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

 

 

 

You say goodbye, I say hello

January 3, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have been seeking some inspiration and guidance to start my new year off right. It’s 12:15 pm on Sunday and I am still in my pjs, so no, I didn’t start a new diet or an aggressive new workout routine. I am not creating a long list of resolutions that will wane as the year progresses. I am looking for a more meaningful approach – focusing more on a way of being rather those godforsaken SMART goals that ensure I achieve whatever is on my list. Or to remind me when I don’t.

I have closed the door on 2015. Before I jump into 2016, I want to leave some things behind, and letting go is not a great strength of mine.  But I know the best way to make room for the new is to purge the old – whether it’s in my closet or in my heart. I know that it’s much easier to find that perfect blouse when it’s not buried among 4 seasons and 3 sizes of old clothes. Just like I know it is much easier to feel love in the present when it’s not buried in regrets about the past or anxiety/fear of the future. And I know that the best way to find the energy to make this effort to clear out the cobwebs is from a place of love – because love is a renewable energy that not only replenishes on its own, but also multiplies and spreads to others. It’s literally catching!

So to get some help, I perused my favorite blogs (Marc and Angel, and “Momastery” Glennon Doyle Melton) and  listened to some of “The Bloggess” Jenny Lawson’s audio book “Furiously Happy”. I followed my favorite spiritual icons on Facebook and Instagram (Maria Shriver, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott, and Kid President) and I completed reading  “The Shaken Snow Globe”by a new author Kristy Dominiak, who I discovered is practically my neighbor and fellow Notre Dame alum.

My first thought is that I could really use a cool nickname for my blog persona (I am open to suggestions!). Mostly though, I am marinating in some pretty amazing content.  I think that one of the consistent threads throughout my favorite writers is that in order to live an authentic life – one that is open, vulnerable and full of love, it is certain that I will experience pain. Not just possible – certain.  Ouch. And sometimes big time OUCH! I reminded myself that even though I was experiencing pain and sadness due to the issues my family faced last year, that same family has brought me immense joy and happiness. I relied on what was in my heart – and on my faith that I was in the right place – to remain hopeful and quell the anxiety that always plagues me at my low points.

Another result of this “marinating” is that I am reminded that even though life is messy, that there can be joy in even the smallest moments. The important thing is to be present – to pay attention – to notice, and to STOP and soak the joy in. For example, I stopped writing for about 30 minutes so that Eric, my significant other Jerry’s son, could climb in my lap to snuggle for a little while.

ericlap2

This is me and Eric snuggling in my office chair. Jerry caught us snuggling, and as usual, he had his camera ready.

He discovered that my office chair rocks. I have a feeling that this could become a favorite snuggle spot in the future, and I am totally fine with that! It made my day – and had I decided to keep going so I could finish my “task”, I would have missed out on a joyous moment.

So when I think about last year – I want to let go of that anxiety. I want to let go of the paralyzing fear that destroys my self-confidence and clouds my heart. I want to let go of my co-dependent tendency to over-fix and focus on other people’s feelings at the expense of my own. I want to let go of the need to cross things off of lists. I want to let go of the self-criticism that happens when I am not at my best.  I will no longer say “I wish I wasn’t wired this way” when I feel pain. I am who I am because of how I am wired – and you know what? I kind of like myself this way. In fact, I have worked really freaking hard to figure myself out – and I have come to accept that my greatest strength of empathy can also be my greatest weakness if I don’t pay enough attention to myself and my own needs.

Thanks to Liz Gilbert’s post on New Year’s Eve, I am reminded that I do a better job of letting go when I take part in some sort of ritual.  I am writing these things on pieces of paper and burning them one by one so that I can physically see them disappear. That way when I am sure to get triggered at some point in the future, I can remember that visual and allow myself to let that feeling go.

And thanks to Liz Gilbert’s post on New Year’s Day, I started my first Happiness Jar. The idea is to write down the things that happen in your day that made you happy on a piece of paper – they can be small things or big things. Liz says “When I say that happiness is a consequence of personal effort, this is kind of thing I’m talking about. I’m talking about showing up, paying attention to the instances of good fortune in your life, putting a spotlight on the small good things, and creating a body of evidence that you are (on ALL days) brushing up against grace. Look for it, and you’ll find it.”

happinessjar

This is my Happiness Jar.

 

Moments like this will help fuel me with the energy and love I will need to endure the painful times ahead.

Welcome 2016! Presence is my mantra. My heart, my eyes and my arms are wide open. And PS – Eric is back on my lap, and I am happy.

 

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…