living in. That the busyness is a temporary thing and that as soon as _________ is over, things will get easier again. As soon as soccer season is over, as soon as I get done with this class, as soon as my injury heals, as soon as this concert is done, as soon as I finish this project, as soon as that jerk has his last day at work…. the fact that I can come up with so many of these on the fly is a good indication of how non-temporary that state really is. There will always be something that will take the place of whatever “temporary” pressure we’re waiting to get past. The only way to have that level of busy stop – that swirly hamster wheel kind of busy – is to allow ourselves to stop.

Perspective on busynessNobody will do it for you because they are all on their own hamster wheels with their own list of things that need doing, fears about the future, missions to accomplish. You have to do it for yourself. You have to insist on taking a moment, or as many as you need, to breathe, to care for yourself, to rest, and to remember that you are but one glorious part of a miraculous web of life and chance. And this moment, as important as it seems to turkey preparation or family fun, is but one glorious moment in a miraculous collection of interconnected lifetimes.

You are okay. All will be well. No matter what kitchen mistakes you make. No matter what family faux-pas occur. No matter whether or not everything goes as planned. Lumpy gravy is not an indication of your personal flaws and shortcomings. And a gorgeous table won’t make you feel loved. Tend to yourself, tend to your heart, take a moment and be well.

XO,

j

P.S. If holiday gatherings mean difficult conversations, you might want to check out my Holiday Conversation Survival Guide. You don’t have to let anybody ruin your day.

Sometimes You Need a Little Distance

Years ago I was teaching at a charter school in Washington, DC. The school was struggling with some powerful challenges and I was not very good at keeping my head down and focusing solely on my own business. As a result, the stress was really taking its toll. I was beginning to have physical symptoms from my stress and was averaging about 5 hours of sleep per night.

The lack of good sleep just made my inability to manage my stress worse, increased my reliance on caffeine to wake up and wine to slow down, which interfered with my sleep. It was a vicious cycle. I began to have heart palpitations from the stress. And then my fertility doctor said something that really shook me: “There is no way you will get pregnant like this. You’re going to have to change something.”

When the problem is unsolvableI was completely freaked out. We had been trying to have children for almost 7 years and had identified this as our very LAST attempt. If this didn’t work (there was also adoption paperwork in progress), we said, we would just be the aunt and uncle who traveled a lot and gave great gifts (it was a really good plan). We really wanted to be parents. And I was incapable of seeing or thinking a way out of my problem.

I was talking it over with my Dad one day, as I often did, and he asked if there wasn’t some way I could continue to work, but just not be quite so involved, if I couldn’t have a little more distance between me and my students, between me and the administration, between me and the neighborhood violence (he only knew about some of that and would have had other things to say had he known about all of it), between me and the world so that I could continue to teach without it bleeding into everything else. I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at him (we were on the phone) and said: “Yeah, Dad, I’m great at that.”

As is so often the case, the wisdom we get from our elders (maybe especially from our parents) takes a while to really sink in. It has to marinate, and we have to hear it from at least 12 other sources, with three of them being deemed infinitely more in touch with our circumstances. I heard it. I read it. I saw it in action, this “getting a little distance” idea. It turns out that, as has all too often been the case, my Dad was exactly right. I DID just need a little distance. I needed a little distance from all of it.

I needed to be able to be involved in a pursuit and not be consumed by it. I needed to be able to experience mishaps and mistakes made by other professionals and not feel the need to address it at the systemic level EVERY TIME with FERVOR and OUTRAGE. I needed to be able to be aware of my students’ academic and personal struggles and not stay awake all night wondering if they’d made it home safely or if their parent had returned or if they would show up to school the next day. I needed to be able to interact with the world without reacting to it ALL OF THE TIME. I needed a little distance. At the time I got the distance I needed mentally and physically by leaving my job. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

Since then, I’ve learned how to get a little distance without changing my circumstances. It took a long time. Some of it was maturing and mellowing, but the majority of it was a concerted effort on my part to learn to manage my mind a bit, to be able to watch how I think and how I feel, to feel compassion for myself when I was struggling and hurting, but to not be consumed by that experience. I learned how to do that, but I still struggle. I still have to remind myself that the things that I think and feel are leaves floating by on a stream and I can just allow them and then choose how to act rather than reacting. I still have to remind myself that I am in charge in there.

I wonder, when I think about this skill set that I’ve developed, how the last twenty years might have been different had I gotten on that lesson a little sooner. I sift through decisions that I might have made differently, not with regret, but with curiosity, as though I’m watching a movie and smiling a little at the inexperience of the heroine.

Distance Doesn't Mean ColdnessWhat’s done is done, as they say. What I know for sure is that the decisions that I’ve made since I’ve been able to get a little distance have all felt wholly different, deeply satisfying. I feared that if I wasn’t so reactive it would mean my heart wasn’t in it, but I think I had it backwards. When I’m not so reactive, my chattering monkey brain gets sidelined and makes room for my heart, for the core of me that’s connected to the core of all of you, the stillness and the peace that lives in the knowledge that we are all but a part and that each moment is ours to witness. When I get a little distance, I can choose peace and love and integrity. And boy does that feel good. Thanks Dad. I miss you.

Whose Battle Are You Fighting?

There have been a lot of hard things lately.

The news has become excruciating.

Some of our relationships are strained by p

olitics.

We’ve got problems and we can’t seem to even agree on what those problems are.

Our thoughts create problems

And that’s just the big stuff.

That doesn’t even get down to the every day hard, the busyness, the job, the elusive work-life balance.

It doesn’t even cover our romantic (or not romantic) relationships and our parenting.

It doesn’t even cover our chronic illnesses and hurts.

Things seem really hard.

And saying that there are difficult circumstances doesn’t begin to account for how difficult they can become due to the way we think about them.

 

How We Make Things Harder

During the last few months my husband and I have been attempting to renegotiate the division of domestic duties. Let me give you a little background. 10 years ago I decided to stay home with our twins and the I made that choice, I assumed most of the domestic responsibilities (because raising twins was clearly not enough). My husband became the breadwinner and I became the bread maker. We plugged along like that for some time. And he got busier, adding a side hustle (out of love) and eventually adding grad school (also out of love). I also added work (out of love) and eventually he whittled his way down to two occupations (side hustle moving forefront and grad school). As I began to nurture my practice and continued being the everything to all people, we felt the need to redistribute the burden.

Our acknowledgement of that need, however, didn’t make it easy to do.

We stalled.

We delayed (him I think because it was not top of mind for him and me perhaps because it seemed easier to just do things than to have a hard conversation about them).

We bickered about the bits that were falling through the cracks.

And I felt resentment growing, like an invasive weed.

And as my resentment grew, I thought of my mother and the women of her generation, so many of whom nurtured a garden of invasive resentment weeds because they felt that they had no choice. I thought of how much my position FELT like that. I thought about how things SHOULD be. And I fumed, growled, and cried, and left things undone out of spite. I grew short with him and with the kids. And I buried all of that in getting busy doing all of the things that poor me HAD to do. No time to be polite. No time to really engage. No time to have a real conversation.

And the a friend said just the thing I needed to hear. Actually 3 friends said similar things on the same day, which even I must concede sounds a little like divine intervention stepping in. All of these wise women asked me to reflect on my husband’ nature. “Is he an old-fashioned guy?” “Does he think you should have to do everything?” “Is he so swamped that he can’t even see what’s happening?”

Leaving the Story Behind

Arguments about HouseworkTheir wise questions pushed me to step out of the argument that I had created and to step back into a conversation with my reality, not my mother’s reality, not women’s reality, not a previous generation’s reality. I suddenly realized that a big part of what was making this so hard was me. I was turning a problem, a challenge, into a full-on ideological issue. I was defending women everywhere.

There was no need for me to do that in THIS particular case.

And when I stopped arguing for everybody’s reality, we were able to have a conversation, a real conversation. I was clear. I was heard. I was acknowledged, and now there’s a plan. When I stopped dragging all of these other people into the issue, when I stopped thinking it was bigger than it really was, when I adjusted my story to account for the reality of who my husband is, who I am, and how we operate, I was able to articulate my needs and my feelings and they were met with exactly the kind of reaction that I would have hoped for. It turns out I didn’t have to fight the power this time.

Why does that matter? Am I suggesting we all stop fighting for the big ideological issues? Absolutely not. Anybody who know me knows better than that.

What I am suggesting is that some problems, some challenges, some issues are just not that complicated or that hard. We get it all tangled up together. We come to the problem with our politics, our feelings, our baggage (and usually a few other people’s baggage as well) and we make it so complicated. Some problems just aren’t that hard.

Rest Into The Problem

I got a little e-mail from one of my mentors, Martha Beck, earlier this week that suggested that when you are stuck and things seem difficult, maybe it’s time to rest into the problem, to stop pushing so hard. And this feels like THAT to me. “Renegotiating” our domestic division of labor was something that I was pushing very hard on, not just because I wanted it done, but because there were principles at stake.

When I rest into the problem, when I get quiet, when I quiet the clamor of ideology, culture wars, activism and outrage, I see things differently. I don’t become a Stepford wife. I become the me who KNOWS how committed my husband is to equality. I become the me who KNOWS how hard it is to take on domestic tasks when you’re out of practice. I become the me who honors the scope of the work I’ve done for these 10 years by not imagining someone could just scoop half of it up and do it efficiently at the drop of the hat. I become the me that KNOWS that we, individually and together, are okay.

Rest can bring truth
When things get hard, what can we do? Rest into it. Get quiet. Reduce the clamor from the outside world. And from THAT space, learn what to do next. Learn what feels like ease and clarity and love and freedom. Learn what feels like truth that is only YOURS.

 

When We Are Hurting

Learning Self-LoveAre you hurting today? I am. And so are so many people I know and love. Even in times of lesser tragedy and hardship, there are always people hurting. It is so easy to get lost in the analysis of it, to get paralyzed by the horror, to get stuck in the outrage. On Sunday my minister reminded us that one of our values is an ever-widening circle of compassion. Cultivating that circle may require a break from analyzing, being outraged, and being paralyzed. Nurturing our compassion is a practice.

I’m not sure where it started, but there is a bit of a mantra in the self-help world that says that we have to love ourselves in order to love others. We would have to feel compassion for ourselves in order to feel compassion for others. I get the sentiment, and agree that deeper levels of love and compassion are easier to reach when we have love and compassion for ourselves, but making those things a bar to entry to love and compassion for others? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure any self-loathing parent will tell you that you can love your children despite how you feel about yourself. Suggesting to that parent that they must start with themselves seems like a great way to stall that growth altogether.

How to Grow Compassion and Love – Even For Yourself

What if, instead, we saw the practice of compassion as one of simply widening the circle, with the center being exactly where it already is naturally for you? Where is the focus of the compassion and love that you feel easily? Is it kids? Is it animals? Is it victims of tragedy or circumstance?

If you’re not sure, ask yourself what gets to you? What makes you well up? What makes you angry? What makes you sad? What makes you feel things even when it’s uncomfortable to do so? Are there news stories or fictional stories you find it difficult to watch, read, or listen to? These are the key to finding the center of your compassion – the place where your heart meets the world. Find that center; this is step 1.

Find Your Edges; Stretch Your Borders

After you’ve figured out where your compassion lives, feel out the edges of that group. Imagine the people on the borders. If you naturally feel compassion for kids, consider teens , mothers, and parents. If you feel compassion for animals, consider animal lovers, nature, the earth. If you feel for people struggling with physical medical problems, consider people with mental illness, consider caretakers. Find the folks on the edges of the community that you already feel compassionate about.

Step 3? Imagine those border folks. Imagine being them for a moment. Imagine part of a day for them. Imagine that they are just people with all of the insecurities, uncertainties and challenges of the group you already feel compassion for. Imagine that they are as capable of love and affection, joy and courage as those who move you. Imagine those border people in pain. Imagine them laughing. Imagine that your loving focus might, even in some small way, be helpful. Believe in the power of your own affection. In your mind’s eye, surround this growing group with light, a glow of whatever color pleases you. Breathe deeply and continue to stretch the edges of that light to include others.

Self-Compassion

Here’s where things can get tricky for a lot of folks. I hear a lot of people talk about how others don’t have compassion. That’s not what I see in my universe. I see plenty of folks who are serving up compassion for others, but who are unforgiving and unkind to themselves. Learning to serve up some compassion for yourself can be an extension of the love you already give to others.

Think about that group you’ve been growing in your mind. Find the way that you might be like them. Where in your life do you feel like a hurt child? Where in your life do you act like a wounded animal? Where in your life do you feel limited or misunderstood? Where in your life are you called on to rise to challenges you’d rather not have to face? How can you connect to the recipients of your compassion?

Learn to Love YourselfFind that link and then return your attention to your mind’s eye – the big glowing group. Draw the edges of your circle of loving focus out so that you are included. Let the light envelope you. Let it connect you to others. Allow yourself to bathe in the light you so willingly shine on others.

Place your hands on your heart, and say: “I hear you. I know. I love you.”

Widen your circle and make sure that eventually it includes you.

Namaste.

 

 

SaveSave

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.

The Earth is Slippery: Aztec Wisdom… Yeah, You Heard That Right

A few weeks ago, on our annual nerdy vacation at The Chautauqua Institution, we got to hear some really great lectures. Well, we always hear really great lectures, but this year I was paying extra special attention. I even took notes – yeah, I was serious about the nerdy vacation comment. As the weeks have gone by since we were there, it’s been interesting to see which ideas have really stuck with me. Some lectures seemed really great when they were delivered, but didn’t really have any staying power; others seemed kind of so-so when I was listening, but took root. One of the ideas I heard was both – it struck me at the time and it keeps coming back because I find it just so darned useful.

The speaker was Sebastian Purcell, a professor of philosophy at the State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland. His presentation was on Aztec philosophy as a a guide for happiness in the modern world. I admit I was skeptical, because the idea of looking to the Aztecs for guidance on happiness didn’t really fit with my limited understanding of Aztec culture. So I guess I was ripe for the picking. The idea that got me was this one: The earth is slippery.

You’re like, really? That’s the big idea? That the earth is slippery? And what the hell does that mean anyway? What?

Slide1Yeah. That’s it. It was a core part of the Aztec worldview to believe that the world is slippery, which means we will fall down. We will make mistakes. Things happen that are out of control that will push us over. Bad stuff happens, and sometimes its our own fault, and sometimes it’s not. The earth is slippery. We can only take so many steps without risking a fall every now and then. Can you see where we’re going here? Professor Purcell pointed out that this idea meant that bad or unpleasant things that happen can often be chalked up to error rather than a lack of reason. In other words, sometimes stuff just happens and everyone makes mistakes no matter how hard they try, no matter how good their intentions, no matter how right their purpose.

Is this revolutionary? Well no, if we’re focused on the messages we explicitly give our children when they are hurting because they’ve messed up and we’re trying to comfort them, but ALL of the OTHER messages (that we give them AND ourselves) are pretty different aren’t they? The messages we send and receive say that the world is drowning in opportunity, that all you need to do is work hard enough (well, and harder than the person next to you), and you will succeed. This very American dreamy message is complicated. There’s an element to this lesson on perseverance that I am TOTALLY down with. Pursuing your thing doggedly is the best way to “succeed” at it – whatever “succeed” means. There’s also a dark side to our failure to really embrace the idea that the earth is slippery.

The dark side of not embracing the slipperiness of earth is that when things go awry, it is all our fault. When things don’t pan out, we are flawed. When we’re not achieving what we want, we need to reexamine everything from our actions to the very foundation of the dream itself. These are all versions of the big one, the giant yuck, the grandaddy of all self-abuse: when bad things happen, I deserve them because I’m not good enough. If the earth is not slippery, we fall because we are clumsy, careless, lazy. If the earth is not slippery, we fail because we are not determined, because we aren’t smart enough, because we are unworthy. If the earth is not slippery, our blame can only be placed on ourselves.

Slide2There are times we are at fault. There are times other people make things hard for us. There are times our institutions fail us. There are times when bad things happen that have nothing to do with our worth. There are times when things don’t work out. There are times when the earth is slippery. If we can just acknowledge that, we can get on with the business of our recovery, our work around, our new approach, our get back up and try again without the full on inquisition of our souls. Sometimes we fall because the earth is slippery.

On Becoming a Curator Of My Life

There are two separate processes in the BARE program where the focus of the work is to let go of things which 1) no longer serve us or 2) actively deplete us mentally or physically. This can be a surprisingly difficult task. We hold on to so much, I suppose in an attempt to maintain stability, to convince ourselves that we are okay because of sameness, to ensure ourselves that while the whole world is changing at a million miles a minute, we are standing on solid ground.

This work was difficult for me. I didn’t want to evaluate the things in my home, even though I could sense that their number was too great for my sense of well-being. I didn’t want to evaluate my time commitments and my relationships to see if they were more than draining. I REALLY didn’t want to go into my closet and be honest about what clothes didn’t fit and which I didn’t like and probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place (the self-judgment about wasting money is perhaps the most fun part). I didn’t want to do any of that, but I did, and it paid off in spades. How?

declutteringMy stress level went down as I became a curator of the things in my environment rather than just an acceptor of all things. My stress level decreased as I became more honest about the amount of time I wanted to spend on various pursuits and in various relationships. My happiness and confidence went up as I got rid of clothes that made me feel dumpy and as stained as a toddler Mom and replaced them with clothes that made me feel my best, helped me express how I WANT to look, not just what’s in my closet. Letting go of that which no longer served in my physical world has been a game changer.

The interesting thing is that performing those purges has helped to create a mindset that has made me a more careful consumer, planner, and doler-outer of my time. I really have begun to curate my experiences. I have begun to question how I’m spending my time and what I’m getting for it. And I’m making some changes that will exchange unpleasant time for time that will satisfy me.

And here I come to the issue of my garden… not my garden as in English garden with flowers and such, but my vegetable garden. We moved into this house 10 years ago and I have attempted to grow vegetables every year since (although I should note that if you are an aspiring gardener, buying a house in a neighborhood that has street names with “Slate Hill” in them is probably not a great move). We have had a few good years. Even those years, however, did not produce as much as they SHOULD have based on the amount of effort required. Why?

Our yard backs up to a protected woods that has a creek running through it. It is a magical place that we explore with the kids. We find critters, we wade, we take long walks and make up stories about what goes on at night. That woods backs up to a very large county park, which connects to other parks in our fairly rural and wooded county. What does all of this mean, other than that we live in a beautiful spot (which we really, really do)? It means our yard is part of a vast wildlife highway. We have groundhogs; we have rabbits; we have squirrels; we have even had a black bear. And the deer, please don’t get me started on the deer. I know all of you gardeners out there are chomping at the bit to give me advice on how to keep them out. Whatever you’re about to say, short of enclosing the whole thing in chain link fencing including a roof, which would be the only way to keep the squirrels from stealing my tomatoes, we’ve tried it. We’ve done everything short of shooting and poisoning them, which I’m not willing to do. For everything I grow in my garden, assuming the plants thrive, we might get 20% of the harvest. And I haven’t even talked about the bugs.

Being near the creek makes us a prime target for SO many pests. And again, short of spraying things that I’m not comfortable eating, we’ve tried it. We’ve tried it all and I am weary. I am tired of being disappointed when I go out to tend to my garden. This is not the experience I had in mind. There has been little fulfillment in the whole operation, and so I have decided that this year will be my last in carrying out this size of effort (I have a big garden). I haven’t yet decided if I will simply make a much smaller garden of things that do well here or stop the enterprise altogether. I do know that some flowering plants would make a nice addition to part of the yard that the garden covers up. That would feel good to me. And that’s the thing, right? These chores we assign ourselves should get us SOMETHING we feel good about, right? I am going to curate my yard so I can be in it and feel GOOD instead of disappointed or like I am a rotten gardener. I want to enjoy my space. I get to decide how to spend my time and what kind of results I want.

declutteringWhat part of your life could use a little curating? What are you accepting that is not yours? What are you committing to that is draining you? What used to be fun and now is, well, not? What’s in your closet? If you need a personal guide who can teach you how to be a better curator, I’d love to help.

When Are You Holding Back?

Slide1My Mom and Stepdad have decided to move, and there’s a big downsize as part of that move. When we gathered on Easter, lots of stuff got distributed. I walked away with a mishmash of things including a box of CDs. On my way back to their house this past Friday to help clean out the cellar, I popped in one of them, John Denver’s Back Home Again. This album played a big part in my musical childhood. As my kids watched Percy Jackson and the whatever whatever whatever in the back (with headphones) I sang childhood John Denver songs at the top of my lungs. Both “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “Grandma’s Feather Bed” are on that particular album and I chuckled to myself as I remembered his appearance on The Muppets singing those songs. If I’ve lost you completely because you are too young for any of this, you might want to plug the feather bed song into YouTube. I remember that Muppets appearance being pretty awesome.

At any rate, what I hadn’t remembered was another song, Sweet Surrender. “SWEET, SWEET SURRENDER. LIVE, LIVE WITHOUT CARE. LIKE A FISH IN THE WATER. LIKE A BIRD IN…”  “Mom, that’s REALLY loud.” Right, sorry, volume adjustment. Now, I don’t honestly know whether or not fish and birds are actually without care as they move through the world, but I get the point about being in the moment, being who you are, flowing, singing as you go to help your Mom pack up her house: “SWEET, SWEET SURRENDER. LIVE, LIVE WITHOUT CARE…” “MOM!!” Right. Not quite without care. It was not nearly as satisfying at lower volume. Surrender with twins is sometimes more challenging than surrender when I am by myself in the car. Continue reading