Come Home to Yourself

“You don’t need to change yourself. You need to come home to yourself.”

I was sitting in the grass listening to a talk by the Reverend John Scherer (mentioned in yesterday’s post) and this line really stood out.

It was not a new idea for me. Martha Beck, with whom I studied life coaching, often talks about coming home to peace as the foundation of personal growth and transformation.

The concept of improving things by coming home to peace, to yourself, is a game-changer, and it was a good reminder to me even now.

blackboard-board-chalk-21696I’ve been thinking about shaking some things up in my business, in my practice, and when I think about that really hard, which is my temptation as one who has regularly been rewarded for the thinking in the past, I am usually inclined to add a bunch of stuff, to seek out and take advice from the VAST multitude of business consultants out there (if you’ve never worked for yourself and seen this first hand, trust me you’d be blown away by how much money is changing hands learning how to make money change hands). I get really busy, big lists, big tasks. I check in with a lot of people: what do you think, how does this look, will this work, am I okay?

I spend a fair amount of time figuring out how to change what I’m doing, which sometimes morphs a bit into changing who I’m being. I know some of you feel me on this. We make concessions. They tend to start small, but can end up feeling really big when we realize that we’re proceeding in a way that we not only don’t really recognize but that feels foreign in a not exciting kind of way, that feels icky not just scary, that feels like a compromise with someone you really don’t like. We change to fit the world, or at least our understanding of the world.

It reminds me of my first couple of years teaching high school. I remember shopping for clothes for that job. I remember needing those clothes to look a certain way, some sort of picture I had in my head of teacher. It had nothing to do with modesty. It was just some idea of what I thought a teacher should look like. I also had ideas about how a teacher should act. I made my choices carefully (which isn’t always a bad thing – don’t misunderstand me). I SO wanted to get it right. As for the work itself, I worked my behind off. I was an excellent teacher. Or, I should say, the me that I constructed for the purpose of teaching, was an excellent teacher.

Because the thing is that I wasn’t really there. I was so busy making sure I was being right for the part that I forgot that I was not an actor. I forgot to bring my actual self to work with me.

And it broke me. There is little as draining as being someone other than who you are all day every day (especially when you have to get up at 5 am to do it).

I was so exhausted from all of that being perfect that when I got home, well, after I finished the part of the job that I did at home, which was usually at 9 or 10 pm (I am not receptive to comments about how easy teachers have it), I had no energy to come home to myself, to try to plug back in and remember who was in there, to find the parts of me that might help make things feel better.

And so I concluded that I just needed to get better at the job to feel better doing it. I needed to get better at all of the parts that teaching is made up of. I needed to get better at planning (I did, by the way). I needed to get better at creating materials (checked that one off the list too). I needed to get better at asking for help from colleagues (some progress). I needed to get better at organizing systems for the classroom (no progress, ever). I needed to get better at all of the mechanical elements that took up so much time.

It never once occurred to me in those first couple of years that I needed to pay more attention to my relationships with students. We had a good, working relationship. I was deemed “professional and friendly” in observations. Sounds good. Except that the relationships, and my capacity to be helpful to them was the thing that might have saved the entire experience.

It is easy to see this now as a life coach, someone who still teaches, and who is very clear on the fact that what I teach is only part of the gig. The relationships that come with the job and the fulfillment I get in being allowed to witness important transformations feed me.  It is easy, in retrospect, to see what might have made a difference in my early teaching experience.

It is easy because now, so many years later, I know that the trick is coming home to myself.

And yet, I am still tempted to just better myself, to get better at the mechanics of the job, to get better at marketing, to get better at organizing things (still a big zero on that front), and don’t misunderstand me, getting better at the mechanics is not a bad thing. It’s a question of how I make that decision.

If I come at improving myself from a place of fear and a willingness to be somebody different so that my world will not fall apart, so that I will win in some way that my culture defines for me, so that things will “work,” I just may get what I want, but it won’t feel very good.

alone-back-view-blonde-247195If I come at my work from a place of figuring out who I am and bringing that person to work with me, it’s still scary, because I’m a little afraid of letting all of you see her all of the time, BUT every decision after that is so much easier, and the results feel better no matter what they are, because I am home.

Are you home? Would you like to be?

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.

Mind Your Business

4th-of-july-american-bright-461917In the U.S., the 4th of July brings with it a lot of revelry, a lot of gathering, a lot of flag waving, and sometimes some reflection on our national culture.

The founders get referenced heavily. I both understand and respect that. I taught government and history in high schools. Classes on political philosophy in my graduate program were my favorite.

I support the urge to reflect while we celebrate whatever it is that this holiday means for each of us individually and as a group. I especially support the urge to reflect on our ideals NOW, when so many of us feel that we are not living up to them in any way that we want to recognize.

I don’t want to wax too heavily political here, not because I fear losing you or upsetting you, but because there are so many spaces for that. I can engage in these arguments, and get heated about it, but I know that I need spaces for quiet reflection in order to make sense of my world. Maybe you do too. So that’s part of my mission today, and maybe every day, to create a space where we can step away from the raging of the world and check in with our ideals, check in with our hearts, and check in with the path that lies before us. Sometimes those paths include politics.

A friend told me the other day that when the founders were trying to come up with a motto for the baby United States, Ben Franklin suggested (with humor as he did most things) that “Mind Your Business” would make a good motto. It reflected the drive toward commerce that was so much a part of the American character even then as well as the fear of interference in private and business affairs that the colonists’ experience with England had reinforced. Franklin acknowledged that his suggestion was not adequately transcendent. Eventually E Pluribus Unum was chosen.

I think it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about both of these phrases as part of our celebration of independence.

Frankly while I like the idea of E Pluribus Unum (from many, one), it doesn’t seem to have gotten us much unum.

I wonder, instead if Franklin might have been onto something, but that he limited his scope of interpretation such that he missed his own brilliance. I think a case could be made for Mind Your Business as both a more accurate reflection of the American character AND as an aspirational tool – an idea that could create transcendence.

On the accuracy front, Mind Your Business would have, at the very least, been a more honest reflection of the reality of most of the founders as men of money and commerce. It certainly would have been a more accurate reflection of those who were slaveholders and who protected that practice in the Constitution. From Many, One doesn’t mean much if the many are all propertied white me. Unum is easier to achieve in small groups.

As for transcendence, I’d like to propose an alternative meaning for Mind Your Business, one I’ve mentioned, but only at the surface level, before. This understanding of Mind Your Business is not an admonition to leave someone alone, but instead, an urging to really dig deeply into what you are trying to do in this world, to check in with your heart, with your intuition, with your values, with your god if you have one, to actually attempt to align your life with the things, ideas, principles, and feelings that matter the most to you. Minding your business is not about privacy so much as it is about intellectual honesty and active integrity.

I wonder what would have been different had the founders decided to mind their business in this way. While I cannot overlook the founders’ failure of morality in institutionalizing slavery in law, I recognize the conflict that it presented internally. I wonder what might have been different for them, for African Americans, for ALL of us had they taken those misgivings more seriously than the approval of their peers, if they trusted that they would, in fact, be able to continue to survive and even thrive financially if they just learned to live in integrity with the sense of the grave injustice in which they were participating. I wonder what would be different had they chosen to mind that kind of business. Mightn’t they have taken their misgivings to heart and defended them as passionately as they defended things like individual rights (for propertied white men) and the need to establish a government that could actually act in the common interest (of propertied white men)? Could they then have made slavery a thing of the past 75 years ahead of the Civil War?

What would be different?

It’s an intellectual exercise to be sure, but it’s also a clarion call as we enter these days of celebration and festivity. If we are to celebrate our founding with any seriousness, can we not also examine its limitations and see what lessons they might hold for us today?

E Pluribus Unum – From Many, One.

Mind Your Business – Act with Integrity for Principles that Matter

I admit to a heavy heart heading into this holiday.

agriculture-cloudscape-cloudy-skies-129539I will still go to see fireworks, because I do love them.

I will still find wisdom and inspiration in some of those old ideals.

And I will hold them up to the light of my heart. I will check them and how they are used, carried out, and desecrated. I will act in integrity because that’s what not just patriotism, but responsible humanity demands of me.

So be it.

Divine Goodness?

I was reading, yet another spiritually grounded self-help book (Iyanla Vanzant), as that is my jam, and came across this sentence: “I choose to accept myself as a divine demonstration of all that is goodness and greatness.” WOW.

animal-animal-photography-beak-409828See, in my “journey” (I really need to come up with a new word there), I have trod many miles from self-loathing to thinking I really am pretty darned okay, even wonderful sometimes, but a “divine demonstration of all that is goodness and greatness?” That was taking things a little too far for this WASP-y well-mannered and duly humble girl. This declaration of choice was asking me to look inside and see something magnificent, to see the peacock feathers fanned out and on display. I wasn’t there.

For so long when I looked inward, all I could see was the hurts, the damage, the wounds. They were real in the sense that there were things that happened in my life that caused real and lasting pain. The scale and scope of these events, however, was exaggerated not out of a tendency toward drama or a penchant for self-pity but because over time those hurts and my reactions to them evolved into a story about myself – that there was something fundamentally wrong with me – a gentler, more modern notion of being a sinner at heart in the way that allows for no real expectations of anything good – that explains away bad stuff as being the natural consequence for living.

That story got so big that the hurt and the wounding was all I could see. It was like a giant wall of barbed wire and old rusty fencing that kept me from seeing the good parts.

Even now, the most natural solution to this problem seems like it ought to be finding a way to see those good parts, but I know that’s only a partial fix. The reason all that hurt is so rusty and barbed is because of the other story I tell myself, about how things SHOULD have been and choices I SHOULD have made differently in response. Fighting against all of that made me so tired – too weary to challenge the story about my worth and work to see the good. Fighting against all of that reality about what actually happened and what I did was exhausting.

I didn’t know that I could accept the hurts and wounds without saying I wanted any of it. I could forgive my choices without fear of making those mistakes again (although I might). I could stop fighting with what has already happened long enough to see what is – in and around me – to see the breathtaking beauty all around me.

Things have happened.

I was hurt.

Sometimes I still hurt.

And I am still whole, complete and capable of being divine love in this world.

animal-bird-colorful-50557When I can see that… when I can touch the duality of accepting the parts that seem broken and wounded and know that I can still be love, then I see divinity in my own human-ness. Then I see myself as a demonstration of goodness and greatness. Then I can allow myself to shine in a way that makes it safe for others to do the same.

I see your light.

julia

 

This is Me

adult-ancient-art-204649I’ve described a few times that I have a morning practice that involves some inspirational reading of some kind, some prayer, a little writing, a little meditation, now sometimes a little Reiki. I kind of go with the flow and see what comes up.

Some days this practice sets me up with clarity and a sort of fresh, clean feeling for the day. Other days it helps me unload something that’s been on my mind. Still other days I get hit between the eyes with something I’m still working on. That’s what happened this morning. Once I got past the annoyance of having the same old story come up over and over again (because why not judge myself while I feel bad), I had an opportunity to see a path forward as pieces that have been all around me assembled themselves.

What set me off? This affirming set of lines:

“There is nothing missing in me. There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing that I cannot be, do, or have as long as I remember who I am.”

~ Iyanla Vanzant

I couldn’t even get to the empowering declaration in the last sentence because I got so hung up on on the first bit. These sentences were part of a prayer that I recited aloud. In reciting it, I skipped those first two lines. I didn’t even notice I’d done it at first. Let’s just skate on past that bit, shall we? Let’s not call it out. Let’s not challenge that old story. That old path tempts my mind so thoroughly. It is a go to.

When things aren’t going precisely as I want them to – even if everything is okay, the default explanation is that there is something fundamental that is wrong with me, or at least that I am somehow getting this ALL wrong – and the follow-on judgment and guilt.

I see two things here. I see myself wedded to an outcome, a certainty about how everything should go that I never seem to question rather than abusing myself about whatever result I did achieve. I also see self-sabotage in the form of that old thought, that thought that there’s something wrong with me. That old thought has gotten in the way of so much success in the past. I forgive myself for that. I truly do. I forgive myself and I know that I was doing the best I could at that time.

I can’t change what I’ve already done, but seeing that pattern can serve now, in this time and place. I see the thought that I am inherently limited because of some basic flaw. I see the way I gather my failures around me as evidence. I see myself push away the evidence that flies so contrary to that old rotten thought. I accept that struggle within me. I see the fear that my old demon generates and I send a flood of love.

The song from The Greatest Showman has been ringing in my head, not just because it resonates, but because my daughter plays it nonstop. I feel the lyrics in my bones, and I know the sharpest words are the ones I tell myself: “When the sharpest words try to cut me down, gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out. I am brave. I am bruised. This is who I’m meant to be. This is me.”

abstract-background-beach-355288Sometimes I just need to talk to myself. Sometimes saying the words out loud matters. Sometimes speaking the truth we discover when we are wisest helps those old wounds heal, helps those reflexive judgments slow down, helps put those old sharp stories in their place. It’s okay little girl. It’s okay teenage girl. It’s okay reckless young woman. It’s okay Mrs. Kemp. It’s okay not Professor Jones. It’s okay Mom of 2 instead of 4. All of what has already happened is okay. And everything that is happening now? Also okay. It’s okay life coach/writer/whatever else shows up. This is you and you are so loved. Just let me know when you need that flood.

On a Wing and a Prayer

aisle-bench-cathedral-161060The church of my childhood used prayer as part of every service. We would all kneel, or stand (depending on which part of the service). The minister would say some things. We might mumble some things back in unison. There was also a time when individual members of the community could offer their private concerns for the group to acknowledge and, in theory, pray for. This experience didn’t do much for my understanding of prayer. It wasn’t something my parents emphasized either. I think we said grace at the dinner table, but it obviously didn’t make much of an impression on me. These scripted group prayers were pro-forma, something you just did. It didn’t have to mean anything. With that in mind I embarked on a prayer-free adult life. If it doesn’t mean anything, why should I make any other choice, right?

Then a book on prayer found its way into my hands – into my library bag actually. I tend to enter the library with a list of three books and walk out with two bags. The exuberance of discovery takes over. The most interesting part about this literary infiltrator is that my understanding of the divine, God, gods, Goddess, Universe, Great Spirit, Gaia is pretty murky and non-specific. And yet this book, by an author with whom I was already familiar, was in my bag. I remember putting it in there in the fog of bibiophilic fever. It just kind of called out to me, so I grabbed it.

My seminarian looked at it a little askance, but wisely refrained from further comment until the book had some time to settle in, until I had time to spend with the book. We like to spend time with books over here.

A few days later I picked it up and glanced through. Some of the language made me pause. It included theological certainties I wasn’t ready to claim, but something in me said, “just read.” And so I did. The book is not really a book on prayer, but a book of prayers. Organized by theme, by human soul need: for when I need strength, when I feel hurt, when I need courage. I read through several and once I softened to the language (sometimes substituting my own proper nouns, sometimes deciding I wasn’t sure it mattered), I could see the beauty of the text.

What was there was some of the most intimate conversation I have ever seen. The prayers included deepest wounds, dearest hopes, admitted failings, and unmitigated heartbreak; disappointment in others, judgment of ourselves, and above all a deep and relentless desire for love and a sense of belonging. It was an extended song about human-ness and the melody of it tugged at my heart.

The next morning, after my kids had left for school, I decided to spend some more time with the book, not so much as a visitor, but as a participant. I looked through the table of contents for a state of mind that sounded like where I was at that moment, turned to the page and then sat there staring, needing further instruction. “Just pray.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant. There was no minister here to say part of it and for me to mumble back my dictated response. It dawned on me that I was supposed to SAY these words.

Well, there was no way that was happening. I can’t tell you exactly why, but my brain said No Way to the idea of praying from this book out loud. Not having it. You can forget it. Case closed. The coach in me thought that was interesting, but the rest of me wanted to get on with things, and there was the whole “Just pray” that I kept hearing softly. I decided it didn’t matter HOW I did this thing, it seemed to matter far more that I did it.

And so I did. I read through the prayer in my head. But I didn’t read it to get to the end. And I didn’t read it to analyze it. I spoke it in my head. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but it was different. I paused between lines. I took deep breaths when something caught me. When I was done, I closed the book and proceeded with my day.

I did this for a few days running, setting aside the language questions, just praying.

And I began to notice something. I began to notice a lightening, an easing of burdens I hadn’t even fully made note of. I noticed the arrival of a peaceful kind of energy – a calming and enlivening at the same time. To be fair, as this was the morning, this could all be attributed to the arrival of the small amount of caffeine I enjoy hitting the blood brain barrier, but it didn’t feel like that. It feels like being inhabited by the best vision. It feels like co-creation and capacity. It feels like love and possibility and joy – sweet, blessed joy.

blonde-casual-fashion-18895I’m not sure why all of that is and the last thing I’m interested in doing is arguing about that, but I can tell you that this practice – this practice of being honest about where my head and my heart are, claiming healing, expressing gratitude for what is and allowing the openness to accept whatever assistance might be forthcoming – this practice changes me. And it feels good – not look how holy I am good, but in my body and in my heart good, at peace, connected, more whole.

I still sometimes struggle with whether to speak the words out loud, and I’m still not sure about what language it makes sense for me to use, but I will just pray because it feels good.

Just Stop It

There is an SNL skit with Bob Newhart playing a psychiatrist. His method of treatment, he explains, usually only takes about five minutes. The joke is that what he does is to tell his clients to just stop it. It’s really funny, at least to me and folks who do work like mine. It’s particularly funny because there is some truth to it, as brazen and unfeeling as this approach seems. Today I want to talk about a situation where “just stop it” is really probably the best advice that I could give you.

design-desk-display-313690One of the complaints I hear the most frequently has to do with busy schedules and the amount of that time that is spent doing things that aren’t fulfilling, often for other people’s fulfillment: the scheduling, the kid ferrying, the going the extra mile at work because of someone else’s stupidity, the saying yes to every opportunity to help anyone. If I were to say: “Just stop it,” I know the look I would get. It’s that “You don’t understand. My life is not like yours. Maybe that works for you. I thought you had children. Where ARE your children?” kind of look. I couldn’t possibly understand.

And yet I do.

Because I have had a calendar like that. I have had days like that. I have had months and years like that, where nearly all of what was on my schedule was distasteful to me and was solely for the benefit of someone else. Truly I have. If you know me and you weren’t the beneficiary, that doesn’t mean this wasn’t happening. It just means you didn’t get in on the action; and just so you know, that window is closed.

If you’d asked me why I was doing all of that I would have told you it was all completely necessary. In retrospect some of it was completely necessary, but a lot of it was not. And THAT’s that discernment that would be so great to have when you’re actually in that moment, when you can’t catch your breath because you’re too busy doing all of the things.

My advice to you? Just stop it. Stop it all, at least for a day. You’ll figure out pretty quickly what’s truly necessary – like feeding children. You may also figure out that those people you are serving can do far more for themselves than you realized (hungry children are actually remarkably capable), but while that’s a great thing to learn – like a SERIOUSLY great thing to learn, even that is not my point with the Just Stop It exercise.

attractive-beautiful-blonde-1101726The point of Just Stop It is to make the yuck that’s down in there come up when you stop. When you just stop doing all of the things that you are doing to make it okay, what happens? What thoughts and feelings come to the surface?

Are you worried about what people will think of you? Are you afraid of looking like a failure? Do you need to have a super clean house to maintain some kind of parenting standard you’ve secretly bought into? Are you keeping yourself busy serving everyone else so you don’t have to figure out what YOU really want or face the fact that you don’t believe you could EVER EVER do that so it’s safer to not try? Okay, I meant to slip that last one in, but that wasn’t all that subtle, was it? My capacity for subtle is fleeting at times. Sorry (not sorry if that’s what you needed to hear).

When we just stop with the behaviors that we think are completely necessary and totally driving us crazy, we find out why we are choosing, yes choosing friends, to do them. We find out where the healing needs to happen. We find out why it’s so hard to get off the merry go round and take a breath. And when we figure out what’s under all of that activity, we can address it. We can ask questions about it: “Is that really true? Will they really think I’m a bad Mom? Do I care if they think I’m a bad Mom? Will I really get fired? Will I feel so guilty I actually can’t stand it?” We can check out that baggage and either repair the zippers or decide it’s time for a new super sleek and helpful carry-on, a new way of thinking.

attractive-beach-beautiful-1097781I so want that for you to be able to get off of that merry go round. If you think it’s not possible, I extra want it for you. Because love, I want you to breathe. I want you to breathe in the idea that there are an infinite number of ways to be in this world and that you haven’t found but a small fraction of them. I want you to breathe in the idea that nobody else really cares if you’re meeting some Pinterest perfect standard of anything. I want you to breathe in the notion that there really is a big gap between letting a few things go and having all of the wheels come off the bus in some catastrophic and irreparable way. I want you to breathe in and entertain the notion that your discomfort is trying to tell you something and that the longer you ignore it, the louder it will get. I want you to inhale the possibility that the things you want, the way you feel, and the experiences you crave really do all matter, every single one. I want you to know that you are still in there, and we would all really love to meet you.

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?

The Secret to Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are okay.

You are enough.

You are, in fact, quite miraculous.

And I love you.

XO,

j

Just One More Minute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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