Growing Roots (A Series): Part II

On Making People Your Roots

There was a commercial many years ago that always brought me to tears. It was Christmastime, early morning, and a young man arrives at what can only be his parents’ (beautiful) home. He is carrying bags and it seems that he is not expected. His mother comes down the stairs to find him – is overwhelmed by joy, and then they have coffee, the “best part of waking up.” The moment the producers of the ad filmed is the best version of what we want from home, from being rooted: acceptance, love, beautiful surroundings, familiarity, and a warm beverage. Really, it was quite a scene.

Family, where we’re always accepted, loved, where things are always familiar and beautiful and we can always find common ground over a cup of coffee… Ahhhh.

adult-affection-beach-936018Yeah, no, not me either, and I have a pretty good family. I say that like there’s some universal scale for judging families. What I mean is that my family’s dysfunctions tend to be low-level enough that they are not apparent to the casual observer and can often be bypassed with determined politeness. I recognize that in the family dysfunction Olympics, we are not on the winning team. And even with that said, my family has not always been a place of rootedness for me – a place of finding strength in the storm, a place of holding on when everything seems to be falling apart.

And I daresay that my family is not unique in the fact that sometimes they are the locus of my storm. Sometimes they are what seems to be at the heart of my falling apart. Sometimes they are the wind and the hail and the drought that makes my roots necessary. This is not some horrific betrayal on their part, merely a failure to be anything but human.

Family Scripts

The dynamics of family are complicated and sometimes painful, tangled in expectation and old wounds. Our behavior towards them often dictated by events from years ago; their understandings of us often hopelessly outdated or falsely based on a single event, a temporary pattern, or a developmental stage.

We see this when families get together and re-enact the same scripts over and over again. The patterns of interaction are predictable because they are ancient and ingrained. We know what they will say. They know what we will do. We are all caught in a play that stunts our growth by failing to leave room for something new. There is no improvising and being the one who steps outside of that script, who changes the rules, can be daunting and exhausting, unappreciated and met with disapproval. The roles we play in our families can make real rooting, a search for authenticity and growth difficult.

When I get together with my family, I become the quiet one. Yes, really. This person running on at the mouth (well, the digital mouth as it were) can go the better part of a holiday event without saying much of anything. The competition for airtime is too intense for my liking, and when I try to join in on the ribbing and merry teasing that my family loves, I miss the mark and offend someone every time. Quiet is safer. Quiet is predictable. Quiet and apart maintains the structure of our interactions that was established when my siblings were all born two years apart and I trailed behind by a few more years. Status quo please and thank you.

We all like stability and predictability. This is, after all, part of what we seek in hoping to feel rooted. This same yearning can make the dynamics of family unsafe for change. What are we to do then, if these iconic containers (home, hearth, and family) for rootedness and connection are false?

chatting-cups-dog-745045One answer many people choose is community – building a hearth and home of one’s own by carefully selecting a group of confidantes, playmates, treasured humans with whom we can entrust the most tender parts of ourselves. I’ve constructed my own “framily” over the years. Most of my twenties were spent with a group of four couples, most of whom I still count among my closest friends. Framily can do a lot to keep us sane, keep us motivated, keep us warm when it gets really cold in the big world. I can and have found a great deal of comfort and wisdom in my chosen beloved community, but there was no magical rooting feeling that arose with that effort.

My sense of rootedness, of the capacity to draw strength and dig into peace only really began when I started to look for those things, and to toy with the idea that I could find them, within myself.

Roots are Grown, Not Given

beautiful-black-blur-987627It was only when I began the difficult task of truly accepting all of myself, even the parts that I was ashamed of, that I began to grow and feel those roots of acceptance.

It was only when I began the herculean task of loving myself – even the body that aggravated me – that I began to grow the roots of unconditional love.

It was only when I began to toy with the idea that this ME, this person, this incredibly complex combination of genetic material, cosmic timing, and individual experiences is enough, is perfectly formed for this world and all that I want to do in it, that I began to grow roots of strength and sustenance.

It was only when I began to acknowledge that all that has happened to me and every choice I’ve made has taught me, modeled me, and guided me to now that I began to grow roots of trust.

As I continue my own journey of rootedness, I have begun to explore the ideas of a divine and benevolent force that I had discarded after one too many personal tragedies. I’ve begun to find new sources of strength, love, and compassion to tap into but the gateway, even for these “higher planes” is always through me, through openness, through love.

Where are you looking for your roots? Do you feel them? Have you looked inside?

Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Back, Baby

Yes, I know that’s not how the song goes.

I REALLY do know because I used to sing that song, in front of humans, on a stage, with beer.

And that’s the song (minus the beer) that came to mind when I thought of this pretty high woo concept today…

You see every now and again I draw a card for myself, from an oracle deck. If none of that means anything to you that’s OK. Oracle decks are illustrated cards that allow users to explore an idea, a choice, a decision. Cards that are well-written contain a pretty substantial share of wisdom. I find them useful. Let’s leave it at that for now because it’s not the point. We can talk more about these cards later if you want.

The point is I pulled a card this morning called Soul Retrieval. Whoa. Right? I mean no matter who you are and what you believe, that phrase seems like a kind of big deal. And it’s not the first time I’ve gotten this card. It’s not even the first time this season I’ve gotten this card, so I decided to really give it a good read.

art-asia-candle-751077The interpretation for this card taken at its most WOO assumes reincarnation, and the idea is that you may have parts of yourself, your core being, or at least some energy, stuck in another time or place and you need those parts here and now.

Yeah, like I said it’s high WOO. But really, the idea, if you break it down, isn’t so very woo and has some widely applicable elements that I want to take a look at.

The core suggestion here is that we can get stuck in the past.

And yes, you’ve heard that phrase “stuck in the past” so many times that it is trite, a cliche and at least in this case, the reason the phrase is part of our common parlance is because it’s a thing that happens.

It is entirely possible to get stuck in a moment, in a conflict, in an argument, in a trauma, in an event, in a temporary role, in a version of yourself, in a pattern… Are you picking up what I’m laying down or do I need to keep going here – because if you’ve been around for a while you know I can keep going.

attractive-beautiful-beauty-594421We can get stuck in the past in a way that makes the way we live today more difficult, less engaged, less wholehearted than we could be. I’m pretty sure we can all agree to that point. We’ve all had relationships that make us act differently with other people with whom we might consider having a relationship. Those of us with siblings have likely noticed a little age regression when we gather together. Those of us who’ve experienced personal tragedy can likely recount the ways that things have been different from that time on.

And this isn’t all to say that you shouldn’t be changed by your experiences. Because beloveds, we are definitely here to be changed by our experiences. BUT are we here to continually be drained by something that is over? Are we meant to prevented from having new experiences by the old ones? I don’t think so.

So what do we do?

We have to reclaim that energy. We have to redirect our focus. We have to retrieve our souls.

Sometimes this means some forgiveness. I’m not going to tell you it always does because I’m not comfortable being that strictly prescriptive, but… Let me just add here that forgiveness is not for the person who wronged you. It is for you, pure and simple. It doesn’t mean you will forget what was done or that you will decide it was okay. It simply means that you are willing to let go of the poison you sip every time you drink from the well of anger you have about it. Your attention and your energy will no longer go towards that moment, that conflict, even in being right about it.

Sometimes reclaiming that piece of ourselves just means realizing that that moment, that interaction, that situation is in the past and you are not. I have at times said: “That is not happening right now. That already happened. It is over. I am here, now,” to remind myself of who I am and the fact that I already made it through that moment, that conflict, that tension. I don’t need to do it again. I don’t need to perpetuate it in any way. I don’t need to relive, rethink, reconsider, re-do it. The feelings I had in that moment are the result of thoughts I had at the time that I don’t need to continue to choose today – aye, there’s the rub.

In reclaiming our energy, in redirecting our focus, in retrieving the soul, there are choices to make, simple choices that can feel really BIG.

Choices like: 1) I am choosing to be present, to attend to and notice what is actually happening and how I am reacting. 2) I am releasing my need to be right about something that has passed. 3) I am releasing thoughts and emotions that were based on one moment that has passed and that are hindering my progress, and 4) I am redirecting my energy to who and what I am today.

beach-heart-love-161002There. Simple. Right?

I know. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is entirely possible, and wouldn’t you like to be here now, all of you, all of your energy, all of your resources?

What would be different if you weren’t stuck in time, if you could gather up all the little pieces of your heart and hold them all inside your chest right now? Who would you be then? I’d love to help you find out.

Rewriting Your Family Stories for the Holidays

There are so many great things about the holiday season, and for many folks that includes spending time with family. For some, that particular part of the puzzle is more complicated than just straight-up joy. There may be a variety of reasons for that complexity, but I guarantee that if there’s baggage there, there are also stories.

A friend of mine likes to say that one of the reasons that our family is so good at pushing our buttons is that they are the ones who helped sew them on in the first place. Our families of origin are co-creators in some of our worst stories. The negative things we tell ourselves are sometimes just echoes of things we were told as kids. The negative ideas we have about relatives may have been formed on the basis of one particularly bad interaction, or a pattern that held 20, 30, 40 years ago. Those stories don’t age well. Our stories get more entrenched the longer we let them stick around, and our ability to see evidence that suggests that we’re wrong diminishes over time.

have a better holiday with your familySo there’s the holiday dilemma for many people. There are still these stories about who we are, about who they are, about the way “we” do things, and then we’re all supposed to get together and have the best time we’ve had all year, which I’d like to point out, is also a story.

Here’s the thing. All of that stuff is optional. All of it, from the bottom to the top. Getting together with your family is optional  – and I hear all of you saying: “but you don’t understand, you don’t know my family. I could never get away with that because….” Yeah. Optional. You can choose not to participate. Might there be consequences? Yes, but it’s still optional. And the way those consequences impact you? Also optional. But I realize that kettle of fish might be too big to consider just this minute.

Let’s assume that you still want to get together with your family, just without so much tension or anxiety or whatever form your holiday complexity takes. You can totally choose to do that. It may take some practice, but it is totally do-able.

First you’re going to need to become a keen observer – not of what everyone else is doing wrong or saying wrong or being rude about – but of what’s going on in your own head and how it impacts your heart. You need to notice what you are thinking about these people and about yourself. You need to notice what assumptions you are making. You need to notice how you are interpreting what they say (even when you have tons of evidence from the past that points to your interpretation being absolute truth). You need to notice what you are thinking that is hurting you. Examples of family stories you might want to pay special attention to: your “role” in the family, how you’ve “always” gotten along or not gotten along with so and so, the way so and so REALLY feels about you, anything you need to prove to anyone, your level of responsibility for the happiness of others – am I hitting anything for you yet?

Here’s the secret about this first step: even if this is all you do differently, it will still help SO MUCH. When you become an observer of your thoughts and feelings, you are far less likely to get caught up in them and react/act impulsively/co-create drama. When you become that observer (the watcher), you give yourself a little emotional distance and it becomes infinitely easier to allow multiple interpretations, to see other perspectives, and to simply allow other people to be wrong, rude, or hurtful without it having to mean anything to you personally. Watch yourself with curiosity and compassion and your family gathering will be a whole different ball game. Notice how things change. Notice the amount of personal power there is in how you respond and react (or don’t).

If you want to take it a bit further, you’ll need to acknowledge that the things that you are thinking may not be actual facts. They may be opinions and you could be wrong. They may be assumptions that you’ve been making for years. They may be someone else’s garbage that you’ve decided to lug around. If you’re like me the idea of just being wrong doesn’t really help, but it sure does when I realize that means I get to decide to think and feel something different. I’ve talked a lot about this thought changing business, but it’s rarely as transformative as it can be when we decide to take on our family stories, those carefully sewn on buttons.

So what can you do once you’ve decided that maybe the things you are thinking aren’t serving you? How do you think something different? You choose and practice new thoughts.

And here’s where you think I’m going to hand you a bunch of really sunshiney affirmations – no worries on that front – like, at all. When you choose to believe something different, you don’t just decide to feed yourself a really pretty sounding lie – even though to be fair you may have been feeding yourself an ugly lie before. When you want to change how you think, you need to choose a new thought that is better than the old one, but still believable. Sometimes you need to give new thoughts a test drive – is this something that’s going to cause me to constantly argue with myself or does it bring a little relief, a sense of possibility, a little compassion to myself or others. You have to choose to actively practice a thought that will improve your situation but that maybe isn’t quite the rainbow glitter unicorn of a thought you’d really LOVE to believe if it wasn’t so incredibly outlandish.

When you feel your old story rearing up, remind yourself that it’s a choice, and actively think that new thought. Remind yourself that you aren’t responsible for everyone’s holiday or that you have no idea what they think of you. Remind yourself that you don’t have to revert to your 14 year old self. Remind yourself that you get to decide who you will be both within and outside of the family.

Reduce your family dramaAnd then notice how you feel. And notice what happens to your complex family gathering. Notice as your ability to enjoy increases and your stress level decreases. Take heart in your capacity to change yourself and, oftentimes, everything around you, just by changing your mind.

 

Living YOUR Life

I was listening to a conversation between Oprah and India Arie the other day while walking my dog (okay, can we just pause in awe of the miracle of technology in that sentence). For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, India Arie is a musician who had a meteoric rise to fame about 15 years ago, took a break from music, and then returned on her own terms.

Being a perfect daughterIn discussing this time with Oprah, Ms. Arie said that she realized that in her early incarnation in the music business, she was not living her own life, but was rather inhabiting the one her mother wanted for her. She was doing all of the things she knew her mother would want her to do so she could have all of the things she knew her mother would want her to have. She was living her mother’s imagined daughter’s life. BAM. It was a revelation that pointed the way to an obvious set of next steps, starting with figuring out what she wanted independent of all of that.

It was a great conversation and as I listened I reflected on all of the different ways that we can live someone else’s version of our own lives. When I went to college, I was at something of a loss for what to study. My best times in high school were spent on the stage: singing and acting. I told friends I wanted to be a history teacher, but I think I really wanted to keep being on stage.

But somehow, I became convinced that this was not a pursuit I was meant to undertake, and when I let that super secret dream go, I was adrift. I enjoyed my history classes, but not enough. I began to take political science classes, a “more practical” version of history was my justification. In truth, I had grown up in the D.C. suburbs, and my understanding of careers included a lot of folks who likely studied political science, either formally or on the floor of the buildings in the capitol. I began to sketch out a version of myself that I think had everything to do with people I’d seen and admired and not much to do with where I felt on fire. I began to tell myself what people wanted for me, what my parents would respect (I didn’t ask them mind you, just decided for them) and charted a course that worked and got me finished in four years.

I was living someone else’s life – one that I made up for them. I was meeting expectations that were purely fictitious. And over time, the gap between my fictitious life and the one in my heart or the one I had yet to discover demonstrated itself in a variety of ways. I tried jobs on. I tried ideas on. I switched around, moved house, changed coasts. I kept shifting back and forth between doing what felt right and doing what “WAS RIGHT.” And if you’d asked me where that pressure was coming from, the pressure to do anything other than live my own unique life, I would have cited external sources every time.

Finding a pathI didn’t have the maturity or wisdom or emotional honesty to realize that I had done it to myself. A pushy parent or overbearing spouse can only go so far in taking us away from our path, as demonstrated by the fact that I had neither. To really diverge from our path, we have to submit to the desires of others (including the desires we imagine they have) and resist our own inclinations. We have to subvert our internal wiring and discipline ourselves thoroughly. We have to stop living our own lives and live someone else’s. Having a deeper, fuller, more satisfying time on this earth requires us to live our own lives.

These ideas we have about why we don’t do that very thing: other people, practicality, reality, logistics, responsibility… they’re all baloney. They’re all there to keep us from having to face what we really want in the world and find the courage to do that. When we give our choices to other people, when we make them responsible, we give our power away wholesale. We surrender everything we need to be our best selves.

“But,” you say: “I DO have responsibilities…” Yes, you do. Where on that list of responsibilities are YOU?

Boom.

I love you.

j

The “If…. Then…” of Relating to Other Humans

“If I don’t take care of this…”

“If I don’t get it right…”

“If I decide to just be myself…”

“If I choose what I’d actually like to do…”

“If I say what I really think…”

“If I wear the clothes I want to wear…”

“If I hurt his feelings…”

“If I do anything less that A+ work…”

Then what?

What if they don't like meThen they will all find out who I really am? Then they will all find out I’m not perfect? Then they can choose not to like me anymore? Then they will know the thing I’ve always known, inside, that I’ll never fit in, I’ll never be good enough, that I’ll never be safe just being myself here. Then they will know and I will know that they will know and that will be so painful.

But my dear darling THIS is already so painful. I know because I was a master of the double life. I discovered early in my teenage years that my grades were the barometer that my parents used to discern whether or not I was “okay” in the world. If I kept my grades up, I could get away with a LOT. And the longer I kept my grades up and did all of the things that a high-achieving student would do, the more trust they gave. More weekends away, fewer questions about my destination and my company, more really bad explanations for things accepted without further question. I had parties (big parties). I smoked cigarettes in the car. I skipped classes. Even now I’m uncomfortable writing this because there are family members for whom some piece of that might be new information. I took full advantage of the freedom that was given to me.

And the whole time, and for many years after, I was stunned by the fact that nobody was calling me on it, that nobody was catching me, that nobody actually KNEW what was going on and tried to stop me. I had built a double life. I was really good at it. I tried to fool them, and it worked. So yay! Yeah, not so much.

Not so much because the whole time that I was enjoying my secret life, what I really wanted was for someone to know me. I felt so lonely (maybe just in a 17 year old girl way, but it seems deeper, even in retrospect). I so wanted to be all of the parts and have it be known, even if there were consequences. I so wanted to ditch the fear that if they found out they wouldn’t love me anymore. My double life made me complex and cool to my friends and still allowed me to win gold stars with my family. I got all of the “awards” I was looking for and it just didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because what I was hung up on was how they felt about me. All of my secrecy and all of the entertainment I provided for my friends was to ensure that they all felt good about me. The entire “If… then…” world that I had built up failed to acknowledge the depth of feeling anyone had for me (like they actually love you kid, even if you screw up or aren’t cool). And to make matters worse, not one bit of all of that effort did anything about how I felt about myself.

imposter sydromeIt’s easy to see this in a teenage story, because we have myths about how insecurity is a natural part of being an adolescent, that somehow just dissipates as our bodies mature. But the truth is that for many of us this “if… then…” way of relating continues long after we reach the age of majority. We make so many decisions based on how other people will feel about us. We act in ways to shore up public opinion, as though we will appear on page 6 if we get it wrong. We fear that we will be fired if we make the smallest error at work. We’re sure that our upcoming presentation might be the breaking point when everyone will find out how unqualified we really are. We just know that if we relax and show our true selves that we won’t have any friends left. If… then…

I’ve been deconstructing some of my if then thinking over the last couple of years. And I want to tell you a few things about that:

  • I’ve never been fired, even when I make mistakes or tell the truth.
  • I still have friends, maybe even more friends, certainly deeper friendships.
  • I’m not so very tired after every social engagement. I’m still an introvert, but I’m not working so hard all of the time.
  • I feel free to try new things, risk things personally and professionally because I’m not so worried about what everybody else thinks.
  • Paying more attention to what I think of me has been the greatest gift I could possibly give myself.

Are you living a double-life? Maybe yours doesn’t have house parties and hidden cigarette butts – maybe yours looks more like putting things off until you’re sure you can get it perfect; maybe yours looks like constantly putting your own needs on the back-burner so you won’t seem selfish; maybe yours looks like waiting for the other shoe to drop at work, at home, with friends. Aren’t you tired of it all?

What would happen if you just decided to be a little more yourself? Dipped a toe into the water of telling the truth and doing what you want? Maybe it’s time to find out.