I have begun building my team–my intersecting, eclectic, multi-talented support team. These are the thinkers and philosophers and poets and friends and family who inspire me, teach me, guide me, open my heart, and help me hold my pain, and give me the strength to hold the collective pain. There’s Maya Angelou and Rumi and Rilke and Mary Oliver. And William James and Gabor Mate and Kristin Neff and Dick Schwartz, and Jung of course. And my mom, and my good friends, and my husband and children. For so long, I wanted someone to point the way, clear the path for me and give me those easy-to-follow steps. But, as Gabor Mate points out, there are no steps. We get glimpses and pointers, but it’s up to us to figure out what works, what resonates, what heals. But one thing I am sure of–we can’t do it alone. We need to build our teams so that we hold each other–all our pain, all our joy, all our love.
“Imagine if our negative feelings, or at least lots of them, turned out to be illusions, and we could dispel them by just contemplating them from a particular vantage point.” -Robert Wright
The term “toxic positivity” is everywhere. It seems we go from one phase of punching pillows with unresolved childhood angst to positive psychology and podcasts dedicated to happiness even in the darkest of times. And now we’re talking about toxic positivity and the danger of burying grief and sorrow. It seems like we put a lot of energy into attaining ideal emotional states. But this is emotionally draining and unnatural. It is normal and natural in life to think and feel a variety of thoughts and emotions. And it would seem that a better focus of our energy would be toward curiosity and understanding the state of our mind, rather than forcing or denying our real lived experience. Everyone we meet is a teacher; everything we think and feel is a teacher. Some teachers are fierce and unrelenting; some are gentle and loving. But all are part of the beautiful and mysterious web of life.
“You are not broken, in need of fixing.Rather, you are deeply hurt, in need of care.”
So many of us are hurting right now—whether from the lockdowns or illness or financial challenges or isolation or the presence of old traumas triggered the current state of our world. Let’s just be honest—it’s hard right now, downright painful at times—not all of the time, but enough that we can at times feel overwhelmed. And many of us interpret our pain as a weakness, and maybe think if we had just meditated more or not eaten that ice cream or kept a gratitude journal that we wouldn’t feel our pain. There are definitely skills we need to add to our “well being toolbox” but some days are just hard and on these days we need care—all kinds of care—minus the self-harming and illegal variants of course! We need warm baths and loving self talk. We need good movies and reaching out to a friend. We need to be ok needing another and we need to remind ourselves that this too shall pass.
“Rather than changing or not having the thoughts and feelings that make up our experience, mindfulness is about changing our relationship to them.” -Judson Brewer
My three children were quite young when we moved to San Francisco. They’d wake up early with endless amounts of energy and we’d head out in search of yet another playground or park. One early morning, we happened upon Washington Square, where crowds of elderly Chinese people were doing Tai Chi. The children and I were mesmerized. It was a dance of sorts, a conversation with the trees and the air and one’s physical reality. Years later, I still call upon that image when I feel stuck, when I feel I’m a odds with life, and I’m reminded that maybe I need to channel my inner-Tai Chi practitioner and tap into the message life is sending to me, to work with life rather than against it, and to question where my resistance is. I remind myself of the flowing movements I saw in San Francisco all those years ago and that flow just feels better than going upstream; and let’s be honest—it rarely works! So the next time you encounter resistance, ask yourself—can I change my relationship to my current situation? It’s not easy, but with practice, we begin to feel the peace of being real with our thoughts and feelings and real with our situation.
“Life may seem ‘harder’ for you at times, and often
you are close to overwhelm. But it’s harder still to
repress your overwhelming gifts.
Sensitive ones, bring some gentleness into this
Shine on with courageous sensitivity!
You are the light bearers!”
From “To the Sensitive Ones”, by Jeff Foster
Some days it’s hard to get out of bed. We can mentally go over our ‘Gratitude List” and smell the roses and pray and yet–some days it’s hard to get out of bed. We feel the pain of the world, of our children and friends and loved ones and even the aches in our own heart. And we might think of this as a deficiency or spiritual failing. We might have been called “overly sensitive” or “weak”. But I actually think it’s a superpower. It is not easy to consciously bear your own pain and willingly bear the pain of others takes enormous strength. It is not easy to believe and hope and see light in the midst of darkness. And though too often it goes unnoticed, there are more of us out there than we may realize. So, to you “Sensitive Ones”, maybe it’s time we find each other and support one another to “shine on with courageous sensitivity!”
“Whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness.” Elie Wiesel
As a Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel witnessed far more than many of us will ever have to. And he transformed the lives of so many by inviting us all into the details of his heart and mind. One can not read Wiesel and not be changed; his words leave no room for a passive response. But this quote does not solely ask for us to be a witness. We are also being asked to tell our own stories. The act of sharing a personal story brings healing to both the storyteller and the witness. By telling our stories we demonstrate the courage of vulnerability, and in so doing we encourage others to share their stories. And the act of storytelling gives us space to heal–personally and collectively. You’ve got a story within you. So does your neighbor. Let us all become witnesses to each others stories, and be transformed in the telling of our tales.
“Source of all Sustenance, sustain me. Nowadays, even living simply…demands too much.”
-Rabbi Nachmann of Breslov
“With time and distance self-mastery is more easily achieved.”
I usually begin my daily journal writing by reading a quote or passage from a philosophical book or sometimes even a poem. This morning I read the 19th century Hassidic Rabbi Nachmann of Breslov and the Roman Stoic Epictetus. What–you may ask–do these two quotes, separated by centuries, possibly have in common?
Together, they present a balanced approach to handling challenging times. Breslov’s quote encourages us to validate our feelings. Sometimes we get up in the morning, and life is just hard–maybe it’s because we are going through a Pandemic, or because we have chronic pain, or maybe we don’t even know why but we feel blue. And Rabbi Nachmann reminds us that it’s ok to have bad days, that it is normal. And maybe the subtext is–be easier on yourself and maybe less judgmental. And Epictetus reminds us not to overreact, to give ourselves time to process–not to deny our feelings, but also not to react to them. When we give ourselves time to process, we can look within and ask ourselves if we are reacting to a present-moment issue, or whether childhood trauma has been triggered, or whether we are hungry or tired. There is space for all of it, but we will save ourselves (and others!) a lot of heartache if we give ourselves a bit of time to gain perspective. So make sure to give yourself permission to have bad moments or bad days. Find people who will listen if you need to talk or time alone if you need to process alone. And give yourself time before responding. Maybe even seek the wisdom of loved ones. Your perspectives and feelings and thoughts are always valid, but they aren’t always the best vehicles for determining our actions. So, take it easy, love yourself, and give yourself time to gain perspective.
“A good life is not a place at which you arrive, it is a lens through which you see and create your world.”― Jonathan Fields, How to Live a Good Life
It’s all about perspective. No one would deny that some experiences are objectively more pleasant than others and some experiences are painful and traumatic. Yet, at any given moment–this is the moment we’ve been given. While we might not be responsible for what happens to us, it is our responsibility to deal with it. And that is why I love this quote by Jonathan Fields! His empowering message tells us that by shifting our point of view, we can radically change our experience. This does take work, as our brains are more receptive to negative rather than positive thoughts. And there are a number of practices we can add into our daily routine–such as a mindfulness practice, a gratitude journal, talking to a good friend, self-care practices, and positive self-talk. These are challenging times but with a shift in perspective (and a lot of patience and self-love) we can experience the good life.
Spirituality is definitely transcendental, but to soar we must first be grounded.
When my kids were very little, a friend gave me a DVD about “stranger danger”. The approach was great; it broke adults into three categories (safe people, people you kind of know and complete strangers) and explained that ONLY the safe people were safe. And in the best of all possible worlds, these safe people would provide the foundation and framework for a child’s security and sense of well-being.
But, some of us did not feel safe growing up. Maybe we had unsafe parents or an unsafe home or we moved a lot or experienced trauma or tragedy at a young age, and what happened was that the very important and primal need for safety was never really met.
So we grew up and went out in the world seeking safety. But without a clear idea of what that really looks like or feels like, many of us wandered through many unsafe jobs and relationships and moves before we began to touch upon what safety really feels like.
Safety is the ground beneath our feet. And safety is different for every person. A good friend recently used the term “touch points” to describe those things in our life that ground us: our kitchen, our favorite place to buy bananas, that café that sells the coffee we love, that friend we connect to instantly and we can be raw with. We cannot underestimate the need for these touch points. Without them, we are free-falling.
Yet, life is constantly changing so it means that we have to be open to our touch points also changing. This is hard, but as we go through the inevitable changes of life—aging, children leaving home, retirement, moving, changing jobs—we need to be very loving with ourselves and honest with ourselves about what really brings us pleasure, what makes us feel safe and makes us feel grounded. And this, in the end, is what enables us to connect to the Divine. So, I encourage you to explore what makes you feel safe.
I need to re-learn this very simple truth every day!
Because…despite all the hours of meditation and books read and therapy and deep and life-changing conversations—we are human and we love and care and we easily get caught. We get caught by pain from our childhood, ideas of who we think we are supposed to be, by physical pain and emotional pain, by lack of sleep and too much chocolate or wine the night before, by our children, our spouses, our furry friends….The list is endless.
Living a mindful life is not about never getting caught; it’s about returning over and over and over again. We can’t avoid difficulty—even if we escape to a cave we will still have our thoughts—which are probably the greatest of our challenges!
So, Happy 2020—a new year, a time for creating new habits and starting over. And, I think maybe one of these new habits we should cultivate actually has two parts: the first part involves making the intention to be present (i.e. not resistant to reality!) and the second part involves having compassion for ourselves when we do resist, and maybe actually the third part would be to recognize that this cycle will probably repeat itself several times throughout the day.