Sunday, February 23, 2014

And whatever you do, let the air out of the balloon as you go along

It's the weekend and I'm recovering from the week that was. Friday felt like Monday and what a joyful surprise it was when I could remind myself that it was in fact, Friday.

Let's just say that a couple of the Really Important People in my life were dealing with Big Stuff that threw us into a crisis mode. You know how that is. Coasting along and BAM, you get ricocheted into another orbit temporarily or forever. It's hard to concentrate on anything other than the crisis because dealing with those details becomes all-consuming.

By now, things are pretty well sorted out. And I'm hugely relieved. It's just that I forgot to exhale. You know, slowly, instead of all at once.

I'm the kind of person, and maybe this resonates with you, too, that when I am in The Zone of Crisis, I tend to be so laser-focused on what I need to do to get through the crisis that I forget to exhale and release the built-up stress.

Friday afternoon, I ran into a good friend and her teen who had had an accident. Nothing serious at all, but not comfortable by any means. The teen began to cry as Mom told the story of what had happened. And because I am who I am, I cried too. My friend said, "Don't worry, these are tears of release, letting out the stress of it all."

My p-shrink gets out the trusty balloon when I have those moments of complete overwhelm following some sort of big deal that requires a ton of my energy. He blows air into the balloon and says, "This is the energy, positive and otherwise, going into this balloon, into your situation. If I let go of the balloon, it depletes all at once." And the balloon goes whizzing around out of his grip. "If I let a little air out in increments, I can continue to hold on to it and control it." The other danger is where I used to be. Just keep blowing up that balloon, just keep holding on to that stress and adding more as you go, until the balloon pops.

I'm getting better at it. I do recognize that. But I often fight back those tears of release earlier in the midst of the crisis because I have some kind of belief that looking strong in the face of it all will somehow scare off the crisis? That it will convince me that I am strong enough to deal with it? Silly. I know I am strong enough. More than.

It's about honoring our emotions. Letting them come up, feeling them, and watching them subside. Because eventually they go if you let them leave. Often we are so scared of feeling something that might be perceived as negative or hurtful that we try to ignore it, stuff the emotions down with food, drugs, alcohol, shopping, (fill in the blank of your favorite means). If we just allow the emotions to come, experience them, and then let them go, then the emotion no longer holds power over us. If we ignore them or use other means to repress them, then those emotions control us.

I continue to learn and continue to put these lessons into practice in the heat of the moment, because that's when it really counts. I know all these things, and so do you, it's just actually remembering to do it. Noticing the signs of tension and the need for a healthy release rather than a toddler-type tantrum will help you deal along your way through crisis mode or every day issues that can put our panties in a knot. Let the air out of the balloon gradually as you go. (You know I am saying this for my own self, right?)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Making sunshine in the depths of winter

From the depths of January (must give credit to Jonna who first wrote that very descriptive phrase) into the depths of February. When one wakes to -12 F and the view from the porch looks like a freezer seriously overdue for a defrost, we are talking about "depths" on many levels.

It is nearly impossible to be anything but in the present moment when it is this kind of bone-chilling, "Little House on the Prairie" kind of winter. One may have a vivid imagination and can go to their "happy place" in their mind, but I think that might take some level of Zen mastery I have yet to accomplish. I've been following a ten-day series of saying yes to the simple and extraordinary beauty that constantly surrounds us. Being aware of what our senses are currently taking in is one way of being in the present moment.

Senses sensing...

It's just plain cold. My eyes see cold. My nose smells cold and the little nose hairs are freezing together. (the tried and true test to determine if air temp is below zero) My skin, what little is exposed, feels cold. I like winter. I do. I will gladly take a foot of snow in exchange for this kind of cold. SubZero is a fridge, not my kind of climate.

Days like this I hope to see sun dogs in the morning skies. I marvel in the sparkling of the snow and if I get a glimpse of the cardinals in the yard, all the better.

But even this Pollyanna is starting to wish for a slow thaw. Still six weeks until spring break, so in the meantime I'm defying winter blues by taking a long weekend to see dear ones and have a change of scenery. Granted, Iowa's west coast will look highly similar to where I am right now, but a little windshield time is good therapy.

Find something this weekend, wherever you are, to warm up your days. Make that coffee date with that friend you've been meaning to catch up with. Bake something - even if it is pre-made cookie dough. Plant seeds for a windowsill garden. Knit something. Put on your favorite dance music and shake what your momma gave you. (No one's watching so get over yourself and work up a sweat!) Snuggle with a special someone.

The point is, make your own warmth until Mother Nature catches up. What will you do to generate some heat?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Another chance

It's a snowy New Year's morning in Iowa and it fits with my desire for a fresh start. A new layer of snow, a clean sheet of paper, a blank canvas, all ready for us to make our mark. I've hung my new calendars - a lovely Carl Larsson art calendar I received as a gift and the functional on-the-fridge one that kinda keeps track of our family.

My grandparents, Pearl and Lester, were married on New Year's Day. A lovely and symbolic gesture of a new beginning.

It is a human concept, after all. This idea of calendars and ways of keeping time is something we've created, so why do we allow the turning of the year to have such power over us?

For those of us at a certain age, the concept of time is ever-present. We are beholden to our daily lists of things to do that we must schedule time with friends and time to play and time to just be. At the same time, we notice the dramatic march of time as we watch our children and grandchildren and our parents, and ourselves, grow.

And while today is just a Wednesday and tomorrow we return to work and school, there is something about that calendar of 365 days. How will those days be spent? Who will we spend them with? What do I want to be sure I get to do this coming year? Go gently with that or you could be totally overwhelmed, just saying.

What I hope you will consider is becoming more aware of the little things that make you smile, that make you think, that make you wonder.

"We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential."
-- Ellen Goodman

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My most dreaded question at this time of year

It's just days before Christmas and again I realize that it has come upon me fast. Things to do, things not yet finished, the thrash that this time of year can be is here in full force.

I have enjoyed this Advent a lot. The making-room-in-your-heart part of the season. In lieu of checking off items on the to-do list,  I have been spending time with people I care about. I have been knitting chemo caps. I have been reading a good and racy novel to a dear friend a chapter a week. I've been doing satisfying work at my job. I have learned a great deal about myself and those I love. I have enjoyed time with my kids. I have kind of bucked the trend.

Last night, I had a young man appear on my doorstep. "Good evening. I'm with the National Atheist Society and I have a brief survey I'd like to conduct with you."

" No thank you. I support what you are doing, but I'm not interested in answering questions tonight."

No. I am not an atheist, but I am probably alot more closely aligned with him theologically than with some of my other Christian brothers and sisters. 

Would he have asked me if I am "ready for Christmas?" It's a common conversation thread at this time of year, like chatting about the weather. I choose to answer this one carefully when asked of me and it depends on who is doing the asking. Do you mean that all my cards have been mailed, my shopping done, presents wrapped, cookies baked, house immaculate and looking like a Better Homes and Gardens spread?

The follow up question as we return to life after the holiday is, "Did you have a good Christmas?" Does that mean that everything went exactly how it was planned? All Norman Rockwell, everyone minded their p's and q's and everyone was delighted with their gifts and we were with ours? 

Here's the thing. That place within us that is yearning to be touched isn't touched with gifts and food and stuff and cookies and reindeer and Santa.

As a child of the 60's, I grew up with "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In fact, in my copy of the book, there are notes written for me when I read the passage from Luke 2 as a little girl during a Christmas program. Charlie Brown is increasingly frustrated, depressed, and disillusioned about the commercialization of Christmas. Yes, even in 1965 when things were supposedly, simpler. He is about at the breaking point when he turns to his friend Linus and asks, "What is Christmas all about?!" 

And Linus replies, reciting these ancient lines from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter two.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them,

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

"So there you have it, Charlie Brown. That's the true meaning of Christmas."

 Wait. That's it? No Christmas cards? No spritz cookie recipe? No obligatory obligations? No gift buying/wrapping/opening? No watching my beloved, "White Christmas?" But it isn't Christmas without these things!

Or is it?

Monday, November 25, 2013


 I've been participating in an online meditation challenge the past couple of weeks. These are always hugely transformative. 

Today's thought was so timely. In the practice of learning to be present, one must learn to let go and trust that things will work out they way they should for everyone involved. This means I don't always get my way and I have to be ok with that. There is a huge amount of trusting the unknown in this practice. That is really challenging for me because my mind wants to know what is ahead and to be able to lay a path to get there. Rarely is this possible. Often this approach sets us up for disappointment that things do not go as we had planned. 

Here's what Deepak Chopra said in the lesson today. (And if you are following this same meditation, I'm a couple of days behind .)

"When we hold tightly to a goal, we often find it to be elusive. We may say to ourselves, “I want this so badly. I can see my goal. Why can’t I reach it?” The answer lies within the fine art and practice of detachment."

"As we detach from the outcome of whatever we desire, we let go and gently surrender to the wisdom of uncertainty, which holds our freedom from the past, the known, and the limitations of any preconceived notions. In our willingness to step into the unknown, the field of all possibilities, we give ourselves over to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the universe, trusting that what we desire will come to us."

Some of us have expectations and plans for a lovely holiday this week. We hope that Uncle Ron doesn't hit the wine too hard, that our mother-in-law will be a gracious guest, that the tension between family members is lessened, even for one day. We hope that all our loved ones will be well and happy, that the men are all strong, the women are good looking, and the children are above average (with a nod to G.Keillor).  Detachment says, don't try to orchestrate this, just let it unfold as it will and love it for what it is. 

There's our focus for the week, and weeks, ahead. It's about letting go of our own expectations to allow it to just happen. This is important stuff. Time to show up. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Must Be Present to Win

This past week, a friend made an observation that was pretty powerful for me. I was told that I was "present."

What exactly does that mean? It can mean being readily available, in the moment, not thinking of the past or the future, open to whatever comes next.

One of my best skills has been to leverage the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you can do it, you can. If you want it, you can work for it. There's no such thing as luck, but making it happen. Taken to extreme, this can be seen as controlling or even manipulation. For me, it has been my way of getting things accomplished.


I've been working at being present these days and for me, that's no small feat. This requires a willingness to be open to opportunities as they present themselves rather than focusing on my personal agenda. It requires letting go, of being detached to an outcome, and that involves trust that things will work out for the best. For me, this spells out as vulnerability, which when chosen intentionally takes a great deal of inner strength. (Dr. Brene Brown has a lot to say on that subject.)

I have come to realize that my willing things to happen, making things happen, and yes, forcing things to happen, has been an effective defense mechanism that has provided a very false sense of security. This approach has not entirely served me well because crappy things still happen and the adage, "Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it" rings very true.

I'm not saying that working hard for goals and going for what we want in life is wrong. Far from it. Motivation and hard work is the sweat equity we put into what we achieve in life. Nothing is handed to us and doing what it takes to make it happen is important.

But there is a balance, like everything else. When I focus with laser-like intensity on my own agenda and I don't allow myself to be present to possibilities, I am viewing the world through the peephole on my front door and keeping the door closed.

Being present is also being mindful of the little everyday miracles that life provides. The beautiful frost on the window this morning. The warmth of my little house. The comforting smell of brewed coffee.

Being present is a gift. If you are struggling with finding something to be grateful for in this week of gratitude, see where you can open yourself to the possibilities that surround you. You may be very surprised by what you find when you allow yourself to just be.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Super Powers

It's that time of year. The full court press to New Year's Day is truly underway and to me, it just seems to add a layer, a heavy sodden woolen blanket, on top of the usual everyday march through The List of Things to Do.

Reflecting back on the week that was, I continue to be struck by this notion of my own super powers. Granted, sometimes, super powers are truly needed. This week good people of the beautiful City by the Bay where I think my whole family left its collective heart this summer, truly did not disappoint. When the going gets tough, the tough turn out to play with a darling five-year-old boy named Miles who wanted to be a superhero.

Didn't see the tape? Oh, my. Stop everything and do so right now. Here's just one of a million links.

Honestly, I think he avenged evil simply by being adorably cute.

The SFPD Commissioner deserves an Oscar, no doubt, and even the President of the United States PLAYED along with Miles on Friday afternoon along with thousands of his neighbors. Incredible.

Thing is, this little guy has been a superhero all along. And yesterday, everyone who played along became one, too.

You have superpowers of your own. You know that, right? It may not be as extravagant as what Make a Wish pulled off yesterday - but even small acts of kindness delivered in the right way can have enormous influence. Let Miles and all his playmates inspire us to realize that we each can make a difference in someone's life every single day.