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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What if you had to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

I like me

My daughter has a book about baby bugs and on each page holds some little rhyming phrases about the bug and what it has or what it does and how it perseveres in some way. It’s simple, yet profound on each and every page.

This morning when my precious little one woke up at an ungodly hour in, she wanted me to read her this story while she went potty. We have read this story hundreds of times and I can quote the pages by memory, and today I noticed she was reading along with me by memory as well. The very first page opens up to a baby mantis “I’m a baby mantis, to some I may seem strange, but that’s ok, I like me and that’s not going to change!” As I said earlier, simple yet profound. We moved onto the next few pages.

“I’m a baby ladybug, I like to chew on leaves, and because I am a lady I say thanks and please.”

“I’m a baby bee, some say I shouldn’t fly, I just say the heck with them, you never know if you don’t try.”

“I’m a baby beetle, I’m small and kind of slow but when I’m big these racing stripes will really help me grow.”

“I’m a baby butterfly, I like to spread my wings, I like blue skies and ponds and other pretty things.”

Apparently I get more thoughtful in my early morning haze: for as we moved on to reading in her bedroom and then into playing in her playroom the phrases were running around in my head, particularly that of the baby bee. As I sat across from her playing, singing away and talking to her stuffed animals and dollies, me reading my book, I heard her say “that’s ok, I like me and that’s not going to change”, it rolled off her tongue with ease and ownership. The irony is that I paused and thought that it was beautiful that she recalled such a impactful statement, followed by an immediate fear in me that  she would not always believe this about herself.

At some point, (and it’s not that far into life, for even my younger clients of 10 and 12 are struggling with self-worth and self-esteem), we lose our wholehearted belief that we are good enough or likeable and many of us stop liking ourselves.

I have fallen prey to this line of deception many times throughout my life. Believing that I am not educated enough, not thin enough, not organized enough, not disciplined enough, not creative enough…. The list goes on and on. I hold myself to an incredibly high standard and often let myself down, regardless of the opinion of anyone else. I judge myself according to my ability to follow through and to do something well. I compare myself to other moms and am racked with guilt. I sit in trainings with other colleagues and feel small and like I do not measure up. The one thing that is in my favor is that I am a fighter and a doer, and so I push through and I keep on, and I don’t quit.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not judging myself along each step of the way.

Something about my almost 2 year old stating “that’s ok, I like me and that’s not going to change” was a gentle slap in the face this early thursday morning. The daunting reality loomed around me. I am her example of self-acceptance and self-love and self-confidence and self-esteem. She learns by watching me and listening to me, not to the things I want her to hear but to things I actually say to myself, and about myself. She watches my demeanor. She sees me putting on makeup and fixing my hair each day. She sees me get dressed and look in the mirror. She sees me. The raw and vulnerable me.

Brene Brown beautifully and openly discusses shame and vulnerability and the importance of the journey toward self-acceptance “When we’re kind to ourselves, we create a reservoir of compassion that we can extend to others. Our children learn how to be self-compassionate by watching us, and the people around us feel free to be authentic and connected.” A powerful reminder to be kind to ourselves and mindful of our judgement.

Today I am choosing to practice compassion, and to let go of judgement and believe in grace for the gaps.

My inspiring mantra “That’s ok, I like me and that’s not going to change”. (quoted in the voice of an almost 2 year old)

 

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