people together

How to Survive 2020

Congratulations! We made it through nine months of chaos. That time was like being in a difficult pregnancy. We are relieved the pregnancy is over, but now we have a new little one to deal with. We have all witnessed the birth of a new world with new rules and new challenges. To be honest, like many of you, I am uneasy. It is hard not to be. Change is challenging. Change without knowing where we are heading can be really scary. To make the most of the reality we are in right now, here are a few ways I try to stay focused and thriving.

Stop Feeding Negative Emotions

Hard not to be angry or terrified these days. It seems no matter your political leanings or background, there is someone or something of which to be wary, afraid, disillusioned, or disheartened. I am not saying it is wrong to think this way. What is not serving you though, is always feeling this way.

According to Harvard-trained neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor physiologically our feelings only last 90-seconds. When we react to a situation and have a feeling, our bodies kick in and do what they do to make us feel our reaction. The whole experience lasts less than two minutes. You may be thinking, “But Melissa, I am afraid all the time. I am worried about what is happening. I am constantly angry.” If that is true for you, it is because you are replaying the story. Every time you replay an incident in your mind (or watch it over in the news), your body reacts in real time giving you the negative feelings again. If you want to stop the feeling, stop replaying the story.

Our emotions are helpful tools. They tell us when something is pleasurable or when something is off. But that is the end of their job. Emotions are tools to alert us to a situation and then we need to decide if we need to accept or change the situation. Staying in the emotion keeps you stuck. Stop replaying the situation and decide what you are going to do about it.

everyone together
Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

Release Hate

Accepting that things just happen and there is not a rhyme or reason for it is tough. Taking personal responsibility is tough. That is why we are often quick to judge and attack someone else. We want someone to blame. Hitler was great at blaming all his country’s woes on certain people. A disturbing scene in the movie Vice, shows how people couldn’t get behind a war against the Al-Qaeda organization because it was intangible so the government decided to focus our anger and hate on a specific country, somewhere on a map to place our hate. We do this in our personal lives too. How many times have you heard what a horrible person someone’s spouse is and how that spouse is solely responsible for a failing marriage?

Jesus warned us to not focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye when we have a log in our own. As we say nowadays, those in glass houses should not throw stones. Yes, there are some people doing some very bad things right now, but they are not only that one bad action and we all have a little good and a little bad in us. It is easy to attack and blame the other but that doesn’t solve the problem or make our experience of a situation any easier. As we have all seen and experienced this year, our hate of “the other” just makes how we feel worse and doesn’t solve anything. Yes, people may be acting poorly but pointing your finger doesn’t help.

First, look at the situation as it truly is. What are the facts. What is the truth. Don’t look for quick and easy answers but what is the true messy interconnected truth? Things are hardly ever black and white. People are never clearly right and wrong. There is usually a lot of messy gray.

Next, how can you help resolve the problem? How do you contribute to the problem? What needs to be acted upon and what needs to be accepted? Instead of taking the easy route of hating and labeling the other, take a step back and see what can actually be done to resolve the issues, no matter the cause.

Be Courageous

Being hateful, angry, and fearful is easy. Being compassionate, loving, and connected takes courage. Acting rightly as our best selves takes effort. It is easy to sit back and blame others, but what will change the world is if we all take personal responsibility for how we think, act, and react. I am not saying you should run for office, join a protest, or arm your militia. You can courageously change the world through each interaction you have every day.

Are you approaching every interaction, whether with the cable provide customer service agent or your dearest friend with a desire for connection and service?

Instead of reaching out with self-righteousness, anger, or fear, how about reaching out with love?

How can you use empathy and understanding to help you provide compassion to those around you?

How can you find the courage and strength to rise above the fearmongering and hate?

When we change how we act and react, we give space for those around us to act and react better as well.

Focus on Gratitude

This one took me a while to wrap my brain around. I have been truly blessed this year. My husband and I still have work. Neither one of us contracted Covid. We are doing very well this year. And I have survivor’s guilt. I feel guilty for being ok. Thankfully, my mentor has helped me work past this. Diminishing my joy, gratitude, and good does not give anyone else more joy, gratitude, or good.  Misery may love company but being in misery with someone else does not support them. My goal is to first accept and fully embrace all the good I have in my life. I am grateful for a loving husband, relatively good health, a beautiful home, and the Cubs winning the division. Second, I compassionately hear the pain of others, sit with them in their hurt, and then help them to refocus on their good. No matter how bad things get, there is always at least one thing to be grateful for.

Holding on to how things are, will only bring pain and disappointment. Embrace this new world we are moving into, whatever it turns out to be. Release your fear, anger, and hate. Have the courage to connect with and love others. And take some time every day to focus on gratitude. These simple but not always easy steps can make a difference in your experience. Hang in there!

Barcelona

Why 20-Year Marriages Thrive

2 Decades, 20 Years, 1040 Weeks, 7300 Days. That is a long time. A long time to be loyal and partnered with one person. My husband and I have been together all that time, plus some, if you count the years we were together before we married. A week before our anniversary, an article on why 20-year marriages end popped into my inbox. Grateful that it was not sent by my husband, I thought it was a good prompt to write a post on how 20-year marriages thrive.

Relationships are Verbs

Whether romantic, platonic, or familial, relationships are a verb not a noun. A relationship is a living entity, not a static object. Being in a relationship is like everything in nature, if the relationship is not constantly changing and growing, it dies. If we want our relationship to stay the same or resign ourselves that it will never get better, the relationship dies. Throughout our twenty years, our relationship, our lives, and each of us as individuals have learned and grown through different challenges. As we learned to navigate each phase of life, our relationship deepened and grew.

Photo by Todd Heisler

Expectations

Every birthday and holiday, I joke with my husband that the present I want is for him to sing, dance, and have an accent. My desire is that he become a cross between Ewan McGregor, David Tennant, and Colin Firth. Not too much to ask for, right? Of course, having unrealistic expectations like these will always lead to disappointment and resentment. Instead, I concentrate on what I do have in a partner. A funny, intelligent man who understands and accepts me better than anyone else could. Reality is better than my expectations.

Assumptions

Everyone brings their history and their previous experiences into a relationship. This past experience becomes expectations of how things should be and our assumptions about why our partner is acting the way they are. These expectations and assumptions are usually wrong. Usually they are negative stories we are telling ourselves. It is important to bring our dishonest thinking to light. Our partner is not a mind reader. My husband can’t know what I am thinking and what I would like from him, unless I verbalize it. Many times, I also need to share my crazy assumptions so he can show me where I am off base. If we keep our assumptions to ourselves, they can never be addressed. We need to have the courage to share our crazy.

Listening

As we need to speak our truth, or what we are experiencing as our truth, so does our partner. A good relationship needs to have a safe space for us to share what we need to share. Hearing and recognizing your partner is the greatest gift you can give – and receive. Your partner feels he is really heard and seen. Through sharing our thoughts and beliefs, we can understand and support our partner on a deeper level.

Do NOT Do Unto Others

When my husband is down, he wants to be left alone to process it. When I am down, I want to be held. If I treated my husband how I would like or he treated me how he would like, it would cause anger and resentment. It is important to ask, not assume, what the other needs. And we need to voice what we need.  We deepen our relationship and understanding when we can see from our partner’s point of view, not the way we see the world.  

Acceptance

Some of us think we are perfect and everyone else is flawed. Others think they are imperfect, and the rest of the world has everything figured out. Truth is we are all imperfect. We are all doing the best we can. Sometimes we do things well, sometimes we don’t. The same goes for our partner. Believing our partner is infallible is setting up unrealistic expectations. Believing our partner is always wrong, keeps us from seeing their good. Expecting our partner to accept our imperfection but being unwilling to accept when they are imperfect is a recipe for disaster. We are all works in progress and deserve to be accepted as such.

Do Your Work

Many of the marriages and relationships that I have seen fail, the partners blamed each other. He didn’t do that. She is a such-and-such. The key factor that we can and should work on in our marriage is our self. I need to know why I react poorly to him leaving his socks on the floor and I need to change my reaction and boundaries around his actions. It is not about his socks or whether he or I pick them up. The real issue is my perception and judgments about his habits. The issue is mine. I can and should work on making myself be the best personal I can be. In doing so, I may it easier for my partner to be the best man he can be.

Love is Not Enough

Love is great for a happy movie ending, but love is just the beginning in real life. As Into the Woods explores, there is a lot that happens after happily-ever-after.  There is a lot of after to deal with after the initial bloom of love fades. Love is wonderful but for me partnership makes a marriage. This harkens back to the verb-versus-noun concept. Many people see love as a noun, as a constant, as a thing that exists in and of itself. But love is a verb. We need to work at love. We need to keep it alive and thriving. We need to nurture and support it. It is not a thing that exists on its own unchanging. It is a fire that constantly needs to be stoked and tended.  

Relationship Makes Three

Romantic songs and movies talk about two becoming one. I think a real relationship is two becoming three. It is important to remain oneself, not become co-dependent and merged. A relationship consists of two unique individuals plus the persona of the couple.  

I am truly blessed to not have found a mystical romantic soul mate, but to have found my partner in life. Thank you Super Pollo.

Cobra Kai

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Sundays are my usual writing days. I had planned to explore the new “feeling economy” but then last night we watched Cobra Kai on Netflix and I just had to write about it as it is the perfect show to be launched at this time. I will not even get into the surprising artistic merit of this show as I would like to focus instead on our perceptions and our need for clearly defined good guys and bad guys.

Literature and art are historically centered around the central theme of the good guy and the bad guy, the hero and the villain. Protagonists in every story need an antagonist to derail their efforts. Think about every Marvel Comic movie ever made. Many of our stories are focused on person-versus-person. One character is a good guy who struggles against the deviousness of the bad guy. But the clear-cut differentiation between good and bad is becoming more and more blurred with shows like Breaking Bad which shows a good guy gone bad for the right, and then wrong, reasons.

from IMDB

What Cobra Kai does is take it one step further. The black-and-white good and bad guys from Karate Kid alternate between their old label, reversing labels, then being both good guy and bad guy at the same time. As I have written before, I think this is much closer to the truth. We are all good, at times. We can all be bad at times. But mostly we are human, fallible, imperfect, inconsistent. What causes problems in the world is when we label someone for a single action and refuse to understand their motivation, their backstory or to offer them a chance for redemption. Once they are labeled, they are condemned.

Sometimes using a label allows us to commit horrific acts as we feel justified because we have labeled and dehumanized the other. Anytime we separate ourselves from others we are hurting ourselves as well as others. Whether we label others as good or bad, Democrat or Republican, Cubs fan or White Sox fan, we are only looking at one slice of the whole person and losing our humanity along the way.

For the past 30 days I listened to the Fostering an Undefended Heart meditation course. At the core of the class was the desire to break us from our us-and-them mentality. It is so easy to think only of ourselves, our lives, our needs, our perspectives. The class used exercises to help cultivate forgiveness, worth, peace, compassion, kindness, and joy in a telescoping fashion; first by truly embracing these concepts for ourselves as self-love is a challenge for many, then out to those we love, then out to those nameless people around us, then out to those with whom we are in conflict, i.e., the bad guys. Through the course I found myself becoming whole as I truly saw and embraced others wholly.

In an entertaining way, Cobra Kai does the same thing. Through the show we do not only see one aspect of the character, we learn their backstory. We see areas they do well and where they don’t. We see their struggles, we see their efforts, we see them grow – and fall back. It is interesting that the characters in the show that now appear to be the bad guys, are the ones which we have not learned their backstory yet. We can make Kyler out to be the bad guy who beats up nerds and is a womanizer, but will he be so easy to label when we know the full picture of his life?

This week notice your labels. When are you putting others in a box? Take a moment to see that person fully and see if your hatred lessens and your compassion grows through understanding.

new puppy

Overcoming Willful Ignorance

One of the good things 2020 has given me is reconnection with old friends. For the past few months, I have been meeting weekly with a chum from college, Sammy. We have terrific conversations which range from intelligent and informed to silly and sassy.

One of the phrases Sammy uses frequently is how people being “willfully ignorant” really upsets him. To him, the right action, the right thought, the right way to be is obvious. And if it is obvious to him, that means other people are choosing to be contrary to what is right and definitely true. This week however, Sammy shared a story where he was the one perceived as being willfully ignorant.

little sister mei mei the new puppy
Little sister Mei Mei

Sammy has been posting frequently about his soon-to-be new puppy from a breeder. I had thought it was strange that he would purchase from a breeder as I assumed he would choose a rescue as he had in the past. One of his other friends thought the same thing and confronted him with her anger that he would be so willfully ignorant in choosing to purchase a pet from a breeder. He was outraged that she could accuse him of doing something socially and ethically wrong. How dare she judge him without asking him why he was doing what he was doing. I shared with him that I too wondered why he went that route and he had a very valid reason; short story is one of his rescue dogs will not be in this world much longer and the remaining anxiety-ridden rescue dog needs a new safe non-threatening companion and a puppy from a breeder is the only option.

Inspired by this event, let us explore the concept of willful ignorance.  Through the rest of this article, think of when you have accused others or been accused yourself of willful ignorance and therefore judged and convicted of wrongdoing before all the facts were known.

Who Made You the Judge?

I am judgmental. It is my inherent nature. My Myers-Briggs and Enneagram results confirm this. Even if you are not inherently disposed to be judge and jury like me, we all have experienced times where we assumed we have the right to judge others. Unless we are literally an elected judge whose job it is to determine if an action goes against a law, we should not judge.

Judgment without Facts

Both myself and Sammy’s other friend assumed it was absolutely wrong that anyone would purchase from a breeder. Like most controversies today, we only saw black-and-white; either you adopted a pet, or you were a horrible person. Neither of us sought understanding before we passed our judgment.

Seeing Only from My Perspective

The problem with how we reacted to Sammy’s choice was that we judged his actions from our perspective, experience, and beliefs. We did not seek to find out his perspective and why he chose what he did. If we had, we would have understood his backstory and that he was making a conscious appropriate decision.

I was called-out on a similar unconscious bias a few weeks ago. I had posted a meme vigorously proclaiming how those who do not return shopping carts to the corrals are in the wrong. I had posted it because I like to return the shopping cart every time I am able as I know I am becoming self-absorbed when I don’t. What a friend pointed out to me is that I have no right to dictate or assume what others should do. He brought up valid points that those who do not return carts my be physically unable or that they may not have a car. Usually I think twice before I post and I didn’t this time. Honestly, I was so focused on my own thoughts, beliefs and actions, that I didn’t really read what the post was implying about others. I appreciated my friend calling me out on my self-focus.

It is Me and You not Us and Them

When we are caught up in our own beliefs and judgments, we group people as this label or that type making them lose their humanity. What is hurting our society right now is not only that we judge, but that we lump people into groups. We are all shades of gray. We are all good and bad. We all have value and we all have foibles. When we dump someone into a group or a label, we miss out on connection and understanding.

As you go about your week, look for your desire and need to judge others. Watch how you lump people together by one action or aspect of their being. Notice how you leap to conclusions without knowing the whole story. Instead, make real one-to-one connections and seek to understand. Understanding leads to empathy and change. We can make the world better, one interaction at a time.

hurricane genevieve

Are you done with suffering?

Covid, racial tensions, political unrest, opioid crisis, and hurricanes. What a great year huh? 2020 has certainly given us enough reasons to ask why bad things happen to good people. As I write this, Hurricane Genevieve is swirling wind and rain around our home. As I have written before, into every life a little rain must fall. I imagine this year we have been hit with more than our fair share of challenges, leading many of us to ask why this is all happening.

I have been asking this too, on a global and personal level. As I researched suffering, the same answers came back to me through religious and non-religious sources. The bad things that come into our lives, our struggles and challenges are not punishment, they are there to help us evolve and be the best people we can be. It appears we need pain, suffering and hardship to transform and become our best selves.

Hurricane Genevieve from Windy.com

I know this is true for me. Every challenge I have had has resulted in me releasing a bit more ego, letting go of my rigid unhelpful thinking, and has made me more aware of how my actions and reactions affect others. These challenges took me out of my routine and made me look at life differently. Illness, loss, and natural disasters disrupt my normal and force me to look at what I believe and how I am living. Without these challenges, I would not have chosen to really look at how I was living my life. Without challenges, I would have never chosen to shed my armor so I could become vulnerable and honest with myself and others. Without this suffering, I would not have chosen to fully examine my life. That is how suffering is a gift.

In the past, I shared the story of a pinecone and how a seemingly horrible event like a forest fire, is actually the birthplace of new life. And so it is with us I believe. We don’t grow, we don’t evolve until our old self – our old beliefs, habits, and knee-jerk reactions – are ripped away. It is through the shedding of what doesn’t serve us that we can uncover, accept, and embrace what is better for us.  Instead of living every day on autopilot, just going along one day after another doing what we have always done before and hiding from the realities of life, we can face our fears and embrace change. None of us want to be challenged, and yet, I believe, we all become better when we do.

The next time you are faced with a challenge instead of asking why me, ask what am I being asked to learn? How can this opportunity help me grow? What belief and way of being is no longer serving me and needs to be shed?  When any living things stops changing and growing, it dies. Instead of fighting reality, refusing to change, and withering on the vine, step up to your challenge and learn how you can become better on the other side. And remember to be kind and considerate of others as our path to enlightenment often has to reveal our worst selves before we can shed them and become better. Hang in there!

unhappy

Self-Righteous Anger – or how to deal with life when everyone around you is losing their shit

I don’t know about you, but it is hard for me to make it through a day without seeing someone lose their shit. Maybe someone goes on a rant about how everyone should wear a mask while someone else goes on a rant how they will never be forced to wear a mask. This post is not to debate who is right, who is wrong, or how both may have some truth. What I would like to discuss is how do we deal with a world – and our friends, family and loved ones – that are all breaking apart at the seams.

For some time, we have seen that the institutions we came to rely on as never-changing beacons of truth, going through a transformation – changing, morphing and in some cases being torn apart. All the things mom always said never to talk about – religion, politics, and money – are collapsing, along with the social constructs of gender and race. The guidebook we had all been given for how things are and how they should be, has been thrown out the window.

Some of us are doing ok with this shift. We know that the way things were, was not ideal. The systems and institutions need an overhaul. I, for one, wish that it could be a peaceful and easy transition, but transition – death and rebirth – are hardly ever easy-peasy. So instead we are seeing protests, long-held secrets revealed, and collapse from the inside out.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Some of us are not doing ok in this time. Some do not want things to change. Even if they don’t like how things were, changing to the new is too terrifying for them. Instead of seeing that all of life transforms and continuously grows, some people want to blame others or create elaborate conspiracies to explain why the world they knew is falling apart. John Oliver had a great piece on this recently. To explain proportionality bias or the “tendency to assume that big events have big causes,” he compared the JFK assassination to that of the shooting of President Ronald Reagan. When President Kennedy was shot, it was too much of a shock and unbelievable that one random man could kill a sitting United States president, so a more complex theory was created to explain something of such great significance. When President Reagan was shot – and survived – no such theories were created. We didn’t need them because the impact was not as strong.

Whether those around you are buying into conspiracy theories or just being angry at this group or that group for trying to change the system (or not changing the system quickly enough), everyone is a bit on edge. Anna Madrigal from the Tales of the City series on Netflix said, “Anger is the tip of the iceberg, but it is not the whole story.” The anger-iceberg concept is what I try to use to make sense of others’ and my own anger.

Don’t Squash the Anger

Being a peace lover, I often want everyone to be free from negative emotions. My knee-jerk reaction is to try to minimize the anger. However, not acknowledging the anger or trying to minimize someone’s anger never works. The anger is a symptom, it is the tip of the iceberg not the real problem. Instead of reacting to someone’s anger, focus on the fact that a person is in pain. Don’t try to remove the anger. Just hold space for them and respect that they feel the way they feel.

Uncover the Story

What you can help someone (or yourself with) is to uncover why they feel the anger. This past week, I witnessed a few events where loved ones experienced self-righteous anger. They were incised that someone accused them of being in the wrong and proceeded to provide a litany of reasons why they should be the one accusing the other as wrong. A wise woman once told me that “everything someone says or does is all and only about them.” We shouldn’t and can’t prove someone else as wrong because they are seeing the world through their own eyes, experiences, and preferences. That will not change until they want to change. What I can find relief in is uncovering why they, or I, am feeling so much emotion around an issue. When I can identify that, I have something tangible to address or at least just understand.

Discern When to Act

The Serenity Prayer has become a mainstay for me lately. This prayer teaches us to not accept everything as it is, nor to always take righteous action to change others, but to discern what needs to be said and done – and by who. If you are triggered by someone else’s actions or their anger, decide if what you want to say is true, necessary, kind, and helpful.  Lately I have been really trying to pause before I say or do anything. I ask if anything should be said and done, and I also ask if I am the best person to do so. If everyone took a pause before they reposted on social media, I think we would see a lot less negativity out there.

I wish I could tell you that the transition the world is going through right now will be over quickly and smoothly, but I don’t think so. Welcome to the new normal. Be open to new ways of thinking and being. Respect the opinion and struggles of others. Create good boundaries to protect yourself. And have hope that what is on the other side will be better for all.