Where Change Begins

I hear your criticism, Dear One, and I get it. You want your grievance to solve something in the world, but it won’t.  Its only power is to inform you. It speaks about you, TO you, but you’re not listening.  You think the fault belongs to another.  

This intolerance you feel toward the person, the practice, the system…sit with it before you try to give it away.  Let it show you where you feel inadequate, unworthy, victimized, powerless, impatient, confused. 

The blame that passes through you is the voice of all these misunderstandings in yourself.  It seeps from your wounds and invades the air that you breathe.  It colors your voice and clouds your thoughts.

Turn inward, you.  Be not afraid to see the pain.  Address it with respect and patience.  Be open to its message.  Allow yourself to forgive everyone and everything that unveils its part in the drama.

Only then will Clarity, previously uninvited, appear at your doorstep.  Step aside and allow it entry.  Once acquainted, you can’t help but fall in love.  Fear will fade, anger will be replaced by understanding and compassion, and Peace will become your steady companion, your muse, and your power.

This is where true change begins.

Three Things I Learned From Travel Abroad

There are two types of people in the world – those that love to travel and those that don’t.  I represent the latter. Perhaps this is because of my family’s history of disastrous vacations.  Think on the scale of flooding on the famously dry island of Aruba; visits to emergency rooms with infants; and violent storms that shut down major theme parks for the first time in their history.  When one spends savings on an adventure, only to be disappointed by unforeseen detours, the travel spirit dampens. Nonetheless, I decided to join Principessa on a service trip to Peru.

This would be just another notch in my 20-year old daughter’s international travel stick.  I, on the other hand, had never used my passport and wasn’t entirely confident that I wanted to for aforementioned reasons.  But I’m a sucker for an adventure and knew that the benefits of a trip like this would outweigh any potential travel snafus.

When locals commented with mystified shock at the rare occurrence of rain and fog covering Machu Picchu during the dry season, I tried not to look guilty, knowing that somehow the aberrant weather pattern resulted from my personal traveling curse.  

Disappointment was great but the commitment to rise above it was even greater.  Principessa and I pulled out every inspirational phrase we could muster to keep our spirits up.  This proved to be easier than keeping our cameras dry.

 

‘Blessed are they who are flexible, for they shall not break’ became a theme for our trip and paved the way for other valuable revelations to surface.  Following are the top three.

1.Wherever you go, there you are.

There’s no escaping yourself.  We may refer to travel as ‘getting away’ but the only thing we leave behind is the landscape.  Yes, we halt our daily tasks and forget our worries for a time, but we take ourselves, our essence, with us.  What we fear at home will continue to plague us. What we love will comfort us.

2. Everyone has something to teach you.

Everyone we’ll ever meet knows something we don’t.  It’s up to us to seek out the lesson.

  • The taxi driver in a chaotic city may teach you how to trust and release control.
  • Dependence on your travel companion to interpret the language may teach you humility and patience for those who struggle to communicate in your own language.
  • Observing your humble host family who gives freely despite their meager earnings may poke at your pride and make you reassess your consumerism.

3. We’re all the same

People may look different and sound different, but behind the costumes and customs, we’re very much alike.  We all feel the feels of life and speak the universal language of emotion – fear, worry, happiness, hope. We each, no matter the culture we originate from,  try our best, help each other, hurt each other, and dream.

 

Going out of your comfort zone is a must if you want to become more than you are – more aware, more humble, more fulfilled.  One doesn’t need to travel far from home to expand, of course. We can find these growth opportunities in our own backyards if we’re open to them.  But travelling to unfamiliar places ripens us for change.

In a literal or figurative sense, I saw myself in every person I encountered in a faraway land.  The beggar and the shopkeeper, the wanting child and the providing parent, the student and the teacher.  The more I allowed my thoughts of separateness to blur, the easier it was to see that we’re all one. And the more important it became to me to practice and promote tolerance in a world that seems so very fractured.

 

How To Stick To A New Year’s Resolution

A woman sat at her desk at 10 a.m. counting the minutes until lunch.  She was staaarrrving, she said, despite the fact that she had eaten breakfast just 2 hours before. Self-deprivation was masquerading as hunger in response to the woman’s decision to give up sugar entirely, thereby prompting her refusal to partake in the customary mid-morning coffee and donut run.

I took a step back in case she decided to take a bite out of my arm.  I’ve seen this level of desperation before.  It follows the January 1st festival of resolution-setting that can create misery amongst otherwise happy, even-tempered humans.

Resolutionists have good intentions to better themselves, but many make the mistake of declaring war instead of transformation and end up embattled with an enemy they can’t defeat.  They decide that they’re somehow failing and they plot a course of action so extreme and unfriendly, they can’t possibly sustain the motivation to pursue lasting positive change.  It’s as if they’re running away from themselves, leaving behind the person they are for the better version they want. 

But we can’t outrun ourselves.  Wherever we go, there we are, judging and shaming and should-ing all over ourselves.  If we fail to prepare properly, we find the journey of self-improvement to be  lonely and impossible.  So we turn back, unable to see it through to the end.  Then, of course, we emerge with a new reason to be disappointed in ourselves.

If we want to create meaningful change, we have to change our personal stories.  Instead of running the script of defeat in which it’s sooooo hard to lose weight, or to break a habit, we begin to introduce compassion. 

In this softer story, we love ourselves enough to change eating habits thoughtfully and gradually; we  resist temptation by showering ourselves with simple comforts and words of encouragement; and we muster up the same patience with ourselves that we would grant to a small child who’s learning a new skill.

The secret to change is love, plain and simple.  (If you snorted bitterly when you read that, take a breath.  It’s truer than true.) When we meet ourselves without anger and resistance, we find compassion instead of contempt.  Via the loving way, we encounter no enemy within, no destructive thought to sabotage our goal.  There is only kindness, pulling us along, picking us up, and making us feel like the better person we want to be.

Change can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be fatal.  Now that January has come to a close, I hope to find all of my friends in good health and spirits – unbeaten by their own austerity, and unintimidated by the smell of a donut.

Moments

 

 

moment   

[moh-muh nt]                                                                                                                      

noun:  an indefinitely short period of time; instant:

 

that moment when

love

moves in.

 

that moment when

forgiveness arrives

at last.

 

that moment when

the ugly duckling

sees the swan

that is her.

 

that moment when

life leaves.

 

that moment when

his eyes shift

from light to dark

and you realize

with dread

what it means.

 

that moment when

the new mother

is born.

 

that moment

when the silence screams.

 

that moment when

Truth

unlocks the gate.

 

that moment when

IT

ends.

 

that moment when

you release the need to know why.

 

that moment when

you decide to say yes.

 

that moment when

you realize that the pain

is gone.

 

that moment when

joy returns.

 

that moment when

you finally understand.

 

that moment

when you acknowledge

that the only thing that matters is

this moment.

 

What a tasty morsel this moment is.

How To Raise Great Kids

raising-kidsA friend with young boys said to husband and me, “All I know is that I’m taking notes because y’all have great kids.”

If she only knew.

If my friend had any idea of the battles, tears, and transgressions that have been suffered on the front line of my family, she might not be as complimentary.  Or would she?  She, too, is fighting the good fight, showing up every day as a parent, armed with love, lists, laughter – whatever she has in her arsenal of tools.  She knows that parenting isn’t glamorous and that kids are far from the polished specimens we present to the world.

There are too many factors involved in parenting, too many individual histories and personalities, to define a ‘right way.’  But I want to offer my friend a guidepost for the inevitable times when she feels lost and discouraged.  For the times when she forgets that she has done, and is doing, great things.

Allow me to present my parenting manifesto. It was written after offering a desperate prayer:  “Dear God, help me not to mess this up.”  It reflects on basics – a long list of parenting wishes and intentions whittled down to the few points that I consider non-negotiable.

DO NO HARM:

May I have the consciousness to build up rather than break down; to guide and discipline rather than command and punish.

HONOR INDIVIDUALITY:

May I parent each child in a way that honors their uniqueness and makes the most of their potential. 

May I never make assumptions or goals for anyone other than myself.

PROMOTE SELF-SUFFICIENCY:

May I abstain from doing things for children that they can do for themselves.

May I raise confident, responsible beings who struggle less in the world because I had the foresight and strength to let them fail.

CARE FOR SELF:

May I remember to spend resources on myself so that I may not resent those I care for.

May I remember to sleep, take a time-out, deposit in my own emotional bank account, and smile at myself every day, that I might be a better parent.

BE HONEST:

May I refrain from the convenience of untruths to support my agenda.

May I fearlessly share enough of my life experience to illustrate the human condition so that my children will walk into the world with eyes open and minds prepared.

BE RESPECTFUL:

May I refrain from condescending to my precious little ones. 

May I show them the respect that they deserve, even when they are disrespecting me.

RETURN TO LOVE:

May I find compassion in the face of negativity.

May I replace frustration and anger with love.

May I always remember my one true organic intention: to love my children unconditionally, and never miss an opportunity to demonstrate it.

Children are clean slates when we receive them at birth.  They need us to bring our best game to the job of parenting. A parent’s only hope of inscribing a legacy without regret is to consciously and sincerely step into the challenge of parenting with open eyes, a generous heart and a flexible mind.  I wish all fellow parents clarity amidst the chaos, and a love that endures forever.

Deb

Feedback or Criticism? Your Choice.

I’ve been told that yoga is the gateway to self-realization. Me-thinks this is a ridiculously tall order for a stretching and breathing routine. And yet, I can’t deny that magical things (not always glorious) happen when I practice.

Enter Yoga Bitch – a tyrant of an instructor in a Barbie doll body. I purposely avoid her classes because of her uber-corrective style of teaching. I prefer a more subtle approach – the kind that favors ‘come as you are and do your best.’ But here she was, filled to the brim with critique and ready to release it with fervor.

Her perpetual corrections to each student amounted to a barrage of noise in my head that threatened to fracture my composure and release the hateful thoughts swirling around in my head. As my annoyance escalated, I tried desperately to force benevolence. But so convinced was I of my rightness and the teacher’s wrongness, that I couldn’t concentrate.

‘This is a test.’ I thought. ‘FOCUS!’

The harder I fought to block her out, the greater my anxiety.

Yoga Bitch broke protocol and began circling the room like a shark which further deteriorated my resolve. I feared for her safety as I imagined an unrestrained Hulk emerging from within me. Then the unthinkable happened – she TOUCHED a fellow yogi!

A quick disclaimer followed – she wouldn’t touch a student unless she had known them for a long time and had his or her permission. Note to self: don’t become too friendly with yoga instructor.

Assuming that my fellow yogi felt as agitated as I did for him, I glued my attention in his direction, expecting and maybe even hoping that he would lash out at her and send her scrambling back to the front of the room where she belonged. Instead, he softly and sincerely said, “Thank you.”

Thank you?! Cue the scratching record sound. I could hardly believe my ears. Did he mean that sarcastically like, ‘Thank you sir, I’ll have another?’

I froze in my posture, stunned, while my brain flipped over, showing me the other side of the coin.

Tails: She’s so critical and annoying.
Heads: She’s trying to help. Say thank you.
Tails: But it’s not helpful. I don’t want to say thank you.
Heads: Don’t be childish. It’s for your benefit. Just make a different choice and you will find peace.

The ability to reframe my perspective so completely and with such speed came as a sort of shock. One second I was raging and the next I was mollified, simply by choosing a new thought.

I’ve been known to preach that everything in life is a gift for which we can be grateful – even criticism. Hadn’t I just told my 12 year old as much when she complained that her English teacher’s review of an essay was unfair? It’s so easy to hold onto pride and so difficult to swallow it in the name of self-improvement.

Later that day I tried my gratitude trick on other difficult situations. “Thank you,” I replied to the boss who micromanages my work. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

Choosing this response, albeit with an experimental amount of sincerity, changed me. There was no resentment or anger or impatience for this person or the situation. And it changed the woman’s response to me. In the absence of defensiveness, both sides were free to be kind. My appreciation for her ‘help’ generated an in-kind donation of gratitude for all my ‘hard work and commitment to growth.’ Go figure.

I’ve read that a good yoga teacher will show you the way toward yourself. She cannot bring you there. You must find your own way. And should you run into your shadow along the way, you’ll know that you’re on the right path.

I’m not going to lie and say that I suddenly love being critiqued. But I do have a more mature appreciation for it and a sense of gratitude to those who are brave enough to dole it out. Which simply means that my beloved yoga studio, and the world, are (for now) safe from the defensive beast that is me.

The Scenic Vista

scenic vistaA friend who is ahead of me in the parenting timeline predicted that my first-born would return from college with a grateful heart. The distance from home and family would create the necessary space for a paradigm shift. And so it happened in the form of a letter.

‘Dear Fam,’ it began. ‘I never realized….’

Principessa, overflowing with new-found insight, detailed aspects of our family values, traditions, and relationships like a seasoned philosopher. She thanked us for our support and expressed pride in our family. I was humbled by the sentiment. But the real reward was a section on self-reflection in which Prinicipessa’s blossoming confidence shined through.

She listed an inventory of attributes that have served her well in her first semester at college – her ‘toolkit’ she called it. It included communication skills, resilience, self-worth, humility, responsibility, hopefulness and faith – all of which she attributed to parenting skills.

When I recovered my tear-soaked eyesight, I breathed a sigh that I might have been holding onto for 18 years. Since the onset of motherhood I wondered if I was doing parenting ‘right.’ Even with the knowledge that right and perfect don’t exist, I longed for reassurance that my choices would, at the very least, have a net positive effect.

I’m still on the parenting highway with a long way to go. But this brief return of a college-aged daughter has been like a rest stop with a scenic vista. A chance to get out and stretch my weary self, breathe in the big picture, and offer gratitude for the journey.

I look back on the road we’ve travelled and wonder how we arrived safely at this point. Husband and I knew we wanted to take this family trip through life, but let’s face it, we had no idea where we were headed or how to get there. None of us do. We hop on board with the vaguest idea of what parenting has to offer.

Taking stock from this spot, I realize that this is for the best. No human can trump the trip-planning skills of life. We can prep and plan but life will take us off-road through adventures we never dreamed of.

Like a good geocacher who has found a treasure, before I leave this resting place, I will offer these nuggets of observation for those who trail me in time and space, in hopes that it will ease their journey.

  1. It’s all going to be okay. This is not to be confused with ‘nothing bad will ever happen.’ Trials will arise and roads will be blocked. Each is an invitation. You will either find your way around them or you will crash mightily. Either way, life will go on and so will you. Find comfort in that.
  2. The fact that you don’t know where you’re going doesn’t mean you won’t arrive. Just follow the signs and dare to explore. You have what it takes. I promise.
  3. Love really does conquer all. At the end of the trip, love is all that matters. Loving each other, loving the self, and loving life is the hardest, simplest, and most valuable aspiration in the world. Return to it as many times as you stray from it and it will welcome you home.

Life beckons me to return to the reality of the road where I likely will lose sight of this sweet perspective, at least temporarily. Letters of reassurance from grateful children may be far and few between. Rough travel is bound to surface and challenge my bolstered confidence in parenting. But having reached this point, I can say with certainty that the view is worth the struggle.  Stop and enjoy it when you get the chance.

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