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.

Growing Roots (A Series): Part III

“Where do you feel that in your body?”

animal-autumn-cute-21259.jpgIt’s a simple question but one that tends to leave people perplexed for a minute or two. The head tilts, the brow furrows. This question was first introduced to me by my own coach; I then learned more about it, and about the criticality of body awareness to my own sense of being rooted in this life.

I’m afraid. I’m angry. I’m lonely.

Where do you feel that in your body?

The truth is that when we are consumed by our emotions, we are usually not paying a bit of attention to the body. In that state we are all about the mind and the story about how we are feeling, what caused us to feel that way, our chances for feeling differently, and what we can/should or can’t/shouldn’t do about it.

We never stop to see how we really FEEL. The body can do that for us. It gives us an expression of our emotion that is tangible, concretely experiential without the mental torment of all of the analysis that goes with upset. We can feel the vibration of the emotion in our bodies, observe and experience AND, perhaps with some practice, let it pass through without acting on it at all.

This allows us to experience how we really feel without all of the double-torture of the resistance to it and the suffering that comes with our mental stories about it. In this way we can enter into a conversation with how we feel instead of being in a screaming match with our emotions or constantly playing jailor to the things we wish to avoid.

Unfortunately one of the things many of us wish to avoid is how we feel about our bodies, so its really no wonder that we’ve distanced ourselves from them so thoroughly. I spent years moving with lightning speed from shower to bathrobe to avoid seeing my body in the giant mirror right outside the shower stall.

I couldn’t bear the intense self-criticism that accompanied that moment, the cataloguing of flaws, the harsh assessments of my efforts to get/be/and stay fit, the listing of the shifting physical realities that barred me from enjoying the fitness I had once achieved before arthritis, before twin pregnancy, before I had so very many other responsibilities. So I avoided her, that woman in the mirror.

In truth that act of avoidance was a condemning judgment all its own, a shame-filled retreat into bathrobes and baggy clothes. The price for all of this shame (as if shame weren’t bad enough all on its own) was excruciatingly high.

It turns out that we can’t lob criticisms on just one part of ourselves without feeling it in a more universal way. Our ego responds to those barbs with efficiency. In my brain, if I wasn’t fit enough to be seen by myself in my own bathroom, I was certainly not ready for primetime in any part of my life. I couldn’t feel confident with other women. I couldn’t’ take steps forward with my career. Every path would eventually be blocked by this sense of being so wrong, this overwhelming discomfort with the very fact of who I physically am.

In distancing myself from my own body, I stunted my own development and growth in ways that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. I didn’t know that the care of the body, the relationship with the body, the willingness to experience myself through the body were all part of a way of being rooted, of having an incredibly strong foundation, of staying steady enough to grow. The body is a channel for deep rooting that our self-judgment and societal pressure has, for many of us, shut down.

The good news is that you have control over that channel, and rooting through the body is something that one can do intentionally by taking specific and concrete steps.

First and foremost rooting through the body requires a certain level of physical awareness, an in-touchness with physical sensation that can be fostered by simply allowing and lingering on the way that we feel in the body (cold, hot, relaxed, tingly) at any given moment, noticing and taking that in.

blur-body-care-161608Once we increase a sense of body-awareness (which really is more like body aliveness), it is infinitely easier to sort out what helps us to feel deeply good – what creates sensations of pleasure, of comfort, of wellness, of connection.

When we are paying enough attention to those sensations, we can actually change the way that we do things – small things like which socks we wear and bigger things like what we choose to eat – out of a clear sense of what feels best to us.

It sounds simple, perhaps too simple, but it was something that never occurred to me. I made most of those decisions based on a need to be efficient, practical, or a need to discipline myself in some way.

Approaching self-care as a way of responding to the body’s signals sends a deep message, a message that says: “You are worthy of attention. You are worthy of care. I am listening.”

THESE messages, just like avoidance and self-criticism don’t go ignored by the spirit. They are messages that inspire confidence, that allow us to imagine that we can have and do what we want, that we can be trusted to care for ourselves and others. They also create a relationship with the body that empowers it to experience our emotions so that we can stop stuffing them down or discarding them as unimportant. We can learn to be ourselves.

These messages of worthiness, capacity, and trust; these practices that affirm us both physically and emotionally can give us strength and courage to root us, to help us reach higher, spread out and claim our place in this world, to unfurl and feel the sunlight.

The body is a glorious channel, a conduit for growing roots. Are you listening to her?

 

What You Can See Changes

August is coming to a close and I’ve barely whispered a peep about the practice that I’ve been doing during this last of the summer months.

Some background facts: 1) meteorologically it is usually somewhere between swamp and armpit in my state during August; 2) I have a geriatric dog; 3) I like to walk; 4) there is a huge construction project going on that has impacted the woods behind our house and begins making an atrocious amount of noise at 7 am; AND 5) I let on to my mentor and coach that my meditation practice had fizzled and the other practices that keep my head and heart in the game just haven’t felt right lately.

So she suggested I do a little experiment. She suggested that I get up BEFORE the construction and instead of doing whatever I would normally do first, I take a walk, a mindful walk, not a gung-ho let’s get some exercise walk, a connected walk. I could take my aging canine to slow me down so I can pay attention and get into the woods before all of that infernal noise.

environment-forest-grass-142497She suggested that there might be things for me to see, hear, feel there. She reminded me how I feel when I am in the trees. She suggested that since my other practices weren’t doing the thing, maybe it was time for a new one.

Now there is a WHOLE lot in there. Yep, a lot to unpack, but rather than do that for you, I’m going to just tell you what I found.

I have, every day since she suggested it, gotten into the woods before the construction begins. I have slowed down; and she was right, the dog helps with that, except on the days he has outright refused to join me from the comfort of bed (some friend). I have appreciated the cooler air coming down off of the mountain (it is technically a mountain even though it is a Maryland mountain and thereby admittedly on the small side). I have loved the quiet at that hour. Well, what initially seemed like quiet until I tuned in and heard all of the birds, the squirrels, the water in the creek, the deer skittering away, a dog on the other side of the neighborhood saying hello.

I have stood at the top of what I thought of as the gash in the woods where the trucks razed the trees to create an easement for a water line. At first I took it in with sorrow. At second and third glance I saw that the children were right and it will make an amazing sledding hill come winter. And finally, as time has passed, I see the grass growing back and the wild beginning to, ever so slowly, return. I am awed by the stamina of our earth even as we plod along so disruptively.

I have stood in that tree-lined space and asked what I can do to help: to help the land that had been torn, to help our country, to help my community. Answers have come. Some were complex. Some were remarkably simple. All were clearly for me.

abstract-art-blur-1038278I have gone from a woman doing the dance that can only result from walking face-first into a spiderweb woven across the trail, to a woman who sees the spiderweb from a yard or so away and slows down, shifting perspectives to get the whole scope and art of it all, the woman who takes the time to figure out how to get around it with the least possible disruption.

I have allowed the energy of the grove to seep into me, wash through, and return to the earth as I walk on.

I have entered the woods in one place and come out another, having experienced more changes than seem reasonable in those short walks.

As my month long challenge comes to a close, I sense that my lesson in the woods may be nearing an end, which is not to say that I won’t return, but it may not look like this, may not be at this time, may not be THE way to adjust my sights in the coming month, because that is what these trips were supposed to do, to help me see.

When we open to an experience, and enter it with the persistence of one who is devoted to that openness as process, as experience, as a moment of renewal, what we can see changes, like spiderwebs catching the sun at just the right angle. We can wake up, even just a little, to everything in the world that usually escapes our notice.

Wake up loves. It’s time.

What’s in the Way?

I’m getting some guidance from an exceedingly wise and savvy master coach. She is tremendously helpful. AND she pushes me. And that’s what I signed up for, but you know how that goes. When you find these people, you know it’s a gift, but oh my. Before she asked me anything I promised myself I would go “all in” on this relationship. In other words, no half measures, no diddling around. Everything she suggests will be attempted. This is not the way I usually operate, which is the point, right?

alcohol-alcoholic-drink-1484So she stepped right out of the leading gate and wondered if I would consider giving up alcohol while we work together. It is a four month commitment. The potential health benefits alone (improved sleep, less peri-menopausal interference) of such a move should be enough for me to immediately get on board with that experiment. But I wasn’t on board. I was not at all on board. In fact, my resistance was pretty strong.

And THAT gave me pause. There was an initial panic: “Am I an alcoholic? Why is this a big deal? Why am I even hesitating? Do I have a problem?” This line of inquiry proved rabbit-hole filled and so I shifted my lens. I moved from fear and judgment – the need to discern and neatly categorize myself – into curiosity.

Why IS this a big deal? What am I getting out of my relationship with alcohol? Am I resisting because it is change? The tenor of these questions was very different than that initial panic reaction. It was genuine curiosity, like looking at the patterns of veins in a leaf or growth rings on a tree stump. “Wow. Look at that. Huh.”

And so I sat with her suggestion overnight, just being with my discomfort at my discomfort, noticing it, seeing it, working not to judge and just notice. Taking this stance, of curiosity and observation, made it a lot easier to really consider what was going on and figure out what I wanted to do about it.

Ultimately I decided to follow her suggestion (with a one week exception when I am on vacation with some food and wine oriented folks who always combine those nicely) in part because I promised myself to be all in, but also because of the reaction it caused. It was pretty clear to me that my attachment to the bottle was stronger than I wanted it to be (and here’s where my mind can go crazy with that and make it MUCH bigger than it needs to be) and I thought about what it does, the wine (my drink of choice).

I can say I drink it for the taste, and I do, but I’d be lying if I said that was all of it. I enjoy that warm feeling. I enjoy the softening of the edges it brings. I like the mellow relaxation it ushers in. THAT is truth. And I know that constantly warming myself, softening my edges, and finding the mellow zone is keeping me from some experiences, some realities, some feelings, and some thoughts that could use my attention. I’m not sure I know what those are, but the attachment/the resistance tells me that they are there, waiting for my attention.

And so I have embarked on this four month experiment. It has only been a couple of days and I can already say that skipping the glass or two in the evening has produced some physical differences. I am sleeping more deeply. I also don’t seem to need as much sleep. I wake up more quickly with a clearer head. The morning caffeine that had been on the rise now seems excessive. My body is noticing and appreciating the break.

My mind? That’s going to take longer I’m afraid, as it usually does. But the process of considering this change and ultimately making this decision in the interest of commitment and authenticity, reminds me to ask you what might be getting in your way. What are you using to avoid, delay, ignore, or subdue how you feel about things? What habits are keeping you from living more fully, in a more engaged way, with more consciousness and clearer choices? What change are you resisting with everything you’ve got?

bed-blanket-female-450056Listen, I’m not suggesting we all go monastic here. No sleeping on pallets or hair shirts required. I do, however, think there’s value in looking at what we use for comfort or distraction and asking ourselves what it’s really doing for us. What is under the desire for comfort, for numbing, for relaxation, for soothing? They are uncomfortable questions to be sure, but looking at them, seeing them, noticing what arises when we actually sit with that discomfort, THAT is a part of the path to freedom, the place where you know you can handle any feeling, the place where you know yourself and make clear decisions about what does and doesn’t work for you, the place where you actually address the things that bother you rather than just telling the dissatisfied part of yourself to hush.

I’d ask you to join me out of solidarity and turn this thing into some kind of  120 day challenge, but I don’t feel comfortable being that specific, and frankly 120 days is a long time to for me personally to maintain a cheerleading posture. What I do want you to know is that I am here, noticing my stuff, seeing what I’ve been hiding from, feeling whatever comes up. I am here working at my authentic humanity because it is safe to do that, even when it feels scary and super uncomfortable. If you’re ready to give up a warm fuzzy or two, I can be there for you too.

 

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

Learning Surrender

I’ve been sick this week. I struggled to type that because what I’ve had is a migraine, and for whatever reason, in my mind that is not the same as “sick.” I didn’t realize had a separate category for migraines until just now. This is kind of a tangent, but maybe not. Bear with me. I’m loaded up on caffeine (helps with the headache) and a little addled.

adult-alone-black-and-white-551588I felt this beast coming. I can usually tell a migraine is coming. As early as Sunday I was getting signals. Persistent headache, geographically different than other “regular” headaches, which honestly I don’t get many of anymore. As we move into Monday I noticed that my teeth were starting to hurt. I don’t know how to describe this any more specifically, because it’s really weird, but it’s also a sure sign for me. When all of the teeth on the top of my mouth hurt, we’re talking migraine either on the way or here. I ignored these signals. When I mentioned the possibility to my stepmother, who also suffers from migraines, she said: “You know it’s better to just take the prescription if you know it’s coming.” I mumbled some kind of agreement at her, knowing full well that she was right, and didn’t do it anyway. I didn’t want to have a migraine. I didn’t want to take migraine meds (that can sometimes leave me feeling a little loopy and deflated). I didn’t want to allow the whole thing. I had plans for the next several days. I was going to fight this migraine in a super passive-aggressive “wait and see” kind of way, even though all of the signs were there. I was going to keep my commitments.

And so it came, and it came like a freight train. Tuesday morning I could barely get out of bed and was clinging to counter edges and furniture to navigate the lower floor of the house. The prescription was unearthed. I retreated to my bedroom, and read in the semi-dark until I feel asleep again, hoping for relief. It was not to be found and it became clear that this migraine was going to a be a medication maximum situation. I added the second dose, found my darkest sunglasses, donned a baseball cap to block more light and cancelled everything for the day, something I pretty much never do. I had no choice. the pain was so bad I was sitting on the couch just crying – quietly so as not to aggravate my headache further.

I looked at my calendar with some remorse about the day. I looked at Wednesday’s schedule and thought about the appointments and end of the year choir party I knew I was likely to miss. I felt the discomfort of needing to miss things I really wanted to do. And then, for the first time maybe since I was pregnant, I fully surrendered.

I stopped trying to see if I could maybe be well enough to get something done. I stopped hoping I would be well enough to make an appointment or an engagement. I stopped worrying about tidying up after myself. I stopped wondering if maybe by the afternoon I could work. I surrendered. It felt like I didn’t have a choice, and really I didn’t, but there was still a moment of consciously acknowledging that and giving up the internal debate, acknowledging the need to do my body this kindness, seeing the peace available to me if I just stopped wondering if I could do more and rest.

bed-bedroom-blanket-1097116And so I did. I figured out what I could to make myself as physically comfortable as possible, and adjusted according to how that changed throughout the day. I listened intently to my body when it said “no food” because of the associated nausea and then what specifically it wanted when the wave of nausea subsided: “bell peppers? OK, will do.” I proceeded gently, quietly. I read and napped and occasionally hopped on line to communicate for a few minutes and then hopped off to save my eyes from the screen light. When TV became an option, I watched whatever I wanted with no guilt or remorse for wasted time. When I’d had enough of the stupidity, I turned it off again and rested and read and made myself tea.

In short I did exactly what I try to help my kids do when they are sick. I took excellent care of myself. I let go of expectations and judgments about being sick and about what I “should” be doing and I gave my body what it needed.

Here I am two days later, not completely recovered (this is usually a multi-day phenomenon), but significantly better off and free of the sense of dread that can come with facing what we’ve missed. I missed nothing. Clients have been rescheduled. Plans have been changed. Everyone understands and it will all be okay.

That struggle not to surrender? I think I do that a lot. I find myself going halfsies on lots of things – and there can be a benefit to that. Halfsies can be helpful (when you have twins sometimes it feels downright necessary), but so can wholesies. Going all in, not because we want to reinforce feeling sick or whatever it is, but because that feeling we’re fighting or avoiding by staking out the middle ground really just needs to be felt. There is a peace in surrendering to it. There is a peace in allowing it. There is a kindness in acknowledging what is really true and then making it as comfortable for yourself as you can. Where could you maybe use a little surrender? Where are you straddling the line and suffering for it? What would happen if you just let go?

What Do You DESERVE?

A wise friend of mine gave a talk about human rights this weekend. Given some of the things going on right now, it seems like an important conversation to have, although I suppose that’s true most days.

My friend rightly pointed out that human rights rest on a decision that we make as a community or as a society. We agree that there are certain things that should be true for everyone. My friend, and minister, explained: “You can’t do anything to be more or less worthy of human rights so long we agree that they exist.” They apply to everyone.

For those of us raised in countries or cultures where at least lip service is given to human rights we agree, that at least on some level, everyone has rights that cannot be taken away. Of course the argument rarely stops there and becomes more detailed and heated shortly after. Despite our disagreements about what our specific human rights are, we do seem to agree that they exist.

backlit-clouds-dusk-853168We agree that other people have rights that cannot be taken away, truths that are self-evident. We don’t however, on a more personal level, seem to be very good at extending the same baseline to ourselves. If we can agree that everyone has inalienable human rights, can we agree that just being able to be alive is a pretty low bar and that we ought to consider both raising the bar and being sure we are applying it to ourselves? What would it look like to grant ourselves rights on the individual personal level?

What can you say you always DESERVE no matter what? There’s the rub, isn’t it? That DESERVE. Yep, I capitalized it because it’s a hangup for me. When I think about what I DESERVE there is always a conversation about effort – effort that I must expend to be deserving, action I must take to be good enough, goodness offered to be worthy of whatever. It’s an old hangup and one I’m working on, but it’s deep and sometimes it takes time.

I have a hunch that many of us have never considered what we deserve no matter what – even on days when you’re not nice to others, on days when you don’t do your best, on the days when that one Girl Scout cookie becomes a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies.

What do you deserve no matter what?

I gave this some thought and the exercise was both revelatory as to what I am willing to believe I am worthy of and startling in its sometimes stark contrast to my own self-care,  even in its much improved state.

What do I think I DESERVE? (I’m still capitalizing because that word is still tough for me.)

  1. Sleep. This is first because I didn’t get enough last night. I think I deserve sleep even if I haven’t been swell that day.
  2. The highest quality food I can manage.
  3. Love. (whoa)
  4. Acceptance. (double whoa)
  5. Joy. (are you kidding?!)
  6. The occasional insight in times of trouble.
  7. Internal peace.
  8. Beauty.
  9. Community.

Yeah. I told you I’ve worked on it. I’m well past believing that I only deserve health care and shelter. Some people might find that spoiled, but understand I have no problem agreeing that everyone else deserves these things as well. I’ve only thought about it from my perspective. I am happy to imagine that your list might look different, and that you deserve all of it. The question is how do we get there? How do you, if you wish, get to having the audacity to want such a list, imagining that you could claim it?

The first step is the same as the reasonable first step in addressing problems on a larger scale, from Reverend Carl: “We need to be honest about the situation at hand.”

For those of you (formerly us) who have no sense of that which is inalienable in your personal realm, you have to determine whether or not that’s working for you. Do you (formerly we) feel neutral or badly more often than seems reasonable given the circumstances fo your life? Do you frequently find yourself overwhelmed, over-scheduled or overtired and then face the task of bettering your moments by consciously choosing behaviors that buffer you from the way you feel or simply cheer you up for a short time? Do your days feel more draining than fulfilling? Are you in some version of survival mode?

The situation at hand, if you answered yes to those, is that your current approach isn’t working.

OK Julia, Great, so I admit it’s not working, then what?

You figure out what your inalienable rights are. What must be true for you to live, to thrive, not just survive? If that seems too big a question, let me give you a boost. Let me start your list for you:

  1. I am allowed to think my thoughts and feel my feelings no matter how I or other people might judge those thoughts and feelings (and by the way, this is a longer version of the acceptance mentioned earlier).
  2. Now you go…

blonde-hair-blurred-background-dress-852793And when you finish that list, try on the idea that you actually DESERVE that. If that’s too big a leap, try on the idea that you should be able to have that list whether you deserve it or not because you are human, because you are the result of a moment in time and a biological improbability that will never happen again, ever. You really are special, just by being here. What would happen if you decided to treat yourself that way?