Are You A Runner?

“So, do you run marathons or something?” she asked, with no shred of irony (which, if she KNEW me, would have totally been there).

You see I have the lab results of a serious runner. I always have. It’s genetic good fortune.

My blood pressure used to be so low that I would occasionally be handed a glass of water before I was allowed to leave the student health center at Penn State (WE ARE, for those inclined to reminisce with me).

When it came time for me to choose a way to exercise in my twenties, as grad school stress management, I decided to take up running.

adventure-asphalt-freedom-2590164I’ll be honest. I chose it because 1) I could do it alone, 2) I didn’t need a lot of gear, and 3) I could do it alone. Feel me?

In other words, I didn’t have some passion to become a runner, but I wanted to exercise alone.

I loved it. I didn’t love it like “Now I’m going to be a competitive marathoner,” but I loved it. I loved the freedom of it. I loved the portability of it. I loved the way it made me feel. I loved being outside and moving fast enough to feel a breeze regardless of how still the air was.

I just loved it.

My relationship with running was a long one. It wasn’t always consistent and I never got into the competitive version. But running was always there for me.

And then came the pain. My foot was swelling and telling me very clearly to stop running. So I stopped, hoping it was temporary. I kept walking though and my foot kept swelling.

I kept ignoring it. Well, not ignoring it, but not really addressing it.

And then it became impossible to ignore it any longer.

So began a series of doctor’s visits that ended with me having a surgery that took a really long time to recover from and ended with a follow up visit with the orthopedist looking over his glasses at me and having a frank and seriously depressing conversation about shoes and… running.

“I can’t remove the arthritis. I can only take care of some of the damage so it won’t hurt so much. How long it takes for you to need to see me again depends on your choices.”

Ugh. Sometimes I hate it when it depends on my choices.

And so I stopped running and chose more reasonable shoes most of the time.

And I sort of forgot that I was a runner at all, that I was ever actually a physical runner.

The truth is I’ve been an emotional runner as long as I can remember.

I ran from conflict.

I ran from disappointment.

I ran from friends and groups of people who let me down, who proved themselves to be too human.

I ran from people who called me out when I let them down.

I ran from well-intended young men who didn’t read my requirements memo quickly enough.

And more than anything, I ran from an idea that kept surfacing, starting in high school and coming back up for air intermittently until now. That’s about 35 years of running, in case you’re wondering. That’s a LOT of running.

And for most of that time I can honestly say that my most common response to standard chit-chat was that I was tired.

And I was.

Because running is tiring.

You see I didn’t believe that I could follow through on that idea that kept surfacing, that idea that I could be a minister.

I was sure that I was too flawed (which is really silly because I have known some seriously flawed ministers – and I say that with total love).

I was sure that my faith was too riddled by doubt and a lack of clarity, that I had no business trying to help people with the big questions when I was so clearly still not answering them very well.

And so I ran. I ran every time it came up. I ran from churches. I ran from religion. I ran from job to job. I ran from people who asked more of me. I ran from people who let me off the hook too easily.

I ran, because I could do it alone and the wind that it generated let me believe I was going somewhere.

And then, last month, with a perfectly reasonable plan for my career trajectory in hand, that idea rose up again. Well, okay, it was a little more dramatic than that.

I’d given a sermon that morning, as lay folks are scheduled to do in summers at my Unitarian Universalist church. It went well. I got great feedback, including some questions about my professional plans, which I ducked. That afternoon I sang with my musical partner at the ordination of our church’s intern. That sentence felt complicated. Our intern was being ordained, becoming “official” clergy, and we sang a piece in the service.

And as the most official words were spoken, a voice in my head said: “Why isn’t that you? Why aren’t you doing this?” And the question was serious, not accusatory, like REALLY why?

The usual answers piped up, drowning in the poor self-image I’d worked for years to elevate, with a few logistical and totally “reasonable” adult objections thrown in for good measure. And I looked at all of that stuff, right there while the ordination proceeded, and decided they were not very good answers.

I decided, once again, that it was time to stop running.

It was a stone’s throw from that moment (through some meetings and terrifying and exhilarating conversations) to filling out paperwork and waiting nervously for my fate to be decided, and finally getting to yes.

Yes to me.

clouds-sailboat-sailing-116651Yes to the questions.

Yes to admitting I don’t have the answers and to letting that be okay.

Yes to the call.

Yes to being enough to hear it.

Yes to standing still and feeling the wind in my sails, and learning a new way of moving.

Real Decluttering

Amongst the many calls for transformation in January, we hear the call to get more organized – to declutter.

Now, let me first say that this suggestion finds purchase with me. We are a family of stuff. I often joke that I live with three hoarders. And I am nowhere near monastic in my relationship with stuff, I am simply more willing to give some of it up when things get too crowded.

At any rate, the short version of the logic behind decluttering as organization is simply this: once you have too much stuff for your space, no amount of organizing will suffice. You will always be fighting the tide – and losing, which is what happens when we fight the tide, by the way.

I am sympathetic to the simple truth of that idea. Perhaps it appeals to me so much because I live with three hoarders.

book-collection-education-159751Once you have too much stuff for your space, no matter how much Tetris you play with it, no matter how many pretty containers you try to sort it into, it just won’t fit and it certainly won’t fit neatly or in a way that is pleasing to the eye or soothing to the soul.

So, the natural answer seems to be to begin a process of getting rid of some of the excess.

There are people who have made their entire careers out of helping people actually DO this work.

There is an industry – and a very full one I’d like to add – that helps people find ways to approach and re-organize their stuff.

As this desire takes hold as part of the New Years’ promise of better ways and better days, I see a criticism of the declutter movement that I had felt but not heard before.

This argument centers around the idea that this entire problem is on that only people of adequate privilege have. And further that the approach of getting rid of things that you’ve already paid for and could, at least in theory, use again, is but a further demonstration of that privilege.

I see the logic there.

AND

I know that when I had less – when my economic privilege was decidedly less, I still had things that I didn’t want or need. I still had a hard time organizing those things as my spaces were also smaller, my containers nonexistent or of the cardboard box from the liquor store variety.

In short, I think it is possible to have a clutter problem without being rich or spoiled.

Why do I think that is possible?

I think it’s possible because our culture encourages the satisfaction of the soul by way of accumulation.

NOW, before I say more about that, let me be clear that I am not about to equate stuff or the wanting or getting of stuff with sin. I think that it is perfectly possible to have a lot (or even just slightly more than enough) of stuff and have it out of sheer pleasure or need or more likely a combination of both.

I do not think it is morally wrong to either want or get stuff.

What I do think is that for many of us, the getting of the stuff is a misguided attempt to fill much deeper needs AND that using stuff in this way means that we will never actually have enough AND that we will therefore face this decluttering task on an ongoing basis.

Singer-songwriter David Wilcox has a line I think I’ve quoted before: “When you lay your dreams to rest, you can get what’s second best, but it’s hard to get enough.”

We cannot get enough stuff to convince us we are enough as people.

We cannot get enough stuff for our children to prove our goodness as parents or ensure their success in the world.

We cannot get enough stuff to make up for jobs that make us miserable.

We cannot get enough stuff to stem the loneliness of untended or one-sided relationships.

We cannot get enough stuff to generate a feeling of connection, the magic antidote to addiction.

Stuff cannot fill the holes of the soul. The holes of the soul require deeper work than shopping and organizing.

The way to approach that deeper work in a lasting way isn’t just to surrender our excess stuff, but to declutter our minds, our hearts, our calendars.

The way to address the holes of the soul is to apply the same level of honesty about the stuff that all of the experts recommend (Is it serving me? Does it still fit? Is it just here because someone else gave it to me?) to our thoughts, to our habits, and to our choices so that we can choose better:

So that we can look at the thoughts of not-enoughness and recognize how they play out. So we can challenge them and attempt to move toward a peace of self-affection and assurance.

So that we can assess our situations at work and see the part we play in creating our own dissatisfaction and can either change our outlook and approach or get real about reconsidering what we do or where we are doing that work.

So that we can have the time to tend to our relationships and see the ways that we contribute to their meagerness.

So that we can find the courage to move into the world with enough vulnerability to actually truly connect and to offer that same connection without so much need attached to it.

So declutter your physical space as you like.

I get that urge too, and for the way I am wired, a less full visual plane is a good thing. But don’t stop with that clear out. Watch what happens in your world of stuff AFTER that process. Notice if more stuff is coming in. See yourself replacing that clutter.

beach-bracelet-daylight-723501Perhaps more importantly, notice what happens to your relationship with your stuff if you take the plunge on a deeper kind of decluttering. See how much easier it is to not need and want so much when you begin to see, to acknowledge, to comfort and to heal the holes that act as vacuum for all of that stuff in the first place.

See how much easier it is to release things that no longer serve.

See how much easier it is to create a life full of things, people, and experiences that spark TRUE joy.

Waiting for the Storm to Pass

I had an uncomfortable learning experience this weekend, a reminder of some of the very principles I’ve shared here over and over and over again. If I believed in being tested, I’d say I was tested and that I failed for quite some time before I finally rejiggered and aimed for mastery instead of a good grade… Let me explain.

My son had a piano recital this weekend. Now, let me further explain that my son does not like to perform. He doesn’t like crowds. He doesn’t like being watched. He doesn’t like any of it. So why make him do it – you may be asking and it is a fair question.

His Dad and I rationally sorted out that these recitals, being held in our church where our son feels very comfortable, and being a not terribly big and very kind crowd, would be a good place to get over some of the performance anxiety, to stack up enough positive experiences that it might spread into other areas, make the whole idea less scary. I still think this is a reasonable idea in principle.

However, in practicing this idea a couple of days ago, it didn’t seem so great. My son was really agitated. I had to Mom/coach talk him through preparing for the event as he moved from joking around about how awful it would be to repeating that he didn’t want to go over and over again in a quiet voice in the back seat.

I stuck to my guns, and it wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time I’ll regret that particular habit.

alone-boy-child-256658He did play in the recital. It was not his best performance. And then he sat and quietly wept for 30 minutes. He chose a seat at the end of our row and cried. I gave him a few minutes to himself and then moved to be next to him. I offered to go out in the hall with him to talk. He had no interest. I quietly assured him that his performance was good. He shook quietly. It then dawned on me that while I surely needed to revisit our approach to recitals, right now, in this moment, he didn’t need or want to be convinced of anything. He didn’t want to talk to me about how he felt. He didn’t want me to remove him from the room. He just wanted to feel how he felt and to have someone be kind about it.

adult-black-and-white-blur-735978I stopped talking. I stopped even trying to soothe him. I just wrapped my arms around him and held him while he weathered the internal storm, knowing full well that it was of his own making and that I had tools that could help him change the weather. He didn’t need that from me. He just needed compassion. He just needed safety. He just needed someone to be with him to make the feelings less scary for having a companion in them.

So I held him. And after a few minutes, he began to relax. He leaned into me. His breaths became deeper. The tears slowed. He stopped fighting with himself and with the words he knew I wanted to say and had said earlier. He just let himself feel the way he felt and I told him that was allowed.

We have reviewed our recital policy and are making changes based on the fact that we don’t care if he wants to perform or not; we want him to love to play the piano. That change was important. We needed to see what we were communicating to him and what we were expecting. But I personally needed to remember how good it feels to just let the feelings be, to be kind enough to sit with them rather than applying logic to them in an attempt to change them, to be patient enough to offer compassion and love even when we don’t understand those feelings and why they are happening.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to remember this important lesson with my son, and to have the time to offer that same lesson to myself in this season of mixed emotions, of loss amidst the joy. I can be patient enough with myself to continue to offer compassion even when it seems like it shouldn’t be necessary. I can sit with it, and wait for the storm to pass, rather than trying to change the weather.

Living in Possibility

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

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

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

Living in possibility starts small, quietly, and internally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ask the Body; She Knows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask your body. She knows.

Branching Out: Building Confidence

“If only I had more confidence, then I could do things like ______ and ________. My life would be more _______. Things would be better,” said plenty of people lots of times.

It was a theme for me too, for so many years, and it is a place I still occasionally find myself. I can still look back and see all of the ways that confidence, a shift in my temperament, would have helped me. It would have helped me in graduate school – seeing myself as just as deserving as my peers of my place in my program. It would have helped me in college and high school in trusting friendships and not needing so much affirmation through romantic entanglements. There is no question in my mind that more confidence would have changed my experience as a professional musician.

But I did not develop that confidence until much later because I had a fundamental misunderstanding about how confidence would come. I thought that at some point, someone in a position of some authority would recognize something good in me – would tell me that I was great at whatever. I would be acknowledged for the good things and THEN, having earned the needed recognition, I could be confident. The stories of Hollywood starlets being discovered at the lunch counter sounded just about right to me. Someone was going to find/see/acclaim my good qualities and then I could act with confidence, do things I dared not do otherwise.

It took me a long time to discover that my thinking was absolutely backward not on one, but two, counts.

In the first place I came to understand that true confidence has nothing to do with anyone else’s recognition of your gifts and good qualities, but lies in your own ability to see, claim, and appreciate those qualities.

bar-blue-business-533347Childhood lessons on humility made it difficult for me to recognize, claim, and celebrate my gifts. It was good to be good at things but not good to make too much of a fuss (or expect too much of a fuss) about them. The fantasy of someone else “discovering” me would let me get around the moral minefield of bragging – my genius would be pointed out by someone else. Aside from the obvious drawback that lunch counter discoveries of talent are rare indeed, they also put all of one’s sense of being enough in someone else’s hands. They put a tremendous amount of personal power in the hands of strangers.

The other thing that I had all wrong was the relationship between confidence and doing the things I wanted to do. I thought the confidence had to come first. It never occurred to me that I had the capacity to develop that confidence by taking action on my own behalf while I was still unsure, unsteady or even scared to death. I didn’t understand that waiting until I was “ready” to do the things I most wanted to do was really just me delaying BOTH those experiences AND the opportunity to develop my sense of confidence by taking risks, by taking action.

All of those steps I was delaying seemed too big to me, too scary. I was all caught up in a story that I didn’t have what it took to complete them, that I needed something else first. What I really needed first was a belief in my value as a human (worth conferred at birth by the way) and the willingness to act while afraid.

I needed the strategy of breaking big steps forward into tiny micro-steps so I could build confidence in my capacity and trust that 1) I will do what needs doing and 2) I will be okay even if those things don’t go well or create the results I am looking for.

adult-beautiful-close-up-936065-2I have those tools now. And I know I will be okay. I see that I have something to offer and I am building confidence every time I act in courage – taking steps when I am afraid. The fear doesn’t really go away if I keep reaching and growing but my increased confidence allows me to gather that courage and do it anyway.

Taking those steps, no matter how small, feels like reaching out with root and branch in a burst of self-supporting growth and bloom. It seems to me that the best parts of our life do this; they look like expansion and nourishment at the same time, and they are holy, sacred, and available to all of us. Even me. Even you.

Navigating Growth: Extending Your Branches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Roots (A Series): Part VII

Rooting in Trust: The Gifts of Being Uncertain

Yep, there it all is. Trust and uncertainty. Our favorites, right?

I got started thinking about the relationship between these two things in church. Our minister made reference to the Jewish practice of writing God as G-d. I learned that this spelling is a way of signifying that the writer is talking about the god of Abraham (the ONE god for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, yes the same ONE for all three), signifying that entity while being clear that we can only be so specific in doing so. In the words of my minister this practice serves “to show we don’t really know what we are talking about.” I love this admission.

This designation, this way of acknowledging such a big mystery with three characters, speaks to an acceptance of uncertainty that I find refreshing and intriguing. And the impact for the faith that uses this spelling is instructive.

aisle-beach-celebration-169198Acknowledging that fundamental uncertainty about divinity has not prevented the Jewish people from developing a deep and abiding faith both as a group and as individuals as they so choose. That uncertainty has not prevented the Jewish people from referencing, describing, and writing about or praying to God as they so choose. Acknowledging the limits of what is known has not kept Jewish people from developing a shared cultural tradition of celebrations, rituals, food, and music with which to enrich their lives as they so choose.

Accepting this fundamental uncertainty about the exact nature of God has not prevented or hindered growth, love, richness and fullness in living.

My mother told me a long time ago that I “have never been a fan of uncertainty.” As I write that, it occurs to me how much more those words describe her than me, and how universal they seem to be in humanity. But to keep it personal, I admit that I have always felt more comfortable with a clear plan, routines, expected outcomes. These qualities all helped me as a teacher and parent, but haven’t always served me well in times of trouble and stress and during times of fundamental unpredictability (which I acknowledge are increasingly common as I am honest about it).

For years the added discomfort of “I don’t know what will happen” kept me committed to plans that I no longer felt good about, routines that didn’t serve me, and striving for outcomes that my heart wasn’t invested in. That fear of uncertainty kept me caged up.

It seems to me, as I think about this whole G-d thing, that there is an entirely different way to approach uncertainty. It seems to me now, as someone who has entirely thrown off her professional plans in favor of the substantial risks of soul-centered self-employment, and as the partner of someone who discarded a lucrative career in favor of seminary, that our avoidance of uncertainty is based entirely upon the possibility of a negative outcome and our desire to control the process – thinking that our control will eliminate negative outcomes.

I look to the lessons of my own parenting when it comes to this issue. I confess I tend to be on the controlling side of parenting in many ways. We limit junk food, video games and television in our home. I acknowledge that these limits have created some social gaps for my kids and I STILL think I’m in the right. With all of that said, and no parent reading this will be surprised by this, all of that control in no way guarantees how my children will behave, the choices they will make, or who they will become. The uncertainty and unpredictability in human interactions and growth can bring great disappointments, and they can also reveal joy and beauty beyond what we could have asked for.

What I’m seeing through all of this is a fundamental difference in being rooted in control and rooted in uncertainty – which, by the way, means being rooted in trust.

Being rooted in uncertainty implies some basic acceptance of the fact that we can’t ever be completely certain of, or totally control anything beyond how we feel inside. Uncertainty is the fundamental reality. It is our desire for control that makes it so uncomfortable.

back-view-backlit-city-847483What if, instead of believing our actions would result in a particular desired outcome, we chose what we do based on whether or not it feels good, the kind of good that makes us nod our heads when we choose it; The kind of good that, when we are listening, makes our bodies feel the way the have felt during the best of times. What if we used that criteria, of how we feel, and trusted that the way we feel is enough, that things will be what they will be, and we will handle the outcome?

Making choices that way is only possible when we accept uncertainty as a fundamental condition of reality and choose to trust that ultimately we will be well, or well enough. That rooting, that acceptance, opens us up to seeing beyond what we are hoping for, outside of the boundaries of what we have planned for ourselves and what our linear thinking and our logic dictate as the most likely outcome. Acceptance of uncertainty, and the choice to cultivate trust opens a rich and delicious world of choices that can make our lives so very whole, so very full, and so deeply connected to our needs, our gifts, and our desires.

What would happen for you if you just admitted that you don’t know what’s going to happen, and if you sat with that admission long enough for the fear to subside? I think I know what’s on the other side, and it feels like freedom.

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 V

Rooting in Your Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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