Summer … It’s Back!

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For some reason, it’s now in the mid-80s in Michigan. I had already mentally and emotionally moved on from summer. I even packed up my summer clothes and got out my fall wardrobe. My heavy winter coats still hang in the closet upstairs for it’s not time for that yet. It’s time for fall. The leaves are turning yellow, orange and red, and I’ve spent most of my outdoor time in jackets the last few weeks. But, this week, 80-degree temperatures returned with a vengeance. Everyone is complaining up here… and sweating.

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Ashok likes it cooler, too.

I’m not a fan of summer. I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up in Louisiana where summer was present for 6 months out of the year, or if my constitution is just not suited for it. It doesn’t really matter why. I’m just not a fan of hot, humid and extremely long days. I don’t sleep well in summer, my energy flags and my mood tends to err on the irritated side – especially when I can’t breathe.

I have to admit I’ve liked my temperate northern summer more than my southern summers of the last 10 years. The season is very short, so it almost feels novel after winter and a longish spring. And I’ve been productive this summer. I’ve established a solid meditation practice, met many new people who may eventually become friends and joined a book club. In fact, I’ve been so busy living my new Up North life that I’ve slowed my writing pace significantly. I’m distracted … and in a good way.

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Summer vacation in Copper Harbor

The meditation practice has made me more mindful, and I’m working on changing a number of habits. I’ve started running again, making homemade almond milk and have cut out coffee and sugar yet again. I don’t sleep well in summer because the long days upset my circadian rhythm, but my new habits have helped me get better quality sleep. I actually don’t even feel like I need as much sleep as I did before because I’m so rested.

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Summer Road Trip – I think this one is in Holland?

My gal pals at work are complaining about the heat, and I roll my eyes at the thought of the mid-80s being sweltering. All the while, I’m saying “WTF” as the sweat rolls down my face on a 5 AM run. Yesterday, it was very hot with very little breeze, and I was reminded of Louisiana for exactly 5 seconds. “This is not Louisiana,” I laughed to myself. And I thought cooler thoughts.

I’m ready for fall. I’m dreaming of cozy winter sweaters, knee-high leather boots, hot chai and chili. I discovered a shop downtown that makes a mean chicken and sausage and gumbo. I saw it on the menu, and I asked the lady behind the counter if it was good. I warned her I was from Louisiana, so my gumbo bar was set pretty high. She said it was really popular, but she was telling people that it had jalapeños in it until she was corrected. “It’s okra, I think,” she said. “Do you want to try it?” I did and was very surprised at how good it was.

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We have several more 80-degree days ahead of us. I’m visiting my friend Nancy in Chicago this weekend where we will see Hair. Supposedly there’s live nudity. That should be interesting! The concrete will make it hotter still, so I need to get some of my summer clothes out of hiding for the weekend. I’ll need to call on my new mindfulness practice and accept that summer has not yet breathed its last gap. One day in January, I’ll look back at this with longing.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

The Indiscriminate Taskmaster

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This morning I am enjoying downtown St. Joe in its post-summer quietness with a mocha (decaf), the book Quiet Your Mind by John Selby and my sweet Ashok. A chipmunk just raced across the road which perked her up as I dove into Shelby’s thoughts on how judgement impacts others and, more specifically, our own minds.

The first premise he asserts is that we all judge. We see a dark alley, and we judge that it is not safe. We see our unclean house, and our critical minds asserts that we are messy. A friend says that they are $10K in debt on their credit card as they charge up a new dress, and we think to ourselves that they need to be more financially savvy. And we tell a grieving friend that they need to trust God. Judgements keep us safe, destroy our peace of mind and confidence and ruin relationships. I first need to accept that I judge and stop judging myself about that.

I have been judged harshly by others about my lifestyle. People have judged me and condemned me for my divorces. Some people even judge me for feeling and expressing my opinions. In a really odd turn of events, others judge me for working on my problems. It is painful to be judged. And, lately, as I’ve been sinking into my meditation practice, I have become aware of how much I judge.

Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. Experienced meditators say there is no way to do that. Our brain thinks. That’s what it does. Our body breathes. We can’t stop it from breathing either. The goal of meditation is to ground yourself and just notice what goes on in your brain without following the thoughts down the rabbit hole. I’m going to follow them down the rabbit hole inevitably when one interests me, and then I judge myself for doing it. I breathe, and I judge myself for trying to control the breath instead of just watching it flow. “STOP doing that, I tell myself,” as the meditation guide says to be gentle with yourself and don’t judge yourself for going down the rabbit hole.

My mind is a never-ending stream of thoughts and judgements and fears that are at once profound and a meaningless waste of time. One of my yoga teachers said that the mind that tells us to eat the apple pie is the same mind that berates us after we do. We are not our thoughts, and our thoughts are not excellent guides. I would love to study more about what creates our thoughts, and maybe that is something I will research later. Meditation sometimes relaxes me, but it is sometimes extremely frustrating. Following my thoughts can keep me constantly contradicted.

My thoughts are often the reflection of criticisms I’ve received in the past. It’s as if the very words that cut me to the bone get stuck in a recording that plays itself back to me throughout my day.  I feel confident that I was productive and creative, and I hear a disapproving parent telling me that “every time you think you screw up.” I feel healthy after a great run, and a long-ago passer-by says “hey fat-ass!” Luckily, therapy and healthy friends have recorded complimentary messages that counteract my everyday failures as well. When my house is a mess, I hear a good friend’s comment that “your house is your home. You can keep it how you like it.” When I snap off at a colleague, I hear a therapist’s message “No one is perfect. That’s why we have apologies.” The brain, it seems, is an indiscriminate recorder that plays its messages with no particular motive. In fact, sometimes I get two or three contradictory messages at once that can paralyze and confuse me

I’m playing with not reacting to my thoughts in meditation, and I’m finding that I’m playing with not reacting to my thoughts in real life. I’m becoming more aware of the content of my thoughts and my gut reaction to them. No wonder I was being jerked around so much by the thoughts in my head. Without awareness, they are a brutal taskmaster.


“Let’s go for a walk,” I told Ashok this morning. From my sofa the day outside beckoned me. The last 3 evenings have been chilly with temps dipping into the upper 40s. I find it such a contradiction to the southern summers of the last 10 years. I have to remind myself that August is pleasant.

I put on my long sleeves and sweatpants and pack a jacket, my journal and a cup of hot homemade chai. I have my sights set on a particular bench overlooking the lighthouse. 

The crowd for the farmer’s market is still sparse on the bluff. We walk down the stairs just in time to see a couple walking their rambunctious dogs. “They better not get our bench,” I whisper to Ashok and quicken  my pace. 

There is no need to worry. My bench sits waiting for us. A couple near the water is allowing their lab to swim in Lake Michigan. Ashok finds a fly and is busy trying to catch it in her mouth. A couple of seagulls dance and soar against the blue almost cloudless sky. A dredging rig chugs up the river channel and finds its place near the end of the pier. 

Sailboats, fishing boats and runners race each other to the end of the pier. The boats move on into the lake while the runners circle back toward the beach. A group of teenagers run along the shore. The young girl whoops and screams as the cold water hits her feet. Eventually she removes her sweatshirt showing off her small frame and striped bikini top.

“It’s a great day for a walk,” a runner says to a couple walking past. “No tourists this morning,” he says a bit snarkily. I have to laugh at that. It’s a short tourist season between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Throngs of FIPs (f*cking Illinois People) inundate the area during the warmer months. The benefits of being a Chicago vacation spot outnumber the disadvantages as this rural area has great restaurants, shopping and events. But the locals still have a love/hate relationship with the tourists.

Talk at work has been of fall. These first crisp days remind people that summer is almost over. Most people here love fall. My friends are defiantly threatening to wear boots on September 1 no matter how hot it is. Pears are starting to show up at the farmers market, and apples will be following shortly. Without saying it aloud, there is the knowing that we get this place all to ourselves in a few weeks. We have a few weeks or a month until the summer businesses shutter. No lines, no waiting, no parking hassles await us. 

A sailboat floats across the water in front of me. Ashok snoozes. The hum of the dredging rig drones on in the background. Children giggle and scream on the beach as the sun starts to heat up the sand. Paddleboarders make their way across the calm harbor.

The lighthouse watches it all from its perch by the river.  Mornings rise. The sun sets. The crowds grow and at last dissipate. Soft summer breezes make way for winter’s gale force blasts. It freezes over in ice only to see its cover melt in the sun. If only we could be so welcoming and steady during change. But we breathe and judge and sweat. 

It’s Saturday in St. Joe on one of the last weekends of summer. Enjoy your weekend, Peeps. This day will only come around once. 

I’m Not Weird… Just Highly Sensitive

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I always knew I was sensitive. But I was surrounded by people who thought it was a fatal flaw. Toughen up…. don’t be so sensitive … you need to learn to cope with life … you are weak … insults around my sensitivity engulfed me. As I tried to process things like anger, sarcasm, violent movies and interpersonal drama, I struggled immensely.

I became depressed for the first time in my teens. All I wanted to do was hang out in my room, paint my nails and listen to my record player. Something was wrong with me, I told myself. How will I ever cope with my life? Why did God make me like this? Didn’t he know how hard this would be to live like this? I knew I couldn’t stop the “incoming” that was pushing my buttons everyday.

I eventually found alcohol and marijuana and started self-medicating. Of course that didn’t help either, but it helped me check out from the pressure of my overwhelming sensitivity to the world and its impact on my psyche. When I got sober in my mid-twenties, I found myself back in a world where I felt assaulted continuously. I really didn’t know how I would manage. It was just hard to be alive.

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I don’t remember when I found the book The Highly Sensitive PersonI’m pretty sure a therapist recommended it to me. I finally recognized myself, and there was nothing wrong with me. I was just sensitive to my environment. Anger overwhelmed me. My feelings drowned me. I needed lots of downtime to decompress from what others might describe as day-to-day drama. And the author offered tools for self-care and living a normal life.

I don’t know about other countries, but our culture doesn’t accept sensitive people as an asset. If we aren’t tough and in your face, we are considered weak. If I am empathetic to others, I’m a snowflake. I had a coworker tell me once that he couldn’t even have a conversation with me because I didn’t watch TV or violent movies. I feel out of step with society at times because of the way I have to “lock down” the intrusions upon my world. In order for me to show up at work in a demanding job, take care of the many tasks that single people have to handle and manage the many personal relationships that an extrovert craves, I have to be really clear about my needs. I don’t function well when I’m overwhelmed. And I know my limits.

I think I’m a good writer because I’m sensitive. I notice little things that others don’t see. I find the words that describe the smallest details that make life special. I’m a good teacher because I sense when others don’t understand. I’m a good strategist because I see connections everywhere. I anticipate problems at work way before anyone else can see them because I’m always asking questions and trying to understand the needs of others. My affinity for being immersed in my inner life makes me unique … not weird. 

If you think you might be a highly sensitive person, here are some resources for you. If you love someone who is a highly sensitive person, take a look at this material. Understand that there is nothing wrong with them, and they don’t have to “toughen up”. They just need to learn how to arrange their world so that they feel safe contributing. Our world needs more sensitive people. But we are often hiding under mushrooms. Make it safe for us to shine.

Resources for highly sensitive people can be found on this website. There’s even a quiz you can take. If you answer yes to 14 items on the quiz, you are highly sensitive. I had 23! And some areas have Meetup groups where you can meet others like you!

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Listen With Your Eyes

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The circus that is surrounding us today in regards to the Charlottesville events is irritating me. Yes, I am outraged at the event itself. I don’t think I need to add to the mayhem about that. For the record, as a young girl in Louisiana I was always puzzled by the statues in New Orleans. Why are we revering defeated generals who led a revolt against our own country? I, for one, say take them down. That war meant nothing to me except a good backdrop for the fictional novel Gone With the Wind.

As for the rest of the drama and the political fallout, the main thing that comes to my mind is what I learned in Alanon. People show you who they are. I don’t trust people’s words anymore anyway. Words are measured and sifted and sorted to project an image of who they want to be… of who they think they should be. They mean very little and spending time trying to get anyone to say something is meaningless. Even if they finally say it, it rings hollow. Just ask someone to tell you they love you. Feel what it feels like when they say they do. Yuk. Better left unsaid. They’ve already shown you who they are.

I’ve learned to listen with my eyes. Watch what they do. See who they befriend. Is there drama or peace or surrounding them? Are they humble or narcissistic? Do they act out of love or fear? What draws their attention? What motivates them to act? Who or what is in their heart? Where do they spend their money? What do they worship? Does who they say they are resonate with what you see? Is honesty and integrity evident?

Words are a dime-a-dozen. People show you who they are. When you see them, decide how you react. Do you protect yourself? Do you move closer? Do you trust them? Do you fear them? Can you put down your walls or should you build them higher and thicker and stronger? Do they need your prayer? Are they good for you or do they bring you down? Are they dangerous or safe?

Don’t become fixated on what someone says. Watch them. They will show you who they are.

Accepting my Brokenness

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I miss my house in Memphis. That place was so healing to me. The garden was too big for me to manage. The bedroom had no door. The bathroom only had a stand-up shower, so I couldn’t take baths for years. And the sunroom in the back wasn’t very well insulated which caused it to be cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. But that place was fertile ground for my growth as a person.

Be still and know that I am God. That scripture was scrawled across my empty yoga room wall at the front of the house. I’m sure the room was meant to be the living room, but I wanted the front room to be empty except for my spiritual space and those words that grounded and inspired me to stop trying to fix my life.

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I texted a friend of mine this weekend to see how she was doing. “Learning some things about being okay with my own brokenness, and the ability to just sit with that. To love myself with all my brokenness, and accept my humanity,” she texted back. Ahhhh, I thought. Accepting our brokenness … what a concept. Be still and know that I am God.

So much of my life I’ve been driven to fix things … numb my pain … say I’m sorry when I did nothing wrong  … eat to ease loneliness … find a man to fill the hole in my heart where compassion belongs. I didn’t understand that brokenness is the birthplace of wholeness.

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I thought that my heart was a vase that when shattered needed to be superglued to resemble its original form. That was so shortsighted. Isn’t it much more beautiful to accept the broken pieces as they are and create a mosaic. Choosing the most beautiful chunks, we create a stepping stone or a hanging ornament which reflects the sunshine. A mosaic carries the beauty of the original amid the amplified emotion of the breaking. Acceptance of my brokenness … be still and know that I am God.

A man died of alcoholism in that house. That’s how it came to me. I felt that I was a part of its healing just as it was part of mine. That house was empty of furnishings but full of love. Women laughed and cried and sat in their brokenness in that empty space. I painted the walls in many colors and opened my heart to the garden’s lushness. I cried tears of joy and sobbed with great sorrow. I accepted its many flaws without trying to fix them, and the garden endured my lack of experience with landscaping. The space felt huge, and my heart healed.

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How do we accept our brokenness? It’s so difficult to sit with pain and sorrow and guilt until it changes us. It’s much easier to try to fix it or numb out. The easier path is not the transformative one. I don’t have answers on how to accept your brokenness, but I know how I accept mine.

Be still and know that I am God.

~~Psalm 46:10

 

 

Seeing Others as We Are: Projection

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There have been people in my life who offer me feedback and I think, “Who are they talking about?” I get a confused feeling in my gut that tells me that something is wrong. I’ve received critical feedback that is dead on, and it feels differently in my gut. I may not like it, but I know it’s truth.

This feeling in my gut when I hear feedback that doesn’t even sound like me triggers all my codependency urges. This experience is old. It goes back to a time when my motives and my very being were run through a filter that distorted who I was. People who have those filters – psychology calls it projecting – are generally unaware but believe vehemently that what they see in the other person is truth. In fact they are looking at a mirror image of themselves.

I’ve spent way too many hours of my time in these discussions where I try to explain myself or point out the facts in my life that do not support that view. But because they have to believe it to support their own denial, They are invested more in defending their perspective than in the health of the relationship. I usually begin the task I describe as “trying to nail jello to a tree”. It never works. I get exhausted, and the relationship crumbles due to the very personal nature of the conflict.

Projection is so hard to combat because the person projecting really believes that what they are seeing is true. And I know I’ve projected things on to people. It’s sort of a normal human thing, but it becomes even more distorted and dangerous to relationships when people are not self-aware of their own shortcomings. I’m certainly not an expert in this as I’m not a psychologist but I have become more aware of  its impact on my life as I’ve worked through problems over the years. And I recognize it much more readily now.

This article explains projection in much more detail. It also brings up the very real possibility that because someone projects something onto us about their own disfunction many times, we start to believe that is who we are. Words become reality because our inner critic takes up the mantra. Years and years of hearing those words in our heads ends up creating the monster projected. Truth really doesn’t matter. Words do, in fact, kill.

What is the answer if you’ve been impacted by years and years of projection? Find out who you really are, and immerse yourself in that life. Question the criticism of people in your life instead of just believing it without evidence. Silence the voice in your head by paying more attention to the people who see the real you. Stop trying to argue with people who project on to you and realize they will never see you as a person. Get some psychological help or go to a support group so you hear alternative voices that can help you reframe reality. One day you will be able to confidently say, “That’s not even me they are talking about,” and you will truly recognize it.

In healing, you get to create the life you want instead of the one that is handed to you. There is no greater gift.

 

Randomness: Enjoy Yourself

Who would have ever thought we would get old? I look into the faces of my contemporaries and see the lines gathering. Some have been brave enough to go completely gray naturally, while the rest of us keep daring ourselves to stop coloring. The face in the mirror looks older every year, but I still have hope I have a chunk of time ahead of me. But the clock is ticking … TICK TOCK… TICK TOCK…. TICK TOCK.

A few of my childhood friends have died in the last few years, and with each one my own mortality stares me down. “Don’t waste time,” the grimmest of reapers taunts, “I’ll be coming for you sooner than you think.” And the clock chimes yet again.

I decided when I turned 50 I was going to simplify my life and be more mindful of how I spent my time. I’d spent countless days and nights trying to make relationships work that didn’t and wasting too much time on people who didn’t deserve my affections. The time until I turned 50 – holy cow – flew by. I woke up one day and I had no idea what I’d done with my life. I committed to making intentional choices about the rest of my vacation here on earth. When I lay my head down for the last time, I’d like to feel satisfied with my adventure.

While I think this is the BEST time of my life, it’s not lost on me that it feels like the most precious… and perhaps the most fleeting.

“Enjoy yourself,” Doris Day says, “It’s later than you think.”

 

Randomness: Be Unforgettable

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They say that memories are burned into your brain in direct correlation with the intensity of the emotions you felt at the time. If an event happens that doesn’t affect you at all emotionally, there is little chance you will remember it in much detail. If you are abused or afraid or intensely angry or even joyful, you will remember every tiny detail. And in most cases, the emotion will bubble up or even sideline you with a similar intensity when you remember it later.

One of my favorite books is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. He says if you show a genuine interest in people by asking them questions about themselves and really listening, they will tell everyone they know what a great conversationalist you are. The words we speak don’t make the difference. It’s the way we make people feel that makes us memorable.

That knife cuts both ways, too. How do you want to be remembered? Who do you remember because of the way you made them feel?

 

Randomness: Feelings

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When I was going through my second divorce and all of the grief of my life was cascading over me in a relentless torrent of pain, it was all I could do to get through the day at work without falling apart. When I think of hard things, I think of those days. Because I only knew how to repress my feelings, put on a positive face and push through my life, I had let years and years of grief and pain build up inside me.

With the loss of that dream of being happily married, I felt like my world had come unhinged. What in the world was wrong with me that I couldn’t do the simplest of things as to keep a partner? How would I function being single in a world where couplehood is golden? What would my lonely-ass life look like as a single gal? Did God hate me so much that he created me to be an unloveable mess of a person? Was that my journey on this earth? The grief… the fear … the loss of everything I wanted … the rubble of my dreams … the pain of my inadequacy … it was all ….. too …. much.

I broke. The dam that was holding back the losses of my life cracked wide open. The cascade of hurts and fears and insecurities of a lifetime literally knocked me off my feet. Sometimes I’d hold it together at work. Some days I wouldn’t. My life was work, 12-step meetings and weekly sessions with my therapist. I’d trudge up the stairs to my apartment and start crying before I hit the top of the stairs. Locking the door behind me, I’d lay on the floor or on my bed and cry. I thought the crying would NEVER end.

Oddly enough, I look back at that time as one of the best in my life. I was forced to feel. Humans are meant to feel. We are not meant to cram feelings behind a dam of expectations. The pain was so scary because I thought it would never end, but I had people around me that told me to trust the process of grieving. Everything else I had ever believed turned out to be a lie, so I believed them.

So, today, whatever you are going through, know that you are on the path. Trudge that walk you need to trudge. Trust the process. And if all you do today is hold it together, know that I am proud of you. This walk … your unique trudge … is your walk of greatness. Real joy is somewhere on the other side. But for today, enjoy being a feeling, breathing, awesome child of God. Your feelings will lead you out.