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…

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.

Hope Monger

I had an incredible professor in grad school who used to tell us on a regular basis that the greatest purpose that we had in our job was to have hope. He said that clients would come to us when they were struggling with finding hope or they had already lost all hope, and what they needed most was to have someone else have enough hope for them to lean on. I remember this standing out to me as the single most powerful comment in a lecture that I had heard through all of grad school. Even now, years later, I bring those words to mind and hold onto them with fervor.

 The other day I had a client sitting in my office sharing her own experience in working with people who are struggling to get by and who are hurting for hope. As she sat there with tears in her eyes, expressing how helpless she feels in doing anything to change their reality, or even give them anything of value for problems so big, I found myself resonating with her on so many levels. Hope is what came to my mind. All any of us really need when we are feeling overwhelmed or lost or lonely or tired or scared, is hope. And when we cannot connect to or find hope on our own, we lean on someone else who has it, as though it were our lifeline.

 Perhaps hope is our lifeline. Perhaps if we were able to call on hope or even fall into hope when we are feeling like we have no other option, then we might just rest there gently until we find enough strength to get back up.

 I sat with a woman who’s dear friend was recently killed in an accident over the past few weeks and I grieved alongside her, and amidst her pain and suffering and questions and doubts, her loneliness and her quest for connection, I heard her clinging to a hope.

 I have sat with a mother and father who were tragically processing a loss of innocence of their 5-year-old daughter, who were racked with guilt and questions and anger and sadness. I heard them asking if there was hope beyond this pain.

 I have listened as a mother pours out her heart, overwhelmed with regret and doubt as she questions why her daughters are in such horrible circumstances, and addicted and wounded. I hear her ask what is next. I hear her inquiring of hope.

 I have listened to countless others grieving, anxious, depressed, angry, addicted, confused, isolated and infringed, lost and insecure. There are days that my own heart becomes heavy and somewhat disillusioned by the amount of pain and suffering that goes around in this world and touches each and every one of us at one point or another.

 At the end of the day, I rest in the hope of healing. I rest in knowing that acceptance and peace are possible. I rest in the belief that all is not lost, and that good is still possible. That broken relationships can be healed. That while innocence may not be fully regained, that strength and perseverance are powerful tools for overcoming. I rest in the fact that addicts can get clean, that abusers can stop abusing, that we can learn to forgive and that we as human beings can dig deep and show up for one another. We can learn to be present in a way that literally heals the person we are being present for, and if that does not instill hope, I cannot imagine what will. 

Some days are dodge ball days

A dear friend of mine once sent me a card which pictured two little kids, backs against a wall, with facial expressions of fear, seemingly clinging for dear life and the caption read “some days are dodge ball days”. I have kept that card for many many years now and look to it often when I need a way to simply sit back and smile at what is outside of my control.

This morning as I went for a run with my daughter, we paused at the duck pond to watch the mama and baby ducklings swimming in the pond, and they repeatedly were diving down into the water and then coming back up, and we watched as the water droplets simply rolled off their backs, leaving them with a dry appearance once more. I couldn’t help but think of the popular phrase “water off a ducks back’, and how many necessary moments there are in life to simply channel those little ducklings and let whatever it is just roll off, because the alternative is to become heavily weighted, carrying around more than necessary.

So my question today; Is this a dodge ball kind of day? If so, how could you possibly channel those ducklings and let it roll off?

We as a society have become so accustomed to struggling and fighting and working really hard at everything that we do, that we seem to be like a fish out of water if something comes easily or isn’t incredibly heavy to carry. As a result of the amount of time and energy we spend going strong and pushing hard, we have become an anxious, harried and “I’m so busy” kind of people.

In my line of work, I see both the short term and long term ramifications of carrying these kinds of stressors throughout our lives. I see the toll that it takes not only on individuals, but also on families, and then in a larger context, on neighborhoods, communities and societies… We are exhausted. We are worried. We are stressed and we are tired. Often times this lends to a lack of patience, an inability to be in the present moment and a large ambivalence toward others and their own life experiences, because we are so caught up in surviving our own.

So I am challenging myself and all of us today, to slow down. To breathe in a few deep breaths. To look around us at where we are and who is close to us and how we may have disengaged, and check in to see if we can re-engage, with life, with our families, and with our own sense of connectedness to the world at large.