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

In the Dark Times

I can’t speak for other parts of the globe, but things have been pretty rough in the U.S. There have been horrific hurricanes that have left so many Americans suffering without vital services. There have been political controversies that seem to be rocking us at our foundations. There have been wildfires raging in and around communities in the West. There’s a lot that’s going wrong. There’s a lot weighing us down. There’s a lot to grieve, to mourn, to argue about, to consider. There are a lot of people facing the darkest emotions the human experience has to offer.

What Do We Do With Our Negative Emotions?

We are not taught how to deal with our feelingsUnfortunately, as a culture, we are not very well practiced at those dark emotions. We don’t often actively encourage people to feel how they feel. We prefer that they “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.” We have legends, books, songs, movies, stories, and cultural icons that show us that this is the way. The pause for grief and sorrow must be brief. And then what? Well, I’m afraid for many people, this means an awful lot of stuffing and swatting. We stuff our bad feelings in. When they rise up, we shove them down, often with food or alcohol, really packing them back in there and creating the dopamine buzz that will make us think we feel better. We stuff and we stuff.

We also swat our dark feelings away. We swat them away like they are insignificant as houseflies. “Now’s not a good time. Go away. I’ll think about that later. I don’t want to deal with that now. Oooooh… look, something shiny.” And then we distract ourselves. We distract ourselves with whatever our favorite and most effective distraction is. We distract ourselves with work. We distract ourselves with social media. We distract ourselves with television and movies. We distract ourselves with busyness. We distract ourselves with chores. We distract ourselves with personal drama because outrage often feels better than grief, loneliness, and insecurity. We distract ourselves with pedicures, lattes, and shopping. Swat it away; find something else to do.

And yet, there is only so much stuffing and swatting a person can do. There is only so much the body and the spirit can carry. Because when we stuff and swat, those feelings don’t go away. For stuffers, those feelings just build up.¬†Eventually, many stuffers explode. If you’re not an exploder, I bet you know one. I know a few exploders and have been the recipient of that eventual boom. There’s nothing cheerful about that scenario. What happens to the swatters? Well, the distraction of that one feeling, that one housefly just grows. Eventually it’s a swarm of houseflies (that’s pretty gross) and swatters can’t figure out why they’re having so much trouble getting things done. Why can’t I concentrate? Why do I feel so tired all of the time? Why can’t I seem to make any decisions? Because SO much energy is going into swatting those emotions away. SO much energy is being used to pretend to be okay.

How Can We Process Our Dark Emotions?

There is only one real course of action here, and if you’ve been playing along it will come as no surprise to you. The only reasonable thing to do is to feel those feelings. The only reasonable thing to do is to just freaking surrender for a few minutes, because in all likelihood that’s all it will take to start to feel some relief, to stop feeling the need to stuff and swat. Heck, even if it takes an hour that’s far less time than you’re losing to that feeling with all of that stuffing and swatting.

But I’m afraid if I let myself feel it, I will never feel good again….

If you don’t let yourself feel it, you will struggle to actually REALLY feel good. You may have temporary relief, but that shadow will remain.

But I can’t just break down. I have responsibilities.

Yes, yes you can. Your responsibilities can wait a few minutes while you sit on the floor and cry your eyes out. If it’s kids you’re worried about, maybe it’s time they saw an adult cry so they know that it’s okay. If it’s other adult responsibilities, lists of tasks, things that need to get done, I PROMISE you will be more productive if you let yourself take a few minutes to be genuinely honest with yourself.

But I’m afraid to feel it.

Yes, I know. But you can take it. You were made to experience the whole shebang on this planet, not just the good parts, and not just the shiny objects. You can venture into the depth of it and come out the other side. And every time you do, it will be less scary. You won’t stop having dark feelings, but learning that you can have them, handle them, recover – that’s priceless. THAT will change your entire existence. You don’t have to be afraid, or you don’t have to let your fear stop you from feeling how you actually feel. You are allowed to feel whatever you are feeling and if you finally write yourself that permission slip, things will change.

How to rise higher than you thought possible
But feeling and crying and doing all of that makes me week. 

Oh no my darling one. Allowing the fullness of this life to touch you makes you resilient, makes you whole, makes you a freaking Phoenix. You can never rise to your highest heights if you are always running from the flames.

Feeling Your Feelings

If you’re ready to try, there’s no official instruction manual, but I can offer you some tips. Next time you feel a big wave of negative emotion, get yourself somewhere where you can feel comfortable, and just focus on allowing it. You don’t have to do anything special, just don’t fight it. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Don’t ask it questions. Don’t analyze it. Don’t argue with it. Just allow it. If tears come, let them flow. If you need to make a noise and can do that safely, do it. Just allow it. Notice how it feels in your body. Notice that you are still there, that you haven’t been obliterated. Notice how your body changes as you allow the feeling. Notice how the tension falls away. Notice how the feeling diminishes in time. Notice that you are okay, that you are still whole. Notice that you didn’t have to act on that feeling to have it ease up a bit. Notice that you handled it and tell yourself what an excellent job you did.

If you are in a difficult situation, consider how much easier it might be if you just allowed yourself to feel it for a few minutes. I promise you’ll be alright. If you need someone to talk you through it, I’m here.