Day 319/365 Stay Curious

Last week my eleven year old daughter asked me, “Mom, do you ever wish you could live inside someone else’s body…”

For a split second I thought, “Oh no…I don’t want you to wish you are anybody but you.”

Then…(wait for it) she finished her thought…

“…so you can know what someone else is thinking, and maybe understand why they act the way they do?”

“YES!” I smiled and shouted exuberantly, “ALL THE TIME!”

(Oh my God, this kid is definitely mine).

While I obviously cannot live within someone else’s body, I do often try to look at things from another’s perspective. I try to get into their head and to understand them.

This practice in shifting perspective can be an incredible gateway to compassion. In doing so we begin to try to truly understand each other…

But it can also be dangerous.

Here’s why –

It can be a real impediment to true connection and understanding, when we assume we understand another’s thoughts and motivations without actually Asking. When we presume to know someone’s heart without being curious about whether or not we are actually right…this can be a huge mistake.

It can actually wreak havoc on our relationships.

I spend a lot (a LOT) of time analyzing my own thoughts…admittedly WAY more time then I should. So, I think it is only natural that I would also spend a lot of time trying to analyze the thoughts and behaviors of others.

More than a few times when I have stopped to actually ASK what someone is thinking instead of assuming that I know...I have been surprised by the answer.

How do you feel?

What are you thinking?

This is what I saw/felt/heard in your words or actions….

Is that what you meant?

I had a conversation recently that went something like this (I am paraphrasing)…

I know you are mad at me.

Actually I’m not. I was only mad for like ten minutes, and then I let it go.

What made you let it go?

I realized that I understood why you did what you did.

And why is that?

Because of XYZ.

Actually, that’s not why. It was because of ABC.

Oh…well that’s interesting…can you explain that? 

Yes…

A whole new and in-depth conversation evolved from that….a conversation and a level of understanding we never would have come to if we had not each been curious.

Even though I was being compassionate and forgiving, I did not truly understand.

I had “let it go,” but without an authentic understanding of what lay in her heart.

So…the next time I was bothered by someone’s actions, I reached out. I told him this was how I perceived the situation. I asked…

Am I right?

I wasn’t right…and a conversation evolved from there.

As Glennon Doyle says, “Less judgement, more curiosity.”

This doesn’t work with everyone, or in every situation of course. Sometimes people are not ready, willing or able to delve into why they said what they said, or why they did what they did...or what that might mean.

You can ask, but that doesn’t mean you will get an answer with any real depth to it.

More and more I realize how much I deeply appreciate the people in my life who are willing engage with me in this way. When a person can connect with themselves and give a thoughtful response to the question, WHY?

Somehow it still surprises me…it even takes my breath away. I feel humbled and grateful to know someone else’s truth. It is so brave to say – yes, I want you to understand me…to truly know my heart. I trust you to at least try to understand me, even if you may not like what I have to say.

In a way it feels like magic –

You mean…all I have to do is ask, and you’ll tell me what lies within you? It can’t possibly be that easy.

Yet with some people, it is. So, to those people in my life…thank you for sharing your heart and your mind with me. I think you are beautiful…and fascinating.

Sometimes, though, we are left to draw our own conclusions. When this happens, perspective and compassion are useful tools, but I think in using them we must always remember we are drawing our own conclusion, based only on our own perception…

This does not make it true. 

Also…

In my constant quest to understand myself and the people around me, I know I need to respect the fact that some questions need breathing space.

The answers are not always immediately clear. There are some questions we are not ready to answer, and some answers we are not ready to hear. 

Stay curious.

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Things that make you go HMMMM.

Day 168/365 The Shrinker

Once, to endear myself to a man, I feigned indifference to one of the great loves of my life…Eddie Vedder.  The object of my affection rolled his eyes and said something to the effect of, “Those meathead summer tourists, always blasting Pearl Jam…” (He emphasized “Pearl Jam” as if they were the bane of our existance).

I nodded in agreement while I died a little inside from my lack of loyalty to Eddie. 

This may have been when I first noticed that I was willing to shrink for men.

It didn’t stop there.

When I was on my first date with my future husband (my future-future ex-husband, as it turned out) I had been a vegetarian for a year or so. He wanted to order chicken nachos for us to share. I didn’t want to seem high maintenance, so I neglected to mention that I no longer ate meat. (I didn’t actually eat the chicken, but I quietly picked around it. He seemed not to notice.)

Later, I told my mother about our date and she said something sagely like, “No good relationship starts out with dishonesty.” I bristled at that because I hadn’t lied.

I had just failed to offer my authentic self.

Over the next decade, this failure to be authentic about myself and how I was feeling – this shrinking – gradually sucked the life right out of me.

One day I woke up and realized that if I kept shrinking, soon there would be nothing left of me at all. I barely recognized myself.

I was so very small.

This awakening led to my becoming an entrepreneur, and ultimately, a single mother of two. I am proud of the life I have built.

I’ve become stronger. Independent. Full.

But…confident as I feel, when it comes to dating, I’m afraid the Shrinker will sabotage me once again.

Whenever I’m afraid to say how I really feel..I can hear the Shrinker whispering into my ear…

Don’t say that.

Don’t do that.

They may not like it.

Shrink.

It’s the only way to be loved.

Shrink, Little One.

Shrink.

Eckhart Tolle wrote, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.”

I know I keep being offered (yeah I’ll say offered) life experiences – relationships and interactions in friendship, business, and romance that challenge me – for the sole (soul) purpose of teaching me that it is okay to use my voice to express my actual feelings even if that means saying things that the other person may not want to hear, such as…

Your words/actions upset me…

Your words/actions are unacceptable…

I don’t think you’re being honest…

I won’t let you treat me this way…

So, Universe, I say keep serving these opportunities up so I can continue to reenforce my backbone.

Even though I know the Shrinker is wrong, she is very seductive.

I hope, with a little more practice, when the next Object of my affection appears, I will be able to stand tall and say…

“Whatever you do…don’t disparage Eddie.”

 

 

 

Day 131/365 On Loving

Sometimes loving a person is easy, and sometimes it feels overwhelming – the responsibility of it…of loving someone with grace, integrity, forgiveness, dignity, truth

We have to do it anyway,

Because without love we are hollow.

The more I live, the more I recognize it is all about human relationships –

All of it.

All of the heartache, the struggles, the confusion…all of the work it takes sometimes to connect…if we don’t dig into it and try to learn from one another, we gain nothing from this life.

Nothing.

I hope I can share this without coming off preachy – because you know what – I am writing this to myself just as must as I’m writing it to you

You see, I forgot.

I forgot that to love someone means loving them even when we don’t understand them, even when they – or we – are angry, hurt, defensive or confused.

I forgot that when someone is hard to love – that is often when they need our love the most…because chances are, they don’t believe they deserve it.

AND…

We stumble, again and again,

AND…

We can choose to love ourselves enough to accept the infinite number of chances we are given to do it right…

This painfully simple and brutally hard work of loving each other.

“Today I will choose love. 

If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection, criticism, or negativity over love,

I will choose love next.

I will choose love until it becomes my default choice

…my gut instinct…my natural reaction.

I will choose love until it becomes who I am.”

-Rachel Macy Stafford

Day 110/365 Musical Chairs

Good evening! This is one of those nights in which I find myself dreaming of my head hitting my pillow, and yet I have written nothing here…why did I commit to this 365 day challenge? Who am I challenging, exactly?

Myself.

Oh, Right. It makes total sense that I’d do this to myself during an incredibly stressful and exhausting time in my life.

Idiot.

{Seriously, I have been loving sharing this journal with you. I’m just tired and loopy tonight…bear with me if you dare.}

So, it’s approaching 10pm. I remember when that was what time my friends and I would hit the town. Right now I can’t think of anything less appealing than hitting the town! It’s funny how our priorities and interests change and evolve with age, isn’t it? Which leads me to my (hopefully coherent) thoughts for tonight…

As a middle aged woman (my friends get mad when I say that, but guess what, you guys – 88 years would be a damn good run.  We’re lucky if we are only middle aged right now).

Ahem…as a middle aged, single, divorced woman…

Holy cow, can you almost hear the violin playing the sad music in the background?

Let’s start this again…lately I have been thinking a lot about relationships and the freedom I have to look at them differently now as an independent, confident, self sufficient single mother of two.

Here’s what I mean –

When I was in my early twenties I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have children. I just remember feeling really lost. I didn’t know who I was nor who I wanted to be.

At some point I decided that nothing appealled to me more than having children and staying at home to raise them…like my mother had done. Perhaps this seemed like the safe thing to do (but that’s a psychoanalysis for another time).

After that, dating became stressful….kind of like musical chairs, but instead of chairs being taken away one by one, it was the eligible men being removed from the game.  I saw my friends getting married and I didn’t want to be the one left without a “chair” when the music stopped.

The problem was I fixated a lot more on landing in a chair than on enriching my life in other ways. I thought little about cultivating my own interests. I was certain that my life was going to revolve around my children, and around my husband (who was going to take care of us entirely, of course) and life would be good.

(Cue the feminist lynch mob…)

Feel free to judge if you must. It’s the truth. That’s all I wanted.

Ultimately I did find love, and marriage, and my two beautiful children came into this world.

I was a wife, and a mother – being either one of which is a beautiful thing – but I had no idea who I was outside of those labels. Which becomes a problem when a label no longer fits.

I found myself there, with the husband and the beautiful children just like I wanted – and guess what – I still didn’t know who I was nor who I wanted to be as an individual.  It’s safe to say, neither did he.

Somehow, when my marriage unravelled, I found strength, self confidence and skills I never knew I had.

I built a new life.

So, the beauty of where I sit now, is…

(See what I did there…where I sit now? Remember the musical chairs? Stay with me…it’s late).

Ahem, the beauty of where I sit now, is that I am not looking for someone with whom to build a life. I’m just looking for someone with whom to share in the very good life which I have built for myself.

I’ll tell you what, it feels amazingly good to want, but not to need.

I’ve written it before and I mean it entirely when I say I loved my (ex)husband (and in a different way, I always will). I have no regrets about the relationship we had. We were happy for many years, and we made beautiful children. Our children are so loved.

Looking back, though, at how I entered that marriage, and what I expected to find there within it, I’ll say this…

I hope when my daughters feel ready to seek out partners in life, that they do so already feeling complete on their own. I hope that they will look not for someone who will create a life for them, but for someone who will enhance the lives they have created for themselves.

Perhaps I’ll show them what that looks like, someday, with the right person.

No matter what, I hope I’ve shown them if the music suddenly stops, they don’t need to scramble to find a chair…

It’s best to stand on their own two feet, anyway.

DAY 75/365 Stay In Your Own Hula Hoop

“My my, the cruelest lies are often told without a word.  My my, the kindest truths are often spoken, never heard.” – Ben Folds

Is there anything more confounding at times than human relationships? Ironically, I believe with every bit of my heart that navigating these labyrinths is the sole reason for our existence.

We are here to learn how to love one another, even when we behave like complete arses sometimes (well not me, of course).

What a life-long endeavor it is to understand one another, to be able to communicate with one another. Is there a more pure act of love than seeking to understand?

Nothing upsets me more than feeling misunderstood (especially if I feel that this misunderstanding has caused someone to be upset with me).  I can really spin out with my own inner dialogue –

I said that stupid thing and now he thinks…

I forgot to do that thing and now she thinks…

He obviously hates me and that’s why he…

I also hate feeling like I don’t understand someone else’s motivation for their behavior. I have answers for that too, of course –

He must have done that because…

She must have been feeling that way because…

This is when my friend, Monica, will remind me: “Stay in your own hula hoop.”

(Meaning – you only know what you know, and what you feel. Stop making assumptions.)

Isn’t it awesome when we presume to know what other people’s innermost thoughts and motivations are without, oh I don’t know…asking them?

You might think I am skilled at this, being as I pour my heart out here every day, but the reality is – this blog is kinda my hula hoop – I only know what I know, I only feel what I feel.  Writing about my feelings it is a one sided endeavor – a completely controlled experience by the soft glow of my computer.

I tell you what I think, and you read it.

So, I hereby challenge myself  to stretch my muscles of understanding…to open my mouth and ask, “How do you feel? Why do you feel that way? Can you tell me the reason you did that? I want to understand.”

It is sort of the holy grail of loving relationships, after all –

To be understood and to understand….and to not make shit up in your head about what other people think, and why they do what they do.

JUST ASK THEM.

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