Beautiful chaos

I have the morning off today. I slept in. I went out for a walk. I got coffee. I sat by the river near our home. Thoughts swirling through my mind. Like they usually do. But this time with a long enough pause to articulate some of them. 

I recently watched a modern day Sherlock Holmes episode in which he described his experience of sensory overload by vividly articulating the cacophony that he hears at any given moment in time. It resonated with me deeply. 

I previously wrote a post on why I listen. And this morning I was thinking about why I share. I voraciously listen. To books. To articles. To TEDtalks. To clients. To friends. To family members. To politics. To religion. To nature. To silence. I soak it in like a dry and brittle sponge. Daily. Hourly. 

When I listen. I learn. I grow. I expand. I create space within myself for another. Another person. Another belief. Another emotion. Another story. I become inspired. I become thoughtful. I become curious. And ultimately I become connected. 

In all the listening. To all the noises around me. I simultaneously feel a sense of chaos and of beauty. Of overwhelmed and of purpose. Of cacophony yet intricately woven within, of meaning making which becomes euphony. 

The more I listen. The more I want to share what I hear with others. Ask anyone who knows me, friends and clients alike. They will tell you how I share. Songs. Articles. Book titles. TEDtalks. Comic strips. Sermons. Art work. Experiences I’ve had. I share. Because I can’t help it. It’s in my DNA. 

As I get older I am becoming more comfortable owning who I am. How I function and what makes me tic. And in my own experience of blossoming, I am finding that I can’t help but invite and even challenge others to do the same. A bud must eventually open. Or it dies all closed up tightly and never having expressed itself. That is tragedy of the most offensive kind. A life unlived. 

It is in the nature that is chaos all around us that we are able to witness beauty. I don’t know that we would honestly see beauty as we do, if it did not exist alongside and within the chaos that enshrouds so much of our life journey. That has given me such a profound sense of hope and healing in my own journey and this is yet another reason why I share. How could I not share hope? How could I keep that to myself? It would be the equivalent of the bud that never opens to blossom. 

I sit with clients each and everyday, listening to their stories. Their hurts. Their confusion. Their longing. Their loses. And my heart leans in toward all that chaos. Cacophony. And then there is a pause. A long, meaningful pause. A sitting in silence. An honoring of heartache. And then I cannot help it. I feel a sense of hope within my being that I cannot stifle or contain. It’s tiny bubbles effervesce. Sometimes in words. And often times in a simple presence. 

I believe that we all contain within us the capacity for chaos. We also contain the propensity toward rigidity. And often times life compels us to dance between these two poles. We swing between our chaos and our rigidity in attempts to control life’s happenings and circumstances. And for most of us, we reach sheer exhaustion at some point. Which necessitates pause and often times seeking of support or outside perspective. 

It is most often the case that we utilize all our resources. We expend all the energy we have. And we reach out only in desperation. Grasping for something to hold onto. We recognize our interdependence as a human species. We acknowledge our fragility. Our vulnerability. And it is within that moment that we become susceptible to change. Perhaps it is our desperation that creates the opening. Whatever the origin, this is where the real work commences. We’re ready to acknowledge our real desire for our situation to change. And without our knowing it we embark on our personal journey of changing ourselves within the safety and connection of another. 

This is why I listen. This is why I share. 

We forget this in our modern day self sufficiency that compels us to function as independently as possible. We ignore our inner longings for intimacy of being known by someone else. Of being seen and heard for who we are. Of experiencing a connection that provides a literal meaning for breathing. 

Connection is so vital to the human heart that it will literally stop beating in its absense. Relationship research has shown us that the most vulnerable among us, children and elderly alike, literally give up the will to live and their heart eventually stops beating in sheer protest of isolation and lack of human connection. 

For many of us we have experienced pain and the raw tragedy of being hurt by another human being. And in our self protection we withdraw. We pull back and we attempt to live life with protective armor. But we don’t realize that we do not function healthfully in isolation. We do not thrive in isolation. We slowly begin to lose hope and identity. We cannot blossom without connection. This can be argued philosophically. But in actuality it cannot. The science is simple. We need an other. 

This is why I listen. This is why I share. 

I simply cannot imagine a life lived any other way. 

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.

 

 

What if you had to?

A few weeks ago I started a new workout class entitled “willpower & grace”. The title stood out to me, intriguing me enough to look up the class description and see if I wanted to make it in to try it out. The description was simple and noted that it was a barefoot class, focused on both endurance, strength and flexibility, coupled with being as “philosophical as it is physical, where functional workout meets sports psychology”.  So naturally, I had to attend.

During the first class I was on the fence as to whether this type of class was a good fit for me, hundreds of squats, plies, arm postures and dance moves, all while attempting graceful poise (which has never been a strong suit of mine). Halfway through the class the instructor launched into a bit of the philosophy behind the class, essentially describing the intention behind the practicality and basic function of its movements, and then she posited the question “what if you had to?” We were to each fill in the blank for ourselves, of what we were capable of if we had to, or what we would do if we had to. Suddenly I was all in.

This is what I have made my life’s work all about. The study of human behavior, of brain cognition, and the overarching scope of relationships. Positing the question “what if you had to?” feels as natural to me as “how does that make you feel?”. My mind is often consumed by pondering of interpersonal interactions, questions of meaning and purpose, motivation and challenge. I put a great amount of thought into the practical applications of psychology and what makes people tic and what people need in order to survive, and perhaps on good days, what makes us thrive.

Anais Nin, a well known author, famous for having said “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”, gave us beautiful and honest insight into the human condition. Her words have been quoted and shared for inspiration, used in motivational speeches, in workplaces and schools, giving powerful insight into the human experience. Yet it is a statement that I believe requires deep reflection, even pause, for personal application for each of us.

Tonight as I wrapped up a full day of clients, I found myself pondering this question “what if you had to?” and Anais Nin came to mind as she so eloquently laid out the stunningly devastating reality, that there is both pain in remaining a tight bud and pain opening up to blossom… for they both involve risk. The duality of life is that there is pain in the journey, regardless. So what is it that pushes some of us to the point of blossom? And what about those of us who keep tightly bound as a bud? Does one naturally imply exposure while the other implies protection? Why would anyone willingly expose themselves? Perhaps the risk becomes a matter of survival…

The longer that I am in practice and the more people that I work with, the more strikingly convinced I am becoming that we human beings need each other. We do not function well in isolation. And we do not function well when we have been hurt. We act out. We lash out. We become addicts, we form habits, we isolate, we withdraw, we sink into despair, we scratch, claw, pull, push, cry, scream, all in protest to be seen, to be heard, to be known. By somebody. Anybody…

If we can dig deep, it is with bravery, that we take the risk to slowly begin to open up, to unfold one little layer at a time. All the while devastatingly aware that we could break a petal, fall from our place of security and yet we willingly open ourselves to the elements around us. Why? It is only within this brave moment that we are capable of letting someone else in… of connecting. Does it require naked vulnerability? Yes. Is there a high likelihood that we will get hurt? Yes. Will it require patience and heavy doses of grace? Yes! Is it ultimately worth it??

Anais spoke boldly and reminded us that life is risk. All of life. It is inevitable. So we are left with a daring choice… to lock down, tight like a bud, blocking out all light and potential for life, or to open up, expose ourselves to the light and other life and blossom.

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.


Breaking through the clouds

I have read and reread a vivid metaphor for many years now that has played a substantial role in my journey through life. It is about an eagle, attempting to reach her home in the midst of a terrible storm. The sky is painted dark, clouds are black and thunder and lightening surround her as she fights to stay aflight. As she flies she becomes exhausted and even confused, fighting to keep her flight path, being dashed about and pummeled by rain and wind this way and that, attempting to “sweep away the clouds” with her wings. The author graphically describes how she “awakens the doves… with her wild cries and vain endeavors to find a way out…” The story concludes with the eagle finally dashing upward, with all her might, into blackness and valiantly breaking through the clouds, finding herself above the storm and then “all is light”. That final scene is etched in my mind, and I replay it over and over, often with chills up and down my spine. Such a powerful depiction of a battle well fought.

Out for a run earlier this morning I was growing tired, finding myself wanting to slow down, perhaps even walk for a bit. I have been stepping up my mileage and my pace over the past couple of months and some days that is more exhilarating and enticing than others. Today as I was pushing myself rather hard, that little eagle came to my mind, seemingly out of nowhere. All i could think about was this little eagle, flying through a raging storm, beaten down, wet, confused, exhausted, yet flying with all her might. I could visualize the entire scene in my mind, I could hear hear screeching and see her straining with everything she had. I could sense the darkness and the cold and the desire to be in a safer, calmer space. Then the moment arrives, when she gives it all she has and with one final gust, she emerges through the clouds. Hard not to be inspired. To want to push through. To keep fighting.

The effort. The struggle. The fight. Sheer exhaustion. I cannot help but resonate with that. It seems that life is never short of providing us ways to practice building stamina, endurance and will power to push through. I have experienced many moments in my life where I simply did not feel I had it in me to keep going. I see a similar battle in my clients that I sit with from week to week. I hear their stories, see their emotion, sense their drive and admire their courage. A battle is not won by hiding. A battle is won by showing up and using all you’ve got to give, and not stopping until it’s over.

Many people say that “it is in your blood” or “you either have it or you don’t” when they talk about courage, will power, drive and sheer determination. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But I tend to believe that if we were not simply gifted with such qualities, we can certainly seek them out, learn them, even obtain them. Perhaps grow to become them…

I believe that we as human beings are capable of change. We are capable of growth. We are certainly capable of being motivated, inspired. So my question becomes; how does one share the power and possibility of breaking through the clouds with one who is still in the storm? How does one practice their way through life in such a way that renders one ready and willing to stay the course when the storm begins to rage? How do we as connection driven beings, assist one another in the plight… of life?

The following link provides a powerful reminder of how each and every one of us are seeking to feel we are not alone, that we are somehow seen, heard, even cared for by another being. That someone not only sympathizes with us, but actually gets it, feels it, sits with us in it. Brene Brown did a fabulous voiceover for this little cartoon, in which she describes the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Dr. Dan Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and researcher uses the phrase “feeling felt” in his body of work around interpersonal neurobiology, a fancy way of describing how people connect and why. Feeling felt provides an almost sacred word picture for me, as i contemplate the actual internal feeling I get when the person I am with seems to get what i’m saying or what i’m going through or where i’m coming from. It is so powerful, perhaps even softening to ones soul…. to feel seen, heard, felt, for who you really truly are at the core of you.

It is a rarity however, and a feeling that many people have never experienced. Most often we walk around feeling very isolated and alone, even misunderstood or actively judged, for not being enough… smart enough, pretty enough, athletic enough, intelligent enough, fast enough, creative enough… you name it, we mostly feel inadequate and not only judged by others, but often times judging ourselves against how we feel others see us. It can be debilitating if we do not find a pathway through it, that allows us to create a buffer. Buffer against the storm, buffer against others judgments, buffer against our own feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.

In therapy, we often use the phrase “grounding”. We are referring to a technique that is used to help those of us who become overly anxious, unstable in mood, “flighty”, or disconnected from self or others. The concept behind grounding is actually quite simple; soothe the anxiety, fears and instabilities that cause the person to feel out of control or distant from the present moment. Quite literally it means to root or ground the person to the earth beneath their feet.

We utilize meditation, often guided meditation to bring the focus of the individual to the present moment. An example would be to focus on the chair one is sitting on, how it feels beneath you, supporting you, holding you up from falling. Another example would be to imagine yourself flying through the air like a kite, and to feel the gentle tug of the string as you are being guided back in for landing. The concept behind the technique is focus. Where one’s focus lies, has a great deal to do with one’s perspective on life, and the individual moments that make up the larger picture of the journey.

This concept of grounding seems to come into play as I think about the eagle desperately flying through the storm and eventually breaking through the clouds to the sunshine above. Perhaps if one can find a way to sense the solid ground beneath ones feet, when we feel the world around us crashing down or swirling up… Perhaps if we could shift focus, see the strength we possess and even the purpose beyond the present moment pain.  Maybe we could connect with a larger picture, even when everything seems to be falling apart. Perhaps if one could reach out and connect with another being when loneliness threatens to engulf… One could find strength to stay aflight amidst the storm.

Perhaps even break through the clouds.

Letting go

I have been struck over the past few weeks of the number of relationships I have witness show signs of vulnerability. Some ultimately revealing that they are in a fragile state. Some fading, some struggling under pressures and beginning to fall apart. Some incredibly lost in a sea of feeling unknown, unheard and misunderstood. I have seen the looks on countless faces. I have felt the pain and deep sense of loss. I had heard the deafening sounds of loneliness.

Today it is on my mind to write a genuine heartfelt letter, personal yet universally applicable. I seek to encourage, to instill hope where it is absent and to challenge the impossibility notions of a relationship that lasts.

To those of you are hurting right now, whether all alone, in a troubled relationship and considering your options, on your way out of one that is empty, or considering making a commitment to someone despite your fear of the unknown, I am expressing solidarity. I will attest that attaching to another human being, committing to be there through it all, opening up and sharing ones whole self, is the scariest, hardest, most emotion laden experience one will ever come across. I will simultaneously express a profound belief that attachment can be the most rewarding, eye opening, heart engaging journey. If we allow it will expand us beyond what we ever felt we were capable of.

Committed relationships are not for the faint of heart. They are messy. They are complicated. They are confusing. They are painful. They can be filled with joy and laughter at times and at others they can cause the most intense hurt one will ever feel. Coming together with another person, expressing your whole self, the good and the bad and everything in between is terrifying. You are more vulnerable than you will ever be any other time in your life when the vulnerability involves a committed relationship to another human being. You are subject to shame. You are subject to being misunderstood, misrepresented, even disrespected.

You also will open yourself to love, which sounds cliche, but if you ever actually have the privilege of experiencing this kind of love, you will understand in your bones that it awakens life within. You will see yourself as if you were looking in a mirror, which means you will see wrinkles, dimples, an occasional rash, squishy parts, soft parts, angry parts… and you will also see the purest joy, the sweetest smile, innocent eyes and moments of flawless, effortless beauty. Perhaps even inquisitive exploration, hope and passion.

One thing that I know is the utterly exhaustive amount of effort and real life presence that it takes, to truly be there for another soul. You will think at times that you have nothing left, yet somehow you will find more as you dig deep within. You will discover that you are capable of more than you ever could have imagined. That if you are mindful, you will create a space within the very soul of yourself for this other being, to tend to and care for in a way that you never knew possible. You will be shaken. You will be rattled. You will be perplexed and on many levels you will be broken, however it will be the kind of broken that has the ability to make you even stronger once reinforced. You will learn what it truly means to sacrifice yourself and you will be surprised by how breathtaking that can feel, in an expansive kind of way.

If you find yourself in a relationship where you have not experienced any of such things, perhaps ask yourself what is missing, what has been left behind, cast aside or simply cannot exist within this person, this space or time. If you are longing for this kind of love, of being known and understood and having someone with whom you would give it all for, my greatest advice is to not give up.

Do not settle, do not convince yourself it does not exist. This is the kind of love worth fighting for. Whether doubting the relationship you’re currently in, or pondering the hard and desperate truth that what this is will never be what you once hoped, don’t give up. I mean no advice about staying or leaving. I simply encourage you to fight for what is real, substantive and sacrificial. Anything less will always be just that, less.

Sometimes the wisest thing we can do is let go. If fear causes us to hold tight, to cling and to anxiously grasp, then my hope is that you will reach for peace and the ability to be still and let go. If whatever it is you cling to is worth it, then it will still be there when you let go. Do not convince yourself for one more minute that you are worth less, that you deserve to live a life of less. I simply cannot buy into the notion that we are created to live lives that do not stir us to the core and require that we get a little uncomfortable once in a while, and that we dive in head first every now and again, that we push toward the unknown without fear holding us back. We must pursue that which we are most passionate about, or an inherent part of ourself will die. Seek the kind of inspiration you aspire to be.

To give the all of you, to lay naked that which uniquely pieces together to make you, you, is a gift and it is a gift that is earned through the painstaking time and effort of another human being doing the absolute same for you, and nothing less, no holds bar. No regrets. No shame.

May you hold desperately to this if you have found it. May you let go of whomever you need to if you have not. May you seek it out with all you have in whatever way you can. May you be blessed along the way!

Be Inspired

Have you ever participated in one of those feel good groups where everyone goes around at the end and shares a word that summarizes how they are feeling post discussion? Well I have joined plenty of these “inspirational” endeavors, and along with the rest of herd, come up with my word, which is often a somewhat forced and made up last minute under pressure declaration, than it is truly a summary of what my experience was. I often feel like the outcast during “circle time,” you know exactly what I’m talking about, the tone is set, the mood is intense, the purpose is clear, which is to state the profound impact this has had on you. While it is true that often I have learned a thing or two and maybe even had an aha moment, I am rarely the girl in the circle with tears rolling down expressing how awe-inspiring this workshop was… it’s just not in my makeup. Nor do I feign interest very well as the rest of the group shares their oohs and awes….

Inspire has always been a word that I have coveted, quite literally. I connect with the word and what it implies and how I feel it compels me to be and do. In much of my education experience however I came to somewhat despise that word, feeling like it was overused, misunderstood and even abused! So I cut it out of my vocabulary for a while, to make a statement… kind of like love… “I love chocolate,” “I love grapes,” “I love puppies,” “I love this book,” “don’t you love this blouse?” These are the phrases that make me sick to my stomach when I hear them tossed around so lightly and without true intension.

To inspire, is to elicit movement, to arouse passion, to stimulate drive, to encourage, to challenge, to stir one to be more than what they are at present. So when some self-help junkie uses it to disclose how she felt during circle time, I find it somewhat offensive. The truth of the matter is that to be truly inspired is a personal experience, and not one that someone else needs to understand… therefore I would like to try to withhold judgment, however I stand by my belief that this notion should not be taken lightly. We all seek inspiration in unique ways and what speaks to one is different than another. The main objective here is to seek out a way to be not only inspired in theory, but also in action.

This morning I was at the gym working out on the rolling staircase, my nemesis and best friend rolled into one. I was reading my current autobiography by Susannah Cahalan, entitled Brain on Fire, as I have most days for the past few weeks… only this time I found myself feeling, wait for it; inspired. I won’t ruin the book for anyone who wants to read it themselves, but I will say that what this girl went through and how she came out the other side of her experience is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The kind of inspiring that elicits movement and arouses passion and stimulates drive and challenges one to hold on, fight hard, and transcend pretty much anything.

To be quite blunt and share my genuine interest, the point here is to challenge you to seek out something to be inspired by. If you find yourself without inspiration at present, then start searching, and keep searching until you bump into it, or create it yourself. Sometimes inspiration involves digging deep within yourself and whole-heartedly recognizing the strength you had within all along and how awe-inspiring that can be all on its own. Sometimes we have to reach out, claw, scrape, scratch, dig, juggle, and fumble… because sometimes you have to fall before you reach up or reach out. And “sometimes, just when we need them, life wraps metaphors up in little bows for us. When you think all is lost, the things you need the most return unexpectedly.” (Cahalan, 2012) Sometimes you have to realize you’re lacking motivation or disconnected from your purpose before you find something you value holding onto or are passionate about.

The notion that life will be simple, uncomplicated or filled with happiness without blemish or doubt is complete and utter bullshit- pardon my exuberance, but it is true! It simply does not exist, not for long anyway. At some point, the tide changes, the wind shifts, the sun goes behind a cloud, the thunder rolls and even the ground beneath your feet crumbles away and it’s in that moment, that you realize your own capacity to dig deep and power through, or fold and give up. In those moments is when we need inspiration most. Something to give us hope that we’ll come out the other side, at some point, even if it’s not today or tomorrow and even if we don’t know when.

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To my mini inspiration

Hope can keep us hanging on a lot longer than any one of us think, but we don’t even have the chance to know that if we haven’t experienced a period of time, even a day or an hour, where we weren’t certain of the outcome, or felt we weren’t in control.

So today, I’m challenging all of us to look within and look around… find something that inspires you, even if it’s just for this moment, and relish in it. I’ll end with one of my very favorite quotes from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Confessions of a Psycho Therapist

I came home today after a long day of working with couples and individuals, mind filled with thoughts swirling around like clouds in the sky. I often find myself processing through the issues and symptoms presented throughout the day and going over how I could best benefit someone seeking insight on their struggles. The truth of the matter is that some days that is far easier than others.

I came to the realization a long time ago that I work from two places simultaneously, both from my education and from my own personal experience. It is from that place of personal experience that I was processing today, particularly after a conversation gone awry with my husband, partner and friend. So I sat down to write him a letter, as I often do, a way to express myself more openly and thoughtfully, given a little time and perspective.

As I was writing I could not help but think about my experience providing couples therapy and the impact that has on my relationships and the universality of challenges within long-term committed relationships, particularly with that of communication. So in an attempt at vulnerability and authenticity, I share my letter, in hopes to break any false belief of my own lack of relationship struggles and in a true desire to break the silence on interpersonal struggles to connect- a truly universal battle.

My love, I found myself wishing that I could say a hundred different things at the same time tonight as we talked. Such a challenge for me to dig down and share what my heart wants and not just get lost in jargon or intellectual banter… An equal challenge to be vulnerable enough to express a hurt and not simply mask it with anger.

What my heart wanted to say to you is that I want and need to know you more. That I want for you to feel comfortable being yourself around me. And by that I mean enough comfort that you can be not only who you are as you see yourself, but that you could share how you feel about that and know that I care. Sometimes I struggle to listen and really just listen, without judgment or my own assumptive interpretations of your intent, but I need you to know that I am aware of that and am seeking to make a change.

My heart needs for you to know that I want for you to be able to crave adventure and passion in your life and to invite me to join you in that… and I so desperately need for you to find stamina and strength to keep inviting me, even urging me to join you… until I give in- despite my ingrained nature to protest anything not already on my list or pre-planned or prepared for. This is not an obligation nor an intended guilt trip, but more of my pleading with you to engage me, because my heart needs to be engaged. That is not likely what you heard tonight, due to the thick top layer of frustration and anger that spoke so loudly.

My heart wanted to express to you that I want to grow and change to become a more refined version of myself and that I want to inspire you to want to be everything that you are capable of being- not because of a sense of obligation or guilt but because you could not imagine any other way of living. That anything else would be feel stale or stagnant, without life.

I need for it to be tolerable, even acceptable, that I want more from life. That growth and change are on my radar and a strong passion of mine. I crave inspiration and vision, and without a goal to work toward I wander aimlessly and feel empty, without cause. I need to be able to invite you to join me on a quest for creative living and continued learning and the inherent adaptation that comes with intentional living beyond survival… I need to be reaching toward something more, thriving on some level- even if I don’t ever “arrive”.

My heart wanted to share that I am forever sorry for any time that I have made you feel like you were not worthy of love or that who you are is not enough -as is- because that could not be further from my belief of you. I see so much strength and ability and stamina in you, and that is why I challenge or encourage or “nag” for more of you… but that is not an excuse for those times that what I have conveyed instead, was that you were not enough. You are enough.

I whole-heartedly believe that I was born with some set of unrealistic expectations that would forever be rising and never be met… even by myself, let alone anyone else. For this my heart wants to express regret, for how I have allowed my crazy to negatively impact you, and us, and many others if I’m honest. Sometimes the glaring reality of ones own action’s consequences is necessary for honest perspective.

My heart needs to be known more than anything. It needs validation and affirmation and it needs encouragement to keep at it… and while I desperately need solo time to recharge, fuel and connect with my own sense of purpose, I could not survive without connection to you- another human being to know and be known by. Without this I would wither and die.

Forgive me for not being better at openly expressing from my heart, more often. It is not for lack of desire. I see relationships at their darkest and bleakest moments and at times, I am blessed to sit with a couple week after week, to duke it out, to work hard, to create change, to grow and to find connection where there was loneliness… it is both humbling, perspective giving and awe inspiring. Please know that I will continue to try to be here, and present, to share my heart, and to listen whole-heartedly to yours each and every day, full well knowing that this requires effort and passionate stamina and is not for the faint of heart.

Sincerely, your wife, partner and friend~

Owning my name

The name that was given to each of us is made up of such a mixed bag of creativity, and family meanings or ties…. Most of us respond in one of a few ways, we love our name, are mostly ambivalent about it or really wish we had a different one!

I have had many mixed emotions about my name growing up, specifically my last name, and not so ironically, these mixed emotions intensified when my parents divorced during my junior year of high school… it was messy, and I will spare you the details, but the result was a lot of internal conflict as well as external drama. I can actually remember asking my mom to change her last name after the divorce so that she didn’t have to be associated with that name any longer, but she was adamant that she would keep the name that her children shared and that she would wear it proudly, which I just simply could not understand at the time.

Throughout my life, I have vacillated between complete distain for my last name, wishing to shed it as quickly as possible, to choosing to keep that name honoring that it is not only a part of where I came from, but an active part of who I am. In talking with other people, I have come to understand that my situation is not so unique, in that many others choose to change their name or separate themselves from their past. And still many others wear their name very proudly and there is a sense of ownership and connection that it represents for them. A very dear friend of mine was the 4th in his family to even share the same first name, let alone the last name that bonded the men in their family together.

I have always thought of myself as someone who was all about individualism and uniqueness. Therefore when it came time to name my daughter I was intentional about not giving her a family name or even a shared middle name. I was adamant that she was her own unique self and that she didn’t need to feel confined or labeled by another previously used name… and in many ways I am grateful that I see life this way and that I promote individuality and unique expression of self, for both my daughter and for myself. However as I have grown and experienced more of life, I feel that I have been able to step more toward the middle on this particular issue, and recognize the incredible value of belonging to something such as a family, with a history and a past, colorful or pleasant as it may have been.

I have come to believe that we are all a part of a larger whole, individuals that are born out of some form of union regardless of how great or how small…. and in a larger context we are part of a bigger family, and then of a community and of a culture and of a place and of a time. Each of those pieces of who we are make up for small and particular details about how we are in this world, how we cope, how we interact, how we engage, what we look like, what our genetic makeup consists of, what our heritage shared. We are not so individual that we exist in it of ourselves. We all came from someone, from somewhere, from some form of connection that once existed, and regardless of how that connection may have lasted or ended, we still are a part of where we came from. And I believe that there is power in owning that.

So here I am, many years later, running a business in which I chose to use my name “Bliss”. And furthermore am known in the professional world by that name right alongside my married name. And while there is color that goes along with that name, I have come to see that there is color that goes along with every name and part of my onus as an adult, is accepting that I am a part of that name and its whole… the good, the bad and everything in-between. Every family has its colors and dramas but what I have come to accept and whole heartedly believe is that those very same families have beauty and strength and zest and vitality, and it can be incredibly expanding to connect with the whole of that. We are not just our negative parts nor are we just fabulously positive parts (although we might like to think that…) We are a blend of both and owning that and working with that is part of what it means to actively participate in life.

Today, I am choosing to own my name. I am owning it for everything that it entails, the German, the Sweden, the Irish and little bits of a few other things…. I am grateful for what it gave me, and I am grateful for what it did not give me or what it took away, for it helped make me who I am today.

Striving to become…

The author Richard Bach writes a story entitled “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. In this story he writes of a seagull that is discontent with who he is and what his capabilities are, and he sets out to make significant changes, in order to build more into his life. He begins by practicing different types of flight, and training to become faster and more efficient in his soaring and gliding. Even this pursuit eventually becomes boring and purposeless for him, and he continues striving for something; for what he isn’t even sure. He is eventually expulsed from his flock, for his refusal to conform and live the common life of a gull. His pursuit for excellence and perfection is relentless, he must strive harder and longer to ultimately become more than what he is told he is, “bone and feathers”.

One of my favorite authors Ronald Rolheiser comments on this seagull story when he says “everyone identifies with Jonathan. We are that gull, restless and dissatisfied, driven by a perpetual inner disquiet that we do not always fully recognize or understand, pushing always harder, to fly faster, to go more places, to break through, to break out of the asphyxiating confines of our place and condition in time and history”.  Fascinating the efforts one will go to, to be someone other than who we are, but rather desperately clinging to something…

Those of us who can identify with this gull named Jonathan are aware of the struggle and inner turmoil that striving entails. It is all consuming, a voice in one’s head saying “you should be different, you can do better than that, you can become something greater than what you are now, you should be faster, you should be thinner, you should be…” These voices are endless and the need to perform and upstage is incredible. But I have come to believe that there is a need for a balance between striving and acceptance; between growing and simply being.  This is fundamental to a fulfilled and balanced life.

I will admit I have spent the bulk of my life striving harder and longer for excellence and perfection, and I have exhausted myself emotionally and physically. I am slowly discovering that there will always be more, or a better way, or another option, and despite all the variability’s in life, I ultimately do have a choice about whether I continue running on the treadmill of life looking for more, and trying to becoming more, or whether I find a steady place to stand, knowing that I am enough today, in this present moment.

Still to this very day my quest continues. Surprisingly, I still haven’t found what I am looking for in life. But I have come to a new understanding that I may not find all of my answers to life’s questions, and that I may not feel utter peace and contentment in this life. But I can choose to live in the knowledge that life is a journey full of endless longings to love and be loved, and to share with others in the goal of creating meaning and purpose, one day at a time. So each day I have a choice to make, shall I focus on the insufficiencies and areas I would like to grow in or change, or shall I focus on who I am and what I currently have to offer, to others and to myself.