In 2004 I wasn’t thinking about human engagement or the power of love as a way to heal, to seal, to bridge. I was looking for a way out of teaching, I was listening to a lot of Wilco. I was getting engaged in the strangest of circumstances but for the most normal of reasons.
2014? It’s all I could think about. Who are we if we are not connected? And clearly, from the following list, I sensed some themes…the search for meaning, the search for family, the search for self and identity. I love that we are drawn to certain things right when we need them.
A little later than planned, some aren’t even from this year (but new to me), and of course there are so many more, but here are 10 Heart on My Sleeve highlights from 2014:
1. Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson
2. Wild. Cheryl Strayed.
3. Begin Again.John Carney
4. The Boxtrolls.
5. Daring Greatly.Brene´ Brown (a little video clip connected with Brown’s work.)
Thank you, Iggy Azalea. In less colorful terms, I focused on doing the work to keep ME together this year. And, as Miss Azalea so eloquently states, people just don’t know what you’ve gone through or how you’ve gone through it to get to where you are unless you tell them. Or maybe you don’t need to.
It’s really nobody’s business, right?
For me, this was a bit of a revelatory notion to align with in 2014. Historically I have been a bit of a “comparer” – looking at my life through the lens of other people’s situations. This has only led to me being my biggest critic, feeling either better than or less than or whatever than and not a lot of “just right.” Not super healthy or productive. Similarly, I’ve also been one to feel like I needed to explain myself or to justify my beliefs, actions, etc. to others for them to be valid. Also not super healthy or productive.
I feel like this year I finally got a glimpse of what it felt like to do things for me and my own well-being without worrying so much about what other people think or what other people are doing. We really are on our own journey, and one person’s milestone is another person’s millisecond. And that’s ok.
There were some other key things I learned this year. Here’s the long and short of it (or 9 lucky lessons):
Declaring my intentions? Good. Making absolute declarations? Not so effective. The why’s are what’s important. The how’s? Not so much.
I like a challenge. Photo, fitness, whatever. There is something alluring about the commitment and the routine.
No matter how much you prepare, or know it’s the right thing, it’s hard to say goodbye to a loved one. Rest in peace, Pablo. You gave our family more than you will ever know.
Time may be a bandit, but it’s not a thief. Some things take time, and some things happen in an instant. I suppose it’s understanding that staying as awake and as observant and as clear is possible is “all” you can do.
Helping my kids learn who and what they are has done wonders for my own journey. Helping them open their hearts has helped me further open mine.
I’m built exactly for what I am here to do on this planet. This occurred to me when I was listening to an interview with Chris Hadfield, who took all those amazing photos of space and shared them with the world during his mission. He was talking about things he did to train to become an astronaut, which included these crazy (as far as I’m concerned) claustrophobia-inducing activities. Yah, that’s not me AT ALL. And I had a lovely understanding. I was never meant to be an astronaut. I was just meant to be me.
In keeping with the “map is not the territory” theme of 2014, this last year I entered into a different land – the land of reconfiguring my livelihood and lifestyle to reflect my values and re-established priorities. I suppose that’s what losing almost everything and everyone you hold dear can do to you, right? Yay for revelations in the form of outrageous self-sabotaging behavior. It really does help put things in perspective.
right livelihood/right life.
My newfound (let’s not say mantra…) around this portion of my Top 5 is really “your LIFE is your WORK.” Not the other way around? What? You see, I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic. Why? Work always made sense to me. There was a start and end, I got rewarded both financially and emotionally from it, and I could measure my progress by it. That all started to unravel, however, as the year began.
In January, we started the year the way I had been intending to for a long time: on an island far, far away. Tim cashed in a large chunk of frequent flier miles he’d been collecting after all that work travel – hundreds of thousands of miles – and we headed for the Big Island. I found a yurt on one side of the island for us to stay in for half of the trip and a small organic farm on the other side for the other half. It was a snorkeling, luau, volcano-filled extravaganza for 9 days. Talk about heavenly.
The woman who hosted us in Kona had this amazing little farm, and we talked at length about how she’d left the city (Denver, if I recall) to pursue her dream to be an organic farmer. After the jealousy wore off, I left feeling inspired. I didn’t want an organic farm in Hawaii, but there were things I wanted that I knew would infuse joy and purpose into my life.
Then I returned to work and went back to the grind. Days turned into weeks. Then months. I wasn’t happy.
During spring break I had a minor meltdown. It led me to deciding that I needed to work where my heart was: small, intimate educational settings devoted to real learning. I was tired of the mill of the large comprehensive high school. I was having exactly the same feeling I had before I started at a small charter school years ago. No matter how many contacts I had per day, I would only connect with 10% of the population. Or even less. It felt like it wasn’t enough.
I started applying for jobs that were more aligned with my own educational philosophy. I also wanted to have work where I could be more connected with my own children. Like the cobbler’s shoes always being worn, I sometimes feel like the educator’s kids can get the least attention. Well, that was what happened in my particular case. In all my years as an educator, I had never gone any of my kids’ field trips and only been to a handful of daytime events. I wanted that to change, too. I knew that I couldn’t be at every event, but having a more flexible schedule was an important thing.
I kept a pretty extensive list of “ideals” and I was fortunate to get my first interview sometime in late spring. Guess what? I totally bombed it. Like “oh my god who are you and what did you do with the confident person that usually inhabits this body?” It was so bad one of my boss’s bosses came over personally to console me…and to give me some honest feedback. It wasn’t pretty.
But it was necessary. And it woke me up. To be honest, I didn’t really want that job, I wasn’t really the right “fit”, and as a result I hadn’t really prepared for the interview. I had just wanted out of what I was in, and had tried to force it. As I started reflecting on the whole process, none of it had felt truly right. But I had applied, people thought I was qualified. I liked the idea of it, but never got past envisioning myself in this position.
(This should have been a giant red flag but I was too busy being “ambitious”.)
When the opportunity to interview for another position came up, I really paid attention to my emotions around the whole potential experience. I had to – I couldn’t live through another horrible ordeal. But this time it felt way different. And, as a result (shocker!)…I did my homework this time. I used the feedback I’d gotten from the interview, met with people who were professionals and could help me prepare for this potential position. I even bought a new suit that said, “I’m the boss.” Ya know what? It worked.
Of course, there is no fairy tale ending. We all know that the work really starts when you’re hired, and that’s where I am at now. It’s really challenging. But these are the things I know: it’s flexible, it’s challenging, and I like the people. Oh, and I have time for those people I live with. I’ve even gone on a field trip already. Now, that’s Life.
It’s been a whole month. Wow. Where has the time gone (thank you, Thanksgiving, Christmas, work and family)?!!
The map is not the territory became my mantra mid-2014 after a series of situations that, while on the surface seemed straightforward, turned out to be quite different and clearly not textbook as expected. I had to rely on my internal GPS quite a bit for things, which doesn’t mean I figured it out myself. Quite the opposite, actually.
2014 turned out to be the year I said yes to support. LOTS of it – whether from the universe, my friends or my family. So much so that I have made a Top 5 list out of it. I’ll start with my Number 1.
Anybody who has seen my Facebook feed has probably rolled their eyes at my gym checkins. The quest for health and wellness kicked in around March, when I realized that I was turning 40 and felt, frankly, like crap. My clothes sort of fit, I sort of ate healthy. Everything was “sort of”.
I would justify the “sort of” with “I’m busy” or “I eat plenty of vegetables.” That’s enough? Right? I’m only a few pounds from where I want to be…
I even declared (on Facebook too!) my 100 Days of Health.
Fat chance. I lasted a week. I am more a fan of under promising and over delivering. Clearly I failed in this department.
This sent me into a self hatred spiral that involved taking a walk, eating terribly then shaming myself. Repeat. Then, just as I was having my most despairing thoughts about my body (which DID include lying in bed at night and grabbing my saddlebags and whimpering like a baby), I had an epiphany. I COULD CHANGE THIS. REALLY.
I had no idea how. I mean, I knew “how” but I had never really pushed myself in this manner and failed at finding the connection between regular diet and exercise.
The next week, on cue, my lovely friend Katy started posting her gym checkins. I felt drawn to them like a moth to a flame. On her recommendation, I visited Results Gym on a Saturday morning for a 6 Week Challenge orientation. Matt Weaver, one of the owners, shared his story of transformation and how he came to start Results. I gotta say, I am a sucker for stories. And his story was powerful – weighing more than 400 pounds, not wanting to die, wanting to share his successes to help change lives. I was hooked.
And I knew I needed help. Why? Because I’m lazy and need accountability.Why fight it?
For 6 weeks, I dragged myself to the gym at least 5 times per week. I drank green tea. I ate brown rice, lots of veggies, and lean proteins. I drank gallons of protein drinks. The only time I cheated involved some half and half in my coffee.
I wasn’t used to being so committed to my body, not since being pregnant and I gave up caffeine and sushi.
It was weird. It was hard. And it required a lot more support than I ever thought I would need.
In short, it took a village. My husband picked up kids from school so I could go to the gym, bought me health food that violated his own sense of personal taste, and cheered me on when my motivation flagged. My kids, especially Rowan, commented regularly how great I was and how proud he was of me. My co-workers complimented me regularly, and tolerated me heating fish in the company microwave. (Until they didn’t. I switched to chicken.)
At the gym, the trainers and my partners in change (the other members) gave me props and empathized with my pain. The trainers were motivating. The people at the gym were real people, from all walks of life but with the same desire: to change their lives. And it went beyond that. I had an online support group to commiserate and share NSVs (non scale victories) with. I even found that scheduling my workouts – a requirement at my gym – helped me really focus on my week and how I would even fit it all in. It turns out that 5 hours/week is a small percentage of your week. Really.
That was almost 9 months ago, 15 pounds, several inches, and a whole size ago. That’s only on the outside.
What’s changed on the inside can only articulated by a resounding “I did this!” and the understanding that I really can change my body and my health. I also finally freed myself of the stories that I feel kept me stagnant all this time. You see, some of my earliest memories, the ones that filled me with a feeling of love, involved food. My grandmother was a large woman who loved to fill me with sweets and fatty foods. One of my fondest memories, and one of only a few from that time, is going to the A&W on the beach in Pacifica for chili dogs and root beer floats every week.
I will not bore you with more story, but here is the long and short of it: after she died, my grandfather remarried and my new “grandmother” put a lock on the fridge. She managed my meals, made me exercise regularly, and put me down when I asked for cake or cookies. I was thinner, but also felt unloved and unwanted. I didn’t realize until I did this challenge how much I connected food with love and acceptance. When I started feeling better about myself from the exercise and eating healthfully, those associations began to dissolve.
It just took 6 weeks of replacing happy hours with gym visits and treats with tilapia. And a whole lotta support. 21 days to change a habit, 42 days to change a lifestyle. Or at least reveal one.
considerations for taking on the “territory”, or maybe a few questions to ask yourself.
(E)NVIRONMENT: what environment works best for you? where do you envision yourself being at your best? as far as exercise goes (for example), are you a class person? outdoor activities? do you enjoy solitude while you work out?
(N)AVIGATION: who or what do you need to help you navigate this new situation? are you autodidactic or do you prefer having a coach or mentor?
(G)OAL: what would you like to be able to do or have? how would you know if you had it? In my case, I “just” wanted to feel comfortable in a 2-piece and get into these nice pants I could wear before the children were born. I kept them both handy throughout the process to remind myself of what I was working towards.
(A)BILITY: where are you at? honestly? we all have to start somewhere, and this is no time to compare yourself with others. (I say this so cavalierly. It took me months not to overdo it just because there were some ladies at the gym who could out-everything me). honest self assessment will make the little victories feel so much sweeter.
(G)AME/CHALLENGE: I discovered that I wanted/needed a challenge to get myself jump started. what do you want or need to keep you motivated? what drives you forward? do you need a friend for accountability? do you need fun?
(E)XPERIENCE: what experiences would you like to have to cement your change? Personally I found the immersion technique ideal. I also took pictures. Seriously. I need to see what was happening. It worked.
(D)IVERGENCE: what feels like “you”? we’re only truly satisfied when something feels aligned with your values, your schedule, your situation. I discovered that this particular gym matched my values (transformation), my schedule, and also my tendency towards boredom with mundane routine. I sought out a situation where I could have different activities and different types of coaches.
I’m just an animal looking for a home
And share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead
November is the belly of my whale, so to speak. I have spent more than a few days this month, more than I care to admit, struggling with demons real and imagined. I have struggled to just sit down and write, much less think.
This isn’t the first November I’ve felt this way. I find that in November things can go from sucking to spectacular, back to sucking, in an instant. One minute I’m feeling appreciation towards everything and everyone, the next moment I’m wishing I could flee the state.
The weather has changed, it’s dark outside when I go home at night, and I wax nostalgic for the weather that I was ready to do anything to change just a month ago. The holidays, of course, add a whole other dimension to everything. Batshit crazy, anyone?
And in the thick of it, I realized that November is my month to commit. To go all in, in spite of myself. Heck, I even have a November baby, who forever changed the course of my life after an 8 hour labor. Now, that is commitment.
The other night, Parenthood was on, and in this episode Hank, his ex and their daughter were in full blown drama mode. Sarah, the girlfriend, has been steadfastly at his side as their story has unfolded. Of course, in the middle of it all, her ex appears and Hank starts to wonder if Sarah really wants to be in it. It’s Hollywood and all, so of course she says yes and we get this beautiful moment.
As Tim O’Brien once wrote, story-truth is often truer than happening-truth. Or maybe it’s exactly the same.
In mid November of 2004, Tim and I hosted a bevy of boys for Noah’s 9th birthday. We lived in a tiny house at the time, but T and I sucked it up to host a tweentastic event. Video games, sugar, mayhem…all in a crazy overnight. At 1 am, we fell into bed as the kids finished another round of the latest game and snacked on more Hot Cheetos. I thought Tim was going to break it off. Seriously.
Tim woke me up at around 2 am. The gentle snores of the kids could be heard from the other room.
“I need to talk to you.”
FYI, I hate being woken up. I don’t exactly remember how I felt at the time, but I am sure it was irritation and possibly a slight panic.
“What? Is everything ok?”
I sat up.
Tim looked scared. Or something.
“Let’s get married. I think…we should get married. I love you. Let’s get married.”
I looked at this man, and I could see the guy who loved me. All of me. All of me included a 9 year old boy and his gaggle of guy friends. All of me included a dog that scratched the floors and occasionally went rogue in the neighborhood, scaring the elderly and the small children alike. All of me included a neurotic but willing heart.
I don’t remember what I said exactly, other than to say yes. To commit.
I would joke later that Tim asked me when he realized he was going to die one day, and maybe there is truth in that. We aren’t getting any younger. But maybe it’s the realization that there’s no point in fighting what is already there in front of us.
Maybe we resist most what may save us.
We lay there for a bit, talking, then we did what people who don’t know what to do next do. Tim turned on the TV. Seriously. And in the middle of the night, on our little bedroom screen, was the closing credits of Wall Street playing to Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.”
A song about affection. A song about finding what is already in front of you. A song about seeking what you already have. Our song. My song.
There of course is more to this story. And though it didn’t happen in a November, it might as well have been when I spoke a tiny prayer into the world that if I could just make it right with Tim that I would spend every day of my life making it up to him. Making it up to me.
Back to that. Maybe being in the belly of the whale means letting ourselves to be swallowed so we can be set free. Maybe the belly of the whale is scary, and beautiful and wild. Maybe the belly of the whale dares us to be more. Maybe the belly of the whale is full of gratitude and depth. Maybe the belly of the whale is where we discover ourselves, again and again.
I would like to think I am a positive and self aware person. Years of reading self help books, participating in workshops, training as a personal coach, working as an educator…it seems that all I do is focus my attention on how things can be deeper, better, more engaging. How I can be better.
I realize I have sought out these tools because, like many folks, I tend to be future or past focused and have wanted to just BE MYSELF. I know in my heart that’s where it’s at – that there is both love and freedom in the delightful present. Be.Here.Now.
(Some benefits of the Now: It’s that moment when you stop worrying for one tiny second about the bill you got in the mail and look up to see your son has created what he calls “a hug machine” and is thoroughly hugging the life out of his brother. Or when you go home feeling defeated about work, and basically ready to leave it all for WHATEVER (anything is better than this feeling!), and you get a text from your friend telling you how awesome you are. Connection re-established.)
I mean, Life is constantly giving us positive feedback, based on our thoughts and actions. I don’t mean that it’s all good, just that it is constant. Cause, effect. Cause, effect. When we are tuned into this feedback loop, the world can be the best teacher, providing us opportunities to learn and grow at every turn. Even the bad stuff has a message in it if I’m paying attention.
But, clearly this week I was forgetting all of this, so Mrs. Universe had to kick me in the ass in so many ways that essentially every experience I have had this week cried out, “Learn from me! Learn from me!” Or, at least, “Remember! Remember!” If I feel a twinge in my rear, I know it’s another lesson, seriously. Ouch!
All of the lessons, quite comically, around the topic of feedback. Mrs. Universe must also have a sense of humor.
Beginning of the week (aka where am I going?)
I started the week reading educational research on effective feedback. According to John Hattie, one of the key elements in creating a safe and supportive learning environment, a community of learners, is by providing effective (aka useful, timely, and personalized) feedback. According to his research, “effective feedback can double the speed of learning.”
Pretty cool, right? Good feedback is supposed to help us understand the following:
Where am I going?
How am I going?
Where to next?
There are also four levels of feedback: task, process, self-regulation, and self. The more specific, and the less geared towards the self (i.e. “good job!”) the more effective one can be.I used some of this information immediately when I was visiting classrooms early in the week. I was startled at how much more effective it is to interact with someone when you’re talking about the behavior, and not the person. I also kept these concepts in mind while I strategized with students about an issue we are having on campus. I went home. I tried it on my kids. Success!
Things were going swimmingly. Let the feedback begin!
Middle of the week (or rather, how am I going?)
Mid week. Meeting. Barely anybody talked. Tension? Palpable. Nothing decided. I felt like crap when I left, disconnected and ready to throw in the towel. Feedback loop? Shut like a clam.
That whole experience led me a coffee shop, where I sucked down a latte and devoured a chocolate chip cookie. That didn’t help much, but what did? The barista sang to me. About my latte. I laughed, and thanked him for making my day after such a terrible time. We chatted for a bit, and when I said “at least you’re in a good mood,” he replied, “who says I’m in a good mood?”
That stopped me in my tracks. I actually looked him in the eye.
“I woke up late for work, somebody rear ended my truck, and I ate a bug while I was riding my bike here.”
My response? “But you’re singing.” I went on my way, and my mood was lifted. Life was telling me to snap out of it.
I was almost ready to listen.
That night, I cozied up again with Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly (which I am still reading). That’s what I do when I feel like crap. I feel bad for a bit, then start looking for answers. About twenty minutes into reading, I hit the chapter on “Disruptive Engagement” and had an aha! moment. “Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process.” This hit me like a ton of bricks. Everyone, including me, was – as she says – “armored up” for that meeting. If you’re ready for a battle, you’re most likely going to get one.
Once I recognized this, I started reading through for tips on how to address this issue in my own environment. As I read, I found myself. And oddly, it made me think of my fascination with the Giants’ postseason games. As Brown writes, “(athletes) know how to handle – and fix – defeat.” That was so appealing to me, to watch the team get their butts kicked one day and come back the next. Own your stuff, dust yourself off, and keep going. In this situation, I hadn’t done a very good job of, well, any of that. I was in a shame and blame spiral a mile wide and a mile deep. I had to get out of it.
I have never been an athlete, but somewhere inside of me I do have that spirit that comes to call occasionally. I have had crushing defeat at the interviewing table (think “how do you even think you’re qualified for this job?”) only to get the next one because I had to win, to show that I am capable. I have flunked college classes, and come back fighting. This is who I am, this is how I am. So, this is how I am going. And that’s ok. I just have to own my stuff, dust myself off, and keep on going.
Life finally got through to me.
End of the week (um, where to next?)
Life gave me its final message on feedback through the voice of two delightful college students at the Buddhist Church service I attended this morning. The topic chosen by the guest speakers? The nature of impermanence, learning from and letting go our mistakes and how we have the power to change at any time.
I have had a lazy eye since, I am assuming, a very young age. Its fancy name is diplopia, which makes it sound like you’re taking a dump on my eye. So maybe it’s not so fancy after all, just technical. It gives me double vision (horizontal, not vertical), which becomes more noticeable as I get more tired.
When the doctor first noticed it, I was sent to Easter Seals to do “eye training” to see my left eye would strengthen enough to start working with my right eye. This went on for months. Me, sitting in a darkened room trying to make the single red laser dot in the middle of the room go from two to one; the dots just moving further and further away. It would become worse when I got tired, and the dot would move further away from itself until I started to lose hope that they would ever unite.
Finally, I was rewarded for all my hard work with a pair of Coke bottle glasses. Now, it didn’t help that I lived with my grandparents, whose idea of cool involved the Carpenters, Neil Diamond and Lawrence Welk. Mind you, my peers were listening to Michael Jackson, Quiet Riot, etc. I only mention this because I came home from the eye doctor’s office with a pair of glasses that would make Helen Reddy even blush. They were terrible. Big, grey and pink (hard to see in the photo), square, big prisms. Awful. And I made them even worse by deciding that feather roach clips purchased from the fair were a great addition to my pony tails.
In the absence of a proper social mentor, I went to school this way. For school pictures. Of course, living in my senior citizen bubble where everything I did was “adorable”, I had NO IDEA how much crap from my classmates I would get. Social suicide, grade three.
Thankfully, children get bored quickly of their bullying and moved on to the kid who was discovered to eat paste. But the shame remained, and is something I’ve dealt with since.
Many years after this unfortunate picture was taken, I finally found a doctor who referred me to a pediatric ophthalmologist. It was funny to walk into Dr. Satterfield’s office and sit in child-size chairs, reading Highlights for Children. She performed the examination and told me that my left eye muscle had stretched so much that I would need surgery to bring my eyes back in alignment. A few snips and I would be fixed.
Are you serious? That was it?!!! Yes, that was it.
A month later I was back at work with an eye patch and a whole new outlook. Everything was in delightful monovision. My confidence skyrocketed overnight, which in retrospect is telling. I didn’t understand how much one aspect of me was squashing down my own sense of self.
Now, that was almost 15 years ago. Over the years my eye has started to drift again, and it is impossible for me to keep my eyes focused together unless the object is at a short distance and I am not super tired. I wear glasses, but even with a high prescription they aren’t helping that much. And of course, in that time I have worked in a school. Talk about returning to the scene of the crime. I have gotten to relive some of that social awkwardness, particularly when kids say things like “Are you looking at me? Is something wrong with your eye?” Except, now that I’m 40 and not 10 or 13 or even 23, I just tell them I have something called diplopia and that yes, I am looking at them. Oh, and go into my office since now you’re in trouble. Ha!
In a week I will return to the pediatric ophthalmologist’s office, sit in the tiny chairs, and wait anxiously while flipping through that kids’ magazine.
And I will go into the office knowing I am the same, but different, than I was fifteen years ago. I’ve heard that your body regenerates cells every seven years, though sadly modern research and a quick Internet search have completed killed this theory for me. But, what I do know is that so much as happened in the last “two cycles” – kids, marriage, work, life – that I know if I get surgery again it won’t be a life altering experience, just a medical one.
And I will go into that office with a deeper appreciation for my condition, and how it’s contributed to making me the person who I am today. Who am I? A person on a quest for what Brené Brown calls wholehearted living. In scanning her list, I can see how I’ve actually benefited from my condition:
Authenticity. It has forced me to be more authentic. At some point in time, more recently than I care to admit, I started owning my weirdness. The lazy eye just adds an external marker to my own internal strange.
Self-compassion. My lazy eye has forced me to learn how to be kind to myself, particularly when others were cruel.
Laughter, song and dance. It has helped me learn to laugh at myself, and not take myself so seriously.
Calm and stillness. Having a lazy eye has forced me to slow down in a good way, particularly since I tend to go at hyper speed. Sometimes I even meditate using the double images as a focal point.
Resiliency. Need I say any more?
Creativity. It has helped me be creative in my thoughts. While I cannot confirm or deny this, in many ways I feel like this condition has forced to me to literally and figuratively see things differently.
Meaningful work. My eye condition was just one thing that contributed to me hating school starting in junior high, when kids would come up to me and make fun of me for my glasses, or my lazy eye when I wasn’t wearing them. When I graduated from college, I started teaching out of the sheer desire to be somebody that would make a difference to kids like me.
Play and rest. My lazy eye has forced me, indirectly and directly, to appreciate these two necessary aspects of life. I have to literally slow down after a lot of activity because my eye feels like a pinball in an arcade.
Gratitude & joy. I am not sure I would appreciate my eyes as much if I hadn’t been constantly aware of them for what feels like my whole life.
Intuition and faith. I find it interesting that vision and visibility have been of great interest to me since I was a child. Maybe I am just waxing poetic, but conditions like my diplopia, along with some pretty crazy life experiences, have propelled me in this direction.
So, thank you, lazy eye. Even if you leave tomorrow, I want to thank you for helping me be more human.
An open hand, an open heart There’s no need to be afraid Open up this is a raid I wanna get it through to you You’re not alone
This week’s theme is mercy, mystically provided by the Sisters of Mercy, where I spent four days this week workshopping (is that even a word?) on restorative practices. Restorative practices are built on the theory that “people are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”
As an educator, and as a human, I have been very interested in this movement because I feel, to the very last nerve in my body, that traditional discipline doesn’t change behavior. Getting to the root of the issues through respect, dialogue, and “walking with” someone does. Of course, that is me in my best mind/heart. I have found myself backsliding into familiar ground from my own childhood, in particular falling into punitive practices when I couldn’t get “control” over someone else. Isn’t it about power?
I have felt deep shame in the past about this, at the incongruence of my heart (beliefs) and hands (actions) in times of crisis. I never meant to say that. I never meant to do that. I think many people, whether they experienced abuse or trauma or not, can relate.
Maybe it’s why the therapists’ offices and confessionals are full. We want to confess our “sins” but keep silent once we leave these boxes. There are people, all over, in crisis with not even a box to confess in. Or, on the receiving end, there are those who suffer in silence and cannot release the anger, hurt, trauma because their voices haven’t been truly heard.
In my experience, few rooms in our lives can hold the space long enough for folks to heal. It’s just too much.
It’s easier to judge and move on, I’m afraid, than to seek to understand and restore. I admit it. It relieves me of that helpless feeling I have to change other people’s lives. Sometimes it’s more simple. I want to be right, have the answers.
Because, if I am busy educating you about how to live, you won’t look at what I’m doing and call me on my shit. Dang. As Anne Lamott would say, I guess I have the “disease of Good Ideas for Other People.” Gah!
So, I arrived in Burlingame on Monday eager to learn about repairing harm in our school community. I need to confess at this point that I thought I was already practicing restorative justice. Seriously. But even more deeply I wanted to be armed with knowledge so I could come back and “educate” my staff and whoever felt needed it. Carrying my Disease of Good Ideas for Other People. Duh.
Of course, it was me who got an education.
affect theory and shame.
On the first day, we learned that restorative practices are based on Tomkins’ affect theory, which, in my crappy paraphrasing, is the biological responses, known as affect, that humans attach meaning to. In his theory, there are only two positive affects (enjoyment-joy and interest-excitement), one neutral (surprise-startle), and six negative (fear-terror, distress-anguish, anger-rage,shame-humiliation, disgust, and dissmell). As humans we seek to maximize positive affect and minimize negative affect. It’s just that simple. People want to feel good.
Sweet. I got this.
Then we focused in on shame. Tomkins defined as “any interruption to positive affect.” Wow, ok. When I saw Brene Brown’s famous TED talk on vulnerability, I understood shame as a painful feeling connected with a person feeling he/she is unworthy of love and belonging. Tomkins’ definition seems to explain the biological response, and Brown’s definition explains the feelings that come with it, along with the why. When we are in enjoyment-joy or interest-excitement, we are expressing our fullness of being. We are totally connected. We are not thinking or feeling unworthy in these moments.
Shame is that disconnection from our good feelings, our positive sense of being and belonging. Our feeling of connection. It’s like the valve gets shut off and our bodies don’t know what to do with it. I thought about my feelings of shame around my punitive actions, and I started to understand Tomkins’ theory. I don’t want to feel this because it stops my enjoyment/joy affect in its tracks. I don’t want to be like this.
We moved onto Donald Nathanson’s “compass of shame” – our reactions to shame – which helped explain what our bodies tend to do when our positive affect is interrupted.
In looking at this compass, I saw myself. I have reacted in all of these ways. Fight or flight, right? As a child of a drug addict, I have never abused drugs, but I have certainly sought “distraction through thrill-seeking”. I have struggled to stop putting myself down. I have blamed others, I have fled.
Wow. I really am not alone. Apparently, there’s a whole compass for us.
Restorative practices pick up from there. It addresses our deep longing for re-connection. How do we restore the good feeling? The sense of belonging? How do we talk about the affect a conflict has had on an individual or even a whole community? How can we seek to make things right? The purpose of these practices is to take the confessional box and place it firmly in the community, allowing our shame out into the light so we can make things right with ourselves and the people we affect and/or are affected by. In some cases, there may be traditional “discipline” action for laws broken, etc. but this is deeper. All through real communication.
We practiced the simple questions to formal conferencing, and each time I felt more convinced that I was not just closer to “walking with” students and staff, but also walking with family. Walking with myself.
Maybe compassion and forgiveness are just shame interruption. Through compassion, empathy and forgiveness we can re-open the valve and restore that connection. I am with you. And mercy – kind and compassionate treatment in a case where severity is merited or expected – can stop others, and ourselves, from spinning further out into space, furthering the attack, hurting or distracting ourselves even more than we already do. We, no I, just needed the language.
some questions for consideration.
To help those affected:
What did you think when you realized what had happened?
What impact has this incident had on you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What do you think needs to happen to make things right?
When challenging behavior:
What were you thinking of at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who has been affected by what you have done? In what ways have they been affected?
What do you think you need to do to make things right?
When I was fifteen, I seemed intent on breaking myself.
First, it was doing back flips off the high dive, and – I shit you not – I hit the diving board. With my face. Specifically, on the bridge of my nose. I remember the almost-knocked out feeling, falling like the intro to Mad Men into the water, then watching the diving board get smaller and smaller until I hit the bottom. I came out of my stupor just in time to have the teacher jump in after me. Almost miraculously, the worst thing that happened was that to this day the bridge of my nose is a little numb.
That same year, while my aunt and uncle were out of town working, my friend Shane came over to teach me how to drive a scooter. He had a white, fairly new, Vespa P200 that clearly needed to be crashed. Shane gave me a 15 minute lesson on shifting gears, and away I went. Not sure if you’ve ever hit gravel before, but it doesn’t feel good.
That time, I didn’t escape with anything less than a concussion. Apparently, Shane peeled me off the pavement, got me home, and then did what any scared teenager would do: left me. When my caregiver Jacky got there, I was all sorts of loopy and she took me to the emergency room. It didn’t take more than a few minutes to determine I had a concussion, but they weren’t sure how bad it was so I was given a cat scan. I totally remember singing “Dazed and Confused” while they were running me through the machine. Clearly my sense of humor was left in tact.
And, apparently, so was my fear. While in some areas of my life I am a “get back on the horse” sort of person, when it comes to the physical realm I am, frankly, a bit of a wuss. Or, just very risk averse. I still haven’t done a back flip off a high dive since that day in 1987. I don’t think I’ve flipped backwards anywhere, it unnerves me so.
I have, however, learned to ride a motorcyle. I made myself. I couldn’t stand letting one incident control my life. I was 30 when I finally got on a bike. I took a class, and felt so proud when I got my M1 classification. I practiced for a little bit, but the fear kept overtaking me and I stopped. It’s taken me another ten after getting my motorcycle license to do what I did this last weekend.
I can safely say I have finally moved from passenger to pilot.
Some context: I have spent a lot of time trying to get myself to move faster in this arena than I’ve allowed myself. This is true for just about everything. When I was young, I wanted to be older. When I picked up a hobby, I wanted to be just instantly good.
Now, I live with a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast. I’ve felt the pressure to catch up. Him – and all his friends? Everyone just seems good. Expert. Nobody is a beginner, and I certainly haven’t wanted to be one. When I’ve fallen prey to my ego-paralyzed mind, I start comparing myself, and it’s downhill from there. I am not sure any of them remember what it’s like to fumble with the kick starter, forget to turn the gas on, or stall a bike and not be able to get it started again. It’s funny to admit this, since everyone I’ve met who rides is incredibly supportive. I know it’s just me and my insecurities, feeling like the whole world is invested in keeping me from my dreams. Of course, in reality, it’s just me, NOT wanting to be exposed. Wanting to be cool. In control.
It’s taken a lot more time than I would have liked, but now at 40 I really am starting to trust myself – and the process. I am starting to move at the rate/speed that makes sense for me. It’s a wonderful feeling. Sometimes progress happens lightning quick, but a lot of time it doesn’t. It’s a lot about practice and patience, self love and just being EXACTLY WHERE I’M AT. It’s a vulnerable place to be.
And that vulnerable place right now for me is riding a cheesy twist and go scooter because I just want to focus on driving rather than all the other things (shifting, kick starting, that sort of thing) that turn me into a grumpy wreck before I even leave the parking lot. It’s allowed me to feel comfortable to get out there and just ride, for longer distances and less stress. It’s allowed me, just yesterday, to go on my first scooter ride with a large group of people, not on the back (like usual) but in the front. I even had my kid on the back.
The freedom! Yes, I was nervous riding with a group of people, following the unspoken rules of “the pack” as we made our way to and from our destination. It felt good being able to see where we were headed. It felt good having my kid behind me and holding onto my waist and snuggling up to me as we picked up speed.
It felt good to finally be participating actively, when I’ve spent a decade being passive.
I can now see all the line to this moment as clearly as if the events had happened over a year or two versus more than twenty. I did it in my own time, in my own way. Sure, the fifteen year old girl in me wishes it were that cool Vespa P200, or the 1972 Suzuki that’s sitting in my garage waiting for me to drive it. All in due time. For now, I’m going to savor just getting in the driver’s seat, and staying here.
I have been sitting on this for quite awhile now, mulling. I think I’ve been in a funk, and I am really starting to believe it’s digital depression…if there is such a thing.
Since the school year started up, I have been working and doing all the things I normally do, except for a couple of things: spending a lot of time mindlessly trolling FB or looking up inane things that I really don’t need to know, and NOT spending much time with real people. It’s insidious, really. I feel so connected! I “like”, I make comments, I write messages. Deep stuff. Not so deep stuff. But really, not totally “real” stuff. Not that I don’t appreciate my friends’ lives, but at some point making comments on a social media site doesn’t equate to being with friends, sitting in lawn chairs at dusk, drinking a glass of wine and having a laugh. Or a cry.
Then I finally read The Circle by Dave Eggers, which my husband gave me last Christmas. It hadn’t really spoken to me, other than I enjoy some of Eggers’ writing and knew I would get around to it at some point. Did you know there is a Japanese word for people who have a lot of books on their shelves they haven’t read? That’s me.
Anyway, a couple of weekends ago I decided to sit down and see if it “spoke” to me. Well, guess what. All the niggly feelings I had been having about feeling disconnected and a little soul-less? Well it was all there in this book. We follow the main character basically get swallowed up by a Google-like company who’s attempting to “close the circle” by connecting all aspects of our daily lives – all online. Things go from hopeful to hopeless pretty quickly, and while I won’t spoil the ending… it certainly wasn’t how this happy ending American would have liked.
Essentially what got to me was the sense of identity this character gets from her online life, which soon overtakes her life to the point that she loses the people in her life who love her most. All in exchange for a falsity that she believes to be “real.”
I started to see a lot of this character’s behavior in me, and none of it was good. Checking social networking because she’s bored or anxious (check), feeling needy when someone doesn’t respond quickly enough via text or IM (check), and consciously creating an “online” presence that, whether intended or not, is marketing a lifestyle or way of being that while authentic is still only part true (and…check).
There’s other stuff too, including the yucky feeling I get reading an article online and reading all the comments. How quick we – and I include myself – are to judge when we generally don’t have enough information. How easy it is to Google something and feel like you’re an expert, when all you have is enough information to be dangerous.
Talk about a constant stream of digital flotsam and jetsam.
So, I put my devices down for the weekend, that book reverberating through my soul. Here is what happened. I:
read a book, all of it. In less than 48 hours. Just like the old days before I had a damn “smartphone.”
visited with friends without constantly checking my phone.
ate meals with my family and could follow the conversation.
embarrassing to admit, but I heard myself pondering what my status would be if I were to post. Yes, I know…
overall felt better about myself…when I wasn’t feeling anxious about what I was missing. Wow, that was surprising. The answer? Not much.
realized my real life needs tending more than my online one does. There are people I love who I need to connect with in real life.
At the end of the weekend, I returned to the usual business, but with another level of awareness. I’ve hardly posted this week on FB because I started to really question why I was doing it. Does anybody really care if Rowan made broccoli nachos, and they were good? Or what I think about texting and driving? Or whether or not I feel lonely or angry or whatever? Maybe.
(And I’m not saying that social media can’t be used for good. I’ve seen friends get instant support during crises, advice, tips, stuff. It IS wonderful to see my past students progressing through their lives fantastically, many graduated from college now, some married or engaged, some with children. It really is incredible that we have this level of connectedness.)
Heck, even the Dalai Llama send out words of inspiration via social media that surely inspire folks in a very real way.
But me? I’m questioning my need to share. I am starting to limit my posts, my status updates, my IG photos to things that really matter to me and reflect a real desire to connect, not just to make me look good or feel good about myself. I want to spend most of my time and energy connecting in real life. In real life. Right now. Why? Because I’m right here.