Category Archives: inspiration
Last night I was feeling kind of insecure about mistakes I’d made earlier in the day, about times when I was not my best. My mind went to the old familiar place of shame and fear that I am not good enough. Then I went to the next habitual place of “what can I do to be better?”
I think I set a lot of challenges for myself, like Nanowrimo, or this month’s, “exercise everyday for 60 min”, for not totally healthy reasons. I think I am often trying to better myself as opposed to loving myself. And maybe, probably, those two things don’t have to be opposed. But for me, loving myself hardly ever enters into my mind, or my life. I am not sure I even know how to love who I am, without the constant striving. I have a really hard time forgiving myself for not being better.
But that is not how I treat people that I love. I love my husband, my daughter, my friends, for every little part of them. They don’t have to be perfect, or better than they are. I love the whole package.
So, how do I turn even a fraction of that love towards myself? Last night, in my quasi-dream state I thought I might make it into a challenge (of course I did), something like “Try loving myself for 30 days.” Heh.
I am really not sure how to do that. I have some vague ideas about being attentive to what I am feeling when I am eating, drinking, walking, reading, etc, to see if I like how I am feeling, as well as notice my self-talk and try to develop a more loving “inner voice.”
I don’t know. I feel like I have come a long way in the last few years. Therapy and avoiding situations that reenforced a negative self-concept have really really helped. But there are so many layers to this onion. I need to keep working at it.
So, how do you love yourself? Do you have any insight? Practical, spiritual, psychological? Cause I would like to feel better about not being better.
[cross posted from my blog]
Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, said “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
For me, autumn is just full of joy. I feel it just watching a leaf slowly float down from the tree. Does that sound sappy(pun not intended) well, too bad. That really is how I feel.
I think we need to widen our definitions of joy. So, when we seek it, we will find it. Can we find joy in the brilliantly colored leaf on the sidewalk? In crisp, cool wind that gives us an excuse to wear our favorite scarves? In a beautiful crafted sentence found in a new book? In the creativity and cleverness of others? In a hot cup of dark coffee? In our kids who constantly challenge and amaze us? In the warmth of our partner’s hand on a cold walk?
To be joyful is to have your eyes open for the little details that give meaning to the moment. Gratitude is recognizing that moment in your heart.
I had a lovely moment of serendipity today. I don’t believe that “the universe provides” for those who ask — unless the universe seriously hates the Congo and has a mad crush on upper-middle-class Unitarians — but I do believe that having ears that hear and eyes that see happens more often when you know what you’re looking for.
Last night I had dinner with my husband while my girls were out trick-or-treating with other friends, and I took advantage of the time between my girl-tini and the arrival of the sushi platter to talk to him about the stuff I thought I might figure out by writing (sporadically) on this blog. In short: how did I wake up this side of 40 somewhere I didn’t plan to be, and how do I get somewhere else, somewhere I like a little better?
I don’t believe in trying to reclaim your younger self, but as I said to him over little scallop purses, there was a time when I paid more attention to making things and making them well, and learning things, and mastering them. When it didn’t seem the point of the day was to get to the end of it as quickly as possible, ideally — oh, the high standards! — with enough energy left to watch a sitcom before going to bed.
“You need more art in your life,” he said: art as in making, art as in beauty, art as in creating something for the sake of creation.
Today while I was cleaning up in the basement, I found stacks of old notebooks, mostly containing useless notes about ancient freelance projects. But in one of them I happened to find this. It’s so old I can almost share it without being too embarrassed, like a poem by a relative rather than something of my own. It’s a poem I wrote, no revisions, for no reason, 10+ years ago. It’s not great, but that’s the thing: I made it to make it. And it’s about doing things just to do them.
I sweep my floor like
my daughter does . . .
Not yet two, she gently
strokes the hardwood with a hairbrush
or maybe a comb.
Her purpose is not to whisk away
the dirt, the crumbs, the onion skins,
but to care for the floor,
like you might pet a cat,
like I might stroke her brown hair
while she sleeps,
imparting a tender blessing.
I can’t go back to being the person who wrote that poem: the person who was waking up from a terrible depression, or the person who was, consequently, falling in love with being a mom and discovering an earthy, messy joy in a way of life that had seemed, only a few years before, a lame consolation prize in the race to the top. I can’t be her anymore than I can be a teenager again, but I can remember some things that she knew.
Finding that poem reminded me that I know how to have art in my life. Everybody does; we’re born that way. Why I stopped, I don’t know. Stuff gets away from you. But starting again doesn’t have to be a big deal. I’d like to start playing Chopin again, or publish a book of essays, or audition for a play, but I can also just pick up a pen and a notebook, or a broom.
After dinner last night we went to pick up one of our girls, drank some wine with friends, and then drove home singing Elvis songs. The day had been insanely long, and almost 4 hours of it had been spent driving in construction and traffic. My most creative act of the day was making green cupcake frosting, most of which ended up in the trash anyway. I stretched out on the sofa to watch 30 Rock but I couldn’t get to the end; my eyes kept closing and then the storyline kept changing in nonsensical ways until my husband woke me up and told me to go to bed. It was a fine day, but no art. Not even a wakeful sitcom viewing.
There’s been precious little art in this day too, but I still have about 4 hours to go. What will it be: the salad? a little piano practice? another poem for the archives?
And you: do you have enough art in your life?
AM’s post about moving to a new city and having to make a new social life really resonated with me, but not because I’m moving or looking for new friends. It’s because I’m envious.
I’m not a very social person, so it’s not the “building a social life” or the “putting myself out there” that got me feeling a little jealous. It was the part about “from scratch” and “new me, new city, new things, new people.”
I love my city with a completely unobjective partisan love, and I am thrilled to know and hang out with fantastic people I hope to keeping hanging with for a long time. It’s just, well, I miss “new.” It’s like this:
Remember leaving high school? (At least vaguely?) If you’re lucky you go off to college somewhere new, somewhere that you aren’t “Bob and Sue’s daughter” or “the girl from debate class” or “the one who threw that huge party junior year and the cops came and half the school got busted on the new alcohol policy and never really forgave you despite all the money you spent on liquor.”
Maybe you gain the Freshman 10, but I felt like I dropped the Freshman 50, walking around free on my college campus. I can still see myself standing in front of the theatre building on the bucolic Smith College campus when I had the sudden realization: “None of these people know who I am. Good lord, I could be anybody!”
Then you leave college for work, or grad school. Probably you have a series of jobs before you find one that you stick with for a while, or before the babies turn up at your door and tell you you’re not leaving for a couple of years. Each time it’s a chance to be brand new.
I managed to squeeze in quite a few fresh starts in my young life, transferring schools, skipping town, going online, leaving academia. Often these were hard goodbyes. Plus moving sucks. I hope to stay in this house forever, or at least until someone buries my ashes in the backyard. (Note to family: I’m hoping that won’t be for a while, so put away the shovels.)
Still, there’s a part of me that is always looking down the road for the next corner to turn. When I stay in one place too long I get Itchy. And Scratchy. (But not Poochie.) Living online seems to exacerbate this feeling: every word goes on your permanent record, every person you’ve ever known comes back to find you again. Except they know you as You 2.0 and you’re now at least OS X Snow Leopard and looking at upgrading to Lion.
So many sticky little threads holding you in place, fixing your identity: no wonder they call it the World Wide Web.
Much as the idea of a dramatic breakout appeals, however, it’s not in the cards. I’ve got the Real golden handcuffs: great kids, dreamy husband, a little slice of the Midwest that I’ve grown to love. How I’m going to achieve that great “Clean Slate” feeling I love is still a little bit beyond me: divorce, the Witness Protection Program, and high colonics are out, as are drug-induced amnesia and the convent.
Still, every great journey begins with a single step, and I’ve started this one like so many others before me: with an inspirational refrigerator magnet. Check it out, it might inspire you too:
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
My Facebook wall and Google+ stream are full of a common sentiment: R.I.P. Steve Jobs. (Twitter probably is too — when I last looked it was over capacity and couldn’t sign in.)
As a teen and young adult I was raised to love Steve Jobs like I was raised to love classic rock, Detroit, and vacations at the lake up north. As a grown person I may be able to see the warts that I missed as a kid, I may have developed some new tastes, but Apple was one of my family values from time my dad brought home the first Macintosh.
The death of Steve Jobs feels personal: a sign of decades of brilliant marketing, for sure, but true in lots of ways. I’ll be calling my dad tomorrow, for one thing. I think he’s had every Mac model (even the Newton! talk about being ahead of his time!) and used to ask for copies of MacWorld as Christmas gifts from us kids. I associate Apple with my dad like some people associate sports teams or cigars.
And on that score: the other reason I take the death of Steve Jobs personally is that I feel pretty sure he’s one of the accidental engineers of geek ascendency, the shift in pop culture mores that has made technology, science fiction, role-playing games, and assorted fantasy nerd lore cool for my 12-year-old daughter in a way that it never was when I was young. He may have a screen credit on “Toy Story,” but he also deserves credit for “The Big Bang Theory,” which wouldn’t be a phenomenon today if geeks like Jobs hadn’t been making science and computers exciting and necessary for the last 25 years. To grow up a nerd and then see your team rise up and take over is powerful stuff. It moves products, yes, but it also moves people.
People like Jobs are incredibly inspirational to me because, in small but important ways, I see myself in them. Not only because I was squarely in the geek squad as a kid, but because he came back after being written off or cast out, and because I have always tried to live like this:
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, Stanford commencement speech, 2005]
That approach never let me down either, until recently. Lately a plateau—maybe a rut—in my work and in other areas of my life have left me wondering whether my foolish optimism led me to a dead end, and whether a hard-nosed pragmatism would have served me better.
For better or worse, however, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I love my iMac, my Macbook, my iPods. When the money tide turns the iPad is top of my list. And I’ve been convinced that it’s not just OK, but essential, to Think Different.
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary” [Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, 2005]
Most everyone loves a little music therapy, and now we’re learning something about why. First, there’s something about the anticipation/fulfillment pattern of music. This article (Jonah Lehrer in his Wired column) cites evidence from classical music that dances around the tonic (the I chord) but doesn’t quite hit it, building anticipation for the final climax enjoyably. If you listen to rock or pop music you hear something very similar: guitarists leaning on the 7th, creating a near frenzy of desire for resolution.
I do love instrumental music, but when I really need music therapy I like to sing along and really belt it out. Maybe it’s like doing affirmations: you really need to say these things out loud and not just add them to the noise in your head. And check this out:
Scientists have researched what variables in a song inspire people to sing along in public, the Daily Record reports. Experts found that the impromptu urge to sing along to a song can be credited to four different elements.
These are a long and detailed musical phrase, multiple pitch changes in a song’s hook, the song being led by a male vocalist and the male vocal being in a higher key.
It’s not on my list of top mood lifters, but yeah, I’ll sing along to their catchiest song: Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” (But if you really need a mood lift immediately, go now and watch the Google doodle of “Don’t stop me now.”)
I have my own favorites, many of which fit the qualities researchers found, plus have some personal resonance and — if you ask me — empirical awesomeness that make them go-to songs for me when I need an attitude adjustment.
OK, yes, he is not a band — technically. He’s just such a fantastic musician that he counts as a whole band and then some. And if you want songs with multiple pitch changes—that come out sounding like the most obvious, simple melodies no matter how complex—Stevie is your man. Stevie writes some great love songs: I won’t tell you about the mushy night when husband-to-be and I sat on the sofa and sang Stevie songs to each other, because that is just too much. Or that his brother sang “If It’s Magic” while his brother-in-law played the harp at our wedding: beautiful. Then there was the time we saw him live on New Year’s Eve in Detroit . . .
Love songs aside, though, Stevie is the ultimate “movin’ in the positive” (“Master Blaster”) music. Before all that hearts and flowers stuff, I remember the summer after I graduated from college: I spent the first day crying and crying (and listening to David Bowie, “Changes”) because I felt so lost. Then I picked up the Musiquarium compilation albums and spent the next three months listening to “Boogie on Reggae Woman” nonstop, and I was healed. It’s a sing along, it’s a dance along, it’s irresistible:
They aren’t men, but they do sing in that easy pop tenor range. The Dixie Chicks were part of an experiment for me, years ago, to try things that other people might be critical of. My brainstorm: listen to country music. I didn’t really like the sound of Natalie Maines’ voice at first, but I couldn’t deny that singing along to “Goodbye Earl” and “Sin Wagon” was a lot of fun. When they came out with Taking the Long Way in 2006 I was primed to love it: they had already won me over with their bluegrass—rather than contemporary country pop— sound, and this album was their middle finger to everyone who had gone after them, burning records and sending death threats, after they dared criticize the president during a concert. (Wow, that incident sounds even weirder 10 years later.) Taking the Long Way is a whole album that responds to “Shut Up and Sing” with “I’ll sing, but no one tells me to shut up,” and that first song, “The Long Way Around,” is pretty much the theme song for any kid who grew up in a small town that always fit too tight.
After that album I went back and got Home, their first really big album. All the songs sound different and more defiant after their fall from country music grace, especially “Truth No. 2” (written by the amazing Patty Griffin). Singing along with the Chicks on that one always makes me want to go storm the Bastille, or at least keep plugging along a few more days.
Sly and the Family Stone
Sly is so funky—and at times so dangerous—that it’s easy to miss the fact that half his hits are self-help: “Everybody is a Star,” “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” “You Can Make It If You Try.” I usually prefer to listen to albums rather than greatest hits compilations, especially for music in the heyday of long-play albums, but in this case the greatest hits album is like mainlining positivity. When I put this album on now I see myself in our old one-bedroom apartment, pregnant and trying to get a dissertation written before having the baby, following a spectacularly disastrous oral exam. Could I really make it if I tried? Singing these songs over and over again, I started to think I could. Maybe the greatest of them all, fit for nearly ever occasion: “Stand.”
I can’t resist linking to the Pee Wee Herman medley, which is so worth a click through. (Embedding is disabled on the video.)
Like many children of the 80s, I found the soundtrack of my life on U2 albums, from War to the upcoming 20th anniversary commemoration of Achtung, Baby. I doodled lyrics from “40” during class in high school. When the movie Rattle and Hum came out I thought my teenage self might die from love of each individual member of the band. I sat in my bedroom and repeatedly listened to “One” and “With or Without You” while I pined for the boy who later became my husband. Lately I’ve had All That You Can’t Leave Behind in the kitchen CD player, which has a nice long stretch of songs that help me persist through a persistent funk: “Beautiful Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Elevation,” and “Walk On.” All of it says: keep going, drop your baggage, look around and enjoy this day, and if things suck now it won’t last. Nothing new, perhaps, but when you sing it out to the chickpeas and rice while making dinner it’s mighty uplifting stuff.
(Forgive the Tomb Raider video, please! In fact, forgive all the videos. If I could post audio only I would.)
When I was younger, my list of music therapy songs might have been more of the “Where Will I Find Love?” variety, but this list is squarely in “Love your life and don’t look back” category.
What are your go-to songs for turning your mood or your day around? Send us a guest blog post (mina dot 40questions at gmail dot com) or send a link to your own blog—or just put ’em in the comments.
Many years ago I worked as a copyeditor for a psychology journal, an enterprise that was fascinating and tedious in direct proportion to the number of tables in each article.
I was struck by an article about cortisol levels in people who had undergone various kinds of severe stress or trauma. The people in the study had permanently elevated cortisol levels; whatever stressor had lead to the release of the cortisol hormone had occurred so much or so severely that it effectively stuck the body in the on position. In plainer English, the adrenaline rush of the fight-or-flight response we all have when faced by a crisis had become permanent condition for these people.
This article depressed me profoundly, because not only did I see myself in those people, but I saw the possibility that I would Never Feel Better. My Stress Hormone Release Valve (note: not scientific terminology) had broken and would now stay broken, maybe forever.
Not too long after that I took up the practice of meditation. Honestly, I was kind of desperate to feel better: anti-depressants weren’t common then, and talk therapy—the kind where you review all your grievances against your parents and the bullies in school and whoever else might have wronged you—had gotten stale and repetitive for me. (Nothing against therapy; I’ve had great therapists since then.) I would have tried anything, and while I was trying the stress-relieving qualities of a loaf of banana chocolate-chip bread at the bakery I saw a sign for a meditation class.
Truly it changed and saved my life, and now we are learning why. Scientists have begun studying the effects of meditation on Tibetan lamas and casual practitioners, and they are finding that meditation can change the way the brain works—including long-term cortisol levels!—for the better. We’re also learning that brains are more plastic than we think and that cognitive decline can be slowed or possibly (in some cases) even reversed.
Some people call this “Mind Hacking,” a term that reflects a kind of cheeky optimism about the possibility of reprogramming our thinking—and maybe even the physical processes underneath it—by hacking into our brains like a programmer rewriting less-than-functional software.
Meditation is one example of a powerful mind hack, but I like to think of a mind hack as anything that reframes my thinking in a way that breaks some previously written loop and starts me in a new direction. A great metaphor, analogy, or question can be a deceptively effective mind hack. Sometimes it’s just the right advice, permission, or idea at the right time.
I think all three of us are fans of a good mind hack, and between us we should have at least one to share each Monday, like AM’s post this Monday about letting go of “the idea that They need you and that the world won’t be right” if you take time off from your responsibilities and schedules.
So true, which is why I am writing this piece about mind hacks on Tuesday, when I wanted to have it done on Monday. 😉
Play along with us and share any good mind hacks you know, too. We’d love to feature your idea, book suggestion, inspirational quotation, or any other trick to keep our minds agile, positive, and healthy.
This morning I heard this piece about End of Summer Regrets on NPR. Psychologist Dan Gottlieb
Summer is over and maybe we didn’t do everything we thought we would. We didn’t get to the beach enough or at all. We didn’t take the family camping. We didn’t starting that exercise program at the pool. We are starting Fall and the new school year with some regrets.
We may be troubled over similar regrets at the end of each week, or even each day. Dr. Gottlieb says we need to “let go of the idea that They need you and that the world won’t be right” if you take time off from your responsibilities and schedules.
We postpone joy because we think we are too important to others and to the scheme of things, to step out of it.
I love what he says at the end of the piece about the idea that we will “go to the beach” when we get all our ducks lined up. He said to remember that they are ducks and ducks never stay in a line.
This was exactly what I needed to hear this morning, as I was contemplating the decision to stay home and finish unpacking, stay home and homeschool while trying to finish unpacking or take my daughter to the awesome new park I found. I needed this reminder and the permission to let go of my to-do list sometimes and have fun.
A Facebook friend was seeking some advice from her friends in the computer for handling a five-year-old’s mixed emotions about starting Kindergarten.
Do you downplay fears and talk up the fun? Acknowledge the sadness at leaving a familiar preschool? On that first day, do you stay for just one more minute, or do you exit quickly without looking back at the forlorn, tear-streaked face of your abandoned baby?
As I move through the second decade of parenting, I’ve taken the philosophy that what I do isn’t all that important. It’s what the kids do. So my advice was to help the child feel competent to handle whatever unpredictable feelings come up: feel sad? feel scared? feel lonely? That’s OK, you can handle it.
Introducing yourself to new kids making you feel shy? That’s OK, you can handle feeling shy. Getting frustrated when your handwriting doesn’t look like that strip pasted on your desk? That’s OK, you can handle feeling frustrated.
This was of thinking was a revelation to me when I first discovered it. Somehow I grew up believing that bad feelings—mine or anyone else’s—were to be avoided at all costs, and were a sure sign that something was wrong, dreadfully wrong. Meditation helped me to learn that feelings were just feelings, not events or situations that require action, and practice taught me that I could sit through feelings that seemed unbearable and still be there the next day.
Then I had a choice: I could choose to try control my feelings, maybe by shutting down and withdrawing, or by going seriously Type A and controlling every aspect of my environment. Or I could simply remind myself that having a feeling, no matter how bad, is not going to kill me, and no feeling, no matter how intense, lasts forever.
In the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, author Susan Jeffers says that “I Can’t Handle It” is the belief at the base of all fears. To fear rejection is to believe that you can’t handle rejection. To fear loss is to believe that you can’t handle being sad or disappointed.
As a freelancer, I’ve recently ended a contract that has provided almost half our household income for several years. Talk about feeling the fear . . . But I’m lucky to have experience—and I don’t just mean experience as a writer or editor. I have experience having less money, so I know I can handle that. I have experience being turned down for work, so I know I can handle that. I hate feeling uncertain about the future, but that’s nothing new either. Uncertainty—I can handle it.
And yet the great thing about “I can handle it” is that it neutralizes so much of what makes uncertainty unpleasant. There’s no controlling outcomes: maybe my parents will react badly to that decision, maybe that investment is going to tank, maybe my child is going to hate school. But can I handle it? That’s entirely up to me.
There is an obvious risk with “I can handle it” as well. “Handling it” doesn’t mean lying there and taking it, or going it alone. Too many people I know act as though asking for help or even venting a little bit about their concerns proves that they couldn’t handle it. “Sorry for whining,” they say. “That’s OK, I’ll do it myself,” they say. “That’s just the way it is,” they say.
Just like self-acceptance doesn’t have to mean giving up on yourself, “I can handle it” doesn’t mean “I am the world’s doormat.” “I can handle feeling bad” doesn’t imply “and therefore I will not investigate how I could lessen the frequency, duration, or intensity of my bad feelings.”
It’s deceptively simple: “I can handle it” merely frees you from the urgency of feelings—yours or someone else’s—so you can focus on what is really happening and what you can really do about it instead.
Some people call it unconditional love, others describe it as loving people where they are at. It seems hard, almost impossible, but once you commit to doing it your relationship becomes much easier.
When you require other people to change into someone that would make the same decisions and choices that you would make, or at least ones that you would understand, you are often going to find yourself in conflicts.
Misunderstandings are inevitable. We have not yet invented a translator that allows us to speak with perfect understanding to one another. We can’t really say we understand the needs, fears, and desires that motivate our own behaviors, much less those of others. The beautiful reality is that humans are complex creatures. But unconditional love is simple.
Unconditional love is wanting others to be happy. Even if you don’t understand them. Even if you disagree with them. Even if you dislike them. And, most importantly, even if they dislike you.
One way to start practicing unconditional love is by doing a daily Metta Meditation. You can find various versions online by searching “Metta Meditation.” One example is “May I live in safety. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.”
You always start by focusing your love towards yourself, chanting this three times. Then say the Metta three times focusing on someone you love. Then for someone you are neutral towards. Fourth, towards someone you have difficultly with, or someone hostile towards you. Fifth, wish for happiness, health, ease, and safety for the entire world. Lastly, come back to yourself and chant three more times.
Sometimes the hardest one can be feeling loving-kindess towards a person that is hostile towards you. But it can also feel the best, especially when your heart releases the resentment and pain you have been holding onto.
There is much more to the Metta Meditation than I am relating here. And there is much more I would like to say about unconditional love. But doing the Metta Meditation is an easy way to start practicing loving-kindness every day. I think, over time, you start to see the wisdom in loving humanity because they are complex rather than in spite of it.
Links – The Practice of Metta Meditation