If I Were Good…

“My value comes from my vocation; this is a cultural trap.”

The words sort of rang out around me. I was in an amphitheater listening to the Reverend Skye Jathani preach. I did not expect to like him, but that’s another story altogether. THIS story has to do with that quote.

Reverend Jathani was sharing that he spent a fair amount of time providing professional counseling for young people, and what he noticed was the weight that the struggle for self-worth put on what could be a much simpler choice – what to do for work.

close-up-doctor-health-42273Jathani noticed that so many young people were making significant, and oftentimes expensive, decisions about their schooling, career, and job choices based on what would make them a good person, what a good person WOULD do, you know if they were one. “If I were a good person, I would choose to be a pediatric heart surgeon in the poorest location I could find. I would not charge for my services,” says the musician with a gift for poetry. This example is fictional and admittedly exaggerated for effect.

I am VERY familiar with this drive to find our self-worth in work. After a short stint in corporate America doing environmental policy work (which didn’t feel environmental at all and definitely felt like a lot of work – again a story for another time), I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I was tired of diddling around on the edges of social change. I wanted to sit in the seat where it happens.

And make no mistake, I firmly believe that I had that relationship right; teachers are agents of social change. I left my not very cushy job and embarked on a Master’s degree in record time so that I could get down to the business of creating a better world. I landed a teaching assignment in an affluent Maryland suburb. The kids drove nicer cars than I did and still complained about their rides. Somehow my vision of Stand and Deliver had morphed into where can my husband and I both get a job that is somewhere we want to live.

Despite the compromise, I was very proud to be a teacher. I am still proud to have been a teacher both in Maryland and later in Washington, DC. I continue to be proud to be a teacher, albeit a teacher of adults who CHOOSE to learn with me. When I made that career move into teaching, I KNEW that what I was choosing was something that most people in society, including my parents, would understand, approve of, and maybe even admire. That really mattered. And I was good at it. I was, and continue to be, a good teacher.

But the classroom ate me alive. My need to do well by my students, to not just be a teacher, but be a great teacher (because if you’re going to buy your self-worth, you have little choice but to go all-in) made me pour hours and hours into my profession that rightly could have been spent refilling my cup. I slept very little. I worried a great deal. I railed against the system whenever things went wrong outside my classroom. I marched to the administration office on a pretty regular basis.

And look, all of those things are fine. They would all have been fine if it wasn’t for the fact that I was doing them to save myself.

You see it wasn’t some inner calling or deep intuition that I was answering when I chose to be a teacher. Being a teacher was the most practical way I could think of to help people, and I really needed to help people so that I could be a good person, because frankly, I was really quite certain I was NOT a good person.

Fresh off a divorce after a short marriage that I and everyone around me were pretty sure could have gone differently with a little maturity on my part, my self-worth ached for evidence of my value to such a degree that I would have traded just about anything to succeed in that noble profession.

And that’s where I slipped into the trap.

Our culture tells us that what we choose for work is a demonstration of our value and our biggest source for pride. We learn that work is the key to a meaningful life and to the measure of who we are. I so needed to test well.

And what all of that pushing made me miss was just this: the quiet voice suggesting that I take care of myself, the wise voice asking if it wouldn’t be better to train to be an administrator than to constantly try to do their jobs for them, the nagging sense that if I continued on that course in that way I would find myself locked down by anger, bitterness, and the dis-ease that had already begun to show up in my body.

I was simultaneously experiencing a decline in my health (a strange assortment of symptoms likely triggered by exhaustion and stress) and taking a last shot at getting pregnant with the help of the infertility guru in the region. The day that he suggested that my body would be best served by finding different work was one of the best worst days I had for a long time.

I was so relieved. Someone was telling me to stop. Someone was acting as alarm clock for me to wake up. And yet, if I could not be that teacher, who would I be?

During my infertility treatment I managed to land a job with a non-profit that read like a fantasy for someone who wants to be seen as a good person. And I did a terrible job. The reasons for that were not all under my control. My boss was removed and more than a little concerned with own reputation at the expense of actually doing work. I was unprepared for the job I got and nobody around had any idea how to do it. I was far too tired to be the go-getter it would have taken to really shine in that job.

So I didn’t shine. I did the work in a minimalistic way. I found competent and friendly help and as I moved further into recovery, and later pregnancy, I had the opportunity to experience being a good person without being a great employee. I had the opportunity to see that I was not in a job that worked for me and to let go of the worry of that thought so that I could rest and listen for and attend to what was next for me.

beach-breeze-clouds-370037And as pregnancy with twins progressed to bedrest with twins, I learned to be a good person from a seated position, fully reliant on the help of those around me for all of my needs. I learned to let go of work as salvation and to look inward at what I could be, for my children and over time, for myself. I woke up and in doing so, learned to find my self-worth exactly where it is located, inside of me, at birth, irrevocable, unrenonounceable, no returns or exchanges.

When I see this I am free, free to listen to the call that lights my spirit on fire. And as it turns out, that helps people.

So bet it.

How to Come Home

So this week I’ve been talking about coming home to yourself – being who you really are and bringing that sense to all of the difficult spaces you find yourself in: the difficult job, the marriage that isn’t what it once was, the argument with a friend.

antique-art-door-211763And that’s all very well and good as advice goes, but it doesn’t tell you a lot about how to GET THERE. Okay, Julia I can see that being my authentic self could have benefits. I can see that not continually fighting to improve according to some metric and instead bringing my gifts to a problem might bring me some creative solutions AND a whole bunch o’ fulfillment. I am on board, but… what the hell are you talking about? How do I come home.

It’s a fair question.

And it’s not one that there is one specific answer to, but there are strategies, there are things you can do, and things you can stop doing. Maybe we should start with the stopping.

Stop: pretending you like things you don’t, volunteering for things you don’t want to do, assuming that you’re the only one who can ________, believing that you just need a little more/different training/certification, believing that there is a right way to get it and that’s what you need to figure out, hanging on to clothes/books/music that you don’t like/make you feel bad, spending a lot of time with people who leave you feeling exhausted or really negative. This list could get a lot longer, so I’m going to leave it here for a moment because the critical thing is not that you STOP EVERYTHING that isn’t perfectly aligned (at least not right away because that would be really hard), but that you stop enough to make some space for discovery. Stop just one of these things and make room.

You need space for discovery because that’s the START category of this whole proposition.

You need to start paying some attention to what you already have inside you, maybe some things that have been there, unattended and dusty in the corner for a while.

A few suggestions on how to pay attention to those dusty parts. Some of these standalone, and others are multi-part strategies.

  1. Consider a meditation (ugh, I know – okay I’ll do like Martha Beck does and call it stillness – better?) practice of some kind. You don’t need to sit on a mat for an hour and think and do nothing (unless you already can and find it blissful). You just need to carve out some time and space in your head to let go of the junk that fills it up all day long. It’s awfully hard to look inside when there’s a constant influx of information, tasks, sounds, requests, noise, news, and wind-up monkeys banging cymbals (just me?). All of that everything keeps us at the surface, puts us in survival mode, keeps us from connecting to our core, which is (and I would have laughed uproariously if you’d said this to me five years ago) a place of peace. If you’re open a practice like this, check out this post for some suggestions on easy ways to get started.
  2. It feels weird to continue with a bulleted list after suggesting meditation, but such is the way of learning sometimes. The second thing I’d recommend is that you ask yourself what you used to like to do that you don’t do anymore. Any old hobbies in there? Any secret and long packed-away dreams? You may find some things on that list that got packed away for a reason. Like me for example, I used to like to drink beer competitively, as a sport with friends. First of all, I don’t recommend that. Secondly, that particular game got put away for a whole collection of good reasons. When I started asking myself this question about tucked away pieces of myself, I remembered how much I like to sing and how sad I was that I had stopped when the kids were born. I also remembered writing, a lot. Hmmmm…. Yes, I do a whole lot of both of those now, and one is part of my “work” in the world. The other is sheer pleasure, and even pays now and then.
  3. Get real honest about what you need and what you want and no, I’m not going to tell you to stop wanting anything. Check in on those needs and see what you can do to meet them to make yourself feel safe, secure, and like survival mode may be a little minimalistic. Explore those wants to see how they line up with the goals, career path, actions you’ve written down for yourself in your big book of obligations. Check yourself.
  4. Write down all of the reasons that you cannot want what you want, that you cannot be who you are, that you cannot dream what you dream. Write them all down in a flurry of negativity. Be the worst fan you can imagine. Be the anti-cheerleader. Go after yourself; just get all of it out on the page. ALL OF IT.
  5. When you have exhausted the list of shitty anti-support and abuse, read through it and for each one, ask yourself one thing: is this absolutely, irrefutably, totally 100% true? Do I know it for a fact? Would other people agree with me? If your list is anything like mine, there will be a whole lot of “No” in response to those questions. Challenge your reasons for hiding, for pretending, for squirreling big parts of yourself away.
  6. Start to play. Pick something. A hobby, a dream, a want, and play with it. Let it take your imagination on a journey. Let yourself explore the ideas. Let yourself imagine what could be different. Unleash yourself in your mind, and do so without constantly telling yourself why you shouldn’t or how it’s a waste of time. Savor your daydreaming. Get really good at it. Draw pictures about it. Write stories about it. Sing about it. Whatever. Just do it and be in it.

adult-armchair-beverage-846080And that’s it. Wait, what? No, really it kind of is. And let me tell you why. Because when you unleash yourself in your mind, everything else follows. Your beliefs change. Your feelings change. Your actions change. It ALL changes and it changes in a way that lets you be your whole self, that lets you be you, that lets you be at home wherever you are.

I’m here if you need someone to navigate. I have excellent maps.

And I’ll happily say: “Welcome home, love.”

 

They Don’t All Like You

There’s something that’s been sort of swirling around in my personal sphere lately – in myself and in several people I’ve encountered online, in person, on the phone, pretty much everywhere. So I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to feel it out, give us some space to look at it.

I’ll start with me, not just because I’m self-centered, but because that’s the story I know best. Many of you probably already know that I have a mailing list and that I send out a missive pretty much every week (summer has its own calendar and while my intentions are pure, they are not always timely). In the past my weekly offering was accepted either with enthusiasm or neutrality. Some folks would write back with questions (LOVE) or praise (SUPER LOVE – I’m not immune people). Others would just tacitly approve by staying on the list (YAY!).

alone-away-back-view-274712Lately, things have been different. I know my writing has been different. Some of my offerings have been different. There’s been a more spiritual bent more of the time. There’s been a little more cursing here and there – a strange combination for some, but hey, this is me. And lately when I send out my message in a digital bottle, I’ve been getting a little wave of unsubscribes. Like that language? “A little wave,” the wording shows you exactly where I am with the whole thing. I want to be okay with it, so I call it little, but I feel every single one, so it’s a wave.

It’s perfectly natural that as what I’m doing changes, there will be people who no longer dig it. It’s totally sensible that as I become more myself, there will be people who find that I’m no longer a good fit for their selves. It’s reasonable that with crowded e-mail inboxes those who don’t LOVE what I’m doing should unsubscribe. My wise and practical mind knows this.

But that girl inside? She’s 12 again and all she wants is for everybody to like her. I bring this up NOT to get you all to sign up for my newsletter, but but because this happens to all of us. It especially happens as we change and become more honest, more whole, and more authentic. THIS is what Brene Brown means by vulnerability. When you are real, you take the chance of finding out that not everyone likes HER. We so want to be liked and we so want to be real. And so we juggle and which of those balls we pay the most attention to depends on so many factors.

No matter how we slice it though, we’re going to come across people who just don’t like us or don’t like what we do. My response tends to be: “Wait a minute. What did I do?” I want to investigate to see exactly what was different this time. I want to know why they are leaving. I want to be able to ask them why they don’t like me anymore – and that’s all coming from the 12 year old.

And she only asks for one reason: she asks because she is willing to change in order to keep all of those people. She is willing to be someone else in exchange for approval. She is more concerned about what everyone thinks of her than what she thinks of herself. She actually NEEDS them to like her because she thinks if enough people like her, she will then finally get to like herself.

Ugh. Brutal.

I see it. I see it in a way I was not able to see it in the past. I see it because over the last few years I worked really hard at reversing that direction.

I started with liking me, no not just liking me, LOVING me.

I consciously began to notice the things I love about me – and I mean that on ALL of the levels: in my head, in my heart AND on my body. (I have an amazing décolletage by the way.) I also began treating myself with love. I sat down and figured what that looked like and while I worked on developing the feelings, I began taking the actions. It has changed everything.

And yet, that 12 year old is still around.

That’s right. She’s still there, because here’s the thing about dragons. You don’t have to slay them to make peace.

I know what she’s about. I see her emerge. I catch myself before it all gets so serious that I make someone else’s opinion of me WAY too important. I check in – am I cool with what I said/did/created? Am I proud? Was it me? Yes, yes, yes.

And as I check in with myself, I realize how very okay it is that not everybody likes me.

Truthfully, I don’t like everybody either.

And that’s not what really matters anyway.

What really matters is how I feel about me because even if everyone else thinks I’m great but I don’t like me, I will feel no better. I will feel like a fraud. I will feel lonely and empty.

blur-body-care-161608When I love me, I get to feel real. I get to feel full. I get to feel better. They don’t like me, and that’s okay because I love me (cue the Megan Trainor song now).

If this message was for you today, I hope you’re hearing me, that I’ve found the right words. If you have children, especially teenage girls, I hope you’re hearing me.

If you stop reading my stuff five seconds from now and never come back, I hope you hear me when I say that you are worthy. You ARE special. You do have something to contribute. YOU are the only you we have and if you aren’t doing you right now, maybe it’s time to try to find her, ever so gently, and with great love.

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.

Fighting With My Body

I’ve been fighting with my body lately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started. I sense that it has been a progression, a slide into rather than a snap change.

animal-canine-dachshund-1139797You see there was a long period of fighting with my body in the past: thinking horrible things about it, avoiding looking in the mirror, being angry about its failure to perform or serve me as I deemed perfect. I thought unkind thoughts. I sent unkind messages. I treated it poorly.

I worked really hard on all of that and I really did overcome it. I knew I had really gotten somewhere when I noticed that instead of jumping into my terrycloth robe after my shower I was taking my time drying off in front of the mirror before donning my robe and that on warm days I would take the robe back off as soon as it had helped suck up the drops of water I couldn’t reach. Just kind of parading around in my bathroom in my birthday suit, even with HUGE mirrors around. That never would have happened.

And then I happened on a series of physical mishaps and biological realities. Discomfort made itself known in many ways. It’s a long and boring story, but there was a series of ailments. And I began to sneer. I began to roll my eyes at my body. I began to put “stupid” in front of body parts that weren’t behaving the way I wanted them to. I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

I didn’t notice until just today when I realized that I felt heavy – not in terms of pounds, but physically heavy, like carrying myself around was a burden. As I went up the steps to say goodnight to the kids, I cursed the pain in my foot. I sighed at the stiffness in my hamstrings. I grimaced at the tightness of a T-shirt I wore proudly (at same size) last month. Every noise, every gesture, every irritation an insult aimed at myself, the most concrete, tangible part of myself. Hurling punishments for bad behavior like some kind of stereotypical evil foster parent in a bad family movie.

What on earth am I doing? How did this happen? I know how it happened. I forgot. And things got stressful. And stuff didn’t work the way I wanted to and instead of answering all of that with tenderness, I got pissed off and resentful and I took it out on myself, my favorite target. Now because you are reading me rather than hearing me speak, you may think it sounds like I’m all kinds of mad at myself, like I’m scolding myself. I’m really not.

I admit I’m a little frustrated with myself, but really it’s just part of a trend I’ve noticed.

I “know” that compassion is the only answer when things get tough, but that muscle needs more exercise: gentle, sweet exercise. I know that compassion is the best answer when things get tough, but I’m still learning and there’s a lot of programming that I’m undoing. It will surface. The old beliefs, the old habits, even the ones that aren’t good for me, they’re the ones that show up when I’m stressed.

adventure-blue-sky-cape-town-920038And so here I am, seeing the change. Here I am noticing and, because I’ve worked on it and reflected on this relationship so much in my BARE training, I see the effect those insults have on me. I see the heavy feeling. I see the sadness growing. I see the impatience with every imperfection showing up. I see my impatience with everything increasing. I see my lack of compassion with myself reflected in my impatience with everyone around me. I am literally connecting all of these dots as I type these words with my bum finger, my achy foot, and my distressed belly. I am connecting these dots and remembering how far we’ve come this body and I. I am remembering everything this body has done for me, on my feet, with my hands, even with my poor old mommy parts (full-term, full-size twins is not a small thing). I am remembering that I love me, even when things aren’t perfect and that I deserve to feel that love, even in my creaky knees and arthritic joints and tempestuous middle-aged mommy parts.

bath-blur-brush-275765And I’m tearing up a little bit. I’m a little sad for myself and a little sorry for these parts of me that have been calling out for love. I need to pause and remember what that looks like. I need to apply love bodily. I need to use ice and heating pads and take long, hot showers. I need to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and that I’m eating things that make me and this body feel great.

It is the week leading up to my 49th birthday (holy shit when did that happen). This is a week of promises to myself, covenants of self-love, self-respect, and devotion. It’s also a week of awareness, seeing what’s going on, noticing the patterns, and gently moving in the direction of love because that’s the only direction this body and I want to go.

On Being Heard

All my life I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be heard by the mother who was on her 4th child, the second “pleasant surprise,” and was just beginning to wrestle with the notion that motherhood might not be her only or most beloved goal. I longed to be heard by my father who for many years was largely absent due to work and then emotionally unavailable as his marriage crumbled. I craved being heard by my siblings who noisily jockeyed for position at home.

backlit-beach-clouds-289998I longed to be heard and had no idea that I always could be but that turning to everyone else was a losing game. I had no idea that what I needed was to sit quietly and tend my own inner flame, to hear the heart and soul whispers that I had no words for, to honor my own longing to be valued, to love and care for myself deeply and thoroughly.

My constant outwards reach for attention and affirmation took me to some places that in retrospect, well sometimes not even in retrospect, were pretty dark. I made choices that didn’t serve me because they promised some kind of attention that at least for a little while felt like love. I made pretty big decisions that I thought were destined to make me good enough to merit a seat at the grown ups’ table with all of the seemingly glorious benefits that conveyed. I self-destructed in myriad small ways in an attempt to prove that I was worth noticing, worth admiring, worth listening to, worth loving.

And it all fell on deaf ears – not because my family doesn’t love me but because in the scenario I created I really kind of needed them to NOT love me. You see all of that approval and attention seeking wasn’t a reflection of a deficit of their affection, but a grim revelation of my own complete and utter lack of self-esteem. I hate to use that term because it makes it sound so, I don’t know 1970s. There was a whole movement about that, right? I may have more to say at a later time about THAT, but really that’s what it boils down to, right?

If I had enough self-esteem – a sense of self-worth, I wouldn’t need all of this outside approval for everything. I’m not saying I wouldn’t need any attention or interaction, I’m just saying I might not need so much (in quantity) and not getting it wouldn’t mean so much (like a reinforcement of basic flaws). All of that trying fell on deaf ears because my own ears were deaf to messages of approval. Even if they had approved or attended or given me applause, I would not have heard it because it wasn’t enough to drown out the voice of the critic in my head. It couldn’t be enough to make me feel like I was enough.

afterglow-art-backlit-556665I had forgotten you see. I had forgotten who I am. I had forgotten that like each of you I am a miracle. The moment of my conception was a moment of biological and cosmic interplay that has never occurred before and will never happen again. I had forgotten that it is perfectly normal for me to be “different” from whoever I am comparing myself to and to be grateful for that difference, even at times when its usefulness was not so clear. I had forgotten, in all of my trying, that I was okay. That I am loved. That I am whole. That my purpose here is mine and no-one else’s. I had forgotten that I am stardust.

And so I reached out for reminders. I begged for confirmation of my value. And in doing so I made choices that diminished my own magnificence by confusing it with other people’s desires. I longed for proof, always seeking it from the outside rather than starting the work within, the work of building trust in myself, of listening to the small still voice that says “Yes, you can,” the work of loving this body/mind and life as the container for all that I am and all that I can be here and now. That is the work I have undertaken in the last several years.

What comes from this work is a glowing fire of confidence and self-assurance, a quiet knowing of enough-ness, a tenderness for myself and all of my choices past and present, and a deep felt sense of really being okay. It’s okay. It’s all okay. I don’t need anything from you. I delight in your company. I delight in your you-ness. And here in this space I want to assure you that you are also a miracle, that you are stardust, that there is a small still voice inside of you.

If your need for love and affirmation is falling on deaf ears, I’d love to help you listen.

What Do You DESERVE?

A wise friend of mine gave a talk about human rights this weekend. Given some of the things going on right now, it seems like an important conversation to have, although I suppose that’s true most days.

My friend rightly pointed out that human rights rest on a decision that we make as a community or as a society. We agree that there are certain things that should be true for everyone. My friend, and minister, explained: “You can’t do anything to be more or less worthy of human rights so long we agree that they exist.” They apply to everyone.

For those of us raised in countries or cultures where at least lip service is given to human rights we agree, that at least on some level, everyone has rights that cannot be taken away. Of course the argument rarely stops there and becomes more detailed and heated shortly after. Despite our disagreements about what our specific human rights are, we do seem to agree that they exist.

backlit-clouds-dusk-853168We agree that other people have rights that cannot be taken away, truths that are self-evident. We don’t however, on a more personal level, seem to be very good at extending the same baseline to ourselves. If we can agree that everyone has inalienable human rights, can we agree that just being able to be alive is a pretty low bar and that we ought to consider both raising the bar and being sure we are applying it to ourselves? What would it look like to grant ourselves rights on the individual personal level?

What can you say you always DESERVE no matter what? There’s the rub, isn’t it? That DESERVE. Yep, I capitalized it because it’s a hangup for me. When I think about what I DESERVE there is always a conversation about effort – effort that I must expend to be deserving, action I must take to be good enough, goodness offered to be worthy of whatever. It’s an old hangup and one I’m working on, but it’s deep and sometimes it takes time.

I have a hunch that many of us have never considered what we deserve no matter what – even on days when you’re not nice to others, on days when you don’t do your best, on the days when that one Girl Scout cookie becomes a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies.

What do you deserve no matter what?

I gave this some thought and the exercise was both revelatory as to what I am willing to believe I am worthy of and startling in its sometimes stark contrast to my own self-care,  even in its much improved state.

What do I think I DESERVE? (I’m still capitalizing because that word is still tough for me.)

  1. Sleep. This is first because I didn’t get enough last night. I think I deserve sleep even if I haven’t been swell that day.
  2. The highest quality food I can manage.
  3. Love. (whoa)
  4. Acceptance. (double whoa)
  5. Joy. (are you kidding?!)
  6. The occasional insight in times of trouble.
  7. Internal peace.
  8. Beauty.
  9. Community.

Yeah. I told you I’ve worked on it. I’m well past believing that I only deserve health care and shelter. Some people might find that spoiled, but understand I have no problem agreeing that everyone else deserves these things as well. I’ve only thought about it from my perspective. I am happy to imagine that your list might look different, and that you deserve all of it. The question is how do we get there? How do you, if you wish, get to having the audacity to want such a list, imagining that you could claim it?

The first step is the same as the reasonable first step in addressing problems on a larger scale, from Reverend Carl: “We need to be honest about the situation at hand.”

For those of you (formerly us) who have no sense of that which is inalienable in your personal realm, you have to determine whether or not that’s working for you. Do you (formerly we) feel neutral or badly more often than seems reasonable given the circumstances fo your life? Do you frequently find yourself overwhelmed, over-scheduled or overtired and then face the task of bettering your moments by consciously choosing behaviors that buffer you from the way you feel or simply cheer you up for a short time? Do your days feel more draining than fulfilling? Are you in some version of survival mode?

The situation at hand, if you answered yes to those, is that your current approach isn’t working.

OK Julia, Great, so I admit it’s not working, then what?

You figure out what your inalienable rights are. What must be true for you to live, to thrive, not just survive? If that seems too big a question, let me give you a boost. Let me start your list for you:

  1. I am allowed to think my thoughts and feel my feelings no matter how I or other people might judge those thoughts and feelings (and by the way, this is a longer version of the acceptance mentioned earlier).
  2. Now you go…

blonde-hair-blurred-background-dress-852793And when you finish that list, try on the idea that you actually DESERVE that. If that’s too big a leap, try on the idea that you should be able to have that list whether you deserve it or not because you are human, because you are the result of a moment in time and a biological improbability that will never happen again, ever. You really are special, just by being here. What would happen if you decided to treat yourself that way?

Our Whole Selves

I have twin eleven year olds. We are entering middle school next year, and yes I say “we” because I see it as a shift in all of our experience, individually and as a family. Admittedly I see this upcoming event as a shift because of my own experience in middle school – well, junior high then.

Belonging versus authenticityThese were the years where I most clearly remember beginning to experiment with how I expressed myself explicitly to get different reactions from other people. It sounds so manipulative when I say it that way, and I guess it is, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. Okay, I’m more than pretty sure, I KNOW I wasn’t the only one because we talked about it, didn’t we? Groups of girls talked about what to do, how to behave, WHO TO BE in order to get the desired outcome, whatever that was on that day. I remember needing to fit in, to do it right, to not stand out in any way that would draw attention. I remember wanting to be just like whoever the “it” girl of the week was.

As my kids approach this time, I find myself thinking about our core selves, what my teacher and mentor Martha Beck calls our essential selves, and the struggle we put that essential self through. It seems to me that little kids totally get the essential self. There is no other self. They just do them until consequences make themselves apparent, but even with the usual learning about good manners and how not to upset their parents, kids keep being themselves, expanding, exploring, trying things on.

At some point, there is a shift, and that expansion reverses. And we begin to contract. Our practicality demands that the exploration and freedom we were allowed as children be curtailed. Our responsibilities make us believe that the vestiges of childhood must cease, must be cut off, no longer suit or show us at our best. We slowly cut away at ourselves. We separate ourselves into tiny pieces, only a few of which get regular air time in the world. The rest are left to suffocate or starve.

And then we wonder why we feel bad.

We wonder why we feel dissatisfied.

We wonder why we don’t enjoy the lives we’re building or why we can’t seem to make any headway.

We wonder when everything got so hard.

We feel bad.

We feel bad because we aren’t being ourselves.

We feel bad because we abandon ourselves.

We feel bad because we’ve forgotten that we are the only ones on the planet who are exactly like us.

We feel bad because we’ve been so busy trying to be the same enough to “succeed” that we forgot to be ourselves.

We feel bad because we’ve lost sight of the fact that when we are not ourselves, nobody fills in that gap.

We feel bad because we are in a constant battle with the parts of ourselves we’ve deemed unacceptable.

We fight them.

We say mean things to them.

We close them in little mental closets and don’t let them out.

We bury them in obligations, booze, and snacks.

We feel bad because we are not whole and we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that we are wrong, tainted, anything but glorious, anything but real and intentional and made for this world.

We feel bad because we’ve forgotten how to play, how to feel, and how to rest deeply.

We feel bad because we believe we don’t deserve to feel as good as it could feel to allow ourselves to be all that we are. We are afraid of what would happen if we let that out. We are afraid of succeeding or afraid of losing love, affection, or status. We feel bad because we are telling ourselves that we are not good.

So what do I tell my twins as I see this time coming? Let me back up a step, what do I tell myself about middle school? First I tell myself that their experience may be different from mine, even if everything I know about adolescents says otherwise, but it’s important to leave room for a better experience. THEN, I remind my kids that they are spectacular. Because my children were IVF babies, I have told them that they are miracles pretty much every day of their lives. Truth is though, that I would feel that way no matter how they were conceived. I remind them that they are unlike anyone else and trying to be like everyone else will just make them extremely unhappy and will deprive everyone of THEM.

Stop hidingAnd then I take a deep breath, and tell myself the same thing. I am a miracle. There is nobody else like me. When I try to make myself like everyone else, we all lose out. It’s okay to continue to grow. Those parts of me that I’ve hidden from the world, they are good parts. Being whole is how I claim my place, my moment, and my real fun in this world. Being whole is grace, compassion and wealth beyond measure. I’m doing more of it than I ever have, this being whole business, but I still need to be reminded, and maybe you do too. Maybe it seems scary, and well, it can be. And maybe people won’t like it, and that can happen. But I want to reassure you, as someone who has touched the other side, being your whole self is an act of courage for which you will be rewarded deeply every single moment that you come even close to pulling it off.

So Much Love,

julia

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