Waiting for the Storm to Pass

I had an uncomfortable learning experience this weekend, a reminder of some of the very principles I’ve shared here over and over and over again. If I believed in being tested, I’d say I was tested and that I failed for quite some time before I finally rejiggered and aimed for mastery instead of a good grade… Let me explain.

My son had a piano recital this weekend. Now, let me further explain that my son does not like to perform. He doesn’t like crowds. He doesn’t like being watched. He doesn’t like any of it. So why make him do it – you may be asking and it is a fair question.

His Dad and I rationally sorted out that these recitals, being held in our church where our son feels very comfortable, and being a not terribly big and very kind crowd, would be a good place to get over some of the performance anxiety, to stack up enough positive experiences that it might spread into other areas, make the whole idea less scary. I still think this is a reasonable idea in principle.

However, in practicing this idea a couple of days ago, it didn’t seem so great. My son was really agitated. I had to Mom/coach talk him through preparing for the event as he moved from joking around about how awful it would be to repeating that he didn’t want to go over and over again in a quiet voice in the back seat.

I stuck to my guns, and it wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time I’ll regret that particular habit.

alone-boy-child-256658He did play in the recital. It was not his best performance. And then he sat and quietly wept for 30 minutes. He chose a seat at the end of our row and cried. I gave him a few minutes to himself and then moved to be next to him. I offered to go out in the hall with him to talk. He had no interest. I quietly assured him that his performance was good. He shook quietly. It then dawned on me that while I surely needed to revisit our approach to recitals, right now, in this moment, he didn’t need or want to be convinced of anything. He didn’t want to talk to me about how he felt. He didn’t want me to remove him from the room. He just wanted to feel how he felt and to have someone be kind about it.

adult-black-and-white-blur-735978I stopped talking. I stopped even trying to soothe him. I just wrapped my arms around him and held him while he weathered the internal storm, knowing full well that it was of his own making and that I had tools that could help him change the weather. He didn’t need that from me. He just needed compassion. He just needed safety. He just needed someone to be with him to make the feelings less scary for having a companion in them.

So I held him. And after a few minutes, he began to relax. He leaned into me. His breaths became deeper. The tears slowed. He stopped fighting with himself and with the words he knew I wanted to say and had said earlier. He just let himself feel the way he felt and I told him that was allowed.

We have reviewed our recital policy and are making changes based on the fact that we don’t care if he wants to perform or not; we want him to love to play the piano. That change was important. We needed to see what we were communicating to him and what we were expecting. But I personally needed to remember how good it feels to just let the feelings be, to be kind enough to sit with them rather than applying logic to them in an attempt to change them, to be patient enough to offer compassion and love even when we don’t understand those feelings and why they are happening.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to remember this important lesson with my son, and to have the time to offer that same lesson to myself in this season of mixed emotions, of loss amidst the joy. I can be patient enough with myself to continue to offer compassion even when it seems like it shouldn’t be necessary. I can sit with it, and wait for the storm to pass, rather than trying to change the weather.

Branching Out: Building Confidence

“If only I had more confidence, then I could do things like ______ and ________. My life would be more _______. Things would be better,” said plenty of people lots of times.

It was a theme for me too, for so many years, and it is a place I still occasionally find myself. I can still look back and see all of the ways that confidence, a shift in my temperament, would have helped me. It would have helped me in graduate school – seeing myself as just as deserving as my peers of my place in my program. It would have helped me in college and high school in trusting friendships and not needing so much affirmation through romantic entanglements. There is no question in my mind that more confidence would have changed my experience as a professional musician.

But I did not develop that confidence until much later because I had a fundamental misunderstanding about how confidence would come. I thought that at some point, someone in a position of some authority would recognize something good in me – would tell me that I was great at whatever. I would be acknowledged for the good things and THEN, having earned the needed recognition, I could be confident. The stories of Hollywood starlets being discovered at the lunch counter sounded just about right to me. Someone was going to find/see/acclaim my good qualities and then I could act with confidence, do things I dared not do otherwise.

It took me a long time to discover that my thinking was absolutely backward not on one, but two, counts.

In the first place I came to understand that true confidence has nothing to do with anyone else’s recognition of your gifts and good qualities, but lies in your own ability to see, claim, and appreciate those qualities.

bar-blue-business-533347Childhood lessons on humility made it difficult for me to recognize, claim, and celebrate my gifts. It was good to be good at things but not good to make too much of a fuss (or expect too much of a fuss) about them. The fantasy of someone else “discovering” me would let me get around the moral minefield of bragging – my genius would be pointed out by someone else. Aside from the obvious drawback that lunch counter discoveries of talent are rare indeed, they also put all of one’s sense of being enough in someone else’s hands. They put a tremendous amount of personal power in the hands of strangers.

The other thing that I had all wrong was the relationship between confidence and doing the things I wanted to do. I thought the confidence had to come first. It never occurred to me that I had the capacity to develop that confidence by taking action on my own behalf while I was still unsure, unsteady or even scared to death. I didn’t understand that waiting until I was “ready” to do the things I most wanted to do was really just me delaying BOTH those experiences AND the opportunity to develop my sense of confidence by taking risks, by taking action.

All of those steps I was delaying seemed too big to me, too scary. I was all caught up in a story that I didn’t have what it took to complete them, that I needed something else first. What I really needed first was a belief in my value as a human (worth conferred at birth by the way) and the willingness to act while afraid.

I needed the strategy of breaking big steps forward into tiny micro-steps so I could build confidence in my capacity and trust that 1) I will do what needs doing and 2) I will be okay even if those things don’t go well or create the results I am looking for.

adult-beautiful-close-up-936065-2I have those tools now. And I know I will be okay. I see that I have something to offer and I am building confidence every time I act in courage – taking steps when I am afraid. The fear doesn’t really go away if I keep reaching and growing but my increased confidence allows me to gather that courage and do it anyway.

Taking those steps, no matter how small, feels like reaching out with root and branch in a burst of self-supporting growth and bloom. It seems to me that the best parts of our life do this; they look like expansion and nourishment at the same time, and they are holy, sacred, and available to all of us. Even me. Even you.

30 Days of Freedom

I’ve been doing a little experiment, 30 Days of Freedom. It was all on Facebook, so if you haven’t seen it, find me and friend up! It has really been an interesting ride and frankly, I can’t recommend my experiment enough. The idea was to consciously choose an action every day that made me feel more free.

Choose to feel freeSome of the things that I chose to do were concrete, tangible, like jumping on my kids’ trampoline. Other actions really brought me face to face with how I think and how that makes me feel. And that’s the real lesson here for all of the freedom assignments I gave myself. The real lesson lies in the conscious examination of what was going on in my head that made me feel constrained, confined, limited. It’s life coaching 101, and I got a thirty day dose. I claim feeling more free as my goal, which means consciously looking in the spaces of constraint and limitation is a must.

Jumping on my kids’ trampoline wasn’t about having fun, although it was, mostly, fun. It wasn’t about looking silly, although that was surely part of it as well. It was about challenging my tendency to dismiss moments of silliness and play in favor of productivity and work. It was about finding the playfulness that I forget is just as important as the other things I feel. It was about firmly telling my inner timekeeper that I really DID have 10 minutes to go outside (without walking the dog) and simply play. This is a thought that I need to consciously practice. I could come up with a neat explanation for why my head works that way, but it’s not really the point. What’s really important is seeing what I’m thinking and challenging it, questioning, asking if it serves me, and if it doesn’t, trying on a different thought.

The importance of the thoughts over the actions I was choosing to take became crystal clear to me over the weekend. My sister and I had cooked up a long weekend at the Delaware shore with our families. My kids were really excited to see and get in the ocean, and I was excited to see it and spend time away with loved ones. As we prepared for the trip I began to think about my freedom challenge, and my recent lack of enthusiasm for really getting in the ocean (beyond say calf deep). It occurred to me that this could be a great freedom challenge. I used to get in the ocean. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed that. At some point I became more aware of large and dangerous sea creatures and that combined with a growing sense of my own mortality convinced me that calf high was just about right. But that policy felt limiting. It felt uncomfortable. I felt like I was missing out. So I hatched a plan to really do it this time, to get in, to share the ocean with my kids the way my Mom shared it with me, fully immersed and jumping over waves.

The first day we were there I sort of used as my prep day. I stared the ocean down a bit, while marveling at the beauty. I felt myself get used to the chilly water. I felt the salt on my skin and in the air. I watched my kids and my nephew and remembered how much fun it was. I prepared. On Friday, I vowed, I would get in. I would challenge this fear to release myself from it. I would be more free… tomorrow.

And so Friday came, and with it came monster waves. I have NEVER seen waves like that in the Mid-Atlantic. They were Hawaii quality waves. They were giant. They were relentless. The undertow was VERY strong. The red flags were up on the lifeguard chairs down on the guarded beach. And so I sat with my challenge. And I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed of being afraid. I felt ashamed of waiting to claim a little freedom. I felt ashamed of the fact that I did not want to get in that ocean. I felt ashamed of reigning my kids in and limiting their experience, afraid I was just foisting limiting baggage onto them. I got myself pretty hemmed in with all of that shame and fear. It felt pretty awful.

And then I remembered. I remembered that my freedom challenge wasn’t about doing things I was afraid of. It was about the reasons. It was about the thoughts. It was about the stories I tell myself about what I choose and don’t choose. Watching grown men and women exit the ocean out of breath and a little scared proved to be all the data I needed to snap out of it. I wasn’t letting fear RULE me, I was choosing. I was choosing for me and choosing for my feather-weight kids. I was choosing based on the information that was all around me, not because of my ancient distrust of sharks. I was CHOOSING. THAT is what it feels like to be free, I just didn’t recognize it. I got so caught up in changing my behavior I forgot to look at what I was thinking. I have been afraid of the ocean because of sharks. This weekend I was afraid of not being a strong enough swimmer to guide myself and my kids through the roughest surf I have ever been in. THAT is different. I looked around and noticed that all of the other Moms thought it was different too.

true freedom is an inside jobThe only thing that was keeping me from being free in the surf this weekend was me. I set myself up and then tore myself down for being a responsible parent. I set myself up and then forgot about the whole point. I forgot that I have the power to choose the story I tell myself. I forgot that I have the power to make decisions as I like, as they serve me, that I can choose to feel shame or I can choose to simply choose presence in the face of the sand and surf. I can choose disappointment for my children or I can choose gratitude for the experience that we WERE having, which was pretty amazing. I can choose what I call freedom for me and choose how and when I push those boundaries. I can choose. Free.