Monthly Archives: February 2012

Loving Yourself, No Restrictions Apply

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Like many little kids, I made “love coupons” for my parents as creative gifts on occasion. Lately, I’ve been noticing a shift in my thinking towards “gifting” people I love with certain actions. My brain has been so trained to sort behaviors into “good” and “bad,” that often, necessary change can feel vilifying.

Acknowledging Different Communication Styles Without Judgment

For instance, I’m a talker by nature, some mix of introspection and extroversion, and I came from a family forged by an attorney and a stewardess/nurse. The result is something akin to the classic “big Italian family around the table” cliche, though we shared neither that heritage, nor regular meals, nor large numbers. We interrupt. We ask questions, often before the last one is fully answered. We tell stories we’ve lived, heard and retold a hundred times. We laugh a lot. We’re excited to talk to one another. Our religious background means we’re often seeking meaning, our perfectionist side means we’re often advocating the “right” way to do things, and our debate-nature means we’re always challenging what we know and what we’re told. We often dive into conflict, and resolve it just as easily.

There’s a draw to this style of communication, but it can overwhelm those who may be more pensive and introverted by nature. In particular, my boyfriend often feels this imbalance in our communication, and rightfully so. To be perpetually interrupted can look like disregard, devaluing or disrespect. To be talked at can often feel as though your partner in conversation is more interested in expression than exchange. When he first broached this topic, I felt offended. The choices were clear and black-and-white: either I stopped talking and changed my natural way of expression (labeling it as “bad”), or he had to change his style to match mine (labeling mine as “good”). Coming from a church background where personality tests were popular, and personal traits were analyzed and often looked down upon, this judgment felt natural. However, he tried to explain to me that all he was seeking was more balance; that he loved these traits about me, and acknowledged our differing styles, but simply wanted to strive to meet in the middle a bit more — no judgment necessary.

The Gift of Sharing and Silence

This time, as the subject resurfaced, I tried a different mode of thought. What if there was nothing wrong with the louder, more rapid communication style of mine? What if I simply gave him the gift of communication towards me? What if I gave him the gift of silent moments between us sometimes?

When my dad fell ill, I worried about the strain prolonged crises can cause in a new relationship. I asked an older associate for advice at the outset. She recommended making time, even if only for an evening, to both do fun things and not talk about the crisis at hand. Anyone who has ever caretaken, loved or seen a relative through an illness knows this can be difficult to do, with emergency medical situations, financial repercussions, emotional complications and logistical burdens — which is precisely what made the notion a gift as well, both to my boyfriend and our relationship. I didn’t give it perfectly, or as often as I would have liked, but it was something positive I could do, without needing to judge its presence or absence.

Redeemable Love

A few days ago, I decided to revive the old “love coupon” idea. I can’t change overnight, but I want my boyfriend to experience more equal-time in our conversations. I began with coupons for 20 minutes of uninterrupted expression, an “interview” where I could ask and just let him answer, and a silent, shared space of time. I found the more I made, the more I wanted to make, and eventually the small packet of slips included backrubs, cooking and the like. It’s a way of being mindful before you’re in a moment, too, presenting a pause and a shift where needed and desired.

Exercise: Making Self-Love Coupons

In keeping with my recent focus on giving to myself, as well, I made a short stack of “love coupons” from me to me. You might want to try this exercise as well, particularly if you don’t tend to give yourself much leeway to relax, pamper yourself or attend to your needs. In a transactional society, sometimes currency of some sort can provide a justification for receiving. If you find yourself needing some self love, try creating these love coupons for yourself.

  1. Get a single sheet of typing paper and fold it in half twice, lengthwise and width-wise.
  2. Fold the sheet in both directions to ensure creases, then pull apart to detach into fourths.
  3. Fold each quarter in half again, crease and detach, to create little coupon slips.
  4. Draw a symbol of the gift you are giving yourself in the middle of the piece of paper.
  5. Add “amounts” in the corners, such as 10 minutes or one time.
  6. Write the gift explicitly in a phrase, such as, “One hot cup of tea while I read the paper.”
  7. Clip the coupons together with a paperclip.

Here are some ideas for gifts that you can give to yourself in your “self-love coupons”:

  • A hot bath, with your phone powered down or out of reach.
  • One opportunity to “Just Say No” to a request from someone else.
  • 20 minutes of reading for pleasure.
  • 10 minutes of stretching or yoga poses.
  • 30-minute  “Get Out of Jail Free” card to absolve you of judgment on anything.
  • 5 minutes of dancing around your house to music.
  • An hour of drawing anything with crayons, markers or pencils.
  • 30 minutes of watching a TV rerun while doing something positive for your body (a face mask, drinking water, self-massage with lotion).
  • An on-demand afternoon nap.

Ask yourself what gifts can you give to yourself. They don’t have to be necessities, earned, prioritized or justified. By nature, they are simply freebies, discounts from the price of a daily grind. They’re also wonderful promotional tools, ways to get your psyche to become increasingly aware of all you have to offer, all you have in store.

HyperHug: Getting It Out and Getting Perspective

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Though it’s not necessarily my vocation anymore, my career began as a writer. During the moments when I have to write something creative, I sometimes experience high anxiety and the classic “writer’s block.” At other moments (mainly in my personal life), I realize I’ve simply lost perspective, confounded by complex and intertwined thoughts and feelings. Though I’ve never been much of a journaler, like many, I have found that writing through confounding emotions can be clarifying and fruitful.

HyperHug: 750 Words Website

750 Words allows you both venting space and a word-based analysis of your entries. Accounts are free and can be kept private, intended simply to get you writing. After each entry, you can click on a link with the word count at the bottom of the page, which takes you to a breakdown of your post — essentially, its introversion, outlook, emotional, perspective, and topic-based quotient. Lately, I’ve found this simple analysis helpful in showing me where I’m at when I’m otherwise unaware. Fast typists and natural stream-of-consciousness writers can finish an entry in 10 minutes; slower writers and thinkers may take a half-hour. Let your thoughts flow, unedited, and see how your perception of where you’re at contrasts with the machine-calculated view.

One-Minute Mind Makeover: Loving Yourself, Too

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There’s a lot of rhetoric about “building children’s self-esteem,” as if children left to their own devices wouldn’t build it themselves. From my viewpoint, children at their most natural probably do just fine. It’s the trials of life, the internalization of outside pain, the learning of shame, and the ownership of condemning voices that wrecks it for them. Perhaps this viewpoint is colored by my own experiences.

Loving You and Me, Too

Around 16, I began healing my self-esteem, only to watch it tumble to pieces in recent years. At present, it’s not as bad as it could be, but it’s nowhere near as strong as I feel it should be. My boyfriend has noticed this and it pains him. We’ve recently begun verbally expressing love in a straightforward manner, and he recently requested that I tack on an expression of self-love to the mix, on the premise that we can only love best when we love ourselves first.

Earning Tea

We don’t love others on a merit-based system, but we tend to base our self-love on performance. My first realization at my first feeble attempts at tacking on self-love to these statements was that I immediately questioned its merit. “What have I done that’s so special? Do I really deserve love considering my list of shortcomings?”

I had a similar train of thought a few years ago, when my self-esteem was at an all-time low, about making myself a cup of tea whenever there was overdue work, interpersonal conflict, or a laundry list of mistakes I’d made that day. The internal dialogue went something like this:

Maybe  I’ll make myself a cup of tea.

Really? Sounds indulgent when you have all of these things to do. Accomplish something, and then you can have a cup of tea.

As I recounted this to someone, they asked me an interesting question, cutting to the core of this internal exchange:

What if you lived in a world where no one deserves a cup of tea?

Truthfully, this thought was a better tactic than simply talking myself into deserving it. If someone asks me for a cup of tea, I don’t perform a character assessment or make them regale me with their accomplishments for the day; I just put on the kettle. If we lived in a world where no one “deserved” a cup of tea, I could simply have one without having to earn it, in a simple act of self-care and unconditional acceptance.

One-Minute Mind Makeover: P.S., I Love Me

Building on the theory that the words we say (internally or externally) affect us, this may not be such a bad idea. Give it a whirl. When you find yourself writing or saying statements of love to another person, whisper to yourself, “and I love myself, too.” While overtly expressing such may tag you unnecessarily as a narcissist, adding the thought may add a little perspective. If you find yourself arguing the notion, remember that you don’t deserve love; the beautiful thing about love is that you don’t have to. You don’t even have to deserve it with existing self-esteem. Just make a conscious choice to give it to yourself anyways, to create a world where you can have all the acceptance, validation and tea-infused hot water you want.

Anxiety Blowing Through Here

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In the last several years, I have no idea how many anxiety episodes I’ve been through. Yesterday morning, it struck me that those two words were the key. When I suffered my first actual, acute panic attack, I started to learn how to manage panic. Certain tricks helped, but arguably the most helpful was to remember prior panic episodes. They rarely lasted more than 15 minutes. The moment — and the accompanying sensations and feelings — would pass.

Just a Few Questions, Ma’am

Nowadays, I rarely have a full-blown panic attack. Instead, I have periods where I feel the force of anxiety gripping me. The experience is generally longer in duration, less overt and more difficult to exit in some ways. Negativity builds on itself, and for me, it hits the hardest in the quiet hours at the tail end of an evening or the earliest moments after waking. It comes dressed deceptively as “facing reality,” with a barrage of interrogating questions: 

You do know you have that project due today? How are you going to finish? What about your other goals for the day? Remember that task you were supposed to do two days ago? Why haven’t you exercised yet this week? When are you going to take your health more seriously? What if you end up with a sudden condition as a result? How do you plan on affording surprises like that? Do you really think your career is working?

Outsourcing Worry

No one would deal well with being handed rapid-fire, big-picture questions like this upon waking. In my weaker moments, I’ve foisted this examination on those I love — and occasionally, it’s spilled over to disoriented love interests opening their eyes (or trying to finally close them). In those moments, I’ve simply been overwhelmed with the internal interrogation and have sought to “outsource” the question fielding by means of projection. Often, their responses are no better equipped than my own; it’s virtually impossible to field an infinite stream of negative possibilities, particularly when your brain is slowing down or warming up.

Two Thoughts to Ease Your Mind

Yesterday morning, I awoke to this proverbial chair-under-the-lightbulb-style internal investigation. Fortunately, earlier this week, I had several reminders and lessons in the benefits of staying positive. Despite my anxiety, I attempted to find a way to do so. I made myself a cup of tea. I looked over contract work that came in subpar, considered redoing it and instead took a few notes. I read some positive bloggers online. I turned up some music, and used my notes to request revisions. My morning began to turn around.

Two thoughts helped me make positive choices yesterday. First, I remembered that sometimes, no single action lightens the anxiety load. Sometimes, we have to pull out a few successive methods from our mental cache of coping mechanisms. Secondly, I had this single thought:

Anxiety is transient. Eventually, I will feel positive and calm again. These worries will find solutions. That which is frightening will seem less frightening when I find a new perspective. I can choose to suffer through this anxiety or simply disregard it, trusting these concerns will be there when I find myself in a less fearful viewpoint.

Worry Like the Wind

And, eventually, voila! It happened, perhaps somehow because I trusted that it would, or maybe just because anxiety is not a fully sustainable state. The day went well, work got done, and I even went for a mile run and played a little tennis. This morning, of course, the episode virtually repeated. I find myself with two deliveries, birthday present shopping to do, and a mid-afternoon appointment in a neighboring county. There will always be stress, and for those of us who battle anxiety, there will always be moments of stress-squared. But these will only be moments, or at absolute worst, days or hours. Eventually, the worry passes, the wheel of fortune eventually gives us a break, a stranger says a kind word, a rainbow appears in the sky, or we have our own mini moments of epiphany. Essentially, the wind eventually changes. And, until we learn to fully “shortcut” our anxieties and forgo them, we can always take comfort in the fact that their presence — though, at times, potent and omnipresent — is only temporary.

Writing Out Your Confession

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Few aspects of poetry escaped me during my time in college, but I never felt that I “got” confessional poetry. This feeling largely came from a teacher (whose class I eventually dropped) who seemed to desire some confusing form of confession from us. My poems handled everything from abuse survival to emergent sexuality, but for some reason, they never quite qualified as “confessional” in her eyes. Every class, I felt like I was piecing the professor’s reactions together to figure out her definition of confession. I recall one particular classmate’s poem she fawned over, a several-line recount of falling off a bicycle, closing in the lines1:

“I know concrete is hard.
I know blood’s red, too.”

Confession and Shame

Despite the succinct scene the lines evoked, I found myself mystified. What about this qualified as confession? While there are many “confessional poets” whose work I find provocative, I’ve never fallen in love with poets classified this way. For a long time, I blamed this poetry class for turning me off an entire genre. At other times, I simply presumed myself lacking in the sophistication to “get it” (falling into the response of many art audiences attempting to explain their lack of appreciation for whatever’s hailed as genius in the moment). But today, I thought perhaps part of my aversion to confessional poetry is also s due to the inherent shame with which confessional poetry tends to speak: the brave airing of dirty laundry.  I guess there’s a part of me that just wants it to be laundry, interestingly enough, without any judgment.

Shame and Speaking Secrets

My own journey through confession is an interesting one. I suppose as we age, we see less value in dirty little secrets. We begin to recognize that many of the experiences that breed shame simply aren’t our fault, or aren’t worth worrying about, or are so universal they hardly deserve a closeted life of pained cover-up. Though I grew up religious, my protestant background only embraced confession privately to God, or “to one another,” largely with the goal of “accountability.” For the most part, though, there was no onus to confess. Despite the lack of public shaming, the pressure to be holy left a residue of inner shame, one that probably would not have erased with speaking one’s sins (if we consider the binding relationship with shame despite confession spoken of by innumerable former Catholics).

Confession implies wrongdoing, waywardness, impulse, freakishness. In its strictest sense, the concept of confession seems to also implicate the confessor across a variety of contexts — murder confessions, treason confessions, confessions of sin, even the barely-sexy “Cosmo Confessions.” Confession evokes an image of a searing conscience at odds with great fear of retribution, with conscience narc-ing us out as it buckles under the unbearable weight of guilt. We convict ourselves with our own words. Most confessions of this sort will make someone angry, and most confessions of this sort will make us inherently feel bad, wrong, dirty, or awful. The benefit of confession is apparently that it “does the soul good,” essentially removing fear and providing a clean slate once we allow the past to resolve into consequence.

Witnessing and Testifying − Shamelessly

This is not how I think of confession. To me, the most powerful form of confession is closer to testimony. You are a witness not only to what you have done, but to what you have felt, to what you have overcome, to what you have endured. Something healing happens when we embrace this type of testifying, whether in a hushed whisper or with a loud, strong voice in front of a crowd. We validate our own experiences. We remove the shame of trauma, humanity, anger, poverty, sexuality, and poor judgment. We allow ourselves a soapbox in which to say, “Yeah, I did this. I am this. It happened. So, what’s your point?” In these moments, confession becomes a threat to the accuser, as we hijack the power of shame into the pride of survival.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we won’t have to duck a few stones hurled our way. It doesn’t mean that we’ll automatically feel better, either. Confession is sometimes the first step to forgiving yourself − or realizing you don’t need to be forgiven − but speaking experience isn’t equal to inner acceptance. Confession can open you up to further scrutiny (so often by those who have already convicted themselves at some point). Not everyone may even believe the things you testify to (equally often, because they find the reality a threat of some kind to their own belief systems or interpretation of personal experience). We spend so much energy figuring out our own stories, contexts and truths, we don’t particularly like them shaken by another voice when we reach them.

Pure Testimonials

But confession can also be a beautiful, powerful thing. Once, when coming to terms with a terrible occurrence, I wrote a simple statement on a piece of paper that merely expressed:

This happened. It’s painful, awful and incredibly sad, but it did.

 I looked at that piece of paper countless times over the next several days, each time denial crept in again. It was a testimony of the simplest kind. A short, historical entry etched on the back of an envelope. In that moment, I acknowledged reality and began to heal. Something about seeing these words in my own handwriting made a difference. This scrawled statement was also helpful in what it did not attempt to be − it didn’t attempt to explain misfortune, it didn’t assign fault, and it didn’t attempt to find a bigger truth, a brighter side, or a reason for it all. It didn’t even brainstorm next steps; it simply said what was.

Exercise: Simple, Shame-Free Statements

Releasing shame isn’t as simple as announcing our secrets at the microphone, but it can begin with an attempt to speak our truths to ourselves. See what happens if you simply state a fact and its feelings.

  1. Write down a statement you feel shame around.
  2. Cross out charged or judgmental words that slip into our vocabulary − “cheated,” “failed,” “ruined,” etc.
  3. Above your cross-outs, write neutral words instead.
  4. Act like a reporter. What happened? When? Where?
  5. Aside from shame, how does the event itself feel? Sad? Awful? Scary?
  6.  Rewrite your testimony in a single, nonjudgmental statement.
  • Attempt to find the passive voice, most useful for avoiding blame (“The marriage is over,” rather than “I failed at marriage”).
  • Try to keep the rewritten statement to 15 words or fewer.
  • Make sure the testimony you give includes no information about your character.

When you feel shame arise around this secret, pull out your testimony slip. Your secret is one step further from secrecy. It made its way from your memory onto paper. When you look at this simple sentence again, remember that the reality of what happened all you need to embrace. Try to avoid editorializing or condemning and just sit with this statement and see what emerges.2


Apologies to the uncredited author, as my brain found the lines more memorable than your name.
If you find the shame overwhelming after writing this testimonial sentence, it may help to seek out therapy. Outside perspective can sometimes help us release shame when we’re too close to an event to escape our inner judge.

Imaginary Paths

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Present-centered awareness remains the exception for me, still, instead of the rule. Growing up, I witnessed two polar ways of handling the emotions that bother us — the head-on tackle (sometimes exhausting, but insight-producing) and avoidance (where emotional needs seeped out in less-than-healthy ways). As a result, I’m often erring on the side of emotional confrontation — with others and myself. If I analyze enough — and piece the puzzles of my reactions, thoughts and feelings together — I should be able to understand and heal core issues. In general, when things do click into place, progress is generally more immediate in nature as the mental obstacles fall away.

Forcing the Pieces Together

The downside of this direct approach, however, is that sometimes the “clicking” won’t come. I find myself circling an issue, believing that with enough attention and effort, insight will come. One of the things that has struck me about being present is that insight seems more organic. Others have told me as much — that by simply being and living, insight arises, largely by virtue of releasing judgments and paying closer attention to experience. Despite the fact this notion makes little sense in my paradigm, I’ve begun to notice this dynamic taking place.

Reaction vs. Anticipation

I’m often trying to analyze anxiety (a recurrent struggle for me). Anxiety by nature confounds us, and quite often, its paralytic force leaves us unsure of its origins. I view it as a reaction to a notion or event, and am constantly trying to discern the source so I can logically talk myself down from the worry ledge. Today, it struck me that anxiety may not qualify as a reaction at all, in the purest sense. Instead, it’s anticipation of an event that has not occurred. How can we react if there has been no action? In those moments, I’m walking an emotional path of a fictitious place. Something about this notion felt profound. Just as I could never write a review of a hotel I’ve never stayed at, there’s little sense in breaking down a reaction to a thing I’ve never experienced.

Maybe the larger point is simply to recognize that the source of fear has not occurred; it’s tomorrow’s weather, it’s an undiscovered country, it’s a potential romance (or heartbreak) with someone you’ve never kissed, it’s a job you’ve never experienced your first day at. Fear of these things and their inherent negative possibilities may be natural, but it’s difficult to defend the positivity of an experience you’ve never had. As a result, sometimes our attempts at talking ourselves out of anxiety become less than effective, because we have no compelling evidence to counter the fear yet.

Trading Knowing for Noticing

Roughly 18 months ago, my father received an unexpected, terminal diagnosis that numbered his months to live. He seemed fine at the time, and we did all of the things that come naturally to such a situation — educated ourselves, saw specialists, cried, feared, made plans and contingency plans, and tried to relax. I’ve thought a lot recently about Christmas Eve, asking my (then new) boyfriend how to get through a holiday without that anxiety rocking me. “Just look at him,” he said, and that’s what I did. For that day, I immersed myself in being near my dad, holding his hand, talking to him, and being with my family. He was okay and every imaginary path was simply a possibility.

For all the living we did between then and the following fall, there was no way we could have imagined what would have occurred. We had no idea that his prognosis would ultimately improve, beginning a near-unbelievable decline in bodily markers that indicated disease. We didn’t know that he would live, symptom-free, for that next year. We had no way of knowing that weeks after this improved and symptom-free state, he would have a freak accident while shopping in our hometown, indirectly activating the disease. We had no way of anticipating brain surgery (neither expected nor related to his condition), a medically induced coma he would never quite come out of, our that by Thanksgiving, his chair would be empty.

But we also had no way of knowing that he would speak to each of us in the hospital before things got bad. We had no way of knowing he would stir for three days, allowing each of the three of us kids to experience a little more of him before we lost him. We had no way of knowing that we would gather, laughing, crying, playing guitar and singing, the day he left us. We had no way of knowing a light rain would fall outside the hospital as we hugged goodbye. We had yet to experience the joy of holidays spent together in his absence, the growth that even a few months could bring thereafter, and the breakthroughs we would make as a result. I had no way of anticipating creating this blog, typing this post, or doing laundry in anticipation of a weekend coastal trip I’m about to take. The future did not exist back then. In the same way, the future does not exist now.

Letting Life Exhibit the Evidence

Whether we battle anxiety disorders or not, we’re all looking to avoid pain. The needle itself is always less emotionally painful than the wince before the shot. Anticipation can be the most wonderful thing in the world, or the most terrible thing, but it will never, ever be the equal of experience. Perhaps that’s why experience can so powerfully bring insight. Sometimes the healing comes when you least expect it. Sometimes you wake up and realize you’re no longer crying. Sometimes you wake up and realize you suddenly are. Some forms of healing come through mere experience, just as some wounds do as well. All we can do is allow it to happen, try not to run, and try not to live an event that is merely one of a myriad of possibilities. Sometimes you just have to look at something to recognize this is your reality, this is your job right now. Few of us are professional psychics. We don’t need to be. Our job is instead, to do the living, not the prediction, to be the evidence for or against the fortune cookie, horoscope, weather report, or prognosis.

One-Minute Mind Makeover: Picking a Positive Password

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Words we hear often become truths we accept. They can have a profound effect on our self-esteem over time, ranging from bathroom-mirror affirmations to repetitive verbal abuse. They can effect our vision and work ethic, as evidenced by everything from company slogans to the now-famous “Wal~Mart Cheer.” Words we read can also affect our psyches, whether it’s the serial-killer thriller we read before bedtime that finds its way into our nightmares, or the e-mails from loved ones that weave their way into our better dreams.

The Gateway to Happiness

Sometimes, repetition of a word alone can affect our moods, outlooks, and perspectives. Some time ago, I recognized my mood dipping just slightly when logging into my personal e-mail account. I finally realized the password itself, entered countless times each day, was subtly affecting me. So often we select passwords that evoke memories, rather than future aspirations. Instead, I began a long-standing pattern of selecting passwords that were both forward-looking and positive — a phrase that epitomized my far-off vision for my company in my work account, an inspiring song lyric for my personal e-mail or a thought of perspective as the password for my bank login (how many of us could use an encouraging word before facing down our account balance?).

Say the Magic Words

Try it for a few weeks. Choose a two-word phrase that inspires you (remembering to keep it secure — a great way to do this is to routinely substitute numbers for certain letters). You might be surprised to find that it unlocks your brain and heart, along with your accounts.

Each Dot in the Sparkle and Span

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“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”   (Galileo)

I went to a Superbowl party this weekend where no one watched a minute of football, opting for games (of the board variety) instead. We stopped to watch commercials. I found myself largely un-present for much of the party, thinking about my father (a football fan who always loved to watch the game with my brother), my late mother (as the girls talked about theirs) and my underdeveloped life (in comparison to our wonderful, newly-engaged-with-newly-remodeled-house hosts and the couple holding their newborn across the game table).

What You Miss When You’re Actively Missing

This crash-in of wistful desire (for parents, family, the past, the future) took me away from the experience around me. I wanted deep connection and family. It didn’t strike me that I had two members of my extended family in that living room, my best friend and my boyfriend, both of whom were there the day my dad died. I barely registered the gorgeous, hilarious and caring guy I am learning to build a life with — a beautiful life that currently involves our life as a couple (and singles). I neglected to recognize how wonderful it was that we could use game pieces without our hands busy with babies, the fact i could have a few drinks without worrying about breastfeeding, or the fun fact that we have two apartments instead of one house. I was so busy missing things, and feeling like things were missing, that I missed most of what was in front of me.

Spur-less Science, Lots of Religion

I did loosen up throughout the day, as evidenced by my boyfriend saying his favorite two points in the party where a glorious game win of his (mopping the floor with the rest of us) and when I finally laughed. My favorite point was the reason for my laughter. During a game of Cranium, all teams were miming “evolution.” My charades attempt involved palms outlining an earth, small bursts of my hand (“God placing the stars”), fingers crossed in a “no” sign, and then puffing my cheeks out and pulling my ears to signify “monkey.” After my boyfriend’s baffled attempt at figuring that one out, he inquired and I explained. Another guest (British and baby-laden) immediately surmised, “That’s how you show ‘evolution’? You must be from Texas.”

Though I was born and raised in the Bay Area in a professional family with Ivy-League alumni, and though I no longer ascribe to the 7-day creation story I illustrated, I understood his point. For years, I braced myself in ignorance, guarding against any scientific knowledge of the world’s inception, largely because I deeply suspected it made sense. To believe in evolution was to lose belief in God. Even after that belief waned, evolution still seemed a threat to my view of my family, my own brain and so much I’d known. Finally, several years ago, I decided just what Galileo did — that any God worth having wouldn’t ask me to check my brains at the door. I still feel grossly undereducated on the topic, but I’m learning. In fact, my boyfriend and I spent many of our early dates (and some of my more recent favorites) stargazing as I offered up as many questions about the universe as the innumerable lights we witnessed.

Getting Pastoral on You

The nightsky still fills me with awe and wonder. David apparently felt some of twinge of this when he wrote in the Psalms:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

I love the romantic notion of the stars as the handiwork of God almost as much as I love the notion of such a God minding man. Christians interpret this verse to essentially demonstrate the personal and immeasurable depth of God’s care. Now that mindfulness has taken on a slightly new meaning for me, I stop at the word. What does it mean when God is “mindful” of man? A favorite pastime of American pastors is to use “original Hebrew” or “original Greek” to augment the meaning of scripture. Often, this involves essentially locating a word in Strong’s Concordance, cross-referencing and getting theological with the definitions. Very rarely does the pastor himself actually know the original language first-hand.

I studied Ancient Greek in college, but by no means was at the top of my classes. As far as Hebrew goes, I’m clueless, so I’m essentially “pulling a pastor” here. But according to Strong’s, “mindful” here can mean remembrance, “bringing to mind,” celebration, confession, consideration, praise, record or invoke. Essentially:

After you made this universe…………………

  • ……………. you remember man.
  • ……………. you think of man.
  • ……………. you celebrate man.
  • ……………. you speak man.
  • ……………. you praise man.
  • ……………. you invoke man.
  • ……………. you record man.

Playing With Magnetic Hebrew Definitions

Now, granted, in context, this word probably has a single viable definition — one that I’m guessing comes closest to “consider.” But since I’m not sure I still qualify as a “believer,” and since I’m meditating on this now, I’m stopping for a moment to consider these notions. Beyond the ability of a deity to esteem and personalize mankind amid the stunning universe’s other components, I find these concepts intriguing. God stopping, perhaps out of affection, to remember man, despite its inferiority. God celebrating man alongside supernovas, planets and every piece of cosmos. God feeling proud of man, the overlooked B-side, in the affectionate way an artist only could, potentially more than the Billboard hit single everyone wants to hear at the concert.

Equally intriguing, God invoking man, as man offers invocation to God at so many religious services, inviting, opening up channels, and compelling His presence. The master of the universe imploring us to His space instead of the other way around. God recording man, putting us into words, scratching us into a cosmic desk so that even as we ourselves may eventually grow extinct, there may be evidence, a sharply angled, “HUMANS WERE HERE. ’12.”

Be Ye Mindful of One Another

Many Christians would find those statements heretical at best, but I love them. What if we were mindful of each other in the same way? So much of what I’ve read about mindfulness seems focused on the physical, the inanimate, the somatic. In some cases, the psychological, the transient emotional, the facts of obstacles and solutions. Sometimes, even the philosophical, the abstract. But how often do we forget, as I did at the Superbowl party, to be mindful of the people sitting right beside us?

What if we engaged with them in this type of mindfulness? What if we found each other our best, most heart-rendingly stunning accomplishment? What if after a big “win,” we simply took a second to quite literally think of someone we loved, and let that moment of consciousness be part of our winning experience? What if we saw the person next to us on the bus as one of life’s potentially skipped-over, underrated tracks?

Consider What Considering Could Do

I know if I could do this, I would have probably been laughing more than once at the Superbowl party. I would probably be content to lay in the gorgeous arms of a man who delights me in every way, every day, rather than tossing and turning about our future. I would likely find myself stopping to listen more, just for the sake of hearing someone out. I’ll never create a universe, and maybe no one ever did. But we create our own universes. And sometimes, it’s not the sparkle and span of what we create, it’s the moment we let it a bit of it into our psyches, our field of vision, our memories, and our hearts.

Music Mini Mix: For Tough Days

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Sometimes you have a really rough day. The toughest ones usually involve things going wrong, things that make us feel we have little control, tough interactions with others, or things we muck up ourselves. In that vein, today was an incredible mix of all of the foregoing. I found myself dealing with grief, fears about aging and progress, a relationship issue gone awry, attempts to connect with family that backfired and oversights in business. At this point, nearly 1:30 in the morning, I feel like throwing in the towel — or rather, throwing a towel over my head.

Songs for the End of a Bad Day

Because music can sometimes say the things we can’t, here’s a end-of-a-long-day mini mix to help soothe my soul — and hopefully, yours.

  1. Jim’s Big Ego – After the Tornado
    Opening with the simple, poignant truth that “bad things happen to the kindest people,” this slow, contemplative song offers an empathetic journey through self-doubt, exhaustion and grief.
  2. Paul Simon – Think Too Much (b)
    Sometimes, all the thinking in the world doesn’t offer much resolution. At times, we can only take the advice of this song, compromise and give up the day to rest.
  3. Missy Higgins – Nightminds
    Some of us are deep thinkers, some deep feelers, and some days tend to cave in particularly during the exhaustion of the evening hours. This song offers compassionate camaraderie, and an invitation to “lay it all down” to find peace during the night hours.
  4. Leslie (Sam) Philips – Reflecting Light
    Philips garnered critical acclaim from all corners, though she never gained much of a following, even in her current secular career as “Sam Philips.” This song offers the reassurance that even during the “mean times” when we’ve “worn out the world,” we can still reflect light.
  5. Jackson C. Frank – Blues Run the Game
    Misery loves company, and sometimes “Blues” are all we got. Jackson C. Frank, folksinger and foremost expert in bad luck and bad days gives us the imagery of crapping out just about everywhere in this beautiful folk song.

Empathy for Your Inner Judge

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“No one likes a critic,” the saying goes. When it comes to inner critics, they don’t tend to win popularity contests, either. Once we become aware of our inner judge, we understand its negative influence in our lives. Just as we grimace when our mother-in-laws, frenemies or rivals pick us apart, when we recognize the internalization of these voices, we naturally want to give them the boot.

However, someone said something to me the other day as we spoke of this critical part of ourselves. They implored me not to judge this critical part of myself, essentially pointing out that, “Stop beating yourself up!” and “Why are you doing this again?” is just another attack in disguise. What they suggested was that we needed to find empathy for the part of ourselves that’s doing the criticizing.

Why So Critical?

It’s an interesting notion. Perhaps just as external critics sometimes just need a little love, internal critics do, too. For me, it’s a tremendously frightened part of me that is looking out at a world with literally half of the immediate family members I started with. It’s a voice that simply wants to be happy and survive, and thinks that perhaps the way to make that happen best is to pressure, push, measure and criticize. Its intents may be self-protective, but its tactics simply don’t work. When I hear this voice, my reactions range from freezing to a frenzied spin attempting to make everything right — usually all at once. Like most “Rome in a Day” attempts, I fail, tearing apart my self-confidence and giving a reason for the inner judge to let me have it again.

Of course, my friend is right. The anxiety spiral worsens when I am trying to tell myself to simply calm down and stop being so critical. Knowing this critical voice plays a (NPI) critical role in my panic leads me to feel a mixture of anger and helplessness at my attempts to silence it.

Avoiding Pleasing the Critic

Finding empathy for anyone critical begins with acknowledging the need behind the criticism. If misanthropes simply need to know they can be accepted, then kindness and invitation become the answers. Behind my personal inner judge is a motivation to create a life that I can live, love and thrive within. I am petrified, without guidance and at a personal and professional crossroads. This part of me is hurting, exhausted, grieving, scared, and grossly lacking in self-trust. I suppose that’s why blame, frantic “fix it all now” attempts, “get over it” thinking and giving more ear to outside input than gut-level instinct aren’t helping. They’re earnest but misguided efforts. When I hear someone say I should take a certain career path — or, worse, that I should because of my past failures — I immediately want to “do the right thing.” When I hear someone tell me to hurtle myself past the panic, I berate myself for not clearing the hurdle. When I find myself desperately wanting to rest, I push that instinct aside to push — even when pushing yields little result.

Do Unto Thine Self as Thou Wouldst Do Unto Others

So, like most of us, I need to stop listening to the criticism of the judge. But how can I fill these needs and assuage these fears? I suppose by giving myself the acknowledgment that these impulses are fueled by those fears. If I met someone exhausted, hurting, grieving and frightened, someone who did not trust themselves, what would I do? I suppose I would tell them to lie down and rest. I might make them a cup of tea. I would hold them and let them cry. I would let them know their fears are heard and will likely be unfounded. I would protect them. I would remind them of their successes. I would look past their criticism to their need.

It strikes me as I write this that my boyfriend largely has been doing those things for me in the last few days. Perhaps he can see past all of this process more than I can right now, because he’s definitely reaching to those deep needs (even sometimes, when I resist). The notion of giving those things to myself seems foreign but peaceful. Perhaps I’ll attempt to befriend this part of me caught up in this cycle of anxiety, judgment and inertia. Maybe I’ll start with a few hours of dreaming and some hot liquids.