In other words: Forget about the dots

1 06 2017

“Wanting an intimate relationship doesn’t mean I get one. But to paraphrase Stephen Stills, if I can’t be with the one I love, my best insurance policy against a sad, lonely old age is to love the one I’m with. The one who will never leave me, no matter what, for real. That one, of course, would be me.”         — Meredith Maran The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention

 

You take a step. Make a choice. Decide.

You never know exactly what to expect, how it will “turn out”, where it will lead. But you think you’ve looked at it from every angle you can, and it seems like the next right thing to do, so you think you know approximately, at least, what will happen.

In Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech, he said ““You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” You know this is true, but even hearing Jobs’ wisdom in your head at each decision-point doesn’t stop you from trying. Doesn’t keep you from thinking that, maybe, this time you’ve managed to connect the dots forward. This time you’ve mapped the trajectory of your own future correctly and all will proceed accordingly.

But it doesn’t.

You fail. Someone you rely on fails. Markets fail. You get sick. Someone you love gets sick. You calculated based on certain assumptions, now proven incorrect. (Donald Trump gets elected President proving all bets are off.) People refuse to act according to your predictions. Life refuses to act according to your predictions.

You feel disappointed, disillusioned, depressed. Alone.

Now what?

Self-recrimination (what did I miscalculate? how could I be so wrong? I must be missing a crucial gene!)? Shut down and spend days, weeks, just getting through until I can sit in my easy chair at night and fall asleep? Blame everyone else for not meeting my expectations (which, of course, are perfectly reasonable)?

I don’t have any prescriptions for fixing a life that goes off the rails, for solving the endless riddle of “how did this happen?” or “How did I end up here?”  But here’s what I’m learning*, or at least what I think I’m picking up on right now:

Whatever happens, wherever I go – I am the common denominator. Blame, anger, self-loathing…not helpful. Helpful? Compassion, forgiveness, self-awareness. If I have to live with myself, I prefer peaceful, loving cohabitation.

Whether I am proactive and take-charge or reactive and passive, I will experience the results. In which case, doing is preferable to wallowing; action preferable to waiting; woke-ness preferable to somnolence.

Endlessly ruminating on what happened yesterday or last week or four years ago, trying to pinpoint a moment “where it all went wrong”, is a waste of my energy. If I had known when I was 29 what my life would look like at 49, I might have chosen differently. But I didn’t know. And I chose what I chose. Move on.

Endlessly ruminating on the future, on my fears of being old and alone, or getting sick, or…just not ending up where I wish I would end up…only paralyzes me and wastes my days in longing. “Stop gazing at your reflection in the Mirror of Erised,” I practice saying to myself; step away, then step onward.

 

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”       —Ranier Maria Rilke

* Like most important lessons in life, these “learnings” are not new to me. I am simply spiraling through them on another curve. Right now, it is helping to read a bunch of books about women my age reinventing themselves, changing their lives (whether forced to change or choosing to change).

 

 

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Choice Reflections

30 03 2017

When I was in college, I had a job in the student accounts office. Every afternoon, it was my responsibility to reconcile the day’s receipts – to make sure that the total of cash and checks in stacks on my desk matched the ledger of payments made. It was meticulous and systematized work. And it had to happen every day. It was inexorable: I knew that every afternoon I would clock in precisely at 3:00 and spend the next two hours with my pencil, adding machine, and a stack of account ledgers.

One spring afternoon, late in my junior year, a friend convinced me to skip work in favor of a trip to the park. This was completely against my sense of responsibility. It took a lot of cajoling and needling on my friend’s part to convince me to be truant. Once I agreed, however, I felt something akin to the spring sap in the trees coursing through my own blood stream and I was lost to the glee of the moment. I had no excuse, so I didn’t call my boss to tell her I wouldn’t be in. I just didn’t show up.

We had a great time at the park – I felt a bit guilty at first, but that soon gave way to the exhilaration of playing with abandon. In that world before cell phones, no one knew where we were, no one could reach us with sober responsibilities: we were free!

Returning to campus later, everyone I saw asked where I had been. “Mrs. Peacock was looking for you. She was worried when you didn’t show up for work.” It seemed that every student on campus had reason to stop by the student accounts office that afternoon, only to be questioned by a concerned Mrs. Peacock about whether they had seen me.

I spent the next day with my stomach roiling from a soupy mess of anxiety, dread, and regret. I had no idea what would happen when I arrived at work that afternoon, but I felt certain that I deserved whatever consequences Mrs. Peacock served  up. A tiny part of me resented that this awful feeling was the price of one carefree afternoon. I  felt remorse about causing concern and extra work for my boss, along with a generalized shameful flush of self-loathing: I was a bad person for shirking responsibility – people of character don’t just skip work to have fun.

All these years later, it doesn’t really matter what happened when I was finally face-to-face with Mrs. Peacock.  Obviously, I survived.

This could be a story about learning to accept responsibility, about showing up when you’re counted on, or about facing the consequences of your choices. OR, it could be a story about throwing off the shackles, making the best choices for yourself regardless of censure from others, choosing to live life fully in the face of pressure to conform to rigid social norms.

It could be a story about one perfect, pure afternoon of sunlight and laughter at Flora Park: a last gasp of childhood before fully facing the realities of the adult world.

It might be none of those.

That is the gift that time bestows on our choices: we can reflect upon them and see them from a variety of perspectives. Many of life’s stories can be crafted with multiple meanings, constructed as metaphors for a wide range of life lessons.

It is infinitely harder to construe meaning, much less multiple possible lessons, from the choices we are living with right now. We make choices and we live with those choices. Often, we must live with those choices regardless of how stressful or difficult or unfulfilling they turn out to be. In a world rife with inspirational quotes and “blame yourself” memes (“Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It’s not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument or your age that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and choice you make. Period.” – Wayne Dyer) we learn that it isn’t ok to be unhappy with the consequences of our choices. Suck it up, buttercup – or make a different choice.

But what if it isn’t that simple? Just yesterday a friend commented, “…things are more stressful than I would like. And I see no way to change the choices we’ve made.” What if the choice is right, but the consequences, what we live with right now, are painful? What if, regardless of whether we chose rightly or wrongly, choosing differently now is out of reach financially, or prohibitively impactful in the lives of others who depend on us (children, elderly parents, etc.)?

Sometimes, the resources required to change the choice you’ve made are not simply inner resources – they are real resources you don’t have – like money, time, or knowledge. Lack of those resources might be insurmountable in this moment. What now?

These are the places where we get stuck, and there are no easy solutions for getting unstuck. Since there are no easy solutions, perhaps it would be best if we merely tried to withhold judgment – of ourselves or of others. From the outside, life might look static, like we are simply living inside the painful choice we’ve made. But on the inside, what if it could feel like we’re proactively holding space for what will emerge? If we replace self-loathing (the roiling stomach of anxiety, dread, and regret) with self-loving-kindness, with compassion, for the flawed, human person who made these choices?

Eventually, someone will emerge from the painful choice-cocoon we’ve constructed for ourselves. There will be time, then, to craft meaning and construct metaphors and life lessons; to articulate how our choices helped define the someone who emerged. Clarity tends to come upon reflection rather than in the immediacy of now. And because the attribution of meaning is one of – if not THE – great gifts of time, we have to wait for it. It can’t be rushed.

 

 

 





Chausson’s Bicycle

21 04 2016

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In 1899, Romantic composer, Ernest Chausson, went out for a bicycle ride. While riding downhill, he hit a brick wall and was killed instantly, cutting short a promising career. In her poem about Chausson’s death, Denise Levertov imagines him riding, his mind filled with music and the colors of the countryside, both gaining in intensity as he gathers speed, takes flight on his bicycle. And then the wall, and a sudden silence.

I’ve owned Breathing the Water, Levertov’s collection of poems in which “From the Image-Flow — Death of Chausson, 1899” is printed, for twentysome years. I’m uncertain how many times, in those years, I’ve read this poem without real comprehension. I didn’t know who Chausson was and never felt enough curiosity to look him up. Furthermore, as someone who didn’t ride a bike, I didn’t catch her allusions to cycling.

This week, I happened to read the poem again and, although she never uses the word “bicycle”, I knew. I finally understood the poem (not just the words she used), and I caught on to the manner of Chausson’s death without resorting to Wikipedia (though I did look it up just to be sure).

What made the difference to my comprehension, this time around? It wasn’t imagination, I’ve certainly had the same ability to conjure thoughts and mental pictures at other times. And I doubt it was merely a matter of timing. No, what opened me up to the imagery of the poem was experience: the flash of recognition that comes with having practical contact with and observation of facts or events.

There was a time in my life when I did not seek out experiences. A long period in which it seemed enough to imagine, dream or surmise how a thing might feel; to use books or other people’s life stories as a guide. “Practical contact” might lead to things I feared, things like pain or grief or disappointment – so I avoided it. I anesthetized myself with food, and protected my tender possibilities with layers of fat that held other people and direct experience at bay. Eventually, I protected myself into near self-obliteration – both literally and figuratively. Almost worse than the erasure of my own life was the discovery that I had completely blunted my ability to feel empathy or compassion.

I had lost my ability to feel my way into a poem.

That changed when I began to say yes to new experiences. I even made it a New Year’s resolution one year: “Say yes to people and doing, no to staying home and sitting.”  Today, a few years down the line from that sterile space I once inhabited, I have not quite become an advocate of stockpiling experiences for their own sake. I still don’t understand the adrenaline-junkies among us, for example. But I have become a vociferous supporter of trying the things that call to you. This has led me to experiences I wouldn’t exchange for “safety”, even though some were emotionally difficult – experiences that opened my heart and engaged my intellect, experiences that allowed beauty to blow open my perceptions or that drew forth gifts I had hidden deep within.

If I hadn’t allowed myself to open up to experience, I wouldn’t have felt the grief  of this past week following the death of a friend. But I also wouldn’t have felt the balm of connection or the solidarity of shared loss.

After such a week, this is the two-fold gift of Chausson’s bicycle. First, the realization that my capacities (to see, to feel, to express) are enriched by engaging with new or broader experience. Second, that life cannot be fully lived if I’m always looking fearfully for the unseen brick wall ahead. Like Levertov’s imagined composer, I intend to ride fast and free, to hear arpeggios in the passing stream and revel in the flashing colors of this world. The wall and the silence are somewhere ahead: this I know. Even so, I will keep my feet to the pedals.

 

 

 

 

 





Truth, 2016

14 01 2016

It was New Year’s Day and I was feeling ambivalent. About pretty much everything. I wasn’t in the mood to reflect on the year just ended, nor did I feel quite up to staring down the barrel of 2016 with unblinking fortitude.

I noodled around online instead.

A post popped up on a friend’s social media feed, its flashing letters calling out to me like a carnival barker: “Find Out Your Word for 2016!” Easily distracted by shiny objects, I clicked on it. In almost exactly the same split second it took me to regret clicking, the word generator selected randomly for me:

Your word for 2016 is – Truth.

“Crap”, I thought. “That’s the last word I wanted”. Without even reading the explanation that came with the announcement, I hurriedly moved on to a different site.

But, of course, the damage was already done. Why, I wondered, had I responded so vehemently to the word “truth”?

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Two summers ago, when I worked the opening shift at Starbucks, I often spent long afternoons riding my bike. My friend, Mike, was bike commuting from our apartment building out to his office in the suburbs and I would sometimes ride out to meet him for the commute home. The trip was 17 miles each way, and offered a variety of surfaces and several hills in each direction.

I finally hit my stride with hills that summer. I can’t say that anything in particular clicked into place, other than that I had, perhaps, finally spent enough time in the saddle. Anyway, the hills on our commute back to the city were long and rolling, so we would fly down one hill and immediately begin ascending the next. Mike was always ahead of me heading into the uphill climb, but about half or two thirds of the way up, I would pass him.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Mike was in great shape – lighter, stronger and faster than me. When we rode together he often needed to moderate his pace so I could keep up. But I overtook him on those hills, and it was exhilarating! Not because it activated a competitiveness in me – although I wouldn’t be human (or honest) if I didn’t admit there was a smidgeon of that. But the main reason I found it so wonderful? It was evidence to me that I had developed a kinesthetic knowledge, a way of uniting my body and the machine I was riding into one efficient, smooth, and cohesive entity. Riding those hills well was deeply satisfying in a way that had nothing to do with anyone or anything else: my body my bike.

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This past year, I barely rode. I changed jobs twice and I’ve been living in a place of transition. Consequently, I was experiencing what a colleague calls “grief resistance” – riding just hasn’t felt fun since I returned to Cedar Rapids, missing the cycling culture (and my bikey friends) in the Twin Cities. Several times a week, at the gym, I climb aboard a spin bike and ride. Sometimes, I close my eyes and pretend I’m riding outside, actually going somewhere rather than just spinning my wheels. But mostly I just make myself pedal, varying the tension and the speed to get my heart pumping and work up a sweat.

Driving home from the gym after a less-than-satisfying session, I had a depressing vision of myself living like that every day – on auto-pilot, tired, anxious, my body heavier and more lethargic than I prefer. And that is when I began to more deeply understand my aversion to the word “truth” as my word for 2016.

The truth is, I’ve been avoiding my own truth for a while now. Avoiding consciously addressing what my heart already knew: that I’ve been abdicating my responsibilities to myself and my life. I’ve been making excuses instead of making active choices.

The truth is, going through life transitions is challenging; it can be really hard to do – like riding a bike up long or steep hills. You can fight the hill, complain about the hill, whine the entire way up the hill – but eventually you’ll need to crest the hill, however you feel about it. The kicker is that there will always be another hill, whether immediately in front of you or just visible on the horizon.

The truth is, hills are a fact of life – both the literal and the metaphoric ones. You can let them depress you or you can find them exhilarating. The main difference is in your approach.

#Truth

 

 





Demarcations

5 11 2015

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Demarcation: the action of fixing the boundary or limits of something.

When I worked on a college campus, I was responsible for addressing problematic student behaviors. Often, a student’s behavior violated generally accepted community standards while not directly violating a rule (for example, we didn’t technically have a rule against turning your residence hall floor into an indoor slip-n-slide, but we did consider it to be non-compliant with community standards). When this happened, there were always people quick to suggest writing a new policy or adding the specific behavior to an existing policy. I learned quickly that giving in to the pressure to spell everything out in this way would have meant having the longest and most convoluted code of student conduct ever. Not only that, though. It would have meant attempting to box students in with rules, to prevent them from freely experiencing choices and their consequences. Every interaction we had, then, would have been about rules, about proof of guilt or innocence – rather than about what it means to be a community, about the common good, and how members of a community are expected to regulate their own behaviors toward that good. As an educator, I tried to make the judicial process about the life of the community.

I tried to do that in the microcosm of the residence halls on one small college campus because I believe that is how we are called to live as citizens of our civil communities and as members of the wider human community.

I look around me these days and see so much that is troubling…

…In this election season, candidates are freely applying the most heinous comparisons, to Nazi Germany for example, to actions or decisions with which they disagree. They liberally pepper their speeches with made-up “facts”. Donald Trump, whose rhetoric consists mostly of calling other people names (stupid, boring, ugly, loser) and making self-aggrandizing statements (“I have one of the highest IQs”, “I’m rich”) is hailed as a straight-talking response to political correctness.

…In today’s climate, if I speak out against police brutality and racial profiling, I am told I am contributing to lawlessness and anarchy, to police deaths. If I speak out against the negative rhetoric and tactics of protesters or those who use the protests as a cover for illegal activity, I am called a racist.

…Refugees from conflict and war seek peace and safety while many of our countries cower in fear of terrorists or erect razor-wire to stave-off perceived scarcity, using dehumanizing tactics to make these choices appear reasonable.

…Don’t even get me started on what happens if one speaks compassionately about either side in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Or abortion. Or any one of a host of other divisive issues.

We are so busy making up ways to demarcate who is with us and who is against us that there is no room left for the voices of those who believe that both #blacklivesmatter and #policelivesmatter – for those who believe that all lives matter but who respect the truth that at this point in our history hash tagging that is disrespectful to those whose life experiences have been discrimination and marginalization.

I personally don’t use the term “political correctness” because it is most often used as a bludgeon to attack people on the left who stand for sensitivity to others. But while there is no one-size-fits-all term for the left to use, they still manage to find a variety of harsh and hurtful words to bludgeon those on the right whose views differ from theirs. And because of all this bludgeoning in our rhetoric, no real dialogue takes place. One political candidate went so far as to suggest last week that his party’s candidates should not be expected to participate in debates moderated by persons who had never been members of that political party. So, rather than seeking dialogue, we are going to lay down another line of demarcation – in politics, we only speak to those who already agree with us?

Where in all of this, I wonder, is the common good? Once we’ve marked our territories, outlined our many divisions and subdivisions, where is there ground identified as neutral territory? Where is the ground on which people of good will but differing perspectives can meet?

Again, I find myself thinking about the situations I worked with in university student life. One of the biggest challenges was mediating roommate disputes. Here’s how it typically went down: one student would come to see me, sharing the atrocious, cruel, thoughtless things their roommate had done to them. The student would often cry, hands shaking, telling me of how deeply hurt they were. My heart would go out to that student, my sense of justice would be engaged, I would want to take on the role of advocate for him or her. Then I would bring in the roommate and hear a different story, varying in particulars, yet resulting in another deeply hurt individual. When I brought these two hurting souls together, each firmly entrenched in the belief that their roommate was an evil, horrible, thoughtless person, my first effort was to get them to share their feelings. Often, once they opened up about feeling hurt or disregarded or disrespected, tears, hugs and apologies followed. The two would then want to leave my office, feeling better and assuming that we were done. But what followed next was the more difficult part – actually going back to the root causes of their differences and looking for new ways to address them in the future. Looking for ways to get both of them thinking about the common good in terms of their room, their interpersonal relationship, and within the larger context of their residential community. Without that second piece, the two would soon be back, crying over the same issues as before – often after having turned their residential floor into a Civil War re-enactment, sides enlisted, battle flags planted.

I was thinking of all of this the other day, as I walked the land at Prairiewoods. When I saw the tree, photographed above, I noted how it stands in a place of demarcation between the prairie and the woods. The tree appears to have its own leanings, its branches clearly reaching towards the woods, with only one or two stunted arms stretching toward the prairie. Yet, while I couldn’t get it all in one photograph on my cell phone, the trees roots were visible as well – and they were strong and vital, reaching in all directions. Woodlands and prairies are quite visually different from one another, yet each is a vital ecosystem with equally good characteristics to recommend it. I couldn’t imagine declaring, “The woods must suffer so the prairie can thrive” or “I stand with the woods against the prairie.” I couldn’t imagine choosing one and turning my back forever on the other – no matter whether one “agreed” more directly with my heart.

The wisdom of creation is the wisdom of communion. It is the wisdom of interconnection, interplay, collaboration and cooperation. It is the wisdom of the common good. In my life, I need to strive to be more like that tree: I have my leanings, of course – my values, beliefs, ethics, my politics. But I also have roots that push outward, that explore the territory beyond all demarcations. I have the gift of a voice that can be raised in dialogue and questioning, of ears that can do greater things than hear – they can actually listen. 

I have a heart whose natural state is open.

What’s more, I believe we are each endowed with these gifts. I believe that we are entrusted by the Universe to make the most of these gifts in service to the common good. They say desperate times call for desperate measures – so I’m calling us all to these measures:

  • talk to people you don’t have to;
  • attend another party’s political forum and meet the human beings there;
  • read a book with a title you disagree with or a magazine that you feel has idealogical leanings away from yours;
  • step into new territories and discomfort zones.

Let’s act as if we haven’t been infected by our current cultural need to demarcate every line and label one side “us” and the other side “them”. Let’s use our voices to ask questions and express compassion; use our ears to hear AND to listen. Let’s allow our hearts to stay open. And, as may be likely, if our hearts are closed, let’s allow them to break open again – for our common good.

 

 

 

 

 





Stop Weighing Yourself

5 06 2014

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“Stop weighing yourself.”

Three little words that showed up in my Twitter feed last week. I have no idea whether they were a reaction or a challenge, a frustrated admonition or a supportive suggestion. Were they directed at a specific individual or open advice for all?

Whatever their original intent, these three words have continued turning over and around in my head since I read them. They have been speaking to me about the many ways we weigh ourselves and find ourselves wanting. And they suggest – no, demand – that we stop doing this. Self-reflection is an important tool for growth. But when self-recrimination replaces balanced self-assessment, we can find ourselves engaging in a vicious self-talk that is completely lacking in constructive energy. Suddenly, our internal dialogue has us contending with the biggest bully of our lives – our own inner critic. Below, I’ve compiled a partial list of ways we need to stop weighing ourselves because they almost inevitably lead to self-bullying. Feel free to add yours in the comments!

Stop comparing yourself to arbitrary measures

As a culture, we are obsessed with measuring things. We know how much we “should” weigh based on our height and age; we know how many servings of each type of food we ought to eat; we have credit scores which determine whether we are a good or bad financial risk; and now we even have Klout scores measuring how influential we are. One of the problems with these measures is that they are based on huge data sets, not on individual people. The data set incorporates individual difference but we forget that when we find the point that “represents” us – especially if we don’t land right on that point (if our weight or our education or how often we clean our bathroom doesn’t conform to the average).

Another difficulty with these arbitrary measures is that, as human beings, we tend to apply meaning to them beyond the use for which the measure was originally intended. We take internet quizzes and suddenly find ourselves judging our tendency toward introversion/extroversion or our similarity to certain characters from Downton Abbey. We look at our credit score or the scale and instead of thinking, “This is only one way of seeing my situation” we think, “I’m a loser” or “I’m a fat slob.” Isn’t it time to stop taking these impersonal measures and applying them to ourselves in deeply personal – and often hurtful – ways?

Stop comparing yourself to others 

It is incredibly difficult to avoid finding yourself wanting by comparison to others. One reason is that we generally only see what others are choosing to let us see – and we all try to appear in the best light publicly. Another reason is that we are almost always more charitable toward others than we are toward ourselves. HER curves look sensuous, MINE look dumpy. HIS old clothes look “classic” or “vintage,” MINE are hopelessly out-of-date. We do this when the other person’s self or things are similar to us/ours. How much more so do we assign negative attributes to ourselves when there is disparity between us and another person? When I attend Bike School (the Thursday night twitter group found at #bikeschool) I am often jealous of the number and kind of bikes the other attendees own. As soon as I begin to feel sorry for myself as the owner of one measly old Trek hybrid, I begin a downward spiral that leaves me, by the end of the evening, feeling like an unemployed loser with little to offer the world – all because I can’t afford to own a road bike?!

Why is it so difficult to celebrate our own unique selves, living in our own unique circumstances? Because we assign value to the wrong things when we compare ourselves to others. I learned an important lesson about this by associating with distance runners when I worked with college student athletes. Runners race. Races, by definition, pit you against others in a comparison of skill determined by speed. But distance runners are often more focused on their personal record (PR) – comparing their own previous performance to their current performance. Imagine if we did this in daily life. I can’t help but think we’d all be a lot happier focusing on our progress rather than our shortfalls.

Stop thinking you are not enough

I recently bought The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. A few pages in, I came upon this, “…worthless feelings arise when we believe, however briefly, that who we are is not enough.” The passage goes on to ask that we sit and “quietly feel the fact that who you are is enough.” I couldn’t do it. In that moment, the first thought that occurred to me was, “Obviously, I’m not enough.” Because if I were enough, I’d have a better job. If I were enough, someone would be in love with me. If I were enough…well, let’s just say the list of ways I could immediately identify myself as ‘not enough’ was very long.

Even in the midst of that emotional moment of wallowing in my own inadequacy, I knew I was indulging in the worst form of self-pity. When I weigh myself and find that I am “not enough”, it absolves me of responsibility. Its not my fault that my life isn’t what I want it to be – I’m not enough. It is beyond my ability to change – I’m not enough. When I think of myself as not enough, I cannot be an agent of change, I can only be a bit of flotsam tossed about by the currents of life. Thinking I am not enough is an abdication of my personal power.

Stop participating in your own shaming

Samuel Johnson said, “Adversity is the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free from admirers then.” To a certain extent, this is true – and adversity can be a great teacher. However, it also happens to be the state in which we are most susceptible to our own inner critics. In our good moments, this results in positive self-talk and an optimistic viewpoint. In our lesser moments, the result is that we allow our inner voices to say nasty things to us – things we would never put up with from someone else. Words have the power to hurt – whether they originate with others or within ourselves. Learn to speak kinder words in a more respectful tone inside your own head. You may never completely eradicate shame from your life, but you don’t need to participate in its proliferation.

Stop focusing on the “wrong” things and start focusing on the “right” things

Last time I weighed myself and put the number up on this blog, the scale read 176 pounds. Exactly half of my starting weight of 352. This is a wonderful thing. I’ve worked hard and taken a slow path to get here. I’m not sure what I said to a friend when we were discussing this, but his response was, “When you look at yourself do you seriously NOT see how much you’ve physically changed in just the time since you moved here?” My response was, “Not really.” Because recently I haven’t felt good about my life in general, so when I look in the mirror what I see is sagging skin, wrinkles, the weight I still have to lose.

The problem with focusing on the wrong things is that we tend to move toward what we are focused on. This is true when we’re driving a car and accidentally veer toward the field full of baby lambs we were looking at and it is true in our daily lives. If my focus is on the ways I fall short, I continue to move toward my weaknesses, instead of moving toward my strengths.

Stop letting your last decision or choice define you

We give the other people in our lives lots of chances and opportunities, often many more than they may objectively deserve. We understand that people are flawed, and that even good people make bad decisions or choices that we disagree with. We continue to love and support them anyway. In fact, that may be how many of us define love and/or friendship: offering ongoing love and support despite these things.

We rarely cut ourselves that same slack.

One thing I’ve learned from my efforts to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, including management of my relationship with food, is that every bite is an opportunity to make a new choice. It doesn’t matter that the last choice I made was to dump a pile of cheese crackers on my plate – wish I hadn’t, but its over and done. The next choice can be a better one. The point isn’t to make perfect choices every time – and berate yourself when you fall short of this ideal. The point is to make more good choices, in the aggregate, than bad ones. By “good” I mean “that lead toward what you want” and by bad I mean “that don’t lead toward what you want.” Removing the shame, guilt, and deficit-thinking that keep us mired in weighing ourselves and finding ourselves wanting, is the goal.

 

Stop. Weighing. Yourself. When my friend tweeted those three little words he likely had no idea who they would touch or how they would be taken! He tweeted them into the ethernet anyway, rather than being bogged down with self-doubt and self-criticism. I think there’s something important each of us can take from his admonition! What do you think?





What Rob Lowe and I Know

24 04 2014

A few days ago I found myself clicking on an article from Oprah Magazine that popped up in my Facebook news feed: “Ten Things Rob Lowe Knows For Sure”. I can’t say I was pining for an article showcasing Rob Lowe’s personal epiphanies, but I also can’t say I wasn’t curious once the opportunity to learn them presented itself. Since Rob and I are both featured in Oprah in May, I thought I would take a page from his book (or O’s magazine) and share some things I know for sure. I don’t have as many on my list (Lowe shared 10) and mine are likely to be less succinct – but then, these items are being written by me (unlike Rob’s, which are tagged, “As told to…”).

1. We all have a nasty voice in our heads that speaks to us in horrible ways. Telling it to “shut the @#$* up” until it can be respectful is one of those practices, like meditation, that we know is good for us but is really, really hard to do. Do it anyway. None of us is perfect. Letting that voice call us stupid, ugly, incompetent or worse doesn’t change that. Instead, it undermines our resilience and self-confidence. If you don’t want to channel Stuart Smalley, (aka Senator Al Franken!) that’s ok. Start by noticing when your inner voice is bullying you and take a moment to say, “Stop!”

2. Eating five slices of Casey’s pizza and chasing it with a bag of Easter candy isn’t the end of the world. Is it a great choice? Probably not. But it was the choice you made and there’s no point in dwelling on it. The good news is, it says nothing about your ability to make better choices in the future! It has been five years since I began serious efforts to live a healthier life. I haven’t reached a point at which I feel ready to say I’ve achieved all my goals; however, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and that I continue to move forward. I’ve learned that staying the course isn’t about never straying, its about always reminding yourself that you’d rather get back on the path.

3. Being happy and feeling happy are not the same things. Learning to differentiate between the two is an important aspect of self-awareness and self-discipline. Seeking the high of feeling happy in every moment leads us to take the easy road, to settle for lack of personal and/or spiritual depth, to flit from one person or experience to another in hopes of feeding the happy. There’s nothing wrong with feeling happy, of course. But right relationship with others, with our life’s purpose, with ourselves is what makes us deeply happy – and achieving these things takes us through tough times and difficult moments.

4. It isn’t all about me – neither how others behave toward me nor how I behave toward them. Remembering this allows forgiveness and compassion to flow between us. Especially if we both operate under this assumption!

5. What I know for sure is flexible, adaptable, malleable. It is these things because what we understand changes as we grow and as our life experiences inform our perspectives. At 18, the list of what I thought I knew for sure was long and adamant. Not so at 52. Now, I feel grateful for this lifelong learning process – I’m enjoying being surprised when life shows me new things. Which brings me back to Rob Lowe, who says,

“Staying young is an inside job. Look at what kids are. They’re curious, they’re excited, they’re interested—all of the very things that, if you’re not careful, you’re not when you’re old.”

And that, friends, is something both Rob Lowe and I know for sure!

 

Rob Lowe