Eat, Pray, Kalamazoo.

I drive a lot for work. I wander between podcasts, audio books, and music. I pick my poison when I start on my way. This week I’ve been listening to excerpts from one of my all-time favorite memoirs, Eat, Pray, Love. Call me cliche, say what you will about this book but the first time I read that book, I found parts of myself that were hiding. It was one big permission slip.

The first time I read the book, I was at a job and a university I hated. I knew in my bones that I needed to leave but I did not have the courage to quit this thing I dedicated my young life to. It’s weird to think how rigid my thinking was then. I laugh when I think that anything will ever go as planned. The first time I read the book, this quote brought me to my knees:

“I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.”

Today, on the road, I burst out into gasping sobs when I heard this piece:

“My thoughts turn to something I read once, something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree.

Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well—the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born.

I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life that I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself. I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was me—I mean, this happy and balanced me, who is now dozing on the deck of this small Indonesian fishing boat—who pulled the other, younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years.

The younger me was the acorn full of potential, but it was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time: “Yes—grow! Change! Evolve! Come and meet me here, where I already exist in wholeness and maturity! I need you to grow into me!”

And maybe it was this present and fully actualized me who was hovering four years ago over that young married sobbing girl on the bathroom floor, and maybe it was this me who whispered lovingly into that desperate girl’s ear, “Go back to bed, Liz…” Knowing already that everything would be OK, that everything would eventually bring us together here.

Right here, right to this moment. Where I was always waiting in peace and contentment, always waiting for her to arrive and join me.”

It took the air from my lungs because it is my truth. The truth is we believe that there is a finite amount of love, joy, and happiness in the world. We believe that your happiness steals from my happiness, It is ludicrous. There is enough of all these things for all of us. We each have our own paths, My happiness was never for you and your happiness was never for me. But, it is hard for people to celebrate one another without reflecting on their own deficits.

I wonder what your future self is pulling you towards? I wonder what you are growing into? I wonder where this world will take me. I wonder and trust and hope and fear. Trust yourself, trust the wise inner voice, trust the divinity inside of you. Don’t let other people quiet that divine voice pulling you into a beautiful future. It’s not their path. It’s mine.

Love.

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But, Can You Love This Much?

I think a lot about spirituality, physics, and religion. I have wonderings (a new word I picked up) about divinity and love. When asked to distill my faith down into a simple sentence it goes like this: But, can you love this much?

When I’m faced with a person living counter to my values in such a way I feel enraged, I challenge myself and say but can I love this much?

When I’m faced with a horrific story and feel compelled to run away or shut down, I challenge myself and say but can I love this much?

When I look a homeless man in the eyes and feel a sadness that could fill the universe, I challenge myself and say but can I love this much?

Love, like Mister Rogers puts it, “Is a verb.” Love is the unconditional acceptance of common humanity. It is the thread that ties us all together. It is my prayer, my challenge, and my purpose.

Some days with some people, I literally have to say out loud to myself: But, can you love this much? I wish I could say it always works and I always find the best in what I believe to be the worst places but I don’t.

That’s when I ask myself: Sissy, even with your faults, even with your mistakes and scars and losses and fears: Can you love yourself this much?

Love.

My Friend The Chaplain.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” – Carl Jung

“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” – Frederick Douglass

I have this friend. He’s one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known. He’s the type of man that just makes you feel safe and loved in his presence. In my opinion, Christians would be much better at recruitment if they were more like him and less “you’re going to Hell if you don’t _______” Just a thought from the outside.

I met with him last week. I was weary from hearing so many clients talk about how the election impacted, retraumatized, scared, and broke them. I went to him for solace and guidance. I expected him to tell me that it’ll be okay. In fact, I was desperate for someone, anyone, to tell me that this is going to be okay. After assessing my social support system, I thought he would definitely tell me that it would be okay. I was not able to find “okay” from any of the usual sources.

Well…

He did not tell me that it would be okay. He said that it might not be okay for some people and probably will not be okay for others. He said this in earnest. He broke my heart all over again. He told me to deepen my compassion and empathy and get to work helping the people that come to me for help. I took a deep breath and we talked more about what that means and how that looks. He was able to guide me in terms of phrasing and compassion. We talked about what it means to be a light bearer in dark times. I went to him seeking “okay” and what I got was “get to work”

I never intended on this blog becoming a political platform. Then, the world started to burn. You see, people put their emotions, pain, love, suffering and care in my hands. I hold the sacred parts of people and help them tie these parts together for a living. I hear stories of racism, sexual assault, misogyny, suffering , domestic violence, and child abuse and so much more. I am not lamenting because I know that this is my life’s work. I hold the sacred parts of people and for that reason I believe my job is sacred. The Chaplain and I talk a lot about that.

But, to tell me what’s happening doesn’t matter is to discredit my story and the stories of so many other people that have fallen prey to a broken system that hurts and will continue to hurt so many people. Maybe, you’re lucky enough to never have experienced deep pain and suffering. I suppose a lot of people didn’t really understand what they were getting behind. I suppose some wanted the 1950’s America back. I also know that we live in a segregated world. People mostly spend time with people that look like them and act like them. We don’t cross the divide enough to really hear about the life experiences of “the other”

I’m working on developing a compassion curriculum and the research is clear. If you want to eliminate racism, xenophobia, and homophobia you have to listen to the lived experiences of the people in those groups. You have to listen over a period of time and believe what they are saying. One of my friends, a person of color, said that if you say you have a friend that is a person of color and they’ve never talked to you about the lived experience of what that means, they aren’t your friend.

We need compassion and common humanity. We need to be our brother’s keeper.

However, I suspect some did know what was coming and some are reveling in the stories of pain, hate, and white supremacy that are circling the internet.

What I know to be true, is that people want their insides to match their outsides. What I learned after this election is that a lot of people are struggling with dark insides and they want the world to be dark, too. They want Muslims and Mexicans to suffer because that’s what they deserve. They want suffering because they suffer. They suffer from a patriarchal system that tells them they’re worthless. They suffer from rich capitalists taking all their money and blaming it on “the poor people”. They suffer from a media that makes money stoking fears and creating boogeymen that don’t exist or exaggerating those that do exist.

They suffer in deep and dark ways but instead of speaking of the suffering and instead of fighting for their joy they are trying to engulf us all in the darkness. Misery loves company and Misery just bought the farm.

I’m struggling with the concept that Liz Gilbert presented about “Is compassion a privilege?” If you are a person that feels unsafe and you are not ready or willing to extend compassion or understanding to people who hurt you in this election, put it in my hands. I’ll hold it for you. You’ve been doing that work long enough.

I will do as the Chaplain says because I know he’s right. I will work. I hope you will, too.

“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” – Frederick Douglass

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

Self-Forgiveness Is Mindfulness

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Mindfulness is the act of paying attention on purpose to this moment. To be mindful means we must continuoulsy return our focus to the present moment. This is can be done by noticing the world around you and taking a number of deep belly breaths. I call it thin slicing life, meaning that when we think about it, most of the right nows of our life are just fine. When we tell our body and mind that we are safe right now it improves our health and well-being. We know that living mindfully reduces stress, improves health, and enhances relationships.

What does living mindfully have to do with self-forgiveness? Everything.

When we are unable to forgive ourselves, we are trapped in the past. We are focused on a moment in time that no longer exists and we have no control over. We obsess over the details of an event and miss all of the right nows. In self-forgiveness we let go of the moments of wrong-doing and bring ourselves back to the now, the only moment that actually exists. 

Self-forgiveness is not saying what happened was okay or that (maybe even significant) damage was not done. Instead self-forgivness is honestly accepting the reality of “what’s done is done and I no longer have any power or control to change it.”

The act of self-forgiveness can be scary for some of us because beating ourselves up is all we know how to do. We are taught that it is a weakness to forgive or that forgiveness is somehow saying “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Actually, self-forgivness requires the tremendous courage. An overwheling flood of emotions can come with the acceptance of “what’s done is done”

As long as I hide in my mind obsessing over the event, I don’t have to deal with the immense sadness/anger/shame associated with accepting that I am an imperfect person that made an awful mistake/decision and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it now.

All I can do is live with it. 

When we are unable to do this for ourselves we remain trapped in our minds because the past can only exist in our imaginations. We think of all the different ways an event could have gone. We think of what we would have done differently. We torment ourselves (and sometimes others) with the guilt and shame we feel about what happened. None of this has the power to change what happened.

The past is written in stone and no amount of obsessing or berating ourselves can ever change that truth.

Curiously, we act like if we beat ourselves up enough or obsess enough over what happened it will somehow result in us or someone else feeling better. This doesn’t make sense. Simply, forgiveness is letting go of the past, a time that no longer exists. Self-forgiveness allows us to live right here and right now. It allows us to do try and do the best we can moving forward. Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes and make healthier decisions. That’s the best any one of us can do.

“There is grace for every soul.”
Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!

 

This Goes Out To My Enemies.

In trying to please all, he had pleased none.”
Aesop, Aesop’s Fables

You can travel the world
But you can’t run away
From the person you are in your heart
You can be who you want to be
Make us believe in you
Keep all your light in the dark
If you’re searching for truth
You must look in the mirror
And make sense of what you can see
Just be
Just be – DJ Tiesto

I believe if you are living your life honestly, you will inevitably piss a few folks off in the process. It’s just the way it works. We are all built differently. However, I’ve always thought the idea of enemies was a bit narcissistic. I can’t believe that anyone would think of me enough to consider me an enemy. If they do, I suppose I’m better off not knowing.

I know that I have thoughts, opinions, and values that some people don’t agree with or even feeling strongly the other way. If I went out of my way to hide or pretend I didn’t feel the way I do, parts of me would shrivel and fester I would end up not liking certain parts of me because other people didn’t. I would feel bad about myself all in service of getting another person to like me. I would do this without considering the real question: Do I like them? 

I believe denying your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs is an act of self harm. 

For much of my twenties. I ran around trying to make everyone else “happy” without consideration for how I felt. And, it was a miserable mess. It’s confusing because you end up sharing time with people you’re supposed to like or you want approval from and you end up feeling bad about yourself (of course I did!). This should have been a clue to consider what I want and need.

Like I’ve said a million times before, humans are wired for social connection. It’s normal to feel bad if someone doesn’t like me. But, just because I feel bad (or guilty) does not mean I need to change who I am to get their approval. I can take a deep breath and remind myself that life is long (hopefully) and liking myself is much more important than another person liking me.

Some people argue that this is a selfish way to live. I strongly disagree. When we are happy and whole we are much healthier, kinder, compassionate, giving, patient, and loving. If we are not living our lives honestly, we are resentful, cruel, jealous, hateful, and angry. Living life honestly makes you happier and this has a ripple effect on the world around you.

Happy people make other people happy. And people that are hurting, hurt other people. 

The magical thing that happens when you recognize this, is that you start to surround yourself with people who like you for you. And, you are able to establish healthier boundaries with people that don’t like/approve/agree with the way you live your life. This does not give you permission to be cruel to people that live their lives differently. In fact, denying love, care, affection, compassion, and connection in an effort to get people to agree with you never works. We covered this in post Conditional Love.

Each  of us are constructed beautifully and uniquely and some of us fit together nicely and some of us do not. It’s like when you’re putting together a puzzle and you try to shove two pieces together that don’t fit: it doesn’t work, it looks awful, and it messes up the rest of the picture. So, live honestly, find your tribe, trust yourself, and know that sometimes you’ll try to shove the wrong pieces of the puzzle together.

“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.”

Shel Silverstein, Every Thing on It