When We Look Closely

Who sees all beings in his own Self and his Self in all beings, loses all fear.” – The Isa Upanishad

The other day my son was nose to nose with our cat then turned to me and said, “I see me in kitty’s eyes.“

It reminded me of a story from the Talmud that I read in Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening:

A Rabbi asks his student, “How do you know the first moment of dawn has arrived? After a great silence, one pipes up, “When you can tell the difference between a sheep and a dog.” The Rabbi shakes his head no. Another offers, “When you can tell the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree.” Again the Rabbi shakes his head no. There are no other answers. The Rabbi circles their silence and walks between them, “You know the first moment of dawn has arrived when you look into the eyes of another human being and see yourself.”

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

I was talking with a friend the other day about Monsters, Inc. which is my son’s favorite movie these days. She asked the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if we as humans figured out how to harness laughter & love instead of screams & fear?”  

To me, it feels with almost 8 billion people on the planet like an almost overwhelming task for the dawn to break so that we can all see we are all different yet we share the same aches and pains of life. But then I breathe and remember, it happens one person at a time. It happens when I remember to be open and take the time to look into someone else’s eyes and gather the power of laughter and love.

And maybe when we exercise gentleness and closeness, it happens too between species like with my son and the cat. That is hopeful too.

Fear and Confidence

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” – George Adair

The other night our iPad fell on the ground. My kids and I were getting in the car after visiting my brother and his wife. My brother folded the stroller and the iPad that my 6-year-old daughter always uses fell out of the pocket and landed on its corner. We picked it up and went on our way but as we drove, my daughter discovered that the power button had been slightly crimped down by the fall and so all the iPad would do was show the Apple icon and then go black over and over again.

This iPad is her favorite thing in the world. It represents her agency in the world to discover things that other 6-year-olds are doing. It has her books, videos and games so it is also her main source of entertainment. That iPad holds a lot of power and possibility in one sleek package.

She started wailing in the backseat that it was broken. I calmly said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take a look at it when we get home. We’ll try to fix it.” And she wailed back, “We can’t try. It won’t work.”

What?? We fix things all the time. This was the little girl that just an hour before had confidently stood up on a paddle board and was paddling it by herself on Lake Union. And then she was jumping off the paddle board over and over into the lake to swim around with not a worry in the world.

And now she was saying we couldn’t even try. That all was lost. Everything was broken and would stay broken. This wasn’t normal or rational, this was fear.

It struck me that confidence can’t show up when fear is running the show. So in my ongoing inquiry into confidence, I went digging in to get some perspective into this.

In their book The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman distill the definition of confidence from all their sources of research and erudition into “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” They also describe the other positive attributes that often go hand in hand with confidence, what they label as the confidence cousins: self-esteem, optimism, self-compassion, and self-efficacy. But all of these things, confidence and the cousins that work to create belief that you can make something happen, are part of our rational/thinking brain.

Neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson have great illustrations in their book The Whole-Brained Child that illustrate how fear is a downstairs (limbic) brain function and that when we flip our lids, we temporarily lose access to the upstairs brain that supports thinking. The downstairs brain that provides quick reaction so when we are in critical moments of fight of flight doesn’t stop to think about it.

So in our moments of fear we lose, maybe just momentarily, access to the stuff that creates confidence until we move though it. This brought to mind for me of one of the rapid fire questions Brené Brown often asks her guests on her podcast Unlocking Us: “You are called to be very brave but your fear is real and you can feel it in your throat, what is the very first thing do you do?” And the answers from her guests are things like:

  • Oprah: “Take a deep breath. Remind myself to breathe.
  • Dr. Angus Fletcher: “I think of the bravest person I know who happens to be my son who is much, much braver than me.
  • Dr. Julie Gottman: “Put my hand on my heart.

Coming back to my daughter in the car I asked her if what she was saying was because she was afraid of losing her iPad. She said she guessed it was. And owning that, we then could reason through the fact that the only sure outcome was the one if we didn’t try. If we did nothing, the iPad would stay broken. So we had nothing to lose by trying.

Sure enough, we got home, fiddled with the button and it came back to life. The button is a little tricky now but our confidence is restored. We could try – and it worked. As the quote for this post says, and it is one of my all-time favorite quotes because it has gotten me through many barriers of my own making, “Everything you’ve always wanted is on the other side of fear.

This is my second post delving into confidence. I Can was the first.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Facing Our Fears Together

Be a lamp, a lifeboat or a ladder.” – Rumi

At bedtime last night my 6-year-old confessed to me that she runs ahead on the way to bed so that she can check under the bed for thieves. Not burglars, not robbers but thieves. But it was such an intimate moment that I didn’t ask about the word selection.

It struck me as I was listening what a privilege it is to hear someone else’s fears. Because what seems so real to us can feel childish to someone else. I remember confessing shortly after my daughter was born to a friend who doesn’t have kids that this was the hardest thing I’d ever done. My friend laughed, not unkindly but dismissively and I felt so exposed that I couldn’t say more.

Conversely I have friends to whom I can tell my biggest fears and know they won’t talk me out of them but instead will help me walk through them. In this way each monster we’ve faced together has been a bridge to closeness. It’s created the bond of facing things together.

When I’ve been the one entrusted with a friend’s hardship, I feel the honor of providing reassurance. Life has taught me we all fear different things but trust is built when we honor that they are real to the person who faces them.

So I told my daughter that it’s unlikely a thief would be patient enough to wait under the bed but I’d help her check. And I told her that when I was her age that I feared snakes under my bed. She thought that was weird until I told her that I had a prized set of four National Geographic books – puppies, kittens, frogs and snakes. I loved the puppies and kittens but I was fascinated by the snakes. So I could totally picture the hooded King Cobra ready to strike unless I cleared the bed by a good margin.

We talked about the probability that when her little brother is 6-years-old, he’ll probably have his own thing that he fears and she prepared her answer for how she’ll reassure him. Hand-in-hand we talked about facing our fears, looked under the bed and then had a great night’s sleep.

(featured photo by Pexels)

Rebranding Exercise

Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you remembered to do today was breathe.” – Unknown

Somewhere in the middle of yesterday morning, I realized that, although I was in the middle of a scenario that I dreaded, I was doing fine, in fact better than fine. The scenario: quarantined alone with two kids for days on end, no other grown-ups allowed in for help or distraction, not able to go outside which is both my and my kids’ happy place, feeling sick and trying to work.

It made me wonder – how much energy is wasted imagining dreaded scenarios? They may or may not happen. And this one has taught me, that even when they happen, they don’t feel like I feared they would. In fact, I felt so emboldened by the fact I was facing this nightmare down that I skipped through the rest of the morning.

This sparked a tidbit that I learned many years ago from someone who was researching how we RSVP events that are 1 month or 6 months out. They found that our minds have an image of who we’ll be and how we’ll feel in the future that isn’t accurate. When we respond based on that image, we often don’t predict well whether we’ll want to go. The trick, the research said, was to RSVP as if the event was tomorrow or next weekend. Because we just don’t know how we are going to feel about an event until we are facing it.

Also in my dread, I couldn’t imagine the beautiful difference that how other people would react would make. My friends, neighbors and colleagues have been so supportive and offered to drop off groceries, dinners and things for the kids. And in my imagining, I couldn’t factor in the great community of grown-ups that I’ve found in blogging. Reading other people’s blogs and writing through this has kept me in touch with the big picture reality in such a delightful way (thank you so much!). And finally, my kids have done pretty darn well in this break from normality. They’ve bickered and gotten grumpy but also taken it in stride.

And finally, the fear of the unknown made the idea of the quarantine much scarier than it is. When I fear things, it adds a patina to the image that doesn’t appear in the reality. Dealing with and dreading are two different things. Of course, that is also thankfully because our cases are mild, it gets better and more known each day and now the end is in sight.

The more often I face something I dread, the more I learn to return from that feeling. I think we all leave the present for someone imagined scenario but like just like blinking, we have the chance to clear our vision and return. No need to spend any time in the future – because how I think I will feel when I have to have a tooth drilled, hold a child that is hurt or face disappointment is not how I will actually feel.

And building on the other things I’ve learned this week, I sat my kids down to do a meditation last night after dinner. It worked wonderfully to settle us all into a fun evening routine. They loved it and my 6-year-old especially thought it was great.

So I’m rebranding this quarantine as a meditation retreat.

Ride the Wave

You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

I started meditating this morning and instead of bringing me peace, more and more fears popped up. Fear of my son’s transition to a new classroom and teachers at school. Fear for how the mornings and evenings would go for me as I try to support him through it and get him to eat, sleep and change diapers. Fear of whether his little friend at school was still enrolled. Fear about whether my fellow carpoolers would remember that it was early release for our daughters at school today and pick them up on time.

Sometimes meditation uncovers crap that I’d prefer to leave boxed up.

I sat on my meditation cushion just trying to observe the fears as they popped up. Soon I was just pouring with sweat and sitting in an uncomfortable heap. But after a few minutes, maybe five or maybe ten, I ran out of worries. All of a sudden I realized I could hear my neighbor’s fountain in their back yard and then I opened my eyes and the sun was coming up. Everything, including me, felt sunnier.

Life keeps teaching me not to interrupt the natural cycles. By letting my worries and fears pop themselves up and wear themselves out til I was empty, I naturally filled back up with faith. Leaning into the process and sweating it out, I am learning to ride the wave instead of fighting the current. My younger self fought the current the whole way insisting on keeping the worries on the inside, the sunniness on the outside and being enervated by the battle the whole day long. But I’ve found when I ride the wave, sooner or later, I am delivered back to solid ground where I continue on with the day, surprisingly refreshed.

Substitutes

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” – Rumi

The other day my 6-year-old was uncharacteristically quiet so I asked her what she was thinking about. She said, “I’m counting the number of times I’ve had a substitute.” Given that she only attended in-person Kindergarten for about 10 weeks last year, the number is low (four but it was the same one twice so I count it as three 😊 ) but this is the scares her about school.

It makes me think of all the times when I’ve either expressed my fears to someone else or been the person listening to a loved ones fears. It seems like there are three possible outcomes for me when I communicate what scares me: I can feel better, feel not heard or feel worse. Generally speaking, I feel better when I can tease out what is really bothering me and see it in a bigger context, I feel not heard when my fears are dismissed and I feel worse when the person I’m talking to adds their crap to the pile.

On the other side as a listener, I feel like I’m on the tip of understanding something monumental about how we hold each other. I’m pretty naturally and also by profession a good problem solver. But if I go to that, I often miss the point when someone expresses a fear. Because aren’t our fears often teaching us something about what is coming next for us or what we are presently learning? Like when I fear a bogeyman, it’s because I feel powerless and when I fear failure it’s because I’m taking a meaningful risk.

So when I’m listening these days, I try to imagine being a lake. Big enough so that when someone adds their load, it doesn’t overflow the edges. Clear enough so others can see the bottom. Accepting enough to hold someone when they need to float.

School starts tomorrow for my daughter. Given that COVID it brought added awareness that when we are sick we need to stay home, she’s probably going to have a substitute more than 4 times this year. Knowing that, all I could do was listen to why she doesn’t like having substitutes and tease out what it means. It’s the unexpected, it’s a fear of having to prove herself to someone new, it’s the fear that there might be expectations that she might not know. Put like that, it’s what I fear too, so we made an agreement to hold hands and face our fears together.

Sibling Supportiveness

There’s a sun in every person – the you we call companion.” – Rumi

My kids and I were sitting on my bed reading books before bed and my 6-year-old daughter leaned over and kissed my toddler on the head and said, “Love you, Baby.” He said, “No kiss, La-la.” And so I kissed him on the head and he said, “No kiss, Mama.” But he was smiling so we kept kissing him and he kept saying “no kiss” and laughing.

My kids have such a sweet relationship. When they are in the car and my toddler hears a siren or other noise that scares him, he’ll say, “cared”, my daughter will say, “Want to hold my hand?” and he does.

I work hard to make this happen. I sit with them as they work things out and act as interpreter. I also narrate why he mimics her so much because he thinks she’s the coolest thing ever. I do this because I grew up as the younger sibling of someone who hated me. She was four years older than me which is the same age difference as my two kids. When we’ve talked about it as adults she said, “I don’t know why I was so mean to you.”

My opinion is that my sister has always struggled with feeling like she didn’t belong in our family because she was the one “realist” amongst a pack of optimists. I came along and the easy, happy disposition I was born with challenged her fighter, questioning nature and it is her makeup to push back.

Whatever my sister’s reason was, I find it fascinating to think about the dynamic now. Having kids that are the same age difference has been fear-inducing and healing for me. I was terrified that the same pattern would repeat itself. And now I’m starting to trust that there isn’t any scary truth that four years difference makes siblings not like each other.

There isn’t a more influential factor on my parenting style than the wounds of my childhood. I was scared to live with my sister – scared that anything I professed to love she would destroy. If I had long hair, I was scared she’d cut it off at night, if I liked a particular stuffed animal, I was scared she’d take it or destroy it. To be fair, I don’t think she ever did – but she threatened a lot. And I think I’m still scared of admitting I love something in case that means it’s taken away.

My mom was tired of kid squabbles by the time I came along as the third child. She was ready to move on with her own professional and personal development and given how talented and smart she is, that was only natural. But it meant that telling her my fears or about the conflict was not a fruitful path. She’d call it tattling or say we both caused it, no matter what happened. There was no path to resolution for me as a child – no understanding, no naming it and no way out of fear.

So every day I work at building trust between my kids and making sure they are source of comfort, not anxiety for each other. It heals me alongside helping them. It’s another reminder to me that nothing is wasted in this life – every wound can become a source of knowledge and inspiration. I hope that long after I’m gone, when they are scared, they will still talk to each other about it and hold hands.

Walking Boldly into Truth

“Everything you have ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” – George Adair

Last year a friend of mine realized that she was gay at 50 years of age. In the 6 months that followed her discovery, she came out to everyone significant in her life. She didn’t have a girlfriend or any other forcing function to do it, she just walked boldly into her Truth. I know that some of those conversations, especially with the older generation were hard but when I asked her about how she did it she told me she was ready to find love and hiding who she realized she was would only hinder her path.

As someone who is walking a less traditional path by having kids as a single person at age 46 and 50, I am so inspired and in awe of my friend. I remember being five months pregnant and feeling really glad I wasn’t showing because then I’d have to tell people what I was doing. (Yeah, that wasn’t going to stay hidden forever. 😊) I had told everyone close to me, but for strangers and acquaintances, I was sure they’d think I was some loser that couldn’t find a partner. Over the years it has gotten so much easier but I really had to work hard to be able to say it without fear.

I told a lifelong friend this the other day and she was surprised. “What?” she said “we just always assumed you were some super-empowered woman.” Ha, ha. If it were that easy, there wouldn’t be a whole genre of stories about heroes who spend the entirety of the middle act wandering around trying to do everything they could to pursue their path without being vulnerable. I can say with complete certainty that if the constriction around my heart hadn’t been so tight and getting tighter every time I thought of having a family and time hadn’t been running on out my ability to have or adopt children, I would still be wandering around trying to find the right husband with which to have children. Anything so as not to have to face the vulnerability of saying, “This is what I was certain I had to do even though the circumstances at that time of my life meant doing it alone. I didn’t want to rush finding the right man and in doing so, make a mess of it.”

In Harry Potter, the young witches and wizards learn to run into the brick wall between platforms 9 and 10 to get to the Hogwarts Express train leaving from platform 9 3/4. We reach thresholds in our lives and need to change something — a job, a place we live, a relationship, a way of thinking or being, or something we just have to do — and they feel a lot like that brick wall. It is terrifying to consider running into, always looks easier when someone else does it, and once across, it is the place that transports to the magic life beyond. It’s only a perception that we don’t want to stand out that keeps us from walking into our Truths. When we do, we break that constriction around our hearts and can feel the full power of the vital heartbeat of life.

The postscript here is that with one year of my friend coming out, she has found her person and they’ve bought a house together. She crossed her threshhold and is living in the fullness of her life and it’s a joy and inspiration to watch!