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 Our behavior towards them often dictated by events from years ago; their understandings of us often hopelessly outdated or falsely based on a single event, a temporary pattern, or a developmental stage.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.

The Benefit of Doubt

Over the last few years I’ve become a close observer of how I interact with other people.

That sounds kind of stalker-esque and creepy.

What I mean is that I’m a lot more aware of what parts of a conversation I’m responsible for, what parts are completely out of my control, and which parts are imagined and therefore none of my business.

Yesterday I heard that I had been left off a list – I didn’t get the invite. It was a pretty big deal – big event, big emotions, old baggage. It was unintentional. Nothing was meant by it, but my mind didn’t want to let it be. It really wanted to turn this into something. It didn’t need me to raise a ruckus about it, but it wanted to chew on it and make it mean something hurtful. I turned to my friend literal listening.

What is literal listening?

blond-blurred-background-cars-825982Literal listening is paying close attention to all of the words that are actually spoken, asking for clarification as needed and, here’s the kicker, not inserting any additional words, interpretations, subtexts, feelings, hostility, or anything else you might be inclined to insert. You take in and respond to exactly what is said.

The key question to literal listening is: “What is (or was) actually being said? What words were used?” Notice there’s no: “What did so and so REALLY mean?” in that formulation. Literal listening assumes that speakers will say what they mean and that listeners will ask for clarification as needed.

Why is literal listening useful?

Literal listening protects our feelings, our energy levels, keeps us from wasting time, and allows us to focus on what is true and necessary. Literal listening does all of this by preventing us from getting into someone else’s business, and by that I mean what they think of us. Let me back up a little here because I don’t think I’ve talked about this for a while.

I firmly believe that what other people think of me is absolutely none of my business. It is an idea I personally got from a writer named Byron Katie, but I know it’s around in other places as well. What people have in their heads about me is their problem, not mine. When I spend a lot of time interpreting, inferring, assuming, and detecting, I am actually invading their privacy; let’s face it, while there seems to be less evidence of it these days, adults do self-edit sometimes, and that’s a good thing. If the person you are engaged with has chosen NOT to tell you what they think of you, shouldn’t they have that option? Mightn’t it be better that way?

There is an important effect here for the late night mind monkeys. Literal listening strips away all of the grist for our rotten story weavers and lets us simply face the facts as we actually KNOW them to be.

When is literal listening helpful?

Literal listening is particularly helpful when we’re interacting with the people in our lives who are difficult or with whom we have baggage: maybe we even know they don’t like us be we are tied to them in some way that makes no contact unavoidable. Maybe we know we don’t like them but haven’t quite managed to rearrange our social circles yet. Maybe it’s a co-worker who is difficult and unpleasant. Maybe it’s a boss who tends to be short with praise and long on condescending looks and deep sighs. Clearly there’s stuff there, but do we really want to enter into the kind of conversation we would have to have to clear it all up with ALL of those people? Would we even have that opportunity? I’m pretty sure there are a lot of work environments where team counseling is not an option. I know there are family situations where that would take years.

Literal listening allows us to engage with the people with whom we have baggage, real or imagined, and still accomplish the things we need to accomplish without taking on more emotional burden.

It allows us to interact with people with whom we have insecurities and maybe old wounds without taking on more hits.

It allows us to continue to function and take responsibility for what we do and say in environments that feel emotionally charged.

It allows us to find some room to simply be and be ourselves and requires adults who have a problem with that to actually come out and say something.

ask-blackboard-356079For me literal listening gives me a way to rewind the tape when my story teller gets rolling. When I am deciding what people think of me, what they REALLY meant, why they did what they did or said what they said or what they REALLY think and then looking for evidence for all of that horrible stuff, I can take a big deep breath and ask myself: “Do I know any of that? Is it true? Was it actually said? What WAS actually said? Am I creating a problem by invading his/her private thoughts? Am I making myself suffer by trying to figure out the subtext?” I can benefit from the doubt that arises when I ask myself these questions.

That doubt allows me to stop the storyteller, and to thank her for trying to protect me all of the time. I can give her a pat on the head and suggest she take a nap while I review the words that were actually spoken and remove all of the meanings I’m so tempted by old wounds and insecurity to add. I can choose, even if someone really IS being rotten, I can always choose to not take that in and make it part of me, and oh my how much better that feels.

 

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

 

Let Them Be Wrong

A lesson for the holidays and everyday…

In my last post I talked about ways to rewrite our family stories. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. For many of us taking a look at those old family stories is absolutely critical to emotional adulthood, to clean functionality in the real world, and to having a shot at really creating a life we love. There are all kinds of stories that are dream life and peaceful holiday killers.

TODAY I want to talk about a particular kind of story.

TODAY I want to talk about the kind of story that involves you knowing what someone else thinks of you.

TODAY I will admit that I used to spend a lot of time in this particular kind of story.

I was pretty sure I knew what lots of people thought about me and I spent a LOT of time and energy trying to either repair/change those thoughts or prevent bad ones from emerging. It was totally exhausting AND it was really lonely because about 85% of the time in that scenario I was not being myself. I missed out on genuine connection with folks and friends, I missed myself. There is nothing quite so lonely as missing yourself.

Over the last few years I’ve stumbled into the necessity of examining what I was believing about how others felt about me. It was not pretty. And it was wrong on a lot of fronts. For example:

  1. when people judge youMany of those beliefs were based on old data. One of my old family stories revolved around me being spoiled. I was the youngest, by a bit of a stretch, and as happens with many families my parents’ financial circumstances improved over time. I was dubbed the spoiled one (and yes, it was said, often with good-humored ribbing but on more than one occasion as a character evaluation – here’s what’s wrong with you kind of thing). I’m 48 now. My parents don’t buy my stereo equipment. Old data.
  2. Many of those beliefs were based on the idea that other people’s opinions of me are static. They said it once, they must always believe that to be true. Yeah, because everything I think has stayed completely the same since I was 12…
  3. Many of those beliefs assumed that people spent a whole lot more time paying attention to and judging me than would really be reasonable. Why on earth was I under the impression that they were so interested in what I was up to?
  4. Many of those beliefs were based on the assumption that if other people thought something bad about me, I had to do something about it.

My spoiled story shows all of these things. What’s interesting about this story is not that I took that assessment in, but that I got real clear on the fact that there were family members who saw me that way and I made that their permanent opinion of me. I never worried that I WAS actually spoiled, but I hated it that they thought I was. And I thought that they thought I was spoiled on a continuous and regular basis, as though they were doctors assessing an injury for healing or further damage. I interpreted so many interactions through this lens, and I was determined to do something about it. I thought that I needed to be good, or make it right, or let them see how I really am – surely they would change their minds if they knew me better. They would feel better about me, and I would feel better about myself if I just let them see the right stuff.

when people are meanAnd then one day it dawned on me. I could choose to stop doing anything about this belief. Whether it was true that they were judging me or not became irrelevant if  I could just decide to let them be wrong. That’s it. Because what they think of me doesn’t do me any harm at all if I don’t agree and I don’t get into their business. If I don’t put time, energy, and worry into what’s going on in their hearts and heads, I can just let them be wrong. And let’s just say they ARE judging me… who loses in this scenario? Not me. Because I’m staying out of it. If they want to miss out, so be it. “Who’s opinion of you matters the most?” I ask my daughter whenever some toxic mean girl crap arises at school. “Mine Mommy, my opinion matters most.” That’s right girl. If my opinion of me is okay, then what they think or don’t think doesn’t matter. If my opinion of me is not okay then THAT’s what I should be spending my time on, not trying to figure out how other people feel about me. I can just let them be wrong.

And when I do this, when I let other people be wrong, I am freed from the tyranny of proving myself. I am freed from the push and pull of faking it the right way versus being myself. I am freed from the endless tension that getting in other people’s business inevitably creates. When I do this I am free to relax and just be, and that sounds like a pretty good recipe for a better holiday, or any day.

What would change if you could let people be wrong about you? How much time, energy, and sleep could you reclaim? Maybe it’s time to 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.