Joy…and Pain (or rather Pain…and Joy?)

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

-Brené Brown

As a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about my various aches and pains – and my parents would often say “that’s just growing pains.” Man I didn’t realize back then what they really meant – that growing up is literally painful – not just physically, but emotionally. How do you tell young people what is ahead of them? That becoming an adult is incredibly hard. That change can be excruciating painful. That growth is HARD WORK and no one can do it for you. That each one of us is going to face heartbreak, loss, and hardships that we never thought we would be able to handle. And that even when we get through a tough time, there is going to be another one down the road, and then another, and another.

I think it’s like what some people say about childbirth – that if women actually shared how painful it truly is, no one would choose to be a parent. If children knew how hard it is to enter adulthood, they would likely try to join Peter Pan in Never Never Land where no one grows up!

I remember when one of my best childhood friends lost his best friend in a tragic accident during our freshman year of college. A few short years later, he lost his father to cancer. I remember him telling me the day of his dad’s funeral that maybe his best friend’s death helped him prepare in some way for his father’s. Over 20 years later, what he told me has stayed with me all this time. I have often thought about how strong he was at the young age of 21 to try to cope with his grief by relying on what he had learned about himself during what had previously been the tougest loss he had faced. He taught me something about how to grieve, how to cope with pain, and how to grow.

My friend Erin and I had drinks together this week, and as we often do, we spoke about our lives, our struggles, and the lessons we are trying to learn. I did a terrible job trying to re-tell this wonderful story that teaches a great lesson about overcoming pain. I looked it up later to share with Erin, and decided I wanted to write about it in my blog, so here it is!

I hope that the author Sofo Archon of The Unbounded Spirit blog doesn’t mind if I share his story. His entire blog post can be found here.

The story begins when a young woman who is going through a very painful experience and reaches out to her wise grandmother for help:

“Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’

‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied.

Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, grandmother?’

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity? Do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?

How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

May we all be like the COFFEE.”

Here are some painful truths.

  • When we live a life where we are open to love (any kind of love – not just romantic love), it is certain that we will experience pain at some point in the future. Not just possible. CERTAIN.
  • We are each responsible for how we cope with that pain, how we grieve, how we heal, how we grow. It is up to each of us to decide if we want to be the carrots, the egg, or the coffee.
  • There is no “pain contest” where anyone wins because their hardships are greater than one another. Who would want to win that anyway?? Each of us has our hardships, and it doesn’t help anyone to try to compare whose burden is greater.

I kind of hate the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” because it is too trite. I rephrase it to say “Everything happens for a reason if we take the time and put in the hark work to make meaning out of our experiences.” Too long to inscribe on a coffee mug, but still true. coffee

My intent is not to bring everyone down with this post – sorry that if it’s a bit intense! My intent is to speak the truth, and to encourage everyone to own your choices. I have not always made the right choices – that is FOR SURE. And you know what – I am CERTAIN that I am going to make more mistakes, and I am certain that I am going to experience more pain and loss in my future.

What I have tried to do is stop being a victim, and to own the decisions I made – or didn’t make – that got me to where I am, so that I learn my lessons and can move on with my life. One of the best compliments I received recently was from a friend who told me I was “wise.” Wisdom is healed pain. It hasn’t been easy – and it has been a lot of work up to this point. I have worked with a therapist/coach for years, and my work is ongoing and never-ending.  And it has been so incredibly worth it.

Just like the grandmother says in this story, when we are like the coffee, we change. We grow. We are able to let go of our heartache and our painful pasts. We are able to heal, and we remain open to love. We have the ability to experience joy. We can be happy with what we have, and we can look forward to a bright future. It won’t be perfect – but it will be ours.

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

From the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

 

 

 

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#MakeItHappen

Today is International Women’s Day, and the theme this year is #makeithappen. I haven’t blogged in a long time – and today I felt inspired to put my thoughts on “paper” (aka cyberspace) for the first time in a while.

To celebrate the day, I want to recognize some pretty fabulous women who inspire me with their wisdom and with their actions to help make the world a better place.

1. Maya Angelou

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”  – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s beautiful prose describes the Golden Rule in a new way, making this my favorite quote all of time. It’s such a powerful reminder to not get stuck in the “he said/she said” – and to really focus on the bigger picture. It’s a tool to help me communicate in a healthy way with my friends, family, and coworkers.

2. Eleanor Roosevelt

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I can’t hear this one enough – and I can’t share it enough with others. This quote was above my chalkboard all year when I was a middle school teacher, hoping that all of my students would absorb these words into the fiber of their beings by seeing them every day. This quote reminds me that not only am I in control of how I feel about myself, I am also responsible for how I feel about myself. No one else is. It is entirely up to me. This doesn’t mean it is easy to do – it’s not…but when I fall into self-pity, martyrdom and blaming, I try to remember to be accountable to myself…and to do the work that it takes to feel better.

3. Mother Theresa

“In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”- Mother Theresa

These words remind me be intentional with my actions…to stop being so “busy” that I forget why I am doing what I am doing. It also reminds me that I can make a difference in someone’s life with one act of kindness, one phone call, one word, one hug…one whatever – no matter how small it is!

4. Brené Brown

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to and embracing who we are.” – Brené Brown

This quote is front and center on my vision board this year (check it out here on Pinterest if you are interested: https://www.pinterest.com/lauriet93/2015-vision-board/) Authenticity has become so important to me that I now call it one of core values. I went through many years not being true to myself, not taking care of myself, and living with a lot of shame because of it. Brené reminds me that I need to do the work – if I practice, I will improve.

5. Ellen Degeneres:

“I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for. I also believe in dance.” – Ellen Degeneres

Here’s another authentic rendition of the Golden Rule, along with a reminder to have fun. Earlier this year, I started recording Ellen every day, and I have enjoyed watching immensely! She makes me laugh, cry and think with each episode (shout out to Jimmy V even though it’s International Women’s Day).

6. Oprah Winfrey

Here’s another one from my 2015 Vision Board – because I can’t have a Vision Board or a blog about International Women’s Day without an Oprah mention:

“Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”- Oprah Winfrey

Rather than biology – being a mother encompasses all the things I mention already…authenticity, action with intention, making someone else feel loved…these things make me a “Mom” to my significant other’s beautiful children. I don’t need a DNA test, a wedding ring or any other proof for what is in my heart.

And finally I want to mention Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Oscars this year. I know I wasn’t the only one to be completely surprised that her moments on stage were by far the most memorable of the evening. Her shout out for wage equality for women touched a nerve in me. I have heard some pretty frightening stories from my female friends in the workplace lately that have made me burn with rage…usually burning rage is a sign that I care about something deeply and need to do some work to figure out what it is.

In this case, here it is: there are more women than men in the workforce, yet women are paid less than men in all 50 states. I am not suggesting that there should be as many female CEO’s as male (well…maybe as many as male CEO’s named John if you happened to see that crazy story on Facebook that went viral a few weeks ago..If not, check it out here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/03/02/1368049/-More-CEOs-are-men-named-John-than-are-women#).

I AM suggesting that women should be paid the same as men who do the same work. Is there really anything to be argued here? A woman should not be punished in measuring her quota attainment in a sales job because she was on maternity leave. A woman should not be told she can’t be considered for a certain sales territory that requires travel because she has children at home. It is 2015 people. Let’s demand what we deserve. Let’s be authentic, intentional, loving and accountable. Let’s be examples to the children we are raising or helping raise. Let’s #makeithappen.

Casa Dolce Casa (Home Sweet Home)

This is my house on it's 1 year anniversary.

This is my house on it’s 1 year anniversary.

I am sooo happy to be home after a 8 days of a wonderful short vacation to DC with a business trip tacked on. As much as I love to travel, I am always excited to come home to my own space…to my sanctuary…to recharge, relax, and enjoy my surroundings.

About an hour ago, I received an email from my mortgage guy saying “Happy Loan Anniversary!” While I appreciate Lorcan’s thoughtfulness in wishing me a happy loan anniversary, I am not exactly celebrating the fact that I owe the bank so much money for my little nest. But, I am so happy for the reminder to celebrate the wonderful decision I made to buy it.  So forget the money I owe, I am celebrating my house – and all that I have accomplished since getting it!

Since I haven’t posted in a while, I decided this was a very good reason to sit down, turn off all of my distractions and reflect on the year I have spent here. It was pretty crazy in the beginning. Anyone else remember the lightening storm that resulted in the firemen visit, and the A/C, fridge, and internet/cable not working in the first two weeks?? My anxiety about lawn maintenance, robbers and flood insurance? Last summer while exciting was nerve wracking to say the least. I had a lot of doubts – mostly in myself – about my ability to do this on my own – financially, emotionally, physically…

Here I am a whole year later, and all is well. In fact, all is more than well. At the very least, I have maintained the house pretty well as I haven’t killed my lawn, and I have managed all of the basic repairs and the associated bills along with them. I was and still am incredibly lucky and grateful to have the help and support of my friends and family. Otherwise, this would be so much harder – and much less enjoyable! I have a healthy list of people who have pitched in at different times…to move furniture, hang pictures, repair steps, help decorate… you name it, they have done it. Sometimes in exchange for meatballs or wine. Whatever it takes!

But more importantly, I have been making a lot of progress in making my house my home. Slowly but surely, this place is evolving, and every day that I walk in the door, I feel a sense of peace and satisfaction. That is such a powerful feeling…one that I hope never goes away. I reflect about how scared I was a year ago, I now feel joy.

I still don’t know what the future holds – does anyone? But I am a lot more at ease living with questions than I was a year ago. I am more comfortable with being open and vulnerable than I was a year ago. I am much better at enjoying the present than I was a year ago. And I have more love and joy in my life than I did a year ago.

There is a lot more to come – this I know. There will be ups and downs – this I also know. There is more joy – but also more heartache and pain ahead too – that is just how life works.

I can’t say it better than my favorite author Brene Brown:

“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Happy 1st Anniversary to my “Casa Dolce Casa”!

One Year Later…

I realized a few days ago that I started my blog just over a year ago. I didn’t really know what to expect when I started it. Starting was simple. I went for a run with a close friend – someone I enjoy having deep discussions with – and I realized on that run that I had something to say that I wanted to share with the rest of the “world.”

Then, as I continued to write and find my “voice,” I realized that my blog has become an exercise in vulnerability. It has been about expressing who I am and sharing it with the rest of the world. At times, I have really questioned whether to hit the post button – do I really want people I may barely know to know my innermost thoughts and feelings?? I think I have been motivated to say yes because this is not something that is easy – and I think that discomfort means something good for me. Plus the encouragement I have received has been enormous, and has helped me to push further into the unknown.

Somewhere along the way, I found my all time favorite book called: The Gifts of Imperfection, Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,by Brené Brown.

I love this book. I have marked it up with notes, highlighters and these really cute goldfish sticky notes I bought at shop in Georgetown (same place I got the latest Wonder Woman mug). I have read and re-read it, I have taken notes in my journal about it.

My dog-eared copy of The Gifts of Imperfection

I keep it on my night stand or coffee table to refer to often. And what is so strange is that I NEVER do any of those things. Normally I read a book and am on to the next one. I haven’t taken notes about a book that I read “voluntarily”…ever!

Brené (I refer to her as Brené because I am pretty certain if we actually knew each other, we would be friends) is a researcher with a PhD in social work. She has studied shame, authenticity and vulnerability for many years, and has concluded that only one thing separates men and women who feel a deep sense of love and belonging from others who struggle for it. She writes “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe we are worthy of love and belonging.”

Her book is about the “gifts of imperfection” – courage, compassion and connection that help us to live a more authentic, whole-hearted life.

Courage comes from the latin “cor” – which means heart. She says that originally before it morphed into heroism, courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.” Hmmm – she is on to something.

Compassion has Latin roots meaning “to suffer with” which probably sounds scary to most people. Most of the time when we see people in pain, we either self-protect or try to fix. She says that at the heart of compassion is acceptance, and that better we are at accepting ourselves – being compassionate to ourselves, the more compassionate we can become to others.

Connection she says is “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they can derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” She also says this energy must travel in both directions – a reminder to me to seek healthy connections, healthy balanced relationships.

For me, this book is not necessarily life changing. Rather, it’s life “clearing” – a validation of the work I have been doing to have a more balanced, fuller life.

Brené is also famous for her TEDx Talk on the power of vulnerability. If you can spare 20 minutes – it is well worth every second. Almost 6 million views – clearly her messaging is resonating. Here is the link: brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

This is not easy. I fight vulnerability all of the time. To the world – my coworkers, friends and family, I want to appear capable, confident, and strong. To admit that uncertainty absolutely freaks me out, is difficult. To take a risk and admit to myself or others my deepest fears, and to figure out what I need help with – and then to ASK for that help remains to be incredibly challenging for me. Vulnerability still makes me think of getting hurt, experiencing pain, and admitting weakness.

I put so much pressure on myself to have the answers. Lately in some situations, I have been finding myself outwardly angry and resentful, and inwardly anxious and stressed – and even though I recognize what I am doing to myself, I have found it hard to resolve. My MO is to make myself busy where I don’t give myself the space to figure out what are the REAL questions are that I am struggling with. And when I say busy what I really mean that I try to numb my heart – meaning my feelings and emotions – by keeping my brain engaged whether playing Words With Friends, watching TV, reading books. I trick myself that by doing something that actually is constructive for my head – but at the sacrifice of my heart.

So now I know I need to sit in some big questions and contemplate how to better live with uncertainty.

And thankfully – I have Brené’s books to help me practice. I just picked up her newest book released this week called “Daring Greatly.” The title comes from a speech by Teddy Roosevelt known as “The Man in the Arena” speech.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

I would like to dare greatly. I want to be in the “arena” and not the supporting actress in my own life. I would like to redefine vulnerability and think of it as the key to courage – and not a measure of weakness. I can’t wait to pick this one up – I have my post its and highlighters ready!

More to come later…

Dog Days of Summer

It’s hot. Everywhere. A Reuters release a few hours ago indicated that the Continental U.S. broke the heat record in the first half of 2012, so I am certain I am not crazy. At least not about that.

I have lived in paradise here in the Lowcountry for more than eight years, but I still haven’t gotten used to dealing with the heat, humidity and bugs that make me want to stay cooped up inside in the air conditioning in July and August. Pools are too warm to be refreshing. The beach is too hot, muggy and crowded to enjoy. It’s too hot to run, my favorite exercise…wah wah wah…I used to have a coffee mug that said “No Whining” but I accidentally broke it. Clearly I need to replace it.

For the last few weeks, I haven’t been writing at all, I am out of my exercise routine, and I wound up with a wicked summer cold. The last few days have found me particularly lethargic… Even Derby isn’t feeling well – as I write this he is taking a nap in my closet. Poor guy has a double ear infection, and is clearly not himself. We are quite a pair!

Derby napping in my closet

After a trip to the emergency vet yesterday to figure out what was wrong with Derby, I finally sat down to write and think about my state of mind and my state (and Derby’s!) of physical being. I was tired of feeling tired. I had crossed the line into self pity and general “mopeyness” (not really a word but still says it best)…and I knew I needed to work a few things out in my head and get a grip.

I asked myself – where is the fine line between rest and lethargy? Between healing and moping? Between relaxation and rumination?

For sure sometimes we need to allow ourselves the time and space to rest and heal – whether from illness, heartbreak or the like. But sometimes we wallow. Sometimes we mope. Sometimes we cross that line into inertia and don’t realize it…I was definitely there, and started to see things a little more clearly. Do you know what I mean? It’s the simple difference between taking a nap and waking up refreshed versus clicking through TV stations for two hours feeling tired and listless. Except on a grander scale.

As I thought about the questions, some answers started to percolate. I started to realize that the key for me is awareness, purpose, and intention. I realized that If I am aware of how I am feeling and why, I can clearly think about what I need, and I can start to take purposeful steps to meet those needs. If I need to rest, I can take a nap to take care of myself rather than feel guilty that I am restless on the couch channel surfing rather than being productive.

It’s as simple as being mindful rather than mindless. I can be mindful and be in a state of rest and healing…or I can be mindless and feel idle and lethargic. One gives me energy. The other zaps it.

Can it really be that simple??

Uh, no. So what gets in the way? Get ready for the list. I sat and literally wrote a list of what I labeled:

“Energy Suckers”

  1. Self doubt disguised as voices in my head that say “you can’t” or “you’re not good enough” or “you don’t deserve it.”
  2. Giving too much – not saying no.
  3. Resentments that I haven’t let go. Just like Florence sings… “I’m always dragging that horse around.”
  4. Fear paralysis. What if? What’s next?
  5. Self pity.
  6. Looking for validation from others – rather than from within.
  7. Unhealthy eating and/or drinking.
  8. Ignoring my feelings by brushing off any negative emotion rather than becoming aware of what it is and where it comes from.
  9. Doing too much – focusing on doing rather than being.
  10. Inertia – doing nothing yet not resting.
  11. Not engaging my brain – mindlessness v. mindfulness.

What zaps YOUR energy? Who and what are your energy suckers?

If you have been reading my blog for a while, then you know I like to flip things around, so…

Here is a list of my energy remedies, aka…

“Energizers”

  1. Getting a good night’s sleep. Or a great nap. I can learn from Derby – who by the way is still napping, but has now moved to the couch. He doesn’t seem to be feeling guilty – he is resting and healing.
  2. Writing. Nothing clears my head like writing does.
  3. Asking a friend for help. Or going to the doctor for a diagnosis and some medicine.
  4. Helping someone in need…and re-gaining perspective.
  5. Reflecting on my growth and lessons learned.
  6. Listening to music. Recent favorite song includes Shake it Out by Florence and the Machine and my newest Pandora addition, George Michael…
  7. Reading a book. Recent favorite, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown.
  8. Exercising – yes, even in this terrible heat. Who says walking isn’t exercise? Derby and I went for a walk this morning, and I think we both feel a little better as a result.
  9. Creating something – by cooking something fresh and healthy or making jewelry.
  10. Laughter (remember my Belly Laugh post…).

What is on your list? What energizes you?