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Friday, February 19, 2016

Why What You Resist Persists

What you resist persists.  The first time I heard that I was in my 20’s and I am not sure I processed it as the profound truth that it is…I thought it was more like bumper sticker “wisdom” with a catchy rhyme.  It conjured for me that Gary Larson Far Side cartoon, “Midvale School for the Gifted” which shows a student pushing up hard against a door that is clearly marked PULL. 

Now that I am (a lot) older and (somewhat) wiser, I realize that’s not a half bad out-picturing of it, in fact.  How often do we find ourselves pushing when we should be pulling, running when we should be standing our ground; banging our proverbial head against the proverbial wall and wondering why in the hell we aren’t solving the “problem”, especially when we are TRYING SO DAMNED HARD. 

Frequently we are actually pushing against our own best interests because we don’t know how NOT to effort, how NOT to struggle, how NOT to strain.  Effort and struggle and strain become our go-to strategy, and even when they prove to be something less than efficacious, we are comforted by the fact that hey, at least we broke a sweat.  So maybe breaking a sweat was the whole point.  Maybe resistance was our goal, after all?

What you resist persists.  Way back when I first heard that, I was a single girl on the “dating scene”…I shudder to recall.  One particularly memorable set-up was with a guy I’ll call “The Duck”.  Because that is how I referred to him behind his back, for reasons I will leave to your imagination.  As you can probably guess, it was not a love match and the names of the individuals who introduced us have been withheld to protect the not-so-innocent.  

No, it was not a match for me, but The Duck apparently felt somewhat more optimistic because he would NOT leave-me-the-hell-alone.  Phone calls (I never picked up), long messages (deleted), invitations (ignored)…he even resorted to showing up at my apartment unannounced (I hid in the bathroom until he stopped knocking.  Which took a long time.  I think he knew I was in there)…The Duck was a man with a mission! 

In retrospect, we were both ahead of our time; he was an elbow-grease stalker before the internet made it easy-aces and I was “ghosting” before technology made it so much more obvious that is what was happening.  In spite of everything, I never thought he was a bad guy.  Just weird and boring, which is actually a tricky combo to pull off.  And annoying.  And not someone I wanted to spend time with; but now I realize I should have faced him and had a respectful conversation.  I guess I didn’t have the confidence in my personality as a libido killer that I do now, ha.  I was putting all of my energy into a childish resistance tactic; so, he persisted.
What you resist persists.   The irony is, whenever we feel a stubborn resistance to anything or anyone it is almost for certain that there is a gift to be had in accepting instead.  Acceptance gives us a strange superpower that works like emotional immunity…it is an open-heartedness, an understanding that the present is all we have for sure, a detachment from result-oriented behaviors.  

The first step towards learning acceptance is inevitably inward; what are you resisting in yourself?  It could be as big as a dream you believe is too unrealistic to achieve or as simple as hating your curly hair.  Whatever you are “pushing” against in yourself is wasting your energy and distracting you from living peacefully as a whole.  Accepting all that you are—the good, the bad and the ugly—means allowing every single bit of it to be okay. 

A friend of mine recently had a (Freudian) slip of the tongue when describing me…instead of calling me “fierce”, she said I am “ferocious”.  And after we finished laughing I said, “I’ll accept that”.  Every aspect of who we are exists for a good reason; and yes, my life has called on me to be ferocious more than once. Acceptance is the medium of miracles; once we are able to work that magic on ourselves, it is so much easier to extend it graciously to others.  Once we can forgive our “mistakes” and “flaws” and even our resistance, we are able to allow others their own without judgment.

What you resist persists.  As an experiment pick one thing you get  stuck on, one belief that hangs you up; start small, like maybe you believe one clerk at the store is slow, or mean, or judging your purchases or all of the above.  Start deliberately going through that line EVERY TIME.  Stop avoiding the situation and accept that the clerk may simply be struggling in work and/or life.  Yes, it is even possible he/she targets you personally, but more likely is just an angry or lost person in general.  I challenge you to face down the lion; accept this person’s behavior with no fear.  You may not EVER grow fond of them (but that is what happened for me), but you will stop being ruffled by them. 

Thich Nhat Hanh has written, “You don’t need to be accepted by others.  You only need to accept yourself”.  You cannot be impugned by the judgment of another; it is harmless to you when you realize it is A) not your fault and also B) not your duty to do anything at all to change it. When you are able to accept who you are, you also begin to accept how others are.  Who (or what) is the lion (or duck) in your life?  What you resist persists.  Realize that anything you are pushing hard against is pushing back on you.  Pull open the door and invite it in; just don’t be surprised if it says “never mind” and goes away on its own.



Friday, February 12, 2016

7 Things to Love About Valentine's Day (That Aren't Romance)

I LOVE Valentine’s Day!  I know, I know…the popular view is that single people hate Valentine’s Day while attached people love it, so this may not seem like a radical stance coming from someone who has been married for 17 years.  But actually, all the reasons I love this holiday have absolutely nothing to do with being part of a couple.  My parents instilled in my siblings and I a passionate love-of-celebration, and what better excuse for a celebration-of-love than Valentine’s Day?  So let’s review the reasons why this is a fun holiday for EVERYONE:

1)     HISTORY: This holiday has no clear origin but a lot of interesting mythology surrounding it.  Ancient Romans observed a fertility celebration on February 15th (think "Spin the Urn" in TOGAS!) and there are no less than THREE Christian saints named Valentine, ALL of whom were (impossibly) reported to have been martyred on February 14th.  The most often cited and entertaining of the legends involves one of these men, who was supposedly imprisoned by Claudius II for continuing to perform marriages after they had been outlawed (Claudius thought married men made bad soldiers, the old softie!).  While in prison, the future saint befriended his jailer, who had a blind daughter; Valentine miraculously restored her vision.  The story goes that before he was executed, he sent her a letter and signed it "from your Valentine".  Valentine's Day was later popularized as a romantic holiday by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the Middle Ages.  Pretty cool, huh?

2)     DECORATIONS:  Like I mentioned, both of my parents enjoyed a celebration and my Mom decorated the house for every holiday, a tradition I carry on today.  Having spent the majority of my life in the Northeast means February is about as bleak as it gets…nothing like some hearts and flowers and perk up the joint and add color and festivity to our surroundings!

3)     MEMORIES:  Part of our celebration growing up were little gifts my Dad would buy for all his girls; Mom did the vast majority of the shopping, so it was always a special treat when he picked something out himself.  I remember all of them fondly and still have a heart shaped, rose-scented candle he gave me when I was a teenager.  I also have wonderful memories of Valentine’s Day celebrations at school; one particularly noteworthy year in elementary school, we each constructed and decorated a train “car” out of construction paper and our teacher hung the train up on the wall, where we could deposit cards into each other’s creations.  In high school they used to sell white, pink and red carnations as a fundraiser; the white carnations were for friends, the pink carnations were meant to express an interest in being more than friends and the red carnations were for sweethearts.  I never actually got a pink or red carnation, but there was something so fun and exciting about the idea that I might!  Like, remember the pure joy and optimism of Charlie Brown when he shows up in school on Valentine’s Day with a BRIEFCASE to carry all the Valentines he might get home?  Speaking of which…

4)     BE MY VALENTINE, CHARLIE BROWN:  this first and obviously superior Peanuts special about Valentine’s Day NEVER gets old.  If you have not watched this in many years (or at all???)  I urge you to revisit it.  Linus is infatuated with his teacher Miss Othmar, Charlie Brown’s hope for love springs eternal and Snoopy is…well, SNOOPY.  You can’t go wrong with that.  Frankly, just to hear Linus yell, “This one is for Elizabeth Barrett Browning!” as he chucks chocolates over a bridge is worth the price of admission.  And on the topic of chocolate:

5)     CANDY:  Candy, candy, candy.  Remember when you were a kid and candy was like MANNA from HEAVEN???  And then you grow up and start to think of candy as “the enemy”?  Let me reassure you about something:  unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from eating candy, candy is NOT your enemy.  Candy can be a nice little treat you give yourself at the end of the day, and if you stop thinking about it as your enemy, you might stop using it as a weapon against your body and self-esteem, right?  Why not befriend candy?  And what better time than Valentine’s to do that?

6)     FRIENDSHIP:  Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, but it doesn’t have to be the romantic kind!  When I was living in New York after college, I went out for an extravagant dinner with two of my girlfriends at Chez Josephine (it’s still there!  YOU could go!)  We got all dressed up--I wore a black velvet dress and a crushed velvet hat—and ate decadent food and laughed and complimented each other all night.  Then we went home and ate ice cream, of course!!!  Sorry, guys…the ladies win for the best Valentine’s date I EVER had!!!  Another time I cut out a bunch of hearts and taped them all over my roommate’s door to surprise her when she woke up…isn’t that adorable (ANNOYING)???  I still like to send cards and little gifts to friends and family to say I love you and I’m glad you are in my life.  Lucky me!

7)     MONEY:  Okay, this one is a stretch for most, but Valentine’s Day does NOT need to be expensive to be fun.  My husband is in the hospitality business, so he has worked more Valentine’s Day than not in the 20 years we have been together.  The bright side?   This means we have NEVER paid jacked up prices for a meal out on February 14th…we would just go out the day before or after at normal prices.  The year after our son was born he had changed jobs and moved early to start work, leaving me home alone with a dog, a baby who rarely slept more than a few hours at a time and a house that needed to be kept immaculate because it was on the market.  Yes, that WAS as much fun as you are imagining right now!  Because I was alone (with a dog and a cranky baby) for the holiday, he decided to order me a big, elaborate bouquet from (or something like that)…but they NEVER CAME.  Imagine my surprise when my heroic efforts received no acknowledgment on Valentine’s Day; imagine HIS surprise when his romantic gesture was apparently not appreciated.  We quickly figured out what had gone wrong and made a pact then and there…no more ordering flowers at jacked up prices for a particular date, when affordable flowers are available most of the year. 

Bottom line:  don’t let a DATE on the CALENDAR dictate romance (or lack thereof).  Buy flowers for yourself (or your friend, Mom, sister, spouse, WHOEVER) WHENEVER you want.  And as for Valentine’s Day?  Celebrate ALL the love you have in your life…make heart-shaped cookies with your kids, invite some friends over for champagne and chocolate covered strawberries, watch corny movies and have a good cry.  Most of all, remember to LOVE YOURSELF.  There is so much to be happy and grateful for in life, celebrate THAT.  And have a very happy Valentine’s day!!

It's okay, Jason!  You can kill people ANY day of the year!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Life Happens While You Plan

So, I almost missed my own baby shower.  I mean, I’m sure it would not have gone down that way, but when my Mom brightly suggested that a huge gang of us go out to brunch at a popular restaurant where we did not have reservations, I said “NO WAY”.  Of course, unbeknownst to me, it was all a ruse and a room and flowers and food were already booked. 

But I’m not much of one for surprises; I kicked and screamed about driving “all the way” to the venue without a plan in place.  Because I’m a planner, see?  Depending on who you are and what your relationship to me is, this is either a very, very good thing or the reason you call me a control freak behind my back. 

I do not “fly by the seat of my pants” ANYWHERE…although some days I claim to be, for STRATEGIC reasons.  That’s right, I’m strategically casual.  If my efforts have not lived up to my standards?  Well,  then…I claim I didn’t make an effort at all. 

I also get strategically sick.  Ask my Mom about the time as a teen that I wriggled out of a Bette Midler concert I was dreading with a spiking temperature that magically resolved itself within 36 hours.  That was no Ferris Bueller trick, btw.  Thermometer-against-the-lightbulb is amateur hour.  I was ACTUALLY (albeit very temporarily) SICK. 

That is planning, folks!  I even catch viruses on a schedule!

This is a quality I own with pride and also credit for my ability to maintain so many long distance relationships for so many years.  Planning is critical if you want face time with people who don’t live in your immediate vicinity, and I excel at it.   I live for getting my “ducks in a row”, as it were, and I’m totally comfortable being the point person. 

I’ve always thought of planning in terms of maturity and taking responsibility and have rolled my eyes at anyone who suggested it was a less-than-desirable quality.  But I recently was having a conversation with a friend about the end of my father’s life; he was in hospice care at home, so I was staying there with my Mom and him.  I loved my Dad to distraction and cherished every moment we had together, but those weeks spent anticipating his death were a very anxious time for me.  Waiting for the other shoe to drop almost makes you begin to long for it, in a way.  My friend’s response was that it is interesting how our inability to tolerate discomfort makes us want closure, at any cost.  This hit me squarely, although it was not presented as a judgment.
The wonderful Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron once wrote, “The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given...everything you need to open further.”  What my friend said to me made me realize that my compulsive planning…while certainly an often helpful, productive trait…is also a tactic for protecting my soft spot, as Pema put it.  I don’t like surprises because I don’t feel prepared for or in “control” of the situation. 

Of course I intellectually understand that we are never truly in control of anything but our own attitude.  But I am also armoring my heart against disappointment with my planning, like I don’t quite fully accept that uncertainty is the only certainty there is.  Madeline L’Engle, who wrote the transformative A Wrinkle in Time explains it best: “When we were children we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable.  But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…to be alive is to be vulnerable”.

We all understand in the abstract how vulnerable we are; our soft bodies, our tender hearts, our open minds are exposed daily to risk and negativity.  Planning helps me circumvent the visceral fear of this…it is my bulletproof vest, so to speak,  affording me some protection from the inevitable arrows of uncertainty.   Most all of us have some kind of defense system in place.

 But how much of life are we missing out on because we are actively “armoring our heart”?  We long for love while protecting ourselves against it.  I think it is interesting that mythology warns us that Cupid’s arrow will cause a wound that fills us with uncontrollable desire.  How does that sound to you?  To be filled with uncontrollable desire? 

To me it sounds raw and vulnerable and wild and SCARY.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that most of us have been taught that desire is a BAD THING; all but one of the so-called 7 deadly sins are uncontrolled desires:  lust, greed, gluttony, wrath, envy, pride.  Even sloth might be considered an uncontrollable desire to do nothing.  We shrink from our desires; we make responsible choices, abstain, diet, save our pennies, hold-our-tongues, work hard and stay humble.  We protect our soft spots and wonder why we don’t feel fully alive.
In his book The Way of the Wizard, Deepak Chopra posits that desire is the direct path to God; he tells us to look upon desire as a willingness to receive what God wants to give.  The Upanishads teaches “You are what your deep, driving desire is”.  But a lot of us…maybe even most of us…wouldn’t know what our “deep, driving desire” is if it walked up and introduced itself.   We have built up walls around it and we exist on the outside…making plans and lists and appointments and schedules and meals and beds and time. 

But it’s always knocking on those walls, asking to be let out.  We feel the dull thud in our chests, nagging pull on our attention, the pit in our stomachs.  Our inability to tolerate the discomfort of vulnerability has ironically given birth to the discomfort of being disconnected from our source, our true selves. 

I almost missed my own baby shower because it wasn’t PART of the PLAN I had for my day.  It makes me wonder how many amazing things I have actually missed out on because they weren’t “on the schedule”.  I am not going to give up planning---one might almost say I have a deep, driving desire to plan---but I am going to question my own resistance to vulnerability.   Karma dictates that our walls will be broken down; the only question is, will we do it ourselves with tenderness and care, or will we allow circumstances to be a wrecking ball?