Every day, we navigate between things that drain us and things that replenish us. Our health–both spiritual and physical–is contingent upon how much time we spend in each of those areas.
The big drainers are obvious: stress, sickness, sleepless nights, finances. We are usually aware when we are dealing with the big things. But, it’s those “daily concerns” that can get us. If we aren’t careful of how we manage those, we wind up drained, weary, and discouraged. If only those things came with a warning sign.
Well, actually, maybe they do. If we can get quiet, and focus on the present moment, our conscience will likely be warning us. Keep out of this ditch, it will whisper. We may be involved with talking negatively, thinking judgmentally, meditating on tomorrow’s problems, contemplating the “what ifs” of today, embracing the lies that parade as truth, self-focus, unforgiveness, excessive social media.
The bad and ugly come to drain us every day. But there are ways to stay out of drainage ditches. Mindfulness is one of the best ways to do this because it can open us up to our thoughts.
I am learning to be still inside that I might observe my thoughts and, without judgment, gently replace them. I wish I could say I do this quickly every single time, but I am practicing and getting a little better at it.
We get more of what we focus on, so we want our thoughts focused on things that are good and beautiful and authentic. Those kinds of thoughts aren’t our go-to’s. Although we usually can’t control our circumstances, we can always choose our response.
It is in stillness that we will hear the words, “Keep Out. Drainage Ditch.” Kinda like a sign.
Giving it away right up front. Platitudes drive me crazy. Sometimes I (quietly) roll my eyes as I read about everything always working out as intended, always getting what is meant for you, never getting more than you can handle, always being the right time to begin again.
Social media is full of them and sometimes I try really hard to believe, especially in the ones about starting over in life. As we get older, the life we lived day in and out changes. We have to accept the fact that who we are cannot be tied to a thing. It can’t be our jobs, our friendships, our talents, even our families. They all change.
A therapist once asked me who I was after the school I was a part of closed down. I literally had no idea. Am I a writer? Well, that is something you do, she explained. Who are you apart from what you do? Ummm…what are my options here?
It has been about eight years since I’ve had a job, and that job consumed every last bit of my life. I was happy to take time to let my body heal from the stress of that job, along with an autoimmune diagnosis, and a lot of life transition. I needed to breathe.
It was hard “not doing anything” for so long. But the process helped me be at peace with my value apart from external responsibilities. It’s critical to reach that place if we want to successfully move forward as we get older.
I would keep running across platitudes that claimed age didn’t matter. I had been thinking about getting a part-time job, so I was attracted to these starting over ideas. It’s never too late to begin anew, they touted. Whatever we want, it’s all there for the taking. Yeah, maybe.
I wanted to work somewhere that was fun and had opportunity to interact with people. The platitudes suggested I might have a chance.
So I clicked on an application to a popular home and garden store in our town, which seemed a perfect place to jump back in. It required that I attach a resume. Well, that felt overwhelming and I almost closed my computer and quit.
I can do this, I assured myself. Admittedly, my experience had little to do with being a sales associate, but it had everything to do with people. Cover letter? Ok, I can do that too. But I’m telling you…it took some convincing.
The day after I submitted the application, I got a call. Honestly, I was a bit surprised. I thought the platitude might be overstating things just a bit. But, I got a call so what do I know anyway.
My interview is tomorrow and I am looking forward to seeing what happens. The possibility exists that they will say, “Thank you but not at this time.” On the flip side, maybe I’ll get that job.
The difference between a platitude and truth is whether or not they have application in life. I will have to let you know if those platitudes work. By definition, platitudes are trite, over used, and often meaningless. Probably just a placebo at best.
I’m teetering on the line between belief and doubt. It’s just a sales position, but it feels bigger than that. It feels like risk.
“What if I fail? Oh but darling, what if you fly?”
Brene Brown recently asked if we are more interested in being right than getting it right. The answer is, in most cases, obvious. From mainstream to social media, being right is the goal. The only goal.
Rolling Stone magazine just ran a story about a hospital that treated so many ivermectin overdoses that gunshot victims had to wait untreated. It was a horrifying story except for one problem: it wasn’t true. They hadn’t treated ivermectin overdoses and no one went untreated. Woops. The magazine had to issue a “correction.”
For many years, I taught Rhetoric to high school juniors and seniors. If any of them had made that claim without backing it up, they would have seen a lot of red ink. And a grade that reflected lack of critical thinking. I don’t understand how we can teach courses like calculus, but not logic, in our schools. No one looks at the media and observes a lack of math skills.
The truth is that most don’t even notice the lack of logic. I’m not sure what class teaches our kids how to think, reason, build arguments, or critically analyze them. If we want to give an opinion, we simply state it and lump all dissenters into some name-calling category. It’s the same on both sides.
Oh that we could collectively stop, take a deep breath, and agree to some ground rules: One, acknowledge two sides to every issue. Second, every claim must have supporting reasons. The degree to which one’s argument is strong is the degree in which the reasons—and supporting backing–are strong. Third, apply the assumption of good will to others and don’t use vitriol.
And no matter the issue, we focus on getting it right. This most often involves recognizing that information is continually changing, “facts” take time to verify, and everyone has a different ground level of belief. Perhaps we could stop judging people as good or bad based on how their beliefs line up with our own.
Processing life can take a minute. At the core, we are all living, breathing, problem-swaddled people trying to do the best we can. The only way “being right” can work is if we surround ourselves with other “right” people. Ah, the love we feel for people just like us.
But feeling good isn’t love. It’s ego. To truly love another, we accept their value as a fellow human. To accept the vaxxer and anti-vaxxer, the one who is boycotting Texas and the one supporting the state’s ruling, the mask wearers and those who stand against.
I know people in all the various groups. And while the rhetoric on unsocial media is upsetting, the people behind it are likely trying to make sense of life. Perhaps fearful. Likely overwhelmed with it all. Human.
Being right is a quick process. We take a stand and practice name calling and finger pointing. Getting it right, however, is anything but quick. It’s a life-long process of learning to let go of our ego and learning to love those not like us. It doesn’t exclude arguing; it excludes name calling and bad words as substitutes for critical thinking. It excludes hatred.
For those that want to argue their way through issues, perhaps learning how to argue would be a first step. Put a conclusion on a piece of paper. List three reasons why you believe that to be true. Then find two or three pieces of support for those reasons.
I have no idea how to get it right these days. I just want to stop caring about being right. It’s time we examine our motives and decide where we stand on this. Do we care more about being right or getting it right? That question should make us all think.
I was sitting with a soon-to-be 4th grader and discussing the story she wrote about traveling to Vixet, a secret planet near the moon. In it, she described a bird that was red if you looked at it from one direction, but a brownish white from another. I thought it a very interesting descriptive detail from an eight year old—the recognition that we can see differently depending on where we are standing.
She could have had the aliens arguing over whether it was red or white. But she simply observed that it would be different depending on perspective. The parallels to the political and cultural “birds” are everywhere. But my brain can’t get into all those issues. So I’ll stick to my little corner of the world. Because it happens here too.
My life is very different today than the dizzying, packed, full on busy I had a couple years ago. From one direction, I can decide it’s a little empty. I didn’t “do” much that day. In the past, if I didn’t do much, it meant I was sick. It was the only way out of busy.
But today, I walk, garden, read, write, knit, cook, and other things I enjoy. And sometimes, at the end of the day, I conclude that I did “nothing.” When I’m aware, I try to change that conclusion because I really enjoy the slow pace of life these days. If I don’t catch myself, though, that feeling of not doing anything can feel heavy.
I am finding that if I change my perspective, I can change my reality. Heck, it’s MY narrative; I can tell the story of the whitish brown side, or I can move and talk about the vibrant red. From one direction, I did nothing. But from the other, I had the most productive day.
I let my body recharge because yesterday felt busy. I recovered from a night I didn’t sleep well. I gave my body some “medicine” and took a walk in the sun. I meditated and gave myself some mental health support. I read a book just for enjoyment. I tapped into creativity by writing or knitting. I nourished my family by cooking a healthy meal. I fostered calmness with some deep breathing. I poured some energy into my attitude by resting.
This is so much better than answering the “what did you do today” question with “absolutely nothing.” I have definitely given that answer. And I think I made my body a little sad each time I did.
So whether we are on the secret planet of Vixet or sitting in our own backyard, let’s remember that there are many angles to view a “bird.” Being I can choose the perspective, I’m going to choose the one that’s most helpful and beautiful to me. I’m not a big fan of brownish white, so I’m going to make sure I bring vibrant color to my view.
For anyone struggling with “doing nothing’ or coming up empty at the and of the day, maybe it’s time to see it differently. This is also important if we’re looking at the world through the media right now. It’s not all brown and white. Let’s find the color today. It’s out there.
Thank you Gracie, for reminding me that colors can change if I can change where I stand. Even here, on Planet Earth. Especially here.
I was out doing what I do every morning, walking and listening to a podcast. It was a discussion about whether the corona virus was spread naturally or through a lab leak. No agenda, just an understanding of both sides of the argument. As a former logic teacher, we are seriously lacking in this arena.
When it was over, another one randomly started. It was Brene Brown discussing her book Gifts of Imperfection. I just needed something to finish the walk. It wasn’t long, however, before she said something that got me.
I had just been telling someone that I thought I was having a midlife crisis at a post-midlife point. I couldn’t put my finger on what was going on, but I was unsettled in some major way. Brene began talking about midlife crises and I immediately latched on to the serendipitous nature of this conversation. I believe answers to our questions are always circling, always waiting to reveal themselves.
She stated that she didn’t like the term “midlife crisis” because “midlife” suggests a particular point in life. The word “crisis”also suggests an emergency or critical juncture, something that needs to be fixed. This thing called “midlife crisis,” however, shows up when it does and is not really something to be fixed. She proceeded to call it an “unraveling,” and every cell in my being agreed with that word.
People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis,” but it’s not. It is so much more an unraveling. She claims this unraveling is “a series of painful nudges strung together by low grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control.” Of everything.
And because it is low-grade, it can camouflage what’s going on. You can go through the day acting like all is well and no one has any idea. When there is a true “crisis,” people see the struggle and are able to offer help or at least validate the struggle. Unraveling is quiet, and because of that, it feels a little dangerous.
But here’s the thing we need to realize about this unraveling: We are not alone. Most of us eventually reach a point where our old lives look totally different from the ones we are now living, and so we think something wild and strange is occurring. But in reality, we are simply moving out of the ordered, scaffolded, relatively black and white worlds we had built over the past years.
When we are beginning our journey into adulthood, we need order. There are schedules to keep, habits to establish, families to build. There is a lot of discipline and structure needed to do these things well. It can feel a little auto pilot because there isn’t a lot of room in our lives for free style. We have seemingly less than a minute to make decisions as all the flying things come screaming towards us.
But then life slows down a little. The kids don’t need round the clock care. Actually they don’t need much at all. They are out establishing their own lives. Jobs change. Maybe we retire. We have time to breathe and even, after so much change, time to think! And this is a little frightening. What do I do with all the things that never had a chance to take up space?
Fear is a natural response to change. But if we could see this change as growth, maybe we could give ourselves a little encouragement. There is time to search not only for deeper purpose, but also for deeper meaning. It takes courage to explore new territory.
The feeling of unraveling can feel chaotic, but if we can see it as a gentle undoing of things no longer needed, we can breathe a little easier. I recently took up knitting, and I can tell you that I have had to unravel a lot of projects. But I don’t just randomly yank everything out. I gently pull the stitches out until I get to the part I want to reknit. I’m not a fan of this process, but it’s sometimes necessary and always worth it in the end.
So I am going through this unraveling thing, and I am not alone. There is no pattern for what this should look like, which makes it a bit unsettling. But it also presents an opportunity to just go with the flow of life, to sit back and enjoy the beauty of a new day, and know that the only goal of this season is to hold more love, kindness, and compassion. For ourselves and others.
That’s enough meaning and purpose to last a lifetime.
Sometimes as we are scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, we can get our minds rocked. Yesterday I saw a post about inner bullying and self-rejection. I consider myself a fairly confident person and I assumed I didn’t deal with this. But then I read one of the questions he posed: “Don’t think the article is good enough? Publish it anyway.”
I am totally not a perfectionist, except for writing. I wrote for a magazine for over five years, and every single article was painstakingly time consuming. I would do a rough draft and a final draft. And then maybe another 10 revisions. Every word needed to be right.
It’s been the same with blogging. This whole “building the blog” thing is challenging. I can work really hard and not see results, and so I decide to stop writing. There…problem solved.
But when I realized this process was self-rejection, I had to stop and sit with it. If I give myself the first vote of rejection, then there can’t be others. He states the obvious result of this thinking: 100% of people that don’t apply for a job, do not get the job. This holds true across the board for every situation.
So today I am going to give myself a vote of confidence. Maybe I’ll “get the job” and maybe I won’t. But there is a 100% chance nothing will happen if I stop writing. Self-confidence isn’t about validation from others. It’s being willing to take a chance on yourself, be proud of yourself, accept yourself whether anyone else does or not.
So as I get back to writing, I’m going to remember why I write. Writing for me is a way of processing life, getting clarity in my thinking, and finding encouragement in whatever I am going through. Of course, I always hope that others can relate and be encouraged as well, but that can’t be my primary motivation. “Do it for yourself” is the advice I would give to anyone in similar situations.
What else might the inner bully be saying and what can we do to silence that noise?
Send the text, write the email, apply for the job, look into school, take the trip, set the boundary, have the hard conversation, end/begin the relationship, write the book, share the story, set up the Instagram account, or the second. We do whatever it is we have been wanting to do and don’t allow the fear of rejection hold us back.
Today, let’s be brave and believe in ourselves. Today, let’s not self-reject.
“A great deal of what we don’t accomplish is because we’ve allowed our inner bullies to convince us that the probability of us achieving some goal is very low.” Stevon Lewis, psychotherapist
Aging is really just the process of accumulating experience. Day after day, we collect what life gives us. Those experiences, and how we respond to them, shape who we are.
One thing is for certain, the longer we get to live, the more those experiences will include pain and loss. Healthy aging is learning to let go of the painful parts, allowing them to be transformed into something that will help us grow in compassion and kindness. We all know people who hold on to to their pain; we have been those people as well.
But we reach a day when we know. We know that if we don’t stop collecting proof of our sorrow, then our identity will embody that pain. And if we don’t transform it, we will leave traces of it wherever we go.
Transformation isn’t a naturally occurring process, however. It is a creative and intentional process; it is art. Learning to let go is really at the heart of the art. It is about learning the art of survival.
When asked his definition of success, Leonard Cohen once replied, “Survival is success.” When we hear the phrase “survival,” we can think of someone just eeking it out. In reality, it should be elevated to something much higher. The Latin root of that word means “living above.”
We “let go” so that we are able to live above our little scenarios. Yes, we’ve had loss, we’ve been hurt, we’ve been betrayed. Most definitely, our lives don’t look like we thought they would. Letting go is the process by which we can say, both to ourselves and those watching, “It’s gonna be alright.”
The story we tell ourselves is the only story that matters. Our brains act like obedient goldendoodles, always trying to please us. They will find all the evidence they can to support our stories. We need to make sure they are supporting the right thesis, the one that looks beyond the so-called facts. That’s where we get to be creative. We want our story to point to the goodness in our lives.
A couple strategies to help us practice this “art” of survival:
WE RECOGNIZE THAT WE ARE THE AUTHORS OF OUR OWN STORIES.
Sometimes we focus on what is not enough, not present, not as good as someone else’s. But it’s our story and we can tell one that includes abundance, value, and the grace to embrace what is while learning how to go beyond it. That story doesn’t come scrolling through social media or binging Netflix; it comes in stillness as we meditate, practice gratitude, and refuse to accept the story that wants to push itself on us. We are the artists, and we have the power to tell the story our way, even if it means we need to get VERY creative.
WE LEARN HOW TO ENCOURAGE OURSELVES.
If anyone I loved were to bring me a situation that felt negative or hopeless to them, I would listen and show compassion for how they were feeling. But I would always try to affirm them and let them know they were doing a great job of maneuvering through a tough situation. I would let them know that they are valuable and loved. Why would I do anything less for myself?
WE REMEMBER THAT FIXING OUR MINDS ON THE POSITIVE AND GOOD IS HARD WORK.
I can be shocked and discouraged by the number of times a comparative, negative, or critical thought crosses my mind. But we’re only responsible for what we do with those kinds of thoughts. We become aware of the thought and allow it to pass through without judgment. It may be too difficult to do anything about it in the moment so we agree to allow it to come and go. Perhaps a little later, we can replace that thought with one we have been rehearsing. It might take a minute to get there, but when we are able, we change the thought.
How am I posturing myself for this day? I’m going to remember that survival doesn’t mean scraping by and accepting whatever life brings. Survival as an art means I will find a creative way to live above it all, and gain a perspective that includes acknowledging what is, crafting a story that goes beyond “facts” to include goodness, and being grateful for the opportunity to do this another day.
We don’t have to settle for living in the middle of life’s challenges. I believe the happiest and most fulfilled people are those who understand the great art involved in survival, the creative practice of living above.
I felt like I was standing still. Not because of choice, but because of change. For most of my life, I had been active. Sports in high school, 10K’s in my 20’s, a marathon at 33, aerobics instructor, avid hiker, and a gym membership even with five kids. I was always in pretty decent shape. Until a whole bunch of life hit.
That kind of thing happens as we get older. Life takes turns that we didn’t plan for. How do we regroup when any number of possible setbacks interrupt our lives?
Sometimes we just have to start over. But that can be hard when we are not really a beginner. “But I used to…” Those words can sabotage us; they certainly tried to get me. I have had to embrace the fact that I am a beginner, again. I finally bought a program called Power Body Program: Beginner. I found these adjustments helped get me started again.
IT STARTS WITH OUR MINDS
Fitness begins in the mind because fitness is not just exercise. It’s a general state of well-being and affects every part of our lives. Although getting older is inevitable, there is much we can do to enhance our overall health. We begin by acknowledging that our mind has more of an effect on our bodies than time.
IT STARTS WITH AN HONEST ASSESMENT
We have to be honest about where we’re at. I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t going back to where I was. My goal became to get in the best shape I could today. I want to do the big and little things of everyday life: hike with my family, paint the guest room, yank weeds out of the garden, get the dogfood home. And just generally feel good every day.
IT STARTS WITH REALISTIC GOALS
We need the details. It could be walking a number of steps, or gaining a certain amount of muscle, or stretching for a specified amount of time. It doesn’t matter where we start. We start where we are and go from there.
IT STARTS WITH A SCHEDULE
We determine realistically what works for us. What days and times work for us? We don’t let the day order our commitment. We make our commitment order the day.
When we have setbacks, it is easy to settle for a new reality. And we may have to do so for a short time. But we have to remember that what we think determines our reality more than circumstances. I hate that I had to get a “beginner” program after being on the other end for so long. But i’d rather be a beginner than a settler.
Cheers to being a beginner. Even if it’s beginning again.
Zoom is such a big thing these days. It’s a word that implies close up proximity. When we are on zoom calls, our faces are front and center. Those close ups are a lot to take in!
There’s not a lot of options in those kinds of zoom situations. But in everyday life, we do have options. And one of them is zooming out.
I originally started this blog as a way to share perspective. The wide angle is the lens which pulls in context and dials out details. Whether it’s the meetings, or the news, or social media, context is missing in so much of what we see and hear today.
Switching out our lens can give us the break we need when life gets overwhelming.
IT GIVES A CHANCE TO REFOCUS
When we are zoomed in, we can only see that “one thing.” It is usually something we wish could be different, something often out of our control. When we step back and see it against a backdrop of many other things, we see more clearly. When I stand in my garden beds, I see the weeds. But when I stand on my deck, that weed goes out of focus pretty quickly and I can see the beauty of the whole yard. Life is always always about more than one thing, even if the one thing is consuming all our attention.
IT GIVES US A CHANCE TO REFRAME
When we are zoomed in, we often see only one side of a story. If we just had a relational challenge, we can be upset with the other person for any number of reasons, often attributing motives we assume are there. But if we step back, we can see other possible scenarios. We can give the benefit of the doubt. We can make it not about us. We can set it aside and give it time. We can breathe.
IT GIVES US A CHANCE TO RETHINK
When we are zoomed in, we often see only one option. Our emotions and our ego are often wrapped up in how things affect us. But when we zoom out, we can see there are options. We only have one chance at a first reaction. If we zoom out, we can see that saying the first thing that comes to mind might feel good at the time but there are always consequences for our choices. When we have a bigger perspective, we can see how things might play out more easily. If we decide that something needs to be addressed, we will have had some time to consider how it should be handled.
Whatever we are facing, we can ask ourselves if we need to zoom out a little. Are we obsessing with details, seeing only obstacles, and/or dealing with increasing negativity? We may need a new view. It is why gratitude, meditation, and breathing exercises work. They all get us out of our small frame. They lift us above the details and offer us a chance to see a bigger picture—one with fewer weeds, lesser faults, and even diminished wrinkles.
Cheers to wide angle living and the beauty we just might see through a bigger lens.
“The ultimate touchstone of friendship is to have walked with them and believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.” David Whyte
Friendship is a word like “love.” So many varying definitions of the word. Maybe we should have different words for the concept of friendship as we journey through life.
Friendship in our younger years usually includes us figuring out our identity. We are attracted to the type of person we want to be like.
We typically see our friends every day in our younger years. Emotions can run high and life is so very complicated when we are in those stages of life. Many variables come into play with our friends–insecurity, jealousy, and drama are often words describing friendship at this stage.
But as we get older, we have a better understanding of who we are. We don’t so much need friends to help us become our true selves. We don’t so much want to be “improved” as we want to be connected.
Recently I was talking with a friend about the support we give each other. The more secure versions of ourselves can hold things for others without judgment or expectation of anything in return. There was a time when we would react and judge choices that we didn’t agree with. We would maybe even exclude people from our circle because of such choices.
But true friendship coaxes our narratives into the light.
They could be about marriage, parenting, addictions, depression, shame, doubt. Sometimes there’s deep philosophical questions about God and faith and life and hope. And so we hold those things for each other so the heaviness gets distributed a little.
True friendship is able to do that. Perhaps the measure of a friend is the number of things we are able to hold for one another. What a privilege it is to have a circle of “carriers,” those who recognize that while we can’t fix each other, we can stand next to those we love and carry the cares and burdens that are too heavy to carry alone.
Whether we have one or many, what a privilege to have someone willing to help us carry the heavy things. Our shoulders–and our hearts–are truly grateful.