Living in Possibility

When I hear those words: “living in possibility,” it sounds pretty grand and floaty and rainbow unicorn-y.

child-girl-hands-6191And yes, that’s partly my cynic responding, but I think it’s also because in order to dismiss the idea of living in possibility, my brain wants to jump right to the outcome, to see what that looks like as I move through the world doing things I’d never thought possible, doing things nobody ever thought possible, leaping tall buildings in a single bound…. see there it goes again.

But the truth is that living in possibility starts in a way that really isn’t about leaping buildings or leaving a trail of glitter in your wake.

Living in possibility starts small, quietly, and internally.

Yeah, sorry. There are some steps before glitter and unicorns and that’s why we dismiss them, because we’re not sure what those steps are and we don’t know how to do them, and internal – yuck. I’m so with you.

As a life coach I spend a lot of time on the internal, mine and everyone else’s, and sometimes I just have to remind myself to look at the rest of the world because it’s tough in there. Those things on the inside can be pretty dark and full of spiders, but that’s exactly why the notion of possibility can be helpful. Possibility is like a little beam of light breaking in through the canopy into the darkness, encouraging the spiders to continue being helpful and eating pests, but not just run amok everywhere.

When it comes to living in possibility, the only real way to begin is to start thinking in possibility, which means taking a look at what we think when nobody (including ourselves) is looking, examining those underlying, unconscious assumptions about ourselves and the world to see if we’re boxing ourselves in. This has been an… erm… growth area for me.

For me beginning to think in possibility, as a conscious intentional project, began as a practice of noticing when I reacted negatively to positive things people said about or to me, something I did consistently and reflexively.

When praised after a speech or on a piece of writing or after singing somewhere, I would  do my best to dismiss that moment: in the early days by diminishing the praise somehow (revealing that I thought I did poorly or I should have been more prepared). As I started to see that, and to see some articles about how frequently women in particular do that, I made a conscious effort to NOT say those things any more. The next step was to begin to just say: “Thank you,” without extending that sentence with excuses and self-deprecation. This didn’t necessarily change my thinking, but it did bring my attention to my pattern and helped me to stop reinforcing my own unhelpful thinking.

Then I began to just really notice how I would recoil, turn away, internally dismiss those personal comments, and even passages in the many self-help books I’ve got stacked up around here. If I didn’t agree, if what they said was TOO good about me, I would skim past, breeze over, or even dismiss the speaker or author. Wow. I would essentially insult them so I could keep on insulting myself. True commitment.

The next step, after that noticing, was to begin to question myself.

An author and thinker named Byron Katie provides one of the most useful sets of questions I’ve encountered; all of those questions are based on reacting to our thoughts with some version of: “Is it true?” You’d be amazed at how many horrible stories about ourselves we can begin to unravel if we just take a deep breath and ask ourselves: “Is it really, absolutely true?”

So I began to apply that tool to my responses to the good stuff being thrown at me, but did a little wordsmithing, as I do, to make it immediately helpful: “Am I sure it’s not true?” My recoil instinct was clearly due to me thinking that whatever good thing was being said was not true, was demonstrably false, and maybe even demonstrated a little disdain for the speaker. I mean, after all, what would have to be wrong with you to have such low standards? Yes I’m shaking my head at myself too.

And so I began my practice of asking about the truth of that reaction, about my certainty that I was not whatever good thing was being acknowledged.

Sometimes that question was all it took, and I found ease in responding to praise about singing, about writing, about good deeds. The trick was when I got down to the internal worth. The trick was when I dug into some spiritually bent self-help books that wanted me to believe REALLY good things about myself like: “I now declare myself to be whole, holy, perfect, and complete.” (Iyanla Vanzant)

It has never been okay to declare myself perfect or complete. The notion of me being holy would defile holiness because of the mistakes I’ve made. I also assumed that if I believed I was perfect I would stop trying to be better and would naturally become selfish and complacent.

Well, that sort of lays the insides bare, doesn’t it?

And all of that shows the ways that old wounds and improper words diminish my living in possibility. Those thoughts create the cage for what I can do, my estimation of my capacity.

What would happen if I let go of the words and wounds that get in the way, or if I kept them in safekeeping but decided they need not get in the way?

Here’s what happens when we step out of certainty and into possibility:

“I cannot trust” becomes “I find it difficult to trust but would like to learn.”

“I cannot love or be loved” becomes “I am willing to begin to allow myself to open myself to love in all forms regardless of my past.”

person-road-walk-1605411“I can’t surrender” becomes “I am open to the idea that surrender creates both ease and action and is strength rather than weakness.”

“I am not enough” becomes “I wonder how I would feel if I decided that I am exactly who I should be right now.”

All of that by asking: “Are you sure? Is it absolutely true?”

Thinking in possibility leads to living in possibility. Glitter and unicorns to follow.

 

Ask the Body; She Knows

During a sermon on gratitude yesterday, our intern minister referred to a book about America before the Europeans arrived. The central point of the book is revealing the ways that the culture of Native Americans was more “developed” and “evolved” than most of us might suppose.

aerial-architecture-black-and-white-700974As a former social studies teacher the idea was not new to me, but it gave me pause as it clearly demonstrated this idea that we have, at least in the places where I experience the cultural cloud, that being evolved and developed is evidenced by complexity and complication. We are evolved when we live in dense centers of population and develop cultural events and places to hold them, when we do more stuff, when we have more stuff. It’s an interesting premise, an assumption. It’s an assumption I’m not sure I agree with.

It got me to wondering if we make this assumption on an individual level as well. Do we complicate things out of some kind of sense that THIS is what being grown, sophisticated, fulfilled, evolved is all about? I can’t speak for anybody else (as much as I’d like to), but for me the answer is an unqualified yes.

I have often complicated my life because I felt that was the responsible, the practical, the adult thing to do. I have lingered over problems and lived in the pause for months, nay years, at a time because answering a difficult question with the simplicity of what I wanted was unacceptable. I have added things to my life because my culture tells me they are the right things to want, to seek, to add, and to plan for me and for my family. I have chosen complexity as evolution. I am sitting here seeing that so clearly and yet seeing it doesn’t necessarily make clear an alternate path.

This is the part of this tale of complexity and cultural absorption where another writer would encourage you to embrace simplicity: to downsize, to purge all of the trappings of commercial existence. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought books about doing just that – yes the irony is everywhere.

I am not that writer. I can appreciate simplicity but frankly am not that low maintenance (and that’s an admission that has been a long time coming). I greatly enjoy creature comforts. I also really love to have enough room to be by myself despite having a full house. And then, there are the books.

My life is also tied to the lives of at least three other people who have little interest in tiny houses and washing dishes by hand.

So perhaps it’s a cheat, but in challenging this artificial complexity, I want to recommend not a zealous pursuit of simplicity, but the more ambiguous but tremendously revealing practice of discernment.

For those of us who live or have lived with ministers, discernment is a regular part of common speech, but it doesn’t necessarily get a lot of play elsewhere, which is interesting in and of itself. Merriam-Webster tells us that discernment is: “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.”

In the ministerial context, discernment usually refers to sorting out one’s call to ministry: “What is God calling me to do in this moment, in this career, in this life?” In other contexts, discernment really just refers to engaging in a careful examination of the stuff that may not be visible on the surface when you have a choice to make. Discernment is usually seen as a process, one that involves a pause and some serious reflection.

And so I return to this idea of complexity and simplicity in our lives and which path is better for us. We reach complexity through addition: the addition of stuff, the addition of needs and wants, the addition of ideas about who we are and should be, the addition of obligations, the addition of activities, the addition of relationships and connections. We reach simplicity through subtraction of the same list.

It seems to me that we cannot simply say that either complexity or simplicity are inherently virtuous/better/more evolved, but that it is proceeding through our lives with discernment that allows us to be more healthy, better developed, both more human and divine as we navigate the terrain before us.

looking-up-sitting-woman-1588038How do we exercise that discernment? The temptation is to gather data, but I want to suggest an alternate path, one that digs into the obscure bits that don’t usually get featured in our pro-con way of making choices.

When we want to add to our lives: be still for a moment and see how the body feels with the idea of this addition. Does it feel light, expansive, warm, excited? Does it feel heavy, tied down, drained, exhausted? The body can help you to discern how you feel about things that you may not feel good about saying out loud (even to yourself).

When we want to subtract: be still for a moment and see how the body feels with the idea of this subtraction. Does it feel more free? Does breathing become deeper and more satisfying? Does the body contract and shrink? The body can tell you when it’s time to let go of something and when something should be maintained.

Discernment can be tricky. You mind has a library of books full of stories between you and the answers to the questions you ask, the choices you long to make. What if the body can light up that darkness with some clarity? What if the way that you actually feel can make the obscure tangible?

As we enter into this season of gratitude and gathering, take a moment to check in with that body and see what she has to say about all of this. Where does your complexity fill your cup? When does simplicity feed your soul? What choices are actually so much simpler than your brain wants them to be?

Ask your body. She knows.

Navigating Growth: Extending Your Branches

I have always liked maps. I love to look at them, to imagine traveling with them, using them to find new and more interesting or pleasing ways to get somewhere. GPS is seriously useful, but not the same. There I said it; judge away. I like to hold and touch and SEE the big picture.

adventure-beautiful-bright-243597.jpgAnd I see that I have always believed that having that big map – the big picture with all of the details for how to get there – for all of my decisions was absolutely necessary. I mean how can you decide which direction to turn if you don’t know where you are going?

My recent experiences fly directly in the face of that idea and all of its conventional wisdom. It has thrown me for quite a loop.

You see, I’m building a community. The idea for my private FB group came to me in stillness (that’s meditation for those of you not allergic to the word – allergy sufferers forget I said anything). I got more inspiration on a walk. I got other pieces in the shower but it didn’t all add up to a map, a detailed plan. It was a little more loosey-goosey than that. So I held onto it, wanting to get the destination firmly in mind, perfecting the path.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think there’s good to be found in working on your vision, but sometimes we (I) can get stuck there, moving pieces around mentally and never getting to the trip. It’s like planning a dream vacation your whole life and never actually packing a bag. For many of us the dreaming is the safe space. It is where we can try to imagine how it should be without taking any of the risks associated with trying to make it so.

The dreaming space is where my son hangs out in preparation for Halloween. He LOVES Halloween and he spends months thinking about his costume. He wants it to be whatever he wants it to be: one year scary, another year clever and literary, this year I think he’s going for political satire (yes, that’s my kid) and he works at that vision. He sees the big picture – him going to the door, the adult GETTING it, the candy, the pride. He sees the impact he wants to have. He begins to think of the details associated with the costume. We talk about those details and invariably when we get to about 2 weeks out, he begins to have doubts. He begins to think maybe his idea isn’t so great after all. This year his big worry is: “What if they don’t get it?” Oh honey, I know. Then he moves into the familiar. Maybe he should dress up as something easy, something that comes in a bag with all of the pieces, something everyone will recognize right away. Maybe he’s got the destination all wrong. It is only the time pressure (and maternal nagging) and the siren call of the candy payoff that forces his hand, that moves him out of dreaming and self-doubt into action.

I began to feel this same thing happening with the idea of this community I wanted to build, but with no candy payday to push me forward. I was sort of sitting still fondling the vision, and the longer I looked, the more I noticed the self-doubt that was creeping in around the edges. I began to hear internal message and all of those messages boiled down to some version of “Who are you to do that? Who do you think you are?”

I began to wonder if maybe I needed some training. I began to compile a reading list. I thought of some other things I would probably need to do before getting started in order to be “ready.” Let me interrupt myself (again) by saying there’s nothing wrong with training, reading, or otherwise preparing yourself for a new venture, unless you are doing all of that as a way to 1) delay action indefinitely OR 2) feel good enough to pursue something to which you feel called right now. That’s exactly what I was doing.

The fix wasn’t in more school or a more specific vision. The fix wasn’t in reading the “right” books. The fix wasn’t in preparation. The fix was in releasing the need to perfect the big vision long enough to take the next small step. The way I chose to do that was to change the conversation in my head from “What do I want to do?” which is a super important but LONG conversation that gets all of those internal naysayers in full screech mode TO “What small step should I take next?”

WHOLE different question, right? Reflecting on what small step to take next is far less daunting and while it tends to generate its own mental obstacle course, that tends to look more like confusion than self-abuse which I would argue is easier on the spirit.

“I don’t know” feels better than “No you can’t” AND it can be answered by a question perfectly grounded in possibility and shared with me by a friend who learned it from Iyanla VanZant. “Well, what if you did know?” Pretend you do know what to do next. Now what’s the answer?

It’s such a wonderful question because it sidesteps the fog that our brains use to keep us still. It’s a wonderful question because it brings us back to stillness, to what we DO know, what we can know, what we ARE capable of and out of the hunting and overwhelming picture of the perfection we’d like to create.

I believe the answer to that question, the question of what to do next, is usually quite simple. It is almost always something we already know how to do, and if we can quiet our minds enough, we can access it – either right there in stillness or sometime after like on a walk or in the shower.

It is tempting, when we get an answer, when we see a step that is as small as writing an e-mail or making a phone call, to make it bigger, to turn it into more, to consider everything about it, another brilliantly executed stall tactic by the safety monitor in our minds.

child-costume-fairy-127968If instead, we accept that simple step and execute it, we build trust in ourselves, trust in the benevolence of the universe, and trust in the possibility that we can be enough right now. If we just get the costume we envisioned,  create the props that give costume clues, wear the long johns if necessary, the KitKats and Twix bars will flow and MAYBE next year we will remember that it is okay to do it just the way we want.

Growing Roots (A Series): Part V

Rooting in Your Gifts

When my children were young I began to search for a family church – not out of faith or a desire to worship anything in particular, but out of a desire to provide them and maybe even me with a safe spot, a community, a place to be at home even when home didn’t feel that good.

activity-adult-adventure-1376960.jpgI held memories of backpacking trips with groups from my my childhood church firmly in mind as I investigated our local options. Ironically my now seminarian husband was less enthusiastic about this quest, so I became the advance team. I made a list of churches to visit based on what I knew generally about beliefs and practices and what I could get down with, and perhaps more importantly what I couldn’t get down with, and I began to visit them.

I went to services to see how it felt, to check out what was being taught and said. If the minimal bar of not offending me was passed, I then asked about their programming for kids. It’s possible that part of my motive as a stay at home parent of twin pre-schoolers was to find just one hour in my week where I could sit and think without being interrupted.

I could say more about the churches I visited – who made the initial cut and why, but that’s not really the point today. Today the point is what I did with church.

I think, even in my older twin mom exhaustion that I knew that many of my core needs were not being met. This reaching out for community was an attempt to shift that balance, but it was, in many ways, an attempt to apply that same old geographical solution to the problem of feeling terribly alone and isolated. If I could just find the right place, I would feel better.

I did find a place, a really great place, and we began (slowly and intermittently) to attend as a family. People were welcoming and friendly enough. We were reserved and rushed. Church became an additional item on the list of things to do, and I (as the one who started it all) became the ringmaster of the Sunday morning circus. In my attempt to find community, I had created a lot of work for myself, had added more tasks to the insane stack of domestic work, childcare, and freelance writing and editing I was already doing.

For me doing all of these things meant doing them well. I was exhausted, and fully retreated into my armor of perfectionism. So when I entered this new space – wrangling husband and children to get there, it became a box to check off (and to be sure to do well) – one more thing on my list – a thing that I sensed could help but that I was really unable to engage with in a way that WOULD actually help.

I had set a trap for myself, and I was caught.

And then, one Sunday, the choir returned from summer hiatus. And they were good! I say this with love: church choirs are often NOT good. Being a musician can make regular attendance at a place with a not good choir a difficult thing to commit to. This choir was good, and it occurred to me that maybe this was a thing I wanted to do.

It had been over 20 years since I had sung in the University Choir at Penn State. I had been in a few bands in the meantime, and occasionally even been paid for that, but even that beer-soaked musical effort was a distant memory, so there was some anxiety about taking on this new musical thing with a group of people I didn’t know.

The director and I sorted out where my voice belonged and I began to attend. And I began, again, to sing. It had been years since I’d sung in front of people who I wasn’t attempting to coax to sleep or to learn the alphabet or just cheer up.

It had been far longer since I’d read notes on a page, and it was tricky. As I continued to attend, I found help all around me. I learned who the great sight-readers were and sat near them for a boost. I slowly went from singing along quietly and tentatively to actually singing along, sometimes with confidence. I began to feel my way back to the space that appears when I sing and I allow myself the pleasure of trusting that I am good enough at it to stop worrying.

Wednesday nights became sacred time, and it was easy to believe that the shift that occurred was a result of finally choosing the right geographical solution. I had finally found the right place. In retrospect, I think something else was at play that created that magic for me.

To participate in choir, I had to set everything else aside. There is no multi-tasking in choir. I also had to face the fact that I would make mistakes. These were two things I was desperate to do but didn’t recognize the longing.

attractive-background-beautiful-756453In addition to that though, to get that soaring feeling I sometimes get when I sing, I had to engage with my gift and trust that it is good enough. Whoa.

I had to plug into something that I knew could bring me joy and let all of the worry about looking foolish go. Whoa.

I had to take off enough armor to let the sound come out, to breathe deeply to support it, and to have the sensitivity to others necessary to work in a group with my, and all of their, gifts. Whoa.

I had thought to turn outward to root myself in a community. I had thought it was a question of finding the right place and then identifying the right people and then, over the course of however long it would take a shy and introverted person to do so, to cultivate relationships with those people.

It had not occurred to me that I could turn inside – to my joys, to my desires, to my needs and my gifts and that turning in THAT direction i could grow roots and find community. i could find more nourishment, confidence, AND kindred souls for care and comfort.

I had never realized that rooting begins not just with soil, but in the seed.

The Toxicity of Certainty

Yesterday I posted about my recent shift in spiritual and religious certainty. While the point for both of us may have been that spiritual transformation, the notion about the value of certainty is the point that I think may be a little more generalizable, more applicable to more situations. And it all got me to thinking about certainty in general.

balance-business-calculator-163032Because we love us some certainty, don’t we?

Culturally we prize it. We claim it. We use data to back it up. We argue with charts and graphs. We gather all of the information that feeds our certainty and share it with other equally certain people so we can all be more certain, and feel justified in that, together. Yay for being sure and being right!

It’s not just our culture, though. It seems to me that humans are wired to seek certainty. In certainty there is safety. In predictability there is survival. In knowing what is and what will happen we are assured of our own ability to make reasonably good choices. Our brains love certainty. Being certain about things lets the brain turn that puzzle into one that has been solved and can now become part of the efficient, programmed background knowledge. It becomes something we no longer have to think about.

And there it is; the long-awaited and foreshadowed rub.

The problem with moving things to the efficiency drawer is that change DOES happen. The world around us changes. Even if nothing else happens, there are seasons. Even if we don’t attempt to make any shifts at all, a single butterfly may flap its wings in just such a way that the direction of a tornado is impacted weeks later (that’s the butterfly effect, not just a movie but a part of chaos theory and grounded in math). No matter how little we as individuals TRY to change, we still do.

Our bodies age. Our experiences impact us daily and cumulatively over time. Our incredibly powerful brains won’t stop learning no matter how much we attempt to dull them. Change will happen. For us to remain certain of so many things in the face of what we have to acknowledge as the inevitability of change feels unnecessarily stubborn at best and foolish and destructive at worst.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a talk by Arthur C. Brooks, an economist and the current head of the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think-tank that I don’t usually look to for inspiration – as a demonstration of my own certainty…). The name of Mr. Brooks’ talk was: “Work, Life, and Happiness After 50.” It was a phenomenal talk. I’ll have more to say about it later, I’m sure, but there was a point he made that feels particularly relevant to this whole notion of certainty and change.

He quoted a Dylan Thomas poem that many of us have heard before: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. You know the one, it has the line: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Yeah, that one. And I think there are a couple of ways you could take that advice. The poem is clearly about aging, and we could simply take it as a prompt to continue to live and live fully, hard, with vigor even as we age. But Brooks talked about this idea of raging as a way of fighting with change: the changes in our bodies, the changes in our understandings, the changes in our world. The problem, Brooks suggested, with all of this raging is that it keeps us from ever getting to progress.

In other words, screaming about our certainty and defending it until we are bloody may be preventing us from fully appreciating the contours of any problem and moving to the point of progress. Whew. That’s a big one. I know it.

And I know it. And here’s where it becomes spiritual for me again, but it’s just an example, so you can sub out anything you like. In the aftermath of a cavalcade of losses, I was certain about my loss of faith in just about everything that might keep a person feeling steady.

adult-angry-facial-expression-206460As wounds from those losses began to heal, and I began to change, instead of re-examining that certainty, I dug in. I became entrenched. And I raged. I raged against threats to my certainty. I congratulated myself on the intellectual achievement that was my certainty. I gathered evidence to support that certainty and I scorned, well, lots of things. Raged.

And all because I didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to question those beliefs. I didn’t want see things in a different way. I didn’t want to experience whatever impact all of that learning, rethinking, shifting might have. Rage.

And yet, all of that raging made me fail to see so much: so much beauty, so much tenderness, and so many people. All of that certainty kept me from experiencing the world as it really is – for all that it is: good and bad.

Let me just say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having beliefs, which is great because we’re going to have them. It’s part of how the brain works. So is certainty. The question is when certainty becomes toxic. And I think the answer to that question lies in the discovery I made in my own theological unraveling.

When your certainty keeps you from experiencing the world (which includes yourself, you, all of your bits and feelings by the way) as it really is, that certainty has become toxic. When your certainty keeps you from seeing people as more than a point of opposition, when it keeps you from seeing the complexity of a situation, when it only lets in all of the good or all of the bad, it’s become toxic and it is keeping you from progress.

It is good to know some things for sure. This is why Oprah’s phrase “what I know for sure” has caught on with so many people. It feels good to be able to identify those things, those touch points, those steady rocks in the storm. It is wise to also know when to give them a second look. Sometimes all of that certainty is just raging against change. And sometimes that change really will make things better.

They Don’t All Like You

There’s something that’s been sort of swirling around in my personal sphere lately – in myself and in several people I’ve encountered online, in person, on the phone, pretty much everywhere. So I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to feel it out, give us some space to look at it.

I’ll start with me, not just because I’m self-centered, but because that’s the story I know best. Many of you probably already know that I have a mailing list and that I send out a missive pretty much every week (summer has its own calendar and while my intentions are pure, they are not always timely). In the past my weekly offering was accepted either with enthusiasm or neutrality. Some folks would write back with questions (LOVE) or praise (SUPER LOVE – I’m not immune people). Others would just tacitly approve by staying on the list (YAY!).

alone-away-back-view-274712Lately, things have been different. I know my writing has been different. Some of my offerings have been different. There’s been a more spiritual bent more of the time. There’s been a little more cursing here and there – a strange combination for some, but hey, this is me. And lately when I send out my message in a digital bottle, I’ve been getting a little wave of unsubscribes. Like that language? “A little wave,” the wording shows you exactly where I am with the whole thing. I want to be okay with it, so I call it little, but I feel every single one, so it’s a wave.

It’s perfectly natural that as what I’m doing changes, there will be people who no longer dig it. It’s totally sensible that as I become more myself, there will be people who find that I’m no longer a good fit for their selves. It’s reasonable that with crowded e-mail inboxes those who don’t LOVE what I’m doing should unsubscribe. My wise and practical mind knows this.

But that girl inside? She’s 12 again and all she wants is for everybody to like her. I bring this up NOT to get you all to sign up for my newsletter, but but because this happens to all of us. It especially happens as we change and become more honest, more whole, and more authentic. THIS is what Brene Brown means by vulnerability. When you are real, you take the chance of finding out that not everyone likes HER. We so want to be liked and we so want to be real. And so we juggle and which of those balls we pay the most attention to depends on so many factors.

No matter how we slice it though, we’re going to come across people who just don’t like us or don’t like what we do. My response tends to be: “Wait a minute. What did I do?” I want to investigate to see exactly what was different this time. I want to know why they are leaving. I want to be able to ask them why they don’t like me anymore – and that’s all coming from the 12 year old.

And she only asks for one reason: she asks because she is willing to change in order to keep all of those people. She is willing to be someone else in exchange for approval. She is more concerned about what everyone thinks of her than what she thinks of herself. She actually NEEDS them to like her because she thinks if enough people like her, she will then finally get to like herself.

Ugh. Brutal.

I see it. I see it in a way I was not able to see it in the past. I see it because over the last few years I worked really hard at reversing that direction.

I started with liking me, no not just liking me, LOVING me.

I consciously began to notice the things I love about me – and I mean that on ALL of the levels: in my head, in my heart AND on my body. (I have an amazing décolletage by the way.) I also began treating myself with love. I sat down and figured what that looked like and while I worked on developing the feelings, I began taking the actions. It has changed everything.

And yet, that 12 year old is still around.

That’s right. She’s still there, because here’s the thing about dragons. You don’t have to slay them to make peace.

I know what she’s about. I see her emerge. I catch myself before it all gets so serious that I make someone else’s opinion of me WAY too important. I check in – am I cool with what I said/did/created? Am I proud? Was it me? Yes, yes, yes.

And as I check in with myself, I realize how very okay it is that not everybody likes me.

Truthfully, I don’t like everybody either.

And that’s not what really matters anyway.

What really matters is how I feel about me because even if everyone else thinks I’m great but I don’t like me, I will feel no better. I will feel like a fraud. I will feel lonely and empty.

blur-body-care-161608When I love me, I get to feel real. I get to feel full. I get to feel better. They don’t like me, and that’s okay because I love me (cue the Megan Trainor song now).

If this message was for you today, I hope you’re hearing me, that I’ve found the right words. If you have children, especially teenage girls, I hope you’re hearing me.

If you stop reading my stuff five seconds from now and never come back, I hope you hear me when I say that you are worthy. You ARE special. You do have something to contribute. YOU are the only you we have and if you aren’t doing you right now, maybe it’s time to try to find her, ever so gently, and with great love.

So be it.

 

Brave Enough

I do a lot of talking about fear and getting past it, working around it, not letting it make your decisions for you.

boy-child-clouds-346796And I think sometimes that makes it sound like I want to just see you being super brave all of the time. Like, we identify the fear and then we just leap tall buildings in a single bound kind of brave. Sometimes when I’m listening to another coach or an inspiring human, that’s my reaction.

Like, “Well, I’m glad you figured out how to be brave enough to swim the English Channel, but hells no I’m not going to do anything like that or be that brave EVER.”

My relationship with fear is old and it likes to tell me that I will never be brave enough to do anything worth talking about.

And when I think about bravery and being myself and taking risks as something that I need to don a superhero’s cape to do, it is so much easier to give in to that belief that fear wants me to have. It is so much more tempting to shrug off my preferences and dreams and just stay with caution, nice sweet status quo occasionally soul-sucking caution.

But there’s this thing, something Cheryl Strayed reminded me of this morning.

You don’t have to have the courage of an entire platoon of people liberating a European village in WWII. You don’t have to try to leap a tall building in a single bound. You don’t have to decide to swim the English Channel to take a step forward. You just have to be brave enough to take one step forward.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what’s going on with you.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want in your life.

You have to be brave enough to keep wise counsel as you make these considerations and not let other people’s opinions hold TOO much sway.

You have to be brave enough to listen to yourself: not the nattering voice that wants you to grab a bag of chips and the remote because it’s scary out there, but the voice that is calling you into integrity, that is encouraging you to be more yourself. You have to listen to what that is.

You have be brave enough to act on what you discover in the realm of soul truth.

You have to be brave enough for those things, but you don’t have to do them all in the same moment.

beautiful-calm-coast-358480You only have to be brave enough to take one step, whatever that might look like.

Maybe it looks like writing without ceasing for 10 minutes about whatever’s going on in your head.

Maybe it looks like talking to a trusted friend about the things that you’ve been afraid to reveal.

Maybe it looks like getting really, really quiet so you can hear.

You don’t have to take all of the steps at once beloveds.

You only need to be brave enough to take one.

If you need some support, I’d be delighted to walk with you.

XO,

julia

Kitchen Wisdom

I looked up from my laptop and noticed quite a lot of smoke in the house. That sounds like a moment to panic, but it wasn’t quite THAT kind of smoke, and I’d been in this same spot just about 10 days ago.

berries-blueberry-breakfast-718739You see my daughter likes to cook. She’s 11. She’s got a few things down. She REALLY REALLY wants to master pancakes. She wants to make light, fluffy, perfectly brown pancakes in her mother’s cast iron pans.

She objects to some of my methods. And that’s okay because if she wants to learn it for herself I am down with that, until it sets off the smoke alarms, which it has twice now.

You see pancakes require at least two things to work reasonably well: a pan that is actually hot all the way through AND just the right amount of fat on that pan.

There’s a lot of room for error in that sentence, like a lot. How hot? How much fat? What KIND of fat?

I didn’t realize how many variations there were because I automatically made some choices that I knew would work well.

She needed to experiment.

And that’s when the pan heat being too high and the choice of butter as the fat combined to make for a smoky mess.

Now I don’t want to go all Alton Brown on you, but I will share the short version that different kinds of fats respond differently to different temperatures. It’s called “smoke point.” Each kind of fat has a different temperature at which it just creates nasty smoke and gets spread all over the house and wakes everyone up and gives the aging dog anxiety.

Once I realized what was happening (again), I quickly intervened: helped her cool the pans down a little with some water, gave her two better options for greasing the pan, and assured her (she was drowning us in apologies) that everything was okay. It was just something she needed to learn. It was okay. A little noise wouldn’t kill us. It was okay. She got to see the lesson in action instead of just listening to me spout on about it. I’m pretty sure she’ll make different choices next time. In fact, in true Life Coach kid fashion, she wrapped up our conversation by saying: “Next time I will not heat the pans so much and I will use coconut oil instead of butter.”

Awesome. The dog may live a while longer just because of that.

What I found interesting later in the day, when looking back on the incident was that nobody got upset with her. And once she had apologized a few times, she was completely open to the information about what would help next time. She was an active participant in learning a better way to do it next time. She just wanted to get the lesson – well, and eat her pancakes.

Once she had apologized she didn’t beat herself up profusely for “doing it wrong.” She didn’t rehash and revisit the great pancake debacle for hours or days, although I imagine there is the possibility of some teasing in her future on this front. She didn’t just collapse and cry about what a terrible cook she is. All of those options were available to her.

blond-blur-fashion-415263.jpgWhat she chose to do was to figure out what the lesson was and to get the people around her to help her learn it and to clean up the mess learning it made, something we did without complaint or even a heavy sigh.

How much easier would things be if we treated all of our mistakes this way?

How much more quickly would we learn?

How much more willing would we be to take risks?

How much more connected would we be to others?

How much more full and delicious would life be if we could treat the hard stuff like a failed batch of pancakes?

When You See the Cracks

This is the first week of summer break for my kids. So far things have been going pretty well. They’ve had volleyball camp for a couple of hours every morning and my husband had been doing pretty much ALL of the domestic heavy lifting in preparation for an upcoming absence. So, yeah, so far so good for me. No need to work out that balance when everyone else is doing the work.

adorable-animal-basket-167700Well, as luck would have it by the time he left my kids had worn themselves out staying up giggling (which they thought we couldn’t hear). I had worn myself out trying to get a bunch of stuff done in the evening. Even the dog seems tired. And we all know what a tired family means. Just in case it’s been a while for you, there’s a whole lot of grumpiness. In my case there’s a lack of good sense. I just don’t think as clearly when I’m tired and as a result everything seems to take longer. I make mistakes. And I’m not very nice about how all of that goes down.

Sounds like good old-fashioned summer fun, right?

I have a distinct recollection of my mother opening the door and telling us to come home when we got hungry.

We don’t roll that way as a culture anymore, and I’m not sure we’re better for that change, but that is a whole separate post.

I wanted to tell you about this moment I had today, in my fog and stupidity (don’t worry, I’m not berating myself, it’s temporary and totally sleep related).

It was when we got to the orthodontist’s office.

Back Story: I had always handled the visits to the orthodontist for my son. When my seminarian left his day job and I started working a lot more, we enacted a shuffling of the domestic realms of responsibility. Kid teeth responsibilities were part of that shift.

I’ve talked before about the importance of me acknowledging that running the household with all of its various parts and responsibilities is no small feat and I had a good long run at it. My efficiency rating, not my aesthetic rating mind you, was pretty darned high. I had several years to get good at all of it.

The reshuffle has caused some bumps in the road as has the further offloading of some responsibilities onto our growing kids. There have been several moments where I’ve had to put my standards, my expectations, and my even my desires in check because things just aren’t going to work that way. Please understand that I don’t say any of that as condemnation. We’ve got a lot of moving parts and in some ways dividing them up instead of having me as the domestic dictator makes things harder. Decision-making is less centralized. Scheduling requires more communication in less time. Keeping the larder stocked for all of the different kinds of cooking happening causes a level of inefficiency that makes my little teutonic soul cringe a little.

We’ve had some problems scheduling this particular orthodontist appointment. It had to be cancelled for one thing. It had to be rescheduled because of a traffic jam. It got so bad that the doctor called to see if we were actually going to bring him in. I admit I was a little embarrassed about that. I went ahead and scheduled an appointment. They slipped us in quickly, and today in the middle of a whole slew of prep for an out of town trip, we breezed in, on time, and as we were walking in my son said: “I forgot my retainer.”

I stopped in my tracks, right there in the parking lot. Mostly because I needed to take some deep breaths in order to not yell at him. It’s possible that a quiet “Damnit” slipped out under my breath. We went into the office anyway, just to confirm that there was absolutely no point in proceeding, which I knew but thought we’d check.

As we drove to our next of several thousand errands, I looked around at the lay of the family land and I’m seeing a few places like this, where the train is off the rails a bit, where we’re not quite making connections. Things are falling through the cracks.

A couple of years ago this whole set of observations would have created a shame spiral. I would have been furious with my husband for screwing it all up in the first place. I would have been furious for my kid for leaving his retainer at home. And all of that anger would have been a cover for feeling like a bad Mom, like somebody who couldn’t keep things together, like a failure.

Those of you who finished your intense parenting phase before social media might remember some pressure to get it all right, but I’m telling you June Cleaver and Carole Brady have nothing on Pinterest and the blogosphere full of amazing ways to make your family’s life enriching, engaging, and picture perfect. The comparisonitis that can develop when you’re tired or unhappy or unfulfilled or desperate to be good at something is pretty intense. And I felt a lot of that pressure.

boys-childhood-children-51349Today was a little different. Today I saw the gaps. I saw where our transition is not going very smoothly. I saw my part in that. I also saw other people’s parts but immediately saw them as learning curves rather than deficiencies. I also saw the grace we gained by allowing those gaps, the extra minutes spent reading, or sleeping, or NOT obsessively planning.

And so I sit here in this moment, really tired, but more than a little proud. I am proud of the work I’ve done to feel better about myself and my choices. I am proud of the shifts we are all making to grow and learn together. I am astonished by the changes we’ve made and am so delighted to be able to see our collective progress even in the moments when I’d really like to just rewind the clock a few minutes to retrieve an orthodontic appliance.

The Between Time

My brother loves the phrase “liminal time.” It is a good word, liminal. If words aren’t your thing, feel free to skip ahead, but those who’ve been playing along for awhile know that I am a self-confessed word nerd, and there are some words that are just plain better than others. Liminal is one of those words.

antique-classic-clock-1095601It means transitional, or a stage in the process. It is neither the beginning nor the end. It is neither the old thing or the new thing. It is between. It is ongoing. It is often ill-defined and formless. Liminal time. It can be the time after giving notice at work and before starting the new gig. It can be the time after setting up the PA equipment and before the band begins. It can be the time when a child is no longer a little kid, but isn’t a teenager. Liminal time can be after a project begins but before it really takes hold. It can be a clean but unfolded basket of laundry. Liminal time can be a lot of things, and most of that has to do with definition and perception.

Our culture really likes to present progress as a very linear thing. You move from start to finish and pass through stages along the way. If we observe enough people doing the same kinds of things, we can even predict those stages and measure time or markers or outcomes. The thing about liminal time, or being in transition, or being in one stage of a process, is that it isn’t always linear. Things don’t always move in a clear direction. The stages aren’t always obvious. Our paths of “progress” are pretty much never the same as someone else’s.

The beauty of remembering that simple fact of human variation is that it gives us the freedom to decide what the start, the finish, and all of the steps along the way are. We get to decide if we are between. We get to decide that we have made progress. We get to decide that we have completed something. We get to decide if we will continue or if the steps we planned to take are no longer necessary. We get to decide if forward motion is necessary and would be helpful. We get to decide to think of where we are as being temporary or the goal, fleeting or permanent, necessary or bonus. We get to decide and define all of that.

And that flexibility in our thinking is part of what makes liminal time such a good teacher. That sense that we are between phases or stages or steps calls out to us to examine what’s driving us, to touch base with our inner knowing to see if that next step moves in the direction we’d imagined or if it goes somewhere else entirely.

Being in between requires us to take a look at how attached we are to that thing, that place, that goal that we haven’t reached yet and question whether or not we’ve got our cart attached to the right horse. It may be that what we thought we wanted isn’t right for us at all. It may be that what we want is exactly right but the path, oh that path to get there looks nothing like what we imagined. We miss all of these opportunities if we don’t give liminal time its due, if we don’t learn to see the gifts of the between time, if we maintain a rigid and unyielding grasp on our ideas about what should happen and when.

I have children who, if we follow along with accepted developmental phases, are in a between time. They are 11. It is such a between time that we’ve dubbed it the “‘tween” years. They most certainly are not little kids anymore in so many ways. They are also definitely not interested in or ready for experiences and interactions they will have as teens. They are between. They long to be older because they see freedom there. They long to be younger because the notion of romantic relationships is appalling. They miss greater simplicity in play and friendships and they yearn for independence.  Their moods, as they experience their own duality, are all over the place.

I see how they have to stretch and grow in this liminal time. I see them struggle with it and I see them carry on. I see them release things from the past: friendships that haven’t stood the test of time, hobbies that don’t suit anymore, habits and desires that no longer serve them. I see them sensing that their understanding of the outcomes might have been inaccurate as they notice that increased independence and freedom often comes with greater responsibility. I see them wanting to be older but not being sure why. I see them doing a sort of dance with one leg in the past and one in the future. It is an uncomfortable position to be in.

afterglow-backlit-beach-797394And really, the only way to respond when one is stuck in that kind of straddle, is to bring your legs together, squarely underneath you, and to recognize the space you are in as the one that matters the most. Keeping our toes too far in the past and too far in the future strains the system and creates regret and disappointment. Drilling down to observations that are a little more granular lets us see all of the micro developments that take place exactly where we are. This moment that we think of as a between stage actually has hundreds of tiny steps that make it up. Our progress is continual. Our growth is unstoppable (even if it is painful and awkward at times). We feel that we are between when we don’t see all that is here, now: the incremental learning, the opportunities to be present and connected, and the sheer power of giving our attention to what is real, what is happening NOW.

We can inhabit the space of not being quite where we want to be, of having goals and aspirations AND at the same time acknowledge, see, and feel every bit of what is good and amazing about the place where we are. Each step along the way is its own destination and every pause is liminal. We are always changing and always complete. We are between and we are starting and we are finishing all in the same breath. To believe that and feel the comfort and peace it can bring, all we have to do is choose to see it.

From Liminal Time,

julia