Where Does Your Energy Go?

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

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

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

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

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

What?! Who would do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine’s Day is an Inside Job

This year, at 9:38 a.m., I am already having the best Valentine’s Day ever. No, don’t run away. If you are not in a relationship and are SO over hearing about Valentine’s Day, I get it, but I promise this is for you too.

pexels-photo-326612I should start off by saying that Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite, at least not since it came with a bag full of notes and candy at school – although there was (in my day) always the looming threat of not receiving notes from your classmates or not receiving them from the classmates you most wanted them from. Since that time I’ve always been a bit of a Valentine’s Day Grinch – is there a word for that? Do we have a character that represents that? I’m not sure I really want an answer to that question. At any rate, I grumbled about the Hallmark manufactured holiday in years when I was single as well as in years when I was not. I still did the things mind you. I bought cards. I delivered chocolate, but there really wasn’t a lot of joy in it. My heart wasn’t in it.

And I think that’s because my heart wasn’t in a lot of things. My giving in times past has often come from a place of obligation. Not that there is no affection there, but there was always something in the way of these outward and sort of fountain-like expressions of romance and gooeyness. And I think what was in the way was not, as I’d always assumed, just a character trait, a preference, a part of the larger picture of WHO I AM AND WHO I WILL ALWAYS BE. I think what was in the way was the thing that keeps so many of us from fully engaging in just about everything: a lack of serious self-love. And I know I’m onto something here because as I write this, I am both excited and uncomfortable, a sensation my friend Bev Barnes dubbed “scare-cited.”

My continuous disdain of myself took many forms: disapproval of my body, judgment and second guessing of every decision (large or small), continually replaying the tape of conversations I’d had to be sure I had handled it all well or said the right things (searching for signs that I had screwed it up), failure to forgive myself for mistakes and errors in judgment, lack of compassion for pain and sorrow… I could go on here, but it’s starting to bum me out.

The point that I am trying to make is that outward expressions of love and my ability to accept them is an inside job. It starts with acceptance of everything I am and the tiniest speck of appreciation for the unique magic that I bring to the world. I know that last sentence makes it sound so easy. And I know if you are not there, in that place of self-acceptance or at least on the path, that that last sentence sounds completely ridiculous.

pexels-photo-207962And so I want to ask you today: what would feel like love? What could you do that would actually make you feel loved? Our answers to this sometimes come cheap and easy. We slide into the comfort of distraction and simple pleasure (sugar, booze, movies). I am asking you to dig a little deeper on this day of love. What would nourish your soul? Can you do that, even if it’s just for a few minutes? I’m asking because every time you do those things, those things that nourish your soul, you are sending yourself a valentine. You are sending your body, your heart and your mind a love note and that message is received. The message that you are worth taking care of; that you are worth nourishing; that the things that are special about you deserve your time, energy and nurturing care – that message gets received. And the message creates a space for hope, for faith, and for real love.

My heart is with you today friends. And my heart is with me – in joy, acceptance, and wildly exciting freedom.

XO,

julia

Asking for Help – It’s Good for Them Too

pexels-photo-242148-2I was sitting in choir at church this past Sunday and one of the littles out in the seats started itching around a bit, chatting loudly, stirring things up – normal 5 year old stuff. I saw her Mom, another choir member, getting agitated and worried and JUST as she got up to go take care of it, two older girls (say 11 and 12) buzzed in, took the little one and her pal in hand and took them out of service to engage them elsewhere. They signaled Mom: “We’ve got it,” and it made my heart full in so many ways. It is always good to see a Mom of a little one get a break, but it also made my heart full watching those girls take charge of the situation, and be trusted by the adults.

Mom could have insisted on taking care of it, and likely missed out on her chance to sing with us. She could have insisted on being the one to attend to whatever the need was, but she didn’t. She chose to allow the help, and those girls did a great job. And the pride showed on their faces later.

As I think about myself and my husband, I acknowledge that we don’t ask for help as often as we perhaps could. It seems easier sometimes to just push through than to figure out precisely what you need and then ask the right person, etc, etc, etc. But really, asking for help doesn’t just do good for the person receiving the help. It does good for the helper and most assuredly for the relationship between the two.

If you don’t believe me, think about a toddler. They are SO eager to help. Sometimes they are so eager to help that they make a right mess of things (ALL of the clothes in the basket: dirty and clean frolicking together), diaper cream ALL over instead of on the rash, cookie dough everywhere instead of just on the pan. They so want to help.

We imagine that it changes as kids grow older, but I still find that when we pose something to my kids (twin 11 year olds) as a problem that we need help with rather than say as a failure on their part to do their share (which would likely be both fair and accurate), the willingness goes up dramatically. What is it about being asked to help that does this?

I think there are messages inherent for plea for help:

  1. I trust you to help me,
  2. you are capable (grown enough) to help me,
  3. I also need help sometimes (a great equalizer),
  4. I feel safe showing you where I’m not perfect,
  5. everybody needs help sometimes,
  6. you are good at things, and
  7. you are a contributor to this world we share.

Too often I see parents, Moms especially – sorry, doing everything because it’s easier to just do it or they want their kids to have free time in a world that is dominated by schedules or they know that a child’s help might mean a different outcome than what they are going for. But what messages are we sending when we never ask for help?

  1. I don’t trust you to do this right,
  2. you are incapable of helping me,
  3. I don’t need anybody’s help because I’m grown up,
  4. I can’t admit when I need help
  5. grownups shouldn’t need help,
  6. you aren’t really good at things I need done, and pexels-photo-461049
  7. you can’t contribute here.

Yuck.

I’m sure there are other reasons we don’t ask for help. Stories we’ve written for ourselves about what parenting is about, what help means, what vulnerability costs, what it means to be an adult. And wrestling with those stories can take time.

So for some of you, maybe it’s easier to start by understanding that asking for help is helping your child, your partner, your friend or your sibling write a better story about themselves and about what it means to need help. How much easier would it all be if we could just learn to ask and to offer help and feel good about it? How good would it feel to nurture and learn to trust interdependence?

The Scorecard

I’m reading Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes for a bookclub I’m in. I’m also, honestly, reading it because it speaks a lot to the rebalancing of my own personal yes and no distribution as mentioned here. Ok, I’m also reading it because it was finally so cheap on Kindle that I figured I would save myself the inevitable library fine and just read it digitally. (Are you deeply saddened to find out about my consistently poor library record?)

As I was reading, just before I allowed myself to doze off for a brief afternoon siesta, I read her description of The Mommy Scorecard.

The Mommy Scorecard is a thing I keep in my head. On it is an imaginary series of zeros and tens that get dished out by some imaginary judge-y bitch who looks an awful lot like me. The zeros hit the card when I fail: when I miss a recital because I’m traveling, when I forget that it’s my turn to provide food for preschool snack day, when we don’t make it to a birthday party because the introvert in me just can’t face the magnitude of all the social interaction.

She continues to talk about The Mommy Wars (where women argue over what the BEST way to parent is in excruciating detail) and she caps it with this: “The only mommy I am ever at war with is me.”

Boom.

I had to breathe for a minute after I read it. This is one of my big bugaboos. I’ve been working on it, but it’s, well, BIG so it’s going to take some time to unhook myself from all of the insane ideas I’ve fed myself about parenting, setting up nearly impossible to meet expectations even as I feel the pain of failing to meet the ones I set up yesterday.

Today I took a nap, even though I had work to do, even though I was resisting it with every fiber of my being, even though I didn’t want to need a nap. But I was SO tired. So tired I couldn’t think clearly. I gave the scant energy I had this morning to a client (and we got some amazing work done, BTW), and after that I felt like I was walking on marshmallows and thinking through syrup. Even if you’re a big sugar fan, you have to acknowledge that that situation doesn’t sound either pleasant OR productive. And the reason I’m so tired? Well, one of them anyway, is my Mommy Scorecard.

pexels-photo-531970My husband is away for January term at seminary in Chicago. He is in Chicago in January, so I’m pretty sure that’s adequate revenge for leaving me to hold down all of the forts. But the part of that calculus that I haven’t been paying attention to is what I do with The Mommy Scorecard when he’s out of town. I realized that I feel like I need to UP my game. I pay more attention. I interact more. I allow things that I don’t usually and sometimes they’re even things that get on my nerves. I set things aside that I would normally finish before I attend to my children. I try to cover all of the emotional bases. My Mommy Scorecard gets WAY more judge-y when Daddy’s out of town.

Yesterday I realized that my daughter’s recital rehearsal falls on the day that I am leaving for Dallas for a quick professional development trip. I tormented myself for a couple of hours in bed trying to figure out how to make it work, who I could ask for help and if that wasn’t really too much to ask and I should really be the one doing this, after all didn’t I miss the rehearsal (not the recital mind you, the freaking rehearsal) LAST year? My Mom is staying with the kids, but she won’t want to do that and it’s a lot to ask to send her to the violin teacher’s house when it will be mobbed with people she doesn’t know and maybe I should ask my sister, but she’s already helped me this month and maybe we should skip it but then she won’t be prepared. I don’t feel so good. MAYBE I SHOULD JUST STAY HOME.

The looming zero on the Mommy Scorecard was just too horrible to face. As I’m writing this I still haven’t figured out what to do about the rehearsal, but I’ve not canceled my trip (deep breath) because that would be ridiculous. And while I wish my reason was better, more grown up, more enlightened, like my time is important, my needs are important, spending time on my coaching practice is important/fulfilling/heartfood, right now recognizing the ridiculousness of canceling is going to have to do.

Having gotten to the other side of the nap, which helped tremendously (thank you Amy English for urging me to sleep), I see what I’m doing to myself. I see how insane my standards are. I see how much time and energy I STILL put into making sure I’m doing things just right for them. And I have to ask myself when enough is going to be enough. What is it that I think will happen if I don’t do it all? What will it mean to them? More importantly I suspect, what will I make it mean about me?

Now I’m looking at the paragraphs above this one and seeing all of those highly charged run on sentences representing my neurotic scrambling and I worry for a minute that you will just think I’m nuts, but I’m going to publish this anyway because I KNOW I’m not the only scorekeeper out here in the big world. Maybe yours isn’t a Mommy Scorecard. Maybe yours is a Good Girl Scorecard, a Good Son Scorecard, a Great Employee/Team Player/Brilliant Colleague Scorecard. Maybe yours is more basic. Maybe yours is a Good Person scorecard.

pexels-photo-545016And I want you to know that I’m not suggesting that it’s terrible to strive to be a good ANY of those things. But when, oh dear lord, WHEN is enough going to be enough? When, in all of the millions of decisions you make every day, can you make the one that will allow you the freedom of just being okay, good enough, not bad, heck even sub-par and then just getting on with it? Will it be the imperfect meal you serve? Will it be the disappointing a parent by missing a family event? Will it be the B+ work you turn in (and are later surprised you got an A- and no scorn at all)? Will it be the time you DON’T volunteer to pick up all of the pieces? Will it be the silence you allow at a meeting when you COULD be solving all of the problems single-handedly? What would happen? Can you let it go? Can you let it be? Can you let yourself off the hook – maybe even only because you know hanging on is ridiculous? What would it feel like to believe you’re enough without getting ALL perfect scores? From one scorekeeper to another, I want to tell you that getting a full night’s sleep is well-worth the attempt.

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

BODIES In the News and in the Mirror

I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship with our bodies. Having 10 year olds enrolled in a sexuality education class and listening to NPR a lot really leaves me no choice but to think about bodies a lot.

alienation and lonelinessOn the one hand I consistently find in my clients (and in others I just ask nosy questions of) a negligence of the experience of the body, how they feel (emotionally and physically). We can talk about how we think we feel. We talk about how we ought to feel, and supply plenty of great reasons for whatever conclusion we come to for that “should,” but we don’t spend all that much time actually feeling it. This is so true that people are often befuddled when I ask them how they actually feel, without all of the thinking around it. We are cut off from our physical experience of ourselves except when illness or injury overwhelms our ability to maintain that disconnection.

On the other hand, we are the gatekeepers of our bodies and our ability to watch and guard that gate varies with our beliefs, our self-esteem, our age, and our physical size, our strength, and it seems our capacity for earning a living. This fleshy container from which we distance ourselves apparently needs our watchful eye, our clear-headed awareness, and our protection. We are in the strange and uncomfortable position of guarding something with which we have little real connection.

And that brings me to the third hand (yes, I know but wouldn’t it be useful?). In the absence of a perpetrator doing violence to these bodies, we will weaponize ourselves against them. We need not be concerned with how these bodies feel but we darned well better be concerned about how they look. We had better heed the call to shrink, to get smaller and more meek, to sit down, to be quiet, to discipline ourselves into a secondary stature, to scold ourselves into submission through the deeply wounding power of hostility toward that which is our first and most personal property (because this is the language we all understand, property), our bodies.

This treatment of the female form, this obsessive self-disciplining based on either disconnection or self-loathing, is oppression embodied. The refusal of how we feel is submission. The shrinking for the purpose of pleasing and matching the model is obedience. The setting of impossible standards and punishing ourselves for failing to meet them is collaboration.

A radical act for the new year? Learning to be embodied love – not for our partners and children, not for parents and cousins, not for community and congregation but for ourselves. Imagine each single body a physical manifestation of pure love that radiates from a foundation of self-cherishing (not just acceptance) and proceeds with self care that is deep and multi-dimensional. THAT is healing. Healing for you. And healing for you WILL BE healing for your family (especially your daughters), for your community, for all of us. As our capacity to love and care for ourselves grows, so too do our demands to be treated with dignity and respect, so too does our fervor to participate in ways that ensure a safe and supportive community for all.

diets don't workSome say that our bodies are temples, but in my estimation this lacks life and dynamism, growth and gloriousness. I say your body is a testimony, a living proof of the power of individual strength, perseverance, and cosmic and biological miracles. I say your body is a demonstration of all that is possible, and often of the nearly impossible. I say your body is a compass, a guide, a healer, and a knower. I say your body holds the treasures of the universe for you while you are making other plans.

What would your body whisper to you if you stopped and listened? What could it tell you if you left a pause in the conversation and the self-abuse? What does your body need? What does your body want? What feels like love for your body? What could you do today to take one small step in that direction? What’s stopping you?

 

The Self-Help Swiss Army Knife

I’ve been thinking about getting Swiss Army knives for my kids for Christmas, and I confess that this is likely a result of some ridiculously romantic notion of them cheerfully whittling on the back porch without cutting their fingers off and in lieu of some other pursuit that I find idiotic, but I’ve been thinking about it nonetheless. I have always been in awe of the massive amount of utility packed in such a relatively small container that is the Swiss Army Knife.

What tools will make me feel betterAnd then I got to thinking about that idea – a group of tools all hooked together and easily accessed, thus the idea of a Self-Help Swiss Army Knife was born. I began to seriously consider what tools in my toolbox I would recommend that people take on an adventure where outcomes are uncertain and pragmatism can be invaluable. And so, as a holiday gift to you all, I’ve come up with my Self-Help Swiss Army Knife (SHSAK) – although as I am a writer and coach and not a bookseller, it is sort of a DIY version (something I think I’d recommend against when it comes to an actual Swiss Army Knife – my Youtube search yielded lots of DIY to do WITH these knives and one actual “melee” weapon made of Legos).

So the Self-Help Swiss Army Knife needs to provide both the basic daily functionality of a plain old pocket knife and the extra bells and whistles (ok, corkscrews and toothpicks) of the real deal. Everybody with me?

Tool #1: A stillness practice. It can be meditation, but that word makes a lot of people anxiously flee (which they could prevent with meditation, but that’s not a helpful observation). The idea of and the procedures of meditation turn a lot of folks off, but there are many ways to develop a stillness practice – here’s one example, for more Google “sit spot”. What’s the point? The point is just like the one for the main blade of that knife. A stillness practice will cut away the crap. It gets you closer to what you actually want and need and gives you a break from the excess EVERYTHING. Sounds pretty good, right?

Tool #2: A body practice. What? Develop rituals, exercise, habits that put you in touch with your body. We spend so much time in our heads that we rarely give these amazing containers the attention that they deserve, and much of the attention we do give them is negative (a list of things we don’t like about them or recognition only when there is ailment). Paying attention to how your body feels and cultivating better physical feeling is both deeply rewarding and revealing about what is going on with you emotionally while you’re thinking about your holiday gift buying list. A body practice, like that nail trimmer on the knife, gets us focused on necessary self-care in a way that can only promote wellness over time.

Tool #3: Some method of journaling – this need not be written. If verbal expression isn’t your thing, maybe art OR maybe you hate to write, but love to talk. Find a way to express what’s going on in there in a stream of consciousness sort of way – no rules, no judgments, no grammar, no erasing, just get it all out there. Journaling is the can opener of the SHSAK. Let’s open it up and see what’s inside.

Tool #4: Now that we’re taking a look. Let’s magnify that vision a bit. For this, I heartily recommend Byron Katie’s The Work, a process of inquiry that she describes in her book Loving What Is. The author teaches us how to ask questions of our beliefs and our assumptions so that we can stop being hampered, tortured, made anxious and unhappy by things that aren’t necessarily true. It is a great tool for taking a closer look at what we think and believe and how it is impacting us.

Tool #5: Brooke Castillo’s The Model as described in Self-Coaching 101. This book is amazing. In it the author basically describes how to identify and change thought patterns that keep us stuck, prevent growth, and cause misery. Does she promise a totally happy life? No, but she promises a conscious one, where you get to make decisions about how you think and feel. This is the wire cutter and wire crimper of the SHSAK. It can also take care of small annoyances like the toothpick. Now THAT’s a useful tool.

Tool #6: Once you rearrange your assumptions, you may feel a little adrift. Any time you’re feeling adrift Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star makes an excellent compass for finding your way home – or to a new home. Okay, most Swiss Army Knives don’t have a compass, but I think we can all agree that they should, so the SHSAK definitely has one and this book is it.

Tool #7: The Fear Chair exercise as described by Liz Gilbert in Big Magic. The author talks about the power of fear to stop us in our tracks, regardless of how excited we might be about our endeavor. The answer? To put fear in its place. It can be here. It can exist. But it cannot drive. It cannot make decisions. It cannot run the show. This exercise is a great screwdriver. Pull it together, make it functional and go.

Growing and changingTool #8: Recognition and celebration. Growth and change are hard – that’s why so many of us avoid it at all costs. Notice your progress. Notice your accomplishments. Notice the way your life changes as you become more yourself. Break out a corkscrew and celebrate with a glass of champagne, or curl up with your favorite blanket and a book at a time you wouldn’t normally allow yourself such a treat. Give yourself a pat on the back and a big hug.

There you have it; a toolkit for self-transformation. If only I could fit them all into my pocket or yours.

 

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.

Only Really Good Chocolate Please

Another Halloween has come and gone.

And, as usual, my estimates for our candy needs were wildly inaccurate.

My purchases for the last several years have been a perfect indication of what is NOT going to happen.

I started with the very large Costco bag of classic chocolate treats which I planned to pair with a bowl of glow in the dark spiders, snakes and skeletons for the non-chocolate crowd. It was a big bag (’cause Costco) but I had a moment of doubt. And so I bought a second very large bag of non-chocolate based treats, telling myself it was best for kids with allergies to have other options that were treats and what if we have as many as we had two years ago and I don’t want to run out and… blah, blah, blah.

So I bought the extra bag. We now have half a bag of each left (maybe a little more of the chocolate than the others) and we only have that little because I totally loaded the last several ghouls and goblins down with handfuls (as the rest of the neighborhood did by looking at my kids’ haul). In years past this would have been a problem. In the past I’ve always seen Halloween as the beginning of the slow slide into non-stop eating for me, starting just one Twix and KitKat at a time.

How to stop eating candyI did eat some candy last night. Little mini versions of two my former favorites and a newcomer (that my daughter gave me). I ate a Twix, still good but not amazing. I ate a 100,000 bar (less good but good), and a Hershey’s dark chocolate over caramel thing (better by far, but definitely not amazing). I discovered that there is really no danger in my having this leftover candy. There really is no danger because I’ve changed.

Over the last couple of years I’ve become a curator of what I eat. I’ve paid really close attention to what feels good in my body, what feels good in my brain, and what is worth any not good feeling that it might bring. I’ve discovered that eating lots of sweets doesn’t make me feel good. I knew this and it was a long-term step down for me (a journey my sister and I took together and explain how to accomplish here), but I hadn’t gotten over Halloween candy yet. My attention wasn’t as keenly focused. I hadn’t realized that when I eat it, it makes me hungry. It creates its own cravings and if I listen to those cravings and eat enough of it, I feel jittery and don’t sleep as well. I hadn’t realized that it is so much easier to maintain a weight that feels good to me when I don’t eat much in the way of sweets. I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t even enjoying it in the kind of orgasmic way my kids seem to. But now I’ve noticed all of these things and I just don’t want it the way I used to.

We’ll figure out something to do with this candy (maybe even save the non-chocolate bits for next year because goodness knows that crap never goes bad), but there’s no emergency here. I’ll get rid of it because I don’t feel like figuring out where to store it. I’ll get rid of it because it’s taking up space that we could use for something else. Now that I’m paying attention, I’d rather have nothing than a bag of Crunch bars. I’d certainly rather have one piece of really high quality dark chocolate with sea salt and caramel than a bag of Crunch bars.

Breaking bad habitsAnd now that I’m think about it, this lesson seems to be playing out across the board for me. I’m paying more attention to what feels right in my life and it makes it so much easier to get rid of the things that just don’t fit anymore: the clothes, the stuff, the books, the obligations, the people pleasing… wait, what? Yes, I group them all together – the physical and the emotional – because the beginning is the same in all of those cases: being willing to pay close attention to what I am doing and whether or not it is serving me.

That awareness makes changing habits and decluttering a matter of shedding skin rather than imposing discipline. That awareness allows those changes to be an act of self-discovery rather than a vow to crack down or get serious. That awareness is an act of self-love, and if you are anything like I used to be, you could really use some more of that.

What are you eating? What are you wearing? What’s around your house and on your calendar? Why are you choosing these things? Are you paying attention? Is it serving you? Is it as good as really great chocolate or is it a Crunch bar (yes, they’re my least favorite)? What would paying really close attention change in you?

If you’d like some help in learning to pay this kind of attention so you can shed some old skin, old habits, old parts of yourself, sign up for a Discovery Call. Let’s see if we can’t get that change started for you.

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.

 

 

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