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Friday, May 19, 2017

WHY YOU CAN'T DO IT WRONG

The other day in class my yoga instructor was guiding us through a relaxation exercise and reassured us by saying “You can’t do it wrong.”

That set off a tiny bell in my head; it reminded me of the quote from Robert Schuller:  what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?  A part of me just wanted to dismiss it because OF COURSE there are billions of things you can do “wrong”, including yoga poses.  But my mind kept returning to the idea that you can’t do it wrong.
Although the Schuller quote is wonderful, I think it is a little bit daunting as well; most people, even if they have a “can-do” attitude don’t necessarily have a “can’t-fail” one.  Because all of us are going to “fail” sometimes.  It’s an experience that we learn and grow from; it’s a natural, healthy part of life.

However, I do think our obsession with “right” versus “wrong” and “good” versus “bad” does not serve us as well.  The lapsed Catholic in me returns to these concepts more often than I care to admit.  But as I was recently reading a wonderful blog post by a man whose young son has utterly embraced the so-called “princess culture” (and he celebrated that wonderful and unique self-knowledge and self-confidence in his child), I couldn’t help but think of the many articles I have read vilifying parents for letting their daughters participate in it.
Of course this precious boy is just being himself and we applaud that; I think we question our little girl princesses because we fear a diminishing, co-dependent gender norm may have been pushed on them.  But there’s a really good chance a lot of them are just being themselves too, don’t you think?  That’s when it hit me…the thing about being yourself?

YOU CAN’T DO IT WRONG.
I think this may come as news to some (most) of us.

For all the Democratic joy the free-market of capitalism provides, unfortunately there are a lot of industries that exist (and thrive) because we are convinced (or they have convinced us) that we ARE “doing it wrong” a lot of the time and need the help of services and products to help us get it “right”.  And now the dog chases its tail because OF COURSE if these services and products help you to feel better about yourself, you should employ them post haste.  But do so without guilt, because again, YOU CAN’T DO IT WRONG.
To return to the little boy “princess”…I think children actually have an intuitive sense of the fact that YOU CAN’T DO IT WRONG that we as adults fairly meticulously train them out of; I have a story I often tell on myself trying to do just that for the very first time.  I was still a teenager when my older sister had her son, and one day when he was a toddler we were coloring together.  I, of course, as the “grown up” was coloring “the right way”—inside the lines.  He, as I quickly informed him, was doing it the “wrong way”—essentially scribbling over the picture monochromatically.

As I patiently (in my mind) explained to him that he was “supposed” to use different colors and stay inside the clearly marked borders, he listened with a thoughtful expression.  I demonstrated good form and he watched curiously.  And then I handed him a crayon I thought would be nice for one of the elements in his picture.  He cooperatively took the crayon and proceeded to scribble all over the picture without compunction. 
I got exasperated, as teenage girls are wont to do, and to express this in what I thought was a humorous way said, “How would you like a nice Hawaiian punch?”  His response was clear and reasonably stated:  “How would YOU like a nice Karate chop?”  In other words, he schooled his old Aunt in the basic truth that YOU CAN’T DO IT WRONG.

Of course it is our job as mentors to guide the children in our lives to metaphorically “color inside the lines”; we teach them to be polite and respectful and to eat healthfully (with good manners) and to get a good night’s sleep and to obey the law, to name a few of the many parameters.  But do we also sometimes inadvertently (or deliberately in some cases) teach them that who or how they are is wrong?  And I am not just talking about the kind of parent who would shame a son who wanted to dress like a princess.
I am part, anecdotally at least, of a whole generation of girls who were called “Sarah Bernhard” when we displayed sensitivity.  I know my own parents said it with humor and warmth (I can’t vouch for any of the other women who shared this experience) but it still hurt; it made me think that my emotions were inappropriate or “wrong” somehow.  Certainly a lot of boys of my generation were taught that sharing their feelings was “unmanly”.

We as adults sometimes teach our children to suppress or deny aspects of themselves “for their own good”.  We don’t want to see them hurt or vulnerable or ill-prepared for the cruelty the world can fling about so casually.  But in doing so we risk squelching their true nature; we risk imprinting on them the belief that somehow they can fail to BE themselves.
So let’s amend the Schuller quote, not just as a guideline for those of us raising and guiding kids, but also for ourselves: would you attempt to be yourself if you knew you could not fail?  You literally cannot fail to be yourself; you are the world’s foremost expert on YOU.  So when it comes to being you, YOU CAN’T DO IT WRONG.

And give yourself permission to ignore anyone who tells you otherwise.  We don’t all have to LIKE each other, see?  That is an unattainable standard and not a prerequisite to being human. 
But when we accept ourselves, a miraculous thing starts to happen…it gets easier and easier to accept other people, too.  When we begin to withdraw our judgments we start to catch a cool breeze that whispers maybe (just maybe) we can’t do life wrong, either.  What would you attempt to do if you believed that was the truth? 


Friday, April 21, 2017

WHY YOU'VE GOT THE POWER!

When I was growing up, often when my Dad felt frustrated by circumstances, or another person’s choice or anything he believed was both stymied and beyond his control, he would say “I wish I had a magic wand”.   I think parents everywhere yell “HELL, YES!” at this sentiment, for who among us does not want to, like Glinda the Good Witch, afford our children the magical protection and deliverance of those ruby slippers?

It is hard to be Zen when dealing with our nearest and dearest, but I recently had an experience where the lovely daughter of some of the loveliest people I know was accepted into two prestigious college programs and had to make a fairly quick decision.  There was some angst in this, because the program of her DREAMS was considerably more expensive than the other, also impressive choice.  So I, as an outsider with no vested interest said to her, “I am going to give you a magic wand.  And whatever decision you make, I want you to take the wand and bless it as CORRECT.  That way, you cannot go wrong!”
And seriously, she could not go wrong.  Two awesome choices for an awesome girl.  But we know how being put on the spot makes all of us feel.

There is a reason the expression and concept of “Deus ex Machina” is so pervasive… often, when faced with a dilemma or choice, we just wish God (or Oprah, might be the same thing) would swoop in and tell us or show us what we should do.  FREE WILL is a bitch, as Adam and Eve discovered first.  When we have the power of choice, we also have the mantle of responsibility, and that is a heavy yoke for most.
As much as we think we would like to be Captain of our own Ship, the idea of being the one in charge can be daunting at best and crippling at worst.  What relief we feel when “fate” seems to make a decision for us, EVEN if that decision is not much to our liking.  Sometimes resignation feels so damned NOBLE, as opposed to the vulnerability of actually having to PICK what we WANT.  Hell, even admitting what we want can feel shameful.

Martyrdom is not just for saints, folks.  It is a passive aggressive stance most of us take at least once in a while, if not frequently.  And it is the exact opposite of saying “I got this”.
Somewhere along the way we probably heard the message that actually getting what we WANT is selfish.  Or immature.  Or immoral.  Or some nonsense along those lines.

So we develop a protective position of “whatever YOU want” to put the onus of selfishness on somebody else.  ALSO:  we abdicate the burden of decision whenever possible.  Raise your hand if you have ever been forced to make plans for a large group of people simply because no one else wants to be the “bad guy”????
Let’s face it, a large percentage of us have been brainwashed into believing that if we WANT something, it is probably not good for us.  WANTING is SELFISH, never mind GOING FOR what we want!!!  Going for what we want is downright SOCIOPATHIC!

Alright, so now I am being a bit of smartass, but to make a valid point…one of the biggest obstacles any of us face in this lifetime is that of getting comfortable with desire.  Even the word, “desire” has gotten such a bad rap.  Yet Deepak Chopra has opined that desire is the “direct path” to God:
To judge desire is to judge its source, which is yourself; to fear desire is to fear yourself. 

So who is super uncomfortable now?
I have a friend who tells a story about being in an elementary school art class and asking her teacher for more clay to complete a project she was working on.  Her teacher not only refused to give her more clay, she also shamed her for the request, asking if she thought she was “special”.  Um, I don’t know if this happened during the Great Clay Depression of the 70’s, but how I would love to time travel to that classroom and tell ALL of the children to take ALL the damned clay they want and that btw—they are ALL special.

This is an obvious example of a message a lot of us heard growing up—there isn’t enough to go around, don’t ask for more than your “fair share”, and don’t think you actually deserve what you want, that is spoiled and egotistical—and so even though as adults we can rationally understand that clay is a naturally occurring element that there will never be a shortage of (even in the event of nuclear war) it is the underlying meaning we took to heart.  That no matter how simple our desire (more clay!) it is simply too much to ask.  And so we learn to do without.
But guess what?

You actually DO have that magic wand my Father wished he had for all those years…and that magic wand is the power of your choice.   And yes, with great power comes great responsibility; you have to be willing to face not only naysayers who tell you that your choice is wrong, you will also have to face YOURSELF when you actually GET what you have chosen without guilt or recrimination.   And yes, we do often feel guilty when we get what we want; how is that for an obstacle to well-being?
Because the catch is this—if you do not believe you are worthy of what you have chosen, you will either not be able to attain it or even if you do, you will live in constant fear of losing it.  And we have so much programming that needs to be countered, including the classic “Monkey’s Paw” mythology—that getting what we want comes at a terrible price.  Hence, the popular belief in the “Lottery Winner’s Curse”.

So even though you DO have the power to be or have or do whatever you choose, you have to believe in your intrinsic worthiness first.  That is always the best place to start any endeavor at all.  You don’t have to believe you are the smartest, or best looking or most talented…you simply have to believe you are worthy of your heart’s desire.
Your belief in your worthiness gives you the power to shape the clay of your life any way you choose.   And there is a never ending supply of clay.  So what will you make of today?



 

 

Friday, April 7, 2017

WHY THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Growing up, The Wizard of Oz was an Easter tradition.  We would spend the weekend at my grandparents' in Syracuse and Sunday would be this whirlwind of activity—finding eggs, going to church, slamming down an extremely late brunch or very early dinner (never sure which it was meant to be) before piling into the car to make the 4 hour drive home in time for the Wizard.

At the time the film was made it was a technological wonder, what with its black and white world morphing into Technicolor, plus all those flying monkeys!  Now we have CGI that puts all of that to shame, but somehow doesn’t diminish the wonder we feel when Dorothy opens the door from her muted world into the magical and brightly hued Land of Oz.  We are just as amazed as she when Glinda the good witch floats down to greet her in an oversized soap bubble, and the charm of the Munchkins is a never-ending well. 

As we follow Dorothy on her journey through this land of many enchantments, we share her fantastical experiences without ever questioning her goal:  to get back home again.  Even though home is only in black and white!  Without Munchkins!  Why is that?

Dorothy has run away because she is unhappy.  She feels insignificant yet overburdened, dismissed and yet persecuted; who can’t relate to that?  Her unhappiness leads her down a path (or yellow brick road, if you will) where she encounters many new things, both good and bad.  She forms some relationships that will profoundly change her (check out that makeover if you don’t believe me!). 

Dorothy and these companions are led to believe that all of their “problems” can be solved by an all-powerful Wizard, necessitating a perilous journey to enlist his help.  But when they finally meet the goal of seeing the Wizard, he challenges them to further earn his assistance.  He sends them on a dangerous mission, facing almost certain death at the hands of the Wicked Witch.   

Through their camaraderie, persistence and good fortune, they succeed in slaying the villain and return triumphant for their prize.  And here is where we discover the truth…(spoiler alert!) there is no Wizard.   Just a regular snake-oil salesman from Kansas.  But even he is wise enough to see that Dorothy and her friends already had the gifts they risked their lives to acquire.  The Scarecrow is smart, the Tin Man is kind, and Lion is brave.  Even Dorothy had the power to go home at any time; she just needed to click her heels together and commit to her goal.

There comes a time for all of us when we have a crisis of faith.  Sometimes it manifests as rebellion (as with Dorothy), sometimes it manifests as a mid-life crisis…and sometimes both and several points in between.  It all depends on how serious you are about being happy. 

During these crises, we want to be anywhere but where we are and frequently anyone but WHO we are.  Like Dorothy, we may be angry with our caretakers or parents, seeing them as barriers to happiness or self-expression.  Or we may blame a spouse, a bad boss, or a run of bad luck for why we are so miserable. 

So many times, we, like our heroine, think a change of scenery will help, or new relationships that don’t feel so restrictive, or a new job that doesn’t suck quite as much as the one we have now. Many of us just sit in this place feeling trapped and resentful. 

But some of us go off on an “quest”.  We leave home or we get into another relationship or find a new job, etc.  We might travel, see the world, meet new people and have new experiences.  Most people will fight a wicked witch or two along the way, fend off some nasty, apple throwing trees and make a good friend.  But whether we cherish our journey or curse it, ultimately we end up with the essential truth we have heard too many times to count:  wherever you go, there you are. 

We are encouraged in this life to spread our wings and find our bliss; to go on adventures and take some chances.  We have good luck and bad luck; sometimes we win and sometimes we fail and sometimes we fail spectacularly.  But at any moment on this journey we are invited to look within ourselves and understand that there is nothing to be added on to us that makes us any greater (or less) in truth and in spirit. 

Like the scarecrow, we don’t believe we are smart, so we may go through a lot of schooling and experience to make us feel so.  Like the Tin Man, we do not believe we are lovable, so we may enter into many relationships hoping to find that validation from someone else.  Like the Lion, we do not believe we are brave, so we may put ourselves into situations and predicaments where risky behavior or damage makes us feel like survivors. 

But as Michel de Montaigne once wrote, “Upon the loftiest throne in the world, man still sits upon his own ass.”  And there you are.

This is not to discourage travel, education, adventure or even risk…these are all a valuable part of life.  But with journeys of the soul, you must always first consider the source of your unhappiness; that is, YOU.   Before you go off down your yellow brick road, make sure you know who your travelling companions are going to be.  Will they be self-doubt, insecurity and desperation?

And be clear about what you are seeking.  If you think a new relationship, new job, new car or a facelift is the answer to your discontent, chances are good you don’t even realize what the question is.    You have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself. 

Bottom line:  if you cannot solve the "problem" in Kansas, chances are you will not have much better luck in Oz.  So before you get into a street fight with some winged monkeys, be very clear with yourself about why you are doing it.   Can you believe you are already smart, lovable and brave?  Can you take that on faith, or do you need to prove it?   

In the end, Dorothy returns to the place where she thought she was unhappy only to realize it is where she wanted to be all along:  home.  Our goal is to be at home in our own skin, in our own soul.  So if you want to see the Emerald City, go for it!  Have a great time!  Just remember that you will find yourself there and anywhere else you go.  So first make sure you love the person you are going to be travelling with. 


 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

WHY THIS TOO SHALL PASS (At Your Own Risk)

So the home we currently live in I bought “sight unseen”.  That is to say, of course I had “seen” it via the world wide web, but I hadn’t visited it up close and in person.  This factoid stuns and amazes most I share it with, for good reason.  Who makes the biggest investment of their lifetime in something they have never actually laid eyes on?

This girl!
Here's the backstory:  the house we were leaving sold in 2 weeks and my husband had already moved to start his new job and he'd been scouring the local market to no avail for over a month.  I sent listings to him nearly daily, but up until this point he had assured me nothing he had seen was suitable.  I was home alone with a 3 year old and a dog and my despair.

Then, one fateful Tuesday (yes, I remember what day of the week it was) THIS house came on the market.  I had those little heart palpitations of excitement as I looked over the listing and quickly sent it on to both my husband and our realtor with an urgent flag:  get into this one IMMEDIATELY!  Then I set off to pick up our son from preschool.
When I returned home no one had responded to my URGENT online request, so I called and left URGENT phone messages.  The realtor FINALLY responded (later that afternoon, but I was VERY anxious so it seemed like an unreasonable wait) that he had an appointment for Thursday.  THURSDAY!!!!  Like Wednesday just didn’t exist, you know???

I was on pins and needles until they FINALLY got in to see the place (36 hours of torture) to confirm my intuition…we had finally found “the one”!  I was ready to hop in the car and drive 10 hours, but that is just not done when there is a toddler expecting preschool and a nap the next day and a dog needing to be fed and walked and such. 
Then the horrifying news that there was to be an OPEN HOUSE on Saturday!!!  MY house could be stolen right out from under my nose before I ever even had the chance to see it!  So I did what any reasonable person would do:

I authorized our realtor to make a full price offer that very night.
You are probably the one suffering heart palpitations at this point in the story, right?  But I am an intuitive person and I trusted my intuition.  Luckily, our offer was accepted because some totally jerky idiot from the open house wanted to make an offer too but backed down when he heard there was already FULL PRICE on the table.  What a jerk! (jk!)

Okay, now I secure appropriate care for the kid and pup and head up to see my dream home with a song in my heart.  I meet up with my husband who drives us there (here) for the first time without the local realtor navigating and having mistakenly relied on Google maps to set our course.  You see where this is going:  we get lost.
But not run-of-the-mill-I-made-wrong-turn lost, more like omg-have-we-entered-the-7th-circle-of-hell lost.  We find ourselves on this weedy, bumpy, unpaved little rural road that seems to get narrower and narrower the further we drive and we literally keep having to stop because chickens and goats are wandering into our path (yes, I know what literally means.  This is how it happened).  Of course, my response to the apparent fact that I am about to move my life and child into some kind of outtake from Deliverance causes me to burst into hysterical tears.

I sat sobbing cooperatively as my husband tried to figure out where things went awry.
But all’s well that ends well and we finally found MY house (on a PAVED street!  In a LOVELY neighborhood!  With NARY a chicken or goat in sight!) and now we have lived here nearly eight years.  And, as an added bonus, the people we bought the house from have become good friends in a serendipitious turn of events, so we were doubly blessed.  That, my friends, is intuition in overdrive and a very happy ending!

But there were a few bumps in the road on our way here, right?  Literally.
So now I tell you about that mysterious little chickeny, goaty trail we found ourselves on;  it’s like the “ye olde fashione” version of a major bypass  WITH THE SAME NAME which is why the splendidly helpful Google Maps mistakenly routed us that way.  I am a big walker and walk almost daily the couple of miles to the entrance of this makeshift “road” and often warn drivers who have been given the same bad intel from the fine folks at Google to stay clear.  It seems to be mainly a place where kids drive their ATV’s and possibly drink a few beers with the farm animals.

Then recently we had a big snowstorm and afterwards I was tromping my usual path and frankly fretting about my current life challenges.  When I arrived at the trail of doom, I saw the plows had just piled up everything from the road I was on, totally blocking the entrance with a pile of snow taller than my head.  And as I contemplated the icy wall, wondering how the chickens, goats and ATVer's would feel about all of this, I had the sudden thought:   this obstacle is temporary.
And then, upon further reflection, I decided that most ALL obstacles are temporary.

And in realizing this, I went about my way with a lighter heart, knowing that the obstacles in my life would eventually melt away like the snow, and I would see my way clear again.  Or, as the common wisdom mandates, this too shall pass.   But it is not quite that simple.
Each day, as the snow melted more and more I imagined the obstacles in my own life getting smaller and smaller too.  I felt a renewed sense of energy and faith.  And then one day, sure enough, the wall of snow was completely gone; the obstacle had been removed.

As if to bring the point home, the ATVer’s had already driven their machines up over the last remaining hump of dirt the snow plow had left, mashing it to the ground with heavy tread.  I felt liberated!  And then I saw it:  a brand new handmade sign that someone had tacked to a tree:
PASS AT YOUR OWN RISK. 

Yes, like the sort of thing you would see outside of a child’s fort or treehouse. Not the most uplifting end to my tale, I know.  Yes, the obstacle was gone, but that means I have to move ahead now AT MY OWN RISK. 
And that’s how life is, isn’t it?  We think IF ONLY there weren’t these OBSTACLES! But then when the obstacle no longer exists or is overcome, fear may still assert itself; just because the pathway has been cleared doesn’t mean we don’t still have trepidation about going forward.  Going forward means being brave and being brave means there is always some risk involved.  We know what we have to do, but will we be brave enough to do it?

Now to answer your questions:  YES, all of this actually happened (literally).  YES, my brain does work this way ALL the time and there is no such thing as “just” a melting pile of snow (or a cigar).  And finally NO, I didn’t have buyer’s remorse having pulled the trigger on a house I had never seen.  I trust my intuition; it has given me good reason.
So the moral of the story is this…even on the path of intuition there will be obstacles; these obstacles are always temporary and are testing your resolve.  And when these obstacles are overcome, bravery will still be required to move ahead.  But if you can remember all of this, it will help keep you sane while you are on the path to your very own dream house, dream career, dream life. 

In life, you pass at your own risk.  But as Keirkegaard put it, “Without risk there is no faith.” And what is faith but making the biggest investment of your lifetime in something you have never actually laid eyes on? 
 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

WHY THERE AIN'T NO BAD GUYS (Darn It!)

You know how you get a song stuck in your head and it just replays over and over on a loop?  It’s quite possible I just did that to you with my title.  Sorry about that.

But Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree” may be a good anthem for the times we are going through right now.  Darn it.  Oh, I know…but theybut theybut they…I know, truly I do.
I’m not saying no one ever does anything “wrong”.  I’m certainly not saying no one ever does anything unkind.  I’m definitely not saying no one ever does anything hurtful.

I’m saying that our need to draw those lines, to label people as “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” is really not terribly productive and may be more damaging to ourselves than we realize.  This anger we feel, that we believe is directed at “the other” is actually a swirling storm going on inside of our own minds.  Like the song that replays over and over on a loop, this game of shame and blame becomes our own toxic trap.
Okay, it is hard right now with all of the dangerous, dishonest collusion dangling right in front of us to recognize our righteous anger as harmful.  So let’s take the discussion to a more personal level; have you ever been witness to an ugly divorce?  One where dangerous, dishonest collusion may have been involved?

The sense of betrayal and heartbreak in the “wronged” party can be excruciating without a doubt, and good friends will not only validate the experience of grief, they will also channel much of their own anger towards the “bad guy”.  This provides a temporary sense of relief and support for the person as they extricate themselves from the unhealthy situation.  But what ends up happening when they hold on to the anger and blame instead of moving on?
We have (unfortunately) all seen parents who (inexplicably) try to turn their children against the ex-spouse after a divorce.  If it is not common sense to you that this is a miserable idea, I am not going to Google the kabillion articles that tell you so on your behalf.  But even if there are not children involved, how many people do you know that hang on to the bitterness and sense of victimization long after the relationship has resolved?  How do these people tend to do in forming new, healthier connections? I won’t Google that for you either.

I once knew a woman whose husband had betrayed her on a level most of us will thankfully never experience; essentially, their whole relationship was a lie.  But they had children and even though this man continued to treat her with mind-boggling disrespect after their divorce, I never heard her say a word against him.  They maintained a cordial relationship for the kids and she made every effort to allow them whatever access to their father that they chose.
I was young enough to be outraged on her behalf and awe-struck by her lack of anger.  But as my life evolved and I witnessed the beginnings and endings of more and more relationships I began to see how wise she was.  First, because her ex was the father of her children, vilifying him would have meant on some level rejecting them; but also, he had taken so much from her already, she wasn’t going to let him steal another moment of her peace and contentment.

So you are wondering—is this guy not a “bad guy”, in spite of her stalwart efforts to not empower him to ruin her life?
Here is my opportunity to give you the whole back story and make you if not empathetic, at least more intellectually understanding of why the man behaved as he did.  But I’m not going to do that.  I am simply going to point out that there is always more to the story, always.  And to paraphrase Neal Donald Walsch (who himself claims to be paraphrasing the Almighty):  no one does anything wrong given his/her model of the world.

Ugh, that is hard to accept, isn’t it?  But now we can return to those lawmakers who do all of these (horrible IMHO) things with big self-righteous smiles on their faces—smiles we self-righteously want to wipe away—and realize the ugly truth of it…they actually think they are doing the “right” thing.  ARRRRGH!  SO. HARD. TO. ACCEPT!!!
Given my model of the world, they are 12,000 kinds of wrong times a million, but I have to understand that they think THEY are “the good guys”.  They think they are protecting me from my naiveté.  They think they are putting in place a system that supports the people who “deserve” that help.   ARRRRGH!!!!!

Okay, the good news is, like the song says—we can disagree.  And unlike the song, we don’t have to “leave it alone”; we are 100% within our rights to stand up for each other and against policies that we believe are dangerous or damaging.  That is democracy, and we are seeing it in action now on a daily basis.

The bad news is, when we self-righteously attack their self-righteousness—well, you see where I am going.  We A) aren’t getting any closer to a solution and B) are living in an angry space of our own making.  Anger breeds anger, contempt evokes contempt and it is just as pointless to vilify someone who we think is making a mess of things (even on a colossal scale) as someone who is having a bad day. 

ARRRGH!!!  I hate that I’m right about this, I promise you that.
If your child made a mistake in class and the teacher screamed at him and told him he was “bad” or “dumb”, you would just about lose your mind, wouldn’t you?  The child is in school to learn, and mistakes are part of the learning process; demeaning a child for his mistakes is not going to accomplish anything positive.  So why do we think this is the way to go when dealing with other adults?

I hate that I’m right about this.  But when we spend our time and energy, whether in our personal and professional relationships or in our global politics, screaming about how “bad” “dumb” and “wrong” the people who disagree with us are, we aren’t getting anywhere we want to go.  Mistakes have been made; this goes without saying.  The question is, are we going to fixate on it and let our anger feed on itself in that endless loop in our heads?
When we (or someone we care about.  Or people we don’t even know.  Or our country.) have been “wronged”, we have every right to say—“This is unacceptable to me”.  We have a right to walk away from people and situations that feel harmful or disrespectful to us.  We have a right to make a stand for people who may not be able to stand up for themselves.  We have a right, as citizens, to vote, protest, petition and rally.  We have a right to speak up for ourselves and our beliefs.

But let’s try to remember that (again, as the song says) we’ve all “grown up differently”.  There is always more to the story than meets the eye, always.  And as we learn each other’s stories, we begin to understand a little better that we are all doing the best that we can, given where we came from and what we know. 
My Aunt likes to tell a story about me as a tiny child; she overheard me saying that I thought she must not have gotten enough sleep, given how cranky she was.  She loved that even though her crankiness was directed at me, my empathy was with her.  Maybe it is too much of a leap to accept that our lawmakers may just have not “gotten enough sleep”; but if we can start from that point of compassion with the people in our lives, it would be a step in the right direction, don’t you think?


Monday, February 13, 2017

WHY STICKS AND STONES GET A BAD RAP

Do you remember “sticks and stones might break my bones but names will never hurt me?”

Is that still a thing?  Or did it go the way of “retard”* and “that’s so gay!”* (we can only hope)?
I would like to take this opportunity to speak out on the behalf of sticks and stones everywhere:  that is to say, words are much worse.  Much, much worse.  Like, see above (*) worse.  Like “you were seriously concerned about her e-mails” worse.

The older I get (and the more I put my own words out there as a writer), the more I realize that the pen is ACTUALLY mightier than the sword.  Our words are our weapons, and social media has made it all too convenient to levy them against people we don’t even know.  Words are the epitome of the cliché—they can be your BEST friend or your WORST enemy.
As your unofficial best friend, I would like to encourage you to use your words wisely.

It feels like my country has plunged into a war of words that shows no signs of abating; we have a “so-called” leader who uses words (the BEST words) so indiscriminately it is entirely clear that he has no idea what he’s talking about most of the time.  The worst part of it is, the person who is supposed to be the voice of our nation is instead the voice of division, fear, pettiness, ego and tyranny.  The worst part is, the man who should be our voice of reason is instead the voice of destructive deceit.
This puts us all into a uniquely awkward position:  how to disavow this man without using words destructively ourselves?

It is interesting to note as you go through your day how powerfully the words you speak and hear impact you.  How quickly can a “bad” day be turned around by kind and uplifting words from a friend or stranger?  How wonderful do you feel when you pay someone a compliment and they light up?  How encouraging is it when you hear something you needed to hear at the exact right moment, sometimes even just as lyric on the radio?
It is amazing how careless we are with our words, considering how they can literally make or break any experience or relationship.  When cruel or spiteful words are directed at us, they can take our breath away more than even a physical punch to the stomach; but we recover from hurt muscles so much more quickly than hurt feelings.  The broken bones from sticks and stones will inevitably mend; the devastation viciousness levies on our hearts and psyches can become an eternal feature of our consciousness.

Yet it is so tempting to meet meanness with meanness, intolerance with contempt!  Language is our medium and we fling it about all day long with so little care.  Even inside our own heads, what are the words we play for ourselves on that endless loop?
“The Power of Positive Thinking” gets brushed off as New Age nonsense in an unusual show of solidarity between intellectuals and the undereducated alike; yet it is the thoughts we are thinking that have the greatest impact on our lives of all.  Not just the self-critical thoughts, either.  It is crucial during this challenging time to remember that as important as it is to stand up for our morals and beliefs, it is equally important not to spend our days and nights stewing about injustice, either.

In the Harry Potter series, the arch villain Voldemort is more often referred to as He-who- must-not-be-named because of the belief that speaking the word increases its power.  Many people have adopted this approach regarding our current government leader because to refer to the man by his job title seems to legitimize his destructive words and behaviors.  I think this is a much more effective strategy than name-calling and insult hurling (although I will admit to being the first person to laugh at a particularly clever insult under these trying circumstances) because it takes away his power.
How does it take away his power if he still has the job, you ask?  Here’s how:  if you are anything like me, trying to put the word “President” in front of that name not only feels wrong, it actually causes an anxiety response.  Calling him “45” or He-who-must-not-be-named does not.  Anxiety can have a crippling effect on our cognitive ability (here, I googled so you don’t have to).   So I have taken away his power to have a crippling effect on my cognitive ability.  That’s a good thing, right?

But this is true of all the different kinds of thoughts we think.  When we focus our attention on words (President) and things that make us anxious, we are actually debilitating ourselves.  Now, if you are a person who suffers from an actual anxiety disorder, there is help available to cope with that.  But if you are like me and are simply using your own words and thoughts against yourself, now would be a particularly good time to cut that sh*t out.
In addition to all the aforementioned anxiety provoking stimuli, I have a lot of major stressors happening in my personal life all at once right now.  I have to be vigilant with my words and thoughts in order not to get swept away into overwhelm.  This is an every minute of every day endeavor, and some days I am more successful than others.

On a recent day when I was trying very hard but being not-so-successful, I made a run to the grocery store.  As I was mentally trying to “talk myself away from the ledge”, I parked my car and when I got out right there was a truck with a quote from the Philippians stenciled on the back:  “Be anxious for nothing”.  And of course I went from fretting to laughing in a heartbeat.  Those were the exact words I needed to see at just the exact right moment, and I wish I had left a note on that vehicle telling the people who owned it as much.
Another great truth put forth in the Book of Matthew is this:  “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”  Our words and thoughts are the most potent means available to us to be effective and impactful, not only in our own lives but in the lives of others.  In every exchange we have we are choosing to serve fear or faith, oppression and exclusion or openness and oneness. 

Sticks and stones might break your bones (but usually not, bones are pretty sturdy things) but now more than ever we see words have nuclear capability.  To the cliché “is it kind, true or necessary” I would add “helpful” and “productive” to the litmus test for the words we are using.  By first changing our words and thoughts, we are well on the way to changing the world.
 

Monday, January 23, 2017

WHY TODAY IS YOUR LUCKY DAY!

Growing up, I often heard my Grandmother say about my Dad, “If he fell into a bucket of scheisse, he’d find a diamond ring.”  I also heard my Father tell anyone who would listen, “All of my life I’ve had good luck.”  Now, in a chicken and egg scenario, I cannot tell you which actually came first:  Dad having extraordinary good fortune, or Dad being told that he had good fortune, but the end result was the same.  He always got the big half of the wishbone, and he counted that blessing daily.

I, on the other hand, never considered myself to be particularly lucky.  I wasn’t athletic or naturally competitive, so “winning” was not really part of my skill set.  I was the most physically delicate and emotionally fragile of my siblings, so I suffered both injury and insult at their hands.  I never had difficulty making new friends, but I was also never what you would describe as “popular”.  Unlike my Dad, I didn’t have an intrinsic sense of being fortunate; I believed hard work, academic achievement and living according to my morals would be the road to a successful and happy life.
However, in spite of graduating from an excellent college and continuing to conduct myself in business and relationships in a way I felt proud of, my streak of not-such-great-luck continued into adulthood.  Mountains of effort produced very little achievement (or so it felt to me) and things that seemed to come so easily for most presented virtually insurmountable obstacles.  In spite of this, I would never have described myself as an unhappy person.  I genuinely liked being me (still true) and I had a lot of wonderful relationships that reflected the idea of my value and lovability back to me. 

One thing that I did occasionally experience was what I call grace, but for the sake of this discussion I will call supernatural level-luck.  That is to say, although my day-to-day existence often felt bumpy and filled with disappointments, I had moments in my life that could only be described as “divine intervention”.  Like when I left my Filofax (remember those?) containing my driver’s license, bank card, money and all of my personal contacts in a phone booth (remember those?) on my way to work, and when I got home that night found it waiting for me because a stranger had driven an HOUR to return it.  I have a whole series of stories like that, and they never fail to amaze my listeners.  And although my professional life failed to yield any breakthroughs, I did finally have my dreamed of (and worked for) child.
Life was good.  But I still didn’t consider myself lucky.  And then, the scheisse hit the fan.

I have written before about how heart-wrenching and continuously challenging the four years following the birth of my son were; they sort of epitomized the adage, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”.  There was personal loss, job loss, upheaval and a little person depending on me who needed more care, attention and intervention than most children.  I spent four years putting out fires in my super hero cape, and a lot of the hopes and dreams I had for myself simply fell by the wayside. 
Surviving, not thriving was the order of the day.

When the dust finally settled and I looked around, I saw that not only had I survived, but I was raising a happy, healthy kid who had inherited my Dad’s “lucky” gene; the butterflies always landed on him.  And crawling out of my self-imposed emotional bomb shelter, I started forming friendships and connections that felt healthy and supportive.  In this new reality, I started to revisit some of my own hopes and dreams.
In this new reality, I started to realize that “All of my life, I’ve had good luck.”

In viewing my life story as a retrospective, I began to marvel at how the pieces of this intricate puzzle all fit together irrevocably…you can’t pull even one of them out without distorting the picture.  During those difficult years, I started saying, “Today’s bad experience is tomorrow’s funny story”, a somewhat diminishing way of voicing this essential truth.  Every loss, every disappointment, every challenge somehow became a building block to a more authentic existence.
Recently a young Pastor at my church gave a beautiful sermon about his early days in ministry; he was assigned to a parish in a very economically depressed community.  During his first visit to the church, he noticed what he thought was an unusual stockpile of communion bread.  When he asked about it, he was informed that many of the families in the congregation were so poor they counted on that food for their Sunday meal.

Shortly after his arrival, he was called upon to write a sermon about how “The Lord Provides”; in looking at the poverty of his parishioners, he felt uncomfortable preaching such a lesson.  He struggled with the message all week, and entered church that Sunday uninspired.  It was the habit at that particular parish to start each service with petitions, so before he spoke, he let his congregants offer their prayers for intercession and give thanks for blessings.
Aristotle wrote, “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” A woman stood up, a woman the Pastor knew to have very little financially, and gave praise to God for her tremendous good fortune.  She was thankful for the air she breathes; she was thankful for her community; she was thankful for the knees she got down on to pray.  Her litany of gratitude was so extensive that the young man realized on that day that he was her follower.  She had taught him that “The Lord Provides”, not the other way around.

In thinking on this, I have decided that this thing we call “luck” is actually just our normal day-to-day experience.  Most of the time we have air to breathe, community to engage with and knees.  We have a beating heart and a thinking brain.  We have the capacity to learn and grow and most importantly, love.  Most of the time, we are not engaged in the tragic, the earth shattering, the soul rendering. 
Most of the time, we are lucky.

I believe now that my Dad understood this to his very core, and that was the message he was trying to teach.  Misfortune is the anomaly, but even misfortune is often simply a stepping stone to greater success or enlightenment.  Another thing my father was fond of saying was “Every day is a good day”; so I will now pass his wisdom on to you in this form:  “Every day is your lucky day”.
Every day you have a beating heart, a thinking brain, more to learn and love to give is your lucky day!  You decide what comes first, the chicken or the egg?  Will you decide you are lucky and then gather the evidence to support this truth, or will you have the experience and then bless it as lucky? 

Because the end result is the same:  Today is your lucky day!