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.

Joy

I picked up my daughter this evening after work. I was subtly surprised by her poise and how much sense she was making as she talked about her day and about how she felt. She seemed so grown up all the sudden. She seemed to have independent thoughts and strong emotions that weren’t just temper tantrum driven. She seemed convicted of what she believed and how she felt but not for the purpose as rebellion as it usually seems. She seemed confident. No reason not to be.

When we got home she crafted a plan and invited daddy and I out onto the trampoline. I needed to change my clothes. She said she would wait. She wanted to jump as a family. She wanted to sing. She giggled and grinned. She was in her element. Leading the pack. Orchestrating her symphony. And for once I didn’t feel bossed around or commanded. I felt invited to participate in something of joy. Spontaneous combustion.

I was online later and saw a painted canvas referencing Elizabeth Warren standing up on the senate floor. Persisting. She was warned. Repeatedly. Nevertheless she persisted. And I felt myself swell with pride. And then I thought of all the times I have banged my head against the wall as My daughter pushed back at my ideas, at times ignoring my requests altogether. How she often commands her own agenda and stays her course regardless of the consequences. I thought of how many times I have driven to break that in her, describing her as stubborn and unruly and difficult or impossible.
The irony was not lost on me.

Somehow present in the moment that this evening brought, connections in the car over the day of a 5yr old, followed by squeals of laughter on the trampoline and wrapped up by singing in the dark as she went to sleep “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck” I found myself caught up in the joy of life. The little moments that make up the big themes. The small lessons that create life’s calling and dreams.

She teaches me more and more each passing day. About adventure and creativity. About persisting. And becoming. About determination. About love and acceptance. About getting wrapped up in joy.

I am inspired to stand beside, encourage and only gently challenge. To not hold her back or stifle her desire to soar. To recommit to being a guide, to accepting her for all that she is in her determination and exuberance for life. To open up to again to spontaneous joy and self expression. To choose grace and gratitude for this journey.

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…

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.

Fragile

It hit home today, the fragility that lies within each and every one of us. I often take for granted the strength and invincible nature that seems to enshroud those I admire and care for most. Somehow despite knowing much of our shared humanity, our insecurities and shortcomings, many of us often default to believing that others are unshakeable, ever present, indestructible constants in our lives.

It is a powerful awakening to be faced with loss. To at the end of the day sit with a reality that much of what we come to lean on, trust in, fall to, can change ever so rapidly. Like cracks in ice, we hold on as long as we can. We have within us the ability to bend, to accommodate, to modify, we can compromise, and we can step toward, we can even carry. The ugly truth however is that regardless of how strong we are, how resilient and buoyant we fight to remain; we all have breaking points.

The nature of relationships has always fascinated me. They are complex and intricate and to many of us they are lifelines and a foundation to stand upon. While they hold within them the power to bolster vitality and create a sense of intimate connection, they simultaneously hold the power to tear us apart, hurt us to the core and leave us feeling desolate if ever lost.

How does one reach out, seek connection, share the intimate details of ones’ life, create laughter and shared stories to support us through the darkest of times… while simultaneously shelter our hearts from the greatest kind of agony known? Friendship is both life sustaining and life obliterating rolled into one. The capacity to elevate and the capacity to destroy, to give and to take away, to uplift and tear down.

It is interesting to me that we do not make vows in friendship like one might in a romantic partnership or marriage. I am not necessarily suggesting that one should exchange friendship vows, but I have to wonder if that would at all change the nature of friendships. Obviously commitment vows do not assure anyone of unfailing love and never ending commitment… people get divorced and separate every day despite the vows they have taken to love and cherish and adventure together through sickness and in health, good times and bad. Perhaps the vows mean little to nothing in our culture today.

Nothing is omniscient or infallible as a human species. We make mistakes, we hurt one another, we neglect to show up when needed, we let one another down, we misspeak, we miscommunicate, and we batter one another from time to time. Yet somehow we continue to make friends, to partner up, to marry, to journey alongside one another, despite the inevitable pain that will come from such a friendship/relationship. Why do we do it? Why do we risk so much of ourselves and our safety in order to share our life with someone?

I suppose it speaks to our inherent, and insatiable need for human contact, that we would risk such pain and offense to our hearts, in order to share who we are with someone else. Because we know that we are capable of hurting and we know all to well how capable we are of being hurt and carrying scars from the wounds. Yet we sign up for this potential all the time. We sign up and we make unspoken vows of commitment and of safety and of a willingness to give a shit… about the little things and the significant things. We allow others into the dark spaces that lie deep within; we open ourselves to another, all with the hope that we will be known. We long to be known and we long to know someone else. Romantically, platonically, we are relational beings in need of connection, in need of understanding, in need to friendship.

We are so desperate for this type of knowing and being known that we are willing to sacrifice anything, everything. When a relationship falls apart, when it falters, when it cracks; its impact is global. We can downplay it, we can shuffle it to the side, we can bury it, but its impact is universally devastating. We do what we can to recover from such loss, such separation, such pain, and many of us do this very well. But everybody bleeds, even if they bleed in solace, quietly.

Accepting my own fragile nature, and acknowledging the fragile nature of those around me, that we can all be standing near a precipice at any given moment… We all have vulnerable places within, which are subject to triggers, subject to hot emotion, subject to pain. Perhaps one would be wise to learn to tread lightly, not in a tiptoeing, shallow nature, but in a way that acknowledges our shared human frailty. None of us, not even one of us is invincible. We all feel. We all are capable of breaking. We all bleed. Yet we all need somebody.

I looked up the definition for friendship and found this “a state of mutual trust and support between allied nations”. It seems that this thing we call friendship does have an unspoken oath… It is a powerful, life changing state of being, a privilege; one not to be taken lightly. Such a delicate balance; to dive in unabashedly sharing ones self, while keeping a keen sense of awareness of the vulnerable nature involved in being human and sharing that with another soul.

Today I am owning my own fragility and I am choosing to honor the fragility of those around me, our shared humanity and our shared need for safe connection.

My journey as a new mommy

I’m not gonna lie, my christening into motherhood was akin to baptism by fire. I had dreamt of being a mom, I had prayed to have the opportunity to have a child of my own. I prepped, I planned…there were spreadsheets with graphs- timelines, needs, steps to action. I have no problem claiming my type a personality- an equal blessing and curse.

While I have counseled parents, have studied child development, parenting techniques, striving versus thriving, the impact of helicopter parenting, the need for attachment and so on…. The importance of routine, consistency, confidence, self-awareness, along with the impact of stress, and the challenge to a marriage of the new addition. I read the books, I babysat my whole life. I loved being an auntie and spent countless weekends caring for my nephews and practicing parent-dome. Nothing could have prepared me for my own child.

I experienced an incredibly shocking awakening when I had my daughter. She quite literally shook my world, spun it around and then flipped it upside down and then smiled.

Neither my husband nor I had any clue how drastically our lives would change when we had a child. Of course we knew it would be different, but in our naivety, we thought we’d adjust quickly like we always have to change, and after a short pause of adjustment, life would resume as we had previously known it. We were educated, experienced adults…

Come to find out, becoming a parent is not something that one can really prepare for. Sure you can educate yourself and collect tools for the journey (this I would highly recommend) but aside from that, no amount of prepping, planning, reading, babysitting nor studying can stabilize you for the earthquakes and the steady occurrence of aftershocks to follow.

Very early on in my pregnancy I made the decision to be open and honest about my experience. This was inspired by the perceived lack of truth-telling that I experienced from other women prior to embarking on the journey myself. I wasn’t going to be that flowery overly positive, see the bright side mom- hadn’t previously been that kind of non-mom. Not gonna start now. 

The day I hit my 6th week of pregnancy, I was washed over by a wave of nausea, fatigue, exhaustion and huge slap of reality of just how quickly life was to be modified and forever changed… The next 14 weeks were a daily assault of life altering changes to my body, my mind, my diet, my exercise routine and my sleep.

I was asleep by 7pm nightly, and routinely slept till 7am the next morning only to be hit with an overwhelming need to nap by 2pm in the afternoon. I questioned my sanity daily… I began forgetting little things here and there and before I knew it, I was having to write down everything like an alzheimers patient.  I had low back pain and hip pain and sometimes my joints would ache like i had arthritis. I was sick to my stomach constantly and had heart burn that wouldn’t give up for the first time in my life. To top it off, although I felt like the world had ended and I must be barely hanging onto life by a thin thread, I barely showed the signs of a bump, so no one even knew or could empathize with me unless I told my tales of whoa. But here comes my positive note: I got a  brief break at around 20 weeks that lasted to about 28 weeks…where I didn’t want to curl up and die on any given day.

However just prior to 30 weeks the desire to curl up returned only this time I was large (to me i was whale like, to others i barely looked 5 months pregnant), uncomfortable and down right unhappy about it. Food became infrequent and small snacks at best, as I routinely felt like food just camped out in my esophagus, waiting to send up smoke signals. It was about this same time that my husband and I began a holistic birthing class- mostly comprised of individuals seeking all natural birth experiences, some specific to water birth (myself included). We went weekly, making dates out of the classes, having dinner after, discussing our fears, hopes and dreams. 

At our 36 week apt with our midwife we discovered that baby girl was still head up and didnt’ seem to be interested in turning around. We began a multiple week onslaught of exercises, putting my body in specific positions, acupuncture sessions, even going as extreme to use close-pins on my toes while circling them with moxa- considered a natural way to help the baby reposition (in eastern medicine). We did this daily and sometimes multiple times a day. I was committed to having a non-cesarean delivery. Daily acupuncture continued. Inversions, music near my pelvis, smoke rings of moxa around the toes…

At our 38 week appointment baby girl was still bum down, head up. I left my midwifes office, called my previous OB and scheduled an appointment to discuss options. After much debate, cautionary concerns and emotional turmoil, we made the decision to schedule another appointment 5 days prior to my due date, to do one of three things. Option one would be to see that baby girl had turned and could be delivered naturally and I go home- chances were below 30% according to my doctor. Option two would be to do a manual procedure called aversion, to try and force baby girl to turn- also very low percentages on success rates (can also be painful for mama and cause “distress” to the baby). Option three was to head into the OR and have a cesarean section to remove baby girl, avoiding the risk of going into natural labor with a breech baby (which apparently doctors don’t get super excited about allowing). 

There are very few words. I went from refusal to acknowledge the reality to a numb sort of acceptance. I didn’t want to talk about it. It was what it was. I felt withdrawn and compliant at that point. It felt like someone else’s life I was hearing about, not my own. I was beside myself with frustration while simultaneously trying to gracefully accept the route this was going. I was swimming in the dark.

I remember waking up early the morning of my appointment “to be or not to be” ringing through my head. I wanted to go for a walk. So despite the rain, I suited up and walked my regular 3.5 mile loop. As I walked I cried tears of anger and rage, then I smiled tears of acceptance and surrender. I sang songs of comfort… even prayed that I would start contractions, for some assemblance of “natural” or “as it should be” to occur. Then I sat by the river and just let all the emotion flow for a long while. And when I got up and finished my route home, I felt I had shifted internally. I was ready to face this. Bring it. 

I got home- showered and got dressed, pack a bag for my baby girl and myself, took my husbands hand and walked to the car. I remember it vividly. When we showed up to check in at the hospital, the receptionist was peppy and friendly and confirmed that we were there for an aversion/c-section appointment and I burst into tears. She apologized profusely upon seeing me self-combust, was so “sorry for upsetting you”, but I put my hand up and reassured her, she was fine, I was fine, all was fine.

After I was shown to my room, the nurse came in to see us. I was all gowned up- and calmly stated that I would like an ultrasound and if baby girl was still head up and bum down, than I would decline to try and turn her- I couldn’t stand the thought of even more distress and uncertainty and watching a monitor of a crazy high heart rate on my girl.

The doctor came in shortly after, we looked at baby girl, who had not budged an inch…. and honestly the next memory I have is of me walking across the hall from my room into the OR, cap and gown and IV pole. It was cold. There were a lot of people in there and it was time for my spinal IV to numb me from the chest down. 

I remember not even being able to talk. Nurses talked to me, even held my hand, Drs checked in, the anesthesiologist was kind and gentle, very personable. I said nothing. I just lay there on the cold table trying to breathe and avoid a full blown panic attack. I was an emotional wreck. 

It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was fully awake and present and terrified. I could feel minimal movement in my body as they cut and wiggled and jostled and dug into my stomach to pull out her little bum.

My husband stood beside me taking pics of the whole thing, talking to me the entire time, letting me know what was happening. Then her little bum appeared first followed by her body and head and her legs, which were so tight by her head the initial series of pics showed her legs slowly lowering down to her waist but no further until much later. Both OB’s present for the procedure commented that she was like a sardine in a can, tightly knit in the womb and would not have budged regardless of any of our efforts. This entry into the world was meant to be. 

They suctioned her nose, wrapped a towel around her, and handed her to my husband and he brought her immediately to my chest so I could kiss her face. It was surreal to say the least. Here was this human being, cheek against cheek. She was tucked away tightly inside me for the past 9 months and suddenly she is beside me, touching me, nuzzling me. It didn’t’ matter where we were, who else was there nor how it had come to be. But she was with me, she was healthy, safe and my very own. 

Image

It never ceases to amaze me what we as humans can go through, even put ourselves through, and come out the other side… wiser, calmer, stronger, more resilient. I had no way of knowing during those early mommy moments, that this was only the beginning of a lifetime of adjustments, compromises, lessons learned the hard way about control, and the necessary acquisition of flexibility. 

Fast forward two years and here we are. I have a beautiful, strong, brave, highly engaged and ever present toddler whom I am more challenged by than I could have ever imagined and I am more in love with literally everyday of her life…

She has taught me to be present. She has taught me to be silly. She has taught me to laugh and shared her contagious smile. She has been the hardest thing that I have ever done, truly. She has challenged me to my core and made me put my actions where my mouth is. She has called me out, humbled me and changed me for the better. She has repeatedly shown me that she is not a force to be reckoned with, but rather a very delicate flower in need of daily sunshine and water, and ever present attention. 

I am aware that I am NOWHERE near the end of this journey through motherhood… but I have to pause in celebration and acknowledgement that we made it to 2 years of age. I feel this is a milestone worth commemorating, as it has been by far the biggest thing I have ever accomplished. Surviving the first two years of a human beings life makes graduate school look like a walk in the park. I think that Aristotle said it best when he said “the heart has reasons for which reason does not know”. I truly believe that no one in their right mind would sign up to embark on such an adventure if they knew ahead of time just what it would entail and just how challenging and life altering it would be. That is why the heart is more often the one that makes these decisions.

We are not all cut out to be parents, to grow and then raise a being. For those of us who do end up with such a task, I now see it as a privilege and a gift. It is a privilege of tall order, of great sacrifice and unending calling to become even more than you ever thought that you could be.

Suraya Elise, you have shaken and stirred my world to the core, and for that I am forever grateful. I am honored to be your mommy and filled with gratitude for all you have brought to my life!Image

 

 

Little Fish, Big Pond

I had the honor and privilege of attending a Gottman conference in Seattle, Washington this past week. This was not my first Gottman training, nor will it be my last, as I have come to have a profound respect for his research and clinical expertise! For those of you who have not been introduced to John Gottman or his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman, I will provide a brief description…

John Gottman has over 40 years of relationship research under his belt and is world renown for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction. He was most recently listed as one of the top 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century, and has published 190 academic articles and has authored or co-authored 40 books. John Gottman PhD co-founded The Gottman Institute, with his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman PhD in a desire to share their research and clinical expertise in marital therapy. Julie Schwartz Gottman was named Washington State Psychologist of the year and is widely recognized for her work with distressed couples, abuse and trauma survivors and substance abusers along with their partners… So as you can see, their collective resume is impressive and incredibly humbling for us neophytes in the field of psychotherapy!

Coming back to my experience last week; sitting two rows from the front, where John and Julie were providing case consultation on real life cases one after the next, modeling their interventions and techniques with precision and a confident humility, the title for this blog post came to me.

There I sat surrounded by clinicians far more experienced than I, finding myself feeling rather small and inadequate. I sent a quick text to my girlfriend sharing this, and she responded with something along the lines of “just keep swimming”, a favorite line of mine from the movie “Finding Nemo”. I quickly decided that this line would be my motto for the entirely of the workshop and jumped back in, fully engaged and ready to soak up everything I could.

Little fish, Big pond. Just keep Swimming.

I have a dear friend who is embarking on a journey to community college to complete her associates degree, and my hat goes off to her for her diligence and stamina as she has been through a lot…. Scaling obstacles and fighting battles have become her specialty! While talking with her the other day, I heard her lamenting some of the same feelings and doubts that I had felt while at my Gottman conference…. “What am I doing here?” “How did I even get here?” “What if I fail?” “Is this really the right thing for me to do?” I heard myself respond to her saying, “We all have to start somewhere, and you are right where you’re supposed to be, just trust that.” Followed by some other familiar line like…

Little Fish. Big Pond. Just keep Swimming.

We’ve all heard the phrase “sink or swim”, and perhaps some of us feel more versed in this life experience than others, but as I thought more about this concept of swimming as a small fish in a large pond, I realized that this is where the weak get separated out from the strong… Sometimes we have to give it all we have simply to keep our head above water and we fear that we won’t be able to do it for much longer, but here is where will power and sheer determination come into play. One day we realize that our neck and shoulders have come out of the water and there is a tad bit less effort involved… and perhaps a little later we find ourselves actually wading through the water, possibly even enjoying the feel of the sand beneath our feet. A confident humility in knowing the effort it took to get there and strength it took to keep going.

We all have moments where we feel insignificant, lost and or out of sorts… We all have seasons where we are humbled and reminded that there is a whole world of knowledge yet to learn, and life yet to live… It’s what we choose to do with these moments and these seasons, how we choose to react that sets us apart. Do we quit swimming and start sinking? Or do we fight for dear life and kick like hell!

We are all just fish learning how to swim.

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.