Extravagant

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

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

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

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

Perhaps excess isn’t always bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Genuine Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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!

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~