Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Judge Not = Freedom

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~Henry David Thoreau

I recently traveled for a family funeral and had the opportunity to see many relatives I hadn't seen in years. My parents were there too. I was looking forward to the trip but felt a little apprehensive about navigating the family dynamics.

I'm not close to these relatives. Some of them have led unconventional, troubled lives. I judged them for this when I was younger. To my surprise, as soon as I arrived at my grandmother's house (command central for the gathering of family), everything in me shifted. For the first time I saw my relatives for who they really are and I saw the pain they carry with them.

Aunt #1 has unique views, strong opinions, and easily hurts feelings (although I argue that each person chooses to let her or his feelings to be hurt). I assumed this aunt didn't like me, so I walked in with my defenses up. It didn't take long for those defenses to disappear. I saw my aunt for the kind, generous person she is. I know she would do anything for anyone.

Aunt #3 has taken in several children over the years and become "mother, "grandmother," or "godmother" to them. She helps rear these children part time, assisting the children's parents. I used to think it was strange. Who would choose to have extra children around? Now I see my aunt for the saint she is. She is helping children who need a little extra love in their lives. What a profound impact that makes on society.

Some of my cousins were there too, one I hadn't seen in 16 years. I don't have much in common with this particular cousin, but I didn't let that bother me this time. She was rather miserable being around the family and voiced some of her frustration to me. Instead of focusing on her coarse, often negative personality, I saw her as the hurt child she is. I saw the heartache and disappointment that come from having a father (my uncle) who didn't have the skills and/or will to be a good father.

One evening, my cousin and Aunt #1 got in a fight about the uncle previously mentioned. I was literally in the middle of it, as I was sitting between them. They yelled back and forth several times until my cousin stormed out of the house. Aunt #1 was sad. I knew these two people really needed to talk things over. I reluctantly said to my aunt, "May I please give you some unsolicited advice?" She said sure. I told her that what she was saying to my cousin wasn't helping. I told her to go to my cousin and simply say, "Tell me about it." I told my aunt to listen. Aunt #1 softened and said, "I just love her so much. She means the world to me." I said, "Then tell her that." Aunt #1 replied, "Oh she knows." I countered, "She doesn't know unless you tell her." Aunt #1 went outside and she and my cousin talked for over an hour, which healed things between them.

My mother, who witnessed all of this, told me that she often wants to give Aunt #1 unsolicited advice the way I did. My mother said, "I can't do that, though." I smiled and said, "You can do that. It just takes practice. And you need to say it with love." Aunt #2 heard about the episode after the fact and was surprised that I spoke up to Aunt #1. She asked, "How did you do that?!"

I have spent my life building walls between me and other people, judging them, holding grudges, getting  angry. I have lashed out with cruel words. These feelings are like poison that I have wanted to rid myself of for years. My experience at the funeral was transforming. It was revolutionary for me to see my relatives' pain instead of their flaws. I no longer judged them. It was a profound, peaceful feeling to be relieved of the burden of judging. I see now that there is absolute freedom in approaching people this way: with love, compassion, patience and zero judgment.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Pursuit of Good Enough

Perfectionism was instilled in me at an early age. I don't know how or when it took hold of me. It may have to do with the fact that I am the oldest child in my family. I also think school, religion, and society all played a part.

I realize now that I pursued perfectionism in order to feel worthy. One experience showed me how deeply damaging this mindset is. About ten years ago, I was visiting my family of origin. At this time a few of my siblings still lived at home. I got into an argument with one of my brothers. My mother got angry with me and took his side. My first thought was, "If I was perfect, no one would ever get angry with me again." I immediately recognized how dysfunctional that belief was. I have used perfectionism as a shield, as a way to distance myself from people, as a way to prevent criticism and as a way to cultivate self-worth.

I am currently reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron for the third time. This week's reading deals with perfectionism. The need for perfectionism has long kept me from being as creative as I want to be. I want to do everything perfectly the first time. Cameron writes, "To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue. Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells ut that nothing we do will ever be good enough--we should try again." In Brene Brown's work, she emphasizes how vital it is for us to accept what is good enough in our lives, to believe that we are good enough right now. I am working on seeing my art as good enough. I have yet to believe that I am good enough. Seth Godin's "The Icarus Deception" pretty much hit me over the head with brilliant quotes such as this: "You can risk being wrong or you can be boring." Ah, I see now, perfect is boring. I try to remember this whenever I do creative work.

Here's an incomplete list of the ways I am imperfect. I am listing things that I try desperately to hide. I am too fearful to list them all.
1. My abdomen and thighs are chubby.
2. I don't clean my house as much as I think I should. I may go two or three weeks without cleaning the bathroom. I mop the floors every few months. I rarely deep clean.
3. My teeth are yellowing and a few are slightly crooked. I have not had them perfected but it seems that most people I know have and it makes me feel inferior.
4. I feel scared when I have to call someone I don't know and I trip over my words. I have lost opportunities by choosing not to make a phone call.
5. I perspire too much.
6. I am not good at sewing even though I studied apparel design in college.
7. My hair has thinned.
8. I have hair growing in places I wish it wouldn't.
9. I'm scared to speak up for myself with the people I am closest to.
10. I often mispronounce words and feel very embarrassed when caught.

I need to learn to accept these imperfections. I think that is a long way off. In the future I plan to explore  how our society expects perfectionism and how that hurts those of us who buy into that.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Just Live

I found out this morning that my friend lies in a coma in a hospital. Her family is considering taking her off of life support soon. It seems inevitable that she will die this week. No one could have seen this coming.

All my thoughts are bent on my friend, her memory, the few fun times we had together. We've been good friends for only six months or so. Right away I felt like I could tell her anything. She was safe, encouraging, wise.

I'm asking myself today, what would I change in my life if I knew I was going to die, say, next year?
I would stop caring about what other people think.
I would stop trying to be perfect.
I would simplify.
I would create more free time, less busy time.
I would lean into my fear and try new things.
I would tell the truth about the big things going on in my life.
I would stop worrying about money.
I would stop wasting time on things that are not important to me.
I would spend less time on the internet.
I would get outdoors more.
I would cherish my family more.
I would probably get up and move to the place where my heart lies.

Today marks the first time I truly want to live.

"Now I want you to do something for me. Take me out to Cyprus Hill in my car. And we will hear the dead people talk. They do talk there. They chatter together like birds on Cyprus Hill. But what they say is one word. And that word is "live." They say, "Live, live, live, live, live!" It's what they've learned there. It's the only advice they can give. 'Just live.' Simple! A very simple instruction."

Tennessee Williams, Orpheus Descending

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day, One and All

Earth Day should be a federal holiday and a cultural holiday we all look forward to. We should anticipate Earth Day by decorating our homes, sprucing up our yards, sending Earth Day cards to friends and family, and organizing Earth Day gift exchanges (all natural gifts, of course). Earth is that important.

The persistent denial of climate change science is one of the most dangerous, toxic messages we hear in the U.S. It is promoted (and funded) by one political party, yet environmental protection is not a political issue. It's a moral issue. Needlessly polluting the earth is immoral. I don't understand how people can favor waste and exploitation in the name of capitalism and scoff at the idea of protecting people, animals and land. Climate change is already impacting people. The people who get hurt first are those living in third world countries, especially in coastal areas. Rich countries like the U.S. will be the last to feel the pain of climate change. 

Yesterday I attended a lecture given by environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, who was released from custody yesterday after serving 21 months in prison. In 2008 he was arrested for falsely bidding on an auction to sell off oil and gas lease rights in Utah. DeChristopher was convicted of violating a federal act and making a false statement. Yesterday's lecture was centered around hope. DeChristopher spoke eloquently about giving hope to our children, taking action to combat fear, and using our power to effect change. He mentioned that climate scientists don't tell people how bad climate change is because they fear it would scare people into paralysis. My favorite quote from DeChristopher: "When I disrupted that auction, I didn't believe I could change the oil industry. I believed I could change people like you. People like you have the power." Amen to that.

by Dorothy Day

People say, what is the sense of our small effort.

They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.

A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that.

No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless.

There's too much work to do.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"If everyone spoke up, this world would be a better place"

This is what Mr. F said to me today. He was complimenting me on speaking up last week. You see, I joined a new gym last week and had my first personal training session. Mr. F, who is co-owner of the gym, was my trainer. At one point, he walked past a female patron who obviously had recent breast implants. Mr. F commented on how good they look. She said, "Thanks, they'll settle down eventually." She was referring to the buoyant nature of her new breasts. Mr. F replied, "I want to see pictures of the surgery." The woman did not respond and I imagined that she felt uncomfortable. For the next hour I developed bad thoughts about this man and decided I would not work with him again. I questioned if I wanted to continue going to this new gym.

After my session was over, I got on the elliptical machine. I spent my time formulating a comment to Mr. F. It made me nervous for sure, but I felt I had a solid statement. I'm practicing speaking up more and this was a golden opportunity.

I reluctantly walked into Mr. F's office. I said, "It's not okay to talk to women about their breasts. It made me uncomfortable and I think it made her uncomfortable." He said, "Oh, she and I have been friends for years. It's not like I walked up to someone on the street and commented on her breasts." He launched into her traumatic past and her recent surgeries, which she told him all about. He told me he didn't think she was uncomfortable. This was a scenario I had not anticipated. I felt foolish and embarrassed. I wanted to slither away. Mr. F apologized for making me feel uncomfortable and I said it was okay, now that he had explained. I was sure he viewed me as the loathsome, politically correct feminist despised by all.

Shortly after I returned home, Mr. F called me. I didn't answer the first time. Why couldn't he leave me alone?! I answered the second time. He told me that he called that female patron, his friend, to apologize. Of course she claimed it was all silly and she wasn't uncomfortable. After all, she had been the one to bring up the surgery in the first place. Mr. F thanked me for speaking up because he learned something new. He realized that, as a new patron, I don't know everyone and he should have been professional. He was able to "step outside the box" as he put it to see how I felt about the situation. He understood why I was uncomfortable. I assured him I felt okay about the situation. I made sure not to apologize for speaking up in the first place. That was important to me.

Today was my first time back at the gym since that cringe-worthy experience. Mr. F came up to me to say hi. He thanked me again for speaking up. He said it was great that I did it in a polite way, not yelling and getting angry. He said, "If more people spoke up, this world would be a better place. How can I change something if someone doesn't bring it to my attention? I really respect what you did." I replied, "And I'm glad that I didn't walk away with the wrong impression of you. If I didn't speak up, it would have festered inside me."

I share this story as inspiration to others who want to speak up. It was definitely not the perfect situation. Speaking up won't always turn out well or feel comfortable. I encourage you to do it anyway--politely, succinctly, without apology. In our culture, women are expected to keep quiet. We need to rebel against that. Change the world by speaking up.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What is Wholehearted Rebellion?

For weeks I played around with different names for my blog. Most were already taken; the others just didn't feel right. The phrase "counterculture" is appealing to me and appropriate for what I want to write about, yet I worried it could be divisive. Eventually I came up with a title I could live with. One morning, as I exercised in my living room, I stared ahead at the Buddha statue on my mantel and mulled over the title I had decided on. Suddenly, a slightly different blog name came to me: Wholehearted Rebellion. Buddha had graciously pointed the way.

Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a shame and empathy researcher who has written three remarkable books on her findings. She uses the word Wholehearted to describe people "who are resilient to shame and believe in their worthiness." In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown defined ten "guideposts" for Wholehearted Living.

 1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
 2. Cultivating Self‐Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
 3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
 4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
 5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
 6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
 7. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self‐Worth
8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self‐Doubt and “Supposed To”
10.Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

In a nutshell, Brown states that, "Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness." 

American society and the powers-that-be tell us what to look like, what to wear, what to buy, what to think and what to be. Marketers purposely make us feel unworthy so that we will go out and buy their products in order to feel better about ourselves. We buy into these toxic messages, adopt them as our own beliefs and perpetuate them among our communities. How could we possibly be happy living in this state of affairs? It's time for mass rebellion. 

Americans in general view rebellion negatively. We grumble and moan about the rebellious teenager and downright dislike and disapprove of the rebellious adult. Rebellion smacks of counterculture. In our society, we are expected to get in line and keep quiet. 

I propose we step out of line and speak up about the insidious messages we hear on a daily basis. This is not the kind of rebellion to be scared of. This is not anarchy. This is healthy defiance of social norms that are hurting us. Our tools are the ten guideposts of Wholehearted Living, courage and our voice. This is wholehearted rebellion.

Friday, April 12, 2013


This is my first time blogging. I think it's the dumbest thing I could do because it scares the hell out of me and frankly, I don't have time for it. I don't know how blogs work; I avoid reading other blogs, therefore I will do things incorrectly. If you decide to follow my mental meanderings, please keep your expectations low.

For weeks I have tried to fight this nagging feeling to write. I can't run away from the fact that I have a lot to say. At the very least, I hope this blog serves as an adequate outlet for my opinions, frustrations and dreams.