When You Live Life in the Hypothetical

hypothetical
Photo credit: Martin Brigden
Logos
"Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands. 
If you say them with love and the felt ferocity of that love and 
the felt necessity of that love, the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speakng, and don't worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all of those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy. 
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word spoken with love.
-Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early

I live life way too much in my head. In fact, it is a thriving cerebral swamp of stories about what has happened in the past, what is happening now, and what could potentially happen in the future. I daily struggle against this quagmire of imaginations, and have to constantly evaluate what is reality and what is not….I’m really good at convincing myself of things that aren’t true.

My favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Richard Rohr, among others, frequently teach that the past and the future are both illusions.  The only thing that is real is the present, the NOW. Like so many others, I’m horrible at living in the Now. But even then, I’m not so great at living in what really happened in the Past either.  I tend to spend most of my time in the hypothetical past and the hypothetical future.

When I was young, my mother made a couple of really harsh statements to me that have stuck with me since.  Now, this is not a “my parents’ ruined my life” post.  My mother was a wonderfully complex person with alot of flaws and alot of strengths and virtues.  And I’ve made enough tremendous belly flops as a parent to know that we are all going to say really stupid things to our kids at times.

These two comments, in particular, wormed their way into my psyche, and I internalized them as being representative of my identity. I spent the next half of my life striving against those beliefs to prove they weren’t true. Every time I did fail, it just seemed to reinforce them. Actually, I think my believing them just became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here’s the point I’m trying to get to: in my efforts to avoid living out the beliefs of those statements my mom made to me, I would conjure up every possible hypothetical situation related to them and come up with contingency plans to avoid hypothetical outcomes. Can you say stressful? It is exhausting to try and plan ahead for every possible damning dilemma that might arise.

One of the statements was about my inability to keep a house clean, take care of my things, etc. The truth is, until I hit my mid-20s I was an absolute slob. There’s just no denying it.  But I set out to prove my mother wrong…that I could, in fact, keep house with the best of them, and I vowed to not be judged by people that would come to my house because there wouldn’t be anything to judge.

Stop laughing, y’all.  I know this sounds ridiculous, but it was really the place I was in.  I would frantically try to control things to keep the house tidy. I would have anxiety attacks every time I failed, or the kids made a mess, or something wasn’t done to “my” specifications. It took me until I was in my early 30s to realize that all the people that came to my house weren’t the types of people that would judge how it looked.  Instead, I was killing myself trying to please “hypothetical” people – the snarky, snobby people that would surely cross my thresshold at some point and sneer at my home.  These hypothetical people are relentless…you can never please all of them, and they all have different opinions about how things should be anyway.

On a quick side note, it took me 25 years to realize that the hurtful statements my mom made about me…weren’t about me.  They were never about me.  She was simply putting her own fears about hypothetical situations onto me.  And when I say stupid, hurtful things to my kids…it’s never really about them.  It’s just me projecting my own hurts and fears onto them.

Like most people, I struggle with “what-ifs” about the future, and I try to make fail-safe plans. But I struggle more with the hypothetical past. I conjure up all the stories about the way things could have gone, and in my head, I struggle to figure out how I would have done things if one of those stories had been reality instead of what actually happened. If your brain is tangling up with that, welcome to what the inside of my head looks like.

Somehow, in my mind, I tend to believe that the way I got to where I am is not legitimate and I have to somehow justify myself through coming up with plans for scenarios in the past that never occurred.  For example, my parents were very generous and paid for a huge portion of my undergraduate education.  I worked part-time and got scholarships, but they definitely footed the bulk of the bill.  At the time, I would look at some of my friends who had no support from family, and how they worked and took out loans to pay for college by themselves. I would feel guilty that I didn’t have to do those things to get through school, and come up with a complex plan in my head of how I would have put myself through if my parents hadn’t stepped up.

Here’s another example…(most of these hypothetical situations deal with money or my white privilege or something like that.)  I’m single now after a long marriage, and am putting myself through nursing school, paying a mortgage on a house, etc.  My money situation is currently secure because of the way my ex and I worked out our divorce settlement and I freelance on the side. But I still feel the compulsive need to figure out in my head how I would have made everything work up until now if I was like so many other single moms struggling really hard to make ends meet.  Or, like so many of my nursing school friends who are having to take out massive loans to complete the program.

When I take on these hypothetical past situations in my head, I will almost work myself into anxiety or panic attacks when I can’t figure out solutions for the imagined problems that didn’t actually happen.  Essentially, I spend most of my life in the past striving to justify myself and the choices I’ve made by proving, in my imagination, that I could have survived other realities.  I spend the other portion of my life living in the hypothetical future, thinking of what goals I need to reach within certain timeframes to also justify and legitimize where I am right now.

This, as you all must know, is a complete exercise in futility. I’m only fighting with ghosts and apparitions.  The fact is, the only reality that will ever happen is the reality that is happening right now. If my parents hadn’t paid for my undergrad, that would have been my reality at the time and I would have made choices regarding that reality. But, reality was that they paid for college, and it helped get me to where I am now. Arguing with that is dumb.

The same with my present situation. My reality is that I’m in nursing school, I freelance write on the side, and I am doing OK money-wise. This is what life has brought to me and arguing with it or hypothesizing about every possible permutation of what reality could be is saying that reality (or life or the divine) isn’t good, isn’t what I need at this moment. I am where I am right now, and it is all grace. When I argue with what happened and try to control what will happen in a way that makes me feel validated, I’ve pushed away grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Julie’s interpretation of this verse:  You’re perfectly OK, right here, right now because you trust what life brings you. You don’t ask questions, you don’t try to rationalize anything. You just accept your “is-ness” as a gift. And since you know that life brought everything to you and not the other way around, you know bragging about it is silly.

So, all of this to say…don’t be like me.  Don’t fritter away so many of the good Presents of your life to dwell on the dead Past or the never graspable Future with all of their hypothetical could have beens or might be’s.  All we have is Now.  It is a gift.

Subluxations and Where the Light Gets In

 

ligh
Photo credit: Bipin Gupta

 

I used to think that chiropractors were quacks – until I visited a chiropractor who specialized in prenatal care, when I was 10 months pregnant with my third son and miserable with back pain. Not only did she relieve much of my discomfort by ever so carefully realigning my spine and hips, but I went into labor within 24 hours. By that point of my pregnancy, I was DONE, and very grateful.

Fast forward several years. I was doing alot of running, and at some point developed a sharp burning pain along the IT band of my left leg.  It would start hurting after only walking a few blocks, and so I let my running regimen fall to the wayside. No amount of noodle rolling, stretching, massage, or rest would keep the pain away.  I decided at one point to go visit a local specialized chiropractor who emphasized more than just adjustment – she was into holistic care – nutrition, lifestyle, all of it.  During my first visit she took X-rays of my back to find out where kinks were. Meanwhile, she explained that we usually come to the chiropractor for help when we are experiencing physical pain.  However, this is a later stage in our injuries.  Nerves that supply our muscles also supply our organs, and the same pinched nerves that cause noticeable pain also cause impairment in organ function. Furthermore, pain in the body that seems unrelated to our backs might actually be directly related.

This, as it turned out, was true in my case.  As I visited her regularly over several months, she would make gradual adjustments and apply traction to reverse the multiple kinks in my back. Lo and behold, my relentless leg pain went away and has never returned, even after I started running again.  Moral of the story?  I’m now a fan of quality chiropractic care.

This week Rob Bell interviewed a holistic chiropractor that he had met on tour, and they discussed the philosophy and history behind chiropractic.  It was a really good podcast…you can listen to it here. Early on, Dr. Beuerlein talked about the root meaning of the word subluxation, the term used to describe structural displacements within the spine. “Sub” means less than, below, or beneath.  “Lux” means light or illumination.  So, put together, subluxation means “not enough illumination” or “not enough light”.  Or, you could say it this way – there’s not enough energy getting through. Restoration of proper electrical conductance (or energy flow) through the nerves requires gentle manipulation of the injured places on the spine. Kinks must be straightened and the skeletal components must be positioned into correct symmetry for ideal nerve signal transmission once again.  Taking a pill won’t help.  The specific injury needs to be addressed in order to regain full original function.

Of course, when I heard this, my mind insta-beamed to Rumi. Love me some Rumi.  One quote attributed to him is as follows: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” I started chewing on both of these ideas in my mind, considering how this physical idea of subluxations is also analogous to places we get “stuck” emotionally and spiritually.

Our backs acquire subluxations from physical traumas – sometimes from big massives ones, and sometimes through small, reoccurring ones. The same is true for our psychological selves. Emotional traumas can cause kinks within our minds and hearts. They cause tangles of fear and beliefs that block love and life energy from being able to pass. As a result, we become disabled – handicapped in our ability to move through life with ease and freedom.  If we don’t address these kinks, we are more likely to grow bitter, resentful, and hateful towards life and those around us.

When we have injuries, physically or emotionally, we usually want people to leave our pain well enough alone.  Don’t touch it. You’ll make it worse.  And so we nurse our pain, and pull in tighter to ourselves, guarding our wounds.  The problem is, this guarding and pulling inwards only restricts energy flow more. We become more contracted and our pain increases.

Pain is actually a gift to us, even though we prefer to avoid it at all costs.  It shows us where we are hurt and the places of our lives that desperately need to be addressed. It reveals the kinks that keep our life energy blocked and hinder us from being who we are meant to be.

The trick to dealing with pain in life is to go straight to the subluxations, the source of pain. Attempting to fix my hurting leg where it actually hurt didn’t yield any progress.  My pain only dissolved when its root cause was addressed. It is the same with emotional pain. We can treat symptoms out on the periphery all that we want, but this won’t bring long-term results.  Light and life energy can only get in at the site of injury.  And this requires that we stop contracting ourselves, admit and accept that we are injured, and work with that injury so that it can be healed.

One more quote from Rumi:

“Don’t get lost in your pain; know that one day your pain will be your cure.”

 

To Myself on My 38th Birthday: Lessons I’ve Learned Over Nearly Four Decades

 

38
Photo credit: Joao Vicente

 

A random assortment of thing that I’ve picked up over 38 years, from people, books, and my own experience. These are my rules to live by.

  1. You can’t choose who you love; you either do or you don’t, and you are free to love whomever even if they don’t love you back.  And you can be OK with being loved back or not being loved back.
  2. It is never too late to stop, turn around, and go in the other direction.
  3. Where you live doesn’t matter, and where you live doesn’t bring happiness.  You can be just as happy in a little house in nowheresville as you can be in a big house in a happening place.
  4. How other people treat you has little to do with you.  They are dealing with their stories about you.  Likewise, when you have a problem with someone else, it is really a problem within yourself. You are projecting your own baggage onto other people.
  5. Eat less. Eat unadulterated food as much as possible. Plants. You’ll just feel better.
  6. Try to never make decisions rooted in fear, guilt, or shame.  Choose what you want in your heart and stand by your decision.
  7. God isn’t angry.  He/she was never angry.
  8. You don’t have any problems right now.  Your “problems” are either in the future or the past, and those are just illusions.
  9. Do whatever necessary to protect your sleep rhythms. It heals you.
  10.  Don’t forgive people to make them feel better. Do it simply to liberate yourself.
  11. Cut yourself some slack when parenting.  The things that scarred you are not the same things that will scar your children. Stop trying to extrapolate how every one of your mistakes will ruin your kids’ lives.
  12. Two glasses of wine in one sitting is enough.
  13. Sometimes radical self-care looks like complete irresponsibility in the eyes of others. Just carry on. You know what you need.
  14. Pay attention to your dreams; they can tell you alot about yourself, and sometimes offer glimpses into the future.
  15. Let your children be your teachers: they reflect back to you who you are.
  16. Welcome whoever life brings your way, but intentionally choose who you do relationship with.
  17. Give away most of your stuff. Only keep what brings you joy.
  18. Don’t wait for the perfect temperature; go outside and play anyway.
  19. You can do more than you think you can; it’s all really just a mind game.
  20. Your parents did the best they could with what they knew at the time.  Generally.
  21. Family is not always biological.  They are sometimes found in the most unexpected people.
  22. Find what you’re really passionate about and pursue it with abandon.
  23.  It is possible to find at least one commonality with every single person you meet.
  24.  Jesus was totally right when he said to find yourself you must first lose yourself.
  25.  Working in the hospital can freak you out.  Healthy people get sick.  Get the flu shot.
  26.  Cheese and corn syrup are in literally everything.  Read the labels.
  27.  Sometimes you need to plan diligently, deliberately. And sometimes you need to be bat-shit crazy impulsive.
  28.  Community is important, whatever that looks like for you.
  29.  Sometimes the scariest option is the absolute best option.
  30.  Just buy the hammock.
  31.  Don’t avoid doing what you really want to do just because no one is there to do it with you.
  32.  Live your questions; don’t demand answers for everything.
  33.  Surround yourself with people of all ages.  Babies and the very old usually have the most sense.
  34.  Don’t hit. Ever. It won’t bring the results you want.
  35.  Don’t punish yourself for making a bad mistake by living with that mistake forever.
  36.  People will exploit you only as far as you will tolerate their behavior.
  37.  There is enough.
  38.  Everything belongs.

Black Holes and Rip Currents

 

blackhole
Photo credit: Hubble ESA

 

The day before yesterday I was driving along listening to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.  As usually happens, an idea for a blog post randomly came together in my mind, and I decided I would call it Black Holes and Rip Currents.  But at the time, I only had a faint idea of what I would write about.

Yesterday morning I woke up to the FB headline that Stephen Hawking had just died. My blog post idea timing was very curious because Hawking is well known for his physics work on black holes.

Black holes can currently only be observed indirectly. While they do emit teeny amounts of radiation, known as Hawking radiation, it is still too small of an amount to be measured.  Instead, scientists conclude black holes exist because they can see the chaotic behavior that occurs in certain places in space; the black holes influence the movement of stars and slow energies moving by them just a little too closely. If a star is pulled in by the black hole, it passes the event horizon, or point of no return, where it can no longer escape because of its inadequate escape velocity.

Black holes are essentially any body that has an escape velocity greater than the speed of light. Basically, for a particle to move away from the black hole, it has to be traveling faster than the speed at which light travels.  Just as a fun side note, for something to escape the Earth’s atmosphere, it needs to be traveling roughly 25,000 mph. But, if the Earth could be squished down into a ball with a radius of 8 millimeters (about the size of a marble), it would become a black hole- meaning that to escape the Earth’s atmosphere, an object would need to be traveling faster than the speed of light (about 6,700,00,000 mph). For an interesting break down of the math, click here.

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Have you ever met people that just completely suck you in with all of their drama?  Everything in their lives is a problem, and when you enter their orbit, they somehow make their problems your problems, too?

Or, maybe you are that person – you can’t stand being in misery by yourself so you consciously or unconsciously do whatever necessary to entice others to step in and experience your pain with you?

Or, there are people who might not have any real drama or problems of their own, but they feel the need to suck in all the negativity around them and take on everyone else’s problems?

In his writings, Eckart Tolle talks extensively about the idea of the pain body. He defines it as “the accumulation of old emotional pain that almost all people carry in their energy field. I see it as a semi-autonomous psychic entity. It consists of negative emotions that were not faced, accepted, and then let go in the moment they arose. These negative emotions leave a residue of emotional pain, which is stored in the cells of the body.”

Tolle says that the pain body in each of us, or sometimes collectively as humans, has a dormant state and also one where it ‘awakens’ to feed. It thrives on negativity, suffering, and drama.  The pain body is evident in people that seem to be addicted to unhappiness or are always finding problems in things.  I’m pretty sure we’ve all met at least someone who seems able to create problems out of nothing, and who can’t seem to be content without drama in their life. Maybe we’ve even seen this tendency within ourselves.

When I first read about the pain body years ago, I thought Tolle was being a little over the top.  But the more I thought about it, the more I could see that each of us has a pain body that is kind of a living being within each of us.  Haven’t we all felt at times like we had no control over our anger?  Or maybe horrible words flew out of our mouths and we wondered where they came from? Or times when you’re so upset, or sad, or mad that you feel like a puppet being propelled along by some other force?

Sometimes the pain body can be seen clearly in relationships you have with other people. Marriage or romantic partnerships can be prime examples of this. Have you ever noticed cyclical patterns in your relationships?  Things may be trucking along just fine, but then something happens and either you or your partner starts getting grumpy, or petty, or negative in some way. The next thing you know the two of you are sucked into a huge drama-filled conflict for a few hours or days, and then, perhaps suddenly, it can vanish as quickly as it appeared.  As Tolle describes, your pain bodies have gotten their fill for a while and are going to sleep off their fat stomachs until they need more negative nourishment and come back to pick another fight.

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Black holes can increase in size by absorbing mass surrounding them.  And pain bodies increase in size by absorbing negativity from around them.  These pain bodies are what cause our suffering. It has been said that to experience pain is human, but to experience suffering is optional.  The older I get, the more I think this is really true. We suffer when we allow our pain bodies to suck in and hold tightly to the negativity and bad things that happen to us, forcing us to carry the pain indefinitely within us.  If we didn’t allow our pain bodies to accumulate negativity, the pain in life we experienced would just touch us for a brief time and then move on, and we would be able to recover much more quickly.

So, how do we deal with our pain bodies, these things that we can’t observe directly but know are there because of the chaos that can surround us when they are awake and feeding?

I’m going to toss out two ideas, or analogies, that feel helpful to me based on what I’ve read in Tolle’s work.

1. Other people’s pain bodies have an escape velocity.  Dr. David Hawkins came up with a Map of Consciousness to help people track their movement towards spiritual enlightenment.  Now, you may look at this and think it is entirely hokey, but hang with me.  His levels are considered energy or vibrations, which he says in his book, Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, are directly measurable by muscle conductance.  Each of these levels is associated with motivation for how we live out our lives.  The lowest energy levels, at 20 and 30, are shame and guilt.  Moving up a bit you hit apathy, then grief, and then fear.  As one continues to grow in consciousness, their motivations cross from being negative energy fields and instead become positive energy fields.  Acceptance at 350, love at 500, unconditional love at 540.

Negative particles fall into black holes, but positive particles are freed as Hawking radiation.  ‘I’m not claiming that consciousness energy levels/pain bodies and black holes are identical, but analogies are fun so I’m going with it.)  Similarly, pain bodies have a greater ability to suck in people who are motivated by negative energy levels like fear and shame, while people operating out of positive energy levels like acceptance, fear, and love are more immune to a pain body’s toxic effects.

Our country is polarized right now on so many topics, whether it be reproductive rights, gun rights, Republicans versus Democrats, etc.  Primary motivators that both sides of these arguments use to pull people in their direction are fear and anger. These two emotions have escape velocities that are really difficult to reach, which is why I think so many of us fall prey to them on social media and other realms of our lives.  We try to move outward and escape all the hurtful rhetoric, but then get sucked back in when our anger or fear receptors are triggered.

I think it’s helpful, when we become aware that we are getting sucked into an individual or collective pain body, or when we feel our own pain bodies being awakened by circumstances, that we consciously stop and determine what is motivating us at that particular time.  Are we responding out of fear?  Out of anger?  Out of pride, or grief, or some other negative energy?

Also, we need to learn to watch others’ pain bodies, and stay away from the people who have bigger pain bodies than we can handle.  I’ve had countless times in my life where I get sucked into other people’s pain with the intention that I was going to try and “help” them or “fix” them.  Inevitably, these situations just turned out to be codependence; our pain bodies became intertwined, our drama became each other’s drama, and nobody was fixed. I’m pretty convinced now that to really know how to help someone with a big, hungry pain body, you have to be at a high enough level of consciousness (or escape velocity) yourself, so that you don’t get pulled into past the event horizon of their pain where there is little chance of return.  Or, to put it in familiar terms:  you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you try and put an oxygen mask on someone else.  Sometimes, you just have to stay away from people whose pain is too big, or those who are unwilling to address their pain. Boundaries to protect yourself from the black holes of other people’s pain bodies are a good thing.

2. To deal with your own pain body, treat it like a rip current.  I realize that rip currents have nothing to do with black holes, but they both are powerful forces that pull things in with amazing speed, so humor me here. Rip currents are a particular kind of current that occurs on beaches near breaking waves that can be really dangerous for swimmers.  When people get caught in these currents, they tend to panic that they will be carried out to sea, and fight to swim straight back to shore against the current.  Doing so is an exhausting endeavor and can lead to swimmers drowning because of sheer fatigue of fighting against the fast-moving water. The way to get out of a rip current is  not to swim back against the current, but to turn and swim parallel to the shoreline.

The first step to dealing with your pain body is to become aware of it and learn to watch it rise and fall within you.  Fighting against pain is futile; it exhausts us, causes increased suffering, and the pain body won’t go away just by us struggling against it because our struggle only serves to feed the pain body and help it grow.  By coming alongside our pain bodies once we see them, we can watch them and accept the fact that we have them.  This, according to what I perceive from Tolle, is the first step in decreasing their hunger and control over our lives.

Just like you would initially relax into a rip current and float, as you gather your wits about you to begin swimming perpendicular to the rip current, so you need to relax into the knowledge that you’ve got a pain monster inside of you before you start dealing with it.

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We can’t become completely conscious overnight, and we can’t just make our pain bodies disappear. But if we take the time to stop and observe ourselves and those around us, we will begin to discern the effects of both sets of pain bodies.  Learn to watch for the chaotic ripples that flow out from certain people. Pay attention to the ways that you tend to get sucked into their drama and conflicts. And most importantly, begin to look deeply inside and become familiar with your own pain body. As you do this, you’ll soon notice there is a separation between the pain body and the real you. You’ll discover that you no longer have to just “react” to what happens to you; instead, you can accept what happens, and thoughtfully, calmly, choose how you will respond out of your true self.

This Post Is All About B.S.

 

bullshit
Photo credit: Philip Edmonson

 

“You will find that you don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choices.”
― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Anyone who has talked to me for very long knows I have a weird eye thing going on.

This is how I’ve always referred to it: my weird eye thing. I have nystagmus, so my eyes move abnormally fast, back and forth horizontally – even more so when I’m upset or tired. I also have a lazy eye that tends to veer off to one side occasionally. These two eye issues were the cause of a tremendous amount of shame in my childhood, and I still tend to cross my eyes ever so slightly when being photographed or talking to somebody, so they know that I’m for sure looking at them and not peering over their shoulder.

My parents strove to raise me well and pushed me in many areas, like academics, to challenge myself.  However, they didn’t understand how my weird eye issues affected my eyesight and tended to be wicked overprotective. When I was in elementary school, I longed to play Little League baseball on the town team like my brother.  My parents refused to let me join, convinced that a ball would come flying my way and slam into my glasses, permanently blinding me with shards of broken glass. Nevermind that I played baseball all the time at home and with my extended family, with no problem.

My stupid eyes got in the way again in junior high when it came time to sign up for the basketball team.  I desperately wanted to play basketball and asked my parents for permission to sign up.  I assumed they’d have no problem since I had been playing tennis for years and regularly had balls speeding my way on the courts.

I got a firm NO. When I pressed as to why, I got the same answer I’d been accustomed to getting my entire life: “We don’t know if you can see well enough to play, and you might get hit in the face, and your glasses will break, and you’ll be blinded, and basically the Apocalypse will be ushered in.” [Ok, the last clause in that sentence was mine.]

Burning shame.  It felt brutal being told I couldn’t do things that in my heart I knew I would be fine at.  I hated my eyes, hated my glasses, and for a time, hated my parents for not believing in me.

Then high school basketball came around.  I was already well behind my peers who had been playing basketball for two years, but I was determined this time to be allowed to join the team.  I asked my parents yet again for permission, and once again received a firm no.  But this time I was pissed.

“Bullshit,” I told myself and proceeded to flat out ignore my dad for the next three days.  I didn’t look at him, refused to speak to him, and didn’t acknowledge when he spoke to me.  I was NOT going to be the first to crack on this one.  And I didn’t.  He finally came to me with his consent to join the team.  In general, I sucked at basketball even though I loved playing, but I never broke my glasses, never lost a contact lens, and no one ever had to pull glass shards out of my eyes.

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Each of us creates stories about ourselves from early childhood, and these stories have the tendency to stick with us.  Some stories are good and helpful, but much of the time, they are stories about our faults and weaknesses, and they come dressed to the hilt in shame.

We don’t always know we hold these stories.  They can be unconsciously embedded in our psyches, but they are retold again and again in the choices we make, the people we decide to be in relationship with, our perspectives on life, and so on.

Don Miguel Ruiz, who wrote The Four Agreements, describes these stories we believe about ourselves as the dream. Our brains are always dreaming, and each of us is subjected to the dream of the planet, which includes rules, religion, culture, governments, and all of humanity’s collective constructs.  As Ruiz describes in his book, we are taught how to dream this way, how to behave on the Earth, starting at birth, from the adults and peers in our lives.

I think it’s necessary to have some measure of order or social norms and ways of doing things to help life run smoothly. Rules and societal structure can help protect individual liberties and set up good boundaries. But problems occur when we begin to believe that dreams, or stories, that are being told to us from childhood define who we are at our core.  We are, according to Ruiz, domesticated.  We allow ourselves to be tamed, we begin to doubt our own instincts, and we defer to what others want from us and our perceived need for the attention and acceptance of others.

There are constant voices speaking to us every day that are working to keep us in line, keep us domesticated and submissive. These voices might be speaking different dreams to each of us, but we all have forces telling us to just go with the flow, do what society deems acceptable, stop rocking the boat, and for God’s sake, don’t trust ourselves or our choices.

The voices usually aren’t malevolent; most of the time they are rooted in fear. In our domestication, we take on the fear of others and then perpetuate it. It is only when we learn to question the dream that we discover there was never anything to be afraid of.

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I think that in the last year I might have possibly met every woman in Indianapolis who recently went through a huge relationship breakup and is attempting to reinvent or completely overhaul their lives.   And it’s crazy to me how each of these women, including me, is having to claw and fight against the dream and stories we ‘ve carried for so long that convinced us we are not enough.

I went out for margaritas a few days ago with two of these amazing women, ladies that I’m thrilled to call friends.  Over chips and salsa, we discussed how things were going in our lives, what steps forward we were making, and how we still struggled with various things on a daily basis.  One friend was almost despondent at times, seeing only the hard things in her life and the very slow progress she perceived she was making.

Bullshit, I said.  She was listening to the story that society had ingrained in her about what success looks like. She could only hear what people in her past had insisted was true about her, so much so that she struggled to believe in herself, and believe that she was making good, solid choices for her life. She viewed herself and her worth largely through the eyes of a dream she was born into.

What I see in her is someone who moved across the country by herself, is creating a new, interesting life, and is pursuing goals she’s held onto since childhood. I see a woman who is courageous and is peeling back layer after layer of burdens once placed on her by others in order to find her real, authentic self.

My other friend had beat herself up as well, not so long ago, for having to move back home, take a new career direction in her 30s, and struggle to ignore the voices of friends and family who shamed her for not having a husband, family, and established vocation by now.

Bullshit, I’ve told her again and again.  She hasn’t failed, and she isn’t going to fail.  She’s listened to her heart, refused to make a choice that she knew would have suffocated her, and is moving step by step towards her goals, despite obstacles that have tripped her up.

Other friends and women I know tell me their stories of being called losers by their parents, being left high and dry by husbands and partners, being estranged from their children, being judged by their social groups. They beat themselves up and lower their gazes and apologize repeatedly for their faults.

Bullshit.  These women may have failed by society’s standards in many regards, but I know better. I know that they are the brave ones – they are the ones facing hard things head-on, learning to trust themselves, and discovering, as Rumi tells us, that our wounds are the places that the light gets in. They are learning to cast off the stories that have held them back, and are helping others recognize their own sabotaging stories.

I know better because I myself am breaking free of my old stories, the ones people and society have told me since I was a child:

Julie, you’re just a quitter.

Julie, you’ll never be able to manage a home and will always be a slob.

Julie, you’ll never be able to drive because of your eyes.

Julie, you just need to marry someone to take care of you.

Julie, you can’t survive on your own after a divorce and you’re going to screw over your kids.

Julie, you never make good decisions.

Julie, you’ll never be a “real” athlete.

Julie, you’ll never belong.

Julie, you’ll always just be a stand-in, a poor man’s Wendy (reference The Wedding Planner).

Now granted, I had alot of wonderful people speaking encouragement and praise into my life.  But, people tend to hang on to negative emotions and events far longer than positive ones, and so the horrible things said to me and about me have just had a way of sticking tight.

Fortunately, I’ve also had people in my life who were willing to call out the bullshit that I was believing about myself -women who had been through similar life struggles as mine who have broken off many of their old stories and so have the clarity to look at my life and help me parse through what is real and what is just dream haze.

The funny thing is, the more you’re able to cast off the things that have held you back, the more you’re able to see that it really is just bullshit.  You are shocked that you ever believed any of it, ever let it define your life.  You also start to find that there’s bullshit everywhere, holding countless back from finding out who they truly are.

As Rob Bell likes to say, “Once you see, you can’t unsee. And once you taste, you can’t untaste.”  Once you see bullshit for what it is, you can’t unsee it, in yourself or anyone else. Once you taste freedom from lies and negative stories you’ve believed for years, you can’t go back to the old bondage, and you don’t want anyone else to remain stuck there either.

“Let them judge you.
Let them misunderstand you.
Let them gossip about you.
Their opinions aren’t your problem.
You stay kind, committed to love,
and free in your authenticity.
No matter what they do or say,
don’t you dare doubt your worth
or the beauty of your truth.
Just keep on shining like you do.”
― Scott Stabile

Inertia, Self-Sabotage, and Wrestling with God

 

deathvalley
Photo credit: Marc Cooper

 

“Nerves are God’s gift to you, reminding you that your life is not passing you by. Make friends with the butterflies. Welcome them when they come, revel in them, enjoy them, and if they go away, do whatever it takes to put yourself in a position where they return. Better to have a stomach full of butterflies than to feel like your life is passing you by.”

-Rob Bell, How To Be Here

Newton’s First Law of Motion: A body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force.

Inertia: A tendency to do nothing, or remain unchanged.

I knew I was on a trajectory that I didn’t like.   This wasn’t me, wasn’t what I had ever really wanted for my life.  To be fair, nothing was really BAD.  I had alot of good things going. I had security. I was comfortable. I had things to keep me busy.   But deep down in my soul, I felt like I was suffocating. I was on a bullet train speeding in a direction I did not want to go.

With the help of six months of therapy to finally move past my ambivalence about whether or not I could change things for myself, I made a hard stop. I thought of that analogy about the grass seeming greener on the other side of the fence. I realized that I could be making the absolute worst decision of my entire life….or I could be making the absolute BEST decision of my entire life.  And I was finally willing to accept either outcome.

I stopped walking, turned around, and went the other direction.

In the Bible, Jesus tells people to repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Properly translated, repent means to change one’s mind about something, or stop and go the other direction. This is exactly what I needed to do because the direction I was going wasn’t bringing me life.  When I read about the Kingdom of God, I don’t think of heaven awaiting me in the future, and I don’t completely hold to the already and not yet theology that I once did. I think the Kingdom of God is the Divine Present – not God in the future, not God in the past, but the abundance of life right now in us and around us…the only reality that is true and accessible and livable. So, Jesus tells us, essentially, to stop just being carried on by the inertia of our lives and pursue what is really life-giving, because the energy, power, and creativity for that is available to us right here, right now.

I’ve seen quite a few posts on social media lately about the validity of living a mediocre life.  Nothing fancy, just calm and peaceful without notoriety or fuss.  I totally get the appeal of this.  As Pico Ayer wrote in his wonderful book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere:

“One could even, as [Leonard] Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and one is reminded, at a level deeper than all words, how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.”

In our fast-paced world, we certainly need this reminder – that the point shouldn’t always be outward success or the pursuit of ridiculously difficult goals. Sometimes simple and quiet is exactly what we need.  But I wonder if we might at times cling to the idea of a mediocre, average, “normal” life because it feels safe and doesn’t cause us to have to veer too far from the paths that have become so familiar to us.

I’m personally fantastic at self-sabotage; I’ve been practicing it all of my life.  Typically, it feels easier to aim for just shy of what I really want, because then I can say I accomplished something, yet still didn’t risk the shame of all-out failure.  I’ve always kept security in my back pocket as well.  I like making choices that appear risky externally (so my ego can be garnished with a bit of applause from onlookers) but are actually unlikely to do me much harm in the long run. However, these behaviors of mine in the past have never served me well because I always end up on a ship sailing away from the destination I desperately wanted to be.

It’s way too convenient and easy to maintain the status quo, travel on our merry ways, and not rock our personal little boats. Many of us could find ourselves on our deathbeds having completed all ten billion levels of Candy Crush without having done anything else that really required the focus and passionate energy of our hearts and souls. We could easily follow society’s rules, tow party lines, and be who everyone else thinks we should be.

Sometimes it takes something big to knock us out of our stupors, wake us up, and make us change directions. Carving a new path, often alone, in what seems like a wilderness can be terrifying. But we each get one life – there are no do-overs. Will we reincarnate?  I don’t know, maybe – but we will never have this one, exact same life again unless there’s some identical alternate universe that I don’t yet know about.

Remember that great Julia Roberts/Steel Magnolias quote (that movie has a quote for everything in life)?:

“I would rather have 30 minutes of “wonderful” than a lifetime of nothing special.”

How many of us settle for whatever appears in front of us, instead of digging deep to find what we really desire and pursuing it with abandon?  How many of us remain in stifling and stagnant life situations because it’s the civil or polite thing to do?  The socially acceptable thing to do?

In the Old Testament, there is a great story about a man named Jacob who wrestled all night with an angel, or God, as it were. Even when his hip was pulled out of joint, Jacob refused to let go until God gave him a blessing. The God/angel blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel, because he had struggled with both God and humans, and had prevailed.

I love this story because of the bigger message behind it that I’ve heard from a Jewish teacher, I just can’t remember exactly who – probably Lawrence Kushner. Jacob didn’t just accept what came his way.  He didn’t lay down in the face of adversity.  Rather, he wrestled with the hard things that came to him, and didn’t give up even when it cost him.  And God blessed him for it.

Somehow, it seems, wrestling with life, asking hard questions, and doing the difficult things is the main point. God (or whatever term you prefer) is delighted when we engage him. It is a good thing, what we were designed to do as humans.  The whole point of life is not to succumb to inertia or take the easy path.  Jesus echoes this in the book of Matthew when he speaks of the broad and narrow gates.   He teaches that the broad way, that is easy to find and easy to take, is not the one that leads to real life.  We must search and struggle and wrestle with the Divine Present and refuse self-sabotage to find the narrow way because this is where real life, the kind of life free of deathbed regrets, exists.

I’m not really interested any longer in staying on a straight line from here to the grave, trucking along at a set pace.  Safe and comfortable aren’t so appealing anymore.  I want to wrestle with God, pursue hard things, stop and change directions when necessary, and all the while be completely, wildly, insanely drunk on life.

 

 

The Gifts of Microrelationship

 

biking
Photo credit: Cesar Kobayashi

 

“Let it all go; see what stays.” -Unknown

I do some of my best thinking on my bike.

When I run, I have to listen to music, or a podcast, or talk to a running partner.  Otherwise, the voices in my head will go at me nonstop, telling me that I suck and running sucks and I’ll never make it past the first half-mile. In my opinion, running without some sort of entertainment is nothing short of a spiritual practice.

But when I’m on a bike, it’s all flow. I hit the right cadence, the countryside blurs past, and I move into a zone of quiet contemplation. The miles fly by and my mind settles into a state where ideas come and I reflect and make connections that have never occurred to me before.

I also don’t fancy being hit by a car, so earbuds are a no-no on the roads.

Today is one of the glorious first days where signs of spring are beginning to appear and it’s time to pull the bike out for a ride. This morning I pumped up the tires, checked my brakes, and hopped on with plans to ride five or six miles, but the sunshine felt so good I just kept going.

While I pedaled I began to think of the people who first introduced me to road biking, nearly fifteen years ago.  A handful of my coworkers invited me to join their post-work biking forays into the surrounding farmland and hill country of our town. I bought my first little road bike, a steel frame Mercier, went on my first ten-mile ride, and was completely hooked. It wasn’t long before I was biking to work and riding the fifty miles to my dad’s ranch in ninety-degree Texas heat just for fun.

Those coworkers, who I’ve only seen once or twice in the last ten years, gave me a gift that has lasted and made a significant impact on my life. They introduced me to a sport that I love, and they were some of the first to plant seeds in my mind that I might be capable of bigger things than I had once thought.

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I’ve done alot of moving across the country as an adult, and as a result, I’ve had to leave behind many people that came to be important to me. It’s always been hard leaving these people that I really cared about, uncertain if our friendships would survive long distance and states apart.  On many occasions, I’ve vehemently tried to maintain those relationships, and while a handful were strong enough to persist, most eventually fizzled to the point of being fond Facebook connections.

I’ve also had many people come into my life who left just as quickly as they came, for a myriad of reasons. In many cases, I would beat myself up over the breakdown of these relationships, thinking that somehow I had failed them and myself. Growing up I had unconsciously told myself that quality relationships, those with real meaning, should survive for a long time, and if relationships end, it is a bad thing.

Years ago I read Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings and I remember feeling so relieved that it is OK to end relationships and not all friendships or romantic partnerships will or should last forever.  Somehow I had believed that I always had to be friends with everyone I encountered, and everyone had to like me and want to be friends with me. I’m so glad I got over that, because it was an exhausting endeavor trying to make myself like everyone and present myself in a way that they would all like me, and then feel horrible about myself when some didn’t reciprocate.

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Relationships come and go; some are short and some last for years. But it’s difficult when relationships end badly, or people that you desperately want to be part of your life either choose not to be or can’t be for some reason or another. As I biked this morning down Indiana backroads, I recalled a handful of people that I’ve met over the last year and a half that were part of my life ever so briefly.

It can be so disappointing when you meet someone who you think you really click with, who you suspect might be a part of your future, and suddenly they’re gone. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend or a romantic interest, it can be tempting to either try and control the situation to make them stay or ruminate for far too long as to why the connection dissipated.

Today, on my bike, I did a bit of reframing of perspective.   I decided to call it microrelationship -relationships that are fleeting and may never reach the robust maturity of the kinds of friendship we tend to value most, yet are still meaningful and somehow impart gifts to us.

I specifically thought of a handful of people that have flitted in and out of my life since moving back to Indiana from Massachusetts.  They came and left for completely different reasons, but every leaving grieved me on some level. However, if I’m honest about it, even though those friendships didn’t last, I was given something by each of those people that positively impacted me, gifts of encouragement or inspiration or challenges to grow in different areas of my life. One person inspired me with their commitment to health and a lifestyle that contributed to it.  Another heard and saw the real me in a way I’m pretty sure no one else ever has. One person insisted that I stop listening to the bullshit smack that my mind gives me, and start writing more and regularly. And yet another pointed out prejudices lingering within me that needed to be addressed.

I’ve decided that microrelationship is just as valid a model of doing life with people as long-term deep relationships.  Sometimes it can be tempting to keep your heart closed, and not really open up to people or be transparent until you’re sure they’re going to be around for a while. But I think this can be a mistake.  Some of the people who had the biggest impacts on my life have only been in it for brief periods of time; if I had closed myself off to them for fear that they wouldn’t stay, I would have missed so many gifts.

I’m not talking here about coming across as needy with people, or giving information vomit, or blowing past safe boundaries when trust hasn’t been established in a relationship. What I’m talking about is allowing yourself to be authentic and genuine and real and VULNERABLE with people even when you have no clue how long they’ll be in your life.

I think it all really comes down to just learning to live in the present.  Things come, things go.  People come, and people go. It is not ours to qualify what is a meaningful and good relationship just based on duration or whether or not we ever see a particular person again.

We will never really understand why life brings us people when it does, or takes people away. All we can learn to do is accept them as a gift,  and leave our hands open for them to come freely and leave freely.