Trees give us so much. In nature. In yards. In poetry. In spiritual teaching. They show up for us time and time again. Sometimes I feel sad for the trees who are named just for their fruit or flower. They are more than that.
I get that it makes sense in some ways to name trees like that. It’s convenient. It’s just that focusing on the product a tree gives us causes us to miss out on naming its qualities that help make that fruit possible. The tree doesn’t get to hear that we know it’s more than its flower.
It would only take a couple extra syllables to say the hardy apple tree or the majestic magnolia. Then we would be set up to have acknowledgement and gratitude in our everyday tree language. What a nice thanks to them for inspiring all of those song lyrics and play dates and romantic gestures.
And while we’re at it, let’s be mindful about how we talk about people, including ourselves.
There are moments when I find flow and kinda rock at life. Faced with no Easter-themed treats due to sheltering in place, etc., I ransacked the pantry and discovered we had sugar, strawberry, gelatin, and chocolate. Magic happened and I made the loveliest of chocolate-dipped, sprinkle-covered, pink marshmallows for the fam. Other than briefly gluing myself to the kitchen counter with hell-hot sugar water, I was riding high.
Moments later, I transitioned to work brain to do some video meetings. I’ve been lighting candles to signal to my mind and body that we are transitioning to work mode (because my commute is now 12 steps instead of 12 minutes). For the second time in 2 weeks, I tried to light a battery-powered candle. The same candle. It created what I imagine to be toxic vapors and I tumbled into a brief shame spiral.
So how am I handling things? Wonderfully and problematically. Both are true. Neither are a reflection of who I am…just how I’m coping in a given moment. Marshmallow successes and candle meltdowns are welcome here.
If you live in a culture where sickness is seen as weakness and weakness is thought to be bad or deficient or shameful, then honest dialogue about struggle and proactive stances on healing will be limited. With a strong breath coming from my own chronic illness-kissed body, I want to say some things.
Responding to crisis and medical needs well means listening thoroughly to the voices of strong survivors and brave healers. They can lead with conviction. Being impacted by illness does not make you weak or invisible or inferior or a burden, but I am heartbroken that many of you who are physically-hindered have come to these wounded places righteously. I see your strength, your courage and your perseverance. I see the value of your whole person and want to hear your informed truth on how we can change as a society to be better life-livers and crisis-handlers. I’m honored to stand among you.
To our healing professionals, I am touched by your wordless advocacy. You work with honor and courage and sacrifice. With heart-full sincerity, thank you.
If you are not a person affected by illness (I celebrate for you!) and not a professional healer, I beg you to be a part of creating a world where healing is less effort. Tolerate better conversations where struggle is being shared by those working hard to heal (without interruption for listener self-soothing). Your unsolicited advice or distracting disbelief comes from a place best processed outside the presence of the one working hard to heal. Just listen to their stories. Understand their journeys. Be ready to meet the expressed need, not the one you pre-decided would make you most comfortable. Your inviting, compassionate, and often quiet presence will become medicine to those who need it. And, when the time comes, use your interrupting energy to halt the movement of others who are uncomfortable acknowledging struggle. They need you to be strong. They need you to show them how to listen first and act second.
We need you to work less at convincing yourself (through attempts at convincing us) that we are brave. Just treat us as brave. You follow the brave into the areas they know.
And, when a person in power attempts to stifle brave voices, simply don’t let it work.
I’m attempting to notice my thought world more these days. Because there’s a whole lot of intensity swirling away up there. Things are stressful busy. And I’m excited about most of the busy. My life has many complicated layers at the moment. And they are mostly good layers. I’m pretty anxious. And I’m delightfully happy.
Noticing the internal world is critical for so many reasons. However, I often think I’m being reflective when I’m actually just ruminating. Reflection allows for items to come into your awareness. Rumination insists that one internal item is THE only important thing to think about and you must keep looking at it until it makes total and complete sense and never surprises you again with its sneaky, gross feelings being dragged behind a thought of criticism or judgment or protective anticipation while insisting that you stay awake for 10 minutes more because if you close your eyes then it will sealed into your brain forever with the intensity of a million suns. Or something like that.
Reflection allows for the “and”. One thought is not the whole truth. And sitting with many thoughts coming and going with ease and patience allows each to be heard. Reflection reaches for context. It does not mean pain will be avoided, but pain is seen as part of the experience. Reflection increases capacity. Rumination decreases it.
So I’m trying to notice the difference today. I’m trying to make room for a little reflection.
My daydreams, for years, indulged the fantasy of being granted the super power of invisibility.
That power [invisibility] would bring me safety, control, protection, rest. All in one moment, struggles would be obsolete.
One day, recently, a passing internal question changed the dream. Why is invisibility the solution for insecurity? Beliefs began to unravel and reassemble.
If I get to wish for a supernatural skill set, then I choose to be seen…actually seen….20/20 sightedness that shines light on who I am and how I came to be. Then I, in return, have the power to see the inner workings of those taking in the experience of me. I see their acknowledgement and acceptance or utter lack thereof.
I could continue to wish for retreating into invisibility, but I am then complicit in wishing for others’ blindness. Or I can stand here and insist on seeing and being seen, ending the longstanding game of relational hide and seek.
Ready or not…
I am feeling unbelievably blessed these days. I am living with the three coolest people on the planet, who happen to be my family. Work is pleasant and fulfilling. I’m able to travel to beautiful places to teach beautiful souls (who are really teaching me). Life is good, but I still feel afraid.
It’s not the kind of fear that is easily identifiable by others. I’m not experiencing panic (at least not in this particular season). I’m not even as obsessive as I’m capable of. Fear is sneaky, though, and it’s in there.
Every aspect of my body and being needs work. My default mode is to an extremely mild dissociative-like (totally fear-informed) state, often intentionally induced by Netflix and apathy. Fear is doing its job, but it’s also preventing me from true growth and awareness. I just read a piece from Richard Rohr where he said that “fear is not enlightenment”. I endorse that wholeheartedly. The problem is that my fear believes it is enlightened.
I’ve been teaching on fear quite a bit lately. I teach that fear is, by design, a protective emotion. It shows up when life has taught us that it is useful. A good and counterintuitive introductory plan to addressing fear is to see it, acknowledge it, and be grateful for it. Being thankful for fear’s protective nature better prepares me for noticing whether protection is actually needed, and, for noticing what other kinds of strength-based protectors I have access to.
I’m trying to practice what I teach. So, I say to you [fear], I often fight you and judge you and even indulge you. Today I only want to listen and learn from you. As I come to understand your message, I will express my gratitude for your protective nature. With the awareness that could come from holding together both you [fear] and gratitude, I will look for safe people and protectors who can support the work you’ve been doing on your own for so long. I want to give you rest, not overpower you.
And now I breathe.
I love reading about mindfulness, probably more than I love practicing mindfulness. Even though mindfulness is intended to emphasize noticing without judgment, I often just judge my lack of noticing. Or even judge what I’m noticing. This is not mindfulness. So, I decided to spend today noticing all I could and intentionally attempting to enjoy mindfulness inspired by even awkward encounters. Here we go…
8:30 am – In a moment of indecisive driving, I ended up horizontal in some vertically-oriented traffic. This brought some impassioned gestures my way. Traffic wasn’t moving so I had a good 45 seconds of eye contact with two of these drivers (who did not seem to be practicing mindfulness). I noticed their faces, their hands (and fingers), and their horns. I am pretty sure they had come to some judgments about me. I waved and mouthed some words explaining my day’s goal of embracing uncomfortable moments. I’m not sure if I won them over, but one did seem interested.
11:15 am - When in a professional meeting with a lovely human, we got to a moment where a difficult and unfair conversation was being vulnerably shared. I, in response, compared the situation to a certain kind of fart. As I was saying the words, regret almost an appearance. However, I notice her reaction (over my own embarrassment) and now see that she is laughing. I then start to laugh. Metaphors (even digestive ones) just work.
2 pm – I’m in a hurry, but I needed to pick up my glasses. When running into the office, I quickly opened the bathroom door outside the eye doctor so that I can get rid of my gum. Aiming at the trash can, I missed by quite a lot. The gum sticks to the floor between the toilet and the wall. I freak out a bit. While trying to solve the problem creatively, someone walks in (because there had been no need to lock the door as spitting out gum takes an average adult 3 seconds). So I explain to the startled man that I had a gum incident that I needed to rectify, but it’s ok because I’m practicing mindfulness. He decided he didn’t need to use the bathroom. I understand his instinct and move forward with my plan.
It’s nice to try and catch moments of mindfulness in sweet or tender or heartfelt situations. However, mindfulness allows for any moment to be treated as important. My awkwardness has something to offer me. Today, I feel entertained by parts of me that usually lead to mild self-loathing. Some of self-acceptance led to immediate relational payoff. Some did not. Still, I notice.
I almost got murdered today. Or maybe I imagined it. Who can tell anymore?
My sweet dog has been a little off lately. It could be that she’s sad since my daughter left for college or it could be that vengeful ghosts have taken up residence in my bathroom. Again, who can tell?
So, after a busy and scattered morning, I come home in the middle of the day for a quick lunch. My dog, unusually, did not greet me. I found her growling at my closed bathroom door. So, since I am a 40-year-old father of two, I did what is mature and brave. I called my dad…who lives 4+ hours away.
I think I was convinced that being on the phone while confronting a murderer would leave a trail for the homicide detectives. And bring me comfort in my dying moments. However, in reality, my dad said, “wow…that’s two of these calls today.” Paranoia confirmed.
I opened all the doors and gathered objective data that no one was actually in my house. I swear my dog was smirking at this point. Still unsettled, I abandoned my dog to the not-yet-materialized murderer and went to my favorite coffee shop. I walk in to see the smiling faces of the coffee geniuses who have become part of my community. As I approach the register, one says, “Hey…you’re the subject of a mystery around here. Any idea why your name and number are on our employee bulletin board?” Yes. Because all of the murderers are looking for me. And they’re getting sloppy.
I’m sure there are logical explanations for both of these events. However, it can seem on days such as today that all things everywhere are collaborating to maintain my neuroses. I know it’s all about state-of-mind. When in a calm, mindful place, these events would add up to a completely different set of meanings. Today, though, I allowed for a mounting overreaction and my cortisol is just now leaving the recesses of my nervous system. The world is not out to get me. I am just a little stressed. Perspective gained. Imaginary murderers defeated.
Lately, I’m hungry all the time. And it makes me mad. What makes me less mad? Eating. You see my dilemma?
If you are now expecting playfully-constructed attempts at introducing health and wisdom into this topic, go somewhere else. I’m not in the mood today.
I know myself well enough to understand this is a nonproductive coping mechanism so I need to get in touch with the underneath struggle and cope without self-destruction. Blah, blah, blah. I could also get some tamales and deal with my junk tomorrow.
Self-awareness needs a pause button some times. I will come back to it. I will not undo all progress with one day of known crazy. And it helped to write that down.
I get that not all problem behaviors can be ignored even for a day and not all people have the luxury of delayed health seeking. However, there are moments [for me] where it’s ok to notice the pattern without feeling the stupid pressure to defeat all related demons.
So, tamales today and reflection tomorrow.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.