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The Pursuit of Happiness.

On Monday afternoon, after finishing a book that morning, I went to the library at lunchtime to browse the shelves and find my next book to read. I had a huge stack of “To Be Read” books at home, but a seeking instinct encouraged me to find something else. I headed toward the Christian section and noticed a book on the shelf across the aisle. The title America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks caught my eye. I mean, how could it not?

The author, Ruth Whippman, is a British journalist that moved to California with her husband and baby son when she was in her late thirties. She explains that cynicism is deeply ingrained in the British psyche and she was surprised to discover that Americans seek and discuss happiness constantly. As she was feeling displaced and homesick, she became curious about the American concept of “the pursuit of happiness” and started to investigate. What she discovered is that Americans, despite all the effort they put into pursuing happiness are actually not very happy.

Specifically, she notes that most of the positive psychology and happiness advice focuses on an internal experience that must be pursued independently: “Increasingly, Americans are chasing happiness by looking inward into their own souls, rather than outward toward their friends and communities.” Most of the slogans about happiness support this concept, such as “Happiness comes from within” or “Happiness should not depend on other people” or “Happiness is an inside job”. These ideas are meant to be empowering, but they do not jive with actual experience. Most studies show that the happiest people have deep social connections and spend a lot of time with people in their communities.

Whippman spends several chapters unpacking aspects of American culture that are embracing the concept of positive psychology such as the workplace, social media, and parenting. The message that all of these pursuits send is that we should be able to achieve happiness through grit and effort. However, constantly seeking to be happy internally often keeps us from experiencing the rich, full life around us.

While a lot of the commentary was a bummer to read, I felt affirmed in reading this book because it echoed a lesson I learned years ago through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: we cannot control our feelings. Seeking to only experience positive emotions or happiness is actually a trap. We spend a lot of mental energy and focus trying to keep negative or painful thoughts and feelings away, which keeps us from the meaningful life we want to lead.

Happiness comes from the same root as “happen” or “happenstance” which means that it is something temporary and often fleeting. Seeking to hold on to these positive feelings (and avoid painful ones) isn’t a fruitful way to spend our time. Living a life aligned with our values will bring about a sense of gratitude and satisfaction, but also will comprise the full spectrum of human emotions.

At the conclusion of America the Anxious, Whippman write something that sounds like it came straight from The Happiness Trap:

Beyond that, I’ve realized over the last year or so of obsessing over this topic, that if we want to be happy, what we really need to do is to stop thinking about happiness… And really, that’s a liberating thought. For the slackers of this world, the idea that the harder we strive for happiness, the less likely we are to achieve it is good news. Now we can relax in the knowledge that if we concentrate on the life and liberty bits, if we focus on living a connected, fulfilling, and meaningful life, then if we’re lucky, happiness might just hitch a ride.

America the Anxious, pg. 219.

Given my recent bout of anxiety, I’ve been returning to practices of defusion and accepting my painful thoughts an feelings. Reading this book helped me recognize how unhealthy ideas about happiness permeate our society. The belief that we should be happy and maintain positive feelings all the time runs rampant. In order to achieve these feelings, many people turn to distraction, substances, or activities to keep themselves from feeling genuine emotionally ups and downs.

So, if you’re not feeling very happy just now, please know that you’re completely healthy and normal! Our emotions change all the time, like the weather. When we focus our attention on doing things that align with our life values, rather than trying to suppress or change our thoughts and feelings, our life will be much more rich and meaningful. And likely we’ll encounter happiness along the way.

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L' acceptation (Acceptance in French)

The idea of going to Paris, or really anywhere across so many time zones, scared me.  I wanted to go on this trip to celebrate two milestones: Dennis and my 15th wedding anniversary in November and my upcoming 40th birthday on January 31st.  It sounded fun, like something monumental. Plus, Sienna has been dreaming of visiting Paris for a while and we’d celebrate both hers and Mateo’s birthdays while on the trip.  There were many reasons to go on this family adventure.

But, beneath the surface, I was terrified that this trip would trigger a bout of insomnia like the jet lag did in 2001 when I returned from Okinawa.  I told myself that I was “accepting” my fear by not giving in to it.  The very fact that I was going on the trip meant I was “facing the fear and doing it anyway” – right? 

Looking back, I recognize that my fear kept me from engaging in the planning of this trip. My attempt at acceptance actually became repression of painful feelings which caused me to avoid deeply committing to the process of planning and dreaming about this adventure.  Fear caused me to withdraw and go through the motions, without opening my heart to the experience.

Then, my worst fear came true.  I laid awake for hours our first night in Paris.  The second night was the same, though I finally crashed for several hours of interrupted sleep.  The third night, I didn’t fall asleep at all.  The anxiety was acute and I woke Dennis in the middle of the night to sob and seek comfort.  He was loving and supportive, staying awake the rest of the early morning hours to keep me company.  I finally called my sister at 4:30 a.m. local time (fortunately early in the night back in California) where she helped me recognize that my staunch refusal to take a sleep aid was actually a way of trying to control the situation.

I knew that acceptance of this situation would bring peace, but my struggle switch was firmly in the on position and I couldn’t release my need to fix what was happening.  My mom, kids and me found a Pharmacie and purchased a sleep aid (basically Benadryl) to take the edge off my insomnia fear.  That fourth night in Paris, I had to take multiple doses to finally rest, but somehow that night, acceptance slowly creeped in.  I’d experienced three days of exploring this beautiful city and I had been present.  Yes, there were painful feelings and nagging thoughts about this inability to sleep, but I was able to defuse them and refocus on the experience of being there, with my family, taking in these new sights.  

Fear of not sleeping had been replaced with the actual experience of not sleeping.  I could handle these feelings in the moment.   

By the end of our trip, I slept a restorative 8 hours straight without a sleep aid.  Acceptance brought peace and relief.

Coming back home, the nine hour time-change meant that we didn’t see daylight for 24 hours. My body clock was so thrown off and I felt the fear creep back in.  As I laid awake the first night home, I kept telling myself that I would not take a sleep aid.  I would not give in to the fear and try to fix the situation. No sleep came that night and my anxiety was again extremely high.  I practiced my expansion skills observing the painful feelings in my body, breathing deeply, and giving the pain all the room is needed to move on.  I prayed and found moments of peace.  At one point, I thought, “Maybe it would be wise to take a sleep aid tomorrow night” and I felt such relief at this simple idea.

At Target the following day, I purchased a box of ZZZQuil, figuring it looked pretty basic and would do the trick.  That night I took one dose and about ninety minutes later, a second dose.  When I was still awake another hour later, I Googled the effectiveness of ZZZQuil and discovered a message board full of insomnia suffers claiming that ZZZQuil did nothing to help them sleep and in fact felt like a stimulant!  It’s ironic how validating these strangers’ comments felt.  I dug out a dose of trusty NyQuil and finally crashed that night. 

I threw the box of ZZZQuil away the next day with a sense of satisfaction.  There wasn’t some magic pill or solution to fix this deep fear.  I felt so much closer to acceptance in that moment.  In the end, taking or not taking a sleep aid was not the critical piece of this story. Sleep aids have their usefulness and are most effective when taking when a spirit of acceptance.

I struggle with wanting to control my feelings.  I want to feel “positive” feelings and fuse with “positive thoughts”.  This is the “Happiness Trap” – the idea that only “positive” feelings and thoughts are acceptable.  The actual experience of lying in bed awake is not painful, it’s the feelings of anxiety and racing thoughts that tell me: “You’re broken” or “You should be able to control this” that cause me distress. 

I’ve been through this pattern of insomnia fear and acceptance several times since my awakening in 2013.  As such, I’d learned that true acceptance brought relief of fear and anxiety.  Therefore, I started to tell myself that I “accepted” the feelings in an attempt to control my feelings.  In The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris cautions readers again and again not to use acceptance techniques as control techniques because they will eventually fail.  True acceptance means that you allow your feelings to be, without struggling to push them away or change them. 

Another huge realization of my awakening was how frequently my mind creates dichotomies between good and bad, right and wrong.  These judgments are another way of trying to control my thoughts and feelings.  So, deciding that I “would not take a sleep aid” prior to the trip and again upon returning from Paris, I made a judgment that sleep aids indicated weakness and I shouldn’t need one.  Acceptance could actually involve recognizing my body’s limitation and the impact that a 9 hour time change would have on it, and taking along a sleep aid in case it could be helpful.  

This post describes an intense inner experience, that doesn’t come across in the sharing of vacation photos on Instagram and Facebook.  It requires vulnerability to share the hard and painful parts of myself.  All this to say, our trip was also fun, rewarding, full of good memories and new experiences.  Life isn’t good or bad.  Experiences are not completely highs or lows. They are a mix of both, all the time.  Memories of feeling fear and anxiety will be there when I reflect back on our Paris trip. But so will memories of the places we saw and the experiences we had: moments of silliness, watching the kids taking photographs, and exploring a beautiful city with the people I love.  

Growth for me involves not having to judge or label this trip as either good or bad.  It was a great trip that also involved a lot of hard emotions for me.  This is acceptance.

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Whatever Is – Is Best

At my kids’ school, they have an annual Speech Meet, where all the 1st through 6th graders memorize a piece of poetry, scripture, fable, or historical speech (for the older grades) and present it before a panel of judges. Last year both Sienna and Mateo presented several verses of scripture, but this year they each looked for a poem to memorize.

The act of selecting a poem really demonstrated the differences in their personalities! Sienna has artistic soul and loved reading through poems looking for one that “sounded like her.” She let me read her several options from a book called “The Best Loved Poems of the American People” which I was given for my 16th birthday and carried around with me all these years!

Mateo, on the other hand, agonized over his selection after his teacher didn’t approve his initial choice of a silly Shel Silverstein poem. As I read him option after option, and Dennis found him even more possibilities online, he became increasingly agitated. One night as he was going to bed, he told me, “It really isn’t helpful when you give me so many options. It doesn’t help.” I apologized and told him, “I’m sure you can handle this, Teo.”

We have similar personalities, Mateo and me. We want to do the right thing and that can lead to debating simple choices. I could see that he was trying to pick the perfect option, which simply doesn’t exist. Also, we can tend to be “in our heads” which makes it difficult to connect to the emotional depth of poetry. The “head versus heart” dynamic was so interesting to see! Personally, it was very fulfilling to experience tender moments while reading Sienna poems. I remembered how I used to love poetry when I was young, back before I repressed my feelings.

Finally, we got down to crunch time and Teo had to make a choice. He asked for help and I zeroed on in one option I thought he would benefit from memorizing. Acceptance is such an important virtue for “perfectionist” type people, so I encouraged him to choose a poem called: Whatever Is – Is Best by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. He liked it and is happy with his choice. Now on to the memorization process!

WHATEVER IS – IS BEST

I know, as my life grows older,
And mine eyes have clearer sight,
That under each rank wrong somewhere
There lies the root of Right;
That each sorrow has its purpose,
By the sorrowing oft unguessed;
But as sure as the sun brings morning,
Whatever is – is best.

I know that each sinful action,
As sure as the night brings shade,
Is somewhere, sometime punished,
Tho’ the hour be long delayed.
I know that the soul is aided
Sometimes by the heart’s unrest,
And to grow means often to suffer –
But whatever is – is best.

I know there are no errors,
In the great Eternal plan,
And all things work together
For the final good of man.
And I know when my soul speeds onward,
In its grand Eternal quest,
I shall say as I look back earthward,
Whatever is – is best.

-Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Lately I’ve realized some interesting patterns in my thoughts. Through a lot of self-reflection, I’ve learned that I deeply want to be good and do the right thing.  This is commonly called perfectionism, but actually “being good” is most important for me.  It’s not that I need to be perfect or have others view me as such, but I strive to always do the right thing which then provides a sense of being good. 

The thought pattern I’ve witnessed on several occasions goes something like this:

First, someone communicates a situation to me wherein I perceive they think I did something wrong. And, due to my hyper sense of responsibility, this potential error can be something incredibly small and insignificant!

Next, my mind starts spinning stories in an attempt to regain my sense of “being good”.  My thoughts reframe the situation to retain my sense of rightness. In other words, self-justification kicks into overdrive!

Often, this story involves discrediting the person who communicated the situation or mistake to me.  As in, if they’re wrong then I can be right. There’s a very unhealthy black/white, right/wrong dynamic at play when this is happening. Then, in a vicious cycle, I then start feeling badly about myself for thinking uncharitable thoughts about this person.   

Recognizing this has been very powerful!  I can now step back and observe this thought pattern instead of getting all fused with the stories my mind is telling me. 

As I’ve talked to several friends and family members about this thought pattern, I’ve learned that most people have routine stories they spin.  For some, whenever they perceive a need they deeply feel that they must meet it for other people.  Others routinely confront injustices and feel called to right the wrongs they encounter. 

We all tell ourselves stories in an attempt to make sense of the world around us.  Reframing has become a popular idea and is defined as a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning.  Our reality is partially shaped by these stories that we craft and then believe.   

I successfully reframed a situation last week.  Sienna’s class is going to Williamsburg next March and she desperately wanted me to go as a chaperone.  I’d applied, along with several other parents.  Due to the ratio of girls and boys they ended up selecting two moms from her class to chaperone (along with a few dads).  I worried about the situation quite a bit. I was concerned Sienna wouldn’t want to go on the trip if I wasn’t selected to chaperone.  When I learned that I would not be going on the trip, it took the better part of the day to reframe the situation. 

All along I’d been praying that God would work all things for good, so I started looking for hidden blessings in the situation.  Since the trip occurs during the spring busy season for my company, I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to manage trying to take a vacation during this stressful time of year.  Fortunately, Sienna is now open to going on the trip without me, which will be a great experience of growth for her. 

The stories we tell ourselves are not innately good or bad.  They can be helpful and useful or destructive and painful.  I think the real trick is being able to step back and observe our thoughts for what they are: stories that run through our minds.  When they help us live according to our values, we should certainly embrace the story.  But, when they cause anxiety and frustration while we attempt to control the world around us or justify ourselves, it brings great peace to let go of the story. 

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Ups and Downs in Sports and Life

The fall is my favorite time of year, and has been for as long as I can remember. I love the coziness and anticipation of the holidays.  I love pumpkin everything, wearing sweaters (now that it has finally cooled down in San Diego!) and settling in to a school routine.  Dennis and I have always loved football season, but now we have another sport to look forward to: soccer!  Mateo has played for four years now and I absolutely adore watching him play! 

He has a gracefulness and intensity on the soccer field.  As his mom, I get very emotionally involved in his games.  I cheer, scream, laugh, and sometimes even cry.  It’s the full spectrum of emotions!

A few weeks ago, his game was particularly enthralling.  First, he had an accidental hand ball in the goalie box which resulted in the other team scoring on a penalty kick early on.  I watched him respond with little emotion to this setback.  Then, later in the game, he scored two goals!  The second of which was on a corner kick he took and I miraculously caught on video!  I’m usually enjoying the game too much to take photos or videos, but I’d heard the coach tell Teo he was about to get a rest, so I figured I’d record for the last minute he was on the field. 

On the car ride home we viewed the video clip to relive the moment again.  This time, I noticed that, although it was a strong kick, the goal could largely be attributed to the goalie mishandling the ball. I felt badly for the little goalie and it reminded me of Teo’s hand ball at the beginning of the game.  Adversity in sports is constant.

With these ideas fresh in mind, I ran on the treadmill that afternoon and watched a college football game.  One highlight was a long pass downfield where the wide receiver made an exceptional play!  As he celebrated his catch, the defensive back was sprawled on the field, totally defeated.  It hit me, many moments in sports represent both an achievement and a failure. In some ways, you cannot have a high without a corresponding low.  Think about it: a pitcher striking out a batter represents his success, while the batter has failed.  Whereas, a home run represents the batter’s success and the pitcher’s failure. 

From the outside looking in, it seems clear that the victorious player is the “winner” and the defeated player is the “loser” in these moments.  However, this one moment in time could actually represent an inverse reaction. What if the wide receiver who made the amazing catch decides this play proves what a wonderful player he is and therefore he stops working so hard at practice?  What if the defensive back uses this moment of defeat to motivate himself to practice harder and grow as a player? 

Growth happens throughout our lives in so many ways.  Each moment and experience has the potential to further our growth and development.  This reminds me of the famous quote by Nelson Mandela. He said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”  Isn’t it true?  Most of the learning and growth we experience in life comes from hardships, failures, or setbacks.  When things aren’t working well is when we have to dig down deep and evaluate our behavior and actions to see where we can improve. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my role in my children’s moments of failure and hardship.  It’s important that they build resiliency and the ability to learn from their mistakes and try again.  When I jump in to soften a failure or manage their feelings, I’m actually robbing them of the fuel to learn and grow.  Those moments of adversity are important teachers. Actually, Teo demonstrated this growth mindset during that soccer game. When I asked him, “How’d you feel after the penalty kick?” he replied, “Oh, it was okay. I just figured, we’ll have to go score some goals.”

My Awakening, Uncategorized

Supernatural Common Sense

Through all of these years of personal growth and letting go of control, I continually fall into an illusion that I can somehow perfect life by always doing the right thing. Time and again, I’ve had to realize the trap I’d fallen into and slowly, intentionally return to a place of surrender and rest in God. Part of acceptance is learning not to shame myself for this pattern. Instead, I try to be gentle with myself and return to the mindfulness techniques of prayerfully letting go of my thoughts and allowing my feelings to come and go.

I recently finished Thomas Merton’s No Man Is an Island, which I marked up extensively! Reading it, I a similar feeling that I had when reading Ronald Roleheiser’s Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. Merton expresses such simple but profound truths about the human condition and our relationship to God. One quote that I highlighted with an “Awesome!” comment in the margin was: “If we are too anxious to find absolute perfection in created things we cease to look for perfection where alone it can be found: in God,” (p. 128). This reminds me of when Rolheiser said “Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache,” (Forgotten Among the Lilies, p. 20)

These simple statements ring with such truth in my experience! The further I stray from God and being mindful of His will and ways, the more I focus on myself and strive to perfect the world around me (as if it was within my power to perfect anything!). Merton also says:

In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to be in Him and to do whatever He wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of His reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.

No Man is an island, 120.

God is so mighty and righteous that our feeble minds scarcely can conceive of His greatness. There is a deep peace that only comes from recognizing God’s perfection and our relative weakness. Our society generally sends a message of self-actualization that, while attempting to empower us, actually intensifies our anxiety and sense of powerlessness. We cannot do it all, have it all, or be it all in this lifetime. Recognizing our limitations and resting in God’s provision for us brings such peace.

Merton describes this concept of Christian humility as “first of all a matter of supernatural common sense.” He goes on to explain that “it teaches us to take ourselves as we are, instead of pretending (as pride would have us imagine) that we are something better than we are.” I love this! I find such irony in the fact that embracing my limitations, weakness and sinfulness provides the peace and security that the world fails to impart through self-esteem and self-empowerment. Merton concludes, “If we really know ourselves we quietly take our proper place in the order designed by God.” Amen.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we discern God’s will in our lives. He calls us to act and fulfill vocations within His kingdom, so we clearly have to do more than simply rest! Being present and really seeing the people around me is the best way I know to love and serve them. Prayerfully maintaining this supernatural common sense that reminds me of my neediness for God, also allows me to extend grace and love to others.

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The Joy and Angst of Film Viewing

Yesterday afternoon, Dennis and I were trying to decide on a movie to see for our date night that evening. One of our favorite babysitters, Grace, is home from college for the summer; so we scheduled a date night just to have her babysit one more time! Going to the movies requires a bit more planning these days as all our local theaters have assigned seats. It’s a cool change, but you have to plan ahead unless you don’t mind craning your neck from the front row!

We’d heard good things about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but I was a bit dubious. I’m not a Quentin Tarantino fan. My attempt at watching Kill Bill several years ago was quickly abandoned when the violence and disturbing images became too much for me. Visual images REALLY stick with me. I’ve been haunted by many movies over the years. My brother is an independent film producer but there are many of his films I cannot bring myself to see. I’ll force myself to endure something disturbing for my brother, not so much for Mr. Tarantino.

But, in an effort to embrace “feeling my feelings” (this is the same logic that caused me to watch The Shining a few years ago – a decision I’ve regretted ever since!) I said, “Let’s go for it!” and we purchased two tickets online. Then, I decided to Google “How much violence is in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and found several reviews. Turns out that most of the violence is saved for the end of the movie, during the scenes of the Manson murders. As I read a few reviews, I was already repulsed.

“What was I thinking? I can’t watch this movie!” I exclaimed to Dennis.

“Okay, we don’t have to. Can you get a refund?” he replied.

Turns out, you can! I quickly clicked on the Fandango link and chose the “Our plans have changed” option. You forfeit your convenience fee, but the ticket price can be refunded. Whew, what a relief!

We decided to see the romantic comedy Yesterday instead – much more our pace! It was a delightful little film! The premise is a struggling musician in England has a head injury and wakes up in a world without The Beatles. His manager and longtime friend Ellie stands by his side as he recovers and starts performing The Beatles’ songs in local pubs. Jack ends up becoming super famous for these songs and he has to decide whether to continue with this lie or return to a more fulfilling, smaller life back in England.

I’m not a big fan of The Beatles. I know that’s not a popular thing to say! I just didn’t listen to them very much growing up and haven’t listened to a lot of their music since. But, of course everyone knows their songs! Seeing this movie gave me a new appreciation for their music. I also loved the quirky dynamic between the two main characters – Jack and Ellie. And best of all, I had a lovely restful night without being haunted by scary images. To thine own self be true!

Home and Family, My Awakening, Uncategorized

Tender Moments Abound

Yesterday evening, Dennis, Teo and I did a boxing workout in our very hot garage.  The guys had been talking about getting a heavy bag for months and then they went on sale at the local sporting goods store. So, they got their wish and a 100 pound heavy bag now dominates our garage.  When the kids were up in Humboldt earlier this summer, I did my first workout with Dennis and really enjoyed it!

With the Rocky soundtrack in the background, we rotated rounds on the bag and I got such a kick out of watching Mateo punch!  He is pretty coordinated and loves all kinds of physical activity.  It’s really cool to watch the dynamic when Dennis is teaching Teo how to do something or encouraging his efforts. Teo really likes to do what’s expected and do it well.  When I’m teaching him something, I can feel our inner perfectionists colliding and it doesn’t bring out the best in either of us.  Whereas, Dennis is just matter-of-fact and unemotional as he coaches and teaches. I feel such peace when they’re interacting, like I can just step back and rest.

Taking in the moment, I couldn’t help but lament at how big Mateo looks now – especially while wailing away on a 100 pound heavy bag!  At one point Dennis and I locked eyes after he’d just reminded Teo to “Keep your wrist straight!” and we both smiled.  There’s truly nothing like the bond of two parents sharing love and devotion for this particular child.  I quipped, “These are the days of our lives” and Dennis solemnly nodded.  This is our shorthand for reminding ourselves that we’re going to look back on these days with longing when the kids grow up and leave our nest.

Later in the evening, I sat in the reading chair in our bedroom while Sienna was in the shower.  Suddenly, through the noise of falling water, I noticed she was singing “True Colors”.  Oh how I love her sweet singing voice!  I put my book down and just listened, knowing I was fortunate to hear this private moment.  My mom is a singer and she has encouraged Sienna to sing, praising her beautiful voice.  I’ve also encouraged her, but she’s reluctant to perform in front of people.  I reflected on her nervousness about performing as I listened to her sing:

I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful 

IMG_2505

This morning, Sienna has to get up early for math tutoring so I went into her room to wake her up.  As I gently stroked her face, she smiled and asked me to stay a minute.  I cuddled up next to her and kept running my hand over her forehead.  The lyrics to “True Colors” were still running through my head, so I softly sang the chorus to her.

“I sure loved hearing you sing last night,” I told her.

“I love you too, Mommy” she replied.

There are so many sweet, sacred moments of connection available to us each day.  I can often get caught up in the routines of work, household chores, exercise, preparing meals, reading, and all the rest.  When I slow down and pay full attention to the present, to my family and the life unfolding around me, tender moments abound.

Home and Family, My Awakening, Uncategorized

A More Meaningful Morning…

I have a little buddy with me at the office today.  Sienna came along to work for the morning!  It’s time sheet day, so a chunk of my morning was spent reviewing time sheets and getting them submitted to payroll, so it seemed like a good morning for a visit.  She brought along her math book and a couple books to read.  We also recently discovered a math flashcard app, so she’s been practicing her multiplication facts on the phone.

It’s fun having her here!  It makes my regular routine of making coffee, reading my daily devotion, reviewing emails, and moderating the morning call with my Team all take on new meaning.  She asked about the time sheets, so I described what I was reviewing and what it all meant.  When I applied my electronic signature to the document, Sienna exclaimed “Wow, you’re good at that!”.  Oh, the innocence and enthusiasm of youth!

Family

Sometimes I look at life from my kids’ perspective and it gives the moment an entirely new meaning.  This is just another Monday in the office for me, made more fun and engaging by my daughter’s presence.  When Sienna looks back on her childhood, she’ll have fond memories of being in her mom’s office.  She had pieces of candy as part of her breakfast and made a cup of hot chocolate along with my coffee at the Keurig machine.  She’s now drawing a picture of our house and family on my whiteboard so I can look at it fondly when I’m at the office.

These sweet little moments are the good stuff.  I love being present and mindful enough to truly notice them.

Books Worth Reading, Home and Family, My Awakening, Uncategorized

Each of us is unfinished.

When Dennis and I got married, we were already nostalgic about the life that lay ahead of us.  One of our wedding songs was “Remember When” by Alan Jackson.  It’s such a sweet song about a couple looking back on the milestones of their life together, from a vantage point of their senior years.  One line says, “Remember when thirty seemed so old…” which was funny to me, being that I was just shy of 25 years old when we got married!

I’ve often been told that I’m an “old soul” and I relate to that idea.  The feeling of looking back over my life nostalgically feeds something deep within me.  I just finished reading a book that brought all this up: A Year By the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman by Joan Anderson.  It’s a memoir of Joan’s year of separation from her husband as she hunkered down in their Cape Cod cottage to rediscover herself after a lifetime of taking care of her kids, husband, house, etc.

Dennis and Kelsey

Many of the lessons Joan learns during her year by the sea felt so familiar as they echoed my own awakening.  She has a perfectionist streak that she had to release and spent a lot of time “in her head” and disconnected from her body and feelings.  A mantra that I repeat to myself often is “why don’t I wait and see…?” This is a reminder that I don’t know how I will feel later or how a situation will unfold, and I don’t have to try to control it either.  Joan says: “In the words of Picasso, ‘I find, I do not seek.’ No longer desperate to know every outcome, these days I tend to wait and see, a far more satisfying way of being that lacks specificity and instead favors experience over analysis.”  Oh, so good!

In another passage, Joan is reflecting upon her relationship with her adult sons and their wives.  She describes the challenge of knowing where she fits in their lives as her role transitions from guide to supporter.  Joan shares that her sons seem reluctant to share their struggles or failures with their parents: “It occurs to me that I will continue to know my children less if they think I want them to be more.  Seeking perfection is a terrible thing when it robs you of truth.” Although Sienna and Mateo are still many years from leaving the nest, this reminder felt so poignant.  They both want to please Dennis and me very much.  As the years unfold, I hope to communicate openness and acceptance to them, along with encouraging their striving for excellence.

For many years, my striving for control could also be described as trying to “figure everything out”.  I’d often get this unsettled, seeking feeling that I finally recognized was that desire to figure something out.  Now, I realize that no one ever has it all figured out.  Life is constantly changing.  We are constantly growing and embracing the next phase of life.  There are certainly aspects to each of us that are unchanging and constant, but life serves up plenty of new experiences, circumstances, and lessons to learn.

Joan refers to this idea as being unfinished.  I love that word!  It denotes the opposite of being “all figured out” or complete.  As she and her husband reconcile, Joan concludes her year by the sea with this line: “Like me, he is on a new path.  I can only sit by and honor what is unfinished in him – in all of us.”  This line touched my heart, as Dennis and me are embarking on a new chapter of our life together.

At the end of June, Dennis “retired” from the law firm he worked at for almost 30 years!  He’s now going to be a “stay-at-home Dad” to our children.  The timing is great as my job now involves a fair amount of travel throughout Southern California. The past few weeks we’ve spent a lot of time sharing our hopes and dreams for the future and discussing the practicalities of this change in our routine.  The feelings of partnership and commitment have overflowed.

The other night, we were watching Frozen with the kids and I cuddled in next to Dennis on the couch.  Sienna looked at us and said, “You two are so cute!”  For some reason, this little exchange was so fulfilling.  As much as we focus on our children, they will eventually grow up and start their own lives.  When they do, Dennis and me need to have a strong relationship that will help us transition into the “empty nest” stage of life.

Maybe this is the benefit of looking at your life from the “old soul” perspective of experience?  This current stage of life, as wonderful and all-consuming as it is, will eventually pass and we’ll be looking back on it nostalgically.  The relationships we’re building now will, (God willing!) be the foundations of our lives then.  All the little seeds we sow, from daily connection with our spouse, to the acceptance we show our children, we will eventually reap later in life.  Each of us is unfinished.  How exciting to watch it all unfold!