Tools for Survival

A healthy relationship takes work. It takes figuring out how to enjoy time together-- and how to appreciate time spent doing your own thing. Believe it or not, you don't have to do everything --or agree about everything-- with your life partner. In fact, it's healthier to have some activities that you share with your friends, or do on your own. It's healthy to have your own opinion and your own personal goals.

However cliche the sentiment, we really do have to learn to appreciate, respect, and like ourselves before we can ask others to like and respect us. It's hard to learn these things after having been in your partnership (or marriage) for a while. Watching the relationship deteriorate over time is painful, and we often don't want to put any more effort into fixing it or making it work by the time we figure out what went wrong.

One of my favorite relationship survival concepts comes from a great book called "The Five Love Languages." Basically, we each feel loved in a unique way. And because of the way we were brought up to express love in our families-- or the way that we most feel loved ourselves-- we often express the love we feel for our partner in specific pre-programmed ways. Here's the catch: Most of the time, your partner doesn't feel loved in the same way you do.

You may spend a lot of time and energy doing nice things for your partner to show that you care-- things like cooking dinner and giving foot rubs and keeping the kids busy so he or she can have a few hours of quiet on the weekend. But what if your partner needs to hear the words? Maybe the way your partner feels loved is by hearing you tell him or her how much you love them, and how they are special and important in your life. All that effort you put in didn't get you anywhere. It's easy to feel resentful. It's easy to stop trying. But it's also easy to try something different, and save our efforts for the ones that really make a difference.

Sometimes, we understand that a specific act or statement is our partner's way of showing us they care. But if that effort they made isn't actually in our special love language, we still don't feel that fulfillment of being in a loving and rewarding relationship. Sometimes all the loving and appreciative words in the world aren't enough to fix the problem-- because the problem is that your partner feels loved when you give him or her gifts, or perform acts of service like doing the dishes without being asked.

One of the best things we can do to maintain our most important relationships is to figure out not only how WE feel loved, but the language of love that our partner most clearly benefits from. Then, we make an effort to give our partner a dose of love in a way they can really appreciate-- on a regular basis. Building up a store-house of received love means that when times are tough, and we don't have energy or emotional stamina to be loving, there's love-money in the bank for us to draw on for a while. Our partner can be loving and supportive of us without feeling like they are being drained or sucked dry in the process.

It's about maintenance, and compassion. And these two tools have to be utilized by both people in the relationship over the lifetime of the relationship. Unfortunately, as simple as these tools sound, we often aren't taught about them when we enter the big relationships of our lives. We don't know how to say what we need without making demands. We don't know how to be compassionate without enabling or becoming codependent.

Another book whose concepts I draw from on a regular basis is called "Truth in Dating." This book describes-- and gives examples of-- honest communication in a relationship. I've used some of the skills this book spelled out for me in business meetings, and in trying to communicate with the elders in my family tree. I've used them in ending a dating relationship with someone I really liked and respected-- but didn't want to date anymore. And I've gained a much clearer understanding of how to talk to the people I love without trying to manipulate the outcome of the conversation. With direct and open communication about my needs and expectations in the relationship, and how I'm willing to support my partner in his own personal growth process.

We each are capable of growing and gaining additional tools for making our relationships even better. And every time I get to work with a person or a couple who really care about improving the quality of their relationship-- of their communication with the people they love-- I'm excited by the reminder that there are so many people out there who feel their love is worth working for. Is worth the effort it takes to make that relationship even better.

It takes work to maintain your weight, it takes work to improve your physical fitness. It takes weeks of putting in effort at work to receive a reward or promotion. Relationships are no different. They take work, they take effort, and positive results don't happen overnight. But the outcome is worth it. Even if all you gain is additional skill and better tools to give your next relationship a solid foundation.

Be Well, and with the advent of our glorious winter season,
Happy Everything!


Mistaken Identity

I am reminded of just how hard it can be to recall situations in which our own behavior might have been the cause of a problem, and not the voice of reason. Situations that we wish we had handled with more maturity, more insight, more integrity. Sometimes, we use our mistakes as an excuse to feel bad, to be immobilized by past choices so that we don't have to make new ones. Sometimes, we ignore our role in the drama, forgetting that it takes at least two people to have an interaction. Sometimes, we simply forget that the event ever occurred at all.

It is easier to forget, or fail to identify our role in our own suffering and dis-ease, than it is to work through our own contributions to a situation, and find new tools and apply new knowledge or new skills to making it right in the here and now. Hindsight is often 20/20, as the saying goes. But there's more to it than that. As with the alcoholic's 12-step program that includes a stage of making amends with past wrongs-- personal healing for ANY past transgression requires that we acknowledge and make peace with our own behavior and fear and choices and mistakes.

Sometimes this includes sharing our new awareness with the people we negatively affected in the past. Often, it is more a matter of re-visioning current choices and awareness in light of what has come before.

Did you know you had food allergies? No? Do you know it now? So if someone tries to impress you by serving a food you are terribly allergic to, you can have a new reaction than the one that so hurt your partner ten years ago when you rejected not only the food that made you ill, but every food that person offered you for the rest of your weekend together. And the person ended up feeling rejected in the process.

It is not wrong to protect yourself from illness. But it is more right to say to your partner, "I've recently tested for food allergies, and discovered that I have several. I don't like to make a big deal out of it, so there is no way you could have known I'm allergic to XYZ. I really feel loved that you did all this for me. I'm really going to enjoy ABC that are here on the table, too. Thank you!"

The first time I ever had a panic attack, I didn't know what one was. I'd never seen one, felt one, or heard a story in which the label was followed by a description of symptoms. I was 19, and I was alone with my first boyfriend in a cabin in the Alaskan Wilderness. I thought I was experiencing food poisoning, which I also didn't know much about. And I blamed my boyfriend, who'd packed the food.

Now, looking back, I realize that many of our uncomfortable interactions that weekend following my racing heart, cold sweat, inability to speak with out shaking and stuttering, inability to catch my shallow breath, and absolute panic, were a result of the blame I placed on him for that poisonous moment. I realize now that it was a panic attack, and had nothing to do with the food. And I would like to go back and make a different choice with the knowledge and tools I now have.

But the thing is-- I didn't have that knowledge or those tools at the time!! I didn't even know that food often made me ill because I had food allergies and chemical sensitivities that had never been diagnosed. I was simply leery of new foods, or of any situation in which I felt ill after eating. So now, I can make a different choice. I can be aware of how foods and chemicals affect me sometimes, and I can check in with my body and my self-awareness to see if I'm feeling my tummy clench because of food, because of stress, because of an emotion I'm trying to repress, or for some other unknown reason. I don't have to make the same assumptions I made when I was 19 and scared of anything new.

Life moves forward. It is a beautiful thing when we can move forward with our lives. Acknowledging past mistakes, but also taking steps to improve our relationship with the world in the present-- and in the future. It is our work toward self-improvement that allows us to step away from guilt and isolation and a fear of choices and changes. By choosing to put in the hard work, by choosing to learn that we do have room for improvement, by taking steps forward with our behavior and our knowledge and our tools, we make amends for the problems we once created in our own and other peoples' lives. But we bring the lessons learned with us.

I know a lot of people who would rather not look back. Who believe that thinking about past times when things didn't go the way they wanted is a waste of the present. Who refuse to acknowledge any regrets. People who refuse to feel bad about any choice they make because they are too busy doing the best they can in any given present. These people have an amazing capacity for pleasure, and for happiness. But they live very transient lives.

We build a better future by creating a solid foundation of our past, and taking old lessons into current situations so that we build better with every new experience and every new joy we encounter. If we refuse to examine our past for clues to improving our present, we simply jump from situation to situation, and as soon as a situation looks difficult or painful, we leave it behind. No regrets, right? But no regrets mean no opportunities to change or improve our add to our interpersonal tools. I don't advocate walking around with a basket of guilt and pain on your back. And I don't recommend beating yourself up about things you have no control to fix or change. But abdicating responsibility for making yourself a better person-- abdicating responsibility for your own role in any given interaction-- it's selfish, and it's very short-term thinking. Really.

I believe that examining a pattern that we repeat can give us clues about WHY we repeat it, or what we are looking for when we get into those situations and relationships over and over again. Once we know more about why something uncomfortable happens over and over in our lives, we can re-vision our personal goals and needs. We can learn better and healthier ways to get what we want. We can begin to heal the wounds we often refuse to admit exist. We can move forward with more tools and greater self-knowledge, so that our next choice comes closer to actually reaching our long-term personal bliss.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a solid foundation for your hopes and dreams to build on? The best way to do that is to examine the bricks of experience you've already laid down, and to understand better and more skillful ways of applying your tools as you reach for your personal goal of happiness and fulfillment. True joy is based on a tripod of self-love, and self-knowledge, and self-respect. These things require of us that we know not only what we want in any given moment, but also how far we've already come to get it.


Battling Fear

Every Wednesday night, I attend a writing group. I look forward all week to this event, excited to read my pages and hear the feedback from my peers and advisers. Every week, I am nearly late, frantically pulling together my pages, my final edits, my nerve-- and heading off to work.

And it is work. I am writing down some difficult memories, to be picked over as a stranger might do a cold plate of french fries after lunch. It is hard for me to visualize some past events with enough clarity to write them down so others can vicariously experience those events, too. Hard because I don't want to relive those times. Hard because old wounds heal slowly, and my flesh is still tender. The critiques are always helpful-- but sometimes they still hurt.

Driving home tonight, I realized I was shaking with the after-effects of fight-or-flight adrenaline. That primed response of our bodies in a state of sudden fear. It is scary to remember a time we never want to repeat. It is exhausting, and emotionally draining, too.

Why do I do this? Why do I keep writing, editing, returning every Wednesday night for another dose of dread? Well... I thought about that on my way home. I realized that the truth I share with my clients also applies to me. If I want to find the lessons that will help me move beyond a bad memory or experience, I have to work through the experience. I have to be willing to go piece-by-piece through my past, and throw out what isn't useful. Claim the lessons. Claim my inner strength, my integrity, my changes and the personal growth that I've experienced since those events occurred.

I am lucky. Writing is, for me, cleansing. Putting down on a page all the things I didn't want to forget, but hate to remember-- It lets me rest from the burden of remembering. It lets me put down the memory without fear of losing or repeating the lesson-- I can re-read it any time I feel a need. I am literally lightening my load at each Wednesday night Writer's Group. Freeing up mental and emotional space one jaw-clenching page at a time. Making room for something new.

Just after a car accident, we are in trauma. When the danger has past, and the person stabilized, there is often a long and painful period of physical therapy. A time when we re-learn how to inhabit our bodies, and work through the pain of healing. And so I look forward to these sessions, knowing I'll be exhausted and in pain at the end. Knowing that it's a good kind of pain, and not a punishment. Knowing that I am re-learning how to inhabit my emotional landscape, learning how best to lean forward into my life.

I have seen friends in crisis who were so scared of the pain they might feel if they acknowledged the hurtful situation they were in-- that they simply refused to get therapy. The fear of the healing process was bigger than the ugly situation they were actually living in. We seem, intuitively, to know just how painful it will be to work through our injuries and our traumas. And yet, so often, we turn a blind eye to the trauma or the situation that we live through every day instead.

Getting help, asking for someone to hold your hand and help you move through the pain toward a healthier life, it's a big deal. I have great respect for anyone who can battle their fear enough to ask for help-- to keep asking for help until they are well. Who uses that extra bit of energy that allows us to learn from old hurts, and old patterns, so that we don't repeat them. So that we understand our own personal process of healing, and are able to fully embrace our individual presence in the world.

Driving home from my Writer's Group tonight, I appreciated all over again the courage and the energy my clients put into their own healing process. I honor their victory and their commitment to becoming fully themselves. Their willingness to come back to the table every couple of weeks, ready for more hard work. And then I sit at my computer, and write another chapter in my own story, getting ready for next week's healing critique.


This is going to sound like a commercial for Happyville.
Really, it's ...okay, it IS a commercial for Happyville.
May you be a frequent guest.

Remember that having fun is just as important as everything else. It is important to take time out from stress and from work-- time to do something just because you enjoy doing it.
Take a walk to appreciate the crisp air and the falling leaves.
Grab a half-court game of basketball with some buddies.
Cook that apple pie with extra cinnamon that takes so long to make.
Take some soup and a cheezy movie to a friend in need.
Try a new sport, or plan to carve pumpkins with family.
Schedule a massage, or maybe an hour at the gym or the dance hall.

These mini stress-releases make it a lot easier to buckle down and get things done in between. They also work well as personal rewards for continuing to move forward and tackle the hard stuff-- one day at a time.

When was the last time you planned something fun into your schedule? So long as you aren't having fun at someone else's expense-- at work, at play, at home, at dinner, at the gym, the bar, the ...

Including friends and potential friends in your fun is a way to spread the good feelings around. And... well, doing something you truly enjoy, with no expectations attached to it-- it gives you a reason to smile to yourself. And that is what the winter season is all about!


Personal Worth

What is your time worth? What is the energy you put into your day worth?

Is it worth hearing the occasional "thank you" from house-mates or coworkers? Is it worth $20 an hour? $50? $10? If you were to receive funding equal to the actual value of your efforts in your job-- be it corporate, care-taking, or creative-- how much would you pay yourself to do what you do?

It's an interesting question. More so, because of the challenges many of us currently face as the job market plummets. We often make-do with work that does not fulfill our potential, or with a salary that does not reflect our contributions. We do this because we have a responsibility to ourselves and our families to provide shelter, food, and other basic necessities. Most of us cannot afford to be laid off or downsized.

And many of us feel that our time is SO valuable, and in SUCH short supply, that we will hire someone else to do the work for us that we just don't find it worthwhile to do. Sometimes, we hire someone who gets more per hour than we do. Often, this is because of the expertise required, or the effort involved, in that hour's work. We just aren't able to plumb the bathroom, lift the broken washing machine, scrub the floor 'till our knuckles turn red, or sit at an aging parent's bedside 24-7.

I often refer back to a book that a friend bought for me several years ago, when I first realized that credit cards were dangerous. It's called "Your Money or Your Life." I'd give you the author, but I seem to have loaned the book to a friend... hmmm...

This book explains how to calculate the actual dollar-payment that each of us receives for our efforts in the job market. It includes things like dry-cleaning bills, transportation costs, etc... And if you read far enough into the book, you apply that dollar-per-hour figure to your whole life. Is it worth 4 hours of my time to buy the expensive lipstick for $16.95? Is it worth 27 hours of work each month to watch cable TV?

On a personal level, I've been struggling with placing a dollar value on the work that I do as a Consultant. Not just the calculations, but the person-to-person communication that is required to explain that value to the people who utilize my services. Healing --the healing that I do with my clients-- is so vital to well-being. If I had the resources, I would offer it for free. But I realize that unless I can balance out the dollar-value of the things I need to buy with the dollar-value of the extreme amounts of energy I put out in any given session... I won't have the resources to heal anyone at all.

I do work on a sliding scale. And I recognize that it is my own responsibility to uphold the value of my services-- to say "Well, we've had our 90 minutes, but we could do a lot more work together today. Should we wait until our next session, or are you able to pay for another hour of my energy today?" But... it sounds so calculating. So disrespectful of the humanity that is the basis of the work I do. And I struggle with the challenge of truly valuing my own personal worth.

And... knowing that so many people currently struggle to make ends meet, I don't want my services to be unattainable. I'd rather receive a lower payment than make one of my clients wait another six months to see me-- when the market begins to improve. NOW is when my work is needed the most. NOW I have time to give. ...but as a good friend of mine is fond of saying... "A Girl's Gotta Eat." How do I balance that out?

I suspect that there are many of us who face a similar struggle. Many of us who have chosen to receive lower wages rather than risk receiving no wages at all. It frustrates me to know that even when the market was booming, women regularly faced this choice. In most professions, women can still expect to receive between 15-35% lower wages for the same or better quality performance as their male counterparts. I'll be interested to see how that challenge trickles down now that so many businesses are struggling.

And I am grateful for the opportunity to help. We do not face the struggles in our lives alone, unless that is the path we choose to take. Life is full of possibilities, and opportunities to share what we have with those who have less. Like the ant who shared his summer harvest with the grasshopper, in exchange for friendship and music to feed his soul when winter came, we each have within us the seeds of nourishment for someone else.

The challenge of the seed is to step forward with joy for the journey, at a time when none of us truly knows what lies ahead. The wise gardener plants many seeds, never knowing which will grow to nourish her family down the road. I am learning to value each seed, and to step forward with appreciation for the harvests I have already enjoyed.

And it is through this process-- the process of stepping forward blindly, because I am busy looking at where I have already been-- that I begin to appreciate the true value of my gifts. The true value of the energy I have expended in service to others over the years. The opportunity to plant seeds that might someday grow and provide nourishment for someone else-- that is the true value of my work. And at least in this, possibility is every bit as motivational as results.

I value you. Thank you for sharing a piece of your journey with me. May your Autumn Harvest see you through the restful Winter, and on into the fresh possibilities of Spring.


For Yourself

Why is it that it is harder to say NO to someone you love-- or even a stranger-- than it is to say YES to yourself, and making time or designating resources to meeting our own needs??

Because for most of us, it is a really hard thing to do. I also know another group of folks who are so busy indulging themselves that they don't take the time to examine WHY they need all this self-time to feel good about living their lives. Either way, we are choosing not to have a deep and respectful relationship with our inner Self. We are choosing not to work through our life challenges, but are attempting to ignore the problems by working until we can't think, or by feeding our addiction to "feeling better," with whatever our personal external balm becomes.

Food? Doctor appointments? Pedicures? Sex? There are a huge number of things that are REALLY GOOD FOR US TO DO FOR OURSELVES... as an act of self-appreciation... but are just another way to throw money at a problem if we do not also make time to heal and to find that self-appreciation on the inside, too. It's a balancing act, and a personal challenge, for each of us.

My personal example is that I am working to heal an old neck injury. My doctor tells me that it is worth the extra few cents on my electrical bill to keep the heat turned up at night as well as during the day. That hunching and clenching my muscles either from cold, or from the weight of all the blankets on the bed, is one of the worst things I could do to my neck/shoulder as I am working to heal-- and probably for the rest of my life.

My personal challenge is twofold-- First, it's hard to set aside time for the yoga and exercises that will increase my flexibility and strength during this healing process of mine... and Second, I'm living in a space with no central heating.

I'm having a hard time justifying either the time to exercise or the expense of buying and continuously running a heater in my bedroom this winter. And yet, these are the two basic things that I can do for myself in order to truly heal. It is time for me to heal. And in order to do so, I have to put myself first. Literally. In my budget, and in my schedule. Even though what I really WANT to be doing with my free time is watch silly movies that help me relax. Even though I've promised myself that I will live within my means, and a new space heater is not in the budget.

Because what it comes down to is this: If I can't function, I don't have a life. Yes, my budget and my down-time are important... But I have to be able to work in order to sustain the budget, and I have to have a healthy and fit body in order to really benefit from down-time, and relax when I watch a movie.

What keeps getting shunted to the bottom of your "for me" list? What are the three things that will make the most positive impact on your whole-life experience, if only you commit to doing them for yourself? What are you spending time and money on, with the excuse that it makes you feel better-- but you can't say that doing it makes you feel better ABOUT YOURSELF?

It's time. Change is in the air, in the leaves of the trees and the clean cold rain. Take the opportunity to do something wonderful for yourself. Even if that means NOT doing something part of the time.


Dwelling on Intention

I know I'm behind the times-- I haven't read The Secret yet. But from what folks tell me, the big idea in the book is one I already practice, one that is a commonly held belief among my "clan." It's the idea that we give our energy to the things we dwell on.

The belief is that we want to, therefore, direct our energy to the DESIRED OUTCOME or process, so that our energy-- our intention-- moves toward it. Dwelling on our fears, or the thing we want NOT to happen simply puts our energy toward those fears and that thing, regardless of phrasing.

For example, "I want to arrive safely at my destination." is more likely to get the results you want than "I don't want another car crash." Because in the second case, you'd be dwelling on "another car crash..." and the true intention is ARRIVING SAFELY.

It's harder (and more gradual-yet-quick-resultsy) than it sounds. Often, our best method of connecting to the casual acquaintances in our lives is by commiserating and talking about our concerns with each other. If you don't dwell on what sux in your life, what will you talk about with them?? And, last Friday night with a lot of drunk drivers on the road, it was easy for me to dwell on "avoid the drunk drivers" and harder to think "My drive home will be uneventful. I will arrive safely at my destination..." while dodging that ink-blue minivan that was driving-- mostly-- in the middle lane.

We have to come up with a way to define/describe the positive outcome we desire. We also have to catch ourselves thinking in negatives or about all the things we do NOT want to have happen in our lives, and make the choice to re-focus on that positive outcome-- every time.

The mental reinforcement of a mantra or a goal statement, whether at work or in your personal life-- whether in the next five minutes or the next five years-- is a much-used tool. It works. With our minds focusing on "I want this in my life" we are more likely to notice the opportunities that might assist us toward our goal. We are more likely to see ourselves making progress toward that goal or outcome (instead of focusing on what's not the way we want it), and thus have more energy to continue moving in that desired direction. As we focus on that desired outcome, we are more likely to tell people about our hopes, dreams, and positive experiences-- and give them an opportunity to contribute to our triumph rather than to our misery.

For example, I'm moving into a new office this week. I'm VERY excited about this, and see it as a positive change. Sure, it's hard to come up with office rent for a whole month-worth of hours just now, but soon I'll have a huge successful business made of wonderful and repeat clients, and my ability to make a positive difference in their lives. My schedule will be full, I will have the energy to do the work for many clients that I do for a few just now, and as a result, I will also achieve financial success. Enough, and then some. (Quote from Your Money or Your Life, by Jo Dominguez and Vicki Robin, wherein they talk about quality over quantity, and how intentional living bridges that gap.)

Dwelling on "success is coming" sure does keep my energy up!! And instead of saying "shit, I have no chairs for my clients," I decided to use my dining chairs as an interim measure. And with excitement lighting my features, I told my new officemates of the great temporary solutions I'd found to several little challenges like this.

It was a wonderful surprise to then learn that one of my officemates currently has two comfortable chairs sitting in her garage, for wont of a home. She's going to bring them in for me, and she's happy to have someplace else to put them. What a great solution to the challenge that I refused to see as a negative thing! No windows in my new office turned out to be a great opportunity to paint the walls a really bright color, and exercise my muraling skills here and there over top of the new paint color. I'm seeing so many great opportunities, simply because I know this is a great situation in which to work, and success is coming.

Telling myself that this is so opens the door to possibility, just by announcing --repeatedly and confidently-- that possibility exists. It focuses my energy on doing good work and succeeding, and draws similar energy to my life and my office. I'm looking for ways to succeed. I'm looking forward with excitement to a successful life. And excitement, like yawning, is contagious.

I invite you to examine the words, images, and expectations/desires that you dwell on every day. Are you hoping not to be late to soccer practice, or are you hoping to arrive safely and on-time? Are you expecting the copier to jam again and the meeting to run late, or are you intending to get through your day with efficiency and grace? Are you looking for reasons to enjoy getting out of bed? ...or still grumpy and frustrated because you have to go to work, and don't really get to sit around and enjoy the breakfast your spouse made for you this morning?

Now, what does that tell you about your intentions every day? About the places you choose to spend your energy? Try to redefine those concerns that now dissatisfy you in such a way that you will dwell on a positive outcome. Shift your intention. Shift your energy and your focus. Shift your life.

Believe it or not, that's why I love my work so much. Why I am willing to work with my clients' budgets and schedules. Each time I meet with a client who is focused on improving their life in some way, we are putting their intention into action. I get to go to work each day, and help someone focus and shift their energy in a way that will change their life for the better. Eventually, I'd like to build this practice into a wellness retreat. A green-built custom retreat community with a variety of workshops, work spaces, living situations, community-building activities, and healing services such as Massage and quality elder-care. Someday, I will.

What are your life goals? What's the next action you can take to direct your energy toward that end? Maybe it's sitting down with a paper and pen to map out the values that make your big toes wiggle, and decide on some goals or steps you might explore with those values in mind. Maybe it's scheduling half an hour a week into your life for you. Maybe it's time to decide that your goals are just as important to you as everybody else's. Maybe it's time to open the door to possibility, and shout out an invitation.


I'm becoming more and more aware of the ways in which women often punish and/or defend ourselves in situations where we feel we don't HAVE power or control or even basic rights.

I'm working with more and more women who have used food as a method of having control in their lives. They punish themselves for not being good enough by not eating. They over-eat to feel comforted and to fill an emotional void in their lives; they often become grossly overweight as a defense against rape and other sexual encounters they don't want to face.

We tell ourselves that we are not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not curvaceous enough, not smart enough, not accomplishing enough, not ENOUGH-- and in doing so, we limit ourselves so that nobody can do it to us. We don't want to give that power away, too. We don't want the criticism that women sometimes receive when we take risks, acknowledge our strengths and abilities, attempt change, rock the boat. There are enough critics in our lives already.

I'm learning that these patterns of behavior-- the self-criticism, and self-limiting; the over-eating and the starvation diet-- more and more, these are cropping up among men as well. And since these are "women's diseases" men often have an even harder time admitting that the problem exists, or understanding why, let alone seeking help to make positive changes and enact healthy patterns.

As a society, we cut ourselves off from feelings. From feeling too deeply, from recognizing our emotions and our reactions to our life experiences (especially the traumatic ones!). We ignore the messages our bodies try to send us in the form of felt aches, pains, and nausea. We get so caught up in trying to be smart and world-savvy that we ignore our own inner wisdom. We lose touch (if we ever found it to begin with) with our inner selves.

Sometimes we are so out of touch with our feelings that we fail to react in fight-or-flight situations; we don't get angry when we are mistreated, or we simply assume that we must have done SOMETHING to deserve the anger directed at us by another, the dismissal of our concerns and of our priorities.

And our internal criticism of our own not-enoughness becomes cruel. There is no pause to ask WHY we couldn't do 100 crunches at our twice-daily workout on Tuesday... after not eating for three days and then staying up all night to study for a class that we're taking after our 40-60-hour work week; caring for our households; caring for our families. Caring for everything but ourselves.

When is it time to care for ourselves? When do we pause and ask ourselves who has judged us-- where that criticism we are using as our measuring stick has come from... And then ask ourselves who has the right to determine our individual worth-- our individual definitions of a successful life. Most of the time, we begin by looking outside of ourselves for approval of our choices, our values, our style of dress and our sense of humor. We look outside of ourselves for clues about what we are supposed to do, who we are supposed to be, and what our reward for "getting it right" should look like. And none of it makes us very happy.

You see, until you have a good relationship with YOURSELF, until you like yourself and figure out what sort of a life would make YOU happy-- chances are, you won't be. It is a risk-- taking responsibility for our own choices and our own happiness. Back to the Cinderella Complex again, really. Hoping someone else will come along and save us from all this.

It's a risk to feel all those feelings that you've repressed or didn't even know you were having for so many years. What if they overwhelm you? Why are you suddenly getting ANGRY all the time?? Well... it's your body finally balancing out. All the emotions you ignored didn't go away-- they just got packed and compressed and repressed into this little box, and when you release the catch on the lid, it springs open and all the unfulfilled unhappy feelings come rushing out. ...But then, the box is empty. It no longer sits there oozing poison and secret shames, feeding your bodily illnesses and emotional instabilities and dependencies on people or on substances or on food-management.

There is finally space for you to learn new coping skills, to learn to recognize when you are having an emotion, and what emotion it is, and maybe even begin to recognize that there is probably a GOOD REASON for you to be having that emotion. Listening to yourself. Deciding how you want to act, now that you have all the information available to you. Befriending and trusting yourself. Accessing your inner wisdom. ...learning to love yourself as an imperfect and wonderful individual... Learning the joy of working toward a lifestyle and a decision-making process that will actually make you HAPPY!! Happy to be alive. Happy to be here, and do that, with people who appreciate you for YOU, and who share similar aspirations and a similar respect for you that you are learning to have yourself.

...If you don't learn to respect and love yourself-- to feel that your needs and your goals and your values and your decisions are important... nobody else will either. Make a different choice. And remember that even if the people you love and currently interact with don't support your goal of finding and appreciating yourself... someone else will. You are worth waiting for, worth searching for, worth working to find. Worth listening to. But this time, you get to do the waiting, working, listening and searching for yourself. It is deliciously empowering to put your energy and efforts to work in pursuit of your OWN GOALS-- and very few of the women I know have ever done this consciously. Intentionally.

So I invite you:
Live intentionally. Live joyfully. Live your own life.
Ask for help, expect respectful treatment.
Dance on top of the world.



When we were little (especially if we were little in the '50's), we often immortalized our friendships by carving everybody's initials with a heart between-- S.B. -heart- R.O. or I heart Johnny, for example. It was a way of saying we loved someone-- they were a friend of our hearts. It was a hope that we would always have that loving connection in our life.

I have just returned from a retreat. I went there with a friend, I came back from there with many friends. Friends of my heart. It was a very intense process, and yet also very restful. I learned so much from the experiences that others shared with me while I was there-- and I was also able to facilitate the learning of others.

Our blood relatives and our "parents" are often chosen by biology or by someone else's decisions about marriage or responsibility. As children, we rarely have the opportunity to choose our family. Many of us are lucky. We have a parent, or maybe two, who really love us and wish the best for us and work hard to help us grow. Many of us cope instead with adults who hurt us, or who are hurt. As we mature, regardless of what came before, we learn to find folks we can trust outside of our original family.

Often, these people begin as friends, and then we realize that our bond is deeper than mere friendship. We share a connection that is truly special, truly magical. These people become our chosen family-- our "spiritual family," if you will. The folks who love us and who we love as if they have always been a part of our lives, as if they always will be. Understanding that we can create a support network that is stronger (and often stranger) than the family we were born into brings a special kind of freedom with it.

I deeply enjoyed the friendships and experiences of this past weekend. I look forward to our next meeting, whether at an organized retreat or at a local coffee shop. And I know that just because I don't hear from someone I really felt a moment of connection with-- it doesn't mean that I can't appreciate what that moment held. The time I spend with these special people is carved into my heart. Each meeting is a gift, and all the distance in between visits can never take that gift away from me.

As the old saying goes: Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.



Remember that maturity has very little to do with age, and only sometimes corresponds to the extent of one's life experiences. I know 50-somethings who take less personal responsibility than some teen-agers. I know 30-somethings with enough learning experiences under their belt to last a lifetime.

Remember that what may be old news to one person could be an earth-shaking discovery for someone else. For example, you may always have understood that relationships-- like people-- change over time. It may be a long and rocky process, full of doubts and anger and pain, for your cousin or your best friend to come to the same conclusion. S/he may be hurt by the changes in your relationship, get angry that the old understandings don't always apply anymore, and doubt whether or not you can have a friendship at all...

And just maybe s/he'll go on to surprise you by facing the fears and the anger, and recognizing that relationships-- like people-- change over time. The best that we can hope for is to change together, or to mature enough that we can embrace the differences as we once embraced the similarities. To celebrate those times when a friend or family member travels through the anger, the fear, and the doubts, to come out a better person and a more understanding friend on the other side.

Remember that we all have our challenges, and that knowing more or less about any one thing does not make us better or worse than the people around us. We do the best we can, and we move forward with hope and awareness. In the end, does it matter more where we end up, or how far we've traveled to get there?


Organized Chaos

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. She's been drifting from project to project for almost a year, looking for that one big break that would lead to full time employment in her industry of choice.

For the last six months of her search, she's sent out application after application, and received very little feedback, and no career job offers. And every once in a while, she starts to worry that maybe she isn't good enough, maybe THAT JOB will never appear, maybe she's in the wrong field, or saying the wrong things... It's hard work to search for work-- and the longer you look, the harder it gets to keep your energy up. To feel that there is a place for you in the world, and that you are offering something truly valuable to the world in exchange. To continue valuing yourself, and your skills when it seems like no one else does.

Finally, we sat down together, and looked at the goals she started with, and how they've changed in the last six months. It was a funny thing-- if she'd actually received job offers for any of the positions she pursued, she would have moved to another state-- probably an airplane ride away. Together, we noticed that when she (momentarily) put aside her concerns about a stable income and a career in her chosen field, she's actually glad to be here now.

Here, her network of friends has expanded to include some really wonderful, caring people. Here, she has learned new skills, and honed professional knowledge outside of her chosen profession. Knowledge and skills that will be beneficial to her on ANY career path. She's also a lot closer to her family here, and with a very ill mother, she doesn't feel right moving too far away. Taken in that light, NOT getting any of the jobs she's pursued has actually brought her closer to her goals. It's even created a space for new job opportunities closer to home. Ones she didn't even know existed when she decided what her career path should look like, six months ago.

She's a little more willing to believe that things will work out well for her now. She's not so worried about fitting into that "plan" she made before she knew about her mom's illness... before she learned just how much more she really has to offer the world than what her formal education might imply. Her life can still be chaotic, and she still has legitimate concerns about generating a regular income for herself... But now she doesn't doubt herself quite so much-- and she has faith that there is a valid reason for her to be where she is, to be doing this instead of that.

I like to think of the universe as organized chaos. It may look and feel chaotic, even mindless and directionless, from the inside... But in many cases, there are still too many good happenings, too many wonderful coincidences for them to REALLY be all coincidence. Call it karma, call it luck, call it god, call it whatever you want-- just be willing to withhold judgment (or change your opinion later on) for a little bit longer. It may be that the situation that so worried you-- or that you NEVER want anyone to have to experience the way you experienced it-- It may be that having gotten through that tough time is the very thing that will allow your life to be so much better down the road.

I'm the first to admit that (pardon my blunt language) shit happens. ...but I've learned to see that sometimes we are able to use that very shit to fertilize the garden of our dreams somewhere down the road. It doesn't make it okay that the bad thing happened to us-- it just makes US okay once the bad time has passed. Organized chaos.


Balancing the Ecosystem

Another aspect of failing to see the forest for the trees applies to our health. That little and all-important microcosm of our community or or office or our home, or our individual bodies. How many times have we said, "I just don't have time to exercise today," or "I'm too tired/grumpy/busy to cook a real meal tonight-- maybe tomorrow."

We all know that ONE DAY here and there really doesn't make that big of a difference. Sometimes the amount of stress a person saves by just eating those french fries in the car on the way to soccer practice is WORTH missing a helping or two of vegetables. But we don't stop to look at the big picture. We don't calculate that actually, we haven't gotten our full four helpings of vegetables a day in ...oh... six or seven years. We may actually exercise so irregularly that each time we do, our body hurts and our lungs and heart and muscles and joints protest painfully, unaccustomed to such sudden abuse.

One day passes, and there are more to take it's place. But a year is made up of those days, and our lives are often measured in years. The same is true of a forest. One tree more or less doesn't affect the health of the forest as a whole... but a forest is made up of many trees. If we cut down one tree a day for a few months or years, suddenly there will not be any forest left at all. If there is something you have always wanted to do for yourself-- learning a new hobby or taking 20 minutes every morning for yoga-- maybe now IS the time to start... because if not now... when?

It is important to balance time for exercise and time for work and time for play and time for rest. It is important to care for your children, and also your spouse and your friends. To stimulate your mind with new and exciting information or ideas-- while also upholding your long-term day-to-day responsibilities. It's important to set aside time for yourself in all that, too.

It's one thing to tell our children to behave respectfully toward their fellow man, and another to model that behavior in the midst of rush hour traffic. One thing to tell our children we want them to become responsible and caring adults-- and another to interact with our children and our community in a mature and productive manner.

No matter what a mother gives up so that her children can have more, if she doesn't model for them a healthy lifestyle and a healthy self-respect, chances are that her children will believe it is a mother's role to sacrifice herself for her family. And a healthy family is not about martyrdom. It is about open respect, shared joy, and deep appreciation for each other-- even for each other's differences. It is about sharing life's challenges as a group so that no one person has to bear the burdens alone.

How healthy is your ecosystem?


The Forest for the Trees

We all do it. We get caught up in what's happening THIS INSTANT and forget to take in the bigger picture. Our emotional reaction to what someone tells us totally blocks out our awareness of why they told us that. Or we apply a general comment specifically to ourselves, and then we worry about what that comment implied...

We argue with a loved-one and get so caught up in the emotions of the moment-- how unfair they are being!-- that we don't notice how tired and overwhelmed they are feeling about a big project at work and their mother's failing health. We don't know that maybe they are thinking more about what will happen financially if they lose their job, how scared they are about their mom, and not thinking at all about how much you needed one pair of jeans with no holes in it that you just spent $60 to buy. On sale. Somehow, today, $60 is a lot of money.

If you don't understand someone's emotional reaction-- ask them questions. Recognize that they may not know where their feelings are coming from either, and might even appreciate an opportunity to figure it out. If you are hurt by their tone of voice or their assumption or their lack of support, share your perspective with them. They may not realize how their words and actions affect you.

You don't have to be a mind-reader to have a pleasant conversation. Instead, learning to gently uncover the root of the emotion expressed-- and learning to express your emotional response to a situation in an honest and respectful way-- often diffuses such situations before they become deep-seated grudges, and allows for deeper and more caring communication to evolve. I've noticed that sharing your needs or feelings and having them ignored can often teach us something important about the situation, too.

Conversely, we can spend our whole life examining every aspect of a single tree. We can become an expert on that tree, and talk about it at great length... without ever realizing that it sits in the middle of a grove of similar trees, in the middle of a forest. That those trees also have a great effect on the health, longevity, and stability of the tree that we've focused on so exclusively.

Without balance-- without the healthy interaction of the whole forest ecosystem, that one tree would fall in the first high wind of the first winter that it lived. It would dry up or burn up or rot out, but for the healthy interplay between water and earth and tree and fern and other tree and bugs and... No one person, no single aspect of our lives, is truly so important that we can focus on it to the exclusion of all others-- and expect to live long health happy lives. We are each a part of our own ecosystem, and it is our responsibility to maintain its overall health so that we, in turn, can be healthy.

Being an adult is hard work. Focusing only on our failures or only on our successes keeps us from seeing the important lessons and knowledge we have available to us from our life as a whole-- the forest of our lives gets dwarfed when we stand at the base of a single tree, looking up and up it's length.

I'm reminded of a story I heard about two friends. We'll call them Amy and Bob. Amy and Bob were friends for many years. They even got into the habit of talking on the phone every day as they drove home from their respective jobs. But one day, each decided that it was the other friend's turn to call. And when the call didn't come, each decided to wait, until the other friend was not so busy, and had a chance to call. Finally, two weeks later, one friend checked in with the other, truly worried at the long silence that had developed. "Are you okay? Is anything wrong?"

By now, the other friend was offended and hurt, and just a little bit worried by the silence and what it implied. Maybe Bob didn't need Amy anymore. "What do you mean-- am I okay?! I've just got a lot of important things going on, that's all!" Amy wanted Bob to know that she didn't need him anymore, either. That he was missing out on all the cool things she brought to his life by not bothering to check in with her every day. Maybe now he'd start calling her again-- now that he knew he'd missed something important when he ignored her. (Notice that she didn't actually share her fears or her perspective with Bob.)

Bob decided that Amy must not want him to bother her, especially since she had important things going on in her life-- things she didn't want to talk to him about. It hurt, but she'd done this before. (Bob didn't check that his perception of Amy's comment was accurate, either.) So he waited another two weeks for her to have more time for their friendship again. In that two weeks, Bob enjoyed talking on the phone with some of his other friends, and had wonderful conversations with them that he could never have had with Amy. He discovered that many of his favorite interests were shared by one or another of his friends, but that it wasn't so important as he'd thought to share all of his interests with any one friend. That was good, because he'd never really been able to talk with Amy about his fly-fishing lessons anyway. She just wasn't interested.

Finally, Bob called Amy again, and found that her frustration with him seemed to have increased in the time since his last call. In the five minutes they were on the phone, he noticed that Amy did not ask him about his interests or his well-being. She let him know that she didn't approve of some of his friends, and avoided any discussion of concerns she'd shared with him the month before. By the end of their conversation, Bob was frustrated and confused. Amy was such an important person in his life. He'd spent many hours talking with her on the phone in the past ten years. Now they weren't talking at all, and he had no idea why. What would he do if Amy decided she didn't want to be in his life??

Bob needed to call someone and talk about his frustration and his concerns with this all-important friendship. Was the problem obvious to everyone but him? Could he do anything to fix it or to let her know how important their friendship was to him? As he flipped through his contact list, Bob realized how long the list had grown in the past few weeks. He noticed how many friends he now felt comfortable calling to discuss his concerns, and he realized that he had a lot of friends who would drop everything to brainstorm solutions with him if he called and asked. People who wouldn't get offended or worried if he chose NOT to call them about his situation with Amy. He thought how Amy would feel if his friends' role and Amy's were reversed.

And finally he realized that Amy was just one of many friends who made up his support system, and that for all the times past that he appreciated her support, it didn't mean he had to appreciate her behavior now. There was a whole forest of friends for him to spend his time enjoying and growing with, and Amy was one tree that seemed to have stopped growing for a time. In fact, with all the shade his tree cast as it grew taller and taller, leaning over and blocking her sun... it might help her to grow if he DID lean in some other direction for a time. Bob decided that really, it was Amy's turn to call him.

And since he was meeting some friends for dinner later that day, Bob simply turned off his phone, and enjoyed the people around him. Because really, the only person Bob could change... was Bob.


Are you Cinderella?

From the fairy stories of our youth to the sitcoms we see on TV, the belief that our spouse or friends are supposed to put our needs before their own-- or go out of their way to make sure our needs are met—is insidious. We begin to believe that's their job, to make us happy, just like WE go out of the way to always put their needs before our own.

I've met many women, and a few men, who feel that their job is to take care of the other people in their life, without regard for their own needs or preferences... or emotions. And that their partner is supposed to do the same thing for them in response. Some even (subconsciously) believe that they don’t have an equal right to get their needs and desires met in a given relationship.

And I have to disagree.

It is nearly impossible to guess just what your friend or spouse needs at any given moment because we are not mind-readers. And it is not fair to place expectations on another person without explaining what we want, and why it is important to us. It is a bigger risk-- and a much more satisfying result-- to ask for what we want, or take responsibility for getting it ourselves.

First, we throw out the Cinderella Complex-- we acknowledge that we are each responsible for our own destinies. No fairy godmother to grant wishes, no shining prince to carry us away from our problems, no rich father to pay our way to happiness, no little mice to do for us what we don't make time to do for ourselves, no magical instantaneous transformations to make our world beautiful and perfect. And, without the imaginary rewards that Cinderella received in the story, there is no reason to play the victim who works so hard to please people who will never be happy, no reason to be the angry, screechy, overbearing control freak, no reason to pretend that we-- or anybody else-- is perfect and flawless and able to meet our every need without any hint from us as to what we needed in the first place. No reason to pretend that our only feelings are joy and hurt. People are multi-faceted. We may want or feel conflicting things.

I am not Cinderella, and neither are you.

Now that we've gotten through the painful part, here's the good news: You are no more and no less human than anybody else-- even those individuals who are still auditioning for a role in the Cinderella docu-drama. And, once you stop looking for someone else to save you, or take responsibility for your happiness, or be responsible for how unhappy you are... You get to take back control of your own destiny! It is up to you to get what you want out of life. You always have choices. They may not always be choices you like-- but they are always there.

And, even better, it's okay to have emotional reactions to people and things, even conflicting ones-- the truth is that you will feel whether you acknowledge your feelings or not. And it is SO much healthier to acknowledge them. What you DO control is how you will ACT and what you will do in relation to what you are feeling.

Speaking your truth-- in a way that respects both you and your listener-- is something that takes practice. The first step is to find someone in your life that it is safe to practice with-- someone who will give you a minute to organize your thoughts, who will respect what you say, and will actually respond to it intelligently, and with love. My hope is that there are many such people in your life. ...and that you can become that person for them, in return.

Believe it or not, talking to a dog or cat can be a great place to start-- a baby step on the road to knowing your self, and trusting your reactions to others. "I really love spending time with you, and when you purr, I know you like the way I'm petting you... but I find your breath very distracting. You know, I just bought a box of my favorite breath mints, and I wonder if you'd try one and tell me what you think of them?" (note that human food can be unhealthy for animals to ingest-- this is an example of practicing honest communication)

I've been reading this excellent book called "Truth In Dating" that discusses the ten aspects of honest conversation-- from saying what you mean, to speaking only for yourself, to keeping it simple. I think the communication skills that this particular book teaches are ones that my clients could apply in any number of relationships-- business, family, friendship, etc.

One of the points that the author makes is that sharing your emotional reaction to a situation in an honest and respectful way is a great way to let the person you are sharing with know what you need, and how to give it to you. And once they know-- it is up to them how they will respond. The truth is that you don’t get to control how others act or react to you. But by acknowledging how you feel, and why you feel that way, you are both respecting yourself, and providing the other person in the situation with an opportunity to respect you in return.

I'm getting better at acknowledging my emotions and honoring my needs. I realize that usually, there's a very good reason for me to feel that way. And out of respect for and love of myself, I deserve to be treated with respect and appreciation by the people around me. It's not that I ignore or discount their needs and feelings--far from it. Instead, I recognize that life is about change, and about working with others as a community-- for the greatest good. For the good of the whole-- including me.

Take responsibility for yourself-- your actions, your reactions, how you interact with other people and with the Earth… And take responsibility for meeting your own needs. It is up to you to satisfy them.

Admitting to Anger

Anger is one of those emotions that many of us connect with "being a bad person." Somehow, if we admit that we are angry, people won't like us anymore, or we're being selfish and hard to please. It's inconsiderate or wrong to feel anger in relation to a friend, a relation, a spouse or co-worker. Something they do is annoying or stupid, but we're not ANGRY about it-- oh no.

And I have to disagree.

I've learned that most people only believe I am worthy of respect when I respect myself, and act accordingly. I've also come to acknowledge that anger is one of our emotions, and it can be a good indication that something is wrong. Our job is to pause and figure out why we are feeling anger, and deal with the cause in an honest and respectful way. It is a risk-- and a much more satisfying result-- to acknowledge that an interaction angered us, and clarify for ourselves and the others involved in the situation how we prefer to be treated, specifically.

There is no reason to play the victim who works so hard to please people who will never be happy, no reason to pretend that we-- or anybody else-- is perfect and flawless and able to meet our every need without any emotional needs of our own. People are multi-faceted. We may want or feel conflicting things. And anger is a natural indicator of a situation that needs to be acknowledged so that it can change. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, especially by friends, relations, spouses and co-workers.

Often now, I suggest that my clients take an hour or so at the end of a conversation to re-evaluate what was said, and really check in with how they feel about it, and about what was or was not done before and after the conversation. Conversations become a two-part process, wherein you check back with the person you were talking to, and clarify any reactions that you've had since the conversation ended. You get a chance to re-evaluate your needs, to acknowledge your feelings, and to consciously decide how you want to act or react-- hopefully in a more healthy, honest, and respectful way than you might have done "in the heat of the moment."

I know that I cannot actually control my emotions-- and that suppressing them is bad for my health and for my relationships. I know that what I CAN control is how I act in a given situation, or as a result of how I feel. I don't have to act out every emotion I have-- and I can find healthy respectful ways to share how I'm feeling-- or to release the emotions privately.

I'm getting better at admitting when a situation or behavior does make me mad. I realize that usually, there's a very good reason for me to feel that way. And out of respect for and love of myself, I deserve better than that. It's not that I ignore or discount the needs and feelings of the people around me--far from it. Instead, I recognize that life is about change, and about working with others as a community-- for the greatest good. For the good of the whole-- including me. That if I don't speak for myself, nobody will-- and I don't want to spend all my time feeling slighted or under-appreciated. If I clearly express myself and my right to be treated with respect-- and the person or situation does not change in response, it's a good indicator that this is an unhealthy place for me to be. And it is up to me to make the change I want to see.


Nobody Says...

I'm attempting a refocus of my career goals this month. I've considered a variety of approaches, but concluded the following: Mostly, I need to clean up my personal space, and get some sort of healthy schedule to my life so that when opportunity DOES knock-- in whatever form it takes-- I'm ready. I intend to come from (and return to) a place that is clean, that is friendly and inviting, that is somewhat organized, and that I can be proud to say represents me and how I exist in the world. And that goes for both my physical home and my mental/spiritual space as well. I want to see my best qualities reflected in my space so that I can dwell on that picture of me, and put my best foot forward into the world for others to see.

I also came to some conclusions about why this has been such a challenge for me thus far:
Nobody prepares you for this stuff, growing up. Nobody tells you that it's probably going to be a while before you really get to where you want to be in your career and your relationships. That whatever it is you just spent a whole lot of time training for, and went into serious debt to become, is probably NOT what you'll actually get to DO in your lifetime. Nobody teaches you healthy ways to cope with and overcome all the daily and extreme situational stress that is part of an adult's decision-making process. And nobody explains WHY a sense of humor and a positive outlook are so important to finding personal happiness and success.

(I now think that it's because we can either laugh or cry at the bizarre and unexpected in our lives-- and that if we aren't actively looking for the positives, they can often be easy to overlook-- and life is a lot more hopeful when we can enjoy the little daily victories with as much verve as the occasional big success stories.)

As a friend of mine recently said about an event in her life, THIS ISN'T COVERED IN THE MANUAL!!! It's true that as you get to be an adult, you gain access to a much wider variety of choices. But it's also true that the repercussions of those choices also become much bigger... and that often the choices we have in a given situation are not the ones we expect-- or even want. Hmmm... I COULD spend my free afternoon doing yardwork in the middle of a 100* heat wave... or I could stay inside where it's cool, drinking ice tea and catching up on the last three months of business news and new tech tools for my profession-- and risk getting a fine and a notice from the local HOA. Or I could risk both being obsolete at work AND getting into trouble at home-- to go spend the afternoon hiking around cool and beautiful waterfalls with a good friend I haven't seen in months. Hmmm...

Maybe "adult" is how old you have to be for all the pieces of your life to finally start fitting together. I wouldn't know. I have figured out what sorts of things I want to do with my life, and how I personally define "Abundance," and how a budget works, and what it means to take personal responsibility for my choices and actions... But I haven't figured out how to fit all of those things together into Abundant Living-- into the life I envision for myself. Luckily, I can embrace my "not yet adult" status, and enjoy playing with paints and fabrics, going to the park and the zoo and the beach, and staying up late to have deep meaningful conversations with people I hardly know. Truthfully, I hope to bring these joys with me into my "adult phase"... Maybe I already have.

In the meantime, and as a part of my dedication to right living, I've just started attending a regular Yoga class. This is my first Yoga class for and about me. It's an opportunity to work on my flexibility and muscle tone, to work on my physical health and my mental focus, my balance, my range of motion, etc etc... but it's also an opportunity for me to work on grounding and centering myself. I would dearly like to feel more grounded and centered. And I know yoga will help me with that so far as mental discipline goes.

...But it has also clarified for me that being grounded in my life is different from being grounded in my mind/body, and that I've made great leaps of progress toward being "grounded," without yet reaching it fully. Be it a small corner of a shared bedroom, the kitchen that is really YOUR SPACE, or a whole condo to yourself-- your home space is where you put down your roots. And feeling rooted-- having a space that nourishes and nurtures you-- is the basis for feeling grounded, and acting from a place of strength. It is the space to which we can retreat when we need to think, or to experience an overwhelming emotion. It is our safe space, and the place that allows us complete control and complete honesty.

Without a space of my own, I just don't feel grounded. I don't feel like I'm pushing outward into the world from a solid foundation. And sometimes, even if I do have my own space, the quality of it can be just as influential. Right now, for example, there is a large and untidy pile of papers that need to be sorted into keep, toss, shred, recycle. Mixed into the papers are dirty socks, half-completed art projects, library books, and a sewing machine. The chaos appalls me. I want to retreat to serenity, to a space that is organized and usable from the moment I arrive in it. Right now, I think my space is simply reflecting my sense of confusion, and unrest. My current lack of commitment to a specific project or path. Organizing this space will go a long way toward organizing my approach to life in general. I'm hoping it'll help me clarify my priority of commitment to paths and projects, as well.

What does your space say about your mental state? About your commitment to spending time and energy on YOU? When was the last time you felt truly at home in your home? What do you need to change so that you can feel that coming home is truly a chance to rest and recharge? Your life has got to be about you, and about the things/people that YOU value. I hope your name made it onto that mental list.


Family Dynamics

I was talking with one of my cousins about the relationships we each have with our parents, and with her older sister. During the conversation, she talked about the treatment she receives from her family, and wondered if she was making a big deal out of nothing...

Having recognized this same behavior myself, I attempted to reassure her that her perception was right, and the situation was wrong. She is the go-to scape-goat for whatever is wrong in her family. If her sister is upset with someone, she picks a fight with my cousin and pours out her frustration on my cousin's head, intentionally misunderstanding her efforts to help. If my aunt has a concern about the youngest sister in the family, that person's decisions were obviously the result of my cousin's bad influence. If she is cold and curls up under a blanket, the blanket is too big and must be put away. If she buys her mother a trip to Europe, the source of the money and decision to spend it in that way are highly suspect, and subject to "not-going-to-judge-you" criticisms. I was getting angrier and holier-than-thou by the minute, let me tell you!

But then my cousin made an astounding observation. It really stopped me in my tracks. She said that she has a choice. She can interact with her older sister and 62-year-old-mother in the way they are willing to interact with her, or she can not interact with them at all. But they are not going to change the way they relate to her. And she has decided that she does want a relationship with them.

She loves them, and she knows they love her (even under all that criticism). She understands (without excuses, evasions, or false hope) that this means she will have a relationship in which they fail to apologize for hurting her, and consistently find fault. She told me that she feels bad complaining about a relationship when she knows what it will be like, and has decided to have it anyway.

And I thought to myself... She's right. Some people want to change, and will put in the hard work it takes to make a change in a long term relationship... but most people just don't. They don't want to change, they can't admit there is a problem with their behavior or habits, and/or they are too afraid of the pain and hard work and self-evaluation it would take to make those changes. So they stay the way they are, even if this way makes them vaguely unhappy. Even if it hurts the people around them. And my cousin's older sister will never admit she was wrong. About anything. It's just too scary for her.

I started to wonder how that applies to my relationship with my own parents, which is often marred by unconscious or unintended hurts, and lots of frustration, on both sides. My parents are getting old. 60+. How likely is it really that they can or will change they way they look at me and interact with me at this point in their lives? Is it worth having a relationship with them to do it on their terms? Even though those terms are often hurtful to me?

Do I stop maintaining my healthy adult boundaries because I know my parents will always see those boundaries as me rebelling, and intentionally hurting my parents by keeping them in ignorance of large parts of my life? My mother's unconscious efforts to manipulate me and our interactions to what she wants them to be without ever directly saying she wants anything at all will probably never go away. It's her survival mechanism, and she is still in survival mode after all these years. Do I go back to my childhood coping mechanism of figuring out what she really wants so I can give it to her, and we can move on with our lives, or do I continue my campaign of refusing to acknowledge hidden messages and hidden agendas, in favor of honest conversation? I know honest conversation is right... but is it possible?

I suspect that I, too, need to face the reality that my parents are not going to change. That if I want a relationship with them at all, I will need to find ways to relate to them as they are, and that my current efforts to have a "normal and healthy" relationship with them are always going to cause friction and pain. They may not be worth continuing. Of course, I also believe that if I don't take good care of myself, no one else will either. So I'm not just going to let my mom manipulate me and ignore the reasonable boundaries that I've set... But what does a realistic balance look like? Not exactly what I want, not exactly what they want, but something we can both live with, and actually enjoy the relationship we do have. I wonder.

And since I know that we all have some form of crazy in our family dynamics (or just in our family members), I thought I'd pass on this honest observation. Just in case it makes a difference for you. We always have a choice about how we interact with the people in our lives. Mostly, we can choose to acknowledge the problem ourselves, and ask the person involved to help us change the relationship. If they don't, won't, or can't do that... we still have a choice. We can learn to live with them as they are, or we can stop having a relationship with them at all. Believing that what is best for me is more important than what is best for someone else-- it's called self-respect. It's a very good thing. Even if what's best for me is continuing to have that imperfect relationship.