Growing Roots (A Series): Part VI

black-and-white-black-and-white-busy-735795Rooting in Goodness

My culture applauds motion.

You must be moving, making, doing.

The measure for “good” is productivity.

You don’t have to have this said to you as a child to intuit it, to infer it, to read it on the wind and digest it with your dinner. It is in the things we say. It is in the way we schedule our time. It is in our satisfaction when we check off an item on the ToDo list. Productivity is good. To be good, you must be productive. Simple.

The problem with this whole cultural idea is that it assumes NOT goodness at the outset.

Yep, I’m going there.

When we need to be productive to feel good, to be considered valuable, to be good, there is an assumption that we are not already, good.

When we really lay that out there it is clear why we would busy ourselves so intensely. Who doesn’t want to be good? I guess I shouldn’t assume this is a thing for everyone, but speaking solely for me and all of the people I grew up with, we all really wanted to be good. And in doing all of the things we individually thought we needed to do to become good, we inadvertently let it slip that we were pretty sure that we were not, in fact, without a lot of work and effort, good.

There is this assumption that we must escape our natural state, who we are without goading, without discipline, without force. We must leave that bad old her behind in order to achieve “good.”

You may be nodding along like, “Yeah, and…” It is a deep cultural norm, the idea that left to our own devices we will NOT be or do good, the idea that if given real freedom we would all be eating fried Oreos and washing them down with classic margaritas (no salt, lots of ice) and reclining on a beach eternally – just me?

Just for the sake of potentially altering your entire reality, play along with a little thought experiment with me.

Imagine that we flip the script so that you are already good.

Just sitting there reading this interminable post, you are good. You were good when you woke up. You were good when you went to sleep last night. You were good before, during, and after yelling at your kids last night because they were singing the song about poop again. You were born good, and you are allowed to believe that, to even say it out loud.

What would you do then, if you believed that you were, are, and will always be good?

What would you give up and stop doing? What would you do that you haven’t allowed for years? What new experiences would you seek out?

How would you deal with stress and strain?

afterglow-backlit-beach-797394-2.jpgIt seems to me that our biggest problems/worries/concerns/tangles/messes in life are likely far better addressed with a few minutes of standing still than with hours of busy rushing trying to be good.

If I am already good, then I can stop, take a breath, look around and really see.

I can see that in spite of all of the problems of daily life, I am okay in this moment.

I can see that a great deal of the drama around my troubles is how I let them get to me.

I can really see I have choices, including the choice not to act in this moment at all.

We spend so much time fixing, repairing, preparing for the worst.

So often a solution is already in the works. So often time is a key ingredient. So often what is missing is the perspective we can take or the awareness we can bring if we just stop moving for a minute.

If we are already good, we don’t need to measure, we don’t need to worry, and we don’t need to fix. We can stand still and let things develop.

We can take the time to see and address problems and troubles in ways that nobody else would – and we can see that perhaps this is why they arise in the first place, as a an opportunity to exercise our unique genius in real time.

When we can stand still it is infinitely easier to ask what we can learn from our troubles rather than reacting out of sheer panic.

If we are already good, we can stand still.

If we are already good, we can pause.

If we are already good, we can breathe first, last, and in-between.

 

Friends, we ARE already good.

YOU are already good: no matter what mistakes you’ve made, no matter what has happened to you, no matter what.

You are good. You are worthy. You are enough.

There is no committee to whom you need to prove it.

There really are no gold stars waiting in a desk drawer somewhere.

beautiful-beauty-brown-eyes-1065084You just need to begin to believe it.

And I know that’s not a small assignment.

So I’ll give you a smaller one.

Stop moving. Breathe. Tell yourself: “In this moment, I am enough.”

I think you’re far more than that, but it’s a start.

With so much love,

j

Growing Roots (A Series): Part I

Where Are You Rooted?

bark-beautiful-branch-1080401I think the Hallmark card answer to this question features family and home – some kind of (outdated for most) fictional version of the generational homestead where you are always loved and encouraged. For most people reality is a lot more complicated. Modern humans don’t often have access to their physical ancestral home (“I grew up here. I was just driving through the neighborhood. Do you mind if I look around?”)

I, for one, moved three times before I graduated from high school and became a sort of serial home changer for years after that. Some of those later moves were based on the sheer practicality and necessity of changing work situations and the realities of being a renter, but I was always searching.

I was always searching for HOME, some mythical geographical spot – some alchemical mixture of architecture and good vibes that was meant to be a safe and enduring harbor for me. I had this sense that my internal discomfort and restlessness just needed to be in the right spot to be healed.

The Family Homestead

When my parents made the decision to leave their home in the DC suburbs in order to downsize and remove themselves from the rat-race, I asked that they let me know before they put the house on the market. This was the house I had lived in during high school and to which I had returned in times of early adult crisis. They did just that and my husband and I bought the house from them.

abandoned-antique-architecture-175692It was a charming old house and I loved it like a family member. When we hired an old house inspector, we found out our new home was in fact an ailing family member. We jumped into the task of reviving her, bringing her up to code, making her safe, securing her against the forces of nature. I had this idea that when we got her completed, the magic would ensue. I would feel safe. I would feel certain. I would feel like I belonged. I would feel rooted and connected to this place where I had done so much growing.

We spent a lot of money on that hope. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. If you’ve ever owned an old home, or a boat, or your own business, or had a kid with terrible teeth, you are familiar with the wind gust that is generated by thousands of dollars rushing out of your account to fix the most recent problem.

My favorite fix occurred on the day that the old house fixing specialist, who rode to work on his bike that had a wagon of tools attached, inserted four car jacks under the house in specific locations to address the fact that the whole structure was sinking into the ground. Each jack had to be raised to a different height because, as is the way with old houses, the level of “sink” into the earth varied from spot to spot. This reality had made for interesting versions of parallel and perpendicular between walls and floors, creating gaps and cracks and thousands of places for small objects dropped on the floor to go and live for eternity.

We poured our money and time into that old girl. And after several months in that house, after seven years of trying, I got pregnant. This shift created new cracks in our plan to be rooted in place, to be the link in a geographic family legacy chain.

Cracks in the Foundation

While we had been rebuilding, old problems were festering in our neighborhood. Crime was on the rise. More to my immediate and specific concern, violent crime was on the rise. As my body grew to accommodate twins, my walk to the subway slowed. At that slower pace I became aware of more signs of trouble and experienced my own lumbering vulnerability which increasingly attracted unwanted attention from others.

During the final phase of my pregnancy, which involved 10 weeks of modified bed rest (which I will forever refer to as “house arrest”), I was reclining in the only chair that could still hold me comfortably when I heard gunshots. They weren’t in my house or even in my yard. They weren’t next door, but down the block. I don’t even remember the circumstances of the crime, I only remember sitting in that chair, nearly incapable of even rising to standing by myself, and feeling vulnerable, helpless, and wildly protective.

My dreams of digging deeper roots – of digging in to that family place – were shattered. I stared out at the double corner lot we’d been so excited to have as a place for kids to play and knew I couldn’t be okay with it. I thought about the playground down the bock where I’d imagined taking my kids and where I’d recently seen evidence of drug traffic and knew I’d been fooling myself all along. Having spent time here growing didn’t mean I should stay, and it didn’t mean I was home.

The funny thing is, though, I thought I’d just gotten the place wrong. I still thought the answer to my rootlessness was finding the right location.

The End of the Geographic Solution

When we embarked on searching for our current home, we had 3 month old twins in tow. There is nothing like house hunting with infants to cure you of the idea that finding the perfect home will solve most, if not all, of your problems. There is no perfect home for 3 month old twins. And 3 month old twin parents are really too tired to make good decisions. We chose the house where they stopped crying and fell to sleep. Yes, that is the truth.

I could tell you more about that house, but the house is really not the point. The point was to get to feeling rooted, and dispelling the myth that hearth and home, that architectural and geographic alchemy are THE answer to that question. We landed in a better spot in so many ways, but it took years for roots to grow and they didn’t grow because we’d found the right place.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are places that are better and worse for us. I believe that the spaces and land we inhabit can contribute to our growth and well-being. But I don’t believe that you need to find the right house or the right town to feel at home, and as a one-time compulsive real estate shopper, THAT was a huge revelation.

How to Grow Roots

argula-botanic-grow-6414Feeling at home, deeply rooted, is an inside job and requires attention to what is going on under all of that practical geography.

Being rooted is about more than checklist of features, double-closets and neighborhood school rankings. Being rooted is about more than a spot on a map or walkability or even how much the utilities run. Being rooted is about more than your family’s history on that spot, more than your memories, more than expectations and tradition.

Being rooted starts with listening: listening to discomfort, listening to tingles of curiosity and the light quick breath of joy. Being rooted starts with your attention to the signals your amazing body gives you when you can get quiet enough to hear them. Being rooted means being at home with and in YOU, an idea that confounds some and scares the living daylights out of others because it sounds like a lot of work and like it may be uncomfortable.

And it may be, but you don’t need to do all of that just yet. You don’t need to take all of the healing steps to grow your roots. You really only need to take one step at a time.

And the first one is simply a breath, in through our nose and out through your mouth, a breath that soothes your tired nervous system, that nourishes your cells. A breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, that takes your focus and thereby quiets the chatter in your mind. Just a breath and your attention on the growing sensation that you are safe, that you are secure in this one moment, that in this breath you are completely and unassailably okay.

Roots are grown rather than found or inherited. They are cultivated rather than dictated by tradition or market forces. They are individual as much as they can be intertwined. They are yours.

Keep breathing.

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.

 

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

 

This is Me

adult-ancient-art-204649I’ve described a few times that I have a morning practice that involves some inspirational reading of some kind, some prayer, a little writing, a little meditation, now sometimes a little Reiki. I kind of go with the flow and see what comes up.

Some days this practice sets me up with clarity and a sort of fresh, clean feeling for the day. Other days it helps me unload something that’s been on my mind. Still other days I get hit between the eyes with something I’m still working on. That’s what happened this morning. Once I got past the annoyance of having the same old story come up over and over again (because why not judge myself while I feel bad), I had an opportunity to see a path forward as pieces that have been all around me assembled themselves.

What set me off? This affirming set of lines:

“There is nothing missing in me. There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing that I cannot be, do, or have as long as I remember who I am.”

~ Iyanla Vanzant

I couldn’t even get to the empowering declaration in the last sentence because I got so hung up on on the first bit. These sentences were part of a prayer that I recited aloud. In reciting it, I skipped those first two lines. I didn’t even notice I’d done it at first. Let’s just skate on past that bit, shall we? Let’s not call it out. Let’s not challenge that old story. That old path tempts my mind so thoroughly. It is a go to.

When things aren’t going precisely as I want them to – even if everything is okay, the default explanation is that there is something fundamental that is wrong with me, or at least that I am somehow getting this ALL wrong – and the follow-on judgment and guilt.

I see two things here. I see myself wedded to an outcome, a certainty about how everything should go that I never seem to question rather than abusing myself about whatever result I did achieve. I also see self-sabotage in the form of that old thought, that thought that there’s something wrong with me. That old thought has gotten in the way of so much success in the past. I forgive myself for that. I truly do. I forgive myself and I know that I was doing the best I could at that time.

I can’t change what I’ve already done, but seeing that pattern can serve now, in this time and place. I see the thought that I am inherently limited because of some basic flaw. I see the way I gather my failures around me as evidence. I see myself push away the evidence that flies so contrary to that old rotten thought. I accept that struggle within me. I see the fear that my old demon generates and I send a flood of love.

The song from The Greatest Showman has been ringing in my head, not just because it resonates, but because my daughter plays it nonstop. I feel the lyrics in my bones, and I know the sharpest words are the ones I tell myself: “When the sharpest words try to cut me down, gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out. I am brave. I am bruised. This is who I’m meant to be. This is me.”

abstract-background-beach-355288Sometimes I just need to talk to myself. Sometimes saying the words out loud matters. Sometimes speaking the truth we discover when we are wisest helps those old wounds heal, helps those reflexive judgments slow down, helps put those old sharp stories in their place. It’s okay little girl. It’s okay teenage girl. It’s okay reckless young woman. It’s okay Mrs. Kemp. It’s okay not Professor Jones. It’s okay Mom of 2 instead of 4. All of what has already happened is okay. And everything that is happening now? Also okay. It’s okay life coach/writer/whatever else shows up. This is you and you are so loved. Just let me know when you need that flood.

Teaching Her the Most Important Thing

My daughter came home with a story today.

She said a friend had pushed her aside physically on the way to complete a classroom task.

adolescent-adult-back-view-710743I say friend with a lot of hesitation and air quotes because this particular girl was at one time the best friend, the slumber party friend, the every day lunch companion. This girl was the secret keeper, the note writer, the one my daughter was sure she would miss the most when they go to different middle schools. Then we had a long period of hot and cold, like a confused faucet. Slumber party on the weekend and the icy treatment a few days later with no explanation. I realize I was only getting one side of the story, but honestly I found it hard to keep up with what the status of their relationship was on any given day.

I encouraged my daughter to ask questions. “How can I when she won’t talk to me?”

I suggested that she make a conversation a prerequisite to returning to the relationship when the ice melted. “I will, just not right now.”

We talked about the fact that you teach people how to treat you.

We talked about how lovely forgiveness is but that it doesn’t mean you have to let someone continually hurt your feelings.

I asked if she needed me to intervene in any way. The look on her face told me we are both well past and not anywhere near that stage. “I am too old for that.” I said that was okay with me unless things changed, escalated, became physical or took on aspects of bullying instead of just being a really bad friend. She nodded, not in approval, but more like “Yeah, I knew you’d say that.” My girl talks a lot and yet so many things can go unspoken.

This pattern continued for most of this school year, without any real escalation and certainly no physical contact. And here we are 3 days before the end of school and this girl, who I’ve been trying very hard NOT to say unkind and childish things about all year put her hands on my kid. I know better than to demonize her, and that I’m STILL only getting one side of the story, but my hackles are up. I want to get in touch with this girl’s Mom so bad I can taste the conversation. She is a very reasonable woman, by the way. I don’t know that we could fix anything, but I have no reason not to talk to her other than my daughter’s wishes expressed in the past.

My girl is out playing with friends. And that’s probably best, because it’s giving me a few minutes to stew in my discomfort. And having had the opportunity to stew, I see that I’ve been handling her problem the same way I so often handle mine.

I’ve come at it with a list of practical suggestions and solutions. I’ve instructed her in qualities that I think will help her in the long run. I’ve said the things she knew I would say. I’ve let her know she has choices. Don’t get me wrong. There is really nothing wrong with any of these things, except that in whipping them all out so quickly I’ve glossed over the most important thing, how all of this made her feel.

We’ve had some tears throughout the year and I don’t just tell her to suck it up, but I see now that my desire to get her past the discomfort and into solutions may have given her feelings short-shrift. I’ve been demonstrating to her that the important thing is to figure out a solution rather than making it safe for her to acknowledge and experience how she feels so that a solution can develop or unfold over time.

“How can a solution to someone putting their hands on your kid unfold over time?!” If you’re inclined to scream this at me, rest assured, I’ve got that track already going full volume up in here. And I will honor that message by asking her more questions over dinner, trying to discern what we’re really talking about here. And will see what, if any, next steps are necessary, but there is another discussion I want to have with her.

beautiful-female-girl-35839After her brother has finished wolfing down his food and has run out to play soccer in the front yard, I will sit with her and ask her how she’s feeling. I will ask her what it’s like to have this girl, the former BFF, treat her this way. I will let her know that its safe to feel whatever it is and that I can sit with her if that would help. I want to teach her strength through practicing and learning that she doesn’t need to be afraid of experiencing any feeling. I want to teach her gentleness with herself. I want to teach her that there are always people who will sit with you in your grief, sometimes you just have to figure out who they are. I want to teach her that the most important part of this WHOLE thing is how she feels and who she is in this moment. I want to teach her what it feels like to accept and honor herself and all of her feelings.

And as I do this I remind myself to slow down, to notice when I am skipping the hard parts and moving straight to solutions for my own discomfort, to see when I am applying spreadsheet logic to a wound as though it is any kind of appropriate bandage. I see the pattern for both of us. I’m working on it, slowly and with my heart rather than solutions in mind.

Wish me luck. I’m going in.

Fighting With My Body

I’ve been fighting with my body lately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started. I sense that it has been a progression, a slide into rather than a snap change.

animal-canine-dachshund-1139797You see there was a long period of fighting with my body in the past: thinking horrible things about it, avoiding looking in the mirror, being angry about its failure to perform or serve me as I deemed perfect. I thought unkind thoughts. I sent unkind messages. I treated it poorly.

I worked really hard on all of that and I really did overcome it. I knew I had really gotten somewhere when I noticed that instead of jumping into my terrycloth robe after my shower I was taking my time drying off in front of the mirror before donning my robe and that on warm days I would take the robe back off as soon as it had helped suck up the drops of water I couldn’t reach. Just kind of parading around in my bathroom in my birthday suit, even with HUGE mirrors around. That never would have happened.

And then I happened on a series of physical mishaps and biological realities. Discomfort made itself known in many ways. It’s a long and boring story, but there was a series of ailments. And I began to sneer. I began to roll my eyes at my body. I began to put “stupid” in front of body parts that weren’t behaving the way I wanted them to. I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

I didn’t notice until just today when I realized that I felt heavy – not in terms of pounds, but physically heavy, like carrying myself around was a burden. As I went up the steps to say goodnight to the kids, I cursed the pain in my foot. I sighed at the stiffness in my hamstrings. I grimaced at the tightness of a T-shirt I wore proudly last month. Every noise, every gesture, every irritation an insult aimed at myself, the most concrete, tangible part of myself. Hurling punishments for bad behavior like some kind of stereotypical evil foster parent in a after school special movie.

What on earth am I doing? How did this happen? I know how it happened. I forgot. And things got stressful. And stuff didn’t work the way I wanted to and instead of answering all of that with tenderness, I got pissed off and resentful and I took it out on myself, my favorite target. Now because you are reading me rather than hearing me speak, you may think it sounds like I’m all kinds of mad at myself, like I’m scolding myself. I’m really not.

I admit I’m a little frustrated with myself, but really it’s just part of a trend I’ve noticed.

I “know” that compassion is the only answer when things get tough, but that muscle needs more exercise: gentle, sweet exercise. I know that compassion is the best answer when things get tough, but I’m still learning and there’s a lot of programming that I’m undoing. It will surface. The old beliefs, the old habits, even the ones that aren’t good for me, they’re the ones that show up when I’m stressed.

adventure-blue-sky-cape-town-920038And so here I am, seeing the change. Here I am noticing and, because I’ve worked on it and reflected on this relationship so much in my coach training, I see the effect those insults have on me. I see the heavy feeling. I see the sadness growing. I see the impatience with every imperfection showing up. I see my impatience with everything increasing. I see my lack of compassion with myself reflected in my impatience with everyone around me. I am literally connecting all of these dots as I type these words with my bum finger, my achy foot, and my distressed belly. I am connecting these dots and remembering how far we’ve come this body and I. I am remembering everything this body has done for me, on my feet, with my hands, even with my poor old mommy parts (full-term, full-size twins is not a small thing). I am remembering that I love me, even when things aren’t perfect and that I deserve to feel that love, even in my creaky knees and arthritic joints and tempestuous middle-aged mommy parts.

bath-blur-brush-275765And I’m tearing up a little bit. I’m a little sad for myself and a little sorry for these parts of me that have been calling out for love. I need to pause and remember what that looks like. I need to apply love bodily. I need to use ice and heating pads and take long, hot showers. I need to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and that I’m eating things that make me and this body feel great.

It is the week leading up to my 49th birthday (holy shit when did that happen). This is a week of promises to myself, covenants of self-love, self-respect, and devotion. It’s also a week of awareness, seeing what’s going on, noticing the patterns, and gently moving in the direction of love because that’s the only direction this body and I want to go.

What Are You Cultivating?

My friend was telling a story to the kids at church (that’s what she does for work – cool, right?). It was a story about a boy who made a garden as his summer project. It was a wonderful story about all that was possible if you just pursue what makes you YOU, unique, special. And as with every garden story, it was also more.

agriculture-close-up-depth-of-field-767240In the garden we never question the need to take care. Initially it’s all about preparing the soil – and this ideally happens WAY ahead of time, something I struggle to remember both on the earth and in any endeavor. Next it’s about tending the soil AND protecting that emerging seedling. In my garden rabbits are usually the culprit and this stage – well, and for later summer seedlings, bugs.

As the plant grows there are a host of things that threaten the soil and the plant. Most of these need to be guarded against, spotted and removed, occasionally even eliminated (I confess I have been known to be merciless at times in the garden). If we get really good at this whole gardening thing, there is an additional category of things to do to encourage help in our garden – inviting beneficial bugs, making the area friendly for the right kinds of birds. Even experienced gardeners continually ask themselves what can help that garden flourish – what would bring it more nourishment? How can I prevent and stop weeds and pests from doing damage and inhibiting growth? We ask so many questions and make so many efforts.

What would it take to turn that lens on ourselves?

How do we prepare the soil for whatever we have to offer the world? What kind of nourishment will best serve us? How much water do we need? How much light and how much dark?

How do we protect tiny new shoots of growth and exploration? How do we keep them from being stomped on by careless acquaintances or by our own doubts and fears?

How do we keep a vigilant eye on creating the best possible conditions for growth while shaking off the pestering worries of how our growth will be received by others, master our resistance to our own change, prevent ourselves from self-sabotage and self-destruction?

Because that’s the work. We tend to think that whatever we do for a paycheck is our “work,” and I get that in our real-world economy, some attention needs to go toward that calculation, but our real work is in the garden. Our real work is tending the soil, having the patience for germination, protecting the seedling, nourishing the plant and being persistent enough to get to the day of harvest. In the garden we celebrate on harvest day – the day we finally get the bloom of the flower or the fruit from the tree or the bean from the bush. In our personal gardens, we can celebrate the whole process.

body-clouds-early-morning-823694We can celebrate what we learn about preparing the soil. We can pay keen attention to our bodies and how they feel. We can enjoy the pleasures of a good night sleep and a delicious and healthful meal. We can celebrate the emotional work we do to be ready to grow again. We can provide our bodies with experiences that make it feel well, whole, strong AND peaceful. We can congratulate ourselves as we enrich ourselves for new work. we can take pride in our capacity for self-care and refuse to allow it to be deemed “selfish” or vain.

adult-autumn-autumn-colors-1122280We can celebrate our growing ability to let the harsh words of others roll past us even in our most tender stages. We can acknowledge our increased capacity to spot and work through situations that we know will stop us short. We can appreciate the wisdom of the spirit that continues to grow even as we are uncertain that this is wise, good, or safe. We can give thanks for the ability to ask for help and the love embodied that brings us assistance.

female-girl-muscles-903590We can celebrate the ways in which our growing strength protects us from all manner of threats, the way we develop an ability to not be seduced by thoughts, plans, and actions of others that would take us off course. We can rejoice in the greater feeling of freedom that comes with each new shoot.

And when it is time to harvest, we can celebrate the miracle of everything we can create from this new vantage point, from this new perspective. And we can look behind us and see everything we were creating all along.

This is the work, and it is gut-wrenching and glorious and we are so blessed to have it. And let’s not forget what comes at the end of all of the work. It’s YOU, it’s what becomes possible if you can find the way to being exactly who you are and cultivating the part of you that can never be replicated. How are you tending your garden?

XO,

julia

Valentine’s Day is an Inside Job

This year, at 9:38 a.m., I am already having the best Valentine’s Day ever. No, don’t run away. If you are not in a relationship and are SO over hearing about Valentine’s Day, I get it, but I promise this is for you too.

pexels-photo-326612I should start off by saying that Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite, at least not since it came with a bag full of notes and candy at school – although there was (in my day) always the looming threat of not receiving notes from your classmates or not receiving them from the classmates you most wanted them from. Since that time I’ve always been a bit of a Valentine’s Day Grinch – is there a word for that? Do we have a character that represents that? I’m not sure I really want an answer to that question. At any rate, I grumbled about the Hallmark manufactured holiday in years when I was single as well as in years when I was not. I still did the things mind you. I bought cards. I delivered chocolate, but there really wasn’t a lot of joy in it. My heart wasn’t in it.

And I think that’s because my heart wasn’t in a lot of things. My giving in times past has often come from a place of obligation. Not that there is no affection there, but there was always something in the way of these outward and sort of fountain-like expressions of romance and gooeyness. And I think what was in the way was not, as I’d always assumed, just a character trait, a preference, a part of the larger picture of WHO I AM AND WHO I WILL ALWAYS BE. I think what was in the way was the thing that keeps so many of us from fully engaging in just about everything: a lack of serious self-love. And I know I’m onto something here because as I write this, I am both excited and uncomfortable, a sensation my friend Bev Barnes dubbed “scare-cited.”

My continuous disdain of myself took many forms: disapproval of my body, judgment and second guessing of every decision (large or small), continually replaying the tape of conversations I’d had to be sure I had handled it all well or said the right things (searching for signs that I had screwed it up), failure to forgive myself for mistakes and errors in judgment, lack of compassion for pain and sorrow… I could go on here, but it’s starting to bum me out.

The point that I am trying to make is that outward expressions of love and my ability to accept them is an inside job. It starts with acceptance of everything I am and the tiniest speck of appreciation for the unique magic that I bring to the world. I know that last sentence makes it sound so easy. And I know if you are not there, in that place of self-acceptance or at least on the path, that that last sentence sounds completely ridiculous.

pexels-photo-207962And so I want to ask you today: what would feel like love? What could you do that would actually make you feel loved? Our answers to this sometimes come cheap and easy. We slide into the comfort of distraction and simple pleasure (sugar, booze, movies). I am asking you to dig a little deeper on this day of love. What would nourish your soul? Can you do that, even if it’s just for a few minutes? I’m asking because every time you do those things, those things that nourish your soul, you are sending yourself a valentine. You are sending your body, your heart and your mind a love note and that message is received. The message that you are worth taking care of; that you are worth nourishing; that the things that are special about you deserve your time, energy and nurturing care – that message gets received. And the message creates a space for hope, for faith, and for real love.

My heart is with you today friends. And my heart is with me – in joy, acceptance, and wildly exciting freedom.

XO,

julia