A Better Perspective On The Glass

Be confident, not certain.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

When looking through the profiles of the potential donors that I had to choose from for my kids, the sperm bank provided very thorough profiles of the candidates. The one I chose had rated every one in his direct family and extended family except one aunt as an optimist. I thought that would fit perfectly with my family history.

But the older I get and the more that I practice meditation, I’m realizing that optimism is a trait with a downside. In fact, the most common suffering I experience these days is when I let my optimism go unchecked. This is the topic of my latest Wise and Shine blog post: The Glass is Refillable

(quote from David Folstad of the Life and Random Thinking blog and featured photo is from Pexels)

Our Relationship With Pain

These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” – Rumi

About 15 years ago I was climbing Mt. Whitney in the winter with my friend Jill and about 7 other climbers and 2 guides. Though Mt Whitney claims the prize as the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet, by reputation it isn’t a hard climb in the summer.

But in the winter, our approach was a couple of miles longer because the parking lot was snowed in, we had to carry heavy 55 pound packs with all the gear we needed and the route was deep with crappy snow so that even in snowshoes, we were regularly sinking in to our thighs.

I started out feeling fine but by the time we were at about 10,000 feet, my left ear was incredibly painful. I kept trudging along, not listening to the pain because I figured there wasn’t anything I could do about it. By the time we made camp at 12,000 feet I was in tears. Fortunately I didn’t impact the teams plans to climb because a storm with 60 mile per hour winds came through and we all had to go back down the next morning.

Mountaineering books are filled with stories about people who ignored their pain – usually with more dire consequences than my ear on Mt. Whitney. And of course this seems to be a universal human experience to not listen to the signals we are receiving. It’s the topic of my latest Wise and Shine (formerly Pointless Overthinking) blog post: Do You Listen To Your Pain?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Called Out

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela

The other day I received a message from Mr. D’s preschool, “Good afternoon families. Since we have several new families who have recently joined us, I thought it might be a good time to remind everyone that our classrooms are parent free zones.”

Even though this message was sent to the about 45 families in the school and I’m not a new parent to the school, I knew this message was aimed at me. Because I love going in the classroom and getting to know the teachers, especially in the last couple weeks as Mr. D has moved up to a new classroom. These COVID years as a preschool parent have been tough and the drop-off at the door is the worst. Mr. D does fine but I suffer from lack of community and continuity when it comes to my darling son and the people important to him.

I could feel the shame creeping up my cheeks as I read the message. It was like I imagined they all got together and cooked up a message to nicely keep me out. Which is very ego-centric of me but I think not uncommon when we feel called out.

I think staying open to feedback is one of the biggest growth areas for me. Not shutting down with shame or defensiveness. Sitting openly long enough to feel the meaning and intent and then react. It’s a very meditative response to life for me instead of reactive.

As Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.

Freedom to find what need I was trying to meet, growth to expand into other ways to meet it, power to find my center and respond from that true space.

What I really want is to show affection and interest for the amazing people who are caring for and teaching my son. So I’ve written them all cards and put chocolate bars inside. It’s not perfect, but I find if I don’t wither from the shame of being called out then I can still engage and get to know them from afar.

How do you react when you feel called out? Any thoughts on the situations in which we can take our loved ones only so far and the rest they have to go on their own?

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Journey Is The Destination

Tell me and I will forget, teach me and I will remember, involve me and I will learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

I took the kids out hiking last weekend. Before I had kids, I used to hike every Saturday morning starting in the years one of my friends was preparing to climb Everest (the trick of hiking with someone in that good of shape – make her talk all the way up and you talk all the way down). So hiking with my kids feels like going back to my roots.

But instead of hiking up Tiger Mountain as I would if it was just me, I choose a flat trail to Tradition Lake that the sign says is 1.5 miles away. As we head out with high energy, I had great hopes that we’d actually GET to the lake this time. Because we’ve tried this before and about a half mile in, after we’ve looked at countless sticks, rocks, bugs and slugs, Mr. D gets tired of “hiking.” I put him on my shoulders and carry him back to the parking lot.

I consider not making the goal to be good practice for me. I love finishing and as I wrote in the messy middle post, I find myself often rushing to the end. To enjoy the process of getting there, and to enjoy all the slugs along the way, is a way of slowing down my adult brain that is so intent on goals. It’s another opportunity to immerse myself in my kids lantern awareness, to use the term from researcher Dr. Alison Gopnik.

Of course I could carry Mr. D farther and get to the lake even if my knees, hips and shoulders might disagree. I think Miss O could do the trail all the way no problem. But I think developing the endurance to get there himself is something that is worth leaving it to Mr. D to do.

What I’m learning about accomplishments is not only to be flexible about what the end-point is but also to value the progression along the way. “Hiking” with my kids is like a walking meditation for me, another chance to learn that sometimes the goal isn’t what the sign says. It’s a practice of learning when to say we’ve gone far enough instead of pushing through. It’s honoring the deep knowing that comes with celebrating the beauty of the journey.

And sure enough, at about half mile in, we reached the end of Mr. D’s desire to hike. My reward for being willing to turn around was that we laughed the whole way back.

How do you feel about not reaching the end-point on the sign? Do/did you hike with your kids?

How Not To Be Mean

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

The other night my seven-year-old was being short-tempered with her younger brother and snippy with me. I asked her not to take out her mood on others and she replied “I don’t know what to do with the meanness!”

Wow, that stopped me in my tracks! It left me trying to tease apart all the ways we can quell our inner meanness and became the topic of my Pointless Overthinking blog today, What to Do With Our Inner Meanness.

Carrying Stuff for Others

I am becoming water; I let everything rinse its grief in me and reflect as much light as I can.” – Mark Nepo

Last week there was an open house at school so all the kids could meet the new principal and find out their teachers. Before we had a chance to check the official list, the 2nd grade teacher that Miss O wanted to have saw her and said, “Yay, you are in my class!”

This was great news – two of her best school friends were also on the list and she was thrilled. Except as we walked away, a dad of one of her good friends gently said to me, “There are two O’s this year and I think your daughter is in the other class.”

Devastating! We checked the official list and he was right, she was not in the class she preferred. Her body mirrored her mood as she went from elated to deflated. I watched in horror as she crumpled even as she tried to hold it together in the crowd.

Just bearing witness to this made me feel terrible. It was as if had taken on the disappointment for my daughter’s 2nd grade hopes dying. And this happens not just with my kids but in other relationships too – I feel the heart ache of my friend going through relationships troubles. Or the exhaustion of another friend who didn’t get the job she wanted.

I suspect I’m not alone in taking on the feelings of others that I care about. As I listen to their experience, I can feel myself take on the rise and fall of their journey. Long after I’ve left them or hung up the phone, I carry the echo of their experience. It goes beyond being an empathetic listener because I’m carrying an emotion that isn’t mine to carry.

Which is a bit ridiculous because it’s a feeling of how I would react to having the same experience which is more or less meaningless. That is to say, my feelings may or may not match those of the person who is actually going through it.

So, I don’t think this makes me a better parent of friend. In fact, I suspect it diminishes my effectiveness. Thinking about the Buddhist Tonglen practice where you imagine a specific suffering in the world and you breathe it in, there is also the completion of the practice where you breathe out relief for everyone experiencing that suffering. It’s a full circle practice. Looking at it another way, the river doesn’t hold on to the water that flows through it.

This reminds me of every mountain guide I’ve climbed with. First, their stuff is well-organized so that they can be efficient and also carry a lot of gear for the group. They don’t often carry stuff for the climbers but when someone is really struggling, they will take part of their load for a time. However, they always give it back when we get to camp. They don’t keep carrying it on top of their own load.

At the school event, Miss O was upset and her first reflex was to go back to that teacher she wanted to tell her that she wasn’t in her class. Once she did that, she was able to move on and meet the teacher she’s assigned to for 2nd grade. Her new teacher is also lovely and nice.

Miss O moved on much more quickly than I did as I still feel echoes of that disappointment. I’m trying to learn from her example and shake off the feelings that I don’t need to carry for those I love.

Do you take on the feelings of loved ones? How do you shake them off?

The Body of Humor

The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” – Mark Twain

The other day in the privacy of my back yard, my 6-year-old daughter and her friends were using water balloons to pretend to pee. I started to say something about that being crude humor but then thought of back when I was climbing mountains. I had a She Wee which was a urinary redirector so that girls can stand and pee.

On one climb of Mt. Rainier, I was roped to three of my guy friends and had to pee at 13,500 feet. I walked as far away as I could while roped up, turned my back and used the She Wee. When I turned back to the group, one of my friends was looking at me and said, “Sorry, I couldn’t look away, that was fascinating!” I laughed because it WAS funny and not at all creepy.

What kids know that grown-ups seem to have forgotten is that bodies are funny, amazing and full of wonder. Both of my kids started laughing at “a-choo” by the time they were 6 months old and now most any sneeze, burp or fart makes them break into laughter. Pop a knuckle or get a scratch and they are fascinated. And though they cry when they skin their knees, both are completely entranced by the sight of blood.

The body is great at getting out what it no longer needs. We grow up and try to keep it in – emotions, bad meals, sickness and somehow in the process take it all too seriously. At my age, any twinge of adrenaline and I break out in a full sweat. And when I do yoga in the mornings, I close the doors to the family room just so my groans won’t wake the kids. Instead of trying to pretend it isn’t happening, perhaps I should laugh about it.

Back to funny stories from the mountains. There was the guy I wrote about who came back from the outhouse at 12,500 feet in the Caucasus Mountains saying, “I just spent five minutes dancing with my toilet paper.” And there was another incident on the way to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. We had set up our tents outside Namche Bazar at about 13,000 feet and our guides had created a toilet tent for us – a hole in the ground with a toilet seat sitting atop small luggage rack covered by a tall, skinny tent shaped like a telephone booth. One afternoon the wind came up and knocked over the toilet tent with someone inside. Once we helped him out of all that fabric and determined he wasn’t hurt, it was hilarious.

Perhaps it is because we are vulnerable while we are relieving ourselves that makes us forget that it’s funny. And even this cycle of life, as inglorious as it is, teaches us something. So we might as well eat, drink, and pee merry!

Is your body doing anything funny these days?

(featured photo is Miss O at 6 months laughing at a-choo!)

Patience To Stay Open

Fear wants us to act too soon. But patience, hard as it is, helps us outlast our preconceptions. This is how tired soldiers, all out of ammo, can discover through their inescapable waiting that they have no reason to hurt each other. In is the same with tired lovers and with hurtful and tiresome friends. Given enough time, most of our enemies cease to be enemies, because waiting allows us to see ourselves in them.” – Mark Nepo

I have a friendship that is in trouble. When I ask my friend questions about herself, she doesn’t answer but instead redirects the question. This is change in our 10+ year friendship. I’m not sure the cause but I’ve supported my friend and her husband through some difficult issues so my suspicion is that it’s more important to her to have a seemingly friendly relationship where I remain “on her side” rather than an authentic one where she has to tell me what’s bothering her or what I’ve done.

Just writing about this makes me a little light-headed. Because it touches on the divide between barely living and living barely. That is to say, I spent too many years barely living when I pretended that life was great and I buried all suffering deep down. Then I discovered that living barely, trying to keep the thinnest possible covering between my heart and the world actually lets more things in and more importantly, more things out.

But just because I want to try to live without pretense doesn’t mean my friend can right now. And what I understand from my tentative attempts to open a space between us to speak is that she isn’t ready to talk.

So I’m trying not to break things in my impatience. To declare the friendship over because I can’t stand the uncertainty or to insert a defensiveness because I don’t understand. Or to assume or imagine anything.

My dad told me of a group of olive farmers he met who owned a prime piece of land in a contested part of the world. Even though they had a deed of property they were regularly hassled by local soldiers. They developed a motto, “We refuse to become enemies.

That phrase has stuck with me of a reminder that no matter what the other side is doing, we can keep open the channel of our hearts. The motto tells me that we can be in conflict without stirring up that fear within.

When something reminds me of my friend, I’ve found that instead of ruminating on the problem with all the dark alleyways of anxiety I can say a quick loving-kindness chant: “May I be happy, may you be happy; May I be at peace, may you be at peace; May I be loved, may you be loved.” It helps keep me from closing down.

What do you do when things aren’t going well with a friend?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Miracle or Coincidence?

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

When a friend turned 60 recently, I tried to think of 60 things I could give her that would be relevant, useful and fun. She really didn’t need anything so I created her a little tree with 60 of my favorite quotes.

During the unveiling, my friend and I were looking through the little quotes, taking them down, reading them and then reclipping them. We were rotating the tree so it wasn’t clear which ones we’d already tried and we kept on grabbing one quote, the quote for this post, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

And then just as I was writing a piece about the quote for the Pointless Overthinking blog, Eddie Two Hawks posted that exact quote yesterday.

Coincidence? Or a miracle? It feels as if we are collectively in need of a miracle. Whatever the shade of our belief in God, the Creator, the Universe, optimism, or goodness, we can do the work to develop eyes that see.

I’m better at spotting miracles in the small circumstances of my life but I believe they apply to the bigger view of our world as well. The key is practicing seeing the world that way. Here’s my post about Creating Eyes That See at Pointless Overthinking.

Holding Space

True friends are those who lift you up when no one else has noticed you’ve fallen.” – unknown

The other night I was reading books with my two-year-old and he whispered in my ear, “You are the best girl.” It was such a sweet and tender moment that gave me the shiver of recognition of what happens when we hold space for one another.

In the Disney Cars movie, Lightning McQueen starts out as the hot shot rookie that only cares about himself until he discovers the feeling of community and values in Radiator Springs and then finally emerges as the worthwhile competitor that knows that there is more to life than winning.

It’s actually in the third installment, Cars 3, that they use the line that Doc Hudson, Lightning’s gruff mentor (voiced by Paul Newman), “Saw something in you that you couldn’t see in yourself.” It’s a wonderful statement about hope and potential.

When we hold space for others, we store the image of their highest, purest selves so that when they are in the messy middle of anything, we can reflect it back to them. This reminds me of friend who became disoriented and demoralized while trying to reach a goal and we sat on a bench overlooking Puget Sound and unraveled why it was she started.

When we hold space for others, we capture the essence of who they are they are in the squishy, vulnerable core underneath any job or external validation so that if they get lost in work or a relationship, we can huddle with them and tell them we still see them.

This brings to me the moment when my friend Doug called to ask if I would climb Mt. Adams with him and his son this summer. He knows I am knee deep in raising these two kids, have been distracted by all that entails and I’ve not been a very present friend, but his offer stirred me deep within and I was so grateful he remembered me.

When we hold space for others as they age, we become the safety line back to the boat of their life, even when they don’t remember themselves. When my great-aunt Wilma was suffering from Alzheimers and nearing the end of her life, her son arrived on his weekly visit to talk with her and bring her favorite treats. She sweetly said to him, “You are so nice. You remind me so much of my beloved son Gary.”

When my son uttered, “You are the best girl.” he was just parroting back what he’s heard said. But he also reminded me that there’s a purity in the simple way he sees me that has everything to do with our relationship and nothing to do with what I accomplish. It made me think that relationships, parenting and families, when they are functional, can be repositories for our essential selves. We hold space for each other for the moments we need to come “home” and recharge.

What does the phrase holding space mean to you? Do you have a good holding space story?