Can we train our brains to let go?

When I read the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I identified strongly with a character. May, one of the sisters in the book, feels the pain of others so strongly it’s as if their pain, grief, horror, is hers. Attempting to manage all these overwhelming feelings, she scribbles names or descriptions on small rolls of paper and pushes the roll into the crevices of a stone wall she’s built–that way she tries to externalize the pain and get it out of her own head.

I’ve felt something similar over my lifetime, but more selfishly, usually the overwhelming feelings have been my own emotions of pain, grief, or horror. At my most generous I’ve felt a strong urge to help someone else feel less pain. Even that has often  been driven by the fact that their emotional pain hurts me. If I can help them feel better, more at peace, then I am more at peace myself.

I want to be an empathetic person, a truly empathetic for the right reasons kind of person. I just want to be able to do it with some balance and flair, like one of those people in a circus flipping from high trapeze to high trapeze in a shiny leotard. (Mine would be aquamarine. With feathers.)

Here was the major roadblock: I didn’t even know I could practice my emotional trapeze technique. I thought I was stuck with the techniques I had at that moment. And being stuck in a constant state of Big Feelings is exhausting.

Better late than never, right? If my life thus far has been in thirds–first third childhood/college/single, second two thirds marriage/divorce–does that make the next twenty years of my life the fourth third? However the math works out, I’m hoping to practice practice practice my way to balance and poise in my emotional state. I want to learn to handle my emotions differently, handle the emotions of others differently. I want to be more authentic in my responses to someone else’s harsh situation and the resulting feelings. This means my motive has to be about them, their pain, not mine.

Knowing how to respond to someone’s emotional upset helps me focus on them, their need, and gets my eyes off my own bellybutton. When we don’t sit with the unpleasant feelings that have rushed in, we won’t process all the way through to closure and acceptance. Here are two similar tools I’ve learned and personalized for ways to deal with the Big Uncomfortable Feelings and Words of life:

Observe those feelings. Feelings come and go. Sometimes they feel like we will never get past them, and maybe there are certain ones we default to because of the way we see the world and the people in it. Without trying to change or judge my painful emotions of fear or sadness or grief and so on, I use a visual image–I am a large rock in the middle of a stream or river, with the water carrying my feelings as it runs constantly over my head and around me. As the rock I notice the feelings as they come rushing toward me, over and around me smoothly. “Yup, there’s my sadness in this situation. There goes my anger at the unfairness of it…and my grief that the situation will never be the way I wanted it to be.” We can sit with our feelings as long as we need to for them to run their course, as they do. It’s calming and somewhat meditative to simply observe them.

In the same way but with a different visual, we can observe the negative words put on us by ourselves and by others. I touched on this in a previous post. The wind is hitting my face, and I see pieces of paper with the negative words I’m hearing, no matter who we may have received them from. Close your eyes and picture the words on the pieces of paper: Foolish. Stupid. Less-than. Too loud. Incapable. No voice. etc.. As the wind blows these notes against your eyes and mouth and cheeks, visualize them hitting but not sticking to your face. Those words of self and other judgment are being swept away by the wind. Keep picturing this in your mind until the words run out and you realize they’ve gone and are now papering somebody’s back garden fence.

Both are simple to do. Either could work for words or emotions. I’m a pretty visual person, so this type of exercise is helpful for me.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have repetitive words and phrases in your head or on your lips that label you negatively? Write a list of them. Do you have any big emotions you wish you didn’t have? Write a list. Use your list with either visualization, sitting quietly for 5 or 10 minutes and letting them clear out your mind of the labels, the painful feelings, and help you move forward. How did you feel after completing the exercise?

 

Remember that you have worth simply because you’re on this planet! #Ihaveworth

 

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Unseen and Unheard

LATELY I’ve been on, let’s just call it an Unintentional Hiatus.

I’ve been plagued by a couple of things: Fibromyalgia has not been my friend the past few months, and the Lie that loves me the most has been in residence–even though unwelcome.

To address the first one, I’ve been in what is called a relapse of my Fibro for several months now. When your Flare decides to overstay its welcome its name becomes Relapse. The pain and fatigue have been hanging all over my body and brain, rendering me both whiney AND bitchy. If I could take a vacation from myself I would.

And now, the second, the Boogeyman, the Lie That Loved Me, Casino Lie-ale, Live and Let Lie…. I wanted to make this blog as a safe place for others who deal with their own Lies. To maybe feel they aren’t alone and realize we all struggle. But my most deeply etched Lie, that my voice doesn’t matter, has been a pretty constant companion lately, rendering me mute.

When I was a child I felt it was better NOT to have a voice, NOT to draw attention. Because, say the wrong thing and dire consequences would follow. I watched this over and over with my parents and older siblings, and with some serious mother vs father action. Better I should play in my room, go to the park, or hide in my closet. Unseen and Unheard was safest.

In my post-childhood years I have done a lot of shoot-myself-in-the-foot things like dumb myself down to let other people feel smarter, let other people tell me how I should think, believe that everybody else’s voice was more important than mine, that my voice/my thoughts/my beliefs were inconsequential.

And yet, I have loved to express myself in writing since I was small. I’ve known that the God who created me gave me my own particular voice, often sappy, often snarky, and a unique view of the life I’ve lived. How can I know that Truth, and yet believe the ever-present like-flies-at-a-picnic, like-dirt-on-my-car, like-failed-deodorant Lie that WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY BE THINKING THAT I HAVE ANYTHING WORTH SAYING??!?

Whew.

I think what I’ve just described is what’s referred to as Cognitive Dissonance. By definition, that means the mental stress and discomfort experienced by someone who has two completely opposing beliefs. I believe I have something worth saying, yet I believe just as strongly that I have nothing worth saying. Well no WONDER I’m tired!

And this is the power of the Lies In Our Bones.

So even if I end up only talking to myself I need to keep writing. To defy that Lie. To put myself out there though flawed and tired and possibly repetitive and maybe even boring some days. To put myself out there when I feel ugly and stupid and needy and simultaneously whiney and bitchy. I mean, don’t we all feel something of the sort sometimes?

Yes–even though I know God loves me without condition (even some of my friends and family do, more’s the wonder) my bones are still in the process of healing from the deeply carved Lies of past early experience. I’m a struggler. If you’re a struggler too, please join me.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE.

The good about giving up. 

I want to be one of those patient and dedicated slow-pour coffee types, I really do.

I admire anyone who can take  precious extra minutes waiting for their fine, fresh brew. I even bought one of those tiny one cup pour-over cone shaped thingies since I drink alone in the mornings. And I tried, I did. I attempted a bleary-eyed dribbling of the hot water kettle into the cone of grounds–for about 5 seconds before I said “oh poop” and poured enough water to fill the cone and drip into my large mug. Morning is not my friend, and Slow applies to me in the hours before 10 a.m. but it dare not apply to my coffee. (And I use a paper filter to make it easy to clean up! Sacrilege, right?)

My friend Susy (author of the marvelous blog Animalia) and I laughed over this the other day. Her son is one of those who is gifted in Slow-Pouredness. I on the other hand know exactly how many times I can fill the paper cone of grounds with fast-pour kettle water for each mug I own. Oddly, I am okay with this. I accept there are many things that I will never be gifted in.

I will never be: naturally thin, naturally tidy, naturally energetic. I will never naturally feel my age. BUT I will always: laugh–often at embarrassingly inappropriate times–and believe the best in others, and love my family and friends ferociously.

The Lies in my bones have often told me I should Fail In Nothing. The Lies in my bones have said that who I am will Never be Enough. Oddly and unexpectedly, I am slowly learning that I quite like the imperfect and complicated person I am. That I can choose to grow or choose to be stagnant (by the way, I choose Grow. It’s more interesting.)

So what if I’m never thin? What if I can never be a successful slow-pourer, or even be desirous of becoming one? We all have our strengths and weaknesses, the things we feel passionate about and the things that we strive to succeed at that don’t really matter.

Today I will: celebrate what makes me unique–my passion for words, love of laughter, and ferocious love of those God has brought into my life for good and growth. I will celebrate the crazy and colorful (and possibly untidy) collage of books and dishes and art that surrounds me in my space and makes me smile.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What success are you striving for that honestly doesn’t make that big a difference in your life and you could quit wasting that time? What will you celebrate about yourself today/this week/this month that the world may look at as Less Than? What might happen if you saw your reflection and smiled instead of judged?

Till next time!

The F Word: Frailty

 

I’m just coming through another one of the times that tries my soul: a Fibromyalgia flare. If you’re not familiar with Fibromyalgia, it’s a chronic pain and fatigue condition allegedly caused by an overactive/oversensitive Central Nervous System. It can be managed to some extent on a daily basis, but the owner of the aforementioned Frailty doesn’t know from day to day whether it will be a good day or a bad day, a normal pain and fatigue day or an F word day (er, of course I meant Frailty there…..)

A few weeks ago I hit the perfect storm for a flare–the decision to have my 14 1/2 year old dog euthanized, the 5th anniversary of my sister’s death, among other things. Even weather changes seem to contribute. A bad day turned into bad weeks. It seemed like sleeping and trying to ease the extreme pain of this unwelcome flare were the only goals I could work toward. I had no extra brain cells to use.

I hate this scenario, one that I revisit on an unexpected basis, though it feels more like it drops in on me like a surprise guest–“Here I am! Hope you don’t mind if I drop in unexpectedly to stay awhile and change every plan you’ve made for what is as yet an undetermined amount of time!”

It’s brutal.

And how I tend to treat myself during this state of Frailty is brutal too. I tell myself I’m useless. I tell myself it’s my fault, I must not be doing something right or this wouldn’t happen to my brain and body. I get angry. I get sad. I feel sorry for myself, and then I get angry at myself for feeling sorry for myself, and that makes me sad. It’s a real party of one.

This particular flare was so bad that the friend I rent from told me she actually came in to see if I was still breathing. (And here my imagination goes a little TV Fabulous and sees her leaning across my curled body with a tiny makeup mirror to see if I have breath to fog it or is it necessary to call 911, at which point she looks around at the shoes, books, and electronic devices tumbled by my bed that the paramedics would need to navigate and decides it’s better to just close the door and let nature take its course.)

Frailty. It’s a big bad word to me that begins to define my worth and take me to a dark place of Not Good Enough and Worthless and Too Weak. And–dare I say it–UNPRODUCTIVE. (GASP!!)

Once I realize the party is headed for StinkTown, one thing I do is to allow the words of self-flagellation to fly at me but simply glance off. To recognize that while this Frailty may derail me for a time it won’t shut down the railway altogether–I have a temporary Out Of Service sticker on my forehead, but in time it will lose its sticky and the train of my body and brain will begin to run again.

A couple of things I like to do for myself in these times: I’m a fan of visualizing. Whatever makes sense to you will be the best, but for me I actually visualize myself with big pieces of crumpled paper being blown at me like I’m in a storm, and on those papers  are the negative words and phrases written in large, dark print. They hit me but then continue on in the wind past me. They don’t stick. I also love to listen to affirmations. My favorite at the moment is from Belleruth Naparstek, “Healing Trauma.” Her CDs usually have an intro, a guided imagery segment, and then an affirmations segment. The affirmations in her voice are deeply soothing to my mean-spirited brain, and help me treat myself more gently.

IMPORTANT: all this takes practice. When you try to change your thinking be gentle with yourself–it won’t change at once.

The BringYourOwnBeverageConversation: What do you see as your frailties? What frailties cause you to belittle yourself? I saw as I wrote this post just how big of a deal being Nonproductive is for me, and how little grace I give myself when I need it.

Hope to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance and the gift of THERE-ness

I leaned over the hospital bed and whispered “Please be okay–I’m running out of fathers” and kissed my father-in-law on the forehead. He was going in for a biopsy of a spot on his lung, and I was afraid.

My own father had died, my step-father had died, but in all honesty my father-in-law would be the hardest personal loss. He had always loved me and accepted me, right from the beginning of my relationship with his son. I could feel his appreciation of me shine out of his pores, and it was an amazing feeling.

When I had a miscarriage he sat with me after I got home from the emergency room. Just sat. Stayed in the same space with me as I cried quiet tears he pretended not to notice. But I could feel his love. I don’t know how to explain it, but his there-ness spoke loudly to my aching heart.

Mostly in my life I’d had people who were too busy with their own problems to just be with me, too critical to see the person I thought I was, and I had believed those people’s lack of there-ness was somehow my own fault. If only I were more this, less that, thinner, then I’d be lovable. THEN I’d be deserving of someone’s time and attention. But here he was, this father-in-law of mine, not making my pain about him, not judging my reactions, not telling me how to be over it, not doing anything but making me feel loved and Visible by the sweet gift of his presence.

He’s been gone for years now, nearly 2 decades, but I can still feel that love-without-condition for me and see the warmth in his face and the twinkle in his eye when I think of him.

I’m still struggling to get to that same place with myself, where I can remember and acknowledge the person I am–the one with flaws and frailties and a good heart–without letting the harshness of others bring me down. But I know how important an honest assessment of myself is since it’s the receptacle of balance.

Today I feel like I need to turn this post around from its usual position of “what will I do for myself.” Today, especially after the venom of this year’s presidential election, I want us to look at it this way:

What will I do for the people in my life today?  Today and every day, I will extend the there-ness I crave to anyone who is hurting. I will choose to live by the passions of my own heart and mind to accept and love people of all sizes/shapes/ethnicities/lifestyles/beliefs. The same God who made me made them.

The BringYourOwnBeverage Conversation: Have you craved the accepting presence of someone? Who gave you that gift of themselves? Who can you give it to today?