Extravagant

Been thinking a lot lately about things that stand out. Personalities. Hair styles. Cars. Life styles. Behaviors. Words.

I grew up thinking that something that was extravagant was a negative thing. Superfluous. Not necessary. Excessive. As a result, on some level, whether intended or not, I believe I sought to fit in, not stand out. To be average and not too much or too little. To fly below the radar as much as possible.

So it was rather annoying that the bulk of my childhood I received comments often about my smile and my cheerful expressions on my face. Even earning the nickname smiley at one point. It bothered me that people commented on my smile. I did not want to be noticed. To stand out.

A number of years ago, well into adulthood I read a book with the word exuberance in the title. The author told a bit of biography of Theodore Roosevelt and his love for and passion for forests and national parks and how he fought valiantly for their preservation and protection during his presidency. And I found myself nearly captivated by his drive and determination and his unwillingness to be derailed despite others views or scoffing at his hopes and expectations. He was not only passionate but he was exuberant. Which the dictionary defines as “the quality of having energy, excitement or cheerfulness”. While reading I found myself inspired and even impassioned, by his zest for life’s purpose that felt contagious.

Perhaps excess isn’t always bad.

Today I was listening to a song entitled extravagant, in which it described a love that didn’t make sense, that was unthinkable, above and beyond. I couldn’t help but pause.

If something that is extravagant is unnecessary and excessive. If exuberance is above and beyond expected, superfluous. Then wouldn’t something like extravagant generosity or exuberant expressions of compassion be encouraged, even celebrated?

Perhaps the goal should never be to blend in or fly below the radar. Not to say ones goal should be to be center stage or on display. But perhaps a more candid and honest expression of ones self should be encouraged. Less filtered. Perhaps when it comes to love and compassion, extravagance could be modeled, and portrayed as what it could be in full expression, beautiful.

I don’t think I’m advocating that extravagance be expected or demanded. But what if it were modeled on occasion. Without being magnified or downplayed. But simply seen. And felt. Witnessed. Experienced.

We have new neighbors in our neighborhood. And when they moved in they hung these brightly colored aerial swings in their large tree in the front yard. The first time I saw them I thought it was unique and strange and perhaps a bit dramatic to have multiple very colorful swings in their front yard tree. However I soon discovered that most evenings when I went walking I saw their daughters hanging and swinging in those swings. Night after night. Laughter abounding. Creative expression visible.

Extravagant? Maybe. Exuberant? Definitely. Negative or a bad thing? Not a chance.

Perhaps what felt unfortunate for much of my childhood turned out to be fortune after all. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t really adapt my facial expressions without really modifying my outlook on life in a negative way. So as quietly as possible, I owned my facial expressions. And I smiled often. And I smiled even more when someone commented on it. Cause that was me being me. For it just was what it was. And it seemed the sooner I accepted that. The sooner I was able to just be me. Sometimes too much. Sometimes not enough. But always true to myself.

Now that I have a daughter who openly prances around the neighborhood dressed up as a princess or a warrior or hula dancer or a magician, I find myself encouraging her self expression and her unique flare. I don’t ever want to stifle that. If exuberance comes natural to her. I pray it always will. Without encumbrance or shame.

I’m sure there are some who still describe me as over the top or unnecessary. Perhaps even excessive at times. But I feel okay with that now. At least I’m channeling my energy toward generosity and compassion and not resentment or judgement. A decision I would make and will make, again and again.

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Impromptu

The other night as I was finishing up at work in the late evening after a long day of clients and chart notes, my husband text me to prepare me and let me know my daughter was “wired” and “running laps” around the house. I responded with one of my great ideas and suggested that he take her out on a short bike ride to help get all her wiggles out and then I would be happy to get her to bed after. He countered my proposal with the offer for me to take her out on a brisk bike ride in the cool fall air. I swallowed my own advice and said I’d be home in 15, have her ready for me.

I did a quick clothes change and threw on my running shoes while my daughter snapped on her bike helmet and donned her raincoat, and we were off. The air was crisp and the ground was damp from earlier rain. The sky was a vivid blue with hues of orange and pink beginning to color the earth around us. My daughter rode fast at times making me pick up my pace. At other times I lead the adventure and she followed close in tow. It felt like we were free, unencumbered, no schedule or routine, no agenda.

I was surprised by how such a simple decision to blow off stories and bedtime routine, to instead zip off through the neighborhood and down along the river, just the two of us, made it feel like we were in some kind vortex or universe of our own. I was surprised by how present I felt, how joyful my mood, and how the spontaneity of the evening seemed to set us on a trajectory of exuberance for adventure. My daughter had squeals of delight each time we raced to the next point along the path and she won. Even as the sun slipped below the horizon and darkness slowly descended, it was just the two of us, racing against time, soaking up the final moments of the day. It was bliss.

I vow to make more time for moments just like this. For spontaneity. For saying yes. For adventure and zeal. For laughter and racing. For unscheduled moments of joy. These are the moments that bring the meaning and the memories and balance out of all the other moments where we are scheduled to our max, down to the last minute, racing the clock to be on time in the morning for the start of another day with back to back to dos and places to be.

I need more moments like this. Impromptu, joy filled and unfettered. I think we all do. In a culture where routine and schedules, predictability and protocol drive us into order, we desperately need a counter balance. Otherwise we become rigid, stressed, irritable and tethered robots. And we miss out on the gift that life has to offer. We miss out on joy. The peculiar thing about joy is that it cannot be scheduled or contrived. It really only happens in the midst of fleeting moments, where opportunity and participation meet and the result is a spontaneous combustion. In smiles and laughter and squeals. In silliness. In togetherness. In attuned presence.

Genuine Moments

Tonight, to commemorate the end of a very long week, I carved out some time, took a book with me and drove down to our health club where I slipped into the hot tub for a nice long soak. There was an older couple sitting across from me and a middle aged couple down from them, each of them talking amongst themselves, enjoying their relaxation together. I was perfectly content to find my corner spot, settle in near two jets and bury my nose into a good read.

I tend to pay little attention to the world around me when I am by myself and off duty, especially when I am absorbed in a book. This is one of the reasons why I love solo time, as it juxtaposes the way I spend the bulk of my week; engaging with people, listening empathically, making eye contact, sharing intimate moments around life’s joys and sorrows.  I am privileged to work with individuals, couples, and families and to unpack relationship concerns and our inherent need for interpersonal connections, and the consequences of isolation. I love what I do. Truly.

I also wholeheartedly love being alone. I find rest when I’m alone. I find solace. It is where I recharge and where I allow myself to check out. Sometimes I think quietly. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I run. Sometimes I read. I have come to know that this time is not merely a luxury of self-indulgence, but rather a necessary reprieve to provide balance to the otherwise very extroverted mode of being. I am at heart an introvert. Being alone is where I regroup and find the grounding to send me back out into the world of people.

On this particular night, I wrapped up my soak time just as the pool time hours ended. I gathered my belongings and started to walk out. As I was about to exit the pool area the woman who had been in the hot tub across from me with her husband, was walking out and we both exchanged smiles and musings along the lines of “have a good evening”. Then as I was half way through the door she turned back to me again and said “By the way, it was so fun to see you reading your book and at one point quietly slide into laughter. What a fun moment to witness.” I smiled and mentioned something along the lines of it being a hilarious book and worth the read. She seemed uninterested in the book, the title or more information of its nature. She just repeated “it was a fun moment to witness.”

As I walked toward my car I kept repeating back what she had said and found myself smiling at her observation of me. I couldn’t help but share the exchange with a girlfriend, commenting that I was taken back by her genuine reaction to seeing me quietly laugh. I don’t know this woman, nor do I know what made her catch that moment in such a way that made her share it with me, but I couldn’t help but feel some small sense of connection with this perfect stranger. Our exchange reminded me that we need more of these moments of authenticity. We need shared moments of meaningful interaction with perfect strangers, that leave us feeling connected. I was reminded of a fact that I often find myself preaching to my clients; that we need others.

So tonight, I wanted to capture that moment and share this moment with all of you. Perhaps we are in need of a reminder that there is connection in small moments, albeit fleeting and seemingly small or insignificant, shared moments that leads to a smile and a genuine sense of human connection.

To know and be known

Reflecting on my week, there is a natural pause, a quiet honoring of the stories I heard and the people I sat with. The aches, pains and longings, the hurt, confusion and loss… The joys, the celebrations, the gratitude, the tears. There are moments I am overcome with my own emotions and questions around how to be present in a way that encompasses compassion, respect, and gratitude that I am privy to these stories and wisdom that would allow me to provide insight.

There are honest and raw moments of grief. As my heart aches on others behalf, and honestly, how could it not? The human experience is one of struggle. There is beauty of course, amidst the chaos and rubble, there is sheer joy and moments of happiness… yet alongside that, there is often a counterpart of fear, worry, sadness, anger, doubt- and at times, we can become weighed down, weary and even frozen.

As I walk into and alongside more and more stories, I become more fully aware of our connectedness as human beings. How powerfully similar we all are in our need for connection, to be known, to know, to share our story with another person who cares- unconditionally and without judgement. We are so desperate for it, we lose our mind without it. We spiral into anxiety, worry, fear. We plummet into doubt, even despair. We seek fillers, sometimes in desperation we are willing to fill that gaping hole with literally anything.

We grapple. We are uncertain of many things and constantly seek insight, validation, confirmation, signs that we are not alone, that someone else feels like this too, and that someone else gets it. I believe that we really come to know ourselves in the presence of others. We see ourselves, we explore who we are in our multi-faceted parts, in the company of others who are doing the same. Sometimes we like what we see, other times we do not and are forced to dig deep and explore our own strengths and weaknesses. There is inherent need for time to ones self, to pause, to be still, to reflect, to check in, to listen to our own voice and not get caught up in all the other voices. However that does not change the reality that we grow, and learn and explore and even heal in community. But we really struggle to accept this.

We both love and hate the need to connect with someone else. When we feel a deep sense of connection and things are going well in relationships, we crave them, we rest in them, we believe in their significance. However when a connection has been broken, lost, destroyed, we become aggressively defensive of our own self and our desire to be alone and not allow anyone else in or near. It is primal to protect ones self. It is how we survive. However I also believe that is can be how we die. We can isolate so well, insulating ourselves from hurt and others, that we can suffocate in silence.

We grieve. Individually. Collectively. Sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs or families or even communities. And eventually it passes, the acute grief that is. But there is residual grief and questions and longings… that we do not know what to do with, so we set aside, and we move on. We keep getting up, going to work, doing our thing, all the while, there is a nagging sense of desire. A desire to share our journey with someone who cares enough to listen, to notice and hold a space for us, to love us.

Over the past couple of weeks I made it a point to slow down, to notice the people around me, to make eye contact and not be so hurried and focused on my task or my multi-tasks, that I don’t see others. It has been a powerful experiment for me, as I look into the eyes of gas attendants, waitresses and waiters, baristas, receptionists, even those I walk past. I have seen people who are hungry for interaction, for connection. I have exchanged more smiles, more conversations and a more genuine sense of presence for the world around me, and I have been amazed.  I have seen peoples faces light up with surprise. I have heard a snippet of their day or their job duties and gotten a sense of their world, and I have had respect for them. What I have seen is people who long to be seen and who shine when they are.

We are so distracted, busy, hurried and absent minded so much of the time, we are missing out! We are missing out on seeing people around us and realizing we’re not alone. We are missing out on opportunities to share in our journeys. We are missing out on brightening someones day by looking into their eyes, by seeing them! We are missing out on a chance to show another person value, by validating their presence next to us or right in front of us. And we are missing out on giving ourselves the gift of being present where we are. Which is a powerful gift, in a world where we are often pulled in multiple directions by multiple needs/responsibilities and are often overstimulated with noise and to dos… We need to pause, slow down, see and be seen. Its not really optional. We need each other.

 

 

Swimming at night

Two weeks ago I was in a car accident. An accident that I was at fault for. It took me a few days before I was able to talk about it. I have learned that I do not deal with failure well. This to me was failure. Though I made it many years into my life before an accident, causing one felt unforgivable in the moment. I wanted to rewind and undo what had been done by my absence of presence in the moment. I wanted to be able to share a story where I “almost ran into someone” when I wasn’t paying attention. Not that I did check out for a brief moment only to be jolted back into reality as I smacked into another vehicle.

I was ashamed. I spiraled a little for a day or two. Asking questions like “what kind of person runs into another person?” “What if I had hurt someone?” “What if my daughter had been in the car?” “Do I have to admit to others that I was taking such a license worthy task and treating it cavalierly by barely paying attention?” “Why on earth was I so absent minded and distracted, how embarrassing?!” The questions went on and on. Sleep was lost. Headaches ensued. Back spasms and sciatic nerve pain crept in and threatened my comfortable and quiet life.

Life kept going. Despite my emotional and physical setbacks, life resumed immediately. There were clients to see, errands to run, a toddler to nurture and life to engage. However I felt stunted. Blocked. Jilted. Damaged.

I needed a moment to collect myself. A few moments perhaps. I needed to own my mistake. I needed to own my absent mindedness and I needed to reflect on what needed to change. Because something needed to change.

For starters, the phone needed to move to airplane mode and be relegated to the glove box where it belongs. I need to be where I am, paying attention, eyes fixed, not checking a map, listening for reminders or answering calls. Multitasking at stop signs and lights or traffic jams needs to no longer be an option. How stupid to ever think any of these items were acceptable while controlling the wheel of a 1 ton steel vehicle capable of murder.

Secondly. I need more sleep. I max out my days. I qualify all of my hours. I quantify its meaning and purpose and I push on the gas. Breaks are more for crisis. Not slowing for necessary cautions and road blocks. I heed little to warning signs. I have things to do and little time or attention for long pause or reprieve. Perhaps some realities smack hard and leave bruises in order to get their message across…

Thirdly, I need solo time. Time by myself. To think. To be creative. To write. To breathe. Alone. A rare luxury with a 3yo and a thriving private practice. I needed a reminder that this is not a luxury for me, but an ingredient to a stable and grounded life. Without it I become flighty, distracted, irritable and stupid.

Fourthly, holistic health. By this I do not simply mean exercise and less sugar or caffeine. I mean whole body wellness. I have been a runner since I was 12. A yogi since I was 23 and an all around cardio junkie since at least 16. I love exercise. I need exercise. But I also need wellness. Presence of mind, relaxation, mental clarity. These requires rest and restoration. Meaning to restore. Time set aside to restore health. A chance for muscles to actual stop contracting in some form or another, and for anxiety and cortisol to stop dripping like a life line into my veins.

Lastly but nothing of lesser value than the others, I need my soul to feel nourished and fed. To take time to find inspiration, to dig into the recesses for purpose and meaning, to reach out and reach up for strength and stamina and a renewed sense of why I do it all… As a mom, as a business owner, as a wife, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend…. What keeps me going, giving, believing, receiving… To connect with this resource, to be still and know, to find focus and purpose I must prioritize my time.

This past week I took a few days off. I put on the brakes. I quieted the cell phone, turned off the tv, put away my laptop and made no plans. I went to bed earlier, I got up earlier, I picked up a book or two, I opened my journal, I paused… And believe it or not I found the greatest gift, and it just so happened to be swimming at night. I am not a swimmer, i’ve never been good at it, but i’ve always wanted to be. Between back spams and nerve pain and ongoing headaches, I found my way to the hot tub multiple nights in a row and while I was there I found myself slowly doing laps in the gently heated pool next to it.

One night, on my back, most of my body and head under water, slowly crawling through the water with a backstroke, i looked up at the sky and locked gaze with the clouds and single star amidst and for a brief moment I totally lost all space and time and I believe i found what it means to be restored. Perhaps it won’t surprise anyone who knows me, that i found my rest and restoration while in motion… but i was awestruck and filled with gratitude. Who would have known that swimming at night, under the stars and clouds could provide such a deep sense of reprieve, of purpose, of poise, perhaps of grace.

I have found my way to the pool again multiple times this week, renewing my commitment to intentionally pausing, to slowing down, to making time for stillness and quiet and less commotion. No doubt I do not always find just what i’m hoping for, but I do find a renewed belief in myself to begin again, to start fresh and to be intentional about how I spend my moments, the precious and the many…

Songbirds in the dark

I have taken to the practice of sitting on my back patio the past few nights. The acumulative effect has been quite breath taking if I’m honest. 

I had told myself, “you need to sit more. You need to read more. You need to be still more. ” and so on a warm evening, I took my book outside and spent a couple hours reading. And I was struck by the beauty and the simplicity of the calm that ensued. 

The next evening I didn’t get home until after dark and I decided to go out anyway, knowing I couldn’t read, I committed to simply sitting still and staring at the sky. It was profound. The stillness. And the chorus of song birds still filling the air with their music. I was awestruck. 

There were Mosquitos. I’m not gonna paint an all amazing picture when there was an ever present reality. But rather than allowing them to banish me to the inside, I lit a few outdoor candles, surrounded myself and sat there longer. And my body eventually relaxed, shoulders down, muscles without tension, mind drifting with ease sort of relaxed. And there was Beauty to be had. 

The third night I was tired and had no desire to do anything but go to sleep. But the warmth, the calm, the stillness, beckoned me outside. So I came to my chair, my candles, the fountain noise in the background, the songbirds chirping, the quiet peace. And I sat. 

By the fourth and fifth night I had anticipated having it all sort of blend together and that some of the magic would have began to flicker or fade. But it did not. It only continued to lure me into that place of solitude and perspective. So I have continued to come outside. To pause. To breathe in the evening sun or darkness. To accept what is. To let go of my day. To prepare for a new. To be still and listen. 

I can’t help but write about it now. To share this little corner of heaven. To encourage each of you to find your own little corner. Perhaps even create it if it does not exist. And to go there often. Perhaps daily. To be quiet. Still. Contemplative. Even filled with wonder. And to rest. 

May you each seek quiet moments today and each day. To cleanse. To refuel. And to rejuvenate. To face a whole new day tomorrow. 

I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way

The statement echoes in my mind, “because you’re sensitive.” I pause to reflect how I feel about the statement. Am I offended? Do I agree? Is it a compliment? Was it intended to be a putdown?

The pause in reflection continues.

I grew up in an environment where being sensitive meant something less than ideal. It meant you needed some special kind of care or tending to. It meant you required sensitivity in others’ approach. It meant you were high maintenance. It meant that you were a girl…and even worse the combo of being a high maintenance girl. The thing that no girl ever wants to be, but I believe that every girl, somewhere deep down, senses that they are.

I was told that I was high maintenance from a very young age. I was the youngest of two older brothers, 6 and 8 years older than me. I was isolated in the very nature of being me, by being the only girl, the sensitive one, and apparently, the worst kind of high maintenance where I thought I was low maintenance and everyone around me would say otherwise. Even in my larger family of cousins, I was the youngest, and seemingly the most needy of the bunch.

I spent a large portion of my growing up years trying to be tough, trying to grow thicker skin. I pretended some things didn’t bother me, that I didn’t feel a lot of the things I actually felt, and that I could handle anything that those around me could handle. Perhaps to my own detriment, I acted as if I was low maintenance and insensitive, in order to feel like I didn’t stand out or look odd.

I can still remember when I was in highschool, I first heard the song that artist Jewel recorded, “I’m Sensitive.” I couldn’t help but relate to its theme and repeated line, “I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.” I can remember playing it over and over again, and feeling a small sense of empowerment within the lyrics. Then I wondered how on earth I could own it and begin to actually like the fact that I was sensitive, enough that I could say “I’d like to stay that way.”

How do we really feel about other people’s sensitivities and their particular needs for careful tending? In my line of work I have come to find that all of us are delicate in our own unique ways, male or female, young or old, there is no discretion for vulnerability and our desire for safety. We are all sensitive, and desperately seeking to feel like we belong. Yet somehow we look around us and everyone we see, we assume they are strong, they are capable, they are untouchable and solid, no need for special treatment or gentle reposes. It stands out as ironic to me that we could all be walking around so oblivious to the realities around us, so consumed by ourselves and needs that we do not recognize those around us as the same.

I had a professor in graduate school who used the analogy of an ostrich egg, rather large in size and tough exterior in appearance, but incredibly fragile to the touch. Moas, the distant cousin to the ostrich found in New Zealand, actually had such tender shells that if held by human hands one had to use extreme caution and avoid any fingertip pressure that might puncture the egg. Often how something looks exteriorly is nowhere near the whole picture or reality.

This is how I have come to consider the human experience of emotion and soul. We all present so rough and tough and as though we can take on pretty much anything. But it’s total bullshit. We are fragile. We are sensitive. We are emotive. We are feeling-filled beings and we are desperate to connect in a meaningful and safe way with others. In fact we are so incredibly fragile that we actually push others away and go to great lengths to hold them at a safe distance in order to avoid the horrid pain of being hurt, neglected or even rejected.

So, how does one harness such intricate and beautiful fragility with strength, composure and grace for the infinite little gaps in between? If I could adequately answer that, I feel that there would be far less need for any kind of therapy…

The truth is that we are beautifully broken. We are all longing to belong, to feel known, to know someone on a deeper, heartfelt level. Yet we shrink back and we ache in the pain of feeling isolated and unable to really open up and be our sensitive, emotive selves for fear of being rejected and even more alone.

The irony? We have the potential for being alone either way…so why do we hold back? Why do we go to such effort to protect oneself from others, while painstakingly assuring our own isolation?

Is there potential to be hurt? Hell yes. Is there potential to feel misunderstood or alone? Absolutely, without a doubt.

But what is the alternative? Do we stay guarded, hidden, safe and tucked away in our caves of self protection? What do we gain through this arduous journey to stay safe and comfortable? I would argue that we gain nothing but heartache and an entry into an infinite circle of self-perpetuated grief and isolation, and self propelled disconnection from others who could otherwise share in our vulnerabilities and great longings.

So, I naturally come back to my ponderings of “because you’re sensitive” and how I really feel about that. I will be honest and say that it’s far easier for me to encourage others in their brokenness and to own their sensitive and vulnerabilities and then hide behind my professionalism as a way of easing my own discomfort with the subject. Cause truth be told, I still don’t like the fact that I am sensitive or that others might think that means that they need to handle me with care. Because I really want to say that I’m a big girl and I can take it and no kiddie gloves please. But here’s the deal; being a sensitive and emotive being that feels and becomes comfortable with owning those realities, can come with some perks.

The more aware and comfortable we become with our own emotions and our own intricate details of how we feel and and even exploring why we feel what we feel, the more naturally available we become for being aware of others emotional presence. The more available I am for someone else, to share my story and to listen to theirs, the more I realize that you and I, we are the same. We all have similar needs. We all have sensitivities. We all feel alone sometimes and we all seek connection and a way to feel less alone… But it is only through admitting that of myself that I can be open and share that with you, and then have a chance to hear from you and know that you are the same, and that we can connect in our shared humanity. If I walk around posing my strength and tenacity and reporting that I don’t have any needs or unmet longings or failed relationships or heartaches, then I a rob myself of a chance to connect with you.

So, from my heart to yours, I am coming out. I am ready to admit that I’m sensitive, that I feel, that I have needs, that I long for more, than I need others, and that I’m capable of love and hurt, joy and sorrow. I say this in hopes that you too will feel safe admitting the same, and that together, we might connect and foster authentic and genuine relationships.