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.

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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.

 

 

Songbirds in the dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Patient while you Relax

A dear friend of mine shared this thought with me earlier this week “Be patient with yourself while you relax.” It was almost as though my left-brain did not know what to do with such an instruction. It took some deliberate pausing on my part, to let it sink in. I felt that this recommendation was challenging on multiple fronts. The first being the concept of patience in general, as it would appear to be a long lost skill within our culture at large. The second being the concept of patience with one’s self. Perhaps there are many of you far more developed than I, however in my honest disclosure, patience with myself is a not a strong suit. Lastly, the concept of relaxing is one which awakens my curiosity while simultaneously invoking shock and awe.

I do not relax easily nor do I relax often. Let alone have the ability to be patient with myself while I relax. The concept feels all together foreign that one could be patient while simultaneously experiencing relaxation.

Relaxing is one of those luxuries that I have not been able to afford, or so I have believed for the majority of my life. I am a goal oriented, focus driven, and type A woman. These are some of my greatest strengths and coinciding weakest points of character.

I love to read. I wish that I had more time to read and I guilt myself often. I judge for my lack of discipline in many areas of my life, noting how much time I waste on the internet, browsing articles, facebook, pinterest, craiglist, TED talks, NPR updates and the weather. The irony is that I am always reading something, start a new book multiple times a month and attend professional seminars and lectures and go after certifications quarterly. I am voracious in my search for knowledge. Some have even said that I do not have an off button.

I am a multi-tasker at heart. On a day off I often listen to a podcast while doing the dishes. I start a load of laundry, vacuum my floors, then write a paragraph for a blog post or email, then change the sheets on my daughters bed, then close the windows to avoid afternoon heat. Sometimes I step outside to water a couple plants only to return inside and transfer a load of laundry and start another, then mop my floors and eventually sit down to read half a chapter in a book I’m really interested in. It is very natural for me to be in motion.

If you could watch a video of my buzzing around my house like a bee pollinating all the plants in a yard, you would think “wow, she’s so busy,” and indeed I am. I get a lot done and I am continuously striving for something. Professionally and personally I know how to apply my foot to the gas. The problem is that I struggle with utilizing my brake. It appears that I easily get into my routine and start moving and the momentum carries itself and I simply don’t stop until I collapse at the end of the day, too exhausted to do even one more item on the to do list. Then wake to do it all over again the next day.

“Be patient with yourself while you relax.” It echoes through my mind, it resonates in my soul. What could the practice of patience give me? How could a daily dose of acceptance and practicing patience change my way of living? If I were to make the conscious choice to pause, to insert moments of stillness into my days, into my weeks, into my months, how would it change me? Could I become someone who was patient? Could I become someone content with what is, and what is not? Could I become a softer, more relaxed me, and still maintain the courage and drive and endurance I want? These questions, these ponderings, are what fill my quietest moments.

My moments of quiet are few and far between. I have a 2.3 year old daughter. I am told that she is “busy.” She just started Montessori school this past week and already I am hearing comments of “she’s so well adapted, talkative, engaging and such a busy little girl.” I smile at them. She is my daughter. They may not know me, But I know enough to know that she comes by these traits pretty honestly. Those who know her better and feel comfortable sharing will say “she is very strong willed” or “wow, she has a lot of personality” and “that girl is a force to be reckoned with.” Again, I smile. I nod in agreement. This girl has been blessed and cursed with a passion for living life to its fullest, never missing a beat and going about it with a strong sense of self. I have already begun to prepare myself for pre-teens. Visions of lengthy and emotion filled conversations dance in my head… “a force to be reckoned with…” A beautiful, unique, intelligent, vivacious, full of life vessel, just waiting for guidance and acceptance as she grows.

Words cannot adequately express how imperative it is to me that I discover a way to be patient with myself while I relax. In the rare moments where I am able to be still and sink into my own skin, my own thoughts, and feel a sense of peace about it all, I am awe struck and immediately begin to craft in my mind how to create more of this in my life. This is a gift that I will seek to not only exemplify for my daughter, but also seek to instill as a need and ultimately a survival skill, not a frivolous luxury.

I will seek peace. I will seek stillness. I will create space for relaxing. I will practice patience. I will cultivate this life giving, life sustaining practice. It will be my lifeline. And I will be patient with myself in this process.

Giant Turtle

My husband and I bought a giant stuffed turtle for our daughter this past week. It’s kind of a mix of a blanket and a pillow, and a stuffed animal and it is incredibly soft.

We brought it home and opened it up and laid it on the floor in our living room. She walked into the room and walked directly over to it like it had been there all along, and she crawled on top of it laying her face right in the middle, and then summoned us to join her. So there we lay on the turtle in the middle of the living room floor, all three of us with our heads side by side. After a few seconds went by she simply got up and directed us off the turtle and onto other activities.

It was one of those moments as a parent of a toddler where a few things run through your mind consecutively; 1) Apparently she likes the turtle, 2) How precious that she wanted us all together on it, 3) It would be weird if someone walked into the room right now, 4) Why don’t we pause and do things like this more often?

For those of you who are not parents, I ask for forgiveness for all the analogies and life lessons share that I am learning as a parent… But there are many and they are layered and they are mind blowingly life changing.

 What makes me write a blog entitled “giant turtle”? Well as I thought about what I could share with others about my angle on life, this giant turtle just kept staring at me (literally). And the reality is that everyday since we bought this turtle a week ago, she has done the very same thing, laying herself down on the middle and then beckoning anyone else in the room to join her for a brief pause…. So what started out as a fun animal for her playroom, became this family bonding, perspective giving turtle.

 Why is it perspective giving? Because it makes me wonder what’s so special about this object and what allows it to draw us together in a way that our couch does not. And I wonder what goes on in my daughters mind as she goes about this ritual each day.

 It makes me pause and be present, quite literally as I lay my head down beside hers and look over at her or up to the ceiling, I am nowhere else but right there on that turtle with my daughter. So why does this stand out to me? I suppose it’s because it is rare that I am present right here in this moment, and not drawn elsewhere in my thoughts.  In our house it is also rare to lay still, we are not what you would term “laid back” kind of people.

 So what is my take away? What is the point of all this? I think it’s that we all need a giant turtle… or at least some equivalent of.  We all need a space that we can pause in, and be present for ourselves and for one another, and we all need the ability to connect, even on the simplest level or form.

I don’t know what your space might look like or what exactly will bring it about for you. But I’m encouraging each of us to create a space, however small, however unique. A space to pause, be present, be still and just BE. With the hope that this short pauses will bring meaning and purpose to all the other long and arduous ones!Image

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.