Are You A Porcupine or A Teddy Bear?

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

When I’m working with kids, I ask them if they are being a teddy bear or a porcupine. I realized that this question is also effective with adults.

What does it mean to be a teddy bear or a porcupine?

Humans are wired for love and connection. Our deepest desire is to be loved and cared for. This is the reason we buy big houses, desire lots of money, paint our faces, and drive fancy cars. We do all of these things because we think it makes us more attractive and desirable to others. This is actually not true but we are bombarded with this narrative from the time we’re born until we die. It’s hard not to believe that having things or looking a certain way is tied into how lovable we are.

The truth is, we are lovable just as we are right now. We are deserving of love no matter how we look or how much stuff we have. The challenge is so many of us walk around like porcupines as opposed to teddy bears we make it impossible for people to love us as we are. This only feeds the narrative that I am unlovable.

When a porcupine gets scared it pokes to stay safe. This is the same for some people. Some of us will lash out, get defensive, call people names, get self righteous, hit someone, and withhold love when they get scared or sad. This leads the person to a lonely life and a sad life. It’s hard because a lot of porcupines don’t know they are being porcupines, all they know is that they can’t get close to another person. This makes them more sad and more scared and more pokey.

Porcupines are hurtful because they are insecure and lonely.

When a teddy bear gets scared it reaches out for connect to stay safe. Of course, a teddy bear is not a real thing but it is in my head. A teddy bear will say things like: I’m scared I’m going to fail, I’m sad this happened, I need help, I don’t know what to do, I need you to just love me, can I have a hug, I’m so sorry I hurt you, I made a big mistake, I’m in a bad place. The teddy bear is able to reach out lovingly for connection. The teddy bear is vulnerable and accepts that it’s imperfect and will make mistakes or falter in life. The teddy bear doesn’t always know it’s a teddy bear either. The teddy bear is loved, loving, and usually happier.

Teddy bears are compassionate because they know life is hard and they can’t do it alone.

I think that we can all be teddy bears and porcupines. It’s hard when we get scared or sad not to try and defend or protect ourselves. The challenge is defending and protecting limits our ability to connect with others. We connect with others in our vulnerability.

There is a book called How to Hug a Porcupine related to raising adolescents. I think parents of adolescents understand why it is named as such.

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

Brené Brown

My Perfect Social Media Life.

“Research coming out of positive psychology labs across the globe shows that two individuals in the exact same situation in the external world can have two completely different perceptions of the world that are both equally true. Because your brain can process only forty bits of information per second, you are merely picking and choosing from the eleven million pieces of information you are receiving.” – Shawn Achor

 

No one has a perfect life.

That being said, it’s a shame that people can’t celebrate each other’s happiness and successes without making it about them. This post comes off the heels of a Huffington Post article where the author shamed people for doing the “Love Your Spouse” challenge because some people are probably struggling and we shouldn’t rub happiness in their faces.

I disagree.

I am a fierce fighter for my happiness. I will look for happiness in the clouds, the flowers, a cup of coffee, and a cat meme. I will hunt happiness down like the fugitive that it is. Why do I approach happiness this way? Because that’s the only way to be happy.

I learned long ago that no one was going to deliver a box of happiness to my door. I realized that my life would never be perfect. I decided to radically accept the hand I was dealt and search for any shred of happiness I could find. Magically, this worked wonders.

I’m not going to dull my sparkle or hide my smile to make you comfortable. My life is far from perfect and that’s just fine. In fact, that’s how this was designed. I was never promised a happy life. Truthfully, there have been dark days on my path. However, it is the darkest days that taught me not to take a moment of this gift we call life for granted.

It will all end, that is all I I know for sure, and I will not take one beautiful, glorious, incredible moment for granted. I will love it all with no apologies. I wish the same for you.

Love.

 

Let Me Out Of The Cage!

“Any fool can make a rule
And any fool will mind it.”
Henry David Thoreau, Journal #14

I started a new job and it has left me gloriously exhausted. Part of the new position is developing and teaching courses in mindful meditation. Mindfulness meditation has changed my life in beautiful ways and I hope I am a worthy teacher on the topic.

That being said, I am diving deep into the literature as I prepare these courses. I wrote in a previous post about a story I read in my preparation and I want to share another story. In Tara Brach’s meditation talks she tells a story about a tiger.

Once upon a time, a tiger lived in a cage. He lived in this cage for most of his life. As he aged, he was sent to live in a large nature preserve with acres and acres of world for this tiger to explore. However, the tiger found a small space in the preserve that resembled the cage and spent the rest of his days there. He never explored the world that was now open to him.

I think this story represents how so many of us live by rules and limitations that are no longer applicable or healthy for our lives. We fear leaving a cage that no longer exists. Many of us rest in our safe corner of the world without believing that we have permission and even expectation to explore our world. I think this relates to opening ourselves up to new experiences, new relationships, new jobs, and new adventures. I can appreciate that new is terrifying but I feel like living in a cage my entire life is far more terrifying.

I think some of the bars of our cages are made up of our life experiences. Sometimes well meaning parents wanting us to be safe put expectations on our lives that don’t match what our soul desires. I think some teachers may imply that you struggle in a subject and we take that to mean we aren’t smart. Maybe the art we create didn’t turn out the way the instructor imagined and we took that to mean we couldn’t sing/dance/draw/write. The problem with these bars is that the opinions of others do not have to control our lives. For many of us, long after the person with the opinion is gone, we still live by their rules and opinions.

I try to explore the ways I live in a cage in my own life. When I feel like “who do I think I am to do/say/feel something” I realize that this is probably my cage talking. But, I want a cage free life. I want to explore the preserve.  And, I hope you’ll join me.

Love.

“There is no list of rules. There is one rule. The rule is: there are no rules. Happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to. As your inner voice tells you to. Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be. Being traditional is not traditional anymore. It’s funny that we still think of it that way. Normalize your lives, people. You don’t want a baby? Don’t have one. I don’t want to get married? I won’t. You want to live alone? Enjoy it. You want to love someone? Love someone. Don’t apologize. Don’t explain. Don’t ever feel less than. When you feel the need to apologize or explain who you are, it means the voice in your head is telling you the wrong story. Wipe the slate clean. And rewrite it. No fairy tales. Be your own narrator. And go for a happy ending. One foot in front of the other. You will make it.”
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

But For The Grace of God Go I.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40

I frequent a store by my house on the way to work in the morning. Most mornings several men are lined up waiting to buy beer and head across the street to sleep in the park. I often hear the judgemental  comments of the other customers in the store as they watch these men purchase alcohol. It takes all I have inside of me not to school the people around me on compassion.

I think of the great actor Ronald Reagan and how he put hundreds of thousands of people in the streets with his great idea called deinstitutionalization. I think of all the Vietnam veterans that died because of his brilliant cost cutting idea to put these people out. I understand that there was a lot wrong with institutions but putting them on the streets was heartless and cruel.

Sometimes I hear, I’m not going to give the panhandler money because they’re only going to buy alcohol with it. I think, and sometimes have the courage to say, so what if they do?

Who are you to judge these people? I also want to say (or scream rather):

Have you ever had voices in your head scream at you to kill yourself or someone else?

Have you ever endured physical/sexual/emotional abuse?

Have you ever watched your father beat/murder your mother?

Have you ever watched someone die in war?

Have you ever had to kill someone in war?

Have you ever known depression so deep and dark that there is no light?

Have you ever thought for one moment that no one says they want to be an alcoholic sleeping in a park when they grow up?

Have you ever thought that if they don’t get the alcohol they could die from withdrawals?

Have you ever considered that they alcohol is their medicine?

Do you know how hard it is to get mental health treatment in this country?

Would you judge me the same way when I pick up my Lexapro at the pharmacy?

Are you a professional in substance abuse treatment?

Sometimes people who have endured abuses or mental illness say: I didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs so I don’t understand why they did?

I respond: But for the grace of God go you. But, each life is different and we’re not given the same opportunities or bridges out of the darkness. I hope you are grateful for all that has been given to you in this life. I also hope that you are able to extend compassion to those who suffer greatly.

I had lunch with my favorite professor yesterday and she said the simplest and most profound statement (as she always does): Slow down your thinking.

My prayer for these men and women sleeping in the park is that I hope you find peace in your sleep. I hope your dreams are filled with the joys robbed from you in this world.

Love.

 

 “In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.” –Mother Teresa

 

Am I For Real?

Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m working on developing a structured mindfulness meditation group and I found this story. I think it so beautifully and simply captures the importance of listening.
A family was out to dinner and the waitress asked the little girl what she wanted to order.
The little girl smiled and said, “I want a hot dog, some fries, and a coke.”
Without a moment passing her father looked at the waitress and said, “She’ll have meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and milk.”
The waitress looked at the little girl and said, “What’ll you have on that hot dog?”
With big eyes and a smile the little girl exclaimed, “She thinks I’m real!”
Love.

I’m Being Petty.

How I feel matters.

This is probably one of the boldest and courageous statements a human can make.

There is a concept in Buddhism called The Second Arrow. In life, arrows hit us all the time (bad days, arguments, disagreements, bills, car accidents, etc). The first arrow is when something bad happens and we naturally feel badly about what happened. The second arrow is when I say to myself I should not feel the way I feel about what happened. The second arrow is self-harm and only causes us more pain. We often spend more time obsessing over the second arrow than trying to stem the bleeding from the first.

How you feel matters and how I feel matters. And no one, including you, gets to tell you that you should not feel the way you feel. There are enough first arrows hitting us all the time. Let’s try to avoid the second arrow as much as we can.

It’s best to tend to the first arrow, comfort yourself, and ask for comfort from others. Eventually, as with all things, this too shall pass.

Love.

“A wiser course of action is to avoid that second arrow by simply experiencing discomfort without reacting to it. We do this by being mindful — cultivating a patient, non-reactive, curious, and welcoming attitude towards anything in our experience that seems unpleasant.” – Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

My Experience with the Water Crisis in Flint – Karen Eaton

This is a journal of my personal journey with the water crisis in Flint. I’ve lived in Flint since 2000 and have been a member of Woodside Church in Flint since 1992. I’ve moved around a fair amount in my life, but now Flint is home. My life here is full of friends and rich experiences.

During the winter of 2013-2014 our Outreach and Social Action Committee at Woodside Church was busy working on the water affordability issue. Our water rates in Flint were high, my monthly bill for one person was $120-$140 and I don’t have a pool nor do I water my lawn. Our Committee was concerned about our Flint neighbors who were getting their water shut off for lack of payment. Our local newspaper was reporting people were being charged and prosecuted for stealing water. We at Woodside held community information meetings with our Civic leaders and joined a march with Detroit activists to demonstrate that water is a human right, not a commodity. We were advocating that everyone needs affordable water and that water was a vital service to our community, not a way for a corporation or government to make money. At this point, our Emergency Manager, appointed by the Governor, had decided that Flint would no longer use the water from the Detroit water system. Instead, to save money, we would get our water from the Flint River until we were hooked up to the new pipe line from Lake Huron. Almost immediately, we started hearing from angry, scared people that their water smelled, tasted and looked funny. My water seemed fine and local and state “water experts” kept saying the water was safe. Our mayor even drank water at a press conference. I went to dozens of meetings and protests. I was trying to understand what was going on. People were really upset about their water, but our officials insisted that the water was safe. I was still mostly concerned about the affordability of water. Fortunately for all of us, two moms didn’t give up. They knew their children were harmed by the water and although they had been told their families were isolated cases, they didn’t believe it. They came to meetings at Woodside and seemed credible, but the Michigan DEQ and our mayor said the water was safe. I wasn’t sure what to think. I wasn’t sick and my water seemed fine.

During the fall of 2014 Dr. Edwards from Virginia Tech University got involved. He and his students responded to a call from one of the moms and began testing Flint’s water correctly. Dr. Edwards told us the city wasn’t using good testing procedures. Woodside Church was a testing distribution site for Virginia Tech and I did a test of my water. A month or so later I, along with many other citizens, got a call from Dr. Edward’s team. My water was at a level 9. Not awful, the FDA action level is 15, but I was advised I should put a filter on my faucet because no amount of lead is safe. So I did get a filter. Many of my neighbors had much higher levels of lead, 128 to 250 were some of the numbers. I was lucky. When Dr. Edwards gave his report of seriously high levels of lead in our water he was ridiculed by State DEQ officials and some in the Governor’s office. Then Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha from Hurley Hospital held a press conference and reported a spike in the levels of lead in Flint children’s blood since the change in our source of water. She too was ridiculed. Then all hell broke loose. Everyone was not only paying attention, they were sending truck-loads of water and wanting their picture taken. The press was investigating as well as the Governor’s office, we elected a new mayor and celebrities were raising money and sending water. The city had mountains of bottled water everywhere and so did Woodside Church. We focused on the Hispanic community because some Hispanic people are undocumented and were afraid to go to the police stations that were originally set up to distribute water. Some churchs and people called us at Woodside and asked how they could help and were respectful of our time and needs. We felt supported and valued by many. There were others that wanted our time, to have their picture taken and generally needed us to make them feel good about their efforts. That was not helpful. That attitude was demeaning. Then we were switched back to the Detroit water system.

So where are we now? The issue remains a political football and if that helps us get the resources we need I’m okay with that. Our Community Foundation has supported programs to help our children. Most of these programs are ways to help children with nutrition, the most effective way to fight lead in blood. We had a meeting of Early Childhood Professionals to learn about our role in working through this crisis with young children. I made sure the students in my Infant Toddler class at Mott Community College understood their responsibilities in this crisis. The mayor is still working to get the water pipes replaced and has seen to it that residents were hired to distribute water, rather than paying State Police over-time to do it. Woodside has put in filtered water stations so people can refill water jugs with safe water and not need so many bottles of water. We, Woodside, have also identified three more sites in the community where we will pay for the equipment so they can do the same thing. Flint is recovering and almost has control back. Our emergency manager is gone, but fiscal matters still need to be approved by a State entity. I did my last protest in what is called a “performance protest”. About 15 of us, all women, dressed in white jump suits with red paint splattered on them laid down on the steps of the water plant while a woman who miscarried during the crisis told her story. We wanted to call attention to that part of the crisis that wasn’t being told or resourced. The plant manager kept saying we were “trespassing on public property.” Really? She called the police and when they ignored her, she tried calling Home Land Security and the FBI. We were there for 15 minutes and I have to say her threats were pretty scary for this old white lady. Mostly what I am left with is a confusion of feelings. I’ve never felt hurt from elected officials before. Anger yes, but not hurt. I know we were ignored because officials saw angry black people, in their minds when they were working on the issue. These people that weren’t behaving like middle class white people. Officials just wanted protesters to go away, be discredited. I’m certain that if complaints had come from a white community, that officials felt had influence, this never would have happened. But it did happen. It happened to people, children and a community I love. Officials, whose jobs were to protect public health, lied and falsified documents. I have experienced just a teensy bit of racism. I can’t imagine what that kind of dismissal is like for everything you do and are. I have also had many show genuine support and caring both for me and my community. I’ve seen people work hard for good solutions and met terrific men and women along the way. I’ve also lost some of my naiveté about people. I still believe government is one important avenue for us all to use to work for the common good. But we all must be responsible for holding the people in power’s feet to the fire.

Flint is my home and I am grateful that it is.

I’m Ashamed of Myself.

“Bob is embarrassed to be seen with me,” said Adrienne, 37. “A few weeks ago, we were getting ready to run errands. I was wearing an old blue jogging suit, and when Bob saw me, he snapped. ‘You look like somebody’s fat grandmother. Don’t you have anything nicer?’ I didn’t have the energy to argue, so I changed into a sweater and jeans.”

My Husband Is Ashamed of Me, Ladies Home Journal

There is a concept in psychoanalytic psychology that relates to our shadow side. The concept posits that there are things we don’t like about ourselves and we project that hate for ourselves onto other people. This happens until we see our shadow side and are able to stop projecting that hate onto others and learn to love even the dark parts of ourselves. I believe this to be true. I also think we all struggle to love the parts of ourselves that feel unlovable, thus we perpetrate anger/hate/resentment (and even violence) onto those around us that embody those unlovable parts of ourselves.

I think we’re all familiar with the Ted Haggard story. If not, the summary is: He fiercely advocated against homosexuality in front of thousands of people and the country. It was later discovered that he was engaging in homosexual activity with a male prostitute.

Thou doth protest too much -Shakespeare

For example, we have a huge problem with body image in this culture. We know through the research that there are a lot of healthy body shapes and sizes but we find only a small percentage of the population acceptable in appearance. If you struggle with weight and/or you feel that being “fat” is the worst thing a person can be you will find that you fixate on the appearance of others and measure their worth by their appearance (or lack of worth). This thinking can be obsessive and destructive to your health and your relationships.

What we do not make conscious emerges as fate – Carl Jung

Once I was shopping with my dad in the mall. My dad is a fifty year old man struggling to manage schizophrenia. His medications make him tremble and he struggles to look well-put together. This was not always the case. He was not diagnosed with schizophrenia until his forties (this is unique).

He had a life before the diagnosis. He had a good job and people knew him. At the mall, he ran into a former work associate. I saw as the former associate quickly evaluated my dad and he rushed by without acknowledging him. My dad called out to him but he pretended not to see him. My dad said, “I guess he didn’t recognize me.” I agreed but in my gut I knew what happened. I shoved my rage down into my stomach and moved on. This man did not want to be seen or take the time to talk with a man that looked like my dad. As I type this, I feel the rage resurface. I saw this man’s shadow side and it brought out my own darkness.

I think a good clue to unlocking your shadow side is knowing what makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed. Those emotions can be clues to discovering the parts of yourself that feel unlovable. I know that the term white trash triggers me because of my own insecurities around not feeling good enough. I grew up middle class but for some people that is still white trash. I can get embarrassed of my tattoos because to some people the represent trashiness. I get embarrassed of how my dad might be perceived and what people might think when we’re in public (which is why that man sent me into a rage). I hate that I feel this way but I know where it’s coming from and I try to extend compassion to myself in those shameful and embarrassing moments.

Ultimately, I cannot control how other people perceive me. We each see what we want and when we want. There is no objective reality where things just are. We walk around in our own realities and label people and things according to conscious and unconscious factors. I think it’s worth the work to dig into your shadow side and see what lingers in the darkness. It will help you be more compassionate with yourself and with others.

Of note, if someone is embarrassing you because they are engaging in unhealthy behaviors, this is not a shadow side issue this is a boundaries issue. Again, our emotions are clues that help us understand better understand ourselves. If someone cusses me out in public and I’m embarrassed, it probably means that I should not share time with that person anymore. Someone once told me that they were embarrassed by their husband’s sexual gestures towards their friends. This is not a healthy behavior and she should use her emotions as a clue to talk with her husband about boundaries and appropriateness.

The difference is if it is a theme in your life (e.g, weight, finances, employment status, status in general) or if it is a episodic (e.g, drunk friend/partner, abusive behavior, inappropriate boundaries). There are just some people that are unhealthy for us to share time with at certain times in our lives or maybe forever. This goes beyond exploring our shadow side and understanding ourselves as a whole.

“A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.”

“The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335

Guest Post! Humanize The Badge: There Is No I In LEO

Being married to a law enforcement officer (LEO) is uniquely different from being married to a non-LEO person. I hope to share some insight into a LEO and their families’ lives. And if anything is taken from this post, I hope it is compassion and understanding for law enforcement officers, their partners and their families.

My then-boyfriend and now-husband became a LEO in 2013. I now think of that as the time WE joined the police force and WE became law enforcement. I do not think that there is another profession in which a partner/spouse carries such responsibility.

I don’t know if there is a way to properly communicate how it feels to be married to a LEO, but I will try to break my major thoughts into 4 main ideas representing how I feel and how (I assume) my husband feels.

  1. It is unfamiliar to me that some couples see each other every night.

When we first started this adventure, I realized that we would not have an ordinary relationship. However, I did not account for the many nights, weekends, and holidays alone. I did not account for the inability to plan anything, because he may have to work or he may be called in. But as I’m writing this, I immediately connect my comment to my husband. While I am home watching Netflix and eating popcorn, playing Frisbee with my German Shepherd, and going to bed at a normal time, my husband is in his itchy, wool uniform responding to civilian emergencies and accidents. As he pulls up to each call in his patrol car, I can only imagine he feels some type of uneasiness all the while, wishing he was on the couch, watching Netflix with his wife and dog. Every day. Multiple times. Can you imagine that?

  1. I do not like guns.

I am not a gun person and never have been. Again, I realized this journey as a LEO family would involve firearms. As I continuously voiced my concern to my husband around the presence of guns in our home and life, he needed to communicate a very important aspect of the job I had not thought about. He is a servant of the community at all times. He is never “off duty.” He carries his gun wherever we go because he took an oath to protect the civilians of the State of Michigan. He is assessing every situation and wondering, “do I need to step in?” At Meijer, at the movies, while we are getting ice cream on a Sunday evening. Every day. All the time. With his gun. Can you imagine that?

  1. No one cares about your career.

I am a teacher. Cool! You’re a nurse? Great! An engineer? Good for you! You’re a cop?

What do you say to that? My husband said something to me the other day that hit home. He said he can feel hatred because he wears a uniform. He goes to work to serve and protect. And when he gets in his car, people will immediately hate him. Can you imagine that? Sadly, I do think that many people can relate to that. But, that doesn’t make more hate okay.

  1. I complain about work staff meetings.

I think it is in our human nature to complain about work at some point to our partner. But, I have gained a different perspective around work complaints. When I turn over in my bed and look at my phone that says 3am, I wonder where my husband is. Is he involved with the siren I just heard? Is he okay? When will he be home? I have accepted that the job is dangerous. I try no tot worry because I just can’t. It would consume me. As I bring 3am thoughts back to my husband and away from my fear, I remember that it is his 16th hour of work for the day. He tells me the next day, he responded to a crash where a teenager was killed and he was first on scene. Can you imagine that?

The next time you think of a LEO or their families’, take a moment to remember each of the nearly 800,000 LEO’s in the US. Imagine what they feel, see, hear, or miss every day. Try to imagine that.

Love.