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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Coaching Is Expensive

I am fascinated by this idea.

Why?

Slide1Because the money that I spend on my own coaching (yes, coaches get coached) is the best money I spend every month. It’s the money I’m happiest about shelling out. It’s the money I would double and still pay, not because I love spending money, but because what I get out of that experience makes it not just inexpensive, but invaluable to me.

Through coaching I have learned to actually honor my own preferences, talents, and desires. Through coaching I have learned to stop imagining what everyone else is thinking of me. Through coaching I have learned to stop beating myself up at the drop of a hat. Through coaching I have learned to love myself – all of myself: the inner brilliant spirit bits AND the physical container for all of that light and possibility. Through coaching I have learned to listen to that body and feed it, care for it, and nurture it differently. Through coaching I have learned how to create actual joy in my days rather than relying on food to do that for me. Through coaching I have learned how to both seek and find myself.

When you spend money, how do you feel about it? Do you think about what you’re getting for it? Paying bills and balancing our books can be really stressful when it just becomes a mathematical exercise that we see draining our resources. How would you feel about your money if you began imagining and acknowledging what you receive for that money with each check you write, with each button you push, or with each automatic payment notification? What if when you saw the power bill you thought about how delightful it is to have electric lights and a refrigerator? What if when you saw the mortgage or rent come due you thought about the good fortune of having a space to live in, to claim, to be you in? What if when you saw the cable bill (or the streaming services bill like I get), you marveled at living in a time when so much choice is available to us?

How would you feel about bills and money if you focused on the value you receive when you spend? How would you approach financial decisions if you considered that value? Would your buying habits change? Would you face a new calculation of the real worth of that Frappucino (just as an example, no Starbucks shade intended… not much anyway)?

I like thinking about my spending this way because it clarifies things for me so much. It allows me to make decisions about what I buy and what I pay for that I can feel really good about and, perhaps more importantly, it makes me feel good about paying for the things I really need to pay for in order to live the life I want to live. For me, that includes coaching.

Slide2I want to live in a way that allows me to stop and ask myself how I’m feeling and to actually use that information when I make decisions. I want to live in a way that challenges me to grow in ways that I never thought possible. I want to live in a way that helps me grow in my compassion, my rootedness, and my capacity to be of service to others. I want to live in a way that allows me to question the messages society gives me and check them with my heart. I want to live in a way that listens to the wisdom of my body. I want to live in a way that feels like freedom.

For me coaching is not expensive; it is invaluable.

 

Are You Hanging Out On the Sidelines?

September 5th was the first day of school for my twin 5th graders, and just like all parents on the first day of school, I had a morning full of disbelief and wonder that they are already this age, that time is going just as fast as my parents and grandparents always said it would, and that the work I needed to do this morning to help them get there was decidedly less than it has been in the past. As their needs change, I have the opportunity to notice patterns that have developed, scratch that, patterns that I have chosen over the years. I’ve seen it all summer. I have chosen on many occasions for the past 10 years, to sit on the sidelines.

I noticed when we were at the beach with old friends and the other Mom quickly volunteered to go in with all four, because in the past I have not wanted to. I noticed it at the pool with my fabulous sister-in-law when she volunteered to go play sharks and minnows with our kids because in the past I have not wanted to. I noticed it when my kids were surprised at the amusement park when I went on all but one ride with them – they had forgotten that I actually like roller coasters and expected me to sit this one out as well.

Slide1Now, to be fair, raising kids can be tiring. Raising twins (especially the early years) can be insanely tiring. Raising twins as an older Mom – you get the picture. So I think a fair amount of my sideline sitting was initially an attempt to just grab a few minutes of peace while they were available to me. Everyone is happy, occupied, and cared for. I’m going to just be for a minute. I think maybe this was the intention, but I don’t actually recall ever really doing that. I don’t actually recall ever consciously choosing to make peace in that moment.

I remember worrying: watching the water, noticing their interactions, repositioning umbrellas, watching for sunburn, making sure the lunches were in the shade, wondering if whichever adult they were with was watching (they always were), running through the plans for the rest of the day, being mindful of pitfalls and problems that might arise, looking for lips turning blue, looking for missteps, watching for… This was one popular version of taking a break. I think another popular version involved me reviewing all of the ways I had been burdened.

I do tend to be the planner and preparer in the family, so I could bathe in some resentment about that. I could reflect on the injustice of all of the work I did to get us to that point in the day. I could reflect on the lack of worry on my husband’s part as evidence that I was STILL doing more than my share (my share of the neurotic worry pile). I’m pretty sure the times that I actually used my time sitting back, out of the fray, to REST could be counted on one hand, and that’s a 10 year period we’re talking about. I held myself back and then used that time to make myself feel terrible; sometimes I even just took the simple route and made myself feel terrible about holding myself back.

For the past several days I’ve been doing a freedom challenge. Each day I take some action that feels a little freeing, that makes me feel more free, less constrained, less confined, maybe even a little less tame, and it has made me think a lot about my time on the sidelines. Where were those choices coming from, if they weren’t really about rest and a breather? Why couldn’t I just use them as rest or a breather? What was I doing on the sidelines? Did it all just become a habit? Was my non-participation a default that then made me so uncomfortable I had to be miserable about it?

There are long answers to those questions, and considering them as I do my freedom challenge has really opened up some space for me to move, to feel, and to choose how I WANT to engage. I can still say no – as I did to the last roller coaster of the day when I felt like my head would explode if I allowed it to get rattled around again.

I’ve seen a lot of memes and posts that encourage us NEVER to sit on the sidelines. Be the Mom who’s in the water. Be the Mom who finger paints. Be the Mom playing on the floor. Be the Mom who’s in it. And I think there’s some value to that message for people who need some encouragement, but I think what really matters when we notice that we’re on the sidelines is our reason for being there and how we treat ourselves as we sit. Are you choosing it? Does it feel like freedom, like rest, like a pause rather than a default? Does it feel like a self-imposed sentence, something you “have” to do because…, something that allows you to hide?

Slide2The sidelines exist for a reason, and that’s because we all need to take a break once in a while. We all need to come off the field, hydrate, catch our breath, figure out what’s next. Some need to be there more than others. If you’re spending a lot of time on the sidelines, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you like your reason. Maybe it’s time to get back in the game. I’d love to help.

Accessing Vacation Vibe

My family and I just returned from our annual trip to the Chautauqua Institution. It is a summer ritual that I cherish. Chautauqua is a spectacular place, and leaving is always difficult. We spend a good bit of our drive home in a repeated chat pattern. The first hour or two are usually spent thinking of ways we can spend more time there. Do we want to spend more money? When would we go? What would that look like? We usually come up with a scheme or two on that front in those two hours and then take some time introverting (which is not as hard as it sounds in a car, but takes practice and a good supply of interesting podcasts). After we’ve both recharged by pretending to be alone, we enter phase two of our annual conversation, which is how to extend what we get at Chautauqua into our every day lives.

This vacation we take is unusual in that it is not necessarily about resting and relaxing (no palm trees or umbrella drinks). On our trip we typically see live performances most nights, attend lectures and classes during the day, go to art galleries, take walks by the lake, and ride bikes everywhere. The usual summer vacation indulgences also make it in there (books, ice cream, the occasional nap), but we don’t really spend a lot of “down” time while we’re there. So when we get home, we are sort of pressed to acknowledge how we are spending our time. If we want to feel more often the way we feel at Chautauqua, we may need to change the way we’re doing things at home.

For us this means more engagement. We need to get more intellectual stimulation and banish the buffer box (the TV) more regularly. We need to see more art of all kinds, and plan to do it so we don’t have the option of bailing at the last minute. We need to be more engaged in social and political discussions; being places that are so interesting and stimulating that taking notes seems like a good idea. Perhaps more importantly, we also need to take a look at what we are thinking, because the way we feel at Chautauqua has a whole lot to do with what we think when we are there: “This is a magical place. This is a special place. There is so much here that I cherish. This place makes me feel alive. I wish there were more places like this in the world.” How could I not feel good and have a great time with those thoughts?!

Slide1The contrast with vacation, the reality of vacation letdown (boo hoo, I know) can make home seem kind of boring, but in reality I am surrounded by opportunities that I ignore on a regular basis. I get into my habits, I get into my thought patterns and I miss out on things that I enjoy, and I miss out on just feeling great right where I am.

For a lot of folks vacation means a time of exquisite self-care, a chance to rest, or a time to just play. What would your perfect vacation include? A lounge chair? A window, blanket, and book? A long hike followed by some tea? A puzzle and your kids? What is it that you’re missing that you long for during those vacation days when we allow our desires to take center stage?

Slide2The obvious question is if you are 100% sure you can’t fit some of that in to your every day life. I know, I know, you’re busy. Do us both a favor and just for a minute try on the thought: “I have time.” Just say it to yourself a few times and see what happens. Do you feel a sense of relief? Do you laugh a little and realize that you DO actually have some time, especially if you stop freaking out about being busy? Now, having done that, what part of your vacation dream can you fit in that slot? What nourishment can you sneak in when your super busy brain isn’t looking?

Slide3If you’re really wanting to go the extra mile, ask yourself how you feel on that dream vacation (close your eyes and picture it if you need to). What’s the feeling that you’re wishing you had right now? Got it? Now, ask yourself what you’d need to think to feel that way. What thought would you need to have in order to feel the way you want to feel? Is there a thought that’s getting in the way of the good feeling thought? Because here’s the thing. Those thoughts? The good one, the bad one that’s in the way, all of them… they are a choice. You can unpick them just like you picked them (at least the first time you had them). You can choose a new thought. You CAN feel more like you do on vacation; it’s totally within your power to do so. You just have to think the way you do when you are there.

If you could use a little more vacation brain, but aren’t sure where to start, I’d love to help.

How I Lost Weight

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how I’ve lost weight. I did not have a ton of extra weight to begin with, but I guess I’ve gotten to the point where it is noticeable. I think when people ask me this question, what they are really asking is: “What diet did you try?” OR “What food did you give up?” People want to know what the magic solution is, and I totally get it, having looked for magic solutions many times in the past (grapefruit as the key, really?).

Slide1The truth is my weight loss process has been both easier and more complicated than the answer to the question that folks are asking. I could tell you how I eat, which at this point is pretty significantly different than it used to be, but that would be a woefully incomplete answer. The truth is the first part of my “weight loss journey” (I really hate that phrase), had everything to do with what was going on in my heart and my mind. Why did that have to happen first?

Because I needed to learn how to be happy with myself, no matter what my body looks like. I needed to learn how to build a full life without relying on my dinner to be the best part of my day. I needed to learn to push myself harder so I could figure out what would make me deeply happy rather than being satisfied with knowing another meal or snack was coming.

My relationship with food was complicated. I used it. I used it to cheer myself up. I used it to distract myself. I used it to excel at something while I was a stay at home Mom. I used it exercise some control on my life when things felt out of control. I used it to avoid feelings and to bring on the physical buzz of overeating. I used it to impress people. I used it to practice my writing skills. I made food such a huge part of my life and then was disappointed when the other parts were so small and unsatisfying. I used food as an escape hatch, a wubbie, a friend. Before I could really make good decisions about how to eat, I had to REALLY learn how to deal with my emotions without food making it easier or unnecessary.

Slide2AFTER I did all of that, the question of what I ought to be putting in my body becomes a series of scientific experiments. What can I eat that will fuel me and be pleasurable? It’s so much easier. When I don’t need to eat for emotional reasons, all of these questions about what I choose to eat and not choose to eat just become math and planning that I do rather than some sort of horrible self-imposed deprivation. I get to stop thinking about food all of the time and then beating myself up for it. I get to get on with all of the wonderful things there are to do with my time on this earth. I still celebrate things. I still have friends. I still enjoy myself. All of it is good. In fact, all of it is a whole lot better because I did the REAL work first.

My BARE program will help you do that real work AND it will help you discover what kind of eating works best for you, and if you show up and really give it everything you’ve got, you will blow your own mind. The new school year is coming, a perfect time to make a change. I’m ready if you are.

On Becoming a Curator Of My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Simple, But Not Easy Truth

One of the hardest things for most of my clients to accept is that it is possible to love themselves just as they are.

I understand the difficulty because they’ve come to me at a time of some kind of distress; something is wrong, and more often than not they’ve diagnosed that the thing that is wrong is THEM, like internally, inherently, and deeply. I’m familiar with this diagnosis as it is one I found for myself for many years: “There’s something wrong with me.” I could scoop up all kinds of crap with that cup. It’s amazing what kind of evidence you can find for such a thought if you want to keep it. It’s a great big general crap collecting and destruction generating belief. Vague enough to be right and specific enough to really hurt, just like we them, eh?

Slide1Here’s the thing, I tell them. You can love yourself and fix this or you can hate yourself and fix it. I have opinions about which will work better, but I’d like to know what yours are. It’s interesting because most people seem to go with the hate it and fix it school when it comes to themselves. We believe we have to despise ourselves, or at least the part that’s generating the problem in question. We believe that if we love it, we won’t fix it, that somehow loving it will make us complacent, accepting of the offending flaw, that we will forever carry the extra weight or the bad judgment or the poor career choice. We can only fix it through strict discipline and punishment.

Wow.

This is one of those moments when I am stunned by the way we treat ourselves as compared to the way that we treat others. With ourselves there is no quarter. With others… I’m pretty sure we love in spite of flaws all the time, like every single day. Do we dismiss other people because of one flaw? Do we hate them until they fix themselves completely? Do we have to discipline them into being alright for us? That’s a no.

The only relationship I can think of where one might even be tempted to do this from a disciplinary standpoint is the parent/child relationship and even then there is no hating and disciplining. There is loving and correcting. There is loving WHILE they learn, WHILE they grow, WHILE they change. There is loving WHILE they are imperfect, WHILE they make mistakes, WHILE they do the wrong things.

Slide2Could you learn to love yourself and make change if you pretended for a moment that you were your own child? What if you were raising yourself? What kind of adult would you like to help bring into the world? What kind of human would you like to help create? How would you treat yourself if you were simply raising yourself, taking yourself from one stage of development to the next, monitoring your own growth and change, noting problems as they arise, thinking about them and being encouraging, asking questions when it doesn’t make sense? How would that feel? I think it would feel a whole lot more like love. And I think change that comes from love is the change that works, and it works because it FEELS good. It feels good to accept ourselves. It feels like water on cracked earth. It feels so necessary and so overdue.

But I don’t know how, you say. I don’t know what that means. I say start small. Think of one thing you love about yourself. Sit, with your eyes closed and really focus all of your attention on that one thing. Feel into it. Let yourself delight in it. Allow yourself to feel your own affection for as long as you can tolerate it. See what happens. It just might change everything. Why? Because that kind of feeling expands; it grows and self-acceptance that is taken in as a small seed grows the fruit of love right there in your scared heart. It will be okay. You can still want to change, even after you learn to love yourself. I promise.

Just a Few Life Lessons

Slide1This last couple of years has been a whirlwind of personal development for me. So much has changed that I thought maybe I should write some of the big learning down. I had to stop myself at 10 because I could go on for a long time… These are not necessarily in order of importance, just in order of when they came to mind.

1) Self care is not selfish. I am solely responsible for making sure that I feel my best and looking out for my physical mental health is not only not selfish, but is required and helps me give more and give more freely to those around me.

2) It’s not what happened in the past that bothers me, it’s how I react to it today. Everything that already happened is not happening now. What makes the pain continue is the way that I think about what occurred. I have the power to change how the past impacts me today.

3) You don’t have to play small to be polite. Being polite is not the same as never taking a turn, never speaking up or never letting anyone know what you think about things. I can be myself and still be polite and kind to others. Continue reading

Do You Have to Get an A?

A few months ago, my mentor told me that I should be aiming for B+ work.

Slide1Insert noise of record scratching.

Nobody has ever told me to aim for B+ work. The mere suggestion causes the mental machinery to seize up and steam. Why on earth would anyone shoot for a B+?

I’ll tell you why.

Because when you are adulting, oftentimes YOU are the grader. I can’t speak for you. I won’t speak for you, but I WILL tell you that I am a tough grader. My former students can tell you it was true in my classroom, and they don’t even know the half of it. As tough as I might have been in grading their work, I am SO much tougher grading my own. Continue reading

When Is It Time To Let Go?

In response to my last post, on the magic of the word “yet,” a wise friend advised that for many the challenge is not “yet,” but “still.” She explained this in the context of aging, that there are times to let go of things that we can’t still do, that letting go of those things in favor of appreciating what we can do or finding new things to do is more fulfilling than desperately clinging on to what we STILL think we should be able to do. I thanked her for her addition to my list of single words that can totally change a sentence and I have been thinking about “still” ever since.

Slide1For many people, persistence (as described in the post about the magic of yet) is not the problem. For many people (and I daresay I know some of those people really, really well), persistence is a way of life and it becomes more necessary to examine what we are STILL doing, STILL thinking, STILL believing, STILL feeling so we can let go of patterns, behaviors and thoughts that are holding us back. Continue reading