wine glasses

Choosing Not to Numb

Over the past 30 years, I have been working to improve myself. For 10 years, I have shared this growth, ideas, and hopefully support through these posts. My self-growth focus started out around making work better. How do I make work less stressful? How do I find work-life balance? How do I learn what I really want and release what I think is expected of me? As I learned to manage my work better, I began to uncover and explore more deeply the seat and cause of my pain. How did my thinking and expectations cause me pain? Where else should I focus to find relief and happiness? How is the desire to be perfect hurting not helping me?

As I lost layers of perfectionism and workaholism, I realized they were not the problem. My expectation I should be perfect and my using work to create my self-worth were tools. I used these tools to avoid my feelings. I used them to avoid being hurt. As I released these tools, it made me vulnerable. Without the safety net of perfectionism and focusing on work, I felt fear, insecurity, and sadness at levels I had never before. And I couldn’t handle it. I unconsciously reached for new tools – Candy Crush, tacos, and cucumber jalapeño margaritas – to once again numb the intensity of these feelings.

I’m not alone in having a desire to numb vulnerability. Brené Brown shares how as a society, “we are the most addicted, the most medicated, obese and in debt adult cohort in human history.” Life can be difficult, and it is understandable to reach for something to take the pain away. What Brené Brown has found though, is that we can not choose what we numb. We can’t just numb the bad things, the pain, the worry, the sadness, the fear. When we numb those things, we also numb our experience of joy, love, and all the beauty life has to offer.

I decided if I was going to truly practice what I believe, I had to live fully with the good and the bad. If I was going to truly live, I needed to embrace vulnerability. The first step was to release my numbing tools. I cut down on social media and mindless electronic games. I learned how to eat when I was hungry, not when I was sad. I stopped drinking alcohol and this July it will be one year without an adult beverage. Giving up drinking was an interesting experience. I had not realized how much I had depended on alcohol as a crutch. A long day at work? A glass of wine will help me relax. Feeling alone because my husband is working late? I can always make a friend at the local bar. Anxious about the next storm? Mix up a batch of margaritas for a hurricane party!  In becoming sober, I learned that alcohol was not giving me what I wanted. All it was doing was numbing my emotions and keeping me from living fully.

Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Without these numbing tools, I had to find a new way to live. I reached back to inspirational books and daily reflections. I brought meditation back as a daily practice. I focused on gratitude throughout the day. I found others to serve and be supported by. And I stopped hiding from emotions. Instead of ignoring or numbing them, I explored them. Why were they there? Where they true or a construct of my mind? Were they serving me? This phase of my journey has not always been easy. Masking the pain was the easy way out. Facing my beliefs and emotions has not always been pretty or joyful, but it has been very rewarding.

I feel a freedom I have not in years, if ever. In honesty and vulnerability, I have deepened relationships with others and myself. I have found courage to address conflicts instead of hiding from them. And I am embracing life to the fullest. By stopping numbing the bad, I can fully feel the good.

What tools do you use to numb? What are you hiding from? What would your life be like if you embraced the totality of life?

embracing the journey

The Journey

Lately I find myself yet again being consumed by responsibilities. My day job. Writing blogs. Trying to write a second book. Supporting my husband’s business. Rental property issues. Supporting others. My checklist has grown, and my happiness has diminished. I am not complaining. I have chosen to be involved with everything on my plate and, for the most part, I enjoy the things to which I have committed.  My challenge is that when the “doing” is first, foremost and only, the rest of my life begins to fade away. It is not the work that is the issue. It is making the work a priority over living which is the cause of my unhappiness.

I wake up early in the morning, not because I excited for a new day, but because a litany of problems to solve and things to do replay in my mind. I am not truly connecting with those I love, because I am distracted by trying to solve an issue. I am not in the moment because I am planning what I need to do next. I am not stopping to smell the flowers because I feel compelled to complete the next task. I am not enjoying connection with others because I am focused on the project, not their feelings. And I am unhappy.

As usual, the things I am concerned about have not happened yet, may not need to be resolved, or may not need to be resolved by me. Yet I am taking myself out of my life and concentrating on issues that are either not really issues or are not really important in the scheme of things. Somewhere, somehow I learned and believe that life is about responsibilities, accomplishments, making things happen. Over the years, I have been trying to accept and embrace a new belief.

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

I am coming to believe and fully embrace that life is just about experiencing. Learning to accept life on life’s terms. Releasing any meaning, judgment and expectations I have. To just truly be. To release my desires and simply experience what comes to me. To see an experience for what it is, not what I interpret it to mean or what I would have preferred it to be.

Alan Watts shares this as the Chinese concept of purposelessness. Purposelessness is not a negative. Purposelessness is just being. Purposeless removes the meaning. Purposelessness removes the focus on the outcome. Purposeless is simply being. It is The Power of Now that Eckhardt Tolle talks about. It is the enlightenment Michael A. Singer writes about in The Untethered Soul. My friend Dave Werhane sums it up well, “When I accept that my life is truly a journey, then there is no reason to do anything solely as a means to an end.” Let’s stop looking for the meaning, for the result, for the conclusion. Let’s stop worrying about results, fixing things, trying to accomplish things. Let’s stop labeling things, judging them, trying to uncover their meaning.

Instead let’s be, truly – deeply – solely be, in each and every moment. Let’s experience. Let’s let colors and sounds and tastes and touch wash over us. Let’s do what we are driven to do, not what we think we have to or should do. Let’s create to create. Let’s get out of our minds and be fully in the moment experiencing with all our senses. The deepest sense of peace, well-being, and love have always been experienced when I let go of my mental monkey chatter and allow my full consciousness to be in the moment.  

When do you feel most trapped? When do you experience unhappiness? If you are like me, it is when you are trapped in your mind replaying the past or worrying about the future. Try to find time each day to be in the moment without your thoughts. Remove your regret or anger of what happened. Stop playing mental scenarios of what could be. Be. Here. Now. Enjoy the journey!

cat in the house

Stop Chasing the Cat

My husband and I have been adopted by a street cat lovingly called Blanca. We now leave her food and water as she demands. For the most part, she sits adorably on the front porch until I serve her the “right” breakfast. She is very sweet and would love to become a house cat, but my allergies will not allow it. Blanca does not quite understand this and often sneaks into the house every chance she gets.

This week I was bringing in two water cooler jugs as Blanca sat patiently on the front porch amused by the little gringa struggling with the large blue containers. Then she spotted her opportunity and darted into the house and down the stairs. I followed her and closed all the bedroom doors to keep her range of access to a minimum and then went upstairs to store the water jugs.

I could have chased Blanca around the house to try to get her out. In the past, I tried this. The result is she finds the smallest, lowest, tightest space she can and barricades herself in there. No way to reach her. No way to get her out. Frustration and anxiety all around.

Blanca en la casa

Now, I leave her be. I go about my business and ignore her. Eventually she finds a nice space to lie down, usually in the open and near me. I can then pet her and say soothing words, then scoop her up and remove her from the house. Angrily chasing her around the house does not remove her. Accepting then lovingly approaching her does.

So it is with our crazy monkey mind. If we are triggered and immediately run headlong into our story, it grows, fights back, hides, and makes us frustrated that we can not remove it. If we quietly notice, “oh, there it goes again,” accept that we are feeling an emotion but don’t feed it, the power of the crazy mind diminishes, and we can lovingly remove it.

This week I was triggered. I had a long day at work. I love my work but due to the intense emotional nature of it, I can only do so many hours. In addition, I spoke with my manager about a new procedure to review our work. “New” and “review” can be terrifying words even if we know our work is positive. Then I learned that the invoices I put into the Mexican government database were wrong and I’d have to redo them, in Spanish and on a confusing non-user-friendly website. And now because my day job went long, I wasn’t prepared for a talk I was to give that evening. Monkey mind ensued.

Stress kicked in. My mind got fuzzy. I was focusing on the pain and anxiety of these issues not the solution to them. I was uncertain what to do next about the invoices and the talk. I was chasing the cat. I was trying to make the pain of the emotion go away which just made the pain of the emotion grow.

Thankfully, I stopped. I gave myself a time out. I meditated best I could. I went to the talk and instead of having a polished presentation, I spoke from the heart about my experience that day. Later I took a walk to clear my head. The result is that the emotional pain was removed, and I could think more clearly and act more efficiently.

Where and when do you “chase the cat”? What would it look and feel like if you stepped away from the emotion, anxiety and fear for just a little bit? How do you feel about letting go to gain control?

le boat boating

Loving Life’s Imperfection

Back in the day I had a, thankfully, short-term obsession with Tyra Bank’s America’s Next Top Supermodel contest show. What I loved was how the judges looked at a super-tall, super-thin, super-perfect woman and focused-in on her one flaw. Perhaps it was an oversized mole, a gap in the front of their teeth, or a slightly crooked nose. I know what you are thinking. “How dare these judges focus on the minor flaw of these otherwise amazing specimens of female beauty!” But it is not what you think. The judges did not focus on the flaws to criticize them. They focused on the flaw because it was what made them interesting, unique, and memorable. It was their imperfection which drew our eye to them. It was their imperfection which made them truly beautiful. Over the years I have hung on to this premise to help with my own issues of accepting my body, and over time bit by bit I have accepted the skin I’m in. What I have been noticing lately is how my expectation of the perfection of life is also not achievable, and how the imperfection of life is also the thing that makes life interesting.

Almost 20 years ago, my husband and I had an amazing honeymoon. We visited four European countries in two weeks. What is interesting is when I think of our trip, I don’t remember the amazing meal we had in Grote Markt Brussels Belgium, the five-star hotel we stayed at in London, or touring the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. What first comes to mind is “Brugge Kaput”; two words that both ruined our day and made for the most memorable day of our honeymoon.  My husband and I love boating so part of our honeymoon included a four-day trip on the canals of Holland in our own houseboat. Much of this trip was an adventure like realizing the first river we had to cross was the busy Amstel filled with enormous container ships, learning how to navigate using a guide all in Dutch, and running across unexpected points of interest like the Belgium witch-trial museum.  Out of all of these adventures, the first thing I think of, the first thing that comes to mind about our entire honeymoon is “Brugge Kaput.”

le boat boating
Le Boat boating tours

We were on the last day of our houseboat adventure. We had just spent the last hour floating past idyllic farm fields and came into the last town and the last bridge before getting back to where we rented the boat. We had planned to spend a quiet evening anchored in the large lake nearby then returning the boat the next day. Throughout the journey we had come across bridges and locks, learning to honk our horn to alert the attendant then pay a few guilders for the attendant to let us through. We came up to the final bridge, honked, and waited. And waited. And honked again. And waited. This went on for quite some time before the grumpy old attendant showed up and talked on and on in Dutch. (side note: all the guidebooks we bought said that English is common in Holland. It is not. English is common in Amsterdam but not in the small towns we were visiting.) The words we caught were “brugge” which we had learned meant “bridge” and “kaput” which I learned from my German father which meant “broken.” The bridge was broken.

We finally understood that the bridge was down but should be working the next day. We went into this tiny, tiny town to find a phone to ask the boat rental company what to do. Option 1 was to go back the three days we had just traveled. Option 2 was to wait it out. We decided to wait it out, but not to stay in this town which seemed to consist of a broken bridge and a small store with the phone we used. Although we were tired from traveling, we decided to sail back the hour or so, past the now monotonous farm fields, to the larger town we had seen on the map. What a great choice!  The town had an actual marina and included in the small fee was the use of bicycles. We road into town, explored the shops, almost got hit by a bus, and had an amazing day. The next day, we once again motored past the same really-boring-now farm fields we had passed twice before. Out of everything we saw and experienced on our trip, I wouldn’t change this adventure for anything.

Next time you are having a bad day, next time your best laid plans are ruined, breathe. Find the beauty in what is happening versus what you wanted to happen. Look for the silver lining and be in the moment to enjoy the wonder of what will unfold.

When Mother’s Day is Tough

The experience of Mother’s Day can be diverse depending on the person and their childhood. This is the first Mother’s Day for my niece. I love receiving the photos and stories of her first born. She and her husband love their son and are active in his development. It is beautiful to see. I wish her the happiest of Mother’s Days this year and in the future. She is a beautiful expression of the ideal mother and what Mother’s Day is meant to be. For some of my friends, this Mother’s Day is difficult because they have lost their mother, their best friend, to age or disease. They are mourning the loss and remembering the good times. For them, Mother’s Day is perhaps bittersweet. This post, however, is for another set of people.

Two years ago, my friend Lisa Lamont posted a poignant message on Facebook. “Recently there was a post going around with daughters sharing pictures of their mothers who had passed and wished they were still here because they missed them very much. The post said that there is no bond like that of a mother and daughter. When I saw it, shame kicked in. Because I do not have (nor have I ever had a bond with my mother).” In working with clients over the years, I know my friend is not the only one who did not have a Norman Rockwell relationship with her/his mother. For many, Mother’s Day is a time of shame, regret, and anger that their relationship with their mother is not what others appear to have.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Mother Tucking Children into Bed,” 1921. Cover illustration for “Literary Digest,” January 29, 1921. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections.

Perhaps you felt abandoned by your mother, or smothered, or attacked, or any of the toxic patterns listed here. We don’t all win the lottery of being born to two highly emotionally-developed individuals. In my experience, most of us are challenged with some emotional defects which negatively affect those around us. Our parents are no different. They may be battling their own emotional demons, leaving no room for them to make perfect parenting decisions in every moment. Many times, our mothers do the best they can do after having their own less than perfect relationship with their mothers. Being a parent is a very difficult position. Expectations of perfect parenting are thrust upon a new parent even when they do not have the role model to emulate or the means to learn how to best perform their role.

The result for us may be that we are angry at our mother or the fact we were born to the mother we were. I challenge you instead to find the gifts you were given because of the parents you were born to. What did you learn about how to treat others? What did you learn about embracing your own self-worth? What did you learn about accepting others? What did you learn about unconditional love?

This Mother’s Day, if you are one of those who bear scars from a less-than-ideal childhood, release the anger that things should have been different. Find acceptance and forgiveness that your mother did the best she could at the time. And work every day to be the best mother to your children or mentor to those around you. We heal not by fighting or resigning to what was, but by consciously choosing to embrace a healthier life.

Perfecting Imperfection

One of my biggest character defects, my biggest struggles is the dishonest belief that I am/can/should be absolutely perfect. A lot is wrong with this belief. First, it assumes there is one absolute correct way to be, i.e., perfect. Yet with the variety of people, professions, beliefs, abilities, etc. out there, how could someone presume to define a singular explanation of perfection. Second, my belief is tied to the assumption that if I am not perfect, I am not worthy of love. Anyone who has had a child who acted imperfectly (crayons on the wall or meltdown at Wal-Mart) can easily express how the child’s imperfection did not take away from how much the parent loved them (unconditional love). Third, the idea that we should be perfect is inherently wrong because we are, well, human. The Oxford Living Dictionaries defines “human” as “of or characteristic of people as opposed to God or animals or machines, especially in being susceptible to weaknesses.”

broken glass
Photo by Jachan DeVol on Unsplash

Most of my life I thought I could and should be God or at the very least, an infallible machine. But alas, I am not. I am human. The perfectionist in me longs to be perfect and always act perfectly. The realist in me knows this will never happen – for me or anyone else. I am learning to accept my imperfection and see how my struggles and challenges, how my imperfection serves me – and hopefully serves you, my reader, as well. I recently received an email from one of my subscribers, Jill May, who wrote, “By the way, I love your newsletter.  I don’t always take the time to read every one of them, but when I do read it, I always get something from it.  Sometimes it’s a small tidbit, other times it’s a ‘Wow!’ moment.  I appreciated reading about your yoga headstand challenges.  It really does help the rest of us to know you have struggles just like we do.” (my underline)

It is not my perfection which resonates with my readers. It is my struggle with life; it is my imperfection which helps others through the ups and downs of their life. In an interview last year, I was asked what my purpose was. Out of my mouth without my conscious awareness came, “My purpose is to mess up and learn from it, so you don’t have to.” Funny, for decades I had the belief that my purpose was to achieve perfection so I could show others the way. What I am coming to accept is that I’m on this planet to roll around in the muck of life. I am here to choose poorly, learn from it, and find the courage to move on. I am here to realize the obstacles I put in my way through my dishonest beliefs, to find the tools to release these beliefs, and to find a new way to live. I am here to find deep and absolute acceptance of myself – warts and all – and to help others feel and embrace their own self-acceptance. Through self-acceptance, we can all learn how to have unconditional empathy and love for those around us as well.

Do you have a life purpose or mission? What is it? Do you struggle with the desire for perfection? What would your life be like without the struggle for the unachievable?