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)

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.

The Blossom of a Distant Crush

There is no remedy for love but to love more.” – Henry David Thoreau

When my friend Mindy got married over 20 years ago, I remember her remarking that she felt like finding her person freed up a space in her brain for other things.

It was an interesting observation but one I hadn’t thought about in great depth until recently when out of the blue someone I had a distant crush on sent me a beautiful email. In the one gesture, distant crush blossomed into a romantic possibility.

I haven’t spent much time actively dating since I decided to have kids on my own. In these seven years, I’ve had that space in my brain, as Mindy calls it, free to focus on taking care of these kids and more or less just cruising along getting things done.

So I’m a little shocked to remember all the space that having a little romance takes up in life, of which only a small portion is actually consumed by the lovely time spent talking to him.

First, I have emotions all over the place – excitement, fear, expectancy, impatience. They cycle through my day creating waves (often of elation and joy) in what to used to be a pretty calm (mostly happy) sea.

Second, I’ve spent all sorts of time making a music playlist called “Thinking of You” and listening to it instead of the podcasts and books I used to so efficiently consume. Granted, a lot of my podcasts have been on summer break so there’s that but to match my mood, all I want to listen to is The Cure, Cold Play, Leonard Cohen and so on.

Third, I wake up in the middle of the night now with my brain racing to think about what’s next, the last conversation we had or to wonder about all sorts of things I can’t control. I think about The Hot Goddess’s latest brilliantly funny snarky pie chart about communication in midlife dating and wish I had her sense of humor about all this. Or The Goddess Attainable’s list of Zen she’s found from dating disappointments and wonder if I can find my Zen again.

All I can say is that this makes for a very rich meditation practice. Finding the space beneath all the energy and excitement where the river of life still flows and will carry me regardless of what is to come seems both harder to do these days but also more important.

I’m also discovering that it doesn’t matter how old you are, the intensity of new possibility is electrifying. I might have lost that space in my brain but I’ve opened wide a space in my heart where possibility roams free.

(Quote from Mary of the delightful Awakening Wonders blog, featured photo is mine)

Proving the Positive

One moment can change a day. One day can change a life and one life can change the world.” – Buddha

The other day I took my kids to an outdoor shopping center. They’d been excited for three days because I said we could go there to visit the one store that makes honest to goodness cotton candy. Not the stuff you can buy prepackaged on shelves in the grocery store but a machine that spins a cone of it. I don’t like cotton candy but my daughter wanted to try it so I agreed she could if we got the real stuff.

On the way to the cotton candy machine, my kids were playing in a fountain and my daughter put her face down to lick the water. “Arghh” I said, “Don’t drink the water. It isn’t treated and probably has dirt, bird poop and maybe worse. It could make you sick.” She stopped but two minutes later she made the same motion and I had to stop her again. “Listen” I said “I know as a kid you are programmed to test the limits, but this is one where you need to believe me. Even if you don’t drink it, your little brother is going to see you, imitate you and he might actually drink it. So you are just going to have to trust me and not drink it.

I could see the wheels of her 6-year-old brain working. She was thinking something like
I’ve never tried it so I’ve never gotten sick. How can I know what Mom is saying is right?

There’s no way to prove a negative. If we don’t do something and it the consequence is avoided, how do we know what didn’t happen to us?  I heard an interview once with Matthew Weiner, the creator of the TV series Mad Men, and he said the show’s driving philosophy was actions have consequences. But what about inaction?

What if we don’t do the work to deal with our internal BS so we can see others more clearly?

What if we don’t write the letter to a sick friend?

What if we don’t go out of our way to compliment or help someone?

What if we don’t put the grocery cart back in the return slot at the store?

What if we just aimed for a grade C life? Not great, not bad, just average. Would anything happen to us?

Perhaps the consequence for inaction is nothing. Nothing exciting happens, nothing revelatory occurs, no random goodness pops up, nobody remembers us. Nothing. We aren’t a hero – just a zero.

On the other hand, we’ve done acts of kindness and felt the afterglow, we’ve made the effort to reach out to friends and experienced the relationships that carry us through tough times, and we’ve done the work to clean our internal windows because we see how more light gets in. In addition to these rewards, we’ve heard the thinkers throughout human history telling us to do our work:

Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” – Plato

Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do well.” – Minor Myers, Jr.

When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or the life of another.” – Helen Keller

We all have our different ways of doing our best and our personal limits. But part of the we likely do it is because our mom, dad or someone else with authority told us and we believed them. Like with my daughter, there’s no way to prove the negative – what would happen if we did nothing, so we take the advice and continue to try. Thank goodness for that.

We Carry Them With Us

“At some point, you have to realize that some people can stay in your heart but not in your life.” – Sandi Lynn

When I woke my daughter up last Friday for the last day of school, she had a frown. I thought perhaps it was just the fog of sleepiness still lifting but she told me otherwise.

I was happy that it was the last week of school but I’m not happy that it is the last day. It’s not like you can ever go back.

She didn’t want to leave her beloved 1st grade teacher. I thought the buildup and anticipation of summer would carry the day so I was caught off-guard, something fairly common for me as a parent.

The grief of the school year ending reminded me of a Ten Percent Happier podcast about the science of loss and grieving with Mary-Frances O’Connor, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Arizona. She talked about what happens when we bond with someone – it actually changes the brain so that we encode that person is special. In the brain imaging studies O’Connor recounted, yearning for someone lit up the part of the brain that is the reward center of the brain, the nucleus accumbens.

Her conclusion was that even when our memories tell us that something has changed – someone is gone, an experience has ended – even when we know all that, the part of our brain that was transformed when we bonded still lights up. In O’Connor’s example, when she goes to pick an Easter dress, she’s still impacted by her mother. She may pick the dress her mother would like or the one that her mother would hate, but either way her mother is still present.

This explanation resonated with me. It explains that warmth I get when I think of my dad putting his arm around me and saying “It’s going to be great, Kid!” Or the little skip in my step I experience when I hike a trail my beloved dog Biscuit liked and I think of how he’d run back and forth.

I’ve often said that the longer my dad is gone, the more that I feel him inside me as if I have to act out the parts that I used to rely on him playing. O’Connor’s research says that in a way, that is true because he lives on inside my brain. I’d say that same about my dog which is true but also I’ve always had a personality much like a golden retriever.

Knowing that I’ll always exist in my kid’s heads gives me a little perspective on what that voice should say. Is the soundtrack that wants them to pick up after themselves or the one that says that they are lovable, kind and capable of anything? I’m aiming for a little bit of the former but mostly the latter.

As we moved through this past weekend, my daughter kept asking, “what would I be doing at school now?” She was processing the experience of being done by remembering all her school activities and quoting her teacher to me. Knowing a little about the science of how we record things didn’t help me know what to say, but it did give me a lot of patience for her yearning.  

By the end of the weekend, my daughter said, “I’m so happy for the Kindergartners that will have my teacher next year.” To get to our new experience, we have to cross the threshold of leaving the old. But the bonds we formed in the old experience go with us.

Still Waters

God leads me to still waters that restore my spirit.” – Psalm 23

Today is my birthday. When my 6-year-old daughter realized that earlier this week, she said “Great, can you wake us up early on your birthday so we can make you a surprise?”

Wait a minute…this is a trick. So sweet of her but that morning time is my sacred time. Waking my kids up early is the opposite of a birthday present.

I’ve often thought that the transition between my quiet morning time when I do yoga, meditate, read and write to the time when I get the kids up and ready for school was a hard transition because I was selfish and wanted more quiet time. But something I read this week sparked the thought that it’s really something deeper.

In those quiet morning moments, I find my own stillness. I breathe into the space beyond myself and feel that unity with the Universe. And in that place, the feelings settle, the rush quiets down and it feels like I see beyond all of our physical boundaries if just for a moment.

And I feel that love for my kids that came the moment they became real for me. It’s bigger than a reaction to something they’ve done or the way we express ourselves. It’s that pure connection between the core of them and the core of me, not complicated by any movement. It’s that overwhelming feeling that I get when I creep in and watch them sleep. They are quiet and I’m quiet.

When I’m still, it feels like I’m standing in one of the clear lakes in Northern Idaho we used to visit in my childhood on a hot day without wind. I can see all the way to my feet and beyond.

Then it’s time to wake them up – and any movement stirs the waters. I reach for them and stir up the waters between us. It’s time to accomplish things, meet a timeline and respond to any worries. It’s like going from my peaceful standing in the lake to a full-on water fight. I have trouble traversing that threshold because I miss the quiet view of my little loves.

It’s not just these relationships either. When I’m quiet and peaceful, all my relationships seem clearer and easier to understand than when we are in front of each other talking and stirring up all the things that come with interplay. It’s harder to feel the full appreciation for the depth of each relationship in the busier moments, I just have to hold the quiet snapshot in my heart.

My friend Betsy, who is a more experienced parent than I am, suggested what to do about my birthday. Get them up just a couple of minutes early – so I get my morning quiet time and then also get to feel their love in full audio as well.

Beautiful Questions

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue…And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.” – Rainier Maria Rilke

I needed a break from the minutiae of data that I was dealing with at work yesterday so I took a few minutes to listen to Krista Tippet’s conversation with poet and philosopher David Whyte on the On Being podcast. The conversation turned to the human experience and how we face life. Referencing the poet, John O’Donohue, David Whyte posed the practice of asking beautiful questions:

John used to talk about how you shaped a more beautiful mind; that it’s an actual discipline, no matter what circumstances you’re in. The way I interpreted it was the discipline of asking beautiful questions and that a beautiful question shapes a beautiful mind. And so the ability to ask beautiful questions — often in very un-beautiful moments — is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it as it does by having it answered. And you don’t have to do anything about it, you just have to keep asking. And before you know it, you will find yourself actually shaping a different life, meeting different people, finding conversations that are leading you in those directions that you wouldn’t even have seen before.

David Whyte

This sent me on a search to find out more about John O’Donohue’s idea of a beautiful mind and found this passage in an excerpt from John’s unpublished work:

Your mind is your greatest treasure. We become so taken up with the world, with having and doing more and more, we come to ignore who we are and forget what we see the world with. The most powerful way to change your life is to change your mind.

When you beautify your mind, you beautify your world. You learn to see differently. In what seemed like dead situations, secret possibilities and invitations begin to open before you. In old suffering that held you long paralyzed, you find new keys. When your mind awakens, your life comes alive and the creative adventure of your soul takes off. Passion and compassion become your new companions.

John O’Donohue

Inspired by both of these Irish poets, I started trying to think of beautiful questions.

What is the softest touch I can apply in this situation? (to myself, to the Earth, to others)

What is there to see right here and now with compassionate curiosity?

And this one I heard from my 8-year-old next door neighbor as I was ferrying the girls home from school, “Why would we not?”

Indeed, why not?

In the interview with Krista Tippett summed up David’s musing on beautiful questions with “That’s what Rilke called ‘living the question.‘”

What beautiful questions come to your mind?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Certitude

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs

You know that feeling when you start to wobble? It could be riding a bike or stand up paddleboarding or going down the stairs too fast with your hands full but there’s a moment when it all starts vibrating and you think, “Oh no, I’m going to fall!” but you haven’t fallen yet. That’s how my family feels right now.

It started with my two-year-old’s root canal – his fever spiked, the dentist worked on the tooth and then put him on antibiotics. Just as that pain was starting to heal, my 6-year-old daughter came down with a head cold. Right as she started to kick that, my son’s fever spiked again so it was back to the dentist who finished working on the tooth and continued the antibiotics. Then his body signaled it was done with antibiotics by breaking out in a rash all over his body. Right as that began to clear, I caught my daughter’s head cold.

It was hard to put my finger on why all this feels difficult. It’s more than the aches and pains, although they aren’t very fun and different than the fear that I won’t be able to get my work done.

But I put a name to what I was grappling with when I listened again to an Unlocking Us podcast where Brené Brown talked with Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and prolific author. CERTITUDE

“People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience, always know that they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery, they are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a love which is incomprehensible to the mind.”

Our ancestors were more easily able to hold on to mystery in general and God in particular. Whereas we worship workability, predictability and answers. We like answers! It’s not good to think that way. It takes away a natural humility.

We created an artificial world in which we create circumstances in which WE KNOW.

You have to get away from Western over-developed countries to meet a different kind of human being who isn’t that way. Who don’t think they have a right to certitude.

Father Richard Rohr

Uncertainty is a great word to describe what I’ve been feeling as my family wobbles. I lose my ability to predict what the next day is going to look like, more or less, and I feel a little bereft without that. I start casting about trying to think of when this is end so I can get back to knowing.

And then I think of one of my favorite quotes from Mark Nepo, “When we stop struggling we float.”  I imagine just leaning back into this time of uncertainty, having faith that a dots will connect as Steve Jobs says in the quote for this post.

When life roughs me up I often find that it gives me a little bit of texture to hang out to. Almost as if when things are going too smoothly, time glides too easily through my fingers and I “routine” my life away. Difficulty keeps us close for a moment and life becomes more of an adventure.

There was a COVID case in my son’s classroom last week. Will his COVID test come back negative this morning so that he can go to school and I can go to my 11:30 meeting? It’s a mystery – and I’m so grateful I woke up this morning so that I will be able to solve it and go on to the next.

(featured photo from Pexels)