We Need People!

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I sat down on Sunday and added some social events to my calendar. I need to get out and meet new people. I need to be with people. I started my own Meetup Group, and while it’s slow in getting started, I’ve already made a few new friends. I even decided that I needed to get off dating apps for awhile. I meet a few people that way, but it’s mostly texting, and to be honest, it takes a lot of time to date. And when I’m dating, I’m not making time for meeting other people who can be a part of my tribe. I think I’ll put dating on the back burner for awhile – at least from apps.

It’s so easy to just kill time when I get home, cook dinner and workout. I can get caught up reading the news or listening to podcasts or even reading a book. And one day I look up and it’s been days or even a week or more since I’ve conversed face-to-face with another human being.

At work today we had a Halloween party. It was the best Halloween party I’ve ever attended at work. I think everybody in our organization dressed up. And I felt so happy. Instead of us all being head down in our computers or running from meeting to meeting, we took time to laugh and grab cookies and talk to each other about our costumes. Everybody said it was the best party we’ve ever had on the floor. I think we needed it. I know I did.

So many people lately have been telling me they are depressed. The fact of the matter is I feel a bit depressed, too. Regardless of how I feel politically, it’s depressing that our country’s people are so divided. It feels hopeless to hear talk of nuclear war. I feel anxious about my future, my ability to retire and my ability to afford health insurance if I ever do retire. It is within the realm of possibility that I will have to work until I’m very old. It makes me sad and scared and depressed.

So I’ve been doing all of the things that I know help me when I’m depressed. I’m exercising, running, meditating, doing yoga when I can and making myself get out and meet people. I would like to say I’ve been watching my diet, but, unfortunately, I’ve been partaking of Halloween junk for two days. I’ll get back to it, but it wreaks havoc on my mood. It’s turning colder, so I need to ramp up my socializing so I don’t just curl up on my couch and wake up in the spring with a horrid case of the blues.

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My friend and fellow blogger Laura… we are video conferencing tomorrow!

My friend Laura blogged today about the importance of being around people. For me, too, that message has been popping up everywhere. It reminds me that I need to make an effort to talk to people. It’s so easy to just text or interact on social media. But it’s sort of like dating for me. If I spend all of that time on social media, I’m not out making real friends and building my tribe. It’s just not the same.

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I know that there are hormones that are released when we react with people in person. (You can read more about it here.) Oxytocin is released when we touch others or feel close to them. Oxytocin boosts serotonin which relieves depression and reduces fear. And I know when I look into another person’s eyes, and we share a laugh or a personal story, I feel this wash of something really amazing come over me. It makes me happy. I feel less alone. I feel totally present and engaged in my life. Maybe that’s oxytocin. Maybe it’s just a feeling. But, whatever it is, I want that. And the only way to get that is to get off my couch and make an effort to create it. So, I gotta go. I’m headed out to meet some new people…. yes …. on a Tuesday.

 

 

Embracing SandCastles

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This morning’s meditation was about holding on to sandcastles. Being human, we have a natural tendency to build and create things that last. We have some notion that committing to something means that we can stop it from never ending just by sheer force of our will. We think that building sturdy strong structures can somehow be a legacy for generations because of stellar engineering. We think that once we have the right job, the right car, the right partner or the right bankroll, we are set. We forget that the only thing that is permanent is plastic. (But that’s another blog topic altogether.)

The longer I live the more I am informed by the Universe that everything changes. I was joking with a friend yesterday that I’m on my 8th house. This is the 8th one that I’ve OWNED. This doesn’t count apartments, roommate situations and other temporary living arrangements. Before I bought my first house, I was consumed with worry about the commitment of 30 years to a house! How did I know I’d want to stay that long? What if something happened to my job and I couldn’t pay for it? The worry was insane. Now, I know if something changes, you can just sell it. Sometimes it’s not easy-peasy, and sometimes you lose money, but money, too, is easy-come-easy-go.

My teacher on my meditation asked me to remember when as kids we built sandcastles on the beach. Sometimes we spent hours and hours and built really elaborate sandcastles on the beach – always knowing they would disappear by morning if not before we left the beach. We did not cry over leveled sandcastles because that’s what the ocean does. We knew it was impermanent. It was the effort and the moment that mattered.

This year has been a leveling of many sandcastles. Hurricanes, earthquakes, the mass shooting in Vegas, the tearing down of the “administrative state”, and raging wildfires are leveling and continuing to level the sandcastles built before them. Costly, painful and consumed by loss our nation staggers through the ruins. Some faces are streaming with tears. Others raise a fist and say, “yeah… tear it down,” often proclaiming that an angry God is bringing justice. Some blame someone else while others wearily search for a scapegoat. “What is happening here,” we all ask with some level of urgency?

Is what we’ve built here on this planet a sandcastle? Is my very life a sandcastle? What wave will overtake us and wash us into oblivion? We have to let go of the outcome to remain sane. We have to accept that all things must pass at some point. But, in the meantime we have to remember that the effort to build and rebuild and refine and create is what makes us tick. Creating and loving and nurturing is what we do best. We must know that we are merely building sandcastles …. and yet we must somehow once again, find the will to create …. and then probably watch them wash away.

 

 

Getting 10% Happier

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I deactivated my Facebook account again today. Honestly this last time that I got back on it, I haven’t really been doing much with it. I’d check it once a day and maybe every now and again post some pics of Ashok or my weekend. But my heart wasn’t in it. Facebook has lost its luster.

I’ve been doing other things with my time. I listen to podcasts, read the New York Times and meditate. I’m meditating anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour a day – not all at once, but it’s still an hour. I do several short meditations a day. It makes such a difference in my feeling present and grounded. So, when you take away that hour a day and my exercise time and my podcast and news listening time, I don’t have time for Facebook anyway. Besides, the meditation does seem to make me a little happier.

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On one of my regular podcasts, an author was talking about her book about taking your life back from your smartphone. She had a three day challenge that got me thinking. I can’t find the article right now, but I know that day 2 challenged me not to take any pictures with my phone and day 3 I deleted the most addictive app on my phone. I tried the challenge, and it felt really good. I was more present. I spent more time talking to people, and I even got bored once or twice. I haven’t added the app back (it was Facebook), and I haven’t resumed taking pictures constantly. That has affected my blog media library, but I’ll get back to it if I can find a way to control it.

In the words of my meditation app 10% Happier, I felt happier after the challenge. It might have been 10%. It could have been 9%, or it may have been 15%. I don’t know how to place a percentage on it, but I felt happier. I kept the habits. And with that little push, I’ve been looking for other things that will make me just a bit happier. After a bout of insomnia, I hypothesized that cutting out coffee would make me happier. That REALLY made me happy. I drink green tea now, and I don’t experience the roller coaster of energy that coffee gives me. That made me probably 15% happier. Two weeks later, I decided that cutting out sugar again would make me happier. It has. I even went to Chicago this weekend and without coffee and sugar I was in a great mood at the end of the trip. Score. I’m probably 20% happier now.

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I was on a roll! So, when I checked Facebook this weekend I found myself getting irritated and depressed. I had to ask myself whether or not this activity was making me happier. It wasn’t. When I noticed this morning that scrolling the news feed for a minute or two put me in a bad mood, I decided that it was time to add a little more happiness to my life. So, Facebook is history, too. I can’t wait to see if this really makes me happier.

With all of this stuff making me happier, life is going pretty well. I don’t know where percentage-wise I am on the happiness scale, but I’m definitely trending in a positive direction. I think I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing.

What would make you 10% Happier? Do that.

 

 

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.

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: 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.