In my work, I hear a lot about transformation - either someone expresses a need to be transformed or that something has transformed them or they have observed it in another person. I myself have felt the same way. But what I have come to realize is that the "transformations" that actually seem to stick, are the ones that have actually "restored" parts of me.
Many of us can feel the desire to remake our lives - to be someone different - to feel different. Oftentimes, this template for who we want to be comes from observing those around us – what we like or don’t like, or what we desire. This can be good information to have. People are, after all, mirrors of ourselves.
But how do we take the inner aches and callings and how we see the world around us to support lasting restorative change?
The process of restoration involves reclaiming parts of us that have been lost to us. Messages about who we should be (or not), success, money, power, beauty --- it all gets piled on top of that delicious, juicy, amazing you! That “you” is your birth-print. It is what you came with. It can NEVER be taken from you. Making your way through all of that stuff requires loving friends, mentors, tools (a flashlight helps!), a sense of humor, and an open heart.
Sometimes some structure and the support of a community can go a long way, too. Here is a community that might speak to what you are looking for (click on the link) - restore, reclaim, renew, recharge!
Today, of all days, to step into the murky waters of love feels almost absurd. Body aching and tired and navigating some tough, emotional waters, I am wondering if this juxtaposition of love and struggle may be exactly where I need to go today - couch bound and rain falling. It is probably one of those absurd jokes that reality seems to play on me at times. "Can you fall in love with yourself and your life, in the midst of this? Can you?" -- it seems to ask.
The tide of my mind rises and falls over the course of hours between peace, self-loathing, peace, anxiety, peace, bliss .... and back again. bell hooks, author and activist
, has written extensively on the nature of love. "Love", she says, "is an action, never simply a feeling". Action, for me, implies deliberate, conscious, intentional, and creative acts. Whether it be putting acts of love out into the world or into my thoughts and body, love becomes energy in motion. But what about when we run into that sticky spot - the expectation of a return on the energy? I wonder if this expectation is in part what makes it challenging for us to maintain a loving stream of action toward ourselves? What is the point of loving ourselves - where is the exchange? We often want affirmation. Or in relationships with others - how do we love when it isn't returned in the way we expect it? David
Whyte states in his piece entitled "Unrequited",
that love "is an invitation to courage and generosity where no easy immediate return seems evident, where what is given can only be received by the person we will actually become through loving itself"
. This quote has been eating away at my consciousness for some time now. Who do I become through loving the "unlovable" or that which has no guarantee of affirmation or return - be it in another or within me?Who do I become through compassion and love in action towards that which struggles and aches within me?An "immediate return" is oftentimes an expectation that comes with the territory of being a human residing in North America. Many of my colleagues talk about ways to create change for their clients that involves one trick after another for giving you quick fixes to getting the love or life you want. Don't get me wrong,
I love some of the tools out there that can open new pathways or new understandings that allow energy shifts to take place, sometimes very quickly. If the act of love were in fact as essential to life as breathing, food, rest, or water,
how might we engage with it? How might we live it? We don't question thirst or hunger, typically. Could love take on the same essential qualities for us and possibly set us free to become who our cells and biology are hard-wired to be? What a different day this could be if I were to allow the acts of love to be as simple, basic and essential as the breath.
What is your first impulse, your first thought, when you read that word, "waiting"? For many of us, it represents the potential for frustration or being held back. It can be loaded with thoughts of what we don't have or are wanting - either something to be over with or something to obtain. I am in this strange waiting free fall at the moment. I have been for some time. Change often involves waiting. Waiting for:
The waiting was not initially a conscious choice for me. It came out of the painful forcing of solutions. My version of what the outcome should be was left incomplete and scattered and, ultimately, all "action" would grind to a halt. This happened enough that I finally gave in. Well, maybe more like - surrendered. I heard..........."wait, just wait".Our society does not tolerate waiting well.
- parts of ourselves to reintegrate
- the pieces of the puzzle to be revealed
- a lover to make their way back to themselves
- your fingers to release the last bits of an old story or relationship
It's tempting to prioritize our lives in ways so that we look busy and productive. It makes us appear "oh so worthy" of the weight that we carry around like a badge of honor. We can commiserate over how hard our lives are and how much longer my "to do" list is than yours! Moving slowly and consciously can often imply inaction and laziness in some circles, let alone to wait or to consciously choose restoration and repose and, dare I say, doing nothing. Doing nothing is a viable and worthy choice. Doing nothing, watching events and people unfold, can be a revolutionary practice. You get to realize how free you really can be. Here is the kicker, however - initially, it can be scary as hell (remember the free fall?). But I promise you it's worth it.One simple practice can make a profound difference.Notice the breath. A meditation teacher of mine would say, "lead with the breath and the mind will follow". My breath provides an anchor for me, a focal point in the midst of the internal storm that can brew when my impulse is to fix something or force a particular outcome. If you are reading this, you breathe! Every breath is an opportunity to come back to ourselves and ground. Every breath is a chance to remind ourselves that we are whole. Every breath allows us to be still and listen. Here are a few suggestions:
Then watch how "doing nothing" creates miraculous clarity.
- Pick one activity (brushing your teeth, starting the car, making your morning coffee) and before you begin, take one minute to notice your breathing.
- Take 5 minutes a day, preferably the same time every day, and sit and notice your breathing. Notice the edges of your nostrils, the rising and falling of your chest and belly.
- Before you eat every meal or snack, take one deep, cleansing breath.
- When emailing, before you write it, take a deep breath, be still and notice your breathing. Do the same before you send it. This can take all of 15 seconds.
I love preparing for workshops and retreats
. It always gives me an opportunity to take some extra time to re-visit my own issues around the topic we will be working with.
Food. Body.Being enough.I have spent a good part of my life on the "how's my body lookin' today" seesaw. The balance was oftentimes precarious, the slightest challenge throwing me off and sending me into the land of daily weighing, binging, withholding, or some combination of the three. It didn't matter whether I was a size 12 or a size 6. Sure, I might have a reprieve in there somewhere from the self obsession, but what I have learned about food and our relationships with food, is that the plate sitting before me or you on the table or the bag of chips in our hands, is a reflection of an inner ache and hunger that we are trying to fill.
It is the vehicle, if we choose to climb aboard, to finding the peace we have been seeking our whole lives.We have to eat every day. How perfect! Each day I am given the opportunity to explore me. Where am I? What is calling to me? What do I ache for? Consciousness. Falling asleep is something that our society encourages - move faster, find solutions, move on, multi-task - yes, you heard me, falling asleep. A lot of our activity, eating, working, and "playing" has been
structured to keep us from being conscious. We eat in the car. We eat when it's 12 noon, not because our body says we are hungry. We keep our children "busy" taking them from one activity to another. We work to the point of exhaustion.
In this video, Geneen Roth
, talks about "the voice". I think of "the voice" as being part saboteur and part protector. It sounds like our voice but in truth is an amalgam of all of the authority figures in our lives. It keeps us vigilant, yet, at the same time, avoidant of feeling what is really going on inside of us. Describing what can happen to us when we overeat, for instance, Geneen Roth says, "I'm afraid to feel what I'm feeling, so I'll tamp myself down and eat." The problem, she said, is that "most of us don't know don't know how to feel our feelings. We're afraid of them. Usually we think we're going to fall apart if we allow ourselves to feel."The "voice" is there no matter where you fall on the scale. I can remember feeling the truth of this when after a long illness, I lost quite a bit of weight. I didn't "try", it was a result of what was happening in my body. Initially, I felt like, "well, it sucks being sick but at least there is some benefit to come out of it". But over time I began to notice something. There was this tiny window of comfort before the "voice" started in again. For instance, friends with whom I would share our mutual struggles around weight started to make comments. I was no longer on the same team.
It became shockingly clear what an impossible task it was to please everyone.
It wasn't long before I found that being enough, feeling loved, and speaking my truth, were knocking at the door again. My size didn't fix that. So, what is your vehicle of choice? Food, money, sex, illness, relationship --- it's all there. Consciousness. Becoming alive.
"Is this how I die?", I asked myself yesterday. I was in the bank, overcome by perfumes, off-gassing of new carpet, and in the midst of some version of the off and on story of an adrenal disorder, when I felt my old friend --- panic.
The question, "is this how I die?", was not what first came to me. My first thoughts were, "oh no, how long will this last?", "what if I make a fool of myself and lose my insides or hyperventilate?" - your basic "shit storm" that arises out of the drama that plays in the mind.
But then something very different happened. I connected with my breath - noticed my nostrils, felt the rising and falling of my belly, and a new thought arose - "Paula, sweet one, what if this is how you die? What if these people were the last people you got to see? What if this place was where you are to draw your last breath?".
Curious. I suddenly became curious and my heart got very big.
I began to really look at who was around me. I observed how hard the tellers at the windows were trying to accommodate the needs of all of us in line. I noticed the different ways the women spoke - the curve of their smiles, the colors of their clothing. I noticed that one woman in line had waited so patiently, just to get two fives in exchange for a $10 bill and I thought how gracious she was, given that she was overlooked initially.
I got to my teller and I watched her work. Again, I let the question return - "what if this is how you die?" - and I found myself wanting to know her story - what makes her come alive, is she in love, does she ache for something. I was surprised by this.
After finding I did not in fact die but returned to some sense of wholeness, I returned to my car. I was struck by one thing in particular, leaning into dying did not bring with it a need to hear one more thought from me - I did not feel compelled to talk about me, to take up more space with the "me" story - I did not need them to know me.
No, what I really wanted was to see them - I mean REALLY see them.
"Who are you, my friend in death?"
In my time of dying, I wanted to be more present to those around me. I wanted to feel the aliveness of the connection from one to another and this became more important than the drama of me.
I am reminded of Oriah Mountain Dreamer's prose poem - The Invitation
. When I reached the teller, there was a desire to meet her eyes and tell her -"It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children."
Was this the kind of morning she had had? I wanted to know what deep reservoir of strength might she have had to connect with today to come to work? So much life in this dying. So much.
Today, is a new dying day.
Hmmmm. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said that to me.....well, let's just say my savings account might have a bit more "umph" to it than it does at the moment.
There was a time when I worked very hard trying to fit into the "norm" of society which tends to value highly driven, highly social people. Trouble is, I would do it for awhile only to crash and burn later. For most sensitives, they need regular down time - time alone and quiet - to replenish the well.
I now spend a lot of my practice working with both women AND men who, although they may not come to me identifying as sensitive, come to value and celebrate their sensitive constitutions. I have respected the work of Dr. Elaine Aron for a long time. In this short video
she explains some of the characteristics of highly sensitive people (HSP's). You can also check out her self test
on her website
. From the video -
HSP's may find that
- they are sensitive to pain, caffeine, or medications
- they have rich inner lives
- they startle easily
- moods of other people may affect you
- they were labeled shy or sensitive as a child
- they overstimulate easily
How to work with our sensitive sides -
- work with your past
- give yourself more down time
- work with your self esteem
- you may need to help others understand what they can do to support you
I would like to add that this article of an interview of Douglas Eby
gives some examples of the incredible gifts that go along with being an HSP.
- sensitive to detail, beauty, meaning
- emotional awareness
- greater creativity and empathy
To me, these are some phenomenal traits to be offering the world and our communities. Let's value ourselves and our sensitive children enough to be sure we keep ourselves healthy and whole. Let's make space for "filling the well" so that we can use the best of our HSP gifts to help create rich and thriving communities!
I turn 50 this year! How amazing is that?! At one point in my life I had the notion that 50 years would bring about solutions to all of these big and fancy problems I thought I had. Anxiety for instance - by 50 I was going to have it licked! But an article
got me thinking about and revisiting where I stand with anxiety at this point in my life.
I find the topic of anxiety to be one that folks in the coaching and therapy field can talk about forever when it comes to how to help our clients but admitting to our own struggles with that nasty gremlin can bring with it some real resistance. The impulse can be to project an image out there that implies we have got the key - we have it figured out. Yet, what I notice is that without realizing it, we are perpetuating this myth of anxiety being something that is best left in the closet. Shame
can cause us to drive experiences and feelings that we deem to be unpleasant or unacceptable, underground.
So how am I facing the ebbs and flows of anxiety and where do I find myself at this ripe and beautiful age of 50 with this uninvited guest?
First, I have learned that facing it and naming it diminishes its power. This practice of naming the struggle has been essential to my healing. Pretending that was is happening, isn't, causes the anxiety to either grow or find expression in ways that can blind-side me. White-knuckling it through a challenging event can leave me short-tempered and armored when dealing with friends and family. Naming the feeling gives me a point to address.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that we take a bath in the anxiety. That doesn't serve anyone well. But giving yourself a point of focus does allow you to get more clear about what it is - am I afraid of being judged, found unloveable, lacking? When we begin to examine the layers we can then go in with our toolbox - tapping, TAT, guided imagery, journaling, mindfulness/meditation, calling a friend that gets us, speaking to those parts of ourselves that are fearful.
I was born into a family that seemed to be hardwired for anxiety. I accept that there is some neural pathway in my brain that says - "wait, don't we always take the path that says, THE SKY IS FALLING?". However, and this is the biggie, that no longer defines me.
As the article suggests, addressing anxiety can require work. I like to define it as a treasure hunt - a walkabout. Both can involve shedding unwanted or useless baggage which can be like shedding skin - uncomfortable, foreign. But what if we could realize that process as yet another pathway to our divine natures? What if anxiety is a mis-identified enemy of our true natures? Remember Gollum of the Lord of the Rings? Gollum brought Frodo to his best self. No element of his nature was left unturned. Gollum and all he represented brought Frodo out of the comfort and limitations of how the Shire defined him and into a truly glorious version of himself.
Anxiety is my Gollum and I have found ways to understand its presence - why it's here, what it is trying to tell me. It is no longer something I have to hide or run from - this in and of itself is liberating and soothing.
Being 50 will not bring with it a magic pill that will relieve me of the reality of anxiety forever. Just as Frodo had moments of wishing he had never found the ring - that he could go back to his old life, I too can become uncertain of where my inner journey will take me. However, there is a reluctant partnership that has developed between "Gollum" and myself. When I get an invitation to look more deeply, I do.
Huh, and you know what? -- Strangely, I think that is incredibly AWESOME!
Where are you in your life right now when it comes to friendships? Do you find yourself longing for deeper more meaningful connections or are you the kind of woman who has had those tried and true friendships for years that have withstood the test of time? Some of us may be somewhere in between. But why talk about friendships when we are in our midlife years and beyond?
Well, I found myself with all kinds of thoughts and questions about women and friendships after reading an article
this morning on the challenges of making friends after age 30. I appreciated the author's honest reflections. However, my own experiences have been different.
I was raised in a large family with three older brothers and two younger sisters. I seemed to navigate the relationships with men and boys with greater ease. Little time or space was made for the feminine in our household. Although I was often mesmerized by the complexity of the interactions of women and girls, it often left me confused and uncertain. As a girl, it was easier to connect on the hockey field than to make sense of the rules of the school corridors.
As an adult, I shifted my focus to relationships that kept me at a distance. I became the caregiver or the "go-to" person for friends to unburden their worries and troubles but the relationships were often one-sided. Fortunately, in the midst of all of this, I had children and found my oldest, and dearest friend. We met at a La Leche League meeting when our eldest children were 3 years old. They are now 26!! To my friend's credit, we have stuck it out together through a tremendous amount of effort on her part. I am not always the best at staying in touch. Through all of the changes in our lives, this woman has remained a generous, compassionate, fun, and accepting friend. When my day sucks or a celebration is in order, she is often the person I call.
But I have become a firm believer in spreading the wealth when it comes to friendships. One bosom buddy just won't cut it for most of us. Partly because we cannot expect all things from one person. What I have noticed is that for some of us, two to three close friends are enough. But there are also those of us that like a nice, big tribe of women in our lives. Neither one is right or wrong - I believe the point is to find what fits our constitutions and to make sure we have deep and authentic relationships.
We now know that what women have been doing all along - "tending and befriending"
- is essential to our mental, spiritual and physical health. I know that for me, the illness
was a wake up call -- friends became essential to my recovery, in fact, I truly believe that it was the love of the old and new friends (yes, new friends, even after the age of 40!!!) that were instrumental in my full recovery.
Whatever you do, allow yourself to take the time to nurture an old or new friendship today. Your immune system will thank you!
Today, I had the good fortune to speak with a man who has spent a good chunk of his professional life mentoring young men. But more importantly, he is a man who has done some deep and challenging work towards becoming more fully awake and alive. On the phone we talked about how many young men are feeling lost and uncertain about relationships, jobs, and where they fit in the world.
So many questions came up for me --
- How do we engage these young men?
- How do we create space for them to share in the healing of our communities?
- Where are the men to mentor them?
- How do we as women, mothers, sisters, friends, and lovers, support the full expression of who they are becoming?
- And how, as women, do we maintain our own integrity, health, and autonomy in the process?
Through conversations with the young men in my life - clients, my son, his friends, and the sons of my friends - I see a sense of confusion - which can be both paralyzing and frenetic. At times, it can look like lethargy, at other times, an almost manic movement from one activity to the next. I don't know that Philip Zimbardo
is so far off base when he talks about young men feeling as if they are "a stranger in a foreign land"
. The statistics he quotes are startling.
Where do we turn for the guidance around how to support these young men? One need only turn to the headlines to see how desperately we need to engage young men in creating healing change in our communities. As women, I believe we have seen this coming for a long time and we have been desperately trying to save them. Although our efforts were with the best of intentions, I don't know that we have always done what is best.
As a mother, I find that the balance between safeguarding my own life force and nurturing another's can be precarious at times. In part, I believe this is what illness
has taught me to do more successfully. The way I have chosen to nurture my son's passage into adulthood has gotten me into trouble at times. Sometimes I overstep, sometimes I hang back too far. The answers have not always been crystal clear.
But I believe that as a community there are some essential qualities that we must embrace when lighting the way for young men.
- We must give them an outlet for their authentic voice - this comes through regular, meaningful, heartfelt conversation with a strong dose of listening.
- Make room for the men in their lives - in all honesty, I know that I have been guilty of stepping in and trying to manage the relationship my son has had with his father.
- Embrace the divine feminine in your own life - let her shine!
- Embrace and explore your divine masculine - honor what it gives you.
I get the feeling that this is very much the tip of the iceberg of the conversation for me. I am still a little uncertain of how to map out this territory but the diver in me wants to explore the depths because we are being called to something so much more.
I no longer believe that women can or should be asked to do it all - too many of us are burning out in the process.
I would love to hear what people are thinking about this.
How can we as a community come together to listen and learn and bring our young men home?
My bridge of flowers.
I visited it this morning. Sitting on the bench, feeling the breeze, I was transported to a time when chronic illness defined me. I got to remember what different forms bravery, courage, and showing up can take.
I resisted the still voice asking me to return to that time. I wanted to dwell on the present drama, a drama based on any number of different long played saboteurs that had shown up this morning - "suck it up", "when are you ever going to get with the program", "you should know this by now", "a therapist doesn't have these kinds of issues", "spiritual people don't think or talk like this!".
Well, when all else fails, I return to the breath - it always helps me find my way. So, I did.
After some time of stillness, I saw myself climbing on my bike, those 7 or so years ago, bringing my cell phone, checking in to be sure someone would be available if I needed help, and I took off for the 1/2 mile ride to the Bridge of Flowers. I allowed myself to remember the uncertainty of all of it, the fear, and yes, some days terror, because even a small amount of exertion was enough to make me feel like I was coming apart at the seams. This was certainly not the fit, athletic woman I had identified as me for so many years of my life. I had no idea who this woman was or where she had come from. But somehow, every morning, she showed up.
What was the voice that drew me to the bridge today? Maybe it was waking this morning to find the old exhaustion had returned for a visit. It meant no walking the dogs and making my apologies to friends and canceling commitments for the day and possibly the next few days.
I also believe I was drawn there by the part of me that needed to remember that woman. I needed her today - her wisdom, her knowing, her reassurance. I needed to remember the woman that in all of the messiness of that time, showed up and brought with her her own brand of courage. Not in the conventional sense. Not in a way that we typically describe when "fighting an illness" or "surviving an illness" in this society. No, this was how the average among us, the bozos on the bus, do the hard stuff of life. We cry, fall down, get up, see the light, put 2 and 2 together, see it all fall apart, and do it again tomorrow.
I am reminded of an interview
with Stephen Buhner, a well known healer and herbalist. In it, he speaks about his relationship to fear and safety. I encourage you to take a look at the interview
, but in particular his statement that "There is a serenity in not minding the pain, in no longer being afraid of suffering, of no longer abandoning the self. So, I just nurture myself, those deep parts of myself, and never abandon them. Then there is no need for protection."
, resonates for me.
When we nurture the self, we are given the opportunity to let go of the old patterns of collapsing into the shame of being human. We get to confront the impulse to create a drama and fiction out of what it means to be alive. When we refuse to abandon ourselves, we are given the opportunity to integrate all of the meanings of our lived experiences at all levels - cellular, spiritual, emotional - and realize the liberation that it can bring.