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)

Life Banged Me On the Chin

Turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey

The other day my 6-year-old daughter and my mom were climbing into my car when my daughter said, “Mom, I hurt my chin.” I scanned the car to see how and she explained that she’d hit it the evening before when she was having an overnight with her aunt and uncle. Then they’d taken her to drama camp, my mom had picked her up so I hadn’t seen her all day and she was reporting something that had happened almost 24 hours prior.

It is unusual that we spend that long apart so of all the things she had to tell me from her many adventures that day, it’s funny that was the one she picked. She didn’t need any extra hug or even an after-the-fact ice pack, she just wanted me to know.

I’ve had to think about it for a couple of weeks to piece together why she told me. Then I happened upon a book about parenting I read a couple of years ago. The Whole-Brained Child by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD. In it they explain the different parts of the brain – the logical left part of the brain, the emotional right part of the brain, the upstairs brain, which makes decisions and balances emotions and a downstairs brain that is in charge of automatic processes, innate reactions (fight or flight) and strong feelings (anger and fear).

They explain that the work of parenting is to help kids wire the parts of the brain together. By letting kids tell stories, they wire the words of the left brain to the emotions of the right. And by helping them calm the downstairs brain of fight or flight, we can then engage the upstairs brain to “think” about it.

But I don’t think this is just the work of parents. I think as friends, partners and bloggers, we are continually helping ourselves and others to make sense of experiences. We all need help interpreting, finding perspective, extracting the “lessons learned” from life.

I remember a particular friend in college whose long-time boyfriend had cheated on her and then broken up with her. She told the story over and over again to anyone that would listen. She was trying to figure out why it happened. It was a perfect example of this quote from The Whole-Brained Child, “The drive to understand why things happen to us is so strong that the brain will continue to try making sense of an experience until it succeeds. As parents, we can help this process along through storytelling.”

The reactions from our college-aged friends tended toward the sympathetic “What a jerk.” and “You were better than him anyways.” As momentarily comforting as those were, it wasn’t until someone pointed out that breaking up was always messy but she had faith in other parts of her life and she had to have faith about this too that my friend started to see the bigger picture and heal. Helping her see the mystery of life was just what she needed to become unstuck from the mire of life not being fair.

So we tell our stories to each other and the process hopefully helps us turn our wounds into wisdom. Because sometimes life bangs you on the chin and then you need to understand why it happened and what to learn.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Spiritual Leaders

Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom. Sharing it, is the first step to humanity.” – unknown

Several years ago I had a friend who was struggling to keep his marriage together after it was revealed that his wife was having a long-term affair. From time to time he’d recount some of the help and advice they were getting as they tried to heal – from therapists, friends and books. One of the most insightful pieces of advice he got was from his pastor who sagely counseled, “You are going to have to say ‘good-bye’ to that marriage. If you two are going to go forward, you will have to build a new marriage together.”

It takes a special role to be able to drop truth bombs and still be heard. Friends might be able to do it, but often have a vested interest in offering up advice. More often than not, they offer idiot compassion as therapist and author Lori Gottlieb calls it. “Idiot compassion is where you want to make somebody feel better, and so you don’t necessarily tell them the truth. And wise compassion is where you really hold up the mirror to them in a compassionate way, but you also deliver a very important truth bomb.”

Therapists can deliver truth bombs but I think we often forget that our spiritual leaders have that capacity too. Given that church affiliation in the US has dropped below 50% for the first time ever, I wonder if we are losing touch with a unique group of people who want to help and also celebrate with us.

Twelve years ago when I was in crisis going through a divorce, I was lucky enough to find my way to a meditation teacher that helped guide me into that practice that has changed my life in many ways. And often when I have a spiritual question or even a lapse in understanding, I will go to my meditation teacher.

I also have the added benefit of relationships with a number of pastors since my dad was in the profession. They teach me again and again that our spiritual leaders whether they be pastors, rabbis or yogis have deep wisdom and history to access whether or not you agree with every bullet point of their theology.

When I asked my dad about that job/role/life calling as a Presbyterian pastor in the years before he died he said,

“I never would have imagined, at 20 years old when I finally made the decision to go in to ministry, I never would have thought that this is what my life would be like. I am so grateful to God for what that has meant, the number of lives that I’ve been able to be a part of. One of the unique things about ministry is that you are able to be with people in some of the most precious, important, holy moments of their life . . . birth, death, baptism, marriage, funeral, crisis. A pastor steps in to the middle of someone’s life at those unique times and that is pretty rare.”

So on this day that is Good Friday for Christians and the start of Passover for Jews, I dedicate the post to all our spiritual leaders that are willing to help us through the important moments of our lives. May we all find ways to support and honor them.

(featured photo is one of my favorite pictures of my dad)

Taking the Crust Off

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

Around Christmas, my mom was helping my 6-year-old daughter with some Legos. Frustrated by something she tried many times, my mom turned to me and said, “Do they sometimes forget to put pieces in these kits?”

I laughed because I’ve thought that many times. When the instructions don’t work and everything seems to almost but not quite fit and I want to blame the instructions. But from my experience, it has never been the instructions that have been faulty. I’ve usually found an error in previous steps that once reversed, it works fine.

Life has taught me that this just doesn’t happen with Legos. That when life feels blocked, often we spend a lot of energy trying to problem solve where we are at before realizing we go back a few steps to fix what is fundamentally causing the issue. It may be a wound we try to cover over instead of heal or a belief about ourselves, others or life that we never revisit to test if it is true.

Recently I was listening to an On Being podcast where writer Katherine May interviewed author Michael Pollan. He was talking about his research into using psychedelic drugs for therapeutic purposes. One of the benefits he said was “Recovering the profundity that we already know. Like ‘love is everything.’ We spend a lot of time encrusting these fundamental ideas about life and reality with irony and all these protective rhetorical devices to keep them at bay. And suddenly that crust comes off.”

While the chances of me doing a psychedelic trip are about zero, I was struck by the notion of uncovering what we already know. Or in Michael Pollan’s words, taking off the crust. Going back a few steps, in Lego speak.

Praying, meditating, writing, therapy, honest dialogue, vision journaling – all these tools remind me of a mediation retreat but I think they are our ways of discerning where in the directions we went wrong. To somehow reveal that thing that keeps bugging us but we can’t quite put a finger on.

In the On Being interview, Michael Pollan described why insightful experiences, however we come about them, have such power to create long term change in us. He brought up the work of William James who was talking about mystical experiences 100 years ago. Michael Pollan explained, “One of the characteristics of that [mystical experience] besides ego dissolution and transcendence of time and space was the Noetic quality. That is the quality that what you learned, the insights you had were not merely opinions but revealed truth. They have a stickiness and power that I think is central to people being able to change. The difference between knowing in your head and knowing in your heart and whole being.”

When my mom was having trouble with the Legos, I sat down with her (my daughter having wandered off long before) and we looked at the directions, the picture and our pieces. Then my eyes, new to the project, were able to spot the tiny extra red piece that made all the difference. I wouldn’t call it a mystical experience but we whooped with delight at fixing something. When we take off the crust and look inside, especially together, it’s fun to discover how it all works and put it together better.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Underneath the Urgency

Either you run the day or the day runs you.” – Jim Rohn

I woke up this morning at 5:30am – a little later than usual. In the dark of a morning in January, I rolled out of bed thinking that I didn’t have enough time to do yoga in addition to meditate, write and read before I need to get my kids up.

I frequently feel like I don’t have enough time. I feel it on weekdays when I know I have a hard deadline to wrap things up with work so that I can go pick up my kids. I feel it on weekends when I’m immersed in kid chaos and can’t get personal to-do items done.

The more that I think about it, the more urgent it feels. Gripped by that feeling, I flail and get less done. It’s like a secret of physics that noticing the speed of time makes time go faster.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never enjoyed a moment in which I was gripped by scarcity. And the majority of the mistakes I make are done when I rush.

And sometimes I can sense that it’s not a feeling of not have time (lower-case t) as in just that day but Time (upper-case T) as in before I die. Recently a 63-year-old friend died of complications of cancer treatment and I have another friend who is experiencing some progressive cognitive diminishments in her mid 60’s.

When I think about these friends, not only do I feel grief for them and their families but also a little frantic. Because having kids as an older parent means I will be 68-years-old when my youngest graduates from high school. I want to be fully present for my kids all they celebrate all their growing-up milestones. And beyond.

When feeling that urgency, the only thing I’ve found to do is to slow down. It’s a sense of reaching underneath the urgency to grab the fabric of life that’s just under the surface. Gripped by that ache of not enough time, I force myself again and again to return to this moment.

This moment, the one right here where I’m quietly sitting and writing these words is full of abundance. It’s a rich moment of quiet and calm. It’s a celebration that I haven’t yet run out of time because I woke up this morning.

Sure, I have to make choices about what I can get done today and prioritize. But making those choices when in the throes of scarcity usually means I make the short-sighted one. When I’m plugged in to the power of now, I can choose more wisely. And the other secret is that most of the time, the wisest choice is opting not to clean. 🙂

Packing Lists Are Not Optional

Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.” – unknown

My kids and I were recently playing in a small space nestled on the top floor of house that we don’t use often. My daughter caught me picking some dried playdough out of the carpet, looked at me and said, “I was younger then so I didn’t know any better.”

Ha, if I had a nickel for all the things I could say about that in my life! That thought prompted me to think of what I would say that about. Lessons like:

Not believing that the sign meant it when it said 45mph for the curve.

Not knowing that wool shrank when you put your mom’s borrowed skirt in the dryer.

You shouldn’t ever try to park a U-Haul by yourself.

Thinking that sleeping pads were just for comfort and packing lists were just suggestions.

The last one in particular made me chuckle. It came from the time in college when spent 5 weeks in Ecuador on a study trip – 2 weeks hiking in the Andes, 2 weeks living with the Cofani Indian tribe in the jungle and 1 week camping on a remote beach near the Galapagos Islands.

In the weeks before my trip, I kept choosing to spend all my time with my boyfriend instead of preparing so it came down to the night before I was to leave that I really started to get everything together. I looked at the packing list and was surprised at the entry for sleeping pad. I hadn’t spent much time hiking or camping and my family didn’t have any so I decided they were optional, probably for comfort, and I skipped it.

It wasn’t until the first night we spent camping in the Andes at 12,000 feet that I understood why sleeping pads are necessary. Lying on that very cold ground without anything but the thin nylon of the tent to insulate me from below, I absolutely froze in my sleeping bag.

Fortunately one of the items on the list that I did manage to pack was plastic garbage bags. The group leader showed me the next day how you could wrap your body in garbage bags for additional warmth. That trick got me through those nights in the mountains – just barely.

I’ve been very diligent in my packing for expeditions ever since. But I look back on that and think, “I was younger then so I didn’t know any better.” 😊

I’m guessing that for every person who reads this, there is a life lesson that pops up for you. Please leave it in the comments if you want to share!

The Detailed Answer

Love is the beauty of the soul.” – St. Augustine

I was driving in the car with my kids when my 6-year-old asked me, “Mama, do you like being a parent?” I replied that I did and that I especially did because I was proud to be a parent of the two of them. Which is true but also a really broad answer that encapsulates all the specific things that go into parenting.

Yesterday was a great example of all the reasons why I love being a parent.

Since it was a holiday morning, I snuggled in my bed with my two kids and we watched a video that my daughter made. She was explaining grown-up teeth and it came out like this, “You know what grown-ups are, right? And well, they have teeth. And when you are little, you lose all of your teeth. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.” [insert expression where she gets really close to the camera and tries to show every one of her teeth] We watched that video over and over and laughed!

I can’t think of a day as a parent where I haven’t belly-laughed.

Then my daughter was asking me why we have Veterans Day. I explained it as if it originated as a celebration of the end of World War II. Later in the day I found out it was marking the end of World War I. Oops.

Every day I have to explain something that isn’t in my wheelhouse. I make mistakes and I learn.

Yesterday morning my daughter’s best friend, who is brown, came over and they were making art on the dining room table. My daughter said she didn’t like brown as a color. It offended her friend because she is brown. They had a conversation trying to solve both individual expression and systemic hurt.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get some insight into all that comes with being human.

I had to take my 2-year-old son to the doctor for his flu shot. He flinched when he got it but didn’t cry. But 10 minutes later he pinched his finger when we sat down on a bench and started sobbing.

I’m reminded every day that being a safe place for others to express their hurts is a sacred job.

The three of us went over to visit my mom. We played the piano, explored all her toys, read books, fiddled with the water in her sink, found tiny places that only little people could hide in and laughed. We had the snacks in a routine that my kids associate with my mom and it’s easy to see how traditions are born.

There is some reminder every day that my kids and I are part of a loving, bigger family that holds us, helps us and hears us.

Tired after all the excitement and hurts of the day, my son didn’t want to eat the dinner I’d made for him and tipped it onto the floor. I too was tired and frustrated and said so. My son said for the very first time, “I lorry.” (I’m sorry) We picked it up together.

Each day comes with the need to forgive and be forgiven.

As I got ready for bed, I went into my kids room to check on them. The sound of their breathing and the precious shapes they make while they sleep renews every fiber of love of safety in my body.

Every day I am overwhelmed with my love for these beautiful miracles.

When my daughter asked me if I liked being a parent, I asked her if it seems like I do. She said “Yes. I mean you get tired and frustrated sometimes but, yes.” That about sums it up.

Comparative Suffering

Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

I’m old for a parent of a 2-year-old and a 6-year old. I had my son when I was 50 years old. Most of my long-time friends have kids in college which is great when I need babysitters. So part of my parenting journey has been to make new friends with people that have young children and have met many delightful ones.

But the other parents don’t complain to me. That isn’t to say that they don’t like me or include me, it’s just that generally they refrain from sharing their parenting woes. Every once in a while I’ll get a hint of why they don’t when a mom friend will say to me, “My husband was out of town for this week and wow, it’s so hard to get two kids to bed!” And they will often then add, “But I shouldn’t complain about that because you have to do it all the time.”

While I reassure them that it is totally fine to say that to me, I completely understand. More than that, I don’t feel bad that I do it by myself because I chose to. In fact, I often think about what would have happened if I’d had children when I was married and shake my head in relief that it’s only two kids that I have to get ready in the morning and not three if I was still married to my ex. 😊

But I finally have a term for why parents don’t complain to me because of a great Brené Brown Unlocking Us podcast episode with Esther Perel that I heard this week. Comparative suffering. When we start to complain about something and then cut ourselves off because others have it so much worse. I was recently talking with my friend Mindy about my dad’s death when I was 45-years-old and then stopped because her mom died when Mindy was only 23-years-old. I felt insensitive because I’d been able to have him in my life so much longer.

But I heard a heart-changing quote from Brené Brown on that podcast: “I had very little empathy for other people because I wasn’t open to my own pain.” When we stop to acknowledge that something hurts, sucks, is difficult — without comparing it to anyone else’s journey — we land ourselves back in reality. And from there, we can reach other people.

I frequently use “Comparison is the thief of joy” with my 6-year-old when she resorts to comparison with her friends. But now that I heard that wisdom I’m thinking of expanding it to “comparison is the thief of relationship.” We don’t have to compare any of our experience – good or bad. And when we do, we just have to acknowledge our own experience and theirs, and then continue to be real because that’s the glue of friendships, old and new.

(photo from Pexels)

Receiving Pain

Only love, with no thought of return, can soften the point of suffering.” – Mark Nepo

When I trimmed my 2-year-old son’s hair recently, he’s started saying “Ow” with each snip. I checked to make sure I wasn’t pulling his hair or in any way touching his head with the tip of the scissors and continued. And he kept saying, “Ow.” It was possible he was the first person I’ve ever heard of to have feeling in his hair but his body language and smile told me it was more likely he was saying something that got a reaction.

But it brought to mind for me all the different ways I’ve received other people’s pain. I’ve dismissed it as not as bad as they are reporting. I’ve wondered when they will get over it. I have compared it (both inwardly and outwardly) as not as bad as something I’ve experienced. And I can report that none of these methods are helpful. The only way that I’ve found to bear witness to pain and to help alleviate suffering is to believe that every word they say is true and to listen as they process their story.

This makes me think of a winter climb I once did on Mt. Whitney with a good friend about 3 months after her boyfriend died of cancer. He’d been cremated and she was climbing with him in a little urn attached to her pack. She kept on mentioning Rick to the other people in the group we were climbing with, none of whom knew us from before the trip. And because she was talking about Rick as if he was with us (and I suppose he was if you counted the urn), they would get a pretty confused look on their faces and eventually take me aside to ask me who Rick was. But it was a group of really nice people who let her talk and talk and talk about him. We were slogging in thigh deep snow up the side of the mountain and had days to listen.  It was like an extreme walking meditation.

After a while, I thought we’d heard enough about Rick. I fortunately never said anything. Because it wasn’t until my dad died that I understood that the telling of the story of his sudden death in a bike accident and talking about what an amazing person he was were both such healing ways to help process the surprise of finding him gone.

So I’ve adopted some of my dad’s wisdom. As a retired pastor, he often was asked by friends, mentees and former parishioners to go to coffee for advice or to air the pain of living. And if you asked him how it went, he’d smile kindly and say, “Mostly I listened.”

My kids give me lots of opportunities to practice to listen to their pains and I do my best to calmly bear witness, not lecture about safety (at that moment at least) and just slather them with love. As I cut my son’s hair and he giggled and said “ow,” I started narrating that he was the bravest person on earth to get his hair cut. In that way, we made it through together!