Category Archives: letting go

How do you love yourself?

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]

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Shoes I Have Known and Loved

My friend Kelly, who blogs about fashion, feminism, and other quasi-girly stuff at How I Learned to Wear a Dress, asked this question on her blog’s Facebook wall:

At what point did how shoes look (and how they looked with your outfit) supersede how they functioned?

Oh the memories.

I was, at one time, a devoted shoe hound. For one thing, no matter how hippy or busty you are, shoes fit fairly reliably compared to pants or a dress. If you’re a size 9, you buy a size 9, with few exceptions. There is no plus size section of the shoe department, and few women have shoes in multiple sizes waiting in their closets until they can get into them.

Shoes are also less of a commitment. Feeling a little puckish today? Lace up your combat boots—no need to go the whole nine yards and get the pegged jeans and shredded Clash t-shirt out of storage from your parents’ basement.

Besides, function is a relative term. When I was young all my shoes were functional — I went drunk rock climbing in the dark wearing crazy pointy-toed white ostrich-skin pumps without any trouble. My youthful feet could make any heel, any toe, any platform work.

It’s kind of like how no clothes are ugly or ill fitting when you’re 19 because you are just bursting with sexy, “Corinna’s going a-maying” nubile hotness regardless. (How else could American Apparel be so successful?) When I go to Ragstock or another shop staffed by young urban hipsters, the cashiers are flaunting it: “Look at me! I’m wearing an ironic Cosby sweater and corduroy pants the color of moldy mustard and I still look sexier than you could with a $1000 and a personal stylist!” At some unconscious level, they’re playing a game of fashion chicken that they can’t lose: see how many ways can I violate traditional aesthetics and still look freakin’ awesome?

And so I loved shoes from about ages 12 to 30, and then there was a dramatic decline, for familiar reasons:

1) My feet grew after pregnancy and most of my collection had to go.
2) I never wore anything or went anywhere that required cool shoes.
3) Years of going barefoot (and pregnancy) meant that my feet could no longer squeeze pointy-toed shoes even if I bought them new.

I am not too sad about this, just as I am not really missing 19. But I can still relish the memories, from the 4-inch wooden stilettos I wore to tour Niagara Falls with my parents and grandparents when I was 12 to the tall black cowboy boots I wore with tights and short jean cutoffs for much of grad school. Those were good—if, in the case of the stilettos, somewhat messed up—times.

Besides, shoe trends these days perplex me. Setting the functionality of high heels aside, is there a more boring shoe than the high-heeled pump? Putting a 5-inch heel, or toe platform, or shiny patent leather on it is like tacking up pictures of your cat and George Clooney in your office cubicle. Sure, it’s a little more interesting than the bare fabric walls, but you’re still in a cube. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

These are the shoes I have my eye on now: they’re like my old LL Bean lined duck boots (circa 1987) meets Converse high tops (circa 1985) meets my cowboy boots meets Sorel. Like all of those old shoes, they go with anything, but especially they’ll go with the snow.

Monday Mind Hack — Perspective

I try hard not to fall back on the old cliché “It could be worse” when trying to console someone or boost morale. “It could be worse” is almost always true, and yet it is so far from comforting it almost feels like scolding.

“Quit yer bitchin'” more like. Not helpful. “There’s a first-world problem,” someone says when you’ve lost one too many rounds with the technology in your life. Great: now I can feel frustrated, overwhelmed and ashamed of what a yuppie douchebag I’ve turned out to be. Thanks for that.

So when someone posted an article on Facebook with the one-word comment “perspective” I was hesitant to read it. Plus it’s called “Notes from a Dragon Mom,” which made me think that it was related to that whole “Tiger Mom” thing, and I’m sure we can agree no one needs to go there again.

But I didn’t want to leave my desk chair and go face the onerous task of grinding the morning coffee beans (“There’s a first-world problem”), so I read it anyway.

Wow. Perspective. Read It. Really.

The author, Emily Rapp, writes movingly about parenting a terminally ill child:

Ronan won’t prosper or succeed in the way we have come to understand this term in our culture; he will never walk or say “Mama,” and I will never be a tiger mom. The mothers and fathers of terminally ill children are something else entirely. Our goals are simple and terrible: to help our children live with minimal discomfort and maximum dignity. We will not launch our children into a bright and promising future, but see them into early graves. We will prepare to lose them and then, impossibly, to live on after that gutting loss. This requires a new ferocity, a new way of thinking, a new animal. We are dragon parents: fierce and loyal and loving as hell. Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.

Her point isn’t that those of us with healthy children should feel guilty for that unearned grace or foolish for having dreams for the future, but that parenting—living—is ultimately a “here and now” experience.

The truth is that healthy children and healthy parents die unexpectedly, as our family learned personally and painfully this summer when we lost 3 friends in a car accident. And there are less dramatic changes and surprises: a career ends abruptly, lifelong friends move away, a mental illness appears out of nowhere and settles in to stay. It now takes me two hands to count up the number of friends—mostly mothers 40 and under—diagnosed with breast cancer in the last two years. What Rapp writes about parenting is true for all the plans we make: “none of it is forever.”

Gratitude for not having any of those problems is great, but it’s still a short-term perspective. The long view, ironically, reveals that regardless of whether we’re healthy or sick, successful or at sea, today is really all there is. The only way we can be sure that we’ll achieve the desired consequences of our actions is to do them “for the humanity implicit in the act itself.”

If I set that as the standard for what I put on my agenda today, what stays? What goes? And what do I need to add to make this day worth doing, just for the sake of doing it? If I set that as the standard for how I perform the day’s necessary but ordinary tasks, would I do them differently?

The Clean Slate Club

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

Mind Hack Monday – She Shells

No matter how introverted I say I am I still need to connect with people. But that connection hasn’t always been easy for me to make. And, recently, I have been wondering why it is so hard.

Not that I don’t have friends. I have actually been blessed with many wonderful close friends. They are truly amazing, so I guess I must be doing something right. But, well, I just moved to a new city and now I am faced with the prospect of having to build a social life from scratch.

Moving can be exciting. You get a fresh start, on everything, even who you are, or, at least, how you present yourself to others. This time, I told myself, I am going to be more outgoing. I’ll try to talk to people I wouldn’t normally talk to. I’ll have more confidence, be less guarded, and be a better listener.  You know, “be myself” but better. 😛

Contemplating my struggle with friendships and relationships makes me think of my daughter, whose friendship mojo is strong. In the six weeks since we have moved here she has made several really good friends, had 3 sleepovers, and almost daily invitations for playdates/hang outs. Her social calender is so full it needs 13 months.

Not that I want that. I couldn’t handle that. But I would like to make at least a few meaningful connections. And it would be nice if it didn’t seem so hard.

I recognize that a big part of my problem is my impatience. I haven’t yet figured out how to enjoy the slow and somewhat obscure process of vetting, I mean, making friends.  In the past I relied on intuitive (snap) judgements regarding compatibility. But, the new me, in my new city of Brotherly Love, is trying out new things and new people. I am meditating on remaining open, and curious. And that helps, a little bit. But sometimes it doesn’t.

Of course, sometimes I have to think “Maybe it is just me.” Maybe everyone else I know easily makes full and satisfying friendships. Maybe they often get that experience of being “known” and accepted. Maybe once an outsider, always an outsider. (and maybe feeling negative about the process isn’t really helping:P)

I don’t know. I really don’t. All I can do is just keep showing up and putting myself out there. Or maybe I should give up looking for a specific outcome but somehow not give up on the process. But, I should probably not crawl back into my shell. Unless maybe it is my shell that somehow, paradoxically draws other interesting shell dwellers to it.

“Let go. Let go. Let go.”

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 Safe Place to Cry

First, the memory

I had a toddler, my oldest daughter, about to go to co-op childcare for a couple of hours; my husband was in school, already on the bus to campus. We were cleaning up in the kitchen of our little one-bedroom apartment when the phone rang. “Is your TV on?” my brother-in-law asked.

“No, why?”

He explained that planes were flying into buildings in New York, maybe in Washington. I hung up and turned on the TV and saw 9/11, there on the Today show. Then I turned off the TV and took my little one to the co-op, waiting to turn on the radio until she was gone. For years I wondered, “Why did my brother-in-law call just to be sure we saw the news?” Writing this out now, the answer is obvious: He did what everyone did, reached out, needing to know that his family was OK.

We lived in Minnesota, of course we were OK. Except that’s not how it seemed at the time. I went back early to pick up my daughter, beginning to wonder what sort of mother drops her daughter at childcare when the nation is apparently under attack. My husband called to tell me that the Minnesota campus was closing, and all classes were cancelled: no one then knew what would happen next. Where else would planes crash? What other forms of terror could be happening? I drove to pick him up, relieved that we were all together again at last. Over the next few days we heard from people who were there: they were OK, no one we knew was hurt, no one we knew was lost.

For weeks afterwards I was afraid in large gathering places: the concert arena (we saw Neil Diamond sing America), the Mall of America (said to be a target, as a symbol of American decadence). While Ground Zero is a place of incredible tragedy in Manhattan, when it first happened, 9/11 was happening to all of us.

Now, the anniversary

Probably I have cried more today than I did 10 years ago. I suppose that is natural: now I know how many died, now I see how long and deep the consequences were.

It’s been a week for crying. My friend Kelly has been talking about it on her blog, and she shared a great New York Times piece about crying in public.

I don’t like to cry in public, but since becoming a mother and suffering whatever hormonal changes happened there I have learned to suck it up and deal with it, because it’s going to happen. Besides, as an adult, I know things about sadness, fear, and loss that I could not have imagined when I was younger, and there is no one to hush and soothe those things away for me.

As a young adult I never cried in front of anyone: I remember vividly hiding behind a Pepsi vending machine in a Las Vegas hotel to cry, the only private place in the entire casino, maybe the entire city.

There just aren’t that many vending machines in the world, however, and eventually I had to give up and let go sometimes. Most often it’s happened during church (don’t worry, this won’t get religious), in part because there is not much to do in church besides just be present with what is happening there, and in part because in church there is a lot of singing, and if there is a cry inside me, there is no way I can open my mouth to sing without it coming out.

The first time I cried in church—I mean cried, not just got teary-eyed—a man came up and introduced himself at the coffeeshop afterwards. We had locked eyes at one point while I was walking out to collect myself, and he said it seemed weird not to acknowledge the connection later. We never became friends, but we talked about sadness, and then talked about our kids, and schools, and coffee, and then smiled at each other from then on.

On a particularly rough morning, deep in some period of depression, an acquaintance, a much older man, came over and put his arm around me and said, “This has always been my favorite place to come and cry.” And I cried with him for a while, and then he gave me a little squeeze and a smile, and walked away. I knew he had suffered hard losses in his family, and his quiet and brief outreach touched me in a way that a long hug from a close friend could not.

Such a lovely gift those men gave me. Each of them said, “I see you crying. I acknowledge the human connection between us. While it may make some people uncomfortable, your crying is OK,” and then they moved on, without needing to make it end or initiate an intense therapy session. Sometimes I wonder if that is the real reason we don’t like to cry: not because it makes us look weak, but because in that moment of weakness we risk someone jumping in and trying to drag it all out of us.

So this morning, primed for many tears, I skipped the mascara, packed up some Kleenex mini packs, and made sure to get to the church on time. I hadn’t even pulled into the parking lot before I started to cry, trying to explain to my younger daughter, now 8, what “9/11” is—she’s heard it before, but she’s also heard of the American Revolution and the Civil War, all events in the time known as “before I was born,” with little differentiation in emotional impact.

My girls sat next to me in the pew and periodically looked over at me in a worried way. My oldest knew, clever girl, that I was not singing because I did not want to break down utterly. She patted me, hugged me, sometimes took my arm throughout the service. I smiled at her and winked over her head at my youngest, hoping to reassure them that crying is OK, and maybe to teach them that, even when you are grown and there is no one to make it better for you, even when the dangers and losses are real, there are safe places to cry.

Nothing novel or insightful here.

I miss my therapist.

I went to him every week for over a year and then once every two weeks for another year. He was there for me through family troubles, friend troubles, cancer, and recovery. He knows my past. My issues with my mother. My special hurts and my proud moments. He has seen me cry, albeit not very often. And he has not only seen me go from only hoping that I could be healed and then knowing that I was, but he also helped me get there.

And now I am moving and whereas I might miss my local friends, I can still phone them or email them or see them on Facebook. But you just don’t do that with your therapist. He told me we could do a phone or Skype session if I ever needed to, but I don’t want to need to. I don’t need to.

I can’t go to him with every little problem anymore. These days when I am conflicted, I wonder what his advice would be and I can’t come up with it. That was what was so helpful about him, he came up with things I never would have thought of. Maybe because he was from a different generation, or maybe because he was a man, or maybe because he was an ENFP which is supposed to have a Pedagogue relationship with my type, INTJ. Or maybe just because that was his job and he was good at it.

At first I didn’t give him much credit. I thought I was doing it all on my own. I didn’t think he understood me, and I wasn’t sure I was really getting much out of our sessions. But I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the counseling he gave me.

To be honest, it was nice to have someone whose job it was to listen to me and advise me and to be on my side. I didn’t think I would miss what I once considered an “artificial relationship”, but even though I was paying him, he did play an important role in my life. And now I am left to the rest of my journey without any “expert” opinion to illuminate the way. Oh well, it is time for me to move on and deal with life on my own, and with a little help from my friends.

Mind Hacking Monday – Loving Others Where They Are At

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

childhood fancies

We were driving to Lowes, for the second time today, and I was just exhausted. I started to fall asleep in the passenger seat when suddenly I smelled something, and you know how strong smell memory can be. It brought me back to my childhood and I experienced that safe, comfortable feeling of freedom that was once common place in childhood but rare as a white unicorn in adulthood.

I need a vacation from being an adult. I know I supposedly just got back from a vacation, fifteen days in the Mediterranean, but that trip was ridiculously busy. We had to get up early, catch buses, stand in lines and in crowds in 95+ degrees, and walk, walk, walk. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing trip, but I would never describe it as relaxing and I certainly didn’t have freedom to follow my own star, in my own time, along my own path.

I also recognize that I am unusually busy these days. The moving vans will arrive and start packing us up in T-minus eleven days. And for every chore I mark off our list two more that I hadn’t thought of get added. Not only are we moving to a new state, but we are trying to sell our house and our truck. And dealing with property and finances in the aftermath of my father-in-laws death. I feel like I have a hundred and one things to think about. There is just so much that needs to get done, and I have to organize it all. My brain is like an overstuffed filing cabinet, and the drawers won’t shut.

I just want to breathe deeply of that childhood memory of freedom, where there was nothing to think about other than what was right in front of me. To tell the truth I lived in my head a lot as a child, in my head or in a book. But I also spent a lot of time outside, wandering in woods, through the neighborhood, into empty houses or construction sites. I climbed trees and lay in the grass. The hours after school and before dinner were mine. I had no responsibility, except to my own whims. There was no credit card debt, no car to fix, no home to sell. Just my hands getting dirty and my shoes getting worn.

I still love to walk outside. Nature renews me. It is the most likely place I could catch a glimpse of that white unicorn. But for now, all I can do is hope that there is still freedom to be had, that life does slow down sometimes, and that even grown-ups, mothers and wives can catch the elusive magic of freedom.