Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trust Yourself

Sorry for the false start, folks. I may not be writing weekly posts for awhile as I am still adjusting to motherhood, but I will do my best to write at least monthly.

I have been asked by one of my readers to offer an update on my health. Back in 2010 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. I have discussed my path of healing on this blog. Please check it out if you haven't already. The short version is that I have healed the Hashimoto's through natural means: gluten-free diet, supplements, staying away from inflammatory foods, people, and lifestyle, managing stress (as a new-ish mom this is the hardest one by far), managing hormonal imbalance (another tricky one), engaging in regular exercise and yoga to mention just a few examples. I have never been prescribed medication but my naturopath was perfectly willing to do so if it seemed like I needed it. I just didn't need it. (Notice I said "healed". I don't even know if doctors would approve of me using this term for this particular condition, but I happen to believe you can heal Hashimoto's).

My latest lab results show completely normal thyroid levels. I am thrilled! It is so cool to have validation for the natural healing path I've taken. Hurray! While my thyroid is looking good these days, my adrenals are still imbalanced so stress management and proper nourishment are very important for my overall well-being.

My latest challenge has been addressing monthly hormonal changes that affect my mood, my sleep and my energy levels. I recently went on Zoloft (an anti-depressant) in order to better manage the low moods, insomnia, and fatigue I was experiencing. I also use a plant-based, bio-identical progesterone cream regularly to offset the rollercoaster ride my hormones take each month.

I was very resistant to them at first because I so whole-heartedly believed (and still do) in the power of a natural approach to healing, but the meds have helped a great deal. They offer me more of a buffer for dealing with life's challenges and stresses, especially as a married, working mother raising a two-year-old son. Balancing the needs of my relationship, my work load, my child, not to mention my own health and well-being is a constant dance. Sometimes I do it very gracefully and other times I'm tripping over my own feet. But I have a lot of tools for managing the day-to-day stressors; the meds being a powerful one.

For me though, the most powerful tools for healing are my spiritual practice and exercise. My yoga practice used to include two, three, sometimes four or five restorative classes a week, daily meditation, and journaling. I just don't have the time for a regular spiritual practice these days--or regular exercise for that matter, but I do the best I can. Lately, I've realized that acceptance of where I'm at right now is a powerful healer. Resistance only causes stress which causes inflammation which wrecks my health.

For now, the anti-depressants, hormone cream and other lifestyle practices (listed above) will have to do. Some day in the near future I hope to be able to engage in a more regular spiritual practice, shift the negative thinking patterns that I've learned over the years, and get off the meds altogether, never to return. But for now, this is what I need in order to have quality of life.

I think that is the message I want to hit home with this post: you have to find what works for you. There are wonderful books you can read, doctors with whom you can work, diets and yoga practices and medications to try...but ultimately you have to make the call as to what will work best for you to feel a sense of well-being and gratitude and grace in your life.

Trust yourself. Take the time to listen to yourself and your heart. They will guide you. They really will.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I'm back!

After getting pregnant at age 41, giving birth at 42, and now raising an almost-2-year-old at 44, I'm excited to get back to my blog! I became pregnant in April 2011 and stopped posting altogether. I remember feeling like I needed privacy on my journey of pregnancy. I'm glad I honored my needs at the time but I do think writing this blog is so healing and empowering and wish I could have found a way to continue it somehow. But, alas, time to look ahead and set an intention for writing more consistently. It feeds my soul like nothing else.

 I just read my blog post from Feb 2011 about how I slept 12 and 13-hour nights over a week's time and I just want to whiz right back there and get some of that good, deep sleep again! Oh, how I've missed my sleep! My adrenals are soooo tired! My little toddler speeds around the house every morning while I feel like I've been hit by a truck. .He makes me laugh though and I am deeply, deeply in love like never before.

After re-reading some of my old posts I am reminded of my own wisdom and perseverance and knowledge with regards to healing, growth, and change. Since becoming pregnant and giving birth I've experienced new ups and downs as well as reminders of old symptoms and struggles. It's been quite a journey and I look forward to sharing my stories of relapse, renewed healing, and lot's of growing and changing.

Thanks so much to all who have been reading my blog over the years while I've been away. I just finished reading your posts tonight and feel so inspired and honored by what you've chosen to share with me about your own journey of healing. I look forward to hearing more and sharing more.

Stay tuned! I can't wait!

P.S. New pics and quotes coming soon!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Slowing Down: The Ultimate Time Management

Today I took our 13 and 1/2 year-old dog, Penny for a walk through our neighborhood. For an old girl Penny can definitely trot right along with me at a pretty good clip most days, unless her arthritis is acting up. She even acts like an excited puppy when we bring her home a chew bone to devour. She will take it into her mouth and toss it over and over again in an attempt to get us to throw it and play tug-of-war with her. It's awfully cute and rarely can we resist her invitation to play. In other words, Penny is in good shape for her age and can play and jog with the best of them.

But today, for whatever reason, Penny took her sweet old time on our walk. This happens once in a while and every time it happens I am challenged to enjoy the slower pace rather than get frustrated by it. I should also mention that when I take Penny on a walk I am also taking myself on a walk--it's my exercise for the day. So when Penny is "pokey" it means that I have to slow down my pace, which means less of a workout for me. Today was a good test for me because it seemed that every 10 steps or so she found something new to sniff and we would stop to explore the area. Grrr.

Another thing I should mention is that Penny was not raised on a leash. She spent most of her youth on a farm with my husband, wandering the fields as he worked and roaming the countryside at her leisure. She's never really gotten the hang of this long rope-like thing attached to her neck, leading her around. Now that we live in a neighborhood with traffic and other dogs to navigate, her lack of experience with leash culture has become a bit more obvious. For example, we will be walking at a moderate pace on the "safe" side of the street (against traffic) and Penny, without warning, will tug mightily as she abruptly switches directions to cross the street. One minute we are walking peacefully and swiftly in a forward direction and then all of a sudden she pulls us in the opposite direction! It’s a bit unnerving to say the least. There have been times she's tugged so hard and fast that I barely have the time to tug her out of the way of an oncoming car. Yikes.

Anyways, today was one of those "slow" days. I guess if you have children you can relate. I was in the mood for a brisk jaunt, but I could tell right away that Penny had her own ideas--to sniff every inch of grass or ivy on her path. Admittedly, I was a bit annoyed at first, after all this was my walk, too! Stopping every 15 seconds was not going to burn off the chocolate I'd eaten for lunch, or the 4 slices of pepperoni pizza for that matter! But alas, there was no use resisting Penny's urge to sniff. Besides she's so dang cute, I just can't stay perturbed at her for long. Eventually I conceded (ok, so I did tug her away from a few spots of interest, but this was after at least a minute of waiting). For the most part, I surrendered. After all, it wasn't like I didn't have those 10 steps of briskness between each sniffing session. And Penny still jogged a bit here and there, sometimes for even longer than 10 steps. It was just more of a start-stop kind of thing, which in the past has a tendency to get on my nerves (just ask my husband).

Because of our slower pace today I can rattle off a list of natural sights, smells, and sensations that I noticed on our walk: the soft, pastel orange-yellow hue of the rhododendron flowers, the earthy smell of mulch that had recently been scattered on neighbors' lawns during their springtime gardening, and the warmth of the sun on my face and body as we meandered along a grassy patch on the side of the road. I don't think I would have relished any of these exquisite moments if it hadn't been for Penny. Or at least I would not have remembered them long enough to write about them. Sure, I've taken myself on walks before and noticed all sorts of beautiful things, but when I'm with Penny she helps me slow down and truly experience each precious discovery--like taking a snapshot of each bird or leaf or smell. Because Penny lives in the moment and enjoys each one so much, she helps me do the same. And as a human with a monkey mind for a brain--always planning for the future or ruminating on the past--I appreciate these bits of respite.

As I reflect on our walk today, I realize the range of emotions I found myself experiencing--from mild frustration to appreciation. I am grateful that I was aware enough to notice these subtle variations and that I was eventually able to make the choice to enjoy and appreciate Penny's "lessons." She’s a wise teacher; our pooch and I love her for it. Our walk was just a metaphor for life, really. At any moment we all have the ability to make a choice about the kind of experience we're having. And, of course, we are better able to make positive, self-affirming choices when we are well-rested, well-fed, and making time for our loved ones and ourselves. But it can be such a tricky balance and so inconsistent. One day we have awareness and the next we get impatient and try to rush things along just to get through the day.

About 4 years ago, I found myself on crutches after a knee injury. I didn't know Penny then, so I didn’t have her gentle reminders to guide me down the more “enlightened” path. I worked as a college counselor and my job entailed walking from building to building to make "house calls" to colleagues or to find resources for students. Doing my job on crutches was a real challenge, especially considering that previously I would race around campus mindlessly trying to zoom from one place to another to get as much done as possible. The crutches were a gift and I knew it, but boy, did I resist the experience! I was cranky about it for a long, long time until I finally made some adjustments (asking colleagues to come to me, giving myself extra time between appointments, etc.).

What if we didn't need a dog or an injury or our children to remind us to slow down? What if we just set up our lives that way with enough breathing room and with ample "pauses" between activities and goals and meetings? I haven't noticed that moving faster does anyone any good. I've lost people I love to the fast-paced life. It's a sad thing. But we can change the way we "do" our lives. We don't have to succumb to the addiction to getting as much done as quickly as possible. We can enjoy more love, more intimacy, and more beauty and brilliance if we just slow it all down a notch--or ten!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Celebrate Those Mistakes!

Here's some great wisdom that I recently learned about making mistakes: 1) Mistakes build awareness and awareness helps us figure out how we want to do it differently next time.

2) We are human and part of being human is making mistakes, therefore, "I reserve the right to be human." This is very freeing advice for me as I have always been very hard on myself for making mistakes. I'm not sure why, as I remember my dad sitting down with me when I was young and explaining to me that mistakes really are "ok" and a normal, natural part of life. Despite this loving advice, somewhere along the line I fell into the belief that making mistakes was wrong, bad, not allowed, which really is a bunch of hooey! How do we learn if we don't make mistakes? I will even argue that it's okay to make the same mistake twice, three times, or even twenty or hundred or a thousand times, because chances are that we really aren't making the same mistake but rather we are growing with each attempt-- even if it's in very small increments. Furthermore, we will keep making the same mistake until we "get it" on a visceral level. No one can teach us this. There are some lessons in life we must experience for ourselves in a deeply experiential, firsthand way in order to once and for all, change the belief, habit, pattern, etc. Remember that friend who kept dating the "bad boys" because she claimed all the nice guys were too boring? Everyone told her she deserved better, but it wasn't until she was sick and tired of the drama and heartbreak that she moved on to Mr. Nice Guy, who, by the way, is far from boring--he kisses like an italian lover, has smart, funny and interesting things to say, and actually cooks, cleans, and does laundry!

3) Celebrate your mistakes....and everything else in your life for that matter. And, by the way, this is not a bunch of superficial Norman Vincent Peale positive mental attitude brainwashing hoo-ha. This is the real deal. If we know we've made a mistake then we can celebrate the new awareness we have about how we want to "be" in the world differently. Maybe instead of beating ourselves up over it or, worse, denying it altogether as a means for preserving our fragile ego, we can say, "Wow! Look at that! I really want to do that differently next time. What is a goal I can set around this issue?" or "Cool. Another new awareness. I am really growing." What's the use of lashing ourselves with a wet noodle all day long? It's completely self-serving and doesn't help us move forward. Plus, it does a number on our self-esteem. This concept has helped me snap out of years of depression. I mean it. It's been that powerful!

I've found that when I make a daily practice of genuinely stepping back and taking a look at my life I can always find things to celebrate. It's about where I decide to put my attention--on all the stuff not working or all the stuff that is? It's similar to daily gratitude in that you make a practice of thinking, writing, and/or saying several things you appreciate about your life throughout each day. Here is an example of how I used this idea just this morning. Last night I had one of those fitful nights of sleep where I was tossing and turning all night long, up every hour, and cranky as hell. I woke up thinking, "There is no way I am going to work today! I'm tired. I'm cranky. And all I want to do is finish reading Keith Richards' biography in bed all day. Hrrumph!" Well, before I made any final decisions about my day, I made a choice of listing three things I could celebrate about my life. I don't remember what I listed, but it worked. Within minutes I was out of bed, getting my lunch ready to take to work. It also helped to repeat my life purpose a few times (btw, my life purpose is to be a creative, positive force in the world, inspiring people to be their best). I realized that going to work would be much more purposeful and exhilarating than lying in bed all day feeling sorry for myself. Indeed, I had a great day and really celebrated the time I spent with my students.

Equally as important, I did not deny that I was tired, rather I acknowledged that I was a bit groggy and, as a result, changed my lesson plan to adapt to my low energy and foggy brain. It turned out to be a lot more fun than the lecture I had originally planned. Ten minutes into class everyone was chatting and laughing and discussing up a storm. Good stuff. Oh, and another thing I recently learned is that bragging is a form of celebration. That's right, no need to play small to make other people feel better about themselves. Try it and see. Usually people will be inspired by your confidence. I am experimenting with this one more and more and it is a lot of fun. I haven't perfected the "celebrate your mistakes" part yet, but I suspect that it will have a similar affect as the concept of "Celebrate everything in your life" has had--magical!

4) Here's one that I learned several years ago. Sometimes when I just can't let go of a mistake and find that I am beating myself up over it I actually "rewrite" it in my mind. For example, that interaction with my student that didn't go so well? I imagine it going just the way I wished it had and then I decide to accept it as my new reality. I know this sounds loopy and maybe even like denial, but it saves your self-esteem and makes it much more likely that you will handle the next interaction in just the way you'd "wishfully" imagined it. Besides, if you believe in alternate universes, you've just stepped onto a different plane altogether where that old reality is--POOF!--non-existant.

If you don't believe in alternative universes then here is some helpful trivia: Our brain doesn't know the difference between yesterday, today or tomorrow, so why not trick it into believing that all was, is, and will be well? Researchers know that ruminating or obsessing over and over about a negative situation can lead to depression and stress. Reappraisal is when we step outside of the situation and look at it from an objective perspective--like we're in a movie theatre watching it on the big screen from the audience's perspective. When we think in this more detached way, our heart rate and respiratory rate slows and we feel less stress and a greater sense of well-being. In addition, reappraisal makes it more likely that we will respond in a more positive, rational way the next time we are confronted with a similar issue. This is because practicing objectivity in this way helps form new neural pathways from our prefrontal cortex (our rational brain) to our amygdala (the gland located in our limbic brain which is responsible for our "fight or flight" response). In other words, our prefrontal cortex is more likely to tell our amygdala to "Cool it" rather than let this irrational, reactive gland take over the show (remember all those times you let something hurtful or angry slip out of your mouth? You can blame the amygdala for your flagrant impulsivity). Take this whole concept a step further, and imagine a more pleasing outcome to that negative situation and you barely have to spend any time at all dwelling on what actually happened. All is well. You can put it to rest. You've imagined a new, more pleasing outcome! Tah dah!

5) Lastly, if you really have done damage to someone, you can make amends. I've noticed that when I apologize or say something like, "I don't like how I handled that, can we start over?" or "I'm really sorry for the pain I caused you. What can I do to make it up to you?" or "Can you forgive me for the pain I caused you?" it really promotes growth and forgiveness in the relationship. It shows humility to admit when you are wrong. Even if--and especially if-- you are in a position of authority. Family therapists will tell you that functional parents admit their mistakes and show a willingness to change their behavior. By doing this, they model humility for their children, making it possible for their kids to admit mistakes and make changes as needed. And who respects a leader or manager who won't admit their mistakes? Everyone can see they've messed up, so why not just admit it, set a goal, and move on? It models humility for everyone in the organization. All that said, this does not mean that you need to profusely apologize for your mistakes. One heartfelt apology will do. After all, we are all human, right? No need to keep punishing ourselves. Which leads me to my last point...

I think we are way too hard on ourselves as a society and, for that matter, way too hard on each other. I was listening to a show on NPR the other day about a defense attorney who represented death row inmates in Texas. He said that, while most of his clients are indeed guilty, 99% of them are not the same person they were when they committed their heinous crimes. In fact, he described a middle-aged inmate who had murdered a man when he was 19--a burglary gone wrong. The defense attorney stated that, having known the amount of soul searching and community service this man had done since his crime, he would have trusted the man enough to babysit his 5-year-old son alone--without hesitation. He submitted evidence from prison guards who witnessed this man's upstanding behavior on a daily basis, but to no avail. He was given lethal injection, despite evidence that he was a changed man. And we don't have to go to this extreme to see this lack of forgiveness in action. Just listen to people talk about their families, bosses, friends. It's hard to forgive people for their mistakes and to believe that they can grow and change. Instead, we punish them over and over for their "sins"--either outright or inside of our heads. I know this, because I've done it myself.

Our whole society seems structured around punishment. I see it in our educational system as well. We instructors are supposed to grade our students' performance in order for them to earn a degree. I can tell you from firsthand experience that most students do not look at these grades as useful feedback for ways they can learn and grow from their "mistakes." Just the opposite--they see them as either rewards (if the grade is to their liking)or punishment (anything less than this). It's very sad to watch. The whole point of education--learning for the sake of learning--has been lost in this reward and punishment system.

Here's my point..... Let's give ourselves a break, huh? Neither punishment nor denial helps us learn from our mistakes and grow into more enlightened people. If we give ourselves permission to be human, ironically enough, we experience more freedom and, as a result, we are less likely to make the same mistakes over and over again because we are looking forward instead of backward. Ever try driving down the freeway while constantly looking in your rearview mirror? Forgiveness is a powerful force....and definitely something to celebrate!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Falling Awake

Over the weekend my husband and I attended Falling Awake-- a transformational personal growth workshop facilitated by a cool dude named, Dave Ellis. Dave has coached some of the most powerful people in the world, including Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus and author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Jack Canfield. He presented 13 Success Strategies throughout the weekend and gave us plenty of chances to practice them, write about them, and talk about what we learned. One of the many concepts we learned was about letting go of antagonism--even antagonistic (aka, sarcastic) humor. Dave suggested that in any life or relationship struggle, try standing in the other person's shoes and express to them what you think they're saying rather than trying to convince them how right you are. Dave went one step further by suggesting we let go of antagonism towards ourselves and our lives altogether, by "loving it all, " that is, letting go of resistance and attachment to whatever is happening. Love the criticism your friend just expressed, love the traffic jam, love the credit card debt. What we resist, persists, right?

My yoga instructor uses the metaphor of accepting one's place in the river, rather than swimming upstream or yearning to be downstream. Buddhism advises that we let go of our attachment to desire rather than grasping at it. It's been said in many different ways, but the message is the same--let go, relax, accept what is, stop resisting. We've all heard this before, but it's one thing to hear it and another thing to practice it.

In addition to letting go of antagonism, we learned how to "Listen for Brilliance." Basically, this means listening without asking questions, giving advice, or piggy-backing ("Oh, you broke your leg? Well let me tell you all about how I broke my leg in the summer of '85"). You simply listen for the brilliance in the other person by encouraging them to say more via your inviting nonverbal communication (head nodding, smiling, wide-eyed interest) or by prompting them verbally with expressions like "Really?", "Tell me more" and the like. No fixing, directing or interrupting. After doing several listening-for-brilliance exercises with other peeps in the workshop, a participant described her experience this way, "When I listen for content, I become critical. When I listen for brilliance I listen with compassion." Many participants expressed this in so many words. It seems that when we stopped busying ourselves with fixing or directing or reflecting, we stopped listening with our heads and started listening with our hearts. Powerful stuff.

Dave described how all of us have grown up in an antagonistic culture; a culture that loves to debate, argue, and prove how right we are. Listening, in my opinion, is a revolutionary (and, at first, difficult) act. It takes a lot of presence. However, as my husband and I practiced this skill over dinner one night after one of the workshop days, we realized how relaxing, rich, and beneficial it can be. I am a chronic-interrupter, but during dinner I practiced zipping my lip and letting my husband finish his thoughts. I was amazed by how much more I learned about my husband in just an hour! It almost felt like we were dating again--when we'd have those 3-hour phone conversations, late into the night and we'd hang up all excited for the next time we got to talk.

Throughout the workshop, as we practiced the skill of "Listening for Brilliance," I also realized that being on the other end of this kind of listening was incredibly freeing...and revealing. When I felt someone was truly listening I found my own answers to questions or problems, and felt much more centered and articulate. I remembered how many times in my conversations with family, friends, and co-workers I was interrupted, given unsolicited advice or felt like the person was losing interest in what I was saying. Because of this, I tried to hurry through what I was saying such that my original message became warped and convoluted. This "new" way of listening felt incredible. I got to relax into what I was trying to express, and likewise, as the listener, I let go of my agenda and just relaxed into what the other person was saying. It was actually a relief not to feel the pressure of having to say something wise or smart or helpful.

In my last post I talked about letting go of unrealistic expectations. When I did this, I stopped resisting--my husband, my students, my supervisor, the guy who ran a stop sign and almost rammed into my car. I've practiced this for over a week now and it's felt great! I've laughed more with my students than I ever have. I don't get stuck on their level of attention or hooked by their bouts of side-talking and I praise them more generously, listen to them more readily, and, guess what? I am experiencing much less resistance and antagonism from them--actually none-- and am noticing a lot more joy, laughter, and curiosity in the classroom. I'm actually rediscovering my joy for teaching. It feels awesome! As for my husband, when I listen to him deeply, he responds with warmth, more expression and compassion, and lot's of love. Yum! I suspect that the next time he wants to advise me on what temperature to cook the chicken, if I listen to him and don't resist, I may even feel supported by this gesture! Not always maybe, but it's quite possible that if I let go more, and resist less I will be less apt to feel like he is interfering or criticizing and more like he just wants to help out. Aaaah! Peace in the kitchen, once again....and with the man I love--even better. Wahoo!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Managing Expectations

Lately, I've been having some great explorations with a wonderful mentor of mine (we'll call him "Jim") about expectations . I am a teacher of college-age students. I am a wife of a grown man. I am a friend, a daughter, a sister. My mentor has reminded me that everyone is really just a big kid walking around this earth who is still discovering him/herself, still making mistakes, and still testing boundaries and behaving immaturely at times. After considering this perspective, I've realized that my expectations of others are too high and, therefore, causing me undue stress and frustration. It's time for a shift.

There are many areas of my life where my expectations cause problems. One example is in the classroom. The other day I was telling Jim how frustrating it is when my students cross-talk or text while I am talking or lecturing in class, especially after I've explained that listening is a "classroom agreement," and especially because they are adults and they should know better (there's a reason I don't teach high school). Hrrumph! He looked at me warmly but skeptically and said, "So, you expect there to be absolutely no cross-talking or texting during class?" I nodded. And I should add that I nodded vehemently, with a " yur-darned-right" forcefulness. He continued, "We are social beings; we flirt, chat, laugh. It's just who we are. You're expecting a lot, Margaret." Because he said it in such a kind-hearted way, and because he knows me so well, I really took that in. I thought about it for a few moments and responded, "Hmmm. Maybe you're right." And then I smiled and thought about all the times I'd chatted with a fellow student in class as a high school, college, and graduate student (as for texting, thank goodness there was no such thing as texting back in the late 80's and 90's, because I would have been obsessively texting various love interests and friends throughout all my classes). I cared about what I was learning but because I, too, was and am a social being, I reached out even though it may not have been the most appropriate time to do so. I never thought about how my teacher felt about it or how she/he or other students may have been affected. I was a student, for heaven sakes and the world revolved around me, right? So, Jim and I talked about prioritizing expectations-- which classroom agreements, for example, do I really want to ask my students to keep and which ones are just suggestions, and which ones could I let go of altogether? It was really good food for thought, and even better, I felt calmed by the thought of not having to be such a drill-sargent all the time. I also realized that there are some behaviors--like texting--that really aren't acceptable to me. Getting clear about my bottom line felt really powerful.

As I said, my high expectations also rear their head in other areas of my life. My relationships for example---with my husband, my friends, my family, my supervisors. I expect my husband to be stable and kind even when I'm hitting below the belt; my parents never to make mistakes; my friends to always be compassionate and loving; my supervisors to treat me with the utmost respect at all times, regardless of how much work they have piled on their plate. Tall orders! I am just setting myself up to be disappointed and victimized time and time again. Not only that, but I set myself up to be a huge hypocrite!

This brings me to the subject of boundaries. Now I will admit that even though I am a psychology instructor and a former counselor, there are times when I suck at boundaries! During conflict, for example, I either have no walls or I build huge fortresses to protect myself. Pia Mellody, in her book, The Intimacy Factor, describes this phenomenon in terms of containment. She explains that, "...when we become boundaryless, we allow in too much from another person or send out too much from ourselves...on the other hand, when there is too much containment, we protect the self so carefully that nothing reaches us." Having unrealistic expectations is one thing, having no expectations is another. Boundaries seem to help one navigate this balancing act.

As Jim and I explored this idea of boundaries and expectations more deeply, he explained that we can ask people for what we want (or expect) calmly and succinctly without lecturing, over-explaining or emoting. He reminded me that doing any of the latter with adolescents (or adults acting like adolescents) will get me nowhere fast--I will immediately lose their attention, their respect and that antagonism I referred to earlier? Well, I should expect huge doses of it to come my way! If someone doesn't do what we want or expect then we have a decision to make--either set consequences ("If you don't eat all your vegetables, you can't have dessert") or let go of the want or expectation altogether ("Most kids hate vegetables so maybe I'll find a more creative, less combative way to make sure he get's his veggies"). Maybe the expectation was even a reasonable one (no texting when we're trying to spend quality time together), but if we keep hammering away at it, it will only turn into a power struggle. Best to let it be (chat with the waiter, or turn on the radio when the texting starts) or make another choice like simply not hanging out with the person anymore if they don't seem to be able to give us more of their attention. And we can communicate this without drama, anger, or lecturing. We simply make a choice rather than a demand. How empowering!

Having high expectations, I've realized, sets up a "me-against-you" dynamic; an antagonistic relationship from the "get-go" which can create strife in relationships with coworkers, students, lovers, family members, business partners, etc. I think my mentor was right when he said, "Once you come off as demanding and authoritarian they [my students, my husband, etc.] are going to see you as the parent, and then their going to start projecting all their " kid stuff" onto you." Think about it, do you really want your employees, your spouse, or your friends, throwing tantrums, whining, and rebelling? Yuck. I sure don't. In fact, I've had this happen more times than I'd care to remember. And if it's true what Jim says--that we are all kids and that I should look at my students, supervisors, husband, family and friends as kids rather than adults "who should know better--" my life would be a lot easier! If I could look at every adult who crosses my path as just a kid who is still learning and growing and trying to figure it out I would probably have a lot more compassion for them and, therefore, cut them a lot more slack, and, as a result, experience a lot less disappointment, frustration, and conflict.

So, the next time my husband feels the urge to open the oven door or check under the lid of a pan of boiling water and give me advice about what temperature to cook the chicken or the pasta or the whatever, I can calmly, kindly let him know that I've got it under control and that it would be really good for me to spend some alone time in the kitchen. Calmly, directly, without a fuss, without anger. Aaaah. There is peace in the kitchen once again, and without a tantrum, fight, or the silent treatment. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When Life is Hard---Get Off It!!!

I remember attending a personal growth workshop about ten years ago in which the facilitator talked about "getting off it." What I understood him to mean by this phrase was, when you've tried everything to make something work and it still isn't going the way you want it to, let go, take the leap, surrender.

That's the lesson I am learning in my life right now. So many different aspects of my life feel like they are crumbling before my eyes--relationships, old beliefs, identities, possessions, career direction, health. This is a year full of big change, according to astrological predictions. It's also a year of following one's heart and true desires. As I face what seems like huge obstacles in my life right now, I still take time each day to commune with my inner guidance, that soft inner voice of intuition--my heart. It is yearning for change, but that doesn't mean it will come easily. Change is scary because we don't know if there will be a soft place to land when we take the leap off the cliff. But sometimes the cliff has become so intolerable that we see no other choice. Ultimately, I must listen to my heart's yearnings and follow them step-by-step, no matter how scary taking those steps is.

So, today, I am going to try to let go, surrender, stop trying so hard, stop blaming myself and simply "get off it." Maybe the very efforts I've been making --doing all the "right" things---are the exact things that have kept me stuck.

Let go, let God. Surrender. Take the leap. Be the witness. Stand in the eye of the storm. All phrases to convey the idea that putting in anymore effort will not help and to stop doing what doesn't work--in fact, stop doing....period!

I was meditating the other day, sitting in my chair, candle lit, just "being with" what I was feeling in my body, the thoughts I was thinking, the longings in my heart. Now I realize that this could be what "getting off it" means---just being, without grasping or holding or trying. It was a beautiful moment and a peaceful one.