Reflections and Lessons on Turning 40: 10 Lessons that Light My Way

I had no plans for life, much less bliss. It wasn’t always a conscious choice, but I recognize I didn’t intend to make it very far in this life. It was so painful and sometimes felt like I could not remember to breathe, much less live. Often, it seemed taking my own life would just be better. Then the awakening occurred and although much of it was like wrestling through a cocoon of boogery goo, the rebirth has been a blissful (although very messy) internal discovery. As a result of the recognized mess, the lessons I reflect here remain in flux. Some days I completely loose my way and others it seems like there is a special flashlight shining on my path, just for me.

Number One:

I have learned the art of severing foreboding joy’s snakey head. This lesson has been one of the main gifts from immersing myself in Brené Brown’s work. Put simply, the definition of foreboding joy is waiting, even expecting bad things to happen. Worse yet, while experiencing something beautiful, we take it away from ourselves by rabbit holing our minds into scenes from the Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

Creating a gratitude practice is a one way ticket out of the insanity of waiting for everyone to die. Until I started talking about my foreboding joy, I thought I was a nut job! But guess what, other people spend an ungodly amount of time sending loved ones to the funeral home too! Oh, the sweet relief from shame. Thank you baby kittens everywhere!! Stealing your joy can end with a real life practice of ‘thank you’ (just like I did right there thanking kittens around the world). Gratitude jars, journals and consistent acts of kindness are the salve of imaginary and frankly cuckoo-ka-roo death.

Like fo-realz people, I used to not sleep cuz a gang of machine gun wolves were going to bang up our house. WHAT. (Maybe the whiskey drinkin’ wolves from Bugs Bunny were bad for children after all).

Number Two:

I am still not sure I am a good therapist and I am sure I am a mediocre mother. However, neither worry or really bother me like they once did. Because I do know- I AM Enough. I couldn’t say that with confidence for like- EVER. Now, I try to stick to what I know best and I figure I will get called out for my ongoing fuck-ups. In the meantime, I will keep changing and growing the only thing I will ever be good at and that is myself. Our journey is all the control we will ever have and probably why the role of therapist and mother will always mildly allude me. Really, some other people think I know them better than they know themselves? Worse yet, my kiddo thinks I am the bearer of all the survival magic? Nope. Not this girl.

I will try to share what others have taught me and what I have learned in using myself like a life time human experiment with a smidge of theory just for sprinkles. But beyond my own milky way, hell, I don’t know.

Number Three:

Not knowing is okay. I am keenly aware that even after collecting thousands of rich and juicy stories – I still know so very little. I have always liked the myth that we are only using a small percentage of our brain because then I could imagine stuffing it with more crunchy goodness.

Most everything I do know, say or even write did not originate from me. Yes, perhaps I package my life in this particular way, but the glory goes to those before me, with me and even those who have lost all respect for me. My brain is full of other people’s stories, ideas, wisdom and theory. The wisdom I can impart is often built upon the lives of those I have come to love. Throw in some decent schooling for good measure and Presto!- out comes the words from my mouth. If you think my words are witty or clever, they likely came from another. I just decided their beauty had to be shared with you. Other people’s life and wisdom are often the vehicle for the next person’s growth. I am the compost and my existence relies on the squishyness of our lives being mushed up together. Sure, I may be the smelly one that some initially want to gag on, but those seeking change return again and again to make the ground fertile for new planting.

Number Four:

I am accepting the difference between genuinely making a difference and being a famous author. I would like to publish, but one trip into the book store is a scary reminder that I am not alone on this wish. It’s just not a big enough boat to fit everyone. I still struggle with the belief that unless I was the next canary singing Anne Lamott or Glennon Melton, I would never make a meaningful contribution. I am certain that if Kali could help me lop off this hunk of my ego, I would be a happier person. I have to maintain my corner slice of the world- stay in my lane as many of my clients say- and I can have an impact on those I can physically touch.

~And So Can You, making the domino effect the most brilliant part.

Number Five:

Being a trauma survivor is not a state of uniqueness. I get no prize for being the girl who survived sexual abuse. Now, showing up and being vulnerable about my trauma, bravely maintaining my trauma as a part of my whole, now that I give myself prizes for all the time. I believe being a survivor allows me to experience connection with others. I have come to believe (and yes, it is biased) that every therapist would benefit from having clinical expertise in trauma because it IS the red thread of humanity. It is a rare sighting of a human being to not experience some form of trauma. Perhaps that sounds horribly nihilistic, however, I believe in those moments of inevitable drowning, lies our own personal salvation. Yes, you like chocolate, cats and yoga just like I do, but to know your deepest heart is to be present with the shame of existing. I want to hold space and more space and EVEN more space for that which makes our hearts crack wide open. I believe holding space is our super power.

Number Six:

I know for sure the trauma of being invisible is one of the most painful to swallow. So many of my people grew up NOT getting the physical smack around or severe punishment with belts for breathing, but instead were treated as if they didn’t matter by the people that mattered most to them. Physical abuse may have been sweet relief from being touched by nothingness. And as I witness this on a larger scale, I sometimes loose sight of my own ability to do good. It seems sometimes the majority culture has adopted the belief that if you exist outside the norm, you are just invisible. Treating another human like the underside of garbage is a perfectly acceptable option. I can barely tilt my head in that direction and I certainly did not fully understand the culture of invisibility until my clients taught me how it exists inside the family system. Deprivation is real and it is a kind of mind fuck like no other. Whether found in the petri dish of the family or the discourse of the public, it is one thing that readily clenches my heart and lungs- leaving me fearful and breathless.

Number Seven:

I am pinpoint clear about what I love. I am totally oily on how to keep my focus on it, but damn do I know what matters to me. I struggle to be brave and rise from the stringy mess that I often create from my own stagnate emotional starvation. I am clear I know what water trough I am refusing to drink from. I see the beautiful marble at the bottom of the creek, but Damn! I will not go in after it! For example, it literally took me two years to get my shit together well enough to figure out my part in a relationship. The belovedness of my relationship never wavered, however, my ability to sift through the sewer of my mess paralyzed me.

Number Eight:

I like being on the fringe of normal. One mentor said, “We gotta learn the rules so we know how to break them.” I wanna go my own way and although you may find me bitching about being found out as the ‘different’ one, I recognize that I prefer it. I would benefit from following along when it’s in my best interest and I continue to seek out balance. I do tend towards weed whacking my own path when the declared one may be useful. So I keep my colorful hair and personal style both in life and in the therapy chair, but I am learning to listen a little more to those wiser than me.

Number Nine:

I am in the frightful stages of stopping myself from sounding like a know-it-all. I believe others need our love and support and especially our presence, but only when asked do they need our advice. I totally get that as a therapist I am by default being asked to share some possible wisdom, otherwise, I gotta learn to shut it. I trick myself into believing I am being helpful. People generally already know what is best for them. Hell, I honestly believe being a good therapist is the simple act of reflecting back a person’s best Self. Really. Everywhere else, this lesson is still bitter on my tongue. I still throw up my fancy fix it words and worse, when someone else does it to me, I am irritated! And why? ……Because when we do this unsolicited diatribe of pretend helpfulness, we are judging the other person pretending “to help” and are essentially saying that they are too dumb to know what you magically do.

Swallowing the bitter pill and shutting up…..to the best of my ability. Perhaps I can report some more growth here at 50.

Number Ten:

I have come to believe there is no greater gift than being emotionally awake. To be able to stand outside of myself and know I may not be like living at the Ritz….Hell, I am sure my partner would disagree it was like living at the Holiday Inn some days~ Still, I get me and I am full of gratitude for being able to get into the balcony and watch myself interacting in the world. It is why it remains the ONLY thing I can confidently write about. All Other Things. Just Fuzz.

The glorious part of not designing your life at such a young age is the ability to forgo having to tear down a shallow house. I never dreamt about being a rock star or saving the planet. Sure, I have vision now, but perhaps some can be simple reflections in the water. Some may grow into the painting of my life. Others will ripple on by. I do know; the story is not over. Maybe, just maybe I can be a lantern on another’s journey and offer my light as a reminder that their story isn’t over yet either.

Here’s to beautiful 40 and possibly 40 more years of wisdom to come. Here’s to all of us who have chosen to stay and say ‘the story isn’t over’.

 LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

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In Thanksgiving: Meet The Jesuit Volunteer Corps of the North West

How many times have you heard from earlier generations, ‘Today’s young people’…..followed by some diatribe about the loss of everything that was once good in the world? Well, spend a little time with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps of the North West (JVC’s) and your spirit will be renewed.

Recently, I had the distinct privilege of sharing the Daring Way™ along side my friend in Washington with these courageous young people. We traveled to remote cabin camp grounds at the base of a mountain. Picturesque- to say the least.

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Of course, if you are traveling with Me- You WILL get lost. At some point we ended up in a national forest faced with the decision to cross into private property or an area that was so wooded the truck would not fit. My friend wanted to stick to a moose siting story, but getting lost appears to be a part of my everyday plan. I think it also reduced my anxiety about glamping (glamour-camping) because being closer to civilization than originally thought was not as scary.

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Facilitating the Daring Way™, utilizing the work of Brené Brown, is a gift unto itself and with JVC’s was no less special. Each time I am suppose to come to the table with my gifts as a facilitator, I always feel sure I gobble up WAY MORE than I give.

The JVC’s have made the decision to give a year of service in communities through out the North West and work tirelessly with underserved populations. The JVC’s are a subsidiary of Ameri-Corps, which works through out the entire United States in needed communities everywhere. My days as a member of Ameri-Corps were challenging, but the development of character and wisdom do not compare.

The commitment and drive to be present and show up for those that so many have forgotten or want to pretend do not exist is at the epitome of love and grace.

If you have lost your way- have forgotten what is good and beautiful in this world, perhaps am unsure of what to be grateful for today, spend just one day with these glorious spirits and you shall be renewed. I watched as they broke bread in their simple abundance of presence. Pure- crystal clear presence….smiling and dancing in this joyful grace together.

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At times, I was envious. There may never be a time again where such a connection exists. I did everything I could to simply remain present in their joy…..but it was impossible, at times, to not want to bottle it up and keep it in a sparkly sniffing jar for later.

Now, it would be a major loss to not honor the strife and heartache that comes with giving up so much. Imagine giving up your home, the majority of your things and trade in your life for one where you live with a group of strangers, have no car and literally (dependent upon where you are placed) trudge in the snow during the winter. It can be extremely difficult to live away from family and friends, much less trying to decide who amongst six other people is going to keep the bathroom clean. Add in long hours and often intense work creates a kind of sacrifice that many would be unwilling to consider. But, a JVC makes a conscious choice to be a vehicle for change. To lay the compost, making the ground fertile for those who often live a life in barrenness.

There is no doubt the work is transformational. To witness it is a blessing and a reminder of Thanksgiving. So, if you have forgotten to face the sun- if you have forgotten about the youthful goodness that thrives in our world, just take a peak at the JVC’s of the NorthWest. Take a long deep drink of the spirit knowing there are people in the world doing the work of the people.

THIS ~This is what holds up the world when you think your house is burning down. Give of Yourself and YOU will be forever changed. May a moment of gratitude on this Thanksgiving Day be in gratitude to the JVC’s of the NorthWest and to all of those who choose to give of themselves in their lives. For myself, the JVC’s are transformation in motion ~what a stunning site. Today, I give thanks to the JVC’s for giving me a little peak into your lives and renewing my spirit in all of humanity.

NAMASTE

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http://jvcnorthwest.org

http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/americorps20

                                                                        LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

The Spiritual Path To Good Enough: Sermon October 26th at High Street Unitarian Universalist Church

Please Consider Joining Me on Sunday October 26th, 2014 @ 11:00am

in Macon, Ga at High Street Unitarian Universalist Church

 

The Following is My Sermon Blurb to encourage your presence: 

 

I invite you to consider taking a long deep breath and ask yourself this simple question, ‘Do I see myself as good-enough?’ I believe answering this seemingly simple question begins with listening to that small inner voice from within and can lead us along an eternal spiritual quest.

We shall examine together the path of whole hearted living through the work of Brené Brown. With more than thirteen years of research under her belt, she answers what I consider our #1 life struggle- our never seeing ourselves as GOOD-ENOUGH. This process begins by letting go of the emotional armor of perfectionism and pretension and leads down the path to vulnerability. Vulnerability is the vehicle to connect ourselves to a life of authenticity.

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P.S. Wear Your Dancin’ Shoes 

 

LIVE. OUT. LOUD. 

The Golden Rule is NOT a Fixed Position

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I am having the time of my life! You would never know it by the Ass Whoopin’ I’m taking at times.

Who says ‘ass-whoopin’ and ‘time of their life’ in the same sentence?

Some days I am certain there is seriously something wrong with me. Then I remember, I have decided to lay down my House of Armour and LIVE. OUT. LOUD. At least for today. Tomorrow may not look like this, but today I chose to stand on my values and allow myself to really be seen. I can’t believe that I’m actually saying that I’m having the time of my life to be honest with you. I am choosing to dare greatly by facilitating my first Daring Way™ group with such beautiful people. I sometimes want to scoop them all up and take them home with me to my family. Other moments, I want to run away screaming out of fear that I will never measure up because I am too young, sling around too many cuss words and listen to weird music. (I always envision myself running away in my kelly green dress with my hands flailing and of course trip because I have on three inch nude heels).

But a moment keeps grabbing my attention while processing through group session after group session (Yes, us therapy-heads can’t live with ourselves until we process the process). Someone suggested that I not reach out to someone privately in the group because the side conversation would be too time consuming. I really had to think on that. The question really became, ‘Where is MY time boundary?’ ‘What am I willing to put in?’ Interestingly enough, my reasoning for not reaching out in that moment ended up having nothing to do with my boundary issue around time, but instead, the need for the work to remain in the group. Something very important would have been lost if it took place off alone, somewhere else.

I often say that I genuinely disagree with the golden rule. So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (Matthew 7:12) What my boundary is around my time, how I spend my money? Who I would consider a friend?….the list goes on and on are invariably so different from one person to the next. Who says that I am right and they are wrong? There are so many areas of gray in our lives and what may be a meaningful boundary for one person may be a violation for the next.

 

So where does my boundary lie around time? While I was deciding whether or not to take the time to reach out to this person privately, my mind kept going back to one thing…..

When I was in college I had befriended a group of physicists. (Don’t ask, other than I was a closet nerd and had NO idea). I had the coolest friend, following my mental work out with him as my tutor.  His name was Joe and I was the supplier of girls to his physics parties, because, well….You know. There weren’t many girls.

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Just that year Joe got a new roommate named Donovan. He had recently lost one of his best friends in a terrible accident. His friend was hit by an 18 wheeler while changing his tire trying to make the trek to California. I had no money, certainly little time and I really did not know him but a few months. But I went to the book store, used the few bucks I had for the end of the month and bought him a sympathy card- it had some cute little sappy puppy on the front of it. I wrote in green pen (don’t ask me why I remember).

Next month Donovan and I will celebrate 17 years of being together. He says that card sparked something in him and when we spoke of it this week, he still gets a big cheesy smile on his face and mutters on about how special it was to him.

It is such a funny thing, this time boundary. I don’t want to be that person that forgets my family and friends birthdays (although I am not so good at it). I want to remember to send sympathy cards on the year anniversary after a family member passed. I want to leave love notes on your car and send kooky cat messages on sad, hard or just lonely days. I don’t want to be that perfunctory girl who just sends out the perfunctory message wishing my friends a happy fill in the blank day. I want to take the time. I want to share my piles of party crap and stay up late making sure some order gets out on time. And sometimes, when the vulnerability dial is high, I am going to take a chance, step out of my comfort zone and share myself with someone new.

I want to leave my legacy as being that kind of person who made you believe

you really mattered, because you do.

And No, I don’t expect the same back. The golden rule is not a fixed position.

So, I am having the time of my life….me and my ass-whoopin’ group. I keep leaning in and listening to where my boundaries work for me, listening carefully as my group dares greatly, voice their boundaries and maybe….just maybe…..We will each decide to take the time to dial up the vulnerability.

LIVE. OUT.LOUD. 

 

The Trickery of Perfectionism

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I recently attended an event where I was faced with questions about my own worthiness. Could I walk into the room and remain present, be who I really am? Or would I slather on the paint of perfection? It can be seductive to make your life ‘look good’ to the rest of the world. Hiding mistakes and getting mired into the need to appear like you have it ‘all together, all the time’ is flat out trickery, both for you as well as others. The very idea that a road to perfection exists sounds more like hell than anything I have ever considered. Yet daily, I hear people fearing they did not do something perfectly, that they are not the perfect person and must continue to trudge away until they finally check off the box:

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When we attempt to follow the path to perfection, a core truth emerges. We see ourselves as not worthy of love and belonging. We fear so intensely that if anyone, even those closest to us, knew who we really were, everyone would believe that we are not worth being loved. So we hide behind pretty cars, perfectly manicured houses, sweet smiles and starched dresses at church on Sunday morning. We paint the perfect picture to everyone around us, even to ourselves, in an attempt to hide the fact that we are flawed, imperfect and maybe even worse, that we struggle.

It can be rather annoying as a therapist when others expect me to have the answers to every relationship question. I must have the “perfect family, perfect child and the perfect life.” Whenever I hear that, I stick out my tongue and feel like I must be swallowing vinegar. Perfectionism is an unattainable, magical place much like fairies and superheroes. Frankly, I want nothing to do with unattainable. Instead, it is healthy for us to find our way towards good enough. This does not mean relinquishing ourselves from goal setting or making plans about our future. But, if we do it with the expectation that perfection is necessary; we will inevitably be left feeling alone, unworthy and unsatisfied with our results.

You might be wondering what I did when faced with the question of fitting in? As adults, we are challenged to not shrink and become small, or race in and try to gobble up all the feelings of not fitting in, thereby forcing ourselves to become someone we are not, trying to be perfect. Well, the truth is, I struggled. I allowed myself to become small and wanted to just disappear. I did not remain present as my truest self. Although I actively work on seeing myself as good enough, that moment got away from me and I shrank. I allowed myself to operate from a place of unworthiness and my best self did not show up. I am imperfect and I struggle. When we see ourselves as good enough, a mistake does not lead us to place that puts our worth on the line. Instead, when I left, I emotionally chewed threw it with the people I love and reminded myself of these words I created that are now an art piece in my home:

In Our Home………

We Honor Vulnerability

Teach and Practice Compassion

We Cry, We Give BIG HUGS…….

We invite Beauty in being Ourselves

We are Imperfect

We are Good Enough……….

All Who enter……shall receive our GIFTS

May we each strive towards our best selves; flawed, sometimes troubled and full of struggle. You are good enough, just the way you are. You are imperfect and therefore beautiful, because you struggle, just like me.

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Miss Judgy Pants Needs a Life Line

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I have committed most of my adult life to my growing edges. Despite the painful realizations that come with learning about an area that needs growth, I am eventually grateful after much kicking, screaming and (possibly) a few self loathing, angry rants. Needless to say, the growing edge I am about to share with you – is far from being done with me. It may never end. Blech! is all that comes to my mind.

 Many months ago I spent a day out with my friend and at the end of the day I saw that she posted on FaceBook (Yes- it really is the devil sometimes) that she felt she needed to be more positive and stop focusing on saying so many negative things. Of course, I was concerned I may have been playing a part in speaking from a negative place and frankly felt it was right. But- of course, I didn’t really want to listen and allowed myself to get distracted by the next pretty FaceBook picture.

Then, another event. A few weeks ago I was hanging out with other friends. I made many different judgements about the game, what the band and others were wearing and told several personal stories about how other people were not self aware whileI, obviously was. My friends laughed at my “jokes” and agreed with me on the problems that other people had. More than half way through the evening it just hit me. I can’t say if it was the way my friends acted towards me- maybe they grew weary of my complaining and acting like I had all the answers. Maybe I could hear myself for the first time and all I heard was an egotistical whine that started making my head hurt. What ever it was, I quickly dove into a positive story of how a local waitress, who recognized me from my TV interviews, tried to pay for my lunch after she asked me a personal question. I simply encouraged her to listen to her intuition. But, was my happy-happy story just trying to ice a cake made out of mud?

Holy Shit! What kind of person do I think I am?? REALLY? I think I am SOOOOO special that I can call out- by name– other people and judge them? I was reeling from this realization and worse, out came the shame. I told no one for a week. I typically sustain my shame resilience by talking to my inner circle just as soon as possible. It had been a long time since I had considered growing shame by silence.

To give myself some credit, I have grown in this area immensely. Before waking up to my life and growing from victim to survivor, I was asleep. Hhuuucchheewww……HHhhuuuccchhheewwww…..I lived my life without clarity, compassion or connection. I wallowed in negativity and I was my own worst target. I participated in a level of self hatred that resembled an inner demon. Judgement was my middle name. I was an ugly person.

Here is how things tend to go now:

I have an interaction with a person or a system and it does not meet my expectations. I become angry and sometimes even enraged. I find someone that is safe, someone who has earned the right to know my story and then, I emotionally throw up all over them. I hop up and down believing those initial moments of anger give me the right to be judgmental. Judge. Judge. Judgy Pants. Whew! I can get on a roll if I let myself.

But I never stay there long. I work hard at watering my empathy and compassion. I put emphasis on expressing gratitude and like any good therapist, I reframe what has happened, seeking out the nugget of goodness that always exists. The struggle lies in that I have been such a strong believer that bottling up the frustration and anger is not in my best interest. But seriously, if you heard me, I sound like a self-righteous bitch. The truth is I am not better and the more I judge, the more I act like I am separate from others.

Finally, the week passes and I tell my spouse my revelation. And like much of the good wisdom I learn in life, he called me back to some of the Buddhist principles he actively works on himself. He told me that when I talked about what I was experiencing that to maintain what the buddhists call “right speech” and “right relationship” I would speak what I was feeling- what I was experiencing. It could relieve that struggle and keep me away from judging others. For example, someone does not follow through with an agreement. I can talk about feeling disappointed and hurt, even angry, but that every statement I made about what I perceived was true about them (and inevitably negative) was just an assumption. The only thing true is what I am feeling. Everything else is me ranting with my judgy pants on.

 I am shaken. NOW WHAT DO I SAY? I thought my bestest friends were suppose to hear me bitch and moan. How do I successfully relinquish my feelings without judgement? I can’t keep acting like I am separate. Because the truth is I am separate from nothing and at any time, I could be that person that made that awful mistake. I have been that person that someone else is hopping up and down about to their best friend.

 So I need a life line. I have studied and read and studied Brene Brown’s work. But if I could call her up and ask her to help me understand how she successfully gives up judgement, I would be a happy girl. Give me the formula (or better yet, an elixir)!

Among my favorite phrase’s of the beloved Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is, “NO MUD, NO LOTUS.” So today, I might be making mud cake, but perhaps one day a lotus will bloom and I will experience more success in practicing loving kindness rather than judgement. 

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