A Question of Love

The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.” – Margaret Atwood

Yesterday in the car, Miss O asked me who she should marry. Off the top of my head I said, someone who is kind, honest, funny and smart and then stopped to ask what she thought. She added, “Someone who is sweet and who likes to kiss.”

I started laughing and she explained that not all boys like to kiss which I’m sure is accurate in the 7-year-old world.

But it made me think of all the times I’ve wondered who I should love and the answer started with loving myself.

And it made me think of that WHO I should love is also an acronym for HOW I should love which I found is best with conviction, patience and kindness.

It reminded me that sometimes the answer to the question isn’t who I should love but am I brave enough to try.           

Finally, I landed on what is with age becoming clearer to me is that when I tap into the Oneness of things, I find it easier to love everyone, even the people that get my goat because when I look closely there is something about them that reminds me of me.

Miss O has about 20 years until she reaches the average age of brides in this country. I hope that in that time she learns a little about love, especially self-love, before she does.

What’s your list for what to look for in a partner? And your best advice about love?

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Confidence to Be Wrong

There is no better test of man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.” – Marvin Williams

My dad was a very good apologizer. He had a favorite quip, “If you have to eat crow, eat it early when it’s tender.” When we sat down to talk in-depth when he was in his late 70’s, in what turned out to be his last couple of years before he died suddenly in a bike accident, he readily admitted his mistakes without defensiveness or blame.

For instance, in the 1980’s, the Presbyterian church adopted the rule not to ordain gay ministers and my dad went along with that policy in the churches he led. When I talked with him about it in 2012, he said, “I was wrong.” He didn’t try to hide behind the policy of the church overall or explain it away because the fear about AIDS at the time.  He told me, “You learn in ministry that you move to the problem, not away from the problem. When a problem arises, that’s the same issue you mentioned with procrastination. When an issue arises, you jump in and if you are going to get beat up, get beat up right away. Don’t wait til later. If you have to apologize and ask for forgiveness, do it quick.

But I hadn’t put together his willingness to admit he was wrong with confidence until Dr. Gerald Stein put it together for me in a comment he made on the Airing the Wounds Out post. He said, “Confidence and acceptance play into the surrendering of the desire to rebut every criticism.

The confidence to be wrong. The ability to lean in to what we haven’t done well and try to do better without contorting ourselves in all sorts of unnecessary shapes in order to try to avoid the blame. It seems to work on two levels.

The first is to lean in and keep us open to life. Our spiritual traditions speak to this idea. The Roman Catholics have confession. The Buddhists talk about egolessness as explained by Pema Chödrön,

“In the teachings of Buddhism, we hear about egolessness. It sounds difficult to grasp: what are they talking about, anyway? When the teachings are about neurosis, however, we feel right at home. That’s something we really understand. But egolessness? When we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully – which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress – a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear. When it’s not solidified in one direction or another, that very energy pierces us to the heart, and it opens us. This is the discovery of egolessness. It’s when all of our schemes fall apart. Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity and the unconditional goodness of humanity, rather than meeting an obstacle or punishment.”

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

I was in my mid-20’s when I cheated on the guy I was dating. When I eventually broke up with him, I didn’t tell him the truth when he asked if there was someone else. It wasn’t until 4 years later when he sent me an email that I finally told him. It didn’t make us fast friends, but it finally made us honest friends. I didn’t have the confidence to be truthful right away because I wanted so much to be liked and I did a lot of damage to us both in the meantime.

Which is a segue to the second part, to do it quickly. That’s advice that is also common in the high-tech world as a business strategy called failing fast. It refers to the strategy to identify ideas that don’t work quickly before you get too invested in them. It works because one of the things that undercuts our confidence is rumination and overthinking. When we get caught up in the cycle of second-guessing and reviewing where we went wrong, we move out of action and into our heads. Authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explain:

“Failing fast allows for constant adjustment, testing and then quick movement toward what will actually work. The beauty is that when you fail fasts, or early, you have a lot less to lose. Usually you are failing small, rather than spectacularly. And you have a lot to gain from learning as you fail.”

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

As I discovered from watching my dad, it takes a lot of courage to be wrong. But when you can do it well, it actually builds confidence because we do it quickly, stay open and can move on.

This is my 7th post on confidence. The others are:

I Can

Fear and Confidence

Growth Mind-set

Bossy Pants – Confidence and Leadership

No Name Calling

Speaking Up

(featured photo from Pexels)

Curiosity and Judgment

There is a wisdom of the head…and a wisdom of the heart.” – Charles Dickens

I came around the corner the other day to find my 6-year-old daughter lifting her 2-year-old brother and telling him, “If you want down, say ‘Down please.’“ Because there’s only about a 10 pound difference in weight between the two of them, it looked a little precarious.

The moment I gave birth to my second child, my oldest all of a sudden seemed so grown up. But every time I think of her as the “One who should know better” or my son as the “One who is too young to stick up for himself” I suffer from that lapse into judgment.

My meditation teacher once led a beautiful meditation about gratitude. In it she suggested that there are some things we can’t feel at the same time – like gratitude and greed. I think another pairing for me is judgment and curiosity. When I’m sitting in judgment, my curiosity is not available to me.

Of course my brain is just trying to make a fast assessment about what I need to do in a situation and so judgment serves the purpose of quick analysis. And my brain doesn’t only do this my kids but jumps to scan a homeless person for danger or to dismiss an apparently wealthy person as too busy to help.

Once I get past that quick assessment to check if anyone is in danger, I can remember to breathe in curiosity and compassion. Those two tools that almost always come up with a better and more creative response to whatever situation I find myself in.

 My compassion tells me my daughter is trying to figure out how to use her strength and knowledge to help her brother and that my son likes the attention most of the time. Once I figure out no one is getting hurt, I can sidestep my judgment and let them figure it out.

In my daughter’s quest to teach her brother some manners, she hasn’t quite thought to ask if he would like to be picked up before holding him hostage until he asks politely to get down. I’m curious how long it’s going to be until he figures that out.

Foul

Forget injuries. Never forget kindnesses.” – Confucius

This week I got the opportunity to fill in as a lunchtime playground monitor at my daughter’s school. When the kindergartners were out, one of them ran up and said there was a boy that was hurt where they were playing soccer. He was surrounded by a group of interested and supportive onlookers and as I knelt to examine his sore side, I heard:

Boy #1: I don’t think that was a red card. [I assumed they were talking about the foul system in soccer.]

Boy #2: Might not have even been a yellow card.

Boy #3: I was just trying to kick the ball.

Our injured kindergartner was sore but nothing serious and the boys provided a very nice escort to the door so that he could go to the office for some ice. I think they all earned an award for good sportsmanship.

That’s what struck me overall about the kerfuffles I stepped in to help on. Noel thought Clara ignored her. Greyson thought Connor attacked him. David thought Julian yelled in his ear. Maybe it’s because I was thinking about apologies this week, but in all the cases when I got the parties together to talk, the kids weren’t defensive and it made it so easy to talk through. There are so many things kids do well – although maybe kicking the ball and only the ball isn’t one of them!

(featured photo from Pexels)

Wired to Learn

“Sharp people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” – Brandon Mull

I got a new client this week. She was introduced to me by a mutual contact that told her I could help. She is clearly very bright and has done a lot of research but given the huge amount of documentation on the technology choices she has to make, she just needed someone to weigh in on what would work best because she doesn’t have time to try out every option herself.

After only a 30 minute phone call in which we talked through her options, she was ready to go with what I recommended. Of course, the technology we were talking about is my specialty and has been for 20 years but what struck me was how openly she was able to learn.

According to Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist from Yale, this is the hallmark of the human species. Christakis’ work in the field of sociology is about the long view of human history. He’s deeply optimistic about our ability to cooperate, teach others and love because we are one of the only species that does that outside of the family structure. In his book, Blueprint, Christakis lays out the case that “natural selection has given us a suite of beneficial social features including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation and learning.”

Of course one of the places this is easiest to see has been with my kids over the last few years as they’ve learned to talk. When my son was one and just starting to talk he called water, “Mamu.” He and my brother’s wife, who was nannying for me, use to have a funny verbal game they’d play. He’d said, “mamu”, she’d say “water” and it would go on for a minute until they both broke out in laughter. And then eventually he accepted that it was water, just like he’s learned all the other hundreds of words he can say, because he trusts the caretakers in his life.

Which reminds me of my ex-husband. He had good reasons to believe his parents weren’t reliable sources of information. His dad used to say to me, “I knew my boy was smart when I came in to beat him with a belt and he asked for me to beat him with the wooden spoon instead.” And it was in his senior year of high school when he was living with his dad and step-mom and they moved in the middle of a night to a different state to avoid a tax debt without telling him (or bringing him) so he had to find a place to live on his own.

I think they were one of the reasons that he couldn’t learn from other people (or maybe the primary reason he couldn’t). And that was behind my reluctance to have kids with him was because I couldn’t bear the thought of having him experiment on children as the only way to learn the best way to parent.

So I understand that we all have different levels of openness to learning and that it might vary within a person by topic. But it gives me great hope when I witness the human ability to trust and learn like I did with my client this week. Because it resonates with what I’ve gleaned from Nicholas Christakis’ work – that we have come this far because we are wired to cooperate and learn. Coupled with Arthur Brook’s concept of crystallized intelligence that I wrote about last week, the idea that as we age we develop intelligence more suited to synthesize, tell stories and teach, it seems we have the right ingredients to pass on goodness to the next generation and beyond.

(featured photo is of my dad teaching a class)

The Conditions for Change

A careful inventory of all your past experiences may disclose the startling fact that everything has happened for the best.” – unknown

I heard a story about a woman complaining about her ex-husband. When they were married he drank heavily but once divorced, he stopped drinking, remarried and turned his life around. His ex-wife said, “Why couldn’t he quit when he was married to ME?” and the punch line of the story was “People change, but not when and how we want them to.”

When I was married, I refused to have children. I had an instinct based on raising a dog with my now ex-husband. It was difficult enough that I didn’t want to extend that experience to kids. My husband would ask and I would say, “I don’t want to have kids.” But in my head, I knew the whole sentence was “I don’t want to have kids with you.”

My ex was not a bad guy. But he had a difficult childhood where he was both beaten and neglected. Before we were together, he’d raised a puppy with a previous partner. He told me he’d hit it with a newspaper if it peed on the floor. Only by experience did he find out that made the dog afraid of him and he stopped hitting it. To his credit, he then learned so that when we got a puppy together, he didn’t hit it.

But every step of the way was my husband having to learn a lesson directly before it sank in. He wouldn’t take my suggestion for how something needed to be done, he couldn’t trust an experts work for what might be best, he had to do the cause and effect himself. I didn’t want to raise kids with someone who had to experiment with them to find out what did, or more painfully, didn’t work.

I imagine that it’s pretty obvious now that I’ve had two kids on my own, that the whole sentence was “I don’t want to have kids with you.” But fortunately I’ve never had to say that sentence directly to him. We are on fine terms with each other but he’s moved away and gotten remarried to someone who has grown children so we rarely interact.

More than that, I am grateful for that divorce because it turned me to meditation, strengthened my faith and set me on the path that I’m on. The bigger issues of my marriage such as his infidelities and the things we valued created a relationship that was not meant to survive. But it still gives me rich ground to learn from.

People change, but not when and how we want them to. I think of that now that my life is so different than when I was married. We can’t control how others change but as I watch my children change every day, I see that we can control the conditions that help change to happen. Curiosity, openness and support work like the seed, soil and sunshine with which people grow.

I see as I create the conditions for my kids to change, I also create the curiosity, openness and support for myself to change. As I grow, I realize that even I don’t know when and how I’ll change but in these rich conditions, I trust it’ll be towards something good.

Barring the Doors

Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do , Something you are, And something you give away.” – John Lennon

I dreamed last night that 2 carloads of people were trying to break into my house. To protect myself and my kids, I was in the garage, trying to roll the codes for the garage door opener and even reset the Internet router. I knew these steps would make it harder for me to get out, physically and on the Internet but it felt imperative enough to do it. As I dreamed about having to take these steps, I was so afraid that I woke myself up and could still feel the gritty fear lingering as I lay in bed.

I rarely spend any time trying to analyze my dreams but this one is too obvious to miss. I have a friend who over the last year has been flaky and disappointing. The reasons are rooted in what’s going on in her life but after almost a year of her not showing up for us, I want to lock her out. In the parallel to the dream, I know this type of shutting down makes me less accessible to others across the board but my fear of continuing in this cycle makes it seem urgent.

It all begs that classic question: how do I stay open without perpetuating the cycle? As I sit in this morning quiet place with my candles lit and my mind open, I can see the answer for me is forgiveness and boundaries.

Forgiveness to release the hold disappointment has taken in my heart. To breathe into the space of empathy and understanding for my friend’s life as she struggles to do her work. Letting go of the tally sheet that my mind has been keeping for this past year.

And setting boundaries that I can maintain. As Prentice Hemphill said, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love both you and me simultaneously.” With boundaries I can create some order in this new phase of friendship without locking everything out.

The other day my 6-year-old daughter had some friends over and when the 3-year-old pulled down the fort my daughter had spent all morning making and then laughed about it, she hissed, “I’m never inviting you guys over again!” It seems so natural to want to lock others out until we are left lonely and bored without anyone to appreciate our forts. Coaching my daughter through it, I can see we can do better with forgiveness and boundaries instead.

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Wall of Defense

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d like to see you in better living conditions.” – Hafiz

Last week the most worrisome thing happened. My mom invited me out to lunch. Since I see her usually a couple of times a week at my house when my kids are there and we text every day, I immediately decided that I must be in trouble.

I spent the two days between when she invited me and our lunch date in the back of my mind trying to think of everything I could be doing wrong and my defense for each.

Giving my kids too much salt or sugar to eat?

Spend too much on toys?

Needing to reprioritize saving money?

Not working out enough?

It doesn’t seem like anything very serious but we have enough history over this handful of points so even if I don’t necessarily disagree with her, I can muster a strong defense along the lines of “I’ve got bigger things to worry about” and “I’m doing the best I can.”

Then I had lunch with my mom. She just wanted to know how I was doing. I spent the first half of the lunch just unwinding inside. And for what it was worth, taking stock of what I might be doing wrong wasn’t a bad exercise. It was building the defenses that was a waste of mental energy. It reminded me that any conversation that I prepared for like that would never be open or productive.

And I learned that sometimes the best trick of a parent is to say nothing. And that the power of a parent lasts forever.

Magic In The Air

Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

I was listening to the On Being podcast with Krista Tippett and Jill Tarter. Jill Tarter is an astronomer and the co-founder of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute. She talked about her long career, the fascinating questions she’s pursued and the many eye-opening discoveries that have changed how we think of the possibilities. One of her examples was that scientists have discovered that life exists in so many places on earth we never thought possible – like bacteria in nuclear reactor fluid and whole colonies so far beneath the sea that light doesn’t shine. During the interview, this particular line that Jill said caught my attention, “We have to stop projecting what we think onto what we don’t know.”

Our thinking colors our ability to perceive. Our openness determines whether we will see magic. It makes me think of the time that I dropped my wallet in my neighborhood grocery store and had to go back for it. As my internal voice was grumping about my own carelessness, I both found the wallet and bumped in to a dear friend that I hadn’t seen for two years as she recovered from cancer. Best mistake ever. Or the time I was awakened early by the baby crying and blearily stumbled out of my room with the closed blinds to discover the most stunning sunrise. Or the magic of divorce which made me walk back everything I thought I knew about how life was going to go until I found out what life waited for me outside those expectations.

We have to be open to the possibility that while we are searching for how to be happy, we might just find out that we already are.

Projections

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.” -Oprah Winfrey

My five-year-old daughter was sitting at the kitchen table doing her remote Kindergarten class the other day. To do the work, she needed the packet the school had sent home plus scissors and glue. I found the packet for her and then she couldn’t find her scissors and glue because she hadn’t put them back where they belong. She said to me, “You are making me have the worst day.”

Psychology Today defines the term projection as the “process of displacing one’s feeling onto a different person, animal or object.” We project our feelings onto someone or something else as a defense mechanism. Instead of owning our own BS, we can turn the issue into something else in an effort to protect our own egos.

I think of the time I found out about my husband’s infidelities. One of his friends, who was also my business partner, invited me out to lunch which was odd since we had never had a meal without my husband there too. When I arrived the sense of foreboding was amplified enormously because the friend had chosen a table in a closed section and also ordered me a beer. It was almost a relief when he started telling me of the infidelities because the build-up was so intense. But then I had to go home and tell my husband that I knew. He wasn’t home so I called my brother and four of my closest friends and then went out to dinner with my two best girlfriends. I finally saw my husband and asked, “Have you ever been unfaithful to me?” He answered “no” but seeing that I knew something, he then asked, “Who told you?” Then the next question he asked was, “Who else knows?”

The next months were a master class in projection. That is the perfect word for it. There is a source that is running the show but whenever you try to look for it, you are redirected to the pictures showing on the big screen. Any time the infidelities came up, he expressed his rage that his friend betrayed him (and yes, I saw the irony). Any time he got uncomfortable, he blamed me for revealing his secret. It made it so that we never could talk about the real problems. The message communicated was not that he was sorry, but just that he was sorry that I found out. By flipping the conversation to who I told, it made me the person who had been hurtful.

In a truly honest discourse, we would have been able to discuss not only the root issues but also my shortcomings as well. But if he was going to deflect, there was no way I was going to step forward either. I’m so grateful that marriage ended so I never wonder whether it could have been saved – but I do wonder if we could have cleaned and bandaged the wounds a lot faster had we not lingered in the defensive woods for so long. As it was, it took me many more years of my own work, reading, listening to others, and primarily having to sit with myself in meditation for me to finally own my part in the destruction. Projection might work as a defense but it does not work to heal and grow.

So I find it fascinating when I see the little examples of where my daughter projects. She moves past it and back to her happy place so quickly that it’s just a flash but when it’s calm, I try to guide her back to where it’s safe so we can remove our defenses and own our feelings and mistakes. It’s the only way we can take down the screen and really see what kind of day it is.