When Your Belief Falters

This sounds like a title for a totally spiritual post, and in some ways I suppose this is, but the beliefs I want to address aren’t just about whether or not there is a divine force in the universe and what the true nature of humanity is. Don’t get me wrong, we can totally have those conversations. I’m the daughter of one and sister of another Episcopal priest. I am also married to a Unitarian Universalist seminarian. I can totally go there. What I wanted to say up front is that if that’s not your bag, you still have beliefs that this post applies to.

adult-blur-burn-783200I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve been having a tough time of it. I suspect a hormonal element, but don’t want to get diverted by a conversation of peri-menopause, because yeah, I don’t have many words about that that anybody wants to hear. Point is, in this tough time, I felt some beliefs shaking a bit. Some of them were new beliefs – things I’ve worked out, chosen, built up in the last several years. Some of them were old beliefs that I’ve been rediscovering. They all, collectively, felt great. And while I was feeling great I kind of forgot that beliefs and faith in just about anything don’t register at the same level on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. There is a bit of an ebb and flow here. We wrestle with our beliefs and our faith in our minds. When we decide what we think about something, that’s not usually the end of the story. Old ideas re-emerge to challenge our decisions. Circumstances around us prompt us to doubt. The failure of the world to bend to our will and reflect our cherished positive beliefs can shake things up too. Ebb and flow.

I was discussing this shakeup with a trusted mentor and she asked me an important question: “What anchors do you have for when things get tough?” In other words, what can help buoy you? (I am avoiding an urge to talk about the spelling of that word.) Note that the question wasn’t: “What makes everything better? How do we add glitter to that? Where do you keep your rainbow unicorns?” It was “What helps keep you steady when the seas get dark and stormy?”

I thought about it and was able to answer with some daily practices that I usually participate in: prayer, journaling, exercise of some kind, and meditation of one form or another. Yes, it’s a lot. But it’s also not. THAT is probably a separate post.

The point is that these are the things that I’ve found that help to fill my cup when I am empty, that make my body feel good and my mind feel more peaceful, that bring clarity and oftentimes a sense connection that I crave. These are the things that keep me anchored. And so I have entered into a covenant with myself; I have promised to pursue these practices and, more importantly, I have acknowledged the increased importance of performing them when the legs on my table feel a little shaky.

It is the practices, the deeds, the daily devotions (or routines if you’re more comfortable with that, it’s just words) that create the bridge between ecstatic certainty and a return of hope. It is keeping the practical promises we make to ourselves when we are most connected, most certain, most sure that allows us to ride out the storm of uncertainty. It is the practice, because that’s the word we use right – practice, that allows us to refine our understanding of acting in faith even when our faith in ourselves, the divine, or the world falters.

A mentor of mine wisely encourages people to write these things down: to write down the promises you make to yourself about what you’re going to do to keep yourself anchored (even more structured people might even suggest you, gasp, schedule that ish). It’s not just spiritual practices, it’s decisions, ideas, projects, things you think might help/feel good/make your world better – all of that needs to get written down because stress wipes the slate clean. The cortisol hits your bloodstream and you become an idiot. I guess I should say that’s what happens for me – maybe stress makes you smarter, although the scientific literature suggests that’s unlikely.

That brain wipe thing, that’s pretty much what happened over this last dark spell. I had a pretty significant and exciting list of both devotional/mindset/get right with body and soul practices AND plans for business going into that space and then – brain wipe. All of it disappeared. What was I going to do next? What was that great idea? Who was I going to talk to about collaborating and why? What? Why on earth am I spending so much time on all of this meditative hooey? What’s the point? I couldn’t remember any of it. I broke all of my promises to myself. And I say that NOT as a form of self-flagellation. Self-forgiveness has already been applied. It’s just interesting to notice how it all devolved.

I hit a rough patch, my beliefs felt challenged. That scared me. I got stressed. I dropped several of my daily devotions and I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing in my work. BOOM. I don’t want to say it all could have been avoided, but I do think the bottom, when I finally hit it, could have been higher… and who doesn’t want a higher bottom? (Yes, I amuse myself.)

beach-clouds-colour-674320I’ve been rambling for far too long here, and I’m trying desperately to bring things to a close, but I can assure you that there is no close on this particular topic. The relationship between me and my faith and between me and what I believe about myself and the world around me is an ever-evolving one. The covenants I make and the practices I keep may well need to shift over time as well. I’ll keep working at it. I’ll keep practicing. When it all goes in the tubes, I’ll try to keep my promises. If I forget again, I’ll remember the bottom line. Sometimes the best we can do is to care for the body, be gentle on the soul and wait for the tide to shift.

In love,

julia

 

Behind the Self-Sabotage Curtain

I have a photoshoot scheduled for later today.

It has been many, many years since I had a photoshoot.

bass-guitar-blur-close-up-167483The last one was during the tail end of my professional musician era and included lots of guitars, sunglasses, and highlighted hair. I knew exactly who to be for that one. And no, this isn’t me, but my seminarian is looking for the shots from that day for our collective amusement.

The photoshoot prior to that was my wedding day: June 5, 1999. That photoshoot featured unseasonably warm temperatures (I think it was about 150 F) and humidity that would have made Louisianians (it’s correct, I looked it up) uncomfortable.

We (my female posse) spent time getting my hair and makeup just right and after about 15 minutes it really didn’t matter. The careful curls were gone. The skin was a little too shiny to be cute. There was dripping.

But none of that is the real reason that I’m approaching this photo shoot with some trepidation. The truth is that for many years I was THAT mom: the Mom who avoided being in the picture at all costs. My inner critic was so merciless that any picture of me was unacceptable.

And here I am thinking I’m on the “other side.” The inner critic has pretty much left the building, although she makes the occasional appearance.

And so in scheduling this photoshoot, I had hoped to be excited about it. I had hoped to really be looking forward to it. I had hoped to get a little giddy in preparation mode – really girl-ing out.

But I’m not.

I thought about buying new clothes for it… and waited… so didn’t.

amplifier-analogue-audio-306088I thought about making a hair appointment for it… and waited… so didn’t.

I thought about getting a mani/pedi (my guitar playing nails are long right now for some reason)… and waited… so didn’t.

So there’s something in there that’s making me screw this up.

There’s something in there that has gotten in the way of my making this as fun and special as I possibly could.

There’s something in there that has told me to tone it down.

And in toning it down, I have let the air out of the proverbial tires.

I have toned it down, and now it doesn’t seem like it will be much fun, or like such a great idea, and hey, it’s probably going to rain again anyway so maybe I should just cancel.

There’s a little cycle happening in there. And I didn’t see it until just now.

I felt it as I worried with my hair the last few days, in our endless rain with a chance of lightning and flooding weather. I felt a kind of inadequacy. “This is never going to work, so maybe I should just skip it. I will never be happy with these pics, so why go to so much trouble?” And so I didn’t go to any trouble. And now I’m stressed and grouchy and pretty sure that all of that is what’s going to be on my face. I’ve never been very good at making the face say something radically different than what’s going on inside.

I know what my friends would say. It would be something nice about me being gorgeous and it will be great. And that’s nice, but I’m not feeling it. I’m feeling like a frizzy headed poor planner who’s going to have to act like someone else to make a go of this thing.

AHA!!! I found it. Thank you for playing backboard.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to act like someone else to make a go of this thing, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve done enough of that. I’ve done enough of that for a lifetime. It’s why it was okay to have a photoshoot in the armpit heat on my wedding day AND why I struggled to be in photos when my kids were young.

On my wedding day, there was no question of who I was going to be. I have always been myself with my husband, bless him. I wasn’t thrilled that I wouldn’t have a Pinterest perfect wedding picture, but I didn’t really care because I was there and I knew who I was and what I was doing.

When my twins were younger I was only one thing: really tired. And I didn’t want to be really tired Mom in the photos. I am in a few, and of those, I’d say 75% show really tired Mom. Like really tired Mom. I didn’t want more evidence of how I felt. I thought I’d have to be someone else to make a nice picture. I thought I’d have to act to have pictures that my inner critic could tolerate.

So there it is. Two pieces: my pictures have to be great (a thought) and I can’t be myself to get great pictures (also a thought). Well, no wonder I don’t want to do this.

What I am going to choose to believe is that I can be myself and be successful (including on my photoshoot).

What changes if I believe that? I relax (which means I’ll feel better and maybe smile without strain). I also remember that I hired a photographer to take a whole mess of pictures so we could be sure to get some shots that even I am happy with. As I believe I can be myself the worries of what to wear and exactly what to do about my hair diminish. Because no matter what I do on those fronts I will still be me, and I just need to remember that that’s okay, like really deeply, fundamentally perfect. Really.

What signals do you get when you’re engaged in a little self-sabotage? Do you procrastinate? Do you diminish yourself/your work/your talent/your beauty so that if the results aren’t what you want you won’t be disappointed? Do you tone it down and then find that you’ve let all of the air out of the tires?

If that sounds like you, I want to ask, what are you thinking? Not like what are you thinking in Mom voice as rhetorical question, but what are you thinking as in what’s the thought that’s at the bottom of that mess? Is it a fear of success or failure? Is it some notion of not being good enough as you are? What if you’re more than that?

coat-dancing-face-794062What if you are more than that and you’ve never had the chance to see it because of all of that toning it down? What would happen if you went full-volume?

I’m going to go listen to some music and pick out some clothes, both at high volume.

XO,

j

When Not Having a Choice is Better

pexels-photo-568027-2Years ago I was in a dark place. I had had a miscarriage and had nearly died in the process. My body and my spirit felt pretty broken and I couldn’t seem to see a way out.

Friends tried, in different ways, to help out. Some checked in. Some just sat with me. And one, in a moment of divine inspiration, found just the right thing to say – a goal I don’t really recommend as it is so easy to go wrong.

This particular friend is one of my closest and oldest friends. We’ve known each other since 7th grade. He worked from home at the time and I was a full-time graduate student. He called and asked if I wanted to join him at the dog park with my pooches.

As our canines played (well, and mine caused trouble), I described the difficulty I was having in following my usual routines. I didn’t want to go to class. I didn’t want to do the mountains of required reading. Writing papers seemed completely out of the question. I didn’t even really want to walk my dogs, a flashing neon signal that things were not right with me. He listened, really the best thing folks can do when someone has had a trauma, and during a pause he said: “What if you stopped seeing all of these things as a choice? What if they were just things you HAVE to do?”

Before I go further in, I want to assure you that I am not suggesting that the answer to anybody’s depression is just getting back to work. And I can honestly say that had my state of mind continued much longer, I likely would have benefited from medication to help my brain find it’s healthier pathways again. But in that moment, my friend’s words DID work for me.

Looking back on it now I recognize what was going on. He was reminding me that I had already made a commitment. I had already made a decision. And those commitments were to myself, to what I believed at the time was my highest good. Rather than asking myself: “Do I want to do this,” or “Do I feel up to that,” I might have just as easily asked myself if I was going to keep my commitment to myself that day. By allowing myself so much wiggle room, I was failing myself, and piling self-judgment about that failure onto my aching heart and soul.

It is so much easier to see this now, when I am self-employed and SO MUCH of my day relies on my ability to keep my commitments to myself. I could choose, at any time, to skip writing a blog post or skip creating a new PDF for folks. I could choose to skip networking lunches. I could choose to make bigger chunks of my schedule unavailable to clients. I could EASILY make myself  busy with the domestic demands of having high standards and children in the same physical space. I could do all of those things (and some days I would like to do that), but then I would not be keeping my commitments to myself.

The trouble with not keeping our commitments to ourselves is pretty deep trouble indeed. There is the initial trouble of allowing every action item to become a decision, which is TORTURE. We don’t do this with all of our action items, right? We don’t decide every morning whether or not we are going to brush our teeth. We just do it. We are committed to keeping our teeth clean. I, personally, am committed to not hearing a dentist’s drill any more often than absolutely necessary. So I don’t rethink this decision every day. I just do it. When it comes to our bigger commitments to ourselves, or to ones that we are not trained to do as children, we act like it’s reasonable to recheck our decisions whenever we’re not feeling fantastic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve got news for you. A big part of life is not feeling fantastic. Yep. And there are things you can do about that, but truth is no matter how good you get at managing your mind, you will not feel fantastic all of the time, so there will be days you won’t feel like it, whatever IT is. What can keep you going on a day like that? Sometimes for me it’s just relying on that decision by my yesterday self. SHE, who felt a little better and spent some time making decisions about what to do when, can be trusted and SHE needs me to follow-through, even when I don’t feel my best.

The other tricky bit about not keeping our commitments to ourselves is that we train our brains to distract us. When we so readily desert our plans in favor of whatever is shiny (or on FB or Netflix or even laundry), we are telling our brains that they should divert us in other ways. The message is clear: “I can be interrupted. I can be stopped.” And our brains love to hear that “I can be stopped” message because our most primitive selves, they really aren’t interested in all of this deeply satisfying forward motion. They are interested in keeping things the same. So when you reward the urge to be distracted, when you reward the urge to go off plan, you give that primitive brain encouragement to continue to distract you and tell you why your whole commitment idea really stinks anyway.

I know I’m sounding like a little bit of a hardass this morning, and it may be that I’m just talking to myself because it is rainy and miserable and cold here and it seems like a perfect day to ditch ALL of the plans. And there are times to do that. And there are reasons to not. For me, here in the dark, cold, wet gloom of Maryland February I felt the call of EVERYTHING ELSE. So I checked myself. What are my commitments to myself today? What did my earlier motivated planning self say we should do today if the field trip I was supposed to chaperone got canceled, because you KNOW that bossy bitch had a backup plan. Yes, she did. And it was even pretty nice. Just a couple of required items and then maybe a movie and a game with the kids. She planned it. I’m doing it, because sometimes it’s better not to have a choice.

Letting Ourselves Off The Wrong Hook

I was uncomfortable even writing that title because so much of the personal work I’ve needed to do over the last few years was to let myself off of the hook (the perfect Mom hook, the perfect student hook, the perfect whatever hook), BUT this particular hook that was brought to my attention this weekend intrigues me.

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. day in the U.S. Tributes were plentiful. And I do indeed find it right to honor the memory of that man and his work. One tribute got me to thinking. The speaker suggested that there is a danger in making a saint of MLK, of lionizing him too much, of thinking he was so much more than a regular man.

When we make a hero of someone, they become something extraordinary, something above the rest of us, something unreachable, perhaps entirely unattainable. And as we raise them up in honor, we let ourselves off the hook in our own actions, our own goals, our own choices. We can’t possibly expect that much of ourselves for we are just regular people.

WOW. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

There really can be two reactions to our heroes. They can inspire us to action, or they can make us sure that we couldn’t possibly have that kind of impact, be that good, achieve that much. We raise people up so high that we sell ourselves short.

I’m not going to spend the time here to remind everyone that Martin Luther King Jr. was just a man, because I have hero worshipped him for so long that that position is uncomfortable for me. But I can tell you something interesting that I heard in that same tribute. MLK was away from home 90% of the time during the most active part of his organizing career. He was with his family and children 10% of the time.  I say that not to judge his work life balance, but to point to the effort required to achieve what he did, to point to his doggedness rather than his saintliness, to highlight his determination rather than his salvation. The man worked his behind off. He was not merely gifted; he did the work.

happy kid play superhero , boy power conceptWhat would happen if we made our heroes more accessible? If we stopped believing that they are unicorns and started believing that we are just as capable as they are of making change, of creating new and better ways of doing things, of helping people be better, of becoming better people ourselves? What would happen if we believed that we could be as extraordinary as our heroes? What if, as Jung suggests, the things we admire in others are just untapped potential in ourselves? What would you do first if you could be your own hero?

Concerning Resolution Bashing

I’ve seen a lot of memes out there… I could probably start many different blog posts with that same phrase… I’ve seen a lot of memes out there taking a poke at the idea of making a resolution or starting afresh in the new year. And I get it.

pexels-photo-221247I think I’ve probably been in the resolution bashing camp in the past. I’ve decided it was silly to make myself a promise of change just because the calendar says it’s time to and when I know that in the past those promises have worn out by mid-February. So I get it. I get that hearing someone declare that they’re going to be a new person in the new year makes some folks roll their eyes and maybe even utter a chuckle or a sigh. I get that we know that those kinds of promises can be hard to fulfill. I get that so many of our good intentions don’t turn out the way we want them to. I get that seeing someone rearing with enthusiasm we don’t feel can be uncomfortable. But really?

Are we really against the idea of someone deciding to try to change, even if it’s never worked before? Are we really wanting to mock someone who’s trying to improve themselves? Are we so sure that you wouldn’t succeed that we’ve decided the whole enterprise is ridiculous? I think there are lots of reasons behind this resolution bashing thing, but I can only talk about my own.

When I was a resigned resolution basher, it had everything to do with previous failures and being terrified of success. When it came to my weight I didn’t want to make a resolution because I knew my enthusiasm would wane in a few months. Why make a promise I can’t keep FOREVER? When it came to changing some of my habits, I decided that “I yam who I yam” (even if I don’t like it very much). When it came to taking some risks in my professional life, well, yeah, no resolutions there because that’s just WAY too frightening.

I’ve done some work on all of those things – without resolutions, and looking back at those moments from the other side makes me wonder if making a resolution is all about success. Maybe there are other things to be gained in that whole process. Maybe trying and failing is better than staying firmly planted exactly where we are. Maybe a resolution is an opportunity to force a little action, and sometimes a little action is all it takes.

pexels-photo-636243The truth is that this opportunity of celebrating the new year with a new goal is one that shouldn’t be missed. Maybe you’re not interested in buying a gym membership that you will only use for a month. But maybe you DO have a super secret goal, a tiny burning desire that you haven’t told anyone about. Maybe this moment in time when we get to start new things on a clean page of a fresh planner is a great time to ask yourself what you can do today to get just one step closer to that super secret goal. And then tomorrow? You can take another one. Maybe that’s all it needs to be. You don’t need to tell anyone. You don’t need to declare it on Facebook. Maybe you just need to say it to yourself so you can stop hiding it from your heart and from your amazing brilliant brain. Give that dream some energy and some air; maybe something can come of it after all.

Happy New Year Friends.

xo,

julia