Your Patchwork Self

I have a farmer friend. She lives in a lovely spot not too far from me. And on that property is the lovely old house she and her family have made their own. She posted about it the other day:

One of my favorite things about this house is the east facing wall. All over it are these little metal patches from when knots fell out of the siding or animals made holes (like a jackass woodpecker did two years ago). Only the east side has patches, but it probably has at least 15, giving it a patchwork quilt effect. Some are sheet metal, some are flattened tin cans, some are can lids. They just don’t build them like this anymore.

35628534_10213137051754012_5365022642195660800_nI saw the same thing she saw. I saw beauty. I saw pieces and parts and years. I saw weather and chipping and labor and pain. I saw time and sturdiness, nature, and effort. I saw all of the everything in that gorgeous east facing wall – the one that greets the day.

And I got to thinking… you know how I do.

I got to thinking about our own east facing walls: the part of us that faces every new day, the part of us that gets the bad news first, the part of us that has things to do, the part of us that interacts with the rest of the world while the rest of us shakes off the sleepies. I thought about the things that happen to that part of us: how we come face to face with nature and aging, how we bump into others who may not be as ready for daylight as we are, how we discover what has gone on in the night, while we rested. We discover what people think of us. We take the hits of societal pressure and being in community. We face the thoughts that make holes in our peace of mind.

And then we hide all of that. We show our other sides – relegating our relationships to the guest room, the parlor, the bathroom with the fancy soap and unused towels. “Is this my best side?” we ask the photographer. We tilt our heads to hide our chins and smile a little smaller to make the wrinkles a little more shallow. We hope nobody caught the eye roll or the frustrated sigh. ¬†We turn our attention elsewhere and it takes quite a bit of energy really.

I think all of that hiding and fault-finding really is a lot more trouble than the repair and maintenance of that character-laden East Wall. It really can be so simple to do. Just some sheets of aluminum, an old tin can, a note from a friend, a call to a loved one, a moment with a particularly inspiring book, a walk outside without any entertainment, a few moments in stillness. We can apply the patches. We can do the maintenance. It doesn’t get rid of the damage that was done, but it does shore us up for another day, another trial, another jackass woodpecker.

And when we do that work, when we care for that part of ourself that takes all of the hits, we can continue facing the new day, continue seeing things we wish we hadn’t seen, keep on fighting the good fight. And then we can stand back and look at it, our handiwork and all of our efforts, and see those parts for what they are: complete, serviceable, strong, and magically beautiful.

Who’s Driving The Bus?

I’ve had something come up in a LOT of conversations lately – both professional and social, so I get this sense that maybe, just maybe it would be a good thing to talk about.

blur-book-girl-373465And because you know I like to make everything about me, I’m going to start with a story. I’ve been a little low in the last month (mentioned it a few times, I know, experimenting with vulnerable transparency – how am I doing?). There have been days when it just feels like a cloud in the sky – a partly to mostly sunny day. I’m still doing most of my things – maybe a little less social, maybe a little more tired, a little more inclined to pick up a book than have a conversation – you know kind of cloudy. Other days have been this swell mix of medical woes and misery that have been full on incapacitating storm conditions – like when all the power is out and you can’t leave the neighborhood, except without the nice part where you discover that taking a break from social media is a good thing.

Storm conditions when it is very clear that none of the things you planned yesterday are going to happen, and you can’t really remember what they were anyway. The ones you kind of remember seem stupid and you feel too sick to do anything about something that seems stupid. Yeah, like that. You’re down to one flashlight with batteries and into the canned goods. THAT kind of bad day.

Mercifully, it seems that both the physical and the emotional aspects of the storm are easing, and that has been an incremental kind of thing, each day finding one more battery, remembering the granola bar I hid for emergencies, reconnecting with one really good thing I wanted to do and feeling its importance deeply. And as I make this transition, I wonder about the difference between these two states. Some of it was purely physical. I won’t go into details, but it seems that everything that bothers me in a low-level chronic kind of way decided to show up at once at higher-levels. It’s been really fun. And the physical stuff certainly fed the emotional component. It’s hard to stay optimistic when your body is basically giving you the finger (and yes, that’s an intended pun for those familiar with my arthritic hands). It’s hard not to let your whole outlook be determined by your physical reality. And so, I gave up the keys.

A few weeks ago I decided to let my discomfort, my frustration, my pain, and my pessimism drive the bus. “I quit. Here you go. You do it. This is too hard. I’m too tired and I feel like I’m losing this battle, so I forfeit. You drive.”

This was not a conscious decision. And let me be clear. I’m not just talking about surrendering to feeling bad, because I think that’s necessary. I think all of those feelings need to be felt, honored, seen, heard – all of it. But that’s not the same thing as letting them drive.

In her book Big Magic, Liz Gilbert describes how fear can totally inhibit the creative process. Her remedy is to imagine that fear has a seat in the car of your process, but it does not get to drive. Others have expanded on this idea. A 5th grade art teacher worked with her students to create a painted chair that holds all of the fear while they do their work. I have a chair in my office that is designated the fear chair. I send fear there when I have something big and important that I really want to get done. She doesn’t have to leave the room. I hear her. I know she’s there, but she doesn’t get to make the decisions because if she does, I won’t do any of the amazing things that I am here to do.

We can all agree, I think, that fear is something that we sometimes need to put in a chair. What I think we’re not as clear on is the difference between putting something in a chair and stuffing it way down deep (think passenger seat instead of glove box). What I think we’re not as clear on is the kind of route that holding two disparate feelings and opinions sometimes requires. I also just don’t think we pay attention to what part of us is holding the keys. They just get tossed around willy-nilly like a hot potato and whoever has them when it’s time to move, well, that determines what happens next.

abandoned-automobile-broken-53161For me this month it was disappointment, discouragement, general darkness. For so many others it’s fear. And fear drives that car in some really strange ways. Fear can decided to just park it because it’s a big world out there. Fear can decide to give us lots of reasons to do sub-par work so we can blame our lack of progress on something other than finding out if we’re really up to the task. Fear can make us worry so much about what’s coming down the road that we miss seeing the horses running in the field right next to us. Fear is a shitty driver. Disappointment, discouragement, and general darkness really aren’t so great either.

We can have all of those feelings. We can feel them, honor them, notice them, respect them, have conversations with them. We can allow them to inhabit us, feel them in our bodies, notice what they are. We can do all of these things without letting them drive. When we feel them in the quiet, when we honor them but don’t make them all of us, don’t make them everything, we can hear that at any given moment, there is more, maybe a small still voice, maybe just a deep breath waiting to be taken. There is more and the way clear, the road forward will be there, the route will unfold. We don’t need to let fear drive just so we have somewhere to go.

XO,

julia

That Time I Forgot to Have Fun

It’s been a rough time for me the last couple of months. We hit the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, the holidays (which I still haven’t pared down to where I need them to be, but I’m making progress), and then my husband’s month long trip to Chicago for January term. I thought I had a handle on it. I lowered my expectations for work a little (at least in my planner if not in my head, which would have been a really important extra step to take), despite my sense that January is a REALLY important month for life coaches. I called in some backup with the kids so I could have a little adult time. I hired a neighbor girl to watch my kids on choir practice nights. On paper it looked pretty good.

pexels-photo-366063And now my hubby is home, which is nice. But I’ve been really grouchy. I’ve been whipping out old and reliable complaints to argue about. I’ve been feminist ranting in my house while I tidy up. I’ve been snarky and sarcastic and generally less pleasant than I could be. I’ve also been SO unbelievably tired, some of which makes perfect sense, but it didn’t seem to be letting up. My body was speaking to me, but I was paying more attention to the angry story in my head.

And it finally overwhelmed me, that angry story. So I reached out to a coach friend. And she questioned. She gently prodded. She questioned some more. And as we talked, I felt my old angry arguments step to the side like the distraction that they are (they matter but weren’t the point). As we talked, I found the hurt under the anger. And then we talked about the hurt, because that’s what a great coach can do for you.

And what came out is that with all of this work: my business, my parenting, my husband’s seminary, I just haven’t been having very much fun. I’m not saying I haven’t had any, I’m just saying I’m not having much and given the difficulty of the last few months, I could have maybe benefitted from a little MORE fun than average rather than less. She laughed and said she was picturing that moment in The Shining: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy….” Yeah. Seriously. HERE’S Julia!!! If you don’t understand the reference, Youtube that scene so you know what really not having fun and listening to angry creepy stories can do to you. My lovely coach friend and I talked about a way out. We figured out exactly what I was thinking, how it made me feel, and created a path for something new. I am so grateful to her.

pexels-photo-341520-2I talked to my seminarian about our fun-less time and he agreed. We’ve sort of lost track of planning fun as a couple and neither of us take much time for fun for ourselves. It is draining. It is wearing. It feels like a grind and I KNOW the life that I’m building doesn’t need to feel like a grind. I’m in love with the things I’m doing, but no matter how much you like your job, sometimes you just need to be completely immersed in the fun zone with the people you love the best.

So I’m putting my creative thinking cap on to come up with some options and later today my seminarian and I are going to put some things on our new shared digital calendar so we can make sure we’re making time for that. We will honor our calendar. We will honor our fun and we will both be better for it.

How’s it going for you? Are you remembering to have fun? If you’re not, what are you going to do about it?

Are You A Heretic?

We don’t hear this word much anymore, despite the significant play it’s gotten in the past. In days of yore (whose?), being called a heretic could end with some kind of jail sentence on a good day. Now? I can’t remember the last time I even heard the word. Well, until Sunday when there was discussion of the anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s okay. I promise I’m not about to go all history teacher (even though I was one) or theologian (even though I’m married to one) on you. It’s that heretic word that I’m interested in. And I’m interested in it because my very scholarly minister told us that heretic, translated in the ancient Greek, just means one who chooses. Huh. All of this trouble in our collective history over people who choose.

Are you pleasing people?I started thinking about that yesterday and I was immediately aware of how many of my clients experience discomfort, shame, family conflict and oceans of self-doubt because they are choosers. These are women who have decided that the script that society provides for all of us doesn’t work for them and so they have chosen (as one so aptly put it) to live off-script. They have chosen to consciously do something different. They’ve chosen not to marry. They’ve chosen not to have children. They’ve chosen to outpace their partners financially. They’ve chosen to be the working parent while a partner stays home. They’ve chosen to change career paths, pursue higher education at inconvenient times, become yogis and healers. They’ve chosen to leave marriages that other people think are just fine. They’ve chosen to stop giving a crap about tablescapes (yes, that’s a thing) and perfect dinners and what the neighbors think. They’ve chosen to do them instead.

There is no death sentence awaiting them. They won’t be burned at the stake for deciding not to marry or have children. They won’t be jailed for choosing to pursue the arts as a profession. They won’t be interrogated for having a messy entryway. But they will feel the weight of discomfort. And in my experience, they will believe that the discomfort comes from the judgments that other people will have about them. “My parents really want me to be married.” And maybe they do. I have no idea. “My parents want grandchildren so bad they can taste them.” That’s gross, but I get it. “My family can’t believe I’m leaving him.” Yes, there is perhaps judgment out there.

What matters, though, is what we do with that perceived judgment.

One of my marvelous mentors, Martha Beck, (I almost left out the comma so that marvelous mentor Martha would just flow better – it’s a sickness) has a sentence that I just love for these kinds of situations. Actually she has more than one, and I’ll share the two that are top of mind right now in case one works better for you than the other: “I respectfully don’t care,” and: “They just get to feel that way.”

These sentences represent one way that we, as choosers (I say “we” because I can assure that anyone who has the title of “life coach” is a chooser for sure), can respond to these judgments, complaints and discomfort in others when we encounter it. We can respectfully not care and we can acknowledge that they get to feel that way.

Making Hard ChoicesHow does this help? This helps because it keeps us from confusing their discomfort with our own. It keeps us honest about the location of our difficulties when we walk down the chooser path. In my experience, it is not the judgments that others have of my choices so much as my reaction to all of that that causes me to suffer. It is only when I take their judgment and turn it into crippling self-doubt or insecurity that I have a problem. It is only when I use those judgments as stand-ins for my own self-judgment, self-criticism and fear that I get into trouble.

If I can, instead, acknowledge that they get to feel how they feel and that I don’t have to care about that I save myself one layer of discomfort, and I push myself toward the emotional honesty that comes with saying: “Sometimes being a chooser is hard. I am tired. I am afraid. I worry this won’t work out.” I push myself toward allowing the feelings that come with doing hard things and releasing them. I push myself toward a place where I can acknowledge what I’m thinking and all of the ways I’m getting in my own way. And once I’m there, I can make a different choice, because that’s what choosers do. I can use my choosing skills to acknowledge my own strength. I can use my choosing skills to acknowledge how far I’ve come on my path. I can use my choosing skills to make my own evaluation of how it’s working, knowing that at any time I can make a different choice. I am free.

If you feel like a heretic sometimes, if you’re a chooser and see the holiday season coming at you – full of opportunities to give everyone evidence of all of the ways you aren’t measuring up, take stock. Remember that the opinion that matters most is yours. Work on that one instead of trying to prove to everyone else that you’re okay. They’re going to think whatever they’re going to think. You can still be happy. You can still be free, even if you’re a heretic.