We Accept the Love We Think We Deserve

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We accept the love we think we deserve.

“What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.” Joseph Chilton Pearce

“We accept the love we think we deserve” is from the book and movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It struck a chord deep within me when I heard Paul Rudd deliver the line. And it’s not just because of his puppy dog eyes. There is so much truth in this simple sentence.

Now this is nothing new and we have heard it before, but I think it bears repeating. (If you are anything like me, sometimes it takes a few hundred times to really let a message sink in.)

A big part of this seemingly simple equation is taking care of ourselves. Treating ourselves with brave kindness, unconditional compassion, and authentic love is an essential piece to our overall happiness.

If we want others to love us, we have to love ourselves exactly for who we are in this moment, supposed flaws and all.

When I share this message with a friend, a family member, or in a yoga class, I sometimes get the feeling there is a bit of eye rolling going on, or worse, I hear the voice of the Stuart Smalley character from Saturday Night Live. I see him looking in the mirror declaring, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

Speaking to ourselves gently is just one way to be kind to ourselves. Sometimes it means taking time off, saying no to an invitation to go out, taking medication, seeing a therapist, exercising, going to a sacred place like church or temple, getting fresh air, eating healthy, not over drinking, etc. It always means listening and honoring our intuition.

The other day, I read an article posted on Facebook by a friend, called, How to Talk to Little Girls by Lisa Bloom. It’s about opening conversations with girls about topics other than their appearance. The author talks of refraining from commenting on girls’ looks and instead choosing to discuss books and other worthy subjects. If a child believes their worth is all about appearance, it could be detrimental to their developing self esteem. This hit home for me as I often talk to my daughter about how adorable she looks. Oops.

This article was really insightful. I also think while it is hugely important how we speak to our daughters, and children on a whole, it is crucial, as well, how we speak to ourselves. Trust me this is not easy for me, but when our little ones witness us smiling at the reflection in the mirror, treating our own bodies with respect, they in turn will do the same.

Much of a young girl’s self esteem comes from her mother’s self esteem. We can teach our children how important loving oneself is, but practicing this yourself will reach them in a way preaching never will.

This brings to mind a recent story. At the end of the school year, Will, my six year old son, was working on a writing assignment. I was sitting with him completing my own assignment for school when I noticed the tears in his eyes. He was beyond frustrated with how messy his handwriting was.

I casually told Will to pause, put his pencil down, and take a deep breath. I then pointed to the center of the collage I was making. There sat a picture of the Buddha. I pleaded with Will to remember this very important message. Buddha said, “You, more than anyone else in the world, deserves your love and affection”. To that, Will turned and said, “Now why don’t they teach that in school?”

It is true, we accept the love we think we deserve, and each and every one of us deserves a whole lot of extraordinary, life affirming, sunbeam bursting, unconditional LOVE!  Love is not reserved for a handful of lucky people, we all possess this brilliant love within us. It’s where we come from, and it ‘s where we go back to.

One more thing…We are smart enough, we are good enough and doggone it, people not only like us, they love us!

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 Bloom!

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 “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  Joseph Campbell

A friend of mine shared these words, “Bloom where you are planted”, with me after I had moved to Tampa. I am not sure where the phrase originated, but like a petulant weed, it started popping up everywhere! I resisted this idea for some time, but as many of us have heard before, “What we resist, persists.” It was time for me to accept where I was. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, I had to accept who I was first.

It’s no surprise to many of you reading this that my relocation to Florida from California in 2004, less than a month after getting married, was a hard one. Living in Santa Barbara was like a love affair for me. My husband, Josh, and I, moved there on a whim and ended up living there for close to eight years. Although, no place is perfect, Santa Barbara felt as close to it as any place I had ever been.

I fell in love with the green, soft, gumdrop-like mountains which hugged the city on one side as the Pacific Ocean lay majestically on the other. The Pacific and the way it smelled, the waves and tide pools where sea urchins and anemone lived, as well as the misty mornings were all supremely intoxicating to me.

I also adored the random people I saw almost every day walking down State Street or in my favorite coffee spot. Some I knew by name, like an elderly man named Harvey, who used to say he worked for Walker and Turner. I can see his sweet smile now, his broaches on his shirt, and hear his voice declaring, “I walk the streets and turn the corners,” in response to me asking what he was up to. Our time in Santa Barbara felt spontaneous, fun, and free.

Once I moved to Tampa, however, everything started to feel a bit different. I was meeting people who all seemed so much more grown up than I was. The walls in their homes were wallpapered and the conversations centered on concepts like owning a house or having a baby, things I couldn’t wrap my head around yet. I wasn’t ready to grow up!

There were complicated emotions stirring in me begging for acknowledgement. I kept blaming my unhappiness on where I lived. I eventually saw a therapist who helped teach me how to access some of these innermost feelings lurking in the shadows. She kept telling me to look inward. “The outside is a reflection of your internal situation,” she would say. This is exactly what I did not want to hear. In fact, sometimes this was so annoying to me, I dreamed of throwing tomatoes, maybe not directly at her, but certainly in her general direction.

However, as I traversed along, getting a job and meeting great people, Tampa still didn’t feel like home, and I was pining to move. However, it was not a time in my life for moving; it was a time for staying put and laying down roots. I knew this was what I wanted but wasn’t sure I could get there while being here.

Once when Josh and I were visiting Santa Barbara, we were having coffee with a friend and mentor. I told him how I was feeling. He gave me great advice about getting creative about our situation. This clicked for me in a way nothing else had. I had to figure out a way to honor my feelings but to also move on. I had to start working on creating my life the way I would create a collage; moving some pieces around, getting rid of pictures that no longer fit and making room for others.

One of the recent changes I made to the overall picture was a decision to go back to school this past year. As I was reading a book for one of my classes, called, Transitions; Making sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges, I was struck by how cyclical life was beginning to feel. When talking about change versus transition, Bridges writes, “One of the most important differences between a change and a transition is that changes are driven to reach a goal, but transitions start with letting go of what no longer fits or is adequate to the life stage you are in.”

I think there comes a point in life for us all (hopefully) when we stop comparing ourselves to others and also to the life we imagined living when we were younger. We have to let go of the expectations and stories of our past to fully inhabit who we are. I believe we have to do this before we can ever really accept where we are.

This idea of acceptance not only holds true in regards to where we live but also to our jobs, relationships, physical and mental illnesses, learning disabilities as well as losses and gains. What happens to us does not define us. We get to define ourselves.

It’s almost eight years later now, and while I may not be grown up, I certainly feel more responsible. After a multitude of changes and transitions, I have come to own the fact that I am the only one responsible for my life.

I am also realizing where I live may not be as much of a factor to my well being as how I live. For that matter, I’m happy I didn’t throw stones or tomatoes at my therapist because tilling the soil of my soul was the best way for me to sow the seeds of happiness.

Now when I see brilliant flowers blooming all around, I think to myself, as much as I love Santa Barbara, Tampa is looking pretty great too these days.

Scary Joy

 

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“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

The uplifting, all-out feeling of joy in the body is almost indescribable. For me, joy feels like goose bumps, laughter, and happy tears all at the same time. It is hopeful and exciting, enthusiastic, and even heavenly.

However, something often happens in the throes of joy that can turn happiness into feelings of despair. A little sneaky thought surfaces and reminds us that joy can’t last forever. Sometimes, I feel this impending kill joy as a nagging anxiety in my heart and throat, grabbing me out of the moment I was just in love with.

Recently, when I brought a new puppy home from the Humane Society, I was overwhelmed with how much I instantaneously adored her. She was soft and sweet, loved to play, and had delicious smelling puppy breath. We named her Poppy.

Colliding with the emotion of joy, however, was an ugly blanket of fear trying to suffocate all the goodness I was wrapped up in. “What if something happens to Poppy?” I questioned. I had cause for concern after all. We didn’t know her early whereabouts and there was still a fresh wound after just having lost our last dog, Floyd. He had only lived with us for a year and a half and at the tender age of six, died in our bed of an auto-immune disease. I had to remind myself that this was an entirely different experience.

Upon contemplating this, I realized that no matter how normal or common the fear of loss is, allowing it to destroy joy is not acceptable to me. Consequently, I was relieved when I started reading, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, because she addresses this very issue. The book is brilliant, and Dr. Brown’s research on vulnerability is fascinating as well as helpful. Her definition of vulnerability, most simply put, is showing up and allowing ourselves to be seen. To be vulnerable takes truth and courage. I highly recommend both, the book and being vulnerable.

One of the most interesting sections of the book for me was the discussion of joy. Brown explains how we sabotage joy by trying to get to vulnerability before it gets us. Sometimes she says we even rehearse tragedy as a way to safeguard ourselves against being caught off guard. However, waiting for the other shoe to drop does not protect us, it just takes us away from the beauty of the moment.

Consequently, we have all experienced the ups and downs of life. When we are up, it is great, but it is a little frightening too, because we know deep down in our souls, we inevitably must come down. We just hope and pray with all our might that we don’t fall too hard, but, rather, slowly drift down to the soft ground only to bounce back up again soon.

The good news is, while we may not be able to stop this feeling of impending doom in the midst of our joy, we can do something to turn it around. And once again, the answer lies in the practice of gratitude. Brown learned in her research that participants view these moments of vulnerability as an invitation to practice gratitude. She found that people who kept a gratitude journal or practiced any kind of outward expression of gratitude built up resilience to being taken out of their joy.

Now the sadness I felt associated with bringing my new puppy home makes a lot more sense.  Loving openly and freely certainly makes us more susceptible to pain and suffering, but I believe it is also the only way to live life to the fullest.

Without allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we build up walls attempting to keep out potential harm. The problem with this tactic is we then miss the luminous light seeking to break through and light us up from within.

I propose part of our purpose here on Earth is to feel joy to the fullest and then share it with the world. Although joy may be scary at times, more than anything, it is contagious and well worth the price of being vulnerable.

 

 

 

 

Peace Begins with Me (and you too)

 

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When my son was three, in addition to being cute and funny, he was exhibiting some really annoying behavior. It helped at the time to know Will’s defiance was a normal stage of development, but still, I was exhausted. Something had to change.

During this time, it was increasingly challenging to get him to go to sleep. My husband, Josh, and I were trying really hard to not give in to Will’s desire to sleep on our floor or in our bed. We were afraid of starting a bad habit. So instead of that habit, we created another one. Strange as it may seem, he chose to sleep on the wood floor in the hallway outside our bedroom, and to get him to fall asleep, we made up songs. He would tell me what style to sing in. My favorite request which I heard often, was, “Bob Marley and Opera.” A particularly interesting request indeed!

Continuing to feel like I was losing my marbles, I decided that perhaps it was time to take a meditation class. I had attempted seated meditation in college as well as in various yoga classes. However, I had never had any specific instruction. In fact, in college, when I tried to meditate, I found it more anxiety inducing then relaxing. Years later, when I was sharing this with an older, wiser, and more meditative friend, he laughed and said something about people in their early twenties weren’t supposed to be meditating. He said we were supposed to be having fun. I recall him mentioning how our brains were too busy thinking about the opposite sex to meditate. Although I hate to admit it, I think he was right.

I’m not in my twenties anymore, and as luck would have it, a wonderful therapist in town was leading an eight week long Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. Right when Josh and I felt like we were reaching our breaking point, we signed up and arranged for his mom to come watch the kids every other Saturday. MBSR is a particularly effective and well researched program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is a great tool for learning how to sit in silence and also for bringing a steady and non-judgmental awareness to every day activities. It is very helpful for certain medical conditions as well as for anxiety and depression.

I promise I am not being dramatic when I say this class (and the subsequent practice of meditation) saved our lives! And still does to this day.

After our first class, instead of begrudgingly trying to get our son to sleep, we started meditating. Previously we would mindlessly flop on the couch and watch television or get on the internet, but we were committed to bringing about more peace in our house. This new practice consisted of us sitting for fifteen to twenty minutes in our little front room and breathing together in silence. Will could see us from his hallway “bed” and I think watching us in this silent way was reassuring for him. The peacefulness we practiced came straight out of us and right into him.

What happened over the course of the next couple of weeks felt nothing short of miraculous. Will never seemed to find our sitting in silence odd, and furthermore, he was now falling fast asleep without any fuss. This happened night after night, and the more we sat, the more our perspective seemed to change as the energy in the house shifted too.

Why it worked, I think, was because we needed to change. Not Will. Instead of trying so hard to get him to sleep, or reading blogs and books about what we should do, we just relaxed, listened to our own intuitions and let go of all of our expectations. We started to react less and enjoy our time with him more. I told myself he would most likely not want me to sing, let alone speak, in his teenage years so I kept up my operatic/Bob Marley inspired songs and did so with a smile.

Although, sitting regularly is something I still struggle with, it is also a practice I always come back to. When I haven’t had a seated practice and then start one again, I am always amazed at how wonderful it feels and wonder why it took me so long to bring it back.

As soon as I learned via MBSR that I didn’t have to clear my mind to meditate, I was able to relax and not worry about whether or not I was doing it right. I quickly felt the beautiful benefits of meditation while I was sitting and often throughout the day. A veil of clutter seemed to lift and I found a bit more space in my heart and head. I still had a million thoughts racing through my mind, but as Eckhart Tolle discusses in his best selling book (and one of my personal favorites,) The Power of Now, I started to notice the space between these thoughts was growing. This felt like an ocean of much needed and much appreciated bliss.

These days, our kids, ages six and three, will even sit with us and meditate on occasion. We don’t ask them to, but they just do. This morning while I was sitting, my daughter came and sat on my lap. When she asked me,  “Now what do I do?” I told her to just sit, listen and find her happy place. She said, “You mean my sun?”

I’m not sure if our kids will meditate as they get older, but I do think they have learned something about the importance of stillness, silence, and getting to know the internal and eternal suns residing in each one of us. I know I certainly have. As for Will, he now sleeps in his bed, in his room, every night.

what a blessing

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What a blessing!

Once when my son Will was a baby, my oldest sister, Heather, and I took him to a nice little restaurant for breakfast. We were in Nantucket, and it was a sunny and peaceful morning. That is, until we appeared. Will was fussy, and I felt really awkward and insecure still adjusting to my new role as a mother. I didn’t know what I was doing or how to keep him happy. I loved nursing but trying to do it discreetly in public was a different story. I always felt as if he was suffocating with a blanket over his face or like my breast was going to do something strange. As I tried to settle in, I looked around sensing that the expressions on the faces of the other diners were not ones of amusement.

There was one woman in particular who was really giving me the stink eye. She was sitting with her husband and would glance over at us periodically and then turn back to her husband and whisper. I couldn’t stop looking at her looking at me.

I had a tough time finding my composure. I didn’t know what else to do and since breaking into tears didn’t seem like the best option, I starting talking trash about this unassuming woman. I couldn’t get over how judgmental she was being! It’s hard controlling a squirmy fussy baby at a pretty restaurant especially on this island where everything feels so picturesque and perfect.

Eventually Will quieted a bit, and I started breathing again. I looked up and saw the woman with the stink eye walking over to our table on her way out the door. “Oh crap!” I thought to myself what is she possibly going to say to me? A million stories ran through my mind…was she going to tell me I was a terrible mom? Or that I should not have brought my baby to a restaurant as nice as this?

As she approached the table, she looked me right in the eye and said, “You are so fortunate to have such a beautiful child. My husband and I have been trying to have a baby for a long time. It is such a blessing.” She was right, and I had been too worried about what everyone was thinking to enjoy this amazing blessing right in front of me.

This story brings to mind two lessons. One is how crazy our drama-seeking minds can be. Often these assumptions we make of others are mere projections of our own insecurities. It’s much easier to make someone else responsible for our own discomfort.

The other is a conversation my sister, Kerry, and I had recently. She told me that when she’s in traffic and getting irritable, she reminds herself that no one knows where anyone else on the road is going. The car that just did something careless like speeding through a red traffic light could be rushing to the hospital.

In real life, whether its on the road, or just going about our daily business, none of us really know where we are going or where we have come from. One thing is certain, however, if we can be present and compassionate to one another, it certainly makes the journey a heck of a lot sweeter.

As I try to stay open to the magic inherit in every moment, I have that unsuspecting angel with the stink eye to thank for teaching me such an invaluable lesson.

All I Feel is Love

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My best friend said something to me recently over the phone that has stuck with me ever since she said it. Kristi and I talk often and have been friends since we met during the first grade in Scottsdale, Arizona. We have a lot in common. Mostly these are happy similarities. For instance, we married good friends, we now live in Tampa and are both busy raising a son and daughter.

Unfortunately, we share another event in common. We both lost our fathers suddenly. It’s been a long time since my dad died in a car accident on his way to work almost twenty years ago. Kristi’s father died of a heart attack three years ago. As I was weeks away from giving birth to my daughter, Phoebe, Kristi was getting on a plane by herself to go across the country to Arizona, hours after receiving the devastating call from her mom.

The roller coaster of grief is a painful ride. It was heart breaking witnessing Kristi go through the initial shock and rawness of losing someone she loved. She would ask me in the beginning if time really helped heal the pain, and I told her it would certainly assuage the rawness. However, as many of you know all too well, the pain sticks around. Sometimes something triggers us seemingly out of nowhere, and grief gets a hold. The ride starts all over again. I have learned the only way to deal with this is to give it the attention it demands and so rightly deserves.

So a few weeks ago as we were chatting, she brought up her father, so I took a deep breath and listened. She prefaced what she was about to say with, “Okay this might sound really weird.” She spoke of how happy she feels these days. She went on to say that at times she feels happier than she did years ago when her dad was still around. I knew exactly what she meant because I feel the same way.

Happiness lives side by side with sadness, and I think this is only possible because of gratitude. When life changes in an instant, it affords us the opportunity to look around at all there is to be thankful for. Now, more than ever, we both feel really fortunate to have had fathers who loved us so much and are still very much a part of our lives. I think perhaps we even appreciate and understand our fathers in a way we couldn’t have when they were here.

This kind of gratitude is so big and all encompassing. It causes tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. It is this kind of gratitude for knowing deep down inside that as awful as death can be, life is its constant companion. Something beautiful is not even right around the corner but is right here, right now sitting next to us.

It can be hard to let go and accept what is. However, maybe it helps to know that no matter what, there is always – even if it’s as small as a little blossom on a plant outside the window – something to smile about.  And for that I feel limitless joy and infinite gratitude.

As I miss my dad today, I think of something my son, Will, my Dad’s namesake, said when he was about four. I had accidentally shut the car door on one of his little fingers earlier in the day. When I asked him if it still hurt, he looked up at me with his big hazel eyes and said, “All I feel is Love.” And love never ends, it goes on and on and on.